Through the modern age, communities have found themselves increasingly looking to the outside world for their needs. This began with security. As the state rose and asserted a monopoly on armed violence, communities no longer had to man their walls. Eventually those walls disappeared.
In the 20th century, the trend broadened. Instead of relying on local agriculture for food, it was shipped in on national networks such as the rail system. Local electric-power companies, which often began as streetcar lines that sold surplus power, were absorbed into regional systems. Travel became far-ranging with the advent of the railroads; now, in the auto age, it often depends on fuel from halfway around the world.
Globalism has made us dependent on foreign countries for many things. This is true even of finance. The money to sustain our debt-based economy and government mostly comes from abroad.
With dependence comes vulnerability. Much of the world’s oil originates in unstable regions. Obscure diseases from Asia can launch pandemics here. Cyberwar or solar flares can take down our electrical and communication grids. What happens to life, which is still lived locally, when massive failure hits globally?
A new movement called “resilient communities” is addressing this question. The basic answer is that through a combination of new technologies and revived old ways of living we can relocalize the systems our lives depend on. The concept’s foremost advocate, former Air Force officer John Robb, wrote on his website, Global Guerillas:
Our global system is composed of intermeshed and tightly coupled networks. These interlinked networks enable our system to be efficient and relatively robust against random shocks. However, large shocks can overwhelm this type of network design, causing it to either act erratically (turbulence) or break apart (into smaller clusters via cascades of failure). …
In either case, system recovery could be catalyzed and the damage largely mitigated, if our global system was scale invariant. Basically, this means that if we had communities that could produce at the local level many of the essential products and services produced at the global level, handling disconnection or buffering turbulence would be of little consequence.
“Fortunately,” he continues, “we are seeing movement towards scale invariant resilient communities. These communities can and would be able to operate autonomously regardless of availability, pricing, or quality of external goods/services for extended periods of time.”
The resilient-communities movement is not survivalism. It is focused on communities, not individuals, and it promises to maintain or even increase quality of life. It’s not about eating snakes and living in igloos.
What potential challenges face a community that wants to become resilient? The first is security. If global or national systems fail, the local government and police force will not vanish. They are the basis for local security. Beyond them, a community may need a militia. This is tricky, because militias can bring disorder. The key is to have only one militia, built on the local remnants of the state, i.e., the National Guard. Competing militias must be ruthlessly suppressed.
Beyond personal safety, a community’s first need is potable water. A local ability to treat river, stream, or lake water would be important, or, alternatively, a program to give each block a hand-pumped well before disaster strikes.
Robb discusses on his website many other ways to make life resilient. For example, 3D computer printing and individual home power generation with fuel cells enable manufacturing and energy to become local again. An idea I’ve championed is for every community to designate a network of streets that, in a gasoline shortage, will become bicycle-only. What keeps many people off bikes is the danger of being hit by a car. Take that away and the old-tech bike is a 21st-century local transportation system.
Some of the ways of keeping a community functioning in the face of national or global meltdown can be accomplished on short notice, at least with prior planning. One that cannot is local agriculture. But the relocalization of food sources is a movement already underway. For security reasons, if no other, conservatives should be advocates of intensive and sustainable agriculture, farmers’ markets, backyard poultry, and the like. When systems fail, you are where you eat.
Realists know that big systems mean big failures. Our lives will always be local, and if our locality can provide all the things we need to live, we are secure. Were we to divert the $1.4 trillion slated for the F-35 fighter/bomber to helping communities become resilient instead, we might actually get something for the money.
William S. Lind is the author, with Lt. Col. Gregory A. Thiele, of the 4th Generation Warfare Handbook. This article was supported by the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.