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Lessons from the Unraveling of the Roman Empire: Simplification, Localization

Lessons from the Unraveling of the Roman Empire: Simplification, Localization

The fragmentation, simplification and localization of the post-Imperial era offers us lessons we ignore at our peril.

There is an entire industry devoted to “why the Roman Empire collapsed,” but the post-collapse era may be offer us higher value lessons. The post-collapse era, long written off as The Dark Ages, is better understood as a period of adaptation to changing conditions, specifically, the relocalization and simplification of the economy and governance.

As historian Chris Wickham has explained in his books Medieval Europe and The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000the medieval era is best understood as a complex process of social, political and economic natural selection: while the Western Roman Empire unraveled, the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) continued on for almost 1,000 years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and the social and political structures of the Western Roman Empire influenced Europe for hundreds of years.

In broad-brush, the Roman Empire was a highly centralized, tightly bound system that was remarkably adaptive despite its enormous size and the slow pace of transport and communication. Roman society was both highly hierarchical–the elites claimed superiority and worked hard to master the necessary tools of authority– slaves were integral to the building and maintenance of Rome’s vast infrastructure–and open to meritocracy, as the Roman Army and other classes were open to advancement by anyone in the sprawling empire: every free person became a Roman Citizen once their territory was absorbed into the Empire.

When the Empire fell apart, the model of centralized control/power continued on in the reigns of the so-called Barbarian kingdoms (Goths, Vandals, etc.) and Charlemagne (768-814), over 300 years after the fall of Rome. (When the Ottomans finally conquered Constantinople in 1453, they also adopted many of the bureaucratic structures of the Byzantine Empire.)

…click on the above link to read the rest…

The Future Must Be Decentralized and Localized

The Future Must Be Decentralized and Localized

We find ourselves at a moment where the financial and political systems that have dominated for decades are failing in a spectacular and irredeemable fashion. Those who pull the levers are (as usual) attempting to take advantage of the situation by rapaciously snatching and consolidating more wealth and power, while leaving the general public to rot. When faced with such a historic moment, one should assume a certain degree of responsibility to make sure the next paradigm ends up better than the one we’re leaving. If we fail to think deeply about an improved vision and framework for the future, someone else will do it for us.

From my perspective, humanity remains stuck within antiquated paradigms that generally function via predatory and authoritarian structures. We’ve been taught — and have largely accepted — that the really important decisions must be handled in a centralized manner by small groups of technocrats and oligarchs. As a result, we basically live within feudal constructs cleverly surrounded by entrenched myths of democracy and self-government. We’d prefer to be lazy rather than take any responsibility for the state of the world.

Michael Krieger@LibertyBlitz

Empires are not democratic.
The U.S. is an empire.
The idea the U.S. is a democracy is a myth.

https://twitter.com/CJBowden1/status/1252272922070183937 …C.J. Bowden@CJBowden1″Intervene globally…lose freedom locally.”

– Robert Higgs

We’re now at a point where simply recognizing current structures as predatory and authoritarian isn’t good enough. We require a distinct and superior political philosophy that can appeal to others likewise extremely dissatisfied with the status quo. My belief is humanity’s next paradigm should swing heavily in the direction of decentralization and localism.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Pandemic Armchair Philosophy Blog, 03.26.2020

The Pandemic Armchair Philosophy Blog, 03.26.2020

It may sound paradoxical, but philosophers have proved useful in times of collapse and rebuilding. Some of the greatest works in philosophy–at least in terms of their longevity and influence–were written in and during such times.1 (More on this below.) Alfred North Whitehead, one of those philosophers writing in the early 20th century, put it this way:

Systems, scientific and philosophic, come and go. Each method of understanding is at length exhausted. In its prime each system is success: in its decay it is an obstructive nuisance. The transitions to new fruitfulness of understanding are achieved by recurrence to the utmost depths of intuition for the refreshment of imagination. In the end–though there is no end–what is being achieved, is width of view, issuing in greater opportunities. (Adventures in Ideas, 1933, pg. 159)

The creation of this “width of view”–thanks to our Homo sapiens hardware–is open to most of us. The paragraphs below were written in response to a colleague’s question about how the COVID-19 pandemic helps us better understand climate change and the many other ongoing, cascading, planet-sized crises. I offer them, in part, because I don’t know what else to do in this Moment (as opposed to this moment), and because I wrote them while sitting in a chair. More importantly, they issue mostly from my experiences and observations, not from a particular method of analysis or formal system of logic. And it is my hope that they will inspire others with Whitehead’s optimism that the work of the imagination can issue-in greater opportunities.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Helena Norberg-Hodge — Is Localization a Solution to the Crisis of Capitalism? (In Conversation)

Helena Norberg-Hodge — Is Localization a Solution to the Crisis of Capitalism? (In Conversation)


It’s often said that the economic system is rigged. The truth, however, is that the system is working exactly as it was designed to. Those in power, whether they hold public office or whether they sit in the boardroom of a multi-billion dollar international corporation, have taken great lengths to set up a system of rules that benefit them and maintain the status quo.

Helena Norberg-Hodge, a pioneer of the New Economics movement, has spent many years studying the driving forces behind why our economies are failing us, and what we can do about it. Helena’s perspectives are informed by a systems thinking and colored by the many years she spent in Ladakh, part of the larger region of Kashmir, where she watched global capital completely transform entire communities.

Helena Norberg Hodge is the Founder and Director of Local Futures, producer and co-director of the documentary films The Economics of Happiness and Ancient Futures: Lessons from Ladakh and Right Livelihood Award Laureate. We spoke with her in her home in Devon in the U.K.

A Visit to Titusville: Building Resilient Communities

A Visit to Titusville: Building Resilient Communities

The University of Pittsburgh recently invited me to their Titusville, PA campus to speak about the Transition Towns movement.I chose the theme of creating communities that have the resiliency to withstand the inevitable challenges of this century. I met with three classes, had lunch with student leaders, made a public presentation that was well-attended and interactive, and spoke with community leaders.

Titusville, where the oil industry began, is today a small, shrinking town in search of its future. It is fairly representative of small and mid-sized communities across the country. Like many, it has the potential to become a more resilient community if it chooses.

My message is one that Transition Centre has adhered to for nearly a decade. Below you will find the core principles of that presentation.

A bit of background: Transition Centre was modeled on Transition Towns. There are a number of popular options for developing a more sustainable community, but the TT model, as found in The Transition Handbook, had some attractive features. The key ideas were: local, grassroots, and community resiliency.

In 2009, we formed Transition Centre as an unofficial Transition Towns hub. In 2010, we formed two formal local Transition Town initiatives. In partnership with other organizations, we made a number of presentations in Pennsylvania and neighboring states. What is our model?

  • Localization: Our problems may be on a global scale, but we embraced the motto: “Think globally, act locally.” In fact, we can only act at the level we can understand and solve our problems. That is our own community, our home place. One by one, a thousand points of light bring us out of darkness.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Localization: a strategic alternative to globalized authoritarianism

Localization: a strategic alternative to globalized authoritarianism

For those who care about peace, equality and the future of the planet, the global political swing to the right over the past few years is deeply worrying. It has us asking ourselves, how did this happen? How did populism turn into such a divisive and destructive force? How did authoritarianism take over the political scene once again?

From my 40 years of experience working in both industrialized and land-based cultures, I believe the primary reason is globalization. When I say globalization, I mean the global economic system in which most of us now live – a system driven by continual corporate deregulation and shaped by neoliberal, capitalist ideologies. But globalization goes deeper than politics and the economy. It has profoundly personal impacts.

Under globalization, competition has increased dramatically, job security has become a thing of the past, and most people find it increasingly difficult to earn a livable wage. At the same time, identity is under threat as cultural diversity is replaced by a consumer monoculture worldwide. Under these conditions it’s not surprising that people become increasingly insecure. As advertisers know from nearly a century of experience, insecurity leaves people easier to exploit. But people today are targeted by more than just marketing campaigns for deodorants and tooth polish: insecurity leaves them highly vulnerable to propaganda that encourages them to blame the cultural “other” for their plight.

