December 5, 2012 (LocalOrg) – Cuba, Thailand, New York City. All
three have faced either economic or natural disasters. The adversity and
degree to which each was affected varies, but all have lent us
invaluable lessons and warnings about future, inevitable collapses and
disasters. With this knowledge in hand we can begin preparing ahead of
time, so not only do we “survive” the collapse, but we create thriving,
advanced communities that remain entirely unaffected by such collapses –
after all, prevention is the best medicine.
Cuba: In 1991, the Caribbean nation, after the fall of the Soviet
Union upon which its economy hinged, found itself so destitute it was
unable to feed its own people. The writing had been on the wall,
particularly when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev began instituting
“glasnost” economic reforms, but little was (or could be) done in time
to head off the consequences of collapse.
With no other choice, the people of the city of Havana began tearing up
empty lots, reclaiming abandoned buildings, and planting “urban
gardens.” Neither “communist” nor “capitalist,” the spurt of
survival-driven local enterprise brought a people teetering on the edge
of starvation back to a degree of stability. Journeyman Pictures, in
their 2003 documentary “Seeds in the City – Cuba (23 mins),” tells the story of Havana and the urban gardening revolution that took place there.
It is a story that has people around the world clamoring with interest
and admiration. But despite all the people of Havana have accomplished,
one can only imagine how much further ahead they could have been if they
had the foresight to begin localizing before the collapse when they had the resources, time and chance to leverage technology to its fullest potential on a local scale.
The lessons of Havana’s journey haven’t been entirely lost on nations
next in line for economic catastrophe. Many (but not nearly enough) in
cities across the United States have begun investigating roof-top gardeningandraised-bed gardening (.pdf) similar to that found in Havana. In Southeast Asia’s urban city-state of Singapore, aquaculture and vertical gardening are being developed, and people around the world have been quietly perfecting the art of indoor hydroponics.
Before one can have an advanced civilization, one must be able to feed
themselves and find clean water. The movement in Havana, in turn
inspiring movements around the world, offers us a model to begin
developing before the collapse. Had the people of Havana preemptively
developed urban agriculture before the collapse of the Soviet Union,
they may have thrived instead of just survived.
Thailand: In 1997 the bottom fell out of a series of
unsustainable economic bubbles that had been developed across Asia,
thanks to the international banking cartel’s International Monetary Fund
(IMF). Like in Cuba, the writing had been on the wall – the same
reckless spending and debt accumulation that preceded the Great
Depression was on extravagant display, particularly in Thailand where
clearly, even across its urban skylines, it seemed things were growing
too fast, too unsustainably.
When the plug was finally pulled, construction stopped, businesses went
bankrupt, businessmen began hanging themselves, and across the country
destitution began to set in. Half-completed mega-structures littered
Thailand’s capital of Bangkok like gargantuan skeletons for the next
While the backlash against the IMF was swift in Thailand, a degree of
insidious “liberalization” was implemented, and while the country slowly
built itself back up, clearly a new theory of economics would be needed
to prevent a similar, or worse collapse from jeopardizing the stability
and prosperity of the Thai people.
While politicians are busy selling the idea that the summation of human
empowerment comes from “democratic elections,” Thailand’s ancient
monarchy, an institution over 800 years old with the current dynasty
having ruled since about the same time the US has been a nation,
proposed self-sufficiency from the grassroots up.
Self-sufficiency as a nation, as a province, as a
community and as a household. This concept is enshrined in the Thai
King’s “New Theory” or “self-sufficiency economy” and mirrors similar efforts
found throughout the world to break the back of the oppression and
exploitation that results from dependence on an interdependent globalized system.
Image:The Thai King’s vision of self-sufficiency in Thailand.
It constitutes a “socioeconomic ark,” that is designed to evolve from
simple agrarian techniques, to selling off surplus, and eventually
adapting advanced technology to not only survive the flood waters of
economic collapse, but thrive above them. Self-reliance is the hallmark of real freedom.
foundation of the self-sufficiency economy is simply growing your own
garden and providing yourself with your own food. This is portrayed on
the back right-hand side of every 1,000 baht Thai banknote as a picture
of a woman tending her garden. The next step is producing surplus that
can be traded for income, which in turn can be used to purchase technology to further enhance your ability to sustain yourself,
improve your life-style, and develop your community.
Image: The Thai 1000 baht banknote. Left is one of the many dams controlling floods and producing electricity throughout the Kingdom. Center is the current King of Thailand. Right is a depiction of a local garden providing food in a self-sufficient manner.
New Theory aims at preserving traditional agrarian values in the hands
of the people. It also aims at preventing a migration from the
countryside into the cities. Preventing such migrations would prevent
big agricultural cartels from moving in, swallowing up farming land,
corrupting and even jeopardizing entire national food supplies (see
moving to the city, people give up private property, cease pursuing
productive occupations, and end up being folded into a consumerist
paradigm. Within such a paradigm, problems like overpopulation,
pollution, crime, and economic crises can only be handled by a
centralized government and generally yield political solutions such as
quotas, taxes, micromanagement, and regulations rather than meaningful
technical, and most importantly, permanent solutions.
