[R-G] [BillTottenWeblog] Green Wizardry: A Response to Rob Hopkins

Bill Totten shimogamo at ashisuto.co.jp
Tue Sep 7 18:15:29 MDT 2010


by John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report (September 01 2010)


Since the Green Wizards project got under way two months ago, I've
wondered off and on whether it would field any sort of response
from the Transition movement. Thus it was not exactly a huge
surprise to read Rob Hopkins' blog post on the subject {1}
yesterday. I admit that the tone of his response took me aback, and
so did the number of misrepresentations that found their way into
it; I have no objection to criticism - quite the contrary, an idea
that can't stand up to honest criticism isn't worth having in the
first place - but it might have been helpful if Hopkins had taken
the time to be sure the ideas he was criticizing were ones I've
actually proposed.

When I sat down to start this week's post this morning, I
considered going through his comments one by one and correcting the
misrepresentations, but what would be the point? Those who are
minded to take his statements at face value will doubtless do so
anyway; those who are interested in checking the facts can find my
views detailed at quite some length in the series of posts
beginning June 30 of this year. Instead, I think it's more useful
just now to talk about the things Hopkins' critique got right. Rob
Hopkins is a smart guy, and even though he's garbled a fair number
of the details, his post raises useful points regarding some of the
core issues I've tried to bring up in the Green Wizards posts.

The first of those is that one of the motivations behind the Green
Wizards project is a recognition of the limitations of the
Transition Towns project. I've discussed my concerns about that
movement on several occasions on this blog, and don't see any need
to repeat those comments just now. The crucial point, though, is
one that Hopkins himself cheerfully admits: that neither he nor
anyone else in the movement can be sure that it will accomplish
what it's trying to accomplish.

That's a bold statement, and one that's worthy of respect. Still,
it has implications I'm not sure Hopkins has followed as far as
they deserve. If the difficult future ahead of us can't be known
well enough to tell in advance what strategies will best deal with
it, in particular, it seems to me that it's a serious mistake to
put all our eggs in one basket, whether it's the one labeled
"Transition" or any other.

This is the underlying strategy that guides the Green Wizards
project. I've argued here that the best approach to an
unpredictable future is dissensus: that is, the deliberate
avoidance of consensus and the encouragement of divergent
approaches to the problems we face. The Green Wizards project is
one such divergent approach. It tries to address a broad range of
possible futures with a flexible set of tools, but there are no
guarantees; it's entirely possible that the project will fail, or
that the future will turn out to be so different from my
expectations that it could never have succeeded at all.

That last comment could be said just as accurately of the
Transition approach, and of course that's exactly the point.
Neither project offers an answer to all the challenges the future
might dump on us, and neither one is guaranteed to work. This is
why I've tried to craft the Green Wizards project to fill in some
of the gaps the Transition Town movement fails to address. Does
that make the two projects mutually exclusive? Not at all; it could
as easily be argued that they're complementary - though it also
needs to be remembered that the two projects taken together don't
cover all the possibilities, either. Other projects will be needed
to do that, and if we're lucky, we'll get them.

This leads to the second point that Rob Hopkins got absolutely
right, which is that the Green Wizard project isn't a solution to
every problem the future has in store for us. I'm not at all sure
where Hopkins got the idea that the project is predicated on an
imminent fast collapse, which is very nearly the opposite of my
views - the most popular of my peak oil books so far isn't titled
The Short Descent {2}, you know - but he's quite right to say that
I consider peak oil, and more generally the impact of fossil fuel
and resource depletion on an economy and society that depends on
limitless growth, to be the core driving force of the next century
or so of social crisis and disintegration. (The main impacts of
anthropogenic climate change, according to most climatologists,
will come further down the line.) That's what the Green Wizard
project is intended to address, and criticizing it for not trying
to do what it's not intended to do is a bit like criticizing a
hammer because it's not a very good saw.

The Seventies-era appropriate technology that's at the core of the
project, for that matter, is only one of many options that could be
used within the strategy I'm proposing. I chose that option partly
because it's something I happen to know well, having worked with it
for thirty years now; partly because it evolved to deal with the
consequences of energy shortages in a time of economic turmoil, and
that promises to be a fair description of the decades just ahead of
us; and partly because I've discovered that a great deal of what
was learned back in the days of the appropriate tech movement never
got handed down to the people in today's peak oil scene.

I've also found that a great many people who are worried about peak
oil take to the old appropriate tech material like a duck to water,
once they learn about it, and are refreshingly likely to do
something practical with it. One of the challenges most of us who
speak publicly about peak oil face all the time is the honest
question, "Yes, but what can I do about it?" Hopkins has offered
his answer to that question, and it's an answer that's clearly
satisfactory to many people, but it's not suited to everybody.

The birth of the Green Wizard project itself came about as a result
of that last fact. The project started with a post here {3} that
tentatively suggested the archetype of the wizard, and the toolkit
of the old appropriate tech movement, as the starting points for an
option worth exploring as we move deeper into the Age of Limits.
That post fielded more comments and email than any other Archdruid
Report post has ever gotten, and a very large number of the
responses amounted to "This is what I've been looking for". Many of
the people who responded in that way have gone on to begin saving
energy, planting gardens, and doing other admirably practical
steps. Should I have closed that door in their faces, and insisted
that they had to embrace the Transition agenda or do nothing at
all? I trust not.

This leads in turn to the third point that Rob Hopkins got
unquestionably right, which is that the Green Wizard project is not
aimed at building resilient communities. That's the core of the
Transition Towns strategy, if I understand Hopkins' writings
correctly, and the Transition Towns program is certainly one way to
go about trying to do that - though it's not the only way, and not
necessarily the best way in every case. What I'm not sure Hopkins
has grasped is his strategy isn't the only game in town.

To begin with, as I've just mentioned, there are plenty of people
who are interested in doing something about the challenges of the
future, but for whom the Transition program is not a viable option.
There are people, quite a few of them, who live in communities full
of rock-ribbed conservatives who believe that global warming is a
hoax manufactured by the Democratic Party and that we'd have all
the oil we need if the government allowed unrestricted drilling,
and as many who live in communities full of liberals who believe
just as firmly that their SUV lifestyles can run just as well on
wind farms or algal biodiesel as on fossil fuels. There are people
who, for one reason or another, are not suited to the work of
community organizing, and others who have been there, done that,
and would sooner gnaw a rat's pancreas than sit through another
round of long meetings in order to produce another round of
elaborate plans that everyone involved knows will never be anything
more than ink on paper. Insisting that such people ought to follow
the Transition program anyway is not going to have any useful
result.

Yet there's another issue I don't think Hopkins has addressed, and
it comes right back to his cheerful admission that there's no
guarantee the Transition program can do what it's supposed to do.
The Transition program assumes that the best way to deal with the
impending crises of the future is to organize for resilience on a
community level, and it also assumes that the best way to do this
is to produce a discreetly managed consensus within individual
communities, turn that consensus into a plan, and then act on the
plan. Neither of those assumptions is a certainty, and there are
reasons - some of which I've discussed in this blog - why
strategies based on them may be doomed to fail.

This point deserves making in the clearest possible terms. It's
pure speculation, however appealing the speculation might be, that
communities are the best option, or even a workable option, for
building the sort of resilience Hopkins has in mind. Even if he's
right, it may no longer be possible to build communities that are
resilient in any meaningful sense, in the face of the troubles
bearing down on us at this point. Even if it is still possible to
do so, the methods the Transition movement proposes may not be a
viable way of doing it. Based on his public writings, I believe
Hopkins would agree with these statements. That being the case,
though, we're back to the point I made earlier: in the face of an
unpredictable future, it's wise to explore more than one possible
response.

The Green Wizards project is an attempt to create one of these
alternative responses. As I've already suggested, it's partly
inspired by an attempt to fill in some of the gaps left open by the
Transition program, and so it should come as no surprise that it
differs from the Transition program in a great many respects. It
doesn't claim to be a solution to every problem the future might
throw our way, and so it's pretty much guaranteed that there will
be things the Transition program covers that the Green Wizard
project does not, and vice versa. It doesn't focus on the creation
of resilient communities, but instead of criticizing it for that
reason, Hopkins could as well have said that Transition already has
that covered, and alternative projects could use their time more
wisely by tackling other issues Transition is not well positioned
to address - which, again, is what the Green Wizard project is
trying to do.

That this wasn't his response troubles me. That's not because I
think Hopkins ought to accept all the presuppositions behind the
Green Wizards project - if he did that, presumably he'd have
launched some project like it, instead of the one he did in fact
launch - or because I think the Green Wizards project shouldn't be
criticized. As I mentioned toward the beginning of this essay, any
idea worth having is worth critiquing, and the skill of learning
even from harsh criticism is essential to projects of the kind
Hopkins and I are pursuing, each in his own way. Equally, when
criticism misses or misunderstands its target, it can be useful to
point out where this has happened, and try to clarify the issues
under debate. Still, there's a line of some importance between such
responses and the kind of defensive stance that treats any critique
as an assault to be repelled, and any alternative project as a
potential rival to be quashed.

I don't think that Hopkins and the Transition movement have crossed
that line yet, and I trust they will recognize the risks and stay
well back from it. Still, it worries me that recent responses on
the part of Hopkins and other people in the Transition movement to
criticism have begun to display traces of the defensiveness and the
spirit of rivalry to be found beyond that line. I'm thinking
particularly of the responses fielded by Alex Steffens' critique of
the Transition movement on his Worldchanging blog {4}. I'm by no
means a fan of Steffens, but he raised points that deserve more
attention, and a more substantive and less dismissive response {5},
than I feel they received.

Ultimately, though, the way people in the Transition movement
choose to respond to its critics is their choice, not mine.
Meanwhile, the Green Wizard project is moving ahead. I'm pleased to
announce that after many requests from participants in the project,
an online forum for aspiring green wizards is live at {6}; a tip of
the wizard's hat to Teresa Hardy and Cathy McGuire for the hard
work that made this happen.

I'm by no means sure what the next steps forward will be. This
project is barely two months old, and has already expanded and
developed in ways that I never anticipated; for the foreseeable
future, at least, improvisation is the order of the day. Still,
aspiring green wizards and more casual readers alike can expect
another exploration of the practical options ahead of us in next
week's Archdruid Report post.

Links:

{1}
http://transitionculture.org/2010/08/31/why-green-wizards-get-us-nowhere-new/

{2} http://www.newsociety.com/bookid/4014

{3} http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2010/06/merlins-time.html

{4} http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/010672.html

{5}
http://transitionculture.org/2009/11/03/responding-to-alex-steffens-critique-of-transition-at-worldchanging/

{6} http://www.greenwizards.org/

_____

John Michael Greer, The Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of
Druids in America (AODA), has been active in the alternative
spirituality movement for more than 25 years, and is the author of
more than twenty books, including The Druidry Handbook (Weiser,
2006) and The Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the
Industrial Age (New Society, 2008). He lives in Cumberland,
Maryland. 

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2010/09/since-green-wizards-project-got-under.html


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