Volatility

August 15, 2011

We’re All Lumpenproles Now (Part 1)

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The rudiments of shantytownism have always been the flip side of agricultural capitalism, starting with the enclosures usually still ascribed to classical feudalism but actually a feature of the “capitalist” phase. These enclosures always, by design, generated a vast horde of economically obsolete people, who were from the start stigmatized as criminal “vagrants”. Henry VIII hanged tens of thousands of them. They were also favorite prey for press gangs and indentured servitude in the colonies.
 
This process of driving people off the land and cutting them off from their landbase continued on a steady pace through the 19th and first half of the 20th century. Liebig and Marx included this in their analysis of the metabolic rift between country and town, exposing the physical and human wastage involved in driving large numbers of agricultural workers into the cities reserve army of the unemployed.
 
Even as late as the Great Depression, however, there were still enough farmers and people with farmers in the family that there was more of an option for the unemployed to still go back to the farm, however economically fruitless in many other ways such a step was under depression conditions.
 
The metabolic rift as a modern crime against humanity really escalated with post-war colonialism, now intertwined with rationalized globalization, the so-called “green revolution” (one of whose main features was replacing better-paid agricultural work with fossil fuels), and the joint capitalist-communist push to force all agriculture into the commodification strait jacket.
 
The generation of a permanent mass class of unemployment, gross underemployment, “informal economy” work, living amid squalor, is a function of the rise of globalized corporate agriculture. Today we see how permanent mass unemployment as an intentional, premeditated policy is entwined with pro-bankster economic policy (which seeks to put all the land into the hands of the new feudal barons) as well as policy like the government’s attack on alternative food production, the Food Control bill, and the health racket bailout. These are all geared to escalate and aggravate the crisis while rendering the existence of the victims untenable (cutting off all alternative routes), impossible, and criminal (rendering him an existential debt offender). The criminalization of poverty proceeds every step of the way.
 
The goal is simple and evil: Drive everyone off the land and make it impossible to eat or live. Almost everyone is slated for this fate.
 
We need to face the facts. This system is a game completely rigged against us. It’s literally insane for anyone not rich to play by its rules or recognize any aspect of its claims or values. Within this system, we are useless, worthless, superfluous, unemployable, alien, foreign, the wretched refuse, despised and rejected, the dregs, the lowest of the low. We’re born criminals, objective enemies, existential scum. We’re told by every spewing propaganda pipe to be ashamed at our vileness. When they tell us to get rich or die we should do the world a favor and die quickly. And if we don’t have the good taste for that, at the very least we should shut the fuck up, since criminals have no right to a voice. That’s why even the pretenses of democracy and the rule of law are obsolete – it’s disgusting for a decent system to even pretend it any longer deals with citizens rather than scum.
 
Do we agree with this way of looking at things? The passivity of the masses indicates that all too many implicitly do. Or perhaps they just don’t yet see another option? One of the signs that the elites aren’t all that confident in the self-evident truth of their virtue and our vice is how relentless and shrill their propaganda is, at the same time that their media aggressively suppresses or distorts all the news that contradicts it. All the news which seems to indicate the opposite – the criminality of the elites and the innocence of the dispossessed, who from that point of view look not like vicious cretins but like crime victims. And this suppressed news also indicated the possibility of alternatives to kleptocracy. Alternatives which are available to any people which chooses to seize them.
 
The mendacity of the propaganda and the clear bad faith of the censorship regime are just confirmations of what we, to the extent we retain our humanity, already knew. It’s precisely our indelible humanity, our inability to serve as docile cogs rather than shackled slaves, our incapacity for compliance, which forces the kleptocracy’s dehumanizing hand. But rather than accept their measure of shame, we should take pride in this. We should be proud of the system’s contempt, and earn its fear and hate. Our very worthlessness and viciousness from the system’s point of view proves that we’re the torch bearers of whatever’s left of humanity.
 
Our countermovement needs only to turn all this right side up. We stand for humanity and embody it in all its virtues of morality, family, friendship, community, democracy. We are humanity, while it’s the elites and their flunkeys who are the infinitely hateful and wretched parasite scum of the earth.
 
As for the Earth itself, we the people own it.
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38 Comments

  1. Very nice essay, it is really good to read this kind of “naked truth” for a change, we should be thinking in these terms every day, yet it’s so easy to forget… because of the all pervading propaganda.

    Comment by Maju — August 15, 2011 @ 7:40 am

    • Thanks, Maju. I think it’s truth. But as everyone’s been discussing two threads back, we’re mired in delusion. I think this one, that any of us is living on anything but (literally) borrowed time, is maybe the most pernicious.

      Comment by Russ — August 15, 2011 @ 9:41 am

  2. I think that it may be an important time to make a distinction between above-board resistance (time banks, community gardens, service give-away’s, etc.) and the other type of resistance. Above-board we focus on positive democracy, social inclusiveness, community redevelopment and localization. On the other hand, along the lines of Endgame vol. 2. It wouldn’t take much…

    The Lumpenproles need an Ernest Everhard much more than a Winston Smith.

    Comment by Ross — August 15, 2011 @ 5:32 pm

    • My own focus, so far as I can see now, is on what you call above-board, though I also want to organize every kind of civil disobedience, open or covert, vs. every kind of economic assault (e.g. the Food Control regime, the Stamp mandate, assaults on alternatives to the command dollar).

      I haven’t read London’s book, so I don’t know much about Everhard, but he sounds like a worthy exemplar. I agree that 1984 doesn’t have much to offer as far as inspiration or any kind of model.

      I only just recently started reading Endgame. In the kleptocracy’s propaganda and repression response to the London uprising, we’ve sure had a spectacular example of Premise 4 in action.

      Comment by Russ — August 15, 2011 @ 6:17 pm

      • “Premise Four: Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.”

        Indeed. Doesn’t get any more … clear cut.

        Check out The Iron Heel. It is under appreciated considering where we are today.

        Comment by Ross — August 16, 2011 @ 7:55 am

  3. Jensen: “Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy”. Right. Only problem is, Jensen is not just referring to a particular civilization (ours), but to **civilization per se**. This is of course problematic (to put it very mildly!) since the “civilization” that he hates, which includes industry and technology, is necessary for the sustenance of any global population above hunter/gatherer levels (say, a few 10s of millions).

    Comment by alan2102 — August 25, 2011 @ 7:50 pm

    • Jensen’s not talking about “civilization” in the broad, casual use of the term, but specifically the mode of human existence based on the dominion of cities. He says the term “civilization” is etymologically city-centric, which is why he rejects the term and concept. But his idea for desirable kinds of communities would be encompassed within looser definitions of the term.

      It’s actually false that doubling down on corporatism and hierarchy will maximize food production. (And corporate ag is unsustainable, so such doubling down is impossible anyway.)

      1. This piece

      http://www.srfood.org/images/stories/pdf/officialreports/20110308_a-hrc-16-49_agroecology_en.pdf

      is just one that summarizes the research of recent decades which strongly establishes that decentralized agroecology even now produces as much or more food per acre than corporate monoculture.

      2. There’s no doubt at all that post-oil, decommodified agroecology will produce far more than the heavily fossil fuel-dependent globalized corporate system.

      3. Therefore, we know from (2) that agroecology will maximize food production in the future, while (1) gives us reason to believe this maximal level will be able to feed far more people than those focused on resource limitations originally thought.

      4. It’s true that pre-oil agriculture involved much arduous labor (though whether it was really much worse than today is a highly disputed question; for example, on a yearly basis even medieval peasants worked fewer hours than we do). This was because agriculture then, like agriculture today, was dominated and exploited by parasitic elites who stole all the surplus (and often much of the subsistence basis as well).

      5. But if we combine the tremendous new agricultural knowledge we’ve gathered during the modern era with what ought to be the democratic consciousness we’ve attained (two things pre-industrial peasantries lacked), we can achieve a post-oil agriculture which will not only sufficiently feed us but where we’ll work less and better than our medieval predecessors as well as less and better than the grind we’re on today, and do it all while enjoying, for the first time, the full flowering of true economic and political democracy.

      6. This is necessary if we’re to feed ourselves and preserve our humanity at all. If the choice were left to the democratic people, then we’d choose to do the best we can, everywhere. (BTW, smallholder food stewardship on an autonomous and cooperative basis would, for the first time in history, attain permanent full employment at truly fulfilling, self-managed work. The fact that agroecology is skilled-labor intensive is something we should regard as a benefit, not a menace.)

      But to the extent neoliberal kleptocracy fights this and tries to enforce a restored (but far worse) feudalism instead, it will cause great suffering and kill many people. But all this will be the result of the choices made by criminals, not the relocalizing people.

      Lots more on that here:

      https://attempter.wordpress.com/series-on-food-sovereignty/

      Comment by Russ — August 26, 2011 @ 2:13 am

      • Thanks for the reply, Russ. Actually I was not talking about food. I agree with you completely about agroecology and etc., which I am sure can and will (given the chance) outrun Big Agra. You’re preaching to the choir on that one. But industry and technology will be needed for many things, from tools (both simple and complex) to building materials to medicines to clothing to much else. Industry and technology (at a modest level) were and are needed to build public health infrastructure and many other things on which a decent life depends in the modern world (even if not in the paleo/hunter-gatherer world). For that matter, various tools and materials needed for agroecological/permacultural instantiations will need to be manufactured by industry. That’s all I was talking about. And I am uncertain as to whether or not Jensen appreciates this. My impression is that he doesn’t, but I really do need to read more.

        Yes, Jensen denounces cities — and that’s part of the problem with him. He does not see (yet) that high population densities are pretty much the ONLY way to save his precious wilderness and wild nature! (Which are precious to me as well, BTW.) It is a total package: in this modern world, with the population we have and will have for several centuries at least, there is no alternative to industry and technology, and cities, and other stuff that primitivists like Jensen reject.

        Now, having said all that, I am NOT saying that the insane HYPER-industrialism and HYPER-technologization of everything — most of which only cropped up since WWII, under the influence of a money-mad finance capitalism — is necessary. Far from it! For example, the automobile, which is responsible for vast waste and resource over-utilization, in addition to ugliness, environmental destruction and numerous other pathologies, could be eliminated COMPLETELY, or at least 95%, without any suffering or harm to anyone. It is a near-total waste, and any sane society would have recognized long ago that personal autos were a bad technology, and would have arranged itself in such a way that they are not necessary. And so on with a bunch of other stuff. When I defend “industry and techology”, and cities, I am not defending their ridiculous excesses, which could easily be jettisoned, to the great benefit of all.

        Cheers, and thanks for your excellent blog/site! Great stuff.

        Comment by alan2102 — August 28, 2011 @ 5:40 pm

      • PS: further:

        Russ: “if we combine the tremendous new agricultural knowledge we’ve gathered during the modern era with what ought to be the democratic consciousness we’ve attained (two things pre-industrial peasantries lacked), we can achieve a post-oil agriculture which will not only sufficiently feed us but where we’ll work less and better than our medieval predecessors as well as less and better than the grind we’re on today, and do it all while enjoying, for the first time, the full flowering of true economic and political democracy.”

        I could not agree more. And one example of the products of industry and technology that I would defend is: computers, telecommunications and the internet — fantastic innovations which render the distribution of that “tremendous new ag knowledge” (as well as a bunch of other great stuff) trivial and nearly cost-free.

        In a nutshell: what we need is not Jensenistic primitivism and blanket rejection and destruction of all that is modern. Instead, what we need is an enlightened post-modernism (post-modernism in a sense that goes far beyond the arcane intellectualizations of the academic post-modernists, to date).

        I say “destruction” because that is what I am hearing from Jensen. He seems to think that it is a good thing to blow up dams, and the like. He actually encourages this sort of behavior. (“Bring it down!” is his exhortation, referring to civilization.) This is crazy, and idiotic. Certainly, we could use a lot more direct action, and I am not opposed on principle to violent force if a when truly needed. But the kind of adventuristic and pointless nonsense that he is advocating is just idiotic.

        Comment by alan2102 — August 28, 2011 @ 5:55 pm

      • Alan, I’m not a Jensen follower or a “primitivist”, I merely cite him on some points. I’m focused on the food transformation, and I do believe that it’s both necessary and desirable that all else be defined by this core element.

        One thing Jensen’s right about is that cities are necessarily extractive, predatory, parasitic. I already said that the evidence is that the only way we’ll be able to maximize food production is to maximize food production labor. It’s impossible to do that with cities. Meanwhile cities by definition are class war fortresses. How can they not be, since by definition they extract food from those who produce it and impose bankster land tyranny upon them, but give almost nothing in return? You can’t even say they give machinery in return, because on the contrary the farmer must also go into debt to acquire this machinery. And the city-imposed commodification of food forces the farmer to acquire the machinery and other industrial inputs.

        And we’ve known since the studies of Liebig in the 1800s that cities are not environmentally sound, but create vast new extraction and waste problems as they destroy all the natural rhythms of self-renewing agriculture.

        So to recap: The farmer gives time, labor, and food; the city takes these, and “gives” in return debt, social and political domination, economic conscription, environmental destruction, far worse labor exploitation than exists under the original scheme, mass animal cruelty, etc.

        No, that doesn’t sound like a good trade to me.

        Moving to your broader point, as I was just telling someone else “modernity” has no meaningful definition other than that it was a time of greatly escalated energy use. We shouldn’t fetishize its ornaments as things to be considered good in themselves. What’s materially important is:

        1. Everyone have basic, decent food, water, clothing, shelter, health care, etc.

        2. Beyond that, we have rough material equality without class stratification. Once we provide ourselves with the necessary basics, happiness isn’t maximized by any absolute material level, but by the absence of material inequality. All the evidence of history including scientific studies proves this.

        As for Jensen’s action prescriptions, I haven’t yet read volume 2 of Endgame (I’m almost halfway done with volume 1). But I’ve always opposed individual actions of destruction on the grounds that history proves this tactic cannot help achieve social revolution (it can help toward other kinds of goals), but only brings demoralization and destruction to the movement that practices it.

        Comment by Russ — August 29, 2011 @ 6:22 am

  4. First, the first civilizations (Jericho, Çatalhöyuk) do not show signs of stratification. It means that agricultural societies can exist without (apparent) hierarchies. So it’s not just hunter-gatherers.

    Them, in Marxist theory at least, the main difference between the industrial working class and the pre-industrial slave/serf/peasant classes is that the latter could revolt but never make a revolution, while the former now can.

    It may have taken some time for Capitalism to distill the modern social worker but it has finally done, just in time to avoid (hopefully) that Capitalism brings down all Humankind in its own collapse, which is happening as we speak.

