Thursday, February 07, 2013

Adaptability and the second law

It seems we are ready for the next round of wrangling over what is or is not an overly privileged way of addressing the simple fact of overshoot.

Paula at Mythodrome lays it on the line:
"Near as I can tell, “resilience” means exactly the same thing as “transition” within a doomy context: an organic gardening club for rich white people with property, investments, and a comfortable lifestyle to protect. It’s an insular clique that requires everyone be on the same page politically in order to participate. It is based on the European idea of “community,” which is very attractive in theory, but which does’t port well (if at all) to the deeply ingrained American values of individualism and self-reliance. There are perhaps a dozen or two cities in the US where “resilience” efforts might find an audience, an actual geographic community of like-minded people. For many (most?) people, however, “resilience” looks like hardly more than a suburban organic gardening club for people with a high enough credit score to finance a new Prius."
    Guilty, but I have little alternative. Paula prefers the term "adaptable." Well, I was an unusually adaptable person when young, with very little "income." Now that I'm old I have to supplement the wood stove with a space heater, i.e., spend more money to run in place. But I earned tth Social Security to pay for it. We will all eventually lose that, paid for or not. Between now and then, as I am not quite ready to roll over and die, I will go for such individual resiliency as I have earned. It takes a village to do it any other way, and a village that is not too poor to be kind to its seniors. Villages are soon enough going to be excruciatingly poor but can, if they are willing, also be exceptionally responsive to the needs of their constituents. For a time. 

    With so much of the population now in cities we will find that not until we are knocked back to Cuba's level of subsistence, and centralized planning and enforcement has run out of steam, can we find villages in an urban setting. Bud Light and Nascar are not good training for running a tool co-op.

    My family escaped to the country but not everyone can, and of course we are dependent upon goods made by those we left behind. I am hoping my prescience can benefit those I love, but I acknowledge my project is, at bottom, an attack upon the availability of resources to the many for the benefit of the few, just as if I were "the rich" -- which, to billions of people, is just what I am.

While I recognize my own cant, I feel powerless to do much more about it than I already have. 

To reduce my energy consumption and increase my energy efficiency, reduce product consumption and propaganda consumption, to grow and preserve my own food as I am able, to live quietly and simply, to focus on disease prevention over cure, to assist others as I find I am, within pre-existing responsibilities, able, to avoid debt, to recover and practice and pass on pre-industrial and early-industrial skills, finding, re-using, making and mending -- I think these things better than just to say they are the enactment of privilege and leave it at that. I call it A Way to Live, and I have recommended it to those at the collapsing edge of modernity -- as a gentle way down. 

"Resilience" has been consciously promoted as a term for these activities, and I don't think it's such a bad fit. It stems from a post by John Michel Greer in 2007, and he was criticizing "sustainability" by what he was proposing, using much the same aregument(s) as Paula is using against "resilience."But is her alternative, "adaptability," better? "Sustainability has been sullied by "Sustained growth" which can't happen and really means "let's protect consumerism" -- "Resiliency" has been taken up and promoted by much the same crowd largely because they are the ones educated enough to worry about all this in the first place.

Recognizing they (we) are the privileged is such a basic observation, I'm surprised it can be used as an argument about anything. Everyone must begin where they are; you can't stand in two places at once.

Perhaps we will encounter less acrimony if we simply begin to give up suburban hubris once and for all, without calling it anything?

But that will take time. I'm not sure slinging mud at me for not being "over there" will do either of us much good while I am walking from "here" to "there." I already need a walking stick as it is.

If we simply get rid of some of the things and then go sit on the front steps, waving to people as they go by, that's a start, isn't it? Need we call Transition or Resilience failed movements to do that?

If nobody's going to survive this collapse, and I think there is excellent evidence that we will not, how's about we take in a few more sunsets than we've been doing? It's not like any of us will live forever. Or any species. My father was fond of the expression "other things being equal," which meant that the action to be undertaken is the right one given what we know, but some variables are beyond our control. Adaptability is a virtue but the second law of thermodynamics will still apply.

I don't know about you, but I'm off to the potting shed to put some seeds in flats. Then I'm going invite the gratitude bell to say hello to the beautiful day.


  1. Beautiful essay Rita! I certainly value your efforts to pass on what you have figured out about how to live gently. You are succeeding in making a larger point by living a life that makes others just a little bit uncomfortable about their own response to overshoot. I welcome the message.

  2. Oh, your note gave me a chance to notice the post is riddled with typos and I did some cleanup. Thanks!!


Stony Run Farm: Life on One Acre

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.