What is Solarpunk?
Solarpunk is a new genre of science fiction, sometimes called hope-punk. At its core is the belief that we can build the world we would like to be living in, with an emphasis and focus on resolving and improving environmental issues, create and maintain a socially just society, and resolve the other problems and concerns that have come from the unbridled and uncontrolled growth of toxic culture.
How does Solarpunk apply to Portland?
Portland is a metropolitan region currently containing about two and a half million people, centered on a city of 2/3 million. There’s a decent review here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portland%2C_Oregon . For our purposes, Portland is all the people who live in or do business in this area.
It also encompasses all those people who *will* move here sometime in the near future. We don’t know who they are yet, and some of them don’t even know themselves, but this is a lovely place to live, other parts of the world are getting much worse very quickly for a number of reasons, and a robust Solarpunk program will make the city a vastly *more* attractive place to live. Some current mainstream estimates [reference] suggest a population increase of half a million within the next decade, and I believe if we adopt policies of actively welcoming and caring for new immigrants, our population is likely to more than double.
So how do the all of us want to live together? A full answer to that question would require querying five million people, half of them unidentified, certainly infeasible if possible at all. Instead, I will speak to both my own desires and how to realistically generalize to a diverse population.
Our purposes for being here are many and varied, and we’ll be inventing more as time goes on, so trying to list them would be futile. We have the freedom to develop and pursue our own purposes, and freedom in an even more abstract sense is one of our fundamental values and concerns. But, as the old cliché has it, “your freedom to swing your fist ends one inch from my nose.” We as a society have to balance our constantly-competing-and-varying interests.
Prosperity is another fundamental interest. We want nice things, we want to do fun things, and all of this takes power and resources.
Equality, however, is not. No two humans have ever been or are ever likely to be equal; I refer you to the science fiction story “Harrison Bergeron”, by Kurt Vonnegut. The more recent concept of ‘Equity’ comes closer to the mark, illustrated by the example of three kids of varying heights who want to watch a ball-game over a fence, and have three boxes to stand on – equality being each kid getting a box, which still leaves the smallest staring at a fence, and equity being the shortest kid getting two boxes, the middle-sized kid one, and the tall kid none, with the result that all 3 can watch the game. While ‘equity’ is an improvement over ‘equality’, it still doesn’t address the question of what are the purposes of the overall society, and how are they being served in the here-and-now. I’d like to see that tallest/oldest kid doing a graduate project in the robotics lab, and the two smaller kids sitting in the stadium seats by third base. They shouldn’t need to watch over the fence at all.
Prosperity should be obvious. We all want to have nice places to live, nice clothes to wear, good food to eat, and so on.
Safety: Many would-be optimists like to claim that the world is more peaceful now than it ever has been. This is nonsense; what we’ve done is to limit our discussion of “war” to declared conflicts between nation-states, and ignore it when a dictator slaughters his own people. And corporations frequently commit acts we could describe as “warfare by negligence”, such as Union Carbide’s behavior at Bhopal some years back or Union Pacific’s about the Mosier train explosion two years ago. While the scope of this document is metropolitan Portland, we still need to keep the people in this area safe not merely from invading barbarians (we’d probably get them drunk and buy their weapons) but from their own governments as well as corporations and other modern brokers of power. We desire to not be controlled by anyone else any more than is absolutely necessary. Coequal to this, we have all had at least some experience with bullies, and we desire to not be bullied.
Power. It has been suggested I use the word “agency” for this concept, but agency as I understand it does not imply capacity. If I have the *power* to do something, I just go and do it. If I have *agency*, I can take action in that regard, but my ability to complete it is not guaranteed. Power takes many forms; control of resources, control of people, and control of fundamental energy if one is not counting that under “resources”. We want all of us to be as powerful as we desire, and we also want the power within our greater community to be equitably and safely distributed. So there are two broad tasks involved: Creating more power, and managing it.
This “Civics and Society” section of the document is intended to describe how it is we wish to live. How we transition from what we have to what we want belongs in the next section, “Implementation.”
Social and Political Infrastructure
It’s all too easy when trying to describe a society to fall into the “platform trap” – writing a whole bunch of “planks”, any one of which might be a good idea – instead of devising a central organizing principle that explains what the whole structure is for.
The principle I wish to use is the idea that “we” are a social organism, a living being. Cultures are our organs, and humans are our cells. The analogy is imprecise – humans are differently flexible and adaptable than cells are, and cultures are more plastic than organs – but it’s close enough to be useful. This “we” used to be called a civilization; I am choosing to call it a metaculture because unlike earlier civilizations such as the Roman and Greek, we want people to bring their “heathen, pagan” cultures with them and add those to our “salad bowl”.