    Certainly the only consolidated model for Communism is Primitive Communism (hunter-gatherer and some farmer societies) but we should not disdain this project for the ‘primitivism’ of its precursors. With the advent of hierarchies, not always in form of civilization, but most often as mere feudal-rural warlord society ruled by the most brutal of all, certain values (such as religions, morals, hierarchies themselves) were developed and these codified society. Capitalism (cf. ‘Anti-Oedipus’) has and is still decodifying all those codes by means of systematic corruption and scientific overcoming. All that has been created in the Capitalist era (such as human rights, universal suffrage or all the technological and scientific advances) is of Proletarian nature, because Capitalism has no creative power of its own and only acts as a ruling system for the immature Working Class or Humankind.

    Now however Capitalism has, in most of Earth at least, totally dismantled the feudal system and totally rotten all pre-existent hierarchies and values. At the same time in that egg of Capitalism an almost mature Working Class / Humankind is ready to be born (it better is because otherwise we are surely doomed as species): the Social Worker is here to stay. It still lacks some consciousness but it is evolving it quickly. It still lacks self-organization but it is also developing it pretty fast and in unusual and unexpected ways.

    Soon the empty eggshell of Capitalism will be discarded and the new being, Humankind, will stand on its own.

    It will need hierarchies? Probably some but they will have to be the Zapatista way: who commands must command obeying. The Anarchist principle of revocability of all elects is critical, someone like Papandreu would have been recalled a year ago and no MP could have voted against what the Greek people wants because referendums and elections would take place maybe twice a year, while power would be as decentralized as possible.

    That’s the political society Humankind wants. In addition it will be critical to put all the economic means at the service of society and not vice versa. Private property as we know it must end, all must be subject to collective needs and cooperative willpower. There will be people who will take leading roles now and then but these won’t be able to accumulate power in any way and will be just tools for the common good and the common will.

    Comment by Maju — August 25, 2011 @ 9:02 pm

    • Now however Capitalism has, in most of Earth at least, totally dismantled the feudal system and totally rotten all pre-existent hierarchies and values.

      Actually, I argue the opposite here, that “capitalism” has never been anything but feudalism temporarily modified for the Oil Age.

      https://attempter.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/capitalism-as-disguised-oil-drenched-feudalism/

      I’ll be writing more on this, fleshing out this idea. But in a nutshell it means capitalism wasn’t a discrete stage of historical development, but ahistorical in the same way the fossil fuel interlude itself was ahistorical. The concepts of bourgeois revolution and proletarian revolution were misconceptions.

      Instead, the dilemma faced by the Russian movement – a socialist revolution out of a feudal system – is the real character of revolution itself, and the two attractors possible for the post-oil age are the full restoration of feudalism (in a far more vicious form than the original) or the true revolution of the democratic movement, which is the only actual progressive force in history. Economic forces are inertial, prone to stagnate (even capitalism’s normal state is rapid congealment which then needs another primitive accumulation to restore viscosity), and were only rendered relatively dynamic by the tremendous added energy and turbulence of fossil fuels.

      So while we seek the democratic goal, I think it’s important to understand which forces are vying here, how they evolved, and whence they’ll try to further evolve (or devolve).

      Comment by Russ — August 26, 2011 @ 2:27 am

  5. Russ: this is a brief reply; I don’t have time right now for anything more detailed. But better than nothing…..

    Russ: “cities are necessarily extractive, predatory, parasitic.”

    I used to believe that, but some facts are forcing me to question it. See below.

    Russ: “the only way we’ll be able to maximize food production is to maximize food production labor. It’s impossible to do that with cities.”

    I’m not sure about that at all! It depends on which city, and other factors such as commitment and priorities. As for “which city”: in Detroit, population density is so low that not only small-scale farming, but medium-scale farming is a real possibility (and some people are working on it). But even in the higher density cities, a whole lot can be done in very little space. Vast open spaces are not necessarily required for food production (though they are required for old-style, totalitarian agriculture).

    Further, food production, while it is an important value, is not all-important. There are also environmental and other issues, and cities can help solve them. Cities are much more efficient and resource-sparing, in many respects.

    An important voice in all this is Stewart Brand. I have my own skeptical view about him (which I won’t get in to), but he is saying some things about cities that are very important and well worth careful consideration.

    http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2010/01/how-slums-can-save-the-planet/
    How slums can save the planet
    Stewart Brand 27th January 2010 — Issue 167
    snippet:
    “In his 1985 article, Calthorpe made a statement that still jars with most people: “The city is the most environmentally benign form of human settlement. Each city dweller consumes less land, less energy, less water, and produces less pollution than his counterpart in settlements of lower densities.” “Green Manhattan” was the inflammatory title of a 2004 New Yorker article by David Owen. “By the most significant measures,” he wrote, “New York is the greenest community in the United States, and one of the greenest cities in the world…The key to New York’s relative environmental benignity is its extreme compactness. Manhattan’s population density is more than 800 times that of the nation as a whole. Placing one and a half million people on a twenty-three-square-mile island sharply reduces their opportunities to be wasteful.” He went on to note that this very compactness forces people to live in the world’s most energy-efficient apartment buildings”

    Stewart Brand proclaims 4 environmental ‘heresies’
    [portion on cities is first 10 minutes or so] [MUST WATCH, and
    read his text visuals]

    …………………….

    One point that Brand makes (and this is nothing new) is about how rapidly the world is urbanizing. There is a FLOOD of people moving into cities, with the rural villages emptying-out. Somehow, you (and Jensen, on the off chance he is listening) have got to come to terms with this, which means studying carefully WHY this is happening, and thinking about it. Brand’s presentations are very helpful, here. He makes many points that have probably not occured to you.

    We’re talking an epochal migration, with urban:rural now at parity, on a trajectory to be 80:20 within 50 years! Regardless of what you or I think of cities, whether or not we approve, we have to come to terms with this tidal phenomenon.

    Comment by alan2102 — August 30, 2011 @ 10:22 pm

    • Alan, Brand has never been anything but a con man. He’s a nihilist who in practice never met a corporate swindle he didn’t want to get in on. Nukes, GMOs, geoengineering, are just a few. He despises humanity, freedom, democracy, and pretty much everything this blog stands for. He’s only been able to put his filth across because he talks a hip techo-drivel. Mark Zuckeman is a similar specimen who pulled off the kind of scam Brand dreams of.

      Here’s just one short piece:

      http://www.gmwatch.org/latest-listing/1-news-items/11843-biotechs-perfect-spokesperson-stewart-brand

      It includes his anti-humanism, fascist Master-race rhetoric, Hayek-like applause for dictatorship, and even his support for the Intellectual Property regime (like I said, when Brand and Zuckerman say “information should be free”, they mean the people’s information, and they mean corporations should be “free” to profiteer off it), as well as the fact that his wife is a conventional corporate criminal (but whose line of con is tied in with Brand’s kind of propaganda).

      So I’m afraid you’ll need to cite a different authority. But the fact that a fascist like Brand is also the typical pro-city flack (so that he jumps to mind as an appropriate authority) is a point in favor of my argument. “How Slums Can Save the Planet”. I’ll file that one along with Krugman’s “In Praise of Low Wages” as a typical criminal slogan and tract. I’m sure I could find “How Rape Can Liberate Your Sexuality” without much trouble, if I cared to look.

      As for urban farming like in Detroit, that’s a wonderful example of making do with what one has. It’s most definitely not optimal.

