Concrete victories won daily.
There is a spectre haunting the earth, and it is the spectre of environmental and social collapse.
Collapse and the Erosion of Denial
The news from this collapse has penetrated even the most powerful and sophisticated firewalls of the rich and powerful. An idefinite blowout of underground oil is turning the Gulf of Mexico into a toxic, mortally damaged ecosystem. There is something wrong with the atmosphere. It is heating up. The seas could rise abruptly. People die now in European heatwaves. These are stories in the mass media today. They are too frequent and alarming to ignore. The denial that served as a wall against understanding still stands, but it is crumbling.
Even now, in a time when people are being lashed through their days by the agitated pace of our lives, the impressions of collapse are penetrating the smokescreens of power that would conceal the nearness and completeness of that collapse. For those who take the time to actually investigate our condition, the facts are as clear as they are alarming.
Ice caps are melting. The seas will rise, flooding human dwellings along the global coastline, pushing salt water further into adjoining lowlands, killing crops and salinating the aquifers. Habitats for thousands of species will disappear or be displaced.
The weather is changing. Inundation and drought are both more common and more severe. Storms are stronger and more unpredictable.
The coral reefs are dying. The fisheries are being strip-mined out of existence. The oceans are filling with trash, with poisons, and more and more with the petroleum that has facilitated these other forms of destruction.
Topsoil, the living skin of the biosphere, is disappearing to erosion. In the United States alone, topsoil is eroding into the rivers and oceans at ten time the rate that nature can replace it. Irrigation and chemical inputs are salinizing — and sterilizing — millions of hectares of the arable soil that remains.
By 2025, almost 2 billion people will be living with critical scarcity of fresh water. The sources of fresh water have been microtoxified. Ground water is being depleted faster than aquifers can recharge.
The runoff from industrial, monocrop agriculture is destroying waterways; and disrupted waterways disrupt communities.
Forests are falling so people can sell lumber and livestock, and because millions of people have been pushed onto the forest edge to slash and burn for subsistence while arable land elsewhere is used solely to make money. Half the tropical forests that existed in 1947 are gone. By 2030, at the rate we’re going, only ten percent of those forests will remain intact, and ten percent in a highly degraded condition. Forest in the other regions are falling as well. The billion acres of forest that once covered what is now the United States has been reduced to less than 15 percent of that number.
The interconnectedness of these phenomena can be understood from two distinct perspectives. First, these interpenetrating natural systems have been violently destabilized, and each consequence is pregnant with more consequences. At the end is a catastrophic cascade of events caused purely by the physics of this unravelling. Second, the social relations that developed on the physical forms of the past will be disrupted along with these changes.
One of the key intersections of our built environment and social organization is the use of fossil hydrocarbons to channel useable energy into our built environment. There’s good news and bad news on that front. The good news is that these hydrocarbons are being used up, fast. The bad news is that these hydrocarbons are being used up, fast.
The age of cheap energy is closing out. It was a one-time event. We are in the final days of the hydrocarbon Homo sapien. Peak oil is already here.
In short, the past fantasies of our technological optimism about the future have been based an a faulty assumption, that we could consume energy the way we have before. Physics tells us we cannot. Therefore, we will not.
This is hard news, because we depend on high-energy infrstructure as much as we depend on money. We are the dual captives of hydrocarbon energy and money. We see it every day, even we profligate Americans. You pay to put the gas in the car, to drive through the traffic you hate, go to the job you’d rather not do, because if you don’t have money you can’t eat and sleep indoors. Nor can those who may depend on you to get money for their necessities. And you have to burn the oil to get the money, part of which you will use to buy more oil.
The end of cheap energy — coming soon to a theater near you — will eventually slow the industrial depredations we have visited upon the planet, though not fast enough to stop the worst of our consequences. Many points of return have already been passed.
The list of deep concern grows daily, and the word is out there now, bypassing the semi-official media, penetrating the consciousness of more people every single day. The Deepwater Horizon disaster has focused us on our capacity to damage more than any event in recent history.
