Monthly Archives: August 2015

Divorce, American Style

There have been various stories about the end of the United States, how the US will break into smaller regions (The New England Confederation, the New Confederacy, etc.), and how we will go our separate ways, when things start to fall apart.

Not having any personal experience with divorce, nor living in a country (i.e., the former Soviet Union) that has undergone division, it is an odd thing to ponder.

The usual stuff would be there, like in most (hopefully amicable) divorces; property, who gets the dog/cat; how to deal with children.  The breakup of the Soviet Union after 70 years of existence gives somewhat of a roadmap (how to deal with debt, nuclear weapons, military bases overseas), but part of that breakup was almost made more clear, as many of the client states within the U.S.S.R. had their own culture, and their own languages.   The U.S.S.R. was a bunch of countries brought together under Russian leadership with a lot of pressure, not a bunch of states that joined a republic voluntarily, and people still remembered their previous national heritages.

The US is different; yes we’ve got regional cultural differences, but many of us have hung our hat on the existence of a United States of America, in a broad cultural sense.    We’ve all grown up with the existence of a U.S. of A., and although there is some sort of state identification (i.e, being from New York, Ohio, California, Texas, Florida), many consider themselves Americans first and foremost.   Our television, our holidays – all generally national, rather than local.   Americans move a great deal, and changing locations (for jobs, visiting family, commuting over state borders) is something done quite regularly.

How in the world are we going to handle a breakup?  How will we deal with ‘enclaves’ such as Austin, Texas; a blue region in a sea of red?  What happens to Native American regions?   If a breakup happens, what about places like New York City, which essentially sprawl over metropolitan New Jersey and Connecticut?   Will upstate New York (north of Albany, which has more in common with Vermont) want to stay in New York?

They say divorce is easier when you don’t have kids and a lot of property.  For the US, it is like ending a long term marriage, after many, many years, with lots of kids and grandkids.

What will the fault lines be, and which states will go it alone (Texas and California are prime examples) and which ones will band together?  Will states split up (along county lines, perhaps)?  What scenarios, both good and bad,  can you envision?

On revolution, again

Thinking some more about JMG’s extensive post on violence/revolution (and intellectuals taking up arms against the industrial system), my take on this is that in the long run, it may be that revolution/violence of the classic mode may be quite unnecessary and even simply impractical, in the large scale sense.   This isn’t to say we will get a pain-free transition to our next way of living, it just may be that things will not end with a bang, but with a whimper.

On a related note – people do worry about a 1984 police state, but the recent situation in Utah (where they considered turning off water to the NSA’s data center) and in Nevada, where they did the same for the Yucca Mountain Complex (and succeed) indicates that there will be legal and non-violent opposition to things that the central government may do, even from conservative quarters.  The markets may also chime in when governments try to print money to pay for all this, sending the economy (and the legitimacy of the government) into a tailspin.   Governments need legitimacy to govern, and even the police states of the former Warsaw Pact fell when the “man in the street” felt that their legitimacy was questioned.   There’s even a term that pinpoints the moment when that legitimacy falls apart – the “Ceausescu Moment“, when a dictator tries to do the usual things, but falls flat on his face.  If a government of any size or station can’t appear to be legitimate, people might not revolt – they’ll just start to ignore the folks saying they are “in charge.” The rank-and-file enforcers may just shrug their shoulders, and realized they’ve got other things to do with their time, and the whole thing just fizzles out.  The Romanian revolution wasn’t a bloodless one, for sure, but there wasn’t a US Civil War-level of violence that accompanied it.   JMG pointed out that revolutions can have violent components to them, but it isn’t the central part of them – they are about ideas, and new ways of doing things (and the populace has to believe in these new ideas, while rejecting the old).  Violence can push things over the edge, but by the time a successful revolution gets to a certain point, it is a done deal anyway.  Starting out with violence appears to be an incredibly poor way to get changes to happen, as folks in the sixties found out.

Even if opposition to the industrial world or the police state didn’t exist on a human front, there will still be resistance that might not have a smidgen of human centered violence (or human agency at all!) in it.  The situation in Utah is that the NSA data center there needs a LOT of water to function.   Various humans in various human-constructed governmental units might try to force the water to stay on (or off), but there may be a point when the water isn’t there at all, and Mother Nature will have the last say on this, regardless of what silly humans want.   As the Nazis discovered in WW2, you need a lot of oil and petroleum products to run a war machine.  Now, at that time, oil was plentiful, and the only reason they didn’t have it was due to political reasons – cheap oil existed, but nobody wanted to give it to them (the Allies fought against giving them access, of course – with machines also powered by cheap oil).   But if the cheap and easy oil (or the coal derivatives they quite literally cooked up) just didn’t plain exist, the traditional blitzkrieg-style war machine would have ground to a halt.

Calls to bring down the industrial system with violence seem like trying to drill holes in the bottom of a boat when said boat has just collided with an iceberg – it’s not going to really bring the boat down faster, and you could be doing far better things with your time.   Violence, in self-defense situations, can be warranted, and learning how to responsibly defend yourself or your community seems like a logical thing.  But actively pursuing it when so many things need fixing/constructing seems not like the best course to take (and many, many of JMG’s commenters echoed this fact).

