Catchment Plan

April 2, 2006

I flicked over to Anthropik this morning and discovered what appears to be the beginnings of a debate between Jason and Steven from Deconsumption. This is not the first time I have had this impression. Jason himself says that he likes to get into a debate to see what comes out of it but as has happened in the past I don’t think there is actually a debate here. 

Steven posted his thoughts on how to choose a small town to move to in preparation for post peak collapse and Jason has responded by saying that small towns are no good because we’re going back to the stone-age (that’s extreme paraphrasing btw). The reason I think there is no actual debate here is that I believe Steven’s posting was about what to do next. Not what to aim for. Jason is talking about what to aim for but seems intent on reaching the end target at about the same time Steven will be getting to his next target. 

Jason’s posting implies that small town’s surviving successfully on the agricultural model will have 100 years to prepare for the step where they go past agriculture to more sustainable survival techniques. His statement that they won’t be able to stay with agriculture for ever gets no argument from me and in fact this end goal of arriving back at the stone age is something I attempt to build into every bit of future planning I do. I presume that this is something that Steven also does (without stating it explicitly every time). 

The real trick with all this I think (and this is something I have tried to emphasise before) is that for most of us going directly to stone age living is not an option. In fact I would have to argue that only childless and probably unmarried people in their 20s could contemplate it. I certainly know having a young family means I’m not in a position to do that. It’s not that the kids couldn’t cope – in fact I’m sure they’d be fine. The problem is me. 

And I should add that (based on my own personal development) I wouldn’t expect a community of childless, possibly relationship-less people to last long. I had not achieved a sufficient level of personal growth at that stage of my life to be able to contribute to a tribe. I would have been a liability and so would most young civilised adults. This is not an indictment on them so much as the parenting techniques of civilisation. 

Despite being well versed in the possibilities of the coming crisis I also know that I am not ready to walk away from civilisation, in fact I’m not ready to do anything different at the moment.  Nuclear Family Hell (to borrow someone else’s phrase) is not a strong position to do anything from – it’s a position to endure. If it wasn’t I would already be preparing to set up a village. It doesn’t end with me though. I hardly think I could convince my parents to walk away from civilisation, so I need a better plan if they are to see out the rest of their natural lives. 

In actual fact I don’t know anyone who I could convince to walk away from civilisation and join a forager tribe.  So I need another plan. 

At first I thought my old idea of living in an ecovillage might be the way but it soon became obvious that an ecovillage couldn’t absorb an influx of permanent visitors very well and it certainly couldn’t handle difficult security issues. 

Therefore I’ve given myself the same advice people are trying to give to George Bush (if only he would listen). True security comes from catering for the needs of all the people. I’d like to aim at preparing my entire catchment to be ready for post peak living and if that goes well, to use that as a model for other parts of New Zealand. I know that last bit is a little ambitious but I figure it’s worth a try. 

The first step in the long descent is actually to implement measures that will enable civilised life to continue pretty much as-is. This does sound a bit contrary but bear with me, this is possibly the most important phase. The main reason people aren’t ready is because they don’t know they need to be ready. They won’t know until it’s too late. 

If I stand up today and tell everyone the sky is going to fall in they’ll laugh at me but after the sky has fallen I’m pretty sure they’ll be keen to listen. If a few measures like setting up a green dollar system can be implemented now it will provide a cushion during the period when the economy is passing from recession to depression to total collapse. During this time it will become apparent to more and more people that things are changing for good and they will be more inclined to walk away from modern ways of living. 

But why do we bother with a bunch of civilised people who are in many ways the enemy of the earth? Because, in my view, to write them off is to be less than human.  To write them off is to take the ‘civilised’ approach. To write them off is to be supremely rational and isn’t that one of or problems at the moment? 

Of course the flip side of altruism is that it has a self-serving quality to it. Joe Polaischer mentioned in his interview with me that once people get desperate it’s too late. They stop caring for the environment and just look for the next meal to eat and the next tree to burn for warmth. It’s something he has seen in those parts of the world that are already in crisis and it’s something he is anxious to not see again. 

Something else I don’t want to do is to write-off organic agriculture. Sure, it’s the food source of empire and sure, it still depletes the topsoil over time but once again it’s a step – and a pretty good step too. Talking to the organic farmer who presented at our GE hearing the first thing a farmer must do when they convert from conventional agriculture is to get the soil functioning again. They take an active part in this over a period of several years. 

It’ll be a hell of a lot easier for the earth to repair itself if we’ve already done a lot of the work and it’ll be a million times easier to prevent chaos around you if the land is under organic ‘management’. I don’t care if we have to use capitalist arguments to convince people to farm organically – the more the merrier. It’s also a good way to turn farmers into activists which can’t hurt. 

Anyway, once people really understand that the world is changing, and truthfully I still find it hard to believe, they will be ready to move on to those next steps. None of this will happen if I turn primitive and head for the hills. If I do that I shouldn’t be surprised if the part of the world I depend on follows the pattern that has already been set in the more desperate parts of the third world which is to fall apart under me.


