Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What Gives Me Hope

This is my last post of 2008 and my last post before I start a very different direction in my blog (studying US History--go figure!). I want to end by looking at what gives me hope that we might move in the direction of the SECSy world I have been describing. This is a wrap up post--some of this is a rehash of other posts (notably some repetition from my post of 12/15/08 on SLoDBN Resources).

The internet holds some sources of hope for me. There are blogs by people trying to find a way to a different world, some relatively well-known such as The Archdruid Report and The Great Change, others by people less-known but perhaps more intimately involved in the struggles, such as My Flight From the Grid and SoapBoxTech and Trout Clan Campfire. There are also blogs by people just trying to live differently (more simply and sustainably) and encouraging others to do so like the somewhat well-known Crunchy Chicken and Casaubon’s Book and the not-so-well known undacova mutha and Living the Frugal Life and global homestead and dozens more. Then there are blogs by folks advocating social justice, such as Michaelann Land and Diary of an Anxious Black Woman and The Jaded Hippy. Not to mention blogs by those thinking about better ways to communicate and build community and network and emerge such as Evolutionary Dynamics Exploration and Journey Reflections and Laird's Commentary on Community and Consensus and Network Weaving and blogs about alternative sexualities and the changing of society, like Queers United and Polyamory in the News. And finally there are blogs just about those who are trying to find their idiosycratic way in the world and encouraging others to do the same, like Cracker Lilo's Front Porch and Austanspace and One Smoot Short of a Bridge. (And, yes, a good bit of this is a list of the blogs I follow. Of course.)

I'm also given hope by things like the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (see my post of 10/22/08) and The Rhizome Collective (see my post of 10/18/08) and the DIO Skillshare and folks like Randy Schutt (author of Inciting Democracy--see my post of 7/10/08--and one of the people behind the START Guide) and the ZNet folks (developers of not only Parecon--see my post of 7/8/08--but Participatory Society, ParPolity, Polyculturalism, and Real Utopia, and weavers of one of the most massive radical education sites on the 'net). Not to mention all the folks that took part in the Riot for Austerity (see my post of 9/28/08).

My most astounding Christmas gift was from a young woman I helped raise. She gave me a book I'd never heard of but which gave me another reason to hope: Making Stuff & Doing Things, by Kyle Bravo, a wonderful Do-It-Yourself guide for the next generation. (My quote of the day is from this book.)

And ending the year brings up buying new calendars, and there are two calendars in particular that give me hope. The first is the Syracuse Cultural Workers' Peace Calendar , twelve months full of information and inspiring art work, and the other is datebook with the same anarchist/punk/DIY mentality as Making Stuff & Doing Things, the Slingshot Organizer which is filled with all sorts of useful stuff, radical thoughts and history, and pictures to color--plus radical contacts around the world, pages for addresses, etc, and pages for your notes.

A final thing that gives me hope is 'dissensus'. Just as I decided to make my mother my last Hero of the Day, I am going to make Dissensus my last Word of the Day. I've been recently introduced to the idea by John Michael Greer who has devoted two posts of his Archdruid Reports to Dissensus and Organic Process and Why Dissensus Matters . Basically, dissensus is the opposite of consensus, it's a way of acknowledging and celebrating complexity, diversity, and individuality. It's the old 'agreeing to disagree'. JMG points out that dissensus is most useful when "...irreducible differences make it impossible to find any common ground for agreement on the points that matter, or when settling on any common decision would be premature." Like when we have no idea what the future will bring. After thinking about it, I realized that dissensus, like diversity, has its limits. I don't know that it really is that useful when there are fundamental disagreements about goals. (For example, two peak oil people, one concerned about climate change and one so concerned about running out of fuel that they support using coal and extracting oil from tar sands, etc, are working in opposite directions and will cancel each others work out.) But those who agree on the basic direction but disagree on how to achieve it, are all important to the process. I've said from the beginning (see my post of 6/28/08) that there is no one answer.

So I also get hope from people I know like Eli, who is pursuing change at the policy level; Rob, who is trying to bring Transition Towns to our towns; Grace, who is organizing around stopping foreclosures; Steve and Audrey, who have gotten their neighborhood involved and who have started a 'barnraising model' that is catching on; my good friend Susan, who works for peace and preaches for justice on the internet; two women I know who model living simply and sustainably and are trying to teach others; and my family, most of whom wouldn't understand all that I am trying to do but model taking care of each other. They may all disagree on how to get there, but they are all working for a SECSy world. Each of them is very different, but all of them give me hope.

