Discussing decentralization, E.F. Schumacher's and related ideas on alternative economics, Evolution of Domination, secession and reasons to keep nations and states small.
This is the first half of a two part transcript of the podcast interview which can be found here. Thanks to Dick Overfield for help with transcript checking.
R.K.: My guest tonight is Kirkpatrick Sale. He is the author of a dozen books including After Eden: The evolution of Human Domination, Human Scale and Rebels Against the Future: The Luddites and Their War on the Industrial Revolution. He's the director of the Middlebury Institute for the study of separation, secession, and self-determination. Welcome to the show.
K.S.: Well thank you, sir.
R.K.: So, as I was telling you before we got on the air, I discovered you because I recently read E. F. Schumacher's book, Small is Beautiful, then I found out that you had given a talk at a conference on decentralization, on decentralism, and that got me started looking at your work and it's all very interesting and powerful stuff. So I'm not sure where to begin but...
K.S.: Well, thank you.
R.K.: You gave me the clue and that is that I wrote to you and I said that I do this show called Bottom Up Radio because I believe we're in a transition from a top down to a bottom up culture and you said you disagree with me. Which is always fun and forces me to think in new ways. So. why do you disagree?
K.S.: I don't think we're achieving it. I think it's one of those lofty goals that people have from time to time, but it doesn't seem to me to be happening. In fact, most of the things that I have been supporting for most of my seventy-five years have not gotten anywhere either, including protecting the environment and decentralism.
You know we established a Schumacher Institute in Massachusetts that was devoted to decentralization and getting people to talk about it and think about it and to write about it which we did for about twenty years and there is a rump organization, a Schumacher society of some kind still going on with some of the original people, but it's just spinning its wheels.
And I have to say that seems to me... what I have learned in a fairly long life, I haven't given up on any of the causes that I've taken on but I can't say that I won them, or that the world has gotten significantly better. I would say, for example, in the environmental area that the world has gotten significantly worse and, though much attention is drawn and much alarm is being raised, I don't see that it's having any effect in the world. Alas.
R.K.: It is tough out there and things are hard and I'm not going to argue with you that probably over the course of your lifetime things have gotten a lot worse in many, many ways, maybe all ways. But you're still fighting, I'm fighting and a lot of people are and I think that what we need to do is keep putting the ideas out there and maybe some of them will stick and maybe some people will wake up and you never know. You know? Howard Zinn and Woody Guthrie...
K.S.: And you're right...
R.K.: There are a million people, a million things that are going to change the world, so go ahead.
K.S.: I keep writing because that's the thing I do. And there are occasional times when it seems to me that things are so obviously awful that people will wake up and start thinking about the things that I am telling them. That's why I wrote a column for the local paper in January called, "After this Year," meaning take a look at what's happened this year and you can see that the government isn't working and the reason the government isn't working is that it's too big and so then I went through a long spiel about why we needed decentralization and devolution of power and separatism and secession and self-determination.
And that is what I have devoted my life to in one way or another for fifty years. And I'm continuing to do it because every now and again I think that things have reached such a low point that everybody has got to understand that we can't go on with this. But does that happen? No. People go on electing people to some office and think that they're going to change the world.
R.K.: Well, I... your article is a very interesting one. I'm glad we worked it out so that it will be available soon on opednews.com so people who are listening to this will be able to find it easily and I'll put a link on the page of podcasts to the article as well. And what you've been doing for a long time, I'm just getting up to speed on and I'm excited about it so I have...maybe I'm bringing new eyes to it, beginner's mind to it, but I'm very excited about the idea that small is beautiful and that big is a problem and I love some of the things that you've said.
You say in your article that immensity, bulk, quantity, greatness, etcetera, they're part of the problem and you actually discuss how too big is abnormal and actually I've been writing about that for a couple of years now in terms of billionaires. I believe that billionaires are an abnormal form of gigantism economically and I've been advocating that we've got to make it so there aren't any more billionaires. But if...
K.S.: Well, that's a nice way of looking at it. Yeah.
R.K.: Now, in your article you talked about the idea that we should be, there should be secession and that somehow the US is too big and that it should be smaller and you have some ideas about how big a nation should be based on some research that you've done. Can you talk about that a bit?
