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

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sustainability and Practicality

In order to make something that is Sustainable, it has to be Practical. That may seem self-evident, but there are many 'sustainable' options proposed that aren't practical (particularly if you try to put them into practice without many other pieces in place) and therefore are not really sustainable. Likewise, many things that people claim are more 'practical' aren't sustainable, and therefore in the long term they aren't practical. To create a world that works for everyone, we need to build things that are both practical and sustainable, since sustainability and practicality support each other.

Idealism is wonderful, creativity is important, but we always need to remember practicality and sustainability in what we do, since we are building for the long term.

Quote of the day: "...it makes no sense to be concerned about sustainability unless the aim is to try to actually achieve it. Sustainability should always be approached with a sense of immediacy and practicality even if the task to achieve the sustainability of something that is valued is enormous." - Philip Sutton
Word (or phrase) of the day: Redundancy
Hero(es) of the day: La Onf

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Community and Individuality

This is one that I know. I've lived it, I'm living it to some degree now, and I intend to keep living it.

I spent five years living in an intentional community, I currently live in a co-op house, and I hope to live in community again. What attracts me about all of this is the balance between the individual and the group. A group of individualists would have little real sense of community, but any group without a lot of individuality would be a mob or a cult, not a community in the sense I'm talking about. Neither holds any interest for me. I believe that community exists in the tension between the needs of the individual and the needs of the group. If the individual or the group predominates, the living, thriving sense of community disappears.

Interestly enough, the complexity scientists talk about this very issue, describing it as a balance between autonomy and connectivity.

Really, both community and individuality are needed.

Quote of the day: "Only through our connectedness to others can we really know and enhance the self. And only through working on the self can we begin to enhance our connectedness to others." - Harriet Goldhor Lerner
Word (or phrase) of the day: Financial Permaculture
Hero(es) of the day: Mary Ellen Pleasant

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Equality Returns

In my last post, I discussed Walter Benn Michaels' book, The Trouble with Diversity. He sees diversity and 'identity politics' as taking the focus away from economic inequality. He sets diversity and equality in opposition to each other.

Lisa Duggan, in her book The Twilight of Equality, agrees about how neoliberalism is using diversity and identity politics to camouflage increasing economic inequality. But her solution is to reconnect diversity and equality. She argues that neoliberalism is deliberately dividing the movement, and analyses like Michaels make matters worse.

This is a very short book (111 pages including notes, bibliography, and index--but not including the introduction) but it contains a lot of ideas and information. The thirteen page introduction gives a dense, documented history of the last fifty years, including the development of neoliberalism and how the movements of the '60s and '70s were ripped apart in the '80s and then coopted in the '90s. As Lisa Duggan puts it,"During every phase, the construction of neoliberal politics and policy in the U.S. has relied on identity and cultural politics. The politics of race, both overt and covert, have been particularly central to the entire project. But the politics of gender and sexuality have intersected with race and class politics at every stage as well."

She goes on to say: "The most successful ruse of neoliberal dominance in both global and domestic affairs is the definition of economic policy as primarily a matter of neutral, technical expertise. This expertise is then presented as separate from politics and culture, and not properly subject to specifically political accountability or cultural critique. Opposition to material inequality is maligned as 'class warfare', while race, gender or sexual inequalities are dismissed as merely cultural, private, or trivial. This rhetorical separation of the economic from the political and cultural arenas disguises the upwardly redistributing goals of neoliberalism..."

