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For a movement to defend the right to live off of the land (repost from DailyKos)

by Cassiodorus Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 09:47:33 AM EST

The main social developments in the world over the last thirty years or so have been 1) the imposition of neoliberal economics over nearly every one of the world's economies, and 2) the fantastic growth in slums that have accompanied the explosion of urban capitalism in the neoliberal era.  Using Mike Davis' Planet of Slums, I outline a "way out" of the resultant social and ecological catastrophe brought on by these developments: a movement to defend the right to live off of the land.


The beginnings: enclosure

In every country in which a capitalist system has been imposed, the beginnings of it all have been with enclosure.  Enclosure, a movement beginning in the Middle Ages in England, meant the privatization of large tracts of land, wherein the peasants living off of said land were kicked off.  Said peasants had to live in cities, where (eventually) truancy laws required them to work for subsistence wages in factories.  Karl Marx discusses this enclosure in great detail here.

The process continues to this day.  Here is an article by "The South Asian" describing how it is done in India.  The government screws the people for the sake of private corporations, and all of a sudden farming is not viable.  Thus huge populations are set into motion from rural areas to cities.  A pre-capitalist society has large populations capable of rural subsistence; in the days of the manorial system, the nobles simply appropriated the surplus from those doing the rural subsisting.  In a capitalist society, these populations will be exploited through low-wage urban factory labor, thus the hyperactive urbanization and economic growth of countries like India and China.

The result: slums

When combined with overall human population growth, the result of this hyperactive urbanization is the incredible growth of slums reported by Mike Davis in last year's volume Planet of Slums:

The earth has urbanized even faster than originally predicted by the Club of Rome in its notoriously Malthusian 1972 report Limits of Growth.  In 1950 there were 86 cities in the world with a population of more than one million; today there are 400, and by 2015 there will be at least 550.  Cities, indeed, have absorbed nearly two-thirds of the global population explosion since 1950, and are currently growing by a million babies and migrants each week.  The world's urban labor force has more than doubled since 1980, and the present urban population - 3.2 billion - is larger than the total population of the world when John F. Kennedy was inaugurated.  The global countryside, meanwhile, has reached its maximum population and will begin to shrink after 2020.  As a result, cities will account for virtually all future world population growth, which is expected to peak at about 10 billion in 2050.  (1-2)

And, pray tell, what do all these good folks do for a living?  Davis suggests:

Structural adjustment, it would appear, has recently worked an equally fundamental reshaping of human futures.  As the authors of The Challenge of Slums conclude: "Instead of being a focus for growth and prosperity, the cities have become a dumping ground for a surplus population working in unskilled, unprotected, and low-wage informal service industries and trade."   "The rise of this informal sector," they declare bluntly, "is... a direct result of liberalization." (174-175)

The role our current, neoliberal, phase of capitalism has picked out for the slum-living multitudes is that of micro-entrepreneurs - of which Davis, using Breman and Das as a source, cite one typical example:

One of the most telling pictures of this sector is the sight of the "gentlemanly" owner of a garbage shop, sitting in his well-ironed clothes by his gleaming motorcycle, amidst the piles of waste that the rag-pickers have painfully sorted out for him to profit from.  (From Breman and Das's Down and Out: Laboring Under Global Capitalism, 56, cited in Davis, 181)

Adam Smith's vision has been spread worldwide, and in the process turned into a cruel joke.  There will thus exist tremendous populations, worldwide, for the movement, which subsist in cities.  Walling off the United States from these populations won't work; a world of ten billion people with nothing to lose will eventually find its way here, especially if they are performing well in the role of "entrepreneur" which the neoliberal elites have assigned to all of them.  If we really want them to stay home and tend their own gardens, they will have to have a new role ("farmer" would do) and a new relationship to both society and ecology.  Their lives, in short, cannot further be defined by neoliberalism.

What I am recommending in this context is that we, as a political movement, be a movement for the right to live off of the land - but not to live off of the land in the countryside, as the people of the world exist today in cities.  I am suggesting that farms be built in the cities, and that the future of the world's "surplus populations" be as a sort of neo-peasantry living what Maria Mies and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen call "the subsistence perspective."

What I am recommending for change

What makes this era especially chaotic, I argue, is that under neoliberalism everyone is regarded, regardless of social formation, as an entrepreneur of some sort or another.  The problem, of course, is that there isn't much of any surplus for the great underclass of "entrepreneurs" to exploit, and so they must extract profits from, say, assorted pieces of glass to be found in the local city dumps, or their labor as prostitutes, or whatever.  A neat firsthand picture of how this "entrepreneurship" works is written-up in Jeremy Seabrook's volume Victims of Development.

At some point (and I elaborated upon this in my diary on Kees van der Pijl), however, the world will simply have had enough of this reorganization, and resultant "entrepreneurship," which I (following van der Pijl) call capitalist discipline.  Crises, most notably ecological crises, will overtake the capitalist system and produce the economic nausea which James O'Connor called the "Second Contradiction of Capitalism."  O'Connor's theory is simple: capitalist growth becomes, at some point, damaging to the environment, so much so that environmental damage will impede and perhaps overwhelm the profit rate itself.  It will be time, when the "Second Contradiction of Capitalism" becomes serious enough, for us to form a movement to insure each and every person a right to live off of the land.

