Friday, December 24, 2010

ETC Voices Podcast 014

KMO plays a kitchen table conversation with Jack and Lauren, who organized a book event for the Conversations on Collapse couch-surfing tour. They met, got married, and had a child on the Farm, but they left before the Changeover in the early 80s. They share their memories of the material hardship of life on the Old Farm.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Letting People Starve

Since James Lee took hostages at the headquarters of the Discovery Channel in Virginia earlier this week and, in the process of getting himself killed, thrust the name of Daniel Quinn and the titles of a few of his books into the news cycle, a lot of commentators have invoked the name of late 18th century economist, Thomas Malthus. Malthus warned that human populations will inevitably outgrow their food supply and that, sooner or later, the four horseman of the apocalypse will turn up to balance the books.

This invocation has sparked debates in website comment threads about whether Malthus raised a legitimate concern or whether 200 years of continued increases in the food supply has "proved Malthus wrong." Those who favor the notion that Malthus was just plain wrong equate any concerns about population with Malthus and repeat the incantation "Malthus was wrong" thus dispelling any concerns about the long-term viability of a continually-growing human population.

Some commentators associate Daniel Quinn with Thomas Malthus, assert that Malthus was wrong, and conclude that Daniel Quinn and anyone who takes him seriously is a barking moonbat, a misenthrope, and possibly, even worse in some respectable intellectual circles, anti-business. What these reflexive ideological cascades completely miss is the possibility that Malthus was wrong and that the four horseman have thus far made only cameo appearances and have yet to strut and fret their true hour upon the stage.

I spoke with Daniel Quinn in his home in April of 2008. You can hear that conversation in episode 88 of the C-Realm Podcast: Making a Living. What follows is a partial transcript of that interview in which Daniel Quinn explains why Malthus was wrong and why a Malthusian Correction is still likely.

KMO: You've mentioned in a couple places that people frequently will approach you and say, “Mr. Quinn, I understand what you're saying, but what should I do?” And when they ask you, “What should I do?” you realize that they don't understand what you're saying.

Daniel Quinn: [chuckles]

KMO: What is it that they're missing?

Daniel: What they're missing is that I have no 12-step program. There is no universal program that everyone should follow. There are things like recycling, reusing, re... what's the other one? Yeah, absolutely. Everyone should do those things. But beyond that, what you should do depends on you; depends on what you can do.

A great many people, after reading my books, make unfortunate choices because they say, “Oh, I'm going to become an environmental engineer because, you know, the environment is in danger.” Well, that's unrealistic because they may not have any aptitude for that career, and there isn't that much call for them. They aren't going to be able to make a living. Not everyone who goes into that is going to be able to make a living as an environmental engineer.

The question to ask is, “What can I do best? What am I best at?” And if you are doing what you are best at, then you are going to have more influence there than anywhere else, and influence means having an impact on the people around you. It isn't necessarily sitting down and instructing them. I don't mean that, but people are changed by what the people around them do. Even if the people around them don't necessarily try to make them change, I'm sure that the people around you, people that you know, are influenced by your way of life. They see it, and they compare it to their own life. It does influence their actions in perhaps very subtle ways.

I've heard from teachers, for example, who say, “I don't use your books in my class, but I teach a different way now than I used to.” And that to me is very cheery news. That's what I want. Sure, I'd be happy to have them use my books in their class, but that's not necessary. The important thing is to change them.

The collapse of the Soviet Union occurred because the people of the Soviet Union had changed. From the seventies on, as the younger generation came closer and closer to power, it became possible to have a Gorbachev in office. It couldn't have happened in 1945; to have a Gorbachev in office. It's ridiculous to even think about, but by 1986-7, the people of the Soviet Union had changed and were ready to listen to a new idea, and wanted a new idea; wanted to go a different way.

I once proposed to an audience... I hadn't put it in print. I wouldn't dare to put it in print... that rock and roll had a tremendous influence on the people of the Soviet Union, and it was ultimately, at least in part, responsible for its break-up. And I was very pleased when a year or so ago a Russian student of the history of the Soviet Union expressed the exact same theory; that rock and roll was really very very important in changing the minds of the young people, who eventually became the older people who said, “No more,” to the Communist regime.

KMO: I had another guest who's been on my program on a number of occasions; his name is Dmitry Orlov, and he has just published a book called Re-inventing Collapse: the Soviet Example and American Prospects. He was born in Russia, but he mainly grew up in the United States, but he made trips back to Russia at various points during the disintegration of the Soviet Union. One thing that accompanied the disintegration of the Soviet Union was the deliberate creation of a super-elite class of 'oligarchs.' State industries were privatized and given to these people, and in the process, the former Soviet Union underwent a process of economic disintegration in which 20 million people died, and that figure is not widely known.

Daniel: No.

KMO: And it seems as though a similar chain of events is looming on the near horizon here, and some people feel a great sense of urgency. I've just come from the [annual gathering of] the Conference for the New Urbanism, and there are groups of people who are desperately trying to figure out how we can re-arrange our society with the utmost speed so that we're not so dependent on cheap fossil fuels for our just-in-time delivery system of our agricultural products, and those agricultural products are also the products of petroleum. We've taken half a century to structure our country such that we are utterly dependent on cars, and the whole structure of our society is laid out for the convenience of the car and certainly not [for] the convenience of people. Particularly people who don't have cars.

There are people who feel this sense of urgency. There are people who feel this sense of urgency over climate change, but then it seems there are the vast majority of people who are only concerned with their place in the hierarchy, with the status they can acquire, with the amount of money they can acquire, and I think money serves as a sort of placeholder for status. I think social status is really more important to them than controlling resources. And it seems as though the number of people who do feel a sense of urgency is growing, but it doesn't seem that it's growing fast enough to really avert some seriously unpleasant consequences that will result in what I've been calling a 'Malthusian Correction.'

Another guest I've had on the program is a retired mathematics professor from Colorado. His name is Albert Bartlett, and he talks about the exponential function. He has a lecture that he's given thousands of times that he calls 'The Exponential Function' talking about population and the results of our loss of cheap and easily available oil for producing food. And as I sit here, the hairs on my arms and legs are starting to stand up as I think about... when I take that idea from being an abstract notion and actually imagining what it would be like in the lives of the people, [voice wavering with emotion] in the lives of my children... [long pause]

Daniel: Well, certainly, if we don't manage to come up with petroleum-free agricultural in the very near future, there's going to be a massive die-off of humanity. No question of that, and there certainly isn't any problem that is more urgent than finding those solutions. [There is] one problem whose urgencey never goes away, and that is our continued population growth which makes worse the problems we face with the loss of petroleum.

We are in the midst of a period of mass extinction as great as any in the past.

KMO: Two hundred species a day, you say.

Daniel: Up to. I think the UN recently put out a report saying a hundred and fifty... a hundred and seventy five. It's still an enormous number when considered daily. And the thing is that, of course, we don't see species dropping dead before our eyes.

KMO: We don't see species. We just see individual animals, and we have a very small subset of the species in the world within our view. We see squirrels and a few birds.

Daniel: [Chuckling] Yes, that's right. Exactly, and when species become extinct, most of us are not anywhere near enough to see them become extinct. We're down there in Brazil, destroying the environment of countless species in order to provide more biomas for humans, and we are robbing the environment there of the biomass of other species which dwindle, and dwindle, and dwindle and eventually cease to be. And this will eventually, if we [let it] go unchecked and if we continue at our present rate, we'll be at nine billion, perhaps even twelve billion. There's no way in the world that the world can survive... that the living community can survive a twelve billion human population. It can't survive a six billion population, as a matter of fact. That's why we're in the midst of a mass extinction. It's because the six billion of us require so much biomass to keep us at six billion and growing.

I'm not a Malthusian. I'm here to refute Malthus. Malthus was the first to incorporate into science the notion of human exceptionalism. All living, animate species, without exception (except one); their populations depend completely on the availability of food. If more food becomes available, their population grows. Absolutely. And when food becomes less available, the population diminishes; absolutely, without fail. But according to Malthus, we are an exception to that. According to Malthus, our population goes up, no matter what. So, we must continue to chase our population growth with more food, whereas, in fact, it is the other way around.

Population chases food availability. Food availability does not chase population. When there are more deer, it does not mean that they are somehow growing more food for themselves. It means more food has become available for them. But once we took control of the production of food then we began to increase food production in order to have surpluses, which made us powerful and made it possible for us to overtake the world and conquer all of the peoples in the world. Our population has grown constantly in the last ten thousand years and continues to grow because we continue to drive growth with increased food production.

According to Daniel Quinn's worldview, agriculture is the engine of population growth. It is also the engine of famine. Hunter/gatherers certainly experience lean times, but since they don't raise crops, they never have crop failures and the sort of mass starvation that crop failures (usually combined with war) produce. If that is true, then what are the implications? What are we, assuming there is a 'we,' supposed to do about it?

Repeatedly, people who feel indignation at the implications of Daniel Quinn's worldview confront him with something like, "So what? Are you saying we should just let people starve?"

Daniel Quinn has developed a reply that goes something like:

I don't let the rain fall. I don't let the wind blow, and I don't let people starve. We are not God, and we're not in a position to let people starve. What's more, God does let people starve.
I understand what he's saying, but I also understand why a lot of people judge this answer to be unsatisfactory. Humans move a lot of food around on this planet, and our ability to harness the energy embodied in petroleum clearly gives us some pretty god-like powers. We can move thousands of tons of food into drought-stricken or war-torn regions. We might recognize the undesirable long-term consequences of failing to allow the population of any given bio-region to achieve a workable balance with the local carrying capacity, but nobody wants to be the one to try to explain these big picture concerns to the parents of starving children.

