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How to survive coming hard times - and flourish in what's to follow.

Some people think homesteading is a way to escape the pressures and faults of modern society, perhaps by "going back" to simpler times and ways, even if only for the weekend.

We have never taken that approach. We see homesteading as the wave of the future... not only for the inevitable hard times that have visited humanity from time to time in the past and will surely come again, but for a new golden age. But whether you're interested in homesteading as a survival tool--or if you just can't explain why you're attracted to homesteading or how it "fits in" in the modern world--this article will give you something to think about.

PART I OF A SERIES

A reader writes:

I sometimes think the only people left in the United States with an ounce of common sense are Countrysiders. Our country is in such a financial mess that it appears unlikely that we will survive.

Oh, I'm not saying the U.S. won't survive as a country; it probably will. However, we are fast regressing to third world status. We've all seen friend after friend lose their jobs as employers go broke or are taken over. When people find work again, it's at much lower wages, reduced or no benefits, and too often only part-time. Employees are being forced to accept concessions in the form of cuts in health care, wage freezes or reductions, and other benefit cuts in order to keep their jobs -- just to lose them anyway within a couple of years.

Since the first of this year I've been reading and paying more attention to what's happening in the financial world. I don't pretend to have an in-depth understanding of world economy, but the books, daily newspapers and tv reports I have ingested have me scared. Many writers predict total collapse of our country's financial system. Others are not so negative; however, they also point towards a serious monetary crisis. I've become very paranoid the economic experts and government types are telling us. What they're saying does not mesh with the facts!

Now is the time to take whatever action you think necessary to protect your family. It's too late to do anything after the event!

What should we do? The books I've read offer many suggestions, some quite good and others I'd rather not think about. However, common sense says make your household as self-sufficient as possible for as long as possible. If you have a sufficient supply of water, food and other necessities for a week, a month or six months, you will not be a part of the problem for that length of time. I think alternatives to public utilities for lighting, heating, cooking, and especially drinking water all deserve consideration.

Unless our nation's leaders and lawmakers act soon, I fear we'll reach the point of no return, if we haven't already. If you think this is too negative and pessimistic, think about the U.S.S.R.'s collapse. It was caused by national bankruptcy. Look at our deficit. We are rapidly approaching that same status.

I'm sure many readers will not agree and/or have other ideas on this subject and I look forward to hearing them. Countryside subscribers generally offer better advice than most so-called experts.--LeeAnn Wicker, Manson, Iowa Jd replies:

Current Reality As Seen Here tells us we've already reached the point of no return. But what can we do?

We can't just plunge into a discussion of "how to prepare" until we know what we might be preparing for. Should we expect a Depression? If so, what kind? Will it last for months, or for years? Are we talking about being unable to pay the bills, or about not having enough to eat? Mere hardship and cutting back, or widespread LA-type riots and burning cities, with a possible collapse of society?

Homesteaders are always ready for hard times, at least in theory. So COUNTRYSIDE has been telling you how to prepare all along.

But after 25 years of gathering and sorting information for this magazine, I believe the time has come to take "preparation" more seriously--and further than physical comfort or survival.

That's because the world as we have known it is ending. We're entering an awesome, exciting new age.

For some people the transition will be more tumultuous than they can imagine. We'll talk about preparing for it in some specific detail. But first let's see hat we might expect... and why... and where it might lead us.

The decline of rising expectations

If "hard times" simply means you don't have as much as you've grown accustomed to, then hard times are inevitable. The upward spiral of economic growth most of us experienced during our lives won't be sustained.

If you earn $5 an hour and get a $5 raise, you double your income. If you're paid a million a year, you won't even notice the extra $5. Today our economy is like those millionaires. Small increases are insignificant. But large ones are impossible. We already have too much -- of what the Industrial Age provided.

For example, as recently as fifty years ago there were more mules and horses than tractors on American farms. The shift to mechanization had enormous impact on society.

That won't happen again. Now new technologies start from a much higher base and have much less effect. They're like the millionaire's $5 raise.

