How To Be Poor: An Argument for Voluntary Poverty — Part One   29 comments

This is Part One of the How To Be Poor introduction. Read Part Two and Part Three.

We face an uncertain future. I may sound like a broken recording in saying this again and again, but it’s true. We find ourselves having recently passed peak conventional oil, soon to pass peak liquids fuels, and facing down fast-approaching peaks of natural gas and coal. On top of that, we’re putting incredible strain on the environment, depleting the ancient aquifers that provide so much of our drinking and irrigation water, losing unimaginable quantities of top soil every year, destroying our forests, altering our climate, and helping to create a significant increase in the occurrence of extreme weather events. Considering that much of our national and global infrastructure—the sort of infrastructure that both supports seven billion people on this planet and also provides many of the comforts that we associate with an industrialized way of life—is intrinsically tied to various forms of geography that tend to be effected by major weather events (imagine roads, power lines and sewer lines all running along rivers, for instance) we are facing a present and increasingly-problematic future of degrading and crumbling infrastructure. We also are facing a future with far less available energy, far less available resources and far less money with which to rebuild that infrastructure, further complicating the scenario.

That lack of energy, resources and money further means we can’t continue the dizzying economic growth that we have come to expect and depend upon for our way of life, and are thus facing necessary economic contraction. Such contraction will further lead to a dysfunctional and collapsing financial system. This is due to the fact that our financial system is based on debt and perpetual growth. Take away the perpetual growth and the debt can’t be serviced. Take away the availability of credit and the ability to pay back existing debt, and you have a financial system that ceases to function. Projects grind to a halt, jobs become scarce, unemployment rises, profits fall, tax receipts drop, governments take on more debt to keep the game going, social safety nets sag until they’re damn near touching the ground, austerity measures take root, and soon the entire complicated apparatus is teetering and citizens are falling by the wayside left and right.

Sound familiar?

In other words, we’re facing a world of problems. More specifically, as John Michael Greer has argued, we are facing a predicament. Problems are in search of solutions, just waiting to be solved. Predicaments, on the other hand, are inconvenient realities we must learn to deal with. We’re dealing with the predicament of too little energy, resources and money to continue down the path we are on and therefore we are in need of new ways to live. This is a predicament, not a problem, because there’s simply no way that we are going to be able to find renewable sources of energy that can replace fossil fuels and allow us to continue our energy-intensive lifestyles. This, in other words, is our new reality. It is imperative we figure out effective ways to respond to it.

Some might claim that a cabin in the woods, far away from other people and stocked with freeze-dried food, plenty of water, perhaps some seed packets, and boxes of ammunition is an effective way to respond to an uncertain future. That’s the wrong approach, however, for multiple reasons. First of all, we don’t likely face an apocalypse so much as we face contraction, tumult and lowered standards of living. Our predicament is not likely to lead to a sudden and complete collapse, as that’s not how societies have tended to collapse in the past. Instead, it will be long and drawn out, a stair step process of shocks to the system followed by stabilization, a stretch of relative calm but lowered standards of living, and then another shock to the system. This will happen over and over again until, eventually, we will find a few hundred years down the road—long after everyone reading this is dead—the final ruins not only of the American empire, but of the commonality of fossil-fueled, industrialized societies. Considering this scenario, the proper response is not the aforementioned cabin because we are not facing such a dire situation. We are facing, instead, the prospect of an increasingly poor and fragile society, rent by economic shocks, disintegrating infrastructure, food and energy shortages, the collapse of supply chains, the necessity for far more physical labor, much more local economies, and a general struggle to get by. The closest parallel in recent history, in other words, is probably the Great Depression. Society as we know it is not going to go away over night, but rather keep chugging along, in a highly dysfunctional state, as most all of us become much poorer and find day-to-day life more of  a struggle.