Our bodies evolved rather than being created, and having evolved each individual body grows to adulthood. What’s appropriate for a newborn isn’t appropriate for a toddler and what’s appropriate for them may not be appropriate for an adult, and so on. Our attempts to create the city in which we would like to live do not require running the entire process of evolution, as we have history to consult about how the Sumerians, the Greeks, the Romans, the English, the Americans and so on did things, and we can decide from this grounding who we want to be *now*. Having made those decisions, we still have to start our society and help it “grow up”. We don’t know precisely what kind of adult it’ll be when it gets there, but we *can* make some broad decisions about its development – in growing a mammalian body, having kidneys is a good idea, for example. We can’t select for “is a fantastic concert pianist”, but we can select for “has kidneys.”
There is a current body of thought that the transition to multi-celled organisms was Fermi’s “Great Filter” — i.e., when we get out among the galaxies we’ll find lots of pond scum, but very few aliens to talk to, or even pet. And one of the main obstacles to becoming multicellular is cancer — which a different current body of thought suggests evolved as a defense mechanism back when our own ancestors were single celled organisms. Unlimited cell reproduction and suppressed cell death are great survival strategies for single-cell organisms — you don’t want to be in that state all the time, because it’s very energy intensive, but it’s a great tool to keep in the box. And on a multicultural level, we have to guard against our human ‘cells’ and cultural organs doing things that benefit them at the expense of our overall societal organism. (Doing things to benefit themselves that don’t hurt anybody else is fine; it’s what they’re there for.)
And ‘infection’ is other life forms coming to feed off of or co-opt our organism. Again here, there’s a body of thought that says we usually incorporate them rather than killing them; this is why viruses sometimes become parts of our own genetic code. We do sometimes have to kill, but recruiting is a much better strategy.
Backtracking for a moment, there is at least one difference between a metaculture and a mammalian body: Our humans can go almost anywhere and do almost anything. So individual-we are more like stem cells at first, but then as we settle down, develop areas of expertise of greater power but more limited scope, we become like mature cells, such that a liver-cell isn’t going to prosper if it somehow ends up in a lung, an American stockbroker would quickly starve as a Kenyan farmer, and so on.
A Catholic friend of mine holds that shame and guilt are not merely effective, but necessary controls on human behavior. I disagree; I would rather live in a metaculture that guides behavior with pride, joy, and ecstasy. If someone is doing something antisocial, I would like the first reaction to their behavior to be “Hey, are you OK?”, which also communicates to them that their behavior is not considered welcome, but while I see this as performing the same function as shame, I don’t think it’s similar — shame relies on making people feel bad, expressions of concern simply point them in directions that are better.
We do not currently have a metacultural nervous system sufficiently sophisticated for we-as-metaculture to make rational decisions about matters that affect millions or billions of our human cells. (We do so anyway, which I suggest is largely responsible for most major human-caused catastrophes.) I think developing one should be one of our highest priorities. It would be a combination of communicationis, data storage, and processing functions.
So in maintaining the human cells and cultural organs of our metaculture, here are the lists of needs we have so far identified, and the list of projects so far identified that might meet them:
Basic Human Needs
All of American law and custom is severely biased by the accidental nature of the European arrival here. There was about a century gap between the arrivals of the first explorers and the serious start of colonization, and in that gap was one of the greatest unrecorded epidemics in history – the wiping out of roughly 95% of the native population by the smallpox the explorers brought with them. The natives had been tending their food-forests for millennia, and it takes more than just a few mere decades of neglect to seriously damage a well-tended food forest. So the early European colonists here grew up with the idea that if you didn’t like the way your town was being run, it was trivial to move off into the “wilderness” where you could live off the land until you could get a European-style monoculture farm going.
That world was a one-time accident – yeah, later colonists sometimes did engage in deliberate biological warfare with infected blankets, but the big epidemic really was an accident – and nobody lives in it any more. So we-as-society have to provide what that early custom thought was provided “by nature.”
I’ve so far identified 20 basic needs that our people need to have met to reach that “natural” state:
- Homeostatic Environment (no Venusization)
- Safety from toxins such as industrial pollution
- Breathable Air
- Potable Water
- Nutritious and Nontoxic Food
- Physical Safety
- Health Care
- Localized self-supporting economic system
- Community defense against organized actors
The remaining points in this section will describe how to meet those needs, with references to the technical section when there is a technical solution to the problem.
