The Luddite’s Moonshot

Charles C. Mann’s article in the Atlantic, “Can Planet Earth Feed 10 Billion People?” contrasts the differences between an environmentalism of limits, as extolled by plant pathologist and Rachel Carson buddy William Vogt versus the techo-optimism of the architect of the Green Revolution, Norman Borlaug. Mann calls these two opposing camps “prophets” and “wizards.” It should be no surprise that Root Simple falls into the prophetic tribe. I believe we need to reduce our consumption and learn to live within the carrying capacity (a phrase coined by Vogt) of our finite planet. The wizards of this world simply do not consider the unintended consequences of their technological solutions nor the destruction brought by the rapacious greed of their Wall Street backers.

In the Atlantic article Mann speculates about a “Luddite’s Moonshot,” a way to feed the growing population of this planet without resorting to GMOs or synthetic fertilizers. It certainly won’t be easy. But it got me thinking about the other Luddite Moonshots we need to work on. I should note that the Luddites were a movement of people attempting to maintain control over their craft and not be exploited by a bunch of factory owning tech bros. Sound familiar? But I digress.

I keep a private list of Luddite Moonshots that, had I the means of B.S. vendors such as Elon Musk or Chris Sacca, I’d throw a ton of money at. Thankfully, this list consists of things humans have done before and that could be done right here and right now. Once the tech bros realize that Mars is a barren and inhospitable wasteland, here’s a list of things they can help with:

  • Mediterranean gardening with perennial food crops.
  • Mammalian garden invasions, i.e. those infernal squirrels/raccoons/skunks.
  • Meal preparation for busy people. I realize the tech bros have taken up this problem with services such as Blue Apron and Hello Fresh. But I think there’s a better way we can do this at home without the shipping and packaging.
  • Preventing food waste in the home.
  • Internet distraction/news addiction.
  • Garden design for small spaces.
  • Getting neoliberal Democratic Los Angeles politicians to back progressive transportation projects that benefit pedestrians/cyclists/users of public transit. This is the most frustrating problem on my list. With just some paint a few concrete barriers we’d have a bike and pedestrian friendly Los Angeles today. No need to wait for those Musk tunnels.
  • Reuniting art and craft.
  • Clutter. Ugh. Clutter.
  • Cleaning for the cleaning challenged.
  • Bringing back shop class.
  • Philosophical/theological literacy in our schools.
  • How to gather people. Kelly cringes when people talk about “community” because it’s one of those words overused to the point of meaninglessness. Nevertheless, we seem to be really bad at getting together and there’s a real plague of loneliness in this country.
  • Memory training.
  • My Generation X postmodern ironic distancing approach to everything.
  • Reviving traditional design without the icky far right politics.
  • The Jurgen Habermas problem.

I’d like to throw open this list to you, my dear Root Simple readers. Please feel free to add some moonshots of your own or comment on the ones I’ve included.

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  1. -Paid parental leave at least six months to a year.
    -Universal healthcare
    -A better voting system.
    -Science literacy in our schools–outdoor ethics included.

    Oh my, I could make a list.

  2. Borlaug and Vogt are often characterized as being on opposite ends of a solutions spectrum. Turns out, Borlaug believed his science based techniques would buy society a few decades while real lasting solutions were established – mostly having to do with family planning to get the population down to a permanently manageable level. Instead we used that time to more than double the population because we thought the problem of food production was permanently solved. Oooops.

  3. I would be supremely happy if we could solve the mammalian garden invasions!
    Theological/philosophical literacy will only be taught with the aim of converting people. I would love to teach Bible as Literature. Philosophers thoughts will be rejected is someone figures out they are atheists, deists, or any other religion the school/parent does not agree with. Critical thinking can only exist in a proper paradigm. Thanks goodness for universities. But, by then students reject anything that is not in their religious experience.

    • That’s a great article on Musk. The Reveal Podcast did an episode on the appalling conditions of Tesla factory workers. It turns out that Musk doesn’t like the color yellow and won’t allow the normal yellow safety tape used on factory floors. That combined with insane hours means many accidents.

  4. Yes to bringing back shop class and other forms of creative expression. Yes also to the realization, as stated by a very wise principal at a school where I taught, “Childhood is a journey, not a race.”
    No to rushing children to grow up too fast, too soon (See The Hurried Child by David Elkind–the book is dated–but still very relevant).
    No to endless testing in school. Instead, focus on developing whole human beings–which loops back to many items on your list.

    • It seems like a lifetime ago, but I homeschooled all my kids. At the time we were living in northeast PA and Pennsylvania law required standardized testing in third, fifth, and eighth grades (if I remember correctly); 8 years old was the mandatory school age. Therefore, my children, who became official students at age 8, were fully two years older than their publicly schooled test-taking compatriots, much to my kids’ obvious benefit. Didn’t make much sense at the time, still doesn’t make any.

