Ran Prieur is apparently well-known to everybody but me. Prieur specializes in thinking about the collapse of civilization, but not in a Mad Max way. In a nice way. Here’s how he describes himself in a May 27 interview with Boing Boing, which is where I was introduced to him:
Ran Prieur: I am known on the Internet as somebody who writes about dropping out of society, the critique of civilization, sustainability and the collapse. I’m a softcore doomer. I write about why this entire society is unbalanced and a large mistake and why the mistake is ending and how you can, how we can get out of it. How we can live better.
Avi: Who has influenced you the most?
Ran: I always tell people my two biggest influences are Ivan Illich and Charles Fort. Everything I write can be derived from those two guys. Ivan Illich wrote his most famous stuff in the early 70s. He was a big critic of industrialization and centralization and certain kinds of technology.
Ivan Illich was not a primitivist. He thinks that technology can be used very well and can be used to live much better than primitive people but it mostly has not yet been used that way. Ivan Illich was so smart and wrote so clearly that reading him is like looking at the sun. You just read a couple of sentences and then you’re like, “Wow! I have to look away, that’s too much”, and you kind of process those sentences and you go back and read a little more.
Then he goes on to talk about Fort, who is known for a lot of comic science but had a serious idea at the core of it: Everything in the universe is connected.
After reading the Boing Boing interview, I hit Prieur’s Web site, and caught up on his essays, of which he has quite a few. But the essential part of Prieur, at least for me, is contained in the Boing Boing interview.
Prieur believes modern society is on the verge of collapse, but he’s not a survivalist. He’s not advocating arming yourself and living in a barricaded camp. Like other smart people who’ve written on this subject, Prieur believes that the people who will survive the collapse are those who have strong community ties, who help their neighbors and are, in turn, helped by them.
Prieur believes that civilization is a 10,000-year mistake, and that we were better off living in small villages, close to nature. That sounds crazy, but there is anthropological support. It’s well-known that people lived longer, healthier lives before the invention of agriculture and cities, and that we’ve only recovered to the pre-civilization of health and lifespan in the past century. (So why did people invent agriculture and civilization at all? Prieur has a theory.)
Prieur doesn’t believe we should go back to the primitive state, though. He thinks we can combine the best of so-called primitive life and civilization to make something better.
Here are some of Prieur’s more interesting essays:
The coming expansion. Prieur uses the word “expansion” where most people use the phrase “economic collapse.”
Prieur believes that the
collapse expansion will be catastrophic for great swathes of the population, every bit as bad as conservative economists say it will be. Millions will die in wars, starvation, plagues, and the destruction of the infrastructure they rely on. But Prieur notes that the current order already brings misery to millions, if not billions. And after the collapse will hopefully come a much better world.
He does not believe the collapse will be sudden. It’ll take years or decades to play out. It’s already been going on for a couple of decades — things have gotten steadily worse for a long time, although they’ve also gotten a little better sometimes. The collapse will continue in a stepwise fashion, worse then better, worse then better, until the world is transformed, hopefully into a better place.
J.R.R. Tolkien, the man who saw tomorrow. Lord of the Rings as a metaphor for the expansion.
Where was Luke Skywalker on Sept. 11. Soldiers of the rebellion, led by a bearded desert prophet, fly airships into a titanic structure built by the empire they see as evil incarnate. The difference between Star Wars and 9/11 is that the Americans weren’t rooting for the rebels on 9/11.
Prieur is not rooting for al Qaeda in the previous essay. Read it for yourself before you criticize.
What we learned from Katrina. You can’t trust the government.
9/11 FAQ. I’m not sure whether Prieur is arguing for the truther argument here, or simply arguing that the official government explanation — the events that everybody knows to be true — is equally implausible.
Dumpster diving FAQ. You can get a tasty and healthy meal from other people’s garbage.
How to drop out. Prieur’s most famous essay.