Feb 162011

It’s nice in times of bad news to find a bit of optimism. What follows is an interesting take on the news and future by a blogger who finds 12 REASONS TO BE OPTIMISTIC:

“Here are twelve reasons why I remain optimistic in spite of all the bad news and scary stories. I am not in denial about the bad news, nor do I think we shouldn’t note and comment upon the situations coming upon us, but I also think that it’s important to keep such things in perspective.

1. Reality is very complex. . . . and there are limits to what we can know. I don’t understand why the system didn’t collapse 30 years ago. I don’t understand why the US and Russia did not have a massive nuclear war. As much as I want to be a “know-it-all”, my lack of understanding is a commentary on the limitations of my observation and knowledge. We can’t see all the details of our threats and how they interact to create a dysergistic downwards spiral. . . but we also can’t see all the details of the solutions at play, and how they interact to mitigate dysergy/dystopia. Complexity theory is, well, complex, but one thing that is evident is the ability of seemingly small and insignificant actions to have far-reaching effects (cf the “butterfly effect”).

2. The mainstream media report a distorted version of reality from the perspective of the ruling authorities. While there are occasional exceptions to the rule, the mainstream media are as dominated by our ruling authorities as the media of the old Soviet Union. Perhaps the primary difference is that our mainstream media are controlled by various factions of ruling authorities, so what we are getting as “news” is actually arguments among the ruling authorities. Why is this good news? Because we know it is so, and it’s not just “we” as in “those actively concerned about sustainability”. Mainstream news media credibility is low and getting lower all the time.

3. We have a “sidestream” media that tells us the rest of the story. A million flowers of hope are blooming out there, but you will only find them by looking for them in the sidestream media. They won’t be fed to you on the evening national news.

4. The powers that be are not nearly as smart and omnipotent and omniscient as they want everyone to believe they are. Here again, a good example is the old Soviet Union. Their ruling elites had massive state resources at their control. They could literally do anything they wanted with their natural and economic resources. The Soviet Union had a well-established system of terror complete with concentration camps to compel obedience. Yet, the day came when the inherent contradictions of their system overwhelmed them, and they collapsed of their own stupidity, greed and venality. In our present situation, the evidence is abundant that the various factions of our powers that be are as clueless as the Romanoffs in 1917 or the French aristocracy in the late 18th century. We are full-on in the middle of a classical case of imperial over-reach, and as it is said, those who do not learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them. Our aristocracies are not learning from the mistakes of history, so they are repeating them, and that means that they are doomed. They have been weighed in the balances and found wanting, their days are numbered, their kingdoms will be divided and given to others.

5. We have a dense and robust civil society system that provides an alternative source of authority and direction as an alternative to the powers that be. While certainly some parts of that civil society are core members of various factions of our ruling authorities, there is a tremendous amount of non-ruling authority organizational activity at play in our system. The historical tragedy of the Soviet collapse is that they had no civil society to step into the breech and point the way to a better future, so they got stuck with a form of gangster capitalism that is slowly evolving back to a Soviet-style political tyranny. In our situation, as the establishment crumbles, alternative structures are being created all around us. We are learning what we need to do right now, before major crisis/collapse comes upon us. That gives us the opportunity to possibly stage a managed recovery, and to mitigate the risk of outright collapse.

6. We have the internet. The internet and its quick and ubiquitous global connections is a structure whose invention is as much a turning point in history as was the creation of the first printing presses, and for many of the same reasons. I am a nobody, a pissant Oklahoma rednecked peasant with an education and an attitude, yet every year, more than a million people from 108 different countries find their way to one or more of my websites and download an average of three pages of information, and this has been going on for years. My printable flyers alone have been downloaded more than 150,000 times. And there must be ten million or more folks just like me, using the internet to organize, agitate, activate, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Consider the phenomena associated with Wikileaks. One tyrant has already been deposed, and more are reportedly at risk, all because of the bravery of one soldier in the trenches of the Middle East, and the distributed internet structure of the Wikileaks organization. That’s inspiration!

7. We know more about the actual details of living more sustainably. We are recovering from the almost complete collapse of the generational transmission of cultural knowledge and wisdom of the past 100 years, and are advancing our knowledge of how to live more sustainably at a rapid pace. As new ideas are tested, they spread very quickly across the globe. China now has CSAs, the sidestream media reported this week. The design discipline of permaculture offers a growing body of theory, knowledge,  and praxis regarding the design of human habitations and systems that care for people, care for the planet, and have a care for the future.

