Wednesday, 19 January 2011
The history and future of society
(Mayan ruins in the city of Tulum)
I can't remember what prompted the conversation early on our vacation (before Mexico), but somehow I got thinking about our current society and civilization, and the rise and fall of different empires throughout history. I posed the question "what next?" The United States is the current major power in the world, but as history has shown, every empire eventually collapses. It seems to me that we are on the verge of that collapse. It is hard to imagine what the future might hold, since usually the next stage looks completely different to what life was.
So I put my brain to thinking about what might happen. And some very definite ideas began to form.
I think we technology will fail completely. Maybe we'll overload the system. Maybe it won't be able to keep up with our demands.
Our constant rape of the earth will also finally catch up to us. We know that there is only so much oil out there, and yet we have made our society completely dependent on it. Our dependence on corn will also aid our downfall. Millions of acres devoted to this one product will eventually mean we use up the nutrients of the land and we won't be able to grow it any longer. Have you ever read a list of what we use corn in? Corn, in some form, is in about 80% of everything.
When corn fails, our food system will collapse. The majority of people in North America live on a diet of corn. It is in all of our processed foods. So if you were to clean out the supermarkets of all processed foods, there wouldn't be nearly enough to feed everyone in all the cities and towns across the continent.
So once we can't drive and we can't eat and we can't heat our homes and businesses...well, it's easy to see how life would drastically start to change. But this doesn't mean I have a negative view of the future.
I can see some really positive things starting to happen in our culture, things that I think are nature's way of getting us ready for big changes. Have you noticed the real grass roots movement "back to the land?" People who were raised in middle class homes, with parents who work 9-5 in the corporate world are abandoning city life and trading it in for a more rural way of living. They are figuring out how to grow their own food. They are raising chickens and goats. They are homeschooling and making their own soap. Each step is small, yet natural, and driven by something they can't quite put their finger on. I think it is something beyond our consciousness that is preparing us as a society for what is coming.
Sadly, I don't think a huge majority of people will make it. I think there will be many left feeling stranded, not sure what to do when the stores are empty and food and supplies. Some people will just sit down and give up. Some people will give a half-hearted try at survival and won't be equipped with their the knowledge or the drive to succeed. Some people will go out in a frenzied, frightened state of mind and accomplish nothing but spreading their panic. Some people will role up their sleeves and get to work, carving out a simple existence for their family. Cities will be abandoned and small groups of friends and family will gather together on vast tracts of land, pooling together their simple resources and abilities to make it through.
Who knows how many years, decades, or longer it might take, but I think it is foolish to believe that our empire is immune to the devastation that rained on every single empire throughout history. The Romans sure didn't think their grip on the world would fail. The Greeks and the Mayans and the Asian dynasties and the Egyptians and Europe and Great Britain.
After the collapse, another power eventually emerges, and throughout history it has often been a rugged, brutish people and land that were the players and gameboard for the future. The Romans through the "Gaul" area was uninhabitable and its inhabitants savage. Would they have guessed the British Empire that would spread throughout the world? And then North America was considered int he same light by the British, only to emerge as the world player it currently is. Is it so difficult to imagine that some place we now consider a wasteland will have its own time to rise to the world stage?
The day after I postulated my theories for James, we visited the Mayan ruins in Mexico. As our anthropologist tour guide gave several ideas for why the Mayans abandoned their great cities to live in small groups of people in the forest, it seemed clear to me what likely happened. It is considered a mystery, but our guide thought that while they were so advanced in many areas, including mathematics, astronomy and architecture, he guessed that they didn't realize the toll they were taking on the earth as they over-planted their fields until the earth would bear no more food, and burned so many millions of acres of forest to build their cities that there was nothing left to use. Personally, for a people so advanced and at the same time so in tune with Mother Earth, I am skeptical thinking that they didn't know what they were doing. I think they knew, they just didn't do anything about it, much like the position we find ourselves in today. They raped the land until they could get nothing more from it, and then abandoned ship. Many died as they didn't know how to live off the land. Those who survived had banded together in small groups of friends and family and used the knowledge and skills they had to live.
So those are some of the ideas I had rumbling around my brain on vacation. It certainly inspired me to be a little more diligent in tending my garden this year, and learn to be a little more self-reliant. It rekindled the deep desire within me that has been flickering for the past couple of years to get off the grid and live less dependently on technologies that are beyond my understanding. I'm not an alarmist, and I'm not jumping ship. But I do think that these fringe movements to get back to the land are not just a trend, but instead are indicative of something coming.