Saturday, October 23, 2010

How (not to) to Organize a Community

Dire predictions made by authoritative figures can provide the impetus to attempt great things: establish community gardens and farmer's markets, lobby for improved public transportation, bike lanes and sidewalks, promote ride-sharing initiatives, weatherize existing homes and impose more stringent construction standards for new ones, construct of windmill farms and install solar panels on public buildings, promote the use of composting toilets and high-efficiency lighting and so on. In the midst of all this organizational activity neighbors get a chance to meet, perhaps for the first time, and discover a commonality of interests that leads them to form acquaintances and perhaps even friendships. As neighbors get to know each other, they start looking out for each other, improving safety and reducing crime. As the community becomes more tight-knit, it changes in atmosphere and appearance, becoming more fashionable and desirable, attracting better-educated and more prosperous residents while pricing out the undesirable element. News of these vast improvements spreads far and wide, and the community becomes a tourist mecca, complete with food festivals, swank boutiques and pricy bric-à-brac shops and restaurants.

The undesirable element is forced to decamp to a less desirable neighborhood nearby. There, it has no choice but to suffer with high levels of crime, but is typically afraid to ask the police for help, having learned from experience that the police are more likely to harass them then to help them, to arrest them for minor offenses and to round them up and deport them if they happen to be illegal immigrants. They also learn to be careful around members of local gangs and drug dealers. Since official jobs in the neighborhood are scarce, they seek informal, cash-based employment, contributing to an underground economy. Seeking safety in numbers, they self-organize along racial and ethnic lines, and, to promote their common interests, form ethnic mafias that strive to dominate one or more forms of illegal or semi-legal activity. Growing up in a dangerous, violent environment, their children become tough at a young age, and, those that survive, develop excellent situational awareness that allows them to steer clear of dangerous situations and to know when to resort to violence.

When the fossil fuel-based national economy shuts down due to the increasingly well understood local ramifications of the global phenomenon of Peak Oil, both of these communities are harmed, but to different extents and in different ways. Other countries may continue to function for another decade or even longer: these are the countries that have enough oil of their own, as well as those that were far-sighted enough to enter into long-term barter agreements with the few remaining oil producers that still have a surplus of oil for export. But suppose that our two communities are in an English-speaking country, which is likely to be afflicted with the irrational belief that the free market can solve all problems on its own, even problems with the availability of critical supplies such as oil. Just as one would expect, the invisible hand of the market fails to make itself visible, but it is plain to see that fuel is no longer delivered to either of these communities, although in the second one some fuel is likely to still be available on the black market, at prices that very few people can afford. Sooner or later, due to lack of supplies and maintenance at every level, electricity shuts off, water pumping stations cease to function, sewage backs up making bathrooms unusable, garbage trucks no longer collect the garbage, which piles up, breading rats, flies and cockroaches. As sanitary conditions deteriorate, diseases such as cholera, dysentery and typhoid reappear and spread. The medical system requires fuel for the ambulances and running water, electricity and oil-based pharmaceuticals and disposable supplies for the hospitals and clinics to operate. When these are no longer available, the surviving residents are left to care for each other as best they can and, when they fail, to bury their own dead. Along with the other municipal and government services, police departments cease to function. Particularly important installations are guarded by soldiers or by private security, while the population is left to fend for itself.

The effect on the two communities is markedly different. The first community is superficially better prepared, being better equipped for emergencies and perhaps even having laid in emergency supplies of food and water. But being more prosperous at the outset makes a sudden transition to squalor, destitution and chaos much more of a shock. It also makes it a much more desirable target for looters. Used to living in safety and enjoying the protection of a benign and cooperative police department, the residents are not acculturated to the idea of countering violence with violence. Their response is more likely to take the form of a fruitless policy discussion rather than a spontaneous decision to go out and prophylactically bash some heads, causing the remaining heads to think twice. Unaccustomed to operating outside the law and having few connections with the criminal underworld, they are slow to penetrate the black market, which now offers the only way to obtain many necessary items, such as food, cooking fuel and medicines, including the items that had been previously looted from their own stockpiles. Worse yet, they once again become estranged from one another: their acquaintances and friendships were formed within a peaceful, civilized, law-abiding mode of social behavior. When they are forced to turn to scavenging, outright theft and looting, prostitution, black market dealing and consorting with criminals, they can no longer recognize in each other the people they knew before, and the laboriously synthesized community again dissolves into nuclear families. Where neighbors continue to work together, their ties are likely to be weak, based on altruistic conceptions of decency, mutual benefit and on personal sympathies—a far cry from the clear do-or-die imperatives of blood ties or clan or gang allegiance.

