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Sunday, 13 April 2014

Business as Usual

Club Orlov

[Update: After a lot of unthinking “but we Americans have guns!”-type comments, I held my nose and added a paragraph on that vile topic.]

Thinking about collapse is very useful because it allows you to prepare for it. And preparing for collapse is very useful too—from the pragmatic perspective of risk management. Consider the possibilities.

  • If you prepare for collapse and it doesn't happen, then you look a tiny bit foolish.
  • If you don't prepare for collapse and collapse does happen, then you look a tiny bit dead.
Now, which would you prefer to be, foolish or dead?

This type of reasoning is very basic, and is used for such things as calculating the amount of insurance to buy or the amount of cash to keep in reserve in order to avoid being bankrupted should the worst-case scenario unfold. In order to do that, you have to have some idea of what the worst case scenario is. People seem comfortable with this kind of reasoning.

There is, however, a problem: most people don't seem to be able to wrap their minds around the concept of collapse in the sort of unsentimental, dispassionate way that is required for engaging in practical risk management activities. They can think of a nuclear accident, or a tsunami, or a hurricane, or an earthquake, or a pandemic. They might be able to think of all five at the same time, but that's a stretch for most. But the scenario that few people can react to adequately is the sort of gritty reality that is quite probable. Let's try a couple of scenarios, and see how you react.

Scenario #1. You live in a major city. Banks are closed and ATM machines are defunct. There is no electricity. Shops are closed and looted. Gas stations are burned out. There is no pumped water and toilets don't flush. There is no heat or air conditioning. Garbage isn't being collected and there are piles of it everywhere. Roads are impassable and neighborhoods are barricaded from each other with concertina wire and piles of burning tires and patrolled by armed gangs. Home invasions occur with gruesome regularity, especially in the wealthier neighborhoods where there is more to take. Police are nowhere to be found, but there are army checkpoints on all the major roads leading out of the city where people are turned back.

Scenario #2. You live out in the country. There is no electricity, no heating oil or propane deliveries. 
Gasoline is no longer available, and you can no longer drive 30 miles to the nearest supermarket or Walmart. In any case, these stores are no longer open for business because merchandise is no longer being delivered to them. You used to be on friendly terms with some of the neighbors, but now everybody is afraid of each other. In any case, it's too far, and too dangerous, to walk anywhere. Your drinking water used to come from a deep drilled well via an electric pump, which no longer works. There also used to be a sump pump and a dehumidifier in your basement, which is now permanently flooded and filling with black mold. Armed gangs are filtering through the landscape, looking for caches of food and other supplies. They are increasingly expert at what they do, and most people either give up their stockpile voluntarily or die trying to defend it.

Presented with such scenarios, most people react in one of three ways: denial, paralysis or panic. 

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