Collapse Porn, or how my life would fare in as many collapse scenarios as I can Imagine without drinking ayahuasca.
Oh My god, The Rapture!
This seems the least likely of all the scenarios, I mean, first there’d have to be a god, then, it would have to be the Christian god, then it would have to be the Protestant version of the Christian god, and then the interpretation of some nut job from the 1800’s of the apocalyptic End Times would have to be the correct one. Still, it’s fun.
I mean, most people don’t actually read the Bible, and people who do either become or already are atheists; but the rapture, she ain’t in there. Unless you think the results to this year’s Super Bowl, a moral message regarding human existence, and a message from Aunt Millie emanating from beyond the grave are in there as well, which is to say; if you already have a pretty good idea of what answer you want to find, you can find it in the convoluted and repetitive story telling of the Bible.
John Darby was trying to get people to buy into the idea that when Jesus said he’d be back “soon”, eighteen hundred years was still in the ballpark. Then, of course, he had the problem that the book of Revelations, the Apocalypse, makes it sound like there is going to be nothing but shitstorm after shitstorm after shitstorm right before the Messiah decides to come back and, you know, really take charge this time. I’m sure the response was generally:
“That loving God you’ve been telling us about is going to do…WHAT?!?!?! All the plagues? Blood? Up to where? Boils too? ‘Um, savior guy, why do you have a sword in your mouth?’ Actually, Mr. Darby, we’re good. Thanks.”
No slouch, Mr Darby made up a lie, and he made it up fast:
“No, no, no, hold on. Jesus will lovingly fly all of us believers the FUUUUUCK out of here before all that torture porn shit goes down. He’s not Hitler, though, you’re right, he IS going to do that to the Jews, but it will be out of goodness and love, not anti-semitism. Who’s Hitler? Don’t worry about it, God would never let that happen.”
Pretty good, really. I mean, usually the Antichrist is depicted as trying to hatch some hair-brained evil scheme like ending world hunger, getting the people to live in peace and harmony, putting an end to religion, or universal health care, and I’m just the kind of wicked, hedonistic asshole who would want hungry people to have food, wars to end, rational thought to prevail, and for the sick to be treated based on need and not career choice, so I’m all in Mr Antichrist!
I’d put myself front and center in His cabal.
I don’t live in a particularly religious part of the country so fewer buses would careen out of control in a pre-Trib rapture around here than in the Bible Belt. I imagine the prison population would shrink…lot of believers in there. All the children being gone would mean network TV could finally develop an edge, so I could save $10 a month on HBO.
Down side? All those empty churches. Wait, lots of really nice churches are empty around here already, but loads of storefronts would open up. And with the aforementioned inverse relationship between crime and religiosity, not to mention the tautological relationship between irrational fear and religion, I could foresee dying retail in struggling urban areas nationwide resurrecting almost overnight…or over three nights.
All in all I think I’d do pretty well in the Rapture scenario. At least until Armageddon when Mister “worship me, worship me” decided to take over, then it’s fire and brimstone for all eternity I guess. Oh, well, I had a nice run.
In an earlier post I noted how an article on crime statistics for 2014, including a 40% drop in murders for a Springfield, didn’t mention the city in the headline and took great pains to minimize that the number of homicides had plummeted in the City of Homes. I expressed a certain amount of sympathy with the nuanced approach, but I predicted that that nuanced approach would be jettisoned if the number increased the following year.
I didn’t have to wait long!
A 29% increase gets a headline, no disclaimer.
Prepper Helter Skelter
This is the most popular of the apocalypsi to the average Trump voter. All cities, check that, all cities with a substantial minority population…you know who you are…are devastated by marauding hoards of melanin. It’s the Rodney King verdict but the battle cry is “Can’t we all just kill whitey”.
My family lasts a week at most without even breaking into our long term storage or my wife’s canned goods. We spend a few days peering furtively out the windows a la Anne Frank, and hoping our incredible whiteness of being continues to be overlooked. The electricity gets cut off after a day or two and we realize that cooking on the wood stove will alert everyone to our urban prepper (idiots!) status. Cold beans it is.
Eventually, either because of the conspicuous nature of the stillness surrounding our front and back doors, or because ruffians of color are led here by our neighbors, all of our fruit trees are ripped out of the ground and the bricks from the alley way are pulled up and used to shatter our windows. The end comes with the front door being bashed in and machete bearing men hacking us all to bits.
Rural survivors hope that, after remorselessly killing all of their Caucasian human shields, the forces of Helter Skelter will be bombed into oblivion by the military overlords who’ve usurped the weak civilian leadership of the armed forces, but doing so may put at risk enormously expensive elements of infrastructure that the entire region depends upon. A decision needs to be made as to whether or not the value of the sunk costs in the urban areas outweighs the immense loss of white lives necessary to retake the territory. Either carpet bombing or house to house combat ensues. One course leads to a stalemate, the other to a devastating loss of the most basic elements upon which the traditional American Way of Life depends.
In the end a swath of land from Maine through to upstate New York becomes the only remaining viable place to live in the northeast and this region aligns itself with or becomes part of Quebec, as the only substantial east-west transport link is the Saint Lawrence River. Portland, Brattleboro, and Oswego thrive under the new order. Everyone learns French, plays hockey and grows Swiss chard. Every city south or west of Portland looks like this:
Yeah, if that happens, I’m screwed, but at least I don’t foresee having to deal with the uncomfortable aftermath of the apocalypse (ugh, the mess), and I won’t be wracked with the angst of wondering if we might have been ok if only I’d put by three more boxes of Ronzoni! Nope, catastrophic fractal wrongness, that’s what Prepper Helter Skelter means to me.
The most difficult part of the climate change question for me is that the best and least catastrophic responses, at least in the United States, would all seem to promote agendas which are favorable to ideologies, concepts, and even regions I prefer. I can’t help but recall my reaction to Peak Oil being remarkably similar. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t changed my mind regarding the finite nature of the planet Earth, nor do I conclude that 97% percent of scientists are wrong (or lying) regarding anthropogenic global warming, it is just that when the “correct response” to a question seems to be everything I’d want it to be it’s hard not to wonder if I’m delusional.
In a conversation between two of the giants I greatly admire from the world of urbanism, Jim Kunstler asks Chuck Marohn if people in the Midwest are taking the improvement of their passenger rail system seriously. They’re not, and nor are most people in most regions of the United States, but at that very moment my daughter was returning from her honeymoon on a train from Penn Station to Springfield’s Union Station. I open the browser on my iPad and the Amtrak live tracking map shows two trains on their way to my hometown from Penn Station and, while that may be pathetic compared to Europe, it’s pretty impressive for the U.S.. I flip on the local news, and I see an update on improvements to that same Union Station and I see that its renovation will be concluded within a year.
Whether referencing heat, rainfall, sea level rise, the importance of local agriculture, or even relatively obscure concepts like the renaissance of America’s rivers as highways of commerce, everything takes my region and my city and places it in a superior position to where it currently sits. Absolutely spectacular. Except some experts see the end of human civilization as an eventuality, while at the same time the general public, even “believers” in climate change, aren’t really doing any more than buying LED light bulbs and driving their hybrids to the farmer’s market.
The idea that the most carbon friendly lifestyle involves a car that’s never manufactured because you’ve moved to a place where the existing infrastructure was arranged to be used in such a way you can get everywhere you need to go on foot or using transit has not penetrated the zeitgeist. So far the only popular green responses are the ones which carry strong branding and no real changes to anyone’s lifestyle.
All of which frustrates so much of what I’ve tried to do. Structural “walkability” is a good thing, but that structural walkability only functions if the necessary programming exists, and the necessary programming will only exist when the people are in place who might make the programming profitable. Such is the frustration of either being ahead of one’s time or simply being wrong. People aren’t moving west to east, south to north, or from suburbs to cities (except for a handful of exceptional cities, boutique cities, and college towns). I have felt for quite some time that Americans in general will only make changes to their lifestyle when it is forced upon them, hearing James Howard Kunstler echo that sentiment in the aforementioned podcast confirmed for me that that hunch might very well be correct.
I have a hunch that even a great many vocal supporters of a renaissance of American urbanism, public transit, walkability, and localization are singing the praises of these transformations mostly in hope that others will do the changing, and that they will then enjoy the decrease in traffic on the way to fill up their SUV’s with bulk items at a Costco where parking near the front is a tad easier to find.
I can’t find a single story about fatal crashes where the number of people who have died in car “accidents” in any related way is communicated. It is always as if no one on that road, on that highway, in that community, or in the region had ever died before in an automobile connected incident.
On the other hand i don’t think I can even find a headline about an urban murder that doesn’t put that sort of information before anything and everything else including entire articles on just the murder horse race. They’re not just numbers…they’re ordinal numbers!
This just in:
My stepdaughter is probably reading at a middle school to high school level already despite only being in the third grade. Her mother was such a precocious reader that, in her K-12 private school, she was once brought into a high school class as a first grader to humiliate (Nun move!) the students there by reading from the New York Times.
So my stepdaughter’s school gets no credit for her amazing abilities?
Not in my mind. We’ll never know how differently or similarly her reading skills might have progressed had she been educated in a different environment that is true, but it is absolutely true that she did not read at all before entering kindergarten at the Milton Bradley Elementary School and all of the instruction she has received about reading has been given to her at that level 4 (the lowest you can go before a state takeover) institution.
Even as her teachers prepare most of her classmates for a significant standardized reading test she has been given a separate assignment involving a much more in depth study of a series of novels that she has been reading. Her language arts teacher has confided to us that LuLu is fast approaching a level of reading which goes beyond her formal training to instruct. Is that a failure of the system, or is it indicative of teacher who have recognized and fostered a special gift of one of their students?
By the standard metric, LuLu’s school is a bad school, but you’d be hard pressed to demonstrate that any other school could have done a better job in just over three years of taking a non reader and turning her into a voracious and insightful one.
As it relates to Rational Urbanism the takeaway is the following: Urban schools are often referred to as bad schools because their student outcomes are perceived as being low. As likely as not they are low not because the teachers, administrators, physical plant, and curriculum are below par, but because the students attending those schools come from demographic groups which are known to struggle academically. Data shows both that students from more middle class backgrounds tend to perform at the level of their demographic even when attending those schools, and that the overall impact of schools and teachers on student outcomes are much less significant than the individual student’s characteristics.
As a parent of two graduates of the Springfield Public Schools who have gone on to be very successful in their academic endeavors in college I can add my anecdotal evidence to this statistical evidence.
STOP SAYING “BAD SCHOOLS” WHEN YOU HAVEN’T DONE THE ANALYSIS NECESSARY TO CONFIRM THAT A SCHOOL’S STUDENTS UNDERPERFORM ITS DEMOGRAPHIC.
There was an incident at a city school this week which, all things considered, reflected well on the community and its values. Ironically, when a suburbanite coworker recounted it to me the facts were reshuffled in such a way that the hero in the story became the goat and if anything a response indicative of extreme care was made to look irresponsible. The bottom line was that a troubled child with special needs who lives in a group home had run off after being brought back to school for misbehavior on the bus, and “teachers” who were still at the school at nearly 4 p.m. were so concerned about the child’s well being that they called upon the police department to aid them in a search of the city’s largest park to find him. In the end a worker from the group home, not knowing that there had been an issue at the school, saw the child walking on the street and brought him back to the residence.
Also this week Strong Towns reposted a series of 4 podcasts that one of the site’s editors viewed as the most important of the year. Among them was the interview I had with Chuck Marohn on the topic of urban schools. The point of the interview was that city schools are often labeled as “bad schools” erroneously specifically because the students they educate are more difficult to educate. The correct way to analyze whether a school is “good” or “bad” is to view how a school’s outcomes correspond to the school’s demographic “predictors” such as parental income, transience, and English language proficiency. When one does that, instead of the overly simplistic comparison of school against school without taking those things into account, urban schools considered “bad” often turn out to be over performing.
