Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Envisioning a Hamlet Economy: Topology of Sustainability and Fulfilled Ontogeny

I've just fixed the images on this post.  While I first published this just over 4 years ago, I still think that this post accurately captures much of my theory of Rhizome:
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The goal of this post is to outline a concrete framework for establishing a new economy based on rhizome structure that provides negative feedback against encroaching hierarchy, that ensures environmental sustainability, and that maximizes its compatibility with human ontogeny. I will first outline my approach to the problem, then look at one historical example—how the lattice network of Tuscan hill towns created a topology that addressed its unique circumstances, then analyze the optimal theoretical topology of a modern rhizome economy, and finally discuss some real-world concerns for the conscious design and establishment of a new hamlet economy.

Part 1: Methodology


This post aims to take the theoretical structure of rhizome, and flesh-out how a real-world economy will be built upon that model. Rhizome, in short, is defined as a non-hierarchal network of self-sufficient but interacting nodes. Within the context of a hamlet-economy, defining the threshold of self-sufficiency is the key theoretical step. It would be unrealistic to suggest that each individual be totally self-sufficient—while perhaps possible, it would result in an unacceptably low standard of living, as well as lack the resiliency necessary to prevent the accretion of hierarchy. It would be equally unrealistic to place the threshold of self-sufficiency too high, for that would create uncontrollable dependencies internal to the economic structure that would trend, eventually, towards a kind of feudal hierarchy. The exact location of the threshold of self-sufficiency may vary, but it must be at the lowest level, under the circumstances, that can:

1) Leverage the de-facto division of labor without dividing the knowledge to perform that labor. This permits raising the potential standard of living above individualized self-sufficiency, without creating dependency on the knowledge of another that can lead to hierarchy and exploitation.
2) Provide adequate redundancy to absorb sufficient systemic shock. For example, if self-sufficiency is placed at a level of two-person groups, then in the face of a shock that incapacitates one person, the other must absorb the full shock. Similarly, because this model will be based partially on horticultural modes of production, it must have enough diversity that it can absorb failures of certain crops or resource production processes brought about by weather, disease, etc.

In this model, I have placed the threshold of self-sufficiency at the familial group level. This threshold leverages the existing, biological human tendencies toward kinship, and creates a basic rhizome node that consists of roughly 10-40 people, or about 4 extended, nuclear family units.
The mode of production for this model is a hybrid of horticulture, gathering and hunting, with emphasis on a highly diverse system of horticulture (based on permaculture, fukuoka, and forest-garden concepts) to maximize standard of living, but with continual maintenance of significant spare capacity (geographic space and knowledge) to both hunt and gather to act as an absorber of systemic shocks.

Finally, the issue of specialization and specialty production must be addressed, where each node, in addition to providing minimal self-sufficiency for themselves, also produces one or more specialized product to facilitate economic interaction with other nodes, as well as to leverage the communication and information processing capability of rhizome to organize economic interaction in a way that generates much higher standards of living than can each node on their own. This latticed economic interaction is the glue that holds together the rhizome structure, ultimately serving as the strongest defense against encroachment by hierarchy—a single node cannot likely hold out against expanding hierarchy, but a well connected rhizome society of nodes can.

Part 2: Topology Lessons from a Tuscan Hill Town

This discussion of nodes and lattice is all very theoretical—it can be difficult to envision how it would actually take shape in the “real world.” For that reason, an extant, historical model that illustrates many of these concepts is useful. Tuscan hill towns are an interesting example—certainly not a perfect example of rhizome, but they are a decent example of a networked economic topology that consisted of many relatively self-sufficient nodes. They are, as with all vernacular physical geography, a unique product of their circumstances: fertile terrain punctuated by rough forests and hills, Mediterranean climate, an ancestral fabric of small farms, and a disintegration of rule by outside powers that led to the many social, economic, and technical innovations of the Italian city-states. My personal favorite is Lucignano, a relatively small and insignificant hill town depicted below. I will use it as the model hill-town for purposes of this discussion, so take a moment to familiarize yourself:


Figure 1: Here’s a map of Lucignano. Note the defensive arrangement of the housing and the patchwork of small fields.


