All Hail Jan Lundberg

Regrets, I’ve had a few. One of which is not being able to find a place for a cracking essay by Jan Lundberg in the final version of Underminers. Back in mid 2011 while planning who I would like to write guest essays for the book, it was clear that Jan – sometime muse and sparring partner at Culture Change – was an obvious author who would make a valuable contribution.

The essay that he so generously provided was thought-provoking, challenging and interesting, and I was sure at least some of it would slip nicely into the latter quarter of the book. As these things so often go, the course of writing didn’t match my original intentions. Jan’s intervention was to come in a weighty Conclusion, tentatively entitled What Does Success Look Like? alongside contributions from other prescient individuals.

In the end, having come to a satisfying conclusion of itself in the final chapter, I didn’t feel any need for the final-final chapter. Instead, perhaps egotistically, perhaps because it was a piece always waiting for the right moment, I ended up using a small piece of (perhaps) fiction called A Last Toast to the Old World which somehow still makes me well-up – maybe because it is just my own emotions in words. Whatever the reasons, the end essentially created itself and it didn’t feel right to fight that.

But, for no other reason than it is a really good essay, I take great pleasure in reprinting Jan’s writing below. Thanks mate, and see you on a boat sometime…


The World After Industrial Civilization Goes

Usher in the “new” economics of local self-sufficiency and community cooperation

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man*
– Imagine, John Lennon

I like to think that critics of civilization are above all compassionate, nonviolent and realistic. So perhaps we can keep in mind that wishing for quick change to save the planet and throw off the shackles of capitalism and authoritarianism has to be weighed with today’s vast dependence on industry. Yes, the economy will collapse and end most greenhouse gas emissions. But this is not to say everything will be just fine as soon as manufacturing and oil-powered transport stop. There will be severe repercussions to “lifelines” of energy, food and materials being cut or terminated.

As industrial civilization is built on exploiting nonrenewable “resources” (many of which should never have been tapped), and human population and consumption of manufactured materials are near peak, the unsustainability of unlimited industrialism should be obvious.

Whether the unsustainability is obvious or not, collapse can be sudden and rapid, as the house-of-cards economy built on cheap, ample petroleum can have the rug pulled out from under it by any break in the chain. Then the infrastructure fails once and for all, beginning the final rusting of the machinery of civilization on all levels.

One can say today, while we still enjoy vast quantities of food shipped great distances, “That’s fine, the Earth needs a break.” But population die-off has two versions: simple starvation that can be overcome after petrocollapse, or species extinction due to weakening of the gene pool and assaults from nuclear events, disease, and climate destabilization.

If we have simple starvation, and can survive the other assaults, then we can paint a picture of the world after industrial civilization that has a viable human presence. I am optimistic about it. A new culture borrowing heavily on traditional ways of various indigenous cultures, with some helpful influences from recent visionaries, will emerge from the rubble of petrocivilization. The breakdown of the previous global corporate culture and lack of cheap, fast travel will assure a larger world of innumerable autonomous bioregional nations and tribes.

Individually the end of industrial civilization and massive government means being free from jobs, i.e., working for others for their purposes to earn money to buy essentials that nature actually provides freely. This is unthinkable by many today, but they tend to distrust the masses’ thinking for themselves and managing with self-rule and voluntary cooperation.

Along with rejecting the obvious failures and mistakes of the previous era of growth and “progress,” the new culture will have to find harmony with nature. This cannot be done with the hierarchal, patriarchal, religious empire-building mindset that ravaged the planet starting with perhaps Sumer. Therefore the new culture will feature equality, justice, mutual aid, and will refrain from building surpluses for grandiose schemes of expansion or greed.

As to nuts & bolts, or the lack of them, I wrote in January of 2007 in Culture Change Letter #150, “one can visualize local crafts-people soon making due with scrap materials and some renewable resources. The individual’s possessions will not be so voluminous and overbearing when the change comes. There will no longer be a great number of things used daily, because new stuff won’t be available and cheaply shipped to everyone the way it once was. So, re-using finally becomes the rule of the day.”

However, maximizing bicycles and bike-trailers may be a transition phenomenon that lasts only a century at best. This may not be so terrible: as we become less material oriented we become more spiritual. It can be argued that nature and spirit are really one. If a “primitive” and simple life for all sounds objectionable, tough shit. The question is “what is really ahead?”, not what we feel we are entitled to as modern homo “sapiens.” As part of the swing of the pendulum, spirituality identified with the Earth will return strongly, as people revere life in part by deploring the past era’s trashing of the living world.

As certain regions will be damaged for centuries by past practices and the distortions of climate change, they cannot provide every essential food or material for sustaining the lives or happiness of the tribe or nation, if isolated. So trade will be perhaps essential. Without cheap oil, and in the absence of renewable fuels such as biofuels that still depend on mechanical systems involving high entropy, the low-tech, efficient mode of sailing will return to the fore. Already it is making itself attractive in a cost sense as the corporate global economy continues to pollute the atmosphere with disastrous bunker fuel and routine oil spills out of view of the news media and public consciousness.

People in temperate and arctic climes can live without coffee, chocolate, and other delicacies now shipped thousands of miles to addicts and bon vivants. But people prefer not to be deprived: if something can be done, it will be done. Additionally, a favorable environment here for producing olives, for example, can result in a reasonable surplus to trade for some grain from over there. Specialization is a questionable reliance, but sharing and assisting other communities will be carried out between peoples who, since the Great Collapse, will be evolving their bioregions into very diverse, unique cultures. The loss of languages and cultures will be remedied over time. Sailing will keep up the right level of communication, knowledge, and mutual aid, for the new reduced population size.

That’s if we can survive the undoing of civilization and its toxic and radioactive consequences.

*Lest any feminists be offended by the quaintness of the last line, it is worth recalling that Lennon was soon to unleash “Woman is the Nigger of the World.”

One Response to All Hail Jan Lundberg

  1. Just stumbled upon this webpage. Thanks Keith. – Jan

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