Wow, I made it to the end of the thread!
Well, I've read Kunstler's books, and I 43rd the plug for Sharon Astyk!
I don't know if other cultures have had easier lives, but some have had longer, healthier lives and seemed happy to those who first documented their existance for us. The Okinawans and Hunzan peoples both saw many many old people in their societies live to 100 or beyond, with eyesight, teeth, etc intact and perfect!
The truth is, whether it was hard for others or not, it will be hard for us. We are reading the Little House on the Prairie books right now, and much of their normal day-to-day lives is like reading about aliens. And we are on the verge, or over the verge, or losing lots of practical skills and information for a low-tech lifestyle. Think: how to make soap, train a horse, make clothes and shoes, cook over an open fire.
I am discouraged when I look around. I don't think PO is on the normal person's radar. And most that know a little about it can't or don't think much about it. When I mentioned getting a wood cookstove to a friend the other day, she made a comment about going back to the dark ages. I gently reminded her that dark ages meant cooking inside over an open fire, and that the cast iron wood cookstove is actually like going back 100 years.
The best thing Kustler and other writers have done for me is give a historical perspective on what is going on. Other societies and civilizations have collapsed. I think ours will in my lifetime. And I think we are less prepared than the Cubans and the Russians (two recent examples). Dimitri Orlov has written comparisons between the situation in Russia in the 90s and the situation we are facing. Here is one of his essays:http://www.energybulletin.net/23259.html
As you each prepare for the future in your own ways, I would encourage you to consider this tenant of permaculture: Any important system should be supported multiple ways.
Take water: Water is the basis of life and your household. Make sure you will have some no matter what. And then plan a backup. And then plan another backup. We hope to move to our little property and build a farm just as soon as we sell our house, and our plan is to have a hand-pump on our well (maybe along with another system), a rainwater catchment system that is gravity fed, possibly a pond, possibly a greywater system, and garden designed to soak in the maximum amount of rainfall when we do get rain.
We just recently got chickens - 12 - and I was seeking solace in that fact a month ago when NRP kept reporting food crisis all over the world. The next day, 10 chickens were killed by dogs. Note to self: if protein is important, do not rely on one source. We are getting one egg per day now.
I think PO boils down to this mistake that we as a society made. We put all our eggs in the cheap oil basket (after Carter tried very hard to steer us in a better direction in the 1970s), and the dogs are at the gate.
The chicken situation not only illuminates our lack of backup, but our lack of know-how with a simple thing like keeping laying hens. Our problem was faulty coop design. The dog got on top and fell through the screened roof in one area that was held by staples. Do almost any of us know how to design a dog-, raccoon-, fox-proof chicken coop?
Another book I recommend is American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips. Scary when all parties from different camps are saying the same thing.
And finally, I have Seymour's book and Carla Emory's "Encyclopedia of Country Living," and I recommend the latter if you have to pick one.