I’ve often been struck by the extent to which collapse-phobia is a predominantly white, middle-class phenomenon.
It seems that whites, many of whom have very comfortable lifestyles and significant dynastic wealth, are the ones most terrified of collapse, however defined – stock market crash, empty shelves in the stores, civil order breakdown, panics, natural disasters, resource depletion, etc. They are the ones in panic mode–buying gold, stockpiling guns, buying rural land, hoarding supplies, learning how to forage, installing solar panels, stocking up on rice and beans, etc. Many of the people I have met who are concerned about economic collapse and environmental unsustainability have advanced degrees (not cheap), and live comfortable lives that I could only dream about in terms of expensive houses, families, and job security. By contrast, most lower-income people I have dealt are totally were unaware of the issues surrounding collapse–economic fragility, environmental destruction and climate change, our dependence on fossil fuels for everything, the creeping police state–and probably wouldn’t care too much if they did know about them.
Now, you would expect the poorest people in society to be the ones most afraid of a potential collapse, not people who are quite privileged and well-off. After all, they are society’s most vulnerable people. Any collapse would surely hit them hardest, right? But that’s not what you see.
The reason I think poor people are not very well-represented in the collapse community (to the extent that there is one) is because for them, the wealthy, white, middle-class fears have already been realized in their day-to-day reality.
That is, they’re already living in the post-collapse world that middle-class collapsniks fear so much. The poor aren’t concerned about collapse because they’re already living it.
Unable to get a job, any job? Check. Random acts of violence? Check. Living out of your car? Check. Cash transactions in the underground economy? Check.
People in inner-cities are already growing food in urban gardens on abandoned lots all over the place–a perennial “future” scenario for collapsniks. The buildings around them are already decrepit and falling apart due to neglect. Copper wires are already being stripped from the local buildings. They already can’t afford to put gas in the tank, even at today’s prices. They are already squatting in abandoned houses and trying to avoid eviction and foreclosure. They are already wearing second-hand clothing and foraging in trash-bins for recyclable glass and aluminum. They are already out begging on the streets. They are already dumpster-diving for food. They are already routine victims of state violence via militarized police. As for stocking up on guns to defend yourself from theft and violence, well, for a lot inner-city folks, that’s been a reality for quite some time now. Gangs are already a feature of daily life there in the absence of a working economy. The inner-city already has warlords; they’re called gang leaders.
Now it’s true, there is still gas in the pumps and still food on the shelves. The issue is affording it. The food on the shelves isn’t much consolation if you can’t afford it. Poor people often live in so-called “food deserts”–places where the only food on offer and affordable is corn-syrup laden, heavily-processed human dog food. They’re alive-but sick. Getting healthy, nutritious food, especially protein, is difficult.*
I think it boils down to this:
You can’t be loss-averse if you have nothing to lose.
It’s also why it’s pointless to argue about when collapse will happen: for may of us, it’s already happened, as I’ve pointed out many times before. That’s why blacks, and poor people of any race, are more concerned with getting a job that pays the bills and staying one step ahead of the debt collector than whether humans are going to go extinct a hundred years from now.
This realization is what prompted my last series of posts.
See, most white people don’t ever set foot inside an inner-city, so they don’t know the extent to which a inner-cities already reflect a post-collapse reality. The government has already abandoned these people (except for locking them up, that is). I think that’s because of the racial divide. I’ve spent some time in places like these, so to me, collapse is a much more real phenomenon.
African-Americans have already been living with collapse for generations. That’s why collapse-phobia is largely a white, middle-class phenomenon. A lot of immigrants to the U.S. also come from collapsing countries, so, to them, the fears of most North Americans seem foolish given the conditions where they came from (Latin America, Subsaharan Africa, the Middle East, etc.). A common question you often hear in collapse forums is “how can I preserve my assets in the event of collapse?” For people who’ve never had any assets, this question is absurd. “What should I invest in given my collapse knowledge,” seems rather detached from people who are already living with it and who have nothing.
How did it get this way? Was there a war? Economic collapse? Secession? Natural disaster? Fuel shortage?
Well, in the case of Milwaukee, none of the above. In contemplating how the inner-city got to be the way it is, it’s pretty obvious that it was economic trends which caused the damage. Black people just aren’t needed in the economic order anymore. And, as I detailed in the last series of posts, automation is the ultimate culprit. It’s true that deindustrialization unfolded in different ways, including sending factories to China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Honduras, etc., in addition to automation and suburbanization. But even when you suggest bringing factory jobs back, experts point out that manufacturing just won’t employ that many people anymore no matter what. There are already “lights out” factories that employ only a handful of technicians. The robot future is already here when it comes to making stuff.
So if automation caused America’s urban areas to become post-collapse hellholes, what does that bode for the rest of America? Blacks were only the first victims; the blind eye turned to that fact means that probably nothing will be done to help the latest series of victims who are being made equally redundant to the economic order.
You already see this attitude all over the place. The economists blithely assuring us that automation will create more jobs than it destroys. The “low” unemployment rate of five percent in the official government statistics. The redefining of more and more people as “not in the workforce.” The constant reports in the media of the economy “getting better.” The sneering derision of anyone without a STEM degree. The constant efforts to demonize and humiliate people on public assistance to the greatest extent possible. The fomenting of resentment toward “entitlements” and people “dependent upon government.”
What it ultimately means is that, to once again paraphrase William Gibson, collapse is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed. But just wait. If you want to know how to cope, my suggestion is to look at inner-cities. If you want to “collapse now and avoid the rush,” there are more places than ever to choose from.
It also means that the more lurid “zombie apocalypse” fantasies are just that–fantasies. People aren’t killing each other over gasoline (but do like to use the old “I just need a dollar for gas” line when begging). They aren’t starving, for the most part (but are living on McDonald’s and frozen pizzas). There’s no cannibalism in sight (unless you’re that bath-salts guy in Florida).
I think people want collapse to be a great reset applying to us all. That’s a lot more sexy than a life of poverty on the margins of society while a smaller and smaller number of privileged people continue to enjoy comfortable lives with all the modern conveniences for some time to come. Getting harassed by bill collectors and being unable to get (still available) medical treatments is a lot less enticing than fantasies about abandoned cities overgrown with weeds, bankers hanging from lampposts, and growing vegetables in your own self-sufficient homestead. I think the anxiety is really less about collapse than about falling into the poverty trap that white people have stubbornly ignored for so long in a feeling of misplaced superiority. I think a lot of collapse fear is really just fear of marginalization and poverty, and the idea that everything will burn when you do, so you don’t have to worry about it, is a comforting salve.