John Robb, master analyst of global guerilla warfare, is very pessimistic about the potential of the current global system to prevail. This means that he expects, like us, a strong trend towards relocalization. However, his vision is more radical since he expects a global breakdown. Hence, the need for a distributed network of resilient local communities, that can thrive amongst the chaos. However, it is not survivalism he is advocating, but local communities connected with global tinkering networks, supported by smart local and international network technology, and that are hyperproductive compared to the nation-state.
In other words, John Robb is moving into the same style of thinking and seeking for solutions that is characteristic of other ‘peer to peer thinkers’ (and doers), and it is time to present his thinking more extensively.
We’ll do that in two parts. First, a general presentation of resilience; then, in the next installment, we focus on the constituent parts. We will quote liberally but not fully, so please go to the original articles for more extensive context and treatment.
So, how does he define resilient communites?
“This conceptual model creates a set of new services that allow the smallest viable subset of social systems, the community (however you define it), to enjoy the fruits of globalization without being completely vulnerable to its excesses. These services are configured to provide the ability to survive an extended disconnection from the global grid”
The resilient community has broad applicability beyond just improving the ability of those of us in developed economies to preserve wealth and a quality of life despite severe system shocks. It can also be applied to the problems of counter-insurgency in semi-modern urban environment (to radically update a process that was built for the last century) and provide the potential for organic development in underdeveloped areas of the world. The key is that we need to support the open source efforts currently underway to expand this capability underway such as the transition towns movement to MIT’s low tech solutions effort.”
What is his rationale for resilient communities? Answer: the coming state failure.
“As you watch the global financial system continue to unravel this fall, think hard what it will take to prevent rampant state failure in a chaotic global market system that has already weakened (privatized, hollowed out, and bankrupted) nation-states across the entire landscape.”
Given the depth of the crisis, the emergence of such resilient communities are nearly inevitable, he argues:
“* Local is the only choice. The ability of the global system to dampen instability and prevent failure is nearing zero. We have neither the organizational frameworks necessary for global governance nor the precise tools of global policy required (even IF we were smart enough to manage something this complex). Any chance of real global change must start at the ground level by correcting the true sources of the problem and spread virally. Resilient communities eliminate nearly all of the drivers towards global instability and mitigate the effects of instability already in the system. It’s self-reinforcing.
* RCs guard against systemic decay and catastrophic failure. Survivalism assumes isolation, hoarding, and subsistence means to preserve only the bare essentials of life (the Jeremiah Johnson scenario). It’s an approach that guarantees only long term privation and nearly inevitable failure. In contrast, resilient communities replace increasingly unreliable and expensive global sourcing of energy, food, etc. with locally efficient (and offer higher quality) alternatives. It also provides the ultimate level of protection against superempowered threats and hollow states. As a result, it preserves an existing quality of life (or lays the foundations for the creation of one where it didn’t exist before).
* RCs offer a path to accelerating returns. In contrast to the isolation of survivalism, the RC is community driven — both within the community’s physical environs and across similar efforts (via data connectivity). As such, it will benefit (we are already seeing this) from rapid rates of innovation available through open source development — across the entire range of activities from energy to food to product fabrication. Relatively quickly, the solutions generated from these efforts will convert a community that was once a black hole of economic productivity into its exact opposite: a fount of accelerating wealth and life improvement that is orders of magnitude more efficient in its use of mass, energy, space, time, and information.”
Resilient communities are a result of superempowerment created by distributed networking, he explains:
“Most important to our analysis is how this change superempowers small groups, allowing them to accomplish activities normally reserved for large corporations or governments.
The keys to this superempowerment are:
* Better tools. Moore’s law, Carlson curves, and personal fabrication (DIY everything, the start of an exponential rate of improvement for matter/products). Shift from centralized production to ‘grow’ your own computer/chemicals etc. Local energy.
* New social connectivity. Expert networks. Tinkering via open source development. Telecommuting. Wisdom of crowds and crowd-sourcing.
Unfortunately, this supempowerment makes it possible for small groups to do incredible damage to global society. Fortunately, it also making it possible for resilient communities to efficiently and productively emulate global production/services locally. As a result, the resilient community isn’t a step backwards to 19th Century approaches (survivalism, scarcity, and low productivity), but rather a move in a direction that makes it possible to generate rapid and sustained (as opposed to the relative stasis and irregular progress of the current system) improvements how we live.
Here’s a comment by Jeff Vail, author of the Theory of Power:
“I think that John Robb takes the most implementable and realistic approach to improving decentralized resiliency by placing the locus of self-sufficiency at the community level. However, I think that the ideal approach is to view the drive to replace hierarchal and centralized processes with a scale-free or fractal approach to self-sufficiency. In a dystopian view of the future resilient communities become indistinguishable from networks of feudal fiefs and manors. The key, in my opinion, to maintaining the participatory, egalitarian, and advancing mode of community is that it must be composed of individuals and sub-community groups that are equally self-sufficient and resilient. A community made up of people who depend on the good governance of community leaders is a recipe for localized totalitarianism, and even communities that begin in egalitarian, representative fashion will trend toward localized centralization, localized autocracy unless the components cut the same ties of dependency on and control by the community support structure that Resilient Communities seek to cut from the global system. Additionally, while some forms of self-sufficient production may be most appropriate at the community, or even bio-regional level, others may prove most efficient at a much lower level: water collection, storage, and purification; energy for home heating and cooling; substantial food production; etc. While it may be most realistic to target the Resilient Community theory at community organizers, this theory should at least encourage those organizers to actively facilitate the creation of scale-free self-sufficiency within their communities.”