There is, of course, another response to famine. We have a lot of food here, and they have a lot of hungry people there. We could move the hungry people to where the food is rather than the other way around. Were that proposal on the table, I think a lot of people who judge Daniel Quinn to be heartless would soon find it in their own hearts to let people starve.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Month on the Road

It gets hot in Tennessee in August. Darned hot. So the ETC closes down for the month of August, as does the Inn. Someone still has to feed the chickens and ducks and do other basic care-taker operations, but it certainly doesn't require an innkeeper AND an assistant innkeeper, so I hit the road to go spend some time with my children. First I drove from central Tennessee to the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay with my usual stop in Greensboro to hang out with my friend and fellow podcaster, Marty. Marty always puts me up in grand style, and we usually take in some zombie media.

I picked up my kids in Maryland and we took a very expensive taxi ride to the Baltimore airport. We flew from there to St. Louis where we met up with my mother. After a day and a night doing touristy things in St. Louis we drove to Berryville, Arkansas. I wasn't born in Berryville, and except for summers spent at my grandparents' place in my childhood, I never lived there until I was an adult with a wife and child of my own. My second child was born in Berryville. I mention that I never lived there until I was an adult, but in a way Berryville is my home town. My family moved repeatedly when I was a child, and summers in Berryville served as my life-long point of continuity.

After a week in Berryville, I drove back to the Farm in Summertown, Tennessee with my mother and two sons. We spent four days and nights here at the ETC, and I was happy that my boys finally got to see where I've been and what I've been up to this year. We left on a Friday morning and headed back to the East Coast, stopping again in Greensboro. We stopped by Marty's place for some end of the day video game action. His girlfriend, Kaye, was there, and I showed her the cover proof for Conversations on Collapse. Kaye was the leading contributor in my Kickstarter Campaign to raise funds to get the book printed. My mom, my kids, and I spent that night in a Super 8 motel. I wasn't about to ask Marty to house our whole party.

We arrived back at the Elk River House in Chesapeake City on Saturday evening where we all stayed until the boys' mother came to pick them up at the end of the workday on Monday. Tuesday I drove down to Chestertown, Maryland twice; once to record an interview with Tara Shannon Holste, and a second time later in the day to enjoy a home-cooked meal at her place. On Wednesday morning, my mother and I set out again for the Farm. This time we were in two cars, and we had Boots, one of my two cats, with us. We would have taken both cats, but we failed to catch the other cat, Mocha. Boots and Mocha are brother and sister, and until a couple of days ago, they had never lived apart.

Again, we stopped in Greensboro and enjoyed the hospitality of both Marty and Kaye. I stayed with Marty, and my mom and Boots stayed at Kaye's house. We set out the next morning, and I spent 12 hours in my truck with Boots, who gave voice to his misery for almost every moment of the trip. On the Farm, Boots got a one-day reprieve from the torment of the road. He stayed in the greenhouse that is attached to the south side of the Inn and got to spend a bit of time outdoors, but now he's back in his cramped travel cage as he rides with my mom on the final stage of his cross country ordeal, where, late tonight, he will be re-united with my dog, Ungo. They've spent two years apart, and I don't think Boots missed Ungo in the slightest. I imagine that he does miss his sister, Mocha.

Over the course of the events I've just described I traveled about twenty five hundred miles by car. I also logged some air miles, but I don't care to find out how many. The trip from Maryland to Tennessee was doubly consumptive as we had two cars and two drivers, and while I'm the kind of person to make a mental note of the expanded carbon footprint, I'm not the kind of person to fret over it.

Did I have any insights or flashes of inspiration along the way? Well, sure. On one solo day of driving I was thinking about the upcoming AMC series, The Walking Dead. It's an adaptation of a long-running comic book series by Robert Kirkman. Frank Darabont, the director of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, is adapting the comics series for television, and I have high hopes for it.

There is a very successful podcast called Galactic Watercooler, which started out as a fan podcast devoted to Ron Moore's re-imagined Battlestar Galactica TV series. That podcast was originally called Galactica Watercooler, but the podcast outlived the TV series that inspired it, and it has garnered the love of the SF/sci-fi fan community. The podcast is now professionally produced, provides a living for its creators, and has inspired an annual, in-the-flesh meet-up that draws hundreds of fans from all over the world. As I drove, I was spinning fantasies of replicating that sort of success by hitching my wagon to Frank Darabont's incipient zombie epic. I thought of a name for the podcast; The Talking Dead, and I imagined replacing the W in the stylized title logo of the comicbook with a T. Since Marty and I both love zombie movies, and because it's a lot easier to do a podcast with two hosts than to fill the silence with monolog, I called Marty to see if he wanted to co-create the show. He didn't answer the phone, but I left him a voicemail and he later got back to me to express enthusiasm for the idea.

