ecotopianetwork

You Are The System – Keith Farnish (A Matter Of Scale, Chapter 15)

We’re nearly ready to do something monumental, but not quite.

I used to manage IT systems for a key component of the global economy (it makes me feel a bit gloomy that I knowingly helped prop up Industrial Civilization for a while, but more of that later) and whenever a major piece of work was due to be carried out I would first analyse all of the stages of the task, finding out where problems might occur; I would then assemble a team of people to help iron out any of these flaws and identify any other potential problems I might have missed. There were always one or two small things I missed, right up to the day of execution; and usually things that we had to deal with “on the fly”: no plan is perfect. That said, if a great deal of effort went into the planning process, the work was likely to be far more successful than just plunging into it, hoping everything would go fine.

So, here’s the plan: first, I want to go over a few key points, just so they are absolutely clear in your mind, no question; second, I want to go through the approach I have taken, in creating what I think is an effective solution. The reason for this transparent thinking is mainly because I don’t want you going into this as an unwilling partner. So many so-called environmental “solutions” assume that the reader / watcher / listener will blindly obey whatever tasks are set before them, leading to an outcome where the burnished sun sets over the shimmering sea, and we all march off into Utopia arm-in-arm.

It doesn’t happen that way.

I’m not saying the outcome won’t be far better than what we have today (it can hardly be worse) but I am in no mood for half-measures and want something that actually does the job of fixing the problems we face; not putting little green sticking plasters over the expanding cracks. What I am going to propose is radical, fundamental and frightening. It is also long-term, exhilarating and absolutely necessary. I would much rather scare people off who are not ready to make the commitment for a change of this scale than pretend they will be able to fix things by changing their electricity supplier, upgrading their cars and enlisting their friends in an orgy of “greensumption”.[i]

Transparency is the by-word, then. By reading this chapter you will understand why I have proposed what I have later on in the book. If you don’t like my train of thought then you could try reading Chapters Seven, Ten and Eleven again and see if they clarify things; if that fails then put this book down and come back to it in a few months time. Before you do anything, I want you to feel comfortable in your own mind with what lies ahead.

 

Your Part In All This

In Chapter Thirteen I went some way towards describing how Industrial Civilization operates; in particular the methods used to make sure people are no threat to the dominant culture, and an explanation of where the power really lies. If you were expecting a conspiracy theory, which placed the elite members of society in some unassailable position, guiding our every move, then you probably ended up disappointed. Yes, the rich and powerful do get a lot more material benefit from this unequal setup, but they are also teetering on the brink of psychosis whenever the power rush gets too much. There are an increasing number of people who subscribe to “New World Order” theories and the like; ideas that seem very appealing when you are stuck in a dark place, trying to get out. The Internet is awash with conspiracy sites[ii] describing in minute detail every cartel; every meeting; and every deal that takes place to ensure power is kept with the people who already have it. The complex structures that actually exist to ensure economic growth continues are benefiting greatly from this paranoid activity.

Here’s one example: suppose there is a large trawler that comes into port, day after day, its hold brimming with fish. Time passes and the size of the other crews’ hauls begin to diminish, as the fish stocks are gradually depleted. The local population starts to become concerned about their future. One of the locals proposes a theory that the successful skipper is getting information about fresh shoals of fish from some mysterious source who has knowledge far beyond their understanding: a supernatural force, perhaps. This idea becomes accepted fact. Whispered discussions about this “higher power” fill the inns for many nights, but nothing is ever done because there is nothing that can be done to defeat such powerful entities. Meanwhile, the successful skipper continues to bring home heavy catches, and the fishing stocks keep getting smaller.

It turns out that the successful boat is actually equipped with a better form of sonar than all the other boats, imported from another country where it is already widely used. This being a small isolated fishing port, nobody else is aware of this new technology. Had the other crews taken time to look closer to home and cleared their heads of “higher power” thoughts, then they would have realised that one boat simply had better equipment than all the others. In order to protect the fishing stocks, their simple task then would have been to sabotage the sonar on the successful boat. Every time that sonar was repaired, they would sabotage it once again.

Ignoring the fact that the law may have eventually caught up with the saboteurs – after all, the law exists to maintain economic success above anything else – their efforts in attacking the immediate cause of the heavy catches would have prevented the fish stocks falling for a while; but then other boats in other ports may have started to use this sonar, hitting the stocks even harder. If the saboteurs wanted to deal with this further problem they could have became even more ambitious, they might wish to block the supply lines for the import of sonar equipment; they might go to the country of origin, or enlist local help, to prevent the manufacture of the sonar. Eventually though, as this is the Culture of Maximum Harm, jealousy and greed would take over, and the other crews would realise it was in their immediate economic interests to install their own sonar systems, catch everything they could, and to hell with the terminal decline of the fishing stocks!

There are two lessons here. First, the answer to a problem usually lies in a far more mundane place than people realise; it is only the way that we have been manipulated that causes us to look in the wrong places for solutions: to the law, to business, to politics, to hope. We rarely look closer to home for answers. We rarely look in the mirror and question our own motives. Richard Heinberg, author of Peak Everything has this to say about our addled state:

As civilization has provided more and more for us, it’s made us more and more infantile, so that we are less and less able to think for ourselves, less and less able to provide for ourselves, and this makes us more like a herd – we develop more of a herd mentality – where we take our cues from the people around us, the authority figures around us.[iii]

Second, good intentions rarely last long in this culture. In a way, there was some higher power in play here: the power that makes people give up good intentions and follow the path chosen for them by Industrial Civilization. The fishermen stopped trying to prevent the problem getting worse and instead decided to put their own snouts into the trough. That’s just the way it is: it’s what we have been brought up to do.

When you think about it, humans in this culture seem to want conspiracy theories about strange things we don’t understand; we seem to want unassailable forces running our lives from ivory towers; we seem to want this because we cannot accept that perhaps we are all in this together and the truth will hurt a bit too much. Driving a giant SUV, flying half way across the world for pleasure or buying the results of rainforest devastation because our culture makes these acts acceptable does not absolve the user – we must take some responsibility, for without accepting our role in this system then we have no chance of being freed from it.

You are part of the system. Get used to it.

*   *   *

The act of giving someone bad news is often easier than the thought of doing so: the period leading up to giving this news can get inside your head, invade your dreams and start to gnaw away at you; the act of passing on the news might be uncomfortable, but the moment is quickly gone, however difficult that moment is. The longer you leave things, the worse it feels. Receiving bad news works in much the same way; except that usually people don’t realise they are going to get it. The thought that something bad might happen to you in the future; now, that really can play tricks with your mind – you try and avoid the situation, put it off for as long as you can but, as long as the outcome isn’t truly terrible, the execution is rarely as bad as you imagine it might be.

In the movie “The Matrix”, the thought that something was wrong gnawed at Neo, the perpetrator of eventual change, for years; but when he found the truth, it was as much a liberation for him as it was a shock. Neo found that he could do something about his situation because he had knowledge, and because he fully understood his position. Once you accept things as they are – that you are part of the problem and, thus, you have a part to play in the solution – you actually start to feel better, as though the weight of ages has been lifted from your shoulders.

You are part of the system; you have to take responsibility for your part of the problem: how does that feel?

Your place in the system is as a component in a massive food web. Like all food webs, it is driven by energy; physical energy sources like oil, gas, coal and radioactive materials drive the machines that ensure money keeps floating to the top of the vat where the Elites skim it off to add to their wealth. If you are resourceful or in a role that holds some status, you can have some of this wealth too, and the material trappings that come with it. Without the energy that drives the web, though, there is no money, and there is no web. It is not just the oil, gas, coal and the various sources of radiation that keep the web operating though – people are equally vital, more so in fact. Unless people run the machines, staff the shops, build the products, drive the lorries, create the advertisements, read the news and enforce the law, the web will collapse upon itself, bringing the entire hierarchy down with it.

