My theory has always been, that if we are to dream, the flatteries of hope are as cheap, and pleasanter, than the gloom of despair.
Dystopian novels routinely predict bleak post-collapse worlds. Whether it is 1984’s fascist nightmare, Cormac McCarthy’s cannibalistic wasteland in The Road, or the uber-competititve world of the Hunger Games, the future is so dark we won’t have to wear shades.
Such depressing scenarios resonate because they fit our own pessimism.
Of course, throughout human history, societies have collapsed. Ours will be no different. However, history also teaches that not all collapses are catastrophes.
First, humans are social creatures. More specifically, we are creatures uniquely unsuited for solitary survival. Buddha calls this reality “dependent arising.” We fail alone. However, linked by our talents, our needs, our interests, and our affections, we survive and thrive.
The nineteenth century Russian agrarian-anarchist Peter Kropotkin argued that Darwin’s evolutionary theory had overemphasized competition. Kropotikin correctly pointed out that for all creatures cooperation is as important to survival as conflict. Naturalists have repeatedly confirmed Kropotikin’s assertion.
Thus, when one society collapses another will inevitably rise.
Second, our current society is unsustainable. We waste finite resources. We allow too few to have too much and too many to have too little. We routinely poison our planet for fast profits. Our mindsets, ossified around assumptions debatable in the Enlightenment, are now preposterous. The result is a suicidal, uncreative society.
Consequently, a post-collapse world might positively alter human society.
Collapses tend toward smaller, more localized communities. Previously-static hierarchies crumble. Egalitarianism re-emerges. Fewer nonrenewable resources are used because the system that demanded them and distributed them is gone. Money becomes what it has always been, paper and soft metals.
Human society still exists but on a simpler scale. For example, people with skills barter with other skilled people. Apiarists trade honey for orchardists’ fruit. Cobblers trade their shoes for dairy farmers’ milk. People re-learn traditional skills that suddenly have resonance. Wortcunnen, for example, are suddenly in demand. Blacksmiths are once again wizards.
Of course, as any failed state illustrates, societal collapse causes pain. Pharmaceuticals disappear; entertainment is self-performed; criminal court systems are nonexistent. A thousand conveniences…toothpaste, strawberries in the winter, pothole repairs…are gone.
Yet these human costs are somewhat irrelevant. Unsustainable societies such as ours collapse. And increasingly draconian attempts to forestall collapse delay and intensify suffering. Consider climate change. Continuing our current trends consigns future generations tofewer resources and bleaker choices.
Thus, like the Old Testament’s apocryphal Noah, we must build our arks before the deluge. We must preserve and nurture what future generations will need, not what our current generation wants.
A Zen pledge asks individuals to practice
Infinite gratitude to all things past,
Infinite service to all things present,
Infinite responsibility to all things future.
Keeping alive important skills for the future? That is a noble “service” we can all do NOW.
May we each create our own Ridges as BRidges to a more grateful, giving, and responsible future.