Friday, August 24, 2007

Adam's Story: Uncharted Waters

This narrative is the final part of an exploration of the five themes from my Archdruid Report post “Glimpsing the Deindustrial Future” using the toolkit of narrative fiction. As with the rest of “Adam’s Story,” the setting is the coastal Pacific Northwest sometime during the second half of this century, after the political disintegration of the United States and the end of the global industrial system.


They’d been at Tillicum River most of a month before Adam and Haruko knew for certain that their future lay there, though Adam began to guess the shape of it after the first week or so. Growing up as the last child left in a dying town, he’d studied almost from infancy the art of listening to the words behind the words people spoke, all the things adults didn’t want a child to know about that the child needed to know. Through the long days he spent working in Earl Tigard’s garden, patching his roof, and doing a hundred other neglected chores, he watched the townsfolk watch him, listened to their voices as wariness gave way to familiarity in their greetings and small talk, felt the label “outsider” gradually dropping off him as though the sweat that rolled down his face and back as he put in onions or dug up dandelion roots for coffee made it come unstuck. Even so, when certainty arrived it caught him by surprise.

That day he and Earl helped finish the new fence around the goat pasture the Tigards shared with their five closest neighbors: hard work even by Adam’s standards, and it didn’t help that the goats did their level best all day to extract themselves from the barn and get underfoot, and succeeded more than once. The dinner bell was even more welcome than usual, and afterwards Earl broke out bottled beer from the cellar – local, of course, but the Tillicum River brewery had more than a local market in the days before things started falling apart, and there was talk of selling it to the trading ships that were starting to poke their way up and down the coast again.

Halfway through the first glass, someone knocked at the door. When Earl went to answer it, it turned out to be four people, one familiar face among them: the portly policeman Adam remembered from the town gate. “You’ve met Chuck Babcock,” Earl said, making introductions, “our police chief. This is Cathy Weiss, our mayor.” A woman with iron-colored hair in a bun and the angular face and quick motions of a bird shook Adam’s hand, then Haruko’s. “Juliet Rasmussen, city clerk, and Fred Baird from the city council.” Juliet was plump and smiling, Fred lean and reserved. They found chairs around the living room, took beers from Earl.

“Well,” said the mayor. “You probably know that we’ve had trouble now and then with people from outside, but you probably also know that about half the people who live here came from somewhere else. Earl and Anne have spoken well of both of you.”

“They’re not the only ones,” said Chuck. “You two work hard, you stay out of trouble, and – ” A nod to Haruko. “ – the folks at the Buddhist church ain’t exactly unhappy to have somebody show up and start helping out, just like that.” Haruko ducked her head, embarrassed but pleased.

“So what we’d like to know,” the mayor went on, “is whether you’d considered the possibility of settling down here.”

Haruko’s hand went to her mouth. Adam blinked, and then grinned. “Tell you the truth,” he said, “we’d been wondering what was the best way to ask somebody about that. So yes, please, and thank you.”

“You’ll want a place of your own,” Juliet said, “and there are plenty of those; choose one that nobody lives in and register it with me at city hall, and it’s yours. Some of the things you’ll need you’ll have to buy or work for, but some you can get free – this town used to have upwards of seven thousand people, and a lot of their stuff is still around. The city warehouse is one of the things I manage, so check with me.”

There was more talk, about votes and town meetings and what to do if emergencies happened, but most of it slid out of Adam’s mind just as fast as it entered, pushed aside by the sheer bright awareness that the long trek from Learyville was actually over, and not the way he’d thought it might end, bleached bones along the road somewhere or the long slow fall into one of the big inland cities where so many people from Learyville went and so few survived long. Still, one memory stuck; as everyone shook hands and the visitors got ready to go, the police chief stopped, grinned, and said, “Got something of yours to give back, too,” and handed him his father’s pistol. “You might want to get that cleaned and serviced; we got a gunsmith here, you know, and if we get raiders again you’ll need it.”

