This is a summary of, and commentary on, an article by Eliza Daley called “Let There Be Dragons” Resiliance 22 July 2022
Let’s be clear I don’t know enough about these subjects to be sure what the author is saying is completely correct, but its interesting and I think makes a set of really important points….
The fundamental question we might face is ‘What is collapse?‘ That is a big question, because much of what ‘some people in Western society’ see as collapse might actually be beneficial continuity and change, and hence dominant explanations for collapse and its consequences might be completely wrong.
Daley instances common ideas like:
- The Human inability to include the long-term future in our decision-making
- The Human proclivity toward increasing consumption of energy especially when we find windfall sources
- The Human tendency to increase complexity as we ‘develop’
- The Human tendency towards hierarchy and unsustainable resource use, because we are all profit maximisers, and because it is the best way of organising at scale…
She points out that this view of ‘humans’ just happily corresponds to the views of the dominant parts of our society, who are largely privileged white males. They:
still largely speak in terms of collapse when they encounter change in the historical record, especially a change from a complex hierarchical system or a high-resource-use system to a simpler, dispersed way of meeting needs that confines itself to ecological boundaries.
Collapse without Collapse?
She points out that after the “collapse” of the Roman Empire, it seems Roman culture and ideals still spread, and we all know the Eastern Empire went on for another 1000 years, if that is your mark of failure…
However in the west the system of domination broke down.
But this is not at all the same thing as a collapse of society. It is not the end of a culture or a system of meeting needs. The part of a system that breaks first when limits are strained — that top tier of the parasitically powerful — often has very little to do with average culture and nothing at all to do with needs.
Then I think the Feudal estates built up, so perhaps the change is not that optimistic, but its hard to tell – there is a lack of records, and historians tend to be more interested in the ‘barbarian invasions,’.
She also points to the “collapse” of Chaco Canyon Culture, sometime in what westerners call the Medieval warm period, which may well still continue (with some changes). The people change their lives to live within the constraints of a changing environment. Indeed she indicates that many peoples of the area might occasionally walk away from an oppressive affluence into something quieter.
However, it may need to be pointed out that dominator-free societies are not always good at defending themselves against dominator societies and dominator States, other than by hiding, walking away or ‘passing’ as ‘normal’.
Resisting ‘Collapse;’ Supporting Domination
However, when some people cannot face change in power or wealth structures, or in knowing their place, or are extremely nervous about change, they may find it hard change voluntarily or even imagine such voluntary change. Sadly “those who are [currently] sunk deepest into this crisis of creativity are also those who are in charge.” Our political systems, largely seem to operate as if increasing domination (by which ever group the supporters belong to) is the answer to our collective problems, when it simply sets up further and more intense conflicts.
It is possible that those who ‘have’ power, and its commonsense about domination, constrain the ability to change – partly because power seeks expansion, and thus is “quite likely to rapidly destabilize its environment, wiping itself out along with whatever trips over it”, and partly because they cherish their privilege which is threatened by our collective problems. Holders of domination like the world to be predictable, and submissive, so it can be controlled.
Power-over is deadly, and not merely in a touchy-feely metaphorical fashion. It is evolutionarily maladaptive. It does not arise often, and when it does, it quickly exterminates itself.
The Dominators in our society define society as functional only if it is empire, and only if people can be told what to do.
Many, many complex stateless, artistically expressive societies have existed – that is societies without dominators. Sure they may have hierarchies, but these hierarchies seem shallow and impermanent, and the societies appear to work to make sure they stay that way. We may need to work to move in that direction, as the dominators’ empires collapse.
And while it is not an ideal solution, the dominators in Western societies seem to have figured out that they needed to share power with ordinary people after and during the second world war – and that led to the economic and social mobility boom of the 50s to early 70s, and the rise of liberation movements and anti-colonial movements, producing what the dominators called the “crisis of democracy.” This problem seems to have been solved by returning power to the dominators under the guise of neoliberal ‘free market’ ideologies.
Eco-feminism, or releasing those who already work
Daley makes an eco-feministpoint:
We are all aware of the problems that this culture has with women…. But we tend to be blind to the potential, the hope embodied in women because the dominant culture actively suppresses all about women that is positive, strong and independent of that dominant culture….
Give those who already do the work of meeting human needs the freedom and support to do that work unhindered, and — miracle of miracles! — the work gets done! Needs are met! If we want to clean up the world, then let women get on with that.
I’m a bit more cynical than that, but it is a good point – let people be free to choose the way forward. Creativity is not always in the dominator groups. I also want to remark the obvious, that there are men who are entirely in empathy with these aims – but women in the USA seem increasingly to be under threat of constraint, which needs to be stopped. Curtailing female creativity is not a step forward. The point is that humans are not without virtues, not without shared culture, not without inner resources, not without creativity, and they are not without wanting to be living simply, humanly and without being dominated, and that domination and steep hierarchy is not always functional, always useful or even necessary. Indeed it is often harmful unless perhaps fighting other dominators. Sometimes all that we need to do, is to remove the restraints, which might not be visible until the movement starts.
She further points out that this work is already happening. People are trying to build a society based in relationships and turning away from the idea that society requires domination, within the ‘collapse’ of that dominator society.
Women seem to be notably present in community energy organisations, at least the organisations I know, and they are talking about the importance of getting the community together and free of external domination by electricity companies, so that they can develop in ways of their own choosing. That in itself, is significant of the new ways that might be emerging.