The second community is already accustomed to hardship and, not having quite so far to fall, can take the transition to mayhem, destitution and squalor in stride. The prevalence of illegal activity prior to collapse smooths the transition to a black market economy. Already resistant to the idea of relying on police protection, the residents are relieved when the police disappear from the streets, and a great deal of unofficial and illegal activity that previously had to be conducted in secret bursts out into the open. With the police no longer stirring the pot with their invasive arrests and confiscations, local criminal gangs now find themselves operating in a more stable environment and are able to carve up the neighborhood into universally recognized zones of influence, avoiding unnecessary bloodshed. The children, who are already in the habit of roaming the streets in gangs and harassing and mugging strangers, now come to serve as the community's early warning system in case of an organized incursion. (Not that too many people would want to venture into this area in any case, given its fearsome reputation.) Lastly, the prevalence of illegal drug dealing means that it already has a trained cadre of black market dealers who, now that official commerce has collapsed, can diversify away from drugs and branch out into every other kind of commerce. Their connections with the international narcomafia, whose representatives tend to be well organized and heavily armed, may turn out to provide certain benefits, such as an enhanced ability to move people and contraband through the now highly porous national borders. If the narcomafia ties are sufficiently strong, a narcobaron may take the community under his cartel's explicit protection, founding a new aristocracy to replace the now disgraced and powerless former ruling class.

Community organizing is quite wonderful, and can provide some of us with a perfectly pleasant way to while away our remaining happy days. As a useful side effect, it can provide individuals with valuable training, but it does next to nothing to prepare the community for collapse. A safe and congenial environment for you and your children is obviously very nice, much better than trying to survive among social predators. But humanity is not immune to the laws of nature, and in nature one can usually observe that the fewer are the wolves, the lamer, fatter and more numerous are the sheep. The central problem with community organizing is that the sort of community that stands a chance post-collapse is simply unacceptable pre-collapse: it is illegal, it is uncomfortable, and it is unsafe. No reasonable person would want any part of it. Perhaps the best one can do is to gather all the unreasonable people together: the outcasts, misfits, eccentrics and sketchy characters with checkered pasts and nothing better to do. Give them the resources to provide for their own welfare and keep them entertained. Keep the operation low-key and under the radar, and put up some plausible and benign public façade, or your nascent community will be discovered, shut down and dispersed by the pre-collapse officialdom. And if through some indescribable process all of these undesirable, unreasonable people manage to amalgamate and self-organize into some sort of improvised community, then you win. Or maybe they win and you lose. Either way, you would deserve credit for attempting to do something unusual: something that might have actually worked.

There may be a few people who would be willing to tackle such an assignment. If they are serious about it, they will stay well hidden, and we will never know how many of them have succeeded, because we will only learn of their existence when they fail. As for the rest of us, who are itching to do something useful within the confines of existing legal framework and economic reality, there is just one path: the path of emergency preparation, with the added twist that the emergency in question has to be accepted as permanent. Community emergency preparation is about the only type of officially sanctioned activity that may allow us to prepare for collapse.

The first and obvious part of preparing for the permanent emergency is to construct systems that will allow some, ideally most, of the population to survive in the long run without access to transportation fuels, or to any of the technology that comes to a standstill when starved of transportation fuels. The second, equally important part involves laying in sufficient emergency supplies of food, medicine, cooking fuel, temporary shelter for displaced persons, and so on, to allow some, ideally most, of the population to survive in the short run, while the transition to non-fossil-fuel-based existence is taking place. Yet another task is to organize streamlined, military-style control structures that can step in to maintain order and to provide security.

But the most important element of preparing for the permanent emergency is to devise a plan to force through a swift and thorough change of the rules by which society operates. Under emergency conditions, the current rules, laws and regulations will amount to an essentially lethal set of unachievable mandates and unreasonable restrictions, and attempting to comply with them or to enforce them is bound to lead to an appalling spike in mortality. The current way of changing the rules involves lobbying, deliberation, legislation and litigation—time-consuming, expensive activities for which there will be neither the time nor the resources. There are no non-destructive ways to decomplexify complex systems, and while systems that have physical parts fall apart by themselves, the legal framework is a system that, even in an undead state, can perpetuate itself by enslaving minds with false expectations and hopes. By default, the procedure for those who wish to survive will be to universally ignore the old rules, but this is bound to cause mayhem and much loss of life. The best case scenario is that the old rules are consigned to oblivion quickly and decisively. The public at large will not be the major impediment to making the necessary changes. Rather, it will be the vested interests at every level—the political class, the financial elite, professional associations, property and business owners and, last but not least, the lawyers—who will try to block them at every turn. They will not release their grip on society voluntarily. There is just one institution with enough power to oppose them, and that is the US military. It would be most helpful if enough high-caliber military types with lots of stars on their epaulets could step up and lay down the new law: henceforth anyone who wants to litigate their orders will do so before a military tribunal. It is heartening to see that many of the world's militaries, the Pentagon included, have recently woken up to the reality of Peak Oil, and are taking steps to prepare for it, while our craven and feckless politicians and businessmen continue to wallow in denial. Clearly, many Americans would rather not live under military rule, but then beggars can't be choosers, and, in any case, the alternative is bound to be even worse. The United States has not been invaded since 1812, but in its short history it has managed to invade other countries over 30 times. It should not come as a surprise, then, if the United States wraps up its existence by invading itself.

