Its Economy, Politics, Philosophy and the Character of People
version of October 28, 2020
Chapter 1. From the current stuck to GardenWorld
Gardenworld politics is an interim strategy for integrating responses to the turbulence of climate COVID, the economy, governance and inequality, to point toward a more attractive society. Politics is in the title because we must move beyond policy to action. Gardenworld is a step toward the renewal of civilization.
— — — — —
The Current Situation
“This you must always bear in mind, what is the nature of the whole, and what is my nature, and how this is related to that, and what kind of a part it is of what kind of a whole?”
— Marcus Aurelius
With multiple crises at the same time, we want to make sure we are seeing the way things fit together. A good society should provide security and meaningful livability for each person. That means a future of healthy ecology and breaking the hold the elites have as they exploit the people and the earth for their own benefit. As it is, the problems taken together are more complicated than the solutions which take on one prob;em at a time one at a time. . We are at that edge where denial turns into giving up without an intermediate stage of trying our best to make sense of the whole. Social unrest and the collapse of governance worldwide are spreading fast and we need a view of where we could go, a goal that is plausible even in the face of the anarchy of events. Gardenworld is that view and is meant to be robust across scenarios , from coping with change to being the change itself. Gardens are also likely to be safe spaces but surrounded by anarchy.
One way to understand the present is to be clear that all previous histories have had elites in control and they have molded populations and the earth to meet their needs. The dream of a world that works for everyone has been repeatedly pushed out of consideration. But it does reemerge. There have been revolts but usually self destructive and incomplete. We are living in the broken arc of the French Revolution, which gave us Napoleon and a restoration of the monarchy rather than the promised democracy and more equal economy. We are living in the weak shadow of a Romantic reaction against mecanization, industraialization, pollutionand wage slavery, a reaction that started with poets who rebelled against the dark satanic mills and wanted a world of fuller lives and more at home in a liveable world. Both the French Revolution and romanticism were defeated by the rise of industry, commerce trade, and banking. There is nothing quite like the rise of industrialization, which has now led to a widely perceived catastrophe, so the conditions seem ripe for a renewal of a more compassionate and democractic culture. Elites have been broken apart by the networking of everyone made possible by the Internet. (fn. See Manuel Castells Aftermath: the Culture of the Economic Crisis). This breakdown of institutions and the responses — democratic and authoritarian — will take time to work out, time we really do not have.
Now, hopefully, we are approaching the down ramp from COVID but certainly we are already on the up ramp for climate turbulence (increased energy in the atmosphere means more dynamics, wider swings as well as the upward trend). Leadership is absent. We have no shared comprehensive strategy for COVID and no strategy for climate turbulence. Policy proposals, yes, but not courses of action. Policies aren’t proposing what specific lines of action starting with right now that governments should do.
The mess we are in is shown by this next graph. The key new fact is that 1.5 degrees is already catastrophic in a number of places on the earth. The graph suggests that as of now, all is doomed. However, just as now some places are already unlivable, Some places out to the limit of the graph in 2100, will remain liveable. For those places, renewing civilization depends on Gardenworld as the guide for the immediate future by coping in the near term with the need for food, habitat and organization, all of which are likely to evolve to new, maybe unrecognizable, forms.
Implicit in this graph is the complicity of corporations to create it, the failure of governance to regulate the path, and the manipulation of the people by the media to be consumers rather than citizens, making us incapable of systems thinking.
People do not like what they see and most are aware that the outcome might be disaster. But how do we direct our efforts without a vision beyond just seeing what is wrong or not working? A coherent vision must go beyond the “re” words of re-construction, re-novation, re-storation, all of which are conserving views, like “sustainability”, and not sufficient to get us through and onward. The earth obviously cannot take on an affluent life of consumption for all. More fundamental changes are necessary. But so far we are fighting ourselves. Just as it is clear we need fundamental change to avoid interdependent catastrophes, many are working to reinforce their current activity in order to remain viable a little bit longer. But this gets in the way of change. Moreover many are making plans for what they see as a post crisis opportunity to rebuild what was lost, but this too gets in the way of meaningful changes and delays, potentially lethal, the possibilities of a new social contract, a new constitutional order, a new civility, new community.
Keep the kids occupied with school, sex and
video games, more babies, more workers and
more consumers. The more people the more
profit. (standard business logic of the last 100 years)
Are we going to keep the current systems (corporations, representative democracy, population increase) when it is clear they are producing serious failures?. Roberto Unger makes the strong case that most progressive thinking stops short of structural change: law, property, governance, laid out in his challenging beyond conventional book, The Knowledge Economy. See chapter 18, including the imperative of Structural Vision.
We can imagine a better future that is organized around the way we solve the major problems: food, habitat, and meaning. Taking all three together is easier than one at a time. I call this approach Gardenworld. It is not a plan but an intent to be worked out at every part of society. We need to manage the earth for human habitat and that requires , because our interdependencies are so strong, managing for the good of all species.
Society has never taken up the challenge of managing the whole, though I just learned that the Chinese , jing li, for economics came from the Japanese and meant — long ago — managing for the benefit of all. This amazingly parallels the greek economy where the nomos, meant, in early Greek, “equal distribution”. This seemingly trivial detail is important because, as the church lands gave way to state or private ownership, it kept the idea of an intact eco, home, and its management, nomo. The idea of economy as a realm within but not equivalent to, society, has its roots here.
E conomy in the New Testament got translated, first into Latin, as “dispensation” which hides from modern scholars that the Greek that dispensation replaces is economy. The economy in the New Testament refers to the management of god’s estate.
In Gardenworld. If the idea is understood, people will bring an aesthetic sense to how they implement their efforts around food and home. How we live, organize, and care for each other and the environment, from the design of space to the design of governances and institutions should aim toward the beautiful, playful and inventive, and enhance the pragmatic shared tasks of providing food and habitat.
