November 2, 2014: The New Normal
I’m looking out the window and the first snow of the season is falling. The flakes are nearly as large as the tip of my thumb; they’re slushy and coming down hard and fast. It’s early November and the snow bespeaks the promise of a long, hard winter. The Farmer’s Almanac on my kitchen table suggests as much – a winter colder and wetter than average.
The one thing the Farmer’s Almanac didn’t predict is probably the single-most important thing in our lives these days – the fact that this will be the first winter in modern history where hundreds of thousands or millions of people could literally freeze to death in their homes. I know that may sound strange. Given all of the modern conveniences of the twenty-first century, how in the world could the majority of citizens of the northernUnited Statesbe at risk of freezing to death?
Technically, I suppose it’s not just the citizens of the United States that are at risk. I’m pretty sure that nearly anyone in the world who lives anywhere in the world where the temperatures drop to freezing or below is at risk as well. I have to assume, though, as we really don’t have much contact with the world outside of North America. For that matter, we really don’t have much contact with people, period. Air travel, automotive travel – travel over any significant distance at all – is pretty much out of the question. Electronic communication is all but gone too, with the exception of a few short-wave radios and Ham operators. We’re living in a virtual stone age. The skeletons of modern conveniences are a constant reminder of what used to be. The harsh reality is that the world has devolved to a point on par with the early nineteenth century in many ways.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
Allow me to outline some of the background for our current situation. This is the first time in a long time that I’ve been able to sit down and chronicle some of what has happened over the last several months. I’m going to try to keep at it … a little bit at a time. I’ll try to fill in the background as well as describe what happens on a regular basis. My hope is that somewhere, someday someone will benefit from this.
For now, let’s roll back the calendar to a few months ago, when things were a little more normal …. Normal. Somewhere from the past I remember a catch phrase, “the new normal”. I can’t remember who used it or what it described, but we’re definitely operating under a new normal these days.
Normally, we would be living in relative comfort … in relative ease … at least relative to how things are today. A few months ago we could flip a switch and the lights would come on. Not too many weeks ago we could change the temperature of our homes’ thermostats and conditioned air would heat or cool our homes to the desired temperature. We could toss our dishes into the dishwasher, press a button and they were clean a few minutes later. We threw our dinner in the microwave and a few seconds later we ate hot food. The dry cleaner cleaned and pressed our clothes. The lawn guy mowed and fertilized our lawn. Some homeowners even hired people to put up their Christmas decorations for them. If something didn’t work like it was supposed to, we could call a repairman who would normally be there to fix whatever was broken in a few hours. That seemed normal at the time.
Normally, we would drive to work and complain about the traffic … our co-workers … our boss. Normally, we might talk about how our favorite sports team performed over the weekend or post on a social networking site about what we did with our kids. We were glued to our smart phones – constantly e-mailing, texting and even occasionally talking. We had networks in our homes and connected to them wirelessly with our pads, pods and tablets. We streamed high-definition video over the Web and bragged that we had “cut the cable” and were getting our digital entertainment entirely through the Internet (the connection, ironically, provided by the cable company). That all seemed pretty normal.
Due process, law and order, a government that protected its citizens – those things were all normal not that long ago. Sure, we probably complained about some of our elected officials. We might have griped about how the government was over-spending and raising our taxes. We listened as the media dug up dirt on each and every political candidate that ran for office until none of them seemed fit to be elected. We voted for the “least objectionable” candidate because no one that was worth electing was willing to run for office. We hated lawyers, the IRS and those evil bankers that tricked us into borrowing more money than we could afford to pay back. We listened to complaints that the rich in this wealthy country weren’t paying their fair share of taxes. Pretty much normal.
Economic stability, legal tender, buying and selling goods and services in exchange for money, or on credit – that was all pretty normal until relatively recently. If things were normal, people would soon be fighting over sweaters and small appliances during Black Friday after Thanksgiving. People in offices and cubicles around the country would be purchasing items online while sitting at work on Cyber Monday. The Salvation Army’s bell ringers would be out in front of stores and we might toss a few cents or a couple bucks into their red kettles. Normally.
None of that is normal now.
“What changed?” you may ask. Then again, if you’re reading this, you may know what changed. I’m sure you would agree that many things changed. Our current condition was not the result of a single event like the zombie apocalypses or nuclear attacks that you see in movies. The world was not subjected to mass terrorist attacks – at least not in the traditional sense. We did this to ourselves. In a matter of a few months, we managed to crush thousands of years of advances. We willingly did to ourselves what our enemies could not. We brought modern civilization to its knees. We brought law and order, commerce … normal, everyday life to a screeching halt.
How did we manage that?
