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Review: Journey to Earthland, by Paul Raskin

Friday, March 10, 2017 14:10
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(Before It's News)

Paul Raskin. Journey to Earthland: The Great
Transition to Planetary Civilization
(Boston: Tellus
Institute, 2016).

The idea of a new, humane global civilization emerging from a
mid-21st century “Time of Troubles” is a common theme in
near-future science fiction. Probably the most notable example is
the post-scarcity moneyless communism of Star Trek: The Next
, which emerged from the global collapse that
followed the Eugenics Wars. Other examples are href=
target="_blank">Roy Morrison’s 22nd century
 and the future society in "nofollow" href=
target="_blank">Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of
 (founded by the victors of a global civil war
against neoliberal capitalism).

Earthland is very much in this tradition. Raskin’s book
is a speculative scenario on one possible outcome of economic and
ecological crises occurring in the next few decades. He begins by
outlining several alternative possibilities:

1) Conventional scenarios that involve roughly the same
institutional forms as we have today
: either something like
existing global corporate capitalism, or a limited set of social
democratic reforms;

2) Barbarisation scenarios: authoritarian elites
retreating into a network of fortress cities and abandoning most of
the human race to squalor and poverty, or a total collapse of
civilization and a new Dark Age;

3) Great Transition scenarios: an eco-communalist
variant of small-scale artisan production and autarkic direct
democracies, and a New Paradigm combining such localized economies
with a cosmopolitan global society.

Most of the book focuses on developing the New Paradigm
transition scenario. Raskin begins by describing a period of
“Rolling Crisis” from 2001 to 2023, growing out of the neoliberal
order that developed from 1980 to 2001. The foundation of the
Global Citizens Movement with its local organizations in most major
communities, as an outgrowth of global civil society, wasn’t enough
to prevent the full-blown “General Emergency” of 2023-2028. But it
provided the nucleus of the society that was to emerge from the
General Emergency, without which the world would likely have
descended into one of the Barbarisation scenarios instead.

The General Emergency was followed by a twenty-year period of
reform, from 2028 to 2048, in which nation-states pursued a mixture
of conventional social democratic policies and attempts to promote
resilient economies. Although the Global Citizens Movement was
initially dominated by moderates willing to let national
governments take the lead in reform, it was increasingly
radicalized as reformist efforts achieved limited results and
stalled out in the face of obstruction by neoliberal institutional

In the 2040s, the GCM developed a new consensus in favor of more
radical action and achieved political dominance in a growing number
of nation-states, local governments, and multilateral bodies. Its
Earthland Parliamentary Assembly — originally an internal
deliberative body for the movement — became the federal
legislative body for the emerging network of national and local GCM
governments. When this growing collection of GCM-dominated
governments reached critical mass, it culminated in the formation
of the global Commonwealth of Earthland in 2048.

The Earthland of 2084 is a patchwork federation of pre-existing
nations and metropolitan centers, bioregions, and autonomous
regions in former nation-states. Raskin classifies Earthland’s
component regions into three broad categories: Agoria, Ecodemia,
and Arcadia. Agoria, with an economy still organized primarily
around corporations (albeit with multiple stakeholder governance
and a radically altered market incentive structure), would be most
recognizable to someone from the early 21st century. Ecodemia, with
an economy organized around economic democracy and
worker-owned/community-owned firms, would be the least
recognizable. Arcadia emphasizes local self-reliance and
small-scale artisan production. Of course, none of these models is
exclusive or monolithic, and larger regions have considerable local
variation (like the Arcadian Pacific Northwest in the larger
Agorian North American region). All three regional forms also have
large, thriving informal and household sectors.

The average per capita income has roughly tripled since the
early 21st century. In areas of the Global North, it is actually
slightly lower; but with the elimination of parasitic super-rich
rentier classes and wasteful production, the actual standard of
living for most Americans and Europeans is significantly higher.
Population has stabilized around 8 billion, compared to predictions
of a 12 billion population peak early in the century. Average work
weeks are 12-18 hours (the “pathologically acquisitive” work far
more, but it’s not necessary to do so to live comfortably).

Although population patterns range from highly urbanized areas
in Agoria to small towns and villages in Arcadia, there is a common
emphasis everywhere on mixed-use communities. Residences and
workplaces are integrated in ways that minimize automobile
ownership and commuting.

The dominant form of democracy varies from representative in
Agoria, workplace-based in Ecodemia, and direct in Arcadia. Aside
from setting the gross parameters of the system (like minimum
global standards for basic income and carbon emissions quotas), the
Commonwealth and regional governments strike me as more like
governance platforms on "" target=
"_blank">Bauwens’ “Partner State” model
than states in the
classic sense (“administration of things rather than legislation
over people”).

At the outset, I mentioned the common theme in speculative
fiction of a near-future “Time of Troubles” characterized by
multiple intersecting terminal crises, and a new humane
civilization emerging in the medium-term from the ashes. In most of
these scenarios, the emergent successor societies feature
technologies of abundance, reduced dependence on work,
decentralization, communitarianism, and governments which — if they
still exist at all — function as neutral administrators
rather than engines of political and class domination. In my
opinion, the unconscious cultural perceptions behind these
fictional scenarios make a great deal of sense. Our current system
is manifestly unsustainable and in its last days. At the same
time, the organizational and technological building blocks already
exist to create a society of plenty that’s freer, more humane, and
more ecologically desirable. We’re already in the process of
putting these building blocks together through our cooperative
labor. It’s just a matter of minimizing the harm that the forces of
the old world can do to us on its way down.

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