Making a Killing on Disaster

Naomi Klein wrote the fascinating and disturbing book Shock Doctrine. The thesis is that there is a new especially soulless breed of capitalism which looks for opportunities in crisis to displace poor people, steal their land, and in multiple senses of the words “make a killing.” Wolfe shows examples of this in Iraq after the wars, in New Orleans after Katrina, in Indonesia after the tsunami. And what you walk away with this this idea that there are deeply evil people who are looking at every disaster as their opportunity to take advantage of people who have just been traumatized and hurt them even further.

And of course there is the other side to crisis. People stepping up, people doing heroic things and selfless things and generous things. This is in fact the more common (by numbers) side of most disasters. But as is so often the case with industrial capitalism (which is an economic system designed to externalize “costs” for the benefit of entrepreneurs), lots of people doing small positive humanistic things can be overwhelmed by greedy people doing oppressive things.

So I posed this question to my planners (the communities executive decision makers) today. “Should we ask those who care about us to contribute money for our reconstruction after the earthquake?”

So there are a couple of sides to this. We are cash strapped having launched an $800K tofu upgrade project which is not finished and will take years to pay for itself (but will dramatically reduce the stress on tofu workers bodies as soon as we open it, especially ones who are doing the hydraulic pressing of tofu into trays – which is my job). If we got outside funding there are buildings which have been damaged that we would much more likely repair. If we got external funding we might well replace some of the things which were broken, including possibly (depending on how the money is given) personal things which we destroyed that cause hardship to the previous owner. If someone gave us a grant, we might replace the rickety shelves in the basement of ZK which nearly dumped literally thousands of gallons of preserved food on the floor in a pile of broken glass, lovingly processed organic fruits, vegetables and sadness.

Of course the other way of looking at it is even with this tofu expansion costs, we have a million dollars in the bank. We could pay for any or all of these repairs and replacements are selves were we not so cheap/financial conservative. Presumably donation money is finite and if people are giving money to Twin Oaks, which does not really need it, they are not giving money to the ACLU or to Greenpeace or to someone who is going to do something really useful with it. In fact, the case can be made that the whole point of what we are doing here is to not take external money of this kind, to show off that we can do it ourselves. That we can live with even more broken down buildings and an annoying collection of doors which now do not close. That we did not need most of the stuff we lost and that when a community gets to be this size and this age, resilience is deeply woven into the collective identity.

So if we are your favorite charity, please feel free to contribute, I can help you get money or stuff here (and people have already been generous) and know that while things are banged up here, we are doing basically fine and not really in need.

Also special thanks to Nexus at Open Circle and George at Ganas for offering help cleaning up and with what ever we needed.  And ex-member Koala who is giving us a car and some supplies.

About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

10 responses to “Making a Killing on Disaster”

  1. Kenna J says :

    If you have a million dollars in the bank, you have no business asking for donations. I can’t even get f@cking foodstamps if my car is valued at over $2000 or I have a CD in the bank valued at $3000, even though it won’t be mature for another six months.

  2. Bliss says :

    If one ideal of community is self sustainablilty that still applies after a natural disaster, then I think it makes sense for all formers TOer’s and former FECer’s to donate in what capacity they can. Million in the bank or no, a broad network of community people is good for just this. This is the same way Amish people put up a new barn a week after the old one burns down, it takes money from their communal emergency fund and labor from much more communities than just the one the farm is in. I’m personally not stocked with enough cash to matter, but I’m great at making stuff and whatever I make so far sells, if you were having a Twin Oaks benifit or some such, I’d be happy to donate! Wish I were there, I’d be sweeping the floors.

  3. Kenna J says :

    Seriously. I’m really pissed to hear that you’re even considering it. “Fiscal conservatives” love to talk about how people asking for a handout have these wonderful lives where they go home to cushy houses, which I know from experience is total bullshit. If you guys start asking for “help” because you experienced the same sort of accident anyone else could experience, then you are exactly the kind of fraudulent applicants these tightwads live in fear of, and you are proving them right. You have food to eat, shelter, many comforts, and far more safety than I ever had when I was living in my car. Please take responsibility for yourselves and act from a place of reality rather than trying to preserve the glowing feeling of security you get when your balance sheets come up pretty. Fixing house damage is one of the things your money is for. Not other people’s money, your money.

