“Our media doesn’t do a good job of presenting a positive future,” Lough said, as he rattled off a list of popular movies with takes on what the future might bring: Mad Max, Blade Runner, The Day After Tomorrow, The Road. The only partially positive one was Star Wars, which Lough found unrealistic, though not because Jabba the Hut lets Han Solo run a bar tab. The saga’s real problem Lough said, is to imply, “…that we can grow forever in our use of resources and that the only problem we can’t solve is our own personal development.”
“Create a vision that’s positive, and people will go there,”Lough emphasized. “When we have hope, we can accomplish so much more.”
He recommended the novel The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk as a rare example of an intelligent vision of a positive post-peak future.
He then led the group in an visualization exercise to come up with positive pictures of the future. “Excitement and satisfaction of a community discussion with neighbors,” said one participant of her vision. “Exercise through work, like the PlayPump,” said another, referring to the playground-toy-cum-well-pump distributed by aid organizations in Third World countries.
Like Saul Alinsky, but more spiritual
In her discussion of how to start a local Transition initiative, Belew gave practical advice such as teaming up with a local college or university on a speakers series to simply build awareness gently. Or creating a community map of neighbors with particular tools or other resources that others can borrow, recommending the website GoodNeighbors.net, which allows for community resource mapping.
All that sounds helpful but one couldn’t help sensing that in a future with the probability of blunt economic shocks many were worried about their safety and their dinner. Could such Internet maps be used as a guide for ill-prepared thieves with growling bellies, one participant wondered? It’s hard to say, so the group held off about whether it was a good idea to post online where you’ve stashed your 10,000 cans of pork n’ beans or secured your fireproof safe full of Krugerrands.
But Belew was less interested in preparing for the apocalypse than in training Transition activists to go out into their communities with open hearts and open minds. She encouraged participants to do inner work, to deal with the uncertainty, grief, and denial that peak oil can elicit. For inspiration, Belew recommended spiritual teachers including Panchamama (an Earth-goddess revered by native peoples of the Andes); eco-Buddhist Joanna Macy; and Peter Block, author of the 2010 book The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods.
This set up the activities of the second day, focused on sharing the various emotions around making the Transition to a post-peak world. Part of the inner work is to liberate ourselves from limiting beliefs that the industrial growth system has spread, such as worthlessness, powerlessness, and separation from nature and other people.
Just as it encourages neurosis, consumerism offers a simple cure: buy products and services that will fix you, by making you thinner, richer, and freshen your breath. Another part of inner liberation is to drop bad habits that attempt to deal with limiting beliefs in a way that just creates more problems, such as workaholism and competitiveness.
Belew explained how ritual can be healing and helpful, such as when during her previous career as a realtor, she helped sell a house that had been on the market for six months by convincing the seller to perform a “giveaway” ceremony. The house sold the next day.
Community vs. survivalism
The weekend closed with time for participants working in pairs to develop the beginnings of a personal peak oil action plan to guide their preparations for resilience at home. But protecting your life savings against hyperinflation or reading Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse by James Wesley Rawles did not come up.
“I don’t know anyone who bought a gun who feels safer,” Belew said.
And though many armed citizens preparing for peak oil would probably agree more with Thomas Jefferson when he said that “Those who hammer their guns into plows will plow for those who do not,” Belew and Lough put their trust not in Smith and Wesson, but in the power of communities to prepare themselves for whatever may come.
As to spreading the Transition and peak oil gospel beyond the converted, Lough advised participants to be patient in explaining to family, friends, and neighbors about peak oil. Confusing messages and images in the media, such as new car ads shown next to news stories about starving Africans, make it difficult for most people to grasp what’s really happening in energy and the economy.
Lough encouraged attendees to identify what stage of change another person might be in, and then communicate to them appropriately for their level. Those who are in “pre-contemplation” stage and see no need to change their lifestyles to prepare for peak oil require a much gentler approach than those who are aware of the issues or have even begun to prepare. A valuable lesson for anyone interested in starting or growing a Transition initiative, to be sure.
Back to the future
At the end of two days, it was clear that attendees had found inspiration in a temporary community of like-minded people who had not let differences in age, income, race, or nationality bar them from gathering to share some deep talk about a world beyond oil.
It will be an ongoing challenge for Transition training in the future, however, to balance the approach of loving-community with some real world preparation for self-defense on both the family and community levels. It may also be crucial to growing the movement and building coalitions. The key here is balance.
No one is saying to get your gun and hunker down. At the same time imagining that a world in economic collapse prompted by an energy paradigm shift will produce no tensions between those who have thoughtfully prepared versus those who have not, and who don’t even know what’s going on, is naive at best. If they’re packing heat and hungry, peace, love, and harmony sounds like a good solution. And so does, “Trust God and keep your powder dry.”
Approaches such as Zen Buddhism, yoga, and Native American spirituality certainly have much to offer stressed-out and alienated citizens of today’s overly militarized consumer society. We need to reclaim our personal power, confidence and creativity from marketers and who try to fool us into believing that we need to buy their products because we lack something in life. And we need to move past fear and opposition wherever possible.
At the same time, might it also be empowering for Transition group leaders to learn some holistic self-defense and emergency preparation? Certainly, we can do this on our own, but it may also need to have a community organizing feature. Additionally, Transition trainers could provide valuable guidance on what skills are best to develop. It may be less about guns and gold than about some targeted re-skilling.
In that way, we can match our benevolence with a corresponding level of prudence.