Originally posted July 31, 2013
Happiness means being whole and being part of. It is music—even a single note is not without context—and it is a paradox. We in the west conflate the idea of being whole with being independent—usually through wealth accumulation. This makes it very difficult to be part of anything and, thus very difficult to be happy. My friend Bill Jordan, an ecological philosopher, author of the wonderful book, The Sunflower Forest, likes to recount Reagan’s deeply troubling vision for America: the commitment to the idea that what America is about is creating a society in which the pursuit and achievement of wealth is paramount. For Bill this meant a watering down of rich relationships and a thinning of the social fabric. “A relationship mediated abstractly [with cash]”, he tells me, “replaces the emotionally rich, though challenging, relationships” of community. After all, once you pay someone, you have no further obligation to them. The relationship becomes, says Bill, “terminal”.
The word “finance”, from which most wealth is derived nowadays, comes from Middle French meaning “ending, settlement of a debt (13c)” nothing further required. It is “final”. When brought into English in the mid 15th Century it meant “ransom.” “Fin” comes from Latin, meaning “end”, of course, and this derives from the Greek telos, which is the intentional end, the aim towards which one deploys his means in life.  The words we use tell us a lot about ourselves, and the world we live in—upon reflection. It’s not too much to say that bankers’ telos is to accumulate wealth by holding us all for ransom. Think also of the now ubiquitous avoidance of taxes by wealthy individuals and corporations. These are simply financial machinations to increase wealth by minimizing any obligation to the society they live in—the very one that enabled their wealth in the first place. It is an intentional—and unconscionable—thinning of the social fabric.
And so Bill tells the story of Thoreau borrowing an ax from his neighbor and returning it well cared for, “…I returned it sharper than I received it,” said Thoreau.  And so that relationship continued. In fact, because the ax was returned a better tool, progress had been achieved. “This is a very interesting passage from Walden,” says Bill, “because Thoreau thought his borrowing of the ax was a generous act on his part, giving his neighbor a chance to participate in the adventure at Walden Pond.” That may sound strange but if you think about it a bit, you’ll see that it’s critically important. Thoreau wanted to be whole and he wanted to be part of—this was his telos. He achieved that to a large degree by borrowing an ax from his neighbor. He didn’t buy one himself.
To be whole and to be part-of, that’s my telos. Maybe it’s yours too.
There is something intrinsically problematic with wealth—you know it, you can feel it even as you desire it. Wealth debilitates people, sets them apart, impedes their vision and fills them with foolish and often very dangerous ideas. Few can survive its effects. Wealth promotes crippling independence and hubris enough to cripple others. What about philanthropy by the wealthy—isn't that to be praised and appreciated? True philanthropy exists, but probably not in the manner you might think. Most often it’s a soft and not-so-soft tyranny. Bill Gates, et al, are no heroes of mine. In fact most philanthropists are the new adjunct architects of our world—which, I think, we can all agree, is a mess.
In a recent NYT Op-ed piece Warren Buffet’s son is quite damning of the whole thing, arguing that many wealthy folks throw a pittance towards solving the very problems they caused. He even calls philanthropy, “The Charitable-Industrial Complex”. He’s exactly right, and it is one of the ironies of our present day that broad policy discussion and debate have been largely replaced by the egoistic faux-generosity of these charlatan nouveau-do-gooders who think they know what’s best for everyone. What they are actually doing, of course, is perpetuating the system that has rewarded them—a system that has created massive inequality, widespread anxiety and dis-ease, and brought us to the point of ecological collapse. Think about this: if someone has made it to the top in a severely dysfunctional world, isn’t it likely that they’re one of the world’s most dysfunctional people?
Much of today’s philanthropy is yet another, and deeply pernicious, form of privatization, further strengthening the plutocracy. Peter Buffett, son of renown investor Warren Buffet, thinks so and more. He questions ideas of progress, fundamentally, and flatly says that “we need to try out concepts that shatter current structures and systems that have turned much of the world into one vast market.”
This is the work of the Tecumseh Project, and if you’re a reader, maybe it’s your work too. The Tecumseh Project calls for the peaceful overthrow of these malignant interests by enabling people, us, to see the wisdom in dropping out of their system, repudiating its underlying values thereby strengthening ourselves, our neighbors and our planet. We can, and must, tell ourselves and each other a better, more human story. A new human narrative of authentic concert.
Below is a PBS Newshour report, Money on the Mind, about the research being done by Paul Piff at UC Berkeley on the effects that wealth has on ordinary folks, and the characteristics of wealthy people themselves. You may find the results surprising. But as for me, I’m not surprised that my wise friend Bill is exactly right.
 Jordan, William R. III, PhD. The Sunflower Forest: Ecological Restoration and the New Communion with Nature. University of California Press, 2003. About which Michael Pollan says, “Ecological restoration is one of today’s most constructive, hopeful, and provocative environmental movements and William Jordan III is its leading visionary.”
 http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=finance&allowed_in_frame=0 accessed January 14, 2013
 Thoreau, Henry David. Walden Pond, Modern Library Edition, page 36 (Original publication 1854)
The Pathology of the Rich White Family:
This week on Occupy Radio Laura Hanna of StrikeDebt.org explains the concept of a debt strike and the power of collective debt--a growing movement of debt resistors refusing to repay their debt to a failing system.
Published: March 21, 2015 at Nation of Change...
Get involved in this movement...education debt is not just a "failing system", but a corrupt immoral system that enriches the few while impoverishes the many. Surprised?
Strike Debt: don't settle for less...
By Sam Bliss on 9 Mar 2015 56 comments
The sharing economy is bullshit. Airbnb is a rental broker. Uber and Lyft are unregulated cab services. Taskrabbit and similar “servant economy” enterprises let well-off people pay less well-off people to do their chores — without providing anyone the benefits and security of traditional employment.
“Sharing” has been appropriated and stripped of all meaning by people trying to sell you things, much like sustainability was. Once “green” became hip and important about a decade ago, corporate bigwigs started preaching about sustainable profits and misleading eco-labels got slapped on single-use disposable plastic water bottles. These days, share-washing is the new greenwashing.
A recent piece in The Nation indicted the so-called sharing economy on multiple counts:
The sharing economy is a nice way for rapacious capitalists to monetize the desperation of people in the post-crisis economy while sounding generous, and to evoke a fantasy of community in an atomized population. …
[I]t sees us all as micro-entrepreneurs fending for ourselves in a hostile world. … You may lack health insurance, sick days, and a pension plan, but you’re in control.
Of course, platforms like Airbnb and Spinlister, an app for sharing bicycles, dodemonstrate something positive: People are willing to share, even with strangers.
And sharing, real sharing, is important. Sharing more could allow humanity as a whole to consume less, hopefully shrinking our economy’s voracious appetite for materials and energy. Thus far, resource use has accelerated in tandem with economic growth.
Sharing can help us achieve economic degrowth in consumption and production — and the wastes that come with them, like carbon emissions — while maintaining quality of life, or even improving it with more social interactions and stronger community relationships. (Watch degrowth explained with orange juice.) One reason I like the term “degrowth” is that it isn’t likely to be co-opted by profit-oriented companies anytime soon, since enterprises are mostly forced to grow or die in our fiercely competitive economy.
Let’s reclaim “sharing” by contrasting the real sharing economy with the bullshit sharing economy. A real sharing entity enables a group of people to collectively create a good or service and then share the results equitably. A real sharing enterprise isn’t driven by profits for shareholders; it’s driven by sharing resources, knowledge, and decision-making responsibilities. This post introduces a series of stories about real communities creating the real sharing economy.
On a bigger scale, sharing wealth more even-handedly is the only way to decrease the world’s enormous economic inequality. We’ve made huge gains in establishing civil rights for women, people of color, and LGBTQ communities, but we won’t achieve true social justice until the economic pie is divided up more fairly.
And sharing power more democratically is the only way to fix our broken political system. As is, money moves resources and buys political outcomes — and it’s mostly in the hands of a few filthy-rich plutocrats.
In fact, an organization called Share the World’s Resources recently released a report arguing that sharing can be the idea that brings together social, economic, and ecological movements in a grand alliance. Imagine Black Lives Matter, thefossil fuel divestment crusade, and the smoldering embers of Occupy joining forces to fight for a real sharing economy.
“If you take a look at any of the serious problems we face as a society, from global climate change to pandemics to developing new energy sources, I would argue that they have to be solved cooperatively,” says Josh Farley, professor of ecological economics at the University of Vermont. “There is no competitive solution.”
Troublingly, a grow-grow-grow economy makes us all more reliant on money. Real sharing economy projects make money less important, like the Buy Nothing groups on Facebook and tool-lending libraries that Grist already writes about.
“What we need to do is develop models of a cooperative economy that can be scaled up to address these global problems, but we’ve got to start locally,” says Farley. “I really think we’ve got to start developing those new approaches very soon, and figure out what scales up.”
Hence this series. These “degrowth in action” stories will explore a bike cooperative, an urban food forest, and a community solar program — all in Grist’s backyard of Seattle.
Most people in the climate movement aren’t yet on board with the degrowth concept — that is, if they’ve even heard of degrowth — despite agreeing with many of its objections to our economic system and ideas about how to transform the world economy. Somehow, many still believe the myth that endless, exponential economic expansion is compatible with saving the climate. But if climate hawks can see real-life examples of degrowth, they might come to see its potential for creating a fairer society and cleaner environment.
Barbara Muraca, a degrowth activist and environmental philosophy professor at Oregon State University, calls these sharing projects “laboratories of social innovation.” They test out new ways of living together and prove that sharing works. “People learn to live differently because they do it, not just because they think about doing it,” she says.
Planting the seeds of a real sharing economy is no easy task. But it’s easier to share the work than go it alone.
More in the The real sharing economy series
Salam, shalom, paz, amani, síochána,pokój, pace, frieden, anachemowegan, iríni, baké, paix, śānti, Kedamaian
Kevin Frayer, a regular contributor to the 20 photographs, was covering the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Here, a young couple wear gas masks as they pose for a wedding photographer prior to their marriage.
Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty
by David Graeber, London School of Economics, author of Debt: The First 5000 Years (Melville House 2011) and The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement (Random House 2013).
Graeber's work aligns closely with the work of the tecumseh project and so this is must read partial repost from The Baffler, no. 22, 2013 for all who are interested.
What is a revolution? We used to think we knew. Revolutions were seizures of power by popular forces aiming to transform the very nature of the political, social, and economic system in the country in which the revolution took place, usually according to some visionary dream of a just society. Nowadays, we live in an age when, if rebel armies do come sweeping into a city, or mass uprisings overthrow a dictator, it’s unlikely to have any such implications; when profound social transformation does occur—as with, say, the rise of feminism—it’s likely to take an entirely different form. It’s not that revolutionary dreams aren’t out there. But contemporary revolutionaries rarely think they can bring them into being by some modern-day equivalent of storming the Bastille.
Already by the time of the French Revolution, Wallerstein notes, there was a single world market, and increasingly a single world political system as well, dominated by the huge colonial empires. As a result, the storming of the Bastille in Paris could well end up having effects on Denmark, or even Egypt, just as profound as on France itself—in some cases, even more so. Hence he speaks of the “world revolution of 1789,” followed by the “world revolution of 1848,” which saw revolutions break out almost simultaneously in fifty countries, from Wallachia to Brazil. In no case did the revolutionaries succeed in taking power, but afterward, institutions inspired by the French Revolution—notably, universal systems of primary education—were put in place pretty much everywhere. Similarly, the Russian Revolution of 1917 was a world revolution ultimately responsible for the New Deal and European welfare states as much as for Soviet communism. The last in the series was the world revolution of 1968—which, much like 1848, broke out almost everywhere, from China to Mexico, seized power nowhere, but nonetheless changed everything. This was a revolution against state bureaucracies, and for the inseparability of personal and political liberation, whose most lasting legacy will likely be the birth of modern feminism.At moments like this, it generally pays to go back to the history one already knows and ask: Were revolutions ever really what we thought them to be? For me, the person who has asked this most effectively is the great world historian Immanuel Wallerstein. He argues that for the last quarter millennium or so, revolutions have consisted above all of planetwide transformations of political common sense.
A quarter of the American population is now engaged in “guard labor”—defending property, supervising work, or otherwise keeping their fellow Americans in line.
Until 1968, most world revolutions really just introduced practical refinements: an expanded franchise, universal primary education, the welfare state. The world revolution of 1968, in contrast—whether it took the form it did in China, of a revolt by students and young cadres supporting Mao’s call for a Cultural Revolution; or in Berkeley and New York, where it marked an alliance of students, dropouts, and cultural rebels; or even in Paris, where it was an alliance of students and workers—was a rebellion against bureaucracy, conformity, or anything that fettered the human imagination, a project for the revolutionizing of not just political or economic life, but every aspect of human existence. As a result, in most cases, the rebels didn’t even try to take over the apparatus of state; they saw that apparatus as itself the problem.
Debt cancellation would make the perfect revolutionary demand.
Continue reading at The Baffler
Eugene Fama Nobel Prize
Postnatural; Epistemology; Ocean Acidification; Narcissus; Carbon; Climate Change; Jevon's Paradox