I read all sorts of books, some fiction and some non-fiction. Almost without fail, if I am reading a novel, my wife (who only reads non-fiction) will comment “I don’t know why you bother with novels – what are you going to learn from them?”
My argument is that not only do I read novels as a way to escape from our day to day reality, but quite often there is something to learn from a novel – be it a story of morals or something else. Take the book I am currently reading “Afterlight” by Alex Scarrow.
It’s a post-apocalyptic story, set in the UK, about the chaos produced by a sudden oil shortage……especially when the shortage turns into a total lack of oil, and the consequences associated with that – no transport so no food deliveries. The power grid unable to take the load demanded once oil powered power stations were no longer on line etc etc. Rioting, looting, disease and depravity took hold – the result being a dramatic reduction in the population. The main story-line begins 10 years after the oil ran out and follows a small band of survivors who have taken up residence on an oil rig in the north sea, off the coast of Norfolk. Every second chapter however, tells the story from when the chaos first started, ten years earlier. The British Government initially declared martial law and set up “safe zones” in sport stadiums with emergency supplies guarded by the police and troops.
So far (about a third into the book) it’s following a very stressed government employee who is in charge of one of the safe zones, but as more time passes a military coup seems inevitable…..as that is what has happened in safe zones in other parts of the UK. As supplies start to dwindle, the soldiers took over and started to kick out non-essential civilians such as the old and sick……eventually raping the remaining women and killing the men as chaos and disorder took over.
There is a page from the book I’d like to share with you where a recent refugee who has been taken in by the community on the oil rig is discussing the “progress” made by the community in that they have now engineered a bio-digester – It feeds on human and animal waste and old food scraps to produce methane which then powers a small generator to give them electricity for lighting and to play a small stereo for 3 hours every evening. Some of the younger people on the rig are hoping similar progress has been made on the mainland and that soon the cities will be up and running again with street lights, video games and TV’s. The older members and the newcomer are less enthusiastic about a return to the status quo of before the oil crisis. This extract from the book is when Valerie (a French speaking male from Belgium) is talking to 2 teenage boys and a young girl about how things were leading up to the oil crisis.
‘You want to live in a big city, full of noises and lights?’
‘Yeah, ‘course,’ replied Nathan.
The man shook his head with incredulity. Both Nathan and Jacob stared at him, bemused.
‘I believe the world was sick then,’ he continued. ‘And people were sick with a disease of the soul. You understand me?’
Neither boy did. Not really.
‘Most people were not happy. Most people were sick in their heart, unhappy lives. We all lived our isolated lives in our little homes and saw the world beyond through a tiny…..digital window. People did not talk to each other. Instead they typed messages to complete strangers on the internet. The more things we had the unhappier we became because there was always people on the TV who had very much more.’
Valerie shook his head and smiled sadly. ‘You do not see how much better your life is now, do you?’
Jacob, Nathan and Hannah continued to stare at him in bewildered silence.
‘I think your mother understands this. It is not things – and all the electricity that makes those things work – that makes a good life. They are just things; distractions, you know? Shiny little amusements made to look so wonderful and fun and the answer to your unhappiness. But you get the shiny things home and unwrap them, you hold them in your hand…..and they are just shiny things, that is all. They mean nothing.’
Valerie looked at the generator. ‘You know what it is that really destroyed the old world?’
‘It was greed.’
Nathan and Jacob glanced at each other.
‘You know children killed each other for things like training shoes? Or mobile phones?’ Valerie continued. ‘The time just before the crash was mankind at his most evil. There were wars for oil, wars for gas. People killed for things, for power. Killed for oil. It was a world filled with jealousy for all the things we would see others have on the TV. A world of greed. Anger. Hate……..All the bright shiny lights and noises…..video games, the TV, the internet, music, the shopping, the arcades…..these things were made by governments to distract us; to keep our minds full and busy….so we did not realise how unhappy we all were.‘
The fact is that although this book is a novel, the breakdown of society, of law, of morals – brought about by a severe shortage of oil – could easily happen. We are so dependent on transportation, on shipping and air freight, on imported goods, to provide us with everything we need. Fiction often mirrors fact. There are lessons to be learned from this book about how once civilised people treat one another after as little as three days without food. How important a true sense of community is – take the time to talk to and get to know your neighbours. How important it is to have personal plans in place in case of emergency, rather than depending on the government to take care of you. And of alternate ways of living other than the consumer driven, oil dependent lifestyle we currently cling to. The consumer/capitalist/growth economy model is destroying the world that we depend on. All that disposable crap that we can’t live without – and yet we end up throwing it into the landfill or into our oceans – will be the death of us….and we’re taking thousands of other species with us.
