Chronicling the Bottom Up
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Bottom-Up-Small-is-Beautiful Vs. Top-down-Monoliths

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Originally Published on OpEdNews

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OpEdNews' master of ceremonies, Rob Kall, delivered an intriguing, articulate and progressive vision in a recent interview by Burl Hall and Meryl Ann Butler (in her Envision This! programs). In-depth thinking, interviewing and reading invigorate this three-way chat, summarizing Rob's unabashed, activist thinking to save the world from its own worst habits.

Optimistic like Rob, I favor awakenings, empowerment, and experiments but along with defendable models with grounded, sustainable planning. No question that "advanced civilization" incurs high costs, certainly physical and emotional maladies rare in simpler cultures. And yet, the small-is-beautiful mantra raises big questions, not only about the permanence of decentralized non-systems, but the interface between the idealistic small vs. limitless systems averse to change (nationalism and arms, energy, resource, and electrical grids, the Internet, or the complexities of disease, health and safety, etc.). Reluctantly, I fear Rob's "bottom-up" future provides insufficient user protection or checks on corrupt corporatism. My aesthetic embraces Rob's models, but my analytic training identifies daunting problems, in the name of pragmatism and/or revolution. 

Responses and opinions welcome.  If nothing else, "bottom-up" provides ultimate grassroots democracy, everyone getting their five minutes with the megaphone.

1) Climate: What about planetary dilemmas that demand centralized, enforceable, unpopular rules certain to face high resistance? What if survival becomes a battle between the ransacking status quo vs. an international force tasked to cut carbon outputs "for the survival of the whole." What if Rob's decentralized solutions deliver at best partial fixes to greenhouse quandaries, as global sustainability clearly demands global solutions and power.

2) Lifespans Grow. What if topdown civilization, for all its new diseases, improves two problems for every one it brings?  Modern medicine, plus superior sanitation and nutrition, have doubled the average earthling lifespan since 1900, from 30 years to over 64 today (and rising). Wealth, income, and medical expenses correlate big time with longer life. Can we truly decentralize high-tech research, regional/state water systems, or global advances to diet and living conditions? That life for billions is still brutal doesn't mean tragedies (like infant mortality) were not rampant 100 or 200 years ago. "Four generations ago, the average Swede had the same probability of dying as a hunter-gatherer, but [environmental] improvements in our living conditions through medicine, better sanitation and clean drinking water decreased mortality rates."

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3) Self-interest Rules. What if family/tribal "self-interest," even selfishness, dominates human nature more than heroic sacrifice (by one or many) for a higher good?  What if the current, inequitable structure reflects a logical extension of heightened self-interest? What about massive over-population (with horrendous downsides) that also spawns thousands more solution-driven geniuses? Military prowess of the richest dozen countries can reinforce widespread, indeed imperial, control over suffering masses for decades to come. Revolution and insurgencies will strike lands with high suffering, but what affluent western nation nears revolution? The world is still fiercely nationalistic but, paradoxically, increasingly joined at so many, undeniable hips. 

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Educated at Rutgers College (BA) and UC Berkeley (Ph.D, English) Becker left university teaching (Northwestern, U. Chicago) for business, founding and heading SOTA Industries, high end audio company from '80 to '92. From '92-02 he did marketing (more...)

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