cj#969,rn,sm> Dialog re: Part II – “Envisioning a livable world”


Richard Moore

From: "Mark Douglas Whitaker" <•••@••.•••>
To: <•••@••.•••>, <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Re: cj#966,rn,sm> Chapter 4 - Sustainable societies: a
Date: Sat, 26 Jun 1999 22:14:49 -0500

rkm wrote:
    >Consider for example the indigenous Mayan people in Chiapas,
    >Mexico. Their economy and agriculture were sustainable
    >before Cortez arrived in Mexico and remain sustainable to
    >this day. What has ceased to be sustainable is the political
    >viability of the Chiapas region within Mexican society, as a
    >result of NAFTA. Political sustainability is every bit as
    >essential as economic sustainability, if, as the name
    >suggests, the goal is to last over time.

Research is definitely divided on this. There is the group who says the
Mayans annihilated themselves in internecine fighting, others say it was
ENVIRONMENTAL. Personally, I see that these two perspective
could be wedded, when you consider that environmental degradation (simply a
result of 'successful' population expansion reaching environmental
constraints of their technological base of extracting more food and energy
from the environment) would come with infighting for resources.

    >One might also take notice of the fact that two centuries
    >ago nearly all economies were sustainable. Population
    >growth, technological development, and infrastructure
    >changes have been responsible for the acceleration of
    >resource depletion. Wherever automobiles have become
    >widespread, for example, that in itself has guaranteed the
    >unsustainability of societal energy use.

Nothing is further from empirical history to state that everything went
'wrong' only two hundred years ago. ;-) If you want a sobering book, on the
long term difficuties human societies have had with environmental
degradation, read Clive Ponting's book called "A Green History of the
World". I believe it was published in 1991, if I remember correctly. It's
rather polemical in places, yet one can get a grand overview of mostly
Western Eurasian societies experiences over the past 10000 years in
human/environmental relationships.

If anything the past two hundred years are simply an excelleration and a
decentralization of past trends of environmental degradation.

If anyone wants futher clarification I would be pleased to provide it.


Mark Whitaker
University of Wisconsin-Madison

To: "Mark Douglas Whitaker" <•••@••.•••>
From: "Richard K. Moore" <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Re: Research is definitely divided on this

6/27/99, Mark Douglas Whitaker wrote:
 > Research is definitely divided on this. There is the group who says the
 >Mayans annihilated themselves in internecine fighting, others say it was

I was only talking about the folks in Chiapas.  Presumably there were
always communities in the hinterlands practicing communal self-sufficient
agriculture before, during, and after the Mayan Empire.  I can clarify in
the text; do you think the corrected point is OK?

 >Nothing is further from empirical history to state that everything went
 >'wrong' only two hundred years ago. ;-) If you want a sobering book, on the
 >long term difficuties human societies have had with environmental
 >degradation, read Clive Ponting's book

 >If anything the past two hundred years are simply an excelleration and a
 >decentralization of past trends of environmental degradation.

What I said, in part, was:

  >One might also take notice of the fact that two centuries ago nearly all
  >economies were sustainable.

This section does need to be re-worked, although I'm not sure my point is
far off as stated.  What we need to know is 'how much' of the world, at
different times, was sustainable, and 'how much' wasn't.   I'm sure there
are villages in Asia where the economy hasn't changed substantially in a
thousand years.  When we study history, we tend to focus on the changes
that occurred, and at the rises and falls of civilizations - we tend to
ignore the hinterlands where things _often (certainly not always) just keep
plugging along, simply paying different tax collectors who wear different
hats at different times.

Is something along these lines closer to the mark? (in different words)...

        "There have been sustainable societies, and non-sustainable
societies, at different times and places throughout history.
Industrialization rapidly increased the number of non-sustainable
societies, and the rate of non-sustainablility.  Western imperialism
drastically expanded the rate of global non-sustainability - by
systematically seeking out resources to exploit and new industrial means of
exploiting them."


