David Robert Gibson on the Collapse of Modern Civilisation

Posted by Sean Gabb

Consider this: What would happen if, just possibly, there was a collapse in the main engines of modernist society – the state and big business? We wake-up in the morning and find there is neither heating nor lighting. Unless there is plenty of hot water in the tank we are left to have a cold wash/bath/shower – rather unpleasant. Never mind, shivering we make breakfast – a cold one because neither cooker, nor kettle, nor microwave oven work. We get ready for work. If that is by public transport we are out of luck because that isn’t working either. Let’s say we are more fortunate and drive, cycle or walk to work, but hold-on, clearly there is something seriously wrong, so is ‘work’ working we wonder? Let’s ring in to find out – no dialtone on the landline, and no network available via the mobile. Umm? Let’s switch on the TV to find out what is happening – oops, can’t because there is no electricity, ditto the mains radio and the *formerly* Internet-connected PC. We have a laptop, but of course no Internet there either, and if we leave it on more than a few hours it becomes a large paperweight. Let’s try the transistor radio. We may find a channel or two transmitting, but only if they are powered by emergency generators. Some staff there may have turned-up to work and be broadcasting optimistic messages explaining what’s gone wrong and that it *may* be put right soon. If we are sensible we turn the radio off, to conserve its battery, and tune-in again later. We visit our neighbours and their experiences are the same. We commiserate, tutt a bit, but have a slightly nervous laugh about ‘The spirit of the Blitz’, etc.

We decide to take the day off, and go out for a ride or walk to see what’s happening elsewhere. We see fewer vehicles on the road, because many other people have stayed indoors, but we also see unusual manoeuvering going on at many road junctions, because the traffic lights aren’t working – no electricity, and no street-lighting either, so it will be dark before dawn. We drive past a petrol station that has a closed sign – no electricity to power the pumps. Then a supermarket – also closed because the staff who turned up cannot contact head office so think its best to stay closed for the present, after all, the tills and lights don’t work. We drive back homeward, and notice no police, fire or ambulance vehicles because no-one can phone 999, so they’ve rather less work to do – at the moment!

We call in the corner shop. Signs of life – the owner has decided to open-up, but his till doesn’t work either, so he will have to do arithmetic in his head or on paper. He and some other locals are there. We chat for a while, and he says he had best be cautious about selling goods in quantity because he has had no delivery, doesn’t know when he will get one and he hasn’t heard anything helpful on his transistor radio either. He suggests buying frozen and refrigerated goods first because they will ‘go-off’. People debate the pro’s and con’s, just remembering their fridge-freezers won’t work either. After a few cautious transactions we go home. Chilly place, home, so we keep our coats on. Minds turn to thoughts of candles, batteries, water and how to cook without cookers – short-term survivalism. The day passes and no significant news. Dusk arrives. We have torches and candles, so we put one on a saucer and light it. There is little we can do, so after a cold supper, we go to bed early, very early.

We wake up, suddenly, woken by loud sounds coming from the house opposite. We grab torches, put on our slippers and dressing gowns, and shine the torches – some people are wheel-spinning away and the neighbours look distressed. We grab a carving knife and a rolling pin from the kitchen, just in case, and run across. They say they are not badly hurt, just feeling some bumps and bruises. We help them to our house, and they say that two robbers broke in, stole some possessions and hit the neighbours when they tried to stop them. They agree to stay in our spare room until the morning.

Next day we wake up and get dressed. We hear a knock at the door and, amazing coincidence, two police officers are at the door. We ask how they heard of the burglary – they didn’t, they were just calling to say that have been told there is a major national emergency, and they called to tell us that the government has declared martial law. They have not been told exactly what is wrong, but as a precaution the government has ordered a curfew during the hours of darkness, and looters may be shot. The police take down details of the burglary and say they will investigate it when life returns to normal. In the meantime they advise locking-up well and, *unofficially* to keep weapons to hand. They say they will try to visit homes regularly, but they are short-staffed as many of their colleagues have not turned-up to work, and not to be alarmed if we see armed soldiers on the streets from time to time.

Our thoughts turn to survivalism more seriously. Fortunately, we still have chimneys, so we un-plumb the gas fires and collect some logs we have from tree pruning and make a fire in the hearth. So we have a modicum of warmth, and we can boil water and cook simple meals. We are also lucky that rain looks due, so we put buckets and pots outside to collect rainwater. They don’t collect more than a few pints. We wonder about rigging-up water-butts, but will boiling the water that comes off the roof be sufficient to make it safe – no-one knows. We also ponder longer-term survival – how to get more timber, is stream and river water safe? Where will we get food when our cupboards and the local shop runs out? Will people accept money? Will our improvised household weapons be enough to protect us from robbers. Do any locals have the few remaining guns people can own legally? What food can we grow, and will we live to harvest it? Can we get electricity generators and the fuel to power them?

I will not relate any more. Some people will be more fortunate than the scenario above – the few who have farms, homesteads or large allotments. Most will be less fortunate, especially those who live in cities, and above all, those who live in flats. I am not suggesting everyone go out and live like “The Good Life” right away, but I am saying, at the very least, that hardly anyone has a ‘Plan B’ if the balloon goes up. Surely it makes sense to have the means of complete self-sufficiency, in essentials at least, close at hand, just in case? I think it does, and doing so will require a fundamental revolution in the way people live, where they live and how many people share these islands with them!

We are playing an existential Russian Roulette in our current way of life, and one day the bullet will be under the hammer.


David Robert Gibson



  1. Twnety-five years ago, Chris Tame, judy Englander and I had a plan. It was admittedly based on the (then) more likely scenario that the USSR and the West might come to blows. We did not consider the above scenario in detail as Thatcher and Reagan wree in power , running what passed for the civilised world, and the State and Big Business in the West’s Nations would do their part, being largely conservative, and more or less collectively staffed and run by conservatives.

    The blogged scenario is now more likely, sadly.

    What we did was buy, and stow in two small suitcases per person, amounts of the following;

    Stormproof matches
    Dried preverved food as for mountaineers
    Water-disinfection tablets
    Small hammer and nails
    Metal-lined survival sleeping bags (2 each)
    A camping-Gaz stove each
    A dozen gas canisters each (they last quite well)
    Small set of military billy-cans for field use
    2 waterproof groundsheets
    A bedsheet
    A small tent for 2 people at a push (about £11 then!)
    Many plastic or carrier bags
    Large thick seethrough plastic bag for wearing over clothes in rain
    Guns (x 2) each (and ammo – darts and slugs) (only air pistols, but as Tesco says, every little helps, and you could sneak up on rats, stoats and rabbits with them too)

    Each item lovingly wrapped in on or two of its own plastic carrier-bags, cold water being the enemy of advanced civilisation. GOD BLESS the PLASTIC BAG…..PEACE BE UPON IT…..in WW2 we used oiled paper – anyone remember that, and its limitations?

    The plan for us three was for me (I had a car) to meet at the first sign of the Ballooon going up, and to drive west. We knew a place to go, even, and would have been taken in by the man there, this was all pre-arranged.

    In return, I had to keep 10 1-gallon metal cans of petrol (sufficient for about 340 miles), always full, for ever, and get them packed into the car whatever its fuel state first, before collecting Chris and Judy.

    We had no mobile phones then. God knows how we would have executed this, but at least it was a start.

  2. Excellent post! I love what iffing like this. My answer is we need to learn a little survival skills and hope that when the power goes off, be stocked up and have a bicycle or two.

  3. I hope it does not come ever to this.

    I also forgot; 2 torches each. Each torch-provider was responsible for his/her own batteries. We did not have High-bright-LEDs and their low consumption/high output model then either!

  4. Great article, Sean. This exact scenario you write of, crosses my mind every few days when I notice how we’re all clamped onto the nipple (so to speak) in this nation. Most of us are total slaves to that nipple (and our reliance on it seems to increase every day), and one of the reasons I suspect we don’t protest enough about injustice in this country (but whinge instead before capitulating) is that we’re terrified of any other life outside this comfort zone. We know most of us wouldn’t manage. We wouldn’t have a clue what to do. How to get our own food. How to get on. We allow those who are in charge of this nipple, to dictate what they want to do with us because we’re raised on it. Compared to other countries in Europe (France comes to mind) we whinge and capitulate about almost everything. Unlike others here, I hope it ‘does’ come to this one day. Humanity needs a huge shock shake up to remind us who we are. To remind us of just how enslaved we have become. Because each generation from now is only going to become more enslaved and dependent on that nipple.

  5. A large geomagnetic storm could potentially cause this scenario. If it does occur we’d better pray that we have a halfway decent government in power. If the state still holds a monopoly on force, we must hope its agents continue to make some effort to protect lives and property in difficult and lo-tech circumstances.

    And this danger may not be as remote as some of us might have imagined. Large and potentially damaging geomagnetic storms are predicted for the height of the next solar sunspot cycle during the 2012-2013 period. The effects of a magnetic storm include disruption of communications and navigation systems, intense auroras, damage to satellites, and during the most extreme storms, induced currents in power lines and pipelines that result in power outages and corrosion.

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