Quote of the Day: "How to change the world in just four easy steps! 1. Get off yr ass. 2. Write, talk, listen, participate, read, volunteer, take in new ideas and spread yr own. 3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 many times. 4. Give another person these instructions." - Luran Barry

Sunday, December 28, 2008

One with Nature 2: The Path

I talked in my last post about the book My Name is Chellis & I'm in Recovery from Western Civilization.

Where Chellis Glendinning is clear about why we should reconnect with the natural world, Starhawk's book, The Earth Path is about how to do it. Where Chellis suggests ceremonies, Starhawk outlines them. Chellis gives the theory, Starhawk gives the practice.

Starhawk also begins her book by saying she doesn't "want to romanticize other cultures" and points out that "Some indigenous cultures have also hunted animals to extinction and turned fertile land to deserts." She claims that California tribes didn't just gather from the earth, they worked with it. When European explorers arrived, "... they found a landscape so elegantly managed that they were unaware of the human role in maintaining such abundance." While she marvels at the 'deep integration' with nature many indigenous cultures had, she doesn't so much want to return there as to 'learn from them'.

Early in the book, Starhawk tells the story of some 'seedballs' made in a permaculture workshop that were confiscated by the police as 'weapons'. She and the folks who made them only thought of them as a tool for guerrilla gardening, but the police got busy "testing their ballistic capabilities". She writes, "We... had clearly not thought of our seedballs as weapons, or we wouldn't have left them out in plain sight in the parking lot to dry. So in a sense the police action expanded our thinking. In permaculture, we try to get multiple uses for each element in a system." She makes the point that what we see is dependent on what we are looking for.

The Earth Path is a very permaculture influenced book. It is also a very pagan book. Starhawk points out that "one aspect of our nature-based religion based religion that too often gets neglected is our actual relationship with nature." She spends the book balancing a nature-based (often quite scientific) viewpoint with witch and pagan practices. One chapter covers current evolutionary theory and what pagans can learn from it--complete with a telling of the story of Gaia.

Starhawk devotes a chapter to looking at what is sacred and a chapter to learning to observe. (Early in the book she states, "Permaculture teaches us to begin with long and careful observation rather than careless intervention.") She then goes on to devote a chapter each to air, fire, water, and earth--each containing a mix of scientific understanding, magical practices, and needed activism.

But this is not simply a book of theory and thealogy; it's filled with exercises, meditations, and rituals. The point is not simply to talk about or learn, but to do, to experience. Starhawk ends the book with chapters on looking at patterns and healing the earth. She concludes by saying "... the earth wants us to play the role we have evolved to play... to be her consciousness, her mirror, her great admirer and appreciator, to cheer her on and use our specifically human abilities to help restore and sustain her balance." It's not that different from how Chellis Glendinning ended her book, but Starhawk gives us a lot of useful tools to get there.

Quote of the Day: "The model represented by the seedballs comes out of the worldview being articulated by twenty-first-century science. Systems, complexity, chaos, and Gaia theories are some of its manifestations, but it is also much older, akin to the way indigenous peoples have always experienced the earth as alive and relational. ... This view sees the world as a complex and dynamic web of relationships. There are no simple causes and effects: any change in the web reverberates and affects the whole..." - Starhawk

Friday, December 26, 2008

One with Nature 1: Recovery

I'm briefly going back to doing a post every other day, because there are a few things that I want to get in before the official New Years. First of all, I want to review two books that I see as connected, the way that compost is connected to gardening or winter is connected to spring.

The first is a book entitled My Name is Chellis & I'm in Recovery from Western Civilization by Chellis Glendinning. It's about the ways we're disconnected from the natural world and the problems this disconnect causes. She talks about a 'Primal Matrix' that she claims most hunter-gather tribes live in, being part of nature rather than a part from it. She does say that: "Idealization of nature-based people looms as a constant temptation, a kind of knee-jerk filp side to the denigration so potently drummed into us. I definitely mean to bolt open our eyes about the psychology, social practices, and ecological awareness of nature-based people. I do not mean to forget that life is difficult, snow is unbearably cold, people everywhere are given to imbalance and conflict, and animals can devour human flesh." It's a great quote but, unfortunately, she then goes on to idealize nature-based people. Much of what she says is powerful, but some of it is not quite believable.

I'd love to think that simply being back in touch with nature would put us on track for creating the type of society I spent the last few months outlining, and Chellis Glendinning seems to claim this: "What occurs when human beings live in intimacy with the Earth? The kind of society we formulate is likely to be participatory, democratic, equalitarian, leisurely, ecological, and sustainable." She gives examples of this happening in hunter-gather tribes. While the examples are impressive, I also get the impression that she is selecting from the literature, and someone else could select examples that prove the opposite.

Glendinning claims that our separation from nature is the 'Original Trauma' that all other traumas procede from. It's our detachment from the natural world that allows addictions and the violent acts that cause more trauma to happen. She believes that our separation from nature began, not with the industrial revolution, but with agriculture and the domestication of animals. While there is some truth in this, I'm not sure that getting rid of all we've learned from western civilization and living in the woods hunting animals is the answer. She refers to what Annette Kolodny calls "the nagging fact of Euro-American and native relations", claiming that most native peoples have never wanted civilization. That doesn't square with what I've read elsewhere. While I'm sure there are tribes that have turned their back on our civilization, there are also many peoples who have wholeheartedly embraced it--many, it's true, regretting this, but after the fact. She also refers to the Kogi people of Colombia, who seem to have emerged from nowhere to give one interview to the BBC before disappearing again. I'd love to believe this but it sounds like a hoax to me.

Nevertheless, there's a lot of useful stuff in this book, and a lot of good reasons to get back in touch with nature. Whether or not you buy all Chellis Glendinning's assertions, she gives enough in this book to make me want to reconnect. I was disappointed that she didn't have clear guidelines on how to do that. She does suggest personal healing--which is certainly useful--and small steps of social change such as turning off the TV, walking to work, and eating dandelions rather than spraying them. She also says that there is much political work to do--but doesn't elaborate. The key thing she suggests is creating ceremonies to celebrate the natural world. She claims "All nature-based cultures praise Creation." And she ends the book by stating that we "...can initiate our recovery from western civilization with a simple but radical act: praise Creation." (Italics hers.)

Next: The Path

Quote of the day: "It is imperative that we go about the task of creating an alternative society, and a culture that is interconnected with nature now." - Gloria Ornestein

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Peace on Earth

I had spoken with one of my housemates about the research I had been doing about bonobos and chimpanzees (see my post of 7/30/08) as well as the research of James Prescott on the human need for affection and it's relationship to war and aggression (in my post of 7/28/08). One day I found a book by my computer: Peacemaking among Primates by Frans de Waal. It turned out that my housemate had a copy he bought long ago and found it among his books. He thought I'd be interested in it.

Of course, I was. The book details the ways that reconciliation is practiced among five primate species: chimpanzees, rhesus monkeys, stump-tailed monkeys (also known as the bear-macaque), bonobos, and humans. For anyone who assumes that other animals don't 'kiss and makeup', the book is a revelation.

Chimpanzees may be patriarchal and aggressive, but they also understand cooperation. While there are dominants and subordinates in their hierarchies, there is also a lot of mutual reassurance between them that, as de Waal puts it, "makes rivalry among males less divisive... The males' hierarchy canalizes aggression in predictible directions and unifies the competitors." This is not so true for female chimps, who seem to hold grudges. Males also form coalitions that allow them to take power and stay in power. De Waal details one series of coalitions that I realized was also written about by Matt Ridley in The Origin of Virtue. (See my post of 9/14/08.)

Rhesus monkeys are a variety of the primate genus known as macaques. (The Latin name for the genus is Macaca--the same word that got Republican George Allen in trouble in 2006.) According to de Waal, Rhesus females have a society ordered by strong matrilineal hierarchy. The daughters of high status females also become high status females and the daughters of low status females are low status females. De Waal claims that "Young females stay with their mothers and sisters to integrate for life into one of the tightest and most complicated social systems known in the animal kingdom." Males do not stay with their families past adolescence, but come and go based "... on contests among the males themselves, and also perhaps what the female community thinks of them." They are a very aggressive species. "The frequency and fierceness of attacks among these animals is amazing." De Waal details how within their very rigid social structure, reconciliation occurs much more often between males and males, and males and females, than between females and females, and how the female-female reconciliation that does take place is mostly between female monkeys of similar social status.

In contrast to the rhesus macaques, the stump-tailed monkeys (another macaque species) have a matrilineal hierarchy that is looser and "relatively egalitarian" (at least compared to the rhesus). They have frequent reconciliations (after over half the conflicts) and, unlike the rhesus monkeys who often reconcile by 'accidentally' ending up in close proximity, stumptails look each other in the face and sometimes have very public peacemakings, with loud noises so that their whole group is aware of what has happened.