Such a movement will start by guaranteeing all the right to grow food.  This can be done through the proliferation of community gardens in unused spaces in parks and parking lots.  Food production must be detached from elaborate transportation networks that use precious reserves of cheap oil and handed back to popular, and local, control.

We need to respect the right of all to housing.  This means allowing people to use unused space to build their own housing, using the techniques of sustainable architecture.

This movement will need to have as one of its aims the inauguration of ecologically responsible government.  Depending upon geographic and economic circumstances, government powers of eminent domain will have to be exercised here and there to permit the otherwise disempowered to carve a living out of forbidding urban landscapes.  Just as capitalism used the powers of government to enclose the land, so we will have to use the powers of government to unenclose some sort of commons for people to live on.

Eventually this "right to live off of the land" will have to supercede capitalism.  Capital today is out of control, and the people will have to rein it in (at some point).  The reining-in of capital will create a struggle in which, for the majority to win, decentralized, community-based economics will have to become a way of life for most everyone.  As Paul Prew points out, capitalism is a "dissipative structure" which divides the world into centers of accumulation (the cities, the First World) and zones of extraction (the countryside, the Third World).  What I am suggesting is a partial withdrawal from the zones of extraction from within the centers of accumulation.  At some point, a full pull-out will end this division altogether, and we will have a world based on ecological discipline and not capitalist discipline.  (See Joel Kovel's concept of "ecological production" or Enrique Leff's concept of "Green Production" for further elaboration).

Clearly this vision is not for the world as it exists now.  It is far too early in the building of such a movement.  But one can imagine a future point at which, if current trends go unheeded (or papered over with corporate PR efforts and aggressive Republican diversions), it will be necessary for all to form a movement to defend the right to live off of the land.

Display:
there isn't much of any surplus for the great underclass of "entrepreneurs" to exploit

That's brilliantly said, could make a sig line...

Given that the countryside is enclosed and the former rural poor (and their descendants) can't return there to live off the land, how do you foresee they will find enough land to live off - and the power to take over and use - in the cities? This isn't a question about farming/gardening techniques, but about where sufficient surface would be found and how it would be "opened" for use.

And don't you think, finally, that in the event of a breakdown in capitalism, the current system of industrial extraction practised in the countryside under the name of farming would also encounter partial collapse, and that the people of the slums would be tempted to go out and take the land they needed to live off?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 02:55:02 PM EST
Given that the countryside is enclosed and the former rural poor (and their descendants) can't return there to live off the land, how do you foresee they will find enough land to live off - and the power to take over and use - in the cities?

The answer to this question will vary from place to place.  City parks, schools, vacant lots, unused parking lots; there are, I'm guessing, plenty of places in most cities where some sort of intensive permaculture can be practiced.

And don't you think, finally, that in the event of a breakdown in capitalism, the current system of industrial extraction practised in the countryside under the name of farming would also encounter partial collapse, and that the people of the slums would be tempted to go out and take the land they needed to live off?

Perhaps, but I have no idea as to the quality of the remaining land...

"Imagine all the people/ Sharing all the world" -- John Lennon

by Cassiodorus on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 03:42:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As to quality of land: if you can envisage recycling urban plots (and there are some such schemes) to produce food, you could "recycle" abused farm land.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 04:01:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In every country in which a capitalist system has been imposed, the beginnings of it all have been with enclosure.  Enclosure, a movement beginning in the Middle Ages in England, meant the privatization of large tracts of land, wherein the peasants living off of said land were kicked off.  Said peasants had to live in cities, where (eventually) truancy laws required them to work for subsistence wages in factories.  Karl Marx discusses this enclosure in great detail here.

A historical pattern specific to Britain is just that, specific to Britain.  Plenty of places transited to a capitalist agricultural framework without the peasants leaving the land (think France in the wake of the Revolution), and the single most brutal example of forced urbanization and industrialization was in the context of the elimination of capitalism - i.e. Stalinism.

Eventually this "right to live off of the land" will have to supercede capitalism.  Capital today is out of control, and the people will have to rein it in (at some point).  The reining-in of capital will create a struggle in which, for the majority to win, decentralized, community-based economics will have to become a way of life for most everyone.

So, we use the state to coercively enact a complete makeover in the economy and social geography. And if the 'majority' doesn't choose to vote for this plan? There is as far as I can tell no large scale movement among urban dwellers to turn themselves into peasants practising subsistence agriculture. What there is, is a clamour for better housing, better access to utilities, health care, more money with which to buy stuff. Plenty of people want to 'rein in capital', but not for your purpose.

Such a movement will start by guaranteeing all the right to grow food.  This can be done through the proliferation of community gardens in unused spaces in parks and parking lots.

Quite common in Communist Europe. Mostly abandoned the moment you could get stuff in stores. It is also common among the poor urban dwellers of the Third World - i.e. those who cannot afford to buy food. You suggest it would be better for everybody to live like that? I doubt many people do.

by MarekNYC on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 03:31:23 PM EST
So, we use the state to coercively enact a complete makeover in the economy and social geography. And if the 'majority' doesn't choose to vote for this plan? There is as far as I can tell no large scale movement among urban dwellers to turn themselves into peasants practising subsistence agriculture.
 This prompts me to ask some questions: 1) Do urban dwellers growing their own vegetables/ fruits become "peasants"?  2) Is there really anything better for many urban dwellers in the world to do?  3) Have you, yourself, ever tried to organize a mass movement of people who are struggling for their survival?

