Saturday, January 01, 2011

Ran Prieur: For any system to control you, it must...

Don here. Sorry to be lame and just copy someone else's work. Rare weekend of full-time net access. Catching up on some stuff.

Ripped straight from the archives of Ran Prieur: April 12, 2010.

I've been thinking more about Anne's provocatively pessimistic statement (in this post) that without any tech crash, just a financial crash will have us all standing in line for coal mining jobs. If we ask why, we open a deep hole that leads to the enclosure movement, massacres of Indians, and every repressive system in history.

For any system to control you, it must stand between your work and your food. I know there are other needs like shelter and water and warmth, but in most regions, food is the big one. In a forager hunter tribe, or a family of subsistence farmers, your work directly creates your food. You might be poor, but you're free. In industrial civilization, you probably have a job that has nothing to do with producing food, where if you challenge your superiors, you'll be fired, and no longer receive the tokens that are required for food and shelter. You might be surrounded by dazzling technology and comfort, but you are owned.

Now, if this system collapses, you're free but you're hungry; your need for food, and your ability to work, are like two poles of a battery. If you can't connect them yourself, you need something to connect them for you, a social machine that can use your work and give you food. This could be a nice community farm, a crime gang, or a new complex domination system that's worse than the old one.

I'd like to imagine a new complex system that is much better. We can tell wonderful stories about a gift economy information utopia, but at some point we have to ask: where does the food come from? Is it grown by slaves? Suppose it's grown by free people -- and I don't mean free in the watered-down American sense, but economically free, where they could easily not work for anyone but themselves, but they choose to grow extra food because they get something in exchange. What do they get? Lots of money? Which they then use to hire farm workers who are not economically free? And then, when the people who do the actual work want to own the means of production, they have a revolution? We've been through that, and I fear we're going to keep going through it again and again.

I can see only one way to have a non-repressive society of any size. Every person has to have the ability, whether or not they use it, to connect their work (or the work of their close friends and family) directly to their food (and also shelter). And on top of that foundation, if we want universities and airplanes and computers, those functions are bought by autonomous food producers with surplus food.

I touched on this a few years ago in a post on Malthus: "How can we have a dense population center that does not grow all its own food, but does not deplete the land that its food comes from? The answer is simple: the people in the city must not own the land, or otherwise control it." An unsustainable city owns the farmers around it, and a sustainable city is owned by the farmers around it. So the question is not, "What do we give the farmers to make them feed us?" It's, "What non-food jobs do we farmers want to create?"