Bootstrap World: the Climb-out.

[note added: John Plodinec has provided a quick yet quintessentially thoughtful response to this post. There’s much to like. I encourage readers to consider and reflect on what he’s had to say.]

The previous LOTRW post noted that

(1) disaster survivors and their prospects are fundamentally changed from the challenges they experience and never return to their pre-disaster condition;

(2) what we call “disaster recovery” is therefore often little more than a matter of unaffected populations entering the disaster area and displacing those (and what) that had been there before;

(3) the current impacts and scale of what are viewed as separate and perhaps localized disasters – covid, climate change, and the war in Ukraine – are really so pervasive that there is no corner of the globe and no sector of society that is unaffected. We are experiencing worldwide disaster. And;

(4)  as a result, instead of relying on any outside help, all eight billion of us must lift ourselves by our own bootstraps to “recover.”  

This explains a lot of what we learn from our own introspections, our personal encounters with each other, and our assessment of the world mood as reveal by news and social media.

Hardly anyone is in an entirely good place.

(Looking for a kernel of reality-based good news here, Bill…)

There’s an end to this tunnel, and light at the end. To see this, consider a link, and two observations. The link, which comes from the Huffington Post, provides a bit of scholarship, reminding us that the bootstrapping notion was indeed intended to be wholly nonsensical but suggesting that over time we have lost sight of those origins and allowed the expression to denote something less.

The first observation is that bootstrapping of this achievable sort has become a thing in the business world. Here the phrase is used to describe startups that don’t rely on venture capital provided by others to get going; instead, they seek and draw on venture capital only at a later stage, if at all. (The link provided here is only one of many.)

The second observation comes from the allegory of the long spoons. Versions of this allegory exist in many cultures worldwide; one version often cited is attributed to Rabbi Chaim of Rumshishok, born in 1813. The story illustrates the difference between heaven and hell. The Wikipedia link briefly encapsulates it thus:

In each location, the inhabitants are given access to food, but the utensils are too unwieldy to serve oneself with. In hell, the people cannot cooperate, and consequently starve. In heaven, the diners feed one another across the table and are sated.

It’s not much of a stretch to imagine that if we brace ourselves from our own position, however low, we can lift another by their bootstraps. Paradox resolved/impossibility surmounted.

At the same time, it’s immediately obvious that this process is sustainable and therefore of some practical use only if we act out of more than our self-interest (that is, out of a selfless love), and act from a stance of trust (that others, once lifted, will turn back and elevate us… and so on).

The good news is that human beings seem to be hardwired a bit this way… we have form. Following the Black Death scourge of the mid-14th-century, for example, we cast aside the feudal society and created a more equitable, prosperous, satisfying world.

We have done it once. Chances are we can do it again. And chances are you and I are already doing that already, in myriad small ways in our day-to-day lives.

Without, necessarily, any great degree of self-awareness. So please contemplate that today. Take time to see all the ways you’re helping others. And the ways others are helping you. Affirm yourself. Allow yourself to be a bit more intentional. And show your gratitude to those around you.

And, most importantly –  keep it up.

Oh. And thanks!

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3 Responses to Bootstrap World: the Climb-out.

  1. Bill:-
    While I agree that we should go where you are pointing, I strongly disagree with some of your premises.
    “disaster survivors and their prospects are fundamentally changed from the challenges they experience and never return to their pre-disaster condition;” If that’s true, then why try? No arguing with the “fundamental change” part, and sort of agree with the “never return” part, but what that seems to imply to you is that their New Normal is necessarily worse than where they started. And that’s true only if you assume that disaster survivors have no agency (remember your own post on this?). Many of the people who left NOLA before and after Katrina didn’t return because they found greater opportunity – prospects – elsewhere. Another great example: after Hurricane Hugo, Charleston and the SC Lowcountry came roaring back, and is much stronger than it was before.

    I think a better argument for what you are pointing to is simply based on economy of scale. If you and I pool our resources, we can do more together than we could separately. We can recover faster. The New Normal we recover to may not look the same as the Old Normal, but if we’re smart (remembering that two heads are better than one) it can be functionally superior, i.e., it can work better for all of us. A great example is the jump in academic achievement in NOLA’s schools after Katrina.

    Your original premises strike me as a counsel of despair, implicitly saying “try all you want, when disaster strikes – You Can’t Go Home Again.” To which I want to say (Hat tip to Ernie Broussard), “When disaster strikes, pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. Pooling what you have with others’ resources, together you can build something better than before.”

    • William Hooke says:

      🙂 Thanks so much for this thoughtful (and quick) response, John. Quintessential Plodinec traits. There’s a lot here to like/agree with your main points. Continuing best wishes

      • Thanks, Bill, for the kind words. One of the reasons I value LOTRW is your willingness to challenge us AND to risk being challenged back. That you do that in a most civilized (and civil) manner speaks volumes for you as a person.

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