Saturday, February 22, 2014

World Made By Hand

Tainter makes this observation; substantial increased costs occurred late, shortly before collapse and were incurred by a population already weakened by a pattern of declining marginal returns. It was not a challenge that caused the collapse but a system that had been unproductively complex was unable to respond.

Tainter says that the only solution for over complexity is simplification but complex systems are unable to voluntarily simplify. Collapse is nothing more than involuntary simplification.

The above is from my review of The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph A. Tainter. At the forefront of those predicting the collapse of our civilization is James Howard Kunstler. In a 2004 article Kunstler had this to say:

When the tipping point comes, Americans will be compelled to live very differently than they do today. One leading American social critic, James Howard Kunstler, sees serious political and cultural turmoil up ahead as the way of life Americans have built over the last 60 years begins to break down. With decreasing access to cheap oil, Kunstler sees the fundamentals of industrial agriculture, manufacturing and retail trade changing significantly.

"The whole Archer Daniels Midland model of turning oil into corn into Taco Bell that whole complex, that system, is really going to be over," says Kuntsler. "We're going to be forced to grow more of our food locally and return to a kind of agriculture that really hasn't been practiced here in a long time. A lot of the land that has only had value as suburban development in the past 30 or 40 years is going to have to be reassigned."

Likewise, Kunstler foresees "the demise of Wal-Mart style, big box, national chains." Companies whose profit margins depend on "merchandise made by factories 12,000 miles away" simply won't function in a world of $100-plus barrels of oil. "We're going to have to seriously reorganize our whole system of retail trade and economy."

Kunstler expanded on this in his book The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century. But what might the collapse look like? To answer this question Kunstler turns to fiction, World Made by Hand

It is the summer of 2025 and the location is Washington County in upstate New York. There has been a major war in the middle east. Washington DC has been destroyed taking out the US Government and Los Angeles has been destroyed dealing a death blow to the US economy. There is no government, no electricity, no oil, no automobiles, no newspapers or any other communication. Millions have died and the ones that remain spend most of their time producing food. The main character is Robert Earle, a former software salesman turned carpenter/handyman. We also meet a minster and his wife, a group of thugs that work as scavengers, a large landowner who has a fiefdom complete with serfs and a charismatic religious cult leader.
This is all about a group of people trying to create a new civilization on top of the ruins of the old one with very little to work with. Robert Earle is forced into a position of leadership he really doesn't want but he knows that someone has to do it. The subjects are humans so there a good people and bad, many with a lot of ambition and many with just enough to survive. There is love and murder, lawlessness and frontier style justice. As depressing as it sounds there is always a thread of hope.
This novel may have a political message but even those who don't but the message were forced to admit it is a well written story and a good read. It is not what you would expect from an author known primarily for non fiction. Kunstler manages to take us into the hearts and souls of the characters.

Even if you don't agree with the premise I would still recommend the book because it is simply a very good read.  You can find out more about the book here. I can hardly wait for the sequel, The Witch of Hebron: A World Made by Hand Novel, which is coming in September.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice


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