Points 1 through 4: Environmental Protection And Prediction
While we’ve been dealing with the relatively minor fascist revolution here in the United States, environmental collapse has been allowed to continue. We are in uncharted territory; this level of criminal negligence has never before been able to be achieved. So we have no way of predicting the results, and with the sea-bottom methane clathrates already sublimating it is entirely possible we have already set in motion the chain of events that will lead to the Venusization of our planet. And no form of life we are familiar with can survive at 400C temperatures, so if this is so our literal geese will be auto-cooked – and there will be no one left to feast upon them.
I’ll reiterate that the scope of this paper is Portland, Oregon; we can do our share by ceasing to pollute and cleaning up what we can, but we are incapable of addressing the whole of the catastrophe by ourselves. The most we can do in that direction is to maintain our awareness of other efforts in the world to do so and to aid and support them as best we can. (Social Project #1.)
The failed federal government we are living under used to have an Environmental Protection Agency, the useless skeleton of which still exists as of Deceber 2020, but we need a Portland Municipal EPA to see to the maintenance of our environment here. This addresses the first four points on the Basic Needs list, and half (“non-toxic”) of the fifth. It needs to be filled out from a concept to a full program.
In addition, we need to establish an environmental prediction function, as it has become increasingly evident that all attempts so far to predict the course of the ongoing climate catastrophe have been embarrassingly timid. In developing the arcology concept (below), I have been unable to determine whether we need to plan for a 1.5C temperature rise, a 30C temperature rise, or a 300C rise and accompanying 500km/hr. winds.
Point 5: Food
The term “permaculture” isn’t yet precisely defined, but the general principle of trying to grow food in such a manner that the future ability of that environment to grow food is not impeded is easy enough to hang onto.
There are a *lot* of technologies and techniques that can be used towards this end. The first part of this project will be simply researching and cataloging these techniques; then comes figuring out how and where to implement them.
Vertical Farming is one such technique, hugelkultur is another. There are many more.
This technology probably predates what we usually think of as ‘agriculture’. It is the growing of trees, shrubs, grasses, and vegetables together in a carefully managed area such as to form a long-term stable and consistent environment needing only minimal further maintenance.
The technology of vertical farming allows for high-density food production in already occupied areas. This is a concept in need of detailed study and implementation
The Willamette River is currently a Superfund site, a polluted, toxic mess. Large-scale shellfish farming such as was done in the Chesapeak Bay in Maryland would both clean up the river and, as the shellfish excrete most of the toxins they consume into their shells, a new local food source.
Points 6 through 9: Willamette Arcology
Where are we going to *put* another two and a half million people? An Arcology is not a *complete* answer, but it can house somewhere between half a million and two million of our new residents (current model, 828,000), while also greatly reducing environmental impact and providing a new venue for long-overdue social experimentation (see Willamette County, below).
The word ‘Arcology’ was coined by Paolo Soleri in the 1960’s for a built structure designed to minimize environmental impact (this was long before the day of LEED buildings and such). It’s a portmanteu of “Architecture” and “Ecology”. He built Arco Santi in Arizona as a prototype; I spent a couple of weeks there with him in the early 1980s. One of the aspects of it is to minimize transportation pollution and costs by having everything in one place, so you don’t need to move things around much. So Arco Santi has residential, commercial, industrial, civic, and recreational spaces all within short walking distance of each other.
Later iterations (not Paolo’s work) grew into the concept of the Vertical City, which allows integrating the arcology into an urban setting. Earl King wrote that book, proving that he’s a superb graphic artist and a really lousy writer. His son Ray lives here in Portland; I spent time discussing his Dad’s ideas with him.
In addition to housing and energy issues, the Arcology also addresses fully or in part all of the first eleven items on the human needs list, above.
The initial concept for the Willamette arcology involves the creation of a good number of local industries to create the materials and techniques for its construction. Three examples are modular structural carbon fiber, active solar windows, and vertical-axis wind turbines.
Vertical Axis Wind Turbines
Vertical axis wind turbines (VAWTs) are sometimes called “eggbeaters”, because that’s what they look like. They can be attached to the corners of large buildings, to take advantage of the rerouting of pre-existing wind patterns caused by the building itself. While they’re trivially less efficient than conventional horizontal axis turbines, they don’t care which way the wind is coming from, they don’t take up much space, and they don’t kill birds.
Solid State Wind Generators
This is a brand-new technology that could be superior to the VAWTs above, and might have additional virtues in being safer in extreme winds.
