August 21, 2010
When I was eight or nine, my dad would load the family into the big, Buick Roadmaster on hot summer evenings and take us to Lawrence Stadium, there in Wichita where I grew up, to watch the Wichita Indians play baseball. Wichita bustled with growth back then, right after World War II. When there was a game in town, people converged from all over the city, milling around the parking lot visiting with friends from work or church or buying last minute tickets to the game while the kids ran around playing tag or begging nickels and dimes from their parents for a soda or an ice cream bar. At the appointed time, people began to form rough lines and file into the stadium for the game. We sang The Star-Spangled Banner, someone would yell, “Play ball,” and the game began.
It was a time when the older women still wore hats, even to a baseball game, and carried those paper fans with the flat, ice cream stick handles. Younger women wore sundresses, their bare arms showing and, occasionally, much to the consternation of the older women, part of their upper chest and backs.
Everyone yelled encouragement to the home team and booed the interlopers. When our side made a particularly good play, even the older women would stop their fluttering fans and leap to their feet, hats firmly pinned in place, to applaud or shout for the team.
Sometimes we won the game; sometimes we lost. I remember, in one losing game, the home team coming into the bottom of the ninth so far behind that only a miracle, or some pretty fancy playing on their part could have saved us. By the second out, my dad looked over at us and said, “We might as well leave now and beat the crowd. It’s all over, but the shout.” I did notice that, on the way home, he turned the car radio on in the hope, I suppose, that a miracle had occurred. It hadn’t, but there would be other games.
I’ve thought a lot about the past this summer. Perhaps the unremitting heat much of the country has been experiencing made me look back. Maybe I’m just getting old and nostalgic. But some things were different then.
For one thing, neighborhoods really were more closely knit and safer back in those days before air conditioning and television. One reason is that, in the heat of long summer evenings, everyone was outside. The adults sat out on the porch or under a shade tree, visiting with neighbors and keeping an eye on the kids – everyone’s kids – while they played tag or kick-the-can or their own version of baseball in someone’s front yard. If someone’s kids got into mischief, as I found out the hard way, someone noticed and the parents were duly informed. If a stranger came into the neighborhood, some adult would call out a greeting. If the stranger didn’t respond by stopping to visit for a moment (and let the adult know who they were and why they were in the neighborhood), ten or twenty pairs of eyes followed them down the street until the adults knew the stranger was out of the neighborhood. It’s amazing how uncomfortable twenty pairs of eyes can make someone who is up to no good. It’s one of the reasons why a well run neighborhood watch can be so effective at lowering crime rates in today’s neighborhoods.
It’s not that bad things didn’t happen to people back in the “good old days”. They did. Our family suffered greatly because of my mother’s illness and my parents’ divorce; a friend lost her mother to heart disease when she was eight. Polio epidemics were a constant fear during the summers of my childhood. Tornadoes and ice storms occurred with dismal regularity. Child and spousal abuse occurred behind closed doors and, though sometimes gossiped about, wasn’t dealt with openly in that “polite” society. Overall, though, public crimes – rape, burglary, assault, murder – were rare – I feel safe in saying – almost unheard of, in the neighborhood I grew up in and the surrounding areas.
I thought about all this the other day. After reading yet another post by a doomer about how, as things fall apart, all hell is going to break loose as people “take things into their own hands”. A short while later, I turned on my TV to the local evening news and heard a story about a nearby town that got fed up with the increase in crime in one of their neighborhoods and started their own neighborhood watch. http://ozarksfirst.com/fulltext?nxd_id=314355
It’s true that, in this economy, things are falling apart. Many states and cities are cutting services and, sometimes, even utilities, important infrastructure is going by the wayside in spite of the stimulus provided by the federal government. If, as many of us suspect, this is only the beginning of contraction on the slide down the peak oil peak, people will, indeed, “take things into their own hands”. My contention is, that need not be a bad thing.
If, like the people in the Detroit neighborhood I posted about a couple of weeks ago, who, when the city cut the neighborhood service, “took things into their own hands” and took responsibility for keeping the streets and neighborhood cleaned up themselves, that’s a good thing.
If, as electricity becomes scarcer and more expensive, we shut off non-essentials like the TV, the computer, even the air conditioning and take things into our own hands by getting outside and working with one another to keep crime down and each other safe as the people in the Monett neighborhood did, that’s also a good thing.
If, as more people lose homes and jobs, and the just-in-time service slows and disappears as is already occurring in some places, those of us who have more pool it in food banks, coops, community gardens, as we see in many cities and towns across the country, to help tide over those who’ve lost everything while they find ways to help themselves, that will be a good thing, too.
The world is a complex place, with trillions of moving parts. The idea that an elite group of people, in one nation or from many, can somehow control the world, bend the world to its will, is nonsense to me. Even the idea that an elite group of people can control a nation as complex as ours has become, is hubris. Right now, the federal government is propped in place by a number of things – our own political and social traditions, to be sure, but also by the governments’ ability to make alliances within the financial and commercial industries, the military and allied industries and, of course, external alliances (although those, much less –I suspect – than we would like to believe). At our current level of complexity, all of these are dependent on stores of cheap energy and other finite resources for their maintenance and survival. We are rapidly reaching a tipping point where the costs of producing these resources are outstripping the amount of resources we gain – especially when we add in the costs to the environment and climate. We are already fighting two resource wars, but war and the industries supporting them are among the most energy intensive pursuits of mankind. It is hard to understand how, looking at the costs of these wars in relation to what we’ve gotten out of those pursuits, resource wars could in any way be an answer to our problems.
As the costs of energy rise, these big institutions so dependent on it will begin to crumble. We can see, already, they are fraying at the edges. My guess is that they are not going to go gently into that good night. They will work for their own survival, even over ours. Whether they survive in some form or not is impossible to know. But, it is certain that, as things fall apart, we are going to be more on our own and more dependent on what we do at the local and neighborhood levels for our survival. We will have to take things into our own hands. The choice each of us has to make is how we do that – whether we arm ourselves and retreat in fear or find innovative ways to work together. Both choices have risks and rewards, but we are going to have to make the hard choices or they will be forced on us by circumstance.
If you lose a ballgame, there’s always the next game or the next season. If we lose our humanity, our connectedness, our collective conscience, we may not get another chance in this historical timeline. It will be “all over, but the shout”. I don’t think it’s a game we can afford to lose.