Back to the future II – Biff’s revenge

Better Ourselves
Mad max or Utopia the choice is ours
The Choice Is Ours

The Big Picture: Most folks have seen the trilogy of movies called “Back to the Future.”  For those who are too young, or simply have not, a brief recap is in order: in the first movie, a boy named Marty and his scientist friend build a time machine, go back from the 1980’s to the 1950’s… and make a mess.  Then they fix it and save the world; in a comical manner.  In the second movie though, the bully named Biff steals their time machine and wrecks the place.  Instead of a quiet small town, suddenly there is only a horrifying mega-casino named Biff’s Pleasure Palace; for instance.  Luckily, Marty and Doc save the world, again, as is the way of Hollywood movies.

Today’s essay is all about how we have come to find ourselves, our entire society, trapped within Biff’s Pleasure Palace.

For the Record:  Well, we also have to talk about the “Mad Max” movies, I suppose.  In order to put these stories in context, (and compare them to so many which are similar), we need to take a moment to look at why they have become so popular and captured imaginations for decades.




Uh oh, there goes the neighborhood.

I have made a point of re-watching these films, and several other dystopian classics such as “Fight Club”, in preparation for this essay.  They each tell seductive tales of rugged individuals who rise above the mud and the muck to become heroes.  On the surface, hey, that’s great.  Who doesn’t love a Hero’s Tale?

Problem is, they miss a very large point.  Two or three, really, but to keep this short let’s look only at this one: Society is not doomed.  It’s just not.  We know this, simply, because of the fact that we are here!  Civilization has waxed and waned over the last 42,000 years, but the long arc is a straight line upwards.  Everywhere, in every way, folks have made the exact same decision over and over again: work together, and build together.  No matter how hard the right wingers wish for it, no matter how often mass media pumps the message into your eyes and ears, it just isn’t true that we’re moments away from eating Zombies or having to grow Mowhawk hairstyles with torn leather jackets and uncomfortable boots.

The truth is much more boring, sedate, and comforting.  We are moments away from PTA meetings, from city council meetings, from charity food drives.  These are the things that people choose to do, again and again, in times of duress.  Doesn’t make for a heart-pounding action movie, doesn’t make for a 12 point front-page headline; but it sure is what goes on regardless.  “Survival of the Fittest” is a myth, has always been a myth, and you should be very skeptical of anyone who tries to tell you that it’s a law.  Ask them why they are peddling this and what they stand to gain from having you believe this lie.  Cooperation is the real name of the game.  Thousands of years ago, there were literally thousands of models for this, in every nook and cranny of the planet.  After 15,000 years of myth-making, and conquest by the stupid over the compassionate, we’re now down to only a handful of models for living.  That’s a damn shame, but it’s not at all inevitable that we have to keep enacting these gloomy scenarios.  In fact, because the Cooperative models worked just fine for generations, and needed little external support, they are far more likely to prevail.  Because the dour models such as Capitalism, Fascism, and Socialism are only possible with massive external props and supports.  And it is obvious now that most folks are tired of blindly propping up these models.

What they are lacking are better stories, better models to enact.  I’ve provided pointers in other essays, to writers who can offer such ideas.  My job now is to keep doing that in the near future.



What they’re saying: Well, they’re saying “Live Long and Prosper”.  But also, this:


Next Steps:  We could have fallen into permanent dystopia’s many times; such as just after World War I.  Some parts of the planet began to actively do so, that was avoided at great cost.  Some parts of the present world are still under the thrall of warlords and tyrants.  Hell, my home country the USA elected Biff to the highest office in the land for 4 very long years.  Then we put things right, and began the process of improving things for everyone.  You can do this too.  I don’t promise it will be rapid or even easy.  But I can promise you that with the right story to tell, you can perform staggeringly large feats.

There is a time and a place for everything.  We’ve had more than enough gloom and doom, have rewarded the doomsayers for plenty long enough.  Time now to uplift the Optimists, instead.  To become one.  Here are some, maybe right near you.  They are far from alone, and neither are you.




Back to the future?

The Big Picture: Sometimes it’s useful to look backwards to get a handle on the steps one needs to take to see real progress.  This is especially true within this movement for building a better planet-wide society.  Much has been tried already, and from those projects, much was learned.  Today we’ll take a glance at the Green Building Movement that began in the 1970’s.