The next few days were a blur: choosing a house from among the empty ones on the edge of the inhabited part of town, with a yard big enough for chickens and gardens and no leaks in the roof; going to the city warehouse and finding out just how much tableware and cooking pots, storm windows and furniture seven thousand people had left behind; meeting new neighbors and ending up at the center of a housewarming party where people from a block in every direction brought food and hand-me-downs to help tide things over until the household got going; giving two of Marge Dotson’s asparagus crowns to Earl and Anne as a thank-you gift and planting the others in the best spot of the new garden; holding Haruko as she wept out of sheer relief that her own journey, so much longer and more bitter than his, had ended so well.

Yet it didn’t feel like an ending, not to Adam. One of his new neighbors was a stocky black man named Stan, who spent his days at the docks fitting out a sailboat, a big one, with two masts and enough room belowdecks to carry cargo. Other port towns up and down the coast already had the beginnings of trading fleets, Stan told him one evening. “We ain’t never gonna see air freight again, or container ships, or any of that, but folks still gonna want things they can’t grow where they at,” he said, gesturing expansively. “I don’t know about you, but man, I’d just about kill to get my hands on real coffee, and I ain’t the only one. Head down south and you get to where they grow coffee, chocolate, chili peppers with some real heat to ‘em, all kinds of good stuff. What I don’t know yet is what they want that we got, but that won’t take but one trip to find out. Next spring the Alice May’s gonna be ready, and we gonna give it a try.”

That night, somewhere in the dark hours, Adam blinked awake from a dream: he’d been with Stan on the Alice May, wind in her sails and uncharted waters ahead, while the coast that contained everything he’d ever known drew away into a dark line astern. He lay there for what seemed like half of forever, wondering why the image felt so familiar, until clarity came. He’d been sailing into uncharted waters all his life, since a world he’d never had time to get to know drifted off into memory, and he wasn’t alone on the voyage. As he sank back into sleep, thought blurred into dream, and he was on a boat again, except that the boat was the town of Tillicum River and the sails billowed above its much-patched roofs and makeshift wall; Haruko was with him, and so were Stan and all his other neighbors, the Buddhists chanting prayers amidships, Chuck in his police hat pacing along the gunwales and Cathy Weiss at the helm. The shore fading into distance was heaped with the ruins of skyscrapers, and faces from his past – his father, Sybil, many more – floated pale and silent in the gray waves astern.

When he woke from that, the sun’s first rays were already splashing through his bedroom window and distant voices and the clatter of handcart wheels announced the beginning of another workday. Still, he lay there for a moment before waking Haruko with a kiss and getting out of bed. Uncharted waters, he thought. Would there even be a shore on the other side?

But there was work to be done, plenty of it, and a place to find or make in a home he still only half knew. He started going to the Buddhist church now and again, more because Haruko went there than for any more spiritual reason; still, the town’s six churches played a big part in weaving the community together, and Adam knew that he couldn’t risk being on the outside. The same thinking got him and Haruko to join the Grange, one of the two old lodges in town. All the farmers and the really avid gardeners in town belonged to the Grange, just as the people who worked in the brewery, the other businesses in town, and the city government all belonged to the Elks Lodge. Once he and Haruko went through the elegant little ceremony that made them Grangers, a little more of their outsider status melted away, they were woven more tightly into the net of mutual help that made for survival now that the old and never more than half-kept promise of government help had been broken beyond repair.

The police chief was a Granger, the Worthy Master that year in fact; Adam hadn’t expected that, but then he hadn’t guessed that Chuck nurtured a wild passion for tomatoes, had more than two dozen varieties turning his back yard into a jungle where the local cats stalked like tigers. He also hadn’t expected to find so many questions about the town’s farming economy settled at Grange meetings. Those questions turned more and more on the weather, because the climate was changing: warmer and wetter with each passing year, or so he gathered from the talk.

“One more spring like last one and we’re going to have to let go of the river fields,” Fred Baird, the city councillor who’d come to invite them to stay, said in one such discussion. They were sitting at the long table in the Grange hall’s dining room after the meeting. “Between the rain and the river they’re basically mud until well into summer.” Glum nods circled the table.

“Excuse me,” said Haruko after a moment, startling Adam; she still rarely spoke much in public. “Perhaps you could grow rice?”

“Grain crops haven’t done well down there for years now,” Fred said with a quick shake of his head, but Chuck gave her a long sideways look. “You ain’t talking about field rice, though, are you?” the police chief asked. “You’re talking about paddy rice.” Haruko nodded.

