• My continuing crisis

    by  • September 6, 2011 • Everything Else • 6 Comments


    It’s hard to know what started it. It was ongoing when I left London for Cloughjordan. It might have started when Bembo Davies showed me that what I was doing was terrible theater, just did not work. It might be an impending 40th birthday. More than anything, it might be my work starting to hit maturity.

    This year’s Burning Man was the critical arrival of the Hexayurt Project. Reports are coming in, apparently it was a great success. We know that Edmund Harriss’s big hexayurt-domes (we’re still figuring out nomenclature!) were built. There were networks of hexayurts. There were a lot of hexayurts. I’ll start posting structured roundups on what happened out there soon, as news comes in.

    More than anything, I am struggling with my own powerlessness. I am, by any reasonable standards, an exceptional human being. There are a handful of people in the world who combine my degree of raw intellectual firepower and commitment to change. Many of the long bets I’ve made are coming in, and the core of my last decade’s worth of work is well-established in the world. I believe we’ll see real, significant, substantial hexayurt deployments in the developing world off the awareness generated at this year’s Burning Man, and then the project will stand on its own feet all the way. And I feel startlingly unequal to the problems we face as a species. I’m at full deployment and then some, and even in the sector that I’m working, I’m barely making a scratch.

    The powerlessness thing even though, by any objective standards, I’m winning on every axis except financially, is hitting me harder and harder these days. Even if everything I’m doing goes to its full extent, from the Resilience Designer stuff through to The Future We Deserve and the mass deployment of hexayurts and simple critical infrastructure maps, it’s not going to be enough.

    It’s that scene from The Man Who Fell To Earth where he piles up the money from the briefcase of basic patents based on his alien technology, and realizes it won’t be enough money to build what he came to create. (minimal spoilers)

    What defines enough?

    A one-world lifestyle for all human beings.

    I’m willing to use the coercive force of the State to this end. I’m willing to use my own life to this end. I’m willing to over-reach and breakthrough to this end. I’m willing to lead, up to a point, to this end. But I cannot do this, I can’t even make it possible, alone. The culture which could actually make this happen does not exist yet.

    I have two points of reference left in this landscape. The Unplugged which describes a social movement which could Solve The Problem, and Open Source Ecology which is a real, functioning, higher standard of living relocalization-and-open-source project.

    (resilience, relocalization and open source – RRAOS – might be a term for future use.)

    Open Source Ecology needs help. They’re possibly our best shot – the ideas, and to some degree the team, at Solving The Real Problem. It’s one of the few efforts where you can say “if we did this, all of it, it would actually make a real dent.” If you’re looking for something to do which will help, help there. I think cold hard cash is probably a better approach than volunteering unless you have specific skills they need, but read up and see where you fit in.

    But again, I am avoiding the crisis. I don’t believe in my own plan. The level of engagement it would take to do this and win, globally, is more than I can imagine.

    Think about that: I don’t think we can do it.

    It is not that I have given up, but I am now moving forwards blindly, with just the outline of a plan and some principles, rather than moving along a planned axis. Up until now I have had a plan I believed in, which was basically reboot Buckminster Fuller’s work by infusing it with open source principles, and make Gandhi’s models practical on that technology base.

    I’ve given it five solid years, basically full-time, and five years before than in prep. We have one technology out of that process, the hexayurt, and one perspective, the stuff in the Gupta State Failure Management Archive.

    Not enough. Some bad luck, some active resistance, some misjudgment. We nearly got a big hexayurt deployment in Haiti. We nearly got a much more profound appropriate technology program at the Pentagon. Lot of near-misses.

    I’ve failed to deliver the revolutionary change I had hoped to ignite.

    And it doesn’t matter. Because I never did what I did because I hoped. I did what I did because it’s what I am for. When the mains came on in Spring of 2001, when I finally got hold of life properly, I knew this is what I was going to do, in some sense. And I’m going to continue doing it, but the ongoing crisis of not being able to find a strategy I believe can produce the transformation I was hoping for is just that – an ongoing crisis.

    I can’t push any harder, I don’t know how to work any smarter, and it’s not enough.

    Now what?

    KBO, Keep Buggering On as Churchill said. I did say I expected the hexayurt to take until 2018 until there for the first large-scale deployment, 15 years from Burning Man 2003, when the first hexayurt ever was built. And now we have the domes, we can do first-world housing. And the cheap solar may yet come, at least it’s getting cheaper year-by-year. But even if we get these toe-holds, it’s not going to get to the scenario described in The Unplugged where we actually get a substantial number of first-world people back off the grid, off capitalism, and into a lifestyle who’s research-and-development spending helps the poor farmers too.

    So at that point, I’m out of cards and out of plan. I’m going to keep shipping components, and I hope that someone out there has a use for them, because I can’t get this fire started. But I can keep chopping wood.

    Personally, I’m fine. People often use “crisis” to indicate a condition where they need help, and I’m more indicating a point of radical change, a breaking point. I’ll continue making weird squeaking noises and accommodating to reality, but this should not be interpreted as a cry for help. I may have to sit at the bottom of the well for a few more months until things start making sense again, but what’s the point of being a yogi if a season in hell dissuades you from your course, eh? It’s just a case of sitting with the problem until the pressure of consciousness forces transformation.

    I just thought you should know.

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    Vinay Gupta is a consultant on disaster relief and risk management.


    6 Responses to My continuing crisis

    1. zac
      September 6, 2011 at 8:26 pm

      I’m sure we’ve all been there. that run out of gas, got no cards, no plan, no alternative, moment. don’t like ‘faith’ but it’s that kind of crossing the abyss feeling. you have to trust you made good decisions, even if the feedback loop on those decisions is beyond the scope of the human personality to grapple with.

      I was rewatching some kurzweil videos the other day, and even if you’re not down with the techno-rapture, he makes a good point about exponential growth: when you start with nothing, the curve always looks flat at first, and if you judged future progress by observing the initial phase you’d have a distorted view of what would happen in the future. it’s when you hit the knee of the curve, and the growth goes asymptotic, and everything appears to happen at once, that things get interesting. but it was the slow build that laid the groundwork.

    2. September 7, 2011 at 3:20 am

      Gramsci : Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

      It’s the only way.

    3. September 7, 2011 at 3:38 am

      You think http://earlyretirementextreme.com/ is an example of The Unplugged?

    4. Nick
      September 7, 2011 at 8:33 pm

      You amaze me that you are able to articulate the pressures you feel upon your psyche. When I get knocked down I lose the ability to communicate it. I clam up and hold my ground in silence. The fact that you give a voice to this stuff tells me you aren’t down and out….Just KBO man!

      As for OSE and the unplugged, I completely agree with the approach, of either movement except that for it to happen we need to build an economic bridge so that people can devote there time and pay bills working on those projects. I’ve been doing some visiting with a very ambitious permaculturalist http://cookingupastory.com/the-unconventional-harvest-new-forest-farm in my neck of the woods in wisconsin. He’s entertaining the idea of housing, employing and educating a crop of students for a sort of complete immersion into the ultra simple resiliency life that is congruent with the unplugged or OSE’s aims.
      Unlike OSE’s factor-e farm his ag production is sizeable and up and running, so people have immediate work opportunities to pay bills as needed. So I think couple the ag production in that place with OS infrastructure development and you could have a real live functioning economic model to shoot for and replicate.

    5. vera
      September 11, 2011 at 5:20 pm

      Last I checked, Vinay, Open Source Ecology was pretty much a lone narcissist living in the mud flats of Kansas, abusing his volunteers, while luring a lot of “fans” to subsidize his machines of which I have not seen a single open source documentation for. And the “fans” did not wish to talk about it, by and large. This was exactly two years ago, around the Inga fiasco.

      What has changed since then, since you keep recommending the endeavor?

    6. vera
      October 18, 2011 at 4:57 am

      Vinay, would you be willing to at least tell us why you won’t talk about it?

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