Discover more from Douglass’s Newsletter
Gardenworld Politics Chapter 6. what can happen? draft
Chapter 6 What can happen?
The future is not mostly a linear extension from where we are , but to some extent it is. So we have to be careful. We are at the point where as things break down everyone is rushing for the exit from the present- and entrance - but into what is unclear, even unknowable. We are awash in language in text and in sound but these words are ones that meet immediate needs for anger, sarcasm, pleading, pain, and rarely for something like truth.
Can we free ourselves from the shared unwillingness to talk about what might happen to actually talk about what might happen, enough to follow up with a discussion of what to do?
Changes will happen that force rethinking. The circle of co-living will expand with new arrangements. You and I will not be natives in that culture, but younger people will be at home there.
Our current world has developed complexity, adding social complexity on the surface of our planet that is not being well managed, maybe not even managed at all. Population, institutions, corruption, a struggling musical chairs middle class, militarism This is the core of where we are. But there is more we need to be conscious of.
There are several plausible paths to the future that depend upon our choices
The first is an attempt to hold on. The earth heats, migration wars are provoked, fires, floods, and plagues undermine the confidence everyone had. This plausible scenario fits in with dystopian nightmares.
The second plausible path is the technologists’ dream: all evolving local data of production, consumption, and the health system will be summed up into big data and managed centrally with algorithms. This spiderlike system seizes the opportunity for its development from food production, where the use of land, fertilizer, water, seeds, soil conditions and needs are summed up and big data agribusiness owns the whole. Silicon valley, most universities, and the banks want us to go there. This serious techno-utopian vision is just an extension of Amazon being able to figure out what book you would most like next. Such a system can choose the congressperson who would best represent your desires better than you can. If you let the computer make your choices, what then do you have left of yourself?
The third path involves local reintegration of food and habitat. Anxious and hungry crowds could move rapidly to decentralization as the search for food rapidly becomes unbearable. Perhaps even direct democracy will emerge when their intent is to blend habitat and food production in attractive communities. I am calling this Gardenworld and I hope most people desire to be intelligent, educated and artistic, useful and in relationships. Jefferson’s “happiness” in the Declaration comes from the Scottish Enlightenment: the idea that the more happenings in your life, the greater the number of roles that engage your talents and connect you to reality: baseball coach for little league, assistant in Sunday service at your church, volunteer fire department, job, husband, father, voter. The modern tendency to read “happiness” as consumer bliss is way off from Jefferson’s. The dark side of localization would be local mafias giving people security in exchange for loyalty and work.
— Welcome to reality.
— Don’t worry, I am just passing through
— -Strauss’s Capriccio, 1941
It is unclear if people will respond to developing crises with violence or cooperation. What will sustain compassion if mass migrations take place as marginal communities collapse? Will we care for each other when it becomes too hot or too dry as we lose networks and communications? We don’t know how to shift people’s expectations from collapse to opportunity.
places, and values, endowing the society with an overarching sense of spiritual
unity—a sacred canopy, in Peter Berger’s words—and a focal point for
shared memories of struggle and survival. Although it borrows extensively
from the society’s dominant religious tradition, it is not itself a highly particularized
religion, but instead a somewhat more blandly inclusive one,
into whose highly general stories and propositions heyking
This will turn into what does it take to be a society rather than a bunch of roving scavengers? What makes a society cojere? Working societies all have the equivalent of a civic religion, a set of beliefs about who we are, how we got here and other the other “wh” questions. People will carry into climate cries a sense of what is right. Property, defense, dollar based activity. People might put more effort into drawing lines around existing stuff than effort into creating new food, habitat and community. Or will the breakdowns we might see lead to the emergence of new ideas that might become action, new actions that might become ideas. We can hope for more compassion, cooperation and appreciation.
We are at the point where scenarios that were plausible and even attractive have become impossible. In particular the idea of a resurgent growth of productivity, GDP, technology and finance - a general augmentation of the existing economy with some form of democratic capitalism - is no longer feasible. As it fades something like Gardenworld has become more likely, but so has an authoritarian centralized attempt to control the impact of climate change and social revolt..
An argument in history is shall change happen slowly or through revolution? Climate change is forcing the issue. Change will come rapidly, both as physical events - waring, lack of food - migrations - but also through the social reaction, which might come earlier, to the wider spread of stories of collapse.
