Thursday, October 30, 2008


Diversity is about variation. Being different is worthwhile. Differences enrich us. Differences make things work better. Diversity is a gift, a richness that strengthens our world and makes our lives fuller. We can learn much from people unlike us. We need the contrasts in our lives. We need cultural differences and religious differences and philosophical differences. A better world incorporates and sustains the differences between us.

Of course diversity, like all the other terms that I've used, can mean several different things. In particular, there's human diversity, which is mostly what I was referring to above, and biodiversity, the enormous variety of life and the need for that variety, since the more variation in an ecosystem, the more resilient the system becomes. And, of course, it's the same principle in both cases. The more variety we have, the better off we are. Sameness, homogeniety, is not just boring, it's stulifying, rigidifying, and dangerous.

There are people scared of diversity--and sometimes with good reason. I do realize that not all differences are good. I don't want to live in community with bigots and elitists and reactionaries, no matter how diverse that makes the group. But I also don't want to live with people just like me. I need diversity in order to learn and grow. As Audre Lorde points out, we need to embrace differences, not fear them.

Quote of the day: "If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse gift will find a fitting place." - Margaret Mead
Word (or phrase) of the day: Riparian Rights
Hero(es) of the day: James Baldwin

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Complex Resources

Well, of course, there are all the books on complexity theory (see my post of 7/16/08). In addition, the book Chaos by James Gleick is a useful guide to see where complexity theory began. The difference between chaos theory and complexity theory is the difference between simple disorder and a system that balances between disorder and orderliness--spontaneous, coherent, self-organizing, cohesive, and alive in spite of it all. See my post on Steven Johnson's theories on Clustering and Coping (8/13/08) for more on this.

For take on complexity theory and its relationship to ecology, see Fritjof Capra's books The Web of Life and The Hidden Connections (which I reviewed on 8/25/08 and 8/27/08).
Two books that offer quite different ways of looking at the complexities of this society (and western civilization in general) are Ken Wilbur's A Brief History of Everything (and he's not kidding, he throws a lot more than you'd expect in his book--he sees the society as evolving and he is very clear where he thinks it's evolving to) and Chellis Glendinning's My Name is Chellis and I'm in Recovery from Western Civilization (she thinks civilization started going wrong when we began farming--as opposed to hunter-gathering--and sees our situation as parallel to people recovering from trauma, abuse, and addiction). I will write more about Glendinning's book in the future, but if you really want to look at the complexities of modern life, these two books give two very divergent (and comprehensive) lens to look at them with.

Quote of the day: "The edge of chaos is the constantly shifting battle zone between stagnation and anarchy, the one place where a complex system can be spontaneous, adaptive, and alive." - M. Mitchell Waldrop
Word (or phrase) of the day: Prior Appropriation
Hero(es) of the day: Rose Pastor Stokes

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Complexity (Again)

If you look around the world, it isn't simple. It's not only complex, it's messy. I've said from the beginning that there aren't easy answers.

Life is complex. Simple living is not the same as over simplification. As simple systems evolve and coevolve they form complex systems. There is a richness in complexity and nature, for all its simplicity, glories in complexity. If we are going to create a society that is anything other than stark and uniform, it is going to have to be complex.

Complexity isn't a good thing or a bad thing, it just is. As such we need to find a way of dealing with it and enjoying it. We need to be able to embrace the world in its many facets and complicated riches.

Complexity theory (see my post of 7/16/08) is one way to embrace the chaos. Complexity theory talks about 'Complex Adaptive Systems'. It's system theory brought into the twenty-first century.

Complexity tends to organize itself. If you look you can see systems everywhere. Systems adapt, cope, develop, and emerge. A quote that sticks in my mind is "You can't manage a system, a system manages a system." Embracing complexity doesn't mean we control it. As a person I was speaking to recently put it: "You can influence systems, you can't control them."

Some of these systems are rather destructive. While it is necessary to oppose the destructive aspects, it's not clear that we can destroy these systems. Buckminister Fuller said, "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete". Or as the IWW put it, "we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old."

