The New Map / Emergent Strategies:
We live in one of the interesting times foretold long ago by the Chinese sage who is credited with the odd blessings of, “May you live in interesting times.” The nexus of tremendous change within the established political, economic, and social spheres are straining our nervous systems to adapt and respond. The old maps have become obsolete. As writer and educator, Douglas Rushkoff puts it, “we’ve crossed over the event horizon of a slow-moving apocalypse.” We need a new map to inform how to prioritize our actions and the appropriate course to take. The idea of an emergent strategy is one that takes into consideration changes as they occur real-time and has the flexibility to pivot mid-course. Strategy typically entails planning a course of policy and action based upon our best available data and projections in order to achieve a goal. Each of us has had our own version of a strategy to deliver us to one outcome or another. Oftentimes our strategy is a combination of following the pack, logic, emotional longing, and perhaps a dash of Utopian Fantasy unless we’ve been irrevocably tainted by cynicism. The problem is that the old map has taught us to choose a trajectory and commit to follow it, i.e. go to college, get a good job, fall in love, start a family, save money for retirement, retire and enjoy the fruits of your labors. Systems thinker, Jamie Wheal astutely points out that we can view our own goals for the desired outcome (or that of society at large) as an assemblage of 3 buckets, each informed by a distinct branch of Western philosophy. These being:
- Occam’s Razor: the most logical explanation for reality is likely to be the truth
- Pascal’s Wager: better to consider the Black Swan event (of economic collapse, climate crisis, aliens…) than not. Moreover, we bet our life either from the perspective that God exists, or does not.
- Bayes’ Theorem: best to consider all statistics, probabilities and our prior experience to develop an equation to arrive at the most likely outcome based on facts. In many ways this represents a midpoint between Occam and Pascal
If we apply some critical thinking, we may approach any issue or challenge with one of these vantage points. For instance: when considering the risk of COVID-19 we can either go with an Occam’s Razor approach which might infer that some upgrades to sanitation, social distancing, wearing a mask, immune system support, and widespread testing makes sense and that we will get through this just fine as we have with SARS, Ebola, AIDS, or other infectious viral diseases. Alternately, we may approach it from Pascal’s Wager mindset that this is THE global pandemic prophesized by religion or science that will purge humanity of a significant percentage of the global population (the converse might be that it is all hoax and an elaborate conspiracy theory that represents no threat to our health and is a veiled attempt at restricting our civil liberties). Lastly, if one were to take the Bayesian inference approach, we would analyze the data and plot a statistical likelihood of one outcome or another based upon facts and probability. Most of us probably combine all 3 approaches in some hybrid that is representative of our upbringing, cultural context, background, and moral compass for our life.
How Do I Follow the New Map to the Right Path?
The thing is, we are presently so far off the proverbial map based upon historical precedent informed by the best available theories/science/philosophies on so many data points with which we measure progress, security and how we make sense of reality. In short, the Black Swan events have become the new norm. A few of these points to consider include:
- Climate change realities continually playing out at the far end of worst-case scenarios (more CO2, more frequent extreme weather events, more displaced peoples due to desertification, sea level rise, wildfires, etc.)
- COVID-19 as a global pandemic slowing down and/or halting global economies, trade, travel and public life
- the rise of authoritarian/fascist power regimes, police state, and practices
- unprecedented wealth accumulation and inequity
- global economic collapse with record unemployment
- Major shocks to global and regional supply chains
- Widespread civil unrest/uprisings spurred off by the murder of Minneapolis, Minnesota man George Floyd at the hands of the MPD. The unrest is a response to long brewing racial tensions aggravated by poverty, systemic racism and lack of opportunity for people of color paralleled with simmering class war.
Don’t Get Lost: Making Sense of Sense-Making
The concept of sense-making systems and how they inform our choices and goal setting has intrigued me my whole adult life. What compels us towards a given path? Often it is informed by up to a dozen different reasons, half of which may be subconscious and maybe only one or two that we are willing to admit publicly. Nevertheless, we gravitate towards one path or another, or simply follow the herd. The process that informs this choice some call our “sense-making system”. Presently it has become increasingly difficult to separate the signal from the noise, leading many to descend into apathy and inaction when the times call for swift and decisive action. A brilliant thinker and former chairman of the Santa Fe Institute, Jim Rutt has laid out a map of the possible pathways that include 5 courses of action which are occurring concurrently:
1) Neofascism – authoritarian control. Koch brothers
2) NeoFuedalism – evidenced by increasing wealth consolidation / corporate control of politics. Kind of runaway capitalism plus authoritarian government plus militarism plus nationalism.
3) Neo Dark Ages – a post-collapse contraction of wealth and opportunity. Something that looked like Europe in 900 AD, when religion was everything, freedom was impossible, and nothing much of interest was happening.
4) Environmental Collapse -
5) Endogenous collapse, like financial systems or revolution.
