Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Equality, like simplicity, means several different things. There's social equality, economic equality, moral equality, legal equality, and political equality. There's also equality of opportunity, equality of outcome, and something called asset-based egalitarianism.

Social equality means all people have the same social status in a society; it includes equal rights, equal access to education and healthcare, and equal opportunity. Economic equality means all people have equal access to economic wealth, power, and resources; this is a basic principle of socialism and communism. Moral equality means that all people have the same worth, the same moral value. Legal equality states that all people will be treated the same by the law. Political equality means that everyone has the same political rights and the same access to political power; this is a basic principle of democracy. Equality of opportunity means all people have equal access to education, healthcare, employment, housing, etc. Equality of outcome goes beyond this to measure results, to move toward equalizing income and/or wealth (seeing this as the economic outcome). Asset-based egalitarianism is an attempt to equalize material resources by giving a set amount of money to each person as they reach a certain age (one proposal suggests $80,000); a critique of this is that since different people have different abilities to manage money, there would be an unequal outcome over time.

What do I mean by equality? In a sense, I mean most of these things. I want to work toward a world where everyone is socially, economically, morally, legally, and politically equal. I particularly want to see equality of power. To understand what I mean, it's necessary to look at inequality.

One of the many forms of inequality is oppression, which is where a group of people attains power and privilege at the expense of one or several other groups of people. All the 'isms come from this. And oppressions themselves come from social or dominance hierarchy, where one person or group of people is viewed as more worthy, more deserving of power and privilege than others, and therefore controls the resources of the society. Much radical political theory focuses on oppression, looking at inequality in families, in the economy, in governance, between cultures, and even between nations (see my post of 7/6/08). Some of these theorists point out that there is a power elite in this society which holds much of the wealth, power, and privilege.

To understand the difference between equality of power and, say, economic equality, imagine a corporation where everyone is paid the exact same amount. However, this company is still structured hierarchally, with a CEO that makes all the decisions and sits in a comfortable office, and workers that do backbreaking labor. This is hardly equality, even if everyone makes an identical salary.

Equality does not mean that everyone is identical--in fact, since each of us is unique, everyone is different, with different abilities, skills, talents, interests, etc. What we are talking about is equal treatment and equal valuing. Therefore equality also doesn't imply levelling. There is no Handicapper General. People's different skills and abilities are valued, but this doesn't mean preferential treatment.

Above all, equality cannot mean exactly equal. No one goes around making precise measurements of equality. I picked up the term 'raisin counters' at some point; it refers little kids who have to have the exact number of raisins in each child's oatmeal cookie--or they feel someone is being favored. The point here is simple fairness, fairness for all. What we need is a world in which all people are valued, all people are deemed important, all people have access to what they need, and all people are supported and encouraged to grow and thrive. Love and compassion demand no less.

Quote of the day: "A value change is required as we move from death to life. People should not ask 'What is he worth?' and expect to get an answer in dollars. We should learn to value women and men, blacks and whites, adults and children, intellectuals and manual workers equally. There should be no rich as well as no poor..." - George Lakey
Word (or phrase) of the day: Red-Green Alliance
Hero(es) of the day: Common Ground Collective (New Orleans)

Sunday, September 28, 2008


In his book Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning, British author,George Monbiot pointed out that political movements generally demand more from the government, not less. He cleverly puts it that "no one has ever rioted for austerity." Sharon Astyk, an American writer and farmer, was so taken by this phrase that she and a friend, Miranda, began a campaign for simple living that they called, 'Riot for Austerity'. Eventually they got more than sixty folks blogging and participating in the 'Riot'.

They made it like a game, but a serious game. The Riot Rules were that anyone could play, and the goal was to get your consumption down to 1/10th of what the average American consumed. (Monbiot or someone figured that the average American would need to reduce their consumption by 93 or 94%, but the Rioters decided, mostly for the sake of simplicity, that 90% would be close enough.) They gave themselves a year to do it, and would all blog about their progress--they began in June of 2007 and ended a few months ago. (I, of course, just found out about them recently). The Riot 4 Austerity site includes a calculator and a breakdown of the seven categories: Gasoline, Electricity, Heating and Cooking Energy, Garbage, Water, Consumer Goods, and Food.

Having looked at some of the posts from various 'Rioters', it seems like few made the full 90% reduction, but it also seems like most made some to quite a bit toward that reduction; and it seems like they all learned something.

I would love to participate in a challenge like that, and I am looking forward to the day when I live in a situation where I could do it. Meanwhile, I'm admiring and learning from them. One thing that was wonderful about the 'Riot' was how they supported each other. This is a valuable way to work toward simplicity.

Quote of the day: "You see things; and you say Why? But I dream things that never were; and I say Why not?" - George Bernard Shaw
Word (or phrase) of the day: Bear Community
Hero(es) of the day: Pyotr Kropotkin

Friday, September 26, 2008

Simple Resources

The simple living movement has become popular. There are hundreds of books, magazines, websites... It has become an industry unto itself--and quite ironically, has become very commercialized. You can clutter your house with simple living resources!

To illustrate simplicity, I will mention one book and one website here.

One book is the classic, Voluntary Simplicity, by Duane Elgin. The website is The Simple Living Network.

You should be able to take it from here. It's simple...

Quote of the day: "Voluntary simplicity involves both inner and outer condition. It means singleness of purpose, sincerity and honesty within, as well as avoidance of exterior clutter, of many possessions irrelevant to the chief purpose of life. It means an ordering and guiding of our energy and our desires, a partial restraint in some directions in order to secure a greater abundance of life in other directions. It involves a deliberate organization of life for a purpose. ... The degree of simplification is a matter for each individual to settle for himself." - Richard Gregg
Word (or phrase) of the day: Localvore
Hero(es) of the day: June Jordan

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


What does Simple mean? It actually means a few different things. First and foremost it means buying less stuff, consuming less stuff, and having less stuff. This is often called simple living or voluntary simplicity. In a sense, my post 'Boycott the Corporations" (9/12/08) was about this. We've got to get out of the consumer mentality.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs (see my post of 9/2/08) comes into play here as we try to meet the needs beyond our most basic survival needs. The needs for security, love, belonging, respect, self-esteem, and feeling useful, are all thwarted by the present system, which pushes us toward acquiring material goods to make us feel better. "We are in enormous environmental trouble because we've spent decades trying to meet non-material needs (for status, for affection, for respect, for comaraderie, for security) with material means." (Bill McKibben, 'What the World Needs Now', in Ode, January/February 2008)

There's an irony here--these days simple living stores and websites will sell you enough stuff on how to unclutter your life, that you can get lost in the clutter of simple living items. It means often you need to say: "Enough!" With less stuff, there is more room for looking at what you really need. And others in the world could use a lot of that stuff that we don't need. (I wrote a post looking at what we need and don't--see my post of 9/4/08.)

There is a wonderful video on 'stuff' called "The Story of Stuff". Fortunately there are people who are challenging the consumer mentality such as Reverend Billy who wrote the book, What Would Jesus Buy?, and the anti-consumerists behind Buy Nothing Day and the Alternatives for Simple Living. A very humorous approach to it all is on a site that is selling... NOTHING!

It's important to note that the reason simple living is sometimes called voluntary simplicity is to differentiate it from involuntary poverty. There is a world of difference between people who choose to live simply and people who are poor. What's more, having less stuff is a decision and it should, if done right, enrich your life. This is something anyone who is middle-class or well-to-do should consider. You don't need the stuff and it isn't good for you. Living simply should make you feel freer--not deprived. Above all, this is something I don't advocate for working class or poor people (although if they want to consider it, I'd support them)--they have lived too long doing without. Those of us who've had too much need to figure out what we don't need.

Arnold Toynbee, in his book A Study of History, refers to a "Law of Progressive Simplification" where he claims that “measure of a civilization's growth is its ability to shift energy and attention from the material side to the spiritual and aesthetic and cultural and artistic side.” Or as Thoreau said, "Our lives are frittered away by detail; simplify, simplify."

Simple also refers to taking a small steps approach to things. If we are going to change things from the bottom, we are going to begin by designing simple alternatives. The 'Complexity' people point out that Complex Adaptive Systems emerge from simple systems--you don't design a complex system from scratch, you (and this really means you collectively) build it from the bottom up using simple systems, simple design, simple implementation. This makes it possible for each of us to do it--start on our own, make changes where we can, and work with others as much as possible. And keep it simple. (The 12 Step folks--and others, including computer scientists--use the KISS model: Keep It Simple, Sweetie [or Keep It Small and Simple/Sweet and Simple/Short and Simple/Simple and Straightforward, etc, etc]).

In the book Voluntary Simplicity, Duane Elgin relates five different ways to simplify interpersonal communication:

  1. Communicate more honestly
  2. Let go of wasteful speech and idle gossip
  3. Become comfortable with silence
  4. Use greater eye contact
  5. Use nonsexual physical contact (for this he cites the work of James Prescott--see my post of 7/28/08 for more on this)

Scientists and philosophers talk about Occam's Razor, a principle that can be put as: "All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best." Thomas Aquinas claimed that God was infinitely simple, and some religious groups such as the Quakers, the Amish, the Mennonites, and others, actively embrace simplicity--although in many different ways. And, truly, there are many ways to be simple. As Duane Elgin put it: "There is no cookbook for defining a life of conscious simplicity."

Quote of the day: "Live simply so that others may simply live." - Mohandas Gandhi
Word (or phrase) of the day: Polyculture
Hero(es) of the day: Utah Phillips

Monday, September 22, 2008


It's the fall equinox today, and time to move in a slightly different direction. I've mentioned that I'm bisexual and polyamorous. Some people think that means I'm obsessed with sex. Actually, what I'm obsessed with is SECS (pronounced 'sex').

I spent a lot of time a few years ago trying to figure out my own politics. Was I really an anarchist? Maybe I was a socialist? Or an ecofeminist with strong social justice leanings? Finally, I just tried to figure out what kind of society I wanted. What was my vision for the future? I started thinking about what was central to what I believed.

Well, it turns out that SECS is my primary vision of the future. SECS describes the world that I want to see. What SECS means is that I want a society that is Simple, Egalitarian, Communal (and Cooperative!), and Sustainable. I'm going to spend the next bunch of posts explaining what I mean by each of those terms--and will probably include an additional post (or two) on resources for each.

None of this is profound. It's not new stuff and none of it is original with me. But I do think that it describes a direction for the future that is compatible with everything I've written thus far. I think it's flexible enough to allow many alternatives, but clear enough so that we can tell if we are following it. And, yes, I think many small, bottom up systems can be built using it.

I will tell you now that SECS is not my entire political vision--it's just the primary part. Warning--I have a secondary set of terms that either contradicts or enhances SECS. But let me get through SECS first.

(Incidentally, living Simply, Equally, Communally, and Sustainably, isn't a solution--it's a challenge!)

Quote of the day: "We must not be afraid of dreaming the seemingly impossible if we want the seemingly impossible to become a reality." - Vaclav Havel
Word (or phrase) of the day: Sapiosexuality
Hero(es) of the day: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolitionists

Saturday, September 20, 2008


So, where am I going with all this? Before I go on to my own theories, I want to review some of what I've covered and look for common threads.

I'm certainly not going to recap all 46 of my previous posts. But let me talk about a few of the theorists that I've covered, specifically: Michael Albert/Robin Hahnel, Bill Mollison/David Holmgren (the permaculture folks), Frijof Capra, Richard Heinberg, John Michael Greer, Frances Moore Lappé (and daughter Anna), and Starhawk. That's a bunch of folks who are coming at things from a few different angles. What are the commonalities?

First, none of these folks takes a simple, 'I've got the answer' approach to the problem. They are clear that we are dealing with a complex set of issues and need a multifaceted way toward solutions (definitely plural). Albert and Hahnel come close with their Parecon economic model, but emphasize that it is just a part of the change they want to see and we will need to look at family, governance, and cultural issues as part of creating a new society. Mollison and Holmgren also can seem to have a single solution, but they would be the first to say that permaculture is a flexible way of looking at things, and not an answer. Heinberg emphasizes Peak Oil (or, as he puts it, Peak Everything) but also looks at climate change and lack of community. Again, relocalization is a direction and not a solution. Greer tries to provide a broad perspective on all this and emphasizes that change is going to be a long term process and we need to have various ways of looking at things. It's probably not an accident that he and Starhawk come from branches of pagan (earth-centered spirituality) but are reaching out to people with much different beliefs to build new social structures. Starhawk, herself, looks at issues from patriarchal power to global capitalism, and is involved with everything from permaculture to direct action. The Lappés look at issues about food, fear, and democracy, focusing on what people can do and are doing. And Capra, who started off in new age physics, is trying to use an ecological framework to look at everything from economics to medicine--while pointing out a variety of alternatives.

These writers offer a variety of tools: political theory, participatory economics, permaculture, complexity theory, and a wide vision of history. What can we learn from it all?

Albert and Hahnel offer an analysis of the connections between various movements (Socialists, Feminists, Anarchist, 'Nationalists') as well as an economic model (Parecon) that creates an equitable distribution of labor and earnings. Mollison and Holmgren have created a framework for both sustainable agriculture and a sustainable society. Richard Heinberg has analyzed the depletion of oil, gas, and most minerals, and offers a possible future without them. John Michael Greer puts similar information in a long term historical context and plays with what history can tell us about creating a sustainable future. He also points out alternative ways of framing the current situation. Frijof Capra begins by looking at new scientific theories about evolution, ecology, and life and shows what they can tell us about our situation and possible options for the future. The Lappés look at movements worldwide in an effort to make it clear that we can challenge the system and it's mostly our own belief that stop us. Starhawk uses her feminist, earth-centered spiritual perspective to analyze not only the current system, but our reactions to it, to examine alternatives and possible directions.

If there is one point of agreement between these authors (and there actually may be several), it's that the present system isn't sustainable. They all offer alternatives and most of them agree that we need small, local solutions--as do other people such as Steven Johnson, John Robb, Rob Hopkins, Valdis Krebs and June Holley, Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom, and even Matt Ridley. (Albert and Hahnel are just about the only exception--they often challenge 'Decentralized Community Economics', mostly regarding allocation issues--but, as I mentioned, the economic system at the Twin Oaks community could be thought of as a similar to Parecon, only a unique, small-scale version of it. It will be important, at some point, to look at the allocation issues the Parecon people raise and examine what it means to network small groups. I think alternatives such as 'Fair Trade' may be useful here. It's a point many of the small systems people haven't thought through.)

