Sunday, August 20, 2017

The lure of apocalyptic thinking

The truth is, after all that reading (see prior week's post) about how civilizations collapse (or contract and re-form in another way), I don’t really believe entirely in a quick apocalyptic crash like those I write about. Yes, I feel the draw of that sort of thinking. Who doesn’t? Most of us love exploring this idea, at least in the novels we read and the movies we watch. Some people take it even further and actually prepare for “the end times,” stockpiling food, ammunition, drugs, and gold.

really silly stuff
We are not as logical as we’d like to believe we are. We are not logical in the face of powerful animal emotions and drives that steer us more often than our complex thinking brains do.
Every generation--or quite large chunks of it--has thought it will be the last generation, that civilization is on the brink. That seems to be part and parcel of being a human being. It’s a form of egotism, say the experts, the unconscious belief that we are at the center of everything, that this, our lifetime, is the pivotal moment, that the world has never been going to hell in a handbasket faster and that the end is surely nigh.

And yet, what statistics show us is that the world has never been safer, not in the places most of my readers live. Safer how? From disease, from war, from roaming bands pillaging and raping. Over my lifetime the murder rate in my nation has dropped a lot.

The experts say, the psychology is: if the world is ending in my lifetime, then I’m pretty darned special, aren’t I? But if the world is safer now, if I’m just one of billions of people in a world that will continue without a hiccup when I die of some ignoble old-age disease, the same as tens of billions who came before me and billions more who will come after...then who am I? Sort of nobody. This kind of knowledge can set off an existential crisis.

This meshes with my experience and the cynical, skeptical view I've gained. I’ve lived through Y2K (the computers will all be so confused we won’t be able to eat, eeek! It’s the END), 2012, and Hale-Bopp hysteria and much more. I’m even old enough to have done the “duck and cover” drills for nuclear war (which, to be fair, seems remotely possible--I’ll allow you nuclear war as a semi-rational fear). When I was a kid and went somewhere like summer camp or a weekend rock music festival, and I met kids from other places, I realized everyone thought their own small town, no matter how truly inconsequential, would be high on the Russian’s list of targets for nuclear strikes. Sorry, people from (for example) Bloomington Indiana or Marion Illinois, but you were never ever on that list.

Even as a teenager, I saw that believing you were on that list elevated your sense of your own importance. If we were all right about being in the top 10 targets list in our goofy little Midwestern towns, then the Russians wouldn’t have had any bombs left for Washington DC or New York or bomber factories or missile silos. Surely they weren’t that stupid!

Most people who were rabid about Y2K or 2012 now would deny ever believing in it...much the way if you once got drunk at a wedding and made a fool of yourself, you push that out of your mind and might eventually come to deny that. (Perhaps we all need a wife to remind us of these moments. “Oh yes you did say that!” lol)

When we talk about the “collapse” of civilizations, or when scientists do, I often think we should use a different world. Collapse implies catastrophe. But when civilizations fall, they generally do something closer to “contract” (in drought-stricken deserts, as with the Anasazi, the people simply move, to literally greener pastures). Imperial Rome fell. It collapsed! We all know that. But, hey, you know, Rome is still there. You can go visit it, even! It’s in a place called Italy, and some of the people who live there are direct descendants of imperial Romans of 2000 years ago and even some of their buildings are still there. When Italy collapses as a nation--and it will, as all nations will--there will probably still be a Rome. It’s a good site to build a city, so it’ll probably still be a town after oil is long gone or after a pandemic hits or after climate change makes where I live uninhabitable.

If you’re interested in the psychology of end-time thinking, this article is interesting (written just after the world did not end in 2012): apocalypse psychology. A trip to google would get you a number more.

I’m not saying everything is hunky-dory and always will be. Read the last two month’s blog posts, and you’ll see how pessimistic I am. Oil will end. Potable water is going to be a real issue one day. The salinization of California's soil is likely going to create a worldwide food crisis before too long. Our electrical infrastructure (which I’ll write about in a future post) in the US and Canada is in bad shape and bizarrely enough, renewable energy sources are stressing it more than ever. So expect blackouts to increase until we get that sorted. And if you’re in a city, expect some rioting and looting during blackouts. Don’t go sightseeing when that happens because looters can be dangerous. Hunker down, conserve resources, don’t suffocate yourself with generator exhaust, and it will pass, the lights and fridge will come back on, the cleaning crews will be out sweeping up the broken glass, and all will be well again.

Even a big collapse, as with climate change or oil depletion, will not happen overnight. Adjustments will be made. People will move from Florida or Arizona, new technologies will ease the slide, and much of life in first world nations will be enjoyable as ever.

Longtime followers of my blog also know I say if you live in Oklahoma, be prepared for a tornado, in Toronto, for a bad ice storm, and in Florida, for a hurricane, in Japan...well, everything but tornadoes. You guys get the disasters in Japan! Those could happen, and while it is statistically unlikely you'd die from a weather event, you could be very uncomfortable for weeks because of it. Lightning is the biggest weather killer, and I'll bet that you have gone outside in a thunderstorm or gotten in the tub or shower. I know I have!

This post is my way of saying, though I am writing a novel series about a catastrophic end of oil scenario, I hope that you know it’s just fiction. Don’t let it push you over the edge into extremist thinking or behavior or for heaven's sake, make yourself sick over it. Look around you. Go for a walk in your own town. See? Everything is fine right now.

If you are worried for your children or grandchildren (even if they are not yet born), and what might happen to them thirty or fifty years down the road, I will talk about a couple of simple solutions to position them best for a contraction of civilization. I might be wrong in my suggestions, but they are largely fun suggestions, so you'll have lost nothing by trying one or two of them.

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