K.S.: Yeah. Let me start by saying where this secession idea comes from. It was a conference that we held in Montpelier, Vermont in 2004, just after the illegal election of Bush. Again. The illegal reelection.
R.K.: I agree.
K.S.: We gathered around some fifty of us trying to figure out what to do. What do serious responsible people do in the world? And we talked about politics, party politics, for awhile but we were just witness to how party politics works in this country and it's generally corrupt and always inefficient and always installs people that you don't want in office. And when they get into office, never do any of the valuable things that they ought to be doing.
So we gave up on big politics. Well, we thought about third party politics for awhile, but we looked at the history of that and that does not work either and it seems to just draw votes away from one bad guy to another bad guy who wins. Well, if you don't do party politics, what are your other choices? Well, you can try to reform the system. We talked about that for quite awhile and then we all talked about the kinds of reforms that we have variously tried to seek in our lives and work for that got absolutely nowhere.
And so we gave up on reform and then the next section was about revolution. Well, there were a number of people who were quite serious and saying let's do revolution. Instead, you know, we could join up with Quebec if we were in Vermont and we could get our armaments from Canada and we could fight. It was laughed down! Laughed down! Nobody wanted to go along with that because it just seemed so ridiculous. You can't militarily try against the world. So what is left? And then we came up with the idea of secession.
And we looked at the world around and we saw that the great part of the world had been formed by secession, or at least separatism, and that there were fifty four nations, I think it was, when the United Nations was formed and there's now something like two hundred and seven. That's been happening throughout the 20th century. That is the phenomenon of our time. So we said, okay, well, how would we go about that? Would we do it by trying to divide the United States up into, say, nine nations as one book had described it? Or twelve nations? And that was favored by many.
But I say it would be more realistic to work within the units we already have, the states that we already have, and not try to contrive whole new states and not try to contrive something by the way like socialism, or doing away with capitalism, or anything that radical. The idea was that the states could work through their existing organizations as they had done, after all, a hundred and fifty years ago.
And people would be familiar with the machinery around them. But once they got control of their states on a small scale then they might be able to establish the reforms, create true democracy, and have control over the decisions that are made in their lives which was, by the way, one of S.D.S.'s great slogans. And that seemed to generally hit a chord and we came up with a manifesto out of that meeting, a declaration. And we talked about this being the only peaceable way for responsible people to have some voice in what goes on in their land.
So I set up a Middlebury Institute devoted to this subject for the study of separatism, secession, and self determination and for ten years I have been pushing this idea. Not with a whole lot of success I have to say. There are secessional organizations in about twenty states, but they are of varying quality and none, of course, has achieved anything close to success yet. But that still remains a possibility it seems.
I mean, the idea of trying to change the government of the US itself seems to me preposterous.
But the idea of trying to have your own state government, have control over your own state government and that becomes a nation unto itself. That doesn't seem too preposterous to me and so that's what I wrote in this article I had done and I had previously examined the question of what size would be right for a nation, a small nation.
And I looked through the world and I found out what are the most successful nations financially. They're all small. All small and what are the most successful in human rights in democracies? They're small nations. And I came up with a feeling that it's somewhere between three and seven million people would be about right. You wouldn't want to get bigger than that...
R.K.: But, wait. Let me just ask you what makes it... when you say, a certain size of a nation is more likely to be successful, what are the criteria that you base success on?
K.S.: Well, you take a list of the countries of the world at random by GDP, or per capita, or the per capita wealth and you'll find, except for maybe the United States which will come in at ten, or twenty on these lists, that the nations are small nations. And then if you look at ranks of the most democratic countries, there are organizations that put out those figures. Freedom House puts out a Freedom List every year of the freest nations.
And overwhelmingly they turn out to be the small nations. And so you go to those and you average them up and you see what their size is and it comes between three and seven million almost unfailingly. And that's why I said that that was the size that people ought to try to get in their lives.
And it so happens that I am in South Carolina, which is a secession state of course from history, and it's about the right size. It's about a little under five million people and geographically the right size. So it could be a viable democratic state. Now there's no guarantee that once you secede that you will have all the good things that you hope to have. It might be that the people of your state will decide certain things that you didn't want them to decide.