The book itself consists of four chapters. The first is an expansion of the introduction's history of neoliberalism, this time starting with the development of capitalism and liberalism beginning in the seventeen century, and going up through the 1990s where she focuses on the concrete examples of welfare "reform" and the mass incarceration of young men of color in the name of "law and order" as ways of shifting public opinion. She ends this chapter by pointing out conflicts within the "elites" between those attacking diversity (which she refers to as "culture wars") and those embracing a new "equality politics" that supports "diversity" as long as it doesn't threaten the economic policies of "globalist neoliberalism". The second chapter focuses on an example of the "culture wars", a conservative attack on a conference on women's sexuality (called "Revolting Behavior") held at SUNY New Paltz. She goes on to analyze the economic reasons behind this attack. In her third chapter, Lisa Duggan looks at how and why many gay organizations (such as the Human Rights Campaign and the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, not to mention the Log Cabin Club) have begun a shift rightward, embracing single issue politics and repudiating progressive/radical groups that want to 'restructure' society. She singles out the Independent Gay Forum, an online writers group consisting mostly of white male writers (twenty-nine white men, one African-American man, and three white women) and dissects statements from two of the more well-known contributors, Andrew Sullivan, a former New Republic editor, and Bruce Bawer, a former writer for the American Spectator.

In her final chapter, Lisa Duggan looks at leftists, similar to Walter Benn Michaels, who denigrate "identity politics", as opposed to a more 'serious' class/economics politics. She ends by citing writers such as Robin Kelley, Cindy Patton, Eric Lott, Wahneema Lubiano, Amber Hollibaugh, and Nikhil Singh, who are able to see and integrate the connections between identity and economics, between diversity and equality. To quote her last sentence: "For it is pleasure and collective caretaking, love and the egalitarian circulation of money--allied to clear and hard-headed political analysis offered generously--that will create the space for a progressive politics that might both imagine and create...something worth living for." (Italics and ellipsis in original)

It seems like equality and diversity may go together.

Quote of the day: "... as long as the progressive-left represents and reproduces itself as divided into economic vs. cultural, universal vs. identity-based, ... it will defeat itself. On one side, the identity politics camps are increasingly divorced from any critique of global capitalism. ... On the other side, critiques of global capitalism and neoliberalism, and left populist or universalist politics within the U.S., attack and dismiss cultural and identity politics at their peril. Such attacks strip them of prime sources of political creativity and new analyses, and leave them uncomprehending before the cultural and identity politics of the opposition. In addition, they drive constituencies seeking equality away, toward the false promises of superficial neoliberal 'multiculturalism'. In other words, they help create what they fearfully or critically imagine." - Lisa Duggan
Word (or phrase) of the day: Victory garden
Hero(es) of the day: Sarah and Angelina Grimké

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Diversity Troubles

The Trouble with Diversity by Walter Benn Michaels is one of the most infuriating books that I have read recently. What makes it particularly infuriating is that I agree with so much of its basic premises.

Michaels believes that we have been ignoring inequality and that diversity is being used as a way to divert attention from inequality. He points out how easy it is for corporations, colleges, and the wealthy to be in favor of diversity, since it costs so little, especially compared to what even beginning to rectify inequality would cost. Especially cheap are the apologies corporations make for their participation in slavery--and the benefits they can reap from acting contrite.

He points out the ambiguity of race and the motley interconnections of race and culture. More importantly, he points out the problem with treating class as a diversity issue--you end up talking about the contributions of poor and working class people instead of talking about changing the class system. Imagining a society where rich and poor are both respected is a liberal dream. Imagining a society without rich or poor is a more radical vision.

In all this, I agree with him. The problem is that instead of simply saying diversity is used sometimes as a smokescreen, in this book Michaels attacks diversity. He blames diversity for subverting attempts at equality, claims that if one culture is as good as another than no culture is worthwhile, states that cultural identity is meaningless, and believes that it doesn't matter if the entire world speaks only one language in the future and all other languages are forgotten (and he doesn't care which language it is).

All this reminds me of the song from the sixties that wanted to make the world into a big melting pot "...turning out coffee colored people by the score." Everyone the same color, speaking the same language, dressed identically... sure it makes equality easier, but it's not my vision of a better society.

In an early post I discussed the various radical groups that each believed that their focus was the only one possible, including Marxists who thought everything could be reduced down to economics. I'm not sure that Walter Benn Michaels is a Marxist, but he certainly seems to act as if economics were the essential thing. While diversity can be used to mask economic inequality, looking at the importance of cultural and gender differences is as much a part of social change as the elimination of class. It's not an either/or proposition, but about going for both/and.

