Decentralized Manufacturing

Let’s examine the immediate crisis facing America, the debt crisis. Why do we have so much debt? We could rightly blame the money system or the political process, or the wealthy elite who control both, but the most direct explanation is that for many years we have done more consuming and borrowing than producing and saving. For decades our productive capacity has been migrating out of our country, so that now there are fewer quality jobs and we must borrow money from foreigners to pay for imported goods that we formerly produced ourselves.

Did you know that televisions are no longer made in the USA? What’s wrong with this picture? Do we really gain something by buying TV’s and other products from big box stores, shipped from the opposite side of the world using dwindling reserves of oil, only to see them end up on garbage scows heading back to Asia because our landfills are already overflowing with junk?  We could produce virtually everything we need ourselves as we once did, and then use our surplus products and resources to trade for whatever else we may need. So why don’t we?

Globalization, with its offshoring and outsourcing, was sold to us as a means to a better life based on cheaper products, but it is really a “get something for nothing” scam intended to transfer wealth and consolidate power at the expense of the middle-class. It is the final stage of a process that began several hundred years ago and that has lead us to the brink of ruin.  But we have everything we need to save ourselves, once we understand the basic problem beginning with how we got here.

In the early centuries of the industrial revolution, great advances were made in precision mechanical gears such as those used in watches. Gears were also used to transmit power from local sources such as wind and water to increase productivity in a variety of repetitive operations such as grinding, beating, hammering, cutting, sawing, pumping. pulling, and bellowing. But with the introduction of the steam engine in the 18th century, the industrial revolution entered a new phase characterized by centralization and gigantic scale. Steam engines were not cost effective on a small scale. They needed a constant supply of fuel and tenders to operate them, so they were built on a large scale and became the center of sprawling factories that often operated in shifts around the clock and were feed by transportation networks connecting to coal mining operations.

Very large capital investments were required, beyond the means of ordinary individuals and neighborhoods. A worker class evolved to perform monotonous tasks in the factories and mines for long hours and low pay, for the benefit of the few who had the resources to create the infrastructures. The wealthy industrialists wanted a guaranteed return on their investments, so they found ways to ensure that a profitable market for their products would persist for an unnaturally long time whether by influencing labor, patent, tax and tariff laws; using marketing psychology to create artificial demand and an appetite for frequent style changes; designing in short product lifespans and the need for frequent maintenance and repair; or suppressing competing companies and technologies — anything to keep the profits flowing. A steady revenue stream is always preferable to a one-time sale. Monopolies are always preferable to free market competition.

Large factories are like lumbering behemoths, designed for a specific purpose and therefore difficult to adapt to changing circumstances. This centralized industrial model has a built-in resistance to progress, stifling innovation and adaptation because of the need to recoup investments in large-scale dedicated machinery and buildings. In contrast, skilled craftsmen operating locally and with relatively low capital overhead can adapt rapidly to changes, either in market demand or technology. Local industry conforms itself to the needs of society, whereas society must conform itself to the needs of large-scale industry.

In retrospect, it’s unfortunate that electrical machinery did not appear before the steam engine. Because of its efficiency even on small scales and relative ease of transport, electricity could have been introduced directly into homes and neighborhoods, increasing the productivity of manufacturing even more than the steam engine but without as much need for centralization. But by the time electrical machinery appeared in the 19th century, the wealthy industrialists were already in control of society and so brought electricity into their factories to improve their productivity but without changing their centralized system. And so their power, wealth and influence have increased ever since, to this day.

To maintain their dominant position, they must create a steady stream of products whether needed or not, and so they have become experts at sophisticated psychological manipulation as pioneered by Edward Bernays. People must be conditioned to feel that they always need the latest gadget or fashion to be happy, and they must be kept stressed and distracted so that they never realize what is being done to them. But there is more: To ensure that the assembly lines never stop, they intentionally design their products to fail in a short time and they deliberately avoid a modular, reusable approach. If something breaks or wears out, it should be thrown away and replaced; and if it doesn’t break, it must be discarded anyway to avoid the appearance of being unfashionable. And more still: Even despite these strategies demand for new products eventually dries up, perhaps because there is a recession caused by the elite to facilitate wealth transfer. But the factories must keep producing to recoup the enormous capital investment in them, so wars are started to generate artificial demand for military products.

Picture a giant operation stretching across our planet in which conveyor belts bring gobbled up resources into giant processing plants where they are converted into plastic-wrapped products before exiting on other conveyor belts to be delivered into the mouths of force-fed and miserable consumer-creatures, whose excrement collect in vast toxic pits. A few elite fat cats sit on the roofs of their factories surveying their empire, heedless that non-renewable natural resources are rapidly disappearing and the toxic waste spewed by their factories is poisoning the very air they breathe. Animals and plants are dying everywhere, the earth and its oceans are becoming waste dumps, and smog blots out the sun. If this is “economies of scale”, then their idea of economy has nothing to do with what Thoreau practiced at Walden Pond.

Picture instead a world more like the Amish culture, or certain indigenous cultures with ancient traditions of living in harmony with the land, yet having the option to take advantage of remarkable technological advances that can support fractal sovereignty with a manageable environmental impact. It is easier now than ever before to create a society in which perpetual struggle for survival is replaced by satisfying creative work balanced with plentiful leisure and opportunity for creative pursuits, and with such an abundance of the most basic necessities of life that no one need do without them.

We have been conditioned to believe that the conveniences of modern life would not exist without mega-corporations. Why is it then, that we are working harder and longer for less? Why is so much of humanity still mired in poverty? An iPhone is at least a thousand times more powerful than the computers on board the Apollo space capsule that took men to the moon. The increases in productivity due to the 20th century introduction of computers, not to mention other scientific and technological achievements, should have led to world where people only need work about one day per week to meet their most basic needs. Instead, the bounty of human ingenuity and labor has been funneled to a few elite whose only skill lies in their ability to exploit others, including the tactic of keeping the masses so preoccupied with stress and distractions that they don’t realize there is a better alternative. They’ve convinced us that there isn’t enough to go around; it’s a dog-eat-dog world where they are the alpha dogs and so we’re better off joining their pack and keeping our heads down.

So, we have the advantage of modern electrical machinery and computers along with other innovations such as advanced materials, all together which make it possible for localized, light manufacturing to play a much more prominent role in our society. This advantage is multiplied if we also adopt the open source and modular philosophies pioneered by the computer software community, but which also apply to the world of hardware and tangible products. Open source, modularized software has proven to the world that decentralized innovation combined with free sharing creates a global abundance that greatly exceeds that of the centralized, secretive, territorial and wasteful dominant industrial model. Thanks to the internet, when open source software or hardware designs are released, thousands if not millions of people around the world instantly benefit, and then they may also incorporate them into their own work, resulting in exponentially rapid advancement for humanity.

The psychopathic controllers and their sociopathic minions don’t like this trend. They are always seeking ways to tap into revenue streams and siphon off the fruits of others’ labor and creativity, and they’ll use any means to accomplish that. I prefer to think of them as predators and parasites. This helps put them into their proper place in the order of things. If you can imagine them as vampire squids and tapeworms, then they can be dealt with on those terms. It’s a simple matter of choosing not to be their prey by disengaging from their systems, which always rely on some form of coercion, manipulation or deception. Their numbers and influence will decrease as their food supply dwindles. No need to despise them; they actually serve a useful role in that they make us stronger in the long run, just as their counterparts do in the natural world.

The more that you and your neighbors become self-sufficient, the less vulnerable you will be to coercion and manipulation. If your neighbors aren’t ready to at least partially disengage from the dominant parasitic system, then it may be better to relocate or find virtual neighbors through the internet rather than stand alone. There are progressive communities springing up everywhere. As more people join them, they will serve as an example of a model for an abundant and sustainable society for those still trapped in the old paradigm, until a tipping point is reached.

Let’s summarize:

  • The sustainable development of humanity was hijacked by a predatory and parasitic segment of the population during the industrial revolution, diverting us into a cul-de-sac characterized by central control, concentration of wealth, widespread poverty, diminishment of individual freedom and innovation, depletion of natural resources and environmental degradation, and high-overhead, large-scale operations which alter society to accommodate, serve and perpetuate themselves, even after they become obsolete or destructive.
  • The way for humanity to return to a sustainable path of development is through massive decentralization, supported by technological innovation shared globally through open communication channels. Creative solutions found anywhere can immediately spread everywhere if the predators and parasites are taken out of the loop, resulting in an explosion of sustainable abundance and advancement.

So, what are we waiting for? Here is a list of resources, projects and movements to join or support, relevant to decentralized manufacturing. In future articles I will examine other social subsystems such as money and education from a decentralized perspective.

