Hard Realities, Practical Needs

Americans know something is wrong.  It is easy to place blame; there is plenty to find fault with.  But, many sense that something unusual is unfolding, something that goes 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 decades.  Civil order is crumbling.  Staggering numbers of jobs have disappeared.  Financial disruptions come one after another.

Some threats are obvious, but others lie hidden in the complexity of geopolitical stress, interlocking financial institutions, and a debt-based monetary system.

Our vulnerability is exacerbated by apathy and an inability to understand the choices that now confront us. We accept the present as normal, even when it is dangerous.  Most of us expect every day to be like the last.

To recognize that circumstances could lead to pain requires imagination and foresight.  Imagination based on fear can be get us in trouble, but so too can carelessness.

Imagination applied rationally is a survival skill.  Let me offer an example.

James Rickards is a monetary economist who has advised the Department of Defense and the CIA concerning terrorist threats to the 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 actually 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.

It is easy to understand why our families and friends might think we are being alarmist when we express concerns about the future. They are human. But, the time may come when they will depend on us.  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. This blog (and book project) is focused specifically 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 around felt-needs – if we are ready to rise above our differences.  But, having little positive experience working with groups of dissimilar people will lead to challenges 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 address food security and other essential needs. But, most of us do not know our neighbors and cannot now 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 avoid troublesome arrangements has led to the widespread loss of civil society and trustworthy relationships. 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 security in a crisis, it will be necessary to learn patience, and a range of practical interpersonal, organizational, and technical skills.

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 did not see coming. Organizing our lives without electricity or safe drinking water or a functional sewage system will require that we cooperate to solve problems, and sometimes 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 responsible citizens and dependable neighbors.

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.

Tom

Dear readers, please look for the next post on or about May 2.

Stability Begins with Constructive Action

The deterioration of social order taking place around us raises increasing concerns about security in our local communities.  Growing instability is impacting businesses and institutions as well as individuals and families.

As I observed in the previous post, our safety and well-being will ultimately depend on the stability and dependability of the conditions we put in place around us.

Stability and security are mutually reinforcing, but without stability any effort to increase security is futile.  Stability makes our efforts to create security possible, and it benefits from those efforts.

It is natural to think that security must come first, but actually it is the other way around. The key to security is effective community and the value of our personal investments in each other.

The first priority for any stable community is the strength of interpersonal relationships. These form the basis for trust, for good communication and effective problem-solving.

Dependable community depends on dependable relationships.

Americans are used to thinking of security as the responsibility of trained professionals who are expected to deal with emergencies.  That is because we have been accustomed to stable institutions and dependable systems.

This may not always be true.  Things we have taken for granted in the past could become major concerns – if we are not prepared for them.

Food security is a good example.  Supermarkets typically limit their distribution centers to a three-day supply.  If the supply chain is disrupted and their vendors are unable to deliver, we are in trouble.

Unless we can imagine what’s coming, the interruption of systems we take for granted will catch us off guard.  A systemic disruption could be caused by a cyber-attack on the banking system or national grid, a global monetary crisis, an Ebola-type epidemic, or any number of other threats.

These are not unreasonable possibilities.

In my view, we would do well to think about the implications – from public health defenses and emergency medicine to the need for a cash economy.  Building dependable networks of support among neighboring communities will also be wise.

Learning how to work effectively in groups will be key to ensuring dependable conditions.  This calls for new personal skills. Group decision-making and resolving interpersonal conflicts need not be traumatic ordeals, if we have acquired the necessary tools.

We are quite capable of preparing ourselves if we are ready to learn.

I have written of the importance of such virtues as trustworthiness, dependability, and responsibility.  These probably make sense to you.  But, I have also introduced concepts that might be unfamiliar, including what I call “constructive action”, and the idea that stability is not possible without forward motion.

Why are constructive action and forward motion so indispensable?

Think of it this way: Keeping ones’ balance while riding a bicycle requires forward motion.  In any community, business, or organization, activity guided by purpose serves a similar function.

No social group can sustain coherence or mutual respect without applying itself to a common purpose.

We will address two considerations as we consolidate our communities: What we do and how we do it.  The concept of constructive action concerns the “how”.  It is a way we can work together effectively.  And, it has a direct bearing on security.

