Transitions and Peaks

Those of us who care about how our communities can thrive going forward have paid close attention to the obvious stumbling and freezing up of our financialized economy as the era of cheap resources is ending. Peak capital, peak distribution, peak oil (peak energy) are all terms used to describe what’s going on; transition and energy descent are terms that are used to describe where we might want to go.

These are things worth thinking about and working for, don’t get me wrong. But they’re not the whole story.

We also have other peaks going on. Peak centralization, peak government, peak law.

Let me explain. The past years have seen innumerable economic market segments consolidate at the top, “end game”, of their S-curves. We have treated the entire globe as a single entity, manufacturing parts here, shipping them to there to be assembled, then shipping them back to another location to sell them. Towns have had their civic cores decimated by chain stores.

At the same time government’s size and reach has kept growing. Laws and regulations multiply daily. Those in established places use these laws to keep innovations and entrepreneurs at bay, from patent trolling to copyright infringement claims to the sheer cost of compliance (easy to absorb at scale; back-breaking when small).

But government is bankrupt. We as citizens refuse to either provide the resources needed for all the things we’ve insisted be done, or to cut back on our demands. So deficits and unfunded liabilities have now piled up to the point where the debts are about to break the system.

In other words, expecting centralized institutions and laws to be the engine of fixing our communities is probably as unlikely as it is that we’ll get past peak capital and energy with the economy we have built (mass industrialization financialized and globalized).

Everything is shrinking. Geography, urban form, locality and the like are becoming more important again. So, too, with it, will come diversity. In other words, opportunities will differ in different places — one size will no longer fit all.

There’s actually far more opportunity to live well in that way than in a world filled with “cheap Chinese junk”, global brands, and decisions taken elsewhere. Well, if your goal in life is “Global Brand Manager” or the like, you may find it a lesser world. But for anything useful

So every peak is an opportunity to transition, every transition exposes new peaks affecting the complex adaptive system that is our community.

International trade … the nation … the province … the region … the megacity loom less and less large. The building, the block, the neighbourhood, the community loom larger. As each of the old layers starts to erode before our eyes, new peaks at “lower” levels emerge.

Eventually we are left with a mosaic of places, some doing better, some doing worse, depending on how well each transitions. (That’s why working on this matters.)

The maple leaf, the stars and stripes, the union jack, the tricouleur, and on and on fade, tatter, become “sort of there”. The people whom you come to trust locally, who you’ll commit to and receive promises in turn on a handshake, matter more.

As we head deeper into this new world, everything large will dig in its heels and try to forestall the day, from corporations using the law to stop local “import substitution” to regulators forbidding community solutions to problems.

We shall have to ride it out. The master politicians of the years ahead will be the community level folk who know how to play the system without thinking the system can be saved.


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