We don’t only need material solutions for survival, but the conditions for growing attractive lives. People seem to need being in the context of each other. Society’s evolution from bands of hunter gatherers to isolated house and apartment living surrounded by things is not healthy and people will rebel by embracing destructive anger and attraction to chaos. People need the sense of heart-felt and continuous relationships with each other in meaningful shared dramas. The shared project of designing, experimenting and building Gardenworld might be our best hope. Otherwise many will take satisfaction in being destructive. We have isolated each other into school, work, and home at great psychological cost. Can we bring these together into meaningful communities that can mobilize hope?
Here are a trio of pictures just to make Gardenworld possibilities more believable and that we are not limiting to backyard gardens nor large scale agribusiness.
A Chinese village with no motorized vehicles and lots of things to see safely, , more than in our modern cities.. From google photos
Central Park in NY hinting at the dependency of civilization and parks on each other. From google photos
This next kind of gardenworld scales well and is terrific across the human life cycle. From University of Georgia.
This picture shows a more tech based Gardenworld. Remember the idea of Gardenworld is a guide to intent, not a specific plan. Details will be worked out locally and with huge variation, as fits a world of learning and experimentation.
By comparison, it seems obvious that we are not doing well (virus, climate, economy and governance) that we need coordination and leadership across countries. We are not going to get there unless a number of the current leaders in government, science, economy, media come together in a transnational (not international) group to propose plans and make demands on the current fragmented and private interest system.
But who starts this, who convenes, and how? And it might not be from the US, it may be from China. If we are convinced there is no other way we need to use any leverage that we have. It might just be that Silicon Valley has more credit worthiness with the world’s public than any other group. There are arguments that Silicon Valley has blown its leadership, but then so has any other potential group, so we must get beyond current failures to the possibilities of serious success.
As you can feel, issues are interrelated. The deaths from COVID
and future virus attacks and the deaths from climate turbulence affect pretty much the same populations. The future is undecided but seems to be between getting the economy back where it was, or taking the opportunity to rethink basic institutions and the vision that guides them.
Currently, much of the talk about COVID is how to get back to normal and much of the talk about climate is to push our need to respond further and further out. “Our target for reducing co2 by 2035 is..” , leaves out what to do in the remaining weeks of 2020. People stay home and large office buildings don’t need to be air conditioned nor heated. But the people now working from home crack the thermostat, and use even more energy than they were.
The way we deal with the virus should obviously prepare us for how we engage climate turbulence. We now have a world population that knows it shares the same issues and is more aware of biology, systems, government, business, science and human psychology than ever in human history. Though perhaps hunter gatherers had a larger awareness of all aspects of their environment.
Do we need a Manhattan Project plus the Apollo Project plus the Marshall Plan plus Hoover’s rescue of Europe in WW1 plus Roosevelt’s New Deal — a major project of common sense, people given lots of resources, to deal with those three curves COVID, climate, economy — simultaneously? Would this require a new transnational group of leaders with unlimited powers? We need economic, political and health innovations simultaneously. Perhaps a new culture of political ecology.
Bruno Latour has been on a five decade long project to get humanity to move away from the abstract sense of global to a more direct concern for what he calls the “critical zone”, the narrow band of earth and air that contains all the known life in the universe. Instead of just taking stuff from the land and from helpless humans, we should recognize that the critical zone is full of an emerging engendering world of millions of strange attractors needing care by us if we are to successfully live amongst them, as one of them is great beauty and practicality in this perspective. It has become a major part of the background of Gardenworld thinking.
People are finding themselves without income, without food, without a livable space threatened by mass evictions. Paying people to live but not work is not sustainable. Paying people poverty wages is inhuman. We need to better recognize, reward and integrate the “essential worker” and their work into society. We have been marginalizing the essential worker without recognition for too long.
“The old is dying and the new cannot be
born; in this interregnum a great variety
of morbid symptoms appear.”
— Antonio Gramsci
There’s an old vignette of leadership in India to learn from. Three successive kings asked their viceroys what they could do for the betterment of their people. The first forgave all debts and taxes, the second opened abundant access to grain storage, and the third released all prisoners from jail. Dealing with all three curvesm in or timne Cocid, warming and population requires an ethos and imagination at least as powerful and actionable and not rooted in preserving the present or past.
Structural changes are now urgent. We need a new direction that is attractive and doesn’t destroy livability on the planet — a Gardenworld. (1) Tamed growth with a focus on development.
While the damage to our climate accrued over many years, our sense of its impact stays peripheral, even today. We know it is there but we are not urgent about it. There is a disconnect. We are neither stopping our use of fossil fuels nor are we planning for catastrophe. The problem of atmospheric heating appears clear in peoples’ minds, but their thinking about what to do is undeveloped. Stopping economic activity is not something anyone wants to urge, especially those with an important role in government or business. In older societies in times of crises people could flee to the countryside but with industrialization there is no path from the inner city to a safe place in the country. It is already filled up and defended against migrants and the old community one could return to is gone.
A feeling of ‘throwing the bastards out’ will not improve failing governments . The program of democracy and bureaucracy, integrating elites and marginalized people, needs to be seriously rethought.
Whether we are able to successfully modify our institutions and ways of living, or collapse as a civilization, re-centering our lives on earth, food and local projects organized around face to face encounters will take place from necessity. The governance to manage and culture to cohere us will likely mean a mix of local and hierarchical — regional, national, and global initiatives, reinventing regulations, as local projects unfold. The purpose and relevance of markets, states, and communities will need rethinking. We cannot have an economics which stresses rationality as we manipulate markets through irrationality. We like the idea of democracy as a way of making decisions about the future, but technology and capital are just as important forces. We have yet to find a way to integrate the three. Will we create a future for the good of all or support a politics which takes from us our wealth, leaving behind third world poverty? A hint of what could happen.
Three sets of interrelated issues describe our current sad state:
Fossil fuel impact on the climate, oceans, health and food
Political erosion of democratic principles and ideals
Culture which prioritizes exploitation before cooperation
What do we need?
