Making the Change: How to Dismantle Industrial Civilization

BLOG Making the Change: How to Dismantle Industrial Civilization

What You Can Do 2009
Keith Farnish’s book Time’s Up (also available as a free e-book called A Matter of Scale) provides a valuable framework for Step 7 in the What You Can Do process (see graphic above) that I outlined last week — the step that’s about dismantling industrial civilization. I’ve summarized some of the key elements of Keith’s framework for action in the graphic below.

keith farnish making the change

Here’s an explanation of this framework:

There are six categories of actions that Keith suggests we can make:

  1. Finding better ways to live: These are personal actions that you can take that will help starve industrial civilization of the consumer dollars and labour hours that it requires to continue: 
    • Consuming less (and strategically)
    • Eating better (local, organic, small-farm, organic, self-prepared, unpackaged and GMO- and chemical-free)
    • Traveling less and using non-air, multi-user public transport
    • Living in more modest, more durable, homes (using less power/heat/air conditioning)
    • Working for ourselves and not big multinationals (either as employees or as consultants to them)
    • Unschooling/deschooling ourselves, our peers and children (i.e. self-directed, not institutional learning)
    • Having at most one child
    • Doing what we can to restore some of the damage to land, environment and society wreaked by industrial civilization
  2. Undermining industrial civilization: As Keith points out, the above personal activities by themselves are not enough. Unless we work actively to undermine and dismantle industrial civilization, it will just keep destroying and exhausting our planet until we’ve passed the point of no return on climate change, and exhausted the planet’s resources. Keith outlines four rules for this ‘undermining’ work, whose objective is to slow down the machine so that growth (and hence industrial civilization’s viability) ends, so that citizens realize its (and their) vulnerability and the damage it causes, and so that alternative models of living and making a living have a chance to flourish:
    • Focus on the tools of disconnection and their perpetrators
    • Only act if the rewards outweigh the risks (that generally means avoiding harm to people and other creatures)
    • Plan carefully (don’t let your emotions get the better of you)
    • Don’t get caught (the book explains how)
These are the perpetrators of the ten ‘tools of disconnection’ that we need to target in our actions. They include most but not all:

Corporations (including government-owned power generators and similar organizations)
Politicians, lawyers, judges, police and the military
Economists, junk scientists, shills and other generators of misinformation
The mainstream media, advertisers and PR firms
Religious organizations, therapists, techno-salvationists and PR-focused environmentalists

These perpetrators systematically disconnect us from our own instincts, knowledge and ideas, from other radical thinkers and actors, and from the natural environment and all-life-on-Earth. They do this using the ten tools of disconnection illustrated in the red circle in the graphic above:

  • Reward us for being good consumers: They make shoddy stuff that has to be constantly replaced, and through advertising and how they measure prosperity (GDP) they equate wealth and consumption with well-being and self-worth.
  • Make us feel good for doing trivial things: Their con job of labeling products as “healthy”, “natural” and “environmentally friendly” is designed to divert attention from the damage they are doing to the planet and make us believe that by recycling, signing petitions and buying their stuff we’re “doing our share” to make things better.
  • Give us selected freedom: They let us demonstrate, as long as it achieves nothing. They give us Tweedledum vs Tweedledee choices of political parties and products, while blocking electoral reforms like proportionate representation that might reduce their power.
  • Give us insignificant choices: They pretend to offer us a real choice of banks, of jobs, of schools, of media, and of products when in fact they’re all controlled by the same oligopoly and the differences are minuscule.
  • Sell us a dream: They foment in us, through advertising, a constant sense of dissatisfaction with what we own, to distract us from being dissatisfied with what they are doing to our world. So we keep striving for the personal and unsustainable, for property, instead of sustainable, collective well-being.
  • Exploit our trust in authority: They brainwash us to believe obedience to authority is necessary to maintain civil order. They redefine anarchy in their propaganda to be something evil, dangerous and unworkable. And they tell us over and over that their security forces and laws are in our best interest, when nothing could be further from the truth.
  • Lie to us: In addition to telling us their way is the only way to live, and that growth is essential to well-being, the mainstream media, handmaidens of the corpocracy, bombard us with misinformation, distraction and simplistic false dichotomies to obfuscate the truth.
  • Scare us: Fear has always been used by despots to keep subjects in thrall, disconnected, distracted and obedient. They invent phony and wildly-exaggerated enemies and then fear-monger to stir up panic and enable them to suppress dissent and information. The threat of “terrorists”, real and invented, and defined as they choose to include anyone who opposes their agenda, sustains a constant atmosphere of fear.
  • Abuse and exploit us: By decimating the middle class, they’ve created a frightened and isolated working class with a huge underclass that has been propagandized to believe their misfortune (illness, poverty, ignorance etc.) is their own fault. The result is desperation and learned helplessness that saps the anger and energy that would otherwise be directed against the oppressors.
  • Give us false hope: We’re constantly told, by religious leaders, corporate greenwashers, techno-salvationists and even most environmental organizations that all we have to do is give them our political and financial support and they’ll look after our problems for us. So we become dependent, and ignorant of how to look after ourselves.
  • Turn us against each other: [this is my addition to Keith’s list] From our first encounters with sibling rivalry, through the education system, media and sports programming, the job market and job performance, everything is presented to us as competition, a struggle against our peers for scarce resources and results. While we’re battling each other, they’re stealing most of everything. And so we learn to contest and argue, instead of how to collaborate.
  1. Innovating and pioneering: My personal opinion is that activists are mostly (like most other people nowadays) pretty unimaginative. The lists and sites that describe how to bring about change tend to focus on measures to create media buzz rather than bring about any real behaviour change (Keith hasn’t much use for environmental groups of this ilk). Because of the effectiveness of the tools of disconnection, media attention rarely generates much more than feelings of learned helplessness and frustration. I’ve stopped reading the news and press releases about environmental destruction and loss, because they rarely offer suggestions beyond voting, petitions and writing cheques (which generally change nothing, other than perhaps keeping some environmentalists employed).
So how can we innovatively undermine and disrupt industrial civilization? In my book Finding the Sweet Spot, I outline a process for innovation that entails:

