The magnetic house of cards is a rather terrifying idea that has occupied my mind lately. It’s a metaphor, used to describe life today in America and much of the world.
Imagine living in a small, primitive village. A tribe. You are a tight knit group, maybe just a family or two. You hunt and gather your food. You move with the seasons, and abide by the weather. You develop skills and acquire knowledge that’s relevant to your survival, such as what plants are poisonous and what animals are dangerous. Living in this way is like one card, lying on the ground. It’s stable, and not very likely to change. A civilization can happily survive like this for many years.
Then comes the Egyptian empire, the Greek empire, the Roman empire, even the Mayan and the Incan empires here in the Americas. They build a house of cards several stories high. They develop farming techniques that enable them to produce food surplus. Now, one person can make enough food for two people. Without the burden of finding food, the second person can apply themselves to creating a better structure, or better clothing, or even to entertainment, and thus a great civilization emerges. Yet, sooner or later, a gust of wind moves in and the house of cards falls to the ground.
Now, imagine if you took your cards and put some metal coating on the top and bottom. You hook them up to a device so that you can flip a switch, and the cards will become magnetized. They stick to each other inseparably, and all of the sudden, you can build your house of cards up and up and up. It’s incredibly tall, and incredibly stable. At least as long as no one turns off the switch. That’s where we are currently living, in a humongous, magnetic house of cards. And it’s terrifying.
A little while ago, we had a massive snow storm here in Colorado. They had to shut down all the major roads, and even the Denver airport. We had about four days of this, and the grocery stores were empty! Think about what would happen if they had to shut down the roads and the airport for a month. It doesn’t take long to run out of food in your house and at the grocery store. What would you do? Could you walk outside your house and find your own food? I mean, that’s what happened in New Orleans when hurricane Katrina hit. They didn’t have any power or communication, the roads were flooded, the airports were flooded. People, here in modern, developed, America, didn’t have any food. People were stealing and killing, crime and chaos was everywhere, because people couldn’t feed themselves.
We go to school, and we go through life, and we develop the skills needed to survive in our society. We learn how to tie a tie, and how to work a television, and how to drive a car. Does a tie keep you warm? Without someone producing your electricity, a TV is just a plastic box. And without someone digging up and shipping out your fuel, a car is just a metal box. But at least a metal box still has some value, unlike most of the things we are producing. 100 years ago, all the innovation was around physical things like machines and tools. Now, most of our innovation goes into things like iphone apps, and facebook pages. These things are at the very top of the house of cards, and are incredibly dependent on a million other people, and completely worthless when the system falls apart.
Our society is changing rapidly, its growing into something more advanced and powerful then we could have ever imagined. We have acquired so much connectivity through the Internet, and our highways, airways, and trains, that you can live virtually anywhere, and virtually any way you want. You can eat fish even if you don’t live by water. You can ski, even if you live in the desert! Our world is amazingly advanced, and it gives us a great deal of power. It’s very exciting to think about all the things we can achieve, living the way we are. But at the same time, our lives are becoming less and less based on the natural design of this planet, and I think it’s important to realize that. We can’t let our lives be entirely run by numbers in a computer, or resources that we can’t acquire. Because sooner or later, one way or another, that switch will get flipped off. Maybe a storm, maybe a war, somehow it will happen. And we can’t simply let our towering house of cards fall to the ground.