When taking part in community organizing activities, if your envisioned community is to survive the transition to a non-fossil-fuel-based existence, it is important to keep in mind a vital distinction: is this community going to operate under the old rules or under the new rules. The old rules will not work, but the new ones might, depending on what they are. You might want to give the new rules some thought ahead of time, perhaps even test them out, as part of your community's permanent emergency preparation program.


Unknown said...

I take from this essay that my association with 1%er outlaw bikers may end up helping more than it already does. Now we just need to figure out how to run the Harleys on bio fuel.


what the Tee Vee taught said...

Smart, Mr. Orlov. I split my time between the two communities you describe: living in a rather jerky, yuppie, Seattle neighborhood; working in an aggrieved, black market oriented Seattle neighborhood... I find your analysis to be bang on.

The second to last paragraph was especially helpful towards expanding and structuring my thoughts... very much appreciated.

DeVaul said...

I am a little encouraged by this essay. I live in one of those not so nice neighborhhoods that has high unemployment, drunkiness, drugs, gambling and who knows what else. I am also stuck here. I cannot "bug-out", which is so in vogue among many survivalists.

I also find that the drunks who live at the end of the street are more reliable than my law-abiding neighbors. They will work for me for cash or beer. They do not look down on me (I am deaf and disabled, but not disarmed), and I do not look down on them.

I even thought of arming them and organizing them into a militia to confront the crackheads moving into the area to occupy all the abandoned houses. I don't want to be sandwiched between a gambling den and a crackhouse. My neighbor died and his home is now owned by Citibank and is worthless. It rots next door. I will loot it as soon as possible, maybe even give it to the outcasts as as home and blockhouse to command both sides of the street from the top of the hill.

My real concern is that drunks may not fare will in a firefight against crackheads. They are not very good at reloading and chambering arms and such, but there is an old saying: "Never underestimate the fury of an enraged drunk". If this is my only choice after the collapse, then I will make plans to have them move into close quarters combat immediately. Since neither drunks or crackheads have much courage, anger should win the day.

Dmitry Orlov said...

fucthefed - In a word, no. I will allow this comment because the idea of running Harleys on biofuel takes the prize for inane techno-utopian thinking. All the other Mad Max/Waterworld trolls, please keep those touchy-hands away from the keyboard.

Purple Quill (Annie) said...

Brilliant. I'm already thinking of ways to adapt this thinking to our more rural environment. There's two well-represented types out here: "gentleman farmers" and "crap collectors". They're fairly analogous to your rule-followers vs. rule-ignoring types, except out here it's not gentrified because housing prices didn't rise as much or for as long as in the city.

The property we're on has 50 years worth of farming detritus--tractors, scrap metal, lumber, etc. Although initially I saw this as an unsightly drawback, I'm beginning to see it as a blessing. Our crap collecting cohort should be well situated for trading on the Lower Columbia. I imagine the gentlemen farmers' land will be largely abandoned due inability to commute 30 miles. Thankfully, these properties tend to be in WONDERFUL condition, as these people are more fastidious about little things like having garbage service and not burning their old tires. They'll be put into food production immediately.

The biggest problem for those that stay out here will be boredom and lack of motivation, NOT starvation. The water table is high, the ground fertile, and edible flora and fauna is plentiful. This land is so rich you don't die of starvation, you die of laziness.
This will change when communities form. Community gives you something to love--or something to hate or fear, but anyway, you're no longer bored. And Community solves the motivation problem with a dual approach: "many hands make light work" and "he who does not work, does not eat."

Guy McPherson said...

Excellent analysis, as usual. But I disagree about the military's ability to impose order. Martial law seems unlikely, even if the relatively few military personnel are willing to follow orders. The 73 Army Brigade Combat Teams might be enough to control Manhattan, but that leaves a lot of the country's communities to find their own ways through the permanent emergency. Personally, I think that's a very good thing.

Anonymous said...

If you don't mind, and find it agreeable, another carpool chat with a guy who built his own windmill.

bluebird said...

Excellent reading. Unfortunately, I am unable to convince anyone what's coming. Everyone thinks I'm obsessed for gardening and stocking up on supplies. They feel that if, not when, if there's going to be a collapse, there's nothing that can be done anyway. Besides, they say, life's not worth living if you can't drive to eat at McDonalds and race gokarts. I think we'll all be dead sooner than later.

Brad K. said...


I am tempted to wonder if your "depths" of the fall to be too dramatic. And, yet, here in rural north central Oklahoma, some towns have made news by disbanding their police department.