“You know,” said Chuck, “this could get into questions you probably don’t want to answer, so I think we’re all gonna agree that you learned about rice in California or someplace, okay?” Haruko nodded again, a little more uneasily. “Do you know how to grow paddy rice?”

“Oh, yes,” she replied. “I worked in the rice fields for eleven years – in California.”

The word on everyone’s mind and no one’s lips was “nanmin,” Adam knew. Nobody in town ever talked about the refugees from crowded, starving Japan in his hearing: proof enough, if he needed any, that they’d figured out that Haruko came from the wrong side of the Pacific.

“And you can teach us how to do that?” Chuck asked.

“Oh, yes.”

Chuck put his chin in his hand. Adam felt Haruko tense beside him, draw herself up. In a very quiet voice, she said, “If you need help, there are others – from California – who know how.”

Growing up in a dying town, Adam thought, was a good way to learn about silences – big silences and small ones, still silences and loud ones. This one roared like thunder. After a long moment, Chuck nodded, said, “I was just thinking that.”

“Chuck, I don’t know,” said Fred, frowning.

“They ain’t gonna go back home,” Chuck said then, “and they ain’t gonna stop coming. I ain’t saying we ought to just throw open the door, but we’re gonna have to deal with ‘em sooner or later. Might as well be now.”

Another long silence and then, unwillingly, Fred nodded.

Uncharted waters, Adam thought. In the evening above him, he could imagine sails billowing in a wind none of them could feel, pushing the town like the boat in his dream away from the world they knew toward a destination they could only guess at.


Maura said...


Great story. Very good that you ended Adam's Story on a positive note. I think with the way things are going, people need a positive view of the future - a future where people can find a sense of purpose and meaning that is often lacking in the present time.

One thing I would say about your story, set in "the second half of the century" is that my feeling is that things could go a long way downhill quite rapidly from the end of this decade on. One thing that addicts of "progress" have been telling us for years is that technological progress has been happening at an ever-increasing rate. Consequently, the failure of financial markets on which so much of our wealth depends, together with increasing unreliability of the fossil fuel and electricity delivery systems could bring on a decline rather more rapid than seen in previous societal collapses. So my timeline for the conclusion of Adam's Story would be right in the middle of this century, some 40 or so years from now.

Another comment I would make (should have made earlier) is regarding the sad fate of Haruko's sister. In my view, everyone reading this story should seek to achieve a reasonable level of competency in:

a) General first-aid;
b) A system of medicine that could survive a general decline of techno-industrial society. By which I mean one which is widely regarded to be effective, such as herbal medicine.

I believe you have these requirements at some level, in your system of Druid qualifications. Those readers in employment, might seek to get a first-aid qualification through those means - many employers (before things start to deteriorate), may be quite happy to send willing employees on first-aid courses during work time, so that they can serve as first-aiders in work places. I'd urge anyone to take advantage of such an opportunity now. Even now while we have rapid-response medical services, you could still save someone's life. In future years, you might the only hope a loved one has of effective treatment.

Otherwise, great writing - I look forward to your book!

yooper said...

Excellent story John! The best, I've ever read. Do you have plans to write another sceniaro, perhaps 10 years in the future?

I suppose my thoughts of the story is much like maura's. Placed no more than 40 years from now. That's a great concession coming from one who descibed a die-off lasting only weeks, months, a couple years, eh?

I came across a thought from another site, suggesting an insight from Eliott Wave, that decribes human psychological states. As we move through a chaotic system and expand back from industrial to collective actions of mankind, where do we end up? Pretty much where the ancient Greeks and Romans did....

Collective actions, eh, John? My hat is off to you for a very well written futuristic sceniaro! Well done!

Thanks, yooper

Dwig said...

Very nice story, with a good potential for sequels.

What I've been mulling, however, is the differences between Learyville and Tillicum River. Why did one town die slowly, while the other not only survived, but by the time of Adam's coming, appeared to have pretty good prospects? (Or should I have put that sentence in the future tense?)

Maybe for your next literary effort, you could drop back a few decades and tell a "Tale of Two Towns".

John Michael Greer said...