  5. How to reconnect people to agriculture, especially the people pushing suburbia into agricultural areas and expecting tractors and people hauling trailers to just speed up for them.

    How to grow any sort of brassica or leafy green without having to constantly poison these jerks. I opted for none of the above this year because it is so demoralizing.

    Oh, and my current favorite: how to keep all the plastic bits on your 18 year old truck from getting brittle and snapping into pieces while the engine still has at least another 100,000 miles on it……

    • I gave up on most brassicas years ago due to cabbage leaf worms and aphids.

    • No one would ever dream of eating “snails” but call them “escargot”, add a little garlic and people find them delicious.

      The challenge is to find another name for “Banana Slug” that would persuade people to eat them. You could then make a fortune selling buckets of the little suckers to gourmets. The French “Limace de Banane” doesn’t quite cut it, but I’m still working on it.

  6. On this election day, I wonder why you aren’t one of my candidates for governor?! 😉

    Also, re:mammals, gophers. Just found gopher tunnels in a supposedly gopher-proof, hardware cloth lined raised veggie bed. The previous owners lined this bed with plastic (plastic!) hardware cloth. Sigh.

  7. # GMOs
    Not going to be popular with this crowd, but if you can separate the obscene business practices from the product, we’d have to give up a lot without GMOs.

    GMO has already saved the papaya crop in Hawaii. Will likely save the Ferguson banana all over the world. When I growing up, there was a famine in Bangladesh every few years when monsoons drove saltwater over the rice. Now they have salt tolerant rice.

    Mostly though. Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere would have to give up apples and pears.

    Eat a great apple, plant the seeds. You’ll get 5 very different apples, most inedible. Which is why we graft apples to a hardy rootstock. Essentially, they are clones.

    So when you freeze the evolution of a fruit, like an apple, you can’t stop the blights, funguses, and insects from evolving every time you spray the apple. So some older varieties, like the Red Delicious, are treated up to 20 times.

    They’re careful to say nothing about the newer varieties we’re seeing in the store, but they’ve been “updated” to resist common blights and insects. Some like Gala and Jazz are only sprayed a couple of times.

    Also, keep in mind that it takes 30 yrs to bring a new apple to market. Half of that is just growing new trees to production, a major input for growers.

    So the question is not GMO or No GMO. The question is of NO GMO then what else?

    If NO GMO, which chemicals have been sprayed on your apple and how many times? If growers actually had to list them, most people would jump for the GMO fruit.

    • I think of genetic modification as a tool, and my question is always “what is it modified to do?”. I feel like genetically modifying for Roundup readiness is awful, because of the collateral damage of the roundup. Modifying rice strains to be more tolerant of saltwater intrusion, or modifying crops to need less chemical treatment, are things I’m completely on board with.

  8. I’d like to add boardgames to the list, if i may.

    Starting with this book “Homo Ludens”,

    Homo Ludens is a book written in 1938 by Dutch historian and cultural theorist Johan Huizinga. It discusses the importance of the play element of culture and society. Huizinga suggests that play is primary to and a necessary (though not sufficient) condition of the generation of culture.

    Of particular interest are board wargames, yes Chess and Go are technically wargames (and Hasbro’s Risk and Axis and Allies), board wargames by definition have a map the game is played on (whether historical, fantasy, sci-fi themed, if it’s on a map it is board wargame). The better ones though can’t be bought in your local Target and Wal-mart.

    To me the best is Simmons Games, but Rachel Simmons’ games are too few, and precious rare to come by (based in Silicon Valley), Guns of Gettysburg is her latest masterpiece, still out now.

    So GMT Games (in Hanford , CA) is where i’ve been getting my games (I really love Sekigahara, which luckily now is back in print). Also , the COIN games are good too, 11 games in the series so far, I suggest start with Colonial Twilight, 2 player version.

    GMT Games more so than other game publishers tend to cater solo-play/solitaire game play designs which I really love. I’m getting my kids started off on Risk, and since Risk (and Axis & Allies, look into 1941 at Target/Wal-Mart, though less “house rules” friendly) is very simple , it allows for house rules to develop, essentially encouraging kids towards game design.

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  11. “carrying capacity (a phrase coined by Vogt) ”

    The origins of the term “carrying capacity” are uncertain, with researchers variously stating that it was used “in the context of international shipping”[3] or that it was first used during 19th-century laboratory experiments with micro-organisms.[4] A recent review finds the first use of the term in an 1845 report by the US Secretary of State to the US Senate.[3]

    • Thanks for the correction. I don’t know how I got the idea that Vogt coined the phrase. Charles C. Mann does not claim this. I amended the post.

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