When I was at Marty's house most recently we were brainstorming, and I said, jokingly, that before we go any further I ought to do a Google search and make sure that nobody else has already staked out this bit of territory. I didn't imagine that I was following in anybody's footsteps through the morphogenic landscape, but of course I was. It turns out that The Talking Dead Podcast is already up to episode #19. The creator of that podcast even used the exact same title graphic I had envisioned. Phooey!

Marty pointed out, quite correctly, that this doesn't bring the portcullis down on our potential podcast. We just have to come up with a different title. I agree, but at the same time, I'm not feeling the same wind in my sails now as I was when the idea first came to me.

So much for inspiration. What about insights? Well, maybe, but they certainly didn't spring unbidden from the churning ether. I cornered interview subjects with digital audio recorder in hand and solicited their insights. I had a pretty clear idea of what it was I wanted, and that's what I got: ideas that I already endorse spoken in voices other than my own.

I recorded a conversation with Patrice Gros, my old organic gardening guru, about the difficulty of competing with corporate agriculture and it's economies of scale. I got an apprentice of his to articulate my belief that it's better to get people to fall in love with quality food than to scare them with stories of famine and collapse. It also occurred to me, not for the first time, that it would be fun and possibly useful to travel around to various organic farms and capture images of sexy young people working in the sun, smiling, laughing, and showing lots of firm flesh. I could justify that project as an attempt to give enlightened agriculture a memetic leg up by eroticizing local food consciousness, but really, I just like being around sexy young people who aren't caught up in the cultivated materialism of commercial culture.

When talking with Daniel Krotz, he articulated my conviction that organized religion has a legitimate role to play in rural societies and that the New Atheists are doing more harm than good when they heap scorn upon Christians as it pushes people of faith into a besieged mentality and exacerbates the ideological polarization that politicians and power mongers cynically exploit to get poor working people in the so-called Red States to vote against their own economic interests.

As I took hundreds of photos of my two sons on our trip, I realized at the time, and then again earlier today as I looked at those photos, that in spending so much of my energy on trying to preserve the moment, I missed the full experience of the moment. Yeah, yeah. I've heard and had that one before.

I realized, as I got close enough to the Farm to turn off my GPS navigation device, that I'm glad to be familiar with this particular patch of the rural south and that I'm happy to have a place among the people here. Merry, the ETC innkeeper, is leaving today to spend a few days away from here to re-charge her batteries. Albert Bates is in Ireland, so I'll have the ETC pretty much to myself for the next few days. A new group of permaculture apprentices will arrive next week, and the familiar rhythms of this place, including weekly updates to this blog and the ETC Voices Podcast, are about to resume.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Difference Between a Teacher and a Head-copper

This is a transcript of a portion of my conversation with Stephen Gaskin recorded in the living room of the Ecovillage Training Center on July 29th, 2010:

KMO: I've been talking to a lot of people since I arrived here in February about the relationship between the Farm and the Ecovillage Training Center, and it seems that the Ecovillage Training Center embodies a lot of ideas that were not really in circulation in the 1970s and which don't receive universal acceptance here on the Farm.

Stephen Gaskin: The certain values that the Farm was founded on were the synthesis of what was said by a thousand people at a time over a period of years. We read all of the religious books that we could get ahold of. Religious teachers were coming from all over the world. Suzuki Roshi came to sit with Allen Ginsberg.  We had put that together. I presided over meetings where we argued these questions out. Like one particular hard night of arguing about the question that we had was the day the students were shot at Kent State.

We're having a discussion about that, and we've got about a hundred guys in the back row who were very militant and wanted to get guns and stuff. And some little girl gives me some candy, and she looked at me so funny when I ate it that I wondered a little bit. Bigger than shit, her daddy was a dealer, and I'd been hit with a LOT of acid. And so I said, “I'm dosed here. Do you mind if I go out and handle that?” And they said, “No, you've got to finish the argument.”

KMO: [Chuckles]

Stephen: So, we went on into a place, and I said, “Well, I come in here and I say, 'Peace and love,' and you guys say, 'Yeah, yeah.' And I say, 'Peace and love,' and you guys say, 'Yeah, yeah.'” And I said, “Peace and love,” and the whole audience said, “Yeah! Yeah!”

I said, “Thank you. Can I go out to the beach with my acid now?” And they said, “Yeah.”

[Laughter from KMO and Stephen.]

