Everything in the universe is changing and social systems are no exception to this constant flux. But change is not an easy thing to accept, especially when it threatens the status quo and the world’s perception of normalcy.
In the case of the individual, we resist change because it takes us out of our comfort zones and challenges us to a new normal. The great futurist thinker Jacques Fresco reminds us that the survival of any social system ultimately depends upon its ability to allow for appropriate change. In this sense the conscious social hive will continue to experiment and test inter-relationships, evolving and maturing a new society into existence.
Change is appropriate when it improves societal structures as a whole. Part of that whole includes the complex interdependency with the planets environment. Our relationship with the forces of planet earth are so intertwined that we depend on its capacity to regulate fine tuning minimum life requirements. Change is also a constant in the morphology of planet earth; the astronomical history of our planet has undergone dramatic shifts due to glacial ages, volcanic disruptions, meteor impacts and pole shifting.
Our brief passage on earth as a species has witnessed violent changes and huge mass extinction’s. These cataclysms have dwindled our survival chances sometimes reducing human population to 15 thousand individuals (Whitehouse, 2003). We have been an endangered species at the brink of oblivion. Our resiliency to bounce back in adverse environments would have not happened without cooperating with one another. We have become who we are through cooperation not competition. Our large brains respond to empathy and symbiotic communication. This triumph of cooperation over competition is evidenced by the way we come together in modern day catastrophes, especially at the neighborhood level. It is also suggested by social anthropologist’s that our species became successful because of our improved social skills and cooperation. By nurturing the playful side of human nature we promoted cooperation and equality (Gray, 2011). In the rich playground of language, communication and cooperative strategy, our brains grew and changed making more connections. Improved relationships and social incentives led to the diversification of human groups and the proliferation of skill sets. The diversification of skill sets in small social systems enriched the human experience.
Fresco also points out the dynamic changing nature of social evolution, implying that human systems must continue to mediate new social possibilities, and the purpose of this is: “In order to transcend our present limitations and enhance the lives of everyone” (Fresco, 2014).
Another perennial thinker Buckminster Fuller points out in one of his famous phrases that: “to change something we must build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” (Fuller, 1964).
At the basis of any social system is economic activity. We urgently need a new model of economic activity, and this is fundamental for appropriate social change to take place.
The good news is that new economic models are currently shaping and generating results in the entire world, in smaller communities and neighborhoods of our cities and towns. Additionally a handful of blueprints and design science principals begin to gain popularity and have been implemented, published and theorized by important thinkers.
As we build this framework, societies will emerge out of their cloaking fold to change the way we do business with each other and community, creating new local markets. This basic roadmap will lead to a new economic paradigm that will be centered on local approaches to economic relationships. We will absorb the good lessons of the old economy and build upon its structure, honestly questioning the meaning of the money system and the purpose of economic activity. The model for a new structure must change the obsession with profit, growth and utility replacing it with maximizing the quality of our commons, changing focus on material accumulation to a focus on family and stewardship of this planet. This change will shift the mega-corporate radius with the too big to fail to the small but resilient regionally owned businesses that prosper in bio-diversity. The generating hubs of this transformation will rise at the local scale spreading meaningful and satisfying economic activity between peers; like the relations of trust and care, economies of affect, gift economies and networks of reciprocity. The investigation of this new economy will focus on the continuity and evolution of reasonable social expectations (Narotzky and Besnier, 2014). At the end of the day we have to redefine our social expectations with a humanistic model that is expressed in the flourishing of human potential.
Solution based design science is here to spread and grow new bio-regional economic activity that will become our new markets, satisfying a society based on needs and not on desire. The following areas will redefine human enterprise; they represent the first sprouts of change.
Energy Self Reliance
As we reformulate energy reliance we have to integrate more and more renewable energy into the old system. Through this transitional change, the oil-gas-coal based power grid will switch and begin to run primarily on renewables. Every community and neighborhood will be empowered locally and become energy self-reliant, less dependent on providers, power companies and centralized post oil-gas-coal gird monopolies.
