I am ever more struck by the fragility of modern American life. There is no denying that by and large we enjoy a higher quality of life than any other society in history. But that quality of life is predicated on dozens of factors remaining constant. One slip, and the whole thing can fall apart.
A divorce can leave a formerly well-off single mother trapped in the welfare cycle, never quite breaking free, too drained by child care to put her full energy into a career, and too drained by fighting for work and resources to give her children the attention they crave.
A layoff leaves a family suddenly pinching every penny and going further and further into debt. Unused to being unable to give their children the things they considered "necessities" until recently, they descend into bitter bickering and wounded self-confidence. Their worsening credit rating means they are denied the loans they need now more than ever. Unable to pay for a trivial car repair, the parents find themselves dependent on friends and neighbors for transportation – making it even harder to look for work. Self-esteem plummets, and crippling depression sets in. Even if and when work is found, it takes months or years to crawl out of the crippling debt load and poor credit rating incurred by a few months of unemployment.
The bounty of international foodstuffs available at any suburban supermarket relies on a massive and intricate supply chain infrastructure. Stores only stock a few days’ worth of goods at most. A fuel shortage or other disaster affecting interstate logistics, and famine is short weeks away.
A family finds they can have the American dream, with all the little luxuries they desire, and send the kids to college – so long as both parents work full-time, fifty weeks a year, until they are sixty-five, and neither one ever contracts a debilitating illness, opts to pursue creative dreams, or decides to stay home with the children.
The older I get, the less I am OK with this state of being. This is absurd. It’s irresponsible. It’s unsustainable.
Now, I am not one of those who believes sustainable living can come only at the expense of reverting to a semi-primitive lifestyle. I believe that kind of life just opts for a different sort of fragility, a different set of dangers.
But as a society we are like a man who must run 24/7 in order to stay alive. If he slows or stops for a moment, he will die. I don’t want to force everyone to slow down to a uniform walking pace. I want to make the running optional.
It is increasingly clear to me that a good portion of my life’s effort moving forward will be to create a place, a set of values, a whole mode of living which will allow myself, my family, and anyone who chooses to join us to live robustly. A place and a lifestyle which will accommodate setbacks as a normal part of the rhythm of life rather than as life-changing events which trigger a destructive spiral. A community dedicated to the idea that bountiful resources can be experienced as true abundance, with all the leeway that abundance implies, rather than as only ever just enough.