The last few weeks have been a great learning and a great challenge. Remember the date of my last blog post? December 3. That was right after LAPD came down from Dodger Stadium and did their best to put the idea of open society, at least on the steps of City Hall, into indefinite detention. Not that it was their doing entirely, and not that it was necessarily their personal will to do so.
I was there, very much a part of it, playing cat and mouse with the best of the Boys in Blue. I had just wanted to attend the General Assembly after the Philip Horvath install but fate had an encore performance waiting in the wings.
The whole ordeal left me grieving, looking within, feeling at times heartbroken, betrayed, liberated, uncertain, helpless, compelled to act, even as I worked on a two week, weekend-less tear, building in the interim a tree house with the O2 Treehouse crew (pics coming soon), recovering from a computer virus and dropping a pair of hanging gardens at the Dance to Freedom Winter Solstice event while running all night on fumes, finally catching my breath here on the Sugar Shack rooftop on Christmas Day. Whew!
You might think of it this way; last night I had a dream in which I was driving with a friend in a pickup truck that had no brake pedal, and whose gear stops were marked all wrong – think “Drive” meaning “Neutral” – maybe. As I found myself in the truck, I was in the backseat, him “driving” from the passenger seat, his left hand occasionally adjusting the steering wheel and nobody in the driver’s seat at all. Somehow he was making it work, somehow getting us up the highway, and it seemed an incomprehensible magic.
Once upon a time I would have been content to sit there in the backseat, admiring his … what? Genius? Charisma? Balls? … and wondering what was wrong with me that I didn’t have the same. But this time I had to taste the experience of driving. I was afraid of course but it was a matter of my manhood. It was a matter of laying on my deathbed someday and saying “I don’t have any regrets.” It was a matter of getting to learn what there was to learn, of getting to fulfill my promise as a human being in this lifetime.
So I offered to drive at our first stop and took the wheel. I managed to get the vehicle out of the driveway and onto the street. Except when I pressed where the brake should be, the vehicle would accelerate backwards.
I had no control, yet I discovered there was help. The help too was confusing, but there were people suddenly about, offering some sort of guidance about how to control the vehicle and pushing from outside so that it would stop or steer in the right direction. I sensed that I might be able to control the vehicle when I did the incomprehensible: trust, practice discipline and pay attention while sitting in that moving deathtrap… and I even felt a little sad that I hadn’t taken the chance earlier.
And wasn’t it a bit obvious how out of practice I was, that I was just getting it now? But then maybe that moment of shame was really the price of admission, the sign that I had for the first time truly committed to the drive. This is perhaps, what it is to be alive.
So what does the dream have to do with the promise behind Occupy, or with getting Vertecology to full-throttle? Maybe lots.
I spent quite a bit of time after the Occupy raid thinking about how it might have gone had I been more prepared and thus not been totally out of my head for the first hour after the cops showed up. I saw with some bitterness the excuses and paradigms that we free Americans have bought all our lives about how life goes: that punishment, outcomes and the monolithic power of “the system” are inevitable and saviors are on the way when they aren’t. And I began to see that perhaps it has been those assumptions that have kept us from trusting, practicing, paying attention… and growing in our abilities long before Occupy was a glimmer the media chose to ignore.
What if the Occupiers had met the LAPD with utter silence throughout the raid, those on the front lines calmly looking into the eyes of the police with the same discipline that the police themselves held? Or what might have happened had a contingent of Occupiers realized that there is only one road out of Dodger Stadium and simply parked five vehicles across the already police-barricaded lanes and lay down in the road when the scanners got busy? Maybe they might have stalled the raid long enough for the sun to rise and rush hour to begin. What if I personally had planned in advance to get arrested and effectively gain a microphone thereby, preparing my community, setting it up the way one plans a two week vacation and returning to a world that planted gardens in the streets just because I asked? Why hadn’t I thought of these things in time, or been able to communicate them effectively to the thousands of others there with me? I had had the sense to meditate through my fear and dispel it and have a liberating personal experience, and yet, why hadn’t I become clear enough to change the outcome that night rather than maybe at some indefinite point in the future?
What has begun to release me from the grief is the understanding that the what-if scenarios would have been second grade responses, though we were effectively in the first grade. We can be expected in the first grade to add and subtract but not to do calculus; to effectively show the general public that they are not alone, and to reveal the bitterness we have all been tasting as a Great Betrayal and not our own failure for not being marketable commodities. We cannot yet be expected to create an open society so compelling that the LAPD forgets its lines, though as long as we keep our eyes on the road and not what we did wrong, calculus and an “A” on the exam are coming. We all have a much richer understanding of the game than we did three months ago and my what-if scenarios, once they’re uncoupled from beating myself up, point clearly in the direction of my commitment.
In the dream of the pickup truck I got a gentle reminder that the knowledge of how to do anything, whether it’s building an open society that makes its opposition forget their lines or building a brand capable of helping ease that open society into being… comes with a lot of practice on the field of play and a lot of patience with ourselves. It’s actually good news that I’m feeling lost on how to drive the truck, for now I’m testing the controls rather than living the illusion that it’s obvious or obviously magic, and that either way I “should” already know. I’m actually more empowered though I may feel less so.
And so we sit here sandwiched between the Dawn of the Age of Aquarius and the dawn of 2012, and to some of you that may mean everything, and to some of you nothing at all, nevertheless, it’s a great time to be sharing this insight with you. I am humbled and yet more than ever noticing the texture of the gravel under my feet on the road to greatness (or whatever it is). Everything from a new mounting system for the Hanging Garden dreamed up as a matter of necessity on Solstice night to building an open society worthy of who we are, and everything in between, is a challenge worth taking on. Let it be a year of evolving our way home. (It can be no other way of course, just sayin’ 🙂 ).
While I’ve got several projects in the pipeline and lots to blog about on that front, I’m taking a break to critique the groundbreaking book I just read – Thomas Greco’s The end of Money and the Future of Civilization.
While the plan around Vertecology is to make some money, the plan within the plan is to help us all transition beyond the need for it. Until we’ve done that, we won’t have a regenerative or creative society and it’s not a problem of the left or right but a fundamental design problem. The current economic regime is a boat with a hole in it. Until that’s dealt with, the boat will sink, no matter whether it’s piloted by the red or the blue.
While politicians haw about “jobs, jobs, jobs” and imaginary debt ceilings, the “money system” as currently structured is a resource bottleneck. While there is plenty of computing power, steel, bamboo, sun, biomass, mulch… The millions of people with arms and legs and nimble minds ready and willing to do the real work to be done with the resources sitting all around them are left instead begging for jobs in cities where it’s illegal to grow fruit trees on public property for fear of litigation. And so the factories sit idle, or worse, make things that make life more difficult for all of us.
There are of course plenty of people who would empower the willing, give access to the tools and space they need to unfold truly beneficial skill and innovation. But they can’t afford it.
I’ve built treehouses for the children of the ultra-rich in Bel Air. I’ve also built for the destitute in post-quake Haiti. While both have presented awesome design challenges, it’s pretty easy to guess which has brought greater financial reward, greater “incentive,” and even “smart, realistic” encouragement from well-meaning loved ones. Spirituality aside, it’s pretty apparent who and what gets rewarded, and who we all end up working for.
Continue the trend long enough and you get the well intentioned of our world crying “I need a job,” crime, clear-cutting and corporations externalizing costs. You get televised false advertising 24/7, “I ain’t got time to garden” and kids who think veggies come from plastic wrappers and who never met their fathers. It starts to look like the good ol’ USA, the richest, freest, fattest nation on Earth.
So what comes after? The End of Money and the Future of Civilization explores the “money problem” and its history, and offers some compelling and potentially real world solutions. While the proposals have also left me with questions, I am ecstatic to have in Greco such a brilliant and capable partner in this grand inquiry, perhaps the most important of our time. (Click here to check out his blog… At last I know I’m not the only one celebrating “bad” economic news these days).
Greco defines the money problem as having two major components. One is that currency is politically controlled. Just as church and state were once joined, such it still is with money. You have one official state currency, which can only be issued by a state sanctioned central bank. Legal tender laws require that the currency be accepted by all parties at face value, no matter whether they find the currency credible, and all value is calculated in terms of the official currency. Whether the bank is privately owned or state owned makes no difference as it’s a monopoly in either case.
This setup enables the bank/state cartel to issue (debt) money out of thin air, hold its tax base accountable for paying the made-up bills, set the terms for getting credit, manipulate the economy in favor of those who can pay to manipulate the economy, and quash all alternatives.
The second part is that usury is built-in. The central bank prints money to cover state debt, but does so at interest, creating the inevitable situation that there will never be enough money in the world to pay all the debts that are owed, and what goes for the beleaguered state must trickle down to the taxpayer, who buys a house, goes to the bank, and has a 1 in 10 chance of foreclosure on the bank’s terms. The economy must grow to cover all this debt, meaning it must generate more debt to pay for the debt.
The solution offered comes first with the separation of money and state. Trying to do this politically is like trying to swim up a waterfall, so it’s best to create viable competing alternative systems that stay under the radar until they hit critical mass in the marketplace.
Once the monopoly has been dislodged, “monetary” systems would be left competing like any other product in the market. The most empowering setups would presumably win, and money-as-credit, once decentralized could become the most empowering setup. Credit clearing exchanges such as the former Swiss Economic Circle now known as the WIR Bank and the mercados de trueque that held the Argentine economy together while the state currency collapsed in the 1990’s could become the norm, small pods of prosumers (producer/consumers) creating credit networks that link together into worldwide exchanges. Each joins and offers his products and services and with usury out of the equation, the “money” supply always matches the actual products and services available.
Awesome, but I’ve got questions. I’ll pose them here in hopes of drumming up an interesting discussion. While I like the idea of letting currency systems compete in the marketplace, and the idea of credit-clearing networks, intuition tells me to look from a wider angle, that this approach can well replace the current financial regime, but that is not the whole solution. After all, credit-clearing systems in the current cultural context might still have reason to be manipulated, mismanaged or politically suppressed (and have been, as Greco himself has noted). As our capitalist economy has shown, people get greedy when their survival is on the line (regardless if the threat is real or imaginary).
I certainly don’t have a full understanding of what exactly would happen if the de-politicized global credit clearing genie were let out of the bottle. Maybe no one does. Maybe the explosive growth of internet phenomena like Facebook can provide a case study, maybe not. That’s why I want to jump into discussion and exploration.
I’m thinking from the permaculture principle of redundancy. Build multiple redundancies into the ecosystem you’re designing. Make sure you’ve got multiple sources of water, not just one, that way if one fails, well, you get the picture.
In that sense we’d include experimentation with credit-clearing networks on the free market, where it’s appropriate to use commerce to get what we want and need, and also make that but part of a larger strategy. We’d also go beyond thinking of the “money problem” in monetary terms so we can solve it. Perhaps there is also fundamental cultural evolution that must occur so that the system of energy exchange can take its rightful place in society, be an organ that serves, rather than devours people, communities and the planet.
Commerce is just an evolutionary strategy, an ecological adaptation. We trade things because it enables us to expend less energy than we would otherwise have to. As long as it’s efficient for us, it makes sense to trade. When it ceases to be more efficient for us, it no longer makes sense. As we widen our view and look upon the state of our world today, we are beginning to see that threshold. And a strategy is not who we are; it is just what we do.
So I’ve thought of “money problem” solution as a spiral. As we advance up the spiral, less and less depends upon the “economy” as we now understand it:
First, getting basic food requirements out of the currency-exchange equation – make food free for everyone – goes a long way to eliminating our dependence on money for immediate survival. While this may sound impossible to some, it can be easily achieved with cultural willingness, ecological literacy and techne (the Greek root for technique and technology, most simply, the knowledge of how to make things). One study considers that the arable land needed to feed an adult human being is about 1,000 square feet, if organic methods are used.
If permaculture principles are intelligently applied, then the land can produce until the next comet strike or alien invasion, and in such a way that when the ecosystem is mature on the land, there’s just some human guidance required and sustenance for the wildlife too. Even in the far north, people have been feeding themselves for generations, and with food forestry in modern urban cultures, the pressures on their lands will diminish considerably. It does take labor, of course, just not money.
Even more critical of course is water, but this is at the same point on the spiral because wise design for food takes care of water. Plants keep water on the land; then there’s just a need to harvest, filter, cleanse and replenish it, all of which can be handled via the ecosystem services that give us the food. Such systems also restore soil, pull carbon and pollutants out of the atmosphere, get us outside and exercising and meeting neighbors, reduce our dependence on big pharma, big ag and big oil, restore our relationship with nature and spirit, and provide endless opportunities for educating children.
Moving beyond this point on the spiral, society gets a little more courageous, since we don’t need the jobs as bad. We can blow the whistle, which hastens the next level of the spiral – energy. When we can get energy out of the money system, our means and volume of production will become consistent with real need and imagination, rather than balance sheet expectations. I’m not going to advocate for one kind of energy production here; I will only say that what we pull out of the field of endless possibility, once the groping hands of big oil have lost their ability to control our politics and pocketbooks will be contextually appropriate and consistent with our true science and values.
With our ingenuity, we will surely in time come up with automated, sustainable energy production, and with free energy, we advance further up the spiral toward ubiquitous, but also authentically appropriate decentralized DIY manufacturing. Since manufacturing will always involve human imagination and effort, exchange will always be involved, but by this point there’s far more incentive for that to become honest, equitable, mutually empowering and ecologically sustainable.
Next on the spiral comes health. As energy and manufacturing are liberated, medicine will become far more open source. Combine this with freer time, functioning ecologies and communities, organic food and medical research’s decentralization and release from money-dependence, you get far healthier people. (See the research on blue zones). We will always need practitioners for certain issues and honor them with energy exchange, but the bill won’t give us a heart attack.
And how about land? That is certainly the most entrenched form of “property,” going back thousands of years. One could imagine it coming far sooner on the spiral, except for that very reason. Yet I imagine in the liberated environment made possible by uncoupling food, water, energy production and to some extent automated manufacturing from the system of commerce, creative and innovative arrangements even here will become a lot more plausible, an appropriate balance between the commons and private ownership rediscovered.
Part of my reason for starting Vertecology is to facilitate this spiraling process. 1,000 square feet doesn’t necessarily have to be all on the ground, and it can be artfully arranged. Free energy possibilities come in two forms really, both of which I am also exploring with gusto. One is conservation – transferring dependence from man-made systems like air-conditioning to naturally facilitated “passive” systems like solar chimneys. The other is energy production.
That said, I would love to hear response from Greco and others here, since from discussion can emerge more and more effective efforts in climbing the spiral. What I have to offer through Vertecology will be just one node in a whole ecosystem of efforts, skills, and approaches that will have to be engaged. Our two approaches can be complimentary, along with a host of others. Get the book to read for yourself here, and let the discussion, and the adventure continue.