Nothing To Lose But Our (Supply) Chains (Pt II)

Nothing To Lose But Our (Supply) Chains (Pt II)

How we started to think this way, and what could come next.

Gabby · 9 minute read

Ecology Is Illegible To Capital

At the turn of the last century, researchers in the life sciences were beginning to adopt a more relationship-oriented approach. Under this approach, dubbed ecology, species were studied in relationship to everything around them.

interspecific relationships
Different species have different relationships to all others around them. One way of categorizing these relationships between species is by whether it helps, harms, or has no effect on each member.

Ecology is a typical feature of indigenous ways of knowing. However, it is just barely beginning to penetrate colonizer consciousness, largely due to the fact that colonialism is inherently anti-ecological. While ecology is the appreciation of the relationships that things have in their context, colonialism (and subsequently capitalism) is explicitly based on extraction of things from their context. The obvious outcome of this is that these elements of nature are displaced from the things that interacted with them - fueling them, limiting them, and handling their "waste" outputs. Every choice made in this manner is thus constantly reaching beyond the limits of our ability to predict consequences, just kind of flipping the switches of existence and seeing what happens.

The Allegory Of The Mine

Soil food web
The most recent decades of soil research have been defined by an accelerating understanding of the complex species interrelationships, especially where they are symbiotic with edible plants. (Source)

Capitalist anti-ecology reached its high water mark with the Green Revolution - a series of developments in the agriculture industry based on the noble intention of feeding the world. While it has secured a temporary increase in food security for much of the world, it has also made many people's survival increasingly dependent upon

vertebrate land animals
I mean, seriously. (Source)

For almost every crisis we face in the twenty-first century, industrial agriculture has made an appreciable contribution. When a frack site down the road is spewing benzene into the air in your neighborhood, it is also extracting the very gas that puts food on your plate. But food isn't really special in this regard. The same kind of analysis can be applied to every industry today, from automobiles to clothing. The rate and intensity of issues is compounding as every interrelated element is reduced to a mere "resource" for extraction.

Succession - Managed, Unmanaged, And Stewarded

natural timespiral
The kind of time we don't have. (Source)

The first 4 billion years of life followed a dramatically different approach. In biology, species succession is the process by which the species mix changes over time. When that succession happens unfacilitated, each species takes its sweet little time finding its niche, often travelling willy-nilly by birds, the wind, and other unreliable forms of transit. It then grows in to fill that niche, until it is replaced by new competitors or even new relationships. Depending on the pre-existing maturity of the ecosystem and the pressures it is responding to, this process can take quite a while.

What regenerative farmers and permaculturists try to do is facilitate succession with the deliberate introduction of species. There are three really important principles to consider during this process:

  1. Emphasize closed loops. If you're consistently hauling inputs in or waste out, you have some niches to fill.
  2. Stack functions. One thing should do many things. An apple tree, properly placed, can provide delicious apples, cooling shade, and leaf litter for soil fertility and pollinator lifecycles. Compare this to the concept of "externalities," and we can see how different an ecological approach truly is.
  3. Employ redundancy. Mature, stable ecosystems rely on multiple elements to accomplish the same function, often by completely different means. That way, if one system fails, another one is already taking its place.
permaculture interrelatedness
Closed resource loops aren't just "efficient". They are the steps away from disempowering supply chains and toward a more deeply knowable environment.

Revolutionary Survivability

"The critical edge of ecology is due not so much to the power of human reason—a power which science hallowed during its most revolutionary periods—but to a still higher power, the sovereignty of nature. It may be that man is manipulable, as the owners of the mass media argue, or that elements of nature are manipulable, as the engineers demonstrate, but ecology clearly shows that the totality of the natural world—nature viewed in all its aspects, cycles and interrelationships—cancels out all human pretensions to mastery over the planet. The great wastelands of the Mediterranean basin, once areas of a thriving agriculture or a rich natural flora, are historic evidence of nature’s revenge against human parasitism."

— Murray Bookchin, Post-Scarcity Anarchism (1986)

It's clear that the pace of succession in the human social ecology is lagging. How do we facilitate the kind of succession needed to replace toxic elements of the current system with alternatives that meet our needs, all without causing new, perhaps even worse problems as a result?

Tactically speaking, a good place to start is...your place! You live in a place. Near you are people. It is easier for you to coordinate decision-making, production, and logistics with the people who you can reach. People you can help in a crisis. People you can reach out to if there was a complete collapse tomorrow. This approach...