If this sounds far-fetched, then consider his example of the collapse of complex civilizations, “…and this comes closer to my theme of social system progression — is Rome. It was once the most influential civilization in the world, commercially, socially, and militaristically, and this period of prosperity lasted for more than 600 years. But then a major transition occurred around 470 AD, and down it went. The city that had had a population of almost two million had by 1100 AD seen its population drop to just 15,000. A fall of more than 99 percent! Imagine your favorite post-apocalyptic movie, and imagine 15,000 people in the ruins of Rome — that’s what it looked like after the fall.” Rutt goes on to assert, “In fact, I’d argue the number one priority for people today should be creating a winning, good attractor for our civilization. We need to steer the inevitable big change to a better place, not a worse place.”  Australian Aboriginal man Tyson Yunkaporta asserts that the Roman empire which was not a capitalist society (more of a socialist system in fact) illustrates that capitalism per se is not the root of all evil, rather it is large cities and how they deprive their inhabitants of contact with the natural world and biodiversity of life forms that has a centering effect upon our limbic systems and immune-health.
Implicit yet unspoken within the American Dream is the right to exploit (others, resources, opportunities). If this were not the case then the, “how do we get people to do…_____”, fill in the blank type statements about incentivizing social change would not be so prevalent. Nor would the ensuing propaganda and social control mechanisms that spring up like weeds on both the right and left sides of the political spectrum. So often our most cherished outcomes can resemble a Utopian fantasy for our personal affinity group while not considering the welfare of others in our region or in other parts of the world, let alone other species. Any Utopian narrative ultimately promises salvation for a select group while turning its back upon, betraying or dominating another group. Moreover, if the promise is heaven on earth, by any means necessary, then oppression and subjugation are inevitable. How do we temper this optimism with the pragmatism put forth by Gandhi, “that the means must be consistent with the ends?” Also consider that the Sumerian invention of writing took humans from living in the present to now being able to record the past and write contracts about the future which ultimately ushered in an” ends justifies the means” thinking, wherein the oppression of others could be justified and incentivized to meet a goal. In modern times, we tend to look to politics and policy for solutions that will address the myriad of problems facing us, however, author John Gray, professor at the London School of Economics makes the solid claim in his book, Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia, that all of politics is merely a footnote upon the history of religion.  I take this to infer that we may be well served to broaden our narrative of what qualities inform the collective moral compass than what can be encompassed through politics alone. The spread of Buddhism as the first truly anti-war movement and it’s reverence for all sentient life is worth considering.
This is particularly pertinent considering that politics and capitalism have basically become synonymous and that the primary metric for progress and success has been reduced to being measured by profit and GDP. Another way to grasp how the infinite growth model is a flawed metric for the advancement of society can be evidenced through the work of Richard Eckersley who pointed out that economic growth and resource depletion are inherently coupled. He calculated that for every 10% increase in GDP for a nation that it’s material resource footprint increases by 6%. So, if by 2050 the global population is expected to reach 9 billion people it would require an additional 270 billion tons of natural resources compared to the global consumption of natural resources in 2010 being 70 million tons, a nearly 4-fold increase. Another notable metric comes from a recent paper in the journal Nature Communications by a team of scientists from Australia, Switzerland, and the UK which concludes that the most fundamental driver of environmental destruction is the overconsumption of the super-rich. The richest 10 percent of people are responsible for up to 43 percent of destructive global environmental impacts. In contrast, the poorest 10 percent are responsible for less than 5 percent of destructive environmental impacts.  Considering these metrics, the argument that overpopulation is a primary problem facing us is a distortion and distraction that it is the global north’s (which functionally includes Australia and New Zealand too) excess that is causing a preponderance of pollution and degradation to the global south who are among the poorer peoples of the earth.
The prevalence of a global financial system based upon fiat currencies is another major warning sign that we should all be aware of. The inherent need to show an increase in quarterly earnings for the benefit of the shareholders means that it’s always an “ends justifies the means” game-theoretic. In order to show ever-expanding economic growth, bankers have rationalized un-repayable debt to leverage themselves. Currently in the USA, 1 trillion dollars per day of overnight loans are being made available to Wall Street from the Federal Reserve Bank, among other financial stimulus packages, and bailouts to sinking and untenable financial institutions. One way to see the way that the financial system are currently functioning is as a black hole of debt in the treasury that is swallowing vast sums of money that represent actual capital. Increasingly the COVID-19 lockdowns are illuminating that banking and finance are far from being “essential industries” and are in fact quite parasitic upon the labor and productivity of the masses. Conversely, we are being made excruciatingly aware of what industries/sectors are in fact essential – farmers, nurses, mail carriers, mechanics, and the other trades. Meanwhile, we have a 21 % unemployment rate in the USA and countless small business (an estimated 50%) are looking at (or have ) shuttered for good with their market share being seized upon the vultures of the e-commerce sector – Amazon, etc. Further, considering that the acquisition of experiences has become the zenith of the aspiration of so many people with widespread global travel lavishly documented upon social media feeds, and now we’re in a scenario where access to this privilege has become radically restricted. In many ways, the future is on hold for countless millennials. It is quite possible that human civilization teeters precariously upon the edge of a decade or two of hard times when Black Swan events have become so frequent as to become the new normal.
The book Infinite and Finite Games, by James P. Carse, lays out a brilliant synthesis of win/lose game-theoretic and how much of our decision-making process is informed by the rules/agreements of the game we are playing. Since the advent of the Age of Enlightenment, humanity has been engaged in the Infinite Game of trying to proliferate wealth, happiness and liberty for all people. This is evidenced by successive waves of democratic reforms, civil rights movements, and the current social justice efforts. In some ways, the evolution of the Age of Enlightenment marks a move away from the Judeo/Christian belief of original sin and the assumption that humanity will take the less virtuous path unless incentivized by religion. Enlightenment thinking is moving towards the Eastern Dharma belief of original purity – that all beings are inherently enlightened and simply have to purify all the obscurations to reveal Universal Mind and Unity consciousness. This has brought about many benefits to the well-being of countless humans, however, we have tended to externalize the cost of progress on ecosystems, other beings, and future generations through a continuation of Manifest Destiny Neocolonial thinking that just won’t seem to die quietly. An embrace of Finite Game thinking has emerged on both the right and the left as brewing frustration over the inability to move the needle of progress mounts. This can be seen on the Conservative right with the Libertarian aim to dismantle government controls, Proud Boy patriotism militias, and white supremacy. On the left, it is seen in “smash the system” ideologies encapsulated by Antifa and the modern social justice warrior working to dismantle patriarchy, racism, sexism, and ecological destruction. Much of these sentiments have logical origins and ample evidence to indicate how they arose from late-stage capitalism and the consolidation of wealth that exceedingly marginalizes increasing numbers of people whose needs are not being met. It is crucially important that in this shift towards Finite Game deconstructionist approaches that we have legitimate Plan B for meeting the needs of humanity counter to profit-driven, resource extraction-based industry. Douglas Rushkoff and other intellectual dark web thinkers point out that we may look back upon much of the Identity Politics being proliferated by SJW and a myriad of movements as a decadent indulgence when we should probably be working on alternatives to our current failing supply chains in the face of the threat of climate change. I believe that the only way to arrive at something other than the current paradigm entails highly decentralized, site-specific, network-based, crowd-sourced projects that stand a higher likelihood of long term resilience.
Turning the Corner
Author of Team Human, Douglas Rushkoff uses the term “Subsidiarity” to describe an economic principle that more accurately mirrors biology that doesn’t simply grow for growth’s sake, rather it finds an appropriate scale for the given scenario before cleaving off another subsidiary that addresses the next community or group nearby. Rushkoff also cautions against the rise of the new “digital industrialism” being rapidly ushered in with artificial intelligence, facial recognition, automation and transfer of power and influence to the captains of this Tech regime that could quite possibly define the events of coming decades. He also frames the current milieu of dynamics into 3 phases/approaches:
- Rapture – a state of Bliss promised by the techno futurists with their vertical LED farms, self-driving cars, neural implants and trans-humanism evolution into Cyborgs.
- Apocalypse – Greek for “unveiling” or “revelation” and can be seen in the current uprisings illuminating the oppression and faults of the current Neocolonial industrial capitalism. Basically, facing reality as it is, rather than as you imagine it to be.
- Armageddon – mentioned in the book of Revelations in the New Testament of the Bible, a place where the kings of the earth under demonic leadership will wage war on the forces of God at the end of history. Moreover – End times.
From this analysis, he has moved from a place of optimism and “Saving the World” to a more pragmatic acceptance of impermanence that all things come to an end and that it may be wiser to strategize from a place that looks more like palliative care for the collapse of civilization. Systems thinker, Nora Bateson astutely pointed out that the problems we face today we oftentimes initiated as the solutions of the past. Consider that fossil fuels could automate the labor once serviced by draft animals and humans and now we see the problem of CO2 in the atmosphere and the resultant climate change that could never have been considered at the onset of burning coal and oil.
Australian Permaculture co-originator, homesteader, teacher and writer, David Holmgren wrote an excellent road map in 2007 called Future Scenarios and then followed it up with an update in 2013 called, Crash on Demand that explored what routes society was likely to follow considering the data. His analysis basically explores 4 possible energy descent scenarios that could emerge over the coming 10 to 40 years locally and/or globally.
- Brown Tech – keep using fossil fuels with little to no regard to climate change (our present trajectory)
- Green Tech – transition swiftly to renewable sources of energy like solar, wind and biomass. Incentivize the transition with carbon credits and tax breaks. Epitomized by some western European nations and the US state of California. A bit of a techno-utopia, especially when you consider that strides in reducing greenhouse gases typically spur an increase in consumption as people feel like they have earned it.
