When I go to the Internet to enhance my understanding of the world around me there are a handful of bloggers and podcasters who most influence my thoughts. While it is a detail I have been aware of for as long as I have been floating in the sphere of influence of these authors, I only recently began to contemplate the coincidence that they have all relocated because they wished to more fully integrate their worldview with their daily lives. While all of these particular thinkers have decided to live in the northeast of the United States, two of them in particular live within just an hour or two of where I live.
In spite of their relative proximity to me our lives are very different however. Chris Martensen lives in rural western Massachusetts on what could be described as a small farm, and James Howard Kunstler lives just outside a small town in upstate New York where he too is establishing a small homestead. Both Martensen and Kunstler foresee what they describe as a Crash, or a Long Emergency, respectively. What I share with them is a belief that the trajectory of industrial civilization is likely to change in the relatively near future. To one degree or another we are apocalyptic. While I don’t think they would want to be called either preppers or doomers, to most people they would fall into those categories to some degree, and so would I. Although to anyone who had taken anything more than a passing interest in preppering or doomerdom I would probably seem to be the most confused and ill prepared apocalypticist in the history of the world.
Both from within and from without, the consensus view of prepper/doomers is that the thing to do is to run away from civilization and prepare to live on (what was) its periphery in some form of semi-independent agricultural or hunter-gatherer isolation. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that assumption is wrong, especially if one has the inclination and the skills to live in the hinterlands, but at the same time I think that very same decision might be unwise for those who, like most of us, lack both that inclination and those skills.
In a recent essay John Michael Greer recommended, essentially, prepping in place for the coming “Dark Ages” for those who haven’t already run off to the mountains, and I see much wisdom in that advice. To start with, I don’t want to be a farmer and I don’t want to live in the woods, and while I do think a shift in industrial civilization is inevitable, the time frame of that shift is unforeseeable. Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” spans a period of hundreds of years; no one alive at the beginning was around at the end, and most of those living in between would have been surprised to hear their lifetime being defined as such.
Furthermore, to focus more closely on the “skills” issue, I think most of us will be more likely to survive even in a dysfunctional society in crisis than in a state of total independence. Greer foresees, based on his studies of past societal collapses, that whatever transformation takes place it will likely take place slowly: in fact we are already in collapse.
It is from that perspective that I would like to analyze my own flight to the center.
My hometown has been in decline, and certain neighborhoods in collapse, for most of my lifetime. The median family income in my neighborhood hovers around $15,000 a year. Most people survive without a car or with an “on its last legs” used car. People here already use less energy per capita than anywhere else in the region. There are at least two soup kitchens in the neighborhood and the school provides meals for children and families during school and summer vacations. People barter for goods and services. Offices have back bedrooms. Apartments serve as after hours bars. Cookouts happen on holidays and while some are invited to garner goodwill, others pay for the privilege of participating. The point is, the world some prognosticators describe as “on its way” is already here, so what segment of the populace will best be able to adapt to the new paradigm, those for whom it comes as a complete shock, or those who have been living in it their whole lives?
I know some people who foresee cities as having a Mad Max sort of destiny, perhaps even a little bit “Escape from New York”-ish, with rioters and marauding bands of hoodlums holding sway. For me, I see the countryside as something out of “Deliverance”. I don’t have enough arrows in my quiver to fight off the toothless hordes, and there won’t be anyone else there to help me. So I’m betting on the center holding, if little else, in both a literal and figurative sense. The governmental, legal, transportation, energy, medical, emergency, educational, water, waste, and sewage infrastructures all have their regional centers within 2 miles of my home. Most of them within a mile. If it’s going to be held together anywhere for any meaningful amount of time it will be here.
I’ve described at length the things I’ve done to adapt to a future of increasingly expensive energy and I intend to continue doing so for as long as I can. I will always be curious about what turning the next corner will reveal in the story of human civilization, and I realize that no matter how many corners I turn there will always be a next one that I will never experience. I pride myself in doing everything I can to make the preparations I make for the future as beneficial to my life today as they can possibly be.