People are learning, slowly sometimes, and even violently at times. But they are learning now, faster than the institutions of the current order can obfuscate them.
The wall of denial is crumbling, and it is already breached. No reason to hesitate. All we have to do is go through that breach.
With the collapse of the planet’s biospheric systems has come the beginning of a social collapse growing directly out of the universal-money system. The irony is that the univeral-money system was what made this abrupt mutation of the biosphere possible.
Six and a half billion human beings inhabit the planet, and half of them now live in cities. Within 40 years, that number could be 70%. One-third of those living in cities now live in slums.
One billion people now live in slums. Poverty, crime, and disease are the terrible triple-threat characterizing slum life. Social disorder in the slums is recurrent and inevitable, often explosively. Surrounding populations begin to seek military solutions for their fear. On a larger scale, society becomes organized around the identification and extermination of “enemies.” All of society becomes armed and dangerous.
Dependency on “the outside” in cities is neary absolute. The materials for shelter come from “the outside.” The electricity comes from “the outside.” The food comes from “the outside.” The water comes from “the outside.” For every hectare of land in the city, excluding the inputs for local industry, 120 hectares are used (up) from “the outside.”
In the city, there is no stream if the water system shuts down. There is no soil in the city if the food doesn’t arrive, as it must, every day, a great river of trucks carrying calories to the urban captives. Mountaintops are removed on “the outside” to get the coal to run the power generators. The land “outside” is scoured for uranium, punctured to find gas and oil. Food is mass-produced on “the outside” in ways that destroy the soil and pollute the rivers, lakes, oceans, and air. Rivers of concrete, oil, lumber, steel, silicon, aluminum, plastic, nickel, glass, brass, paint and paper, from “the outside,” maintain this built environment in the city. Armadas of ships cross the oceans to deliver the daily inputs that keep the city alive. And armadas of warships — mostly from the United States — keep these critical sealanes open; especially those for the oil.
There is only one form of access to the imported means of survival: money. If the urban dweller lacks money, she must do whatever it takes to get it — it’s a matter of survival no less than surfacing for air from underwater. If the urban dweller lacks money and has no desire or no capacity to acquire money by subordinating oneself to a job, other means will be found — legal or not — to get the money. Money is shelter. Money is food. Money is water. Money is electricity. One cannot live in the city without electricity. Cities have to burn something to make electricity, because without the steady infusion of electricity, the modern city will begin dying as surely as a human will die without air to breathe. What we burn, whether gas, or coal, or uranium, comes from “the outside.”
The transformation of cities into self-supporting communities is Good Work.
Urban environments, as now constructed, are energy sinks. They are a cancer consuming the non-urban tissues of the biosphere. They consolidate the power of money as a hegemonic medium of human exchange, and they create an abject dependency on money that concentrates social power with all large accumulations of money, no matter their supposed ideologies. Money divides society into haves and have-nots. When money doesn’t work as a means of control, those with a lot of money will resort to using clubs, pepper-spray, and guns.
Money itself divides society into haves and have nots. This is an aspect of universal-money that asserts itself into all forms of social organization. Businesses. Homes. Churches, temples, and mosques. Service institutions. Sexual identity. Food. Water. Everything is bent to the logic of money, a medium that is designed to deny the recognition everything cannot and should not be trade-able. Money is powerful; it behaves like a blind, angry god, that admits of no value above itself.
There is an emergency, and we can no longer wait for the utopian fantasy that we will soon wrest control of all the established institutions. We cannot, and will not. They will wither in their own time of their own accord. All we can do is damage control, and not much of that.
We are money’s captives. We have no land. We have no immediate access to water. We depend on money to ensure the flows of food, electricity, materials, clothing, and medicine. We are the captives of a sheet of government paper with a gun behind it. If we have to have it, we will subordinate ourselves to those who have more money to get some of it. We will obey, because we have to have the money. Money is what buys obedience. Dependence on money is what makes us obey. We will obey, even humiliate ourselves. That’s the power of money.
