Any Community Knows More than We Think it Does

I was out Monday evening at a Transition Toronto event which showed Chris Martenson’s “Introduction to the Crash Course” and followed it up with a group discussion of things we could do as individuals — no policy changes, no investors, no politicians required — based on what we’d learned from watching the video.

It was a vibrant evening, despite only four people turning out (other than the presenters and facilitators). Yet, with only four people chosen by random from sixteen who had pre-registered, we had to chop the evening off due to running out of time. Four people had enough ideas, observations and things they already knew that their sharing of it took nearly two hours — and it wasn’t exhausted.

What did we talk about? Supplying water, storing food, growing and preserving food, health care and first aid issues, preventative health and wellness, providing heat, power and communications, protecting wealth and local exchange mechanisms, and community building.

The twentieth century (and into the twenty-first) were a time when expertise ruled. To learn, you went to schools of various sorts: public schools, colleges and universities, trade schools, community centre programs, industry certifications. To get things done, you organized enterprises: corporations, societies, not-for-profits, associations. Alternatively, you undertook exchanges — typically money, but sometimes time or barter — to buy what had been produced by the doers.

Everything was neatly in one compartment or another, and we moved in our daily lives from one role to another, sometimes intra-day, sometimes for periods of time.

Many times, when we start to talk about the issues in the “Crash Course” video — the unfolding collapse of the economic system, the unfolding binds in our energy “system”, the unfolding environmental stresses and changes we are experiencing — the response is not a very resilient one. People are frightened by this (we are all experiencing it, whether it’s been pointed out or not). The common reaction is often to “demand change”.

Whether that’s expecting politicians to pass laws to “do something”, or to hand out relief financially; whether it takes the form of the cacerolazo (or banging pots and pans in the streets), the Occupy movement, or the Arab Spring; whether it’s a call to boycott this company or an “everyone needs to” harangue; all of these share one thing in common. They are calls to institutional action.

They are a call, in other words, for people to do and people to buy.

What they aren’t is the notion of individual action. When you go out to protest, it feels like individual action. But it’s not action that leads you to better conditions for you and yours (at least, directly).

You’re worried about the price and availability of petrol/gasoline in the future? The smart move is to reduce your own need for it. Move to a place where most of your daily needs and work can be handled on foot if needed; by transit if possible; downsize your vehicular needs. Think like a Bermudian (not at all a poverty-stricken place): a bicycle or scooter or bus is your daily transportation, your car is for special needs.

Now it doesn’t matter if supplies become erratic, or prices shoot the moon. You’ve added resilience to your own life.

Many of us have a Brita-style water filter jug in our refrigerators, to clean up tap water. Fair enough. A Berkey-style water filter, though, can turn non-potable water into perfectly good drinking water. The first depends on other people to keep the water supply healthy. The second assumes that that will fail from time to time, or that your well could become contaminated, and prepares for the day. It’s a move to increase your resilience, and remove worry.

This, for example, was something I learned Monday night. Living in the heart of a city, I wasn’t thinking wells: water comes out of the water mains into the house. Supplies coming from the north can still get here by gravity feed … but what if the treatment plants have a problem, an error, an omission? Rather than stockpiling jugs of water and having to manage them as the only answer to that (and you have to have done it ahead of time), this might provide another alternative. Worthy of investigation, certainly.

All four of us had read different people, followed different blogs, had different professional backgrounds, had lived in different places, and so had a wealth of experiences to draw upon. One point would lead to another: I could feel memories being awakened because of what another said. I’m sure it was like that for them, too, as they would interrupt with “oh, and I just remembered…” and add something of real value dredged up from a cottage experience, or a camping trip years ago, or nursing training in an emergency ward.

What this experience says to me is that communities are our greatest asset. We’ve mostly, since the rise of television and zoning (where workplaces, living places, etc. are all physically separated), tended not to put anywhere near as much effort into knowing those around us in favour of knowing the people we work with, or are involved with in activities, even though they may live many kilometres/miles away.

But if we were to start conversations — serious ones, not “who’s going to win the game today” types — with the people who happened to land in the houses or apartments around ours, we probably would have a roughly similar experience as I had Monday night, with four people chosen at random who just happened to know a whole lot that was useful about all the topics at hand.

As someone who’s a deep introvert (and hence a real lover of cities, where one can be amongst the “lonely crowd” yet be anonymous and quietly not interacting!) I know how hard it is to open those conversations up. But it needs doing.

For the lesson of the twenty-first century, when we look back on it at the other end and sum it up, will be the transition from big institutions looking after things and the rest of us buying what was produced or provided, or taking what’s given back in the political realm, to a world where we’re much more taking care of ourselves.

That’s a task bigger than a person, even bigger than a family. It will require a community.

But it looks like the odds are that they should be up to the task.


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