A Time of Seven Generations

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on March 16, 2017

Discuss this article at the SUN Table inside the Diner

I am going to put off publishing another chapter of How I Survived Collapse for another week to publish instead this compilation article from posts made Inside the Diner on the topic of developing self-sufficiency.  We had a lively discussion on this topic this week, and I would like to share it while it is still fresh. We discussed what self-sufficiency really means, and what that entails both short and long term.  Many different opinions were expressed on this topic, in terms of what is or is not possible and what the long term outcome will be from the Collapse of Industrial Civilization.

Most of the Diners do not buy into the concept of a Near Term Human Extinction, so the debate is not about whether all Homo Saps will be dead in 10 years or even a 100 years.  It's about what technologies we might or might not be able to maintain through this time period, and what are the most important things to be learning now both for the near term of a likely "Scavenging Civilization" which operates by taking many of the materials leftover from the Age of Oil and fixing and repurposing  them, to the longer term after those materials have mostly rusted away and been turned to rubble.

There is a wide variety of opinion on this topic, from some Diners who believe it is possible a high tech society like our own can be maintained for a much smaller population; to some who think that we can be sustainable at a 17th Century level of technology (pre-Steam Engine); to those like myself who believe the only truly sustainable society utilizes only Stone Age technology.

Below you find a selection of the posting made to this thread. It comes from only the first page of this thread, which is now at 4 pages long and climbing. For a complete reading, I suggest going to the thread itself, which is open for non-members to read.  If you wish to contribute your thoughts to this thread, you will need to register on the Forum and become an official Diner.

Now, on to the 7 Generations debate! 🙂



From RE:

Over on Knarf's Knewz in a link post about the Black Rose Anarchist Party, JDW put up a couple of quotes from Bill Mollison about becoming Producers rather than Consumers, with the implication that this was the real productive form of Anarchy to be undertaken.

In this one, Bill asserts that if just 10%of the people of the world undertook this form of self-sufficiency, we could feed the world.  I'm assuming he means doing it without Industrial Fertilizers as well.  Not sure how he felt about big combines, harvesters, tractors and so forth though.

My first question here for this thread is whether this is really true?  Could 10% of the population feed everyone else, all 7.3B people currently walking the earth?

Next question is that of self-sufficiency to begin with.  Before you can feed 9 other people, you need to feed yourself of course.  Is anyone really self-sufficient enough to feed himself?

In all my years of talking with various Doomsteaders with various levels of prepping and various sized properties, not ONE of them has ever said to me, "I am 100% Self Sufficient with Food Production".  Most of the time, they give me a number somewhere between 25% & 50%.  "But I am working toward being fully self-sufficient, and hope to get there in 5 years".  Or some timeline anyhow.

Now, if they have NOT achieved 100% self-sufficiency in food, then if/when TSHTF, they're still gonna starve to death, just a bit slower than the folks who are 0% self-sufficient.  If you're only getting 50% of the daily calories, protein and vitamins you need to live, you are gonna die!  So anything less than 100%, you are also going extinct.

This is only the question of self-sufficiency on your food production ability given the tools you buy to do this stuff.  Even if those tools are just horse drawn plows and the tack necessary for strapping them up, most if not all people including the Amish BUY this stuff, they don't make it themselves.  It does wear out of course, but if you are well prepped with spares and so forth AND are food self sufficient, now you may have got up to 20 years, but the next generation of your kids growing up on the farm are not going to be able to buy this stuff, so then they will go extinct.  No farming tools, no farming.

So of course, this is why we at SUN☼ always talk about the importance of Community, in order to have some people who know how to MAKE tools necessary for farming, as well as those who USE the tools to do the farming.  This sort of community really doesn't exist AFAIK*, except perhaps in some Amish communities.  However, even they buy most of their tools from the industrial economy, the only ones they make themselves are the ones the industrial ecoomy doesn't make any more.

So, the whole idea of becoming self-sufficient in time for the Collapse of Industrial Civilization seems like a tough goal to achieve.

Going back in history of course, there certainly were people who were entirely self sufficient, but they were all Stone Age Hunter-Gatherers.  Once the transition was made to Agriculture and Metallurgy to do that with, self-sufficiency was lost.  Even the Pioneers weren't really self-sufficient, they brought with them tools and implements with which to get started, mostly shipped over from Europe at the beginning until forges and blacksmith shops were built on the East Coast and mining operations began to get iron ore and coal locally.  Then they traded the food they grew using these great tools to get new tools when they needed them.

Now, moving into the future here,the likelihood of being able to acquire coal and iron ore to make new tools seems quite small moving say 100 years down the line.  For those of us alive today, not an issue, we probaly can scavenge a lot of material and repurpose for a while, like taking sheet metal off carz and using it to sheath a plowshare, or sharpening to make a Scythe.  But by the 100 year mark, all that old metal will be rusted and brittle and not useful anymore for making such tools.

So eventually of course, returning to full self-sufficiency means returning to H-G and Stone Tools.  It ALSO means getting to that point within about 100 years.

Now, on the upside here, the population is likely to decline quite a bit over that century time span, making H-G living theoretically possible again.  However, within that time span, those who don't know how to knap stone tools, hunt in primitive fashion will have to acquire those skills if they don't have them already.  How will they do that if you as Patriarch/Matriarch of this group of intrepid Survivors of Collapse aren't spending at least some of your prep time on gaining Primitive Skills?  Who will teach them if they grew up as farmers with tools to do farming made of metal, but no longer have metal to work with?

I would like to hear Diner Opinions on many of the issues I brought up in this post.  Can a farmer be completely self sufficient?  Are any, even the poorest subsistence farming Indian farmers self-sufficient?  Could you continue farming (or permaculturing) with no metal tools?  Do you think spending some prepping time on gaining primitive skills is necessary, or a waste of time?  If not a waste of time, how much time should be spent on this so you will have the knowledge to pass on to children and grandchildren?

I am hoping to get enough responses to this post to make a Diner Compilation article out of the thread, so post up!


*AFAIK- as far as I know


From Lucid Dreams

I think going back to stone tools is a bit of a stretch RE.

A good quality hand tool made of metal and wood can be used for lifetimes pending it is cared for.  Metal that is kept clean and dry does not rust.  The tools they sell at the big box stores are mostly shit that don't even last one lifetime.  There is plenty of metal to scavenge for a long time to come.  Take a modern day dumpster for instance.  How long would it take one of those things to rust back into the Earth?  So going back to stone tools is not going to be necessary. 

As far as the self sufficient farmer myth goes, that's a load of bollix.  No such thing, and there never has been.  It's theoretically possible, and I'm sure some people have done it.  I think you could survive pending you had enough hands and the weather helped you (which is unlikely these days). 

The best templates we have are the current ecovilliages, and as far as I know none of them are 100% self sufficient.  If they were 100% self sufficient, then they would not need money would they?  Of course one could argue that it's just easier to buy the stuff you need, like fencing for instance, if you have the money.  In the absence of money a lot of things could be accomplished in other ways. 

The "self sufficient farmer" is not a reality.  That farmer needs farm hands.  I think then you can produce a human diet that could keep people reasonably healthy.  The Easter Islanders did it, and so did the Vikings, and so did many other peoples before our time.  The best answers I've seen to our problems comes from Permaculture.  Permaculture has aggregated a lot of knowledge under it's umbrella, and it provides a system of design principles to help in the thinking process. 

I have no doubt that if the money was made available a Permaculture system could keep a lot of people alive and healthy.  If the goobermint were to throw billions of digibits at Permaculture like they do for the MIC, then we would have an excellent chance at saving a lot more than as many as we can.  Restoration agriculture combined with the biointensive methods from the Ecology Action folks and a strong emphasis on bamboo culture would create a very stable system of food, fuel, fiber, and medicine production.  It is possible to manage these systems sustainably and therefore provide self-sufficiency, but that sufficiency is really provided by community. 

The cabin in the woods is a farce.  It will take community to survive.  It will take a community with rules and a chain of command, and it will likely be very similar to feudalism due to necessity because nobody in goobermint is addressing any of this.  All of our "leaders" are asleep at the switch, incompetent, blind, and servicing BAU for their own personal interests.  Nobody in goobermint is taking any of our once problems, now predicaments, seriously. 

Restoration agriculture takes time.  We are talking about trees and land that's been mostly denuded of topsoil.  That topsoil has to be regrown, and that takes time.  It takes lots of time.  It can be done relatively quickly biointensively, but it still takes time.  Years.  Most nut trees take 20, 30 years to mature and produce nuts.  Orchards take years to mature.  None of these systems will mature in much less than 10 years.  I'd say 20 years is more likely how much time you need to get mature Permaculture systems in place that would be capable of supporting a large population. 

It's simply too late in the game to save all 7.5 billion of us.  If we had a Manhattan Project level event that got going with Permaculture in the driver seat today, then we might be able to save half of the current population.  That's just my guess. 


From Eddie:

Metal tools are not going away. They were around before modern BAU, and they'll persist afterward, in my opinion. They will become extremely expensive. Things like plows and hand tools will be very precious when they have to be hand made out of dead cars, though.

Food is tricky. I know a big family with everyone working the fields can be self sufficient, because that's the way it used to be. As in LARGELY self-sufficient, 90% or better. You always need some things. Salt, seeds, sugar, etc.

Transition is the hardest part. You can't go from BAU to self-sufficient overnight. I would expect a fast collapse to create a serious famine.

The best case would be if you can get some of your protein from hunting or fishing, and some food from gathering. People in low population areas would have an advantage there, of course.

Very few people are in a position to even try living self-sufficiently. It would be a huge stretch to assume I could get there in time, even with my modest preps to tide me over. If BAU continues until I reach retirement status, I'll be able to get better at it. Otherwise, I'll have to wing it when push comes to shove. Won't be at all easy. I know that.


From RE:

As I said to LD, not going away in this generation or even the next one in all likelihood.  But in your grandchildren's generation, where will they get the coal and iron ore to smelt the metal and fabricate new tools?  There sure won't be Home Depots to buy them at. I am looking 100-200 years out in time here.

If they cannot fabricate new metal tools, then how do they keep farming/permaculturing?  Can you do this without metal tools?  ???  :icon_scratch: If so, how?

If you postulate in the generation of your grandchildren that metal tools will NOT be available for them to use, then don't you need to prep them up for that time by teaching them stone tool knapping?  How else will they learn it? Maybe they will figure it out on their own, but would it not be better to pass this knowledge down so they are prepped and ready for this day?  How can you pass such knowledge down if you do not have it yourself?



From K-Dog:

Making metal tools?  Is there an APP for that?  Metal shop, wood shop, home economics?  High schools don't bother with such things anymore do they?

As time's arrow shoots forward the social direction moves more and more away from self sufficiency and self reliance.  This will mean mass death as soon as the wheels can't turn from lack of cheap oil.  There is no way around it and those who imagine themselves self sufficient will be pulled down in the social quagmire of those who are not.


From JD Wheeler:

The best templates we have are the current ecovilliages, and as far as I know none of them are 100% self sufficient.  If they were 100% self sufficient, then they would not need money would they?  Of course one could argue that it's just easier to buy the stuff you need, like fencing for instance, if you have the money.  In the absence of money a lot of things could be accomplished in other ways. 


Are you familiar with Gaviotas?

They are fairly well isolated from the rest of the world, so they probably do come close to providing 100% of their needs. If you count net impact and consider the 1.5 million trees they've replanted, they might be over 100%.


From JD Wheeler:

In this one, Bill asserts that if just 10%of the people of the world undertook this form of self-sufficiency, we could feed the world.  I'm assuming he means doing it without Industrial Fertilizers as well.  Not sure how he felt about big combines, harvesters, tractors and so forth though.

My first question here for this thread is whether this is really true?  Could 10% of the population feed everyone else, all 7.3B people currently walking the earth?


I've addressed this before as Permaculture's Dirty Little Secret.  I agree with Bill Mollison's assessment that using permaculture methods, 10% of the population could GROW enough food to feed 100% of the population; they could not, however, HARVEST enough food to feed everyone.  Even on my little blackberry patches, well over 50% of the berries go unharvested, even by the birds!  Permaculture's Dirty Little Secret is that, after you have set the systems up, 90% of the work is harvesting.


From David B.

My first thought would be that the iron age did not start with the fossil fuel age but ran on charcoal made from wood.  The roman legions had iron swords, tools, armour all forged on biomass.  The plows of the middle ages were mostly wood but the leading edges were iron.  All before the first piece of coal left the mine.  Huge collapse sure but iron is here to stay.

4 Responses to A Time of Seven Generations

  • The essential problem is always the death control systems,

    with the murder systems as the most important of those.

    Neolithic Civilization was primarily a slavery system:

    "Do what I say, or I will kill you."

    The existing social pyramid systems were those that

    survived by being the best killers or by obeying them.


    While the long-term consideration, such as EROEI,

    make theoretically interesting contemplations, etc.:

    Why EROEI matters: the role of net energy in the survival of civilization

    On the basis of the fact that the EROEI of renewables is smaller than that of crude oil, considering also the expense of the infrastructure needed to adapt our society to the kind of energy produced by renewables, they conclude that "renewables cannot sustain a civilization that can sustain renewables."

    The underlying problems in the short to medium term are that the arms trade is the world's biggest business, and therefore, ENORMOUS amounts of every kind of weapon and ammunition have been stockpiled. Therefore, in any short to medium term developments, the murder systems are going to continue to dominate Globalized Neolithic Civilization. That includes the degree to which any local groups which became relatively self-sustaining would have to also have the ability for effective defense to be self-sustaining, which is an especially intractable problem! (Particularly because the best defence may be offense.)

    Some of the maxims of systems theory are that the most labile components control the system, while systems follow their own path of least resistance, since that is the path of least action. In human terms, that means that Civilization is controlled by the people who are the most dishonest and violent (although the division of labour has specialized groups which now respectively do so), and that Civilization will follow the path of least morality (although that is publicly presented by the best available professions hypocrites.) MEANWHILE, many of those who like to indulge in moralistic notions regarding relative self-sufficiency tend to take for granted that there will be some surrounding Sovereign Power which will protect them, so that they do not have to protect themselves. However, to whatever degree the systems made and maintained by the Sovereign Powers relatively fail to function, then the local systems would collapse back to their own imperatives of the extremely problematic achievements of self-sufficient self-defense (which eventually drives the imperatives of offense.)

    In my opinion, all such  self-sufficiency debates are "barking up the wrong tree."

    The essential issues are whether better death control systems could be developed, with better murder systems as their most extreme forms. The dilemmas in those issues are the ways that the history of warfare selected for the most deceitful and treacherous systems to become most socially successful, and for those to then be able to control their "opposition," such that all of the publicly significant religions and ideologies are forms of controlled "opposition," which stay within the same overall frame of reference of taking for granted the most deceitful possible perspectives regarding the death control systems in general, and the murder systems in particular.

    In general, most of the publicly approved discussions of human systems are based on the maximum possible bullshit, due to the long history of the actually existing death controls being publicly presented in the most deceitful and treacherous ways possible. But nevertheless, whenever one attempts to more seriously and rigorously regard human beings and Civilization as manifestations of general energy systems, or as toroidal vortices engaged in the entropic pumping of environmental energy flows, then the death controls, and especially the murder systems, become the most significant factors, especially due to the ways that the debt controls and the money systems were backed up by the death controls and the murder systems.

    Pretty well ALL of the publicly approved discussions of the topics such as raised in the article above suffer from the deeply conditioned ways that people shy away from considerations of the multifaceted expressions of the death control systems, and particularly are not able and willing to forthrightly deal with the ways that the murder systems have developed.

