How Should We Live?

“Of all the changes that the twentieth century has brought, none goes deeper
than the disappearance of that unquestioning faith in the future and the absolute value of our civilization which was the dominant note of the nineteenth century
Dawson, Christopher (1956). The Dynamics of World History, Sheed and Ward, New York

In a sense, this post came out of a perusal of the comments over at John Michael Greer’s latest article at his new site (If you need to track it down, here is the link).

The upshot of this is it seems that my polytheistic-leaning guru of tree-and-twig (It isn’t healthy to be all that respectful toward a spiritual guide) has moved to nice little apartment in Providence.

Now, in my mind, there is nothing wrong with this, truth be told, it is a smart choice. But I find it an interesting choice for a writer whose past works center on the decline and breakdown of industrial society (I concur!).  You see, most folks who subscribe to this train of thought this eventuality usually go off in the other direction.  The usual response is one I refer to as the demi-hippie where land is purchased as far away from the mōbile as one can afford and then try to create a simulacrum of what they left behind.

When your standard “end of industrial civilization” type heads out to the wilderness to live away from the industrial civilization, they spend a whole bunch of their time and money making certain that the retreat is well upholstered with all the accouterments of industrial civilization.

So, John Michael and I appear to agree, if everything that you do when you move away to escape drags all the crap of what you are trying to escape along, why not just figure out how to live within the society while not partaking of what is poisoning the system.

The system we inhabit, this artificial ecology of man, has always been fragile.  it has been hiccuping along for millennia now, usually not doing all that well, marked by high fevers and the not-all-that infrequent local collapse.  But the bulk of the people usually get through it, skinnier and tougher than what they started with.

So why not stay put?

Look, what one needs to live can be found in some pretty damn bad places.  Joy and fulfillment and self-worth can be had in a system in decline as easy as in a rising system if one has a certain frame of mind regarding what constitutes happiness and fulfillment.  So when in a decline from a excessive and frivolous “top”, it is important to figure out the relationship between “less” and happiness (I’ll give you a hint here, it is approximately the same as the relationship between “more” and happiness).

So, living small in a city will always be an option.  Farm products will always find their way to population centers.  Police aren’t always just looking to oppress.  Help and medical care are there.  Access to limited common resources are there.

Most importantly, people are there.

I have come to the conclusion, that for the most part, the folks who move off to the hinterlands are the “my cake and eat it too” crowd.  The society that they grew up is changing and is beginning the painful task of downsizing, so they are picking up their shit and getting out, leaving everyone else to suck it.

But all the shit that they take with them is an umbilical to that which they are trying so desperately to escape.  Want all the stuff: just join Amazon Prime and have the world shipped to your door.   High speed internet beamed to your house so you can watch the revolution on television.

The folks out there will have less, just like the folks in town will have less.  But what they won’t have is the respect of the folks that they left behind.  Because ultimately the move to the country without leaving behind the complexities and luxuries of the city is a lame attempt to become the landed aristocracy of the latifundia.

But the erstwhile aristocrats currently parasite from the complexity and the structure of the current system, I genuinely think that once the system no longer can provide the routes for linkage to the city that the modern latifundia so cherish.  They will probably die there on the vine, their fragile links to humanity taken away one by one being taken from them.  Imagine the sorrow and the gnashing of teeth that will be engendered when the FEDEX truck starts asking for the actual cost of delivery.

I will abide here with all of the mess.  I am going to try to try to flatten the curve and slow things down.

 

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