How to save the world is a daunting question. The problem is too big and too nuanced for us to entirely comprehend, even if we spent our entire lives dedicated to it. Most of us only have so many resources and our direct influence only stretches to maybe a dozen or so people. Many of us can barely keep up with our own lives and struggle to keep up with what’s going on in our jobs and our small communities. So how can we be expected to contribute in a meaningful way to problems on a global scale?
The secret lies behind recognizing that the community which we recognize as ours is unlikely to be exactly the same group of people as anyone else. When we think of our community, we’re likely to think about it as a cloud of connections of people who are directly connected to us and are either directly or indirectly connected to each other.
When we pull back from the ego frame a bit, we can see that we’re but one node within a larger ecosystem. Each one of the nodes that we’re connected to is also connected to a bunch of other nodes some which we share and some which we don’t.
This is true for every single node in the network. Except in extreme circumstances of isolation, none of these networks look identical but they all share some common traits. We tend to have some very close connections with whom we share a lot of information, resources, and other close connections. We also tend to have some more distant connections which connect into other networks. While we share less with those connections, what we do share tends to be unique and therefore relatively more valuable to us and our close connections.
When you zoom out even further, a pattern of interconnected communities develops, showing that we’re all more connected than we’re capable of truly comprehending.
That’s all well and good, but what do we do with this information?
I think that conceptually, we all know this. We know that the people we’re connected to are connected to other people who are connected to other people and so on. This is how we’ve ended up with a global society in the first place.
Our current systems of resource management and governance, however, don’t respect the facts of this network of interconnected communities. Political parties and corporations manage to control us by convincing us that we can be split neatly into different homogenous demographics with shared values and connections. They attempt to cut our loose connections and the interconnectedness between communities that comes with them so that they can insert themselves into that gap as “useful”. By doing so, they drain resources from these communities and syphon those resources into their centralized control.
In many ways, the global network of communities mirrors the natural ecosystem. We are all interconnected in the same way. Too much homogenization and lack of diversity makes us fragile, vulnerable to diseases and parasites who look to take advantage of us. Mismanaging our own resources or trying to take advantage of another community has ripple effects that multiply outwards.
3 Concrete Steps Forward
1. Rely more heavily on your close ties
We’re all conditioned to feel like a burden when we need things. However, this is a form of control. While it’s important to be self-sufficient enough to be autonomous, the truth of the matter is that we’re interconnected for a reason. Life is complicated enough on its own but the traps of capitalism are designed to exhaust us through complexity. We need to rely on our friends and neighbors to get through it all and that’s not just okay, that’s wonderful even when it’s hard.
Every time we ask someone for help, we strengthen those bonds. Stronger bonds create stronger relationships through which information and resources travel. The easier information and resources travel back and forth, the fairer the distribution of those resources become and the greater our collective resources can grow.
Moving a step further and creating radical mutual aid networks where the people you are connected to get most of their resources from within the network through community gardens, local craftspeople, and barter systems is even better. The more resources generated by the mutual aid network, the less influence and control there is from outside parties, and therefore the less resource drain we have.
2. Cultivate stronger connections with loose ties
While most of our resources should come from the people we are closely connected with, cultivating connections with our loose ties is also very important. We may be able to grow a lot of our own food and take care of many of our basic needs within the few people we are close to but it is unlikely that we will find all of our needs met, especially when it comes to special skills, knowledge, or resources.
Because we share less connections with people that we are more distant from, these loose connections act as a bridge between communities over which separate communities can share their special skills, knowledge, and resources with other communities, therefore growing the resilience of the combined network system. The more we cultivate our individual loose ties, the more information and resources we can bring into our closer communities.
Information is arguably more important than concrete resources. While we only need so much concrete resources to fill our basic needs, we need the information and skills to cultivate those resources. Information also has the unique property of multiplying when traded so when we choose to trade it freely, we all gain something. When we all cooperate instead of competing, information only gains value as we share it instead of losing value through competition.
3. Continue to think globally even though we can only impact our local community directly
While the phrase “Think global, act local” has been overused to the point of losing meaning, the concept is still extremely important.
We need to recognize that while we and our community are unique to us, we’re not so different from other people and other communities that we’re more important than them. In the grand scheme of human value, we are all interchangeable to some extent because our subtle and nuanced differences over an unfathomable amount of categories make it truly impossible to judge concrete human worth.
Since our actions impact others and will have unforeseen consequences in a ripple effect outward, it is important that we take action in a slow and deliberate manner as though our actions will have direct consequences on another version of ourselves. The slower and more intentionally we act, the less likely we are to cause harm to others and therefore ourselves.
We also need to be cautious with how far we attempt to reach our influence. The further our influence reaches, the more we are impacting others. The more people we impact with our actions, the less aware we can be of the consequences of our actions and the more risk we have of adversely impacting others and therefore ourselves. Have you ever worked at a huge company, several hierarchy levels away from executive leadership? Executives often seem out of touch, not because of their personal failings or lack of empathy, but simply because it is not possible for one person to keep track of the impact of their decisions on dozens of people. Every level of hierarchy causes a concentration of power that makes it that much harder to track the impact of decisions in a qualitative fashion, forcing people to rely on quantitative measures without thorough analysis.
Since dramatic, far-reaching action does have so many consequences, it means that it is even more important to act slowly and deliberately and focus on helping our local community grow. We need to grow our own personal connection with nature, support the people we know mentally, emotionally, and concretely. We need to collect and share knowledge pertaining not only to our own goals, but the goals of those we’re connected to.
Will this be enough to save the planet?
By itself, probably not. But if we can strengthen our communities and the network of communities that we’re a part of, we can at least throw off the parasites that are draining our communities of resources which makes it hard for us to focus on the bigger questions that need to be tackled. If we focus on reducing our waste and living within our means more directly, we can help our community to do the same and share the information required to help other communities do the same.
If we decentralize power in the form of information and concrete resources, we can make it so that we actually know the people that our decisions will influence and we are then rewarded for making more ethical and responsible decisions. It may seem like making changes like this is going to be too slow and too small to make any real progress but this needs to be the basis for whatever else we build as a society or else we’re just going to continue making the same mistakes of our imperial past.
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