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Oh my!

I was reading Steve Masover's diary "Humans are like rats and cockroaches": the coming feudalism and want to take a slightly different approach to the topic.

I am on the ground, having never in my entire life risen far above the poverty level - and that's with a PhD and a PhD equivalent degree, thank you very much. I may not be able to earn a decent income with my knowledge, but I can certainly survive and survive well because of them.

I started out in science fiction.  Attending science fiction conventions, reading science fiction, talking to scientists, being heavily influenced by Heinlein and Asimov. I dabbled in some of the survival skills because their books all had people needing to know some obscure bit of ancient lore to survive. This, back in the 50's and 60's, was my introduction into survivalism. I not only debated which ancient survival skills would be suitable for surviving in outer space, I learned how to do them. That's when I picked up basic blacksmithing skills to add to my already extensive herbal apothecary skills (how to repair a space ship!). I picked up some other mechanical skills, too, and got started in computers.

Back in the late 60's early 70's, I was attracted to the Society for Creative Anachronisms (SCA) because of the forgotten arts.  Not because I'd forgotten them, but because here was a group of people that understood craftsmanship and handmade items. Here were people who could appreciate my embroideries, my herbal craftsmanship, my brewing skills, my culinary skills, my blacksmithing, and my basic carpentry. I could improve my carpentry and sewing and embroidery.  It was great.

Then I reached out for the fur trade re-enactors because I learned, on the death of an unknown uncle, that I was part Kiowa Apache.  My mother had never shared that and I was raised mostly German in America.  We hung out in the German communities and shopped in German and German-owned stores.

There, I learned porcupine quill embroidery, beadwork, brain-tanning, how to set up a tipi, build a debris hut, and a variety of survival skills that led me into learning more and improved my skills as a hunter.

From there, I drifted into the Sherlockians and the other neo-Victorian groups and the Civil War re-enactors and Colonial re-enactors and learned even more sewing and cooking and crafting skills.

I never dropped anything I did, just added to it. I still was into science fiction - Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica (a survival tale indeed), Babylon 5, Star Wars, and more.  And people started talking about McGyver, and how this person had MacGyvered that, and how the things I did were MacGyverish.

From there, it was a no-brainer to slip into steampunk.

What all of these have had in common is survival.  As a person living at and sometimes below the poverty line with lofty aspirations, the only way to live below my means and still have a well-above-my-means lifestyle meant I had to do a lot of things myself.  Everything from home decor to gardening, to sewing to training our pets to be useful household members contributed to the well-being of my family and my household, allowing us to live far more comfortably than those who earned more than I did.

Steve Masover talks about the gated communities that resemble the castles of yore.  He sees that as a return to feudalism, and perhaps it is.  He spoke of it in a pessimistic light, and perhaps we need to look at it that way. He points out a large and looming societal problem and speculates that the popularity of steampunk is a zeitgeist response to the impending feeling of an approaching feudalistic society whereby play-acting

at an alt-history with a soupçon of 19th century spicing is a way of discharging horror at how deep we're really likely to sink
.

I think it's not just a way to discharge the horror, I think it's a way that people are preparing themselves by emulating some of the things the Victorians did to survive - the deep recycling, repurposing, re-inventing, re-using, and re-claiming items to re-making things into durability and tinkerability.

The Zombie Apocalypse is a much better analogy to the discharge the horror of the impending feudalism.  

I've had weird little fantasies of building a community of like-minded people - people who wanted to live in the modern world but did so on the back of self-sufficiency and forgotten skills (which is really a misnomer, because they aren't forgotten).  Who wanted internet and computers, refrigeration and interior climate controlled homes, and the ability to travel great distances, yet spun, wove, and sewed their own clothes, created beauty with their own hands, and so on.  People who lived in clusters that were part marriage, part tribe, part village, not dependent upon currency for survival. We would take the best of the Victorian Era, spice it up with MacGyverisms, apply our modern knowledge to it, and use that to re-invent pockets of society, sort of like the monasteries and universities of the feudal era that existed outside of and alongside the castles and feudal overlords, independent and co-dependent.

And when the time is right, reclaiming equality.

I borrowed a book from a friend while I was house-sitting for her.  It was written by Suzette Haydin Elgin. I'd read her Ozark triilogy and enjoyed it. This was her Communipath trilogy.  In the first novel, she introduces a group of people called the "Maklunites".  As I read the novel, I thought how strikingly similar the Maklunites were to that community I'd been visualizing.  

There were, of course, major differences. The working with our hands to make things to support the community and create beauty was the same, but I never visualized a fully communal community where all possessions were held in common including bodies, but rather a mutually supportive one where people shared freely among themselves, but each had their own space, possessions, income, that sort of thing.  I guess if you smashed up Elgin's Maklunites with the family corporateship of David Kingsbury's Courtship Rite and a multi-gendered abbey that combine monastery and convent without the religion, set among huge orchards and groves of large canopied trees, and made it all modern, you'd get what I'm kind of visualizing. I, of course, visualize it as a Numenist community, but the basic model would work without religion.

What all this rambling boils down to is that yes, there are bad times coming, and I think there are ways to mitigate it in small group levels.  It's why I write the diaries I do for the Practical Survival and Sustainable Living group, to encourage others to consider their own personal survival and the survival of their near and dear.

It's not all doom and gloom. It doesn't have to be all doom and gloom. We can MacGyver our way into the future with steampunk aesthetics and a touch of Zombie Apocalypse survivalism.  

Maybe.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Cool diary (16+ / 0-)

    The return to feudalism, or anyway some version of a an explicitly classist society where corruption has also been normalized, has also been the topic of classic non-zombie cult films -- I'm thinking of Blade Runner and They Live.  

    I like your take on steam punk.

    Never realized you had such a wide range of interests. Myself, from an interest in natural history and historic re-enactment, I've picked up a few satisfying old crafts, not as impressively as you. Just hand spinning on the drop spindle, hand knitting, hand sewing and mending, bread making, identifying edible plants, and what you could call improvisational cooking: whatever leftovers are in the back of the fridge, I can almost always turn them into a quite decent meal without benefit of Cuisinart and microwave.

    Those of us with a few decades under our belt have other advantages: for example, we can still add a column of figures even when the power goes out!

    The idea of an innovative small-is-beautiful community group sounds lovely; at the same time, as we all know, many historic utopian/communal-living experiments have ended very badly. It would be a challenge to figure out how to avoid their pitfalls in order to create something sustainable, especially in a culture where we're all steeped to the gills in individual entitlement (and inevitably, some of us are chronic free riders, scam artists and/or exploiters).

  •  Don't you think we need to do something about (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Angry Architect

    our Feudal Overlords (or the Republican Wannabes) if we're going to escape the Aristocratic Monetary Hording Austerity Show (AMHAS), first?

    Happy little moron, Lucky little man.
    I wish I was a moron, MY GOD, Perhaps I am!
    —Spike Milligan

    by polecat on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 11:19:03 AM PDT

  •  I too have thought of a similar community at times (7+ / 0-)

    Mostly times when I'm tired of being looked down on for spinning (with a drop spindle=double weird), knitting, canning and generally creating things that are useful to my family when I could "get that cheap at Walmart".

    Like-minded people are difficult to find lately. Most of the ones I know are leaving the urban area I live in.

    •  And I want to add (6+ / 0-)

      That I really enjoy your diaries, even though I don't comment often.

    •  I don't want to leave (7+ / 0-)

      the suburbs/urban areas and I don't think a community such as I have in mind needs to be totally rural.  Of course, this could be colored by the fact that I currently live in the middle-ish of the country, where our cities sprawl and there's no clear delineation between city and country - we have goats, horses, and cattle not that far off, and crop lands a short drive away, so having both city and country life is an everyday reality with a minimal commute.

      And maybe you could "get that cheap at Walmart" but it wouldn't be nearly the same quality and probably not as beautiful.

      •  and getting-it-at-walmart (4+ / 0-)

        is a whole 'nother ethical/economic bucket a fish.

        seems the subtext of your ideas is ethical living in order to build beauty/community/healthy-survival.
        so by NOT getting-it-cheap-at-walmart, the difference is way more than quality&beauty - it's also where&how you spend your time&cash and what those things support.

    •  modern craftsmanship is the luxury of the rich (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      weck, The Angry Architect, entrelac

      Two kinds of people enjoy the beauty of handcrafted creations - the very poor who can't participate in the global economic system at all, and the rich (most Americans are rich by global standards) who can afford handcrafted. The rest of the world gets by on industrial products - industrial clothing, industrial food, industrial household items. In straight economic terms, it's hard to beat fast food and factory clothing.

      [Law is a] mixture of customs that are beneficial to society, and could be followed even if no law existed, and others that are of advantage to a ruling minority, but harmful to the masses of men, and can be enforced on them only by terror. -Kropotkin

      by Orbital Mind Control Lasers on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 12:43:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  only true if craftsmen are a tiny minority (9+ / 0-)

        and you have to buy their product.  In the First World you have to pay a lot thanks to high capital costs and competition with rich people, while in the Third World you have to pay for the product or the dollars to buy it with low-value commodities (including food and local currencies).

        I think Noddy is assuming a society where everyone is a craftsman as opposed to a consumer: capable of making just about anything they might need and of cooperating to produce things beyond the abilities and resources of any one person.  I certainly am.

        •  Right... (5+ / 0-)

          When you are connected to the things you need, by having made them yourself, or having watched them being made, there is a different appreciation for the value of that thing then when you buy it. The value of understanding the thing, and the sense of empowerment that comes from making, are not easily quantifiable....


          The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question. For there are few things as useless–if not dangerous–as the right answer to the wrong question. -- P. Drucker

          by The Angry Architect on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 07:32:54 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I think you're right about the "Zombie Apocalypse" (9+ / 0-)

    ... being a cultural meme that more closely corresponds to un- or subconscious horror at the possibility that our human culture is on a descending path into neofeudalism.

    I also admire your industry! I've quoted Robert Heinlien (who I don't admire so much) before, from his novel Time Enough for Love: "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." I think there's something to that, and if & as infrastructure sinks beneath the waves it's the range and kind of skills you write about that are going to give any individual or community a leg up on survival.

    I do have a pessimistic view. It's hard for me to imagine, in a radically climate-altered world, a world in which a small but scary number of national elites possess means to radically defend their narrow, near-term interests (think nukes and bioweapons), that a leg up is going to be enough.

    But I hope you're right.

    •  Pessimism has it's place (5+ / 0-)

      We need pessimists to point out the problems, then we need activists to fight against them, and optimists to see a better future, and pragmatists to make the necessary changes. That we also have obstructionists and denialists and elitists just makes it more challenging and interesting.

      Fortunately, we have a much faster medium of communication and information dispersal so we can share information and coordinate efforts.

    •  not the descent to neofeudalism (6+ / 0-)

      Rather, the zombie apocalypse is about dehumanization, a world where things that were once people become mindless, destructive threats to our survival. They could kill us, or worse - make us like them. It's a much deeper story than mere feudalism.

      I'm not preoccupied with a climate-altered world so much as I am with a world without fossil fuels (honestly, I could care less about climate change now - we'll burn through every drop of recoverable oil and every pound of coal long before we get our shit together enough to consider seriously what it's doing to the environment). Without fossil fuel, warfare becomes incredibly expensive. What wars there are will be much more local, much more personal than the abstract projections of imperial power we've seen in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

      A world with near-instantaneous global communication but greatly reduced global transportation - what will that look like?

      [Law is a] mixture of customs that are beneficial to society, and could be followed even if no law existed, and others that are of advantage to a ruling minority, but harmful to the masses of men, and can be enforced on them only by terror. -Kropotkin

      by Orbital Mind Control Lasers on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 12:41:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's an interesting question (4+ / 0-)

        Do you have any speculations on a world with near instantaneous communication but reduced transportation? Would delayed gratification and anticipation become desired traits?

        •  more trade in ideas than in goods (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Noddy, weck, The Angry Architect, Noor B

          Profitability aside, whatever's cheaper to move will get moved more.  If it costs pocket change to send a long old-fashioned letter about the latest invention around the world by airship but costs an arm and a leg to build the invention itself (never mind ship it by sea), you're going to prefer to send the letter and let the other guy decide to build it.

          I think you'd see a global marketplace of ideas that wouldn't be unfamiliar to an early 21st Century techie, but where actual resource extraction and manufacture are very localized to minimize transportation costs.  The only things that would be worth anyone's while to ship long distance would be items of high demand for which there is no local equivalent: IRL luxury items or raw materials for industry.

          •  I do believe ideas and knowledge (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Visceral

            are the most valuable things we can offer, followed by art and craftsmanship.  

            I remember the pre-internet days, when phone calls were expensive and postage cheap.  We'd exchange ideas and information by mail, and each letter was eagerly awaited.  I never knew what recipe, tidbit of information, or new debate would arrive. We spent pages writing about the seasons, about experiments we conducted, about our friends.

            The internet has simply expanded that and therefore I am willing to pay the price to keep my internet active.  

            I think a marketplace if ideas and information wouldn't be unfamiliar to a 16th C scholar, just the tools whereby we exchange the ideas and knowledge have changed.

    •  I think I read the Diary where you quoted that... (0+ / 0-)

      before (something about 10 things every man should know before 18, or something like that??), but the quote was not attributed... Anyway, love the quote, must have read it as a kid, and I think it sunk in somehow... Glad to be reacquainted with it and to know the source!


      The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question. For there are few things as useless–if not dangerous–as the right answer to the wrong question. -- P. Drucker

      by The Angry Architect on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 07:42:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I worked at Native American leathercraft for (8+ / 0-)

    some years before embracing Steampunk. Evolution is such a wondrous thing.

  •  this sounds great to me (4+ / 0-)
    I've had weird little fantasies of building a community of like-minded people - people who wanted to live in the modern world but did so on the back of self-sufficiency and forgotten skills (which is really a misnomer, because they aren't forgotten).  Who wanted internet and computers, refrigeration and interior climate controlled homes, and the ability to travel great distances, yet spun, wove, and sewed their own clothes, created beauty with their own hands, and so on.  People who lived in clusters that were part marriage, part tribe, part village, not dependent upon currency for survival. We would take the best of the Victorian Era, spice it up with MacGyverisms, apply our modern knowledge to it, and use that to re-invent pockets of society
    My interest in alternative energy, low(er) tech living, self-sufficiency, etc. grows out of the hope for a future that won't be a second Stone Age.  My greatest fear is that we as a species will make it, but without any real reason to go on, because we will have lost the ability to do anything but survive.  Forget steampunking our way to the future; it'd be a return to the Olduvai Gorge, never to climb back out again.

    Biohydrogen-filled airships powered by carbon-neutral non-fossil natural gas derived from anaerobic digestion of a town's worth of household organic wastes is merely the means: the goal is holding onto a world with (relatively) cheap and fast air travel.  Likewise sail-powered clippers and windjammers (with holds full of nitrates and phosphates for fertilizer) pushing 20 knots with good wind are not an end in themselves except for sail enthusiasts; for the rest of us, they're the future of global trade - downshifted and marked up but still going strong.  Windmills and watermills everywhere we can build them are simply a way to keep machine tools turning.  These older ways have value because they're sustainable.

    I've got lots of ideas for "how", but "why" is still the timeless dream of a long and easy life full of fun and toys.  No-one will be able to win me over to the righteous rigors of primitivism.

    •  Primitivism isn't the goal (6+ / 0-)

      of my fantasy cluster/village/town... Craftsmanship is - and that's different from primitivism. alternate energy for sure, so we can maintain or adapt the comforts to which we've become acclimated, preferably ones gentler on the environment.  

      I'd like to see space travel.  L-5 communities. Space tourism (imagine a Lunar Disney - or a Martian Six Flags).

      But I'd like it done mindfully, with craftsmanship and attention to detail, sustainably.

      My my little fantasy communities would be hotbeds of innovation, and that's why it will probably always be fantasy.

      •  steampunk in space quite an engineering challenge! (5+ / 0-)

        My fantasy world isn't there yet, though it stopped being possible on Earth a long time ago.

        I never said you were advocating primitivism; it's clear that primitivism is exactly what we both want to avoid.  We want lots of toys and lots of leisure time to play with them.  But that's a pretty tall order all on its own, and IMO it encompasses economics and sociology as well as engineering because the society we have is explicitly opposed to the society we want.

        •  Yes, it's a tall order (7+ / 0-)

          but a girl can dream, eh?

          •  going all the way with self-sufficiency the key (3+ / 0-)

            My theory is that it only can't happen within the context of the existing socioeconomic system.  More specifically, it cannot succeed except by being as self-sufficient as humanly and technologically possible.  The less the village does for itself, the more it needs to buy or trade for.  The more it needs to buy or trade for, the more surplus it needs to generate.  The more surplus it needs to generate, the more time and resources it needs to invest in production.  It's a feedback loop of ballooning expenses and simultaneously scaling up production and narrowing your economic base until you've completely destroyed the very thing you "dropped out" in order to create.

            Get your people and your metal tools you won't be able to make right away together then go out into the wilderness where land is cheap and property taxes are low ... and that's assuming you aren't just squatting.  After basic shelter and food are squared away, start building better tools: wind and water mills, wooden machine tools, etc.  Until society changes, engagement with the broader economy will only detract from your freedom and sustainability.

  •  Noddy, are you on google+? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Noddy, The Angry Architect

    quite a few of us steamers and neo victorian on there...If you kosmail me, I would love to add you into my steampunk circle, or follow you.

    "I took a walk around the world, To ease my troubled mind. I left my body laying somewhere In the sands of time" Kryptonite 3 doors Down

    by farmerchuck on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 06:09:33 PM PDT

  •  Oh, Noddy! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Noddy

    A great diary, and a great ensuing conversation.

    Your utopian dreamville sounds awesome! I think that the idea of communal making is important - It seems to me that a group of people gathered together working on projects for the collective good of the tribe (weaving nets, shelling nuts, or the like) is a very powerful cultural force. Maybe the work is done around a fire, stories are told, legends, myths, values and techniques are passed on. This seems to be an aspect of human experience and bonding that - though perhaps not lost - is lacking in the modern world....

    I enjoyed your Heinlein reference, as well as Steve Masover's quote per my comment above.

    I read much of his work during my youth, but haven't thought about it for years...
    But, yes, survival skills ~ I remember one tale where a boy had to figure out how to improvise a connection between two oxygen bottles in order to split the contents of the one full bottle and share the sustaining gas with his companion...

    {WOW, somehow remembering this, and writing it  - being transported back in time, and thinking that, yes, those early readings were formative of my character and beliefs, and feeling connected to my father, who's Heinlein books I was reading, has me practically in tears... So, um, thanks for that experience!}

    And, as I have come to expect from your Diaries, thanks for the diverse, unexpected nuggets that inspire further research... Last time it was Mini-horses! This time: Numenism, Courtshiprite, and The Communipath Trilogy.


    The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question. For there are few things as useless–if not dangerous–as the right answer to the wrong question. -- P. Drucker

    by The Angry Architect on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 08:11:14 PM PDT

    •  Correction / addendum - (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Noddy

      It was Mini-cows, and I forgot to add brain tanning to the list of things to research from this diary:

      Brain tanned leathers are made by a labor-intensive process which uses emulsified oils, often those of animal brains. They are known for their exceptional softness and their ability to be washed.
      (And I had thought that this was a way to give my brain a golden brown glow!)


      The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question. For there are few things as useless–if not dangerous–as the right answer to the wrong question. -- P. Drucker

      by The Angry Architect on Tue Jun 05, 2012 at 01:41:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you, Noddy. I had wondered what your (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Noddy

    background with the kinds of diaries you write.  

    I want to come live near you and join in your ventures.

    Except you live too far south and I've been thinking it might be nice to live even further north.

    I'm working on taking a few things to the Sunday Artisans market here.   Good place to meet people who do interesting things.  Also good for diaries.   It at times seems that when I start to write about something, two other people at least have covered everything i wanted to say.

    I looked at your indigio google.   Good stuff...  

    Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    by maybeeso in michigan on Tue Jun 05, 2012 at 08:16:50 AM PDT

    •  Shiver.... (0+ / 0-)

      I am not a fan of cold and snow and ice.  I feel I am living a bit too far north as it is...

      Don't let what someone else has written stop you from writing.  What you have to say may add something to the discussion or give a different viewpoint. This diary is a good example!  I read what Steve Masover wrote and liked it and wanted to say something different about it. Just because it's the same topic doesn't mean we'll say the same things.

      Go for it.  Write your diaries even if they are about the same things other people have written.

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