From: "Leonard Rifas" <•••@••.•••>
To: <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Re: cj#967,rn,sm> Chapter 5 - Democracy: collaboration and
harmonization instead of competition and factionalism
Date: Mon, 28 Jun 1999 10:39:46 -0700

I promised a while back that I would be reading your manuscript carefully,
but ...let it suffice to say I am only now able to print out copies and
study them. I have some suggestions, beginning with chapter 5. Thanks for
your work!

 >For our purposes -- envisioning a livable world -- we need a functional
 >definition of democracy: democracy is not a mechanism; democracy is a

Keep this part.

  >Competitive factionalism -- a failed paradigm

Catchy subtitle: radical idea. The 18th century founders of the USA rejected
factionalism on grounds of principle. The party system came in anyway.

  >leading parties in the West are dominated by wealthy interests,...

Here's the main text from my 1988 cartoon-format review of Frances Fox Piven
and Richard A. Cloward's _Why Americans Don't Vote_: "Piven and Cloward are
not scandalized by the apathy of individuals who don't vote, but by the way
our voter registration procedures were _changed_ to discourage poor people
from voting, To _simplify_: In the late 19th century, the growing power of
the Populists frightened America's rulers. The elite defended their power by
making it harder for black, immigrant, poor and working people to vote. Some
of the tricks they used were poll taxes and literacy tests. Voter turnout
levels dropped, and have not yet recovered! This disenfranchisement partly
explains why the U.S. lacks a strong Labor Party ... and why American-style
capitalism leaves workers relatively unprotected."

  >....If a majority can dictate policy to a minority, and
  > ignore the interests of that minority, ...

Yes, but you're not addressing the system's  justificatory slogan: "majority
rule; minority rights" (which originally meant the rights of the wealthy
minority, but has broader applicability.)

 >The paradigm for a decision-making meeting in a modern corporation is one
 >of collaborative problem solving. A good manager ...

I can see why you want to keep this jarring example, but it still doesn't
work for me. "A good politician" does all those same things (listens to all
views, attempts to harmonize conflicts, seeks a solution everyone can
support, makes unpopular decisions, etc.) Corporations are legally-bound to
maximize shareholder value, so they have a radically simpler problem to
solve. If "minority" opinion-holders are intractable, they can be fired or
quit. Both business and politics involve both cooperation and competition.

  >Another essential flaw in Western democratic systems is centralism.

This morning I heard by internet of recent Supreme Court decisions which
portend a return to "States' Rights." A key rationale for strengthening
federal authority had been (I'm thinking 1950s-'60s) that the states were
failing to provide citizens with equal protection under the law. You might
address this civil rights angle more directly to be more convincing. Smaller
political jurisdictions are also dominated by wealthy minorities (and often
by ethnic majorities).

 >Even at the local level there are diverse interests, and no one person
 >embodies the knowledge and needs of the whole community. Problem solving at
 >the local level requires the participation of the whole community.

This reminds me of the revolutionary dictatorship in Ethiopia which was
horrifically oppressive, and which included mandatory attendance at
interminable political meetings as one more oppressive feature of its rule.
Without required attendance, do you imagine that entire communitites will
become interested in going to political meetings? Politics, or almost
anything else, strongly atttracts only a minority of people. Is the problem
to "educate" everyone into taking up this interest, or to prevent the people
who _are_ interested from damaging people's lives? I think your chapter
could use more attention to the strengths and weaknesses of both electoral
and non-electoral mechanisms that people have for redressing wrongs.

 >...My own
 >conclusion after reviewing material from many sources, is that McKelvey's
 >report above can be essentially accepted at face value.

I wrote earlier to ask about this highly interesting example. I look forward
to seeing the bibliography.

Hope some of this is useful.

With best regards,

Leonard Rifas


Dear Leonard,

Thanks for your observations.  You've identified several places where
readers might misunderstand my intent, or where natural objections would
arise to the arguments.  I'll see what I can do to clarify in the next
draft.  Here a few comments...

I don't agree that "The 18th century founders of the USA rejected
factionalism on grounds of principle."  Presumably you have an example
where they did, but in general the Constitution defines a system which is
based on factionalism and adversarial realtionships.  This was intentional:
they were fearful of some faction trying to usurp power, and so their
solution was to have many levels of checks-and-balances so that factional
disputes could be worked out without breaking the system.

There's the balance of powers between the Executive, Judicial, and
Congress; there are the two houses of Congress, one of which gives each
state equal representation, and the other based on population.  In
economics, law, and politics, their mindset seemed to emphasize
competition, and struggle for dominance.  The Constitution was their
attempt to provide stable government in the face of what they considered to
be an adversarial "human nature".

  >..."A good politician" does all those same things (listens to all
  >views, attempts to harmonize conflicts, seeks a solution everyone can
  >support, makes unpopular decisions, etc.)

I'm not sure what scenario you're thinking of.  I'd say a competent
politician behaves as you say, but on behalf of his or her _perceived
constituency - which is not the same as the electorate.  If a Senator, for
example, is promoting legislation on Health Insurance, I'm sure he or she
listens carefully to all the Insurance company representatives, and the
AMA, etc., and attempts to harmonize conflicts.  But when it comes to the
electorate, the same Senator will announce the decision with a PR spin that
pretends it was all done on behalf of "the people".  With respect to the
electorate, the relationship is one of "salesperson", not "representative".

You might say such a person is a "corrupt politician", and not a "good
politician" - but then the issue becomes "Why are most of them corrupt?".

  >Without required attendance, do you imagine that entire communitites will
  >become interested in going to political meetings? Politics, or almost
  >anything else, strongly attracts only a minority of people.

Those of us who live in non-democracies, where we have minimal political
influence, might find it difficult to imagine how it would feel if we had a
meaningful role to play in shaping our communities and our societies.  It
would be a fundamental paradigm shift, and when you're in the midst of one
paradigm - like a fish in a bowl - it's hard to imagine what other
paradigms might feel like.

Certainly the phrase "political meeting", in our current paradigm, carries
all sorts of connotations of pointlessness, argumentation, vying for
control, etc.  A small minority indeed is interested in such meetings, and
they go _despite the pain of the meeting itself, in order to pursue some
political objective.  A meeting has quite a different flavor if the
groundrules are along the lines of "Welcome folks.  We have a problem to
solve, the resources to solve it, and the authority to make a decision.
Let's roll up our sleeves and figure out what will work best for our

The paradigm shift is from competition to collaboration, and from
delegate-selection to problem solving.  I gave two real-world examples of
places (Cuba and Brazil) where ideas similar to these have been tried out.
In both cases, the level of participation seemed to be very high, and
voluntarily so.  In a functioning democracy, politics is not a hobby like
skiing or a debating club.

The way I see it is that we have a "circle of influence" in our lives.
Thing inside our circle of influence we identify with and take
responsibility for.   For example, our "circle" typically includes our own
selves, our families and households, and our workplace.   Our participation
is natural within this circle because it directly affects our well being
and that of our family and community.  Politics is simply not inside the
circle for most of us.  Activists try to bring politics into their circle
of influence, but their success is limited and the pain-to-gain level is
much too high for most people.

Try to imagine a society where the operation of your community was within
your circle, where your needs and ideas counted.  The evidence seems to be
that when politics comes within the circle-of-influence of ordinary people,
they rise to the occasion and take responsiblity for their lives in society.

  >I wrote earlier to ask about this highly interesting example. I
  >look forward to seeing the bibliography.

I'll post what I have from McKelvey tomorrow.


Date: Wed, 30 Jun 1999 09:21:33 -0400
To: •••@••.•••, •••@••.•••,
From: Jane Scharf <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Re: cj#968,rn,sm> Chapter 6 - Collaborative internationalism:
 culture-diversity and the trap of world government

I hope you want some feedback on your writing.

You have establish compelling arguments here for the preference of
nationalism over local sovereignty or one world government cases.

The strongest argument you make in support of nation power is one of a
nations capacity to protect its citizens (if it so chooses). To assure that
the nation government body acts in the interest of its citizens and not
multi nationals and the like I read that you are arguing that democracy is
essential. I take it that by democratic you mean all citizens share equally
in decision making and elections. I agree with this theoretically but I
think it is an impossible undertaking. Here in lies the problem. When any
set of individuals is given more power than other members of a group the
interests of the more powerful usually change to that of maintaining and
unfortunately even to increasing their power. The solution to this problem
is to give no one more power than another. As a result we could not have a
local, national or world governance.  The question is are we more or less
vulnerable to domination in this state of governmentlessness. (I do not
argue in favour of no organized structures. But the structures I envision
would be service oriented and consensus driven rather than hierarchical.)

There is no power in any system that we do not give it and we can by the
same token take it away. This is a non violent war I am taking and there
will be casualties. However, we are losing by not taking a stand than I
think we would lose if we took a stand.

To live this type of resistance which can protect us from domination of
corrupt forces of any kind we need to reconnect with or awaken our
spiritual nature.

The Hopi of N. Arizona are a living example of how a strong spirit can
protect one from domination by powers to be.  This culture has complete
consensus decision making. They believe a split in the group would be
preferable than to force the will of the majority on to the minority.
However, splits are rare.

To be as strong as the Hopi the task is not how we create a powerfull
government structure that the muli-nationals and the like cannot dominate
it is how we get back to our knowledge of living in the spirit so we can
resist on an individual basis.  Is it as simple as the stupid war on drugs
solution JUST SAY NO? NO! I will not pay that tax, no I will not send my
child to school, no, I will not whatever. Or is there more involved. This
is what I am trying to come to terms with.

I have engaged in a certain degree of resistance and engaged in some minor
civil disobedience with I good rate of success. I have fought city hall so
to speak and succeeded. These experiences have enriched my life
tremendously. I have met strong, cooperative support persons whom I would
otherwise not have met, I have become stronger and more aware of the big
picture and the small parts. But most importantly I feel I have found some
meaningfull connectedness to others. I am not strong compared to those who
have advanced to the point to be able to risk serious imprisonment, torture
and even death in their actions but I do aspire to more strength.

Jane Scharf, Protest, Resist and Surpass


Dear Jane,

Thanks for the eloquent statement of your principles.

I think, Jane, that we're basically on the same side.  The Hopis are in
fact a perfect working example of what I mean by locally based democracy.
I use the word "collaboration" instead of "consensus", because lots of
people have a negative reaction to "consensus" - they immediately think
it's impossible.  But the idea of a "consenting process" is behind both of
the terms.

In the case of the Sioux Nation, in the nineteenth century, there was a
similar consensus approach - but it also extended to wider geographical
areas.  When a wider decision/policy was needed, representatives of each
tribal unit would gather together for a pow-wow which continued the
consensus process at that level.  In the face of such historical
experiences, and of today's Hopis, and the examples I gave of Cuba and
PBOA/Brazil, I don't think you can really justify the statement that "it is
an impossible undertaking".  It's been tried, and it works.

What the Hopis don't have are administrative institutions.  Those are not
necessary in a small-scale, pre-industrial society.  But a society as
complex as ours, with its population density and complex economy cannot
exist without a approrpriate administrative institutions.  What the
net-libertarians refuse to acknowledge that "no governemnt", in their
sense, translates to government by corporate power.

Our current paradigm is a government that serves the fat-cats, and which
lies to us about it.  Government is acting as an agency of social-control,
rather than an agency of personal empowerment.  Under such circumstance it
is easy to think of _any government as being oppressive - especially when
ours _claims to be democratic, and our media daily encourages us to despise

If government were the agency of your own empowerment, that would be a
different paradigm - the Hopi paradigm.


From: "Leonard Rifas" <•••@••.•••>
To: <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Re: cj#968,rn,sm> Chapter 6 - Collaborative
internationalism:culture-diversity and the trap of world government
Date: Wed, 30 Jun 1999 12:46:14 -0700

I'm kind of leaping into the middle (starting from where I
got my printer going rather than reading from the beginning of the text),
but perhaps some of my suggestions may still be useful. As usual, I cite a
lot of stuff I've read (though in less bibliographic detail.)

