Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Next Society 3: The Process

Let me begin by saying again that the emergent process for a future social/political/economic structure is going to be organic--that is, messy--if it's going to work at all.  All the wonderful theories in the world have less influence than all of the many competing and divergent interests that slowly form organic structure. 

When I talk about communities like Twin Oaks, I often joke that " one in their right mind would create a community like Twin Oaks."  That's because no one 'created' Twin Oaks.  Twin Oaks is the way that it is because it evolved that way over time.  It certainly didn't become the little behaviorist community that its founders envisioned.

Likewise, as new structures emerge, they won't be exactly what anyone has planned.  And they will emerge.  Anyone who thinks that capitalism as it's currently practiced is sustainable, hasn't looked what it's doing to the environment, the growing anti-globalism sentiment, and the fact that it's only a recent player on the scene (as I laid out in my first article, Some Background).

And I'm not saying that a decentralized, diverse society is what's going to happen.  It's what I consider most likely and most feasible (and I also think most desirable).  But if we're talking about an organic process, we're talking about something that we can't control.  Unexpected things are going to happen and society will change as a result.

When I say that this corporate capitalist society is not sustainable, I mean that  it will bring down the planet if it continues--but I also know that it will continue for a while yet.  I see us in the place where the Roman empire was as it started falling apart.  Just as that process took a long time, I see corporate capitalism in a slow, incremental process of decay.

The feudal system that followed the fall of Rome was fairly decentralized (although anything but nonhierarchal) even though there were periodic attempts to recreate a centralized structure.  The irony is that the biggest, longest lasting attempt (the Holy Roman Empire) turned out to be rather patchwork and decentralized.  As Wikipedia puts it: "The empire never achieved the extent of political unification ... evolving instead into a decentralized, limited elective monarchy composed of hundreds of sub-units, principalities, duchies, counties, Free Imperial Cities, and other domains."

And that's what I think is going to happen again--this is the patchwork politics I spoke about in my last post.  However, I think that successful communities, co-operative networks, etc, can form a template that can be built on and can influence the structures of this new, decentralized society.  And building those communities and alternative structures is the work that we can and need to do.

Trying to build a whole new society from a some blueprint won't work. It's good to have some idea of where we want to go, else as a society we will simply drift, but we're not going to be able to control the process.  Letting things happen, trying to influence what happens when we can and letting it go when we can't, is what we can do.  I think we will need to have some idealism and a lot of pragmatism to get anywhere.

Quote of the Day:  "How did Twin Oaks get so far from its origins?
"When I tried to start a Walden Two community, I didn't expect it to turn away from the scientific and rational and embrace popular movements.  But we did not have a lot of choice in member selection.  Who was available to join the fledgling community of 1969-1972?  Hippies, that's who.  I know one group that was very serious about Walden Two and tried to build a community without any hippies in it.  It failed for lack of people." - Kat Kinkade

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Next Society 2: A Patchwork Politic

There are lots of good ideas about what the next society could and perhaps should look like.  There's Parecon (Participatory Economics), which I wrote about way back in a post on Participatory Economics and Economic Theory, (7/8/08).  I just read quite a bit from a book entitled The Next Revolution by Murray Bookchin, where he talks about his theory of Libertarian Municipalism. There are a lot of interesting theories of how society could be organized. These are all lovely, detailed plans for the next society and, because of that, I don't think they're going to happen, at least not in any way that will be like their proponents specify.

I think Starhawk's writings on future economies in her book Webs of Power (which I also talked about in my post on Participatory Economics and Economic Theory) are more resonant with what I'm talking about. She looks at Participatory Economics, Natural Capitalism, the Gift Economy, and the views of bioregionalists, anarchists, and socialists, and concludes that " a diverse world we may need a spectrum of systems to fully fit each unique set of circumstances." She points out that "Our visionary political efforts might best be directed not toward putting in place some preconceived system but toward creating the conditions in which that experimentation can begin."

Faithful readers of this blog are probably aware that I consider intentional communities as a prime place to do that experimentation.  My vision of an emerging political/economic/social situation starts with having lots of successful experiments up and running and including not only communes and cohousing, but all sorts of cooperative businesses, a lot of the pieces of what is sometimes called the Solidarity Economy, and even bits of small scale capitalism--small businesses, family run stores, things that I will call true free enterprise.  (When I actually studied what free enterprise is, I realized it wasn't as bad as I thought.  The problems we are having are with corporate capitalism, also known as monopoly capitalism, where the big corporations use small companies as testing grounds for what's profitable and anything that works is either bought out by them or out competed by corporate imitation.  The only other alternative in our present system seems for an innovating business to become a major corporation themselves.  This is the grow or die strategy.  Another name for what we have now is 'growth capitalism'.)

Once we have enough of these small systems up and running, I believe that the next step is in the process could be to network the successful experiments, perhaps using what Bookchin calls a democratic confederation. (But probably not as precisely structured as he details.) So rather than having one overarching system, there are lots of small, local, diverse economic and political systems, connected in a highly decentralized structure.  This is based on the idea that what works in one place probably won't be what works in a very different place.  While there are no guarantees on any of this, I think this might be a workable scenario.

How do we do this?  That's the subject of my next piece: The Process.

Quote of the Day: "What is our vision, our picture of an ideal society and economy? When we say 'Another world is possible,' what kind of world are we talking about?
"The global justice movement is diverse.  It ranges from union leaders who want to secure a fair share of this economy for their members to old line Marxists, to anarchists, to indigenous communities struggling to preserve their traditional lands and cultures.  No one picture of the world can describe all the different viewpoints.  No one vision may actually serve this tremendous diversity.  And how could it? How could the aspirations of an urban office worker be the same as that of a Mayan farmer in Chiapas?  Why should we think that one form of economy or social organization should serve all?" - Starhawk

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Next Society 1: Some Background

I want to return again to the major theme of this blog: social change/social alchemy. 