Stephen: And we argued out all the questions. We had a meeting about heroin when heroin came (to San Francisco). We had meetings about various religions, and we read the books of the various religions. And interestingly enough, there's a thing in Catholocism called the Credo which works as good for my god as their god. Catholicism says that God is omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient... [coughs] I think there's five of them. I can only remember a few of them right now, but those are the ones. And if you make any effort to take a look at those things and say, “Well, what are they?” The only thing that has all knowledge is every thinking thing in the universe in its totality. The only thing that has all power includes all the stars as far as you can see and farther. The only thing that includes all that kind of stuff is the actual physical living totality of the universe, and that would be a name of God for me. Or I might even settle for the definition of God to be, “The Parts of the universe we don't understand very well yet.”

KMO: It sort of sounded like you were talking about pantheism there, but I know you don't want to be any sort of theist, even a pantheist.

Stephen: Yeah. You gotta watch that stuff, you know. Hitler had a religious thing he wanted to do, for sure, and it was Neo-paganism. And that was where he'd give people lots of toys to play with and no responsibility, pretty much.

People come in here from all kinds of different religions... I haven't been doing religious ceremonies in quite a while. I think I'm about to start. I've been getting requests to start up again.

KMO: Here on the Farm? Or elsewhere?

Stephen: Here on the Farm.

We knew we were different, coming here, and we tried to make it so we had as much in common with the neighbors as we possibly could. And then I had this thing of trying to manage this thing, and among other things that I've never been is an executive. I had some ideas about how to handle things, and I would find that those ideas may not have been original. I may have heard about them or something, because they involved things that... like, have you ever heard of an 'event manager? Well, I invented that phrase for me. I don't know who else invented it somewhere else, but for me it's when somebody needs something done... When I would see something –a new thing emerging, I would look around for who was the closest reliable guy I could find and ask him if he'd dig that, be the event manager, and keep track of it for us until we understand it. And so that was a way where I could have a smart desktop without having to carry it around with me.

We tried to learn everything that we could. The results, woefully, are... uh...

One of the neighbor ladies that I would talk to sometimes, and we were out on the road talking. I opened my car door so we wouldn't have to have anything between us, and a car came by, and she leaned into my car and pulled the door closed behind her. And while she was leaned in close to me she said, “I love ya.”

She was one of the ladies on the lane that said, as far as she knows, I'm the honestest man on Drake's Lane. [Chuckles] Which is not too hard to do considering about half the neighbors are moonshiners. [Laughs]

KMO: What would you say the role of pyschedlics was in forming the synthesis that was the formalized Farm...

Stephen: Psychedelics didn't form the synthesis. Psychedelics destroyed the previous synthesis, and we built the synthesis ourselves, knowingly, smartly.

KMO: So psychedelics cleared the space for some new thinking?

Stephen: Yeah.

KMO: But you don't think it played any role in bringing together the various ideas and traditions that you were drawing upon?

Stephen: One Monday night I remember in particular, a guy comes running in waving this book and says, “I found this place here where this old monk in the 13th century had exactly the same trip I had last Saturday night!” [Laughs] So we were checking everything out.

We had Shlomo Carlebach and Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan come visit us two weeks apart. It would have been fun to get the Jews and the Muslims at the same time, but two weeks was awfully close. I'm friends with Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan. I'm friends with Shlomo Carlebach. (Swami) Satchidananda and I were pretty good friends. 

I didn't like Yogi Bhajan. I thought he was a bully. It's kinda funny. I met Aldous Huxley's younger brother, Julian, who is this upper class English dude, and he had known Indira Ghandi. He asked Indira Ghandi what she thought of Yogi Bhajan, and she said, “That bastard!” (pronounced “BAH-stawd”) [Chuckles]

Before Yogi Bhajan was Yogi Bhajan, he was head of airport security at Delhi Airport. He was a Sikh, and Sikhs do that. They'd be bank guards, and... that was part of their culture. They'd be “clean muscle.”

But, Yogi B, I never liked him. I did one of his meditations one time, and we were all lying down in the grass and closing our minds, and we're all laid out like that, and he runs a little commercial against pot. I thought, “You don't put commercials in anybody's mind about any subjects. You just don't do that. That's forbidden. It's a wrong thing to do.”

That's the difference between a teacher and a “head-copper.”

KMO: A teacher and a what?

Stephen: A head-copper; someone who cops your mind. My mother said, after understanding what I was doing for a while, “Well, Stephen, the hippies copped your mind.”

And I thought not only was she right but she used the usage exactly correctly. [KMO and Stephen both laugh]

KMO: Can you live without your mind being copped by somebody or something?

Stephen: My mind's a free will enterprise. That's something I believe in --free will. Free will and a fair shake; that's all you can ask for.

