Wednesday, November 18, 2009


My main critique of the Possibility Alliance was that unless one was a gardener, animal husbander, cook or builder, there was not yet available the opportunity to pursue an avocation. Though serving others is a real important human need, the ability to engage in work which is creative, challenging, character-building, at times joyful; work that one can get better at over a lifetime; that engages the hands, the brain, and the heart; that is in line with one's values and does not exploit other beings; and that engages the material world, is also important and we can define it as avocation. Service is a way to help other people. Avocation is a way to serve the spirit that moves in all things, in unique ways.

The buddhist concept of right livelihood is an intermediate between avocation and livelihood. It has the part about work that is in line with one's values and ethical, but not necessarilly the rest.

Work as a means to personal fulfillment is a liberal western idea, relatively recent, although many artisans and peasants have had that idea for a long time before 19th century liberalism and the industrial revolution. Here is a quote from one of Gandhi's disciples, Lanzo del Vasta that contrasts work as avocation and (most) Mainstream work:
"A man makes himself by making something. Work creates a direct contact with matter and ensures him precise knowledge of it as well as direct contact and daily collaboration with other men; it imprints the form of man on matter and offers itself to him as a means of expression; it concentrates his attention and abilities on one point or at least on a continuous line; it bridles the passions by strengthening the will. But in order that work itself, and not just payment for it, shall profit a man it must be human work, work in which the whole man is engaged: his body, his heart, his brain, his taste. The craftsman who fashions an object, polishes it, decorates it, sells it and fits it for the requirements of the person he intends it for is carrying out human work. The countryman who gives his life to his fields and makes his flocks prosper by work attuned to the seasons is successfully accomplishing the task of a free man. But the worker enslaved in serial production, who from one second to another repeats the same movement at the speed dictated by the machine, fritters himself away in work which has no purpose for him, no end, no taste, no sense. The time he spends there is time lost: he is not selling his creation, but his very lifetime. He is selling what a free man does not sell: his life. He is a slave."

Let us examine the way that Mainstream Kult is defining work and career.

First, work is confused with livelihood, or more precisely with how one earns money.
When people ask "what do you do?" or "what do you do for work?" they mean "what do you do for money?".

Second, if money is the motivator, it is not the best way to motivate and to produce an excellent product, as Alfie Kohn claims in Punished by Rewards. For excellence, one needs intrinsic motivation, which is what the aspects of avocation listed above provide.

Third, the middle class concept of career is not incompatible with avocation as defined above, but career for most is more about social status than anything else. Also, most of the few privileged people who have careers that give them joy still fall short on connecting with the material world, because most careers now are computer or office related. My avocation has so far been science--mainly theoretical physics, which has the above shortcoming. I correct for that by engaging the material world with engineering projects, which although they fit the definition of avocation, do not give me as much joy as theoretical physics. I think most people who have a career do not have much time for anything else in Mainstream Kult. And most of the few privileged who have careers are not meeting the ethical standard of not exploiting other beings in their work, although the exploitation is usually indirect.

Fourth, avocation as defined above is somewhat of a masculine need, and the masculine references in Lanzo's writings may not have been only a relic of the 1940s. To work in order to have comfort and security is a feminine trait. I advocate balance within individuals, whatever gender they are. I will work to ensure food and shelter for me and all beings, AND I will risk my life/livelihood so that all people could also have the opportunity to have an avocation. I see most people working so that they and their families could have comfort and security, regardless of what that entails for other people (especially if those people are out of sight).

Fifth, work for money that is neither for service or for avocation is like prostitution or like slavery. Prostitution does not have to be about selling one's soul though, it could be an avocation; I am using the cultural connotation attached to that means of livelihood, where one does not only sell one's body, but one's soul. I would rather starve than prostitute myself.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Superheroes part 2

We stopped at the gas station on our way out of town to regroup. While superheroes were regrouping, I went in to take a leak, leaving my bike in the midst of the mass of superheroes. When I got back, the mass had regrouped on the sidewalk, and Zing reprimanded me for leaving the bike where cars might need to go. This was not the first time Zing reprimanded me about something I did that was thoughtless or selfish, but for some reason I felt like I needed to talk to him more about it. The rest of the heroes went on ahead, since Zing was supposed to be sweeping, while Zing and I had our tete a tete. When we were done, a macho cowboy middle-aged republican type man came over with a chip on his shoulder and asked us what we were about. Zing told him we were the superhero riders, a service organization, full of love. The man repeated "a service organization, huh?" seemingly not believing Zing. A staredown ensued for a few long seconds, and finally the guy backed down and walked away. Zing the alpha male! Perhaps the owner of the campsite where we had stayed the first night in Pecos had spread a rumor that we were Rainbow Family, and somehow that was a bad thing, like the Rainbows are a terrorist organiszation or what? But most people in Pecos loved us, giving us unsolicited food and money and hospitality. I can't remember if I decided to change my superhero name to Mindful Chaos after that conversation with Zing, or if it was after I started off one time without my helmet from the Beloved Gallery.

It was relatively flat till lunchtime. We have one big hill, where we meet another superhero who pulls over in a car with a baby. She had been on a ride many years before and Zing and her have an joyous reunion (what are the chances?). Just when we stop for lunch, I get a call from a dear young friend asking me to come to Atlanta where he was subjected to an exorcism from a lunatic stranger with his mom's consent (she's no fundie, but she is pretty desperate about how to control his behavior), which from his description sounded violent, nonconsensual and the closest thing to rape a male can experience without being penetrated (but who knows, he does exaggerate sometimes). It was the last straw for him and so I agreed to come and see how I can help him with his mom and with his life. He said he could wait till I was done visiting the Possibility Alliance. The combination of thinking about his situation, an unrelenting headwind and steep hills made it hard for me that afternoon. On one hill I had stopped to catch my breath and pray for strength. Just then Superchili comes up from behind and starts telling me a joke. She tells me about zigzagging up and demonstrates. I found out later that her gears were not working. Even though the joke was not that great, I am now in love and get going again. SC tells me some more jokes (better than the first), biking by my side, and then she resumes her co-sweep duty and heads back to check on Crimson who is somewhere behind us (the other sweep). I go on ahead and catch up with One Earth Nun and Metta. Metta just smiles. One Earth goes at a really slow pace and I try to stay behind her, but can't go that slow (she has 24 gears, and I only 21...). I pass them and then catch my breath at the top of the hill as they pass me again. "I don't know if I can do this". "I have faith in you"--says One Earth. It doesn't get any better when a cute nun who almost bit my head off one time now has faith in me. Well, I go slower and they get way ahead of me, out of sight. I decide to wait for the sweeps. I wait 1/2 an hour and start getting worried. They are the youngest members of our troupe. They are young women alone on a deserted road in the middle of nowhere in the USA. So I head back, despite protocol requiring not to go back until all the group decides on it. I only last about 2 more uphills (which WERE downhills going the other way) before I am out of breath again. I break another protocol and use my cell phone to call Metta (well I figured she would give the phone to Ruby since she can't talk). Pea answers and I realize that this number I dialed is Metta's land line. He tells me that Rainbow Rider is recovering well. He tells me to just wait some more, and sure enough I see Superchili and Crimson Seeker over the horizon. Crimson had a flat and then lost her skewer, which SC helped her find. I get ahead of them (SC must be exhausted by now) and am met about 5 miles before the rendezvous point by the woman who met me in Albuquerque (forget her name). She has a camera pointed at me and says sorry but she is only interviewing female superheroes for some project, but offers me a burrito, which I decline, since I am not yet hungry. By the time I make it to the gas station, I am met with a party of superhero cheerleaders singing "Chaos, Chaos!", and I feel like I just finished the Tour de France. Hands come off the handlebars and go up in the air. A burrito is offered and this time accepted (after I get off the bike--not quite Tour de France). I thought they would be worried or upset that they had to wait so long, but no, they are cheering me on! The same ecstatic reception is reenacted for Superchili and Crimson Seeker a few minutes later. Superchili has already exhibited superhuman strength and so gets a ride from our hosts in Las Vegas (NM) for the next 5 miles. This was one time where we actually had a pre-arranged host in town. Our hosts were a couple and their daughter who knew Metta. We are all pooped and barely find enough strength to set up tents. Some folks stay in our hosts' house. The next day we are awakened by Zing rapping with guitar accompaniment. He is a good rapper and no rap would be better to wake up to. One Earth and I are on cooking again. One Earth stays to cook lunch. I also stay in the morning for a bit to prepare puri indian flat bread, and so am late to the Goodwill store where a clothes sorting party is going on. I tackle a bed which noone knows how to put together. Turns out it's a bunk bed but missing a piece. The manager of the store is in ecstacy after she gets the Imploding Supernova of Love, which I had to miss so I could go help with lunch.

I don't remember what else transpired that day, except games were played (I think we did the one where people write one line of a story on a piece of paper, put it in a hat, and then someone reads them randomly, inviting 3 people to tell a story using that line, but only one is true. Then the rest of the people have to figure out by asking a few questions of the storytellers, which is the true story), music was made and good food was cooked and eaten. I think it was also that day when superhero headquarters called to say that beloved Tamar was diagnosed with liver cancer. I had known her from visiting Dancing Rabbit, where she lives. I have fond memories of playing music with her for a maypole dance, and One Earth Nun also had met her and loved her at DR. But Zing was hit the hardest; he is a really good friend of Tamar's and he was grieving for the rest of the day. Why her, we thought? She tries to live so healthy. Memories of young Israeli boys dying in the war came back to me (Tamar was born in Israel, like me), nature's order reversed, with parents burying their children. But Tamar was not worried or upset, unlike all who have known her. She is still alive as far as I know, and may outlive me, living in the present.

