I’m fussy about the words I use. For example, anarchy is not chaos, though you’d never be able to distinguish the two based on anything presented by the mainstream media.
As a further example, I’m averse to any form of the word sustain because we don’t and we can’t, if only because of the
Strong Suggestions Laws of Thermodynamics. If the Laws of Thermodynamics aren’t compelling enough for you, consider this: Wal-Mart allegedly has poured more money into “sustainability” than any other institution on Earth.
In this brief essay, I’d like to take issue with a couple other terms. As I’ve pointed out recently, I’m a fan of the gift economy (which is not based on barter). I explain below. In addition, I differentiate between building social capital and contributing to a decent human community.
My customary gifts include hosting visitors at the mud hut, delivery of presentations for no charge, and copies of my latest book at my cost (or, to those interested in an electronic version of the page
proofs, no cost at all).
Here at the mud hut, I strive to promote and expand the extant gift economy. This approach makes perfect sense, considering how we began this relationship more than four years ago, when my partners on these 2.7 acres offered my partner and me the gift of an acre (we declined, and we now share the property and the attendant responsibilities).
In the name of comfort for our friends and neighbors, we barter, too, and sometimes work within the customary system of fiat currency. But I prefer an economy of gifts, which has been the prevailing model for most of our existence as human animals. Gifting removes the pressure associated with placing monetary value on the exchange of goods and services in a barter system. And, to me at least, it seems more compassionate and personal than other alternatives.
Many people believe they are doing themselves a favor by building social capital. I hear this phrase often, and I bristle every time. Employing the root word of a heinous system that developed as the industrial revolution began is hardly a sure-fire strategy for winning friends and (positively) influencing people. The process of “building social capital” equates connivance with decency. Analogous to use of a barter system, the act of building social capital suggests a deposit is being made, and will be drawn upon later, perhaps with interest (i.e., usury).
In contrast to developing social capital, I believe we can and should work to contribute to a decent human community. As an aside, I’m often asked why I use the phrase, “human community” instead of “community?” This is exactly the type of question I’ve come to expect from individuals who wrongly believe we are the most important species on Earth. We’re destroying virtually every aspect of the living planet, and yet we believe we’re the foundation on which robust ecosystems depend. Viewing your place in a human community, and your contribution to that human community, is analogous to development of a gift economy. By striving to contribute, instead of invest, I can focus on developing life-affirming ties instead of dreaming about the return on my investment. By serving my neighbors, rather than determining how my neighbors can serve me, I become an integral part of a valuable system. As such, the whole, holistic system becomes increasingly durable.
I’ve written often about the importance of a decent human community. I’ve hosted hundreds of visitors, and I’ve spoken and written often about this rock-pile in the desert as an example. In the remainder of this essay, I provide a brief summary of the ties that bind the members of this human community, with a focus on the few hundred people within five miles of the mud hut rather than the five-person community occupying this small property.
Love for this place
The humans here love this place. Consider the examples at either end of the fiat-currency continuum. There are several financially wealthy people here. They could live anywhere, but they choose to live here. The majority of my human neighbors, though, choose to live in financial poverty. A mile up the road is a land trust with 13 members who share life on 20 acres. They grow their food and share a common well near the center of the property. They could live in dire financial poverty anywhere, but they choose to live here.
This is not a bad spot. I’ve grown quite attached to it. The latest trailer for Mike Sosebee’s film reveals the perspective of one of my neighbors.
Respect for self-reliance
If you can’t fix it, learn how. If it’s an emergency, learn quickly. The preferred route is to teach yourself. If that doesn’t work, you’re encouraged to call one of the neighbors, most of whom have been pursuing self-reliance for many years. They know about building structures, installing electrical lines, repairing plumbing, changing the carburetor, growing food, tending animals, mending clothes, and mending fences.
I don’t recommend calling the expensive plumber in the town 30 miles away. However, if you are in a dire situation and are in need of an emergency plumber, do not hesitate to call one, it is very important just in case there is extensive damage. Not when your neighbors need the work and appreciate the companionship and the Federal Reserve Notes. As John Steinbeck wrote in The Grapes of Wrath:
If you’re in trouble, or hurt, or need – go to the poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help – the only ones.
Appreciation for diversity
Most of us claim to tolerate other races, creeds, and points of view. But that claim comes up well short, in many of my experiences.
And tolerance isn’t nearly as much fun as appreciation. Here, we appreciate diversity in its myriad forms. My favorite example is the combination New Year’s Eve and house-warming party I crashed a couple years ago. About 20 of us were attending another party. Two of party-goers had been invited to a party at the home of the financially wealthy literary agents up the road. So we all went.
We were welcomed, of course. The party was attended by 150 or more people. At one point during the festivities, I happened to notice one of the well-dressed hosts chatting with a cowboy from the cattle company. The cowboy was dressed to the proverbial nines, including the requisite felt hat, pearl-button cowboy shirt, vest, starched blue jeans, and ostrich-skin boots. I suspect you’d be hard pressed to find two people in this country with more disparate political views. They were joined by a man from the land trust. His dress and personal hygiene reflected his living arrangements, with limited access to fiat currency and water. The three men continued an animated, thoughtful conversation for 30 minutes or so, as if they care about each other. Which they do.
I’m not suggesting it’s all rainbows and butterflies here, much less that the years ahead will bring nothing but good times. We have our differences, thankfully, even here on this small patch of the desert.
There are many attributes that could keep us apart. But there are even more that can hold us together, if we allow. I’d like to believe the latter is stronger than the former, despite the tendency of civilized humans to find an “other” in our midst.
Sharing gifts to develop a durable set of living arrangements within a decent human community: If you can imagine a better goal, please let me know.
–Guy McPherson, Transition Voice