So, when I won the Right Livelihood Award, on the first anniversary, I was invited back. They were very interested in the Farm and things like that. So, the next time it was time for somebody to go, we sent Albert. And so all these little things go back to that meeting.

That's very funny to us, because people in Europe think the Farm is an ecovillage. And we say, “No, you go down this road about a half a mile, down this road about a quarter mile, and turn down into this little valley, and THAT's the ecovillage."

KMO: Except that Albert is quite clear that it's not the ecovillage. It's the Ecovillage Training Center, and no villagers are needed or wanted.

Stephen: I've heard that their most recent nickname is “the Ecovillians.”

KMO: Yes. The people who work here are sometimes called Ecovillians, and I can't really tell if it's in good fun or if there is a bit of animosity behind that.

Stephen: Well, it just used to mean the guys in the village. But, I'm glad Albert's doing this, and Albert's doing his thing his way.

To fully understand the implications of Stephen's comments it is helpful to know that Albert K. Bates started the Ecovillage Training Center on the Farm in 1994 and also that Stephen won the first Right Livelihood Award in 1980. One of the winners the second year was Permaculture pioneer Bill Mollison. The implication being that Albert's introduction to permaculture flowed directly from the philosophical synthesis that emerged from Stephen's Monday Night Class which eventually lead to the formation of the Farm and to Albert's being sent to the Right Livelihood Award gathering where he was exposed to the permaculture memeplex.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

ETC Voices Podcast 012

Paul interviews Mario, an ETC "eco-soaker" about his week on the Farm, and KMO talks with Gregory Landua about permaculture and about the philosophical that guide the ETC and how they differ from the guiding ethic of the larger Farm community.

You can learn more about the Gaia University Financial Permaculture course here:

Photo (left to right): Mario, KMO, Paul

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Super Mega-Doom

The day before yesterday, an on-line article caught my attention. It claimed that BP had set in motion a process by which an enormous methane bubble would erupt from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico sometime in the next six months and reprise the Permian extinction. The author of the piece spun a scenario in which the Earth's atmosphere, saturated with explosive concentrations of methane, catches fire and exterminates 95% of life on Earth nearly instantaneously. BP and the US government, goes the article, have imposed a total news blackout enforced with draconian punishments in order to hide the extent of the damage and the danger from the public.

I posted a link to the article before I'd even finished reading it. For my blog post, I paired an image of the Futurama character Proffessor Hubert J. Farnsworth with the title, “Good News, Everyone.”  (The character of Professor Farnsworth owns an interplanetary delivery service, and he frequently introduces an episode's MacGuffin by walking into the Planet Express conference room and announcing some disastrous news to his assembled employees. He always prefaces the bad news with, “Good news, everyone!”)

I later read the entire article aloud to a group of Ecovillians (the affectionate nickname that Farmies use to refer to denizens of the Ecovillage Training Center) in the ETC kitchen. Paul, a C-Realm listener turned ETC permaculture apprentice, asked me how serious a worry I thought this was. Even before I read a thorough-going debunking of the article, I told Paul that I wasn't the least bit worried about this scenario. The situation that Cormac MaCarthy envisions in "The Road," wherein civilization collapses and a dwindling population of humans struggle to prolong their miserable existence by consuming the remnants of industrial society and by consuming each other, is deeply troubling. A scenario in which a single nearly instantaneous event poisons the atmosphere and sets it alight so that everyone is dead by day's end doesn't trouble me at all. That seems like a pretty easy way out. The only Doomsday scenario that I find less frightening is one in which some experiment in high-energy physics tears the fabric of reality and destroys the universe in an instant.

The notion of near instantaneous annihilation gives me comfort, as I know that I'll never have to live under a brutal local warlord. I'll never have to endure delousing at a FEMA camp. I'll never have to see my children victimized, starving, or suffering from diseases that only affect people who lack access to clean drinking water; diseases which were easily treated in the late Petroleum Age but which have become a leading cause of childhood mortality.  Instantaneous annihilation means that I'll never suffer discomfort, indignity, or even inconvenience.

Minutes after I posted a link to the BP methane doomsday article, someone posted a comment that included a link to a convincing refutation of this particular set of wild-eyed claims of impending doom. The whole premise of methane super-mega doom hung on the claim that earlier mass extinction events mentioned resulted from a single methane escape event. Far from being scientific consensus, this isn't even a minority view in the scientific community. Annalee Newitz , the author of the debunking article puts it like this:

Another fishy fact in the methane bubble doomsday story is Aym's description of how methane bubbles are what caused the End Permian mass extinction event 250 million years ago. Many scientists do believe that atmospheric changes and ocean anoxia (de-oxygenization) were to blame for that extinction - but even Gregory Ryskin, the scientist whose highly speculative work is cited in the article, doesn't try to claim this as the sole cause, nor does he believe that one bubble of methane could bring down the biosphere instantly. The End Permian extinction took millennia to happen. 

