Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Mine, yours, and ours

Recently finished reading a post industrial civilization collapse novel. It was ok, pretty typical story arc, but it did get me to revisit the whole personal possession versus communal possession balance that all civilizations try to figure out.

We have generated many words describing the tragedy of the commons, the power of private property to motivate hard work and creation of wealth, and other aspects of how humans derive their livelihood, but one observation I'm mulling over is the fact that it may be more a case of the situation decides the best balance, and there is not as much choice in each culture than we might think.

Since we just happen to be living during a once in a planetary history event, it is really hard to keep perspective about what "normal" might mean in the long haul. The rugged individualism archetype of American culture may blind us to other possibilities that would be better suited to the predicted future.

When you think about it, the whole idea having a choice in creating a system with equitable opportunity, of a chance at a comfortable life, or picking a fulfilling career, is really only afforded to us because of the respite from hard daily toil to feed ourselves provided by fossil fuels. The proportion of our populace that is not working on the direct production of food and shelter is anomalously high because of the productivity multiplier that fossil fuels provide.

I think it is no coincidence that much of the progressive, or liberal change in the last ~200 years is majorly based on the fossil fuel energy we've tapped. All the newly available ability to do work helped end the (official, government sanctioned) era of slavery, and created so much wealth that there was enough to share with a greater portion of society. It also freed up many human resources to stop growing food and focus on inventing, innovating, researching, and otherwise leveraging the resources we have extracted. ( It also creates image consultants, assistant assistants to the undersecretary of diversity, and myriad other tertiary and quaternary roles to keep a complex, wealthy economy rolling).

It's a bit more complicated than that, and I've read many essays covering various aspects of the ascent of "Western" phenomenon, but I think the norms around personal property, shared commons, cooperative group behavior will all change as we descend the energy curve, not so much from considered choice, but by survival forces.

I'll once more share my observation of the nearby Amish community, where collective effort for large tasks, the balance of personal and community responsibility is much different than the rest of us. Amish do not pay in to Social Security, because they take care of their own aged and infirm.

They pay most other taxes, but do not participate in insurance, as they have internal means to share risk.

They are the rare ( possibly unique?) case where the personal/community balance has been intentionally chosen in spite of the conveniences afforded by cheap energy driven technology.

In a low energy future, will we all become a bit more Amish?