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A Small Medium at Large

Nov. 1, 2018 Galen Chadwick

“Collapse is not a nightmare scenario to be avoided at all costs but part of the normal, unalterable ebb and flow of human history, and the widespread tendency to block it out of our worldview is, to put it very mildly, maladaptive.”  Quote from The Five Stages of Collapse by Dmitri Orlov

The Modernist view of politics, nature and the intellect developed in reaction to the over-simplification of observable reality and indulgences of the religion-dominated Middle Ages.  The relationship between money systems, science and sustainability blossomed.  OK, but certain perceptions did not change.  We still think of corporations, governments and individuals as separate entities that, like the Church before, are locked in a mortal struggle with earthly sovereigns and bankers for markets, natural resources, and for our “soul,” an archaic term now known as “preferred customer.” 

In reality, everyone competes for money, using markets and devouring natural resources in the process.  Popular attention remains wholly misdirected and this, I would argue, accounts for the failure of science-based movements such as Deep Ecology, bioregionalism, Earth Day celebrations, and so on, to reframe the extractive and exploitative mindset of earth’s teeming human populations.  

By failure, I mean in terms of a cost-benefit analysis of the effectiveness of these movements, compared to the ongoing and unstoppable juggernaut of war and species mass extinction still sweeping across the planet.  This analysis will have to wait for another column, being too depressing, and I don’t want it to overshadow today’s otherwise cheerful and balanced treatment of societal collapse.

I have previously introduced the idea of local, non-interest based currencies as a straightforward way to reform this mess, and how to solidly base a family farm renaissance upon a bioregional approach to watershed care-taking.  This is new. The failure of the green movement lies in its inability to tie a positive long-term societal vision to a superior economic model.  

The failure of institutionalized ecology to deliver a tangible and popular incentive, to serve the cause of a more sustainable future, is because advocates have never gotten outside their own deep programming, either.  Everybody still insists on getting paid in Caesar’s coin.  The extent to which our “educated” minds still remain steeped in a feudal mindset is amazing, even if all but invisible.

As long as we refuse to see the connection between the type of money system that subverts all notions of sustainability, and continue to weave interest (usury) into the process of creating money, all who would want to apply green logic to life and life-styles, will continue to be frustrated.  Bioregional science, like Christian theology, shares broad ethical foundations for stewardship, and would be natural allies in an Economic Reformation, but for mutual blindness.  We simply must mobilize a jubilee system of debt relief, social sanity, and soil regeneration.

This biblical approach is in some ways wiser than the mainstream environmental movement, which divinizes the planet instead of its Creator/Sustainer.  The appeal of the environmental movement is firmly rooted in identity politics, “biological egalitarianism,” and scientific materialism (rather than the unique moral role of each human as a self-aware steward).  The corporatist State remains the default arbiter for care-taking the creation.  

Enter the Farm Resettlement Congress 20 Year Plan, which champions the notion of a “permaculture nation in one generation.” The Plan delivers an economic philosophy designed for rural communities to weather the four megatrends that will rock society over the next 20 years: climate change and the collapse of biodiversity; the breakdown of the family and increase of the elderly; national insolvency, and the Orwellian surveillance state.  Last week’s introduction of “Water is Life” and other FRC community volunteer service projects underscores the anticipation of a different question: “What if we don’t have 20 years?”

The importance of realigning financial interests with long-term sustainability is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient one.  We must begin to take action right where we are now, starting with what we have on hand.  This means taking seriously the need to have alternative water, power, food, communication, medication sufficient to last for an indefinite time. And, planning for self-sufficiency must not wait. 

Look at what happened during hurricane Florence.  Despite all the warning, all the media alerts and alarms, despite all appeals to the rational mind and even a slight uptick in prayer and serious self-reflection, and given that whole host of state and private disaster relief partners, people still failed to prepare and died because they believed none of the significant impacts would apply to them. 

State trooper knocking at door: “Get out now! The hurricane is coming! You must flee for your life!”

True Believer:  “Go away.  God will save me!”

Man in rowboat:  “Get in!  It’s a Category 4!  You have no chance!”

True Believer:  “Get lost.  God will save me!”

Man in helicopter: “Grab the rope!  All is being swept away”

True Believer:  “Not a chance.  God will save me!”

Saint Peter:  “What are you doing here?”

Drowned True believer:  “Why did you let me drown?  You failed me!”

Saint Peter:  “Nonsense!  I sent you a policeman, a rowboat and a helicopter!”  

Once we have realized the extent of our predicament and the compelling likelihood of war and the collapse of industrial civilization, we see that the main block to Get Moving, Get in, Grab the rope is not intellectual, but psychological.  

“I  cannot overstate the fact that every stage of collapse is and will be fraught with myriad emotions, and assuming that one can weather them without an enormous commitment to emotional and spiritual preparation is naïve at best and foolhardy at worst.” Carol Baker, in Navigating the coming Chaos: a Handbook for Inner Transition.

The Mother of all metaphorical hurricanes is still off shore but not by much.  Skeptics point to the sun, which is still bright, and the Chamber of Commerce brightly notes the increase of surfers that are flocking to the beach as waves mount.  The five stages of collapse, which are almost certain to unfold, are missing from the news media, which reverberates at an IQ level of plant life, and still obsesses over the tragedy (or consolation) of the recent elections.  We’re in real trouble.  The stages of collapse are Finance, Commerce, Politics, Society, and Culture.

My aim is to discuss some options for navigating these aspects of collapse, and to take a look at case histories relevant to each one.  There is no hidden agenda here- just the prudent assumption that we must be prepared, that collapse will happen, that it is a process of unfolding in distinct phases, and that each phase requires a different set of adaptations from those who wish to survive it.

Financial collapse is a time when all faith in “business as usual” is lost.  All who have stored up gold and silver as a hedge against hard times will come to the stark realization that it may be months or years before food and medicine becomes available.  Risk assessment and financial guarantees will not apply in ways that resemble the past.  Financial institutions will fail in the very hour of an X-Event; savings will be wiped out and access to savings and capital cease.  Our fantasy world of “extend and pretend” politics is toast and the loss of trust will be total and universal.        

A profound shock will follow this realization:  The whole system is extinct.  All hope for improvisation is gone at this stage and thoughts of wiggle room invariably will turn to one’s neighbors’ stash.  If relations have been unavoidably sour, the next bet is the nearest grocery store, unfortunately by now a smoking ruin.  All the functions of commerce will be replaced by trade, barter, tribute and gift should we be lucky, or prepared enough, to wait things out.

A few may recall A Small Medium@ Large column laying face up in the birdcage, yakking about building stepping stones that allowed whole watershed populations to surf the coming fecal tsunami.  Maybe they saw FRC volunteers scrambling like an anthill between rainstorms.  Did their church leaders take Jesus’ word to “feed my sheep” as literally as “don’t forget my 10%?”  (Some did).  More to come. .