July 15, 2011

The Paradox of a Broad Relocalization Movement Consciousness

Filed under: American Revolution, Freedom, Land Reform, Relocalization — Russ @ 1:11 am


Historically, successful movements (defining “success” to include anything which became powerful enough to have a decent chance, whether it actually achieved temporal success or not) sought and attained a tight psychological and social coherency over a large group of people. The paradox facing a prospective relocalization movement is how to build a collective movement, even a mass movement, out of what on its face looks like the opposite, a close, specific focus on the land and people closest to one. On the surface, it seems even to be calling for parochialism.
No doubt, relocalization actions face the pitfall of this parochialism. In my posts on building such a movement (here, here, and here, for example), I tried to divide the process into several threads of action, some of which in themselves may tend toward a separation mentality, but which includes others which will try to integrate and coordinate all the area-specific groups into at least the consciousness of being part of one big movement.
So far I’ve only described that in the most bare nuts-and-bolts way, which is much easier than describing how in practice it’s to be done. Man does not live by bread alone, and all these relocalization actions, in themselves as well as in any sense of a movement consciousness, will need to stir the souls of the ever-growing legions of dispossessed human beings. I’ve often expected that the movement around taking control of one’s own food will conjure some of this spirit on its own, and this movement is indeed growing exponentially by the year. But it’s still small and will never be sufficient on its own. It’ll have to join up with longer arcs of spiritual revolt and aspiration. It’ll have to catch the wind of a far more vast human aspiration to freedom and transcendence and become the form of this wind as it becomes the ethical whirlwind which sweeps away the blockades kleptocracy has set up against this transcendence.
I don’t know yet precisely how this is to be done. One half of the puzzle is clear enough. Negatively, we have to condemn all existing political affiliations, organized religion, “identity politics”, gutter pseudo-patriotism, and all other collective identifications (and needless to say any willing identification with employers) as completely corrupt, barren, dead, and most of all as dead ends. None of these can be any vehicle toward freedom or fulfillment. On the contrary, they’ve all been corrupted by the corporate tyranny and are slated to be nothing but holding pens for the sheep until we’re slaughtered.
We already know this in detail, and we often condemn individual institutions or groups of institutions in this way. But perhaps I haven’t looked at it in this all-comprehensive way before.
That’s the negative side. The affirmative side is more difficult in principle, and will probably be discovered more through intuition, in the course of action, rather than through any prior principle. The affirmations may be very different from nation to nation. My idea of trying to conjure the spirit of the American Revolution as a spiritual imperative obviously applies directly to America only (though we should recall how ardent many of the national liberation movements used to be in looking to America as an exemplar until they realized how hideously corrupted America’s ideals had become since way back then).
Perhaps one starting point for a collective identification, and a template for a unified mindset which all relocalizers everywhere can share, is that we’re the union of working, goodwill people who seek spiritual and practical integration with our own landbases (to use Derrick Jensen’s term). Any of us anywhere could hail one another on that shared basis.
Well, that’s still very vague. As I said, there’s tremendous work to be done, in thought, on paper and screen, and most of all on the land itself. And like I said I think the latter will propel the former more than the former will define the latter. But that’s no reason for the intellectual work not to proceed as fast as it can, on its own to whatever extent is necessary. So that’s among the questions I’ll be exploring in the next phase of this blog.


  1. On my first pass over this, this passage really stuck out at me:

    “Negatively, we have to condemn all existing political affiliations, organized religion, “identity politics”, gutter pseudo-patriotism, and all other collective identifications (and needless to say any willing identification with employers) as completely corrupt, barren, dead, and most of all as dead ends.”

    An explicit condemnation of all existing collective identities guarantees the failure of this movement. Nigh on one in three Americans self-identifies as black or hispanic/latino. To my knowledge, there’s never been an effective collective mobilisation of sizeable elements of either of these communities without an appeal to the collective ethno-cultural identity that so defines their shared experience in the US. I sincerely doubt Cesar Chavez would have gotten anywhere if he explicitly condemned the legitimacy of the collective chicano identity while performing his organisational work. I’m with you on condemning political affiliations and so on, but there’s no way we can fail to recognise that some collective identities are strongly embraced by communities because they define real boundaries of shared experience.

