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.”

The Moneyless Manifesto For Free (Of Course)

Two and a bit years ago I was delighted to be invited to the very first Uncivilisation festival so that I could talk about Undermining the Tools of Disconnection and piss off George Monbiot (actually that wasn’t the intention but it happened). During the event which was in turns inspiring, frustrating and highly entertaining, I bumped into a small crowd of people surrounding an animated man called Mark Boyle. I was transfixed. His stories of living, as far as possible, without money and, by implication, outside of industrial civilization, fired so many ideas in my head that Underminers was bound to happen from that moment on.

It’s slightly incongruous that Mark’s first book, The Moneyless Man isn’t referenced here, but sometimes things just don’t fit in the text precisely. That said, it was a bit of an omission not to mention the wonderful Just For The Love Of It skill, stuff and landsharing website – so I shall put things right here.

And there’s a link on the right too.

It was lovely to receive a note from Mark after announcing the completion of Underminers and a personal invitation to invade his home and eat all his food (ok, not quite that). He also mentioned that his new book, The Moneyless Manifesto, was being published online for free with the blessing of his publishers. Cue, gratuitous quotation from Underminers:

What about things that we consider to be more ethereal, such as ideas? This is already a wildly exciting proposition, that the online version of this book is part of, as is everything I write: simply, it’s given away to the benefit of all who can benefit from it. When I took Time’s Up! to my publisher, apart from being delighted to have it accepted for publication I also insisted that the intellectual property remained mine to share as I wished. The publisher had the rights over the sold-as-printed version, but otherwise the words were mine to distribute as I saw fit, to the extent that this was written into the contract. To quote:

“The Author hereby grants the Publishers the exclusive licence of printing and publishing the said Work during the period of copyright in volume and serial form in all languages throughout the world and also the exclusive licence to assign or licence such rights to others subject to the conditions following, on the understanding that the Author may post the text online under Copyleft terms.”

As far as I know this clause is unique in publishing circles. It shouldn’t be. Ideas are for sharing, as any good scientist (as opposed to one that is in hock to corporate interests) will tell you. Copyleft is a great, and to most people, amusing word, which in itself can spark off all sorts of discussions. It does what it says on the tin: you can’t keep something to yourself, you have to allow others to copy it. The terms I attach to my work are in the form of a Creative Commons licence, which allows anyone to copy, edit and re-distribute the work, so long as it is appropriately credited, not passed off as someone else’s work and, most important, no one makes any money out of it.

Which happens to the same license that The Moneyless Manifesto uses. Go and read it now.

Thanks Mark.

Mind The Gaps

Finally the proof-reading has been done and it’s time to post the whole book prominently on the front page (or at least a link to it). For a while there has been a version known as 1.01 which I rushed out the moment I had finished the last chapter, this being part of my strategy to avoid any potential censorship or enforced removal. Since then, for a couple of months I have been carefully re-reading the text, adding and taking away a few bits here and there (see last post) and generally making it more readable.

Now that is done the text on the website is a bit wrong, so for the next few days I’ll be removing the PDFs of the individual chapters, and correcting the online text – you will see the version numbers update on each chapter page if you look carefully. After that…well, wait and see…

Undermining Weapons, Or Not?

I woke up early this morning intending to go for a walk. For the last few weeks I have been hard at work proof-reading the text of Underminers ready for the final publication on the website as a single download (with fanfare!) and then an e-book, and then probably a physical book. More anon. So, there I was, ready to go for a walk with coat and head-torch poised; and then I opened the back door to be greeted by the gentle hiss of incessant rain and a waft of cold air to accompany the darkness.

Sunrise wasn’t to be until after 7, if I ever saw the sun. It was 6.15.

At 6.20 I had a mug of tea and was writing a long note to myself about the nature of weapons. You see, the reason I woke up early was because of weapons. The long proof-reading period has been quite satisfying with very few changes springing to mind, except for the odd grammatical alteration or reinforcement of a point (and sometimes toning one down). Then this morning I suspected there was a gaping hole: where had I talked about undermining weapons; after all, without weapons it is rarely possible for one group of people to dominate any other group of people, at least in the opening stanzas of a heirarchical society.

