Live together or die alone

This article in the BBC’s online magazine rather intrigued me; basically, are we heading for a dislocated society in which the relatively wealthy live in walled communities whilst the rest of the population exist in a less secure ‘open world’?

When I was a kid I remember reading a suggestion that the evolution of community resources, like street lighting, sewers, etc. came about because the rich had to share the world with the rest of us.  A wealthy man might have a well lit private estate and safe water, but if he, or his family, had to go outside the confines of their safe zone they might soon be in dark, dangerous streets and exposed to foul standing water rife with disease. 

So, philanthropically minded individuals acted from enlightened self interest (and then from the profit motive) to create municipal organisations that provided street lighting, paved roads, sewers, etc. for everyone.

It’s ironic that a century or so later we’re heading in the other direction by starting to consider retreating from these communities in to walled communities and other protected environments.  The wealthy no longer choose to collectively improve the commmunities that they interact with on a regular basis, but instead choose to isolate themselves from them and rely on defences rather than building a ‘common treasury’ in their communities form which all can benefit.

I have recently become very interested in Permaculture and ‘Transition Towns’   as means of addressing the pressing problems of Peak Oil and Climate Change.  Both of these philsophies reflect the enlightened self-interest approach to surviving massive cultural shocks.  They assume that the ebst way to make lives in a future totally changed by fuel and energy crises and climate modification is to survive as a community.  Compare this with the alternative approach – wealthier individuals building individual bolt holes for themselves and their families shows admirable foresight and planning but there remains the problem that at some point, after the MREs have run out, the inhabitants of these bunkers are going to have sally forth in to the world they left behind.  At that point they’re going to have to interact with those who didn’t have bunnkers – either by force of arms or by negotiation. 

I see survival built purely on personal and family group provision as being short sighted and, whilst for some it may be the only way open to them, for the vast majority of us we need to work out how we’re going to mould together the communities in which we live to prepare for changes in the future.