4. Social structure. Indeed, one of most important "mousetraps" to make for the bottleneck and past - because ability to co-exist and peacefully cooperate on a large scale is quite a "mouse" to be "caught", if mankind intends to have any hope of long-term survival. I've spent months considering what can be done here. Obviously, free-market capitalism (if to be formal - i mean capitalistic oligarchy, which is inevitable in any society which postulates "free market" as its most cornerstone feature) won't do: owners are, by definition, unable to properly maintain "commons". This produces "externalities". Environment suffers, eventually - to the point of becoming uninhabitable. Well known "tragedy of commons" is actually a big part of the current inability of the present global technological civilization to steer away from the path of environmental destruction. Inherent to capitalism, this means that capitalistic society won't do. Elements of it will certainly remain, this i do not doubt. But the governing social system will be something else, i am sure.
What, then, it'd be?
I am extremely pessimistic about communism. Born in USSR, and lived in USSR and Russia for over a third of a century, i know about it "from inside". Not only it was never actually achieved in USSR (nor in any other country or nation of the modern times), - it never was any close to achieving it in practice. 70 years of "building it" by a geopolitical block eventually nearly 1/4 of the world large (counting Warsaw pact countries, USSR "friends" in Africa and Asia and such), - and still it wasn't even close. Why? Reason is simple: communism is very against human nature. "Every human for himself" - is exactly opposite state to communism in its pure form ("every human for community" - that's why it's called "communism", you know). And yet, ultimately, "every human for himself" - is the "last resort" natural state of a human being. We suffer, experience joy, love, and death - individually. We're not ants. Communism won't ever work.
I am equally pessimistic about dictatorships and any sort of police-state, surveilance state, etc. It's possible, if not very likely, that at some stage, most or even all societies will have to become those, for a while, yes. In fact, i see lots of signs that some of most "developed" nations are already turning into those sorts. "Hard times call for hard measures" and all. But long-term though and past bottleneck, those won't do: power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Because of such corruption, those societies are always temporary - where-ever in history i look, i can't find any force-based society to persist for much long (except some ancient ones and primitive ones - but i don't think the future is about stone age or hunter-gatherer ways of life).
Anarchy... Some folks seriously propose that. Few, though. I really doubt it'd work. Some folks will always prefer fighting and robbing others. Giving those complete freedom to act? Won't end well, i bet. In early USSR, lots of anarchy was present in late 1910s and early 1920s. Roaming bands and lots of factions, some independant "field commanders", etc. Extremely widespread starvation and death of millions (known as "golodomor") was the result. Lots of good people died even before starvation, - simply killed for whatever reserves of food and/or other goods they managed to stockpile. This is a lesson my country will remember for a long, long time.
Feudalism. This is, surprisingly, the best of all social-order systems mentioned so far, in my opinion. Obviously, not to be used in its medieval forms; something much more like multi-layered and multi-form kind of federation. I see efficient elements of this approach in quite many countries and on different levels. Examples:
- EU is definitely an entity and in many regards - a structured society, despite all differencies of nations which make it. However, there is clear separation between "common" and "private" matters in EU: say, managing Euro currency - is a common thing, and no single nation controls it (OK, some are not allowed to participate - but still, no single nation controls Euro issues solely and completely); but, say, managing national immigration issues - is every country's own business. Etc.
- Russia is a federation now. Nearly 90 members (one can call those "states", if so desired). Each one state has lots of freedom within its own territory, yet in the same time - lots of duties towards the federal government, its neighbours and federal budget. Basically, it's sort of "do what every state has to do, don't spoil the life of other states, pay your taxes - and then you're free to shape yourself as you see fit". USA is roughly the same system, as far as i know.
