The Coming Expansion

by Ran Prieur

July 29, 2002

Creative Commons License
[November 29, 2012: Looking back on this ten years later, I've decided to keep it exactly as it is, even though I now find it embarrassingly strident and dramatic. The big flaw in my argument is that economic collapse equals collapse of civilization. I'm now confident that most governments and tech systems and even many businesses can easily survive global economic collapse, which means less trauma but also more continuity of the control systems. And I think the shift from central control to fully distributed power, the disciplined inheriting the earth, will require a change in human consciousness that will probably take thousands of years, assuming we even go down that path.]

When you hear "the economy," think "corporate rule": A strong economy means strong corporate rule; economic collapse means the collapse of corporate rule. It's not exactly true, and it's false in times and places where corporations are not dominant, but right now it comes a lot closer to the truth than the usual background assumption that what's good for "the economy" is good for people.

I know: A good economy means you can get a job, and in a really good economy you can get such a good job that if you work 70 hours a week for years you can buy a nice house in a nice place where you never have to deal with those disturbing poor people who are too lazy to work 70 hours a week, who you never learned to relate to because you're so busy in the economy, and then you can die lonely and bewildered in your big empty secure house.

Doesn't it make you angry that you need "the economy" to have the alleged privilege of doing what someone tells you to do all day so you don't starve and freeze on the streets? Aren't you infuriated by your humiliating dependence on a system that gives you no participation in power? "Live free or die" is easy to say in an imaginary scenario of security agents kicking down your door, but whenever I suggest that economic collapse is a step in the right direction, I'm accused of being anti-human, of wishing for starvation and death, by people who are effectively saying "Please, please, let us live as frightened powerless dependents, anything to not die."

We are in an ugly, awful situation. Better avert your eyes. Here's a nice parable: For countless thousands of years the people of Earthor lived in happy villages, getting everything they needed through small, consent-based communities where everyone was a friend and everything was out in the open. Then they were conquered by evil giants!

Now, everything the people made, every house and every bit of food, was given to the giants, and the giants allocated it to keep themselves in power: the people who obeyed the giants the best, and did their most evil work, got the most stuff; and the people who refused to labor for the giants at all were harassed and isolated and sometimes outright killed; and most people in the middle were kept always wanting more than they got to keep them always busy.

Now one day a hero rose among the people and said, "Let us kill the giants." But then some sensible-sounding voices said, "Without the giants, who will provide our food?" Actually these were people who worked closely with the giants, and knew that if the system changed they would lose all their stuff. But other people listened to the hero, so the giants had to come kill them all, and everything went back to normal, except the giants got even stronger and meaner.

But then another hero appeared, and by this time the people hated the giants so much that the giant-collaborators couldn't stop them, and they did it -- they killed all the giants! But they had been living under the giants for so long now that they didn't know how to live differently. Some people managed to start awkward consent-based villages with tedious "community meetings" ruined by everyone's emotional problems from living under the giants. But these groups fell apart or were taken over, and soon enough, strangely, they all found themselves once again ruled by evil giants. Except now the giants were subtle and persuasive, and the people loved them, or at least they thought a world without giants was grossly unrealistic, and they blamed their unhappiness on other people.

And so it went. But look! The giants cannot stay the same size and survive. To live they must constantly grow. They even have a saying: "Any evil giant that doesn't grow dies." But now they're getting so big that their bulk is all dead bones cracking under their unimaginable weight, so big that they can do nothing but blunder around clumsily, ravenously consuming everything in reach to grow still bigger. And their hunger has turned half the land of Earthor into gray smoky deserts. Anyone who looks can see it coming: The giants are going to run out of food, and die.

What then? Let's return now to the less deeply nested fantastic world of our own Earth. The giant patterns that command our labor under threat of death or prison, that manage and distribute the products of our labor to keep themselves in place, are breaking down. In the last two weeks the price of "stocks" -- tokens of collaboration with the ruling system -- has fallen hard, minus a few temporary half-recoveries caused by covert buying spikes. The "economy" is dying, and anyone who's been looking has seen it coming for years.

The propaganda industry will blame corporate greed, as if this could have been avoided if corporations weren't greedy and fish didn't swim. In fact, collapse is the only possible result of an economy that survives by taking more from its environment than it gives. In this case the environment is not only the Earth, which is running out of "resources," but the human species, which is running out of willingness to participate in a coercive and disempowering system.

I'm not calling for civilization to fall and kill billions of people in ways other than old age, any more than I'm calling for winter to come and kill a lot of plants. I'm just noticing it coming and declaring that it's perfectly natural. Liberals fantasize about a "soft landing," maybe involving a benevolently oppressive global government implementing a hundred years of strict forced contraception and strict forced resource frugality. What's soft about that? It sounds like going into a cold swimming pool slowly and painfully for 20 minutes instead of just jumping in. We're all going to be dead in a hundred years anyway. Let's some of us die young so all of us don't have to live in some eco-puritan dystopia.

