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My understanding of previous collapsing societies is that, amongst other shared qualities, they’re also characterized by a combination of denial and insanity, the one usually hard to distinguish from the other.

Hence, the example of the Lone Star State this past week, that bastion of rugged male individualism, where in the midst of great suffering amongst the electorate caused in no small part by the gross incompetence and negligence of their elected officials, you had a Governor on Fox News stating that this crisis points to why the Green New Deal would be a disaster, and a Senator taking a vacation in Cancun (something he undoubtedly had earned after all the effort he had spent in recent weeks insisting that the Trumpster had the election stolen from him).

Folks, Texas is another be-real moment, much as Katrina was, much as the COVID is. Loud and clear, we’re being told We’re On Our Own! We need to become adept at taking care of ourselves and our neighbors. We can’t — and we shouldn’t — depend on a government to do this for us, populated as it is by too many politicians who don’t give a damn about us common folks because they’re busy lining the pockets of the 1 percent who own them.

The displays of mutual aid that we’ve seen here in Windham County as well as other parts of the state and country, are so heartwarming, demonstrating once again that, despite our human shortcomings, we are essentially good people, who invariably rise to the occasion in the service of each other when a crisis strikes. This is our beacon of hope, and something to build on.

But frankly, as good as these efforts are, they are not enough, at least for the “Long Emergency” that we are presently in, and, as Texas reminds us, will continue for the foreseeable future and increasingly worsen. Imagine, if you will, the national grid failing. The consequences of such a catastrophe will make the current pandemic look like the proverbial walk in the park.

We can’t afford to fold our mutual aid tents after the immediate COVID crisis has ostensibly ended, when we’re all vaxed, and entertaining dreams of returning to a mythical “normal” (that, by the way, brought us to where we are today). Rather, we must continue to build on these efforts, to expand on them and have them become a way of life: the new, realistic normal that we now live.

Quite simply, we must become involved with each other in regular community meetings. We need to be talking with one another, asking ourselves how we are going to live when we don’t have ready access to food and water and energy, and all the other other necessities that a now disintegrating civilization has provided us. We need to be discussing and planning now, because tomorrow, when Texas happens to us, we will be overwhelmed, it will be too late.

We need to do this even though as we begin this journey we don’t have a clue as to what can be done. We are entering uncharted waters, and have to accept the fact that, illusions notwithstanding, we don’t have the answers, we’re not in control.

But one of the marvelous things that I’ve noticed about our kind over the years is that when you bring a bunch of people together, and we become focused on the task at hand, we get creative and imaginative, are a little more risk taking, come up with ideas that weren’t there when we first sat down with each other, and begin to get ourselves organized with a spirit of “well, let’s try this.” Yes, it’s true, we will make mistakes (we have to be ready to forgive ourselves and each other), and what we come up with will not necessarily make the growing catastrophe and imminent collapse disappear overnight. But we will increasingly learn how to take care of ourselves and each other. And, yes, we won’t always fail, either, as our mixed-bag history plainly testifies to.

This will be especially so if we operate in the spirit of mutual aid writ large — where our essential heartfelt values of lovingkindness, compassion and generosity are consistently in play, not just in a moment of crisis, but as an intimate part of everyday life, and we’re the high functioning adults we were always meant to be.

This will occur when we come to accept that while we are on our own in terms of our misplaced dependency on a government that was never of the people, for the people (much less by the people), we are not on our own when we look to ourselves and our friends and neighbors to do what only we can do for ourselves. To take care of ourselves and each other as the interdependent beings we inescapably are.

Tim Stevenson is a community organizer from Athens with Post Oil Solutions and author of “Resilience and Resistance: Building Sustainable Communities for a Post Oil Age” (2015, Green Writers Press). The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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