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By TheophileEscargot (Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 07:57:36 AM EST) (all tags)
The myth of the Cleansing Apocalypse. Web. Me.

Poll: most likely to do well after the apocalypse?



The myth of the Cleansing Apocalypse
There's a certain narrative, that seems to have moved beyond the scope of libertarian-flavoured SF into the popular imagination, of a kind of Cleansing Apocalypse. The story goes that a great environmental or economic disaster sweeps the nation; the government collapses; but small groups of rugged rural survivors stay alive to sow the seeds of a new and better society. It's a compelling mixture of dystopian warning and Arcadian fantasy. Proponents advise that the best way to survive is to own rural property; to learn how to hunt, farm and survive independently; and be prepared to defend yourself against wandering Mad Max-style human predators.

I think the problem is it depends on a certain assumption: that disaster will cause the collapse of the State, which isn't really borne out by experience.

In his history Stalingrad, Antony Beevor reports of a scene where after the Soviet breakout, a German general is captured in a cellar by the Russians. "Where are your men?" demand the captors. Wearily, the general points to the handful of soldiers around him. What's relevant here is that even though virtually everyone has been wiped out, the structures and institutions of the army have survived.

This doesn't just apply to the military realm, but to the civilian. As the Russians pushed into German in WW2, the Nazi regime did not collapse; if anything it's control over the populace grew stronger. As sanctions bit into post-Gulf-War-One Iraq, Saddam Hussein only consolidated his strength and control. While the rulers of the government may change, the existence of a government remains. If anything, the State gains more power in a crisis.

Furthermore, in a disaster or crisis, the survivors tend to be people with lots of contacts, with large support networks, with friends in high places. It's not the rugged individualists who do best, but the schmoozers, the networkers, the party hacks and the social climbers.

Cleansing Apocalypse fantasies tend to involve valiant homeowners fighting off roaming bands of disorganized marauders: difficult but achievable. However, this assumes an ahistorical breakdown of authority. Given that the state is likely to survive, the people after the land are likely to be a hungry but organized army; well-armed and vastly outnumbering the rural farmers. This isn't really practical to defend against.

Another tenet of the Cleansing Apocalypse is that it will be necessary to know all kinds of survival skills; how to plough the land, milk a cow, gather the harvest, and be self-sufficient. Again, this assumes a breakdown in organization. A more likely scenario is that urban authorities will take control of agriculture; as in Stalinesque collective farms, or Mugabe's takeover of the white farms; or Pol Pot's forced ruralization. The pattern would be of unskilled labour directed by a few: following simple orders is all that's required of the new farm labourers. The best quality of life goes to those in a position of power when the apocalypse comes.

If you believe that the disaster is coming, the best way to prepare is not to buy land in the country and learn to farm; your property will probably be confiscated and your labour used in virtual slavery. The best strategy is to remain in the cities, where you can cultivate useful relationships, and work your way up the hierarchy of power. In the countryside, you will be too isolated to work a shifting power structure. Man is a political animal, a creature of the Polis; political skills rather than agricultural will remain the most useful.

To survive the coming apocalypse, start networking now.

Web
Tim Berners-Lee interview: OK's blogging, dislikes bomb-making.

Gamer dies of exhaustion

Wired: factories get cleaner, the new Uranium boom.

Me
Wrote an analysis document today. Feel a strange sense of achievement.

FBC
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Whoops Apocalypse [FBC] | 47 comments (47 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
why is the urban network.. by infinitera (2.00 / 0) #1 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 08:06:25 AM EST
necessarily a state-linked phenomenon?

[…] a professional layabout. Which I aspire to be, but am not yet. — CheeseburgerBrown

Because it was stapled to the chicken by Rogerborg (4.00 / 8) #4 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 08:38:20 AM EST
I didn't understand your question, but didn't want to appear rude.

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Metus amatores matrum compescit, non clementia.
[ Parent ]
And a million points by Trip (2.00 / 0) #20 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 10:11:58 AM EST
goes to Rogerbjörk.

[ Parent ]
I love you. Will you marry me? by greyrat (4.00 / 1) #28 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 11:53:18 AM EST


[ Parent ]
nly in canada [nt] by monkeymind (4.00 / 2) #39 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 11:37:39 PM EST


[ Parent ]
Cleansing Apocalypse by The Fool (2.00 / 0) #2 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 08:10:47 AM EST
That sounds like my plans for the junk in my garage this weekend.

I AM CLEA-NOR, DESTROYER OF CLUTTER. ALL YOU CARDBOARD BOXES OF STUFF SHALL BOW BEFORE ME!!!

