Respectable (and not-so-respectable) pundits have been predicting a worldwide economic collapse for the better part of three years now. The advice of these “doomsday investors” to their wealthy clients amounts to this: buy rural property, preferably a self-sufficient farm, somewhere far away from the big cities; and stockpile essential supplies, especially gold, guns and ammunition. It’s an old idea that is becoming mainstream.
Arturo Vasquez responded sharply:
There is something uniquely American about these disaster porn type fantasies about the collapse of civilization. Sort of like saying: “well, now is my chance to live how I want to, without the interference of the gummint!” I think Mr. Culbreath does knock that sentiment down a couple of notches towards reality, but the fact that people make an industry out of it (and make movies about it) says a lot about our culture. The truth is, we have so much, and are afraid of losing it. But fear makes people do all sorts of stupid things.
I was living in Argentina when their currency devalued in 2002 and the presidency changed hands a couple of times. Maybe they are more used to that stuff down there, but in spite of what the media made of all of it, cats didn’t begin to marry dogs, it didn’t start to rain frogs, and life continued on pretty much as usual. The more realistic scenario in this country is that we become more like a Third World country: the rich get richer, and so forth. Heck, the upper class of Sao Paulo, Brazil, can’t even drive down the street for fear of kidnapping, and they fly home in helicopters.
While such social stratification is far from desirable, it is also far from societal collapse. All the talk of building a wall on the border with Mexico will soon be accompanied by a quieter movement to build walls within to keep the growing lower class out. Maybe that is my own “nightmare scenario”, but it has already happened in many parts of the world, so why not here?
I’m particularly bad at reading tea-leaves, and so I’m not the one to decide who has the better argument. But Arturo does a very good job at raising the question of whether apocalypse scenarios are too optimistic. When confronted by decadence, authoritarianism, and a sense that ones liberty is slipping away, it’s easy to comfort oneself with the notion- no doubt supported by plausible arguments – that the system will soon be swept away by economic and political collapse. But for one who sees the apocalypse coming, it is more horrifying to contemplate the possibility that the system might not collapse- and that ten, forty, or a hundred years from now, America will feel pretty much the same as it does now, even after a few more financial meltdowns or wars- or even after the apocalypse. Isn’t there something horrible about this? I think so- who wants to think that even an apocalypse can’t change “the system”? But I lean towards thinking that something like this horror is true – after all, if the people have become so habitually rapacious or complacent to rapine that collapse is inevitable, they will carry these same habits with them into the world that must sprout up after the collapse. Whatever you build after you smash “the system” must be built by those who have only ever known “the system”. We think that there must be some purgative effect in starting from a clean slate, when in fact we can only give the clean slate to the very people who have just written what we wanted to erase.
Perhaps the hope that we invest in an apocalypse is not a natural hope, that is, it is not for something that nature or a political association can provide. Perhaps as soon as we are talking about real change in a natural or political context, we are not talking about something that can’t be achieved by dramatic transformations, but only by slow, plodding, frustrating, incremental ones. There is something unsatisfying about this, and which should lead us, to some extent, not to seek satisfaction in what nature or human ingenuity can provide.