To Share or Not to Share? Dilemmas of Collective Action in a “Me-First” Society

Sunset at the Volcano

I had spoken about the water arrangement before, (in the post The Tragedy of The Western Society on the Commons), in how as soon as we got here we reverted back to the privatization, choosing to have the majority of our individual allotments of water given to the individual instead of into the communal pot, which would cause us to have to share more. Well, at this point each of us had thirty gallons racked up in our individual storage.  We had done such a good job at conserving we were going to be able to stay longer, but the large individual allotments meant we would potentially run out of the communal water but not individual water. I decided to try to bring up the idea of going back to 2 gallons of water for communal and two gallons of individual water. I knew it was a gamble because last time I brought it up, emotions ran high and I felt that people were upset with me. But I thought it was important to address because it felt even more significant in the larger context. The World and especially the States, failed to agree upon global binding commitments of reducing their pollution/consumption, largely in part because the rich, white, powerful men of the world did not want to share with the rest of the world. Here was our chance as a group of 8 women, half of us from either other countries or races other than white, and many of us queer, to show how it could be different. Or so I thought…

It was more difficult than I thought, adding to the pressure was the fact that the day prior, one of our comrades had gotten mild heat stroke and had to go to town for help and still was not present with us the next day. First, I suggested that we move to the 2/2 allotment putting equal to ourselves and the commons, but then someone brought up that really the issue was storage, that some people (like myself) were sitting on over fifty gallons. Uncontrollably, I blurted out my first immediate thought, “hey that’s not fair to the people who have been saving more than others”. At that point, I had taken only two showers three weeks in, while people who didn’t have a lot in storage were taking showers every three days. “Everyone doesn’t lose equally with that proposal”. What I didn’t realize was this was again another example of us replicating a societal issue, as in terms of water I was the richest person there and I didn’t want a “tax” that would take from richest. Reflecting on this was surprising, I spent my teenage years fighting for a tax on the rich, how come when it affected me I had a visceral reaction? I too felt like I “earned” this water surplus, that I “worked hard for these 50 gallons” not recognizing we didn’t all have the same water needs.  Then someone brought up, how about we erase the storage completely and go to 2/2 allotment, this one I agreed with. However, the group still had an uneasiness about that proposal, so I suggested that we keep ten gallons in storage and move to 2/2 allotment. With only five days left of our proposed month stay, ten gallons in storage would allow us to technically have four gallons in the personal allotment and two in communal every day. What was crazy to me was that this still was not a motivator for the majority of the group. We voted on this proposal, four said yes, four said no. We never talked about ties and what we would do in that situation, so in political terms, I guess you could say the “proposal died on the floor”. I didn’t have the energy to bring it back up, I could already tell I was pissing people off and did not want to use up the rest of my social capital in the last week so I let it go.

What was interesting to me though was that the last proposal I had suggested would have given people actually more gallons per day technically, but that was still not enough to motivate people to share. What this told me was that the issue was not really having enough water but having control over your own personal water. Perhaps, it was a thing about people not liking change and that we only had a few days left, all valid points. But I would argue the situation on this planet in the current trajectory means we do not have a lot of time left either unless we all change. At first I was really disappointed, but after talking to a friend, he kind of convinced me that maybe what this shows is that if the proposal to share water is disconcerting for eight politically “woke” and socially conscious women, maybe preventing the forced need to share can be a motivator for people to change their behavior. I guess what I am saying I learned is that it is easier to change individual behavior then cultural norms, like it may be easier to get people to save their greywater then it would be to get people to share their water with their community.

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