In the 1930s many people were without cars, refrigerators, and even telephones and radios, to say nothing of tv, freezers, power lawn mowers and a thousand others. These all appeared in the last half-century, fueling a social and economic boom.

That won't happen again either. We won't be building the suburbs or interstate highways. Rebuilding doesn't have the same economic effect... but we probably won't be doing that either.

Thirty years ago the national debt was just over $300 billion. Today it's over $4,500 billion (or $4.5 trillion). The Clinton administration figures it will hit $5.5 trillion by 1997. Others say $6.5 trillion is more likely.

Instead of tightening our belt, it's as if the whole nation started living off credit cards. We know where that leads individuals: nations are no different.

Today almost 60 cents of every federal tax dollar goes to pay interest on that debt. In a few years it will be 100 cents of every dollar. Something will have to give.

There is much more in this vein, but you know that.

Although things are seldom as bright as optimists see them, or as grim as pessimists see them, in this case most of the weight is on the downside.

Needed: a new game plan

However, there's something more important than current events... something that helps interpret current events. Something that could propel us to a new height of civilization, further and faster than anything humanity has yet experienced or maybe can imagine.

We could be witnessing the birth of a new age.

If we can't make sense of the news, maybe it's because we're still trying to interpret it according to rules and customs that are no longer valid. If we can't see the path to the future, maybe it's because we're at the end of one road and we're about to turn onto another... perhaps a superhighway we can't see from the country lane we've been traveling.

The Industrial Age is dead, and we're on the brink of an entirely new, unknown, and challenging epoch in human history... a new age.

What's this "new age" stuff?

When we look at the entire sweep of human history as a line on a graph we can see hundreds of "ages," ranging from the stone and bronze to the steam, nuclear, information and electronic. They're like weather patterns, constantly changing. They affect us, but subtly.

However, two ages show up on that graph as monumental turning points for civilization.

One is the Agricultural Age, when humans went from hunting and gathering to planting and herding.

The other was the Industrial Age, when manufacturing replaced farming as our main activity.

While these two yardsticks are arbitrary measures, they help define all human progress to date. All other ages merely helped build these two.

Most people, if they think or it at all, assume this is the end of the line. Maybe we have reached perfection. If not, whatever comes next--perhaps continuing the march from the caves to the fields to the factories and on to the stars--will be simply a refinement and progression of the Industrial Age.

That isn't necessarily true. I believe it is not true. I see an entirely new age--started by a revolution far more astounding than the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions--and that revolution has already begun.

Expect no announcements

Remember, the people who first started planting seeds and tending livestock didn't know they were living through a revolution that would alter the course of history. Those who lived through the Industrial Revolution weren't aware of it. If we are indeed living through a similar major shift today, we can only guess at it based on our knowledge of the past. It won't be announced on the evening news.

It's important to recognize that the coming of any future new age--and it will come sooner or later, if we don't exterminate ourselves--will be vastly different from previous revolutions. It will come much like a hurricane, making the others gentle breezes by comparison. The reasons are clear.

The shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture took many generations ... and there were only a few million people on Earth at that time. The Industrial Revolution spanned hundreds of years, and when it started there were probably about 500 million people in the world.

But the next revolution will not be spread by ox cart and sailing ship: it will spread--is being spread--by satellites and computers, at the speed of light.

And it will affect not 500 million people, but more than five billion of us.

Knowledge and technology

During the Agricultural Revolution humanity's chief concern was getting enough to eat, and most knowledge and technology consisted of ways to accomplish that.

Today, there are more fields of specialized knowledge than our Neolithic ancestors had words in their vocabularies, and each field has volumes, sometimes entire libraries, of facts and ideas.

There's a difference between changing a simple peasant society, and changing a complex advanced one. If knowledge is the basis of technology which was the root of past revolutions, this means that the current revolution is being fought not with sticks and stones, but with nuclear warheads.

There can be no comparison... unless we say the last great shifts in society were as fires in caves while the next will be as the fires of nuclear fusion.

