With The Age of Limits our purpose was twofold, to speak the words… Decline, Collapse, and Die Off. Words that are truly devastating in their scope—and to create a conversational format based on face to face human interaction, without the deceptive anonymity of pixels on a screen. In these ways The Age of Limits was a great first year success as attendees stepped into the conversational space to share their own experiences and understanding of the emergent collapse, stepping outside of the emotional refuge of quantitative analysis, blog posts and comment streams to engage one another on a human and personal level. As this engagement progressed, as our temporary weekend community matured, people began to take risks and reveal their private emotional processing of collapse…and their own part in it. And this process of risk taking, of emotional self revelation, became itself one of the powerful currents of the event; a point well illustrated by our video of attendee interactions, and an outcome that was not anticipated by myself as the organizer. Lesson learned.
What I’m exploring here is not so much the exact structure of a community, but rather, the deeper sense of community that humans crave and create as a foundation for the literal manifestations of community they may ultimately devise. In other words, what does community mean to the soul, the psyche, the deeper self within us? If we do not attend to this aspect of community, for all of the ostensible successes the community may have achieved, its members may feel vaguely unsatisfied or in some cases, may divest their energy from the community and move on.
Disaster per se need not lead to violence, as Rebecca Solnit argues in her book A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster. She documents five disasters—the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; earthquakes in San Francisco and Mexico City; a giant ship explosion in Halifax, Canada; and 9/11—and shows that rioting, looting, rape, and murder were not automatic results. Instead, for the most part, people pulled together, shared what resources they had, cared for the victims, and in many instances found new sources of joy in everyday life. However, the kinds of social stresses we are discussing now may differ from the disasters Solnit surveys, in that they comprise a “long emergency,” to borrow James Kunstler’s durable phrase. For every heartwarming anecdote about the convergence of rescuers and caregivers on a disaster site, there is a grim historic tale of resource competition turning normal people into monsters.
Our leaders behaved despicably, and continue to, and we allow it to happen e.g., Democrats boast of Obama “getting Bin Laden” in a reprehensible attempt to gain political leverage from the tragedy… actions that Democratic partisans would have, rightly, shamed a Republican president for attempting to exploit.
Contrary to popular imagery, it is not lawn watering, car washing, and long showers that are depleting aquifers and draining rivers. As Derrick Jensen points out, 90% of the freshwater in the U.S. is used by Industry, including industrial agriculture, with the remaining 10% being split evenly between municipal users (such as people in homes) and golf courses. Here in Eastern Oregon it’s a small constituency — the ranchers — sucking up most of the moisture, and whining about it to boot. There’s your real scam.
I’m sure it’s a cop-out to say that in the end, there’s no real conflict between self-reliance and community, between thinking for yourself and living for others, between looking inside and seeing outside.
Sending Debt Peonage, Poverty, and Freaky Weather Into the Arena
We can agree that the modern industrial age has certainly severed our sense of connection to nature, and even to ourselves. Cheap fossil fuels gave us the illusion we could dominate, subjugate and use the natural world for our own ends, and in the process we forgot that we are a part of the world, not above it. It cut us off from our sense of our own natural selves and our sense of community with our neighbors. After 150 years of fossil fuel driven growth we have forgotten what this sense of connectedness feels like. Perhaps my dream says, “Prepare the ground for its return, build the bridges of connection. In the future this energy will flow again.”
Stop waiting. ‘Cause that train’s gone, and it ain’t coming back. And the sooner we accept that “normal,” as post WWII America knew and loved it, will not be an option in this century, the sooner we’ll get ourselves moving forward on the path toward a new kind of prosperity. The only real question now is: What future awaits us on the other side of the coming shift?
Usually at year’s end, we’re supposed to look back at events just passed — and forward, in prediction mode, to the year to come. But just look around you! This moment is so extraordinary that it has hardly registered. People in thousands of communities across the United States and elsewhere are living in public, experimenting with direct democracy, calling things by their true names, and obliging the media and politicians to do the same.