Charles Hugh Smith: We Desperately Need Shared Values, Connection & Positive Social Roles

Our culture is becoming a "social desert"
Tuesday, July 3, 2018, 12:51 PM

We've recently published a series of commentary on PeakProsperity.com addressing the epidemic of disconnection, dissatisfaction and demoralization that society is increasingly suffering from today:

Together, these articles beg the question: In an age of more "prosperity" than the human species has ever experienced, why are so many of us feeling so empty?

And what solutions exist out there to offer us more meaning, connection and purpose in our lives?

Joining us this week is Charles Hugh Smith, who gives a detailed account of the root causes of what's ailing society, as well as the essential ingredients for repairing it.

Our culture is ill.

Our families have been depreciated and demoralized. A lot of people don't get along with their families. They don't have any family connections. Or they see their relatives once every few years or something. 

Of course this is understandable in an economy where we have where people are always moving around. You have to move for your job. Or you have to move for your kids' schools. There's a dozen reasons why you've got to move far away and then lose connection to your family of origin. Distance makes it much more difficult to maintain. But, however it occurs, this loss of sense of family is a core factor plaguing our culture. 

Then there's the erosion of values and faith. Those experiences are primary in their participants' lives. You have got to have faith or value. Something you really value and you're willing to sacrifice for. You find other people in the same boat. You're going to have something that's really exciting and positive. Everyone is going to get positive feedback when they join.

A strong belief in a value system will allow you to congregate around things. Like for artists it's about finding a cheap place to live and sharing your art with other people who are just as excited about doing their art. That's a value system. I will sacrifice everything else to support this. Shared values are the anchors or magnets for social engagement. 

And when people congregate around shared values, there are positive social roles for everyone. In other words, you could be unemployed. You could be at a low point in your family.  You could have a lot of things going wrong in your life. But when you show up for that organizational meeting, people brighten, "Hey, you're here! We need you. Your contribution is important."

It just makes an enormous difference in your outlook on life. Your demoralization goes away -- at least, as long as you're participating in community groups with positive social roles.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Charles Hugh Smith (53m:56s).


Chris Martenson: Welcome everyone to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host, Chris Martenson. It is June 27, 2018. Now, I have written a number of pieces lately that have been kind of off the reservation from describing the world through the economic lens. That's often a lens that I look through.

Recently, I have a set of pieces. There is really a trio. One of them was fully public. It was called Facing Our (Horrible) Horrible Future. That one really was just looking at extrapolating the trends we're facing right now. If we carried those forward, and we went out to 2040, and then looked back, would we be proud of ourselves or have regrets?

Well, if we lost all of the megafauna of the world, and trashed our ecosystems, we might look back with a lot of regret. That was the point of that piece. It really caught a lot of traction. It really got widely circulated.

I got a lot of feedback from that. Encouraged by that, I wrote another piece called The End of Growth, which really looks at the fact that we need to face up to this fact. That growth can't be infinite. That seems like a very obvious statement. Yet, it's rather controversial still and in some circles.

Then there was an Off The Cuff podcast, which I did for my subscribers where I just free formed. It's Off The Cuff. I really went into looking at the demoralization that people are reporting, and the senses of isolation, and disconnection, and beginning to connect some dots around that story. I want to continue that today.

We're going to have a very amazing podcast today. I have with me today, Charles Hugh Smith. You know him as the author of the Of Two Minds blog, and a prolific author of many books, and as well sometimes a contributing editor at Peak Prosperity. Charles, welcome to the program.

Charles Smith: Thank you, Chris. Well, I was very excited by the engagement of the Peak Prosperity community in your last say, several two-part essays, and your Off The Cuff, A New Framework for the Future. As a participant, I'm very interested to hear your kind of summary of the feedback and the discussions that your Off The Cuff created in the community.

Chris Martenson: Well certainly, here is one way I measure it. When people who have been registered and, or subscribe for many years finally come up for air and maybe post their first ever comment, or maybe their tenth in one year. I measure it in terms of people coming out who normally aren't engaged in active and actively engaged in the commenting community.

This time people said, "Hey, this one really hit home." This one really landed. This feels right even if it doesn't feel great to ponder this. If I was going to summarize them, I think it's really what I am detecting. Again, I might be that guy who just bought a Prius. All I see is Prius is on the road, right. But my confirmation bias notwithstanding, what I'm noticing Charles is that more and more people are feeling very isolated, very worried, and very disconnected.

That runs in stark opposition to what I'm going to call the economic propaganda that's out there. The story of economic propaganda is, "Hey, it's all good," multi-decade lows, and unemployment claims, and unemployment itself, but the truth is people are feeling really stressed, really unhappy.

Really in many cases that there is something deeply wrong with the story. I think that in order to understand that, why things are so deeply wrong with the story. What you have to do. What anybody has to do and not you, but all of us.

What we have to do is see that larger picture and understand that demoralization happens when you cognitive map doesn't match the reality anymore. When you no longer feel like you have any hope. Or there is something deeply wrong in your story. More and more people are reporting that.

I think it makes sense, if you just track what's happening ecologically. You say, "Well why should I get all excited about building a huge career and going down the consumer pathway if the entire world…?" If this is my point of view. If I'm holding the point of view that the entire world might be trashed.

It's really hard to get excited about participating in that. That might be an explanation that we might want to look for. We could rotate that Rubik's Cube and say, "Well, just economically what's happened is a matter of policy in the United States and elsewhere in the Western World." The very, very wealthy have been handed basically free, risk-free wealth by the central banks.

Of course they don't create wealth. They redistribute it. They took it from everybody and gave it to the few. Maybe you find that rather unfair and unsettling on some level. However we want to look at this, that's really what I was trying to poke at in that series. I think people respond and said, "Well poked." You got me with that one.

I want to really discuss with you that problem definition stage. It's there, but it's meaningless. This was the real point of what I was going on about in the Off The Cuff pieces. Unless we have a narrative, a framework for action that we can take, it doesn't help to sort of poke at that demoralization. It might even be cruel.

This is really where I want to take this conversation today. As is, and saying, okay, given what we're seeing in the world, what can we do about it? What should we do about it? How can I personally participate in that?

Charles Smith: Yeah. There are so many things I want to say about your Off The Cuff. But let's start with that. Because I think that's the core. My comment in that thread, which was filled with very significant, meaningful, lengthy commentaries from other people in the community. It was just like an amazing….

I was like a sponge just soaking up all of this sort of insight and personal experience that people were sharing. But I guess my main takeaway and what I was trying to comment on in the thread. Why we're so crippled and demoralized is partly because we have lost so many opportunities that used to exist a few decades ago for social engagement.

In other words, there were layers of social organization that were not run by the government. In other words they weren't like state imposed. They were part of the social fabric.

These were social organizations, and community groups, and that kind of thing. Without that organizational structure, it's very difficult to act on your own. It's really hard to organize something from scratch. It's a huge effort.

Chris Martenson: Yeah.

Charles Smith: The learning curve and everything is just gigantic. You run across a lot of crazies. I mean, I have done the whole thing. Okay. I have joined. I have contributed. I have tried to start stuff. Starting stuff is like two orders of magnitude more difficult than joining something that's already functioning. I want to comment about what makes an organization function?

Number one is there are positive social roles for the people who join it. In other words you could be unemployed. You could be at a low point in your family. Happiness, you could have a lot of things going wrong in your life. But when you show up for that organizational meeting, people brighten, "Hey, you're here." We need you.

Your contribution is important. Look at what we have accomplished so far this week on our project. It just like makes an enormous difference in your life. Your demoralization goes away at least while you're participating in that community group that's got positive social roles.

Chris Martenson: It was interesting at this off-site [PH] I just attended, which was a Blue Sky session to talk about the future of work. A super diverse audience there participating in this exercise, four of them were high level ex-military.

