Saturday, September 20, 2008


So, where am I going with all this? Before I go on to my own theories, I want to review some of what I've covered and look for common threads.

I'm certainly not going to recap all 46 of my previous posts. But let me talk about a few of the theorists that I've covered, specifically: Michael Albert/Robin Hahnel, Bill Mollison/David Holmgren (the permaculture folks), Frijof Capra, Richard Heinberg, John Michael Greer, Frances Moore Lappé (and daughter Anna), and Starhawk. That's a bunch of folks who are coming at things from a few different angles. What are the commonalities?

First, none of these folks takes a simple, 'I've got the answer' approach to the problem. They are clear that we are dealing with a complex set of issues and need a multifaceted way toward solutions (definitely plural). Albert and Hahnel come close with their Parecon economic model, but emphasize that it is just a part of the change they want to see and we will need to look at family, governance, and cultural issues as part of creating a new society. Mollison and Holmgren also can seem to have a single solution, but they would be the first to say that permaculture is a flexible way of looking at things, and not an answer. Heinberg emphasizes Peak Oil (or, as he puts it, Peak Everything) but also looks at climate change and lack of community. Again, relocalization is a direction and not a solution. Greer tries to provide a broad perspective on all this and emphasizes that change is going to be a long term process and we need to have various ways of looking at things. It's probably not an accident that he and Starhawk come from branches of pagan (earth-centered spirituality) but are reaching out to people with much different beliefs to build new social structures. Starhawk, herself, looks at issues from patriarchal power to global capitalism, and is involved with everything from permaculture to direct action. The Lappés look at issues about food, fear, and democracy, focusing on what people can do and are doing. And Capra, who started off in new age physics, is trying to use an ecological framework to look at everything from economics to medicine--while pointing out a variety of alternatives.

These writers offer a variety of tools: political theory, participatory economics, permaculture, complexity theory, and a wide vision of history. What can we learn from it all?

Albert and Hahnel offer an analysis of the connections between various movements (Socialists, Feminists, Anarchist, 'Nationalists') as well as an economic model (Parecon) that creates an equitable distribution of labor and earnings. Mollison and Holmgren have created a framework for both sustainable agriculture and a sustainable society. Richard Heinberg has analyzed the depletion of oil, gas, and most minerals, and offers a possible future without them. John Michael Greer puts similar information in a long term historical context and plays with what history can tell us about creating a sustainable future. He also points out alternative ways of framing the current situation. Frijof Capra begins by looking at new scientific theories about evolution, ecology, and life and shows what they can tell us about our situation and possible options for the future. The Lappés look at movements worldwide in an effort to make it clear that we can challenge the system and it's mostly our own belief that stop us. Starhawk uses her feminist, earth-centered spiritual perspective to analyze not only the current system, but our reactions to it, to examine alternatives and possible directions.

If there is one point of agreement between these authors (and there actually may be several), it's that the present system isn't sustainable. They all offer alternatives and most of them agree that we need small, local solutions--as do other people such as Steven Johnson, John Robb, Rob Hopkins, Valdis Krebs and June Holley, Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom, and even Matt Ridley. (Albert and Hahnel are just about the only exception--they often challenge 'Decentralized Community Economics', mostly regarding allocation issues--but, as I mentioned, the economic system at the Twin Oaks community could be thought of as a similar to Parecon, only a unique, small-scale version of it. It will be important, at some point, to look at the allocation issues the Parecon people raise and examine what it means to network small groups. I think alternatives such as 'Fair Trade' may be useful here. It's a point many of the small systems people haven't thought through.)

I think of the slogan: "Think globally, act locally"; we need to have the big picture of what we are doing and why, but we need to have many small, local groups each building something that makes sense in their community. To use Starhawk's formulation: " a diverse world we may need a spectrum of systems to fully fit each unique set of circumstances." (She and Frances Moore Lappé remind us that there's no one right way. I am inspired by the Lappés' 'Liberating Idea': "Busting free from 'isms,' creating the path as we walk." As I said from the beginning, there just isn't a big, grand answer.) Complexity theory, which I allude to frequently and Capra builds on explicitly, suggests small systems built from the bottom up, using cooperation and networking, and allowing solutions to emerge from our collective creativity, the way new behavior often emerges from living systems. This is what Tom Atlee refers to as 'CoIntelligence', this is what John Robb's 'Catalysts' and Krebs and Holley's 'Network Weavers' do, this is Steven Johnson's 'Coping' groups, this is "creating the path as we walk". This is hard work.

It requires a lot of faith in people, which is difficult at times. Education, particularly in critical thinking, needs to be a piece of this--this is the "Think globally" part. I know that there are lots of folks out there working on building alternatives, but we need more. I wish I could get more people in the mainstream to read Albert, Hahnel, Heinberg, Capra, Greer, Starhawk, and the Lappés, and familiarize themselves with peak oil and permaculture and network weaving and resilient communities and complex adaptive systems. Probably we just need to get the ideas out there; they're a lot more important than the particular authors. But how to make people see that change is needed and make them aware of more of the alternatives?

I will talk about education and critical thinking at some point, but continuing with theory, I will spend some time on my vision of where we need to go.

Quote of the day: "...any future vision which can can encompass all of us, by definition, must be complex and expanding, not easy to achieve." - Audre Lorde
Word (or phrase) of the day: Communitarianism
Hero(es) of the day: Sister Dianna Ortiz


SoapBoxTech said...

hmm I love this post too. It is rare to stumble across another whose words so closely mirror my own thoughts. I have not read much (probably any) of what you refer to, but, for probably a lot of reasons, all these ideas seem common sense to me. Everyday it blows my mind how very few people recognize the connectedness of all things.

MoonRaven said...

Thanks, sbt. These ideas are common sense as far as I'm concerned. I think there are more of us out there than you realize--and with the current and coming crises, even more people are going to realize how interconnected things are. Thanks for the feedback, and thanks for being one more person trying to get this info out there.