So what?

Most people, even if they can understand this, will say "so what? We can't do anything about it. It doesn't affect us, here and now. Leave it to future historians." We have "What's for dinner and do you love me?" concerns that are much more important to us than economics and politics over which we have no control. A cosmic sweep of history is even less relevant. We can easily ignore something like that.

However, there are two important reasons not to.

We all (or most of us with any sense) plan for the future, even if it only involves planning tomorrow's meals or next weekend's activities. We plan to purchase a home or a car. We have a nagging sense that we should be planning for our children's college education and our own retirement. All these involve at least a smidgen of economic forecasting, whether we think of it in those terms or not.

In the recent past it was simple to base our forecasts on constantly rising expectations. We'd get better jobs, or at least more pay, move to more expensive homes, and those homes would appreciate in value. Life would just get better and better.

Now all that is down the tube. We're not so certain about the future anymore.

If we maintain the old Industrial Age ideas and attitudes, we can make several assumptions: this is a temporary stall, and things will get better; "they" will take care of us; "they"will fix things. Or maybe the mechanics of the Industrial Age, which have worked fairly well for about 500 years, simply got out of whack, and the machine will repair itself.

If, on the other hand, there is any substance to the idea of a new age, trying to fix the old one will be like trying to bail out the Titanic with a teaspoon.

But we're surrounded by proof that a new age is imminent. When we accept that we can look at the world with new eyes... and plan not to hide from the new age, but to greet it with enthusiasm.

The first step

The first step is to filter all the news and data you receive through the concept of a new age. Even if you're not vet sold on it, try it and see if it fits.

For me, it's like dumping a bag of money into that fascinating coin counter at the bank: the nickels fall into one chute, the dimes and pennies and quarters into others. With understanding and practice, you can sort everything from disputes about local landfills and wetlands to NAFTA and global warming into their proper slots, and make your life much less confusing and stressful. You'll be able to separate the wheat from the chaff, what's important from what's not. You won't waste time sweating the small stuff: you can see the bigger problems.

If you sift through enough data in this way you'll probably decide that the current economic slowdown is not a temporary aberration. The jobs being lost by downsizing and automation aren't coming back. Cities will not be revitalized on any significant scale. Crumbling roads and bridges will not be rebuilt fast enough. "Quality of life"--in the Industrial Age sense--will only deteriorate.

Read any good newspaper and you'll find hundreds of other possibilities.

For the immediate future, especially since so many people can't see the reality behind current events and are fighting it with obsolete tools and methods, a major readjustment seems inevitable. This might only mean accepting more than eight million Americans without jobs as "normal." It might mean even greater unemployment. Either way, the days of constantly rising expectations are gone.

It could be the Time of Troubles.

A new kind of Depression

If we sink into Depression, forget most of what you've heard or remember about the 1930s. This is a new age.

Sixty years ago most people still lived on the land, or they weren't far removed. Many could grow their own food. Almost none were accustomed to the conveniences we now consider necessities. "Doing without" has a far different meaning today.

A Depression now would also have much more serious consequences than the one in the 1930s because society is now much more complex and delicate.

In other words (and skipping the details for now), the well-prepared, well-equipped homestead could be not only a good place to weather the storm, but the only place to survive with little disruption to an already-established lifestyle and outlook.

What can you do?

If you're still stuck in the Industrial Age, get with the new reality as quickly as possible. Even if you don't start raising small stock or engaging in other homestead pursuits, there are many, many ways you can take advantage of your new insights to protect yourself.

Few people will want to live in inner cities when the fertilizer hits the ventilator. Most suburbs will be just as bad. Even people who don't have the view we're discussing have a dim awareness that small towns and the countryside are already much safer, more pleasant, less expensive places to live, and in general provide much more security and quality of life than locations close to large cities. The migration away from suburbs has already begun, which is one reason your home, if you live in such an area, is probably decreasing in value. (Expect this to accelerate when even more people crowd together because they can't afford housing of their own, which is already happening. In some less desirable neighborhoods homes win be abandoned as worthless for lack of buyers.) If you're in such a neighborhood, bail out while you still can.

