What If America Focused? Can We Fix This Mess?

November 16, 2007 at 11:53 am Leave a comment

Are you an American?

Do you know what our country’s focus is?

Do we have one?

Seriously, what is the focus of our great country? Do you think it’s great anymore? What are we, who are we, and what are we doing? I feel somewhere along the way, America became uncoupled and we can’t seem to admit mistakes and keep making more of them.

Come on everyone, we know war is shit. We also know many people in America have been conditioned to a “Me-Against-You” mentality. Of course, when other countries are uniting to fight the United States, we have a national security concern. And instead of fixing our problems at home using renewable energy, we seem to hold a world view that “survival of the fittest” means killing the competitor. It doesn’t. It means that you share and cooperate. That’s how economies survive.

The privatization of water, oil, land, food, shelter – all of our life necessities for modern living, has made prisoners of everyone already. Yes, your rights to freedom have been revoked, welcome to hell. If you don’t have money, you are not allowed to live. That’s the planet you live on.

After all, there is no more promise of a future. At any moment, some assholes in control could get together and decide to loose some nukes, leading to a chain reaction and a breakdown of all societal systems and ecological life support.

Yeah, that is pretty crappy, and one reason that Albert Einstein regretted helping in the development of the atomic bomb. He said “World War Three will be fought with nuclear weapons, and World War Four will be fought with sticks and stones.”

So what can we do about it as average citizens? Not much, other than behavior modification. We absolutely must change our consumption habits, killer addiction to the Federal Reserve’s economic model, and plan for doing more with much, much less. Peak Oil is here now, and according to the way domestic and international breakdowns are occurring, the earth seems to have reached it’s limit of how many humans it can carry living the way we do.

Uh oh! Momma earth done got mad and now we’z in some troubles! As we have been saying, tough times are here and it will only get worse from here in terms of gas prices, food prices, and the shrinking value of your purchasing power. It’s when nice people trying to make a living and survive start to get desperate.

And when one class of people gets desperate, it usually attacks the class above it. Purse snatching and robbery will take place before mobs are at the gates of the rich. So while the wealthiest folks will probably be the last to go, if we do not FOCUS and STABILIZE our society, we could reach a tipping point when we can’t return to normal civil cohesion. That means Escape From New York lifestyles, not Monday Night Football.

Instead of giving up trying to fix this place, I would rather get to know my neighbors, carpool, do cooperative dinners, share duties like neighborhood watches, and help live in a safe community. That means establishing a bond of TRUST among people who don’t even know one another.

Sure, there are exceptions and some neighborhoods are quite involved with activities and socials. I’m talking about the average American neighborhood. Here’s a little test for you:

1) How many neighbors do you know up to three houses down on all sides of your home?
2) How many neighbors can you count on if you need help with something?

That’s my new focus. I’m not going to run for city council here in Portland. That’s too limiting. I want to help people across the world, and am going to build a company that helps neighbors rely on one another. Maybe when we know how to coordinate a little better, we can start fixing things at a bigger level.

And then, it just becomes acceptance to the idea or tool. Here is something interesting from another Peak Oil writer named Sharon Astyk:

How do we differentiate between ideas that immediately get dismissed and those that percolate a while, perhaps leading to further change? How do we help people get familiar with any change that seems to go against cultural pressures, from putting a garden on their front lawn to composting their own wastes?

My own experience is that the following five things all help a lot. I think one of the most important things that bloggers and other environmental activists can do is to simply present new stuff in an accessible way, that helps get people past those first hurdles of resistance.

1. Expose people to the new idea, repeatedly if necessary. They say that to get a toddler to try a new food, you may have to offer it to her as many as 20 times. Grownups, I think, are often even more conservative than toddlers – the first time we confront an idea, we might not even notice it. The second time we might instinctively reject it. It might take three or four or twenty times for an idea even to translate all the way into awareness of it.

Think about peak oil – the idea that we’ll eventually run out of fossil fuels itself is often hard for people to grasp, which is weird, because of course, we all should know that. In order to get to the idea that we’re at or near an oil peak right now, we have to get people to grasp a whole host of subtler ideas, including the fact that oil is a finite resource for which there’s no obvious replacement. Intellectually, most of us know that. In practice, millions of people, maybe billions, have never gotten their heads around that factoid enough to be able to translate information about peak oil into knowledge. The more times they hear this information, and the more sources they hear it from, the more that “click” moment is likely to happen, allowing them to take the next intellectual step. So it is important to reiterate information all the time – yes, it can be boring for those in the know, but it is absolutely essential.