The next day we had the best job: cleaning out public hot spring baths a few miles from Pecos! After figuring out the technicals of siphoning, we were hard at work scrubbing algae off walls (Zing stayed behind, still grieving, and Farfalu and Superchili (someone correct me here, did SC come at all to the springs?) went back after preparing lunch, to offer support). We had a great soak in different temperature baths, and Infinity Kid claimed that it was like a rite of passage for him to get in that scalding water and overcome his fear. After the soaking we had dinner with the woman who got us the hot spring job and her family at the World College. We met some of the students earlier--from all over the world, trying to learn about peace and sustainability. We each said something to them, but I didn't feel very inspired, leaving the PR to Blue, who loves public speaking. I wish I could show them what it means to live peacefully and sustainably, which I am sure that none of them do, being unrepresentative of most of their countries which are poor and could not afford to go to college abroad.

Neither One Earth nor I (we were on ritual team) remembered to bring superhero badges to give to our hosts (and she didn't get mad at me!). But we gave them a supernova treatment nonetheless. After supper, we went to listen to Frances Moore-Lappe. She is well meaning, but in my opinion she is not radical enough, flying and driving all over, writing books instead of growing food, sharing resources, and coming up with local technologies. Wealthy liberals love her though. She is like that mathematician from the joke I told Blue that morning about the engineer, physicist and mathematician who walk around the city putting out fires. In brief, the engineer puts out a fire with 3 fire extinguishers, without much thought, just pragmatically. The physicist puts in lots of thought and the fire almost gets out of control by the time he puts it out with just one short squirt of extinguisher in the place he calculated would be optimal. The mathematician thinks for a long time, does calculations, the fire is out of control and the building burns down, at which point she says that she has has proven a solution exists (or the way it plays out in our world is "Science and Technology will figure out a solution"). End of joke. Zing refused to even go listen to her talk, and I understood why after I heard it.

The next day One Earth and I were on hunting and gathering, with One Earth doing mostly gathering and helping the cooks and I took about 5 trips to the farmers market, because the cooks kept forgetting ingredients (or did I forget some too?). During that time there was one team which went back to the Goodwill store, while another team supposedly went to the dog pound to walk some dogs. I got to the dog pound late, no superheroes. They were across the street at the community center washing windows and sweeping floors. The first thing I see when I get there is a dejected Infinity Kid, washing windows in slow motion. "They want us to wash the upper windows where the bird poop is, but they have no ladder". I offer my shoulders to him instead, and he lights up, climbing up and picking up the pace. After a few windows I am tired. Ruby has just found a bird that might haver flown into a window and is not moving. We help her find a box and some water for the stunned bird and then we go look for Farfalu and Superchili who turn out not to be any lighter than Infinity Kid. But Farfalu is a brilliant engineer and realizes that if one person sits in a chair and another person stands on the back rest than not only will I not get tired from people standing on me, but we could parallel process, with two cleaners going on at once, with Ruby handing paper towels and cleaner spray. The windows cleaned, I headed back to help the cooks and see if they need any more supplies, taking the bird with me, only to have Superchili run out to say that Ruby would rather drive the bird on her bike. The bird recovered and flew away the next day.

Later that day (or was it earlier?), there was a radio show:
where Zing, Farfalu, Superchili, Infinity Kid and True Blue went while I was hunting and gathering. Ruby Hummingbird made a late appearance returning a headlight I had borrowed the night before for our bike trip back from the hotsprings, to the radio show host who was a friend of our hotspring host. It is worth listening to this show for more details about how superheroes make decisions (deep consensus), expenses ($35/week, unless you can't afford it, in which case other superheroes will cover for you), a gift economy, and other things I missed.

The next day we biked towards Taos, refreshed and rested, except Superchili was sick. Sagegal and Pea came for a few days. I found it much easier than the first few days even though there were some serious mountains to climb. I was yodeling and just happy to be using my body, breathing the clean mountain air, and seeing some beautiful sights. Superchili drove on ahead in Sagegal's car. We found a sign at the top of a mountain pass: County Line Dance. It was clear that SC wanted us to dance, and we did some Israeli folk dances--which when it works and people are in the mood is better than even good sex as far as I am concerned. We stopped at a blueberry farm which Superchili arranged for us.It was to be Zing's and my last night with the Superheroes. The next day we were to head back to catch the Southwest Chief to La Plata, MO, home of the Possibility Alliance and Superhero headquarters. People were somewhat sad. Metta decided to break her vow of silence, which shocked everyone. I convinced True Blue to let Infinity Kid sleep in her tent, hoping it would only lead to Good Things. One Earth Nun and I played some music together on our wind intruments.

I tried to say something happy and encouraging before I left, based on the producers of the LOTR movie version of Aragorn's speach at the Black Gate (of Mordor). Later I actually wrote down some more and here it is:

"Superhero riders! When I look into your eyes, I see the same sadness, the same grief, the same fear that freezes my heart. There may come a day when our hearts will harden for good, when the hearts of all people will give in to despair, but that day is not today. There may come a day when nature's beauty and balance will be spoiled by the greed and selfishness of men and women, but that day is not today. A day may come when war and destruction rule the earth, when people have been enslaved by machines, but that day is not today.

Today our joy will overcome sadness, our love will overcome fear, our courage will triumph over apathy. Hardened hearts will melt! Eyes will see God in each other! We ride now to serve and uplift all beings! We ride now for freedom, for love, for joy, for the earth, for spirit. Ride forth and serve!"

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Report on the superhero bikers

The idea of seeking out strangers to help directly goes at least back to Jesus. It is to be contrasted with the idea of sending money to a charity organization, where the help is through several layers of burocracy and often there is no direct connection between the helper and the one being helped. I have never been able to do charity because it presumes that I, a privileged westerner, have something better to offer to people of a different culture or of different financial resources. Since I don’t presume that, sending money to a charity would be hypocritical of me. But not helping at all is not the answer either, because anyone with a mammalian heart wants to be of service to at least some folks. There are two ways in which I am called to help other people. One is by creating a life that is indicative of my values and that I truly believe IS a better life than what is available to the people I presume to help. That is what I’ve been trying to do for the past 4 years and what Jesus, Gandhi and MLK and a section of the communard movement has been attempting and exemplifying for many years. The other way I am aware of is direct helping, with the helpers and helpees connecting directly as equal human beings, working side by side. The superheroes are about this means of helping people. About twice a year, a ride is planned somewhere in the world. Superheroes converge on the meeting place, with bicycles and costumes. Those without bicycles can usually be provided with bikes by the local organizers. Costumes are up to one’s creativity. I started out as Captain Chaos, because I seem to be at the eye of the hurricane a lot, generating much change in the lives of those whose paths cross mine. I also have an innate dislike of the western propensity to think that we can control the universe, nature, other people, or the western hubris of how much power we actually wield as individuals. And , I am working on a physics theory where there is intrinsic free will and non-determinism, even more so than in quantum mechanics. It has to do with a (mathematically characterizable) boundary/bridge between the (hypothesized) timeless and the timefull part of a 5D spacetime , where there is a mathematical singularity (of a different nature than a black hole though) where no equation of physics survives to predict the near future from the present and near past. I had painted some of the graphic elements of this theory on a T-shirt, attached a red pillow case to the back with safety pins, put on my elf shoes (pointy, curled-back toes fit snugly into the pedal straps), and with my wild beard and hair, I was ready to go.

I arrived in Albuquerque on a Greyhound after midnight, where a hospitable man I found on offered me his studio. After a good night’s sleep we went out to breakfast where he told me about some of his work producing and teaching theater in Albaquerque. I then met up with super enthusiastic ****** who took me to another woman’s house where there were two boxes of vegetables donated by local restaurants. I took them with me for a short but very crowded train ride to Santa Fe, where I was met by the first bicycling superheroes, Rainbow Rider and her partner Perennial Pea—I immediately developed a fondness for their earthy intelligence and eagerness to help—agape at first sight. By the end of the trip I loved all the superheroes. They had brought my bike and a trailer to carry my pack and the veggies. They helped me hook up the panniers and off we went to Metta the Mime’s place, the local organizer. There we unwound for a bit—Metta was still in her talking phase and I had the same reaction to her and her partner Ruby Hummingbird. Ruby loves birds and had an easy going demeanor that put me at ease. Metta was busy coordinating logistics (she is an organizaing genius and one of the most selfless people I have ever met). Later Metta would put on her white mime face paint and not speak for much of the trip, until the evening before Zing and I left, shocking everyone. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Rainbow, Pea and Chaos (me) went to Green Dragon’s to spend the night. Green Dragon is a wise, kind woman, 62, looks like she’s in her 40s, small and fitter than most 20 year olds. We cooked dinner together, met her daughter and granddaughter and had a good night’s rest in a beautiful yurt. The next day Rainbow, Pea went to a farmer’s market, where we got to meet Farfalu and Super Chili. While I was buying some veggies and talking to a farmer about the benefits of every able-bodied person participating in agriculture, I lost SC and Farfalu, I would get a chance to fall in love with them later. I had a lovely lunch of bread, goat cheese and tomato and then went back to accompany Green Dragon on a mission to pick up The Zing from the Amtrak train station in Laramie, about 14 miles away. The ride over was difficult enough for me, probably because of the altitude and the fact that I hadn’t done any serious biking for many years. Dragon said that she might be dragging on the way back, but she was riding ahead of me to buffer the wind as I was having trouble on the way back. The Zing had an inspiring costume: blue spandex, a long ergonomically sewn cape with thunderbolt motif on the cape, the belt and the face. His helmet had some organic-looking spikes (symbolizing an Australian Echidna?) and he oozed charisma. The Zing had founded the superheroes about 10 years ago, and it is hard not to fall in love with him and want to follow him to the ends of the earth. We barely missed a rattler after a minute riding back, then the wind kept blowing towards us, then heavy hail rained down on us and I just had to stop and take cover under some bushes they call trees down in New Mexico. That evening I went back to Green Dragon’s and for the next few days we had training in superhero antics and bicycle safety and protocols. There were a few superheroes who did not bike with us, such as Loving Edge, who knew Jason from Auroville, whom I had met at Heathcote while he was in the US. There were superheroes who just biked and did service around Santa Fe: Expressiva, Sagegal, *** Bee and Turqoise Seeker. Sagegal opened up her house and yard for us to camp in.

