The More Things Change

February 2, 2013  U.S. Geological Survey - Public domain image

We all wonder and worry about what life will be like as the declining Empire we live in falls to ruin.  We all have ideas about what it will mean for us, individually, for our families and for the nation as a whole.  I, of course, have my own ideas – some of which, from time to time, I’ve put down here on the blog.

But, over the last two weeks since my encounter with the car, I’ve had a lot of time to think about things like life in a declining Empire and the experiences of the last two weeks have shifted my perspective a little.   From the beginning of my adventures into doomerdom, I never really subscribed to the idea that, like a house taking a direct hit from an F5 tornado, things were suddenly going to explode and collapse into a million pieces.  I’ve always thought it would be more like a house slowly collapsing from lack of care and years of inattention – a few rotting timbers, a few neglected shingles at a time – until the basic structure can no longer support whatever remains of the house.  I still think that’s a reasonable approximation of how collapse will occur – in stages and over a fairly long period of time.  I don’t expect the final collapse to occur in what’s left of my lifetime, anyway.

What did change slightly over the last two weeks was my perception of how that slow collapse would affect most of us.  I came to see my encounter with the car and the ongoing effects of that encounter as sort of a metaphor for my, and probably “our” encounters with the collapsing empire.  And I now suspect that, for most of us, slow collapse will be mostly a matter of “the more things change, the more things stay the same.”

When the car turned into the lane I was crossing and “hit” me, I didn’t suffer a direct hit.  Fortunately, it brushed my rather well endowed posterior, pushing me from left to right and knocking me off my feet.  I had enough time, in that few seconds, to turn toward the front and avoid hitting the ground on that right hip.  It was not something I did purposely; it was pure instinct from living with bad balance for the last sixteen years.  Had I been hit more directly or had the car been going faster, it would have been a different story.  I had time to adapt because it was “a slow crash”.

By the time I got home and into my big chair, things had changed.  All the muscles, big and small, that I had stressed in that fall complained long and loudly with every move.  My situation had changed rather dramatically, but my basic needs remained the same.  And the next few days became a game of adapting my habits to fulfill those needs and leaving the rest until my son came by after work, until I could get around well enough to attend to things with relative independence, again.  Had I taken a direct hit, with broken bones, the period of recuperation and adaptation would have been longer and, undoubtedly, more severe.  I might have had to move out of my upstairs apartment, for example, at least for a while, but the basic needs – food, water, shelter – would have remained the same wherever I finally ended up and I would have had to go through a similar process of adapting old needs to new circumstances.

With the economic collapse that heralded the most recent stage of our Imperial decline, something similar occurred.  I – like most Americans – did not take a direct hit.  I didn’t lose a job, or house.  My social security income remained secure.  Most of my “pain” revolved around keeping up with rising food and energy prices while maintaining the house on a fixed income.  And, to the disappointment of some doomers with a more “survivalist” bent, those who did take a direct hit did not riot, or burn down the government or assassinate leaders – as has occurred in some countries, recently.  Many of them had some cushion of resources to use, or used the resources of the various levels of government, while they recuperated enough to find adaptations that worked for them, even if it meant adaptation to a lower level than they were accustomed to.  There still is, and probably will be for the foreseeable future, a lot of “fat” in the system.  And, that is how I’ve come to see the long process of collapse affecting most of us.

Nature equipped us with instincts and, if anything, pushed us toward becoming adaptable creatures with creative brains.  That has sometimes gotten us into a lot of trouble, as our long history of collapsed empires shows, but it has also been our biggest success.  That ability to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and find creative ways to go on through what are sometimes very onerous changes in circumstance.  We would not have survived as a species without it. Even when circumstances change drastically, some things stay the same.

There remains, of course, one other alternative.  The car could have hit me directly enough and hard enough that I had no way to adapt and I died.  That is always a possibility in more rapidly changing circumstances – on a personal, national, or species wide level.   We face several possibilities for such events.  The wise thing to do would be  to look at those  possibilities and make what adaptations we can before such events when we see them coming.  But there have been species before us which did not or could not and paid the price. We certainly aren’t immune from such a possibility, either. The more things change, the more things stay the same.

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6 Responses to The More Things Change

  1. eugene says:

    If the Arctic change folks are right, change will come on much more rapidly than we think. From my 20 yrs of watching this, I am amazed how focused we are. The economic people look at economics, the energy folks at energy and climate change at climate change. As far as I can see, virtually, no one is looking at the total picture, considering the impact of change coming on faster than we can cope with and, most of all, considering the upheavals of rapid social change. It is much more pleasant to think of things on a level we can cope with. We find comfort in the believe that technology will solve it all, that we have lots of time in which to adjust and in all the wonderful ability of the human animal to adapt.

    I’m 71 and am fully aware that there is a distinct possibility that things could suddenly collapse into chaos in my remaining lifetime assuming, of course, that I have bit left. I am not comfortable with that thought. Makes me a bit anxious and insecure. However, I totally believe that as long as we live in the comfort zone of all will be well, we live in fantasy. Twice in my life, reality has smashed through my comfortable little world so maybe my life experience has left me with a fear that I can’t quite shake. Time will tell, of course.

    • theozarker says:

      Hey Eugene, I agree we’re facing a real possibility of an extinction event with climate change if we don’t start facing facts. It may be that ongoing economic collapse and resource scarcity (we can’t burn it if we can’t afford to get the expensive stuff out of the ground) will mitigate climate change somewhat. However the future shakes out, the time to adapt is now. And by adapt, I don’t mean technology will save us. I mean we have to let go of our illusions about bigger/newer/more as our right. We’re all going to die eventually. That’s a certainty. But I think old fogies like you and me, who have had the pins knocked out from under us a few times and had to “adapt” should be leading the way to powering down, making do with less and showing the younger generation that having less is not a thing to be afraid of and once your basic needs are met, the rest is pretty much useless gravy if we want to leave a future for our kids and grand-kids.

  2. graveday says:

    One of my basic needs is a hat, since, for my pate at least, the more things change, the more I need some help up there. It would be interesting to have a poem from this guy now.

    Fire and Ice

    Some say the world will end in fire,
    Some say in ice.
    From what I’ve tasted of desire
    I hold with those who favor fire.
    But if it had to perish twice,
    I think I know enough of hate
    To say that for destruction ice
    Is also great
    And would suffice.
    Robert Frost

    • theozarker says:

      Hi Grave. Try a wet bandana. So far, my hair does the trick. I’ve tried gardening hats, but usually wind up trying to chase them across the yard with the breeze. I love that Frost poem. Would be quite a trick to have a new poem from him now, though. 😀

  3. CaityJ says:

    In my almost 69 years, I’ve traveled along in life without a lot of concern for where my future lay. I’ve worked since I was 16 (and to help put myself through college) and have been a pretty sane person. But things have changed. The last few years of my work life, in the social services area, I complained a lot about the agency I worked for not giving raises some years and how insufficient they were when they did come through. The benefits packages were becoming more and more expensive to us workers while the benefits were becoming less and less. Now it is clear that it wasn’t just “my agency” doing this, it was just about all employers who were skimping on these costs and keeping more money at the top while skimming money from the bottom. And “voila” we have the income disparity that is so evident in the USA today. And the disintegration of our government’s good will.

    I’m afraid that our adaptation facility may not be in our best interest right now, Linda. I feel that we have been the proverbial frogs swimming in the cool water that is slowly being heated up to boiling. If we don’t jump out of the pot soon, we’re going to be properly cooked! It seems that the Occupy movement is the beginning of the smart frogs who realize how hot the water is becoming and trying to get the rest of us to hop the hell up and DO SOMETHING! We’ve got to stop adapting to this slow advancement toward strangulation of our masses and fight the trends that are being foisted upon us primarily by the wealthy plutocrats in America. I’m afraid it may really take a true revolution to survive this boiling pot.

    Eugene, I sympathize and feel similarly. I never in my lifetime expected to have my “golden years” spent not only in fear of extinction but to be in the same turbulence as I felt in the ’60s. It’s been a long time coming… and it may be a long time gone. . . our America, that is.

    • theozarker says:

      Unfortunately Caity, a lot of the income at the top consists of digits on a computer, not backed by healthy assets. And right now, there appears to be two bubbles forming in the economy – the student loan market and again in the housing market – where investors are buying up bank-owned properties (foreclosed properties), they say for rentals, and forcing housing prices up 20-30 % in markets where there have been high foreclosure rates. Even with the fed buying back bad assets from the banks (to the tune of over two trillion so far) the banks – and probably not a few hedge funds – are nowhere near as healthy as they are saying. There are still trillions in bad loans and toxic assets out there. A lot of wealth disappeared in the last crash; a lot more will disappear in the next one. Without access to cheap, easy to produce oil to rebuild, a lot more of that wealth will disappear forever.
      In a sense, we are all in the boiling pot, even the wealthy. They have been kidding themselves for so long, they just don’t know it.
      So those of us who have adapted down, grow at least some of our own food and are less dependent on the system already will probably be more likely to survive that next crash and the next step down in the decline of the empire, because I don’t see things getting appreciably better before they get worse, again. That’s what I mean by adapting.

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