For the Record: By now Green Building practices have a real active presence in the economy.  There are LEED standards that new and renovated buildings are following, and much innovation in the generation and storage of power on-site.  These are good, and more could be done in this arena.  Part of my own independent studies in the 1990’s acquainted me to longstanding projects as Arcosanti & Cosanti; in the western US states.  These folks bought 800 acres in Arizona, and over 50 years of development have carefully managed to thrive within only 20 acres.  So they have all they require, and are able to protect a huge swathe of land from encroachment.  Their focus on architecture is renowned; not least in the ways they managed to cool their dwellings without modern Air Conditioning, simply using good design principles.  No small feat, in a place that routinely tops 100 degrees Farenheit for much of the year.


Meanwhile in neighboring New Mexico and Colorado, the Earthships architectural movement was also taking off.  They too seek to work more closely with nature and its teachings; to create homes that work efficiently within their given situations.  I am lucky enough to have stayed in a few, they are truly beautiful as well.


Looking further south, we come upon the Centro de las Gaviotas project in Columbia. I’ll focus a bit more on Gaviotas, since it’s not terribly well represented online.

Their founder was Paolo Lugari, another architect with ideas similar to the above-mentioned folks.  It’s fair to say though, he and his team went bigger with their efforts.  Much bigger.  The Gaviotas folks had the notion to go out to the desert, and re-create a viable jungle with good animal life, good water (drinkable water) and good living for nearby villagers.  They succeeded beyond anyone’s hopes, and are now 5 1/2 decades into their project.  They have also been very clear about never patenting their innovations, rather they depend on folks such as the economist Gunter Pauli to take the ideas to other places; teach and share the technology around the world.  He has been doing that for quite some time now.  Some of their ideas are laid out in a book, “Gaviotas – a village to reinvent the world“, by Alan Weisman (Chelsea Green Publishing), and include:
  • drinking bottles made of plastic, but shaped like Lego brick toys so that the village kids use them for play after they are no longer good for holding water
  • a well-pump that is also a children’s see-saw, no motor / fuels required
  • regionally appropriate windmills
  • bricks made from waste by-product, for building
This latter idea has started moving around and catching on.  Just the other day I read about a startup making paver-stones, and I have to believe they probably got technical advice from the ZERI** folks. 
But there is so much more about Gaviotas that might inspire you.  It’s useful to know that they built their entire village with no outside support; during a long and protracted civil war.  The Government saw what they were doing, and left them alone.  The rebels saw what they were doing, and left them alone.  The drug lords also saw the value and let them build anyway.  Now they have a vibrant community that has eco-friendly buildings, a steady income from forest products, and are able to supply drinking water to folks for many many kilometers around them.  Not bad, for a college professor and some of his students, who simply had a notion way back in 1974.
The value in exploring these 3 models has several facets. By and large these folks all started with nothing, literally nothing.  And yet they managed to set good examples which can be drawn from today.  They are far from alone, of course.  Also, by embodying the practices of reducing waste and finding ways to turn disadvantages into reliable assets, their lessons are incredibly timely and applicable anywhere.  Including where you are.  


What they’re saying: “Better quality, Low price, and Zero Waste.  We’re doing this.  If your economists say that it cannot be done, sack them!” – Gunter Pauli

Next Steps: Folks like these certainly do inspire me, and hopefully they will be that for you as well.  Back here in the states, I am lucky enough to live near Berkeley, CA.  Which was the place where the entire ‘environmental’ movement began in this nation, way back in the late 1960’s.  So, we have facilities such as:
  • Urban Ore, who divert tons away from landfills every week, and sell usable products such as old doors and house furnishings
  • The Ecology Center, who likewise finds novel ways to repurpose trash into art, toys, etc…
  • Build It Green, a trade association that is on the forefront of teaching big ideas to the stodgy old building trades.  
Stuff is happening everywhere!  There is no shortage of folks such as this guy:
So, I could not be more lucky.  And so am happy to pass on leads such as these to you.  As well, I have 2 other essays on here Mobilized that may tie into this discussion:

{Late edit}  Here are a few more sites that are relevant to this discussion:

  • (Much more on this site, in the next essay)



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