For a while I’ve listened to an internet broadcast by EcoAnarchist John Zerzan: http://archive.org/details/AnarchyRadio04-10-2012.
I’ve followed Zerzan’s thinking for years since I was a graduate student in Anthropology at the University of Oregon in the 90s. He quoted a recent study which says that there has been an 85% increase in people living alone in the past 15 years. Another interesting study finding was that the largest increase in people living alone was in China, India, and Brazil. These have traditionally been countries with strong communities, which have recently bought heavily into the paradigm of global modernization and techno consumerism.
Social Scientists from Weber, Marx to Habermas have spoken of the increased alienation, fragmentation, and rationalization that modernity brings to life as we move into a disenchanted world based on work, consumption and rationality. William Blake bemoaned the rise of England’s early industrial “Satanic Mills” and like fish swimming in water, we mostly can’t imagine any other way of living than the modern matrix we’re all embedded within.
Urbanization based on this push towards modernization is the driving narrative across the planet now as the pace of global technological capitalism intensives. One only has to look at the modern Global Cityscape with its hive like honey comb office towers apartment blocks, and lone drivers in cars to see the direct realization of the values of modernity instantiated in our built environment and physical infrastructure.
But humans are tribal creatures keyed to living in groups close to nature. We have been that way for hundreds of thousands of years, and it’s only the past several hundred years of intensifying modernization that we’ve been torn, sometimes kicking and screaming, from a deep need for meaningful land based community. The growth of the psychiatric drug industry, the rise of addictions and behavioral extremes can all be directly traced to our increasingly fragmented, harried, stressful, isolated and denatured lives.
But the past 300 years their have been efforts to reclaim land based communities and to decouple from the urban machine. From the religious and secular communes of the sixties to the eco-villages and cooperatives of the 21st century, people are striving to create new forms of dwelling outside the urban grid. At the same time, within the cities themselves recent efforts at Urban Gardening, and farming attempt to reclaim the natural amidst the urban, as well as foster new more inclusive forms of community solidarity.
But all of these efforts, both urban and rural still remain marginal and small in number at best. Underlying all of this is the reality that the urban machine is running on fumes. The past 2 decades has seen the United States struggling to corner the market on energy resources with its oil wars, while developing BRIC countries worked to position themselves for the great energy crunch of the 21st century. Fresh water resources are also growing issues of contention as mass industrial farming leads to desertification of vast stretches of previously arable land. Recent studies predict a major global infrastructural collapse by the year 2030. That is 15 years out.
The recent rise of the Transition Town movement speaks to the need to relocalize and detach from this decaying industrial paradigm, recreating community based local values, commerce, and regional focused lifestyles at sustainable scale. At the same time, the material resources still remain vastly in the hands of the global corporate industrial urban system.
But no system is perfect, and there are cracks in its armor. The contradictions of the global industrial techno-system with its striving for efficiencies, productivity and speed are leading to new exploitable cracks for those seeking to negotiate this transition while working to build the world yet to come. With the rise of outsourcing, and the growth of web and mobile technology, new hybrid strategies are possible which can be used in service of this transition. Flex work and telecommuting along with the growth of independent contracting allow individuals to work part time and sometime non locally or nomadically.
The resources garnered from this effort (Both in time and money) can be leveraged in support of building a different world. As we negotiate this transition time increasingly we will have to work to straddle these two worlds. We will see a future of more people who collectively purchase land and create off grid communal lifestyles, while working part time in the cities doing technology focused worked.
I envision a future where new earth based cooperatives wired with appropriate technologies and off grid power resources come into relationship with others creating an underground network of eco-villages which totally sideswipe the larger system living from the bottom up instead of the top down. During this transition, some members of these cooperatives will fund their efforts, in part, by working part time in cities, but using these resources to build these new land based communities, gradually replacing the soul crushing zombie land of suburbia and the alienating hive zone of urban apartment dwelling.
But this requires a certain attitude and approach, both playful and serious, light hearted, and focused. We have to act as if the world depends on every decision we make, while know that none of it makes any difference at the same time. Such a POV is resonant with the archetype of the Trickster.
As Steven Legba writes in his book, “The Trickster Koran” Trickster does not show us what we have gained from the state of modernity, but what we have lost.“(10)
The trickster always plays by his own rules and his own agendas. Part mad man, and saint, part visionary, and outlaw, part hero and anti-hero, the trickster embodies the contradictions of duality, but is impulsed by a higher law that drives him or her forward towards a greater end. The spirit of the Trickster calls us to “Create your life by creating your own options and not taking the control system seriously.” (11)
At the same time, the trickster, like any good gambler or jazz musician, knows the rules and how to play the game. As we move through the transition we might learn from the spirit of the trickster… playing the game, but by our own rules, engaging with the system for our own ends, one hand on the machine, and the other hand rooted deeply in the soil and holding the hands of our community.
The trickster knows how to wear the mask and dance the dance, but he always has his own agenda. The trickster knows where his loyalties lie, and those loyalties rooted in life, art, beauty, community, humor, pleasure, and a thriving sustainable future will provide the inner compass that helps us negotiates the contradictions of the decaying global paradigm and its technologies to serve a world based on nature, enchantment and magick rather than the flatland of the global matrix.