First published on inteldaily.com August 2011
At this, still early, point in the twenty first century only the sensory deprived or those living in brainwashed denial can escape from the fact that the modern Western way of life is doomed. Of course, as I write this millions of people still living a non-Western life of relative poverty are aspiring to our decadent foolishness of self-indulgence, consumerism, environmental, social and self destruction.
The obvious truth is that our current mode of existence is propped up mostly by hubris at this late stage. The most cursory of investigations will uncover a wealth of evidence that our financial system is close to collapse, our ecosystem and its resources are becoming exhausted, our social structure is becoming degenerate and our public infrastructure is disintegrating.
One could say this is the cost of human progress or our intellectual evolution, part of a process of growing up that we will ‘grow out of’. It would be nice to believe that this is true and that we can evolve into a culture with modern benefits whilst regaining the holism of other more naturalistic cultures that now barely exist. I fear that what is more likely is that our technological development will never provide this ‘holy grail’ of sustainable living or some kind of equilibrium with our environment. Personally I am not willing to wait around and see if this approach will actually deliver anything concrete, it is my belief that the only way forward is to go backwards.
The level of degradation caused by Western lifestyles is hard to fathom due to many unseen or intangible results. We are all many stages removed from the sweat factories where our useless crap is manufactured and the resulting effects on these far-away people and lands. What is clear though is that even if fully understanding that the negative effects of the modern lifestyle are hard to grasp (not least because it is too horrifying for many to fully conceive), a major change is required if we are to make it to or beyond the end of this century.
We could sit around and wait for our governments and institutions to wake up and begin a programme of social and economic change, a peaceful revolution if you will. However, at the moment virtually every government in the world seems to be running full-pelt in the wrong direction – increasing depletion of resources, papering over the cracks of broken financial and social institutions, protecting vested interests, oppressing dissent and failing to take any concrete actions that might solve our long-term problems.
So we could wait for the government fire truck to arrive while the new Rome burns, but if it ever does show up, it is likely to arrive far too late to have any effect. So why wait? Perhaps it is better to forge ahead and create and enact our own personal goals to create a more sustainable life, ones that might just enable us and our families to survive if the systems around us continue to collapse?
First of all it’s necessary to realize that much of our infrastructure that we take for granted such as electricity, motor vehicles, gas, oil, plastics, consumer products, easily available and convenient food could possibly be largely unavailable within a decade from now. If this is the case, then one needs a realistic plan for survival in a downscaled world, a world where simplicity is going to be key to any viable and sustainable mode of existence.
Our ancestors possessed a wealth of relatively simple but practical skills as well as practical hand/animal operated tools that allowed a still fairly complex society to exist. Obviously a non-mechanised, non-electronic existence would be significantly harder than what almost all of us are used to, but it can still provide a successful and fulfilling way of life. Unfortunately most of us lack both the skills and the tools required to live this very practical lifestyle – which means our number one goal has to be acquisition of both the practical knowledge and the means to put it into practice.
Within my own life I have begun ‘re-skilling’, a slow and difficult process that I am some way from completing. However, I am progressing towards becoming self-sufficient in terms of food, water, energy, DIY skills etc. I am also in the process of collecting what I consider to be useful tools that I will still be able to avail of if there is no petrol or electricity available to someone of no great status, such as myself.
Assuming I manage to learn all of the necessary life skills to survive independently of our social system and I have also acquired the necessary tools and resources to begin doing so before an economic and social collapse, I think that I have a fair chance of making a decent life for myself and my family. Through networking and building a community of likeminded people within a short distance of where I live, I could further increase our chances of survival and perhaps provide greater security for all involved.
What is most frightening is the prospect of those who are preparing or are already prepared for the ‘doomsday’ scenario being overwhelmed by a tidal wave of hungry, violent and desperate people who have continued to sleepwalk through the decay of modern society. Some survivalists/preparedness aficionados may wish to keep all these ideas to themselves in the hope that everyone else will just ‘die out’ leaving a much smaller number of like-minded people to carry on into a rosy future.
I believe a more sane view of reality is that all of us need to begin making these changes now and encourage all our neighbours, family and friends to do the same. If a critical mass of people in each country can voluntarily simplify and begin disconnecting from the decaying systems then there is hope of a peaceful, orderly and empowering transition to a simpler but sustainable future that will also carry most of the remaining somnambulists along with us. There are just too many people in the world to go and hide on a mountain top and wait for the coming chaos to end – a huge mass of helpless and desperate people will annihilate the very people who can help save them if a mad scramble ensues.
Spreading knowledge like a virus through the human population, changing consciousness, acquiring the spaces and tools for a renewal of our agrarian past is our best and only chance for human society. If we can make this transition voluntarily while there is still time then perhaps we might not have to lose all of the positive gains of the last two hundred years – in areas such as medicine, engineering, art, agriculture, social/religious tolerance, philosophy etc. Time is running out for all of us, don’t wait for the government or the TV to tell you when it’s already too late – think it through now, today! Make a plan and begin changing while there is still time.