We articulated three central tenets of the Low Technology Institute. These are simple concepts but they have profound implications for our everyday lives. Naessi articulated a list of character traits (adapted below) that we hope to cultivate in our society. These are not meant to be rules, but examples of how one might live.
We must support the building of communities instead of societies. The industrial revolution changed many aspects of our daily lives, and while most would credit it with growing our material wealth, fewer recognize the impact it has had on social relations. In 1887, Ferdinand Tönnies noted the development of urban, industrial gesellschaften, or associations, as people left their rural, close-knit gemeinschaften, or communities. While the former are based on common interests, the latter grow out of personal relationships. As we recognize that we are one of many species on this planet, we must also accept that we are part of a community and our actions affect others; no one is an island onto him- or herself. Perhaps we can create a real gemeinschaften in urban areas, but it is likely to be easier in smaller communities where most people know one another. In either case, our focus when interacting with others should be to cultivate community rather than simple transactional association.
Every society around the world has developed a way of life that fits into their surroundings. Each community is an experiment in living, and everyone has something to contribute. Western and American cultures have been exported to many parts of the world where they disrupt well-functioning indigenous lifeways. This causes two problems. First, industrial life is unsustainable for the one-fifth of the world that currently uses it, let alone for all seven billion (and counting) people on the planet. Second, industrial society suppresses alternative ways of life that may hold the key for our survival as a species. Because we will have to reduce our use of fossil fuels, it is the first world that must learn how to survive from the third world and ancient societies.ii One of the best ways to appreciate and understand the similarities and differences among humans is to travel, but we must be careful to travel in a responsible, sustainable way.
We should have concern about how the Third World lives and avoid gross inequalities in our own lives. We do not all need to live the same way. We are not bent on forcing everybody to become a hunter-gatherer. Everybody in the world lives on a spectrum. On one end are those who have minimal infrastructure, possessions, and environmental impact. On the other end are those who live in the extreme opulence of industrial society. The distribution of this spectrum on a graph shows most people living a modest sedentary life while only a few live in an exorbitant fashion. By averaging these lifestyles (or at least removing the extremists at the top) we can ensure that everybody has access to adequate shelter. In the industrialized world, this would require repairing and maintaining existing buildings and only creating new structures out of renewable or permanent materials, such as wood or stone. It means using fuel and other resources at a sustainable level that is averaged across the global community.
We must act resolutely and without cowardice in conflicts, but to remain nonviolent against living organisms, human or otherwise. One thing that sets us apart from those who continue to ignore science and destroy the world is that we value life. In our fight to create a more sustainable world, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we support the right of every living thing to reach its potential, and this means an absolute insistence on non-violent resolutions. We are not advocating pacifism, as a single aggressor can too-easily dominate when he or she has no resistance. Many nonviolent options can be used against aggression, especially when a large majority of the population is committed to nonviolent resistance. Furthermore, aggression tends to stem from an inequality in resources or a drive for status. By working to level resource distribution and awarding social status to positive, prosocial activities, we can change the way people think about “getting ahead.” Furthermore, a distinction can be made between violence and necessary killing: it is not a violent act to eat plants or animals, but the manner of harvest must be careful to avoid inflicting more pain than necessary on animals.
While supporting nonviolence, we can still participate in direct actions when all else fails. Property destruction, especially property that is causing harm to others, is not outside of the bounds of acceptable, nonviolent behavior. Actions must be carefully thought out in order to avoid harming living things either directly or indirectly. In this case, harm refers to endangering somethings chance of survival, not protecting nonessential possessions. Although destruction may appear to be a loss, on the larger scale, it may be for the better. For example, destroying fossil-fuel infrastructure may cause immediate inconvenience, but it contributes to our long-term survival. We can respect life, even when destroying property.
i Naess, Arne. “Deep Ecology and Lifestyle.” In Deep Ecology for the Twenty-First Century, edited by George Sessions, 259–61. Boston: Shambala Publications.
iiWe avoid the terms “developed” and “undeveloped world” because it makes so-called development appear as an aspirational goal of the rest of the world, which it isn’t and shouldn’t be.