Friday, December 23, 2016

Light, Love, Darkness, and Delight

Two days ago was the Winter Solstice.  It's telling that I'm only getting to write this now.

Many years I write a Yuletime post about now.  I often talk about the darkness and the light and how we need both.

Darkness is formative.  Many things come out of it. The seed in the dark of the soil becomes the plant; the fetus in the dark of the womb becomes the baby.  The stars can only be seen in the dark--and candles and holiday lights pale in the daylight but shine so lovely in the dark.

It's true that darkness also brings death, destruction, and decay--but those things are often the necessary precursors to the creation of new things. And sometimes darkness brings delight.  Ask lovers or little children.

I am trying to find the balance in my life--not only between darkness and light, but between doing and being, giving and having, connecting with others and connecting with myself.  It's at this time of the year--what I see as a magical time between times, as the Solstice ends the old year but the New Year hasn't come.  It's a time to turn inward, a time to contemplate, a time to rethink. 

After many years of pursuing various Buddhist practices, I have stopped them and built a little altar in my room.  At Samhain I put compost and dried leaves on it.  Right now there is ivy and a pinecone, and stones and a twig and some red berries, and a ribbon-like piece of red cloth.  I think it looks Yule like, although someone who saw it thought it was "Xmas decor".  I am trying to take in the darkness and the light, as well as the cold and the quiet of the season.

And I wish you all much love, and light, and darkness, and delight.

Quote of the Day:  “Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” - Edith Sitwell

Thursday, November 24, 2016


I'm back--for now, at least.

I've been way too busy with lots of other things and I'm just now having a bit of time. 

I've just finished one of my other blogs completely.  I've ended the story at Lagoon Commune--with a display of gratitude--and a hokey ending. 

I've also been spending lots and lots of time managing a blog focused on income-sharing, egalitarian communities entitled Commune Life.  Since there are new posts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I've been very busy making deadlines.  And this continues.

And, today is a day to be thankful.  So I want to say what I'm thankful for.

First of all, I am thankful to be alive, to be able to enjoy my life, to be here and experience life's joys and sorrows.

I'm also very glad to have so many people to share my life with.  I'm grateful for close friends, here in NYC and in New England and Virginia and California.  You know who you are (I hope) and I love you all.

I'm grateful to be living in community.  I will be celebrating the day with the many folks I live with.

I'm grateful to be part of building community--particularly through Point A and Commune Life.

And I'm very grateful for this earth, for the changing seasons, and the trees that send me oxygen, and the compost that builds and renews the soil.

And I'm grateful to be able to work and write and make compost and walk and bike and be physically active.  I hope it will continue for a few more years at least.

I hope to be on this blog a little more frequently now but if I'm not, I hope it's because I'm busy doing stuff that (maybe) will make things a little better.

Quote of the Day:  "Joy is a heart full and a mind purified by gratitude."  - Marietta McCarty

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Next Society 3: The Process

Let me begin by saying again that the emergent process for a future social/political/economic structure is going to be organic--that is, messy--if it's going to work at all.  All the wonderful theories in the world have less influence than all of the many competing and divergent interests that slowly form organic structure. 

When I talk about communities like Twin Oaks, I often joke that " one in their right mind would create a community like Twin Oaks."  That's because no one 'created' Twin Oaks.  Twin Oaks is the way that it is because it evolved that way over time.  It certainly didn't become the little behaviorist community that its founders envisioned.

Likewise, as new structures emerge, they won't be exactly what anyone has planned.  And they will emerge.  Anyone who thinks that capitalism as it's currently practiced is sustainable, hasn't looked what it's doing to the environment, the growing anti-globalism sentiment, and the fact that it's only a recent player on the scene (as I laid out in my first article, Some Background).

And I'm not saying that a decentralized, diverse society is what's going to happen.  It's what I consider most likely and most feasible (and I also think most desirable).  But if we're talking about an organic process, we're talking about something that we can't control.  Unexpected things are going to happen and society will change as a result.

When I say that this corporate capitalist society is not sustainable, I mean that  it will bring down the planet if it continues--but I also know that it will continue for a while yet.  I see us in the place where the Roman empire was as it started falling apart.  Just as that process took a long time, I see corporate capitalism in a slow, incremental process of decay.

The feudal system that followed the fall of Rome was fairly decentralized (although anything but nonhierarchal) even though there were periodic attempts to recreate a centralized structure.  The irony is that the biggest, longest lasting attempt (the Holy Roman Empire) turned out to be rather patchwork and decentralized.  As Wikipedia puts it: "The empire never achieved the extent of political unification ... evolving instead into a decentralized, limited elective monarchy composed of hundreds of sub-units, principalities, duchies, counties, Free Imperial Cities, and other domains."

And that's what I think is going to happen again--this is the patchwork politics I spoke about in my last post.  However, I think that successful communities, co-operative networks, etc, can form a template that can be built on and can influence the structures of this new, decentralized society.  And building those communities and alternative structures is the work that we can and need to do.

Trying to build a whole new society from a some blueprint won't work. It's good to have some idea of where we want to go, else as a society we will simply drift, but we're not going to be able to control the process.  Letting things happen, trying to influence what happens when we can and letting it go when we can't, is what we can do.  I think we will need to have some idealism and a lot of pragmatism to get anywhere.

Quote of the Day:  "How did Twin Oaks get so far from its origins?
"When I tried to start a Walden Two community, I didn't expect it to turn away from the scientific and rational and embrace popular movements.  But we did not have a lot of choice in member selection.  Who was available to join the fledgling community of 1969-1972?  Hippies, that's who.  I know one group that was very serious about Walden Two and tried to build a community without any hippies in it.  It failed for lack of people." - Kat Kinkade

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Next Society 2: A Patchwork Politic

There are lots of good ideas about what the next society could and perhaps should look like.  There's Parecon (Participatory Economics), which I wrote about way back in a post on Participatory Economics and Economic Theory, (7/8/08).  I just read quite a bit from a book entitled The Next Revolution by Murray Bookchin, where he talks about his theory of Libertarian Municipalism. There are a lot of interesting theories of how society could be organized. These are all lovely, detailed plans for the next society and, because of that, I don't think they're going to happen, at least not in any way that will be like their proponents specify.

I think Starhawk's writings on future economies in her book Webs of Power (which I also talked about in my post on Participatory Economics and Economic Theory) are more resonant with what I'm talking about. She looks at Participatory Economics, Natural Capitalism, the Gift Economy, and the views of bioregionalists, anarchists, and socialists, and concludes that " a diverse world we may need a spectrum of systems to fully fit each unique set of circumstances." She points out that "Our visionary political efforts might best be directed not toward putting in place some preconceived system but toward creating the conditions in which that experimentation can begin."

Faithful readers of this blog are probably aware that I consider intentional communities as a prime place to do that experimentation.  My vision of an emerging political/economic/social situation starts with having lots of successful experiments up and running and including not only communes and cohousing, but all sorts of cooperative businesses, a lot of the pieces of what is sometimes called the Solidarity Economy, and even bits of small scale capitalism--small businesses, family run stores, things that I will call true free enterprise.  (When I actually studied what free enterprise is, I realized it wasn't as bad as I thought.  The problems we are having are with corporate capitalism, also known as monopoly capitalism, where the big corporations use small companies as testing grounds for what's profitable and anything that works is either bought out by them or out competed by corporate imitation.  The only other alternative in our present system seems for an innovating business to become a major corporation themselves.  This is the grow or die strategy.  Another name for what we have now is 'growth capitalism'.)

