April 26, 2011

What’s Our Affirmative?


In my last post and the subsequent comment thread we discussed how our scattered blogs may be able to coalesce, and what the preliminary basis of such a coalescence may be. The consensus is that people want to write about actions we can start to undertake now. So I figured I’d jot down a list of some of these relocalization actions and ideas, as well as a few notes on the underlying philosophy which will encompass them. We’ll need to share our expertise and experiences with all these things. In most cases we’ll be sharing during the act of developing this expertise through experience in the first place. I’m sure no expert yet on any of it. To most people all this stuff is pretty new.
1. Food Sovereignty: This is the philosophy that we have a human right, not just to food but to the land to grow the food, and to a polity and economic structure which supports and enhances this right. Then it’s also the practice of this right, including the political struggle to attain it.
There’s the core of my whole program. Agricultural science has proven that medium and small size organic agriculture is more productive than corporate monoculture. This fact will become ever more critical for our physical survival as we enter the post-oil age, since industrial agriculture is overwhelmingly dependent upon fossil fuels for fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides, mechanical harvesting and processing, and transportation. So this agricultural transformation is a physical necessity. 
I add that this transformation to a nation of tens of millions of small and medium-sized individual and cooperative producers is the only thing which can provide the basis for full employment on an autonomous basis. This then can be the foundation for economic and political democracy. Making a virtue of necessity, we can transform our current travail into the full triumph of the democratic movement. We can simultaneously save our lives and conquer our freedom, or else we can do neither. 
So where do we start toward this great goal? We start at the start, with the simplest and most broadly accepted actions – planting gardens, saving seeds, establishing farmers’ markets, and similar deeds. From there we elaborate these into a comprehensive plan for food relocalization, with personal production supplementing (or even being supplemented by) localized food distribution networks which bring together a coalition of regional farmers and regional buyers, all of whom achieve a much greater resiliency and security for themselves and for all the people of their communities. We enlist the mythology of history by resurrecting old heroic names like Victory Gardens and coin new ones like Freedom Seeds. We accompany all this activity with an educational program which puts it all in our current political and economic context. We gradually propose that common sense prevail, that none of this will work in the long run if we allow the potentially productive land to remain uselessly enclosed. (Not to mention that those who enclose it are those who stole it.) We study successful examples of land redemptions like the Landless Workers’ Movement of South America. 
This can then be tied in with parallel efforts at community education on the Land Scandal, which would include organized land redemption among its proposed solutions. 
2. Alternatives to money: Since I’m soon going to devote a separate post to Time Banking, I won’t delve into this one here. But I’ll just mention the many alternative currencies and exchange structures which have already been tried out, often with considerable local success. 
Here the basic medium-run goal is to extricate ourselves from the globalized economy and the cash economy as much as possible. The main vehicle will probably be some form of cooperative organization, since this looks like the best way to overcome the challenges of both being cash-poor in the first place, and of running a functional local economy without incurring the full tyranny of bureaucracy and taxation. I’ll have lots more to say about that. 
3. Energy: We’ll have to relocalize it as much as possible. I don’t know much yet about the full potential and the limits. I’ll leave that to others. 
The main thing I’m personally interested in is on-farm biodiesel generation to run the tractors and other equipment and the trucks to locally/regionally distribute the produce. I haven’t read studies yet, but I suspect that where rational farming practices prevail (where the manure and/or crop waste generated by the farm is recycled back into the soil), sufficient fuel could be produced to close this farm-to-eater loop.
4. Transportation: This one looks trickiest. We really are slaves to the car, and most of us have to use the car for almost everything. As much as possible relocalization will have to strive to minimize the need for driving.
5. Health care: The existing system is heavily dependent upon fossil fuels, and would therefore be unsustainable even if it were equitably organized. As we know, it’s also organized in a predatory, profiteering way. Since the goal of the health care system is not to care for health but to generate profit and be rationed by ability to pay; and since the people are now being economically liquidated; it follows that fewer and fewer of us will have access to care. We’ll need to turn to alternatives. Living in a healthy way to begin with is now paramount. We see another linkage with a redeemed food production system, since organic food is far more valuable in terms of nutrition and lack of unhealthy inputs. We’ll also need to learn about herbal medicine and tend herbal medicine gardens. That’s one example of an alternative. 
Lots more about the malevolence of the health system at my health racketeering page. 
6. Education: The gutting of school budgets and the pernicious character of the curriculum and socialization at our “public” (that is, increasingly corporatized) schools, means that we’ll be turning to educational alternatives like home-schooling, including on a cooperative basis, more and more. 
This schooling will become more and more entwined with the practical education of learning to grow food, produce manufactures without fossil fuels, salvage materials from obsolete items, etc. 
That leads to the whole panoply of relocalized crafts, manufactures, reskilling in the pre-oil ways. 
All of this will take place in an environment where we’ll have vast opportunities and responsibilities to educate a broader public and bring it into these activities. This environment will also contain many risks and dangers, as our enemies try to block us and, failing that, repress us. We’ll have to fight back through direct action, evasion, passive resistance, appeals to that broad public, and anything else called for by circumstance. So the strategy and tactics of the struggle against oppression is also part of our project.
And what’s the principled basis of all this? The same simple, wholesome beginning we made in 1776: We want to build a society which exalts life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The economy and the polity, which today so aggressively seek to destroy all of these, must be liberated and rebuilt toward maximizing these. This means we seek economic and political democracy. 
So there’s an overview of the challenges we face, the goals we seek, and therefore the affirmations we must write about.


  1. […] Russ at Volatility blog, from a post titled “What’s Our Affirmative”: […]

    Pingback by Food sovereignty in the post-oil future | The Bovine — April 26, 2011 @ 8:02 am

  2. Too many Q’s- but for now, how do we start? I liked that steaminginthemiddle site. Maybe the techies can set up a series regionally, and the rest of us can post/comment on them. BTW when I tried to register for that blog-couldn’t do it. All Word Press would put up was a log-in box. And how do we handle it when “members” post unwelcome comments? You can’t monitor & filter everything yourself. Do “we” vote as ideas evolve or are challenged?

    Comment by Natalie Golovin — April 26, 2011 @ 9:48 am

    • That site looks promising. I didn’t yet delve into it enough to see that it required registration. Maybe Jon will read this and reply.

      Is an unwelcome comment one you disagree with? We certainly won’t agree on everything, and I reckon at the outset it’s more important to focus on the basics we agree upon rather than details we dispute.

      I guess we’ll eventually get to the point, once we’re semi-formalizing a movement organization, where we’ll be voting on things. But that’s probably for a little later on down the road.

      How do we start? As in, proximately. Good question. How about, each participant commits to a particular project, either just writing or doing something in real life and reporting on it. Those who don’t have blogs could use these comment threads (appropriately labelling the entry).

      We can decide on a time frame for that. Anyone new who wants to join in can do so at any time.

      I’ll work out my ideas on Food Sovereignty, continue my analysis of the ideology of the American Revolution including that mock Convention I talked about, and I’ll report on the progress of my real-life activities like the farmers’ market, the medicinal garden, the time bank, and the seed library (if I can ever get that last one off the ground).

      Comment by Russ — April 26, 2011 @ 12:16 pm

    • Hi Nancy, Russ. I’m brand new at blogging, though I’ve been commenting on blogs for some time. I’m finding for myself a learning curve to the blogging. I haven’t yet disciplined myself to write new posts very frequently. I also make mistakes with the blog a lot. Right now we’re getting a lot of commercial spam. I ‘m not sure how to perfectly distinguish spam from real comments. Thanks for your mention, Nancy. Comment over there anytime. We’ll try to keep the blog active.

      I believe our networking, whether by blogs or otherwise, is critically important. We have to try to organize. I like Russ’ thoughts about dividing activity labor. I’ve been thinking similarly.

      Me, I would be most immediately interested in tracking/helping the movement to abolish corporate personhood. I believe that attacking that problem is an important early step. I don’t know if an actual amendment will ever be really in the cards, but it’s a good way to push the issue.

      I think Carla is most interested in financial reform, but you’ll have to ask her.

      Russ, I originally thought of starting a site in order to have a place for people to meet to organize. Are you alright with people meeting here? Do we need to start a forum somewhere?

      Thanks to everyone for being interested in solutions.
      Jon Strait

      Comment by jonboinAR — April 29, 2011 @ 8:48 am

      • Hi Jon. Meeting here is fine with me. It sounds like you guys have a good plan.

        I’d love for there to exist a forum eventually, but someone would have to start that. In the meantime we have blogs, and could perhaps coordinate those into a de facto forum.

        If Carla’s the same person I saw at Baseline talking about steady state economy and linking to the steady-state website (I forget the name of it), that would be an excellent topic for someone to specialize in.

        Comment by Russ — April 29, 2011 @ 11:19 am

  3. Wonderful, Russ. I’m on board. My personal interests and skills lie in repair of mechanical and electrical/electronic items. For instance, I believe that HAM/shortwave radio will be a valuable way for us to communicate in the future, if and when the Internet is walled off or not available for for free speech. Also, I am interested in the resurrection of small manufacturing and the reuse and re-purposing of the machines and technology in existence. What else? Education: I have taught at the college level. I would like to focus on practical education in the sciences and technology, but don’t want to leave out a concentrated and classical look at the liberal arts, literature, etc.
    Anyway, I wish to participate. I plan to produce some short videos this summer on our garden, and a particular friend who is quite an expert: he’s built his own greenhouse for next to nothing, and is quite a successful gardener.

    Comment by Publius — April 26, 2011 @ 10:24 am

    • Sounds great. When I was a kid my grandfather had a ham radio in which he used to sometimes try to interest me, and I blew it off. I’d sure love to have that one to do over again, and to have kept the equipment when he died. (I don’t know what happened to it. I’m afraid to say it probably got thrown out.)

      Does your friend heat his greenhouse in winter? My understanding is that’s the most prohibitive expense for many people.

      Comment by Russ — April 26, 2011 @ 12:01 pm

      • The greenhouse is a temporary structure made of lumber and clear plastic: two layers of plastic, with a heat fan “inflating” it between the layers, which really keeps it warm at night. THe greenhouse as they use it is to mainly get an early start, and to grow some plants faster than they would grow outside, due to the higher temps. It won’t be used to keep plants growing in the winter up north here!

        Comment by Publius — April 26, 2011 @ 5:45 pm

  4. We’ve discussed this before, but I think it’s worth reiterating that the way these priorities are structured is an inherently suburban/exurban/rural one. This is especially evident in the notion that transportation will be more of a problem than establishing a new smallholding system. To state the obvious, this is only true of the portion of the population which owns its own arable land in a non-urban setting. That is to say, I can get everywhere I need to get on my bike, but I don’t have a square foot to my name on which I can grow anything (well, I grow some Shiitakes on rice flour cakes, but that’s about it).

    My vague conception of how I see things progressing on the food front is as follows:

    1) Declining productivity of the land (due to erosion, leaching, climate change) along with increasing price of mineral inputs and transport begins to cause disruptions in corporate food production/prices

    2) People respond by relocalising production to some degree- greater in rural/exurban areas, vastly less in urban cores

    3) The more nimble corporations respond to declining profits by leveraging financial and government connections and exploiting the chaos created by scarce food supplies to buy up viable high-intensity agri/aquaculture sites in urban cores and suburban areas

    4) This could, in the worst case, result in the re-establishment of a corporate food hegemony over our urban centers in the medium term, with, if we’re lucky, rings of free permaculturalists in the exurbs. In this case it may be difficult to get people to grow their own in the presence of a greenwashed corporate alternative that will be presented by ‘experts’ as sustainable (whether or not it actually is).

    My feeling is, therefore, that we need to pre-empt #3. This scenario worries me quite a bit, because I believe that corporations may be able to make a transition to semi- or completely-sustainable agriculture if it’s their only option left, albeit on a much smaller scale than the current corporate system. After all, the new feudalism will have to feed its serfs.

    This seems to militate for tight co-ordination between permaculturalists in the exurbs on the one hand, and high-intensity urban agriculturalists on the other. The 30% of the population locked up in the urban cores can’t generate enough food to feed itself off its own land, and can’t rely on smallholders on urban peripheries to feed them (for practical as well as democratic reasons). That means establishing a network of high-intensity agricultural sites in our urban cores, which will put them in direct competition with the corporate food system. The only way to prevail in this case will be to rely on the reduction in demand from the relocalising exurbs to weaken the corporate system to the point where federated urban co-ops can compete against the remnants.

    I’m still working out the practical details on all of this, but as an idea of what I’m thinking about for my own project, a medium scale co-op facility producing tilapia would be around 3-4000 square feet. Assuming 40% of that footage is covered by tanks, the production for such a facility would be around 500 000 kg of fish/yr. A few such facilities (perhaps producing different species) could easily justify an automatic processing plant, which would make the product competitive with corporate producers. I’m still not sure if this is the best approach, but it seems that, because of the impossibility of urban core dwellers becoming smallholders themselves, we will have to compete with the corporate system more-or-less directly. In any case, that’s my thinking so far on that.

    Comment by paper mac — April 26, 2011 @ 3:09 pm

    • Yes, you bring up an important point. It seems like lots of people are having trouble figuring out how to coordinate between urban and outside regions. Just yesterday someone from my relocalization group talked about how when she tried to put out some feelers to an urban gardeners’ group and ask their advice about something, they sort of blew her off saying in effect, “you’re out in the countryside, you have plenty of land to work with, we have worse problems”.

      So you’re right, this is something that will need a lot of work.

      The scenario you lay out sounds plausible. We shouldn’t forget the potential (at least in the US, though I hear Canada’s no better) for government attempts to obstruct and repress #2.

      Your plan sounds excellent. You’re in Toronto, right? That’s not too far from Milwaukee, is it? Have you thought of touring Will Allen’s Growing Power facility, telling him about your plans and asking him any questions you have about how he accomplished all he has? Because you’re talking about doing something similar. (He has tilapia too. He said there were several thousand in the tanks, and their manure fertilizes various greens he grows in the same water system.)

      Comment by Russ — April 26, 2011 @ 4:09 pm

      • It’s too bad to hear about the urban gardeners responding poorly to your group’s overtures. We’re ultimately going to have to make the most of our differences to complement each others’ unique capabilities and challenges. I suppose that won’t really start to happen in earnest until these movements get more politicized and people wrap their heads around the enormity of the challenge.

        I think you’re right about the potential for gov’t to obstruct/repress relocalisation. I think that’s why the programme you laid out earlier, with the relocalisation movement being complemented by political education, is absolutely necessary. We need to lay the groundwork that will allow us to rhetorically frame any such attempts as obviously and fundamentally totalitarian and anti-democratic.

        I am indeed in Toronto. You mentioned the Growing Power program to me before, and it’s on my list of places to visit. I’m going to have to make a number of study-trips before I can get this thing off the ground. Hopefully I’ll do so immediately after completing my PhD next year.. although I’m still debating whether completing the degree will be more of a help (possibly more social capital/easier access to funding) or a hindrance (another couple years w/o making real progress toward my actual goals).. in any case. Definitely hope to make some observations of how others are doing these things, and hopefully I’ll be able to start a blog to add to your blogroll at that point as well.

        Comment by paper mac — April 26, 2011 @ 7:58 pm

      • You have a good plan, and I’d bet the PhD will help. In the meantime, you can keep researching this whenever you find the time. And maybe some of what I write may be able to help, as I delve more into the subject.

        On the lack of coordination, that will eventually start to change. All this is still fairly new, and we’re still groping our way toward a more coherent vision and movement. As you pointed out, my own natural tendency is to think in terms of the countryside rather than comprehensively across all types of regions. So most if not all of us still have a lot to figure out. We have to be patient and keep plugging away at it.

        Comment by Russ — April 27, 2011 @ 5:05 am

    • Hello paper mac,

      I’m a nearby young man in Kitchener with an undergraduate in business and I’m interested in your fish project.

      Would you like to talk? send me an email at my firstname.lastname@gmail.com and perhaps I can we can work together.

      Comment by Strieb Roman — April 27, 2011 @ 11:54 am

      • Hey Strieb, I saw one of your earlier posts about your CSIR group and was intending to get in touch with you. I’ll hit you up tomorrow.

        Comment by paper mac — April 28, 2011 @ 1:23 am

  5. Good post. Under food, I would also include hydroponics. Under energy, technology like Ever Cat (http://www.evercatfuels.com/) with things like Rossi’s cold fusion as a wildcard (http://www.nyteknik.se/nyheter/energi_miljo/energi/article3144827.ece) are my hopes. Thanks for posting!

    Comment by Tom — April 26, 2011 @ 5:03 pm

    • The tilapia farming described in the above comments is a kind of organic hydroponics, I’d say. Permaculture includes many such designs.

      Comment by Russ — April 26, 2011 @ 5:42 pm

  6. Great post, Russ. Personally, I don’t really know where or how to start. You already know that I keep a large garden and have worked to make myself as self-sufficient as possible, but as far as organizing a group or whatever…

    Well, I’ll be reading here and looking for ways in which I can participate – here in cyberspace and here in my personal life.

    Comment by Johnny D. — April 26, 2011 @ 7:12 pm

    • Thanks, JD.

      Comment by Russ — April 27, 2011 @ 4:51 am

  7. I really feel like a community is coalescing here! I will be visiting my ancestral home in June. I will take ph samples of the soil there then to determine the best vegetables & fruits to grow. I plan to be self sufficient in food and vary the cash crop year to year to keep the bugs away. Eggplant grew real well, but the monkeys were thief(s) in the night. Plan on creating biogas for cooking and fertilizer from human and goat feces and natural grasses, compost. I will create a website showing the how/ to stills of the biogas digester. If any know of any good links regarding same, much appreciated. Love, tawal

    Comment by tawal — April 28, 2011 @ 2:10 am

    • Sounds great. Best of luck with that, and I look forward to seeing that website.

      If I spot a good link on the digester, I’ll come back here and post it.

      Comment by Russ — April 28, 2011 @ 6:58 am

    • Tawal, EARTH University in Costa Rica has an ongoing biodigestor project and they have installed several in communities in their region. They create a semi-closed system where the biodigestor uses mostly pig feces and tilapia ponds filter the water through several stages. Once it is clean, it is reused to clean the pig sty and start the process over.

      Comment by Ross — April 28, 2011 @ 9:12 am

  8. To Jon & Carla from steaminginthemiddle
    Thanks for your reply. Corporate Personhood & Financial Reform are my top issues as well. I’ve learned quite a bit on Naked Capitalism & Baseline Scenario-and links they provide. Good luck with expanding your blog. Could you address my Q on how can a reader leave comments? When I visited, there was no way one could contact you or leave a comment-like here on Volatility.

    Comment by Natalie Golovin — April 30, 2011 @ 11:12 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: