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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?