Here are some simple ideas.
If both work and pleasure can be a walk or short cycle ride from our doors, then the energy demands of a culture will suddenly become much simpler and will also shrink. The time demands of a culture will also shrink, while the emotional connections of neighbourhood (what we call home) can expand. Those emotional connections hold deep pleasures in which we can spend more time and yet for which we pay no rent.
This is the ordinary historical and geographic state of most cultures, including city/urban cultures. Although decayed, some of its infrastructures remain – corner/village shop, workshop and proper shop, market hall and square, harbour, pub, library, museum, theatre, church, mosque, synagogue, temple…
I think a kind of evolved, inherited rightness of such an infrastructure is less decayed – It lives in us. What’s more, we have become anxious by our separation from it. The family still holds it, but that short walk from our doors has been ruptured – at the door the rightness ends and amoral demands begin. House door closes on affections, memories and promises, and car door opens to stolen time; to white lines and traffic signs into lost identity.
Only a hundred and fifty years ago, the first middle class suburban and so commuter cultures were created by the railway. They became ubiquitous only more recently. Now, ordinary courses of history are overlaid (often concreted over) with oil ephemera – super markets, ring roads, retail parks, centralised procurement/distribution, air travel, the family car and distant work-places.
Those oil infrastructures use vast quantities of a citizen’s time – both in travel time and work time needed to earn money to pay for that travel time. Few would call those things a pleasure. Moreover, that vast effort of road construction, policing, insurance, car manufactory, car parking and so on has achieved nothing but that waste of time. We can also note a considerable waste of resources. Two pot noodle manufacturers’ lorries – one travelling from London to Manchester and the other from Manchester to London pass each other on the motorway built for just that purpose. They seek each other’s markets. Their “efficiencies” of production cut costs, until one manufacturer cuts as far as bankruptcy. Now the lorries travel one way on the massive motorway built by tax on every citizen’s income. The Manchester manufacturer (who succeeded) is placed in the edge of town industrial park, built once again, by taxation. It has received large development money enticements to “come to Manchester” – more taxation. The “workforce” comes, for the most part, by a transport system (family car) which uses a large chunk of its wages. Meanwhile, no-one particularly wants pot noodles.
Now we must face the truth that the end of fossil fuel also means the end of suburban and commuter cultures. In that, we’ve no choice – no renewable energy source can power them. I think it is a liberating truth.
It liberates the possible return of ancestral commons and personal histories, in which we (as individuals) are transitory actors who’s love of place provides the energy to pass it on. Those deep pleasures have been enclosed by consumer right, consumer dependency and infrastructures of edge of town super markets and so on.
It liberates time to give to personal moral choices.
It liberates the glimmer of a possibility of combatting climate change.
It liberates time to think; to play; to holiday; to dig the garden; to practice the fiddle; to drink with friends; to study the world around us. It is a sigh of relief – a return to a time-rich and ordinary cultural state.
It follows that a return to ordinary historical ways of life will cost less in both time and money, while increasing common leisure to choose innovative routes to happiness. It is easily understood. No authority need explain it. Our grandparents lived something like it. The tools remain (albeit rusty) for re-adoption. The extraordinary (and extraordinarily brief) Oil Age is over. Ordinary courses of history must resume. If the Oil Age (or the oil-replacement Age) continues to struggle on, it can only be to the cliff edge.
Economic growth is essential to the current post-capitalist casino. Without growth it collapses like a pack of cards. Yet, it is also plain that finite resources cannot supply the casino’s demand to infinity. So collapse is pre-written. Plainly, economies require de-growth, shrinking to settle in landscapes which feeds them.
In truth, capitalism has never existed. Markets have not responded to either scarcity, or surplus – to the needs of communities. They have responded to currency manipulation, stock casinos and to the influence of enclosure (monopoly) – the three influences, which Adam Smith proposed should be strictly controlled by legislation. Don’t forget that he dreamed of capitalism as a means to maximise and more fairly distribute the wealth of nations and to undermine the parasitic influences of kings, monopolies and casinos.
If economics is not discussed as a branch of moral philosophy, then alarm bells should ring – church bells from parish to parish, muezzin from minaret, social realist from soap box, pub chorus from Hope and Anchor to Stag’s Head… and all together at the barricades.
As Richard Douthwaite points out, money supply and energy supply are directly related. Cultures are what we do. The energy of what we do has been vastly expanded by fossil fuel. As we leave fossil fuels in the ground so money supply must dramatically shrink to just the size appropriate for a renewable and manual energy supply. That is a recipe for an equally dramatic casino collapse. Of course none of us like the casino much, but casino collapse will also bring economic chaos. We all need good house-keeping.
Although one may affect the other, casino collapse and economic collapse may not be the same things.
When casinos collapse, they take economies with them. Companies fold, unemployment soars, tax revenues crash, leaving insufficient for unemployment relief, schools, hospitals…
And consider this – The casino grows, or shrinks – not by economic signals; not by scarcity, or abundance – not by capitalism (which currently does not exist) – but by the growing or diminishing belief of its punters. Boom and bust are best represented – not by scarcity and surplus, but by cycles of a gambler’s religious fervour, or religious despair.
There is no arguing with religious fervour, but there may be conversation with religious despair.
Achieving de-growth towards an optimum economic/ecologic size will obviously be through a minefield of unresponsive (even disresponsive) monopoly and religious fervour.
Let’s get this straight – I don’t think cultures can thrive without the binding of religion or a common moral storytelling of how culture and our place in it came to be. Let’s get this straight too – Neo-liberalism, neo-conservatism, monetarism, capitalism, communism… become more religious as they become more effective. But none of those isms is sufficiently religious to maintain a culture. They are lacking the depth of inherited moral commons, of sanctities of place and of ancestry.