Figure 2: Here’s an artist’s sketch of Lucignano…both the map and the sketch below depict the town in its modern form, which as far as I could tell hadn’t changed much in several centuries.



Figure 3: A picture Lucignano that I took from the Fortezza Medicea (see map above) where I stayed for a week in May of 2002.

I trust that you’ve enjoyed your brief virtual-tour of Lucignano…

It is interesting to note the impact of the continual wars between Florence, Siena, and other renaissance city-states in Italy on the architecture of the classic Italian hill town. Is this kind of inward-looking, defensive posture necessary in an envisioned future? Can a more open design, oriented to capture passive solar possibilities, be viable? What sizes of settlements are necessary—small familial farmhouse clusters, hamlet clusters of families oriented for convenience or defense, or trading or craft-industrial villages that produce local specialty products? In the case of Lucignano, many or most farmers lived within the defensive walls and walked to their fields each day. Additionally, the degree of hierarchy—resulting from the high-level threshold for self-sufficiency (which was located at the level of the hill town—in this case over a thousand people)—was certainly not optimal. The specific architecture and economic structure will vary by climate, resources, level of defensive need, etc., but the basic network structure of the hill towns remains instructive: the hundreds of hill towns that dot the map of Tuscany formed a powerful and resilient network of localized economic interaction. Today, this same region is demonstrating a resurgence of the very kind of sustainable, “fulfilled ontogeny” economy that is the goal of this model, even though it exists within a largely hierarchal and industrial society. The “Slow Food” movement was, in fact, initiated by the mayor of Greve-in-Chianti, one of the more famous hill towns of this region, and is now spreading around the world. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Tuscan hill town is an important symbol of the “good life” that may ultimately be achieved through this kind of rhizome economy—it is something that is desirable even within our modern culture, that can be readily understood, and that promises not “a return to the stone-age,” but a positive vision of “moving forward with an eye to the past” that is nearly universally preferable to the experiences of modernity. Since this can be such a difficult theoretical concept to sell, the ability to relate it to a well-known example is invaluable. There are certainly other examples, but within Western culture, this one may carry the most weight.

Part 3: The Optimal Topology of Rhizome and the Hamlet Economy


Rather than try to explain the optimal topology of a rhizome structure in words, I will try to more effectively illustrate this structure in the captions of the following graphics:


Figure 4: The above illustration is the theoretically optimal topology for a single rhizome node, representative here of a familial cluster. Close and strong connections exist within the node, representing the connectivity inside the extended familial group. Outside links are variously looser and weaker connections, the closer connections with the local hamlet, and the distant connections creating inter-hamlet ties, and creating the “small-worlds” situation where weak and distant connections greatly enhance the overall efficiency of connectivity. The green region denotes the geographic space required by the node to achieve minimal food self-sufficiency.



Figure 5: The above illustration shows a hamlet, or a cluster of familial nodes. The groupings in terms of 4:4:4 is not fixed, but merely a convenient way to convey a flexible structure. Close and strong connections exist within the hamlet, and variously looser and weaker connections reach outside, replicating in a fractal manner the same “small-worlds” theory as seen in individual nodes. The larger, lighter green region represents the geographic space required for “wildlife, hunting, and foraging,” or permaculture’s “Zone 5,” which is controlled “in trust” by the hamlet for their non-exclusive use, but available for their use as a reserve-bank should their horticultural scheme underperform.


Figure 6: The above illustration represents the broader landscape of a lattice-structure of clusters of rhizome nodes. It represents a theoretical distribution, and demonstrates that there are no “super-hamlets,” towns, or villages—the landscape is “flat” at the hamlet level, because any accretion to a higher order settlement would open the door to hierarchy. Instead, more complexly coordinated functions are facilitated by temporary groupings, as shown in the next illustration.