- Transition Town Movement – local, county scale initiatives at local resilience through community actions. Willits, California or Ashland, Oregon are good examples.
- Lifeboats – islands of coherence in a sea of insanity. This includes the permaculture, homesteader, and prepper movements. Mostly at the individual, family-scale with a few notable small communities on a single piece of land or neighborhood. Last one standing.
This work has been strongly influenced by the prescient topic of Peak Oil at the time (2007), and the larger battle of Oil versus Money. However, the peak oil theorists assumed that heavily polluting techniques such as tar sands, oil shale and fracking would not occur. They were wrong and it is clear that our thirst for fossil fuels to drive the engine of capitalism is insatiable. A whole host of other novel, unpredicted factors have occurred, including, but not limited to:
- Global financial crisis of 2008/9
- Global expansion of mega energy projects (such as LNG)
- Transition to biofuels, creating a conflict of energy versus food
- Utter failure of inter-governmental negotiations on climate
- Ongoing natural disasters of unprecedented scale, scope and expense
- The emergence of the surveillance state, cyber wars and big tech. influence
- Global Covid-19 pandemic and global shut down at least 25% of businesses
- Massive curtailment of air travel & the entire travel economic sector
- Restrictive government policies globally to combat spread of COVID-19
- Unprecedented unemployment levels and unfolding global economic depression
- Widespread uprisings throughout the USA to protest police brutality, racism and inequity after the murder of innocent black man George Floyd
The key to any path moving forwards is the idea of “Power down” strategies. Richard Heinberg, author of the seminal Peak Oil book, the Party’s Over (2003) wrote Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World in 2004. Powerdown is the concept of intentionally downshifting our global energy appetite to avert the myriad of “hockey-stick chart narratives” in which humanity appears doomed to follow. The lifestyle of the current first world nation’s peoples uses so much fossil fuels to support that it is roughly the equivalent to each of us having 50 “energy-slaves” at our disposal. This comes at the cost of a disproportional energy-footprint compared with people in the developing world. Put simply, this is not sustainable, nor does it allocate any excess energy towards restoration and reparations from centuries of resource extraction and colonial capitalism. We must ask ourselves, what does fair share look like? Further, are we individually willing to power-down? Or, will this only occur as a result of external controls and conditions like economic collapse (demand destruction)? Holmgren states in 2013, “in principle, a major contraction in energy consumption is possible because a large proportion of that consumption is for non-essential uses by more than a billion middle-class people.” However, a concept known as the Jevon’s Paradox comes into play such that any gains in efficiency due to conservation in one sector or new energy sources (solar and wind which requires fossil fuels to create the raw materials) will inevitably lead to expanding the total consumption of resources. For instance, even if the entire country of the USA does some serious belt-tightening, India and China’s economies are rapidly expanding along with their resource consumption and greenhouse gas output, which effectively negates any strides inefficiency. Another way to grasp this phenomenon is to consider that for all the energy-saving initiatives in California over the past 3 decades, the net energy consumption has still gone up, largely because most folks say to themselves, “I drive a Tesla and I installed solar panels and I use LED lightbulbs, so I deserve a trip to Bali, or a second home….”
I along with many other people in the global permaculture community have seen that economic collapse is most likely the only way that society will make the about-face to try and live within the energy budget of the earth and its resources. Very few people are willing to radically alter their lifestyle to reduce their personal consumption. According to the work of Mathis Wackernagel and the Global Footprint Network, the average first-world nation citizen uses the equivalent of 2-4 times as many resources compared to a developing world citizen. To come into living within a reasonable energy budget we’d have to voluntarily do some substantial belt-tightening. Or would we enforce this through policy? Or, a much more likely scenario is the concept of demand destruction. If you have less purchasing power, then the amount of resources that you can use diminishes. The clearer skies of numerous cities post COVID-19 lockdown is direct evidence of this. We also saw a global drop in resource demand following the 2008/9 global recession. A pragmatic assessment of our present situation might surmise that we are in for a difficult next 10-20 years and if we make the right choices now we may be able to proliferate a new golden age of Regenerative initiatives taking root in many sectors of society.
“…. without a doubt it is more comfortable to endure blind bondage than to work for one’s liberation; the dead, too, are better suited for the earth than the living.” ≈Simone de Beauvoir
The Permaculture concept was pioneered in the late 1970’s in response to the nexus of resource depletion, pollution, boom and bust cycles and a genuine need for practical, down to earth solutions. Originally conceived of by Tasmanian, Bill Mollison, and Australian, David Holmgren, it is much more than a gardening technique, rather, Permaculture is a design methodology that can be applied broadly to any human endeavor. My favorite description is that Permaculture is that it’s the toolbox that holds the tools for designing, implementing and managing sustainable human settlement. Key to the Permaculture approach are the 3 ethics:
- Care the Earth
- Care of the Species – of which humans are one.
- Fair Share – redistribute the surplus
Equally as central is a strong emphasis upon staying in Observation for as long as possible, considering all possible dynamics and factors before moving into Assessment and then finally Design, after which we circle back around to Observation to learn what our actions have done (or not done). At this point we Assess once again and then refine the Design. It is a Circular whole system exercise that borrows from Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and other whole systems approaches quite common among Indigenous societies that managed to live long term as people of place without fouling up their environment.
Author James Howards Kunstler who is best known for his work, The End of Suburbia and The Long Emergency also has a fictional series called A World Made by Hand which envisions a return to an Amish scale technology (or lack thereof). Interestingly enough, this fictional narrative parallels that put forth by both Starhawk, The Fifth Sacred Thing and also Always Coming Home, by Ursula LeGuin, both of which imagine a return to human scale interactions with one another and the land and a strong reverence for Nature and the mystery of creation. A number of prominent thinkers at the Santa Fe Institute conceived of the idea of Game B as a term to encapsulate what this new map for a way forward might look like. Among them was Jim Rutt who said, “So what is GameB? First, it is not “GameA” — the Western Civilization status quo. That’s a good start for those of us who find the status quo a grim place that seems headed for self-destruction. Game B is conceived of “What Comes Next”, the social operating system that replaces Game A. Game B is not yet well defined but it has four fundamentals: 1) self-organizational 2) network-oriented, 3) decentralized, and 4) metastable for an extended period of time .” Another way to view Game B is as a social operating system with long term meta-stability.
For context, I am a Biodynamic farmer who has earned living farming seeds, fruits, vegetables, and herbs for over 25 years. In my own ponderings of assessing what the pathways forwards look like I have summarized them into a different version of the 4 R’s:
- Regular- Western Civilization Status Quo = Game A. Infinite Game with finite resources
- Reform – the belief that the system works and just needs different leadership, Progressive ideals. Bernie Sanders, Western Europe. An Infinite Game with the hope of extending resources through renewables and conservation.
- Revolution – Dismantle Capitalism/ patriarchy/ colonialism. The current Black Lives Matter/Defund the Police/ Topple the symbols of the oppressors. A Finite Game without a clearly defined next step.
- Renaissance – In previous times of collapse, a period of artful creativity ensued wherein new models were dreamt and implemented. In the spirit of what Buckminster Fuller, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
The idea of an Agrarian Renaissance is much more than a quaint pastoral image. Another way to view renaissance is as a rebirth of old ideas in a new context. In the words of Edward Abbey,
“If America could be, once again, a nation of self-reliant farmers, craftsmen, hunters, ranchers, and artists, then the rich would have little power to dominate others. Neither to serve nor to rule: That was the American dream.”
For most of the great arc of the past ten millennia of human history, people lived in agrarian villages. The future must be human scale and based on regional autonomy, more than a romantic notion of nostalgic fancy. Decentralized yet networked economies based upon the regional specialties afforded by the local bioregion will convey the greatest possible stability of interlocking communities that specialize enough in their goods and services to stimulate excellence and art, yet redundant enough to bolster resilience. Helena Norberg Hodge, who is widely known as the mother of the global relocalization movement astutely points out that in humanities’ race for affluence and material possessions we have developed a type of “time poverty”, wherein we are too busy to enjoy the simple things in life.  Neurohacker founder, Daniel Schmachtenberger introduced an important distinction between complex and complicated systems.
Complex Systems: Are circular, and multi-branching, they embody tremendous redundancy and multi-functionality. For instance, a tree produces oxygen, makes shade, leaf litter, pollen, seeds, fruit, provides a substrate for fungi, habitat for numerous species of animals, a scaffold for lichens and mushrooms, a carbon sink, reproduces itself continually, and finally decomposing to make soil for the next cycles. Closed loops. Diversity and meta-stability increase over time.
Complicated Systems: Are linear and tend to streamline, funnel and simplify, yet are complicated in their unintegrated parts and externalities. For example, we build homes from lumber made from trees that grew in a forest that was cut down from a diverse ecosystem then loaded onto a lumber truck. Often the home is built in an area that was formerly forest that was cleared, a wetland that was drained, or a prairie that was leveled. These homes require architects, skilled builders, zoning and code enforcement officers, mortgages, banks for loans, fire protection services, electricity to power, and then the home itself only last 50-100 years maximum before it must be rebuilt. Open loops. Diversity and meta-stability decrease over time.