One comment

  1. Actually, I was suggesting that it’s not a very good plan for what to do next. Going off into the woods with your buddies has a fairly high chance of success as a plan for what to do next. Retrofitting a small town the way Steve suggests is, I think, almost certain to end in your painful demise. I don’t see any impediments for anyone to go stone age, save for the psychological; I can see a good number of practical impediments to retrofitting a small town. As always, the biggest barrier to being free isn’t the prison bars around you, but the prison bars inside you.

    Posted by: Jason Godesky | 04/02/2006

    Hey, thank you for your post. You touched on a few of the things I’ve been thinking about lately, and I’d like to respond to a few things.

    “At first I thought my old idea of living in an ecovillage might be the way but it soon became obvious that an ecovillage couldn’t absorb an influx of permanent visitors very well and it certainly couldn’t handle difficult security issues.”

    I think I hear what you’re saying — because it’s difficult to set up an ecovillage, you’re looking into other options. I think that’s a good idea, but that perhaps the option you’ve come up with is not any less difficult. In fact, it seems prone to the same problems any ecovillage would be prone to, just on a *much* larger scale. Here, “success” might be your biggest downfall, in that you would generate tons of press and a widespread interest, unlike a relatively small ecovillage. I can see thousands of people in a collapse situation thinking to themselves, “Hey, have you heard about that self-sufficient town? Let’s go there.” If you’re going to attempt this option, I think you need to address your same criticism of ecovillages — how the town would handle a sudden influx of permanent visitors. Maybe you *have* thought of this, I don’t know, but I’m unable to see how this same criticism doesn’t apply. It’d be helpful for me if I could see where you’re coming from on this.

    You might take what you’re saying (“True security comes from catering for the needs of all the people.”) to another level, meeting the needs of the entire island of New Zealand. But then you have the same exact problems, except on an even *larger* scale. Of course, if you could only save the whole entire world, there wouldn’t be any problem at all, so maybe you should make saving the whole world your focus. Except you and I *both* know that saving the whole world is an impossibility.

    At this point, doesn’t it make much more sense to start on the smallest scale possible, and work from there? I personally can’t see any line of reasoning that would point away from this idea *except* for the idea that it’s everyone or no one — either everyone lives together in perfect harmony or everyone dies together in a hellish armageddon. This dualistic view of the future seems to be very unrealistic, and seems to be self-fulfilling in the “everyone dying in a hellish armageddon” category. I think you and I both would agree that collapse isn’t this simplistic.

    And while you might disagree, I feel that it is more compassionate to let other people live their own lives rather than try to change or save them, “for their own good”. If anything, /this/ is what smacks to me of civilized behavior, the idea that we all need to live one way and that if others aren’t living OUR way we need to change them. Their “punishment” for not listening to you will be a collapse, and if they do listen to you, their “reward” will be survival.

    I would like to say, though, that letting other people live their own lives does not mean we must callously write them off, either. I have discovered in my own relationships with others that the hope of saving people and the subsequent callous write-off (when they reasonably refuse to be saved) are two sides of the same coin, that of insecurity. If we can find a way to be secure in our own selves and in our relationships with others, we have neither the need to save them nor the need to callously write them off.

    I personally think it is a sign of disempowerment and externalization to try to change others before we attempt to change ourselves. If I cannot change myself, even while knowing all that I do and *wanting* to change, how can I hope to change others who are in a completely different situation and likely do not want to change? To use your example, how many of the few thousand people in your area are caught in Nuclear Family Hell? I would suggest that relative to other people in your area, you’re one of the families most capable of change. How then can you expect others to change at any pace faster than you yourself can change?

    So after all that, it seems we must come back to personal growth. Here, my own “plan” is to use the ecovillage as a way to get to the point of personal growth and connection with other people so that I can walk away/go more primitive from there. The cool thing about an ecovillage, in my mind, is that it gives people the time and the space to be able to grow. I wouldn’t dare think of ecovillages as anything approaching a permanent solution, but as a place to give yourself some space to grow they seem pretty unbeatable.

    So rather than trying to “set up” (as in “create”) an ecovillage, have you looked into joining a previously existing one? If you feel you have not grown enough, it is likely because you’re running as fast as you can just to stay in the same place — Nuclear Family Hell. People can only grow when there is room for growth, after all.

    It sounds a little bit like you’re imagining ecovillages (or maybe aspiring primitivist groups) as childless, relationship-less people in their 20s. While I think you might have a point about how these are the people who are most “free”, there *are* successful multi-generational ecovillages. So while you may be right not to expect “a community of childless, possibly relationship-less people to last long”, I’m not exactly sure who or what you’re characterizing here.

    Regardless, it seems this is addressed by using the already successful ecovillages as “tribal incubators”. In this way, those childless and relationship-less people might form relationships and have children, all the while supporting each other in their personal growth. And what might emerge from this community are the strong bonds and will to live necessary for adapting to new and likely harsh environments. Try as I might, I don’t believe I can wish those strong bonds into place. It is already difficult for a very small group of people — I simply cannot imagine forming those type of bonds with an entire village. I would be lucky to learn everyone’s name.

    – Devin

    Posted by: Devin | 04/04/2006

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