Figure 7: The above illustration denotes the ability of transient connection, fairs, festivals, etc. to affect longer-distance, weak connectivity that greatly enhances the overall efficiency of the lattice’s communication and information processing capability. Because more distant nodes are brought in contact with these occasional events (shown as dashed blue, red, or purple lines), the number of nodes that information or exchanges must transit to span large distances is greatly reduced (as illustrated by the black line transaction, where only two steps are necessary to bridge a distance that would otherwise require 8 steps in neighbor-to-neighbor transfer). These larger, weaker, and transient networks facilitate more complex activity and more specialized economic exchange without facilitating hierarchy. For example, even if only one node in 50 actually breeds goats or brews beer, all 50 nodes will have easy access to these products through seasonal fairs, transient markets, etc. In theory, there is no limit to the technological or industrial complexity that can be handled by such transient groupings of a still “flat” rhizome lattice. This format prevents more complex projects (defense, highly specialized goods like metal working or glass, social richness) from acting as a catalyst to the creation of hierarchy.


Figure 8: The orderly geometric lattice structure must, in reality, be draped over the natural geography, to include terrain, climate, resource distribution, etc.—as illustrated above with regards to a simple topographical map. While the theoretical and geometrically symmetrical lattice illustrated in Figure 6 provides easier initial conceptualization, the lattice illustrated in this figure is more realistic. In reality, several different “conceptual terrains” will each simultaneously impact the actual geospatial structure of the lattice. For example, physical terrain, difficulty of travel, resource concentrations, water availability, soil richness, etc. will all influence the layout.
Part 4: Reality, and the Implementation of a Hamlet Economy

Real-world implementation of this conceptual “hamlet-economy” requires efforts to guarantee resiliency, coping with the existing built landscape, and achieving coordination and standardization of this fractal pattern without a top-down hierarchy.
Rhizome lattice is great, in concept. However, if it does not demonstrate adequate resiliency, it will only last until the first major systemic shock—and systemic shocks have always and will continue to impact humanity, from weather, war, technology, famine, disease, etc. The hamlet-economy fosters resiliency by using long-time-horizon resource cultivation techniques, as well as planned redundancy in resource cultivation. For example, the forest garden concept is illustrative: while all horticultural and agricultural schemes vary in annual return, failure of a forest garden scheme one year does not propagate failure in future years. With a forest garden, after establishment, large quantities of resources are stored and available for harvest to make up for shortfalls in other areas. Similarly, maintenance of spare capacity in foraging and hunting, used only minimally in years where horticulture produces well, provides a safety net for years when horticulture produces poorly. This built-in redundancy is critical to maintain the viability of horticulture—along with its normal benefit of increased standard of living—through years when horticulture performs poorly.
It is also important to recognize that the implementation of this kind of hamlet-economy will, in most circumstances, require adaptation of an existing landscape—in most cases a landscape that is not sustainable, that is hierarchal, and that is not compatible with human ontogeny. This introduces an artificiality, in the sense that the theoretical structure may be impacted by existing hierarchal infrastructure (like towns and highways). Perhaps the best way to circumvent this is to begin to “plant the seeds” of a hamlet economy in existing rural areas, and then expand into prior towns and cities as they become non-viable.
Finally, it is important to address the issue of enforcing this structural pattern without utilizing top-down, hierarchal means. One key tool in this effort will be the use of open-source arguments to explain and justify the reasoning behind adapting this pattern—such as, hopefully, this post. Another will be the use—perhaps in modernized format—of the traditional norm enforcement tool of myth. Stories explaining the pitfalls of straying from this basic structure will help to keep the core principles intact. Finally, and I think most importantly, the success of this theoretical structure will depend on the ability of the pioneer implementers to demonstrate that it provides a better standard of living than other structures. If the average American could live the “good life” of living in a stereotypical Tuscan villa, and if they are shown how they, too, CAN have this lifestyle, then people will literally flock to this structure. Ultimately, this is a POSITIVE vision of the future—not a reversion to feudal serfdom, but a progression to a more egalitarian and human-compatible life…

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am in nearly full agreement with the concepts presented here... Except... As a person who has been a vegan for more than 20 years, I have a slightly different perspective on 'hunting'... and the severe impact that 'hunting' has had on the planet's ecological balance and on the psyche of humanity.

