Will a Post-Carbon Society Have to Abandon the Vulnerable?

Some of you may have seen this when it came out, but I was busy and missed it, and it bears repeating, because we so often think that caregiving is a product of modern capacity.  From the New York Times:

Almost all the other skeletons at the site, south of Hanoi and about 15 miles from the coast, lie straight. Burial 9, as both the remains and the once living person are known, was laid to rest curled in the fetal position. When Ms. Tilley, a graduate student in archaeology, and Dr. Oxenham, a professor, excavated and examined the skeleton in 2007 it became clear why. His fused vertebrae, weak bones and other evidence suggested that he lies in death as he did in life, bent and crippled by disease.

They gathered that he became paralyzed from the waist down before adolescence, the result of a congenital disease known as Klippel-Feil syndrome. He had little, if any, use of his arms and could not have fed himself or kept himself clean. But he lived another 10 years or so.

They concluded that the people around him who had no metal and lived by fishing, hunting and raising barely domesticated pigs, took the time and care to tend to his every need.

There are enormous challenges for caregiving, dignified old age and for the disabled in a less-energy intensive future, but it helps, I think, to know that giving care is part of what makes us human and as old as the hills.



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This brings up the point that much of what we do now might be considered impossible, or excessive, in lean times to come. The man in ancient Hanoi was able to be cared for by his family members and community in a primitive system, and this made it possible for him to live. In today's society, so much care is wrapped up in the industrialized medical system, where the family's main act of caring is taking their chronically ill relative to and from doctor's appointments and hospital stays, picking up their prescriptions at the pharmacy, and ensuring all the machines they need to live (oxygen tanks and the like) are kept functioning and in good order. In a less energy intensive future, I wonder how that will all play out. Will we continue caring for our ill in this fashion, or will we only be able to care for those whose needs are un-technological (feeding and cleaning) and simple, such as the man in ancient Hanoi?

By Hot Flash Homestead (not verified) on 07 Feb 2013 #permalink

We can have a growing, wealthy society able to afford to care for everybody or we can have a return to medievalism.

All that is needed for the former is for the Luddite Greens to get out of the way and let human ingenuuty work. Which is why they don't.

By Neil Craig (not verified) on 08 Feb 2013 #permalink

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"Will a Post-Carbon Society Have to Abandon the Vulnerable?"



You have definitely picked up a few trolls, some of which seem to be using google translate , lol.
I also have a son with Autism (Asperger's Syndrome,to be precise). He is 11 now, and (very) verbal. One of the first doctors we saw when seeking a diagnosis told me he should be on Ritalin (after spending 5 minutes with him). I immediately started researching natural alternatives and found that fish oil is widely used in Europe to treat Autism and other disorders. It has worked wonders, and I didn't have to worry about withdrawals when we lost our insurance. Now, I understand that in some cases, medication is the best option. However, it is not always the best option, yet our medical community seems to always be pushing the newest drug. I have been prescribed Paxil for pain in the past. It was a difficult drug to come off of (not to mention the pain was still there). My mother's dr is trying to prescribe her an SSRI for arthritis. My sister's prescription bottles won't even fit into a gallon zip lock bag. If we can see no other option than to treat every symptom with a pill, then yes, the vulnerable will be abandoned post-carbon. However, I think it is possible to change the way we care for many individuals so that it is possible to continue that care post-carbon.
Neil: I would not consider myself a "Luddite Green," but I do not own a bread machine or an electric can opener. I feel that they are unnecessary in my life and would be more trouble than they are worth. I don't think they are evil, they may be worth the trouble for some people. I am totally on board with the concept that we should know how to function without electricity, because sometimes the power goes off. That doesn't mean I am anti-electricity, it just means I like to be prepared. The reality is that we will run out of fossil fuels eventually. Isn't it better to see where we can do without them comfortably now and cut our consumption than to just expect "human ingenuity" to save us?

I hesitate to write this comment, but I don't think I'm going to be able to hold my tongue on this one. While I applaud the sentiment in this post, Sharon, I don't think the individual skeleton uncovered in that excavation carries the point you would like it to make here. This skeleton shows evidence of care in a pre-carbon culture for one disabled person, in one particular society, at one particular point in time. Unfortunately, we can juxtapose that with all too many skeletons from similar periods and similar societies which show war atrocities, child abuse, child sacrifice, and various other brutalities. That too, from the evidence, would logically be part of what makes us human and as old as the hills. The remains of infants abandoned at birth or shortly after (because of deformity, disability, or the simple inability to provide for a special needs child in the given circumstances and at that time) would likely never even make it into the archaeological record. But we know from historical records that it happened in various cultures, even relatively prosperous ones. Where outright infanticide/exposure happened, it was at times practiced openly and without social stigma. It was almost certainly more common than in modern industrial societies - in percentage of live births if not actual numbers. (Populations were much smaller 1000+ years ago, obviously.)

I don't think you're arguing that this one set of remains provides concrete evidence of what our essential human nature is. I think you're trying to say that declining resources don't FORCE us to abandon the vulnerable. I very much hope that we don't. But I do sort of see you at least flirting with arguing from hard facts here. I don't think anyone can really argue this issue on a factual basis. The facts as we know them are both incomplete and far from conclusive. We should be very careful about appealing to the historical or archaeological record for evidence of a viewpoint we'd like to promote; it's all too easy to find evidence that supports the opposite viewpoint. Generally the ethical argument is the stronger one, in my opinion. I think we can and should do better by the vulnerable members of our society than many ancient cultures managed to do by theirs.

By Kate@LivingThe… (not verified) on 08 Feb 2013 #permalink

WONDERFUL Post.thanks for share..more wait ..

There's a story of modern day success on this same front that I think you would appreciate, Sharon. I did.


warning; it's long; and a lot of folks tear up.

I'm acutely aware these days that I would be considered disabled by many, should everything go south. I need glasses, badly. My hearing loss is now "moderately severe"- and I need the hearing aids- can't hear the coyotes without them anymore; or chickadees. I sleep with a CPAP machine. I take meds for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (official) and high blood pressure- and, oh, I could go on.

I'm a wreck; physically. Yet I function- at a much higher level than many, and no one in my own circle is thinking about leaving me out for the wolves yet. They seem to like me.

All of us have our own value to our circles. There are many Neanderthal skeletons known with extensive deformities and signs of disease- and long lives. It's been the norm to keep our dear ones; for millennia. It's always been expensive- yet we do it. That's hopeful.

oh; Frugal Kate- just noticed your comment- the focus on "wow, we have the unique find" - was PR bull. There are many, many skeletons showing profound disabilities and disease, and long survival in spite; from many ages and cultures. The one in the story is a bit on the extreme side; and universities now live on press releases to power their fundraising. But keeping the disabled alive in primal cultures has been a known phenomenon, literally for centuries.

yet our medical community seems to always be pushing the newest drug.

Because your medical system is being run as a profit industry, not a health one.

And this even goes to the people using it. They see how much per month they spend and they don't want back what they put in, they want MORE. So they demand expensive medication.

Doctors get a cut and kickbacks.

The pushers get sales quotas for the NEW version, not the old.

And so you get the problem you see above.

I'm with Kate on this one. I'm sure we can all pull out instances, in the past or in the present, of incredible sensitivity or insensitivity towards others with disabilities. It is interesting to know that the variability in the treatment of people with disabilities has existed across time, but I'd say that's about as far as we can stretch the evidence.

The problem is we only get paid for things that our current society wants.

In a collapse (you can see this today with all the triple-dip-recessions going on: there are no jobs for people to get paid for) you won't need someone to program a computer, someone to sell you a computer program, someone to sell you the computer to run the computer program so that you can do your taxes online.

Because you're unemployed.

And when you have no money, how are you going to look after your family member who needs help?

You're too busy scraping a job that pays a part-time wage for full-time work. If you're lucky.

No time to look after gramps.

And it's not as if you could afford to have only one worker in the family for the past 20 years. Both have been needed. So you're twice as vulnerable and have nobody who stays at home to look after the needy.

If the caregiver has the strength, the know-how and the means and does not rely on expensive pharmaceuticals, modern hospitals with scans and complex procedures, and other trappings of industrial civilization I would guess that much could and probably would be done for the vulnerable.

Except they would need to be fed.

And in a stressed world with widespread unemployment and not enough food, they won't.

Remember, this problem is solely because for 30+ years the clear proof has been denied and we as a race have not just done fuck all about stopping the problem, but have gone around making it worse and are continuing to do so.

By the time we move to a post-carbon world, the infrastructure we depended on will be nearly useless and we'll be too late to replace it.

Howdy! Quick question that's totally off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My website looks weird when browsing from my iphone4. I'm trying to find a template or plugin that might be able to resolve this problem. If you have any suggestions, please share. Thanks!

By ???????? ? (not verified) on 28 Feb 2013 #permalink