Communities will survive, though, and some will surely flourish. This is another reason why the cabin in the woods is not an effective response to our current and future decline. Community, not the individual, is the basic human unit of survival. Individual humans very rarely survive in complete isolation. We are social animals and we make our living at a community level, to some degree or another. We depend on others for many of our needs, even among the more self-sufficient of us. The ability to provide yourself everything you need to live a decent life, all on your own—or between, say, yourself and a partner and possibly a couple kids—is a pipe dream. It doesn’t exist. We need other people—people who care for us, with whom we share an interdependence, who understand the ways in which our fates are tied. We needs friends and family and acquaintances and even begrudging allies. We need a community, whatever form it takes.

In a world lacking in energy, resources and money, however, the scope and composition of that community is going to be significantly different than it is today. Whereas today most of us depend on massive, globalized, industrialized supply chains to provide us most of our living, in the future we are going to have to relearn how to provide most of that on a very local level. Whereas today, we can always buy our survival so long as we have enough cash, the future promises a reality in which cash is much less valuable than skills and knowledge. Whereas today, we don’t have to resign ourselves to the messy workings of a community to guarantee our survival, so long as we have enough of the aforementioned money, the future promises to require quite a bit more communality from all of us, and to require that we deal with all the messiness and annoyance that can entail (as well as the joy, companionship and conviviality.) Whereas today, we can buy all the comfort we want so long as we have enough cash, the future promises a great deal less comfort for everyone, including those with abundant cash, and is going to reward those who both figure out how to create comfortable lives without money and those who redefine what comfort means in a way that requires less energy and resources.

The future, in otherwise, is looking cash-poor. It will likely provide less comfort and far less material goods, but it will provide some comfort, perhaps even a significant amount, so long as we are capable of reevaluating what comfort means and have some idea of how to create it while working with local resources, within our local community, and without much money. That can be a challenge, and living well while being poor is something of an art and a skill. It is entirely possible, though, and it’s an art and a skill that we would do well to begin learning now.

Most of us are either out of practice with these skills or never learned them in the first place. This is a result of the insanely rich and overabundant society that we live in and the loss of culture that it has demanded and entailed. Peering into our uncertain future, though, it seems clear we’re out of time. We must learn these skills now. There’s simply no more time to delay if we want to increase our chances of living a good life in the future, relatively rich with comfort and stability even if extremely poor in cash.

This, then, is the core of my argument for voluntary poverty. If we are going to live in a world that necessitates we be poorer, then it makes perfect sense to learn how to live well in poverty now. However, there’s another important dimension to my advocacy—one that goes beyond the practical nature of my core argument. We also have a responsibility to scale back our lives. We live in a time of incredible, abundant energy and resources. We have a standard of living that is otherwise unknown throughout the history of humanity. As John Michael Greer noted in his latest writing over at The Archdruid Report, “A modern American climbing into the driver’s seat of a large SUV has more sheer physical energy under his direct control than your average Southern plantation owner had before the Civil War.” That is an incredible reality, and it’s a sobering one.

The majority of Americans have access to a level of resources that is insane and unsustainable. This access is also murderous and destructive. We are tearing apart our planet in service of this outsized lifestyle. We are destroying many of our fellow creatures, engaging in a level of genocide that is unfathomable. At the same time, we’re enslaving other human beings, destroying communities, polluting drinking water and food supplies and devastating the livelihoods of billions of people in pursuit of this abundance—in our sense that it is fair and right for us to have this impossibly large share. We—all of us reading this, even if to varying degrees—are destroying our world and so many of those, human and otherwise, who live in it in a maddening pursuit of wealth and comfort and distraction far beyond what we need, far beyond what is fair, far beyond what is reasonable, and far beyond what will soon be realistic. If we’re to confront and recognize these facts—and rest assured that they are indeed facts—then we have the moral responsibility to begin the process of scaling back our lives, of impoverishing ourselves so that we may ultimately live better, so that others may live better, and so we may become reacquainted with an honest understanding of what it is to be human in this world.

