The great migration

por la abuela

Rudolf-Mates-1929 wasn’t supposed to be like this—we all expected so much more of everything. When everything has always gotten bigger, better, and faster ever since we could remember, or our fathers’ fathers could remember, then we expected things to keep getting bigger, better, and faster, because that expectation had been baked into not only our own perceptions about how the world works, but also our culture. It was our expectations that led to our downfall, as we never imagined anything different.

The last twenty years have been a time of amazing change, with mass migrations and huge economic changes. The oil shock after the war in the Middle East was just that—a shock. The cost of gas went to $10/gallon overnight, and the economy crashed, and rationing created great changes in how we live. People who had long work commutes had to either quit or move or start commuting by bike. That was when the mass migrations started. The cost of air travel quadrupled almost overnight, and everyone except the very wealthy stopped flying. The good news was that the obesity problem in this country went away almost overnight. People just left their houses, and moved to places where they had family or a place to live. All of that moving around stressed the smaller places, which then had way too many people to support. That mass migration also made a mess of the mortgage business of America, and was the beginning of the end for Wall Street.

Well, things kept getting bigger for a while, and a little faster, but they didn’t get better. People started to pull back in on themselves, and to shelter within their extended families. The biggest cities started to empty out, one by one, as disasters damaged infrastructure and shook peoples’ confidence about the sustainability of ultra-dense living with less energy support. In the former United States, New Orleans was first, with hurricane damage. It never regained its former vibrancy. New York was second, first with a symbolic attack on the World Trade Centers, and then that hurricane, and then with expanding power outages and the grid got shaky. As people left, the ability to support the city’s infrastructure and keep the lights on got hollowed out, and the exodus accelerated. Los Angeles was next, as the radiation scare from Fukushima finally filtered through to the mainstream understanding, coupled with that really big earthquake. A lot of people left then, and crime went way up. People are still leaving to go back to their families in towns and smaller cities.

The energy shortage showed up in the economy, as poverty, hunger, debt, bankruptcy, and diminished circumstances. Many people never figured out what the cause was, and blamed it on whatever useful scapegoat they could conveniently fasten on.

Then we had the Great Exodus from the Northeast after Oyster Creek. The meltdown and nuclear explosions caused a chain reaction, as one power failure led to another, which led to another. One hundred minutes was all it took, and in the chaos, the military couldn’t keep the power running at all the plants, after the workers fled. That was a crazy time, as people panicked, and martial law was imposed. All of those people living in camps, and only fools and old people remaining in the big cities of the northeast, living off of the residues of 20th century society. What were we thinking, to be running a bunch of 50-year-old, antique nuclear power plants at full capacity, with overstuffed spent fuel pools? One hundred minutes was all it took to lay waste to the entire northeast quadrant of the country, and a good part of the Atlantic Ocean. We spent the entire 20th century accumulating uranium out of the ground, and one lapse in the grid caused a dispersal. Energy concentrates materials, and once that energy is gone, it begins to disperse back to its origins. We were fools.

That was it for DC. The self-interested politicos suffered just enough fallout from the northeast that they left in droves. At that point, the central government just fell apart. Although it moved to its backup place in Nebraska, its authority was gone, especially after what happened in the Northeast. That was when the government fell and the regional governments arose. That has been an interesting process to watch.  The regional governments are still talking about “cleaning up” the Northeast and reoccupying it, but that’s a joke. Everyone knows you can’t clean this stuff up—all you can do is try to avoid it.

The Great Exodus also put paid to New York, beginning with Wall Street. The stock market collapsed, and the derivatives collapsed as the housing stock got devalued, and after the mass banker suicides, the rest fled to places like Paraguay, Australia, and New Zealand. Good riddance, I say. That was when the dollar and other currencies fell apart. Now we barter in real goods, and the local currency is based on solar units, which makes a lot more sense. We make decisions that are good for our biosphere, and good for our community, instead of what’s good for Wall Street.

The Great Exodus also finished off the global food system. After that, no one trusted food from outside their communities, and everyone started growing their own, in places that they felt were safe. Clean, fertile soil and clean water are now the most valuable things on the planet. We cut lots of trees down to heat houses, so trees have become very valuable, especially food trees. And lots more people are vegan, since carnivores high on the food chain retain isotopes.

After the Great Exodus came the global plague of 2019, which may have started from an avian flu virus in China. The weakened immune systems of Americans never stood a chance. Bad, inadequate food, poverty, poor hygiene as sanitation failed, and increasing isotope loads in the food chain weakened us, and all it took was one bad bug. Our vaunted health care system in the US collapsed immediately, since the system was only designed for just-in-time, efficient, high-tech rescue within a very healthy population. Hospital beds and medical care were already maxed out before the plague, so when the plague hit, people were on their own.