Thus we need to create new systems. The systems we create will be simple (at first). If they work, they will become complex and out of our control. We need to embrace what works and replace what doesn't. And learn to ride on the waves of complexity.

Quote of the day: "Abandon the urge to simplify everything, to look for formulas and easy answers, and to begin to think multidimensionally, to glory in the mystery and paradoxes of life, not to be dismayed by the multitude of causes and consequences that are inherent in each experience -- to appreciate the fact that life is complex." - M. Scott Peck
Word (or phrase) of the day: Anarchist Law
Hero(es) of the day: Henry David Thoreau

Friday, October 24, 2008


There are many things that I like about this society. I actually appreciate the complexity and diversity we have here. I also like the openness to individuality. Simple, Egalitarian, Communal, and Sustainable is all very well, but I also want a world that is Complex, Diverse, Individual, and Practical. Is this a contradiction?

I've thought about it, but I don't think so. The Amish have seemed SECSy to me (although I've heard that they are more hierarchical than they appear), but I don't really want to live in an Amish world. (I doubt that they'd be very appreciative of bi/poly folks, for example, not to mention pagan.) I like the complexity and diversity, the messiness of this world. I enjoy being different and want a world that appreciates individuality. I want a society that offers more options to people, not less. And I think that all this is compatible with simple, egalitarian, communal, and sustainable. I also want all this to be practical--idealistic, yes, but practical as well.

Does this sound crazy or contradictory? Stay with me while I explore complexity, diversity, individuality, and practicality, and I will get to the contradictions.

Quote of the day: "Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." - Lewis Carroll
Word (or phrase) of the day: Breeder
Hero(es) of the day: Fernando Pereira

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Egalitarian Communities

Living simply, equally, communally, and sustainably isn't just a nice ideal--there are people doing it. I mentioned the Amish in my last post but there are more modern groups that live even closer to this ideal.

I want to single out the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. These are six intentional communities based on the principles of: Holding land, labor, income, and other resources in common; Assuming responsibility for the needs of their members; Practicing non-violence; Using a form of decision making in which members have an equal opportunity to participate; Actively working to establish the equality of all people; Acting to conserve natural resources for present and future generations while striving to continually improve ecological awareness and practice; and Creating processes for group communication and participation and while providing an environment which supports people's development.

Obviously these communities practice cooperation and communal living. In fact, they are some of the more communal communities, sharing work, income, and resources.

They are also egalitarian, as reflected in the name. As they put it, they work "to establish the equality of all people". There are no gurus or set leaders--instead they rotate leadership. Even Twin Oaks, which has a Planner-Manager system, is hardly hierarchical. As Kat Kinkade explained, in her book Is It Utopia Yet?, "On the surface our system looks like a hierarchy, workers reporting to Managers and Managers to Planners. In practice the system is largely non-hierarchical. Nobody 'reports' to anybody.... The theory behind the design of our management system is that it is desirable to spread authority as broadly as possible. We tend to attract people who distrust hierarchies and want to cooperate with, rather than report to, other Community members.
"Furthermore, we're all 'workers', and at least three quarters of us are managers in addition." It's not exactly what Bruce Kokopeli and George Lakey had in mind in "Leadership for Change" (see my post of 10/2/08), but it is shared leadership.

As for sustainability, their principle on conserving "natural resources for present and future generations" is clear enough. In addition, several of the communities describe themselves as 'eco-villages'.

Simple living is not so explicit (except in the Emma Goldman Finishing School which lists 'simplicity' as one of their principles) but no one in any of these communities is getting rich. (There is a cartoon in Is It Utopia Yet where a character gets their allowance and says "You know, this is probably one of the few places left in the country where 'another day, another dollar' isn't just a saying.") Because they live communally, FEC members can live simply.