I said I was a vegan for over 20 years -- this concept may be difficult for some to absorb... IT ISN'T NECESSARY FOR HUMAN BEINGS TO EAT OTHER ANIMALS. In fact we get sick when we do. Sick in body AND mind (they are one)... leading to violence and war. I know that such shocking news will cause some to react, well, violently. I've been through it many times before over the last 20 years. Like an old school teacher, I've heard all the 'dumb' excuses. They remind me of nothing less than the rants of addicts. Blood lust.

We are now in the throes of a global mass extinction. And the greatest single cause is how human beings CHOOSE to eat. It takes up to 40 times as much land area to feed a flesh eater... land that could be in a natural state, supporting ecological diversity. And in the -out of sight, out of mind- depths of the Oceans the devastation is unfathomable.

Those who proclaim themselves as bearers of ecological consciousness , if they don't possess it already, need to expand their knowledge base to include the hard won perspectives gained by vegans.

It is a matter of knowledge and CHOICE. We can continue to follow the low destructive path of 'hunting' -- for a little while longer, until we also go extinct -- or we can climb to the heights of wisdom and embark on a truly kind, peaceful and sustainable path.

Anonymous said...

Bullshit. Look, I'm a hippie at heart and do much of my shopping at the local hippie run food coop. The ironic thing is that most people there look like crap. They tend to have this grayish complexion and stooped shoulders. When I go into regular stores, I see much healthier looking people with nice healthy glows.

I tried going vegetarian a few years ago and had to give it up after a year or two because I just didn't have the energy I needed for sports.

Jeff Vail said...

I respect your choice to be a vegan--I think it falls under Quinn's "no one right way" principle. I'm not convinced that it is not necessary to eat animals, but I'd rather not turn this into a discussion on veganism. For my money, the fact that humanity evolved as omnivores, that it is a critical part of our ontogeny, demonstrates that it does not impact the plante's ecological balance or our human psyche in a negative way--we were sustainable for millions of years in small, egalitarian hunter/gatherer bands. Now if you want to criticize the problems of modern industrial meat production, I'm right there with you...

Anonymous said...

The concept of nodes is interesting as applied to social structures. The idea of forest gardens as a safety net when sustainable gardens fail applies the concept of nodes to sustainable farming.

But I have observed that when gardens fail, the tree crops also tend to either fail or be unavailable to humans. In 2003 I planned to harvest acorns for the first time. But that year only 24.5 inches of rain fell and although the oak tree in my yard produced acorns, the squirrels tore them off the tree and ate them (ravenously, I should add) showering the ground with bits and pieces of shell and partly eaten acorns for me. 2005 was another year of extreme drought, and the oak didn’t produce acorns at all. That year there were no acorns even for the squirrels, who dug sweet potatoes out of the compost pile and ate them.

Jeff Vail said...

Creating multiple, redundant systems is a key to design resiliency--and I think that here it is really critical that resources be banked in many formats. Water, for example, should be banked at many levels--between heavy mulching, swales, key-line mini-reservoirs, etc. It does seem likely that horticulture and arboriculture will cycle together in producing lower yields some years. For this reason, a wild-food bank is a critical component--the ability to fall back, at least partially, on hunting and gathering.

Additionally, non-food resources can be seen as a type of food bank as well because this type of lattice structure can facilitate trade of non-food resources for food resources over significant distances when necessary. For example, winemaking, timber milling, glass or ceramic production--whatever the non-food specialty of a hamlet may be--will generally NOT experience a yield cycle tied to food production yields (in fact, labor freed up by, say, a drought, may actually facilitate non-food yields). This non-food yield can then be exchanged through fair or festival interaction to make-up for shortfalls in food production. Critically, this type of re-distribution does not lead to the kind of hierarchal redistribution safety-nets that were a catalyst to the rise of ancient agricutural hierarchies. Chaco canyon, for example, almost certainly functioned as a surplus levy and redistribution hub fo the Chacoan hierarchy. This came about because peripheral settlements, when drought struck, had no resources of value to exchange for food, and were therefore dependent on a hierarchal redistribution process. But in the rhizome-lattice structure suggested here, there should (when properly implemented) always be a valuable resource available to each node for exchange, even if it must come from a 'bank.' Because each node should always maintain resource self-sufficiency, if not true food self-sufficiency due to yield cycles, it should be possible to prevent redistribution from arising as a catalyst of hierarchal organiazation. In theory... but I think that the resiliency and 'resource bank' structure is such a critical component of this model that it still needs further development.

John Earls said...

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John Earls said...

I would suggest that the problem of hierarchy in the system has been countered in Andean indigenous society by use of a rotating order of office holding.

In Andean communities authority is distributed through a 4 rank hierarchy (varayoq). Participation in the system is obligatory for all but no one person can occupy the post of that rank for more than one year. On leaving the post there is a "rest" of 5 or more years before entering the system again at the next higher rank.
Those who have passed through the highest rank (which entails having passed through all ranks) then constitute an elders advisory council.
The work at any rank level is quite demanding so that the rank holders must be supported by the 4 family nodes that constitute the extended family system.

In general, these Andean peasant communities (at least in their ideal form) offer a very good example of how the rhizome type organisation has evolved in a seemingly very different historical context to the western world.

UNplanner said...

I am a planner and I looked at the issue of sustainable settlements of the future by drawing from the past, albeit from a slightly different aspect. My focus revolved more around the central place theory, which posits a hierarchical arangement of settlements from the hamlet to the city. Though the practical application of this concept is limited, it is my belief if we are going to maintain some level of advanced level civilization, hierarchical settlement (and correspondingly, governance)will be inevitable.

Check it out on my formerly updated blog

http://unplanning.blogspot.com/2005/07/paging-dr-christaller.html

Jeff Vail said...

Fascinating article on Christaller and Central Place Theory. I currently have an article under peer-review for publication by the Journal of the National Academy of Sciences on the role of subsidy and Central Place Theory in the Roman road network and the rise of the Roman Empire. Here's a link to it as a blog post (with, finally, the graphics working properly):

Subsidized Centralization: An Economic Analysis of the Roman Road Network

(For what it's worth, I doubt it will make it out of peer review--I'm neither a professional geographer nor a historian...)

That said, I really need to write a piece on central place and rhizome lattice. Stay tuned, but my basic premise is that by emphasizing localized self-sufficiency at the node level, and by focusing on temporary and transient "fairs" as centers of regional connectivity, hierarchy will not persist despite a subsidy that supports central place in the holdovers from industrial-era physical geograhy...

RyanLuke said...

Unplanner,

Yes, cities are likely to be inevitable. Firstly, because that is where people already live and the kind of mass migration that would be required to move to a "flat" system of hamlets is unlikely, absent central control. Secondly, because cities surrounded by farmland may actually be more efficient (due to division of labour and economies of scale) than smaller hamlets.

That said, I think this model is a great starting point. My own theoretical work on economics has a complimentary perspective. The Organic Economy is a paper I wrote that outlines an economic system and currency that could provide another piece of the theoretical underpinnings of a new, sustainable economic system.

Michael said...

Was it Thomas Moore who had this same outline over 200 years ago in his book, "Utopia"?

Next it would never work a current poulation levels.

Next it would take martial law to enforce... this style of lioving by any modern standards...


Your only hope is that a few like minded people like are the only surviors of a nuclear war... then you and your buddies can outling your form of living... but watch out for the Huns!

Anonymous said...

Please, please remain vegans in
your return to a feudal hamlet
economy. Those of us who eat meat
will need undernourished serfs to
work the fields. We will use 90%
of what you grow to make bio-
diesel for our tactical vehicles
to maintain order (ie, raid other
hamlets) and leave you 10% to live
on for the rest of the year.

Jeff Vail said...