The universities mostly shrank to one-third their size in the course of two years, and a lot of information was just lost, in an instant, as most libraries had all of their collections switched over to digital at that point. Their focus has shifted, too, from high-tech stuff to agroecology and environmental systems. We’ve got a lot more farmers to educate these days. University tuition shrank back, and a lot of specialty programs closed. Administration shrank, and college football also shrank to a fraction of its original size.

Books have become really valuable, now, as printing has gotten so expensive. Community libraries won’t even allow you to take books home anymore! Some universities still have intranets, but they are a lot less useful, since the internet has shrunk to about a twentieth of its original size and scope.  That was quite the shock for people, too, realizing that everything in the economy was hooked to the internet, and that nothing worked without it. Our information system developed big holes, and the religions re-ordered themselves to fill the holes in science, since nature abhors a vacuum, and that includes cultural vacuum. Our religions really changed radically during this period.

Our entire culture changed, including our values and how we relate to each other.  I used to be a Catholic, but the old religions just didn’t seem to fit anymore. All that talk about dominion over nature and going forth and multiplying, and value systems ruled by corrupt priests is gone. It’s interesting—a lot of those people who couldn’t make the shift, or get in touch with their feelings about all of this just drank themselves to death or committed some other form of self-mutilation. Those that were left quickly formed other value systems. Wicca came back, as well as the old Druid faith and other forms of new sun worship, and other faiths based on nature, that include women’s voices.

Everything has gotten patchy, and while some local economies still work, others are under martial law. The war over Alaska was interesting—we finally sold it back to Russia in the agreement, and the Russians and Chinese are mining the heck out of it, with the few Native Peoples left there. Depleted uranium is a problem there now, too. Hawaii’s population is a lot smaller, too, with a return to traditional culture. Those who could leave sketchy places did, and those who couldn’t, didn’t. Living in polluted places turned out to be the biggest problem of the 21st century, that has dominated the lives of those of us who are left.

It’s amazing to me about how our worries changed over the course of a short decade. All that worry about the climate just disappeared, as the oil and technology went. Instead we worry now about clean food, clean water, and good health of our families and our community. We have lost so much, and grieved for so many, but we have also gained so much richness in our lives as a result of all of this. We lead simpler lives, and have simpler worries and joys that are closer to home. Me personally, I am glad to be alive, and I feel much more alive today than I did in the 20th century. And I am grateful for my one healthy grandbaby, since fertility is such an issue now. Every day is a gift, and I have lived longer than most other humans in history, and I have seen some amazing things. I am grateful for my little one-acre plot, and for clean, abundant water, and for the ability to grow some veggies. I have my family around me, and my community, and I have more time to think, and to feel, and to be present. I am healthier and wealthier than I was in the 20th century, in so many ways, even after everything that has happened. But things would have been so much easier for my children if we had done something about the nuclear plants.

“We’re just starting, in the last ten years here, to begin to make songs that will speak for plants, mountains, animals and children. When you see your first deer of the day you sing your salute to the deer, or your fi rst red-wing blackbird–I saw one this morning! Such poetries will be created by us as we reinhabit this land with people who know they belong to it; for whom “primitive” is not a word that means past, but primary, and future. They will be created as we learn to see, region by region, how we live speci ally (plant life!) in each place. Such poetries will be created by us as we reinhabit this land with people who know they belong to it . . . The poems will leap out past the automobiles and TV sets of today into the vastness of the Milky Way (visible only when the electricity is turned down . . . These poesies to come will help us learn to be people of knowledge in this universe in community with other people—non-humans included—brothers and sisters” (Gary Snyder, The politics of ethnopoetics, 1975).

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Header: René Magritte, 1928, The False Mirror, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.

Do humans create their environment and world, or are we merely the ones created?  It is this simple question that makes Magritte’s “False Mirror” so tantalizing.  Peering so close into or at an eye induces a sense of wonder and awe. A common proverb is suggested and indeed questioned with this piece: “Eyes are the windows to the soul.”  But in this case, the eye is not connected to a body. The eye does not have a face or head to make it distinguishable and the property of someone.  Magritte’s eye takes on a universal role serving as the eye of humanity, and the representation of all humans.  By looking into this eye, essentially, we are trying to understand our own existence in the world. (Zach’s Weblog)