Active Solar Windows
Active Solar Windows act as building sheathing, insulation, and energy collection systems. The viewing surface contains a microscopic louver system that can reflect light tunable by frequency, and there are solar energy collectors in the frames. So any light you don’t want coming into the room can be reflected into the frames and used for energy, or reflected back out into the world to change the color of the building, turning it into a giant display screen. Infrared and ultraviolet just go straight to the collectors, since we can’t see them anyway. The windows and the wind turbines are complementary; typically, when it’s not sunny, the wind is blowing. Even so, the Arcology will require some amount of energy storage to even out the consumption. This is already market-available technology, for example Tesla Powerwall and Iron Edison. It will however probably be to our advantage to develop an even safer and more efficient storage technology as part of our new industrial base.
Molten-Salt Solar Power Generators
This technology, while so far only suitable for large centralized installations, produces power more cost-effectively than photovoltaic panels, and without any use of exotic or toxic materials. A plant such as Nevada’s “Crescent Dunes” would be much too large to put inside the city, but acquiring some land east of the Cascades and building a couple of such plants there would provide sufficient power to replace the current coal-fired Boardman power plant, with resultant positive environmental impact.
Modular Structural Carbon Fiber
Modular structural carbon fiber replaces concrete, one of the most environmentally hostile materials known to our species, with something over a hundred times lighter and stronger that actually uses carbon and takes it out of the air, rather than putting more in. (It takes the burning of about 11 pounds of coal to make a pound of concrete.) And being modular means if a piece wears out, it can be removed and replaced, eliminating the horrible retrofit problem New York City is going to have in 2150 when the Empire State Building wears out. The making and assembling of modular carbon fiber structures will also generate a new local industry, one with major export potential.
Willamette County and Metropolitanization
The city of Portland as it exists now covers most of Multnomah County and portions of adjoining Washington and Clackamas counties. It has a large number of institutions that were badly structured from their inceptions and have decayed further over time. Trying to reform the existing bureaus and agencies would be vastly more work than replacing them, but they have significant political influence and like any living organism would respond viciously to any threats to their existence.
However, there are several countieris in Oregon with populations of less than 8,000 people. Even at its lower bounds, the arcology would be home to more than eighty times that. The State would be hard put to come up with a rationalization for rejecting a petition for incorporation. Being incorporated as a county would give us the power to create our own agencies, and the existing ones would be much less threatened by a failure to annex newly created turf than they would be by encroachments on their existing domains.
Placing the new county under Metro’s domain could then be the first step in shifting the center of governance from Portland City to Metro Regional, in parallel with the incorporation of New York City from the five counties of Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, Kings (Brooklyn) and Staten Island. If they are interested – and they should be – this could also be extended to Clark County in Washington State, most of whose inhabitants already work in Portland proper anyway.
Point 7: Municipal Housing
People need places to live; trooping out into the wilderness and building a lean-to and calling it home is not a realistic option, if indeed it ever was. Given the UUBI outlined below, all our city’s inhabitants should have the financial resources to obtain a secure place to live – *if* care has been taken to make sure there is an adequate supply of housing to be had. Relying on “the market” to provide housing and set rents has proven catastrophic in Portland; we end up with big buildings full of empty luxury condominiums that none of the people in need of housing can afford. This has lead to our population overwhelmingly needing to rent their housing rather than buy it, and then be troubled by the absence of tenant protections caused by the existence of a well-funded professional landlord’s lobby.
All of this can be resolved, without the need for new legislation or infringing on the rights of property owners who wish to rent their properties, by creating a large and robust public housing program. There are two proposals in the Technical section of this document (Strip City and the Arcology) that between them would provide adequate housing for our rapidly growing population at rents they can afford to pay, without requiring imposing rent control on existing property owners. Of course, if they want to charge higher rents than the City does, they might find it difficult to attract tenants.
An additional housing issue is assuring that city buildings are kept up to code. Currently, not very many are.
Point 7: Municipal Public Housing (the “Strip City”)
The replacement of interstate highways by Steel Freeways and Slidewalks (See “transportation”, below) creates a hundred-yard-wide by dozens-of-miles long strip of available real estate. This should be combined with the planting of a Food Forest (see above), and in combination with the Arcology creates a municipal public housing stock sufficient to give Metro effective control of the local real estate market – an outside landlord is free to charge higher rates if they wish, but with so many city-controlled units going for less, why would anyone pay for that?
Point 8: Public Restrooms
The Arcology and the Strip City can be built from their inception with adequate public elimination facilities. Other cities I have lived in have had laws requiring businesses to have publicly available restrooms as a condition of licensing; Portland currently has a woefully small and inadequate number of ‘Portland Loos’ to attempt to meet this need. A project team is needed to map out a reasonable city-wide solution, and see to its implementation.
