I was having lunch Friday at the CCCBE(The Centre for Co-operative and Community-Based Economy) at the University of Victoria. This is a highlight of my week, giving me an intense hour of discussion on various topics with some very smart people. Friday, four of us ran a bit long, unable to stop talking about not the changes that have to be made, but about how to spark the action around the changes that have to be made to make human life on Earth sustainable over the long term.
And its not like we weren't all active in some way. One was working on the CRD (the Capital RegionalDistrict) sustainability plan, another was active in sustainable development in Sooke—particularly around the former Western Forest Product lands that have been purchased by a developer keen to turn the place into a massive tourist development right on top of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail (a piece of wildness dear to my heart). Mention was made of the public hearings around the Trail development and how a number of old hippies and draft dodgers who had gone back into the hills around Sooke and homesteaded, had come out of the woodwork to raise their concerns about the development. But they also talked about how difficult it had been to farm in the area, how they had realised that they really couldn't do it alone.
When we moved back to the farm when the kids were tykes, we had much the same feeling—we'll be a self-sustaining unit and do it all ourselves. And thank heavens we moved to our family farm and had help from outside ourselves. While we knew a great deal of what we wanted to do, we really needed the knowledge, skills,training, and access to tools that the family provided.
Recently someone was talking to me and said that they would like to take that some path back to self-sufficiency, but they simply couldn't learn enough to be able to do everything, it struck me that we always think like this: its always about doing it alone. The cultural mythology is about the lone homesteader against the frightening wildness of the new land. The Canadian myth of survival (as Margret Atwood detailed) is always that one life silhouetted against the stark backdrop of this new country. We sing of the lone explorer searching for the way across this land, whether through the mountains of BC, across the drought-lands of the southern prairies, or at the top of the world searching for the North-West Passage. And, frankly, its pretty much bullshit.
Franklin, Palliser, Fraser, these guys weren't alone. They were part of teams. And their teams weren't lone explorers. They were ignorant goofs who were fed into the massive trade network that covered the Americas before European arrival by “native guides”.
But it has been necessary to build the myth that the Americas were empty land opened by Europeans—the truth is, those homesteaders were walking into functioning farms, villages, and cities emptied by European diseases. But rather than acknowledge our genocide, we would rather believe that strong individualists created nations out of nothing.
And even that is nonsense. Each incremental step in settling into First Nations lands was supported by developing infrastructure and supports. It did no good to homestead in Alberta if you couldn't get your products to market. You couldn't survive without manufactured goods coming from somewhere. Where people tried to do it alone ahead of the support structures, they quickly fell backwards through time, and looked more and more like the first Babylonian farmers, before they developed irrigation.
Because the truth is, we none of us do it alone. You need someone on the other end of that board, covering for you when you get sick, buying the stuff you make. You want to go back to the land? Start a small farm? There's not only a lot of other people interested in the same thing, but you'll be going into a functioning network of small businesses, suppliers, and the like who are there to help.
We are, whether we recognise it or not, members of communities; formal ones like trade unions, and informal ones like community supported agriculture members. We are social animals, not solitary ones (even if, like me, you like to be alone on occasion), and it is our communities that are important. And they create themselves. I'm reminded of reading Novella Carpenter's book and how the moment she started growing food in the unused lot next to her apartment block, a community spontaneously formed around the garden. Or how small actions around the world seemed to explode into the Occupy movement. Our actions can generate community, and our communities support us in our actions.
Because you're not alone. Nor am I. And the minute we look outside of ourselves, the instant we act, we discover we're not alone.