Tao of Degrowth

I am a degrowther and a doomer but this is not what your first reaction indicates.  We are taught to be optimistic and so forth.  People loath pessimist and doomers.  People tire of people who cry wolf constantly.  This is what the doom movement has done for decades now.  There is some truth to this but there is also the reality of the slow boil.  A frog will slowly boil without realizing its fate.  Humans because of our short-termism and immediate gratification tendencies slow boil with periods of change.  Some of this is beneficial because it is the degree of shock and the duration that is the key variable of survivability so adapting slowly allows survivable change.

My doom approach is different.  I am a visionary of sorts in regards to the tipping over of an age.  This is academic and I have been studying this for decades now.  I have been living the response for over a decade.  I have digested the available science not as a specialist but as a generalist with some specialization.  I study all fields in general picking through them in relation to decline.  I specialize in energy and systems for my theoretical approach.  It is my assessment that a multifaceted tipping over is now at or near the peak point.  The tipping over is at or near where diminishing returns to technological efforts go non-liner into problem creation.  I see an extinction event for life systems with localized failure and general decline.  The planetary systems that support life is in abrupt change with climate but also the nutrient, carbon, and hydrologic cycles.  Finally, systematically, civilization is in a phase of degrading.

Decline is dominated by the element of chaos where turbulence increases.  With civilization this is chiefly abandonment, dysfunctional networks, and irrational narratives.  Growth happens generally on average slowly and methodically over many years but decline can happen rapidly.  In fact, often there are stair steps of rapid decline followed by a time when threasholds of stability are reached.  We are near or are in this stair step process now.  The dangerous aspect of this current time is the negative feedbacks from a convergence of multiple negatively influenced systems.  This is holistic.  It is a negative feedback paradigm.  Multiple smaller failures lead to a catastrophic failure.  This is seen when a plane crashes often times.  My surmise is that the current situation of multiple failures converging is still held in check systematically.  This could drag on for years plus the degree of failures and the duration of their effects are still allowing a slow boil adaptation.  Locally, failures will increase but the overall system may remain intact.   They key point you the individual needs to understand is a break to a much lower floor of stability is at hand even though the slow boil continues.  Time is of the essence now because it takes a decade to adapt properly.

My approach to degrowth and doom is different.   The typical judgement passed on doomers as nutter and crying wolf does not apply well to me.  I am well adapted and sober.  My approach is engagement of the slow boil and how to do manage it with optimism.  I am better prepped than most people and my local is relatively strong being rural and agricultural.  There is good water and wood to heat with.  Yet, it is not enough in a cascading failure.  I may or may not survive and that is just fate.  I do have assets to draw on so in this respect I have options that give me time to avoid immediate panic.  My approach is different mainly with behavior.  My doom approach is 80% attitudes and dispositions.  It is based on a realistic and relative response with a proper scaling towards what is more local.  This involves less delocalizing modern habits.  It involves an effort at the low carbon capture of food and energy.  It is not possible to live like our ancestors did but there are many of their ways that can fortify your local.  Strategies for food, water and shelter are critical.

This is primarily about living a wisdom of insecurity that draws on a wisdom of acceptance of macro decline and then orientates daily life towards that reality.  This orientation is only as much as one can.  The status quo narrative is the opposite of the acceptance of decline with growth and increased efficiency from technological improvements and knowledge building.  In effect you live a dual life of one foot in this status quo world of growth and the other in an individual local response to a new age of decline.  You are threading a needle here both physically but also mentally.  The surreal of both worlds takes proper grounding.  The way you find grounding is embracing the land and life.  You do that by being local and organic.  Urban areas and careers in delocalizing trades makes this approach very difficult so if you have any interest in what I speak about, I recommend you leave that world.  If you can’t then at least see through the facade if only enough to avoid the worst of it.

Since there is really no amount of prepping that will save you, there must be a humility of acceptance.  But this is only part of it.  The destination for all of us and all of our creations is death.  Mortality is a given for all.  My approach is about the journey.  The journey is life and it is this approach that allows an optimism within and dooming pessimism.  It is about finding a niche within the destructive period of change that allows constructive growth.  To achieve constructive growth where meaning and hope is found means proper people, place, and attitude.  It then becomes a journey with a life boat and a hospice of palliative care for the decline process.  Pain, suffering and death are the process.  The simple reality of this is getting out of the denial of death both personally and with the social narrative.  This does not mean a transcendence just a transformation to humility with acceptance.  This then translates into a sobriety that focuses on the fundamentals.  The fundamentals are local and with people.  This is tribe and family.  If you are Christian, it is the body of Christ.  Nothing new here just dust of traditions that have been neglected.

