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Responding to Collapse, Part 8: Pitfalls and Practicalities of That Team Sport

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Published on The Easiest Person to Fool on March 26, 2019

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The "responding" to collapse that I've been talking about in this series of posts, is largely a matter of adapting to the new conditions that come with collapse. We can't stop collapse from happening, so the question is, "how to cope?" I've spent a lot of time talking about how adapting is likely to be easier in small and fairly remote towns, how to pick a town in a good location and then encouraging people to make their move to such a location while there is still time.

But making that move is only the first step. The point of moving to a small town, rather than a more isolated location, is the relationships you'll be forming with the people in your new community.

In my last post I started talking about the idea that being human is a "team sport". That is, it's in the nature of human beings, and very much to our benefit, to live and work together in groups. Such groups can act as a force multiplier, achieving more than what you would expect from simply adding up the number of people involved. And that's more both in the sense of 1) achieving the group's common goals and 2) enhancing the individual well being of its members. For most of the time that people have existed, we've lived together in small groups (less than Dunbar's number), made decisions largely by consensus, and allocated resources in a sort of "primitive communism"—from each according to their abilities and to each accordito their needs.

During the difficult times that lie ahead of us, I think we will need to fall back on this way of living, in order to successfully meet the challenges we face.

In that post I went on, at some length, about the benefits of group efforts and why we have abandoned the idea in 21st century society in favour of individualism and isolation. Largely because increasing affluence has made it possible and because it has been encouraged by those who are in power who find it easier to control and exploit lone individuals than groups acting in solidarity.

What I want to talk about in this post are the pitfalls and practicalities of actually becoming part of your new community and laying the ground work for the groups you will come to rely on as BAU declines. I wish I could offer a complete and detailed manual on how to do this, but I'm just not to that point myself yet, and I'm not sure anyone else is either. I've added links at the end of this post to a couple of books that I think might be helpful

I should make it clear that I don't expect you to rush out and create your own commune and kiss BAU (Business as Usual) good-bye right away. This is unlikely to be a success. I don't think collapse is going to happen all at once, nor I do think adapting to it is something that can (or should) be done all at once.

As long as BAU is detectably alive and even slightly well, propaganda for the consumer lifestyle and the virtues of individualism will be a distraction blaring away in the background. Most of us have never had the opportunity to learn the interpersonal the skills that make primitive communism work so well. And as long as our economic situation inside BAU is reasonably comfortable, it will be altogether too easy stalk off in a huff when the going gets tough rather than doing the work it takes to make a group effort succeed.

I'd be the last person to tell you that any of this is going to be easy. Indeed there have been many times when I have pretty much given up on the idea. I am sure we've all been involved in some co-operative effort or other that failed because of the disruptive efforts of grandstanders, glory hounds, control freaks and the power hungry. Or even just people who couldn't get along, didn't want to pull their weight or abused common resources like tools and equipment. These sorts of problems can be overcome, but only, I suspect, when there is an overpowering need to do so, and no easier alternative.

Of course, there is one sure way to foster group cohesiveness and that is to encourage group members to focus their displeasure and dissatisfaction on easily identifiable people outside the group. People who group members are encouraged to hate. But the long run consequences are pretty ugly. You just have to look at the last century or so of our history to see what I mean. Unfortunately, this kind of thing does have a strong appeal, and I would advise constant vigilance to avoid getting sucked in. Just ask yourself, if the finger of hate is being pointed at "those people" today, how long before it is pointed at people like you.

Currently right wing, white supremacy hate groups seems to be enjoying a good deal of success and causing a lot of harm. Clearly something to be avoided and opposed.

Another way to bring people together is activism. There are certainly many problems in the world today that need to be solved. When people join groups to tackle these problems they often find a real sense of community and an external problem to focus their energies on. And groups of other people to oppose.

I'd say that before joining an activist group you need to keep in mind that our current world order, what I call BAU, is fundamentally flawed and is itself the cause of the problems we are facing. Trying to fix BAU so we can go on living as we are is not going to work—our way of life is the problem.

Of course, there are causes that even I can't see anything wrong with. Such as forming community groups to adapt to collapse or to work on any of the things that need to be done to prepare for collapse.

Anyway, these are just some of the pitfalls of trying to make a co-operative effort to adapt to collapse. But adapt we must, and we have a much better chance of doing so in a group than as lone individuals or nuclear families. So we have to try, even though we'll be learning the skills as we go along, and all the while our current society will be doing its best to distract and discourage us.

