Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Collapse LXI: Of Rumors And Coffee

January 14th 20XX +1

My Dear Lucilius:

I had a pleasant long chat with young Xerxes this morning.

He seems to have become the self-appointed village gossip (apparently such things are in again), seeming to have information on virtually every household that remains in our little burg now (6 deaths, 2 births, and a reduction the households to 40, in case you were wondering). Most people, I gather, are holding out – which is not surprising, considering – with the exception of the loss of electricity – people around these parts are used to being stuck at home for days at a time.

You will remember the young woman that knocked on my door in July and invited me out? It turns out that she and Young Xerxes are an “item”, as I believe it was called once upon a time. Apparently they had divided our town; I was in her section, he was on the other side of town. I would call it “luck”, but in point of fact with so few homes around, it is just a matter of statistics.

There is talk, he says, of the Spring.

The Spring – it worries us all. The coming of Spring here typically meant the coming of days of no snow, of the verdure of the growing grass, and at some level the inevitable rush of tourists coming through our town, headed somewhere else. This year, however, Spring has a far worse connotations. The roads will clear, and no-one is sure what will come with clear roads.

The radio that I have has long gone silent, the commercial stations and even the emergency broadcasting system long gone dormant. From what Xerxes related, there are still ham radio operators which are broadcasting and by whom we can get some kind of update, if spotty and localized. Their news, unfortunately, is not good but not unexpected: the cities for the most part sound as if they are wrecks and ungovernable. The collapse of the distribution system has meant not only that supplies could not be shipped to them, but that farmers that would get acres and acres of crops into the ground are getting a few at best, as there is neither fuel nor market to support them.

The only comfort – if it is to be a comfort – is that from the shortwave connections, literally everywhere is the same as here. When distribution and the economy stopped, it stopped everywhere.

Before he left, young Xerxes asked if there was anything I wanted or needed. Coffee, I replied – I miss having my coffee in the morning. He laughed and said he agreed, and would see if he could find some in the midst of the Winter. I offered up 3 lbs of honey (and 1 lb to him) if he could make it happen.

Even the midst of despair, some will find a way.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca


  1. I see a resurgence of the black markets as well.

    1. Glen, I wonder: in an economic collapse or true dysfunction with no guiding regulatory authority, if there is such a thing as a black market. Are they all not just “markets”?

    2. Interesting. Technically speaking... yes, I suppose. It would depend on how the collapse went, I guess. Maybe this treads on politics - but an interesting comment I heard from a political pundit said that socialism always devolves into communism and oligarchies - while capitalism always devolves into corporatism and monopolies.

      I am an avowed enemy of most market regulation... but that line of thought gives me second thoughts.

      I suppose it depends on what your political stripes are when you are labelling markets with the black...

    3. Glen, I do not think it is political to say that all human societies trend towards concentration of power and resources, it is just what form that concentration takes.

      Market regulations can have a role to play for sure - but that also assumes that the markets work freely and that government does not intervene (like, for example, flooding the market with dollars as we are about to observe).

      I think any government of any of the stripes you refer to would find a market they do not monitor, control and are not involved in as detrimental and therefore potentially a "black" market.

    4. It's an interesting discussion that I see your character dances around. He's a man in an environment run by a predatory gubbimint. If I recall, they confiscated his vehicle for the greater good. Does he hide his remaining wealth and assets? What does that look like? At what point does his participation in a black market become unethical? Or his compliance with the gubbimint become unethical?

      But I suppose that there be dragons beyond your scope. It does make for some interesting extracurricular prognastication.

    5. Glen, your memory is correct. And really, it is a discussion that in some level we all have in our lives.

      One of the laws (it is on the books) that many people break is jaywalking. They think it is a stupid law - after all, what prevents me from crossing the street when no cars are coming - but it is a law on the books none the less. Conceivably you can get written up for it; few people are. That does not change the fact that one is a lawbreaker for not following it.

      How is it we can view one law as one not to be obeyed and one to be obeyed? It comes down, really, to our ethics. If our ethics are to obey the laws regardless, we do. If they are to choose the ones we think important, we will.

      My understanding of current tax law in the US is that if you barter using a skill that is your main line of work, you are supposed to record that as income. Any guesses as to how many people actually do that? And arguable is it ethical for a government to collect taxes on a non-financial transaction?

      You raise good questions and I think the correct response is that Seneca's world is really our world, just with a great deal more crisis in it.

  2. Lots to anticipate with this chapter. :)

    1. Leigh, I think so. Sometimes I wonder what Seneca is seeing when he writes these letters that I cannot.


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