A year and a half ago I saw Cory Doctrow at Powells talking about his new book, Walkaway. Since then he’s been doing the podcasts and radio shows talking about the book, but more so, talking as he usually does, about the socioeconomic and technological conditions behind the story. I just listened to his interview with the German radio show, Netzpolitik (Cory’s blog post on it here, where you can follow the link to the show or the MP3 to download… you can also listen to it in your podcatcher program if you follow Cory’s podcasts).
I really encourage you to listen to at least the first 15 minutes. Cory was one of the first influences on me as I was outgrowing libertarianism some years ago, moving toward anarcho-syndaclism. In this interview, he discusses how it will become necessary to build flat, hierarchy-less organizations to get things done. But most significantly, he talks about how the libertarian ideas that fuel so much of distopian fiction, of “I got mine, now get away from my bunker!” is neither what generally happens in disasters, nor should it be how we think about dealing with disaster.
Catrastrophe WILL happen, whether it’s natural or man-made, that’s a given. Whether “small-scale” or large. But actual experience shows that we humans are communal, cooperative species. We will and do come together by and large to help each other. What individualist looting and shooting and stealing happens is usually on the fringes and are exceptions to the rule. But even so, we can influence how we think of disaster and recovery by the narratives we create. If all our narratives are of distopia where we bunker into our shelters with our guns and wait for the neighbors to come by to steal what we have, we create that kind of reality around us. But if we plan for and expect when disaster happens that the neighbors come to help and rebuild together, that’s the “fail safe” we create.
In the libertarian view of storing your own supplies and guns for the innevitable crash, what you get are individual kings of their tiny hills, but that lasts only so long as the food and ammo hold out. You don’t get society and all the developments that come from it for not just survival, but thriving — clean water sources, ample food supply, medical care and sanitation, electrical power etc. If you want to and can live in a cabin by a stream to survive on your own, fine. (Until your water source is contaminated or your broken leg goes septic.) But if you want to have clean, safe resources and technology, you’re going to need to rely on community and cooperation. And by and large, historically, we actually do as a people.
He references the book Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit which looks at examples of human cooperation and communal effort to repair and rebuild after actual disaster. I’m reminded of Negri and Hardt’s book Multitude which remains my inspiration and reminder that the coming revolution may not need to be violent (for the first time in history), and may be technological and networked and crowdsourced.
Related to that, I like how he talks about the failure of “scientific history,” of the failure of vulgar or classical Marxism (and I’m a Marxist), to believe it can predict the future based on the past. How what we need to embrace is dynamic, ever-changing conditions and adaptability. Instead of relying on long-term planning and A-to-Z (he says “zed,” I love Canadians), we need to get good at heuristic creation that allows us to develop in ever-adaptable and improvising steps using networks and flat, cooperative hierarchy.