= Book by David Fleming
"A dictionary of the future and how to survive it"
Published by Chelsea Green, 2016
"Our large-scale problems do not need large-scale solutions. Rather, they need small-scale solutions within a large-scale framework. The large-scale framework is provided by his central concept of ‘leanness’. To be ‘lean’ means to act on the smallest scale possible with maximum participation."
- David Fleming 
The book is arranged as a dictionary, or perhaps more accurately, an encylopaedia. The articles are highly individualistic, containing many personal views, asides, favourite quotes. There is a article on The Commons, which could be very helpful as an introduction. On the other hand, there are no entries starting with "Peer". (Simon Grant)
"The core argument of Fleming’s work may perhaps be presented as follows:
‘During the early decades of the century, the market will lose its magic as a stabiliser. The main burden of holding society and economy together will shift to culture and reciprocal obligation, embedded in social capital. These assets will need to be remade. It will be difficult: we are standing in the wrong place’ (Lean Logic: 17).
Culture, he argues, is best manifested within small-scale, resilient, diverse communities:
‘Community is culture’s habitat’ (Lean Logic: 87).
A crude summary of Fleming’s thesis might be presented as follows:
- A crash of the present market-based system is imminent due, among other factors, to fossil fuel-based energy peak and to the impossibility of endless growth.
- Human resilience / survival is only possible through community – small-scale community is our default pattern to which we return following civilizational collapses.
- Community is built on a shared and vibrant culture – culture replaces the market and money as the mode by which human relationships are mediated.
- A localised world thus emerges – one that is qualitatively better and more joyful.
Indeed, it is important to stress that sustainability is presented in Fleming’s work as joyful – rooted in human carnival, conviviality and music.
Thus, Fleming argues that our large-scale problems do not need large-scale solutions. Rather, they need small-scale solutions within a large-scale framework. The large-scale framework is provided by his central concept of ‘leanness’. To be ‘lean’ means to act on the smallest scale possible with maximum participation.
‘In the context of energy and material deprivation and, more generally, of the climacteric, community – most especially in the sense of locally-competent cooperative groups – will be the only way forward. Community will need to be reinvented as the defining form of human society.’ (Lean Logic: 72-3).
The climacteric is Fleming’s adopted term for the point of crisis or collapse in the system –
‘a stage in the life of a system in which it is especially exposed to a profound change in health and fortune’ (Surviving the Future: 5).
Fleming argues that there is no point in trying to collapse capitalism – it will collapse anyway. The key therefore is to build community resilience now based on a shared and agreed culture embedded within the local people and place.
Fleming here takes his stance in the logic of necessity – we must return to, or create anew, culturally cohesive communities. There is simply no choice he says. Collapse is inevitable due to the growth problem and only community and lean economics can provide the basis for survival. Culture becomes the antidote to strife and turmoil.
While this hopeful option suggests optimism Fleming is no idealist. Indeed, there is a grim sense of reality throughout his work. Local communities of the future will not necessarily be good but possibly ‘impious, immoral, even monstrous and contrary to virtue’ (Surviving the Future: 172). Communitarian solutions may not succeed and instead the crash may lead to warlordism, authoritarianism, and Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan solution. The key to determining a more benign future – a model for literally surviving the future – is to build community resilience and capacity today.
Future possibilities are therefore open and need, he argues, to be invented. For this, lean thinking is required. This is a thinking derived from a well-defined intention and the freedom to invent. We need to construct a future because inevitable descent needs to be managed. It is in this precise context that communities will have to step in to provide services. Communities are ‘localised habitats on a human scale’. Culture replaces price as the engine / stabiliser of the lean economy. Adam Smith’s self-interest is replaced by benevolence and reciprocal ties.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of culture in Fleming’s work. Culture plays a central structuring role in summoning up, regulating and sustaining human communal relationships.
In schematic terms, culture achieves:
- Social cohesion – for example, choirs, music, carnival, dance.
- Develops a public sphere – a way of moving beyond oneself to become situated as part of a community.
- Develops practice – for example, accomplishment in an artistic skill.
- Develops judgement – to think clearly by establishing your identity, and by not having to prove anything, in the sense that one knows who one is by being part of a community.
In outlining Fleming’s ideas it should be acknowledged once again that they are not presented in his work in so linear and structured a form. Instead, individual entries in his Lean Logic dictionary cross-reference with other entries in a kind of mosaic of interlinking thought. Chamberlin’s book very well succeeds in presenting this weave of thought in a more easily comprehensible manner.
To offer a perspective on Fleming’s ideas it might be helpful to address two crucial points Chamberlin presents in Surviving the Future – how the Lean Society will work in practice and how we might get to it." (http://www.resilience.org/stories/2017-01-19/lean-logic-and-surviving-the-future-review-2/)
"Let me conclude with some questions. These are not so much criticisms as thoughts or responses raised by Fleming’s work. These are tentative as I’m conscious that one ought to inhabit the great reaches of Lean Logic for some time before presuming to critique it.
Fleming’s reliance on the community leaves him open to the charge often made of communitarian writers. He evokes a somewhat idealised notion of community, an almost Arcadian, uniquely English ideal of village-based community. But what about social conflict embedded and continued within communities? There remains the underlying conflictual position of women and gender identity generally, and of oppressed categories such as the ‘outsider’, the social deviant, the non-conformer. What happens to those who are situated – whether by choice or exclusion – outside the culture?
It is almost certain that in any post-crash world some international frameworks and institutions will be required. Fleming assumes the crash to be so total that all Nation State and global structures will effectively collapse. Perhaps they will but perhaps they should not and should be struggled for. After all, we are likely to still require systems of cooperation, exchange, agreements, security, and mechanisms to deal with various global liaisons.
The concept of culture itself is unproblematised in his work. Who lays claim to it, who can change it, how it determines insiders and outsiders are important considerations. Culture may be conservative as well as progressive. Tradition and convention can be comforting to some, oppressive to others. Fleming assumes an ultimate agreement regarding what constitutes local culture but in human social reality everything is contested – definitions of community, of culture, of task, of practice. He does in fairness acknowledge this arena of potential discord and proposes that a new common culture can be forged, that a Social Covenant can be agreed regarding core values and that district segregated local cultures can live side by side in a respectful relation.
Finally, though, if culture is truly open and vibrant then it is possible to imagine that post-crash cultures could well encompass global frameworks of place. Rather than cultures inevitably being rooted solely in distinct and separated communities, globalism and global solidarity could well form part of a new culture. Culture is not just local – it could also be universal, or at least contain universal components which serve as an integrating, unifying factor.
Fleming assumes culture to be inherently local and communitarian in nature – orienting people back toward place. But it is highly fluid and socially constructed – not simply an object to be re-found and re-animated. After all, for better or worse, we are all now global beings. Could not a global cultural dimension not support and construct global institutions? A culture outward-oriented and other-inclusive? We are inevitably inter-dependent. Consider even an issue such as water. The behaviour of communities along water courses affect those elsewhere. What do we do with defaulters or communal freeloaders without trans-communal institutions of some form?
These comments are not those of an opponent but of a dialogue partner. Lean Logic offers the reader the chance to learn, to reflect and to respond. There could be no greater gift bequeathed to us." (http://www.resilience.org/stories/2017-01-19/lean-logic-and-surviving-the-future-review-2/)
The Lean Society
"Many books and writings on sustainability offer detailed criticisms of the contemporary market-based growth economy and society. Often however, they can be less successful in delineating a clear alternative. Fleming, by contrast, presents quite a detailed picture of a new, post-crash, community-based society. As noted above, this is grounded fundamentally on a shared, living culture. As Chamberlin outlines, it will have the following features:
1. Carnival – literally a recovery and affirmation of communal festival and collective play. As in the pre-modern world these social events serve to forge social bonds, radically break from the mundane, conventional mode of life, elide social hierarchies, lead people to take themselves less seriously, allow our wilder ‘second nature’ to be manifested, and permit representations of symbolic sacrifice and succession thereby ensuring the continuity of the culture.
2. Slack employment – inefficient technology will be freely chosen to spare nature. Human work becomes merely part of the daily task of life. Efficiency and economic ‘tautness’ will no longer be considered objectives in a future lean economy.
3. Eroticism – the full range of human emotion and desire will be acknowledged as important drivers of human creativity.
4. Needs and Wants – these will very much remain. ‘In the Lean Economy, effective signals of identity, of good faith, of availability, will be needed – goods will have to work hard again; to say something’ (Surviving the Future: 89). Material processes will reflect culture, place, community – it will ‘be robustly materialist’.
5. Small Scale – the problems with larger scale are loss of elegance, judgement and presence and, what Fleming designates as, the ‘sorting’ problem (the question of the distribution of goods). A small-scale economy will be more effective. For example, the Lean Economy ‘learns, by scale management, to minimise the intermediate economy – the regrettable necessities’ (Surviving the Future: 100).
6. Intentional Waste – there will be a deliberate destruction of goods or a deliberate production of goods of no practical value. Fleming has in mind here ‘growth capital’ – goods which give rise to economic growth for its own sake. Resilient societies will limit growth capital by i) preventing its growth ii) destroying it following growth iii) ensuring its output does not lead to further growth capital.
7. Religion – this is affirmed by Fleming as part of the social, cultural bond forging community. ‘Religion is the community speaking. It is culture in the service of the community’ (Surviving the Future: 112). ‘A coherent social order in the future will need a religion; a religion will need a rich cultural inheritance’ (Surviving the Future: 115).
8. Utopia – can all of this be dismissed as merely utopian? Fleming is no sentimentalist and recognises that the future is open to various possibilities. He is clear however that the Lean Economy is not a Utopia. ‘The turbulent decline of the market economy could stir these ingredients into action’ (Surviving the Future: 119). ‘The Lean Economy is set at a time when the potential for the extremes of disorder and tyranny is increasing’ (Surviving the Future: 124). ‘Local lean economies are unique expressions of particular places, and lean thinking says that the people who live there are best able to work out what to do, if given the chance’ (Surviving the Future: 124)." (http://www.resilience.org/stories/2017-01-19/lean-logic-and-surviving-the-future-review-2/)
- review by John Thackara 2016-08-30
- review by Lambert Strether, 2016-10-02
- on Small Farm Future blog, by Chris Smaje, 2017-05-17