The Oil Crash:
Leadership And Social Structure
By Peter Goodchild
22 September, 2006
biggest news story of modern times rarely appears in the conventional
news media, or it appears only in distorted forms. Ironically, the modern
world is plagued by a lack of serious information. Today's news item
is usually forgotten by tomorrow. The television viewer has the vague
impression that something happened somewhere, but one could change channels
all day without finding anything below the surface. But television is
only the start of the enigma. What is most apparent is the larger problem
that there is no leadership, no sense of organization, for dealing with
One might consider as an
analogy the Great Depression. During those ten years, everyone lived
on his own little island, lost, alone, and afraid. It was a "shame"
to be poor, so one could not even discuss it with one's neighbors. The
press and the politicians largely denied that the Depression existed,
so there was little help from them. In general, it was just each nuclear
family on its own - for those who were lucky enough to have a family.
Barry Broadfoot, in Ten Lost Years (p.353), records the memories of
one Depression survivor:
"Every newspaper across
Canada and in the United States always played up the silver lining.
. . . There were no such things as starvation, hunger marches, store
front windows being kicked in. Yes, they were reported, but always these
were called incidents and incited by 'highly-paid professional agitators.'"
A related problem is the
lack of ideological unity. While one person has a sort of Armageddon-like
vision, stocking up ammunition for the Last Battle, someone else is
busy on the Internet asking for ideas on how to make a still for the
dozen corn plants he intends to grow. There is a complete lack of agreement
on first principles.
Part of the reason for these
problems is that many modern societies, including that of the United
States, are "individualist" rather than "collectivist."
There is a sort of Daniel-Boone frontier mentality that pervades much
of modern life. In many ways, this has been beneficial: freedom from
tradition, freedom from onerous family duties, and freedom from manorial
obligations have perhaps provided much of the motivation for those who
came to what was seen as the "New World." That spirit of self-sufficiency
made it possible for pioneers to thrive in the isolation of the wilderness.
Yet we must not forget the
truism that there is strength and safety in numbers. Individualism might
be more beneficial in good times than in bad; Americans seem to adjust
poorly to crises. The defects of individualism can seen right within
what is mistakenly called the democratic process: political leaders
can tell the most blatant lies about economic trends, about warfare,
or about transgressions of civil liberties, and the response is a numbed,
silent obedience which is puzzling only until one realizes that the
individual has little means of behaving otherwise. He is generally lacking
in family or friends with whom he can share information or compare ideas,
and he is therefore entirely dependent on the news media for mental
sustenance. The television set in the living room is an altar on which
the average American sacrifices his common sense.
Faced with such challenges,
one would at first be lucky to produce a "post-oil community"
much larger than one's own nuclear family, before sheer destitution
forces people to take a more serious attitude to survival. Fair-sized
groups, however, would eventually develop. The society of the future
has never been described, but at least a number is available. Scholars
in various disciplines have found that a "tribe" of about
100 people seems best. That is roughly the size of the "working
group" to be found in most foraging or agrarian societies, as well
as in many of the more advance types of society, although there is so
much variety among human cultures that such a number is hardly verifiable
empirically. Hutterite communities, for example, have between 60 and
160 members. (Much can be learned from Anabaptist organization in general.)
In any case, the question
of the ideal political system is essentially not a political matter
but a psychological one. Homo sapiens and his ancestors spent several
million years living in small groups, hunting and gathering. The group
was small enough so that each person knew every other person. Democracy
could work because both the "voters" and the "politicians"
were visible. It has only been in a tiny fraction of the life span of
humanity that political units have been created that are far too large
for people to know one another except as abstractions. Small groups
have their problems, but in terms of providing happiness for the average
person, the band or village is more efficient than the empire.
Chicago Review Press has published Peter Goodchild's _Survival Skills
of the North American Indians_, _Raven Tales_, and _The Spark in the
Stone_. He has an M.A. in English from the University of Toronto. For
ten years he was a teacher in both English as a second language and
computer skills; two of those years were spent in Japan. He now owns
and manages a market garden in Irondale, Ontario, where he is involved
in issues of self-sufficiency and localized economy. He can be reached