Point 9: Bonded Policing and Civil Servant Police Academy
We no longer have police in the United States, we have stormtroopers, trained bullies used to suppress the population rather than serve them and keep them safe. If you are wearing a blue uniform you were hired by criminals because you were unsuited to the task you were told you were to perform, and if you still want to perform that task, we will need to retrain you. So one of the first needs is to create a new police academy to train the new officers.
Policing is a necessary task, and we will need people to perform it. One suggestion (Niven, “Oath of Fealty”, 1980) is to require four years experience as a social worker as a necessary job qualification to becoming an officer candidate. The suggestion I am bringing up here is that another condition of applying is posting a million-dollar bond (2020 prices, to be adjusted for inflation) against ever again having any association with firearms or other weapons except as required by police employment. If the bullies aren’t allowed to play with their iron penises, they will look for employment elsewhere. The tasks for the SPPV project manager is to figure out how to create a police academy that harvests available expertise without polluting the new officers with the totalitarian mindset, and implementing it over the objections and opposition of existing police agencies.
Point 10: Municipal Health Care
Even primitive bands of hunter-gatherers have medicine men/women, and it is considered a basic aspect of being a member of the band that one has access to them. It is disgraceful that the United States has proven itself unwilling and uninterested in providing this most basic of social benefits, and we do not intend to leave any of the inhabitants of Solarpunk Portland without it. Portland is not a large enough entity to create for itself the market influence enjoyed by, for example, Medicare or the VA. However, such services in Oregon are handled by Medicare in the form of OHP and the VA themselves, and it should be possible to negotiate with them for extending their services to any inhabitants of Portland who do not already enjoy them. This will almost certainly require paying them and/or providing them with facilities, but with the resources provided by new municipal tax policies this should be easy to accomplish.
Point 11: Transportation
There are three new transportation systems I think might be of benefit to Solarpunk Portland: Steel Freeways, Airships, and Slidewalks. We might not be able to completely eliminate gasoline powered vehicles or private cars, but we can provide sufficient and sufficiently attractive alternatives that it becomes an eccentricity rather than a necessity.
These are simply conventional rail freight lines run along the medians of existing interstate highways; a pilot project has been running very succcessfully in San Diego for some time. This removes large trucks from the Interstates, freeing up more flow for lesser vehicles and removing the particulate pollution generated by the big trucks.
Airships were given a bad name by the anti-Nazi propaganda centering around the 1937 Hindenburg disaster. Modern airships can run on electric engines powered by solar tarps on the body, and thus use no external fuel at all, and typically operate at twice the speeds of highway traffic. They require no infrasturcture other than the passenger terminals at each end of the run, and a network of half a dozen thirty-to-forty mile distant remote terminals, two such downtown, and a couple of dozen airships could transport 18K commuters in and out of the city per day, keeping that many cars out of the city and allowing greater residential dispersion. Regional transport to Tacoma, Seattle, Eugene, and Ashland would also be feasible, and if more easterly cities such as Bend wanted to be involved this would be simple to arrange.
The Slidewalk concept was popularized in the 1930’s in the juvenile fiction of Robert Heinlein, and the degenerate descendents of the concept are the moving sidewalks one often sees in airports today. These are basically a powered pedestrian freeway system, using modular sections of many small interleaved rollers and transporting pedestrians at speeds up to 60mph. A tick-tack-toe grid of these downtown would move people around faster and more conveniently than the existing Trimet system, and they can be boarded and exited anywhere along their length, removing the inconvenience of trekking up to the bus stop.
They could also be run above the Steel Freeways, leading to the obsolescence and removal of the interstate highway whose route they co-opted. With the Slidwalk carrying passengers and the Steel Freeway handling freight, the hundred-plus-yard interstate right-of-way could be reduced to ten yards for the transit corridor, and the remaining ninety yards used for a combination Municipal Public Housing program and food forest, both of which please see.
The name of the city is Portland. Port Land. That the port is not currently functioning is a farce of mismanagement. The old mangement structure should be abandoned and all people associated with it (other than perhaps the secretaries who actually know where things are) fired with prejudice and permanently barred from any further association with the new Port group. The Longshore Workers’ Union has an equal share of the blame for this, and while I am strongly in favor of some form of union the existing one has proven by their behavior they would rather pick at a corpse than allow the business that supports them to function. Exactly how to go about doing this is the project.
Point 12: Education
Most adult education can be handled remotely, by internet (see Muni Broadband, below). It is wryly amusing that the two forms of education that work poorly by remote are young children and graduate students. Both of these groups should have fully subsidized educational expenses; how to administer such a program is a project for someone to take on in the Solarpunk Portland Program Management (SPPM, covered in the implementation section below) seminar.