For example, the people of a seceded, independent South Carolina might want to outlaw abortion and you'd say, well, alright if that's the absolute popular vote, then that's what we'll do. We can continue to work to change people's minds and we have seen how that works. The whole question of gay tolerance and gay marriage, we've seen how that has changed vastly in this country. But you don't want to dictate beforehand exactly what the new independent state is going to be. You let it decide for itself.
Well anyway, that's sedition. That's sedition and that's what I put out, contrasting it to the terrible government that we had last year that just made clear at every point that it was too big to decide things, that it was split, that it was given to incompetence, that it was corrupt, or all of the pork barrel stuff that goes on.
R.K.: Now we're in agreement there, we agree. Now let me"We agree. We agree completely about how the current state is" the United States and the government, but let me ask you a couple more questions. Kind of being a newbie at this idea, are there current examples of nations that have seceded successfully and that are now thriving?
K.S.: Well, you could take Norway. That's one of the earliest examples. Belgium, if you like, yeah. Lichtenstein and all of the nations formed by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many of them you wouldn't want to live in, but they seem to be as successful as nations, most of them, as they were as Soviet Republics in the Soviet Union. You know, of course, that there is a vote in Scotland that is coming up in the fall for Scotland to secede from Great Britain.
There's a strong movement in Catalonia for secession. The Quebecois are talking about that in Canada again. And distaste with the current political parties has given new strength to the Quebecois party which is working for secession. All of the former states of Yugoslavia are independent with varying degrees of success, but nobody thinks that they aren't capable of being viable countries. This has happened, as I say, for the whole latter part of the 20th century. States have seceded and done it successfully.
R.K.: Okay. Fair enough. And it sure seems like something that the US wouldn't allow. On the other hand, I think there are a lot of people who would want to see some states secede. Like I wouldn't mind...
K.S.: I agree.
R.K.: There are a bunch of states that I would happy to see secede. What about...now, look on the other side, look at Europe and how in Europe the states that are independent have joined together. What have we learned from the European Union and the way that these independent nations have combined together to form the European Union and a single monetary...
K.S.: What we learn is the form. What we learn is that they have created a system that makes the banks and the corporations happy. And they've succeeded in bankrupting the whole southern half of Europe. And in fact not doing so good in the northern half, except in Germany, which was always strong and will always be strong. But I can't say that anybody could declare that a happy success, the European Union.
And as to having all power located in Brussels, I think a great many Europeans have grown quite unhappy and restless with that idea. But that's, that is the condition. Greece can't do anything that it wants to do. Spain is limited. Portugal! The rest of them, it hasn't proven to be such a great success, combining, getting bigger.
And I think that's becoming more and more clear and I think that the Euro, which is the engine of that unification and the pleasure of the bankers, is a shaky currency that you might not want to put your money in. I've put my money into Swiss Francs, myself. So, just want you to know that's where my actions have me to" and I wouldn't go into the Euro.
R.K.: Alright. So...
K.S.: I think, I was just going to say that I think maybe the crisis in the Ukraine will show again the difficulties with the EU and its inability to do anything about Russian invasion of Crimea, or takeover of Crimea. And it is beholden to Russia for much of its energy. And so it's not going to be doing anything there. And it has no other kind of power. It has no military, or diplomatic power of any consequence.
K.S.: But you were going on.
R.K.: Well, yeah. I think it's a really interesting concept. I think it's one more neat idea to put out there. Where I've gone, in my pursuit of trying to look at the world from a more bottom up perspective, is I got started looking at it when Obama beat Hillary Clinton in one of the most powerful, top-down campaigns in history and he did it with a bottom-up collection of technologies and approaches and there are all these big giant companies now.
K.S.: Oh, wait a minute, wait a minute. Let us not forget Wall Street behind Obama. Let us not forget Hollywood behind Obama. It wasn't all little people donating dimes. From the very start of his campaign, he was given massive support by Wall Street money interests. Democratic money interests who saw in him a perfect man, a perfect cover for the kind of power that they wanted to exert. Now don't give me "man of the people Obama."
R.K.: Well, we sure have learned that lesson, haven't we?
