From Prior Posts:
- Setting the framework for a journey into the future, having a sense of what the destination could be: How Might Humanity Survive a Radically Changing World?
- The first steps in understanding the destination: The Goal — Episode I: The Basic Requirements
Security — A Sense of Safety
People think and act differently when they believe their wellbeing is threatened. Those of you who remember what it was like in the US before September 11, 2001 and what has happened to the American psyche since will appreciate this fact. When people are scared, or even just apprehensive, they do not function very productively. Our fear responses are an evolutionary inheritance from our biological predecessors who were often faced with survival decisions or worse, flight or fight necessity in the face of predation. Fear is a good thing under the right circumstances. But when there is little or nothing to fear as far as, for example, personal safety is concerned, then being afraid, nevertheless, produces suboptimal performance on ordinary tasks.
The traditional approach to maximizing security is to provide several different buffer conditions between ones self and the potential threat conditions. Some of the threat conditions that will need to be buffered against by an appropriate community design include:
- Food security:
Humans can and do think about the future. And one of the main concerns we have about that future is knowledge that we will have access to sufficient food resources. It isn't enough to see that, for example, this year we had a bumper crop of XYZ. We have to be thinking about the year after, and the year after that. There is no location on earth (except possibly parts of the equator, desserts, or high mountains) where the climate is so stable that good harvests can be certain. Now with the destabilizing effects of climate change already being felt, the likelihood of larger variations in annual climate swings is growing. The traditional buffers for crop variability have been based on food stuff storage over longer time scales than just, say, the winter. In grain growing regions granaries are used to hold grain stocks over longer time scales, but not much more than a year. Canning, salting, and other preservation methods are used to extend the shelf life of many food stuffs. The sapient society will show wisdom in learning these techniques and paying close attention to food preservation management.
The climate variability problem can also be mitigated by planting a wide variety of vegetables and fruits that do well under different conditions. It is getting harder to predict a season. This year, for example, the climatologists were predicting that the La Niña episode was winding down. This phenomenon brings drying conditions to the southern states and cooler, wetter conditions in the Pacific Northwest. This year, as with last, our cool weather crops, such as cabbages and lettuce, did well while our warmer weather crops, such as corn and summer squashes, did poorly. Now we hear that the La Niña appears to be reforming. Normally we would expect an oscillation between a La Niña and an El Niño, in which the conditions flip and we get a warmer, drier spring and summer in the Pacific Northwest. Clearly something major has shifted and we will not be able to count on even the long time scale variations that we've seen in the recent past. And in the future we won't have the climatologists making any kinds of predictions.
Each year it will be prudent to plant with the recognition that some of the crops will not do well, either from temperature or moisture conditions, or both. You will need enough land to allow this over planting strategy. And you will need to find a set of crop plants that do well in a wider variety of conditions as staples. We have been having a lot of luck with beets, sweet peas, and bush beans in both hot and cool years, for example. I plan to do some more in depth research on the hardiness of these varieties to add some depth to my personal experiences.
Another buffer you should be thinking about is for water in case you need to irrigate some crops. The water catchment will ideally be a small lake from a stream directly descending from the water shed (hills, mountains). An elevated secondary catchment can provide gravity fed irrigation. The lakes will also be sources for fish protein.
Finally I will just mention the need for a good seed conservancy program. In the not-too-distant future you will not be ordering seeds (or starts) from a seed store. You will need to prepare for the time when you will be responsible for collecting and husbanding your own seed collections. Seeds can remain viable, while dormant, for many years (see: Seed Dormancy).
These buffers will raise the likelihood of success in most years of achieving food security. To recount, the buffers are: larger than minimal land area for planting, planting larger varieties across ranges of temperature optima, preserving stocks for more than just winter consumption, water catchments for irrigation, and banking seeds. These buffers increase your chances but they are no guarantee. If you have chosen a territory that is subject to larger variations in climate conditions then you will have to build larger buffers. Should you be lucky enough to find that the climate variation is less than anticipated then you can reduce your buffer sizes in later years. Plan for the worst and hope for the best. And manage the process. You and all members of your community will meet this part of their security needs knowing that these factors have been taken into account. Parents will feel more secure knowing their children will still be able to grow food years from now even if the climate continues to change.
Location (territorial) security:
One of the most common criticism of my concept is that once society falls there is the danger of roving bands of marauders who will most certainly steal the community's wealth and destroy its productive capacity (or take it over). This criticism is duly noted and I must confess I can't come up with any reason why the collapse of society might not have a Mad Max phase. I do think, however, that the same factors that led to the collapse of society, mostly the availability of fuel, will put some more severe constraints on these bands in terms of their mobility and range. For the most part the major sources of food in the OECD countries as well as the emerging economies will be in urban areas. I suspect that marauders will focus on these areas first and as they do, the window of opportunity to reach more distant rural areas will shut down. In underdeveloped countries, bands of marauders are already forming and doing their worst (look at Somalia, for example). I expect that will develop further because people in these regions are already self-sufficient at a lower energy level. However, their ultimate resources are also very limited and I imagine they will be isolated to their current regions, not posing a great threat to those areas where a permaculture settlement such as I am describing would be located.
