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Citizen-Maintained Open-Source Infrastructure – Creating Resiliency

This year 2014 is an election year in the United States and several other nations. In most of the world, electoral politics has reached a dead end because it is sidelined by the economically, politically, or culturally powerful into self-aggrandizement at the expense of citizens. This is a year in which there is an international call for a wave of action. This year is one of those times that the ancient Greeks called kairos and the ancient Chinese saw as the movement of Heaven. Like most times of this character, it will likely also satisfy the Urban Dictionary’s definition of kairotic moment in echo of the late 1960s.

A bucket of kitchen utensils in the foreground of this photo of Occupy Montreal's kitchen in a tent, with piles of packaged ingredients & kitchen workers in background.

The kitchen at Occupy Montreal. Movements like Occupy teach us to build parallel, non-governmental structures for community support.

The latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change (2500 pages long) indicates that this might be the last moment to think clearly before a widely experienced catastrophe strikes. And James Burke’s 1989 PBS series on climate change did say that 2015 was the moment of truth in which all doubt was removed. Moreover, the Christian apocalyptics are having twitchy blow-dries and good book sales. One does not take so many varied portents of imminent societal collapse lightly even if one is using quaint language to stay calm about the entire matter.

Resiliency is an eco-jargon word for surviving the catastrophe with some possibility of continuing a creative civilization. It is the equivalent of the economist’s deflation jargon “soft landing”. Can we just have this revolution without too much disruption to my own personal routines? Can we just ease into the new civilization? If we can’t hope, can we at least have some positive and realistic vision about the future? Something without requiring miracles or magical thinking or divine intervention or the spiritual transformation of every single last person on earth including the Koch Brothers and Robert Mugabe? This certainly is a moment for one last attempt at laying the groundwork for resiliency.

But how to do that? We are clear that our best survival tactic has to do with strong local economic networks for food, shelter, health care, and community support. At least those of us who are not buying guns wholesale to fend off the likes of us do.

And we understand that what collapses in a collapse is that which connects us to resources, to the labor of other people under a division of labor, and to the tools, equipment, and workspaces that provide goods, services, information, culture, and care. That is, the collapse of public and corporate goods and services means the collapse of infrastructure.

When institutions disappear and there are only individuals, infrastructure has to do with those goods and services that you want everyone to have either as a moral principle, as a matter of reciprocation, or as a matter of practical defense of what is required for the survival or yourself and your own most valuable personal network of people.

Infrastructure is a matter of moral philosophy, but not some specific moral philosophy although contradictory moral philosophies are excluded. And it is a universal standard.

In the experiments with citizen-created infrastructure in the Occupy Wall Street encampments, the basic infrastructure was available shelter (especially in rough weather), food, security, a voice in governance, a job to do, and a voice to the rest of the world. Those were provided even to those who were living on the street before Occupy Wall Street as fundamental human rights. There were long and serious debates about the scope of the infrastructure to provide and the practical matters of securing the material resources and expertise to support that infrastructure.

Check off a list of what is included in the infrastructure (as that which society decides that everyone needs) and you get a much broader list than most public institutions provide.

 1) Food when self-resourced food fails.
 2) Shelter when self-provided shelter or maintenance fails.
 3) Means of mobility.
 4) Sources of energy to move and transform things and information.
 5) Means of interaction with other people (and people in other places, globally if possible).
 6) Stores of information for practical guidance, spiritual journey, and recreation.
 7) Mentors, guides, teachers, master craftspersons who can transmit expertise and information to another generation or a wider geography.
 8) Designated places of distribution or recycling of things.
 9) As long as the wider world is commidified, a way of dealing financially with that wider world.
10) As long as physical tokens are used to provide feedback information about relative values and required quantities, a local limited supply of tokens sufficient to allow producers not to waste resources and consumers not to go without when goods and services are available.
11) Sources of warmth in winter and relief from dangerous heat in summer.
12) Source of potable water.
13) Health care capabilities.
14) Means of recycling human waste (broadly speaking, as in leave no trace behind.
15) Mortuary places and practices.
16) Socially organized means of growing and distributing food, fiber, medicinals, and building materials.

In some rural, suburban, or urban community somewhere in the US, there are community gardens, community forests, community clinics (including all aspects of wholistic medicine), community free schools, free libraries that are accumulating book and electronic cultural resources, homeless shelters, supplies of emergency tents, learning exchanges, credit unions, community-based energy generation from alternative sources, and on and on and on. One isolated (or sometimes famous) activity or another, often starved (by a capitalist economy) for resources, with cores of ordinary people supporting the work and corps of volunteers.

If there is to be a soft landing it will be from the interlinking of these entities into a new ways of operating a society globally, stripping out the venture philanthropists and social entrepreneurs and the folks who are just working their own angle under the flag of doing well by doing good (in an intentionally limited way). It is time for widespread replication and networking of what we have learned how to do over the last 50 years of community organization and activism. This time, not as much to change the world (although it might) but to widen the sphere of non-Hobbesian (I was going to use the word “civilized” but that quaint word now carries its own imperial irony) islands in the midst of what will become shortly very chaotic–if not for reasons of climate change then for reasons of terminal austerity or spasmodic imperial violence or disintegration resulting from political gridlock. Choose your catastrophe. For a lot of people, an asteroid collision would be taken as an portent of mercy.

If there is widespread action possible to be taken now by ordinary people, it will take the form of building the resiliency of the infrastructure through spontaneous citizen-maintained open-source actions that bypass governments, ignore getting the permission of the Powers That Be, and work in counter-capitalism ways without being noisy about it. It will be leader-full; that is where the liberty, equality, fraternity, and fights over direction come in. That is, it will be a plenarchy instead of a Hobbesian-style anarchy.

Photo by Carwil Bjork-James released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.

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