Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Big Weenie

I just saw a film (What a Way To Go) that touched me more deeply than any film I’ve seen for a while. I saw it with friends, and discussed it afterwards, and I’m glad I did. I would recommend that, as a good way to view it.

This essay is a response to the film and to the discussion that we held afterwards about it. The film had a much darker view of things than I hold, but the passion in which it was presented did bring out quite an emotional response.


This film covered many things, but let’s discuss the big controversy, climate change. The controversy is not so much whether it is happening or not – the evidence is overwhelming, with melting glaciers here, thicker ice there, dramatic weather pattern changes all over the planet.

The controversy is over whether we caused this or not, because of our industrial, high consumption lifestyles, and just how severe it will be. You will find scientists on all sides of the argument, saying whatever they say about it.

I’m not interested in arguing with anybody about which side is right. The discussion that interests me more is the effect that the idea of climate change has created in us at our core – the idea that we have caused, with our seemingly insatiable drive for consumption and materialism, the possibility of one of the biggest cataclysms this planet has ever experienced – in line with the extinction of the dinosaurs and a few other extremely dramatic changes in planetary ecosystems.

This idea is paralyzing for most people. Thus they do not react to it very analytically or logically.


You were brought up from childhood, being told stories – in school, on the TV, from your friends, from your parents and your friend’s parents and most people around, about what life is all about. You were encouraged to believe in God and country, Santa Claus, your schoolteachers and your parents, that hard work and cleverness will give you everything you wanted in life, and that what you want most is a nice family in the suburbs, with two cars and a nice house with a nice lawn and big screen TV and all the other toys that go along with “the good life.” It’s the big weenie in the sky that brings contentment and happiness – it must, because almost everything around you agrees that it must.

But then, you start getting glimpses of the little man behind the curtain, the emperor’s denuded state, the big con. You find out Santa isn’t real, you find out your parents don’t know everything, you find out your teachers don’t know everything, you find out your government isn’t very smart sometimes, then you may find out it is almost never very smart, you may even decide that your God doesn’t know everything. These things are hard on you, to some degree or other, but you buck up, and say “That’s just the way life is” and go back to your job to pay your bills so you can get that new car next year, and the barbeque you wanted, and the vacation in Hawaii, and the garden in the back yard with designer outdoor furniture and a gazebo, and the private school for your kids, and a bigger house, and lots of money in the stock market so you can get off the hamster wheel someday. And then your wife and kids – and you - will be happy.

But somehow it doesn’t quite work out that way. There is a divorce, or one of your kids starts taking drugs, or the bills just start stressing you out, or the car turns out to be a lemon, or you notice this stuff really isn’t making you that happy, or you just start getting….tired.

Then, maybe, you start looking for answers.

Or maybe not, maybe you are still right in the midst of the game of acquiring happiness through consumption and you read an article that says the Iraq war was maybe not really necessary and it’s a big mess now, or you read about animals going extinct en masse, or corruption and manipulation in the stock market, or the real estate bubble bursting (your retirement nest egg!), or you start worrying about the spread of lethal, nasty diseases or…..

More of that man behind the curtain is showing, and it can be pretty stressful. These are just more barriers to achieving that big weenie in the sky, you know? It’s harder than you thought it was going to be. You maybe change your definition of “the big weenie”, modify it a bit, or a lot, maybe you start looking for "environmentally friendly" barbeques, but you still pursue whatever it is via freeways and cities and infrastructure created by corrupt governments and multinational corporations that clearly do not have your personal best interests in mind.

And then, you read somewhere, or see somewhere, or someone tells you – our lifestyle is destroying this planet. The big weenie in the sky is actually an evil green ooze monster that is spreading its sickness into every corner of this planet via our culture’s irresponsible consumption patterns. If you are part of the culture, you are part of the problem.

