The New Resilience

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The American Dream is an essential component of the Resilience Movement

John Plodinec of CARRIby Firestorm Expert Council Member Dr. John Plodinec, CARRI

On my CARRI blog page last month, I presented my view of where America is in terms of resilience. I argued that by too many measures, we are less resilient than we once were, and our trajectory is negative.

However, we must recognize that the American Dream is an essential component of our resilience. Our resilience as a nation and as individuals is entwined with the idea that this is the land of opportunity, that there are no bounds on what we can ultimately achieve except those we set ourselves. This has imbued us with self-confidence and a certain faith in the future.

While many still believe in the American Dream, others can no longer see its relevance in today’s world. Thus, if we are to change our trajectory, we must reinvigorate the American Dream and restore its universality. We must adapt it to the circumstances of our new century.

ResilienceWhat are those circumstances? Two years ago, I wrote about several changes that are impacting our daily lives:

  • The growing complexity of communities. More people, more bureaucracies, greater interdependencies.
  • The new spectrum of hazards facing communities. On top of natural hazards, we now have to worry about random acts of violence and global terrorism.
  • The accelerating rate of change of our daily lives. This brings with it the need to reinvent our communities much more frequently than in the past.
  • Impacts of the Great Recession. We’re all having to make do with less – even governments.
  • Unrealistic expectations. We have grown more dependent on our governments to smooth our lives, but we can no longer rely (if we ever could) on government as the answer.
  • Changing demographics. The graying of America, the huge number of immigrants, and a resegregation of America along educational lines are all factors that must be considered.

A little over a year ago, I posted a note about the various parts of the Resilience Movement. It seems to me that the one common thread among all of these tangled skeins is self-reliance: the implicit belief that we as individuals can (and should) adapt to whatever the future holds. Thus, I see that as the core of what I call the New Resilience:  a return to self-reliance.  The New Resilience is thus a re-imagining of the American Dream in the context of the world we now live in.

By “self-reliance” I do not mean self-sufficiency. We can rely on the survival of our global systems: they may wax and wane, but they will continue to exist in one form or another. We don’t have to grow all of our own food, for example. However, we do have to realize that our current complex community systems with their growing interdependencies bring with them vulnerabilities that may lead to occasional interruptions of essential services. If we are self-reliant, we are prepared to tolerate these interruptions.

In following posts, I’m going to explore the New Resilience in the context of our communities – how we and our communities can become more self-reliant. My goal is to point out ways to change our trajectory. I believe – with Hamlet – that our destiny is not written in our stars but in ourselves. We can become more resilient, if we truly want to be.



John Plodinec, Ph.D is the Associate Director for the Community and Regional Resilience Institute (CARRI).

In this role, he is responsible for identifying and evaluating technologies useful for enhancing community resilience.

CARRIHe also is playing a leading role in development of CARRI’s Community Resilience System. He has also been heavily involved with CARRI’s engagement with the Charleston, SC, region. John recently retired from the US Department of Energy’s Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL), as its Science Advisor. In this position, he led SRNL’s Laboratory-Directed Research and Development program, as well as developing strategic partnerships in areas aligned with the laboratory’s primary thrust areas. Read his full Bio Here

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