I haven’t spent much time thinking about social collapse in America. I wonder if many of us have? Despite the news stories, we are still a reasonably civilized country, especially when one considers the vast number of human interactions that occur on a daily basis. Most people in America are still more likely to help someone in trouble than rob them and run away.
Besides, the year-2000 computer disaster came and went with no one the wiser. I remember sitting in front of my computer screen as the decade rolled over. If the Internet knew about a problem, it never let on – 1999 gave way seamlessly to the year 2000. (Would that the intervening years had been so kind.)
In a sense, however, the year-2000 disaster was averted: A lot of programmers made a lot of money rewriting old software to change the date calculations and update the year to four digits. People knew there was a problem. They set out to fix it. Utility software, banking software and so on was rewritten.
Unfortunately, this is no longer the America of 1999. And most of us don’t know there is a potential problem. Major media outlets no longer give even lip service to news reporting. In the few instances where they try, they are more often wrong than right with their facts, let alone their conclusions. Their job now seems to be shouting “hosanna” and laying down the red carpet for their earthly messiah and his glorious revolution of hope and change.
Today, about every other child born enters life in a two-parent household. We’ve known for decades that children without fathers grow up to be angry, alienated men and aimless, welfare-dependent women who repeat the cycle. The state and federal government have funded it all: stealing the money from two-parent households through higher taxes to do the job.
To control crime, the police are increasingly militarized. This alienates decent citizens who have occasional encounters with them, or read about raids on the wrong house, shooting the family pet and so on.
Public school systems graduate the functionally illiterate, who turn out that way mainly because they don’t attend class or study. Why should they? The gang they belong to is their family and teaches them all they need to know to survive in the city. It’s just that the rest of us might not like what they’ve learned.
Here’s a question: How much food does your family have on hand? I recently read that the average family has a three-day supply. And that is if the refrigerator keeps working. How long did it take for the grocery store shelves to go bare during Katrina? Do you keep some bottled water on hand like the Red Cross advises? I know I don’t. It just seems like it could never happen here.
How much gasoline is in your automobile tank? Do you have an alternative source of heat for your home if the electricity or natural gas goes down? Any way to communicate if your high-speed Internet and cell phone service go down? Maybe you never became attached to those gadgets and have a landline? What happens if you dial 911 and get a busy signal or no one answers?
Do you know your neighbors? Are they going to help you get a family member to the hospital in an emergency? Are all your “friends” on Facebook, scattered across the country?
We’re prone to think of disasters as weather or earthquake related. But is there anything else that could do it? How about a data-center disaster or programming problem at a major bank? You visit the ATM or run your debit card at the grocery store, and your balance is zero.
Now what? Do you call your friends to find out if any of them have had that problem? Post on Facebook? How long before there is a run on the bank and violence in the branches when people can’t get their money? Do you have any cash stashed away to buy food before the shelves are empty?
The veneer of civilization is much thinner than most of us suspect. Given the current fondness for electronic gadgetry and the personal isolation it provides, civilization’s veneer may peel off more quickly than we can imagine. Check that refrigerator. How’s it looking in there?