Monday, March 31, 2008


Gruff Lord,

A few thoughts on living without electricity and its comforts…

The End of Electricity will be hard for us, but the “end of the world as we know it” for us would be just another day for the Old Amish, who do not use any modern convenience such as electricity or indoor plumbing. It’d be just another day of hard work on the farm, building fence or mucking stalls. This is something for us to keep in mind when contemplating coming possible events. What may seem like the total end of civilization (by which we mean indoor plumbing, electric lights, central heating, hot food, safety in the home or on the street), would be a big yawn for my friends down on their farm. Nothing would have ended for them, for they’d still be using the oil lamps, wood-burning stove, and outhouses they’ve always used.

Does that help put things into some perspective?

And yet it will be a big deal, a really uncomfortable time for us. That will be the biggest loss facing us, I suspect. Not death, not total pain, but simple discomfort day in and day out. Most of our technology, after all, doesn’t keep us alive, it merely keeps us comfortable. We don’t need air conditioners to breathe, we merely need (or want) them to keep the air cooler than it is outside. But it wouldn’t kill us to be outside in 90 degree weather. We’d just sweat, that’s all--your body’s air conditioner. We don’t need indoor plumbing to do our laundry, or washing machines or dryers--they just make the process of washing clothes a lot more convenient and comfortable. Washing clothes by hand is hard work--but certainly not impossible.

The big difference between us and the Amish is their farms, where they have the setup they need to keep life going in a manner comfortable for them (if not entirely for us). We no longer have farms, and huge proportions of our population live in cities and have no way of growing or hunting food, unless they want to eat spouted seeds and rats--which is both possible and probably nutritious enough to keep body and soul together, if not something you’d want to think too hard about.

Americans are so used to getting rid of any discomfort--through drugs, potions, appliances, etc. that to simply have to live with discomfort will be a rude shock. And those will be the lucky people, who merely have to endure discomfort. No more three meals a day with meat at every meal. Think a bowl of soup a day as your full diet, and meat maybe once a week. Maybe some bread or something a little extra, but that might be it for a year or so--just “everlasting soup,” as one post-apocalyptic book has it.

Can you live with that? Can you endure your allergy symptoms without access to antihistamines or live with your own body dirt and smell for weeks at a time, wearing dirty clothes stained with muck and blood? Dirty hair? And worst of all, smelling everyone else with whom you’re sharing the bunker?

Sure. You can live with it. People have, after all, for eons, centuries, prison terms, etc. The trick is how to keep your spirits up, and your sense of humor alive through all this, because I think those two items--morale and humor--might be the first things to go when things get smelly and rough. And yet, you can’t live without ‘em, at least not live well.

When all the survival bloggers tell you to get some skills ahead of time, don’t forget the essential skills of knowing how to laugh and how to play and how to simply enjoy the life around you. Watch kids--they have no idea they are poor (until they run into other kids who let them know). They do know when they’re hungry, but they’ll forget that for a whopping good story any day. That’s an important skill to learn--how to bypass or ignore symptoms of physical discomfort and focus instead on the “good story,” which could be any detail of the life you are currently living.

I remember sailing with my father and brothers. We were sometimes cold and uncomfortable, sometimes capsized into the lake and cold as hell for hours, hoping to be rescued, or slowly towing the boat closer to shore…my dad would work hard to get us to sing, to laugh, to tell stories during these times. Sometimes it wouldn’t work and a more sullen crew could not be found. But when it did, it was wonderful. All of a sudden, what was an awful, even dangerous, situation became a game, an adventure, and it became thrilling, like we were living in a story written by a great, wise author. It became fun!

And all that it took was a change in focus from the uncomfortable to the remarkable, from the dull fact of cold, to the exciting fact of working together to survive. Re-focusing isn’t easy, and it is a skill that requires practice, as do most skills. But practice in this can make survival a lot more enjoyable when it comes down to it.

If we can achieve that ease in paying attention to things other than our physical comfort, I suspect we’ll become as adept as the Amish in dealing with TEOTWAWKI.


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