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The Republic of Responsible

Imagine, if you will, a hypothetical society of just three people, Albert, Bill and Charlene – each of whom provides basic necessities for everyone:

Albert provides the food, Bill does all the construction work, and Charlene makes all the clothes. In other words, everyone has their basic needs met by society. Sounds ideal, right?

Then one day, for some unknown reason, Albert decides to go rogue and stop providing food for the others – choosing instead to indulge himself on his magnificent abundance of food. Meanwhile, the other two, without the means of sustaining themselves are beginning to starve.

And so, the question:
Whose fault is it that Bill and Charlene are starving?

Perhaps take a moment to think about that, then read on when you’re ready…

. . .

It’s a bit of a tricky question. Because the intuitive answer – Albert – is not the one that arrives quickest to solving the problem.

The optimum answer is that it’s Bill and Charlene’s fault that they have no food.


Because they (or the social contract that they consented to) put themselves into a vulnerable position. They ran out of food – not because of Albert’s behaviour – but because they were too dependent on Albert in the first place and should have been better prepared for alternative scenarios.

In short, regardless of how Albert behaves, their food is ultimately their responsibility.

Maybe that sounds harsh, but consider this: When Albert goes rogue, is pursuing and punishing him really the optimum way of securing their food? (Remember the food is what’s important here, not the people controlling it)

Overthrowing Albert is of course an option, but not because they are removing him, because they are, by force, rewriting that social contract in order to access that all-important food.

However, by (presumably) making an enemy of Albert through violent action, how stable can this new social arrangement really be? Won’t Albert soon be back for food himself, and perhaps retribution? What will happen then? And crucially – even if you killed Albert – what lessons in dependency were learned for the future, apart from violence?

Because this is a hypothetical scenario, it gives us the opportunity to look at it from all angles coldly and impartially – and before the event. Solutions-based thinking invariably shows us that the problem is the original arrangement because it was too rigid, too exposed to weak links, and anyone agreeing to it was potentially making a mistake.

. . .

As you’ve probably guessed by now, this scenario is intended as a metaphor for our current society, in which Albert represents the prevailing ‘establishment’ and the other two are – well – the rest of us. And, frankly, we are all currently much too exposed to the whims of ‘Albert’ and his contemporaries.

Yes, there are things in life that we are powerless to prevent, but there are many we can prevent, if we only assert responsibility for ourselves and for securing our own needs. And, in today’s society, most of us don’t assume any responsibility for where our food, water, energy, etc. come from.

The vast majority of us depend entirely on an external system to provide those things – even though that system has proven itself time after time to be vulnerable and corruptible with its recessions, depressions, wars, bailouts, ineffective politics, etc.

Yet even despite this, time after time we follow the same intuitive response of vilifying those who ‘break the contract’ and bay for their blood without scarcely giving a thought to how to personally insure that such things never happen to us again.

Consumerism and convenience culture has created this dangerous dependency crisis which is only going to bite us again and again until we start thinking and acting in self- and community-responsibility.

Think about this: Today, around 55% of Earth’s human population live in cities – a figure which is even set to greatly to increase. And yet a city like New York with a population of almost nine million people only has enough food to last five days in a supply emergency.

What will they do when ‘Albert’ goes rogue then?

Or, more to the point, what are we doing now so that the errant and unreliable ‘Albert’ can do whatever he likes without making everyone else’s lives miserable?

Where will you get your food from when the supermarkets are closed? How will you travel when there’s no more oil in the ground? How will you cook when the power is switched off? How will you call for help when the network goes down?

Far from wanting to be a doomsday prophet, I am merely pointing out how vulnerable we really are. Recent economic crises such as in Venezuela, Greece or Detroit are always within mere days of happening anywhere. No-one saw the global banking crash of 2008 coming – and it could have had disastrous social consequences had drastic action not been taken.

I’m not suggesting that we all need to be militantly self-sufficient – snarlingly guarding our meagre potato patches with a shotgun on our lap. No. Being self-sufficient is rarely possible, nor is it even the optimum solution.

My point is that we are much too far in the opposite extreme. We are highly vulnerable. Most of us are utter, passive dependants on something that has continually let us down in the past, and, like Bill and Charlene may too find ourselves on the wrong side of Albert some day.

Self-sufficient communities are highly possible and help protect us from external pressures. Sharing skills and resources locally is not just a healthy, rewarding thing to do, it’s also a wise thing to do because it creates systemic redundancy and fall back for us when things go wrong. ie. A community that benefits from our support will always support us when we need it.

Even just taking the decision to become more responsible for ourselves will make a big difference in our lives. When bad things happen to us, we must hold no-one except ourselves accountable.

It’s counter-intuitive, but also acutely liberating.

Published in Blog


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