April 18, 2015: Catch 22
How does one go about rebuilding civilization? What does it take to organize one’s friends, family and neighbors to start the rebuilding process? What needs to be provided? What needs to be left to the residents? What needs to be governed? When does more of a laissez-faire approach work better?
These are the questions I face as the newly minted leader of the Union Creek Collective.
Certainly, I have opinions. I’m sure everyone else in the Union Creek area has theirs as well. Some, I know, would like more of a communal approach where we combine everyone’s supplies and abilities and distribute them proportionally. Not surprisingly, it is those who are not as well prepared who espouse this view. Some of the more well-prepared are much more willing to give than others.
Interestingly, the members of the early Christian church lived a communal life. I looked up the passage. In Acts 4:32, everyone that believed was “of one heart and soul: and not one of them said that any of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common”.
I have to admit, on the face of it, what the early Christians did in Acts chapter 4 sounds like Communism to me. Stepping back, however, one has to put the actions of these individuals in context. At the time, the concept of capitalism was nascent at best. Moreover, mass production – as in “the means of production” in the communist manifesto – did not yet exist. Most of the early believers were either slaves, whose standard of living was frequently better than land-owning free men, or members of families that owned shops or small farms.
Except for the slaves, this sounds a lot like our current situation. One could argue that those living in the FEMA camps in the more urban areas are the equivalent of slaves. One could also argue that we have not yet recovered to the point where families have specialized in trades and commerce among themselves.
My view, and I’m sure that of many others in the Union Creek neighborhood, is colored by my experience with an advanced society, highly specialized and centralized production of goods and, in general, a capitalist view of economics.
We have many Christians among the members of our community, but not everyone is a believer. Not everyone would agree, I’m sure, that what worked in the first century A.D. would work now.
I’m sure Pete and Theresa would be able to provide some interesting perspective on the lives and times of the Lakota Sioux. Even with my limited knowledge of their culture, I know that the Native American tribes were not capitalists. They believed that the means of production – the earth, in their minds – belonged to everyone and that everyone was accountable for utilizing the earth’s resources responsibly.
Hmm … perhaps not that different from the early Christians. They believed that everything belonged to God and that everyone was accountable for utilizing their resources to achieve the Great Commission.
I’ll bet, if I gave it some more thought, I could come up with quite a few other similar examples.
What common thread is woven throughout these examples? Why were so many so willing to give up so much? Why did the Sioux not hoard the buffalo – or kill them all like the Caucasian settlers – to the detriment of the Arapaho or Pawnee? Why were the early Christians willing to give up everything they owned to support their brothers and sisters as well as their mission?
The common thread, I think, is a higher calling. The Native Americans, the early Christians and hundreds of other groups throughout history put themselves in second place. The earth and all that it provided was the top priority for the Native Americans. God and the mission were of primary importance to the early Christians.
Are we willing to make a similar sacrifice to rebuild civilization? Will any of us even consider putting our survival at risk for a greater cause?
I’ve said it before, “survival is selfish”.
Is there a cause for which I am willing to lay down my life … to put at risk the lives of my family and friends?
Is it better to live as a slave than to die as a free man? Is it nobler … or more practical or better in some other way, to merely survive than it is to rebuild civilization?
A lesson from the early years of my consulting career comes to mind. I was working with a client who was struggling financially. I had been engaged to help them map out a way forward … a path to survival. Youthful, eager and aggressive, I worked tirelessly with the line managers as well as the rank and file to understand their organization and outline a grand plan for a return to their former greatness. Before I took the plan to their board of directors, I sat down with their president. He was an embattled veteran of the corporate wars. He had spent his time in the trenches before climbing to the top of the hill as commander and he had the scars and war stories to prove it.
I laid the plan out before this wizened man and then sat back for his response.
“David,” the savvy old warrior began, “your plan is exceptional. It’s obviously well thought-out. You’ve captured the essence of where we’ve been and how we can leverage our existing strengths while developing new competencies to launch our future success. Quite honestly, I’m inspired. Unfortunately, I’m also very concerned.”
I remember leaning forward in the luxurious leather guest chair, resting my arms on his polished cherry wood desk, interlacing my fingers and matching his body language as I’d trained myself to do. I looked unflinchingly into his ancient eyes.
“What concerns you?” I asked simply.
“What do we do if we don’t survive tomorrow?” he replied just as simply.
Always answer a question with a question. He’d read the same books and studied many of the same masters that I had. I’m sure of it.
His uncomplicated question pierced right to the heart of the gap in my plan. The company was teetering on the brink. Sales were flagging. Expenses had been on the rise for some time. New competitors were beating them at the game that they had invented.
“If we don’t turn things around in the next few weeks,” the president continued quietly, “we’re done. All of this long-range, strategic stuff will mean nothing.”
Perhaps my business experience will turn out to be just as valuable to our survival as any of my other life experiences.
That’s the key. We need to focus on survival. Like that company years ago, we’re teetering on the brink. We could be wiped out at any moment. A poor growing season could starve us to death. A simple virus could wipe us out. If our well dried up … we’d be done just like my consulting client. A band of marauders could attack us. We could be overrun by an exodus from the urban areas. We stand, almost literally, with one foot in the grave – Lord knows we’ve dug enough of them since last fall – and the other on a banana peel.
OK, we haven’t had bananas in a while but you get my drift.
One little nudge in the wrong direction and the Johnsons … the entire Union Creek neighborhood … could cease to exist.
What, then, is our vision?
It’s as simple as that. We must survive. If we don’t make it through tomorrow … rebuilding civilization is a moot point.
With that said, I still stand by my response to my client years ago.
“You’re absolutely correct,” I consented. “If your company doesn’t survive the next few days or weeks, the long-range plan doesn’t matter. I’ll do some more work on the plan with that in mind. However, if you stop believing that you’ll survive the next few weeks … if you give up on the long-range plan, you’re just as finished as if you don’t remedy the short-term issues.”
I can still see the man’s face in my mind. He leaned back in his throne-like chair and looked at the ceiling. His brow wrinkled. His shoulders slumped.
“You’re right, David,” he sighed. “We can’t afford to lose track of either. We have no choice but to stop the hemorrhaging today while maintaining hope that we will still be alive a year from now … five years from now.”
“Without hope, there is no tomorrow.” I agreed.
So, there it is. One of the ways that we ensure our survival tomorrow is to keep hope alive for the future. Yet, the only way we make it to that planned future is to survive tomorrow. It’s that simple. It’s that complicated. A bit of a Catch 22, if you will.
Without hope, there is no tomorrow. Without tomorrow, there is no hope.