I’ll describe the rest of the superheroes that rode with us all the way to when Zing and I had to leave to go back to the Possibility Alliance, as I got to know them and love them better than the ones who only stayed with us a bit. Oh and Sagegal (even though she only rode with us to the highway), who had everything we needed, including bike gloves and a hankie for me, bike fixing stands for all, a sewing machine for patching clothes and improving costumes, and an inspiring competence and easygoing sense of humor and hospitality. Farfalu, an old wise soul in a young body, a Buddhist practitioner with the best cape—fairy wings beautifully crafted! Superchili, hot yet sweet, full of jokes and warmth that came in handy when I thought I could not make it up the hills from Pecos to Las Vegas. Infinity Kid, who has the biggest, bluest, most loving eyes I had ever stared into, who did a lot of trailer carrying and who worked with me a lot. Crimson Seeker, who loves to cry, laugh, hug and understand the world and who persisted despite quite a few flat tires. True Blue, who is a healer with a big heart and kept us calm after Rainbow’s fall (see below).
We did a superhero birth ritual for everyone, we divided up into rotating teams—scouting/navigation, moral/physical support, cooking and cleaning, hunting/gathering and ritual. I ended up on a two-person team with One Earth Nun—we were the odd couple—she very collected, meditative, gentle, unhurried and calm (except when I rattled her a few times), dealing best as she could with my chaos. Our first breakfast was a bit of a challenge, she planning to take care of it the next morning and me throwing a monkey wrench into the oatmeal plan by soaking an excessive (more weight for the trailers) quantity overnight, without first checking with her. We had lots of rituals—the Great Eye who sees all and reports back on the days events, the Readings of the Great, the Huddle, Superhero recognition and badges for local helpee superheroes, Imploding Supernova of Love. We did a great spontaneous dance and rap which started with the Great Eye. Our first day of service we split up for 3 jobs-- at a food bank sorting food, at a mentally challenged adult home doing landscaping, and a third which I forget (because I wasn’t there). Sorting food had never been more fun. We had another small job trying to locate some escaped dogs but they were located later at the animal shelter. The next day we headed for Pecos but on the way down a long hill Rainbow Rider had the wobbles and lost control. We had a few minutes of collective worry as she lay on the pavement spewing blood and not being convincingly conscious. We called the EMTs and she was ambulanced to the ER. Metta and Pea went with her. We were all shaken and had lunch by the side of the road, after which a local medicine woman came out of nowhere in her truck and did a healing ritual/circle. We were all awed by that—she came with the dust and was gone with the wind as soon as the ritual was over. We rode back to Santa Fe to offer support to Rainbow and Pea.

Rainbow was OK, nothing too serious, but she and Pea decided to stay in Santa Fe to recover. So after another day we started again towards Pecos. I will now describe some of the highlights of the rest of my short journey with the superheroes—I may get the details of who did what wrong—superheroes who read this feel free to correct me. We made it before dusk, again in the hail. Metta found us an abandoned trailer to shelter in while she went ahead to find Ruby who somehow missed Metta’s bike on the side of the road and biked on ahead). We were all reunited in town, where navigation lined up two possible jobs, and found a wonderful grassy spot at a campground (the Benedictine Monastery was on retreat, so we didn’t get to stay there). While navigation and volunteers (Infinity Kid, Metta The Mime, The Zing and Farfalu) was busy, I taught a folk dance to True Blue, Super Chili, Crimson Seeker and Ruby Hummingbird. Pecos is beautiful, in a lush valley surrounded by real trees with friendly people. The cooks wipped up a wonderful meal on the camp stoves and we slept in our tents.

The next day One Earth forgave me for the oatmeal incident and gave me some chaos credits after I double bagged and dumped the plastic bag that our host provided to store our poop (a well-meaning, but misguided way to deal with humanure). That day, we painted a community center room, weeded a community garden and started building a greenhouse at the Beloved Pecos Gallery, working together with the organizer and her daughter. People were happy we were there and were bringing us food and other gifts. Zing, True Blue and I laid out the rectangle for the foundation, using a string, stakes and the Pythagorean theorem (I taught Zing and Blue how to do square roots without a calculator, realizing later that we should have done a 3,4,5 triangle to figure out right angles instead of the full length and width). Infinity and I were a good team gluing PVC pipe for the greenhouse frame. Zing and True Blue cut the pieces as well as cut some wood , made a door frame and put in rebar in the ground to serve as a foundation. Farfalu, Infinity, Ruby and I screwed the foundation to the PVC. We stayed with a couple who had a big back yard where we pitched our tents. We played Giants, dwarves and Elvis the next morning, then went back to finish painting and get as far as we could with the greenhouse. Superchili played a song on the guitar which I joined her on. Blue and Zing cut the plastic and everyone joined in to stretch it over the PVC frame. After a meal cooked by Infinity and Metta using a hay box, we stayed in a beautiful field on the edge of town, where we had a serious thunderstorm that sent some people to a house because of leaking tents. The next morning we got to see huge, gorgeous mandalas made by the late husband of a local farmer/artist whose land we were staying on. Then we rode onto Las Vegas.

To be continued…..

Monday, November 2, 2009

Report on the Possibility Alliance

For three weeks I lived at a beautiful place in the green pastures of central Missouri, at the Possibility Alliance (PA). I had a wonderful time and am seriously considering living there when my son turns 18. There is no electricity except for flashlights and a landline phone (no solar panels, no hydro or wind, no internet, no batteries except for guests), and no fossil fuels (hence no internal combustion engines, no gas stoves). There are bicycles and horses (one horse-drawn buggy which is not used so far very much) for transport, candles for indoor light, human-powered saws for cutting wood, wood-stoves for heating and cooking, and much joy and consciousness. I did not miss electricity, the internet or cars at all while I was there. I needed no money while I stayed there. They produce most of their own food, except grains. Wheat is imported from Kansas City, not further than 200 miles, and rice is probably further. If I ever move there I will try to grow rice or wheat.

I first heard about the PA from Nathan at Dancing Rabbit. Ethan told me that they couldn't have me until Sep 21 because he was going to New Mexico for the Superhero ride. The superheroes are a service organization. They dress up as superheroes of their own making (I was Mindful Chaos), tour the country on bicycles and help anyone who needs and accepts their help. They make decisions using deep consensus, bring their own food and supplies and do not expect anything in return for their services. They give freely without any agenda except to be of service and try to connect with people. I decided to go with them, so I can get to know Ethan better, because I love to help people directly (as opposed to giving money to charities), and because it sounded like fun. I will write more about the superheroes and my adventures with them in another post. After two weeks of riding with the Superheroes, Ethan and I left them to go back by train to La Plata and the PA. La Plata is a small town in Missouri on the Amtrak route. We were met at the station by Rory who brought me a bike and a trailer for my pack. We rode for 5 miles through Amish farms. We stopped at one neighbor for the kids to inspect the bikes and talk to Ethan for a while. Ethan promised them some honey from the upcoming honey harvest. Then we rode home.

The physical/ecological layout
There are 80 acres, 20 of which are zoned wilderness (meaning one can't build or gather/hunt there, only commune with) woods, the rest being mostly pasture. There are apple, pear, and peach trees that the humans get much fruit from. There are chickens that the humnans get eggs, meat and insect-control from. The humans collect black walnuts and acorns for the chickens, and otherwise they are mostly free-ranging and find their own food. There are 4 female goats producing milk, some of which is drunk by the humans and made into cheese. Every few years they need to be "freshened", which means more goats are born, some of which will be killed for meat. There are horses which are used to haul heavy loads like fallen trees. There are some plans to use the horses for plowing, for grain production. There are fish in the pond, bluegill and bass, at a sustainable fishing ratio of 10:1. There is a house with 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, a pantry, a bathroom (used mostly as a cold room for food storage and sometimes for taking baths), a living room and a dining room. There is a barn for the horses and goats, for storing hay and straw, and for visitors to sleep in. Many visitors (including myself)--there are about 1000 per year, also sleep in tents.

