I expect this century to mark the beginning of a new Migration Period like the one that reset the ancient world starting in the 4th century A.D. As discussed in my review of Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of Modern Civilization, this previous era of mass migrations and barbarian invasions was driven by climate changes and Imperial collapses that look all too familiar to anyone with their eyes open in our time. History demonstrates repeatedly that when civilizations fail and climate destabilizes, people flee the cities and hostile environments en masse in search of greener pastures. Remember too that for hundreds of thousands of years nomadic hunter-gathering was the only game in town; it's the one mode of human life with the proven ability to survive the climate chaos that was the norm on this planet up until the last ten thousand years.
What cultural forms will the new nomads take as the Industrial Age winds down and the global reboot accelerates? Here are a few possibilities that seem like reasonable extrapolations from current trends.
Coming soon to a highway near you?
The film Road Warrior may have seemed like comic book science fiction when it was released in 1983, but go back and watch it again and tell me if it still looks so outlandish. I found its depiction of post-Apocalypse Australia pretty spooky — I don’t know about you, but I have no trouble imagining mobile, heavily armed bands of latter-day Mongols rolling across the crumbling ruins of the North American highway system, piled into fortified RV’s, riding in the backs of pickups sporting 50 caliber machine guns, on souped-up choppers or even on horseback. These will be the pure barbarian warbands of the new Dark Age, violent highwaymen who prey upon anyone brave enough to take to the roads. As in the Mad Max movies, gasoline will be the new gold, and the most successful of these gangs will be the most lethal, led perhaps by unemployed military veterans who find lucrative new uses for their combat skills on the home front. Road Warriors will fight pitched battles with rival gangs and the remains of organized authority for control of oil refineries, wells and petrol stations. Other vital supplies will be obtained by looting any lightly guarded truck convoys, stores or farms they happen to come across.
We can get a little preview of the Road Warrior lifestyle from some of the more violent North American biker gangs, like the Mexican mafia affiliated one that recently bombed a police station in southern California. Urban gangs can also be expected to get in on the action once there is nothing left to loot in the burned-out cities. In response to this possibility, groups like Project Exodus in rural Louisiana are already forming heavily armed posses, complete with machine gun-equipped "war wagons", to combat the homegrown terrorist chaos they apparently think is imminent. Of course in more anarchic parts of the world like Somalia, Road Warriors are already non-fiction.
For the less violent nomads among you, those more inclined to be Deadheads than Hell’s Angels, forming eco-caravans may be an attractive option. These mobile communities will settle in hospitable areas for a season or two, tending their herds and practicing guerrilla gardening wherever soil, water and climate conditions permit. They will be equipped with many green technologies scavenged from the industrial economy, such as solar panels and wind generators, which will provide well water and off-grid electronic conveniences in even the most remote locations. They’ll be well provisioned with heirloom seeds, bulk foods, livestock and ammunition, both for their own use and to barter with other nomads they encounter on their travels.
Yurts: the nomad McMansions? The Mongols once built history’s largest empire from portable huts like these!
These new wagon trains are already starting to form in places like the American southwest, where outlaw RV communities migrate to the sunny climes and live totally off-grid year round. As climate changes and socioeconomic shifts intensify, these eco-nomads will have little difficulty folding up their solar panels and rambling on to more hospitable regions. Unfortunately, they will also be popular targets for the Road Warriors, so when the time comes they’ll have to circle their wagons Old West-style and employ their sizable defensive arsenal to fend off the marauders. Road Warrior was quite realistic in this regard in my opinion — sieges like the one Lord Humungus and his barbarian band laid upon the settlers will be a common scene in the post-industrial wasteland coming soon to the real world near you.
Sea Peoples / Neo-Vikings / Pirates
During the Bronze Age Collapse circa 1200 B.C., the so-called "Sea Peoples" were the scourge of the eastern Mediterranean, attacking coastal cities with impunity and preying upon ships of the Egyptian, Greek and Syrian kingdoms. Some even blame these seafaring raiders for the collapse of Mycenaean civilization, but they may have been more a symptom of the widespread disorder than the cause. And of course the Vikings terrorized the coasts of the British Isles and Northern Europe for several centuries during the last Dark Age, plundering the softer settled folk in grand barbarian style.
