Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Peak oil - Community vs. Survivalism

This is one of my favorite posts and worth repeating. I ran this way back in 2008, but want to get an updated response. As people become more aware of our diminishing oil supplies and learn about the dangers of fracking, oil disasters and such, our collective understanding over the years will change. I hope.

Peak Oil CampI promise this isn't going to be a Peak Oil blog all the time, I just wanted to put something down that I was mulling over in the shower. That is, why do people respond to Peak Oil in the way that they do? Why does it seem like there is a strong gender difference in how people react to the coming energy crisis?

Humanity has a great history and tradition of believing that their generation is the one that's going to bite the dust. Each generation has this belief that they will witness the next coming of Christ, the end of days, or some other catastrophe or apocalypse. For some, I think there's the idea that people have reached some point either because they've earned it or because, as my paranoid Grandmother used to say, "it's Sodom and Gomorrah out there".

The majority of people writing about Peak Oil and, therefore, proposing their version of the future are men. Perhaps it's the extremists that stick out and are what people remember, but I've heard many complaints about the whole prediction that Peak Oil = Social and Economic Armageddon. Several of you stated so in your comments to yesterday's post. I, frankly, think this prediction is ridiculously inaccurate. I like to think it's because I subscribe to a certain logic about how the world works. Others might argue that it's because of my gender.

Of the women writing about Peak Oil, the predictions are much more metered. The conversation revolves mostly around preparation. I find it similar in concept to that whole "nesting in" period right before a woman gives birth. It's like instinctually women know some trauma is coming and need to prepare by making the home comfortable and clean and storing up food and supplies. Nothing panicky, just getting things done. If the home is set up right, we somehow know that we can handle pretty much anything to come. Even if deep down we're scared shitless.

The male reaction must be based on something else because for many male Peak Oil writers out there, it degrades quickly into Ramboism. Load up the shotgun, honey, this is going to be bad! In fact, I would argue that many actually welcome this breakdown of society. But what could this be attributed to? Bear with me here while I stereotype half the population.

The human male, over the last several centuries, has been stuffed into a society where all their evolutionary self-preservation instincts are kept under lock and key. Not to reduce a gender to hormones (although I just did above with females), but over tens of thousands of years men spent their days physically fighting for power, physically overtaking women and killing other animals to survive. I would argue that modern society is a vast improvement over this, but you can't instantaneously remove thousands of years of genetics primed to succeed in this environment. Realistically, we're only a couple piddling generations out from this "lifestyle".

So, faced with the potential disaster of Peak Oil, why do some men so rapidly carry out the thought experiment to survivalist mode? There's a definite romanticization of living off the land, tribalism and protecting the women. Is it because the desire to unleash all those things that, presently, aren't socially acceptable is so strong? In these survivalist scenarios, the men get to scratch that evolutionary itch. I think it's safe to say that fantasy is one thing, but the reality is that most modern men are ill-equipped to deal with the violence that comes with anarchy.

Of course these are all just gross generalizations, but then again why am I hunkering down into gatherer mode, dehydrating strawberries and stockpiling peanut butter? I sure as hell ain't pregnant.

And now that I've completely stereotyped everyone, I admit that you can't reduce people down to instincts only. But, I do think it's important to see where people are coming from, what their motivations are, conscious or otherwise and take that into consideration when reading someone else's predictions. It's all a crapshoot as far as the future goes, but it helps to process the unknown when looked at this way.

What do you think about this? Did this help or do I need to lay off on the rum cache?


fragmentaerie said...

Why am I learning all about native plants' edibility and medicinal uses?
Because I can't afford to stockpile anything but knowledge, and I'm smart enough to realize that bad times are probably ahead.
I'm also getting to be an excellent shot with my bow. Whether I'm shooting deer, zombies, or raiders, I'm going to be prepared.
(Sometimes when I'm out running I pretend I'm being chased by zombies. Or Tea Partiers. Or zombie Tea Partiers.)

Roz said...