Newitz goes on to point out that methane leaks may very well lead to cumulative misfortune over time, but, “who wants to hear difficult, complicated pieces of information, when we could just be screaming about doomsday?” Really. If it takes decades for the harm to become apparent, how is that any different from the rise in prevalence of asthma, diabetes, and forms of cancer which used to be rare but which have become more common? How is that any different from climate change or abstruse claims about the long-term non-viability of petro-chemical agriculture or fractional reserve banking? If climate catastrophe doesn't play out in a matter of hours as in "The Day After Tomorrow," or if haphazardly disposed of chemical weapons don't spawn a hoard of flesh eating zombies, then who cares? If it happens slowly, then any harm to human health or the biosphere will simply be the new normal.

Newitz's article appears on the site io9 which seems to be devoted to topics that obsess Comic-Con attendees. The comments section consists almost entirely of self-satisfied derision of anyone who would be gullible enough to be concerned that a rapid change in the composition of the atmosphere might be a matter of grave importance. None of the comments addressed the fact that the supposed “BP/Obama Administration news blackout” escaped Ms. Newitz's debunking.

Oil industry financier and analyst, Matt Simmons, claims that the oil leak that BP recently managed to cap and which has been the star attraction in the carefully orchestrated disaster response puppet show playing out on TV and computer screens the world over is just one of three Gulf of Mexico oil leaks that BP has been struggling to bring under control for months, and that the one that BP has managed to cap was never the most serious of the three. A friend of the C-Realm posted a link to an interview with an investigative journalist who claims that the Deepwater Horizon rig which blew in April and has since starred in the big puppet show was actually a relief well for another blowout that occurred earlier in the year but which BP managed to keep from the public eye.

Is that true? I don't know. I don't even know how I would find out or how I might choose between the various disaster porn, PR sleight of hand, and conspiracy narratives which will remain on offer for as long as I have any interest in this story.  What seems particularly telling, for me, is that when it comes to debunking, the claim that BP and and the Obama administration are selectively releasing information and imagery in order to manage the public's perception of the spill doesn't seem particularly important. That is to say, the claim that we're being lied to isn't controversial enough to warrant debunking.

As Charles Eisenstein details in his book, The Ascent of Humanity, we live in a matrix of lies. Every advertisement, every utterance by a public official, every name assigned to businesses, buildings, and neighborhoods by marketing professionals constitutes a lie, and the knowledge that we are being lied to provokes no particular emotional response from us. We know we're being lied to, and we are beyond caring. The abuse of language (and all other forms of symbolic communication – especially images) has continued for so long and has saturated public discourse so thoroughly that our ability feel outrage or indignation at being lied to is simply spent.

Eisenstein writes:

Why do we as a society seemingly accept our leaders' gross dishonesty as a matter of course? Why does the repeated exposure of their lies seem to arouse barely a ripple of indignation among the general public? Where is the protest, the outrage, the sense of betrayal?

The answer to these questions lies deeper than the machinations of one or another faction of the power elite. It lies deeper than the subversion and control of the media. Our society's apathy arises from a subtle and profound disempowerment: the depotentiation of the language itself, along with all other forms of symbolic culture. Words are losing their power to create and to transform. The result is a tyranny that can never be overthrown, but will only proceed toward totality until it collapses under the weight of the multiple crises it inevitably generates.

So here we are, back to collapse; inevitable collapse. And again, to echo Dmitry Orlov, collapse is the optimistic scenario. Without collapse, we have the perpetual matrix of lies and the continued degradation of our ability to feel much of anything other than a fleeting sensation of titillation when we see images of boobs or butts for the first time in a few hours, or a short-lived fascination with images of Mega-Disaster on TV.

Unfortunately, one power that words still retain is their ability to stoke rage. Pundits for one or another faction of the power elite seem as capable as ever or using words to invoke anger at the avatars of the opposing faction. Wildfire memes like the BP Methane Mega-Disaster stoke rage against corporations. Stories about pimps using government-funded aid agencies to help them house illegal immigrants working as prostitutes focus the rage of working stiffs on the only people in society who wield less influence and have less control over their own destinies than they do. But nothing constructive springs from this kind of factional animosity, and if the ubiquitous abuse of language and symbolic communication has left us unresponsive to everything except the pricking of our neurological rage circuits, then once again, the eventual, inevitable collapse looms ever larger.