Let me illustrate how this happened in Ladakh, or Little Tibet, where I first visited as a young woman and where I have worked for over four decades. Situated in the Indian Himalayas, Ladakh was relatively isolated – culturally and economically – until the late 1960s. When I arrived in the early 70s, a campaign of Western-style development had just been launched by the Indian government – giving me the opportunity to experience what still remained of the ancient culture, and to observe the changes that came with modernization.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How Puerto Rico Could Turn Disaster into a Decentralized Paradise

How Puerto Rico Could Turn Disaster into a Decentralized Paradise

Could the massive failure of the Puerto Rican government-run energy grid be a blessing in disguise? It has the potential to set Puerto Rico on a course of self-sufficiency and individual empowerment for decades to come.

Many Puerto Ricans are still without power from the large-scale grid failure after Hurricane Maria last fall. Some are not expected to be reconnected to the grid until April or May.

Community Solutions

One of those communities took matters into its own hands and set the local school up with solar panels. Plans to set up rainwater collection and filtration are also in the works. This would make the school entirely off-grid, and a perfect community shelter in the event of other natural disasters.

The Daily Bell recently published an article called 7 Reasons to Shut Down Public Schools Immediately and Permanently. Praising an off-grid public school seems like a contradiction.

But Puerto Rico announced plans to introduce a school voucher program so that students could take a portion of a school’s funding with them and apply it towards another public or private school. Perhaps a school which is off the grid and teaches kids about solar and rainwater systems will flourish. Competition always helps to improve things.

This doesn’t come close to solving all the current problems with mainstream schooling. But the off the grid school couple with school choice can be seen as a decentralization of government, with the community more in control. And that seems like a step in the right direction.

Individual Solutions

Puerto Rican companies in the solar industry had a hard time convincing consumers of the need for solar energy and storage before Hurricane Maria. But now, everyone understands the value of being off the grid. It means you don’t sit around waiting and hoping for the government to come save you. You are in control of your own energy production and use.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

‘Cosmo-Localization’: Can Thinking Globally and Producing Locally Really Save Our Planet?



Fablabs, makerspaces, emerging global knowledge commons… These are but some of the outcomes of a growing movement that champions globally-sourced designs for local economic activity. Its core idea is simple: local ownership of the means to produce basic manufactures and services can change our economic paradigm, making our cities self-sufficient and help the planet.

Sharon Ede, urbanist and activist based in Australia has recently launched AUDAcities, a catalyst for relocalising production in cities. She shared her insights on the opportunities of making cities regenerative and more sustainable as well as the limits of cosmo-localization.


Technology will go where cultural, social and economic values direct it. A cultural shift will include open source tools, and the kinds of processes we need to create those – but a cultural shift will require much more.

Governments can and do play a significant role in shaping culture through policy and regulation, and contrary to popular belief about where innovation originates, the state is not only a key entrepreneurial actor but also has a huge opportunity to reinvent itself as the ‘partner state’ – where government responds to the contributory democracy we are seeing emerge as a force that does with, not for or to, the communities it serves.The technology, and who owns it, is just a manifestation of what we value.


…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Podcast: How Residents of an English Town Took Governance and the Local Economy Into Their Own Hands

Podcast: How Residents of an English Town Took Governance and the Local Economy Into Their Own Hands

Upstream's picture

The stories in this series come from a small town in the United Kingdom called Frome, but the themes and topics explored are global in scale, ranging from the Americas to the Himalayas. Despite its unique setting, nestled in the sleepy countryside of southeast England, Frome is a microcosm of much of what is taking place in towns and cities around the world. The voices of Frome tell stories that will sound familiar all across the globe, and if you listen closely, you just might hear your own story in there as well.

Our story begins in a noisy bar. A few years ago, a group of disgruntled Frome residents were sitting around a table at their local pub, complaining about how bad their local town council was. Sound familiar? Well, this story is a bit different. Fast forward a few years, and the coalition that these residents decided to form has completely replaced every last council member. This coalition is known as the Independents of Frome, and their platform is based on a rejection of traditional party politics and on bringing power down to the local level.

This episode explores the Independents of Frome, as well as many of the initiatives that they have promoted and supported: a community fridge, a library of things, a town resilience officer, and more.

