Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Preppers in Reuters and National Geographic, a murmuration

James Howard Kunstler titled this week's missive of doom Murmuration. It was surprisingly dispassionate in tone while being full of factual content and rational analysis. I found that combination not to be an accident, but I digress. What Kunstler had to say about his topic showed more insight than usual into humans as a social animal.
Investment guru James Dines introduced another seminal idea on Eric King's podcast last week. Dines's work over the years has focused much more on human mob psychology than technical market analysis - which he seems to regard as akin to augury with chicken entrails. Dines now introduces the term "murmuration" to describe the way that rapid changes occur in the realm of human activities. The word refers to behaviors also seen in other living species, such as the way a large flock of starlings will all turn in the sky at the same instant without any apparent communication. We don't know how they do that. It seems to be some kind of collective cognitive processing beyond our understanding.

Dines goes on to suggest that the political stirrings and upheavals of the past year represent an instance of human "murmuration" that will lead to even greater epochal changes in geopolitical and economic life.
My response was to praise him.
I like the concepts of trust horizon and murmuration, as they connect me to my scientific roots. Trust horizon recalls event horizon, something that marks the surface of a black hole. If we hit the event horizon, then we'll be sucked into the black hole with no escape. Of course, the center of a black hole is a singularity, so I suspect you don't want to extend the metaphor that far! As for murmuration, that's an even better one, as I'm an amateur astronomer, but a professional biologist who has studied animal behavior. Since humans are just a very smart social mammal, we shouldn't be surprised at how our behavior reflects that of other social animals, including coordination of group behavior by murmuration. Thanks for adding those concepts to my vocabulary. I'll be sure to blog about them and credit you for inspiring me.
That was yesterday morning. Yesterday evening, I encountered the following on Reuters as an example of a murmuration that is starting to change behaviors and become noticed--and noticed in a big way.

Subculture of Americans prepares for civilization's collapse
By Jim Forsyth
Sat Jan 21, 2012 11:44am EST
[Patty] Tegeler is among a growing subculture of Americans who refer to themselves informally as "preppers." Some are driven by a fear of imminent societal collapse, others are worried about terrorism, and many have a vague concern that an escalating series of natural disasters is leading to some type of environmental cataclysm.

They are following in the footsteps of hippies in the 1960s who set up communes to separate themselves from what they saw as a materialistic society, and the survivalists in the 1990s who were hoping to escape the dictates of what they perceived as an increasingly secular and oppressive government.

Preppers, though are, worried about no government.
I'm worried about no government, too. In my lecture on population, I point out the decline in world population that resulted from the fall of the Western Roman Empire. That's an important example of how organized human behavior, e.g. centralized government, increases carrying capacity (K), and how the loss of government causes K to decrease, sometimes dramatically.

Back to the article.
Tegeler, 57, has turned her home in rural Virginia into a "survival center," complete with a large generator, portable heaters, water tanks, and a two-year supply of freeze-dried food that her sister recently gave her as a birthday present. She says that in case of emergency, she could survive indefinitely in her home. And she thinks that emergency could come soon.

"I think this economy is about to fall apart," she said.
Yesterday evening, this article was the most read post on Reuter's site. Tonight, it is still the most commented on article, with 316 responses and counting. It also had been recommended 3,212 times on Facebook and tweeted 52 times. It definitely hit a nerve in a lot of people.

That's not all. This evening, I encountered the following video from National Geographic on my YouTube subscription list.

The blurb on the show's page on National Geographic's website describes the series.
Doomsday Preppers explores the lives of otherwise ordinary Americans who are preparing for the end of the world as we know it. Unique in their beliefs, motivations, and strategies, preppers will go to whatever lengths they can to make sure they are prepared for any of life’s uncertainties. And with our expert’s assessment, they will find out their chances of survival if their worst fears become a reality.
There are nine clips from the series posted on the show's video page. My favorite so far is Self-sustaining Suburbia.
Dennis McClung has created a self-sustaining garden out of an unused pool in his backyard. If the end of days ever comes, he'll be all set.
Actually, I think what he did to his pool is really cool, even if what he's preparing for is a bit unrealistic--or is it?

Reuters: Sun hurls strong geomagnetic storm toward Earth
The strongest geomagnetic storm in more than six years was forecast to hit Earth's magnetic field on Tuesday, and it could affect airline routes, power grids and satellites, the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center said.
Maybe Dennis isn't so cranky after all.

Series starts Tuesday, February 7 at 9 PM EST. I'll be sure to set my DVR. You should, too.

No comments:

Post a Comment