Once I was first aware of coming problems, I was terrified but determined to change, and drag as many people as I could with me. Years later, as I've tried to change my life, my attitude and my mental acceptance has arrived, too. I honestly don't think enough people will realize we all need to change just about everything until it is too late. A lot of that, I think, is human nature, but there are politics involved, too. Which is also human nature. So I still try to do the right thing and share my knowledge, but I do think we are doomed, inevitably, to see irreversible change. I do think a few of us will survive, and thrive. I hope. And I hope they carry with them the lesson, too. Sad as this is, societies, nations, nature...all systems experience change. It's a universal trait - nothing is every static for long.

El Gaucho said...

It's all about the risk/reward or cost/benefit analysis. I honestly think that the odds of some kind of zombie apocalypse (my all encompassing phrase for peak oil, natural disasters, nuclear holocaust, crazy climate change, actual zombie apocalypse, etc) happening in my lifetime are pretty low, but I’d rather spend a little bit of time preparing now in the event of some unfortunate calamity than be caught unprepared. I apply the same logic to a possible zombie apocalypse as I do to owning a gun – I’d rather have it and never need it, then be in a situation where I wished I had one.

Luckily, preparing for a disaster like this and attempting to live sustainably and independently have some common characteristics, so; canning food, having a supply of fresh water, growing my own fruits and veggies, and having a viable urban homestead serve both purposes. I’m not going to extremes and stockpiling a years worth of food and ammunition and turn my house into a fortress, but a little bit of preparation (all it takes is a little time and money) could potentially be a huge asset in a zombie apocalypse scenario.

Greenpa said...

It's another really topic for the Locked Room. You, me, and Sharon Astyk, if you recall. One of these days.


I share your thinking that our evolutionary past has large consequences for our current behavior, and I've done quite a bit of thinking in that area. Boy, is it complicated.

For the current discussion- I think it would be worth while to separate "men", in terms of their reactions to ZA Day, into reproductive categories; because I think their behavior changes a LOT, depending.

We could create a lot of categories, of course; once you start, it gets hard to stop, for academics. I think you'd find it interesting to just add one consideration though; does this male have children; or not?

And no, I'm not at all sure how that comes out. I've just made a lot of observations over the years that a man's entire outlook on the universe changes drastically when he holds his own baby in his arms.

Ramifications out the wazoo.

Brad K. said...

Here is my thought.

You described women and preparing for trauma by making the home comfortable, supportive - a redoubt, a fortress, a refuge.

How about portraying men (who were often raised by women) as finding a threat and attacking it. They see dangers and collapse of what is secure about them, and prepare for the worst, stocking up on essentials, building the remote refuse, sharpening the spear and setting aside what weapons might be needed. Convert that attacking bear into a snug coverlet.

How is that for complementary stereotyping?

Myself, I believe JMG hit the nail on the head, when he observed that wealth in the industrial age has been the result of consuming cheap energy (oil, coal) and other resources. As supplies of oil and coal, and other energy, become intermittently accessible and no longer cheap, the amount of wealth being generated will necessarily diminish. Thus, the enemies that I see include wasting today's wealth, failing to prepare for less energy, and dramatically less "cheap" energy, and the myth of the single family dwelling, far, far from work and food.

Warrior is a lifetime craft; I expect that most every neighborhood and community will need warriors. Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the absence of tyranny. I expect some communities will lament, "You know, it would be handy to have that 30,000 rounds we confiscated from that kook back in '11." Individuals and communities will need to be able to support or replace local civil order in the case that federal and state structures break down -- or abandon the remote (further than 10 miles from the capital) hinterlands.

Loners of whatever stripe will face hardships and vastly reduced chances of flourishing, or perhaps survival, whether their refuge is a cache of guns or a well-stocked root cellar. Caches of any resource will be big targets, where they aren't part of an alert community.

Most "survivalists" will just be arming the zombie hordes. Hunkered down, isolated, lone gardeners and husbandmen will be feeding them.

And, please don't forget the deniers. A customer last night mentioned prices going up, we touched on Peak Oil, and another customer chimed in it was all lies, that there are centuries of natural gas. I mentioned that fracking, the production of all that natural gas, is poisoning the groundwater. Somehow we left out racist votes to elect a President, why federal malfeasance is inflating our food and living costs, how debt deflation is eroding the wealth of the nation, etc. But the customer got his point across, that all the so-called problems are just lies.

Michelle said...

Greenpa, I want in on that convo in the locked room!!

I come at this conversation from the perspective of a medievalist. In fact, I'm giving a sermon in church tomorrow on "Modern Medieval Women: On Being a Woman of Faith in Hard Times."

Some of what we might predict we can guess from looking back at how we as people responded to earlier iterations of collapse in all its forms. Many things devolve much lower onto Mazlov's hierarchy; do we have food, water, shelter? Are we physically safe? From there, though, I think much does fall into smaller lines: women tend to respond as communities - it's very difficult to do "women's work" with only one pair of hands. Harvesting and preserving food, caring for children and elderly, etc. all are exponentially more difficult done by oneself. Men respond by banding together for protection: much easier for ten archers to protect a village than one man with a pitchfork, y'know? But also, family units tend to come together, I think: men can lift/dig/heft/carry with greater upper body strength (in general) than women. What does it all mean? I think it means that building community is and will be key. We are all stronger together than apart, and many hands make light work, and any other aphorism you care to add. There's a reason such phrases exist in our language ~

Crunchy Chicken said...

Greenpa - I think we're going to need a bigger closet.

Brad K. said...

@ Greenpa,

"does this male have children; or not?"

I wonder how much the difference in categories, between males with children and males without, has to do with roles in the community, and how much it has to do with being accepted by a mate(s) and being nurtured at home, as an adult.

I might have characterized the selection as "men raising children" and those not. That is, men living in and being responsible to and for a family.

Or did you have a different driver of differences in mind?

Anonymous said...

Loved the post, except for the title ;-)

We don't necessarily see community and survivalism as contrary positions; at the PermaFuture project we like to promote the idea of 'Community Survivalism', i.e. the belief that long term human survival is preferable - and in all probability only possible - as a community endeavour.

Fragmentary Green mentioned not being able to afford to 'stockpile anything but knowledge', but this is probably the most important thing we can do. We encourage people to take on board principles and practices from a range of disciplines - permaculture, buchcraft, martial arts, appropriate technology, etc. - not only so that they are more self-sufficient and resilient as individuals, but also so that each community can be seeded with people who have important skills and knowledge in case the worst happens.

Rachel said...

My husband is totally one of those men! He wants to do nothing but stockpile weapons and ammo while I'm thinking it would be more advantageous to stockpile food.

Bethany said...

I don't disagree with you in the instinct stuff. Granted, some people have it more than others, but the truth is I have seen the effects of not allowing people to express those instincts vs. being able to express them.

Take my husband, for example. He used to be one of those super rowdy young guys, always picking fights, had a physical advantage over almost anyone, Alpha male type, etc. He mellowed out quite before I met him, and I can't even believe he was like that. HOWEVER - he's told me on more than one occasion that he almost wishes that someone would try to disrespect me because it would give him an excuse to go postal in my defense. And it isn't because he's looking for an excuse to go postal itself, but more that he would welcome an opportunity to leap to my defense. I think that's a pretty instinctual thing.

This isn't really as related to the survivalist mentality but I think, given the fact that my entire extended family is preppers, I definitely notice the guys giving automatic priority to defense, guns, etc. The women, on the other hand, focus more on food and basic comforts of life, caring for the kids, etc. Given the fact we're talking 5 separate family units, it seems too obvious to pretend that this isn't an instinct.

I dunno. My thing is... peak oil will or has happened. It's a fact. So, the way I respond to it is wanting to reduce my dependency so that if/when something happens to change the structure of civilization, it will have the least amount of impact on my family as possible.

Len said...

Lots of thoughts here, starting with a suggestion of a little less rum. I've held strongly to the idea that men and women are fundamentally different in their basic wiring (even if it's politically incorrect). I'm not bothered by the idea that in general women may see post-oil differently than men. The fact is that in general they see MOST things differently! However, if we are speaking in generalities, lets be sure to call them exactly that and not go to all out stereotyping.

To Brad K: Raising children or not has a great deal to do with one's position in the community! Until a few months ago, I was the mayor. During my term, my son turned two and my daughter was born and I knew that was the end of it! Despite widespread support, I didn't run for re-election because my priorities are completely different now. I am driven to take roles within my community regardless but strong dampers are in place. Unless you are disconnected from your kids, they'll change everything - including the kinds of preparation you would make for a post-oil world!