The Crossroads: Moving Towards A New Destination on the Map
Human culture has stalled at the crossroads between Revolution and Renaissance. Without some serious effort, it appears that we will careen off the cliff of the known paradigm of Industrial Capitalism in a messy revolution heading inexorably towards collapse. I feel it is an essential question to ask where do we land? How do we intentionally move the needle from wealth accumulation towards community resilience? The collective actions over the coming decade may well decide if western civilization is merely a footnote within the 6th major extinction wave of the biosphere, or a profound turning point of deeply grasping our part within James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis. Nearly everyone alive is still reliant upon the existing structures for meeting many of our basic needs, so we all can’t simply abandon the cities and their supply chains and move to the country. In many ways the transition process is akin to how a fungus transforms a dead tree into soil. For our purposes, the industrial capitalist paradigm is our metaphorical dead or dying tree and we require it’s carbon as feedstock or substrate upon which to grow the new regenerative forest. The process can be thought of as one of myceliating (a verb) – the transformation of one state of organic matter to another like the way mycelium forms symbiotic relationships with living plants that are capable of accessing photons via photosynthesis and transforming them into biomass to recycle carbon into soil. Expanding this image – how do we transform the high rises, WalMarts, cruise ships, toxic waste Superfund sites and the like into the urban permaculture farms, rainwater catchment and distribution networks, bioremediation strategies, natural preventative medicine that supports a healthy immune system, workforce retraining, massive tree planting of multi-functional food/ nectar / medicinal hedgerows and so on. To these ends, I find the image of a ratchet (as opposed to a lever) that marketing wiz, Seth Godin articulates so well as very useful image. A lever is clumsy and inaccurate whereas a ratchet is precise, mechanically efficient, and affords us massive torque. For each of us, we should continually ask ourselves, “what is our ratchet on implementing Game B strategies, initiatives, and systems?”
The New Map: What Should I Be Doing? A Game B Play Book
There seem to be so many people with all sorts of opinions that are an assessment of the problems and issues that humanity faces. That part is easy. I have always been inspired by the statement by the Chinese Taoist sage, Lao Tzu, “Unless you change direction, you will wind up where you are going.” To those ends, I wish to summarize the critical areas where society can evolve and take positive action.
- Know your water: Water is the most central element of life and health. Where does your water come from? If you don’t know, then you have some detective work to do. Are you involved in the stewardship, restoration and protection of your watershed? If not, get busy! Take steps to at least set up some rainwater catchment and storage using gravity flow. Keep going until you know what your watershed is and you’re involved in its sound stewardship.
- Know your garden: Where does your food come from? Are you growing any food yourself? Even the humblest window box container can be producing some greens and herbs. You can keep a few chickens for eggs that can live partially off of your compost on a small lot. Do you know your farmer(s)? Farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) relationships. We don’t all need to be farmers, but we do all NEED farmers. Also explore where you can be foraging for wild mushrooms, herbs and other wild edibles.
- Know the difference between money and currency: Currency is a store of value and a medium of exchange. Money is but one form of currency. What do you value, do others value it too? Do you have enough surplus to trade, barter, share? An economic idea called “Distributism” navigates the wide terrain between capitalism and Marxism wherein the economy is not optimized for growth as in capitalism, rather for flow and the velocity of transactions. Transactional velocity is the same as idea of dollar turnover, where $1 dollar spent locally can turn into the equivalent of $10 (or more) if people keep circulating that same dollar. In growth-based capitalist economies, $1 spent at Amazon or Walmart instantly leaves the community and still represents only $1 (or less). Worker cooperatives fit within the model of distributism well. Consider a whole systems economic model wherein Land, Labor and Capital have equal seats at the table as opposed to our current model where Capital rules supreme and the Land and Labor are undervalued. If we value Land and Labor on par with Capital we move towards stable, regenerative systems.
Ultimately, it is crucial that we redefine wealth as more than how much money is in your bank account. To me true wealth includes health, clean air, free-flowing water, food growing outside my home, my kids playing safe in a supportive community, spaciousness to welcome friends and family to come to stay with me, freedom from war and oppression, freedom and inspiration to make art, having faith in resilient systems, community of like-minded individuals that I can trust, and I could go on but you get the idea. While on the idea of currency our future path must include equity for all involved. Having skin in the game engenders a higher quality of effort and workmanship and a willingness to dig in and do the hard parts. Can you imagine what levying a voluntary tax towards a collective future for 150 people (the Dunbar number) that comprise your closest circle? Maybe we don’t need government after all? Perhaps we can begin to look out for one another. If 150 contributed $100, then that’s $15k, $1000 each is $150k. Imagine the businesses, health care safety nets, infrastructure upgrades we could finance if we stopped leaning into banks and government. Perhaps we may not tithe equally, nonetheless, investing in our direct community is an excellent practice. Consider the Mondragon Cooperative in Spain which is the world’s largest and most successful cooperative formed in 1956 with 264 interlockings, mutually supportive businesses, 81,000 employees, and nearly $14 billion in revenue.  The model for a successful bioregional economic resilient model already exists.
