Sunday, February 27, 2005

Bioregionalism

The twin geophysical crises of global climate change and peak oil production, coming about coincidentally in human history, have precipitated a human social crisis. They have revealed, for all the world to see, the ultimate failure of the two hundred year-old human experiment in centralism and industrialism.

Human beings have separated themselves from the mass of non-human life in two major areas: systemic centralization of power and authority, and the separation and commodification of natural resources for exclusive human use.

No other species engages in systematic centralization of authority. Yes, some species do have pecking orders. These are transitory and do not result in systematic and unchanging hierarchies of authority and control. Only humans engage in coercive, centralized, political control.

Only humans separate natural resources and guard them from access and use by other individuals and species. Only humans view the resources of the earth as "products" to be used for individual human gain and profit.

In these two ways, humans are bucking the mainstream of biological evolution, among all the millions of species on this earth. And now the chickens have come home to roost. The bluff is called and we've revealed our cards, a miserable pair of deuces.

The entire thrust of biological evolution, from the first replicating DNA strands to non-industrial Homo sapiens has been towards cooperation and mutual aid. Apologists for the industrial status quo point to Darwin's Theory of Evolution, mistakenly interpreting "survival of the fittest" to mean survival of the strongest individual, when in fact, Darwin observed that survival of the fittest meant the "community most fit to the existing environmental conditions."

In any event, no matter how modern individuals interpret an historical treatise on evolution, its plainly obvious that "survival of the fittest individual" results in societal failure! Individualism cannot continue in a universe based on cooperation. If individualism were transcendent, if competition were the ruling law, then this "civilization," if that's what it is, would be triumphant, would be the epitome of biological evolution, instead of the miserable failure that is apparent at every turn.

Since the centralization of energy, power, politics and economy has demonstrably failed, it is clearly evident that decentralization is the road we should have taken. When one is standing with toes hanging over the edge of the precipice, progress consist of turning around and taking a step forward.

What would a decentralized, cooperative society look like?

Such a society would be bounded by these bioregional principles:

1) Limitations of scale
2) Conservation and Stability
3) Self-sufficiency and cooperation
4) Decentralization and diversity

Government of such a society would be libertarian (in the true sense), non-coercive, open and democratic.

The people in such a society would be engaged daily in the processes of decision making in their neighborhoods, communities and bioregions.

Food production would be dispersed throughout the community, with each family having its own gardens, and additional food provided in local, multi-crop farms providing nutritious unadulterated food for local consumption.

Energy production would be on-site, with each home and work place producing all the energy required to maintain its inhabitants, plus a surplus to be distributed to those in need.

There would be less of a boundary between city and country, less separation between work and home, less distinction between leaders and followers.

All decisions within a bioregion would be based on widespread understanding of bioregional needs, based on a thorough understanding of the characteristics of the bioregion in which one lives. Any action that threatened damage to the bioregion would be regarded with utmost horror, a crime of major proportions requiring drastic social sanction. The interests of the human community would be in all cases synonymous with the interests of the larger bioregional community.

Decision-making would begin at the local level, with residents dealing with problems affecting their own neighborhoods. Problems that transcend the neighborhood would be dealt with by ad-hoc federations of neighborhood associations from among the neighborhoods affected. Problems affecting the community as a whole would be dealt with by a federation of all neighborhood associations. Problems that transcend the community would be dealt with by federations of community associations. Regional and "national" governing bodies would be replaced by federations of regional associations.

Membership in the federations of associations would be by delegate appointment, with delegates authorized only to carry the brief of the parent association. The delegate would not be able to make any independent decisions on any issue without discussion by the parent body. All are expected to take part in the associations, subject to public sanction. Those who decide to not take part in the decision-making process, also decide to eschew the social benefits of membership in the society.

In this way the local organization is engaged with all decisions-making from the local to the meta-regional. There would be no central body to hand down decisions to the people. All would have a direct interest in the outcome of all issues, and all would have a say in any decisions.

This seems Utopian to us in a society based on coercive, central authoritarian rule, and representative republican government, where appeal to authority is the norm, and a centralized constabulary maintains social order. Yet, the vast majority of human history has been within societies based on the above principles. It is only within the past two hundred years or so that we have abandoned the major thrust of human society.

It not only can be done, it is the only way that human society can continue much longer in the future.

It's a bit scary, starting out on something new. But, as with everything, we start out with small steps. We start out by withdrawing our support from central, authoritarian rule in our lives: in our home, our workplaces, our local, city, state and national government. At the same time we work to build supportive, cooperative social structures, based on bioregional organization and mutual aid. We build local currencies and local economies, we support local food production for local consumption. We support locally owned businesses that provide locally produced goods and services. We work to preserve and defend local biological and social diversity. We teach our neighbors the skills necessary to become self-sufficient and self-reliant. We work with our neighbors and community members to build up systems of local political autonomy and reject the support and control of centralized government.

In this way, when the central authority begins to crumble, we are prepared to carry our own weight, to provide for ourselves and for our neighbors, friends and families.

We are engaged in the community of all life, a contributing member of our bioregion, giving to the whole, as we receive from the whole.

Michael Lewis
Leona Gulch
Pacific Plate