Point 13: Municipal Public Wifi Broadband and Burner-phone Service
As the internet is now the primary source of communication and adult education, it is a basic necessity of life to make sure that every inhabitant of our city has immediate and unfettered access to it. The performance of Comcast in Portland over the last decade is conclusive proof that this cannot be trusted to “market sources,” and that a public utility is necessary. But even if connectivity were free (I’m not suggesting this, merely that getting internet should be no different than getting electrical or water service), it is useless without a device.
Free device programs carry with them the risk of encouraging contempt in the populace. For example, the Corvallis Orange Bike program of the 1980s gave out free bikes to the homeless population, who promptly developed the habit of just riding them cross-town and tossing them in the river to watch the pretty splash. This led to the program being shut down by the Coast Guard for creating a navigational hazard in the river. FreeGeek has developed an excellent program of helping people build their own computers, which gives them “sweat equity” in owning and operating that machine. The SPPM project lead can investigate extending FreeGeek’s program to smartphones.
Point 14: Unconditional Universal Basic Income
As said in the introduction, we no longer live in a rural economy surrounded by well-tended food forests. And we have come a long way towards the complete roboticization of what used to be called ‘work’. Our people need to be able to economically participate in our society, and employment is no longer a safe or reasonable way to provide them with resources with which to do so. I see no rational alternative to simply giving them money.
This runs into the criticism that people are only motivated by terror, and if we don’t terrorize them with threats of starvation and homelessness they’ll just be shiftless, idle layabouts. I find it ironic that most of this criticism comes from shiftless, idle layabouts whose fortunes are inherited from their grandfathers, who started as penniless, hard-working immigrants. I also find it simply false: We were for a while and can be again the greatest and most wonderful civilization in mammalian history. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be a part of that, and an honor to be able to contribute to it. Secure, happy, well-fed people who have a secure place to sleep are in the best position to take entrepreneurial risks, and we have the means to provide that. For simple case example, Jeff Bezos could pay a UUBI for everyone in America for a century just out of what’s in his various bank accounts right now, let alone what he might accumulate as that century progresses. How to fund and administer such a program is a specific project within the SPPM program.
Points 15 and 19: Municipal Banking and Municipal Economics
Access to the modern financial network is necessary for the economic survival of the City. But that same network tries (usually deliberately) to drain resources out of local communities. We can avoid this trap by chartering our own municipal bank. There is already a movement and an organizationi dedicated to this; the SPPV project manager in charge of this project can determine whether the existing push for a Portland Public Bank is sufficient, or we should be starting our own tandem Willamette County Bank.
Point 16: Positive Proxy
We developed representative government when the job of governing became too large and complex for us as citizens to do on our own. But our representatives have lost track of the distinction between ‘representative’ and ‘ruler’, and so we must take that back and try it again.
Proxy elections have been in use for centuries, by corporations for stockholder elections. To “write a proxy” simply means to authorize someone else to cast your vote for you. The purpose of a democracy differs from that of a corporation, tho’, a corporation exists to consolidate and control power, and a democracy exists to distribute it, reconsolidate it, and hold it accountable. So where a corporation only allows you to proxy your vote to the sitting Board of Directors, and only for the entire duration of the annual Stockholder’s meeting (the only time at which you have a right to be heard, effectively shutting you up), in Positive Proxy you can write your proxy to whomever you please, and rescind and regrant it at whim, for any reason or none. This makes accountability instant, instead of “wait six years for the next election.”
You can register your opinion on any and all issues you feel competent and well-informed enough about, and then pass the rest to your proxy-holder to deal with. They probably don’t have all the answers either, so they can answer what questions they feel competent to and then write another proxy and send your vote on further to someone else who does. But you are still in full control of your own vote; if you don’t like their choice of secondary proxy-holder you can rescind your proxy and do it yourself or proxy it to someone else, instead. This does place more of a burden on the Registrar (see below), as they have to track which vote is proxied to whom.
The method of vote-counting is also a bit different. Instead of voting yes-or-no-and-we’re-done-with-it, you *attach* your vote to a bill. And if you change your mind later, you can *de*tach it, as well. When more than two-thirds of the electorate have attached their votes to a bill, it becomes law. The registrar also has to track the existence of voters; when you die your vote is removed from everything to which it is attached, and when the number of votes attached to a law drops below *one* third of the electorate, it is repealed and drops out of force.
The other central aspect of Positive Proxy is fully open-sourced legislation – anyone can propose a bill, and anyone can propose a modification to an existing bill, or ‘fork’ it and create a new version. If you don’t like the law, fine; write your own.
