How Can We Get There?

Often, when engaging the public on the subject of TZM and a post-scarcity society, I am asked a question like "How do we get there?" in the sense of what methods can we use to gain support and move society into a new zeitgeist, or how can we collect the resources necessary to build a new infrastructure?

Some people may tell you that an option, such as engaging in the political party system, or forming sustainable communities "is the way to go," as if there were only one method or sufficient condition for us to bring about a resource-based economy. In reality, there are many factors affecting a transition to a new society, and many methods we can use to steer it toward the change we want to see. (Sadly, some of those people clinging to one option may not have grasped the modern scientific concept of complexity yet. They may regard problems in life as having one cause to one effect, rather than seeing the many-to-one or many-to-many relationships present in complex societal systems. Or they may strongly identify with the cause/method of their choosing, due to some personal experience, and may feel out of their depth with other directions.)

Not only is it difficult to tell which methods have the greatest effect on society, even in retrospect, but we have a multi-talented movement, and what is easy for one member is arduous for another. Those people claiming that the method closest to their heart is the most important could gain from remembering the proverb "don't put all your eggs in one basket."

Anyway, while I have no narrow-minded agenda to put forward to you today, and I am no prophet, so I can't tell you all the things we will see the Zeitgeist Movement get up to in future, I would like to present you with some of the important things that we should try and accomplish in the near future in order to make the world a better place. Of course this is by no means an exhaustive list, and I want everyone to try and keep adding things to it, but if you can remember this stuff, at least when someone asks you that question, you can reply by telling them that this is How We Can Get There, and they should help in any way they feel inclined.

Cooperative Learning in a classroom - via Wikimedia Commons
With Collaborative Education:
Here is one point where Jacque Fresco is onto something, as he has suggested many times that anyone asking 'what can I do' or 'how can I help' should be educating themselves broadly in the sciences in order to be useful, so that when discussing the topics of sustainability and technology you know what you're talking about. You can also then critically analyse information you receive, and contribute something to the furtherance of scientific knowledge and the efficiency of our technology.

These days, anyone with access to the Internet can gain access to a wide variety of helpful materials on many subjects, with instructional videos from the simple basics of mathematics, science and the humanities provided via Khan Academy, to more advanced fields up to postgraduate study from such universities as Stanford U and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which institutions are beginning to record lectures and provide course materials freely online. A few of my favourite recommendations just on YouTube include Introduction to Human Behavioral Biology with Professor Robert Sapolsky and his bright young teaching assistants, and The Basics of Non-Violent Communication with Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. The Khan Academy even has a series of videos explaining the fractional-reserve banking system in depth from the very basics of banking. I was disappointed, however, by how little attention the narrator paid to the problem of interest. That problem was very well framed in a single lecture on Arithmetic, Population and Energy with Dr Albert Bartlett.

On top of all that there are now masses of E-Books freely available in the public domain Gutenberg Project, and on peer-to-peer networks, which can give you more interesting material than one could ever read in our current lifetimes.

Psychological studies for the last few decades have been showing how modern education methods, such as Cooperative Learning, in which students communicate and collaborate with each other in order to complete tasks as a group, are creating classrooms where students learn faster, gain greater understanding and retain information for longer. As we can easily construct automated systems around these principles, education ought to start looking more like our exponential advances in technology than the laborious, mind-numbing, out-of-date indoctrination methods that we see in most public schools today.

If you are a developer with some interest in this area, you should help to improve upon the information-sharing networks that we already have so that people of all ages can learn useful skills and knowledge collaboratively. That way, we could build a generation to outshine the best of all who came before, without their creativity beaten out of them. They could graduate ready to think outside the box and improve upon everything they see.

With a Little Help from Our Friends:
If we're going to make progress fast, some helping hands will be invaluable, and often necessary for big tasks. I hear accounts from TZM members time and time again that it's not people completely alien to the ideas of sustainability, or who think the world is fine the way it is, who join our movement. The recurring story I hear is of someone already familiar with and passionate about what's wrong with society, with similar ideas to ours but without a direction yet, who joins up to help as soon as they hear about our movement. For those reasons, members seem to have the most success in finding more people to help among their closest friends, and people already quite involved with technology, anarchism, etc.

One way of finding such people, which is more efficient than standing on a busy street, is to search on a social network, and there are many available. For example, Diaspora is a free social network that you can use to find other like-minded people, the so-called 'low-hanging fruit', and bring them on board through finding common interests. When I say 'free', I don't mean the 'pay-no-money-but-sign-your-rights-away' kind of free that you get with advertising/demographic-profiling networks like Facebook that make you pay with your security through their EULA, terms of service or similar contracts, I mean 'free-as-in-freedom'.

Diaspora* is a completely open-source network, the code for it is shared on github, and not only can anyone join a development team to improve its functions, but anyone can host a server for users to keep their data on, as it also happens to be a robust distributed system. If you wanted to, your local chapter could host their own server for members to use, which can be federated (linked) to any other pod in the network. It is currently alpha-phase software, so there are some bugs and features being worked on very actively by its community of developers, and the core pod, which gets the most cutting-edge updates, can only be joined by invitation or requesting a membership. Diaspora* was innovative enough as it started up, though, that Google, never being a group to miss out on benefiting from some open-source code (as with Chrome etc.), copied much of its design and features to form the identity service Google+, with the now publicly-trading company Facebook not far behind.

Since I signed up on Diaspora last year, I've found dozens of people with similar interests that I would otherwise not have known, by being able to search through profiles and public posts by #tags, and had great conversations with some of them. Given its nature, where these servers are mostly hosted by small groups, individuals or non-profit organisations, Diaspora attracts many activists for the security of their non-public interactions, which currently makes it a perfect place to plant seeds with people who think outside the box.
You can see a list of pods with their location, uptime, etc. here, so if you will, try and join a local pod in order to keep the network running quickly.

With the best designs in the world:
From the programming of application software like Open Office and Firefox, operating systems like Ubuntu Linux, to the design of whole computer hardware like Raspberry Pi and manufacturing tools like Reprap Mendel, and everything far apart and in between, the Open-Source movement is rapidly gaining momentum in engineering and design.

All kinds of open-source software, firmware and hardware projects are managed in the online coding community GitHub, while Thingiverse, a website dedicated to letting anyone upload digital designs for real objects, has been gifted to the world by the small business startup Makerbot Industries, and Open Source Ecology aims to assemble a package of Open Hardware designs for a set of basic machines necessary for modern society, which they call the Global Village Construction Set.

With all these great projects going on, if you, like me, enjoy pouring your creativity into a CAD program or a source code compiler, then there are plenty of places where you can help with a design revolution that will hopefully destroy the institutions of copyright and patenting as we know them. We should support such projects wherever we can as they are part of a new collaborative, rather than competitive, culture that humanity needs to adopt in order to survive.

With the resources necessary:
There are quite a few niches appearing in the world for social enterprises, so any budding entrepreneurs in TZM could do humanity a service by taking on such problems as Landfill Mining to clean up the land (and seas) while returning important and soon-to-be-scarce rare-earth minerals and fossil-fuel-based plastics lost through electronics dumping, back into a closed-loop recycling-production-distribution system. Even within cities such as Glasgow where I live right now, where a local council uplifts a lot of people's waste packaging to be recycled, there is still a lot of waste that remains un-recycled (landfilled or worse) because they haven't invested in enough machines to process all kinds of material waste. While I say that food should not be transported in difficult-to-recycle packaging anyway, since it is something consumed daily, if we want to create a sustainable economy, then taking advantage of those deficiencies to support and improve upon recycling systems could be of great benefit, while at the same time we could be getting hold of some land and resources to work on other projects with.

I'm sure you can probably think of many more (and probably even easier) areas where a not-for-profit organisation could contribute to society and start cleaning up some of the mess caused by capitalist inefficiency. Incidentally, just before I began writing this article, the UN named 2012 as the "International Year of Co-operatives", so there couldn't be a much better time to get support for projects such as these.

There are a few ways to get hold of some space to work from; for instance, simply using your own or a friend's home, renting out a bit of office space, using some public space, chipping in as a group and going to property auctions to get a bargain on some bankrupt former business premises. Or you could even squat on a derelict site, as long as you leave the place in the same condition or better than you found it if you're forced to move out.

 the Paper Street Soap Company - image via Seeing Stars
As I learned at a quite successful occupation at the start of 2011, a wide variety of people can quite quickly turn an unused building into a highly-effective free social space, where we would host free meals, discussions/meetings and film screenings almost every night. (The meals happened to be cooked with electrical energy that the university would probably have liked to say we 'stole' from them, but I'd say energy corporations stole it from us all in the first place when they charge money for the power harvested from their huge and poorly-built wind farm just south of the city.) While I don't necessarily want to see people in TZM committing criminal acts, wherever the powers-that-be are civilised enough not to go around shooting hippies, and a building or bit of land has been left to decay by its absentee owner, I say go squat in that building, and go Guerilla Gardening in that open space. You could make some great improvements.

With the tools we need on hand:
Anyone familiar with some RBE model should be aware that a core principle enabling sustainability anywhere near our current population is 'access abundance': Running a system where excessive private property is minimised, and the durable or permanent things that people will only use for a relatively short time in their life are shared through a 'library' system, where anyone may borrow a piece of hardware. Enough stock is kept just to have slightly more than is in demand at any one time so that there are not, for instance, hundreds of cars sitting idle in any square kilometer of urban space, or a vacuum cleaner and washing machine in every home of an apartment block, saving resources and space.

Using such a system effectively, without people expressing such common present-day behaviours as kleptomania and hoarding, requires an appropriate ethic from experience with such a system or something similar. Therefore, to begin to put in place a similar or half-way solution/system right now could have the double benefit of taking some strain off of global production and resource consumption, while educating people that they can get on and share together, thereby helping to rebuild trust within communities.

Currently there is a very good website set up that allows people wanting to share their skills, tools and spaces to easily find each other locally, known as the Freeconomy Community. Sadly, even with 274 members of this site within 10 miles of me, most of them with several skills and/or tools listed that they can share, the community usually seems to be deathly silent (although I found one of our most valuable members through it), probably due to a lack of trust. However, there is a very small system model that has been springing up in cities worldwide to form a tight-knit sharing community of creative people within the current system, that of the 'Hackerspace'.
Protospace - a hackerspace; image via Wikimedia Commons
A hackerspace is usually a room or workshop, often rented out or owned in common by its members, which could be part of a community centre or some office space, where patrons put in place tools that are used by anyone on-site, and people meet up to collaborate on projects and share skills such as electronics, programming, carpentry, metalwork, machining, sewing, knitting, or just about anything creative that you could think of.

I think that we could combine and improve upon these two systems, creating a new kind of common space that provides its users with a large variety of donated tools, a place to work with them, and even some ability to borrow them for a while, as one would with books from a library. In their early establishment, such spaces might need controls or checks and balances similar to modern public libraries, where someone must be a member to borrow anything, everything is bar-coded and chipped to be checked out, and there are limits on how much someone can borrow at any one time and for how long. Libraries typically impose fines for late returns, but in this case, where there may be very valuable equipment at risk of theft, members might have some kind of introductory period where they can't take away some of the more valuable items, so that they can be vouched for. Such a space might support itself (for any equipment purchases or rent, etc.) through membership fees. It may have some free access for poorer members, or people might be able to gain privileges by donating something to be shared within the space. Such details should be worked out on a local basis, to be appropriate for each situation.

Once we have our new sharing spaces established for quite solid/permanent things like tools, showing the public how that can work, it should be a small step to also combine that hackerspace and library with a kitchen and dining area, where people can share the tools that process/prepare their food, and teach each other how to cook some really great meals. In such close proximity to robotics geeks such as myself, it won't be long before open-hardware robotics expand into those kitchens, and then we can have a place to get healthy fast-food, combining positive features of existing restaurants and cafeterias or soup-kitchens to give us a new distribution model to show to the public, through which we can finally freely provide what should have been free all along: the basic necessities of life.

If you are interested, I recently posted a sort of infographic-media-document to the Zeitgeist Media Project, showing in rough brushstrokes how we could arrange such systems into a Resource-Based Economic System in the next decade or so from present-day technology, giving a somewhat closer target than is often presented by futurists such as the Venus Project.

By Supporting Natural Systems:
A notable point often attributed to Richard Buckminster Fuller is "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." Although the folks at WikiQuote have been unable to confirm this (the even more notorious "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results," which was publicised by Rita Mae Brown in 1983 and coined in the AA-type recovery communities as early as 1980, is still mis-attributed to Albert Einstein in many places), that doesn't make these words any less wise. For example, today not only is there an anti-economic system of competitive production, in which different groups waste resources making similar products for the same consumers, but one of the most important things for all society, food, is still being produced using unsustainable agricultural practices that are gradually turning the planet's surface into a desert by destroying the living topsoil that naturally provides fertility wherever life springs up on this planet.

There have been solutions to this problem, such as the soil-less methods of hydroponics or aquaponics and the perennial (long-term) systems of food forest production, for longer than the problem has even existed, but we can't depend on a wholesale change toward sustainable behaviour from those currently producing most of the world's food, as they are working within a system that gives them a strong incentive to produce masses of annual grain crops on tilled soil, using artificial fertiliser that took ridiculous amounts of 'cheap' energy to produce.

I'd like to avoid sounding cheesy and out of touch like the people who tell everyone to 'buy local/organic' and such, as I'm well aware that most of us can't afford to do that, but there are still steps that you can take to reduce the distance your food travels to you, and the impact that your consumption has on this planet's natural resources and biosphere.

Established nursery trees a couple of years old can be expensive, but a small packet of a few seeds for some delicious perennial plant, such as rhubarb, asparagus or any of the many berry bushes out there, shouldn't cost you much more than a single dollar, euro or pound. You can even get some for free if you learn how to take cuttings and propagate them. Whether in plant pots by a window, or on at least a square-foot patch of dirt outside, you can start to get some of your food not only for free, but with no cost to the earth in topsoil or fossil-fuel use. You might not get much of a food yield in the first year from seed as you try to grow strong perennial plants, but for the following 5, 10, 15-plus years, you'll be able to harvest food on your doorstep or windowsill with next to no input or maintenance.
The lawn and its mower; this green desert is the height of insane unsustainable behaviour - via Wikimedia Commons
If, however, you are living in a suburban house in some land with that cultural insanity installed by the British Empire, where you have a lawn somewhere around your house, covered in grass that gets mowed several times a year, you have no excuse.
With a bit of thought in the placement of shrubby plants and pathways, through such methods as Permaculture Design, you can produce a large fraction of your annual food consumption using less than one tenth of an acre, and still have a garden that looks beautiful and 'ornamental', to appease the insanity of local councils, while never again wasting energy on that lawnmower and hosepipe.Robert Hart's Forest Garden - via Wikimedia Commons
As for what we can grow sustainably for our staple crops, someone recently published a great article on the Permaculture Research Institute's Blog, on the subject of perennial grain, nut and staple-food crops.

I have a friend in my local chapter right now who is considering approaching organic farmers to see if one will let him use a small corner of their field for bee-keeping. (I'll be surprised if the first one he meets doesn't jump at the opportunity.) We can use many such great ideas to extend our influence on the landscape beyond our own home, and to start a dialogue with producers that may change large-scale practices to become more sustainable.

I'm well aware that while buying more beans or nuts instead of meat, and cycling or taking a bus instead of driving will reduce our impact on the globe, it may on average increase the impact of others to 'fill a void', so to speak, due to the supply-demand pricing mechanism in a market system, but I don't let that stop me from shunning badly-farmed meat purchases and walking or cycling everywhere. (I'm not a squeamish vegan or anything, so I don't mind eating anything put in front of me if it'll go to waste otherwise). I won't go kidding myself by claiming that 'every little bit helps', but you can still set an example to your friends (without being smug about it), and that can have a big effect in the long run, as we know well by now that many behaviours are spread by peer influence.

With the support of the people:
Discussing a resource-based economy in traditional platforms of 'political debate' may help some people to look into science and agree with our proposals. However, for many people who have grown up in an environment that does not give them the ability to analyse these ideas with anything approaching objectivity, even when spoon-fed with scientific evidence you found in the first point above, this will not be enough. An attempt to confront their closely-held assumptions, no matter how nicely you put it, may only cause them to become defensive and stop thinking, a condition that we don't want them to be in. For these people, you might just have to wait until a combination of bio-social pressures and fulfillment of the above points show them clearly that our methods work and that they have a lot to gain by adopting them.

That shouldn't stop anyone passionate about such things as public speaking from getting involved in existing political systems, though, as such systems often provide a quite useful platform for getting a message out to the public, as was explained at some length in an article on this subject published by the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Running for election to some office, as farcical as it may seem, may come with benefits such as appearing on some widely-viewed television debate platform, having local postal services distribute your own flyers to an entire constituency for you, and other aids to communication, depending on the level of corruption in the so-called 'representative democracy' in your local area, which can make your job of spreading ideas much easier than with street-based activism.

Organising town-hall style meetings open to the public, dedicated to the topics that we speak about, as some chapters have already started doing, can also complement these efforts to share progressive and sustainable ideas.

So those are some of the things I know about best, and I'm sure some of you out there can tell us other things that people can be doing, in order to establish and spread a resource-based economic system. Please do comment below about those options, so that we can help more people find inspiration that suits them, and try to remember not to fall into the trap of "only one way" I mentioned at the start, or at least if you do, then I hope you might now catch yourself doing it in future and learn from it. :)


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