Most of us have lived through a handful of big collapsing bubbles now. Don’t you get that old déjà vu feeling when you see all of the flailing going on in Washington these days — all the frantic handwaving and deck-chair-rearranging and confident assertions of batty soothsayers with pseudoscientific models and charts?
Could it be that we might wake up some morning to find that the whole kit and caboodle — the dollar, Wall Street, the federal government — has gone out Enron-style?
Dmitry Orlov spoke at a Long Now Foundation seminar in San Francisco a few days back. He sees many similarities between the situation the U.S. is in today and the situation the Soviet Union was in shortly before it disintegrated. You can read the transcript of his talk on his blog.
In some ways, ironically, the fact that people in the Soviet Union had already taken pains to create ways of nurturing relationships and creating livelihoods in parallel to the crushing totalitarian ambitions of the state made it easier for people to adjust to the wrenching changes that took place in the wake of that state’s implosion. Easier, that is, than Orlov anticipates things will be for us in the U.S., who have become far too used to relying on the system to provide for our needs.
But at least in my neighborhood, there’s a thriving renaissance of thinking about economic alternatives — ones that, even if they aren’t consciously designed with financial apocalypse recovery in mind, could be nice tools to have in the box should that event come to pass.
Representatives of several such experiments have come together recently to brainstorm at Bay Area Community Exchange, which had its first meeting last week:
- Oakland Roots — school of urban sustainability
- Feast Bay Farming — looks to be a sort of local back-yard farming cooperative
- Bay Localize — for a livable and resilient Bay Area
- Oakland City ID Card — trying to break the federal/state monopoly on definitive identification and possibly using this as a way of ushering in a local currency
- Urban Edibles — helps you grow, maintain and harvest your own organic fruits, vegetables and herbs from your own backyard
- The Really Really Free Market — No money. No Barter. No trade. Everything is free!
- Collective Autonomy Network — develop and discover the means to collectively take care of each other
- Blossom Institute — a think tank whose members imagine and manifest a better world
- SF Bay Area Alternative Economy Forum (a.k.a. Just Alternative Sustainable Economy Project)
- San Francisco Food Not Bombs — recovers healthy, nutritious, vegetarian food that would have been otherwise discarded and cooks and serves it to people in immediate need
- Humboldt Exchange — Humboldt County’s local currency project
- Urban Alliance for Sustainability — seeks to integrate and inspire the sustainability movement in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond
The group met to brainstorm the possibility of “a local currency and/or bartering network in order to facilitate a more just and sustainable local economy” in the San Francisco bay area. War tax resistance was one of many explicit goals of the project, which also included: “community participation in and control over local economy which would better reflect community values, the collapsing economy and the associated rise of poverty, better pay equity and fuller employment, development of stronger community relations, more environmentally sound production of goods and reduced energy use for distribution, supports local workers and withdraws support for exploitation of workers abroad, to enjoy life more [with] less time working at a desk job and more time gardening [and] taking care of family etc., greater self and community sufficiency as peak oil becomes a challenge.”
It is gatherings like these that give me some hope that creative minds will find a way to get to the other side of all of this madness and maybe learn a thing or two from it.