There are numerous examples in popular literature - the Gene Hackman movie, "Quick and the Dead" being one - of a strong leader taking over. I was told in Junior High School that the most efficient form of government is the benevolent dictator; that the strength of a democratic form is the stability - due entirely to the inefficiency of a democracy. Another example that comes to mind is the Cary Grant WWII flick, "Operation Petticoat". As the base falls into chaos, the "ends justify the means" procurement strategy of the Lt. Holden declaims, "In chaos there is profit."

An additional difference between your communities, lies in selecting mates and choosing who to associate with. Those living in affluence choose a mate suited for a peaceful, prosperous home. Those denigrated by the affluent choose a mate better suited to surviving in a challenged environment.

Not only will the nice people in the nice neighborhood face the shock of collapse, they will also have to deal with changes that will make them and their mate alien to the people that were chosen, to form their family unit. The number of families formed because one has a large breast, is compliant, or has a tight butt - will have the furthest to go, to manage to survive and adapt, and also to reconcile the mate they chose, with a changed emphasis on surviving rather than social position in an affluent and non-violent way of life.

Perhaps, in gathering your afterwards' core group, you should also consider divorced women with children, whether on welfare or not. They have often already gotten used to blurring the lines. And they may already be half way to the post-industrial way of life.

hoss said...


You have a great dry wit.

Does any of this apply to someone living on a farm in Wisconsin, 100 miles from a city of more than 5000 people

eeyores enigma said...

Thanks for this post Dimi

All I have been hearing lately is focus on community, oh, and who supports local community more than the local Chamber of Commerce right? Wrong!!!!!

Draft said...

kollapsnik and others -

In the abstract I understand the sentiment behind this:

Perhaps the best one can do is to gather all the unreasonable people together: the outcasts, misfits, eccentrics and sketchy characters with checkered pasts and nothing better to do. Give them the resources to provide for their own welfare and keep them entertained....

But concretely I have no idea what that looks like. There are groups like that today, say artists collectives and nutty militias but I don't see them holding it together in the sort of collapse you describe. On the other hand, I also don't see the entire urban industrialized world being run by narco traffickers. What does your vision (or multiple possible visions) of this gathering of unreasonable people look like?

(My instinct is that it might be a group of folks with different skills, some of which aren't well suited to today's economy - say folks with the skill sets of the Amish, folks with wilderness skills, folks with knowledge of everything from soil science to garage chemistry. But what you do with that now is unclear, and it treads awfully close to a transition-towns-plus-survivalists-plus-handymen model.)

Anonymous said...

@Guy: Perhaps more so in smaller rural communities that are a fair distance away from population centers and especially because most of it will have to be done with infantry. And who's to say they won't join the black market economy themselves? We've seen in some cases that the military can also be under-equipped such as the lack of vehicle armor in Iraq.

Nebris said...

This brought to mind a comment exchange I had with John Michael Greer several months back. I raised the issue of 'post-collapse violence' and asked how he would deal with it. He essentially danced around it with the excuse of 'not wanting to bring up controversial subjects' that would 'distract' from his blog's agenda.

I will admit to being quite annoyed, though did not press the matter. Therefore I find this essay of yours rather gratifying.

DaShui said...

I read a book by a Russian law student that was drafted to fight in Chechnya. He said the Chechen population handled collapse much better than the local Russians because of their ties to clans. After the state withered away the Chechens proceeded to pick on the Russians, as the Russians did not have the clans to get revenge.

Chris R. said...

Between the Christian legions Chris Hedges writes about and your happy scenario, I'd hate to be forced to pick a side...since the military will be/has been co-opted by the former, we might as well get the cyanide now...

Joe Bloggs (a la head-fi) said...

LOL! This is another most entertaining observation of the future (prediction is too vague a word :D ) Given that the world will descend into chaos in the coming years, strengthening your criminal connections is one obvious element to survival.

I think there's a simpler way to prepare for the future, and that is to voluntarily join criminal gangs. When my son grows up, if there are still public schools, I will tell him there's no need to resist the temptation to join one of the many gangs already rampant at schools, even here in Hong Kong. Heck, let me in on the action too!

fritz said...

Military rule is much easier done than it looks. Whoever controls the fuel controls all. Once liquid fuels are short enough to limit even military movements, is it likely that martial law (aka dictatorship) is sustainable?

Examples of how this country will be ruled are rife in the colonizing history that is international relations. Might be a tad more corporate appearing than FSU has been.

If nothing else, it gives the ecology behind the economy a chance. Diamond pointed examples of the only societies to return from the brink were like tyrannies like Japan a few hundred years ago. That's probably what it'll take here too in reversing deforestation, soil damage and erosion,...

So the best we can hope for is to keep out of their way and/or be of service to those who are hopefully benevolent dictators?