Thanks, all, for your encouragement. Maura, it's exactly the need for positive visions in a difficult time that I'd most like to address. Yes, the future is likely to be hard, especially for those who cling to fantasies of progress, but it can also be a place where more reasonable (and more human) dreams and hopes can still find fulfillment.

Your timeline is about the same as mine, though there are regional effects as well -- in the US heartland, roughly from the Mississippi valley east, a lot more technology is still in use at the time. (We're halfway between my two earlier stories "Christmas Eve 2050" and "Solstice 2100" there.)

As for first aid, absolutely -- the only cavil I'd add is that standard first aid training is all but useless these days unless you live within close reach of paramedics. A good course in wilderness first aid and practical training in one of the effective alternative health systems is much more useful. Yes, we strongly recommend this in the Druid order I head.

Yooper, thank you -- I do plan on writing more fiction down the road, though there's a bunch of other stuff to tackle first. In the meantime, have you read Edgar Pangborn's "Davy" or John Crowley's weird but lyrical "Engine Summer"? Two intriguing visions of deindustrial society.

Dwig, the differences are actually covered in the story. Tillicum River has good farmland, a mixed economy, and a location on viable trade routes; Learyville is off in the middle of nowhere, dependent entirely on the tourist trade, and cursed with the thin acid soil that accounts for so much of the coastal uplands in the Pacific Northwest. My guess is that in areas likely to suffer serious depopulation, those are the factors that will make the difference.

Bill Pulliam said...

Now, now, Ol' Druid, Learyville's soils aren't a curse! They're just a blessing of a different kind that we humans just happen not to find especially useful. I'm sure the trees that spent centuries building and refining these soils feel differently about them, as do all the other plants and animals that have evolved to thrive with them ;)

Danby said...

Another and perhaps more important difference in terms of survivability between Learyville and Tillicum River is size.
Learyville is little more than a village, a few dozen souls at most. Tillicum River is much larger, several hundred or even a couple thousand. At least that my vision of it. After 6 months in town, there are still people that Adam doesn't know.

In times of severe economic and cultural contraction (the Dark Ages, e.g.) the countryside always fares poorly. Food they have, but in the log run that's not enough to make a viable community.

Tillicum River has many other things going for it. First, and most notably, is a remarkable open-mindedness. Not only do they accept Buddhists in their midst, but even a member of a designated outsider class. And they listen to her. Some of that is, I'm sure hopeful thinking on the part of our host, as a member of a, shall we say, religious minority. But a larger part is a cultural openness that is actually a pronounced trait in the Pacific NW. And of course, some large part is plain American pragmatism.

They also take seriously pooling their resources, and conserving what they have. Finally, they seem to be able to make an honest and realistic assessment of conditions and situations. This is a very rare quality in any human organization.

So, I'd put my money on the place. Absent military adventurism by one of their neighbors it's got a very good chance.

yooper said...

Thanks John, for refering me to Edgar Pangborn's,"Davey" and John Crowley's,"Engine Summer". I'll definitely obtain these two books, sure like the reviews I've read about them!

Perhaps, on another site, you might recall me mentioning that the class was not to venture too far out in the future, from the onset of the die-off. The instuctors saw no point in this. They're view was any assumptions made of futuristic sceniaros borderlined on being "science fiction" or "fantasy". All assumptions made had to backed up with a long list of supporting facts,(or factoids, as you may call them).

So at this point, and for the first time in my life, I'm actually thinking about what might happen beyond....

I want to apologize as calling your thoughts of touists viewing skyscrapper ruins, as absurd. This could very well be the case, and I hope that people reading this post fully understand what you're conveying through this story.

Surely there has been horrific events in history that lead to Adam's time. You've done an excellent job pointing this out. If I have one critic, of this story it is perhaps, it leads readers to believe that is too far out in the future and nothing will happen to them. That they'll go on in life unscratched, or relieved that they might escape hardship. This is a very fine line you're treading, I realize that.

Again, I want to praise your work, in presenting the very best, believeable, futuristic sceniaro, I've seen, or will likely ever see.
For one, I've learned a great deal from it.

Thanks, yooper.

FARfetched said...

Good ending. Danby pretty much summed up what makes Tillicum River tick, and we'll need more of those kind of places than are likely to exist (unfortunately).

