Saving the World one person at a time … starting with me

“Teach them Correct Principles and they Govern Themselves”.  This is the foundation for a sustainable world.  This is my message to the world.
I was asked to give a talk to the Economics club at Sewanee, the University of the South on our independent local currency initiative, the Sewanee Dollar.  But when the sponsor, a student representing the Economics Club read my BLOG, he decided there is more to the story.

He admitted to being a closet Libertarian, an unpopular position at liberal Sewanee U.  But, he said he was having a hard time reconciling “sustainability” with some of the libertarian views I had written of on this blog.  In his mind, these were polar opposites.  To which I responded,

“I can’t imagine anything sustainable unless founded on true principles, including the freedom to act on them”.  

That led to a broader discussion of sustainability.  Sustainable extends into eternity.  It’s not just about restraining ourselves from destroying natural Eco-systems, although that is part of it.  It includes spiritual, moral, physical and economic sustainability.   It’s about being wise, good stewards.  It’s about being the change we want to see.

In other words, Saving the World one person at a time. . . starting with me.

PS:  For a list of some of the community projects referred to in the above video, see my post, Socialism Fails as Free Markets Flourish In the Village.

Making Japanese Kaizen and American Individualism work together in the Village

If you have read my short bio, you know that I have some experience with the Japanese culture and speak fluent Japanese.  In the late 70’s, Japanese management philosophies were popular in America as our auto, electronics and optics industries were being decimated by Japanese competition.

Kaizen is a key word in Japanese philosophy.  A direct translation from the Chinese/Japanese characters “Kai” and “Zen” is “change” and “good” or in other words, to transform for the better.  As with most things Japanese, there is a deeper meaning, hinting of a unique, underlying culture.  To understand, one needs to add a few more words to the translation.  These would include patience, persistence, small, incremental and harmonious.
Deeply imbedded in the Japanese psyche is an understanding that perfection is achievable, but only in incredibly small, incremental steps, accomplished through cooperation.  Nothing great is ever achieved by a single genius in isolation or in one magnificent technical or ideological leap.

Dyed-in-the-wool American that I am, it’s hard to practice this philosophy.  By nature, I tend to be visionary, impetuous, strong-willed and impatient.  We Americans pride ourselves, above all, on rugged individualism, self-sufficiency, independence and personal initiative.  We idealize strong-willed individuals, while the Japanese idolize an amorphous group who toil upward silently in the night, never seeking or receiving personal credit but collectively achieving greatness through an uncountable series of small innovations.  That’s kaizen, or change(s) for the better.  While American heroes are individual people, the Japanese draw their heroes from nature – ants and bees.

Polar opposites, there is genius in BOTH Japanese and American world views.  Where quick, bold action is required, Americans win.  Where absolute excellence of quality, nearing perfection, is required, the Japanese approach excels.

Is it possible to practice both in a symbiotic balance?  That is the challenge of the Village on Sewanee Creek.  We are striving for a balance between opposites.
Consider our motto, “In harmony with nature and people” One might say it has a Japanese, Zen-like ring to it.  A number of Villagers even work together harmoniously to raise bees.       Bzzzzz, sounds like “nature and people in harmony”, doesn’t it?  I actually hadn’t thought of the symbolic nature of our beekeeping collaboration till just now.

On the other hand, a top stated value for the Village is self-sufficiency, independence and personal liberty.  One practical application of that value is the absolute requirement for private property ownership. Within one’s personal sphere of control, ownership begets personal accountability.

On yet another hand, we believe that collective, cooperative work optimizes effectiveness, efficiency and positive social relationships.  We observe this in action nearly every week when we rotate projects, one Villager sponsoring and leading the project and the rest chipping in.  A few weeks ago, it was my turn.  My project was framing up a new car port.  It is instantly clear as you struggle to lift both ends of a heavy beam into place, level it, and secure it, that a team of 2 or more beats a single laborer no matter how skilled or determined.  Where there is clear leadership and willing follower-ship, once again there is harmony as well as efficient achievement.

Both Leaders and followers are important in any task involving more than one person.  But, we find that achieving long-term harmony requires that all who want to lead must have a fair opportunity to do so.  By regularly trading project leadership, each participant grows and is built along with the building projects we undertake.  Each participant has an opportunity to improve their people and relationship skills including both how to lead and how to follow.

Each also has the opportunity to express their creative side on the property they own and control.  That brings out the best of our American spirit of ingenuity, vision, and can-do attitude.

One of the big lessons I have been forced to learn is that quality takes time and continuous improvement.  Through the contributions of many, both in physical labor and inspired ideas for improvements, each day is a challenge to make things a little better.  In the Village, we enjoy the pleasure of seeing our personal labors translated into physical improvements before our eyes.  No doubt, it’s nice to be able to call up a professional and order a nice improvement done.  But there is a special satisfaction that comes only by being able to say, “I did that”.  Even better if you can say, “We did that.”  At the end of a productive day, working together on something that will be yours for a long time, the tired smiles are priceless.