One of the best comments on revolution was made by the late Michael Ruppert, in the movie Collapse.  His comment on the coming changes (the revolution in human affairs) was, “I’m talking about a revolution that’s probably the hardest kind, the kind that takes place in the human soul, in the human mind.”  No violence required.

Questions-

  • When do we get a Ceausescu Moment for our industrial civilization, or has it arrived?   Has it arrived for the American Dream, where people don’t believe it anymore?
  • What would that Ceausescu Moment for our industrial civilization look like? Is that the thing that will push the population to wake up, and start living differently?
  • What pushes some people to go for the violence option versus others?  Is it always the Asimovian “the last refuge of the incompetent,” or something else?
  • A few people brought up the comment that, “This is the age of video game and cartoon violence…Those who consider themselves violent likely cannot even bring themselves to kill a chicken.” we get less violence because of this?   The Letterman quote brought up last week, “War is no fun when the other side shoots back,” is along the same lines.

On revolution

JMG has a great post this week on the limited worth of violence/revolution.    A classic slogan that really brings reality to the fantasy of ‘violent uprising’ is, “Anyone who advocates violence against the government in public is either an idiot or an agent provocateur.”

Another he mentioned was,  “People who say you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution are part of the problem.”

Slogans and one-liners won’t convince people like a long essay can, but they can distill some of the basic arguments to people.  One of the best I ever heard was on Letterman’s Top 10 ages ago, regarding the first Gulf War, and the response to the invasion of Kuwait:

“War is no fun when the other side shoots back.”

More possible slogans about “revolution”, especially the violent kind that some folks espouse:

– “Your enemy isn’t a bunch of Star Wars storm troopers that fall at the drop of a hat.   They actually know as much, if not more, than you, and are very well trained and better equipped.”

– “Lose your family, your possessions, your sanity, your life.  A revolution asks a lot of you.   Are you prepared to lose it all, and still lose?”

– “Just because you are on the side of ‘the right and just’ doesn’t mean you are going to win.  Life isn’t a Hollywood movie where the good guys always win.”

– “If you can’t kill your own food, perhaps violence isn’t your cup of tea.”

Let’s not forget Mao’s “The revolution is not a dinner party,” and Huey P. Newton’s, “The first lesson a revolutionary must learn is that he is a doomed man.”

Any others that illuminate the harsh realities of violence?

Who or what is to blame? Can it be stopped?

My original thought here was to say, no, it doesn’t matter on how we got here, but in the middle of thinking about it, and trying to write about it, it dawned on me that yes, it does.

In the mechanical sense, we’ve always got to know what is causing things in order to stop them; if your bicycle isn’t going forward, it could be a flat tire, a chain that fell off, or a rusty bearing.   We are dumping X into the ocean, and that causes problem Y, so we’ve got to stop dumping X.  My first take was then ‘solve X’, and then solve its precedents later.  Yes, there are always precedents, but trying to find solutions to the precedents may be a daunting task and not as amenable to concrete, engineering solutions.   For example, if you want to stop burning coal, you might pass a law for that, and worry about the desire to burn coal (to get cheap energy) later.

But stopping X, without causing the preceding causes to stop as well is setting yourself (and your society) for ‘whack-a-mole’, where you continually try to stop other things, without attacking the root cause.   Trying to solve the real room problem (burning coal, the need for cheap energy) is a harder problem, and may put us into places we don’t want to go.    Most of the world doesn’t want to look to hard at some of the predicaments we are in, because to go to the root causes of things is scary, and when your pay check depends on a certain worldview, changing those core viewpoints can seem impossible to change.

What is the root cause of our current dilemmas?   Our brains?  The luck of the environment we were born into?  Can we stop those root causes, whatever they are?   Given the work in such fields as neuroscience, cognitive psychology and behavioral economics – can we change?

On preparing

In the usual corners of the ‘net, you’ll find all sorts of talk about ‘prepping’, and the methods (and madness) that come with looking out for yourself and your loved ones in the coming possible apocalypse.   No need to elaborate here – a quick search on ‘prepping’ will get you an eyeful/earful.

Now, for some folks, this is silly; the traditional apocalypse won’t happen.  We’ll have a stairstep collapse, and things will get bad in fits and starts, but we won’t have groceries on the shelves one day, and Mad Max the next.   This isn’t a setup to denigrate those folks; they’ve got a point, and for anyone who thought the ‘collapse’ would happen in 1975, they’ve missed a lot by selling everything, and holing up in some remote location (and gone broke).  There are scenarios that could give us that (an EMP strike), but even with that, holing up by yourself probably isn’t the best idea.

People who survived the breakup of Yugoslavia and the old Soviet Union, and the crises in Argentina (and now Greece) have some great advice that does sync up with some of the ‘prepper’ world, apocalypse or not.   Ferfal, who survived in Argentina, and Dmitry Orlov (who saw the collapse of the Soviet Union) are two folks to follow on a regular basis, and who’ve detailed what has happened almost down to the molecular level.  Ferfal, especially, has some harrowing tales from Argentina, and his commentary on security, lying low, and how to navigate an economic collapse is worth listening to.  From what I can gather, the distillation of their experiences comes down to one pretty basic thing.  I’ll put it here with a single bullet point:

  • Your community is what will save you – get to know folks, really *know* folks before things get rough.