I think suggestions that this will never work at modern populations levels, or that this will never work without enforcement (which would be a hierarchy itself), unfortunately, miss the point. Rhizome is a bottom-up form of organization that is normative, not rule-making. It is also quite capable of defending itself--see Waziristan, for example. We have, as a world, witnessed several thousand years of incentive to develop hierarchal military technology and tactics--but that does not mean that non-hierarchal methods are not equal or more effective. The history of warfare has been one of attack leaping one step ahead of defense, then defense catching up--but this has been framed within the context of an increasing energy-subsidy to hierarchy, and increasing cenralization that facilitates ever more complex technological innovation. Reverse that frame, and you will likely witness the process in reverse: attack takes one leap back, and defense gradually falls back to the same level. This is a dramatic difference. For more, see:

http://www.jeffvail.net/2005/09/defending-pala-rhizome-as-mode-of.html

Certainly, also, this model will not work at current population levels--it is not meant to be implemented in a top-down, one-fell-swoop manner. It is meant to co-exist, to form a "diagonal," to grow a "permanent autonomous zone," to form a out-of-phase alternative. In that sense it does not need a nuclear war to wipe out the existing population any more than it needs a more general collapse to reduce population. It is not an intended solution to the problem of population or the likeliness of a broader collapse. As nice as it would be, it is not intended to "save" civilization from collapse--something that is probably not possible. What it IS intended to do is to provide an alternative model that offers far superior resiliency in the face of these problems, that can be adopted by those who are interested at any point along the collapse timeline (or in the complete absence of collapse), and that offers superior compatibility with the demands of our own ontogeny--and for those reasons, especially the consideration of ontogeny, it is nothing like Moore's "Utopia." It is not a model that is formulated in response to collapse, as some kind of solution. It is a model that is squarely aimed at addressing the issue of ontogeny--and the recognition that hierarchy and ontogeny are incompatible, as a side effect, makes the model resilient in the face of collapse...

JDowney said...

Excellent visionary solution to the coming crash. While some people can be motivated by the fearmongering of crashbloggers, the fear can also bring about paralysis and despair if dwelt upon without some sort of reality-based solution, well-thought out and reasonable. Thanks for this.

Question which I hope expands the vision:

In the face of a system shock and insufficient redundancy or over-population depleting resources, what's to stop nodal squabbles? When people get hungry, they also tend to turn violent, and topography is bound to create imbalances in the nodes: One region is just more fertile, has a vein of gold, or clean water that others do not. The "have not" nodes are likely to team up against the "have" nodes in the event of such imbalances. And charismatic individuals are bound to struggle to the head of hungry mobs again forming hierarchies. It's difficult to hold this vision in the face of historical events in which army after army has slaughtered and plundered systems of tribal people nurturing permaculture gardens. Maybe you've discussed the defensibility of these nodes elsewhere?

Jeff Vail said...

I think that this is a terribly important question, and one that is by no means resolved. Let me outline my proposed solution--hopefully criticism will help it develop into something stronger:

Basically, there is a need for a networked coalition that will stand against one node seeking to overcome or exploit another node. This network coalition must be founded upon two fundamentals: 1) we will defend any member against any outside force because our external individual security is based on the security of our weakest link--otherwise an outside force can pick us off one-by-one. 2) we will collectively assist any member to achieve robust self-sufficiency, and to persist through difficult times, because our internal security is based on the security of our weakest link--if none of us fail to be self-sufficient, there is no catalyst for conflict. This kind of thing can be created and enforced through the fair & myth concepts...

Certainly not perfect. Overall, rhizome has some very valid defensive options against outside threat, but one of its strengths is the difficulty to operate offensively against itself--there is no catalyst to create surplus upon which to build and offensive force, and there is no peer-polity competition to grow faster than your neighbors which drives conflict. Also, a minimally self-sufficient rhizome node doesn't really offer the kind of mobile "booty" that so often drives conflict. You could take over a node and occupy their houses, gardens, and orchards, but you can't really take their stored surplus and bring it home with you to make you "richer." Not having anything the enemy wants is a powerful ally.

Anonymous said...

Jeff,

You wrote:
"Not having anything the enemy wants is a powerful ally."

You will still have food and women.
What else does a ruthless man
really desire?