And again, this is not just a moral imperative, but a perfectly logical reaction to our times. When I say we must impoverish ourselves, I don’t mean we must make ourselves miserable. One of the problems we have is that we equate poverty with misery. While that certainly can be the case, it’s just as possible to exist comfortably in poverty and to live well with little money. It’s a challenge, yes, and it takes much work. It’s a long process. It’s a struggle. But that’s what this life is, after all. We’re not here just to party. We’re here to learn to live well. I don’t know what other point there is if it’s not that. Why else could we possibly be here if not to learn to live and work well? What else makes sense?

The simple reality is that living poor is a much better way to live well in this world than is living rich. The lifestyle that many of us here in America and in other industrialized nations have come to view as common—that many of us have come to see as an entitlement, so long as we do the right things—is not living well in the world. It’s living destructively. It’s outsourcing our lives and destroying other people’s lives in the process. It’s taking without giving—receiving and returning it with a slap in the face. It is a cruelty, and we have to walk away from it.

The good news is that to walk away from it doesn’t have to be a sacrifice. It can instead be incredibly rewarding and provide a return to a way of life meaningful and fulfilling, engaged and joyful. In Part Two of this introduction, I’ll talk about the potential rewards that await in a life of poverty and attempt to break down the middle class myth.


29 responses to “How To Be Poor: An Argument for Voluntary Poverty — Part One

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  1. Well written! One of our projects for the year – despite the prospect of increased cash flow – is to get better at being poor. I look forward to reading your take on it.

    • Thanks, Celine! Nothing in this post is new to you, of course, but hopefully as the series continues on, I’ll have some more unique thoughts. I definitely have some ideas for the first couple posts beyond the introduction, and lots of other somewhat more vague ones for beyond that.

  2. Joel I like your concept here and your passion for the subject is also noted. From what I know of your activities, you are also genuinely striving to practice what you preach. I look forward to hearing more. Is there a way to get this without an advert for vacuum cleaners at the end?

    • Thanks, Tomás. I am striving, though I have a long way to go. I certainly have some plans for being poor this year. As for the advert–guh! I didn’t realize for awhile that WordPress stuck those ads onto the blog because they never show when I’m looking at the site while logged into my account. Then I saw it not logged in and those ads would pop up occasionally. It looks like I can get rid of the ads for $30/year. I’m considering it, even though it doesn’t fit so well into my whole being poor thing.

  3. Good words Joel. I do wonder about the rate of collapse. Yes a slow collapse is often normal, but we have never been faced with a global collapse. I think of economics in ecological terms. A healthy economy would be rich in diversity, instead we have a mono culture economy. When it gives out we don’t have thousands of little businesses to pick up the slack. Add all the different situations we are ignoring and we have the makings of a perfect storm.

    Even to get to the point of considering voluntary poverty I had to slow my life down. I want the freedom to take an hour to feed the chickens. I can spent four hours just watching tv and not bat an eye, but an hour “Wasted” with what feeds me is wrong. This is a path I can’t do alone. So if you hear footsteps behind you that’s just me on the same path.

    • Please do join me on the path, Dennis. It’d be nice to have some friends along and know I have company.

      Your point about the possible speed of collapse is well taken. We do have unique times here, in terms of the level of globalization and the interconnectedness of our strained systems. I still tend to think we’re facing more of a stair step collapse, just because there are a lot of levers of power that politicians and other elites of all stripes can pull to slow things down. There are a lot of resources still available to throw at our problems. So I’m still expecting those periods of stabilization, much as where we are now after the shock of 2008.

      But I don’t think a fast collapse is an impossibility. In that scenario, though, I can imagine a mad scrambling toward erecting local economies. It would be very painful, no doubt, but I imagine there would be a surprisingly fast response at the local level that would help to mitigate some of the damage. Still, though, very painful.

      Either way, a downgrading of our lifestyles and the learning of skills seems one of the better responses to me. (Not that you seem to be arguing that.)

      I’ve spent hours watching TV and, as is more the case these days, hours clicking around aimlessly on the internet, with no trouble at all. But I remember a couple years ago stopping to watch the farm’s two ducks splash around in their kiddy pool. It was a wonderful site—I just love to watch ducks play in the water. But as I stood there and it went on toward ten minutes and beyond, I couldn’t help but become very antsy, feeling I had to get on to the next thing no matter how much I was enjoying myself. It’s odd how a screen can so captivate and subdue us in a way the actual world often cannot. Just one more of the absurdities of the world we find ourselves in.