And as for the idea that it's better to "get stuff in stores" -- Couldn't the "local is better" thing make a comeback when Peak Oil drives the price of transporting food from countryside to city out of sight?   What about the knowledge of pernicious factory-farming processes used in industrial food production?  Won't that encourage food-growing?  See Michael Pollin's The Omnivore's Dilemma for more on the latter...

"Imagine all the people/ Sharing all the world" -- John Lennon

by Cassiodorus on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 03:54:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Couldn't the "local is better" thing make a comeback when Peak Oil drives the price of transporting food from countryside to city out of sight?

Why should it? More expensive, sure, but that's not at all the same thing.

by MarekNYC on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 04:48:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Mostly abandoned the moment you could get stuff in stores.

Are you imagining a world where all humans have access to stuff from local stores--at prices they can afford?

I don't know the numbers.  Does anyone know what percentage of the world's population currently has the money to buy stuff from stores--

And by stuff I suppose you mean more than just food, but I'd start at food: what percentage of the world's population buys its food in stores, and what percentage could in the future?  Does it get anywhere close to 100%

And an added question: what work will people do to get the money for their food?  I ask because in a conversation elsewhere on the internet there arose the key point that "making more stuff" cannot continue indefinitely (due to raw materials.)

I'd be interested if you could tease out your association "growing food" = "living like peasants from the past".  I don't grow my own food and never have (well, I grew a potato into a plant once....but it didn't have any baby potatoes...), but from what I read, gardening doesn't have to be an all-day, every day arduous business.  I like the idea of planting edible crops everywhere--at present we couldn't eat them, perhaps, because of ambient pollution in cities, but in principle, the difference between a non-edible plant and an edible plant...is that I can eat the latter.

Re: forcing people off the land, it seems there is a history of this, and that the people forced off their land fought against this...maybe not everywhere--northern europe may not be a good example of living it large on the land (cold, wet, fewer crop cycles per year etc...)  But my reading (not extensive) has lead me to understand that the idea that people are going to the cities out of a Dick Wittington-esque desire for the good life doesn't match the facts.  So I'd be interested in more facts either way.  I suppose one easy way would be to look at the reasons for population migrations to the largest cities, and those expanding quickest.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 04:08:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And an added question: what work will people do to get the money for their food?  I ask because in a conversation elsewhere on the internet there arose the key point that "making more stuff" cannot continue indefinitely (due to raw materials.)

I don't believe that to be true. That is I think that certain materials will run out, meaning less of some stuff, replacement of other stuff, but I don't believe that there's any underlying 'ecological reality' that forces us to accept that your average westerner will have to live at the standard of living of the average person in Bolivia, and that there is little scope for improvement for the latter in the medium term. In the same way that I don't believe it when certain right wingers say the same thing, arguing from 'economic realities'. Again, there are such things as economic constraints, but socio-economic systems are primarily a product of politics, power, technology, and values, rather than the result of some 'natural' economic or ecological order.

As for the rest - no, the kind of urban gardening where people grow some vegetables that they couldn't otherwise get to supplement whatever starches that provide the bulk of their calories doesn't require anywhere near a full time commitment. Nor does it require all that much land, though still more than exists in many cities.  Actually growing enough to provide yourself with enough for a good year round food supply is something else entirely, both in time and land requirements.

People move, and moved, to the cities for a wide variety of reasons. Those include the efforts of capitalist, or, in the case of England, feudal elites, to get more money that Cass and De talk about. But they also include the desire for a better and/or more interesting life, and population pressures leading to either environmental degradation or lack of land. The mass movement away from agriculture in postwar Europe was largely due to the second one - life as a factory worker in Milan or the Ruhr improved much faster than that of a small farmer or sharecropper. In much of the third world today it is all of the above.

by MarekNYC on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 04:46:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On the first point, is your idea that if the world population stays around the seven billion mark, there are enough resources out there to keep making various things, maybe with more efficient recycling of old things so that tomorrows chairs are todays tin cans, where the planet's resources cycle round and about us without running out?  Sorta positing humans as essentially stuff making and stuff acquring animals--I don't mean that in any snide way...a sort of material emanation of our curiosity, so humans are happiest when making things, swapping things for other things (maybe via money exchanges etc.), and kicking back...letting technology do the hard pulling?

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 05:46:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, and it's not just the stuff making and acquiring, it's also that a lot of that stuff makes life more pleasant. Washing machines, running water, medical technology, furniture, music in your home, books, light, ability to move around, communications, etc.
by MarekNYC on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 06:14:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
>Washing machines, running water, medical technology, furniture, music in your home, books, light, ability to move around, communications

What percentage of the world's population has access to these things?  If we just take medical technology, how many humans have access (either physical or financial) to medical technology?

I went off to google to see if I could find some numbers, and wandered into this from ...oh my word...dieoff.org

!

"Science Summit" on World Population:
A Joint Statement by 58 of the World's Scientific Academies

I have no quick way of finding out the truth-worthiness of those academies.