They had very interesting roles. One was a biochemist for the Army and so on. They all reported that same thing that Sebastian Junger was talking about in Tribe, which you're touching on right now.

That when they were in the military – and these are all ex-military. It was clear what the roles were. How they fit. What their contributions were. They had a real sense too; one woman was talking about her experience in the Army. She said, "In the Army, they would put you in a new role and fully expect that you were just going to step into that new role."

She had all of these different roles in her life, basically from HR, to logistics, and to biochemistry. Whatever, they're like, "Here, do it." All of them reported for themselves and for people they knew who had also come out of the military.

That same ridiculously hard transition to step back into this culture in the United States and find anything that had meaning or purpose; including a tale about one gentleman, a high level Special Ops. He comes out. He has all of this extraordinary talent and skill. He has got a really good sales job now.

But, he reported to his friend. He said, "Yeah." This doesn't have any meaning. I'm making money, but this. I don't get it. There is no point to this, right. I think that's what you're getting at here, which is to say that if you had this social structure. Where whatever it might have been, say a Rotary Club, an Elks Club, a bowling league.

But there was a point to it. It had meaning. It had purpose. We could get that from our engagement. Right now, I would say that based on the stats I'm looking at, the social engagement is kind of at multi-generational lows..

I would have to think. Whether it's church attendance. Or, I guess even these various clubs. Like I just mentioned Rotary and whatnot. I think those are all kind of reporting diminished attendance at this point. I think.

Charles Smith: Right. A lot of people have tried to explore why this is. I mean, the famous book Bowling Alone by Putnam. There have been other commentators, which have had insights on this. I think in my personal opinion, the most powerful trend is the government now is everything to everyone.

In other words it's your source of income. If you're out of work, or you're disabled, or, indirectly, or directly. It's like it's your livelihood. It's also telling you how to live. What to do.

Everything now comes through the government. In other words if you want something done, you have to go lobby your local government or whatever. In the past when the government had a smaller footprint, and by government, I mean all layers of government, the federal, the state, and the local.

Then people relied on social organizations for welfare. In other words, you joined a social welfare group. You put up some, a little bit of dues. People in need in that organization then received those funds.

Then, if you had a bit of hard luck, then you could draw upon that as well. If we had to do a Venn diagram of people's sort of engagement with the world. Their engagement with the government was basically near zero. Say I'm thinking about the late 1800s, say.

Chris Martenson: Right.

Charles Smith: The Gilded Age, the boom of railroads, of mining, and expansion, blah-blah; which was a time of widespread prosperity in between the busts right, the booms, and the busts. But People's interaction with the government was basically zero. There was no income tax.

You really didn't deal with the law unless you were engaged in some sort of really obvious criminal activity. Otherwise, the government was not a part of your life. Your social engagement was all with the community. Now it has sort of reversed.

Everybody's engagement is almost 100 percent with the government. The government dominates the entire structure of society. All interactions are mediated by the government. In other words you want to make it easier to ride a bicycle in your town?

You got to go through the government. Why join a bike club? What are we going to do? We need to lobby the government. Then, we need to lobby the government for government money, which is basically taking away money from some other taxpayer, right. Where we're borrowing it into existence, right?

I think we have really skewed something in that we have allowed a lot of control and the narrative to be centralized by people who are actually self-serving. It's not really serving the community.

It's really serving themselves. All of these kind of centralized things are actually organized around protecting some elites' take of this situation.

Another thing I wanted to mention. I think we've also gotten caught up in this thing. That we're all individuals. We're atomized individuals in a consumer society. The only way we can get any engagement is to take a selfie and post it on social media, right. Or, we put up a positive facade.

I read this very tragic account. Maybe you did too, in the Boston Globe newspaper, about a teen who committed suicide against as so often is the case, out of the blue, and no warning signs – and had a positive facade. In other words, she seemed to be doing well at school, and seemed to be happy, and all that stuff.

That's kind of the way that we're going as a society. There is huge pressure on us to put up a positive press facade as opposed to actually developing social engagement.

Chris Martenson: Yeah. Look, a bunch of great points in there. Let me start with the government side, sort of this outsourcing. This reminds me of another Charles, Charles Eisenstein interviewed awhile back.

He has got a whole piece on the gift economy, and talking about how a way to begin to correct some of these things is to find things that we currently pay money for. That we used to get for free, including childcare from that relatives, and entertainment with music on the porch, all of that. This is sort of poking into this idea.

What we have done is we have become atomized, isolated, yeah, all of that. At the same time, they were busy posting happy pictures to Instagram saying, "Look at this amazing meal I just had in this beach." As we know from the work of Bernat Browne [PH], she talks about vulnerability, isolation, shame, all of these things; and basically says that the key, the key to really being connected to other humans is the exact opposite of creating the facade.

It's about being vulnerable. It's about actually sharing. It's about letting people really see what's in there. That was something that I think, the reason we had such a rich response. Thank you for characterizing it so beautifully in the comments section.

I was baring my heart there. I'm saying hey, I'm feeling some grief here. I consider myself relatively observant and connected to the natural world. I'm of an age where the level of baseline decline from when I was a kid to today is astonishing, terrifying, ridiculously fast.

I'm sadder for it. I would love to reverse that. If we were going to unpack this. We're going to get back and sort of connect the, "Hey, we've outsourced everything," to basically a bunch of bureaucrats.

We know we want to be more connected. We're being less connected. Charles, how do we go about beginning to reverse that? What are some steps that we could be taking here?

Charles Smith: Because I think the social networks we have discussed have been eroded to the point where there's lots of memory of how they even work.

When you go to a lot of these social, these traditional social clubs like in organizations. Say the Rotary Club, it's for small business people. A lot of people use it as sort of a real-life LinkedIn. You're going to meet all of these other small business people.

But the age, it depends on your club, right. You might be in a place where a lot of young people have been recruited successfully. But, I think as a generality, a lot of these traditional social groups. The age skew is like to baby boomers.

People in their 50s, and 60s, and 70s are members. There are very few people in their 20s. If you're under the age of say 40 or 50, you may not have any experience at all of any social group that's not run by a corporation or by the government.

In other words, a corporate thing might be wait Weight Watchers. That's better than nothing, right. I mean it is very helpful to meet other people trying to get control of their diet and fitness. I'm not belittling Weight Watchers. But it is a for profit corporation.

That's a little different than say a group that doesn't have profit as its primary motivator. How do you start a group? I think the one positive trend that I see. That is, one opportunity, is having to do with food and gardening. In other words there's often a gardening group or a community garden that somebody in the government allowed or created, right.

Then you join. You could get your little garden plot. Then, you're starting to interact with other people. Or giving away food that's in excess, right, I mean. There's a lot of programs where they're gathering food that's still good and distributing it to people in need.

There is that and Farmers Markets. That's one of the few things I have seen that have emerged where they didn't exist before. Somebody put in the grunt work and got the Farmers Market going. Those are positive trends. It's like what can we learn from that, and apply it to other parts of our lives, and try to rebuild some of these community organizations?

Just to kind of mention one of the other themes you brought up, which was scarcity, and abundance, and regenerative, and extractive. I think a lot of our demoralization and depression arises from the fact that deep down we know we're just extracting. We're not really adding or regenerating, right.

Chris Martenson: Yeah.

Charles Smith: It's sort of as a base point. I think that if an organization, if you're going to start an organization or be one of the founding members. If people can get the feeling right away that this is regenerative, that's going to make a huge difference; and in terms of the enthusiasm, of people who are going to come in, and join you.

Chris Martenson: Certainly there's an entire movement of mostly younger folks who are going back to small scale farming. Really with the intention of being regenerative about it, and not just to be a small farmer who is basically mining macro and micro nutrients. But really tending the soil, and closing the loops, and flows of all the nutrients, and improving like it's a win-win-win.

