I had some further questions for Molly, the viewpoint character of last week’s Archdruid Report post, and was able to arrange for an interview. We met in the social hall of her church.
Q: Molly, thank you for agreeing to meet me and answer a few questions.
A: Why, you’re welcome. No harm in talking, and it’s not a workday for me.
Q: What do you do for a living?
A: I work for John Hanna’s soapmaking firm. You must have seen the big green house just west of here; that’s John’s, and the soap plant is in back. I started work there twelve years ago, just after the second civil war ended, and I am the senior employee there now.
Q: How many people work there?
A: Aside from John, there are eight of us in the plant, and as many salespeople out in the field. We make most of the soap sold along this part of the Mississippi.
Q: If you don’t mind my asking, how much do you make?
A: Not at all. I earn 300 columbias a week. I don’t know what that would be in old money.
Q: The columbia’s the postwar currency?
A: It is here. I don’t know what they use elsewhere, but the columbia’s good as far west as the edge of the plains and east to the Ohio River. That’s as far as Hanna soap travels. I don’t imagine anyone would turn down good silver, though, no matter what’s stamped on it.
Q: Paper currency isn’t used any more, then?
A: No, not since the old federal government fell. Oh, I imagine most people my age or older have a few old bills as keepsakes – why, Sophie Mendoza has a ten million old-dollar bill from back before the Persian war, Earth Mother bless her, but of course it’s not worth a penny now. I think some of the new governments printed bills back a few years, but nobody would take them. These days, people want money that has more than promises behind it.
Q: So what happened to the federal government? You mentioned there were two civil wars. I’d guess those did it in.
A: That’s right. The first one started in ’54, when Michael Bonney seized power. He was a general fighting rebels in the southwest, and got into some sort of quarrel with the government. They tried to get rid of him, and he got rid of them instead. His people and the Congress party fought it out for four years, and Bonney won. He broke up the states and took apart most of the old government—mind you, it was practically falling apart by itself, so that didn’t take much work. But things stayed quiet from ’59 until Bonney died in ’74. Mostly quiet, that is; he tried to take back Mexico from the Chinese in ’66, and that didn’t work very well. That was when we lost California.
But Bonney died in ’74, as I said. There was trouble right away, uprisings all over—why, there was one in Springfield, not fifty miles from here; a lot of people died there. We had a coalition government of generals for a few years after that, but in ’79 the generals fell to fighting each other, and the country broke apart. The old USA is eight countries now. Nine, counting California, but that’s a Chinese protectorate, not a country of its own.
Q: And the second civil war lasted to 2088?
A: That’s correct. That was a dreadful year—food ran very short, and plague came through. I think something like one in ten people died in that year alone. There were peace negotiations before that, but it took the famine and plague to make anyone get serious about them.
Q: Was that when you stopped being able to get electricity?
A: No, that happened after the first civil war. Mind you, it was scarce and very expensive before then, but you would still see lights in people’s houses here and there. I think it was in ’59 that Bonney had all the solar engines moved to army bases and government factories, and not long after that the little bit of power we got from the dams down in Tennessee got requisitioned too. All the coal was going to the military by then, too, turned into fuel for tanks and planes, and during the Mexican war everything that could be made into fuel was requisitioned and used up. I haven’t seen coal for sale here in twenty years—not that any decent person would use it, mind you. Earth Mother deserves better from us than that.
Q: What do you use for heating, then?
A: Heating? There’s little need for that nowadays. It’s been fifteen years, no, sixteen, since daytime temperatures dropped below 70° in wintertime. Nights get cool now and then, but nothing more than a quilt will take care of. Cooling would be nice in the summertime when it breaks 120°, but that’s past hoping for now—I’m sure people would pay plenty to get one of the old air conditioners running, but nobody knows how they worked, and if somebody figured it out, where would you get the electricity? Mostly we need fuel for cooking, and wood provides that. There are big woodfarms around the edges of town to meet the demand, and of course plenty of people coppice in their yards.
Q: With that much global warming, the sea level must have gone up quite a bit.
A: Well, you don’t hear much news from down south these days, but back before the second civil war we heard that there had been terrible coastal flooding all along the Gulf. They said half of Florida was underwater. I don’t imagine things are any better there now. They used to drill for oil down there, so I’m not the least surprised Earth Mother put the whole coast under water.
Q: You were raised in the Gaian faith?
A: From age nine, yes. I still remember the first time my stepmother took me to the old Gaian church near the apartment where we lived back then. It wasn’t much to look at, a little brick building with a painted sign over the door, and I remember following her up the stairs and thinking I’d have to sit on a bench and listen to somebody talk. But the priestess – that was old Sister Ruth, bless her, who died in the refugee camp back in ’56 – she was so very kind, and let me join the children’s class, where we planted seeds and learned about water cycles. I made two new friends in the class that very day. I must have made life hard for my whole family for the next week, I was so impatient for Wednesday to come around again!
But of course I got older and learned more about the faith, and came to see just how much sense it makes of everything. I can’t imagine living through some of the times I’ve seen thinking it was all just chance, or the whim of some god who doesn’t have to do anything of the kind, like the Old Believers used to say. Once you know that the troubles now are how Earth Mother is healing the harm people did to her in Old Time, and if we help the healing along we can help make a better world for our children and theirs, then the troubles are easier to bear.
Q: Are there any Christians around now?
A: The Old Believers? Oh, certainly, though there aren’t many of them. They keep to themselves for the most part. One Wednesday back in ’89 one of their preachers stood right out in front of this church and started shouting about how we were going to that place they believe in – I don’t remember what they call it.
A: Yes, that was it. He said their god made the world for human beings to use. Can you believe it? I happened to hear him say that as I went to church, and I didn’t know whether to laugh because it was so silly, or weep because it was so wicked. He did the same thing the next Wednesday, and the one after that, but then people started shunning the Old Believers. Nobody would do business with them, not even the farmers in the weekly market. That was the last we heard from him, as I’m sure you can imagine.
Q: Did the shunning stop, once he stopped preaching?
A: Of course. The Old Believers can believe what they want, like anyone else, but they have to act like good neighbors if they expect to be treated that way. There are Buddhist, Jewish, and Seven Powers families in town as well, good responsible people, and there has never been the least trouble between their faiths and ours. For that matter, there are a few New Catholics in town, traders and their families who came from the southwest. My stepson Joe has a New Catholic friend at school, a very polite and friendly boy.
Q: I understand Joe is doing well in school. Is that a public school?
A: Earth’s sake, no – there hasn’t been a public school in town for forty years. Tom Wu runs the school in his home. He used to teach in a military school during the Bonney years, and he makes his living as a private schoolteacher now. There are five or six schools like his in town, I would guess. Not everyone can afford to pay to have their children schooled, of course, and some of those who could pay for it don’t see the value in it. But Joe’s a clever child. If he’ll only apply himself, he can learn anything he chooses.
Q: As a final question, what sort of future do you hope for him?
A: I wish him an easier life than I had. But that depends on what Earth Mother sends us, of course. The people back in Old Time did her so much harm, and she needs so much healing, we simply have to accept what comes.
We are going to need new stories if we are to build a better world.
12/7/06, 11:29 PM
12/8/06, 4:30 PM
I'm with you about the way the US could break up. I only touch on it in my blog, but my novels go into this subject in more detail.
In sum, I think the right combination of resource wars, economic disruption, civil disruption (possibly including a pandemic), inadequate federal leadership, and strong regional identity could easily lead to a state or entire region splitting off without much of a fight. This would be especially true if more than one region tried to do it at the same time.
I hope you keep on writing these! They're fascinating and illustrative.
12/8/06, 9:47 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Chaos will get one more story, plus its Q&A, and then we'll be back to nonfiction essays for a bit. I want to see what the reaction to these will be, and I also have some themes to discuss that don't really lend themselves to fiction. But other stories are certainly a possibility further down the road.
Bunnygirl, glad to see we're neighbors! I don't expect the US to survive as a coherent national entity through this century, though I admit I'm less sanguine than you are about the possibility of a peaceful disintegration -- this country has rarely undergone any sort of major change without violence. But of course we'll see.
12/8/06, 10:25 PM
I'm thinking of something more akin to the way the Roman Empire collapsed-- they walked away from Britain, but fought for the more highly valued provinces closer to home.
Some areas might be let go without a fight because it's just not deemed worth the trouble in light of other areas where troops could be deployed to greater benefit.
A government with limited troops and munitions, faced with a choice between putting down a secession movement in the northeastern timberlands vs the arid scrublands of the borderlands would likely decide that McAllen and Del Rio are Texas' problem to deal with and focus their energy instead on keeping the rich forests and fisheries (should they still exist) of Maine.
Or so it seems to me. I would like very much for every darn one of us to be wrong, and for peak oil, global warming and pollution to all be a nasty collective nightmare we'll wake up from someday.
12/9/06, 10:18 PM