      We’re talking an epochal migration, with urban:rural now at parity, on a trajectory to be 80:20 within 50 years! Regardless of what you or I think of cities, whether or not we approve, we have to come to terms with this tidal phenomenon.

      Enclosure, forced migrations from the land to city, and the entire process of terminal ghettoization in shantytowns which are really meant to serve as necropoli: This is history’s worst crime. I would’ve thought that even a casual reader here would see right away how I’ve dedicated my life to helping to fight this crime, end it, and replace it with a human civilization, which would of course include the people taking back their landbases. The land is our rightful heritage, the human right from which all other rights flow, and without which all other rights are meaningless. The implicit acceptance (if not worse) of kleptocracy’s vile result is therefore odious. I admit I’m at a loss as to what you think this blog’s about, if you could mistake it so fundamentally. You might as well have argued during the Holocaust that it was just a fact of life those assaulted by it had to accept as an “epochal migration”, a “tidal phenomenon”, just a law of nature and not a crime to be resisted at all.

      Here’s some news: The historical enclosure process has been a vastly larger and longer-proceeding deportation than that in Europe during WWII, and its criminality is every bit as vicious. Round people up and force them into ghettos, round people up and force them into ghettos. Starve them, inflict disease upon them, shoot them if they try to fight back. Enclosure and shantytown ghettoization has been its own holocaust, every bit as horrendous and criminal.

      But for some reason it’s OK if it’s all done in the name of “property” and “profits” rather than overt racism? (I say overt, since there’s also Brand’s techno-superman rhetoric about how those who wield money and corporate power are “gods”. There’s no way such a mindset isn’t racist in application.)

      Ironically, you’re arguing this position even as we’re reaching a more anti-city consensus here than we had before:

      https://attempter.wordpress.com/2011/08/30/time-banking-within-the-natural-history-of-debt/#comments

      This isn’t on account of Jensen-type ideas (I imagine Jensen would find this blog noxiously human-centric), but on account of things like James Scott’s research on the specific ways tribes and peasant movements throughout history have resisted State tyranny. One clear criterion is staying away from cities and in contact with the land. Meanwhile, as I said, the cities themselves were always the concentrator of tyrannical power for the purpose of systematically robbing the peasantry and imposing its general dominion upon them.

      Meanwhile I notice you couldn’t give a single example of what farmers and workers get from cities. I asked a simple question, and you couldn’t answer it. It’s not surprising you felt the need to turn to Brand and his empty fogs of nonsense words. He’s been a fairly successful criminal defense attorney and PR flack, at least where it comes to astroturfing some technophile liberals.

      Comment by Russ — August 31, 2011 @ 3:14 am

      • Russ: “Brand has never been anything but a con man… he despises humanity, freedom, democracy…”

        I said that I have misgivings about Brand (and I do), but this is going to far. You portray him as a monster. He is not. I think he is quite misguided on some things, but he is not a fascist beast as you seem to think.

        Russ: “You might as well have argued during the Holocaust that it was just a fact of life those assaulted by it had to accept as an ‘epochal migration’, a ‘tidal phenomenon'”

        OK, I’ll admit that “tidal” was the wrong word, implying as it does a natural process that cannot be other than it is. However, in context I think you can grasp (better than you did) what I was trying to communicate.

        I said it was a reality, and it is, and a significant one — and the significance is not ONLY in the way in which it reflects social injustice. It has multiple significances and implications, as you will see if you face the facts about it (have you?) and think about them. For example, and most compellingly, the urban migration is one of the reasons for the great drop in fertility over the last several decades. This is of huge significance, almost 100% good. The fertility fall is one of the main reasons that we are NOT facing some terrible Malthusian catastrophe, as predicted in the 1960s and 1970s. If fertility had not fallen off, all those “population explosion” scare stories would have come true.

        Russ: “The historical enclosure process has been a vastly larger and longer-proceeding deportation than that in Europe during WWII, and its criminality is every bit as vicious. Round people up and force them into ghettos, round people up and force them into ghettos. Starve them, inflict disease upon them, shoot them if they try to fight back. Enclosure and shantytown ghettoization has been its own holocaust, every bit as horrendous and criminal.”

        Of course, I agree with the non-exaggerated core of what you’re saying. Who wouldn’t? The problem is that you’re drawing a caricature, a cartoon, rather than a careful picture integrating all the relevant elements. You are seeing only one aspect of this phenomenon. It is not simple, one-dimensional, as you are portraying it.

        Russ: “But for some reason you say it’s OK if it’s all done in the name of ‘property’ and ‘profits’ rather than overt racism?”

        I DO?!

        Jeez. Did you read my words? Or did you just feel like ranting this morning? (Which is OK. I often get out of bed with the urge to rant, and I don’t blame you if you do, as well.)

        It’s funny. I was an anti-city ideologue for a long time, myself. But, much as I too have misgivings about Brand, he was the one who shot holes in my comfy little ideology. I saw myself, correctly, as a hypocrite. I was opposed to cities, but I always lived in one, and didn’t want to live anywhere else! Whenever I actually hung out in parts rural (human-occupied ones, that is, not wilderness), I could feel — though at the time I did not want to admit it — encroaching boredom, deadness, isolation, backwardness. Have you ever actually consorted with rural people? It is an experience. In the U.S. at least (I won’t generalize to elsewhere), you will be in a strange land, where NO ONE has the remotest clue about the kinds of things you talk about on your blog. You will be in a land where Sarah Palin and Glen Beck are regarded as leading intellectuals. Have you ever seen a bookstore in parts rural? I suppose there are a few, filled with Rush Limbaugh paperbacks and Harlequin romances. Oh, and about 15 miles east on route 27 there’s a little bookstore at the local Republican Party HQ. It is open from noon to 2pm, M-W-F. 🙂 (Plenty of CHURCHES, though. One every mile.)

        Your intellectual scope, your knowledge, your ability to communicate and interact as you are now doing, and much else, are products of, and dependent on, the culture of the city. The city is truly where it is at, intellectually, and it has always been that way. The city produces, among other things, anti-city ideologues (or former ones) like me! For better or for worse, the countryside knows little, and/or cannot articulate, the relative qualities and advantages of the countryside versus the city. Such discussions are products of the city. Anti-city rhetoric is a product of the city. Derrick Jensen’s anti-city diatribes, and the conveyances of them, are products of the city. (And could not otherwise exist!)

        Advanced notions having to do with transition of cities from smokestacks and concrete to verdant new centers of permacultural activity are products of the city. Advanced design concepts capable of, e.g., creating houses with ZERO energy footprint (for heating and cooling) are products of the city. Vastly improved photovoltaic designs/technologies, which are rapidly bringing PVs down to grid parity, are products of the city. The material and electronic conveyances of information about all the foregoing, and much more, including endless discussions of practice, theory, ethics, and every other pertinent thing, are products of the city.

        I could go on at great length, but instead I will go on at only brief length. Another product of the city, and a very notable one for anyone who cares about human health and well-being, is the conceptualization, engineering/design and actual installation of water, sewerage and other systems — public health infrastructure in general. These have been responsible for dramatic reductions in infectious disease, and dramatic increases in life-expectancy. I mean like from life expectancy of 30, up to 65 and beyond, in a short few decades. Both quality and quantity of life have taken enormous leaps by virtue of this.