You can learn more about the Federation of Egalitarian Communities from their website. Kat Kinkade's books, Is It Utopia Yet? and the earlier A Walden Two Experiment are good sources to learn more about Twin Oaks--sort of the flagship FEC community. For those who think this kind of thing would never work, Twin Oaks has been around for forty-one years and it's going strong. Another triumph for SECS.

Next, a different way of looking at things.

Quote of the day: "A new way of living is not only possible, it is happening now!" - from the FEC website
Word (or phrase) of the day: Green Roofs
Hero(es) of the day: Mary McLeod Bethune

Monday, October 20, 2008


I see these four principles (SECS as I call them) as being interconnected and intersupportive.

Simple living is sustainable living. In order to live sustainably, we need to live simply. As we need and use less, we also allow those who don't have to have more, thus moving toward equality.

Living cooperatively and/or communally allows you to share stuff, which means you can live more simply and sustainably. It also mean that those who share have somewhat of an equal access to stuff, reducing the disparities between people.

Income sharing communities are consciously egalitarian. In fact, the main organization of income-sharing communities is called The Federation of Egalitarian Communities.

Egalitarian is only sustainable if it's simple. As many people have put it, if everyone lived the way that the average American lives we'd need several planets worth of resources. We can get away with living so unsustainably now because of how unequal our consumption is. A simple life is the only life that promotes equality and sustainability--and cooperative and/or communal sharing can help us live simply.

To see how these are all connected, I'll quote from an interview with Oren Lyons, the 'faithkeeper' of the Onondaga Nation. He was speaking with Tim Knauss, of the Syracuse (New York) Post-Standard, about the traditions of the Haudenosaunee, or the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. One of these traditions is the oft-cited admonition to consider the seventh generation to come in every decision you make. (In other words, make decisions that will be sustainable.)

Lyons talked about Sen. Henry Dawes, of Massachusetts. Dawes sponsored legislation (the Dawes Act) which broke up the collectively owned Indian land, because he thought Indians needed individual ownership in order to become successful.

Lyons claimed that Dawes said that "I just came back from the Cherokee Nation ... in Oklahoma. Well, he said... they had schools, there was no war, they had their statehouse, they were living communally. They were very happy, he said, if not blissful there. They were all working like an Indian community. And he says, and that's the problem.... He says, well, as you know, if somebody is living in those terms, they're not going to progress. They're just going to be happy just the way they are. There'll be no progress....

"I think he said. ... the bottom line of our civilization was selfishness. We have to teach them to be selfish, so they can progress. ... It's about progress."

Here's an example of SECS, where the Cherokees (and other tribes) were living simply, communally, sustainably, and to a large degree, equally. And it was deliberately destroyed because of someone's ideal of 'progress' and the notion that we need selfishness and greed in order to progress.

But SECS isn't enough. Now, to make things more complex, I want to put out a set of principles that may at first seem to contradict my principles of Simplicity, Equality, Community, and Sustainability. I think, though, they complement them.

But first, let me give a living example of what I think is interconnected SECS.

Quote of the day: "When a system is whole and healthy, when it is based on relationships of interdependence and cooperation that further resilience, diversity, abundance, sustainability, creativity, and freedom, it exhibits that balance that we humans call 'justice'." - Starhawk
Word (or phrase) of the day: Co-Intelligence
Hero(es) of the day: Judi Bari

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sustainable Resources

As I mentioned in my initial post on sustainability (10/14/08), this is a hot topic. There are lots of resources available. In fact, there is at least one whole publishing house (Chelsea Green), and possibly more, devoted to publishing books on sustainability. I will just mention a few resources here.

In my post on Appropriate Technology (8/19/08) I listed two books which I will list again: Nancy Jack Todd's A Safe and Sustainable World: The Promise of Ecological Design, and the Farallones Institute's classic, The Integral Urban House. Another useful book is the Toolbox for Sustainable City Living by Stacy Pettigrew and Scott Kellogg (co-founders of the Rhizome Collective in Austin, Texas)--this just published book looks like an updated version of the information from the previous two books with a Do-It-Yourself (or better yet, as they say as well as my dear friends Ellie and Jules say, Do-It-Ourselves) mentality. I'm reading it now and it's amazing.