Check your financial options... your savings, your spending, your job.

Many, many people today are concerned about their job security-and with good reason. They know it's not just their region or their industry, they suspect it's not just a recession, but few have the vision to connect it to the dying Industrial Age. You can't blame Republicans, Democrats, or Big Business for something they have no control over: a massive, glacial shift in human history!

There are already many new classes of buggy-whip makers and coopers--people whose skills have been made obsolete by these rapidly changing times. NAFTA is immaterial so far as most individuals are concerned: automation and robotics and new technologies--components of a new age--have already eliminated many jobs for good.

Ask yourself what knowledge, skills, talents and training will be in demand in the new age. How will you fit in?

If you are retired or nearing retirement, you probably already know you won't be able to rely on interest from CDs, pensions, and certainly not social security. With the billions of dollars that have been pouring into stocks, especially mutual funds, the future of those investments is equally doubtful. If your retirement is still years off, the prospects are even grimmer. It's a new age.

But again, if you look at it as a new age and not just hard times, you can make better decisions about your personal finances as well as the rest of your life. Cling to the old ways, and you're sitting in a leaking lifeboat.

Old advice that's stiff valid

And of course, again and as always, get out of debt and stay out!

The old homestead adage of having a minimum of six months' worth of necessary supplies is more essential than ever. Tools--and knowledge, the greatest tool of all--are even more important. Even these are just a small part of preparing for what's coming, but how you prepare depends in part on your view of the future.

No one can see the future. But we can make some educated guesses,just as we anticipate the weather so we can prepare for it.

This is immensely more important.

We'll add flesh to these bare bones in coming issues... and see how homesteading is very likely to play a role--perhaps an astounding one-- in the future of civilization.

The times, they are a-changin'...

The coming new age will arrive much more swiftly than past ages. For proof of that--and if you still need it, for proof that we are in a new age--simply listen to people who have been on this planet awhile. In some cases, even 50 years will do it.

There are still many living people who can remember when transportation meant horses or steam railroads; communications meant the U.S. Mail or a telegram; when answering a call of nature meant a trip down the path out back, even in the dead of night in the cold of winter.

Today these same people can travel distances they never dreamed of, at speeds they couldn't have imagined, in cars and airplanes that, in their youth, would have been as unbelievable, as preposterous as a man on the moon!

They once sat in awe, wide-eyed with wonder, as they listened to their first radio broadcast on a scratchy crystal receiver, most likely at the home of a wealthy or "progressive" relative or neighbor. Today they sit in their living rooms and watch bombs fall on people halfway around the globe, as it happens and in living color.

To a kid who takes modern conveniences for granted--microwaves, music on tape and CDs, vast malls, and long hot daily showers, to say nothing of electric lights and indoor flush toilets--life without those was the Dark Ages. Heavens, to them, life without television must have been the Dark Ages!

And still these technological marvels proliferate, not only unabated, but in an ever-increasing, ever-accelerating flood.

To some, the new age is unfolding so slowly they can't see it... because of human adaptability, and pride in the knowledge we have gained and in the technology we have hammered from it. And because they aren't looking. All they see are the gadgets, not the fearsome power that spawns them.

And yet, compared with past new ages of humanity, it's unfolding with blinding speed; it's being spread not with ox carts and sailing ships, but with satellites and electrons.

This speed--and the resultant shrinking of the world--not only describes one of the ways this new age differs from past new ages: it also offers clues as to why and how the changes might be different. One thing we know for certain: there is much more potential for disaster in a speeding jetliner than in a plodding ox cart. Fasten your seat belt and hang onto your hat! It's coming.

Don't expect any announcements

When we think about the shift from the Agricultural Age to the Industrial Age (if we think of it at all) we probably see it as something like New Year's Eve. About 500 years ago someone turned a page on the calendar and voila, there it was.

