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Bottom-Up-Small-is-Beautiful Vs. Top-down-Monoliths

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OpEdNews' master of ceremonies, Rob Kall, delivered an intriguing, articulate and progressive vision in a recent interview by Burl Hall and Meryl Ann Butler (in her Envision This! programs). In-depth thinking, interviewing and reading invigorate this three-way chat, summarizing Rob's unabashed, activist thinking to save the world from its own worst habits.

Optimistic like Rob, I favor awakenings, empowerment, and experiments but along with defendable models with grounded, sustainable planning. No question that "advanced civilization" incurs high costs, certainly physical and emotional maladies rare in simpler cultures. And yet, the small-is-beautiful mantra raises big questions, not only about the permanence of decentralized non-systems, but the interface between the idealistic small vs. limitless systems averse to change (nationalism and arms, energy, resource, and electrical grids, the Internet, or the complexities of disease, health and safety, etc.). Reluctantly, I fear Rob's "bottom-up" future provides insufficient user protection or checks on corrupt corporatism. My aesthetic embraces Rob's models, but my analytic training identifies daunting problems, in the name of pragmatism and/or revolution. 

Responses and opinions welcome.  If nothing else, "bottom-up" provides ultimate grassroots democracy, everyone getting their five minutes with the megaphone.

1) Climate: What about planetary dilemmas that demand centralized, enforceable, unpopular rules certain to face high resistance? What if survival becomes a battle between the ransacking status quo vs. an international force tasked to cut carbon outputs "for the survival of the whole." What if Rob's decentralized solutions deliver at best partial fixes to greenhouse quandaries, as global sustainability clearly demands global solutions and power.

2) Lifespans Grow. What if topdown civilization, for all its new diseases, improves two problems for every one it brings?  Modern medicine, plus superior sanitation and nutrition, have doubled the average earthling lifespan since 1900, from 30 years to over 64 today (and rising). Wealth, income, and medical expenses correlate big time with longer life. Can we truly decentralize high-tech research, regional/state water systems, or global advances to diet and living conditions? That life for billions is still brutal doesn't mean tragedies (like infant mortality) were not rampant 100 or 200 years ago. "Four generations ago, the average Swede had the same probability of dying as a hunter-gatherer, but [environmental] improvements in our living conditions through medicine, better sanitation and clean drinking water decreased mortality rates."


(image by http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/images2/Life_Expect_Long.gif)

3) Self-interest Rules. What if family/tribal "self-interest," even selfishness, dominates human nature more than heroic sacrifice (by one or many) for a higher good?  What if the current, inequitable structure reflects a logical extension of heightened self-interest? What about massive over-population (with horrendous downsides) that also spawns thousands more solution-driven geniuses? Military prowess of the richest dozen countries can reinforce widespread, indeed imperial, control over suffering masses for decades to come. Revolution and insurgencies will strike lands with high suffering, but what affluent western nation nears revolution? The world is still fiercely nationalistic but, paradoxically, increasingly joined at so many, undeniable hips. 

4) Surviving Apocalypse.  What would become of independent, decentralized outposts, assuming good emergence from this status quo if major systems implode, per apocalyptic nightmares voiced by left and right alike? What sort of village life -- other than subsistence living -- would emerge were distant and specialized resources unavailable (like fuel or tools)? Would not isolation, reminiscent of medieval dreariness, prevail were transport and communication links broken?

5) The Price of Winning. Would truly independent outposts, as facts and as symbols, be tolerated by the itchy powers-that-be? Would not growing numbers, living off the grid, challenge the viability, if not profitability, of intact systems?  Success could well incite new crusades against the "unwashed heretics," thus prosperity would carry jeopardy.  Would tomorrow's power elite be more tolerant than today's, judging by one massive over-reaction alone called "anti-terrorism"? 

Is Small Divisible from Large?

Overall, I find grand paradoxes in such progressive visions of systemic change. If you deliver successful, revolutionary, especially peaceful alternatives, all the more reason for billionaires and militarists to justify their existence with attack. And since violence (and arms) would not be part of decentralized, anti-war, anti-big growth mentalities, would the experiments not face destruction or isolation (as in "exile the lepers")?  

On point, how many self-sacrificing volunteers would forego "civilization," not just the food, housing and travel, but all sorts of big-circus attractions (entertainment, live performances, gatherings and parties)? Would I trade off half my writing time to grow food or secure fuel? The critical information/education exchanges from global travel rely on corporate entities and international transport systems impossible to decentralize.

These observations extend beyond Rob's notions but to less well-defined  projections that dream of displacing modern capitalism, alienation from work and nature, and lack of community.  Returning power to the people, in the face of Walmart or BP or JP Morgan, will require not only a coherent plan but masterful execution. I remain suspicious of the nostalgic tone infusing utopian models right and left -- as if trying to retrieve, even improve, a lost golden age that wasn't so golden. 

Technology, the Tie That Binds

Further, doesn't modern technology inescapably increase our personal linkage to large systems? Much utopian thinking stands in contradiction to what huge majorities consider "progress" (cell phones and transportable, wireless computers, breakthrough drugs and interventions, new fuel options). That problem is separate from imagining, let alone building, a public engine -- with mass leverage far in excess of Occupy -- that could clear the deck (and the monopoly control over resources) so that self-reliant outposts have a chance. I endorse community enterprise and organization, but change invites huge battles over core beliefs (like private property, how assets are divided, federalism and religion) if anything with revolution in the title appears. 

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Educated at Rutgers College (BA) and UC Berkeley (Ph.D, English) Becker left university teaching (Northwestern, U. Chicago) for business, founding and heading SOTA Industries, high end audio company from '80 to '92. From '92-02 he did marketing (more...)
 