While we have increasingly become clear about the problems of climate and health, , the solutions are not forthcoming from leaders nor the media. A major reason is that nobody seems to know what to do, so there is nothing to pass on to the younger but fear. We tend to think that the solution is in lifestyle choices, individual by individual. But the real cause of climate deterioration is institutions, not individuals. As individuals, we must work with others, and communities, governments and all other institutions to push toward the draconian moves climate conditions require.
Most discussions avoid local issues, but stick with large issues, such as switching from fossil fuels to solar. However the local details are very important. For example (and there are many, given the house of cards), just a few people walking away from what they are coming to see in the context of global catastrophe, as meaningless jobs and feeling a need to act in this game of musical chairs to secure some food supply, would bring down institutions including governments. Is this a case where we should not discuss the obvious?
Civilizations do not form through Big Bang events. They emerge through cascading transformations and bifurcations of human activity in the web of life. Change takes time - usually. Obviously great volcanoes and asteroids cause immediate new conditions that the surface of the earth and life will respond to. The current climate episode is here now, already happening and accelerating consequences.
people seem to be anticipating the worst, so much so that they are passive. High probability scenarios are mostly bad, so we need to work for some low probability scenarios. Passivity may be better than hysteria, but humans are challengeable and most will respond to dire anticipations. The character of that response - caring or violent, is not yet clear.. Certainly Gardenworld is there, not likely but desired. Lots to do.
Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
Ripened until it is real...
-Ranier Maria Rilke
The speed of emerging reactions to the promise and the reality of climate breakdown - closing off of transportation affecting at first primarily food and the abandonment of infrastructure (power plants, dams, communications centers) is unpredictable, but history suggests probably starting slow and then rapid increase as events cascade after a period of trying to hold on to the present ways.
The two most obvious paths forward - and they might both happen - is first, threats to food supply and reduced availability of energy will lead to a degree of panic amplified by migrations into favorable places from far less favorable places. This will make everyone anxious and looking for who and what to align with for food and security. This would be difficult to manage because there is no system wide management - and difficult to live through because the threats, first from lack of food water and shelter - but then because other people, desperate for the same things, might not behave cooperatively.
And cooperation is the second and hoped for path. For cooperation to dominate in a chaotic situation some leadership is needed. It is unclear if current leadership would even attempt to manage, or if new leadership (say from retired military and corporate people who have some understanding of groups and organizations ) would emerge. The population is untested.
The goal of cooperation would be Gardenworld but that might not be how people choose to cooperate. Immediate needs might lead to more technocratic militarized and harsh cooperative realities.
Here are a few unresolved issues worth your paying attention to.
The impact of complexity on individuals and smaller communities tends to undermine faith and belief. People carry themselves and speak differently in different situations. As the number of situations increases - and they will in the disruptive paths of any transition into climate breakdown - what will be the impact on esch person’s sense of life, and their sense of self? We might expect people to keep making choices that amount to conservative in order to avoid getting too disrupted in themselves.
What happens to generational links in a disruptive time? Do people of the same age hold together somewhat conspiratorially toward adults, or do younger people look more than they used to for adult leadership - and example.?
Do people turn heroic for their community or do they separate themselves from familiar relationships?
These issues also impinge on the larger questions.
There are many experiments with growing food locally in new settings and using new technologies. But they tend to not include places for people to live. Gardenworld thinking sees the need to grow food but following modern practice does not create those spaces as places for people to work and live. Integrating new use of land for food production with new ways for people to live in small villages is the current frontier. Also it might be that many of the current experiments are creating bad jobs - harsh on the body (over-specialized, long hours at the same task) and relatively mindless and isolating.
Along with not looking at how people will live in the new experiments, there is little talk of the stark facts that many places in the world, inner cities, deserts, jungles, where sustainable food and energy production locally is not plausible.
The Internet has undermined current forms of governance and organization leaving us connected at a distance and more distant from this close to us - family, community. The result is we have no clear idea how we will try to organize ourselves.
Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novels stretch our sense as to how difficult this call can be. The hope of Gardenworld is that people will be drawn to the idea that land and buildings should be re-purposed for meeting human needs for food shelter and quality of life. Because heating will be expensive or unavailable people will be drawn to turning larger houses into community projects. Large houses also tend to have more land that can be used for growing. Much of the rest of buildings can become sites for small gardens. Timing is important, not just because of seasons. Efforts should go into short term and long term projects simultaneously. We can’t get to long term if we can’t survive the short term.
Our sense of space will change. The complexity of space use - businesses, state, energy, communications, farms, storage, will surprise us for their complexity - and how quickly they are commandeered or abandoned.
Time also will change and things, like preparing for college or retirement, will be forgotten. But we are humans living in the life cycle. Gathering children and teaching them will become a major task. Providing health care will be rapidly rethought in difficult situations.
Sensitivity as to who has relevant skills will be at play. Does she, does he? Do I?
And we probably won’t make it. But something will happen. How we cope in the bloodied white water of entropy will be important. I think if we stick close to two intents, we will at lest have our dignity.
1. Realize that food and water will be crucial and we need to keep looking, from our back yard or equivalent to the region and planet, on how to feed people and grow people, nurture and civilization.
2. Care for those who are hurting, which is already very many people.
we might need to realize that it won’t be us. We are too old, too set, too out of condition. Realize that we might go through times that really are the end of an empire with collapse that looks like the black plague which took out 50% of the population, or the smallpox which took out 90% of the native american population. Can you imagine? But this time leaves behind a trashed environment not easy to work with.
But the personal way has to be to do the best we can, technical and human. So be it, but making the effort is the way to personal health. Get through the stages of grief as fast as you can and participate best as you can. Which might mean helping techno-optimism develop, though I have my doubts. The scale is too big. If you look at your own state of mind, the feelings, the intuitions, we are all poets now.
Be gentle with each other - Socrates.
War can bring discipline to a nation. It can also stoke mistrust and unrest.”
-Kenneth Whyte. Hoover
The future is always at stake in how we understand the past. -Andrew Delbanco
What is happening is obvious. What can happen is obscure, vague in form and much in the dark. Change brings out hidden differences.
People will be reaching toward a better future. Gardenworld will be one of these futures. Technology futures and capitalist futures and military futures will compete for dominance.Key will be food, water, sanitation, migrations, reactive violence and, as the worst, local active violence in the form of organized militias - mafias - seizing control of assets. And of course regional violence in the form of big war. Hopefully community and helpfulness under stress will emerge as stronger, even with a sense of well being, in these tasks.
Lets start with the large rhythms of the earth in orbital and axial variations. The helpful book, The Human Planet and how we created the Anthropocene, Lewis and Maslin, has good background on the dynamic interchange between climate and humans over half a million years. - remember that the word human comes from humas, earth - starting with the facts of how the motion of the earth in the solar system and its orbit undergoes serious changes to which human activity. Five thousand years ago spreading agriculture led to cutting and burning forets and the resulting co2 attenuated what was then the beginning of a period shift towards the planet cooling. The resulting long period friendly to agriculture was thus humanly produced through that replacement of cooling with s stable temperature for a few thousand years.
Thinking of what can happen we do know that things could go terribly wrong, and that we should be developing low probability scenarios for good things that we can work toward because all the high probability scenarios of the most likely trends are terrible. In the introduction, I suggested, as some have, that we are in the phase of an incomplete French Revolution, incomplete because it did not get to the fairness and quality of life promised. The way we are continuing the French Revolution appears to be through science and technology. But that means really through money and capital and growth. So the cost to humanity is pushed onto the tectonic plates of social life and power. We need clarity of vision and might not get it. Instead, the pent-up forces of war, fed by population and offering incentives through technologies of destruction, might win out.
One thing is clear - the tendency to think that legislation, especially about economics, getting the text right - will be enough. But implementation will be full of conflict .
Now the hard part, what can happen that is positive might be preceded by what is damaging and distressing, like the plague period in the Europe of the 1340’s, living surrounded by the uncollected dead, people so traumatized they are incapable of helping each other. This is a real challenge for humanity. We are up against ourselves, perhaps more consciously than ever before. Lets meet the challenge, help each other and appreciate awareness.
This is under development.
For this reason, Rosling, a Swedish doctor and professor of public health who died in 2017, preferred to call himself a “possibilist,” which means
someone who neither hopes without reason, nor fears without reason…. As a possibilist, I see all this progress, and it fills me with conviction and hope that further progress is possible. This is not optimistic…. It is having a worldview that is constructive and useful.