There's a preamble which states:

In a follow-up to several recent initiatives by assemblies of scientists and scientific academies, most notably one taken by the Royal Society of London and the US National Academy of Sciences that resulted in a joint statement, "Population Growth, Resource Consumption, and a Sustainable World, '' issued in February 1992 (see Documents, PDR, June 1992), representatives of national academies of science from throughout the world met in New Delhi, 24-27 October 1993, at a ''Science Summit'' on World Population. The participants issued a statement, signed by representatives of 58 academies. The statement offers a wide-ranging if ex cathedra-style discussion of population issues related to development, notably on the determinants of fertility and concerning the effect of demographic growth on the environment and the quality of life. It also sets forth policy propositions, with emphasis on contributions that ''scientists, engineers, and health professionals'' can make to the solution of population problems. The statement finds that ''continuing population growth poses a great risk to humanity, '' and proposes a demographic goal, albeit with a rather elusive specification of a time frame: "In our judgement, humanity's ability to deal successfully with its social, economic, and environmental problems will require the achievement of zero population growth within the lifetime of our children. '' The text of the academies ' statement is reproduced below.

The New Delhi meeting was convened by a group of 15 academies "to explore in greater detail the complex and interrelated issues of population growth, resource consumption, socioeconomic development, and environmental protection.'' One of the convening organizations, the Nairobi-based African Academy of Sciences, declined to sign the joint statement, issuing, instead, one of its own. The text of this statement is reproduced below as the second Documents item appearing in this issue. Other academies that did not participate in the New Delhi meeting, or did not choose to sign the joint statement (whether for substantive or procedural reasons), included academies of Ireland, Italy, Japan, Singapore, and Spain, and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Notwithstanding the African Academy dissent, representatives of six African national academies, among them four from countries of sub-Saharan Africa (Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda) were among the fifty-eight signatories.

The world is in the midst of an unprecedented expansion of human numbers. It took hundreds of thousands of years for our species to reach a population level of 10 million, only 10,000 years ago. This number grew to 100 million people about 2,000 years ago and to 2.5 billion by 1950. Within less than the span of a single lifetime, it has more than doubled to 5.5 billion in 1993.

This accelerated population growth resulted from rapidly lowered death rates (particularly infant and child mortality rates), combined with sustained high birth rates. Success in reducing death rates is attributable to several factors: increases in food production and distribution, improvements in public health (water and sanitation) and in medical technology (vaccines and antibiotics), along with gains in education and standards of living within many developing nations.

Over the last 30 years, many regions of the world have also dramatically reduced birth rates. Some have already achieved family sizes small enough, if maintained, to result eventually in a halt to population growth. These successes have led to a slowing of the world's rate of population increase. The shift from high to low death and birth rates has been called the "demographic transition."

The rate at which the demographic transition progresses worldwide will determine the ultimate level of the human population. The lag between downward shifts of death and birth rates may be many decades or even several generations, and during these periods population growth will continue inexorably. We face the prospect of a further doubling of the population within the next half century. Most of this growth will take place in developing countries.

So a question:

What is the best way of transitioning developing countries to the developed world's arriving standard of low death and birth rates?  One way would be to make them more like us.  But aye here's the rub...Is our position only maintained by their being a lot of people who are not like us...and never will be like us?  We have the power, they don't.  And "we" is spread across the globe, the nation state is dead, but the regional block is thriving, and some nation states are, in fact, regional blocks...

So, thinking in terms of schooling, medical services, a warm place to read a good book, all the non-tech heavy experiences we could all have...and maybe it would look very similar to some more enlightened democratic countries, but...people don't have time for all that, because they don't have access to food unless they do something for someone else.  Does the capitalist expansion model help them out of that trap?  You need money to live in a capitalist society, or else you're reduced to picking up the scraps.  No free lunch!  But once upon a time, people picked food from the trees, and from the ground...

...this is where I hear the gritting of teeth.  Because they were also attacked by wolves (though apparently this is a myth...man's best friend is his dog...why did we have it in for wolves...the besrmiched species...bemerded...by humans...to keep them away...their howling....

I'm sure someone once said, "Before we have any more children, shall we sort out making the world a nice place to be?"  The nicer the world, the less children will have, on average...an average of two.  One for you and one for me.  If every couple has two children, there is no net gain to the world's population...except it has increased by two for every adult couple...and then it stabilises at two...and we can get on and enjoy our funky new friendly world...ah shit, the techonic plates are shifting again.  Shit!

Ah, Nomad!  A planet is not a risk-free environment.  Yes!  Exactly!

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 08:29:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On the second point, a quick google got me this page, from theworld.org, the website of "PRI's The World".

It was one of those lateral wanders through the internet.  I was wondering you know, really, how many of those city people are there because they want to be there?

Fink: Many governments demolish slums under the banner of eradicating urban blight and crime. But often it's just a pretense to quash centers of political opposition, or to clear land for developers. Almost always, the slumdwellers simply rebuild or relocate, and the slums often grow even larger than before.

Anna Tibaijuka directs UN-HABITAT. That's the United Nations agency charged with improving shelter for the world's poor. She says slums are booming for reasons that many countries share, like poverty and war, which push people from the countryside into cities.

That's the kind of quote I was looking for, a closer analysis of the situation, make humans human again, and anyway, I wondered, "Who is www.world.og?"

A few clicks later, I was at wikipedia.

