22 Mar 2007
Exclusive to Transition Culture – An Interview with Jerry Mander.
**Jerry Mander** was in Totnes recently teaching at Schumacher College, and he gave a Wednesday evening talk for Transition Town Totnes which was excellent and very well attended. For those of you who don’t know who he is, here is what Wikipedia has to say about him. “Jerry Mander is an American activist best known for his book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television (1977), and for his contribution to a book on an unrelated topic, The Great International Paper Airplane Book (1971).
Mander worked in advertising for 15 years, including five as partner and president of Freeman, Mander & Gossage in San Francisco. In 1971 he founded the first non-profit advertising agency in the United States, Public Interest Communications, which worked on campaigns to prevent dams in the Grand Canyon, found Redwood National Park, and stop the American project to build a supersonic transport. He is currently the director of the International Forum on Globalization and the program director for Megatechnology and Globalization at the Foundation for Deep Ecology”. Here is an interview I did with him while he was in Totnes. He had just spent a Totnes Pound on a traditional Devon cream tea.
**What do you see as being the main factors that necessitate a change of focus towards the local?**
Every minute of every month, the global, the international and the long distance becomes less viable than they were before. With the problems of climate change, peak oil, overall resource depletion and the inevitable failures of the globalisation model, it is increasingly obvious that the underpinnings of long distance systems of stretched resource supply lines and long distance economic activity and export oriented economic activity with long distance trade as the dominant aspect of the dominant model is not viable. It can’t be done any more, it’s too expensive, its too dangerous ecologically, and it doesn’t satisfy human needs, whether they are economic or social or political; it is absolutely devastating to the planet.
There is no question that we are going to have to shift to local systems as soon as possible. It is going to happen whether we do it or whether we don’t do it, because those long distance systems are not going to be able to keep functioning, except by military force, and we don’t want that. I think that transitioning to local systems, and regional systems to some degree, are the only possible direction. It is inevitable. Even if we do nothing at all, it’s going to happen that way, so we may as well try to do it in a positive way so we control the process.
**Can that be done with corporations or are corporations inherently not a part of it?**
I think global corporations which are built on the premise of ever increasing growth, ever increasing profits, long distance supply lines, long distance trade, transition from local production to export oriented production, and the need for an ever growing market based on the supply of ever growing amounts of cheap energy are over. They are not viable any more.
I think capitalism can survive, if it is on a small scale, local market level or local community level, you can certainly have people owning small shops and small businesses, and keeping the profits for themselves, I don’t think that’s a fundamental problem of any kind. That’s the way capitalism was designed in the first place actually, small scale local market capitalism, nobody imagined the global corporations and I think that capitalism as a small scale model can continue but global corporate capitalism can’t continue and have a sustainable system.
They could blunder along for another 10 or 20 years until the system really starts collapsing but the model is just out of date. It is not consistent with survival in the future. It’s not consistent with anything! I mean they can’t survive even if we don’t impose anything on them! The costs of doing business with the increased cost of resource recovery now, and oil and gas and energy recovery, if it is carbon based energy or nuclear energy its going to be very very difficult to sustain that kind of production in the near future.
With renewables you can still operate businesses, perhaps on a larger than local scale, a regional scale, but renewables, including biofuels, will never be capable of sustaining an industrial system at anything like the scale we have now. It is just not going to be possible pretty soon.
**What do you think are the priorities for localisation initiatives?**
I think the principle is to do everything you can as fast as you can. The main standard has to be to change all operating systems to be as much as possible be controlled by local communities, for the benefit of local communities, and operated by local communities. They have to recover control of transportation and manufacturing and energy production, even media, agriculture for sure, have to be locally operated, using local materials, for local markets as fast as can be done.
You know better than I do, doing hands on work with local communities, but from the outside I don’t see what would be a primary first step. Maybe energy would come before anything else, but really it all needs to be done at the same time, you have to keep as many things local as soon as you can.
**If you were to wake up 20 years in the future in a town that had successfully undergone that transition, what would it look like, smell like, feel like.. can you describe it to us?**
My version of democracy has always been that there should be no system larger than one that would allow everyone in the system to know everyone else. In some ways that is in an indigenous definition, because you hear that definition when indigenous people talk about democracy. That describes only the scale of the system that I think is viable but that is maybe too extremist.
Obviously you could go one or two stages out from that, and what it would feel like, is like a healthy operating small town community, with viable thriving local markets and local businesses and people who are hands on who operate the controls of their community and operate their democratic processes with great knowledge of each others’ needs and focuses, and great intimacy within the community.
It would be primarily concerned with a quality of cooperation and engagement with each other that doesn’t exist in most economic patterns where people don’t really know each other and you are given only one piece of the puzzle rather than having a visible look at the whole thing, grasping the whole thing. That for me is what is satisfying, when you are essentially not being on an assembly line of a larger economic process that you don’t really experience and have no control over.
**You said last night that you felt optimistic, where does that sense of optimism come from?**
Well first of all I am constitutionally optimistic. I think things have been grim for quite a while, but I don’t see that there is any point in being optimistic. To me you just wake up every day and you do what you can do and you don’t worry about it. I think I am realistic but I’m not pessimistic. I feel like the thing is to just keep doing the work and that’s basically what you can do. Worrying about it too much isn’t helpful, its not going to help the cause too much, so my optimism is probably a strategy, it is partly an appreciation that anything other than optimism is counter-productive.
What I really mean is that I am against pessimism and that I think it is very counterproductive. It takes your energy away and keeps you from doing things. The final chapter hasn’t been written yet, let’s put it that way. We have lots of room to save ourselves, and we could probably go further into hell and still get back out. I’m also a great believer in surprise endings, because I do think that you can never predict all of the pathways that come along and you never know when things will turn in a certain direction.
That’s my personal part. But also, as I look around, I find that the need to change, on a personal level, a community level, even on a national level, which the globalisers and the big powers that be think *“oh my God, people will never want to do that, don’t lets ever make them do that