Monday, January 7, 2013

Preparing For The Long Rains, Part 1

by Stephanie Osborn

This is a reblog of a particularly interesting post by Sarah A. Hoyt which she put on her blog in early December. As we prepare to begin a New Year, it may be worth reading. I present part 1 to you on this first Monday of the new year. Perhaps it isn't the usual celebratory sort of thing, it isn't resolutions, but the turn of the year is a time for thoughtfulness and introspection too. I think we could use a little of that this year.
Preparing For The Long Rains, Part 1

by Sarah Hoyt
As many of you know, I’m watching Foyle’s War, kind of the way I watch things these days: when I need to iron, or do something else that occupies the hands but not the eyes (much) or the mind (at all) I turn on a couple of episodes (thank heavens for Amazon prime. I remember being very much broke and not having cable – as we don’t now – and not being able to watch anything. With Amazon prime and the stuff free for kindle, I’d have had a much easier time of it.)

I’ve before talked about sudden insights, things I’ve known all along, but which suddenly seem fresh and new. Like “they didn’t know they were going to win.” It also started me reading about the World Wars again, which means eventually there will be some blogs related to that, but I need to be more “with it.” [Sarah has been ill. Nasty flu bug I think. --Steph]

The most amazing thing of all, though, is that despite all the restrictions they lived under, the rationing, the coupon books, the collecting of every piece of scrap, most people lived as though the war weren’t happening. (I’ve often considered, too, that while the idea of rationing was completely wrong-headed economically and might have FED scarcity, it might have been the right thing to do PSYCHOLOGICALLY creating that sense of unity of purpose. I’ve also wondered if the problem was that after 9/11 we weren’t asked to plant victory gardens or buy war bonds, but simply to “go shopping.” Yes, I know it was sound in many ways, but it might have made a difference psychologically if people felt they were contributing. Or perhaps not.)

Of course the series is a mystery series, and there is usually something involving the war – because that’s how they sold it to the producers – but you sort of catch glimpses of people around, and you get the feeling most people were…what was it people were doing while Noah built the ark? They were marrying and being given in marriage, having babies, worrying about where to live. Even when the war affected all of those, it wasn’t the main concern. The main concern was everything else: who loved whom, who hated whom, what the crop was going to be, and why the kid was acting weird. All this without knowing if they’d win or lose, or what the next year (or month) would bring.

Right now, sometimes I feel as though this is what the whole world is doing around me. They’re making plans, getting comfy, settling down, fixing what’s wrong with their lives – or perhaps trying to survive unemployment, illness, other life stuff.

And then periodically I get together with a friend, or sit down with an old acquaintance and I hear how much more seriously they’re preparing. It’s all guns and canned food, and why am I still living in an urban area, have I gone nuts? And don’t I realize it’s time to set aside the writing/publishing thing and worry about preparing to survive the collapse?

And then I feel like it’s me who is going about everyday life, unaware that there’s something big coming down the pike.

I am aware there is something big coming down the pike. I think even those who “aren’t” or who deny it, know it at some level. There is a…tense feeling in the air, and everyone is sitting on the edge of their chairs. There is a suspended-breath feel – waiting for the next shoe to drop.

The thing is that no one knows what the next shoe will be. A light sneaker? An army boot? A baby bootie?

Each of us has a mental image of disaster, mine formed by experiences (and books, and movies) and other people’s by THEIR experiences and books and movies.

The problem is no one knows. This has never happened before.

And before you start screaming at me, that of course it has happened before, that even recently the USSR folded like a pack of cards, that we know exactly what collapse looks like…sigh. No we don’t.

Oh, sure, we can look back to say the French revolution and see what happened when the leading power of the day got buried in deficit and went mad. We can look at the collapses in Argentina, and… everywhere else in the 20th century. But the parallels aren’t right.

If you go back far enough – the French revolution – you’re dealing with a completely different state of affairs, not just mentally but also at the economic/material level.

You see, America has changed the game, both ways. I remember hearing it mentioned that the USSR still commanded loyalty because peasants STILL lived better than under the Tzars. A similar thing was said here about Scandinavia and socialism. Their life improved. And the same could be said about Portugal under its strong-man regime. People can point to how poor Portugal was, but we thought we were rich. As a child, I always wore shoes, for instance, even if the summer “sandals” were the shoes that had stopped fitting in winter strategically cut. I had winter coats. We had coal delivered. I didn’t have to do what Mom did and go, barefoot, along the train line, gleaning coal dropped by the trains. I got Christmas gifts, usually a variety of plastic stuff. It wasn’t just “we’ll have some fruit for desert and that’s how we know it’s a holiday.

This was because things that started in America – including the improvements in agriculture, the new processes and new materials – allowed a level of prosperity that was still better than anything the world had known before. Even in countries doing their best to slit their own throats, the easier ways of producing things and the abundance of food made a difference. Things got better. (And everyone got used to thinking that was the way of the world. BTW I’m aware this process didn’t start with America. It started with Great Britain and the Industrial Revolution. But then the torch got passed and things accelerated.
The other part of this – influencing all collapses in the 20th century – is that America tends to support other countries in trouble. This is a double edged blessing, btw. There is reason to wonder if the USSR would have survived nearly as long, with its dysfunctional regime, without the grain we were willing to provide at bargain basement prices…because we had it.

We don’t have an America to bail us out, and we don’t have an America to keep innovating as we collapse. We ARE America, and there is no one to pass the torch to.

Please, please, please, don’t tell me that Brazil or China stand ready…Brazil is in a pretty good place now, partly bolstered by our petro dollars, but let’s not kid ourselves. Until they fix their political culture, they’ll continue going through the boom and bust cycle in a way we can’t even imagine. As for China…China will not survive our collapse, and as it cracks it will show us what a crack up really means. All of those who are my age and were astonished that the USSR didn’t fight like a wounded bear as it died, might yet get to see this process.

By the time Great Britain started its self-inflicted decline, the US was already well on its way to moving into the lead industrially and agriculturally. There is no country in that position. There are countries that can pretend to be in that position, but not when you look at internals.

I'll present part 2 next Monday.

-Stephanie Osborn