I’ve been thinking a lot lately about systems of exchange, about how they operate in society (mainly thru capitalism), and looking to other systems for models of how these systems might one day be different.
I’ve been wondering about how systems operate within crisis, and how we might utilize the cracks and rifts that crisis exposes to help usher in new systems of exchange. How might we utilize what we’ve learned from recent crises: hold onto, and then pull from it to alleviate future crises?
I’ve been looking for alternative systems by investigating various models; attempting to trace the shape of these models and imagine how we might learn from, and project them into the future. I wonder about what kind of model it is that we need, and what it might look like.
I’m inviting you to think these things through along with me and a small group of others. Essentially, to create a (human) algorithm as a preparatory strategy for future crises (thinking about ‘algorithm’ as a step-by-step procedure for solving a problem).
Below is some of the research and writings I have been pulling from (in the form of gathered quotations). A number of models are provided [see headings in blue: MODEL] – offering examples of ways that such systems are imagined, predicted, and forecasted. Consider their shape and how those shapes align or mis-align with your own ideas regarding paths to the future.
At times, I’m inviting you to speculate [see headings in pink: SPECULATE] on prompts and questions that linger from across this research, and how the future might be different. I’m inviting you to consider what we might need in the future and how we might best prepare for it now.
The final speculation asks you to trace (draw) a path to the future using the materials I have sent you in the mail (watercolours, paper, and brush). To imagine what a model or path toward the future might look like; to map the distance between now and the future and trace it forward.
Please bring your drawings (traces/maps) along with your speculations to share with the group as we build on ideas and imagine different futures together in two (casual) conversation sessions in February and March (dates TBD).
Looking forward to imagining better futures with you all!
Trace a path to the future: what is its shape?
[materials: watercolours from BEAM paints; brush; paper]
Imagine if, instead of the fallout of boom and bust seen in communities dominated by the oil and gas industry in Alberta for instance, where recession, mass addiction and destabilization rise and fall with the capitalistic cycles of extraction, we followed the pecan’s model of prioritizing preparedness in sustainable ways.
Knowing what we know now, how might we better prepare for future pandemic in a way that avoids crisis?
[Imagine it's December 2019]
[Imagine it's December 2025]
For ecologists, back loops usually occur due to a sudden crisis event: forest fire, flood or pest outbreak (Holling, 2001).
The back loop, in short, is a time of great possibility, where the previous forest may be reestablished via existing seedbanks, but novel ‘unexpected synergies’ between invasive and native species may equally give rise to one or many other new arrangements (Holling, 2011 , n.p.).
Instead of accepting the end of human agency except that of managing crisis – and rather than imagining ourselves as victims or managers of the back loop – I argue that another possibility exists: deciding for ourselves, locally and in diverse ways, where and how to inhabit the back loop.
To ‘inhabit’ the back loop implies existing and being situated in it as well as understanding our epoch through it. But inhabit is also an active verb: rather than a fate or crisis happening to us, to inhabit the back loop is to dwell in and populate it, to take hold of and perhaps even take over as one does a host.
[Inhabiting the Anthropocene back loop Stephanie Wakefield]
Since 1792, The Old Farmer’s Almanac specializes in predicting long-range weather using a formula that’s traditionally 80% accurate.
The Old Farmer's Almanac uses 3 disciplines in long-range predictions:
solar science (the study of sunspots and other solar activity); climatology (the study of prevailing weather patterns); and meteorology (the study of the atmosphere).
They predict weather trends and events by comparing solar patterns and historical weather conditions with current solar activity.
"nut trees don’t make a crop every year, but rather produce at unpredictable intervals. Some years a feast, most years a famine, a boom and bust cycle known as mast fruiting. Unlike juicy fruits and berries, which invite you to eat them right away before they spoil, nuts protect themselves with a hard, almost stony shell and a green, leathery husk. The tree does not mean for you to eat them right away with juice dripping down your chin. They are designed to be food for winter, when you need fat and protein, heavy calories to keep you warm. They are safety for hard times, the embryo of survival. So rich is the reward that the contents are protected in a vault, double locked, a box inside a box. This protects the embryo within and its food supply, but it also virtually guarantees that the nut will be squirreled away someplace safe.
