Archive for January, 2010

It’s a New World–for Me at Least

31 January 2010

Much has changed since I last posted on this blog. I wish I could say that most of the changes have been for the better. Unfortunately, they haven’t. I just finished Warren Johnson’s 1978 Muddling toward Frugality a book that describes the situation we are in almost to the letter. His scenario still hangs over us though we’ve pushed it back, denied it, and continued our dance ghost dances. How much longer we can continue limping along ahead of it, I have no idea, but I’m not optimistic.

The collapse of America is now quite visible–or at least it should be if one’s eyes are open. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Our population is far too high. Fossil fuels are, at best, near a plateau. Climate change, despite those who deny even the readings of NASA and the Snow and Ice Center, continues. The growing inequities with our system of finance and government continue unabated. And what do we worry about? A return to GROWTH in our economy.

Hello, folks! We need to gird up for shrinkage and a loss of the way of life we’ve become accustomed to. We are like fat infants who need to be weaned. Of course we don’t like it. I don’t LIKE it. It’s just that this is the way it is, like it or not.

Personally, much has gone well in my family, so I’m not yet dealing with personal experience–so far–but the condition of the world in general is alarming to say the least. I see personal changes coming. In fact, from my reading of the past couple of years, I’ve decided I may well have to rethink my entire world view.

Some of the major changes don’t bother me at all. Although I’m getting old, I still relish the changes that involve physical activity. Over the past three years, we’ve dropped our household electricity use between 30 and 50 percent, depending on the season. I don’t use electric appliances much at all anymore. I sweep rather than vacuum. We turn off appliances that consume energy even while idle. Bringing down our natural gas use has been harder, maybe down 20 percent. We’ve lowered our winter “high” on our thermostat to 65 with 60 at night. During the summers, I turned on the air conditioning twice last summer and run it for a total of perhaps three hours. The house was fine. It’s pleasant to be in a house that’s close to 80 when it’s well over 90 outside. These are not painful adjustments.

The heavy work outside is becoming a slight problem, but only because I’m getting old. Getting up off my knees is no longer easy, but I still love physical labor. I’ve probably dug several hundred fence posts in the last thirty years. Even though channeling irrigation water is a tedious challenge and backbreaking, I don’t even mind that too much, although my knees complain. I planned ahead with my vegetable gardens, so those are all raised, but the native grasses and wildflowers take bending. Still, this is routine, not a real change of lifestyle.

My concerns about the future revolve around what many see as the need to return to a traditional, community-oriented society. As everything starts to crumble and implode, much of the current American way of life must–will–change. The restructuring to a traditional culture is going to cause problems for me. As a shy, over-educated person, I don’t like some of the conclusions that reality is forcing on me. Specifically, I don’t like the idea of needing to shut up and get along with everyone, something community demands.

To a great extent, I do OK at my job, but that’s because my job fits my personality perfectly. In short, I’m paid to convince people that the methods I teach are practical and useful. I find it easy to be cheerful with students. So far, so good. But I have no idea how long that’s going to hold, but that’s not my central issue. My worry is that living within a closer community will require more tongue-biting than I like and more smoozing than I care to indulge in. Meetings, even picnics, are times of dread for me. In short, I don’t like the aspects of community will require sitting around, being patient and tolerant of ignorance, and all sorts of submergence of the self. I don’t know how well I’m going to handle that at all. With luck I won’t have to, but it’s hard to judge how quickly the world, the country, the state, the county, and the neighborhood will change. Days? Months? Decades?

Here’s an article that intensified my thinking on this topic: “The Decline of Middle America and the Problem of Meritocracy.”