This profoundly changes the job of registrar, which falls under the Secretary of State in Oregon today. If anyone can propose a law, there will be a lot of frivolous proposals, and probably also distributed-denial-of-service attacks. Add in the tracking of voter existence as alluded to above, and the registrar is going to be very busy.
The use of a positive proxy system causes the job of ‘citizen’ to become much different. It promotes a much greater differentiation between issues and personalities, because I-the-voter have to look through all of the issues and bills to find those I *do* feel competent to pass judgment on before I start looking for someone else’s judgment to borrow. This will be discussed in more detail in the ‘Citizenry Building’ section immediately following.
Point 17: Citizenry Building
Implementing a Positive Proxy system (as above) has the effect of going to every voter and saying “There’s an enormous, vitally important job, and it’s *your* job, and you haven’t been doing it, and it’s big and it’s hard and you’re terrible at it and I want you to do it all *right now*!”, and with that kind of presentation I’d count a punch in the nose a *positive* response. Being a citizen *is* difficult, and our systems were so well set up to start with that we were able to coast on that energy for centuries, and as a result we are out of practice and training when it all breaks down from lack of proper maintenance.
Training new immigrants in their political responsibilities will be a trivial problem; they *know* they’re new here, they have probably just come from a place where lack of accountable politics created a strong-man government that had been spiritedly trying to kill them, and if learning and practicing a new set of customs can prevent the growth of another murderous strong-man they’re all for it. People who have lived here all their lives and grown up in a world where peace and prosperity are taken as given need a lot of re-education, or regretfully for many of them primary education, in the old saw “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”
Pre-pandemic, my concept for this was to do a face-to-face canvass, where the canvassers would if feasible call or write to make an appointment to meet with the citizen, and then meet with them and congratulate them on their decision to take up this wonderful, vital, important job, and ask them what tools, resources, and assistance they might have use of in order to perform it – and then go make a spirited attempt to actually *obtain* for them what they had asked for, and come back for a later appointment to report on progress and alternatives. In other words, demonstrate by our behavior *our* respect for *them*. This then gives them a noncoercive reason to offer similar respect back to the polity we are trying to create. This plan will of course need to be modified to take social distancing into account.
Their canvasser having trained the citizen in how to go about working within a positive proxy system, it would be not unreasonable of that citizen to ask their canvasser to accept their proxy, and their canvasser might elect to exercise that option. However, this is by no means required, and if they want to write a proxy to Uncle Omar from the Old Country (whichever one that might happen to be), and Omar chooses to accept, that’s fine too.
If their canvasser becomes their proxy-holder, the canvasser is already trained in how to communicate with and work in the best interests of their constituents, and if said canvasser then elects to pursue a political career, they can do that – or they can humor their constituent for a while and then help them learn how to pick a more suitable proxy-holder. If instead the task falls to Uncle Omar, the canvasser can contact Omar and offer training services in learning what is involved in being a good proxy-holder.
It is a truism in the computer security industry that there is no system a human can devise that another human cannot compromise eventually. (I believe the original wording was “If you can write it, they can fuck it up!”) But it gives us a reasonable start at being able to grow a not-yet-corrupted, robust and fair democratic society.
Point 18: Cultural Representation
We as humans generate culture about as easily and as frequently as we generate carbon dioxide. Some don’t last more than a few months, other survive, with various mutations, for thousands of years. As a metaculture, it is our job to keep the restraints and limitations we place on our constituent cultures to a reasonable minimum within the parameters of preventing active harm to individuals, to other cultures, and to the metaculture itself. Cultures are also not monolithic; some limited cultures only aid and assist their members in a few specific issues – for example, a bowling league – whereas a complete culture could cover every aspect of their existence – for example, Orthodox Judaism. A culture may *offer* proxy services to its constituents, but is barred from requiring those constituents to accept.
A culture may declare itself organized, file with the secretary of state to describe that organization, and take on the function of providing specific services (as declared by the representative of that culture) for its constituents from the Department of Human Services. This allows, for example, religious schools.
Point 20: Enhanced Civil Defense Agency
As the election of 2016 demonstrated, we are now subject to cyberattacks, as well as the more conventional forms of warfare, and biological and nuclear attack as well. (One of the most likely scenarios for a nuclear war has long been to simply ship weapons to the target cities in standardized containers.)
What living here is like
The social and political infrastructures that can make it work
The premise of this seminar is that we can have the future we would like to live in, if we’re willing to do the work to create it. And the purpose is to create/assemble the team to do so, and then do so.