As a working framework I think we should embrace Latour’s “critical zone” thinking. ` In Down to Earth, politics in the new Climate regime. At one point he writes
“The first challenge is to give it a name, one that will not let it be confused with the two other attractors. “Earth”? This will be read as a reference to the planet as seen from space, the famous “Blue Planet.” “Nature”? This would be much too vast. “Gaia”? This would be appropriate, but it would take pages and pages to spell out the reasons.34 “Land”? This would be ambiguous. “World,” yes, of course, but it might be too easily mixed up with the old forms of globalization.
No, we need a term that encompasses the stupefying originality (the stupefying longevity) of this agent. Let us call it, for now, the Terrestrial, with a capital T to emphasize that we are referring to a concept, and even specifying in advance where we are headed: the Terrestrial as a new political actor.
The massive event that we need to sum up and absorb in fact concerns the power to act of this Terrestrial, which is no longer the milieu or the background of human action. People generally talk about geopolitics as if the prefix “geo” merely designated the framework in which political action occurs. Yet what is changing is that, henceforth, “geo” designates an agent that participates fully in public life.
The current disorientation derives entirely from the emergence of an actor that reacts and will continue to react to human actions and that bars the modernizers from knowing where they are, in what epoch, and especially what role they need to play from now on.”
Gardenworld could be that name.
Getting to Gardenworld would help if more people were educated to broadly think about society, nature and history. Making Gardenworld work will require more of the same. Consider the work of Piaget, Montessori and Steiner (Waldorf schools). Piaget wrote a small book, To Understand is to Invent. He viewed learning as a means to experiment with what you can do, not just to have an ensemble of things that you can do that are not integrated. Steiner’s view was that the child should learn myth and its expression in art before reading. If the child has played with myth and drawn dragons,maidens and knights, then reading, when it is time, has a world of reference to connect new words together. Poetry is often taught “here is this great poem and this brilliant poet,” but much better to say “here is a poem, what does reading it evoke in you?”, and teach how to develop evocations from oneself, not the adoration of someone else’s creativity. Psychoanalysis is a learning environment for adults. “What is your story and where do you get stuck? Shall we explore that?” At Caltech science was taught mostly as “here are the equations, learn how to solve them for some set of data.”There was no reference to the awesomeness of phenomena nor to the work that people did to understand. Feynamn said the value of science is to the extended experience of the scientist, not to summarizing data. Gardenworld will work better if people appreciate experiences, imagine how they connect, and ask what new capacities of mind are evoked. Anthropology, literature, comparative religions are all helpful. Everyone is a bit of a philosopher and they should be encouraged.
And what is really at stake is learning that adds up to a culture, which is always an almost unspeakable blending of the body and circumstances. “Yo soy yo y mi circunstancias” said Ortega y Gassset. The Greeks developed education around the core of music and gymnastics, and the idea that music was mathematical relationships, with the universe being the harmony of the spheres. The curriculum was the trivium: grammar, logic and rhetoric, and the quadrivium: math, geometry, music and astronomy. The trivium was mind and the quadrivium nature. In Gardenworld we just might spend more time sitting around playing chess, doing music, preparing supper and talking about all of it.
We need to return to common sense and innocence rooted in a love for life. People used to live rich lives, doing more, playing many more roles, all before the advent of phones and technology with less means. Could we do without excess physical things — appreciating living with art, literature, people and creativity? Jefferson in “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” meant by happiness the number of happenings in your life, the range of roles you engaged in on the idea that this engages your talents. Sunday school teacher, craftsman, coach of the softball team. Volunteer fire department. Compare to your range of roles now. (see Gary Wills, Inventing America). The American Constitution, understood as an experiment, was designed to meet goals, and if the experiment is not leading to those goals, it’s time to revisit the design.
Politics begins with our values, what we care about when we are thoughtful and not driven by ads. If we have sufficiency in food, water and relationships, we do not need the dream house or dream car or dream holiday or dream job. Wanting less stuff means consuming less and creating relationships, growing each other’s spirit and character. It means less carbon emission and less damage to the planet. Planting our own gardens makes peace for neighbours, peace with the planet, rather than having to fight distant wars.
Gardenworld is an intent to organize this difficult transition toward growing food and people together — integrating humans and the earth. Most people want to live in a combination of civilization and nature. Rather than introduce a completely new future, we can work towards a future people already want, that matches their sense of a good life. Over decades we have replaced nature with steel, glass and concrete, along with traffic. Consider your own best experiences with nature, and if you have them, your best experiences with farming, gardening, and landscaping (2) We need to organize our ways of being across the human life cycle — from newborns to great grandparents — into something like Gardenworld. Growing, as the early humans knew, requires thoughtful reproduction of people, animals, and plants. Gardenworld returns production and reproduction and its needed skills to the center.
To guide our possible anxious and frenetic efforts, we need the image of an attractive world — a place, for that reproduction, where people can see themselves engaged with appreciation. Since the earliest human settlements, sensitivity to place, the settings for our living, was core. People place their homes and communities meaningfully in relation to landscape. At a larger cultural level there are many examples: the Garden of Eden, Central Park, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the space around the monasteries above the river in Kyoto. Reengaging that interest will enable climate adaptation. Gardenworld offers an approach from where we currently are to habitats which house and feed us all. The settings we create should be as beautiful as they are useful. We need to purpose land not only to be efficient but also to enable play, imagination, and vitality. This means a society filled with beautiful and respected environments, with beautiful respecting and respected people.
Gardenworld calls for new forms of work. The mechanic, banker, city planner, farmer, policy-maker, and nurse as we know them currently may no longer be sufficient. Health and education will become group responsibilities, not just isolated to “full time” hierarchical roles. An emerging economy with food and habitat as the priorities will shift how people contribute. Trash will become an essential part of a productive cycle. People’s contribution might be organized around something like the following:
- greening everything, blending growing food with growing people — from an economic to an aesthetic with climate impact, including all material dealings
- welfare for those hurt by the transition
- extensively managing for 1 & 2, which is an incredible increase in the amount of management society needs
- rethinking manufacturing cradle to grave
- arts & education enabling the culture of belief for 1–4; education so everyone participates, each one teach one.
And we can add 6 — the enlightened use of leisure.
A desire for a greener world has always existed along with the earliest settlements. Automation and less consumerism should create a surplus we can use for leisure time — time to do nothing, to be social, to educate, to create crafts, arts, sports. Growing food and people in the same attractive environments is a worthwhile weave to work towards. With a hopeful spirit, doing our best has dignity to it. If we fail, so be it. Meanwhile, thinking the unthinkable forces doing what seems impossible. To transition, we don’t want a plan but an intent that guides our actions and imagination — not constraints, but opening to new possibilities. Plans tend to be rigid and we desperately need flexibility so we don’t meet the future with brittle institutions that are likely to fail. We have had too much growth without development and need more development with less growth. (3)
Where are we?
People are not acting on what they know because they have no idea what to do. If we take the recent Australian and west coast fires, we have heightened awareness with confusion. From living mostly on the fruits of the surface of the earth as we did until the 15th century, we shifted to using coal and oil which allowed the human population to expand. In turn, we’ve become dependent on these sources of energy and cannot easily, gracefully, free ourselves. Cutting fossil fuel use means something like musical chairs, where vital resources are given up, things like no flying, no heating with gas, threats to food supply, the closing down of jobs that are part of the old economy. The cascading effects — inability to pay mortgages, collapse of banks — will follow. The challenge is how to find good in this turbulence.
We are moving into a new world where basic assumptions are changing, Digital culture leads to a focus on mind, replacing the industrial focus on material. It used to be clear that we were in a world of things that were understood by science and that mind was an epiphenomenon of the material brain. But digital devices make us more aware of mind, which is increasingly important, and material is more remote and ;ess important. This is a very significant change in the way we experience the world. Tinkering with code has replaced tinkering with the old car. We have been oriented towards rationality and competition more than compassion and cooperation; we have made a world difficult for children, parents, elders, poor, and animals. Children can no longer just ‘go out and play and come home for dinner as it gets dark.’ Our world now fits fast careers and traffic. We have built society around the part of the life cycle that has income and freedom to spend on marketable technology while forgetting relationships. We remain divided in our aspirations between wanting a life of security, continuity, and rewarding work, versus seeking ownership that maintains control and guarantees dividends for the rich.
Integrating humans with the earth requires deep study of both our surroundings and human nature, where the latter developed from our mammalian and primate past. In fat we do not have nature and humans, humans are a part of nature, deeply intertwined. How do we design an approach to society that honors that deep core? Current social frameworks are not up to the task. Capitalism is too exploitative. Socialism feels like a bureaucratic form of capitalism. Perhaps we can learn from an approach the Chinese offer for governance: a technocratic class at the top, well educated in technology, history, and what makes a good life; their stewardship encourages grassroots, local initiatives, where national funds for projects marry the two. This blend of hierarchy and localism affords taking on complex projects which integrate expertise in systems at the top and democracy from local conditions.
The primary needs for humanity, growing food and developing meaning, call for integration from landscape to mindscape. How do we create the conditions for both? We are so used to specialization and isolated conversations, but not in putting things together. We know there will be a post crisis world that will require that we change many habits, many assumptions. Let’s build for it, joining what emerges. At first it looks like a tsunami of tragedy, but with rethinking it appears as an opportunity — dealing with the economic and political crisis as we deal with the climate turbulence.
We can’t mention all about our current times but in broad outlines, it’s easy to forget. We are in post WW2, post Vietnam, post 911 and Iraq, while continuing war in Afghanistan. We have not yet integrated minorities, women and animals into a mutually attractive society. We ride our success on the backs of still present slavery in the form of segregations and etreme low wages and ghettoization. Indigenous people offered friendship and modesty while our policies were extractive from people and land. Nation states are fairly new (1648 Westphalia) and might fade as cities and landscapes emerge more connected to real flows of people and resources. Racial markers of poverty persist and need repair of the deep spiritual damage done and repression of the imagination still happening all around. It is a reduction of our own life space if we see people as less than they are. Inequality implies something is wrong with the economy and finance. The dynamics of Gardenworld will make for shifts, but people of existing generations will try to recreate what they have lost when they have no sight of what they can gain. The guideline here is to be — not cold hearted — but coolly objective, facing things as they are. WE can build a redemptive world that is more human, kinder to humans, and with it more interest in and respectful of the nature that surrounds us. We have a lot to work and a lot of sorting to do. Our leadership really neve thought to lead society but only to lead for the good of their own wealth. We need a broder more integrative sense of project we can all be part of making happen.
How did we get here?
From hunter-gatherers until now, we have been in a long incomplete arc, failing to establish a just quality of life for all. The result has led to wars, colonialism, poverty and the corruption of earth and of society. We have yet to manage our relationship to the earth, and to develop people and meaning within a democracy built on much broader participation. We are searching for some kind of harmony between two intangibles: a future which we have not yet imagined and a present we cannot properly describe. (4).
Our earth, especially the critical zone, the thin skin where all life so far discovered in the universe, lives, is extremely dynamic and our present human societies the result of our adaptations to it — over about 5000 generations, more than a hundred thousand years. We should remember the current phase might be short lived.
We later civilizations, we too know we
— Paul Valery, 1899
Repeatedly, and from its earliest origins, human leaders, as soon as the group was big enough to be lead, have chosen hierarchy, slavery, war, and restricted lives. Perhaps the very idea of civilization, which can be directly linked to inequality, slavery, and wr, needs to be rethought. These outcomes are not inevitable natural laws but stem from choices made by some people (not all) locking us into deep inequality.
The history from tribe to monarchy to plutocracy to parliamentary and representative democracy attempts to deal with conflict in a reasoned way, coping with the impact of rising population and the attempt by the old order to hold on to what they have gained. We are in that incomplete process — the unfinished French Revolution seeking liberty, justice and equality, or the American version of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Happiness for Thomas Jefferson meant happenings, the number of roles one played in society, not consumer bliss. (5)
Transitions from the human past are full of clues about what happened and how people responded, such as after the collapse of feudalism, and the collapse of the Roman and Mayan empires. Arnold Toynbee described the fall of 28 empires, most of which we have never heard of. There are plenty of examples closer in our historical record to today. Take the great plague of 1348, where about half the population was lost, and again with the religious wars of the late 1600s where 1/3 of the European population didn’t make it. What did survivors do, how did they rebuild? More recently, and nearly forgotten, was the great flu of 1914 which killed perhaps 100 million. These, like climate change, were world wide events. Humanity will survive. But at what cost? We need to learn from populations in times of crisis, reflecting on their struggles, histories, and values. (6)
We have relied far too long on a mix of technology, free markets, banks, representative government, and media. We have organized society to exploit people and exploit land. We decimated the natives in the Americas, first with disease then with policy and guns, and followed up with slavery, not just in the cotton field but throughout the economy until today’s wage slavey, where people are forced to work for others in order to survive. The rich continue to feel they can buy elections, while the poor remain in materially and culturally limiting circumstances. The result is a serious failure. Can we, with common sense, technology, cooperation, and care, do better? The artist David Hockney offers, “if you see your surroundings as beautiful, thrilling and mysterious, as I think I do, then you feel quite alive”. This is the ethos we need, informing the ethical climate we live in.
As a species, humans have chosen to be competitive and inventive. We could also be cooperative and inventive together. When inventiveness supports competition, the combination is suicidal because it means relentless warfare. Since we can’t alter our inherent inventiveness, how do we change our culture to be more cooperative? Could a multi-state system avoid this dynamic? Could a world system do better? What would enable this? (7)
Hunter gatherers were forced by leaders under pressure from increasing populations to domesticate — giving up ranging into the territories of others, closing off free and easy movements on land. But this was after a hundred thousand years of resistance to settlement. Life ‘inside’ was less healthy and more programmed. The early settlements broke down social relationships — songs, stories, and a spirit of sharing, and replaced them with constant war, routine, and slavery. Hunter gatherers walked away from the compounds, a rejection of innovation continued by the Luddites of more recent times.
Think of it this way: if humans are hypersexial and intelligent we get increasing populations and the use of our intelligence to protect outslvers or exploit increasing populations. Is there a way out of this dynamic or are we locked in to mutually assured destruction?
The path from early settlements to now is usually seen as a series of phases, where transitions were caused by new technologies: the stirrup, the bow, the horse, the catapult, explosives, and on. But to create an attractive climate crisis world that must embrace new, harsher conditions, it is more useful to see the path from past to present as one complex emergent social pattern. While technologies developed, the same elite remained in control across apparent transformations — which happened because they benefited the rich. Points along the way include the breakdown of empires and a shift to feudalism, the emergence of craft and trade, the taking of profit from new colonization and industrialization. Now we are coping with financialization and massive inequality. The result — instead of the benefits politicians promised — has led to overheating the atmosphere and worldwide despair.
We have never had a leadership that could cope with increasing population much less global issues requiring managing many systems changes. Elites exploited these trends rather than managing them for the benefit of society. Circumstances probably demanded that they do so because of the dangers of losing out in competition. This past includes the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which divided Europe into nation states which could only compete with each other. New conditions — where the obvious need for cooperation and the awareness of the earth are changing rapidly — just might make it possible to deal with climate, politics, and economy together. This is the hope of Gardenworld and its politics.
Discussions of economics 2500 years ago in Athens meant considering all the factors of good estate management. The well managed estate produces a surplus. For what purpose, the philosophically minded Greeks asked? Following Plato and Aristotle, the surplus meant free time for philosophy and politics. China in the deep past used its surplus to ‘gift’ populations outside its borders, building relationships. Our current surplus, so badly distributed, goes to increasing population and more consumption without reflection on the consequences. We have forgotten that the ‘cap’ within capital refers to head of cattle, and we are asking the same questions around wealth today — how do I grow my herd, how do I manage my herd, how do I breed (increase) my herd. As you probably know early economic activity was about integrating land, cattle, grain and people. We continue to breed (grow) a destabilized society. How should we balance between community and individual use of an increase is a question we need to answer but aren’t asking. The greek “economy” contains eco meaning estate (household) and nomos which, before it became a general abstract term meaning laws, in pre-classical Greek, meant equal distribution.
Laws are not created unless there is a need. In this case, “equal distribution” was probably created to counter the tendency towards unequal distribution. The state, with law, intervenes. So the struggle for equal distribution against the tendency for concentration of wealth and power — starting with land, was with us from the beginning. The idea that nomos meant equal distribution began with the division of land acquired by the polis in equal segments to provide for equal grazing of cattle, (8) The evolution of culture, driven by claiming every liveable niche and managing conflict, was from equality towards hierarchy. By the time of Plato, ‘laws’ meant collections of separate legislations, not a principle of dividing a whole into equal parts. This perspective suggests a revisiting of ancient goals hidden in the mists of time while defending what we have achieved. Each generation struggles for more equality, participation, and quality of life.
As the past collapse of empires show, there are no guarantees. Still, we should care to carve new pathways — towards better politics, a different purpose for the economy, a better life in relationships and nature, developing ourself with ourselves and seeing differences in others, through affection and understanding.
Above all to remember that a past forgotten is like a snake in the grass. Memory can be depressing but if the context is trying to do better, the past can be very helpful.
History is usually written as though we go from one phase to another. But another way of seeing history is through its continuities and the points of divergence. Population kept on increasing and the elites maintained continuity making good use of new technologies, new agriculture, organizations for war and that where we are is very recognizably like the world of hunter gatherers. We wake in the morning, rest at night, have conversations and games and stories, explore for food (now in aisles at the market), and worry about death, birth, adolescents, pets and weather. But while there are many important details, they each are dealt with in the context of the long arc of history that we are still living out.
