We have a guest article to start our Memorial Day weekend. Marian Beddill has a philosophical fable for us to read and, she hopes, post a comment.
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Our biggest problem about getting along was figuring out who would do what, among all the things that had to be done, now that our life had suddenly changed. Changed for all of us. Changed drastically. Unplanned changes.
They were about a thousand people. Everybody knew that they had to eat, and they had to get good drinking water. The ocean is a great resource for some things, and a great danger because of other things, like storm waves and tsunamis. But you cannot drink the salty ocean water, so they had to find fresh water (and hope that it was clean enough to safely drink - they’d know soon enough if it was not clean!)
For food, somebody could probably catch some fish, or grab turtles and crabs. Maybe even somehow get ahold of one of the birds that were overhead (probably while it was perched on a limb or on the ground.) But meat has to be cooked, right? Or, wait, maybe it does not always - the Japanese eat raw fish, don’t they? How do you tell if THIS chunk of fish is OK to eat raw, while THAT chunk is not? I didn’t know. Maybe somebody does. They should share the info, so we will have a better chance at survival.
Survival. We have to hope to survive this. At least until we get found. If we ever do get found at all? But even that was not certain - what had happened in other places? Was this - our predicament - an isolated case, or had this—- this—- this thing—happened to others, too? No way to know. The radio was silent, except for some crackling sounds. So no way to tell if there was nobody else, or if our own instrument was busted.
At least it was warm enough now, so that being outdoors (since there were no doors, and no roofs, and no walls) was not terrible. But we knew what comes after September! So there would be a need for finding some shelter for the colder, stormier months. Those of us who thought about basic life things knew that the essential bodily human needs are for water, food, warmth and shelter - probably in that order.
So for shelter, we had about six weeks or so to either find some shelter already made, or build it for ourselves. What did the ancient peoples do? Caves? Tepees? Tents? Thatched huts? Yeah, all of the above, so we needed search parties for looking for resources. Find places to sleep. Find water. Find food. And when you find it, come back and tell us all about it - don’t hoard it for yourself!
What would I do, if I hit upon a great resource for these needs, while out scouting? Would I keep it a secret - or share?
But how did we get into this situation, anyway? So many questions.
There are about a thousand of us. We were all passengers on the boat, headed for a cruise around the continent. At least, I think that everybody here was a passenger. No way to be sure except by asking everybody - but that is mostly irrelevant, until we have life’s basic needs taken care of.
It must have been about 4-o’clock in the morning - maybe a bit later, and I was sound asleep in the bunk.
I suddenly woke up, and the top of my head hurt. I realized a second later that it hurt because it had been banged against the wall at the end of the bed. How could that be? Then, within a minute there were all kinds of strange sounds - banging, screeching, yelling, horns beeping, crying,—and once in a while a horrendous deep boom! Explosions? We never knew.
I grabbed shirt and pants, and got them halfway on while I headed out the door into the corridor. Dozens of others there, in the same state of shock, wonder, worry, mystery, And, for a few, aggravation—a few guys were bitching at being awakened so early. I kinda sensed that this was not some bosses’ decision, that one could file a complaint about. It was a—- what? a crash? —a collision?—an attack? Impossible to tell, but the important thing right then was - What to do?
After that, things for the next hour were a blur. Moving down the corridor. Hearing strange sounds and incoherent yelling. Movement that was not normal. Smells. Smoke? Must be smoke! Danger! Smoke! Gotta get up to the top and get some air! Air! Gotta breathe!!! Gotta bre….......
Then I opened my eyes, and it was deadly quiet. I was breathing heavily, but I WAS breathing. I pinched my leg, and I felt the pinch. If you are dead, can you feel pinches? Probably not, but who knows? I looked to the side, and I saw trees. And a beach. I was lying on a beach. Vaguely, I had flashes of fragmented memory—of movement—of pushing—of what seemed like falling but it really wasn’t—it didn’t all seem to fit or make sense. But never mind the history - I’d get to that later.
I seemed to be alive, but was I injured? Hesitatingly, I started trying to move body parts. Fingers. Check. Wrists. Check. Arms. Check. Neck. Check. I hurt, but things seemed to be working. Slowly, carefully, I started to try to get up.
I could now hear other sounds around me. The surf. A few voices in the distance. Moans and the occasional yell. There were other people here. Wherever the hell “Here” was.
