The Coming Renaissance
I was listening to a Joe Rogan podcast with a guest who was totally within the mainstream narrative of the corona-virus and the measures that are being taken. Joe Rogan played his usual respectful host and listened though I don’t think very many people believed he was in agreement. Regardless, this particular guest happened to say something that changed everything for me and how I perceive the world in 2020 and where we are going.
First, this guy was saying some of the usual stuff most of which is uncontested:
People are saving money,
They are taking less risks,
Rents are going down, at least for commercial real estate,
We’re seeing a mass Exodus from cities,
and a new possibility of being connected while dispersed via virtual communications technology.
He explained that within a few years there would be a natural shift, for whatever reasons, be it a vaccine or natural herd immunity. He said that people would begin to take risks again. Accumulated resources would flow into new and creative projects. Low rents and open space will create a Renaissance in the cities. But for me the more exciting piece is on the edge.
Permaculture design principle Number 12 tells us to creatively use and respond to change. When I hear that, I often think in my head, “duh”. It’s like how can I creatively respond to change like gee thanks for the tip buddy. But I get it. We need to design systems that enable us to be in a position for creative response. This is where I often talk about the corollary that suggests that every element has at least three functions and each important function is supported by at least three elements. For example, if you’re well runs dry you still have rainwater catchment to serve the function of potable water.
But now I think about it in a whole different way. The changes that were brought about in the year 2020 were in many ways completely unforeseen. Of course there were predictions of pandemics looming in our future and some people say that it was not a matter of if but when. But the reality is that for most people this all came as quite a shock. Absolutely, if you had designed your life, perhaps using the permaculture principles, you may have already been relatively resilient and able to creatively respond to the new world that is emerging. Perhaps you had diversified your income streams and your energy dependencies. Perhaps you have a local and resilient food network and a healthy community that works together. But of course very few people have all of that.
And hearing about his prediction of a Renaissance or another roaring twenties, perhaps in the year 2024, it really got me excited. I began to look at the “parameters of designing with covid”. As I went deeper, I realized that covid has actually paved the way for the emergence of something that many permaculturalists have dreamed of for decades. Let me explain.
The Parameters of Designing with Covid
The world has physically closed and virtually opened. Movement is restricted. There is growing awareness and concern of the public health risks of global movement of population. Culturally, there is a shift towards narrowing down the network of people you interact with in person. Yet the raw human desire of interaction and connection still exists. Furthermore, movement of goods may be restricted due to nationalist and isolationist cultural biases and resulting trade wars.
Before I decided to look at these realities as parameters of an emergent design, I felt pretty crappy. I couldn’t shake this dystopian vision of the future where even children are forced to wear masks and mega cities are full of quarantined people ordering Uber eats. It felt like a void where creativity and resilience had slowly been stamped out, ground into the forgotten realms of what it is to be human. It’s hard to see a way out. My survivalist self was tempted to say “screw it, we messed up. At least I can take care of myself and my family.”
This is tempting. The idea that those who were prepared shouldn’t worry too much and if you’re unprepared you need to get cracking. But it goes deeper than that period and most people understand that this is not a good outlook to have in life. The challenges we face require communal efforts and the realities of the world after covid has an equal chance of becoming incredible as it does dystopian.
I’ve always been inspired by the idea of the part-time farmer. Gene Logsdon talks about this in quite a few of his books. The idea is that you work part-time on your homestead or farm, which by definition is not extremely large or demanding, but generates some income and enables you to pay yourself a fair wage for the time you commit to regenerating the landscape. With the other time in your day, you can engage with other activities that either generate income or other types of cultural or social capital. If you’re talented at fixing cars, you could have a homestead and a part-time mechanic gig. Perhaps you’re good at marketing but don’t want to stay behind a computer all day. Moving to the country and engaging in outdoor activities that bring seasonal income can balance the steady income that can only be earned at a computer.
In 2020 this has become an even attractive possibility. Multinational companies along with small businesses are all moving out of the office and into virtual work-spaces. The need to be in a city is dramatically reduced as more and more professional work happens online. For the first time in recent history younger generations can engage in the global economy from the comfort of a 5 acre Paradise out in the country. This flow and subsequent accumulation will see a reverse brain drain as the young educated populace sees the greener grass and ditches the mega City in search of something more. In the past that meant leaving everything behind including your job and Friends. But now that people can work from home and are no longer allowed to even see their friends, making this leap is much less threatening.
The emerging gig economy, quite established by now, further reduces the demand for full-time employees. More and more people work part-time hours and have more freedom throughout their day.
All of this paints a beautiful backdrop that is just missing the central focal point. That focal point is permaculture design, intentional communities, and part-time cottage and farming businesses.
Close your eyes and imagine a community of about a thousand people who live on a large piece of land and produce a lot of what they need. This idea is not new. We are probably all familiar with the experiments of intentional communities that began in the 50s and 60s. But now things have changed. You can check out, grow your wing beans, make your tofu, and still be connected to the global economy.
For the first time on a mass scale, an educated and connected populace can take up the skills of poverty, live within their means, and set about creating a natural and economic abundance. 1,000 people living in a community with quite tight borders could effectively reduce the perceived threats of viruses while allowing the 1,000 people to interact on a daily basis without masks and threats of contamination. If that community is endowed with land, and they take up permaculture strategies, water, food, and energy should not be concerns. Minimal import of necessary supplies only produced outside of the community give creature comforts within reason.
The new design of this system would suggest that anything that can satisfactorily be produced within and by the community should be done so prior to considering importation. Strong local governments based on consensus would emerge with each community having their own unique by-laws. Communities would naturally form around interests and worldviews, bringing together constituents that have common values and beliefs. The level of self-sufficiency of each community would reduce the pressure of limited global resources outside of the communities.
I also see this as a way to reconcile the growing division within countries. Creating small communities that attract like-minded people and enable and encourage interactions in person creates a cohesion and harmony that aids in peace. That these groups can also interact with and trade on the global economy allows a distributed Network of small communities that can do business together in real time while remaining firm constituents of their unique bio regions.
In short the changes brought about by the coronavirus have paved the way for the emergence of intentional communities that are distributed across both urban and rural areas, organized by shared beliefs, and sustainably meeting the majority of their needs through their own efforts, but able to engage the global economy when interested or required.
Thinking ahead to what the Renaissance will look like when the dust of 2020 settles, I find myself excited at the new possibilities. People once again connecting with each other on common ground and connecting with the Earth in a unique place. Encouraged to slow down to earth speed and stay put while also interacting on a global level. The cultural trauma of seeing others as potential disease vectors will not be soon forgotten. I believe there will be a strong demand for controlled interaction where small groups of people are pre-screened or cleared as healthy and then allowed to move freely within the confines of the community. This would likely satisfy the bureaucratic controls while also providing a good element of freedom of movement, speech, and more within the community.
It’s easy to get down and out about the current state of the world, but remember that this is just a new set of parameters that will define the design that is emerging. Permaculture design has never been more important in a world post-coronavirus. Growing food, producing local energy, creating local community, and embracing the skills of poverty are now more important than ever.
In a sense it’s what we have been waiting for as we long for the environmental movement to fully take hold. I want to be clear that these communities do not represent a downgrade in life in any way. Life would look different within these designs but I would wager that they are much more fulfilling and compatible with social and environmental peace.
I am once again reminded of principal number 12: creatively use in respond to change. Now is our time to creatively respond to the new design parameters in a post-covid world.
I hope you enjoyed reading my post . Perhaps you have other ideas or thoughts on this one. If so, please share them below.