Sunday, May 22, 2011

What if.... the Change happened?

PP is listening to a book, Dies the Fire (spoiler alert about the book if you follow link), about a sudden event on Earth when technology suddenly drops back to bronze age level.  No electricity works, no engines, no telephones, no modern conveniences.  The cars, buildings, stoves, etc., are still there, but do not work.  What would you do to survive?

Money is worthless, but what is worth something is knowledge, things that can no longer be made (medicines, ball bearings...), and food.  Power too of course.  But you get power not from money but from brute force or access to things that others want.

The book is the first in a series about how two groups of people try to manage this change in northwestern USA, and what happens when you no longer has access to modern technology.  This has led to hour-long discussions here at home.  Would we manage?  What do we have that is useful?

We probably would be far better off with our knowledge and old hand tools than most people. Plus we have many books, including topics such as food preservation, homesteading, and old techniques.  I could tell people which plants are edible, which heal, and which ones that kill. PP actually has two long timber saws in the barn.  We might have more axes and hand tools than all our neighbors combined.  They love things like giant SUVs, leaf blowers and cordless phones, which would be pretty useless in a situation like this.

Which store would you raid first to get things you can barter with or need?  We settled on the pharmacy, hardware store and local farm co-op in our discussions, but how to get there and how to get things back?  They are miles away. We have three bikes, but that is nothing you can carry heavy things on.  We need chickens and some goats.  You need a way to get water up from the wells, without pumps that need electricity.  People would starve, people would kill for food, people would marauder...

How do you protect your food crops?  How do you protect yourself?  I realized that if you have a lot of important knowledge in your head, then you most valuable alive.  AREA's horse knowledge would be very useful.  Suddenly, in this perspective, so much of what we can do and want to do today seem so useless when it comes to the survival of the human species (sorry, race, :) see post below). Seriously, how many of us could really, really live off the land without modern technology if we have to?  Not many. Could you survive a week? A month? A year? Where would you go?  Who would you hook up with?

Only 100 years ago people knew so much more.  Just imagine - thrusting someone from the 1850s farming communities into this situation would not have been such a disastrous thing as dumping a New York stockbroker into it today.  Or a teenager from the local high school, or.... We are so far removed today from the real things (production of things, knowledge of nature).  If The Change ever happens, it will not be important if you know how to use Excel or make a great cappuccino (even if those things are perfectly important today in our technology-padded lives).

Today, many people can't tie a knot, read a map, plant a seed, or milk a cow.  In the perspective provided by this book, it seems like the survival of humans is really, really fragile.  We are up in Babel's tower, dependent on electricity, GPS, satellites, internet, gasoline and oil, telephones, and stores where you can buy food.  It might not be gone tomorrow permanently, but it sure could be gone temporarily after weather catastrophes.  What would you do?  Could you make it?  It is an interesting question, and we are still talking about it.... and I haven't even read this book yet.


Bibliography said...

The author of this book but spend more time on the road, travelling, rather than sit behind his computer screen - spinning story on 'ifs and buts'.
Half of the world is still without the very basic amneties...they do NOT know and heard of 'electricty' or automobiles - not even bicycles.
Travel across Bhutan, Tibet, may parts of Asia, Africa and almost every single continent - he will meet people - who are living in Bronze Age. They are more peaceful and happier than us!

Bibliography said...

The author of this book MUST ...(not 'but':sorry about the typo)

LS said...

Hi bibliography - I was thinking the same, that such Change would not be a major problem to many less developed parts of the world. But if you think just about the US and Europe, it would matter a lot. We have built ourselves into a corner, fully dependent on modern conveniences.

As for more peaceful and happy, who knows... It was pretty bloody back then and people died young and in horrible diseases that couldn't be treated efficiently. (Just look at the Vikings killing off each other in power struggles).

Just look at the number of women that die in childbirth when there are no hospitals. Certainly a simpler life in some ways, but also more inconvenient and hard. It might be easy for us to romanticize ancient times or life in poor countries, but their lives are/were certainly not more comfortable than ours.

Tibet and Bhutan are probably more peaceful because of their religion than their levels of technology. Other places in the world have little technology, but a lot of dictatorships, suppressed people, and unhappiness. So there are probably more factors that play into happiness and peace than just technology level, at least I think so. Lots of things to think about - and thanks a lot for commenting on this interesting subject.

(PS. I have no idea if the author travels or reads archeology or industrial history literature, but he should :)

EH said...

I guess I would be better off than many I meet.

I know how to cook on fire, how to grow things, how to handle a horse, (with or without saddle), I know edible plants and poisonous ones (mushrooms anyone?). I do know how to milk a cow by hand, I would certainly kill for meet if I had to, I can make sausages by hand (I would need a hand driven meat grinder), I can grow and make mustard for my sausages. I can chop wood for my fire too.

But I wouldn´t want this to happen, Medieval times were grim for many, and I am sure we have potential of better lives today.
The choices people make....that´s another thing.

LS said...

We realized here at home that our manual Swedish woodchopper (AnS has the same in Sweden) would be very handy at an event like this.

And yes, I wouldn't want this to happen, but the 'what if' scenarios are thought-provoking and interesting. It puts things in perspective I think, showing we might take too many modernities for granted.

EH - we have a manual meat grinder! You will have to swim across the ocean to make sausage here. (I think Mom has one too.)