Friday, March 12, 2010

Fast Crash versus Long Descent

Do you ever have one of those moments when you're in a conversation with someone and you suddenly realize something about yourself? I mean, you knew it, but hadn't articulated it or defined it until that very moment?

Through a total fluke, I was sucked into watching the television series Grey's Anatomy, which I have been following on (borrowed) DVD for the last year. I neither like nor dislike the series, and despite my overall distaste for television in general and soap operas in particular, it is a little ... engrossing. So, when my Grey's Anatomy buddy gives me the next set of discs, I do watch it, because I feel obligated, but also because, despite my (weak and ineffectual) insistence that I'm not interested, it beckons me ... kind of like chocolate cake in the refrigerator. I know it's not good for me, but I do it anyway.

Yesterday evening my GA buddy gave me Season Four. I just finished Season Three, and *SPOILER ALERT* the cliff-hanger was Meredith's younger, half-sister joining the intern program at Seattle Grace, and meeting George, who has just flunked out of the program, in the locker room, but in the previous episode, Meredith's younger sister met Meredith's boyfriend in a bar, and he (the boyfriend, played by Maine's own Patrick Dempsey :) had the opportunity, but did nothing - a fact he shared with Meredith, kind of like, "Hey, some hot chick flirted with me, and while I was momentarily distracted, I decided to be a good boy." And I'm thinking, "So, what? You want a cigar and a Hoorah cheer?"

Anyway ....

Yeah, TMI, right? There is a point to all of this ... I swear.

So, after watching the season three finale, I googled Lexi Grey (Meredith's half-sister), and I read what happens.

I know what happens for the next two seasons.

For a lot of people that would be a deal breaker. Knowing what happens in the end would be enough for them to just not want to watch, because they know what happens, and so what's the point. Right?

But knowing the outcome doesn't diminish the story, for me, and in fact, it leaves a whole slew of unanswered questions.

I was talking with my GA buddy last night about the things I know happen in Season Four (she's already watched it), I realized that I'm not the kind of person who will refuse to watch a movie or read a book, just because I know the ending. In fact, there have been many, MANY times that I've watched a film, and then, read the book, or vice versa, because I wanted more of it. I want more of the story. I want to get to know those characters better, more in depth, and from other perspectives. In fact, there are movies and books that I will watch or read over and over, because there is often something I missed in the first watching or reading.

I know what's going to happen, but it's not the destination for me, it's the journey.

I also realized, something I've known for a long time about myself, but have only recently come to recognize, and that is that I don't really like surprises. I've never been a fan of mysteries. I like to know whodunit and then figure out why and how.

For me, the journey is about reaching a defined and known destination, and I kind of like to know where I'm going before I start so that I can make the best plan about how to get there. Unfortunately, life isn't like that. I don't know what the outcome of my day will be until I've lived it.

The problem is that I know *something* is happening in the world, and it is my feeling that at some point this something is going to significantly disrupt my life, and while I'm not eager for it to happen, at the same time, I do often wish that whatever is going to happen would just happen, so that I can react and move on. I was in the military and the hurry-up-and-wait lifestyle was very difficult for me.

To make matters worse, though, I look around me and I see people who say they know something is happening, but have yet to change their lifestyles significantly enough that when *it* does happen they won't suffer. And I know their apathy comes from the very human characteristic of not reacting to an emergency until there is an emergency to react to. It is normal behavior for people to maintain the status quo until they are forced to change.

Which is why I favor the fast crash to the long descent.

In keeping with the overall medical theme of this post (okay, I realize that Grey's Anatomy isn't really about medicine, but give me some latitude ;), my best analogy of how I feel about our future is to compare it to a terminal illness. I don't wish for death, but if I had a choice, I would rather die quickly than to suffer through a long terminal illness. Modern medicine has given us some amazing miracles that have resulted in prolonging the lives of millions of people, but if prolonging my life means being dependent on machines or medicines that often cause other problems that require further treatment, I would rather just go gentle into that good night. I would rather not drag myself and my family through a pit of hope that ends in despair when I am finally forced to give up, because the doctors have reached the end of things they can use to try to save me.

If I apply the terminal illness analogy to current events, our world is on life support. Our lifestyles are completely unsustainable, and the longer we refuse to pull the plug, the greater the damage that will be done.