2. Let people know that other people who they know, like and respect are doing this. Let’s be honest, we’re all vulnerable to peer pressure, at least a little. When I run into a new idea, I usually categorize it by the context I find it in – that is, if it comes along with a lot of other things I find crazy or wrong, I might not do the hard work of sorting out the one gem in there. And if I’m forced to think “Oh, well Annie does that, and she’s not too weird…” I can associate it with “normal” people.

I’m not sure that this is one that I do especially well – I doubt many people think “Oh, Sharon’s so normal…” ;-), but I do think that one of the most helpful things I can do is point out “I bake my own bread for a family of six. I am a normal slob of a person, not some superwoman, but I can do it.” Other people may then begin to think “we normal slobs can begin to bake our own breads…”

2. Respond to the appeal to “irrelevant authorities” – that is, people like to think that new ideas come with authorization. If you can show someone an article in the paper, or print out a list from the internet that mentions your new idea, you’ve automatically transferred it from teh category of “weird thoughts in my head” to “thoughts worthy of being written down.” Now we all know that just because things are written does not make them truth, but still, there’s something to words on a page or a screen that makes the idea accessible.

I’ve come to realize one of my own primary roles in the world is to take the heat from other people’s spouses off of them. That is, I can’t count the times that someone has told me “I got my wife to do X, and said to blame it all on you because you said so.” And I think that’s great (I just wish it worked on my husband, who has a much more jaundiced view of “Sharon said” than many people’s spouses apparently do ;-)). I’m fully prepared to blamed by people I’ve never met and often never will meet for driving them crazy. The simple fact is that my authority is totally irrelevant – but I won’t tell if you don’t.

3. Provide accessible way into the idea. Getting a garden on a front lawn might be scary – what if then neighbors object? What if the town gives us trouble? What if it gets messy, and I don’t have time to maintain it and I ruin all the property values around me? What if the neighbor’s kids ruin it? But half the time we don’t even know why we find an idea scary or overwhelming – we can’t articulate what it is that seems wrong to us, so we just say “no way.” The more access we give people to new ideas, the more likely they are to adopt them – for example, offering ways to try it out without too much commitment, say, suggesting we replace foundation plantings with blueberries or that we start with one bed and interplant with flowers. The more of us who can tell our own personal stories about how we got here – or even how we’re working on getting there the more times we may touch off one of those “Oh, I thought…” moments where we suddenly realize what the problem is.

4. Find the pleasure. This does not mean endless, mindless cheerleading about how everything will always be wonderful, but I do find, for example, that locating pleasures can help you jump over some of the necessary intellectual steps. I know lots of people who will not (yet) grow food to save themselves from the ravages of climate change – they simply aren’t there yet, and they would have to take too many intellectual steps to get there. That may happen over time, but because I want them to grow food more than I want them to agree with me, I can circumvent the whole discussion by observing that I grow food because the food is better than any you can possibly buy, no matter how rich you are. Or that my food budget is manageable because I grow food.

It doesn’t have to go systematically – you don’t have to accept peak oil, for example, to see the value of local food and energy systems that provide better, healthier food. Think of it as an intellectual checkers game – figure out where you want to go, and see how many “steps” you can jump right over to get there.

5. Encourage people to try things. I’m a reader, one of those people who, confronting a new idea, gets as many books as possible together. And that’s great, those books can save you a lot of time and energy. But they also can bog you down into not trying things. I know I’m perfectly capable of getting caught up in research and getting distracted from the larger question. Reminding ourselves that there’s no substitute for direct experience is important – go on, try the cloth toilet paper, try making bread – the worst that happens is that you won’t like it. Internet challenges and other “do it with me” projects here are enormously valuable – trying something new is intimidating, trying something new with other people to ask for advice, and other people brave enough to admit their errors is different.

Getting past our fear of failure is the other thing that we need to work on. Even when there are no stakes at all, people hate to make mistakes or be wrong. I think one of the most important things we can do is admit our mistakes, laugh at them, and encourage other people to try and fail sometimes. Because the reality is that the stakes are small in many cases – if you’ve never built anything before, and you get out there with a hammer and nails, the worst thing you’ll do is get a sore finger and have your chicken tractor fall apart. Life goes on. There are some things you shouldn’t try without knowing what you are doing – pressure canning, using a chainsaw, anything that can kill you. But for the most part, you have to make some mistakes to get good at something, you have to take some risks and try something before you can do it – and the more we can help people feel comfortable with making mistakes, the more competent people there will be out there.

Entry filed under: Creativity, Economic Collapse, Nuclear War, Peak Oil, Personal Preparation. Tags: .

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