Of all the interesting and unrealistic scenarios that people envision when thinking about an economic crash, the most amusing and naïve is that people will finally meet their neighbors and they'll all embrace each other in peace and harmony and sing Kumbaya around communal meals.
Doubtless this comes from whitewashed fairy-tale retellings of the hardships of the Great Depression, during which friends, relatives, and neighbors often did share communal meals (stretching out their scarce foodstuffs as much as possible) and thus (so the stories go) achieved the universal peace and harmony so beloved by the Progressives.
But the reality is, a truly hungry person is far more interested in stealing his neighbor's bowl of rice than singing syrupy camp songs.
Last year I conducted a miniature experiment. I took to lurking on a progressive forum that addresses spending habits and consumerism. The members of this forum are dedicated to reducing their carbon footprint by reducing their purchasing habits. It’s a sentiment with which I largely agree, though I approach the subject from the opposite end of the societal spectrum
So anyway, last year I posed a question on this forum, namely: If the bleep was to hit the fan and you were unable to leave your urban or suburban environment, what would you do?
The answers were mostly sensible, given the nature of the forum. Many responders said they already had sufficient stores of food and water to see them through a couple of weeks of societal disruptions. But some of the replies were ludicrous bordering on the hilarious. One person confidently told how he would start foraging for wild greens. Um, wild greens? In Los Angeles or Chicago? Do you really think you can survive on filthy polluted plantain leaves growing in sidewalk cracks, assuming you even know what plantain looks like? Okay, fine, whatever.
But the silliest response was the woman who said she would form a community with her neighbors and they would all band together to help each other survive. There were a lot of “Hear, hear!” replies to this post.
Which got me thinking – why do people think everyone will be interested in holding hands and singing Kumbaya after a crisis? To be fair, it depends on the nature of the crisis. After 9/11, a lot of people truly did respond that way, but that’s because our immediate needs for food, water, medicine, etc. were not affected. But if our physical survival was at stake – if food or clean water was unavailable through the sources we normally use – then my suspicion is no one will have the slightest interest in singing folk songs. It would be every man for himself, perhaps in a distressingly literal way.
Now let me clarify my position. I’m all for community. That’s the whole reason we enjoy our neighborhood potlucks so much. We love our neighbors. We help each other out. We band together when there’s a crisis. We trade tools and equipment. We share garden seeds and surplus produce. We teach each other skills like canning and milking. We celebrate each others’ triumphs and mourn each others’ tragedies. And – here’s the key – we’ve been doing this for years.
In other words, we already have in place the framework and structure of this mythical “community” because we made the time and effort to forge those ties ahead of time. But if we waited until a crisis happened before connecting with neighbors, those ties would be fragile or nonexistent – and practically impossible to create out of thin air.
This is just a personal suspicion, but I think the Progressives who want to hold hands and sing Kumbaya have a different definition of “community” than I do. I once read a post on a different forum which addressed the issue of moving to a more rural area. “I am leery of the really conservative areas because the culture is not always favorable to sharing and community-mindedness, which will be survival values,” wrote one person.
I found it fascinating that the conservative values of independence and self-sufficiency are interpreted by Progressives to mean we don’t share and aren’t community-minded. Should this person ever move to our neighborhood, I think he would find we share all the time and are extraordinarily community-minded. Or maybe we aren't, at least by his definition. The thing is, our sharing and community ties are voluntary. Except for the bounds of Christian charity, we are less inclined to help those who think we owe them something simply because we’re the same species. Progressives never “get” this. They would rather the “sharing” and “community” be mandated, i.e. forced. Big diff.
Communities can spring up, but they cannot be based on communal – i.e. communistic – ideals. Communism dictates that everyone pools his resources into a common pot, and then everyone withdraws from that pot only what he needs. “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” is the precise phrasing (Karl Marx).
But what if I have little or nothing to contribute to the pot, and you have lots and lots? Naturally I’m going to be delighted by my good fortune in having a whole pot to dip from; and you’re going to resent the hell out of me for taking some of your self-earned loot. That’s human nature, and that’s why Marxism is a crappy idea.
I recall an article called “What Is The Best U.S. State To Move To If You Want To Insulate Yourself From The Coming Economic Meltdown?” While the article itself is fairly basic, the comments that followed were fascinating. It showed a strong resentment between existing towns and “outsiders.” A Montana native wrote, “All you rich folks from California have built your own enclave around towns like White Fish and Kalispell, trying to build little Californias instead of seeking to be a part of our communities. When it hits the fan Montana would be a great place to be, but remember that your survival could very well depend on your neighbors so make friends now and develop some strong ties in your community. The best way to build social capital is to be helpful or friendly to someone else first.”
A counter opinion was encapsulated with this comment: “Some of you people posting here are absolutely full of yourselves. You are nearly all xenophobic and hate all outsiders. Your ignorance about others and even what is happening in your own states is appalling. No, I would not want to live around most of you, you stupidly think that your guns are going to save you, but you’ve yet to use them, proving that your all full of s***. This kind of thinking and the other comments I’ve read just proves to me how some of you really are. Ignorant, xenophobic and paranoid. Your sense of community is “just us,” thinking you can create enclaves without understanding. You all FORGET that we are ALL in this together, like it or lump it. Everybody needs someplace to be. You think you “own” your communities. Well, you DON’T. It’s still a free enough country where anybody can still move wherever the hell they want. Wake the hell up and realize that we all want and we all need exactly the same things. Community. Culture. Cooperation. Opportunity. Climate. Water. Land. Food. Shelter. Protection. It’s no different for any of us. You may not like [me] or I may not like you and we may not get along, but so what? We don’t have to. But I can damned well live anywhere I want (still) and so can you. If you do not like what is happening to your community — then educate the people that live there. I speak from my own experience, having lived in several of the places mentioned on this comment thread. You cannot prevent outsiders from moving in, and if they do, you are far, far better off making friends and connections with them then insisting they go live someplace else.”
(And this person wonders why he’s encountering so much hostility from the locals?)
I truly believe “community” will be critical to survival in a “bleep” situation. No man is an island, and no family can survive totally on its own. That’s because no family can have every skill and every tool and every resource in endless supply. But if a community has among its members someone skilled in medicine, in sewing, in canning, in hunting, in milking, in gardening, and in endless numbers of other skills we don’t appreciate until they’re not available, that community will be far more likely to not only survive, but thrive.
But those ties of community must be in place ahead of time. Yes, many places are clannish and won’t accept outsiders – but I’m talking about making ties where you live now, not about relocating (that’s a whole different subject and/or blog post).
So to everyone who wants to band together with his or her neighbors and sing Kumbaya over a communal pot of soup, I suggest you get busy right away. It’s never too early – but at some point it will be too late.