Speculative fiction is littered with stories showing our future after Apocalypses of all sorts. Vampires, dying suns, exploding stars, epidemics, plagues, earthquakes, fires…the list goes on. It’s Baskin Robbins and the 32 flavors of the Apocalypse!
The amount of world-building necessary for a post-apocalypse, dystopian or near-future alternate reality is as heavy as any fantasy world. It is simply a matter of extrapolation. Instead of creating things to see how they develop, destruction is the start of a post-apocalyptic world.
For the next few months, my focus will be on some of those deconstructions. Society, religion, cryptozoology, even zombies! While these are deep, broad subjects worth a better study and a lot of discussion, I’ll be attempting to hit the high points.
Building the Apocalypse: Neighbor Bob, King of Vancouver?
Social lines, in a world as crowded as ours, are beginning to blur. Instead of hundreds of insular, small societies and a few large, open-bordered cultures, we have the formations of a monolithic society with shaded boundaries and a few small pockets of unique societies.
So, what happens if the world collapses around such a large society? If our communications go, and our governments fold, and our law systems dissolve, where do we go from there? For answers to this, the best studies are probably prison inmates, immigrants and concentration camp prisoners. Without any common bonds–blood, religion, race, history–except circumstance, chaos and disadvantage, these random groupings of people develop their own societies and laws.
As most prey animals know, there is indeed safety in numbers, in putting the weakest creatures at the center of the herd. Given time and the right agitations, humans in chaos eventually sort themselves into strata. Nuclei form, protection from the elements that haven’t found some sort of order.
Humans are both predator and prey. So we create elaborate systems to protect ourselves, and turn the predators into the protectors to channel their aggressive instincts.
The question is, how would this happen? Would things be different in a rural community, versus a big city? In different climates? With different levels of infrastructure damage and wealth?
Certainly. For one thing, it would depend on the type of apocalypse that got served up. Most likely, a large city would be more devastated by a catastrophe, while a smaller community would have, perhaps fewer resources to ride out the storm, but less to throw into chaos and a faster recovery time.
“A small town in Kansas, for example, can likely rely upon reputation and the fact that everyone knows everyone else, while the residents of New York City need some mechanism, like punishment, that can work in the absence of reliable reputations,” ~Evolution of Fairness
In other words, a metropolis, like LA, New York, Chicago or Atlanta might be more likely to give rise to a dictatorship or monarchy, with an individual or group seizing power, while a smaller town might get off with less social back-lash.
However, such a situation would be a plausible basis for American feudalism. In a society shaken badly enough by disaster, those with the most resources/knowledge will fare the best in the cities. After a disaster, crime lords, high-level politicians and wealthy opportunists might have the resources to make power-plays.
The concept of ‘turf’ is, in a way, feudalistic anyways. Competing for resources, location, followers and power, the political set-up isn’t that different. Frightened, disoriented people turn to leaders, and leaders sometimes turn into rulers.
Even the weather and neighborly trust have something to do with our recovery.
Is the Apocalypse hot or cold? Ice Age or Global Warming?
Climate can also have an influence over the mind and behavior. Studies have shown that violent-crime rates are higher during warmer months compared to colder months. ~Social Ecology: Lost and Found in Social Science
A low-violence, organized community that works together and pulls as a team would also, likely, be faster to recover economically.
For example, nations high in general trust have more subsequent capital investment and economic growth that nations that are low in general trust.~Social Ecology
In the 1920′s, America shifted from a rural-centric society into an urban-centric society. Manufacturing brought about an age of leisure, fun and indulgence. For the first time, it wasn’t just the rich who had to look for things to do. Automation, 8 hour work-days and unions took some of the load off of the American citizen.
When the Great Depression hit, this leisure society was abandoned, and people had to work again. While this was a dark and horrible time in our history, it may have, in fact, contributed to our overall health and prosperity.
A recent study suggests that, as grandma always said, ‘idle hands are the Devil’s playground, but hard work is the way to heaven.’ People who are busy and active are more likely to be happy than people who are more sedentary.
For the study, volunteers completed a survey, then had to wait 15 minutes before the next survey would be ready. They could drop off the completed survey at a nearby location and wait out the remaining time or drop it off at a location farther away, where walking back and forth would keep them busy for the 15 minutes. Either way, they would receive a candy when they handed in their survey. Volunteers who chose to stay busy by going to the faraway location were found to be happier than those who chose to be idle. ~Science Daily
If you want to learn how to do more than is humanly possible, ask a farmer or rancher. I'm in awe of my rancher great-grandfathers, who worked right on through retirement. They were good, solid people, and always had a laugh and joke at the ready. They knew how to pack a lot of work into not a lot of time, and still have fun.
Compare this to the majority of modern society!
If happiness, activity and trust are key to the economic success of a country, then perhaps we'd start knitting together in the rural areas, the secluded glens. Maybe our reconstruction would come from the Appalachians, or the backwoods of Idaho.
These are just a few of the many things that could happen in American society, if a disaster of national or global impact were to shatter our infrastructure. As has been demonstrated in the past, it would take a truly epic event to damage us beyond repair. But our nation is also more fragile than it has been for a while, so who can say?
However, you can rest easy: we’ve survived world wars, influenza epidemics, Katrina and politicians with a relatively intact infrastructure. If an event big enough to crash America ever does happen, most of us will be dead, and not caring if Neighbor Bob becomes King of Vancouver.