Everyman’s journey

We’re re-running this popular piece from the first year of Transition Voice.

Pilgrim couple

Pilgrim’s Progress: From This World to That Which Is To Come

A Survival Sampler

“So, can I ask you a personal question? What do YOU call this whole thing, whatever it is, that’s gonna happen?”  I posed this to a man I had just met and who happens to be the largest supplier on the East Coast of long-term food storage and survival items.  He had just given us a tour, complete with samples of dehydrated applesauce and freeze-dried beef, as well as demos of some of the newest gizmos and essential equipment.  It was a beautiful warm day, and his remote homestead was gorgeous, but there was something very odd about meeting this way.

You’ll meet many fascinating people in your Transition journey. See how Elizabeth sizes them up.

Although we were cordial and friendly-like, the undercurrents of fear and the unknown of any future predicaments in which we would require his wares were palpable.  The food samples, as any parent knows, were crucial, as my 9 year old daughter was not thrilled with yet another drive into the country to another farm this weekend.  Her participation in our efforts to prepare her future must often be secured with promises of food or ice cream upon completion of each fact-finding mission about cider-pressing, or acreage for sale, or chicken coop construction.  The size of his impressive operation, housed in an airplane hangar, was a bummer for her; she just wanted to watch the goats graze in his golden fields.  But it verified to us that he clearly ‘got it’ and confirmed our own hesitant and hazy visions of an ominous future.

“I don’t call it anything, I just know it’s going to happen – and so do you, and so does he, and so does she,” he said, referring to my husband and another woman, a ‘regular’ who had come in during our tutorial to show him her newest survival purchase from Amazon.  The visit had taken on a surreal quality – like some play by Beckett or Pinter – as we referred to our deepest, darkest existential fears with these two strangers.  At first we just hinted at them, teasing out whether they were of like mind, and washing over some of the scarier scenarios for the sake of my daughter.  But even she seemed to sense that all this was worth paying attention to, and eventually the talk became plain.

Cover of antique edition of Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan

“The Apocalypse? End-of-Days? ‘Course we all know it’s not really going to be the end of time….”  Earlier, he had told me he was a servant in the Church of the Latter Day Saints; and it was a dream – a divine directive – one night that led him down this particular survival path.  He had heeded this call, and readily shared his practical knowledge and spiritual beliefs once he knew we would listen.

We asked the two if they knew of the Transition Town movement, or of Kunstler, or Peak Oil or the Oil Drum, or ning: all things we have only recently discovered ourselves.  Neither had ever heard of them and I was kind of embarrassed by our ridiculous name and phrase-dropping in a realm we know so little about.  But as these names signify a certain level of comprehension of the matter, and are touchstones of the coming crisis, we asked anyway.

After considering it a while, he offered his own option: “I’d probably just call it the Time of Tribulation…”  I nodded, not surprised by the Biblical reference, but struck by the lack of urgency that his phrase suggested.  It had a weary future quality to it, hardly the banner call for immediate preparation or autonomous survival that his warehouse enterprise represents.

What’s in a name?

As I try to learn more and get a grip on the Great Unraveling, what I’m really discovering is just how much fringe exists.  People all over the world know collapse is coming, but they form many disparate groups — each with its own version, verbiage and baggage for the End of Life As We Know It.  Each seems cultish, silly or elitist, even those based soundly in science and technology, and I feel cultish using their jargon.  Their labels and language choices are very important, I think — more of a factor in preventing mainstream acceptance than they know.  Sure, folks find each other on the Web, but when erudite online posters and pundits use the phrase “when the shit hits the fan” (WTSHTF for short) so frequently, you know you’ve got a language problem.

End-time talk is tricky, especially with all of the adverbial unknowns: who/what/where/when/why and how is this all going to happen?  None of the usual phrases — Peak Oil, Transition Movement, Climate Change, Long Emergency, Post-Carbon Economy, to name a few — provides a suitable umbrella for the subsets, thus missing the opportunity to broadcast awareness of things to come to the uninitiated.  Community remains atomized, preparations never coordinated or undertaken, populations left unaware, and increased suffering ensured.  All because of a deficiency in the language.  (My survival supplier’s “Time of Tribulations” had me in mind of the “Trouble with Tribbles“, some of the cuter creatures in outer space.  The phrase, like all the others, simply does not have the gravitas to represent something so grave, so urgent, so complex, so grown-up.)

Limp phrases neither inspire nor motivate people to action, or even to mental acceptance.  And even though all these groups feel the need to prepare psychologically, physically, and even spiritually — and all have a fondness for food and water and security — they still do not comprise a unified MOVEMENT in the classic sense: one that grabs the public at large and forces a cultural reckoning.