None of the above is news to me, but it would be to some people. The ones who are easily distracted by the shiny baubles of life. The duplicity of governments and high ranking government officials, who are basically in the pockets of the corporate businessmen, is not a surprise….. but it is a reminder to me not to become sucked in to the world of corporate smoke and mirrors. To be seduced by the lies, damn lies and statistics produced to back up any argument. The so called ‘war on terror’ – pushed on the western world by the Bush Administration was no more than a political smokescreen to justify the invasion of oil rich, non-white, non-Christian countries. The sad thing is that it’s been carried on by subsequent governments and they are still playing the sleight of hand game with the civilian population even today (who are too busy playing with their shiny toys to notice or even care) – justifying invading other sovereign nations and stealing their natural resources due to some fictitious crime that they are meant to have committed. Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction – that never actually existed – justified the invasion of Iraq. Both America’s Bush and Britain’s Blair swore that they had “undeniable evidence” that these weapons existed. The world believed them and a nation was destroyed – in order to get at their oil supplies. Then the invading countries tell the world that – Whoops our mistake, no weapons of mass destruction, (but he was a nasty guy with a bad moustashe anyway) and it’s OK that we’ve bombed the hell out of Iraq and destroyed their infrastructure and murdered thousands, possibly millions, of civilians (collateral damage), because we are now investing millions of dollars in the country to get them back on their feet again. What they don’t say is that the money invested is being spent mainly on setting up their own refineries and oil wells, pipelines and railways and roads to link the refineries to the ports and harbours, for American and allied tankers to come into and fill up with plundered oil. Meantime the Iraqis are still living among the rubble. And the action of the western powerful and power hungry nations in destroying these oil rich countries is creating more terrorists out of what were peaceful people. This increase in people angry at the west and what has been done to their home lands and their economy then justifies the War on Terror and perpetuates it. The only way to defeat terror is to not take part in terror. But the powerful governments know that as long as there is a perceived terror threat, its people will willingly give away their rights and freedoms in exchange for perceived safety and security. It’s a sick world alright!
I think one of the biggest things wrong with the world today is that we have given away our right to think for ourselves. The government have been given too much power, too much control over how we live our lives. The media are controlled by big business so we only see on TV what they want us to see. “Good evening and here is the news that we want you to know about and here is how we want you to perceive that news.” There are too many rules and regulations that restrict our lifestyle choices, where we can live, what we can build, what we can teach our children, whether we have the choice to vaccinate our kids or refuse vaccinations, what we can grow in our gardens…..our movement from one place to another. We have become dependent on government to provide for us rather than being responsible for our own lives. We have given away so much of our freedom in exchange for baubles and shiny toys and they have buried us under a mountain of unnecessary legislation and taxation. We’ve been tricked into living on credit…credit cards and easy loans…which keeps us deeply in debt and therefore slaves to the system. If we’re going to survive, we need to turn this on it’s head and have a return to community reliance where small communities are self governing, have minimal rules and where the individual can have control over their own lives. Unfortunately many of us will be too busy messaging strangers on the net, searching for the latest shiny distraction to buy or streaming the next series of mind numbing, so called, reality TV, to care.
Please give serious thought to how you live your life. If you are concerned about how we’re damaging the environment on which we depend use your purchasing power positively and be wise about what you buy. Vote with your wallet. Try to move toward renewable energy sources, avoid plastics and look toward using only renewable materials to make the things that we need, and protect the planet. I don’t want to sound patronising or cliche, but we do need to be the change that we want to see in the world.
My earlier post about Anarchists nicely dove-tails into this discussion.