Steven Pinker, in Enlightenment Now, is similarly uneasy with the label of “optimist.” Bill Gates is content with it, but in effect redefines it: “Being an optimist…means you’re inspired to look for people making progress…and to help spread that progress more widely.”
Tke the issue of poverty. Sure alf the world move dout of poverty, but itno what? Work for foxcom, living in sixty story hi-rises.
Note the air conditioners in each apartment. What will happen with cutting carbon use?
STRATEGIC FRAMEWORK: SCENARIOS AND THE NEED FOR A VISION
“A worldwide business culture that knows how to create wealth but not how to distribute it.”
“without a vision, the people will perish”[v]
To support the changes I’ve been proposing, we need a believable and achievable vision divergent from the present momentum to which most people are still trying, out of necessity more than conviction, to stay aligned. It is hard to make changes, especially difficult ones unless there is a fairly widely acknowledged vision of where we want to go. I think such a vision exists and much of it is already widespread. A solid alternative, vital, alive, aesthetic, humane, respecting the need for beliefs and meaning, with a desire for the quality of real lives, is necessary. With such a vision we could bend the current world trend towards a better future, and if we can’t create such an alternative, the current trend, unsustainable, probably breaks into a much rougher world, or, if it coheres, will be in a tighter more controlled world.
To create a vision that includes at least the elements in that list I keep working the elements and playing with alternative scenarios. Here are a few frames that have provided some insights, and I find audiences of many kinds like them. Follow along with me
Let’s start with a pair of the largest unknowns about the future:
▪ Will we solve the major problems? Environment, population, war, education, families, quality of life?
▪ Will we do this with large globalizing institutions, or with smaller, regional and local ones?
This generates four different outcomes if we move toward the paired extremes. The scenarios can be summarized in a diagram:
First, in the upper right, is that we will solve the problems (or at least keep them managed) with large organizations. This is a kind of official future describing the way Europe, the United States and parts of Asia seem to be moving. This is market globalization or technocratic centralism.
Second, that we will solve the problems, but with smaller, local and regionally focused efforts. We can call this the Jeffersonian Democracy scenario.
Trying large systems and failing, as Germany, Russia, England (more gracefully), and now the US is dangerously close to, if we follow Jarred Diamond and Chalmers Johnson, tends toward fascism, the militarized failed large state.
Trying with small local and regional effort and failing, which means scarce resources, leads to local mafias that try to make deals of security in exchange for participation and acknowledgment of new tough local power.
Failure on the right side leads toward the left side. This suggests the importance of staying on the right side.
The major result from these is to notice that the managers and owners that are propelling us toward the Official Future also prefer the Jeffersonian for their personal lives. They want semi-rural homes, even if just for weekends and vacations, and they would like their children to live in a detached house surrounded by trees, and even “acreage”, with a school they can walk to and a dog that can roam with them. This suggests that polarizing between the Technocratic Future and more regional and local development of Jeffersonian Democracy is not smart. We need a policy of blending the two with mixed strategies, social policies that support some degree of globalization, but with a renewed focus on local and regional development. This would pull most people together and prevent the conflict that would also push us toward the left side of fascist or mafia “arrangements”, where the result will be to increase policing and isolation and to shift the emotional climate toward these negative outcomes.
The way to achieve this complex mixed strategy is to realize that regional and local development requires a more equitable distribution of resources, and the education at local levels to make sense with those resources. This approach, blending globalization and local developments, in order to bend rather than break, requires that we all learn to deal with complexity and compassion – capacities we are not good at.
For political dialog, with its need for simplification, contrast with other views, and attractiveness to the ear and mind and memory, this alternative needs a name. Major political symbols are evocative of deep meanings. Democracy, Socialism, Freedom, Rule of Law, Nation, Community all have complex resonances, sometimes positive and sometimes negative. Evocative symbols are necessary for the dialog. Another range is in the words death, marriage, child, food, money, home, art.