The social structure
Every day there would be a morning meditation at 6:30, which I would usually miss because I would rather catch up on sleep in the morning. There was breakfast and morning meeting at 7:30. Breakfast usually consisted of cold oatmeal or rice with apples, pears, honey and flax. The morning meeting was fun: it would start with a minute of silence and tuning in, followed by a reading about a native plant or animal (“community member”) that recently interacted with someone, and a poem or inspirational reading. Then we would figure out what “bread labor” needed to be done that day. The people who have been there for a while generally had a better idea of that than people who have been there less time. After bread labor was decided, there would be a joke told, a magic trick performed, a dance move demonstrated or a riddle posed and then we would go, unrushed to our tasks. As the saying goes:”where there is vision with no task, it is a daydream. Where there is a task without vision it is drudgery, but when vision and task are combined, the world changes.” And that is my experience of work at the PA. Every task there, except one which I will get to in a moment, was a joy. There was a variety of tasks that needed doing, for reasons which were pretty simple and more or less obviously related to food production, water, shelter, or aesthetics. There were tasks related to health, education, and outreach. There were tasks related to inner peace and joy, and tasks related to communion with people or other beings. I gathered acorns, and black walnuts for the chickens, made a compost pile from hay, green garden "waste" and goat and chicken manure, harvested potatoes and sweet potatoes while learning Erithrean from Blen and teaching her Hebrew (many words are almost exactly the same!), I harvested carrots and herbs for Blen's meal, harvested and cut chili peppers for canning, basil for pesto I made. I played with Etta, Ethan and Sara's 2 year old daughter. I have an irrational fear about cooking for many people at once, though I love cooking, so I was an assistant to a few cooks. I washed my clothes by hand in a galvanized metal tub, wrung them out by hand and with a wringer, then hung them up to dry. I played fiddle and recorder for the open house (about 120 people from the neighboring farms and villages came over for human power and craft workshops), played duets with Sara, improvised with Ethan (he played guitar and sang) and Crea (she sang), sang amazing songs which we were teaching each other a capello, danced free style (Ethan is a great rapper and guitar improv player, we were all trancing out dancing to his music) and Israeli folk dances which I taught. I cut wood with Cory using a two-person timber saw--what a pleasure, then split it with an axe. I walked the goats to their pasture and collected felled branches for them to eat. I helped milk them. We all moved the composting toilet over a few feet, to feed another future tree. We covered some crops with straw one evening when frost was announced. Robert and I rode our bikes twice to help with a neighbor's sorghum harvest, syruping and yummy meal (we just ate the meal, didn't help prepare it). Bread labor was roughly from 8:30-noon, lunch from noon-1:00, siesta (An essential part of a balanced life)1:00-3:00, more bread labor 3:00-6:00. We celebrated one birthday with Pizza cooked in the earthen wood-fired oven, dancing, singing and cake eating. We told Megan everything we appreciated about her, and we did the same for visitors and interns who left, circling with an "imploding supernova of love". We had consensus meetings to talk about bigger issues, and readings from writers about peace and non-violence once a week. I rode into town on a bike with a trailer 3 times to pick up visitors (one time the visitor didn't come due to a misunderstanding, but I had a service call at an elderly woman who needed help moving out of her trailer). Beth taught me a cob plaster recipe and I was impressed by the outdoor covered bench with huge cob blue whale on the wall, and the outdoor kitchen with huge cob lizard on the wall which she cobbed. Specialization is for ants, as Heinlein would say. Well, not totally. It is so much fun to have varied work, yet, it is also a great human pleasure to have an avocation, a lifelong pursuit at which one gets better at. I didn't have much time or energy for theoretical physics or technology R&D, which are my avocations. Maybe in winter there would be more time, or after the community has existed for a while and infrastructure has been built. In the mean time the only avocations that are available most of the time are cooking, gardening, animal husbandry and building. Maybe some political activism.

Not everything went smoothly. On my second or third day I was sitting across from Megan at lunch. She had a women's studies T-shirt from the nearby college, and figuring it would be a good topic of conversation and a compliment, I commented on her dikey-looking glasses. I was surprised to find out she was offended by that comment. Later she forgave me, after realizing my intentions were good. I went to the Barn loft to get a bale of hay for the horses and only two days later did we find out that I grabbed a straw bale and the horses were hungry during that time. "That's what happens when you ask an engineer to do farm work"--quipped Rory. After every meal there was a "Blitz" where everyone was supposed to help clean up. I thought more than 3 or 4 people and more than one meal per day cleanup was excessive and I made my opinion known, which I think alienated some people. I have nothing against cleanliness and order, but I value physics, technology R&D music, dance and ritual so any time spent in (excessive) cleaning is less time spent on those other things. I want cleaning and organizing to be efficient and not make-do or OCD work, coming from damage and oppression. In addition to the blitzes, there is also a cleaning and organizing period on Friday afternoon, which I ended up enjoying because I felt like I was really accomplishing something instead of being oppressed by some woman's past oppression or nesting instinct gone awry, thanks to Ethan giving me good tasks to do.

Cutural Speciation
The PA is a place where a new culture is being born. They are focusing not on one thing, but on everything, perhaps through a few "master" memes. They have become somewhat memetically isolated by banning electricity (TV, internet, radio) and using only handtools, which I have claimed in past posts is a necessary condition for speciation in nature. They are not completely isolated because the interact with visitors, talk on the phone and go out to the world, but I hope they are isolated enough to survive the onslaught of Mainstream memes, and not too isolated so as not to be able to thrive and replicate.
The contrast between the two cultures is already great. I was mostly joyful in PA culture and am mostly nautious in Mainstream kulture unless I put on a psychic armor. Nausea was greatest when I left and rode a greyhound bus, and gradually diminished (replaced by a feeling of claustrophobia and unreality) although I occasionally get it back. I went to a Halloween party recently where the music was too loud to really hear anyone. There were flashy lights and a huge screen playing a zombie movie (I felt like I was relating to zombies indeed, with a few exceptions) to further reduce human to human contact, as well as alcohol to dumb people down and numb them to the pain of the unrelatedness. The music was aggressive (not just loud), there was not much architectural beauty or crafty human-made furniture, there were no plants or animals and it was cold. The dancing was typical individualistic, non-collaborative, ego-centric techno-industrial type (I did my best to enjoy it though). When I told this one guy that the superheroes help people, he thought “helping” was a euphemism for beating up and raping, as in the movie Clockwork Orange. The costumes were mostly from TV shows or movies, which shape the Mainstream Kulture in a way that would make Goebbels proud. By contrast, the PA environment and superhero costumes are decided by consensus, interaction with nature and individual creative process, encourage human to human contact, ethical global responsibility and local communion with nature. I love the people and other creatures I met there--I am filled with hope. I don't know if we need to completely give up electricity and petrol to live ethically, sustainably and joyfully, but I think it is a good place to start. If eventually we want petroleum and electricity (for labor saving and communication), we should be able to figure out how to have them without destroying the planet, exploiting people and destroying our souls. We can do almost anything we put our minds and hearts to. The next step at the PA is to build more buildings, and start making tools and materials. I hope to be making window glass and mason jars there out of recycled glass.

Monday, October 26, 2009

ownership of the means of production

Those with land or other capital will come up with rationalizations of why they can't share the resource. Let's focus on land for now. The owners will point out, correctly, that the dispossessed have no land management skills, while the land owners are good stewards of the land. That the masses will simply trash the land if it was made available to them. That the masses are too lazy to be productive and responsible. They are correct if nothing else changes--most people (including land owners, as history shows) do not have the knowledge or ecological values to be good land stewards. Most people (including landowners) will look for the easiest solution to a problem, the one that minimizes work for them in the short-run, unless they are inspired by a higher good. The commonly accepted solution is to deprive the masses of land and keep them powerless and distracted by boogiemen such as politicians, corporations, government and advertizers, or carrots such as houses, cars and money. Another solution (one that few landowners, whether they are environmentalists or not, are likely to try) is to offer free land to the masses, but in conjuction with training, not just in ecology, but in industry (of the low-capital, craft type). And along with training, create a local economy which gives access to tools and materials to anyone who wants to participate and be productive. There has to be some discretion in who can join a land-based collective enterprise, but today most people who want to work the land are earnest and hardworking and should be given a chance. There are other factors that might interfere with someone's capacity to work with other people (too much ego for example).

The latest bout of environmentalism and interest in farming might be a smokescreen to keep the status quo, as it comes mostly from the owning class. Land redistribution solutions such as those advocated by Henry George have been subverted by the owning class so that land for use and production is even more out of most people's reach today than it was in Henry George's time. Land is available, but at the cost of indenturing most people who would buy it.

People who own land are either unaware of the option of sharing it, or afraid to. There are good reasons for the fear, besides the one mentioned above--loss of autonomy, conflict, and waste of time in meetings are real possibilities. But for each of these difficulties, solutions already exist and new solutions are waiting to be found.
Loss of autonomy: some loss of autonomy may be unavoidable, but not all autonomy has to be lost. In making decisions, retaining some autonomy can be achieved with any decision making model that gives everyone a voice, does not concentrate power, is local, and encourages deep listening and respect. Deep consensus, sociocracy, holocracy are possibilities I know about, and there may be others. As far as doing things, if people collectively made their basic needs, there would still be time for individuals to pursue their avocations without too much group involvement.

Conflict: there have been numerous conflict resolution technologies developed, such as NVC, Zegg Forum, Nakaima/Heart of Now. There have been numerous conflict prevention technologies developed such as folk dancing, playing music together, singing together, storytelling, sharing yoga/chi gung, skill-sharing and knowledge sharing workshops, rituals. Inner (individual) spiritual work and common vision are helpful. Romantic/sex partners (especially for young people) can help relax people. Good balanced work and connection with nature. Good decision making also can prevent conflict. An atmosphere of agape.

Waste of time in meetings: Good meeting faciliation skills and training in whatever decision making the group chooses are antidotes to time waste.

There are better reasons for sharing land than not sharing it, especially when the fears for not sharing have been calmed. Those reasons are:
1. It is the ethical thing to do, since the earth is a common treasury for all--just because your ancestors benefitted from stealing and murder of the natives who lived on that land, doesn't mean you "own" the land.
2. It is more joyful to work the land and celebrate with others sharing a common vision.
3. It is better for the children to have playmates close by.
4. It is more efficient due to economy of scale (I will say more about the deeper reasons for economy of scale in a later post) and to specialization.
5. It is good for one's ego to serve others and not always get one's way.