Renewable energies include wind, photovoltaic, tidal, hydro, thermal and others. These clean energies are generating significant resources spilling back capacity to the current electrical grid systems. World wide estimates suggest 22% of our energy requirements are being met with a mix of alternative clean energies (David Appleyard, 2014). In 2013 the US renewable energy sources including hydroelectric, biomass, geothermal, wind and solar generated 13% of the electricity demand (“U.S. Energy Information Administration,” 2015). Partly due to government incentives and policies, the US is second in the world in alternative energy resource usage. Interestingly in 2013 the solar photovoltaic sector grew significantly, installing more capacity than any other renewable technology except perhaps for hydropower (David Appleyard, 2014). Solar has specially increased and generated a significant amount of power on the small-scale level such as private rooftops and city buildings. In the US, solar schools are potentiating their energy capacity, in the last decade the equivalent energy produced by 50 million gallons of gas per year has been generated on these rooftops and fields. In New York alone 169 schools have gone solar generating as much as 7,316 kilowatts of clean, renewable and affordable electricity (Shavana Abruzzo, 2014). We can envision a time when all building ordinances will include smart energy buildings with solar panels on every roof and a time when all asphalt roads and highways will be replaced with solar photovoltaic carpets that harvest this magnificent resource. New results with latest technology have doubled the photovoltaic sunlight convertibility performance to a 40% milestone (“In world first, researchers convert sunlight to electricity with over 40 percent efficiency,” 2014). Another good sign is that the US state and government policies such as Tax Credits, Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and Renewable Energy Certificates (REC’s) are aiming to increase renewable energy use and make the sector financially desirable (“U.S. Energy Information Administration,” 2015).“A growing numbers of cities, states, and regions are developing strategies to transition to 100 percent renewable energy. For example, Djibouti, Scotland, and Tuvalu are targeting 100 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2020” (David Appleyard, 2014). This energy independence will arrive when we improve renewable energy transmission lines, eliminating spillage, increasing storage capabilities and building smart grid technologies (“Running on Renewables,” 2014).
Storage is perhaps the biggest breakthrough technology awaiting for innovation; when our passive energy storage capacities increase ten fold we will have energy accumulated for decades. Think of what abundant reservoirs of energy will do to cheapen the supply of energy for consumption. More efficient and cheaper energy technologies managed on the regional scale will generate local business and bring big economic advantages to community markets. Communities will have lower operational costs to run economic activity; energy will be harvested and stored locally and at a fraction of the oil-gas-coal unit price. Energy self-reliance will fuel the transition to regional economic development, where money is invested back into community and into human activity and not into drilling and mining for petro-carbon; focusing on the restoration and refurbishing of the commons, along side a new retrofitted economy of maintenance and care. In this society global markets will undergo economic de-growth and become exotic luxury trading whereas regional markets with clean energy independence will thrive and flourish.
Food Autonomy thru Perennial System Design
The illusory notion that you can buy cheap and abundant products shipped from over seas and supplied all year round from all parts of the world is no longer sustainable. The most empowering tool for humanity is the possibility to grow and supply food for all people locally in their own communities and bio-regions. The inexpensive and smarter regional bio markets will relegate transatlantic global food cartels useless.
One way of achieving food autonomy is by implementing solution based design science and principals to local production of perennial crops. This can be done at any level, from the household to the city-state. Perennial design is intrinsically very efficient and robust, self-regulating and self-perpetuating. Perennial systems harvest regional diversity and advantages, like a healthy edible forest, it generates high yields and abundance with very little maintenance.
A host of permaculture design principles are in place and operating within very small perimeters, for people in the block radius of community gardens cropping out in many suburbs and cities, with the local farms that supply our farmers markets and CSA’s. In these systems the connections between town, cities and the surrounding land creates local consumers for local products. We will see a return of farm families, local business and bio-communities. In a sense the modern urban culture will re-encounter its agrarian roots but with a whole new vision, implemented on tar roofs, empty lots, back yards, front yards, suburban farm plots, on the side of buildings and urban water ways. Creating a long-term economy rather than a crop year economy, instead of shortening payoff we will bank on the chestnut trees that feed our grandchildren in the local edible forest economies. We will also be reunited with the perennial knowledge of our ancestors as hunter-gatherers and their relationship with land and soil (Berry, 2012). Agro forestry, edible forestry, permaculture, city horticulture, hydroponics, vertical gardens and aquaculture are just but a few of these design tools. Unlike the monoculture farming of big agro, these systems thrive with pest resistant bioregional varieties and heir-looms and are designed based on natural system productivity.
The idea of perennial self-reliant bioregions and local remedial actions designed for permanence has been around since Bill Mollision coined the term permaculture back in the early 1970’s. It includes: Forest economies, edible landscapes, permanent pastures, horticulture, productive self-preserving water systems and non-tillage agriculture (Mollison, 1997). Permaculture models and mimics patterns and relationships found in nature that are high yielding and abundant in food, fiber and energy for local needs (Holmgren, 2002). The organizing framework for a new economic vision is plotted out in the proposed permaculture design system flower fractal proposed by Holmgren. Useful design systems function in many domains and knit together diversity of ideas, skills and solutions. These design systems also identify and evaluate biophysical limitations often improving the conditions for the environment.
As of December of 2014 the worldwide permaculture networks reports 1718 registered permaculture projects (“Worldwide Permaculture Projects,” 2014). The progressive implementation of system design principles in every city and region, will give humankind a head start back to food autonomy and economic self-reliance, reuniting the family and our neighbors, rescuing the gift economy and our environment. System design principals are also applicable to our inter-personal, economic, social and political reorganization, and like in nature they will continue to change and evolve (Holmgren, 2002). Grounding us as we take care of our primal needs, food autonomy will restore our affectionate networks, building local relationships with neighbors and family; involving regular socially rewarding participatory contributions that are meaningful and purposeful. Instead of working for a living, we will find joy and gratitude in community sharing, maintaining and managing the gift of perennial agriculture and local market abundance. With the permaculture principals and methods we can achieve yields eight times what the Department of Agriculture says its possible per square foot (Eisenstein, 2012).
In such high yield abundance systems we can feed the world population for generations.
Regional Currency and Banking
The way we think about money is also changing. In this transformation, fractional reserve banking, compound interest and money out of debt will loose hegemony to a diversified money system that will have a panoply of currency innovation and credit systems. Just like mono crop agriculture, monopoly of the monetary system inherently lacks stability collapsing repeatedly and focusing disproportionately on infinite growth economies, and not on developing human equity and steady state environmental stewardship. Our solutions for the financial challenges of the future are emerging out of regional and community market systems and private initiative, not from the well regulated central governments. As multiple currencies grow and co-exist, regional financing will become independent of the predatory fractional reserve banking infinite money creation scheme.
Financial monocultures in all their right gave us the Industrial Age; however monocultures have bread financial instability and need to be complemented with information age monetary solutions that diversify the means of exchange and value. Simultaneously we will develop regional and local economies where we can spend and invest alternative currencies; this monetary autonomy will free us from the global financial predation of the money powers and the inflationary monster built into it.
The internet and the digital age are showing us new models of market coordination and local exchange, with peer to peer, business to business and a plethora of complementary currencies and credit systems such as: Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS), Community Exchange Systems, P2P Crypto Currency, Voucher Currency, Hours Systems, Mutual Credit Systems, Time Bank Systems, Community Barter Systems, Consumer Commerce Circuits (C3) and others (Eisenstein, 2011).
Good examples are the regional lending banks that offer zero interest loans. This kind of negative interest rate banking percolates back to community and incentivizes individuals and businesses whom spend rather than hoard money for the future. The Egyptians had a negative interest system with a corn standard called the “ostraka”. The ostraka was a commodity-backed currency represented as a shard of pottery with a date on it. This date stood for the day a deposit of grain entered the storehouse. This means of exchange had a parking fee as grain decomposed and accumulated a maintenance cost. This negative interest made for much circulation and investment in the prosperous fertile Nile economy. It was not until the roman invasion that positive interest charges on metal based coinage with the face of the central authority replaced the corn standard and institutionalized the money powers (Hallsmith and Lietaer, 2013).
Demurrage or parking fee banking has been employed successfully several times in history; the best-known example was instituted in the town of Worgl, Austria, in 1932. Demurrage frees up the money supply and stimulates sharing not competition, conservation not consumption and it treats money like everything else, subject to natural cyclic processes of renewal and decay (“Demurrage,” 2015).
Another proven interest free economic model that has been successful is the Swiss WIR which has been around since the 1930’s. This mutual credit system produces 2 billion WIR annually for some 62,000 business in a sort of credit clearing house trade network that has revitalized the Swiss economy (Anthony Migchels, 2012; Lieater, 2010).
Other successful monetary systems worth mentioning include the Bristol, the BerkShares, C3’s, and the Chiemgauer (“Complementary Currency Resource Center,” 2015). These tested money and credit solutions promote proximal social transactions where cooperation is high and reputation becomes a form of currency, reevaluating community and encouraging long term thinking, linking underutilized resources with unmet needs (Hallsmith and Lieater, 2013).
Money has become the usury god of shadows, where greed and competition become the means towards capital gains and short term profitable next quarter behavior.
Complementary currencies will change this mind set, broadening the way money is created, decentralizing it and encouraging people to buy local, incrementing regional business and self-employment. These new money systems will keep wealth and inherit value within communities. In these systems money is more of a means of exchange and less of a store of value. The new forms of storing wealth will include: Natural Capital, Zero Interest Loans, Natural Ecosystems, Bio-Diversity, Community Infrastructure, Permaculture, Art and Science, Knowledge and Technology.
The spread of powerful ideas and system design principles is a most valuable asset for the development of a new economic system.
The role of the media and communication technology in this transition is to spread design science to the population. In a open source data economy where all transformational roadmaps and system design ideas are published openly. In this sense public media, business, universities, trade academies, civil society and community groups will have a permanent role in the diffusion and public debate of strategic plans and open information. It is the duty and role of media and institutionalized education to facilitate this public conversation (Schuldt, 2012).
Knowledge shares play a instrumental role in open source economies. Data Clouds invite diverse user transactions to a broad digital network where the internet becomes the classroom of the 21st Century. The exchange of data on the internet is already astronomically diverse and abundant and this activity will explode threefold in the coming years. Examples of this cyber activity are: P2P networks, open source software, open access to research, free books online, royalty free mp3 and free image-sharing with full re-use rights and digital swapping networks like eBay, Esty, B2B, Myspace and others where people sell products and services directly to each other online, earning credits based on transparency and reliability. The internet is taping into the processing power of millions of individuals. Online collaboration is a form of gift circles where crowd sourcing produces cultural commons like the online encyclopedias Wikepdia, and Appropedia. Online crowd funding or Kickstarter lending can allow individuals to raise money for small business ventures and solutions for their communities. Online crowd lending allows communities of individuals to promote and create their own democratic consensus around important issues, a sort of direct democracy that promotes cultural values and needs close to home (“What is Crowdsourcing,” 2015). Open Source, GPL, Open Data, Open Standards, Creative Commons and the entire Digital Collaborative Movement is a growing gift economy, it is internet centric and a DIT or do it together economy of cybernauts.
In our new gift circle economy, over seas products become a rare goods market. In the new economic paradigm externalities and long distance bio-taxation will make these products prohibitively costly. Instead crowd sharing, crowd sourcing and local swapping within communities and city boarders will dominate local markets in a cooperative banking digital system that books time shares and points earned. These economic activities are community based, high yielding, low entropy, low energy dependent and work horizontally to develop well-being, general knowledge, self-reliance and problem solving skills.
From Consumers to Stewardship of the Commons /Reorganization of Industrial Production.
We must reverse the over-consumption model that puts us at odds with reality. Mass production has accustomed us to the consumption of useless uniform products, we have been brainwashed by the market place to surrender our right to choose wisely, instead we obsessively consume junk and stuff we don’t need. Market forces are not necessarily based on the demand of goods and services that are efficient, good for us and intelligently designed, instead we are driven to behave like raptors consuming unnecessary goods and products. The designers of these goods and products, design them with short shelf lives and cheap parts with planned obsolescence incorporated as a market strategy, this traps us in the endless wheel of consumerism that ends up depleting our most vital and valuable resources. Consequence of this culture of excess and its destructive cycle are everywhere like in the land fills of electronic garbage, like in the transistor wastelands and plastic islands that float our seas. The occupation of the commons with non-reusable and non-recyclable garbage is creating a gigantic collateral disaster, a damage not accounted for in our voracious consumption habits. The new economic model based on stewardship will have to re-examine externalities and address the right scale of goods for production. Technology and innovation is certainly a wonderful asset, a tool that has made our modern lives very comfortable and convenient, however we seem to have disassociated our balance in the ecosystem consuming manically and recklessly. We could be a lot smarter and take innovation and design to another level where the essential and best of what makes us modern is generated and no more. The gadgetry of this economy will be designed and built for longevity, making emphasis on robustness, elegant efficiency, modularity and long useful shelf-life. This will create retro-fitting economies engineered for maintenance and service economics, where we re-frame and edit the need for more and more new extinguishable gadgets and machines.
The industrial apparatus has generated this mass scale production frenzy of irrelevant throw away stuff; junk food is but one expression of this culture. The consumption of this merchandise is conveniently designed by corporations to keep us enslaved and their profits rising exponentially.
Modernity has introduced into our lives many good things; having all the newest electro-domestic conveniences is certainly a gift of this system. We can also build a washing machine that is modular, lasts 25 years and recycles its grey waters, perhaps even creates its own electricity as it torques. This new mentality of maintenance and retrofitting will redefine the way we do business. The pathology of obsessively camping outside smart phone franchisees to get the latest gadget breakthrough technology every 3 months is symptomatic of an unhealthy society. We have been swathed in a labyrinth of disempowering choices designed by the technological market players; they make us addicted to their toys, distracting us while we vicariously live up to the bling bling status that is sold to us. We are constantly measured up against the successful and celebrity types of modern culture. The skin deep make up MTV, Reality TV, Media Hollywood horror show is there to keep us dazed out in a dysfunctional dystopic soap opera glitter house reality. We feel compelled to become this consumer stereotype gobbling more and more of the products that inundate the supermarkets of the West.
Modernity and Economic Growth has engineered us into infinite consumption and we have forgotten to live within our means, in a steady state economy but at the same time in a renaissance of resourcefulness, a kind of Robinson Crusoisim that will spread development widely. In such modular and retrofitted economies their will be an explosion of motivation and small business interactions, a spirit of innovative community activism will spread. In this sense community building through self-reliance and technological ingenuity will reconsider and design the goods that really make humanity beautiful and magnificent, sharing the tools of progress, towards a perennial gift economy.
Consumerism is person centered, gifts and sharing are centered on other; consumption is about taking away impersonal mass produced goods whereas service and maintenance is about giving back to your community markets, recoiling, reusing, retrofitting and recycling. Have we forgotten that the act of giving is the gift of life itself, and we are on earth not to take but to contribute, we are not here to consume but here for stewardship. This awakening will change our interaction with the commons. In this sense we will have to redefine the word product, to include perhaps designed to last, designed for community lending, designed to be used free of charge and copy-right free. Examples of such products and services are already out there like Free Tool Lending Libraries where a wide variety of tools are loaned in the community free of charge. This exchange activity fosters self determination and builds community (“Power Tools to the People,” 2015). In these systems you can avoid spending on capital that can be shared in community, providing tools for people who need them. All around the world communities are setting up rental shops, tool libraries, kitchen tools, sporting tools and DIY instruction libraries. Like the millions of DIY YouTube videos that flourish the internet, these community libraries are revolutionizing the way we learn; with weekly power tool talk and hands on workshops that empower individuals with new skills. Access to basic tools and information is catapulting home manufacturing, neighborhood improvement and DIY projects. Open source management software makes it easy to setup and manage rental shops and lending libraries (“Start Sharing,” 2015). With this free software lending libraries can be managed efficiently and independently with automatic web-based systems that check inventory and alert members about availability providing message boards, discussion forums and new arrivals. These new products and tools are enabling communities to gather around creative projects that rescue and reutilize abandoned land and resources. Using tool libraries and creating a new economy of tool sharing, informational resources and retrofitted laboratories for innovation, DIY, DIT and maker communities are changing the world we want to see (“10 Backyard Builders Changing the World,” 2015).
Community Politics / Interactive Democracy
A new egalitarian ethos has to center modern politics around community and regional radiuses. The neighborhood scale of the new economy will need a neighbor based political system profoundly involved in the reshaping of local forces in control of their own self-determination. At this scale communities will re-discover the participatory democratic subsets that keep personal interest in check and people power in control. Eliminating arbitrary abuse of power and government over others is critical in the development of a new egalitarian ethos. Perhaps we could learn from the early collector-societies of the hunter-gathers who practiced “reverse dominance” to keep power in check. “Reverse dominance” prevented anyone from assuming power over others, in these systems “the many acted in unison to deflate the ego, and ridicule anyone who tried to dominate. In these egalitarian societies consensual decision making was a core value that extended equity shared among themselves (Gray, 2009).
Consensual decision making is manageable at the scale of local government. At this scale collaborative decision processes are likely to be efficient, effective and transparent. Made up of neighbors with community accountability, this system will have much more bearing and power on their own livelihood than the Federal Government or any other form of central government or power monopoly. Jefferson would argue that “there is no safer depository of the ultimate powers of society than the people themselves” (Jefferson, T., Lipscomb, A. A., & Bergh, A. E, (1903). In today’s representative democracy, cronyism and selection by appointment dominate politics and the voting system has become a sort of monarchial electorate system instrumented from super wealthy groups to appoint groomed and malleable candidates to office to represent their special interest. The power grabbing that occurs in the revolving doors of big corpo-government have no regard for what is good for community or what is good for the environment.
We must fan the flame of liberty and democracy getting reacquainted with the spirit of participation, where public life comes back to the people and we engage in a new interactive democratic membership that is direct and transparent. This new rationale will shrink government back to regional jurisdictions where they will breakup and decentralize into smaller self-regulating constituents. Governmental decisions will use smart online collaborative systems, community meet ups and crowd solving technologies that interpret results of wide online survey (“What is Crowdsolving,” 2015).
An example of this kind of system is the open source software online project LiquidFeedback which is being used by several parties in Germany (“LiquidFeedback,” 2015). The online interactive democratic process can include the legislative body as they incorporate artificial intelligence and cloud management platforms to administrate complex systems. These programs facilitate law making, maximizing network participation and decision making around community issues, and local interest lines. In this online open environment, deliberation and debate contributes directly to the development of solutions (Boik, 2104). In this interactive democracy, questions and differences are not settled by vote but by participation and debate, through collective moderation and many rounds of editing. In these systems voting is left for last option arbitration of irresolvable differences. It can also be used to measure consensus like the label ratings of environmentally friendly products. Imagine the democratization of online consumer product review scanned for company ratings and fare-trade healthy economic practices and non GMO’s. Imagine the power of the consumer if we can collectively come together to boycott destructive economic practices and toxic products from our tables and homes. In these interactive democracies buyers and sellers can be measured on a scale of direct transparency. In this economic activity reputation becomes a new online currency. This kind of currency is already being used in places like eBay and B2C’s.
Unlike the static monolithic bureaucratic states of nationhood, collaborative government systems are a cross-polinization of opportunities whose time is ripe and waiting to happen, they must be transparent to be effective and built out of mutual consent. They must promote mediation of conflict and arbitration in an evolving system where change is always a constant.
This short list simply recognizes and introduces the reader to some of the primary tools and components needed for structural social change.
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Carlos Cuellar Brown is a New York City time-based artist and essayist who has written on media art, social theory and metaphysics. He is currently a columnist for Second Sight Magazine out of the Netherlands and blogs here.