Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.
- Rosa Luxemburg, "Junius Pamphlet" 1916

Friday, August 13, 2010

GUEST POST: on social collapse and the Christian Right

Kir'Shara here (nobody has yet asked me what the hell that name means, oddly enough), with a brief introduction to today's post by a guest. The essay you are about to read was digitally penned by one of our regular readers and a friend of mine, who goes by the online moniker of Reave.

I'll have some concluding thoughts after his essay. For now, I will say only that I hope everything he and I write about on this topic turns out to be entirely unnecessary. I hope everything will be okay. Unfortunately, every great philosophical and spiritual tradition of the human species says it won't be, because that's not how human life works. Things change, and fall apart. Only the details are in doubt. All we can do is consider the possibilities and prepare.

And realize, as a friend once put it to me, that in the end, the only true power we have over the world is the power to be in it.

* * * * *

From Reave:

I probably ought not listen to talk radio in the Midwest. Well, anywhere except on the coasts, for that matter. Hearing conservative Christian talk radio is a lot different than hearing ABOUT it; in certain parts of the country, mostly the sparsely populated bits, it truly is ubiquitous. Like, pretty much every FM station north of 100.3, which is usually a pop station and the last fortress of sane radio before one enters the crazy. That's a LOT of people saying the same shit, you know?

Anyway, there was a consistent theme I heard on a number of Christian talk shows today. Anyone who's paying any attention at all knows that Fundamentalist Christianity is throwing a serious temper tantrum these days, in the form of a persecution complex. Bill O'Reilly's war on Christmas, the skirmishes over a giant cross war memorial in Utah, the continuing attempts in Texas to get the Ten Commandments bolted to courthouse doors, all are the hilarious attempts of an entrenched and powerful social majority to assume the mantle of the opressed to score points. "Christianity is under siege," they say, and I always mutter "if only." When I see "In Vishnu We Trust" on a dollar bill, or hear Thor invoked on the loud speaker before a high school football game, we'll talk. Hell, I'm willing to swing by the water cooler and listen to you rant if we can just get "under God" struck from the Pledge of Allegiance. But I digress.

Like I said, this isn't news. But what I hadn't directly experienced before today is that the blatant and cynical maneuvering of highly placed evangelical PR gurus is having a sinister effect on the poor ignorant bastards who actually believe them. This show I tuned into today was going on about the degradation of American morals, etc, and the need to preserve knowledge and home-school children, blah, blah. The host was talking about preserving books (properly Christian ones, of course, stockpiling Bibles and such), and I realized that she was talking about preparing for a collapse in civil order. If you are reading this blog, you may be making the same sorts of plans yourself; a lot of us are expecting a collapse as well. But when she took callers, people started talking about Revelations, and the Antichrist and such, and at one point one caller said "I really believe that soon I may die for saying 'I believe in my Lord, Jesus Christ.' And I am ready for that day." My first reaction was to roll my eyes and shout at the radio "are you fucking SERIOUS?" The implication here is that this guy thinks Christians are going to be herded into camps or  something, which is fucking ridiculous. It's like imagining a Nazi Germany where the Jews came to power and started exterminating the Germans. Wait, what? *blink*

As I was laughing, though, it sank in. Yes, WHAT the guy said was laughable to the point of peeing myself, but the WAY he said it was chilling. This guy BELIEVED it. Somewhere out here in Wisconsin there is a man who honestly expects Obama's death squad to arrive at his door, any day now, and carry all of the Christians in the upper Midwest off to death camps. And he wasn't alone; many callers shared the same thoughts. I could hear a deadly mixture of fear and conviction in their voices. We're talking about a great mass of superstitious people prepared to die in a religious war that nobody is interested in having, except them. And THAT is some seriously scary shit. Because all that is holding these people in check is the continued presence of a relatively strong government that, for all of its many, many failings, has done a reasonable job of keeping religiously and ethnically motivated mass murder to a minimum over the past thirty or forty years.

But one of the things we have to be prepared for in the coming years of Long Descent, is the degradation and weakness, if not complete dissolution, of a powerful central government in this country. I won't go into all of the details here, but suffice to say that the United States, more than any other country, is going to face great difficulty maintaining national unity in the face of peak oil and climate change. Even if it does maintain a nominal national identity, it will most likely resemble the federal government of the early 19th century, that had precious little direct influence over regional or state law and living.

In other words, if you live in a part of the country where a large number of Christian nutjobs are gearing up for fucking Armageddon, you're sitting on a powder keg that is going to start going off right when those most likely to stop it, Federal authorities, start being awfully scarce.  When the national trade and communications infrastructure is fraying and collapsing, these folks are gonna look for someone to blame, and find the same people they blame for everything from shitty music to food recalls now; racial and religious minorities, queer folk of every gender and orientation, scientists, "communists", uppity women, you name it. And there will be NO BARRIER to them seeking retribution. When there is no more FBI to investigate hate crimes, and precious little in the way of even State law enforcement, lynchings are going to be in vogue again. We might even get exotic and find burning at the stake coming back into fashion for the feminists and witches.

I know this is not a pretty picture, and no one wants to think that their country is that close to exploding into sectarian violence, but make no mistake; when a strong religious majority with eliminationist tendencies whips itself into a siege-mentality froth, and tops it all off with the seeming fulfillment of their end of the world myths and the collapse of any kind of mitigating central authority, BAD SHIT HAPPENS. The witch burning hysteria in dark ages Europe came from precisely this sort of thing; ethnically and religiously motivated wars going on overseas, coupled with domestic disaster (plague, in their case) led to the systematic extermination of everyone who didn't convert to Christianity fast enough. Imagine witch hunters in pickup trucks carrying shotguns. I'm not kidding.

Like other posts here about the Long Descent, I am not presenting problems to get off on the horror of it all, but to talk about solutions. A consistent theme on this blog has been community, and the essential role it will play in the survival strategies of each and every one of us. Some people would respond to the issue I've just laid out with classic survivalist porn: get yourself a compound and a lotta guns, and hold the Bible-wielding psychopaths off with concentrated firepower! Which, on top of being a bit blood thirsty for my taste, would never work; if you come to the attention to the community at large as an enemy, they outnumber you, and they will dig you out. The way to deal with this problem, as with so many others, is planning ahead.

Consider your community. What's on the radio? Are there an awful lot of confrontational, religiously oriented billboards around? Are there a lot of churches, and more importantly, do those churches have fire-and-brimstone pastors, as opposed to peace and understanding types? Even if you aren't Christian, or are the wrong brand of Christian, it nonetheless makes sense to take the pulse of the local Christian community. Are they aggressive? Angry? Threatened? Is there a lot of incensed letter writing in local newspapers about the library allowing such-and-such a book on the shelves? Are there a lot of confederate flag bumper stickers paired with occupied gun racks? All of these are clues that you live in a community that may become quite unwelcoming to someone who isn't one of their own. Basically, do you live someplace where you could stand on a soapbox in the middle of the town square and kiss your same sex partner, or pray openly to a pagan deity, and feel safe? If not, how much MORE unsafe will you feel when the shit hits the fan?

A lot of us are considering moving to places better suited to riding out the coming storm. If you are so planning, don't neglect this aspect; it will gain you very little to escape a city and set yourself up on the perfect off-the-grid organic farm with your hippie commune if you run afoul of the local sheriff who doesn't take kindly to fairies and queers. Keeping your head down might not always work; I grew up in a town where everyone knew what church everyone else attended, and if there's a face around town that never shows up in a pew, they'll figure it out faster than you would believe possible. One could always ostensibly convert, of course; many pagans and Jews avoided fire and sword that way more than once in Europe's history. My point is, consider the overall social milieu in which you find yourself, and ask yourself if you are surrounded by people on whom you will feel comfortable depending when society hits the rocks. If not, find some, because as we've said many times before, a solid community is worth more than a hundred years' worth of dehydrated food!

