Community is the Answer

What follows from the essay, “Pontoon Archipelago or: How I learned to stop worrying and love collapse” by James Allen about the importance of building community reminds me of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) “War is Not the Answer” campaign. To face the deepening environmental chaos we are moving through, “Community is the Answer.”

Bear Creek Friends Meeting, “War is Not the Answer”, Friends Committee on National Legislation

I’ve used (extensive) parts of that essay in the past few blog posts because I’ve found it to be a clear summation of the environmental collapse we are moving through now, and what we might be able to do about it. Something I’ve been focused on for the past several years as the extent of our evolving climate chaos becomes increasingly clear.

The viability of our civilisation is uncertain. While opening our eyes means we’ll confront darkness, keeping them shut means it’ll stay dark. Let’s dare to look and start building new worlds alongside the old.

I offer you this essay in the hope that you may find something within it that will keep you buoyed in the years ahead. It reflects my own attempt to understand the converging crises in our near future, and to grapple with the question of what I might be able to offer that will be useful in that future.

It was the birth of my first child that catalysed a sense of urgency to take the idea-threads I had been tracing for some years now and to weave them into a relatively coherent whole. As any conscientious parent will testify, there are few things that will sharpen one’s focus on the future than a deeply felt sense of responsibility for a new being.

Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. By James Allen, Medium, May 24, 2019

Community

We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibres, our actions run as causes and return to us as results. –Herman Melville

That quote is how the section of the essay about community begins. I’ve done my best to try to continue to believe there might be ways we could avoid environmental catastrophe and societal collapse. I hoped people would wake up before it was too late. For forty years I tried to get others to join me in giving up personal automobiles, to no avail. Still, my carbon footprint is many times greater than that of those who live in underdeveloped countries. If we had invested in mass transportation and cities designed to be walkable, Mother Earth might be healthy today.

Instead, we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction and it looks like humans will be among the species that will not survive. We are now experiencing the consequences of the damage we have done to Mother Earth. “And now we had no place to live, since we didn’t know how to live with each other.” — Joy Harjo

The havoc from increasingly violent storms and development of large areas of drought will overwhelm our economic and political systems. Municipal services such as water, power, sewage and trash processing will fail.  Food will no longer be transported to grocery stores. We need to begin to prepare now. Not wait until the day water is no longer flowing from the faucet. Not wait until more of us are left without infrastructure as in the case of Puerto Rico. Not wait until millions are forced to flee coastal cities as the oceans flow into their streets.

There are other compelling reasons to design and build new communities. Our economic system has not adapted to the loss of jobs overseas and to automation. There are simply not enough jobs for millions of people, and many of those who do have work are paid at poverty levels. Forced to depend upon increasingly diminishing social safety nets. That is morally wrong. Building small communities in rural areas will give people fulfilling work to do, food to eat, shelter, and a caring community to belong to, restoring their dignity.

As I’ve hopefully made clear, the jumping-off point for this essay is a regrettable acceptance that a forthcoming energy descent combined with multiple ecological crises will force massive societal transformation this century. It’s hardly a leap to suggest that, with less abundant cheap energy and the collapse of the complex political and economic infrastructure that supports our present way of life, this transformation is likely to include the contraction and relocalisation of some (if not most) aspects our daily lives.

Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. By James Allen, Medium, May 24, 2019

In the essay, James Allen talks about those (the wealthy) who are building and stockpiling fortresses to hide in when the collapse occurs, and why building communities instead is the answer.

The greatest weakness of survivalism — besides lacking the imagination to envision a future beyond self-preservation, rationing and a descent into depravity — is that the prepper largely conceives their activities as an individual affair. They prepare to protect themselves and perhaps a select few others by erecting barriers and shutting out a crumbling world. This misses a critical point: the resilience of humans depends less on their individual skill and intelligence and more in their ability to pool skills and intelligence, enter into coherent relationships with others, and cooperate on common goals. We even have a name for this kind of arrangement. We call it community. Humans are the only species of hominid capable of forming and sustaining cooperative relationships at scale for the purpose of pursuing mutually beneficial endeavours. On balance, these arrangements tend to generate more value for everyone than individuals can generate separately. Community is fundamental to the human experience, underpinning our capacity to both survive and thrive through difficult times.

This is why I do not feel called to stockpile, build a wall, and batten the hatch. Instead I feel called to open up and build the tiny world that may not extend all that far beyond my town. If many of us join together in that task and we do it well, then we will find a good life in our future, despite the collapse of the world we were born into. If we can sustain this good life, we may even discover a way to scale it to our regional, national and global levels. But even if my work only begins and ends on my own street, or my own home, this is important work nonetheless.

Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. By James Allen, Medium, May 24, 2019

“Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.” Joy Harjo

I believe what we are called to do now is create sparks of kindness and build Beloved communities (literally).


Once the World Was Perfect

Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts Jumped through—
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life—
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we didn’t know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time—
To now, into this morning light to you.

Harjo, Joy. Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems (pp. 14-15). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
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