    By the way, through being a greedologist, I’ve come to the conclusion that most people who take advantage of others do it because they believe they are on the brink of not having their own needs met. Some of these very greedy people have billions of dollars but still believe that they are in grave danger of losing it all if they aren’t constantly amassing more. Is this the prevailing attitude at Twin Oaks?

  4. paxus says :

    Dearest Kenna:

    i hear your anger. And it feels pretty displaced. The commune is responsible for all the costs of the members, it is true that we are generally fiscal conservatives. But when you divide that million dollars by 100 people the numbers are not very impressive. Especially since it has to pay for many people who dont have social security and yet are aging.

    You can compare us to greedy billionaires if you like, but you have been to Twin Oaks, what comforts we have are a function of us trusting each other and sharing, not a function of big bank balances.

    i think the vast majority of people at Twin Oaks are neither greedy not taking advantage of others. Do you have a recollection which is different? Or is your upset driving you away from your experience?

    Paxus in Cville
    26 Harvest of Errors 2KXI

  5. Kenna J says :

    A normal person cannot get ANY sort of public assistance if she has assets totaling more than $2000, no matter what these assets are. My friend has land in Spain but absolutely nothing else, yet this asset makes her ineligible for foodstamps. I agree that $10,000 for one person isn’t impressive, but it’s FAR more than most of us have. Twin Oakers have far, far more than most of us have, in many areas of life, and it isn’t just because of community spirit. It’s also because of business savvy, good organization, a history of mostly good decisions, and a lot of luck. I think you should be going out into C-ville offering to repair other people’s houses rather than asking for money to repair your own. I guarantee you that the vast majority of the people you meet in C-ville have far less than $10,000 saved up for themselves, and if they had it, they would be spending it on repairing their houses. Most aging people are pretty much screwed right now. Your members are doing fine. You may be feeling a pinch, but most people are in the grip of a huge vise.

  6. paxus says :

    Dearest Kenna:

    We mostly agree. And as you say ” It’s also because of business savvy, good organization, a history of mostly good decisions, and a lot of luck.” Most people in this circumstance have much more than $10K in the bank.

    Where did the difference go? Well much of it went into our infrastructure and supporting our members. And the community does do lots of local support work, including helping neighbors around earthquake clean up, and support for sexual assault prevention services, and literacy programs for poor local kids, and starting new fossil free communities, and campaigning to stop nuclear power plants and on and on.

    It is certainly the case that because of the reasons you site (and others you miss) we are better off than most of our neighbors AND it is the case that Oakers have often and will continue to help the local community and the greater would both directly and by being a model of something better.

    But perhaps the most important point is that we have no monopoly on our approach. Any group of like minded people could start a community and start sharing things and increase their chances of being economically successful. Instead, the mainstream chooses to believe that sharing is communist, and that everyone has to have their own everything almost all of which sits idle almost all the time. Instead of saying we are greedy, perhaps you should look at your neighbors and say they should kick this selfish habit designed to enrich corporations and cooperate with each other.

    Paxus in Cville
    27 Harvest of Errors 2KXI

  7. Kenna J says :

    I guess my main point is that times have changed to the point that you guys aren’t the poor ones anymore. The mainstream is in really sorry shape. The mainstream’s 10K doesn’t go very far, not like yours.

    Regarding your saying that any group of like-minded people could start a community and start sharing things and increase their chances of being economically successful: I don’t agree with this. I think this is the same as a multi-million-dollar earner saying, “Anybody could have done what I’ve done.” If that were true, many more people would have done it. Think of all the communities which start and are gone three years later. There are far more factors in your success and others’ failure than simple desire or philosophy.

    You and the super-rich fellow also apparently see yourselves as self-made, which you are not. There are no self-made anythings. For example, one of the factors contributing to your success is the capitalist action of others. Your sharing system exists within a capitalist system, and you have depended on that capitalist infrastructure for many of the elements of your success, the same way a multi-million earner has been supported on the backs of many making far less money.