Doyu Shonin said...

We're in the "country" but it is a bedroom community where, on most of the roads, few of the neighbors really know one another, and most commute to the nearby metro area in eight-cylinder behemoths.

Up the road a ways there is a town of about three hundred that's three generations of "ne'er-do-wells," all related, all eking out a poacher's living and driving around in Nissan pickups held together by duct tape.

I do expect that neighborhood to fare much better than this one, come the worst. Oh, well. I'm in my sixties, now, anyway.

Thank you, D, a much needed essay.

Jon said...

Dmitry, I like your analysis, but I wonder if this is at all new. I’ve heard it said somewhere (or maybe I made it up. It’s just as credible either way.) that Roman senators were just mafia dons with clerks instead of thugs. The entire Roman Empire was a juxtaposition between warring factions that intermittently decided not to war due to enlightened self-interest. It sounds like you are suggesting that we are headed the same way. After the unnecessary fat is trimmed from society’s middle section, that is.

As collapse progresses, assuming we don’t render the planet uninhabitable, do you see an eventual return to hunter gatherer bands see-sawing between warring and cooperating like the American natives pre Columbus? After the initial population flare off, that is. I actually think that may be hopeful. Not for me or my child, unfortunately, but for the future of the human race as a whole.


David Scott said...

Interesting essay to say the least. I must also say that your theory holds water.

I do agree that clan/tribe/gang affilation will problaly be the most likely the best way to survive as the idivdual would doomed. For me it would be my clan where family blood still means somethihing.

Jerry McManus said...

In addition to the two types of communities so crisply described above, I have been idly mulling over a third possibility, albeit one that probably has limited application under the current circumstances.

I was recently inspired by a news item reporting a somewhat quixotic attempt by a few creative individuals to recreate the living and working conditions that prevailed at the time when medieval castles were being built in Europe. Their goal? To actually build one of the said castles, but using only the tools and materials that were available at the time.

This has, of course, attracted the attention of bored tourists and other idle hands who willingly contribute some small portion of their time and labor, mostly for their own amusement, I presume, as opposed to any altruistic or forward thinking goals of post peak living.

But wait, I thought, hold on now, why not use exactly such a pretense for post peak preps?

A "simple living" tourist attraction would be more or less accepted as legitimate by the established order, filed neatly away under the heading of "oh, look, isn't that cute". Meanwhile, right under everyones noses, serious re-skilling and critical low energy infrastructure is being built. Who knows, it might even turn a profit, at least for as long as there are still bored tourists waffling around. At the very least it would probably attract donations from a few culturally minded folks who might still have a few piles of monopoly money laying about.

Need it be a castle? No, not at all. It could be something akin to an Amish farm, or even a Native American village, let your imagination run wild.

However, that being said, it can hardly be understated that for many centuries before this one people generally found great utility in having some large stone walls to duck behind when the thugs and other bandits came calling.


Doyu Shonin said...

It may come down to are we on the truck or off the truck.

Personally, I think Mr. Greer is well aware of this but tries to keep a lid on survivalist chest-thumping in his comment sections so as to stay focused on productive strategies -- at least for now.

Us? We grow potatoes and keep our grown-up kids supplied with sage advice and a spare bedroom at "home."

Kraig Grady said...

this comment
'becoming more fashionable and desirable, attracting better-educated and more prosperous residents while pricing out the undesirable element.'
I have lived in those neighborhoods where the "undesirable have been priced out" Horrible places to live where conformity to idiotic triffles are mandatory.
What normally gets priced out are the very things that make up culture. Whole communities are often started by artist who turn them into something then they get forced out. They are often well educated but may not be prosperous in the way those working for the military are or any of the other useless occupations that do not benefit anyone .
A vision for the future that cannot look beyond robotic survival lacks humanity.

Peter said...

I am currently reading Morris
Berman's "Twilight of American Culture" in which he makes the case for a 'new monastic approach' to preserving what we can of humanity's achievements and knowledge. This column is a useful companion; as much as the preservation will be needed, navigating the first generation of collapse will be problematic; so much useful preparation could be done now, if just getting by wasn't so damned time-consuming!

John Andersen said...

We live surrounded by "it's all good" white collar corporate climbers who are in complete denial of collapse.

Not far away we have a community of Hispanic agricultural workers.

I'm thinking having friends among the Hispanics who are infinitely better acquainted with what it takes to daily put food on the table, will be infinitely better than a pseudo community composed of tassel loafer wearing corporate climbers with precious few skills beyond preparing PowerPoint presentations and shopping at big box stores.

In any case, I think Orlov's message is to gravitate away from the fakey-fakey people, and instead surround oneself with people who can be described as the salt of the earth.

Sean Strange said...