Yooper, I have a "now+5 year" scenario going on my blog (interspersed among the normal stuff). I'd be pleased if you'd have a look.

First aid is certainly going to be a valued skill in a de-industrializing future, as well as identifying medicinal herbs. I wonder what might be done to attract people with those skills (let alone health professionals like doctors & nurses) to a community, and what might be done to keep them there?

LizM said...

A problem we seem to run into regularly in the comments is the distinction between city, town, and village. I have come across several classifications. One is that a village was traditionally a community of any size with its own internal market/shops, but no annual market or fair for trading with other villages. A town was a community that hosted a market at least once a year, where surrounding villagers and merchants from other towns came to trade their wares. And a city was a place where villagers and townfolks goods and services could be brought to trade year 'round.

Another means of classification (at least in Europe) is that a town or burg(h) was a fortified or enclosed settlement. But since there are a lot of French villages with walls, I find this distinction less useful.

Finally, there is the industrial taxonomy. If most people are employed at agriculture, it's a village or hamlet; if most are small merchants or factory workers, a town; if most are professionals or politicians, a city. But again, these distinctions blur regionally.

About the only thing one can state for certain is that they are, in descending order of largeness and without specific reference to area or population, city, town, village, hamlet.

In practice, I think the designation of most settlements has a lot to do with the relative size of other communities nearby.

Jan Steinman said...

Okay, I'm going to be contrary.

Many here are thinking "second half of the century" is too distant. Perhaps if the goal is to inspire people to act in enlightened self-interest, that is true, but I believe the reality is actually much further in the future and much less optimistic.

James Howard Kunstler calls it the "long emergency." Others refer to the "boiling frog syndrome." I fear that this slow-motion train wreck may be proceeding so slowly that it will be imperceptible to all but the most astute -- with that slowness being used as ammunition to those who have a vested interest in the status quo.

Each day, each month, each year, things seem pretty much as they were before. "Well, it's not quite the 'good old days,' but I guess I can't complain too much." This may be the mantra of the 21st century.

Great story, John!

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, granted, the acid soil isn't a curse to the cedars or the Douglas squirrels, but to the human inhabitants of Learyville, it's certainly no blessing.

Dan, I don't think of it so much as wishful thinking as a recognition of the fact that places like that do exist -- in the Pacific Northwest as elsewhere -- and it seems important to counter the assumption, very common in Peak Oil circles that human beings are by definition stupid and vicious. Doubtless there are other towns in the world of "Adam's Story" where a less pleasant ending would be much more likely -- but equally, those towns are going to be rather less likely to survive over the long term. Pragmatism and a willingness to live and let live are solid survival values, after all.

Yooper, sometimes I think that most people in the Peak Oil scene are allergic to the question "and what happens then?" So much of the current rhetoric focuses obsessively on the immediate near term, and I'm convinced that this blinds us to a lot of possibilities. More on this in a later post.

Farfetched, my guess is that the best way to get people around you with those skills is to learn them yourself and be prepared to teach them to others.

Lizm, good points. My guess is that the labels in question will tend to revert to their premodern definitions over time.

Jan, very good -- this is a point I've been making all along. Two hundred years from now, when the title "President of the United States" is claimed by half a dozen regional warlords and technology is struggling to maintain a fifteenth century level, I don't doubt that their court panegyrists will still insist that the glory days of Reagan and Clinton will be back again sometime soon -- and there will still be people who believe it. That's the way civilizations fall, after all.

Jim said...

The gun is an interesting detail. I wonder about the sustainability of various weapon technologies. Guns were at the origin of interchangeable parts. I don't know much about guns, but I expect most guns these days require ammunition that is made to tight tolerances. How many factories can make that ammunition - what kind of technology is involved? I can imagine a return to ball and powder as long distance transport becomes less common.

Dwig said...

Glad to have sparked a nice conversation on the survivability of different settlements.

John, yes, you've listed the obvious differences, but they could have different consequences. For instance, Tillicum River could be a more tempting target for takeover or for the Cascade Republic's tax collectors; Learyville, because of its isolation, could be spared the worst of such attention, and would have more freedom to choose its future.