I've been working on this blog for eight years now.  During that time, I've studied and thought a lot about, not only social transformation, but history, systems thinking, and communities as laboratories for social change.

Lately I've been thinking a bit about what we're working toward.  What would a new society look like?  How would it come about?  How likely is change to really happen?

Over the next few posts, I want to put my ideas out about where we might be heading. As someone once said, "It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future."

Nevertheless, I'd like to give it a try.

I think that one of the best ways to look at the future is to look at what's happened in the past.

I'm going to start with politics and economics.  Until very recently in history, these two were intertwined.

Here's my rapid, super condensed, super simplified, idiosyncratic version of world history:

We start with nomadic, hunter-gatherer tribes.  As I quoted in my post on Chimps, Bonobos, and Tribes (March 31, 2016),  Iain Couzin and Mark Laidre claim that “More than 99% of human history was spent in a hunter-gatherer existence..." That began to change with the development of agriculture.  There are a bunch of theories as to how that came about but with agriculture, tribes settled down and inequality grew.

Eventually the tribes grew into the city-states of Sumer, Egypt, Phoencia, Babylonia, Greece, and eventually Rome--and many of these became the seats of empire.   Rome was the biggest empire but it eventually overextended itself and had to deal with internal conflicts and corruption. Rome was finally done in by the tribal groups that they referred to as 'barbarians'. These tribes settled down into fiefdoms, new kingdoms, and new empires. This was the Middle Ages and the system that emerged from this has been called feudalism. 

There had been traders and merchants through much of history, but they were kept in control by the rulers.  In the 1600s and 1700s, the merchants began to gain power as they grew richer.  With industrialization in the 1800s, they took control and capitalism emerged.  All this has been described by David Ricardo, David Hume, and Adam Smith.

My point here is that Ricardo, Hume, and Smith described the growth of capitalism--they did not invent it.  Capitalism, like the city-states, empires, and feudalism, emerged in an organic growth process.

Karl Marx (who even many mainstream capitalist economists view as an important economic theorist) studied this process and attempted to predict the next stage.  He was influenced by Hegel's dialectical method where a thesis meets an antithesis and through their clash a synthesis emerges.  He saw the contradictions of capitalism leading to an emergent dictatorship of the proletariat.  While he encouraged and worked for a revolution, he saw this as an organic process that would occur when the situation was right.  As Wikipedia points out, "Marx accused ... other revolutionaries of being 'adventurists' because of their belief that a revolutionary situation could be created out of thin air by the sheer 'will power' of the revolutionaries without regard to the economic realities of the current situation."  While he did dedicate himself to trying to change the world, he pointed out "Communism is ... not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. ... The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence."

The person who changed all this was Vladmir Lenin, who came up with the idea of "a revolutionary vanguard party" which would overthrow the capitalist government.  He started with Russia, which would have horrified Marx, since Russia was a largely agricultural society and practically still in the feudal stage.  Rather than socialism emerging through an organic process, Lenin claimed "that capitalism could ultimately only be overthrown with revolution..."  This became the template for all the "Communist" countries, where socialism was imposed from the top rather than grown from the bottom.  We have now seen the results of that.

When people point to these countries as examples of why communism can't work, I point to Twin Oaks where communism has been working for nearly fifty years and is going strong.  The difference is that at Twin Oaks, it grew from the ground up and it's entirely voluntary to be part of it.

So, my first claim about the next society is that it will emerge organically, out of things that have been grown from the ground up, and I predict that it will come from several sources that will be strung together--that is, it will be networked.

Next: A Patchwork Politic

Quote of the Day:  "Life did not take over the globe by conquest, but by networking." - Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan

Monday, July 11, 2016

Doing the Work

Thomas Edison made the point with his quote:  "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration." 

I'm sitting in a community now that is struggling with some financial issues.  A bunch of visitors and newcomers have all these great ideas for new businesses and making money.  They are more than happy to tell us what we should do.

The problem here certainly isn't a lack of good ideas.  The problem is (and I don't just see it in this community but in lots of places in communities and social change situations) that ideas are easy.  But things don't happen because someone has a good idea.  Things happen because there are people willing to do the work to make them happen.

I've heard a story from Twin Oaks about the solar panels that are near a community entrance.  The community gets a certain amount of its energy from them.  The story is that they are there because one member wanted Twin Oaks to have solar panels and proposed it, and then met with the people who had problems with this, and reformulated his proposal, and then dealt with those who had difficulties with the new proposal, and kept on and on doing this for months.  He finally came up with something that everybody was okay with and then they were able to get these solar panels. 

I've heard this called 'shepherding the process'.  You take responsibility for making it happen, you talk with folks, you work with folks, you do what you need to do so that it gets done.  This is a lot more work than just putting out an idea, but this is what makes things happen.

A related thing that I've noticed is visitors coming to dinner at the community that I'm in now and wanting to talk about how the community works as we're trying to clean up after dinner.  If you want to make a good impression on a community that you're visiting, offer to help.  They may not need it, they may not want it, but it will be noticed.

There are those who come up with the ideas, who can expound on how communities can work and how we need to change the world, and there are those working to build communities, to keep communities going, and to create a better world.  Obviously, I'm part of the former (this blog is an example of that) but I also try to be part of the latter group.  I want to see change happen and that means that I know I need to do the work to make it happen.

Nothing is going to happen without the willingness to work.

Quote of the Day:  "Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of the world." - Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown