Sunday, November 12, 2017

Holistic Resilience



I’ve been thinking about resilience lately, and what that word means to people. According to my Concise Oxford Dictionary, the word resilient is defined as:

1. (of an object) Able to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching or compressing 2. (of a person or animal) able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.

As our supply of cheap, concentrated fossil fuels stutters and dwindles, and the industrial age that has ridden on its back for so long enters its twilight years, it is a certainly that most of us will find ourselves experiencing great change. Despite all the bluster and inflated claims of a new ‘green’ era in which people will be able to continue their high consumption lifestyles and enjoy all the benefits accorded by globalised supply chains, the facts — as I’ve been researching and writing about for the past eight years — simply don’t stand up to any meaningful analysis of this possibility.

A minority of critically thinking people have accepted this and recognised the likelihood that their lives are going to take a turn for the materially poorer in the immediate future. A smaller minority still have decided to actually take action in preparation for this. These people have seen that all is not well in the three major ‘E’ realms of energy, environment and economy, and are concerned about what it means for them and their families. They may hold differing opinions on what the trigger point will be — ranging from economic collapse and global war, to rampant virus outbreaks and civil strife — but they share the same feeling that things are more delicate than the mainstream media would have them believe, and that the best way of ensuring one’s welfare is to prepare for an era of disruption and dramatic change.

These people can count themselves as among the lucky few, because preparation and proactive behaviour is always better than unpreparedness and reactive behaviour. Once they have got over the psychic shock that usually accompanies a realisation of an uncomfortable truth, and then proceeded through the standard stages of the Kübler-Ross Change Curve (also known as the Five Stages of Grief Model), they will find themselves at the ‘acceptance’ or ‘integration’ end of the process. This is the point where they decide to do something useful about the predicament they find themselves in.



Not everyone, however, makes it as far as the acceptance stage. Many get caught up in the ‘frustration’ and the ‘depression’ stage of the process, and find they cannot escape. These people see little or no point in continuing, and often they adopt a nihilistic outlook as a coping mechanism. It is as if they are being pulled into a black hole. And yet if they can pull themselves away from the gravitational well of despair and make a commitment to moving forwards to acceptance then they can be said to be demonstrating resilience. Resilience, in this case, is a dogged determination to make the best of the scenario you find yourself in, despite the fact that you have no control over the wider situation.  It is the conscious decision to take control and do something useful.

“Something useful” is often manifested in the form of stockpiling food and other items that will be valuable to have around if they are suddenly no longer available. This is a natural and worthy start, but it is only the beginning of a much wider transformation on the path to resilience. Now that the internal reality model you were brought up with has fractured and is no longer useful, you may begin to frantically hunt for new information and make connection with like-minded people who have been through the same transformative process as yourself.

Plenty has been written on the subject of resilience in the past, and the focus is usually on the preservation of one or more forms of capital. This may be because people are generally, and understandably, concerned with losing what they already have. This has led to a lot of talk about how to secure one’s financial capital (wealth) and property. Ranked higher still is how to preserve one’s corporeal presence on the planet i.e. how to stay alive if the food trucks stop turning up at your local supermarket. In other words, resilience has come to mean protecting and holding onto ones capital.

But capital is an oft-misunderstood word, usually meant only to mean material assets or the means with which to produce wealth — hence its association with capitalism. But the concept of capital goes far wider when considered in the personal sense. Everybody — no matter how materially poor they are — has various forms of personal capital. It could be considered the summation of the resources that we value and have some form of control over. Logic then tells us that if we want to be happy (and who doesn’t?) we should build up our capital.

Having personal capital that we can use to our benefit and control can be translated as empowerment. Being lost in the ‘depression’ stage of the Kübler-Ross Change Curve is a failure to recognise one’s personal capital twinned with a self-defeating outlook that says “there is no way out of here – I should give up now.” This is not a recipe for happiness and empowerment, so the first step to figuring out how to become resilient is identifying our capital in order to build upon it. These are the broad forms of personal capital to recognise and identify in your own life:

1. Financial capital. Let’s start off with the simplest and most easily recognisable one. Your wealth includes all the money you have in your bank account or stuffed in your mattress. It includes any assets that can be easily liquidated (i.e. sold off), such as a house or car, as well as share certificates, gold bars and antiques hidden in your attic. When considering wealth, you must deduct debts. In our modern world, many people look wealthy, but often they are very highly leveraged and have a negative net worth. As Mark Twain once quipped on becoming wealthy “I wasn’t worth a cent two years ago, and now I owe two million dollars.”