As I said, you won’t find many who will agree on a single, specific cause or event. Pretty much everyone wants to pass the blame to someone else. Some will say greed. Others will argue laziness. Many want to blame it on the rich; others blame it on the poor. Some think too much government; others believe too little. If you want my opinion, it was all this and more. Certainly, it’s easy to point to a time when the world’s economy began its downward slide. The recession in the United States. The collapse of the Euro. The rise and fall of the Asian economies. All of those events were tracked in charts and graphs and spreadsheets and reported by the mainstream media. They were all just symptoms, though. What happened was rooted much more deeply in our cultures and attitudes.
What was truly behind the recession that started in theUnited States in 2007?
Why did the Euro collapse in 2011?
What stimulated the rise and ultimately resulted in the fall of the Asian economies?
What was it? In a word … humanity.
The history of the world is littered with collapsed societies. For decades we ignored the possibility that the same thing could happen on a global scale. As the societies and economies of the world became more closely interwoven we forget the lessons of history in the name of “progressiveness”. We forgot that when one domino falls the others are not far behind. In our hubris at the top of the food chain, the human race began to believe in the concept of “too big to fail”.
We really should have seen it coming. What blinded us to the historical facts related to the rise and fall of cultures and empires? Did we seriously believe that the global economy was too big to fail? What a laughable phrase. Did we really think that we had progressed so far that we couldn’t be brought to our knees? Historically speaking, it was just as cultures reached their peak, just as they were at their grandest and most sophisticated, that they fell. They grew soft. They began to relax. They began to embrace the “world owes me a living” philosophy. Everything bad was someone else’s fault. Everyone deserved a trophy. Everything needed to be discussed. Little was actually done. The bias for action was watered down by the desire to analyze. Thinking almost entirely replaced doing. Men became more feminine. Women strove to be more masculine. Our lives revolved around our children and our children thought the world revolved around them. We molly-coddled society’s collective conscious until we unconsciously destroyed our own society.
Too big to fail? More like destined to fail. Of course, that’s just my opinion and, once again, I’m getting ahead of myself. I tend to do that from time to time.
My name is David Johnson. I’m 50 years old. My wife of twenty-two years, Miriam, is 44 and our son D.J. is fourteen. Both my wife and I are born-and-bred Nebraskans. I know that may conjure up a picture of overalls, pitchforks and hayseed in many people’s minds. Or, perhaps by the time someone else reads this, Nebraskans will be seen as a part of the collection of hearty stock that rescued humanity from the brink of extinction. Hopefully. Nevertheless, I’m aware of the general perception of Nebraskans – particularly by those living in coastal and large urban areas of the U.S.
Prior to the crash I owned a consulting company. We did work for organizations across the U.S. and in the U.K. Generally, when I mentioned that I was fromNebraska, people were shocked that I was educated, intelligent and well-spoken. Occasionally, I took advantage of people’s perception of me as someone who just fell off the turnip truck. But, hey, if you’re going to stereotype, you’re at risk of making assumptions that can be detrimental to you.
Our son was born in Minnesota but spent most of his life in Nebraska after we moved back to be closer to his grandparents. As it turns out, moving back to Nebraska may have saved our lives … at least for the time being. Who knows how long we’ll be able to survive.
Prior to the crash I made my living largely by my wits. I started out in sales and managed to build up a fairly successful small business. All of my adult life, I’ve seemed to have an innate ability to quickly see the likely outcomes of actions, or inaction, and quickly develop plans to address the consequences. That ability helped me build a business with a devoted clientelle. As it turns out, this was an ability that, thankfully, translated to my personal life as well.
These days, business acumen is of little value and wits of a different sort are much more important. I think it was Rudyard Kipling that said, “If you can keep your wits about you while those about you are losing theirs … the world will be yours ….” I’m not looking to take over the world, but I’m really glad that my primary skill set was mostly practical and not academic in nature. A lot of my fellow consultants were academics that dealt almost exclusively in theory. My guess is that most of the academics aren’t fairing so well these days. They may already be dead or among the first to freeze to death in the not-too-distant future. Frankly, I’m not really too concerned about freezing to death. My family and I will have heat this winter. I suspect that a bigger problem will be fending off those who do not have heat and intend to take it by force or trickery.
Through another fortunate set of circumstances, I feel pretty well prepared to fend off anyone looking to take from us by force. Although I guess you could say that I’m past my physical prime at 50 years of age, I’m in pretty good condition for a 50 year-old. One of my favorite pastimes, prior to the crash, was participating in events like the Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder that tested strength and endurance. Although, I was never a top finisher, I never failed to finish a single one. If you know anything about these events, you know that only a few of the people that start actually finish.
Another advantage that I have is the time I spent in the Army. While I wasn’t some Special Forces Secret Squirrel or anything like that, I have been in combat. Yes, that was more than a few years ago. Some of my training is a little foggy and some of my skills are a little rusty. Nonetheless, I have the training and the skills. I also know that I have the ability to do what needs to be done in the heat of battle. Furthermore, I’m blessed with three other former military men in the little group that’s banded together here on our farm. We have two other ex-Army members and a former Navy officer. All-in-all, I think we’re better prepared both strategically and tactically, than pretty much anyone who might try to attack us. Then again, I’ve also learned never to underestimate an enemy … or a potential enemy.