- Decentralized / Network-based Systems: The Dunbar Number comes from the work of British anthropologist Robin Dunbar is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. It has been proposed to lie between 100 and 250, with a commonly used value of 150. This strongly suggests that our most successful systems are those that fit within this scale of community/network. Interestingly enough this is also resonant with marketing whiz, Seth Godin’s concept of your “minimum viable audience” and the idea that, “people like us, do things like this” when referring to how to manufacture and produce goods and services that are of the highest value to your constituency. Capitalizing upon regional specialty and “terroir” also suggests networked economies where a region may specialize in a particular industry/product/service that is valued in neighboring regions thereby ensuring integration and bioregional economic and social stability. In the immortal words of E.F. Schumaker, “Small is Beautiful”.
- Know your community: Do you know your neighbors? What skills/needs do they have? Make friends and allies with them – you need one another. May we each lookout for the vulnerable people in our communities and strive for equity and resilience. Considering the Dunbar number that we can successfully have relationships with about 150 people – this forms a strong circle with interlocking social capital and the positive feedback loop of reputational capital that incentivizes morality and discourages the bad actor phenomenon that leads to power struggles and oppression. See this as your modern village. It should interact and cooperate with neighboring villages through proximity or affinity.
- Store Nutrients and Water as High as possible: Rainwater Catchment & Closing of nutrient loops: We need a massive reworking of many of our critical infrastructure systems to more closely mimic natural systems through retrofitting many of our public utilities with whole systems thinking. We can no longer fail to consider the elements as externalities as they are central to living systems, an existent model would be how the city of Arcata, CA created a living machine/biological marsh to absorb and transmute the cities blackwater/sewerage system. The recycling of all organic wastes with sound microbial processes must become primary to any version of civilization. No one wants to be in a city (or anywhere for that matter) when you can no longer flush the toilet, or wash something down the drain to somewhere that is “away”. We must deal with our shit, a word that coincidentally was an acronym used on ships in the 1700s that stood for Stack High in Transit as manure was shipped to the New World as ballast for developing agrarian colonies that needed to build soils.
- Consider Risk & Invisible Structures: The frequency and intensity of natural disasters is increasing exponentially as exacerbated by climate change. What are the risks and have we thought through mitigating them effectively? It is difficult to know for sure as Black Swan events are becoming so much more frequent; however, we can do our best and plan for contingencies.
- Become a Jack (or Jill) of All Trades but a Master of One: In the emergent network-based, decentralized economy genuine skills will achieve parity with capital and primacy of finance, thereby leveling the playing field. What can you do or make that is of actual intrinsic value? If you can’t answer this question it may be time to reskill yourself. Bankers beware! Tradespeople will reign as supremely valuable. I also feel that our ability to develop empathy and compassion for displaced peoples will become increasingly important. The UN estimates that 100 million people will need to migrate northwards from Northern Africa into Europe as the Sahara and desertification and runaway warming make the region uninhabitable. Can you welcome newcomers to your village, or will you need to defend scarce resources? A difficult and scary question to ponder, nonetheless, this is the world that runaway growth-based capitalism has created and we are already seeing the caravans. I for one intend to plan for surplus and abundance through stockpiling seeds and tools rather than weapons and ammunition.
- Location, Location, Location! Grow Your Own Groceries author, Marjory Wildcraft penned this unique twist upon the cliched marketing advice indicating that while it is still possible to move and relocate, one should deeply consider their location in terms of both risks/liabilities and assets. The coming years may not be the best time to be “living it up” in a mega-city. The impacts of the COVID-19 crisis have laid bare for all to see the incredible chasm of outcomes between rural and urban dwellers. As recently as 100 years ago, 75% of the global population lived in small villages that met most of their own needs. Now the UN predicts that soon 80% of the global population will live in mega-cities. Rural areas tend to have more natural resources, less government control, a more functioning community, and greater opportunity to create cottage-based industries. At the time of the Great Depression in the early 1930s, 70% of the nation’s grain was still harvested with a scythe! Rural inhabitants tend to embody bioregional thinking that interacts based upon watersheds more than political boundaries. This bioregional thinking is key to fostering the decentralized, vertically integrated terroir that has long term resilience and meta-stability. Also, many areas with huge concentrations of people such as Los Angeles, CA and Las Vegas, NV are only possible through the massive movement of water, electricity, food and other critical resources that are produced far from their point of use. Consider that 80% of the water for California’s agriculture comes from 4 or 5 major rivers in the very rural, forested, northern tip of the state.
