Dream, Choose, Live: The Good Life

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live life deliberately.”

Henry David Thoreau

I think the first, most essential thing one must do to accomplish that is to build one’s own house as Thoreau did. He built from leftover scraps of an old shanty. We have many other choices.

 
The mere fact that when people come to the Village, they can’t buy a finished home means that every one of us shares that journey. The journey enriches each of us individually and collectively, as a community.  One’s home is the ultimate expression of self, one’s capacity to dream and do. Even if you hire a contractor and never lift a hammer, you will learn, mostly about yourself. So many choices, it can be overwhelming. In the process, you are forced to come to terms with your personal values. There is no faking it.

What is really important to me?

  • How big should my house be?
  • How much of my life, in the form of money that I have exchanged my time and effort for, should go into this house?
  • What portion should I allocate for other things that are important to me and my goals?
  • In my house, do I want to emphasize efficiency and low maintenance or esthetic beauty? What do those things mean to me? Can I have both?
  • Do I want my home to make a statement about me or is it enough that it satisfies just me?
  • If I am taking this journey with a spouse and children, how will we use this experience to bring us closer as we discover and satisfy what is uniquely us?
  • What can or should I do without to have the things I really want?
  • My home will be a refuge, but from what? From the noise of the city, or from the discomforts of nature?

The folks in this video made some highly unusual choices in an environment most people would consider extreme. Yet, their home is a creative expression of who they are and how they choose to live.  And it is beautiful.

As you watch this video, notice the many trade-offs they made. I like to think “sacrifice” is what you give up to get something better.  A deliberate life is one of conscious choice. If one knows oneself and chooses well, a personal paradise is the reward. That personal paradise is within reach of us all, but we must choose.

For those who love nature and the joy of sharing with others, the Village on Sewanee Creek has all the necessary elements to build your dream with a little help from some friends.

Implementing Open Source Ecology in The Village on Sewanee Creek

Open Source Ecology, which aims to provide the blueprints and instructions to build the 50 most essential machines for civilization, promises to be one of the great industrial shifts in the coming decade. The promise of industrial manufacturing in garage and tool-shed not only permits low-cost solutions, but independence and security in the event of disaster.

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The 19th century industrial revolution eliminated the cottage industry through the development of assembly lines and division of labor. In the globalized economy, Western consumers have become dependent on imports to sustain our consumer lifestyle. Many products are no longer manufactured within the United States and other developed nations. While not an intrinsically bad system, the era of self-sustainability has gone by the wayside. Gone is the simple life, replaced by global supply chains and logistics solutions to get your toothbrush from the other side of the world.

The first taste of a return to the good life is exemplified by the excitement over the 3D printing revolution. For example, a company which aims to provide the next generation of manufacturing, 3D Systems, has had its stock price double due to investor expectations. The same excitement that surrounds the ability to manufacture your own custom plastics with 3D printers is magnified by Open Source Ecology, which provides the DIY designs to build everything from your own tractor to making construction bricks from compressed earth. The ability to have a plasma cutter, bioplastic extruder, and dimensional sawmill at your disposal offers the prospect of a rebirth of cottage industries. Manufacturing will only be limited by your imagination, not for the lack of tools or material. Your open source induction furnace will largely eliminate material constraints.

Sawmill
The open source movement is expanding into the physical realm but like the online sector, open source is only as strong as its community of contributors. The movement not only relies on its network of designers and prototypers, but communes and clubs to build and test the machines. One such community is the Village on Sewanee Creek, a sustainable community on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee.  The property development has weekly projects where villagers come together as a group to build chicken coops and biochar gasifiers to support a self sustaining community. Groups like these are part of the development and the success of Open Source Ecology

For example, the Village on Sewanee Creek recently ran into a hitch when their tractor began to malfunction.  Open Source Ecology now provides the designs and instructions to allow the village to build a tractor of their own. One that they can fix on site should problems arise and made from materials locally available. The village not only brings together likeminded people interested in tinkering, fabricating, and sustainability, but roots its community weekly projects such as building an open source tractor.  Open Source Ecology will succeed best in a permanent setting where the community is already project oriented and dedicated to self-sufficiency.

Find out more about the Village on Sewanee Creek here.

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.

Post Election blues? Find security in self-sufficiency and community.

Over six years into building an intentional community called the Village on Sewanee Creek, it’s an interesting coincidence that we finished this video on election day and have just uploaded it to YouTube.  I hope it’s a comforting response to troubling times.

I actually went to bed early on election night before results started coming in.  I slept well, knowing that no matter the outcome of the election, I had done all I could or should.  I awoke early, as usual.  Like most of you, I found it fascinating to review the Facebook posts from last evening.   So divided, so extreme!

I have a few suggestions:

For those who are celebrating, partay on, dudes!

For the indifferent, get back to work.  Move along, there’s nothing to see here.

Then there are about half of the voters who are genuinely concerned about the state of the Republic, your civil rights, the economy and what happens when a President is re-elected, with no prospects or concerns for re-election and a history of trampling the constitution.  This is especially for those of you who have noticed that it doesn’t matter which party that President comes from.  For you, it’s time to take action to secure your future.  The system is broken.  When things are beyond a political solution, it’s time for a personal solution.   In this video, I speak on the foundational values of the Village on Sewanee Creek.    Self-Sufficiency, Personal Freedom, harmony between people and nature, adherence to the Golden Rule.

If you’re in the mood to reclaim a sense of peace and security in your life, you can inquire about living in the Village here.

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.

Please move the deer crossing

People like this are voting . . . for both parties.  That’s why they’re called parties, right?  Because life is a party.  Everybody should vote for a big, popular one.

If this is the product of our school systems, what can we do about it?

Some progressive legislation ideas:

  1. Move the signs to locations where there are fewer deer (as proposed above)
  2. More laws with stiffer penalties on lawbreaking deer.
  3. Increase deer crossing signs in high traffic areas to attract more deer.  Facilitate the early demise of the terminally stupid. Eugenics via natural selection.
  4. Reenact the “trail of Deers”.  Put them all in FEMA camps.  The deer, that is. . .  or not.
    And my favorite for practicality:
  5. Move the remaining smart people out of high traffic cities to the country where there are very few deer crossing signs.  Get beefy bumpers. Road-kill makes good venison.  Proposed relocation center for smart people, the Village on Sewanee Creek.

So many possibilities.  Go ahead.  Add your best suggestions.  It’s a legislator’s dream world.

Why We Tip

Some time ago, Fred posted a somewhat inscrutable comment that said something like the things we are embarrassed about can be the glue of like-mindedness.  Fred’s comments are usually thought-provoking and I have thought about it frequently since then.  Apologies in advance if I misinterpret embarrassment as guilt, but it’s a good segue, so I’m going for it.

I received a link to this NPR piece on Why We Tip from an old food-service website subscription.  It piqued my interest.  Its conclusion is that most people tip out of generalized guilt.

Despite that I spent my entire career in food service, with the accompanying social tipping pressures, I am an inconsistent tipper at best.  I have been told that I’m just plain cheap.  I choose to call it frugal, but that’s not the real reason or the point.

I believe deeply in the effectiveness and goodness of clear rewards and consequences for behavior.  If there is anything in my life that was successful and I am proud of, it is my children.  My approach to fathering was to let natural consequences be the primary teacher.  I chose to be a poor buffer and a good mirror.  It worked fabulously.  My kids were and are wonderful, exceeding me and my expectations in every way.

Apply that philosophy to tipping.  It is nothing less than a metaphor for life.  Early in my food service career, I was taught and completely bought into the story that tipping began in medieval rough-and-tumble road houses as an incentive for good service.  Simple and straight forward.  Get the food to me from the cook before it gets cold or spoils.  I will pay you for your extra trouble.

When I get poor, inattentive, surly service I often respond with either no tip or a penny to send a clear message.  I feel no guilt because I have done the right thing.  My intentional action has the potential to result in a positive change that could make the world a little nicer place, at least  for the next patron…. Or not…  At that point it’s out of my hands and rests firmly with the server who will either change the behavior for better tips or become more surly and angry at me.  Their move, but at least I have provoked a conscious choice.

On the other hand, when I get really good service, I take genuine pleasure in rewarding the server with a generous tip.  I often go out of my way to clarify the message by commenting to them and/or the on-duty manager what a pleasure it was for our paths to have crossed.  I don’t need one of those impersonal, anonymous comment cards.

I was once told that what we are building here at the Village is an “intentional community”.  It occurs to me that I have been trying to live all my life out of intention.  That is, I think, the opposite of living out of unthinking, guilt-based, or unexplored and poorly understood traditions.

To be clear, I am no saint and no stranger to feelings of guilt.  But as I look back on my life, I find that the things I did that worked and I am proud of, almost always came from a positive, intentional motive.  Actions starting from guilt often lead nowhere but to more guilt with unintended results.  As a motive for quitting a bad or ineffective behavior, I like natural consequences a lot better than nagging, amorphous, brooding guilt.

I am consciously working to build a culture at the Village  on Sewanee Creek  that is intentional and therefore positive.  A place of continuous learning, endless creativity, openness to exploring and recognizing the beauties of this world in their stark, truthful and sometimes harsh natural reality.  Nature is a great teacher.  I guess a certain amount of guilt is sometimes useful, but I hope that the glue of our like-mindedness will be made mostly of intention.