Casaubon's Book

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I have managed to completely freak Zuska out, and for that, I can only offer both apologies and sympathy. It really sucketh deeply when people come bang up against the realities of depletion and climate change. And one of the things that so insidious about the painfulness of this encounter is that a lot of times, people who are ordinarily more critical in their responses, go to the worst possible scenarios with a kind of horrified fascination.

This is not totally unreasonable – not only is there tremendous social pressure to go to the apocalyptic (plenty of movies, lots of tv, fiction…) but the destruction of one’s expectations about the future can be so devastating it is hard to see any kind of positive outcome. But the problem with this is twofold. First of all, it is hard to do anything but feel irrelevant and lost. And while all of us are entitled to a few nights of margaritas and ben and jerry’s as we mourn the fall of our future, that’s not a great long term strategy. The second is that I think we tend to go from one end of the spectrum to the other so fast that we miss the possibility that there is some space in the middle to rest upon.

Now Zuska is asking herself, quite reasonably, whether I am a nut job, and while the answer to that may well be yes, I don’t think I am on the grounds that she advanced. In fact, I’m going to say something that may get me in trouble with her – I think her panic is leading her to go into places she doesn’t normally go. This is totally understandable, but I do think that her assumptions are ones that she wouldn’t normally make. In fact, later on, I’m going to go so far as to say she’s picking the patriarchal guy option by going straight to the Mad Max scenarios. I hope I can say that without them being fighting words ;-). My own observation of my mistakes is that when I go instinctively for the option that seems antithetical to my basic general worldview, it is often because I’ve just not got my head on straight. But maybe I am being unfair. So I will respond to Zuska’s critiques one by one here, and she can advance further, if she chooses, why I’m nuts ;-).

Here is the substance of her criticism as I understand it.

1. Sharon is naive, part 1. If climate change and energy depletion are as bad as I say, things are going to be so awful that there’s no point in doing any of these things like cooking, gardening, learning how to keep warm without power, etc… It’ll just be unmitigated hell.

My own take on this is that this is exactly the wrong way to think about this. That in fact, the one thing we pretty much know for sure is this – that unless a sudden asteroid strike or something causes the extinction of the entire human race, the one set of skills that *will* be useful to all of us is the work of basic subsistence. We know for a fact that when societies decline and fall there are bits that happen very quickly and bits that happen very slowly, that sometimes they are violent but sometimes not so much – basically the one thing we do know is that we don’t know. But even in the worst case scenarios, those who live still need water to drink. They still need to do the laundry. They still need groceries and grow food – such as in Berlin in the picture above at the end of WWII. They still need to take care of their children and tend their animals. In fact, in many cases, they need those things worse than ever. So in the midst of war, you see people out in the fields and the gardens growing food. In the midst of disaster, you see people go out to fetch water and teaching their children. As the bombs are falling or as things are going to hell, someone still has to wash the clothes and tend the sick. Indeed, those things – the ability to stretch the food and boil water for safety and keep sick people warm and comfortable stop being trivial and become matters of life and death. You don’t have to believe in happy endings to see the merits of subsistence work.

Do I believe in the worst case scenarios? What I honestly believe most in is in the fact that never in all of history has there been a universal experience of anything. In every horrible situation there have been those who say “oh, that wasn’t that bad for us” and those who die early in terrible suffering, even though it wasn’t that bad overall. I have no doubt that the range of experiences will cover the ground from “mostly unaffected” to “utterly disastrous.” I also have no idea to tell who will be who. So the best I can do is to suggest that everyone prepare to be poor, to have no electricity, to have to feed yourself, to have to take care of others – and to count on the fact that your subsistence labor will matter. It matters today if your gardening just helps you put some more of your food budget to something that matters to you like helping Haitian earthquake victims and it matters tomorrow if it is life or death.

2. Sharon is naive, part II – Sharon is a fluffy bunny-hugger who doesn’t realize that mean people with guns will come and take her garden. She and her friends will be happily hugging their bunnies and be shot or something.

I hate to say this, Zuska, but I think you are making a common judgement mistake people make about women – you are assuming that because I spend a lot of time talking food and laundry that I am a pushover. Now I admit, I am a bunny hugger – I really like my bunnies. Of course, I also got some of them because I plan to breed cute little babies so that I can chop off their heads and use them for food for my neighbors and my dogs. I just had a great girl weekend, where we talked about food and sex and played with the cute animals- and got demos about how to slaughter them.

I’m a farmer. Guns are a basic tool of my trade (sooner or later you’ll have to put livestock down) and between the deer hunters and the farmers out here, there are about as many weapons as your average army base in my neighborhood. Now what I do feel strongly about is that guns aren’t the only answer – and that there are a lot of places to before you get to the guns. There are a lot of passive security measures, and community responses that you start with. Sometimes guns aren’t a good answer at all – for example, when the people you are dealing with are state sponsored and legitimized – then shooting at them is really, really stupid and non-violent resistance is definitely the way to go. And some of my readers are pacifists (not me), and they believe strongly in dying rather than fighting back – I find that incredibly honorable and I admire them. I’m not, but I don’t think that choosing not to fight is a weak or naive response – it can be incredibly powerful.

I think there are a lot of different ways people prepare to deal with security issues. In my own case, I’ve made my life pretty much an open book. Everyone in the free world who has ever read my blog knows that I store food, for example. So my only choice is to work with my neighbors – and to know and trust me, and to think not just in terms of myself but of them in all of my planning – including my planning for dealing with disruptions of all kinds.

#3 – Sharon and her commenters are reverse snobs abotu how little energy they use.

This one annoyed me a little, although I think part of it is a fair cop. Let me distinguish here – the post Zuska seemed to be referring to here when she talked about my commenters competing for how little energy they use was “How Not to Freeze” and the thing that did annoy me in her comment about this is that if you look at the comments carefully, you’ll see that a lot of the people who are talking about how to do this are talking from direct, current experience. That is, they are living in their vehicles in the winter, or they are living or have lived through extended power outages in the cold, or they are very poor and can’t afford to heat much of their house. Those comments, that looked to Zuska like a bunch of people cheerleading themselves for this look different to me. Some portion of them look like very low income people, in a society that makes poor people feel like shit for being poor, saying “I know how to do this. I’m doing job of staying ok in a really hard situation, and I can help someone else, and yes, maybe take some pride in my very hard earned knowledge.” And this is where I get a little pissy – because where the fuck else do people who are homeless, or desperately poor get to say “here’s how you can do ok.” and get some decent respect for it? IMHO, those folks can brag all they want, and there’s just no whining about that allowed.

That said, however, that may not be a fair comment. Some of the posters in that thread, and me, are people who are trying to use fewer resources, and while I think there’s a real case to be made for people getting a place to brag a little about doing something that a. desperately needs doing and b. that our society gives you absolutely no credit and a lot of shit for, I can see how it looks different to someone else. There is a measure of reverse snobbism in any exercise that tries to normalize, or even make cool something totally uncool, and I can see how it would be annoying. I’m not going to stop, but I can see it.

But finally, here’s my big overarching critique of what her Zuskaship is saying – I think that going straight for the apocalyptic scenario is actually going straight towards affirming the assumptions of patriarchy. Because the idea that there is nothing but Mad Max and techno-perfection is precisely the narrative that we are being sold. That said, I don’t deny the possibility that you or I may end up in a really nasty situation – but the idea that we should not prepare for the day to day, not act to find a middle ground strikes me as one of the most destructive possible reasonings – and also, works always to further the status quo. Because who in their right mind would choose the apocalypse?