    Although it is theoretically possible to go through series of intellectual scientific revolutions and profound paradigm shifts in the ways that human beings and Civilization are thought about as particular manifestations of general energy systems, it continues to be politically impossible to do so. Typically, that also manifests in the various ways that so-called "preppers" are NOT possibly prepared, for what they can NOT possibly prevent.

    It continues to be the most important underlying issue that prodigious progress in physical science has nothing comparable in the domain of political science. That problem is now the same as it always was, although that problem is getting exponentially worse, as the exponential progress in physical science and technologies continues. The main reasons are those which always operated within the whole history of Neolithic Civilization, namely, that when people can not agree, they fight, which fighting reinforced the strategies which were most deceitful and treacherous. After thousands of years of that history, the basic issues regarding death control systems in general, and murder systems in particular, are buried under the maximum possible bullshit, while the most publicly approved discussions of various problems that Globalized Neolithic Civilization tend to operate through various ranges of taking for granted that BULLSHIT, as if that was NOT BULLSHIT.

    Human beings and Civilization have been driven by natural selection pressures to develop artificial selection systems which became the most socially successful by becoming the most dishonest those could be. Furthermore, exponentially advancing technologies have enabled that Civilization to become exponentially more dishonest. One of the various related spin-offs of that spinning out of human control are the ways that human beings tend to deliberately NOT discuss the relationships between natural selection and artificial selection systems.

    The overall situation is that any approach to any more "rational" public debates regarding human beings and Civilization as manifestations of general energy systems "should" be able to coherently work through from the natural selection systems to the artificial selection systems, and back … However, at the present time, and for the foreseeable finite future, that is politically impossible to do, due to the long history of the maximizing maliciousness of the murder systems, including the ways in which it is practically impossible to engage in any genuine public debates regarding the death controls systems in general.

    Every kind of debate regarding the issues raised in the article above share in the ways that there are crucial blind spots. By and large, pretty well everybody who attempts to discuss, either on smaller or larger scales, the issues of what kinds of human systems might be relatively more sustainable tend to deliberately NOT discuss what would necessarily be the central core of those, which would be sustainable death control systems, with sustainable murder systems as the most extreme forms of those.


    Once upon a time, I used to believe that "we" had more time.

    I used to think "we" were more in the middle of 7 generations.

    However, these dazes I think that time is diminishing faster …


    Prodigious progress in physical sciences is continuing, BUT,

    political science goes nowhere, but entrenches in stupidities.

    Tragically, it makes "sense" that the most important features

    of the human systems are those which are most deceitful!


    The most important components of the HUMAN SYSTEMS

    are publicly the most deliberately ignored & misunderstood.

    "Good luck with that then, eh!"

  • streamfortyseven says:

    I’ve got iron tools which are between 100 to 150 years old, and I can still put an edge on them sharp enough to shave with. And I know a fair number of graduated art students who have set up forges and can and have made various kinds of tools, apparently amongst some sections of the punk rock community, that’s a big thing. http://www.nmmagazine.com/article/?aid=93789

    • RE says:

      That’s pretty impressive.  I have tried to put an edge on my Stainless Steel hunting knife to be able to shave with, and while I can do it, it sure is not as comfortable a shave as a Shick Quad Cartridge!  lol.  That’s top quality German steel too, not the cheap Chinese shit.

      Basic metallurgy moving even two centuries forward is pretty plausible, I don’t discount this although both energy and substrates (either mined or scavenged) will become increasingly more difficult to acquire.

      I have another two articles addressing this topic upcoming in the queue.


    • K Dog says:

      It will be a long time before mankind will run out of iron.  It is far more likely that iron will run out of men! 

      RE's point of not having enough energy to forge with may apply to general consumer goods but as long as there are craftsmen new iron tools will be made.  Welding gas has however become expensive.  If I ever get back into it playing with steel propane will be used where it can.  That is a great link you threw down.

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Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

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Merry Doomy Christmas

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Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

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West Africa is a very vulnerable part of the world to the impacts of climate change due to a combina [...]

Green areas induce smaller increases in the air temperature than built-up areas. They can offer a so [...]

The study of frequency analysis is important to find the most suitable model that could anticipate e [...]

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