02 August 2012

Interesting times

How many people would be stuck in a rut? Get up in the morning, commute to the job you have had for years and will probably have for years more, commute back, get a beer from the fridge, and drink that while watching TV. Many, I suppose. But not in north India in the beginning of this week. It's hard to imagine such a large black-out. The light doesn't work, the train doesn't ride, your computer is dead, you can't charge your phone anymore. The fridge thaws and the radio is dead. And you can't go and charge your phone at the neighbours', as they have no power either. If you have loved ones in hospital, you had better keep your fingers crossed their generators hold out. It must be very unreal. I don't know if the Indians take anything for granted; they may not, as in their very country there still is much deep, deep poverty. But still; this must have shaken them up a bit. If this happens to us in the west we will probably struggle to cope. We're not used anymore to making do with little!

Could it happen here? I suppose so. More bodies we thought would never collapse actually did. I remember thinking that this was it, when we got the Euro. I had no idea the system would keel over dangerously only about ten years later. I didn't think big banks would fall over. It all happened. The Euro might vanish altogether, and who knows what sort of damage that does. And in the meantime China is storming ahead. In the US the farmers see their crops wither on the sun-beaten fields; would that happen more often? Quite possible. In the UK (and beyond) the harvests were threatened by heavy and persistent rain. The west might have to learn humility again. Can we keep up the level of prosperity we have? Maybe not. Probably not, actually. Maybe we will go back to times of mass unemployment, soup kitchens and whatnot.

Am I scared? Yes. I'm a bit of a smiling hippy; I'm not strategic, nor am I ruthless. My professional skills are only useful in a highly developed society. And we're not likely to end up back in the Stone Age, but we could easily find ourselves in a mess similar to that of, say, Greece or Spain. If there is no money, who will pay a micropalaeontologist? And for a micropalaeontologist I don't do very badly on more down-to-Earth activities; I'm actually quite good at crawling through mud, for instance! But these are not the skills that will keep you going in a collapsed society, and even if they were; I might outdo other academics, but will I outdo people who have been down to Earth all their lives? Not likely.

In a way though, all this does mean I can only win. I hope you'll agree with me there are two options: either society collapses during my lifetime, or it doesn't. If it doesn't I'll probably lead a rather comfortable life (at least by global standards). If it does, well, that will be truly historical, and I'm academic enough to think that would be very interesting to witness!

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