I could argue this one out myself, but I’m not going to – I haven’t run this quote from _The Subsistence Perspective_ in a while, and I think it is worth re-visiting. It is by Maria Mies, a feminist ecologist (who also co-authored _EcoFeminism_ with Vandana Shiva_ in her book, written with Veronika Bennholt-Thomsen about the problem of finding a way between industrial capitalism and industrial socialism, a middle ground between disaster and more ‘progress.’ The language is a little 1980s feminist-essentialist, partly because that’s when it is from, and partly because the translation from the German is a little stiff. But I think it makes the case pretty clearly. Mies writes about being the token woman and feminist on a panel full of famous male scientists talking about their apocalyptic visions of the future. It is a long passage, but I think worth quoting entirely.


em>At the end of the symposium there was a panel discussion. The speakers had been asked to present their own perspective on the future and one by one the learned professors painted an absolutely bleak picture. I looked at the audience: all young people with worried faces. They had come on this Sunday morning to get some orientation from these speakers for their own future. But they only painted an apocalyptic picture of hopelessness. The gist of tehir presentations was that there was no alternative that we could do nothing.

I said, “Please don’t forget where we are. We are in Trier, in the midst of the ruins of what once was one of the capitals of the Roman Empire. An empire whose collapse people then thought would mean the end of the world. But the world did not come to an end with the end of Rome. The plough of my father, a peasant in the Eifel, used to hit stones of the Roman road that connected Trier with Cologne. On this road where the Roman legions had marched, grass grew, and now we grew our potatoes on that road. I wanted to say that even the collapse of big empires does not mean teh end fo teh world; rather that people then begin to understand what is important, namely, our subsistence.

This was too much for [keynote speaker] Professor Weizenbaum. Angrily, he turned to me and said it was the utmost naivety to believe that after the catastrophes that were imminent even a single blad of grass would still grow. It was irresponsible to think that life would simply go on. ‘No, the only thing necessary now is to realize that there is just one big black hole in front of us. After that, there is nothing, no hope.” …

…Josef Weizenbaum is one of those prominent male scientists, who, at the end of their lives, are horrified when they look at themselves and their works and when they realize that the God to whom they have devoted their whole lives – progress – is a Moloch who eats his children. Some of these men convert then from a Saul to a Paul. But rarely do they give up the whole megalomania of the project of modern science. If they can’t solve humanity’s problems by technology then at least he catastrophe has to be total and all-encompassing. Not even a single blade of grass is allowed to grow on the ruins of their deeds….Anyone who in the face of usch an apocalyptic scenario, still talks of life, potatoes, subsistence, hope, future, perspective, must be attacked as an enemy. Mania of omnipotence and of impotence are two sides of the same coin.

The image of my father behind the plough on the old Roman road stands for another philosophy, another logic. It is neither expressed in the slogan that ‘life will go on by itself; (nature will regenerate, grass will grow) nor by thee attitude that we can control nature and repair all damage done by our master technology. The difference between subsistence orientation and omnipotence mania is the understanding that life neither simply regenerates itself, nor is it an invention of engineers, rather we, as natural beings, have to cooperate with nature if we want life to continue.”

Finding that space between apocalypse and “solutions” isn’t easy, and I don’t blame anyone for not seeing it immediately. I didn’t myself. But it is a real and present thing. I know this because I know people who have lived in that complex space – the world is full of them, but I will mention two, from my husband’s family.

The first was my husband’s grandmother, Inge, who at 12 was put upon the kindertransport and taken out of Germany. When she told me stories of that time, her time in England, she said she knew her father was already ill in the Berlin ghetto, that her parents were going hungry, perhaps starving. In fact, her father did die of hunger and disease. And she said she used to wonder, when she got to England, how she could eat, when her mother and father might be starving. But she did. And later, when she had babies to feed herself, she set herself simply to ensuring that they would not ever go hungry themselves. In that task, she could in some measure address the impossibility of helping her father.

The second was my husband’s great-grandfather Ali – not biologically, but he later married Inge’s mother (who survived and escaped after the death of her husband). Ali had a farm on the Danish border, and he told Eric when Eric was a young teenager that he used his farm to smuggle food to other Jews in the nearby towns, where there was little food for them. And he also used the farm to hide other Jews, and at night, he would help them cross the border into Denmark. He and his wife and children and the rest of his family stayed on the farm because of what they could do, feeling sure that they would have enough time to cross the border themselves if the Nazis came for them.

But they didn’t. One day the Nazis came and took his wife and children and the rest of his family away. And later, returning to his house, they caught him, and beat Ali and threw him in a truck to be taken to a concentration camp. He was lucky – as lucky as a man who loses his whole family can be – he was able to leap out of the truck in the woods, hide from the soldiers and slip over the border into Denmark. He lived, and married again, and got a daughter and a son-in-law, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren from it. And when Inge told me this story, she told me about how they learned to garden from Ali – because he grew a little garden every year until she and her husband took over, and that he always grew vegetables, because none of his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren would go hungry.

It is the survivor’s problem – the problem of subsistence. It is always easier to decide that we are all doomed, that there is no point, that there can be no point at which you say “ok, now we go on again.” But that only happens if you don’t survive, and the reality is that people do survive – they have survived terrifying and terrible things in the past, and some will survive all that comes in the coming decades. All you can do is do what you can to make it better. All that you can be sure of, in the end is that the work of subsistence will go on.



  1. #1 homebrewlibrarian
    January 14, 2010

    I’m not sure when I was struck by this realization (not too long ago actually) but in a conversation with someone who was going all apocalyptic on me, I rather fiercely claimed that neither me nor mine would go hungry. That I would do anything within my power to make sure there was food to eat. Not just learning to grow my own vegetables and food perennials but also food preservation, livestock raising, gathering wild foods, guerrilla gardening, barter, slaughtering and butchering, hunting, fishing and, if it came to that, theft. I hadn’t understood before that moment of brilliant clarity the depth to which I was committed to subsistence living.

    As I see it since I can count on the sun to rise and set, I can count on life going on. Babies will be born and need nurturing, the sick need tending, everyone needs to eat, the dead need burying and the livestock need food and water (even if it’s just one chicken). Maybe I won’t be lucky enough to survive a catastrophe but that doesn’t give me a pass to lock myself in a closet and do nothing. Peoples still gotta eat!

    Kerri in AK and surprised as all heck at how worked up she is right now

  2. #2 becca
    January 14, 2010

    What on earth? If the zombies come, there is no WAY I’m doing laundry. That is the one reason I’m looking *forward* to the zombie apocalypse, for heaven’s sake! A little extra dirt just keeps you warmer!
    Clean bandages for the injured, maybe. But beyond that…

    More seriously, I was going to say this over at Zuskas, but couldn’t think of a clear way of putting it. It’s only sensible to worry and prepare for a certain spectrum of possibilities.

    Things could be much, much better than projections, science could Save Us All, and then at least we’d have spent some time learning some things that are real and good for us.

    Things could be much, much worse than we fear (no species lives forever; I don’t know whether the grass will make it, but sooner or later humans probably won’t), in which case there’s probably not much we can do. But in one sense, there’s a terrible conceit in assuming that’s the case (do you know for how many millennia people have been assuming, and sometimes acting as if, they live in ‘end times’?).

    It’s the middle set of outcomes we need to prepare for. Things gradually ‘deteriorating’ (by cosummerism culture standards) we can deal with. We’ll get by with less. We’ll learn new-old ways of doing things. We may even find that it all has some advantages, in fostering community, and in seeing the impact of our labor.

  3. #3 Katharine
    January 14, 2010

    Megalomania? I don’t think so. Civilization marches on elsewhere, even if one place gets utterly destroyed. Progress will still occur in Europe even if America goes under. If America ever got to a point where I seriously thought there would be a reason to take refuge abroad, I’d buy myself a ticket to Bucharest and then figure out what to do from there.

  4. #4 Jade
    January 14, 2010

    I’ve always harbored a suspicion that for most men subsistence living- culturally viewed as women’s work- is the real apocalypse. They’d prefer the dangers of Mad Max to the winkie shrinking of milking goats.

