Saturday, August 13, 2011

Community Resiliance

In my never ending interest in post-appocolyptic narratives, I'm fascinated in the ways that small social groups adapt to catastrophic changes in their environment. While the usual nuclear/plague/astroid strike/(insert very sudden catastrophy here) provides more substance for a long form narrative, the basic premis is the same. Take one community, change or destabalise their relationship with more distant communities, place pressure on resources and see what happens.

Usually in the narratives the community devolves into a game of every family for themselves, predation, looting etc. Smaller sustainable groups form, families, gangs, couples and singles. Group size and composition dictate the strategies that are adopted for success.

Because the "Rule of law" is the first thing to go, the groups fall back on the law of the jungle. Strong groups predate on the weak. When there is no prey, the groups decompose further and repeat the same patterns. When there is sufficienc basic resources (food, water, shelter), trade and cooperation flourish. Groups can afford to merge with smaller groups and gain in strength.

This is about as deep as the usual narrative will go. There is sometimes a nod to some interesting social adaptions such as group marriages or communal parenting but nothing about skill retention, education models or research and development.

Another intersting issue is that of currency. Most systems quickly devlove into some sort of barter/trust/reputation model. This works fine for a very small community where everyone has the ability to have a shared idea of the current value of something. It becomes weaker as the size of the trade network grows. The relative value of something at two different points in social graph could be quite substantial and cause runs and bubbles even within a relativly small group. This can have a very distructive effect on a small fragile ecconomy. Situations like this need some stability in value over at least a yearly cycle. That way seasonal produce will dominate the value chain. Animals may have a different value model due to their durability over more than one cycle. They can also be cashed in as food with very short notice. Access to wild food stocks would also be highly valued and have good longevity as long as the ownership model can be enforced.

I think that any community that is disconnected suddenly needs a new knowledge model. Having specialists who know lots has two drawbacks. Fistly its incredibly risky and secondly it gives one person a great deal of individual power. So I think the first thing to do would be to distribute the knowledge as broadly as possible. Essentially, teach everyone in town to be a doctor. Obviously everyone does not have time to be a doctor full time, so the town needs to maximise the learning opportunity every time some doctoring is going on. Perhaps even have some regular training days to teach first aid and basic medicine. Same for any other specialist knowledge that is useful. (Metalwork, woodwork, hunting, fishing etc) This means that for just about everything being done, there should never be one person doing it, there should always be someone watching and learning over their shoulder.
At any point in time that person doing the leaning could suddenly be the only expert availible.

Another thing that communities need is a sense of identity and a chance to bond. This usually means some communal gathering and opportunity to socialise. Regular town meetings, dances, bonfire nights, drunken orgies... whatever. As long as everyone gets invited and everyone comes. As for the identity, its simply a matter of selecting a name and enforcing a sense of us and "them". Having someone else to persecute is also a favorite.

I think the basics of life are food, water, shelter, health, security. While semantically there is a little overlap between them, I think none are valuable without the others. As long as a community can collectivly provide these things to all members (with acceptable levels of equity) that community can be self sustaining. Being able to supply additional needs would just make life better.

Where things get socially interesting( and usually brutal) is when there is either a resource cap or insecurity in one of the 5 essentials. At this point the community (large or small) needs to come up with clever ways to deal with that constraint. This usually comes down to "population control" ( in all its variations ) or individual portion control (again in various variations).

Population control seems to be the most popular in narratives because it means that the loner can be kicked out/eaten/disposed of and the remainder can live in guilt and eventually all go crazy. Alternates are "natural attrition", "Abandon the elders(logans run, Inuit society)",

Individual portion control works as long as the system appears equitable and individuals are getting "just enough" as soon as the portion size falls too low, the group disintergrates again.

Either situation is complicated. So far I have not seen any narratives where some other strategy was proposed to deal with a resource cap.

Resource insecurity causes a range of other strategies to develop. Things like hording, division and stratafication (class systems with "have's" and "have not's"), religion(Scarsity is the will of a devine being... happy feet), seasonal predation(banditry when times are hard. Farming when times are good), nomadic movement(the grass is always greener...), raiding etc.

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