29 March 2011

Reflecting on Transition Towns

Transition Towns are based on one insight and one question. The insight is that the fundamental challenge of this moment is how to successfully address climate change, energy descent, and social inequity. The question is how can life be better in the process and as a result of addressing this challenge.

The challenge is not one of these three conditions, but the occurrence of all three at once. The assumptions about our economic condition are included in and may even precede beliefs about these conditions and challenge. With respect to that challenge it may be necessary to go through a kind of process of inquiry. Such an inquiry can involve traversing an emotional and cognitive landscape that does not itself necessarily lead to insight into how such a process can lead to a better way of living together. Including the question of how life can be better, even in and as a result of the process of transition, as we inquire into this moment and our shared future, is one of the distinctive qualities of the Transition Town approach. The approach also seems to have a deep appreciation of the potential for emotional and cognitive incongruence along the way.

Perhaps we can consider this together. Perhaps we can consider something about the process of inquiring into this. What does it involve? Maybe we could start by asking about each of the elements, though one of the major aspects is that all three are occurring at once. In general with respect to these conditions there are two extreme views: Doomers and Skeptics. Because of the way in which our 'mental models' function, neither a Doomer nor a Skeptic hold their view as a belief system in which they are participating, but rather view it as a type of self evident truth.

22 March 2011

the morning

Do you ever notice your own process of waking up in the morning? Do you ever watch what happens? This is interesting to me because in such a process I can see the active construction of identity at work. Haha. Hoho. My identity is so interested in itself!

Perhaps there has been some change in my life. Maybe some fundamental aspect of my life with respect to my work, place of living or key relationship has suddenly changed. Just to make this clearer let's say that I am upset by this change (though this is by no means necessary). Perhaps I am very upset and even view it as a crisis. I am not sure what to do or how to be. I may experience it as extreme grief. If I am able to sleep such grief may even wash over into my dreams. When I am asleep and not dreaming however, it is simply not there. 'It' does not exist, where existence means distinct with respect to a background. What happens in the process of waking up from such a sleep?

In my own experience, if I am watchful, I notice that grief, trauma, etc. is not fundamentally present in this moment of waking up. The memory of my identity happens very quickly so I must be watchful. I have 'practiced' noticing the first moments that I am able to notice. This is different than noticing the re-presentation of my own noticing that might take place in language such as "oh, I am noticing this or that." I realize this is problematic since it asks the question 'who is noticing?' That is specifically why it is interesting to me.

21 March 2011


I used practice a particular form of prayer for some time. I think it comes from Theophan the Recluse, but I am no longer sure of that. The basis of the practice is to contemplate a condition in which you are owed nothing by anyone in any way. Because of our modern nature we tend to first think of this in terms of commercial debt. To us the 'literal' sense of being owed has to do with money and debt. In my experience this is a useful surface, but does not really get to the underlying condition.

Consider the word 'ought.' What does this word mean to you? 'We ought to do this.' 'They ought to do/have/be something.' 'It ought to be this way or that way.' 'Ought' is a past tense form of the verb 'to owe.' 'Should' has a similar meaning and related origin. One possible consequence of this is that anywhere we have a complaint - in any moment of suffering - we are experiencing a moment of feeling we are owed something. In any moment of offense or conflict we are likely to have some frame of being owed something, though it may not occur for us in this way.

20 March 2011

This seemed an interesting article to me addressing what I referred to as the 'arrogance' of our belief in our own models.


At the bottom there is a link to a Taleb article that is more detailed, but to my view also very interesting.

19 March 2011

Which Road?

There is so much happening right now, in such an immediate way, that I have not been altogether sure what to write about. I live about 15 miles from an operating nuclear reactor, on a fault line, in a place where there is pretty much only one road out... if I had a car, which I don't. It is my fervent hope that the current events will cause a suspension of the re-licensing process now underway at that plant and cause it to be closed. I really do not even want to go into the massive amounts of rhetoric now prevalent in public discourse about all this. It is mostly artificial. Instead I would like to move laterally to consider this.

I have been thinking about roads. I think about roads a lot for some reason. The very first time I was in China I went overland from WuZhou to Guilin by bus. The road was under construction for almost all of the 200 mile trip. In that 200 miles there was one piece of construction equipment, aside from trucks and even trucks were not plentiful. All of the work was being done directly with human labor. I had been in Asia almost a year by this time, but this was striking and I still remember it vividly. This was 25 years ago and of course much has changed in that time.