I'm thinking of the human factors at work. It seems that the folks in Learyville didn't see any way to continue or to adapt to the changes; they clung to the remnants of the old ways, emigrated, etc. Meanwhile, the Tillicum people banded together, fought off raiders, created a local culture and governance structure, and generally refused to give in to despair.

Suppose it had been the other way round? Suppose the Learyville folks were pragmatic, determined, and willing to band/bond together for mutual aid; suppose the residents of Tillicum River were the backward-looking ones, using up the resources available to them while continually hoping for the return of better times, and gradually succumbing to despair and internal strife as the hope died.

Yes, it would still be a tough go for Learyville, and the residents might finally decide on a mass migration to find a more hospitable environment, or other settlements to join with, but they'd at least have a chance at success.

RAS said...

Thanks for ending this on such a postitive note, JMG. It was a refreshing change. The story was excellant; I'm going to have to see if I can scrounge up some of your books, by interlibrary loan if nothing else.

I was just able to read your last few posts, as I was away on a retreat, but I think you're dead on about towns and small cities having a good chance.

Here's a question for you. I'm looking at relocating once I finsih grad school next year. This isn't about PO. It's partly about climate change (this place is all ready too hot for me) and mostly about semi-rural Alabama not being the best place for a young, liberal lesbian. At any rate, Oregon and Washington are high on my list of potential places to move, and I was wondering if you'd have any advice in that regard? (I"m not looking at Seattle or Portland, btw; I'm not a big city girl.) Thanks.

John Michael Greer said...

Jim, your question about firearms technology is a good one. Modern guns require very high tolerances, but the firearms technologies of the mid-19th century -- cap and ball revolvers, for example -- don't, and could be sustainable over the long term. If things fall apart dramatically, flintlocks are the likely fallback; the popularity of black powder flintlocks among today's reenactment scene makes it vanishingly unlikely that the technology will be lost.

This is a good thing, as feudalism doesn't work once gunpowder enters the picture. Feudal systems only function when the rich have a much better chance of survival in battle than the poor, and when a peasant with a matchlock can end the career of the bravest knight or samurai with one bullet, feudal systems fall apart; see 17th century Europe as one example, and the concerted effort of Tokugawa-era Japan to abolish firearms and thus preserve the samurai class as another.

Dwig, oh, granted -- one of the things I think people lose sight of most quickly when it comes to thinking about the future is that the word "inevitable" needs to be dropped from the language in that context. Still, a community in an area with poor soil and no access to trade is likely to do much worse than one with the opposite under almost any conditions.

Ras, glad you liked it! In terms of places to move, I'd look at Olympia or Bellingham, WA, or Corvallis, Eugene, or Ashland, OR. All five are relatively small college towns with a liberal ethos. A lot depends on what you do for a living, though -- a lot of the smaller towns in the Pacific Northwest have only a few industries each, and if you don't have skills that are needed (or a job you can pack up and take with you), it can be hard to make ends meet there.

Danby said...

jim and jmg,
Yes, modern ammunition is made to fairly tight tolerances. IT is however not that difficult to manufacture. Millions of gun owners (including me) reload their own ammo, either as a hobby, to make higher quality ammunition for a specific purpose, or to save money. The dies for resizing the the spent casings run 10-25 dollars, and are widely available. A single casing is usually good for 5 or more reloads. The bullet itself doesn't require any particularly tight tolerance, and are often formed from lead at home.
As long as the tools (which last forever) and a supply of sheet brass is available, home ammunition production is not beyond the skills of anyone who can fix a car.

Also keep in mind that all of the innovation in firearm design up until the second half of the 20th century was the product of backyard tinkerers such as Browning, Henry, Colt, and Kalashnikov. These men literally built modern, fully automatic firearms in garage workshops with forges, tin snips, and files.

In fact, tens of thousands of the SKS, the gun that won the Viet Nam War were actually produced in hundreds of backyard workshops in China and North Vietnam. The parts are only nominally interchangeable, but they're so cheap ($50 or so in the American market before their import was banned in the '90s) that you'd just replace the weapon rather than try to build one good one out of two broken ones. In some parts of Africa and Central Asia, an SKS can be purchased for as little as $10.

Given the value of firearms in protect a share of a shrinking economic pie, not to mention stealing someone else's share, firearms will be with us as long as the materials can be found.

RAS said...