To put it very simply, constructive action is about being constructive rather than destructive, encouraging rather than tearing down, freeing rather than oppressing.

A constructive approach requires a positive attitude and will contribute to improved safety and well-being.  Destructive actions and a negative attitude will set us back, the results of emotional reaction rather than rational purposefulness.

One leads toward the ends we seek; the other pushes us farther away.

Agreeing on a shared purpose (or several) is also essential.  In this way we can test group decision-making tools and come to know each other as friends and allies.

Shared purpose is a lens through which community needs will come into focus, and the efforts of diverse personalities can be coordinated.

Shared purpose provides standards by which a community can determine priorities and measure progress.

With patience and willpower each of us can learn how to this meaningfully.  And, a positive attitude will support rational thinking and a constructive way forward.

Tom

Please look for the next post on or about April 19.

Food and Water: The Bottom Line

It is easy in a crisis to feel overwhelmed or angry.  Seeking assistance from neighbors might feel difficult or impossible.  Yet, it may be necessary to cooperate, to organize mutual assistance simply to meet essential needs.

The safety of our families, the security of our local communities, and even the future of the nation could depend on it.

Our disagreements pale in the face of an unprecedented convergence of multiple crises.  If we believe in the unique value of the United States of America as a model for the future of the humanity, we need to think about our priorities.

Some disagreements may need to be deferred to honor central and overriding agreement.

Americans are capable of recognizing shared goals and collaborating to meet shared needs – if this is recognized as a necessity.  Nothing needs to shake our determination to prevail.

The world is changing dramatically every day.  Tensions rise when the economy deteriorates or resources are scarce.  We live in a digitally interconnected world in which financial stress is never isolated and can suddenly spread and metastasize into instability.

But, we do not need to wait for a sudden crisis to know that something is happening.  It is no secret to anyone who watches supermarket prices.  The global population is growing exponentially.  We are gaining approximately 214,000 new mouths to feed every day.

Do we understand that the price of food is determined primarily by global commodity markets?

Natural resources are becoming extremely expensive to produce, whether through agriculture or to extract from the earth.  As falling water tables, changing weather patterns, and the loss of top soil bring pressure to bear on agriculture, the cost of food will continue to rise unevenly.

The natural aquifers that provide water for some of the most productive farming regions in the world, including the United States, are collapsing at an accelerating rate – as they are over-pumped and water is diverted to cities.

Available farmland is shrinking rapidly in the breadbasket areas of the United States, India, and China, which feed hundreds of millions of people.

Some scientists suggest that advancing technologies will increase crop yields.  But, there is evidence that biological “glass ceilings” may exist, above which photosynthesis will not allow increased productivity.

Given the rapid loss of farmland, we have little time to wait for research.

It has become apparent that a worldwide food crisis can only be avoided by producing record harvests every year – year after year.  We all know this is impossible. The weather has never allowed for that.

For Americans, the availability of food at any price could also be of concern.  A banking crisis or other major disruption of North American supply chains would empty the stores. American supermarkets only maintain three-day warehouse inventories.

Logic and wisdom should draw our attention to food security.  This is a necessity that requires self-sufficiency, and it would benefit immensely from cooperation with our neighbors.

We cannot wait to reach a state of desperation before we prepare.  We can all learn how to grow and preserve food. This requires that we arrange for access to appropriate land and find knowledgeable neighbors to work with.

Growing food can be a rewarding endeavor.  It can generate economic activity, and can lend itself readily to community cooperation. But, early planning and preparation are essential.

Safe drinking water is another matter.  The majority of municipal water systems in the United States are ancient and tottering.  Furthermore, polluted ground water can render local wells toxic.  This also demands knowledge, planning and preparation.

Having community-members with electrical, plumbing, farming, and other skills is important for all kinds of reasons.  This is why I continue to remind readers of the importance of finding a diversity of knowledge, experience, and skills for our local communities.

There are also skills we each need to learn – how to build trust, manage conflict, and engage in effective small group decision-making.

We are Americans.  We can do this.

When the going gets tough, differences in religion, politics, or skin color are not going to go away, but they need to take a back seat.

Tom

A note to regular readers: The drafts of several chapters posted on this page (see above) are currently being re-written and expanded.  I depend on your feedback.

Please watch for the next post on or about November 17.