Thursday, November 5, 2009

Historical snobbery, societal changes, and you

I've always been intrigued by history. Partly it's the ability to see "how we got here" and some of the underlying causes for the way the world is today. Partly it's the many fascinating characters that people all those dusty old history books. And partly it's to learn. It saddens me that the teaching of history has switched from "what are the lessons we can learn from the past" to "person X did Y on date Z." A part of the larger issue with modern schooling teaching you "what" to think, not "how" to think, but that's a different post...

Especially interesting to me are the ways civilizations (Imperial Rome, Mayans, the Anasazi) and countries (Weimar Republic, Peronist Argentina, Zimbabwe) fail from within. The one question I always have about these situations is: did they see it coming? I'm going to go ahead and just make all the history majors cry here by over simplifying and say "Generally, no." Most people are not willing to consider that their personal world could change drastically and irrevocably. How much more reluctant are they to consider that their society as a whole could come crashing down...

This brings me to historical snobbery, another favorite subject of mine. Modern people (especially in America) tend to look at everyone who lived before [/random date generally around 100 years ago] as some type of hopelessly foolish and naive rubes. It's inconceivable to many that anyone who lived their entire life without electricity could have any wisdom or knowledge to impart. I mean, they didn't even have, like, cars and ipods and stuff. Of course they couldn't see it coming, they worshipped gods that sound like a bad soap opera! To us advanced modern people looking back it's obvious...

So how does this apply to us? Society in modern America is a hugely complex and interrelated system. ~1-2% of the population produces the food for the entire country. The bulk of the food most people eat comes from hundreds (if not thousands) of miles away. The water we drink and use for sanitation comes from many miles away, and depends on stable electrical power being delivered to the pumps at the central water plant. Being able to get to the store to purchase this food requires open, passable roads. The goods getting to the stores depends on those same roads, and about a dozen steps in the oil extraction/refining/shipping process. All of these processes depend on enough people being healthy and willing to go in to work. Any disruption in any point of this chain brings all the others to a screeching halt. Most large cities have 2-3 days worth of food available, total. When the electricity goes out, the water stops. No food or water for more than a few days will cause societal disruption.

When I lived in Arizona, I learned that all gas that comes into the state originates from two pipelines. I learned this because one of them broke. Poor maintenance, inevitable wear and tear; whatever the cause, it was out for a couple days. Gas was being rationed, huge lines at the stations, some were out etc. They fixed it before it caused any serious societal unrest, but it did get me thinking about all this sort of thing.

Preparedness gets a bad rap today. It seems like a pretty simple and non-offensive concept. Be ready to take care of yourself in an emergency, grow your own food (as much as possible), generate your own power (as much as possible), have some extra food stored, be able to protect yourself etc etc. How could anyone object to this? I find it's generally guilt by association.

I'm a hardline Christian, so my atheist/Wiccan/gay/bi-sexual friends associate me with the pricks who use a veil of religion to justify their own bad actions and biases. I'm a conservative so my liberal friends assume I'm... hell, I don't really understand the way they think so I'm not sure what weird stereotypes they have. ;) I admit I do it too; I fight against it, but when a large percentage of a certain group think a certain way it takes real effort to look past the stance and see the kind of person they are. Of course, a lot of the time they really are as bad as you think so you can safely dismiss them... :D

All that to say, look past all the nuts and kooks who flock to this subject, and start evaluating what you need to be ready for. Have an emergency fund of 3-6 months of your expenses in case of job loss. Have a few weeks worth of food stored. Learn how to dry/smoke/can your food. Have an alternative method of heating your house, safely. Every major blackout there is at least one family that tries to heat their house with charcoal and ends up dead. Plant a garden. Learn some basic first aid/medical procedures. Open your mind, and consider that things may not always be the way they are now. If there is another economic collapse like the Great Depression, would you rather be standing in a soup line, or tending your garden?


  1. Great thoughts man. I remember that stupid pipeline breaking. God, we (read "consumers") got hosed so friggin' bad on that whole deal (or at least I thought so then, last summer my wife and I paid nearly $4/gal for gas in Montana during a cross-country drive!).

    Yer thoughts remind me of a great little book (series) I picked up awhile back. I don't remember the author's name off-hand, but the first in the series was called "Dies the Fire". It's mostly a thought experiment about what might happen if all electricity, combustion engines, and firearms stopped working one day (hint: the LARPers apparently inherit the earth) - but it was a fun read.

    On the chronological snobbery note I would toss out a bit of my own little balliwick - how often do we do the same thing when it comes to our faith? We assume that whatever practices were handed to us are just the way thing ought to be, even if they are barely 100 years old, and we toss out the fact that Christianity has been alive and well for 2000 years, and didn't need to be saved from anything by the innovations of the Baptists, or Methodists, or Congregationalists, or fill-in-any-of-the-other-40000-ists. We're too quick to abandon things simply because they seem "old" or "strange" or "primitive", without ever bothering to go back and look at what the life of the Church actually looked like in the first few centuries of the Faith. always, good thoughts brother!

    Peace and blessings!

  2. Holy crap, I had no idea you'd commented on this! I really need to figure out how to turn on auto-notification of comments on here...

    Oh, and I agree with your comment. :D