In my terminal illness analogy, if, for instance, I am suffering from an aggressive form of cancer with a low life expectancy, I have the option to accept some form of experimental and radical therapy that *might* give me a few more years, or I can take the time I have left, go home and spend those days with my family. In the end, the result is the same, I will die. The question is, do I waste my time trying to get better, or do I accept the fact that I am dying and spend those last days living and enjoying what little life I have left?

If I choose the first option, the drugs and therapies used will result in damage to the rest of my body. If I choose the second option, there are parts of my body that may be salvageable, and I can donate those organs and potentially save other lives.

Our world is suffering from a terminal illness, and we are employing every experimental and radical treatment we can find to "cure" the cancer that is our modern lives, but in the process we are destroying our planet. We're hanging on to this lifestyle at the expense of our environment. We're looking for new, improved technologies so that we don't have to give up our televisions or our ARNY trucks. We're stripping the land for precious minerals and drilling in the deep oceans, and all to keep what we've got, when what we should be doing is learning to live without.

Maybe I can be accused of being eager to see it all end, but it's not because I'm sadistically hoping for the end of the world and eager to be witness to extreme hardship and suffering, but rather because I don't believe that prolonging the inevitable is a better choice. We're suffering now, and a fast crash will not make the suffering more acute than a long descent. The fast crash will just force us to accept, more quickly, what is happening anyway, and maybe preserve some of what's left of our planet so that we can pick-up the pieces and start over.


  1. I can relate to that. Once we get settled in the new place, we hope to get things set up pretty quickly as if a fast crash was a given.

  2. Love it, agree with all of it.

    That's all I have to say about that....

  3. If the fast crash means that people will wake up and start to make better choices regarding how they use the earth's resources, and there will still be some world left in the end, I am all for it as well. But if the fast crash will result in the end of the world as we know it (no nature left or lots of destruction) then I would rather we have the slow descent. In fact, I think we are living the slow descent now, killing our world as we huddle in our cozy denial.

  4. Chile: I hope that for you, too, but I think you have a better than average head start given all the preps you've been making while looking for that perfect place :).

    Barefoot ... *grin*

    Darcy - I agree with you that we're in the slow descent right now, and that we're "killing our world as we huddle in our cozy denial", and that's what I was trying to say, if given the choice, I'd take the fast crash, because we can't remain complacent in a fast crash scenario. We'd have to act, and act fast ... or die, and mind you, I'm not talking about bugging out or stocking up on water. I'm talking about the need to build a local infrastructure that is not dependent on oil - local trade, local food, local commerce. We need all of that, but we will never start building those things, if we keep telling ourselves that what's happening is just temporary, which is what most of us are doing now.

  5. I also like to know the ending before I begin. I always read the last chapter of a book first. And I love spoilers. I agree, this long descent is making me crazy! It is hard for me to maintain my momentum when it seems like nothing is happening.

  6. I agree totally that the direction we're heading isn't sustainable, and I doubt anything will change in time to reverse that.

    As you've seen in other comments, I don't think there is a chance of a slow decline except as a trigger for a fast collapse.

    I think a slow decline would be less traumatic and I would actually prefer it b/c of that, but I don't think we have a say in the matter at this point (but I have a strong locus of control, so I prepare). Aside from not wanting to have to turn away starving people (or becoming one of them), my brothers wife is type-1 diabetic and a collapse would be a death sentence for her and those like her.

    Let's say there was a fast collapse (which I think is most likely) and oil and other resources aren't used up before the population dwindles by 80-90% over a few years of starvation, fighting, and dying of what we consider minor ailments. We wouldn't want society to start right back with using oil for fuel again, thinking they'd get several hundred years out of it due to the smaller population. But would that happen? I don't know.

    It's not human nature, generally, to go without by choice and drastically downsize as a society. Groups by their nature spread responsibility, and individuals feel less so, and nothing changes. Improvements in efficiency allow for more expansion, which in turn make the system more fragile (e.g., Las Vegas w/o water in the desert). Reminds me of the scene in Matrix were humans are described as a virus;

    Perhaps the most painless thing would be for a plague to wipe out most humans (think The Stand). It'd be horrific, but better than mass starvation.

    And my preps would be mostly useless...

