Quiet Revolution

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One thing I am always impressed about on Docudharma is how we not only talk about how to change the political system that currently exists but how to upend it using disruptive politics, technologies and techniques.

We talk about restoring the centrality of community to our lives.  It is this concept of community which, many of us feel, will provide a needed bulwark against the depredation of corporate feudalists and looters.

The social aspect of community, and what Americans are lacking in that regard, is well established and has been for a long time.

It’s not my favorite genre of music, but the best example of exactly what I think of as wrong in terms of American community or lack thereof goes like this:

And, if you think about it this way, the fact that our culture is sick and overrun with parasitism begins to make sense if you think about it in an organic way.

For decades, we have had a monoculture of American expectations .. what Americans are supposed to do, how Americans are supposed to live.

But one thing you learn about in Biology 101, is that monocultures die out.  Why do they die out?  Because they are far more vulnerable to predation by parasites.  Any given parasite can more easily infect and destroy a population if that population is the same than if there are many different and varied populations.

I would never consider myself the first, last or even 433rd word on what exactly we must do in American life to both diversify and defend against the parasitical predation which threatens to engulf us all, but what I am interested in is the technology of community.  Specifically, the technology of self sustaining community.

Two things I have done a lot of reading and basic research on in that regard is the concept of community factories and community power generation.

Just as in the 80’s, when the personal computer revolutionized society, a quiet revolution is now underway.

Meet the Rep Rap:

RepRap from Adrian Bowyer on Vimeo.

Currently, this technology is somewhat primitive, but it gets better every day.  I know what you’re saying .. “well, what good does it do us if we have a machine that can make a single object over some vast number of hours for one or two people?”

Basically, the idea is, you use rapid prototyping as the foundation for small scale community manufacturing.  That which can make an object can make two halves of an extrusion mold.  Yes, you need many more kinds of processes and machines to make the things we are used to for modern life .. but here’s the thing .. the foundation of the community factory is already here.

If you visualize a community factory, the idea is not to make a million of any given thing (entailing the corporatist idea of creating a need and attendant waste if you make too many of a thing and transport it across possibly thousands of miles) with rapid prototyping what you can do is create the molds and templates to make 200, 500 or a thousand of a thing .. then recycle the mold/prototype as necessary.

Does the community factory need a machine .. for example, a loom or weaving machine to make clothing?  Why should one buy such a machine when one can make one?

Best of all, with community manufacturing you’re talking about putting people to work making things again.

Corporations do not have to have a stranglehold on American polity, even if they control the  government.  They key is not only saying no, but in rejecting the mass production monoculture corporate model that has not grown up organically, but has been designed from the outset for just such a power grab .. to turn us, eventually, into mass production serfs for the global marketplace.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  Banking, manufacturing and community are the way they are by inertia.  To say no takes some willpower and it takes a choice.  It may not be as high tech and antiseptic as we’re used to, but, yes, we can get by without them.

Currently you can buy the parts for a primitive fabber in the U.S. for anywhere from $1500 to $2000, or less when you get a friend to help you make one.  More exacting, professional, corporate made machines cost more.  But the power of local manufacturing and throwing off the yoke is inches away and getting closer.


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  1. Just tell them we don’t need you anymore.

    • banger on January 31, 2010 at 05:49

    but incorporate them in order to have the advantages of corporate “personhood” i.e., limited liabilities. The structure of corporations should be used to create communities of cooperatives and alternative businesses that can provide food, shelter, work, health care and protection from predators.

    People who have skills should organize and collective corporations rather than work for the system. We have to build an alternative to the corrupt and unsustainable one that dominates.

    This diary shows some good thinking.

  2. it was often already decided any new machine had to make 7000 widgets per hour.  That decision mandated incomplete processing of said widgets making the final product not all it could be.

    • Eddie C on January 31, 2010 at 17:18

    American culture and monoculture but in this monoculture the only fix American industry can seem to find for monoculture is Monsanto.

    That machine sort of reminds me of what McDonalds did for cooking and I suspect it will be used on the corporate level for economy of scale over community manufacturing. Local manufacturing throwing off the yoke may seem inches away and getting closer but just look at how a very similar product effected the mass production monoculture corporate model.

    The computerized router that seemed to be ready to revolutionize industry turned out to be a source of manufacturing lay offs and another step toward “Idiocracy” in the blue collar segment of manufacturing. People with no clue what they are doing and that much more easy to replace.

    I actually left carpentry and became an electrician because of the computerized router. The next generation might think that a forklift delivering a bunch of pre-cut lumber, steel and aluminum to a workbench with pre-countersunk screw holes and spots of paint where to nail is a job but not me.

    But great writing and engaging thoughts.  

  3. Ever since I saw Michael Moore’s latest movie, I’ve been thinking about that employee-owned bakery he profiled.

    Smaller, employee-owned factories could make a huge difference in this country.

    How do we encourage more people to start them?  How would I get one started?

  4. consumers. The present economic model will fall apart.

    The community will resurface. Morality will not be an ideal, but what it actually is. The politics will be dragged along with it. It’ll take fifty years. This current crop of misfits will all be long gone. Actually they already are; they’re just playing their assigned roles

    as ghosts of the past. They’re trying so hard to be real.

    Look at them all.

  5. Very excellent essay.

  6. … in Summertown, Tennessee or the Svanholm collective in Denmark were a dream of mine when I was younger. They’d do good things with this kind of technology.

  7. must come along with this type of change.  The notion of making “enough money” vs. 10% growth ad infinitum is needed.  Manufacturing in this manner would be difficult for any publicly owned corporate entity, due to growth requirements desired by the investment community.  Smaller, privately owned companies whose owners are willing (better yet, really only want) to make “enough money” can tolerate slow growth or even (heaven forbid!!!) a steady-state operating income.

    There’s a folk theory in engineering, as well as in mathematical modeling, that the simpler things are more robust.  A sophisticated, high fidelity, model performs well on the system for which it was designed, but small perturbations (either discrepancies in our understanding, or mismeasurements of system characteristics, or other uncertainties) lead to catastrophe.  Simpler models provide cruder predictions and weaker performance, but work well in  wider variety of circumstances.  

    Tainter’s “The Collapse of Complex Societies” is an interesting attempt to get at some of these questions.  I recommend it (even though it can be pretty dry at times)… it’s deeper, though less readable, than Diamond’s “Collapse.”

    Andy, thanks for the thought provoking essay!

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