First gradually, then all at once

Off to the races.

If you think we’re headed into a transhuman nirvana of continuous tech-assisted orgasm, social equity, and guaranteed basic income, you are going to be disappointed. Our actual destination is a neo-medieval time-out from all the techno-dazzle of recent decades. It’s not as bad as you might think. The human project will continue at a lower pitch, probably for a good long while, but minus most of the comforts and conveniences we’re used to, and with very different social arrangements. You can waste your energy hand-wringing and wailing over all this, or summon the fortitude to go where history is taking us and make something of it.

The old economy is wrecked. Many Americans already know this because they’ve lost their businesses and their livelihoods. What used to be there isn’t coming back. But there will always be ways to make yourself useful providing things and services that other people need, just not within the crumbling armature of the economy we’re leaving behind. There will be a lot of debris left in the way to overcome, especially the crap we’ve smeared all over the landscape.

One business you can begin to organize right now is a salvage industry, sorting out the reusable components of all that crap — the steel I-beams, the aluminum trusses and sashes, plate glass, concrete blocks, copper and PVC pipe, and dimensional lumber. A lot of this stuff we just won’t be making anymore, certainly not at the former scale. Think of all the shopping malls to be disassembled.

Growing food and getting it to markets is the most critical activity. Poor Bill Gates, addled by his fortune, has bought up something like a quarter-million acres of farmland. His grandiosity prompts him to believe he can organize farming on the super-giant scale — Walmart for corn and turnips. Nothing could be further from the real coming trend: a reduction of scale and scope of farming and of the distribution supply lines that serve it. Poor Bill doesn’t seem to realize that the oil-and-gas-based “inputs” (fertilizers, pesticides) won’t be there for him, nor will the million-dollar diesel-powered combines. Nor the trucking industry. He could do more good for mankind getting into the mule business. (He won’t. Lacks razzle-dazzle.)

Ahh, but mightn’t there be a bright side to all this misery nonetheless? A-yup, there just might.

For those perhaps not paying attention, Covid-19 has destroyed what remains of education, especially the public school system. It was already moribund, waiting to crash, reduced to a pension racket for teachers. Going forward, the money won’t be there to operate these giant centralized schools and their yellow buses (while paying out pensions). The virus has kick-started exactly the kind of home-schooling pod system (several families combining) that can be reorganized into small-scale schooling for people who want it. People who don’t want it can move into their future without knowing how to read or do arithmetic. We’ll finally get a good test of the noble savage hypothesis. As for the colleges and universities, their business models are toast. They’ll be downscaling and shuttering as far ahead as the eye can see. Whatever remains will be more like finishing schools for neo-medieval ladies and gentlemen — and, by the way, the distinction between men and women will be reestablished. Why? Because reality insists on it. There will be plenty of work for former professors of Intersectionality in the sorghum fields.

Hard work too, back-breaking work, from cain’t see to cain’t see, as real farmers used to say. I do so look forward to said professors collapsing en masse, great windrows of them, out in those killing fields: doughy bodies atremble, pasty faces empurpled, fragile psyches undone by the awful sight of actual dirt under their fingernails.

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