Collapse Fiction: Insights Into The Bottleneck

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by SP

The term “population bottleneck” is used in evolutionary biology to refer to the loss of genetic variability that occurs when a population size is suddenly reduced by abrupt environmental change causing a large percentage of the population to die off.  Assuming complete extinction is avoided, small groups of survivors may then reestablish one or more colonies and often are required to move to new niches.

These stories offer visions of:

1) what niches might remain viable post bottleneck, and

2) what niches are available to transition the die-off phase.

It should be obvious (though perhaps a bit horrifying to contemplate) that surviving the die-off / transition phase is a prerequisite to become a participant in the recovery phase.  The recovery phase is where I imagine that  “building a world worth inheriting” happens.

Here are a couple of the recurrent themes

Should a breakdown in the complex global commerce networks occur suddenly, humanity would face a threat of tremendous magnitude.  Precipitants of a sudden collapse might include things like a bombing in the oil fields in the ME, an EMP, asteroid strike, sudden loss of ocean transport, loss of the monetary system crippling global commerce, a pandemic making travel or shipping impossible.  The loss of the distribution network by which food is moved from farms to population centers hundreds and thousands of miles distant would be the most immediate and devastating.  Similarly, disruption of the water distribution system (which requires electrical pumping) would be immediately devastating to desert communities.

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If the breakdown were slower, say with 1-2 years warning, food and water could be stock piled, wells dug and gardens planted.  The die-off would be blunted in many areas.

Though in both the slower and sudden scenario, city dwellers without ability to grow their own food or collect rain and well water will do very poorly.

In rural areas, subsistence farms can keep most of the local population alive both during the transition and during a recovery.

During the recovery period, non-farmers may want to seek out small walk-able towns surrounded by farms and located along rivers or railroad tracks.   Crafts, sewing, metal working, medicine, dentistry, education and commerce could begin again in this location.

Moving to a small town, starting a garden and befriending the local farmers in a CSA arrangement pre-collapse would seem smart.  Get the hell out of a big city.


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The Bandit and the Soldier—Niches for the transition phase

In the scenario of a rapid collapse, one of the major and most successful niches during the transition phase will be that of the bandit.   Unable to grow or gather his own food, he will seek to raid the stores of others:  this will include the stores of warehousessuburban Preppers and farmers.  Bandits may start working individually, but will quickly organize into teams (or use already existing gang structures) and increasing coordination / organization will begin to show.  Quick raids on farms by mobile raiders will make them hard to defend against and counter.  This niche is especially attractive to the sociopath who relishes the “I can get away with anything I want to do” situation,  but will also find lots of participation from hungry non-sociopaths who don’t see any other way.

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Farms will need to organize into communities of their own to defend their food production capability and stored food.  The soldier will figure prominently in defending clusters of farms.  Fixed defenses (forts, walls, hedges, moats, etc.) will once again surround towns and clusters of farms.  Communications will have to be established to sound the alarm for mutual defense.  Observation towers will be needed (drones?) to keep watch and alert everyone to an attack.  Forts and castle-like structures will return to the land scape.

I would expect cannibalism during the die off phase.  Starving people hunt the deer, bear, raccoons, ‘possum’s and squirrels to extinction.  Then what?   It makes sense to turn to the other overly abundant mammal, other humans.

The Uruguay Rugby Team survived their mountain plane crash by cannibalism

Cannibalism has several advantages during a die off:  (not to imply that it doesn’t horrify me or that I am recommending it…  but I expect it in the most severe collapse.)

1.   freshly killed human flesh is basic food.

2.   killing others eliminates competition for desperately scarce resources.

3.   a person who has already been killed will not kill you and your family later.  This is, after all, a die-off.

Taboo’s and ethical principles prohibiting cannibalism will be overcome.  One trick is to frame the people to be robbed, killed and eaten as “bad.”   This psychological mechanism seems to render the instinctive prohibition against killing others fairly silent.

“Make my day, punk.”

I believe that it is important to not overly spiritualize the difficulty of a bottleneck.  Some, like Daisy Luther, even recommend facing the brutality of this process preemptively to be better prepared to face it.


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