- Hack the System/Transcend and Include: While romantic notions of a bucolic agrarian utopia are intriguing and they are good at selling permaculture books and courses, that is unlikely to be the reality for many people. The same goes for the back to nature appeal embedded within the rewilding/ancestral skills/paleo movement. A far more pragmatic plan embodies Ken Wilber’s sage advice to transcend all the dogmas, rigid frameworks, AND include all data, feedback, resources and opportunities. This brings us back to the Bayesian inference where the essay began! I believe that we will have to hack the system as much as possible and use the existing structures, technology, infrastructure, and social tools to repair and regenerate degraded landscapes and communities. In the words of permaculture founder Bill Mollison, “we have to use the bulldozers while we’ve got them.” Or consider how to transform abandoned Amazon warehouses and WalMarts into solar-powered, LED-lit, nutrient recycling indoor vertical aquaponic micro-farms or mushroom farms? The cities are blessed with an overabundance of resources. The problem is they are poorly utilized, inappropriately distributed, and tend to externalize wastes and require materials from distant supply chains. A somewhat darker, yet plausible scenario put forth in Gaia hypothesis originator, James Lovelock, who is now 100 years old in his recent book, Novacene is the emergence of the 6th Kingdom of life – artificial intelligence, or cyborgs as Locklock refers to them. The Novacene is his term to demarcate the end of the Anthropocene and the movement into a new era wherein we must utilize the much faster computational speed that computers are capable of addressing runaway global warming. “For Lovelock, the Gaia hypothesis will save us, because the machines will realize that they need organic life to keep the planet at a habitable temperature. (Even electronic life could not survive on an Earth that veered into runaway global warming.) So, Lovelock argues, it will suit the robots to keep humans around. We might even be happier, as he quotes the American writer Richard Brautigan writing in 1967 when we are “all watched over/by machines of loving grace”.” This is in addition to the other 5 kingdoms of life: Monera, Protista, Plantae, Fungi, Anamalia. Interestingly, Elon Musk has arrived at the same conclusion with the development of the Neural Lace brain-computer interface/implant to allow humanity a better control over AI.
While this is not an appealing prediction for me personally, I will concede that without utilizing all the tools at our disposal there is little hope for us to turn the ship around. No nation, not even the wealthy, progressive Western European countries have met targets set forth to reduce greenhouse gases. In the words of the late theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking when asked what the biggest risks to human survival were, “human greed, human stupidity, and artificial intelligence,” hinting that if we don’t get AI right we risk a Matrix/2001 HAL dystopia. Another way to view hacking the system through co-opting existent technology is to imagine a plan for reforesting the deserts or re-mineralizing our soils using military aircraft. Or perhaps we can imagine giving every solider a shovel instead of a gun to plant trees, and dig swales. We’re going to have to get really creative here!
How do we make participating in regenerative solutions as appealing as worrying about the problems? How does one sign up for such a program? It is so much larger than enrolling in a Community Supported Agriculture produce delivery program, or taking a workshop or going to a retreat. How can we each join the rehabilitation program for our ailing society? Looking at proven models such as the Mondragon worker cooperative, we can see that we have a treatment plan for the ailing society, we just have to follow the protocols and transform society into one of regeneration, resilience, justice, beauty, and equity. As I see it, we are all presently lost in a dense forest and a proven model such as the aforementioned Mondragon Cooperative in Spain stands a glimmering mountain we can see above the treetops to navigate towards.
And Last but Not Least:
- Have a Plan: Most people are simply living day to day, paycheck to paycheck, and have never been empowered to take agency for their life through a deep analysis of their hopes, wishes, and dreams. Honestly, it is hard to get the space for an objective look at one’s life, their family, and the subculture they have the most affinity for. Yet, the unfolding events of the present moment should give us the necessary pause to take the time for a thorough assessment of our lives and then apply the Permaculture design practice of observation, assessment, and design. Now is the time to do this work and implement your design. There are many niches within the ecosystem architecture of a diversified Regenerative Culture – find your niche and shine! Does your plan nest harmoniously with that of your friends, family, and neighbors? Visualize your plan as an orderly geometric shape like a hexagon and consider how can an assemble of these plans like a honeycomb arrangement of stable, interdependent whole systems.
Great! Sign Me Up. How Do I Enroll?
Nobody Told Me There’d Be Days Like This!
While it’s cliché’ to say it, the phrase is worth repeating: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” It is quite clear that the existing leadership structures have failed us and we’ve been pied-pipered down the wrong path that does not seem to have a happy ending. Consider the cordyceps fungus which colonizes its host (often ants) and drives them to madly climb to the top of a tree where the fungus produces a fruiting body that sporulates from a high point thereby spreading the fungus and transforming the body of its host into a vitality stimulating medicinal mushroom. Can we collectively emulate this incredible wonder of the fungal kingdom and effectively “Myceliate” the dominant paradigm away from greed, competition, and depletion towards a regenerative culture of cooperation, restoration, and beauty? I’m game? How about you?
“Beauty will Save the World”, Fyodor Dostoevsky
June 2020 at Seven Seeds Farm/Siskiyou Seeds,
Williams, Oregon, Cascadia
 1865, from English economist William Stanley Jevons
 The Uninhabitable Earth, by David Wallace-Wells