A Double Shot of Vision- Resilient Cities and Biomimicry Design

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Sometimes it's important in our turbulent times to get a shot of vision, to see the positive on the future horizon, to see what's already being envisioned and created for a different kind of human society. I meet a lot of (mostly young) people today that've taken on the 'collapse' meme. According to this view, we're doomed and going down fast. There's a partial truth in this. The visionary futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard recently stated that, "It's natural that an intelligent species would be successful enough to hit the limits of its own growth without knowing it was going to do so. It's natural that through our successes we have overindustrialized, overpopulated, polluted, and used up our environment. It may be that this whole predicament is a natural phenomenon and that this intelligent species, which has finally gained an understanding of the atom, the gene, and the brain, is now getting a signal: evolve or die".

Collapse is indeed a possibility. Luckily, there's lots happening on the evolution side of the street too. This first video is a short trailer for an upcoming documentary called Resilient City:




One of the things that's contributing mightily to the possibility of collapse is a type of reductionist, instrumental thinking at the heart of the modern mindset. The French philosopher Edgar Morin, a systems and complexity thinker, is deeply critical of this type of thinking- "Intelligence that is fragmented, compartmentalized, mechanistic, disjunctive, and reductionistic breaks up the complexity of the world into disjointed pieces, splits up problems, separates that which is linked together, and renders unidimensional the multidimensional...The reductionist approach is less a solution than the problem itself" (1). In the second video, we get a sample of a kind thinking that's moved beyond this limited modern approach. In this Ted talk, architect Michael Pawlyn describes the use of biomimicry and permaculture principles to help design a future society that I personally find very inspiring. Enjoy.



(1) Morin, Edgar. Homeland Earth. US: Hampton Press, 1999. p.125-128.

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  • Comment Link Jennifer Grove Monday, 14 March 2011 02:42 posted by Jennifer Grove

    Love. This.

    I too have found myself settling into the "collapse meme" and am really feeling the tension. I'm not seeing anything coming from Zeitgeist that sounds like solutions beyond waiting for it all to completely die back and then fertilizing for a completely new crop. That doesn't feel right to me. Too much can go wrong.

    But they are doing Systems Thinking too, so I'm not sure how Morin's idea of reductionism makes sense there. Maybe Zeitgeist's lack of self-reflection is part of the problem. That certainly seems to be important to Morin and rightly so.

    I would like to see the ideas about all this to be fluid and connected and responsive and response-able to one another instead of competing against one another. That will require self-reflection first, because we cannot tolerate reflective feedback if we cannot first tolerate our own reflection.

    Thanks for this Trevor.


  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Tuesday, 15 March 2011 19:25 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Hi Jennifer, I'm glad you enjoyed this piece. I too sometimes feel the powerful pull (undertow?) of the "collapse meme"; however, I also come across so much material like these videos above that show that we're already poised to make really amazing transitions if we can only muster the public and political support for them. Part of that process as I see it is the awareness of and dissemination of these ideas and capabilities, of which this post hoped to be one tiny part.

    I would agree that that the Zeitgeist folks have moved to the type of systems thinking that Morin advocates. I consistently include these types of critiques (from folks like Morin and a host of others) because the reductionist mindset itself is still so dominant in the thinking of much of the ruling power structures of our day (two areas of particular concern for me are modern rationalist economics and the industrial food supply). The mental-rational structure, to use that language, is holding on for dear life, but it's going to take us down with it if we don't achieve a broader public movement towards more complex and sophisticated ways of thinking, all of which you know in spades I'm sure.

    However, the question for me is how to achieve that mental shift on a broad scale, and not just in small enclaves where people already understand each other. For example, I think Michael Pollan's work (esp. In Defence of Food) has done a great job of bringing a critique of reductionist thinking to a very broad public audience, as well as introducing permaculture solutions to boot (I love permaculture!).

    For what it's worth, my view on where the Zeitgeist folks go wrong (and much conspiracy theory type thinking in general) is that they don't take contingency seriously enough. What I often hear is a perspective that assumes power to be total, dominant, complete. This analysis breeds a certain resolved cynical quietism in my opinion; and I don't think it's true either!! Here I follow the work of the poststructuralist philosophers, particularly Gilles Deleuze. The work of these thinker shows the myriad ways that systems and structures have fissions and openings, and in fact, how dynamical systems never have full closure.

    Which brings me back to contingency. The world-system is so complex, with so many moving parts and so many competing interests, that I think there's countless openings for growth, improvement and evolution, if we keep our eyes open and work hard. So I'm much more optimistic, from an actual action-oriented standpoint, that we don't need "full collapse" to begin the transition. We need to work on hundreds different points of opening all at once, working together in networked fashion.

    Which brings me to your really important point that "I would like to see the ideas about all this to be fluid and connected and responsive and response-able to one another instead of competing against one another". I couldn't agree more. The philosopher Deleuze employs the concept of "assemblages" to envision this type networked activity. He talks about "hodgepodes" and "combinations of interpenetrating bodies" and things like that. It's a very fluid and dynamic understanding of reality. The language of these poststructuralist cats can be pretty tough to penetrate, but there's lots there (imo). Here's a blog by the philosophy prof. Levi Bryant. I find his summaries of this stuff helpful (although still hard work).


    I apologize if some or all of this is old hat for you, but since we're only beginning to get to know each other and our respective knowledges and interests, we'll have to find out all that as we go along. Enjoying the discussion(s), and looking forward to more!

  • Comment Link Jennifer Grove Tuesday, 15 March 2011 20:47 posted by Jennifer Grove

    Hi, Trevor.

    Not old hat at all. There is alot of information that I don't have access to because I have a disability that makes it really hard to read alot of text. It's a form of PTSD that causes flashbacks and obsessing and just generally makes a mess of any attempt to concentrate. So, I get my info from feeds that contain alot of video, audio and short bursts of text. That's why I'm mostly commenting on the "Bits and Pieces" and not the big articles. I would love to be able to engage more completely but my connectivity is very limited. This is one reason that I don't engage in debate also, because I can't possibly regurgitate the blizzards of information that most debaters demand and consider valid. I process and store info very differently.

    I love hearing what others have to say and "thinking with others" instead of in competition against others. few people understand that model or can do it. We're educated and conditioned to think in competition with others. That's the American way. And so I am "disabled".

    This gives me such hope:

    "The work of these thinkers shows the myriad ways that systems and structures have fissions and openings, and in fact, how dynamical systems never have full closure."

    You don't even know.

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