  5. #5 msbetterhome
    January 14, 2010

    I am about one third of the way into Raj Patel’s excellent book ‘Stuffed and Starved’, and one of the points that has really resonated with me is the way that very impoverished people all over the world survive is by sticking together and *organising*.

    Poor, hungry people are EVERYWHERE, here and now. They are not intrinsically ‘rabble’, although, as Patel points out, they are highly likely to commit acts of civil disobedience against oppressive, unfair situations. Patel’s argument, as I understand it from my reading so far, is that the upper/middle class fear of the ‘anarchic starving underclass’ has been used many of the bad decisions that have destroyed global food systems.

    Sharon, I think you constantly remind your readers that it is possible to live a rewarding life in conditions of ‘ordinary poverty’, but it takes a lot of work. That is quite a challenging idea…in a good way 🙂

  6. #6 Susan in NJ
    January 14, 2010

    becca, I’m with you on the laundry. I was just reading a oral account of traditional inuit life that began “We didn’t wash much.”

  7. #7 Zuska
    January 14, 2010

    Sharon, you are one kick-ass broad, and I love you. I am honored as hell that you even notice my blog ramblings. Lots of good stuff here in your post, but I’ll just say a few things here. It wasn’t any particular post or set of comments that inspired my post – I really have read nearly every single thing you’ve posted at Sb and much of the comments, and some of the blogs you’ve linked to, too, and was writing more out of a generalized summary sense in my head.

    I was pleased to see you start blogging here at Sb. I’ve been thinking about these issues for a long, long time – not, perhaps in the very systematic and comprehensive way that you have, certainly – but it’s not like I just discovered peak oil and thought “uh oh!” upon finding your blog.

    I’m going to just toss something out for consideration. My personal life experience has taught me that there are, indeed, some things worse than death (and I really don’t need to say that twice to someone who can recount the family history you’ve shared above). Subsistence is our goal, right? What if there are some people for whom transitioning successfully to a post-peak subsistence culture is worse than death?

    You are offering your vision as the antidote to patriarchy’s fantasy of apocalyptic impotence. I’ll buy that critique of the doom and gloom scenario. But I’m not convinced that a subsistence lifestyle is going to be scot-free of patriarchy’s chains. Subsistence living has never really been a friendly place for those who are different. The gay and lesbian kids who leave rural America and small towns for the acceptance they find in big cities may be less thrilled about what a return to subsistence living really means for us socially. The MSM is beginning to push a return to simpler times; see this article in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer. And note the graphic art that accompanies it.

    I do think what you are doing is valuable and important, and a helluva lot more worthwhile than putting out some epic new zillion dollar scifi 3D Dances With Blue People opiate for the masses. But damn. That book on the experience of North Koreans does give one pause.

    My friend who was the reverse car snob? She was right not to waste $$$ on a fancy new vehicle she didn’t need – but she was really insufferable about it, till we teased her about it. And that is really the only (mildly) bad thing I could ever say about her. She’s a sweetheart, and helped me see a lot early on about wasteful American ways. If only we could tease the big-ass energy hogs out of their wasteful ways…

    Thanks for having a dialogue with me.

  8. #8 D. C. Sessions
    January 14, 2010

    Apocalyptic extremes are just the other side of the coin from “don’t worry, be happy.” Both are ways of ducking responsibility. All things considered, I prefer to take the advice of someone who lived a long time ago in very adverse times:

    “You are not required to complete the task of repairing the world, neither are you free to abstain from it.”

  9. #9 K.B.
    January 14, 2010

    I think that what many people are doing is more of a “hope for the best, prepare for the worst” sort of thinking, which I believe is MUCH more productive (and logical) than a “we’re all screwed anyway, so lets sit on the Lido deck having a drink while the ship sinks” mind set.

    I also think Zuska misses 2 important points:

    1. It’s about more than preparing for the zombies for some of us. Personally, it’s about knowing where my food comes from, knowing what’s in it, and being able to grow (and store) the majority of my food makes me feel more secure about any economic downturn.

    2. “#3 – Sharon and her commentors are reverse snobs about how little energy they use.”

    These aren’t people who are doing this for bragging rights. These are people who have no other options. And calling them reverse snobs IS insulting, especially coming from someone who, I assume, isn’t going to bed cold every night, or trying to decide which bill to pay this month.

    Here’s MY “snob” story – I keep my house cold for one very good reason – 80 year old house, little (if any) insulation, Canada. Eventually the house will be better insulated (and warmer), but commenting on my “survival” strategies (NEVER go to bed cold, lots of hot liquids, get a dog) isn’t a brag, it’s the sharing of information.

    Ooooh, I forgot a third point Zuska misses – some of us find doing things like raising our own food FUN.

  10. #10 D. C. Sessions
    January 14, 2010

    What if there are some people for whom transitioning successfully to a post-peak subsistence culture is worse than death?

    Well, death is always an option. However, I prefer to consider the moral mandate to resist that outcome — and if I’m one of the casualties, then there are worse legacies.

    Besides, there’s “subsistence” and then there’s “bare subsistence.” My understanding of Sharon’s future is a damn long way from Stone Age subsistence. The economic constraints may be a lot more limiting than our ancestors faced in the 18th century, but that doesn’t mean we have to revert to theocratic monarchy and feudalism.

  11. #11 Robyn M.
    January 14, 2010

    Before the end of the world, chop wood, carry water.
    During the end of the world, chop wood, carry water.
    After the end of the world, chop wood, carry water.

  12. #12 msbetterhome
    January 14, 2010

    @Zuska, I don’t live in the US, but take your point here:”The gay and lesbian kids who leave rural America and small towns for the acceptance they find in big cities may be less thrilled about what a return to subsistence living really means for us socially.”

    However, and this carries on from Sharon’s recent post about community, one of the things urban LGBT people are *really* good at is grassroots community organisation. Yes, many queers have been excluded from families and communities of origin, but the response has been the formation of new ‘families of choice’, and countless official and unofficial care networks to support homeless youth, people living with HIV, women with breast cancer, elders etc etc. I think we’re actually very well placed to adapt/transition to a post-peak oil world.

  13. #13 Robyn M.
    January 14, 2010

    “What if there are some people for whom transitioning successfully to a post-peak subsistence culture is worse than death?”

    To me, this smacks of a point that Sharon has made elsewhere, although perhaps not on SB yet–that we have made our past uninhabitable. It is beyond the pale for people in our culture to contemplate living the way we used to 3, 4, or 5 generations ago. No automatic laundry machines? No cars? No internet? No coffee machine? Start piling these ideas up one upon the next, tack on the fact that we likely *will* be doing a lot more hard physical labor (gardening, building stuff, biking/walking, etc.) and you start painting a bleak, bleak future…. a future that looks worse than death to many.

    Until you realize that most of the world lives this way, and I’m hard pressed to imagine that they think their lives are so grinding and terrible that they’d be better off dead. Some of them, perhaps, but all? Most? Could you look your great-grandmother in the eye and tell her that her life was so awful that you would rather die than live that way? Really? Unless you’re back to Apocalypse Now, the subsistence future is, well, just not worse than death. Sorry.

  14. #14 Zuska
    January 14, 2010

    I think you are missing my point, Robyn M. It’s not the stuff per se that some folks are terrified of doing without – though I am sure they will miss it. It’s, perhaps, the extra stuff they are going to have to do with, in tightknit agrarian-based communities which generally tend to have less latitude for, shall we say, those who prefer leather bear sadomasochistic sex. Or the sight of two women embracing NOT specifically for the purpose of arousing some d00d. Or people who don’t believe in god. Or just anybody who doesn’t…look, behave, think, sound, act like WE think they should.

