I bet most people laugh at the thought, safe in the knowledge that they are totally insulated from ever starving to death.
In reality, most of us in the western world are as close to starving as any person in a third-world country wracked by war and famine and chronic corruption – plus three days. The ‘plus three days’ is important because that is just how long it would take for our system of food supply to break down irretrievably should just one link in our fragile supply system snap.
The ‘Just in Time’ system of food deliveries applies to many of our modern life’s necessities, whether petrol for the cars or power for our homes or medical support to save our lives. Coupled with aging and rust-ridden infrastructures, the danger of one little thing going wrong and the entire system collapsing is very real – remember Victoria’s gas crisis some years ago. One accident and the state was without any natural gas for weeks. Tens of thousands of homes and businesses without heating, hot water and cooking facilities.
Reflect also on our Australian and every other global authority’s complete inability to stop the spread of a simple virus. And it is just a flu virus, for God’s sake.
Disastrous breakdown could happen any time, anywhere, to any one of the fragile life-support systems trying to keep our society alive.
What makes the entire problem critical is the fact that, coupled with the fragility of our supply systems, very few of us have the ability to help or save ourselves. We pay others to do everything for us. We pay others to put food on our tables, provide us with heat and light, take away our rubbish, and soothe us with hours of mindless entertainment in front of glowing rectangles.
We are, as a society, a group of people who can no longer do anything for ourselves. We could not, for instance, provide our families with the basic stuff of life – food, warmth, shelter – should we be required to do so. We call this convenience. We call this civilization.
In the mid-1970s (when most people were still only one or two generations away from forbears who could actually do things for themselves) Dr E. E. Schumacher remarked in the forward to the first edition of John Seymour’s Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency (1976) that “people are becoming less self-reliant and more dependent than has ever before been seen in history. They may claim to be more highly educated than any generation before them; but the fact remains they cannot really do anything for themselves.”
Imagine if Dr Schumacher were to see today’s society. If he thought it bad in 1976, what would he think, now? We are a society who believes with a quasi-religious fervour that it is someone else’s responsibility to put food on our tables, and we grow angry, our anger fueled with our deep sense of entitlement, should the supermarket’s shelves be even a teeny bit bare, or if the petrol bowsers are just a little bit dry, or if we don’t have instant access to all the products and appliances that make our busy-busy lives just a little bit more bearable. In the name of modernity and convenience we have rendered ourselves utterly helpless – and if something does go wrong, then, by God, we expect ‘them’ to come save us (’them’ being a vague concept of authorities who should instantly arrive with lots of bottled water, microwaveable food parcels – and the microwaves and generators to process them of course – and, please, please God, some wi-fi so we can get back on Twitter and tell everyone how awful it was without air conditioning).
We are helpless. We have all been programmed to rely on ’someone vaguely in authority but we aren’t quite sure who’ for the necessities of life (food, warmth, shelter) while being given total freedom to self-indulge in everything that doesn’t matter a whit. Yummy mummies teach their children everything and everything and provide them with everything and everything money (or should that be credit??) can buy … but don’t teach them how to turn a seed into a meal. Because that’s OK. Someone else will do that for us. And because, of course, they have no idea how to do it for themselves. Increasingly, said yummy mummy is lucky if she knows how to take half a kilo of flour, a cup of water, a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of yeast and turn it into the staff of life.
If anything goes wrong in our lives, we are preconditioned to sit and wait for ‘the authorities’ to turn up and fix it for us. Witness what happened after Hurricane Katrina. The majority of people simply sat and waited, helpless, until someone turned up to save them … or until they died. That is what modern society has taught us to do. Fortunately, all the victims of Hurricane Katrina were lucky to have ‘authorities’ who leaped into action and were there within moments to shelter, feed and calm their fevered brows. (What? They weren’t? Oh …. geez, who woulda thought?)
Closer to home, witness the impact a simple novel flu virus has had on our hospital system – and a flu virus that has, for the most part and for most people, mild symptoms. I keep seeing reports in the papers that elective surgery is likely to be cancelled, states are flying in extra life-support systems from overseas, hospital systems are being strained almost to breaking point.
For a flu virus with mild symptoms for the most part.
Just as well it wasn’t a highly contagious virus from the Ebola family, huh? Not only have our authorities proved they cannot stop a virus from spreading, I am not laying bets that our just-in-time medical system will save us once we got infected. At that point all of us would be standing shoulder to shoulder with every third-world peasant staring death in the face.
We live in a dream. We think we are insulated from all hard knocks. We think ‘the authorities’ will always be there to save us. Very few of us want to wake up from that dream. (Do you want the blue pill or the red pill? Do you want illusion or reality?)
The reality, of course, is that we are all just three more days further away from starvation than the poorest person in the poorest third-world country.
Anyway, that’s just some Sunday ramblings from me, written in rest periods between shovelling soil and sorting seeds. Gosh, all that work makes me grumpy …