Consider Mcluhan's "the medium is the message." The notion here is that the communication is embedded in the medium in a way that the medium then effects and becomes the communication. This is a dynamic relationship occurring within the structure of the system, taken as a whole. Historically roads are the primary medium of communication for land empires and civilizations. The roads represent the structure of communications. The Roman Empire is an example of this, but it is no less true in other empires (the Great Wall is also a road). The Roman Empire was extended and stabilized through its roads, which allowed the movement of information, commerce, and military. The Roman 'postal' service was an intelligence agency, among other things. The relationship between the roads and this communication was dynamic, i.e. an interrelationship through which all 'components' are effected. The 'rule by law' which we more or less inherited from the Romans was affected in great part by the roads. The roads in this sense are not a passive infrastructure, but an active medium. All built infrastructure functions in this way, though we typically treat infrastructure and its effects as a passive or given condition. Eventually we come to believe in the infrastructure as necessary.

09 March 2011

the current condition pt. 2

I was emailed this today. Perhaps take a look if you are so moved and then consider a reflective process similar to the one in 'the current condition pt. 1."

07 March 2011

the current condition pt. 1

Over the past several years I have had the opportunity to speak at universities, conferences with teams, organizations, governments, academics, etc. on the topics of sustainability, sufficiency, resilience, change and transition. Before I say anything else I typically say:

"I do not really know why you have asked me to speak to you. I do not know anything about these topics you are considering. I have been involved in a number of efforts related to these topics, read a fair amount on the subject, spent time with people who are experts in these areas. Let me say what I do know about. I know how to fluently participate in a globalized system of objectification, extraction, burning, manipulation, consumption and profit. I am, culturally speaking, quite skilled at this. I consider myself an industrial era refugee, though when I consider the vast majority of people on the planet living in that condition, as a result of these globalized systems of the industrial era, I recognize that such a view of myself is not supportable."

I might then go on to talk about the nature of the industrial era as a paradigm or enacted point of view, rather than a given condition of reality. This might involve something about the nature of meaningful deconstruction and 'non-action.' None of it is useful and much of it is offensive. On the other hand, since such conferences in the US and China are often attended by people participating in and enacting those very systems as a day to day way of life it can also be liberating in some ways.

It seems important to me to say that I am not simply saying these things in some facetious way or strategically speaking for some effect. It is more or less the truth for me. I do not experience myself as particularly competent, possessed of any special knowledge or expertise or useful in any meaningful way. Of course such speaking has contained within it the implication that most people involved in such activities are themselves involved from within the context of the industrial era and its systems and may share some of these qualities. It has contained within it my feeling that such efforts and expertise are not particularly useful and can even be damaging.

06 March 2011

Considering the Heroic

"Currently I feel as if the habituated sense of the heroic may actually erode something about 'sustainability' efforts. A socialized heroism often consolidates and sublimates what is 'unsustainable' in a lived system." - excerpted from a correspondence with a permaculturist and proponent monomythology (willi Paul), who then asked me to say what I meant by that.
The image is from "Orpheus and Linead" by Adi Da Samraj

Two years ago when I was in Beijing a Chinese NGO contacted some friends of mine and asked us to consider a dilemma they had. Some years prior to that, a local district in Yunnan had decided to engage in a local sustainability effort. Such efforts around the world are often undertaken with the purpose of 'raising the standard of living' of some particular group of people. Often this intent is held by someone not actually from that group of people, on behalf of those people. This particular example did not suffer from all the complications of that sort of formulation.

This district in Yunnan undertook to improve their own standard of living through an entrepreneurial effort to create a local dairy farm. They imported about 100 dairy cows from Australia with the intent of creating a dairy business focused on yogurt. Of course this is already problematic since they are importing a non-native species. They distributed the cattle among the farmers of the district. This is also problematic since is constitutes a shift in the social fabric. These are the types of things that are often simply not considered in the formulation of 'sustainability' efforts, but that is only the beginning of this particular story.

02 March 2011

Paper on Learning

This is a paper on learning that I wrote for an executive team several years ago. This particular team were one level down from the CEO of one of largest multi-nationals. I have edited it a bit to make it anonymous, but have made no content edits. It compiles several of the things I have been writing about in a format for that particular 'audience.' One of the things that it shows is how my thinking has been developing over the past several years. I am also testing the use of dropbox to publish papers and cases. If you have trouble with the link please let me know.
Paper on Learning