Americans know that something is wrong. We can feel it. It is easy to place blame; there is a lot to find fault with. But, many of us sense that something profound is happening, something that goes far deeper than the headlines, something that has been a long time coming.
For the majority of Americans, social and economic conditions have been deteriorating for a long time. We are increasingly vulnerable to potential systemic disruptions. Some threats are obvious; others lie hidden in a complex web of instability.
Our failure to prepare reflects a lack of both information and imagination. We accept the present as normal, even when it is unhealthy, distorted, or dangerous. Most of us expect that every day will be like the last.
To recognize that something is not right, or that current circumstances could lead to pain, requires some imagination. This can be overdone, of course. But, so too can carelessness.
Imagination applied rationally is a survival skill. Let me offer an example.
James Rickards is a monetary economist who advises the Department of Defense and the CIA concerning terrorist threats to the global monetary system and financial markets. Writing about our well-equipped intelligence agencies, staffed by smart people who are intent on protecting the United States, he tells us that these agencies were monitoring most of the individuals who subsequently carried out the 9/11 attacks.
Analysts were aware that several were being trained to fly airplanes. In short, the intelligence community had the information it needed to warn of the impending attack.
The only thing missing, says Rickards, was imagination.
That our family and friends think we are being alarmist when we express concerns about the future is easy to understand. They are human. At some point we may need to care for them, so we must trust our perceptions and think through the implications.
There are numerous resources available, in bookstores and on the web, which can help us prepare for a long crisis.
However, this blog (and book project) is focused instead on the personal, social, and relational challenges involved: the effort to build dependable communities, and to accept moral responsibility in an increasingly disrupted and desperate world.
Local communities can organize themselves around felt-needs, when we are ready to rise above our differences. But, having little positive experience working with groups can be a problem when trouble strikes.
We may have experienced community in a church group, club, or sporting pastime, but not usually in the immediate neighborhood where we live, and not in the face of threats to our safety and well-being.
A dependable bond among neighbors will be necessary to meet essential needs. But, most of us do not know our neighbors and cannot depend on them. We might not even have introduced ourselves to those we see regularly on the street or in the grocery store.
Our natural inclination to be independent and to avoid troublesome arrangements has led to the widespread loss of local associations and trustworthy relationships.
For many decades there have been few compelling reasons for Americans to seek meaningful community with our neighbors. Yet, when things stop working we will have no one to depend on except each other.
If we are to find safety and security in a crisis, it will be necessary to develop a range of interpersonal and organizational skills, and hopefully some technical knowledge as well.
Most of us can learn how to grow food, or at least to work with others who do. But, as the crisis deepens we will discover necessities we had not thought about. Organizing our lives without electricity or a functional sewage system or safe drinking water will require that we cooperate to solve problems, and in some cases solve them quickly.
It will be this personal engagement with one another, forced by hard realities, which will bring Americans together where we belong – as good neighbors in our communities.
Hiding under a rock might feel like a good idea in a shooting war, but it will not lead to the kind of world most of us want to live in.
Next week: Security and the Use of Force.
A note to new readers: Blog entries adapted from the forthcoming book are posted on most Fridays at the main blog site and on the Facebook page. To receive alerts by email you may click “Follow” in the column on the right.