Friday, September 4, 2009

polyamory within the system

Polyamory—a radical idea. The idea of loving more than one person at a time goes back to the early Christians and Greeks—they call it agape. With polyamory the new ingredient is sex and all the romantic feelings that go with sex (or sometimes without it). A few of the preceding topics in this blog made the point that a cultural system, just like a biological system is a highly interconnected system of parts, and that a change in only one part is not likely to be successful in any kind of evolutionary scheme. Either many parts have to change simultaneously, or the environment needs to change in such a way that a sequence of single changes is neutral and not selected against until the new subsystem of parts becomes functional and advantageous (and this second scenario seems to require some teleology, but I won’t talk about that here). I claim that polyamory cannot work in the present system on a large scale unless many things change besides multiple partner relating. Poly within the system will be more about accumulation than relation, status and shallow sex rather than deep love, quantity rather than quality. At least the following memes need to change for poly to thrive.

1. Economics and politics of scarcity— the system wants us to believe that romantic love is scarce. If resources are scarce, people can be controlled with fear of not having enough resources and kept busy chasing after those resources. The yearning for ego transcendence, and the extreme pleasure that comes with sex combined with romantic love is one of the biggest levers that the system has to control people. The dating industry, the romance book industry, the pornography industry all benefit from the image of scarcity and the drying up of monogamous relationships. The first required change for polyamory to work is a belief in the abundance of romantic love (and possibly other resources when they are shared). The second change would be a gift economy and a politics of sharing power.
2. Economics of consumerism—the smaller the economic unit the more consumption. Extended families have dwindled for this same reason. Polyamorous relationships where there is more than occasional sex between partners, where there is the kind of deep love that makes people want to share a large portion of their lives by living together or in close proximity makes for a larger and less consumptive economic unit where commodities are shared. On the other hand, the system has no problem with fuck-buddies and swinging, because these do not lead to significant economic sharing. The third change for polyamory to be selected is an economics of production for use, not for making money. The fourth change is a psychology of service and pleasure from non-material pursuits.
3. Economics of proprietary production—lack of transparency in production translates into lack of transparency in general. Larger, transparent production unit can be more self-sufficient. But in the present system the material means and information of production are owned by a few individuals and carefully guarded in order to compete in the marketplace. A transparent poly family which produces much of its needs doesn’t fit the present system. The fifth change necessary is transparency in production and sharing of the means of production to create more economic abundance. Also a psychology of pleasure in production (instead of making money off the exploitation of ant-like producers who are alienated from their labor) and sharing information leading to self-sufficient village-scale production.
4. Inheritance laws.—In a patriarchy, these work when paternity can be clearly established.
5. Decision making in patriarchy is hierarchical. Patriarchal polygamy works with patriarchy and hierarchical decision making, but polyamory requires consensus decision making. Consensual decision making goes with transparency, honesty, deep listening, deep caring for others

Friday, August 21, 2009

report from the trenches

We are like soldiers camping out on the eve of battle. It’s been raining since last night and I am tempted by visions of labs, science colleagues and the Dionysian comforts and shared ecstasies of women in my arms. Also by the lack of ticks, chiggers and poison ivy. Scratching myself does feel ecstatic at times, but makes it hard to focus on anything else and is wearisome after a while.
During our meals, Chris talks about the liberals and how they need the government to take care of them. He rants about the evils of land ownership and capitalism. He bemoans civilization and how it does not meet the needs of men (freedom, adventure, variety, creativity), only of women (comfort and security). I understand where he’s coming from, though I don’t agree completely with him about his generalizations. I also disagree with those who claim that no generalizations can be made at all, that men and women are the same in their needs, that masculine and feminine have only historical meaning. Anyway, capitalism is not our enemy, nor are the liberals, the conservative, women, or any group of people, the bugs, the poison ivy or even the deer who eat our crops. Yet we are at war, in the rainy, bug infested trenches.

Chris tills the beds that Shelby dug long ago, when Shelby was a young man full of hope, with a family to support. They were overrun with grass and weeds when we got here. Shelby put some logs on the edges to rot. We removed the rotten logs from the edges, but then we found more in the middle of each bed, buried. There must be about 1000 logs, in various states of decay. We use a pickaxe to lever them out of the ground, then we pile them in the pickup bed, and from there we load them on the woodpile. I was worried that Shelby might get mad or melancholic about us undoing his work (though the nutrients probably have all left the logs and gone into the soil by now), so we do the piling right after each digging out. “Put them back”, Chris jokes, trying to imitate what Shelby might say. We know that what we plant we might not harvest, and all our work here might not be for us to benefit from.

I am really close to having a self-feeding rocket stove. It is smaller, cheaper and easier to build than the one in the book. I think it is also more efficient. My design keeps changing, and hopefully converging.

The deer are eating our crops because we have no fence. Shelby doesn’t like fences or going through gates. A fence would be yet another investment of money and time that we may not get a return for—who knows when we would have to leave (Shelby could kick the bucket any day and Sara said we can’t have more than just 4 people here—not the thriving community we have in mind, with hundreds of people). A Kelvin Generator fence would be cheaper and less work to put up, so I am looking for metal tubs with spouts—I offered Shawn some money for his, which he uses for washing vegetables from his garden. And then there is the issue that the KG fence is still experimental technology, with some bugs yet to be worked out, and Chris has no patience for that, being a Yankee farmer.

People keep telling us of possibilities for a few acres to buy, or a place to live on someone else’s land. Just yesterday I was helping install a big rocket stove (not my design) for Laura and she and Kent are trying to be so encouraging, but they don’t get it. They think we’re just trying to survive, to find easy opportunities for us to live, to be comfortable. We are not here to be comfortable, though sometimes we indulge in some comforts (like the hot tub made from a horse trough and kept warm with insulation and 5 gallons of propane-heated water every few days).

Though Chris doesn’t know it, my heart is heavy every time we watch a video. Not that the videos are not good, moving, entertaining, informative. It’s the vision in my head and the yearning in my heart for celebration that is much more active and vibrant, a sharing of souls, active vs passive, work mingled seamlessly with play. Like folk dancing after working in the fields together. Like sermons, rituals and workshops that uplift, music that is played collectively, outdoor games full of glee. The video, despite the best intentions of its producers, is a symptom of a society of consumption, extreme individualism, and specialization. It works well in this kind of society. The kind of folk dancing I have in mind does not work well in this society, it doesn’t fit the rest of the attitudes and ways of being and doing. It might be enjoyed by a few people, but without the other ingredients (group communion, shared work, less specialization, agrarian lifestyle), it comes up stale. I try to enjoy the sharing of this passive activity, because at least it is sharing something, though sometimes it feels like a mockery of my yearning, a form of soma in a Brave New World.

We aren’t here to survive, or because we want to be self-sufficient, or free or even happy. We aren’t here for our children, though we miss them as a tree misses its roots and are sad that the Culture has taken them. We are not here to be martyrs—we aren’t trying to get an ego boost from any discomfort or material lacks or suffering.

We are here because we care deeply about this world, because we know that there is something good, beautiful and true that transcends our existence or that of our children, something worth sacrificing our comfort and security for. Our enemies are laziness, ignorance, selfishness, stupidity, both within us and without. Chris thinks our enemy is private ownership of land, but I think that is not a root enemy. Our friends are everywhere, in the midst of our enemies.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


A puzzle in evolutionary theory: how can single mutations be responsible for the kinds of morphological differences among species? To add an extra toe, for example, requires many (10s or 100s) of different genes to be expressed at different times during development. To go from gills to lungs requires even more changes in gene expression and a few new genes. Mutating these genes sequentially, one at a time, is highly disadvantageous, since the original function will be disrupted. This is akin to going from a carburated car to a carburated car with a fuel injector between the carburetor and the intake manifold in the evolution of cars--the mutant won't run. In fact there is no path of single component changes in a car going between carburation and fuel injection, which won't kill the car. These changes have to be done all at once, in a single generation, to produce a viable car.

What if the new fuel injector is not connected between the carburetor and the intake manifold? There is some energy expended in building it, which presents a slight disadvantage to the manufacturer of the car. But if the manufacturer has some resources to do R&D, eventually a fuel injection system can be evolved. Of course the analogy breaks down here as there is no manufacturer in biology. But I think that the part about large changes occuring without a phenotype might happen in nature too, as in lungs being built without being used. Also, the analogy with the manufacturer is a regulatory gene, which controls the expression of many other genes. In technology, the manufacturer is not part of the car, but in biology the regulatory gene is part of the organism.

Several things have to happen in order to produce the multitude of beneficial changes leading to a new species, even after reproductive isolation. First, mutations occur in one or a few regulatory genes, as opposed to hundreds of genes. This enables many genes to change their expression with the mutation of only one or a few of the genes that regulate them, making the probability of change within a (consistent with paleontological record) short time reasonable.

Second, at least one copy of the unmutated regulatory gene has to continue to express normally and be dominant, in order that normal function not be disrupted. Since most genes are recessive, this requires gene duplication, an occasional occurence, followed by mutation in one of the copies, followed by homozygosity of the mutated gene.

Third, either the environment has to change or new phenotypically invisible mutations (either in the originally mutated gene or in cooperating genes) have to occur in order to provide a differential selective advantage for the new gene relative to the original gene. It is possible that the original mutation is good enough to provide an advantage (once the environment changes) relative to the original unmutated gene, with no new mutations, but to me this seems unlikely, even for a mutation in a regulatory gene. Such an event would seem to lead to a new variety or strain rather than a new species. Species are separated by barriers in multidimensional fitness space and most changes, even multi-gene ones, are unlikely to lead to a lower valley on the first try.

Fourth, a new mutation occurs such that the original gene is inactivated, or the new gene becomes dominant.

The fourth event happens many times, most of which are not preceded by the third step, in which case no new species arises. The changes involved in speciation are numerous and interdependent and must remain invisible to selctive pressure until the time is right.

Now I would like to argue that similar considerations apply to cultural evolution, as do to biological and technological evolution. Culture is a hereditable system composed of interacting memes, subject to selective pressure and variation. Gradual, non-regulatory mutations lead to different strains. Reproductive isolation is a necessary (see the entry on gradual vs quick speciation) but not sufficient condition for new species to arise. The four steps above might complete the ingredients necessary for cultural speciation to occur, although I may have missed some. In the pictures below I draw a simplified draft of an outline of the mainstream culture and a culture I would like to speciate into. I try to represent some regulatory memes in the center. These mutations have already occured but they are either conferring a disadvantage or phenotypically invisible. We need a community to work them out, largely isolated from mainstream culture, in an environment where the new culture would have an advantage.

A corollary to the above considerations is that small changes are not going to radically change the culture, even given an infinite amount of time. Herbert Marcuse already saw this many years ago with regards to capitalism, but it is a property of all stable evolutionary systems. In the next entry I will elaborate on why the following changes will not create a new culture.

mono->poly without changing capitalism
greener consumption habits without changing capitalism and empire
changing capitalism without localization
localization of food without participation in agriculture
localization of food without localization of industry
green building without changing attitudes about housing
shared housing without a common vision and common livelihhod
no electricity without common recreation
folk dancing without an attitude of group communion
communalism without consensus

Monday, June 8, 2009

the myth of follow your bliss economics

There are seven reasons why I think that a collectively shared agriculture is a good idea. First, if we accept that a local economy is something to strive for (see Wendell Berry, Vandana Shiva, E.F Schumacher and myself among many for arguments pro a local economy) then there are still a few possibilities as to how to do it. There are those who believe that we should all follow our own bliss and everything will work out. That is, if everyone just does what they like and what they are good at, everyone's needs will be met. This is based on a myth that has taken over the imagination of most in this culture. It is a beautiful myth and it makes people feel good, but it is only partially true. It works for a few privileged people in the heart of the empire (but not most), and not for most of the world. The more cheap energy and resources are available to the west, the more "bliss work", i.e. luxury service work can be supported. But most people have to do non-bliss work, both in the west and the third world in the present global economy (the few people whose bliss is to farm and build are exceptions to the general rule that most people's bliss work is not hard physical labor, though hard physical labor can be fun for all in moderation and/or when shared). If energy and resources dwindle in supply, this will be even more true. And similarly, in a local economy that is not subsidized by exploitation of other parts of the world or theft from the future (in terms of non-renewable resources and debt that needs to be repaid in real energy), there is a significant amount of energy that needs to be spent on basic needs. Dividing that work roughly equally amongst all able-bodied people makes it more equitable. In this basic needs economy, there is room for some specialization, so not everyone has to make clothes, build make/maintain tools and do healthcare, but since the majority of labor will be agriculture, most people will have to do some agriculture to achieve an equitable number of hours worked.

Second, a gift economy for basic needs is unstable. It assumes that people who are toiling hard to provide basic needs are going to provide them for everyone out of love all the time. Those who are providing luxuries and not necessities are in a precarious position, dependent on the constant good will of the others to eat and to have shelter. Much better to have a less utopian vision of human nature and have everyone responsible for their basic needs collectively. That way, a gift economy for the "spice of life" can be on a firm foundation. People can follow their bliss knowing that with a bit of work on the foundation, they will be fed, sheltered, clothed, educated, and cared for when sick, old or very young. This is where specialization, trade and diversity of avocations and wants can flourish.

Third, working together on something that everyone needs and most can do, is more fun than working alone, and brings people together providing a basis for local culture.

Fourth, if one can produce one's basic needs oneself, one is harder to control. In the present culture, it is not the farmers who control people, but the market/corporations/media and a few wealthy folks who own the means of production. In a local economy where the farmers produce food for everyone and the builders and handypersons build and maintain shelter for everyone, it is they who accumulate power and can ultimately control everyone else. This is already starting to happen at Earthaven, where the farmers are getting private leases, except that the global food market is still competing with them so their power is still limited. To ensure freedom for individuals, they must be co-owners of the means of production, and not leave it to proxies, whether they are corporations, governments, wealthy landowners and industrialists, or farmers.

Fifth, the "follow your own bliss" myth is ultimately too egotistical. There is spiritual value in doing something that may not be your favorite thing, but that is helping others and needs to be done.

Sixth, shared agricultural work levels class distinctions that arise when some people do the hard manual labor and others do only intellectual work and easy manual labor.

Seventh, a shared agriculture, just like shared shelter and kitchen does with heating, storage, washing and materials, creates an efficiency of shared tools and if there are enough people, a labor pool able to respond to peak labor times (such as digging and harvest of field crops).

Note that only the third, fifth and seventh reasons argue for collectivization, whereas the other ones leave open the possibility of individual/family homesteads. There are some disadvantages to collectivization such as difficulty to coordinate people that might be traded off for these reasons (3 5 and 7).

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Male privilege checklist

Based on Peggy McIntosh's original checklist about white privilege, Ampersand created this male privilege checklist:

There are privileges which I would like everyone to have (positive privilege--which might be referred to as a right), and privileges which I would like no one to have (negative privilege). The privilege (which I have had) of having a good education and not being ruled by need, but having choices in how to spend my time is one I would like everyone to have. I don't see that as possible with the present economy and the present technology, and I don't see that changing even if we fight for any of the positive privileges in that list and against any of the negative privileges. There are also privileges that I would like some but not all to have (we can call these positive privileges too). The privilege to lead or manage for example, which should be based on talent and propensity. With that privilege comes responsibility.

How do we use our positive privileges? Do we just write about it and flagelate ourselves, or try to do something to make things better? Can we work for a world where everyone has a good chance to flourish? Can we be an example to the third world that affluence does not equal consumerism and exploitation? Or do we use our privilege to perpetuate the system that oppresses other people and rapes the planet? This reminds me of the (sometimes) christian tactic of continuing bad behavior by going to confession or admitting that one is a sinner. It's not enough to confess to being privileged. Let's do something positive with our (positive) privileges! I am trying to set up a system where everyone owns the means of production. That will not be enough--every individual will have to overcome selfishness and laziness--no system will be able to accomplish that.

I can empathize with women's experience of many of the positive privileges they don't have, but I don't feel like how I live perpetuates these privileges only for men; As far as the negative privileges, I don't have them and don't encourage anyone who does; on the contrary, I feel like there are more basic issues that perpetuate these things and other injustice and that I am trying to tackle. This list would have been revolutionary more than 40 years ago, but western society has moved on and there are more pressing issues.

It is hard for me to identify with many of these items, for example #1 (how do you know that sometimes job-competency is not higher in males on the average--e.g. auto-mechanic, especially jobs that were traditionally done by males? It might be hard to disentangle sexism in applicant selection from competency due to sex (by mostly cultural mechanisms). This does suck for women when they really are equal to or better than men at a job. I know one woman who really is better than most men at handyperson jobs. She faces some discrimination, but when she does get hired, her work speaks for itself and people then hire her because of her work. In any case I don't feel guilty if there are sexist male employers out there because I am a man. Should I feel guilty if there are racist brown-haired people because I am brown-haired?), #6 (I usually have reverse sexism about this one), #14 (I don't have any elected representatives) #20 (I don't watch TV or read newspapers) #26 (I don't buy much clothes), #27 (I don't expect anyone to groom themselves) #37 (I don't care about most religions), # 38 (That has not been my experience, except that I don't like vacuum cleaners or washing machines, would rather sweep and do laundry in a tub, and don't expect my partner to do it for me), #39 (not my experience), #40 (I have followed my 2nd wife to another state, giving up my career as an engineer), #43 (I was subject to violence from my first wife).

root causes vs symptoms

If you could wave a magic wand and get rid of male privilege, the system will still be there with all its nastiness. Not that you could do that, because male privilege is not a root cause, and so new weeds of enslavement will crop up from the roots of selfishness, laziness, empire, patriarchy, centralization of power, inability to produce basic needs locally, ownership of the means of production by a few people, and other roots.

some issues more important than male privilege
empire privilege
We in the west have the negative privilege to consume slave labor goods and rob the third world of its raw materials.

privilege to not work at manual or dangerous or menial jobs by western women in empire
My first long-term relationship was with a woman who worked in an all-women's carpentry crew. I met her again, 25 years later. She is now a hypnotherapist. There are very few middle class (and in the US, though to a lesser degree, working class) women who take on manual labor or dangerous jobs and even fewer who stick with them. Some of that is because they are discouraged from it (and the psychological dimension of privilege is an important one), but another part is because they have the privilege not to. I think this has far greater reaching consequences for consumerism (as previously discussed in this blog), for social justice, and for environmental stewardship than male privilege. I would say something not too different about middle class men, although the privilege is not as glaring as for women--this is an example of what I call the feminization of capitalist society. One might argue that capitalism is now mostly a feminine-energy enterprise, with the abilities to sit back and rake in the profits while other people do the work, with its encouragement to have no limits on resource use. This brings up another issue: why pick on the (mostly effeminate) men in the west, when patriarchy is much stronger (and the balance of masculine/feminine energies is more towards the masculine) in the middle east or south america? This is a reactionary, middle-class feminism.

land privilege
After 3 years of being unable to find land to create a community where people share agricultural work and produce their basic food, shelter, education and healthcare needs, I feel like land ownership is a far more important privilege than male privilege. Most of the land that I saw that could have been shared with other people is under private ownership of women who are mostly interested in making money just from ownership of that land without doing much work.

privilege to have custody of children, be a lousy parent, and make a profit from it
I did not even try to gain custody of my son when I got divorced. It was clear that the courts were heavily biased towards mothers. I will have paid $232K in "child support" (this also includes the period before the divorce), whereas I think I could have raised my son under much better conditions, without the abuse that my ex-wife put him through, with giving him good attention and role models, for much, much less than that. Money energy that could have gone towards land, tools and buildings. Money that my ex-wife did not need, except to spend on her wardrobe, appliances, electronic gizmos that only last a year, vacations, and a private school that teaches my son about wealth privilege.

A general imbalance towards feminine energies in present day western culture
The pendulum has swung too far towards the feminine. This is partially responsible for consumerism, rising costs of healthcare, government debt, war. I will elaborate in another blog entry, or see the 4 ingredients entry.

Talking about male privilege takes energy away from doing something about these other issues--a distraction, a red herring.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

selective pressures in the ecology of technology

If technology and the economy of which it is a part are ecosystems subject to Darwinian evolution, then what are the selective pressures driving them? Also, does random variation occur, or are there some other mechanisms for achieving variation?

I can think of several engines of variation, and several selective pressures. Although looked at from a historical perspective the sprouting of new technologies may appear random (though building on previous technologies and thus becoming more complex), there are human motivation at work which do not seem random to me.

The first familiar engine of variation (since Adam Smith pointed it out) is selfish greed. This is not the same as profitability. Selfish greed is an engine of variation--it motivates trying a new technology. Profitability is a selection mechanism--someone may be greedy but his new mousetrap may not be profitable. That mousetrap will be selected against. Similarly, the mousetrap designer (and/or manufacturer) may be motivated by some of the other engines of variation below, not by greed, and the mousetrap may still be profitable and be selected for.

The second engine of variation is curiosity. We scientists and engineers need to know what would happen if...Curiosity is a harsh mistress, but she motivates many inventions.

The third is love. Love of the planet, love of humanity, love of friends and family, love of one's country, love of freedom, love of science and technology and maybe other kinds of love.

It is important to realize that in the present economy, most inventors of new technology are not primarily motivated by greed, but by love or curiosity. In contrast, the manufacturers of their invention (who in the present system also make most of the resulting money, or lose investment money) usually are motivated by greed. I know this personally--I have a patent for a process to make better transistors (these are the building blocks of computers) from when I was working at Motorola. Neither I nor the rest of the engineers who developed the idea were motivated by greed (we each got ~$500 for it). But the CEO of Motorola and the members of the board probably are motivated by greed (I don't know if Moto actually made money from that paten, but they certainly intended to). Yes, all the engineers were partially motivated by wanting a paycheck so they and their families can survive comfortably, so a little self-interest is present, but I wouldn't call it greed. But self-interest isn't a primary motivator for the typical inventor.

Selective Pressures

The first selective pressure is profitability. I don't have anything new to say about this one. It is the primary selective mechanism in the present economy.

The second is usefulness, which in capitalism correlates with profitability, but in another economy (ecosystem) we will see that a technology could be useful without being profitable.

The third is how human happiness, which also may correlate with profitability, and as with usefulness, in another kind of economy a technology could make people happy without being profitable.

The fourth is ecological sustainability. Societies which do not pay attention to this, well...are not sustainable en masse, not just their technologies. All it takes is one technology which is not sustainable (and for that technology to be selected for by one of the other 3 selective mechanisms) for the whole society to be selected against. In the present global technology this selection for ecologically destructive technologies is quite common, but in an economy where basic technology is local and where profitability is not the primary selection mechanism, that would be less likely (NIMBY).

What kind of ecosystem/economy do I have in mind where profitability is not the primary selective mechanism? One where individuals and small communities (~200 people) make all their basic needs. In that kind of ecosystem, a gadget will be manufactured if it is useful and makes people happy. There is no need for it to be profitable because people are making their OWN gadget and the compensation is for them, unlike in the current system where people make stuff for other people and so they need some other compensation, like profit. The variation/creation is still partially driven by a selfish desire to make life better for oneself and one's community, but the compensation is direct, measured mostly in happiness. It is still possible for someone in my village to not want for their home to make the improved stove that my friend invented and I made and to offer me something in return for making them a stove. In this example, one can think of the return I make for building the stove (whether money or some goods and services) as a profit, and wanting that profit (greed) will certainly be part of my motivation for wanting to build stoves for other members of my village, or other villages. But it is not the primary motivation for invention/creation of new technology (as we've seen it isn't even in the present economy) and it no longer is the primary motivation even for manufacturing of already invented technology. More significantly, unlike in the present economy, whether the stove gets built much will not be primarily determined by whether I make a profit on it. Anyone in my village and neighboring villages (which have access to similar materials) can now build this stove, they are not dependent on me. The usefulness of the stove and how happy it makes people are far more important selective mechanisms to determine how many stoves get built.

So far we have imposed the constraint of locality in production and consumption and argued that it makes profitability non-primary as a selective pressure. We have not tackled the problem of what natural mechanisms would induce a system based on globality, where profitability is the primary selective mechanism in technology, to evolve towards one where locality is a constraint.

The most talked-about selective pressure for locality is the dwindling supply of petroleum which raises the price of petroleum and makes transportation of goods less profitable. My concern with that is that if we don't prepare for locality and are forced into it by peak oil, then things could get pretty harsh and barbaric.

A local technology might evolve from the present global one because the interdependence that now exists among people does not encourage freedom for most on this planet (except for a few individuals, and even then for a price that they usually pay in their youth to acquire that freedom), whereas the more people can produce locally (under non-drudgery conditions), the freer they are. The author Neil Stephenson came up with the contrasting evocative words "seed" vs "feed" technologies. A seed technology is one that enables self-reliance of individuals and small communities, dependence on their neighbors and the local ecosystem, and decentralization of political and economic power. We have very few of these left, and even seeds are becoming feed-like (GMO seeds). A feed technology is one that encourages centralization of political and economic power, and disempowers local communities and individuals, at least as far as being able to be self-reliant. There will be a spectrum between seed and feed technologies, and one must consider the technological system as a whole to assess how seed-like or how feed-like it is. For example, solar panels are seed-like once they are manufactured, but their manufactuing is currently feed-like. Solar panels depend on batteries which are feed-like in their manufacturing, and since they don't last as long as solar panels, their feed-likeness is more serious. Also, some of them depend on being able to obtain distilled water, which could be feedlike or seedlike dependent on how it's done. A nuclear reactor is extremely feedlike in its manufacture, and even in its daily use -it requires centralization, and this probably won't change if it is a fusion reactor. Technology is not economically or politically neutral--there are feedbacks between these ecosystems.

In many people's minds there is a confusion of globalization with specialization, but specialization can be done on a local scale too (but not as much as on a global scale). If the social environment encourages transparency, and the technological environment is based on locality, anyone could learn all the specialties that make life possible and enjoyable, and benefit from not having to do everything because of specialization.

The freedom that comes from seed technologies is also a political one, making people harder to control by governments, corporations or advertizers. It might mean that people who now have no decent choice but to work in sweatshops, choose not to because they don't have to anymore. Many things that are currently cheap because of cheap labor may become more expensive.

Locality and self-reliance in basic needs does not mean that in a local technology/economy people do not form interdependent relationships, on the contrary they form those relationships based on love and affinity, not based on impersonal need and greed. So a selective mechanism for locality is human happiness, whether in the form of greater freedom, or improved personal relationships. However, as discussed in a previous entry in this blog, there is a barrier to overcome to get to a place in the ecological landscape from where we are now, to where locality is advantageous. Small changes will be inconvenient, possibly require more labor, and elicit ignorant punitive actions from govt agencies and local rednecks than just using the current global technologies. We might help locate the mountain pass in the evolutionary fitness landscape by investing our energy in creating, manufacturing and using local technology.

I don't think that most luxury technology (such as computers) can be manufactured locally any time soon, if ever. I have no problem with having a global technology/economy for luxuries. It seems to me that if people are no longer primarily motivated by greed in manufacturing of basic goods, that greed may dwindle in other aspects of life too. Love may become a stronger engine of variability/creation once basic needs are met and thus facilitate the evolution of a gift economy for luxuries.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Gender and consumerism

Most feminist responses to what I have written about the connections between consumerism and gender have been angry or dismissive. Attempts have been made to silence, humiliate, ridicule or throw food at me. On the one hand, this makes me think that I may be onto something, because the same responses were given to early feminists like Margaret Fuller (with the exception of the food throwing) and other thinkers who have exposed what I call Naked Emperors—that is things about a culture that everyone in that culture knows at some level of consciousness, but ignores or represses on another. On the other hand, perhaps I am simply wrong. But then why the anger? People can say things that are wrong without eliciting anger—for example, if someone said the earth is flat. Maybe the anger is a reaction to all the oppression of women by patriarchy (and it’s mythical/religious manifestations), and a perception that I am only going to perpetuate that oppression with my theories. In other words, people may be thinking that I am a patriarchal reactionary. I think this is a misunderstanding, and I want to explain in detail why I think that.

Like most feminists, I share the following values. I would like it if:
1. People are free to express themselves in any joyful way without being constrained by their gender. In other words, I believe that gender fluidity is desirable, and I am not a biological or cultural determinist.
2. People could find an inner balance between masculine and feminine energies, so that they don’t project what Jung called “the Shadow” onto the other gender, but instead have a good understanding of both masculine and feminine energies, through their own experiences and introspection.
3. People are free to experiment with these energies not only within themselves, but within larger groups and relationships, such as dyads, triads, etc. In other words, much joy could be created if for example, one member of a dyad has more feminine energy, and another more masculine energy, then if both are more feminine or more masculine. Both these people could be male or female or trans, although it might be easier if the person with the predominant masculine energy is physically male, and the one with the predominant feminine energy is physically female, as there is more endocrine support for these energies that way.

Things that I am NOT saying (followed by clarification of what I am actually saying):
1. That biology has nothing to do with masculine or feminine energies. Like most sexually reproducing animals, humans are sexually dimorphic. It seems improbable that hormonal, morphological and gene expression differences would not be translated into some psychological differences. But this biological propensity is not deterministic, only correlative and historically originated the meaning of the words masculine and feminine. E. O Wilson had ice water poured over his head for stating the more general observation (which I agree with) that biology has consequences at the level of psychology and sociology.
2. That culture has nothing to do with gender differences. Many feminists and leftist thinkers think, at the other extreme, that differences are due mostly to culture. I disagree and take a more moderate position, but this is not critical to my analysis.
3. That women are responsible for consumerism, or that men are responsible for patriarchy. Both consumerism and patriarchy are systems with many interacting parts. I think the feminine energies of nest-building and the need for comfort and security, when out of balance with male energies, are major (but not only) factors in consumerism.
4. That men need to keep women under control with their testicular masculine energy. The best form of restraint is internal, so both men and women would be less consumptive if they exhibited more testicular masculine energy.
5. That advertising has nothing to do with consumerism. It does, but the advertisers are only successful because they understand basic psychology and appeal to primal things like the needs for comfort and security (in both men and women).
6. That comfort and security are bad. They are necessary for creativity and a good life. But there is more to life than comfort and security. Adventure, joy, curiosity and the comfort and security of others (including future generations) are also important. When comfort and security are everything, they murder the soul, as Khalil Gibran said.
7. That nest-building is bad. Nest-building is natural and beautiful. Only when it is not balanced by a bigger vision and an understanding does it become problematic.
8. That men do not need comfort and security. Of course they do, but less than women who are starting to think about getting pregnant, are pregnant or have children.
9. That men are not factors in consumerism. Of course they are, but I think the main reason is that they do not express enough testicular masculine energy in this present moment in this culture, and moreover are not expressing enough feminine energy within themselves, thus needing it from external sources, consuming mainly to obtain the comfort of female companionship.

The survey, the main experimental tool of sociologists would be useful in testing some of these hypotheses. The experimental procedure is fraught with obstacles though. In the first approximation, one could look for differences between men and women. It would be harder to test differences between masculine and feminine energies, or between the presence and lack of testicular masculine energy. Many controls would be needed, for example, men and women from middle eastern cultures (where men still have a lot of testicular masculine) who have immigrated to the West, could be compared to each other, and also to men and women from our culture. Motivations would need to be examined, not just money spent. For example, if a man buys a house, is he buying it for himself, or for his wife and children? Would he be content with a smaller house? Would his wife? How much money is spent on housing and related industries, vs other things and who cares more about housing, men or women?

Monday, February 9, 2009

tradeoffs and compromises

Tradeoffs are what make optimization interesting, giving functions minima, maxima and saddle points. With only one dimension, one process can increase a utility function in the same direction in which another decreases the function, resulting in a maximum or minimum. In more than one dimension, a function can have a saddle point, which is a maximum in some directions and a minimum in other directions. In one model of system change, we can envision a mostly static environment, represented by a utility function. The system tries to minimize that function. There is a large applied math literature devoted to optimization in one or more dimensions, which is done mostly by computer nowadays. We know that a system can get stuck in a local minimum if the only strategy it employs for finding that minimum is going downhill in a local manner. If the environment changes once (but not continually--we will discuss a model for that later) and then is static again, what used to be a minimum may now no longer be one. In that case, a new minimum will be found, in a time depending on the efficiency of the system in locating the new minimum. The new minimum will not be too different from the old minimum unless a cataclysmic change in the environment has occured which destroyed some surrounding mountains of the old valley. To get to other valleys which might have a lower minimum, the best strategy is to go uphill for some time, to get to a mountain pass (a saddle point) which is the least uphill one has to go. But gradual change in a downhill direction will not get us there.

You can see the obvious application to social change in the age of dwindling petroleum. Insulate your house, purchase a greener car or appliance, build a cob/straw-bale house and a rocket stove all of which make your life more comfortable and you won't achieve much change. Much of the old culture is still right there with you--the exploitation of third world people, the exploitation of those without capital/land by those who own them, hierarchies based on power, egotism and greed, alienation caused by overspecialization and abstraction of production, etc. Any direction that has a chance of getting you to the mountain pass has to be somewhat painful, somewhat decrease your fitness, somewhat not work with the rest of the system as it currently exists. That is the (almost) static model of system change based on optimization. Note this has not much to do with dynamical systems theory where there is no function to be optimized in the dynamics, where you can get strange attractors and chaos. Human life does seem to have some function that it optimizes, whether it be fitness, happiness, freedom, or a combination of these.

Now for a dynamic environment model, where each component of a system influences the functions (environments) of other components by only controlling a few variables, whereas each function depends on all the variables.

In game theory, which applies not just to discrete games but to continuous systems with more than one component, competition in a zero sum game can be modeled nicely by each player (or component/cell/organism/species/culture) having a utility function to minimize which has a saddle point. Around this point, one player trying to decrease his function increases the function of his competitor (a simple realistic case for similar players competing for some resource is the same function with the variables interchanged). A compromise will occur at the saddle point, where though each player does not do as well as they could if they had control of their competitor's variables, the system utility function (defined as the sum of the individual utility functions) is minimized.
I am researching this, so I am not sure yet: if the functions to be minimized are not the same, situations could arise in which the strategy of each player minimizing his utility function with only control over his own variables can lead to being stuck at a point which is not a saddle point of his function. Whether the utility functions of different players are the same or not, it is possible to get stuck at a point which is a local but not global minimum of the system utility function. This can happen even in a cooperative domain (a win-win, not a zero sum) where the players reducing their own utility function are also reducing the other players' utility functions. In order to get out of a local minimum, just like in the static environment model, some players have to become altruistic, undergo some suffering and go uphill for a while in order to either reach a lower minimum for themselves eventually (temporary altruism, or altruism in time), or else they may never reach a better minimum for themselves, but reach a better minimum for the system utility function (altruism in space).

So we see that in both the static environment model and the dynamic environment model, a strategy of always going downhill can get the players stuck in a local minimum, and in order to get unstuck one must go uphill sometimes. It follows that changes that seem to improve things for people in the short run will not lead to a better situation for the whole culture.

Also, compromises which place one in the original valley are not worth making because one will still roll back down to the original minimum. Once the new valley has been reached (by going uphill for a while), all kinds of small changes which lead downhill, or compromises which keep one in the new valley may be made with no damage.

Tradeoffs around the local minimum are going to be different than tradeoffs around the global minimum. Around the global minimum it is possible to do better on both aspects of the tradeoff than around the local minimum, or perhaps much better on one aspect and only a little worse on the other.

What tradeoffs have I encountered?

Solitude vs people around: I like solitude. I can think more clearly, be more calm and grounded. However, having more people around, especially people I like, has some advantages like good conversations, good dances and music making, intellectual comrades, romantic partners, ability to do more of what I love because of specialization, more stability in the face of hardship, and energy/labor savings on shared heat, cooking, tools and building materials.

Freedom vs comfort and security. I would much rather spend time doing physics, dancing, working in the garden or on engineering projects than on having clean clothes, electronic gizmos, appliances and any convenience one can think of. The latter take time away from things I love, or vice versa--time is a limited resource and I would rather spend it doing things I love than being comfortable and secure (beyond a minimal level). Some comfort and security comes from being part of the global economy. Some comes from conforming to the norms of a group. Depending on the structure of the group, it is possible to do better on freedom and not much worse on comfort, so that the total happiness is increased. More generally, tradeoffs are dependent on where the baseline optimum is. I think it is possible to have alot more freedom, love and creativity for most people than in this culture, while sacrificing only a bit of comfort, security and convenience.

Freedom vs collective responsibility. I think that beyond basic needs, I would not want collective responsibility for everyone's individual needs in my community. This would cut down on most people's freedom. If someone needs their own cabin for artistic reasons, let them pay for it with their resources. If someone needs a lab, or expensive film equipment, a washing machine, a vacuum cleaner, or alot of land for agriculture as an avocation or for making money, let them pay for it. I may support some of these and not others, depending on my affinities. On the other hand, I want the whole community to be collectively responsible for basic nutritional needs, soil fertility, tools and labor for the land that provides those needs, and basic communal shelter for people. The freedom each individual gains from such an arrangement seems worth it to me.

Feeding people vs protecting wildlife and biodiversity: I saw this tradeoff being bitterly discussed at Earthaven. I fall on the side of feeding humans first, protecting wildlife second. That does not mean that I don't care about wildlife and will try as much as possible to protect it. There is also the issue that relying on the current food system may be even more harmful to the wild than clearing some wilderness around us in order to feed ourselves.