Let’s think seriously about “apocalypse.” Stay with me. This will be brief. The dictionary definition is:
“noun, the complete final destruction of the world, esp. as described in the biblical book of Revelation; an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale: a stock market apocalypse / an era of ecological apocalypse.”
However, I’m not thinking of “apocalypse” in the biblical sense; or in the nuclear-annihilation sense.
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy this past week provided us with a vivid picture of how the apocalypse of modern civilization might go. The suffering of the people of New Orleans, New Jersey, and New York could be widespread in the not-too-distant future. (Any city or state with “New” in its name has reason to be frightened.)
A catastrophic collapse of modern technology would end modern civilization as we know it. It could start with a natural disaster, a terrorist act, a cyber attack, or an old-fashioned war.
Somehow, a chain reaction will begin with a failure of energy or a failure of computers. Failure of either electric power or computers would cripple the other.
Without computers, the internet and electric power, both telecommunication and mass transportation — by air and rail — will become impossible.
Electric power, computers, telecommunication, and mass transportation. What would be left?
Commerce and government as now practiced would change dramatically. (Are large, cohesive nations becoming dinosaurs?) Production and distribution of fossil fuels would be far more difficult and costly.
Mass production, including production of food, would be compromised. Which wouldn’t matter much, because it would be difficult to deliver merchandise in large quantities even a few hundred miles.
All of the above would destroy the modern economy. Economic depression, poverty, and hunger would be nearly universal. Under such hardship, democracy would fail and government would have to become totalitarian and repressive to remain in power.
Technology, transportation, economy, government. I suppose they would exist in some limited form. The human race would not be destroyed. But we would live in pre-industrialized privation. Given the resiliency of the human spirit, total misery could be avoided at least some of the time, and some people would be happy. A positive attitude cannot be broken. But not all have the gift of positive attitude.
Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) probably understood as much about modern urban civilization as anyone. The title of her final book is “Dark Age Ahead.”
— John Hayden
- Hurricane Sandy Second-Most Powerful Storm (livescience.com)
- Sandy: A Loss Comparison (businessweek.com)
- Gundersen on Democracy Now Discussing Hurricane Sandy (jhaines6.wordpress.com)
It’s hard to think about a world where all the modern conveniences are no longer convenient. I try not to live apocalyptically, because I think that it is a little too much like all those people holing themselves up in the woods with arsenals (although they could eventually rule in this kind of world….until the bullets ran out).
However, I think it’s always good to keep your hand in how food is grown, learn how to start a fire, how to keep warm, how to keep cool, know how to read time, tell directions, sew a little – basic skills.
I hadn’t hear of Jane Jacobs before – I’m putting the book you listed, as well as “The Death and Life of American Cities” on my reading list. Thanks!
Thank you! “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” is Ms. Jacobs’ classic explanation of how and why cities work, from her urban planning, sociological and small business points of view. It’s must reading for anyone who wants to understand the phenomenon of the great city. It’s a good jumping-off point for the writings of more recent urban and economic experts, who believe that modern “city-states” are the incubators of technological innovation and entrepreneurship.
Have you seen the TV show “Revolution?”
I haven’t, but I understand it’s about what happens when the lights go out permanently. Have you seen it? What do you think?