The Many Paths to Transition

“What’s your transition plan?” has got to be the most common question that gets asked in the post-scarcity activist groups I’m in, with the implied suspicion that similar to Boris and Nigel’s Brexit plan, it simply doesn’t exist. Of course there are glaring differences between Brexit and giving up money (Mexit?), the most obvious being that there’s no referendum scheduled on it in the near future. Nevertheless, the transition plan, or more accurately, several potential transition plans to a post-scarcity society have already been set in motion. It’s just sometimes hard to see them as such, since it’s impossible to lay out these plans in full, owing to too many unpredictable variables. The plans are mostly guesswork, taking the first small steps through the darkness.

People in post-scarcity movements tend to fall broadly in two categories: a) those who believe it will happen through gradual changes b) those who believe something major will change rapidly once critical mass is reached. You can further divide into two more groups: a) working for change within the existing system (RBE-minded political parties and lobby groups) b) building a new society alongside the old one to make it obsolete (Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller, The Venus Project, eco-communities). Most of the time, these different groups go along doing their thing, but sometimes they clash in heated arguments, even blaming the other groups of either not doing enough or hindering progress. Maybe it’s time to look deeper into the logic behind each viewpoint to understand each other’s train of thought a bit better.

The Gradualists

The main idea here is that society has a lot of inertia and people change slowly, sometimes requiring several generations. For example being gay was considered wrong through most of society for a long time. Only recently did it become accepted and appreciated in progressive countries. Yet the work here is not complete: in many nations it’s still dangerous to be gay, and even where it’s not, there’s often more subtle discrimination happening. But the overall mindset is moving in the right direction, and hopefully one day this will be a non-issue everywhere.

Likewise, people have hopes high for gradual adoption of renewable energies and advances in electric motors and batteries.

The problem many people see here is that we don’t have much time to solve environmental issues. There’s the danger of resting on the laurels after small victories. Also, some changes are difficult to make if you’re the only one doing so – you often need large groups to agree to do the right thing together.

The Paradigm Shifters

This is what many groups are aiming for by running education campaigns to show that we’ve already got all the resources we need to provide a good standard of living for every person on this planet. The hope is that once enough people know this, and get the dialogue started on how to change it, we’ll reach a tipping point and can start working together to sort out this mess.

Cons: until the critical mass is reached, nothing changes in the physical world. So in a way, both gradual change and paradigm shift require time. The difference lies in these questions: if things improve by a little bit, do people stop their activism? Do some people even care at all until things get really bad? Will people be able to continue activism if things get really bad and they’re more worried about basic survival? Will people be able to cope with a sudden revolutionary change? Which route is quicker and which route has fewer casualties? I don’t think anyone can prove it either way, so we may see these two mindsets continue to clash. All I can suggest is for the gradualists to keep pushing for little improvements and for the paradigm shifters to keep sharing the big picture truth one person at a time, while appreciating the work the other camp is doing. Often by helping one cause, you’re helping the other anyway.

The Politicians

A topic of much contention these days is whether to engage with the existing political structure or ignore it. Money, connections, PR and control of mass media affect and corrupt all elections so much so why even bother? Many groups argue that it’s worth trying anyway – to get the message out there, to push for gradual changes, to offer a protest vote (and gauge the public’s interest in alternative models), and possibly once the critical mass is reached, to offer a peaceful way to transition within the existing structures. One factor that speaks in favour of engaging with politics is that many ideas that were previously not talked about have now become more mainstream, such as the fact that private banks create money as debt. While Bernie Sanders didn’t become the Democratic Party candidate, he got a lot of airtime and support.

Of course, candidates straying too far from status quo threaten the establishment and thus get subjected to a whole host of character assassinating smear campaigns. Politics is nasty and it’s understandable that many in the activist circles want nothing to do with it.

The Buckyists

Whether within or without cities, alternative systems of resource access have been popping up. From community energy, food shares and Freecycle to off-the-grid communities, people have taken matters to their own hands to provide for themselves and their community and starve the beast just that little bit. Third Industrial Revolution enthusiasts believe that the advance and cheapening of technology will make producer-consumers of everyone and capitalism will slowly fade away.