Once we have enough of these small systems up and running, I believe that the next step is in the process could be to network the successful experiments, perhaps using what Bookchin calls a democratic confederation. (But probably not as precisely structured as he details.) So rather than having one overarching system, there are lots of small, local, diverse economic and political systems, connected in a highly decentralized structure.  This is based on the idea that what works in one place probably won't be what works in a very different place.  While there are no guarantees on any of this, I think this might be a workable scenario.

How do we do this?  That's the subject of my next piece: The Process.

Quote of the Day: "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 their 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.  And how could it? How could the aspirations of an urban office worker be the same as that of a Mayan farmer in Chiapas?  Why should we think that one form of economy or social organization should serve all?" - Starhawk

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Next Society 1: Some Background

I want to return again to the major theme of this blog: social change/social alchemy. 

I've been working on this blog for eight years now.  During that time, I've studied and thought a lot about, not only social transformation, but history, systems thinking, and communities as laboratories for social change.

Lately I've been thinking a bit about what we're working toward.  What would a new society look like?  How would it come about?  How likely is change to really happen?

Over the next few posts, I want to put my ideas out about where we might be heading. As someone once said, "It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future."

Nevertheless, I'd like to give it a try.

I think that one of the best ways to look at the future is to look at what's happened in the past.

I'm going to start with politics and economics.  Until very recently in history, these two were intertwined.

Here's my rapid, super condensed, super simplified, idiosyncratic version of world history:

We start with nomadic, hunter-gatherer tribes.  As I quoted in my post on Chimps, Bonobos, and Tribes (March 31, 2016),  Iain Couzin and Mark Laidre claim that “More than 99% of human history was spent in a hunter-gatherer existence..." That began to change with the development of agriculture.  There are a bunch of theories as to how that came about but with agriculture, tribes settled down and inequality grew.

Eventually the tribes grew into the city-states of Sumer, Egypt, Phoencia, Babylonia, Greece, and eventually Rome--and many of these became the seats of empire.   Rome was the biggest empire but it eventually overextended itself and had to deal with internal conflicts and corruption. Rome was finally done in by the tribal groups that they referred to as 'barbarians'. These tribes settled down into fiefdoms, new kingdoms, and new empires. This was the Middle Ages and the system that emerged from this has been called feudalism. 

There had been traders and merchants through much of history, but they were kept in control by the rulers.  In the 1600s and 1700s, the merchants began to gain power as they grew richer.  With industrialization in the 1800s, they took control and capitalism emerged.  All this has been described by David Ricardo, David Hume, and Adam Smith.

My point here is that Ricardo, Hume, and Smith described the growth of capitalism--they did not invent it.  Capitalism, like the city-states, empires, and feudalism, emerged in an organic growth process.

Karl Marx (who even many mainstream capitalist economists view as an important economic theorist) studied this process and attempted to predict the next stage.  He was influenced by Hegel's dialectical method where a thesis meets an antithesis and through their clash a synthesis emerges.  He saw the contradictions of capitalism leading to an emergent dictatorship of the proletariat.  While he encouraged and worked for a revolution, he saw this as an organic process that would occur when the situation was right.  As Wikipedia points out, "Marx accused ... other revolutionaries of being 'adventurists' because of their belief that a revolutionary situation could be created out of thin air by the sheer 'will power' of the revolutionaries without regard to the economic realities of the current situation."  While he did dedicate himself to trying to change the world, he pointed out "Communism is ... not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. ... The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence."

The person who changed all this was Vladmir Lenin, who came up with the idea of "a revolutionary vanguard party" which would overthrow the capitalist government.  He started with Russia, which would have horrified Marx, since Russia was a largely agricultural society and practically still in the feudal stage.  Rather than socialism emerging through an organic process, Lenin claimed "that capitalism could ultimately only be overthrown with revolution..."  This became the template for all the "Communist" countries, where socialism was imposed from the top rather than grown from the bottom.  We have now seen the results of that.

When people point to these countries as examples of why communism can't work, I point to Twin Oaks where communism has been working for nearly fifty years and is going strong.  The difference is that at Twin Oaks, it grew from the ground up and it's entirely voluntary to be part of it.

So, my first claim about the next society is that it will emerge organically, out of things that have been grown from the ground up, and I predict that it will come from several sources that will be strung together--that is, it will be networked.

Next: A Patchwork Politic

Quote of the Day:  "Life did not take over the globe by conquest, but by networking." - Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan

Monday, July 11, 2016

Doing the Work

Thomas Edison made the point with his quote:  "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration." 

I'm sitting in a community now that is struggling with some financial issues.  A bunch of visitors and newcomers have all these great ideas for new businesses and making money.  They are more than happy to tell us what we should do.

The problem here certainly isn't a lack of good ideas.  The problem is (and I don't just see it in this community but in lots of places in communities and social change situations) that ideas are easy.  But things don't happen because someone has a good idea.  Things happen because there are people willing to do the work to make them happen.

I've heard a story from Twin Oaks about the solar panels that are near a community entrance.  The community gets a certain amount of its energy from them.  The story is that they are there because one member wanted Twin Oaks to have solar panels and proposed it, and then met with the people who had problems with this, and reformulated his proposal, and then dealt with those who had difficulties with the new proposal, and kept on and on doing this for months.  He finally came up with something that everybody was okay with and then they were able to get these solar panels. 

I've heard this called 'shepherding the process'.  You take responsibility for making it happen, you talk with folks, you work with folks, you do what you need to do so that it gets done.  This is a lot more work than just putting out an idea, but this is what makes things happen.

A related thing that I've noticed is visitors coming to dinner at the community that I'm in now and wanting to talk about how the community works as we're trying to clean up after dinner.  If you want to make a good impression on a community that you're visiting, offer to help.  They may not need it, they may not want it, but it will be noticed.

There are those who come up with the ideas, who can expound on how communities can work and how we need to change the world, and there are those working to build communities, to keep communities going, and to create a better world.  Obviously, I'm part of the former (this blog is an example of that) but I also try to be part of the latter group.  I want to see change happen and that means that I know I need to do the work to make it happen.

Nothing is going to happen without the willingness to work.

Quote of the Day:  "Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of the world." - Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Reclaiming the Commons

In 1968, Garrett Hardin wrote an often cited paper for Science magazine, called “The Tragedy of the Commons”.  He claimed that any common property “remorselessly generates tragedy” since it’s to the advantage of each individual to use as much of this common thing that they share (called by those who deal with this stuff, “The Commons”) and thus deplete it to the point no one could use it.  While this might make some theoretical sense, many writers since (most notably Elinor Ostrum--who I talked about in my post on Original Virtue, 9/14/08) have pointed out that tribal societies have managed the commons without difficulty for generations and generations.

The book, Whose Common Future? by the staff of the magazine The Ecologist (subtitle “Reclaiming the Commons”), is an in depth look at the use and misuse of the commons.  They begin by citing several examples from around the world where local folks carefully manage their common assets.  They point out that tribes, neighborhoods, and societies have developed checks and balances so that no one takes a lot more than their share and resources are sustained rather than depleted.

Then they look at the enclosure movement, which was the end of common property and the beginning of almost all property being private. (For more on this see my post on Land, 5/28/09, where I reference Whose Common Future?)  The book goes into great detail about globalization and privatization, how power elites want to manage the commons and profit from it.

In their final chapter, called “Reclaiming the Commons”, the writers return to examples of how people can take back common resources and how they can collectively manage it.  They finish with “A Concluding Remark” where they are careful point out that they have no policy recommendations.  First, because policy recommendations assume that there’s some policy-makers that they want to appeal to, which is once again giving power to the elites.  And, most importantly, it implies that there are global, overall solutions where their point is that the commons need to be managed by local communities and in each case, the community itself will find a way that works for that specific community.  Local solutions are diverse solutions.

Quote of the Day:  “One cannot legislate the commons into existence; nor can the commons be reclaimed simply by adopting ‘green techniques’ such as organic agriculture, alternative energy strategies or better public transport--necessary and desirable though such strategies often are.  Rather, commons regimes emerge through ordinary people’s day-to-day resistance to enclosure, and their efforts to regain the mutual support, responsibility and trust that sustain the commons.” - The Ecologist

Monday, April 25, 2016

It's alive! And communal!

So, just to make my life more complicated, I am taking on one more blog.  In addition to this blog, and my very silly blog about a fictional commune in an unnamed Green Mountain State (which may give you some idea about how silly the blog is), I will be part of a crew that will start a blog focusing on egalitarian income sharing communities, called Commune Life.  I am going to be one of the main editors.

The scope of the blog is on anything about living in income sharing communities.  The structure of the blog is that we will have a new article focusing on communal living every Monday, a photo essay featuring an income sharing community every Wednesday, and a previously published article (from various blogs--including mine) every Friday.

If you follow the link above and go to the blog now (like anytime in April, 2016), you will find a note saying “NOTHING FOUND”  (their caps).  The blog doesn’t start until May 2nd.  But please come over and check us out in May.  Here’s your chance to learn all about communal living.  And there will be pictures.

Quote of the Day:  “Communards are not immune to the range of human experience of birth, death, love, loss and the like. People have still ended up hurt, sad, and lonely. We are far from perfect. It is important to remember that perfection is not the goal. Progress is.” - Cel Free Farm

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Dealing with Alpha Males

Continuing on with my exploration of ways we can deal with aggressive males--human males in this case--short of poisoning them all.  (See the end of my last post, Baboons and Culture Change, for an explanation of this this statement.)

My question is whether we can channel this aggressive male energy so that it can be used for something other than domination.  Like the baboons in my last post, can we create a culture that supports a less hierarchical way of being?

In his novel, Island, Aldous Huxley talks about how his utopian paradise deals with what he calls “Muscle Men”; “...why don’t they turn into Stalins… or at the least into domestic tyrants?  First of all, our social arrangements offer them very few opportunities for bullying their families, and our political arrangements make it practically impossible to domineer on any larger scale.  Second, we train the Muscle Men to be aware and sensitive, we teach them to enjoy the commonplaces of everyday existence.  That means they have an alternative--innumerable alternatives--to the pleasure of being the boss.  And finally, we work directly with this love of power and domination that goes with this kind of physique in almost all its variations.  We canalize this love of power and we deflect it--turn it away from people and onto things.  We give them all kinds of difficult tasks to perform--strenuous and violent tasks that exercise their muscles and satisfy their cravings for domination--but satisfy it at nobody’s expense and in ways that are harmless or positively useful.”

One important thing to remember (at least for me) is that this kind of strength and power is useful, if used in good ways.  I think we should train the more aggressive males (sometimes referred to as Alpha Males) to use their strengths to support a more egalitarian and cooperative culture, rather than for domination.  We should praise and support those men who use their power and privilege for constructive purposes.

For example, I’d say that my colleague and comrade, Paxus, is pretty much an alpha male.  He was raised in an upper middle class culture and groomed to climb the corporate hierarchy.  Yet he turned his back on it.  Still, he doesn’t farm or meditate or act quiet or shy.  He can be quite charismatic if he wants to be.  What he does is to use his strength and skills to help support social change and create community.  He could be in a position of dominance, but instead he is using his power against the very system that gave it to him.

I want to be part of creating a society that has a place for everybody.  And I think we should support the ‘alpha males’ in supporting an alternative culture.  Rather than poisoning them, we should value them--while encouraging them to use their strength for change. (Personal note: I am a cis-man, but hardly what anyone would call an alpha male.  I was a victim of male aggression as a kid.)

Quote of the Day: “Macho doesn't prove mucho.” - Zsa Zsa Gabor

Monday, April 4, 2016

Baboons and Culture Change

In my last post I summarized the differences between chimpanzees and bonobos as “chimpanzees are hierarchical, patriarchal, competitive, and violent, whereas bonobos tend to be more egalitarian, matriarchal, cooperative, and much less violent. “  It’s a generality, but there’s a bunch of truth in it.  Unfortunately most other primate groups (except for humans) seem to be more like the chimps than the bonobos.  (I think that human beings have the potential to be like either--or both.)

We often see biology as a certain kind of destiny.  While humans have the freedom to change, it sometimes seems like we are fighting our biology.  And most animals (unless trained by humans) seem to be locked into a social/behavioral styles.

However, one study of baboons found something interesting.  Baboons, as I said, tend toward a patriarchal, hierarchal culture.  The scientists in this study were observing a troop (their term) of baboons that were near a tourist lodge and foraged in their garbage dump.  More importantly, it was only the most aggressive males that were able to forage in this dump and when some meat in the dump was infected with tuberculosis, it was all the most aggressive males in the troop  that died.

This totally changed the culture of the group.  There were now more females than males and the males that were left were less aggressive toward less dominant males (although apparently not toward their peers) and toward females.  

For some reason, the researchers lost interest in this troop that they were studying, and they began studying another baboon troop--although they kept informal tabs on the first troop (which they called the Forest troop).  The deaths of the dominant males happened between 1982 and 1986.  Observations of the group stopped around 1986.  In 1993, the researchers began studying the Forest troop again and were surprised to find out that the less aggressive culture persisted.  This was surprising to them because male baboons, as they age, leave the troop they were with and bond with females in another troop.  By 1993 there were no adult males that had been with the troop in 1986, yet the behavior change that happened with the death of the aggressive males persisted.

As the researchers put it: “A decade after the deaths of the more aggressive males in the troop, Forest Troop preserved a distinct social milieu accompanied by distinct physiological correlates. Critically, as noted, no adult males …  had been troop members at the end of the tuberculosis outbreak. Instead, these males had subsequently transferred in as adolescents, adopting the local social style. A number of investigators have emphasized how a tolerant and gregarious social setting facilitates social transmission…”  The more tolerant and less aggressive culture persisted as incoming males adopted or were socialized to the new culture.

In some ways it’s as if the baboons shifted from a ‘chimp-like’ way of relating to a ‘bonobo-like’ way of relating and that difference persisted through a complete shift in the male members of the troop.  I wonder what that says about ways we can change human society--short of poisoning all the aggressive males.

Quote of the Day:  “In summary, we have observed circumstances that produced a distinctive set of behaviors and physiological correlates in a troop of wild baboons. Moreover, these behaviors were taken on by new troop members...
“Finally, these findings raise the issue of their applicability to understanding human social behavior and its transmission. Human history is filled with examples of the selective loss of demographic subsets of societies... The present data suggest that demographic skews may have long-term, even multigenerational consequences, including significant changes in the quality of life in a social group.” - Robert Sapolsky and Lisa Share

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Chimps, Bonobos, and Tribes

Lately I’ve been thinking a bit about our primate relatives and what their social structure says about what human beings are capable of being.  

Way back at the beginning of this blog, I wrote posts about Bonobos and Chimpanzees (7/30/08) and about Peacemaking among Primates (a book by Frans de Waal) in a post entitled Peace on Earth  (12/24/08).  These bonobos and chimpanzees are our closest animal relatives.

In many ways the behaviors of chimps and bonobos couldn’t be more different.  In a very broad generality, chimpanzees are hierarchical, patriarchal, competitive, and violent, whereas bonobos tend to be more egalitarian, matriarchal, cooperative, and much less violent.  In books like Our Inner Ape (another book by Frans de Waal) they represent opposing tendencies that humans have--people perhaps are a bit of both.  But is there any behavior that both species have in common?

Here’s one.  Both chimps and bonobos are what’s called fission-fusion species.  Baboons, orangutans, and spider monkeys are as well--and so are humans.  What this means is that populations combine and separate.    Often during the day they split up and travel in little groups and at night they all get back together.  This is especially common among the chimps and bonobos.  To quote Iain Couzin and Mark  Laidre, “The most fluid societies of any nonhuman primate are found among chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos (Pan paniscus), humanity's nearest living relatives.”

The point is that chimps, bonobos, and humans are all tribal animals.  There is a bigger ‘parent group’ (which I will refer to as the tribe) and smaller subgroups (which I’ve heard called clans or bands).  Again, quoting Couzin and Laidre: “More than 99% of human history was spent in a hunter-gatherer existence, characterized by dynamically shifting social groupings at multiple levels. At the highest tier in hunter-gatherer societies is the ethno-linguistic group or ‘tribe’, formed by several local ‘bands’ that fuse together when resources like water are clustered during dry seasons. Bands themselves, which are made up of around 30 individuals, break up into smaller foraging parties during daily forays out from a base camp. While some individuals remain at the camp to watch over youngsters and tend the old or injured, the foraging parties gather edible plant material and hunt animals, afterward bringing the bounty back to a central place for sharing and redistribution.”

We are tribal animals.  We belong in tribes.  “...99% of human was spent…” in tribes and our closest animal relatives live in fission-fusion tribes.  It’s in our biology.  So current human civilization is an anomaly.  And we are constantly trying to reform into tribes.

Conservative Republicans know this--at least at a gut level.  Their loyalty is to their tribe--and they see themselves besieged by those who don’t fit: pinkos, queers, Muslims, and Mexicans.

I think small towns and villages are our tribes--and in the cities, neighborhoods.  There was a story about the Portuguese population of East Cambridge (MA) several decades ago, that if a kid misbehaved several blocks away, his mother would know about it (via a phone call) before he got a chance to get home.  The pluses and minuses of villages, towns, and neighborhoods was that most folks knew one another.  This was a problems if you didn’t fit in--if you were too liberal or radical or queer or whatever.  But a big problem with big cities is that few people know each other and that gives many folks the liberty to be anonymously rude or worse.  You can much more easily mistreat someone you are not likely to see again.

I think intentional communities are part of what I will call the re-tribalization movement.  Even at large communities like Twin Oaks, or Dancing Rabbit, or Ganas,  I feel more at home since as I walk around I realize that I know most of the people I walk by.  Since being in community, I often feel bewildered by walking city streets and realizing that I don’t know any of the people I see.  It feels wrong somehow.

And, in larger communities, I see smaller subgroupings happening--which some of us (ironically given the info I have above) call ‘finding our tribe’.  I think these subgroups are reenacting our history of clans and bands within a tribe.  This fissioning and fusing is in our genes.

What else can we learn from primates?  I’ve talked a lot about bonobos and chimpanzees.  In my next post I want to focus on a study done with baboons.

Quote of the Day:  “...why is gossip necessary? Far from being mere small talk, gossip serves myriad vital functions within our fission–fusion societies, both at the individual level and at the group level. Gossip can facilitate social cohesion in the face of repeated separations, reminding individuals of the bonds they have with distant others. And it can also allow information to percolate through the group about the trustworthiness of each member, enabling listeners to keep track of others despite limited first-hand observation. Gossip, therefore, and maybe even language more generally, may have evolved specifically as an adaptation to the highly fission–fusion-oriented societies of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.”  - Iain Couzin and Mark  Laidre

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Thank You Power

I’m currently working in a bookshop (part time, mostly to have a little spending money).  I’m not sure how good an idea it is; it’s a little like hiring a kid to work at a toyshop.  There are so many books and so little time.

I found this book, Thank You Power (by Deborah Norville), in the dollar bin at the store.  There isn’t a lot in it to distinguish it from a lot of similar books.  (I think BrenĂ© Brown is one of the better writers in this area and I should review her Spirituality of Imperfection someday.)  But it’s a great reminder of the importance of gratitude, has a bunch of scientific studies that back this (and all sorts of other positive stuff) up, and has some pretty good quotes.

Here’s one about how the best way to be happy is to do things for other people (and there are a lot of studies that show this):  “Happiness is a by-product of an effort to make someone else happy.”  (Gretta Palmer)  The converse of this is that directly pursuing happiness is a sure-fire way not to achieve it.

Another way to achieve happiness is to do meaningful work, especially stuff that inspires you.  The quote for this one is: “If you observe a really happy man, you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi desert.  He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that had rolled under the radiator striving for it as the goal itself.  He will have become aware that he is happy in the course of living life twenty-four crowded hours of each day.”  (W Beran Wolfe)  Pretty true (if you ignore the sexist assumptions in the quote.)  I think, of course, that the best way of all is to do meaningful work that makes a lot of other people happy.

Finally, perhaps the key thing that can really bring happiness is being thankful.  To everyone and for everything.  It’s an important and often neglected practice.  And that’s why I bought this book.  Even though it may not be the best written book I’ve read, gratitude is the main focus of Thank You Power.  

Being grateful, constantly appreciating others and life, changes us.  We can’t be reminded of that too often.

Quote of the Day: “What if… the secret to happiness was within each of us?  What if a lasting sense of completion, an enduring sense of completion, was possible--simply by changing the lens through which we viewed daily life? …
“Here’s the good news: you’ve got the power right now. … That power begins with two words: thank you.” - Deborah Norville

Saturday, February 6, 2016

After the Ecstasy, the Laundry

After the Ecstasy, the Laundry (by Jack Kornfield) is a book about spiritual development that focuses on the fact that, in spite of whatever insights or bliss states or peak experiences people get from doing the work, in the end your stuff doesn’t change that much.  What seems to change is your relationship with your stuff.

The author claims to have interviewed nearly a hundred experienced practitioners from various Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, and Jewish paths.  One Buddhist teacher described his slow transformation this way: “If my life was like a crowded garage where I kept bumping into the furniture and judging myself, it’s now like I’ve moved into an airplane hangar with the doors left open.  I’ve got the old stuff there, but it doesn’t limit me like before.”

It’s a useful spiritual read, full of people’s experiences and teaching stories, but what interested me was the title.  It reminded me of a Doonesbury comic from the seventies (and this is from memory) where a member of the Walden commune was being asked to do the dishes.  She asked why the men didn’t have to do the dishes and the older woman asking her pointed out that the men did do the dishes, but this time it was her turn.  As the younger woman walked away, she muttered something about “After the revolution...” and the older woman said, “After the revolution, we’ll still need to do the dishes.”

After the ecstasy, the laundry.  After the revolution, the dishes.  I have two takeaways from this:

The first is the simple fact that no matter what transformation we go through, we still will have to do the work.  In fact, the work is just part of the process and the most revolutionary thing we can do is to make sure that the work is being done by everybody, more or less equally.

The second is to question the place of laundry and dishes in a future sustainable culture.  After the Great Turning (to use Joanna Macy’s term), will we still do laundry and dishes?  We are, after all, the only animals to wear clothes and eat off of plates.

However, except in some tropical paradise, I can’t imagine that very many people will be able to go naked (especially in colder climates) and live off of fruits and berries.  But will we clean our clothes and dishes (and bodies) in the river?  Will we have a sci-fi future where we use sonic devices for our cleaning?  As Niels Bohr is supposed to have pointed out, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future.”

In any case, no matter what happens, there will still be work to do.   What the work is, isn’t as clear but clearly we will still need people to do it.

Quote of the Day:  “To sustain spiritual life, we need each other’s eyes and hearts as surely as we need help creating food and shelter.  This reflection and encouragement is no small thing. …
“The experience of being truly seen and honored by another reminds us of who we are.  We cannot underestimate the importance of the awakening we bring to one another.”  - Jack Kornfield

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