Although I’ve built one or two log cabins over the years, I suppose that way of life isn’t something I’ll go back to any more, especially since I’m already 62 years of age. About twice a week I get my Daniel-Boone fantasies, but as soon as the Arctic wind starts whistling down the street, here in Nova Scotia, I know I would die without central heating — and in the Middle East, on the other hand, I realized I would die without air conditioning. But in today’s world, in the Age of Declining Everything, there has to be some refuge from the coming troubles, which I think means some sort of happy medium between civilization and wilderness, town and country.
I’ve discussed these matters with several people over the years, and the consensus seems to be as follows. I must admit, though, that I’ve never actually taken a vote, so I don’t know the extent to which I’m just projecting my own beliefs. Nevertheless, certain expressions seem to keep coming up. It seems that the best place to live, now and for the next few decades, will be a small town, and the absolute maximum population would be about 80,000, but much smaller might be better. That community should be small enough that you can get out of town easily. In other words, you should be living roughly on the border between urban and rural. That way you can take advantage of both worlds, or rather you would have a choice of two, if there was a danger that required making such a choice.
The other major criterion seems to be that one should be living in a country with a relatively normal, healthy form of government. I suspect people who already live in such countries are rather puzzled by such words as “corruption,” since they may have seen such a thing on only a rather mild scale, e.g., an occasional politician handing out a contract to a crony, and not realized what it is like to live in a world where every minute of one’s life is infested with corruption.
“Normal” and “abnormal”are to some extent a matter of one’s personal point of view, but I’ve always liked Richard Maybury’s term “Chaostan” — lands where chaos prevails. For him, this includes nearly a third of the Earth’s surface: many parts of northern Africa and eastern Europe, and a great deal of Asia.
Those two criteria, a smaller community within a country with a fairly healthy form of government, have other implications. I think many people live in big cities, not because of the restaurants and theaters, but because that’s where the money is concentrated. But the downside is considerable. Big cities are expensive. The traffic and parking are terrible, yet public transport is usually dismal and hence not much of an alternative. And there is never a balance between urban and rural: food, clothing, and shelter are entirely dependent on how fast you can whip out a credit card or a debit card, so any concept of self-sufficiency is purely a fantasy. Don’t try growing potatoes on a high-rise balcony — although, yes, I confess I’ve done it myself.
It’s been said before that cities are death traps. If the farmers refused, for a couple of days, to send food into the city, it would be crippled. The same applies to a great many other commodities. My principal memory of the great blackout of eastern North America, on August 14, 2003, was of the great numbers of people driving north. Many of my friends then stopped at my rural home and told me that they had been able to get so far only because they’d kept their gas tanks full and had put aside some spare cash. When they first spoke to me, I was only dimly aware of the problem, since life that day in my own village was no different from any other day.
About the author: Peter Goodchild is the author of ‘Survival Skills of the North American Indians’ (Chicago Review Press). Click here to mail him.