    From someone who has had nearly nothing for most of her adult life (even though I’ve very much been a sharing and helping person) and who very much wanted to be a part of your community and did not succeed, I’d like to hear more gratitude and humility coming out of you. You know very well that you guys are not the poor of the world or of the country. You experienced a natural disaster, just like anyone else. I don’t think you should ask for donations from people who erroneously believe that you are poor.

  8. Paxus Calta says :

    Dearest Kenna:

    i am not contending we are poor and never have (in fact have written about how this common perception is a myth). If you are looking for humility, you have contacted the wrong guy. I do workshops on how modest is dangerous and keeps us from communicating our skills and abilities to take on pressing challenges.

    As for grateful, i am there every day. I recognize how amazing this set up is and how lucky i am to have found it and to be able to be part of it.

    But i am not at all willing to let you off the hook for not creating more community in your life. Even if it is not place based. The charing part of community is available almost dally for most people and they (and i am convinced you) dont do the work to make it happen. Who can borrow your car or your living room to sleep in? What agreements have you made about damage or covering costs? I dont believe you are working to build a culture of sharing amongst yourself and those around you. And i would be happy to be wrong, but you are going to have to prove it to me, rather than just bitch from the sidelines about how you are so poor and stuck.

    Paxus at Twin Oaks
    29 Harvest of Errors 2KXI

  9. Kenna J says :

    Dear deeply-respected Paxus,

    I will answer your personal question because I think it will hurt our friendship (which I treasure) if I don’t. But, I don’t think it’s quite relevant. I think you are indulging in focus-switching, by which I mean changing the topic from the general to the specific (or vice versa) when you feel that your argument is losing ground. I think you are angry with me for suggesting that asking for donations right now is a greedy move, and so you are planning to expose my personal flaws to punish me. Even after you expose my personal flaws, the relative greediness or non-greediness of asking for donations will stay the same, as will my opinion and irritation about it. You might also be suggesting that I’m not in a position to have any authority on greed and community. If so, then I’m sorry you see me that way.

    As it happens, I am not poor and stuck right now, because I am in a shared-resources situation. The story about being ineligible for foodstamps was from 3 years ago.

    [And, just to be accurate, my car is worth considerably less than $2000, but the CD part of the story was true. Not only was my CD not going to be mature for another 6 months, it was already slated to be spent on a bill as soon as it was cashed out. Nobody cared about that, though. The eligibility requirements for public assistance offered by the state have very little to do with reality. I was couch-surfing and using services for the homeless, but because of that CD, I couldn’t get foodstamps.]

    I would like to be very specific about my current situation but won’t do it here because the private details of my life need to stay out of the public forum at this time. I will write more to you about it privately, if you wish, or to anyone else reading this post who isn’t a member of my family of origin. My email address is verygoodmedicineATgmail.

    There has been very little actual SHARING in my history, in the sense of shared risks and benefits. I think this is partly due to not knowing how to shape something like that. For example, I have no idea how to make agreements about damage or covering costs that I can count on other people to uphold. Most people I’ve known only honor legal agreements (which really saddens me), no matter what they may say at the beginning of an arrangement. So, it seems that agreements about damage or covering costs have to be made legal, and I haven’t the faintest idea how to go about that. I’m not a stupid person, I just don’t know anything about that so far.

    What there has been much more of is simple giving and receiving. I promise you that ANY time I’ve had an asset I thought someone else could use, I have shared it with others, or at least tried to. When I have had a car, I have loaned it out and given rides. When I have had a living space, I have let people stay on my couch or in my extra bedroom. And many people have given the same to me. What I have found is that most offers– for examples, to cook for someone, help clean their house, or take care of their kids– get declined.

    I often don’t understand why people decline. For example, if I offer someone a ride to the airport and she chooses to take a taxi instead, I figure it’s because she would rather feel that she has more control over what time she gets to the airport, in order to keep her anxiety at a minimum. We live in a culture where people who are in a position to make money tend to be more reliable that than people who aren’t. (And when I was homeless this most recent time, a friend did, in fact, pay me $25 to drive her to the airport. She said that she would rather give the money to me than to a taxi driver. Yay.) But, lots of times, I find it confusing that people decline. Even people who talk about community and how isolated we all are from one another don’t seem to want to give much to me or receive much from me.

