Monday, June 30, 2008

Two Basic Principles

Let me start with two simple guiding principles.

The first has been used by everyone from Saul Alinsky to Ayn Rand and is one of the tenets of capitalism. It's that people are basically selfish; they act on the basis of their own self-interest. I think it's true--but it's a problem without the other principle.

The other principle comes from ecology and systems theory and even economics. It's that everything is connected. Everything effects everything else. Maybe the butterfly doesn't cause the tornado, but certainly anything we do effects what is around us, and since everything is connected, it eventually effects us.

Most religions recognize this. From Ecclesiates (Hebrew bible): "Cast your bread upon the waters, for you shall find it after many days." From Galatians (Christian bible): "...whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap." In Hinduism and Buddhism it's referred to as 'karma'.

Problems come when we don't see the connection between these two principles. If you want to take care of yourself, you've got to take care of the world, or at least the world around you.

Getting people to see this IS social change. If we see that taking care of others and taking care of the world is taking care of ourselves then there's no problem with being selfish.

Unfortunately, most people don't see this. Otherwise, why would industrial CEOs build plants that pollute the air that they breathe (along with everyone else)? Why would we engage in wars that basically cause a build up of resentment against us and thereby lead to more fighting and violence that ends up hurting us in the long run? (Witness how many terrorists we've created by the wars in Afganistan and Iraq. "Victory breeds hatred" - Gautama Buddha)

The question, therefore, is how to get people to see this. Someone pointed out to me the seductiveness of instant gratification and how many folks get hooked on it. Committing to taking care of the world, to social change, means delaying gratification for long term gain. It means we need to live simply, cooperatively, and sustainably; it means we need to promote equality, diversity, and justice. And for selfish reasons--because it will create the kind of world that we want to live in. It's not easy to do, but it's the only thing that works in the long run.

Maybe this is the first piece of education that we need to get out to the general public. And it's not going to be easy.

Quote of the day: "I do believe we're all connected. ... I do believe in putting good out into the world. And I believe in taking care of each other." - Harvey Fierstein
Word (or phrase) of the day: Cisgendered
Hero(es) of the day: Thomas Atkins

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Looking for The Answer?

You won't find it here. I'm not offering The Solution.

I have no blueprint or step by step instructions. I'm not claiming that I know what to do. As it says on the sidebar, all I'm offering is 'some tools for creating a world that works for everyone'.

I'm extremely skeptical of people who claim they have 'The Answer', whether it's Jesus, Marx, or Chaos Theory--or even Anarcha-Feminist-Eco-Communitarianism. Unfortunately, many people do seem to think they have The Answer. This often leads to time-consuming arguments between True Believers about which Answer or Solution is correct.

As far as I'm concerned, looking for the one thing that will solve everything just adds to our problems. The mess that we're in is extremely complex, and the things we'll need to do to change it will be many and varied.

Therefore, my goal here is to offer lots of different things--various tools for change--with the hope that some of them will prove useful. If I seem to be enthused about something, that's fine, but it doesn't make it the one thing that's going to solve everything.

What follows from this is the more different kinds of tools that are available, the more likely that there will be several that will work on whatever needs changing next. So I'm gathering bunches of very different things here. Maybe only a few of them will be useful to you. Maybe something that isn't of any use to you, will be useful for someone else. Lots of us are going to have to work on changing things if anything is going to change.

I am also taking a systemic approach here. As far as I'm concerned, it's all connected and, in this society, many things reinforce each other. That's why it's so hard to change things. Therefore, whatever we build will also have to have this reinforcing, systemic redundancy if it's going to be sustainable. We are going to need to build lots of different pieces and then connect them. And then build redundant connections. As far as I'm concerned that's a big piece of the work. I'm just providing some tools for it.

No answers. No solutions. Just some tools.

Quote of the day: " is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail." - Abraham Maslow
Word (or phrase) of the day: Anarcho-syndicalism
Hero(es) of the day: Arundhati Roy

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Audre Lorde wrote an essay entitled "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House". Not all tools are useful. I believe that there are tools that, no matter how you use them, only reinforce the oppressive social structures that we are fighting. Examples of 'The Master's Tools' include things like violence, oppressive hierarchies, and using the end to justify the means (especially when the means are horrendous).

I also believe that the converse of this is true. The tools of caring social change can only bring about a better society, no matter who uses them. Rabid right-wingers who begin to act out of compassion will find it changes them.

There is a Buddhist legend of a thief who approached a meditation master wanting to learn mindfulness. The master knew that his pupil's intention was to use the techniques to be a better thief, but taught him anyway. The process of learning the powerful techniques began to change the thief. As he became more aware, he slowly realized how hurtful his thefts were, not only to those he robbed, but to himself. He also became aware that he didn't need to steal, and as the mindfulness exercises enlarged his view of himself and the world, he began to appreciate the world for what it was, and see ways that he could get what he needed and help others in the process. The result was, rather than becoming some kind of superthief, he became a powerful meditation master and helped many other people become aware.

This blog is a toolbox, offering all kinds of different tools that I've gathered over the years. I'm taking this opportunity to put them out on display. I don't make guarantees and, more importantly, I don't know what will be useful to you, so I'm offering them all, free of charge. Take what you can use, and with my blessings. Don't bother with the rest of the stuff. Enjoy, have fun, be well, and I hope that at least some of what I'm offering will be useful in the work that you do toward building a society of compassion.

Quote of the day: "We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us." - Marshall McLuhan
Word (or phrase) of the day: Genderqueer
Hero(es) of the day: Molly Ivins

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Loving-Kindness and Social Change

I want to begin with kindness and love. With loving-kindness, compassion, and caring. Also healing, patience, forgiveness, and generosity. This is where social alchemy starts. As we learn to care about the world and to care for each other, we begin to realize how much needs to be changed to create a world that works for everyone.

And it's love that keeps us going. When things get rough, we need to remember why we want to do all this change stuff.

Unfortunately, contrary to the Beatles song, love isn't all you need. Especially when you want to change the world. Changing society isn't easy and that's not an accident. The institutions that oppress us have been around for a long time and are structured to resist change. Changing anything is going to take a lot of work.

Freud claimed that "Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness." I'd also say that love and work are the basis of what we need to change this society. You start with love, but you also need to do the work.

So what is the work? You'll have to decide that. I'm simply offering 'some tools' here. (If you're not sure what you need to do, email me. As I said in an earlier post, I'll be glad to think with you. But I'm not going to decide for you.)

My hope is that if you have love and a willingness to work, this blog will give you some stuff to get you going. Feel free to use whatever you think is useful and feel free to discard what you don't need. And keep love in your heart. It's the compass that will show you where to go and the power that will sustain you when the going gets rough.

Quote of the day: "Love, the strongest and deepest element in all life, the harbinger of hope, of joy, of ecstasy; love, the defier of all laws, of all conventions; love, the freest, the most powerful moulder of human destiny; ... Free love? As if love is anything but free!" - Emma Goldman
Word (or phrase) of the day: The Silo Effect
Hero(es) of the day: Malcolm X and Martin Luther King

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Bodhisattva Revolutionaries and Social Alchemists

One of the ideas I've had is writing a book (or an article, or a manifesto, or whatever it turns out as) that I've been calling Bodhisattva Revolutionaries and Social Alchemists. It's basically my ideas for changing society and things I've learned over the years, some of which I'm hoping might be useful to other people trying to change things. I've been working on it for a while now and it's only a small bit done, but I figure I can take sections of it and incorporate it into this blog—and if I ever do get it completed, I'll only be borrowing stuff back from myself.

So, what is a Social Alchemist? There seems to be a bunch of people on the 'net using the term Social Alchemy and each has a different definition. Alchemy according to Merriam-Webster is: "a power or process of transforming something common into something special, an inexplicable or mysterious transmuting". From Webster's Dictionary (1913): the "Miraculous power of transmuting something common into something precious." The American Heritage Dictionary says that it's: "A seemingly magical power or process of transmuting." It sounds like social change to me. Social Alchemists try to make our 'common' world into something special, something that will work for everyone. That's my definition.

And Bodhisattvas? Merriam-Webster claims a Bodhisattva is "a being that compassionately refrains from entering nirvana in order to save others". Wikipedia says that "Mahayana Buddhism... regards the Bodhisattva as a person who already has a considerable degree of enlightenment and seeks to use their wisdom to help other human beings to become liberated themselves. In this understanding of the word the Bodhisattva is an already wise person who uses skillful means to lead others to see the benefits of virtue and the cultivation of wisdom." I view a Bodhisattva Revolutionary as someone who lives the world they want to see, but doesn't just do it for themself. There are lots of folks who are living their good ideas, their little utopias in isolation. They act like they have what they need, so why worry about anyone else? A Bodhisattva Revolutionary does worry about everyone else. Bodhisattva Revolutionaries are determined to live the revolution and bring everyone into this new and better world.

(And a note on my Quotes, Words, and Heroes: I plan to end each blog with a quote, with a word or phrase that I think interesting or useful, and a 'Hero of the Day'.

The quote is usually something that I find inspiring or provocative—often related to what I'm posting about. The words and phrases are things I've learned recently or found interesting—mostly related to the kind of things I write about here, but sometimes I just think the word or phrase is in some way interesting, educational, or useful. Mostly the quotes, words, and heroes will not have a lot to do with each other—except in the sense that everything is connected. And my 'Heroes' are people I find inspiring. This doesn't mean that they don't have faults, just that they have done some things that give me hope. As the saying goes, if you are looking for perfect people, you're looking on the wrong planet.

If you have interesting new words or phrases, or heroes that you'd like to pass on, email them to me. If I use what you send, I'll credit you.)

Quote of the day: "There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind." - Kurt Vonnegut
Word (or phrase) of the day: Compersion
Hero(es) of the day: Petra Kelly

Friday, June 20, 2008


Summer Solstice. It's a perfect day to start a blog.

When I was a teenager, what I wanted to do was change the world. I still do.

Meanwhile, I've changed. I went from teenager to new-ager to nonviolent revolutionary; I've been a libertarian socialist, a communitarian anarchist, an ecofeminist, an oppression-liberation theorist, and a social justice advocate. I'm constantly taking on new identities, but I seldom let go of the old ones. I'm pretty much still all of those things; except, of course, a teenager--and I'm sure there's still part of that teenager somewhere in me.

I've done therapy, counseling, personal growth work, and meditation. (I still do counseling and meditation.) I've lived in co-op houses and built an intentional community. (I'm looking to build another.) I've lived in Detroit and Philadelphia, but I grew up in the Boston area and I'm a avid New Englander. I'm back in Boston now but when I lived up in northern New England a while back, I discovered things like Peak Oil and the Localvore movement.

Changing the world has gone from revolution to social transformation to social alchemy. These days I'm happy to find other people who want to build change in the neighborhood. That old truth about thinking globally while acting locally is finally sinking in and I am discovering relocalization. Any change, revolution, social transformation, or social alchemy, has to be built from the ground up and it has to be a cooperative, community effort.

My mother once complained that she had more ideas than she had brains. I know what she means. I'm filled with ideas--but they won't get me very far. I'm looking for people--any way that I can find them: on the internet, by going to meetings and gatherings, and accepting invitations when they are offered. I'm a classic introvert. I have to drag myself out the door and off to things. But I'm going. And going, and going.

Meanwhile I figured that this could be a place to put my ideas, my experiences, pieces of various writings and projects, reviews of books I'm reading, maybe some commentary on other blogs, etc, in the hope that some of this might be useful to someone. I don't expect anything to be very profound. Mostly these blogs will be relatively bite-sized. My goal is to put out a lot of the 'tools' that I like, and that means wide-ranging but shallow columns with the idea that if you want more depth, you can pursue the subject elsewhere (and I will supply links and references).

Feedback is always welcomed. (I will, however, moderate the comments. You don't need to agree with me but you do need to be civil. I will not post a comment that contains attacks, abuse, profanity, or things that are provocative for the sake of being provocative.)

I'm especially interested in hearing from people who want to build a new society/world/community/region/your_choice. I'll be glad to think with people who are struggling. And if you're in New England and wanting to do change, I'd really like to hear from you.

If you'd rather email me than leave a comment, my email address is up on the right. I will write back.

And I plan to have a new post every other day, so check back frequently.

Quote of the day: "My religion is kindness." - the Dalai Lama
Word (or phrase) of the day: Relocalization
Hero(es) of the day: Audre Lorde