Family life without fossil fuels

SUBHEAD: A visit to the Possibility Alliance reminded me life can be slow and satisfying.

By Peter Kalmus on 7 August 2017 for Yes Magazine -

Image above: Porch with swing seat and bike at Possibility Alliance homestead. From original article.

The Possibility Alliance is a 110-acre homestead run by Ethan and Sarah Hughes. Their reliance on fossil fuels is limited to trains for long-distance trips, municipal water, and a telephone landline.

I stepped off the train in the farm town of La Plata, Missouri, with my 9-year-old son, Zane. Thomas was waiting to meet us with two well-maintained bikes, one with a trailer for our backpacks, the other with a long wooden seat for passengers, to make the 6-mile trip to the Possibility Alliance.

The PA is a 110-acre homestead run by Ethan and Sarah Hughes, who have two young daughters. Their reliance on fossil fuels is limited to trains for long-distance trips, municipal water, and a telephone landline.

They purchase bike parts, bulk grains, and tin roofing, as needed—but that’s about it.

No electricity, no gas, no cars, no planes.

With the imminent release of my book on how life using radically less fossil fuel turns out to be more satisfying, I’d been curious to visit the PA both to glean technical knowledge and—more importantly—to see whether their experience of increased joy and satisfaction matched my own.

While my stay was brief, it felt full in terms of the ingenuity, beauty, and love I experienced. The sun set as we biked from the train. A bit later, the land lit up with fireflies. With only candles to light the darkness, the stars and the quiet took center stage.

The next morning at dawn, I walked through the lush greens of gardens, orchards, pastures, and forests, then joined Ethan and other members of the community for an hour of meditation.

In addition to the Hughes family, the PA is home to two permanent members, Dan and Margaret, as well as two long-term visitors, Thomas and Maggie. Thousands of other visitors have come and gone over the years.

A few have settled on adjacent homesteads, while others left to start far-flung urban permaculture centers. All are contributing to a more beautiful and just world, as they feel uniquely called to do.

Ethan and Sarah have given away tens of thousands of trees and plants over the years—they are still in awe of nature’s abundance, the way life regenerates and propagates through time, a key difference between a tractor and a draft-horse—but perhaps more significantly, they’ve seeded the world with the people they’ve taught and inspired.

Thomas cooked all meals over ultra-efficient wood-fired rocket stoves in an outdoor kitchen, starting with multigrain porridge and autumn olive jam. (Autumn olives are considered invasive, but they do make great jam.)

Breakfast is a time for community members to check in with each other; this was especially important on the day of my visit, with a dozen visitors due for a weeklong class on post-fossil-fuel living.

Ethan shared his disappointment that after a long remission, symptoms of the Lyme disease he’d contracted 15 years earlier seemed to have returned. I was touched by this glimpse of his vulnerability, the intimacy with and reliance on the community he’d helped build.

After breakfast, Zane and I milked the PA’s four goats and helped in the garden. Dan hitched the two horses to a sledge and pulled a large log to the woodlot near the kitchen, which one new visitor and I cut with a two-person saw.

Not only was the work great exercise, it was meditative and conducive to conversation. I then split the pieces with a maul, a thoroughly enjoyable task. The fossil-fueled wood-splitter might be among the worst inventions ever created.

After a sumptuous lunch of vegetable and goat-milk soup, cornbread, and a salad of wild arugula and purslane, Ethan gave a tour that emphasized the deeply interrelated topics of natural building and gift economy.

The PA is living proof that both work, and together are indeed more satisfying than modern industry and consumerism.

After a dip in the pond and a light supper of leftover soup, Thomas, Zane, and I bicycled back to the train station. The freight trains thundering past every few minutes as we waited for Amtrak’s Southwest Chief seemed somehow just a bit larger, louder, less necessary than the day before.

The PA is a success, yet Ethan and Sarah are in the process of moving toward something new.

When they acquired the land in 2007, it had met 18 of their 20 criteria for a teaching homestead. The two unmet criteria, however, represent deep personal needs: for Ethan, to live near the ocean; and for Sarah, artistic expression through classical singing.

As these needs have called more insistently over the years, these pioneers of sustainability are discovering at a personal level what they’ve long taught others: sustainability begins by listening to the heart—“zone zero” in the language of permaculture.

They’re now searching for a community ripe for their vision of transition—someplace near the ocean and with a decent choir.

My visit with the Hugheses affirmed what I know about sustainable living. They reminded me also that the one constant of life is change. The Hugheses are restless in exploration of the good life: bold authors of the new story we desperately need. With gratitude, I wish them well.


Warren on the Warpath

SUBHEAD: Centrist Democrats riled as Warren says days of 'Lukewarm' policies are over.

By Jake Johnson on 18 August 2017 for Common Dreams -

Image above: From ().

She says;  "The Democratic Party isn't going back to the days of welfare reform and the crime bill."

In a wide-ranging and fiery keynote speech last weekend at the 12th annual Netroots Nation conference in Atlanta, Georgia, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) relentlessly derided moderate Democratic pundits calling for the party to move "back to the center" and declared that Democrats must unequivocally "fight for progressive solutions to our nation's challenges."

As The Hill's Amie Parnes reported on Friday, Warren's assertion during the weekend gathering that progressives are "the heart and soul of today's Democratic Party"—and not merely a "wing"—raised the ire of so-called "moderate" Democrats, who have insisted that progressive policies won't sell in swing states.

But recent survey results have consistently shown that policies like single-payer healthcare, progressive taxation, a higher minimum wage, and tuition-free public college are extremely popular among the broader electorate. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—the most prominent advocate of an ambitious, far-reaching progressive agenda—has consistently polled as the most popular politician in the country.

For Warren, these are all indicators that those pining for a rightward shift "back to the center" are deeply mistaken.

Specifically, Warren took aim at a recent New York Times op-ed by Democratic commentators Mark Penn and Andrew Stein, who argued that Democrats must moderate their positions in order to take back Congress and, ultimately, the presidency.

Warren ridiculed this argument as a call for a return to Bill Clinton-era policies that "lock[ed] up non-violent drug offenders and ripp[ed] more holes in our economic safety net."

"The Democratic Party isn't going back to the days of welfare reform and the crime bill," Warren said. "We're not going back to the days of being lukewarm on choice.

We're not going back to the days when universal healthcare was something Democrats talked about on the campaign trail but were too chicken to fight for after they got elected."

"And," Warren concluded, "we're not going back to the days when a Democrat who wanted to run for a seat in Washington first had to grovel on Wall Street."

For months media outlets have speculated that Warren is gearing up for a 2020 presidential run, but she has denied the rumors.

Warren's remarks came as a large coalition of progressive groups is mobilizing during the congressional recess to pressure Democrats to formally endorse the "People's Platform," a slate of ambitious legislation that includes Rep. John Conyers' (D-Mich.) Medicare for All bill.

Video above: Watch Warren's full speech at Netroots Nation. From (


Climate Change not our biggest issue

SUBHEAD: Technology won’t save us. Systemic change driven by moral awakening is our only hope.

By Richard Heinberg on 14 August 2017 for EcoWatch -

Image above: A herd of cows cross a landfill landscape in India. Photo by Saravanan Dhandapani. From (

Our core ecological problem is not climate change. It is overshoot, of which global warming is a symptom.

Overshoot is a systemic issue.

Over the past century-and-a-half, enormous amounts of cheap energy from fossil fuels enabled the rapid growth of resource extraction, manufacturing and consumption; and these in turn led to population increase, pollution and loss of natural habitat and hence biodiversity.

The human system expanded dramatically, overshooting Earth's long-term carrying capacity for humans while upsetting the ecological systems we depend on for our survival.

Until we understand and address this systemic imbalance, symptomatic treatment (doing what we can to reverse pollution dilemmas like climate change, trying to save threatened species and hoping to feed a burgeoning population with genetically modified crops) will constitute an endlessly frustrating round of stopgap measures that are ultimately destined to fail.

The ecology movement in the 1970s benefitted from a strong infusion of systems thinking, which was in vogue at the time (ecology—the study of the relationships between organisms and their environments—is an inherently systemic discipline, as opposed to studies like chemistry that focus on reducing complex phenomena to their components).

As a result, many of the best environmental writers of the era framed the modern human predicament in terms that revealed the deep linkages between environmental symptoms and the way human society operates.

Limits to Growth (1972), an outgrowth of the systems research of Jay Forrester, investigated the interactions between population growth, industrial production, food production, resource depletion and pollution.

