Reversion to the Local
Julian Rose warns us that we need wake up and take charge of our lives if we are to survive the collapse of the global economic system, and shows how the proximity principle can play a part.
Read the daily news, even in a relatively mainstream newspaper, and you cannot fail to notice that an unprecedented event is unfolding in front of our very eyes: the simultaneous collapse of two of the world’s largest economies – the US and the European Union. Both appear to be teetering at the edge of a financial precipice, and the great politico-bureaucratic machines that run the show – on both sides of the Atlantic – seem incapable of agreeing what economic medicine might keep this beast on the rails.
They, and we, are now learning that in a finite world no resource is infinite, least of all institutionalised financial wealth, whose very existence is dependent upon interest payments made on capital lent to those who cannot sustain the levels of repayment demanded of them. In a debt-based economy such as ours, all participants will ultimately end up losers.
We cannot know the exact timing surrounding the unhinging of a large sector of the global marketplace, but there can be little doubt that some form of large-scale collapse is imminent. With this collapse will also ultimately go the entire foundation of modern-day capitalism, and particularly the ‘perpetual growth’-based economic formulae that have driven this planet to the edge of ecocide and the mad growth machine perilously close to its own ultimate demise.
The vast debt-based financial manipulations of the past decade already signalled that a global crisis was in the making. And attempts to solve this crisis by applying an ever tighter squeeze on the already minimal assets of working people have now reached a back-against-the-wall point of no return, provoking the first waves of citizen-based non-compliance uprisings. We are likely to see more of these as the elite bankers and corporate despots who hold the reins of power try to hang onto this power by exerting their repressive authority on an increasingly disenchanted populace.
The entire edifice that we were led to believe constituted the secure foundation of a modern civilisation is now falling on its knees, and the centuries-old profligate top-down theft of both people and planet is now rebounding on its perpetrators, dragging all and sundry in its turbulent wake. As a result, in the next half-decade we are going to pass through the vortex of a huge change to our customary ways of life. A change for the better if you don’t like the take-all consumerist package at the helm of modern neo-liberal capitalism. A change for the worse if you do.
Desperate rescue attempts will of course take place, during which billions of dollars, euros, pounds, yen and roubles will be thrown at the sinking banks, financial institutions and corporate marketing machines in a vain attempt to resuscitate – one more time – the dying machine. But it won’t rise again, because there is no crane big enough to lift it out of the grave it has dug for itself.
What will this mean for you and me?
Well, that depends on how dependant each of us is on the trappings of the neo-liberal consumer society. If we are heavily reliant, we will have a long way to fall and will not have an easy landing. If we are not too trapped, we will have less far to fall and may have a softer landing. However, we will all be subjected to an intense propaganda campaign as the wounded beast throws out its grasping tentacles to try to further enslave us in its accelerating demise. Beware of this. We will be heavily indoctrinated not to let go of the old patterns of thought and behaviour that give a false sense of security concerning the strength of the status quo to see us through “these hard times”. We will be leaned on – even by many of our friends – to toe the line and submit to the ‘austerity’ measures dictated by our increasingly autocratic governments. Beware of this, too, for it is a deception. Austerity demands that hard-working people continue to cut back on their meagre savings in order to enable the elite wealth-mongers to maintain their seemingly impenetrable financial empires.
Crises are created by those at the sharp end of the power pyramid and have proven to be invaluable tools for the enslavement of the many. The main instrument of persuasion in their austerity pack is the fear card. If we can be made to feel sufficiently frightened of what may lie on the other side of the collapsing financial world, which is their citadel, then we will be more likely to do all that we are asked to do to avoid further rocking the boat. However, this is the road to unconditional slavery – and it’s what dying monsters feed upon to retain their delusions of power.
So, if we want to avoid serfdom to the beast, we had better sit down and honestly ask ourselves here and now – before it’s too late – just what might lie on the other side of global economic collapse.
It will require some fortitude to look this question in the eye. It will require a deepening of our perceptions of what is actually going on around us, and a willingness to research what forces stand behind extreme cyclical historical events. It will require recognition of the part that we ourselves – as well as our ancestors – have played in bringing about such crises, and an awareness of the fact that they are largely a reflection of our own state of being. For the road to the great collapse is long and strewn with potholes, and is made up of many decades of blind adherence to false gods. We are all complicit – on different levels – and only by admitting this can we start to put things right.
Only when this first hurdle has been crossed will we be able to start constructing a proper platform for positive change. A platform that necessarily reintroduces us to some very simple premises concerning what steps to take to avoid being swept away or reduced to serfdom by the tsunami of global upheaval that is now underway. I use the term ‘tsunami’ advisedly, because the way the planet has been treated over many generations of abject resource-plundering, perpetual war and the toxic poisoning associated with excessive corporate greed has resulted in a state of unprecedented geological, atmospheric and social destabilisation – a state mirrored by the current financial meltdown. How could it be otherwise? The two are inseparably locked into a cause-and-effect domino that has now reached breaking point.
Our ecology and climate cannot exist in hermetically sealed isolation from our financial activities.
The wounds we inflict upon this Earth reverberate throughout and the repercussions return to haunt us. So, in taking our first steps of mitigation in the face of a world succumbing to both geological and financial turmoil, some very elementary questions shift into the foreground:
“Will I have the ability to procure enough food to feed myself and my family?”
“How can I be sure to have regular access to this resource?”
“How will we ensure that we have the basic security of a home, fresh water, warm clothes and enough energy to provide warmth, light and adequate cooking facilities?”
“What about our friends?”
“What if our savings are not enough to buy what we need?”
“What if supplies dry up?”