Even when bio-diesel vehicles (aka
"technicals") breakdown, there will
still be HORSES. Ammunition for
modern arms, be it for small arms
or light artillery, will be
available for decades even after a
collapse. After that, it will be
of little problem to do limited
manufacture of ammunition --even
if it's black powder paper
cartridges or crossbow bolts.

The object of organised disciplined
raiders will not be to raze the
hamlets to the ground, but as
history shows for subjugation and
putting its inhabitants to work
for the powerful.

I know people will laugh at the
example of the movie "The Postman"
but this is a likely scenario. The
hamlets will still need to find
people with skills and more
importantly the willingness to
defend them.

My experience (yes, I've been to
war) has been that people have a
lot of hesitation to step forward
and put their life on the line
when it is far easier to let
someone eat a bit of their substance. I'm sad to say America
is far different now from the
people who founded her. It will
take at least 3 generations of
hard times to breed people again
who are worthy of her.

When your hamlet needs help in the
future, look for me. I'll be the
old guy with the shotgun
who "knows things." ;-)

Anonymous said...

How will the rhizomes move goods when the heirarchy controls the oil supply?
Here's one possibility, convert the automobiles and trucks to run on wood-gas: http://freeweb.deltha.hu/zastava.in.hu/wood-gas.htm

Jeff Vail said...

What goods *NEED* to be moved? The node is self-sufficient in essentials. The node then has the option of what it wishes to transport in exchange, based on what is most beneficial for the node, and what is most practicable under exterior forces (such as lack of oil).

Look back to the Tuscany example--a pack-mule or horse cart can transport things quite easily over considerable distances and most exchange goods are of concentrated value (bulk goods are best if locally sourced for exactly this reason). Yeah, a truck is faster and more powerful, but is it worth the dependency-relationships that must be entered into with hierarchy?

chagapilz said...

Jeff, where should I look for an explanation of "energy-subsidy to hierarchy?"

rubenanderson said...

I found the comments on water to be most pertinent to my current thinking. My own analysis leads me to agree wholeheartedly with Jeff's Rhizome model except we are heading into climate chaos. If I n=knew where I could go to start a nice little hamlet, I would go there. But, the place that has water now may not have it for long.

So, to the rhizome model I would add mobility. After a couple of years of drought, we need to up stakes and find someplace greener. Possessions should be few and designed for mobility. Agriculture needs to include that which can be quickly established in poor soil and unfamiliar conditions.

Anonymous said...

"Yeah, a truck is faster and more powerful, but is it worth the dependency-relationships that must be entered into with hierarchy?"

Short answer yes, Long answer heck yes.

This question reminds me of Monty Python's Life of Brian. What have the Romans ever done for us.

I'm not an advocate of hierarchy, but if you want me to buy into replacing it you have to show me that your alternative is net better for me than what I've got. And the current hierarchy has done quite a bit for me.

so back to the Mule vs Diesel truck, when it comes to getting my critically ill/injured wife and child to the nearest hospital as quickly as possible I'll join the hierarchy and take the truck, and be thankful.

openworld said...

>>[Jeff] there is a need for a networked coalition that will stand against one node seeking to overcome or exploit another node...we will collectively assist any member to achieve robust self-sufficiency.

Rhizomes/resilient communities have soft power options as well to improve their security. As and when other areas collapse, individuals, households and neighborhoods within them will be increasingly hungry for lifelines. Rhizomes can offer toolkits on microfarming/micropower, security, and neighborhood governance, as well as access to virtual learning resources. (The learning resources can help jobseekers build telework skills and earn digital currencies in still-functioning online markets.) Increased levels of virtual help/jobs can be offered by resilient communities to those they want to help, as the aspiring areas make progress on agreed milestones. In this way, the grip of warlords who would normally threaten healthy rhizomes may find their own domains "hollowed out" over time by increasingly independence-minded (and capable) communities within.

Mark Frazier
Openworld.com
@openworld

sunson said...

Jeff, Kudos to you for having come up with a model to sustain.

The biggest strength of your model is it is possible to adopt that model without "waiting for the current system's collapse".

The biggest weakness is that you might have to find like-minded people who "find the current system endemically wrong" (which, from all the crazy things I've attempted, looks like I'm one of the very very few in this part of the world). The "back-to-farming" mindset atleast offers the ability of the individual to "move on".

