A paradise Made in Hell
Or Delighted by the Joy of Bad Things
Life is getting a lot harder for people. Housing and food are unaffordable. More and more people are becoming homeless or living in trailers – even working people! Millions of youth in Asia are just giving up and staying in their rooms; the so called “lying flat” movement. On the climate front it keeps on going from bad to worse: today I read that the glaciers in Switzerland lost 10% of their mass in 2 years. To put in this perspective, that was the ice loss from the 30 year period between 1960-90. One way of interpreting this news is that we are quickly turning our lives and our Earth into hell. If this is the case, does that mean we should despair? Give up? Deny this possibility? Be filled with Doom?
Certainly not, especially given what Rebecca Solnit has found out the possible positive results post disaster. Now, she, and I, are not saying disasters so bad that they are a version of Hell is something to look forward to, but there can, sometimes, be a silver cloud in the lining. Her research applied to our current situation has a thread of logic that goes like this:
- Our way of life is making a lot of people very unhappy, stressed, anxious and socially isolated. This last bit is important once we admit to the fact that as social animals who we are has more to do with the family, friends and society we live in than who we are as separate beings, for our “self” does not end with our skin.
- Our society has evolved to a point that social fracture, loneliness, narcissism, etc. is becoming normalized, even though all these and related behaviours are clearly pathological and destroy the social fabric. Now, just like the natural world is dying, so is our social fabric.
- One way change happens is through disaster. Through a version of hell. While this may seem like the worst case scenario for any path forward it is one that can, if people can recreate a healthy social network, actually improve the quality of life of those who survive that hell. An expression I heard once comes to mind:
Better and ending with terror than a terror that never ends
So, what does that mean for you and I? We should not fear what is coming, but instead focus on building community and relationship and stop pretending that our current way of life can be saved – because really it is so very destructive and death creating that is should not be saved. Life, I mean this with a capital “L”, needs, no, demands, that we let go and find others to share and connect with to live in a way that will allow a new way of social living that is not as self absorbed as ours. Now that you have heard my thoughts on this idea, which is actually the title of the book by Rebecca Solnit
A Paradise Built in Hell is an eye-opening account of how much hope and solidarity emerges in the face of sudden disaster. Disaster shows us fine truths about ourselves, truths we should use to remake our lives in ordinary times. “Disaster may offer us a glimpse,” Solnit writes, “but the challenge is to make something of it. What disaster reveals is the human longing for purpose and meaning — needs unfulfilled by a life devoted to getting and spending. The core of the book is the argument that disaster shows us fine truths about ourselves, truths we should use to remake our lives in ordinary times. “Disaster may offer us a glimpse,” Solnit writes, “but the challenge is to make something of it. 
Trauma is not the Event, it is our Response
“We have learned that you can reinvent the government but not human nature in one fell stroke, and the process of reinventing human nature is a much more subtle, personal, incremental process. Mostly nowadays we draw our hopes from fragments and traditions from a richly varied past rather than an imagined future. But disaster throws us into the temporary utopia of a transformed human nature and society, one that is bolder, freer, less attached and divided than in ordinary times, not blank, but not tied down. Beliefs matter-though as many people act generously despite their beliefs as the reverse. Katrina was an extreme version of what goes on in many disasters, wherein how you behave depends on whether you think your neighbors or fellow citizens are a greater threat than the havoc wrought by a disaster or a greater good than the property in houses and stores around you. What you believe shapes how you act. How you act results in life or death, for yourself or others, as in everyday life, only more so. Katrina was, like most disasters, also marked by altruism: of young men who took it upon themselves to supply water, food, diapers, and protection to the strangers stranded with them; of people who rescued or sheltered neighbors; of the uncounted hundreds or thousands who set out in boats-armed, often, but also armed with compassion-to find those who were stranded in the stagnant waters and bring them to safety; of the two hundred thousand or more who (via the Internet site HurricaneHousing.org in the weeks after) volunteered to house complete strangers, mostly in their own homes, persuaded more by the pictures of suffering than the rumors of monstrosity; of the uncounted tens of thousands of volunteers who came to the Gulf Coast to rebuild and restore. In the wake of an earthquake, a bombing, or a major storm, most people are altruistic, urgently engaged in caring for themselves and those around them, strangers and neighbors as well as friends and loved ones. The image of the selfish, panicky, or regressively savage human being in times of disaster has little truth to it. Decades of meticulous sociological research on behavior in disasters, from the bombings of World War II to floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and storms across the continent and around the world, have demonstrated this. 
So what can you do? Believe that people are fundamentally good. Look for that good and you will find it. Conversely, resist the current anti social pressure to see people as bad and only self serving, for although many now are, that is the creation of a sick society and not who humans fundamentally are.
Build a social network among your neighbours. Share. Become a prepper, not to just save yourself, but to save your neighbours and friends and family because we all need each other. And never despair, but also never pretend that the age of disaster is not upon us. It is, but, together, we can create a Paradise out of the Hell coming our way.
Life will have pain but we choose how much we suffer
- Delighted by the Joy of Bad Things https://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/21/books/21book.html
- A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit
4. https://www.mdpi.com/2673-4060/4/3/32 The Human Ecology of Overshoot: Why a Major ‘Population Correction’ Is Inevitable