    So, maybe this is because people can’t stand being around me. That was a big factor in some people’s votes against me at Twin Oaks. You talked to me about my off-putting habits when I got there. I’ve changed my ways quite a bit, but it doesn’t seem to have made much difference. Maybe I haven’t changed enough? I plan to keep on changing, so we’ll see how it goes.

    The people who have been willing to receive my gifts have been people who were also suffering. A friend without a car is happy to have mine for a day to do errands or go on a pleasure drive. A person with nowhere to stay is happy to have a free couch. And when people have given me things, it’s been when I was in really sorry shape, too, and would have been in real danger if they hadn’t. Unfortunately, most people in sorry shape don’t have a lot of social energy to share to brighten up people’s lives, and they become a drag after a while.

    There has been ONE change that I’ve been able to detect that led to my current success in sharing resources: my asset allocation abruptly changed. I suddenly had something somebody wanted. That’s it. It wasn’t my attitude or my efforts that changed, just what I had to offer.

    Now, I have a whole lot more than I had before. It took me about two years to stop panicking regularly that I was going to end up on the street and starving again (and this thought still creeps in at times). I’ve had to make some strange concessions. For example, I’m living a much more consumerist lifestyle than I prefer, and a lot of the consuming happens from Wal-Mart. There are other things I’ve given up that I’d never imagined life without. It seems worth it, though. I feel really wealthy. I expect all my basic needs to be met every day.

    Even having all I need and more, I still find it is really hard to expand the community. Again, I cannot tell whether this is a function of my personality or of bad attitudes in others or of luck or what. I sure feel like I’m reinventing the wheel when I try, though, and I find this annoying. People say things sound like a good idea, but then they always have reasons not to jump on board. They have other, more socially acceptable, ways of meeting their own needs.

    Here’s what I think is going on. I think sharing and community is a higher function that people can’t engage in while they’re worrying about getting their basic needs met. It’s right there on Maslow’s pyramid. You can prescribe that everyone should share resources so that we all have more, but that only makes sense if we’re all just heads floating around, getting the bird’s-eye view on everything. We aren’t. We are animals with animal bodies, living on the ground in this moment, thinking about what we’re going to do when we’re hungry in a few hours or when the rent is due.

    I’m going to try to post this comment, even though I intend to write more. I’m concerned that this is so long that wordpress will reject it.

  10. paxus calta says :

    Dearest Kenna:

    You are right that i am topic switching. The reasons for it is that i think it is somewhat relevant to this conversation we are having. You are saying “i am pissed off you are asking for donations when so many are worse off” and implied at least that you were in this squeezed group. So if you are pissed off because (in part) your situation is worse than ours, then challenging your situation feels like fair game to me.

    And as an anarchist, i think anyone can ask for anything and anyone who wants can be pissed off about it, righteously or not. So what we are getting at here is whether in some abstract logical world you are “right” to be pissed off. i dont doubt that you are.

    What i believe contradicts your Maslowvian world view. What i believe is that there are all kinds of cultures which are both poor and share things. And that your friend who refuses to help you by being a taxi for her is part of the peculiar economic problem of industrial capitalism.

    I think groups of people (outside of industrial capitalist mindsets) use sharing all the time to get needs met. Peasant farmers sharing fields is one of the most common examples. Wealth hoarders looking to profit at every opportunity want to strip this away and thus attempt to privatize all land.

    And i dont subscribe to your “need based” view of what makes for and appropriate donation. If this were the case, we would close the opera and museums (neither institutions i have much to do with) because they dont represent real needs. And if we toddle down to the more radical/progressive end of philanthropy, people want to donate to us, independent of our need, because they like what we represent.

    What is also true is the community did not put our a call for donations, despite some fundraisers advising us to. Nor do we take food stamps, which is pride and anti-government feeling as much as anything, because we technically qualify. But we are not above all government assistance, this is for certain.

    i am happy you feel wealthy, despite not have much money. I feel quite the same way. And should someone wish to donate to either of us, for what ever reason that is fine. And should you desire to be pissed of at us for accepting these donations (which we are not asking for), that is certainly your prerogative.

    Paxus at Twin Oaks
    3 Tripoli Fall 2KXI

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