Ok, I’ll admit. I don’t want to be a leader.

“The first follower is actually an underestimated form of leadership in itself. … The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader.” – Derek Sivers.

I’m sure you know someone with a big awesome crazy idea that could set the world on fire. They’re probably working on it right now. They find it completely absorbing and fascinating, and you’re pretty sure you would too if you understood it.

You know that person, right? They’re not the best communicators, they’re not always that well organized, but they have a clear, simple, pure idea. It drives them, and it gives them meaning. Sometimes it lasts the length of a project, sometimes it defines an entire life.

I have a friend who has devoted the entire month of July to writing his first novel. He’s well into the quintuple digits on his word count. Every day he updates it on Facebook, and every day I feel a curiously inspiring blend of inadequacy and power. As someone who has struggled with the various ways I express my various arts, and knowing the ways he has struggled, too, it gives me hope for myself.

Yesterday, I met a man at a green networking event who has designed, tested, and used an ultra low energy water pump, very efficient for lifting water. He thinks it could remove one of the biggest inefficiencies in window farms, and he would like to test it with an aquaponics rig. This simple idea is one that has driven his contributions to our efforts to make our human systems work for the earth.

I have a huge amount of admiration for people with a single driving idea, but I’m not one of those people. Hell, I have a huge amount of admiration for people that can focus their attention for even a month to simulate that kind of drive. I sometimes feel like my life would be easier, or maybe richer, or maybe more fulfilling, or maybe more interesting if I could, singly and under my own power, devote that kind of effort to a single project.

If you asked me the secret to happiness, I would probably say something like “learn how to be you.” Or maybe “first be who you are, then be a better version of that.” “Accept yourself as you are and the world as it is, then set about improving both.” Those sound trite and inadequate, like all advice. But they come from what I believe to be a profoundly observed phenomenon. Nothing in nature makes any effort to be anything but what it is. The human gift/curse of awareness allows us to make up ways we think we should be, and then to berate ourselves for not being it. Happiness, or at least a station along the way, lies in learning to be who you are without judging that.

I know all that, but the hardest part is to apply in my own life. I’m not the lone genius, and I’m not the general leading the charge. I admire them, and in some ways, at some times, I think I should try to be more like them. But I’m not like them, and I know misery will result from any effort I make in that direction.

I’ve spent my entire life thinking about things greater than myself. When I was, say, 7, I would very literally lay in bed and contemplate the infinite. That’s not a metaphor for meditation or curiosity about cosmology. I literally tried to imagine something infinitely large, or I would try to picture nothingness. I would see if I could stop thinking, and I would catch myself thinking about whether or not I was thinking. In my earnest teenage years, I would think about politics, the great ideologies, and try to puzzle out solutions to all social ills between practicing my guitar and bingeing on junk food in front of Saturday Night Live. In University I studied psychology, sociology, and world cultures. I was looking for indications of what not only a positive, ethical, green life would look like, but a positive, ethical, and green society and culture. I’ve been working on this project a while, and I think I’ve gotten some pretty solid ideas of what is and isn’t working.

And yet, I watch someone build a shed in their back yard, and I feel like I haven’t “done” anything to be proud of.

So, I give myself over. I can’t resolve this tension on my own. I don’t want to be a leader, at least not right away. I have too many ideas, too many interests, too much I still want to learn. But I want to give of my knowledge, and curiosity, and inspiration. I have so much of the intangibles, and I love nothing more than to share them. But I don’t know what to “do” about it. My attempts to “do” something about it usually draw my directly into another glorious binge on pure unstructured learning. And then I drive my fiancee nuts lecturing her about all my fun new knowledge. Theoretical, practical, doesn’t matter. Put learnings in brain.

Now that I think of it, know anyone who needs an R&D department?

Turning 30 is awesome.

“Dragons live forever, but not so little boys.” – Puff the Magic Dragon.

I’ll cut straight to the thesis.

Nostalgia and youth-fetishism are bullshit.

I remember a friend saying in high-school (I can’t remember who, and if it was you, I’m sure you you won’t take offense) that the thing they missed most about the past was “their innocence”. I don’t know what they meant by it, and it could have meant nearly anything, some of which I might (MIGHT) now agree with. But my reaction in that moment was “what bullshit.”

There’s a temptation to idealize a time when you didn’t know about the evils of the world, and you didn’t have responsibilities. Ok, you’re welcome to it. But my attitude is that, unless you’re somehow going to arrange an idyllic sheltered environment to live out the rest of your days, what would be gained even if you could take a hypothetical blue pill? Say you want your “innocence”, however you define it, back. Say you can get it.

Why? Remember all the pain that came from “losing your innocence”? Wanna repeat that? Sleep on it.

“Innocence” isn’t anything to idealize. If ignorance is bliss, it’s a fragile bliss vulnerable to minor shocks.

If you know me, or have read this blog, you KNOW I’m not advocating cynicism. If there’s any category of person most perfectly insufferable and punchable, it’s the world-weary cynic. (I’m not someone who advocates violence,but tell me you don’t have to restrain yourself in the face of a self-satisfied misanthrope.) Here’s a secret. Cynicism is not the result of having seen the world as it is. Cynicism is the result of having seen the world as you hoped it wasn’t, and never having gotten over it. (I’m not even trying to keep track of my tenses.) Cynicism is the scab that grows over a wounded “innocence.”

I’m advocating something I didn’t have a name for, and could only wave at in high-school, in that formative moment when I thought my friend was full of shit. Something I didn’t have a name for until second year university.

Flashback, spring of 2002. (Could have been fall of 2001. Don’t sweat accuracy, I’m setting up parenthetical life events. I’ll bear out by the end of this post.) I was about to turn 20. We’re entering the poetry part of my Poetry and Short Stories. We’ll be studying Margaret Atwood (yawn) and William Blake (double yawn), and we’ll have to write an essay on one or the other. Womp womp.

Then it turns out Blake is AWESOME. My then years-old roiling hatred for the “innocence”/cynicism (which Blake calls “experience”) had me bracing for a pearl-clutching proto-Victorian lamenting fetishism of “innocence”. I was wrong.