But the story of Frome, like most things in life, is not as simple as it may appear. This town has a long and at times dark history, and when parts of that history are uncovered, old wounds are revealed which tell an all too familiar story of division and gentrification. We’ll touch on this history here before we delve much deeper into these divides next week, in part two of this three-part series.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity

Jordan Osmond and Samuel Alexander Image from ‘A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity’ 2016
On July 27 2015, I posted a 2-hour interview with Nicole Foss that was recorded when we were in Melbourne in April that year. The interview -though not the full two hours of course- was always meant to be part of a documentary by our friends Jordan Osmond and Samuel Alexander. The documentary is now out.

Below, you can find the trailer, the full documentary, as well as a re-run of the full interview with Nicole. I haven’t had time to watch the documentary, just got the mail from Sam, but I will later today. No doubt, it’ll be worth your while and mine. I remember complimenting them on the sound- and picture quality of the interview last year. Plus, get the likes of our dear friend Dave Holmgren together with Nicole and Ted Trainer, amongst others, and you can’t very well go wrong, can you?

(NOTE: Saw some rushes, and it may contain a tad much hippieness and/or reality-TV semblance for some)

The trailer:

With the text published with it: 

The overlapping economic, environmental, and cultural crises of our times can seem overwhelming, can seem like challenges so great and urgent that they have no solutions. But rather than sticking our heads in the sand or falling into despair, we should respond with defiant positivity and try to turn the crises we face into opportunities for civilisational renewal.

During the year of 2015 a small community formed on an emerging ecovillage in Gippsland, Australia, and challenged themselves to explore a radically ‘simpler way’ of life based on material sufficiency, frugality, permaculture, alternative technology and local economy. This documentary by Jordan Osmond and Samuel Alexander tells the story of this community’s living experiment, in the hope of sparking a broader conversation about the challenges and opportunities of living in an age of limits.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…


What It Means To and Why It Matters That We Buy Local

Fresh apples in baskets on display at a farmer's market


Whether it’s mindless masses following a fashion or rise in consumer consciousness, staying local does matter on the grand scale. This morning I read an interesting, inspiring (and, for any permaculturalists, not altogether ground-breaking) article about “Replanting America”. According to a study from The University of California, Merced, it would be possible to locally produce 90% of the nation’s nutritional needs for a well-balanced diet, using only the existing farmland in America. It would just mean using that land to grow something besides corn, soy and other cash crops and growing food instead.

Farmers’ Market (Courtesy of Gemma Billings)
Farmers’ Market (Courtesy of Gemma Billings)

While I’ve seen lots and lots of these kinds of studies and claims over the years, the part of this one that struck me was that apparently scientists from earth and environmental disciplines aren’t that stoked on local food because it doesn’t actually make such a big difference in the scheme of emissions. The claim follows that transportation makes up only about a tenth of the total emissions from food production, with farms accounting for the rest. I know current farm practices are horrible, but I’m not sure such ideas are addressing the big picture.


…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How to Grow a Local Job-Rich Economy

How to Grow a Local Job-Rich Economy 

At a time when huge debates are raging over all the subsidies required by the 1 per cent of the business elite, Michael Shuman is working to shift public attention to the other, ultimately more positive, side of the picture – the sheer neglect of the 50 per cent of businesses that are local and independent, and don’t get much help from governments.

Shuman has long been an expert in the field of small, local and independent business, and has several excellent books to his credit. His latest, The Local Economy Solution, puts the issue of the 50 per cent versus the 1 per cent front and centre.

Half the population in North America works in public service or for large corporations, but half work in small and regional businesses. That half gets talked about a lot, but helped very little.

Shuman poses a choice that needs to be top-of-mind for people interested in the future of food, cities and regions. Victory for one side or the other will determine how food will shape the careers, lives, health and environment of the 50 per cent of the world population living in cities, as well as the 50 per cent of the world population living in countryside regions, where food security for entire nations comes from. From a city and food perspective, this book is about the 100%, not the 1% or the 50%.

A huge amount of taxpayers’ money hangs in the balance. According to Shuman, over 80 billion dollars a year now go to corporate boondoggles in the US that provide little in the way of jobs, community, public health or environmental benefits. In Canada, the level of annual corporate giveaways is even higher on a per capita basis. In 2014, the Fraser Institute documented a total expenditure of $684 billion over the years from 1981 to 2009.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Local Economy or Local-Washing?

Buy local

Local Economy or Local-Washing?