  7. Interesting. I'm not sure what I'd prefer. Maybe something in that possible?

  8. Interesting! Y'know, when the crash happened right around the elections, I'd been telling my family for years it was coming. My daughter cut her teeth on my predictions...but I didn't think they were off track because it seems very basic that if the world overspends, you have to pay the piper sooner or later. But I don't think we've hit bottom...I think this is simply a breather. I hope the next big smash holds off just a bit longer, because it's taking us sooooo long to get out of debt, even cutting to the bone. But yeah, I'm with you on the sense of unrealitya and how there's an unnatural lull where no one seems to want to believe what already happened happened and that our reality for the future is changed...seems weird but it's like the emperor's new one wants to admit they're not there. As always, I LOVE reading your posts, Wendy :)

  9. The thing with a long descent is that there is still time to find a cure and apply it. Some patients do survive the cure. Not all though.

  10. dogear - I like your optimism :) ... but I don't share it. I'm curious, though, what would the cure look like? Or more importantly, what would *we* look like once the cure is applied? I'm pretty certain that things aren't going to go back to where we've been for the last half century, regardless of whether we can put the brakes on the crash and salvage something of our country.

    Robbyn - I know where you're coming from. I hope we have time to pay off our house before anything really catastrophic happens ... but at the same time ;). I like your Emperor's New Clothes analogy. I think it's a good one. It seems there is a significant portion of our population that is turning a blind eye rather than pointing out the obvious, which is why, while there are dozens of reasons I wish the collapse would hold off, I'm wishing for it all to go faster. Most people won't change until they're forced to, and the longer the breather lasts, the harder it will be to get those people to start making changes.

  11. Bezzie - in medio stat virtus - that's Deus Ex Machina's motto :). Maybe it won't be either/or, and really, depending on how we view time in retrospect, maybe it will be somewhere in the middle. I mean, is two years a long descent or a short decline? The Holy War between most of Europe and the Middle East lasted 100 years, which seems like a long time to be having a war, but people who lived through World War II in war-torn Europe (a very short war, in retrospect), probably thought the fighting was taking an awfully long time.

    Suburban - I think the slow decline is actually more traumatic, because it leaves open the possibility of hope that "things will go back to normal", meaning that we can go back to the lifestyle that got us here. If I had more hope that people would change their habits, then I would agree with you about a long descent being kinder, because it gives people more opportunity to adjust, but just looking at the number of people who are having a really hard time, now, when we're still in the infancy of this crash .... At least with the fast crash, there's no question that *we* need to change how we live, because at that point, we'll have no choice. With the long descent, we'll always feel like we have the choice to prepare ... or buy a new color television.

  12. Christy - I don't think you're alone in feeling like keeping up your preparedness steps is difficult, given that on many days, nothing seems to be happening ;). I think a lot of people look at the news with its positive spin on the "recovery", and think "why bother?"

    But I look at the 20% unemployment in California, and as one-tenth of the States that make up our Union are going bankrupt, I wonder where those citizens, who can't find jobs and can't get services will go? Even before the 20% unemployment, there was a large exodus from California happening.

    There was an article today about social security being bankrupt by 2037 - twenty-seven years from now. My youngest two children won't even be as old as I am right now. They will grow up paying into a system from which they will never reap any benefits. In fact, *I* will have paid into the system my whole working life, and *I* won't reap any benefits either.

    Anyway, I guess my long-winded point is that we have to keep pulling back from the grid, because everything you can do to make yourself more self-sufficient NOW, the better off you'll be in the long-run. Even if it is a slow descent that is still lumbering downward when we die, because everything I do now to teach my children how to live a low-energy lifestyle will help their children when low-energy is *the* lifestyle.

  13. In a fast collapse most people would just die - adjusting would not be an option. Those left (10-30%?) would pick up with a mostly late 19th/early 20th century lifestyle, but very poorly done at first due to the extreme lack of skills (I include myself there, but not as much as most people, esp. city dwellers/lovers).

    With locus of control in mind, my brothers and I will be planting apple and almond trees this spring at the farm in NE, aside from stocking up on all manner of items and planning for the bug out.

  14. The problem with a fast crash is it doesn't change the core philosophy that got us here. The survivers will just start over and crash again in a shorter time. The world is littered with the remains of civilizaions that have crashed for the very same reasons we are now. What we (those who want to survive and lead the new civilization) need is a new paradigm, a new philosophy and the ways of living that grow from such new ideas. A crash, fast or slow won't fix the problem.