I'm not joking -- I'm just refusing to fetishize dying. We're programmed to think of dying as the ultimate worst thing, as the negation of living, when really it's a normal friendly part of living, and what's negating our living is our fear of dying or physical damage. Our culture whips this fear into an insane frenzy, not just to keep us enslaved, but because our culture is an evil mass consciousness, a vampire that cultivates and feeds on our emotional contractiveness.

Our contractiveness is the same thing as our "progress," our descent on engines of disconnection into an artificial hell of computer spreadsheets and tax laws, pavement and cars that turn the grass under your feet into a mile-a-minute green blur, science that turns your view of the sky into mathematical formulas in windowless rooms. But everything that contracts must expand.

The contraction we call the Roman Empire cut down the forests of Europe. When it finally relaxed, the forests grew back, but the people of Europe only grew back a little before they shrank again -- self-sufficient rural communities devolved into feudal estates, which got sucked into larger and larger centralized nation-states, which are now falling into the vortex of the unprecedented power-sucking abilities of global corporations. We're as deep now as we've ever been, and I'm not sure, but I think we're out of room to go deeper, unless they figure out how to trap our consciousness inside computers.

I think the next time we expand, we're going to follow through. I suspect that humans are smarter now than ever -- that intelligence is the default human condition, and stupidity has to be manufactured, and our intelligence has been growing stronger and stronger, invisibly staying a step behind advances in stupidity-manufacturing techniques, the same way weeds and bacteria have been growing resistant to high-tech poisons. The controlling interests seem to be winning, but the lid's about to blow off, and when it does, those of us who don't die of starvation or disease will see a blossoming of human power like nothing in history.

Here's what I mean by "human power": Right now if you need a place to live, you can't just find a place and live there, no matter how responsible you are. Places are all "owned," and not by people but by contractive patterns using people, by banks and businesses and money-grasping habits of individuals. You have to apply to these alleged "owners," submit to degrading rituals, accept permission to occupy a place, not change it in any important way, and pay a huge monthly sum of money -- a billion rivers of money running from the poor to the rich. And the only thing you get in return, what you're actually tricked into demanding, is to have your power/responsibility reduced even further by depending on the "owners" to make necessary repairs.

When we get our power back, you'll just pick an appropriate place and live there, and build or maintain shelter that fits the skills of you or your group. And in the transition to this, we'll survive by sleeping on each other's couches, by filling up our houses and learning to live in the same space with other people again instead of buying satanic isolation. We'll turn our lawns into vegetable gardens and feed ourselves with our own hands instead of depending on money and supermarkets. Our alleged poverty will lead us to rebuild community and autonomy that were destroyed by our alleged wealth.

Link by link, we will stop depending on and answering to higher powers and begin depending on and answering to the lower powers of our bodies and the Earth. The Earth is us too, and when we get our power back, monoculture farms will be set free to be grassland and forest again, in which humans will live in deep and enduring symbiosis. I'm not saying we'll all be hunter/gatherers, but some of us will, and at the very least that economy is the necessary safety net above which we will try other things.

When we get our power back, the homeless / jobless / moneyless will reach a critical mass where the police can no longer stop us and we know it. If an eagle wants more space, it fights a competitor, and typically neither bird is badly hurt, and both have the experience of engaging the world with their energy. This is not “violence” but a vigorous physical way of resolving conflict; it's not about control or extermination but balance. In all the known universe only civilized authorities do not work this way, do not tolerate physically fighting them or running from them, do not give any options but total submission or death. That's why all of us who have not been killed are full of suppressed rage. And if we channel this rage wisely, we will not exterminate the authorities so they can escape and come back in the form of us; we will hold them in the one position they cannot endure, of living as equals with other life, until they dissolve.

Totalitarian control structures are fascinating: The police not only deny us power -- they deny it to themselves, believing that they lack the authority to compromise because they're "just doing their job" for someone else. But if you look up the chain, no one has any power -- even the highest elite are powerlessly following a script written by a financial balance or a country or a warped sense of "order," a program taking control so it can take more control so it can...

This system is an anti-system, a multilevel negation, built of blocks of lack of power, lack of responsibility, lack of awareness. This raises mind-bending questions: How do you destroy a void? And if nobody has any real power, where does the power go?

I think the answer is that power isn't actually being taken but being blocked, in nonhumans by simply killing them and in humans by socialization that begins in infancy, punishing people for having a will of their own, for being aware, for channeling any bottom-up power, until by age 30 most of us are barely alive, almost as Philip K. Dick wrote: "Not a person but a sort of walking, hiding symptom of their way of life."

But blocked power just keeps building up. It wants to flow up through our cells, our muscles, our blood. If we keep holding it back it's going to explode! That's not good. We need to learn to focus it, like a rocket focuses an explosion to push it into orbit, like a plant focuses growth into the roots before the stalk. The famous biblical line is a mistranslation: The word was used to describe good horses, not their submissiveness but their ability to focus their attention and respond instantly to the slightest cues.

The disciplined will inherit the Earth.