I completely agree, though, that our biggest strength as a species is our ability to communicate and _plan_. That was our weakness (in terms of how destructive we got with those powers) but... it can potentially be made our strength. I see your model perfectly turning such "problems" into "solutions".

Regarding Veganism: I'd like to just add a point that the arrival of humans on the planet and the beginning of the Pleistocene Exctinction Event has not only coincided with our start but has also continued to accelerate along with humanity's population explosion.

There is just one problem with humans taking up "hunting". No animal sits and decides its lunch. They don't seem to have planning or a "regroup" to figure out "better ways" of hunting. Contrastingly, Humans can plan and improvise within a few months as against a whole generation. This is our fundamental problem - the "speed" of our response is just too fast when compared to that of nature.

Secondly, you make it sound like "we can live on this model permanently and forever". Given the extremely complex nature of reality of which the past 2000 years of sustained researched has only helped us scratch the surface couple it with our cognitive biases, I'd like to skeptically call your "opinion" just Wishful Thinking.

It is certainly a much better model and something that I'd love to live on... but it isn't something that we can "do forever". There is no "forever" as long as the 2nd law of thermodynamics is true :)

Al Eggen said...

Jeff, A nice concept that should work very well in appropriate circumstances - especially at reasonably low population densities. Starting to implement it will be difficult.

I'll throw in a variation that won't be as neat but might have wider application. Rather than view a node as a self sufficient package for everything you need, consider a node as just a community covering a specific function. Thus you could be a part of many different nodes - all of which had links going in different directions.

For example, you could be a part of a food community, a housing community, a spiritual community, an open source web community, etc. Links would be between food related communities but also between food and housing, food and web, and so on.

Have been thinking about this approach for a while but it's still a long way from clarity!

Al

ryan said...

Great stuff, Jeff.

"In the face of a system shock and insufficient redundancy or over-population depleting resources, what's to stop nodal squabbles? When people get hungry, they also tend to turn violent, and topography is bound to create imbalances in the nodes..."

I can't answer for Jeff, but for most of the folks i know who are living off grid and moving towards post-industrial resiliency this is not an issue. Members of these nodes tend to be very highly conscious of global change issues and patterns of human violence. they will - indeed they do - prefer cooperation to competition with other intentional communities/RC's.

when people go hungry they pass through a physiological shutdown and tend to be more passive than violent - it takes a very big group effort on the part of the starving to confront another group with violence.

the violence we will be likely to see will be a continuation of what has already begun - protests, riots, attacks against the state as well as an increasingly unified global insurrection against all existing governments.

ryan said...

Check it out - not exactly the Tuscan Hills, but it may keep the roaming post-apocalyptic mutants at bay: Bunker mentality: the ultimate underground shelter http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2010/apr/18/bunker-mentality-ultimate-underground-shelter

Clive said...

Nice thinking Jeff. But what about population increase?

All those happy folk, nibbling on ciabatta and drinking bartered Birra Moretti as they watch the sun gently sink into the distant dusty hills... no television... children already in bed. Things are going to get romantic.

...ultimately with disastrous consequences, right?

chiinook said...

Jeff - I have always been fascinated by a microorganism call Volvox. Volvox is a very simple creature which takes the form of a hollow ball. The skin of the ball is made up of a network of cells each of which has photosynthesizing organelles, an eye spot and two tiny flagella. Run a quick google search for pictures and video and you'll see where I'm going with this. Volvox is another great metaphor for a hamlet economy.

You pose the question of whether a walled city is necessary for defense. Volvox provides an interesting possible answer in that the community is in fact the wall (sphere) and takes this shape for 1) mobility, 2) efficiency and 3) reproduction.

Interesting research on Volvox has shown that in response to wounding, these tiny organisms strengthen the bonding material between cells and release the sex-inducing hormone which prepares the organism for reproduction.

By extension, I wonder if defense strategies of a node/hamlet could be thought of in terms of productivity and relationship strengthening rather than preservation.