Realizing this, we need to look at the practicalities of living and working together in groups. It would be a really good idea, I think, to start with some baby steps in your new community, to do some gradual adapting before the need gets urgent. Start learning to work together ahead of time, probably first in social groups, then maybe doing some volunteer efforts together, and finally as times get harder, acting together in what I would call mutual support groups. It is one heck of a lot easier, in times of need, to get together with people who you already know and with whom you've accustomed to working.

How people behave during disasters turns out to be very different than we have been led to believe. Rather than triggering social breakdown, the removal of the usual social constraints allows people to stop playing their customary roles as individuals and competitors in the formal economy (the roles society has forced on them), and come together co-operatively and generously as a community to cope with the challenges the disaster has presented.

The fact that responding to the disaster provides a clear common goal, and that the people involved are often family, friends and neighbours, is a big help. But such communities are in fact the default human behavior, rather than the rioting, looting and general social breakdown that the disaster mythology would have us suspect. Our preparations for disaster and collapse should reflect this—that we can expect co-operation rather than conflict. Any organization that we plan in advance should be such that it encourages this behaviour and helps people to rise to the occasion. A little study into what actually happens in such situations shows that people's response can be amazingly positive.

So, your first priority after you've moved into a small town is to get to know your neighbours and make an effort to take part in the things they are doing together.

Here are just few suggestions about how to become part of the community you've moved into and develop a network of friends and acquaintances who will be of help as collapse intensifies.

  • if you're religious, join a church and get involved
  • if you're not religious, join a secular volunteer organization that interests you:

     

     

     

     

     

     

    • a club, lodge or service group
    • a choir or orchestra
    • a community garden
    • a sports team, a gym, a hiking or nature club
  • if you have children…

     

     

     

     

     

     

    • put them into activities that interest them and volunteer to help in the organizations that offer those activities
    • volunteer at their school
  • work hard to network, talk to your neighbors, ask questions
  • invite people to dinner or out for a coffee

Be modest and don't act like you think you're better than the locals, or know more than them, or that where you came from is better than where you are now. Express an interest in their families, interests, and what they do for recreation and entertainment (FIRE is the mnemonic for this aid to small talk). Be eager to listen to what they have to say and patient while they are saying it.

You want to get to know and be known (in a positive way) by as many people as possible, but also to develop a core group of friends who you're quite close to and on whom you can rely in a pinch. That core group should be people you see eye to eye with on most things. At the same time, don't be too particular about finding people who think exactly as you do—cut them some slack and they will do the same for you. Be quick to offer your help when they need it and don't hesitate to ask for their help when you need it. And of course, watch that this doesn't become too one sided (in either direction).

As a kollapnik, a committed enough of a one to leave the city and settle in a small town, you are probably at least a bit of a fanatic about the subject and would love to find some people who you can talk collapse with. This will put a certain spin on your relationships, one that you need to get control of. You don't want to be a pest and develop a reputation as a crackpot, driving people away in the process. On the other hand, you don't want to be secretive and give people the impression you've got something to hide. If they see you making preparations, storing food, gardening, whatever, be open about what you are doing and why.

Among all my friends and acquaintances, there are two (perhaps three) who I would say are fellow kollapsniks, and a small handful of others who are willing to talk about collapse as long as I don't push too hard. I consider myself lucky.

One of those kollapsnik friends is Don Hayward, and I'd like to share with you his wisdom on classifying the people you'll meet in your new community. He says there are four kinds:

  • those who will eventually turn out to be pure poison and should be avoided at all costs (which can be awkward in a small town). If you can figure out how to identify these people quickly and painlessly, let me know.
  • those few gems who you can talk to about collapse and perhaps even start right away working with on adaptations.
  • those who don't want to talk about collapse, but who will make good friends anyway. This is no doubt the largest group of people and where you will concentrate your efforts.
  • and lastly, people from the first three classifications who will change as circumstances change and may well turn out to be great adapters.

Please understand that it is possible to make connections, often close connections, with people who are not yet ready to talk about collapse. It is probably a good idea to make that connection first, before bringing up collapse. There will be times when the world seems to be falling apart, when the news is full of that sort of thing, and then people will be much more receptive.

But people are strange animals and coping with them can be challenging, especially since you are one yourself. You should maintain a realistic expectation that not everyone will react positively to everything or even anything you say or do, that some people won't even want to give you the time of day. Respond politely to such rejection and move on. Don't get discouraged.

You may also frequently find people doing things that seem to be specifically intended to get under your skin, and not in a humourous way. I personally have had much more success in difficult inter-personal situations since I learned the importance of being calm, patient, kind and understanding. And after I finally gained a "strong-ish" grasp of the fact that it's not always (or even usually) all about me. But even at age 65, this is an on-going effort.

