Recently, in our national Norwegian news, I heard about a man who had gotten sick from SARS the last time there was an outbreak and had to self-isolate in his home.
The experience left an impression on him, and he realized he had been woefully unprepared. Unwilling to feel that way again, he went on to prepare an emergency storage of toiletries, hygiene products, canned and dry food for him and his family for three months.
There was a whole lot of talk about the secrecy of his stash, the secrecy of location, not to mention the secrecy of his identity. When asked why it was of course, because hungry people are desperate people, and desperate people are dangerous. There were also some comments about the feeling of “I told you so” towards all those people who had called him crazy and talked about him behind his back.
The whole article made me a little sad, so I wanted to write a post about why that kind of prepper mentality is not the kind we want to encourage our fellow ecofrugals to engage in.
The value of 3 months
Personally, I do not think 3 months worth of canned food sounds like… all that much? At least here in Norway, if a crisis struck while everything is dying and snow is starting to fall, you would not manage to get through winter and the hungry gap that follows before anything is big enough to provide proper nourishment beyond a few leafy greens.
I am not trying to bash this man for his solution to what must have been a very scary time for him. But I do wish we, as a society, could move beyond the post-apocalyptic “each man for themselves” Mad Max type thinking when it comes to preparing for an uncertain future.
Do you really think your neighbors are not going to notice it if you are the only one not growing thinner in an hitherto unnamed future crisis? Or do you really think several hungry, desperate people are not going to get into your basement bunker eventually?
But there is one thing that could stand against and even pacify desperate people:
Strength in numbers
We are seeing it everywhere, locally and globally. In the midst of a terrible pandemic, there are signs of hope and sunshine.
One neighborhood street in Hull implemented color coded paper in windows, to indicate if at-risk (and perhaps not internet or facebook savvy?) residents were in need of help or not. Kids all over the world are painting rainbows on windows and doors facing roads to cheer up locals and presumably themselves at the same time.
Locally, construction companies and other organizations who use the same PPE as doctors rallied together and collected all their unused masks before making one collective donation to our hospital. We aren’t even out of PPE yet, but people want to help and healthcare staff are preparing for the worst.
It is heartening to see neighbors who used to be strangers buy food for their at-risk neighbors. Of course, there are those who try to profit off the pain and panic, but there are also a whole lot of good people doing many small positive actions. We can choose which stories we lift up and focus on.
In a deep dive into permaculture, I listened to this extended interview with David Holmgren, co-originator of the whole concept. It is one and a half hours long, so might not be for everyone. But one of the main points he made is that if there is a societal collapse or descent, our future cultural structures will depend largely on what we have to build on from before the collapse/descent.
So if the descent is mainly dominated by angry, scared voices (and we know there will be a lot of those), that is what will affects the new systems that emerge.
But if we contrast that with voices of sharing and community, we have a chance of something different. After all, it is much easier to build a cohesive community before we need it.
If something happened to that world wide web we have become so increasingly dependent upon, what would we do? How would we interact with each other?
A self-sufficient community could welcome those aforementioned hungry and desperate in a crisis. Feed them and invite them into their group, providing care and strengthening their group at the same time.
The sum of the whole – community at its finest
A community is so much more than a neighborhood or a gaggle of friends. It is joy and laughter in being together, the sharing of complementary skills, and the knowledge that if your kid plays outside, other people keep an eye on them. We didn’t have a ladder for our apple tree last autumn, so we borrowed one from our neighbor and gave them a glass of homemade applesauce in return.
At viking markets I used to frequent in the summer here in Norway, kids of the market stall holders and other participants (not guests) would roam free on the market grounds. The children met every year, and knew both each other and many of the adults. If someone bumped their head playing with wooden swords, there would be someone who knew who their parent was and go get them.
As in the old saying, it takes a village to raise a child. Those markets were villages for the brief period each summer they were together. And they slept soundly knowing that if anything happened, their friends would alert them.
Even more beautifully, single individuals could really focus on one skill, which benefits the whole group. The silversmith traded gorgeous beads with the master weaver. Both happy with a product much better made than if they had tried to master both skills in the same amount of time.
A community is a win-win scenario where the sum of the whole is greater than each individual member. And together they form a cohesive whole.
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