1. System-analysis of our civilization, focusing on the core themes of Hierarchy and The Problem of Growth, and its symptoms of peak oil, energy geopolitics, and economic "wizardry."
2. Systems-theory in general, and specifically as it informs the inefficiencies of hierarchy, alternate modes of information processing and economic organization, and
2. Philosophy, specifically understanding human ontogeny (how the process of our evolution dictates our current physiological, neurological, and emotional processes) as an input into human systems and as the foundation for individual happiness and fulfillment.
2. Moving forward: addressing the two very separate goals of optimizing the functioning of human civilization and individual human functioning in light of the systems-analysis and human ontogeny "problems."
In reality, this is one unified theme: an attempt to create a set of instructions for operating humans, both as individuals and in groups of all sizes, in light of both internal and external constraints. I think it is inextricably linked to the traditional studies of history, politics, economics, biology, psychology, anthropology, mathematics (specifically game theory), and physics. But in my mind it is so much more than that. The goal is not to improve psychology or anthropology or any of these other discrete disciplines per se, but rather is specifically to generate a synthesis, a meta-theory for humanity. This is essentially the mission of philosophy, but I hesitate to accept the limitations commonly ascribed to philosophy. Perhaps, though, it is accurate to view this goal as similar to the very practical philosophical approaches of, say, Plato in The Republic (though, like Karl Popper, I disagree vehemently with Plato's conclusions...). Here is a case where, perhaps, John Zerzan's more extreme theory of language and symbols shows its strengths: any attempt to label this process, and my goals, is unacceptably limiting. Hopefully this brief explanation has been slightly clearer than mud! Next week I'll take a look at this goal and evaluate what, specifically, has been accomplished and what is left to be accomplished, and set forth a roadmap for what I will address in future posts. For now, though, I'll finish by responding to comments from last week:
Neven commented about the frustration that stems from realizing what could be done, but not yet being able to put these plans into practice. I share this frustration. I certainly don't live in a real-world hamlet economy that I have created for myself--far from it. I think it's important, however, to stress that I am not a "fast-crash" proponent. I fall generally into the "slow-crash" camp--the theory that our economic, political, and social systems will gradually degrade over the next several decades (and longer). I don't think it is necessary to have a self-sufficient farmlet immediately--though if this is something that 1) is realistic for you, and 2) will make you happy, then by all means it sounds like a wonderful plan. I think it is best to use an improved understanding of our civilization and its trajectory to influence every decision that we make in our day-to-day lives, but I don't think it's necessary to quit your job, sell your house, and become a neo-homesteader. Largely I think this because the network that such efforts need to succeed is not yet established. I think we're much better off gradually moving in these directions because this is something that we can potentially do as a group (e.g. everyone). Any "solution" that doesn't include mass transition is essentially a blueprint to build a fortress. That said, I'm not sure that mass transition is possible, and one of the gradual transitions that I am making is to put myself in the position to make a sudden transition when possible and if necessary...
Nick, I agree with your concern that virtual discussions of these topics is just not enough. When I am able to have lengthy discussions in person with large groups (such as at last year's ASPO conference), the payoff is amazing. This year's ASPO conference is in Denver in the Fall--worth considering if you can make the train trip/drive/flight/etc. It's also interesting to hear your observation that many rural communities are already moving in the direction of rhizome without using this as a conscious model. I think we'll see more of this as the global financial and energy systems continue to erode, become less reliable, or simply exact more transaction costs. But I do think that establishing self-sufficiency is something where we need to get out ahead of the curve--if we wait until we're forced to establish self-sufficiency, the results will be at a minimum "expensive," and potentially catastrophic. There are many excellent models for moving toward a higher degree of self-sufficiency (100% is certainly unrealistic and unnecessary in almost all instances). The Transition Towns movement is a great place to start--it has an excellent model for building momentum and consensus in existing towns without everyone understanding the gravity of the situation. Additionally, moving toward scale-free self-sufficiency is a complementary strategy: while 100% self-sufficiency at the individual level is nearly impossible (short of a hunter-gatherer mode of production which cannot support our population levels), I think we can realistically attempt to increase our individual self-sufficiency, our community self-sufficiency, and our regional self-sufficiency by a few percent per year. A good model might be increase personal self-sufficiency each year by 5%, and increase community and regional self-sufficiency each year by 1%?
Eadwacer suggests making more explicit connections between my theories and existing systems models--I agree, and hope to do that in the future.
Jeremy gaiasdaughter, and TH all suggest that, while the mainstream my ignore these issues, that doesn't make them any less important. I have often used the monastery in Dark Ages Europe as an example here: we need to develop individual and community solutions not because they will spread voluntarily at first, but because they will exist as proven solutions to transfer knowledge when people are actively searching for this. Additionally, this highlights how important it is that we not develop one solution, but that we develop many solutions, appropriate for many regions and sets of circumstances.
Lonnie adds that we need a new lexicon to discuss these concepts, and to counter preconceptions. I think that, more than just a new lexicon, we need extant examples of these ideas in action to show directly that they need not conform to any stereotype...
Finally, Theo wrote a well though out response on his blog. I agree with Theo that I have a pessimistic bias--specifically, that I don't think we can continue on our current course indefinitely, and that I foresee a gradual collapse over the next several decades. I disagree with Theo, though, to the extent that he interprets my writing as an unending pessimism--I specifically think that our current civilizational structure is not very compatible with our ontogeny, and that we are actually presented with a golden opportunity to re-cast civilization, post-collapse (or, more accurately, through the long process of collapse) into something that is more compatible with humans and the rest of our planet. While I commend efforts at green capitalism because I think they will ultimately soften and facilitate a transition, I disagree with Theo that green capitalism, or a green market-state system, can "save" us from the Problem of Growth. Turning briefly to Robert Anton Wilson, I understand how Theo sees me as opposed to the basic notion of Wilson's book, but I think I actually agree with the basic premise--simplistically, that humans as individuals can take control of ourselves and our environments with nearly unlimited potential if we properly understand ourselves and our environment--because I separate individual potential and prospects from those of our civilizational structure as a whole. I think Wilson and Leary's "Space Migration, Intelligence Increase, Life Extension" notion is an artifact of the time they were writing, but that the underlying goal was actually freedom, enlightenment, and fulfillment for individuals--something that I am actually very optimistic about in a rhizome future. To the extent that this is the "real" wealth to which Theo refers, I think the growth-based predicate for "green" capitalism and its failure to address the incompatibility between human ontogeny and hierarchal systems eliminates it as a solution--I think it is ultimately more a case of "greenwashing" as a systemic defense to internal threats to hierarchy, and one that I think will do nothing to make that system fundamentally sustainable...