An open space for global conversation
I would like to use our Monday Vital Conversation Cafe Call as a setting to explore the intersection of these two movements. We might even broaden the scope beyond Transition to include permaculture, climate and other related movements.
If this interests you, please contribute your thoughts here. We could start by identifying initiatives, gatherings and conversations that have already taken place or are in the works, such as the one in the UK that Anna Harris attended (or perhaps even helped to convene?). Based on a "map" of the current terrain, we can then consider what might be possible going forward, and perhaps also how the Cafe can serve to promote such synergies.
I just signed up with this group and don't know what has been discussed, other than Transition and the Alternet series. Anyway, thanks to you folks who put this site together. OCCUPY is still a baby learning about the world. These discussions really facilitate growth. For my part, I would like to address the obstacle that always seems to arise to challenge any approach on the macro level. That is the obstacle of money. Movements for local currency, cooperative business, ESOPs, buy local groups, and everything else done locally are great for those doing these things. Yet, when all is said and done, the macro-level operations of the largest corporations, hedge funds, and private equity firms; will be little affected and "lack of money" will remain between the 99% and the solutions they know they deserve. OCCUPY is challenging the status quo in myriad ways. We need to also challenge the argument that there is not enough money. It is the argument used most often to deflect the demands of the people - whatever their demands may be. The end result is the people are divided, and reduced to arguing between national defense needs, social program needs, environmental needs, and etc., etc. etc., No good. Money is a human invention. Humans should not be brought to ruin by their own invention.
Welcome, Christopher! I agree completely with what you write above. Your micro/macro concerns are one of the reasons I have not jumped into action with a local Transition group that is forming in my town, much as I applaud their willingness to take some initiative. And the artificial scarcity of money is indeed one of the core challenges we face. All this "austerity" is making it worse, of course. Meanwhile, there are a number of proposals for "reinventing money" floating around out there that go well beyond local currencies. What the path might be to implementing them remains to be seen. Most people can't imagine that such a thing might even be possible. That said, in Greece I hear that they're already deep into experiments with such alternatives, out of necessity.
So... this thread is actually about exploring the possibility of convening a dialogue that brings together participants from a variety of these strands of sustainability/new economy efforts, including Transition, Occupy and others. Initially, I thought we might just do one of our "Cafe Calls" around this. Now, I'm feeling more ambitious, if we can get the horses. Here in CT, there is interest in a state-wide gathering (in-person) along these lines. My fellow Occupy Cafe Steward Jitendra Darling is also looking at convening something similar in the Bay Area. I'll post some ideas for this broader inquiry below.
You are right Christopher, money is not wealth. You have to understand that the money system is used to regulate SCARCITY. That is it's function, so it is natural when it is used as the criterion that you will be arguing between different options.
But money does not give a true picture of wealth. It appears to rule the decisions made because we believe in it. Actually our wealth largely consists in the commons that I wrote about above. 'Resources that are fundamental to human life include both natural commons such as water, food, land, energy and the atmosphere, as well as man made commons, like technology, health, the internet and culture'.
For example the vast crowds of unemployed are actually a potential source of wealth, particularly given the necessity of transferring agricultural production from dependence on fossil fuels and machinery to labour intensive organic production. But instead they are seen as a drag on the economy.
Constructive and destructive projects are all lumped in together when national wealth is measured, which confuses the system even more. And the fact that money can be created as debt by banks means that money is not directly related to real wealth at all.
Some of the enterprises described in the Alternet series pointed to by Ben above, do offer a fairer and more equitable way of sharing profits. But many of these are just 'business as usual' under another name. A friend of mine who worked for the John Lewis Partnership experienced the same wage slavery as you would get in any other business enterprise, and had to leave. Many younger people are no longer content to devote their lives to a company because it gives them a share of the profits, when they see the huge discrepancy in salaries with those higher up the scale.
We are in a period of transition and we can't expect things to transform overnight. But we do need to know as it says at the end of the Alternet article, that we need a 'generative economy', one based on generosity and the recognition of the abundance that really exists behind the competition and scarcity which is the story our money economy sells us.
That's disappointing news about the JLP, which the Alternet piece holds out as a model business dedicated to "employee happiness." As you say, we don't know where this is going exactly, and there are many experiments under way.
It does seem to speak to macro-level concerns similar to what Christopher expressed. It gets so much harder to create structures at scale that maintain their humanity and an honest connection to the Earth. Transition seems to favor the idea that we can have a world that is almost entirely locally based. David Eggleton has been a major advocate of such thinking here at OC.org. Yet many of us doubt that this is possible, sufficient, or even desirable.
Taken to an extreme, you've got guys like Mark Boyle, "the moneyless man" whose story is being featured on transitionnetwork.org. He writes:
Practically speaking, there are many ways you can live moneyless. The purest (least dependent on the monetary economy you are trying to replace) of these is to do it Palaeolithic style. This involves foraging, hunting with stone-age weapons, flint-knapping and making your own shelter, cordage and so on. A difficult option in The Age of the Machine, but a beautiful one to strive for. One rung down from that is Permaculture, which I feel gives the best balance between realism and idealism. Finally, there is the mode of moneyless living that is fully embedded in industrialised society. This involves squatting, eating waste food, and using gift economy websites (such as Freeconomy, Freecycle, Couch-surfing and so on) to meet your needs.
Paleolithic style?! Bully for him, I say. But I fear that touting this as a solution is not only impractical but a total turn-off to most people in developed economies. There's got to be a more broadly appealing approach, and message!
Hi Anna ~ Yes, money is not wealth. I would alter your second sentence a little to read: Money is used to regulate perceived scarcity by giving an advantage to the wealthier citizens. I call it "perceived" scarcity because the World Game (and others) proved many decades ago that scarcity is a misperception. (Google "what the world wants" and click on the top result.) Arguing between different options is not natural. It is purely the result of accepting the assumption that there isn't enough money. The World Game proposed getting the money from the military budget. I'm all for that, but I think it is a difficult strategy because the military-industrial complex is extremely rich and powerful and able to create huge obstacles to that ever happening. It only takes a computer keystroke to create new money. The new money doesn't have to go through big banks. It could be held at the Treasury until it was sent to the state treasuries for job creation, infrastructure, and to meet educational and environmental needs. There is no inflation risk, no blowback to mitigate, and certain national prosperity in a year or less. ~ Chris
Alternative economies seem much more hopeful to me than the Occupy movement itself.
I've watched videos of Occupiers forming human barricades to protect store and bank windows, and seen many online condemnations by Occupiers of anarchists who use black bloc tactics to protect people from police brutality. Why do so many in the Occupy movement care more about property than about people?
There are too many Occupiers who don't really care what capitalist imperialism is doing to destroy life and the planet, they just want more rights, benefits, and privileges for themselves. They value property over people, property rights over human and environmental rights, and are making childish demands on a system that is oblivious to them, other than as justification to increase Homeland Security crowd control weapons budgets.They are not part of the global struggle for justice, they are it's enemy, part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
It is only by valuing people over profits that real change is possible. It doesn't happen by demanding that government and corporations do it, it happens when we do it ourselves.
Money has no intrinsic value, and often can become worth less or even worthless overnight. But a head of cabbage remains a head of cabbage and can be eaten, made into soup, used for healing purposes, canned, fermented, or traded for something else of real value. Alternative economies are based on real values. If we're to have any future at all, we have to reject synthetic values and return to real values.
When Occupy San Diego was being co-opted by Democrats and covert Democrats, people who insist on politics as usual, a small group calling themselves Occupy Garden went off and started planting a garden. They managed to get permission from San Diego City College, which already had an urban garden, to use a vacant plot of land. So far (knock wood), there hasn't been any police brutality at Occupy Garden or any attempt by the authorities to evict them or shut them down. You don't grow a movement by protesting, you grow a movement by growing food to feed it. You don't create jobs by asking government and corporations to create jobs, you create jobs by getting together and doing what needs to be done.
Capitalist imperialism is genocidal, unsustainable insanity. Reconomy is sanity. Capitalist imperialism is the real cancer on Occupy, on people, and on the planet. Reconomy is the natural cure. Millions of people are recovering from mass insanity and becoming sane. This is the path to hope and change. As the new systems flourish, the old failed systems will wither away and die.
Is it too late? That's something we can't know. At any moment the fuel pools at Fukushima's Unit 4 and other unsafe reactors could make the entire planet uninhabitable. All our organic gardens could become radioactive and inedible. Capitalism, based on profits and not caring about people, won't shut down reactors before they melt down, because they want to wring every last possible penny of profits from them. Yet Germany decided to shut down all its nuclear reactors anyway. It can happen. It is possible. It is a race between inhuman values and human values. And it is a race that we must win if we are to survive and leave behind a habitable planet for our children and grandchildren.
Hey, Mark. Nice to see you over here in this group. You do know that you're preaching to the choir, right?!
I like your story about the Occupy Garden group in San Diego. Shows how well aligned many Occupiers are with initiatives like Transition. So... speaking of "doing it ourselves," are you interested in being part of a core team to create a "Connect 2012: Occupy New Economy" inquiry along the lines I describe below?
Yes, I'd like that, Ben.
I liked the story of the moneyless man. He suggests different levels of moneyless living, and there are also transitioning communities where alternative currencies like time hours or exchange credits are used alongside money. But there does have to be some deviation from the old norms in order to change. People who want to hold on to all the wasteful conveniences we've become accustomed to, won't be able to change at all. Every time I see the world "prosperity," for example, I shudder.
It is quite possible to prosper without being prosperous. Comfortable living can be measured in terms of security of basic necessities, happiness, access to information, freedom of expression, and control of one's own time, rather than in stockpiling and owning things. I've seen people who worked hard all their lives so that they would be able to retire, die before they reached retirement age.
The US is supposedly a developed country, and many people here would certainly be turned off by simple living. In a recent talk to Occupy Portland, peace activist S. Brian Willson said, "Industrial civilization is on a collision course with life itself." Many of the things that people might not want to do without, are the things that are destroying the environment and killing us.
Yes, I know I'm preaching to the choir here, Ben, and that the "prosperity churches" are drawing much bigger crowds than we are. A lot of people are eager to trade their inheritance and that of their children for a mess of pottage or a handful of beads. I don't know if it's possible for me to talk with people who don't want to give up things like cars or cell phones that I've never had and don't want to have. We not only don't have the same values, we don't even seem to have a common language.
Hmmm... Where do we draw the line, Mark, and how do we work with people who want to draw it in a different way? I can't imagine that a set of rules about what one can and can't do/own/buy in order to be invited into the conversation will get us very far.
I don't want to give up my car or cell phone. They can be tools for transformation when used consciously. I'd prefer that they were made from sustainably sourced materials and powered by renewable energy. But I am quite aware that is not the case. And yet here you are, "talking" to me. For now, at least! In fact, I think you just volunteered to be part of a "core team" to move this inquiry forward.
I'm not a strict "Cornucopian" but I do believe that it's entirely possible we have the ability to maintain and provide something like the developed world's standard of living for all 7 billion people on this planet, IF we apply all the knowledge we have accumulated on "cradle to cradle" design, biomimicry, permaculture, etc. AND we fund global transformational initiatives instead of wars. OK, maybe we'll all have to eat a bit less meat than Americans do now too.
Lester Brown's Plan B series spells it out and even puts an annual price tag of just $187 billion/year (in 2008 dollars) on a set of global programs that would eradicate poverty and hunger, stabilize population, convert us to100% renewable energy, restore our forests and grasslands, provide universal education and more. That price tag represented about 13% of global military spending in 2008.
And France Moore Lappe argues, I think persuasively, that we really have no idea what we might be capable of collectively if we decided to create "a world that works for all" because we've barely tried thus far. That may be shifting now however, as more and more of us are awakening to the nightmare that is our current economic system (in part due to the efforts of people like yourself, who describe it so vividly).
Maybe we could, Ben. I live in a city and every time I look out my apartment window, or go outside, I see homeless people. I was homeless myself for many years. Maybe this country has the ability to house and feed the homeless, but it lacks the will. One of the things I used to wonder about when I was homeless was why cars got fed while people went hungry in this wealthy nation. Another thing not too many people know about:
There was a joint Swiss-American study in 1972. They went to a town in the Alps. Half the town was on one side of the top of a mountain and half the town was on the other side. One side was developed with lots of factories, roads, and vehicle traffic, and the other side was rural with farms, few roads, and only a few tractors. They found carcinogenic hydrocarbon particles at 500 parts per million on the developed side of town, but only 5 parts per million on the rural side. On both sides of town all the men smoked and none of the women smoked. There were ten times higher cancer rates for ALL types of cancer, including lung cancer, on the developed side of town, for both men and women, than on the rural side of town which was protected by the mountain from most of the hydrocarbon particles. So they've known at least since 1972 that smoking doesn't cause cancer, but it happens to be the designated scapegoat in this country and the health care industry won't look at anything else.
There are lots of things that cause lung cancer and while cigarette smoking can exacerbate them, it isn't one of them. But since our capitalist society can't blame radiation, factory and vehicle pollution, or any of the other toxic environmental causes of lung cancer, it always blames cigarette smoking. If somebody who never smoked and whose parents never smoked gets lung cancer at age twenty, the doctors say that it must be from second or third-hand smoke from a neighbor, classmate, or co-worker, because they don't dare blame or even look for any other cause except cigarettes. They had huge national campaigns to get people to stop smoking, but nobody would even consider a huge national campaign to get people to stop driving--the fossil fuel industries would never allow it. Besides, not allowing people to smoke in public places isn't considered to be an infringement on personal liberties, but not allowing people to pollute the air everyone breathes would be. Many large cities have "cancer alleys" where there are lots of factories, a lot of vehicle traffic, and clusters of childhood cancer. The medical advice for people who live in places like that is for them to move, but most can't afford to. Living in a large city is considered to be the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day for a non-smoker.
Think about it. Even if nobody smoked, but people continued to drive, everyone who lives in a city would continue to inhale the equivalent of two packs of cigarettes a day. What would that accomplish?
As for cell phones (as with e-readers, iPods, and other such devices), they cannot be manufactured without coltan, and coltan cannot be obtained from Africa without genocide.
I've read that about half of the US global carbon footprint comes from our military. We spend trillions on wars for oil because we need the oil to fuel the drones, planes, and tanks to wage the wars for oil to fuel the drones, planes and tanks to wage the wars for oil....
I agree with Frances Moore Lappe, particularly the book, Getting a Grip. We have the ability, we have the capacity, we lack only the will. But more than that, we in the US have no influence whatsoever on our government and no power over it. When the government funds wars and slashes social programs, we can moan and protest, but we can't stop it. The Constitution vested power in the hands of the government, not in the hands of the people. We do not have, and have never had, a democracy, but that's something else, another myth, that people have no desire nor will to give up.
When I was in high school, all my classmates aspired to owning cars. I looked at how people spent their days working to pay for the cars that were parked outside their workplaces all day, and decided that I didn't want to trade my life and my freedom for a car. I became homeless when I was a teenager and the first thing I did was renounce money. I'd been told that we can't live without money and I didn't want to live, so I thought that by not touching money, I'd soon die. That was when I was eighteen. I'm 72 now. Apparently the money myth was just another lie. After I few months without touching money, I realized that not having money wasn't going to kill me and stopped rejecting money completely, but it was never a goal for me to have money.
The US spends millions of dollars and uses all forms of covert interference to try to overthrow governments like Cuba and Venezuela that try to provide for the needs of their people instead of for the greed of wealthy capitalists. Economic embargoes, sanctions, and penalties are aimed at making such governments and their people suffer. Providing for the needs of the poor is considered to be a crime against capitalism and those who do it are called terrorists. If they provide free health care for their people, they are infringing on the profits of the big pharmaceutical corporations, and the US government will use all its political and military might to try to stop it.
This is a nightmare, Ben. I've always had my values straight, but I live in a society, a culture if you will, that does not. Anna Harris is one of my heroes. Anna has human, humane values and principles. But I've gotten into discussions here on OC with people who didn't have human, humane values, and come away very depressed. I've lived in third and fourth world countries in conditions that most USAmericans consider primitive, and I was happier than they are. I wasn't constantly frustrated at having to spend all my time doing things I didn't want to do in order to have things that I didn't need--I had everything I needed, food, clothing, shelter, etc., plus almost all my time free to enjoy life and to learn whatever I wanted to know. Yes, the food was simple, mostly rice, beans, and tortillas or flat bread plus seasonal fruits and veggies, but it always tasted good and I never got bored with it.
How can I be part of a core team when I'm not really living in the same world as other team members? Really, Ben, we don't have the same language, or else the words don't have the same meaning. I'm an elder now, and most people really do consider me to be "off my rocker." I think Gurdjieff described my condition as being "in the world, but not of it." I've said before that you have a genius for bringing people together and seeing where people who appear to differ can actually agree. Including me as a core team member is going to take every bit of that genius and maybe even that won't be enough. But I'm game if you are.
Well, Mark, I love a challenge! It would help if you decided to do your best to "work with me" on this too, of course!
Totally agree about the "will" being what's missing. I think that's connected to our lack of a clear vision for a future we all might desire. If the future we're calling people into is one where we all live on rice and beans without cars or cell phones, I think we're in trouble as far as getting mass buy-in.
Not that I'm poo-pooing your point about happiness not being dependent on material prosperity, mind you. If you have the discipline and the gumption for that, more power to you!
Still, there are alternative visions that are somewhat less ascetic. And there is the core insight of Lappe's that we don't really know what's possible so why not go for something we might all really want. Peace, joy and freedom are pretty much universal desires. We have fooled ourselves into thinking material things will give us those, or that we need to fight wars to keep what we have, or that capitalism is the only way to organize ourselves that "works." I think there is a mass awakening now to the fallacy of that thinking. So we're ready for that new vision to emerge.
You have my commitment to work with you, Ben.
As for mass buy-in, I don't think that's necessary. As capitalism fails, it pushes more and more people down and out. I remember some years back a journalist interviewed people on a soup line and one man said that he used to think people on soup lines were lazy bums who didn't want to work, but that his job was outsourced and now he knows it can happen to anyone. Radicals didn't convince him, persuade him, or change his mind, the system did. He didn't buy in to a new way of thinking, he was pushed out of his old way of thinking.
The next step is for people like that to discover that the processed GMO foods donated by supermarkets to the soup kitchens aren't as nutritious or as tasty as the vegan food donated by organic farmers and served by Food Not Bombs. That can't be done with arguments either--people have to actually taste the difference. We have access to a staggering variety of cuisines, but usually there are only a few things that we really like, consider comfort foods, and don't tire of.
People who give up watching TV usually find that their lives are enriched. What's really better, 500 channels with nothing on, or a computer where you can find what really interests you? People who use bicycles and public transportation instead of cars find themselves seeing and learning more about their environment and interacting more with other people. What I usually overhear people with cell phones on the bus saying is, "I'm on the bus. I'll be there in five minutes." How urgent is that? Add the cost of cable TV to the savings on gasoline and the cell phone bill, and you don't have to worry about finding money to do the things you want to do. Add those three things up and ask if you'd like to give yourself a raise of that much money every month. That doesn't take discipline or gumption, it can be done out of sheer selfishness. ;)