    K.B.: Nice of you to assume you know everything about me, or how warm or cold it is in my house, or what I do about my food supply, or just what kind of house I have, or what other things, besides money issues, I might be dealing with these days that keep me from building my composting toilet to prepare for the zombie apocalypse. But thanks for sharing your snob story. Which, in the context of your comment and tone, wasn’t at ALL a brag.

  15. #15 becca
    January 14, 2010

    “The gay and lesbian kids who leave rural America and small towns for the acceptance they find in big cities may be less thrilled about what a return to subsistence living really means for us socially.”
    Oh, I don’t know. I think the radical faeries are way ahead of you.
    “I think we’re actually very well placed to adapt/transition to a post-peak oil world.”
    I’d bet the kids in the Oscar Wilde co-op at UC Berkeley will do pretty well. Maybe even as well as those in Loth.

  16. #16 Kerrick
    January 14, 2010

    The gay and lesbian kids who leave rural America and small towns for the acceptance they find in big cities may be less thrilled about what a return to subsistence living really means for us socially.

    Really? I mean, read Sandor Katz’s book Wild Fermentation; he’s been living rurally with a community of queers–and other nearby communities of queers–for years in the middle of Tennessee. And they’re not the only ones; there have been rural radical faerie communities since the 70s, many of which have done reasonably well at community relations. There’s a lot of prejudice aimed at LGBT people, and when there are fewer people around and community is more important, often people who are different are not received with open arms at first. But there’s also a lot of prejudice about rural people among urban LGBT people, and we don’t always do the best job of being neighborly. I bet in most places in the US, being neighborly will get you a long way. It’ll be a harder road for urban gays and lesbians. An even harder road for transgender people–some of the radical faerie sanctuaries won’t even let us in. But yeah, I’d rather go live on a farm and be neighborly than die, even if that means not prancing around in a shiny silver thong and giant pink feathery wings every June, and yes, even if it means that I might get into conflict with people who would rather beat the crap out of me than see me and my boyfriend within 100 yards of their children. Homophobia and rural life are not inseparable, and rural communities are not all insular fortresses of entrenched bigotry. Even if it were, I don’t think I would find it a life worse than death.

    (Actually, I find the idea of a life worse than death a kind of problematic concept scientifically–for something to be worse than death, I have to imagine death as a state that I could survive in order to compare it to something else. I could imagine that, but not with the same parts of my brain that I use to interpret data and make decisions about resilience strategies.)

    Uh–becca–the kids NOW living at Oscar Wilde, or the kids who lived there a couple-few years ago? Were we neighbors?

  17. #17 Lora
    January 14, 2010

    “I’ve always harbored a suspicion that for most men subsistence living- culturally viewed as women’s work- is the real apocalypse.”
    I tend to agree, in that in every single damn workshop, discussion group and internet bulletin board I have ever encountered dealing with the subject of sustainable living and skills, the vast majority of participants have been female. Only exception I can think of–brewing. Women were 100% of the textiles class. Women 90% of the beek courses. Women all about the backyard chickens. Something as simple as first aid and CPR courses offered at work, majority of participants were women. Soapmaking, drinking something other than Giardia spp. while camping, planting a veggie garden, those appear to be girly activities and interests.

    Although I gotta say, I wonder if that will change? I look at other examples of successful gardening under extremely adverse conditions, with no education and rudimentary knowledge of botany, indoors in large cities and suburbs, and that tends to be a male-dominated activity. Is it the black market activity and danger that men find more alluring?

  18. #18 Ed Straker
    January 14, 2010

    “The gay and lesbian kids who leave rural America and small towns for the acceptance they find in big cities may be less thrilled about what a return to subsistence living really means for us socially.”

    Here is the thing. If we’re headed back to subsistence, you can get ready for it NOW, or you can wait for the situation on the ground to force you into it. But you can’t just opt out of it because you fear that it won’t be pleasant.

    People are going to be the way they are going to be. There is only so much you can do to change people. Just ask a social worker.

    Yes, certain approaches to collapse will make life feel worse for most of us, and that is a test that humanity is going to pass through. But we’re all strapped in this roller-coaster like it or not, whether we stay in the cosmopolitan cities and face rolling blackouts, cholera, etc… or face the redneck-isms of dysfunctional rural america. Choose your poison and make the most of it.

    But this whole “but, but, but…” game of building arguments against powerdown is nothing but a form of denial. Either you believe in collapse or you don’t, but there is no picking and choosing some optimal vision of the future.

    Any future that mandates a population reduction from 7+ billion down to 2 or fewer billion is going to be unpleasant whether you’re gay or straight.

  19. #19 Robyn M.
    January 14, 2010

    “I think you are missing my point, Robyn M.”

    Yup, I think you’re right. I hadn’t understood the spin you were putting on your statement (or just as likely, I didn’t read carefully enough). Now that I think I get your point, though, I’m not sure what I think of it. I mean, I certainly agree that there will be (heck, currently are) stifling, insular agrarian communities that would make a gay man want to claw his eyes out. Shoot, I live 5 miles from one–hate going to the place, myself. Would this be worse than death? Hard to say, and I’m not a gay man, so I won’t try (but I might ask some and see what they think). And of course, this applies to a lot more than sexual proclivities–pagans and buddhists and latinos, oh my!

    We are nowhere near living in perfect equality right now (nor do I think you were saying so), but we’ve made immense progress in the past several decades, and we’re making more every day. And much like many other lessons we’ve learned over the years and centuries–like handwashing and that Asians aren’t “funny little slant-eyed people” or that antibiotics are grand–I just don’t believe that we will simply forget everything we’ve learned come the zombies. I am *positive* that many communities will use this as an excuse/medium for becoming intolerant fortresses, but all of them? I’ve lived in some communities that I quite literally cannot FATHOM going that direction. In some ways, I’m far more concerned about either ending up with turf wars *between* these groups, once they self-segregate, or with the intolerant ones gaining the upper hand in our govn’t and getting some pretty repressive regimes going on. I dearly hope that those of us who have, what should I call it? non-traditional lifestyles (in sex, religion, whatever) can find places we are comfortable. Some certainly won’t, and some probably will. Failing that, I hope we can find places that are safe, and reasonably tolerant (which is not the same thing as welcoming, but a damned sight better than lynch mobs). In a lot of ways, that’s the best we can do even today. Will it get worse? Maybe, probably. Will it go back to zero? I really doubt it. Will it be so bad as to inspire hopelessness even today? Well, that’s a good way of guaranteeing that it’ll go badly. Do the work today to prevent the mess tomorrow. If it all goes pear-shaped anyway, at least you tried, and probably made the mess at least a little better than it could’ve been.

    Hm. I seem to be rambling. I think I’ll go to bed now. I hope something I said is helpful, or at least coherent!

  20. #20 becca
    January 14, 2010

    “Uh–becca–the kids NOW living at Oscar Wilde, or the kids who lived there a couple-few years ago? Were we neighbors?”
    No, I was just there for a NASCO properties meeting some time back (2004, if I’m calculating right).
    “prancing around in a shiny silver thong and giant pink feathery wings every June”
    But I wish we *had* been neighbors, as that sounds right neighborly to me 😉

    “I dearly hope that those of us who have, what should I call it? non-traditional lifestyles (in sex, religion, whatever) can find places we are comfortable.”
    Well, perhaps because as it currently stands practicing sustainable living (and I do mean ‘practicing’) is not seen as “traditional”, most of the people I know who are living that way are exceptional in their interpersonal skills and acceptance of different people.
    Well, ok, maybe the Amish are a special case. But they is good people too, in their way.

  21. #21 Kerrick
    January 15, 2010

    Becca–Ah, neighbors in spirit, if not in time or space. I was a Wildebeest in 2005-2007.