    This criticism might be way off the mark, since it seems later that you’re really talking about institutional affiliation rather than emergent ethno-cultural identities, and I know you recognise the problem of most of the environmental/relocalisation/post-peak/whatever movements being composed predominantly of middle- and upper-class whites, but I thought it was worth clarifying. I think one of the things we need to do is to do a bit of Alinsky-type analysis and try to figure out what the divergent interests of various groups we’re interested in allying with might be, and to figure out how and to what extent our agenda can serve those interests, if at all. I think the chicano farm workers of the American southwest are a good example of this. Ecovillages and the like are not likely to be of much use to them, since that community has substantially less access to land and capital compared to the central and northeastern whites who populate most of the existing ecovillages. So what are the shared grounds on which we can stand with a distinct ethnic group which makes up one of the largest farming communities on the continent?

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to this series and I’ll post some more comments later.

    Comment by paper mac — July 15, 2011 @ 3:14 pm

    • Thanks paper mac. You’re right, I was speaking primarily of the institutionalization of these things, not the ideas in themselves. Thanks for helping to clarify that. (And “condemn” is perhaps a stronger word than I meant as an all-purpose position.)

      Relocalization can be applied by every sort of group, affiliation, self-identification (except, of course, and self-identification with corporatism and commodification). I don’t know how much Latino farm workers in America who are bereft of land look southward to the Landless Workers’ Movement of Brazil and elsewhere, at least as an aspiration. For the time being, it would probably be impossible to carry out such large-scale agricultural land occupations in America, although I do think something similar may be possible in some depressed urban areas with many vacant lots. But at least the principles of food sovereignty can be enshrined as something for all non-rich people – critically important for our physical bodies and for the state of our souls. And a strategy incorporating at least the quest for the opportunity for land occupations could constitute a bond between Latinos here and in South America, and once the idea’s floating around here, it could possibly gain wider traction among the unemployed and frustrated in general who are full of the goodwill to work and the aspiration to do meaningful, self-directed work, but merely face a purely artificial, gratuitous, immoral barricade against their being able to do it.

      That’s just tossing around one idea.

      Comment by Russ — July 15, 2011 @ 3:38 pm

      • That sounds about right. On the positive side of things, I think it would be good to establish what different resources the relocalisation movement can share as a “union”. In the short term, with few resources and mostly internet-based organising, it would be nice to build a real “library” of farming/gardening/”appropriate technology” books and lore that could be supplied to confederates, as well as forums with sufficient activity to provide people who are having trouble with the relocalisation process with close-to-immediate feedback and input on their projects. I think you’re building a base of experience at the moment with your group that will be very useful in this regard- I look forward to the proud day when I can have my (theoretical) freehold federate with your group! The Northeast Relocalisation Federation?

        In the long term, I think one thing we should think about is construction. I’ve recently become sort of obsessed with older vernacular Chinese architecture (Ronald G. Knapp’s work is extremely helpful, if interested). It’s highly modular, uses a variety of locally-available materials, natively incorporates passive solar, is entirely zero-carbon, has examples of adaptations to all kinds of climates, is very scalable to a variety of scales, is easily adaptable for modern green building techniques (straw bale, compressed earth blocks, etc), and is suited to the use of relatively unskilled labour for the construction process. All that said, it requires a few skilled craftspeople to get things going- someone has to know how to build a good gravel trench/stone foundation, someone has to be able to cut good mortise/tenon joints for a timber frame (or build decent load-bearing walls), etc. There are a number of ecovillages and the like which are building experience with some of these techniques, and I think a lot of us will probably end up learning some of these. I think it would be great if we could get organised to the point where someone who wanted to have a proper on-site-materials house or barn thrown up, but couldn’t pay the rents to the local extortionist trade unions, could get a work crew of relocalisers from the four corners of their regions descending on their location to give them a hand. They would then commit to helping with a similar project within 12 months, or whatever. Someone who had learned on a few different of these projects could then lead a particular element of that project (masonry, foundations, whatever) that a skilled member had indicated they were ok to do. I intend to take some courses on joinery and timber framing to this end. A union structural engineer who could sign off on building plans for permits wouldn’t hurt, either. I think this could go a long way to breaking the power of the so-called trade unions and associated capitalist machinery. Add that to agroecology techniques and we’ve got food and shelter covered- that’s a hell of a union. Something to consider, anyway.

        Comment by paper mac — July 16, 2011 @ 12:06 am

      • John Michael Greer’s been working on such a library.


        And we’ve also made a start at that SMF forum. Perhaps that forum could end up growing into the kind of site you describe here, if we work on building it that way. (I admit I’ve been lax about updating there lately. Just like I haven’t been posting much here. My organism is forcing a partial break from all this upon me.)

        (The forum I mentioned before, Life After the Oil Crash, was/is kind of like that. Any practical thing you could want to ask about, there were people there who at least purported to be experts. Certainly at least some of them were, though there were also lots of arguments among those claiming expertise.

        That’s where I got lots of good advice when I started my first vegetable garden.)

        I don’t know much about the details of sustainable construction, but the construction you describe sounds promising. And your description of how people can come together to mutually aid one another in such actions (really just a renewal of good ole’ barn raising) is at the core of how relocalization will have to work.

        Regarding the actual construction techniques, do you know this site?


        It describes lots of experiments with such construction.

        Comment by Russ — July 16, 2011 @ 5:17 am

      • Yeah, I guess what I’m describing is really just distributed barn raising! I think it would really be something amazing though, if people could see folks descending on a site from all kinds of places to build a barn, a house, plow a field, whatever- those kinds of shared projects would really emphasize that this is something more than a local parochial interest group. It’s far in the future, but I like to think about it.

        I like what JMG is doing with the “Green Wizard” thing, and I think they’re going to be natural allies going forward. That said, there are a few things I don’t really understand about JMG’s program that make me a little leery. For one, he’s spoken about preserving and making available the appropriate tech documents of the 70s and 80s, but what he’s got up on that site is pretty sparse. It took me literally 15 minutes to run down a complete copy of the “Appropriate Technology Reference Library”, 14 gigs of pdfs on everything from bicycles to kilns to windmills. That collection is for sale for a few hundred bucks, but there’s no way they have rights on the documents therein, a lot of them are academic publications from Canadian research institutes. So I’m not sure how hard he’s trying to make some of this stuff available. The other thing I find odd is his emphasis on wildly outdated ecosystems thinking- one of his posts on the basics of the “green wizard” movement last year insisted that the fundamental text on biological systems that people read is Odum’s “Fundamentals of Ecology”, which, as a biologist, is balls-out crazy. That’s a 60 year old text incorporating a lot of really, really dated views about biomes being fundamentally homeostatic, self-regulating systems. Unfortunately for us, the reality is nothing like that- ecologies are fragile, constantly changing systems with no stable equilibria. I think we can probably do better than that.

        I remember looking at the LATOC forums’ library a long time ago and running across a few interesting documents. I think ultimately we’ll need people publishing their results with various methods and techniques in a fairly rigorously scientific way to vet some of this stuff.

        As for the OSE stuff, I’ve become aware of them recently and I’m really pumped up about their compressed earth block press. If we can really get a decent CEB press going for ~$4000, that’s a huge deal. If you put CEBs (and roof tiles), straw bale, adobe/stucco, timber frames, and gravel trench foundations together, I think you have a pretty complete kit of close-to-zero-carbon structural members (CEBs probably need 5% concrete/slaked lime stabilisation in wet climates, so close-to-zero rather than zero). I think they’re a bit off track in general in trying to replicate some of the more complex machinery of industrial civilisation, though. The idea of chemically extracting aluminum from clay and smelting it into usable quantities in a sustainable way is pretty crazy, imo. Even some of their basic devices like the dimensional sawmill are a little strange to me- sure, you can build a huge robotic sawmill on big steel trusses, but I don’t see how that’s really more sustainable than a bunch of guys with axes and adzes. In any case, getting one of their CEB presses running up here is definitely in my medium-term plans.

        Comment by paper mac — July 17, 2011 @ 2:11 am

      • You certainly have more technical knowledge than I do about this stuff. But your remarks about innovators often wanting to go beyond what’s necessary or sustainable is familiar. We’re bound to see that pretty much everywhere. I guess the goal is to get as much energy and resources as possible channeled into the better projects rather than the more dubious ones.

        I too have long been leery of Greer, on account of his questionable politics. I haven’t regularly read him for awhile, but the Greer I remember from a few years back had this standard procedure: Describe a problem which is actually caused by capitalism and/or elitism in general; set up a straw man “leftist” villain; declare that both sides are equally to blame; then focus the attack on the hippies. (In The Long Descent he also tells flat out lies about Marxism. Given his finicky precision about things, I don’t believe he was merely ignorant about it.)

        Given all that, while I often found his writings interesting, I (and others) always remained aware of his questionable motives. Nevertheless, his basic idea of cultural conservation is a good one. If his own execution of the idea is flawed, that just means someone else needs to do the same thing but better.

        Yeah, I guess what I’m describing is really just distributed barn raising! I think it would really be something amazing though, if people could see folks descending on a site from all kinds of places to build a barn, a house, plow a field, whatever- those kinds of shared projects would really emphasize that this is something more than a local parochial interest group. It’s far in the future, but I like to think about it.

        That would be amazing, both on a practical level and for the example it would set. What people would see. (That’s part of the subject of the post I just put up today.)

        I think about it alot. One of the goals of time banking (a transitional project between capitalism and true economic democracy) is to help organize such ad hoc cooperative projects. In practice, so far as I can see, it hasn’t yet been very successful at such projects. But it’s still a new thing, and perhaps with practice we’ll figure out how to effectively use it that way.

        Comment by Russ — July 17, 2011 @ 3:35 am

  2. A few ideas, notes, incomplete thoughts:
    – A distributed network is usually a secondary development of an existing Wheel and Spoke model? (question mark b/c I really don’t know.) This movement may need multiple physical nexus with geographic significance.
    – This movement needs an ideological backbone but it also needs an economic conscience and consciousness. We desire to re-empower ourselves and others who have been disenfranchised from their landbase. (Here is more on the idea I mentioned that would link urban agriculture projects. Say a large urban garden acts as the wheel of the Wheel/Spoke. This large farm organizes with smaller community gardens down to individual plots to distribute and sale excess produce within the network. So a wheel and spoke model for sharing local produce and evolves into a distributed network that uses a closed-system scrip (and time banking) for buying, selling and trading.
    -Instead of expending energy on negatively confronting rotten institutions, what of a strategy to just turn our backs to them?

    I went a visited farmer friends yesterday in Central Illinois. Their biggest gripe was that they don’t have a USDA processing facility near enough to justify ongoing expansion of the business. All that to say there are opportunities for more than just producers. We need slaughterhouses and cold storage and butchers and canners, etc.

    Okay, that’s it. Enjoy your weekend.

    Comment by Ross — July 16, 2011 @ 10:16 am

    • Thanks for your ideas, Ross. Here’s some comments.

      Wouldn’t a relocalization movement have many physical centers by definition? In the blueprint I suggested in those posts, an online federation might serve as the center of the wheel (#s 6 and 7, in my numbering), as far as transmitting information and proposing standards for philosophy, strategy, tactics, even (please forgive the term) branding (names, iconography, rhetorical tropes, etc.). But every region must adapt that template to its own conditions.

      Having said that, perhaps some regions might become, by virtue of their natural strengths, physical hubs of some sort. Not all nodes will be of equal importance, perhaps. Your example of a well-entrenched farm coordinating the efforts of smaller growers in the region is suggestive.

      I think the economic conscience and consciousness – the goal being full economic democracy – is the core of the ideology, maybe even more than full participatory political democracy, though that’s essential as well.

      By confronting institutions I didn’t mean running around getting in people’s faces and such. That would indeed be a waste of energy. I meant including the indictment of the terminal corruption of all existing institutions within the general critique of kleptocracy, and I meant vigorously refuting any rival claims to the rightful loyalty of citizens, wherever anyone representing such a corrupt institution challenges the legitimacy of relocalization and positive democracy.

      I include butchers, canners, and such among producers. Anyone who does real work toward a constructive end.

      Enjoy your weekend too!

      Comment by Russ — July 16, 2011 @ 3:18 pm

  3. […] relocalization cannot triumph as nothing more than an improvised rhizomatic spontaneity, but why it will also need an overarching message and structure. (Of course, I don’t mean top-down hierarchy. I mean a real federalism. I briefly described […]

    Pingback by Democracy vs. Consumerism, Movement vs. Movement « Volatility — August 21, 2011 @ 2:54 am

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