Sunday, August 19, 2012

Lee County Dystopia

I assume I'm speaking to other grown ups. I mean I hope I'm speaking to them, if the spotty internet service we get at County Hall is working and my story is uploaded. Maybe then I'll get some answers to my post, with other pre-Troubles' folks experiences and insights. I would very much like to know how things are in other parts of the US and the world. Funny we used to call paper letters 'snail mail'... of course, there's no USPS anymore, but email, the only kind of mail available, is our snail mail now. The internet still works, kind of, thanks to a patchwork of tech hobbyists and phone connections, but the stars really need to be aligned for you to get your email, maybe once every month or two if you're lucky.
So, since I'm speaking about my place in the world here -Lee County, Florida-, let me start by a few random observations about this area. Government-provided schooling is a thing of the past, of course, but there's a number of schools run by churches and individuals. Generally, every child attends school for a few hours every day, if his or her parents can pay for tuition. Payments can be in silver coin, produce, or even work done for the school by the parents. Children acquire reading and writing skills, along with some math and science, until age 12 or so. There's no schooling beyond that available in our area, but exceptiontally bright students who have the means can move on to high school if they are willing to make the long, sometimes dangerous trip to Tampa or Miami. There's even some college available in the state: the University of Florida still offers courses in medicine, agricultural sciences, and engineering, but access is very limited. 80% go on to become farmers and farmhands, security, or skilled tradesmen (fixing bicycles and engines, scrapping for materials in the wastelands of Cape Coral and Lehigh Acres, digging wells, and so on).
What remains of the FMPD & Sheriff's office provides a modicum of protection, but much diminished if compared to the years of abundance; for the most part, all law enforcement agencies basically hire out to provide security to private landowners and corporations. Common citizens are not a priority, and in fact, rogue elements within 'security' act like mafia overlords, exerting protection taxes on the weak and generally bullying the population, especially poorer, more ethnic segments of it. And of course, this is a nation armed to the teeth, always was, so violence is prevalent in this sixth decade of the 2 thousands.
Security elements are part of the few sectors of the economy that are issued fuel quotas. The quotas are never fully met, and ration cards are only fit to start fires most months, but once in a while, the farmers' biodiesel plant on Edison St provides a few truckloads of precious diesel, or a shipment of Venezuelan oil is received in the Tampa port and with much bribing and pushing and horse-trading, some of it makes it south to Fort Myers.
The other sectors receiving a fuel subsidy are very limited electric power production by LCEC & FPL; fishing concerns; farming, including: sugarcane, potatoes and corn; cattle; fruit, especially avocado, with citrus much diminished in relation to past decades in Florida (famished populations can do without luxuries like OJ, although citrus is grown massively in private homes and vacant lots and harvested when available - in fact, oranges are the new candy. Forget about a Pay Day, with WalMart, 7-11 and all the other big box stores closed years ago. You'd be lucky to find some old, stale mints for sale at the corner mom & pop shop selling also onions and bananas - but I disgress). 
Government and Bank of America (the only remaining bank) get some. Some gated communities and walled compounds get some. Hospitals get almost nothing, and they really are only places to go die, filthy and desperate, what with opiates addicts, thieves, crazed Iranian War vets, and murderers stalking them. If you want some medical attention around here, and are not a millionaire with access to the heavily guarded few private clinics, you better do it yourself by having good reference books, or find a neighbor with some training (a former vet? a chiropractor?) and pay him in chickens and mango pickles. Getting supplies can be dicey. You may be reduced to boiling water, clean linen and high proof moonshine, manufactured by small-batch farmers in the wilds of Norht Fort Myers, Alva, and Pine Island. I talked about the school system already.
Around here, the population has atomized and rearranged itself considerably. A sort of feudalism, prevalent for most of history throughout the world (but not in the US) has appeared. Vast numbers seek protection and subsistence level rations of food (corn, potatoes, chiles, avocados, pigeon peas, chicken or bacon on Sundays) in the compounds of major landowners. The ones with no useful skills for this Brave New World chose that way: nail technicians; pet groomers; McDonalds employees; professors of humanities, librarians, and so on. They till the soil from dawn to dusk. In the heat, in the cold, in the mosquitoes, they work for the overseers, farming organically. I say organically just to make the point - that's the only kind of farming we have here. There's no chemicals available whatsoever, and seed exchanges are the only way to get seed.
It's terribly hard to feed large populations this way, with serfs suffering from malnutrition brandishing a hoe and a few horses and a monthly co-op tractor loan, but it's done somehow. Do you remember obesity? It used to be a huge problem. No one's fat these days. In fact, starvation's not that unusual on particularly bad years. Cabbage palms are a rare sight; cats are another.
I call the system we have 'green fascism', because we are ruled by the few and the strong, out of necessity. We are no longer ruled by committees, or the Constitution, or courts of law, or elected officials. We are ruled by those who can get things done in these difficult times: the chief of security, the food task force, the council of bishops, doctors & charities, the officer in charge of the self-sufficient Florida Guard compound with its huge adjacent fruit groves, the farmers' co-op, the port and rail administrators. Citizens with high stakes in the survival of the community, valuable skills, posession of at least 5 acres, and part of a trained militia to be assembled in case of emergency at local meeting places do have a say. Serfs do not. Tradesmen do not. And in any case, the suggestions of the County Principals can be ignored or overruled by the Rulers. Might is law. Might, and the will to survive these hard times, in hopes of more civilized ones coming back at some point. 
Anyway, that's that for this post about our food woes and political system. Now that former US states are independent nations, and there's even more autonomous zones within the former states, I'd like to know more about other systems of government in our formerly great country, and also about what kinds of goods they produce, whether there would be ways to trade with us, and generally how others are doing in these new, dangerous times. If the old phone lines still stand in a few weeks, I should be able to get some responses to this using my old, slow 56k modem, and a half gallon of fuel I'm owed by my cousin for my generator. Good night, and good luck!