This involves a way of life that revolves around a wisdom of insecurity which seeks to triage out baggage of the status quo that is so easy to load up on.  This baggage is more than things it is also lifestyles.  It seeks a hybridization of the old ways with new.  This includes the best products and knowledge to leverage and turbo charge your efforts.   You have to understand localism and low carbon capture of harvesting and gathering of energy locally is a marginal return on efforts.  Your opportunity cost of making money with your time is much greater in the status quo.  The things you accumulate are low power but more robust.  These marginal efforts do not support modern lifestyles so in effect you must use both worlds as needed to maintain an inner and outer status quo.  Some can go off grid so to speak but most are trapped or engaged in this status quo because of family and career. 

Radical changes generally are costly in this situation so it requires a gradual and measured approach.  This is for those who can I want to stress.  For some of you there is no room for maneuver only understanding so I am appealing to those of you who have the right stuff to make this move. It is no fault of many who can’t.  I am humbly your servant in a sense because I have been gifted with this way of life.  It should be realized also many are self-absorbed selfish brats or psychopaths who only seek advancement.  Steer clear of these people who are as bad as choosing a poor local with low survivability.

If you would like meaning and have a feeling all is not quite right then this pessimist optimism of degrowth doom I am prescribing may be for you.  This requires a reorientation that focuses on how you can decline in place and downsize with dignity.  It is about beating the rush while good materials are still available to fortify your local that will in effect become your defensive position.  Since greener is more prepped you are also getting spiritual windfall of restoring and renewing the planet.  This is good for the people in you immediate local in respect to humanism.  It is academically good for you because it involves rationalism and seeks wisdom. 

This effort will ultimately be subject to failure but it is the effort itself that is life and it is this effort where meaning and enjoyment is found.  Things like animals, gardens, wood heat, hay making and local forage are my enjoyments.  This is also a toil.  It takes routine and mundane chores.   Hard uncomfortable work is a given.  Yet, the results are a satisfaction of occasionally reflecting with amazement on how much has been accomplished.  It is a struggle with real results that gives the ultimate value of meaning.  Meaning is getting closer to the truth.

For those of you who follow me I tend to ramble and much of my message is redundant.  Yet, it is a story and it evolves over time in response to my learning curve of experience but also the changing situation of this age tipping over into a new age of decline.  I have more or less achieved my prep portfolio and now I am tweaking to find the important details to make it easier for people like you who show interest.  I am also at peace with the land and the life process that is being forced and destroyed by human activity.  This is the way of an age so quit fighting it.  This peace comes primarily from the humility of acceptance.  Again, I have not transcended pain, suffering, and death.  I am embracing it as best I can in humility and with purpose.  This is with ups and downs.  I still have normal emotions.  It is just I have meaning to fall back on.

I leave you with a comment I made to a web site I follow daily.  I am an environmentalist and a degrowthers.  I live doom but an optimist one.  The challenges invigorate me and I have meaning.  This site is one of the best I have found for quality environmental news.  I sadly see the environmental movement going woke and techno green so I feel it important I mention my approach which finds both approaches as a detour and a hijacking.  Woke is based on an arrogance of humanism.  Woke is an elite capture hijacking for their wealth and power preservation.  The elites could give a damn about woke but it is useful to their ends.   Techno green is just more of the same of status quo growth.  Technology is mechanization that ultimately destroys itself.  Renewables are vital for resilience but not a transition to maintain modern life.  Modern life is ending.  Enjoy it while you can just as you enjoy life as you age until death. 

I do this blog and make comments to this site as my mental work out.  I also run several times a week.  I fast to strengthen my mind body.  So, this writing is not seeking notoriety.   My writing is more keeping my mind stronger.  Very few people follow me and I do not make an effort to have a following.  My purpose is relating my experiences of degrowth doom I call REAL Green.  My art is my permaculture homestead and the monestary of knowledge.  Everything I talk about is for you to use.  This is open source with no copywriting so to speak.  In fact, it is my hope somebody who can write and is smarter than me can take this to a higher level of accessibility.  My book is my permaculture homestead and my spirituality is REAL Green. 

If you read this and could care less that is not important to me.  I do not ask for donations.  I am speaking on behalf of the planet and life.  My writing is from them.  I am just the vessel.  All I have has been given to me and this will be taken in due time.  My homestead and monestary will be an interesting estate sale one day.  In this respect I am a green shaman living on the edge of society speaking spiritual truths.  I am an imperfect vessel and do not claim superiority.  I am just speaking on behalf of that which is superior.  That superiority is the planet and web of life.

If you have made it this far you may be interested in reading my comment on degrowth and the article from resilience dot com.  I leave you now.  Like the old Indian says “the barking dogs go to sleep”

Comment and article:

The systemness of complexity theory clearly show that the current system will not manage degrowth well in fact it will have cascading failures.  This means the degree of degrowth and the duration of the resulting systematic perturbation is a key compass point for degrowth policy application.  Individual degrowth policies will have to implement a means testing study first determining dangerous results.  The problem with this is the short term and long-term variables.  A manageable short term degrowth policy action may play out longer term in catastrophic ways.  This is most notable with food, water and shelter.  Curbing industrial agriculture is a risky venture but one that should be central to degrowth.  The modern food chain is very brittle to change.  This brittleness is in its brittle resilience.  Monocultures and value chains when combined with just-in-time transport supports all areas as a back stop.  There are now no famines in rich countries.  Remove that backstop and there is serious risk of areas of failure and its emergency support.

Is there the will to experiment with such dangerous outcomes?  I see no will in fact it is completely focused on cheaper food through further technological advancements and efficiency improvements.  A degrowth policy for the food system would need a complete redesign with elements from activities from pre-industrial times where food was produced locally with much more human and animal labor and greatly reduced industrial inputs.  This means a decade or more of massive changes with many more people being moved out of urban areas back to the land just to lay the foundation of this dramatic change.  The consequences of this means initially more growth not less.  A system that was in place was abandoned in favor of industrial agriculture.  This will have to be rebuilt ground up and not only physically but socially.  Instead, what would likely happen is what is typical of policy today and that is force change from the top so it forces change at the bottom.  This worked fine in the age of growth but now civilization is tipping over into decline.  Systemness of complexity shows this will result in dangerous abandonment, dysfunction, and irrational response because a new layer of resilience was not created pre-policy.

This point to the main point of this comment that is the nature of degrowth policy and what degrowthers need to focus on.  This article covers policy from the top which should be an academic study in what is not possible instead of offering approaches to policy.  The only degrowth policy will come from the grass roots and only in those places with the right ingredients for resilience to the effects of destructive change imposed by planetary decline.  There are very few places really because so much has been destroyed in growth.  This means proper degrowth policy stops all attempts at top-down approaches for economics and social change.  It instead focuses on tools and policy for locals of people and place to fortify.  This above all is behavioral because it will be meaning and the resulting courage of morale that will power these places with hope through the coming age of crisis.

Proper degrowth policy will go from a behavior-based acceptance of failure of civilization to a proactive local of regeneration and restoration albeit within an overall decline process that will be unavoidable.  Almost all locals are delocalized beyond a safe resilience and sustainability.  Even those very resilient and sustainable are threatened by neighbors who are not with migration and dangerous unraveling industrial processes like NUK and chemical plants.  The key ingredient is meaning in degrowth for reasons of resilience and sustainability within the context of a destructive period of decline.  Wise locations will start now when there are still resources to fortify and time for an indoctrination in the art of decline.  Yes, this is an art because it is about a spiritual response that results in concrete behavior reflective on a new way of living.  The Tao of Degrowth.  It is here that the keystone of a new human type results.  This new human type has one foot in the status quo and one in the new age of destructive change.

Currently all the knowledge and resources are available for sourcing.  There is adequate science for locating these nodes where constructive growth can dwell within an environment of destructive change.  What is missing is a doctrine.  More importantly it is a doctrine to add on to existing meaning for people.  Locals are unique and communities have specific systems of meaning.  Individuals have specific higher power worship.  What is needed is an add on to this because this is about behavior first that comes from a wisdom of degrowth.  Wisdom starts from a knowledge of what knowledge to pursue and what to reject.  In fact, in the age of decline triage and salvage are a key function in a humble wisdom of acceptance.  So, in conclusion a new degrowth academic response must be localized and with behavior and then restoration and renewal can begin.  Realgreenadaptation.blog

Taking International Relations into the Degrowth Era

By Jack Ainsworth, originally published by Degrowth.de

  • August 25, 2021

As a young movement, many of degrowth’s intellectual confrontations and practical obstacles are yet to come. As a normative concept with a broad scope of practical and analytical applications, we can reasonably expect degrowth to be challenged by various intellectual disciplines as its exposure increases. The challenge from the notoriously stuffy and conservative discipline of international relations is undoubtedly on the horizon; I wish to present some of the key takeaways from my own research from which we may begin to consider a degrowth-informed approach to international relations. Discussing this may provide answers to extremely valid critiques of degrowth and localism, like those of growth-minded globalists, who ask me “surely we are digging our own grave through degrowth, won’t China subsume us as we fall behind?”, or feminists and minority-rights activists asking, “how can we possibly protect the vulnerable without a centralised authority?”.

Traditional theories of international relations and Degrowth

International relations has always struggled to step outside of its traditional intellectual current. The clue rests in the name of the discipline itself; it has, for most of its history, been the scientific study of relationships between national, sovereign states.

The two most popular theories of international relations since its formal introduction into academia in the 20th century have been ‘realism’ and ‘liberalism’. Realism, simply put, sees relations between states as a zero-sum game. With the absence of a world government and a perceived scarcity of resources available for our survival, realism dictates that states attempt to accrue power and dominate over others in order to ensure their own survival. For realists, peace is merely an interlude to war. Their pessimistic view of human nature deems conflict as inevitable, with peace only being sustained temporarily when a so-called ‘balance of power’ produces a fragile restraint on violence. Liberalism, a slightly younger albeit equally influential theory of international relations, suggests that cooperation between states is possible by way of the mutual benefits gained from cooperation. Liberals praise economic interdependence as a peace mechanism, for in a thoroughly interconnected world, the war between economic partners becomes unprofitable. Liberals also put forward the somewhat dubious claim that democracies do not fight each other.

Three key problems emerged out of my research, which sought to approach these two traditionally hegemonic theories of international relations from a degrowth perspective.

Firstly, both approaches to international relations heavily rely on economic growth as a linchpin for their inner workings. For realists, economic growth is essential for the simple reason that wealth = power. Prominent real-liberal theorist Robert Gilpin suggests that “the pursuit of economic growth and the pursuit of power are indistinguishable”, for if we cannot grow our economy, we cannot maintain a competitive military. For liberals, continuous economic growth is essential to maintaining the economic interdependence necessary to keep the world peaceful. The tension here with degrowth thinking is somewhat self-explanatory, in a political economy of degrowth, economic growth as we know it must be abandoned in favour of a reduction of our material footprint and an eventual ‘steady-state economy.

Secondly, realism and liberalism make sweeping, a-historical assumptions about human nature and behaviour, which comes into conflict with degrowth’s general intellectual approach that institutions, social structures, behaviour and the economy itself are all products and constructions borne out of our current historical conditions. For realists, humans are naturally violent and our lust for power is an essential aspect of our species. Such an assumption follows the social-Darwinist model of human behaviour. For liberals, individuals possess a natural harmony of interests, in which it is assumed that the world is on a path towards global cosmopolitanism. Enlightenment values of reason, utilitarianism, liberty, secularism and progress are deemed destined to become the essential, universal aspects of global culture. Both views of human nature are problematic from a degrowth perspective, primarily in light of their universalising tendencies. Degrowth (and political ecology as a whole) values theoretical pluralism, sometimes termed a theoretical ‘pluriverse’, which takes the view that the homogenising Western development model is to blame for climate breakdown. A diverse array of cultural, political and economic models that are particular to certain cultures and biomes is required to reverse this path.

Finally, both traditional theories of international relations are reflecting on the modern nation-state, which for its functioning requires a highly efficient, centralised system to produce the scale of growth and complexity required to remain competitive in military and economic senses. Realism and liberalism both possess highly centralising tendencies, in which power is concentrated in the upper echelons of the state and the boardrooms of multinational corporations, and in which strict hierarchies ensure the optimal division of labour and an efficient production process. Degrowth imaginaries, on the other hand, require a radical decentralisation of economic and political power, through the shortening of supply chains and devolution of political power to foster a more direct democratic approach to politics.

These two theories of international relations are products of their time and historical conditions. The study of international politics has hitherto reflected the characteristics of the Western development model, one of perpetual war in pursuit of new commodity frontiers to fuel our insatiable desire for economic growth, compounded by the unwavering dominance of top-down patriarchal authority, and the historical hijacking of Christianity to thinly veil our chauvinism in a divinely ordained cloak.

Furthermore, international relations remains tightly bound to what Robert Cox calls ‘problem-solving theories’ of international relations, in which scholars observe our system, try to identify patterns, and attempt to predict how we may orient our actions to prevent these problems in the future. This approach sums up why many scholars deem international relations to have largely been a “failed intellectual project”. Therefore, we must re-orient the discipline towards a more active and interventionist approach, typified by the burgeoning ‘critical’ school of international relations. By interventionist, I mean that international relations must cease to be simply an analytical reflection on reality. Rather, we should seek to actively incorporate international relations into political praxis and shape it into a more desirable form with specific, liberatory objectives. Our economic and political architecture are both inventions, created by humans for certain objectives and the international political system is no exception to this rule. It is not like many would have you believe, subject to eternal laws or constrained by assumptions about human nature.

Unless the future takes a bizarre turn, and humanity is united in one country under the flag of ‘DegrowthTopia’, in which the only ‘enemy’ that remains is the extra-terrestrial, the puzzle of how we relate and interact with those beyond our borders and communities will remain. It would be ridiculous and dare I say negligent to assume that violence will simply disappear in a political economy of degrowth and that our nuclear arsenals will go up in a puff of smoke as soon as we begin to degrow. We must be theoretically and practically prepared to have these conversations about how best to protect ourselves and others in a decentralised future, for degrowth thinking has mostly avoided the topic until now.

International Relations and Degrowth: two proposals

I wish to offer two tentative proposals for considering a degrowth-informed approach to international relations. From a theoretical perspective, an appreciation of complexity is a sensible starting point. Complexity theory has its roots in systems theorising, put simply, it suggests that due to the unpredictability of all of the systems that construct our reality, one-size-fits-all approaches to controlling these systems are misguided. Dr Elizabeth Sawin notes that we continue to act as if the world is infinite, simple, and disconnected, thus making it easily controllable. The opposite is in fact true. The world is finite and connected in webs of mutual causality, most of the effects of which we cannot feasibly predict in the long term. The takeaway from this for thinking about international relations is simple: we must abandon dogmatic and totalising approaches to international relations and instead seek to understand, on a case-by-case basis, problems specific to certain contexts. Specific problems require specific solutions that are informed by local knowledge, contextual understanding, and an air of caution for the potential unforeseen future effects of our actions.

In a more practical sense, a convivial approach to the possession of the tools of violence may better help us consider defence and security in a political economy of degrowth. Arms adorn our military parade, reflecting the power of the beholder, our nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles represent what is supposedly required to defend ourselves from outside threats. When considering what defence will look like in a political economy of degrowth, two things must be considered: what tools do the political entities of a degrowth society require to protect themselves, and if they require less sophisticated tools than the ones that we currently possess, what should we do with the tools that we no longer need?

I suggest that in a decentralised society, in which power is transferred to the municipal level, certain defence mechanisms may be necessary in order to ensure the security of those living in each community. Arms, if their use continues into a degrowth paradigm, may be owned in common, as they are in Rojava, in which collective participation in policing and defence exists, with those defending their community being wholly answerable to each other and their community, rather than a higher authority. The defence of a municipality would theoretically require relatively modest tools, leaving the question of what to do with our weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) up for debate. The possibility of democratic ownership of nuclear weapons seems far-fetched even for the most fervent direct democrat. The mere existence of WMDs is a product of the centralisation of power, leading me to assume that a degrowth future would be hard to wed to a nuclearized world.

Continuing to introduce degrowth into various intellectual traditions is essential for its progression as a normative political economy theory. The ideas raised in this article are discussed in greater detail in my own research dissertation, which I hope will be one of many forays into a greater dialogue between international relations and degrowth.

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