Sunday, March 27, 2011

Thinking Pre-Seasonally

This is not my usual thing, but I think it's worth blogging about because I feel change is a coming, and not in a good way. Those of you who know me will find this sudden turn toward apparent pessimism a bit disturbing, but I see it as an opportunity to anticipate and prepare for what is heading down the pike toward us. If you have a feeling that things are just not quite right, don't ignore it. This is not just fear-mongering, doomsaying or 2012-apocalyps- hysteria--I'm saying that if you look at history, we've got it coming. I'm writing about this here, because I have an audience, (thanks for reading and sharing), and dealing with what is coming has everything to do with food and community.

A bit of backstory:

A few years ago my Dad (AKA Dr. Doom) shared with me a book by the name of the 4th Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe. Around page three the authors (writing in 1997) predicted September 11th--roughly the time-frame, the method, and the aftermath. This got my attention. I read most of the rest of the book, and the jist of it is this: every hundred years or so, western societies go through a convulsive change, known as the 4th Turning, which ushers in a new era, also known as the 1st Turning. This is largely driven by cycles of history (social theorists will recognize shades of Wallerstein here), and the generations of people who are born and come of age during various periods of history. They refer to these cycles as seasons of history, and according to them we are now entering a "saecular winter". I am of the Nomad generation (called Thirteeners by Strauss and Howe) that will (with the Boomers) have to take leadership through this seasonal change. So, here, in the way that I can, I am going to start leading.

Strauss and Howe could see the 4th Turning beginning in 2005, give or take a few years. I would argue that 9/11 and the 2008 economic crash are highly related, and manifestations of a system in trouble seeking change and equilibrium. I believe we are well on our way into the 4th Turning, which lasts about 20 years, on average. Strauss and Howe call it a "crisis", which I think is just a slowly unfolding global set of events that will be more or less horrific depending on where you are when these crisis events erupt. There are economic, social, political and ecological dimensions of this, and every place will have its own unique manifestations. How we react to, lead and organize through this crisis will determine how we end up on the other side of it. Forget about American exceptionalism (if you ever believed it). The 4th Turning levels the playing field. I highly recommend that you read the book yourself, so I won't narrate much more about it here, other than what I see coming and how we can deal with it.

Here in Athens, we have economic problems with poverty that are clearly related to racial inequalities, past and present. This is related to our social problems that leave our communities deeply divided, both within and between. We have political problems that are related to our economic problems--corruption in government and tax/spending priorities that privilege the super rich. Our ecological problems relate to climate change and our susceptibility to drought, which will limit our primary economy activities (agriculture and forestry) from providing capital to the economy. Case in point, wildfires in SE GA, today. The 4th turning is, of course a social, not an ecological phenomena, but climate change and the crises this generates will only exacerbate the challenges of the 4th Turning. In Athens these will be the deepening of poverty and eruptions of violence not unlike what just happened here with the shooting of a police officer. The state, in an attempt to gain control, will increase its powers, and this never bodes well for human or civil rights. Inflation is likely to increase (and/or the devaluing of currency) and the fragile and flimsy basis of our economy will continue to falter. Investments may soon be meaningless, so we need to think about real material security through food and real social security through community.

Strauss and Howe suggest that we can best weather the 4th Turning if we start thinking now--what they call pre-seasonal thinking--about how we will have to live during the crisis, and what we want life to look like on the other side. As for me, I am saying adios (to the degree that I can) to the infrastructures that I depend on for food, water and energy. I believe these infrastructures will fail (or will fail to meet the needs of most people), and our manifest vulnerability to corporations and governments will be laid bare. I also believe that this crisis will be manifested by inflation and further contractions of our economy, which will limit our ability to consume (and make our consumer-based economy shrivel). We need to learn new habits that reflect our limited choices in the coming year. I will blog about this and more as these efforts get underway.

The second general area of preparation is linked to our dependence on institutions and our lack of inter-dependence as a community. I have eggs to share (and soon lots of other produce), so I am going to start using them to build community in my neighborhood. We'll have to stand together, or we all will fail. I have to say that I know precious few of my neighbors, but I aim to get to know them, and make the food forest of my yard a resource for our whole community. I also intend to reach out to the wider community in Athens through a community kitchen in one of the poorest, but most historic, neighborhoods in Athens.

Showing up is 90% of life, and I intend to show up for peace, community and self-sufficiency in the coming years.

Show up with me, y'all.


  1. Addendum: I just found 15 eggs in my backyard and promptly delivered a dozen to the neighbor to the right (who I know) and who has to listen to the chickens cackling all the live long day. I shared another dozen with the family to my left, who I hadn't met. It was a beautiful exchange of smiles, sharing of names and the unfolding of a new way of relating.

  2. You articulated all the concerns that I've been holding in the back of my head for a while. I spend a lot of time thinking about how best to describe the local food movement and its goal positively within the framework of community. I do not think that many people are motivated by focusing on the bad or negative. It leads to inaction and apathy for most people. It can also be exhausting to lay out all the evidence about what is coming on the horizon when people are, relatively, comfortable where they are currently.

    But it is hard to express urgency when I am focused positively defining a movement. And I feel an urgency. Thoughts?

    (This is Craig by the way)

  3. Thanks for your thoughts, Craig. My own revelations about this make me think that local food is a means to an end-not actually the end itself. I have had local food as the goal for a long time--and now I think it can be a vehicle for something greater. The food is the glue that can bring people together, hold our community together through tough times, and actually sustain us when the times get really tough. I agree that people get overwhelmed by the negative. Read Bruce's comments on FB for an inspiring way to think about it. The beauty of the 4th Turning is that it is just a phase that will end, and knowing it's coming is an opportunity for making the change WE want to see. Let's do it!