Creating a Post-Civilization Culture

RelaterSharerCulture
The Idea:
Over the past two years I’ve been sharing my, and others’, ideas on a better way to live, and what needs to be done to get there. This article is an attempt to recap many of those articles, and draw them together into a cohesive and practical model for a post-civilization culture.

For three million years human society was built on a gatherer-hunter culture, based on community, a culture we shared with the rest of life on Earth. When a series of natural and man-made events created a sudden and severe food shortage 30,000 years ago, a new acquirer-settler culture evolved, based on agriculture and more recently on energy-driven industrialization and urbanization, and maintained by the establishment of political hierarchy and unequal ownership which artificially created scarcity, slavery and dependence, which were necessary to command obedience and maintain law and order in such an ‘unnatural’ culture. Now we are again at a turning point, as we realize that this culture, which we call ‘civilization’, is not sustainable, and is running into a wall as it attempts with greater and greater difficulty to defy the laws of thermodynamics, the laws of finite capacity, and nature’s balancing mechanisms: pandemic disease and adrenaline-provoked lethal aggressiveness, psychological breakdown and incapacity, as triggered responses to overcrowding and scarcity.

I have argued that the root causes of this overcrowding and scarcity, and hence of all the problems we face today, are overpopulation and overconsumption, though some think I am giving the ruling elites of our world too much benefit of the doubt by not listing their psychopathic violence and greediness as root causes. I have therefore maintained that to build a post-civilization culture we need to do four things:

  1. We need to tell everyone a new story of our planet’s destiny, a new vision, and show them a new model, a better way to live that will realize that vision.
  2. We need to achieve broad consensus that overpopulation and overconsumption are the root causes of our current culture’s unsustainability, and that they must be actively addressed and solved.
  3. We need to tap into the collective wisdom of Earth’s people to find the best solutions to these two root problems, and help them test and implement the solutions in their communities.
  4. We need to help each other clear away obstacles to success, through humanitarian and peacemaking assistance, helping to build new infrastructure that will work in the new community-based world, redistributing resources from the rich to the poor, and disarming those that will try to establish new wealth and power hierarchies.

I thought it might be useful to set out a ‘straw man’ model of how to go about the first three of these steps, something that people can shoot at and refine and test out. My model is illustrated above and has four components: Principles (a basic set of standards to guide how the new culture would operate), Learnings (what each of us must learn and teach to make the new culture successful), Enablers (the tools and systems we need to have at our disposal to make the new culture work), and Infrastructure (what we need to build to show that the new culture works, and to make it sustainable). Here’s a quick walk-through of what I’m proposing be in each component:

Principles: Because it’s so difficult to get consensus on principles, and because principles cannot be imposed, I think it’s important that the new culture have as few principles, and as inclusive and intuitive principles as possible. The smallest set I can come up with that will do the job is these five, and they’re all about responsibility:

  • Legacy Principle: We must leave the world at least as healthy, abundant and well-off for future generations as we found it.
  • Gaia Principle: We recognize that Earth is a single, self-balancing, self-managing organism of which we are an inseparable part, and we have a sacred responsibility to respect and live in harmony with all other life on Earth, not treat it as our ‘property’, and to waste nothing.
  • Stop at One Principle: Until we can restore a healthy balance to life on our planet, and live up to the Legacy and Gaia Principles, we must procreate no more than one child for each two human inhabitants until our population is reduced to one billion.
  • No Debts No Deficits Principle: We must always live within our means, be beholden to no others, and never encumber our descendants.
  • Trade Only Surpluses Principle: We will buy from other communities only those things which we cannot reasonably produce ourselves, and sell to other communities only those things which we do not need ourselves.

CriticalLifeSkills
Learnings: We cannot expect to be able to live successfully in a new culture without learning (or re-learning) how to make a living together and how to live together. Each one of us must learn critical skills to that end, such as those depicted in the map above. Just as importantly, we need to learn to reconnect with nature, with our instincts, and with all other life in our communities. This will take time, patience, practice, and immersion in wilderness — not to ‘conquer’ our fear of it, but to accept it as sacred and as our home, to understand after millennia of forgetting that we are animals, and that we are an integral part of the whole ecosystem. Without this reconnection and re-learning we will simply revert to the bad habits of the acquirer-settler culture.

Enablers: The basic building blocks of the new culture are community, knowledge, self-sufficiency, connection, collaboration and innovation. The Internet will allow us to acquire and share these building blocks. We can use it to find like-minds for our new communities, to teach and learn how to make these communities successful and sustainable, and to collaborate with others to share ideas and successes, and to find innovative solutions to the problems we encounter in community-building. This will allow us to realize the three pillars of Freeman Dyson’s Dream that will be essential to successful and sustainable communities:

  • The free exchange of information (and of everything else that can be reduced to bytes);
  • The development of community-based renewable energy co-ops that will make each community energy self-sufficient; and
  • The development of open-source innovations in sustainable agriculture and biotech, which will allow communities to also become self-sufficient in producing their own food, fabrics and other more-with-less materials that encourage and enable sustainable, humane low-footprint methods of meeting all the communities’ essential needs.

Infrastructure: With the right principles that can guide our decisions, the learnings to build the new culture properly, and the enabling building blocks, we can create the infrastructure that embodies the new culture. I think this infrastructure needs three key components:

  • Model Intentional Communities: These are the new political, social and economic units of the new culture. They embody our choices on who we want to live with and how we want to live, and manage ourselves, as autonomous communities or ‘tribes’ of like-minded individuals. Much has been written about how to construct these once we have the principles, learnings and enablers to do so effectively.
  • Natural Enterprises: The community of people with whom one chooses to live, and the people with whom one may choose to make a living (work), will not necessarily be the same people, and with modern communications and ‘virtual presence’ technology it need not be. The formation and principles behind Natural Enterprises are different from, but entirely consistent with, those that underlie Model Intentional Communities.
  • Collaborative Solution Centres: There will be problems, especially in the early going of the new culture, that cannot be effectively solved by the members of a single community. There is some doubt in my mind whether the Internet, even with much improved social networking and ‘shared space’, communication and connectivity tools, will have adequate resources to solve these problems effectively. I see a role, therefore, for Solution Centres that will aggregate the people, knowledge, skills and practices that will allow large and diverse groups of people with a shared problem to answer it effectively. These Centres could also do double-duty as sites (physical and/or virtual) for the teaching of critical skills that cannot be more effectively taught in the field. They could in fact become the ‘community centres’ of the new culture.

That’s the model. It’s a straw-man, so kick away.

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5 Responses to Creating a Post-Civilization Culture

  1. Phil says:

    I don’t believe the hype about biotech, by which Dyson seems to mean trangenics, inserting the gene from one species into another entirely unrelated species. The technology is based the ‘central dogma’ that one ‘gene’ equals one protein. This dogma is demonstrably false, see The Case for a GM-Free Sustainable World for details, as well as a strong argument for why genetic engineering is incompatible with sustainable agriculture. The only thing propping up the biotech industry is blind technological optimism, political power and a venture capital inflated bubble that has yet to burst. The only traits that have been commercialized are herbicide tolerance and pesticide production, with a few minor ‘virus-resistant’ crops. Higher yields, drought tolerance, improved nutrition??? These have been promised for decades yet are nowhere within sight. Despite the wrongheaded science noted above, genetic engineering is enormously expensive (and always will be) and currently monopolized by a handful of multinational corporations such as Monsanto. Even if the hype was to be believed it would lead to more monocultures, greater inequality, and reduced community autonomy.

  2. I sometimes get the impression that we don’t form more cohesive arguments on here because we don’t take as much time to craft responses as Dave does in crafting the original hypothesis. I just wanted to say I appreciate everything I read on here, whether I always agree or not, and I hope you don’t think these incredibly well-devised missives fall on deaf ears.

  3. I’m all ears too, and am trying trying use some of this great advice to inform my own practice. Thanks Dave!

  4. Dave Pollard says:

    Phil — I’d love to see/hear a debate between you and Dyson about this. I’m going to see if I can get Freeman to take a look at this article and comment on it.Justin, Harold: Thanks. I’m puzzled that my article on Giving Stuff Away Free has attracted more comment than this post.

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