        You might object that this is a case of the city solving the problems caused by the city — that these problems would not exist, otherwise. But that’s not so, since people have to live somewhere, and the same problems will (and do) present themselves no matter where they live, shy of the super-low population density world of hunter-gatherers (a world now long gone, that is not coming back). Public health nfrastructure must be created and maintained in rural as well as urban contexts, and it is worth mentioning that the cost per capita in rural contexts is much higher, for obvious reasons. Population density makes everything cheaper and more resource-efficient; simple arithmatic.

        The same is true of medical infrastructure and services. It is much less costly and resource-intensive to provide them in dense hubs, rather than try to blanket the countryside with small clinics and hospitals. I’ll grant that this is LESS of a point than it would commonly be held to be, since medical structures and services have proliferated (in the U.S.) far beyond real needs. Nevertheless, the point stands. Think about providing clinics and hospitals across land masses like Eurasia or Africa! There goes our ENTIRE resource budget, with nothing left for anything else. Whoops.

        My point in the above, btw, is not that there should exist no clinics or hospitals in rural areas. My point, throughout, is a question: to what extent ought we, at this moment — for the next, say, half-century — advocate low-population-density living? Is that really the best policy right now? Would it be the greatest good for the greatest number? It might be the best policy for the 22nd century — MAYBE, with a whole lot of preparatory work! — but is it the best policy right now? These are questions that must be asked without allowing our idealistic visions of the world that is possible interfere too much with realistic and pragmatic responses to the world that actually IS. The idealistic visions should of course be carefully nurtured, WHILE acting pragmatically in the now.

        To continue for a moment about health:
        Life expectancy, general health, incidence of disease, health-related quality of life, etc. — all are better in urban than in rural contexts. Part of the reason is public health. Another part is access to basic, low-tech medicine (e.g. antibiotics). Another part is education and access to more and better information. Another part is better diet and nutrition. Apart from direct effects on physical health and conventional health parameters, these things foster better cognitive and brain development, giving rise to to higher I.Q.s, which in turn result in better health decisions, and better health, not to mention more vibrant intellectual culture.

        Russ: “Meanwhile I notice you couldn’t give a single example of what farmers and workers get from cities. I asked a simple question, and you couldn’t answer it.”

        The answer is easy, though you may not like it. It consists of all the things I just mentioned, and more.

        Meanwhile I notice that you have no response to the facts about the ENVIRONMENTAL implications of cities. And you are forgiven. I had no response either, for a long time. I believed that non-urban areas and life MUST be more environmentally sound than urban; simply MUST; and therefore ARE (and what is this rubbish about “green cities”, anyway? Some kind of bullshit CIA propaganda?). But the facts have forced my hand. Now I acknowledge, as a clear reality, that cities are relatively efficient and environmentally sound. That does not mean (of course!) that everything that ever happens in or about cities is environmentally sound, or that there is not (huge!) room for improvement. It only means what it says — which, in the abstract, is that higher population densities are generally more efficient, almost necessarily so.

        Is there a way to design a world for 8-10 billion people that has all of these characteristics, simultaneously? You tell me:

        — sustainable and resource-efficient
        — low fertility; zero growth
        — high level of public health and other services
        — intellectually and culturally robust, stimulating; intelligent
        — high level of mobility; transit without personal autos
        — large and expanding forests, wilderness, made possible by
        permacultural intensivity and conversion of cropland and
        pastures back to wild nature

        That’s question number one.

        Question number two is the same, but adding: no cities! All at very low population densities.

        I say Yea to question number one. But question number two… not so sure. I would like to think so, and maybe it IS so… given a century or three to work it out. It would be a very ambitious project, requiring many creative and new (low/appropriate) technologies and a great deal of effort. And that effort would have to be undertaken with no guarantee of success.

        Further: I daresay that, if cities are to be no more, then the intellectual culture of the city will be highly instrumental, and indispensable, in effecting the change. The intellectual (including engineering, design and scientific) culture of the city will be instrumental in effectively dismantling — without unacceptable cognitive/spiritual loss — the city.

        Here’s a couple of ideas for interim measures that could actually come to pass (to some modest extent) in our lifetimes:

        — For low/medium-density areas such as existing suburbs in the U.S.: re-conceptualize and re-form/re-purpose as the horticulture-intensive sustainable zones that they could be, and should be, while increasing density SOMEWHAT — at least enough to support good mass transit, rather than auto-for-everything.

        — For very-high-density areas, particularly megacities in the less developed world: reduce density SOMEWHAT, providing more room for subsistence permaculture-style food production, (which should be actively encouraged), with simultaneous installation/improvement of public health infrastructure.

        These would be just interim measures, in order to make best use of the build-outs/structures that actually now exist. Building the Perfect World, as in my questions above, will have to await the completion of much preliminary work on multiple fronts. I think we can schedule the groundbreaking for, say, 1 January 2070. 🙂

        Alan

        PS:

        http://www.encyclo.co.uk/define/Economies%20of%20Density
        Economies of Density
        Generally, economies wherein unit costs are lower in relation to population density. The higher the population density, the lower the likely costs of infrastructure required to provide a service. One example would be the costs associated with providing electricity networks to urban vs rural areas.

        Comment by alan2102 — August 31, 2011 @ 11:43 am

      • Alan, since I’m heading out for the day I don’t have time to properly reply to this now. I’ll get back to it tomorrow.

        I’ll just quickly hit two points now:

        1. I reject the contention that because we’re currently captives of the city, corporations, this economy, this government, whatever is of the status quo, that means we somehow owe the these entities something. On the contrary, that gives us even more of a right to break free of them any way we can.

        2. As for your list at the bottom, I’ve written at length on how we can maximize food and other production post-oil. I think you already saw this list.

        https://attempter.wordpress.com/series-on-food-sovereignty/

        It’s of course not my responsibility to guarantee feeding 8-10 billion people. That’s your responsibility. All I can and do guarantee is that if my prescription is followed, it will maximize the number of people who can be fed. Maybe even that many billions.

        I also guarantee that continuing on the current neo-feudal path will result in the starvation of billions, by system design.

        Comment by Russ — August 31, 2011 @ 12:08 pm

      • Have you ever actually consorted with rural people? It is an experience. In the U.S. at least (I won’t generalize to elsewhere), you will be in a strange land, where NO ONE has the remotest clue about the kinds of things you talk about on your blog.

        I’ve mostly consorted with college-educated suburbanites, and it’s always a strange land where almost no one has the remotest clue about these things. So I’m afraid you can’t phase me with the same old citations of the “idiocy of rural life”. Evidently the kind of idiocy Marx and Engels referred to – “boredom, deadness, isolation, backwardness”, as you put it – is close to universal, regardless of education level or urban cosmopolitanism.

        If anything, less formally educated rurals may be less backward at least in the negative Socratic sense of not having been as spoiled by all the lies of “education” on top of those of political and media propaganda.

        As we now know, “progressives” are at least as stupid and brainwashed as non-rich conservatives (for a while I was calling them liberal teabaggers). If you factor in their higher level of formal education and allegedly sophisticated urbanism, they’re relatively far more stupid. “What’s the matter with Berkeley?” is at least as difficult as question as “What’s the matter with Kansas?”.

        Another product of the city, and a very notable one for anyone who cares about human health and well-being, is the conceptualization, engineering/design and actual installation of water, sewerage and other systems — public health infrastructure in general. These have been responsible for dramatic reductions in infectious disease, and dramatic increases in life-expectancy. I mean like from life expectancy of 30, up to 65 and beyond, in a short few decades. Both quality and quantity of life have taken enormous leaps by virtue of this.
        You might object that this is a case of the city solving the problems caused by the city — that these problems would not exist, otherwise.