Much good advice about this sort of thing can be found on the internet (along with some bad advice, unfortunately). Here are links to several articles that I'd say fit in the "good advice" category.

Hidden variables of Human Behaviour

In brief here is what you should remember:

  • Everyone has a reason for what they do.
  • If we knew that reason, we would be more understanding and sympathetic.
  • If we don’t know the reason, we may as well assume the best.
  • It’s unlikely their reasons have much — if anything — to do with us, so there is no need to take their actions personally.

Three Important Life Skills Nobody Ever Taught You

Again in brief, they are:

  • how to stop taking things personally
  • how to be persuaded and change your mind
  • how to act without knowing the result

It’s harder to be kind than clever

Or as my dear old dad used to say, "It's more important to be nice than to be important." As the article says:

…the central conceit of a dangerous assumption we seem to have made as a culture these days: that being right is a license to be a total, unrepentant asshole. After all, why would you need to repent if you haven’t committed the ultimate sin of being wrong? Some say there’s no reason to care about other people’s feelings if the facts are on your side.

Getting along with people in groups is a learned skill and challenging for those who didn't grow up doing it. Many people have decided it is not worth the effort, but that is something of a self fulfilling prophecy. It can be done, given motivation and sufficient practice.

So far I've been talking about getting together socially, helping out your friends, and taking part in volunteer projects. But as collapse progresses further and we come to rely on our friends and neighbours more, we'll get deeper into living and working together. To wrap up today, I'd like to discuss three aspects of this: working together, living together and organizing those efforts. I was actually surprised, after spending a few moments with Google, to find numerous resources on each of these topics and in each of the sections below I've include a few links to relevant articles.


Organizing Together

Even if we're mainly considering groups of people less than Dunbar's number, say a maximum of 150 to 200, some sort of organization will be required. There are many ways of doing this, all with their pros and cons. I'm suspicious of hierarchical and especially patriarchal organizations because much of what's wrong with BAU seems to be centered on those organizational styles. They seem to be based on a fundamental split within the group between those who are in control and enjoy a lot of benefits they haven't earned, and those who are being controlled and exploited, and whose potential is largely ignored.

So I would recommend trying consensus decision making. It's main disadvantage is that very few of us in the developed world have much experience with it. But like any other skill it can be learned, and promises some real rewards for those who make the effort.


Working Together

Working together is likely the easy part—even big business is aware of the advantages of having people work in teams, so many people have some prior experience with teamwork.

I thought this would be the easiest of these three areas to find information about, but what's out there is mostly about teams working at the bottom of a hierarchy in businesses or educational settings, so it's not exactly what I was hoping for. I haven't included much that material here. You can Google for teamwork, team building, working in groups, etc. if you want to see more of it.

  • Effective Groups—Starting them up and keeping them going, more from Seeds of Change
    This article recommends you first find the right people and then talks about using publicity to attract them. For the kind of core group I've been talking about in this post, I would say definitely you need to find the right people, but I would caution against sending out a public appeal. This would attract lots of people, but most of them wouldn't likely be suitable and rejecting them becomes awkward. Instead meet people in social situations and take your time to size them up before forming a closer relationship.
  • 6 Ways to Empower Others, by Starhawk
    Sometimes you really do need someone to step forward and lead. The important thing is to be able to step back when the need has passed.
  • Teamwork, Wikipedia


Living Together

Living together is something that's going to be forced on many of us in the years ahead, as the economy contracts and affluence decreases. And as we move to small towns and find there is limited housing stock that's suitable for living in when infrastructure starts to fail regularly. So many people will find themselves having to share apartments or houses. Most of us have grown up in small nuclear families and many have had their own room since birth. More crowded and less convenient living circumstances will be challenging to adapt to. But it's being done by the majority of people alive in the world today and has been done by almost everyone who lived in the past. So it seems likely to me that we can learn to cope just fine.

I'll just wrap this up by saying that I think it is important to let other groups try anything they want to, in the hope that someone, somewhere, will come up with one or more approaches that work. I call this "disssensus"—letting other folks go their own way and wishing them well, even offering to help when we can, rather than raising a fuss and trying to force them to do it our way.

So far, I've been talking about what you need to do when you first arrive in your new town and during the following years as collapse intensifies. The gradual and uneven failure of BAU will provide numerous opportunities for you and your new friends to work together and support each other. I'll definitely be doing a post in the near future about how I see that playing out, but first I think I need to talk about the practical, material preparations that you need to be making during that same time period.

If you've chosen your small town well then it will have the resources you need to get by when BAU lets you down. But some advance set up is needed if you are to put them to work effectively. This will be the topic of my next post.

Books


Links to the rest of this series of posts, Preparing for (Responding to) Collapse:

 

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