I stood up slowly. It was dark - or nearly dark. A bit of moonlight. Then I was dizzy.
It felt like something was banging on my chest, and I swatted at it. But there was nothing there. I looked down. Nothing there. I put my hand on my chest where I had felt - was still feeling - the banging. I was still dizzy. But bit by bit, I realized it was my heart beating. Beating hard. Like happens to you when you’re in danger and frightened, or exhausted after strenuous exercise.
Fading back to reality, I guessed I might be in danger And I must be exhausted. Whatever had happened, it took a toll on my body, but not the final toll. I had survived. I was alive.
That had been two days ago. Were were still thirsty and hungry, but had been surviving on some fruits, and a few little chunks of raw fish. A rainshower the first day had probably been our salvation - we captured cupfulls and half-pints in hats, coconut shells, and wet shirts.
I had slept on the ground, with a couple of palm fronds over me as makeshift blankets. Not good, but better than nothing. After all, there was no concierge to complain to. About like the backwoods camping that we had done, voluntarily, back when we were younger and tougher and maybe dumber (uhhh, say “less smart”, please.)
So now were into the third day, and it was clear that we had to take action, to keep up our survival. We knew that the essential bodily human needs are for water, food, warmth and shelter - probably in that order. (Oh, I already said that. Well, don’t fuss - they are the true basic needs for living creatures, and that’s what we were now - creatures in the wilds.)
So we started talking about getting ourselves those survival resources. How do you talk to a thousand people, scattered over a long distance on the shoreline and a few up the slopes, mauka of most of us? No phones or internet. Small groups formed just because they happened to be in the same little spot. (The same “neighborhood?) I guess that fits, yeah - our neighborhood. So we were talking about what to do, and how to best do it. Talking, but not enough doing.
It felt to me like (when I could think clearly) that we needed to share tasks and duties. A few to look nearby for stuff. Some others should look farther away. in the sunrise direction. And another bunch towards the sunset - and who can go uphill a ways? We needed some organization.
That’s it. Success depends on being organized. I used to know that, but in a totally different set of circumstances. Back in daily life, in Phase “A” (before this, which is now Phase “B”), we each belonged to many groups. Clubs, Associations, the business, the City, etc. So, we knew the value of being organized. Belonging to organizations. Joining organizations so we would belong. But there’s a difference now - there are no organizations. Nothing is set up to participate in.
And that’s when my experience in civic work dawned on me. Duhhhhh! Of course!
We need a structure for doing things. We need a way to have some folks do stuff that benefits both themselves and everybody else. We need a way to have some folks make sure that all the things that need to be done, are getting done. And we need a way to decide just what needs to be done - then a way to get somebody to do it, even if it seems like hard work or not their favorite thing. The end, survival, will not be gained if everybody just picks the blackberries and the low-hanging fruit on those trees. We gotta cooperate. Aha! That’s what that word means - “co” and “operate” - operating together.
We need a government! Gotta get people to agree to ways to manage these things.
Those two guys that had been yelling in the corridor about being woke up so early, had been standing together at the edge of the beach, yelling at somebody about something—didn’t seem to make much sense. And surely didn’t get me a drink of water - or dinner.
We got to “form a government”. Agree that certain folks will be in charge, and others will go out and do the jobs that need to be done.
So the first things that this little bunch that had been talking decided to do was…..............
[ Now you, gentle reader, finish the story. The first things to do are to ...................? ]
We have a guest article to start our Memorial Day weekend. Marian Beddill has a philosophical fable for us to read and, she hopes, post a comment.
Comments by Readers
James J JohannMay 25, 2009
There is just such a band of people who charged themselves to “form a government.” They were the pirates at the turn of the early eighteenth century. During their short existence they did it quite successfully by forming a true working example of a democracy, both on land and at sea.
Unfortunately, they had some nasty tendencies and their experiment failed under the power and might of the English navy, with some help from nature.
If, for purposes of examining the formation of government, one is willing to divorce those unsavory aspects of piracy from the notion of government, one could find a fascinating account in the book “The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down” by Colin Woodard (also available on audio CD).
According to a review on Amazon.com “an unusual group of pirates, led by Edward “Blackbeard” Teach and Sam Bellamy, actually set up a functioning government in the Bahamas with pretensions to establishing a form of social justice. Their “republic” attracted deserting sailors who could not tolerate harsh naval discipline, runaway slaves, and impoverished farmers. In this republic, called New Providence, a rough but democratic and egalitarian ethos apparently took hold.”
