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Friday, September 02, 2005 

Alas, Babylon

I don't know how popular Pat Frank's book, Alas, Babylon, is outside of Florida. I have always suspected that its popularity in my home state was directly related to its setting in central Florida. I have been thinking a lot about the book lately (spoilers ahead, if there can be spoilers for a book that is over 30 years old).

For those of you who haven't read it, it is about a group of people who survive a nuclear war. Central Florida is the only area of Florida to escape (relatively) unscathed and so the residents there are isolated (I should say that it was written when the bombs would have been atom and hydrogen bombs, so that also might explain how Orlando made it). The area is fairly rural and transportation soon has much more to do with the rivers in the area than with the roads.

One of the chief things that I remember about the book was the characters concern with food storage. The main character, foreseeing the coming war, had stockpiled quite a bit of food. In particular, he had quite a bit of meat in freezers. We food storage pros realize that this probably isn't the best set up, but he didn't see the problems that would come after the power failed. After the steaks had gone bad, he learned to forage in the orchards and the surrounding countryside for food.

One of his neighbors kept bees and began to use honey for bartering. The neighbor figured that bartering would take over for money, as money was pretty useless now. He also figured that it would afford him some protection from looters as you need beekeepers if you are going to have honey.

Unfortunately, it didn't work. Looters came. The neighbor was killed. The hives were destroyed.

As I have heard news about the looting that has taken place in the wake of Katrina, particularly in New Orleans, I have wondered how I would react if I were there. I don't actually know that I wouldn't, which is a bit scary to me. I don't believe that I would have a problem breaking into a store for food and water, if I had nowhere else to get it. I am pretty sure that I would go after Levis in a lawless landscape, but considering the situation, I might get a gun.

Perhaps this is part of the reason why we are told to have our own storage. So that the temptation to loot is minimized.

Now, as has been discussed much this week, food storage is no magical balm that works in all disasters. Although I doubt that anyone in Southern Louisiana, Mississippi, or Alabama had a basement, the flooding and wind took away entire homes, food stored or not. But for those for whom it was available, no doubt it helped (and helped keep them from getting photographed by random invasions of reporters).

There is something that begins to happen when we loot. The binding power of community disappears. It is hard to argue with the logic of Thenardier, but Thenardier has no neighbors. A realm of looting is a realm of chaos, a Hobbesian state of nature, a state of war of every man against every man. People must decide to reject civilization to enter this state and in it they find that they can do much more than loot. If you stop caring about people who don't matter to you, you stop thinking of them as people. That never leads to the good.

Although I think I would be tempted by the possibility of a panel TV in a lawless society, two things would keep me from getting it. First, in this state, it would be just another thing that I would have to protect from people like me. Second, I don't think my conscience would let me ever actually watch anything on it.

So food storage could be a way for us to protect ourselves not only from the ravages of natural or financial disasters, but also from further spiritual disaster. Where else does the Lord ask us to hoard material possessions (answer: nowhere). Perhaps your food is there to help others fight off the temptation to loot too. After all, it is hard to loot what is freely given.

Which brings me to the beekeeper. Sometimes, in anger, desperation, or simply as a byproduct of the chaos that surrounds them, looters simply destroy. Without the societal constraints of a community, it may be tempted to blow something up real good, to rape, pillage, and destroy. There are reasons that these activities are traditionally associated with invading armies and with looting peoples. Normal restraints are gone and some people dive into the animal mayhem. When will they get another chance?

Perhaps food storage is not simply to protect us, but to protect us from ourselves.

That's really interesting.

Today at work a woman was saying, "How far is our society from total chaos and mayhem? Four days away." We want to think we wouldn't do those things, but people just like us are doing those things. Others are rising to the challenge. Why does one go native while the other doesn't?

I'm glad you brought this up. The looting (and violence) has been quite disturbing to me. I have been SO sad to watch scenes of a mob mentality. People discard courtesy in dangerous situations. When calm is not possible, courtesy disappears. It's every man for himself. That really scares me. Nice people don't do well in these types of situations. But I'm glad that there are "nice" people out there looking to help those in need. My heart really goes out to these victims. I really wish I could be there.

You WOULD loot a pair of Levis? That must be a typo... Wranglers, now, that's a different matter ;)

I don't think that a disaster changes the essential nature of people. If you turn into a looter post-apocalypse, it's because the only thing restraining your selfish nature before the storm was the threat of being caught. Now food and water are a different matter. You do what you have to in order to survive, plus the food is all going to spoil anyway. But as far as jeans and TVs, John, I know you wouldn't be out there, none of us would. The people doing that are just like the Missouri Mobs, or the Carthage Blues. The idea that they are just "swept up in the moment" is nonsense. They are people who are strictly looking out for number one. All of us have that fallen nature inside us, but the gospel is about overcoming the natural man, and becoming selfless.

Interestingly, while the Church has counseled us to store food, water and fuel, there has never been any directive to stockpile weapons and ammo. Which means to me that rather than fight off the looters, we are to share with them. Although, I must admit, I'd want some way to defend the women and children against marauders.

oops yeah. I mean't wouldn't steal the Levis...or did I?

I have read of officers turning in their badges because of the danger within the city. The violence has been incredible. It has taken men to the basest, vilest sense.

Hi. I have read that book, many times, as I tend to read apocalyptic or disaster fiction (in part, because I am so terrified of such events).

I enjoy the book immensely, and find your relation of it to the current situation very interesting. A view I wouldn't have thought of.

I have found some hope, in the story of a neighborhood that banded together. The people who stayed there to ride out the hurricane, did so in the highest elevation part of the city. Afterwards, they banded together; the bar became the center, where people stitched up other people's wounds, people stood watch over people's houses and food, while others went out to check on the situation and find necessities. People took care of each other.

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This Week's Topic:

  • The Sabbath Day

Various Authors

  • Monday:
    Kaycee opted out of Mormondom 4 years ago. She calls herself agnostic.
  • Tuesday:
    Sarah is not your average Gospel Doctrine Teacher.
  • Wednesday:
    Carrie Ann comes from pioneer stock, and lives in Provo, but is open minded and fair.
  • Thursday:
    Ned Flanders hasn't been to church in a while, but maintains an interest in all things Mormon.
  • Friday:
    John C. is an academic with a sense of humor and a testimony.
  • Saturday:
    JP's not going to church and feeling okay about it.

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