The violence does not have to be physical. One subtle type of mental violence that abounds in our world is the act of refusing to acknowledge someone's existence. We may believe that it makes us safer to walk past people without making eye contact. That is certainly true if our look is blank and indifferent, and it is then better to avert one's gaze than to look, and in effect to say: "I do not recognize you." That definitely does not make you any safer. But if your look says "I see you, you are OK," or even "I recognize you," then the effect is quite the opposite. Dogs understand this principle perfectly well, and so should people.
When I was doing a radio tour to promote my book, a lot of the AM radio motor-mouths who interviewed me would sum up the interview with something like "So this is all doom and gloom, isn't it." And then I would have maybe 15 seconds for a rebuttal. So here is my standard 15 second rebuttal: "No, my message is actually quite hopeful. I want to let people know that they can find ways to lead happy, fulfilling lives even as this doomed system crumbles all around them." Here, I can give you a longer answer.
I believe that the financial pyramid scheme and globalized consumerism are done. But I think that having no government at all is not an option. Forget entitlements, forget military bases on foreign soil, forget the three-ring circus that passes for representative democracy here, but we will still need agencies to print passports, to control the nuclear stockpile, as well as many other mundane but essential services that only a central government can provide. For most other needs, local self-government may be the best we can do, but that may not be bad at all.
Commercial collapse need not be final. It is quite possible that a new economy will arise spontaneously, one without all the frills and the waste, but able to provide for most of the basic needs. In the places that are socially and culturally intact, this is almost inevitable, as people take charge and start doing what's necessary without waiting for official sanction.
As far as social and cultural collapse, as I already mentioned, to some extent they have already happened, but this is being masked, for the time being, by the availability of finance, commerce, and government. But they can be undone, not everywhere, of course, but in quite a few places, because the instincts are there, and a dire common predicament can be the catalyst that changes society, bringing it closer to the human norm.
Knowing what to expect can provide us with peace of mind, even in the midst of collapse. Wallowing in nostalgia over the good old days, or denying that sweeping changes are before us -- these responses are definitely unhealthy.
If we know what's coming, we can start ignoring the things that we will not be able to rely on. If we do enough of this, we may find ourselves in a different world, quite possibly a better one, rather quickly. Here is a personal example. Some years ago, I decided to give up the car, finding it quite impractical, and started bicycling instead. It wasn't that easy at first, but once I got used to it, a strange thing happened to my perception: I started seeing cars quite differently. On the way to work in the morning, I would ride along a stretch of highway, which was always packed with cars. When you are driver, you see it as normal, because you are part of this herd of mechanized insects. But what I saw was sheet metal boxes with people imprisoned inside them, strapped down to a chair inside a tiny padded cell, and most of these poor crazies were just pictures of misery: an angry, desperate, lonely mob, condemned to move about in circles. And then I would happily pedal away, through a park and around a pond, and leave that horrible, dying world behind.
And so it is with a great many things. We can wait until the lifestyle that is killing the planet and is making us crazy and sick is no longer physically possible, or we can opt out of it ahead of time. And what we replace it with can be difficult at first, but quite a lot better for us in the end.
So let us summarize our findings. Financial collapse is already quite far along, and is guaranteed to run its course. Bailouts can make insolvent institutions look solvent for a time by providing liquidity, but one thing they cannot provide is solvency. For instance, no matter how much we bail out the auto companies, making any more cars will still be a bad idea. Similarly, no matter how much money we give to banks, their loan portfolios, loaded down with houses built in places that are inaccessible except by car, will still end up being worthless. By continuously nationalizing bad debt, the country will make itself into a bad credit risk, and foreign lenders will walk away. Hyperinflation and loss of imports will follow.
Commercial collapse is likewise guaranteed to happen. One key import is oil, and here the loss of imports will cause much of the economy to shut down, because in this country nothing moves without oil. But it should be possible to come up with new, far less energy-intensive ways to provide for the basic needs.
Political collapse is guaranteed as well. As tax receipts dwindle, municipalities and states will no longer be able to meet the minimal maintenance requirements for existing infrastructure: roads, bridges, water and sewer mains, and so forth. Municipal services, including police, fire departments, snow removal and garbage collection, will also be curtailed or eliminated. The better-organized communities may be able to find ways to compensate, but many communities will become impassable and uninhabitable, generating a flood of internal refugees.
Currently, the political class couldn't be farther from understanding what is about to happen. I listened in on one of the recent presidential debates (I don't have a television set, but I caught a chunk of it on NPR). It struck me that the two candidates spent most of the time arguing over ways of spending money that they don't have. For me, listening to them was a waste of time that I didn't have. I suspect that my book, would sell better if McCain got elected; nevertheless, I choose to remain selflessly apolitical. National politics is a distraction and a waste of time.
Actually, I should be gratified. A while ago I proposed a whimsical Collapse Party. The Collapse Party platform featured planks such as the freeing of prisoners to whittle down the prison population before a general amnesty becomes necessary due to lack of funds, a jubilee - forgiveness of all debts - to wipe the slate clean of all these bad loans, and a few others. Elsewhere, I proposed that it is a good idea to stop making new cars - just run down the ones we already have, and we'll run out of cars just as we run out of gas. I am happy to report that this has been banner year for the Collapse Party. Without fielding a single candidate, we managed to push through much of our agenda: many states are releasing prisoners due to the fiscal crisis, the federal government is now involved in avoiding foreclosures, a huge credit card debt write-off is in the works (not quite a jubilee, but still...) and now automakers are ready to consolidate or declare bankruptcy. Next year, perhaps we will repatriate troops and shut down overseas military bases, also in line with the Collapse Party platform.
Continuing with our recap, I see social collapse as avoidable, but not in all places. In many places, the task is to reconstitute society before the first three stages run their course, and it may already be too late. But this is where we need to make a stand, if only to be remembered for something more than the sum total of our mistakes.
Lastly, cultural collapse is something that's almost too horrible to contemplate, except that in some places it seems to have already happened, and is being masked by the various institutions that still exist, for the time being. But I believe that a lot of people will come around and remember their humanity, the better parts of their natures, when dire circumstances force them to rise to the occasion.
Also, there are some intact pockets of culture here and there that can be used as a sort of cultural seed stock. These are communities and groups that have seen some adversity in recent times, and have some social cohesion left over from the experience. They may also be those who made certain conscious decisions, to simplify their living arrangements in order to lead saner, more fulfilling lives. We must do all we can to avert this final stage of collapse, because what is at stake is nothing less than our humanity.
I hope that, if you have been following along, by this point this slide is self-explanatory. Collapse is not one monolithic thing. Each kind of collapse requires a response, be it jumping clear ahead of time, sitting it out, or opposing it with all you got. At this point, if anyone in this room got up and tried to tell us what to do to avoid financial collapse, we would probably find that quite funny. On the other hand, if we stand by and let social and cultural collapse unfold, then what's the point of any of this?
That's all. Thank you for listening.