Apocalypse Porn

 
 

This might seem a trivial incident, but in futures-speak, it is possibly a ‘weak signal’, an infinitesimal clue of things to come. (Erratic tech, entertainment addiction, the vitality of print.) Such clues are rarely noticed, except in retrospect. The world’s first hand-held, chip-driven calculators flew out the doors in 1970, presaging the future of portability. Yet IBM spent another 10 years flogging its mainframes.

The collapse of Enron produced a feast of portents. Executive hubris, ethical terror, the plunder of staff entitlements. Chairman Ken Lay was a buddy of President George W Bush, pouring $1 million into his campaign coffers and lending him a Lear Jet. The energy giant lavished gold on its top brass – Lay’s 1999 bonus exceeded $42 million. Its deals were dodgy and it was adored by financial journalists.

In short, this was rogue capitalism in full flight that was treated as an aberration rather than a sign of systemic avarice and deception. If the signals had been heeded, Wall Street’s financial malfeasance could have been corrected sooner, without spiralling into the bloodbath of today.

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Degrees of survivalism

In the 21st century, weak signals seem to be intensifying. Michelle Obama has suddenly projected the guerrilla gardening movement into the heart of public awareness by turning the first organic sod in the White House’s vegetable garden. Let a thousand zucchinis bloom – and they will. When Michelle plonked herself on the street with a bunch of raggedy London schoolkids during the recent G20 summit, hugging them, inspiring them, she may have signalled the end of the frigid and forced classroom photo-ops beloved  by Australia’s politicians. Mrs Obama’s elevation of the backyard vegie patch is a coded warning of hard times ahead and a call for self-sufficiency.

It is a message that penetrates across global boundaries. A few months ago I noticed an odd sign at the entrance of Blacktown Girls High School in Sydney: Sustainability Street – It’s A Village Out There. As I later discovered, thanks to a report by journalist Nick Galvin, the girls had planted nearly 1000 indigenous trees to create a wildlife corridor along the edge of the school grounds. The students were pushing for water tanks to be installed, a full carbon audit, car-pooling and designated paper-free days.

They were keen to create a ‘kitchen garden’ in a disused part of the school; one that reflected the playground’s ethnic diversity by having different plants represent different cultures. In my day, all we did at school was grumble.

This is the soft and sensible side of survivalism. In the think tanks, on the blogs, on YouTube and at middle-class dinner parties, the chatter is apocalyptic. Store weapons, horde gold, buy candles. Prepare for peak oil, peak water, peak fish, peak topsoil, peak debt, peak everything. It’s the end of suburbia, the rise of anarchy, the arrival of pre-emptive law enforcement (British cops have ‘identified’ 200 schoolchildren, some as young as 13, as potential terrorists).

Survival sites are having a field day. EfoodsDirect.com offers a ‘3-Day Responder’, designed to meet the ever increasing need for families and individuals to be ‘prepared for anything’. It offers one adult three days of healthy, storable food for about $2 a meal. The ‘Patriot Pack’ contains a two-month emergency supply. It looks yummy and claims to be storable for 15 years. A global meltdown doesn’t mean you have to miss meals.

‘The game will soon be over’

It wasn’t so long ago that high-profile futurists – no, not me – were promoting a scenario of The Long Boom, ‘a vision for the coming age of prosperity’, that now seems a fleeting vision. Today it is the doomsayers who dominate, and to be frank, there is something exciting about listening to the promulgations of catastrophe. A former writer for Rolling Stone, Jim Kunstler, has long depicted a future scenario of The Long Emergency.

Kunstler regards the creation of suburbia as the ‘greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world’, and foretells its tragic destiny: ‘The psychology of previous investment suggests that we will defend our drive-in utopia long after it has become a terrible liability.’ He, like other soothsayers, sees our lives as becoming ‘profoundly and intensely local’, and he believes the future will be far less about mobility and much more about staying where you are. An ‘enormous problem’ will be the production of food.

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