Don't Yearn for Post-Civilization. Build a Community.
In recent days, weather forecasts have been ominous. In my region of the United States, a forecast of impending snow leads to panic buying and predictions of societal collapse. The messages inundate TV, radio, and the internet. Even my phone had unwanted pop-up warnings of the impending doom. In some degree of bewilderment over this, I spoke to strangers about their predictions and hopes in the day before the snow. To my surprise, each person with whom I spoke relayed their hopes for power outages.
They yearned for the time with family, the time away from work, the stillness of the world without electricity, and the nostalgia of relying on a fireplace for heat. “Just for a little while”, they each assured me. I hadn’t realized the degree to which I wasn’t alone in this. For many years, I too have found a strange allure in the prospect of a technological meltdown. It’s not that there isn’t tremendous value in central heat, refrigeration, and electrical lighting. However, there is a sense that we sacrificed something when we made such strides during the industrial revolution.
The premise, however, is not true. Can families really say that they don’t spend time together because of their phones? The phones are surely distractions, but if we all recognize the value in the family, then we can choose to put our phones down. We can choose to light the fire, and we can choose to tune out from the things that we intrinsically know are bad for us. The fact that so many yearn for a power outage means that they hunger for what they don’t think they can justify under normal conditions. They need a reason to talk to their family members — some external force making them indulge in what they secretly seek, as if it’s a guilty pleasure.
Somehow, we have reached a point wherein it’s normal to stare at a mobile device for hours, interacting in sarcastic quips with people we’ll never meet, but it’s almost socially unacceptable to have real connections with those around us. When the power does go off, invariably, the thrill is gone after just a few hours. Then practical concerns dominate, as we start thinking about how much food is going to be spoiled in the refrigerator.
Regardless, we’re seeking something greater, and most of us sense it. We sense a vacuum of community and belonging in an era of rushed defacto slavery to consumerism. We don’t yearn for the lack of heating or refrigeration, but rather when we look back in history at the way neighbors once knew each other and even worked on projects together, the way communities cared for one another; it is then that we feel envy for those times past.
Our society has been restructured such that people do not feel a sense of loyalty or even familiarity with those around them. This disconnectedness leaves good people vulnerable, to both the perils of life’s hardships (financial and emotional), and to tyrants in positions of power. With disunity, people are more likely to turn to an authority figure for guidance, because we know that we’re limited in what we can do alone. This is why, “We’re all in this together” was an attractive slogan for some as covid-related restrictions loomed. It was the promise of community, and it’s one reason why some defended covid lockdowns with cult-like fervor. They need to feel that they’re engrossed in something communal. The human condition is a social one. We do need others.
There is no national solution to this. Close-knit communities can’t be built on Zoom. The only solution is local, and it involves meeting real people, face-to-face. Be willing to do more than just identify the problem. We all agree that this problem exists, we see it and we feel it, but how many are willing to engage in an activity with a colleague outside of work, or a parishioner outside of church? Discuss the problem with friends, family, and colleagues, and then invite them to join you at a project or gathering.
Let’s not wait for the power to go out to make friends and allies in a world in which we were never meant to be alone. The communities of the past that we rightfully laud required effort to sustain, and energy to build. It’s a worthwhile endeavor that provides protection against the uncertainties that we face in life, a sanctuary amongst a greater culture that is imploding before us, and a barrier against government tyranny. We owe it to those around us and to the next generation.