I basically agree that a national focus is the most promising tactically,
and that the US is crucially important (if for no other reason than its
habit of internationally suppressing popular alternatives.)Actually, I think
the problem of redirecting the USA is so crucial, that the time spent on
discussing potential Chinese intransigence seems misplaced. (If you do want
to discuss China, you might want to see the Worldwatch Institute's _Who Will
Feed China?_, which points to an important, impending crisis.)

I remember from Mark Satin's old "New Options" newsletter a review of a book
by Shmookler (sp.?) which I never read, arguing against "national
self-determination" based on ethnic or national identities as a failed
strategy. That's where I picked up the _alternative_ slogan of "majority
rule, minority rights" which I cited in my last message.The history of 20th
century struggles for "national self-determination" is mostly tragic, win or

I like trying to imagine a world self-governed by ordinary people, so my
complaint with the chapter is not that it is too utopian, but not utopian
enough. In particular, the allowance made for national militaries in this
democratic world order doesn't seem clearly thought out. Have you seen Gene
Sharpe's research on civilian-based defense (CBD)? There are many incidents
of unarmed people successfully resisting armed forces which he has collected
and analyzed. I wish these real life dramas were dramatized in films and TV,
instead of the fascinating bullshit that's popular now. Nonviolent CBD
offers a possible way for defending democratic institutions democratically.

Focusing on bioregions rather than nationalities as a basis for devolution
would put focus on the ecological crisis, rather than highlighting the
remaining divisions between people in this age of  monoculturization.

The way your description of "indigenous cultures" (the ones we protect by
"giving them sovereignty") seems to equate indigenous with isolated.

The chapter seems thin because the only players seem to be national groups
and world bureaucrats, both very vaguely sketched in. The multinational
corporations have fallen out of the picture, the billionaires, the
financiers... I've been reading a new anthology _The Illicit Global Economy
and State Power_, edited by H. Richard Friman and Peter Andreas (Rowman &
Littlefield Publishers, Inc.) How do people protect themselves from
international gangsterism (literally) in the system you envision?
Transnational international criminal groups (as in the former USSR, Italy,
Japan, Mexico, Columbia, etc). ... what happens to them? (I didn't used to
worry about this so much, and used to resent the theme of criminal rule in
dystopian fiction. I'm just beginning to think about it.)

Anyways, thanks again for the stimulation and doing the hard work of

Leonard Rifas


Dear Leonard,

Since you are "leaping into the middle", you missed Part I, which does talk
about multinationals quite a bit.  But I agree they need to be talked about
in Part II.  I didn't do so in the first draft for a reason.  If we're
talking about a new paradigm for society, it is important to focus on how
that paradigm works, rather than on the one it is replacing.  I'll re-read
your last paragraph above when revising the material.

As regards "civilian-based defense", and "bioregional focus", I think we
have more agreement than disagreement.  The main point is that we, as a
democratic society, need to come up with new solutions for the problems of
maintaining order and for the "scale of sovereignty".  My comments on small
armies and cultural boundaries were intended to be "brainstorming ideas",
contributing to our thinking about such new solutions.  I'll include some
of your suggestions as well - to show a wider range of brainstorming.


Date: Wed, 30 Jun 1999 20:24:25 -0300
To: •••@••.•••
From: "Max M. Wolfe" <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Re: cj#968,rn,sm> Chapter 6 - Collaborative internationalism:
  culture-diversity and the trap of world government

I think you overlook the fact that nation states are a comparatively new
phenomenon in history, which doesn't prevent us from thinking that they have
existed forever and are bound to continue existing into perpetuity.  It is
every bit as likely, if not moreso, that we are living through a stage in
history that will be characterized by future historians as the time nation
states started to disappear from the scene.
Max Wolfe,
Jemseg  NB


Dear Max,

I guess you missed Part I, which focuses heavily on the demise of the
nation state under the globalization project.  Republics are far from
perfect, but they are better than monarchies were, and they are better than
the corporate regime that aims to replace them.  If we sit back and wait
for historians to tell us what happened, then the nation state will be gone
and global tyranny will have replaced it.

It is time for humanity to grow up, wake up, and take responsibility for
its own future.




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