“Local” has become a buzzword. Today there’s eco-localism, local food and local farming, local media movements, as well as regional, state, and even national ad campaigns urging us to “eat local” and “buy local.”

Local’s gone global, but what exactly does the term mean anymore?

David Levine, of the American Sustainable Business Council, discusses the “triple bottom line” of social, environmental, and economic impacts. “Local by itself is not enough,” he tells Yes! Magazine. Levine does not want, for example, people buying “local first” from a locally owned sweatshop, toxic chemical plant or dirty manufacturing facility.

Add some democracy to your localism

The goal is having community-led, community-controlled economies where the decision-making is by those who are feeling the effects of the decisions that are made. This type of development comes under the rubric of what is becoming called Commonomics — economic democracies that foster local self-reliance.

Farmer-philosopher Wendell Berry defines economy this way

I mean not economics but economy, the making of the human household upon the earth; the arts of adapting kindly the many, many human households to the earth’s many eco-systems and human neighborhoods.

By now, we all know the signs of a human household that’s been hollowed out.

We’ve seen the food deserts and the chronically vacant homes, the ghostly downtown storefronts and the municipalities being courted by sweet-talking corporations that suck up public resources and then run away. We’re familiar with the tension in towns where the only thing that the rich and poor have in common are the roads. We know what it’s like to be close, everywhere, to the same chain coffee shop and two hours away from the “local” hospital. We see the sprawl that’s eating the woodlands.

– See more at: http://transitionvoice.com/2015/08/local-economy-or-local-washing/#sthash.TzCsMNug.dpuf


We are all Greece

We are all Greece

6909168001_76655d538a_zThe cast of heroes and villains in Greece’s ongoing battle to save its economy varies depending on who’s telling the story. One simplified narrative depicts the German people as rich and callous overlords inflicting hardship on the downtrodden Greeks. The austerity measures they insist upon are essentially meant to punish the Greeks for spending too much on social programs for the sick and elderly.

In an opposing storyline, the Greeks have only themselves to blame: they lived beyond their means, evaded taxation, were generally corrupt, and irresponsibly piled up debts they simply could not repay. In this scenario the Germans are like parental figures administering discipline on the immature Greeks.

Neither of these narratives is accurate or helpful; rather than providing real insight, they merely serve to heighten nationalistic and xenophobic impulses in both countries. In order to make sense of what’s going on, we ­­need to go behind the scenes to look more broadly at the underpinnings of the crisis.

It is widely assumed that the European Union was formed in order to prevent conflict. This notion can be traced to the aftermath of the Second World War, when well-intentioned statesmen promoted the notion that economic integration was a path to peace and harmony. And until this day many idealists support the EU for this reason. However, for many in my network – particularly in Scandinavia – it was clear from the beginning that the EU was primarily about big business.

Before countries were linked together into an economic union, Europe’s many regions were home to a great variety of cultures, languages and customs. But the Union erodes this rich diversity, which was born of human adaptation to different climates and ecological realities. The many borders, currencies, and differing regulations made trade difficult for big business, while the diversity of languages and cultural traditions put limits on mass marketing.


…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Local Production Means Jobs and Prosperity

Local Production Means Jobs and Prosperity

With over 93 million unemployed working age adults in America and the economy beginning to go negative again, if you are fortunate enough to have a job it may not last much longer. It is easy to keep a positive attitude about the economy when you get a paycheck every week but life after the paychecks stop will change your outlook a great deal. That is the reality that is about to overtake the working class in the coming months.

The primary mechanism that has tipped the economy onto a downhill trajectory is the route that circulating money has taken in the past few decades. In the past much of the money was kept in circulation in the local economy resulting in the creation of many local jobs. With the new corporate model, most of the profit is siphoned out of the local economy and goes to wall street profiteers. This has resulted in the destruction of many local jobs while the few at the top of the wealth pyramid get richer much faster as time goes on.

The only way a nation can maintain a middle class is to keep money circulating in the local arena. The lack of this local circulation has finally caught up to the middle class and it has begun to shrink at an alarming rate. If the corporate model plays out to the end, it will mean the total destruction of the middle class and the beginnings of a two tiered system where there are a few very wealthy persons lording over a very large poverty stricken majority. That is where we are heading.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…


Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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