The Metaindustrial Village

A possible future encapsulates history .. and moves beyond

One of the articles in Being A Planetary Villager (IC#1)
Originally published in Winter 1983 on page 44
Copyright (c)1983, 1996 by Context Institute

This excerpt is taken from Thompson’s book, Darkness And Scattered Light, (pages 95 – 97) and is reprinted with permission.

DECENTRALIZATION of cities and the miniaturization of technology will alter the center- periphery dialectic of traditional civilization and make a whole new cultural level possible. What will take place in the metaindustrial village will be that the four classical economies of human history, hunting and gathering, agriculture, industry, and cybernetics, will all be recapitulated within a single deme. We will look back to where we have been in history, gather up all the old economies, and then turn on the spiral in a new direction.

The hunting and gathering economy could focus on the gathering of wood, wind and sun. In a way, the work of the New Alchemy Institute is to create a food and energy base for a small tribal band of people living in isolated circumstances. As sociologist Elise Boulding has remarked, "I sometimes wonder if our motto today does not need to be: ‘Forward to the Paleolithic!’ The folk of the Neolithic, with their cozy farm communities, working like dogs and breeding like rabbits, have little that is useful to say to us." New Alchemy is not a civilized strategy; it is not going to feed the huddled masses of New York and Calcutta; it either will be co-opted and absorbed by conglomerate NASA as the ecology of a space colony or will enable small groups to live in dispersed settlements – or both.

The agricultural economy of the metaindustrial village would focus on organic gardening and the replacing of fossil-fuel agribusiness with natural cycles in the food chain. Since the shift from gardening to field tillage with the plow originally displaced women from food production, the return to ecologically sophisticated gardening enables women to return to take up significant roles in the economy of the village, and thus to overcome the sexual alienation characteristic of industrial society.

The third economy of the community would be industrial, and this is where I part company with many critics of contemporary culture. The metaindustrial village is not anti-industrial and Luddite; there will be industry and technology, but they will be brought down to scale as workshops in converted barns. A village could produce artistically beautiful glass bottles which could be kept as art objects or reused as containers in place of plastics. Or the village could produce bicycles, clothing, rotary tillers, or other well-crafted and durable instruments. In a return to the mystery of the craft guild, particular communities could focus on the revival of particular crafts and industries. Whatever the industry chosen, the scale of the operation would be small, in harmony with the ecosystem of the region, and devoted more to a local market than an international one.

The fourth economy of the community would be postindustrial, or cybernetic. The characteristic feature of a postindustrial economy is the emphasis on research and development and education. Since the entire village would be a contemplative educational community, after the manner of Lindisfarne and Findhorn, the adventure of consciousness would be more basic to the way of life than patterns of consumption. Everyone living in the community would be involved in an experiential approach to education, from contemplative birth, after the thought of Dr. Frederick LeBoyer, to contemplative death, after the thought of Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. And at the various stages of life in between, the entire community would function as a college, in which children and adults would work together in gardening, construction, ecological research, crafts, and classes in all fields of knowledge.

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