Think back to the chapter about cod. The cod are positioned high up in the food web in terms of the amount of food energy they require to remain alive: they operate at a high trophic level, but without the organisms at the lower levels – the sand eels, the tiny copepods and the minute plankton – they cannot exist. Without the cod, the scavenging hagfish might start to suffer (although the windfall of bodies would provide rich pickings for a long time) but the sand eels one level down would be delighted: they would flourish. Think of your place in civilization; think of your job, or your role in society, and how it relates to the people sitting right at the top, or even those somewhere in the middle, aspiring to move upwards. What do you want to be, a wheel or a cog?[iv]

Yes, you are part of the system; but you are far more important than the people higher up in the web: you are the engine, the energy source, the reason for its continuation. You are the system. Without your cooperation, without your faith, the system would have no energy and then it would cease to exist.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel good.

 

Building Solutions

Industrial Civilization has to end; I made that clear in Part Three. There is no doubt that, sooner or later, it will collapse, taking much of its subjected population with it: oil crisis, credit crunch, environmental disaster, pandemic – whatever the reason, it will eventually fail in a catastrophic manner. This may not happen for fifty or a hundred years; by which time global environmental collapse will be inevitable. That is one option; the other is for it to die, starting now, in such a way that those who have the nerve and the nous to leave it behind can save themselves and the natural environment that we are totally dependent upon.

Be assured, no one is going to go into the heart of the “machine” and rip it limb from limb, because the machine has no heart, it has no brain. This civilization is what we have ended up with after a series of deliberate (and sometimes accidental) events intended primarily to give power and wealth to a privileged few. What we have now got is an entire culture that values economic growth above everything else, a toolkit of malicious methods for keeping that cultural belief in place, and an elite, ever-changing group of people who have become pathological megalomaniacs, unable to cope with the sheer amount of wealth and power this culture allows them to have.

Given that we all appear to be in this together (although some of us are beginning to realise that it doesn’t have to be that way) how on Earth is it possible to bring down something so monumental? The answer lies in the nature of Industrial Civilization itself – its key features are also its greatest weaknesses.

Take the simple article of faith that is Economic Growth. We have, I guess, agreed that there is nothing sustainable about it – however you cut the pie, the natural environment is bound to lose out all the time the economy is growing. In order to sustain a “healthy” level of economic growth, the consuming public has to know that when they spend some money they will still have some left. The definition of “having money to spare” has been stretched out of all proportion in recent years as creditors have extended peoples ability to spend beyond their means, while still thinking they are solvent. Whether that spare money is in the form of savings, cash, investments or credit, though, the important factor is that the potential consumer will stop being a potential consumer as soon as they realise there is no more money left to spend. Having a paid job is one way of ensuring (at least for a while) that you can pay for things; in fact, this is the major factor affecting Consumer Confidence.

Across the world, governments and the corporations that control them are in a constant cycle of measuring consumer confidence. The USA Conference Board[v] provides the model for most of the indices used by the analysts. The importance of confidence to economies is critical:

In the most simplistic terms, when…confidence is trending up, consumers spend money, indicating a healthy economy. When confidence is trending down, consumers are saving more than they are spending, indicating the economy is in trouble. The idea is that the more confident people feel about the stability of their incomes, the more likely they are to make purchases.[vi]

This creates an interesting situation: it is possible, indeed probable, that to create catastrophic collapse within an economy, and thus bring down a major pillar of Industrial Civilization, the public merely have to lose confidence in the system. This is reflected in other, related parts of civilization: following the attacks on the World Trade Centers in 2001, the global air transport industry underwent a mini-collapse; the BSE outbreak in the UK in the early 1990s caused not only a temporary halt in the sale of UK beef, but also a significant drop in global beef sales. Anything that can severely undermine confidence in a major part of the global economy can thus undermine civilization. 

The need for confidence is a psychological feature of Industrial Civilization; there are also two physical features that work together to create critical weaknesses. The first of these is the complexity that so many systems now exhibit. I mentioned the “farm to fork” concept in Chapter Eleven, indicating that the distance travelled by food items is becoming increasingly unsustainable. Overall, the methods used to produce food on a large scale, in particular the high energy cost involved in cultivating land, feeding livestock, transforming raw materials into processed foods, chilling and freezing food, retailing it and finally bringing it home to cook, not only demonstrates huge inefficiencies but also exposes the number of different stages, involved in such a complex system. The same applies to electricity; in most cases electricity is generated by the burning or decay of a non-renewable material, which has to be removed from the ground in the form of an ore, processed and then transported in bulk to the generation facility. Once the electricity is generated, in a facility with a capacity of anything up to five gigawatts[vii], it has to be distributed, initially over a series of very high voltage lines, and then through a number of different power transformation stages (all the time losing energy) until it reaches the place where the power is needed. Both of these examples – and there are many more, including global money markets and television broadcast systems – consist of a great many stages; most of which, if they individually fail, can cause the entire system to collapse.

The second of this potentially debilitating pair of features is the overdependence on hubs. Systems are usually described as containing links and nodes, a node being the thing that joins one or more links together; a road is a link, and the junctions that connect the different roads together are the nodes. Systems that have many links and nodes are called “networks”; food webs are networks, with the energy users being the nodes, and the energy flows being the links. Networks made up of links that develop over time, based on need, are referred to as “random” networks: the US interstate highway system is one such random network, as is the set of tunnels created by a family of rabbits. Networks created intentionally to fulfil a planned purpose, usually with the potential to expand, are called “scale-free” networks, good examples being the routes of major airlines.

  

Figure 2: Route map for a major US airline, showing the almost total dependence on three large hubs (Source: Continental Airlines Route Maps)

A node within a network that joins together a great many links is known as a hub: Industrial Civilization uses hubs a lot. Thomas Homer-Dixon describes the situation like this:

Although researchers long assumed that most networks were like the interstate highway system, recent study shows that a surprising number of the world’s networks – both natural and human made – are more like the air traffic system. These scale-free networks include most ecosystems, the World Wide Web, large electrical grids, petroleum distribution systems, and modern food processing and supply networks. If a scale-free network loses a hub, it can be disastrous, because many other nodes depend on that hub.

Scale-free networks are particularly vulnerable to intentional attack: if someone wants to wreck the whole network, he simply needs to identify and destroy some of its hubs.[viii]

In July 2001, a railway tunnel fire in Baltimore, USA caused the shutdown of a large part of the downtown area due to the heat generated within the tunnel, and the health risk posed by an acid spill. Over the next few days the surrounding rail networks were affected by the extra freight traffic diverted onto other lines, causing a number of bottlenecks in the greater Baltimore area.[ix] There was also one unexpected impact: Internet access across much of the USA slowed down dramatically. “The Howard Street Tunnel houses an Internet pipe serving seven of the biggest US Internet Information Service Providers (ISPs), which were identified as those ISPs experiencing backbone slowdowns.  The fire burned through the pipe and severed fiber optic cable used for voice and data transmission, causing backbone slowdowns for ISPs such as Metromedia Fiber Network, Inc., WorldCom, Inc., and PSINet, Inc.”[x] The Howard Street tunnel was a major artery for Internet traffic; its severance caused the same impact that the destruction of a major network hub would cause.

When you combine a set of key complex systems consisting of a large number of interdependent components, with networks that are increasingly becoming dependent on a small number of hubs, you create a structure that is extremely sensitive; irrespective of any safeguards that may have been built into it. Civilization is built upon these complex, interdependent systems, and these systems rely on networks to keep the flows of energy, data, money and materials moving. Civilization also depends upon its human constituents (you and I) having complete confidence in the way it operates: it needs faith. In both physical and psychological terms, Industrial Civilization is extremely fragile: one big push and it will go.

*   *   *

These are just thoughts, ideas, imperfect sketches for something that could work if it’s done properly. I can’t predict how things are going to turn out, even if what I am going to propose does succeed; nobody can predict something that hasn’t started yet. My train of thought won’t stop with the end of this book, but here’s where I am at the moment:

1.      The world is changing rapidly and dangerously, and humans are the main reason for this change. If we fail to allow the Earth’s physical systems to return to their natural state then these systems will break down, taking humanity with them.