I would like to offer an alternative model for people who feel a strong need for support in the face of our uncertain future, but who find the existing alternatives unsatisfactory. I call it the “Temple of Doom”, “Order of the Golden Toad” or “Olduvai Brotherhood”.

My vision is not so much a community as a monastic order that would attract the full spectrum of doomer types: survivalists, peakniks, End-Timers, eco-radicals, sustainability buffs, anarcho-primitivists, druids, mystics and other assorted misfits of the modern world. The Temple would be a place where would-be Green Warriors, Eco-Ninjas, Shamans, Guerrilla Gardeners and Doomer monks could receive rigorous practical and spiritual training. The al Qaeda model comes to mind, as do the Shaolin warrior-monks, Jedi Knights and Japanese Yamabushi, but with a green, “liberal” bent more appropriate to members of modern Western civilization. The goals of the Order would include:

1) Training members to survive collapse, die-off and any kind of natural or man-made catastrophe.
2) Preserving knowledge and skills that are useful in all times and places
3) Providing models of more sustainable, long-term ways of living
4) Helping initiates explore their spiritual, practical and intellectual potential
4) Providing spiritual guidance as we enter the “long descent”.

I will be blogging more about this idea shortly at if anyone is interested.

Peter said...

Many here are probably already familiar with Jay Hanson's exhaustive research into the "predicament of the species". As bleak and depressing as the picture Dmitry paints here is, it would surely be worth the effort Jay outlines in his "America 2.0" proposal, as unlikely as it is to be seriously considered. See for his ideas. Provocative, to say the least.

snuffy said...

I am always amazed at your ability to communicate complex socio-economic
ideas with a wonderful mix of dry,and grim humor.
None of the 5 copies of your book I passed out came back,you were a hit with many who I have tried to enlighten.
This essay hit it out of the park.The gist of which could be summed up as in the"Count of Monti-Cristo"... It is a good thing to have friends in low places..

The nearest community to me aside from Portland Ore[the city] [15 mile]is a logging community that is full of those eclectic sort who are at the edge or society at the best of times Estacada Ore.Next to a huge wilderness area,with a hydro electric dam in the middle of town,the town is filled with a whole lot of folks scraping by with little money, and already seeing up close and personal "The Greater Depression"It is one of the towns in transition now due to fate and a long history of being on the edge.I have made some good friends there,and expect things to go there the way you have described...

Bee good,or
Bee careful


Justin said...

The point is the poor don't have as far to fall. The rich will stay rich, the poor won't far that far, and the middle classes are the ones going to take it up the pooper.

If you are not lucky enough to already be in a rich mafia family, you are pretty much screwed. If you are a poor criminal, you are already screwed. It's really that simple. By law of averages, a few of the middle classes will be in the right place and time enough to succeed, but most of us will fail.

I'm nearly screwed already and don't have much hope for financial gain before collapse comes, so I'm honing my fighting and gardening skills. I'll try to stay flexible and as clean as I can, but I'm preparing for the worst.

Kyddyl said...

The reference to the War of 1812 is very apt. Various American social systems collapsed, and Washington DC burned, as it may again. Matters were not so either/or as they are in comments here. American and Canadian society re-evolved from the bottom up, with the clear losers being the Native peoples and various sectors of the elites again surfacing on the more or less top layers. Such is human nature. It has happened thousands of times and will happen again. I would recommend the study of the seldom studied War of 1812 with an eye to the social restructuring then and pay less attention to the Hollywood versions of ego centric apocyalyptic American thinking now. Perhaps a second look at the brief Spanish American War might be in order, but from the perspective of the Spanish.

Earth Bound said...

Why would you say that "black" markets will take over from "supermarkets"? Are there examples where black markets took over when there was no government price fixing? If the government doesn't declare a $10 price ceiling on a gallon of gas, why would it be sold in jerry cans on black market for $30 when it could continue to be sold at gas stations for $30?

Unknown said...

In the first days of the seige of Sarajevo the only defenders, almost, wre the hardened criminals " who had the weapons and guts to use it".

bluebird said...

@Earth Bound - Eventually, there is not going to be grocery stores, nor gas stations, nor banks, nor malls. Probably see the beginnings during my lifetime and devolving such that my toddler grandbabies will be living as life was during the 1930s, or maybe 'Little House on the Prairie', that is if they survive.

DeVaul said...

To Earth Bound,

The answer to your question is this: the price may be only ten bucks, but what does that mean if the pumps are empty?

Also, those working the pumps will soon figure out that they can steal the gasoline from the store and sell it on the black market for much, much more.

This was how my wife's family survived in Thailand. Her father drove a bus for the military. When no one was looking, he siphoned off diesal and then sold it for a profit to truckers who needed fuel but could not afford it. My wife, only maybe nine years old, served as a look-out.

Do not count on the government or any stores being there when you need them the most. They will not be there. The people sitting in lawn chairs outside the Superdome discovered that the hard way.

