I often have a difficult time articulating my vision of the future. Some people think that I’m a “doom and gloom” type—that there will be small, fortified islands of farming communities trying to fend off the starving masses after civilization collapses due to energy shortages. Others, of course, think that I’m either hopelessly optimistic or a hopeless romantic, and that I’m suggesting we can replace modern society wholesale with some fantasy-world of cooperative networks of suburban homesteads. While I understand how these misperceptions have come about, I haven’t done a very good job (yet) of articulating how I do, in fact, see the future of civilization unfolding. That’s my hope for this Diagonal Economy series: to outline the major forces and systems driving the evolution of our civilization and economy, including in-depth analysis of major forces and thoughts on how we can help, or gain from, the resulting trends. This first post in this series will provide an overview of my vision of the Diagonal Economy--you can keep track of the larger series at the Table of Contents .
This civilizational and economic evolution will, under my theory, give rise to what I’m calling the “Diagonal Economy.” I initially planned to use the phrase “Parallel Economy,” but that sounds too much like a mere shift to black and gray markets, instead of addressing the more fundamental, structural shift that I predict away from hierarchal organization to a flatter, peer-to-peer form of organization that I have called “Rhizome ” elsewhere. Perhaps “envision” is a better word than "predict"—I advocate for this shift, and think that it makes sense from several perspectives (fulfilled ontogeny and true sustainability in particular), but what I am not doing is suggesting, like some Marxist prophecy, that this shift is somehow our civilization’s destiny. I think this shift will occur on some level, but that it will meet powerful resistance. In the end, it is primarily a set of tools that will become increasingly available to those who wish to shape their own future.
Here, I think that “diagonal” best captures this shift—movement along one axis (energy consumed and scale) and along a second (degree of hierarchal order of organization). The term also draws from a discussion (using the same label) in the Intermezzo section of Antonio Negri’s and Michael Hardt’s “Empire.”
So what is the Diagonal Economy? Ultimately, I see it as a structural response to the various forces that will increasingly shape the coming century and beyond. A limited list includes energy descent; other resource constraints; imminent ecological and climatic pressures; the limits of human ontogeny; information processing burdens; and the breakdown of the nation-state system. I use the term “structural” quite a bit, yet I rarely define what I mean by it. Each of these forces, for reasons that I will explore in individual posts in this series, have particular impacts on hierarchal structures. Likewise, each force interacts differently with what I’ve called “Rhizome ” --topologically flatter, peer-to-peer networked structures that exhibit scale-free self-sufficiency. While I don’t suggest that we will—or could—abandon hierarchy entirely in favor of rhizome, I do think that each of these forces will more negatively affect hierarchal patterns of organization than they will affect rhizomatic patters. For that reason, while I actually predict a reactionary response by hierarchy, when confronted by these patterns, to enhance the hierarchal nature of existing structures, I think that there will be the opportunity to instead confront these forces with increasingly rhizomatic solutions. So, in that sense, the Diagonal Economy is my proposed solution to humanity’s current and dawning challenges.
That may work as a statement for the intent of this notion of “Diagonal Economy,” but it isn’t much of a description. I hesitate to articulate a vision for the Diagonal Economy, not because I’m worried about being proven wrong (I’m quite confident that will happen often enough), but because I don’t want to limit the modes of expression of the basic principles that I will articulate. That said, I think it’s worth describing one possible manifestation:
The diagonal economy might rise amidst the decline of our current system—the “Legacy System.” Using America as an example (but certainly translatable to other regions and cultures), more and more people will gradually realize that there the “plausible promise” once offered by the American nation-state is no longer plausible. A decent education and the willingness to work 40 hours a week will no longer provide the “Leave it to Beaver” quid pro quo of a comfortable suburban existence and a secure future for one's children. As a result, our collective willingness to agree to the conditions set by this Legacy System (willing participation in the system in exchange for this once "plausible promise") will wane. Pioneers—and this is certainly already happening—will reject these conditions in favor of a form of networked civilizational entrepreneurship. While this is initially composed of professionals, independent sales people, internet-businesses, and a few market gardeners, it will gradually transition to take on a decidedly “third world” flavor of local self-sufficiency and import-replacement (leveraging developments in distributed, open-source, and peer-to-peer manufacturing) in the face of growing ecological and resource pressures. People will, to varying degrees, recognize that they cannot rely on the cradle-to-cradle promise of lifetime employment by their nation state. Instead, they will realize that they are all entrepreneurs in at least three—and possibly many more—separate enterprises: one’s personal brand in interaction with the Legacy System (e.g. your conventional job), one’s localized self-sufficiency business (ranging from a back yard tomato plant to suburban homesteads and garage workshops), and one’s community entrepreneurship and network development. As the constitutional basis of our already illusory Nation-State system (.pdf) erode further, the focus on #2 (localized self-sufficiency) and #3 (community/networking) will gradually spread and increase in importance, though it may take much more than my lifetime to see them rise to general prominence in replacement of the Nation-State system. Ultimately, the conceptual “map” of the American Nation-State will re-open, and those pockets that best develop a Diagonal Economy to fill that gap will enjoy the most success in what will otherwise be a time of substantial—though I think largely subconscious—transition.
That might be unsatisfactory as a description of the Diagonal Economy in action—I’m happy to elaborate in comments. In upcoming posts, I will articulate this vision in more detail by focusing on component forces and phenomena within this shift to the Diagonal Economy. Hopefully a coherent picture will emerge, and a set of principles and tools will be clearly defined. But, if this vision is only clear in my own head, please let me know. My goal here is to figure out how to translate something that is half intuition and half foggy notions into a comprehensible essay . . .
Readers may also find my litigation checklist of interest.
Readers may also find my litigation checklist of interest.