Some people will not have the option to relocate, for practical and emotional reasons. This will make things difficult, just as somebody who cannot bring themselves to leave the city of Las Vegas is going to have a rough time of it when the water turns off. If you find yourself in an inherently unfriendly community, and cannot leave, your best defense is to GET INVOLVED. Introduce yourself to your immediate neighbors, if you have not already. Take advantage of every social opportunity that you can; even in the heart of the Bible Belt, there are more or less secular activities like barrel races, rodeos, barbecues, 4H fairs, and the like. Make yourself visible and liked, make friends. So if the worst comes to pass, and mob rule becomes an issue, having as many friends as possible in that mob is the best route to safety. Mob violence and anger is directed at the faceless "other;" people are far, far less likely to participate in or condone violence towards people they know and like, personally. Even during the worst of the Inquisition in Dark Ages Europe, it was people who were not only different but profoundly socially isolated that were at the greatest risk; old widows, unintergrated immigrants, and the like. Because as frustrating and ignorant as they can be, individual people are generally decent enough. It is when they are piled into large, angry groups that problems arise. Make yourself known to the mob, BEFORE the trouble starts, and you may even be able to exert an ameliorating influence on it. Now is your best chance to inject a bit of diversity and tolerance into your community, using yourself as the vector. It's not an easy row to hoe (as the only openly non-Christian kid who went to my small town high school, I know from whence I speak!), but none of this is going to be easy, for any of us.

Basically, I'm arguing that we are coming up on a time when the world will again shrink, and those closest to you geographically will have the most significant impact on your daily life. It is CRUCIAL to bear this fact in mind, and be certain that you live in a community where you are safe, either through general accord between your lifestyle/beliefs and that of the community, or by forging strong personal bonds with those around you. Neglect both, and you may find yourself isolated at the worst possible time.

* * * * *

An afterward, by Kir'Shara:

In this blog and other places I have always written about American conservative Christians as if they are something Other. I write of "them," out there. When in fact, it might be you. If you, reading this, are a conservative, evangelical Christian, you believe that Christ will return soon to Rapture the faithful; that Satan inflicts evil through his mortal agents on Earth; that God calls upon you to resist such agents with all your might. To you, I'm one of those agents, because I don't believe in the things that you do.

But we both believe our generation will see the ending of this world. For me the end will happen because our oil is running short and global warming is setting the world on fire. I know you see global warming, especially, as a hoax invented by liberals to end the American way of life. Maybe my words come from the Devil, but tell me: why couldn't global warming, and peak oil, be the fire promised by God after he sent the flood (II Peter 3:6-7)?

Would you really hurt me or people I love because we live differently than you? I hope that you wouldn't. Like you, although for different reasons, I believe the end is coming. If you are right, and Christ returns to take you with Him to the sky, I will be left here to face the fire. Until then, why don't we talk?

And after you are gone in Rapture, I will remember.

* * * * *

My friend Reave explores a topic which, so far as I can tell, doesn't get a lot of attention in the peak oil and energy descent community. Folks involved with those issues devote much time and energy to preparing for the massive upheavals that energy depletion and ecological disintegration will bring to our society. In my experience, writing on such disruption avoids dealing -- except simplistically or in passing -- with one of the most plausible, and frightening possibilities of the coming era. And that is: the potential for direct, organized, political and religious violence in the United States, experienced in our own individual lives. I'm not talking about crime, or the looting and panic that can happen in the aftermath of a disaster. I'm talking about people coming to kill you because of what you believe or who you are. I fear it, and I know that many conservative Christians do as well.

It is an undeniable truth that such things are profoundly more likely to happen when a once stable society begins to fall apart. It is a central premise of this blog that the stable, prosperous United States all of us, right or left, have come to think of as normal is about to be destroyed. Preparation for that time will demand more than seeking new practices for a harsher world, in food, shelter, transportation, and health. We will have to face the potential for violence against people we love.
I have a Buddhist friend who thinks my fears of systematic political and religious violence in America are unfounded. Remember, she said, after the 2004 election, when you thought we were all going to be taken away in box cars? That did not happen. But, I would argue, 2004 was just one step in a larger process, dating back decades: the gathering of atmospheric conditions for a storm -- for the unthinkable to become possible. The Manichean conservative fury driving the campaign of 2004 has been building, like many political storms in many countries, toward culmination. Perhaps my conservative reader would find this conclusion unfair; but on the website of an evangelical church in my city, I see these words: "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live." To someone on the right, perhaps this signifies mercy. To me, it sounds like a threat. 

Organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, who track right wing movements in the United States, have amassed quantitative evidence of violent rhetoric and preparation on the American right. Isolated acts of violence against liberals, Muslims, and gays are increasing. Indeed, gay people, non-Christians, and racial minorities have lived with the threat and reality of political violence for their entire lives, in a prosperous and stable society. We know this. We know from history what happens when social disintegration and political extremism come together, like matter and anti-matter. And we know, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the disintegration is coming. We know that climate change and peak oil will hammer human societies with unprecedented force. Because they manifest in the physical, quantitative data that technological society, above all else, is best equipped to gather and comprehend.
A reader, whether left, right, or other, might think I want all of us lefties to start stockpiling ammo and guns. I actually think finding peaceful alternatives will be vital for the future of this country.  Reave's essay moved me to begin reading the sermons of Martin Luther King and the essays of the Buddhist nun Pema Chodron. These two messengers of peace write, in contrasting but synchronous ways, of non-violence as a practical strategy for living. Not as woolly-headed self-help cliches, not as delusional, escapist fantasy, but as mercilessly pragmatic lessons from two lives tempered by agony and doubt.

Along with other lessons from our history, we will need such wisdom in the history yet to be.


  1. Excellent post. I had many similar thoughts while driving solo through Utah, Idaho, and the Eastern parts of Oregon and Washington recently. As one does when driving long distances trying to remain alert, I listened to a genre of radio broadcast that I'd usually avoid like rotten fish heads. And then when I'd exhausted my tolerance for country western music I tried a little right-wing talk radio. Wow. Scarier than I'd imagined (and I grew up attending fairly conservative Christian churches).

    Back at the peak of my Christian zeal I thought I'd become a missionary to the dark and distant parts of the globe and I took a course called Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. One of the speakers emphasized the importance, for a long-term missionary wanting to be accepted by a target community, of accepting, embracing and participating in all aspects of the communty's culture that are not in direct opposition to the missionary's beliefs.

    Reave, your advice about attending rodeos and 4H events reminded me of this. It's so easy, now, while civil order prevails, to exclude the "right-wing nut jobs" from our spheres of consciousness and continue our daily lives as though they do not have any impact on us. But as you so eloquently described, such thinking may indeed prove dangerous.

    When you touched on this idea of integrating with society, however, you seemed to focus primarily on the relative level of personal security that might be achieved. What about the possibility that by integrating adequately on a much larger scale, we may prevent persecutory behaviors in the first place? For any given community, if it's possible for one minority (of any sort) person or family to prove itself valuable to the majority (or even just likable), then maybe it's possible for a larger group of such minorities to so infiltrate their society that enough of the majority group would already be affected by them and would never be able to achieve the critical mass necessary to initiate any sort of persecution of said minorities.

    Anyway... great post. It's gotten me thinking and I think I'll be thinking about it for some time to come. Thanks.

    P.S. Kir'Shara, I did google your handle a while back, but neglected to mention it. Also like the name of the blog! Just read Foundation for the first time last year.

  2. Thanks, ilorien! You raise a good point about "infiltrating" larger cultures and vringing about tolerance through familiarity. I didn't address that directly in this post because my emphasis was on personal preparation and survival; if Kir'Shara will bear with me, most of any future posts I make will focus on that. I want to provide information and insight for people who lack the desire/resources to get involved in the preparation of SOCIETY for the coming hard times. What you suggested is an interaction between communities, which is beyond the control of any but the most involved and ambitious of individuals. Clearly, I would be joyful beyond measure if integration could proceed to the point where the kind of bigoted violence I forsee does not occur, but history has shown that to be a slow process, and I want people to think of their own personal safety as well.

  3. Kir'Shara the emissary of ancient Vulcan wisdom will bear with you, Reave! Send along more stuff any time. You too, Ilorien, if you'd like. Because you're both grad students and have nothing but free time.

    I too have been thinking a lot about Reave's post. The intense focus on personal preparation is part of what made it so memorable. I take long bike rides around Albuquerque, and every time I pass one of those little strip mall Bible churches I wonder upon the doings within. And what those engaged in the doings would say if I were to walk in and take a seat and be open about who and what I was.

    On a related point, after reading Reave's post, I checked out the web site for our local tea party here in the Burkee. For some reason, I found that even scarier than some of the Abq church web sites I looked at. Although, I suppose there's much overlap between tea parties and evangelical prophecy churches. Any way, at least the tea partiers urged victory at the ballot box rather than on a battlefield. For now.