Sunday, March 29, 2009

Neighborhood Secession

"...Any portion of such people that can may revolutionize and make their own so much of the territory as they inhabit."

-Abraham Lincoln

A recent 2Blowhards post wondering whether secession will become one of this year's political themes got me thinking: How hard could it be?

As usual, the comments on that post were many, diverse, verbose and interesting. I had to chime in with my Wendell Berry inspired take on the concept of economic secession: It should be easy, in principle, to "secede" from significant government and corporate oversight just by refusing to buy in.

"...Much of our supposed oppression is self-imposed. We buy too much and make or grow too little. We drive too often and walk or bike too seldom. We borrow too much and save too little. We spend too much money on cures and not enough thought or effort on prevention. We watch too much TV and read too few books. We add needless cost to our lives by our government-supported over-acquisitiveness...

"By taking care of our own business and our own spouses, families, jobs, cupboards and neighbors, we essentially opt-out of most of what's ailing us."

Of course we have to then pick up these responsibilities and carry them ourselves, and that's not easy. Nor would it be easy to secede in the wholesale libertarian sense of circling the wagons and raising a new flag. As everyone's rotating crop of politicians suggests, the governance of a state-level entity is extremely difficult---or surely must be, considering how badly we do it. One shudders at the possibility our political system is already the best around.

So maybe raising a flag and drawing the borders of your new country is the wrong approach. (Although maybe Texas could pull it off.)

I'm more inclined to hide my plan in plain sight: the Neighborhood Secessionist Movement.

The tenets of the movement are simple. First: Find some neighbors and share your stuff with them. Decide what goods and entertainments you can provide for yourselves and for each other (with minimal commercial input from outside the neighborhood), and then do some of that. Do more as you get better at it.

The Neighborhood Secessionist Movement as practiced on my street is not motivated by High Principle of any kind; neither altruism, nor patriotism, collectivism, religious charity nor militant Idaho stovepipism. It runs on good humor, good eats, elementary school children, and shared free time and red wine.

In a post below, Steve mentions H.R. 875 (Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009), which may or may not infringe on the food sovereignty of Louisiana citizens. (I think people's kitchens may be exempt from registering as Food Establishments, but it's hard to say for sure. Looks like local deer processors and CSAs probably should be concerned.)

Assuming we will still be able to hunt, raise, grow, cook and share our own food without being subject to federal penalties, I think these good things ought to be encouraged. And in lieu of higher profile sources of encouragement, allow me to encourage you all with the following snapshots of this summer's Neighborhood Secessionists' Gross Domestic Product.

Matt's expanded beds: tomatoes, leaf lettuce, peppers, herbs, wild blackberries.





Tyler's new mixed veggie plot:


Monique's new tomatoes:


Tonya's new veggie garden and sanctuary:


Eat well, Revolutionaries!

7 comments:

Steve Bodio said...

"Assuming we will still be able to hunt, raise, grow, cook and share our own food without being subject to federal penalties, I think these good things ought to be encouraged."

We'd better be able to do such things-- if not we are living under tyranny. At that point seccession of some kind might be inevitable.

Neutrino Cannon said...

"The tenets of the movement are simple. First: Find some neighbors and share your stuff with them. Decide what goods and entertainments you can provide for yourselves and for each other (with minimal commercial input from outside the neighborhood), and then do some of that. Do more as you get better at it."

That sounds rather like the Amish philosophy of doing things. As this article explains, they aren't so much against technology as against technology that they feel alienates people from their immediate community.

-R.A.W.

Matt Mullenix said...

This tighter regulation of the industrial food system is an evil only as necessary as the industry itself. The entire production/regulation arms race could be dismantled by a return to local agriculture, or at least curtailed at the same rate local food systems are encouraged to reappear.

An industrial approach to food keeps prices low only by deferring costs, one of which is a need to regulate its worst practices. I'd rather pay more, directly, for my engineered food, than to support it indirectly with my tax dollar. That way, of course, I can simply choose not to buy it in first place.

As we have it now, we have to pay for the regulation whether or not we want the regulated product; and if we are simultaneously losing our ability to choose a better option, then I agree we've reached some tyrannical circumstance.

Arthur: there's no confusing our street with an Amish community. Too many 9 year olds on ATVs and dads dragging coolers-on-wheels while walking the dog.

Henry Chappell said...

Matt, this is one of the most sensible things I've read lately. It's so easy to lose sight of the positive things we can do ourselves.

Matt Mullenix said...

Henry I feel blessed to have wound up in Louisiana--of all places--after growing up around the world and marrying a girl from Miami...

Things are changing here like everywhere; but as I've noted before, our locals still know how to get along. They know how to have fun on the cheap and feed themselves. There is still an indigenous culture here, one based on living well in a state of relative poverty. I think this will become a valuable model moving forward.

Brenda L. said...

Vermont and Texas want to secede?! Goodness, in this time of whiners and people who cry 'me first' and 'gimme,' they think they're ready to be independent?

It reminds me of a current situation we're experiencing in Atlanta right now with a section of the city (Buckhead) wanting to separate and become its own town. They don't seem to realize that by separating from Atlanta, they won't receive any of the city's resources, such as fire and police, money for road upkeep, etc.

Like the case with Buckhead, state secession is a double-edged sword. Sure, you don't have to follow those pesky federal laws or pay federal taxes anymore, but you also don't get any of the resources of the country. Who would regulate the safety of the food, or health? Who would defend your tiny slip of "The Country of Vermont" in case Canada decided to claim it for itself?

Seems a bit short-sighted to me.

Matt Mullenix said...

Hi Brenda,

My feeling is that most seccesion agitators (even at the scale of a state) would fail at the business of statecraft. But the impulse is nonetheless a good one, and it's something we should respect in a country of "300 million individualists."

Who will regulate the safety of the food and our health? I think that's an interesting question and prompts us to ask if regulation of food safety is the same thing as ensuring food safety? It also begs the question: From what does federal regulation protect us?

Today's case of pastacio contamination, much like the recent peanut scare, offers an important role for federal regulation; but it only becomes so important because our food system is based on interstate commerce and the industrial-scale blending of basic ingredients (like nuts, or corn) into thousands of other food products that will be sold around the world.

Such a system entails tremendous risk, chief among them the fact that once a contaminant is found to have sickened one person, hundreds of thousands have been exposed. It is a huge corporate system that requires a huge layer of government oversight, both at odds against each other and neither capable of managing the inherent risks.

Compare this to a local food system, the smallest being the production line that extends from my garden to my kitchen. That supply chain is short and secure. The producer (me) and consumers (my family and friends) are a limited group who know each other well. We insure food quality by tending personally to its production and preparation, and we share whatever risks that entails. Worst case scenario (a soft tomato?) is that only a few will ever suffer from a system failure.

As for Atlanta, I've been to Buckhead and agree with you that all those bars and boutiques really don't need to seccede from Atlanta. :-) Who's going to take out the trash on Sunday morning?

Now, whether the good State of Georgia should seccede from Atlanta is another topic altogether.