All hands elected their Captains on board ship, and participated in life and death decisions. Similarly, all hands elected leaders on land. It was democracy and it was direct. And, it was effective. Ineffective leadership was quickly dismissed; non-productive members as well.
Shares in the profits were distributed fairly and consistently. The risks were also shared.
The pirate government did not survive, but not because it was a bad government. It was destroyed because it was based on a poor ethical idea - theft. The peoples being plundered were the ultimate downfall of the pirates.
One thing from which it did not suffer, and perhaps never would have, was the internal plunder of its leaders. Such leaders walked the plank or were unelected on the spot when necessary.
Nor did it suffer from plunder by non-producers. Leaders and members were not beholden to people who did not share in making the venture successful.
As a government, it was successful, albeit small and short term. Its early demise was not so much a result of the weaknesses of its social construct as of the strength of its natural enemies.
It would have been interesting to observe the long term success or lack of success of the pirates’ social experiment. Naturally, most systems which work well when small tend to disintegrate when they become too large. Nor did time have the opportunity to exact its demands.
Myriad questions come to mind as to how the social experiment might have prospered had it not been based upon the flawed premise of theft. How were their families on land treated and supported? What would have happened to the pirates who lost their limbs and abilities while “working.”
As in all good discussion, in this case “How to form a government”, a response to one question leads to more questions. Good Socratic dialogue. Much to be preferred to the arrogance of “settled” inquiry.
John WattsMay 25, 2009
Come to consensus on what’s most important; food & water, shelter and safety. Then, begin to divvy up tasks among those willing to form a cooperative effort for common good.
Those who won’t would make good pirates.
Mr Johann’s comment is interesting, and reflects information I have also read and blogged upon, on April 16 and 20 of this year. He is right that the pirates got the mechanics of governance right, but a sustainable basis for it wrong.
Basing a society upon force, violence and fear is a loser, although any society inherently has those elements and must deal with them.
So, the first thing that must happen is honest dialogue among the survivors to ascertain their values, needs and willingness to cooperate in a social structure designed for the common good.
Then, leaders must be found that the followers trust and will actively support. Without willing followers, no leader can succeed.
Failing this, go back to sleep and hope for a better dream.
Tip JohnsonMay 25, 2009
The Basque region of Spain was brutally repressed, beaten and abused under Franco’s tyranical rule. Speaking basque was punishable by death. The civil war took a tragic toll. Eventually, Franco died. The Basque people were left staggering under the worst poverty in Western Europe.
Today it’s a different story. They pulled together as a community and, through the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation, have produced jobs, wealth, opportunity and, most importantly, stability. Based on ten principals of 1)Open Admission, 2)Democratic Organisation, 3)Sovereignty of Labour, 4)the Instrumental and Subordinate Character of Capital, 5)Participatory Management, 6)Payment Solidarity, 7)Interco-operation, 8)Social Transformation, 9)Universality, and 10)Education, they have transformed themselves in a span of about forty years.
You can get started at their website here.
John LesowMay 26, 2009
A refreshing defense of the Somali pirates was recently offered up in an article in Canada’s National Post.
Since many visitors of this site are of the liberal persuasion, I doubt that many read the conservative Post, easily the best newspaper in North America and one of the few that still makes money.
As a result of an unending war and socio/economic breakdown, the Somali fishing industry, once a staple of the economy, has cratered. There is no Somali Coast Guard or Navy to protect fisherman’s interests or secure the Somali coastline.
As a result, foreign countries have overfished Somali waters with impunity and depleted fish stocks to extinction.
In addition,European governments find the prospect of nuclear and toxic waste disposal in Somali waters too tempting to resist and contract third parties to dump waste in Somali waters for a fraction of what they would pay to have the waste safely treated in Europe. As a result, Somaila’s offshore ecosystem has been degraded past the point of recovery. A great example of the wimpish bullying so prevalent in the collectivist governments in postwar Europe.
Somali pirates are generally supported, and in some cases revered, by the landbound Somali citizenry. Modern-day Robin Hoods that are avenging the economic and environmental destruction visited on their homeland by decadent Europhiles that see Somali as a convenient dumping ground for the waste products of their industrial society.
Significantly, the United States does not fish or dump waste in Somali waters. Bush/Cheney haters please take note.
