Sunday, 22 June 2008

My Post-Apocalyptic Career?

This afternoon I came across a re-run on TV of the show, The End of Suburbia. It is a 2004 production, and it's interesting to see how things have progressed in the 4 years since it was made. In it, James Kunstler was talking about what kind of career he could expect to have in post-peak oil society. He noted that his current career as an author would have to change since mass distribution of books would certainly be unlikely when mass transportation of food isn't even possible. He said he would probably start a small newspaper in whatever urban village he found himself in at the time. This got me thinking: What would I do? I'm a psychologist, and I doubt there will be much call for this kind of work when everyone's busy meeting the fundamental needs of life like growing, harvesting and storing food, fetching and carrying water and trying to stay clothed and warm/cool.

I work in a jail setting, doing mostly crisis-related, problem solving kinds of stuff, very much in a triage-like environment. A lot of the time, being a psychologist in a jail is akin to what I imagine being a surgeon in a M*A*S*H unit would be like: do what's got to be done, do it quick, and do it right the first time. Maybe familiarity with how people act in certain crises would be helpful, and I could be useful for a while in helping people deal with and adapt to unfamiliar circumstances. (As long as I was adapting alright myself, that is.) But when it becomes apparent that the emergency isn't a short one but a long one, what then? I do have some skill in helping people deal with chronic stressors, but really, I doubt people will have time for this kind of thing, what with the above-noted food/clothing/shelter issues to face. I probably won't have time for it either, since I'll be dealing with the same immediate concerns myself.

So what's an interconnection-loving, paradox-pondering, pattern-seeking, 'head-shrinking' kind of gal to do?

I really have no idea. After going to school for so many years with just one focus, and then applying that knowledge in such a specialized area for another bunch of years, it's hard to see yourself doing something different. I hope to become more knowledgeable about plants and herbs, but that's going to take a long while. There are lots of willow bushes on our property and I could make things out of those to barter with, like baskets and such, but I'm unskilled in that area as well. I do love the irony of a psychologist becoming a basket weaver though!

What about you? Have you thought about what you might do when the current ways of doing things just aren't feasible anymore? Are you trying to steer your kids/nieces/nephews away from occupations like "computer game designer" towards some more universally practical work path? Do you have any hobbies that will come in handy, like woodworking or winemaking or quilting?


green with a gun said...

I think there'd be a call for psychology after some kind of general collapse. Human societies have always had counsellors of one kind or another - the old village herbalist was a counsellor to the younger women, the elders to the youths, the priest, rabbi or imam to everyone, and so on.

Whether it'd be quite so many as we have today I wouldn't venture to guess :)

One difference between modern societies and lower-energy ones is that ours are quite specialised, and lower-energy societies have people doing more diverse jobs. We have people who only do forensic psychiatry, or only conveyancing law, or only pastries.

We work in very specialised jobs, and for other stuff we need done, we hire it out.

A lower-energy society has people being generalists more. Lots of people who grow their own food, and then there's that woman who has a lot of experience with troubled people, and that guy who makes great pastries, or that woman who always attends on home births.

So you can still do your specialty, it just probably won't be a full-time job.

Bear in mind that Kunstler et al present the worst possible situation, the overnight collapse. But that is very unlikely. When a civilisation collapses it takes centuries to do so, and the collapse is a stair-like one, periods of stability followed by sudden drops and then more stability or even slight recoveries. John Michael Greer writes about this somewhat obscurely here, and more clearly and looking to the future here.

The periods of collapse down to the next step are indeed dangerous ones, but it seems unlikely they'll lead to a complete absence of any trade whatsoever. Long before the internal combustion engine people traded necessities and luxuries both from across countries and oceans. The volume of trade was much lower than today, and the goods more expensive - but people did get them.

green with a gun said...

Oh, and what would I do? I'm a chef, so probably my specialty would not be called on very much. That's why I'm concentrating on developing at least some food-growing skills... and some basic generalist sorts of skills, handyman stuff.