Public radio, PRI, and NPR

Public radio is a generic term for radio stations or programming that is not funded by advertising -- specifically commercials. It is the opposite of commercial radio, the funding setup for most radio stations in the United States. PRI, NPR, and APM are the largest producers and distributors of public radio programming in the United States, and they compete with each other for slots on public radio stations and the attention of listeners. Any given public radio station may be an NPR member and an affiliate of PRI simultaneously.

PRI is a younger organization than NPR, which was founded 13 years earlier in 1970. Many PRI shows draw a younger overall audience than shows produced by NPR. Some listeners and critics believe that PRI programs feature a wider range of voices than NPR programs. Many programs that were formerly distributed by PRI, such as A Prairie Home Companion and Marketplace, are now distributed by American Public Media. In addition, PRI distributed World Cafe for many years, but in 2005, its distribution was switched to NPR.

...visions of...that guy...with the glasses...lives in Minessota...St. Paul's, he invented that small town...Lake Woebegon...

Has moved to NPR...perhaps...

Anyways, I'm not anti-tech in any way shape or form, I just get bored with new tech being shoved under my nose all the time...being conned at times, and the best way not to be conned is not to take part in the game, just walk away.  But what if someone's put up a fence?

So I see renewable energy, locally distributed and with the possibility but not the necessity of connecting wider, except under good, healthy long term agreements beneficial to both sides....

Ya know I think a lot of human's have a grim lifestyle.  The statistic tonight was, "One in eight adults in the U.K. is a carer for someone with a serious illness."  And did he say "Eight million of us?", I can't remember--maybe I misremember.  But then they flashed up the new projection: By [I can't remember when.  Not tomorrow or next year, but five years?  I can't remember], yes by this year in the not too distant future, the figure would have risen to 1 in 5.

Ya know, there's a bad attitude that let's that happen, something harsh and unforgiving, like a potato field in February, perhaps, when the wind is harsh once more, ach....  I don't think I've heard a single voice on ET that wants to move back to that.  But I don't think that's a genuine reproduction of life under modern tech. farming techniques.  And I don't think the huge food providers follow those modern tech. farming techniques, I think they're more like chemists mixing proportions, swishing liquids, and the product is...food.  Was nature really that violent and dangerous?  I'm sure for some it was, but I reckon for others...and how many are those others?  Where are the statistics?  I suppose they don't all live in one place as they are a product of the construction of social spaces....kcurie!  A diary on magic, please.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 06:12:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In Britain and Europe, peasants were not eager to be thrown off their land and thrown into destitution:  There were famous insurrections--which, however, were defeated.  

Even in the US, those archtypal entrepreneurs--farmers--are not eager to be thrown off their land.  But neo-liberalism finishes them off, and they go, to be replaced by huge industrial plantations of a sort the Stalinists never even dreamed.  

There is something fundamentally insane about denying the physical reality of our existence.  And the fact that we are using up unrenewable resources.  Even topsoil--which given enough time, CAN be renewed--is being mined and destroyed like coal, oil, or copper.  

Well, this can go on until it can't.  Then we implode, not to the Stone Age, but to a far, far, more depleted existence.  

The Easter Island scenerio looks more likely everyday.  It seems to be what people want.  

Can't understand why.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 06:55:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Disagree all you want, it won't change the facts. There was no single template for urbanization in Europe. France was different from England, Germany different from France, Russia different from Germany, and so on. Even in England you are somehow ignoring the fact that the Enclosure Acts were an expression of the power relationships that were an inherent part of the pre-industrial agrarian society you so idealize.  And while you are right that farmers aren't eager to be thrown off their land, at various times and places many have voluntarily left it because they believed that life in the cities would be better. Often they were right, sometimes they weren't. That wasn't necessarily because things had gotten worse for them in absolute terms, but because life had gotten better in the cities - i.e. their relative standard of living had declined. This was especially the case in post WWII Western Europe, not exactly the heyday of neo-liberalism. And in Eastern Europe which experienced even greater rates of urbanization during that period there was no capitalism at all. Nor was all the urbanization coerced, particularly in the post-Stalinist period when the Party authorities began to invest heavily into improving urban living standards.
by MarekNYC on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 07:31:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
pre-industrial agrarian society you so idealize  

Quite a misreading!  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 07:45:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Just wondering, are you even aware that urbanization in Europe happened in different times, at different paces, and under different social and economic conditions?

Just for a quick comparison, the percentage of the population living in cities with more than 10,000 inhabitants: 1800, 1850, 1890

England: 21.3, 39.5, 61.7
France    9.5  14.4  25.9
Prussia   7.3  10.6  30.0
Russia    3.7   5.3   9.6
Hungary   5.4   9.1  17.6
Switz.    4.3   7.3  16.5

In France if you're wondering much of the growth in the urban population came through external immigration (primarily Belgium and Italy in that period, soon to be joined by Poles), not internal migration from the countryside. In the Prussian lands one of the biggest factors in reducing the rural population in the twentieth century was the wholesale ethnic cleansing of its eastern provinces - nothing specifically to do with  rural vs. urban, it was all about compensation and revenge, it just happens that those areas were more heavily agrarian than the rest of Prussia.

In some areas the introduction of capitalism led to the consolidation and growth of the great estates e.g. England and East Elbian Prussia (in both of these case, but particularly the latter, the shift in land control was directly linked to the reduction of the peasants' feudal obligations - instead of getting the use of land in return for unpaid labour for the landowner, they got turned into capitalist labourers), in others it was the the time of the peasant proprietor, e.g. France and West Elbian Germany. In some areas land ownership was fairly stable e.g. England and France, in others it wasn't, e.g. both sides of Germany.  Some areas were characterized by a growth in landless agricultural labourers, others the reverse.

As far as living standards go, one indication of how the change began can be seen in rural vs. urban death rates in a given area. Up through the end of the first phase of industrialization they tended to be higher in the cities, then that flipped roughly around the turn of the century. But that varied from place to place Percentage of total income received by the top five percent in the half century preceding WWI grew in some places (e.g. Prussia) declined in other (e.g. Britain). Real wages of wage labourers grew declined in the initial phase of industrialization, then grew steadily, surpassing their pre industrial levels by around 1880, and continued rising - at the same time the as the hours in a workweek declined, housing quality improved, some modicum of hygiene began to be introduced into working class neighbourhoods, thus greatly improving health standards. But all of this happened in different ways, at different times, at different paces.

So if you want to understand what happened, look a little beyond England in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. And when you do study England, try to understand how what happened grew out of the existing social, political, and economic relationships.

by MarekNYC on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 08:37:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
to cities voluntarily (and see it as an improvement, not merely a respite from assault and harrassment) is (completely) irrelevant to the subject of rural people being driven off the land.  

The only thing I have been advocating (unlike you?) is that we avoid the Easter Island scenerio.  Do you really think the scenerios I "love"--which I have yet to argue for, by the way--are worse than that?  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 01:52:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I believe that what you are advocating would be in practice just as bad as the Easter Island scenario. I am also convinced that it is quite possible to maintain an urban based technological society without getting to that scenario. Take those two together and you can understand why I take such exception to your views, and the other people on this site with similar ones.
by MarekNYC on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 04:13:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
is (completely) irrelevant to the subject of rural people being driven off the land.

Please, please read some French history. Concentrate on the Third Republic up to WWI and then again on the Trente Glorieuses that followed WWII. It is the polar opposite of the English case which you seem to think was universal.

You'll find a state which actively sought to promote the political and economic interests of the small farmer at the expense of both the rural elites and the urban population. You'll see extensive measures, administrative, legal, and financial helping out small family farmers. You'll note the disproportionate power of rural areas, coinciding with the rapid demise in the political power of the already relatively weak rural elites. You'll find the rise of a modern industrial economy with little rural exodus to be observed. Then switch over to the post WWII period and you'll find your rural exodus - not because the conditions of the rural areas declined, but because suddenly the government embarked on a large scale effort to improve the lives of the urban working class and petty bourgeoisie - decent housing, running water, electricity, higher wages, shorter working hours. And a rural exodus occurred, but because of a relative decline in living standards, not an absolute one. The last quarter century has been different, but by that point the bulk of the urbanization had already taken place.

by MarekNYC on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 04:41:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Everybody could easily - albeit not without environmental impact - live off the land with a population of less than 100 million human beings on it.

Six and a half billion is another question entirely.

"Living off the land" is another word for generating 6.5 billion point source polluters.

If one wants to understand "every man and woman for him or herself" one simply needs to look at the automobile.

Anarchy always sounds great until you try to experience it.

by NNadir on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 08:19:48 PM EST
Maybe 6.8 billion is too many already, but we're all here, so might as well try to make the planet liveable...yes for every last man, woman, boy, girl, every last human deserves that...if we agree that we are all humans, none of that nationalist nonsense...

The choice you see is (tell me if I've got this all wrong) "Modern Capitalism Moving Forward" or "Anarchy".

Looking at previous societies, what we would call a few people, less than what nowadays is called a village in most developed countries, have maintained themselves through time and built thriving communities.  Maybe they died younger, but a man of a hundred and twenty in two hundred years time may consider 85 barbaric, the way society didn't look after itself, just let humans get old and whither, and always reluctant to just pay the bills (I'm thinking of the "pensioners are on their own" news from the UK today.  Well, lots of them are rich, that's okay.  But that's it old folks.  Thanks and...you're on your own, unless you can pay.  If you can't pay, we're trying to maintain a free service for you, but...it costs so much!

Yack, ramble....

So, why, in a phase-space do you choose to scale everything up.  "Where we are, and rising?"

Here we are, and the numbers are rising.  Lots of kids growing up in Pakistan.

I'm not against nuclear power.  Why be against a fact?  It's what we do with it that I would like a grown-up discussion about.  If the need is that great, then we're all doomed to go through...the change over, coz the problem is too many people needing too much power to live engaged, lives relatively safe from the dangers that beset us....I don't see full-scale nuclear deployment as part of that, if anything it scares me, not because I think a plant will blow up near my house, but because the world is too chaotic, from where I'm sitting.  I don't think that power would get out to the poor, maybe, and so the population will rise, and...then what?  Maybe the good times will roll, but we'll all need...a lot less, hopefully...maybe powered by the occasional extremely well-maintained, community owned and run...nuclear power station....I'd like that to be a...on the far horizon event, because the urgency just means we never worked out anything less...gigantic.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 08:50:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Even if one is operating a coal plant, large plants are preferable in terms of impact than small plants.

Suppose sequestration really were possible - not that I think it is - who is more likely to sequester carbon dioxide?   A village plant that serves two hundred people or an industrial plant serving two hundred thousand?

In fact one of the huge problems in places like China is small wildcat coal mines and wildcat coal burning facilities.   These are not "regulated" in the strictest sense.   (One may argue whether China is or is not "capitalist" but the fact is that there are a lot of people there "living off the land.")

Another example of "living off the land" is the nation of Cameroon, where people chop down forests to get firewood for their homes.   Cameroon is hardly a "capitalist" nightmare of raucous consumerist excess.   Some of the most precious forest on earth are disappearing at a rate of several percent per year.

I contend that a seriously centralized system - and I don't care very much about the particular economic system that supports it - could not be worse than the distributed case in Cameroon.

I don't really agree morally with the consumerist lifestyle that I myself live with the rest of the Western world.   The quote to poet Joni Mitchell, "I guess I seem ungrateful with my teeth sunk in the hand, that brings me things I really can't give up just yet."  

I very much realize that large scale technology has made the Malthusian nightmare have more of an impact than it might have had were, for instance, energy based nitrogen fixation - the direct opposite of "living off the land - not invented.   Still - irrespective of one's philosophical or religious outlook or lack thereof - there is, in fact, something worthy of preserving, all our vast mistakes considered.   It may be somewhat disingenuous to suggest that more large scale technology represents the path out of this mess, but if one wants really to know where one is going, it is best if one has learned the route before hand by experience.

by NNadir on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 09:30:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think of coal as a long-term alternative...I'm no fan of polluting industries.  When I think of energy tech. I think of things like this comment, from Millman in another thread

As solar matures the following will probably happen.  Polycrystalline solar production will vary somewhat with the Si demand of the semiconductor industry. Thin film solar tech (which uses very little if any silicon per watt compared to standard photovoltaic tech) will grow to a substantial portion of the market and will be used to produce the remainder of what the polycrystalline market cannot provide, essentially creating an independent supply chain for the solar industry that decouples them from the nasty volatility of the semiconductor industry. In the long run the approximate reverse will be true - some sort of thin film tech will be the primary product, and polycrystalline solar production will be limited to "soaking up" all the spare Si capacity that the semiconductor industry is not using, particularly in times of low demand. Any solar manufacturer that is large enough will produce both for that reason.

The thin film tech coming along is, I think, an attempt to address EROEI even if it isn't intentional or thought of within that framework. Polycrystalline Si that is good enough to make CPUs for your computer is overkill for solar cells and thus there is potential room for EROEI improvement.

From what I've read these past few days, the trouble is how we negotiate a move back to a manageable number of humans on the planet without wars, vast die-offs (e.g. due to viral infections), and without (this time!--learning from the past) creating a sort of underclass whom we rely on.  Machines now form part of that underclass...tech.-wise a distributed future seems feasible, but not while the humans around now...ach...I mean, why are the people of Cameroon chopping down trees?  

I googled to find out...

In the recovery following the economic crisis caused by the devaluation of the CFA Franc, building and public works projects increased domestic demand for timber products. In 1999 Cameroon banned the export of some endangered hardwoods, though not sapelli and ayous, the country's largest hardwood exports. The move came after several years of heavy logging and the country's failure to successfully implement a policy aimed at reducing raw-log exports and encouraging processed wood exports.

Lacking an effective forest conservation program and suffering from endemic and pervasive corruption--it annually ranks near the top of the list for the world's most corrupt countries--Cameroon has found logging highly damaging to the rainforest environment. According to published reports, foreign loggers--the vast majority of logging companies operating in Cameroon are foreign-owned--have aggressively and unsustainably logged their concessions without much concern over prosecution by corrupt forestry officials.

On that scenario, I don't see a nuclear power facility within Cameroon solving their structural problems.


Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 03:18:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, the reason that I chose Cameroon in the first place was that I wrote about it recently over at Kos, noting that the Palo Verde Nuclear Station in Arizona, USA produces more energy than the entire nation of Cameroon.   In links therein, I note that the causes of deforestation in Cameroon are complex.   Certainly the mean old capitalist foreign logging companies are involved, but so is Cameroonian energy demand, of which burning wood represents 60%.

Of course, one might also argue that poverty plays a role.   I'm quite sure that some of the Cameroonians who cut the wood that

There is an element of tongue-in-cheek, and certainly a "magic bullet" thinking about my argument st Kos.   Certainly if they built the equivalent of Palo Verde in Cameroon they would almost certainly have nothing to which to connect the plant.   Being relatively near the equator, it is hard to imagine that Cameroonians cut down trees to heat their homes.   Mostly, I'd guess, they burn wood to cook.   It's not like the construction of a nuclear plant in Cameroon will suddenly mean that 10,000,000 electric stoves will be purchased, connected to a grid and come into use.

However it is difficult to imagine as well that 30,000,000 Cameroonians will suddenly be able to afford the solar systems that even few Westerners can afford either.   If one adds on top of that the internal and external cost of batteries, solution of the question becomes even more remote.

The real crisis in Cameroon is about poverty and population.   It is fine to point to the expression of this poverty being financial abstractions about the devaluation of the Cameroonian Franc, but these are as much symptoms as causes.   Few, if any, people in Cameroon became wildcat loggers - whether or not they were burning the wood for fuel, or providing the raw material for a rare wood fingerboard for Sting's guitar - out of venality.   They became loggers because they needed to survive.

At the core of my belief system - and let's be clear that I am certainly not optimistic that my ideas will ever see the practical light of day  - is the notion that the key to the extremely crtical moral, environmental, social and economic problems is poverty itself.   Addressing the problem of poverty is not straight forward and not easy and some solutions tried have certainly made the matter worse, not better.   From my perspective poverty is best defined as restricted access to the infrastructure, not access and dependence on that infrastructure.   To my way of thinking a movement to live off the land is in fact a movement towards poverty.

Of course, there are people who take "vows of poverty," most famously Ghandi.   Ghandi apparently had quite a wit and once quipped that his advisors were very much upset with the huge financial cost of keeping him living in poverty.   There is something more fundemental at work here though.  

If for instance, we take a Cameroonian family and simply give them more stuff they are not immediately going to be inspired to use Western style birth control strategies to have smaller families.

My view is that Westerners, for ethical reasons, should accept vastly reduced living standards, that they should take some kind of vow, if not of poverty, than at least of limits and conservation.   That said I also believe that people in the third world should consume more, not less, to break themselves out of the tragic cycle in which they find themselves.   The proper context for this to happen in my view is with high regulation by society itself - expressed as good government and strong international relationships predicated on peace and respect - coupled with co-operation in both resources and production.  It is very important though that we be flexible and construct feedback loops to recognize what does and does not work.   We know that the birthrate in Finland and Japan is below the replacement rate - which is large a good thing in my view - with the demographic concerns aside.   However this does not mean that we can solve Cameroons population problem by making Cameroonians into Finns.  

I am not about to argue that either capitalism, socialism  or anarchy - especially in their purest forms - are ideal solutions to any problem.   There is a great deal of rhetoric about these matters, but mostly it is theoretical and to some extent, theatrical.   To my mind the most morally successful observed economic cultures have relied on a flexible mix of approaches.

by NNadir on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 03:09:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
However it is difficult to imagine as well that 30,000,000 Cameroonians will suddenly be able to afford the solar systems that even few Westerners can afford either.   If one adds on top of that the internal and external cost of batteries, solution of the question becomes even more remote.

My theory is that if the western world suddenly goes renewables mad, the price of renewables will drop dramatically. and exponentially because it means more and more people are living at least some of their time free of the grid.

At the core of my belief system - and let's be clear that I am certainly not optimistic that my ideas will ever see the practical light of day  - is the notion that the key to the extremely crtical moral, environmental, social and economic problems is poverty itself.

I support your comment 100%

And what is poverty?  So many poor people, so little money, because everyone's poor in some way...even those rich westerners have feelings...distributed power for me equals the chance to opt out, to get on without mum and dad breathing over your shoulder.  Thanks, yes, if they deserve them, but some kids get such shitty parents, and there are so many areas, so many levels, and so I want to give them simple, cheap, solar/wind tech.  Either the sun's shinin' or the wind's blowin'.  And where neither of those is true, maybe there's geothermal.  And yes, and then nuclear.  On that point I accept all the arguments.  Coal is more polluting--kills more people--than Nuclear.

(I'd like to see the nuclear community come clean about the past mistakes.  Maybe they have, but I'd like to read it, the acceptance of responsibility for pushing technologies into people's immune system...and then they die...but...look at coal!)

I very much enjoyed reading your comment NNadir.  I found it full of all the things I enjoy.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 07:11:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Everybody could easily - albeit not without environmental impact - live off the land with a population of less than 100 million human beings on it.

Six and a half billion is another question entirely.

Everyone is, in one sense, living off of the land right now, only their food is grown for them through a form of agriculture (capitalist agribusiness) with an incredibly high environmental impact.

I would argue that, given serious attention to agroecology, yields could be increased and parcels could be shrunk considerably and the mass of the world's "reserve labor" could certainly be given the chance to work in the process of growing its own food...

I think you assume all kinds of things about "living off of the land" that make your discussion of it into a straw man.

"Imagine all the people/ Sharing all the world" -- John Lennon

by Cassiodorus on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 09:04:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
just to show you what a neolithic primitivist I really am...

  1. In planting trees to line boulevards, cities could hire the unemployed to put in (and maintain) fruit trees, thus another source of food w/o a petroleum-based transportation network...

  2. Programs for composting human manure could be implemented to (ultimately) fertilize small plots carved out of unused parking lots...

  3. Agroecology could be taught to urban residents who want to grow their own vegetables...

Go ahead!  Demonize away!

"Imagine all the people/ Sharing all the world" -- John Lennon
by Cassiodorus on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 09:19:02 PM EST
the cameroonians need to be given solar cookers!

seriously...

or they could keep pigs and digest methane for cooking, as is common in india, i believe..

i saw a newsbyte the other day showing penitentiary inmates doing big organic gardens, maybe that's the way forward...

who else in our spoiled society would have the patience to weed for hours a day?

i certainly believe the army should be planting trees to keep fit between wars.

if given alternatives, i'm sure the cameroonians would prefer not sell off their patrimony.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 07:40:35 PM EST


Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 08:39:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I plan to steal it.  

The Fates are kind.
by Gaianne on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 09:28:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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