It's natural then, to expect the same as the Industrial Age closes. We assume it will be like stepping from one room into another.

In reality, no one knew they were living through the Agricultural or Industrial Revolutions. They didn't just wake up one morning and realize they were in a new age. It took lifetimes for most changes to occur. Only by looking back could historians discern the sea changes and call them revolutions and ages. (And if it weren't for our knowledge of history, those of us living through this revolution wouldn't notice it either.)

We're not going to learn that we have just entered a new age from the daily news. It's not going to happen just because we enter the 21st century.

All we have to do is look around us.

When "progress" becomes a "revolution"

It's hard to resist calling talk about a new age a "theory," but it's not theory. It's fact.

Many prophesies and visions regarding the new age are in vogue today. We neither endorse nor debunk them.

But here we're looking at facts: information that's available in any collection of good newspapers. (Looking at enough reports and analyses enables us to sort dubious information from what is likely to be reliable.)

These thousands of pieces of data, taken together, clearly demonstrate that what most people see merely as "progress" is in reality an entirely new world... for business, politics, and our personal lives. Business is very aware of this, but it hasn't been examined from the homestead point of view... yet.

The implications for homesteading are awesome, and tremendously exciting. Not only will homesteading enable many to survive the birth pains of the new age, but there is a good chance that it will play a large role in e future. We'll see why, next time, by examining the facts.

We'll also look at some possible futures based on these facts, and the future, of course, is always theoretical.

But the passing of the Industrial Age is not. The coming of a new age is not. These are obvious, indisputable realities.

The sooner we accept that, and even embrace it, the better we it... or even turn it to our advantage.

Are homesteaders "going back?, to pioneer days, or are we forging ahead?

We have often said that homesteading isn't "going back" to simpler days, primitive living, or anything else. It's going forward, to a new and better way of life.

This article, and those to follow, will help explain this... as well as many other puzzles that have perplexed homesteaders over the years.

Homesteading does involve adopting and adapting certain skills and knowledge that, during the Industrial Age, seemed quaint or even archaic. "How," some of our critics have said, "can you embrace producing your own food and heating with wood and doing without some modern conveniences, yet not give up gasoline engines or electricity?" If they don't understand (as most don't), and assume we want to "go back" to living without technology, where, they wonder, do we cut it off ? Hammers and nails are technology! Fire is technology!

But we're not going back. We're going forward. And every new age, every new idea and movement, makes use of what has gone before. Progress is made not by starting from scratch, but by building on what has already been learned and accomplished.

We still use fire and other early technologies.

Even today we are hunters and gatherers: commercial fishermen hunt fish and we gather lumber and other natural resources. These were not displaced by knowledge, technology, and industry, but they were greatly altered by incorporating the new ways into the old.

The Industrial Revolution did not replace agriculture: it merely changed it by replacing human and animal power with machinery and chemicals. And farming is being changed even more today by the Information Revolution.

The Information Revolution won't replace factories, but it's changing them. It's rearranging the world to fit new realities.

Homesteading is similar. We don't follow some "old-fashioned" ways just because we don't like modern technology, or because we don't like what industry has done to the Earth, or for any other simple reason. We don't arbitrarily use chainsaws, tillers and the rest because we're only playing at simple living, but because they meet our needs.

We have chosen a certain idea, a certain attitude toward life and the universe. Then we pick and choose from all the available knowledge and technology those parts that nurture and embellish that idea and attitude. We ignore or discard those that don't. Some that we find worthwhile just happen to be old.

People caught up in the Industrial Age have thrown out the baby with the bath water, and have lost much that is of value. Homesteaders have more perspective: we combine the best of both worlds.

In future installments we'll explore this further... and we'll see why and how homestead values will very likely replace the old industrial values... and why and how the Information or Electronic Age will feed and speed this process.
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Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:part 1; includes related articles
Author:Belanger, Jd; Wicker, LeeAnn
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1994
Words:4438
Previous Article:Two ways to tan leather.
Next Article:Dime Box, Texas.
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