A place where one woman has gathered resources and information to help her family survive in an uncertain future; together with occasional personal musings.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What Does Collapse Look Like?

Again, from Sharon Astyk. I'm afraid I am a bit more pessimistic than she is. Although I think the "baby-on-a-spit" scenario is remote, I think we are in for a much rougher ride than she outlines below. My best hope, frankly, is that organized society will last long enough that I will be dead before the worst occurs and secondarily, that my children will also be dead (of old age). See, I think the baby-on-a-spit scenario is remote only in time, not in probability.


What are the common features of collapsed societies? I could go back to Rome, of course, but there's probably no need. There are some common features of modern collapses that we can speak of.

1. People get really pissed at their government. This usually leads to some measure of civil unrest, and often government change. Sometimes this is good, sometimes this is bad - it also, as we know, can lead to the government or others scapegoating someone or other, which is really bad. Generally the better outcomes come when the government seems to respond to the people, and also, when the government gets out of the people's way and also lets them respond.

2. Crime rates go up and services like police protection are less available or privatized - one universal features of collapsed socities is that they are more violent. But that doesn't tend to mean warlords killing everyone in their path - it tends to mean more street violence, robbery, rape, and murder, along with sometimes for-profit kidnapping. It tends to mean that people are vulnerable, and afraid, and often can't trust the authorities - it could be rather like being African-American in many poor urban neighborhoods, or it could be like living in Baghdad. Generally speaking, you don't want your kids to go out very much, you tend to avoid going out yourself, and safety becomes a serious issue.

3. Everyone gets poorer fast - this perhaps the most universal outcome. When societies collapse, the percentage of people who are poor goes way up - in Argentina, for example, the 2001 collapse virtually wiped out the middle class and pushed poverty levels up from lows around 20% to nearly 57%. This, I think, is the one universal likely outcome, and of course, right at the moment it is occurring.

4. The cost and attainability of food becomes an issue. Accounts from Argentina, which was previously both stable and affluent suggests that many desired foods, particularly imports are often unavailable, and more importantly, widespread economic impacts make it harder to buy food. Health impacts from this, and lack of medical care, along with depression and drug and alcohol use begin to show up.

5. Services and utilities are widely disrupted. Sometimes the disruption comes, as is common among the US poor, because people can't afford to pay the bill - tens of thousands of US households, for example, will have their utilities cut off on April 1, just as soon as it is legal (most utilities can't cut off a household in the winter). But people also endure service interruptions because of aging infrastructure and because of social disruption. You are much more likely to spend time with no power, have no trash pickup, run out of gas and have the delivery trucks not come through...

6. People are pushed together - whether they are herded into ghettos or lose their housing, extended families, biological and otherwise come to rely on each other. So do communities and neighbors - when someone has food, you share. When someone needs a place to stay, you let them come in. A culture of sharing emerges, and it is extremely useful to have stuff to share.

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