2. Hard capital. This is the stuff that you own. It includes everything that is in some way useful. Books, lawnmowers, furniture, fishing rods, guitars and that drawer of old nails and bolts in the basement. It could also include articles that are beautiful, but otherwise useless — as long as it adds value to your life in some way it can be considered part of your capital. If it isn’t useful or beautiful and it has no monetary value you should probably get rid of it.

3. Mental capital. Your mental capital includes everything that you use your brain for. We’re talking knowledge and education (specifically, education that is useful in some way), language skills, other skills (cooking, fishing, sewing etc.), musical abilities, all the books you have stored in your head and a sense of humour. Yes – all of these are assets that are at your disposal to help ease your way through life and make it productive and enjoyable. Mental capital could also include mental health capital and — crucially — your outlook on life.

4. Social capital. No man is an island, they say, and your family and friends are of potentially immeasurable value to you. There are zero instances in history of successful societies comprised of individual loners, so it’s a good bet to build up your network of trustworthy and sympathetic people who will accompany you into whatever the future holds. Do you invest time in your relatives and children? Are you the kind of approachable person people turn to for help? Do others see value in having you around? This holds too for any groups you are a member of.

5. Health capital. Your body is the most important asset you own. Without it you are literally dead, and so it makes sense to look after it. Good nutrition, exercise and an avoidance of harmful addictions mean that your reliance on the failing industrial healthcare system will likely be minimised. What’s more, having a healthy body means you will enjoy life more and can undertake a wider range of types of work, which leads to …

6. Employment capital. What do you do for a living? Do you enjoy your job or are you merely doing it to keep afloat, even though you dislike it? How many marketable skills do you possess? Do you have more than one way of making money and multiple income streams, or are you so specialised that if your job vanished you would have no way of supporting yourself? Admittedly hard to quantify, these are some of the questions to ask when considering the kind of work you do, how it benefits you (and the wider community), and how resilient to shocks it is.

7. Bio-capital. This is the environment you live in. If you are a millionaire living in a polluted inner city with no trees or plants then your bio-capital will arguably be lower than a penniless hermit living in a wilderness zone in the mountains. Interactions with the living natural world are crucial for human wellbeing, and the fact that so many people now have very little contact with wild animals and plants is not just a sad reflection of modern life but also a threat to the sustainability of our ecosystems. As organisms, we humans depend entirely upon the natural capital provided for free by Mother Earth. Treating ecosystems recklessly and exploiting them for short-term gain is like sawing off the branch we are sitting on.

In terms of personal bio-capital, think about what you have access to or control over. Do you own a garden that could be planted up with insect friendly plants, fruit trees and organic vegetables? Maybe you don’t, and all you have are a couple of window boxes and some shelf space. This is still bio-capital — you can grow a few small plants such as tomatoes or chillies, and you can sprout beans and pulses on the shelves. Maybe you don’t even have that, and yet you can still be a guerrilla gardener or grafter (planting and grafting in communal spaces), or you could help out at a local nature reserve or organic farm, clean litter from the beach or canal you live next to … the possibilities are many.

8. Time capital. How much time do you have? A lot? A little? Many people these days are afflicted with a disease called busy-ness. They are always busy and have no time for anything! When you haven’t seen them for a while and you ask them what they have been doing they invariable respond that they have been “oh, you know, busy!” So consider how much time you have available to you. How can you make better use of the time given to you? Time, we know, is subjective: it can speed up or slow down depending on who is experiencing it and when. You can ‘time hack’ your life using methods such as meditation and contemplation, and you can strip things out of your life that are unnecessary and time-consuming.  Furthermore you can become efficient at planning and executing tasks so that you have time spare to do enjoyable things. Balance is key.

9. Emotional capital. How much control do you have over your emotions? Do they control you or is it the other way around? Do you live a fearful life full of angst and worry, or do you adopt a contemplative or Stoic approach to existence? To some extent we are not able to control the emotions we are born with, but we do have a choice in how we respond to external events. Gaining a solid bedrock of emotional security is a crucial form of capital that is often overlooked.

10. Spiritual capital. Finally, we have spiritual capital. By this we mean how we relate as individuals to the wider cosmos.  Since the Enlightenment, people brought up in the Western world have been taught that they are inconsequential cogs in a vast machine called the Universe. There is no meaning in life, they say, and the whole of existence is an interstellar game of billiard balls played with atoms. Needless to say, this bleak outlook represents a break not just with tradition, but also with every other human society that has ever existed. People, they say, are merely meat sacks of DNA, programmed like robots and only self-interested. Love is a chemical reaction that will one day be produced in a test tube, and consciousness is merely data on an organic chip stored in your head.

Thankfully, more people are beginning to question this view. At the same time they are turning away from the major religions — which have claimed hegemonic control over the spiritual dimension for millennia — and are awakening to the personal spark of potential within themselves. A good spiritual grounding is an empowering phenomenon, and therefore a very valuable form of capital.

Each of these ten forms of capital are present to a greater or lesser extent in everyone’s lives. They do not exist independently from one another, and they will usually grow in symbiosis with one another, as long as no single one becomes outsized compared to the others.

Combining these ten form of personal capital are what I am going to be writing about over the coming months. It’s a process I’m calling holistic resilience i.e. considering ways in which to withstand or recover from difficult situations using a synthesis of personal capital. I’m looking forward to expanding on each of these ten forms, as well as delving deeper into the meaning of resilience and why people should be developing it. Along the way I hope to include many examples and introduce new concepts from different areas of thought.

Three key assumptions throughout will be that:

1 – The industrial age is coming to a messy end due to diminishing energy returns

2 – We have free will and are willing to use it


3 – There are no guaranteed outcomes in life

16 comments:

  1. Very nice summary. I do think it is possible to have capital #9 without #10, but we know what they say about foxholes.

    I look forward to coming posts.

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    1. Maybe, but that would be to overlook an important resource. I think, perhaps, when one uses the word 'spiritual' people immediately have a reaction - and it's not normally a pleasant one. However, I've come to realise that most of the people who advertise themselves as 'spiritual' are nothing of the sort. They drone on about crystals and dress up as witches and wizards and have a kind of superior air about them - and the irony is that these are the amongst the *least* spiritual people around. The *most* spiritual are often ordinary everyday people - and they don't even know it.

      Anyway, it's a hackneyed old word and I'll expand on this in a future post.

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  2. Hi Jason,

    I think this is a wonderful blog post. It's very useful and timely.

    I didn't realize that there are 2 substages (Experiment & Decision) in between Depression & Integration/Acceptance. Every time I read about the stages part of me is looking for a way to avoid and skip over the Depression stage. On the one hand there is no skipping stages and on the other hand I don't want to get stuck in a nihilistic self referential loop. Part of resilience is recognizing when I'm in a nihilistic frame of mind and experimenting with self inquiry and perspective taking until a more integrative state of mind is achieved. At first glance this looks like a combination of emotional & spiritual capital.

    I resonate with the term Holistic Resilience. I think you chose a fantastic title to frame resilience. To the extent that I'm in between depression and acceptance a holistic framework is very useful in identifying thoughts all across the spectrum. In my case most are in the depression/experiment/decision range. Maybe a little acceptance too.

    There is one thing I'm going to quibble with. Assumption #2 - We have free will and are willing to use it. I find the arguments that free will doesn't exist more compelling and true than the assumption that free will exists. http://happinessbeyondthought.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-impossibility-of-free.html

    Finally I want to let you know I really enjoyed "The Path to Odin's Lake". When I was reading the book I felt a little like I was on the path myself. I think I enjoyed reading the book more than I would making that kind of trip myself. Reading the book released some kind of unconscious obligation to go look for answers in a far away forest. You went on a trip and went about your way in a similar manner as I would've in similar circumstances.

    Best,

    Frank

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    1. Thanks, Frank. The model I took from is used by the business world, rather than the psychology one. I'm not sure, but perhaps they added in their own substage, given that they are usually in the business of forcing change upon others and want to find a nice model to rationalise it. Probably worthy of further investigation ...

      I came to think of the term 'holistic resilience' after realising that most authors on the subject specialised too much in one area. Most articles end up with the advice to buy gold bars and dig a bunker. Surely there is some kind of synergy, I reasoned, between different types of capital. Also, I've been reading a lot of existential philosophy recently and it occurred to me that the idea of being resilient could be a part of that. After all, it does grapple with the fundamental question of how we should live our lives and to what end.

