Chapter 8: THE TRANSITION PROCESS

2005-02-24

Richard Moore

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draft version 3.15

Chapter 8

THE TRANSITION PROCESS 



                Beauty is the moment of transition, as if the form were just
                ready to flow into other forms.
                -Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), U.S. essayist, poet,
                philosopher. Beauty, from The Conduct of Life (1860).


* The likelihood of movement success

We cannot be certain that a harmonization-oriented movement
will emerge. There are however certain circumstances which
favor such a development. The first of these is the increasing
obviousness of the decline in our societies, combined with the
increasingly blatant signs of corporate fascism and military
expansionism. The whole basis of Western societies for the
past two centuries -- a rough and tumble kind of liberal
democracy and sharing of the wealth -- is being abandoned by
elites as global capitalism struggles with declining growth.
More and more people are realizing that the system cannot
repair itself, that the system itself is the problem. When
people begin losing hope in the basic system itself, that is
when transformation becomes possible. One must pass through
hopelessness before one can be open to real change.

The second circumstance is the scarcity of viable paths to
transformation. Nothing we have ever done in the past has
succeeded in escaping from elite rule. Our best outcomes have
come from the benevolence, or compromises, of certain regimes
-- not from our own empowerment. Our revolutions have ended up
being merely a changing of the guards -- reorganizations at
the top to align with new economic conditions. Besides, even
if we tried to pursue one of these traditional methods of
change, we would find that the path has been cut off by a
well-prepared reactionary regime. The anti-terrorism statutes
so popular with governments around the world these days have
only one purpose: to suppress any kind of mass dissent or
unrest. Massive protests, rather than being a force for
change, have become routine events, exercises in crowd
management, and opportunities for police to unleash their
adrenaline. Protests have become politically irrelevant --
apart from the spirit of empowerment that is awakened in many
of the participants.

Thus more and more of us have encountered, or will encounter,
two levels of hopelessness: first as regards the system;
second as regards the possibility of changing it. And there is
a third level of hopelessness that accompanies these as well:
even if we could change the system, we don't have any solid
models of what we would change it to, particularly as regards
formal political arrangements. Our experience for several
millennia has been only within hierarchical, dominator
systems. Our very culture has dominance at its core. It is
difficult for us to think outside that box, or even to
conceive that there is an outside. We are the goldfish, and
dominance is the water in our bowl.

I came to experience all these levels of hopelessness myself a
few years back, as a result of my investigations into history,
social movements, and sundry related fields. From that space
of hopelessness, and yet unwilling to give up hope itself, I
tried to think creatively about new ways change might happen,
and new models for non-hierarchical societies. I found lots of
ideas in books and on the Internet, but I didn't find anything
that took all aspects of the problem into account. In
particular, most proposals retained, at some level, the fatal
seeds of adversarial dynamics and hierarchy.

I managed to make some progress in my own thinking, but it was
mainly about "what would need to be true" of a solution. I
didn't have a solution, but I knew it would need to have all
sorts of magical properties. It would need to overcome
divisiveness, enable us all to come together in a movement,
and provide a mechanism for democratic and sensible
governance. I knew what I was looking for, but the likelihood
of finding it seemed to be on a par with discovering an
anti-gravity device, or the Holy Grail.

The only hopeful idea I came across at first was "consensus,"
although I didn't really understand how it worked in any
depth. I figured that if savvy people got together and began
developing a consensus vision of a movement and a new society,
that could somehow spread and evolve further in society,
beginning first perhaps with activists. It was in that frame
of mind that I organized the meeting of activists in Berkeley,
as reported in Chapter 5.

When my attempt at consensus building collapsed at that
meeting, in the confrontation between myself and the other
fellow, I was thrown right back into the space of
hopelessness. Nothing seemed like it was going to work. In the
end, I didn't find harmonization -- it found me. In my moment
of darkness, to put it poetically, my guardian angel appeared
out of nowhere in the form of a woman who understood how to
help people listen to one another. It was not my
investigations that led me to harmonization, but rather my own
expression of dominator attitudes in that meeting. It was when
the veil was lifted -- and I could see that there was an
outside to the dominator box -- that the penny dropped, the
light bulb went off. Not fully consciously at first, but
somewhere deep inside.

Not only had I seen the first glimpse of a viable solution, in
terms of political arrangements, but I had also found that the
path to that solution lies through a personal experience, not
through analysis, knowledge, leadership, public education,
organization, or even consensus on anything in particular. In
that way, it's a bit like enlightenment: until you experience
it, it's only an idea. It's also a bit like a religious
conversion: you become aware of a new way of being that brings
you a new kind of hope.

This brings us then to the third circumstance favorable to the
emergence of a harmonization movement: the cost (time, money,
and effort) of creating harmonization events is relatively
small, the experience is infectious, and it generates energy,
hope, empowerment, and enthusiasm. As a movement,
harmonization comes with its own wings, its own tendency to
self-propagate.

The first three favorable circumstances -- hopelessness
regarding the system, ways of changing it, and new visions --
provide what I would call "fertile soil" for cultural
transformation. The fourth favorable circumstance -- the
cost-effective and self-propagating harmonization experience
-- provides a viable and robust "seed-of-transformation"
appropriate to that soil. Perhaps I'm being over-optimistic,
but it seems to me the basic dynamics are there for the
movement to spread unstoppably. All it will take, to mix
metaphors, is a few fires started in all that dry grass.

OK, that's my argument for the movement being likely to get
off the ground. I find encouragement there myself, but we can
only wait and see (or go and do!). Everything else I offered
in Chapter 6, about the transformational movement, was simply
my attempt to extrapolate the natural developments that can be
expected to follow from the dynamics of harmonization. A focus
on community, the building of networks of councils, a growing
focus on political transformation, and ultimate "victory" --
these are the natural and sensible outcomes of people working
and thinking together under the threat of our current
circumstances, as a culture of harmonization spreads
throughout our societies. Once liberation is unleashed from
the box, democracy is almost inevitable, and real democracy is
about synergistic collective wisdom.


* The moment of convergence

One can only guess at the precise endgame scenario. Presumably
it will be somewhere on the spectrum between, (1) movement
slates are elected peaceably and all but unanimously to
national power throughout the West (an ideal outcome), and 
(2) regime troops abandon their tanks and cease suppressing
the people (an Eastern European-like outcome). By one
non-violent path or another a moment of convergence will come,
and literally everyone will be part of the movement. If we
envision the last remaining plutocrats coming out of their
towers with their hands up, we see ourselves embracing them,
and inviting them to sit down in creative dialog. Don't doubt
for a moment that they have unique knowledge and insights to
bring to the conversation. They didn't get to the top by being
stupid: don't judge them by the cue-card-reading smiley-faces
that they pick to sit in places like the White House and #10
Downing Street.

At this moment of convergence humanity will breathe a
collective sigh of relief. The global celebrations will be
grander than those that followed the ends of our great wars
and revolutions, because we will be celebrating not only the
end of a bad era, but the birth of a whole new kind of hope, a
hope based on the solid personal experience of a new way of
being, not just on a slogan, such as "the war to end all
wars," or "liberty, equality, and fraternity."

When we wake up the next morning, and sit down to begin
talking business, there will be two obvious agenda items in
front of us, one short term and one long term. In the short
term we'll need to establish some agreed framework for global
order; in the longer term our big problem is to transform our
economies and infrastructures to be in synergistic harmony
with our natural life-support systems. Sustainability is only
a minimal requirement; when we put our collective brains to
the subject, we will realize that we are in a symbiotic
relationship with the rest of life: the more we nurture the
matrix of life, the more we are nurtured. In terms of
common-sense economics, being respectful of Mother Nature is
simply a good investment in our own health and our own
futures. We don't just want to keep her alive; we want her to
be healthy and bountiful.

As regards "global order" I imagine this will be a matter of
writing down the obvious. When I suggested that we would "sit
down to begin talking business," I was presuming that this
would happen in the form of large global council, involving
delegations from all over the world, comparable
demographically to the current UN. These people would already
understand what the system of global order in a democracy
needs to be: the use of harmonization and the arranging of
temporary councils as needed to deal with issues at whatever
appropriate level, leading in each case to an eventual
consensus that includes all affected communities. This will be
obvious to those who have lived through the transformational
process (i.e., all of us). It will be how we live and breathe,
so to speak.

In the previous chapter I extrapolated in more detail the kind
of political and economic arrangements we could expect to
develop, when people have come to focus on democracy as being
the critical element that needs to be given priority above
others. That drives the priority trade-offs as regards
property rights, for example. In the rest of this chapter I'd
like to explore the problem of converting our societies from
exploitive systems to synergistic systems, from the
dysfunctional to the functional. The problem is a bit like
trying to repair an aircraft engine in mid-flight: society
cannot be "closed for renovations."


* Common-sense economics and the management of the commons

The word economics comes from a Greek word that means
"management of the household." As we all know, that kind of
management comes down to budgeting. You've got a certain
amount of income, fixed expenses, optional items, and the
possibility of putting some money into savings or devoting
some to upgrading your living environment in some way. There's
nothing particularly complicated about it; it's just a matter
of facing the reality of your limited income, and making
trade-offs according to what's most important to you. The
easiest way to get in trouble here is to not budget, in which
case you might find yourself at the end of the month with no
food on the table.

Just as the householder has a certain income, so humanity can
access a certain stock of resources: fossil fuels, arable
land, fishing stocks, water sources, etc. If we want to move
toward more sensible systems, we'll need to budget our
resources, particularly the non-renewable ones, in terms of
our overall global agenda.

Let's take petroleum as an example. After considering various
objectives -- reducing global warming and air pollution,
keeping our societies running, creating replacement
infrastructures -- we might decide on a budget something like
this:

        * Reduce global petroleum production by 15% in the first year.
        
        * Allocate petroleum on an equitable basis to different
        regions, under some scheme of fair exchange between producers
        and consumers.
        
        * Dedicate 15% of petroleum usage to the construction of
        replacement infrastructures, as appropriate to local
        circumstances.

Basically, at the global level, it makes sense to agree on a
pace of conversion, and a basic framework for conversion. This
enables coherence in our overall use of resources, in the
pursuit of agreed common objectives. This is quite a different
thing, however, from centralized state planning, as we've seen
in some socialist nations. Only the guidelines and general
resource budgets are agreed to globally, the implementation
and optimization is determined locally and democratically,
where the feedback loops are shortest.

When our goal as a society is to make wise use of our
resources, and create infrastructures that serve our needs in
a sustainable way, the whole basis of economics is
transformed. Let's take rail as an example. The simple fact is
that a well-designed and integrated rail system is incredibly
more efficient than an automobile-based system in most
transport scenarios -- not only in terms of energy usage, but
in terms of time to destination, pollution, quality of travel,
utilization of investment (automobiles spend most of their
time parked), and amount of land devoted to transport
infrastructure.

Despite these obvious and significant efficiencies, the trend
in most parts of the world is toward the automobile. To be
sure part of the reason is people's natural desire for the
flexibility of personal transport, but the more causative
factor has been the pursuit of capitalist growth. The problem
with rail is that it is too efficient: it doesn't use enough
resources to generate maximum growth. Hence billions of
dollars are invested by governments in ultra-expensive highway
systems, artificially subsidizing automobile and truck usage,
while rail systems are dismantled and service is intentionally
allowed to deteriorate. In this way lots of steel goes into
lots of cars, which only last a few years and must be
replaced, using an excessive amount of energy, and churning
the GDP figures. What makes no sense in common-sense economic
terms makes a lot of sense in capitalist economics, where
waste and productivity are essentially synonymous. While the
effect of capitalist economics is to maximize the rate at
which resources are transformed into waste dumps, the effect
of common-sense economics is to make the most sensible use of
resources.

Just as the economic role of the householder is to manage the
household, so the economic role of society is to manage the
commons. The commons is partly natural (land, forests,
waterways, etc.) and partly artificial (infrastructures:
roadways, utilities, communications, etc.). Different parts of
the commons would naturally come under the stewardship of
different levels of society. The high seas and fossil fuels,
for example, need to be managed according to policies set at
the global level, with the help of global councils. Transport
infrastructures would typically be part of a regional commons,
and managed at the regional level. Each community has its own
local commons, which includes everything that is not privately
owned by residents: land, waterways, forests, roadways, public
buildings, water systems, etc.

In this way each part of the commons is managed by the people
who benefit from it, and who have a shared interest in seeing
that it is managed wisely. Management of the commons is always
centered as locally as possible, keeping feedback loops short,
and facilitating maximum efficiency of operations.

Common-sense economics could also be called holistic
economics, in the sense that it begins where it should begin:
with our basic economic relationship to our resource base.
This kind of economics is not primarily about money, nor can
it be reduced to any such single metric. Decisions about how
to use or develop the commons, at any level, involve the
consideration of many issues, from productivity to esthetics
to local traditions, and there is no formula that can give a
"right answer."

                The law doth punish man or woman
                That steals the goose from off the common,
                But lets the greater felon loose,
                That steals the common from the goose.
                -Anon, 18th cent., on the enclosures.


* Repossessing the commons

The commons has been stolen from us over the millennia, and
the process of theft is still continuing. Sometimes the theft
has come in the form of military conquest and imperialism,
which is why Western corporations own most of the mineral
wealth in the third world. In the 1700's the Enclosure Acts
stole a traditional commons from the British people, forcing
them off the land and providing cheap labor for the new mills
and factories of the Industrial Revolution. Neoliberal
privatization steals the infrastructure commons that was paid
for and developed by our taxes, enabling corporations to make
easy profits. The latest thefts are some of the worst, such as
the patenting of traditional seed varieties -- claiming
private ownership over the very ability to grow food. Seed
varieties are rightfully part of the global commons, having
been developed and shared freely by individual farmers over
thousands of years.

Our first substantive act as a sovereign We the People will
most likely be to declare our repossession of the commons. In
economic terms, we will simply be taking back what is
rightfully ours. But as I pointed out in Chapter 7, the most
fundamental principle involved here is political: if we don't
own our commons, democracy can only be a sham. If we don't
control our resources, we don't really have sovereignty. For
political reasons, then, the repossession must be total. We
are not talking only about a shift of ownership back to the
people; we are talking about a whole new framework of
ownership, to be determined by the people.

                Let me issue and control a nations money and I care not who
                writes the laws.
                -Amshall Rothschild

One of the commons that we will need to take possession of is
our financial and monetary systems. In order for a community
to be sovereign, it must control its financial system and
currency. Each community doesn't necessarily need to maintain
its own currency, but it must have the right to do so at any
time it chooses. Most likely we would create local currencies,
perhaps at the level of the region, together with some system
of global exchange under the stewardship of a democratically
controlled clearinghouse.

In our current financial systems, money is created when banks
make loans to people, businesses, or governments. Banks don't
loan you money they already have, new money is actually
created in the form of the loan itself. Basically, the bank is
betting that you will pay them back. If you do, then you are
the one who comes up with the money that makes the loaned
money "real." If you don't, then the bank must come up with
"real money" to make up the deficit in its books. But most
people do pay back, so the system "works." Money thus serves a
mechanism to channel wealth to banks, and to those who own the
banks.

Currently there is a worldwide movement of people creating
local currencies. In parts of the third world, where the IMF
has created massive poverty, local currencies are enabling
people to create their own productive local economies. Where
there is a local currency, people can use it to make exchanges
with one another. Without a local currency, the community must
transfer wealth away from the community in order to obtain
currency to exchange with one another. When the community
issues its own currency, it avoids that outward wealth
transfer. It turns out that such currencies function very
effectively. *

Let us next consider the repossession process in the case of
corporations. Apart from local businesses that operate within
communities, and are likely to remain privately owned, all
corporations and all corporate assets become part of the
commons. Some corporations are performing useful functions and
should continue operating, only under democratic ownership and
management. In other cases, the facilities can be recycled and
used for other purposes. In some cases, as with weapons
factories and nuclear facilities, our challenge will be to
dismantle and dispose of them safely.

Presumably the first step would be for each community to take
over stewardship of every corporate facility within its
territory, each under the temporary management of its workers.
In most cases each facility would probably continue doing what
it was doing, until a conversion plan can be worked out. Such
a plan would be the responsibility of the local community, in
dialog with the workers, neighboring communities, other
branches of the former corporation, and other interested
stakeholders.

Excess corporate facilities would become available for other
uses, such as housing, schools, or whatever is needed by the
community. In some cases production facilities might be
retooled to manufacture more useful kinds of products. But
even in cases where a facility continues to operate within the
context of the former multi-site corporation, each branch
would now be an autonomous entity, collaborating with other
branches voluntarily out of self-interest, rather than in
response to commands from headquarters. Economies of scale can
still be achieved, but on a networking basis rather than a
hierarchical basis -- and always under democratic control.