I'm earning a living. The soil is getting better. People are eating healthier food. That has meaning. That has real meaning and purpose. It's complex. It's hard work. It's worthy and all of that. Whereas I could easily understand being demoralized.

I was reading this account, Charles, of a farmer in the Central Valley which basically is what, four inches of rain a year. It's all irrigated. There is salt in the earth because the irrigated water has trace amounts of salt in it. But over time, you evapotranspirated enough water with salt in it. Guess what, you got salt in the soil.

This farmer knew, the third generation farmer. He said, "I don't think this is going to four. Because my grandpa, my dad, and I we have ruined this soil. He knew that. He was still farming. He felt demoralized about it. Of course, imagine being trapped in a system where you know you're basically ruining the thing that you should be caretaking.

I can't imagine anything a lot more demoralizing than that. But of course, the farmer has that direct front line experience of that. It's harder for the person living in an apartment in a city to sort of feel that connection. But if you just crack the newspaper, you understand.

You are part of this larger thing called humanity. Here are the things we are doing. To get past that, I think we have to really begin to understand. How is it that our actions are moving things away from simply extractive and back towards regenerative?

Listen, buying and eating organic foods, so you're not contributing to the neonicotinoids insect die off Armageddon that's happening. That's a good idea. Supporting your local farmers who are farming in the ways that you would like to support by buying their food, even if it's more expensive than the stuff you would get at the Safeway or the BIG Y.

Yeah. That's stuff you can do, growing your own. Or even if you have any plot of land. You don't want to have a garden. But take the plants that are doing nothing essentially and replace them with things that are great for birds and pollinators.

You can use your intelligence to make any plot of land far more abundant than Nature will alone left to its own devices. Because hey, that's a great way to bring our intelligence into this. Those would be sort of like personal individual things anybody could do just related to that one idea of how is it that my eating can contribute to either extraction or regeneration?

Charles Smith: Right. I guess my thought on this whole context that you have created. If you can to share that experience of doing your little part. Say in other words, instead of just keeping that to yourself –

Chris Martenson: Right.

Charles Smith: – Then you accomplish that in your garden. If you could share that, then you get positive feedback. Then you encourage other people to do the same thing. There is that social element that's lacking. I want to kind of go back to that.

There are a couple of built-in human conditions or genetic narratives, if you will that we can we can build on. One is family. When you mentioned Charles Eisenstein's gift economy. If you look at like larger family networks of extended families.

I am connected to one through my wife's family in Hawaii. Because that's of that culture. People tend to stay in one place there. That is their families haven't necessarily spread all over the U.S. like many other mainland families.

But it's like abundance. In other words your tree is loaded with fruit. You call up all of your cousins and stuff, or second cousins. I mean we're talking about a network that extends to dozens upon dozens of people. Then your friends, and so you're giving away your abundance.

Then there, you're making this positive social connection. Of course, the feedback is they're delighted with whatever you were able to provide them. Then, if they had too much, then they gave it to their friends, right. Then this abundance spreads out through the network. Then other people will respond.

When they have made an extra pot of chili or something like that, then guess what. You're going to get some. The family network is huge. When I look at why our society is so ill. Why it's so sick. It's the natural world. But it's also the inner human world.

Our culture is ill. It's like the family have been depreciated and demoralized, too. A lot of people don't get along with their families. They don't have any family connections. Or they see their relatives once every few years or something.

Of course it's understandable in the economy we have where people are always moving around. You have to move for your job. Or you have to move for your kids' schools. Or there's a dozen reasons why you have got to move far away. Then you lose your…. It makes it more difficult. But it is a core factor.

Then the other thing is values and faith. We don't talk about faith because that means, oop, it's religion, and off the topic. You can't talk about it. We're going to offend somebody. But I don't care what faith you have. That's a huge factor in community and social engagement.

From my own personal experience, when I was younger, I was very active in the American Friends Service Committee, which is the sort of social action arm of the Quakers. Those experiences were like just primary. I mean they were primary in my life. Because you're acting on faith with other people. I want to include values in here.

Because there are a lot of like artists' communities that have a strong sense of values. That acts as sort of a replacement, if you will for faith, right. In other words a strong belief in a value system will allow you to congregate around things. For artists it's like just finding a cheap place to live and share my art with other people who are excited about doing their art.

That's the value system. I will sacrifice everything else to support this. I don't know if I'm being clear about this. But I think those are the sort of anchors or are magnets for social engagement. Right?

Chris Martenson: Yeah.

Charles Smith: You have got to have faith or value. Something you really value and you're willing to sacrifice for. You find other people in the same boat. You're going to have something that's really exciting and positive. Everyone is going to get positive feedback when they join.

Chris Martenson: That's a great set of points. It reminds me of a conversation I had last year with a good friend of mine who is a little unconventional. He did a lot of Burning Man kind of stuff, and involved in fairly experimental sort of social structures, and whatnot; so a fairly creative and risk taking sort of person socially speaking.

He had been involved in a variety of so-called intentional communities or household, intentional households, and whatnot. I'm always interested in that. Because we get that question a lot from people. Hey, I feel like I want to go belong to part of a community, maybe even an intentional one. What are the…? What should I be looking for?

He gave me a piece of advice or an observation of his. I thought it really stuck. Sometimes when somebody tells me something, Charles. I can tell. It just goes right in. I'm like, "That was important." I was asking him about it. He said, "The chance of survival for an intentional anything, household, neighborhood, and community is actually quite low."

In his experiments and observations, he had discovered that when these communities get around and organize around agreements, they never work, right. We might all say, "We're all going to agree that we think farming is important." We're going to have a little community garden. We're all going to agree to keep the kitchen a certain way.

Whatever, cleanliness or whatever, whatever the agreements are. He said instead, the only ones he has seen that were durable were, and to your point. They shared values. Because an agreement is only good until the shit hits the fan.

Then, you find out what's actually under there. If you don't have the same values under there, it just doesn't work out. When I was looking at this, I realized probably the most resilient community I have seen is the Mormons. Adam and I had a couple of opportunities. We were out in Salt Lake City. We got the big tour of their massive granaries which could feed every Mormon in the world for a year, if necessary.

The fact that the Mormons have their own resilience built into every basement, having food, and all of that. But the thing that really caught me. We were taken to – like just imagine a really well-packed and well-stocked shopping grocery store.

You walk in there. It's just people pushing around carts, and just grabbing stuff, and putting all of that. But what was happening? There was no money involved. These were all people who had fallen down on hard times.

They walked into the store with a chit from the from the bishop of the ward. It was just a piece of paper that said this person needs groceries. They would hand that chit in, and just walk around, and fill up their carts, and walk out. Where did all of those groceries come from?

Well in the value system of the Mormons, they give up one meal a week. Say it's lunch, Friday. They skip it. Then what that food would have cost them whether they were eating out or preparing it. They sort of calculate that and put a few dollars and some coins in a little envelope.

That goes into the collection tray. Then, all of that money funnels up. It funds this store. That's the way that they aren't relying on the government. They're taking care of their own. If you know that you're part of a social network; and when you're down on your luck.

You need help with groceries. You go and you get them knowing that you're going to contribute back into that system at some future point. You become tied to that. They had a value system that said, "This is important enough to us that we're going to give up one meal a week each." We're going to contribute into this.

That's why that works, right. Because they have the shared value. It has got a lot of social cohesion. It's all done by volunteers. I was really taken by it. I was envious of it. I was like that's really cool. It was a great example.

Charles Smith: Yes. To your point about the difficulties in intentional communities. I had discovered a trend called co-housing, which was fairly new in the late '80s when I was writing about it. Because there was a couple, an American couple who had visited Denmark where co-housing is long-term trend.