Good luck by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #3 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 08:30:34 AM EST
I can practically hear the trumps sounding.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
For some reason I remember by MillMan (4.00 / 2) #5 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 08:39:41 AM EST
what Scott Adams said prior to y2k (bonus: contains amusing y2k predictions):

I've heard that many people are hoarding cash and food just in case civilization collapses. My strategy is to hoard guns and ammo so I can take the cash and food from the people who didn't do a good job thinking through the "collapse of society" concept.

Whether or not the state survives depends on the extent of the damage, I think. At any rate though, whoever has the best army / militia is going to do what you said. I see no reason to believe otherwise.

"Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no libertarians in financial crises." -Krugman

Er, didn't the Cleansing Apocolypse by Rogerborg (4.00 / 1) #6 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 08:40:43 AM EST
Start somewhere in the gruntings and muttering of our filthy smelly* cave-dwelling ancestors?  Just about every culture has a Flood analog where only the Good survive and the Undeserving are washed away.  It's not a new idea.

* I believe this may have been pre-Lunix, perhaps around the time of System V.

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Metus amatores matrum compescit, non clementia.

In a non-FBC diary by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #7 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 08:56:25 AM EST
To make it relevant, I would have linked to that guy who was all over Salon and places explaining how there was no point going to college and everyone should learn how to use a horse-drawn plough and such.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
is joht titor a filthy smelly gruntling? by martingale (2.00 / 0) #33 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 03:38:06 PM EST
Well, is he, punk?
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$E(X_t|F_s) = X_s,\quad t > s$
[ Parent ]
gaaah s/joht/john/ [n/t] by martingale (2.00 / 0) #34 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 03:38:47 PM EST

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$E(X_t|F_s) = X_s,\quad t > s$
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Isn't he a porn star? by Rogerborg (4.00 / 2) #41 Thu Aug 11, 2005 at 12:23:56 AM EST
I really only know about historical figures and porn stars.

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Metus amatores matrum compescit, non clementia.
[ Parent ]
let's just say by martingale (4.00 / 1) #42 Thu Aug 11, 2005 at 01:11:05 AM EST
He would make a good movie (*)

(*) hollywood standards being what they are, and all, we're not talking about the BBC here.
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$E(X_t|F_s) = X_s,\quad t > s$

[ Parent ]
God damn you. by blixco (4.00 / 1) #43 Thu Aug 11, 2005 at 04:19:00 AM EST
Hot coffee through the nose is PAINFUL.

You're on fire lately, man.  You should have your own show.
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The farmers always win.

[ Parent ]
sanctions == apocalypse? by DesiredUsername (2.00 / 0) #8 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 08:56:26 AM EST
Perhaps overstating their disastrousness a tad. Even losing a (modern) war, while politically, morally and economically a disaster, doesn't usually kill huge fractions of the populace. I mean, this kind of story usually kills 99% of people, which would leave the US government consisting of like 3 Congresspeople and a few judges.

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The Germans at Stalingrad by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #10 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 08:59:47 AM EST
Suffered those kinds of losses without their structure breaking down.

Plus it's Peak Oil and Foreign Debt and such that seem to be the apocalypses that people are talking about.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
The Germans at Stalingrad by DesiredUsername (4.00 / 1) #11 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 09:06:32 AM EST
had a home base, not to mention a populous enemy, so their continued structure is explainable otherwise.

I've never read a post-apocalyptic story that started with a banking crisis, so I'll have to defer to your description of that.

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Now accepting suggestions for a new sigline

[ Parent ]
Home base? by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #14 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 09:14:32 AM EST
They were encircled in the Kessel after the Russian breakout... not the homeliest of places really.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Military by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #15 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 09:20:11 AM EST
As I said elsewhere, I think military structures are a special case, especially groups of soldiers stuck in a foreign land. I mean, it's not like a couple random germans could go find some fat cows, hole up in a bunker and expect to wait the war out.

Having no place to go is exactly why they stuck together!
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

[ Parent ]
Well, they could surrender by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #16 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 09:23:00 AM EST
Though that wasn't exactly a picnic either.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Besides by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #18 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 09:31:32 AM EST
That's just exchanging one command structure for another.
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
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I mean Germany still existed by DesiredUsername (2.00 / 0) #17 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 09:26:26 AM EST
An apocalypse has to be more than the decimation of a military grouping. It has to be catastrophically severe on at least a nationwide basis, if not globally.

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Economic collapse by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #13 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 09:13:09 AM EST
The US government showed little sign of collapsing during the great depression. If anything, history shows that economic depressions result in tighter government control, even if there is a short period of anarchy/civil war.

The French Revolution is a great example of a government brought down by economics. It took, what, six years to get to Napoleon?
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

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yep. by 256 (4.00 / 1) #9 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 08:58:18 AM EST
i have always thought it was kind of silly to BUY land as a precaution in case of massive societal collapse.

my method has been to maintain an intimate knowledge of certain rural areas accessible from the city in which i live and know which land it will be feasible to seize when necessary.