      As for the free will - well, that't the biggest question ever raised by religion. I believe that we are offered free will and it's a 'use it or lose it' deal. I've seen arguments against it but I see these as merely an extension of the atheistic mechanistic version of existence - which I don't agree with.

      Anyway, glad you enjoyed 'The Path' :-)

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  3. This was really excellent, Jason. (y) Reading over these ten forms of personal capital was actually pretty eye-opening and was really well done (well written and laid out). Great write-up.

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    1. Thanks David. TBH I have emulated your style a little. Personally, I'm given to long paragraphs with plenty of irony and hidden meanings - but if only a few can relate to it then what's the point? My blog, after all, is aimed at helping people. Still, I'm sure I'll reach happy medium at some point.

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  4. Great job coming up with that list. Those of us who have been around collapse a while I hope have made it through the depressive phase more or less. It is good to remember we don't know everything and so going overboard with gloom and doom is as bad an affliction as suffering from cornucopianism. Well, almost. The depressive phase needs to be worked through. It should not be the end.

    I've been reading on Camus myself. He took an opposing view to an anything goes and nothing matters nihilistic reaction or rather party like there is no tomorrow because there isn't one. Rather with the authority of religion and institutions now gone it is necessary and incumbent an mankind to define our morality for ion the absence of any is total destruction. Rather the true state of affairs is that nothing goes unless justified and that everything matters. He also saw that necessary and incumbent was man's natural state. We solve problems and try to improve our lives, that is human nature.

    Part of it all is also to remember that preparing for the future all the time is no life. We also have to live in the present. That is also part of being resilient.

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    1. Hi K-Dog. I'll be honest and say that I haven't read any of Camus's works (too many books, not enough time) - but I'm reading the philosophy of Colin Wilson, who was influenced by him.

      As for the various stages (depression being one of them) - I don't think it is quite so linear as the model makes out. There will be setbacks and reversals - and the whole thing probably looks more like a child's squiggle in real life!

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  5. Jason,

    I'm very much looking forward to your series. This is the stage I'm at in my life now: to fully integrate with the reality we're in and choose those solutions which make sense for me and my situation.

    Regarding resilience, have you read any of Nassim Nicholas Taleb's work on anti-fragility? He argues that resilience is the balance point between fragility (a thing breaks when exposed to stress) and anti-fragility (a thing becomes stronger when exposed to stress.) It's a fascinating concept and perhaps one that could be kept in the back of the mind while addressing resiliency. For example, how could one make any of the forms of capital you outlined anti-fragile? This line of thinking can encourage some creative ideas.

    A concept I've been struggling with lately is the mindsets of abundance and scarcity, and this seems applicable when discussing forms of capital. Some mentors of mine who I greatly respect adhere to the abundance mindset: there's always more to go around. This doesn't jive with my observations because all I see is everything become scarcer. Perhaps the mindset, though, has knock-on effects that actually produce positive outcomes. What direction does your mindset lean towards? I realize I presented this as a binary option, and there are probably numerous other modes of thought available.

    I read the other commenter's issue with free will and I find it interesting that philosophers and others will argue we have no free will and then proceed to act exactly as if they have free will, acting no differently then the rest of us. It seems to me to be a bit hypocritical, as the actions don't fall in line with the belief.

    Thank you for your blog!
    Tim

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    1. Hi Tim,

      I argue that there is no free will and still act exactly as if I have free will. OK. I have no free will when I act exactly as if I have free will. There is no contradiction here is my point.

      Best,

      Frank

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    2. Hi Tim. Fully adapting to reality sounds like a sensible option. I haven't read any Taleb, but have come across him. It makes sense though - there are some very big trees near my house that should, by rights, blow over in high winds. But they don't. The reason they don't is because they have developed deep roots to anchor them in place. The roots must be very strong indeed as one of the trees snapped in half in last winter's storms, rather than falling over.

      As for the abundance/scarcity dualism ... yes, I've noticed that too. I read something the other day in an otherwise excellent piece about cryptocurrrencies that stated "older economists believe in scarcity and limits, whereas the new generation recognise that scarcity is an illusion." I had to chuckle - this could only have been written by someone who has never experienced material scarcity in any form.


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    3. Hi Frank. I think free will is dependent upon the level of consciousness. So, even a limpet on a rock has some free will in deciding which direction to move in. Higher beings have more free will, even if not all choose to use it (much). My point is that we all face various limitations, but we can choose how we act within those parameters.