So can we redirect religious casino fervour towards more rounded and convivial solutions? – Emphatically no.
Cultures evolve by trial and error and at a variety of depths – from deep and perennial human commons to shallower adoption of cults and fashions. What we may call the great religions – Ancestorism, Classicism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism… have evolved from deep roots and are integrated in the goings-on of life, from shallow to deep – festivals, commons, law, behaviour… A life-affirming Atheism will also have festival, commons and a narrative of a community’s evolution and settlement. It will grow from the same roots as all the other religions. A culturally evolved Atheism is (in my terms) a religion.
Cults may be defined by their rootlessness. It is notable that those who have lost cultural roots are more likely to be swept away by a substitute for lost ancestry; lost religion; lost family; lost conviviality; lost market square, pub and corner shop. We see that shallow fervour for a single idea, or for a shallow, singular, wildly-evangelical understanding of an existing religion in both contemporary small-scale terrorism and the massive fundamentalist over-reaction by the contemporary state to that terrorism. We see it in cults of progress and – where we began – of economic growth – both cults fervently presented to justify the cultural hole in lonely, disconnected lives.
Healthy cultures are too complex for precise unravelling. For instance, music draws people together to a social common, which can only be found in music. It is less unspoken, than sung. This page cannot express it, but fling open the window to the busker on the square and he may sing what you mean. Tenderness for places; for seasons defies physics of time and space. Yet that affection passes between generations and neighbours too quietly to express. Nevertheless, it binds generations and neighbours in unspoken contracts to pass it on.
When we open our door and step not to the car door but to the street, we encounter traces of previous encounters. We note weather, seasons and places that evoke old conversations. Memories provide way marks, changes provoke questions, people have answers and footsteps connect.
That intricate, both tangible and intangible web of lives can be shattered by crashing casinos, but it also provides the resilience to survive. Those connections may certainly be called economic connections and yet involve no money at all.
Right. We return. Collapse is intrinsic to economic growth – not entropy – just a physical cliff edge. Of course an economy measured by spending (GDP) holds within the word, that same premise. Historically, cultures have followed cycles of romanticism, classicism, decadence and collapse. Contemporary economies have passed the decadent stage, surviving collapse by the power of fossil fuels. Ours is a weary ennui – dragged out in supermarket aisles and white lines of motorways, only relieved by decadent pleasuring. And there’s little time for that. As David Fleming points out in his Lean Logic, A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive it (slack economy), the medieval economy maintained a balance – less by efficiencies of production, and more by large stretches of leisure time in which deeper social commons were maintained.
Climate change could have come as a relief – as truth – as permission to care – as a catalyst to accept both collapse and romantic re-building. Since the current casino is preventing proper behaviour, watching and not preventing casino collapse could be embraced as a communal delight. That collapse could be noted from the solid ground of an underlying economy, in which people we know by name take part. It could be noted in the same way gatherings huddle to gaze at awesome phenomena of the night sky, such as meteor showers.
It is easy to misplace – to misuse the romantic impulse by engaging with what currently has the greatest effect – corporations and their tamed national governments. But corporations and national governments are abstractions. They don’t exist. People and their effects exist.
The monetary casino combined with monopoly supply, which we may try to “improve” is set on a course to self-destruction (self-consumption). We lobby to insert human rights, labour rights, land rights, nature’s rights – to legislate limits to amorality – but we cannot lobby for morality. Amorality has no conception of it. For instance, if we seek to “green” a super market by lobbying and market signals, to stock more fair-trade, recycled and organic products, then we give it a false credence. Worse – that false credence may induce more people inside to maintain green market signals, while deserting and diminishing their more convivial and resilient proper/corner shop, street markets and workshops.
We must evacuate the super market and hope for its slow and least destructive trajectory of collapse. Collapsing too wildly will ripple too destructively through a community’s attempt to rebuild a more self-determined culture.
Unlike governments and corporations, which are but abstract ideas in the heads of real people – people, one by one, have driven their currently perverse thinking into ring roads, motorways, super-stores and the big agriculture of deserted fields. Those applied ideas cannot survive and they cannot be greened. The thinking is contrary to ordinary laws of physics, nature and inherited commons of human nature. It is extraordinary thinking. Ordinary thinking, which does fit those laws should come easily and as a relief.
The extraordinary power of fossil fuel has fuelled a cult craziness with which there is no argument. We cannot green the craziness.
An extraordinary thing about that extraordinary power is that instead of increasing leisure time it has dramatically diminished it.
Extraordinary things that can no longer be, and cannot be greened – suburbia, air travel, super markets, family cars, fossil-powered shipping and agriculture…
Ordinary things that can – villages, towns, theatres, pubs, libraries, churches, temples, mosques, meeting houses, street markets, workshops, harbours, repopulated fields – and dramatically, romantically and emphatically – a large increase of leisure to look about, play, mess about, study and discuss these things.
So I say, the romantic social (eusocial) impulse can be fused with footsteps as we leave our particular door. Immeasurable economic effects of gossip, ritual and festival remain powerful effects. What’s more they are perennial to human nature. The genius of both community and terrain emerges in street markets, stages, shrines and terraced hillsides. As the casino collapses (it will collapse) the rebuilding need not be from its ashes, but – shrugging off the ashes, from an evolving human settlement – a settlement already alert and responsive to its particular terrains, skills and resources.
We’ll not build such a settlement without the romance of it.
Photo credit: By Colin Smith, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9204347