Monday, June 18, 2018

Social Change is Slow

I sometimes joke that the reason why I like cleaning things so much, is that I’ve been involved with both mental health work and social change for most of my life, and improvement in both cases takes decades. With cleaning, you can see changes quickly. It gives me fairly instant gratification.

Since blog is dedicated to social change, I want to talk about, not only how slow social change is, but why it is so slow.

I want to start with an example where social change seemed fairly rapid, but wasn't.  I’m talking about the campaign for same sex marriage.

Although I remember much of this, I refreshed my memory with the Wikipedia article on the history of same sex marriage in the United States.

By 2007, at least twenty-one states had bans on same-sex marriage and it was legal only in one state: Massachusetts.  At that point it seemed like more and more states were writing ordinances against it. It looked hopeless. The tide seemed against same sex marriage.

In 2008, even though the California Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage, voters overturned the decision and two more states passed bans on it. Only tiny Connecticut legalized it.

In 2009, it was legalized in Vermont, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia, and almost in Maine. In 2011, it was legalized in New York. In 2012, Maine, Maryland, and Washington state legalized it. In 2013, California, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, Hawaii, and Illinois followed suit. Suddenly, there was momentum.

In 2014, it became legal in fifteen more states due to various court decisions. There were court decisions that upheld marriage bans that year as well, but change was clearly happening.

On June 26, 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled that all states were required to issue licenses to same sex couples.  

That seems like fairly rapid change, until you realize that activists had been pushing for same sex marriage since the 1970s.  What changed in the twenty first century? Mostly, the issue of ‘gay rights’ had been before the public so long, that young people didn't understand why same sex couples weren't allowed to marry. One thing I noticed at the time was that President Obama came out in favor of same sex marriage before the Supreme Court decision, but after a poll was published where, for the first time, a majority of Americans approved of same sex marriage.

Max Planck said that science advances one funeral at a time (or something like that).  So does social change.  And where a campaign can take decades, systemic social change (transforming a whole society, which is what I am calling Social Alchemy), takes even longer.  I once was a revolutionary, but as I have studied history, I’ve learned that isn't the way it works.

The Soviet Union is an example of how not to do communism. Don't foist it on millions of people from the top down.  I think Twin Oaks is an example of communism done right. It is small, voluntary, and built from the ground up. A basic permaculture principle is “Use small and slow solutions.” There's a good reason for that.

I am not a big fan of Karl Marx, but I think he gets a bad rap.  He would not have approved of the Soviet Union. That was Lenin’s doing.  And, surprisingly, he even had good things to say about capitalism. He definitely thought it was an improvement on feudalism, which preceded it.

And if we want to get beyond capitalism, and replace it, it's probably useful to look at how capitalism replaced feudalism.

There are several different views on the rise of capitalism, but what they have in common is that it was a gradual process that happened over centuries. Adam Smith didn't start capitalism, he merely documented its rise.

And for that reason, I think it will take decades, or more likely centuries to replace it. Of course, the question is, whether it will wipe us out (see my most recent posts) before it can be transformed. And my answer, again, is I don't know. But I do know that it can't be rushed.

It's a sexist quote, but it sums up the dilemma. Warren Buffett said, “You can't produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.”  And you can't produce a new society overnight by any means that won't result in something worse.

Quote of the Day: “We are beginning to understand that the world is always being made fresh and never finished; that activism can be the journey rather than the arrival…” - Grace Lee Boggs

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Population Paradox

So here’s a problem.  It goes like this: Suppose you believe we need to reduce the size of the population.  You may decide not have any children, or you may only have one or, at the most, two. If you have children, you teach them what you believe, and hopefully they have less children as well.

Now, suppose you don't believe that the population needs to be reduced.  Suppose you believe that it should grow, and you also believe in large families.  So you have a lot of children and your children have a lot of children.

The result is that there are less and less people who believe in reducing the population size and more and more who don't.   This is the population paradox. It says that zero growth people will tend over the generations to wipe themselves out. Even though I think that reducing the population is necessary, it's going to be tricky.

It doesn't take into account our  ability to persuade people and change minds, but it does make me think of the Shakers who died out because they believed in celibacy.  And, I think that there is an unfortunate truth to it.

I do believe that we are in population overshoot, so this paradox worries me, but I have no idea what to do about it. I have written about simple things that people can do about population growth, but I wasn't aware of this paradox at the time. Now that I am, the one thing I can think to do about it is to put it out so other people can think about it.

I want to be clear. Like all my recent posts, I’m not saying that we are doomed, but I am saying that we’ve got a problem, and these days I have become very skeptical about our ability to change it.

So I advise that we hope for the best and prepare for the worst, because what else can we do?

Quote of the Day: “When it comes to the population explosion, there are two questions on the table.  One, is our population growth going to kill us all? And two, is there any ethical way to prevent that from happening?” - Annalee Newitz

Monday, June 4, 2018

Honey, We Fried the Planet

The guy that I know who goes on and on about mass extinction is not far from the truth.

Ten years ago, when I started this blog, I was very into the idea of ‘peak oil’.  A lot of people were talking about it.  We were also very aware of climate change, but thought that peak oil would hit before any real damage could happen.

I still believe in peak oil, in the sense that there is only a finite amount of oil in the earth and much of it will be out of reach, since it would take more energy to extract than it would give.  So it's been a kind of race between peak oil and climate change. Unfortunately, right now, climate change is winning.

I think a big part of this is our desperation to keep living the lifestyle that we’ve been living for as long as we can. Peak oil folks didn't see how desperate we would get. (The Petrocrats would use the word ‘ingenious’.)  Shale oil, fracking, and oil from the tar sands, along with deep offshore drilling, have certainly bought our lifestyle more time, but they are incredibly dirty ways to get oil, causing lots of pollution. Looking at the figures now, it seems like we still have plenty of available oil, in fact, more than enough to destroy the planet with.

Yes, it would be very possible to live differently and be able to sustain the world, but it seems increasingly unlikely that enough people will choose this path in time to make a difference.

I won't repeat all the awful facts. You can read the news on climate change and see where it's going. You can march and protest and chain yourself to oil tankers and live incredibly sustainable lives and even (but please don't) shoot politicians and CEOs, but unless you can get the majority of people to change their ways, I'm not sure that it will be enough.

Further, I am skeptical and worried about the urgency people approach this with. One of the things I say often is that it was urgency that got us into this mess, and I don't think urgency will get us out of it.

Are we doomed? My optimist says no, my pessimist says yes, and honestly I don't know. (As the saying goes, it's hard to make predictions, especially about the future.)

What I do know is that things are going to get worse, and the first and most important thing that I can think of to do, is to be nice to everyone. Yes, this is another version of being kind.  If we are doomed, think of it as palliative care, and if we get a chance to build a better future, I hope that kindness and compassion will be at the foundation of it.

In the meantime, whatever the future brings, we still have to get through today and tomorrow and spending your time fretting about might or even will happen simply saps your time and  energy that would be better used in getting something done now.

I realize that writing about the destruction of the world and then going on to other subjects feels a little like the newscaster reporting a horrible massacre and then saying, “And in other news…”, but it’s what we need to do in order to do something with our lives.

And, I am not saying that you shouldn't do anything. I am just saying you should do what you think is right, because you think it's the right thing to do, and maybe it will make a difference, but there are no guarantees.

Quote of the Day:  “There are those who are trying to set fire to the world,
We are in danger.
There is time only to work slowly,
There is no time not to love.” - Deena Metzger

Monday, May 28, 2018

Commune Dramas

I often joke that all these utopian communities that I’ve heard folks dream up would work great if they didn't need to be filled with people. When someone can't figure out why it’s so hard to start communities or why so many fall apart, I want to just say, “It’s people!”  Communities are made up of imperfect people. It's the only kind of people I know of.

We recently had a visit from a leader in the communities movement. He and I spent a couple of hours going over some of the turmoil roiling through various communities. He made some remark about all the ‘commune dramas’.

Even more recently, I was on call with members of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. (The good news is that our little commune, Cotyledon, is now officially a Community in Dialogue with the FEC. It was approved of with Guinea Pig noises. I’m not making that up! Who says that communards don't have a sense of humor?) We spent more than a half hour of that call talking about just some of the conflicts and problems that were going on at a member community dealing with some serious issues. When it was finally decided that we had talked through stuff as much as we could and figured out what kind of support the FEC could bring to the commune in question, we decided to turn to other business and the woman facilitating the call announced to a completely different community, “I should make you a certificate for being the ‘Community with the Most Problems, Spring, 2018’.  You could put it up on your wall.” (Again, humor. Very necessary.) We then launched into a discussion about some of the many difficulties that this other community was dealing with.

Commune dramas happen (and dramas happen at co-ops and cohousing communities, although not as often and intensely since people at those communities aren't as intimately involved) because you have lots of very imperfect people trying to work closely together to do some really tricky stuff.

On top of that, even the most isolated communes have lots of people going in and out and these people bring all of the problems of society (competition, scapegoating, racism, patriarchy, privilege, homophobia, intolerance, sensitivity, judgement, etc) in with them. Communes are always struggling with the question of who they will accept and who they won't and when to ask someone to leave and what behaviors can be tolerated (or not).  If you limited communities to only people who have it all together, they would be empty. As a result, there is lots of struggle and lots of drama at the communes. Given that, it's amazing, when you think about it, that a community like Twin Oaks could last more than fifty years (and it's still going). I think that’s an an incredible victory.

I have little illusions that  communes are all wonderful utopias.  I see the myriad problems that they deal with. I’ve seen the dark side of communal living.  It comes with the territory.

So, when you hear me go, “Rah! Rah! Community!”, know that it's because I believe strongly in what they are trying to achieve. Yes, in many ways they are poor vehicles for social change. But I don't know of anything better.

Quote of the Day: “Folks have found their own level after the first years of being overwhelmed.  Some of them have been disappointed with the lack of emotional intimacy, while others, especially teens, have felt uncomfortable living in a fishbowl.
“At times, most of us have probably asked ourselves, ‘What am I doing here?’--a question, I believe, that arises from a complex calculation of time and energy spent and one’s tolerance for conflict.  Sometimes I’ve asked myself, after a difficult confrontation, why I should put so much of my life energy into something that seems, at the time, to give back little. Yet I’m sure that at other times each of us has surely declared: ‘I can't imagine living anywhere else!’--a response to the very personal exchanges that make living in community so rewarding.” - Roberta Wilson  

Monday, May 21, 2018

Difficulties, Tragedy, Complexity, and Kindness

I generally try to be optimistic. Optimists live longer, for one thing. And they are more likely to be listened to, for another.

I know a man who launches into a tirade about mass extinction on very little provocation. It doesn't make others want to do anything about climate change; it makes others want to avoid him.

But, as much as I want to be optimistic, I try to be realistic as well. The world isn't going to be the way that we want it to be, the world is the way that it is and it is very complex. There are a lot of wonderful things going on and a lot of worrisome things going on and one doesn't negate the other.

I try to keep a fairly positive tone in this blog but lately I have been thinking about some of the difficulties with social change (social change being the focus of this blog) and I think it's important to talk about them.

As much of a communities booster as I am, communities are far from perfect and acknowledging that and pointing out the pitfalls and difficulties is part of showing what real community (not an ideal utopia) is, warts and all. Knowing the problems with communities doesn't make me want to give up on them, but it makes me appreciate even more how difficult building them is and some of the limitations of communities as vehicles for social change.  I will write more about this in my next post.

Even more difficult to look at is climate change and the ways we are destroying the earth.  This, indeed, is tragedy. The man I spoke of could be right, we could be headed for extinction, or, at the very least, one poisoned planet. And we need to look at that as well--and I intend to in a future post.

And then there's population, which I want to talk about.  And the slow pace of social change, which I may also devote a post to.

There are just so many problems in the world.

I don't plan on tackling all of them in this blog, but I will say that I am grateful for anyone working on any of them.  I do want to acknowledge three in particular that I don't intend to write a post on at this point, but I think are particularly difficult and troublesome.  These are racism, male domination, and economic inequality.

More than fifty years after the civil rights movement began, black men are still being shot by police, and being incarcerated at horrendous rates.   Recently, two black men were arrested at a Starbucks for asking to use the restroom and, even more recently, three African-American women were stopped by the police as they were moving out of an Airbnb because a white woman in the neighborhood saw them and was afraid there was a burglary in progress.  It turns out that there was also a white woman with these women, but she wasn't seen as “suspicious”. Unfortunately, I see articles like this on a regular basis.

Women are finally being heard about the abuse and harassment and exploitation they receive from men, particularly rich and powerful men. Unfortunately, that continues as well. The #metoo movement is exposing a fault line in sexual relationships that has been needed to be looked at for a long time. The communes have been pushing consent culture even before this, but even in the communes, there are a great many problems. As long as men have more power than women, this is going to continue, and changing power dynamics is far from easy, especially when men don't want to give up power.

The point of income-sharing communities is to reduce economic inequality, but I don't see that changing in this society any time soon, either.  In fact, with the current administration, I suspect economic inequality will be increasing. And even if we got it under control in the US, our lifestyle causes poverty and hunger around the world.  And that's hard to change as well.

My question is always, what can we do?  At the very least, we can care. We can live simply and treat others well. Above all, we can be kind--to others and to ourselves.   It's not accidental that my first two Quotes of the Day on this blog were about kindness. As Kurt Vonnegut said, “There's only one rule that I know of… you've got to be kind.”

Quote of the Day: “Love and kindness are never wasted.  They always make a difference.” - Barbara De Angelis

Monday, May 14, 2018

Compost Tea

I made compost tea many years back (probably close to a decade ago now), after reading Toolbox for Sustainable City Living by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew. (See my post on RUST for a bit about the book.)  I was reminded of this a couple of weeks back when I arrived to do an urban agriculture work day and walked into a mini-workshop on compost tea. The woman providing the information gave the best summary I’ve heard for using compost tea.

“Think of it as probiotics for plants,” she said.

Compost tea is derived from compost but it is used differently.   The main purpose of compost tea is to build up life in the soil. And, depending on what kind of life you want to build up (fungal or bacterial), you brew it differently.   All this is explained in the book, Teaming with Microbes by Lowenfels and Lewis.  Both this book and Toolbox have good descriptions of how to brew compost tea.

On the other hand, the method for compost tea described by Stephanie Davis in her book, Composting Inside and Out, (I talked about the book in my last post) doesn't involve aeration and so it creates an anaerobic ‘tea’, what Lowenfels and Lewis call ‘compost extract’.  If you want the right kind of microbes, you need to aerate it. (For a detailed, fussy description of how to brew compost tea, see this page by ‘The Soil Guy’.)  One way to get aeration is to use one of  those pumps that you aerate fish tanks with.   That's what I used, so many years ago.

It's not something you will need all the time, but if you really want to add life to your soil, compost tea will do it.

Quote of the Day: “The simplest definition of compost tea is: A brewed, water extract of compost.
“Properly made compost must be used…  Compost tea is therefore, a ‘cold brewing’ process, allowing growth of the organisms extracted from the compost.” - Elaine Ingham

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Joys of Compost

I realized at some point that most of my favorite things in the world began with the letters C,O,and M--communes and community, naturally, but also compassion and communication, and,of course, compost.

I sometimes joke (but I’m more serious than you might think) that compost is my religion.   I point out that Hindus and Buddhists think that when you die, you are reincarnated, Christians and Muslims believe that when die, if you are good, you go to heaven, and I believe that, if I’m very good, when I die, I will be composted.

I’ve talked a bunch about composting in this blog, particularly in my posts, Compost Happens!  and Waste. And I’ve written about the reasons composting is so important in my post on Thinking in Circles. When we compost, we mimic the way that the world works.  And there are lots of different ways to compost.

In my “Compost Happens!” post I talked about there being two main ways of composting. I wrote that eight years ago, I wouldn't say that now.

I got out a book from the library called Composting Inside and Out by Stephanie Davis. The subtitle of the book is “14 Methods to Fit Your Lifestyle”.  What's strange is that, even though it also says on the back cover, “Step-by-step instruction for 14 different composting methods”, there is no listing in the book of the 14 methods.  I had to tease them out by trying to look at all the options she provides. As far as I can tell, the 14 methods are:
  1. Compost bins
  2. Tumblers
  3. Three bin systems
  4. Digesters
  5. Piles or heaps
  6. Barrel tumblers
  7. Bins
  8. Wire mesh
  9. Trench
  10. Lasagna
  11. Humanure
  12. Nature Mill Auto Compost Bin
  13. Bokashi
  14. Worm bins

The first eleven methods are outdoor methods, the final three are for indoor composting.  Also, numbers 6, 7, and 8 cover DIY ways of composting as opposed to several others where you purchase a finished product.

Smiling Hogshead Ranch, where I am now helping out, lists six different ways to compost in their explanation of what the compost committee does (you have to tap on the word Compost), saying, “How much do we love compost? Let us count the ways…”
  1. 3-bin system
  2. Windrows
  3. Leaf mold
  4. Vermiculture
  5. Bokashi
  6. Mushroom composting
(Vermiculture is using worms.  Worm bins basically.)

I’m sure that, even between these two lists, they don't cover all the different ways of composting. The joys of composting are endless.

And, best of all, for me, I get to do a lot of it.

Quote of the Day: “Compost has rewards beyond our imagination. We benefit specifically in our gardens and, less obviously, within our thinking.   … Can composting encourage you to see the world differently? Many compost converts have told me that it has done so for them, and I have to admit it has changed my perspective as well.” - Stephanie Davis