  1. Emphasizes closed loops. Stay local so you can maintain an ecological approach. See what is coming in and what is going out. That's your supply chain now. That's the main thing you're concerned with. Insulin is still getting made in Sweden or wherever (for now), but looking at trends with petroleum, natural gas, phosphate, anhydrous ammonia, and a number of other commodities, a lot of things we've taken for granted about global supply chains are going to change suddenly and for a long time. So figure out what your community is going to do about it, because there's no such thing as a safe house on a hungry block. Some misguided activists distrupting the production of insulin is much less likely than catastrophically high petroleum or food prices.
  2. Stack functions. Building neighborhood solidarity means you're socializing, which helps with anxiety and depression. You're building trust, which helps with not getting murdered when the store runs out of food. You're directly tackling atomization in your local culture, which makes your neighborhood more likely to go the direction of Cuba during the Special Period and less like a white suburb during Katrina.
  3. Employ redundancy. How many gardeners are in your neighborhood? Cooks? People who know self-defense? People who can drive or mediate or provide childcare? Now is time to meet each other, not when you're all desperate and running around to get your needs met in a hostile and unfamiliar "nation of individuals."

Most importantly, it restores a production and distribution signal that is older and more ecologically oriented than markets and the state - community. That is to say, the people who would do things for you, and who you would do things for. Our job right now is to grow that, just like the eroded and depleted soil that it is.

If you haven't watched one of our video on neighborhood pods, I recommend it!

Dialogic Democracy And The Social Bioreactor

"Perhaps the real question here is what it means to be a ‘self-conscious political actor’. Philosophers tend to define human consciousness in terms of self-awareness; neuroscientists, on the other hand, tell us we spend the overwhelming majority of our time effectively on autopilot, working out habitual forms of behaviour without any sort of conscious reflection. When we are capable of self-awareness, it’s usually for very brief periods of time: the ‘window of consciousness’, during which we can hold a thought or work out a problem, tends to be open on average for roughly seven seconds. What neuroscientists (and it must be said, most contemporary philosophers) almost never notice, however, is that the great exception to this is when we’re talking to someone else. In conversation, we can hold thoughts and reflect on problems sometimes for hours on end. This is of course why so often, even if we’re trying to figure something out by ourselves, we imagine arguing with or explaining it to someone else. Human thought is inherently dialogic."

— Graeber and Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything

Johnson-Su bioreactor
Dr. David and Hui-Chun Su

This is a bioreactor. It might seem like too fancy of a name for $35 worth of remesh, landscaping fabric, pallet wood, and pvc, but that's what it is. The Johnson-Su bioreactor is one of the most efficient tools for soil biodiversity ever made. Every day in this country, some farmer who just got their fertilizer bill is building one of these for the first time. (Hang in there! I promise we're getting somewhere with this!) By creating the right conditions, the microbes already living on your input material will flourish and multiply. The result is a compost so rich in soil life that it has the power to increase yields, sequester carbon, and reverse soil erosion.

The neighborhood assembly is a social bioreactor. It creates, metaphorically speaking, the "aerobic conditions" for the diversity of the local social ecology to flourish and multiply. Why? A big reason is that we tend to think better when we talk to each other, especially under conditions of mutually assured safety and respect. From Socrates to the rubber ducky, we depend on dialog to clarify our thinking. Deliberately dialogic spaces also help us to make new stories for the transmission of local ecological wisdom, as well as creating space for constructive critique and feedback. Most of all, we just need each other, to relate in non-transactional ways, to see the whole person, and to even decide things together regarding the direction of the local community. Without this resocialization of our reward signals, there can be no decommodification. Without decommodification, there can be no transition to a free and survivable world.

A lot of towns are set up so poorly that they lack a healthy abundance of places for socializing. Growing organic community in such a context can feel like throwing seeds into dry, bare soil and just hoping for the best. We must create the conditions for growth if we are to experience the maturation of the social ecosystem. Only from such a place can come all the lively and beautiful kinds of growth we need so urgently. So neighbors in a lot of places will need to come together, have a little tea, and talk about their needs. Maybe even do a little placemaking. This can be supplemented by a parallel "asynchronous assembly" (aka get online), but we need to be very careful about what tools we use and to what end. More on that another time.

At this point, we could dive into democratic confederalism, usufruct, etc., but I think it's useful to take a moment and digest what has been discussed here. The whole point is to move away from the dominance of the global supply chain model in meeting most of our needs, as it is itself a reflection of the logic of capitalism. We are a free society only insofar as our activities are illegible to this linear, productivist model. We depend on these concepts to meet our needs today, but we must transition away from them in order to survive. Every day in the old ways is stolen from future generations. Today, we turn the course of history. It starts with a cup of tea.