Until last Tuesday I had never met Chris Martenson nor had I ever met anyone in the area who knew of him; A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country after all. When I contemplate the different forms of resilience capital, as Chris and Adam Taggart explain it, the most ephemeral is spiritual and perhaps the most difficult to assess is social. For those reasons I chose to attend both a concert by Stephen Jenkinson recommended by Mr Martenson, and the meet-up which immediately preceded it.
I’ve mentioned Chris and Peak Prosperity in at least a handful of posts here at Rational Urbanism. I find his Crash Course to be the clearest and best laid out explanation of what we’re facing as a civilization in the near future and his website is a great resource for preparing for impending discontinuities. I place him with Jim Kunstler, John Michael Greer, and Chuck Marohn as thinkers whose messages resonate with me because they do not see the future as being the same as the present, only more so.
Johnny Sanphillippo had written that his experience in meeting with Peak Prosperity members involved mostly alpha-male types involved in the world of investment and high finance. The 8 of us who met Chris and his companion at a local Indian restaurant were of a very different sort; mostly women, no discussion whatsoever of money and finance, with perhaps the only topic of conversation which might have seemed unusual for any random group of people just getting to know one another was firearms related.
When Chris made his way down to our end of the table we had an interesting, but all too brief, conversation. I started by thanking him for his work on the Crash Course and at Peak Prosperity. I mentioned that I chose to attend the Nights of Grief and Mystery concert because, as a philosophical materialist, the idea of spiritual capital was difficult for me but important, I think, to understand. Chris talked about how Stephen Jenkinson’s performance would be interesting for someone coming from that perspective.
This is when things got really interesting.
My wife and I later discussed that the idea of having a meet-up with Chris and Peak Prosperity members was uncomfortable because, like me, she was raised in a very insular religion which centered around a cult of personality; she has no interest in becoming an acolyte of anyone or anything…excepting me perhaps. Chris is clearly the prophet type, and his ideas are meant to encourage a transformation of life and of self. The message, like the apocalyptic message of my former Mormon faith, is one of exceptionalism; of being among the special few who hear the call, understand the message, and follow Him.
What followed in the interaction between Chris and me was nuanced, but spoke volumes. Whether he asked or I volunteered I cannot recall, but I told him that we lived in Springfield. Up to that moment I hadn’t expressed anything but praise for an orthodox reading of the Peak Prosperity message, despite erring in saying there were “7 forms of resilience capital” when there are 8. In an effort to help me feel as though I was still among the chosen people he responded that, regarding living in Springfield, what really mattered was where in the city of Springfield one lived.
He didn’t have to say any more; I knew what he meant. There are spaces, like my parents’ home: in the woods, away from the densely populated center, with access to land, wood, and water, and with neighbors like, well, like us where a person could live in the way envisioned by Chris’ Peak Prosperity model. When I told him in the clearest terms possible that I not only did NOT live in one of those areas, but rather, I lived in the heart of the beast, the center of the city, surrounded by the poor, desperate teeming masses I saw a flicker of realization take place; I was lost.
I went on to mention that we had a small garden, that our garden had helped us to create social capital in our neighborhood, and that my neighbors weren’t at all worried about the state of the markets or any such thing; they had all taken John Michael Greer’s advice, if involuntarily, to crash now and avoid the rush. Chris was very polite, demurred, and went back to his end of the table to eat. He had made a calculation; this was not the time or place to dissuade me from living in an urban center. We’ve all done it: quietly listened to a poor, misguided soul explain why they believe something that we find utterly ridiculous.
I know that I have no idea how the Long Emergency will play out. I believe it will play out, but I don’t think I could say with any precision where, when, or even why it will reach its most critical junctures. Could I be wrong altogether in even thinking the progress of human civilization could stop? Yes, although I can’t conceive of how.
Where Chris and I differ is, I suppose, in just where and how the first throes of obvious dysfunction will occur and in our individual abilities to respond to them. My money, figuratively, is on the center holding for a relatively extended period of time due to societal inertia. I harbor no illusions that I can scratch an independent life from the soil, nor would I want to. The infrastructure of America is weak at its periphery, but, in the words of Nassim Taleb, things which have been around for a long time are likely to be around for a long time, and this place has been a functioning community for 400 years, a city by anyone’s reckoning for 200.
I stand a better chance of living a life I’d want to live; provided with water, power, and sanitation, right here, where I have planted myself.
If the near future turns into the apocalypse Chris foresees in terms of all urban places becoming Wild, Wild, West worlds of festering violence and lawlessness then, yes, I’m screwed; but at this point in life I’d be just as screwed trying to eek out a living on a homestead in the hinterlands under the same societal conditions.
As always I’m balancing the here and now with my prepping for the future. Some people have the problem of not placing enough value in the future; as Chuck Marohn says, that’s why we smoke, or eat ice cream instead of exercising at the end of a hard day. It’s possible to do the opposite, however, and live too much for tomorrow, especially since, in fact, it is always today and none of us will ever exist in any tomorrow, even if we’re lucky enough to successfully divine what that tomorrow will be like.
Fittingly, that’s just what the Nights of Grief and Mystery performance left us with; an understanding that we will all soon cease to be whatever the state of the world, and our task is to create meaning in and from whatever remains.