8. We know about our approaching threats — peak oil, climate instability, economic irrationality, and their associated consequences. We can see them coming and people worldwide are taking action to adapt, avert, mitigate, stop, slow down, repair, recover. All of these issues are players in the public debate. And while it remains true that these issues and our response to them are hotly contested by powerful ruling factions, the fact that they are being contested at all is a triumph of the ability of civil society to place something on the table and force a hearing. That is the first step to structural change for the better.

9. Despite the best efforts of ruling authorities, the fact remains that structures of economics and governance can grow from the ground up and replace existing systems. Even as we speak, a new “super-structure” is being grown, spreading organically with the tenacity of Bermuda grass, utilizing rhizomes, runners, and abundant self-seeding. Every time an organic garden is planted. . . a food cooperative is organized. . . a CSA gets started. . . a permaculture class is taught. . . a family voluntarily decides to limit their consumption . . . a new structure is started to replace the collapsing ruins of the old, indeed, these are structures that will protect us from being caught amidst the falling debris of the old.

10. Much has been made of the possibility of Black Swan Events that can cause major systemic problems. But since we are speaking of random events in complex processes, we can also think about the potential for White Swan Events that can drive major progress for the structures of sustainable living that we are all involved with. A recent example of a White Swan Event is the Wikileaks event. The collapse of the Soviet Empire was another such a White Swan Event. With the Soviet Union’s rapid demise, the forces of goodness and wisdom were not organized enough to have a significant impact on the direction of subsequent events. But with Wikileaks, the situation is completely different. One tyrant has already been deposed, and more may be on that list as the situation develops.

11. The credibility of the existing system is at an all-time low. All over the globe, the corruptions and oppressions of ruling factions are being exposed, in detail, with chapter and verse, in often glittering technicolor. Tens of millions of people trusted the stock market and lost everything. They trusted the real estate market and lost everything. They trusted the corporation they worked for, and they got laid off. They trusted the academic system and bought a useless degree at a high price. One of the early steps to fundamental change is that people come to understand that their existing systems are failing them, indeed, that they are being exploited by their existing systems in order to enrich and benefit others. That’s happening right now, 24/7/365, and that process has increasing velocity.

12. We — that is to say, people concerned about peak oil, climate instability, economic irrationality — are everywhere. The United States has about 186,000 election precincts, each with an average of about 1600 people. Does anyone doubt that within the overwhelming majority of those little “villages” there are people intentionally involved with sustainable living? No, I don’t have a mailing list handy, but I think this claim is likely true. If a crisis occurs, whether it be a Black Swan or White Swan, or simply the fact that unsustainable systems by definition do not continue indefinitely, we are in position to get there the firstest with the mostest, with knowledge, organizing ability, and successful examples. The fact that we are not nationally organized to do this doesn’t mean squat. Indeed, a national organization would likely get in the way of effective and rapid action. Change is created one neighborhood at a time, by the people who live there. This is why I don’t worry about the fact that 100 million people have not signed up for sustainable living. As event unfold, there will be a morning when a hundred million and more wake up and decide they need to do something different. Our historical task right now is to get ready for that crisis awakening. When people are ready to storm the Bastille, organizers will be critical, and that’s our job. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and if we who embrace goodness, beauty, and wisdom don’t get there the firstest with the mostest, someone else will, and we might not like what results thereafter.

So, as it turns out, it’s not over until its over, and in spite of all the tumult and rage, I remain an unreconstructed optimist about how this will play out over time.  I doubt I will see this process to its conclusion, but the strong foundations being laid right now will serve us well in the earthquakes of the future.”


  One Response to “The Glass May Be Half Full”

  1. Good observation.

    12 times we have had nuclear weapons drop or partially launch without actually going off. If that’s not a sign of some angelic intervention, I don’t know what is.

    Although the USSR collapse caught mainstream TV viewers by surprise, my american history teacher (whom I suspect was a CIA guy, knowing every bar in Asia) warned us in ’83 that the USSR would collapse in a decade, as it did in like ’89 or so. Two reasons, very important: first was cultural separation (not our issue), second was bankruptcy, not nearly as drastic as our own. Of course both of us can just print money, but imaginary money is only as good as peoples belief in it. They stopped believing. We are teetering on the edge.