These and other questions will crowd into our minds once we allow ourselves to face the truth. They are valid questions – and they have answers. However, the right answers will not be arrived at via panic or fear. They must be nurtured into existence through prioritising another medium, an approach to problem solving that draws upon our latent creativity, inventive powers and love of life.
Metaphorically speaking, the answer to all our questions lies ‘right in our own back yards’, and metaphysically speaking we will be guided – provided we remain flexible enough to allow our old skin to fall away and a new skin to emerge in its place. This is the very same process our planet is now undergoing via the tumultuous cleansing process that will ultimately throw off the toxic burden of generations of misguided inhabitants. So now is the time to act, to avoid being caught on the wrong foot before the collapsing structures of the old regime force us into last-minute panic-based survival actions. It is now time to seek out real answers and take real steps.
Emerging amongst the detritus of failing financial institutions and the war-stained ambitions of global corporate giants is a growing awareness that we have almost completely neglected the resources available to us right in front of our eyes, that a global problem often has a local solution, and that this solution might not involve a seemingly inevitable descent into a lowly and disagreeable struggle to survive. On the contrary, it might lead to a more honest and simple approach to life that could enrich rather than impoverish the spirit while redeeming a lost sense of connection with the natural world.
Should enough of us decide to pursue such a path now, we might just be able to relieve our planet of a whole extra level of suffering that is sure to be experienced unless a significant change of course is undertaken by a critical mass of humanity.
In the final analysis, there is not much choice in this matter. Once a combination of crises in the food, air, energy and water sectors reaches criticality, many are either not going to be able to afford to meet their customary daily needs or will not be able to access them due to transport and infrastructural blockages.
However, we are conditioned to believe that such events will probably never actually happen in Western Europe and North America. Our corporate-owned Western media does not want to unduly alarm paid-up members of ‘consumer-soc plc’. They don’t want too many thinking they might have to change their ways – for example by ceasing to watch TV and stopping buying from supermarkets. As long as we carry on consuming the daily diet for the dumbed-down, there is little or no chance of responding to the rising winds of change that are blowing across our overburdened planet. But free the mind and take a few steps out of this virtual reality world we have so carefully constructed for ourselves, and suddenly the truth starts to make itself felt.
And just what is this truth?
It was put very nicely by Fritz Schumacher, the author of Small is Beautiful, some 40 years ago. While lecturing in North America, he was asked if a switch from fossil fuels to human-scale and regional renewable-energy sources would mean that we would all have to accept a lower standard of living. “No,” he replied. “I don’t subscribe to the term ‘lower standard of living’ to describe a state in which we freely elect to move towards a life of voluntary simplicity.” A life of voluntary simplicity means turning away from the heavy ecological footprint excesses of our 21st-century consumer society and finding that we can manage well enough – or even somewhat better – on rather a little, provided that this ‘rather a little’ is genuinely good quality and doesn’t harm our environment, our bodies or our souls. An aware mind and a light ecological footprint are therefore prerequisites for life both before and after the crash, and the sooner we can get started on them, the less devastating the repercussions of this crash will be.
Rather than list the thousands of localised self-sustaining group initiatives that are currently emerging in counterpoint to the tottering globalised economy, I prefer to recommend that we pay attention to what I have named the proximity principle. The proximity principle is perhaps best understood as a blend between a law of physics and what we once called ‘common sense’. It instructs us to think and act on the basis that where we reside (hamlet, village, town, city) is the centre of a circle – and that what we need (daily necessities) fans out around that centre like spokes from the hub of a bicycle wheel. It says that we should try to access the majority of daily needs for our physical wellbeing and nourishment from an area as close as possible to the centre of the circle where we reside. Thus we seek to access our fresh food from our own garden, our local independent small grocer or our farmers’ market – or perhaps even directly from our nearest ecologically aware farmer.
Large cities present a serious challenge: some highly creative collective ‘greening’ is about the only practical lifeline available to citizens living in population densities of over 1 million. Very large cities like London access the great majority of their food and energy from abroad and this makes such city dwellers particularly vulnerable to the increasing oscillations of the global marketplace.
For such vast conurbations, the provision of food alone requires an energy-intensive and complex coordinated operation that is likely to break down once secure financial backing is no longer guaranteed. Processed foods require further energy input and are even more reliant on long-distance transportation.
Fresh, local food, however, requires very little energy input and is alive with vital nutrients and vitamins that are lost in transport, packaging and days on neon-lit supermarket shelves – all factors contributing to the demise of our planet Earth. And so with energy: start again from your own woodburning stove, passive and photovoltaic solar panels or small wind generator – or link into a community renewable-energy scheme. Obtain your firewood from a local timber merchant or farmer/forester. Make a serious effort to wean yourself off the national grid and the supermarket (hugely consumptive energy footprint) and start supporting the local traders of your community. When the chips are down and the lights have gone out, it is here that the solution lies, and the relationship we build with our local community will define how well we can survive down the pathway to voluntary simplicity. It is only at the local level that we can participate in the intimate trading transactions that connect the ecological farmer, the forester, the blacksmith, the baker and the transporter. Having money will not be so important when bartering and exchange have once again become community-led activities. Unless we are connected into the dynamic of this infrastructure, our chances of getting through coming seismic events without too much pain are very small.
By following the proximity principle we will be guided towards the most elegant economic, ecological and socially constructive solutions concerning the sane management of our daily lives.
Such an approach also has the potential to catalyse a renaissance of meaningful relationships and cast a fresh light on shared creative endeavour – in the fields, on the streets and in our homes. We will discover that there really are local solutions to global problems.
For more information on the work of the author, visit: www.changingcourseforlife.info