Critics here will point out that land and other means of production are still expensive, especially in cities, and though people in well-off countries can pool money and acquire their own, it’ll still be inaccessible for many many. Until a shift in either money creation and distribution, or reforms in ownership occur, this will not be an option to everyone. Not to mention that rural communities are lacking some of the comforts city life provides, so it’s not always ideal.

Clashes do occur on this spectrum as well, but there really isn’t much reason for it. Buckyists can ignore politics and go on with their business. Reformists can ignore Buckyists because they’re a small minority and focus on the low hanging fruit who still have faith in politics, just not the mainstream candidates.

post-scarcity-compass

Ultimately, it’s unlikely that any of these avenues will be the One True Transition Plan. Each one has its shortcomings which often can be mitigated by work someone else is doing. So here’s a callout to celebrate each other’s efforts rather than trying to convince someone to switch to your team. Feel free to tell them what you’ve been doing. Feel free to ask them how they plan to overcome obstacle X in their plan. But let’s keep the debate civil, even if you’re dead certain their path leads to a dead end (maybe they know it already but haven’t come across a better plan). Ask, listen, share, but don’t belittle, patronise or boast. As long as we all have the end goal of post-scarcity in mind, every step is a step forward. A step towards greater understanding, better infrastructure and more clarity on what’s the best direction to go next, to finally reach the world we all desire.

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7 thoughts on “The Many Paths to Transition

  1. Yes, regardless of our world view and preferred strategy towards the transition, we are all just as helpless. Better get as much inspiration as we can from each other and keep going with good will, trying to build a better world!

  2. Whatever our position on this spectrum, we still need a population with the technical skills and the drive to be pro-active stakeholders in society in order to transform our 2nd industrial format towns to 3rd industrial ones with distributed energy and autonomous productive capability.
    When people get busy learning these skills and applying them locally, this will create a framework around which more altruistic and biosphere conscious relationships will be nurtured and developed.
    The greatest friction in the RBE community comes from those who steadfastly reject the scientific method as the key focus, because it inconveniently gets in the way of their ideological belief that human kindness and reciprocity can develop independently of this framework, and can overcome the increasing dog-eat-dog reality we are stuck with – irrespective of the second industrial infrastructures and institutions that continue to govern our daily lives.
    This is a case of putting wishful thinking ahead of reality. The historical descent of such utopian social experiments into repressive state apparatus in the early 20th century provides a good illustration of such a naïve vision falling apart. Einstein said ‘insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results’. Let’s make sure science is always at hand as an antidote to this insanity, and to the ideologies than institutionalise it.

    • Dave, I think it’s important to acknowledge that the mainstream “scientific method” might not be as effective as we want it to be, and thus bias can be introduced to findings, making the process sometimes more harmful than good. The motivation to “prove a hypothesis right” is problematic from the get go. If we can show folks that what we’re doing, when we say “research” or “science”, is actually looking at ALL the POSSIBLE outcomes of what happens when we combine different things, then I think they will feel more confident in science as a way to make decisions about what to do. When we seek to describe the whole normal distribution graph when factoring A x B = X, Y, rather than saying A x B = X, the way most science is presented in academia and corporate research, then I think everyone will be on board with using science to come up with more options.

      Also, interestingly, I’ve seen that science can show us that “evolution happens” (aka, entropy always increases), which means that those who simply trust in humanity to do what is right to get us to a more mature, healthy system are (probably!) correct. The compassion and creativity that evolution has programmed us higher intelligence beings with are what make us naturally push ourselves towards more “fitness” and resiliency and an expansion of diversity of life in both space and time. This means that some quite a bit of change happens unconsciously, without needing the more intellectual level of thinking about “science” to inform us. Those who act naturally and trust in themselves make things better, as do those who are more consciously attentive to making rational choices about how to make things better.

  3. I got to this king of thinkings through TZM, but Im thinking to move to transition creating a non profit organization but also with a productive goal. I’ve some savings to do this, I know maybe is not easy this for everyone but I think is a good for those who can.
    Very good article.
    The best to all
    Regards from Argentina

  4. Good stuff CT. As always.
    Yes, most importantly, don’t dis anyone who is moving in the right direction. I’m even a lot gentler and more patient with people who are simply moving than I used to be. As long as they’re not statues, I’m happy for people to move at a rate/direction that works for them.
    We are right. I’m sure.

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