Saturday, November 30 2013
In an effort to get the new Christmas jackhammer out of the living room, I carried the beast down to the greenhouse first floor and propped it against the wall on the decking that is the first floor's eastern half. Water in the excavation was still far too deep (about three feet) to allow any actual use of the jackhammer. While I was down there, I jumped across the water to land on some exposed bedrock at the base of the western wall. That went well, but when I attempted to jump back to the deck, my feet slid on the deck's surface and I fell backwards into water-filled excavation with a mighty splash. For an instant I was completely submerged in the water, the temperature of which was about 48 degrees Fahrenheit. I also banged my left shin on something on the way down. Chuckling at myself that something so absurd had just happened (and that nothing too bad had come from it), I climbed out of the water and immediately ran back to the house (passing temporarily through temperatures still obstinately in the mid-20s). The only way to fight off the chill was to take a hot shower, but even after that there was a chill in my body that I couldn't shake for the rest of the day.
Despite that chill, at some point I went out to check the mail and, on the way back, I happened to notice that the rain barrel atop the low wooden tower beneath the woodshed roof was listing towards the west. Something was causing it to sit unevenly, and that something was the mass of ice within it, the expansion of which had forced a bulge in the rain barrel's bottom. Normally I don't have to drain the rain barrels until some time in December, but persistent wintery conditions have come early this year. They've evidently been going on long enough to freeze the 55 gallon rain barrels to their core. Of course, that's not what one wants to allow to happen to a rain barrel; they could easily rupture from the stress. So I used a heat gun to thaw out the taps on both barrels, wrapped electric heat tape around them, and covered them up with blankets. The rain barrel at the northwest corner of the house (which didn't show much evidence of bottom bulging) drained slowly, but the woodshed one responded quickly to the heat, eventually draining out at least five gallons' worth of water (I'd set up five gallon buckets to monitor the progress of the drainage). It was a pain to have to do this given that all that I would have had to have done to avoid it was to open the drains a couple weeks ago, but in the end it seemed that I'd managed to save both rain barrels as well as the fancy ball valve taps that drain them.
After falling into the cold water of the greenhouse basement, showering, and drying off, the only convenient clothes I'd been able to find to wear included a pair of overalls I haven't worn in years (they were given to me as a Hanukkah present by my brother-in-law's family). While there are things to recommend overalls: your trousers stay up without constricting your waist, they aren't very warm and there are rivets that seem to conduct in the cold to sensitive parts of my hips (I never wear underwear). There's also the inconvenience of those shoulder straps, which are always twisting and sliding down my shoulders. When I went down to the brownhouse to take care of some business, I realized I'd never used that facility while wearing overalls before. (There was, it turns out, a risk of the straps finding their way down into the shit bucket.)
I smoked some pot this evening, and (as usually happens), I found myself having great ideas that I needed to write down. The first of these came out of thinking about the response Gretchen's father had had to my arguments about the long-term viability of Detroit as a city. He had approached the subject from the perspective of Ed Glæser, the urbanist who believes in the long-term viability of cities, but only massive coastal cities, the places with skyscrapers and huge populations of creative professionals. My view had been influenced by James Howard Kunstler, and I'd explained that of course there would always be a great city at the site that Detroit occupies; it lies on an important portage between Lake Huron and Lake Erie which will be essential in a future of high fuel costs, when grain from the midwest will once again have to be shipped by barge. This argument seemed to fall on deaf ears as I articulated it to Gretchen's father, and tonight as I thought about it under the influence of marijuana, I came up with a possible explanation: pro-civilizational optimism. The idea is as follows: because successful predictions that require societal collapse inherently go unrecognized (and thus confer no Darwinian advantages on those who make them after they come to pass), there will be an evolved tendency amongst humans to elide the range of possible futures that include societal collapse and they will instead make predictions from within the spectrum of possible futures that assume the continuation of the present civilization. This, in turn, tends to make predictions more optimistic than they should be. (In the case of Detroit, any collapse of American society severe enough to return it to the days of shipping grain on barges between the Great Lakes might well be too severe for any of the people who predicted that outcome to be recognized for their predictive acumen.) This is not to say that such predictions are never made (James Howard Kunstler makes them all the time), but my hypothesis is that there will be a tendency amongst average people (or an average of any group) to make predictions that skew optimistic. There are two caveats to this. One is that religiously-irrational people frequently predict an imminent supernaturally-initiated collapse of society, usually one through which they themselves are among the few to survive and prosper. Such predictions are routinely dismissed by the mainstream and ultimately work to cheapen valid predictions made by people with a more rational basis for their predictions. The other caveat is that predictions of societal collapse can have a real utility in the society by forcing decisionmakers to do things to make such a collapse less likely. Those predictions have an enormous selective advantage in that any society willing to heed them is inherently stronger than competing societies. I thought of this second caveat later tonight when Gretchen and I were watching the 1964 classic Dr. Strangelove. That movie could be construed to be part of a chorus of predictions of societal collapse, one that ultimately led to arms agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union.
For linking purposes this article's URL is:feedback
previous | next