Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Higher Toll

All the converging crises of the world at large are together going to claim a very high number of victims. I do not refer here to death alone, but to abject impoverishment and other such ills. This number will be higher than it absolutely has to be. We could all band together to confront these crises, care for each other, and help in the long transition to a more sustainable society. Doing this would undoubtedly reduce the casualty list by a substantial amount, possibly even to the natural attrition rate. But we won’t. Not collectively, at any rate. There are any number of reasons for this and I see no reason to list them here, as I’m certain most people can come up with the list on their own. In many cases we will not even do this on a smaller scale, and that I think is the great tragedy –because it doesn’t need to be that way.

Many people speak of community and its importance in the coming era. Few people speak of what that really means or how to go about building one. Perhaps because we do not know how. It is this lack of community that will cause the higher toll as we move into this new paradigm. There are two specific aspects of this –barriers to building community, if you will –that I wish to discuss. In some ways they apply worldwide, but primarily to America. This is after all my homeland and the only culture I know deeply.

1.) Attitudes. Surprised to see this? We have a strange culture in this country, one that teaches us to look down on others who aren’t as favored as we are in some way, rather than seeing ourselves as lucky. Thus, as more and more people become squeezed and get knocked off a cliff the ones who are doing all right will, for the most part, look down their noses and complain about how the unfortunate one should have done this or that differently. Until it becomes their own turn to be tossed off the cliff.

This also applies to those who believe in being prepared for peak oil and so forth. I’ve noticed an attitude of “we’ve always been frugal so we’re okay” among many that also manages to imply a sense of superiority over those who haven’t been frugal. The same with the preparedness camps. All of this is well and good –until things get rocky. Say your roof starts leaking in a few years and you can no longer afford to have it fixed. That young man next door to you who hasn’t had a clue these past few years and loves McDonald’s might be a roofer. What if you get pregnant and can no longer afford the doctor? You haven’t prepared for that. But the hippy-dippy new age non-Christian woman who lives down the road from you and wears weird clothes may be a licensed midwife.
This is what I mean: these attitudes will help keep us apart from one another, help prevent us from banding together during the crises.

2.) The self-sufficiency up-by-your-bootstraps mythos. I bet that raised a lot of hackles. There’s nothing wrong with self-sufficiency –to a point. But, like anything else, it can go to far. We have been ingrained with a belief that everyone should be completely independent. Every person, every family for themselves. You either make it on your own or you fall on your own, and tough. This is barely possible in an expanding industrial society and only then if you have enough money to pay for everything you can’t do on your own. In any other society –including the transitional one we have now –attempting to do this is not only madness, it can actually be suicidal.

No one person or one family can do everything. Yet we have been taught that needing help is shameful and so many of us will not ask for it when we need it. Many others will look down on those who do ask. One person may be able to eke out a barely subsistence level existence –but a town can build a bridge. As we transition down the back side of Hubbert’s peak more and more people are going to be unable to make it. We all ready have the beginnings of this in the tent cities and slums of the world. It is spreading and will only get worse. Bands of people working together can help ease the transition and pull each other away from the cliff.

The problem will lie in how our cultural conditioning will attempt to keep us each thinking and trying to make it on our own. And this is what will make the toll far higher than it needs to be.

United we can make it. But divide us and we may all come down. It is time to retire phrases like “self-made man” and “up by your bootstraps” which were never very true anyway, and bring back older phrases, such as: one for all, and all for one.


Blogger MoonRaven said...

Great post, RAS. I particularly liked the way you identified some of what gets in the way of building community.

Attitude? Smile at everyone, be friendly to all, get to know your neighbors--not only might the clueless McDonald's lover be a roofer, but that conservative Christian might really believe that we're 'all God's children' and really start helping out when she realizes how bad it is, and that capitalist entrepreneur might have some really useful organizing skills he could put to work when he gets it... You never know.

And as for 'self-sufficiency'--John Wayne and the 'Marlboro Man' died a long time ago--and, with luck, they were replaced by an ecofeminist collective... None of us can really make it by ourselves, and truly, we never have...

9/21/2008 5:14 PM  
Blogger SoapBoxTech said...

All very well put. There is one addition I would like to make however. On top of the self-sufficiency expectation is something you alluded to; a tendency to look down one`s nose at the predicaments or achievements of one`s neighbour.

My father (I grew up on a NW Alberta family farm) recently told me a story from his youth when his father ran the farm. Nowadays I see the substance of this story played out everywhere, daily. A local neighbor (who since had the hill he lived below named after him) had a farm located in a low lying area with poor drainage. As such, he always got his crop in late and often did not get his harvest done before snowfall/freezing. My dad was explaining how all the neighbors used to joke about this. My first reaction, upon hearing this, was to shake my head and wonder why they didn`t better expend their energy by helping him dig a drainage ditch so that he could get his crops in in time.

The simple fact is, outside of most of the followers of these sorts of blogs, people just seem too self-centred to really achieve what is necessary for ALL to get ahead...or in the context of what is coming, for most to survive.

I have not given up yet, however. And I am so envigorated to learn of more who are really trying to do everything possible to help as many survive as possible.

9/22/2008 1:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent view. In Portland, Oregon they have been looking into this sort of community building with superb results. They deal with interconnecting people skills and talents within neighborhoods. This also helps keep people from driving all over town to get things done. One of the cool things they do in some neighborhoods is have street kiosks for sharing books and stuff...

There is a huge emphasis on getting people within communities to talk with each other. Sustainable living cannot happen when we are all isolated watching television...

9/22/2008 8:52 PM  
Anonymous freeacre said...

I've noticed as I have gotten older, that once people stop going to daily jobs, a lot of things change. Instead of separating themselves along myriad strata of levels, they get all lumped together into the category of "retired" or "seniors." It's humbling, and, I think, good in some ways. Maybe when the matrix goes down and so many jobs are lost, even the younger people will be all lumped together as well, and will be judged by what they know, not what job they have.
Just reaching out with a batch of muffins, or shoveling off someone's front porch without being asked or calling up a neighbor and sharing tips on gardening or raising pets or whatever, is helpful to making connections. The televisions have imposed something akin to electric fences around our lives. If it all goes down, it will be a lot easier to connect with each other.

9/24/2008 10:50 AM  

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