“Many human beings say that they enjoy the winter, but what they really enjoy is feeling proof against it. For them, there is no winter food problem. They have fires and warm clothes. The winter cannot hurt them and therefore increases their sense of cleverness and security. Ford birds and animals, as for poor men, winter is another matter.”
Richard Adams, Watership Down
I have lived most of my life in a warm climate where winters are relatively mild but I do have fond memories of living in Japan where it is not. Where I lived the temperature was regularly subzero at night but I enjoyed it. I was also quite used to living without central heating in this weather though the dwellings I inhabited were usually well-shielded for such weather. As Adams observes in the quotation above though; my fondness for winter was based on the comfortable living arrangements I had and the complete lack of scarcity. While I could go out and experience the cold, I didn’t have to stay that way and I had clothing enough to keep me well shielded as well.
This is something I’ve sometimes been prompted to think about and usually when I am most comfortable. Whether it be safely inside during a storm or when I wake up on a Saturday morning without needing to go to the bathroom. Comfortable times make me thankful for not being uncomfortable.
The reality for most people who have grown up like me is that they have never experienced true deprivation. They have never had to feel even the beginning of starvation or been deprived of a home and been unable to find shelter elsewhere. From a brief glance, there has never been a famine in my homeland since British settlement and the last one in the motherland was in the early 18th century.
There were however plenty of people into the twentieth century that fell on tough times and were certainly without many of the luxuries others above and even around them could experience. It is true that early British settlement in Australia was hard and there were times before the first colony was self-sufficient when all could have starved. However, being completely without means of obtaining the basic necessities of life has for a long time been very rare.
All my experience of hunger and deprivation has been self-inflicted, that is I’ve chosen to go without or just been foolish enough with money to have been forced into a week or so of belt-tightening. I have to wonder how prepared our society is should such an eventuality occur? Things have been so comfortable for so long that this is almost unimaginable to us. Famines are things I used to see on World Vision commercials on television, they are far away and can be put out of mind by assuming a small portion of your purse will solve them.
As I write we are in the middle of a pandemic. Where I live, we are restricted to our home when not out shopping for basic necessities or exercise. Most people are following this and there are shortages but we are all a long way from starving. Time will tell how serious this truly is and whether what has been put in place is truly necessary. I must admit I am finding it hard to have a firm opinion either way and people I respect fall fairly neatly into the two extremes. I suspect there is more going on than I know and it could mean either or the other. God only knows for sure how it came to this.
Whatever the truth may be though, the fragile reality of the way billions on earth now live has been made clear. Our way of life is not resistant to extremes. Most people rely completely on the regular and reliable transportation of the products of living. Shortages are very rare and usually caused by high demand or freak events which rarely take very long to overcome. Most people would be completely unable to survive for long in true scarcity or even cook were they to lose access to electricity and running water.
Even in my lifetime, this was not always true. When I was growing up in the country, we had two large rainwater tanks, apple trees and the space and capacity to grow vegetables, keep livestock and even cook and heat our home without electricity if necessary. Even in Australian cities, the housing blocks were planned to allow room for a rainwater tank and enough of a backyard for children to play and for a garden to grow. We’ve since turned the family home into a commodity. We’ve cut off the backyard so we can build another house and sell it. We’ve bought up four houses, turned them into twelve smaller apartments and sold each for double the price of each house.
People no longer build communities. They build their “dream” house somewhere away from their family and then sell in twenty years later when the value has been inflated. They change houses when they are bored and not when their family is too big for it. There is no permanence to it and there is little point in building relations with neighbours anymore.
This has now gone on so long that people joining the workforce and looking to start a family cannot hope to do so without taking on enormous mortgages. This is increasingly the case even when moving further and further outside of Australia’s six sprawling city-states. Even the nicer country areas are being sucked dry by people who can afford to buy occasionally used properties in the more picturesque towns in our nation. The same is very true in many other nations.
We now live in a seriously state that is totally dependent on not much going wrong. The government is seen as the grand controller of this. Whatever is to happen over the next few years, what is true is that we’ve slowly allowed ourselves to be put into this position. We got greedy and lazy. We wanted to have more and do less. We want a big house but we don’t want to save for it first or build it ourselves. We want fresh vegetables but we don’t want to grow them. We want to eat meat but we don’t want to see animals slaughtered or smell their droppings.
Hopefully the good that will come of this will be that while we might experience some harsh winters in the future, they won’t be hard because of our own doing.