Resilience Has Been Lost

When I was 12 I went to my great grandmothers house to stay during the Christmas break at school.  I took some reading material along, but much of the time was spent enjoying my grandmothers company and helping lift heavy things or reach high shelves.  During this particular stay a blizzard come through knocking down power lines across the state.  Roads were impassible for all the ice and snow.  The wind had blown the snow in front of the garage forming a huge snowdrift from the top eave all the way out to the road.  It took me a week to shovel it out.  

Having been born in the 1800s and lived in the hinterlands of downeast Maine all her life, my grandmother was well prepared.  She had oil heat, but with the power out the thermostat and electric controls meant it was down.  Her fridge was electric.  The well pump was electric.  Electric lights became a ceiling decoration.  None of it made a difference.  She hauls out a couple of kerosene lamps.  I haul some firewood to get the woodstove going.  She scooped up a tub of snow to melt beside the stove.  Beans went in a pot on top of the stove.  The frozen food went outside.  Refrigerated food went into the bathtub along with lots of snow which would simply drain away as it melted.  Light, heat, cooking, water, refrigeration, food...all her needs were in place.  The woodstove had an oven, a hot water tank, and enough space on top to cook for an army.  All the potatoes, canned vegetables and firewood in the basement made her self-sufficient for as long as she needed to be.  She used oil heat and electricity because it was convenient at 80 years old.  Being prepared and self sufficient was a behavior as natural to her as getting up in the morning.  

Compare this situation with a typical modern suburban household.  Food storage is much more limited than it was in the days of my grandmother.  Homes are not designed with pantries and root cellers.  Storing food, growing food, dehydration and canning are rare skills.  Shopping skills are the only necessity when the supermarket carries everything, all the time.  Shopping for all the supplies used in the home can be done weekly or as needed.  Convenience stores nearby make it possible to run out quickly for a loaf of bread and gallon of milk.  The big storms which would knock out the power for long periods are few and far between.  The large population prioritizes cities and their suburbs for getting the power reconnected first.  As a nation we have moved from rural to urban with more than 50% of the people now living in urban centers.  The roads and highways have been built up over the decades which effectively place the countryside a whole lot closer to the city.  It's not the same country it was a hundred years ago.

The self-sufficiency of our grandparents and ancestors made them resilient.  They could weather the storms.  They could make it through the hard times.  They were not dependent on someone else for their basic needs.  They did not rely on stores or supply chains.  For much of human history we didn't even need money.  Money is an invention created to solve the problems of standardizing trade over long distances and between goods at different times of the year.  Money made it possible to trade for food-spices from the orient, rum from the West Indies, cotton from the new World.  In recent decades this has been taken to extremes.  Lettuce from California, apples from Washington, Maine lobster, French wine, Columbian coffee, chocolate from Africa, cashews from India, all of it shipped thousands of miles to distribution centers, then to your local supermarket, and finally to your home.  Most people get most of their food packaged in a portion designed to last a serving, a meal, or perhaps a week...just long enough to get by until that next paycheck arrives.  Today we purchase the illusion of resilience in seven day increments.