  4. I’ve learned to live poor and know darned well my life is 100 percent better for it. To think that I used to commute an hour+ each way in order to earn a paycheck, which paycheck went who knows where and thought that was a good life. Even though I’m probably living at the poverty level, I’m happier and healthier than I ever have been.

    • Commutes can really be brutal things. I’ve had ones that were about a half hour each way, and I quickly grew sick of that. Over an hour seems like it would be a killer. But I definitely know people who do that. I’m glad you were able to get away from it, and that you’re happier and healthier for it.

  5. This comment is apropo the last two, but not particularly germane to the discussion, which I enjoyed, BTW. But that’s why I knit so much. I can be sitting there, not really doing too much, but if you’re knitting, you look so busy! And nobody will bother you! “Oh, Mom’s knitting, we’d better not ask her to do it (whatever it is) now!” You can sit and knit, walk around a field and knit, watch the ducks splash and knit, and still be accomplishing something. Though personally I think all that American fear of “wasting” time is a holdover from the Calvinist, Protestant idea of busyness. Other cultures don’t seem to have it at all. And Joel, I discovered your blog not long ago, thru the Archdruid’s report, actually, and I’m enjoying it very much. I usually don’t read blogs, I try not to be on the internet too much, but yours I like, so far. Thanks!

    Heather E. Caparoso
    • Thank you, Heather! I appreciate the kind words. And that does sound like a pretty glorious aspect of knitting, being able to get it done while you do a variety of other things. I would love to spend time watching the ducks and also get a bit further on a pair of socks for myself. I actually received a brief introductory knit lesson a few weeks back, but I haven’t followed up with it too much. I’m about to find myself a passenger on a long road trip, so perhaps I’ll take that knitting with me and give it a bit of tie.

      And I agree on the ridiculousness of fearing wasting time—though I certainly worry about that often enough. Standing and watching the ducks certainly seems a legitimate use of time to me. (I do think, though, that I waste a fair amount of time on the internet.)

  6. Well said sir! And well written also. One thing I’ve learned over the years, if nothing else – the future, particularly one’s own future, is never certain. Those who think it (the future) is certain are usually in for a big shock or, perhaps now and then, a surprise….

    • Many thanks, Martin! That is a fine point to keep in mind. I try to strike a balance between making claims I feel pretty certain about in regards to the future, and realizing that things will probably unfold in ways I can’t imagine. I feel comfortable enough saying we’ll probably be poorer—the specifics of how that will play out, I can only speculate, and almost certainly speculate wrongly.

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  9. To avoid seeing any ads, you can install this (if you use Firefox):

    • Thanks, Jess! That’s an excellent recommendation. I didn’t even think about that. I actually have that add-on installed and it’s probably why I never saw the ads myself until I was looking at the site on someone else’s computer.

  10. Joel:

    Thanks for the good work…You are now on my reading list.

    I did take you to task in a small way for this series of articles, I hope that I didn’t offend, but if I did, please accept my apologies in advance.

    The post will be up tomorrow (02/23/12) and you are welcome to comment or rebut.

    • Thanks, John! Consider me flattered to be on the reading list.

      I’ll check out your task-taking tomorrow, assuming internet access. My computer is currently non-functional, so I’m at the mercy of using a friend’s computer. It’s provided me the discipline (which I suppose is no discipline at all) to get much more reading done of late, which I’m quite enjoying. Just finished C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet and now greatly looking forward to the rest of the Space Trilogy. Also in the midst of Overshoot.

      Anyway, I suppose that was all unnecessary information. I’m curious to see what you have to say, so I’ll certainly check it out. Heck, I’m always happy to elicit a response, whether or not it’s agreement.

      • I am excited for you reading the first two of the CS Lewis trilogy. But, for the life of me, I still can’t figure out what he was trying to do with “That Hideous Strength”. But “The book you are reading and “Perelandra” are gems.

