Dave Pollard's chronicle of civilization's collapse, creative works and essays on our culture.
A trail of crumbs, runes and exclamations along my path in search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.

December 24, 2010

Will You and Your Community Survive Collapse?

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 03:03


Recently I have been writing about the need for a more existential approach to Transition and to building personal and collective resilience to cope with the coming economic, energy and ecological crises, and perhaps even the collapse of our teetering and unsustainable civilization. The idea of that approach was to start with ourselves: To ask ourselves “What does it mean to live a good life?”, rather than “How should I prepare for the transition to a post-cheap-oil, post-stable-climate, post-industrial-economy world?”

From the answer to that existential question, comes an assessment of how we must change, what fundamentally different things we must do, and what we must do fundamentally differently from how we d it today. Incrementalism is no longer sufficient. Though we must conserve, recycle, reduce, reuse, and produce and spend less “stuff”, this alone is not going to be enough, even if we all were to do it. The issue of “how we must change” is a question both for us as individuals and for those with whom we live in community, because the overwhelming consensus is that in order to live sustainably we must relocalize our society, and that means doing things in community, not as part of a fragile, costly, opportunistic and predatory “globalization” economy and society.

It seems to me that the first step in assessing “how we must change” (and hence perhaps the logical and essential first step in any Transition Initiative) , is to take stock of the abilities we have now, and the abilities we will need to live post-transition, resiliently and sustainably, in a relocalized world.

So I pulled together several lists of abilities that I have written about or worked on over the past few years:

  • The “survival skills” list that I have mindmapped several times and suggested as a framework for “unschooling”
  • The list of essential abilities that we brainstormed in a recent Bowen in Transition meeting
  • The list of twelve core competencies and capacities I propose in my book about making a living for yourself, Finding the Sweet Spot
  • The list of abilities I suggested in a recent article were essential to being a good facilitator or a good mentor
  • The list of qualities needed for good presentations from Heather Gold (edit: this line added Dec. 24; it was an oversight to have omitted it)
  • The list of “patterns” that a group of us have been working on for a “pattern language of group process” (including essential abilities for good conversation and collaboration); I’ll be writing more about this project in the near future

What I came up with was a list of 65 abilities (diagrammed above) that tended to fall into five main types:

  • Knowledge: Acquired information that is essential context for understanding how the world works and how we might do things better.
  • Innate Capacities: Inherent abilities, aptitudes we’re born with (evolution has selected these qualities for survival for all species, not just humans, and you can see all these capacities simply by watching the birds, or wild creatures at work or play. Many of these innate capacities are drummed out of us by the education system or other social indoctrination and can be lost. And they must be practised to be retained.
  • Acquired Capacities: These are also abilities that come to us naturally, but they generally emerge from practice and with maturity as we become adults
  • Skills: Learned abilities that come from applying our knowledge and capacities in practicable ways. None is inherent; all are learnable.
  • Behaviour Patterns: These are complex abilities that involve the sophisticated application of a mix of knowledge, skills and capacities. Many of these are rare and hard-won and all must be practised. It’s been my experience that in hierarchical organizations and social structures these behaviour patterns are almost non-existent. They emerge generally from groups of people finding the most effective way to work together as peers. This is where the real “ability gap” lies, I believe, if we are to be effective in our Transition Initiatives, in becoming more resilient personally and collectively, and in building a new and better society after civilization’s collapse.

I think most of these 65 abilities are fairly self-explanatory. I have added notes to the five I think are not. I went through a lot of other possible abilities which I finally grouped into this list of 65 (if you’re curious, here’s my worksheet listing which are grouped with each of the 65).

It’s a fairly imposing list. No wonder living in intentional community is such a challenge! So what good is this list? Here’s what I did with it:


  1. I wrote each of the 65 abilities on a “post-it” sticky note (I used 4 different colours for the 4 different types)
  2. On a large whiteboard, I made a map, as shown above, to delineate areas where I had the ability, needed to improve it, or didn’t have it at all, and likewise areas where those in my community(ies) had or lacked the ability. I posted each of the 65 sticky notes in the appropriate spot on the “map”. If I was the best in my community at some ability, it went on the far left side of the map. If it was an ability many of us in the community are good at, it went in the middle (midway between left and right) and so on.
  3. I considered the degree to which I am or will be very dependent on my community (stickies on the right side of the map), and the degree to which it will be very dependent on me (stickies on the far left side of the map). I realized that some of the latter abilities are not recognized in the community, and I need to take responsibility (in Transition activities at least) for conveying these as areas where I can provide a unique contribution to my community.
  4. I considered the degree to which my community is unprepared for crisis (stickies in the bottom section of the map). There were a lot more than I expected, given the number of capable and experienced facilitators here on Bowen Island.
  5. I created my own personal “learning plan”. I have a lot to learn, even if I continue to be dependent on others in my community in a number of areas where I will probably never be particularly competent.
  6. I asked myself: Looking at this map, and imagining some of the crises we are likely to face in the coming years and decades, Could I survive collapse (answer: I’m not sure)? Could my community (answer: I’m not sure)? From what I know of the world, could most communities (answer: probably not)?

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on this. As a tool for Transition Initiatives, would this be a useful first step to assess current personal and community strengths and weaknesses? Or would it be so overwhelming that it would just discourage potential Transitioners before they’d begun?

And is it useful as a personal “taking stock” tool, to measure your own resilience, and what you need to learn in the years ahead?

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