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    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

A world worthy of consideration
October 4, 2011 - 3:15pm

I just finished James H. Kunstler's novel, World Made by Hand. It's the tale of a small community near the New York - Vermont state line, during a summer some years after civilization (as we know it) has fallen apart. Kunstler doesn't take the Hollywood blockbuster track -- no clear single causes, no huge digital effects (nor the literary equivalents thereof). Rather, he posits numerous causes (war in the Middle East, disruption of oil supplies, rising energy prices which cripple major industries, climate change leading to food shortages and population dislocation, epidemics, attacks on major US cities enabled by a diminished ability to retaliate). And rather than depicting the end of the human race, he attempts to show the end of civilization-as-we-knew-it with much-decreased population and prosperity levels.

Story specifics aside, Kunstler uses this situation to counterpose five different models of survivor society: a religious cult with a charismatic leader, a plantation/fiefdom, a community of scavengers, a city ruled over by a boss reminiscent of a Rhine valley robber baron, and a village trying to hold itself together by means the occupants consider traditional. Each model exhibits both strengths (in practical, if not moral, terms), and the story serves to place them into conflict -- sometimes mild, sometimes violent.

I'm no literary critic, so I'm not recommending this book as a great work of modern literature. But I do think it's something people concerned about social/economic/environmental sustainability issues should read and consider. Especially such folks who live in the northeastern USA. (Regional resonance, and all that.)

The social models Kunstler sets forth aren't the only ones which might evolve after a social collapse such as he presumes, and the dynamics shown (both internal and ex~) aren't necessarily accurate predictions. But the questions the novel implies are good ones:

What would be the social implications if some of the more fragile elements of the global economy were to break?

How would people likely react?

What sorts of health, safety and subsistence issues would likely arise?

And, for those of us involved in education (in whatever role): are we preparing our youth (and ourselves) to deal with any of it?

Or, more pointedly, just what sort of a world are we preparing our students to live in? What range of possibilities? And what share of likely future scenarios does that range cover?



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