Today we’re seeing a resurgence of piracy in places like the Horn of Africa and the Malacca Straits that continues unabated despite a significant naval presence by the industrial powers. Sea Barbarians haven’t yet re-emerged in a big way in traditional haunts like the Barbary Coast, the Caribbean and Northern Europe, but that’s probably just a matter of time. When you start to hear of major acts of piracy or coastal raiding in these regions, consider it a strong indication that the new Dark Age has begun in earnest. Most of North America isn’t particularly well suited to piracy, but up here in my neck of the woods in the Pacific Northwest there are some excellent opportunities for Sea Barbarians along the Strait of Juan de Fuca and throughout the Puget Sound, as well as some great potential hideouts along the Inside Passage of British Columbia. If things get bad enough I might even hoist the black flag and start trawling for booty myself — it sure beats the hell out of standing in soup lines or waiting for the zombies to arrive!
One can also imagine a less aggressive brand of Sea People who will travel in fleets of sailing ships for security. These fleets might travel long distances down coasts or across blue water in search of safe and hospitable lands to settle post-Collapse. I can easily envision "doomer fleets" full of Dmitry Orlov-types sailing to places like the Pacific coast of Central America, where a relatively idyllic life far from shipping lanes and population centers might still be possible. If the "mutant zombie bikers" find you, unload your AK-47’s and RPG’s and simply head out to sea. There would again be the problem that the Sea Nomads will be tempting targets for the Pirates; safety in numbers, remoteness and a good arsenal are your best defenses here.
Dmitry Orlov has written insightfully about his life aboard a sailboat, and his ideas for creating viable seagoing communities post-Collapse. A surprising number of people already live some version of the Sea Nomad lifestyle, but they are constrained by the relative lawfulness of the high seas and the strict enforcement of national borders that still prevails. When those things break down, as they undoubtedly will fairly soon, these folks will be able to get much more adventurous. The Vikings who settled in Greenland and the Polynesians who colonized the South Pacific islands certainly weren’t worried about customs officials when they headed out to sea, and neither will the Sea Nomads!
Some intrepid folks will want to really get back to basics as industrial civilization collapses, via nomadic hunter-gathering in the Outback. Like the Australian natives on their walkabouts, these New Aboriginals will bring back the sacred hunts, vision quests and seasonal migrations that prevailed for tens of thousands of years throughout the world, and which persist to this day among a few old school traditionalists. I can easily imagine primitive survivalist groups like Tom Brown Jr.’s Tracker School becoming the nexus for the New Aboriginals in North America. Brown has written of the skills passed down to him by one of the last true American aboriginals, an Apache he calls "Grandfather", who was able to travel across the continent at will, living off the land and making contact with far-flung tribal communities. This noble nomadic lifestyle, while much more difficult now that America has been systematically stripped of its former natural abundance, may still be possible in the many remote wilderness areas that still exist throughout the continent.
These are just a few ideas for Neo-Barbarians who want to go mobile in the new Dark Age. I haven’t mentioned the Hobo Hordes, New Oakies, Neo Gypsies or New Bedouin, but I’m sure you can fill in those blanks yourself. There is something so natural and appealing about the nomadic lifestyle for human beings that it shouldn’t take too much more collapsing before folks start walking away from their dead-end sedentary dystopias en masse to seek their fortunes on the road.
”My life fades. The vision dims. All that remains are memories. I remember a time of chaos. Ruined dreams. This wasted land. But most of all, I remember The Road Warrior. The man we called "Max". To understand who he was, you have to go back to another time, when the world was powered by the black fuel, and the desert sprouted great cities of pipe and steel. Gone now, swept away. For reasons long forgotten, two mighty warrior tribes went to war and touched off a blaze which engulfed them all. Without fuel, they were nothing. They built a house of straw. The thundering machines sputtered and stopped. Their leaders talked and talked and talked. But nothing could stem the avalanche. Their world crumbled. The cities exploded. A whirlwind of looting, a firestorm of fear. Men began to feed on men. On the roads it was a white line nightmare. Only those mobile enough to scavenge, brutal enough to pillage would survive. The gangs took over the highways, ready to wage war for a tank of juice. And in this maelstrom of decay, ordinary men were battered and smashed. Men like Max. The warrior Max. In the roar of an engine, he lost everything. And became a shell of a man, a burnt out, desolate man, a man haunted by the demons of his past, a man who wandered out into the wasteland. And it was here, in this blighted place, that he learned to live again...”