During its heyday, the Roman Empire built and ran systems for living that rivaled those we have today. Roman roads are to this day solid and walkable, aqueducts that once delivered water to homes are monuments to ancient engineers today, trade with the entire world was commonplace, educated citizens read and wrote, Latin was a second language and Roman currency was accepted all over the Mediterranean and as far north as England. Their vast and disciplined military kept order and provided opportunity for citizens to advance socially, and people from recently conquered states could obtain citizenship through service. On many fronts, Rome did a pretty good job as an empire.
When this mighty empire later went down the Commode [after Commodus, one of the worst emperors in world history], all of these systems for living went down with it. Far flung cities formerly dependant upon secure trading routes were cut off from their supply lines. Items that had been commonplace became scarce. Food supplies were at risk, protection from robbers and barbarians became nonexistent. Learning became patchy at best- building techniques and technologies were lost to the entropic effects of history.
During the centuries that followed, Europe went into what has been called its “Dark Ages”, a decline of centuries that took centuries more of recovery to overcome. The distortions and shadows of that era are with us to this day, and darken our own thinking and actions in innumerable ways.
We are standing on the brink of another potential Dark Age here and now. Make no mistake, our systems are about to fail, our food supply is at risk, our societal security and political stability are eroding worldwide. We are facing extremely serious fallout and must find the way to transcend it. Every essential of living- food, clothing, transportation, heat- has become inextricably entwined with cheap fuel, so that our very survival is keyed to the price of oil, and the price of oil is dictated by the whim of the merciless petrochemical corporations. Cheap fuel is no longer in the mix. We’re going to be feeling the consequences as we transition to something new.
The wonderful election which brought us hope and stopped the reign of our latter-day Commodus is not sufficient unto itself to tide the avalanche which the last thirty years of economic mindlessness has created. President-elect Obama, while a very intelligent and good man by all appearances, can only be the Grand Marshal to the parade that WE must create. The actual marching in that parade- and the direction it takes- is entirely up to us. And we have to start marching right this minute, so grab your sousaphones, kids.
The pundits, the bloggers, and the armchair warriors who are all standing in the orchestra pit waving their scores at the man have it all wrong. We need to do it for ourselves, President-elect Obama can move in Washington, but what needs to be done is outside the Beltway and is so huge and dire that FEMA couldn’t even begin to melt the ice for it- and no committee or thinktank has been working on the how-to yet.
Let’s go back again... What saved the remnants of civilization during the time of the Roman meltdown is what I believe will save our civilization now- especially if we organize sufficiently- rapidly enough- to do it in a preemptive manner, and avoid the worst of the crash. Then as now there was no major player within the system who knew what was going on, and there was no external force of any size other than the nascent Church to step in after the big system crashed in terms of the practical matters of survival- but there were seeds strewn across the landscape which slowly- over centuries- restored social systems and their systems of function as well as midwifing technological advances, and in the process created new networks for survival, from farming technologies to healthcare and teaching.
These were the monasteries.
I’m not recommending that everybody put on brown robes and take a vow of silence, here [although in some cases that too could be of help]. I’m talking about the idea that what worked to help society recover from the meltdown back then will probably serve to do the same thing now, and if we do it deliberately and carefully, doing this might even stave off the worst of the effects we face.
I’m advocating for decentralization of all of our systems, and removal of the top-down architecture of administration. This is something I’ve been talking about for more than ten years. It’s well past due for not only discussion, but implementation.
Our systems over the last century have, like those of the Romans, been predicated on the idea of centralization, of top-down, of megalith. In other words, we have a pyramid scheme in terms of how we get things done. This isn’t just in terms of physical organization, it’s also very much how we’ve been taught to think.
Back in the 90s, when the Internet was trying to be birthed, it was stalled for a while by the fact that the central servers were inadequate to handle the anticipated traffic. I wrote a letter to Senator Gore, who was involved with some of the people doing the thinking at the time, about Indra’s Net.
Indra’s Net is a metaphor that Douglass Hofstadtler talks about in his book, “Godel, Escher, Bach, An Eternal Golden Braid”. Indra’s Net has infinite threads that go horizontally through space and vertically through time. At every junction of these threads is a crystal bead- an individual human- and every bead contains the reflections of not only every other bead, but the reflections within every other bead, so that the infinity of the net is reflected, as with a hologram, within every single individual.
Shortly after I typed that letter out on my trusty IBM electric typewriter, things shifted. I like to think that letter might have had an influence. So despite the jokes, Al Gore didn’t invent the Internet- and neither did I- Indra did [with a little help from the brilliant Mr. Hofstadtler].
Right now, more than a decade later, we need to come to the realization that while the pyramid is an admirable geometrical form, and quite impressive as a megalithic construct, it’s a static object with limitations that render it unsuitable for the dynamism of a living flowing system- particularly one of great size.
We need to adapt instead to the idea of complex interconnected systems- systems that are predicated, like quarks, on both object and flow. Jonathan Donahue of Mercury Rev included my characterization of the Divine as being like a quark on the album "All Is Dream" with a little girl saying, “I’m a particle! I’m a wave! I’m a particle! I’m a wave!”. We need to adapt that mindset of being both at once, too. We’re individual people- particles- but we're also able to act and create- waves.
1 | 2