Banks, insurance companies, and financial institutions are
corporations, and their facilities would be repossessed in the
same way. We would have little need of such institutions,
freeing up nearly all of their facilities for other uses by
their communities, and liberating the former employees for
more useful occupations. Similarly, government facilities
would no longer be needed for the most part, and could be
dedicated to more useful purposes.

In the case of the military, the most sensible thing would
probably be to keep the people in uniform for the time being,
and give them the task of safely dismantling their weapons
systems. But of course they would no longer be under the
control of a military command, but would rather be part of the
democratic process in the community that has repossessed their
particular military installation.

One of the most important commons is agricultural land. Small,
independent farmers would presumably continue to own their
land and continue operating as usual, apart from the fact that
dangerous pesticides and other unhealthy and un-ecological
practices would be ended. Very large independent farms would
need to be broken up, so as to prevent undue accumulation of
wealth, and the threat that brings to democracy. All corporate
holdings would be available for re-distribution. These
holdings might be taken over by the laborers who currently
work the land, or by families and groups that choose to leave
urban environments and return to the land.


* The global conversion project

Having repossessed our commons, We the People would now be in
a position to begin the project of transforming our societies
and our economic activities. I would imagine that in many
parts of the world there would be a mass exodus from cities to
rural areas. Many of the jobs in cities would no longer exist,
as they would serve no useful purpose in a democratic society.
We could expect a dramatic revitalization of rural areas, and
many people would welcome the opportunity to return to the
land, creating small businesses, family farms, or co-op farms.
Most of these people would have no experience with
agriculture, and we would need to develop creative ways for
people learn what they need to know, with the help of those
who already live in rural areas and have the necessary
knowledge.

As with all parts of the conversion project, such transitions
would be made incrementally, so as not to interrupt the
ongoing operation of society. At the beginning, large
agribusiness operations would need to continue, so that food
production can continue, but these large operations would now
be under the democratic control of the local communities,
rather than corporate headquarters. Operations would be
gradually converted to a smaller-scale, more labor-intensive
basis. Contrary to current mythology, smaller operations are
actually more productive and efficient. The much-heralded
"efficiency" of modern agribusiness is measured in terms of
profits on money invested, not in terms of food productivity
per acre or per gallon of irrigation water. * Common-sense
economics measures things quite differently than does
capitalist economics.

As society becomes less urban and more rural, and as economic
operations become focused more locally, we would be
transforming our requirements for transport systems.
Presumably there would be a lot less need for long-distance
daily commuting, and less need for transporting goods over
long distances, as we move toward a greater emphasis on local
production for local consumption. Our replacement transport
systems would be much more efficient, but the greatest energy
savings comes from using less transport.

Conversion of the shipping industry offers some interesting
challenges. With oil being valued as a diminishing resource,
rather than as a cheap fuel, and with an agenda of reducing
oil usage through budgeting allocations, the whole economics
of ocean transport would be redefined. It would no longer make
economic sense to transport items thousands of miles across
the sea when those same items can be produced closer to the
consumer. Besides, much of the motivation for transporting
goods over long distances comes from the disparity of incomes
in different parts of the world. Under our revised financial
arrangements, such disparities would be dramatically reduced.

Large ocean-going vessels would all become part of the
commons, as even a single such ship, if owned privately, would
represent an undue concentration of wealth. Many of these
ships, particularly military vessels, would no longer be
needed and could be recycled or rededicated. I'm reminded here
of the ocean liner Queen Mary, which now serves as a hotel and
tourist attraction in California's Long Beach harbor. Some
ships would presumably be part of the global commons,
providing a global transport infrastructure, and others might
be part of a regional commons, enabling the people of the
region to engage in fishing and transport activities.

Of all forms of transport, air travel is by far the most
wasteful of energy. It takes more gallons of fuel to carry
passengers in a jet airliner from LA to New York, than it
would take if all the passengers drove alone the same distance
in their various automobiles. Turboprops are considerably
more efficient than either jets or standard propeller planes,
and whatever air transport we decide to retain would
presumably use turboprop craft. But most air transport would
be replaced by either rail or ship transport, both of which
are orders of magnitude more energy-efficient than any kind of
air transport.
-- 

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