        Have you tried “The Screwtape Letters”?

        • That’s interesting, as I’ve seen That Hideous Strength referenced in books I’ve read in regards to industrial society. I can’t remember the books now—perhaps Wendell Berry? Maybe David Ehrenfield’s The Arrogance of Humanism? (Just did a quick search of The Archdruid Report and see that John Michael Greer has referenced it.) Anyway, those references are what sparked my interest in the series in the first place, so it’ll be interesting to see what I think of That Hideous Strength.

          I haven’t read The Screwtape Letters. I take it you recommend the book?

  11. Where I agree that we, as Americans, do need to consider our essential needs vs. the abundance advertised to us, living poor is not a better reality than living rich. And a goal of the year of being good at being poor pisses me off to no end. How many people living in poverty are struggling to live, to eat, to find safe shelter? Not to mention healthcare. If your idea to advocated on the behalf of “voluntary poverty” is typing a holier than thou blog post from your Macbook, your idea of poverty is sorely FUCKED UP. I’m sick of white trustafarians rebelling against their privileged upbringing by using an impoverished life as the background. YES we should learn to live more simply, YES we should be more connected to where our food comes from, YES we should try to keep it local, but eroticising poverty is a big NO. How ignorant can you be?

    • Hi lk,

      I’ll hit a couple quick points first.

      The post was typed on a hand me down Dell, not a Macbook. Just for clarification. I am indeed white. I’m not a trustafarian. If I was, I probably wouldn’t have come around to running and writing this blog. I imagine the worst thing that could’ve happened to me would be to be bequeathed a large amount of money. I have problems with self-discipline enough as it is.

      No, I live off of what I make at my two farm jobs. If you’re interested, I actually give quite a number of my financial details in the third part of the introduction. I think sharing that information’s only fair if I’m going to be advocating voluntary poverty.

      Oh, and in my early childhood, we were pretty poor, though certainly not destitute. We became more comfortable as I grew older. We were never anything close to rich. This isn’t rebellion so much as a natural progression of living and learning.

      As to the main thrust of your objection, I suspect we differ in what we think the future reality is. I’m not advocating that we turn our back on a potential world in which everyone can have health care as we define it today, a modest and heated home, a decent job, some material comforts and a nice share of electricity to make use of, even if quite a bit less than is the average electricity usage now. I’m saying that I don’t think that world is possible—not for seven billion people, anyway, or anything close to that—and so I’m wondering where we go from there. We have far overshot the world’s carrying capacity and as the fossil fuels that have made that possible become more and more constricted, the harsh realities of that overshoot are going to set in. We’re going to crash, in some way or another. I think the process has already begun.

      I think most of us are going to be pretty poor in the future, relative to today, because of that reality. I don’t advocate poverty for fun, and while I think there’s a huge moral component, I’m not even advocating it primarily on that basis. I’m advocating it on what I think reality is. If we’re going to be poor—whether we like it or not, whether or not we think it’s fair—then it makes a lot of sense, from a simple standpoint of survival, to begin the process now of figuring out how best to live within that future reality while we still have some flexibility and resources available to us. After all, figuring that out isn’t something you do over night. It’s a years long process, a life long process, and so if we wait until we’re forced into poverty, we’re going to be facing a very bleak reality. If we start the process now, it might not be nearly so bad. Not that it will be easy, mind you, or fun or joyous or some big damn party, but I’d rather go into that process with some sense of what it’s like, some sense of how to deal with it, some sense of how to function well within that reality, instead of never having known any life of constraints or restrictions.

      I think I actually wrote that out much better in a recent post in this series, Our Distorted View. That actually serves as a better introduction to this series, I think—which is something of a failure on my part. Check it out if you’re so inclined.

      Thanks for your comment. I hope you’ll stop by again.

  12. Piggy-backing off of “lk”s comment, I want to say that you sound so well educated about what you speak of, but I think you should consider the social, economic and political tones of the word “poverty”. Why not try “living simply”? I think “voluntary poverty” is a bit of a slap in the face, as if poverty is a lifestyle you can opt into. No matter what kind of computer you write from, I think you’re still missing a bigger point here.