The deeper I got into Blake, the more I loved it. Blake described “innocence” and “experience” as a two aspects of the same force. They are both means of self-deception. He believed we were born “innocent”, became “experience”, regained our “innocence” by whatever means we could mobilize to stave off the horror, until our expectations were again obliterated, and “experience” set in again. Continual cycle, with no escape. Sound familiar?

But there’s a way out. Blake believed that you could escape the cycle. He described a “higher innocence”, in which we fully understood and accepted the horror, but from a place of peace. Again, familiar? So I wrote a trite and too-easy essay positing that Blake was influenced by Eastern philosophies, and happily turned 20 with my A.

Looking back, that class, or at least that moment, gave me a framework that I was grasping for the 5-ish years since my guttural rejection of “innocence”. Don’t ever let them tell you you won’t learn anything from your English pre-reqs. Looking back, it doesn’t seem like such a big revelation. But I’ve had ten years to meditate on and integrate that idea. Besides, back then I was listening to a LOT of The Smiths, and a glimmer of hope was a big deal.

So, what I like to do is drop a 600 word unrelated introduction in front of an otherwise simple point.

My point is that we tend to devalue our growth. We look back on our past selves and think “if only I could send my past self a message. I would have saved so much time and pain and struggle.” This point came up this week when I had coffee with Sarah of Piece of Cake Communications. Her said, and she was right, that no matter what we could have told our past selves, it wouldn’t have made a difference. We weren’t then ready for the message, or we would have gotten it. And what happened in the mean time to make the difference? Yup, all the mistakes and pain and lost opportunities and messes along the way.

Wear your wrinkles, your grey hairs, your thinning hairline proudly. They’re trophies of your growth. When you wish them away, you wish your power away.

Tanya just interrupted, telling me that I’m now (legally) 30. Yup, it’s 12:01 AM, April 6, 2012. I’m the kind of pedant that won’t call myself 30 until 3:35PM PDT, but she’s right.

I don’t like to talk about the past in this blog. I’d prefer to do this Obama-as-President-Elect style: not about the past, but about the future. But indulge me.

I grew up in the era of Reagan, Mulroney, and Thatcher. I didn’t hear about organic food until the mid-90s. I was environmentally aware and super-earnest when CFCs were banned, leaded gas was phased out, and McDonalds abandoned styrofoam in its burger boxes. I grew up in the generation that never ever expected, or even wanted, a lifetime job. We are the generation that is living out the Baby Boomer identity crisis that exploded in the 90s. Their worst fears are our reality.

And you know what? It’s pretty sweet. My generation may be the first since colonial agriculture hit its peak to INCREASE the proportion of farmers in our population. We may be the first since industrialization NOT to aspire to make more money than our parents. We may be the first generation to synthesize Smith and Marx into an economy of pro-environment small-business distributism. We may be the first generation since the explosion of fossil fuels to INCREASE biomass.

Maybe.

Maybe the best part of getting older is that every day, every year, every decade, I get to see the future, revealed slowly, moment by moment. Ten years ago, I was contemplating the implications of Blake’s “higher innocence” in how I lived my life. Today, I’m enjoying the moment, facing squarely into the future. Marching toward it. Or maybe strolling up to it.

I’ve been looking forward to 30 for a few years now. Here it is.

And just where I’ll be at 40.

In Vino Veritas

My inspiration to start this blog came at Wordcamp Victoria 2012. I was recently unemployed, and like an enterprising recently unemployed person I took advantage of opportunities that came up. My blogger fiancee Tanya was going, she invited me, done deal. Let me let you in on a secret — I love conferences, workshops, seminars, any of that shit. Get people with ideas together in one place I want to be there. So I went to Wordcamp.

Every presenter was inspiring, in their way. Beth Campbell Duke inspired me, as a plugged in job seeker, to get a URL and build a website. (Still working on that online resume!) Raul Pacheco taught me that I’m interesting enough to be the topic of a blog. Craig Spence taught me that it’s ok to air semi-formed fiction in public (thank him for Fiction Fridays) and that, beyond that, it’s ok to try things that may or may not work out as intended. And Chris Burdge taught me that I really did get social media, and that the only sure way to succeed is to get on with it.

But the one speaker that I credit more than any other one in pushing me over the edge is Beth Cougler Blom. Her talk, on genuine blogging, really spoke to me. In a conference that could easily have been driven by popularity contest metrics like page views and comments and retweets, Beth brought it down to what, to me, counts. Beth brought it down to the personal level. Who are you? Why are you blogging? What is “success” to you? Do you blog after two glasses of red wine, or wait for the sober second thought?

In my case, at least, the answer to the last is a resounding “yes”, providing “two” means “an evening of” and “red wine” means “beer and whiskey, the two great malted spirituous liquors, like the good Celt you are.” In Granum Veritas. (Google it.)

Wordcamp, to me, was a kick in the pants. It was a critical mass of voices telling me to get over myself and share. We all give the advice we most need to hear. The advice I want the world to hear is that “yes, honey, you are interesting and worthwhile and people want to hear from you.” Really, it’s of course for myself. I’ve known for years that I’ve been shorting the world by holding my thoughts to myself, but it’s not about knowledge, is it?

The presenters and my fellow attendees of Wordcamp have been absolutely critical in launching and maintaining this blog, especially in the shaky first few posts. Now, I don’t care in the least about comments. Views are nice, please read, comment if you like, but I’m writing for me now.

Two incidents to share with you.

One: I’ve been volunteering to make worthwhile use of my unemployed time. It’s been far more effective than writing and rewriting resumes, even if it was just about finding a job. A few weeks back, I volunteered for an event launching the Launch! youth entrepreneurship program. It’s a joint program of Community Microlending (full disclosure: I’m gratefully and joyfully on their communications committee) and the Community Social Planning Council, both of Victoria. I was invited to live-tweet the event (along with the ubiquitous Linley Faulkner) and host a table for our after-dinner discussion. Ok, confession, none of the previous is critical to the story, but I want to promote who and when I can.