Thanks JMG. I'm a therapist (or will be when I get my master's, lol). Not that it's my only skill set; I'm an avid gardener, a budding herbalist, a journeyman soapmaker, and I make other herbal products like lotions and sachets as well. So I can pretty much support myself some way no matter where I'm at or how bad things get. If by no other way growing some wicked good tomatoes...

awlknottedup said...

Guns and their history are interesting topic because they had a very large part in the shaping of our present world. In the beginning guns were just another method of killing but as the price and accuracy improved, the well born were upset that a commoner could kill a king and that was just not right. As mentioned the Japanese response was to preserve the well born but the rest of the world realized that commoners were much cheaper to kill and that in itself would preserve the well born. So now the well born can play military far from danger while the commoners are hauled home in bags.

As for the modern gun, it is true that the need for massive numbers of guns (after all there are a lot more commoners than well born) lead to the early development of the "American System" or as we know it "pass production." It was the sewing machine that gave the system the acceptance needed for it to spread to other industries. The system of jigs and the division of labor made cheap mass production possible and made it much easier to kill many more commoners.

The gun is an easy thing to make. Before the cheap mass produced gun (and the Colt and other revolvers were only possible under mass production) many people engaged in the manufacture of guns. The process is not that difficult. The real problem is in the manufacture of gun powder. It is simple, 75% saltpeter, 15% charcoal, and 10% sulfur. The problem there is where do you get the saltpeter? It can be refined from pig stys, outhouses, etc but it takes a lot.

awlknottedup said...

As I see some of the problems playing out I see a sustainable level similar to pre industrial Europe as worst cast and pre world power US as best case scenarios. And even as a best case the later may only be a transitional state to the former. I base this on what I call institutional knowledge, the knowledge of such things as keeping the sewer water away from drinking water and the importance of cleanliness. Nuclear power may well provide a continuation of an electric powered life for some for many years but over time the infrastructure for such complex devices will fade.

As for the survival of villages, there are many things that are important. Not the least of which are the soils and the climate for food growing, natural resources for cooking and heating, and water transportation for trade to obtain those things not available locally. Look at historical villages for examples, why were they there and what kept them going?

Another overlooked item is the skill set of the people who form the village. A village that catered to a single industry such as tourism may have plenty or waiters, cooks, delivery people, law enforcement, etc but without such things as mechanics that can keep an old piece of machinery working, blacksmiths to turn scrap iron into useful things, tailors, farmers, etc. The list goes on and on and most of those skills are long gone and many of the remaining skills are actively discouraged in our modern society. It will be a long slow decline so there is hope that many of those skills will be reborn and encouraged.

Bill Pulliam said...

Interesting, I'd never really associated the demise of feudalism with the spread of firearms before. Fascinating point!

To echo everyone else's sentiments about ending on a positive note, I was refreshed by that, too (though I expected nothing otherwise). So many people, such as hollywood screenwriters, just take the rioting and banditry they see in the short-term aftermath of disasters, wars, social and economic collapses, etc. and simply extrapolate this forward indefinitely as a never-ending state of some post-apocalyptic future. But, in fact, outlaws, thieves, and pirates are living off gains snatched from a functioning economic system. Piracy in the long run can only exist to the extent that it does not actually bring the economic systems down; otherwise there would be nothing left to steal. Suppose the coastal trading ships were sacked by pirates every time they set out? None of them would bother leaving port anymore and the pirates would be out of luck. Even the Vikings eventually settled and became farmers, politicians, and the British nobility. This seems to be a key fact missed by those who envision a future of indefinite lawless banditry.

Touching back on the fate of Learyville again... As the regional economy continues adapting to new and changing circumstances, I suspect it will find a second life. There have always been roles for wilderness outposts in society, where low population densities are engaged in collecting and extracting things for trade with agricultural and urban centers. Large-scale mechanized timber cutting and tourism may be dead, and village-scale agriculture might be impractical, but not so for hunting, trapping, and collecting of specialized herbs, foods, and the other blessing of the forest. I suspect Learyville and similar places would rise again as base camps for crusty mountaineers (with beards like JMG's and mine, at least on the men), trading pelts and mushrooms for asparagus and rice.