Overshoot (1982), by William Catton, named our systemic problem and described its origins and development in a style any literate person could appreciate. Many more excellent books from the era could be cited.

However, in recent decades, as climate change has come to dominate environmental concerns, there has been a significant shift in the discussion.

Today, most environmental reporting is focused laser-like on climate change, and systemic links between it and other worsening ecological dilemmas (such as overpopulation, species extinctions, water and air pollution, and loss of topsoil and fresh water) are seldom highlighted. It's not that climate change isn't a big deal.

As a symptom, it's a real doozy.

There's never been anything quite like it, and climate scientists and climate-response advocacy groups are right to ring the loudest of alarm bells. But our failure to see climate change in context may be our undoing.

Why have environmental writers and advocacy organizations succumbed to tunnel vision? Perhaps it's simply that they assume systems thinking is beyond the capacity of policy makers.

It's true: If climate scientists were to approach world leaders with the message, "We have to change everything, including our entire economic system—and fast," they might be shown the door rather rudely. A more acceptable message is, "We have identified a serious pollution problem, for which there are technical solutions."

Perhaps many of the scientists who did recognize the systemic nature of our ecological crisis concluded that if we can successfully address this one make-or-break environmental crisis, we'll be able to buy time to deal with others waiting in the wings (overpopulation, species extinctions, resource depletion and on and on).

If climate change can be framed as an isolated problem for which there is a technological solution, the minds of economists and policy makers can continue to graze in familiar pastures.

Technology—in this case, solar, wind and nuclear power generators, as well as batteries, electric cars, heat pumps and, if all else fails, solar radiation management via atmospheric aerosols—centers our thinking on subjects like financial investment and industrial production.

Discussion participants don't have to develop the ability to think systemically, nor do they need to understand the Earth system and how human systems fit into it.

All they need trouble themselves with is the prospect of shifting some investments, setting tasks for engineers and managing the resulting industrial-economic transformation so as to ensure that new jobs in green industries compensate for jobs lost in coal mines.

The strategy of buying time with a techno-fix presumes either that we will be able to institute systemic change at some unspecified point in the future even though we can't do it just now (a weak argument on its face), or that climate change and all of our other symptomatic crises will in fact be amenable to technological fixes.

The latter thought-path is again a comfortable one for managers and investors.

After all, everybody loves technology. It already does nearly everything for us. During the last century it solved a host of problems: it cured diseases, expanded food production, sped up transportation and provided us with information and entertainment in quantities and varieties no one could previously have imagined.

Why shouldn't it be able to solve climate change and all the rest of our problems?

Video above: "Hello Humanity, it's me, Technology. We need to talk. ". From (

Of course, ignoring the systemic nature of our dilemma just means that as soon as we get one symptom corralled, another is likely to break loose.

But, crucially, is climate change, taken as an isolated problem, fully treatable with technology? Color me doubtful.

 I say this having spent many months poring over the relevant data with David Fridley of the energy analysis program at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Our resulting book, Our Renewable Future, concluded that nuclear power is too expensive and risky; meanwhile, solar and wind power both suffer from intermittency, which (once these sources begin to provide a large percentage of total electrical power) will require a combination of three strategies on a grand scale: energy storage, redundant production capacity and demand adaptation.

At the same time, we in industrial nations will have to adapt most of our current energy usage (which occurs in industrial processes, building heating and transportation) to electricity.

Altogether, the energy transition promises to be an enormous undertaking, unprecedented in its requirements for investment and substitution.

When David and I stepped back to assess the enormity of the task, we could see no way to maintain current quantities of global energy production during the transition, much less to increase energy supplies so as to power ongoing economic growth.

The biggest transitional hurdle is scale: the world uses an enormous amount of energy currently; only if that quantity can be reduced significantly, especially in industrial nations, could we imagine a credible pathway toward a post-carbon future.

Downsizing the world's energy supplies would, effectively, also downsize industrial processes of resource extraction, manufacturing, transportation, and waste management.

That's a systemic intervention, of exactly the kind called for by the ecologists of the 1970s who coined the mantra, "Reduce, reuse and recycle."

It gets to the heart of the overshoot dilemma—as does population stabilization and reduction, another necessary strategy. But it's also a notion to which technocrats, industrialists, and investors are virulently allergic.

The ecological argument is, at its core, a moral one—as I explain in more detail in a just-released manifesto replete with sidebars and graphics ("There's No App for That: Technology and Morality in the Age of Climate Change, Overpopulation, and Biodiversity Loss").

Any systems thinker who understands overshoot and prescribes powerdown as a treatment is effectively engaging in an intervention with an addictive behavior.

Society is addicted to growth, and that's having terrible consequences for the planet and, increasingly, for us as well. We have to change our collective and individual behavior and give up something we depend on—power over our environment.

Image above: In 1961 we were consuming 74% of the Earth's sustainable resources. By 1985 we passed 100% of a sustainable rate. In 2012 we passed 150% of sustainable levels. Check out your footprint here (!/). From (

We must restrain ourselves, like an alcoholic foreswearing booze. That requires honesty and soul-searching.

In its early years the environmental movement made that moral argument, and it worked up to a point. Concern over rapid population growth led to family planning efforts around the world. Concern over biodiversity declines led to habitat protection.

Concern over air and water pollution led to a slew of regulations. These efforts weren't sufficient, but they showed that framing our systemic problem in moral terms could get at least some traction.

Why didn't the environmental movement fully succeed? Some theorists now calling themselves "bright greens" or "eco-modernists" have abandoned the moral fight altogether.

Their justification for doing so is that people want a vision of the future that's cheery and that doesn't require sacrifice. Now, they say, only a technological fix offers any hope.

The essential point of this essay (and my manifesto) is simply that, even if the moral argument fails, a techno-fix won't work either.

A gargantuan investment in technology (whether next-generation nuclear power or solar radiation geo-engineering) is being billed as our last hope. But in reality it's no hope at all.

The reason for the failure thus far of the environmental movement wasn't that it appealed to humanity's moral sentiments—that was in fact the movement's great strength.

The effort fell short because it wasn't able to alter industrial society's central organizing principle, which is also its fatal flaw: its dogged pursuit of growth at all cost.

Now we're at the point where we must finally either succeed in overcoming growthism or face the failure not just of the environmental movement, but of civilization itself.

The good news is that systemic change is fractal in nature: it implies, indeed it requires, action at every level of society.

We can start with our own individual choices and behavior; we can work within our communities.

We needn't wait for a cathartic global or national sea change. And even if our efforts cannot "save" consumerist industrial civilization, they could still succeed in planting the seeds of a regenerative human culture worthy of survival.

There's more good news: Once we humans choose to restrain our numbers and our rates of consumption, technology can assist our efforts. Machines can help us monitor our progress, and there are relatively simple technologies that can help deliver needed services with less energy usage and environmental damage.

Some ways of deploying technology could even help us clean up the atmosphere and restore ecosystems.

But machines can't make the key choices that will set us on a sustainable path. Systemic change driven by moral awakening: it's not just our last hope; it's the only real hope we've ever had.


Neoliberalism: the Break-up Tour

SUBHEAD: Why, given the trail of destruction it has left, are still dancing to the Neoliberal tune?

By Sara Woods & Andrew Simms on 16 August 2017 for Red Pepper -

Image above: Sara Woods and Andrew Simms perform  Neoliberalism – The Break-up Tour. They aim ‘to do the almost impossible: turn economics into entertainment’. From original article.

It’s Sunday morning and you have two choices:
  1. Jump in the car and go buy a patio heater, getting stuck in traffic on the way; or 
  2. Go for a walk with a friend in the dappled sunlight lie on your back and stare at the clouds. 
Economics tells us you’re happier doing a). How did we get here? And is the mainstream economic consensus of the past four decades now really falling apart?

We created Neoliberalism – The Break-Up Tour, a fast-paced mix of stand-up and game show, to explore these questions and see if we could do the almost impossible and turn economics into entertainment.

But while many aspects of neoliberalism’s current doctrine tend to comedy and even farce, few of the many millions on its receiving end have been enjoying the show. It is not entertaining how modern economics has got away with so much despite the lack of evidence in its favour – and so much demonstrable carnage in its wake.

Ideological resurrection

Neoliberalism as we know it began just 70 years ago, in Mont Pèlerin, a small village in Switzerland. In photographs the village has the same tranquil postcard perfection that was used to deeply unnerving effect in the French television drama

The Returned, in which people inexplicably come back from the grave to the bewilderment of friends and family.