Anonymous said...

The title image of your post is an awesome crazy artistic Japanese creation!

PS. The Japanese know a lot about urban density and how to survive in a simple way. They survived two nuclear bombs, which says something for sure.

Earth Bound said...

What I am saying is that the concept of "black market" comes from countries that tried to regulate prices in "organized market", like Thailand in DeVaul's example, or USSR in Dmitry's case. US generally has free product markets, so in the terms of those countries, US markets are already "black".

This may change if rising gas price prompt political pressures to regulate them, but even when oil was above $100/barrel instead of trying supress the price to appease the voters, GWBush was buying oild for the Strategic Reserve, exacerbating the price spike. So I doubt it will happen in the US.

Another thing is if the value of oil becomes too high to make existing distribution infrastructure obsolete (eg if you need two armed Humvees to escort a fuel truck delivering gas to stations). It may yet happen, but it's probably not yet a scenario that you should treat as your central case, probabilistically.

Anonymous said...

@EarthBound, Subverting regulation of prices is just part of a black market. Kollapsnik is emphasizing other things here: immense scarcity of critical things means that none of the old was of getting them work. Real things are now too valuable to exchange for green pictures of Abe Lincoln or Ben Franklin. In a real crisis, even if some gas does make it to a gas station, it will be stolen by people willing to seize opportunities as they appear, and to hell with legal quibbles. It's gonna be a lot more important whom you know than what college you went to. (Kollapsnik, I particularly liked your snippy dismissal of how Anglophones worship in the church of the free market. )

SocialBlunder said...

Why would currently poor, violent and criminal neighborhoods adjust better to post peak oil than neighborhoods/organizations specifically designed to address post peak oil problems? Perhaps I am terribly naïve, but if transportation is restricted by access to fuel, why would anyone bring fuel into a violent and criminal area? If PVC areas can’t extend their influence without access to fuel it seems more likely that their neighborhoods would implode or serve as members of mobs under control of political leaders as in ancient Rome, the French Revolution or many modern autocratic states.

Assuming that all well-to-do neighborhoods are flabby bourgeois that will wilt under the assault of violent uneducated gangs ignores the increasing presence of ex-military, police and intelligence officers in the well-to-do neighborhoods. These men and women already have proven their ability to perform directed violence, repression and spycraft for the state – why wouldn’t they put their abilities to work to protect their own neighborhoods? Not only would they protect their own property and family, but also the property of the doctors and dentists who live near them.

forrest said...

but it seems to me that the US military is already implicated up to here in the political system, via connections to defense 'industry' corporations and political leaders involved in 1) budgeting and 2) setting up occupational opportunities aka wars.

So I'm not sure we could expect them to be significantly better than drug lords as a replacement aristocracy...

Since our govt's increasing subjection to both "sides" of the "War on Drugs" ever since the War on Vietnam (which I understand pretty much was being waged "on drugs" toward the end) there may not even be much difference. Much of our 'civilian', 'respectable' investment activity was probably being funded with money earned in the smuggling trades. I was attributing (rightly or wrongly) the increasing degree of corruption and short-sightedness in the US economy to that influence...

We may be a whole hellova lot better off if the military doesn't decide to take on a mission of imposing "order". Past precedents, from Sulla on, have not led to long-term good...

DeVaul said...

To SocialBlunder,

Regarding this:

"the increasing presence of ex-military, police and intelligence officers in the well-to-do neighborhoods"

This assumes that these types will find a way to make it back from Afghanistan, Iraq, Guam, Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabi, Germany, and a whole host of other nations they are currently deployed in.

The only ex-military men in my neighborhood are those without legs or arms, usually in wheelchairs or bedridden. As for the police, the horses can no longer carry them, so two-wheeled electric carts were bought to scoot them around. Firemen all wear XXXL now, or two suits sewn together.

The drunks on the other hand, can go a day or more without food, can walk great distances collecting cans and digging in garbage cans, and usually go without healthcare.

It is the same as the former USSR. Those who are used to hardship will not feel all that much shock or trauma when the collpase comes. They will probably still look for cans, or maybe venture into people's houses, as they are doing every night now here with increasing regularity. The elderly and their drug supplies are the primary targets now, but later...

Phlogiston Água de Beber said...


Naive seems hardly adequate to describe your understanding of the heroes you expect will defend you. Their role is not to defend you now and will not be any more so after TEOTWAWKI. In fact way too many have become comfortable with murdering civilians. I for one, will not presume that they are any less dangerous to me than the most artfully prison-tatooed ex-con.

Case in point: I mostly appear to be a reasonably well off middle-class kind of guy. I was once introduced to Sonny Barger in a seedy mountain town bar. I admit to experiencing a little apprehension. Nothing like the evening two law dogs pulled me over in Seaside, California for a traffic violation though. That encounter came a little too close to being fatal. And that was before most LEO went paramilitary and paranoid on us.

