Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Coping strategies

Recently read a book entitled "Gang Leader for a Day". The author decides to do research on the projects in Chicago and ends up with a gang leader showing him the ropes. Don't know how true or authentic it was, but it was interesting to see that side of life.

One memorable part was about the people living in the projects and the struggles they have to go through. Everything is harder for them: they have no safety net, usually no cars, no savings, and everyone they know is in the same boat. One problem the author mentioned is that it is very rare for all the appliances to be working in an apartment in the projects. Hot water, the shower, the fridge, the stove - usually at least one of these will be broken (and won't be fixed any time soon).

So, the residents have evolved a strategy to deal with this problem. A group of about five women-headed families rotate using each other's apartments for various purposes - fixing dinner at Shaniah's place, taking showers at Laquesha's place, etc. A lot of barter and exchange goes on.

Now, money and unlimited energy have allowed us to have one of everything that we want. It's a lot rarer for the middle class to borrow something from a neighbor or a family member. Just look in the garage - how many tools do you have that you use maybe 3 or 4 times a year? We're guilty of this too - we even have a tile cutter. It's just less trouble to own whatever you want than to depend on someone else.

And how often do we ask and offer favors? It's easier and simpler, less complicated psychologically, just to pay someone to do what we want. I mean, how many of us really know our neighbors and what they can do anyway?

That mentality probably needs to end, and peak oil is just the way to do it. I envision lists of tools that can be borrowed from different people on your block - a thriving back-and-forth will strengthen the community and make more available to everyone. This strategy will be more necessary as electricity becomes intermittent and things begin to break.

After awhile, there may be only one house around that has a PV (photovoltaic solar energy) system - maybe they can host movie night once a month. There might be only two or three people with reel mowers - maybe they can loan out their mowers (or start a mowing service) until the lawns are eventually gone.

Knowledge will be just as important. The people who know how to do things will be valuable resources in a smaller world where you can't just outsource all your chores and problems and food-growing. People will be needed to teach others how to save seeds, start seeds, make raised beds, fertilize, weed gardens. People will need to lead the way and make the previously unimaginable into the necessary and commonplace. Composting, humanuring, woodstove cooking, guerilla insulating, tearing up lawns, biking everywhere, jerry-rigging, rainwater harvesting.

Someone will need to be ready to step up with an easy-to-teach system - for everything - that can be made with readily available materials. Maybe we are becoming those people now.

1 comment:

Lewru said...

In New Caledonia the Melanesians "borrowed" everything back and forth, which could be very good or very bad. It was considered extremely poor form to refuse, but there was no expectation that anything borrowed would ever come back to you. So if Joe got asked by Fred to borrow his brand new watch, there it went - from Fred to Mike to Wallace to Jackie - and off into the distant blue yon. Hopefully new cultural dictates will be somewhat malleable. :)