Only vaguely related to the relocating advice for Ras... I'd not put too much stock on conventional, mainline political liberalism as being an especially good indicator of a community's flexibility and adaptability in the face of real long-term social decay and transformation. I come from mainline liberal stock, which has taught me that every branch of the political bramble can be just as dogmatic and tunnel-visioned as the others. A fur trapper might receive similar treatment in Ashland as a drag queen would here in Hohenwald (possibly worse...). I've mentioned before how pleasantly surprised I have been to see that the generally conservative, evangelical community here has been, in the long run, quite accepting over the decades to the freaks that have moved here -- so long as the freaks did not arrive with visible chips on their shoulders about "ignorant, backwards hillbilly rednecks." I suspect the same is true in most places. Indeed here in the last five years I've seen a steady growth of people actively exploring new approaches to agriculture, energy, and living; meanwhile a recent return visit to my previous abode in a liberal Colorado college town revealed primarily a massive ongoing rise of retail outlets and hideous suburban developments.

Hurricane Jim said...

I have greatly enjoyed this series. Having been in places experiencing similar meltdowns, as an eyewitness, a great deal of this rings true.

I'd like to add a couple things. The detritus of modern society will be extensive, as we see hinted at in the warehouse. Even 50yrs into the future, you will encounter items still quite serviceable, to include many high tech things as well. I have a number of old field phones, all pushing 70yrs old that are very functional.

There will be lots of room to play with this stuff, even in the envent of a full social meltdown. Even vehicles, as we saw in chapter 3 when the army belonging to whoever was on the move. DIY methane will keep many things going.

I saw this sort of thing in full force in Bosnia during the war. Completely (almost) cut off from the rest of the world, the Bosnians managed to keep a great deal of things going, to include a major power plant.

We must also remember that quite probably the future will be an economic meltdown around cheap petroleum, not an end to the material itself. It will still exist, somewhere. Someone will be extracting it and refining it, even if only in minimal quantities.

It's presence will continue to have some effect on the course of things.

Christine Lydon said...

For what its worth - here in England, historically a village always had a church, which shows the importance of religion over economic definitions, and a hamlet was a collection of houses without a church (always smaller). A large village might be indistinguishable from a town - I'm not certain of the definition of a town. A city is defined as a town with either a cathedral or a university, so a city can be smaller than a town, but this doesn't happen often.

Sam Norton said...

Really good to read that on coming back from holiday - where I had read Eugene McCarthy's 'The Road', which definitely cheered me up. Not.

Christine - a town is distinguished from a village by virtue of having a mayor, I believe.

Nigel Fogden said...

I've just happened on Adam's Story with this episode, but will trace his path back from here.

I was wondering if you are planning on going into any detail at some point on why you think Japan is going to be the source of so many refugees.

Given the country's population and obsession with technology I can understand why it might be tempting to think that they would fare poorly in a post-industrial world. Still, they have some significant advantages that N.Americans don't, including a strong tradition of small-scale farming and community networks.

Personally I would bet that Japan will weather the coming shifts surprisingly well, though I could be wrong and I'd love to hear your thinking on it.

justpeace said...

I have enjoyed your fictional depictions of the future. I hope there will be more. Is there anyplace with a link to all the threads in the stories?

John Michael Greer said...

Nigel, Japan has 120 million people living on an archipelago that might be able to support 10% of that on its own produce. When the age of fossil fuel ends, the other 90% will either have to go somewhere else, or starve. My guess is that a lot of them will come to the west coast of North America, not least because currents run that way.

Justpeace, thank you! I plan on giving the fiction a break for a little while, at least, until I get to something that's better explained through fiction than through essays. The next one may end up a lot longer and more complex -- I'm considering something of novel length -- and it will probably have its own blog, rather than taking up space on The Archdruid Report.

I don't have a single place where the stories can be found, but they're not too hard to locate -- all five episodes of "Adam's Story" are at three-week intervals, and the only other fiction I've done, a three-part series set in the Christmas holidays in 2050, 2100, and 2150 respectively, was IIRC posted in December 2006.

Paul Konasewich said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Michael Greer said...

Paul, glad you enjoyed it! As for Haruko, no doubt it helps that I've got an Issei stepmother and a lot of Japanese stepfamily. ;-)