Thursday, March 3, 2016

What Does it Mean to be a Cascadian?

This is a very large question, and one that I do not even pretend to have a full (or perhaps even partial) answer to. I ask it not because I expect anybody to provide an answer, but because it is a question that I feel is crucially important to grapple with as we ponder a future in which industrial civilization and all that goes with it is in decline. Many writers and commentators have discussed re-localization in a variety of ways, and occasionally the idea of revitalizing some aspects of pre-industrial cultures gets some play.

In most parts of the world, including a significant fraction of the United States, there is or was a pre-industrial culture that most of the current inhabitants are descended from. These pre-industrial, indigenous cultures were generally reasonably well adapted to the needs of their geographical place, and while many were not terribly sustainable, they were much closer to sustainable than modern industrial civilization. Discussions about how to adopt a more sustainable way of living, in many regions, therefore have a model (flawed though it may be) of what this more sustainable life might look like.

In Cascadia, on the other hand, the vast majority of the current inhabitants are not descended from the indigenous population. So, although there is (or was) a pre-industrial culture here, most of us have no real connection to it, and I personally think it quite unlikely that this culture will be a usable model for us as we struggle to create a culture that is capable of enduring in this place. Even worse, non-natives did not arrive in this area in significant numbers until after the industrial revolution was in full swing in England and the northeastern United States. As a result, essentially from the beginning of non-native habitation of Cascadia, the region was fully integrated into the industrial civilization, first as a resource colony, and then later as an industrial center in its own right. No non-industrial frontier civilization, such as that found in Appalachia, was ever able to develop here.

What this means to us is that we have essentially nothing to fall back on culturally that has been adapted to our region. This is one of the reasons I feel that the Dark Mountain Project may have something to offer for Cascadians as we contemplate the unraveling of industrial civilization. The Dark Mountain Project is, on one level, about discovering, or rediscovering, what it means to be human and how to have a culture that fits in the context of our particular circumstances. For those of us in places like Cascadia who are effectively cultural orphans, finding the answers to these questions assumes a whole new level of importance.

So: What does it mean to be a Cascadian? And how are we to build a culture that is adapted to Cascadia and not dependent on industrial civilization?

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