One of my favorite sets of stories to read and re-read are the Little House books. Not because I idealize the time - not even a little. I like modern medical advances and central heating, thank you very much. But because the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder's life, in the words of herself, helped along by her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, and the stories by Roger Lea MacBride of Rose's life (these stories pick up where The First Four Years leave off) articulate for me in some fundamental way, the simultaneous need to be independent in the true sense- to minimize one's dependance on others for food, financial well being, etc - and our equally compelling need to be interdependent on one another as people.
Recent events - the outcry over deficit reduction to the elimination of all else in our all-too-easily-swayed-by-big-money-donors congress, the Japanese tsunami, and the unrest in the middle east have reinforced my desire to be as financially and food-independent as possible, as quickly as possible. Food prices are rising, as are oil prices, and the two are inextricably linked anyway. More and more people are being impacted by climate changes, and with that, the markets will continue to swing - and the financial fortunes of most of us with it. I believe this current instability, and the wild swings of change will continue.
With insecurity comes the all-too-natural instinct to protect ones own. Money, time, family, food supply. But when we don't look out for one another on a broader, societal level, we create the situation we fear. If enough people are hungry, and their children are hungry, revolution comes - fueled by the lack of supply created by those who speculate and stockpile. And the stockpilers of food become the targets: few of us would allow our children to starve and not take action either. Right or wrong, food, housing and the essentials of life will send people to the streets...and against those who have what they lack.
The same goes for deficit reduction at the expense of social well being - when we remove the social safety nets for our fellow humans, they will not stand forever and watch they and their families fall through the cracks. At some point, what we've seen in Wisconsin around labor rights and in the middle east for revolution, is driven by the ability to feed and house families. When there is threat to that, the seeds of civil unrest are sown.
In the story of The Long Winter, the town of De Smet is starving. 7 months of blizzards stop the trains, and with it, the food supply. Almanzo Wilder and Cap Garland go on a hunt for wheat -using rumors and hope as their guide. The miracle is not just that they return with the wheat and keep the town from starvation. It is that, as the story tells us, they, and a hungry Charles Ingalls manage to keep a mob from overrunning the storekeeper who tries to double his money off of their hungry backs. But later, in the spring, even that fails, and the townspeople break into the first train that goes by for the food supplies. And that same Charles Ingalls defends the action of those who stole the food "Let them stand some damages" - of the Chicago and North Western Railway. When the townspeople banded together against a common oppressor, they managed to sustain their families.
I first read these stories as a girl. But reading The Long Winter again as an adult gives me a new perspective on things. How long would most of us be willing to watch our children get hungrier and hungrier, with only hay for fuel, sitting in a room cold enough to freeze a bottle of ink? For 7 months, as the Ingalls family did? For 7 weeks? 7 days?
We in the United States are hopefully far from the state of things in Tunisia, Libya and other parts of the world. And it is true that we need to encourage less debt and more independence. But continuing to slash social programs that provide housing, food, mental health services and help for the most needy of us, while continuing to sustain those agencies that brought the economy to it's knees 3 years ago is counterproductive. Continuing on this path only brings us closer to creating what we fear.
So while I will continue with my family on the work of minimizing my dependance on others for income and food over time, I also acknowledge that most of us can't - and we shouldn't even try to - do without each other. It makes no sense to produce everything we need ourselves, and would be an unsustainable amount of work anyway. And the skills and abilities of all of us vary greatly. The reality is we cannot live without one another - we need human interaction to thrive. Someone to hug, to learn from, to play with. And we need shared efforts and resources to grow.
Some of us can do more than others. Some of us have more than others. But the ever-widening divide between the haves and the have nots may serve to bring together groups that will balance the power divide, as has happened so many times before. I do not yearn for this, I dread it. Because it never goes smoothly. And it is eminently preventable.
I wish I could be less worried. But until we as a society can figure out what we owe each other, what is fair and equitable, I worry.