2.      Humans are part of nature; we have developed in such a way that we think we are more than just another organism; but in ecological terms we are irrelevant.

3.      Regardless of our place in the tree of life, humans always have been, and always will be the most important things to humanity. We are survival machines.

4.      Our failure to connect the state of the planet with our own inarguable need to survive will ensure our fate is sealed. This must not happen.

5.      In order to bring us to a state of awareness, we must learn how to connect with the real world; the world we depend upon for our survival. We are all capable of connecting.

6.      Our lack of connection with the real world is a condition that has been created by the culture we live in. The various tools used to keep us disconnected from the real world are what make Industrial Civilization the destructive thing that it is.

7.      To gain the necessary motivation to free ourselves and act against civilization we need to get angry; and use that anger in a constructive way.

8.      To understand how to remove Industrial Civilization we must realise that we, along with everyone else in Industrial Civilization, are the system.

9.      Industrial Civilization is complex, faith-driven and extremely sensitive to change and disruption. It will collapse on its own, but not in time to save humanity.

I have read a lot of books, and a lot more articles and essays related to the problems that we face. I have heard people talking on the radio and on television proposing how everything can be sorted out. I have seen some wonderful movies that describe where we are going, how we got here and where we might be going. Some of these works reach an ecstatic crescendo before petering out in a gentle rain of hope. Some of them tell me what we should be doing; when it is obvious that the things suggested will not help, and could even make things worse. Some of them tell me I should not be looking for “solutions” to the problem at all – that there are no solutions, no cures, probably no chance at all. I haven’t read, heard or watched anything that could actually make things better.

Have I missed something?

I don’t think so. For one thing, I don’t subscribe to the idea that there are no solutions: agreed, there is no way of knowing if I have left something out – I probably have – and no way of completely tidying up the fallout that will inevitably result from the massive shift in society that is required. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have solutions, providing you know what the problem is. I know what the problem is, and so do you: at its heart, it is not environmental change and it is not humanity itself – it is that we are disconnected from what it means to be human. The solution is the answer to this simple question:

How can we reconnect with the real world?

I’m not asking people to help build a new set of systems, construct a new world order, design a new future – that kind of ambition is the stuff of civilization; the stuff of control, hierarchy and power. Connection is the most liberating, and powerful step you can take. If you know what is happening; if you know why it matters; if you know how to connect; and if you have the strength to reject the way this culture disconnects us, then you can change your own world, at the very least. That is the start of everything.

There are two dimensions to the solution, both of which I want to briefly explain before I show you the solution. The reason I am using dimensions is because the solution is not simple; it is much easier to understand something complex if you can break it down a bit.

 

The First Dimension: Cutting Across

In this dimension are the different actions that can be carried out to deal with the problem itself: our lack of connection. There are a few different aspects to this, some of which are more useful than others; but the nature of them makes it difficult to just make lists – they do tend to cut across each other depending on how you approach the problem. For instance, if we assume (correctly) that to bring civilization to its knees, economic growth has to stop, then it would seem logical to directly attack the instruments of the global economy: the investment banks, clearing houses, treasuries and the various things that link these nodes together. The problem is that, however exciting an idea this is, it doesn’t deal with the deeper problem – that civilization actually wants economic growth to take place: unless this mindset is removed then the systems will just be rebuilt in order to re-establish a growing economy.

Even more fundamentally, unless the reasons people feel that economic growth is necessary, i.e. the Tools of Disconnection are removed, then very few people are likely to spontaneously reconnect with the real world and reject economic growth. You can see, straight away, why a number of different dimensions are necessary. To put it simply, though, the “cutting across” dimension consists of those actions that (a) remove the forces that stop us connecting, (b) help people to reconnect and (c) ensure that the Tools of Disconnection cannot be re-established. If you are keen, try and think of at least one way to address each of these; then see if ours match up later.

 

The Second Dimension: Drilling Down

Almost every “solution” I have come across only deals with the problem at one or, at most, two levels. I feel like a razor blade company now, by saying I have a three level solution (“Not one, not two, but three levels of problem solving!”) but it’s no accident there are three levels. I started thinking about the nature of the problem at a fairly superficial level – the kind of level most of the “one million ways to green your world” lists pitch at – and immediately realised that, while suggesting what can be done to make things better is necessary, it assumes that there is a huge mass of people who actually want to do these things. You know already that very few people are connected enough to go ahead and do the, quite frankly, very radical things that need to be done: two more levels are necessary.

The second level, therefore, looks at the way individuals and groups of people change over time, and how the necessary changes in attitude can be transmitted throughout the population in a structured way, then accelerated beyond what conventional theory tells us is possible. I am only going to touch on the theory of this as it is pretty dry stuff, but the practical side of it makes for very interesting reading. The beautiful thing about using this multi-level approach – which you may already have realised – is that activities can be taking place at the first level, amongst the people who are already connected and ready to act, which then makes the process of motivating the more stubborn sectors of the population progressively easier.

The final level is the most fundamental of all, without which none of this can happen. It’s all very well me saying what people should do and how different sectors of the population can be progressively mobilised, but unless the individuals involved are ready to be engaged, nothing will happen. This level has to deal with the process of engagement and preparing people so that when asked, they actually want to act. The reason this is almost never addressed is a combination of, (a) writers who make the assumption that things will turn out ok (the “hope” trap) and (b) that this is a very difficult thing to do. I am going to attempt to resolve this.


[Continue to Chapter 16]


References

[i] That’s “green” consumption. A marvellous misnomer that I would use far more if anyone understood what it meant.

[ii] For examples you can visit www.conspiracyarchive.comwww.conspiracyplanet.comwww.theforbiddenknowledge.com and www.abovetopsecret.com. There are lots more you can try. The sad thing is that there are a lot of clever people writing a lot of good stuff, but conspiracy theories keep sidetracking them. Remember, a conspiracy is simply groups or individuals working together out of the public eye: you only have to read Chapter Thirteen to realise that the really sinister operations of Industrial Civilization are widely known; but we ignore them because “that’s the way it has to be”.

[iii] Quoted in “What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire”, 2007, Directed by Tim Bennett, www.whatawaytogomovie.com.

[iv] Dmitry Orlov, “Civilization Sabotages Itself”, http://www.culturechange.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=111&Itemid=42 (accessed 7 May, 2008)

[v] As of April 2008, the US Consumer Confidence Index was down, reflecting the dicey position of the global economy: a combination of the “sub-prime” market collapse, and the huge rise in oil prices. http://www.conference-board.org/economics/ConsumerConfidence.cfm (accessed 7 May, 2008).

[vi] Jim McWhinney, “Understanding the Consumer Confidence Index”, Investopedia, http://www.investopedia.com/articles/05/010604.asp (accessed 7 May, 2008).

[vii] Derived from MWh figure for global generating stations at http://carma.org/plant (accessed 8 May, 2008).

[viii] Thomas Homer-Dixon, “The Upside Of Down”, Souvenir Press, 2007.

[ix] Mark R. Carter et al, “Effects of Catastrophic events on Transportation System Management and Operations: Howard Street Tunnel Fire.” US Department of Transportation, 2001.

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March 30, 2011 Posted by | anti-endustriyalizm, anti-kapitalizm, sistem karsitligi, somuru / tahakkum | 1 Comment

What If…We Stopped Using Money? Keith Farnish

 

I hadn’t exerted myself until I felt sick for quite some time: the rasping breath, accompanied by the gag reflex as each shallower gulp of air oxygenates the blood just a little less each time – halfway towards the crest of the hill and heading into a fierce headwind; but there’s a little more story to tell before we reach the top of that hill….

Gary and I had been talking beehives. His two-dimensionally restricted knee joint reflected more than sufficiently on that time in both of our lives when we start to realise that we are getting on. What we want to do is not always lived up to by what our bodies are capable of doing. His current physical condition – one that entailed putting his life on hold and his income in jeopardy – brought home in the gloaming light of a blustery day the fallibility of people, whether individuals, couples or entire families, should things not go quite to plan. As I internally mulled over how I could help, our conversation continually skipped between spin bowling, South African history and the aforementioned opportunity to do a bit of collective bee-keeping some time in the near future.

Shortly after noon I had to leave his company and make the contour-filled bike trip alongside the Eildons to Melrose; and back again into that horrible headwind, already laden with Scottish butter, a guilty jar of coffee, and (the source of our conversational foray) two jars of Galloway honey – all contained within a rucksack that refused to stay simply facing backwards. As I crested the hill hundreds of red dots emerged to the left of me. Scattered across the grass verge were the wind-deposited bounty of a beautiful plum tree.

With around five extra pounds of weight contained within the self-aware rucksack, I once again turned up at Gary’s house; leaving shortly afterwards much bereft of plums, but considerably heavier of potatoes. Later that day the remaining plums would find themselves baked in a cake; and some of the potatoes crushed along with a few ounces of the Scottish butter.

A Barter Way

Barter is older than money – this is why. If you have something and you want something else then you have three basic options: you can just take the thing you want from the person who has it; alternatively you can give some of what you have in exchange for the thing you want; finally, you can sell some of what you have in exchange for something that has no intrinsic worth, but on paper (coin, slate, bead, wooden disc…) has some pre-agreed value, then use that virtual value to purchase the thing that you want. These three options show an increase in complexity, which reflects the way human society has gone since the earliest non-settled people became first co-operative, then civilized.
 
I want to stress immediately that the word “civilized” does not imply something positive: civilized simply means living in very large groups – so large that the importation of “resources” and the exportation of waste is necessary – as part of a hierarchical system of rule. It does not mean “being nice”. If anything it means the opposite.

The barter system – being the exchange of goods or services for goods or services of an equivalent, but not necessarily fixed value – is by no means the purest form of co-operative arrangement; for if we are to really live in such a way that people can genuinely rely upon each other for their basic needs then other forms of exchange and giving, including unconditional giving are also required. However, compared to the ludicrously complex cash and credit-based systems that have become the norm in civilized society, bartering has a level of purity and immediacy that most civilized people find extraordinary, even deeply uncomfortable. With a £20 note in my pocket I know, pretty accurately how much of anything I could now go and buy – and am confident that note would be accepted, at least in the country where I live.

Now, if I were to carry around a sack of onions that I had grown myself (slightly unwieldy, but it’s easier to explain this way) then what are the chances that these would be accepted in the same ready manner in exchange for, say, a fancy haircut or a pair of trousers? Pretty slim, I would say, even if the two parties were able to agree on how many onions a pair of trousers was worth. You might be lucky to stumble across an unusually liberated storeholder, or simply get the deal for the sheer novelty value – but as a form of currency in the civilized world, onions stink!

Here’s the thing, though – unlike notes and coins, onions have intrinsic value: they can be eaten to provide nutrition and flavour in a meal. There are no signatures on onions; no promises to pay back the equivalent in some other non-real asset; no need for state-backed guarantees in an increasingly untrusting and disconnected society. They are onions. They are onions in Scotland, France, Egypt, Indonesia and Australia. Not everyone might like them or need them, but at least you know what you are getting; and there are always the tomatoes in the other bag.

So why doesn’t society barter more? Here’s a list of some reasons off the top of my head; see if you can think of any more:

– We don’t trust or know each other well enough to agree an equivalent value for different things;

– We don’t understand the intrinsic value of things without a cash equivalent;

– There is no way of profiting from bartering without obvious fraud;

– We cannot easily store everything we desire for later use;

– Bartering gives little opportunity to attain status through material possessions;

– Bartering is socially unacceptable in a capital society;

– Bartering requires preparation and, usually, pre-agreement.

Whether you consider these things to be inherently negative will depend largely on how you currently choose to conduct your day-to-day transactions (as opposed to being forced to). I find having to prepare for a transaction, and being unable to profit from it as being two inherently positive things – but then I’m a bit weird, according to the norms of society, which is probably a major reason I have been able to conduct a fair bit of business without cash; people sort of expect it of me. Nevertheless, bartering is seen, almost universally in civilized society, as being something people used to do but is no longer possible or even desirable. Here’s one example of the prevalent attitude with regards to taxation:

It is quite normal for ferreted rabbits to be swapped at the local butchers shops for pork chops, or for grazing to be exchanged for field maintenance. Hay bales can act as currency in return for building work, home made cakes and repairs to vehicles etc. All very innocent, rustic and encourages a paper free environment but this can underpin what can only amount to potential income tax, corporation tax or VAT non-disclosure or even fraud.

That might sound harsh but it is the hard fact. The dream of a paperless rustic society has to be shattered and simple tax legislation and the self-assessment requirement to keep good books and records intervenes. Clearly it is important to talk to clients to explain that undocumented and unrecorded ‘Barter’ is actually as dangerous and illegal as the ‘black economy’.

(Source: http://www.taxationweb.co.uk/tax-articles/business-tax/the-barter-system-%E2%80%93-the-hidden-evasion.html)


This is taken from an article entitled “The ‘Barter’ System – The Hidden Evasion”. Notice the patronising quotes around “Barter” and the insistence that bartering underpins fraud, regardless of the motivation behind it. Clearly the author, a tax advisor, is protecting her business, but what really comes home here is the notion that “this is not the way we do things”. I can’t begin to imagine the ire that a society based on not only bartering, but also giving and helping just because it’s the right thing to do would raise in the tax world!

And that alone is a very good reason to start using less money.

Less Money, Less Need

Let’s take a typical, albeit nameless, industrial civilized nation. A revolution of sorts has taken place, perhaps as a result of a lack of available money-earning jobs; perhaps because people have realised that cash and particularly debt are shackles that bind us rather than free us: around 50% less money is circulating within the personal tax system due to a plethora of part-time and lower-paid jobs, a huge number of people working for themselves and incorporating barter into their lives, and almost everyone being less profligate in their spending and borrowing. What would once have been hard financial times have been transformed into times of sharing, trust, low material need; and as a result the burden on the global ecosystem, the “resource” reservoir and the lives of people who normally serve the corporate system is relieved by a significant measure.

As a further result, the burden on the public purse becomes unbearable. Only half the money previously available is entering the system, and social collapse is imminent. At least, that’s what we are told, and most certainly led to believe by the simple fact that many people who don’t deal in money still have to declare their “income”:

If you engage in barter transactions you may have tax responsibilities. You may be subject to liabilities for income tax, self-employment tax, employment tax, or excise tax. Your barter activities may result in ordinary business income, capital gains or capital losses, or you may have a nondeductible personal loss.

Barter dollars or trade dollars are identical to real dollars for tax reporting. If you conduct any direct barter – barter for another’s products or services – you will have to report the fair market value of the products or services you received on your tax return.

(Source: http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/article/0,,id=188095,00.html)
 
But if we did remove 50% of the money element from our lives, would that really lead to the societal collapse that the tax drain threatens to invoke; or is this just a way of making us complicit in the ways of the industrial machine?

In the absence of a truly mythical industrial civilization (who would want a mythical one when we have so many real ones to contend with?) I am going to use the latest available figures from the UK government to see what might happen in the event of a 50% drain in tax income. I fully acknowledge the scale of private involvement in what are ostensibly “public” services in most industrial economies; but would maintain that, in the event of a semi-cashless society emerging, reductions in spending on these services (such as electricity, water, telecommunications and transport) would easily match reductions in tax collection. Given this, it’s reasonable to just look at the effect of a 50% reduction in available income on services as a benchmark for the impact on the whole of society.
 

For this exercise I’ve used figures from a well-respected website that details public spending in the UK, helpfully also indicating what proportions of spending are through central government and which are through local government – this is relevant to how people perceive public services. By far the largest single chunks of public spending are Pensions and Healthcare, with 17.3% each. Now remember, we are not looking at the kind of slash in public spending that is currently taking place across the industrial world: a) it’s 50%, a far larger cut; (b) this cut assumes that the conditions exist whereby such a huge change in how we use products and services is made possible. Not only do we use less cash because there are alternative ways of doing things; we actually buy fewer non-essentials (it’s a relative term, but we’re talking things like electronic goods, vacations, most vehicles, luxury foods etc.) because the change in life has allowed people to appreciate what really matters.