History is not a linear arc from hunter gatherers to agriculture to city states to the present. It is a mixture of meanderings and over the cliff prone constantly emerging variations, some successful and some failing. But the arc is characterized by rising population, more technology, and a struggle of the many against the few. There have been two main views of the structure of history: progress and cycles. The West is strongly committed to the perspective that history is a progression: if we can just keep going, things will continue to get better. We have accepted the idea that there is “progress”: fire, electricity, railroads, smartphones. And yet there is concern now that progress may have stalled. Most societies outside the West seem to have held on to a belief in the dominant role of cycles.
What can happen?
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.
What should we do?
We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on.
— Richard Feynman
Absent political and social changes, technical proposals to climate disruption are inadequate. Solar power, nuclear power, agricultural innovations, sequestering technologies, or planting co2 absorbing landscapes on their own will not improve outcomes. An alternative approach is radical decentralization, letting each community struggle and innovate on their own. But the sheer number of people, many turned into migrants, will force coordinations across projects. We have to consider what it will take for different approaches to be in motion simultaneously — centralized or decentralized, some mixture of the two, hierarchy with flat networks.
We need to revisit our priorities in order to manage for the good of all. Most people feel they have not seen an alternative to drifting. It is not crazy to stay in a leaky canoe if you do not have an alternative canoe. We need to borrow from boating what is referred to as jettisoning: throwing overboard unneeded stuff in order to keep afloat: what to hold onto, what to throw away, what to repurpose? These are hard choices that require a different culture, reinventing our prior logics along the way. Although we are not starting from scratch, often it will feel like it.
As a society, we need to ask ourselves:
- what do we keep and what do we get rid of?
- what do we repurpose and what do we continue as is?
- what things do we prioritize and what things do we ignore?
- what things become important and what things become obsolete?
Have you ever cherished less warlike dreams?
— Verdi’s Aida
We need to support each other moving toward relationships and cooperative projects that make sense. We need to withdraw support from those with high incomes and concentrated wealth who used that wealth to isolate themselves from the rest of us, where the few now live in isolated compounds.
Gardenworld implies major changes in institutions, culture and lifestyle. This will be very hard. But with more cooperation we would avoid the dog eat dog world of Hobbesian all against all. Money might disappear in exchange for a system of commons based production.
Imagine that in the morning we get together in a large circle and people raise issues and after the ideas that people want to raise that day are presented, volunteers gather around the project that interests them and the proposer organizes. The next day (or a week) the process repeats. For example, food production is normally brought to the center and distributed to all who want some. If there is not enough, that makes clear what a major volunteer team would work on the next day — and so on till the problem is solved. (9)
No path, except anarchy, is likely to emerge without a vision of where we are headed in order to. avoid just getting in each other’s way. Anarchy should be considered. The criteria for all efforts should ask (along with many other considerations)
- Does it help feed the people?
- Does it provide homes for the people?
- Does it lead to participation?
- Does it support people through the human life cycle?
- Is it attractive and blended with food and habitat?
We tend to have obliterated the future. Feynman says no, we are (probably) closer to the early stages. The environment and much of contemporary life are at risk. A viable future must start with the facts of a failed biosphere, a failed governance and failed normal security for each life. Gardenworld is a project of reinvention, which includes redeeming our personal psyches. Including climate, the world faces major problems: population, inequality, weakness of government to be able to deal with issues. You know the list. We hope that what we do for one or several issues will help, not hurt what we are doing for the other issues. Responding effectively will depend on a practice of global systems management with openness to what newly emerges. Don’t get defensive. The balance is up to people like all of us. A great practice is what the Jesuits call “discernment of spirits.” At the end of the day remember from first to last the encounters you had with others, and just notice what the spirit of that meeting was.
Whether we cope with climate turbulence in the short term or drift in the long-term, both will lead to decline in fossil fuel use; havoc will follow with all of the interdependencies we have built up. If you increase your income by ten percent the choices are fairly easy — you just choose where to add it in. But if your income decreases by ten percent, you face the complexity of threatening all the interdependencies among the things you have been doing.
You need to make sure your sensitivity to what is emerging around you — in your family, community and the globe — is not just attuned to your preconceived plans and assumptions. We need to face the reality of what is happening and move into a serious mobilization in the face of deteriorating social support. There are differences of opinion about the severity of conditions. The problem will be the tendency of this mobilization to cope with fossil fuel use to turn authoritarian. This will be desirable in the minds of many to overcome clashing interests and cope as the toll rises. This will be especially true for demands to repurpose land, and create new political leverage. The distribution of remaining food and energy will be very difficult. Cooperation while keeping an honest inventory with foresight will be important in deciding what we should develop. We need to reawaken the democractic impulse in the context of increasing complexity.
Food will need to be rationed because of its scarcity, and energy use curtailed to meet co2 goals. Shifting priorities under the pressure of necessity will stimulate painful confrontations. How should society manage the emerging conflicts? Politics is about conflict, and to avoid politics is to hope there is no conflict, but this will be impossible.We probably will see less representative democracy and more direct democracy, often with the consensus of spontaneously formed community groups. Critically discerning real leaders from mafia-like demagogues will be important. Along with more direct democracy also more direct claims for authority and power to determine projects and their ownership.
A good start would be to organize local garden supply companies, seed companies, garden associations like master gardeners, challenge them with the idea that they will be in the forefront of organizing local land for food and habitat.
How should land be used and managed? Land is considered property, where property comes from proper — what is proper to a man of rank to show his status in society. Property thus tells the world who we are. If property gets repurposed away from the multitude of private purposes toward food and habitat, many asset owners will be threatened, especially those with current political power, and this will stir resistances. Working through this requires something very hard — to shift our pleasures from owning to cooperating, from material stuff to prioritizing relationships — with people, animals and plants. Circumstances will force that, but may lead, instead of to cooperation and care, to mafias and militarization. Transitioning will mean changing what Erich Fromm called our social character — the social conditions which organize our ways of being. While childhood is important in creating the person, much still happens as the person adapts to the needs of a particular economy.
Who we will become, our attitudes and political ideas in response to the demands of climate disruption and the emerging society is worth lots of discussion. Any politics which does not aim towards the humanization of its people and the gardening of the world is not an adequate politics.
Preventing or limiting climate disruption and related transitions will need to go beyond policies and proposals for technical interventions. Interventions, such as putting co2 as a solid in the earth, solar panels, nuclear power, vegetarianism, all with good intent, require time and expense to manufacture and deploy to scale such solutions.
We need better thinking that integrates promising ideas, not one at a time that then get in each other’s way. Something that seems simple, like replacing coal and gas fired electricity with solar and wind leaves out the cost of conversion for the individual house. An electric furnace plus installation is $3–8 thousand dollars. The environmental impact of manufacturing 80 million furnaces is overlooked but cannot be ignored. The impact on the many households which use gas for cooking and hot water would be severe.
These thoughts raise intriguing questions about the use of quantification, metrics, and computer models in Gardenworld. The metric issue should go deep, mechanical vs organic, China compared to the West, reduction vs holistic. We may be inclined to give metrics to how nature works, to account for interdependencies we don’t currently value. But measurement is a tool among many for Gardenworld. Metrics without narrative remain incomplete and misleading, such as GDP. We should remember, behind every metric are questions — why is this piece of information worth gathering? A Gardenworld future means organizing research not to seek certainty, but reveal the questions and explanations we haven’t thought of, critically balancing data with narrative.
Avoiding 2 degrees and staying below it needs draconian moves, ones the politicians are not acting on. Remember, the agreed upon “goal” is 350 ppm of co2. It is also consensus that we will not get there before serious climate heating occurs. If somehow we mandated no fossil fuel heating of homes and offices, we would get a rapid cascade of chaos. If we had no gas for food deliveries, the population would be on the edge of starvation in 48 hours. Without such a nudge to deal with systemic issues in an integrated way it is likely that we keep drifting. Proposals to substitute fuels misses the issue of extracting such fuels. If coal and oil are available, black markets will distribute them.
Let’s say we are able to bring the price of solar generated electricity below that of electricity generated by fossil fuels. This leaves several important questions:
As mentioned above, who pays for replacing the gas heater with an electric heater? That includes installation and remodeling costs as well as the cost for the device. The energy companies will work hard to make sure we generate that electricity with oil and gas — and more coal than we want to acknowledge. New laws are being passed to disallow gas in new buildings, but that does not affect the homes currently using gas. The number of new electric heaters that would have to be manufactured for these is on the order of 50–100 million for the US, and what of half the world that still cooks on open fires? Such manufacturing will produce more pollution and use even more energy. The process requires old technologies of mining the minerals and producing the plastics that go into manufacturing these units, let alone transporting them from mine to factory, and from the factory to homes. There are many parallel questions with major effects and these questions will turn into conflicts that will need to be lived with and worked through
Draconian moves will take shape as seemingly small interruptions with major consequences. Politicians just are not going to do this — yet. Perhaps such moves enable the public, society, and institutions to move towards a different way of living. Consider the following ways of cutting fossil fuels:
As of the first of next month, no more air travel. Well, many people are not at home, but traveling. Do we allow them to return? If they all tried in the days remaining in the month there are not enough flights to do this. And how many would game the system? And would the ground and flight crews show up? Of course there would be a legal response. But this is the kind of action that will be needed to shake up the system and force a move toward meeting the 2 degree (or perhaps 1.5 degree) goal. The FAA could do this, though legal responses to try to prevent it would happen in hours.
Other possible draconian moves, things that must be done.
*No fuel for trucks as of next month. No food delivered at any distance. Total chaos. Part of our failure of governance is it is not clear that this could be done, even if necessary. Perhaps the Food and Drug Administration working with the Interstate Commerce Commission could do this. But very unlikely as no leader could bring about that coordination except the President, or a military coup.
*No going to jobs that are not contributions to survival or rebuilding new society. Who decides?
*No fuel for heating homes. If a home can’t be heated, why pay the mortgage? Banks fail. Cascading effects will swamp the current system. Politics as we know it cannot deliver these actions. Discussion and policy do not lead to action.
What about a popular revolt? Would a popular revolt have such goals in mind, or merely use violence to get the resources to continue a few more months, maybe even days? A popular revolt would be met by the power of the state — if the National Guard would show up. Unlikely. Any uprising would lead to local chaos which would lead to the emergence of mafia-like local strong men “We provide you with security, you provide us with goods.” If there are any left after 48 hours. Production ceases, storage would be used up.
In Gardenworld, a core task will be rethinking the financial system with all of its many aspects:
Capitalism is a way of making decisions on the use of resources and goals for those uses. In a way it is a replacement of democracy with a different social contract, with managers (which include owners) rather than citizens, making the decisions for society. The stupid thing is, we reward these managers as if they were the old land owning elite rather than as highly skilled technical managers. They are chosen, say by a board, based on the judgment that they will do what the organization needs, without exercising an independent perspective.
The world, as a complex dynamic object, needs management, and that means we need managers. But as of now the managers of the resources of society, from raw materials to institutions, manage these parts for their own benefit, not for the benefit of society.
These managers of societal resources should be paid for what they are: reasonably performing technocrats. Ownership is mystification and class maintaining — and socially destructive as it sets one class, which tends to control the state, against another, which has to absorb distributed poverty.
The current logic of capitalism has Tim Cook as worth billions, but this wealth requires the participation of society, and he gets to privatize rather than share the results.
Absent political and social moves, technical proposals to climate disruption are inadequate. Solar power, nuclear power, agricultural innovations, sequestering technologies, or planting co2 absorbing landscapes on their own will not improve outcomes. An alternative approach is radical decentralization, letting each community struggle and innovate on their own. But the sheer number of people, many turned into migrants, will force coordinations across projects. We have to consider what it will take for different approaches to be in motion simultaneously — centralized or decentralized, some mixture of the two, hierarchy with flat networks.
We need to revisit our priorities in order to manage for the good of all. Most people feel they have not seen an alternative to drifting. It is not crazy to stay in a leaky canoe if you do not have an alternative. We need to borrow from boating what is referred to as jettisoning: throwing overboard unneeded stuff in order to keep afloat: what to hold onto, what to throw away, what to repurpose? These are hard choices that require a different culture, reinventing our prior logics along the way. Although we are not starting from scratch, often it will feel like it.
Transitioning will mean considering these questions: where are we? how did we get here? what can happen? what should we do? When the future is unknown, we will need to design, plan and implement for extreme flexibility — in where we live and how and in what? When many of the important decisions for transitioning will emerge, we need guiding principles that ground our intent as we work towards pathways which integrate people and the earth.
Such principles could include the architect Chris Alexander’s suggesting we chose what is lively over what is deadening. It includes Erich Fromm’s discussions of how social arrangements, such as competitiveness and stress on self limit the development of character. And we could bring in how the Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson suggests a detailed view of the human life cycle can become a template against which to judge the value of social projects. Gardenworld will encourage us to study and reflection, developing an awareness of self and others, in many directions. The future could be for learners and lovers.
For example, an initial set of principles, a kind of new ten commandments that focus on ethics for the digital age, could include:
1. Each day do something for the person you know who is having the worst time.
2. Each day do something for the person you know *of* who is having the worst time.
3. Each day do something about the very worst situation you know about (its ok to be myopic — just do it) in the world.
4. Network the resulting projects.
5. Teach others to participate.*
6. Leave your local habitation more beautiful, at the end of the day, than you found it. Do something about it.
7. Do something, each day, to weave the tapestry of community conversations, consciously, by having at least one conversation you would not have otherwise.
8. Create culture with your children.
9. Study harder beyond current affairs or narrow profession.
10. Smile honestly and enjoy this life, even in its worst moments.
Other candidates for thoughtfulness. · Be careful on reading adds · Put Relationships before materialships · Hate or anger is a sign of not seeing strategically · Love may mean narrowing of focus · Stay healthy · Respect other’s gods · Bring others into your conversations · Speak with intent · The way up and the way down are the same · Eating towards health · breathing towards relaxed · Sex towards love · politics towards inclusions and community · foreign affairs towards delight · business towards refreshing · money towards real use and beauty · art towards beauty and revelation · movement towards grace · friendship towards depth · language towards quality · education towards complexity · childhood towards fullness · lies towards the minimum · violence towards comprehension · architecture towards the hospitable · reading towards the uncomfortable · science towards the real unknown · sleep towards dreams · work towards meaning · self at times towards others · at times towards the whole · and you will be natural
We probably need new forms of action that take place outside the existing constitutional and legal structures of government. In practice, this will mean deepening our understanding of the human and our place in life and death by asking who are we? What do we want? How do we thrive? We need an ethics that takes caring seriously but also includes some aspects of science: honesty, experimentalism, the legitimacy of questioning, and knowing there is no final state of culture but a continuing evolution as humans and circumstances interact. We should work towards a feeling of joy in participating, knowing that danger lies at the edges — and sometimes in our midst, this is not only ok, it is the dance life offers. In order “to make the frozen circumstances dance, we have to sing to them their own melody” (10) . Our task is to develop the melody the earth offers us and turn it into a culture. We need to live the questions(11), and this is the intent Gardenworld invites.
- You need to cooperate, bring anyone you are meeting into the conversation
- Take care of those who are hurt
- Make all efforts help build toward survival and flexibility
- To the extent that you can, build toward Gardenworld (food, habitat and aesthetics)
- Try to think longer term
Our thesis, not in words, but expressed in painting (12).
There is literature that can help. Scott’s Against the Grain is about the resistance of hunter gathers (to the luddites and and a large part of the current progressive orientation) to further institutionalizations. Marshall Sahlins’ Stone Age Economy is still a major contribution to rethinking core values. Charles Mann’s 1491 on the state of the Americas before Columbus bumped into its off-shore islands. Then history that can be relevant: Mccarraher’s The Enchantment of Mammon, How Capitalism Became the Religion of Modernity raises the issues of what’s at stake for humanity, Aristotle’s On Generation and Corruption explores how we can have development without growth. Dante’s Divine Comedy shows a model of the depth we could go to understand the leading characters of our time and the possibilities of the future. There are so many books on what is wrong: Naomi Kline’s On Fire, Monbiot Rewilding, Beck’s Metamorphosis. Dartnell’s The Knowledge talks about how to renew society after a collapse. Arrighi’s The Long Twentieth Century is a fabulous history as is Malko’s Economics and its Discontents. Kenneth Burke’s Grammar of Motives discusses the scene-act ratio. Erich Fromm’s The Sane Society and Gary Wills’ Inventing America deal with the construction of society. Theodore Roszack’s Voice of the Earth is a psychological exploration. Barrington Moore’s Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, Wendy Brown’s End of the Demos and James Baldwin’s Fire Next Time are about the end and future of politics.
- See Andro Linklater, Owning the Earth
- (2)oo few people have direct experience with nature, with landscape, or night sky. This will retard adaptation to new needs for food and habitat. Better education will be needed.
- See Aristotle, On Generation and Corruption
- Christopher Alexander, The Nature of Order
- Gary Wills, Inventing America
- The Power of Community: Film about Cuban response to no oil: https://www.filmsforaction.org/watch/the-power-of-community-how-cuba-survived-peak-oil-2006
- Daniel Schmactenbergeer, Humanities phase shift, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQRzxEobWco
- Carl Schmitt, Nomos of the Earth
- This is based on the model of Open Space mediumdeveloped by Harrison Owen.
- Karl Marx, German Ideology
- Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
- Thomas Cole, Course of Empire, This painting, like Yeats “The center cannot hold” are quoted frequently