I was thrilled to see that, of the four podcasts reposted, mine was singled out in the comment section as being of high importance, but one response in particular completely ignored the entire premise of the interview. In essence the comment was that the commenter hypothesized that gentrification improves urban schools. The post didn’t seem designed to contradict what had been laid out in the interview, which of course it did, it just seemed to completely ignore every point made in the discussion replacing them with exactly, precisely, the demonstrably flawed premise the interview was meant to reject: schools do not “get better” when neighborhoods gentrify, the gentrifying students improve outcomes because they are better prepared as students.
Not seeing that is like putting a NBA players in the uniforms of a CYO league basketball team and concluding that the team’s improvement is due to better coaching!
To repeat, (it’s a good analogy, really) seeing the improved record of a church basketball team as being caused by improvements in the coaching staff or coaching techniques when the normal CYO kids have been replaced by NBA caliber players is identical to believing that a gentrifying school achieves better outcomes because instruction improves.
Think about it.
What connects these two stories, that of the podcast and that of the misunderstanding of the news item regarding the runaway boy? The power of the preconception. As a teacher I could give you at least a handful of specific examples where I have learned that my students’ greatest challenge in mastering new material is prior learning which contains inherent contradictions to the new. ER and IR verbs are always confused with the more dominant AR verbs, the rules of the present tense override the new learning about the preterite, and those examples don’t even begin to scratch the surface of the different historical and cultural perspectives of the Spanish speaking world relative to the United States and our perspectives.
The point here is that overcoming the power of the preconception takes time and repetition, and time and repetition, and time and repetition. I once taught an entire unit on the overthrow of the Allende government with readings from newspaper reports, short stories, and novels, compounded with viewing and listening to actual White House conversations, documentary films, and full length feature films, with the outcome that 1/4 of the class reported to me on the test that the Soviet Union had overthrown the socialist president of Chile. What other country would have so little respect for democracy?
It doesn’t matter that published, peer reviewed papers can demonstrate that stranger danger INCREASES as you move further from a metro center, or that an analysis of data shows that “school quality” is both difficult to determine AND not a particularly significant factor in individual student outcomes, it has to be said over, and over, and over again to even begin to make a dent in the barrier that is the preconception.
Here at Rational Urbanism I’ll just keep pounding away.
There’s an interesting psychological fact I’m interested to explore. Just from looking at the comment section of local and regional news outlets there is a pattern of response to violence and to car crashes which is consistently dichotomous; violence of any kind elicits a bullying/shame response towards the community, while auto related mayhem incurs one of pity or victim blaming.
I could select a few incidents and post screen captures of comments, but I’d rather my readers verify on their own if the pattern holds where they are. I apologize in advance for the wretched world you are about to enter if you have heretofore avoided online comment sections! I am sure that there are communities where particular stretches of road are so dangerous that “another crash” creates a controversy regarding making changes to the engineering of the road, but does anyone make broad statements about the neighborhood, the town, or the city?
You see, when two young men involved in gang or drug related activities shoot it out, or when a young woman dies tragically at the hands of an ex lover it is very common, in cities in the northeast at least, for the comments on news pieces to immediately become direct and over the top criticisms of the entire community where the incidents occurred to the point that they would be considered abusive if expressed toward an individual. Common themes involve expressions like “that’s why I would never visit that hellhole”, or “what do you expect from a bunch of animals”.
Springfield had gone a few months without a murder and my wife had just learned of the city’s fourteenth homicide of the year. She read the headline aloud and immediately expressed disappointment akin to a personal failure; “we” had a murder. I felt the same. There have been three car crashes on this block since my wife moved here: one involving an off duty cop speeding into a huge tree just across the street from the house; and two in which cars slammed into a neighbor’s house. On all three occasions we both expressed anger at the drivers for being reckless, but not once did we feel shame at living on “such a block” which would facilitate such crashes.
To take it further, we live 100 feet from an intersection where there is at least a fender bender a season. We have grown accustomed to the thud and crunch of low speed impacts of automobiles and the ensuing chaos of traffic snarls, police cars, and the occasional ambulance.
Not once have we felt as though these incidents were indicative of a community shortcoming in some moral or ethical sense.
On the other hand, despite all of my blogposts expressing a deep understanding of the roots of endemic urban violence, when an incident occurs in the city, whether a hundred feet from the house or miles away, involving savagery, I do feel as though it impugns me and my neighbors.
I wonder, is it a consequence of the bad journalism I have derided on so many occasions, or is it a cause thereof?
I do not know, but I do not see that I have any more reason to feel ashamed for others’ actions connected to violence than I do for their driving. But I do.
There was an incident the Friday morning after Thanksgiving in which a man’s car was shot at within 100 feet of my backyard. My initial instinct was to reject his report as false given the unusually random nature of the incident. He wasn’t hurt, there was one small bullet hole in his bumper, and the story warranted multiple reports on air, on line, and in print.
Despite the almost infinitesimally small physical damage, the psychological damage of the incident to the man was, understandably, enormous. During the same period that this man’s story was revealed and elaborated, a matter of a few days, a number of people died in roadway accidents in this region and a dozen or so were seriously hurt, with their cars and their persons experience much greater physical trauma than the man with the hole in his bumper. How is it that their emotional scars, and those of the community, seem so much less significant?
Is it only that the shooting involves obviously volitional behavior? Is there something in our makeup which does make being hundreds of times more likely to be maimed “by accident” less significant than that minute chance that someone might some day intentionally do us harm?
We are unusual creatures and rationality does not come easily to us, and I am no different from anyone else in that regard.
When I was very young I remember going to Forest Park to swim. I remember having some sort of orange colored ID badge and walking to the park with other neighborhood kids. Shortly after that summer my father purchased a very large, used, above ground pool. My father built a deck at one end of the pool…and with that my public pool experiences came to an end.
After putting in the pool and building the deck “the mountain came to Mohammed” as it were as after that my friends and neighbors came over to my house to swim. For me it meant having control over who was invited and who wasn’t, with whom I interacted, and with whom I didn’t. It is, perhaps, the one element of my life that is similar to the experience of most suburban kids today in the sense that a lot of my behavior with my friends was monitored by my parents, and controlled, though I would have to say much more casually than young people experience now.
Today, my step-daughter loves to swim, but if we had a pool of any reasonable size we couldn’t have a garden or much of anything else in our backyard. For that reason LuLu swims at 5 Mile Pond. She is still too young for us to feel comfortable sending her up Boston Road on a bus so we drive the (not coincidental) 5 miles to the public beach there. At first LuLu was obsessed with having me swim with her. I don’t mind swimming for a little while, but at 51 years of age, I have to admit that most of my playfulness has long since dissipated. The first few times we went to the beach, after I got tired of being in the water, LuLu would just stand, staring at me despondently, while I encouraged her to find some kids her own age to play with.
At first she couldn’t imagine what it was I was asking her to do without the mediation of a parent. If you’re my age you’ll know what I was asking her to do: parents would drag you someplace and then desert you to go behave like adults (instead of activities directors for their children) and you would have to find enough young people with similar interests to start engaging in activities which you would create and find interesting. She started to try it. She eventually got very good at it.
After a handful of visits LuLu was so expert at making friends and finding things to do that I started to time how many minutes it would take her to “isolate her prey and go in for the kill”. Anytime playmates leave she recruits replacements immediately. They do stupid stuff; handstand contests, Marco Polo, shell collecting. And they have a great time. Without me, thank goodness. It hardly compensates for all the time she and her contemporaries spend being monitored by the Parental Union Nanny State, but it’s a start, and it makes me grateful to not have a pool.