GardenWorld, as word and its images, is what I favor for this complex strategy blending problem solving with the large and the small. It cuts to the core. It has high contrast with alternatives – the dead and concrete and steel and dirt trashed misuse of land. The Japanese countryside gives us a hint at what a well-treated environment can look like. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon could even help integrate our friends in the Middle East, helping to revive this great tradition. Fredrick Law Olmstead in creating Central Park in Manhattan set an American model for city-rural integration that is design based and organic. The environment, through agriculture, is probably the key infrastructure for our population, much more important than energy. A GardenWorld is attractive, healthy believable and possible. It uses the technical but in the service of the humane and organic. It offers quality of life for rich and poor.
GardenWorld is the real contrast to the Buck Rogers sci-fi techno-dominant world that is our current official direction.[vii] GardenWorld allows the humanists, the religious, and the scientific to have a shared goal of a realizable better world. Without such a goal, we will see increased terrorism, where each new freedom fighter embraces a last and self-annihilating action in a social field of utter despair. A person only becomes a suicide bomber when they feel that to not also destroys them and their loved ones. One should re-read Camus’s The Rebel, where he argues that saying “no” is always simultaneously a way of saying “yes” to trampled on values.
We are dealing with meanings, which the progressive professional technocratic class forgot to cultivate beyond a scientism that was serving masters they didn’t care to recognize they worked for. There are great traditions of science, art, governance, and yes religious thought, and only by integrating them in a new and tolerant way can we avoid factionalism and what the founding fathers feared, “Interests.” We are no longer viewing two potential futures, but comparing where we are now, the over-commodified and “unnatural” world, to a potential called GardenWorld. The GardenWorld alternative is worth a new look, with deeper appreciation for its necessity and benefits. People are ready, with the ugliness already around us, to move toward a realizable alternative, rather than just vaguely anticipated “progress”. The wider understanding of income divergence and environmental stress has decidedly increased people’s desire for new leadership for a new vision.
We need to bend toward GardenWorld rather than follow the current path aligning ourselves along the axis of finance, or the systems on which we all depend, economics, corporations, governments, health, and education. If we don’t redesign the path we will break. Economics isn’t broken, the economy is. Economics can either try to make sense of the breaks in the economy (and society) or ignore them, becoming useless.
We need to give the religiously inclined a way to participate in a better future rather than using their own religious beliefs as a way, out of deeply felt frustration, of saying “no”. We need to provide the technically and scientifically inclined a real possibility that their creativity will build a better world. Besides, GardenWorld is a beautiful vision, and worth all our talent to work for.
“Working” is also becoming increasingly abstract, driven by the informational aspects of work and the drive for profit and cost-cutting. Even the road crew, agriculture workers, truck drivers, and all “operators” are increasingly network tied in isolated workspaces, and increasingly live within computer driven time demands. We needed a more attractive image and experience of work in society, both to meet our needs, and to create meaning. That is, we need to know more about what we are doing. A simple example: garbage trucks in many places used to have a crew of three, a driver and two loaders. They often switched roles. You could see them singing, telling jokes, measuring their styles of handling big cans against each other in a spirit of play. The jobs got redesigned. Now the trucks have one driver who picks up the cans with a machine forklift. The driver is alone in the cab for hours and without exercise. Was this job change designed by a reasonably thinking person? Or slave to the logic of efficiency? Progress?
Dreams, waking and sleeping, can help clarify the issues. A few years ago I was working with the local Smart Growth Coalition, and we were talking about how farmers took one of the local valleys and cut it up, across the stream and then each developed a personal style for their own land. The valley, instead of looking like a natural or flowing landscape, looked like a collage of pictures of very different farm images. The result was the “valley” could hardly be seen.
That night I had a dream that at the Louvre there was a discussion among the Board of Directors about increasing maintenance costs and the threat to the budget. One of the members suggested auctioning off the Mona Lisa to raise funds. One of the lawyers on the board suggested that it be cut up in pieces and each sold separately so more money could be raised (farmland divided is worth more than farmland intact). This was done, and each successful buyer ran off with their piece to hire an artist to “improve” their piece so it would be the most famous of the fragments.
The point is that our surround is not just us and our private living space, an office, some frequented stores each an isolated Lego block of personal property, but we live in a culture that is a whole, which is a manmade fabric, and currently deteriorating. We have been a part of a whole, we remain inescapably embedded in a whole cultural and econo-social context and we will be. Seeing this continuity across past present and future is the first step toward being able to reinvent and take responsibility for it, choosing our discontinuities rather than being victims of them.
The coming of the Internet and the virtualization of relationships and locations lets us gain new perspective on the human creation side of our current lived environment, and the possibility of rethinking it as easily as we rethink the Internet environment.
One’s whole life is hard to envisage fully, since it takes having lived one to get the full idea, but our society is designed around money which means around business which means around laws and institutions favorable to business and its owners and professional support staff of lawyers, accountants, doctors, This biases against the child, the mother, the artist, the old person.
Unger and Rifkin.
Roberto Unger takes the view that we need new management to take advantage of the gains in organizational thinking about the organization of work in teams, cooperation, knowledge, and that this model needs to be spread to the rest of the population which is stuck in hierarchy and narrowness, boss dependent and unrewarded for imagination.
Along with that he proposals a return to strong democracy and a spiritual orientation that recognizes the infinite universe and the infinite within each person.
Rifkin, easy to criticize, has proposed that the zero cost society can lead to a compassionate culture.
These are serious ideas.
Roberto Unger. Political and economic reform.We need to take the advanced mode or production - teamwork, leaning, experiential attitude - now isolated to a small sector of the economy, and spread it through out, to every workplace . This means more democracy of vital conversation in communities and a sense that people can be larger than they are. His speeches and Harvard courses and more are at http://www.robertounger.com/en/
Design thinking is nearly the opposite of quantitative thinking. Think of a building
Number of Sq feet
Cost per sq. foot
Tons of cement
Tons of steel feet of plasterboard
Sq feet of flooring
Feet of pipe
Compare to design, , which is the way the quantitative are put together, or maybe that the quantities are chosen to implement the design.
Design seems to have its origin in nature. The greek columns were originally modeled on trees, often caped with real leaves as if still growing, later mimicked in stone, often caped with A pair of rams horns called cap, for head (remember capitalism origin.
later significant form is the caryatid, women carrying the burden of the state. ), Athens about 410 BC. The form of the tree trunk follows all the way into spread sheets and its “columns”
Biology, mechanical or orgnic?
Many of the extracellular vesicles released by neurons contain a gene called Arc, which helps neurons to build connections with one another. Mice engineered to lack Arc have problems forming long-term memories, and several human neurological disorders are linked to this gene.
What this research reveals is that there is a mechanism for neurons to communicate with each other by sending packages of RNA code. To clarify, these are packages of instructions and not packages of data. There is a profound difference between sending codes and sending data. This implies that behavior from one neuron can change the behavior of another neuron; not through observation, but rather through injection of behavior.
This code exchange mechanism hints at the validity of my earlier conjecture: “Are biological brains made of only discrete logic?”
Experimental evidence reveals a new reality. Even at the smallest unit of our cognition, there is a kind of conversational cognition that is going on between individual neurons that modifies each other’s behavior. Thus, not only are neurons machines with state, they are also machines with an instruction set and a way to send code to each other. I’m sorry, but this is just another level of complexity
Further reading as resource
I think a guide to the best readings, the most fruitful, and save time.
A few suggestions. These are worth study, reflection contemplation. They are resources to a better future.
Chapter 1 why
Erich Fromm The Sane Society.
Sigmund Freud Civilization and its Discontents.
Leo Marx The Machine in the Garden.
Chapter 2. Where are we?
Chapter 3. How did we get here?
Chapter 6. What can Happen?
Chapter 5. What to do?
Shards for what can happen.
Will capitalism, already vague, remain central? And will new transnational forms of organization with sovereignty (what’s that?) emerge What are the most likely scenarios?
Will humanity seem important or assimilated into technology and big data?
Can a human identity strengthen for example
Watershed identification. People feel stronger about watersheds than about political boundaries of town, county or state.
I participated in the project with the Department of the Interior on watershed management. We found that people identified more deeply and quickly with their living in a watershed event in living in the a town. They felt a kind of brotherhood with other people living in the watershed. As a result trade-offs say between fishing and canoeing were easier to negotiate the watershed context then in the town or county context. What's we want to encourage his people to identify with where they live so they can work on making it better, more productive and more aesthetic.
People locating themselves in their watershed and in their life cycle and in their family begin to create the conditions for an active engagement and creativity.