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November 26, 2008

I made a big mistake: I let myself get into the habit of seeing the future in the short term. I got used to seeing gas prices sky-high. I got used to the price of everything going up. I got used to turning on the news and seeing bad news—not just about robberies or shootings, but about the state of the world. I thought this was the end of it all; I thought it was all falling apart, right now, and it was happening in front of my eyes.

I was wrong, of course, and because I was wrong, I got depressed. I wanted the end. I wanted to stop wishing and dreaming and hoping and actually start seeing some results. I wanted to stop being a skeptic and a naysayer; I wanted to have something to point to and say “Look! It’s right here, don’t you see?”

The worst part about it is that I’ve always tried to stick to the long-term, to keeps in mind that immediate results aren’t what we should expect or even want. The Iroquois used to live (and some still do, at least those who weren’t wiped out) by a simple philosophy: “In every deliberation we must consider the impact on the seventh generation…” This is a good way to think, and certainly a sustainable way to think. (I thought about saying “more sustainable” there, but since the world we live in today isn’t sustainable to begin with, it doesn’t fit.)

For a while I was responding to friends and family, when they’d mention how cheap gas had gotten, “Yeah, but you have to be careful about getting used to that. If the prices dropped this fast [Prices have reduced by more than 50% in mere months] you have to keep in mind that they could shoot back up just as fast.” This was out of the belief that prices would shoot back up. Now I’m not so sure. Now I’m not sure I even believe what I said. With prices lower than they were in 2005, and still dropping, I’m not sure four-dollar-a-gallon gas is right around the corner again. I still believe the numbers are on the side of Peak Oil, but I don’t know what that means for gas prices. Maybe they’ll stay this low for another year.

But at least there’s the “crisis” in the financial markets, right? That should keep my doom-and-gloom dreams under control. Really, though, I’m not sure there either. It seems like there has been debate over “Will we see a recession?” for a year now. Maybe we won’t. The rates of growth might shrink, but there might not be actual shrinkage.

The thing I have to keep in mind, or any of us for that matter, is that this is just the very beginning. If this is what I really think it is—the beginning of the end of industrial society, the turning of a new page, the death of a violently unhealthy lifestyle—and I really hope it is, then I have to keep in mind that it’s going to take a long, long time. I have to remember that this might take several generations; I’ll probably be long gone by the time it gasps its last, dying breath. I have to do what I can to stop it, but I also have to find ways to stay sane while I’m alive.

A few days ago I heard someone talking about how the United States were born against all odds, and how, even against those odds, the country became the greatest economic power that the world has ever known. My immediate reaction was So what? It’s still going to fail. I thought of Rome, which I had alluded to without mentioning directly in my last post. The Roman Empire was around for about 1500 years (in various forms). Fifteen hundred! The United States has been around for a little more than 200. The Roman Empire, being arguably the most vast, expansive, influential Empire that dominated the largest chunk of time in all of Western history still fell. And it didn’t fall overnight: it took hundreds of years.

I—we—have to accept that it might be a long, long, bumpy ride. It might not take hundreds of years, but the complete transformation might not occur within any of our lifetimes. Gas prices might stay low. We might not ever see a recession. We might grow and grow and grow (at lower rates each year) until we can grow no more. While the cracks might be visible today, they might not actually affect the integrity of the foundation very much for years to come. We have to be patient.

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