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The Lego Set of Civilization
March 28, 2011 11:28 AM   Subscribe

Let's say just for a moment that you were ready to cash out. Quit your job. Sell your house. Take you and yours out of the rat race with a few hundred of your friends and family and relocate onto arable land. What tools would you need to sustain a livable—maybe even comfortable—lifestyle? Open Source Ecology suggests you start with ~2.6 million dollars and these | fifty | machines (← watch this first), collectively referred to as the Global Village Construction Set.
posted by carsonb (48 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite

 
"You have died of dysentery".

sorry
posted by Old'n'Busted at 11:38 AM on March 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


collectively referred to as the Global Village Construction Set

...but referred to in my head as the GECK.
posted by saturday_morning at 11:39 AM on March 28, 2011 [18 favorites]


Isn't minecraft the simulator?
posted by LD Feral at 11:40 AM on March 28, 2011


Hah, I have yet to play Minecraft for fear of never leaving home again, but from what I gather yeah this is sort of like a real-life Minecraft set-up.
posted by carsonb at 11:42 AM on March 28, 2011


So sort of a 'Back To The Land 2.0' without all that funky Hippy Survivalism ... There seem to be some excellent ideas, but it all makes me twitchy.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:45 AM on March 28, 2011


wait, it's funky Hippy Survivalism again ? I thought it was right wing conservative Jesus freaks get ready for apocalypse survivalism ?

Regardless, these folks have interesting information regardless of whether TSHTF..
posted by k5.user at 11:52 AM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wonder how much inspiration/ideas they've gotten from the folks at The Farm, who've been doing this for about 40 years now. Pretty sure they didn't start w/ 2.6 mill. Of course, they also all got hepatitis at one point.
posted by emjaybee at 11:57 AM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's either apocalypse survivalism or hippie survivalism (whatever that even is). It's more like "let's don't tell poor rural farmers they need to buy equipment from John Deere or whoever, let's teach them how to make some of these things for themselves." Customizable and Free like Linux, but for farmers.
posted by DU at 11:58 AM on March 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


It looks like welders are the programmers of the future...
posted by Lone_Wolf at 12:01 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I dig it. Not only is it some good outside the box thinking and re-invention of basic tools, but it's like hippie survivalism without the technophobia.

Give me two of each and an M-class planet and a starship and about a thousand hearty volunteers.
posted by loquacious at 12:01 PM on March 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


How far can a village get without trade? Obviously no high tech items can be produced, but how "high" can you reasonably go? Amish aren't a god reference point since they both trade and place ideological restrictions on what technologies they can produce.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:04 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Obviously no high tech items can be produced,

I beg to differ.
posted by carsonb at 12:07 PM on March 28, 2011


Without going into "survivalism" mode I can tell you honestly that if I had the cash I'd jump at something like this in a heartbeat. I don't want to isolate myself from society, but I also want to pull back a bit from it. There is much I think can be done better with our building and infrastructure and energy sources, and if society in general is not going to do it, I want to do it for myself. I am tired of bitching about it and as the saying goes, I want to be the change I want to see in others.

Honest to god there is no reason in rural mid-west (or rural anywhere really) why we should be building the same type of resource hungry houses that we do. For pretty much the same cost and a little forethought you can build a house that would need a fraction of the cost of heating and cooling, you could grow a portion of your own food year round with a decent passive solar designed home.

I think dismissing it as survivalism is too flippant. many people who desire this sort of thing do not want to become hermits or have nothing to do with anyone else, they want to spark a change in how we do things. If more people would stop whinging on about how awful "XYZ" is and took concrete steps, such as this, to actual change it... it would be a revolution. I am not "anti-government" by any stretch of the imagination but as important as good government is, it starts with the people. And if we are hidebound and lazy and traditionalist in our thinking then so will be our government and that is what will be our downfall.
posted by edgeways at 12:12 PM on March 28, 2011 [18 favorites]


2.599 to go
posted by francesca too at 12:13 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interesting, I see nickel-iron batteries on the chart. Given their specific goals, it's a smart choice.
posted by adipocere at 12:21 PM on March 28, 2011


What's lame about wanting to be able to build and invent your own tools, some of which are arguably better designed, more easily repaired and at less cost than the off the shelf versions?

This would make sense if farm equipment was like software. Hey you have an $2000 commodity server and you're putting Windows 2008 ($640) and SQL Server ($7,500)? The cost for each additional copy of the software is $0 to Microsoft, but the markup on the server is probably 50%. So you're paying more paying multiple times more on something that you can go with Linux + mySql and get probably similar results.