I think of the slogan: "Think globally, act locally"; we need to have the big picture of what we are doing and why, but we need to have many small, local groups each building something that makes sense in their community. To use Starhawk's formulation: "...in a diverse world we may need a spectrum of systems to fully fit each unique set of circumstances." (She and Frances Moore Lappé remind us that there's no one right way. I am inspired by the Lappés' 'Liberating Idea': "Busting free from 'isms,' creating the path as we walk." As I said from the beginning, there just isn't a big, grand answer.) Complexity theory, which I allude to frequently and Capra builds on explicitly, suggests small systems built from the bottom up, using cooperation and networking, and allowing solutions to emerge from our collective creativity, the way new behavior often emerges from living systems. This is what Tom Atlee refers to as 'CoIntelligence', this is what John Robb's 'Catalysts' and Krebs and Holley's 'Network Weavers' do, this is Steven Johnson's 'Coping' groups, this is "creating the path as we walk". This is hard work.

It requires a lot of faith in people, which is difficult at times. Education, particularly in critical thinking, needs to be a piece of this--this is the "Think globally" part. I know that there are lots of folks out there working on building alternatives, but we need more. I wish I could get more people in the mainstream to read Albert, Hahnel, Heinberg, Capra, Greer, Starhawk, and the Lappés, and familiarize themselves with peak oil and permaculture and network weaving and resilient communities and complex adaptive systems. Probably we just need to get the ideas out there; they're a lot more important than the particular authors. But how to make people see that change is needed and make them aware of more of the alternatives?

I will talk about education and critical thinking at some point, but continuing with theory, I will spend some time on my vision of where we need to go.

Quote of the day: "...any future vision which can can encompass all of us, by definition, must be complex and expanding, not easy to achieve." - Audre Lorde
Word (or phrase) of the day: Communitarianism
Hero(es) of the day: Sister Dianna Ortiz

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Walk down a city street and look at people. How often do you make judgements based on how the people you see look? On the other hand, how else do you decide who you want to meet?

I've been thinking a lot about this lately and noticing my reactions to folks I see on the streets or in the train. I've decided that making decisions on the basis of how someone looks, and picking your friends (and even lovers) on the basis of their appearance, is like deciding to drink beverages based on what the bottles look like. You could be guzzling poison out of a shiny and pretty new vessel while ignoring healthy juices and water because the jars are plain or ugly.

When I look at all these attractive people, I remind myself that it's the container that I'm drawn to. What the person looks like says nothing about their character, their values, their personality, or who they really are. If we don't know someone, all we see is the container, not the stuff inside.
I've heard lots of talk about the problems with meeting people over the internet and lots of worries about it, but I think there are ways in which it's actually better. When I find profiles of people, I don't pay a lot of attention their pictures, if they post them; I pay attention to what they say. This way I get a chance to connect with people who are interested in the things that I'm interested in, people who claim to share my values.

In a similar way, I am going to events that are about subjects that are important to me, partly as a way to meet people. I figure, if they're coming to this they are probably interested in something I'm also interested; I should talk with them and find out what else they are interested in. If we do have a lot in common, maybe I should get to know them better. And their appearance has nothing to do with any of this.

Unfortunately, I need to admit that I'm not immune to visual judgements. I find myself thinking, 'There's an interesting looking person...' before I remember that it's the container I'm looking at. I have no idea what this person is really like, what they believe, whether I would enjoy their company. None of that has anything to do with appearances.

Quote of the day: "The most winning woman I ever knew was hanged for poisoning three little children for their insurance-money, and the most repellent man of my acquaintance is a philanthropist who has spent nearly a quarter of a million upon the London poor." - Arthur Conan Doyle
Word (or phrase) of the day: Autopoesis
Hero(es) of the day: Robert Owen

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Randy Schutt (see my post of 7/10/08) recommended that I check out Tom Atlee and the Co-Intelligence Institute. They have a website and Tom Atlee has three blogs (Evolving Collective Intelligence, Evolutionary Dynamics Exploration, and Journey Reflections). There is a massive amount of information here. There are articles on co-intelligence, definitions of co-intelligence, stories about co-intelligence, and quotes on co-intelligence. There is also information about "its opposite, co-stupidity".

What is co-intelligence? Briefly, it's an interconnected form of intelligence that can be demonstrated by individual, groups, communities, societies, systems, etc. It involves listening and speaking from the heart and struggling with group process. In particular, Atlee talks about collective intelligence and collaborative intelligence, and he includes a list of over fifty different 'Co-Intelligent Practices, Approaches, Processes and Organizations' that includes everything from Permaculture and Open Space Technology (see my posts of 7/22/08 and 8/31/08) to consensus, Nonviolent Communication, Co-counseling, and Despair and Empowerment work (and much, much more). He then goes on to list resources that list even more methods!

The section on stories is comprehensive and illuminating. It illustrates how co-intelligence works and shows it in action, creating change. There are nearly thirty different articles here; most of these are true stories that (as the site says) "really happened (or are happening)" but there are also a couple of "visionary stories that could happen". The stories include dialogues on such hot topics as racism and abortion, but also lots of examples of what is involved in community building.

One amazing set of stories concerns the Great Peace March of 1986, an event where over a thousand people were supposed to walk across the country together, but when the west coast leadership collapsed, it quickly unraveled. The march should have been over then and there but 400 people decided to continue and struggled (mostly with each other) to recreate the march. What emerged was a leaderless and democratic group, what John Robb (see my post of 8/31/08) would call a 'Resilient Community'. Looking at it from a couple of points of view helps make the emergent process clearer. One of the pieces is by Tom Atlee (organizer of the CoIntelligence site); the other, by Steve Brigham, refers to the march as "A Laboratory in Democracy" and "An Experiment in Community". Tom Atlee's piece looks at what he sees as a defining moment in the process. He includes a few lines that describe the process: "I realized that something amazing had just happened, something so subtle I'd almost missed it: In spite of all our talking, we hadn't made a decision. We'd just stopped talking when we knew."

He goes on to say: "I'd never before been in a meeting like the one that generated this alignment. Nobody had been in charge. It was as if we'd become a single sentient being, The March, and our diverse thoughts and feelings had become the thoughts and feelings of this single, but ambivalent March-mind wrestling with its problem. Increasingly, as the meeting continued, I'd heard other marchers voice the thoughts in my head and the feelings in my heart. I'd begun to sense us all sailing on a river of meaning that we'd called up from our collective depths. It carried us to exactly the place we needed to go."

As Steve Brigham said, "On the march, I watched democracy emerge -- in a palpable way -- into something more workable and participatory than I've ever experienced before or since." This is emergent community. This is a way toward social change. This is the process we need to learn and practice.

Quote of the day: "In 1992 I was browsing through Jerry Mander's In the Absence of the Sacred, when a quote leapt off the page. It was from Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onandaga Iroquois, describing traditional tribal councils. He said, 'We meet and just keep talking until there's nothing left but the obvious truth.' I recognized that we'd stumbled upon something that the Iroquois have known for hundreds of years." - Tom Atlee
Word (or phrase) of the day: Mutualism
Hero(es) of the day: Harriet Tubman

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Original Virtue

The Origins of Virtue is a book about the genetics and evolution of things like altruism and cooperation. It begins with Peter Kropotkin's escape from a St Petersburg prison. Kropotkin is often thought of as an anarchist, but he was also the author of Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution in which he argues that the most successful animals are the most cooperative.

Matt Ridley, author of The Origins of Virtue, seems to think that cooperative animals are the exception rather than the rule. But he also thinks that humans are one of the exceptions. He believes in the 'selfish gene' and spends a chapter talking about it, and another chapter talking about Adam Smith, the Hutterites, and the division of labor. Then he spends two chapters talking about 'Prisoner's Dilemma' and the computer games built to test it. I talked a bit about this in an earlier post (7/16/08) and mentioned a "nice, forgiving, tough, and clear" computer program that won several competitions. The program is called 'Tit-for-tat' and the book discusses it and its implications, along with several games that eventual succeeded it, 'Generous-Tit-for-tat', 'Pavlov', and 'Firm-but-Fair'. One of the points Mr Ridley makes is that in a single game, 'Tit-for-tat' is more likely to lose than win, but it's in a series of games that 'Tit-for-tat' comes out the winner, just as you can be rude to a stranger that you will probably never see again, but you are unlikely to be rude to a neighbor or coworker that you will have to deal with again in the future. Thus he sees cooperation built on trust and reciprocity, and thus more prevalent in small groups than in larger ones (villages versus cities for example).

From there he goes on to a couple of chapters about food sharing (who shares food with who in tribal societies, and why) and from there to a chapter on reciprocity, cooperation, generosity, commitment, and altruism that he entitles 'Theories of Moral Sentiment'. He begins the chapter by focusing on something called the Wason test and claims that the test consistently found (even when done in many different cultures) that people are better at identifying those who cheat than those who are altruistic. Mr Ridley claims this is because we humans are ruthless at trying to calculate what people get out of things--we are hardwired to look at social contracts. He even claims that there is a part of the brain that is an 'exchange organ'.

Then he looks into alliances in baboon, chimpanzee, and dolphin societies. (Unfortunately, he has little about bonobo behavior--see my post of 7/30/08 for more on them and the chimps. Matt Ridley's most notable remark on the bonobos is that they "all have sex with each other to celebrate" when they find a cache of fruit. Actually, if he knew more he'd realize, they were having sex to reduce competitive tensions and facilitate cooperative behavior. I think studying the bonobos might alter some of his theories. He does quote Frans de Waal's chimp studies quite a bit, however.) An interesting insight he has along the way is that after reading a study on chimpanzee alliances (de Waal's) and how two chimps formed a coalition against a third and took power this way, Ridley began reading the history of the Wars of the Roses and said it seemed "uncannily familiar" until he realized that the shifting alliances among the English royalty almost precisely mirrored the way the alliances changed among these chimpanzee.

Ridley goes on to look at the advantages of conformity, and from there to claiming that religion and culture (including ritual, music, and dance) are markers to define a group in opposition to other groups. However, he says that people may pretend--or even believe--that they are putting the needs of the group first, but really we only go along with the group when it suits us--although we would never admit this.

In further chapters, Ridley claims that trade is the basis of interactions between groups (and precedes governments), that ecology is a lovely idea but one that we want everyone to follow except ourselves (he insists that the idea that indigenous tribes lived ecologically and sustainable is pure mythology, and points out that the very ecological parts of Chief Seattle's famous speech--quoted by Al Gore in Earth in the Balance--were actually written in 1971 as part of a TV drama), and that private property (or, if not, community-owned property--anything that doesn't involve government intervention) is the only way to insure sustainably managed resources. He finishes the book off in a chapter called 'Trust' (subheading: "In which the author suddenly and rashly draws political lessons") where he claims that people act on the basis of self-interest but shouldn't be encouraged to do so, since that only leads to further selfishness. "In other words, the reason we must not say that people are nasty is that it is true." But he further claims "...the human mind contains numerous instincts for building social cooperation and seeking a reputation for niceness."

This book is definitely biased in favor of sociobiology and against government and I suspect Matt Ridley selected the studies he uses to support his arguments. (He certainly seems quite libertarian.) Still, some rather interesting research is cited. One study with implications for social change was done by Elinor Ostrom, James Walker, and Roy Gardner. They gave groups of students a chance to play on certain markets set up on computer. One of the markets was much like the prisoner's dilemma game--if everyone exercised restraint, all players would do better. After the students anonymously played this market, no one did well--they made 21% of what they could have. When the students had a chance to discuss the situation in the middle of the game, the take went up to 55% of the maximum. With repeated discussions they got 73% of what they could have. However when the students were able to punish people who took advantage of the situation (but not discuss it among themselves) they only made a return of 37%. But when the students could have a discussion and set up a strategy to fine people who tried to take advantage of the situation, they managed to take 93% of the maximum. "Ostrum's conclusions are that communication alone can make a remarkable difference to people's ability and willingness to exercise environmental restraint: indeed communication is more important than punishment. Coventants without swords work; swords without covenants do not." (Quoted from Ridley's text) Would that governments got that!

Matt Ridley ends The Origins of Virtue with this statement: "The roots of social order are in our heads, where we possess the instinctive capacities for creating not a perfectly harmonious and virtuous society, but a better one than we have at present. We must build our institutions in such a way that they draw out those instincts. ... We must encourage social and material exchange between equals for that is the raw material of trust, and trust is the foundation of virtue." Summation: Egalitarian reciprocity, done in small enough groups to make it possible, engenders trust, which builds cooperation and community.

Quote of the day: "If we are to recover social harmony and virtue, if we are to build back into society the virtues that made it work for us, it is vital that we reduce the power and scope of the state. That does not mean a vicious war of all against all. It means devolution: devolution of power over people's lives to parishes, computer networks, clubs, teams, self-help groups, small businesses--everything small and local."-- Matt Ridley
Word (or phrase) of the day: Cultural hegemony
Hero(es) of the day: Harvey Milk

Friday, September 12, 2008

Boycott Corporate America!

It's probably not possible now, but someday I'd like to see a massive boycott of all the big corporations. Corporate capitalism tears at the fabric of community.

A couple of years ago I discovered that Lightlife, a little company that I remembered as fondly as the TempehWorks from the days when I lived in Greenfield, MA, was now a division of ConAgra, which is one of the largest food companies in the US with a record of health code and worker safety violations. Before that, I was horrified when the major distributor to food coops in New England, Northeast Cooperatives, sold itself (with a lot of angst), to United Natural Foods, Inc, "the largest publicly traded wholesale distributor to the natural and organic foods industry". As someone who was involved in a buying club at the times, we soon learned that UNFI was more interested in supplying the major chains (Whole Foods and Wild Oats--which have since merged) than little co-ops.

What about all the save-the-planet businesses of the '80s and '90s? Most of those hip capitalist, change-the-world-by-buying-our-product, organic/all-natural, alternative businesses have been bought out by the big megacorporations (although they seldom advertise it): Ben & Jerry's is owned by Unilever, Tom's of Maine is owned by Colgate-Palmolive, The Body Shop is owned by L'Oréal, Stonyfield Farm is owned by Groupe Danone (who also make Dannon Yogurt), Cascadian Farm organic foods is owned by General Mills (which is probably why they have so much sugar in their products), and Kashi is owned by Kelloggs. Some of the 'alternatives' not taken over by the mainstream, such as the Hain-Celestial group and Whole Foods, act like very much like the other big corporations--and have to, in order to survive in the corporate world. And then there's Trader Joe's, owned by the family trust of a German merchant associated with the Aldi worldwide chain of stores.

Most of the medium size supermarket chains that once covered the US are gone--though some still keep the old names. When I look at the supermarket situation in New England (where I live) I find: Shaws and Star Market are owned by SuperValu, which owns over 2500 food (or food and drug) stores around the US and is primary distributor for another couple of thousand; Stop & Shop is owned by Ahold, a Dutch giant supermarket operator; and Hannaford is owned by the Belgium food group, Delhaize. I'm sure it's the same in most parts of the US--or the world.

But there are alternatives. My post on 'Feeding Ourselves in the Future' (7/24/08) talks about CSAs and farmer's markets and community gardens--not to mention producer co-ops such as Organic Valley and Cabot Creamery, and food co-ops and family run markets. These are some real alternatives (at least in the food industry--the Lappés also discuss these and more alternatives--see my last three posts).

Meanwhile, as much as possible I try to buy stuff from co-ops and little businesses--or make it myself. I make my own toothpaste from a recipe I got off the internet--basically baking soda, salt, and glycerin, with a little flavoring. (But I do use a commercial/new age toothpaste for my last brushing of the day, so I get a little flouride on my teeth.) I use a deodorant powder that I make from baking soda and corn starch (and little bits of coriander and other spices). (Yeah, I'm probably keeping Arm & Hammer in business, but at least they use cardboard packaging.)

I buy most of my food from the local food co-op. When I don't get it from there I try to buy from Mom-and-Pop stores--and I try to patronize our local farmer's market. (Plus, we are growing a teeny bit of our own food. I hope to have a bigger garden next year.)

(Outside of food stuff, I try to get things at thrift shops, so they are not newly manufactured. I particularly like thrift stores that support good causes.)

Above all, I try to think of how I can support small, local businesses. My little bit is hardly noticed by any major corporations, but it does support little companies that I think make a difference. And that is, I think, the best we can do right now. Everytime you buy something at a co-op, farmer's market, small business, etc, you keep real alternatives going--alternatives that may be quite useful when the global corporations encounter peak oil...

Quote of the day: "Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility." - Ambrose Bierce
Word (or phrase) of the day: Coevolution
Hero(es) of the day: Rachel Carson

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Getting Edgy 3: Democracy

Democracy's Edge has a blurb about the author, Frances Moore Lappé, which states: "Democracy's Edge is the completion of a trilogy that began in 2002 with Hope's Edge, written with her daughter Anna Lappé. ... Second in the trilogy is You Have the Power: Choosing Courage in a Culture of Fear, written with Jeffery Perkins." I talked about Hope's Edge over my last two posts and discussed You Have the Power in my post of 8/11/08. Democracy's Edge is quite a different book from either of them.

Only Frances Moore Lappé's name appears on the cover, although the title page adds "with the assistance of Rachel Burton, Anna Lappé, and Hope Richardson". Where Hope's Edge features movements and activists from around the world, and You Have the Power focuses on ways of dealing with fear, Democracy's Edge talks about how Americans can make changes in the US. Frances Moore Lappé contrasts "thin democracy" (the current state of affairs) with what she calls "Living Democracy"--engaging more people in "dialogue and unified action". Unified action means involving people across the political spectrum, and the author thinks there is less difference on fundamental issues between 'red states' and 'blue states' than many people assume. She quotes a 2005 poll which found that Americans were "twice as likely to cite greed, materialism, and poverty as the country's most urgent moral crises", rather than issues like abortion or gay marriage. She also cites surveys that claim a similar proportion of people from 'blue states' and 'red states' (64% vs 62%) agree that "corporations wield too much power" and 90% of all Americans "think that corporations hold too much sway in Washington".

Frances Moore Lappé sees a new democratic movement emerging. She gives three reasons for this: first, "the alarm is sounding"; the news of our multiple crises is reaching more people; second, as people realize our leaders aren't going to deal with the situation (as Ms Lappé says, "their shortcomings demystify authority"), they also realize "regular people" will need to get involved; and third, "a deepening appreciation of the capacities of those at the 'bottom'", a growing realization that we are capable of more than we think. She also talks about ecology as a metaphor for this change. "Ecology teaches us that there is no single action, isolated and contained. All actions have ripples... through webs of connectedness..." She cites Fritjof Capra (see my posts of 8/23, 8/25, and 8/27): "all living systems are self-organizing networks". (Complexity strikes again!) And finally she talks about the Internet as a tool to access 'critical information'.

The book talks about many types of power: in relationships, of knowledge, in organized numbers, in humor, in discipline, in vision, and in compassion. Power can be: mutually expanding--building on the capacities of all involved; a give-and-take, two-way relationship; collaborative; dynamic, changing; derived from relationships, knowledge, (etc, as above)--rather than laws, status, force, and wealth; concerned with how decisions get made; and built over time. Ms Lappé also talks about the difference between service, selfishness, and what she refers to as 'relational self-interest'.

A section of the book is about how neither governments nor corporations are unchangeable--and gives examples of people challenging both. Another section is on economic actions (including local economies and worker ownership, and mentioning peak oil), citizen organizing (including the living wage campaign, Saul Alinsky's Industrial Areas Foundation, and ACORN), challenging the food system (including farmer's cooperatives such as Organic Valley, food co-ops, CSAs, and programs such as the Food Project in Boston--see my post of 7/24/08 as well as my last post for more on these), and taking back the media (including Guerrilla Network News, Democracy Now, low power radio, Mozilla Firefox, and movies like Blue Vinyl). The book finishes with chapters on education (featuring the Coalition of Essential Schools) and security (looking at the intersection of crime, violence, prison, shame, and community alternatives). Frances Moore Lappé ends the book by inviting the reader to get involved, to (as she puts it) walk with bold humility--and then follows with what she calls offerings: a page outlining "Two Frames for Democracy" and a couple of pages on the "Language of Democracy", ending with 44 pages of "Entry Points for Living Democracy", a resource list of organizations, websites, magazines, and newsletters she found useful.

Where Hope's Edge is about what is being done around the world, and You Have the Power is about challenging our fear to do it, Democracy's Edge is focused on what can be done in the US and gives examples of people doing it--and encourages everyone to get involved.

Quote of the day: "...hope is not an individual talent--you have it or you don't--or something one just happens to bump into. ... Hope is a project, a community project." - Frances Moore Lappé
Word (or phrase) of the day: Instrumentalism
Hero(es) of the day: Eugene Debs

Monday, September 8, 2008

Getting Edgy 2: Ideas

The final chapter of Hope's Edge (see my last post for more) begins by talking about perceptions, how there are solutions to food and hunger problems all around us, but we don't see them because of our expectations. This leads back to the 'Thought Traps' of the first chapter. (To recap: "One: The enemy is scarcity, production is our savior; Two: Thank our selfish genes; Three: Let the market decide, experts preside; Four: Solve by dissection; and Five: Welcome to the end of history.") Here the Lappés provide 'Five Liberating Ideas' to replace the 'Thought Traps': "One: Scrapping the scarcity scare, realizing abundance; Two: Laughing at the caricature, listening to ourselves; Three: Putting tools in their place, tapping the savvy of citizens; Four: Discarding dissection, solving for pattern; and Five: Busting free from 'isms,' creating the path as we walk."

I think these 'Liberating Ideas' are worth a post unto themselves.

The first idea ("Scrapping the scarcity scare, realizing abundance") goes back to Frances Moore Lappé's original books, Diet for a Small Planet and Food First. Her early realization was that people everywhere in the world are able to feed themselves, it's diverting food resources that produces scarcity. She talks about gathering "thirty years of myth-shattering evidence" supporting this and gives examples from Bangladesh, India, and Kenya of local solutions to hunger. She makes the point that "half the world's grain goes to animals" and notes how much food was rotting in storage or restaurant dumpsters. In Belo Horizonte, Brazil, the city government uses eggshells and manoic leaves (which had been thrown away) to enrich flour, making it highly nutritious. Frances Moore Lappé even talks about how knowledge can be abundant or scarce depending on whether it's hoarded or shared. Quoting the Lappés summary: "Cutting through the scarcity illusion, we're able to see potential abundance all around us, even in what is now waste. We realize that growing food in ways that sustain the earth and people is not only productive but linked to the changes essential to slowing population growth." (For more on population growth, see my post of 8/21/08. I'm also reminded of Capra's adage that "... an ecosystem generates no waste". See my post of 8/27/08.)

The second Liberating Idea is "Laughing at the caricature, listening to ourselves". Here the argument moves beyond food to human nature. Are we essentially selfish? Frances Moore Lappé writes that she and Anna share 'the same intuition': "We need to feel both connected to others and useful beyond ourselves." They claim that they heard this desire expressed in everyplace they visited around the world. Their quote on this idea: "Now we can see that the image of ourselves as merely selfish materialists is but a shabby caricature of our true nature. We would never have survived as a species if it wasn't for our need--and our capacity--for effectiveness and connection."

Their third idea is "Putting tools in their place, tapping the savvy of citizens." This means going beyond hierarchy to the realization that "every human being has a contribution to make." The Lappés document the shift taking place in movements around the world. They quote, not only from the famous activists they've interviewed, but from the many people who have gotten involved and made these movements possible. They talk about using 'the market' as a tool and claim "Economic life is not about our relationships to things... It's about our relationships with each other..." Their summary of this idea is: "Now we can turn technologies--even the market itself--into tools, not tyrants. Scientific tools can help us--but only when citizens draw values boundaries for their application."

And the fourth idea ("Discarding dissection, solving for pattern") is something that has been eluded to throughout the book. "Solving for pattern" is a term from Wendall Berry but it's probably not an accident that the Lappés learned it from a woman (Zenobia Barlow) who works with Fritjof Capra (See my posts of 8/23, 8/25, and 8/27. It also reminds me of something Gregory Bateson might say, which isn't an accident either.) At various point through *Hope's Edge, Anna Lappé contributes sidebars that she entitles 'Pitfalls of Not Solving for Pattern' giving examples from around the planet of 'experts' who were so focused on one thing that they didn't see the whole picture. In talking about whole systems, they quote Capra: "...living systems are self-organizing networks whose parts are interdependent." (Oh, yes, complex adaptive systems...) And then Capra again on how scientists have gone "from seeing objects to seeing relationships, from quantity to quality, from substance to pattern." And Frances Moore Lappé goes on to say: "Anna and I can't help but be struck by how similar even Fritjof's choice of words is to those of Hannes [one of the creators of a Europe-wide sustainable development network], Jean-Yves [a French farmer and ex-teacher], the MST farmers. Really, almost everyone we met." The Lappés' quote on this: "Now breakthroughs in science and technology allow us to perceive the interrelatedness of diverse problems and their solutions. We have the tools to build on nature's genius and tap the best of ancient wisdom. We can also see more clearly the power in the ripples our own choices make in solving the world's problems."

The fifth and final idea is "Busting free from 'isms,' creating the path as we walk." (It reminds me of the title of a book about the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation, We Build the Road as We Travel--I wonder if that's an accident.) The corresponding thought trap was (in full) "Welcome to the end of history: Communism, socialism, and facism have failed. Human evolution has finally triumphed in the best system we can create: global corporate capitalism, in which everyone stands to benefit from the creativity and wealth it unleashes." The Lappés start by demolishing the myth of the free market. They quote from the chairman of Archer Daniels Midland: "There is not one grain of anything in the world that is sold on the free market. Not one. The only place you see a free market is in the speeches of politicians." They talk about "evolving capitalism" (but I suspect there are other systems evolving as well) and give examples from throughout the book (most of these movements were covered in my last post--but they also mention the growth of worker-ownership throughout the US). Anna Lappé takes on Thomas Friedman, author of *The Lexus and the Olive Tree (a book that claims that there's really no "mass popular opposition to globalization"). He claims the only opposition in Brazil is Sem Teto, which he describes as movement of peasants who live by the side of the road and steal trucks. When the Lappés asked him about the MST he said he hadn't heard of it when he wrote the book. It also turns out that "Sem Teto is actually an urban homeless movement" --showing how much Friedman knows about "mass popular opposition". Frances Moore Lappé references anthropologist Ruth Benedict who after looking at cultures around the world noted that "In the more conflictive cultures, individuals gained prestige by accumulating goods or acting in other ways benefiting themselves alone, whereas in the better-functioning cultures, the status of individuals rose or fell according to their contribution to the whole." The Lappés go on to say "from Brazil to Bangladesh we saw new cultures arising in which the individual and the community are reconnected, and in which, therefore, status does come from one's contribution to the whole." Their quote on this point: "Now it's clear that global corporate capitalism --economic life cut off from community life--is not inevitable, nor fixed, nor the best we can do. Millions are letting go of all 'isms'--ideologies with one unchanging endpoint. They're re-embedding the market in values respecting nature, culture, and themselves."

And I have to say that Hope's Edge was an amazing book in terms of its breadth (covering movements from around the world) and its depth (really looking at what traps us and offering ways to move ahead). I will probably have to get it because I can see using it as a reference, again and again. I might even use a few of the recipes.

Next stop: Democracy.

Quote of the day: "Grameen and the MST, and really all of the groups whose stories we share, are just examples of the millions of people worldwide, experimenting, struggling, failing, and succeeding in carving new paths and creating a world in line with their deepest values.
"The people we met are pushing the edge of possibilities, not asserting that they've reached an endpoint. ... Wangari had it right that night in Nairobi. Our task is to keep walking, not to believe we've arrived." - Frances Moore Lappé
Word (or phrase) of the day: Microgreens
Hero(es) of the day: Julia de Burgos

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Getting Edgy 1: Hope

I had been looking at the newer books of Frances Moore Lappé and recently decided to get a couple out of the library and read them. I remembered there was one about 'Democracy' and one about 'Hope' and at least one of those books had the word 'Edge' in the title. But was it Democracy's Edge? Or Hope's Edge? Well, as it turns out, it was both.

Hope's Edge was written with Frances Moore Lappé's daughter, Anna Lappé. It's billed as 'The Next Diet for a Small Planet' and was released on the thirtieth anniversary of Diet for a Small Planet, the book that made Frances Moore Lappé famous. But while Diet for a Small Planet was mostly about world hunger and protein, with a lot of recipes (in some ways practically a cookbook), Hope's Edge is about people challenging the food system and it has more information and stories than it has recipes. It certainly does have recipes, however, with one or two following most chapters and a slew of them at the end of the book, most by classy chefs and restaurants, as well as famous cookbook authors Mollie Katzen (The Enchanted Broccoli Forest), Laurel Robertson (Laurel's Kitchen), and Anna Thomas (The Vegetarian Epicure).

Hope's Edge begins with a chapter on 'Maps of the Mind' which concludes with what the authors call, "Five Thought Traps": "One: The enemy is scarcity, production is our savior; Two: Thank our selfish genes; Three: Let the market decide, experts preside; Four: Solve by dissection; and Five: Welcome to the end of history." (The last one is a reference to Francis Fukuyama's book, End of History and the Last Man. The idea is that capitalism is triumphant and there are no more alternatives--from this point on it's capitalism forever.) The Lappés will debunk these 'traps' in the book's final chapter.

The second chapter of Hope's Edge is devoted to organic food in the Bay Area of California: from a expensive restaurant to an 'Edible Schoolyard' to a 'Garden Project' that has transformed prisoners and police. The fourth chapter is a short piece on Belo Horizonte, a Brazilian city that decided "food security" was a human right--and the ways they make sure that everyone gets enough to eat.

But most of the chapters are devoted to emerging movements and well-known activists around the world: MST in Brazil, Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, Vandana Shiva and Navdanya in India, Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, José Bové and the Confederation Paysanne in France, GreenPeace France, Susan George and ATTAC (world-wide), the Food Alliance in Oregon, USA, Organic Valley (also US), Home Grown Wisconsin (again US), and the Fair Trade movement from its origins in the Netherlands to its impact around the world. I'd heard a bit about many of these activists and movements before but Hope's Edge goes into detail about them as the Lappés travel the globe meeting the people involved.

There's a chapter on the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, the Brazilian Landless Worker's Movement--also known as MST. (Starhawk also devotes a good part of a chapter to MST in her book, Webs of Power, which I mentioned briefly in my post on Starhawk as a political theorist, 8/17/08.) Through much of the chapter, the Lappés, who are in Brazil meeting with leaders and members of MST, probe the organization to see how much of their cooperative stance is about real choice and how much is coercion by the Movement. They find that forty percent of the people who organize the settlements MST acquires choose to have completely private plots, a small percentage incorporate as cooperatives, and the rest mix the two by having a large common area as well as private plots. Apparently one of the reasons for the small numbers in cooperatives are suspicions that the small farmers 'won't be as free' in co-ops. But, as one farmer in the cooperative said, "...many want to come back because the cooperative is working." The Lappés note all the experimentation and self-education going on and conclude "...this creativity offers the most pursuasive evidence that coercion in the Movement is low. In my experience, coercion and creativity don't mix." They also note the influence of Paulo Freire on the education done within MST--encouraging critical thinking--as well as the influence of César Chávez on the organizing of the workers. They include numerous statements from the MST organizers that this is a movement about more than land and farming. One woman points out "...that every aspect of life has to be included--health, gender, education, leadership, philosophy..." while a man who is one of the leaders in the Movement claims the dominant culture tries to convince us that "...people are happy and important when they consume, and when they project their egoism and individualism. They tell us all we want is to consume." Then he says, "Human beings need something more to be happy." (I hope to learn more about MST and include it in a future post.)

In a similar way, the two women probe the Grameen Bank in Bengladesh (Bangali for "village bank") and its idea of "microcredit". Muhammad Yunus began Grameen by making very small, very low-interest loans to impoverished women as a way for them to get out of their poverty. As the Lappés note, Grameen "flipped banking on its head" with the owners of the bank being the members, the decisions about who gets loans being made by the village women, and using trust of the borrowers as the collateral. The goal is ending poverty and part of the process has become the 'Sixteen Decisions', which are pledges that the borrowers must take. Among them are keeping their family small, educating their children, growing vegetables all year round, and one that reads: "We shall not inflict any injustice on anyone, neither shall we allow anyone to do so." These pledges came from discussions with the borrowers. But while the Lappés appreciate Muhammad Yunus when he says things like his hope that someday "poverty will be seen only in a museum", they are concerned Grameen is not only moving people out of poverty, but creating consumerism. Anna Lappé devotes a sidebar to wondering whether lipstick sales in Bengladesh are a sign of progress or not. They end the chapter with mixed feelings about the 'evolving capitalism' at work here.

The chapter on India's Navdanya (it means 'nine seeds') movement begins with a brief interview with Vandana Shiva, a very busy woman fighting for water rights and biodiversity. She tells the Lappés that Gandhi's symbol for India's independence and liberation was the spinning wheel. Her next statement is: "So I asked myself, what's our spinning wheel?" Her answer was "the seed". With that the Lappés go on to visit Delhi, the Himalayan foothills, and the Punjab (which they describe as "the Indian version of our Midwest breadbasket"). In each place they meet with representatives of Navdanya and learn about their attempts to preserve agricultural diversity and restore organic farming in the face of an onslaught from agribusiness, biotechnology, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides--the whole Green Revolution package. The Lappés remain skeptical but are impressed when they meet a former pesticide/fertilizer salesman who changed because he was developing breathing problems and allergies from the chemicals he sold. Now he works with Navdanya. Frances is also impressed when she finds a poster extolling 'Living Democracy', the exact wording she used when she created the Center for Living Democracy. And they contrast with the work of Navdanya with meeting a government bureaucrat who brags about India's grain surplus, which they intend to export, rather than use to feed their starving people. "We already give too many subsidies to the poor," he says.

From India, the Lappés travel to Kenya where they meet with Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Green Belt Movement. On Earth Day, 1977, Wangari Maathai planted her first trees. The Green Belt Movement has planted more than twenty million trees since then, reversing decades of 'desertification'. (Wikipedia claims 30 million in 12 African countries.) But the Green Belt Movement has gone beyond planting trees--and is now teaching 'household food security: traditional gardening of sweet potatoes, arrowroot, pigeon peas, cassava, millet, and sorghum. They also teach civic education, using workshops on 'wrong bus syndrome', pointing out how people can be misled by others and the necessity of making choices. Toward the end of the chapter, Frances Moore Lappé asks the question, "If we're all on the wrong bus globally, how do we get off?"

From Africa, it's off to Europe, beginning with a chapter on the origins of the Fair Trade movement (and conversations with Dutch Fair Traders, Guatemalan coffee farmers, and the manager of a Nicaraguan coffee cooperative). Then in Brussels, Frances Moore Lappé talks with one of the creators of a Europe-wide sustainable development network who is helping to create "viable local answers to globalization". He introduces her to the term "multifunctionality" --which she describes as a 'clunky way' to talk about the many facets of agriculture: nutritious sustainance, preserving the environment, and reviving rural ways of life. Anna Lappé uses one of her sidebars to talking about how multifunctionality works in Poland where Jadwiga Lopata has created a network of organic farms that she is helping to preserve through 'eco-tourism'. The Lappés visit a French farmer who is part of the European sustainable agriculture network that is rejecting imported cattle feed, partly because it's grown in countries where people are starving. The women meet with a spokesperson for the Confederation Paysanne. (José Bové, one of their leaders, who became famous for his attack on French McDonald's, is in India with Vandana Shiva fighting the seed corporations--but the Lappés will meet him later in Wisconsin.) Confederation Paysanne is a farmers' union and represents a fifth of all French farmers--they are also a part of Via Campesina, a world-wide agricultural movement that also includes the MST in Brazil. The focus of Confederation Paysanne is on quality farming, an approach that includes concerns about food safety and environmental awareness, and which is contrasted with what they refer to as 'productivism', the industrial approach to farming. When they return to Paris, The Lappés are surprised everyone tells them they need to talk with the Greenpeace folks. They, like me, associate Greenpeace with protests against whaling and nuclear testing--but one of the current foci of Greenpeace's work is educating people about the risks associated with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Greenpeace has been successful in France in getting the government to oppose the cultivation of genetically modified Seeds. (Unfortunately, the Lappés also note that the US government actually has been helping introduce GMOs into our agriculture and is one of the few industrial countries that doesn't require labeling of GMO products.) Finally, they meet with Susan George, cofounder of the Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens (better known by its acronym, ATTAC) which endorses a 'tiny tax' on foreign trade transactions worldwide (and since there is well over a *trillion dollars of these transactions *daily, these taxes could amount to a hundred billion dollars a year) to aid the poor and slow down speculative trading.

Finally, the Lappés return to the US to meet with Wisconsin farmers who are raising their cattle on pastures, not grain, and stopping the use of pesticides. One farming couple survives because they run their farm as a CSA (see my post of 7/24/08, Feeding Ourselves in the Future). They finally get to spend some time with José Bové (see the last paragraph), and visit the Willy Street Food Co-op in Madison where they learn about Organic Valley (also in my Feeding Ourselves in the Future post), the Food Alliance (which has a label for products where food companies demonstrate their concerns for the environment and their workers), and Home Grown Wisconsin, an organic farmers' co-op that sells their produce to Madison and Chicago restaurants.

But wait, there's more. Next: Ideas!

Quote of the day: "This kind of hope isn't clean or tidy. Honest hope has an edge. It's messy. It requires that we let go of all pat answers, all preconceived formulas, all confidence that our sailing will be smooth. It's not a resting point. Honest hope is movement." - Frances Moore Lappé
Word (or phrase) of the day: Normative
Hero(es) of the day: Sylvia Rivera

Thursday, September 4, 2008

What We Need and Don't Need

My last post got me thinking--what do people really need? And more importantly, what don't we need?

I had made up a list, a while ago, of things I think we do need.* Here it is:
  • air, water, food, rest, connection (with other human beings)
  • shelter, energy, clothing (at least in cool climates) and foot protection, sewage and sanitation
  • security and safety, health/healing, recuperation time, time outdoors/in nature
  • transportation, communication, education/training
  • culture, art, music, dance, literature, (etc,) spirituality (spiritual connections), challenging activities (problem solving, craft, strenous outdoor exercise, sports, games, competition), social gatherings
  • touch, affection, and, yes, sex (for connection, pleasure, and procreation)
Now, off the top of my head, here's list of things that I think we don't need:
  • Capitalism, patriarchy, white/WASP supremacy, or any system that says some human beings are worth more or are more important than others, poverty, hunger, violence, hatred, pollution, destruction...
  • Materialism and consumerism, corporations and the corporate world, television, spectator sports, home entertainment centers, mcmansions, any mansions, palaces and castles, gated communities, x number of brands of laundry soap/deodorant/toothpaste, sugar coated breakfast cereals, candy, tobacco, cigarettes, alcohol, fast foods, junk food, poorly-made plastic things, entertainment meant to distract us, fancy cars, sports cars, SUVs, limousines, things, things, and more things...
It's fairly amazing what we could live without--and even more amazing to think about what the world might be like without all the things on the don't need list. There's so much in the world that isn't good for us that's also not great for the planet. Feel free to add to either of these lists--or challenge me on them. (I will talk more about simplicity in an upcoming post.)

*I came up with this list while thinking about what we would need if we got to rebuild the world from scratch.

Quote of the day: "Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not any man's greed." - Gandhi
Word (or phrase) of the day: Interlocalism
Hero(es) of the day: Badshah Khan

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Hierarchy of Needs

A theoretical construct that I've found useful is Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. While it's been criticized when followed rigidly (for example, trying to claim that hungry people are not capable of love, or people who extend it to try to prove that it's not possible for poor people to go for achievement or self-actualization), I think that as a general guideline it's valuable. (One of the people who has criticized it is Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef, who claims that there is no hierarchy of needs; instead, he says that needs are satisfied through 'simultaneity, complementarity and trade-offs'. He does, however, admit there is a basic need for survival and subsistance.)

Maslow postulates that there are at least five levels of growth, and each level needs to be met (overall) before moving on to the next level.

He starts with 'Physiological Needs'. Among other things, he includes eating, drinking, shelter, and warmth. Every human being needs oxygen to breathe, water to drink, and food to eat. We need shelter and warmth to survive. This means we need to deal with issues like hunger and housing as a priority. Energy needs are in here as well (for warmth among other things) as well as the needs for clean water and clean air. Here also is where concerns about the corporate control of drinking water (especially in poorer countries) come in to play.

Once these needs are met, he goes on to his next level which he calls 'Safety Needs'. You may not be starving to death but if you have to worry about being killed or injured at any time, you are not much better off. Here lies many issues that we have let the conservatives run with: crime and terrorism and economic issues--but also more progressive issues like war and job safety. This also includes people who have enough to live on but live in fear that this little margin of security may disappear any moment, not to mention the need for adequate health care. We need a society

The next level he labels 'The Love Needs'. Here he includes "love and affection and belongingness". Other people have pointed out that this is about our need for healthy relationships, for friendship, intimacy, a sense of family. It's not enough to have your basic needs met and to feel safe. If these are met, you need to feel loved. Here it's clear that love isn't 'all you need' but it is certainly something you need.

Maslow's next level is for esteem, achievement, and respect. Self-esteem and self-respect are key here. People need to feel accepted and that they are making a contribution.

Maslow refers to these four levels as "deficiency needs", claiming that if they are met, they become nearly irrelevant. When they are fulfilled, we move on to higher levels.

Beyond these needs are what Maslow refers to as "growth needs", needs for knowledge, beauty, and 'self-actualization", the drive to make the most of who you are.

One useful piece of this model is that it reminds us to start with basic needs. Make sure everybody has food, water, shelter. Make sure everybody feels safe and secure. Make sure that everybody feels loved. Make sure that everyone feels they are worthwhile and making a contribution. Then we can worry about more complex needs. (And maybe we don't need much beyond this.)

Next: What do we need? And what don't we need?

Quote of the day: "Anyone who attempts to make an emergency picture into a typical one and who will measure all of man's goals and desires by his behavior during extreme physiological deprivation, is certainly blind to many things. It is quite true that man lives by bread alone — when there is no bread..." - Abraham Maslow
Word (or phrase) of the day: Reification
Hero(es) of the day: Herbert and Marianne Baum