The first step is to develop a concept of what we would like that world to be. The SPPV paper is a rough concept-sketch for that; it will be required reading for the seminar participants. If they disagree with it, have alternative suggestions they wish to make, or want to do their own versions, great, the more the merrier. If I think their ideas are good, I will adopt them; if they think their ideas are good and I don’t like them, they have the option of ‘forking’ the project and doing their own version if they so choose. I think I’m a generous and flexible enough manager that this latter won’t happen much.
But a vision is not sufficient; we need a plan, and then having it, we will need the people, resources, and social contacts and approvals necessary to succeed at bringing it to fruition. So the seminar will train people to become project managers, choosing their own project and then learning how to assess it, design it, recruit and gather resources for it, engage clients to fund it, press the ‘start’ button, and then see it through to a successful conclusion. It will also teach them how to work their project in the context of a larger program, as ‘create a future’ is too large a concept to be stable even with the team of sixty project managers I hope to generate with the seminar.
The end state of the seminar will be sixty project managers with sixty different projects they are committed to and want to implement, and a set of prototype project plans for those projects. And the program itself, which will be able to demonstrate to potential backers and regulators that all these projects do form a coherent and mutually supportive whole that will be of profound benefit to the entire region.
I started with the Arcology and Positive Proxy concepts. PP can be done as a simple web software development application with a team of no more than about 20, although they do have to be professionals with specific software-development skill sets. It requires the Citizenry Building program in order to successfully implement, and my idea for creating the interest and personal investment to do *that* is to offer a watered-down version for use as a campaigning tool to any aspiring politician who’s willing to back the program. Since I believe it will prove a superb campaign tool, within 3 or 4 electoral cycles having a PP implementation will become a practical requirement for gaining office, at which point we can reasonably ask the political system to adopt it as a public service.
It’s the Arcology, though, which I think can be the engine that drives the program. I developed it originally to meet three interrelated needs: An adequate housing supply, a Metro-region aggregate positive environmental footprint, and an economic base sufficient to support both of these. Metro Portland does not currently have adequate or sufficient housing for the 2.4 million people who are already here, and I expect that number to double by 2030 – so we need places to put everybody. Depending on the final specifications of the design, the Arcology will provide between half and two and a half million housing units. This may not fully meet our needs, but it does put a serious dent in them, and the ‘strip city’ idea that developed later should be sufficient to complete the requirement.
The Arcology will be carbon-positive; it will recycle its own wastes and generate enough power to have some left over to sell. Some of the technologies that allow for that will also provide the base for ongoing industries with ongoing income streams – particularly the active solar windows that will cover the building and the modular structural carbon fiber framing that holds it up.
Part of the guiding thought here is that humans work better if we treat them nicely. By providing universal education and UUBI, we will be allowing and encouraging our citizenry-at-large to innovate, invent, and create new industries. They will be aware that they have the option and ability to contribute to the social organism that is so supporting them, and that they have the right and obligation to contribute to its control and guidance as well.
As the America of the 21st millennium so graphically illustrates, being more productive doesn’t help society if the fruits of these labors get skimmed off the top. Two policies that will prevent this are a law limiting the compensation multiplier (how many times more than the pay of the lowest-paid worker of a company the highest-paid worker is allowed to receive) to seven, rather than the current US average of 500, and an income tax system with rates borrowed from the Eisenhower era. While this might discourage a few well-off potential immigrants, the people joining at first will be largely those who have been forcibly deprived of legitimate opportunity elsewhere, and with first-hand experience of blatantly corrupt governance, and it will be clear to them that they *do* control this government and that the taxes they pay are the price of keeping that.
Two major questions that have to be addressed are: 1.) Where is all the money coming from to pay for all this?, and 2.) How do we get people who are already invested in an existing power structure to agree to a transition to a different structure?
The answers to these two questions are intertwined. I had mentioned incorporating the Arcology as its own county in the Implementations section, above, and this would directly create both the opportunity to create a county bank, which would help address the financing issue, and the Arcology provides a very visible icon that what we are doing is adding to the structure, not redistributing it. People are much more prone to accept an easily identified addtion to the structure than a realignment that might reduce their own slice of the pie.
A full implementation plan would require the results of the Solarpunk Portland Program Seminar to complete, as we do not yet have the base data on which to found such a plan. The SPPS is the project’s Assessment phase, where we figure out broadly what we’re trying to do. Implementation is what happens after the Design phase is over, and we’re not there yet. The reason it is a Program and not a Project is that it will be an ongoing endeavor involving many projects, most of them profoundly interrelated with others of them, and by the time we finish one set of projects some of our people will have come up with some more.