Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Whole Elephant

In my last post I mentioned that I was working on a presentation for a table at Eugene’s Neighborhood Green Faire. It was last Saturday, and it went well I thought. People took 49 of the flyers I created home with them, and paused to read a lot of the 3-sided poster board I put together.  I also got into some great conversations with people, a few of whom self-identified as anarchists or professed leanings in that direction.

Most of these folks had just listened to a “what’s ahead and why” talk by peak oil expert and author Richard Heinberg, ending with suggestions that we’re going to have to downsize, simplify, and come together. I tried to lead them from that into the need for a radically different way of doing things politically and socially.

I’m more convinced than ever that we’re going to have to start knowing, caring about, and taking care of each other. One young woman who stopped by the EMAS table told me, for example, that she and her 8-year-old son had been living in their van for over a year due to her extended unemployment. She held her head high, but there was a quiver in her lips and a brightness in her eyes that spoke of the difficulty of feeling good about oneself in the midst of what our society tells us, self-servingly, is personal “failure.” It’s not; this woman’s situation is the result of a society, an economy, and a culture that’s serving fewer and fewer. She wants to work, and a grassroots network of caring people that’s created an alternative currency, cottage industries, and a just way of sharing its resources will enable her to do so.

Another woman who works with disabled people painted a picture of folks without friends or relatives nearby who can’t work or get along at home without help. Little by little, government is dropping them by the wayside, too. We, their neighbors, have to take up that slack.

Some of the people who stopped by the table, including some I know, thought they got – instantaneously –  what EMAS was all about. They didn’t — a lot of it would have been brand new to them, had they taken the time to read or hear about it. New and valuable, despite being outside their normal frames of reference. Our name, traditionally anarchist, but a little vague for the uninitiated, was part of the problem. “Crime prevention, right?” was one man’s take. “That could be part of it,” I replied. Another man read a bit of the poster and assumed our main focus was “skill building,” what he does with teenagers. Another part of the picture, but not the whole of it. Remember the story about the blindfolded people touching one part of an elephant, but not getting to see the whole animal? Well, this elephant may be outside your usual frames of reference, but it could save and enhance your life in the years to come. After all, it’s our normal frames of reference that have gotten us into the fix we’re in!

I was excited to meet some likeminded folks at a nearby table who are presenting a “fully participatory,” “open space” event in a few weeks on working “toward a more resilient community and bioregion.” They’re also interested in developing a gift economy, and through that creating real relationships and community. The young man I spoke with, Eamon, didn’t seem to have heard of Genevieve Vaughan’s work on the subject, but he was wonderful to talk to, his handsome young face shining with love and spirit. He’s working on computer software for a community gifting system called Kindista. You can check all this out at

The future is, at least partly, in our hands — and in our hearts. As I said to everyone last Saturday, “Thanks for your interest.”



We need a new culture!

Wow…it’s been 6 weeks since my last blog post, a period of just trying to make it from day to day; of total immersion in self, friends, and family…energy and enthusiasm in short supply.

But reading a book on the history of anarchism and preparing to host a Eugene Mutual Aid Society table at a “Green Faire” tomorrow has revived my revolutionary, or at least evolutionary, spirit. I put together a presentation for the latter that emphasizes preparing for “energy descent” (peak oil, high gas prices), economic contraction or collapse, or whatever else may come down the pike — perhaps the west coast’s 1,000-year earthquake. Not in individual survivalist or “green lifestyle” middle-class homeowner mode, but together, in groups, as a community, using the anarchist principle of mutual aid. That is, or would be, revolutionary!

As my 3-sided poster to put on the table says, “Mutual aid societies are formed by people in free and voluntary association, who agree to abide by the unwritten mutual aid agreement: ‘If you’re in need, I’ll help you; if I’m in need, I trust you to help me,’ and ‘I agree to meet my own needs to the best of my ability.’ There are other things on the poster, too, about forming affinity groups;  meeting with them to talk about helping each other be more self-sufficient; and networking with other groups, using the sppkescouncil model. Nothing too alarming, though I did throw in a little section about anarchism at the bottom.

But think about the mutual aid thing for a minute. Done right, done fully, it’s communism. Not communism as in the Soviet Union or Red China, but in the true, idealistic sense of the word: putting everything you have in the pot to share. Common ownership of land, factories, and other resources — not by a party run by bosses, but by democratic local assemblies or spokescouncils. Only “owning” your house — which you’d share, if big enough, for as long as you needed to live in it.

I think this kind of economic equality is necessary for democracy, because political rights are worthless if you’re sick, hungry, broke, or homeless. It’s also necessary for peace, and for us to mature into fully adult humans. It can’t be arrived at by a violent revolution — we can only have it by deciding voluntarily to share and be truly caring and generous over and over, every day. This would be quite a change for us “I’ve got mine, and I can’t afford to care about you” Americans. We might be able to ease into it gradually by following the example of small groups who’ve already done or are doing it. More likely, the collapse of the economy will force us into it, or something much worse, all of a sudden. Either way, this is what I think the immediate or near future will ask of us. And we’ll say “yes,” if we want to live up to our full potential, ethically and spiritually.

I say all this having just asked my housemate of three years to leave, because I’m tired of sharing space with her (or probably anyone) 24/7. We were going to have a “community” of two, and “learn about sharing,” but we ended up with a landlord-tenant relationship, stilted “How are you?”s and “Have a good morning”s, and petty grievances about cooking odors and crumbs on the kitchen counter. By ending our house-sharing arrangement now, I think we may be able to save our friendship, and actually enjoy spending time together again here and there.

I think it would have been easier for both of us if we’d been on a par financially and both owned a share of the house, but either way, sharing’s hard — at least for folks raised in this culture. When we try it we end up worrying about whether we’ll have enough for ourselves — enough solitude and privacy in my case, perhaps enough to eat in a future example. We also worry about whether others are putting the same amount of effort into the common project. My housemate never offered to mow the lawn, for example, even though she enjoyed the yard’s beauty, and I never saw her sweep or vacuum the kitchen or living room. That’s no way to form community. The question of the future may be whether we should feed an able-bodied person who hasn’t worked, or worked hard enough, to support the community.

I say, “We need a new culture,” because I think a lot of this is cultural. After toddlerhood, our culture stopped encouraging us to share. And it presents no models of true sharing or caring. Change is hard, but the difficulties we’ll have in learning to share pale in comparison — at least for me — with the pain of knowing that, because resources aren’t shared equally now, people, including children, are suffering and dying unnecessarily — while we or our children or grandkids buy more toys and luxuries with which to entertain ourselves.

I get impatient, because I’ve held these beliefs for 50 years — and tired, because I’m 68 years old, and sometimes feeling that age. I’m excited that some of the things I’ve been thinking about for so long may finally be coming to fruition, at least here and there. And I also feel that most of this will be for folks younger than me to do. I think the role of elders is to withdraw more and more from the fray, and meditate, wander around the garden, paint a picture or write a poem, enjoy present moments, and prepare for death by spending more and more time on soulful things, big and small.

But that’s another great thing about anarchism — I don’t have to do more than one person’s share, because the rest of you are responsible, thinking adults, too, and in whatever way you see fit, you’re doing and will do yours…I also believe everyone will have an elder’s share of leisure time in the sort of local community economy I have in mind. What’s not to like?