In April 1947, Mont-Pèlerin was home to an ideological resurrection and, as with The Returned, what came back was critically different to the previous incarnation.

The architects of neoliberalism favoured a faith in free markets to best meet peoples’ needs, drawing on the tradition of Adam Smith, but taken to a new, extreme level. They coupled this to an equally extreme libertarian individualism.

After some initial debate and a little falling out, they forged an assault on the public realm and the role of the state and a submission of the individual and society to market forces that Smith would have rejected.

Adam Smith was the grandfather of market economics, but a more complex thinker than modern-day neoliberals like to remember. They hail the ‘invisible hand’ – the idea that self-interest and unfettered markets work best – and recall his famous discourse on the manufacture of the pin, revealing how the specialisation and division of labour led to huge increases in productivity.

Less well remembered are his observations on the human consequences. The monotony would lead, he wrote, to the worker no longer being able to ‘exert his understanding, or to exercise his invention’ and becoming ‘as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become’.

Worse, considering how many would become servants to mass production, their ‘torpor of mind’ would take away their capacity for ‘rational conversation… generous, noble or tender sentiment and consequently of forming any just judgement’.

Smith also mocked the very consumerism that his market system would breed to feed itself, and was especially sceptical of corporate power, believing that whenever the two got together it would lead to a ‘conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices’.

Most surprising of all for latterday neoliberals are his conveniently forgotten views on the vital roles of the state.

It should, he argued, protect society from violence, protect every member from ‘the injustice or oppression of every other member’, and then, crucially, ‘erect and maintain those public institutions and those public works’ that, although of great value to society, are by nature not profitable and therefore should not be expected to be delivered by private enterprise.

Smith’s forgotten early caveats to his market system are now coming home to roost everywhere, from the business models of Uber and Sports Direct, to failed railway franchises, the painful reprivatisation of banks and the creeping privatisation of the NHS. It amounts to an intellectual collapse of the neoliberal model.

Original line-up

Neoliberalism’s original line-up gathered at the Hotel du Lac in Mont Pèlerin to discuss how to halt the spread of ideas that emphasised common purpose and governments acting directly in the public interest.

It featured Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, scions of the Chicago School of Economics, Ludvig von Mises of the Austrian school, and philosopher Karl Popper. They set out to perfect a market system that would underpin their particular vision of a free society.

Against a backdrop of highly interventionist economic planning during war time, and the rise of Stalin’s centralized, totalitarian state in the Soviet Union, they married an old, neoclassical belief in deregulated markets with newer liberal concerns about individual freedom.

They sought to rescue the reputation of market systems from their ignominious failure in the financial crash of 1929, and champion pure individualism against all forms of collective organization. The ideological temperature was set by the Austrian American, von Mises, who accused neoliberal scions Hayek and Friedman of being ‘a bunch of socialists’.

The Mont-Pèlerin Society they formed remains active today, still promoting the same message. Here’s a flavour of their motivation and atmosphere of mind, taken from their original statement of principles:

‘The central values of civilisation are in danger. Over large stretches of the earth’s surface the essential conditions of human dignity and freedom have already disappeared…

The group holds that these developments… have been fostered by a decline of belief in private property and the competitive market; for without the diffused power and initiative associated with these institutions it is difficult to imagine a society in which freedom may be effectively preserved.’

Many other influential neoliberal think tanks grew from this core group and their beliefs. But there were cracks even at the beginning. At least one who was closely involved at the outset sensed a fundamental flaw in their position.

The philosopher Karl Popper, author of The Open Society and Its Enemies, did not stay involved. He had a more nuanced view on markets and freedom, pointing out that ‘proponents of complete freedom are in actuality, whatever their intentions, enemies of freedom’.

Popper saw the logical consequence of ignoring how power, unregulated markets and unrestrained individual behaviour would interact, reasoning that this notion of freedom would, paradoxically, be, ‘not only self-destructive but bound to produce its opposite, for if all restraints were removed there would be nothing whatever to stop the strong enslaving the weak’. By Popper’s definition, neoliberalism wasn’t liberal at all.

Neoliberalism on tour

Nevertheless, from being viewed as extremists and outsiders, just over two decades of constant agitation and the proliferation of like-minded groups saw their rise to power begin with the breakdown of the post-war economic architecture, built to ensure maximum international stability. Neoliberalism has been on tour ever since, inviting itself to play all over the world. Like many of music’s big names, from the moment it was created, it started to exhibit the instability and volatility that would ultimately bring it down.

1971 saw the end of the Bretton Woods arrangement, a system that maintained ballast in the flow of money around the world and speculative trading on currencies. The end of these checks and balances waved the flag to allow money to move around the world much more easily and with greater volatility.

A secondary banking crisis hit the UK as early as 1973-75, before a whole sequence of crises hit Mexico and Latin America from 1982. This period, with the private banks and international financial institutions in the driving seat, also created conditions leading to the African debt crisis – where everyone saddled with debt due to predatory lending was told to produce the same thing for export, suppressing prices globally, leaving them running faster to stand still, while being denuded of their natural wealth, and having their health and education systems trashed in the process.

The 1980s brought the US savings and loans crisis, and ‘Black Monday’ in 1987 saw markets falling like dominoes from New York to London and Hong Kong. Then a whole carnival of market failure paraded through Finland to Mexico, Asia, Russia and Argentina before 1999, when things really started to fall apart. That year saw the end of the Glass-Steagall bank regulations, brought in to prevent a repeat of the 1929 Wall Street crash. Their removal allowed bankers to gamble with other people’s money (yours and mine) at virtually no risk to themselves, but with the chance to get vastly rich.

Then came the crash in 2000-02 and the US energy crisis. These were speculative boom-and-bust crises, exactly what you’d expect when checks and balances are removed. They were quickly followed by financial implosions in Iceland, Ireland and then the great crash of 2007-08, triggered by the US sub-prime mortgage scandal. From there, attended by the neo-medieval blood-letting medicine of austerity, problems continued in the UK, Greece and across Europe, all to the tune of ‘The Cure is Worse Than the Disease’.

It’s important to remember how recently neoliberalism retained its absolute grip on the imagination of the left. In his 2006 Mansion House speech, the year before the big crash began, the chancellor, Gordon Brown, said that many who advised him ‘favoured a regulatory crackdown’. He added, ‘I believe that we were right not to go down that road… and we were right to build upon our light touch system.’ His right-hand man, Ed Balls, said: ‘Nothing should be done to put at risk a light-touch regulatory regime.’ He didn’t say that nothing should be done to put at risk society, the welfare of the wider economy and the ecosystems on which we depend.

Still dancing

So why, given the trail of destruction that neoliberalism has already left, are we still dancing to its tune? Haven’t we learnt what J K Galbraith saw in the 1929 great crash: ‘The sense of responsibility in the financial community for the community as a whole is not small… It is nearly nil.’

If entirely self-interested private finance remains the beating heart of your economy, a bit of extra regulation won’t solve the problem. Because, as Galbraith also saw, regulators have a short, depressingly predictable lifecycle and tend to be ‘vigorous in youth, rapidly turning complacent in middle age, before either becoming senile or an arm of the industry they are meant to regulate’.

Shareholder capitalism keeps the self-interest of finance in the economic driving seat. Without making finance actively subservient to broader social, economic and environmental purpose – by law and through different governance models such as mutual, cooperatives and social enterprises – we just get more of the same. And the very failures of the financialised economy are used to further entrench it. The answer to everything becomes more privatisation, liberalisation and deregulation.

As long as that happens, its price is set by quality of life – and life itself. Cost-cutting and a weak regulatory system have led to the Grenfell Tower disaster. Ninety people per month die after being declared fit for work by the DWP and losing their benefits. Inequality has been rising for three decades, and we are on course to return to Victorian levels. Work is increasingly insecure and low paid. Five million workers give the equivalent of a day’s worth of free overtime to their employers every week.

A model based on competitive, selfish individualism is blind to the fundamental mechanisms of collaboration, mutual aid, cooperation, sympathy, empathy and sharing that have been at the core of our development and success as a species. High-paid City bankers are estimated to destroy £7 in social value for every pound they generate. Advertisers are worse and tax accountants much, much worse. But look at childcare workers, hospital cleaners and waste recyclers, where the opposite is true. Although on desperately low pay, they create seven to 12 times more social value than the amount they are paid.

A more positive take

We have been so indoctrinated by neoliberalism that even though research shows that the great majority of us hold values that emphasize caring, generosity, tolerance and cooperation, when we’re asked what we think are others’ values, we suspect most to be the selfish, competitive, individualistic poster children of neoliberalism.

So what opportunities might open up if we give that more realistic and positive take on human reality a chance, and allow policies to be put into place for fair shares, cooperation and respect for planetary boundaries?

Perhaps that would be a nice, simple policy test: does this proposal lead to a more equal sharing of economic benefits, a smaller ecological footprint and improved human well-being? If it can likely tick those boxes, give it a try.

How do we do it? In many ways, the new world is already here, in the shell of the old. In Germany, banks are dominated by mutuals and cooperatives, with a clear mandate to help people and the economy rather than just themselves. In Holland, the four-day week offers a lower impact, better work/life balance.

Despite all the obstacles, community-owned renewable energy, working for people and planet, is growing dramatically – by 17 per cent last year in Scotland, for example.

Neoliberalism is in its intellectual death throes, unable to answer the systemic threats it has created. A better world is possible if we take away the excessive privilege of finance and make it subservient to real life.

Money and the markets are not innate, they’re not like gravity, they’re human made contracts between ourselves about how we organize society.

It’s time for neoliberalism’s zombie economics, peddling suicide finance, to stop touring and let those playing planet and human-friendly economic tunes take the stage.


Pres. Trump's dad in 1927 Klan rally

SUBHEAD: Reports confirm Donald Trump's dad was arrested at Klan rally, and that those arrested were "berobed"

By Rob Beschizza on 15 August 2017 for Boing Boing -

Image above: Donald Trump and father Fred pictured together with report on arrest of Fred and other robed Ku Klux Klan members on Memorial Day 1927 in Queens NY. From original article.

Fred Trump, the father of millionaire presidential candidate Donald Trump, was arrested at a Ku Klux Klan rally as a young man, according to a 1927 New York Times story. Vice put in the legwork on corroborating the nearly-century-old one-sentence report. They not only found other reports of his arrest, but the startling fact that those arrested were "berobed".
The [Queens County Evening News] mentions Fred Trump as having been "discharged" and gives the Devonshire Road address, along with the names and addresses of the other six men who faced charges. Yet another account in another defunct local newspaper, the Richmond Hill Record, published on June 3, 1927, lists Fred Trump as one of the "Klan Arrests," and also lists the Devonshire Road address.
Another article about the rally, published by the Long Island Daily Press on June 2, 1927, mentions that there were seven arrestees without listing names, and claims that all of the individuals arrested were wearing Klan attire. ... While the Long Island Daily Press doesn't mention Fred Trump specifically, the number of arrestees cited in the report is consistent with the other accounts of the rally. Significantly, the article refers to all of the arrestees as "berobed marchers." If Fred Trump, or another one of the attendees, wasn't dressed in a robe at the time, that may have been a reporting error worth correcting.
[IB Publisher's note: The 1927 arrest record shows the address of Fred Trump as 175-24 Devonshire Road, Queens NY -the home Donald Trump grew up in. By 1927 Fred Trump had already changed his name from the Germanic "Friedrich Drumpf"]


DOJ demands info on dissenters

SUBHEAD: Attorney General Sessions goes to court to seize website's database and visitor information.

By Sam Sacks on 15 August 2017 for District Sentinel -

Image above: A sticker advertising in Washington, D.C. in January 2017. Photo by Elvert Barnes. From original article.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is demanding details on visitors to an anti-Trump protest website in what consumer advocates are calling an “unconstitutional” invasion of privacy.

The Guardian reports:
On 17 July, the DoJ served a website-hosting company, DreamHost, with a search warrant for every piece of information it possessed that was related to a website that was used to coordinate protests during Donald Trump’s inauguration. The warrant covers the people who own and operate the site, but also seeks to get the IP addresses of 1.3 million people who visited it, as well as the date and time of their visit and information about what browser or operating system they used.
The website,, was used to coordinate protests and civil disobedience on 20 January, when Trump was inaugurated.
“This specific case and this specific warrant are pure prosecutorial overreach by a highly politicized department of justice under [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions,” said Chris Ghazarian, general counsel for DreamHost. “You should be concerned that anyone should be targeted simply for visiting a website.”
The warrant was made public Monday, when DreamHost announced its plans to challenge the government in court. The DoJ declined to comment.
DreamHost expanded on its concerns regarding the warrant in a blog post, writing:
Chris Ghazarian, our General Counsel, has taken issue with this particular search warrant for being a highly untargeted demand that chills free association and the right of free speech afforded by the Constitution. …
The request from the DOJ demands that DreamHost hand over 1.3 million visitor IP addresses — in addition to contact information, email content, and photos of thousands of people — in an effort to determine who simply visited the website. (Our customer has also been notified of the pending warrant on the account.)
That information could be used to identify any individuals who used this site to exercise and express political speech protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment. That should be enough to set alarm bells off in anyone’s mind.
This is, in our opinion, a strong example of investigatory overreach and a clear abuse of government authority.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit dedicated to defending online free speech and privacy rights, labeled the warrant “unconstitutional.”

“I can’t conceive of a legitimate justification other than casting your net as broadly as possible to justify millions of user logs,” EFF senior staff attorney Mark Rumold told The Guardian. “This [the website] is pure First Amendment a
dvocacy – the type of advocacy the First Amendment was designed to protect and promote.”
In a blog post published Monday, the EFF expanded on the privacy concerns at stake in the case:
No plausible explanation exists for a search warrant of this breadth, other than to cast a digital dragnet as broadly as possible. But the Fourth Amendment was designed to prohibit fishing expeditions like this. Those concerns are especially relevant here, where DOJ is investigating a website that served as a hub for the planning and exercise of First Amendment-protected activities.
EFF notes that it will continue to monitor the case. DreamHost adds in its blog post that it has “been working closely with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and their counsel throughout this process,” but notes “the EFF is not representing us in this case, [but] they understand our arguments and have been lending professional support.”

A court hearing on DreamHost’s challenge to the warrant will be held this Friday in Washington, D.C.

SUBHEAD: More reporting on this issue.

By Sam Sacks on 15 August 2017 for District Sentinel -

Image above: Poster for demonstration to resist Trump Inauguration distributed by and #DisruptJ20. From original article.

The Justice Department will attempt on Friday to defend a warrant requiring an internet host to turn over 1.3 million IP addresses of visitors to a website critical of the Trump administration.

Dreamhost, the subject of the DOJ order, called it a “clear abuse of government authority.” The company has been fighting the warrant for months leading up to Friday’s court date on the matter.

Federal prosecutors are seeking the IP addresses of anyone who visited, a website hosted by Dreamhost, as well as the website’s database records, and the personal information of administrators and thousands of individuals who interacted with the site.

Disrupt J20 organized one of the many Inauguration Day protests against the incoming Trump administration. Law enforcement officials believe the group was involved in one particular action that allegedly led to the injury of six police officers and $100,000 in property damage in downtown Washington, DC.

After initially receiving the DOJ’s data request, Dreamhost requested the department narrow the scope of its warrant. US officials, instead, filed a motion in DC Superior Court forcing Dreamhost to comply with the warrant. Last week, the company responded by filing it’s own legal arguments against the sweeping DOJ order.

In a blog post on its website, Dreamhost argued that the information the government is seeking “could be used to identify any individuals who used this site to exercise and express political speech protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment.”

“That should be enough to set alarm bells off in anyone’s mind,” the company added.

The digital rights group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has been providing “professional support” to the web host in its legal battle against the DOJ.

“No plausible explanation exists for a search warrant of this breadth, other than to cast a digital dragnet as broadly as possible,” said EFF senior staff attorney Mark Rumold.

Outside the digital realm, hundreds of people are still facing serious legal jeopardy stemming from the Inauguration Day protests. More than 200 people were charged with felony rioting, and could face up to a decade in prison.

The Washington Post reported in April that DC police had actually infiltrated the group ahead of its planned January protest.

The energy of picking berries

SUBHEAD: What Return on Energy Invested (EROI) do we need to reasonably pick berries.

By Ugo Bardi on 14 August 2017 for Cassandra's Legacy -

Image above: A basket of blackberries picked in Tuscany, From original article.

Above a photo of my wife Grazia collecting berries in the woods of Tuscany in a hot day of August. It maybe her ancestors were doing exactly the same, more or less in the same place, hundreds or thousands of years ago.

Here, I present some reflections and some calculations showing that the EROI of this simple way of collecting food may be over 100, better than almost anything we have nowadays. Of course, no empire in history was based on hunting and gathering, but was that a bad thing?

The question of EROI - the energy return on energy invested - is raging nowadays, with some people insisting that a civilization cannot exist without an EROI of at least variously estimated values, at least 10 and higher (image on the right by Charles Hall). And that is said to mean we absolutely need sophisticated technologies, such as nuclear, in order to survive.

Yet, this morning I had been collecting berries in the wood with my wife and wondering: 'what is the EROI of what we are doing?'

A reasonably good EROI, I am sure, enough for what our ancestors needed when they survived on hunting and gathering. All you have to do is to walk in the woods, find the berries and pick them up (and watch your step, you don't want to fall into a thorn bush).

If our hunter-gatherer ancestors used this method, and if we are here today - their descendants - it means it was an effective strategy for survival. Collecting what you can find is an ancient and tested strategy that goes under the name of "gleaning" and it has accompanied humankind for millennia. It is a good strategy just because it is so simple: no tools, no laws, no hierarchy. And it works.

As I was collecting berries, I started thinking things. How to program a drone to collect berries, for instance. Sure: a perfect way to bring down the EROI of the whole thing to nearly zero. And to destroy the bushes forever.

Humans are like this, with their attempt of "improving" things they always pull the levers in the wrong direction. And that means making things more complicated, needing more and more energy to keep them running, and then complaining that we don't have enough.

Of course, with more than seven billion humans on this planet, it is hard to think that we can go back to gleaning to feed them all.

But for how long we can trust the expensive, complex, delicate, and terribly inefficient enterprise we call "industrial agriculture"? I can't say. What I can say is that collecting berries is a big satisfaction, as you see below.

And now some approximate calculations: Today we collected 2 kg of berries. According to the available data, berries contain 125 kJ/100g. So, the total collection was about 2500 kJ, about 700 Wh.

Now, it was about one hour of low-intensity work for two people, so let's say it involved a total of 50x2x1h = 100 Wh of human work. Then, I found values of 20-25% for the human metabolic efficiency of converting food to mechanical energy, it means we consumed some 400-500 Wh of food energy in order to collect 700 Wh.

Very approximate, or course, but the final result is an EROI = 1.4-1.7. Not comparable to crude oil, but probably more than enough for our ancestors to enjoy berries as a seasonal treat.

But, of course, no one ever lived on berries alone, not even in paleolithic times. The energy content of several kinds of foods that you can find in a natural environment may be more than an order of magnitude larger than that of blackberries.

Walnuts are reported to have more than 10,000 kJ/100 g. If you can collect one kg/hour, as we did for berries, it means an EROI of more than 100 (!!). Larger than the mythical EROI of crude oil of a hundred years ago.

 Wheat and cereals, in general, have also high energy content, wheat is reported to have 15,000 kJ/kg, showing how gleaning could be an extremely efficient food gathering strategy.

So, life was simple and easy, once, until we decided to make it complicated and difficult.


Taking Rewilding Seriously

SUBHEAD: Apache leader Geronimo could shout that most appropriate battle cry: ‘Live wild or die!’

By John Jabobi on 31 July 2017 for Dark Mountain -

Image above: Illustration of "Rewilding" From (

It is, it seems, our civilisation’s turn to experience the inrush of the savage and the unseen; our turn to be brought up short by contact with untamed reality.
Uncivilisation: The Dark Mountain Manifesto
Wildness is the Focus
Rewilding has become something of a fad. The internet and libraries are chock full of instruction manuals for using primitive medicine, making primitive tools, adopting primitive religious thought… Often attached are calls to ‘awaken our inner primal spirit.’ This seems like rewilding, right?

Wrong. Rewilding, when applied to human beings, cannot only be about lifestyle changes. Of course, you can’t live in nature if you don’t know how to build a shelter or identify plants. You can’t immerse yourself in the wild without basic navigation skills.

But the rewilding fad has got it mostly wrong: it isn’t about selling a way to become independent of civilisation; it is about selling an aesthetic, an appearance of authenticity, much like Whole Foods stores are designed to look like local farmer’s markets.

For example, on the issue of navigation: would it be more useful for people to start with a compass, or to start with the stars?

Obviously, most industrial humans, who can name at most a handful of constellations, would not want to navigate by the stars. But the rewilding trend is to start with the stars because that’s what our primitive ancestors did.

And on the issue of plant identification: would it be more useful for people to l

earn our more-than-adequate scientific classification system, or to learn an indigenous taxonomy? The answer is clear, yet I’ve spoken to a handful of people who have explicitly avoided learning scientific taxonomy because it’s scientific, and, therefore, unnatural.

Eventually, we have to ask ourselves: are we trying to rewild — to increase our autonomy from artificial systems — or are we trying to look interesting?

The Land Comes First

There’s a worse side-effect. Rewilding, originally, had little to do with human lifestyles at all. It came from the Earth First! movement, when the founders — particularly Dave Foreman and Howie Wolke — outlined their vision of a vast ecological reserve system in North America.

Unlike previous reserve systems, this one included presently non-wild land, because Earth First!ers believed that wildness could be restored by removing artificial systems and edifices, like dams.

Foreman writes, ‘We must … reclaim the roads and the plowed land, halt dam construction, tear down existing dams, free shackled rivers, and return to wilderness millions and tens of millions of [acres of] presently settled land.’

It was a radical vision, and although controversial at first, it is now fairly well accepted within conservation biology. In fact, connecting wildlands is one of the foremost concerns of the current conservation movement.

Doing so provides a large enough habitat for predators and large mammals, and it reduces species extinctions, which tend to increase as wild areas become isolated ‘islands’.

Much of the popularity of these concepts is due to the work of the Wildlands Network, also founded by Dave Foreman after he left the Earth First! movement in the mid-’80s.

Now, it could be that conservationist rewilding and personal rewilding are simply two different kinds of rewilding. In fact, Wikipedia currently has an entry for ‘Rewilding (conservation biology)’ and ‘Rewilding (anarchism)’.

But I suspect that the two have too much in common to be considered entirely separate concepts.

If someone were to ask me why I am interested in rewilding, I would explain that I do not want to be constrained by the artificial systems of civilisation; that I would much rather live in nature and put in the work required to survive.

In other words, it would appear as though my vision of rewilding is included under the ‘Rewilding (anarchism)’ entry. But I also believe that Foreman got it right: land must come first. Part of the whole philosophy behind rewilding is an acknowledgement that humans are not as important as civilised culture believes them to be.

We are largely the product of our environment and our relationship to our environment, just like animals. This is why you can’t rewild an animal in a zoo. It needs a wild habitat first. In the same way, we can’t teach humans skills to rewild and then tell them it’s fine to keep living in civilised conditions.

They need a habitat to rewild. To believe otherwise is an error called lifestylism.

Again, while my motivation for rewilding is a personal desire to live outside the bounds of civilisation, in practice rewilding must prioritise the land. This isn’t to suggest a chronology for rewilding.

I’m not saying ‘preserve land, then learn skills.’ I’m saying that while we do both, our emphasis must be on habitat.

Start from the Present
Outside of the culture of the fad, people despair: rewilding is impossible, a pipe-dream, they say. I call this nihilism (not the same as philosophical nihilism), and it, too, results from a faulty conceptual framework.

For example, nihilists tend to assume that successful rewilding always achieves its ideal, or that successful rewilding must achieve its ideal immediately.

But if I want to live a life less controlled by artificial systems, any decrease in those systems’ power is a step on the ladder of rewilding. And, in regards to land, rewilding practices have been profoundly successful.

The trick is to conceive of rewilding as a practical project to decrease the influence of artificial systems over nature (including human nature). Consider Yellowstone. When wolves were eradicated, the whole ecosystem suffered.

Elk overpopulated the area, and their grazing led to a decrease in the beaver populations.

When wolves were reintroduced, they preyed on the elk and artificial impacts decreased, eventually washing out of the landscape to a profound degree. Of course, Yellowstone isn’t the wildest place on Earth, but wolf reintroduction shielded it from the impact of artificial systems, so made it wilder.

Similarly, zoos frequently preserve populations of animals that they later reintroduce to the wild. They do this by dealing with the situation practically: teach the captive animals the skills they need to live in the wild, then slowly reintroduce them. Keep tabs on them, fix any problems that come up, and try again.

We should take the same approach when rewilding our own lives. Start with outlining all the most important skills you need to learn: how to build shelters, how to identify plants… In every case, be sure to limit your efforts to a tractable problem.

Don’t learn how to identify every plant, only the plants in regions you will be testing your skills in. And don’t try to solve every problem. Some things just aren’t going to fall into place until nature, not civilisation, becomes your tutor.

None of this is to say that we can achieve everything we would like to. Extinct species are a permanent problem. And no 21-year-old who was raised in a highly populated city is going to live an entirely wild life — ever.

In addition to recognising that we have real, achievable goals, we also need to recognise the proper place for mourning. The move from conservation to rewilding has been touted as a positive vision, a way to move away from the dourness of old environmentalism and conservation. In a certain sense this is true.

But the necessity of rewilding is a sad fact about modern life: civilisation has destroyed so many wild areas that we need to restore some before we can fully live by our values.

Sophisticated nihilists will admit that short-term rewilding efforts may very well achieve their goals, but that in the long term, civilisation is bound to destroy wild nature. I do not think this is true, but even if it was it would not be enough to put an end to all rewilding efforts.

If the situation is utterly hopeless, with no chance of successful long-term conservation, no chance of rewilding, no chance of industrial decline or collapse, this is only enough to convince lukewarm wills to abandon action.

The indomitable spirit, typified by his inability to live without the wild and his frankly reckless willingness to make huge sacrifices for it, would not be able to stomach stillness in captivity.

Consider Geronimo, who led natives in battles against colonial powers for 36 years, evading capture and escaping captivity several times. After being detained by General Nelson Miles as a prisoner of war, Geronimo eventually acquiesced to civilisation, allowing himself to be an exotic attraction at fairs.

Yet on his deathbed he proclaimed to his nephew, ‘I should have never surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive.’

I write, then, for individuals like Geronimo — individuals who can earnestly and without reservation shout that most appropriate battle cry: ‘Live wild or die!’

Image above: Retouched photo of Apache leader Geronimo taken by Frank Rinehart from the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition in Omaha, Nebraska in 1898. From (,_Apache.jpg). A variation of photo in original article.

Rebuke the Idols of Civilisation

And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you.
— Leviticus 26:30
Lately a new kind of rewilding has been gaining ground: the ‘rewilding’ of ecomodernists. Ecomodernism claims that technological progress will ‘decouple’ civilised people from the land, allowing them to continue living comfortable, modern lives while reducing their influence on the nature around them.

Accelerate technological progress; intensify production in civilised areas through aquaculture and industrial farming; shuffle rural people into cities: this, they say, leaves and will leave vast regions of the Earth to the wild.

Outside of the decoupling thesis, ecomodernism’s version of rewilding is more obviously revisionist. For example, some ecomodernists advocate ‘de-extinction’, or using biological technologies to revive extinct species, so that they can reintroduce those species to their once native habitats. While considering these ideas, I have always been struck by a comparison with the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, ‘to repair the world’.

In recent years, left-wing Jewish groups have utilised this concept to push a narrative of progress, emphasising the fight for social justice as the most important element.

But the man who taught me of tikkun olam repudiated these hubristic interpretations, stressing that the concept came from the Aleinu prayer, in which the Jewish people collectively pray for God to ‘remove all idols from the Earth, and to completely cut off all false gods; to repair the world.’

As I learned it, these idols include man’s unending faith in himself to fix the world.

The debate about rewilding is the like the debate about tikkun. Ecomodernists have declared that ‘this is the earth we have created’, so we should ‘manage it with love and intelligence’ to create ‘new glories’.

They call this ‘rewilding’. But rewilding is not about continuing technical domination; it is about removing the idols of Progress, the dams, the roads, the corporations — and this includes man’s unending faith in himself.

Many ecological philosophers and conservationists have already tackled the problems with ecomodernism. Eileen Crist writes:
Importantly, modern development proceeds by converting and exploiting a massive portion of the natural world, and that particular portion is not one humanity is decoupled from. The portion of the biosphere that modernization assimilates, humanity is and will be very much coupled with; except that “coupled” is hardly the right word — comprehensively dominated is a more accurate depiction […] On all fronts, industrial food production is a ruthless, machine-mediated subjugation of land and seas as well as of wild and domestic beings.
But Crist critiques ecomodernism from the perspective of bio- or ecocentrism — the original philosophical justifications Dave Foreman and others gave for rewilding — and ecocentrism, too, has some problems. It is a strain of ethics in the Deep Ecology tradition that argues that nature has intrinsic moral worth.

Theorists argue over the unit of moral worth — is it the organism, the ecosystem, the biosphere? — but the end result usually looks the same: ecocentrists protect nature because nature is deserving of their moral consideration.

And when they are against civilisation, they are against it for the sake of nature. Among other things, this idea leaves room wide-open for decoupling strategies.

The ecomodernists are right: under this version of ecocentrism, accelerating the development of civilisation is desirable if it results in more wild lands. It can only be rejected if we proudly claim that the whole point of preserving the wild is because we want to experience and ideally live in wilder conditions. And there are even bigger problems with the philosophy.

Some argue that ecocentrism follows an observable trend of humans expanding their altruistic capabilities from the band to the tribe to the nation and now to all of humanity. The next step, clearly, is to include non-human life.

But this argument ignores an important point: an expanded ‘moral circle‘ depends on and is the result of civilised infrastructure.

Biologists have found that altruism in organisms, while an important part of their evolutionary strategy, evolves to only a limited degree. In humans, it seems as though natural altruism is limited to about 150 people, after which groups need to devise rules, rituals, and other regulatory mechanisms to maintain cohesion.

Of course, the exact number is irrelevant. The issue is that altruism beyond a certain point has to be instilled. This is the difference between solidarity — the altruism of natural man — and civility: the altruism of civilised man.

Norbert Elias writes about a historical example of moral cultivation in the first volume of his magnum opus The Civilizing Process. Elias argues that, instead of simply adopting European social mores, the people of the Middle Ages underwent a long period of education that shaped their behaviour through shame, guilt, disgust, and other such feelings.

For instance, Elias reviews several etiquette manuals and points out that commands now reserved for children were being issued, regularly, to adults.

People of the Middle Ages had to be told not to defecate on staircases and curtains, not to touch their privates in public, not to greet someone who is relieving themselves, not to examine their handkerchief after blowing into it, not to use various pieces of public fabric as handkerchiefs, not to use their eating spoon to serve food, not to offer food that they have bitten into, not to stir sauce with their fingers…

Beyond direct instruction, European society also developed taboos around sex, defecation, and urination; they passed laws; and they made non-compliance of cosmic importance by employing Christian dogma. In other words, the European ‘second nature’ developed only through multiple, interlocking systems and over a long period of time.

Elias argues that instilling a second nature into Europeans became necessary because right around the same time the patchwork of feuda

l territories, chiefdoms, and cities were being consolidated into much larger state-based societies. Nowadays, with states and their systems of education already established, a large-scale social transformation is unnecessary, and citizens usually go through the same processes of education in their youth.

Today the dominant ideology of global civilisation, in terms of power, is secular humanism. Among other things, this asserts that all of humanity belongs to a single moral community, and that each member of this community has a moral obligation to recognise all others’ rights and intrinsic dignity, which, conveniently, includes the right to live industrially.

This is the ideology preached by the United Nations, universities, NGOs, and progressive corporations like Facebook. Connectedness between people becomes an important goal; development, another.

The ideology is sustained by civilised infrastructure, like mass communication and transportation systems. Without it, humanism is untenable. Ecocentrism would be similarly untenable, because it further enlarges the moral circle to include non-humans. The trick, however, is to reject the artificial moralities completely.

Let me be clear. Solidarity, cooperation and altruism in small, natural social groups, is necessary for human flourishing. The human animal needs mates, parents, peers, elders to go beyond simply surviving and to live well.

But civility must be instilled; it is a technological modification.

Consider Freud’s thoughts on the matter in Civilisation and Its Discontents, in which he writes that one of the characteristic elements of civilisation is ‘..the manner in which the relationships of men to one another, their social relationships, are regulated — relationships which affect a person as a neighbour, as a source of help, as another person’s sexual object, as a member of a family and of a State’ (much like social manners began to be regulated in the Middle Ages).

But Freud warns that the repressed elements of human nature may express themselves in two ways. On the one hand, these desires might be redirected toward problems within civil life ‘… and so may prove favourable to a further development of civilisation.’

On the other hand, these desires ‘may also spring from the remains of their original personality, which is still untamed by civilisation and may thus become the basis … of hostility to civilisation.

The urge for freedom, therefore, is directed against particular forms and demands of civilisation or against civilisation altogether.’ Rewilding cannot be about trying to create a particular form of civilisation, like expanding its concept of justice to include non-humans.

Rewilding will involve casting off the chains of artificial regulations that currently bind our ‘original personality, which is still untamed’.

This kind of rewilding won’t look at all like the kind that is found on websites with e-stores, on Instagram profiles, or in lifestyle magazines. It will, in fact, be regarded extremely negatively.

For instance, in 1785 a group of freed and runaway slaves and white indentured servants settled in a wilderness area now known as Indianapolis. Peter Lamborn Wilson writes:
They mingled with Pawnee Indians and took up a nomadic life modeled on that of local hunter-gatherer tribes. Led by a ‘king’ and ‘queen,’ Ben and Jennie Ishmael, […] they were known as fine artisans, musicians and dancers, abstainers from alcohol, practitioners of polygamy, non-Christian, and racially integrated […]
By about 1810 they had established a cycle of travel that took them annually from Indianapolis (where their village gradually became a city slum) through a triangle formed by the hamlets of Morocco and Mecca in Indiana and Mahomet in Illinois …
Later ‘official’ white pioneers detested the Ishmaels, and apparently the feeling was mutual. From about 1890 comes this description of an elder: ‘He is an anarchist of course, and he has the instinctive, envious dislike so characteristic of his people, of anyone in a better condition than himself.’ […]
The observer continues: ‘He abused the law, the courts; the rich, factories — everything.’ The elder stated that ‘the police should be hanged’; he was ready, he said, to burn the institutions of society. ‘I am better than any man that wears store clothes.’
Are we ready to be viewed like the Ishmaels?

Live WildRewilding is an excellent framework for people who want to abandon civilisation, but it’s time to take it seriously. We cannot engage in the error of lifestylism — we must leave the zoo to rewild, and we must hold humans to the same standard as non-humans.

And we cannot mistake rewilding for a progressive project — the point is to decrease the stronghold of artificial systems, not increase it. Foreman, in the first newsletter for Earth First!, put it well: ‘Not blind opposition to progress, but wide-eyed opposition to progress!

• John Jacobi is a part of the Wild Will Project.

To find alternatives to Capitalism

SUBHEAD: Why co-ops, regional currencies, and hackerspaces are pointing the way toward a new economic vision.

By David Bollard on 9 Augusat 2017 for the Nation -

Image above: Detroit man plays a sax at the Eastern Market built in 1891 where local food and products are sold. From (

In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s shocking election victory, a shattered Democratic Party and dazed progressives agree on at least one thing: Democrats must replace Republicans in Congress as quickly as possible.

As usual, however, the quest to recapture power is focused on tactical concerns and political optics, and not on the need for the deeper conversation that the 2016 election should have provoked us to have.

How can we overcome the structural pathologies of our rigged economy and toxic political culture, and galvanize new movements capable of building functional alternatives?

Since at least the 1980s, Democrats have accepted, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, the free-market “progress” narrative—the idea that constant economic growth with minimal government involvement is the only reliable way to advance freedom and improve well-being.

Dependent on contributions from Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and Big Pharma, the Democratic Party remains incapable of recognizing our current political economy as fundamentally extractive and predatory.

The party’s commitment to serious change is halfhearted, at best. While the mainstream resistance to Trump is angry, spirited, and widespread, its implicit agenda, at least on economic matters, is more to restore a bygone liberal normalcy than to forge a new vision for the future.

The impressive grassroots resistance to Trump may prove to be an ambiguous gift. While inspiring fierce mobilizations, the politicization of ordinary people, and unity among an otherwise fractious left, it has thus far failed to produce a much-needed paradigm shift in progressive thought.

This search for a new paradigm is crucial as the world grapples with some profound existential questions: Is continued economic growth compatible with efforts to address the urgent dangers of climate change?

If not, what does this mean for restructuring capitalism and reorienting our lives? How can we reap the benefits of digital technologies and artificial intelligence without exacerbating unemployment, inequality, and social marginalization?

And how shall we deal with the threats posed by global capital and right-wing nationalism to liberal democracy itself?

In the face of such daunting questions, most progressive political conversations still revolve around the detritus churned up by the latest news cycle.

Even the most outraged opponents of the Trump administration seem to presume that the existing structures of government, law, and policy are up to the job of delivering much-needed answers. But they aren’t, they haven’t, and they won’t.

These projects reject the standard ideals of economic development, emphasizing instead community and the mutualization of benefits.

Instead of trying to reassemble the broken pieces of the old order, progressives would be better off developing a new vision more suited to our times. There are already a number of projects that dare to imagine what a fairer, eco-friendly, post-growth economy might look like.

But these valuable inquiries often remain confined within progressive and intellectual circles.

Perhaps more to the point, they are too often treated as thought experiments for someone else to implement. “Action causes more trouble than thought,” the artist Jenny Holzer has noted. What is needed now are bold projects that attempt to demonstrate, rather than merely conceptualize, effective solutions.

The challenges before us are not modest.

But it’s now clear that the answers won’t come from Washington. Policy leadership and support at the federal level could certainly help, but bureaucracies are risk-averse, the Democratic Party has little to offer, and the president, needless to say, is clueless. It falls to the rest of us, then, to figure out a way to move forward.

The energy for serious, durable change will originate, as always, on the periphery, far from the guarded sanctums of official power and respectable opinion.

Resources may be scarce at the local level, but the potential for innovation is enormous: Here one finds fewer big institutional reputations at stake, a greater openness to risk-taking, and an abundance of grassroots imagination and enthusiasm.

Beyond the Beltway’s gaze, the seeds of a new social economy are being germinated in neighborhoods and farmers’ fields, in community initiatives and on digital platforms.

A variety of experimental projects, innovative organizations, and social movements are developing new types of local provisioning and self-governance systems.

Aspiring to much more than another wave of incremental reform, most of these actors deliberately bypass conventional politics and policy. In piecemeal fashion, they unabashedly seek to develop the DNA for new types of postcapitalist social and economic institutions.

The “commons sector,” as I call this bricolage of projects and movements, is a world of DIY experimentation and open-source ethics that holds itself together not through coercion or profiteering but through social collaboration, resourceful creativity, and sweat equity, often with the help of digital platforms.

Its fruits can be seen in cooperatives, locally rooted food systems, alternative currencies, community land trusts, and much else.

While these insurgent projects are fragmentary and do not constitute a movement in the traditional sense, they tend to share basic values and goals: production for household needs, not market profit; decision-making that is bottom-up, consensual, and decentralized; and stewardship of shared wealth for the long term.

They reject the standard ideals of economic development and a return on shareholder investment, emphasizing instead community self-determination and the mutualization of benefits.

Not surprisingly, the Washington cognoscenti have evinced scant interest in these emerging forms of social economy and their political potential.

As the 2016 campaigns showed, mainstream politicians can barely discuss climate change intelligently, let alone imagine a post-fossil-fuel economy (as the climate-justice and transition-towns movements do) or apply deep ecological principles and wisdom traditions to politics (as Native Americans have done at Standing Rock).

They are similarly oblivious to the hacktivists developing community-driven alternatives to Uber and Airbnb, and to the work of the social-and-solidarity-economy (SSE) movement to build multi-stakeholder cooperatives for social services.

But that’s precisely why those seeking profound change should be paying attention to these experiments. The commons sector goes beyond the orthodox approach to social change and justice, which tends to privilege individual rights and the redistribution of wealth via the tax system and government programs.

Instead, the animating ideals of the commons are collective emancipation and the “pre-distribution” of benefits by giving people direct ownership and control over discrete chunks of land, water, infrastructure, housing, public space, and online services.

With greater equity stakes and opportunities for self-governance, people are remarkably eager to contribute to their communities, whether local or digital. They welcome an escape from consumerism, exploitative markets, and remote bureaucracies.

These sorts of local and regional experiments not only advance effective structural solutions at a time when national politics is dysfunctional; they also provide meaningful ways for ordinary people to become agents of change themselves.

Almost 50 years ago, Fannie Lou Hamer came up with a shrewd strategy for dealing with community disempowerment—in her case, the vestiges of the plantation system and exploitative white-owned businesses.

The civil-rights leader purchased hundreds of acres of Mississippi Delta farmland so that poor blacks could grow their own food. “When you’ve got 400 quarts of greens and gumbo soup for the winter, nobody can push you around or tell you what to say or do,” Hamer noted.

This is roughly the same strategy that must be pursued today. Relocalizing and decommodifying production and services represents a compelling strategy for the small cities, towns, and rural areas that have been ruthlessly hollowed out by big-box stores, online retailers, automation, big agriculture, and outsourcing.

In fact, that’s just what the local-food movement has done over the past few decades.

Faced with a long list of agribusiness horrors—pesticides, processed foods, monoculture farming, seed monopolies, a loss of biodiversity, and more—countless champions of localism retrenched to create a semi-autonomous parallel economy on their own terms: community-oriented, fair-minded, humane, and ecologically respectful.

Image above: The shares of produce from Smolak Farms of North Andover, Massachusetts is an example of successful Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) that began as a farm stand over 30 years ago. From (

Today, there are more than 1,650 community-supported agriculture (CSA) projects and more than 8,000 local farmers’ markets across the country. Organic farming is a robust market sector, and agroecology and permaculture are pointing the way to eco-friendly approaches.

In California, the Food Commons Fresno project is one of the most ambitious regional efforts to reimagine the food system from farm to plate.

Even though Fresno is located in the heart of prime agriculture lands, the region has been ecologically abused for decades and is a food desert for half a million low-income residents and farm workers.

To develop systemic solutions, the Food Commons has established a network of community-owned trusts that bring together landowners, farmers, food processors, distributors, retailers, and workers to support a shared mission: high-quality, safe, locally grown food that everyone can afford.

Instead of siphoning away profits to investors, the Food Commons mutualizes financial surpluses on a system-wide scale, reducing market pressures to deplete the soil, exploit farm workers, degrade food quality, and raise prices.

This approach, writes the social thinker John Thackara, “marks a radical shift from a narrow focus on the production of food on its own, towards a whole-system approach in which the interests of farm communities and local people, the land, watersheds and biodiversity are all considered together.”

Another impressive innovation in regional self-determination is the BerkShares currency, launched in 2006 by the Schumacher Center for a New Economics (where I work) in the largely rural Berkshires of western Massachusetts. The goal is to strengthen the local economy and community life by reengineering the flow of money.

Anyone can exchange $100 in US currency for $105 worth of BerkShares at any of four banks with a total of 16 branches throughout Berkshire County, and then spend them at 400 participating businesses.

Consumers get a 5 percent bump in purchasing power from this buy-local strategy while boosting the regional economy and strengthening the region’s identity.

The BerkShares story is part of a global trend in which dozens of localities worldwide are deploying their own currencies to reclaim some measure of control from hedge funds and banks.

New-economy renegades are not shy about engaging with the policy world, but many regard it as a rigged game that won’t yield the transformations needed. In the meantime, they ask, why not grow our own greens and make our own gumbo soup?

As in Fannie Lou Hamer’s day, the focus should be on securing tangible results and greater leverage for change.
Relocalization strategies can also help reinvigorate democratic self-governance. Just as the rise of public-interest organizations in the 1970s propelled far-reaching changes, today our economic future is taking shape in new organizational forms.

Innovative cooperative structures, pool-and-share projects, self-managed digital platforms, and collaborative global networks are changing the topography for pursuing social change. 

One of the most notable new forms may be the platform cooperative, a socially constructive alternative to Silicon Valley start-ups, which famously like to “move fast and break things.”

Gig-economy companies rely on heaps of capital, proprietary algorithms, and political muscle to control new markets that leapfrog over government standards for public safety, fair labor, and consumer protection.

Platform co-ops are attempting to write a different story: Instead of using networking technologies to extract money from communities for the benefit of investors and speculators, platform co-ops work with communities, workers, and consumers to share the gains.

 These dynamics play out at Stocksy United, a global co-op of photographers that sells royalty-free stock photos and video, and on service-swapping platforms like TimeBanks, which uses a currency of hours contributed to helping people meet needs and build circles of mutual support.

Another vanguard player is Enspiral, a New Zealand–  based cooperative that developed the popular Loomio platform for online deliberation and decision-making. (For more on platform co-ops, see The Internet of Ownership)

When community commitment and digital platforms come together, they often give rise to “cosmo-local” production, as Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation calls it.

This is a new model of manufacturing that allows “light” nonproprietary knowledge and design to be collaboratively produced on a global scale, while enabling “heavy” physical things to be produced locally at minimal cost. This fledgling model could greatly reduce carbon emissions and transport costs while building local economic capacity.

Image above: The University of Maryland Human-Computer Interaction Lab hackerspace. From (

The rudiments of cosmo-local production are evident at fab labs (short for “fabrication laboratories”) and so-called hackerspaces—participatory communities of socially minded artists, designers, engineers, entrepreneurs, and techies who use computer-assisted tools to produce vanguard industrial designs.

This production approach has been dubbed “SLOC”—small and local, but open and connected—a framework that scrambles the standard understanding of the economy as controlled by nation-states and corporations.

SLOC integrates the local and transnational into a remarkably creative provisioning sector—commons-based peer production—that is already developing farm equipment (Farm Hack, Open Source Ecology), furniture (Open Desk), houses (WikiHouse), animated videos (Blender Institute), and cars (Wikispeed).

To conventional policy minds, altering the micro-dynamics of organizations may seem irrelevant to the task of making broadscale social change. But transforming organizational systems and cultures on a small scale may be one of the most effective ways to bring about macro-change.

Just as the microprocessor and the telecommunications network changed the inner dynamics of business, eventually transforming the global economy itself, the rise of self-organized governance and networked collaboration is opening up strategic opportunities on a larger scale.

Attempting to move beyond neoliberal capitalism may sound naive. But over the past two decades, some remarkable progress has already been made.

Besides a range of relocalization strategies, a new sector of commons-based peer production has revolutionized software development, scientific research, academic publishing, education, and other fields by making their outputs legally and technically shareable.

In the halls of government, however, policy-makers and even progressives show little interest in the profound political and economic implications of free and open-source software, Creative Commons licenses, citizen science, data commons, open educational resources, and open design and hardware.

Most of these and other movements are seen as too small, local, unorthodox, or little-known to be consequential. They don’t swing elections. Their participants tend to eschew politics and policy, and often don’t regard their work as part of a unified movement.

They see themselves as part of a pulsating pluriverse of autonomous projects, each working diligently in its own separate sphere.

Counterintuitively, this pluriverse may fuel a true progressive revival. “The next big thing will be a lot of small things,” the designer Thomas Lommée predicted recently, neatly capturing the structural logic of postcapitalist movements and the generativity of the Internet.

Acting on this insight calls for a new mind-set. Greater attention should be paid to places and players on distributed networks. The swarms of self-selected individuals and projects should be recognized as serious actors that can meet real needs in new ways.

We also need to acknowledge the limits of markets and centralized bureaucracies, which are so often hell-bent on asserting total control, engineering dependencies, and eliminating the space for social deliberation and genuine human agency.

By enabling self-organized groups to bypass large institutions and formal systems of authority, and to set their own terms for establishing social trust and legitimacy, we enter the headwaters of a new kind of politics, one that is more accountable, decentralized, and human-scale.

The substantive, local, and practical move to the fore, challenging the highly consolidated power structures and ideological posturing that have turned our national politics into a charade.

But, skeptics ask, can these countless small, irregular initiatives scale up? The question carries the false premise that some form of centralized management or hierarchical control is needed.

As a creature of open networks and sharing, the new social economy will not be directed by a political headquarters or a federal program. That kind of control would kill it.

The participatory local economy will expand only by engaging a diverse base of American pragmatists. That just might be possible, since it offers something for everyone.

As my colleague Silke Helfrich puts it: “Conservatives like the tendency of commons to promote responsibility and community; liberals are pleased with the focus on equality and basic social entitlement; libertarians like the emphasis on individual initiative; and leftists like the idea of limiting the scope of the market.”

To be sure, a constructive rapprochement with state power will have to be negotiated at some point, and in the meantime supportive laws and infrastructures would certainly help.

But the success of the commons sector will hinge on the independent vitality of its projects, the integrity of its bottom-up participation, and the results it produces.

Emulation and federation—these are the means by which a new participatory sector will expand. The point is to create the conditions for grassroots initiatives to self-organize and grow.

It helps to recall that the New Deal didn’t spring fully grown from the brain of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but emerged over time as the policy’s many precursors nurtured brave experiments for years. We need to plant a field of new seeds today if we are going to have anything to harvest in the years to come.

In defense of the neoliberal revolution in the 1980s, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously thundered a phrase that is often shortened to its acronym, TINA: “There is no alternative!”

The result has been nearly 40 years of privatization, deregulation, austerity, and corporate governance, now reaching their farcical, destructive extremes.

For those seeking to overcome this awful legacy, along with the oxymoron of “democratic capitalism,” it is time for a rejoinder: “There are plenty of alternatives!” The only question is whether the Democratic Party and mainstream progressives have any use for them.