Nevertheless, taking my own advice about expecting the worst, it will still be prudent to prepare for some form of potential attack. Once again the buffer notion comes to the fore. The territory chosen should be of extreme distance from settled areas and major roads as possible. It already has to be rural land (given the physical requirements) so finding the right land away from the madding crowds is a first step.
That will provide some deterrence, but not completely assure noninterference from unfriendlies. Therefore a defensive posture needs to be part of the plan. Here you are not going to be happy with me for being circumspect regarding what sort of defenses I am talking about. The reason I am being less clear is simple. Loose lips sink ships. The people I have been discussing these matters with would not appreciate me giving away their secrets! Suffice it to say that defenses should not be based on guns and cannons (unless you have a way to make gun powder!) There are other, historically proven ways to protect the settlement, including ways to camouflage or hide the main settlement itself. Just recognize that tactical planning and preparedness, as well as having a village population of more than a hundred (fifty healthy men with the right instruments is also a deterrent), are necessary components of a wisely fashioned future. I don't expect the marauder phase to last for long. They will run out of resources to a point where any remaining bands will be small, scraggly, and unorganized. And then they, too, will die.
I myself have misgivings about a number of herbal medicinals, or what are claimed to have medicinal value. Nothing I have seen in the herbal world is about to replace my Zocor (and yes I have tried diet with minimal success, vis-a-vis, even with near-zero fat diet my cholesterol started climbing again!) Be that as it may, I have been told many times that there are at least mildly efficacious herbal medicines that should not be discounted.
I bring this up for the obvious reason that in that future world there will be no pharmaceutical manufactures producing wonder drugs to keep us alive or treat our infections, etc. There will be no MRI or ultrasound. No X-rays, no endoscopy. This means that the plan has to include provisions for doctoring, dentistry, and medications not too unlike those of the late 1700s and 1800s (especially in the Wild West!) There is little doubt that our ability to repair damaged or diseased tissues in the future will be severely reduced from the present.
Thus the strategy that needs to be adopted is prevention of accidents and disease as much as possible. Accidents are most often caused by thoughtlessness. I know. Last year I broke my right leg when I thoughtlessly stepped into a snow void near a log that appeared to be laying flat on the ground. I was exhausted from the hike up the trail in the snow (without snowshoes - thoughtless act #1). And just didn't have the presence of mind to poke before stepping. Oh well! Of course not all accidents are preventable, but I bet many are. The reason I even felt comfortable going on the ill advised hike was the knowledge in the back of my brain somewhere that there was such a thing as search and rescue in the event of trouble. I'd like to believe I would have exercised much better judgment (been just a tad more sapient) about going on that hike if I knew that there was no such possibility of rescue.
Choosing the right territory, having adequate food, water, and shelter, etc. will do much for maintaining good health (along with healthy manual labor). But it won't be enough. We do possess considerable understanding about diseases and their basic prevention through good public and personal hygiene. Managing wastes in thoughtful ways will be needed. So will taking immediate quarantine steps when some members come down with communicable diseases. It is likely that some of the more common ones, such as the flu, will actually diminish since these now spread by mass transportation carrying sick people from one community to the next. In that future, there will be minimum (if any) such migration for a long time. Even so, diseases spread in part by animal vectors will need attention.
Communities need to be large enough that several individuals can function as medical practitioners. There isn't a need that these practitioners have medical or dental degrees. But they should have training and be supplied with adequate library and instrument resources to handle the common health problems.
A major source of good health is nutrition. The food plants (and any animals) chosen should provide all of the micro as well as macro nutrients needed for human health. We know what these are. And there are simple ways to test the soils to make sure they are available. Recycling humanure is also needed to make sure that humans don't represent final sinks for these (as unsettling as this sounds it is also necessary to make provisions for recycling the dead).
As mentioned above, having physical security leads to a sense of psychological safety. Not being worried about where the food is coming from, or whether or not we are going to be able to defend ourselves releases the mind from tensions and fear. This allows each one to be more thoughtful in other activities.
When each person is operating with ease of mind another more subtle effect will be found. Each of us possesses what psychologists call a “theory of mind”, or built-in folk psychology in which we model the minds of our fellow beings based on our understanding of our own minds. Most of this is innate and subconscious. When we are anxious we do note that we often make mistakes and are unreliable to others. So we also are concerned when we see others being anxious. This sets up a positive feedback loop (not positive as in good results). When we see others anxious (or other emotions — called empathy) we become anxious and then they see us anxious. We all know we are going to make mistakes as a result. This is one of the reasons that soldiers hate to see nervous members in their units. These are the guys who could accidentally shoot you in the back during the charge up the hill. On the submarines that I served aboard when in the Navy, the regular crew had a ritual hazing of new crew members (even officers), fresh out of sub school, to see if they would break. It was vital to have no weak links in the chain.