I assume that a deed of ownership will have little clout after the apocalypse.

I guess that makes me one of the bad guys, eh?
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I don't think anyone's ever really died from smoking. --ni

Do you think you are the only one by monkeymind (4.00 / 1) #38 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 11:35:12 PM EST
looking at this land?

Do you think the people who are already on it are going to walk away when you turn up with a gun and say get off?

If you are a real survivalist and you think it is all going to go south you buy the land now so that you can prepare it for when the shit hits the fan.

This does not mean just planting a few fruit trees. It means that you build defencive structures on the land so anyone trying to take it away will regret it.

So you see a nice farmhouse you want to take over. You turn up with a few of your buddies packin guns. To your surprise there is no one there...

So you move in. You set up guards and shit and start living. A couple of weeks later, when you have relaxed a bit. The people who own the land, saw you coming and have been watching you from their hidie holes come out one night. They kill you all in your sleep and put you next to the lot who tried it 6 months ago.

the main problem with the mad max type movies is that they assume that the 'farmers' are all Amish and are not as ruthless about keeping their land and lives as the raiders are at taking it.

[ Parent ]
Cleansing apocolypse by ucblockhead (4.00 / 2) #12 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 09:07:06 AM EST
I tend to agree. The dirty truth is that most fantasies of cleansing apocalypses (apocalypsi?) are just wishful thinking, hoping that all the bad people go so the good people can create utopia.

However, your examples are all political/military apocalypses. It's not surprising that command structures survive during war because militaries are designed to maintain command structure through decimation. I think there are even better examples than you give. A modern one being the collapse of the Soviet Union and an ancient one being the (slow) collapse of the Western Roman Empire. In both cases, you've certainly got increased anarchy, but overall yes, it's all "new boss, same as the old boss" stuff. (I suppose you could also call the USSR an economic collapse as well.)

Most of the literary apocalypses are not political/military. The only good example I can think of in history is perhaps the black death, but I don't know enough about that period to draw conclusions. Jared Diamond's book Collapse does have some info relating to how people deal with environmental collapse, but most of his examples are small.

A lot depends on how the apocalypse happens. Nukes targeting all major cities would tend to wipe out lines of command while horrible plagues would tend to leave some of them in place.

I'm often amused (in a sad, cynical way) by the way some environmentalists (including reasonable ones like Diamond) say, in essense "you rich bastards better watch out, because when things go to shit, you'll be up against the wall!!!" Thing is, history doesn't work like that. When things go to shit, the rich pay the middle class to help them build enclaves and use machine guns on the poor. If there is some environmental apocalypse, it'll be the poor that make the bulk of the dead. That's true of any crisis. But that's not something those who fantasize about the rich oil barrons getting theirs want to face.
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

apocalypsis by martingale (2.00 / 0) #35 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 03:49:20 PM EST
Apocalypsis, apocalypsis, f (3rd decl.) I think, so the nominative plural should be apocalypses, however in your case you're talking about fantasies of ..., so I expect the ending should be apocalysibus
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$E(X_t|F_s) = X_s,\quad t > s$
[ Parent ]
An American apocalypse by 606 (4.00 / 2) #19 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 09:55:40 AM EST
It seems to me that the Mad Max apocalypse has two contributing sources:

One, the cold war, which suggested that the apocalypse would be nuclear, and were nuclear war to break out the obvious targets would be major political and economic centres which would be utterly decimated. Rural communities would be left alone, except that all the bankers, lawyers, and politicians would be dead.

And two, the American militia theory whereby corrupt governments are overthrown by groups of irate citizens who form local governments.

Consider Tyler Durden in Fight Club trying to destroy the credit histories of all people on earth. That's the kind of apocalypse that is popularily dreamt of, where the skill of self-preservation would be useful. The kind of apocalypse needed for a cleanse is one that creates a huge power vacuum. Imagine Iraq with all of the American troops withdrawn right after ousting Sadaam... that's a cleansing apocalypse, though, like Mad Max in actual fact it's very very dirty.

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imagine dancing banana here

Nope. by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #37 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 04:27:33 PM EST
All previous control structures are gone.

No army, no police.  No clean water to drink, food looking a little shortlived.

No rules.

Immediate landscape devastated.

How are you going to survive?

That's Apocalypse.


[ Parent ]
What has Stalingrad got to do with Apocalypse? by xth (4.00 / 2) #21 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 10:36:34 AM EST
It was just a field battle, like thousands before it. Apocalypse implies there's no winner - with Stalingrad, the Allies were there to pick up the pieces.

[Thanks for your interest in xth's comments. This accont is now spent]
Part 2 - Sorry, PDA crashes with long comments by xth (2.00 / 0) #22 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 10:46:49 AM EST
By their very nature, there are not many apocaIpses we have real data on. Roman Empire - that's it (I know nothllng about Chinese history).