I searched through the manuscript to find very few references to weaponry and even fewer to actually tackling the weapons themselves. Yep, that gaping hole really seemed to be gaping. Then I started the note to myself. You can decide for yourselves whether I have nailed the problem…

Is this important enough for a whole section? In many parts of the world the initial Tool of Disconnection used is “Abuse Us”; the stage of “development” of a society is relevant to this, for it seems to be that the earlier in the civilized story, the more likely the use of more direct forms of control and disconnection are used. Forced labour, forced religion and other ideologies, forced hierarchy and so on have historically been in the gift of those who have the most effective arsenal of weaponry (quantity, quality, ability – whatever it takes to be pre-eminent). Later on in the civilized story the means of controlling a population tend towards the more subtle – unless more direct control is needed.

Ultimately though, is it the weapons per se that are the control mechanisms, or is it the desire to control and the knowledge that control is possible? In a world where the AK-47 and M16 have superceded the machete and the firebrand as the killing tool of choice for young, oppressive regimes, it would seem obvious that to stop the flow of weapons would also reduce the level of oppression. To a certain extent this is true; but what of the machete? This multi-purpose, ostensibly peaceful tool is used under a variety of different names (panga, cutlass etc) for clearing brush. During the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 the machete was responsible for at least half of all of the recorded 800,000 murders. Stopping the flow of machetes from Europe and China may have reduced the scale of the massacre, but who is to say that other potential weapons such as clubs, axes and rifles (from would not have been used instead; and anyhow, 84% of households already had a machete 10 years before the massacre took place – it was and still is an agricultural tool.

It seems that the problem of weaponry as a tool of mass control is not so much with the nature of the arsenal, as the nature of the people controlling that arsenal. We know that people can be persuaded to kill with sufficient authoritative systems in place, and thus a far more effective means of undermining the use of weaponry in any society is to remove the authority that controls the level of abuse on a mass scale. Later on, in Chapter 7, the industrial machine, which includes the systems of weapon manufacture will be challenged head-on, but first and foremost, it’s authority we need to look at for all sorts of reasons, not just how people are ordered to kill others.

Chapter 6 is going to be changed, but nowhere near as much as I first thought.


Chapter 10 is done. Epilogue is done.

The next post will be about where you can get the whole book, which is quite exciting.

Time for a rest. K.

Starting To Wrap Things Up

Since chapter 9 was published I have been spending lots of time with my family which always translates as not doing any writing. To be honest it was nice to have the break and I could feel my writing energy starting to ramp up towards the end of the holiday period to the extent that I positively leapt into Chapter 10 as soon as I had the house all to myself again. You might recognise some of the words if you are a fan of The Earth Blog, but there is also a lot of new writing and thinking gone into the chapter that is well into the home straight. I am indebted to Guy McPherson also for donating a chunk of his book Walking Away from Empire ages ago, probably before that book was even finished.

What is quite interesting about this is Guy’s contribution was originally intended for a project called “Worktraining” which might have become my second book had I not realised there was far too much “why” and “what” in the world and far too little “how”, which was the impetus for Underminers. The essay lay unused for a couple of years but magically it slipped perfectly into the very chapter I had originally intended it to go right at the beginning. I expect to finish Chapter 10 in less than a week’s time and then I have a bit of a dilemma. Do I write a long Epilogue about the future after Undermining has worked, or do I leave things open? Something to ponder…

Chapter 9 Complete

I’m going to have to check when I started writing Chapter 9. Hang on…oh dear, it was in March, which means it’s taken the best part of 4 months to write one chapter. I apologise for being crap. Ok, it’s 22 thousand words, which puts it in the “stupidly long” category, along with a couple of others. I just spent a day reading through it and making comments here and there, although the way I write is very deliberate and self-critical, meaning I don’t usually change much in the final edit. The thing that struck me was how exhausted I was just reading through the chapter.

That’s odd. Sometimes I look at a piece of writing and think how easy it seems to glide past; other times it feels clunky and needs ironing out to make it readable. This is neither – it’s just so dense with concepts I have struggled to work through and deliver onto the page that there is no way I could have made this anything but what it is. On the other hand there is something very different about this chapter. It doesn’t feel like undermining, more like rebirth. There is a definite arc to the plot, for that is what the second half of the book is. I don’t mean the kind of plot that might lead to a robbery, but something akin to a story arc, from the fundamentals of societal freedom, via some seriously hairy industrial destabilisation, stopping off to screw up the people who are pretending to sort things out, then into this chapter which is about rebuilding communities and the wider concept of Community.

The following chapter will be about us, as individuals. A shorter one, I assure you. Maybe.

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