K.S.: I hope so.
R.K.: And you're absolutely right. Absolutely right. I think that, you know I wonder, I wonder if the bankers and the corporations went strongly to Obama ,or they hedged their beds and went both ways, but he certainly got a fortune from them and I certainly see him now as someone who was a corporatist and loyal mostly to bankers and corporations rather than to the people who voted for him, the middle class and the democratic people.
K.S.: Absolutely and you talk about billionaires, he hasn't harmed the billionaires at all.
R.K.: Yeah. And the more...
K.S.: He has done very well by them.
R.K.: The more I find out about him the more I see that he was created by billionaires to protect particularly the Chicago billionaires from where he came from, the Pritzker family in particular.
K.S.: That mob machine, yeah, you're right about that. But let me ask you a question. Suppose you say that the billionaires should be outlawed. I think that was the phrase you used. Just how could you accomplish this?
R.K.: Well, I wrote an article. There are a lot of different things that have to be done and I talked to Noam Chomsky about it a couple of weeks ago. One thing is you get rid of dynasties and you make it so that a billionaire cannot pass on billions to any of his descendants, or his or her descendants, or children.
K.S.: Just who is going to do this? Who is going to make this possible?
R.K.: Yeah. Well that's part of the challenge, but you know, if you don't put the ideas out there, nothing happens.
K.S.: If you do have...
R.K.: Well, wait a second now, I didn't give you that incredulous sounding voice when you talked about secession. It's a wild, crazy idea, but I like it. But it's" I could go" who is going to do this, you know?
K.S.: Well that's easy. The people can do that. People can get together on a small scale basis and accomplish secession and continue to govern by secession. But to take billionaires down, you're going to have to create a big government that has control over the entire economy that can decide who is going to be a billionaire and who isn't. In the first place. I wouldn't want to live under a government with so much power, but in the second place, that kind of government is not going to happen in the United States. Tell me that's not the way we run things in this country so far. I mean, in the way that it is.
R.K.: Absolutely true. You're right, it's not the way we do it now.
K.S.: How are we ever going to do it? That's exactly the point of secession. Is to say that given an array of problems, none is going to be settled at a federal level by the kind of people that inevitably go to office there. And you can imagine a whole bunch of reforms. They're offered every year and ignored, massively ignored.
R.K.: You know, I gave a talk last summer at the public banking conference on embracing bottom up values. Now the values that I talk about are decentralization and eliminating hierarchy and getting rid of authoritarianism and supporting, reconnecting people and things like an interdependence. Things like that. Now I think that in order for the big changes that you want and I think I want a lot of the same ones, it takes a value shift.
People have to start having a change in the way they look at the world and what they consider important. And sometimes that can happen very quickly. I don't think it'll happen with the electoral process as you've already said. That it's not going to. I think it's possible, but you have to talk about it and that's what you're doing with secession and that's what I'm doing with some of the things that I think are important.
K.S.: Well, you know I worked very hard at one point to get people to change their attitudes toward nature. Hoping to get a vast change of mind so that we regarded nature as someplace where we lived and had to deal with communally and regarded all of nature as part of our web and not something that we simply manipulated for our ends.
And I hope to have a change of consciousness and you could say that the environmental movement, that began in the 70's, had some of that change of consciousness, but it never got out of the material phase, materialistic phase of regarding nature as something to be used for human betterment.
And it never came to the ideas of deep ecology which were put out by Arne Naess and others in the 70's which limited human impact on the world in a variety of ways and tried to get people to think of themselves as part of nature, not rulers of nature. And I have to say that didn't happen and that the environmental movement became bureaucratized and became part of the system and as part of the system it's victories have been very limited and I think will continue to be very limited.
R.K.: Well, let's talk a little bit about that because I think you wrote a book, I think that relates to that, called, After Eden: The Evolution of Human Domination. That's the book that describes some of these ideas, right? I'm very interested in...
Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer-- first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978-- Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story-- each the first of their kind. Then, when he found the process of raising people's consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives one person at a time was too slow, he founded Opednews.com-- which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big) to bottom-up (egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up-- The Connection Revolution, debillionairizing the planet and the Psychopathy Defense and Optimization Project.
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