You're not buying a John Deere tractor and then paying a till attachment license fee (which ends up being a dongle to hook up the tractor). You're not paying $7,500 for the ability to use up to two John Deere approved attachments with your John Deere tractor.

John Deere has markup, sure, you can buy a tractor and all the accessories listed for well under $2.6, well under $1mil, probably well under $500k. If you could make it for cheaper than that you might as well start competing with John Deere as they don't have a monopoly on tractors or tractor attachments or backhoes, etc.

I mean I'm all for the idea of DIY factories and such, I think it is cool, but let's not act like this is software, it is not. You can hook up any attachment to your tractor you want to, you can put a new engine in, you can replace the seat and you don't have to go to Microsoft or Oracle or pay license fees because now you want someone else to ride along in the tractor with you.
posted by geoff. at 12:27 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Without going into "survivalism" mode I can tell you honestly that if I had the cash I'd jump at something like this in a heartbeat. I don't want to isolate myself from society, but I also want to pull back a bit from it. There is much I think can be done better with our building and infrastructure and energy sources, and if society in general is not going to do it, I want to do it for myself. I am tired of bitching about it and as the saying goes, I want to be the change I want to see in others.

Honest to god there is no reason in rural mid-west (or rural anywhere really) why we should be building the same type of resource hungry houses that we do. For pretty much the same cost and a little forethought you can build a house that would need a fraction of the cost of heating and cooling, you could grow a portion of your own food year round with a decent passive solar designed home.

I think dismissing it as survivalism is too flippant. many people who desire this sort of thing do not want to become hermits or have nothing to do with anyone else, they want to spark a change in how we do things. If more people would stop whinging on about how awful "XYZ" is and took concrete steps, such as this, to actual change it... it would be a revolution. I am not "anti-government" by any stretch of the imagination but as important as good government is, it starts with the people. And if we are hidebound and lazy and traditionalist in our thinking then so will be our government and that is what will be our downfall.
This is tremendously important.

Speaking only for myself, I think the biggest barrier to real change in the United States is a kind of society-wide learned helplessness, affecting the vast majority of the population. If you're rich, this theory doesn't apply to you: this is because society is largely arranged to cater to your needs.

People are furious. They feel, with substantial justification, that the game is rigged. In fact, they can see that the game is rigged. They know they're going to lose when they deal with companies and governments. But, crucially, almost everyone feels like there is, literally, nothing they can do to change the outcome.

We all know the narratives:
  • Political action is well-meaning but futile: big companies have already determined who's going to win, and nothing an individual does is going to matter.
  • Environmental activism is well-meaning but futile: big companies are going to buy the laws that suit them, and when something like Deepwater Horizon happens, they're going to get away with it, because nothing an individual does (whether it's boycotting or protesting) is going to matter.
  • Food activism is well-meaning but futile: big companies control the entire supply chain, and nothing an individual does...
You get the idea. It boils down to "go ahead and have your fun with your "values" and your "ethics" and so forth, but nothing you do is going to change the outcome".

We have all been told this for decades, if not a century or more. It is the conventional wisdom. And, at every single step, it functions with a single purpose: to maintain the status quo, which is a society that benefits the very rich.. The very rich, of course, are the only people who can afford to own or run the large corporations that control the levers of government, the media, and so forth.

Now that I've stated the blindingly obvious, I guess I can come back around to my point, which is that the Open Source Ecology project demonstrates, concretely, the hollowness of The Conventional Wisdom. It's nuts and bolts and actual, real people doing actual, real things that fly right in the face of the "why bother" mindset.

People like villages, inherently. We gravitate towards small, heavily connected communities, no matter what culture we come from. The "problem" is that villages aren't profitable on the scale that corporations operate, so we get a narrative that, no, actually, humans like great big communities. Here, let us sell you one, full of tract homes: it even has a mall! And we accept it, because we just know that what we do and think doesn't count. Doesn't matter if it's not what we want: it's what we got, and it's not like anything we do will matter a tinker's damn in the short or long run. And we wind up in a tract home in a subdivision, because the game is rigged.

Oy, TL;DR. Lemme sum up.

I have faith in this thing: people know that something is wrong with the way we live right now. We just know it, in our bones. And Open Source Ecology works for us. For lack of a better way to put it, it feels righter and works betterer. It ain't perfect, by a long shot. It'll take a bunch of iterations to get anywhere close to perfect.

But, by God, I'll take this over "why bother" any day of the week, and twice on Sundays.
posted by scrump at 12:54 PM on March 28, 2011 [49 favorites]


The $2.6 million figure is what they estimate they'll need to design, prototype, and test the first versions of the tools they want to build.
The cost of production for those who follow in their footsteps would, by their account, be much less. They claim that their open source versions of equipment would average 1/8 the cost of commercially available counterparts.
posted by brshute at 12:59 PM on March 28, 2011


Speaking only for myself, I think the biggest barrier to real change in the United States is a kind of society-wide learned helplessness

Or that people already made this choice, and chose (and continue to choose) not to be farmers. Farming is dirty, hard and risky. You're at the mercy of the weather and if you raise animals you're responsible for their welfare 365 days a year.

Plenty of people enjoy growing their own food, but it's pretty clear that most people enjoy it as a hobby, not as a way of life.
posted by electroboy at 1:06 PM on March 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


The cost of production for those who follow in their footsteps would, by their account, be much less.

Cost Comparison
posted by symbollocks at 1:07 PM on March 28, 2011


And then for all your hard work and sacrifice, you get to spend all your time around the same 100 people or so who you're now thoroughly bored and annoyed with. You live over an hour's drive from the nearest decent bar, coffee shop, or concert venue.

Suddenly, city life doesn't seem so bad.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:15 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Or that people already made this choice, and chose (and continue to choose) not to be farmers. Farming is dirty, hard and risky. You're at the mercy of the weather and if you raise animals you're responsible for their welfare 365 days a year.

Plenty of people enjoy growing their own food, but it's pretty clear that most people enjoy it as a hobby, not as a way of life.
Again, we're into Narrative here.

Farming, if you lack access to expensive large-scale agriculture technology that makes it easier, is dirty, hard and risky.

What if that technology were no longer expensive? What if that technology were no longer the province of large-scale agribusiness?

Large-scale agribusiness isn't all about drugs or maltreating animals: even if you remove the drugs and the efficiencies gained by treating food animals badly, you still get a hell of a lot of gain simply from automation.

Yes, farming is hard work. But, right now, being a small farmer means you are subject to all sorts of additional burdens because you are small, and those additional burdens make up a large part of the "dirty, hard and risky".

What happens when that additional opportunity cost is eliminated? It gets a lot less dirty, hard and risky to be a farmer.
posted by scrump at 1:18 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Let's say just for a moment that you were ready to cash out. Quit your job. Sell your house. Take you and yours out of the rat race with a few hundred of your friends and family and relocate onto arable land.

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:18 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I dig it. Not only is it some good outside the box thinking and re-invention of basic tools, but it's like hippie survivalism without the technophobia.

Give me two of each and an M-class planet and a starship and about a thousand hearty volunteers.
posted by loquacious at 3:01 PM on March 28


Amen.
posted by lazaruslong at 1:21 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Give me two of each and an M-class planet and a starship and about a thousand hearty volunteers.
posted by loquacious at 3:01 PM on March 28
Amen.
posted by lazaruslong at 1:21 PM on March 28 [+] [!] No other comments.
We see what you did there.
posted by scrump at 1:23 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


What if that technology were no longer expensive? What if that technology were no longer the province of large-scale agribusiness?

I ask myself the same thing about luxury ocean liners.
posted by electroboy at 1:24 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Amen.

Oh, and no fucking Cylons, ok?
posted by loquacious at 1:29 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


This month we have learned from Carl Sagan that we did not learn from Carl Sagan.

9 billion. 99% in cardboard boxes eating ramen. 1% in condos. The 99% look up, then at each other.

We now return control of your television set to you, until next week at this same time when the Control voice will take you to The Outer Limits.
posted by Twang at 1:40 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


What excited me most was the brick making machine. Screw farming, I'd just be punching out bricks all day and building myself a motherfucking castle!
posted by fatbird at 2:06 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


People like villages, inherently. We gravitate towards small, heavily connected communities, no matter what culture we come from. The "problem" is that villages aren't profitable on the scale that corporations operate, so we get a narrative that, no, actually, humans like great big communities.

Wikipedia has >200 entries for ancient cities, which suggests to me that historically a lot of people gravitate towards large, loosely connected communities as well or they wouldn't have existed in preindustrial societies. Equally, businesses that are not labor or resource-intensive, and which thus have reduced needs for plant or infrastructure - software engineering, for example - ought to be disproportionately dispersed throughout villages and small towns if your theory were correct.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:21 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


So uh, where's all the metal that you are going to need to keep things going?
posted by aspo at 2:38 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


scrump:
Again, we're into Narrative here.

Farming, if you lack access to expensive large-scale agriculture technology that makes it easier, is dirty, hard and risky.


My relatives who farm have quite nice agriculture technology (certainly as nice or nicer than what was shown here) and while they do fairly well for themselves they would certainly tell you that their jobs are dirty, hard, and risky.

Until machines autonomously farm, you will always get far dirtier than any white collar profession. Don't forget that the machinery itself needs repair and maintenance that will leave oil and grease on you for days, even after scrubbing. Long days start early in the morning and often times there are tasks that *have* to get done no matter how sick you might be or how late you were up last night birthing animals. And it will always have risk due to environmental factors you can't control.

I'm not saying it's a bad lifestyle choice, but it's not as easy as many white collar workers who long to escape the cube farm romanticize it to be. Of the three uncles who farm and have children, none of them have encouraged their offspring to take over the practice.
posted by Candleman at 2:38 PM on March 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


Farming, if you lack access to expensive large-scale agriculture technology that makes it easier, is dirty, hard and risky.

You have weather control machines and you aren't sharing with the rest us? Shame on you.
posted by aspo at 2:39 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


CarsonB - no high-tech items can be produced from first principles without trade because there is nowhere on earth with all the necessary resources in one place. At the village-size of production, trade is necessary to obtain the feedstock to produce high tech. There is no way way around that.

My question was how far can you go before that starts seriously encroaching on you.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:47 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


And then for all your hard work and sacrifice, you get to spend all your time around the same 100 people or so who you're now thoroughly bored and annoyed with. You live over an hour's drive from the nearest decent bar, coffee shop, or concert venue.

If funded I could do what they are doing and be within ~1/2 hour of bars, coffee shops and concert venues. Not as big venues as New York, but big enough. This isn't some weird isolationist dream, it is decentralizing a little. Not everyone has to be a farmer... but there should be more farmers.

In the summer here, in Northern MN I can pay a CSA $360 and have so many vegetables that 4 people had a hard time keeping up with it all, for 4 months. I can also pay to have fresh chickens, eggs and turkeys and winter vegetables. Here in Northern MN I can go to literally any grocery store in the city and buy fresh tomatoes grown locally any time of the year, that cost the same as those that are shipped in from California or Mexico. If we can do that here, you can do it almost anywhere else.

Yes, I still go to the grocery store and buy citrus, and fresh veggies in the winter. And that is the benefit of the infrastructure we do have. It does provide some real and great benefits. The problem comes when we over-apply that benefits to everything.
You don't have to be a farmer, you can support one however. You don't have to personally build that house that cut 80% of heating costs, but that is the house you could buy. If those Mcmansions built as 3rd or 4th tier suburbs where not built as a suburb but as small towns, and the homes stopped being so insufferably wasteful in size and construction techniques. You don't have to do the hard work if you are unfit or disinclined, but you can make important choices anyway. or... you know just do the same thing over and over and expect hings to change.
posted by edgeways at 3:08 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


OK, this entire article is misframed.

With $2.5M, I'm not going to build my own construction equipment and build a self-sustaining community. No one else is, either... because of the 10-30 lifetimes of labor required to build those DIY machines from the ground up.

IF I want to build all my shit from now on (IF!), I'm going to buy a used tractor (not build one!). It's a greener choice (reuse & recycle, yo). It's likely cheaper (assuming a labor cost above zero). It's certainly easier to scrounge parts for - many of which can still be made at home (just ask my neighbor, or any other poor farmer with decent set of tools, a grinder, and an arc welder).

That being said, there's a lot of cool things here. That collection of things is not what will be used to survive the upcoming zombiepocalypse, fall of civilization, nor megarecession. But they're cool ideas for DIYers who get a woody making it themselves.
posted by IAmBroom at 4:41 PM on March 28, 2011


And, I misspoke. The Mefi post is misframed; the article is fairly clear that the mission is to produce modern manufacturing technologies that can be made and maintained in a third-world setting. It has zero to do with rich hippies living off the grid (at least in intent).

From that POV, their cause is quite noble. If there's not a supply of old tractors rusting in delapidated barns across the countryside (as there is in PA), one can't recycle them.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:39 PM on March 28, 2011


Farming, if you lack access to expensive large-scale agriculture technology that makes it easier, is dirty, hard and risky.

scrump, you've never farmed, clearly.

Farming is still one of the most dangerous professions. Lost eyes or limbs are not uncommon - any of your coworkers ever lose a hand in the copy machine?

And tilling the soil is - amazingly enough - dirty work, no matter what machine you own.

Given time windows for optimal planting and harvest, and the risk of Spring rains or Fall frost ruining the effort, it is not uncommon for those activities to require 12-to-20+ hour workdays.

Farming, regardless of your access to technology, is dirty, hard and risky.



aspo: So uh, where's all the metal that you are going to need to keep things going?

That would be here. These guys are really thinking ahead.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:50 PM on March 28, 2011


So uh, where's all the metal that you are going to need to keep things going?

If my memory of 80s movies serves, you don't need much metal to refurbish old equipment and save the farm. 2 1/2, 3 minutes of it will do.
posted by condour75 at 7:44 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've done my time in the fields since about the time I could walk, and I've spent years providing EMS support to farming communities. I've baled from can to can't, built barns, milked, mucked out and damn near everything in between. I have yet to see anyone lose a hand in a copy machine, true. Which is a nice change from the combine injuries on which I've personally worked.

This may surprise you, but it is in fact possible for someone to both have experience and a different opinion than other people with the same experience.
posted by scrump at 9:02 PM on March 28, 2011


I was around to see assorted cimmunes back in the late 60's and 70's. Yeah, that's why I am not ready to jump all over this idea.
In some of the communes women did most of the work. There were a lot of unmotivated males present in some of these places.
Others got fairly autocratic.
Money problems broke a lot if collective arrangements, jealousy, power struggles and so forth.
Having the technology is great, being realistic that it's going to čist money is great, but leaving out the human element could be a huge mistake.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 1:09 AM on March 29, 2011


Of course farming is hard and risky work. It is also absolutely necessary work. Someone has to do it and in the event of a major break down in infrastructure or an economic collapse, these tools are the building blocks for a decentralized infrastructure that could replace the current one.

Building resilient communities is not an escapist venture, it is more based upon survival and security.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 1:26 AM on March 29, 2011


Of course farming is hard and risky work. It is also absolutely necessary work. Someone has to do it

Nah, Robots will are doing it:

Srsly:

Lettuce
Tomatoes
Strawberries
Milk

It's a start.

Cue: Luddites, anti-automation advocates, terminator references etc...
posted by AndrewKemendo at 5:09 AM on March 29, 2011


Don't you think insisting that we rely on machines to do these things for us is a little risky in and of itself? It's not like we are going to have fossil fuels to power machines forever, so that approach seems a tad short sighted.

And don't you think those fuels could be used more responsibly? Wouldn't it be best to use as little as possible so that future generations can have it for emergencies when they absolutely need oil, coal, and gas? We may never have access to another energy source like it for billions of years, and at this rate we will have used up all of the easily extracted crude within the next century. When you consider this along with what using up these fuels so fast has done to our climate/atmosphere and that through the use of these fuels we have possibly increased our population to a point above our environments carrying capacity, well, shit, can you see why I'm a bit skeptical?
posted by symbollocks at 5:38 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have yet to see anyone lose a hand in a copy machine, true. Which is a nice change from the combine injuries on which I've personally worked.

This may surprise you, but it is in fact possible for someone to both have experience and a different opinion than other people with the same experience.


OK, scrump, so tell me about those high-tech farmers you experienced that have easy, safe, clean jobs... in which combine injuries are nearly impossible. Traditional farmers, harvesting corn, soybeen, wheat... but made clean, easy, and safe by technology.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:19 AM on March 29, 2011


OK, scrump, so tell me about those high-tech farmers you experienced that have easy, safe, clean jobs... in which combine injuries are nearly impossible. Traditional farmers, harvesting corn, soybeen, wheat... but made clean, easy, and safe by technology.
When you quote something I actually wrote or an argument I actually made, I'll be pleased to respond.
posted by scrump at 9:47 AM on March 29, 2011


I thought this was really neat and was thinking maybe some time in the future I might try and visit them and help out. Until I found their rules of conduct. They don't approve of smoking, drinking, drugging, or cursing. This isn't a commune it's a bunch of EEs and MEs perma-camping trying to build their dream Lego set. I don't know what kind of society they're trying to build there but it's not one that I want to be a part of.
posted by JackarypQQ at 7:53 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's a pretty harsh read of the Rules of Conduct, no?

The smoking ban is clearly to prevent fire or explosion risks.

They also don't forbid alcohol: they stipulate that you should be drinking stuff you brew yourself, and that public intoxication is right out, which is sensible around heavy machinery.

The profanity? They say excessive profanity is to be avoided, most likely to stay family-friendly and avoid antagonizing the surrounding community. Ditto illegal drugs.

These hardly seem like unreasonable requests to me, but you may be looking for something more (cocksucking) Deadwood and less Bonanza.
posted by scrump at 12:01 AM on March 30, 2011


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