Can we re-size civilisation?

To survive, the institutions of these massively oversized systems have waged a continuous and brutal war against communities, the natural human structures that we instinctively seek to belong to. Aboriginal communities all over the world have been systematically exterminated, their members slaughtered or moved into institutional structures and forced to adopt the civilization monoculture constructs. Everything that could not be institutionalized has been atomized, so that communities no longer own anything; it is corporations and individuals who own everything. Our memory of the value and experience of community has been eradicated from our memories, relegated to ‘prehistory’ which has been rewritten to depict life in all non-civilization cultures as “nasty, short and brutish”, a propaganda coup.

Interesting discussion from Dave Pollard which also contains an interesting discussion of the role of the Transition Movement.

We also recommend you read the following companion debate here.

Dave Pollard:

“The latest edition of Orion magazine describes the Transition movement as one that attempts to rediscover community, the natural ‘right size’ of human relationship and endeavour, between the atomized individual/family and the massive, groaning and ungovernable political and economic institutions and systems we have created that currently hold sway over our lives. We need to reframe the discussion away from big government versus big corporations versus libertarianism versus anarchism. The first two are different flavours of the unsustainably large and hierarchical, and the latter two are different flavours of the unsustainably small, narcissistic and atomized. The only structure of human relationship and human endeavour that has ever sustainably worked was and is community.

As Rob Paterson wrote today, “We have to change the prevailing story from ‘its all about me’ to ‘it’s all about us’. The first step is that each of us has to take is to start to live this new story. We cannot lecture. We cannot explain. We have to live it.”

One way or another, we need to facilitate the breaking down of the complicated, dysfunctional and unsustainable hierarchies and systems of civilization culture, and the building up from alienated, atomized, narcissistic individuals, into community-based structures, relationships and endeavours. It is naive to believe that we can do just one or the other; we need activists breaking down the too-big and communitarians building up the too-small, until what we have is organizations of the right, natural size. Rob calls these right-size groups ‘natural organizations’. I have used the terms ‘natural enterprise’ and ‘natural community’. The right size is, usually, dense clusters of about 5-8, networked into larger communities of about 50. It is the only size that has ever sustainably worked, and it worked for a million years.

What can we do to break down the too-big and build up the too-small?

The whole point of this is that, as individuals, we can’t do much, and we certaintly can’t do enough. So while I certainly encourage everyone to live a responsible and radically simple lifestyle — buy less, use less, get out of debt etc. — the important actions are all ones we have to do in community.

Step 1, I would suggest, is to take stock of and assess your communities, and how active you are in them. Communities aren’t groups you merely belong to, they’re groups you do things with. That can include learning, but it doesn’t include just complaining. What communities do you belong to, how active are they, and how effective, how useful, are they?

Step 2, naturally, is to mobilize your communities — use the groups and relationships you already have, and make them more useful, and active. And remember, this is something you do collectively — don’t tell them what they should do, work with them to assess what you can do to be more effective, to carry out actions you collectively care about.

Step 3 is to organize — create new communities of passion, new natural enterprises, and new local living communities of people who share your purpose in life, and grow (within reason) existing communities so that they have more resources to deploy, and can therefore do more, and better.

In both steps 2 and 3, consider using a skilled facilitator. Such a person can help provide a framework and structure for community-building, and help negotiate the challenges such as how to intervene effectively in an existing system to bring about change, and how to build consensus and resolve conflicts.

What you specifically do — which causes you embrace, from blockading mountain-top or bitumen sludge mining to creating an enterprise or a support group to meet an urgent local need — is up to you, collectively. When you cease to behave atomically, as an individual or nuclear family member, and start to behave collaboratively, as a community member, your communities will figure out what needs to be done, and where they have the power to act in an effective way.

A nation and a world of strong local communities will start to break down the too-big systems by showing the world how dysfunctional they are and by demonstrating better ways to live, make a living, and do things that are important and necessary, thus rendering these large institutions obsolete. And it will build up strong communities that will have the organization, the skills and the knowledge to take over as these too-big structures crumble, and which will show the libertarians and individual narcissists that trying to do everything yourself, for yourself, is unhealthy, ineffective, and unnecessary.

Imagine a world where, when you are asked to describe yourself, you don’t tell people about your personal skills and accomplishments and data, but rather which communities you belong to and what they have done.

Imagine a world where, instead of feeding our low self-esteem by buying and showing off extravagant wealth, we fed our sense of belonging and love for all-life-on-Earth by creating and showing something we did together, exclaiming, We did that! “

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