Sometimes I like indulge in a little bit of armchair sociology. Lately I’ve been thinking about parallels between our current social and economic situation and the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Back then society was dirt poor, literally, living in dirt, fighting the dirt in dust storms. Sadly the dirt wasn’t even especially good for farming, so there was a lot of hunger and poverty. Big time hunger and poverty. Currently, things are bad, compared to what we’re used to, but not as bad as things were back then, at least not as far as I can tell.
Even though the situation is better than it was then, for us, it’s still kind of scary and there are lots of “What If’s” roaming around willy nilly without answers. For instance, what if we run out of oil and can’t use our cars any more, what will happen, how will we cope? My kids and I were chatting about this very subject this weekend. I thought about it and came up with some ideas.
Running out of oil is a gradual process. It doesn’t happen overnight. It happens over a period of years, and possibly decades. In the mean time, we will do what we’ve always done, we’ll adapt. Most of us are adapting to the oil shortage and price-hike already. Car-pooling, only driving when necessary, putting off errands until a lot of them can be done at the same time, not running the air conditioning, visiting with distant friends and family less frequently, talking on the phone instead of in person, walking and biking when possible, parking SUV’s and using smaller cars that get better mileage. All sensible ways of dealing with the current gas situation.
If these conditions persist then people will fuss at local governments to provide more public transportation, and the governments will have to oblige us or economies will take an even bigger hit than they’re currently taking. Another thing is that small neighborhood communities will grow. When we don’t have the gas to drive to the big supermarket, it’s easier to walk down to the corner store to get a dozen eggs or carton of milk. This is really good for local economies. Some of the old neighborhood stores that have shut down over the past 25 years, may open back up. Those which haven’t shut down, will be doing better business.
During the 1970’s there was a sewing and craft resurgence. Partly due to the Spirit of ’76 and our country’s bicentennial. The other part though, was in reaction to the plastic MOD look of the 1960’s. All of that plastic, chrome and futurist themes that pervaded every aspect of our lives, got to be too much. Hippies went “Back to the Land” and those who couldn’t actually move physically experienced a similar spiritual change, if not a geographical one. Instead of sleek, hard and smooth–textures became soft, nubby and old-fashioned. Primitive homemade gifts became more desirable than shiny Store-bought gifts, Home sewing and crafting experienced a resurgencethat satisfied our society’s need for homemade instead of store-bought. Homemade bread, homemade dresses, homemade scarves and hats, gardens and chicken coops. Making things at home helped us deal with the deprivation we experienced because of the recession in the 1970’s, and helped us get back in touch with our own simple skills, which can be very empowering when everything costs too much and what we’ve got is all we’re going to get. Creating, in any form–sewing, cooking, carpentry, crafts, engineering–is the best way to manage a lack of resources. We don’t have something we need. We can’t buy this thing we need. So instead we create this thing we need, using supplies we already have. It’s my favorite part of being poor.
I see parallels in what happened then, to what is happening now. In my own home, nearby family is dropping by more often, letting the kids hang out together while the grownups talk and laugh and help with the dishes. Our one set of neighbors has been chatting with us over the fence and sharing a good laugh over pets and children. Since it’s easier and cheaper to cook than going out to eat, we’re eating better–saving gas, resources and cash. Plus getting better nutrition in the process. More people are gardening now too. Like the Victory gardens people had during WW II. Even growing a few herbs or baby tomatoes on a balcony or windowsill saves a little bit of money.
If things continue the way they’re going then things are going to get worse. I admit to that. But some things are going to get better too. Unable to rely on the crutches of money, cars, fast-food, and buying more stuff, we have to look deeper within ourselves, both individually and as a society. We must adapt, stretching outside of our comfort zone and redefining it as something new, which better suits current economic and social circumstances. We have the opportunity to witness the creation of The Good Old Days, a mythical time that we and our children will be bragging about to generations to come. The Good Old Days always come about during times of adversity and trial. Times when our society is forced to look beyond physical goods, beyond more-more-more, beyond the economics founded upon covetousness. We get to look past all the physical and watch the spiritual reawakening of our society–a change that I predict will be for the better.
P.S. After this flowery speech from atop my soapbox, I must admit that consumerism still has me in it’s grip. I really like the new Ruthie Doll by AG. She’s the first one with curly brown hair and no bangs. So she’s the first one with hair like me. Actually one of the dolls has hair exactly like mine, but otherwise she doesn’t look like me. I don’t own any AG dolls, but I find myself contemplating whether or not Ruthie should be my first. Not that I have the $90 that she costs, far from it. But one day we will feast again, and when that time comes, I may want Ruthie. Then again, I may not. I wonder how she would look in a snood?