Monday, May 17, 2010

Self-Governance Challenges

[Posted by Treesong]

For years now, I've wanted to be part of a small self-governing community of people. If you had told me a year ago that I would be living in one today, surrounded by several long-time friends and a host of new acquaintances, building new structures and putting in crops together, it would have sounded like a dream come true. Given the circumstances, however, it's been more like a nightmare.

As I've said over and over again, what we're doing here is more than just surviving. We are laying the groundwork for the formation of a new society. And most of us in the Compound here are doing the best that we can with the resources at hand. Even in the best of circumstances, creating a new society from the ashes of the old is challenging work. But here, in a hellish landscape constantly under siege by the living dead, it's nearly impossible.

First of all, I want to commend everyone for holding this place together. I want to thank Josh and Jess for getting the ball rolling, and I want to thank everyone else for staying relatively sane and productive and cooperative for these past few weeks, even as we are surrounded by what to this day seems to be no less than a massive plague of Zombies.

Sure, we don't have the lab equipment here to determine if there is actually some virus involved, or if this is a supernatural phenomenon. But for all intents and purposes, we are surrounded by Zombies -- and for the most part, we have done our best to fend them off, and strengthen our fortifications here at the Compound, and prepare for our future survival. To be honest, given the circumstances, I'm very impressed that we've made it this far, and thrilled and somewhat relieved to see that we have some serious prospects for a long-term future.

But there is still room for improvement.

Yes, we are still in the midst of a crisis. Yes, there do seem to be more Zombies around here recently for some reason, and it's going to take everything we've got just to stay alive. But if we want to ensure that this Compound of ours continues being something worth living for -- and worth dying for -- then we need to improve our systems of self-governance just as fervently as we are improving our systems of perimeter defense and scavenging.

We've already made progress. Punishments have been reduced; the accused are offered aid in their defense; people of all faiths and orientations are openly affirmed as being allowed to live here; and we are working on a constitution and a bill of rights for our community. Many thanks to Rich, Chris, Courtney, and others -- and yes, Josh too -- for your help in this.

But there is still more progress to be made. We need to ratify this constitution and bill of rights to ensure that everyone has basic human rights, and that everyone has a direct voice in the major decisions of this community.

This may seem like heady intellectual work that has to take a back seat to more practical security concerns. But the recent incident with the vandals and its consequences demonstrate that our operating principles (or lack thereof) can have very serious and very real consequences. Once we get our head space and our social system straight, life will go more smoothly around here. Even with our Council and Josh, there is still a lot of chaos and uncertainty here, and it's important that we start organizing around principles and policies and solid strategies rather than flying by the seat of our pants and hoping for the best.

I've got to get to sleep soon because I've got to get up in the morning and work. But before I go, I need to say one last thing -- the thing I actually came here to say.

The whippings Josh mentioned were important -- but not for the reasons some people seem to think. To me, they were important because they reawakened my sense of compassion and respect for the humanity of people who I was otherwise very bitter and angry with.

I won't deny that I felt a certain sense of satisfaction at the sight of the punishment being executed. These convicts are a group of people who spread hate speech against me personally, and several of my closest loved ones, and a few other people who I don't know well but believe to be good people. These convicts are also a group of people whose actions lead to our weakened defenses, which in turn lead to the needless death of a small child.

So yes, I felt a certain satisfaction seeing them punished for what they'd done. The sound of the whip smacking against their flesh satisfied every bit of my urge to beat the living shit out of them for all of their hate and their role in the death of little Lindsey. But somehow, I also felt a great sense of repulsion and sickness at being a party to their whippings.

When someone cries out in pain, I want to help them, even if I don't like them. Yes, five lashes isn't that bad. It's a lot less than what was originally proposed, and they seemed to take it well for the most part. And it's a hell of a lot less than what Lindsey endured at the hands of the Zombies. But even so, it was very difficult for me watching those punishments carried out. I felt a sickening churning in my stomach, and a sickening sense of responsibility, even though I opposed the lashings.

I doubt I will ever like the people in question. I also doubt that they will ever like me. But they took their whippings, and now they're taking their hard labor. They were hard workers before this madness, and they are hard workers once again.

For the record, I am opposed to the whippings. Banishment is acceptable to me under the right circumstances because people who can't abide by our social contract can feel free to look for a better one with the Zombies. Hard labor is also acceptable to me, assuming the person is physically capable of it, because it's a form of restitution. But the whippings seem like cruel and unusual punishment to me, and I'm not alone in this perspective.

This is a civil disagreement. We live in harsh times, and people who disagree on this point can live together in the same community. But as people think about whether or not these lashings were a good thing, I just want people to think about the future. Do we really want to build a new society with whippings? It's something that we've adopted now because of the state of crisis we're living in, but I hope and pray that we will change our minds on this point in the near future. Today's community will be the foundation of tomorrow's society, and I hope our children can grow up to inherit a society that is not founded on this approach to justice.

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