As you might have guessed, if we’re worried about being attacked, things have gotten pretty ugly.
When the economic house of cards fell, it brought civilization as we know it down with it. Governments no longer had the funds to maintain infrastructure so they raised taxes on private industry to try to pay for it. Robbed of its profits, private industry laid off workers by the millions. Eventually, there wasn’t a currency in the world that was worth the paper it was printed on. In fact, if you have cash squirreled away right now, the best use for it is as a fire-starter. At least you’ll be warm for a while. Secondarily, you may want to consider using your cash as toilet paper.
Gold, silver and other precious metals are also pretty much useless now. You can’t eat gold. Silver won’t keep you warm. Melting them down and drinking them to avoid dehydration has its down side as well. I had a lot of friends – I wonder how many of them are still around … or how many will make it through the winter – who thought that amassing precious metals was a great strategy to hedge against the economic crisis. Of course, for precious metals to have any value there has to be a market where you can sell or trade them. As far as I know, no such market exists today.
Jobs, mutual funds, 401k’s and the stock market are things of the past. People want food, water and now … heat. The electrical grid in the U.S. has been completely down for more than a month. Before that, it was spotty for several months. Natural gas is still available, to some extent, but most gas furnaces are electronically ignited so they’re pretty much useless. No one is sure how much natural gas is left.
We’re not exactly getting updates on the evening news. Information travels by word of mouth mostly over short-wave radio. It’s a bit like the old game you might have played in grade school. One child whispers something into the ear of the next child. The phrase is whispered from child to child until the last child speaks it out loud. Typically, what the last child says isn’t even close to what the first child said.
If you depended on the government for your well-being prior to the crash, your source of well-being no longer exists. If you don’t know how to keep warm without a furnace, you’re probably in trouble right about now. If you don’t know how to treat water to remove bacteria, dehydration will soon be a serious issue for you … if it isn’t already.
Growing up, my family was dirt poor but we didn’t depend on the government for anything. We lived a life of self-subsistence. We grew and canned our own produce. We raised, hunted and butchered our own meat. We cut and split wood for heat. My granddad used to say, “Heating with wood warms you twice. Once when you split it and once when you burn it.” My childhood was about as close to nineteenth century living as you could get in the mid-to-late twentieth century. My wife’s family was a little better off but she learned a number of valuable skills as a child as well.
Another bit of good fortune, in many ways, is our farm. We call it Union Creek Farm for the creek that runs along its southern border. It’s located in a relatively remote area of Nebraska. The closest paved road is several miles away. The house is well-hidden in a tree-covered bowl below the surface of nearby gravel roads – virtually invisible to anyone passing by.
There are also some disadvantages to the remote nature of our farm. If we are attacked by the roving bands of marauders rumored to be looking for resources, there will be no one to assist us in turning them back. Fortunately, we anticipated this and have made some preparations. Maybe I’ll be able to discuss some of those at a later date. We’ll also be doing more in the near future but we’re certainly not the easiest target in our area.
Several of the farms near us have been deserted. Many of the neighbors were older folks who left their farms and moved in with their children rather than stay out on their farm alone. There’s some logic in that. Defending acres of land as a seventy year-old couple would be extremely difficult. Then again, you’d most likely have fewer people to defend against in a more remote location.
My in-laws left their farm. They moved here to join us. They left their place, about an hour and a half away, to bolster their ability to defend themselves. Their farm was quite a bit closer to the nearby town than ours is. Additionally, their nearby town was something of a commercial hub for the surrounding communities whereas the town closest to our farm was more of a bedroom community for a larger town quite some distance away. So, there was a higher likelihood that they would have seen quite a few more thieves and looters. As society’s crash came closer, we discussed the idea of moving to our farm with them. Although, they had lived on their farm since my wife was a young child, they faced the reality that they simply would be unable to defend themselves as the civil unrest that started in the cities spread to the more rural regions.
About six months ago we helped my in-laws pack up their essential belongings as well as the supplies they had stashed in anticipation of the coming crash. We loaded cattle onto their stock trailer behind my father in-law’s early-80’s Dodge one ton pickup. We also left some cattle behind as they couldn’t all be loaded into the trailer. We loaded a restored antique John Deere 720 diesel tractor, a three-bottom plow, a small disk and a four-row planter onto a gooseneck trailer behind my ¾ ton Dodge diesel. My wife drove the in-law’s newer Chevy pickup with their slide-in camper filled full of supplies and household goods. My mother in-law drove their older Chevy pickup, pulling an eighteen foot utility trailer loaded with more supplies and household goods.
We all took one last look at the farm where my wife and her parents had spent the better part of their lives, and a good portion of their blood sweat and tears, turned and left forever.
Welcome to the new normal.