  22. #22 MadScientist
    January 15, 2010

    1. Uh … no power = no cooking + no water + no incoming food etc. It’s pretty bad. Let’s take … oooh … San Francisco – the city proper has about 700,000 people and the wider metropolis is roughly ten times that. Close to 1M people in a small area – where do they get their food? Where do they get their fuel to cook? It’s not going to happen. People will have to migrate elsewhere and become self-sufficient; that means ~40 acres of land for each family of 3-5 people, sufficient water (yeah, right), and clean water for drinking and cooking (sure – although we can barely provide enough water with current systems and the huge amount of coal-powered infrastructure). You don’t want to put human waste into a stream which others use so everyone needs to provide their own septic systems. A drastic population reduction in a short period of time is inevitable, and that means a lot of killing and stuff. The world’s leaders (and the economists) need to promote a stable economy with a shrinking population because if we don’t get a handle on things voluntarily, nature will eventually get the better of us.

    2. The ammunition will run out quick, so guns will not be an issue after a few years. There may be an issue with too many people showing up wanting refuge; turning them away and keeping them away can be tough. I prefer chickens to bunnies.

    3. Reverse snobs? What are those? (Cue Monty Python’s The Yorkshire Men.) If we fail to secure our future energy supply, we shall indeed revert to subsistence. I don’t believe it will be as easy as you seem to imply though. Other people will chop down your trees – perhaps even chop down your fruit trees for firewood. The majority of the worst violence will be in the earlier years though; when the population has dwindled enough, some communities will be able to establish themselves. I don’t believe there is any issue with the survival of the human species – at the very least there are fairly isolated communities around the world which will continue to exist as they had for thousands of years. However, a genuine energy shortage will not be a pretty sight – not by a long shot.

  23. #23 curiousalexa
    January 15, 2010

    The newspaper article drove home just how strange my life is. Munchkin has after-school activities, but is home before dinner time. Some days dinner is as brainless as pancakes from an add-water-only mix, but it’s always eaten at the table. Technology helped by changing the televisions to digital – we’re down to only one channel out here in the boondocks. Actually, I personally haven’t watched broadcast television in about 15 years. If I feel I’m missing a good sci-fi show, I’ll watch it on DVD (e.g. Babylon 5).

    I live in a fairly rural area. The county lists the population as 57K (2000 census). And yet there are enough gay and lesbian couples that many people assume that my roommate and I are yet another such couple. I do not know if there’s much of a singles scene.

    And I refuse to believe that it’ll take 40 acres of land to support a family of 3-5 people. I’m currently attempting to prove that to myself, and being grateful I started before it is required!

    All in all, life is what you make of it. It is easier to follow the ‘cultural norms’, but when I tried that I wasn’t happy. I choose to follow a different path, and I am eternally grateful to people like Sharon for showing us different paths we might choose. The crucial thing is that we currently *have* choices! My apocalyptic fear is when we have *no* choices.

  24. #24 K.B.
    January 15, 2010


    I apologize for assuming you aren’t fighting to stay warm and fed. The assumption, mind you, is based on your patronizing comments about those who are.

    Now, I challenge you. Instead of continuing to argue, why not actually join the debate, and tell us what you ARE doing to make your life better, more sustainable and safer?

  25. #25 Brad K.
    January 15, 2010


    As for your Zuska Point #3, about bragging about setting the thermostat lower (59/58 degrees; using several hundred gallons less propane a year – several hundred dollars’ worth), what struck me was the alternatives – either complacently not paying attention to energy cost, or conspicuous consumption (I keep my house at a toasty 82 degrees all winter! And a cool, air conditioned 71 degrees in summer! See what a comfortable home I keep, and how pleasant I keep every room!).

    It is conspicuous consumption, partner to individual ambition and predatorial marketing, that set today’s individualized, consumer oriented society apart from times of community and sacrifice. Indeed, this may explain why so few turn to farming.

    Farmers, and people living in community, tend to think in terms of managing and nurturing a season or series of seasosn, that go on and on. There is little room for personal ambition, perhaps to see children grow and learn respect and necessary values, perhaps to see a “better” coat of paint or roof on the hog house, good years permitting. When schools and advertisers conspire to embody “you can make a difference”, “you aren’t the *best* in your class, so you have to work harder”, and “It isn’t important what you study, you *are* going to the *best* college,” is it any wonder that mere service – such as househusband or farmer – is often overlooked and disparaged?

    I would take Zuska’s comment about conspicuous non-consumption as what it is – fear of change, fear of a motivation she hasn’t encountered before, fear of a newly discovered community that she doesn’t identify with, yet.

    Just by-the-by, I see the newspapers are predicting gasoline prices to start rising again. Just as the world starts to recover from recession, and resume demanding oil at increased paces. Who would have thunk (outside Peak Oil)?

  26. #26 Sharon Astyk
    January 15, 2010

    I guess I don’t honestly quite grasp the point of obsessing about the “fate worse than death” bits. I think that is likely – that some people will respond by dying, some people will respond by killing, etc… The question is the percentages, and what you can do to cut the percentages of both. And the only thing that I can think of is to point out where one’s *perception* of a fate worse than death is false. Will it fix everything? No, but once you acknowledge you aren’t going to fix everything anyway, you fix what you can. There is something you can do about “things worse than death for you” as discussed previously. But once you’ve done that, what’s the point of observing “it is gonna be awful” instead of, say, organizing the local queer agrarians to make your area safe for them?

    As for the GLBT stuff – I agree that many rural communities haven’t been friendly, and that’s an issue – siting yourself if you are queer is a big deal. I agree with Robyn that they aren’t what they once were, either – but that doesn’t mean it is always afe. But as I also keep pointing out – subsistence doesn’t just happen in Montana ;-). Subsistence happens everywhere.

    Subsistence activities are most necessary in a low energy society *where people live* – so the radical leftist faerie communities, and the other tolerant rural communities, and the intolerant ones that disapprove of gay people in principle but are so used to Bill and Steve who run the fireworks show that they try not to think about it (15% of the GLBT population lives in rural areas, and they don’t all hate it, and it isn’t just because they’ve never heard of San Francisco ;-)) and *the cities* are places to perform those activities. Those activities are different in the cities, but no less necessary – more, actually, because the urgency of supporting a population is so great. The cities won’t ever feed themselves, but most Global South cities produce a substantial portion of their meat and produce.

    I know gay and lesbian households doing it in south texas and rural oklahoma and dealing with the communities there, but realistically, I’m not sure I’d suggest that the local radical faeries go shopping there. They can come live down the road from me anytime, however, and there are nice chunks of rural VT and Massachusetts that I highly recommend. Or just don’t go rural – the cities aren’t going to magically disappear, and we both know that there are plenty of people already dealing with violent, disrupted, unsafe cities – and figuring out ways to go forward in them.

    Look, I’m a Jew, and we wear our Jew flags pretty loud in my rural little town of 800 people. I grew up in a lesbian household, and not in San Francisco – Mom came out in the 70s and I came out as bi in high school in 1986, which was not done. I am just as worried as anyone else about tolerance and scapegoating and all the other shit – so I do what I can about it.

    Yeah, I live in New York. But it is a long, long way above 125th street, let’s just say – in the red part of New York. My husband and boys prance around in our kippot. Moreover, I’m a leftist Jew, who brings the lesbian grandparents to visit (and are trying to get them to move out – and no, it isn’t the country that freaks them but the distance to the other grandchildren ;-)). I am hoping that my neighbors – the athiest ones and the evangelical ones and the lutherans all like me enough to do stuff with me in tough times, and don’t fall on the “all the Jews’ fault” traditional response. So far, yes. I don’t trivialize it – people need to find communities where they feel safe and secure. But once they get there, we are still back to gardens and homemade toilet paper because there’s no other place to go, whether in a community of all white mormons or in a community of transgendered lesbian mathematicians.

    So I guess it is a sincere question – what’s the utility for you of observing over and over and over again that terrible things could happen? I understand how that can be fixating, but how is it useful? It certainly doesn’t seem like your thoughts are pleasant for you right now, from what you are writing.

    As for the rest, make fun – I apologize if I misread you, I was simply concerned about your response to one post. I’m really honestly not sure it is possible to establish an alternate set of cool things without some self-praise, but mocking it is perfectly good order, and if you can save me from insufferability, I’ll be grateful ;-).

  27. #27 History Punk
    January 15, 2010

    “I don’t think that choosing not to fight is a weak or naive response – it can be incredibly powerful”

    The Bosnians tried that one in April 1992 when the JNA backed fascist thugs led by Radovan Karadzic. It was met initially by machine gun fire that killed a few and then a military blitz and a country-wide siege that resulted in the deaths of 200,000 people, the establishment of multiple rape and concentration camps, the purging of Bosnians and Croatians from about 70% of the country, many of whom were present among the 2 million refugees spawned by the conflict. That horrors only ended after NATO intervention.

    The same was tried in Kosovo. The horror ended when NATO arrived in force.

    I’m sure it’ll work this time around.

  28. #28 Robyn M.
    January 15, 2010

    @History Punk: Um. You just cherry picked two examples where nonviolent response didn’t work, and then concluded it won’t work here either (and btw, where won’t it work this time around? what exactly are you talking about?). So I’ll go cherry pick two other examples where nonviolent responses did work, and conclude that it will work here (again, wherever “here” is, cause apparently it’s immaterial–Bosnia and Kosovo have so much bearing on the treatment of LGBT folk in rural America, after all). Then we will have *both* succeeded in making absolutely terrible arguments. Huzzah!

    I think I’m beginning to lose my patience with people….

  29. #29 becca
    January 15, 2010

    I think the snobbism and reverse snobbism are basically the same thing. People being preemptively defensive about their life choices.
    Of course, people being ‘reverse snobs’ can claim that their choices are for the good of all, so they have the RIGHT, nay, the DUTY to pressure others to change as well. And they’d be right- except what we REALLY have a duty to do is try our best in our own lives, and convince other people in the most effective ways we can muster. Typically, people are more convinced if you aren’t ginormous jackhats to them. Though a few extremists in a movement are often welcome for making everyone else seem reasonable, they need to be honest (not hypocritical) for optimal effect.

  30. #30 Jenna
    January 15, 2010

    The one issue I have with the thought of subsistence living is the constant banging on “Survive”.

    Sorry. Bears survive. Gophers survive. Let me survive this moment, this breath, this step in front of the other… and when that moment, breath, and step are gathered? Let me use what I’ve survived to Thrive.

    That’s one of the things I actually respect the MOST about this site (and the original. And the books.) While the constant thread is how can/will we survive and help our families to survive – there is also the knowledge that life – all of it. The bad, the good, the serious, and the fall down in a puddle giggling will go on. My godmother Ursula tells of winters so bad in Germany that her mother scrapped the wallpaper and boiled it for the glue… but she also tells about cloth dolls played with and snowball fights with her grandfather. Live… goes on. All of it.

    Bring on the zombies… great biomass for the composter!

  31. #31 liz
    January 15, 2010

    Sharon, I admit, I didn’t read this post as thoroughly, as I should have (I need to attend to my children, etc.). I think Zuska needs to be cut a little slack…and so do you. We are all on a journey, here. I have been following peak oil/ climate change for quite a while now. I am a mother. I am trying to figure out how to set my kids up best for the future and I have benefited, greatly from what I have read of your writings. But, this is an incredibly scary subject. None of us know how it is going to affect us on a personal level. I have days when I am happily pulling out my lawn, getting ready to plant peppers and eggplant, or setting up cistern systems, and baking for my children. But, then there are other days when (say after reading a Chris Hedges book, for instance) when I am terrified, sad, and feeling hopeless. Not all days are the same. All I can hope for is that my days of feeling hopeful and resilient outnumber my days feeling despair. Good luck to you, Zuska(and Sharon).

  32. #32 Greenpa
    January 15, 2010

    Zuska: “Subsistence is our goal, right? What if there are some people for whom transitioning successfully to a post-peak subsistence culture is worse than death?”

    I hope for a bit more than subsistence; I’d prefer to simply use the word “life” there.

    For the second question, which you may or may not have intended to be rhetorical, I’m about to offer a truly scary and outrageous suggestion.

    Such people and such circumstances are pretty certain to exist. I can fairly easily imagine situations in which I would rather not continue living; and even some in which I would rather my family not continue, either. I might take them with me, if I could.

    For me, the only scenarios of that nature I can imagine are ones where our lives are now totally controlled by really evil people.

    My suggestion?

    If you decide you need to leave- find a way to take an evil person with you. Or more than one.

    Outrageous, I know.

    I think it can be considered a positive contribution to the cosmos to shoot a rabid fox.

    And the fox isn’t even evil.

  33. #33 Pierce R. Butler
    January 15, 2010

    Having been through much of this in the ’70s, I’m having a lot of flashbacks reading this – most of them somewhat unpleasant, thankewverymuch. (And no, I’m not talking about the three years I spent scavenging firewood and hauling water in buckets – that was the good part.)

    That movement didn’t work too well then, but that’s not why most of the above comes across as rather naive. Read some history, folks: whatever government survives or seizes power in prolonged disasters always sends the troops out to scour the countryside for resources (not just food), firstly to sustain the troops and secondly to feed the volatile masses in the cities.

    I tend to doubt there is a solution, but if there is, it clearly requires building of widespread mutual-support networks and a we-little-guys-need-to-stick-together mentality across the cultures. We (the US, at least) had a lot more of that in the ’30s than we do now; otherwise, Roosevelt would’ve been overthrown by fascists in his first term. See Doris Lessing’s Memoirs of a Survivor for the most realistic apocafiction ever written.

    Oh – and where was that awesome picture taken?

  34. #34 steve from virginia
    January 15, 2010


    I saw this article posted by James Kwak over @ Baseline Scenario and thought immediately of you (and cross- posted @ the Oil Drum):

    I planned to write about Malcolm Gladwell in this post a couple of days ago, but I had rambled on long enough, so I deferred it until later. Well, Felix Salmon beat me to the punch, which is all for the best anyway, since the connection was going to be John Paulson, and Felix knows much more about hedge funds than I do.
    The topic is Gladwell’s still-subscription-only article, “The Sure Thing: How Entrepreneurs Really Succeed,” in which Paulson plays a starring role. The sub-sub-head in the table of contents says, “The myth of the daredevil entrepreneur,” so even though I expected Gladwell to be annoyingly contrarian again, for once I expected to agree with him. The conventional wisdom, in this case, is that successful entrepreneurs get that way by taking big risks.
    I’m inclined against the conventional wisdom because I co-founded a company, it’s done pretty well, and I’m about the most risk-averse person I know. (Want proof? I even worked at McKinsey, the world’s epicenter of risk aversion; two of the other founders were also former management consultants.) In my opinion, based on limited experience, to start a successful company you need to have a solid plan, a realistic assessment of your chances, the willingness to take on a modest amount of financial risk (starting a company is rarely the best way to maximize your expected aggregate income, and never the best way after adjusting for risk), and the belief that the non-monetary satisfaction you get along the way will more than compensate for the financial disadvantages.

    A large thread among the peak oil community is transition, which (voluntarily or not) create large numbers of entrepreneurs. The transition from BAU to whatever future will require taking unmeasurable risks of all kinds. Programming the future is now divided. The ultra- high technology push- button solution future lies down one fork in the road with the desperate Mad Max stray- dog hunting and beetle gathering future down the other. The required conceptualizing is freaking people (politicians, businessmen, economists, hunter/gatherers) out!


    Also note that Gladwell’s added sentence is a poor description of (hedge fund manager) John Paulson’s behavior: “But if he was genuinely going to make a trade of the lifetime, he needed more. Like a cocksure Las Vegas card-counter, he was eager to split his winning blackjack hand, again and again.” [Greg Zuckerman, The Greatest Trade Ever, p. 177 in free pre-publication version.] And his short position got to the point where it simply count not be hedged. “Now that the ABX had tumbled from 100 to 60, (ABX is an index of mortgage derivatives. Steve) Paulson had a lot more to lose–the index easily could snap back to 100. If the mortgage investments recovered in price, Paulson would be known as the investor who let the trade of the year slip through his fingers.” His colleague Paolo Pellegrini tried to get Paulson to lock in more of his winnings, but he refused [p. 198]. And how can a real entrepreneur–Page and Brin, Gates and Allen, etc.–possibly hedge his position? When you have years of your life’s work tied up in one project, it can’t be hedged. You only have one life.

    This appears to be the same kind of trading risk faced by a cubicle drone considering shifting to off-the-grid, shotgun toting, deer hunting, oxen- following sustainability. The leap of faith itself is extraordinarily risky. It cuts 180 degrees against default ‘USA Jetsons Future Narrative’ of flying cars and unlimited convenience @ very low prices. It does so as advertising keeps insisting that the flying cars are right around the corner. The sustainability process itself discounts measuring the risks associated with it; the measuring process is part of Jetsons’ lexicon. The process – as Gladwell suggests – rewards caution and trend- following rather than risk- taking, eventually, no changes take place because there is no way to manage associated risks. Like Paulson’s ABX shorting, there is too much to invest, we each only have one life.

    The dialog is playing out in articles here (and TOD) and elsewhere, certainly in the foregoing comments as well as in Susks’s blog. We are at the crux of narratives and have no real place to stand. Unfortunately, the time to stand perplexed at the crossroads is better spent doing something else; all aspects of the dynamic lead to some form of decay.

    Which is the center of the issue; two opposed narratives. One is about the certain future when human cleverness finally ‘manages’ thermodynamics properly vs. the entropy narrative. Your ‘science megalomania’ if part of this dialog on the management side; it has no choice since failure is more than simple failure. It’s the ‘end of science’.

    On the other hand, painting a future where sustainability ‘factors’ are simply trading/short- selling risks makes them more manageable. Busy, bourgeois, well- educated Westerners can identify with hedge funds and Hewlett- Packard. It’s the thing that makes the pill go down easier. It also suggests a less diabolical turn to the sustainability narrative; after all the road to (finance) risk has been well traveled. Just ask the managers @ AIG …

  35. #35 Diane
    January 15, 2010

    MadScientist: My husband’s grandfather had about 40 acres in the Missouri Ozarks, much of it wooded. He plowed with a horse until he retired in the 1950’s. The farm supported a lot more than 3-4 people as he and his wife had 9 children and they sold to the town. I don’t disagree that large urban areas might face a disastrous situation but most farms are much more productive than your estimate, even without large inputs and have been supporting at least small urban populations since, well, Jericho and Catal Huyuk.

  36. #36 D. C. Sessions
    January 15, 2010

    How much land does it take to support a family?

    Depends on conditions, of course — but this last year, $HERSELF and I grew more than we could eat on about 600 square feet in Phoenix. Water was the limiter, and the variety was inadequate — but we ended up giving most of it to my co-workers. This squares with my father’s accounts of growing up on a farm: the kitchen garden plus a few pigs and some milk cows kept more than a dozen people fed with the great majority of the land sharecropped for cash.

    It doesn’t take a whole lot of land.

  37. #37 Casey
    January 15, 2010

    thought I’d comment on the “reverse snobs” issues. I assume this would include me, if so, I’m fine with that. You can’t please everyone, and personally, that’s not my goal. I work in a corporate world where, frankly, I’m seen as a bit of a freak. Why? Because I own chickens, and grow food, and I don’t spend money like there is no tomorrow on expensive haircuts, suits, cars and jewelry. My boss drives around in a $250k car and I find that grotesque, but its admired by my coworkers. So, with Sharon and her followers, I’ve found a community where what I am trying to accomplish–whether I have a choice or not- is understood. I’m not looking for a pat on the back, but it is pretty nice to be in a community, albeit virtual, where we are all aspiring to the same goal, and can talk about it. Where we are all hoping for the best, but planning for the worst and working towards living in a way that is fair for all and the least destructive. Do some of us want others to cheer us on, sure and why not, we’re human. ” )

  38. #38 sikiş
    January 15, 2010

    Also note that Gladwell’s added sentence is a poor description of (hedge fund manager) John Paulson’s behavior: “But if he was genuinely going to make a trade of the lifetime, he needed more. Like a cocksure Las Vegas card-counter, he was eager to split his winning blackjack hand, again and again.” [Greg Zuckerman, The Greatest Trade Ever, p. 177 in free pre-publication version.] And his short position got to the point where it simply count not be hedged. “Now that the ABX had tumbled from 100 to 60, (ABX is an index of mortgage derivatives. Steve) Paulson had a lot more to lose–the index easily could snap back to 100. If the mortgage investments recovered in price, Paulson would be known as the investor who let the trade of the year slip through his fingers.” His colleague Paolo Pellegrini tried to get Paulson to lock in more of his winnings, but he refused [p. 198]. And how can a real entrepreneur–Page and Brin, Gates and Allen, etc.–possibly hedge his position? When you have years of your life’s work tied up in one project, it can’t be hedged. You only have one life.

  39. #39 Charlotte (who used to live in Berlin)
    January 15, 2010

    Hi Pierce (#33),

    the picture is the Berlin Reichstag shortly after the 2nd world war. Berlin was in shambles, food was scarce, and the HUGE park that is in that region was converted to veggie gardens. First they cut down all the trees (for firewood, I presume), then people raised whatever veggies they could there.

    (These days it’s all park again. And government buildings.)

  40. #40 Pierce R. Butler
    January 15, 2010

    Charlotte @ # 39 – OMG, & kthx!

  41. #41 Lora
    January 15, 2010

    @ DC Sessions: No, growing food actually is the least of the land use requirement. If you do something like aquaponics that produces dual crops on non-arable land, it’s an even more efficient use of space and water.

    The real problem space-wise is fiber crops and energy. It takes a lot of stuff (water, fertilizer, boll weevil killer) to grow cotton, and it really is best grown on the same soil types that support food crops. Flax is slightly better in that you can grow flax on crummy land that would be marginal for other crops, few specialized implements are required, and linen fiber lasts much longer than cotton. Bamboo is invasive in North America and difficult if not impossible to process on a small scale. Wool, well, hey, I love my sweaters, but wool is not a suitable fabric for every garment. And every fiber crop, no matter what, takes a lot of work to process into useful textiles. Even with the very best spinning wheels and manually-operated knitting machines and looms, it’s still a LOT of work just keeping a family in socks, shirts and underpants. You’d hardly have time for anything else.

    Energy-wise, wind is very space-efficient but inconsistent and not a good choice everywhere. Anywhere you put solar panels, you’re blocking the land underneath from being used for crop production, and it takes rather a lot of solar panels to power up a vehicle and a house, even if you’ve got nothing but LED lightbulbs. Growing an oil crop to be converted to biodiesel, even the very best yields mean you need a LOT of land to supply a quite limited use.

  42. #42 Laurie in Mpls.
    January 15, 2010

    Sharon said: “So I guess it is a sincere question – what’s the utility for you of observing over and over and over again that terrible things could happen? I understand how that can be fixating, but how is it useful?”

    *applauds* This. Right here. Why I come to this site and the other one. We can speculate until we are blue in the face, we can wind ourselves up tighter than a newbie knitter’s ball of wool, we can freak ourselves and our families out with “OMG they’ll come with guns and we’ll all die!!!11!!! Or starve!11!!!!” but in the end, what good does THAT do anyone?

    Me? I’d rather have some practical advice, even if it ends with “and then pray”, because there is always a chance of survival if you have some skills and some stubborn and some hope. Not a guarantee, but a *chance*. And that is all that millions of people throughout history have ever had. No, I don’t want to die in the zombie invasion, and I’d really rather not have my food or anything else taken from me at gunpoint. But if I focus on that, what am I going to do? Assume anything I do is useless and therefore do nothing? And then really starve when the excrement hits the fan?

    I think I’d rather figure out how best to grow some veggies in my backyard, and maybe trade my skills for eggs and the occasional chicken. Or someone else’s services. And learn how to can said veggies. At least that behavior is useful.

  43. #43 Lora
    January 16, 2010

    You know, the more I think about it, the more the critique reminds me of other instances of proposed social change:

    1. “Women? Working at a MAN’S job? BWAHAHAHAHA! You’re out of your mind! It’s sye-en-tiff-ick-lee impossible! Their brains overheat.”

    2. “Well, OK, maybe one woman did, once. That’s the exception though. Most women would rather stay home and squirt out babies. Definitely the exception.”

    3. “What, you think YOU could do a man’s job? Honey, I don’t think so, you’re just not tough enough. Those few, rare women who do men’s jobs, they’re not like you. They’re mean and tough.”

    4. “OK, so maybe more than one woman did a man’s job. So what? Most women still can’t and don’t want to. Anyway, you personally still are not tough enough to handle it.”

    5. “BWHAHAHAHA! Lookit you trying to run that computer! Just like typing, bless her, she thinks she’s doing something. Think I saw a trained monkey typing just like that once in a circus.”

    6. “Um. OK. So, you did it. So what. No one’s actually going to pay you for that crap. Tell ya what, I give ya a dollar.”

    7. “Damn. I can’t believe the boss hired her! Taking a job away from a family man!”

    First, we are told that living lightly on the earth and surviving shitty economies is scientifically impossible. Then, it’s only impossible for the vast majority of people. Then there’s the accusation that we, personally, are not doing such and cannot possibly be doing so, that while odd people like the Amish and perhaps the “rare” homeless person might have it figured out, certainly we, personally, cannot possibly manage such a feat, despite maybe harboring an aspiration to do so.

    Can we please just fast-forward to the bit where we’re hated for being the axe-grinding curmudgeon on the town land use committee? I’d be cool with that.

  44. #44 Greenpa
    January 16, 2010

    Lora – besides THAT list (which I enjoyed) you gave a list earlier of fiber types and resources needed. You’re obviously familiar. A serious inquiry for you; what about nettles?

    I’m aware they were an ancient fiber similar to flax in processing. Do you know what the cloth is like? Coarse, brittle, pointless? Or useful in some way?

    For those not aware- stinging nettles are extremely easy to harvest and use for hay or chicken feed, or compost. The sting vanishes after one day of drying in the sun. Cut with a scythe (stand back and don’t get hit when they fall) – dry the equivalent of one full day of full sun- no sting. Poultry love to eat the semi-dried leaves; you won’t believe the protein content unless you look it up. (There’s a reason for the sting.)

    For fiber, the old process I think was much like flax; cut, dry, soak in the river, then scutch.

    We’ve got a lot of Urtica dioica growing under the shade of our nuts- I mean; a LOT. It’s one of the few plants that tolerate the shade and competition. We already harvest some for spring greens/soup (Michael Pollan has eaten some of our nettles, though I doubt he knows it) but we don’t make a dent really- and the summer growth often leaves them running 3-6′ tall.

    Any info?

  45. #45 Lora
    January 16, 2010

    Greenpa: Other than as spring food (I usually put it in quiche along with garlic mustard, early spinach and fresh cheese), I have never tried using nettles for fiber. Believe it or not, I have NO nettles on my property since the previous owner used every last one for his critters! My fiber experiments run cheek-by-jowl with my veggie garden, so I didn’t try them out due to their invasive-ness. Anyway, flax does well in our marginal clay soils without getting too aggressive, plus it looks pretty, so I grow small quantities of that, mostly for the seeds. I only get a few handkerchiefs’ worth of linen fiber out of a 5×10′ bed after field-retting uprooted plants, and that’s being very careful to minimize losses; I’d get even less if I cut and pond-retted.

    I still think about animal fibers sometimes–if I were going to do that, I’d go with felted fabric rather than spun-thread types, just for ease of processing.

  46. #46 Sharon Astyk
    January 17, 2010

    Greenpa, I haven’t made nettle fiber – what I’ve heard is that it is a lot like linen – coarse at first, gradually softening with usage and washing. We actually didn’t *have* nettles here – I had to plant them, believe it or no. Chickweed, too, and I’ve been planting chicory in the pastures (got it on the roadsides).

    Reminds me of the observation that Danish farmers used to overseed brome into their wheat – because they were taxed on their wheat crop, they had every incentive to reduce the wheat crop, plus, brome seeds were a reliable food supplement in bad years when the wheat crop failed.


  47. #47 Sharon Astyk
    January 17, 2010

    Lora, that list was awesome, btw! I’m with skipping straight to curmudgeon too.

    Greenpa, do you know how palatable nettle hay is? Nettles are such an easy crop to scythe, and so renewable, I’m wondering if we could put up nettle hay. We’ve been letting them dry and feeding them immediately, like you say, but I’ve never seen anything on nettle hay.

    BTW, we’re starting to grow tree crops for hay this year!


  48. #48 Greenpa
    January 17, 2010

    Sharon, alas I have no experience with nettle hay in the long term. We’ve only been adding animals to the operation here in the last 3 years. Early on, we cut nettles and put them into our compost heap; a few days later, when you turned it, the ammonia would be high enough that you wanted to get away. I see no reason why it wouldn’t do fine, though. Like alfalfa, you’d have to be careful to bale it before the leaves were brittle.

    On nettle fiber- I was hoping for first hand expertise from Lora- always the best kind; but then my curiosity was whetted to the point where I actually went through the onerous work of “googling”. Imagine!

    That’s the #1 hit for “nettle fiber”- and it’s pretty cool! Looks a good deal more interesting than I’d guessed.

    One thing- in the years when we were harvesting nettles for nitrogen for the compost; I cut one big patch twice- and the next year; they were gone. I’ve never seen any statements that nettles fix their own N; just that they’re really high in it, and like “overfertilized” ground- so- it’s possible to kill them out. It might also well be that with different timing on the cuts- they wouldn’t have been killed. One datum does not make for useful generalizations.

    Woody hay?? Willow, I’d guess?

  49. #49 Rob Hopkins
    January 17, 2010

    Hi Sharon. That is an amazing photo. Where is it from? What is it of?
    Thanks, as ever…

  50. #50 Pierce R. Butler
    January 17, 2010

    Rob – pls see comment # 39.

  51. #51 Nicola
    January 18, 2010

    I like Lucy Mangan’s example on how you can write about not turning the heating on AND be funny. 🙂

  52. #52 Tree
    January 19, 2010

    Yes, I think it might go quite badly for gay people and anyone not following the ‘status quo’. Choice of community is going to be crucial; I think far more important than people realise. Often, however, folks get more tolerant with familiarity, so if you’re not one that fits into the American mold, find your spot and get to it. Cities may well be more tolerant than rural areas.

    I think it’s going to really suk for women in some areas….more than it does already. Again, rural areas are going to expect a woman to be attached to a male. These attitudes are there, now, and they will get worse. For certain women in certain places, it may well get close to a fate worse than death. Check out some survivalist sites.

    Looks like the small gains women have made in America will be lost as soon as the infrastructure fails.

    Got any ideas how to deal with this?


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