Also, such problems inevitably lead to a
centralized government increasing its own power, always at the expense
of the people and their freedom. The effects of economic catastrophe are
also greater in a centralized, interdependent society, where everyone
is subject to the overall health of the economy for even simple
necessities like food, water, and electricity.
Image: A slide presenting the “New Theory” depicting a manifestation of greed leading the people from their rural private property and into a “city of extravagance.” If Agenda 21 had an illustrated cover, this could be it.
Image: The goal of the “New Theory” is to have people return to the countryside from the cities and develop their communities in a self-reliant manner. It is, in other words, Agenda 21 in reverse.
the “New Theory,” demonstration stations all across Thailand have been
created promoting education in matters of agriculture and
Thais in general have a very self-reliant nature, and have weathered
well the latest global economic downturn because of it. By further
enhancing this self-reliance, particularly by leveraging education and
technology, and by expanding self-reliance from agriculture to all
aspects of modern civilization, the healthy cells of vibrant,
technologically advanced communities can begin forming the structures of
a healthy, vibrant, independent nation. Those that wish to gamble in
the global casino-economy may still do so, but with the vast majority of
the people isolated from the inevitable consequences of these
unsustainable, unproductive practices.
For others around the world, the example of the Thai King’s localized
self-sufficiency model provides a framework for constructing similar
local socioeconomic “arks” that will not only survive the floods of
economic tragedy, but float above them. We can envision not only local
agriculture feeding us, and the adaptation of technology to augment
rudimentary skills to diversify our economic activity, but we can
integrate emerging local institutions like hackerspaces, FabLabs, community labs, as well as leverage resources such as open source software, hardware, and open courseware education.
New York City: The latest example comes from America’s east coast
metropolis, New York City. In October 2012, it wasn’t economic collapse
that swept through the city, but rather the failure of state
infrastructure in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Federal agencies and the
Red Cross failed categorically. The city government likewise bungled its
response, despite bloated budgets meant for just such an occasion.
People were left without power, water, and food, while rancid flood
water invaded their homes. People were paralyzed in inaction, waiting
for government help that was never coming. And like previously in New
Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it looked as if an already
tragic natural disaster was about to be compounded by immense
incompetence and indifference at the highest levels of power.
Luckily for New Yorkers, a grassroots movement that had begun months
ago, and still had a coherent organizational structure which it promptly
converted from politics to pragmatism, and effectively mobilized the
resources victims needed to begin recovery. “Occupy Wall Street” became
Black Agenda Report’s article, “The Hurricane and the Failed State” concluded by saying:
“There will always be catastrophes but we should not expect a failed system to save us from them.”
If ever a sentiment has been qualified by a real world example, the
community response marshaled by the underfunded, underrated Occupy Sandy
movement – working in the shadow of multi-million dollar federal
agencies and international organizations – is it. Occupy Sandy’s
advantage was that despite the little resources they had, their
intentions were genuine, their purpose was both urgent and personal, and
the stakes were a community they themselves must live in and the
benefits of getting it back up and running again as quickly as possible.
The lesson is clear, “get a plan, get a program, and do it yourself or it won’t get done.”
What if “Occupy Sandy” wasn’t just a re-purposed, ad hoc movement? What
if it was a permanent local institution of, by and for the people to
address their most important concerns through the same pragmatism and
community effort exhibited after Hurricane Sandy? What if such an
institution was around before the storm hit? As in Cuba, the result of
what was a disaster narrowly averted, would have been adversity soundly
Prevent the Collapse
In Cuba, Thailand, and New York City we saw the merits of local,
pragmatic activism and the demonstrable advantages it has over
centralized solutions, be they derivative of big-government or
big-business. In Cuba we saw how resourceful, well-educated people were
able to adapt in the most unlikely environment to solve a food shortage,
and how their localism filled the gaps the centralized government was
In Thailand we see, today the resilience of a self-reliant people able
to weather the worst global economic depression in recent memory. We see
how Thailand’s ancient institution encourages localized socioeconomic
arks, designed not only to survive economic collapse, but thrive above
In New York, activists reaffirmed that only we ourselves have our best
interests at heart, and regardless of resources, well organized localism
can prevail even when multi-billion dollar federal agencies and
To prevent the collapse, rather than merely survive it, we must take
these lessons to heart, and begin developing our local communities. As
tempting as it is to throw our hats into the ring of the latest
political debate, to wring our hands in fear and despair as a corrupt
system festers and falls apart, to horde and to hide – localism has
already proved itself capable of prevailing as a solution, even when all
others fail. Then it is logical to conclude that the more localism you
can achieve before all else fails, the better positioned you will be
before the collapse.
And if a self-sufficient, self-reliant, local “ark” can be built, and
better yet, a series of such “arks” built across an entire nation, such a
collapse is likely to never even come. Above all, for the powers that
conspire against the majority, they will be starved of their most
crucial resources – our time, money, attention, and toil – all of which
will be directly invested, locally, for us, by us.
Where to Start? Visit your local community garden, hackerspace or
makerspace, FabLab, community lab, or farmer’s market. If these local
institutions do not exist in your area, organize one (or more).
Involved in one or more of these projects and want to share your story?
Contact LocalOrg at firstname.lastname@example.org.