Lean Defence

From some points of view, there will be a greatly reduced incentive for defence in the Lean Economy. States will have fewer distant interests to defend. But the evolution to the post-market settlement will bring tensions of its own. There will be competition for land. Large urban populations could quickly find themselves in some desperation for food. The fault lines of a multicultural society could mature into deep divisions. The tensions considered in the entry on population could mature under the pressures of scarcity. Urban populations will not stay put.

Among strategies that present themselves for consideration, here are four:

1. Scepticism. This is the argument that a breakdown of law and order is unlikely, and that, in any case, it should not be discussed, since this could stimulate aggressiveness, turning out to be a self-fulfilling forecast. On the other hand, it could be argued that there is already wide awareness of such events around the world, and that the acting out of resentments in the form of violence is probably not significantly held back by any lack of awareness of violence as a possibility.L21

2. Appeasement. A psychotherapist living near Totnes, Devon, argues that local preparation for an urban break-out should take the form of cultivating more food than the people of Totnes need for their own consumption so that, in the event of the arrival of groups of hungry visitors from nearby towns and cities, there will be enough food to share with them.L22

3. Participation. Here we have the darker view that local lean economies will not be able to assume that they have the benefit of peace in the landscape they live in. Disruption on a ferocious scale can be expected, and it may not settle down for many years. Defence will be a non-negotiable need. Participation in it will be shared, and some forms of this that have worked in the past are discussed in Lean Law and Order.

One thing that cannot be predicted with any confidence is the nature of warfare in the future. It may be that some states will inherit very advanced munitions; along with that, they may have computer systems with war game capability which is so realistic and authoritative that they do not need actually to fight wars, once they can accept the verdict of war games. Or if they actually exchanged their nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, there might be little sequel to speculate about. But there is a reasonable probability, consistent with Lean Logic’s line of vision, that the wars that shape the future will be local.

Firearms and ammunition are complex to manufacture, requiring an infrastructure of mining, steel-making precision-engineering, money and transport. A substantial stock of arms will be inherited from the market economy, but the demand will substantially outstrip the supply, and this will have several consequences.

First, it will confer decisive advantages to any group that has contrived to get hold of firearms. There will be little possibility of resistance to such groups, except in cases of conflict between groups similarly armed.

Secondly, some groups will not have firearms, but they will still feel capable of taking on local settlements whose assets or land they want to acquire. Knives and staves are effective weapons against any group that has not substantially sacrificed normal life in the interests of defence.

Thirdly, some groups may acquire extreme weapons such as spent nuclear fuel or even plutonium extracted from it. The world’s stock of these materials is widely distributed, and it is far from secure. Moreover, the specialist electronic defence equipment which is now in use—and being developed further—to protect those stocks is unlikely to be in working order. Here we have another reminder of the need to close down the nuclear industry and to sequester its waste in the limited time that remains. Similarly, other weapons, such as gas, biological weapons and, in due course, the potential of nanotechnology, could be used. A priority for the present should be not simply to make these technologies safe under present conditions, but to make them unavailable for the future. Containment measures in full working order, and fully supplied with the necessary energy, electronics and organisation, will become less available as the need for them increases.23

4. Coalition. As soon as there is awareness that the peaceable conditions needed by local lean economies are no longer available, communities will try to form defensive coalitions. This will not be easy. Coalitions will naturally be made up of settled communities who are already on their way to local self-reliance. They will have the land, the skills, the community. The offensive groups, on the other hand, will tend to comprise people from towns and cities who lack such resources, and see no option other than to take them, by whatever means. The idea that there is enough to go round for everyone is an anachronism some 300 years behind the times. It is not only a matter of land, but the means to cultivate it in conditions where there is a lack of fuel, of traction such as horses, of secure ownership, and of the detailed complex of infrastructures and skills needed to harvest and store food to last through the year. The dark arithmetic of land and population will be recognised.

And yet, even after those consequences have been substantially played out, there will still be the need for coalitions. For a thousand years after the departure of the Romans, the politics of Britain was shaped by a series of oscillations between stable, nationwide government (with many variations on the meaning of “nation”) and war: between invaders (Danes) and the indigenous population; between small nations (Welsh, Scottish, Irish) and their powerful neighbour; or between armies whose causes and commitments were linked to loyalties related to the families they belonged to and the estates they happened to live on.

The dates of final settlement are mixed in with dates that looked final at the time, but turned out not to be. Among the phantom closures in European history, there were days—in 216 BC, in 1461, 1644, 1813, and 1918, for instance—which seemed to be final, but settled nothing. There is a temptation to assume that we have put such matters behind us. Well, that’s true in a way, for democratic market economies do not make war on each other. But that is not the political-economic order to which the future belongs.L24

Yet the idea of coalitions and alliances is central here. Coming from a peaceable green point of departure—Transition Belsize Park’s first public meeting included lengthy instructions in knitting—we find it hard to imagine the dark terror into which our ancestors—farmers and family men—have walked, accompanied only by their courage and allegiance. It doesn’t have to be a modern war. Archers were the machine-gunners of their day, firing at the rate of twelve a minute to produce an arrow storm:

The enemy either stood still, being unable to reply, or, charging blindly, were thrown into hopeless confusion. The arrows could stop a rush, not because they brought a man down, because they made him wild.L25

If there is to be a solution, it will come in the form of a state that can keep the peace. It is to be hoped, intensely, that it is a highly decentralised state, a modular system organised around local self-reliance. But significant disorder may open the way to an authoritarian response justified by the claim that there is no other way of dealing with it. And the possibility of the survival of the modular form will remain open only so long as:

a. there is no threat from a state which, being more complex and centralised, is more capable of coordinated and aggressive action, and is tempted to make trouble by the mere fact of knowing that it can; and

b. there is that common cultural frame of reference to which Lean Logic refers continually.

It will not be the market that holds it together, for that option will have closed. If there is a framework for peaceable settlement, it will be the authority of a common identity, defined explicitly in a shared culture and its expressions—in rituals and affirmations which the market economy has not yet managed completely to destroy, in affections shared, insights lived for.

Lean defence, then, is here in the room—large and unavoidable, an unwelcome need and commitment. So, what to do? Well, first of all, don’t rush. The first and proper response is—do nothing. Instead, enter the space of reflection, love, reason, encounter, friendship, ignorance, presence. Here is St Basil—someone who knew a thing or two about defence—doing just that, at a turbulent time in fourth century Caesarea in a letter to the monk, Urbicius. He entered that space, and called it “prayer”:

Do please visit us, either to console us, or to give advice, or to send us on our way, but in any case, by the very sight of you to make us easier at heart. And—most important of all—pray, and pray again, that our reason be not submerged by the flood of evil, but that in all things we may keep ourselves pleasing to God, in order that we may not be numbered among the wicked servants who thank Him when He grants blessings, but when He chastises through the opposite means do not submit. Nay, let us derive benefit even from our very difficulties, trusting in Him the more when we stand the more in need.L26

There is the possibility of civilisation ahead of us. It will need to be defended with steady humility.


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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was a cultural historian and economist, based in London, England. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a pioneer of post-growth economics, and a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, 'Lean Logic' and 'Surviving the Future', published posthumously in 2016. These in turn inspired the 2020 launches of both BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong's feature film about Fleming's perspective and legacy - 'The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation?' - and Sterling College's unique 'Surviving the Future: Conversations for Our Time' online courses. For more information on all of the above, including Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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