Living in the present

“Nobody lived in the past, if you stop to think about it. Jefferson, Adams, Washington—they didn’t walk around saying, ”Isn’t this fascinating, living in the past?“ They lived in the present just as we do. The difference was it was their present, not ours. And just as we don’t know how things are going to turn out for us, they didn’t either. It’s very easy to stand on the mountaintop as an historian or biographer and find fault with people for why they did this or didn’t do that, because we’re not involved in it, we’re not inside it, we’re not confronting what we don’t know—as everyone who preceded us always was.”

David McCullough, Knowing History and Knowing Who We Are

The David McCullough quote is from a piece he wrote in 2005 and I’ve included the link for it. A brilliant military strategist, Dr. Colin Gray, made a similar comment in one of his books about strategic planning, emphasizing that none of us knows the future and he cautioned against the human tendency of too harshly judging strategic planners in the past for decisions that turned out badly or assuming that they had to know, X,Y and Z would happen. He suggested that often people were operating in good faith and making decisions they believed would be successful.

Here’s a YouTube video of McCullough speaking about history and at 17:18, he makes the same point he made in that above quote about people did not live in the past:

It’s easy to be armchair critics, as I can attest to, because I’ve done plenty of that myself, but despite my judgmental habits, I’m trying to think more before writing blog posts. One thing it’s easy to do is to draw sweeping conclusions based on very tiny amounts of information and often even that information is just “so and so online said,” not verified in any way. Along with the sweeping conclusions it’s very easy to cherry-pick information that feeds our own beliefs and views.

An economic collapse, whether through a lot of unforeseen events or financial power players trying to manage a collapse they know is coming, really is an area I have no expertise on. My understanding of macroeconomics could fit inside a teaspoon, so I’ve been doing more reading.

Klaus Schwab, the World Economic Forum’s founder, influence-peddler among the world’s elites and present arch nemesis among the American right has been talked about frequently, so I read his book, The Great Reset, and while I found many of the ideas promoted disturbing, what bothered me the most was the certainty with which he presents all of their climate change policy assertions.

I still don’t understand all the intricacies of the “Great Reset’ agenda and here’s the thing, I believe most of the people who bought into these ideas truly believe their plans are for the good of all people and that the entire world will prosper and flourish. While I expect widespread chaos and that their plans will fail and cause massive hardship, I could be wrong. The other thing is all sorts of other events might happen that upend the Great Reset agenda completely and the world may be facing other unforeseen massive problems.

In my own life, I live a simple and modest life and hope I can keep doing so. I can’t plan for the collapse of the world economy, because I have no idea what events would unfold in such a global catastrophe like that. For me, it’s about living in the present, while trying to take practical steps like having food, water and some emergency supplies on hand, but it’s also about continuing to learn new skills and practice old skills.

These days meteorologists do a good job tracking storms, whereas in the olden days people near coasts didn’t have a week’s time to prepare for a hurricane or major storm. Currently, I’m watching Tropical Storm Ian, just as Hurricane Fiona battered Canada and going over my hurricane preparedness plans.

George Washington was planning out changes he wanted to make to his gardens back at Mount Vernon, while he was off fighting the Revolutionary War. He wasn’t planning to be the first president of the United States of America, which didn’t even exist yet. There are personal letters of Washington’s where he’s going over account books for his estate and concerned with personal family business during the war. He was living in the present.

I’ve watched YouTube preppers who fixate on all the terrible things they are sure are going to happen or that are “signs” that SHTF is imminent and then they’ll list the latest hyped up news (ZeroHedge is a source mentioned frequently with the most hysterical and alarmist predictions) and I’ve seen advice based on these alarmist news reports range from “pull all your money out of the bank” (panic-driven bank runs exacerbated the economic collapse during the Great Depression), to urging people to “pack up and move from these blue states immediately” or “get out of the cities.” I’ve seen videos urging people to get rid of all their paper money and invest it in gold and silver.

I don’t have a crystal ball and I’m not an expert on personal financial management, so I am hesitant to urge dramatic actions like that, which could cause a lot more financial problems for many people than it solves. I do believe, as a guiding principle that getting out of debt and living debt-free, is a better lifestyle choice, under any circumstance and having some emergency savings can turn a personal crisis into just an inconvenience. These two beliefs apply during times of calm and plenty and in times of chaos and scarcity.

A book, The Reshaping of Everyday Life: 1790-1840, by Jack Larkin, explains early America’s complex economics, after the American Revolution. There was little money in circulation, so most of the actual money flowed back to the cities and rural people lived under systems of “exchanges,” that were closely linked to their social interactions in communities. Some of their dealings involved simple bartering, but some involved systems of credit and IOUs, that could be “paid off” later in goods or services.

The monetary currency circulating varied too. Larkin wrote, “A bewildering variety of foreign coins circulated: Dutch rix-dollars, Russian kopecks, as well as French and English specie. Most of the coins Americans used were the silver dollar halves, quarters, eighths and sixteenths minted in Mexico and in the South American republics where silver was abundant.” This led to a lot of confusion, as most of the early Americans in the former colonies were still used to the British shillings.

The varied and diverse ways these early Americans conducted their business transactions came out of necessity, because very few people, even back then, were totally self-sufficient, even on the larger farms. There are also accounts of a divide between how Southerners and Northerners conducted business, where the northern way of writing down transactions conflicted with the Southern habit of a handshake and a man’s word being considered a sacred bond. People in early America, just like people throughout history in times of turmoil, self-organized and found ways to manage without some masterplan or people fixating ahead of time on how to prepare for every dire scenario imaginable.

These early Americans were dealing with unforeseen catastrophes on a regular basis. Illnesses swept through and could wipe out entire families. As the frontier moved westward, the settlers living closer to that edge faced skirmishes and massacres in battles with Native Americans. Every imaginable hardship and natural disaster hit and there was no 911 to call or FEMA and the American Red Cross to mobilize. These people had to pick themselves up and work together to salvage what they could and rebuild. They were living in the present, while trying to lay down foundations for their children and grandchildren.

Building more skills, and that means practicing old skills too, seems like it will be more useful for me than getting worked up about a world financial collapse or some other hyped news story, that I have no details or information to verify it.

In my next blog post, I’m going to write about basic sewing and make a few suggestions for supplies, beyond the little sewing kits they sell for a few dollars. Learning a few basic sewing skills is not nearly as daunting as many people make it. And just about anyone can master a few basics.

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Filed under American History, Emergency Preparedness, General Interest

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