For mast fruiting to succeed in generating new forests, each tree has to make lots and lots of nuts—so many that it overwhelms the would-be seed predators. If a tree just plodded along making a few nuts every year, they’d all get eaten and there would be no next generation of pecans. But given the high caloric value of nuts, the trees can’t afford this outpouring every year—they have to save up for it, as a family saves up for a special event. Mast-fruiting trees spend years making sugar, and rather than spending it little by little, they stick it under the proverbial mattress, banking calories as starch in their roots. If one tree fruits, they all fruit—there are no soloists. Not one tree in a grove, but the whole grove; not one grove in the forest, but every grove; all across the county and all across the state. The trees act not as individuals, but somehow as a collective. Exactly how they do this, we don’t yet know. But what we see is the power of unity. What happens to one happens to us all. We can starve together or feast together. All flourishing is mutual.
[Braiding Sweetgrass - Robin Wall Kimmerer]
I’ve often heard herbalists say that “the cure grows near to the cause,”
[Braiding Sweetgrass - Robin Wall Kimmerer pg 277]
Each choice a plant makes is based on this type of calculation: what is the smallest quantity of resources that will serve to solve the problem?
In other words, plants don’t just react to threats or opportunities, but must decide how far to react.
[Are plants intelligent? New book says yes, Jeremy Hance]
For nowhere is speculation currently more present in the media and in popular culture than in it its association with the irrational, and irresponsible excesses of contemporary high frequency financial trading practices, market dynamics, and stock exchanges (MacKenzie 2006). Such practices, which seek to bring about and profit from the highly volatile fluctuations of markets and their uncertain futures (Pemmaraju 2015), are now understood to be acutely implicated in the recent global financial meltdown, as well as in generating ongoing disasters such as algorithmically induced flash crashes (eg SECC 2014).
[Chapter 1 - The Lure of Possible Futures: On Speculative Research - Martin Savransky, Alex Wilkie & Marsha Rosengarten]
In the world of finance, speculation is HIGH RISK, but holds within it the expectation of significant gain.
Based on market value changes (the price of a thing), speculation in finance anticipates low probability and high consequence.
Speculation in the market is based on group think (herd behaviour), and unusual or unpredictable responses.
Crashes are predictable: they are preceded by a prolonged period of rise and economic optimism (this has been seen in every crash for the last 25 years).
Panic caused by increased mimicry in the market leads to a crash (when participants are all watching and following each other closely, it is easier for panic to take hold).
So many are dying not because capitalism is failing but because it is succeeding, because it is fulfilling its logic—a fact that seems more and more visible today than at any other time in recent history.
[Disaster, Crisis, Revolution - Eric Cazdyn, 656]
Research has found that plants and fungi have evolved a system of exchange based on fair trade:
"Fungi provide plants with phosphorus they can’t get from the soil on their own; plants provide fungi with carbohydrates." The system of exchange has incentive and reward built into its very foundation in order to maintain this beneficial balance. In a controlled study, evolutionary biologist Stuart West found that species have developed a unique method for exchanging phosphorus and carbon: and that the more phosphorus a plant received, the more carbon it would provide as reward to a nearby fungus. What is more, both species make decisions on the individual level: “A plant can identify the function of an individual fungus and reward it accordingly, and a fungus can identify the function of a host and reward it accordingly—they know who the good and bad guys are."
[Ferris Jabr, “Plants and fungi share fair-trade underground market,” in New Scientist, 11 August 2011.]
...plants can make such choices by controlling germination and flowering times in response to changing conditions and by variously directing root growth in heterogeneous soils.
To prevent disaster in such circumstances, many plants and animals store resources during periods of abundance for use in times of scarcity.
...perennial plants store food reserves in fire-resistant root crowns, which sprout and send up new shoots shortly after a fire has passed.
[The Economy of Nature - Robert E. Ricklefs]
a minute & often barely detectable amount or indication;
a mark or line left by something that has passed;
a path, trail, or road made by the passage of animals, people, or vehicles;
a sign or evidence of some past thing : vestige.
NOUN. A way or path.
A course of action.
Footprint or track.
Vestige of a former presence.
A life mark.
VERB. To make ones way.
To pace or step.
To travel through.
To mark or draw.
To follow tracks or footprints.
To pursue, to discover.
[Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape – Lauret E. Savoy]
Bulbs hold energy saved up for the next generation like money in the bank. Last fall the bulbs were sleek and fat, but, in the first days of spring, that savings account gets depleted as the roots send their stored energy into the emerging leaves to fuel their journey from soil to sunshine. In their first few days, the leaves are consumers, taking from the root, shriveling it up and giving nothing back. But as they unfurl they become a powerful solar array that will recharge the energy of the roots, playing out the reciprocity between consuming and producing in a few short weeks.
[Braiding Sweetgrass - Robin Wall Kimmerer]
How might we better remember these paths, these shapes, and these methodologies for the future?
[model] the weather
[model] the back loop
a step-by-step procedure for solving a problem or accomplishing some end