He gets so worked up about people who talk about race instead of class that in one of his notes he singles out Betsy Leondar-Wright for talking about a "racial wealth divide" in a report about Hurricane Katrina. He says: "It's not the wealth divide that Leondar-Wright sees as the problem; it's the fact that it's racial." The trouble is that it's not true. Betsy Leondar-Wright is the author of the book Class Matters and has worked with United for a Fair Economy to "help build social movements for greater equality." She definitely sees the class divide as a problem for everyone.

Michaels likes religion, ideology, and other belief systems because they don't simply talk about differences, they think that what they believe is right and what others believe is wrong. He is, for this reason, particularly critical of 'religious diversity'. I get the sense that Mr. Michaels likes conflict. The final chapter of this book is entitled "Religion in Politics: The Good News" and, as far as I could see, the good news is that people are fighting about religion. How this helps reduce inequality is something I can't figure out.

He ends the book with a section analyzing himself in the third person ("Conclusion: About the Author"), which while making some valid points, is a bit too cute for my comfort. I mostly agree, however, with his final couple of sentences: "When it comes to economic inequality, we should stop finding ways to ignore it, we should concentrate not on respecting the illusions of cultural difference but on reducing the reality of economic difference. That is the heart of a progressive politics." Unfortunately, nowhere in this book does he describe a program for "reducing the reality of economic difference".

Lisa Duggan has written a book that addresses the same issues, but she doesn't set diversity and identity politics in opposition to economic equality. I will review it in my next post.

Quote of the day: "Where the (neoliberal) [sic] right likes status instead of class, the (neoliberal) left likes culture and the diversity version of respect the poor is respect the Other. ... That's why multiculturalism could go from proclaiming itself a subversive politics to taking up its position as a corporate management tool ... in about ten minutes and without having to make the slightest adjustment." - Walter Benn Michaels
Word (or phrase) of the day: Chapstick Lesbian
Hero(es) of the day: Gregory Bateson

Friday, November 21, 2008

Equality and Diversity

Some might think this is a no-brainer. Certainly, there are many, many organizations claiming to go for both equality and diversity. A search of the web brings up an overwhelming number of organizations trumpeting equality and diversity--including just about every large company and university (not to mention dozens of training organizations), and even such unlikely candidates as the US Army.

But there are some challenges to the connection between diversity and equality. What I find most concerning is statements like Clay Shirky's: "Diversity plus freedom of choice creates inequality, and the greater the diversity, the more extreme the inequality." Fortunately, Clay Shirky gives a more detailed explanation. While it sounds like he has scientific proof that you can't have equality, diversity, and freedom (elsewhere he simply says: "Diverse. Free. Equal. Pick two."), here he points out that "You can get out of a system with power law distributions by giving up on scale. ... one way to avoid the inequality of large systems is not to _have_ large systems." Since I believe we need to build small scale systems anyway, that may answer that concern.

With a slightly different take, several authors have devoted whole books to trying to figure out whether if progressives work for diversity, that foregoes working for equality. In my next two posts I will look at two very different takes on this by two different authors.

I want to end by something my mother once said to me. (I come from what might be considered, at least by today's standards, a large family.) My mother simply said, "Every one of my children is different and I love them all the same." There is the best statement I know on diversity and equality.

Quote of the day: "We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color." - Maya Angelou
Word (or phrase) of the day: Rhizosphere
Hero(es) of the day: Margaret Mead

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Simplicity and Complexity

The full title of Duane Elgin's book (see my posts of 9/24/08 & 9/26/08) is Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life That Is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich. He might have even said 'Inwardly Complex'. Simplifying our outer lives makes room for a richer, more complex interior life. Having less stuff enables us to take in the complexity of life. Here simplicity makes room for complexity. (The reverse is true as well. The more complex our lives are, the less room there is to appreciate the complexities of the world. It is easy with too much stuff to get overwhelmed and, in reaction, oversimplify our view of the world.)

In my post of 7/16/08 on Complexity Theory, I mentioned that "Complexity theorists talk about how complex systems emerge from simple systems..." Indeed, anything that we create will have to be simple, not because the world is simple, but because complex systems are built from simple systems. Here simplicity creates complexity.

Like order and chaos, simplicity and complexity are involved in a dance together. We need simplicity in order to appreciate complexity. We need simple systems to build complex systems. I would say that simplicity and complexity complement each other.

Quote of the day: "Everything is simpler than you think and at the same time more complex than you imagine." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Word (or phrase) of the day: Pattern Language
Hero(es) of the day: Buckminster Fuller

Monday, November 17, 2008

Contradictions or complements?

Complex, Diverse, Individual, and Practical. At first, CDIP may seem like it contradicts SECS. Isn't Complex the opposite of Simple? Individual what opposes Communal? And while Egalitarian and Diverse aren't opposites, it's certainly easier to have a society that is Diverse and hierarchal (such as ours) or Egalitarian and uniform (which the Amish are in many ways), than something that's both Diverse and Egalitarian. Not to mention the question of how practical sustainability is... But it is in these contradictions, or rather in the tension between them, that a true alternative future can emerge.

I am going to examine these contradictions/complements one by one to see if a SECS/CDIP scenerio is possible. Let's explore the interrelationships between Complexity and Simplicity, Diversity and Equality, Individuality and Community, and Practicality and Sustainability. Let's see if we are talking about contradictions or complements...

Quote of the day: "Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself..." - Walt Whitman
Word (or phrase) of the day: Naturally Grown
Hero(es) of the day: Lucy Stone

Saturday, November 15, 2008

How CDIP is Interconnected

I mentioned when I started my section on CDIP that this was some of what I liked best about this society. It's not that we do this well, but we do it a lot better than other cultures.

Embracing complexity isn't easy, but it is a complex world. And it's a lot more complex when you have to deal with individuality and diversity. Embracing diversity supports embracing individuality and embracing individuality support embracing diversity--but it doesn't have to. There are individualists that think individuality is all and don't see the need for culture--any culture--and there are certainly many cultures that disapprove of individuality. But supporting both individuality and multiculturalism (as complex as that is) is basically supporting freedom and liberty for both individuals and a diversity of cultures.

I'm not as sure that real practicality is a mainstay of this culture, but a belief in being practical certainly is. In fact, I'm not even sure that individuality and diversity are supported that well in this society, but again, it's certainly what we believe in.

And I think that embracing this complex, diverse world of individuals and cultures may be one of the most practical things that we can do.

Quote of the day: "Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it. This makes it hard to plan the day." - E.B. White
Word (or phrase) of the day: Byke
Hero(es) of the day: John Chapman

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Practical Resources

When I think of practical resources, I think of useful things, such as tools, and when I think of tools, I think of The Whole Earth Catalog, first published in 1968, and revised under such names as The Last Whole Earth Catalog, The Whole Earth Epilog, The Next Whole Earth Catalog, The Essential Whole Earth Catalog, and The Millennium Whole Earth Catalog. There was also a 30th anniversary edition published in 1998. In addition, the Whole Earth people put out a magazine, Co-Evolution Quarterly, which they published from 1974-1985. In 1985, the name of the magazine was changed to the Whole Earth Review, later called simply Whole Earth. The final print issue was in 2003, but there is a website that has information about the catalogs and magazines, and contains book reviews, articles, and back issues. Co-Evolution Quarterly was a major influence on my life, introducing me to things like voluntary simplicity, bioregionalism, soft technology, the New Alchemy Institute, watersheds, the Gaia hypothesis, Buckminster Fuller, Gregory Bateson, Ivan Illich, Betty Dodson, Anne Herbert, and Donella Meadows. I still have a stash of old CQs that I look at from time to time.

Perhaps a twenty-first century version of the Whole Earth extravaganza is the WorldChanging website. They claim that "...real solutions already exist for building the future we want. It's just a matter of grabbing hold and getting moving." They even publish a 600 page book full of 'ideas for creating a bright green future' called Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century, which has been compared to the Whole Earth Catalog. In fact, the founders of WorldChanging acknowledge the influence of the Whole Earth Catalog on their work.

Both the old Whole Earth and the new WorldChanging are full of idealism, but they are also full of practical, useful ideas, and we need more practical ideas.

Quote of the day: "...another world is not just possible, it's here. We only need to put the pieces together." - from the WorldChanging Manifesto
Word (or phrase) of the day: Butterfly Effect
Hero(es) of the day: Francis of Assisi

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Yes, I am idealistic, but I try to be practical as well. There's no use in spinning out visions, no matter how wonderful they are, if they won't work. We need practicality as well as vision; we need to focus on what is possible as well as all the wonderful things we can think of. While we can change reality, reality is where we need to start and reality is always part of what we have to deal with. We need to take practical steps if we are going to change things and what we work toward needs to be practical if it's going to happen. In essence what we are working toward is combining the idealistic and the practical. Gandhi referred to himself as a "practical idealist" and his philosophy as "practical idealism". (Unfortunately, this is also a phrase that has been misused by the Bush administration, especially Condoleezza Rice in describing her version of diplomacy. All the wonderful terms we might come up with, can and will be used by those who intend very different things.)

Practicality means that we ground our work in the possible. We can extend what is possible--often far beyond what the cynical will tell us is possible--but we need to anchor our dreams in the soil of this real earth and build our new world on firm foundations.

Quote of the day: "Goals are not dreamy, pie-in-the-sky ideals. They have every day practical applications and they should be practical." - Les Brown
Word (or phrase) of the day: Commodification
Hero(es) of the day: Janie Porter Barrett

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Individual Resources

Individualism is so ingrained in this society, it's sometimes hard to separated individuality from individualistic philosophies.

One philosophy that takes individuality into account without being heavily individualistic, is existentialism. Existentialists believe that 'existence precedes essence', therefore we get to define ourselves--or, to put it another way, "The Individual Defines Everything". One good starting place for understanding existentialism is the Existentialist Primer. Related to this is phenomenology, which is about understanding how the individual perceives the world, from the individual's own perspective. A good site to begin exploring this is What is Phenomenology?

Another way to look at individuality is from a psychological perspective. Any textbook on Developmental Psychology would give information on the development of the individual. Theorists talk about identity formation and the creation of our 'self-concept' (how we understand ourselves as individuals). (The Psychology Wiki contains a large section devoted to Developmental Psychology.)

The rights of the individual are an important part of developing political theory. Although libertarians and individualist anarchists go too far in this direction, communitarian anarchists, libertarian socialists, and 'left-libertarians' try to protect the rights of the individual while creating a more egalitarian society. The Alliance of the Libertarian Left has a website that has a huge amount of information on Left-Liberarianism. Mutualism is a somewhat more conservative, but quite interesting, version of this. They want to get rid of capitalism but keep 'free markets'. A good introduction to this is at Mutualist.Org website.

Quote of the day: “Everyone should be respected as an individual, but no one idolized.” - Albert Einstein
Word (or phrase) of the day: Same Gender Loving
Hero(es) of the day: Leo Tolstoy

Friday, November 7, 2008


Diversity of cultures is important, but even more important is the recognition and celebration of the fact that each one of us is different. Individuality and differences between people is often irritating, but a society that honors individuality and gives us each the liberty to pursue our own path is not only complex and diverse, but truly fascinating.

I'm not talking about the Republican/Libertarian 'Rugged Individualism' here. Ugh. I dealt with that in my July 4th post on 'Interdependence'. I'm talking about a connected individuality, that celebrates our uniqueness while acknowledging the importance of others and our need for others.

Who wants everybody to be identical? A faceless mob is not community. I want a society where we each get to be ourselves and our unique contributions are what makes it stronger.

Quote of the day: "Every society honors its live conformists and its dead troublemakers." - Mignon McLaughlin
Word (or phrase) of the day: Fecundism
Hero(es) of the day: Susie King Taylor

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Post Election

I realize this blog is several hours later than usual, but I wanted to interrupt my discussion of CDIP (Complexity, Diversity, Individuality, and Practicality), again, as reality intrudes.

Yesterday was election day in the US. The good news is that Barack Obama was elected as the next president. The bad news is that no matter who might have won, there are limits on what they can do. I realized a while ago that the best, most aware, most radical leader really can't do much. Complexity theory and the experience of governments like the Soviet Union and other 'communist' countries show that even the most well intentioned politicians, the most well intentioned governments, can do little, and often what they do, backfires. You can't create change from the top down. Unfortunately, the reverse of this isn't true. Leaders such as Reagan and Bush/Cheney have proven that a lot of damage can be done from the top down. So I'm quite glad that Barack Obama won. Congratulations to everyone who made it happen. Now we need to get back to the real work of rebuilding the world, from the bottom up.

Quote of the day: "Wars and elections are both too big and too small to matter in the long run. The daily work - that goes on, it adds up." - Barbara Kingsolver
Word (or phrase) of the day: Synergy
Hero(es) of the day: Ginetta Sagan

Monday, November 3, 2008

Diverse Resources

Two diversity resources I have already mentioned in my post on Egalitarian Resources (10/4/08): Audre Lorde's Sister Outsider and bell hooks' Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. Another good book is Joan Steinau Lester's The Future of White Men and Other Diversity Dilemmas.

I found a few interesting websites on biodiversity: The Biodiversity Heritage Library, The Encyclopedia of Life, and The World Atlas of Biodiversity.

I'll have a couple more when I get into equality versus diversity.

Quote of the day: "In nature, diversity means resilience. A prairie that has hundreds of different plants growing together can resist pests or respond to storms that would devastate a field of identical hybrid corn." - Starhawk
Word (or phrase) of the day: Noosphere
Hero(es) of the day: Ammon Hennacy

Saturday, November 1, 2008


I am going to interrupt my discussion of CDIP and Diversity to note that this is a special time of the year. This is the time of Halloween, All Saints Day, All Souls Day, Day of the Dead, and, for those pagans (including witches and druids) with any sort of Celtic connections, Samhain.

I mentioned in my post on Thinking Positive (8/1/08) that I am a naturalistic pagan. That means that I don't believe in a lot of the things other pagans believe in. (I've had to explain to some of my witch friends that I am rather 'belief challenged'.) But there are certain things that I do believe in: earth, water, fire, and air, the sun, moon, and stars, and the changing of the seasons. And darkness. I believe in darkness and the value of darkness.

All the holidays around this date are about darkness, death, disorder, and decay. A lot of this can be summed up in the word 'Entropy'. (Another blogger, SoapBoxTech, and I got into a discussion of this on his blog.) The point of holidays like Samhain is that that entropy--darkness, death, disorder, and decay--is part of the life cycle and we need to celebrate these things as well as life's sunny, creative, organizing properties. We need chaos and disorder to create new things out of. We need death and decay to make room for new life. And we need darkness to nurture new growing things and to allow us to appreciate life.

If you want to fully join in the dance of life, you've got to acknowledge all the participants--and that includes darkness and decay.

Quote of the day: "The dark: all that we are afraid of, all that we don't want to see--fear, anger, sex, grief, death, the unknown. The turning dark: change. The velvet dark: skin soft in the night, the stroke of flesh on flesh, touch, joy, mortality. Hecate's birth-giving dark: seeds are planted underground, the womb is dark, and life forms itself anew in hidden places." - Starhawk
Word (or phrase) of the day: Riparian Zone
Hero(es) of the day: Ernestine Rose

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