 

P2P Foundation Open Manufacturing

P2P Foundation

A comprehensive wiki page on open manufacturing. Includes an extensive list of links.

 

The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low Overhead Manifesto

RepRap

An excellent overview of the history of the light manufacturing revolution by Kevin A. Carson. Available as a book or as a free download.

“To repeat, there are two economies competing: their old economy of bureaucracy, high overhead, enormous capital outlays, and cost‐plus markup, and our new economy of agility and low overhead. And in the end… we will bury them.”

 

The Arduino Project

Arduino

A great example of open source hardware. Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.

 

A video introduction to Fab Labs

Neil Gershenfeld

MIT professor Neil Gershenfeld talks about his Fab Lab — a low-cost lab that lets people build things they need using digital and analog tools. It’s a simple idea with powerful results.

Listen all the way through this short but amazing talk.

 

Fab@Home

Fab@Home

Fab@Home will change the way we live. It is a platform of printers and programs which can produce functional 3D objects. It is designed to fit on your desktop and within your budget. Fab@Home is supported by a global, open-source community of professionals and hobbyists,

 

100,000 Garage-based workshops

 

Wooden Flag

100Kgarages is a community of workshops with digital fabrication tools for precisely cutting, machining, drilling, or sculpting the parts for your project or product, in all kinds of materials, in a shop or garage near you.

 

Open source cars

Rally Fighter open source car

Rally Fighter open source car

 

Open Source Ecology

A Network of Farmers, Engineers, and Supporters Building the Global Village Construction Set. The GVSC is a modular, do-it-youself, low-cost, high-performance platform that allows for the easy fabrication of the 40 different Industrial Machines that it takes to build a small, sustainable civilization with modern comforts.

 

First Earth

Documentary film by David Sheen about building healthy houses out of earth.

“It establishes the appropriateness of earthen building in every cultural context. In the age of environmental and economic collapse, peak oil and other converging emergencies, the solution to many of our ills might just be getting back to basics, focusing on food, clothes, and shelter. We need to think differently about house and home, for material and for spiritual reasons.”

Direct link to YouTube

This is the second article in a series of eleven on the theme of decentralization: Fractal Sovereignty, Decentralized Manufacturing, Decentralized Money, Decentralized Education, Decentralized Agriculture, Decentralized Government, Decentralized Communication, Decentralized Security, Decentralized Energy, Decentralized Medicine and Decentralized Religion.

8 comments to Decentralized Manufacturing

  • Jeff

    This is a GREAT article…

    I hope I live long enough to see the major corporations of the world ALL go out of business….We need now, more than ever a modern-day “enlightenment”.

    I can’t say that I am overly optimistic…but I am hopeful that the growing disallusionment with the status quo (which is noticable and is everywhere)will start to force people to make the changes necessary to finally throw off the yoke of conspicuous consumption, do away with the wastefulness of centralized planning and change our attitudes toward the belief which says that “yes, we can have it all…and pay for it later”.

    It is hard to imagine how truly “free” we can be when we stop being active consumers and start being active citizens…until that day however, our collective depression, stress and anger towards an unknown and faceless enemy will only get worse…and will continue to manifest itself in hatred and ill-will towards each other (just as TPTB have it desgined)

    The resources above are a great starting point for people….but look around in your community…you are not alone. There are tens of thousands….and perhaps millions of other Americans who have the same feeling of despair and anger towards the way things are as you do…and there are many people who are actively trying to do things to change it.

    I would encourage you, as does the writer of this blog always does…to get out there and …..WAKE SOME PEOPLE UP!!

    Good Luck!

    Jeff G.

  • Harley

    Great article, CD. We’ve seen so many changes in our lifetime, haven’t we? Change at an exponential rate, and yet it seems (as you say) that the whole process is actually de-evolving, rather than evolving into something beneficial for our country or for mankind.

  • Thanks a lot for the mention, Citizen Doctor. I just noticed all the traffic you sent my way on the Site Stats.

  • Citizen Doctor

    How America Could Collapse

    Scarce domestic manufacturing leaves the United States highly vulnerable to accidents and problems abroad.

  • Citizen Doctor

    Kevin Carson has published an excellent paper at the Center for a Stateless society: The Great Domain of Cost-Plus: The Waste Production Economy

  • Citizen Doctor

    Excellent book review by Kevin Carson of Juliet Schor’s new book Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth.

  • Citizen Doctor

    Great documentary on planned obsolescence: The Light Bulb Conspiracy

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