Sunday, January 24, 2016


I spent several years occasionally wondering about strategy.  How do we get from here to there?  I hadn’t heard any compelling strategies on the Left or from the New Age folks.  Unlike analysis or vision, it seemed a mystery to me.

I first started looking at this in this blog, back at the beginning of my blog with a post on Creating Social Change (7/2/08).  Here I looked at analysis, vision, and strategy and related strategy to the motto:  “Agitate, educate, organize.”  I pointed out that the Left had been pretty good with the agitating but hadn’t done so well with the educating and organizing and began exploring possibilities around this.

Later, in my post on The Great Turning (11/15/09), I pointed out Joanna Macy’s Three Dimensions of the Great Turning:  "1. Actions to slow the damage to Earth and its beings; 2. Analysis of structural causes and the creation of structural alternatives; and 3. A Shift in Consciousness."   I connected it with the ‘agitate, educate, organize’ slogan.  As I said then: “I related the 'Actions to slow damage' to Agitating, the 'creation of structural alternatives' to Organizing, and the 'Shift in Consciousness' to Educating.”

Joanna Macy’s message is that we need to do all three of these and each of them supports the others.  When I talked about this with Gil, an organizer that I work with in the Point A project, he came up with the idea of abbreviating this strategy as ACT:  Agitation (or activism), Creation, and Teaching.  He pointed out that we have been doing all three in Point A: we have an activist within the group doing anti-gentrification work, Gil and I (and others) have been working to create a new community, and, periodically, a group comes up from Virginia to do educational work--doing workshops to teach folks about living communally.  (For more on Point A, see my post entitled Point A, 1/31/15.)

This is why I personally see my work with creating new communities as social change work.    I’ve twice mentioned that I see intentional communities as laboratories for social change (in my posts called Beginning Again, 12/21/12, and Old 400th, 3/1/15).  My belief is that we can try things out in communities and find out what works and what doesn’t.  The working communities can be models for the world we want to build.  In the ACT model, this is only one step in the process.  There also needs to be agitations and actions to hold back all the horrendous things that are happening, to allow us the time to find out what works, and as we do find out what works, we need to be able to spread the word through teaching and education.

It’s not easy, but this is the best social change thinking that I’ve been able to come up with.  And, while I haven’t done a lot of agitation/activism, I am grateful for those who do, and I realize that I am not only doing community creation work, but some educational/teaching work as well, both through this blog and through my constant conversations with folks about community and particularly communities as social change laboratories.

What is the social change work that you do?

Quote of the Day:  “...look at how this Great Turning is gaining momentum today, through the choices of countless individuals and groups.  We can see that it’s happening simultaneously in three areas or dimensions that are mutually reinforcing.  These are: 1) actions to slow the damage to Earth and its beings; 2) analysis of structural causes and creation of structural alternatives; and 3) a fundamental shift in worldview and values.  Many of us are engaged in all three, each of which is necessary to the creation of a sustainable civilization.” - Joanna Macy

Friday, January 22, 2016


There are many different visions of what the world should look like.  I think that one of the best sources of possible visions are utopian fiction.  (For more on this see my posts on Why read Utopian Fiction? , 7/12/08,  and An Annotated Utopia, 7/14/08.)   I wrote a personal bit on why vision moves me in my post on Vision, Dissonance, Determination (1/8/10).

But my biggest piece on vision was my series on Simplicity, Equality, Community, and Sustainability, starting with the post SECS (9/22/08) and running through my post on Pulling it together (12/1/08).  (All of this is collected in my second zine, entitled ‘What I Believe.’)  This is my vision of the future I’d like to see: Simple, Egalitarian, Communal, and Sustainable.

But, in some ways both analysis and vision are relatively simple.  You pay attention to what’s going on and you figure out the future you’d like to see.  For me, strategy was the trickiest part.  And strategy is what I’d like to explore next.

Quote of the Day:  “She looked slowly around.  She saw …(sic) a river, little no account buildings, strange structures like long-legged birds with sails that turned in the wind, a few large terracotta and yellow buildings, and one blue dome, irregular buildings, none bigger than a supermarket of her day…  A few lumpy free-form structures overrun with green vines.  No skyscrapers, no spaceports, no traffic jam in the sky.  ‘You sure we went in the right direction?  Into the future?’
“‘This is my future, yes! …’
“‘You live in a village, you said.  Way out in the sticks.  Like if we went to a city, it’d be…(sic) more modern?’
“‘We don’t have big cities--they didn’t work....’”  - Marge Piercy

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


Most of this post is going to be similar what I wrote in my post on Radical Political Theory (7/6/08).  It’s based on the theories of Michael Albert and others (as written in the book, Liberating Theory and as an internet tutorial on ZNet).  They basically combine Marxism, anarchism, feminism, and what they refer to as nationalism (as in Black Nationalism, Puerto Rican Nationalism, etc) into something they sometimes call complementary holism.  (Not a great label as they admit.)  

They start by talking about ‘four spheres of life’ which they believe are politics, economy, kinship (family stuff), and culture or community. They map these onto the major radical theories by saying that anarchism has the best analysis of politics, Marxism has the best analysis of economics, feminism has the best analysis of kinship, relationship, and family life, and ‘nationalism’ has the best cultural analysis.  These folks don’t believe that any one analysis or oppression is primary, but these are all interwoven.

These are basically four aspects of society but they admit that there are also two other extra-social aspects: the environment (about which the ecology movement has the best analysis) and our relations with other societies (and here I think the peace and anti-imperialist movements have the best analysis).

My political analysis is simple.  This society is pretty messed up and is ruining the environment and causing lots of problems for other societies.  For detail, check out what the anarchists, Marxists, feminists, nationalists, radical ecologists, and anti-imperialists have to say.

Quote of the Day:  “What the oppressor often succeeds in doing is simply externalizing his fears, projecting them onto the bodies of women, Asians, gays, disabled folks, whoever seems most ‘other’.
“But it is not really difference the oppressor fears so much as similarity.  He fears he will discover in himself the same aches, the same longings…  He fears the immobilization threatened by his own incipient guilt.  He fears he will have to change his life once he has seen himself in the bodies of the people he has called different.” - Cherrie Moraga

Monday, January 18, 2016

Social Alchemy, Social Change, Social Transformation--A Review

I want to start the new year with a look back and make some clarifications.  For people new to this blog, I want to explain what Social Alchemy is, why I write so much about communities, and why I sometimes veer off into things like chemistry and spirituality.

First of all, Social Alchemy, as the title of this post implies, is another way of saying social change or social transformation.  I think that there are lots of problems with this society and believe there are better ways to live.

I’ve joked to people that my hobby is “rebuilding the world from the ground up.”    I started this blog, as I point out at the top of the sidebar, to offer “Some Tools for Creating a World that Works for Everyone”.  I view, as I’ve mentioned several times in this blog, intentional communities as laboratories for social change.  And when you’re thinking about rebuilding the world, looking at everything, from chemistry to spirituality, makes sense.  As it says at the bottom of the sidebar, “It's all connected... it's all connected... it's all connected…

Much of what I’m going to write from here (in this and in the next few posts) is a rehash of stuff I wrote about early in this blog--some of it, back in 2008 when I started the blog.  (You can also find this stuff in the two zines that I published if you want--see my note at the very top of the sidebar about Bodhisattva Revolutionaries and Social Alchemists.  I still have a few copies available if you’d rather read this stuff in print rather than online.)

So how do we create social change?  How do we transform a society?  I don’t think that there’s any one answer but the most useful framework I know is what I learned from being in the Movement for a New Society in the 1980s.  There we began by looking at Analysis, Vision, and Strategy.

During the 1970s I was involved with a lot of personal growth stuff--including something called Neurolinguistic Programming.  I remember John Grinder at one point saying something like he thought that you could anything if you only could see clearly what was going on, had a very definite picture of what you wanted, and were willing to try many different things.  When I thought about it, I realized this was an example of analysis (analyzing the situation),  vision (picturing what you wanted), and strategy (trying different things).

Recently, I was looking at The Transition Handbook, by Rob Hopkins.  The book is divided into three parts which he labels Head, Heart, and Hands.  Head is an analysis of the situation we find ourselves in, in this case focusing on peak oil and climate change.  The Heart section is subtitled “Why having a positive vision is crucial”.  And the Hands part is focused on the Transition process, ie, their strategy.  Again, analysis, vision, and strategy.

So, this social change process is going to be the focus of my next three posts, one each on Analysis, Vision, and Strategy.

Quote of the Day:  “What does the global justice movement want?  What is our vision, our picture of an ideal society and economy?  When we say ‘Another world is possible,’ what kind of world are we talking about?
“The global justice movement is diverse.  It ranges from union leaders who want to secure a fair share of this economy for its members to old-line Marxists, to anarchists, to indigenous communities struggling to preserve their traditional lands and cultures.  No one picture of the world can describe all the different viewpoints.  No one vision may actually serve this tremendous diversity.”  - Starhawk

Friday, January 1, 2016

Back to Normal Time

A while ago I decided that the old year ended at the Winter Solstice and the new year didn’t begin until January 1st.  The period in between was, for me, a time out of time.  A special, magical time.  Not quite accidentally, this is the period of all the Christmas lights and holiday decorations.  This year it’s also my time away from Staten Island, NYC, Ganas, and Point A and my time back in the Boston area with my family and friends:  I left NYC on December 21st and I’m returning on January 2nd.

Interestingly enough, last year I left Massachusetts on January 1st, 2015, for Virginia and to join Point A, so this also marks the end of my first year working with Point A.  It’s been quite a year, including three months staying on the Virginia communes, hanging out with my Virginia cousins, and making Point A trips to Washington, DC, and Baltimore, as well as NYC--followed by nine months now living in NYC and organizing there for Point A.

The new year will bring a good many things and many of them, I’m sure, will be unexpected.  I’ve just started on my organizing in NYC and I’m hoping that some of that will come to fruition this year.

As a beginning to the new year and as a refresher for folks who haven’t read this blog from the beginning and might be wondering what Social Alchemy is and why I write so much about intentional communities (not to mention chemistry, systems theory, personal growth, spirituality, agriculture, survival stuff, ecology, and many other random things), I plan to spend my next few posts covering my take on social change theory and how it fits together with a lot of the other things that I cover.

In the meantime, I’ve had a wonderful time out of time and it’s time to plunge back into whatever passes for normal time for me.

Quote of the Day:  "This is a new year. A new beginning. And things will change." ― Taylor Swift