If there were an overnight collapse, those are skills which would be in high demand. Things which are everyday knowledge in lower-energy societies are specialist stuff today :)

Maggie said...

My sweetie has just woken up, what will you do for a post apocalyptic career, I ask. " I will dig holes!" he says, I laugh and he says people will need holes to put things in, potatoes etc!
Maybe he can just make people laugh!, we will need a good laugh.
I know a bit about growing food and a lot about preparing it, so maybe I can have a soup kitchen to feed people. I would have to be able to grow vegetables and collect rain water in the winter months, to do this.

Theresa said...

GWAG, I did have the idea of "wise woman" in my head, but when I looked that up it wasn't what I thought it was. Village herbalist would probably be more along the lines of what I was thinking -- someone who can help the mind and the body be well.

I'm thinking the world could do with a few less psychologists though - that wouldn't be a bad thing! To much talking and not enough doing sometimes!

I am trying to become more versatile myself, so I can get the basics done for me and my family, but can also help others learn the basics too.

I would think that being a chef would be very useful - you would know how to cook with available items and have it not taste the same all the time. And how to make things we're not used to eating taste good too!

Maggie - digging holes will be required, I'm certain! For wells, potatoes, and dare I say it, graves. Humor will be very welcome indeed! Gord is quite a hilarious guy as well, and he is also learning to play the guitar, which will also help to keep things lighthearted.

I'm just a sponge these days, trying to learn all sorts of different things and be creative in ways I've never had to be before.

Green Assassin Brigade said...

I'm a hobby guy so I keep trying to learn new things to become as wide a generalist as I can be.

I've taken up gardening, bread making, candle making, beer/wine making, as well as trying to make jam/jelly. I've also built up a good library which will allow me to look up many skills I only know the basics of. While I have no access to land or animals I have taught myself enough not to kill critters out of pure stupidity should I ever buy some.

I have a grasp of pottery and can build rudimentary bread oven or kiln from scratch. My next skill will be cheese making assuming I can find a farmer who will sell me raw milk(which is illegal in my juristiction, damn corportist fascist know-it-all bastards!)

I suspect my job in telecomunications (actually fixing things rather than selling services) will be viable for some time but you can't be too prepared because a retirement of leisure is no longer on the table.

My kids are still very young but I will direct them away from frilly unpractical education. French renaisnace poetry majors will be in low demand as will be game designers, shrinks, PR people and Baristas.

People will be in demand who know how to think, trouble shoot and actualy fix simple machines without tossing them out. Those who work with hand tools and animals,tinkers, smiths, fariers, ploughmen, vets carpenters etc.

Another key area would be for those with the skills of a 1900s Chemist/appothacary, who can make simple medicines/salves/tinctures, and a distiller. In hard times people have always found solace in the simple pleasures like drink.

While I can't pick their profession for them I will not fill their heads with false expectations of a better standard of living than my parents or of flying cars and robot maids that I grew up with. But I will make sure they are exposed to how things are done the old ways.

Theresa said...

GAB - The generalist idea sure seems to be a good one. I'm lucky to have several very practical and skilled people in the family, who can fix or build pretty much anything - that goes a long way to allaying some of my anxiety, while I busy myself learning to do some similar things myself. I think Sharon over at Casaubon's Book had some good how-to book recommendatiosn - I should probably review those and try to lay my hands on a copy.

How to get the generation coming up to think about practical stuff for the future will be a challenge I think. I'm glad that parents like you are teaching stuff like this to their kids. I don't have any kids myself but try to convey some of these ideas to my nieces and nephews, without coming across as, at worst, and eco-nag, or at best, Crazy Aunt Theresa.

Beany said...

Hope there is a place for slow-as-molasses knitters. If so, I am looking forward to a very lucrative career. Then again, if the planet just warms up, I might need to brush up on my hemming skills.