If this is the kind of harmonious, productive life you have always dreamed of, drop me a line here.

It’s not what you make. It’s what you keep that counts.

Sustainability

It’s the buzzword of the decade.  Wrapped up in that word are other buzzwords like “green” andeco-friendly.  But these words represent passing fads.  The bedrock reality underlying sustainability is a much more prosaic, boring, yet little understood word, “Economics”.   It’s a terrifying word.  It suggests complex supply / demand curves and the inscrutable workings of inscrutable institutions like the Federal Reserve, the IMF and the World Bank.  People are increasingly frustrated and angry with the “banksters”, politicians and other manipulators of “the economy”.

Take a deep breath.  It’s actually quite simple at our level.  Make more than you spendThat’s it.  Take charge of your life.  Live frugally.  Be industrious.  Build and create.

That’s not to say that one need not be aware of the many external factors that weigh in on the spending side of the equation.  America’s favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, is next week. 

The Washington Post informs us Thanksgiving Dinner this year will cost 13% more than last year.  Yup, inflation is accelerating.  It’s about to get a lot worse.  Thankfully, I’ll be keeping more of what most people will be spending on a Thanksgiving feast this year.  We raise our own vegetables and poultry!

We’ll be enjoying some non-traditional, but delicious green tomato pie, remnants of our summer garden after a hard freeze last week.  Interesting how that word “Sustainability” is increasingly associated with another buzzword, self-sufficiency.  Keeping more of your output is inseparably connected with controlling both your income and outgo.  And that’s what self-sufficiency is all about – personal independence and control.

The good life is about more than financial economics.  Peace of mind is an even bigger part.  That’s why self-sufficiency, the sense that I’m in control of my destiny is so closely connected with sustainability and economics, which are all about achieving an abundant life.  Abundance can be in things, but has a lot more to do with state of mind.  It’s hard to have one without the other.

It’s not easy to be self-sufficient and independent.  It takes forethought, planning, intelligence and work, all values that were common to the early American ethic that seem to have become lost in the generations of excess.  Thankfully, those values are coming back into fashion.

One of the obvious elements to consider in the outgo part of the equation is the general cost of living.  We selected rural Tennessee as the place to buy land and put down our homestead.  Tennessee offers the lowest overall cost of living in the U.S.  For thinking people who want an abundant life, keeping more for themselves of what they produce, it’s an obvious choice.

For thinking people, there are many ways to cut costs beyond the current coupon fad.  Coupons only tie people to existing products and systems that reduce your control of your life.   Coupons might be put to better use as band-aids with a little stick-em.   That’s all they are anyway; short-term relief for a chronic disease.  Band-aids can be useful, but not for long.  In the Village on Sewanee Creek, an intelligent Intentional Community, people work together.  Cooperative effort on gardens, homes and other projects increases productivity and reduces costs.  We try to standardize on equipment and vehicles.  That way, it’s easier to repair things (increased productivity) and maintain extra parts (reduced, shared costs on a few critical items).   This kind of coöperation takes extra thought, extra preparation, extra commitment.  That’s why most people don’t do it.  That’s why most people don’t keep a lot of what they make.

At the end of the day, economics is pretty simple at our level.  Keep more than you spend.  Spend only on things of lasting value.  Work with your neighbors.  It’s all natural law.  We call it … “in harmony with people and nature”.  It’s our motto and it’s working to create a more sustainable, abundant life for people in the Village.

Use it up, Wear it Out, Make it do or Do Without

Tennessee Intentional Community

This was my mother’s mantra when I was little.  Having survived the great depression in her childhood, she was a raving evangelist of frugality.  That didn’t mean I was deprived in any way.  My Halloween costumes, made from pieces of this and that, were always extravagant pieces of art.  I was always the best dressed kid in my school, consistently walking away with the best costume award.

Speaking of school, when I decided to run for school president in the 6th grade, I easily trounced my opponents due entirely to my father’s artistic creativity.  He built an amazing, rotating sign from old wood scraps, a rotisserie motor, photos we developed in his basement dark room and his hand drawn Peanuts cartoons.  How could I lose with an endorsement from Charlie Brown?  Back in the day, that sign was so far ahead of its time, it became a sensation.

Some years lager, my wedding reception had a Hawaiian theme because my bride and I had lived in Hawaii as college students.  True to form, both my parents dialed up the heat.  My Dad created a replica of the church where we were married standing about eight feet tall.  The room was decorated with life-sized coconut trees and an outrigger canoe, all made from scavenged stuff, but looking like they came out of a Madison Avenue design studio.  The brides maids and grooms men wore authentic Hawaiian formal wear, made by my mother.  Hawaiian friends provided the entertainment.  They were willing to do the gig for free because they felt they owed my parents so much.

I guess that’s why this YouTube Video caught my attention.  Whether or not you buy into man-made global warming and the need to reduce our carbon footprint, it’s just way cooler to get the creative juices going and make great stuff out of almost nothing.  In our intentional community at the Village, we look for opportunities to be creative, together when possible, and as frugal as we can be.  It’s what I would call an abundant lifestyle.

Anyway, I hope this video inspires you to do more.  With some creativity, even a depression can be fun. 

I like liberals

despite the fact that I am not one.  

I know I’m venturing into dangerous territory, the no-mans-land between opposing trenches.

I am conservative, and cautious, sometimes fearful, repressed, yet sometimes driven.  People like me keep the world from spinning out of control or at least we like to think we do.  We live within our means.  We save for the future.  We plan for the worst.  We are captivated by a steep moral code that puts boundaries around our lives.  Boundaries make us and others around us feel safer.  We’re fairly predictable.  Politically, we demand fiscal sanity; recognition of what is real.  We analyze the data, find trends and, unless we anticipate something huge happening to reverse the momentum, we generally expect trends to continue.

But there’s another side, buried deep inside of me, that cries out to be creative.  It is an irrepressible force that bursts out of its cave from time to time with a defiant roar.  That creative urge demands that I sheer off the constraints, think unthinkable thoughts, and believe the unbelievable, that insoluble problems can be solved simply, damn the data.  A liberal thought might be something like there is plenty of money to go around to feed the hungry, clothe and house the poor from government coffers that can somehow be magically filled simply by printing more money or redistributing it from the rich.  It is an urge that tells me mankind is basically good, that despite the endless trail of failed utopian societies that depended on people to be unselfish, love others more than themselves and share without restraint, utopia is possible and deserves to be attempted yet again.

Fortunately, my primary self reasserts and I usually come to my senses.  I realize that communes where all property is held in common never survive long, not in a pure form.  Almost nobody loves others better than or even equal to themselves even if there have been one or even a few exceptions.  And though I try to be otherwise, that includes me almost all the time.  That’s why I recognize that personal ownership of property is essential.  Without personal ownership, we typically slide into sloth and “poor greed”.  That is, the back side of the greed coin most people attribute only to the wealthy, which is “driven greed”.  In the end, greed is a problem everywhere.  It is not limited by class.

Consider two unlikely questions together.  “Why do I like liberals?” and “How often do arch-conservatives excoriate liberals as the cause of moral corruption and America’s destruction?”  “Rome is falling because of the damned liberals.”  If you hang around Republicans the refrain is familiar.  These two questions together remind me of another odd couplet.  “Why do I love my wife?”  And “How many jokes are there about men who can’t ask for directions, won’t put the toilet seat down and women who refuse to think logically.”  Why do I love my wife even if she drives me nuts?  Maybe it’s because I need her so desperately.  In the balance between the yin and the yang of our profound but natural differences, something magical happens.  Two halves make a whole.  Take away either half and you have . . . a hole.

If we were a culture made up only of conservative accountants, who would plant the beans to be harvested, much less counted?  (That is NOT to say that only liberals are productive, LOL.)  Or, more accurately, who would dream the big dreams, take the leaps of faith, think outside the steep walls, invest their life savings on an impulse that has less than a 1% chance of success, yet ends up surprising everyone with cold fusion?  Those are liberal, throw caution to the wind, faith-driven impulses.  When I was young, my avowed liberal private sax teacher often said I must play with abandon to be any good as a jazz musician.  There is something liberating in being liberal that allows people to abandon reason, take illogical leaps of faith, and come up with something totally unexpected, fresh, new and good.  It is the ultimate expression of faith.

Isn’t it a bit ironic then, that faith in God, is generally thought of as more natural to the politically conservative side of the aisle while atheism is associated with the educated liberal elite?

Of course, the argument favoring the flip side of the yin/yang equation is equally important and, if you are basically conservative, I don’t need to elaborate.  If you’re not, well, you just don’t get it, do you?

That conservative/liberal dichotomy helps explain to me why the art community seems to be disproportionately full of liberals.  I love art.  There is nothing that validates me more than when I feel creative.  I love creativity, whether I observe it in the scientific laboratory, in the tinkerer’s back yard, the artist’s easel or an inspired jazz improvisational performance. 

If I love creativity, how can I help but love and need creative people?  Many if not most happen to have a wide liberal streak running through them.  There’s an old cliché that I think applies equally in love, politics and life.  “Can’t live with ‘em and can’t live without ‘em. 

And so it is; I like liberals.