Your Worst Enemy
November 22, 2015 § 9 Comments
Cold northern air pushed south for a few days granting us the slight chill we have come to expect on a November morning. Heavy winds rattled the bare fingers of oak and hickory like blades of prairie grass. Woodsmoke seasoned the air and warmed my soul as I walked the compost toilet bucket out to the pile to be dumped and covered. Two days later temperatures were right back up again as firearm deer hunting season opened. I wanted to spend my Sunday morning waiting quietly in a tree, scanning the ridge line for a sizable white tail, but decided against it when I saw that the high for the day would be seventy degrees. The forecast calls for the cool air to return, so for now, I postpone the hunt, and cross my fingers in the hope that driving home from work late at night I will see a freshly hit roadkill deer that I can harvest instead. Their habitat long converted to highway, I honestly prefer making use of a collision killed deer than pulling the trigger anyway.
The collapse blogs and forums are often rife with talk of such things. There are those who suggest that in a world where grocery stores are shuttered or where there is no money to purchase what they might still contain, people will need to return to hunting and foraging where possible. At such suggestions, there are those who counter that the skill to harvest and process and meat is lost of the vast majority of the population. There are others who then counter that actually, in such a scenario the fields and streams would quickly be stripped bare of any game or fish as hordes of people begin shooting at anything that moves, whether they know how to properly process and preserve the meat or not. After years of collapse minded discussion on the internet, I think it is fair to say that there are many pockets of cliches and conventional wisdoms that have taken root and found their loyalties. Fast collapse, slow collapse, hyper inflation, deflationary depression, bug out, bug in, long slow die off, near term human extinction, etc. ad nauseam. Flow charts of collapse hypothesis each complete with their experts and their laundry list of survival purchases.
Over the years I have found myself settling in the realm of thought promoted by the Dark Mountain Project. I do my best not to make a lot of predictions that don’t go beyond vague guesses at trends, and I primarily try to push the notions of personal and communal endurance, adaptability, and dignity. History’s arc is very long, and it is easy to find ourselves as individuals belonging to a time that we believe from where we stand to be of particular importance or meaning. Such assumptions are vanity. The decline of industrial civilization, yes, will result in the creation of miserable conditions for most of humanity, and as we live through and beyond such times, we shall be tested. We are not going to solve the major crises. We are going to be called upon to endure them. Such endurance is likely beyond many in the western world who have never imagined, let alone suffered true hardship. The age of fossil fuels has not only softened rich bodies, but it has softened rich hearts and minds. It has convinced many that death and pain are an unfairness, one that we could, and should, banish from existence. More vanity. More hubris. To be sure, more blindness, as such soft minds are closed off to the suffering and death that formed the foundation of their very comfort to begin with.
Banish your vanity now. Welcome the dirt under your fingernails. Accept that you are not, nor your culture, the protagonist in a meaningful drama. Visions and stories you have created in your mind in which you are a central performer are phantoms of your own amusement. Dispel them. Be here. Take a good stock of who you actually are.
Mutant zombie bikers (MZB’s for short) are the foil of those who monitor collapse. MZB’s are the unwashed masses. Unprepared for collapse, they don their truck tire armor and necklaces strung with the teeth of their victims and then move over the suburbs and hinterlands seeking families and farmers to massacre in their grand quest for canned peaches, gasoline, and murderous skin harvesting glory. They are the primary enemy portrayed in the dystopian future sketched out in most collapse related conversation.
I would like to offer a counter notion; your worst enemy will be yourself. This suggestion, I hope, can steer us from the primacy of the notion that navigating social collapse is going to be best achieved by those who most willingly point guns at everyone else.
If in fact, a grand collapse of sorts occurs and the social and economic systems that the vast majority of people rely upon fail, it will not likely be a man built like a WWE wrestler riding a tricked out Harley and brandishing a flaming nail bat who kills you. It will be your own inability to work with a group. It will be your own lifetime of poor health choices. It will be all of the ebooks about wild edible plants that you downloaded and never read. It will be your hubris, your panic, your depression, your anger, and primarily your inability to adapt to unpredictable and ever changing conditions.
For what it is worth, this is the concept I would like to toss into the gyre of collapse discussion. How self improvement now not only increases one’s chances of survival in the event of any emergency, short or long, but further, how such improvement greatly benefits one’s life even in the absence of societal breakdown. Successfully navigating dire circumstances that present physical, mental, and emotional challenges requires fortitude on all fronts – body, mind, and soul. Doing the work to improve oneself on these fronts is not likely to be a waste should calamity never strike, in the same way that “prepper” purchases of five years worth of EZ Mac and banana chips might be. Mice will never eat your improved physical stamina. A flood will not wash away your uncluttered mind.
Let’s face it, life in the modern era in western nations has shaped most of our interactions to flow along the patterns and dictates of the economic system; capitalism. Short, shrift transactions where one exchanges paper notes for food do not establish a bond between buyer and seller. More often than not, the owner of such food is not even present, and we interact with low wage workers who operate cash registers, and the bulk of our acquisitions of necessities is at the behest of a system which at times even generates resentment of all the other humans around us. We are infuriated by traffic, long lines, and crowded spaces. Community bonds are threadbare. True reliance on one and other that flows equally back and forth is rare. So what happens when this social and economic paradigm crumbles? Do you have the ability to work well in a group? Can you keep from yelling or being over bearing? Do you dominate conversations and interrupt others? Do you dismiss women or people who aren’t white? Do you even notice if or when you do these things? When the humans around you become a de facto band that must cooperate to survive, can you set your ego and your ideology aside? Can you be the first to give before having received? Can you politely disagree? It may seem silly to present such concerns, but truly, communication has been so degraded by generations of commercial transaction replacing communal reciprocity, not to mention newly invented forms of abbreviated, faceless, eye-contactless device to device texting, that I think a focus on just being able to talk to one another in order to effectively organize crisis response should be a priority. Do you really want to find yourself outcast because everyone around you thinks that your a blowhard asshole?
Of course, habits that trend in the opposite direction could be just as deadly. Are you a doormat? Do you speak up for yourself? Are you easily manipulated? Do you fear speaking your mind when your opinion is unpopular? Can you say “no” and mean it? An ability to judge when to defer to group dynamics and when to pull back from activities you believe to be foolish, dangerous, or a waste of energy is crucial. Of course, navigating the emotions and egos of others is a delicate matter, and doing so forms the basis of politics. When your life is on the line, you will need to swallow your pride one day, draw a line in the sand the next, and hopefully make the right choice as to the when and why for both.
Meanwhile, our habits and addictions will haunt us when all of the usual patterns change, and then change again. If right now you are a smoker, a drinker, if you are addicted to sugar, to caffeine (my personal drug of choice) or just happen to need a particular anti-depressant or antipsychotic to get out of bed, how will you fare when the chemicals your brain requires to function are not available? What is your current physical status? Here in the US, the lion’s share of the population travels by some form of petroleum powered vehicle on a regular basis. Has this made you a bit soft around the middle? Or has a steady diet of sugar softened you sort of all over? The ability to walk long distances over varied terrain while carrying a load, perhaps water, perhaps wood, perhaps a child, would probably serve well. The ability to defend yourself without a weapon, would probably serve well. The ability to live two weeks on nothing but mashed turnips without flipping out on everyone around you at the slightest annoyance because your body is craving a Diet Coke and a Parliament Light might just serve you well.
And I am not pitching machismo. I know too well that a smile, a nod, a low calm voice, can in the right circumstances carry more power than a grounded right cross. Well rounded and adaptable, clear headed and resourceful, that is what I am pitching.
This is why I decry the prepper mentality of stockpiling large caches of goods. That is just consumerism. That is just altering a bad habit to feel like a good habit. Sure, having food in the house, useful tools, toilet paper and jumper cables does make sense. Twenty-Five buckets of mylar sealed white sugar is an absurdity. No matter what emergency you encounter, be it a car accident on a stormy evening, a house fire, or full on “the-grid-went-down-thanks-to-Chinese-hackers-cracked-out-on-energy-drinks-and-promises-of-state-provided-communist-love-girls,” the one thing you will always have on you, is you. Your mind, your body, and your spirit are primary. If these are out of balance or in a dysfunctional state, why would you assume that a Rubbermaid Tub full of Pepto-Bismol would be of any use?
You need to fill your mind, hone your body, and steel your spirit. This is a constant as we live. The work never stops. But as we travel, and work at our wisdom, our knowledge, and our fitness, we must also learn how to successfully integrate this blossoming self with others. Communities don’t just happen, because trust doesn’t just happen; communication doesn’t just happen.
Tribe is hard. Manufactured tribe, anyway. I have never experienced a true tribe; a family linked through time and space, culture and common cause. What I have experienced are groups of people who came together with grand purpose. The torment of hours long meetings with Occupy, the drama of interpersonal conflicts with pipeline blockades, the sheer inability to commit to the work required at failed communes and intentional communities; I have seen it all. In each case, there was success and their was failure. In each case, good intentions ran head first into fatigue, a lack of resources, and at times, post traumatic stress. And in each of those cases, the greater support system of society still existed as a fall back. Dirty, cold and hungry, I watched people do unexpectedly amazing things, no doubt. But stores still had food, even if the only food we could afford was in the dumpster. We could check out, step back, any time we wanted. When the stress of it all was too much to bear, one could return to the “real world” and level out. A collapse scenario will offer no such quarter.
It is said that tough times don’t last, but tough people do. I am not trying to sell some notion of myself as complete or without flaw. I am just as guilty of seeing myself not as I am, but as I have imagined myself to be. I possess plenty of traits and habits which I need to work to better, starting with my ability to calmly and accurately communicate. If I were slower to frustrate and to anger, that would likely be a boon. Despite the constant work that living in a post collapse world would require, I could personally benefit from a greater ability to slow down, to sit still, and to meditate. To just breathe and exist. I think it would strengthen my spirit, even if only by allowing me to take in more beauty and joy that I currently let pass me by in favor of tending to endless tasks. We talk tirelessly about survival, but forget sometimes that without attention to the things that make life worth living, we can never truly thrive.
The time to work on ourselves, is now. Your communication, your patience, and your tolerance, all are best improved now while daily caloric intake doesn’t necessarily rest upon them. The time to break habits of sloth, or poor diet, or of resistance to any work that makes muscles sore and brow sweat, is now. The time to take self dense classes and to increase your self confidence and endurance, is now. The time to abandon phantom notions of your protagonist self in favor of honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses while simultaneously relieving yourself of your doughy first world comfort requirements, is now. Take cold showers. Eat more vegetables. Forgive small debts. Compliment and be patient with others. Walk.
Of course, the hard part is that the pizza is still hot, the beer still cold, and the new season of Game of Thrones is on, and all of it is available twenty-four seven and you wouldn’t even have to speak to another human being, let alone be kind to them, to get any of it. And there is work. And there are bills to pay. Maybe next month when I get a little further ahead. I’ll quit smoking. I’ll quit drinking. I’ll spend less time on the internet and more time with other people. Next month.
You are your worst enemy, but you don’t have to be.