Author: Lawrence E. Joseph
Title: "Aftermath: A Guide for Preparing for and Surviving Apocalypse 2012"
Publication: Broadway Books, 2010, ISBN 978-0-76793078-9, 272 pages, hardcover; 4 sections, 11 Chapters, Introduction and Epilogue.
Let me start with a personal anecdote. Back in October 1962, I was a patient in a psychiatric ward at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. (Readers of my blogs and books know the background.) I was the only person who left the “campus” to go to college, at George Washington University, at night. So I heard JFK’s speech about the Cuban Missile Crisis while having supper in the Student Union. I was the only “patient” who knew what was going on. I don’t think that much of the staff paid attention. Now, I had been bullied as a kid, but I’m afraid that I turned the tables a bit in the “group therapy” and “unit government” sessions. I would say that a post-catastrophe world would have no use or tolerance for non-adapted (maybe even “parasitic”) people like “us”, who had failed to perform certain social duties imposed from without for the good of everyone besides our own selves. I’ve always felt this way about survivalism; I have become dependent on a stable, technological world where I, as an individual person, have considerable reach regardless of ability to function in a conventional social hierarchy. Take that away, and you have a world with no place for me. The author, toward the end, even admits that while living in LA (Beverly Hills) he may not be able to fully live up to his own moral precepts. I’ll come back to this, but now for the book.
The author (who in 2007 wrote “Apocalypse 2012: An Investigation into Civilization’s End”) presents his material in quixotic fashion. In fact, only the last Section deals with how to survive; the rest of the book makes his choppy case. His presentation is punctuated by sidebars on gray pages where he sketches some fictitious, movie-like scenarios. Nevertheless, his thesis and many of his points are interesting, even compelling. He does provide his own take on the Mayan Dec 21, 2012 date early, and it is more wrinkled than you expect.
By now, the word has gotten around. NASA (and the National Academy of Sciences) put out a report in early 2009 to the effect that the Earth might experience unusually strong “coronal mass ejections” from the Sun at the height of the sunspot cycle in 2012. Joseph makes the case that the outbreak could be somewhat prolonged, for some number of months toward the end of the year; and one or more of them really might hit the Earth in orbit. He paints a scenario of many large power blackouts taking weeks or months to repair, possibly throwing the US back into the early 19th Century.
There is some history here. There was a sequence of huge CME’s in 1859, and another in 1921; a “smaller” one in 1989 knocked out Quebec for a few days. He also shows that a grid based on alternating current (which he says developed in the US partly after blizzards and storms showed that DC networks were too vulnerable because of the need for more generators and wires) is more at risk to CME damage than a DC one (as in Europe). He shows that it is easier to “harden” satellites than transformers on the ground, and easier to protect satellite telephone networks than conventional cell networks. He also argues that terrorists or anarchists could try to take advantage of natural catastrophes. Ironically, he gives no discussion to the threat of a terrorist EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) blast from a small nuclear weapon (at high altitude) or even from certain microwave jamming weapons widely used by the military in deployed areas (like Iraq) but not normally in civilian possession. Ironically, Popular Science had discussed such possibilities in September 2001, just before 9/11.
He properly argues that the world (especially the US) is much more vulnerable to prolonged disruption today than it was in 1859 or 1921, and hints that the smart grid (monitored by the Internet), as proposed by Friedman and probably the Gore-Clinton-Obama crowd, could make it even more vulnerable. That point is debatable, however. If every home (or at least neighborhood) could generate its own wind and solar power and even maintain (and perhaps harden with Faraday-like protections) its own Internet connections, the country might be much more secure because of decentralization.
He also provides some nuance to the debate on climate change (such as explanations of ice ages and discussion of ocean currents and the risks of methane hydrates).
What’s more interesting is his venturing into spiritualism and social psychology toward the end of the book. He talks about his travels to Siberia and meeting shamans, who he says teach us the value of ancestors and of connection to lineage.
His discussion of who would survive a global cataclysm or “The Purification” and how is quite sobering. Basically, it seems, his prescription is that if you want to live, well, you have to really want to live and function as a very social creature. Street smarts count a lot more than book smarts (which amount to zero or worse) – although he notes, that at least in the case of Lebanon, individually-based arts made a rebirth in a very stripped down world. Using the specific example of the novel and film “Sophie’s Choice”, Joseph talks about the need for one to find a “protector”, almost in the sense that the Mafia or a street gang would use the term. As I’ve noted, a world like that has no use for me. Yet a soul of conscious-unit seems as much an element of the universe as anything, and perhaps cannot be destroyed. Perhaps the soul is the tunnel or wormhole between universes, and one day physics (and thermodynamics) will prove that. So someone who was “spoiled” by civilization and leaves with bad karma will awaken in poverty on another planet around another star in another universe. He’ll have to learn to connect.
YouTube lecture from Lawrence Joseph (26 min) here.