Matthew Mitchell said...

While I love this scenario it seems to me very american centric. In Australia, the driest continent in the world, with the worst soilds, right back to the Aborginies rural people have only ever survived by helping each other out. The culture here is entirely different from the US's "look after no. one". People are used to helping each other out, and law enforcement in these areas is really inadequate, but is not needed as the strengths and relationships in the communities is enough to ensure order. True these communities will struggle as city people flock in, but if this happens soon, before our culture (which predominantly in the suburbs is like the rural, but the ethos of "help out a mate - even if you never met him before" is fading fast) becomes to Americanised and individualised. (Note: I have nothing against Americans, but their national culture seems sick and inhuman).

In any case, in the US scenario, I disagree that one should mix with criminals (although they should not be deliberately avoided)- rather mix with people you can trust and rely on - regardless of skills. I doubt the crims have any better skills in the areas that really matter (food productions etc). Also, rather than fight to retain your possessions, just give them away. They will be mostly useless anyway, it will help you adjust to the new reality of having less, and it might save your life.

Phlogiston Água de Beber said...


Yes, sick and inhuman does come pretty close to describing our culture. I think that's just the way imperial powers usually are.

I quite agree that a place where you are surrounded by people you know and trust, or at least understand their tendencies, is the best place to be. I'm lucky enough to be in such a place. The problem the average American suburbanite has, is that they know almost nothing about the people who live on their street.

The ghetto dweller may live in constant fear of some of the people on their street, but I'll bet they know who they are and what they do.

I don't know if Dmitry is actually advising suburbanites to go looking for criminals to cozy up to, but it does seem a bit risky. I took his meaning to be that Darwinian Selection, as understood by Americans, will likely favor the survival of those most experienced in surviving in a harsh unsafe environment.

Softer, more coddled people may stand a good chance if they do band together and help each other. They will, however, face a much larger and wrenching change in their living conditions. The resulting emotional disturbance may prove a big hindrance to maintaining a cooperative attitude.

Larkin said...

Dear Kollapsnik,
Your last piece was stunning in its pragmatic assessment of genuine human nature in the face of devastating and sudden privation. You bring into sharp focus what would really happen in a crisis of total collapse and it is sobering to say the least.
Americans mislead themselves into believing that we are a fair society and that we are all in this together and yet we support the largest prison system in the world issuing draconian punishments often along racial lines. We support the growing concept of virtual banishment and institutional discrimination.
The unspoken word held by many is that there is "us" and there is "them". The good law abiding people that are democratic, moral, home owning, college educated and worthy.
Then there are all the others. Welfare cheats, sex offenders, criminals, single parents and deviants from the norm. They consist of deadbeats, drug dealers and runaways. All of them are considered beyond redemption. There is a harden lack of compassion where the concept of zero tolerance is most often leveled at the inexperienced youth.
Curiously, not included in this bunch of law breakers are the ones on Wall Street who are participating in the biggest feeding frenzy in history of civilization. As they sell off manufacturing assets, rob people of their homes, avoid taxes and bank abroad. They are shielded by the rule of law. Laws that they have constructed themselves for their own benefit put in place by our elected officials.
They will soon depart leaving behind collection agencies and gambling casinos to vacuum up the rest.
All of this sets the stage for your harrowing predictions. Nothing left to prey on except each other.

SocialBlunder said...

Devaul: Deployments generally last less than 12 months. With a less than 1% casualty rate in recent wars, the only neighborhoods populated with limbless vets might be next to a VA hospital or (more likely) imaginary.

I.M. Nobody: You are absolutely right I do not necessarily expect them to defend me personally, but I do expect that a neighborhood seeded with ex-military, LEO or intelligence officers would be easily capable of defending itself against criminals. Call me crazy, but I would also expect more adherence to rule of law in those neighborhoods than ones like those ruled by criminals south of the border that are currently making news.

Anonymous said...

Very astute.

I lived off the grid for a few years, promoting bands in a rock venue near Oxford, England. We ran everything off a large generator around the back. We lived week to week, never quite sure if we would have enough to put diesel in the generator for the next concert. We always managed to acquire what we needed, though. Every night the generator would be switched off to save fuel and those of us who lived there would finish our drinks by the fireplace – or in it. Those twelfth century coaching inns have fireplaces that you can sit either side of for warmth, or even fall asleep in.

The place was full of salt-of-the-earth types. There was rarely any trouble and if it erupted, it was handled quietly and quickly. More than one ugly drunk ended up under blankets in the recovery position, out cold and no harm to anyone, even himself.

I visited the place again last June, almost 20 years since I was there. It hasn’t changed much. The same types of people are there, in fact, some of the same people. They are survivors. They do what is necessary to get by and the rules be damned. If I were still in the UK in a crash, that’s one place I would want to be.