So, looking at Pensions, we seem to have a sticking point already: but what is the purpose of a pension? Exactly, it’s to give people an income once they retire or are not able to do paid employment. But aside from the basic state pension, an awful lot of that fund is to pay for public sector pensions, which are quite generous. If fewer people worked in the public sector (they are bound to, because there is only half the tax coming in) then fewer people would need pensions. But if fewer people had above basic level pensions, how would they get by? Because people are spending less money – they are sharing, bartering, giving freely and getting when they are needy. Result: pension fund greatly reduced.

Healthcare is another huge cost, and this is one that could be cut much further than pensions: yes, people will still get ill, although with far more people focussed on their community the number and severity of, and need deriving from chronic conditions, particularly in the elderly, would be dramatically reduced – people look out for and care for each other better. Mental health costs, a genuine symptom of civilized society, would be way down as humanity’s real needs – in this case companionship and care – are far more readily available. Even acute conditions would be far less likely to develop severely as, again, people would be more willing to disclose problems and help deal with them at an early stage. And as we learn that cancer is an almost uniquely civilized condition, long term this may also start to reduce as the worst excesses of civilization are curtailed. This is no exact science, but you probably get a good idea of the wider implications of a more communal society.

The next largest cost on the list is general Welfare (15.1%), consisting largely of family and child financial benefits, and unemployment benefit. We are starting to face a few anachronisms here: in a barter-based culture, does “unemployment” benefit have any relevance? What about child benefit, the universal oddity that pays the same whatever the earnings (well, up to a very generous level) – does this fit into a culture of exchange where things like childcare (which are paid for through another family benefit), many essential food items, and all sorts of other things that CB was originally for are now greatly enmeshed in barter and giving? I’m not saying that there aren’t people in need; but there are certainly a lot fewer people in need within a co-operative way of living. This area of spending might become almost unnecessary.

Fourth on the list, and the last one in double-figures is “Education”, with 12.5% of the total public spend. We send our children to a local school, but are very much aware that the purpose of the public schooling system is to create good little wage-slaves for the future: at age 12 and 13 children in the UK are already having to decide where their specialities lie, so they can be funnelled through the system and placed in their employment pods (or on the “unemployed” pile) until they retire. This is why (a) we do an awful lot of real education at home and (b) our two children will be allowed to choose whatever subjects they like, undefined by whatever job aspirations the school system would like them to express. For the vast majority of industrial system families, school is also a very useful child-minding service – necessary because in a large number of cases both parents either choose to or find themselves having to go out to work. I’m not going to dwell on this much more: communal society; school system in tatters. We can learn in our communities.

So, that’s well over 60% of the public budget that can easily be cut by – oh, I reckon around 50%. What about the rest? Here’s a quick run through of the remaining big costs:

Defence: 6.6%

Not sure whether a more communal society would change any governments’ habits of a lifetime, but how much support would corporation sponsored and media cheered invasions get now?

Protection (police, courts and prisons): 5.3%

The main cause of crime is a lack of mutual care and attention; add to that the effect of the consumer society and it’s obvious what effect a change in values would have.

Central government admin: 4%

Hmm, less hierarchy and policy making – sounds like a plan!

Transport: 3.6%

A more close-knit and communal society travels less: less commuting, less need to “get away”, less desire or need for shopping or entertainment trips…

That takes it up to over 80%, with the other fifth being a quarter interest payments, and other services about to take a tumble like economic development (who needs corporations?), formal recreation and sport (time for a kick around, or a swim in the lake), waste management (it’s a less wasteful society by definition) and social housing (ok, that one can stay until we learn to build our own homes).

Feel free to accuse me of peering through rose-tinted specs – and you would be right if we were talking about the actual likelihood of a more mutually beneficial and communal way of living coming along under the current system of mind control – but I would contend that the benefits of living with far, far less money as a necessity are both economically possible, and then go way beyond simple economic sums. In short, the route to even a 50% reduction in our use of money is via enormous changes in the way we treat each other and ourselves; the way we look at the value of all things; the scorn we will inevitably cast upon the tireless system of birth-school-work-retire-die, that forgets to include the word “live” in its lineup. We could do a lot worse than simply consider a world without money, and then start to take some baby steps – get used to the temperature of the water, if you like, before taking a plunge into a different way of living.

http://earth-blog.bravejournal.com/entry/60133

March 30, 2011 Posted by | anti-endustriyalizm, anti-kapitalizm, sistem karsitligi, somuru / tahakkum, tuketim karsitligi | Leave a comment

The Problem With…Work – Keith Farnish

At what age do you think your working future is planned out for you? If you are conscious of the impact civilization has on our lives, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that the answer is: “from birth”.

I could be writing this article about both the education system and the workplace, but there would be little point separating the two – real education has nothing to do with the education system we were taken through in our early years, and the children and teenagers of today are being taken through now. Neither is education anything to do with on the job learning or career paths; after all, what people have been brought up to do in Industrial Civilization is to do work, and not just any old work.

The population explosion of the last 200 years can be almost completely accounted for by the Industrial Revolution1. The growing population of Earth, from the traditional industrial hubs of Europe, into North America and Japan, and then across a huge swath of southern and south-east Asia largely consists of a mass of willing slaves brought up in the cities to be components of the industrial machine. To create wealth you need product; to create product you need people.

There were a few who saw what was going on and realised that some of the most brutal aspects of physical work needed changing: the great philanthropists of the West – Titus Salt, Lord Leverhulme, Joseph Rowntree – bear the passing of time, mellowed into a whimsical tale of pure goodness; ignoring the fact that the philanthropists were largely ensuring that their workforces remained loyal and hard-working. To be blunt, working during the Industrial Revolution in the West was hell; working in the new Industrial Revolution in the sweatshops, mines and factories of China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam: different sets of eyes, but the same vision of hell. Time may have passed, but all that has really changed is the location.

Yet, incredibly, the participants see such conditions as a necessary evil. Unionisation, a living wage and the promise that the company will do its best not to shorten your life is the best that can be hoped for. Such “victories” make life tolerable for those people working to make the shoes you wear, the food you eat and the televisions you watch, but they do not change the fact that we are all part of the machine. The education system is where it starts.

For centuries governments and dictators have twisted a population’s knowledge base to their own ends. We may look back in history, and gape at the ritual burning or enforced suppression of the works of authors whose printed ideas did not match those of the accepted orthodoxy, but the flames are closer than we like to admit. The Nazi elite stirred up hatred of anti-Nazi materials in a coordinated “synchronization of culture”2, while only a decade later the US government elite stirred up hatred of left-leaning beliefs in a coordinated exhumation of so-called Communist sympathisers; the Chinese government installed the Great Chinese Firewall to suppress “immoral” Internet access, while at the same time the US government continue to control information coming out of wartime Iraq and Afghanistan through the use of “embedded journalists”. In the last few decades, stories of censored schoolbooks in far off lands3 have made those in supposedly more enlightened nations cringe, yet in a culture that apparently promotes freedom of thought and expression, teachers are forced to become mouthpieces for the Culture of Maximum Harm:

The Government has worked with partners from the statutory and voluntary and community sectors to define what the five outcomes mean. We have identified 25 specific aims for children and young people and the support needed from parents, carers and families in order to achieve those aims.4

This is from the UK Government Every Child Matters programme, which “sets out the national framework for local change programmes to build services around the needs of children and young people so that we maximise opportunity and minimise risk.” Twenty-five aims, supposedly to promote the well-being of children, yet containing the following items:

·        Ready for school
·        Attend and enjoy school
·        Achieve stretching national educational standards at primary school
·        Achieve stretching national educational standards at secondary school
·        Develop enterprising behaviour
·        Engage in further education, employment or training on leaving school
·        Ready for employment
·        Access to transport and material goods
·        Parents, carers and families are supported to be economically active

National educational standards; Enterprising behaviour; Ready for employment; Access to material goods; Economically active – the progression is there for everyone to see. Even when veiled as being in order to “improve the lives of children”, the educational system is little more than an instruction manual for creating little wheels and cogs. I urge you to look at your own national curriculum, searching for words like Citizenship, Enterprise and Skills – it won’t take long to find the real motivation behind the education system where you live. “A child in the work culture is asked, ‘What do you want to be?’ rather than ‘What do you want to do?’ or ‘Where do you want to go?’ The brainwashing to become some kind of worker starts young and never stops.”5

This is a wake up call: look at the work you do and how it neatly fits into the industrial machine, ensuring economic growth and continued global degradation; think about your job and what part it plays in ensuring we remain disconnected from the real world; read your children’s books, talk to their teachers – find out how your own flesh and blood is being shaped into a machine part. As we are encouraged to work more and more in order to feed our inherited desire for material wealth and artificial realities, we lose touch with the real world; we pack our children off to day centres and child minders in order that we can remain economic units, and stop being parents; most of us work to produce things that nobody needs, and we are unable to perceive the things that we do need – food, shelter, clean air, clean water, love, friendship, connection.