    • Hi missps,

      Thanks for the feedback. I specifically don’t argue for voluntary simplicity for reasons that I lay out in the second part of this introduction. The thrust of the argument is that I think the idea of simple living is too easily corrupted into the idea that we can make a few tweaks to our lifestyles and then go on our merry way, which I don’t believe is the case. I won’t reproduce the full argument here, but would encourage you to look over that post if you’re interested.

      If you’re still further interested in my reasoning, I write a bit more about it in the comment at the bottom of this blog post in which the author takes me to task for using the terms “poor” and “poverty.” That also might help shed some light on my reasoning.

      In the third part of this introduction, I try to be very clear about my own financial situation and note that I’m aware of the tones of the word “poverty,” as well as the ways in which my advocacy of it may be offensive. I certainly don’t mean to offend people; yet I might, and I don’t think that’s an unreasonable response. I don’t want to mince words, though, so I’m going to stay with the term.

      The “Our Distorted View” post also talks a bit more about my advocacy of voluntary poverty and the difference from what I’m arguing for and the reality of forced poverty. Again, I recognize that some people are not going to be sympathetic to the way I make my argument and it’s a reasonable criticism.

      I’ve also noted in a few different blog posts the irony of advocating for voluntary poverty in a blog. Obviously, the internet and access to the tools to use it is a massive luxury. It’s one I think will be going away and I plan to eventually abandon, but for the time being I’m using it and accepting the contradiction. Scaling back our lives is a process and it’s one I’m undergoing even as I recommend others undergo it, too. That’s actually part of the way in which I think my perspective might—I hope!—prove helpful to others. It’s also why I acknowledge I’m a far distance from where I’m advocating we all work on getting to.

  13. Pingback: The Household Economy: A Return to Normal « Of The Hands

  14. I cannot use words as eloquently as Joel, but I do see IK and missps point. Real poverty is horrible when looking at third world countries – i will not elaborate on that.

    However, if one studies the depression and compares it to now – people of that era had the skills we do not have now, or are ignorant to learning. But listening to my mothers and grandmothers stories – they made it thru and were happy and raised their families in a moral way. They also carried the skills needed to survive with them throughout their lives. People made do with what they had because there was no other way. If you look thru some of the pictures of the representation of the depression would we not say today that is third world circumstances? The question concerning collapse today is – can the people who rely on govt entitlements, and i mean all of them – social security, welfare, etc. live that kind of lifestyle and be happy? Not just be happy, but at least accept they have to take responsibility for their own lives? I am not so sure that is gonna happen, not sure how that situation is going to resolve itself.

    How is the entitlement crowd gonna survive or should i say convert to taking care of themselves – who is gonna teach them? Hot pockets in the microwave is all they know to eat, free housing, utilities, EBT card for a truckload of hot pockets, free healthcare, and now free cellphones. It does not pay to work when the govt provides all these things – maybe they are the smart ones. But the question remains – who is gonna teach these people, and how are they going to react when cuts are made. No one in America today knows what real poverty is and can not accept it – not many people can downsize either.

    Most of these people i speak of – if put thru a depression-like situation like back in the 30’s would either commit suicide or riot in the streets. – some of this happened during the depression – the difference now is there are many more people to do it – many, many more people who do not know how to exist or survive outisde off the couch away from the TV watching gangland and Jersey Shore. They have known no other life.Whereas, the depression era generation had no brainwashing TV shows to watch and were not dumbed down like today. There was wood to chop, clothes to wash, canning to do, animals to feed. Yes there were a few chickens in almost everyones yard. I look at pictures of my grandmother standing in her front yard back then and there was always a chicken or two in the background (and she lived in town)

    I hope like you said – one stair step at a time, a few shocks at a time. But for every one like those on this blog that voluntarily and happily cut back, there are 1000 more that have no clue. And then you throw in all the hindrances to living self- sufficient – useless laws to protect us – no chickens in urban areas, no front yard gardens, blah blah blah unless you move to BFE, if you are lucky enough to do that.

