The Crossover Point
Let me tell you a story. I don’t remember all of the specifics, but the message is still there. A couple of decades ago an anthropologist conducted a series of experiments with children from the urban US and Central American villages. He devised a board game based on a square grid and one marker. Play started with the marker in the center of the grid. Each contestant had only enough moves to get the marker half-way to their side of the grid. Getting the marker to one’s own side entitled one to a prize. Each pair of contestants were allowed two trials.
In the Central American village the play went like this. Contestant one would move the marker toward the her goal and then the her opponent would move the marker in the same direction. After the moves were exhausted, contestant one would claim her prize. On the second round, the sequence was reversed and her opponent would claim a prize. Both contestants won a prize.
In the US, the play went quite differently. Contestant one would move the marker toward her goal. Her opponent would then move it back toward her goal. Play would continue until all the moves were exhausted and the marker was where it started. Round two ended the same way. No prizes were awarded.
After studying the Peak Oil for some time and the financial collapse for a bit less, I’ve come to the conclusion that at some point in the not too distant future using one’s own labor for sustainance instead of selling it for a wage will provide the greatest return. At some point it will make more sense to grow one’s own food rather than buy it. Surplus food will be traded for other commodities. Time not devoted to agriculture or horticulture will be used to produce artifacts for personal use and/or commodities for sale or barter. This is a point in time where the fractional reserve lending monetary system has collapsed. Much if not all of the country has gone local for basic needs of water, food, clothing, tools, materials, etc. Commodities from outside the local will be traded for commodities or a form of currency that is not based on debt. Whether or not the currency is fiat or specie will not matter so much as how said currency comes into existence and what burdens are placed on it. On a village or local regional scale, a currency with an assumed discount rate would be a disaster to be avoided. This is coming. It’s just a question of when.
I’ve given up on the idea of Heinberg’s depletion protocol. There will be no build-down to a lower level of societal complexity. The end will come with a crash as has been the case so many times before. The societies that step away from the cliff are few. As any good cop knows, past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. We are creatures of habbit. Institutions such as mass markets will fail. Mass media which depends on homogenization of whole nation states will likewise fail. Like the pairs of children from the US, we are doomed to move the marker back and forth until time runs out and we are left with nothing.
We are headed for an era of provincialization. I so look forward to it. The children from the Central American village knew from an early age that the best survival strategy is cooperation. Those of us who survive over the coming decades will learn this lesson. Those who don’t will likely die by violence or deprivation. The notion that competition produces the best outcomes is promulgated by a class system where those at the top have a competitive advantage. Competition works for them. For us, the situation is quite different. Competition for places to sell our labor drives the price of labor lower. The institution of private property gives the large property owners an advantage. The so-called level playing field means simply that we get to be 5′ 2" football team and the rich are 6′ 3". Who scores more goals?
The end of the hydrocarbon subsidy will be very disruptive. The closer we return to village life and the fewer concentrations of property and power, the better. The real challange ahead is not how to make do with less, but how to keep our heads during the turmoil. The more we try to cling to outmoded institutions the more we risk perpetuating our enslavement to them. When confronted with the question qui bono, the difficult choice is whether or not to reject the bait that traps us into social hierarchies which sooner than later betray us. Every huckster will confront you with something shiny to distract you from the real issue. The genesis of power relationships is often voluntary. The disolution of power relationships is often bloody.
At the crossover point, relationships will change. Extreme situations will breed extreme programs. The key criterion will be whether an agenda promotes cooperation or competition. The more we choose cooperation, the better our prospects.
I think this is a good post, and am commenting mostly in hopes that more people will read it.
I too think this is interesting.Cooperation is not something that is taught or modeled in our society very often. "Survivor" would look different if two teams competed to see who could get their whole team through an ordeal together rather than eliminating individuals from one team.
It seems to me that in order to step back from the brink we need to recognize that there may not be a steep edge but rather a sloping of the ground. How many of us, right now are moving back, giving up, looking for cooperation, lowering our own consumption by 90%, giving up that vacation? I would hold out that we are at the brink now. We can’t wait to see a sharp edge. The movement down will be messy. Now is the time to cooperate. What are the things you can give up?