Economic meltdown & The “old normal”.


From a permaculture(pc) perspective, the primary function of ‘the economy’ is to help fulfill human needs. Abraham Maslow handily formulated these needs in an ascending hierarchy as follows:

1) physical safety/ security–this includes having enough food, water, and shelter, and a relatively comfortable and safe physical situation. upon this elemental foundation are the rest:

2) a sense of belonging. we see this manifested throughout our evolution– in families, kinship groups, tribes, clans, villages. gangs derive from this need–we all have it.

3) self-esteem. we need to feel we are of value; to ourselves, to the group. if we do not feel good about our personal existence–well, kind of hard to be positive about anything, no?

4) self-actualization, a sense of free spirit–that our existence, our creativity is able to ripen, to express itself openly, to realize one’s human potential without outside oppression.

Much more can and has been said about this formula, but the subject is economics, so on we go.   From a pc vantage point, the modern industrial economy thrives by frustrating the fulfillment of these needs.   This happens by the constant message that material stuff is essentially what can satisfy us.  It comes down to this..  Unhappy? Unfulfilled? Just buy more stuff!

Sometimes that stuff is religion,  sports,  an image,  an ideology.  The ensuing dynamic is that we have to ” purchase it,”  from outside ourselves of course, which is someone else, ergo the economy.

Clear and mindful observation and thinking here  reveals that it is really only the first need category which is material, the rest are relational i.e. they result from relationships.   This is very good news,  if we didn’t know it already.   It means we can lower the material bar and still have a high quality of life.   We can begin acknowledging that we need to redesign for more beneficial relationships, and see clearly how these intangibles fulfill our needs. There is also the issue of working out our inner needs, and whether these might really be “wants” we feel we deserve or are entititled to. The fact is that if we have a lot of unaddressed and unresolved inner work to do, we’ll most likely have trouble sustaining healthy relationships–which then becomes an ecological problem since we seek fulfillment for our “lacks” by buying stuff. The roots of these problems rest within ourselves, and so in studying permaculture at MotherOak, we include looking inward–there is much accessible wisdom to help us in this.

One of the central challenges  is that this illusion-based economy is highly (and brutally) extractive of our planet’s finite resources.  And at the same time is very wasteful of them–to the point now of quite serious general toxicity and “disposal” problems.  When was the last time you thought about where your garbage goes after it leaves your lawn or dumpster?

Another central problem of course is human corruption and greed and hatred etc. –which further poisons the situation–so double toxicity; material and emotional. no wonder we’s in trouble, yes?

So now the great industrial ship is crashing, melting down–disorder and chaos are coming along….. it sure appears  so–this won’t likely happen all at once, but rather in stages. As of now–early 2012–we can see clearly the many troubles effecting not only “poorer” countries, but also pretty severely the “richer” ones as well. Our debt based economy is imploding, and its getting late in the game now. See Richard Heinberg’s “The End of Growth” for a clear explanation.  

I have accepted now that there will be much pain and suffering.  I don’t see–long term–that losing this monstrosity is a bad or regrettable event.   What would be  tragic is if we all went down with it: our children and most other species to boot.   The economy, however,  can’t cause that directly, though climate change could.   So what are we to do?  Permaculture, of course.   Patrick Whitefield describes it as “the art of creating beneficial relationships.”  that’s good news, yes?

Here We Go

I’d like to press on a bit more about the current meltdown and the “old normal.” the rich elites taking from the peasantry is quite an old story, as old as civilization, at least. we are seeing now the high-tech super dooper version– a looting of the U.S. treasury(among others) that boggles the imagination, and the devil takes the hindmost, which in this case is…well, us, but especially americans at first( though untold numbers of poor, mostly brown people the world over will always suffer the most).

Many ‘things’ we hold dear will be lost: jobs, savings, pensions, houses, cars, relationships, you name it. we’ll know it’s gotten really serious when, after oil goes back up(actually it has, as i update this post Jan.2012), and it will before too long, the food/ distribution system begins to falter. so the old normal was as much tropical fruit as you could eat all the time, flights across continents for easy, fun times; rediculously long schoolbus rides, fashion wardrobes, ludicrously wasteful trucks and cars, frivolous driving, commuting to now extinct jobs, supermalls, chinese plastic junk everywhere, and last but not least, walmarts and fast junkfood. This may not unnfold this year or next, but it ain’t far off folks, and good riddance, i say.

And the new normal? who knows??  lots of sharing– of rides, of tools, of know how.  cooking of local staple foods, learning how to make things, grow gardens, fix stuff; emotional support groups, self-policing neighborhoods, and generally a lot less denial about how basic our real needs(in contrast to wants) are, and how we’re having to meet them ourselves these days, or go without. i think cooperation will be much revived in many neighborhoods. For an alternate paradime that’s well on it’s way now, check out the Transition Towns movement–and maybe join or start one while you’re at it!

i’m going to avoid the ugly spectre of civil strife– the survival bloggers are onto that one. what this site intends to be about , and what permaculture is about, is how we might make a somewhat graceful descent from the old high energy normal to the new low energy normal. we begin by conserving, and move from there. stay tuned, and it’s never too early to start planning–in fact, it seems rather late in the game. one question that might come up in this regard is how to manage our funds. the fact is that our dollars are worth substantially less than they were a short while ago. i give considerable credence to the idea that holding tangible assets, particularly useful tools and other elemental “survival” type gear, such as a good sleeping bag, or a high quality water filter, is definitely worthwhile. i also won’t hesitate to get any heavy equipment work done on the land as soon as i’m ready, or to perhaps stockpile some building materials. keep it small.  digging a pond a couple years from now say, if oil’s back up, could cost much more than it does today–i’d much rather go forward with a well designed pond than a bit more money(see page Our new design installed o6/09). another possible phenomena might be that people begin selling off decent assets they might need later on–tools come again to mind, and there might be bargains. also building materials, windows etc. if you take some time to contemplate just how dependent(and therefore vulnerable) we are on cheap energy, it might help with motivation. it depends on what your plans are, of course, and how established your situation. but that’s stuff again, and though we do need some, it will never replace having  good friends nearby.

It isn’t so easy to look very far ahead–the view gets blurry, but the trajectories –climate chaos, peak oil, and economic meltdown are extremely clear, no?  My firm inclination at this time is that we must all seek to learn how to hold(and invoke)cooperation as a primary value, as well as to explore and understand alternative governance systems, beyond the increasingly controlling one we’ve become used to. Villages are a clear precedence, and i intend to study more the bases of their continuities. cheerio/