A couple of websites with sustainable resources include the Sustainable Communities Network and Sustainable Sources . For those interested in designing sustainably, a site called Sustainable by Design offers shareware design tools.

Of course, the Transition Initiative (which I talked about in my last post) is a major resource for sustainability.

Next, the interconnections...

Quote of the day: "The future is literally in our hands to mold as we like. But we cannot wait until tomorrow. Tomorrow is now." - Eleanor Roosevelt
Word (or phrase) of the day: Open Space Technology
Hero(es) of the day: Ernst Bloch

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Transition Towns

The Transition Towns movement started when Rob Hopkins held a permaculture (see my post of 7/22/08) course in Kinsale, Ireland. As part of the course, students created an "Energy Descent Action Plan". One of the students took it to the town council which resulted in the town of Kinsale adopting the plan. Rob Hopkins, inspired by this, took the idea to his hometown of Totnes, England, which eventually became an official Transition Town.

At this point there are one hundred locations, worldwide, officially embracing a Transition Initiative (the name that will be slowly replacing 'Transition Town' since many of the locations are cities, villages, districts, etc). In addition, there are well over six hundred locations across the planet that are 'mulling over' the idea.

The Transition Initiative is a formal process that involves a commitment from everyone involved. It begins when there are four or five people willing to step into leadership roles (the Transition folks are clear that one or two enthusiastic persons are not enough). They have a twelve step process (yes, like a recovery group) that they outline for developing the initiative--from setting up a steering group that begins with the intention to disband as soon as sub-groups are formed, to creating an Energy Descent Plan. (And one of the steps is to use Open Space Technology. See my post of 8/31/08, which includes a bit about Transition Towns.)

Rob Hopkins has written a book called The Transition Handbook which outlines the Transition Initiative process which is available from the Transition Culture website. There is also a Transition Primer available for free on the Transition Towns WIKI which is also a great source for all sorts of information on Transition Initiatives. Finally, there are Transition Trainings happening in England, the US, Canada, Italy, New Zealand, and provisionally, Australia and Japan. I am very pleased that several will be happening in the Boston area, as well as up in Portland, Maine.

If you are interested in taking sustainability beyond your household, this is the next step up. We may not be able to change the nations yet (let alone the world), but you may be able to make your town (city, village, district, etc) a Transition Town.

Quote of the day: "People are starting to see peak oil as the Great Opportunity, the chance to build the world they always dreamt of. ... The scale of the challenge is huge, and the obstacles are plenty, but there is an emerging energy to succeed, a sense of quickening and an exhilaration in talking and listening to each other once again, to visioning what we want and then rolling up our sleeves and starting to co-create it." - Rob Hopkins
Word (or phrase) of the day: Sustainable Agriculture
Hero(es) of the day: Maggie Kuhn

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Sustainability, like Simplicity, Equality, Community, and Cooperation, has multiple meanings. It's become very popular these days, to the point that some people refer to it as a meaningless 'buzz word'. At the very least, it refers to both the way that ecosystems work and the way we need to live.

As far as I'm concerned, sustainability means that whatever we build needs to be for the long-term. It means we see ourselves as part of the web of nature and act accordingly. It means that we use only renewable natural resources and use them as little as possible, allowing them to replenish themselves. It also means that we think about what works and what doesn't, as well as thinking about the future and what we leave to those who come after us. The Environmental Protection Agency defines sustainability as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." We need to think ahead. Thinking 'to the seventh generation' is a good start, but we may need to think beyond that.

In my post of 8/27/08, on Fritjof Capra's The Hidden Connections, I listed his basic principles of ecology, including "... an ecosystem generates no waste, one species' waste being another species' food." Generating no waste is also part of being sustainable. Nothing goes to waste, everything is reused--sometimes by recycling or, even better, composting--where what we see as wastes become food for plants. Sustainability means being creative, figuring out how to use less and waste nothing.

This ties in with living simply, since simple living uses less stuff. It ties in with living communally, since sharing things again means we need less and therefore there's more to go around and it lasts longer. But it also means that as we try to be Simple and Egalitarian and Communal we do it in such a way that we don't burn ourselves out. We are trying to build a society that lasts.

Next: Transitioning

Quote of the day: "... one of our main responsibilities is to leave to successor generations a sustainable future." - UN Secretary-General Kofi A. Annan
Word (or phrase) of the day: Eco-socialism
Hero(es) of the day: Harry Simms (Kentucky)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Communal and Cooperative Resources

There are lots of resources on the various types of community, cooperatives, and cooperative behavior out there. Here are a few useful items:

A wonderful book on building community of all kinds is Circles of Strength, edited by Helen Forsey. (Except for the Emma Goldman quote, all my other 'Quote of the day' quotes for today and the other recent community focused posts are drawn from this book.)

Laird Schaub has a blog on Community and Consensus which, while focused on intentional community, often has relevance for most kind of communities and cooperatives, not to mention cooperation in general.

Tom Atlee's various sites (see my post of 9/16/08) have lots of information useful to community building of all types, as does my post on Catalysts and Network Weavers (8/31/08). Valdis Krebs and June Holley along with their colleague, Jack Ricchiuto, have a blog on Network Weaving which contains a lot of their current thinking and interests and is worth perusing.

Community organizing has been the focus of some controversy lately. Saul Alinsky was one of the founding and more controversial community organizers and his books, Rules for Radicals and Reveille for Radicals are classics. A good online introduction to community organizing is The Citizen's Handbook.

For anyone interested in the various types of cooperatives, a good place to start is the International Co-operative Alliance. Also check out the National Cooperative Business Association.

For resources specifically oriented toward various types of intentional community, see my post of 10/6/08.

And, of course, if anyone has other community and/or cooperative resources, please share.

Quote of the day: "Connection, caring, trust, enduring dependable relationships, generosity of spirit, and delight in difference--these are the values of healthy community. To create the fundamental social changes that will enable us to live in harmony with each other and with the Earth, it is imperative to reclaim and restore community." - Margo Adair and Sharon Howell
Word (or phrase) of the day: General Systems Theory
Hero(es) of the day: The Paris Commune

Friday, October 10, 2008

Communes and Communism

Some intentional communities used to be known as communes. Communes got a bad name from poorly organized and self-serving (sometimes practically predatory) situations that occurred in the late '60s and early '70s--filled with drugs, and sex/'free love', and poor hygiene, and irresponsibility, and unwillingness to do the real work to build community. No one uses the word 'commune' to describe themselves these days, and few use the term 'communal'. Which is too bad because communal is the best way to describe communities (like the Egalitarian Communities that I will post on soon) that share income or are much more closely knit than co-ops or cohousing.

Communal means we share things. This is a way to live simply--if we share what we have, we don't need so much stuff. It can also mean living together. There are many degrees of how communal, but all community (broadly defined) is in some way communal. Certainly group living experiments such as communes, co-ops, and even cohousing, work toward this, but even people who want to live by themselves or in couples or nuclear families can be part of larger communities, networks of people sharing what they feel comfortable sharing. (This is what I tried to say in my original post on communities and cooperatives.)

This is also basically the old ideal of 'communism'. When I was in eighth grade in Catholic school a nun pointed out to us that the apostles were early communists. (A radical thing for a nun to be saying, but if you read the 'Acts of the Apostles' in the Christian bible, you will find it to be true. They tried sharing everything they had with one another.)

And when I began thinking of myself as an Egalitarian Communitarian, I realized that this wasn't so different from the old Communist Anarchists, back before the Marxists ruined the term 'communist'. (These day I think of myself as an 'Eco-communalist', but it's still a variant of Communist Anarchism...) The Emma Goldman quote below is from an essay entitled "There Is No Communism in Russia" where she analyzed the Soviet experiment and concluded what she saw there was not communism. Her words: "Soviet Russia, it must now be obvious, is an absolute despotism politically and the crassest form of state capitalism economically." Communism (or 'communalism') is about sharing, not about political dictatorship, no matter what happened in the USSR or China or Cambodia.

Quote of the day: "Communism is the ideal of human equality..." - Emma Goldman
Word (or phrase) of the day: Gynephilia and Androphilia
Hero(es) of the day: Michelle Cliff

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Intentional Communities

The key word in Intentional Communities is 'intentional'. It means that people have decided to live together, have chosen to live together. Intentional Communities are often households or clusters of households that are tied together by a common project. There is a large spectrum of intentional communities, ranging from very communal (see my next post for a little more on this--I will also have an upcoming post on Egalitarian Communities, which is a name that many of the more communal communities have taken on) to co-op households (both a form of intentional community and a form of cooperative--see my last post for a bit on this--these are popular with college students as well as young adults in their twenties and thirties) to cohousing (sharing some common areas but having private households--this is currently the fastest growing form of intentional community--popular with somewhat older adults, particularly adults with children and those over 55) to ecovillages (these are the hot new form of community, incorporating sustainability into the mix, and can overlap with other forms of community, particularly both the communal and the cohousing). Land trusts are also sometimes seen as a form of intentional community.

Intentional community is a way to live deliberately with other people. Intentional community gives us a chance to practice what we preach, to try living harmoniously, compassionately, ecologically, simply, sustainably, equally, the whole nine yards. It's a way to have people around that you can talk with, share ideas with, work together with, build with, connect with, and sometimes just get a sympathetic ear from.

It is also a challenge. It's easy to imagine perfect communities in your head, but real communities--of all types, but particularly intentional communities--are messy places where people discover that it's not easy to live with other people, particularly those different from you. And in intentional community you soon discover that everyone is different from you. (You've all agreed that you're interested in, say, compassionate living. Suddenly you discover everyone has a different idea what 'compassion' means--and you are finding it hard to be compassionate with someone who likes to leave their dirty dishes in the sink or play their music loudly or invite lots of people over without warning. Unless that person is you and you are wondering why no one has room in their hearts for your idiosyncrasies.)

If it sounds like I'm talking from experience here, I am. But I still live somewhat communally and I still want to live more that way in the future. Why? Because I weigh the benefits I listed two paragraphs above against all the difficulties and I've decided it's worth it. And I also live in community because intentional communities are laboratories for social change. All the things I've talked about in my blog so far, generally apply to group living.

Now, I don't believe that everyone should be living in intentional community, but I do think a lot of people would benefit from it--particularly since there are enough varieties of community that it should be possible to meet a variety of different needs. Also, if you are interested in social change, and want to try living it, rather than merely theorizing about it, intentional community is one place to start.

For more on Intentional Communities check out the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. They publish a Directory of Intentional Communities (both a web-based version and a print version that you can purchase from the website). For more on co-op housing, The North American Students of Cooperation is a good source of information. The Cohousing Association of the United States website is a useful place to search for more info specifically about co-housing. For anyone wanting to know about ecovillages, the Global Ecovillage Network might be a good place to start. More on community land trusts (a way to share land, if nothing else) can be found at the National Community Land Trust Network. And if you are interested in the more communal variety of community, (I will be posting quite a bit more on it later) the Federation of Egalitarian Communities is a good place to start.

Quote of the day: "In the analysis of peace, oppression or ecological issues, you need always to consider how your actions impact on others. In community, you must do the work of learning who other people are and how they see things differently, and honoring that, so that you in turn will have your views honored. That is group work, and it is essential for world peace. The same is true for oppression issues, and for how your use of resources limits or enhances others' use of resources. You have to build up from small units; you can't leap to the national or international model without knowing how that works in a group of eight or twelve. Communities I know are doing this work, discovering how groups can get to know each other well enough to function in healthy, non-exploitive ways." - Laird Schaub
Word (or phrase) of the day: Civil Society
Hero(es) of the day: Robert King Wilkerson

Monday, October 6, 2008

Communities and Cooperatives

Just as there were different meanings for simplicity and equality, there are different meanings for community.

I'll start off with three types of community: Geographic communities (these are groups living in close proximity, and include things like neighbourhoods, villages, towns, or even whole cities), communities of culture/identity/interests (this is an umbrella term that includes things like "the gay community", "the black community", "the women's community", "professional communities", etc, etc, etc), and intentional communities (which includes a spectrum from 'communes' and coop houses, to things like cohousing, ecovillages, and land trusts--see my next post for more). (There are other different types of communities but these are the ones that I want to focus on.)

To confuse things more I'll throw in various types of cooperatives: Housing cooperatives, Building cooperatives, Utility cooperatives, Worker cooperatives, Consumer cooperatives, Agricultural cooperatives, and various kinds of cooperative banking (such as credit unions and cooperative savings banks).

So, what are the commonalities here? I'll focus on three particular aspects of communities and cooperatives: cooperation, connection, and sharing. I see these as interrelated.
It's all about cooperation, working together. (The various cooperative societies trace their names back to Robert Owen's "villages of co-operation" and William King's paper, The Cooperator.)

Working together we can achieve more than any of us can achieve alone.
But more than that, it's about connection. As I wrote in an early post on Love and Affection (7/28/08), there is a human need for connection. As we work together and live together, we support each other and touch each other and we realize that we are not alone.

And, finally, it's about sharing--something that we teach children at an early age, but many adults don't seem to get. The more we share, the more communal we make our resources, the more that we have access to. Instead of having the attitude of 'Mine. Mine. Mine.', creating little boxes with walls around everything, community and cooperation offer wide open spaces with enough for everyone, including enough connection and affection to get us through, and enough cooperative strength to create what we need.

Cooperation, connection, sharing. All the communities--geographic, cultural, or intentional--and all the cooperative groups, potentially offer this. It's what community and cooperation is about.
Next, intentional communities.

Quote of the day: "We are tired to death of swimming upstream alone; we want to feel grounded, connected, to be able to touch the earth and put down roots. We are searching for simplicity and balance in our lives, for comradeship and challenge in our work and our relationships. We feel the need for hope, for possibilities in the midst of despair, for integrity and wholeness in the struggle against alienation, for stability in place of rootlessness, for nuturing and closeness based on equality and respect, not on obligation and exploitation. These needs dictate the journey that leads us to community." - Helen Forsey
Word (or phrase) of the day: Transition Towns
Hero(es) of the day: Adrienne Rich

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Egalitarian Resources

Because I mean a variety of things by equality, there are a variety of resources here. Also see my posts on Radical Political Theory (7/6/08) and Participatory Economics and Economic Theory (7/8/08) for ways that various oppressions interact, and how a more equal economics might be possible.

Two writers that I have found useful in thinking about the various forms of oppression as forms of inequality are Audre Lorde (see in particular "Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference" and "Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving" in Sister Outsider) and bell hooks (see Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, particularly the chapter on "Changing Perspectives on Power").

Starhawk's Truth or Dare (see my post of 8/17/08) talks about the development of hierarchy (including some controversial theories about the ancient transition from egalitarian hunter/gatherer societies to "a hierarchal, patriarchal, militaristic society"). She also talks about ways to share leadership in egalitarian groups. (The two works that I cited in my last post, "Leadership for Change" and "The Tyranny of Structurelessness" have useful ideas on shared leadership as well.)

A good book on economic inequality, and particularly how this has grown in the US since the 1970s, is Economic Apartheid in America by Chuck Collins and Felice Yeskel. The organization United for a Fair Economy works to reduce this inequality.

For those with a philosophical bent, the works of John Rawls (A Theory of Justice and Justice as Fairness:A Restatement) and Michael Walzer (Spheres of Justice) look at the issues of equality in relation to fairness and justice--particularly the issue of distributive justice. Michael Walzer also attempts to differentiate what he calls 'Simple Equality' from 'Complex Equality' and their relationship within a pluralistic society. Richard Gilbert's book, How Much Do We Deserve attempts to draw from Rawls and Walzer as well as other philosophical and theological principles to form his own principles of fairness, equality, and distributive justice.

As Eugene Debs says, equality is about our 'kinship' with everyone. It's a not a static concept, and working toward equality will occur in lots of different ways. If you have other ideas for resources related to equality, I love to hear about it.

Quote of the day: "Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the earth. I said then and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free." - Eugene V. Debs
Word (or phrase) of the day: Permablitz
Hero(es) of the day: Pete Seeger

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Equality and Leadership

In my last post I mentioned power inequalities. One place this often comes up is in groups and organizations.

I've talked a quite a bit already about decentralized leadership--in terms of Catalysts and Network Weavers (see my post of 8/31/08) and in terms of emergent structure and 'leaderless groups' (see my posts on Clustering and Coping, 8/13/08, and especially the stories about the Great Peace March in my post of 9/16/08). Certainly the idea of 'leaderless' groups sounds like it would foster more equality. But there is a difference between not having leaders and not having leadership. I suspect the difference between Clustering and Coping is leadership, and I suspect that there was a good deal of emergent leadership in the Great Peace March--just not leaders.

Two articles, both originally from the 1970s, directly take on the issues of leaders, leadership, power, and inequality.

"Leadership for Change" was originally published as an article in WIN magazine in 1978. Movement for a New Society reissued it as a pamphlet and eventually New Society Publishers republished it. It is currently available from the Training for Change site. The authors, Bruce Kokopeli and George Lakey, argue that leadership is a much different thing than leaders, and break leadership down to 20 different components under two broad headings, Task Functions (examples include 'Information and opinion-giving', 'Summarizing', 'Coordinating', and 'Evaluating') and Morale Functions (examples include 'Encouraging participation', 'Relieving Tension', 'Helping communication', 'Evaluating emotional climate', 'Active listening', and 'Building Trust'). They then point out that Task Functions are most often performed by men, and get the spotlight, and Morale Functions are most often performed by women and are underappreciated. Their main point is that leadership can be seen as a set of functions which can be performed by anyone--so leadership can be distributed and shared--thus contributing to equality within the group.

"The Tyranny of Structurelessness" comes from a talk Jo Freeman gave in 1970 and was first published in 1972. It's been widely published since. (Jo Freeman has it, along with its history, on her website.) She claims that there is no such thing as real 'structurelessness'; there are only structures that are made explicit and structures that are implicit, informal, and practically invisible. She further states that if you want to know who has the most power in a 'structureless' group, look to see who is advocating 'structurelessness' most strongly--they are usually the ones who are most benefiting from keeping structures from being visible. She then goes on to discuss the nature of 'elitism' and discusses how in any groups above a certain size that are actually trying to accomplish something (as opposed to simply sharing and consciousness raising), there is already an elite group occurring. In order to have shared leadership, structures must be made explicit. She advocates things like distribution of authority, rotation and allocation of tasks, delegation of specific authority and requiring responsibility to the group from those give authority, diffusion of information as widely as possible, and equal access to resources.

Many of those things (especially diffusion of information) are already talked about in Complexity/Emergent Behavior circles, but I think that it's important to think about leadership (as opposed to leaders) as a way to encourage equality, and pay attention to emergent structure. Maybe it is egalitarian, but it also may be benefitting a few at the expense of others. Making structures explicit and deliberately sharing leadership makes equality more likely.

Quote of the day: "When these principles are applied, they insure that whatever structures are developed by different movement groups will be controlled by and responsible to the group. The group of people in positions of authority will be diffuse, flexible, open, and temporary. They will not be in such an easy position to institutionalize their power because ultimate decisions will be made by the group at large. The group will have the power to determine who shall exercise authority within it." - Jo Freeman
Word (or phrase) of the day: Bio-boy
Hero(es) of the day: Rosa Luxemburg