by John Judge
1 September 2001

John Judge composed this e-mail 10 days before the so-called New Pearl Harbor of September 11. He was always thinking of decentralization as the cornerstone of a genuine unified post-industrial civilization. The original letter in full is here. It begins with the following, laying out the framework that is then followed by 20 crucial steps as he saw things then:

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said there are three pillars that hold up the current system of domestic oppression: poverty, racism and militarism. In order to have real democracy, economic justice, peace and a unified society, we have to both envision our own liberation in our time and take back our history, power and moral integrity.

The reason Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. King were both loved and hated, both followed and murdered had to do with their use of “satygraha” or truth force and “ahimsa” or nonviolent harmlessness. These powerful tools moved them outside the control game that has secured privilege for a few over millenia. These systems of privilege, which are the real, deep violence of society, cannot be challenged or defeated using their own violent methods. Nor can they be changed by substituting a new elite in the seat of power, or by reforming them.

As I see it, the crucial steps that must be taken now to stop the current trend to global corporatization, fascism and genocide/ecocide/ethnocide include the following, here in the belly of the beast:

After the 20 steps he describes additional elements to establish a real democracy citing some of Thomas Jefferson thinking, framed 250 years ago. In 2002 and 2005, in different talks John gave, he expanded what he touches upon concerning Jefferson and the later 18th century mind-set described in his 1 September 2001 mail message:

from 2005:

But in order to build that world you have to have the imagination to understand not only what your enemy is and what form it takes—of this global fascism and these international relations and the economic relation that capitalism forces all of us into with each other and how that could be broken; how you pull back aspects of human community that have been stolen from you and then sold back to you in their most distorted form by this system.

But you also have to have the imagination to see what a real democracy would look like. I would submit to you that the democracy envisioned by Thomas Jefferson was not adequate in his mind for the following generation and he said it himself. He said there will probably have to be a revolution in this country every 20 years to make sure that power doesn’t aggregate again in the hands of the few.

from 2002:

Well it’s been over 200 folks and nobody has been re-envisioning that liberation, re-envisioning what their democracy is, what kind of world they live in. And now we have the technology to actually create a world that takes human value into account and gives people back the thing at the bottom that’s stolen from them and that really, I think, it’s the source of all the violence in the world: which is the whole idea of social privilege however it plays itself out, along race, along gender, along caste, or on class.

Privilege is the first and most basic violence asserted in a society. It kills the human spirit. It creates the rage that leads to all the other violence, historically. So if you end that privilege, if you restore justice, then you restore hope. And you know that from a family argument. I don’t have to go to an international argument with you. You don’t resolve it by fighting back, you don’t get even with somebody. All that does is create a feud and it makes the violence cycle into yet another generation. The Paris attack bombings were done in part by young kids whose parents had been murdered by the French and the Algerian freedom fighting wars from 20 years before.

If you get a veteran honest enough to talk about their war experience they will tell you the dirty secret is that they take the dead with them. I learned that from the Vietnam vets. Violence is no resolution to an issue….

from 2005:

[Jefferson] said he wouldn’t expect his children to wear a threadbare coat that he owned just because he liked to wear it. He said if he built a fort around them to protect them from a threat and the threat went away he wouldn’t force them to live in the fort any longer. He said that even if he planted a tree so they could have fruit to eat and they didn’t like the fruit he wouldn’t force them to eat it. These are his metaphors for—he knew that his imagination only stretched so far and that then every subsequent generation would have to imagine and realize its own freedom, it’s own sense of democracy.

The other thing Jefferson realized, and Washington as well, is that parties, political parties are inimical to democracy. Jefferson said that in any given society you can only have two parties no matter what they call themselves. Those who want to take power from the people and put it in the hands of the few, he called the aristocrats. Those who want to do the reverse and put power in the hands of the people he called the democrats. But he said if you build a democratic government machinery and you build a constitution that’s actually democratic and a social contract that’s democratic, you don’t need a democratic party. Washington, when he left office, said that policies belong to the people as a whole and that parties put those decisions back in the hands of a few.

When you lived in the 1700s your only method of communication and travel was either a horse or a boat. When the meeting you had to go to was going to be two days away by horse, the whole community couldn’t go so you picked a representative to go; smaller community, maybe not too far fallen from the tree; probably picked the guy you wanted around the least and sent him off for two weeks to listen and be your representative and then bring back the report.