- Even on most local level, i can see elements of federalism/fuedalism. When some small town in USA has a criminal problem - whom they rely on? Yep, on their sheriff. Who's sheriff? A person chosen locally (either by local folks or by local authorities - doesn't really matter) who is "the law" in his town. And as long as the problem is entirely within the town - nobody has higher ability to control how the solution proceeds than the sheriff (even if "federals" come in and try to command, - it is the sheriff who knows all things about local "who" and "why" and "how", so if he so desires, he may only formally cooperate with federals, still controlling how the case is solved, himself). Same thing in Russia, actually: the only negligible differencies is that russian word for "sheriff" is not so simple ("uchastkoviy"), and it's not local folks to appoint one - instead, local branch of ministry of internal affairs appoints one officer per every small town / village. Though if people are not happy with him, they have ways to get the guy replaced, of course.
Democracy. I mean actual working democracy. Rare thing, in practice. And highly inefficient. The idea of allowing large number of nonn-specialists to decide on matters which demand careful and competent consideration - amazes me. In a bad sense. Thankfully, nobody has an idea to allow democractic process when selecting engineers who design and maintain nuclear power stations. Yet, wrong leaders of large countries can do even much more harm than wrong guy working on a nuclear reactor: those folks can harm millions of even billions other humans _intentionally_, and using professional killers (i.e., armies). Worst of all, they often pretend to do it legally. And still, somehow, even most stupid drunkard of legal age can come in and vote for one or for other. And last nail - democracy is darn inefficient way to find answers to improtant questions. If we'd take every important (for most people of a country) question and put them on a referendum - then most people would simply spend the entirety of their lives reading and putting marks in voting sheets, eh.
That's quite it, as far as i can recall... Unless something cathegorically new would be invented, i expect future social structure to be further evolved and adapted to changing conditions form of federation. The concept of separating issues into "local ones" and "common ones", and establishing rules to deal with common ones, - rules accepted by all involved parties, and enforced by majority of involved parties whenever some one (or few) of parties would attempt to violate those rules, - such a system seems both efficient and long-term sustainable (if implemented well), to me. One additional reason to utilize it which is well known - is ability of federal system to work despite massive differencies between parties. This is true for all levels; in Russia, there are many nations, and some members of the Federation are very, very different from russians and are quite autonomous in most regards (for example, Tatarstan); even on personal level, - whenever individuals clearly define what exactly are issues which are to be solved together, and define acceptable methods to solve them, - it is usually no problem to gather and solve any such matters even if individuals are very different human beings between themselves. For example, any active member of a typical professional union - knows very well what i am talking about.
The only real difficulty (to say the least; very challenging) - is for all levels of federations to actually become 1) able and 2) willing to formulate, en-procedure and maintain _all_ common issues of importance. I see definite movements towards this direction. "Clean air acts" and lots of other actually enforced "common rules of the game" - are making very real and very positive net impact. As we go through the bottleneck and past, much more of that will have to be done. Whether remains of mankind will be able to do that, or not - i do not know. They better.
Oh, and just "by the way": what then i consider USA to be, today? I think, nowadays it's a hybrid of a police state with a capitalistic oligarchy, with a good portion of inverted totalitarianism (it's "face" being a democracy, of course, and its "arms" being all the control and manipulation though the mass media) on top. Lots of good observations about it come from one of greatest minds of our days - Noam Chomsky, and those observations of his are especially valuable since he is the resident of the country. And of course, lots of old good american traditions are still alive, and people's spirit is still alive. Many/much of that - i respect very much. All those political and social elements together form the society of USA, with all its contrasts and strangely opposing things somehow existing in parallel. Indeed, this one country is one of most curious creations of modern man.
5. "Whatever i figure out will die with me" - this is likely, but not inevitable. Look, just one example: this thing - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svalbard_Global_Seed_Vault
- was initially proposed by someONE, designed by someONE, its contruction was led by someONE, etc. There is always some above-zero (even if small) chance that you (me, anyone) will 1) "figure something out" first, and then 2) meet people who will make use of it later. Besides, even if mousetraps we'd create would vanish with us, - still, we could die content that we've done our part, and with a hope someone will still discover our work after our death and will make good use of it. History knows such examples, both in scientific and/or engineering/inventing fields of knowledge.
6. Off-grid survival, small communities present, "dacha" life, etc.
In Russia, there is no relatively widespread "business" of survivalism like there is in USA. Fine books like "Beyond collapse: surviving and rebuilding civilization from scratch" (by the way, this one is available for free in electronic form from the author's website) - in Russia there is nothing even remotely similar available for russian-speaking public. In the same time, though, yes, there is that russian "dacha" thing - lots of families have their own small houses and some land some few...few_dozens kilometers from the city the live in most of the time, and most of those have people growing all sorts of food for themselves. Just yesterday, i've been reading about some folks near Moscow growing watermelons and grapes on their dacha - if you'd know details about Moscow region climate just few decades ago, you'd say the same thing interviewer said: "WOW". Just one more sign of global warming to me, though. Anyhows, i guess your question is more about "what you think about all those people who prepare by getting some land, settling down there (at least part-time), learning to live off the land, etc".
My answer would probably surprise you. I think, all those folks - are misguided, and will eventually vanish (ok, let's be fair - they'll die). Lykov family (link above) - is one badly made attempt of this "i/my_family will go away and make everything we need ourselves" motto. Sure, modern "Lykovs" have diesels, and lots of good supplies, and - often - quite many good neighbours around. But what they lack - is systematic approach. They can't make/replace every last tool they need to go on. They can't address - in a tolerable manner, - every possible disaster which may head their way. They can't defend themselves against anything larger than a few bandits working together (exceptions exist, but as soon as we talk some artillery - are insignificant). It is silly to expect human conflict to cease as conditions worsen. Modern armed conflicts are just an extra confirmation of this. So you see, i reject this approach. To me, it is obvious that
- without sufficiently large-scale cooperation (i talk at least a society of dozens thousands souls),
- without rather detailed specialization (over 200 hundreds distinct specialties at least),
- without some form of sustainable and reliable information technology which does not depend on electronic media (sooner or later, large enough solar flare will wipe most of modern electronic equipment out, astrophysicists know that for a fact, it'd take at least few years to restore networks and databanks, and there will lots of information lost completely),
- without some smart and well implemented defensive measures, features and forces, -
no human society will have any significant chances to make it through the bottleneck with significant part of its culture and knowledge and its civilization remaining functional.
Yes, i know what quite a few folks in USA expect that "folks will hole down on their own, or with their family, or with family and as a part of their neighbourhood, and they will have enough resources to live through the worst of SHTF situation, and after that, those individuals and groups will naturally cooperate for mutual benefit, and new entities will emerge - local cities, states, etc". Personally, i disagree with that. I expect much bigger rampage of armed and dangerous people roaming around, taking what they want by force, and shooting those who "holed down" in droves. This period of "force rules" will last within most of "developed" countries for way more than a year or two, i think. When it'd be over, too few and too little (both humans and matherial items) will be left to "unite" and "form" new "cities" or "states". That's why for me, issues of defense and security are ahead of issues of piling up food and enforcing one's house. And, of course, one can only ensure defense and security when one is a part of a large enough force which operates in favorable enough conditions. If one of most fertile regions of Europe - Ukraine, - suffered several millions dead to starvation during much more favorable for agriculture climate than what we expect past 2050 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holodomor
) when merciless dictator (Stalin) came to power, - then i really do not expect most of those who now "learn to live off the land" to be able to enjoy the fruits of their own labor any much (if at all) after some point, except if they are well protected against external threats. Methods of protection vary, there are quite a few. The only reasonable case when few people can actually avoid being robbed of their posessions regularly (and likely, their very life at some point) - is being very remote from most humans alive. Small remote island, this sort of thing. But then, it's again Lykovs' fate - by isolation...
I plan accordingly. I see the future for people who understand values and efficiency of specialization, large-scale cooperation, efficient (professional) defense, effective internal (within the society) peacekeeping, and proper care and account for common goods. For the rest... I don't.