They had gone over there to absorb how it worked. They brought the model back to the U.S. and started in the Bay Area here and in California. I got very interested in it and discovered that it's for the same reason you just described. It often degrades to sort of a minimal standard of engagement.

In other words people are idealistic about it. You can have ideals that you feel are expressions of your values. But your values are only expressed by what you sacrifice for. I think this is one of the things that was in Sebastian Junger's book that you just mentioned.

The core here to the part of the Mormon food bank that you describe. You sacrifice something. You sacrifice a meal. You go hungry for a couple of hours. You pony up some bucks. That's what finds it. If in our society why we're ill is if convenience is our new God.

Convenience is our religion. That's our idea of progress. If it's more convenient, it must be better. But of course everything valuable is totally inconvenient. You want to learn to play music. It's super inconvenient. Okay. It's the most inconvenient thing on the planet.

Chris Martenson: Yeah.

Charles Smith: You want to become fit? There is no convenience at all in fitness. It's brutal. Okay. I say this as somebody who is 64 years old. I can still lift a lot of weight and blah-blah. But it's because I'm doing everything It's absolutely inconvenient.

Chris Martenson: Yeah.

Charles Smith: Right, I mean. I am denying myself that second scoop of ice cream, really horribly inconvenient. I can go on and on. Every form of social engagement we're talking about is inconvenient. It's like it's dark. It's cold. I don't feel like going out. Guess what, the meeting starts at 7:00.

Or gosh, it's Saturday morning. I volunteered for the work crew. I really wish I could just like lay here for another hour. But I got to get up, totally inconvenient. Sacrifice, yes, yes, yes, all sacrifices, but that's what gives it the meaning.

Chris Martenson: Yeah. It's not paradoxical. You would think that ease and leisure would be the gold standard. Because of course, if we had ease and leisure, we would have time to really self-improve, and reflect, and do all sorts of great stuff.

But if we use that leisure time to basically be lazy time, which is what a lot of it devolves into sometimes for people. Then, there is no meaning or purpose in that. I think that's a great point, this idea of sacrifice. Yeah. Anything that's truly worthwhile really required effort and sacrifice.

Charles Smith: Yeah.

Chris Martenson: This is why. I think this is – I mean, this is a trite example. I think people get close to the mark when they decry the so-called participation trophies, right. Everybody gets a trophy whether you won or you lost, right. It really degrades the experience for the person who really put the effort in, and went out, and earned the top trophy, or the top spot.

Because that's what they strove for. That is what they sacrificed for. But, it's also degrading and demeaning for the person who did nothing to be recognized for that. I think that's actually erosive when you get right down to it.

But somehow, I think if I was going to cast a judgment, I think you're right. I think our culture has really lionized this idea of convenience. That's like anything that's inconvenient is an affront to your cultural mores. My God, my plane is ten minutes late. I am just going to take an hour to recover from that insult, right.

Yeah. I think there is something to that. Where and how do people get the…? I have heard your place of sacrifice. For myself, I have got every year, like gardening. It's not easy.

Charles Smith: No.

Chris Martenson: It takes a lot of work. I put it in. Why I'm doing it? It is funny. I don't do it so that I necessarily can eat. I'm actually planting so that I just know that somebody is going to eat it.

Whether it's a bird, a racoon, me, the neighbor. I don't care. I'm doing it because my value system says, "I want to make the area around myself as beautiful and as productive as I can."

Charles Smith: Yeah. No. That's huge. Two quick points, one is when you create a garden or you beautifier your property with some flowers. Basically, we go, "Oh flowers." Well, wait a minute flowers are pollination. That's how we get pollinators. That's how we feed them.

Flowers are essential. They're not just some predefined thing that blue haired ladies think about. No. They're like core. They also beautify. When I have all of my flowers out there blooming, people stop. People look. They see a rose. They see poppies. They see all of this stuff. They stop. They can't help it.

We're drawn to that kind of natural beauty. If we create that, then guess what? You'll see your neighbor up the street start planting something. Or maybe they'll repaint their ugly falling down fence or something. It is just as the broken window syndrome where neighborhoods go downhill, neighborhoods go uphill in the same fashion.

Somebody does something that beautifies and makes us respond positively. Growing things and flowers are what we respond to. We don't respond to a bare, a new concrete slab.

Chris Martenson: That's right.

Charles Smith: The other thing I want to mention. We know the term of food desert. That's where deprived neighborhoods don't have any fresh food outlets, right. Then the people's diet is horrible. Because they just have to take a bus and all of this other complicated stuff in order to get to some place and buy fresh food.

We also have social deserts. A lot of people are…. Occasionally people will ask me. I don't know anybody. I live in an American suburb. It's like dead, dead, right. I mean it's dead at multiple levels. The answer is to move. In other words you have to go somewhere where there's people of like-minded values.

Chris Martenson: Yeah.

Charles Smith: It can be a real mindblower when you go to some place, and you go, "God, this feels like home." It's like there are people that are doing the same kind of stuff and excited about the same kind of stuff I am. To me there is nothing.

One of the most depressing things I ever saw or experienced was in a gated community. It wasn't up super high-end. It was the kind of faux gated thing for the middle class. The aspirational middle class that wants to feel like they have really made it. Its a bunch of stucco boxes with a manicured thing.

Rules against leaving parked cars in your driveway, and that, the usual America suburb thing. Rules, and rules, and rules, and you can only paint your house beige. You go into the golf club. It's like this empty cavern. There is a TV with some commercials running.

It was like this is supposed to be the American dream. I thought this is the most depressing space I have ever been in. I think, if you have a response to an empty golf club in a gated community like I did, then you're in the wrong place.

You're not going to find people with the same values and faith that you have. You're going to have to move. That's horrendous. Talk about inconvenient, I mean. Moving, it's like up there with death and divorce in terms of the toll it takes on your life, right.

Chris Martenson: Yeah.

Charles Smith: Sometimes you got to do it, if you want to find a home. Meaning home where you can actually engage people, and you're not rolling at a stone uphill all of the time. You're actually finding places where you can join and not have to start the whole thing yourself.

The other point I wanted to make. If you get like-minded people together, then a lot of good things can happen. Here is a quick example. My father's Church in Pasadena when he alive, it was losing membership like a lot of old-line churches, old-line Protestant churches. They were thinking, as the population that attended the church died off – then they were thinking, "Well, we'll just have to sell the church."

We don't have enough people here to support this church. Then a group of young families, people in their late 20s, early 30s with kids who were seeking a church that they could make their own came in. It was all like, "Hey, why don't you guys just take over this church?" They did.

They hired their own pastor who was young, energetic, willing to do all the things that older pastors sometimes aren't; which is like recruiting families, and thinking of activities for kids, and all of that kind of stuff. This group came in and was able to basically take over a failing institution that needed new blood.

There may be opportunities like that everywhere in the country. As the old organizations are eroding, a group of young people can come in and refashion that institution to fit their needs. Then, it's a really positive feedback.

Chris Martenson: Yeah. That's fascinating. This idea of a social desert to accompany the idea of a food desert. Charles, when I was 18, I read a book that had a really large impact on me . It was called Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions. It's a book written about one of the last Sioux medicine men. He was sort of recounting his observations of both Native life and as well Whitey.

What this new culture was all about. I think he was probably alive during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Anyway, he said, and at one part he is like, "You guys call yourselves consumers." He said, "I can't think of anything more degrading." But you call yourselves that. You live into that. In our pursuit of this idea of creating great places so that we can all be awesome consumers,

I'm thinking of the time I was at Glenn Beck's studios. Adam and I were having discussions with this organization. We're in Irving, Texas. This is a suburb of Dallas. Or whatever you call it. It's like its own metropolis, but it's outside of Dallas.

