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Thursday, September 09, 2010

Enjoy the sunrises


I'm not, at root, a despairing type. So I plug along with my adaptive seed-saving and homestead projects, and everyone smiles at my "hobbies."

I believe in a slow descent, beginning in my lifetime. It's already begun. But I'm not running for the hills. (Can't anyway, I'm 61!) The emphasis is on slow. But descent (from the high tide of "civilization") is in the picture for sure.

No, not so much from the global warming. That won't start killing rich white kids until after about 2050, meaning certain countries, mine included, won't feel sufficiently threatened by it to take action (way too late to do any good) until long after my time. And they will have enough troubles by then that they won't be able to take those actions.

No, not so much from peak oil. There's truth in that, too, but at peak we have half the recoverable oil yet to burn (and choke on). It could be awhile before we panic much over that either.

No, it will begin more, I think, with social disintegration. Conservatives have noticed this, and blame liberals (and blacks and browns and Asians and Muslims and gays and even transpeople (that would be little old me) for it, which is essentially false; but liberals blame conservatives for it, too, which is also pretty close to being false. That trouble originates not with people whose values have, or once had, their roots in a functional diversified subsistence agriculture, but with the cynical industrialists and bankers who  have, for a long time now, been playing us all for chumps -- and co-opting conservatives.

I personally lay much of the blame for this on television, radio, print and Internet advertising and corporate sponsorships, including that for public media such as NPR -- and lobbying and campaign spending, all of which is rooted in the U.S. Supreme Court decision, back in the 1800s, to regard corporations as persons with rights -- the megacorporations' ads and commercials and Capital Hill connivings, with their wink-nudge ethos, have sapped the public domain and the will of millions to seek knowledge and judge of it critically. The target of this century-long attack is the commons, and the commons is just about expired.

We, as a world, are slowly going insane from megacorporatism. And there's no cure. At best we can scurry around hoping the rotten apparatus doesn't hit us when it falls.

As government processes driven by any other impulse than service to megacorporations grind to a halt, infrastructure service to the public will fray and ultimately shatter in many places; and as the local public infrastructures are all intimately bound together by what was, briefly in human history, the greatest public infrastructure of all time, the effects are extremely likely to snowball and bring the whole thing crashing down. Like what very nearly happened, on a smaller scale, in the fall of 2008.

And then the conservatives will point to the liberals and the liberals will point to the conservatives and say, almost in unison, see, I told you so! While the industrialists and the bankers, much more at fault, will tiptoe away to their hideouts, which they've been fortifying for at least two generations now. From their point of view, all this is just so much population control, and it will have been successful -- except I don't think as highly of their fortresses' security measures as they do.

Fossil energy will still be around in large quantities, but become difficult to transport or market effectively. This will exacerbate the food shortages, the water shortages, the sporadic attempts to mitigate the warming (which was caused by the transportation and marketing of fossil fuels), the electricity grid failures, all leading to further social disintegration, leading to more failures, and very likely to world resource war. Scarcity in the midst of plenty, brought on by simple greed "at the top."

So social disintegration, for a largely urban (and very large) population within a framework of extreme infrastructure complexity, is the great danger.

Almost anything can now nudge us off our balance beam: floods, storms, droughts, loss of ice cover or groundwater, crop failures, epidemics -- all of these are statistically associated with the warming, as actuaries in the insurance industry can tell you -- including the giant snowstorms. But also earthquakes and volcanoes and solar storms -- because disaster strains infrastructure, and our infrastructure is approaching the point at which it becomes more and more difficult to maintain.

Y'wanna try and fix all this? Say, at the polls? Heh. Here in the U.S., the extra-constitutional 60-vote rule in the Senate will stop you before you start. Similar safeguards are in place elsewhere.

Better start small. You won't fix anything, but you might mitigate the pain, for yourself and others, for awhile. After that, who knows?

I'm fond of the endearing Transition Towns project, which if you are starry-eyed enough to want to sit in a circle thinking up ways, with like-minded nice people, to regain the public domain in your town, may all the gods assist you, and may you succeed. I mean it.

But I don't see much chance of convincing my largely Tea-Partyish neighbors to go that route, personally. TT takes hold most easily in countries that still have a modicum of public discourse.

What's left to try, then, here? In my neighborhood? Starting even smaller, perhaps...

The most accessible adaptive strategy, other than TT, I've seen online has been Mr. Greer's somewhat unfortunately named Green Wizards project. He is a proponent of General Systems Theory, which was the scientific movement, aka "cybernetics," that was the underpinning of, among other things, the Whole Earth Catalog and Coevolution Quarterly, both of which became redundant when the Internet came along.

General Systems Theory was largely an academic movement with a side helping of back-to-the-landers, and its moderate success (Jerry Brown was a proponent) in the "real world," i.e., politics led to its being targeted and shut down by Ronald Reagan, whose administration pulled all the grants out from under everyone involved.

Fritz Schumacher, who wrote Small is Beautiful, was a general systems thinker, and founded the Intermediate Technology Development Group, which was (and still is, under the name Practical Action) an effort to liaison with third world subsistence economies and help resist conversion to industrial/world trade economies -- because subsistence is more resilient. At one time, back in the 70s, they had all of their hard-won knowledge -- over 7,000 how-to documents, or was it 20,000? -- on microfiche in a library smaller than a shoebox, with a reader that did not require electricity, available to anyone for a very reasonable price -- this was before the World Wide Web, of course. I often wished I'd I'd bought one. Now I have the Web. But will my grandkids, when they're grown?

Green Wizards will attempt to collect adaptive literature from that bygone era and make it available (he urges that we print everything out), organized in three Rings: Food, Heat, Crafts. The idea is that when our local communities get desperate, we might find an audience for these strategies, and be useful to them from a subsistence-and-mutual-aid standpoint. It's a form of hoarding public domain subsistence/resilience skills on the public's behalf.

I see Green Wizards as like Practical Action, but aimed at the "first world's" impending poverty as well as that of the "third world." It's somewhere along that continuum. So, I hope, are you and I.

Transition Towns and Green Wizards have been taking swipes at each other lately, and I wish they wouldn't. We will need what they are both doing, very likely. 

I recommend subsistence and resilience, along with getting to know the neighbors, a mixture of Greer and Sharon Astyk, as the sane approach. What might be called the true liberal's calling: pre-industrialist conservatism. But don't ask me if I think it will work ... sigh. S'gonna go down heavy.

But not all that soon. I think.

So, meanwhile, let's enjoy the sunrises.

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