Alfred Henry Lewis’ observation dating back to 1896 still rings true. There is a thin line between society and anarchy. It’s thinner than we want to admit.
So I saw this comment on Facebook:
Dear city dwellers, google the 9 meal rule and then think about why its a terrible idea to piss off the people who deliver your stuff. and could you do me a favour and not collapse the supply chain until I get home next week? that would be super. thanks.
Here we go. Just like Mass Formation Psychosis, another term I had not heard of, the “9 Meal Rule.”
Here’s what the internet says about the 9 Meal Rule.
“A popular saying is that “every nation is about three/six/seven/nine meals away from anarchy/revolution.” That is, hungry people are desperate people who will topple any government. “It is well for us to recollect that even in our own law-abiding, not to say virtuous cases, the only barrier between us and anarchy is the last nine meals we’ve had” was cited in print in 1896.
“There are only nine meals between mankind and anarchy” was said by writer Alfred Henry Lewis (1855-1914) in a March 1906 issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine. “It’s only nine meals between men and revolution” was cited in print in 1943.
I thought it might be one of those phrases that really had no provable attribution, but nope, I found it in the digitized archives of Cosmopolitan maintained by various universities, in the March 1906 issue in an article titled, The Day of Discontent.
There it was.
I downloaded the full article into a pdf, so you can read the whole thing. You’re welcome. They were talking about troubles of the time, social discontent, part of which related to food but also the rise of socialism. It’s worth a read because so much parallels current problems.
“the only barrier between us and anarchy is the last nine meals we’ve had. It may be taken as axiomatic that a starving man is never a good citizen.”
The original 9 meal discussion wasn’t limited to literal food shortages, but it’s been applied to social breakdown over the food supply in recent years, including pre-pandemic. Jeff Thomas, in a 2016 article wrote (emphasis in original):
In 1906, Alfred Henry Lewis stated, “There are only nine meals between mankind and anarchy.” Since then, his observation has been echoed by people as disparate as Robert Heinlein and Leon Trotsky.
The key here is that, unlike all other commodities, food is the one essential that cannot be postponed. If there were a shortage of, say, shoes, we could make do for months or even years. A shortage of gasoline would be worse, but we could survive it, through mass transport or even walking, if necessary.
But food is different. If there were an interruption in the supply of food, fear would set in immediately. And, if the resumption of the food supply were uncertain, the fear would become pronounced. After only nine missed meals, it’s not unlikely that we’d panic and be prepared to commit a crime to acquire food. If we were to see our neighbour with a loaf of bread, and we owned a gun, we might well say, “I’m sorry, you’re a good neighbour and we’ve been friends for years, but my children haven’t eaten today – I have to have that bread – even if I have to shoot you.” …
Fear of starvation is fundamentally different from other fears of shortages. Even good people panic.
In 2010, The Guardian ran a column Nine meals from anarchy:
This year is the 10th anniversary of the fuel protests, when supermarket bosses sat with ministers and civil servants in Whitehall warning that there were just three days of food left. We were, in effect, nine meals from anarchy. Suddenly, the apocalyptic visions of novelists and film-makers seemed less preposterous. Civilisation’s veneer may be much thinner than we like to think.
In 2018, an Irish Times column wrote:
“There are only nine meals between mankind and anarchy,” said the American writer Alfred Henry Lewis in a distinctly alarming piece written more than 100 years ago. Anyone walking the aisles of most of our supermarkets in the immediate aftermath of the departure of the Beast from the East would have been forgiven a momentary chill at his words.
Had a plague of locusts descended on Ireland it could scarcely have done a better job of clearing shelves than Irish shoppers managed in the days before and immediately after the great snow of 2018. It points to a fragility in our food supply that we rarely get to see.
You get the picture. There are many more articles I could quote from the pandemic era. The supply chain problems we’ve been having have not pushed us over the edge, but they have shown us what the edge looks like.
— William A. Jacobson (@wajacobson) January 15, 2022
Don’t worry. I’m not panicking. But I am Prepping For The Worst, I’d rather not have to fight people in the supermarket for the few boxes of porridge left on the shelves.
We don’t know where the challenge will come from, there are unknown unknowns that could surprise us. But some of the causes won’t surprise us, we see them coming.
There is a thin line in society, between food and anarchy, freedom and repression, liberty and tyranny, safety and street violence. It’s thinner than we want to admit, and it’s being pushed to its limits on purpose by ideologies that want to deconstruct our society. Tearing down society is a dangerous game.DONATE
Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.