Just trying to get from our hotel across this eight lane sort of road, which was no highway, it was just sort of how they do it in Texas. Everything is kind of multi-lanes. There was no way for a pedestrian to go from and fro, across that road safely, right.

We had created this sort of consumer paradise where you get in your car. You drive to any one of these strip mall areas. It's absolutely devoid of meaning, engagement. It's hostile to pedestrians. In the interest of being good consumers, look what we had to give up.

That always stuck with me. That idea that to call yourself a consumer. Hey, we consumers – you might as well call yourself an earthworm or something, at least. But, well earthworms have a role. I don't know. It's one of those interesting things. To get back at like how do we reclaim that?

There are movements out there. Talking with James Howard Kunstler, and I met a good friend of his. This guy, Robert Davis, who is a…. He planned to complete community down in Seaside, Florida. His grandfather had a big tract of land somehow. He built an intentionally constructed town from the ground up.

Thinking and hearing all of the things that they had done, which was all around how do we build so that the built environment –? It was called New Urbanism as a movement. How do we do that so that built environment increases our chances for social connection? The surface area of our bubbles have more chances of coming up against each other.

As just one example, they had built the school in town with the rec lawn on the front of the school. When the kids are out playing soccer, the town can see. You're going by. There is school. They're not hidden in a field in the back. They're right out front. Then that field is used for other purposes by the community.

The kids in this particular school system when they have projects for recess, they're just let go. They're just re-wilded. Off you go. They go do stuff outside somewhere and come back. It was just a very different sort of an approach.

But it was built around the idea of saying, "How do we build our environment so that it supports who we are as humans, not as consumers?" That's how I would contrast say Seaside with Irving.

Charles Smith: Yeah. I think that's an excellent point. To go back to your initial question at the start of our discussion. What's our narrative of action?

Chris Martenson: Yeah.

Charles Smith: I think that you have just made point one. Then, we have talked about focus on whatever you can do to support regenerative actions, and share whatever abundance you have in your life. Try to find, reach out to people who share your values as opposed to built around like a legalist agreement.

Chris Martenson: You're right.

Charles Smith: Yeah.

Chris Martenson: Be willing to take the sacrifice or the inconvenience that's required to go and sit through a meeting at a Rotary Club where perhaps they have a speaker who is a long-winded and not interesting. Or whatever the sacrifice is that you have to go through. Or understanding that working with groups of people is by definition not a very efficient way to get things done sometimes.

Charles Smith: No. It is often a real grind. Because somebody is on their high horse and wants the group to do something they think is valuable. Then there are a few nutty members.

But yeah, I mean, the positive. When things click, and they always do every once in awhile. Then you go wow. You can't replace this feeling of contributing. We actually got it done.

Chris Martenson: Yeah.

Charles Smith: You did something good in the community. Yeah. It's a pretty special thing. That's what you can never get as a consumer. You can only get that sugar high of I bought something. Then, you get the sugar high. It quickly degrades.

You might be excited for like the first time you have used it or something. Then like very quickly, you habituate to it. It's like no. Then you have to re-hit that high, that sugar high with buying something else. But the community or organizations, and involvement, and engagement we're talking about.

It's a level of experiential meaning that is irreplaceable. You can't really replace it with consumerism. That's kind of like what we have been discussing.

Chris Martenson: Right. We're really quite honored that these last few pieces I put out touched something. I think it speaks to this idea that we all know that we need to be more regenerative and more abundant. It's creating rather than extractive, and degenerative, and all that. Or around scarcely, I should say.

Given that, and given that there is all of this energy, and knowing that we need to really begin pushing in this direction. I think the invitation I would be putting out here to myself. If this really resonates with anybody listening maybe you too.

I think I'm inspired now by you, Charles, to go and find, just find some new already existing gathering in my town. Just go feel it out, and check it out, and see what they're up to – you just use that as a way of engaging further.

Charles Smith: Yeah. That's always the easiest thing. It might be you have to try a couple of different places. Some will not spark you. Or they won't give you that sense of positive feedback. But then you just keep trying something else. Or, worse comes to worse, you go ahead and try to start something.

I have done that from scratch. I just put an ad out, a bulletin board thing. Then say hey, anybody interested in say gardening or biking? Hey, come to the library meeting room at noon on Saturday. Or something like that, and then you never know.

Sometimes something starts from that. Anyway, I try to…. I feel inspired also just to kind of make sure that I strengthen the family network that we have and my network of friends. In other words just strengthen what you already have is a pretty good start.

Chris Martenson: Absolutely, no, a great point and advice there as well. With that as we wind this down, I'm just thinking. Where I go with this is I have to just keep pushing this message out. Because listen, as I sometimes say. I might be wrong, but I'm not confused.

All of the data I have, Charles. It says that we're heading towards an ecological nightmare at some point. It will be on…. Maybe it will be all the way down to the level of human survival. If the rain stopped falling. We have three bad harvests in a row worldwide.

That's a pretty dire sort of a circumstance. Maybe that happens. But what I'm actually talking about is just the steady erosion and loss of the ecology and the ecosystems. In economic terms we're going to discover at some point they perform valuable services for free.

When they go away, you suddenly discover they weren't – how valuable they were. Here is a quick aside. I chuckle every time when the people say, "Oh bees perform $28 billion dollars of pollination services." I'm like no. It's not $28 billion people.

It's infinite. It's infinity monies. Because if the bees went away, you'd discover you couldn't possibly get pollination done for the tidy sum of $28 billion. It would be impossible. It's actually a service that cannot be measured in that way, shape, or form.

But we're quickly losing whole swaths of critical ecosystems and species. Nature is abundant. She is resilient. It's just that when she decides to pop back with that void that's missing because fish are no longer there. All of a sudden you have an ocean full of jellyfish instead. Or the insects have disappeared.

Now, you have got this weird fungus showing up that is now a giant problem. Something will always step in to fill the void. But we really in my world, we humans, we shouldn't be messing with things we don't understand. We should be also preserving them just because they're are intact, and beautiful, and exquisite just the way they are.

Just it feels…. Yeah. It kind of feels like we live in a big old rickety sort of a house. We're busy just sort of sawing through timbers. But we don't understand a joist from beam or from a pillar. It was just a lack of knowledge of the house in which we live.

Busy to sort of knocking elements out, it just doesn't feel smart to me. With that, I say we need to do new things. We need individuals to begin to step up in their own lives to become more aligned with that idea of regeneration in abundance. People want to do that. There will be more meaning and purpose.

But first, we have to break out of the…. I don't even know what to call it, the force field of alternative reality bubble that we've been sort of conditioned into. You're a consumer. You need a job. This is what's important to you.

Of course none of those things really turn out to be all that important at the end. How do we go about for ourselves rebuilding the kind of lives that really serve us and allow us to navigate towards a future we can believe in without which there's no point?

Charles Smith: Right. Just my final comment would be plant a tree, or plant a number of trees. You plant flowers, and plant vegetables, and plant stuff for pollinators, and create an ecosystem in your own little patch of the earth however small it might be. Then share what you grow.

There is really amazing stuff happens when you take free food or something you've baked with the output of your tree to your neighbor. I mean you have brightened somebody's day. You get a hit.

It's like it cannot be measured in terms of consumerism. There is no equivalent. Yeah. Get out there, and plant stuff, and then share it. You're going to get some positive feedback that's going to brighten your life and as well as the recipients' life.

Chris Martenson: Absolutely. Let's all do that. I will be…. I'm about a month away from having overt abundance coming out of my garden, which I will share with the people who live across the road from me who have bad sunlight just by the quirk of geography.

But they wish they had better sunlight. I have got the sunlight. I'll be sharing that with them. With that, Charles, thank you so much for your time today.

Charles Smith: Okay. Thank you, Chris.

