Let's Prehend
A Manual of Human Ecology and Culture Design

PROGRESSIVE STAGNATION, Best of All Possible Worlds, or Worst

Basic thesis: As the U. S. Economy stagnates and the standard of living drops, the physical and mental health of the people improves. As the economy collapses and people become poorer, the quality of life improves. Whether this transition happens smoothly toward a stable ecology and a rich humanistic culture, or more harshly with increasing trauma and fascism, depends on our expectations. If the United States is to continue as the best of all possible worlds, we would all do well to develop this "context", this image of a humanistic and sustainable culture, and to raise our "level of discourse" on the subject.

Economic stagnation usually means terrifying insecurity and poverty to most people. But, fortunately, the opposite could be the case. In spite of the best efforts of the present power elite to increase their advantage through mass insecurity and chaos, the next slump or the gradual decay of the economic system presages the flowering of the new economy and culture.

Consider nutrition as the simplest aspect of the quality of life. How will you change your eating habits as the amount spent on food gradually decreases? Junk foods will certainly decrease in quantity and price, and they may increase in variety and nutrition. Even though the United States is currently a net importer of food, our imported diet will be replaced by more local and seasonal foods. The family will spend more time preparing food and eating, to the great enhancement of the nutritional, social, and cultural values. Food culture will fall from the control of the advertisers back to Mom's apple pie. The amount of fat, protein, and sugar will decrease, and obesity will wither away. The consumption of caffeine and alcohol will be replaced with home grown substitutes. Twinkies may always be with us, along with butylated hydroxy toluene, but their consumption will decrease.

Kitchen gardens, local neighborhood food production, and cooperatives of all kinds will gather momentum. Greenhouse gardening in many neighborhoods will displace much expensive shipping. Apples will become cheaper than bananas as the starving Third World begins to diversify and consume more of its own food. High technology will continue to improve our already advanced organic gardening and farming. Large mechanized farms may still produce much of our food, but with increasing efficiency and ecological sustainability.

The social context of eating will enrich the personal culture as people are obliged to eat in larger groups for the sake of economy and efficiency. It has been observed that the poorer the quality of the food, the higher the skill and culture of its preparation. Therefore, we can expect the quality of cuisine to improve as the cost of food declines. Homemade pastry is better than store stuff. Compared to present food costs, a decrease of about ninety percent would provide maximum nutritional benefits, but we expect progressive stagnation to level off at about twenty five percent of the present level for the optimum of high culture and nutrition.

Consumer goods will still be mass produced as high technology continues to automate and diversify production. Manufacturing will become more dispersed and styles more localized as machinery becomes more advanced. Items such as furniture will be personally handcrafted while mass produced refrigerators and washers will be more efficient and cheaper. Individual family and tribal styles will flourish. As for clothing, status-conformity and cost will decline while diversity and elegance will grow.

Shelter will improve as progressive stagnation continues. The building codes will collapse allowing modern technology to reduce the cost of housing by half. Bureaucratic restraints will recede, cutting costs by half again. The R-1 zoning code will evaporate as neighborhoods become organic communities, cohousing increases, shared facilities proliferate, and productive facilities and communities reintegrate.

Homelessness is still increasing. The percentage of households without a house rose from seven to ten percent in the 80's, about the same as the percentage of `empty' homes. The United States has more square footage of residence per person than any other nation. But if family and group living will resumed this trend could be reversed. People can regroup into organic extended families, neighborhoods, and villages, to their own physical and psychological betterment. As people become less segregated by age in these cohousing ecovillages, kids and old folks will feel needed, boosting their mental and physical health. The demise of the nuclear family, that disaster of modern abstract culture, will not be mourned, gradually replaced with stable extended families. People will still be able to afford privacy, but loneliness is alleviated by more complex households.

Cities will be seen as the ecological and cultural disasters they really are, relics of the "monumentalism" of a frustrated neo-feudal ruling class. The financial distortions which they promulgated will break down, continuing the demise of the city. The new technologies of passive solar homes and independent power sources enables dispersion of urban neighborhoods into villages, often independent of the utility grids. Cosmopolitanism will flourish as every home has optoelectronic access through to every entertainment, library, news source, instructional resource, and political process on earth. Electronic networks will cost far less in labor and resources than the present systems. Earth people will live in high-tech, high-culture communities.

Paid employment will decrease to about twenty-five percent of its present level. The insecurity and alienation falsely associated with unemployment will ease as minor reforms and major cultural changes replace the job ethic is replaced by the work ethic. (p.284) Destructive jobs such as coal mining and munitions manufacture, as well as dehumanizing jobs such as advertising, law, and education will be replaced with real work. Most modern jobs, which produce few useful goods and more disservices than services, will be replaced with work activities that support organic cultural life. As the economy stagnates, people will be able to afford attention to the value and meaning of their work, and will enjoy the personal and social values of their efforts. The culture will reflect and enhance labors of love.

Schools, a culmination of European fascist culture, will fade and be replaced by the implicit learning of the good life and the new technology of the "world communications community". At present even the best of so-called traditional schools teach passivity and stupidity, degrading even those children endowed with personal and class advantages. Children learn to do work which has no meaning, to tolerate interruption, and to sacrifice mental integrity. They learn the ethics of the warrior, to submit and to bully, a fitting preparation for the competitive individualist life. But as the schools decay, children will learn how the world works and how to fix it. They will reap the rewards of production, creation, and service in a supportive and enriching culture. The psychological mechanisms of maturity such as cooperation and identification with older role models in meaningful activities, will gradually heal the damage and allow the children to grow into competent intelligent adults.

Transportation will no longer be the principal meditation. The automobile and public transportation will lose their strangle hold on the culture. Present obsolete machinery will be replaced by elegant and efficient means for what little transportation remains. Decrease in auto accidents and pollution will be one of the first rewards of a stagnant economy.

The demise of the medical system may measure the human progress of progressive stagnation by enhancing the physical and mental health of the people. Iatrogenic diseases, diseases caused by the medical profession itself and a leading cause of ill health, will decrease as people are too poor to go to the doctor. The vast medical system, which uses over a tenth of the GNP, will bankrupt. Those few medical personnel who actually serve people will follow them into the new villages, and resume the respected status that shamans had until the recent period. Their skills and knowledge will be enhanced by the new technology, with not only audiovisual communication but even robotic assistance from global specialists. Rare serious cases can use the few remaining central hospitals. General health will improve by more vigorous living, better diet, less pollution and fewer toxins - as well as by decreasing the trauma of modern abstract culture. Finally, the present despair of the medical profession's pathetic attempt to handle problems beyond its competence, will be replaced by the rejuvenation of a vigorous and intelligent therapeutic culture.

Progressive stagnation is imminent and inevitable. It needs no promotion or advocacy. It is happening inexorably, all by itself. We need only to contemplate it and share it with our loved ones, to enjoy the beautiful image and participate as nature offers, for those few precious blinks of life we have.


Unfortunately, this stagnation, which is already well begun, may not be progressive. It may well be conservative instead - a whole different scene. We now see before us what might be called "conservative stagnation".

Conservative stagnation, following the basic principles of free enterprise competitive market capitalism, favors the anxiety mode, AM. Stagnation will be the same: people will be out of work and working for less on an ever increasing scale. The technology will produce increasing riches from earth's bounty, in spite of the bumps and grinds of natural and man-made catastrophes. The rich will get richer, living safely in air conditioned mansions, while the vast majority of the world's people will get poorer, living stressful lonely lives in toxic surroundings. Uncushioned from the bumps and unlubricated from the grind, the poor will suffer most of the decay of the natural and human ecosystem.

But instead of staying home with their families, growing tomatoes, playing with their children, repairing their old cars, and leading the good life, the poor will lose their homes. Under conservative stagnation the number of empty homes and homeless people will increase. Poor people will live on the street while houses remain empty. Some, who preserve residues of stable cultures, may be able to double up. But the majority of European, African and Latin American ethnic groups have already broken down psycho-culturally. With the guidance of increasing law enforcement, they will live on the street condemned to lives of lonely despair. Constrained by the decay of simple social skills, they will be obliged to wander from one illegal place to another.

The anxiety mode, AM, will extend to nutrition as people will lose the faculty and facility to prepare inexpensive food. The will waste what little money they get from dwindling welfare, begging and petty theft on expensive junk food. The elegant meals which can be made from home grown vegetables, inexpensive starches and meats, will be replaced by the abstract burgers and fries between with long periods of semi-starvation.

Deterioration of the medical system will continue as an ever higher percentage of the dwindling GDP enriches the insurance, legal, and medical corporations. Many poor people who get sick will die in the halls of crowded public hospitals, while an increasing percentage of the middle class will drop into the black hole of medical expense, losing everything they and their dwindling family owns on the terminal illness, or any medical emergency that happens. The gradual increase in toxicity of the urban environment will add to the medical distress. Just as half the children in Mexico City have overt respiratory diseases, half the Third World's children are condemned to live subhuman lives degraded by malnutrition and disease.

Increasing numbers of the wretched poor will try to squat on public or private and, perhaps build rural homesteads or communities. But the authorities, growing steadily in power will easily keep them from polluting urban or rural environments with their shanty towns. Thousands will wander furtively, perhaps be herded ruthlessly onto obscure areas called welfare homesteads, barbed wire ghettos, strategic hamlets, or safe villages. Epidemic diseases, like the current cholera, tuberculosis and AIDs, will continue to decimate the world's poor.

Those few vocal dissidents who, by some frailty of their nature, sympathize with these wretches, will be easily hunted down, bought off, drugged, or liquidated. The new computer technology can easily quantify the security rating of every citizen, no matter how poor or simple. Security control systems are already in place and will readily be expanded at modest cost.

Thus, progressive stagnation is threatened by conservative stagnation, which seems to have the upper hand at present. The WARRIOR ETHIC of capitalism, with its deep dissociation of mind, society, polity and culture, is likely to increase its subjugation and brutalization of the ever larger portion of poor. The economy may look good, and the yacht and golf business may boom as the rich get richer and poor get poorer. And everyone will still be free.

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