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In response to a terrific interview wherein Rob cl... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, Nov 14, 2013 at 8:49:17 PM
Great observations, Robert--that is the talk that ... by anna kakol on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 12:29:59 PM
Thanks but it's still easier to punch holes than d... by Robert S. Becker on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 12:50:00 PM
It's an old-fashioned concept nowadays, I suppose.... by Charles Roll on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 2:56:05 AM
Like your analysis, good questions.As far as chang... by BFalcon on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 1:51:27 PM
First, thank you very much for taking the time to ... by Rob Kall on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 2:29:56 PM
Doesn't Civilization 2.0 imply a shift in human na... by Robert S. Becker on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 6:02:46 PM
You said, "What if human nature is changing at 50 ... by Rob Kall on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 8:45:39 PM
I go 50 mph and my environment goes 100 mph. Wow! ... by Charles Roll on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 2:40:17 AM
Regarding corruption. Imagine if locales held peop... by Charles Roll on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 2:49:29 AM
So, here's your first batch of questions; 1) Clima... by Rob Kall on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 2:59:33 PM
Keeping this short so I don't give you another pro... by Robert S. Becker on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 5:51:10 PM
Yo ! ! !Dr. Stuart Jeanne Bramhall at Salon.com: S... by Charles Roll on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 1:49:52 AM
Yo ! ! !True Cost Accounting (TCA) - very importan... by Charles Roll on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 2:16:07 AM
What is your opinion of ICLEI USA ? ... by Charles Roll on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 2:11:49 AM
After following ACA for over a year, and the 2000 ... by Michael Dewey on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 3:02:20 PM
Banking reform is essential! Okay for whatever you... by Charles Roll on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 1:47:05 AM
Well said and well done for getting this article p... by Daniel Penisten on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 4:25:32 PM
Thanks for the double compliment. I am only asking... by Robert S. Becker on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 5:53:02 PM
What is this Hedges thing? It's like shining the l... by Charles Roll on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 1:10:30 AM
Hammond is an activist who's optimistic enough to ... by Robert S. Becker on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 10:57:46 AM
Read my last two essays on apocalypse and "you say... by Charles Roll on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 12:43:12 PM
When recommending shift of focus from Heges to Ham... by Charles Roll on Wednesday, Nov 20, 2013 at 11:34:40 AM
Sounds good to me.  I honor Hedges as journal... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Nov 20, 2013 at 12:17:47 PM
Living in a rural environment surrounded b... by Kevin Tully on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 7:03:39 PM
Thanks for a fine explanation of something that al... by Robert S. Becker on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 7:36:01 PM
I thought "Vichy" was a purse?... by Kevin Tully on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 7:52:59 PM
or maybe the second term of vidi, vici,veni.  ... by Robert S. Becker on Saturday, Nov 16, 2013 at 1:51:18 AM
As I recall Vichy is a town in France which is/was... by M.I. Lee on Saturday, Nov 16, 2013 at 1:03:23 PM
And as the last scene of Casablanca dramatizes, wh... by Robert S. Becker on Saturday, Nov 16, 2013 at 2:10:43 PM
Yeah, how do big cities fit in? And someone recent... by Charles Roll on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 12:49:08 AM
" ... always puzzled me: how retail gas prices can... by Charles Roll on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 1:06:15 AM
I reread my comment and I think I need to ... by Kevin Tully on Saturday, Nov 16, 2013 at 9:13:04 AM
I recommended your comment, but there's an ancient... by Charles Roll on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 12:20:08 AM
Interesting observation.  I don't really know... by Kevin Tully on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 7:13:15 AM
Good point!... by Charles Roll on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 10:04:06 AM
What I mean is, your reply to my comment has cause... by Charles Roll on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 10:16:50 AM
Good points, Robert.  Pretty much everyone wh... by Derryl Hermanutz on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 8:43:11 PM
A wonderful post Derryl Hermanutz! Worth many reco... by Daniel Penisten on Saturday, Nov 16, 2013 at 3:42:37 PM
David and Goliath 21st Century(image by Op Ed News... by Daniel Penisten on Saturday, Nov 16, 2013 at 12:07:57 AM
Not bad, though the boy is Japanese I think and th... by Robert S. Becker on Saturday, Nov 16, 2013 at 1:47:30 AM
"...summarizing Rob's unabashed, activist thinking... by Daniel Penisten on Saturday, Nov 16, 2013 at 12:25:17 AM
I am finding myself in agreement with both Becker ... by M.I. Lee on Saturday, Nov 16, 2013 at 1:31:39 PM
Yes, I too am in agreement with Rob, at least as s... by Robert S. Becker on Saturday, Nov 16, 2013 at 2:17:30 PM
"... a new set of entrepreneurs with a more holist... by Charles Roll on Monday, Nov 18, 2013 at 11:51:05 PM
OK. It is time for me to show where I am ignorant.... by Daniel Penisten on Saturday, Nov 16, 2013 at 3:19:43 PM
Yes, M.I. Lee, I agree ... it's just this meme goi... by Charles Roll on Monday, Nov 18, 2013 at 11:41:46 PM
Though there are a lot of astute, even profound, c... by Daniel Penisten on Saturday, Nov 16, 2013 at 2:54:47 PM
Neither, at least initially. "Social Moral High Gr... by Robert S. Becker on Saturday, Nov 16, 2013 at 3:12:02 PM
Thank you Robert. For the explanation as to your m... by Daniel Penisten on Saturday, Nov 16, 2013 at 3:56:54 PM
Suggest less about Hedges (although he is a great ... by Charles Roll on Monday, Nov 18, 2013 at 11:12:28 PM
" ... thinking hard about planning and options, al... by Charles Roll on Monday, Nov 18, 2013 at 11:27:10 PM
Robert wrote: "And yet, the small-is-beautiful man... by Daniel Penisten on Saturday, Nov 16, 2013 at 4:12:11 PM
"NON-SYSTEMS"? Systems or non-systems? Any middle ... by Daniel Penisten on Saturday, Nov 16, 2013 at 4:20:33 PM
My first reaction to all this was like Daniel Peni... by Charles Roll on Monday, Nov 18, 2013 at 10:48:52 PM
Of course, there might always be a theoretical cen... by Charles Roll on Monday, Nov 18, 2013 at 11:09:47 PM
Yeah, Daniel, me too ... about the permanence thin... by Charles Roll on Monday, Nov 18, 2013 at 11:19:37 PM
Well, they way things are now with the bottom up m... by Kevin Tully on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 11:44:10 AM
Yeah, I've been figuring that out, and I come to t... by Charles Roll on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 12:19:49 PM
Continued from preceding comment ...Kovel's ideas ... by Charles Roll on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 12:26:20 PM
The issues that are never discussed in these discu... by Kevin Tully on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 1:56:44 PM
I know most of this has been rehashed many times o... by Charles Roll on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 6:46:47 PM
About the question of whether revolution "outside ... by Charles Roll on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 6:59:50 PM
My main problem with Rob's vision is his idea of d... by E. J. N. on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 1:46:29 PM
Good statement of the other side of the argument!Y... by Charles Roll on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 7:26:13 PM