You find out about child slaves making chocolate, about sweatshops that make your clothing, about children tied to looms for 16 hour days, to make those great Persian rugs you just bought for your House and Gardens living room. You find out about depleted uranium poisoning the children and the water supply and soils of Iraq, for generations to come, so we can continue to drive our SUVs. You read about the positive feedback loop that is created when jungles and forests are cut down to create pastures for future Big Macs (the destruction of jungle ecosystems eventually ends up in desertification of the area and the area will soon not support cattle, jungles or much other life at all). You find out that multinational food corporations may be responsible for creating some of the cocaine that comes into this country, because they undersell local farmers in Columbia by using US government subsidies to reduce their costs, and peasant farmers turn to growing coca to feed their families – something Monsanto can’t do, at least not yet. You find out that whenever you turn on a light, the Hopi are losing their only source of drinking water on their sacred dry mesa, so that coal can be slurried hundreds of miles by the biggest coal company in the US through a pipeline from the desert highlands in Arizona to a power plant in Nevada that feeds Vegas and Southern California with electricity.

You find out many things that become harder and harder to ignore, and that make all those toys you have acquired through the sweat of your brow and sacrifice appear not quite so shiny.

But when you hear that climate change may compromise the vast majority of life on this planet, as we know it, and that the only way to survive the severe weather pattern changes might be to live underground in bunkers, eating algae, for the next dozen generations, then the ennui sets in for real.

This is a worst case scenario. There are many other gradient possibilities as to how climate change might impact the planet. None of them are encouraging, but some are quite a bit more pleasant than others. Nobody wants to hear this. My friends hate me when I talk like this. So why do I do it?

Because if we, as a people, are not capable of confronting the worst case scenario and taking effective action to prevent it, we may be doomed to experience it. Our non-confront of the situation up to this point is what has gotten us in as deep as we are.


It isn’t just climate change though. Even if you don’t believe in it, if you think it is a conspiratorial plot to distract us from our well-stocked pantries and our movie nights, there is enough evidence of other disastrous effects created by us, that it doesn’t really matter if it is real. We still have a problem, and it needs to be fixed.

View the statistics about our destruction of water supplies, forests, agricultural soils. View the statistics on depleted populations of fish in the oceans. Do the math. View the population trends and the consumption trends of China, India, other “developing” countries and do the math. Do the math. Don’t listen to “experts.” Add it up yourself. This is the bank account of your children, and their children, and it is overdrawn and we continue to spend like there is literally no tomorrow. Do the math.

Look, don’t listen. Go to Google Earth and look at the forests, the farmlands and compare to past evidence. Then go and look at your local forests, look at the health of the trees, the plants the animals, and compare to information from times past. Test the soils, the waters, of your local community. Find out how much water and food your community consumes, how many goods, where they come from and what nonrenewable resources have been used to produce them, and how many generations until they run out (your children? your grandchildren? You?). Look for yourself. And do the math. Look at the debt to asset ratio in this country, and ask yourself, who benefits from all this out-of-control consumption? Me? Whose game am I playing here? Is this really my only option?

You haven’t hit bottom yet, though. Because if these things could possibly be true (a thought that cannot even be thought aloud, by many) … if the American Dream – the thing we have bought into and paid homage to like a religion for our whole life - may be the thing that will cause our children and children’s children to have to live in underground bunkers, on a planet of insects and bacteria, if they live at all…

That is just simply unbearable. It is too much responsibility to confront. It is too deep a sin to contemplate. Because, how could you, the little hamster on the wheel of this giant, monolithic machine that is eating the planet, possibly make up the damage to your children – make things right again?

The reaction to these ideas is as different as fingerprints, for each of us. But there are commonalities.

Denial, of course, is the big one.

Several friends have told me, “It doesn’t do any good to have these things shoved in my face. I can’t take effective action under the weight of that in my face. It is too overwhelming.” Well, I certainly understand that! None of us is very effective when looking at a giant tsunami headed our way, if we don’t think we can actually get out of the way. There are certain instinctual phenomena that kick in under those circumstances - like numbness, and pretended death. But when we don’t even look to see whether we can get out of the way or not, this unwillingness to deal with what has been so rudely shoved in one’s face becomes something else.

Then there are those who say, “None of that is true. I read the other day on the 'net that “they” have it all under control!” The problem with that viewpoint is, that’s what they said in Rome, in Hitler’s Germany, in Mexico during the Spanish invasion, in Europe when the Black Death first arrived, etc, etc, etc. History is full of examples of poor results when people put other people in charge so they don’t have to take responsibility.

Many of my activist friends, who have dedicated their lives to righting the wrongs of social injustice and environmental assault, appear to be in deep denial about what might happen to the beloved city they live in when its unsustainable structure finally catches up to it. I know because I’ve asked them. “What do you think it would take to make a place like Los Angeles sustainable?” (meaning that life that exists there now could actually be sustained in the city for generations, or even decades or years from now)

Their answers are vague, incomplete, or incoherent. Though they may have general information, they have almost no specifics on where the food, water, or energy that sustains life in this megatropolis actually comes from or how it might be compromised – they can provide all kinds of statistics about rainforests but can’t tell you where the water from their kitchen tap comes from. They have no clue what resources exist in the case of a disaster like, say, a major earthquake to the area.

It is hard to think about the idea that the very core, the very premise on which this culture operates and survives – that growth is endless (even though resources are not) and consumption is always desirable (at any cost to ourselves or future generations) – is rotten. Some of the baby boomers are facing this just as they are most tired, most ready to lay down their plowshare, break into their retirement nest egg, and rest. This is harsh. “We didn’t even know it was going on! We were lied to! Why should we suffer like this? We don’t know how to live any other way! Who will show us? How can we change now? We are so caught up on the hamster wheel, we don’t even have time to read up on solar energy! We had to get a second job to pay our rising house payment! IT ISN’T FAIR!!!!!!!!”

Well, no, it isn’t fair, and it doesn’t really matter whose fault it is. What matters is that we, as a group, together, can take responsibility for it and handle it. It is not too late. And it is not too big a problem for us to solve, if we face it together. The good thing about responsibility is that when you truly assume that viewpoint, it makes you a lot more causative about what happens to you. Look at it this way. You can pretend your husband is not having an affair in spite of the evidence, or you could confront your corner of responsibility for allowing the marriage to deteriorate, and do something effective to improve it, thereby maybe saving it. Or you could confront where he is really at (prefers to have affairs and doesn’t want to save the marriage), take responsibility for not seeing that earlier when you married the schmuck, and find a better man for yourself.

Well, we have been married to someone who is never going to give us what we really need. We have been married to someone who has lied and cheated and stolen and gambled and gotten drunk from the fruits of our labor, who has beaten us into submission with billboards and hypnotic TV screens, and who isn’t ever going to change.

Unless we do. Because we are him, and he is us. We are both husband and wife, victim and perpetrator. Without our power of belief and our credit cards, the house of mirrors becomes a house of cards, and collapses. “But that is part of the problem! I don’t want to deal with the mess of a collapsing culture!” Well, it is going to collapse anyway, under the top heavy weight of its own lies, with or without your participation and assistance, because it is not operating in a sustainable fashion.

But the good news is this: if you consciously participate and assist in the direction of how things go, you are much more likely to be in a position, not only to survive better, not only to possibly affect the rate and method of collapse, not only to help retain some of the best aspects of this culture for future generations, but perhaps most importantly, to look your children in the eye and say, honestly, “I did something effective about it.”


Think of the conditions on this planet like a big aikido match. Use your opponent’s motion to your advantage. The opponent is this big gnarly problem that nobody wants to deal with because it’s inconvenient. But what if this “problem” could actually become a solution, and we could end up better off than we are now? With less stress, a higher quality of life, better health, and more happiness? Let me tell you, without a doubt, that is a very real possibility. The disasters facing us now may be the biggest historical opportunity we’ve ever had to move into a golden age.

This is why I can talk about this stuff and it doesn’t turn me into a puddle on the floor.

I have utter and complete faith that we can and will solve this in a way that will make life better for all of us. I see our wonderful potential, in the people I meet daily from every walk of life, who are facing this, who want to make things right. The people, who face this potentially terrible future with panache, with wit, with creative verve, with insouciance, with thoughtfulness, with care, with love for one another, with quiet and persistent determination to make things better, no matter what. I see people’s necessity level coming up and the best and brightest aspects of them coming out. I see creative ideas and solutions being proposed that are just so much better than anything we have in the current culture. Whatever you may think of Al Gore and his Incovenient Truth, it created a sea change, a wake up call, and got many of us to ask, "Is there a better way to do this?"

What is so exciting about this opportunity disguised as a crisis is that the best solutions to environmental problems also substantially increase the quality of life for all of us. There is no “us or them.” If we save the planet, we help ourselves. We end up with more resources, more abundance, more prosperity, not less. It is a vicious lie that saving the environment means sacrificing anything good about our lives.

The best solutions result in more stable economics systems, more just distribution of wealth, healthier food, water and air, cleaner cities, more opportunity and higher quality of life for inner cities, suburbs, towns and rural areas alike. These solutions are so exciting that some people’s lives are changed just by hearing about them. The prospect of great disaster can raise necessity level and bring about great ideas. Communities all over the US are pulling together to say, “Enough. We are going to do it our way, and it is going to make everybody happier.” I see business leaders, environmentalists, social activists, religious leaders and government heads all coming together to work out solutions, together. The links and reading lists will lead you down the path of some of these solutions.

The ranks of the conscious and the willing increase daily, exponentially. When we buy local and organic, use our own bags instead of plastic, when we as stakeholders demand accountability from corporations and governments, when we share and salvage resources instead of wasting them, when we take the time to educate our loved ones and acquaintances, we all plant seeds that make it easier for others to do the same.

If we put the best of ourselves to the task, we are unbeatable! This we have proven, over and over throughout history. And this is the type of task that can bring out the best in us, a challenge that can test us to our full capacity, perhaps. Maybe we can redefine the Big Weenie in the Sky to something like “creating a future for our children’s children that is much, much better than anything we have imagined thus far, and enriching our own lives in the process.” You know, I think that’s what we were trying to do all along, we just didn’t have all the information about what that actually meant.

We can look at the darkness, or look at the light, and the positive changes I’m seeing make this one of the most exciting times to be alive in history. Thousands of groups have formed just in the past year to come up with win/win solutions that increase prosperity and quality of life for all strata of society, while saving the environment and preserving resources for future generations.

It isn’t going to be a walk in the park. There are formidable barriers. But our spiritual nature is geared to overcome barriers and challenges. Where we have fallen down in the past is when we have chosen goals that aren’t truly pro-survival. This game appears to have all the winning elements.

Is this a game you could get behind?

Let’s do it for our children, and for ourselves.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Where does your electricity come from, or Hopi, the water people

Few of us ask, or ever really find out, where our electricity comes from when we switch on that light switch or run that hair dryer. I attended a Hopi gathering a while back that enlightened me on a few things on that subject.

For instance, I didn't know that coal companies, use water to wash coal hundreds of miles through pipelines to their destination. I guess it's cheaper than trucking the stuff. Not sure about that, or why they would do things that way. They might not be sure either, 'cept it's always been done that way.

The Hopi are the water people. But Hopiland, on the high mesa of Arizona, is dry. There is a certain breed of heirloom Hopi blue corn that only a few of the elders still use (per one Hopi elder I spoke with) that doesn't need much water and can grow in that ecosystem. But most of their food supply needs water which doesn't come from rain in that part of the world. They have springs to feed the people and the wildlife in the area. They have sacred springs, that have been honored and cared for, for many years.

These springs are drying up.

There are four aquifers underneath the mesa. Three of them consist of non-drinkable water that is also difficult to access. The other aquifer is drinkable - pure, decent water that can easily be accessed, and it feeds many of the springs. It is huge. Per the coal company that made a deal with the Hopi to use that aquifer for their coal mining, it is as big as an ocean - "it is so big that what the coal company will use, would be like using a cup of water from a huge lake!"

But what the coal company said about that wasn't quite true. What Peabody Coal does with the Hopi's only drinking water, their only irrigation water, the water that feeds their sacred springs and the entire ecosystem of the area, is wash coal from their coal mine in Arizona to the power plant in Laughlin, Nevada, that feeds Las Vegas and Southern California with electricity. Can you imagine how much water it takes to slurry coal hundreds of miles through a pipeline? Yeah. A lot.

Con Edison uses Peabody Coal and Hopi water to feed their grid. I don't know if DWP uses Peabody coal to feed their grid, but it is likely. My last bill informed me that in 2006, DWP got 29% of its electrical power from coal. This year, it is projected 49%.

Because Peabody Coal has become a major source of revenue for the Hopi, and because they have a lease, things are not so simple as just kicking them out. It is the age old story of outside forces coming into indigenous areas (even the paltry lands that we have left them, the worst lands in the country, the reservations), and exploiting them. Yes, the Hopi are benefiting financially, but not nearly as much as the coal company. And their lifeblood, water, their future generations' ability to survive, is being compromised in the process.

A number of the Hopi are working towards creating alternative economics for their area and bringing back old ways of using water that will preserve it for future generations.

What can you do about this?

Demand real accountability from corporations. Demand that they start paying for the true costs of doing business, including all the destruction they cause to environments, to communities, to future generations. Educate business people in your area about the concept of sustainability. We like the definition that Pachamama uses ( "The ability of this generation to provide for its needs, without compromising the ability of future generations to do so."

Write or call your electric company. Find out what they are doing to go green and lodge your protest on using coal slurry, or other environmentally unsound ways to create electricity.

Or you can become energy self-sufficient. Stop using monolithic "it has nothing to do with me" grid electricity that encourages, by its very structure, this type of irresponsibiliy to solve "demand."

But most importantly, continue to ask questions, like "where does my electricity come from, really?" and find the real answers. Educate yourself on alternatives to the destructive ways we maintain our lifestyle and conveniences in this country. Educate your neighbor on where their electricity is coming from. Get your schools to teach your children to ask those kinds of questions and come up with better answers than we have, and teach them these things yourselves (because depending on the schools to ensure our kids have the knowledge they need is just another "it has nothing to do with me"). Maybe if we do that, the Hopi's children, and ours, will have water to drink.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Money and Community, part 1

Where is the life we have lost in living?

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

T.S Eliot

Often, when I discuss intentional self-sufficient community with those who are unfamiliar with the concept, one of the first questions that people have is: how can I earn a living and pay for the outside things I want? How can I afford to travel to visit extended family, for medical care or education, for purchasing the things our community does not create (eyeglasses, certain types of clothing, etc)? These are legitimate concerns, for in this culture, money is the major medium of exchange. Most of us are not very good at bartering, hitching rides, or creating energy for ourselves in other ways.

The answer is simple: because permaculture focuses on maximizing yield and increasing surplus in any system, our community will create a surplus to the degree that we apply permaculture design correctly. We have several cooperative businesses going now – we understand the importance of economics.

However, in our process, we are also redefining economics, bringing that subject back to its roots – in the derivation of the word from the ancient Greek oikonomia which means “care and management of the household.” The modern dictionary definition of economics, however is: “the science that deals with the production, consumption and distribution of wealth.” Hmm, how did this word evolve so as to eliminate or ignore the core meaning – care of the household?

Mark Anielski, in his book “The Economy of Happiness,” (which is one of our core books), explains it thus: “Aristotle made an important distinction between oikonomia/economy and chrematistics…[which] comes from the Greek meaning the art of money-making; with the root chrema meaning money, riches or something useful.

“Ecological economist Herman Daly and theologian John Cobb Jr. define chrematistics as ‘the branch of political economy relating to the manipulation of property and wealth so as to maximize short-term monetary exchange value to the owner.; In stark contrast Daly and Cobb define oikonomia as ‘the management of the household so as to increase its use value to all members of the household over the long run.’ Daly and Cobb draw these distinctions:

“Oikonomia differs from chrematistics in three ways. First it takes the long-run rather than the short-run view. Second, it considers costs and benefits to the whole community, not just to the parties to the transaction. Third, it focuses on concrete use value and the limited accumulation thereof, rather on abstract exchange value and its impetus toward unlimited accumulation. Use value is concrete: it has a physical dimension and a need that can be objectively satisfied. .. By contrast, exchange value is totally abstract: it has no physical dimension or any naturally satiable need to limit its accumulation. Unlimited accumulation is the goal of the chrematist and is evidence of Aristotle of the unnaturalness of the activity. True wealth is limited by the satisfaction of the concrete need for which it was designed. For oikonomia, there is such a thing as enough. For chrematistics, more is always better’

“….chrematistics is really modern capitalism: the hedonistic accumulation of riches or material wealth without any moral or ethical limiters on sufficiency or a sense of what constitutes a virtuous a chrematistic world, sustainability, sufficiency or even flourishing are unacceptable destinations for progress. Without understanding the very nature of the chrematistic system we live in and the nature of money and its creation in this system, the pursuit of sustainability as an objective will remain an impossible dream.”

A few years ago, I visited a Native American educator at the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation, and when he saw me looking around at his very modest home, though I knew he was quite wealthy with land (owning thousands of acres), he told me, “The Lakota do not have a goal of accumulating and displaying material wealth. We are more focused on spiritual things. Our goal for material ownership is that what we have is adequate for our needs.”

This word stuck with me: adequate. I started looking at my own life in terms of that word, and really thinking about what that meant for me personally. I had accumulated a luxury home, many toys to go with it, and large amounts of material goods to fill its cavernous closets, drawers and shelves. I started divesting myself of these things, and found that in fact, what was adequate and comfortable to me was to own a fraction of the things I had accumulated. I moved into a much smaller home and now own about 1/10th of the material things I used to own, and I don’t miss any of them! The important material things to me were things that demonstrably increased my quality of life – books, musical equipment, nice artwork, comfortable working and living furniture, a few key kitchen supplies to prepare and store food, gardening tools. I started sharing books with like minded community members, tools with neighbors and lo, I needed even less things. And guess what? I have more time to do the things I love, because I am not taking care of things I don't need or use.

So, what is wrong with accumulating wealth, if one likes that game? It’s a game, after all, it’s not about the money. It’s about winning the game. That’s why Donald Trump plays it, and why many multi-millionaires are always trying to be bigger and better. Nothing stays the same – if you stop accumulating, you start losing.

There is enough truth to this idea to make it stick. However, there is a gaping logic hole in this viewpoint, and that is this: Whatever you take, comes from somewhere. The Donald Trump viewpoint assumes there is unlimited resources on the planet and therefore, there is no harm in taking as many of them as you can lay your hands on (either that, or the resources that exist, including other people and living things, are not as important as Donald Trump, which is also a possible viewpoint, one would have to ask him).

If one spoke about one’s bank account or the neighbor’s apples in these terms, most people would consider that pretty irresponsible or even criminal, but on a planetary level, it is completely acceptable. Maybe this is because the planet is so large, that people can’t conceive there is a possible end to the resources.

But if one actually examines this premise, it turns out to be far from true. There is plenty of documentation to illustrate that the planet is running out of resources – for instance, we are using up the Ogallala Aquifer and other major water sources so fast that the earth is collapsing at points where the internal pressure has been compromised. In some areas the Ogallala aquifer, which irrigates a huge portion of our cropland, is already compromised to the degree that it cannot be used any longer for irrigation.

Our forests, soils, waterways and oceans are all being depleted of resources faster than we are replacing them.
(there are many more resources on the ‘net that provide the facts, including google Earth satellite photos that show the rate of desertification, forest depletion, ocean dead zones, erosion, etc, so you can observe it for yourself, just use google to do your own search)

Regardless of what people may believe about the earth having unlimited resources, the statistics show quite a different picture. Thus, until that changes, it is simply an irresponsible and ignorant viewpoint to operate as if material wealth accumulation is an unlimited game which does not adversely affect others or the ability of future generations to survive.

Which brings me to the definition of sustainability that we have adopted, from the Pachamama Alliance ( “The ability of the current generation to meet its needs without compromising the ability of future generations to do so.”

This is something it would do all economists well to take into consideration when calculating value, wealth, economic indicators, etc. “The Economics of Happiness” offers a model of how these calculations can be done. Measuring one’s ecological footprint is one indicator that each of us as individuals can do – this is a measurement of how many resources you are using individually, giving one an idea of what one would need to do personally to replace those resources for future generations.
(this gives some general data about footprints)
(This is a quiz that gives you your personal ecological usage measurement)

When I went over these concepts with my home-schooled 15 year old son, unlike some economists I’ve talked to, he had no problem understanding the math, and became quite outraged. He said, “Why mom? Why leave us kids with this mess to clean up and not enough resources to clean it? Do parents hate their children? Why did you have me if this is what you’re offering?” Needless to say, this was quite a visceral addition to the motivation I already had to reduce my consumption and take better care of the land and resources around me – and to really find out what sustainability means, not on a glib level, but really. For me personally, for my family, for my groups, for all living things on this planet, human and non-human.

True economy involves much more than money and its uses. For the sake of our children, please, we need to pull out those calculators and start crunching the real numbers, now.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Intentional community

A healthy social life is found only, when in the mirror of each soul the whole community finds its reflection, and when in the whole community the virtue of each one is living

Rudolf Steiner

"In the shelter of each other, the people live."

Trying to start a self-sufficient intentional community can be an interesting game sometimes. Really, it’s interesting all the time, but angles of interest change as the process evolves - there are always new surprises.

We are a bunch of artists and dreamers, planning on creating a sustainable community using permaculture principles (permaculture means permanent culture or permanent agriculture, and is a systems design science that allows one to create sustainable human systems that don’t deplete resources of other human systems or ecosystems).

Artists and dreamers vs the hard realities of self sufficiency - growing our own food, creating our own energy, building our own shelters – hm, sound like a recipe for disaster? Well, maybe. It’s hard to imagine a bunch of citified poets getting their fingernails dirty by using a backhoe to reverse stream bed erosion. But one might be amazed at the poetry that can be composed while doing such tasks, while our happy and productive chickens and alpaca roam free in our sylvan food forest and our straw bale homes await, warm and inviting at the end of the day.

Alas, we are not yet there, and our poetry is written while sitting at our desks, in our city apartments, our wasteful refrigerators filled with food that too often arrived there via the use of a truly and obscenely amazing amount of fossil fuel, our forced air heat purring, we flail away on our high speed computers, with our gas guzzling cars sitting patiently in the garage.

Many of my acquaintences, except for the most dedicatedly serious dreamers, have at least hinted that they couldn’t see how I was going to get from here to there, and why would I even want to try? I was going to end up working sixteen hour days just to eat! (Though with permaculture techniques, we plan on ending up spending less time producing our own food than we do paying for and shopping for it now, and it will be fresh and organic.) We were going to have weird crawly things in the straw bale and wouldn’t it burn down if a spark hit it? (Well, I guess the imagery brings back 15th century thatch with lice and puppies leaking from it, even though straw bale housing is not only incredibly energy efficient, inexpensive and comfortable, but is also extremely fire resistant, earthquake proof and aesthetic, clean and bug free, once you finish it with adobe or like material.)

Of course, there is work involved in setting up a community like this. You have to research where you want to move, figure out your resources, and work out the financing and the logistics of arriving and setting everything up. Additionally, because we are doing this as a group, not just a single family or individual, we have to create an appropriate legal and social structure for the community, so people can come and go if they want, but we have some control over what type of person we end up living with so intimately. We have had to research the best ways of providing all of our own food and energy, truly sustainable shelters (which means checking out building codes first and exploring non-traditional building methods), and controlling our water use so as to maintain the level of water available on our property, rather than cavalierly depleting the aquifer supply like there is no tomorrow, literally, as is happening all over this country and many others.

Not only do we plan to live light and ethically on the land, but we want to do so in a way that provides aesthetics, camaraderie, community support and other quality of life factors to our members far beyond what most neighborhoods have ever even thought about. Our community structure will allow people to get off the economic hamster wheel of mortgage and debt, permanently, while experiencing abundance in many ways, freeing themselves for the truly important pursuits in life – things like self-fulfillment, healthy and fulfilling relationships, aesthetics, and pursuit of their deepest dreams and goals. Oh, yes, and a bit of fun and games as well :-)

The vision we’ve created of this community is so exciting and viscerally attractive that most people, once we thoroughly explain it to them, want to live in such a place. Many of them prefer that we create it for them, so they can arrive, put their feet up on the couch and sip their freshly blended mango coolers while writing poetry. Hey, we want to do that too! But there are a couple of things that need to be done first….

One barrier is this: most people are too busy running madly around the hamster wheel, buying stuff and then paying off the debt, to spend any time or energy figuring out how to get off of it, regardless of how miserable it might make them feel (well, that’s the idea, right?). If someone offers them a nice, dainty little stepstool to walk off and try something different, maybe they will consider it. What they may not understand is that the reason they feel stressed, and “too busy” to do anything about it is because of the nature of the hamster wheel. It is, at its core, debilitating to the spirit. It makes you want a vacation, to go out on the weekend and “relax”, and try to forget where you are – on a hamster wheel. It is one step up from having a chain around your neck, but then again, maybe not. A slave at least knows that he is a slave.

Ay, and there’s the rub. That is why we find ourselves in a hamster wheel culture in the first place – because we became too stressed out to notice why we were stressed out or do anything about it, and we were waiting for someone else to hand us the stepstool to escape, and oops, they never did….

There is a possibility that they never will. Which is why we’re willing to do the work of building our own. And you know, you are always more likely to get exactly what you want if you do it yourself rather than leaving it up to governments, multinational corporations, authorities and other relatively disinterested parties.

It helps when one is a visionary dreamer – envisioning assists the acquiring process. But if one is also willing and able to take steps to reach one’s dream, then you have a powerhouse! The good news is, anybody has the capacity to become a powerhouse. And it has to do with creating that stepstool gradiently. Find one thing you can change to improve your life, that will give you more freedom to pursue what is truly important to you. And then find the next thing, and the next. If you just put one step in front of the other and keep doing that, you actually do arrive, eventually.

One of the major goals of our community is to create an environment that is conducive to bringing out the best in people, that offers them what they most need spiritually, emotionally, physically, to achieve their deepest and truest goals – on all of life’s dynamics. Philosopher L Ron Hubbard breaks these down into eight expanding circles - the urge to survive and goals for self, for family, for groups, for all of mankind, for all living things, the universe itself, spirit, and one's relationship with infinity or the Supreme Being (however the individual wishes to define that for themselves - we are a non-denominational, inclusive community). One can compare the activities of any community to a very high quality of survival on each of these dynamics - what if a community based the majority of its actions and resources towards increasing that quality for the individuals within it?

Ay, but the second hero’s task, once one frees oneself from the hamster wheel long enough to look around and notice what one's options really are:

To create such a community in the first place, one must already be in a position, to some degree, of being able to manifest those goals within an environment that is not at all conducive to assisting one to do so. An environment, in fact, that is downright hostile to the idea in many, many ways.

And that is where the process gets very, very interesting.

This is what our current culture is and does in so many ways – it creates barriers, some of them extremely formidable, to reaching our deepest and most heartfelt goals. Future blogs will go into much more detail about exactly how it does that - though there is already plenty of info about that on the ‘net, the way we put it together is relatively rare. Some of it is so insidious it is very difficult to see, unless one happens to spot the curtain flapping and the little man inside, manipulating the controls. But the good news is that thoroughly understanding the mechanics of the manipulation alone can help free one from its influence.

One could ask how we allowed ourselves to get into such a position in the first place, and you know what? Each individual's personal spiritual path best provides those answers, but we are having to confront these truths about ourselves and how we got here, and rise above the situation, some way or other - as a group as well as individuals - in order to make this ideal community happen. We must create that community within ourselves, in disagreement with everything around us that is against it, first. And that experience alone, even if we were never to arrive at our land, is worth the journey.

We will share that journey with you in this blog. Welcome, and enjoy!

Our artist's cooperative

Our food forest web site

Articles on permaculture

Basic info on permaculture

Intentional communities web site - lots of resources!

Great resource for straw bale building

Explanation of eight dynamics