        I might and do. I don’t regard temporarily successful kludges as evidence of the intelligence or resiliency of the structure. Quite the opposite. I think in terms of the Tower of Babel.

        But that’s not so, since people have to live somewhere, and the same problems will (and do) present themselves no matter where they live, shy of the super-low population density world of hunter-gatherers (a world now long gone, that is not coming back).

        I’ll overlook your straw man about “hunter-gatherers” and just say that the evidence is that normal (non-fossil fueled) history will soon resume.

        Modern cities are physically unsustainable, environmentally disastrous (and of course the source of all environmental destruction, since the wars on the earth, 100% of them, have been launched from the cities), and as creations of the State are the structural sources of class oppression, social domination, political and economic tyranny. Centralization and concentration are evils as such.

        You might be interested in some of the comments here:

        https://attempter.wordpress.com/2011/08/30/time-banking-within-the-natural-history-of-debt/

        Comment by Russ — September 1, 2011 @ 6:14 am

  6. PSS:

    Russ: “Ironically, you’re arguing this position even as we’re reaching a more anti-city consensus here than we had before:”

    Thesis -> antithesis -> synthesis, daddyo! We’re getting closer all the time. 🙂

    PSSS:

    Russ: “As for urban farming like in Detroit, that’s a wonderful example of making do with what one has. It’s most definitely not optimal.”

    I’m not so sure. The more I think about it, the more I think that it might be close to optimal. LOW-DENSITY CITY. All of the infrastructural, health, intellectual, cultural and easy-proximity/transit advantages of the city, but with plenty of room for gardens, goats, greenhouses and aquaculture. Does it get much better than that? Where? How?

    PSSSS:

    There is no PSSSS, due to my S key being worn-off. 😉

    Comment by alan2102 — August 31, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

    • The more I think about it, the more I think that it might be close to optimal. LOW-DENSITY CITY.

      You mean gentrification? That’s the only possible outcome of your prescription.

      Thesis -> antithesis -> synthesis, daddyo! We’re getting closer all the time

      I hope so. 🙂

      Comment by Russ — September 1, 2011 @ 6:19 am

  7. Hi, Russ. Thanks for your replies. I’ll get to the longer one later today, or tomorrow.

    For now: “You mean gentrification? That’s the only possible outcome of your prescription.”

    Well, “prescription” is a bit much for something presented as an idea, or thought item. My prescription pads are still safely in the drawer, as I think about these things. Think about them, and research them. I’ve been watching Detroit for a long time. Oh, about 40 years now. It is quite clear that there are no silver bullets for the city, no simple “prescriptions” to “cure” ailments of that depth and complexity. The city is in a predicament, to which there are various possible responses; not a single problem with a distinct solution.

    Here’s one response, quite promising — below. I suppose it might be pigeonholed as mere gentrification. However, that view would be hard to square with the fact that destitute inner-city drug addicts in recovery, and former prison inmates, are among the main beneficiaries of the project. Well, you never know. Maybe as this story unfolds we will learn that the more idealistic elements of it have been sold out to Wall Street, urban gentry, or the like. I can’t predict. But so far, promising…

    quote:

    http://www.greeningdetroit.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/The-Story-of-RecoverPark.pdf

    Over the past 24 months…a determined group of neighborhood residents,
    community groups, social services agencies, church leaders, academics, and government officials have been working collaboratively together to create a new vision for one of Detroit’s poorest areas. This vision is RecoveryPark – a projected 10-year, multi-million dollar planned community re-development project on the east side of Detroit. The use of the term “recovery” in the name is intentional, as the focus of RecoveryPark is to re-envision the city along multiple components – education, agriculture/urban farming, community development, food production, commercial and housing development, to name a few – in order to help residents who are recovering from addiction, those are returning to the community from prison, and others through personal and economic empowerment.

    The project was initiated by a SHAR (Substance Abuse Addiction Rehabilitation), a Detroit-based substance abuse treatment program that was established in 1969. Its mission is to transform individuals with addiction and co-occurring disorders into people who are recovering, people who are capable of living full and productive lives. Their treatment approach and philosophy is based on the principles of the Therapeutic Community model.

    It might seem out of place for a substance abuse treatment program to be the leader in a planned development. But RecoveryPark is actually a natural outgrowth of SHAR’s underlying philosophy of a holistic community. After decades of fighting an uphill battle for its clients, SHAR made the bold decision. It was no longer enough to provide recovery only within the walls of SHAR. The challenges faced by recovering clients, their families, loved ones, friends, and neighbors called for something bigger, broader, more comprehensive. It was no longer enough to be a change agent for individuals. SHAR needed to broaden its vision and become a change agent for the community. ….

    end quote [more at the link]

    see also:
    http://recoverypark.org

    Comment by alan2102 — September 1, 2011 @ 10:18 am

    • When I said “prescription” I was placing Detroit within the general context of your comments. I didn’t mean you were arguing for any specific detail. I meant that if Detroit continues to exist as a power concentration (which is certainly the goal of city and state elites), and power-centralized capitalism continues to exist in general (and I do believe that everything you’re saying assumes and/or implies those things; I’m not saying that’s what you consciously want, but that’s where it all leads) then all the efforts of Detroit’s urban growers and others will end up engulfed in gentrification. If Detroit’s corporate strength is rebuilt, and corporate welfare money flows back in, that money will be used to buy and/or steal (via Kelo-style eminent domain) everything these people are building. They’ll regress to impoverished dependency, and all they worked for will have been in vain.

      On the other hand, if people cleansed their minds of all system dogma and organized on a truly democratic basis toward a permanent relocalization, then such projects could help build a future beyond and without urban concentration.

      I took a look at Recovery Park, and the basic idea looks promising, but I don’t know enough about them to have an opinion yet. (Meaning, I can’t tell from my cursory reading what the real goal is, or assuming the goal is truly democratic, how co-optable it is.)

      Here’s a post I wrote about Detroit.

      https://attempter.wordpress.com/2009/12/25/holiday-wish/

      Comment by Russ — September 1, 2011 @ 11:15 am

      • Thanks for the link! I am reading it eagerly, right now, and enjoying it. Pardon — I posted the item below before seeing this (did not refresh the page before posting). Be back in a little while…

        Comment by alan2102 — September 1, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

      • Very fine essay, thanks — which largely answers the questions I put to you below.

        The RecoveryPark initiative (above) seems to incorporate at least most of the stuff you’re talking about, though with a rather less revolutionary or in-your-face orientation; they are thinking more in terms of working with the law than transcending it. (And that will prove to be for better or for worse.)

        You write, above: “If Detroit’s corporate strength is rebuilt, and corporate welfare money flows back in, that money will be used to buy and/or steal (via Kelo-style eminent domain) everything these people are building. They’ll regress to impoverished dependency, and all they worked for will have been in vain.”

        Maybe so, but Detroits corporate strength will NOT be rebuilt! The general context is the onrushing bankruptcy and economic decline of America and the West, and even more so Michigan, and still more so Detroit itself. Peak oil and other resource constraints will of course feed-in to this, giving it more traction. There is, IMO, essentially ZERO possibility of Detroit being restored to what it was, formerly. That’s really not something to sweat.

        You write that “everything you’re saying assumes and/or implies” that “power-centralized capitalism continues to exist”. It seems to me that that is what YOU are assuming, more so than me. I see capitalism breaking down. I see the idea of “corporate welfare money flowing back in” to be closer to fantasy than reality, for at least some places, e.g. Detroit.

        Regarding eminent domain, be aware of this (no, I have not read it yet):
        http://www.algora.com/135/book/details.html
        The Eminent Domain Revolt: Changing Perceptions in a New
        Constitutional Epoch, by John Ryskamp

        And I urge you to read Ryskamps comments here:
        http://www.nolandgrab.org/archives/2006/08/community_comme_1.html
        August 3, 2006
        Community Commentary: John Ryskamp, Open Letter to The Village
        Voice

        … at a domain you might appreciate (NOLANDGRAB.org!)

        PS: curious: are you in the SE Michigan area? I am.

        Comment by alan2102 — September 1, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

      • Thanks, Alan. I’ll check those out, and read more about Recovery Park, which is new to me.

        I agree about capitalism breaking down over the long term, but there’s lots that can happen over the next 10-20 years.

        No, I’m not in the Midwest. NY metro area suburbs.

        Comment by Russ — September 1, 2011 @ 2:59 pm

  8. Russ, up thread I said that “Vast open spaces are not necessarily required for food production (though they are required for old-style, totalitarian agriculture).” I gave the example of Detroit, in which urban ag is becoming quite the thing on small scales, with many people discussing larger-scale initiatives. You replied: “As for urban farming like in Detroit, that’s a wonderful example of making do with what one has. It’s most definitely not optimal.”

    I’d like to know: what does “optimal” mean, in this real-world context? I mean, Detroit exists. A lot of people live there, and have lived there for generations. A great many of them have a commitment to the place and do not want to move. Detroit also has a great deal of vacant space; it is a city of relatively low population density. It has very high unemployment, and multiple other social pathologies and problems, serious ones. Given that all that is true — and it is — what is to be done? What, in practice, should a place like Detroit be doing? Urban farming is one option that would ameliorate at least some of the problems. OK, maybe it is not optimal. But what WOULD be optimal for Detroit? What is to be done?

    Further, regarding the space needed for effective agriculture/horticulture, I just ran into this item:

    http://www.agdevjournal.com/attachments/137_JAFSCD_Assessing_Food_Supply_Capacity_Detroit_Nov-2010.pdf
    Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development
    Assessing the local food supply capacity of Detroit, Michigan
    [snip]
    “We demonstrate that if high-yield, biointensive growing methods are used, 31% and 17% of the seasonally available vegetables and fruits, respectively, currently consumed by 900,000 people could be supplied on less than 300 acres without incorporating extraordinary postharvest management or season-extension technology.” END QUOTE

    That’s an interesting bit of data. 31% and 17% are not large numbers; but then, 300 acres is not large, either! Detroit has about 90,000 acres, of which 25,000 are vacant. 300 acres is a little more than 1% of the vacant area, or 1/3 of 1% of the total area. What that suggests is that Detroit could become food self-sufficient if it could put, say, 30% or 40% of its vacant area into production. Not that that is likely to happen, but just saying, as a reference point.

    Detroit has a lot more vacant land than most cities. However, there is the matter of defining the land available for conversion. Most U.S. cities were built (tragically) more with the auto in mind than with humans in mind. Vast tracts of prime urban land are given-over to wide streets, parking lots, and other auto-dictated land use. Much of this area could be converted, and perhaps even easily converted, simply using the paved area as a base for raised beds.

    Hence, I suggest that urban agriculture, providing substantial fractions of total food needs, is more viable than one might suppose. And it is important for a variety of reasons, apart from meeting human food needs. It improves the air, provides cooling, has numerous psychological benefits, provides other ecological services, etc.

    Comment by alan2102 — September 1, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

    • Thanks for that link, Alan. That’s exactly the kind of evidence I compile for my claim that democratic agroecology can feed far more people going forward than corporate ag. (Although biointensivity isn’t the fulcrum of sustainable agriculture. It’s grassy perennials, as I wrote about in several posts. But biointensive is certainly part of the mix.)

      It’s also evidence that we don’t need urban concentration to survive or to avoid destroying the earth.

      When I said urban farming in Detroit isn’t optimal, I didn’t mean it’s not optimal for the people there now. I mean Detroit itself in its current form isn’t optimal, no matter how innovatively the citizens make do with what they have.

      But I never meant that I look down on urban agriculture. Quite the opposite, as I hope comes through in the post I linked. I have great admiration for Milwaukee’s Growing Power, for example.

      Nevertheless, I look at all these as people doing the best they can in a suboptimal environment. My argument with you is that you seem to be citing these, not as making the best of a bad situation, but rather as evidence that the situation itself isn’t actually bad, but can be reformed and redeemed. That’s what I think is false.

      Comment by Russ — September 1, 2011 @ 2:52 pm

      • Russ: “we don’t need urban concentration to survive or to avoid destroying the earth”

        I agree, but that particular bar — though important — is hardly the best one to set. Mere “survival” and avoidance of earth destruction? Surely we can do better, and I hope to hell we do. I want to see large portions of the earth returned to wilderness, and/or see wilderness areas push their boundaries and expand. And that will likely require some concentration of humans. Certainly the ultra-high-density city is not a model of the ideal, but neither is the Texas-style American-dream 40 (or 140, or 1400) -acre personal/family plot! We simply cannot spread out like that and preserve the eminently worth-preserving wild nature. Besides, desire for that kind of “I-got-mine” atomization and isolation from society is itself borderline pathological.

        Russ: “When I said urban farming in Detroit isn’t optimal, I didn’t mean it’s not optimal for the people there now. I mean Detroit itself in its current form isn’t optimal, no matter how innovatively the citizens make do with what they have.”

        Well, of course not! Is anywhere on earth, in its current form, “optimal”? COULD any place be optimal?

        I guess I have an issue with the word “optimal”. On planet earth, not a single thing is “optimal”.

        Russ: “My argument with you is that you seem to be citing these, not as making the best of a bad situation, but rather as evidence that the situation itself isn’t actually bad, but can be reformed and redeemed.”

        Above, I mentioned that Detroit is in a predicament, to which responses are possible; but it does not have a discrete “problem” with clear “solutions”. I think there is a parallel of that with what you are saying. Your “making the best of a bad situation” is akin to my “response” to the predicament; not a “solution”, a RESPONSE. Whereas you dislike the idea of “reform” because it is a (chimerical) “solution”. And I agree.

        “Reform” is not possible, but redemption is. It is what I seek. Redemptive action, on initiatives that are themselves redemptive in nature. Redemption is I think a very good word; to REDEEM; to recover and make good our (humanity’s) waywardness, profligacy and error, and our debts to nature.

        All that said, I have to wonder: In what way is not EVERYTHING we do “making the best of a bad situation”?

        …………………….

        Russ: “I have great admiration for Milwaukee’s Growing Power”

        But haven’t you heard? Will Allen just sold the whole thing off to a big investment firm. They’re going to turn it into a theme park, a giant mall, and a bunch of luxury condos, all with a “growing food… growing community” [tm] motif. It is going to IPO very soon, and it should be a blockbuster, so you might want to call your broker and pick up some shares.

        😉

        Comment by alan2102 — September 1, 2011 @ 3:58 pm

      • I agree, but that particular bar — though important — is hardly the best one to set. Mere “survival” and avoidance of earth destruction? Surely we can do better, and I hope to hell we do.

