Posted On 09 Feb 2012
How will you and your loved ones live after the party?
It’s astounding that many people still don’t seem to realize that the party will soon end.
In James Howard Kunstler’s The Long Emergency he not only gives a clear-headed analysis of our present situation but also offers a general plan on how to live well after the inevitable deterioration.
“[W]e are entering a new period of world history, the uncharted territory of a post-oil world. We will be in it long before the middle of the twenty-first century . . . [and] have to contend with the problems of the Long Emergency: the end of industrial growth, falling standards of living, economic desperation, declining food production, and domestic political strife” [all direct quotations in this post are from Kunstler’s book].
In short, we shall have to learn a new way to live after the party.
The purpose of this post is not to infect you with pessimism; instead, it’s to fuel your realistic optimism about life after the party.
Let’s have a brief look at (I) where we are now and (II) what tomorrow will be like.
Understanding the immediate past enables better living in the immediate future. Yes, there will be a rough ride for a while, but, understanding what is happening today entitles you to prepare to thrive tomorrow.
Why sleepwalk through life? It’s always better to choose philosophy over foolishness. Instead of believing that the party will continue forever, it’s better to prepare for life after the party.
(I) Here are eight features of life today (in no particular order) that are important to acknowledge if we are to be ready to live well economically after the party. Much of Kunstler’s book is devoted to providing evidence for this analysis.
First, the era of inexpensive fossil fuel utilization is rapidly coming to an end [see Peak Oil]. “[R]eliable supplies of cheap oil and natural gas underlie everything we identify as a benefit of modern life.” Resource wars have already broken out. This is widely understood.
Second, “industrial civilization will not be rescued by technological innovation.” This is not widely understood. Nuclear energy, renewable sources of energy (such as wind and solar), and potential sources of energy (such as hydrogen fusion) will be insufficient to replace the energy we are now using from fossil fuels. If so, the industrial age will soon end.
Third, global warming is real. Even if we did what is impossible to do, namely, immediately and permanently stop all discharge of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, global warming will still increase for the next several decades.
Fourth, the benefits of antibiotic medicine will not last as microbes become drug-resistant faster than new drugs can be created. Disease will diminish life spans as well as the physical quality of human life.
Fifth, today’s fragile political arrangements are based on a globalized economy that is itself fragile. As non-renewable fossil fuel usage inevitably decreases, the globalized economy will break down and so will current political arrangements.
Sixth, since the beginning of the dollar standard in 1971, “all monies and fungible financial instruments pegged to money floated on a collective hallucination of relative value, rather than being pegged to a fixed medium of value, such as gold.” When that collective hallucination dissolves, all the major currencies in the world will be in crisis. This will be the beginning of the end for the globalized economy.
Seventh, we are squandering other precious natural resources. For example, we are poisoning the air and polluting rivers, lakes, and oceans. We are emptying underground aquifers much, much more quickly than they can be replenished. Some investors are already talking about water as “blue gold.”
Eighth, Americans have made a colossal investment mistake by squandering our national wealth to create suburban sprawl that has no future when the present twilight of the fossil fuel age ends. “[M]uch of suburbia is unreformable.” The end of suburbia will be part of the generalized contraction that will be nothing short of the downsizing of America, which will characterize life after the party.
It’s been a helluva party, hasn’t it?
The bigger and better the party, the worse life after the party.
Still, there will be life after the party. The transition will be difficult; everyone will suffer. The unprepared will suffer greatly. However, many of the prepared will survive and some will even thrive.
We are unable to predict what will happen after the tipping point. Future intellectuals will be able to explain it, but only in hindsight. Civilization as we know it now, near the end of the party, will be radically different after the party.
(II) Some of the enormous changes caused by the end of the industrial age are already beginning to become apparent. More are coming.
This, though, should not be surprising. We live in Becoming, which is ever in flux. As we begin to lose familiar economic and political institutions, others will replace them. While life after the party won’t be as fun as life during the party, there’s no reason why life after the party cannot be better than life before the party.
For example, consider the end of suburbia. Like living in cities, living in suburbs will be dramatically different after the party. Let’s hope that it won’t just be the end of commuting. If we prepare for the transition and make it well, there’s reason to hope that it will also be the end of “horrendous levels of alienation, loneliness, anomie, anxiety, and depression.”
The party was based on a simple fact, namely, that fossil fuels are a unique inheritance from our geologic past that enable us temporarily to extend the carrying capacity of our habitat, the planet Earth. As they disappear, human over-population will decline. There will soon be many fewer people after the party than there are now.
Many fewer people means many fewer consumers, which means the end of the consumer economy.
That may become, though, as much of a win as a loss.
I invite you to look back over your own life and ask, “When has my most important growth occurred?” Growth occurs after losses, not after gains.
As mastery grows, gains become more and more routine.
It is losses, especially unexpected losses, that spur growth in those open to growing.
Not all losses spawn growth. Often, losses must be repeated until we understand the lesson life is teaching us. Once we become sick and tired of losing, we become open to growing by learning from losses.
My hope is that life after the party will be better than before the party.
Spiritual teachers like Eckhart Tolle are already talking about how much better life could be after the party ends.
People will suffer physically as the globalization of the industrial age ends and current economic and political arrangements transition into unfamiliar forms. That will be an important loss. Therefore, it could also be an important opportunity.
What is measurable is of no ultimate importance. Form is what is measurable. It doesn’t matter much how many lovers or houses or children or dollars you temporarily have during your life. It doesn’t matter much how popular or famous you are. It doesn’t even matter much how healthy you are.
What matters is only whether or not you enjoy sufficient identification with Being, which is formless. If you live life wholly immersed in Becoming, you will never live well.
Living well is living a life balanced between Becoming and Being, between form and formlessness. A life without realization of Being is a life out of balance. Just like a business that is out of balance, a life that is out of balance cannot be profitable.
For more on this topic, please visit the posts in the spiritual well-being category of this site. [They are listed on the Navbar on the left.]
My intention is to provide you in future posts with a concrete plan for physically surviving the end of the party, for economically getting through the end of the industrial age. It’s the plan that I myself am using to counter the ill effects of the eight factors mentioned above. (Essentially, it’s the same general plan that Kunstler suggests, but I have discovered a practical way to make it specific.)
If it interests you, just ensure that you are signed up to be notified of future posts.
I think you’ll find it very useful because, even if you don’t adapt the specific plan I’m using for yourself and loved ones, you should be able to tweak it to fit your circumstances better.
May you live well both now and after the party!
Suggested reading: Kunstler’s The Long Emergency.
As always, please consider forwarding this to friends who might benefit from it.