Scaling Maslow’s hierarchy – Part Three – The road to Survival

Heading into survival, all bets are off. Fear rules the day, and wariness presents itself in all interactions. Scarcity abounds and life becomes a daily fight to make it to the next morning.

As a country, we are heading towards a collective Survival experience at breakneck speed. Our illusion of control is beginning to melt away, and our desired state of prosperity is fading due to the sheer amount of incidents that are becoming difficult to ignore. Emotions have taken hold of our psyches, more negative than not, and our connections to each other are paper thin, dangling over ever growing flames.

A pile of problems

Survival is not usually a chosen state. In fact, it is a state that many fear and strive to stay away from at all costs. When Survival is at our door our anxiety heightens and depression claws at our throats making it difficult to swallow. Our dreams of safety and comfort are no longer a possibility and we are faced with the choice of running, fighting or falling into a strong state of denial.

Every day more Americans are slipping into this state as we wade through an ever growing trend of epidemics. At the time of this writing we are dealing with: a worker shortage, inflation, water shortages, supply chain breakdown, collective trauma from the Covid-19 pandemic, opioid & overdose epidemics, our failure in Afghanistan, discontent with China, wildfires in the west, floods in the east, plus upticks in crime, suicide, murder and aggression all at the same time.

These stressors may not even be understood by a large swath of our populace, but one needs not to watch the news or even be online to feel the heavy blanket of aggression, fear, frustration and strife that is covering our country. Feelings that we cannot process because they are not understood are the most dangerous we can have as they often cause us to lash out uncontrollably in ways that we would never imagine.

We need to find a way to release the anger, and who better, we think, than to target those who believe in a different world view. Debates turn into fistfights, we scream dirty words at each other online hoping to crush the receiver with little care that there is another human on the other end of the line. We are in dangerous territory, and one where few of our populace has any idea of how to survive if this shit gets real. 

If we continue down this path, things will eventually bottom out. Perhaps it is inevitable. Common knowledge tells us that it is only by hitting rock bottom that we achieve clarity and can then progress towards something greater. That may be true, and for many IS true, however those who see this as a “win” tend to forget that hitting rock bottom first starts with a path full of self destruction. Very often bringing one to the brink of death. On a larger scale, this path is exponentially worse, bringing about war and the collapse of society.

Propping things up

Why, if so many tragedies are in our midst, can we not see what is headed our way and correct ourselves? 

  1. Our size makes it difficult for our citizens to experience similar tragedies simultaneously.
    • While the West is burning, the South is flooding and neither can empathetically understand what the other is going through.
    • If one grocery store runs out of resources, many can simply drive a bit further to obtain what they want.
  2. Technology
    • Our technological prowess has added a complexity and a solidity to our structure that we will strive to keep as long as possible. Renewable energies will most likely guarantee that a majority of our populace will always have some connection to civilization of some sort for the foreseeable future so we do not sweat a collapse.
  3. Money
    • Often when things get bad, we have a tendency to throw money at the populace and hope the issues go away. Sometimes this money is set up wisely, but many times it is a short stop gap that then allows crony capitalist tendencies and leads us into the next disaster with little regard for any lessons we may have learned.

Our belief

The biggest reason we cannot see what is headed our way is our belief in ourselves as a people and as a nation. Since birth over the past few generations we have been bred to have an overwhelming sense of belief in America and its people. We live in a country that loves to be in love with ourselves. American exceptionalism is often seen as a matter of fact. Ask most Americans, no matter what “side” they are on and they will agree that we have the strongest economy, the strongest military, and freedom, God, and democracy seem to thrive here more than anywhere else.

American’s belief

Americans tend to believe the fairy tales and heroic episodes that Hollywood creates. Heroes constantly triumph over dystopian rulers and other evil doers that would cause us pain and give us hope that we will see the same endings in real life. Our written history latches onto our successes (WWII, Civil rights, the moon landing, etc.) and mitigates our failures ( the Vietnam war, slavery, the war on drugs, etc.) finding reasons to explain away our mistakes rather than learn from them.

This tendency for optimism also expands to our own lives, especially when it comes to our survival. One in five people do not believe we will ever have an apocalypse, and of those who do a large amount (42%) believe they would survive a week or more during one.

 Many of us like to fantasize that we are the ones who will kick it into gear. We will be a leader, or at least second in command, making the hard choices, finding supplies and survivors, banding the group together when things get tough. At the same time, only about 17% of Americans have a plan today if an apocalypse should occur. I suppose it is possible to survive without a plan, living by one’s wits and a little bit of luck, but I’m not sure if that many people are witty or lucky.

Harbingers of the future

Many examples of what this new normal could look like are foreshadowed in our world today. Take Lebanon for example: their economy collapsed under the weight of multiple catastrophes and the government finally succumbed to their (often self inflicted) wounds. Whenever we hear that a government has collapsed it probably brings with it images of buildings destroyed, terror running rampant, people running fearfully for their lives, but in real life it can be much more quiet and unassuming.

A Sorted History

Looking at Lebanon can provide us a window into what we may have in store for us if we continue heading down our path of divisiveness, greed and ignorance. Lebanon’s citizens headed for the same civil war that other countries balanced on the border of in the 60’s and 70’s, and due to a lack of interference from the outside world, this civil war lasted until the 1990’s. While we were waking up to the internet, they were waking up to a new beginning of hope and peace. That uneasy peace between the people is now on the edge of failure once more as the country has slipped into a place of survival.

How did this happen? The world was convinced that Lebanon’s worst days were behind them as they worked their way past their civil war. Soon after the tribulations it became touted as “a vacation spot, a tourist mecca, home to a thriving middle class” it was a beautiful, vibrant country that felt like it had weathered the worst that fate had to offer. Underneath, however, they were still being plagued with insolence, corruption and greed, creating an economy more similar to a house of cards.

Then in 2019, a huge explosion that destroyed much of their grain reserves became the straw that broke the camel’s back. The government lost confidence in itself and disbanded, banks froze withdrawals, medicine availability dropped, periodic blackouts are the norm. 70% of the population doesn’t have enough food or money to buy food, and people are waiting in gasoline lines for hours a day with no luck and little hope.

A possible future

Their country is experiencing a collapse that could lead to them becoming a failed state. A series of events, both intended and by accident, that slowly deteriorated a society’s belief in itself and created a slippery slope for the populace. While this is happening in a smaller middle eastern country, we must not be so arrogant to think the same situation couldn’t or wouldn’t happen here.

Our size, our money, and our standing in the world allows a type of myopia that is dangerous. Focusing only on ourselves it is hard to see that our country has already broken into multiple pieces. The size of those pieces allow a mass delusion of comfort, but make no mistake, the pieces are still cracked and severed.

We may believe that we are invincible, but if we are not careful reality may be quite different than we imagine. Especially seeing as we have made and continue to make similar mistakes. We prop things up continuously, allowing our economy and our government to be hollowed out. Our constant desire for more our only saving grace to keeping this system intact. While our pasting and stapling have seemed to stave off the worst thus far, do not be fooled. Our apocalypse is on the horizon, in fact it is already here, and will feel more like a slow moving death.

Jared Diamond, a renowned anthropologist predicted this slow road to societal failure in his book Collapse: How Societies choose to fail or succeed in 2015, when discussing the possibility of a collapse of the United States. He says “Much more likely than a doomsday scenario involving human extinction or an apocalyptic collapse of industrial civilization would be “just” a future of significantly lower living standards, chronically higher risks, and the undermining of what we now consider some of our key values“. (Diamond, 2015)

Correcting our Vision

Lebanon’s shared culture and collectivism has allowed them to stave off mass chaos, but war is already on the streets and is only getting worse. Our unshared culture and home grown division will push us to the brink more quickly, at each other’s throats like a couple in the throes of a horrific divorce. In order to stop our forward progression towards destruction, we must first decide that our countrymen and women are friends, not foes. Only by bridging our divides can we stem this path towards destruction. This means creating a new social contract where we are all bound together by the things we have in common, and distancing ourselves for a time from that which divides us. We can create a path towards Belonging. The work will be difficult, but worth not losing our country or ourselves. 

Next time we investigate this path towards Belonging and the necessary ingredients we need to activate in order to move towards a more peaceful environment.

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