  • researching the challenge or need
  • inviting and forming a diverse and motivated innovation team
  • collaboratively brainstorming, creatively and critically, ideas for action
  • organizing how to realize the most promising ideas
  • bringing the most promising ideas to fruition
  • experimenting, to test the new ideas’ viability
  • scaling up of successful experiments
I believe this collaborative methodology is the best way for us to identify new, innovative methods to undermine and disrupt industrial civilization. I’d like to convene an Open Space event around this specific topic, in Canada, using, as a test case, the challenge of stopping any further development of the Alberta Tar Sands.
  1. Influencing others: Part of any change initiative is to engage others and get them involved in the change activities as well. Keith describes Gladwell’s Tipping Point methods for doing this through “connectors” who spread the message to others outside the current group, and through “salespeople” who persuade others of the value of changing behaviour. Most importantly, this influencing effort needs to be targeted at people who are ready to listen and ready for a behaviour change. Keith also asserts that we need a clear and compelling, positive statement of purpose to explain why we advocate change. Here is his:
Human activity is destroying the natural systems that we depend upon for our survival. Our most basic instinct as humans is to survive; yet we continue to destroy our life-support machine. Connected humans understand this terrible contradiction; disconnected humans are not able to.

Not all humans are responsible: just those who are part of Industrial Civilization. Industrial Civilization depends on economic growth and the unsustainable use of natural resources, so it has developed a complex set of tools for keeping people disconnected from the real world and living a life that keeps civilization running. Humans have been manipulated in order to be part of a destructive system.

The only way to prevent global ecological collapse and thus ensure the survival of humanity is to rid the world of Industrial Civilization.

Civilization is complex and delicate: it depends on everything running smoothly and also depends upon people having faith in its goodness. Global ecological systems are changing in unpredictable and major ways; natural resources are running out rapidly; the population is growing, particularly the population of urban areas; there is considerable political and civil unrest developing throughout the world: any combination of these factors are likely to lead to a sudden and catastrophic collapse of civilization during the 21st century.

It is possible to create a situation where civilization is left to crumble gradually, reducing the impact on humanity, and the sooner this is done, the less the global environment will be harmed. The key things we need to do are:

   1. Reconnect with the real world, so that we can understand our close relationships with it in everything we do. The more you connect, the more you will realise how unreal civilization is.
   2. Live in such a way that we do not contribute to the expansion of the global economy, reducing our impact on the natural environment in the process. Be aware that authority figures within the system, such as political leaders and corporations, will attempt to provide you with ‘green’ advice: this advice is designed to ensure that civilization continues, and should be ignored.
   3. Create the conditions so that others may also change through education and, even more importantly, undermining the tools that civilization uses to keep us part of the machine. Don’t waste time protesting: this changes nothing – that is why it is legal.

A future outside of civilization is a better life; one in which we can actually decide for ourselves how we are going to live.

  1. Educating others: Even more important than influencing others is educating others — helping to debunk the misinformation they’re getting from the perpetrators listed above, by presenting factual knowledge, new ideas, and different perspectives. We need to have the courage and patience to speak up when we hear misinformation, no matter how awkward, political and radical that may come across.
  2. Relearning capacities and competencies: Keith identifies both survival skills and social/collaborative skills that we need to re-learn, in his book. His list is not that different from the list I have published on this site several times, which is reproduced again below.

critical life skills

What do you think? Other than that this is a lot of work, is this a viable framework for undermining, disrupting and finally dismantling industrial civilization, before it can do too much more damage?

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6 Responses to Making the Change: How to Dismantle Industrial Civilization

  1. keith puts focus partly on “the tools of disconnection, and their perpetrators.” I’m guessing he’s referring here to direct action and not getting caught. imo focusing on undermining the machine is less interesting and powerful than creating an alternative in which the old won’t be needed. Undermining catches us up in what we hate and gets us feeling righteous. We’re the machine too. Building the new amid the old is the greater challenge . . . using the sweet spot technology and what comes from collaboration. Since change is truly needed somewhere it’s cued up ready for its entrance. . . Great site Dave!

  2. Hi DaveThanks very much for taking all the disparate bits of my work into a more usable whole. I’ll buy you a virtual drink.There are three more Tools of Disconnection that are scattered through the book, but which would probably benefit from being on the main list. These were summarised for a workshop I ran, and now I’m determined to document them properly. They are nominally numbers 11-13, but tend to fit around the middle of the list.11. School UsSpecifically related to the public school system: skills which encourage real connection, normally taught at home, are relegated by society in favour of skills and ideas (e.g. Citizenship) which benefit the economy12. Manipulate Our WordsSignificant words such as “progress”, “civilised”, “developed” and “nature” are culturally changed to remove their real meaning. This ensures we revalue things in favour of Industrial Civilization.13. Steal Our TimeFree time is abundant in tribal societies: this time is spent being connected to the real world. Civilised people are discouraged from being “idle” (i.e. anything that is not economically beneficial) by having our lives filled with paid work and spurious pastimes.Obviously these open up all sorts of bigger issues, which I’ll probably blog about soon – but you are welcome to use them first.Andrew, I recommend you read Derrick Jensen on Anger – Undermining is taking power back; it’s really important not to get self-rightous about it, it’s just something that some people can do and need to do otherwise people will remain unconscious of the real world.I tend to avoid using the word “Technology” when looking at the future – we need certain *tools* but technology is an artefact of Industrial Civilization and, I think, we should leave at least what it means behind.K.

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks Keith. I’ve updated the graphic (but not the text, yet) for your 3 additional tools, and also added the one I suggested.

  4. Ivor Tymchak says:

    Dave, I’d like you to put a face to the people controlling the system – who are they and why are they doing what they’re doing? And at what stage do we stop being ‘us’ (unconsciously complicit in the system) and become ‘them’ (consciously perpetrating that which will ultimately destroy us), Is it when we get appointed CEO of a large organisation and if so, how large is the organisation? Or is it when we buy a 4×4?What I want to know is, how much of their action is due to ignorance and how much to ‘soul corruption’ where they are doing the best they can with a corrupted world view? I ask this because even though I read your blog and whatever other philosophy I can find on the internet, I still drive a car (not a 4×4 by the way) because it is a useful tool. I KNOW my money goes to Big Oil but what is the alternative?I keep thinking of that illustration of a slave in chains surrounded by the legend, ‘Am I not your brother?’ Why would mainstream media suppress information that heralded its own doom as well as everyone else’s? It’s almost as if we are all hypnotised rabbits caught in the headlights of globalisation. We get hit by a passing financial lorry and yet we continue to stare at the next set of oncoming lights.I just don’t get it.

  5. Dave Pollard says:

    Great questions, Ivor, and I’ll try to address them in an upcoming post. I thought about using this term ‘they’ a lot before going ahead and naming ‘them’ — the perpetrators. Of course we are all part of the system and all responsible to some extent, but ‘they’ are the ones that go beyond complicity by actually perpetrating the disconnection using the (now 14) tools that Keith identifies. Without ‘them’ the system could not continue. They’re the ones fighting against the entropy and constant near-collapse of the system. We’re just cogs in the machine — not blameless, but not the perpetrators of disconnection either.I want to stop the tar sands, but I don’t want to stop you driving, even if you were foolish enough to drive an SUV. In my mind, the line is pretty clear.Hypnotized rabbits is a perfect metaphor. The knowing/doing disconnect has widened to a chasm.

  6. Hi IvorI have been drafting some notes for a book that may or may not see the light of day – but essentially it brings together two of the “new” Tools of Disconnection with a couple of the others: Essentially the Advertising / Schooling / Working paradigm, and the loss of meaning in many of the words we use. It’s pretty obvious on even a cursory analysis, that the attempt to disconnect us starts from birth, and this was the focus of my article “The Problem With…Work” ( your second major point, I would say that ignorance is a *function* of soul corruption, and that if we are allowed to see truth then there is a pretty good chance that we can gain our lives back. The problem then is keeping the machine from our door as it tries to take us back again.The alternative is up to you. You are a human being with an incredible capacity for imagination and adaptation – what do *you* think you should do next?Keith

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