Saving FPR with Jaws (And More Gooder Prose)

by Jason Peters on December 10, 2010 · 15 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Culture, High & Low,Region & Place


Rock Island, IL

It would be silly to suppose that nothing better than our current situation could ever arrive. But then again that wouldn’t be any sillier than sitting around waiting for something better than our current situation to arrive.

I am one who happens to think that something better will arrive. The problem as I see it, however, is that this ‘something’ will arrive only after something far worse shows up. That appears to me to be the likely sequence, unless we can somehow manage to step out of our wonted role as Larry Vaughan, the cowardly mayor of Amity Island, who, as Matt Hooper says, is hell-bent on ignoring his shark problem until it swims up and bites him on the ass.

We can either make the changes we ought to be good enough and smart enough to make, or we can sit in front of our flat screen plasma TVs and wait for catastrophe to force those changes on us. I think the latter scenario is the more likely, but that has not stopped me from trying–in admittedly small ways–to usher in the former.

This is the thing FPR dissenters can’t get their minds around. They think that all this talk of localism and place and decentralization and being capable and neighborly is just a bunch of theoretical claptrap or sentimental jargon.

And, of course, it is claptrap and jargon to people who don’t know anything about local ways and means, who don’t live in actual places, who don’t take any kind of responsibility for governing and caring for the places they inhabit, who don’t know how to do anything materially useful for themselves or others, and who don’t know (or care) who their neighbors are.

But none of this is merely theoretical to those who do inhabit a place, who do take responsibility for it and for the others in it, who can and will do things both for themselves and others, and who know (and this is the sticking point) that much more is going to be required of them.

They know that much more is going to be required of them because they know that, whatever else we are governed by (God, chance, sharks), we are governed by limits. And they know that sooner or later those limits are going to have something unpleasant, if not also unwelcome, to say about our living arrangements.

How soon or late is not the point. Not if you understand that you belong to something larger than what you can see and that that thing extends further in time than most of us can imagine–backward, to be sure, but especially forward.

Some people I know agree that limits are going to impose themselves at some point, maybe soon, and these people, having laid up land and guns and a couple of skills, tell me they are ready for the imposition.

They aren’t. When the mob shows up they’re going to get that Chief-Brody Oh-Shit look on their faces and then search their survival manuals for a variation on “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Then of course they’ll discharge what little ordnance they’ve stocked in defense of what little property they’ve hoarded and then stand there like Custer at the Horn wondering where all these copulating Indians came from.

Whereupon (to switch back to Jaws) the shark is going to eat at least 1/3 of the crew, come damn close to eating another third, and scare the bejeezis out of the remaing 2/3 left to float, fittingly, on empty barrels—this in a best case scenario.

Others I know—and some I don’t, though I read what they write—think I’m crazy. But these poor souls haven’t been paying much attention to how they eat or to the limited quantities of oil that back their standards of living. Put simply: for too long they have lived too far from the sources that sustain them and the places they need to be. They don’t really inhabit the world.

And then there are some people, few in number, who say this: we—we—must make preparations for the lean times. We must prepare as men and women who live among men and women. We must understand that we are creatures who live in community and that we must preserve the community if we wish to preserve ourselves. We must seek the prosperity of the city. For in the shalom thereof shall we have shalom.

What most astonishes me is that Christians, who especially ought to understand this, given the doctrine of the Trinity and all that it suggests for human arrangements, persist in thinking of themselves atomistically—that is, not in Trinitarian but in … in what? Unitarian terms? The language itself stumbles in its attempt to express the extent of our isolation and alienation from all else and all others.

The “atom” is the indivisible whole of both classical physics and etymology, and it would have done well to have admitted defeat when physicists had to concede that the atom, like everything else, also consists of parts—and that those parts consist of other parts, and that those other parts consist of … well, who knows? It seems to have turned out that no “part” (or wave or string or dimension or mathematical equation) is an island.

And yet the modern atomistic Christian has admitted no such thing. Trouble’s brewing? Bring it on. I’m ready. My soul has been saved by my personal savior and my basement is stocked with dehydrated food.

The life we currently enjoy—or rather suffer (paschein)—will turn out to be as short-lived as the atom of classical physics. Maybe none of us will live long enough to see what sorts of limits reality really has in mind for us. And maybe that will be lucky for us. But can any of us living now continue in this charade in good conscience as if no one sharing our blood will bump up against those limits—and suffer considerably because of how ill-prepared they are to confront their own intrinsic condition, a social and relational condition that both material reality and theology would gladly have helped them understand?

We have the opportunity—some would say the moral responsibility—to make preparations now for the life that reality has in store either for us or for those we are intimately related to and responsible for when the life-blood of our current living arrangements runs dry and the only good thing that can be said about the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico is that it is adorned with lovely midwestern topsoil.

I think what the FPR stands for is this kind of responsibility—a placed responsibility that extends both backward and forward in time. But we must understand that, whatever sort of job we do caring for the past, there is only one way to care for the future, and that is to take care of the present.

Many people think they know how to do that. Most of them are stark-raving mad.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Reader John December 10, 2010 at 12:31 pm

I wish I’d written that.

avatar EuroCentric December 10, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Here’s the actual link to Spencer’s criticism:

Many on the European right have abandoned Christianity on the grounds that it’s antithetical to localism, on the grounds that it’s too universalistic. These people have returned to the indigenous religions of Europe – which are local, ancestral and reflect blood and soil. (I’m not saying these people are right or wrong — I’m just saying that many people see contemporary Christianity as opposed to localism. Think of Catholic priests’ support of Third World immigration into the West – globalism par excellence.)

avatar David December 10, 2010 at 4:11 pm

I’ve never felt the Malthusian-brotherhood as my primary bond here. To my mind good times come and good times go and in either a peasant might flourish or a king might starve. I get it, and they should get it, but a poor harvest this year shouldn’t be the majority motivation for virtue. I fear such virtue is false, not drawing from the heart but utilitarian self-conceit. As if we only have to be very wise hedonists, maximizing the good for ourselves and our posterity with delayed gratification (but gratification thus guaranteed).

Better to take a different road, one of no good sense at all. Better to have virtue when there is no profit in it. Better to bleed not only for your own sins (which you do as much because of the mercies of Christ as we are freed from them) but also to join Christ to suffer the sins of your brother. Forget the world, it doesn’t exist. It is an abstract, as even nations,.. even community, except.. when I am in community with my brother and I suffer for his sake.

This is a privilege, not a task. And calling for such virtue and receiving a mocking is being mocked for God, a privilege even greater. For goodness will always be mocked precisely because it is not slave to the wills of addicted men. They must mock, what else can they do? But it is not their mocking, rather the prayers of the saints that rise as incense ’round the throne of Heaven. Mocking falls into the abyss as a stone.

Weep. Weep for the mockers. Their sin is ours (for we are all hypocrites). We in our inadequacy spur on their mocking and drive them to perdition. Lord be merciful.

avatar M.D. December 10, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Perhaps the current wave of FPR dissenters and critics could be assuaged if the site’s motto became: “God, chance, sharks.”

avatar DMD December 10, 2010 at 4:51 pm

modalist terms?

avatar Rob G December 10, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Boy, I thought you were exaggerating, but this Spencer chappie REALLY doesn’t get it, does he? Yikes.

avatar Jordan Smith December 10, 2010 at 7:58 pm

I wish you would use your considerable abilities to write articles like this more often! I enjoy the lighter, saucier fare too, but… this is bread.

avatar Daniel J Antinora December 11, 2010 at 1:17 am

“Your gonna need a bigger boat.”


avatar richard December 11, 2010 at 1:28 am

Mr Peters-A fine essay. Even if we lose, we tried.

I remember in one of the late John Seymour ‘s books, he had talked to an East Indian who was trying to enact land reform by getting big landowners and moneylenders to stop. When Seymour asked if he had any success, the Indian said no, and that furthermore he had little optimism………….but he would keep trying tomorrow.

avatar DOD in Dallas December 11, 2010 at 4:00 am

Let me second, third, and fourth notes of appreciation and say fare such as this little gem is the reason FPR is my first and last stop of the day on the net. Let the whiners vent but you carry on….too important and on-target to be distracted. Thanks, Jason and Porchers all.

avatar Art Myatt December 11, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Let’s see … local … limits … poor souls haven’t been paying much attention to how they eat or to the limited quantities of oil that back their standards of living … make the changes we ought to be good enough and smart enough to make … responsibility for governing and caring for the places they inhabit … we are creatures who live in community and that we must preserve the community if we wish to preserve ourselves.

It sounds like you are ready to start working toward a transition town. As you’ll see whenever you investigate the transition movement, there are lots of ideas and very little in the way of effective organization on a national or state-wide basis. Perhaps that’s because the only important organization will be … local. I wish you the best of luck in creating local resilience in Rock Island and the rest of the Quad Cities.

Art Myatt

avatar Roger S December 13, 2010 at 1:27 pm

I liked this article very much but let me tell you my own frustrations after having read the front porch for a little over a year. It seems that there is general agreement about things that are wrong in our times and further agree on the primacy of family, community and limitations. But there is still the question of what to do. Through your article it strikes me that you are resigned to the notion that until we fall upon hard times, a better day cannot come to pass. I think I might agree with you however it does not mean that our job is simply to moan and groan about what is going on today, that we powerless and should not do something beyond how we live our lives and treat our families. Everyone on the porch talks about what is wrong but seldom is there a suggestion about what to do. I would love to see some suggestions on what can be done now, in the present circumstances to preserve and protect community and family from the mess our world is currently in. What are your ideas on what to do when we only have two parties to chose from and neither offer or suggest real solutions because they have hardly identified the real issues. What are some of the solutions, what should we be asking others to do. If we have not given up on the political system entirely, what should be asking our legislators to do. I humbly suggest that more suggestions regarding actions and less discussion on unrealistic subjects like the pros and cons of a monarchy might make the FPR more interesting.

avatar Jason Peters December 13, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Roger S: I’ve made some modest efforts at “what to do”:


I’m not one to take on the policy side, I’m afraid. I tend to prefer ground-up efforts: getting people to walk and produce food, for example.

avatar Dan December 14, 2010 at 4:52 pm

See 3:10 to Yuma, if you haven’t. The latest remake, I mean.

avatar kelli December 15, 2010 at 6:26 pm

Right there with you–I’m one of the aware, but still pretty unprepared, people.

God put localism in my mind and then has led me to like-minded people. For me, it all started with the command to love your neighbor. More and more, I believe that while God can love the whole world, we people can really only love our neighbors, people we actually have contact with. Trying/pretending to love the whole world is a distraction from the difficult work of truly loving the person next door.

From there, I moved on to local accountability: a store owned by a conglomerate does not have to be accountable to me; a store owner who lives in my community has to look me in the eye once in a while.

And now, of course, many of us are growing more of our own food and reviving old skills.

A friend hopes to start a newsletter that will help train her community. And she has discovered the place where Mormons buy their goods in bulk, places which are now open to non-Mormon people.

Other friends have asked the question: Do we share what we’ve stockpiled for our families? If so, how much do we share, and how long will it last if we share? Watching the BBC series Survivors was an eye-opener for me. And of course, watching our own people after Katrina and seeing what happens in places like Haiti give us real-world instruction on the heart of man in a crisis.

Keep up the good work!

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