Psychological security, then, includes knowing that your fellow villagers are psychologically strong and won't fail you in times of need. Also, knowing that they are not worried about the future (because you have taken care of the above issues) helps you not feel worry. Now we have a ‘positive’ positive feedback. For this reason, the choices of who gets to be in the community from the beginning have to be made with great care. This is, naturally, where my thoughts about higher than average sapience comes into play. A sapient society needs to have very sapient people as members. Until or unless there is some reliable psychological or genetic test for the sapience quotient of younger people (who will not have had an opportunity to build wisdom if they are still of reproductive age), the choices will need to be based on the judgments of older, already sapient individuals. The wise shall inherit the Earth.
I don't mean the type that the Republicans want to get rid of! Well, in a way what I am talking about has the same sentiment, just implemented on a more personal level. What every person needs to have is a sense that when they grow old, or are incapacitated by accident of disease, that they will not be abandoned or left to die uncomforted. The community has to be large enough to have enough slack such that some members in each generation can provide support for those who are aged or ill. Some indigenous peoples have had traditions whereby when an elder realized they were no longer able to provide value to the tribe they would drag themselves off into the wilderness to die and relieve the tribe of a burden. That is about as far as you can get from life-extending technologies to keep the infirm alive no matter what. I suspect that more sapient people will have that same sense. It would be painful, psychologically speaking, to know that you are a burden on the well being of younger generations (in whom you have already invested).
Another aspect of psychological security has to do with the comfort one gets from being in a large group of compadres. This is not exactly the same as the love and belonging needs to be discussed in the next installment, though it is obviously related. What I am referring to here is the comfort one gets from being surrounded by a population buffer. That is, the more people that surround you, the more you feel safety (in numbers). But of course this only works up to a certain limit. Psychologists have estimated that the comfort zone is around 100 to 150 people (in a tribe), but that we are good with larger numbers. The 500 number that I proposed as an upper limit for a community is tolerable but might only be optimally workable with all persons having higher than the current average level of sapience.
Finally I will mention the need to maintain a level of mutual altruistic sentiments among all members of the community. I have posited that higher sapience is correlated with higher levels of cooperation and altruistic sentiment. In any current population of Homo sapiens there are going to be some subset who tend to be much less altruistic. Called ‘cheaters’, these are people who will try to get away with non-sharing, selfish, behaviors, especially if they think they won't be caught and punished. Our moral sentiment of outrage for members of society who violate our rules of behavior, and the desire to punish them, derives from the same basic brain mechanisms as our sentiments to be upright (i.e., moral) citizens. We need this sentiment so that when cheaters do emerge from the background of mostly cooperators we can detect and delete them. My conjecture is that if the community starts with higher sapient beings in the first place, the frequency of cheater emergence should drop considerably (though obviously as with all genetically influenced traits, some regressions will doubtless take place).
The most common instrument for ensuring social security is the law. Making our social contracts explicit and agreeing en masse to obey them is likely to be just as important to our future communities as it is to us now. Groups will want to have some form of covenants that all agree to abide by, as well as a mechanism to provide (if it need be mild) enforcement. Each group will have to work these out for their own selves and purposes. I am not about to suggest what laws should be enacted. But human kind has thousands of years of experience with civil legalities from which to draw. It shouldn't be too hard to generate a workable set of covenants and laws for the community.
Security in Systems
Undoubtedly you have noticed how some of these security issues intertwine and interact. Once again I argue that the systems approach is the key to making this work. The above are probably not the whole story with respect to security needs. But from this sample you should now get the idea that planning and execution of the plan must entail providing for these kinds of issues.
As stated, we humans cannot pursue higher level needs if we are worried or anxious about our very existence. A permaculture-based community forms a network of factors that greatly increase the assurance of safety such that every individual can thrive. For example food security provides assurance that a large enough (stable) population in the community will comfort each individual who then contributes either directly or indirectly to the growing of adequate food to ensure food security. It is, as pointed out, a positive feedback loop where factors reinforce one another to the good of all.
None of what I have written here is really new stuff. Communities of settled farmers have been working out these systems for ages, ever since humans invented agriculture. So we have models for filling the needs. What will be different for future communities is that they will have a wealth of technology (albeit low-tech), methodologies, and general knowledge about how to live more comfortably than our ancestors did. They will have a planned, intentional community that uses systems thinking for management and sustainability even in the face of very uncertain climate conditions.
Of course this is not a guarantee. There are no guarantees in the real world. There are only practices that can increase the probability of success. That comes from knowledge and strategic thinking ability. This is why I believe that the most likely candidates for fitness in the future world will be the most highly sapient among us. For starters, they will be the ones thinking these kinds of things through right now and making the necessary preparations. Many groups may fail for any number of reasons — things they just didn't think about, perhaps. But many groups may succeed as well. The Earth is still a big place even though our species has touched nearly every corner, there are still many that are relatively unscathed precisely because they are hard to reach. Good luck and good systems planning to all.
The next installment will attack the higher levels of needs in the hierarchy, or how to provide for their pursuit in that future community. After that, in a future installment, I will provide some comments regarding the actual journey. That is, how will we get from where we are now, at the beginning of the end of civilization as we have known it, to the new kind of civilization, the sapient civilization? The only social enterprise that we can call ‘civilization’ is one in which all persons have access to fulfilling their highest cognitive potentials - to reach self-actualization.