Sunday, July 15, 2007

The End of Time

A few days ago, the watch I carry due to bus schedules stopped. Later that day 60 mph winds blew into town, knocking down many trees which took wires with them. My electricity was off for 7 hours; since the only clocks in my apartment are on electric machines and my watch was stopped, time had come to an end. At one point I decided to call to find out the time and discovered my telephone was out also. That stayed off 24 hours.

I read, played with the cat, napped, but I also was a little edgy. There were rented dvds I needed to watch and return, I wondered what was happening on the (dial-up) internet, and there was a lot of food in the freezer. Make no mistake, though I think civilization has ruined the human animal, I know I’m just as ruined as the next person. Although I used to enjoy reading Tom Brown’s books and know a few edible wild plants, I don’t live in a shelter I built myself and I don’t play hunter-gatherer on the weekends. I don’t have any delusion I’m going to survive the crash if it comes before I die, but I still think it needs to happen as soon as possible for the good of the human species as well as almost all the other ones.

One of my plans here is to include revised versions of some of the columns I wrote for a local newspaper. On the subject of the end times, here’s one written after the flooding of New Orleans:

From the beginning, New Orleans was a city built in an unsafe location. This was made worse by additional human settlement which caused the destruction of wetlands and barrier islands which had helped protect the city by reducing hurricane winds and storm surges. Levees built to protect these areas from flooding, canals constructed for industrial use, and attempts to manage and straighten the river all disrupted the hydrology of the Mississippi River delta area which prevented the natural creation of new coastline. This is documented on several websites which include maps showing the amount of wetland loss over the years. One good source is featuring transcripts from programs they did on this subject three years before their predictions came true.

Although Gulfport and Biloxi suffered more direct destruction from Hurricane Katrina, it was the news from New Orleans which captured most of our attention. There are few if any American cities which have a spot in more people’s hearts than New Orleans which is one reason it drew our interest. It has been over twenty years since I was there and I still vividly recall the food, the music, the conversations and atmosphere.

Another reason is that New Orleans became the car wreck we couldn’t look away from, providing us a miniature preview of the collapse of our civilization, not in one swift blow but in a foreseeable and inexorable manner. The water’s pouring in and won’t be stopped no matter how hard we pretend that everything will always remain just as it is. Although the right wing religious preached their “god punishing the sinners” routine, the fact is that the potential danger to New Orleans was well known but wasn’t given a high priority, and so the city was ill-prepared for the inevitable. This reflects the prevalence of short term thinking and its dominance over long term planning which plagues our society.

When the artificial and superficial safety net of our civilization was ripped aside, we saw that the rich, young, healthy, and white got out of town leaving the poor, old, sick, and black to die on their own. In that case of localized catastrophe, some help eventually came from other areas. When the entire system is collapsing nationwide, everyone will be busy trying to save themselves.

In New Orleans, looters out of touch with the new reality stole electronics and people complained that they were not being helped in part because they believed they were not capable of helping themselves. This is not their fault; it’s what society has trained them to be: passive consumers, dependent on an infrastructure collapsing with age and the demands of too large a population, and dependent on the government and economic system whose purpose is to keep them oppressed to maintain the status quo. They got angry because despite the evidence seen every day in their lives, they hadn’t really accepted that the lives of the have-nots don’t matter to those who have.

In a society where food and water come from packages in a store (and require oil, electricity, plumbing, and transportation systems), instead of from a local field and river, where those fields are paved over with parking lots and the river is polluted with industry byproducts, where people are trained to be specialists and cogs in the machine rather than individuals capable of controlling their own lives, it should come as no surprise that a large number of those people are going to die from learned helplessness.

One positive result of Katrina was the rising price of gasoline which should have been taxed highly enough to have been at current prices all along. Maybe some of that tax money might have found its way to the levee instead of Iraq. These higher prices will cause transportation problems for people who have built their lives around consumption instead of conservation, but the poorest people were already using public transportation and living without cars in central cities or remote areas rather than in the suburbs with a Hummer. Heating season and increased costs for many products will be very difficult for many individuals, but for the nation facing the tough truth is better than accepting an easy lie.

If we chose to be a culture of responsible adults rather than self-indulgent brats, we would end pointless consumption and pollution such as auto racing and all recreational use of SUVs, ATVs, snowmobiles, jet skis and other such toys. Instead disruptions in oil supply, whether from natural or manmade disasters will be used as an excuse to drill and spill in any area which might contain oil. This is an inevitable result of our culture’s current values and all environmentalists can do is try to slow it down. The only thing which will ultimately prevent that drilling is if the collapse comes first. Americans have made it clear they’d rather feel good about themselves for making a pound of donations afterward than make an ounce of sacrifice in advance.

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