We are the slaves of a blind malevolence that chews through fields, forests, mountaintops, mangrove swamps, valleys, savannahs, rivers, oceans, deserts, and the suburban psyche with equal and unstoppable force. We are the servants of money. All of us, every one of us who reads this, serves money, whether we like it or not.
Someone once said something like… “You cannot serve money and the good at the same time.”
Money is far more powerful than any law. If history and experience has taught us anything at all, it has taught us this. The anecdotal “evidence” to the contrary is just that: highly anecdotal. The dominant reality that money trumps law is a thousand times greater than the occasional blip where law subordinates money.
Appeals to the law for the solution for the problem of money can never work, because the phenomenon of money is more powerful than the phenomenon of the law. Money controls the law, so if we are to seek solutions for ending our dependency on money, those solutions will not be legal solutions. Elections and legislation and judges are bent to the logic of money so firmly that they never speak of it. They pretend it is invisible, when it’s the most visible thing in the world. We will not wrest control of the establishment’s institutions. That’s a fixed game.
Nor will we consider the use of violence. That’s an even more fixed game. It results in annihilation. Violence begets violence, and at the end of the road, violence becomes about annihilation. Violence is inherently nihilistic.
Nihilism is not an option. We have too much of that already, of people who believe in nothing and want to destroy everything.
The opposite of violence is not counter-violence. It is concern, care, and love.
What needs getting done is more urgent than pursuing elections or laws. So we have to do it ourselves. We have to get to the basics as soon as possible, in whatever ways present themselves to us, and apply the basics to our own survival.
We need to begin making where we are part of a massive repair… revelation… reconciliation… and redemption. A repair of our little piece of the biosphere. A revelation about our own creative capacities in the pursuit of this repair project. A reconciliation of ourselves with this world we’ve treated so shabbily. And the partial redemption of our species. Other species will profit by that redemption.
We need to bring our interdependence back to the local level. The most local possible. Local is where you are accountable to one another based on values other than, and more important than, money.
We need to systematically and progressively re-design our most local environments to counter the most destructive trends leading us toward a very painful collapse for human beings. And for a lot of other life, too. We don’t need a law to get food. We need some land, water, seeds, compost, and mulch. And if that means breaking the law if the law says we cannot engage in the most fundamental of human rights, the right to produce one’s own food, then we ought to be prepared to break the law or in any other way — without violence — defend this basic right.
We have to become an army of gardeners, organized into local bands around the world. We have to grow worms, rehabilitate soil, build new soil, plant trees, host wildlife, grow food, recycle water, and a host of other practical actions that take a small piece of the surface of the planet and begin our repair. This can happen in a suburban yard, an urban rooftop, an abandoned parking lot, a community garden, an intentional community, or a transition town. It can happen in a barrio. It can happen in a park. But it can’t happen unless someone does it.
When the situation become clearer and clearer, those who have learned these arts of redesign first will teach those who learn second,and those who learn second will, in their turn, serve as examples for the rest.
There are plenty of people who are clinging to the old hope for changing the leaders of institutions as a way out. They don’t yet understand that leaders are invested in things as-they-are. The Garden Party is a party inviting those who want to pursue the practical, peaceful agenda of repair, revelation, reconciliation, and redemption. The Garden Party wants people with dirty hands.
The wall of denial is crumbling, and it is already breached. No reason to hesitate. All we have to do is go through that breach.
On Administration and Management
Modern administrative and management practices can trace their origins to military organizations. Therefore they are also patriarchal phenomena. Administration and managment are, more than anything else, about control. Mistrust and control. Conformity and obedience.
Administration creates a division of labor, separate from directly doing things. Administration imposes rules that supercede our practical activities, and ultimately interfere with them. Administration creates an administrative class that goes over and above the people.
The need for administration occurs when there are too many people in a group for the individuals to relate to others on a personal level. According to anthropologist Robin Dunbar, there is “a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships.” This limit is inscribed on our neocortex. Groups larger than around 150 (called “Dunbar’s Number”) begin to suffer disruptions that require third-parties to regulate and re-conform them. This is the beginning of administration. When administrators and their leaders decide to conform those under them to one way of being, administration becomes management.
When groups become large enough to require administration to maintain social cohesion, hierarchy is the ineivtable result.
If we wish to avoid heirarchy, then we need to avoid administration. If we need to avoid administration, we have to keep our groups small and local.
The (De-)Program of the Garden Party.
What the Garden Party is, is what the Garden Party does.
(1) The Garden Party is a collection of people who are committed to designing and implementing local, practical initatives that:
(a) increase food security through local sustainability
(b) reduce our dependency on money, on-the-grid jobs, expensive and entropic technology, service agencies, and the government to feed ourselves.
(2) The Garden Party is not seeking to acquire power for itself, but to deflate the structures of power by reducing people’s dependencies on those structures, in particular from the industrial food-grid, general-purpose money, and administration/management by employers, service agencies, and government.
The Garden Party is preparing for the ultimate General Strike, whereupon people can quit working for wages, quit requiring money to survive, quit paying taxes, quit obeying cruel, stupid, and unjust laws, and quit requiring resources that are not locally available for survival. This will not happen in one stroke, but little by little, spreading as both root and seed.
(3) The Garden Party is peacable. We do not accept the right of anyone to use physical force to bend the will of another; and we will not use any form of violence against persons as part of any campaign or initiative, no matter how much violence and force might increase our efficacy. The ends do not justify the means.
(4) The Garden Party can “bind and loose.” If we voluntarily participate together in a boycott, or pickets against some entity, or any other translocal initiative, then so be it. It requires no executive bodies, but can be suggested in the course of broad communication. Broad commuication is encouraged to share helpful, practical tips, and to describe local activities. If the majority decides to participate in translocal actions, then the majority will participate. No one will be coerced or expelled who doesn’t. If local groups want to initiate local projects, they need not request permission from anyone. Executive committees are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
(5) There are no geographic boundaries for the Garden Party. Anyone anywhere can join.
(6) The Garden Party is based on a concept of community that emphasizes the practical and personal, not the ideological. Local groups of the Garden Party should be friends. If you can’t be friends, and treat each other with genuine goodwill and affection, then nothing you do will last anyway. A communication network is a good thing, but it is not a community. Communities can share food with each other, tend to each others’ children, nurture one another through times of personal trial, and celebrate together. If you’re too far apart to do these things, then there’s a better word than community.
If your ultimate point of reference is yourself, you will never be in community anyway.
Five Unruly Rules for the Garden Party.
(1) Every member of the Garden Party has one membership requirement. S/He must garden. Whether on a windowsill or a field, members will have this one practical activity in common. There will be no testing of this criterion. It is not a contract, but a covenent. Membership is on the honor system.
(2) There will never be an administrative or managerial body for the Party. Administration and management are the first steps to hierarchy, and hierarchy is the first step to hypocrisy, prevarication, and compromise (called “pragmatism”). Administration and management are impersonal; and the Garden Party must remain personal. We aim to be a collection of bands. Bands are small, personal. They are bound by the convenants of friendship, not the suspicios nature of The Contracts or the stratifying impersonality of management.
(3) The Garden Party will never participate in elections, except when they are in defense of Garden Party local initiatives. Elections lead to administration, management, abstraction, compromise, and the squandering of precious resources that could be used to build soil, plant trees, and grow food.
(4) Formalizing organization is strongly discouraged. The Garden Party just does things, like neighbors cooperating to grow some food. If five people are working together, they need never name themselves “a committee.” Just do the work.
(5) The Garden Party will not adopt or endorse broad resolutions that state support for goals that are not locally and immediately practical. In fact, the Garden Party will not adopt any resolutions at all. Resolutions are postures, not actions.
If you can’t do it yourselves, don’t resolve to do it. If you can do it, you don’t need a resolution.
Our goal is not to ‘create global prosperity’ or ‘secure liberty for future generations’ or any other such abstraction. There are other groups for these kinds of goals. We do things locally, and we share information broadly. We don’t need resolutions to do any of that. Our resolve is expressed in our actions.
Welcome to the Garden Party! Membership costs nothing.