The vast majority of us don’t need to do the job we do. The lucky few, who through chance or design have found work that is a fulfilling part of their lives rather than their lives being a slave to work, provide examples for the rest of us. Once you decide to break out of this cycle for all the right reasons and reduce your expenses to the bare minimum by refusing to follow the instructions of civilization, leaving your job and taking on something that provides you with a real living becomes easy.
The Earth Blog’s “The Problem With…” articles are short opinion pieces that take an uncompromising look at key things that affect the global environment.

This article is an edited extract from the author’s book “A Matter Of Scale”.  


1. Charles More, “Understanding The Industrial Revolution”, Routledge, 2000.
2. “Book Burning”, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 
http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10005852
3. For example: “China seizes books from Japan school because of Taiwan map”, Japan Today, 28 June 2005, http://www.ipcs.org/Jun_05_japan.pdf; Ali Asghar Ramezanpoor, “The Scope and Structure of Censorship in Iran”, Gozaar, http://www.gozaar.org/template1.php?id=1017&language=english.
4. 
http://www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/_files/F9E3F941DC8D4580539EE4C743E9371D.pdf
5. Jan Lundberg, “Unlucky to have a job”, Culture Change, http://www.culturechange.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=115&Itemid=1

http://earth-blog.bravejournal.com/entry/26526

March 30, 2011 Posted by | anti-kapitalizm, anti-otoriter / anarşizan | Leave a comment

Building an Anti-Economy – CHRIS CARLSSON

EVEN WHILE CAPITALISM continues its inexorable push to corral every square inch of the globe into its logic of money and markets, new practices are emerging that redefine politics and open up spaces of unpredictability. Instead of traditional political forms like unions or parties, people are coming together in practical projects, from urban gardening in vacant lots to the suddenly ubiquitous do-it-yourself bike shops. More and more people, recognizing the degradation inherent in business relations, are creating networks of activity that refuse the measurement of money. They depend instead on sharing skills and technological know-how within new communities, such as the biofuels co-ops that have proliferated in many cities. Networks have grown, thanks to the spread of the Internet and other telecommunications techologies, and new kinds of “families” based on shared values, alternative living arrangements, and non-economic relationships are growing within the old society.

Collectively, I call these projects “Nowtopia.” Rarely do the individual participants conceive of them in political terms; day-to-day issues about how we live, what we do, how we define and meet our needs tend to be understood as outside politics. But all Nowtopian activities are profoundly political.

The Nowtopian movement embodies a growing minority seeking emancipation from the treadmill of consumerism and overwork. Acting locally in the face of unfolding global catastrophes, friends and neighbors are redesigning many of the crucial technological foundations of modern life, like food and transportation. These redesigns are worked out through garage and backyard research-and-development programs among friends using the detritus of modern life. Our contemporary commons takes the shape of discarded bicycles and leftover deep-fryer oil, of vacant lots and open bandwidth. “Really, really free markets,” anti-commodities, and free services are imaginative products of an anti-economy provisionally under construction by freely cooperative and inventive people. They aren’t waiting for an institutional change from on high but are building the new world in the shell of the old.

These practices require sharing and mutual aid and constitute the beginnings of new kinds of communities. Because these people are engaged in creative appropriation of technologies to purposes of their own design and choice, these activities embody the (partial) transcendence of the wage-labor prison by workers who have better things to do than their jobs. They are tinkerers working in the waste streams and open spaces of late capitalism, conjuring new practices while redefining life’s purpose.

Efforts to create islands of utopia have always flourished on the margins of capitalist society, but never to the extent that a radically different way of living has been able to supplant market society’s daily life. Nowtopians, and anyone determined to free themselves from the constraints of economically defined life, face the same historic limits that have beset all previous efforts to escape. Can the emerging patterns resist the co-optation and reintegration that have absorbed past self-emancipatory movements? The new apparatus of global production helps speed up the extension of market society, but it inevitably also speeds the spread of social opposition, the sharing of experiments and alternatives. Our moment in history is at least as exhilarating as it is daunting. 

http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/3223

March 30, 2011 Posted by | anti-kapitalizm, ekotopya heterotopya utopyalar | 1 Comment

350.org say “Hello Business, Goodbye Grassroots” – Keith Farnish

For a while it wasn’t certain which side would blink first: the grassroots or the corporate loving heirarchy. Turns out that the grassroots blinked before the heirarchy had even been established. When, like 350.org you have a full time staff of just half a dozen people then you have a pretty easy decision where your loyalties lie: they claim to have tens of thousands of grassroots supporters doing hundreds of, albeit, symbolic activities across the world; they crowabout this an awful lot:

World’s Biggest Day of Climate Action Unites 7,000 rallies in 188 Countries

Washington, DC – Just weeks before elections in the United States and climate talks at the United Nations, citizens from Afghanistan to West Virginia joined 350.org’s “10/10/10 Global Work Party” to issue a unified demand that politicians stop dragging their feet and get to work on climate solutions.

Leading by example, citizens in 188 countries joined more than 7,000 climate “work parties” over the weekend to get to work installing solar panels, weatherizing homes, planting trees, and then calling politicians to ask a simple question, “We’re getting to work, what about you?”

That should convince 350.org to stay with the grassroots and capitalise on the momentum they are building.

But then, on 28 January 2011, this happened:

A letter to business-people around the world:

Dear friends and colleagues:

We’re writing to invite you to participate in something amazing — and something a bit untraditional: get your company involved with 350.org.

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you care about making your business green — maybe you’re taking steps to reduce your company’s carbon footprint, or have been educating your colleagues about the environment.Perhaps you started a recycling program at your office, or are building awareness-raising into your product-line. Worthy initiatives, all — and it strikes us that now is the time to join our individual efforts together, to knit together our isolated work into a bigger picture.

That’s where 350.org comes in — it has potential to engage your staff and customers, to complement what you’re already doing by knitting local projects to a global movement. How you participate is largely up to you: maybe your employees could plant 350 trees, or collect 350 bags of trash. Maybe you can put information about what 350 means for climate change on your next green product (like Camelbak). Perhaps you can sponsor an existing local 350 event, put a “Business For 350″ poster in your store-front or a similar badge on your website, or host a mini-rally (with your logo on the banner) like the staff of Keen footwear. The possibilities are endless — this is marketing, which we’re supposed to be good at.

Blinking doesn’t even approach what this is – it’s something more like foot-licking and forelock-tugging. If 350.org wanted to tear a rift between themselves and the grassroots supporters that sustain their efforts and, more importantly it seems, keep their public image flashing across the globe by virtue of sheer numbers, then they could have done no better than appeal to that ethereal entity called “business”.

This is the view of another commentator and activist, Lorna Salzman:

This appeal by 350.org to the business community defines the words “craven” and “capitulation”.

First, assign your first grade students some simple tasks. Make them feel good about it. Pin a medal on them for good citizenship. Announce to the world that you have formed a partnership with business to clean things up a bit (caution: do not mention the fact that business bears the biggest blame for climate change by promoting economic growth and overconsumption since your pupils will have to clean up the mess all by themselves).

Then after your pupils pin a medal on you for not giving them too much homework or anything that would take too much time or money, touch them all up for contributions to your toothless empty campaign that cares more about protecting its Brand (350: The Fun Way to Save the World) than about protecting humanity and the earth. Invite them to a Power Breakfast to thank them for their support.

Take advantage of the “power” image of your Fearless Leader by insuring that his bland content-less message continues to be heard and absorbed by the public loudly enough that other voices with real solutions are drowned out and characterized as cranky contrarians or seething hypercritical activists who resent your Fearless Leader’s rise to fame.

It’s hard to see the move by 350.org as anything less than a volte-face, at least on the surface; but what is the motivation behind such a bizarre move? Why would 350.org want to alienate their grass-roots membership?

If we look at the history of the organization, then the question of funding comes to the fore. 350.org was started using seed money from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Bill McKibben is quite open about this, as he has said in the past; believing them to be sincere and good allies in the fight against global warming. He sees RBF as among the most dedicated funders to action and as such will not have a word said against them.

So Bill sees no conflict between taking money from RBF and trying to hold back the system from which the money originated. And I’m inclined to agree to some extent with his line of reasoning, so long as it stops there. But it doesn’t. 350.org, as I have said elsewhere, is a group that carry out predominantly symbolic, politically-based activities which makes them no more than a bit player in the battle against the forces that are killing the global ecosystem. It seems that if 350.org really wanted to be effective then they would never have followed the likes of WWF, Corporation Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy down the business path.

The logic goes like this:

1) 350.org are set up with the aim of bringing carbon dioxide levels down to 350 parts per million.
2) Climate science dictates that 350 ppm is insufficient to prevent runaway global warming.
3) 350.org refuses to sign the more radical Cochabamba Agreement, calling for a figure of 300 ppm; sticks to its guns.
4) Campaigns focus on working with the system rather than undermining it, further confirming that the 350 ppm figure is influenced by the desire to maintain the status quo.
5) 350.org leadership realise that there is little conflict between calling for 350 ppm figure and working with business, especially as their actions remain symbolic and have no chance of even hitting 350 ppm.

There is also another reason that 350.org feel comfortable working with business, and it’s very much down to the beliefs of the person that 350.org actually is: Bill McKibben. In correspondance, Bill has stated that he is a Christian and takes seriously the idea that people can repent and change – and that people who repent should occupy some of his time.

Quite how a business can “repent” is beyond me and anyone who understands the nature of religious belief. Repent is a completely inappropriate word with reference to a faceless business that exists solely to make money from the exploitation of people and the wider environment. Yet Bill clearly extrapolates the facility to repent to such non-human entities, otherwise 350.org would not countenance working with businesses at all. The fact that Bill McKibben has moved from being a writer and activist, to a writer and high-profile public persona, has distorted his vision for 350.org. The fact that his personal philosophy, as reflected in his book “Eaarth” is one of coping with change instead of undermining the systems that are causing the change (we need to do both) – a philosophy he shares with the increasingly eccentric James Lovelock – has allowed him to embrace the system he should be focussed on taking apart.

The next stage is inevitable: 350.org will become just another mainstream environmental organization, shedding a host of grassroots supporters in favour of a host of PR hungry businesses and sycophantic enviro-celebs.

In my view this is a good thing. Those thousands of people who have been led to believe that forming absurd shapes out of their bodies on beaches and writing fawning letters to politicians have a chance to get out of the symbolic game, and they should do so as fast as possible. Grassroots is not about beingtold how to make a difference; it is about going out and deciding for yourself how to make a difference.

http://thesietch.org/mysietch/keith/2011/02/14/350-org-say-hello-business-goodbye-grassroots/

March 30, 2011 Posted by | anti-kapitalizm, yeşil kapitalizm | Leave a comment

What If…We Connected? Keith Farnish

The wind is blowing hard, and the trees are bending down low, the air rushing across their branches, dragging leaves and blossom into the sky. The early summer grass, being soaked in the thick drizzle that falls in an urgent slant, ripples and chases with the gusts. A blackbird announces its territory, darting across the patch of green before being pulled askew by a fresh blast of air, still vocalising urgently. A family of humans are scattered throughout their house: one on a laptop, another immersed in a Nintendo game, the third goggling at the television that finds its market, and homes in on the hypnotised viewer. The humans barely hear the wind, let alone feel its embrace, as it batters the side of the house and cuts around leaving eddies of detritus dancing at the foot of the solid walls.

The trees and the grass and the blackbird feel the warmth of the sun as the wind drops and the clouds fracture like an ancient lace shawl. The atmosphere is thick with post-rain smells that rise from the soil, and the music of nature fills the sky in a celebration of continued life. The humans feel nothing different: they carry on living their civilized, disconnected lives.


Disconnected

Life exists in a complex embrace, the threads of each species’ existence intertwining in such a way that balance is the normal state of things. If one part of the energy web overreaches itself, like a fecund herd of reindeer overgrazing the winter lichen, the system tips into a localised collapse, until balance is restored and the lichen has time to regrow among the now sparse reindeer population. This connection is absolute: no food, no life.

Connections go far deeper than this, though; for it is our innate understanding of the patterns of nature, as the species Homo sapiens, that makes us survivors in so many ways. Humans are superbly adaptable: able to find water, bring about fire, craft shelters and tools, follow scents and tracks to find food – all of this utterly dependent on the connections we make and refine from the moment we emerge into the sensory storm that is the real world.

And then we shut the door; shut the windows; shut the blinds; shut our minds…it’s still going on out there, but we would rather let the caustic rain of civilization wash it away and supplant it with connections that have been manufactured to keep us in our place. We feel safe, even though we are on the edge of catastrophe; we enjoy what we do, even though we have forgotten what joy feels like; we experience self-worth, even though we have become worthless; we feel in control, even though we have no control at all…the system has us where it wants us. And now it can use us like the metaphorical batteries and cogs that signify our labour and our spending, and our naïve compliance in which we live our synthetic lives, from the plastic toys we grasp as babies to the flickering, energy-sapping screens that fix our attention on the advertisers’ world; from the blacktop roads we populate in our teeming masses, contained in metal caskets with wheels on our way to and from our places of work, to the offices and factories and shopping malls we spend a third of our lives operating in order to keep the machine moving, in order that we can be given currency with which we, in our docility, reinsert into the system so it can keep growing, and taking, and killing everything it is able to reach.

And when we feel weary, we take a packaged, predetermined vacation. And when we feel hungry, we eat a packaged, predetermined meal. And when we feel bored, we go to a packaged, predetermined slice of entertainment. And when we are of no more use to the system, we are retired…and only then do we, in those moments of reflection we never had during our urgent “productive” days, think about what we could have been.

Homo sapiens is connected. Homo sapiens civilis has had the connections ripped away from it.


What If We Connected?

We would be free.

In a culture that seeks to timeslice our attention span into smaller and smaller chunks, so that we are left always wanting more, but never reach what we think we are seeking, there is little time for contemplation. Silence is the enemy, and open minds are force-fed a diet of trivia in order to keep us sated.

Full silence departed; empty silence became like a weight around our necks, something to be cast off at any opportunity: anything to keep the flimsy cultural dialogue going, a defense mechanism against the naked, voiceless underpinning of life that was quietly lurking beneath.1


Civilized humans are born into a world where the big questions can only be answered by those in “authority”, and the biggest questions are ignored, for fear that the answers may take people to a place that is not state-sanctioned or approved by the machine. So we must ask the biggest questions: like, “Why are we here?”

To a civilized, disconnected Homo sapiens civilis, there is no answer to this question, for there is no world outside of the civilized one. The best answer a civilized human can give is one that is framed only in the confines of his or her experience: we exist to serve the machine. The ecology of such an answer – for in reality we exist to be a part of nature within the endless cycle of birth, life and death – goes no further than that which we told we are dependent on: the government, work, product, the economy. The true ecology of any answer in a genuinely connected state is limited only by the environment of which we are a part. Where does my food come from?

A shop.

Or the soil, the solar energy that warms it and the rain that falls upon it, and the countless micro-organisms that work as one to create the ideal growing conditions for the plant; that may feed an animal, that may feed yet another animal, or may simply be picked and eaten like the rosehip from the briar that bursts with flavour on a warm September afternoon.

The machine fears the second answer: we have to believe that our food is the product of a systemic, organised process that culminates in an economic transaction. If we don’t then we might question the system and decide to grow or pick our own food, depleting the industrial economy of its energy. We have to believe that in order to live, then we must go to work and produce something, whether that be a consumer product, an energy flow, a service or an ersatz lifestyle; and we have to keep believing that this is the only way to live. If we don’t, then we might fail to turn up one day, and the machine will have lost one of its cogs or rivets or pins. Take away too many parts and the machine will break.


Reconnecting

In the glass of the window that shields me from the world outside, I see the reflection of a tree, blowing in the breeze, and wonder what the air tastes like. I open the window and feel the cool air touch my face as the soft rain patters on the sill and wets the floor in tiny circles of darkness – difference. A sudden gust brings a litter of flora across the threshold that dances in the spaces and falls upon my feet – beauty. The blackbird sits on a swaying branch and tells its story in a burst of sublime avian music that pushes back the noise of the traffic below – joy.

I have let the outside in, and now I need to let the inside out. It’s time to reconnect…

 



Reference:

1. Sandy Krolick, “The Recovery Of Ecstasy”, BookSurge Publishing, 2009.

March 30, 2011 Posted by | anti-kapitalizm, anti-otoriter / anarşizan, türcülük, doğa / hayvan özgürlüğü | Leave a comment

If The Economy Doesn’t Shrink, We’re Finished! Keith Farnish

Credit crunch; economic crisis; financial meltdown…2008 became the year of monetary superlatives – and for good reason because, as far as most objective economic observers can tell, this is one event that is going to stretch well into the future, leaving no national or regional economy untouched. The Western capitalist economy is in meltdown – its financial rivers running drier by the month, it’s consumers having to climb higher and higher to harvest the fruits of their labours. Banks are swallowed, smothered or die. Chain stores cry out for customers. Politicians urge us to spend not save; to keep the wheels greased and the sputtering engine charged with just a little fuel. The media shouts as LOUD as it can: we are in CRISIS! Times are BAD!!

We concur.

Meanwhile, in the Amazon rainforest, close to the Brazilian / Bolivian border, an undiscovered tribe of semi-mobile hunter-gatherers feel no pain from the downturn; sense nothing of the slump; are blissfully ignorant of the financial despair beyond their sensory horizon. Their world (rapidly being approached on all sides by the tide of “progress”) has only one economy that matters: the economy that mattered long before money was ever exchanged, saved, spent and lost; long before interest, tax and inflation were ever conceived; and long before “resources” were extracted (stolen) and transported from far away to create the illusion we call growth. Their economy is simply the ability to manage what they need to live from day to day: no money, no interest, no tax, no imports and exports.

But for now we will, as we should, leave them alone and ponder the unreal economy, the Economy that was capitalised in the Industrial Revolution and has danced for the entertainment of the privileged few ever since.


A Troubling Fact

When you plot the Earth’s human population against the amount of carbon dioxide being created by that same population, there is an undeniable similarity in trend: as population rises, so does carbon dioxide production, up and up towards their twin tipping points. After a while there will be no return to a world where ice caps refroze in the winter and we could rely on the seasonal rains to water our crops: after a while the heat engine will start a runaway trip towards who knows what end. After a while there will simply be too many people to feed, to clothe, to shelter, to heal; but it’s not the raw numbers that are breaching the limits, however frightening they seem and crowded it feels. Population growth is slowing, but carbon growth is accelerating – there must be something else.


 
There is.

Money.

Take the graph of population against carbon dioxide and plot another line, this one showing the amount of trade between different Economies, and two of the lines start to take their partners in that privileged dance which has come to define whether nations and corporations are successful or not. Population has become a glowering wallflower, while Trade and Carbon twist and turn their way ever upward.

But why should this be the case?

It’s simple, when you think about it: trade is synonymous with Economic activity in the modern, globalized world. Unlike the self-sufficient Amazonian tribe that finds all it needs within walking distance, nations are no longer content to remain within their Economic borders: they cannot gain the diversity and level of growth they “need” simply by using (and exhausting) what they have, especially not if their consumers have become accustomed to a materially high standard of living. They must trade to create the necessary flow of materials, goods and capital to feed a growing Economy. More that just this, though, as corporations demand transparent borders and global channels, they – not the national governments – end up dictating the way the Economy operates: workers in China, raw materials in Uganda, oil in Saudi Arabia, customers in the USA – no problem! Who needs local economies when you can have a global Economy?

So Trade is the measure of the strength of the Economy and, as only a person immersed in an ocean of denial could refute, the production of Carbon Dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere, the oceans and the exhausted biosphere is a direct function of the power of that economic machine.


Contraction Is Good

At this point you will need to make a decision: do you value Economy (with a big “E”) over ecology? Or, to put it another way, having seen that there is a clear link between Economic strength and environmental damage – and I haven’t even taken into account mining, deforestation, toxic dumping, agricultural pollution and slave labour – are you prepared to recognise that link, and accept that the Economy has to shrink?

I can’t make that decision for you, but I can help you a little by answering perhaps the one thing that, if you put aside the “growth is good” rhetoric that infects the civilized humanity like an endemic disease, most people will want to ask: will I be hurt by a shrinking Economy?

It’s a fair question, but relatively easy to answer: it depends on how much you depend on the Economic system to maintain your way of life, and how important the lifestyle you have become used to (or wish to attain) really is to you. This is because the real casualties of the economic collapse will not be the people who have modest needs and the ability to grow, make, cook, mend, discuss and think about the future. The real casualties will be those who depend entirely on the economic and political system for their “needs”, especially those who have high-consumption lifestyles.

The loudest voices during any kind of economic downturn come from those people who have most benefited materially from economic growth: the urban and suburban rich, the corporate leaders and the political elites who judge the quality of their lives by the size of their house, the size and number of their cars, the expense of their vacations, the amount of consumer goods they own and the number of people they control. To them, recession means the unimaginable prospect of a more frugal and less powerful lifestyle; Economic depression is lifestyle meltdown. If their place in civilized society is threatened then the whole of society must be made to feel their own fears: by exploiting their position in the hierarchical structure, they manufacture a universal fear of Economic contraction. We become scared because they want us to be scared.

Fear is contagious.

That said, many people have become trapped in a way of life, perhaps through no fault of their own, that makes them entirely dependent on the System for their well-being: those in cities, living entirely on state support or working long hours in a poorly paid job, initially have a lot to lose should those mechanisms fail. But the surprising thing is, such people have had to develop many of the skills required to survive a lack of financial and material resources: essentially, the urban poor – the majority of whom have considerably more self-respect than the urban rich – like those brought up between the two World Wars with limited financial means, already have many of the skills to survive Economic contraction perfectly well. In the short to medium term there will remain a baseline of support from the state, and almost certainly sufficient work to go round to obtain the essentials of life; during which those that really want to get out of the state and corporate created poverty trap, will be able to create a new, more system independent life, away from the hellish cities and the corporate machine.

This is no Utopian dream: it’s simply a move towards a less dependent, less damaging way of life.

The rich and powerful have no intention of changing; they want things to carry on as they have done since Industrial Civilization was first created. For them, the worst thing that can happen is for the Economy that has fed their – and our – dreams to power down and fail. For the planet, and every single natural habitat, food web and species on it, the best thing that can happen is for that destructive thing called Economic Growth to be turned on its head, and buried for good.

 

March 30, 2011 Posted by | anti-kapitalizm, tuketim karsitligi | Leave a comment

   

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