Community is crucial and that never has been clearer to me than it was this last month, as wildfires claimed 10,000 hectares of the area around my home, leaving many people with nothing except the clothes they were wearing when they escaped.
At its peak, our fire was being fought by firefighters from all over Portugal. More than a thousand men, 400 odd fire trucks and 14 planes eventually prevailed. We watched the massive smoke plume and none of us slept much for the four nights it burned, watching an approaching orange glow light up the sky. In its wake, now that the firemen have completed the heroic task of slaying the fire dragon, it’s the force of community which is coming to the fore.
Amongst the local small businesses, there is an almost festive atmosphere. Stories of last minute escapes are shared by those affected, damages are compared. Together, we take reckoning of what has been lost and celebrate the small victories over the fire. A home saved here, a family reunited with their livestock and pets there, a house not touched by the flames even though everything around it has burned.
People have poured in from far and wide to volunteer. Donations of food, clothing and household items are piled high against the back wall of a local restaurant and shared out amongst those who need them. Gender roles seem to be falling naturally into place amongst the volunteers, with the men mostly taking the heavy tasks of clearing scorched earth and charred trees to clear the way for people to start rebuilding and the women cooking for the teams of men and the families who have lost their homes. Now, a month on from the fire, the progress is very visible. Fallen roofs have been shovelled up and cleared, structures checked and cleaned in preparation for placing new beams and rebuilding. The melted pipes of irrigation systems have been pulled out of the ground and taken away. Personal possessions have been sifted through and what can be saved has been secured. We have received excellent information sessions on how to go about managing burned land, what to clear, what to leave, how to prevent land erosion and when and how to start replanting. With the first rain of the autumn coming in strong, the first sign of green is already showing again all over the blackened landscape.
A dear friend of mine, herself a dedicated bitcoiner, put it beautifully in a message to me when I told her how overwhelming it is to see people coming together this way. “This is what people do when they govern themselves,” she wrote, “It’s beautiful.”
Never were truer words spoken. I don’t think I have ever seen a community slip so smoothly into gear before. In countries – such as most European countries – where governments are still functioning to at least some degree (one could argue, over functioning) many people seem to have lost contact with the community. While once churches would have provided the cornerstones for this connection, the majority of people are no longer affiliated to any religious association and if you ask them about their community or “tribe,” most fumble for an answer. They talk about a group loosely composed of co-workers, sports buddies, friends who are not necessarily close by and neighbours with whom they share a mostly coincidental bond of proximity. The fabric of our societies is now an open weave and many individuals simply slip through it into isolation, holding on by only a few threads here and there.
From a historical and sociological perspective, the loss of community is deeply worrying. Humans did not form communities for fun. We didn’t group together because it was more fun to hunt or man the ramparts of the castle with a buddy (although it probably was that too). Throughout human history, no matter what the era or geographical setting, humans have grouped together because together we are and have always been safer, more effective and more capable of influencing our context to our benefit, whether it be fighting a fire, an enemy attack or political overreach. At the risk of sounding like a political slogan, together we really are stronger.
Women traditionally play a crucial role in creating and bonding communities, largely because they are socially and biologically very incentivised to do so – a woman’s first protector for herself and her children is of course her man – but beyond him or in his absence it is her community which is her second line of protection and which she relies upon for safety and help in times of need. It could be convincingly argued that it’s the breakdown of community which is at least partly responsible for the skyrocketing statistics of depression and anxiety amongst women of all ages but especially the younger generations in Northern Europe and the US. Social media appears to replicate a community in hordes of followers, but as a replacement simply doesn’t cut it, providing only dopamine addiction in lieu of genuine connection. From a mental health perspective, loss of community is as disastrous as it is when seen through a historical and sociological lens.
Obviously, it’s not only women who are vulnerable to this catastrophic downturn. Across the genders, statistics for poor mental health including isolation, depression, suicide and addiction make depressing reading and their increasing occurence, in spite of the increasing ease of living for most people in the developed world, even more so. It’s a lack of community which is leaving such a void in people’s lives, above all a lack of a sense that they contribute to a cause larger than their own personal wellbeing. It’s perhaps naïve – but I can’t help feeling that actively founding and stimulating the growth of local communities could have incredibly restorative potential for our collective wellbeing.
Which is just one of the reasons that it is so incredibly heartening to see a community here in full strength, drawing together to support and provide for one another, each member contributing what they have to offer. For some it’s money, which is being channelled straight into providing emergency relief or donated to the people whose livelihood was dependent upon their home. For others, it’s muscle and machine power, in chainsawing, clearing and cleaning. A few people have dedicated their time to coordinating the influx of volunteers. For those of us who have no idea how to wield a chainsaw and whose lack of muscle power threatens to make us more of a hindrance than a help on the front line of the clear up, it’s kitchen duty, providing food for those working and those in need. That community is vital on all the levels of Maslow’s pyramid of human needs is clearly exemplified in the wake of our fire.
But how to go about reintroducing the seeds and roots of community in other places, where with the loss of a shared faith and competitive social relations in all aspects of life, it has been so lost, for so long? Can we as individuals and families foster this growth?
As a fellow bitcoiner, I think you know what I would propose. Besides its myriad other aspects, Bitcoin provides a unique foundation for community. We’ve all experienced it if we have attended Bitcoin events; I’d bet my bottom dollar (if either you or I still believed in the value of the dollar) that you had more in common with the person you had a five minute chat with in the queue of the bathroom at the Bitcoin conference than you do with your co-workers, who you have known and worked with for years.
Bitcoin is about shared values and a shared knowledge that the system we are living under just doesn’t work. Its capacity to lay the foundation for community (not to mention the rest of its cornucopia of economic, technical, social and philosophical gifts) is second to none. A community based around Bitcoin is a whole new and unique model which has the potential to fill the void which other failed (fiat) models of community have left.
Those of us who choose to already experience some of this Bitcoin community through Telegram, Twitter and Nostr. Amongst other Bitcoiners, we can, to put it simply, just go ahead and skip the small talk. Mostly, we’re all aware of the role governments, big pharma, mainstream media and the food giants play. Once these issues are no longer a topic of conversation, it’s beautiful to watch what emerges – we’re all pretty much in agreement about what has broadly gone wrong in the past so we tend to focus on the future. These conversations are incredibly valuable. I, for one, love the thought provoking contact and the sense of online community – but there’s the danger that those online communities and the people with whom I socialize and the businesses from whom I buy the goods I need in daily life can feel like two separate worlds. It takes some steps to bring those two worlds together but I do feel that they are very much worth taking. Shared values make for strong bonds and as you build a Bitcoin community around you, you get to experience the luxury of this.
Delivering regular Bitcoin education sessions and watching as businesses around me start to accept Bitcoin is, for me, planting the seeds of a whole extra layer of community. It could be said that we have an obligation – not only to ourselves and our families, but to our communities, to seed and foster the growth of new, Bitcoin based communities. Doing so will bring us huge benefits. Not only will we be able to transact and save in real money amongst ourselves, building parallel economies which are uncensorable and tailor made to fit our own needs (because we are incentivized to orange pill businesses we most want to buy from), we will have access to the social, philosophical and even moral benefits that being part of a true community brings and which most of us have never yet fully experienced.
Can Bitcoin lead us back to a golden age of community, where all of us can experience these benefits? I think the answer is that it probably can. Some of the green shoots of it can already be seen growing out of the ash left by the collapse of fiat models of community. So if I may be so bold as to offer you some advice – go out there to that shop, restaurant or bar you go to often and say those magic words: “Do you accept Bitcoin yet?”
This is a guest post by Holly Young. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.