.Everything else, either there was a 'winner', or there was nobody there to document it. Examples of the latter: Easter Island;Jamaica during Napoleonic wars (?); 2imbabwe.

[Thanks for your interest in xth's comments. This accont is now spent]

[ Parent ]
Literalist [nt] by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #23 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 10:47:31 AM EST

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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Literalistophobe [nt] by xth (4.00 / 2) #24 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 10:49:25 AM EST


[Thanks for your interest in xth's comments. This accont is now spent]
[ Parent ]
Namecallers! by greyrat (2.00 / 0) #27 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 11:51:46 AM EST


[ Parent ]
And by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #25 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 11:18:32 AM EST
Rome was more of a long slide than a collapse.
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
[ Parent ]
Chinese History by Scrymarch (2.00 / 0) #44 Fri Aug 12, 2005 at 03:58:18 AM EST
Short version - don't go looking there for evidence of the disappearance of the centralised state.

Disclaimer: I am not qualified to make any longer statement about Chinese history.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

[ Parent ]
Not even interludes? by xth (2.00 / 0) #45 Fri Aug 12, 2005 at 04:10:56 AM EST


[Thanks for your interest in xth's comments. This accont is now spent]
[ Parent ]
Well by Scrymarch (2.00 / 0) #46 Sat Aug 13, 2005 at 04:13:36 PM EST
At the end of dynasties you got periods where governance broke down, but there were alternative governments in the form of warlords, robber-barons, uprisings and invasions.  I think the population density is probably a factor here.  In the outlying provinces switching control to neighbouring empires.  Periods of sort of falling out of the tax-collection / brigand-extortion loop for a while must have happened but that would be most pronounced on the marginal land where people were scraping a living as it was. 

My guess is the American survivalist scenario is kind of an outgrowth of the white settler period of American history, where there were low population densities compared to that possible under settled agriculture.  Maybe you could make it succeed by having a new political entity ready to go, like a city state with a good water catchment and a defensible position.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

[ Parent ]
Networking? by blixco (2.00 / 0) #26 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 11:30:18 AM EST
Or not.

I mean, you could take the easy way out.
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The farmers always win.

What? Floppies? by ad hoc (4.00 / 2) #32 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 01:52:58 PM EST

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[ Parent ]
No by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #36 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 04:23:14 PM EST
Just a good DNS and DMZ policy would work.


[ Parent ]
As a good example of this .... by lm (4.00 / 1) #29 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 12:27:09 PM EST
... Haiti?

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
Apocalypse by thunderbee (2.00 / 0) #30 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 12:58:27 PM EST
By definition it goes beyond being a mere crisis.

I've always understood Apocalypse as destructive enough that existing power structure collapses. It's a mere catastrophe otherwise.

And if this happens, only guns matter. Second comes your usefulness (being a doctor might get you some comfort & protection from the local warlord, if you don't get shot first that is). Less that that, you're fair game one way or another.

MillMan's post is dead on :)

No by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #31 Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 01:50:19 PM EST
What matters most is charisma.

All power in human society ultimately depends on your ability to convince other people to do what you want. Remember, the stereotypical view of a post-apocalyptical warlord isn't a big guy with a gun...it's someone with a bunch of big guys with guns doing his bidding.
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

[ Parent ]
Not entirely true by thunderbee (2.00 / 0) #40 Thu Aug 11, 2005 at 12:17:00 AM EST
You forget that there's nothing to stop one of your trigger-happy gun-totting underlings to shoot the leader "just because" he disagrees.

Charisma works alone only in a fanatical surrounding; otherwise, brute force still rules.

You need a certain amount of civilisation to maintain a power structure without permanent armed struggle. It's the mistake everybody makes. They assume that the artificial protections of society endures. It won't. If you disagree with someone, you just shoot him. That kind of puts a different light on politics ;)

[ Parent ]
Yeah but no but, by ToyChicken (2.00 / 0) #47 Tue Aug 16, 2005 at 12:44:24 AM EST
So, despite the implication of the word 'apocalypse' which I think is probably a bit strong (we'd all be dead, networkers and farmers alike). Under what circumstances would:
a) The state actually truly fail / cease to exist
b) People revert to a utterly barbarian state where the value of diversity is forgotten.

I appreciate that brute force might win in the short term, but it does have a historical tendency to fail if it's used as the sole means of control for a long period of time. i.e. The abusers often get overthrown by the abused, or the abusers turn on themselves once they've killed everyone else.

Personally speaking, I'm looking forward to the time when there's only me and a select group of individuals left, and we can build a world with air-conditioning, cyclepaths, and clean code...
I love Nebbish, he's the best...

Whoops Apocalypse [FBC] | 47 comments (47 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback