A reader recently commented that he had moved to the coutnry and taken steps to arrange an independent and sustainable life. His reason: that he expects, when the climate shit hits the fan, that people may place their own survival above the rules of ethics, that we may attempt to scratch and claw our way to the top of the heap at the expense of others, that life for most people will become a “law of the jungle.” He was providing for his own escape from what he viewed as a future not unlike the post-apocalyptic nightmare of a Mad Max movie.
I sometimes have similar thoughts.
Then I remember hurricane Katrina. There was some selfishness and ruthlessness evident, but most of it that I remember was on the part of “officials.” Like the Bush-appointed head of FEMA, who considered finishing his meal at Denny’s more important than quick response to the emergency. I also remember that Bush’s FEMA subsequently held a fake “press conference” designed to deflect criticism by having fake “reporters” ask soft and gratuitous questions.
I also remember the story of a teenager in New Orleans who stole a bus — not so he could escape by leaving others behind, but so he could help others escape to safety when “official” procedures were gridlocked by stupidity.
I remember the devastating wildfires in California during 2007. In this case the “official” response was good, active, even proactive. Governor Schwarzenegger especially distinguished himself. But not as much, in my opinion, as the common man. When citizens were made refugees by the loss of their houses to fire, people took then into their own homes to help them get through. Some of those who lost their homes were friends of mine. Some of those who helped were too.
My point: don’t be so sure that when the shit hits the fan, people will revert to “every man for himself.” Sometimes that happens, but it also happens that people revert to “we must all hang together or surely we will all hang separately.” And it’s that very quality — the practice of helping each other — which has prevented us all from hanging separately. Including the scum who step on someone else to get to the last scrap of remaining food.
When people talk about the “law of the jungle,” they sometimes use the excuse that it really amounts to “survival of the fittest.” This is nothing more than an attempt to justify unethical, selfish behavior designed to save one’s self at the expense of others, by suggesting that their survival is justified by their “fitness.” But “survival of the fittest” really refers to survival of the fittest species. One of the many things that has contributed to our survival, as a species, is our inherent tendency to help each other. It makes us stronger, not weaker.
I suspect that some of the corporate CEOs who talk about how we’ll have to adapt to climate change do exactly that. They justify their own selfish greed by believing that they should do better than the mass of people because they are more “fit” — essentially, superior — so their prosperity at the expense of others is only right.
In my opinion, the “law of the jungle” is not “survival of the fittest.” It’s kill or be killed. And it’s evil.
It’s not just evil, it’s foolish. If you don’t realize that cooperation is more powerful, more fit, than selfishness, then you haven’t been paying attention. When the climate shit hits the fan, no amount of wealth or isolationism will guarantee survival. The only hope we have is cooperation. Truly we must all hang together, or surely we will all hang separately.
Instead of abandoning society to seek refuge in your own private island of sustainability and independence, I recommend we become more involved in society. And I truly believe in our ability to bring about change, change in our idiotic and destructive environmental practices, as a society. There’s plenty of selfishness and greed which will make it a lot harder. But don’t underestimate the ability of a society to come to its senses and work as a team. The power of unity is far greater than the power of greed.
And, don’t underestimate the power of one, or of a small group, of individuals to organize that unity and to bring about that change. It’s the only thing that ever has.