The biggest news you’ve never heard…

Last week after I picked up my daughter from school (we pilgrims still have to conduct normal lives after all), I asked her if she knew what adults mean when we speak of peak oil or end times. “Sure,” she said. “It’s about no more cars on the road, no more fossil fuels, everything changing and falling apart and everybody going back to the old-timey ways, like making things instead of buying them at Target. You think I don’t listen, Mama, but I do.”

I was proud: not only did she summarize it pretty well, but she had just said more on the subject than I have ever heard from any elected official, or business or cultural leader.  We warn citizens about coming natural disasters or vaccine shortages or food contamination or road closings, and failure to do so is criminal.  Yet no one in power speaks of the most immense societal collapse our culture will ever know, fearing they’ll unleash utter chaos and loathe to admit they are solution-less.  So creating a community of self-informed citizens becomes even more imperative, especially to motivate the legions of people who have no idea how fragile our society is.

Willfully ignorant types, ones who just can’t ‘go there,’ will always exist, and will not ‘transition’ well.  It’s all too bleak and unpredictable for them to abide.  So many books, so many blogs, so many signs, and not even a blip on their radar.  But for many others, it’s NOT about denial; it’s about the dearth of mainstream discussion and minimal coverage from conventional news sources.

It’s difficult to rally the modern world based on a nebulous future and a current spectrum of believers who apparently have no desire to converge.  Perhaps the fundamentalist Christians and liberal environmentalists, conspiracy-theorists and policy wonks, back-to-the-landers, techies, tycoons and all the other strange bedfellows don’t want to unify.  Fine.  But in language they should at least try, in order to propel the future toward a new and urgent dynamic.

Silent Light Switch

Silent Light Switch. Source: Elemental Services & Consulting Inc. (ESCO), (silent light switch)


When I asked my daughter what she thought this whole future mess should be called (suggesting it be something less scary than End Times and catchier than Post-Carbon Economy), she said, “How ’bout…The Switch?”

I liked it.  A lot.  Especially the way it sounds like YOU are making the conscious choice and performing the simple and necessary task of turning off a light switch.  Everyone does that, every day.  Or…turning ON the bulb switch in your brain.  Brilliant, autonomous yet universal. Easy.  Or switching to a simpler life.

I also liked how it reminded me of my grandparents — how they would tell you to go and get a switch, a thin tree branch of your own choosing, so that if they chose to follow through with the threat, they could punish you with it.  That seemed somehow fitting, ’cause The Switch is surely gonna hurt….isn’t it?

“Wow, honey.  Now make the letters stand for something, and you’ve really got something…” Some hemming followed, then she grandly announced “Society Without Internet….”  This was amazing!  I threw in “Telecommunications or Travel?  Or TV or Technology!  No, C is for Cars — or Cell phones….H….What can H stand for?  What’re the 4Hs: Hands, Heart, Head…Help? Health? Home? Hype? Hope? Humanity?”

We never did solidify the H.  Perhaps in the absence of unifying slogan we can each make our own acronym, and make the SWITCH smart less.  But we surely need all the H we can get.

–Elizabeth Scarpino, Transition Voice

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  1. gaiasdaughter says

    Sorry, I’m coming up blank about your ‘h,’ but I agree that SWITCH is a great word to describe the coming times. And I like the idea of using a term that brings people together — I’ve been thinking about much the same thing lately — how to bring together not only those who are already preparing for a transition time, but also those who steadfastly maintain that science will save us with miraculous new inventions just in the nick of time. (Mmm, that would be my husband . . . ) My idea is to form a community organization that promotes preparedness in general (Hurricane Sandy is a timely poster child — one never knows when and where disaster might hit). I hope to call the organization C.A.R.E for the Commons: Community Alliance for Resourceful Enterprise — where we meet on common ground and use common sense to promote the common good. The truth is that however far apart we are in our political and religious ideology, we actually have more in common than is generally acknowledged — and I hope to build on our common needs and desires — on the humanity that unites us. If we can put rhetoric aside, maybe we can use common sense to prepare for the ‘just in case’ scenarios that no one can predict.

    The emphasis will be on food and water storage, non-electric tools, you know . . . all the usual — as well as supporting local businesses, developing and sharing useful skills, advocating for local laws that allow for chickens, for example, or that support mass transit, bicycle lanes, etc. Transition Towns has an initiative called Transition Streets that would fit in well with the overall concept. Anyway, I’m hoping that by doing an end-run around peak oil and climate change I might win a few more converts — and the more people that have cushions, the better chance we all have when the house of cards comes tumbling down.

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