About the guest

Charles Hugh Smith

Charles Hugh Smith writes the Of Two Minds blog (www.oftwominds.com/blog.html) which covers an eclectic range of timely topics:  economy, housing, Asia, energy, longterm trends, social issues, health/diet/fitness and sustainability and community. He is also a regular contributor here at Peak Prosperity. From its humble beginnings in May 2005, Of Two Minds now attracts some 300,000 visits a month. Charles also contributes to AOL's Daily Finance site (www.dailyfinance.com) and has written multiple books, most recently "The Nearly Free University and the Emerging Economy: The Revolution in Higher Education".

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Rodster's picture
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Posts: 40
Root Causes Of What's Ailing Society?

Well, i'll be 60 this year and I remember once upon a time even in NYC public schools we did the pledge of allegiance. We were taught to respect God and Country. We were taught that in order to have a child it requires one papa and one mama. We were also taught that Papa went to work while mama stayed home to take care of the kids until papa came home from work. Boys were taught to honor their parents and to be obediant and most of all to not lie.

Fast forward a few decades after Government put it's foot in the door. We rarely ever are told to their's a higher power and we answer to him. Papa made a baby and took off and mama is having to do all the work rearing the child in between all the guys she's dating. If mama isn't doing drugs or alcohol the kid is 5 steps ahead of the game.

Then you have the LGBT movement telling kids in their teen years that it's ok to explore their sexuality before they become repsonbile adults. That it's normal to have two fathers or two moms. And that it's ok if you were born a boy but now want to become a girl or vica versa because nature made a mistake and we can fix that. If you are a hyperactive kid, yes, I believe that's what it was once called and we usually got over it all on our own i.e. we out grew it. Nowadays, we have prescription drugs to fix that. 

You see, we have become a society where left is right and up is down. We no longer are taught to worship God or a higher power and to be good to others. Instead, the secular Gov't has replaced God and it's laws because they know better.

And you wonder why you hear and read of reports of unstable individuals/kids going into a JHS or HS shooting up their classmates or you read about kids killing their parents over an argument of why the parents didn't allow the kid to play his XBOX until 11pm?

The tl;dr story......."You Reap What You Sow" !

Meredith's picture
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And you are part of that

And you are part of that society. What positive thing did you do today? What connections did you make today? Did you plant a tree? Did you help a neighbor? Did you start a project that involves others? The attitude that looks at the half empty glass and mourns the loss of things is a total cry baby whiny-assed opinion. Get off of the couch, the computer and engage with others. Make something better. Start a movement. Teach someone to read. Plant a pollinator sanctuary and teach your neighbors how to do it. Drive an old lady to the store and help her with her shopping. Mow her lawn. Better yet, plant her yard with beneficial habitat plants. Become a positive force in your tiny sphere.

Having just crossed the 70 mark, I have started a collaborative project and the response, the engagement has been better than I would have predicted. The outcome will be more than imagined..


What good thing happened to you today?


charleshughsmith's picture
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Posts: 716
the sharing/gifting economy

Chris mentioned the Sharing/gifting economy (and Charles E.'s important work) and the point I want to note here is how fun it is to participate in this unrecognized and under-appreciated economy. Yesterday a good friend helped me harvest 40 lbs of lychee from one of our trees--he took 20 lbs to enjoy and give away. Some went to the employees of a small biz that his wife does the bookkepping for, more will go to their neighbors and friends. It's energizing to share and give away. I love taking care of our trees and sharing their bounty. Every gift of what's "free" nurtures social networks, good will and joy.

themccarthyfarm's picture
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Amen Meredith

Amen Meredith

Phaedrus the younger's picture
Phaedrus the younger
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Posts: 68
convenience and safety sell

Charles, you nailed it when you talked about how far people will go (give away their privacy and freedoms) in the name of convenience.  The second big one I've observed for years is safety.  One freak accident causes knee jerk or opportunistic new laws and regulations to "keep people safe".  While some of these rules are needed, the rest are burdensome and restrictive to all but those with deep pockets. 

Meredith, nicely done!  Good luck with your venture.   We joined a small neighbourhood farmers' market this year and are enjoying it immensely.  After only 5 weeks, we've got a number of 'regulars' who come buy to chat and buy produce we picked just hours before.  It has potential to become a community hub.


Uncletommy's picture
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Posts: 569
Inconvenience and risk don't sell!

Last year we put our place on the market to test buyer interest. Prospective buyers all loved what they saw, but we received only one firm offer, low-balled way below market averages. The property has a woodlot, large garden, small pasture, chicken coop, bee hives, two garden sheds and all the associated paraphernalia to make it happen. The consistent message we received was, " Oh, what a beautiful place, but it seems like a lot of work". Many were concerned with where they would put their riding lawn mower, exercise treadmill and what kind of intenet service was provided.

Now, I'm not saying that the next generation is soft or idealistic or delusional, but I sense there is a cultural gap and expectational divide. It is apparent, to me, that our society has been catered-to for so long due to cheap energy that we have no experience with wont or scarcity or having to wait for something; an absence of things to be grateful for. All my kids experienced killing chickens, canning garden and orchard produce, splitting wood and the warmth of a wood stove at -35C. We limited TV time and found the kids going outside to watch the chickens mate or roamed the woods for entertaiment.

CHS has identified what is missing and offered up traditional solutions to fill the void. However, you can't put a round peg in a square without cutting off some of the excess. To think community can just happen without a shared struggle or unexpected calamity is questionable. Hardship is the contrast to our current miasma of convenience and sloth. People have to live what they learn and the more we limit those experiences, the less we have to expect of community. The last time I offered up free potatoes, the only response was, "were washed and bagged"?

BTW, Meredith, I'm the same vintage as you. Keep up the cause!

ezlxq1949's picture
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Posts: 215
Absence of things to be grateful for

Uncletommy wrote,

The last time I offered up free potatoes, the only response was, "were washed and bagged"?

As we know the populace in general is led by The System into ignorance, and ignorance does not promote gratitude. In my part of the cosmos (Australia) washed potatoes aren't washed because they were never dirty. They're grown in South Australia in sandy soils using industrial agricultural methods, i.e. the roots are fed directly in a matrix of sand by bathing them with soluble salt fertilisers.

So the punters have come to expect the convenience but don't know what lies behind it. Would they be grateful if they knew? Or should we tell them about the nutritional deficits developing in their convenient potatoes? Would they be grateful for that knowledge?

Stabu's picture
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Lots of Offers, but no Takers

I truly appreciate Meredith's point, but for me the problem is that whatever I'm trying to offer for free has no takers, and no-one is ever really offering to help me either. It's not that I would have no friends or neighbors, but rather that those relations never involve helping each other or doing productive things together. Instead those relations are almost joint consumerism by e.g. seeing a movie together, going shopping together, eating out together etc. It's not that there's anything wrong with that on occasion, but it feels rather superficial when all your relations (more or less) revolve around consumptive activities. When I think about it, even things involving my own/spouses parents or siblings go on in the same fashion.

To understand my frustration, here's a list of things I've offered to do for different people (for free) in 2018:
- Loan power tools (drills etc.)
- Help reshingle a roof
- Offer rides to/from town
- Teach how to drive a car
- Help running kitchen electrical/plumbing (up to code)
- Help moving in
- Help fixing a bathroom
- Drafting a basic contract
- Help creating a budget
- Patch a hole in the wall
- Offer surplus eggs/garden produce
And yet out of that entire list I've only had one "yes" and that was for offering a ride to town and back. I'm not a professional in any of the activities above (both of my jobs are very white colar/corporate), but I've learn how to do all of the above on my own to pretty high standards. None of my friends/neighbors have offered to do anything for me either for that matter, but I'm not looking at this as an "exchange" or anything like that, but simply a gift for which I expect nothing in return. The idea, of course, is to create stronger relationships by helping people out in the hopes that this sort of activity would eventually become more natural/common in my community and hopefully even mutual in the end of the style "hey, I noticed you have a fallen tree in your yard, let me come over and help you saw it up".

My working hypothesis, in addition to Charle's point about governemnt being everywhere/the only relationship you really need, is that the natural trust between people where money is not exchanged has badly erroded. People rather rely on hired experts than their friends and neighbors, and in instances where they can't afford to pay for experts they rather learn to do it themselves by buying cheap Chinese goods and even risking breaking said goods rather than reling on someone else or hiring an expert they can't afford. The end result is the dual problem of worsening errosion of social relations and an inefficient self-serving society where the poorer 50%, 75% or 90% are doing everything themselves to get by.

charleshughsmith's picture
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Posts: 716
no need for community until the trucks stop running

The comments here strongly suggest there is no need for community until the trucks stop running.  In other words, Corporate America, Jim Kunstler's Happy Motoring and the centralized government provide everything we need and want on demand, delivered to our doorstep by van or drone, etc., so why bother "investing" in community?

Trust is an extremely important form of capital, and as noted in the thread, people are willing to trust self-serving authorities over their neighbors. I agree that this won't change until the authorities are unable to deliver the goodies.

Perhaps the first reaction to the failure of the goodies being delivered will be mass protests: "somebody should do something," "where's the government?" etc. It will probably take some time for people to awaken to the fact they're going to have to make their own arrangements.  At that point the value of community and localized trust will manifest.

robie robinson's picture
robie robinson
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Posts: 1181

The commments must come from largely urban dwellers. In the very rural south we’re covered in kudzu and codependency, alota neighbors helping neighbors. Too poor to do otherwise, we’ve lived the medieval south and will feel little change when the “Long Emergency” cometh.

newsbuoy's picture
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Posts: 252
Charming Conversation and The Yield Curve but shhhh! Unionism

Enjoyable, friendly conversation with many good points. However, it's hard to believe that neither of you mentioned unionism. So, one is left pondering with this is an oversight or political posture.


newsbuoy's picture
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Posts: 252
Failure to deliver the goodies...

Are we not already seeing the reaction. I think you'd agree that most of the time the reaction isn't against those "above" us but rather those below. Witness the growing use of immigrants (often a uphamism for others) as the "problem" or the narrative of "the forgotten" or the sad statistics from slaverly until now.

TechGuy's picture
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 13 2008
Posts: 414
Re: Trust & Trucks

Hi Charles,

When The trucks stop comming you may discover that People will radically change, and not for the beter. Putting to much faith in trust can be a dangerous  if not fatal mistake. Desperate times create desperate people. 

My recommendation is to always to keep yourself protected and not permit yourself to fall and be prey upon by someone you put too much trust in.

Consider that nearly 25% of the US population is on a Psychiatric type drug: anti-depressants, anxiety drugs, Ritalin, etc. That means that 25% of the population is already under stress and had a chemical dependance to function in society. A major crisis and the lack of getting ther meds is going to push them over the edge. This of course does not include people that use non-prescription drugs and the self-medicate using alochol or recreational drugs.

Overall about 55% of the US population takes a prescription drug, everything from Thyroid issues, to heart and hypertensional problems. Will these drugs dependencies will it make them desperate enough to betray your trust in order to secure the drugs they need to survive, or crave?

Then there is everything else. 99% of the population depends on those trucks to survive Will that cold and hungry neighbor or friend really be trust worthy. Even if you have enough resources to feed your friends & neighbors, a single loose lip can result in a hord of hungry & desperate people showing up at our doorstep.

I my opinion real trust can only happen after the crisis runs its course. 


"Perhaps the first reaction to the failure of the goodies being delivered will be mass protests"

I doubt it. The first reaction will be Riots, mass looting, arson, and general mayhem. This is what always happens. Unhappy people will resort to obtaining the resources they need. They will also blame anyone that they feel has taken advantage of them or precieved to cause the problem. They will riot, loot, rob, & vandalize anything within reach. Once they run out of resources to to plunder that will spread out adjacent regions within their reach.

I really don't see that community be enough, unless its well isolated from the bulk of society and they grew up in a community (ie Amish or mennonite). 

Waterdog14's picture
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 18 2014
Posts: 127
Stabu wrote:

...the problem is that whatever I'm trying to offer for free has no takers, and no-one is ever really offering to help me either. 

... None of my friends/neighbors have offered to do anything for me either for that matter, but I'm not looking at this as an "exchange" or anything like that, but simply a gift for which I expect nothing in return.

... the natural trust between people where money is not exchanged has badly eroded. People rather rely on hired experts than their friends and neighbors, and in instances where they can't afford to pay for experts they rather learn to do it themselves by buying cheap Chinese goods and even risking breaking said goods rather than reling on someone else or hiring an expert they can't afford. The end result is the dual problem of worsening errosion of social relations and an inefficient self-serving society where the poorer 50%, 75% or 90% are doing everything themselves to get by.

Converting to a gift-economy or a trust-economy will require a fundamental mind shift that many of us aren't capable of (yet).  Although I've read several works by Charles Eisenstein (including "Sacred Economics" and "The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible") and I ascribe to his theories, putting it into practice is VERY difficult for me.  It's difficult to ask for help, even though I'm working all day every day on my 4-acre farm.  This level of effort is not sustainable - I can't work this hard forever, but I believe it's important to develop local food systems now, before it's absolutely necessary for survival.   

Also, if an operation is "for profit" and not a homestead or non-profit, government regulations prohibit using volunteers or giving away food.  Seriously!  The dept of labor requires that we pay minimum wage or the equivalent in food or lodging, to everyone who "volunteers" on our farm, whether our operation can afford it or not.  If we give away food to anyone other than a food pantry or payment-in-kind volunteer/intern, we are not allowed to track/deduct the cost of production.  So starting a farm as a business restricts you from many of the community-building opportunities available to individuals or non-profits.  (That is, if you choose to follow the rules.)

But the real barriers to asking for help from friends and neighbors may stem from a fear of becoming indebted to others.  Our culture is so accustomed to being either ruggedly independent or wealthy enough to hire everything out, that we don't understand the social implications of accepting help from others.  If you come help me harvest 100 chickens, what do I owe you?  If you help plant potatoes, what are the social obligations?  How and when must I pay you back?  What is fair?  If my farm is not profitable, and I cannot pay you, am I violating state law or an unwritten social contract?  Since it's difficult to navigate these waters, it's easier to go it alone. 

There's a better way.  I just haven't figured out what it is. 

thc0655's picture
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 27 2010
Posts: 1613
Does multiculturalism inhibit trust?


  1. In the presence of [ethnic] diversity, we hunker down. We act like turtles. The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined. And it’s not just that we don’t trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don’t trust people who do look like us.

    —Harvard professor Robert D. Putnam

It was one of the more irony-laden incidents in the history of celebrity social scientists. While in Sweden to receive a $50,000 academic prize as political science professor of the year, Harvard’s Robert D. Putnam, a former Carter administration official who made his reputation writing about the decline of social trust in America in his bestseller Bowling Alone, confessed to Financial Times columnist John Lloyd that his latest research discovery—that ethnic diversity decreases trust and co-operation in communities—was so explosive that for the last half decade he hadn’t dared announce it “until he could develop proposals to compensate for the negative effects of diversity, saying it ‘would have been irresponsible to publish without that.’”

In a column headlined “Harvard study paints bleak picture of ethnic diversity,” Lloyd summarized the results of the largest study ever of “civic engagement,” a survey of 26,200 people in 40 American communities:

  1. When the data were adjusted for class, income and other factors, they showed that the more people of different races lived in the same community, the greater the loss of trust. ‘They don’t trust the local mayor, they don’t trust the local paper, they don’t trust other people and they don’t trust institutions,’ said Prof Putnam. ‘The only thing there’s more of is protest marches and TV watching.’

Lloyd noted, “Prof Putnam found trust was lowest in Los Angeles, ‘the most diverse human habitation in human history...’”

Before Putnam hid his study away, his research had appeared on March 1, 2001 in a Los Angeles Times article entitled “Love Thy Neighbor? Not in L.A.” Reporter Peter Y. Hong recounted, “Those who live in more homogeneous places, such as New Hampshire, Montana or Lewiston, Maine, do more with friends and are more involved in community affairs or politics than residents of more cosmopolitan areas, the study said.”

Putnam’s discovery is hardly shocking to anyone who has tried to organize a civic betterment project in a multi-ethnic neighborhood. My wife and I lived for 12 years in Chicago’s Uptown district, which claims to be the most diverse two square miles in America, with about 100 different languages being spoken. She helped launch a neighborhood drive to repair the dilapidated playlot across the street. To get Mayor Daley’s administration to chip in, we needed to raise matching funds and sign up volunteer laborers.

This kind of Robert D. Putnam-endorsed good citizenship proved difficult in Uptown, however, precisely because of its remarkable diversity. The most obvious stumbling block was that it’s hard to talk neighbors into donating money or time if they don’t speak the same language as you. Then there’s the fundamental difficulty of making multiculturalism work—namely, multiple cultures. Getting Koreans, Russians, Mexicans, Nigerians, and Assyrians (Christian Iraqis) to agree on how to landscape a park is harder than fostering consensus among people who all grew up with the same mental picture of what a park should look like. For example, Russian women like to sunbathe. But most of the immigrant ladies from more southerly countries stick to the shade, since their cultures discriminate in favor of fairer-skinned women. So do you plant a lot of shade trees or not?

The high crime rate didn’t help either. The affluent South Vietnamese merchants from the nearby Little Saigon district showed scant enthusiasm for sending their small children to play in a park that would also be used by large black kids from the local public-housing project.

Exotic inter-immigrant hatreds also got in the way. The Eritreans and Ethiopians are both slender, elegant-looking brown people with thin Arab noses, who appear identical to undiscerning American eyes. But their compatriots in the Horn of Africa were fighting a vicious war.

Finally, most of the immigrants, with the possible exception of the Eritreans, came from countries where only a chump would trust neighbors he wasn’t related to, much less count on the government for an even break. If the South Vietnamese, for example, had been less clannish and more ready to sacrifice for the national good in 1964-75, they wouldn’t be so proficient at running family-owned restaurants on Argyle Street today. But they might still have their own country.

In the end, boring old middle-class, English-speaking, native-born Americans (mostly white, but with some black-white couples) did the bulk of the work. When the ordeal of organizing was over, everybody seemed to give up on trying to bring Uptown together for civic improvement for the rest of the decade.

There's a lot more to chew on in the article.  RTWT.

LesPhelps's picture
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 30 2009
Posts: 788
Concensus Will Be A Stumbling Block

The short version of my favorite Sir Francis Bacon quotes is:

"People prefer to believe what they prefer to be true."

Look at the press saying that America has been made great again, when:

1. The US has the lowest life expectancy of the 35 wealthiest nations on the planet (and the highest infant mortality rate), yet it have the highest per capita health care cost.

2. The US has the highest per capita prison population at 655 people per 100,000.  El Salvador is second at 610.  England has 141.  Russia has 411.  Iran has 284.  

3. Our education system is ranked 21st.

This is just a sampler of US greatness.

The Peak Prosperity community makes herculean efforts to sift out what's real from the global information pool and yet, Peak Prosperity's recommended book list has "The Primal Connection" listed thrid and "The China Study" listed fourth.

Both books seem to be sincire attempts to sort out healthy nutrition, but the answers are anything but consistent (i.e. no concensus).

Charles, if you want to try the next level of sacrifice, eliminate the first scoop of ice cream, along with virtually all dairy and animal based food as well as most heavily processed plant based food.  It is a real sacrifice, but the benefits seem to be as advertised.

The two categories of advantages to a WFPB (whole foods plant based) lifestyle are significant indeed.  First, it is argued that you can eliminate 70% to 90% of your need for health care.  Second, adherents completely stop supporting animal agriculture and animal food manufacturing.

Depending on who you listen to, animal agriculture and animal food production is either the first or second worst contributor to global environmental degredation, with the global transportation system being the other top contributor.

So, back to concensus, even if everyone on the planet starts making a serious effort to contribute to the solution, the solutions we work on will not all be the same.

Finally, there are simply a lot of people who will not roll up their sleves, when the trucks stop rolling.  I relaize that every time I see someone riding an electric shopping cart in a retail store.  A tiny portion of electric cart riders are ancient or have other understandable issues, but the vast majority have self inflicted health problems, or are just lazy.






richcabot's picture
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 5 2011
Posts: 178
Excellent article

Well worth reading in its entirety.

I found the closing relevant to more than just the current diversity arguments

"As the issue of co-operation becomes ever more pressing, the quality of intellectual discourse on the topic declines—as Putnam’s self-censorship revealed—precisely because of a lack of trust due to the mounting political power of “the diverse” to punish frank discussion."

I think the political power to punish frank discussion severely limits our abiity to address many problems.

pinecarr's picture
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 13 2008
Posts: 2244
Agree Robie

In rural Central NY, the neighbors on my street pull together when we get buried in snow.  I've come home in the evening when we've gotten heavy snowfalls, tired from working all day, to find my neighbors across the street have shoveled an opening in my driveway so  I can pull my car in.  When you're in your 50s and tired, and expecting to dig 2 or 3 feet of snow just to pull your car out of the road, this is a sweet gift. 

And one hand washes the other: I have looked for and jumped on opportunities to repay their kindness in kind, shoveling their driveways when they weren't home so they'd be able to pull into their driveways when they got home without a problem (although nothing like the 2 or 3 feet of snow they dug out of my driveway after that one storm!).  Our neighbor down the street, who owns a snowblower, will come down the street when really bad storms hit, to help those of us who have to shovel, to help us get our driveways opened up. 

So there is a definite "pulling together" that happens in our small town when we face a common adversity (winter!!).  It is also true that we have all been neighbors for several years, and are cordial with one another.

Robinson's picture
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Posts: 39
fated's picture
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 16 2014
Posts: 51
Sharing / Gifting is great.

Whenever I have a surplus of something I love to share / give it away. This action is a direct 'up yours' to the messed up modern system that has been created. Today I was carving down a pumpkin much too large for our needs and with no room to store more than we will need in the next few days it needed to go somewhere. Some went to workmates, some to clients, some to family, etc. No money exchanged, and no expectation of repayment or being owed. Just the satisfaction of helping others who live within a couple of blocks of me and make up part of my community. I also plant extra seeds so  I can give away seedlings. I see this as creating just a small bit of resilience locally. As for kids - I told a hyperactive one today that before they even think to open their mouth and complain they are bored, look around and see what they can do that is useful or helpful to someone. Heaven forbid that kids should learn to do someting proactive and useful rather than consume, consume, and be force fed everything that keeps them occupied for their waking hours.

drbost's picture
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 18 2010
Posts: 63
The satisfaction of giving

Fated, I so agree with what you described!  It fits my own experiences well.  I had put in a water well with a hand pump a couple of years ago.  Recently when a utility crew accidentally interrupted our water service overnight. I emailed our neighbors that we had plenty of hand-pumped water available.  It felt so good--satisfying--to give it away.  Then, a few days later, some of the kids from a recipient family unexpectedly showed up at our door with a basket of freshly harvested greens from their aquaponics project.  I felt double-gifted, once by satisfaction, the other with great-tasting greens.  And that's just one example of neighbor gifting neighbor; there have been many others as well.  We really enjoy our neighbors.  I love where we live!

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