We’re in the 21st century. We don’t rely on a horse and a boat. We have mass communication. It’s a common wealth. You’ll say, The corporations own the media. They don’t own the media. They monopolize the licenses. The licenses are issued on the basis of it being a common wealth and they’re issued by the public to the broadcasters. They own some of the broadcasting equipment. That hardly seems insurmountable. But it is still a common wealth that belongs to all of us and it’s our public media so we should take back sufficient time to raise issues with each other and debate them in an open way and then everyone participate in the decision-making power that we should have. Because that’s a power that belongs to all of us.

We know by now—don’t we?—that any representative that we would put in our stead can be blackmailed or bullied or bulleted or bribed. It’s not so hard to control four or five hundred people. It’s a little harder when the decisions rest in the hands of us all. And it can be done in a fair way, it can be done in open way. You also have to break open the common wealth of the educational system here so that people get real information.

See government….. Jefferson said given a choice between a government without a newspaper and a newspaper without a government he would always choose the latter. Because he understood that the flow of information is more central to democratic process than the machinery you set up to carry it out. But that’s all that is—is machinery that you set up to carry out your vision of democracy. And if it ain’t working then you dismantle it and you put some machinery together that makes it happen in the right way.

And, I mean, I don’t vote for representatives. I have two buttons. One says: If Voting Worked It Would Be Illegal. And the other says: Don’t Vote It Only Encourages Them. I would gladly vote for referenda but not the kind of referenda they have out—and in issues they have in many of the places out here because those are rigged so that only the rich can get enough signatures to get over the hump. But if you made voting registration automatic, if you made it very simple to put something on the ballot and then maybe chose what were the most popular ones for each month and ran them, then you could debate them and you could choose by them. But there’s no reason not to be making those decisions—especially when they affect lots of people—and no reason not to be making them on a decentralized level. Not all on some kind of a national or state level but a decentralized level that thinks globally and acts locally but also does the reverse: that when it acts globally it thinks locally. And you can put those two things together.

Then if you’re going to pay taxes—and there are alternatives of alternate money and not having a money or a tax system and all that—but if you’re going to pay taxes, we have a bumper sticker in DC that says Taxation Without Representation because we don’t even have a voting representative. We have Eleanor Holmes Norton who can go and sit on a committee but she can’t vote. My version of representation with taxes is not Eleanor Holmes Norton voting for me because she doesn’t represent me. I doubt I could represent anyone else in the room here much less all of you. Why would I want to try? I can represent myself perfectly well. As can you.

If your response to this is, Yeah but people are too stupid. Jefferson thought of that too. He said the only safe repository for power is in the hands of the people. He said if you think them unable to exercise their discretion in a wholesome fashion—that means you think they’re idiots—he said the solution is not to take the power from them and put it in the hands of an elite. The solution is to inform their discretion; that you have to trust rationality, you have to trust communication, and the ability that we can educate each other and ourselves about things. (from 2002: Jefferson said, There are those who say that men are not capable of governing themselves. His response to that was, Are they then capable of governing others?) Does it mean we’d never be wrong? No. But I would tell you we will fix a mistake sooner than this system will fix a mistake and we won’t vote for things that are obviously not in our own self-interest on a broader scale. Will there be differences? Of course there will be. But breaking through some of those other things would make it possible.

But if I was going to pay tax to the federal government I think that I would want the last page of the Tax Form to be an allocation form. Now that would be taxation with representation. Because I would directly allocate the tax that I paid. And I even want to just send a three-part carbon out to everybody that pays taxes in my community and show them a brochure with a pie: here’s where your money’s currently being spent. Here’s your blank pie. Fill it in. Put one in with your tax form—doesn’t have any legal weight but tell them how you’d like the money to go. Send one to your representative or put it in the drawer. And send one back to me. I’ll take the results. I’ll put them into a people’s tax pie. I’ll go to the voting record and put up the representatives tax pie. I can guarantee you they won’t be the same pie. And then I’ll ask the representative to come out and explain who it is that they’re representing.

Now it’s very simple but it plants that seed. You’ve got Bush running around saying, It’s your money. It’s your money. And I said, Yes it is my money and I want to allocate it. I don’t want the chump change back that’s left for social services after you overfund the Pentagon and the CIA. I want to spend the money myself. Okay? And it’s a process.

I’m not saying these are magical solutions. But if you don’t start thinking of a different way to invent democracy this late then we are going to go on the nightmare path. And if you don’t understand that your loyalty belongs to the human race and not to a flag, not to a country that’s supposedly under attack from some mystical force that’s out there that you can’t even identify—I mean, these terrorists, the way they’re presented to us, it’s as if they dropped in from outer space. All you know about them is that they hate you and they want to kill you. You can’t negotiate with them. You can’t talk to them. You can’t understand them. All you can do is kill them. And you got to kill every last one except, you never know…. It’s like the pod people, you know, maybe it’s spread to somebody else and then you got to start killing them. And how long is it before you start fingering each other? Well, I think you’re one of them.

It’s just dead end. It’s the 21st century. We know what war does. And now the weapons that make it happen are so bad that the planet is not going to survive. If we don’t make war obsolete, we’re going to make ourselves obsolete….

I do these things because I’m hoping that a little bit of humor, a little bit of perspective, it’ll open up something for you that you’ll look at the paradigm in a different way. In fact I wanted to write a memoir, and thinking about a title of a memoir would be Brother Can You Paradigm? Because if you can’t paradigm you’re in trouble. It’s not that everything they’re telling you is a lie. But the focus, the lens, they’ve got is a little skewered so that you don’t see it straight when you look at it.

conclusion from 2002:

If violent response to terrorism, which is as they say asymmetrical warfare—it means a smaller weaker group, a certain party of people that use violence and then they’re backed by other people who feel a long string of abuses—if you respond violently to that—Israel and Palestine is a pretty good example that that’s not the way to resolve the matter or Israel would be one of the safest countries in the world.

It’s obvious to anybody that thinks about it that you have to go the other direction. That the way you end what you’re calling terrorism is to restore justice, is to restore hope and then the sanction and the support for violence in those communities diminishes and it goes away. Because instead you have the sort of natural, civil and community structure that all of us would have were it not for the fact that we live under the demands of capital and its accumulation. We live under a situation that mis-educates and under-educates us. A situation where it’s hard for us to find out what the truth is about our society or our world. And a situation that values us the same way that miners in the 1930s were told that when the mine begins to collapse you push the mules out first because it costs money to replace a mule.

That’s the position we’re in in relation to the people that hold the wealth in this world. We are expendable and they’re going to escalate that expendability. The choice and the power is there. But the choice to recognize that power, and take responsibility for it, and make this into a world where all of us can live, sits right here.

conclusion from 2005:

… If we approach our belief systems as religions then we’re going to put people out in the street and away from us. But if we approach it as respect between two people and let’s see if we can’t get to the truth; in my lectures people come up afterwards and say, Gee, you talked about this and my uncle did that. The little piece of a woman at the picnic table.

If we told the stories of our own families, the whole system would break. They do what they’re doing because they are deathly afraid of us. They need for us to be in denial. They need for us to try to protect the little bit of privilege we have over somebody else rather than sharing. They need us to keep the needle in our arm, the television on, the consumer mentality going; keep quiet, consume and die; and they’re afraid of us. And they need us to feel that we are powerless.

But we are the least powerless people on the planet. And there might be a way for the whole rest of the world to stand up to this juggernaut but it wouldn’t be easy. But where the potential is to stand up for it is right here, among us. And the moral responsibility to stand up to it is right here because it’s being done in our name and it’s being done each day. And we can build another world. We can invent another world. We can include each other. We can build community. We don’t have to be afraid of each other. But we have to tell the truth. And once we tell the truth to ourselves and to others, once we pull the needle out of our arm and say I’m not playing anymore, that’s it. Game’s over.

In the conclusion of John’s 1 September letter he invites those he was connecting with to communicate with him and like-minded souls he was working with on this endeavor:

There are many brilliant people and communities thinking about, practicing and expanding these ideas and actions that are the answer to the current global dilemma. If you are inspired, if you wish to share your vision of them, if you want to learn more, please contact us.

P.S.   See Michael Schuman’s book Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age (1998) for a review of decentralized alternatives that I have been promoting for 40 years now – JJ

In 2002, Michael Schuman gave a talk at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics on Going Local: New Opportunities for Community Economies. The complete presentation is available as a transcript and is as relevant and illuminating today as it was then.