This seems so simple, and so obvious, but from all the reading I’ve done, it seems that without that, all attempts at saving food/learning how to get food/acquiring self-defense skills and tools/saving money/being a resourceful person/etc. will be for naught if you don’t have people you can trust.   Take any scenario, with a single person who has everything, but no friends and/or connections.  Yes, during good and stable times, money can buy a bit of loyalty, but as soon as things go pear-shaped, those getting paid to protect you may not be loyal, or even turn on you.

Orlov’s Communities that Abide is pretty clear on this (and he gave a great talk, from what I’ve read), and JMG’s comment that the folks in command usually are killed by their own security personnel are good indications that ‘going it alone’ isn’t a viable survival strategy.

So, what does one do to prepare?  In a nutshell – be a hardworking, generous,  trustworthy, soul.   If you have money now, help out trustworthy folks who aren’t doing so well.   If you don’t have money, be trustworthy with what you do have, and don’t stab people in the back, literally or figuratively.  This can’t be done, of course, with a calculating sort of “I’ll give $X so that I can have N people at my back when things go bad;” that sort of math probably isn’t possible anyway.   Getting involved in a community, a real community, has psychic benefits that are tough to quantify anyway.   So – get out there and connect with your community, your neighbors, the folks in whatever organization you belong to, and stay connected.

One suggestion I gave to someone who was advising someone who came into a multi-multi-million dollar fortune was to start giving serious scholarships to the students of the high school where his summer home was located.  Think about it – most people who vacation in places outside of cities are seen as ‘summer people’, and generally aren’t seen too kindly by the local townies (I’ve seen this in action).  However, if you were seen as someone who truly cared about the town and its inhabitants, their worldview of you would be far different than someone who simply drove up on the weekends and shoveled money at the few who were actually doing work for you (mowing your lawn, feeding you at local restaurants, etc.).

This doesn’t mean that this will give you a guaranteed pass when things get rough.  But people who think of their communities in good times will definitely be more welcomed when things go bad.

Questions:

  • Do you have a real (not virtual) community?  What is it based on?
  • Do you discuss possible unpleasant futures?
  • Given that unpleasantness happens with some regularity, why do people who have wealth consider it a bulwark against history?
  • Is the idea of providing a local high school scholarship ill-advised?   In what other ways could you use your resources to show a community that you were a worthwhile member of it, even when you aren’t a full-time member?

The end of Rock and Roll

Rock and roll, as American as apple pie.  The music that most of us grew up with, promising the open road and freedom; and the sound track to the classic road trip.  But just as ‘put a dime in the jukebox’ has become a serious anachronism (Juke box?  A dime for a song?), the music known as ‘Rock and Roll’ will at some point fall out of of favor, as the basis for what it promised (and how it could be delivered) will fall by the wayside.

JHK wrote about some of this in The Long Emergency. The era of arena rock, and bands that tour from coast to coast in fuel gulping aircraft will most likely go extinct, as the infrastructure that makes it possible for such things to exist will also start to fall away.   No argument there.

What is more interesting, is that the music itself, and the songs that epitomized the freedom of the open road will at some point will be as obsolete as buggy whips, as well as any cultural touchstones (i.e. American Graffiti) that use Rock and Roll as their soundtrack. Fifty years from now (or possibly even less), it might take a scholar to explain to people lyrics like:

Well, i had the carburetor, baby, cleaned and checked
With her line blown out she’s hummin’ like a turbojet
Propped her up in the backyard on concrete blocks
For a new clutch plate and a new set of shocks
Took her down to the carwash, check the plugs and point
Well, i’m goin’ out tonight. i’m gonna rock that joint

Early north jersey industrial skyline
I’m a all-set cobra jet creepin’ through the nighttime
Gotta find a gas station, gotta find a pay phone
This turnpike sure is spooky at night when you’re all alone
Gotta hit the gas, baby. i’m running late
This new jersey in the mornin’ like a lunar landscape

(lyrics from from Bruce Springsteen’s “Open All Night”)

Carburetor?   Car wash?  Plugs and points?   Turnpike?  Heck, a good portion of Bruce’s catalog might be incomprehensible to the uninitiated fifty years from now, with all those references to driving and automobiles.  It might take a scholar to explain all those terms, as English teachers have done with Shakespeare’s “in” jokes and political commentary, as the world of Elizabethan England has slipped away, to be replaced by the modern.

What might replace Rock and Roll?  Songs about life on the farm?  In an unamplified and relatively untechnological future, what will be the touchstone topics of the day?  Rock and Roll won’t be forgotten, of course, and some songs will survive, but angry songs about taking to the road won’t make much sense to folks who can’t drive, or can’t conceive of a superhighway.

Questions for this week:

  • What will replace Rock And Roll?
  • What will teens do with their angst?
  • What will road trip songs sound like?   Sea shanties?