    I have risen to the core of various organizations like presidential campaigns, the illuminati, million person peace march organizers, and indeed, I find them no better informed or in any way even more powerful feeling than various friends and neighbors. They run nations as obliviously as John runs the liquor store. People are people.

    I’m encouraged to now even be seeing people in business suits commuting to work on bicycles in the morning.

    Alas, with all these system failures no one can trust further, the majority still have nothing else to fall back on, and will thus nervously adopt anything which appears back to normal. People are ripe for understanding, but have no tangible advice. Most people have no farming opportunities. It also doesn’t occur to them that thing like solar farms aren’t going to occur unless they stop investing in Haliburton and BofA, and invest in things like solar farms, or be selective about what products they buy.

    A 100 million people waking up in response to an event sounds optimistic. I do agree useful organizations would form overnight. Unfortunately, as I was saying my concern is that 240 million will wake up overnight, decide they need to live with the 60 million near agricultural land, and discover they can’t move their water there for another two years. – The time to convert metropolitan boulevards to desalination tidal power aqueducts with farms and bike paths, is now, not when we run out of food and oil.

    Fortunately, one very optimistic I can say is that industry is evolving. While scraping the mountains off the earth is still profitable, other companies are realizing that green power is where the profit will be. Amazingly LA is up to 10% green power, up from less than 3% just a few years ago. Money talks. We just need companies with huge investment capacities to be 12 years ahead of the game, not just looking to maximize next quarter’s profits.

    In my opinion, the largest change required of american civilization is adopting informed democracy. America is run by corporations, so guess who needs democratized. If internet elected representatives sat on boards of large corporations, and public benefit, not profit, was the guiding light of corporations (as was the case when they first began) we’d have a much different world today. – I roll my eyes whenever I hear a media caster ranting and raving about how great it would be to bring our democracy to some other nation. Obama was supposed to get rid of lobbyists, yet under his watch an individual or corporation can now anonymously fund a campaign with a billion dollars. I suppose that means we have voted with our pocket books to support the political interests of Time-Warner, Walmart, Merck, Toyota, and Microsoft. Hurrah for democracy! Eminent domain can be used now to take away homes and put up a Walmart. Hurrah for the public good!

    Old agricultural techniques are great, but good old fashioned anarchy is not going to support a population which is now forced to have mass production efficiency. We screwed up half that formula too: When one private entity finally owns Boardwalk and Park Place with hotels (and the rest of the board), the automated means of production, how is everyone else supposed to keep paying the rent? If there were eventually no employees of the machine at all, then the only sustainable solution is to give industrialized produce away free to the public. Our bank CEOs have clearly had some other organizational economic plan in mind though.

    There is one silver lining in all this, and that wealth is porportional. Would you rather be a CEO in a nation where the public drives Mercedes, making as much as the lower 90%, or one in a nation where people can’t afford shoes?

    A link to the lectures of Congressman Bernie Sanders would fit in here. In the 1930’s there were state limits on insurance, usually at about 6% tops. Today multitudes are suddenly being forced into 15-30% interest (happened to me), which by the time you pay it off (if you do, and I can’t, so won’t) really means most of your income has gone to interest. Bernie is lecturing about what pure extortion this is. There are two sad things about this. One, these people run the nation (for the moment). Two, the really crazy sad part, a good portion of society still treats these banks as respectable institutions, as if they are within their rights to bankrupt the public. If an Egyptian revolt day comes to pass here, there won’t be a military intervention, the banks will simply turn off the bank cards of those involved.

    This reminds me of a sub-story of the Wikileaks ordeal which perhaps should have been the most noteworthy. The banks refused payments to WikiLeaks, and as a result we had our first cyberwar, in which Mastercard was flamed down for an afternoon. The general public never really stopped though to contemplate that a non-democratized institution was controlling who we are even allowed to pay. It could have been manga artists, hip-hop musicians, Quakers, or Mid-East carpet weavers PayPal decided was next on the no-income list. Have we terminated our PayPal and Master card accounts on account of this. No, we’re kind of stuck sponsoring our potential oppressors for the time being, generally clueless that we’re even doing so.

    Sustainability is a deep-reaching matter. It’s not just about individuals eating, it’s about cultural liberty thriving in the face of those who would divert all resources to their self-interests.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>