Inconvenient Futures: Two Books You Should Read

We modern humans sure do love our conveniences. Most things in our lives are so convenient we’ve forgotten there ever was such a thing as inconvenience.

Look at some of the inconveniences we’ve forgotten:

Having to procure our own food from start to finish.

Having limited quantities of untrustworthy water.

Being at the mercy of the climate.

Being at the mercy of the weather.

Having no easy access to large quantities of energy.

Assuming that some of our children won’t live to adulthood.

Living in a world where death is always immanent.

These are some of the big ones. Many of the conveniences we know and love are resolutions of one or another of this list, scaled to fit circumstances. Having to replace the steam nozzle on your cappuccino-maker is a tiny inconvenience to one person (you); the collapse of a coffee crop is a major inconvenience with repercussions all the way from farmer to consumer.

In the coming years, times are going to get harder. Some of the inconveniences we’ve forgotten about are going to re-enter our lives. Weather-related mortality is going to increase (it already has). Our infrastructure is going to deteriorate (it already has). Our water supply is going to be less reliable (it already is).

Our current economy is built around convenience. Having ready credit is a convenience, as is having ready cash available at any ATM. Being able to fly anywhere in the world, is a convenience, as is having a place to stay when you get there.

You get the picture.

Traditional cultures have social rituals and mechanisms for coping with the procurement and preparation of food, the climate and weather, the difficulty of large tasks, the death or sickness of a community member. You could make a pretty strong case that a culture’s identity and uniqueness is encoded in its response to difficulty, to hardship, to inconvenience.

And we humans crave community. We are social creatures, and our cultures provide us with meaningful ways to relate in a wide variety of contexts. We need one another most when times aren’t good.

Which is part of the reason our communality has eroded concurrently with our inconveniences. An unintended consequence of the development of a quick-satisfaction consumer culture in which anything we want is available is the gradual disappearance of the things we really want: one another. Until pretty recently most human beings were always there for one another. Now, not so much.

Which brings me to two books I’ve been reading recently.

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