Posted by: terrapraeta | December 7, 2009

Collapse Economics 101

Love is our resitance
They keep us apart and they won’t stop breaking us down
And hold me, our lips must always be sealed

If we live our life in fear
I’ll wait a thousand years
Just to see you smile again

Quell your prayers for love and peace
You’ll wake the thought police
We can hide the truth inside

Muse, The Resistance

My friend over at A Rat in the Walls wrote an article this weekend about Lifestylism. In it, he tals about the simple fact that our personal lifestyle choices are not enough to make a real change in this world. Buying different products, eating different diets, driving different cars – these are “useful” (or perhaps the opposite of useful) only insofar as they make us feel better about ourselves. At the end of the day, nothing changes.

At the same time, our personal responsibility cannot be overlooked or ignored. We do have a responsibility to the community of life around us to do things that support that community rather than constantly diminishing it. And civilization, at its core, is designed to diminish that community because it is designed to always take and put what it takes into the hands of a few elites. Everyone and everything else be damned.

The Rat writes that we are responsible to do whatever we can to help undermine this civilized system. Specifically:

If you encouraged dropouts; passed out the Teenage Liberation Handbook; took your students into the woods; grew gardens together; and so forth–that would be undermining.

If you then used your salary to purchase land on which to grow a permaculture garden; and if you then opened “your” land (being aware thath property laws are illegitimate) to anyone willing to work and engage in non-coercive relationship; and if you shared these two resources–food and shelter–as widely and as non-capitalistically as possible–that would be undermining.

Pretty much I agree with him, except that I would point out that sharing these resources “as widely as possible” is both unrealistic and not really so useful. Sharing resources within a group or community is very useful, but doing so with random abandon simply feeds resources back into the system as a whole – much like any traditional charity.

So, I want to talk a little bit more in depth about what it really means to undermine the system. Fundamentally, I believe it is about removing yourself from the system, removing your productivity and your consumption, removing your support (overt and tacit) and creating a deflation zone in the process. In theory, this is the one and only action that the system has no generally established response to. And it is a fundamentally defensive strategy, in the military sense of the word. And this ties in with a particular analysis Jensen addresses in Endgame, part 2: Resistance.

The analysis is of a statement made concerning how to win in battle and it goes like this: Get there first, with the most. Derrick goes into great detail, and I found it be an interesting discussion, but I can boil it down to the key points here, pretty easily.

Get there: pick your terrain, pick your battleground, make sure you are always in a position to set the terms of engagement. Obviously, while this is a statement about military action, it can be applied to any sort of conflict whatsoever, it does not merely apply to physical confrontation and violence. So get there means that we should be conscious of when and where and how we might create conflict and be certain that the conflict that might arise is something that we are up to, willing to engage in, able to “win,” and useful in the long run.

First: Continuing on the same thread, make certain we are always aware of what conflict may arise before those we might come in conflict with have any idea what is going on. In combination, “get there first” means that we always hold the defensive position. As Jensen says “Once you’ve claimed some battlefield – and this is true in all areas of conflict – you can hold it until you abandon it or are dislodged.” (Endgame, p759)

With the Most: obviously, this is the hardest part to mimic. Civilization always has “the most of anything. Or almost anything. Civilization most definitely does not have the most relationship, the most community, the most awareness of local reality whether considering human or more-than-human reality. Perhaps those are things which can be leveraged in some ways. Certainly as the system begins to collapse, those will all be significant leverage points.

So where am I going with all of this? Undermining civilization is both much simpler and much more complex than we often realize. Each step any of us takes towards self-sufficiency removes a little bit of consumption from the civilizational system. Each step that we take away from “work” in the civilized sense, we are removing some portion of our productive capability from the system. And each time we engage in a conflict that we can win from our particular defensive position, we are costing the system resources that it already has.

What forms might these take? Let’s look at an example of all three simultaneously. Imagine you own a small suburban house and lot. (I would not recommend buying into that situation, but if you are already there, here’s a though experiment)You work forty hours a week for some widget maker (regardless of whether the widgets are “real,” “virtual,” or “service”) and you decide it is time to do something different. So you leave that job, or switch to part time, find a different part time job – whatever, you are reducing your production in the system. With that time, you start a permaculture garden on your lot. As a result, you reduce the amount of food you are purchasing by, say, thirty percent initially. You also reduce a lot of the other consumer goods you once purchased (ie, you now get a lot of exercise in the garden so you no longer need the health club, the spin classes, the exercise DVD, you stop going out to eat as you are far more conscious of your food choices, you drive less, etc). Third, your particular suburb has various ordinances about what you can and cannot do with your front yard. This has happened in a variety of places – neighbors have complained, police have ticketed etc. If you took the time to research this before beginning your plan, you already know what they are going to say, how they are going to react, what initiatives they will probably take — and you have already figured out how to approach each reaction before it happens. You know that you can “win” by virtue of your standing in the community, environmental organizations that will stand with you, community groups that already exist, legal precedents and so on. You might even, subtly, encourage the powers that be to try and shut you down, if you are confident enough in your ability to win in the end. This drains resources from the system that otherwise would be used for other, civilization sustaining endeavors.

And all because you made your life a little better, for yourself, with a little forethought and proactive planning. Sweet!

Of course, all the planning in the world could still fail on you. The system has been known to change the rules when it suits them – so we must be prepared to fail, sometimes. Backup plans, alternatives, long term goals, all of these must also be taken into consideration. And this is only a first step in taking on the responsibility we carry. But the good news is, IMO, that the system is already strained to the breaking point. So there has never been a better time, in ten thousand years, to step up and challenge the assumptions our culture lives by. And to begin doing something different.



  1. The Rat said: “We do not need more people reading books and thinking really hard about them, and then going to work as debt collectors, tax agents, or reporters for mainstream newspapers.” and I salute that Rat! 🙂

    Jensen recently wrote the well known piece Forget shorter showers (on Orion’s site). In which he claims that activism is the way to go, not lifestylism. Yet his argument is completely lame… he says that things like women’s vote, civil rights etc were won with activism. Problem is, Derrick… none of those things slowed the Machine down one iota. And you know it…

    Lifestylism is not enough. Absolutely. But without it, what have you got? It kinda reminds me of that whole Christian quarrel regarding works vs grace. Well, ok for grace, but if you ain’t got works, you ain’t got it. Grace shows via works. So if you get the anti-civ, necessarily you will show it in how you live your life…

  2. Hey!

    The Rat’s a good boy 😉

    I really got a lot out of Jensen’s article on Orion… but mostly because what I got out of it concerned the near pointlessness of liberal personal choices. Anything is better than nothing, I guess, but then again, if it makes you feel like you are doing something when you are in fact accomplishing nothing, then is it really better?


  3. Good point. What really gets me is the chi-chi green thing. Expensive “green” mattresses and bedding, endless “green” chachkis… I used to actually read Natural Home mag before it got snatched by the green zombies…. it’s mostly ads now and infomercials.

  4. Hey —
    The Rat followed up with another related article yesterday… check it here


  5. Hey —

    And yet MORE!


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