        I thought that’s what we were down to, since I thought I made it clear that I reject modern urbanism on political*, moral, aesthetic, and spiritual grounds. And practical ones – as I said, I read the evidence as indicating that modern cities are not sustainable in terms of energy consumption, in addition to the other reasons. (Which reminds me of what I said earlier: My definition of modernity as an ahistorical level of energy consumption facilitated by the one-off drawdown of the fossil fuel principal.)

        I want to see large portions of the earth returned to wilderness, and/or see wilderness areas push their boundaries and expand. And that will likely require some concentration of humans. Certainly the ultra-high-density city is not a model of the ideal, but neither is the Texas-style American-dream 40 (or 140, or 1400) -acre personal/family plot! We simply cannot spread out like that and preserve the eminently worth-preserving wild nature.

        There’s more than enough room for cooperative agroecology societies and for nature, including wilderness, to heal. It sounds like you’re buying into capitalist thinking about “scarcity”, which in most cases including this one is purely artificial.

        [*How exactly do you propose to “require some concentration of humans”? And run these new, improved cities? I’m a true democrat and I’m trying to achieve nothing but true democracy. Any State apparatus, any coercive hierarchy, is a non-starter for me. The only force I’d ever support is self-defensive force against aggressors, including anyone who would try to herd people like me into cities, which is exactly what the enclosure movement has meant to this day.]

        Besides, desire for that kind of “I-got-mine” atomization and isolation from society is itself borderline pathological.

        You seem to be confusing blogs here, since I can’t remember the last post I wrote which wasn’t directly about cooperation and community.

        Well, we’re going to have to agree to disagree on the basic principle here. At any rate we both support urban agriculture, although we see its potential in different ways. I want and believe we need redemption beyond all system manifestations.

        BTW, this piece

        http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Gardening/2010/0428/Detroit-leads-the-way-in-urban-farming

        describes some questionable deals, and the controversy over them, which were already taking place last year.

        Comment by Russ — September 2, 2011 @ 2:20 am

      • re: “thanks for the link”; here’s another that you’ll like:

        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=16572763

        Environ Sci Technol. 2006 Feb 15;40(4):1114-9.

        Resource-conserving agriculture increases yields in developing
        countries.

        Pretty JN, Noble AD, Bossio D, Dixon J, Hine RE, Penning De
        Vries FW, Morison JI.

        Department of Biological Sciences and Centre for Environment
        and Society, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester
        CO4 3SQ, UK. jpretty@essex.ac.uk

        Abstract

        Despite great recent progress, hunger and poverty remain
        widespread and agriculturally driven environmental damage is
        widely prevalent. The idea of agricultural sustainability
        centers on the need to develop technologies and practices that
        do not have adverse effects on environmental goods and
        services, and that lead to improvements in food productivity.
        Here we show the extent to which 286 recent interventions in
        57 poor countries covering 37 M ha (3% of the cultivated area
        in developing countries) have increased productivity on 12.6 M
        farms while improving the supply of critical environmental
        services. The average crop yield increase was 79% (geometric
        mean 64%). All crops showed water use efficiency gains, with
        the highest improvement in rainfed crops. Potential carbon
        sequestered amounted to an average of 0.35 t C ha(-1) y(-1).
        If a quarter of the total area under these farming systems
        adopted sustainability enhancing practices, we estimate global
        sequestration could be 0.1 Gt C y(-1). Of projects with
        pesticide data, 77% resulted in a decline in pesticide use by
        71% while yields grew by 42%. Although it is uncertain whether
        these approaches can meet future food needs, there are grounds
        for cautious optimism, particularly as poor farm households
        benefit more from their adoption.

        Comment in Environ Sci Technol. 2007 Feb 1;41(3):1054-5;
        author reply 1056-7.

        PMID: 16572763

        Comment by alan2102 — September 2, 2011 @ 9:03 am

  9. Thanks again. The Pretty study is one of several I often see referenced in the assemblages I’ve read. I’ve been meaning to track them down myself but haven’t gotten round to it yet. So this is helpful.

    The Badgley study is another, and I just have to quote this abstract for you.

    http://www.ifoam.org/events/ifoam_conferences/owc/modules/abstracts_pdfs/badgley_abs_pos_OAAFS.pdf

    The principal objections to organic agriculture contributing significantly to the global food supply are low yields and insufficient quantities of organically acceptable fertilizers. We compared yields of organic versus conventional or low intensive food production for a global dataset of almost 300 examples and estimated the average yield ratio in 10 food categories for the developed and the developing world. We also estimated the amount of nitrogen potentially available from fixation by leguminous cover crops used as fertilizer from studies in tropical and temperate regions. For most food categories, the average yield ratio was slightly 1.0 for studies in the developing world. With the average yield ratios, we modeled the global food supply that could be grown organically on the current agricultural land base. Our estimates indicate that organic agriculture has the potential to produce enough food on a global per capita basis to sustain the current human population without increasing the agricultural land base. In addition, estimates of nitrogen fixation from leguminous cover are sufficient to replace the amount of synthetic fertilizer currently in use. These results indicate that organic agriculture could contribute quite substantially to the global food supply, thereby reducing the detrimental environmental impacts of conventional agriculture. Here we present this analysis and discuss the changes needed to increase the contributions of organic agriculture to the global food supply.

    So there you have it – the same land base. Plenty of room for the wilderness to recover.

    But this implies far greater labor intensivity. That means the dispossessed will be able to leave the shantytowns and ghettos and go home to the land. The cities will be emptied out of those who were driven to them as refugees and remain refugees. If it’s done on a democratic basis, this will be a wonderful consummation.

    Full study here:

    http://www.mosesorganic.org/attachments/research/07feedworld.pdf

    which seems to be an earlier version of the same paper. The abstract is worded somewhat differently but basically the same.

    Comment by Russ — September 2, 2011 @ 9:57 am

  10. you may already have seen this, but just in case…
    a very kindred spirit….

    http://www.counterpunch.org/goff04242008.html
    April 24, 2008
    An Alternative Agriculture is Possible
    The Politics of Food is Politics
    By DE CLARKE and STAN GOFF
    […snip…]
    Many well-substantiated studies show that intensive biotic
    polyculture — that is, the cultivation of many species of
    food plants in a small footprint, using biotic soil amendments
    and nutrient recycling — produces far more food per hectare
    than factory farming; uses far less water; and builds, rather
    than destroying, topsoil. Although more human ingenuity, care,
    and attention are required, the adoption of permaculture
    principles and techniques reduces the drudgery of food
    production considerably; the permaculturist is assisting food
    to grow rather than forcing it to grow (or more hubristically,
    “growing” it), which is much less work all round than our
    cartoon cultural memory of dawn-to-dusk backbreaking peasant
    labor (which became backbreaking to pay “tribute” and debts to
    people with weapons and ledgers, not survive). What intensive
    biotic polyculture does not do is maximise money profits,
    minimise labour inputs, or facilitate large-scale extractive
    cash-cropping.

    

    Comment by alan2102 — September 2, 2011 @ 10:30 am

    • I did see that, thanks.

      Comment by Russ — September 2, 2011 @ 1:00 pm

  11. possibly even better than Growing Power:
    http://theurbanfarmingguys.com
    great video:
    sharing knowledge, feeding nations:
    http://theurbanfarmingguys.com/our-story

    Comment by alan2102 — September 5, 2011 @ 9:52 am

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