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Dual Purpose Living

Dual Purpose Living

On my last post, a reader commented about what kind of lifestyle changes he and his wife should be making in order to prepare for where our civilization is headed. I think this is a sentiment which is shared by a large number of readers. Many of us are locked into the debt-and-consumption society, for quite a large number of reasons. We may have tried to go down the path of "success," only to be saddled with large student loans and an increasingly bleak employment outlook. We might have family members we are caring for, or be tied to a job which we cannot find elsewhere. It breaks my heart to hear people who feel this way, because there is the grinding pressure one on hand of knowing something is substantially wrong with the "big picture," yet they feel helpless to do anything about it on the other hand. However, in spite of what we are thinking and feeling at the moment, there is some reason not to despair.

The first thing that we have to keep in mind is that collapse does not generally happen overnight. Barring extraordinary circumstances, we're not going to go from eating dinner from the fridge one day to roasting rats over a 55-gallon drum the next. In many respects, we have been in decline since 1970, both the last time that the real wages of workers rose and America hit peak oil production. Everything since then has basically been a Federal Reserve-backed Ponzi scheme, real estate fraud, or finding newer and stupider ways to piss away the accumulated wealth of civilization. For many people, life since 2008 has been living in a state of individual collapse. Look around, take a drive through most small towns, or formerly busy shopping areas. What's left? Maybe a couple of knick-knack stores or something. Mostly, you'll see real estate signs up all over the place. On a macro-scale, population growth rates are getting ready to tank. People can't afford to feed a large family, or a family at all, in most cases.

My point here is that we are not looking at a situation where we're thrown into icy water and expected to swim. Even if the currency crashed overnight, there would still be enough largesse thrown at the cities to make them last for a while. For that matter, the argument that the only place to make it through collapse will be in the country probably needs to be called into question, but that's a story for a different day. Instead, just as people adapt to "having less is the new normal," we need to adapt to "thinking different about how to do things," and this adaption is where we really need to be with ourselves. Consider that the "American dream" even as recently as a decade ago consisted of a 3 bed, 2 bath house on a 1/4 ace of ground, couple of cars, steady office job, and a trip to Disney every few years. How many people still really have that expectation in mind? Some, but we're also seeing this generation increasingly become one that stays with their immediate family, something that was a relatively normal state of affairs for most of human history.

More specifically, we can begin to adapt in a number of sensible ways, not all of which involve an immediate and drastic lifestyle change. The first step is mental, like with anything else -- do we understand where we are at in life and society? Do we know how we relate to others? Are there friendships and relationships we can build or repair? This is not to suggest that we seek out people to "use" -- on the contrary, we have to encourage and expect a "give and take" between people. Thinking outside the box here is helpful, too. I remember an extreme example of a discussion I had with a person who suggested that if the dollar collapsed, all economic activity would grind to a halt. Maybe on a continental, macro-based level, but people on a local level would find ways to adapt and either barter or develop a new means of exchange.

The second thing is to begin actually try learning and practicing skills. In many cases, things are a matter of scale -- if you can raise a small herb garden, then you're already learning the basics of food production. If you make some beer in a bucket, you're learning a lot about brewing. Ditto for almost everything. I've dabbled in quite a few things, and there are some things I do well, others not so well, but it still gives me a context to work with. This will be the most important thing, the ability to adapt to different needs. If we can't find someone to do it, or afford it, we have to do it ourselves. In terms of skill building, and crafting, there are plenty of people who are willing to pass along their experience and knowledge, too. Take a notebook, and listen. Or you may be able to find people who will let you do some hands-on help if you seem particularly interested and sincere. I once got a lesson in the basics of playing a hammered dulcimer after expressing some genuine interest and appreciate of the musician's work (I've like hammered dulcimer music for a long time).

Third, we need to look at dual-purposing our lives and interests. Are golf or video games going to be a big activity down the road? Probably not. Ditto for "antiquing" or scrapbooking or collecting worthless figurines or something. If we have a choice between getting a job in the city, or someplace where can get a little land, which should we pick? If we're buying a car, do we pick one that is "luxury" or one that is more easily maintained and can be used to travel on our increasingly poor road network? Are our leisure activities something we could eventually use to begin to make a living in a post-collapse economy? I've explored brewing and winemaking for this reason, along with teaching unarmed self-defense, blacksmithing, and some other odds-and-ends, all to have something to fall back on if need be. Don't overlook music and entertainment, and other arts, too. Acoustic music will probably come back into demand at some point, as the means to listen to digital music becomes increasingly rare (we all have an MP3/4 player these days, but the batteries in those don't last forever, even assuming we will still be able to get regular electricity to charge them). Become a "nerd," too -- because we are going to be able to do less and less of macro-scale science and engineering, it doesn't mean that we will be doing less of it on a micro-scale. Knowing some science, like chemistry and physics, as well as some math, will go a long way toward validating certain approaches. After all, physical survival and life itself is just a numbers game with energy input vs. energy output.

The temptation to feel overwhelmed, and to feel a great deal of pressure, when it comes to changing our lifestyles, is understandable. We know that the current model is unworkable and is going to hit a brick wall sooner or later. We don't want to be on the bus when that happens. On the other hand, the sooner we begin to decouple, even in small ways, from the "mainstream" lifestyle, we will begin to feel a greater sense of reward for our efforts, as well as being able to increasingly get a sense of what we need to do and where we need to go.