Walking the talk: I strongly believe that every revolutionary should learn to feed, clothe and shelter him- or herself, so after I got my Permaculture Design Certificate, I took a course on vernacular architecture. Viva la revolucion!

Building the post-revolutionary world

There is endless discussion and argument about the exact nature of the evils of global industrial capitalism, but everyone (that I listen to, because — full-disclosure — I don’t listen to much that capitalists have to say about anything) seems in agreement that it’s gotta go. Time for the ol’ heave ho of global resource and labor exploitation for profit. Revolution is a really popular idea, at the moment. If you throw a stone into the internet, you’ll hit 3 or 4 dozen self-styled revolutionaries decrying the evils of capitalism and clamoring for a new system. But my question is: then what? Once you get your wish and capitalism is toppled, who is going to take care of the people? After we’ve shut down the exploitative and toxic industries that we depend on, who is going to provide our food, shelter, and clothing, and our medicine, education, and economic regulation? That’s where the sustainability movement comes in.

Sustainability is often associated with recycling, green technology (meaning energy efficient, but rarely meaning low industrial process), and gardening in some form or another, whether organic or permaculture. Most people may have at one point heard of this (arguably) new thing called permaculture, that special and new kind of gardening that hippies and hipsters do with poop and old pallets (it’s really more of a revolutionary cognitive frame than it is about gardening, but that’s not what this essay is about). Permaculture is the golden child of the sustainability movement, which is really just a polite way to say “movement toward cultural and economic liberation from the global capitalist economy”. The sustainability movement is key to building the post-revolutionary world, and key to the movement is physically building the structures of the new world, both the invisible structures of community and economy and the physical structures of homes, barns, greenhouses, schools, and storefronts. The term for this is vernacular architecture.

Tiny home made from natural materials, using vernacular architecture, is the embodiment of independence from the capitalist industrial economy. This is just one simple example, but vernacular architecture can be as humble or as breathtakingly beautiful as the builder desires.

Vernacular architecture (also commonly known as natural building) is the people’s building. It means using local, natural, and in the contemporary era, recycled materials to build the structures our lives depend on, and I humbly suggest that anyone and everyone who is serious about a post-capitalist world should know how to do it, because anyone living in a post-revolutionary community should be able to help build. Everyone should know how to grow their own food and build their own home, and they should be able to pitch in to help their friends, family, and neighbors build the structures that they need, because it’s only through skilled people and cooperation that the post-industrial world will function to serve our basic needs as humans. Something has to be in place to replace the bloated and toxic structure that is capitalism before it can be brought down, or we’ll be swimming in its corpse. We’ll spend 500 years in violent anarchic chaos (sorry, anarchists — I love you, and I was a devoted anarchist for over a decade, but if you want to know what that would look like, look at the Congo Basin in Central Africa) before we humans got our business figured out again and had the socio-political wherewithal to achieve a just, egalitarian society. To be perfectly honest, I’d prefer we just stick with capitalism than descend into centuries of violent gang wars.

My humble suggestion to all who sincerely seek a better world is to learn how to build it, physically, with your hands, out of material you can find anywhere. I participated in a vernacular architecture program this summer at Aprovecho in Oregon, and I really can’t begin to express the feeling of empowerment and liberation I felt knowing I could build my own home out of inexpensive, local materials. When the lights go out in the cities and the trucks that supply our Wal-Marts and Safeways and Home Depots stop running, I can build myself and the people I love a home out of straw, clay, wood, and sand. And this, comrades, is key to revolution. We need people skilling up to and getting ready to live in a community where we have to do it all ourselves, because that’s exactly what we’re asking for, right? We want independence. Well, that means doing it ourselves, including feeding, sheltering, clothing, healing, and educating ourselves through communities of skilled people cooperating to make the new, localized social organism healthy and functioning. If we don’t do this, if we don’t learn the skills of the new world, then as revolutionaries, we are only destroyers, because all we are really prepared to do is tear down the current structure that we all depend on, but we aren’t capable of building one its place. So I say, let’s all be builders.

Base plaster with clay. Vernacular architecture / natural building is a cooperative, community activity.
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