At the event, I caught up with an old friend, Erin Brocklebank. A few years back, she interviewed me for a job at her then-employer. She was the communications director (I probably have that title wrong) and I was to be her assistant. I was, realistically, probably not qualified for the job. (Secret: I’ve never had a job I was qualified for, except maybe when I was washing dishes. But I’m AWESOME at every job I’ve had.) I didn’t get the job. But I had a great interview that inspired me about the possibilities that communication can have in building a better world. (Seriously, Erin, I know you’re reading, and I mean that.) I felt like she valued my experience, and more so valued the enthusiasm I had in the direction of my inexperience.

Erin told me that she reads my blog, and at the risk of getting self-referential and self-congratulatory, let’s just say she likes it. At that time, I hadn’t updated in over a week, and I’d been kinda bummed about my lack of momentum. Let me tell you, if you’re one of the dozen or so internet users that doesn’t already know, nothing motivates like support from someone you admire. Double if they’re in a career you aspire to, even if obliquely.

The next day I finished a draft I’d started a few hours before my chat with her. I posted it. It’s the previous entry in this blog.

Two: Today I was at the walk-in clinic, in their phone-silent waiting room. Being a good member of society, I switched to airplane mode. I also didn’t want to be the guy sitting there playing Angry Birds. So I fished into my bag, looking for a book. I’d left The Hobbit at home. But I did have my notebook. I read through the notes I’d made in the various coffee meetings I’ve set up in the course of keeping productively unemployed. All very interesting. But there’s only so much time you can put into reviewing your notes.

So I wrote.

I’m the type who takes the attitude that it’s better to stay quiet about your writing until it’s written, then drop it on the world. But I’ll let you in on this one.

I have a story bubbling, or stories, or a novel and several comic books and a pen and paper role-playing game, but whatever. You’ve seen snippets in Fiction Fridays. All I’ll say is that if Cascadia was independent, what would happen in the mountain passes to Alberta? Think on it. There would be snow, and wildlife, but what would the people be doing to maintain a fragile peace?

That’s what I wrote, or at least that’s the flavour. (Imagine – World War II era rifles as ancestral weapons.) What I wrote isn’t as important, though, as the fact that I wrote.

Today, I read great advice. I’m trying to find the link for it, but the internet appears to have inhaled the link, and the tweet that brought it to me, whole. The gist of the advice (I hope I can find it) is that, if you want to write, sit down for two hours a day with writing implement of choice in hand (be it pen, iPad, or dictaphone), and no distractions. You will write, if only to keep yourself company.

I can only conclude that this is true, although I’m thankful that I don’t need two hours alone to do it. I’ve spent at least 15 years denying my calling as a writer. I’m not saying I want to be a professional author, and I don’t aspire to be one, but whatever I do, I won’t do it by not writing. Writing this blog, writing fiction, writing RPG scenarios with my friend and for reals writer Steven G Saunders, writing grant applications with an organization I have an immense amount of respect for and hope to be a part of in the future. Writing isn’t everything, but it’s a sine qua non of my future, however it shapes itself. Writing happens when I get out of the way of myself, and that’s becoming more and more natural to me.

I have a voice — I’m sure of that. It comes down to using it.

Why the economics of scarcity is missing the point.

“The fact is, there’s an economy of politics. There’s only so much time, so much enthusiasm, and so much energy.” – George Will

In this post, I’m starting off by doing two things I’m not happy about. I’ve already quoted George Will (really?), and now I’m going to cite a dictionary definition, from the World English Dictionary:

economy
1. careful management of resources to avoid unnecessary expenditure or waste; thrift
2. a means or instance of this; saving
3. sparing, restrained, or efficient use, esp to achieve the maximum effect for the minimum effort: economy of language
[blah blah blah]
5. the management of the resources, finances, income, and expenditure of a community, business enterprise, etc
[blah blah blah]

I hate defining words. Denotation is boring. Connotion is fun. But dictionary definitions are a place to start, so there. I’ll live. Cliffs Notes has a tighter sociological definition, and I like it better: “The economy is a social system that produces, distributes, and consumes goods and services in a society.”

“The Economy” is about the only damned thing we’ve been hearing about the last few years, and it bears examination. Something has never felt quite right about the way the word is used in our culture, and I’ve been puzzling about how to put that in words for about 15 years.Thank you, George Will (really?), for giving me a kick in the right direction.

Let’s look at Cliffs Notes’ definition. “The economy is a social system that produces, distributes, and consumes goods and services in a society.” I call the economy “how we get the means of life to people.” Ok, Cliffs Notes is a bit more academic than mine, but I think they more or less say the same thing. People need stuff (good or services) to live, and we have to get the stuff to people somehow (produce and distribute), and then the people make use of (consume) the stuff. Yes, this is intended to be obtusely simple at this point. I’m trying to trace all the dots that are usually connected unconsciously, so it takes some point by point drudgery.

So far, this is simple. We somehow get stuff to people and they use it to live their lives. No statements about what kind of stuff we’re talking about, no implications about how much of it there is, just stuff getting to people.

Now, George Will steps in and messes things up. “[T]here’s an economy of politics. There’s only so much[.]” So far we’ve been talking about getting stuff to people so they can live — and then George Will introduces the idea that “economy” also implies “only so much”. Of course, this is such an obvious widespread assumption that my faux-naif framing falls flat. (Forgive the alliteration.) OF COURSE “economy” implies scarcity. Back to the dictionary definition: “careful management of resources to avoid unnecessary expenditure or waste; thrift.” Why is thrift necessary? Because of scarcity. “Unnecessary expenditure or waste” is only a problem in a context of scarcity.

Yes, yes, ‘economy implies scarcity’, so what’s my point? This is obviously a description of real conditions, right? There is only so much food, so many houses, so much wealth to go around, right?

Right? Maybe. But this scarcity focus misses the point.

Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not going to make the obvious argument here, which is that there’s more than enough food, housing, and wealth to go around, but it’s a problem of distribution. Technical, political, and, of course, economic barriers prevent us from getting the means of life to the people who need it. That argument isn’t wrong, but it, I believe, also misses the point.

The point isn’t that our finite stuff isn’t as scarce as our distribution system makes it look, the point is that the way we produce the stuff of life imposes unnecessary and counterproductive limitations on its abundance.

A few weeks ago my good friend Clint shot my a text from New Zealand (this point may be lost in the argument I’m about to make, but I love technology) suggesting a blog topic: Permacuture (forgive the crunchiness in this link) as perpetual motion machine. Awesome idea, and one that had bubbled in the back of my mind for a while. His prompt brought it together for me in a way that had eluded me.

Buckminster Fuller (who I love love love) made the argument in his Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth to the effect that the only sane use of our stores of millions of years worth of composted sunlight is to convert our economy to real-time sunlight. The world, to the extent that it has taken his advice, has taken that to mean solar pv, wind (which is driven by solar radiation), solar hot water, and passive solar design. I have nothing against any of those. The last two in particular are hugely useful, and, given my aforementioned love of technology, I do want something to power my iPad. But a straight-swap of petroleum fueled technologies for solar electric power technologies isn’t much of a solution. We need to re-examine our economies in the context of the ecosystems that we desperately try to forget we’re a part of.

I’ll cut to the point. Plants are awesome. They grow if we get them what they need and stand back. The waste products of dead plants are the inputs of the next crop of very very alive plants. Most of what plants are is crystallized sunlight. The small proportion of plants that are made up of mineral can be recover by composing food scraps and what you might call “post-consumption waste recovery.” A bit of anything is lost in any exchange, certainly, but if there are any technical methods of producing food, building material, etc, than plant-based perennial systems with human management and the assistance of animals and microbes, I want to hear about it.

So, what would an economy look like in a permacultural society fully integrated into perennial plant-based productive systems, which produce greatly out of proportion to the labour put in? Or a localized economy that contains the bulk of its capital and expertise within a half-hour walk? Or an economy in which the only things that travel long distances are people, small non-perishable light weight luxuries, and ideas? I don’t know. I wish I did so I could save us all a lot of experimentation. But I have some ideas.

I believe this economy would place the most value on relationship. The ability to make relationships with others who have certain skills, expertise, or connections. The ability to see relationships in natural systems, and massage them to fulfill both our own purposes and those of the ecosystem. The ability to smooth, nurture, and create space for relationships between people, towns, societies, and cultures. The ability to feel and articulate our connectedness in ways that give us a greater sense of our own selves and our relationships to others, to natural forces, and to all of the universe.

This, I think, is the point that we tend to miss in talking about economies. If we produce our means of life differently, abundantly, in ways that strengthen rather than weakening natural systems, the current logic of our economies implodes. I’ll explore these ideas further as this blog matures. But for now… Doesn’t that sound more appealing than George Will’s vision?

Fiction Friday, way way late: “Order of the Sakura”

This is new. A sketch of the alternate history of the Pacific Northwest in a Man in the High Castle scenario, told through a school essay by Protagonist. I wanted to explore the possible role of religion in a nation where religious institutions played a major role in an independence movement, as well as the possible syncretism that would come from a Japanese occupation of American west coast. Pretty raw, but interesting. The biggest challenge was writing in a deliberately awkward voice, simulating a young writer. Preamble by Protagonist’s biographer, long after his death.

The Order of the Sakura

We present, unedited and in full, an early paper from [protagonist]’s writing. We estimate that it was written in his late teens, probably an assignment for school. It is presented for what we feel to be historically significant glimmers of his future intellectual development; it is a work that both foreshadows the ethical underpinning of his career and shows significant changes to his thinking since his youth. While the writing is stilted and immature compared to his adult voice, there are early suggestions of the passionate, though even-handed, voice that he is known for today. The original copy had a notation; 3.5/5 5/5. We like to imagine it was his grade — 3.5 for style, 5 for substance, each on a five point scale.

———————-

Report: Order of the Sakura

The Order of the Sakura is a religious movement in the Pacific States of America formed as a Japanese-sponsored branch of Christianity acceptable to the tyrannical occupation. I chose this movement to write about because I’m interested in the interaction of Japanese and Western religious ideas, as well as the church and the state, and because there are parts of the religion that I like, even though I’m not religious.

After the Japanese Empire invasion of the west coast of America in the First Imperial War, the Empire suppressed the occupied population, taking away rights such as speech and assembly and, important for this essay, religion. The Japanese occupying force under Governor Yamamoto didn’t ban religions entirely, but they closed churches, harassed clergy, and discouraged open display of religious symbols other than approved Shintoist and Buddhist symbols. This suppression led to some violence against the occupying military, so when the occupation turned into a collaborationist sham government, the controlling force decided that there needed to be a way of allowing religion but keeping it under control.

A conference was held in San Francisco in the Old St. Mary’s Church, chosen to reach out to Catholics, who were the hardest hit and most resentful of the religious oppression. Despite walkouts by many of the Christian leaders who couldn’t agree to the coercive “reforms”, an agreement was reached with accommodationist leaders from a variety of Christian churches, as well as some Jewish, Moslem, and other religious leaders. Japanese representatives had a great respect for the monastic tradition, which is very strong in Zen and Shinto religion, so the new church was organized on monastic lines, and given the name: the Order of the Sakura. (I will discuss the symbol of the Sakura later in this paper.)

Initially, the Order of the Sakura was distrusted, but more and more local religious leaders came to see that they kept a lot of freedom about how they performed their services even if they had to give up some parts of their doctrine. It seems that the occupation government was satisfied with outer support for show. For the first few years, the Order of the Sakura was little more than a show hierarchy that assigned government-loyal clerics to local churches.

However, in 1952, one man emerged from the hierarchy who would become the leader that made the Order of the Sakura a movement in its own right. That man is Prelate Alan Watts.

Now known for his role in the ongoing resistance against the collaborationist regime, Watts was first known in the Pacific States of America as a prominent young Episcopal minister in San Francisco. Originally from England, Watts had studied in New York to join the clergy. He was in San Francisco on an ecumenical exchange with a Zen Buddhist community when the west coast of the United States was locked down in preparation for a Japanese invasion, and was never able to return to New York. At this time, he later said in interviews, he was questioning his Christian faith in favour of Eastern religions, but he felt he could be of service to the Christian tradition by reviving a monastic contemplative practice.

Watts first drew the occupation authority’s attention because they believed a cleric that incorporated the Christian and Japanese Zen traditions could be perfect as a figurehead for their government approved religion. At that time Watts was apolitical, so he accepted, believing it was a great opportunity to unite and promote a new monastic tradition as the Order of the Sakura. Seeing how the government influenced religious leaders, and the thinly veiled contempt they had for Christianity politicized him, and he made contact with both PSA resistance members and British Canadian operatives. His efforts in the revolution in the PSA in the twilight of the Second Imperial War, as well as his reconciliation work in the new independent government made him a hero in the old PSA, and both the former American and Canadian regions of Cascadia.

After the revolution, the Order of the Sakura was reformed under Watts’ direction to religion that calls for individual self-discovery, and responsibility to all of humanity. He taught that all beings can discover and live their Christ-consciousness, and that “eternity” is a state we can all live in, not a goal to be found after death. He taught that Christ-consciousness isn’t just for Sunday but for every day, and not just for meditation but all the time. He taught an understanding that forgiveness is important, but just as important is atonement, or making up for ones sins by making it right with those you’ve sinned against. And he taught that living in Christ-consciousness is about flowing with, not opposing, natural processes.

Today, the Order of the Sakura is a popular religious organization in Cascadia and the California Republic, and is small but growing in the Peace Republic and the Rocky Mountain Free States. Although the Order does not prosthelytize, wandering monks of the Order have taken the message all over the world for those who have ears to hear it. The Order of the Sakura’s message is very much connected to Cascadia’s landscape, so it has more appeal here than in other places.

That is the history of the Order of the Sakura. But my reasons for wanting to write about it are more personal. I am not devoutly religious, but my parents and some grandparents were active in the reformed post-occupation Order, and raised me with its values if not its doctrine. I believe in those values and the symbols and festivals of the Order are very personally meaningful to me to this day.

The Order of the Sakura appeals to me because of the richness of its symbols. The Sakura is a symbol of rebirth, and of transience. Every spring the cherry trees blossom, before most other trees, and soon after the blossoms fall. This reminds us that everything we know is fleeting, but also that new things will come afterward. The blossom is also the mother of the fruit, which reminds me that there is often a gap between our efforts and the result, and not to despair if we don’t yet see the fruit. This also relates to my next point, about social conscience, because I see the PSA revolution as the blossom, and Cascadia as the fruit.

I also like the Order for its social conscience. It is not a religion that believes in staying separate from worldy affairs, because followers and leaders of the religion saw first-hand what happens when religions stay apolitical, and do not vocally support human freedom and self-determination. The Order has been instrumental in shaping the active religious participation in social affairs that we see and value in Cascadia. This is good because it prevents mechanistic secular attitudes from removing rights and human dignity in the name of technocratic expedience.

Overall, I believe the Order of the Sakura is a good religion, in that people will be good inhabitants of this world if they follow its values, but I believe every needs to find a teaching that they feel is right for them, so I would never try to tell people that one religion is better for them than another, ever the Order of the Sakura.

Finding positive visions of the future.

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” – Abraham Lincoln

I grant that I occupy a very tiny corner of the internet. I watch a very tiny corner of the internet. I follow a very tiny sampling of Twitter.

But there was a (very minor) flare-up of controversy last week between a few of my favourite tweeters. The inimitable William Gibson, arguably the greatest shaper of my generation’s view of the future, discussed the phenomenon of doomy futurism:

“Futurists get to a certain age and, as one does, they suddenly recognize their own mortality,” Gibson says in the Wired premier of The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “And they often decide that what’s going on is that everything is just totally screwed and shabby now, whereas when they were younger everything was better. It’s an ancient, somewhat universal human attitude, and often they give it full voice.”

Matt Novak, who writes for the Paleofuture blog at smithsonianmag.com, disputed that futurists ever held a generally rosy view of the future.

Christopher Mims of Grist picked it up, with the sensationalistic, misleading, and totally awesome headline “Young people expect the future to look like Thunderdome.” His thesis is presented without any rhetorical substantiation, and without any data. He echos William Gibson’s suggestion of a generation divide, but inverts it.

But there’s something different about the present — something more sinister. The image above is, increasingly, how young people view the future, even as their elders seem oblivious to the triple threat of climate change, resource scarcity, and growing inequality.

I don’t buy Mims’ bald assertion that young people look tot he future as see nothing but waste and desolation, which older people are oblivious to. If anything, the most doom-inclined people I meet are in the older generation. But it’s hard to shake that idea. If young people have a positive vision of the future, what is it?

Personally, I have a beautiful and inspiring vision of the future, one that addresses Mims’ “triple threat”. I think anyone trained in Permaculture has access at least to the rudiments of a future vision of a human landscape that strengthens ecosystems, provides abundant renewable resources, and closes growing inequality. There are countless writers, researchers, community organizers, and entrepreneurs doing positive work that obliterate the trope that our future is increasingly hopeless, and that young people don’t see a way forward.

And yet, when I read Mims’ article, I can’t come up with a counterpoint. If we have a positive vision of what our future can be, where is it in pop culture? I’ve felt for about a decade that science fiction (at least in movies and TV) isn’t what it used to be. Historical and supernatural fantasy is everywhere, but where’s the culturally resonant science fiction? I’m not saying it doesn’t exist. I’m just saying I don’t know WHERE. Please enlighten me. The science fiction we’ve had this century has been bleak dystopias (Pandorum, Battlestar Galactica, both in the context of destroyed homeworlds), gritty space opera (Firefly/Serenity), and thinly veiled action thrillers (Riddick, In Time, that one with the clones that had to escape their fate as organ bags for real people, y’know, every other movie). I want to be wrong about this, if only because I want to see the movies. Moon was brilliant, but bleak and lonely and TOTALLY centered on resource extraction. Inception was brilliant, but the setting was so much like our own world plus gadgets that it might as well be present day. Sunshine is high on my to-watch list, so I can’t comment on that. But those are the movies that come to mind. Which presents a positive vision of our future on earth? Not a goddamn one. In the 90s we had cyberpunk (thank you William Gibson), which isn’t remotely a shiny techno-utopian future, but it’s a rich setting that’s produced a lot of great pop-culture. We don’t even have that anymore, and when you’re nostalgic for a cyberpunk future, that’s sad.

So I have to grant Christopher Mims’ point, at least in the sense that we don’t see positive futures articulated in pop culture. In the past, we held out the hope that technology will save us. We have problems, but we also had a techno-utopian Star Trek future to look forward to, wherein white Americans, Jewish aliens, black women, Russians, and asian people banded together in a united federation to explore the galaxy. We don’t buy that anymore. Then we had a techno-dystopian future in which Japanese street Samurai and American code pirates banded together to serve mega-corporations in industrial espionage. We don’t even have that anymore. Not only have we lost faith in the power of technology to save us (except for a few desperate bright-green holdouts), we’ve even lost faith in technology’s power to hold us together long enough to continue the dire trends we see today. Mims’ work assiduously hunts out social and environmental ills and exposes them, without articulating a way out. (Ok, I’m being unfair to him. It’s important that we know about things, and it’s not necessarily the work of the exposers to also be the solvers. He does good and necessary work. But there’s more exposing of bad going on than exposing of solutions.)

All this sounds very apocalyptic, no?

Not necessarily. Intermission for a mid-post quote.

“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that created them.” – Albert Einstein.

Enter the eco-utopia.

I think the most inspiring work being done today is by people who are bringing together social and ecological change. People like Majora Carter, who has transformed the South Bronx with her “sustainable Bronx” initiative, or Donna Morton, whose work with First Power brings clean tech to First Nations communities, reinvigorating culture and creating economic opportunities. People like Nick Ritar and Kirsten Bradley, Nick an engineer and both professional artists, whose Milkwood Farm near Mudgee, NSW brings together people from all over Australia and the world to learn techniques and stories to build another world. It’s this intersection of simple living and ecological knowledge that holds the most fertile ground for new stories of a positive future.

“Solution oriented” is such an ugly played out phrase. I would be ashamed to put it on my resume. But it says something important. We have to be looking for solutions. And by telling stories of worlds that offer solutions for our problems today, we can create a self-fulfilling prophecy that ends in a new and better world, rather than the logical entropic conclusion of our old one.

Fiction Friday: “Old Man”

A selection from the story of an old man haunted by his greatness. Mostly character study and setting. Seems to be what comes naturally. Inspired by my reflection on what people would be mad about in a compassionate society. Again, presented unedited, the way I wrote it in a burst of inspiration late at night in March 2008. Was it maybe the first Earth Hour?

Old Man

At this point, I should take great care to disabuse you of your impulse, however well-intentioned, to attribute to age my utter cussedness before, on a good day, 10:30AM.  On that point, I claim for my character full credit.  I’ve been an obstinate riser since I had autonomy enough to set my own bed-time, and I guard jealously my right to meet the dawn at noon (so to speak) if I so choose.

“Mr. Mit– M-Mitch – Anya send me down here.  She – She wanted me to remind you, that…  She said ‘get him out of bed, goddammit, I won’t have him late, today of all days’.”

“Yes, Josephus, tell her I’m well aware of today’s itinerary, and remind her that I am, after all, a grown man, more than capable of managing his own time.”

“Yes Mr. Mitchell, but she told me to say ‘if he gives you any lip about being “old enough and I do believe I’ve earned the right, and I am, after all” tell him he’s a crusty old bastard and I won’t have it’.”

Good God, have I gotten that predictable?

“Fine, then, tell her to cool her britches and I’ll be there when I’m good and ready.”

Josephus, the poor darling, no doubt rushed straight back to Anya with a verbatim recreation of our touching domestic scene.  I admit I find it challenging to work up a healthy frustration at my youngest granddaughter, but employing my youngest great-great-grandson as messenger boy and chief elder-wrangler does wonders for the cause.  Josephus, the darling boy that he is, exhibits all the admirable characteristics I’ve spent my life trying to eradicate — obedience, respect for his elders, credulity.  I can only hope that his first Ordeal will cure him of it, or at least crack it enough that the subsequent hormonal ordeal that is puberty shakes it loose completely.  I grant that he’s a clever boy, but as the man once said, cleverness and wisdom are very different things.

Anya, the meddler, should know better than to think I’d be late for my own Acclamation, as repugnant as I find the things.  People used to say “so-and-so would be late for his own funeral”, until we sensibly did away with the charade (of funerals, not, of course, of punctuality, though we’d made great strides in that direction by the 70s), but now in the perfectly orthodox pretense of “honouring our elders” we’ve moved the damn thing to the end of life, and in doing so removed the macabre dignity of the option of declining to attend.  These days, the best someone can hope for is a quiet affair with a few dozen of their closest family, and that’s if they’re blessed with particular ordinariness and lukewarm passions.  The downside of achieving our “compassionate society” is that nobody has the poetic luxury anymore of dying in the gutter, forgotten and alone.

I, in particular, am a hopeless case.  I — on the recommendation of a specially convened (if you can imagine such a thing) citizen’s council of the Shire of Springridge, approved unanimously by the combined Citizen’s Assemblies of the Free Realms of New Albion, Sneneymulth, Tsenech, Malahat, and the Southern Chameq Islands, respectfully accepted by the Conclave of Elders of the Sovereign Territory of Great Cascadia and passed on to the office of the Vox Populus of the United Americas, and approved, again unanimously, by the Committee of Awards and Honours of the Global Gathering of Sages — have been Invited to Accept the Honour of a public Acclamation at the seat of the Global Gathering in Geneva, the ceremony to take place in the synod chamber itself.  Revolting.

Of course, it would set off a minor global scandal if I were to refuse, given, to quote the invitation, my “tireless commitment to furthering the aims and values of” horseshit and blather.  More gravely, it would ignite an absolute familial shitstorm in the Mitchell clan, which has tipped me reluctantly in favour of accepting — the prospect of enjoying my last few years with a generally affectionate family outweigh the prospect of a few weeks or months of otherwise intolerable hagiography and interrogation under the moronic pretense that I’m a “public figure”, let alone one worthy of public admiration.

Permaculture, or why I don’t like talking about my “passion.”

We all know that the key to a happy successful fulfilling abundant properous amazing life is to “find your passion“, right? It’s one of the personal development industry’s central tenets, along with “stay positive” and “fake it until you make it.” There are a few dissenters, but they seem to underscore the ubiquity of the “passion” dogma – in a market saturated with passion-peddlars, downplaying passion is a way to stand out.

I’m not really in this to make a case for or against passion. Enthusiasm and energy for what you do is a huge asset, but of course it doesn’t replace, y’know, work. But it’s treated like a sine qua non of “success”, that unless and until you “find your passion” you’re spinning your wheels, and you better sit yourself down with a pot of coffee and a yellow legal pad, and write out everything you’ve ever done or could conceive of doing until the Gods of Meaningful Work reach down with their Heavenly Highlighter and show you Your Passion, and then you quit your job and ride that train until the end of days. Give it a shot, it might work for you.

Now, say you’re like me. I use the stumble-upon method of self-discovery. I do the next thing, and I keep doing the next thing until I find cool stuff that takes me to a new and unexpected next thing, and then the next, and so on. I do know where I want to end up (yeah, I may disclose in a future post, and don’t say I didn’t warn you) but it’s so big and crazy that I can’t draw a rational plan between here and there, so I’m trying it this way unless and until I stumble upon a better way. It’s a slow irrational method, and so far it’s been giving me irrationally good results slowly enough for me to metabolize them. But it gave me my “passion”, no matter how assiduously I try to ignore or deny it.

My passion, (deep breath), is Permaculture. I KNOW it is. Everything I aspire to points in that direction, but I’ve found it strangely difficult to own it. Hell, I even know I should give a bit of an explanation of what Permaculture is and why I’m in love with it, but I find it inexplicably challenging. The fiction is that we “discover our passion” then explode into the world in an all-singing, all-dancing whilrwind of productive joy. Not my experience.

So how could I conceivably simultaneously hold Permaculture so close to my heart and have such a hard time talking about it?

Well, when I put it that way, it doesn’t seem like such a mystery. It’s hard to talk about precisely BECAUSE it’s so close to my heart. I can handle a rejection of me personally. Believe me, I’m well practiced. But a rejection of the ideas that I hold dear – that we have an obligation to provide for human needs in ways that strengthen natural systems and promote human happiness, and that we CAN do it, that we know all we need to to get started, and that we ARE doing it – is a scarier prospect. I don’t expect everyone to be on board, and that’s ok, but somehow I’m afraid that if I say it wrong, I’ll make enemies.

Of course, when I write it out like that, and reread it, it’s absurd on its face. I have the choice of accepting its absurdity and moving on, and trying to argue with myself that of course it “seems” absurd, but it’s really for real actually a really big deal.

I know which I prefer. Stay tuned.

Fiction Friday: “Apples”

Ok, trying something new. Every Friday, I intend to post a snippet of fiction I’ve written. It’s a bit terrifying, given that I’ve written very little fiction, and what I’ve written I’m not especially proud of. Here’s hoping that this will give me the incentive to write more, and write BETTER. Keep me honest!

My first entry, in the spirit of the SOPA/PIPA debate deals with copyright, diversity, and openness. Set in a future of techno-utopian mega-cities ringed with earthy hobbity back-to-the-landish Permaculturey towns. Written in 2008, presented unedited. See if you can spot my misunderstanding of apple propagation.

Apples

“That’s the big dirty secret of the Cities — they need us. Behind their pretense of civilized authority, of technological, cultural, social, scientific superiority, they’re depends on us 100% for everything they have. The cities look totally self-sufficient — they produce enough food, power, and good to keep all Citizens not only alive but thriving. Frankly, the trade we do is trade of luxuries. The ground-fruits and live-meats we sell them are staples only to the ultra-rich and avant-garde chefs. The conveniences we buy from them are just that — 90% of the synthesized medicines we take from them can be made from herbs in every Burgher’s garden, and there’s nothing their mechanisms can do that a skilled crafter can’t do better. No, we trade more out of habit than necessity. A pretense to maintain contact, of more diplomatic use than economic.

“The truth is that we have something much much bigger than carrots and longcoats. We have diversity. We have the biodiversity from which the Cities select and develop their handful of staples. Do you know how many varieties of apples are available in the middle-storey grocers in MetVan? Four. AgriCore has one red, one yellow. The red is called Autumn Blush, the flagship of their sweet-eater product line. Each one fits perfectly in your palm, each one the slightest rosy fade on one side, each one with a quaint leaflet attached to the stem. Each one as crunchy, sweet, and mildly tart as the last.

“Three years ago AgriCore’s red eater was Annapolis Dream. When Autumn Blush was introduced, Annapolis Dream was discontinued, except for a short yearly run in the specialty boutiques. Because the cost of producing multiple varieties compounds, AgriCore (as with all the major City producers) produces no more than a handful. Usually no more than 2 or 3 for wide-scale distribution. When production ends, they’re gone. I don’t know if you’ve ever eaten a City apple — they’re seedless. Seedless! The only way to produce them is to have access to the original tissue cultures. And of course, you can’t, unless you hold the patent. Violating copyright is not worth the risk of punishment, not for black-market apples. Even if you had access to the looms to produce them, or a vat operation, the risk is too great.

“But do you know where these new varieties come from? You’re looking at it. There are genetic prospectors from the City throughout the Burghs — you can’t shop at a busy market without seeing at least one or two. They scout for exceptional apples, produced from the genetic diversity of our trees. One good apple is worth untold wealth to a prospector (most work freelance). No reputable apple-selling Burgher would charge a prospector more than they would a fellow Burgher. To us, and apple’s an apple. We like an apple, we ask the tree-owner for a graft. If we’re feeling saucy we’ll cross it with one of our own varieties. The tree you’re sitting under produces more varieties of apples than three quarters of Citizens have access to. We Burghers can own apples, we can own trees, but only in the City can you own the right to produce a variety.”

On “selling out.”

“Name your price… in the beginning, if it ever gets more expensive than the price you name, get out of there.” – Dave Chapelle

Ok, “selling out”. Probably the most inflammatory topic to artists and indie musicians, and the least interesting to anyone old enough to owe on their taxes. I’m not going to get into the ins and outs of when it is and isn’t appropriate to make money for your art, how much, from whom, in what venues, whatever. That was another me in another lifetime. I’ll just offer two perspectives on the artistic form of “selling out” and move on. First, Henry Rollins says some smart things in very salty language (you’ve been warned). Second, my brother says you’re only really “selling out” when you sell your guitar. And he’s a very non-commercial musician with very strong opinions.

Ultimately, as I’ve said before, you gotta be you and make your own call. If you’re an artist, makes those decisions early and stick to your principles – see Dave Chapelle above. Or don’t, your call.

Art is one thing. The biggest down side of “selling out” in art is that you make some extra money in ways your inner 16 year old finds contemptuous. When we get into social movements, however, that’s another thing.

There’s a big nasty word for “selling out” in social movements – it’s called co-optation. (Actually, strictly speaking, selling out is willingly participating in your co-optation, but let’s not get hair-splitty at this time of night.) The dictionary definition of “co-optation” (see also: “co-opt” “co-option”) is fairly benign (“to win over by assimilation” being the closest to my meaning), but it’s a pretty ugly word. When appropriately applied, it describes a person or organization or word or concept being used for a veneer of credibility, while the wielder acts contrary to its apparent meaning. Think greenwashing. Astroturfing. An oil company with a greenie sock puppet. The word “sustainable” is now completely meaningless, if Suncor can claim to be doing “sustainable development.” It has been co-opted. Suncor is, pure and simple, a goddamn oil company, and resource extraction can never ever ever under any circumstances barring violations of the laws of physics be in any meaningful way “sustainable.” At best, fossil fuels can be used as a bridge to get us to a real-time solar economy, as Buckminster Fuller articulated in his Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, but we’ve kind of shat the bed on that option.

Whew! I’m really worked up today. That’s not my style, and I apologize. But spending the day counting pipeline petitions for the Dogwood Initiative has had that effect. Fossil fuels are over, let’s move on.

As I was saying, co-optation is an ugly word for an ugly effect. We’ve seen some examples of when it can be appropriately applied, and that’s ugly enough. Accusations of co-optation can also be used as a weapon, to divide communities. Particularly activist communities. Particularly minority activist communities. Sometimes it’s applied honestly but mistakenly. My internet buddy and blogging idol Jill Fillipovic and others (someone once said that if you’re writing about a topic, a woman of colour somewhere has probably already done a lot of work on it, and is influencing you without your knowledge, or at least acknowledgment. It kills me that I can’t remember who.) have written about “call out culture“, wherein the first communication people sometimes go to is an accusation of heresy. When a musician accuses another of selling out, the worst that can happen is that a few guys with bad hair think each other are assholes. When it happens in activist communities, it can spell the end of the community, and in some cases end careers. I’ve seen many a talented blogger lost to some ugly ugly disputes. Not that the disputes weren’t in many cases legitimate, but let’s just say it can get really raw really fast. And it diffuses the power of activist communities.

Which bring me to the feature presentation. (Fanfare, please!)

Professor Rutley’s Tips For Awesome Social Movements, Volume 1

(Disclaimer: Ryan is not actually a professor, even though he’s been called it derisively many times, and his “tips” are just things he thought up late at night through the fog of half-remembered fragments of his Sociology degree.)

1. Don’t give up.

Keep at it. Keep on pushing. Hold on. Never give up. Sound familiar? Yes, you should recognize this one from every motivational everything ever. There’s a reason that tabby kitten told you to hang in there. The fastest, easiest, and most permanent way to lose is to stop trying. Once you’ve sold your guitars, you don’t even have a chance of rocking. Keep trying new crazy things, eventually something will get traction. Or if it doesn’t, you’ve spent your life actively engaged in doing something you believe in. Y’know, you’ve wasted it, instead of doing something productive like making a lot of money in work that offends your very being and makes the world worse.

2. Stick together.

The second best way to never get things done is to make up all kinds of stupid pissing contests to soak up all your time. Conservatives know all about this. The problem of the left is that we agree on the fundamentals, but countless issues separate us. On the right, countless issues separate them, but they agree on the fundamentals. I don’t propose to solve division in activist communities, alls I’m saying is that if they stick together, work through their differences and come together on things that are fundamentally important, they’ll be a force. You’ve seen this in the Occupy movement – I think one of the reasons they’re scrupulous about calling themselves a non-partisan movement, even though they’re certainly left-influenced, is that if they start acting like a left-wing movement they’ll soon separate like an over-buttered hollandaise. Stick together. Remember what’s important. There’s a reason why the coolest politicians are the ones who ignore partisan divisions and work directly on issues that people value. And there’s a reason why they’re not operating within established party structures. I can’t top Benjamin Franklin on this: “”We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

There are other tips for social movements. Lots of ‘em. Engage existing social structures. Speak to people’s values. Give people ways to be involved. Y’know, tactics. But the strategic Big Two, the two essential sine qua non unimpeachable non-negotiables are those above. Stick together, and don’t give in. And you’ll see the promised land.

Artistically, make your own calls and commercialize, or don’t, according to your heart. But when it comes to your deepest values, your decisions about what kind of world you want to live in, never sell your guitar.