Resilience contagion

Recently I wrote about my awakening from doomer porn stupor. This week, I would like to talk about positives in the doomer community. Stuff that keeps me hanging in with this at times panic stricken, over-the-top folk.

There are two good things I can think of off hand. First, the doomer community is past denial and awake. They see the clusterfuck of crises heading our way and don’t flinch. It can be pretty cool to hang out with people who do not require tutoring or persuasion regarding the predicaments we face. I fit well enough with doomer beliefs: that peak oil is pretty much upon us, that there are a number of crises converging upon humanity at the same time, climatic vagaries are in the offing, that human population has reached overshoot and is consuming its children’s tomorrows, that a growth-based economic system is unsustainable and absurd, that industrial agriculture is a ludicrously damaging and inefficient way to eke out our sustenance, and that complex systems eventually reach a point of diminishing returns and must simplify. I don’t see any of this as particularly controversial, and I appreciate being part of a community of people who keep on clarifying and growing in understanding past these basics.

The second good thing is… a lot of doomers are doing something interesting, useful and catching. Whether learning to keep chickens, putting food up, cultivating old timey skills, or starting local currencies and barter, doomers have a lot of nifty projects going, projects that will, in a pinch, come very handy. They are learning and sharing skills and ways of being useful at any time life must pull back and decomplexify… and it looks like that time is now.

Doomers assume that TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) is bearing down on us, and that our chances for living through it are impaired by our lately-acquired habits of dependence and passivity. They rightly point to modern existence as not only unsustainable, but also unwisely insulated and vulnerable to the vagaries of an increasingly unpredictable and uncertain world. A more precarious existence can be countered by regrouping and acquiring old-new skills of creative coping. The doomers have been jeered at by folks who recognize that in any region gone seriously haywire, survival is an iffy proposition and depends much on luck, local defensibility, and other factors. But the main point of their stance is sound: moving out of the infantilized, catered and untenable modern lifestyle and into one that is based on self-reliance, sanity, community. They are the resilience pioneers.

There have been several attempts on the web to classify doomers. Doomers understand that resilient communities assure their food and water supply first of all. This practical concern leads them in several possible directions:

  • Survivalists and retreaters; these folks have a place to bug out to when TSHTF (the shit hits the fan).
  • Back-to-the-landers; the new agrarians, returning to the land, once again, and for keeps this time.
  • Adaptors-in-place; people stuck in less than ideal locations, making useful changes anyway.
  • Small town transitioners; once and future livable towns.
  • Nomads; permanent travelers, eking out frugal livings via remote RV camps, movable yurts, sea travel, or, for the very hardy, going back to the aboriginal lifestyles in environments that can support it.

Wherever they are, they are full of gusto for getting back to life’s basics and deep sensibilities, and the profound satisfactions of those newfound lifestyles come through loud and clear. The delight that bubbles regularly to the surface is probably the very best thing about hanging with doomers. It comes through particularly in the posts and comments of Sharon Astyk’s blogs (here and here) where this gentlewoman farmer and her readers throw in with their own experimentation and growing experience, and the heady excitement of that interchange can sweep even a newby off their feet and into action. These folks are growing a whole new way of living for the increasingly savvy ex-clueless. The new agrarianism and food localism makes a lot of practical sense, and the doomer world is full of folks who have caught the bug. Pitching in with some problem or shared new skill that people have come to rediscover and enjoy, Sharon and her fans are all about becoming a new kind of people: educated, aware, smart, post-urban agrarians or food localists or in any case reliant, resilient, resourceful folk wherever life finds them. People who have rejected the modern denial of links to the soil, to living creatures, to source of our food and real wealth. Their world embodies common sense, beauty and joy and I am so glad I have lived long enough to witness its rebirth.

    “The emptiness that people feel when they live a life primarily as consumers is no accident – the problem is that the story we’re engaged in isn’t very interesting. A story where your primary role is to create a market, to consume and come back for more is incredibly dull – try writing one someday. But the good news is that there really is a worthwhile story to be told… It has all the best elements you can imagine – survival against odds and courage and journeys through difficult circumstances. It has heroes and acts of heroism and passion and drama. It is the story of our lives in the circumstances we find ourselves in – and it is no accident that despite the fact that bazillions of dollars are spent telling us we are just consumers, and that’s all the story we could ever need, people by the thousands and sometimes even millions are frustrated and looking for a better story. And it is here.” [Sharon Astyk]

Huge numbers of us are really sick of this relentless and increasingly pathetic global party, this perpetual debauchery that civ has become, and would like to step out and cure our hangover once and for all. I am not so much concerned with personal survival, which I expect to be iffy even out on the doomsteads, as I am with embodying and passing on a different way of being. What I want most of all is this: that the behaviors underlying the tragedy unfolding in slow-mo all around us not be passed on to infect the future, albeit played out once again with oxen and watermills.

    “The only reasonable response, it seems to me, is to act as if survival [of humanity] is possible, and to build resilience throughout society as quickly as can be, acting locally wherever there are individuals or groups with the understanding and wherewithal. We must assume that a satisfactory, sustainable way of life is achievable in the absence of fossil fuels and conventional economic growth, and go about building it.” [Richard Heinberg]

Sometimes I remember all those desperate people who lived through the ghastliness of 14th century’s Black Plague. They too thought it was the end of the world. And in some ways, it was. Had they recognized that endings can mean brand new beginnings, they could have laid in very different patterns of relating and living, using the window of opportunity opened up by that drastic upheaval. Rather than amusing themselves with bawdy tales in their remote hideaways, Boccaccio, his friends and thousands like them could have spent their time crafting a new way of life. In the middle of that horror, any action apart from anxious waiting probably seemed futile to them. But maybe such a turning could have modified the future that is our own present, this lethal “engulf-and-devour” machinery that is our modern world. Can we do better? I salute the doomers who have dared to jump into un-modern life. I especially celebrate those who understand this is not about personal survival. Ultimately, none of us gets out of here alive. The real point is to craft a life worthy of passing on to the next generation.