The chapter on bonobos mostly has information similar to what I've written earlier about them. (See my post of 7/30/08.) De Waal talks about his studies that indicate a strong link between food and sex for the bonobos and says that "erotic interactions may be essential for group harmony". He goes on to say "Sexual conflict resolution is the key to bonobo social organization, and individuals learn its strategic value at an early age."

De Waal devotes his final chapter to a fifth primate species: humans. He talks about the interconnections between aggression and reconciliation in human history. He dicusses the need to save face in order to reconcile and tells the story of a couple among the forest people in the Congo that had a very public fight. They began tearing their house of sticks and leaves apart, each of them becoming more and more miserable in the process. Finally the man got an idea after they had torn the leaves off the walls and were about to remove the final poles. He suddenly "told his wife that she could leave the sticks alone; it was only the leaves on the roof that were dirty." She caught on and the two of them began pretending that they weren't engaged in a horrible argument at all but only taking apart the house to clean the leaves. The two of them actually "carried the leaves to the stream and washed them." No one in the village believed this but everyone played along to support the reconciliation. De Waal looks at inequality and human reconciliation and mentions the tendency of nonhierarchal groups toward conflict and fission. Yet he also points out how well female bonobos get along without hierarchy and says this is a subject deserving on more study. He finishes the book by saying that the aggressive tendencies of our species are unlikely to go away, but neither is our 'heritage of reconciliation'. We may be war-like but we are also good at making peace.

Quote of the Day: "Forgiveness is not, as some people seem to believe, a mysterious and sublime idea that we owe to a few millennia of Judeo-Christianity. It did not originate in the minds of people and cannot therefore be appropriated by an ideology or religion. The fact that monkeys, apes, and humans all engage in reconciliation behavior means that it is probably over thirty million years old..." - Frans de Waal

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice

It's the longest night of the year, a time of cold and darkness filled with memories of starlight gleaming on snow.

For many pagans, Samhain (see my post of 11/1/08) is the ending and beginning of the year. For many reasons, I prefer the Yule, the Solstice as my year end.

And with this, I end my discussion of SECS, and CDIP, and SLoBiND/SLoDBN, and all discussion (for now) of theory, mine and others.

Over the years, I have come to a rather idiosyncratic understanding of the holidays. While I end the year on the solstice, much of the world (especially the society around me) doesn't begin the year for another 11 days--so I have come to regard the time between the solstice and 'New Year's Day' (Jan 1st) as a time out of time, a magical little season for stepping back and taking stock of what happened in the old year and what might happen in the new.

So, before I launch into my next segment of things that might be helpful to Bodhisattva Revolutionaries and Social Alchemists (preview of coming attractions--I plan to focus on American history), I intend to use this time to review a few books, related to ideas I talked about in my first segment, that I only found or got to while I was working on my own theories in the second segment.

This might also be a time to reveal a little bit about the 'man behind the curtain'. I intended this blog to be a social change, not about me, but, as it often happens, bits of me have leaked out--and where they haven't, assumptions have been made.

First of all, there is a man behind the curtain. For those who have assumed I was female, my apologies. I didn't deliberately intend to mislead (or at least not wholeheartedly), but at least a couple of people thought I was a woman--which, while it gratifies me in some ways, it isn't fair to lead anyone on. The internet seems to offer the promise of being able to float, genderless, above it all, but I am gendered. Not only that, but I also have kept my age somewhat hidden--although anyone who paid close attention might figure that I'm not young. The truth is that I am in my late fifties--for anyone who thought that MoonRaven was a young woman, sorry. There's an aging man here.

Much of my life situation has also changed since I started this blog. I began it when I was working part-time on a job that allowed me to work on the computer when it wasn't busy. Now I have a busy, full-time job and little time to keep this going. So I am discontinuing the 'Word (or phrase) of the day' and my 'Hero(es) of the day'. It was fun when it started, they have become a lot of work, and I don't know how many people have found them particularly useful. (I do intend to keep the 'Quote of the day', however.) I am also decreasing my posting from every other day to once every three days, with the warning that I may decrease it more.

Finally, one sad change in my life. My mother, who taught me so much about love and caring for others, died recently. I want make her my final Hero of the day and dedicate this post to her. One of my siblings mentioned how much they learned from her and I said that I am still learning from her. (For your love and compassion and cheerful nature, as well as teaching me to do what I believe is right, thank you Mom. You were a wonderful mother.)

Quote of the day: "Light is returning, Even though this is the darkest hour, No one can hold back, The dawn. Let's keep it burning, Let's keep the light of hope alive, Make safe our journey, Through the storm..." - Charlie Murphy

Friday, December 19, 2008

Creating a SECSy World

Now, to the work.

SLoBiND is the method, but it begins with one person, perhaps you. It starts with thinking about what seems most important to you, or listening to the call of your heart as to what you should do, or possibly both. When you are clear about what you want, look around you to find kindred spirits.

If you can find four or five people who believe as you do, you have a local organization. Work on strengthening the bonds between you. Figure out what you (collectively) can do to make a difference, and do it. Figure out what will support you in doing it consistently.

Once things are going strong, look for other in your bioregion who are doing similar work. How can you network? Can your group support them? Can you support each other?

Having a decentralized bioregional network makes it real. What does the network need? How can you strengthen it?

When things really get going, look around to see what else needs to be done.

Brafman and Beckstrom (authors of The Starfish and the Spider) point out: "It's not just about community, ... not just about freedom and trust. Ideology is the glue that holds decentralized organizations together." But it is about community and trust and freedom, it's just that having common beliefs and values (what they call ideology) means that you're all moving in the same direction, and those beliefs will sustain and hold people better than money or power or things.

My ideology is that I believe in love and compassion; and this love compels me toward a world where Simplicity, Equality, Community, and Sustainability are values we live by; where we celebrate Complexity, and Diversity, and Individuality, and take Practical steps to achieve change; where we have Small, Local communities of people, depending on one another and caring about one another; and slowly these groups begin reaching out to other local communities around them. Who wants to join me in building a world like this?

Quote of the day: "...it starts when you care to act, ...it starts when you say We and know you who you mean, and each day you mean one more." - Marge Piercy
Word (or phrase) of the day: Network Effect
Hero(es) of the day: Lucy Parsons

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Weaving the Threads Together

I started this blog claiming that 'it's all connected'. For the last few months, I've been laying out my own theories of social change. Now let me show how they're all connected.

I began by explaining I was trying to get a clear sense of what my politics were. I came up with the realization that I want a world that supports Simplicity, Equality, Community & Cooperation, and Sustainability. But I also enjoy Complexity, Diversity, Individuality, and Practicality. I've spent a number of posts showing how this was not so much a contradiction, as a case of complementality: Complexity evolves from Simplicity--and can actually support Simplicity; Equality and Diversity are both needed--and, in small systems, we can have both; Community and Individuality are interrelated and enhance each other; and Sustainable has to be Practical just as Practical needs to be Sustainable.

I then talked about a strategy that I called SLoDBN--building Small and Local and evolving Decentralized Bioregional Networks. I've recently realized a better acronym might be SLoBiND--going from the Small and Local to the Bioregional by Networking in a Decentralized way. Something I like about this acronym is that it describes the process--slowly binding it all together.

While talking about SLoDBN, I pointed out its relation to SECS--Small and Simple, Local Communities, Decentralized Equally, Bioregionally Sustainable, and Networked Cooperatively. It's also interesting that as I laid out my SLoBiND strategy, I kept referring to earlier posts when I was talking about other people's theories. I think most of them support this way of thinking. Complexity theory, which I talked a lot about early on, particularly supports the bottom up nature of SLoBiNDing. Looking at my post of 9/20/08, where I wove together the theories I had covered, I pointed out: "Complexity theory... 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." I think this is one way of viewing the SLoBiND strategy.

Now let's see this in action.

Quote of the day: "Whenever we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." — John Muir
Word (or phrase) of the day: Earth-Crunchy Dyke
Hero(es) of the day: I.F. Stone

Monday, December 15, 2008

SLoDBN Resources

In reality, most of these catagories overlap. I will start with resources on Small and Local--and even there some of the resources also talk about Decentralization.

First of all is the book, Small is Beautiful, by E. F. Schumacher, with the wonderful subtitle, 'Economics as if People Mattered'.

There is also an E. F. Schumacher Society in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, that focuses on "Linking people, land, and community by building local economies".

In my Going Local post of 7/26/08, I reviewed three books that were all focused on local economic efforts: Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age by Michael Shuman, Making a Place for Community: Local Politics in a Global Era by Thad Williamson, Gar Alperovitz, and David Imbroscio, and America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty, and Our Democracy by Gar Alperovitz. (See that post for more.)

The term 'relocalization' has been popularized by the Post Carbon Institute, which sponsors the Relocalization Network, as well as a website focused on urban issues called Post Carbon Cities. Another group that sponsors websites with a small, local orientation is an organization called Community Service. One of the sites is called, in fact, Small, Local Community. They also have a site called Community Solutions.

The book The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom, first mentioned in my 'Catalysts and Network Weavers' post of 8/31/08, is a good resource about Decentralization. A blog with a lot of information on decentralization, both for guerrilla warfare and resilient communities, is Global Guerrillas, which I have mentioned in a few posts back in August (8/13 and 8/31).

There are a bunch of websites with definitions of and information about Bioregionalism, including the Great River Earth Institute, The Digger Archives, Green Anarchy, The Co-Intelligence Institute, and bioregionalism.com (which is actually focused on the coast of Southern California). A couple of classic books on bioregionalism are Home! A Bioregional Reader edited by Van Andruss, Judith Plant, Christopher Plant and Eleanor Wright, and Dwellers on the Land by Kirkpatrick Sale.

As far as Networking goes, the paper "Building Smart Communities through Network Weaving" by Valdis Krebs and June Holley and their Network Weaving site are two of the more useful things I've found. Also check out my post on 'Clustering and Coping' (8/13/08).

I also want to point to several other blogs advocating what I think is a SLoDBN viewpoint. The Archdruid Report offers useful critiques of the process as well as some guideposts along the way. Albert Bates' site, The Great Change also offers ideas and perspectives in this vein. But, if I'm right, SLoDBN work is happening all over. Some blogs that support this approach include Murph and Freeacres' Trout Clan Campfire, RAS's My Flight From the Grid, and SoapBoxTech's blog, SoapBoxTech. They (along others trying to live in this fashion, such as undacova mutha) give me hope that there really is a SLoDBN movement.

Quote of the day: "The undeniable trend of these past forty years has not been toward larger and more consolidated arrangements but, everywhere in the world, toward smaller and more decentralized ones. ... What is so interesting in this amazing process is the clear expression of the bioregional idea." - Kirkpatrick Sale
Word (or phrase) of the day: Rising Tide
Hero(es) of the day: Elizabeth Margaret Chandler

Saturday, December 13, 2008


We need to start small and local. Hopefully, at some point, we will have lots of small, local groups. The next step is to begin weaving interconnections.

The goal, of course, is something regional and decentralized. To achieve that requires some type of networking. And networking is all about cooperation--cooperation between communities and small groups.

I wrote a post on Catalysts and Network Weaving (8/31/08) which focused on networking and how to do it well. Rather than repeat what I wrote there, I will just say that networking is the crucial step that builds beyond the local, yet does it in a way which doesn't create bureacracy, centralization, and hierarchy. This is how we build from the bottom up. And it requires being open to what emerges.

Quote of the day: "...weaving a network requires two iterative and continuous steps: 1. Know the network... 2. Knit the network..." Valdis Krebs and June Holley
Word (or phrase) of the day: Disaster Capitalism
Hero(es) of the day: Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan

Thursday, December 11, 2008


It's a classic image, a stone dropped in a pond, the ripples radiating out from the point of impact. If we think of the center (and first ripple) as being local, a couple of ripples out is the region.

Jim Dodge defines "Bioregionalism" as being "from the Greek bios (life) and the French region (region), itself from the Latin regia (territory), and earlier, regere (to rule or govern). Etymologically, then, bioregionalism means life territory, place of life, or perhaps by reckless extension, government by life."

Bioregions are areas defined by the plant life, the animal life, the rocks, the soil, the rivers, and the cultures of the human community. What they are not is political entities.

I feel like I have a lot more in common with people living in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, than I have with people living in Texas, Nebraska, or California. The US government might claim that I share a national identity with people living in the latter area and not the former, but I don't see it. New England and the Maritimes are separated by the fact that some politicians drew lines on a map, but people in both areas hold much in common. When I hitchhiked around Nova Scotia, many years back, I talked with the people there about this and got a positive response. One man said that there was a saying that every one in Nova Scotia had a cousin in Boston. We share a lot of history, geography, land and sea, and much flora and fauna.

I'll talk more later about the region that I live in, but I want to say that as we build alternatives, eventually thinking in terms of bioregions makes sense. Bioregions are about looking beyond local to what is around that, they are about connecting with nature and the earth, and about committing to regional sustainability. They are the next step in organizing and creating a future. How we do that organizing will be the subject of my next post.

Quote of the day: "Bioregional action is based on local control and decentralization; nonviolence; sustainable lifestyles; and on revaluing and redefining of home." - Judith Plant
Word (or phrase) of the day: Vermiculture
Hero(es) of the day: The Shministim

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


It seems that in writing the SLoDBN posts, I am constantly referring to posts I wrote early on in this blog, the ones that I called my 'Theory' posts. I think that this is because I am repeating much of this as strategy, only SLoDBN gives me a way to organize it.

In my post on 'Catalysts and Network Weavers' (8/31/08), I mentioned a book called The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom. This is actually a book on decentralization. The title refers to one difference between starfish and spiders. If you cut off one of the legs of a spider (a cruel thing to do), you end up with a seven legged spider. If you cut off its head, you end up with a dead spider. (This is their analogy; I'm not pleased with killing creatures.) But if you cut off the leg of a starfish, it will grow a new leg. Even more amazingly, sometimes the leg grows a new starfish.

The point that the authors are making is that decentralized organizations are resilient. They state that "...the first major principle of decentralization: when attacked, a decentralized organization tends to become even more open and decentralized."

The authors begin the book talking about how the Spaniards came to the western hemisphere and quickly destroyed the Aztec and Incan empires. When they moved north and encountered the Apaches, the Spaniards were prepared to do more of the same. They attacked what they saw as the leaders of the Apache, what the Apaches called the 'Nant'an'. (The most famous of the Nant'an was Geronimo.) But the Nant'an had no power in and of themselves, they simply led by example and influence. No Apache was ever obliged to follow these leaders. So as soon as the Spanish soldiers would wipe out a Nant'an, a new one would appear. These weren't leaders in the sense the Spanish were used to, they could easily be replaced because Apache were used to being self-reliant. When the Spaniards destroyed the Apache villages, the Apache became nomadic. The more the Spanish attacked the Apache, the more decentralized the Apache became and the harder to control they were. Where the Aztecs and Incas fell apart after the Spanish attacked them, the Apaches became stronger and held off the Spaniards for over two hundred years.

As I was writing this post, I realized that, just as 'Small' was related to 'Simplicity', and 'Local' is related to 'Community', 'Decentralized' is related to 'Equality'. The point is here that no one is in charge, no one is THE leader, and no group has any power over any other group. The many small experiments may have influence on each other, but each is doing its own thing and none are in control. This creates a certain resilience and sustainability, since if something goes wrong with one (let alone if any are attacked), it won't destroy the others. (The authors of The Starfish and the Spider point out that many terrorist groups use the same structure, which is why the US isn't doing so well in bringing this situation under control.)

In building from the bottom up, we need to start small and local, with many varieties, and (hardest for some of us) no one in control. Decentralization will mean a very different kind of leadership (see my post of 9/2/08 on Equality and Leadership), but it will be a more powerful leadership and what emerges may be more powerful than anyone expects.

Quote of the Day: "In a decentralized organization, there's no clear leader, no hierarchy, and no headquarters. If and when a leader does emerge, that person has little power over others. The best that person can do is to lead by example. ...everyone is entitled to make his or her own decisions. This doesn't mean that a decentralized system is the same as anarchy. There are rules and norms, but these aren't enforced by any one person. Rather, the power is distributed among all the people and across geographic regions." - Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom
Word (or phrase) of the day: Freegan
Hero(es) of the day: Sojourner Truth

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Beginning Small means we look around ourselves and start Locally.

The quote "Think Globally, Act Locally" has been a major inspiration to me. We need to have the big picture in our minds, but we also need to do the work in our own neighborhood, town, village, district, community. Way back in July, I wrote a post on 'Going Local' (7/26/08), basically a review of three books with themes of local development. The books focused on local economic efforts, but we also need local food strategies, the local production of energy, in fact, thinking about how we can meet most of our needs from what is around us. I referred to this in my post on 'Convergence' (9/20/08), saying that "...we need to have many small, local groups each building something that makes sense in their community." (I've also talked about the local food movements in my post on 'Feeding Ourselves in the Future'--7/24/08.)

A term that is being used now for the return to local strategies is 'relocalization'. (In fact, 'Relocalization' was the first 'Word (or phrase) of the day' in my first post.) The Relocalization Network defines 'Relocalization' as "...a strategy to build societies based on the local production of food, energy, and goods, and the local development of currency, governance, and culture." (Here's the full explanation.) For me 'relocalization' means we put the emphasis back on our local communities. What can we build there? What is already there that we can support? How can we connect the resources around us? Relocalization is about Community, the wider community around us.

If you want to create social change, start where you are.

Quote of the Day: "Relocalization may be a new term, but conceptually it has long roots. Some related recent precursors include ... the 'anti-globalization' movement, the 'slow food' movement, the 'voluntary simplicity' movement, the 'back to the land' movement, 'new urbanism,' and the 'environmental movement.' In general, common themes include decentralization of political and economic structures, less material consumption and pollution, a focus on the quality of relationships, culture and the environment as sources of fulfillment, and downscaling of infrastructural development." - Jason Bradford
Word (or phrase) of the day: Underwater Mortgage
Hero(es) of the day: Phil Ochs

Friday, December 5, 2008

Small Is Still Beautiful

This should be familiar to anyone who has read this blog for a while. I have been saying since my first post on Complexity Theory (7/16/08) that we need to start with small, simple systems and build from the bottom up. That post talks about demonstrations about why top down systems don't work and why you can't build large, complex system from scratch.

A second reason for starting small is that emergence doesn't usually happen in a predicable way. The Archdruid, John Michael Greer, in a very recent post points out that most of the grand ecological plans developed in the 1970s have been gathering dust, whereas many of the methods of today (he mentions "...organic intensive gardening, permaculture, most of today’s arsenal of solar energy methods, a range of alternative homebuilding methods, and much more") were improvised. Rather than one grand plan (see my very early post on 'The Answer'--6/28/08), we need many small experiments. Who knows what will work and what won't, but lots of little improvised attempts will serve us better than any huge scheme. (Murph of the Trout Clan Campfire has also written an insightful piece on this.)

A third reason for starting small is that there are forces in this society that are resistant to change, that do not want to see anything succeed that might threaten their dominance. (I'm reminded of the line from Bob Marley's 'I Shot the Sheriff': "Everytime I plant a seed...He said kill them before they grow...") The idea of starting small is to escape notice while our little experiments are vulnerable. I had the image of us as little church mice in the cathedrals of the rich and powerful--staying out of their sight. If peak oil theories are correct, their empire will coming crashing down on it's own, but we need to have alternatives already in place before that. Hopefully, we can start building those alternatives now, and start building small enough not to attract unwanted attention.

And finally, small and simple is easy to understand, easy to be in, easy to know everything about. It is a scale that we can be comfortable with, and learn and grow with. Small is human sized.

Quote of the Day: "...people can be themselves only in small comprehensible groups. Therefore we must learn to think in terms of an articulated structure that can cope with a multiplicity of small-scale units. If economic thinking cannot grasp this it is useless." - E. F. Schumacher
Word (or phrase) of the day: Biochar
Hero(es) of the day: Peaceful Tomorrows

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


So how do we do it? How can we create what I call a SECSy world--a world where SECS balances out CDIP? (If you can't understand that, review my last dozen or so posts.)

If you read much of the posts I wrote prior to this SECS/CDIP sequence, the answer won't suprise you. I call it SLoDBN, and it's a strategy to build a better world from the ground up. SLoDBN (pronounced Slow-D-B-N) stands for Small, Local, Decentralized, Bioregional, and Networked. Once again, I will go over each of these pieces in their own post so I can adequately cover each one.

Quote of the day: "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." — Henry David Thoreau
Word (or phrase) of the day: Husbear
Hero(es) of the day: Mala Zimetbaum

Monday, December 1, 2008

Pulling it together

I've spent the last few posts, slowly (and, you might say, painfully) showing how SECS and CDIP are interconnected--and, in fact, that they are interconnected. I hope I've demonstrated that, rather than contradicting each other, SECS and CDIP complement each other.

So the next step is to create a world that is Simple, Egalitarian, Cooperative, and Sustainable, while also being Complex, Diverse, Individual, and Practical. I am planning to outline a basic strategy for doing this in the next series of posts. I call the strategy SLoDBN. The basic outline will not surprise anyone who has been following this blog.

Quote of the day: "I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better." - Georg C. Lichtenberg
Word (or phrase) of the day: Life-critical system
Hero(es) of the day: Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann