I’ve written before about the Problem of Growth. There, I suggested that our current civilization is structurally unsustainable because an excess of hierarchy requires that it seek perpetual growth. There, I argued that we must build a non-hierarchal and locally self-sufficient alternative structure that I call Rhizome to replace our current economic and political structure if we are ever to achieve actual sustainability. Of course, I’ve always recognized that Rhizome is not a practicable mass-transition strategy—it could exist at the peripheries, perhaps even creating a valuable symbiosis with “primary” society, but it’s plainly not realistic to suggest that we just abandon “hierarchy” and adopt “Rhizome.”
Some readers may have wondered by now about the similarities and differences between the Diagonal Economy and Rhizome—are they the same, am I abandoning my previous theory and replacing it with a new one, etc.? While there is some overlap, the simplest answer is that the Diagonal Economy and Rhizome are two separate concepts intended for two separate purposes.
Rhizome was always intended as a theoretical counterposition to hierarchy—its purpose was to explore the problems with our current system by imagining its opposite and attempting to frame it in a way that would be viable. But it is, in the end, a theoretical model. I think it can provide useful guidance for people in the unusual position of building something from the ground up—usually very small or remote situations—and while I think it provides much practical guidance in design (as it influenced my development of the Diagonal Economy), it provides little guidance about implementation or transition amidst real-world challenges and constraints.
The Diagonal Economy was created with the express purpose of filling that gap left by Rhizome theory. I’m less interested in articulating a pristine model for non-hierarchal and sustainable organization than I am in articulating a set of trends and principles that we can all use, at all levels, to guide the continuing evolution and emergence of human civilization. The Diagonal Economy is expressly intended to adapt the theory developed as “Rhizome” to provide answers and guidance to the challenges that I predict we will face in the coming century. As such (and as suggested by the title of this post), the Diagonal Economy is intended as a set of guidelines for growing a truly sustainable civilization—specifically, one that has a scale-free absence of the need to grow—within and only eventually replacing the Legacy economic and political structures.
I won’t repeat the argument that I’ve made at length before, but the Problem of Growth is at the core of our civilization’s problems. Many people suggest that overpopulation is the core problem, but this, too, is but a symptom of our structural problem of growth. While I think the Diagonal Economy provides many other advantages as a model for transition, most of these are ultimately subsumed under its ability to address the Problem of Growth. Again, while details of this approach are discussed in the linked articles (and will be covered in more depth later), the keys to addressing the Problem of Growth are scale-free self-sufficiency, non-hierarchal political, economic, and social structures, and an ethic and aesthetic of elegant simplicity. As I will explain in coming posts, these qualities can be infused into our current structure gradually, rather than attempting some kind of revolution of direct confrontation and sudden replacement. And this can be done at all levels—not only does it not require action by “others,” but it also does not offer the excuse that we’re waiting on “them.”
In this sense, by attempting to provide a realistic and implementable approach to addressing our civilization’s structural Problem of Growth, the Diagonal Economy may be the only “program” that offers any real hope of achieving true sustainability, not just greenwashing or empty victories.