The defense of Somali pirates and their success in extracting significant ransom dollars from first world governments is an interesting perspective. One that you will not likely read in the Huffington Post or the Bellingham Herald.
In truth, many alternative insights come from conservative reporters writing for conservative newspapers; publications that most Hamsters would be loathe to admit reading; or quoting.
Marian BeddillMay 26, 2009
But of the four comments so far, only one has addressed the essential question:
“So the first things that this little bunch that had been talking decided to do was…..............”
This case is different from the pirates and the Basques mentioned by others. Those groups already had some cohesion, members were known to each other and there were existing leaders. This story has a large, random group who were largely strangers when the need arose.
John LesowMay 27, 2009
On first read, yours struck me as a Robert Evans pitch for a pilot; sort of like “Castaway Meets Survivor”.
Stepping back from that, what would I do?
Well, first I would pick a strong, ideologically similar partner to team up with. After all, that is why cops work in pairs. From that base of two, we would expand to five. Same as a squad in the Army. The squad would be like-minded and united by a sense of patriotic duty and a faith in a Christian God. Yes, we would all be God-fearing and bound by a faith in Jesus Christ and a literal embrace of the Ten Commandments and the Old Testament. That would be essential to keep a tenuous situation from unraveling into anarchy.
From there, we would attempt to fashion an action plan that would accomplish a basic framework for mutual survival and a sense of hope for the future. Even if that future was, at best, a Swiss Family Robinson meets Robinson Crusoe. My squad would consist of 5 men,but we would actively engage in outreach to similar groups comprised primarily of women. Ideally, the groups would interact and propagate and manage to have a safer, more comfortable and hopeful existence than that described in your commentary. With a sense of audacious hope, and a little luck, we could fashion a simple, yet relatively secure existence despite the pre-industrial, post-traumatic scenario set forth in your example.
Hope this helps.
Dick ConoboyMay 27, 2009
Surely you jest, Mr. Lesow?
I was trained as an airborne infantry platoon leader. There was little homogeneity by race or creed in the squads (mostly draftees) under my command. Yet they were very well-trained and effective and won annual division level awards to prove it. I seldom experienced anything approaching anarchy.
John LesowMay 29, 2009
I served as a platoon leader in the Army. Didn’t have Airborne status, but admired those that did. My platoon was diverse and most recruits were from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. In the 60’s, as now, most rich kids avoided military service.
Religion was a common bond. We had non-denominational chaplains. Most of us attended church services on Sunday. Faith was an important component of our military discipline.
The author’s theoretical scenario depicts choices not unlike those encountered in wartime.
My experience is that a strong faith in God is essential in any productive human endeavor. Particularly when the going gets tough and secularism becomes intellectually tedious and ultimately non-productive when pursuing survival strategies.
Kamalla R. KaurMay 29, 2009
Big Hug Marian,
Wonderful to see you here.
I’d gather with the Sisters first - promote Grandmothers into leadership.
Kamalla R. KaurJun 02, 2009
Hi again Marian,
Been imagining what I’d do.
Shun those jocketing for power; Alpha Ape sorts particularly.
Join with those who feed the hungry, share the water, heal the sick and who keep their spirits strong. Want to work hard, doing whatever needs doing, side by side with others who put other’s first.
If my “side” lacks numbers, or weapons (which we will lack, of course) and we end up murdered by robber barons or street thugs or those who wish to silence us or eradicate us - at least we die well.
Beyond refusing to practice fear, greed or panic in times of community crisis, and my commitment to the humble - I plan to shut up because I lack education in environmental science and community consciousness raising.
But interested in learning.
How about it Marian? Tell your vision some more, please.
Marian BeddillJun 06, 2009
Well, I was hoping for the contributions of others - but I do have some ideas.
I reckon the first natural groupings would be…..No, wait a sec. Lets see if this triplex rule fits:
“For success in life;
It doesn’t really matter so much WHAT you know - though you DO have to know it; and
It doesn’t really matter so much WHO you know - though you DO have to know them; but
What really matters is .... who knows YOU!”
So in that case, if somebody already knows that you have some skill that is relevant, they will speak out in your favor.
And if you demonstrate some ability (like the famous ability to divine water with a forked stick) and somebody knows that you have that ability, then you’re in a good position to help the community.
As to priorities, I’d say air to breathe, safe water to drink, food—then shelter if there are hazards or cold. Folks who have skills on those should be assisted to put them to practice. We’d have to show respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.