    Joel, i would really like to hear what your opinion is – what and who is going to teach the millions of clueless? That is the real danger now – in a collapse situation. Dont want to drag politics into this, but it kind of looks like every man for himself now. I do see little pockets here and there of people like yourself, but not enough to save the situation from exploding.

    • Hi chickengirl,

      Thanks for the comment. I agree that far too large of the percentage doesn’t have the sort of skills that will be needed to come out the other side of the economic shocks I expect to happen in the future. Teaching people those skills is going to be a challenge indeed, especially if it needs to be done in a crash course style. Yet, I don’t know if that’s how it’s going to come down to it. I suspect we all—myself included—get too easily caught up in the idea of a specific moment of crash, in which the hordes of desperate people are unleashed. I don’t imagine it’s likely to be that way. I think the series of drops will allow for a more natural spread of many of the skills that will serve people well as those drops play out.

      The people who are open to it, meanwhile, will often find those who want to teach them. I see that already here on the farm I’m at. We had over 50 people come through last year who were interested in farming, off-grid living and other such skills. Granted, none of them walked away with the ability to make too much of their own living, but it was a step, and most all of them felt a certain attraction to the lifestyle. It was an interesting thing to watch. So many of these kids—I say kids, even though many of them weren’t much younger than me—would be sucked into the iPhones and laptops but at the same time be really eager to rake out some soil or chop wood or learn how to use the wood stove, cook, care for the chickens. Yes, it was an adventure to a certain degree, but a good many of them left wanting to pursue these ideas more.

      Life, ironically enough, probably got in the way of many of them continuing down that path, as they slipped back into a mode of existence that our society claims is normal. Technology and distraction take back over, the easy comforts of industrial capitalism call, and even the odd world of school absorbs all their energy and attention. Yet, they’re open to it and as society stops providing so many easy outs, I think they’ll be able to make that transition to some degree or another, even if it proves very challenging.

      How much of the population is in that frame of mind? I don’t know, except that I’m pretty sure it’s a minority. But how many may allow themselves to be pushed into that frame of mind via outside circumstance? That’s the much more interesting question. As you note, some people would about rather die than deal with this way of life, but we don’t even know that until the chips are down. A lot of people will deal with that challenge successfully and find that a way of life they may have previously thought unthinkable suddenly becomes quite thinkable.

      In the end, we’re all still animals—just another species. When the strange infrastructures we’ve built to help separate ourselves from that reality start to crumble, I imagine a lot of people are going to start realizing that reality again and finding that it’s not so horrible as it’s made out to be.

      But maybe I’m being too optimistic. I don’t know. It’s certainly true that sudden change tends to be hard for us as humans, at a very basic level. Which is a big reason why I advocate for working on that change now, rather than waiting for it to be forced upon you. You’re very unlikely to change effectively at that point, and there’s a good chance at getting lost in the transition.

      I’m rambling myself away from your question, though. Who’s going to teach the millions? Communities will form. It won’t be enough, but they’ll continue to form even as they’re forming now, and that will be the base from which we work. Others will struggle their way through on their own. Some will stock up on books and go through a brutal learning curve as they make all the old mistakes, but they’ll get somewhere effective eventually. Humans will help out other humans because that’s what we tend to do in harsh circumstances. We pull together, at a very basic level, because that’s been our success and survival as a species. We form communities—it’s about as natural as breathing, and it’s one of our real hopes for the future.

      Again, it won’t be enough. But I bet it will be more than we might expect.

      Anyway, your question has inspired me to perhaps write a post or two about the specifics of how I think collapse might play out. That’s probably a hubristic undertaking, and as such I’m going to make it clear that I’m engaging in pure speculation, which is probably much less informed than the speculation of many others. But there is a specific idea I want to talk about, so that will likely go up sometime in the next few days or this weekend. Right now I’m in Portland, running a bunch of errands and seeing friends and family, so I’m not sure when I’m going to have time to sit down and type out a long post.

      Keep an eye out for it, though.

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