How Much Will The Future Suck? Theories On The End Of The World

Everybody knows times are tough, but will the next few years see us bartering with seashells and defending ourselves against marauding bands of unemployed plumbers? According to a group sometimes called "doomers," hells yeah!

"Doomers," The profiled by Ben McGrath in this week's New Yorker, are guys like Dmitry Orlov, author of Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects, who believes that circumstances in the American economy have combined to form "superpower collapse soup" — "Make no mistake about it," he writes, "this soup will be served, and it will not be tasty!" Or like James Kunstler, blogger and author of The Geography of Nowhere, who predicts that resource depletion will cause cities to empty out and population to redistribute along waterways, while job loss may cause out-of-work "Joe-the-Plumber types" to "venture out to Easthampton with long knives and matches" [link sorta NSFW for language reasons]. These doomers have grown more popular since the economy went down the tubes, and they have a couple of things in common: they think society as we know it is about to collapse, and they're kind of gleeful about it.

Leaving aside the obvious scariness of their predictions (even if you don't believe him, it's a little freaky to hear Orlov predict that sailing will soon be the only viable mode of transportation), there's something unsettling about the doomers' cultural viewpoint. Kunstler looks upon tattoos as "a symptom of the growing barbarism of American life," while doomer Thomas Naylor wants Vermont to unite with New Hampshire, Maine, and the Canadian Maritime Provinces to form New Acadia, "a pretty little country about the size of Denmark." Some people who are excited about the collapse of the world as we know it want to remake it in their own image — and plenty sport a kind of me-first survivalism that ignores the people who would be hardest hit by any kind of large-scale infrastructure meltdown.

Still, there's kind of a silver lining to all this doom. If you're lying awake thinking about your future as a "rutabaga picker" living in a "tent city" (both Kunstler predictions), remember the words of doomer Carolyn Baker: "that's the exciting thing about collapse — the breaking down of barriers and definitions that just don't work anymore." While we might not be heading fora seashell-based economy, there's a pretty good chance that some things we've become accustomed to will never be the same. And while the economic tidal wave will sweep away some good things — local newspapers, for instance — it might deal with some sucky things too, like predatory lending and huge gas-guzzling cars. And it might change the way we think about our economy and our society in a way that no normal circumstances could. Or, maybe we're all just fucked.

The Dystopians [New Yorker]