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    4. Frank,

      Thank you for your reply. I'll respond once more and leave it at that so as not to derail the conversation from Jason's blog.

      If one acts in a way that makes it impossible to tell whether one has free will or not, then what logically is the difference? Or is it more a matter of truth?

      Are you familiar with the work of German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer? He argues that reality is made up only of will and representation. With regards to will, and free will in particular, he shows that the decisions we make originate at a level of will far below the conscious and intellectual minds. I read the blog linked to in your post, and the author asks from where do our decisions originate? Schopenhauer has an answer for him: in the will that makes up our essential being. This philosophy agrees with the findings of neuroscience, where it's been shown that there is a time lag between making a choice and becoming consciously aware of it. I believe this concretely shows that one's will acts at a level beyond the reach of our conscious minds, but it doesn't preclude the will being free.

      Jason,

      I've noticed that trend among economists myself. The newer generation has also lived in an era of "gee-golly" technical "innovation" (that is to say, abundant energy supplies) and therefore continues that trend into the far future. All issues of resource scarcity are solved with the application of ever greater amounts of fossil energy. What happens when the energy runs out? We're starting to see the effects around us as we speak.

      Please keep up the great work!

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  6. Good approach, looking forward to your future posts. On the social capital piece, I would add also the institutional setting of the "society" or the "community" or the various groups where we engage. That is going a bit further than the individual and his loose network. A functional society where there is mutual trust has immense value, and is almost a pre-condition for all the other forms of capital to even exist.

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    1. Hi Gunnar. Yes, when I get deeper into this I am going to include these sorts of things, as well as the concept of trust. Interestingly, I recently found out that the individual is a recent concept - in pre Christian societies in the west, the basic social unit was the family, and nothing less.

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  7. Hi Jason
    Thanks again for concentrating our thoughts. I think we need your worthwhile project.

    In 2005 I thought 'we' – well ... ‘us’ British - would pull more together in the face of 'problems ahead' - i.e. facing both resource constraints and what we could see industrialisation was doing and going to do to climate, and what we were handing on to the grandchildren, and so on. It turned out not to be so. Then in 2007 America triggered a financial warning across the ‘developed’ world. This scared me because the top-heavy machinery of the financial 'industry' looked as though it was going to topple over on all our lives. (I remembered as an example of what could happen, the previous chaos Mrs Thatcher brought on so many working class communities, largely out of sight of the British middle class.) In a bit of a panic I spent a lot of time ‘fact gathering’ and trying to find people who ‘got’ the picture – like Jason and you guys and whoever.

    Well … here we are and still ongoing. My only suggestion is that each of us continues to appraise (ongoing) our local and regional communities and see if we can find resilience. As a young man I never expected (I’m now fairly old) to see in my early middle age the first people sleeping and begging on the streets, and latterly these ‘food banks’. And Grenfell tower? Employment and housing prospects anybody, or in future a pension reflecting 30 years of work? When younger I saw some of the last remnants of earlier mutual protection ‘institutions’ both formal and informal that had been worked out in 19th Century and earlier 20th Century , particularly by working class communities, at local and civic level. These were being entirely superseded by Social Democratic ‘welfare’ arrangements, and are now no longer available, hardly even in living memory. I back JM Greer’s suggestion of re-invigorating community organisations where any survive. I think a return to national level social democratic arrangements just might be possible in Britain

    Greer is in America. Each of our countries is going to be different – sometimes very different. Britain is in a mess. Personally I think that the new London skyline of the last 50 years starting with Centre Point, is witness to just how much of a mess.

    I was looking again yesterday at Dimitri Orlov’s 2008 take on the USA, ‘Re-inventing Collapse’. His reasoning was impeccable (and hilarious) but the complex that is extravagant America stays just about functional. ‘Fracking’ and China maybe staved off imminent implosion? But fracking does not really work – the huge new supply of oil, though still well short of self-sufficiency, ought to have triggered an economic boom. It hasn’t. ‘Depletion never sleeps’ and hollowing out of towns and cities continues. But, America is complex, and out there in the world there is still half the fossil fuel left to be burned.

    I’m still scared at times, with not too many answers for my now grown-up children and their families except that they find the continuities that matter for a good childhood. Well-founded kids have something to be resilient about!

    very best wishes
    Phil
    Please forgive the length!

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I'll try to reply to comments as time permits.