One of my Christmas gifts was a book by Lewis Dartnell titled ‘The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Civilization in the Aftermath of a Cataclysm.’ The goal of this book is to serve as a kind of basic repository of the things humans would need to know if society came crashing down and we had to rebuild our civilization and our technology.

I love knowing how things work. I think I would have enjoyed taking engineering classes; except for the fact that I’m intellectually stuck somewhere around Algebra I. I’m fascinated by electricity and airplanes, by bulldozers and cell-phones and all the amazing things humans have made.

Since I’m a physician, I often think about how little I could do without all of the wonderful things that science and industry produce for me to use. Something we take so for granted, like Penicillin, was discovered, developed, produced safely in mass quantities and distributed in ways that made (and continue make) life better for literally billions. And that’s just scratching the bare surface. Medicine is wonderful because we have drugs, devices and procedures to make it so. If those things suddenly went away, the world would be a darker, sadder place.

Dartnell makes the point that for a while after the collapse of society, we’d still have lots of ‘stuff,’ and might be able to live comfortably on the remains of the world that unraveled before us. But in time, we would have to start making things, growing food, developing ways to manage clean water and sewage. We would want electricity, we would need transportation and machinery, unless we simply wanted to revert to a kind of primitive existence. That sort of ‘noble savage’ life always sounds fun until you go camping with small children for a week, after which you’d give a kidney for a hot shower.

What really got me, though, was the way the author pointed out that most of us, as individuals, can’t make much of anything even now! Granted, some are better than others, and doubtless there are those amazing people who can make a gas engine from an erector set and toilet paper roll. But on the whole, we can’t and we don’t.

If you doubt me, look around your house and ask how you would make a new refrigerator, how you would repair broken furniture, how you would get water if the supply stopped, and how you would heat your home on a cold night. Then, ask yourself how you would manage to make toilet paper, where you would get fresh vegetables and if you could, or would, be willing to kill an animal to eat.

Currently, someone does those things for you, for me. I am humbled to realize that we are so profoundly interdependent. We need each other far more than we realize, or admit. The man who built my house needs my expertise on medical care, and I don’t know anything about construction or carpentry. My children need professors who know things I can’t begin to understand, and those professors need mechanics to work on their cars. And good heavens, do we ever need farmers to grow our food and truck drivers, train engineers and pilots to deliver goods! The farmer needs the researcher to tell him how to get a higher yield. And just how do those guys work on electric lines in the dark stormy nights to return our power to us? We all need them, as we need those who produce the electricity they help deliver.

We all need bankers and investment specialists to manage money in a complex market and they, in turn, need firefighters, paramedics and police officers to keep them safe. We all need our soldiers to keep us secure, and they have little time to do much of anything else and need us too.

The list is almost endless. And in an election year, this is really important. Because we divide ourselves during elections. We point fingers and call names. I do it, and so do many others. But perhaps the most important thing we can do is remember our tightly woven, almost biological links to one another. America is a living organism that needs all of its parts to work together. Party affiliations aside, ideology aside, a thriving society requires connection like a body needs nerves and blood.

Perhaps the best leaders are those who recognize that for all of our frustration and animosity, none of us can go it alone.

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