Home > Summary


I believe that life has value and so too humanity, that these things should be cared for, and to do so is to search for truth.

Though I could defend this idea, those not already searching for truth cannot be interested in honestly discussing it. For nothing you can say can convince someone to listen.

So I cannot write to persuade, but I can write what I have learned so far on my search in hopes of contributing to the ongoing cooperation of all those that value life.

My purpose in Decentralized Democracy is the description of a sustainable society, feasible from our present situation. It is intended to appear in three volumes: Vol. 1 On Decentralization, Vol. 2 On Democracy, and Vol. 3 On Decisions. Though in the mind we must progress from decisions, to cooperation, to physical actions, in discussion it is often convenient to work in reverse order, as one’s proposed and real actions are often a better measure of one’s politics and ethics than any theoretical discourse.

As some time may be required to complete this work, and it may never be completed, the book itself is decentralized both in time of publication and hopefully authorship (See appendix 1:). So, it seems fitting to summarize here the principal ideas: solar energy, forest gardens, decentralization, and democracy.


To preserve life and humanity will require an organized effort, to one degree or another, between those that share this intention.

Our broad choice of organization is between democracy, where everyone is encouraged to participate in the decision making, and dictatorship, where a small group attempt to make the decisions for everyone.

Defence of Democracy

Though there are plenty of theories about how some form of dictatorship would be very efficient, these theories can only ever work in the imagination.

In practice all “social control” theories must propose that A. the majority of people cannot be trusted to make decisions, B. therefore they must be controlled and C. by a theory about how to manipulate them (presumably for their own good). Without these propositions it is impossible to argue in favour of dictatorship.

But, any such theory, no matter how it is construed, must always hinge on a selection of a minority of “trustable” people, call them the "guardians", who understand ABC and can be entrusted to carry out the theory. However, can this ever be achieved?

It is crucial to ask this question before even considering the details of the theory, i.e. what responsibilities the guardians would have, how they would maintain control, and what other jobs would exist to maintain society. For, if no trustworthy guardians could ever be selected, what they, and everyone else, are supposed to do on paper is completely irrelevant.

So, in order to first choose our guardians we can either select at random or with some criteria and process.

Given that in order to justify the need for guardians we must presume the majority of people are untrustworthy, we cannot select guardians at random, as the likely result would be more untrustworthy people than trustworthy ones. [1]

So, if we cannot select at random, we must select based on some criteria and process designed to identify the trustworthy minority among the untrustworthy majority. However, with little elaboration we must conclude that this is impossible. For, whatever the criteria and process might be, its success must invariably depend on the selection of still yet another group of trustworthy people to carry out the selection, and decide who the deciders will be. But for this “deciding the deciders group” we arrive at the same impasse as for the guardians to begin with, requiring yet another group to decide who these deciders of the deciders will be, but we encounter yet again the same problem for this group, and so on indefinitely.

We are obliged to conclude that a society that is on the whole untrustworthy can never select from among itself a cast of trustworthy people to govern it. And so any society that chooses to invest the majority of power in a few, must always find itself ruled by corrupt and/or incompetent people, until either this ruling cast destroys society or the majority decide upon and achieve another organizational structure, regardless of the opinions of the present rulers. [2].



The only way out of this impasse is to assume that society is in general trustworthy.

Now, this does not prove society is in fact trustworthy. However, just as I, likewise, cannot prove to myself that my own senses and reasoning is trustworthy — since if my reasoning and senses are flawed they are as likely to conclude they are sound as not, and so I simply must trust myself on the whole to make any decision at all — to live within society and strive for any coherent social action at all requires a basic trust in society as a whole. [5]

Though again, this does not mean every single person, institution, or proposal can be trusted, or even usually trustworthy people trusted all the time in everything, [6], it means decisions can be made without impasse, from the everyday risk of walking by someone without assuming they will attack me, to participating in discussions and spreading ideas under the assumption that the best will be retained and used more often than not for good rather than evil, to the idea that everyone should be able to participate in the decisions concerning society.

However, though there is no functional alternative to corrupt despotism, practising democracy is far from simple, made all the more difficult by centralization. For, with the centralization of power, the decision process is far easier to manipulate and far harder for the average person to participate in; since people are far from the decision making process, they can at best be represented by a few representatives; but, when so few are selected to make decisions and their decisions so difficult to observe, we must be in constant vigilance for either the infiltration of untrustworthy people, whom we may assume will be drawn to centralized power as flies to a light, as well as the corruption of previously trustworthy people – for in either case the temptation to abuse power is high and such untrustworthy people in power can often easily modify the centralized political process to remove democracy nearly entirely. [7]

But, regardless of whether centralized democracy could work and whether existing centralized democracies actually are democratic (or to what degree), if democracy were to be decentralized it would likely function far better, as people would be in more immediate contact with who they are deciding with and what they are deciding upon. Considering also that centralization is at the heart of most if not all of our environmental and social problems, as discussed in Vol 1, decentralizing economically would allow a significant reduction in environmental destruction as well as allow a decentralized democracy to flourish.

But to decentralize politically would be difficult to achieve through a centralized government and economic system. Though centralized structures should not be ignored and should be encouraged to support good decisions, and though the idea of centralized government may be at odds with decentralization, we should not presume everyone within centralized government values the power of their institution over the survival of humanity and life as we know it. Nor should these structures be simply eliminated as even in a decentralized society, where the great majority of goods and decisions are made locally, there will still exist some issues that can only be solved through a centralized body – such as watching over nuclear waste and like matters. The important ingredient in a decentralized democracy is that any centralized institution is not more powerful than the local communities that constitute it and allow it to exist in the first place (that any centralized institution can be dissolved at any moment by the communities that support it, without any difficulty or practical means of resistance from the centralized institution in question). And though in some situations physically modifying the centralized economic structures out of decentralized consent may be necessary, every effort should be made to avoid conflict, and if regime change is necessary to depose a tyranny then only the social and material structures of tyranny be destroyed without the intent to kill anyone. For a tyrant, without a social fabric conditioned to carry out their wishes, is only a fool.

But for local political bodies to take on more responsibility, such as for food, energy, and living arrangement, requires autonomy in these areas. For, if a community depends on a centralized economic process for vital needs, then the community must abdicate political responsibility to an equally centralized political body that can manage these processes, and forthwith be at the mercy of them insofar as this is the case.

Comparative autonomy

Though modern economic theory largely assumes increases in specialization and globalization will increase efficiency due to the principle of comparative advantage, we should note that this conclusion is only valid when costs of transportation and dependence are ignored – conditions that exist while fossil fuels are essentially free, allowing both easy transportation and immense military power to those countries that control the resource (and thus the illusion of free transportation and independence).

However, if we consider transportation and dependence then we arrive at the principle of comparative autonomy, where increases in potential autonomy decreases transportation costs of energy, material and increases independence. From a position of sufficient potential autonomy a person or community will naturally not spend more in transportation to move an object than the object is worth – meaning if the object can be made locally with the same or less energy and material as would be used to both manufacture and transport the object as well as maintain the transportation infrastructure for the volumes in question, a community that has this autonomous potential (skills and tools required) will naturally choose to fabricate the object in question locally. And so, a network of communities that have a high comparative autonomy will naturally only transport objects when it is actually reasonable to do so.

Though we can measure comparative autonomy in how long a community could survive if cut off from the broader society, such a community can still participate in trades on a daily basis, only without risking their existence to collapse of the supply line, manipulation, monopolies (as monopolies can only exist when people have no local alternative, as in little comparative autonomy), or becoming trapped in a system that destroys the entire ecosystem while requiring more work to maintain than a comparatively autonomous life style. [8]

Though there are other political and economic principles that can help to practice democracy, it is perhaps prudent to investigate whether a sustainable life style can exist before discussing its organization in detail, for democracy is not a goal in itself, but a means to reduce unnecessary conflict to a minimum in pursuit of a common purpose.


Decentralization is the attempt to live as close to the things we need as possible, for those things, such as air, water sunlight and the concomitant ecosystem we depend, are already in a decentralized state of affairs.


This significantly reduces the energy and structures used to move things the long distances required for centralizing these needs for some sort of needless transformation (aka production), but also puts us into close contact with where those things come from in the first place, allowing informed and update interaction with them. Of the structures and activity that would still be required in a decentralized society, we can construct these, if not as part of the ecosystem, at least in a way that allows nature to function around our presence. [10]

Not only can a decentralized society have far less impact on nature to the point of ceasing the current mass extinction of life [11], but it is far less susceptible to catastrophic collapse due to things like peak oil, soil and water depletion or systemic cascade failure.

Half way to sustainability is mostly a matter of not-doing things: such as not-cutting down the forests, not-polluting and wasting water, not-building needless giant roads and infrastructure, not-creating needless needs, and not-fighting nature in growing food by trying to destroy all other life in the area.

However, the other half of sustainability is living in some other way.

We can begin by noting that before the discovery of coal, most communities on the planet were nearly entirely self sufficient. However, though there is much to be learned from pre-industrial methods, simply going back to them cannot form a complete solution. Though centralized industry is the most wasteful enterprise humans have embarked upon, it is entirely possible that essentially all pre-industrial agricultural systems were also unsustainable due to land erosion, only less so [12]. We must also note that pre-industrial agriculture relied on a significant store of top soil, healthy rivers and lakes, a bountiful ocean, and primary forests relatively close by to chop down for fuel, material and then to expand the farm base with virgin soil. These conditions of pre-industrial agriculture no longer exist and so we should not expect to return to this system.

So we might delve even farther back into time to nomadic hunter gathering. However, not only do we on the whole lack the skills to return to nomadic hunter gathering, but it is unlikely that the ecosystems can support us as hunter gatherers, especially if we would continue to rely on fuel wood.

However, there is a compromise between sedentary agriculture and nomadic hunter gathering, which is the forest garden. The principle of the forest garden is to guide with minimal effort the indigenous ecosystem to produce more useful things (for us) than normal, such as fruits, vegetables, medicinal plants, and building material. Trees have far greater root depth and so far greater access to water and nutrients than seasonal crops, as well as more leaves to capture light, making trees far more drought resistant and able to produce far more biomass, all of which can be useful directly or indirectly. There is also no need to turn over the soil nor protect the tree every year through a fragile sprouting period, as the tree lives on from season to season.

Though it is sometimes claimed that intensive agriculture and tree farming produces more biomass than natural forests and ecosystems, (if this is true <) this greater production is through massive soil erosion and petro-chemicals, neither of which is sustainable.

To reduce impact further, houses can be built on stilts and/or hung from trees. Animals can be left largely alone to go about their important ecological roles, though some hunting can be sustainable.

The only piece of the puzzle that presents a technical difficulty is in providing exosomatic energy. Exosomatic energy is the energy we use outside of our own bodies, such as burning fossil fuels or damning a river. In a decentralized society the only traditional method of accessing, in most locations, exosomatic energy is by burning trees, but it is the trees that are of fundamental importance for natural ecosystems and the whole decentralized system.

Tree burning puts our desire to use more exosomatic energy, such as for melting metal and making plaster, in direct conflict with nature and our own long term survival. Without incredible discipline and foresight we quickly fall into the short term trap of annual crops and tree farms; since fruiting trees may take years to mature and start baring fruit, the quickest short term solution to maximize both edibles and fuel-wood is to plant annual crops and fast growing trees for fuel.

Though, it is important to study the question of how much wood can be burned sustainably in an area, and whether it’s possible to live by burning less wood, ideally, an alternative to burning wood could be found.

Direct Solar Energy

All actions such as writing must begin with the ethic of its author. How a person makes decisions, and what decisions they actually make, reflects their ethic. But what ethic is good to follow?

Though there is wide disagreement on this point, I must note that to embark on any decision at all I must assume I am at the least capable of making a good decision; I must trust myself to some degree. For, if I had no trust in myself on the whole, I could not trust anything I might decide or think; indeed, I could not even trust my distrust of myself.

Likewise, in order to presume that my decisions could be good and be valuable in whatever the true scale of value is, I cannot avoid but equally assuming that I must then have value. For, if I had no value I could not possibly produce a valuable decision.

And since I can conclude nothing else at this point other than that I am alive seen as I am deliberating on the subject, I must equally conclude that life has value. For if life had no value then everything within it would have no value, including myself; but I cannot presume I have no value. For, if I did so I would have to conclude that this very decision that I have no value itself has no value.

If I presume life has value then it would be contradictory to destroy it.

So, though I may begin by knowing nothing of what I should do and how I should live the only possible coherent answer to this question is that at the very least I should not intentionally carry out the destruction of life.

Likewise, if I assume my life has value, then it is valuable to live. I cannot wish that previous generations attempted to carry out the destruction of life, and so it would be contradictory to try to carry out the destruction of life for future generations.

I must value and trust life and humanity on the whole to value and trust myself on the whole. Everything I think may not be true, but I must trust that I have enough truth to find my own falsehoods more often than not. Likewise, everything humanity does may not be good, but I must trust that there is more good than bad to live within society.

Though there may be further things I should do, I must assume that at the least the are compatible with the continuation of life. And since I know at least this, I can first make sure that I contribute to the continuation of life, before considering what else might be good to do.

Direct proof for democracy
To be effective in this intention I must strive to cooperate with as many people as possible, directly or indirectly, who have the same intention and can be trusted to carry it out on the whole. If I conclude that I must trust myself more than I distrust myself – for if I distrust myself on the whole I must distrust even my distrust of myself – based on no other knowledge than the fact that I am alive, then I must trust on the whole everyone alive, for they are in the same condition. Though this does not mean I must trust everyone in everything, just as I need not trust myself in everything (only trust myself enough to be capable of realizing my errors and progressing, rather than distrust myself to the point where I must believe my errors will simply multiply without limit), certain things can be inferred, such as living in society in the first place (if I distrusted society on the whole, it would be inconsistent to live within it).

Non-democracy non-functional
What is more, if we were to presume that the majority of people have no value and must have decisions made for them if not be controlled completely, there is no possible political system that can function. For, any such system would require a selection of the valuable minority from the non-valuable majority. We cannot select at random, as the probable result would be more non-valuable people than valuable. But, any other selection method, whatever it may be, would have to be ultimately carried out by still yet another group, and again in attempting to select this decider group the same impasse is met of both random selection and any other method requiring still yet another group. And simply selecting oneself is also unworkable as one is likely to also be a non-valuable member of society, if the majority is not valuable, and if one has in fact no value one is likely err in assuming oneself is valuable, though is not; one cannot decide whether oneself is actually valuable and capable of realizing the fact or whether one is actually has no value and as such incapable of realizing the fact, and no exterior confirmation can be taken from some other person as they are likely to have no value nor from one’s position in the social structure as a social structure built by a majority of non-valuable people is also likely to have no value (and if one does have no value, then one is likely to misinterpret any other individuals opinion as well as the social structure in general); and so if the majority is not-valuable one must conclude one likely resides with the majority.

And indeed, history shows us all attempts to create an undemocratic society necessitating proposing some method of selecting the valuable minority and none.

Though much more could be said about this ethic and democracy, whether they are justified and how they can be applied, at this stage the technical feasibility of living in a way that is not destructive of nature seems more relevant than the metaphysical and epistemological details of the above ethic and organizational details of a true democracy. For, if there was no concrete way of living sustainably then this ethic and democracy would be placed in an inescapable dilemma. Only once we are confident of a sustainable way to physically live exists (Vol 1), should delve into the details of a feasible way to cooperate in such living (Vol 2), and then finally can spare the time for hair splitting (Vol 3).

The sustainability of our society is a product of our life style and numbers.

Reducing society’s numbers, often proposed under the euphemism “depopulation”, is murder if it is not absolutely necessary. For destruction of life can only be justified if it is absolutely necessary in order to preserve life in general. So, to assume that the destruction of some part of society is necessary, we must first have made every effort to change lifestyles in a way that accommodates more people. Only once we can confidently claim all other possibilities have been attempted can a destruction of part of society be considered. And of course anyone that proposes such a plan without volunteering for the project must be suspected of ulterior motives – attempting to preserve a wasteful lifestyle at the expense of others for instance. Now, such a depopulationist may still argue that humanity is incompetent will not attempt any alternative life style and so must be in large part destroyed, but such a proposition encounters the same contradiction as any non-democratic political system: that is if we assume humanity is in general incompetent, any randomly selected group, including the case of selecting oneself, to decide who is to live and who is to die, is likely to be equally incompetent as humanity, and any method to select such a committee would have to be carried out by still yet another committee that who’s competence is no more assured, and indeed adding any number of committees would not resolve this problem.

Thus, the only way to avoid this problem is to assume humanity is in general competent, capable of making good decisions, and capable of changing lifestyles to avoid collapsing the ecosystems on which we depend or needing to destroy a large part of our ourselves. But if this is true we must first explain how, if society is on the whole competent, we came to the situation of relentlessly destroying the ecological systems on which we depend, or we will be faced with an irresolvable dilemma. Next, we must be confident that it is physically possible stop this destructive life style and create a sustainable one.

Direct Solar Energy

The answer to both these questions lies in energy. The history of humanity’s energy use is one of ever increasing us of naturally concentrated energy sources. Fruits, hunting of large game, burning wood, domestication of animals, agriculture, damning of rivers, fossil fuels, and nuclear power, are all examples of diverting increasing degrees of concentrated energy found in nature for our own uses. As long as there always seems far more of these stores of energy around it seemed a sustainable practice.

What is more, the existence of these highly concentrated stores of energy allowed a minority of people to dominate a majority. And lastly, the society that results from the exploitation of concentrated stores of energy quickly becomes dependent on a continued flow of such concentrated stores. And so, despite the competence of a majority of members, any society that starts extracting concentrated stores of energy is liable to be dominated by a small minority and continue to extract concentrated stores of energy until they are exhausted and this society in question collapses. And indeed, every example of such societies, which historians call civilizations, have collapsed or are now approaching collapse.

Currently the world is dominated by western civilization that is entirely dependent on fossil fuels, a highly concentrated store of energy. When these fossil fuels begin to exhaust, the western lifestyle will collapse.

Our physical needs are clean air, water, food, shelter, and exosomatic energy. Of these needs, rendering the first 4 sustainable is largely a question of not-doing. Not polluting the air, water and our food, not extracting far more resources than necessary from nature to build impractical shelters. Not eating too much meat or too much fish. Not using potable water as a sink for human excrement. Though not-doing these things requires learning new ways, these new ways are for the most part extremely old ways and plenty of practical examples and development exist now.

The only exception to this general rule is exosomatic energy. This is the energy we use outside our own body power, such as lighting a fire or riding a horse. In this area, the traditional exosomatic energy of lighting fires and domesticated animals is not very sustainable, as felling large numbers of trees and clearing land for pasture have both profound impacts on the ecosystem. Though at small enough scales anything is sustainable, humans are now far too numerous and have far too many uses of exosomatic energy to return to traditional systems of exosomatic energy. The use of modern exosomatic energy of fossil fuels, large damns, nuclear power, and mega-windmills are the direct cause of much of our environmental problem and are completely unsustainable. Fossil fuels is for all intents and purposes finite and will start to decline in production in the short future, and the construction large damns, nuclear reactors and mega-windmills depends directly on fossil fuels as well as on the centralization and globalization made possible by fossil fuels.

Though most recent studies conclude more deforestation is caused by logging than by burning wood, which suggests that if we stopped logging we could burn far more biomass, these studies generally greatly underestimate the impact of both logging and burning wood. What is more, current firewood use on a global scale is largely for domestic purposes, to return to firewood for, even decentralized, industrial purposes, such as metal working, would not only be extremely destructive in itself but it would also significantly reduce the area of ecosystem we can get our food. To give an idea of the difference of scale, currently one third of the grain harvest of the united states is converted into bio-fuels, but this can only be used to drive a small number of cars (much less maintain the road system, required, among other things, to produce the bio-fuels).

Though we can image humanity going without personal vehicles, there are plenty of uses of exosomatic energy such as pottery, plaster baking, and metal working, that would be far more difficult to go without even in a decentralized system. Converting even a small fraction of industrial processes to biomass, even to decentralized artisan system, is simply impossible as there is not enough biomass. What is more, domestic uses of exosomatic energy to cook and to keep warm though can be argued to be maybe sustainable at a global scale would still significantly impact the ecosystems we depend on.

Though it is useful to investigate the least wasteful and most sustainable methods of using biomass, it would be far better, especially on a global scale, to have a far more sustainable alternative to biomass for exosomatic energy.

In searching for this alternative a key indication is that bio-energy is simply a solar technology, photosynthesis takes the energy of the sun and converts it to bio-chemical energy forming the basis of all the ecosystems we depend on. Viewed as the basis of life as we know it, trees energy is a very efficient process. Viewed as a source of energy for our discretionary purposes, tree energy is a very inefficient technology, as the tree uses this energy to grow, defend itself, feed symbiotic organisms, and in general support the ecosystem that the tree depends on. What is more, if it is too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry the tree will do little, if any, photosynthesis at all. Finally, we must spend energy to cut and transport the lumber (and to maintain the transportation infrastructure), spend effort to manage to the wood until dry, and rarely do we even burn the wood efficiently.

Of the original solar energy that hit the tree, we actually recover less than 1 percent when we burn it, and this at a significant ecological cost since trees are the basis of most of our ecosystems. For these two reasons, tree burning, or any other exosomatic energy use of biomass, is a very inefficient technology.

So, if we could find another solar technology that is far more efficient, the land we must occupy for our exosomatic energy uses would be far less. If our technology was 50 % efficient it stands to reason we would need 50 times less land to accomplish the same thing compared to burning the solar energy in trees at 1 % efficiency. So, there is great potential to significantly improve on traditional decentralized systems, by significantly decreasing the land occupied for exosomatic energy. Not only is this beneficial in itself, but in the event of a decline in the production of light crude oil there would exist an alternative to even more destructive fossil fuels, such as heavy sand oils and coal. And if our we find a technology that can be built and maintained locally, then in the event the global economic system currently based on cheap light crude oil collapses there would be an alternative to a massive culling of trees, either to burn directly of to try to grow bio-fuels.

Of the alternative solar technologies to bio-energy that exist some are direct and some are indirect (only geothermal, nuclear and tidal energy are not solar technologies, and of these geothermal and tidal energy can only be used at some locations and nuclear energy is unfeasible for many reasons see Appendix). The indirect solar technologies of hydro power and wind, both share the characteristics of bio-energy in that little of the original solar energy can be recovered and, especially damning rivers, the impact on nature is amplified by blocking a critical natural process. Wind has less impact on nature, but no locally built windmill could provide for local exosomatic energy uses, and any non-locally built mega-windmill, as well as mega-damn, depends on the current fossil fuels economy to be built, installed, and furnished with replacement parts. Both technologies on a small scale could of course play a role in a sustainable society, especially for kinetic energy and electricity, but could apart nor together form the exosomatic base of society which is mostly heat requirements – i.e. it makes sense to power a light with a small windmill or water mill but it makes no sense to heat a house, water and cook with electricity from a small, or even large, windmill or watermill, much less work metal, produce plaster, ceramics etc.

The direct solar technologies that currently exist are photo-voltaic and solar concentration. For photo-voltaic, the material and energy required to produce a photo-voltaic panel and the associated electronics, invariably leads us to the same conclusion as for wind and hydro, it makes sense for lights and electronics but no sense to heat a home, heat water, cook, much less work metal or produce plaster etc. Not only do these thermal uses of exosomatic energy represent far more energy than electricity is currently used for, but they are much closer to actual needs: we need exosomatic energy to cook and stay warm to survive in most climates, and working metal is extremely useful, whereas we can easily live without electricity without facing almost certain death.

By process of elimination we arrive at solar concentration, so we hope that this will work else we must go back to the drawing room. At first glance, not only does solar concentration require far less energy to produce than photo-voltaic panels, but a solar concentrator produces thermal energy directly meaning no intermediate electronic system (wires, regulators, batteries, fuses, appliances etc.) is required for thermal uses, which represent real needs and the majority of exosomatic energy actually used. A material can be placed directly in the focal point and will heat up. Furthermore, a solar concentrator can be built and maintained locally. The basic components are a reflective surface aluminum bonded to glass forms a mirror and a structure which can be made of a combination of steel, bamboo, and wood.


copyright 2006 - 2020 Eerik Wissenz