But maybe that's just sour grapes on my part. I was pretty optimistic about our collective destiny when I lived in a big house and drove a Lexus SUV. Maybe this focus on lies and cynical manipulation is just my own expression of the Doomer's Curse. That, if all goes according to plan, will be the subject matter of the 216th episode of the C-Realm Podcast. I hope you'll join me.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

ETC Voices Podcast 011

I've been out of town, and in my absence, Paul, an apprentice here at the ETC, and Merry, our innkeeper, produced this installment of the podcast. I haven't heard it yet, but I'm looking forward to it. I'm sure they would appreciate any constructive feedback you might provide.

Friday, July 9, 2010

ETC Voices Podcast 010

This week's show provides a glimpse of the annual Farm homecoming celebration, Ragweed. First we get an account of the genesis of the festival from Old Farmie, Peter Schweitzer, and later Molly, a recent graduate of the Farm school, shares her thoughts and concerns about what the Ragweed gathering says about the evolution of the Farm community. Music by Night Train.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Surge Capacity

Just now, the Farm is closed to outside visitors. This is the week of the Farm's annual family reunion, called Ragweed. Over the nearly 40 years of the Farm's history, thousands of people have lived here at one time or another, and now most of the people who have some history and affiliation with the Farm live elsewhere. In the first week of July, many of them come back for a week of shared meals, live music, and other activities that keep the bonds of the Farm's far-flung community vital.

Merry, the ETC innkeeper, and I made up a number of extra beds in the ETC dormatories with the expectation that we would be getting a lot of drop-in guests for Ragweed. That didn't happen. We have just one family of four, a couple with two young children, staying at the Inn. Fewer people than expected showed up for Ragweed, but even so, the population of the Farm at the moment is about twice what it was last week. The additional people are not staying at the Inn, so where are they? One Farmie told me that most people are staying with friends or family members on the Farm.

Many buildings on the Farm that once housed 30 or more people now house only a couple or even a solitary individual. When members of the Farm's Changeover diaspora re-converge on the Farm for Ragweed, those now mostly empty dwellings can easily accommodate a temporary surge in population without having to draw upon the capacity of the Inn.

Many visitors to the Farm notice the front gate, the low population density and the fact that the average Farmie is considerably older than the average USAnian, and they come to the conclusion that the Farm is “a retirement community for aging Hippies.” I too have entertained this characterization of the Farm, but when I realized that the Farm could double its population without even having to call upon the housing capacity of the Inn, I saw the community in a new light and was reminded of my recent conversation with Jeff Vail. In particular, the influx of temporary Ragweed population called to mind the notion of surge capacity, which Jeff describes as follows:

Jeff Vail: I think that everything from the way I see legal practice management work in my immediate profession to the reason that Chaco Canyon and the Chacoan civilization collapsed can be related back to surge capacity. 
I should also back up and say that Kevin Carson has written a fascinating book called The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low Overhead Manifesto that focuses on the importance of overhead costs. If you have high overhead costs then you tend to have to create enough revenue to always be meeting that overhead, and so you try to maintain a consistent maximal output from all of your assets. And when you do that, you don't have the ability to either accept a dramatically lower output for a short while or to really surge when there's some new demand that requires that you rise to the challenge and dramatically increase output for a while. 
So, in law practice that might be if you expect your attorneys to work 70 hours per week, and then a huge new case comes in. Well, you've already been working 70 hours a week. What are you going to do? You can work more, and the performance dramatically drops off, or you can squeeze the work into the time available. Either way is not a good option. 
The same thing [holds true] with Chaco Canyon. Chaco was a central site that would redistribute food production from communities in the North and South which were usually only one at a time subject to a drought. So, as long as communities in the North produced in most years twice as much food as they needed, and the same with communities in the South, then when there was a severe drought on one side, Chaco Canyon could administer the re-distribution of food to make sure that everyone got fed.
But gradually, because this re-distribution was fairly efficient, and because they had several good years of weather in a row, populations would rise in both the North and the South to where their food production equaled their local requirements. Then when there was a drought in either the North or the South, there was not enough food to re-distribute. So that lead to increasingly totalitarian government structures. That lead to more extreme farming methods that depleted the soils, etc. Eventually when there were combined droughts, that lead to the collapse of the civilization. 
So, I think those are two very different attempts to explain surge capacity. I think that in general terms if you have the ability to get by on a fraction of what you are capable of, you're in a lot better situation; whether that's food production, water, money, you name it. Because then, when there's a unique demand, you have the ability to rise to meet that challenge.  
KMO: Well, another long-running theme on the C-Realm Podcast is my effort to build awareness of the notion that efficiency is, in many respects, the opposite of resilience and that the more you streamline, the more you put to use excess capacity, the more you eliminate duplication and redundancy, the less surge capacity you're going to have; the less resilient you're going to be when unexpected conditions arise. And I think a really good illustration of this is the single-income family, say, of the 1950s, where you had a bread-winner and a home-maker. 
If something should happen to the bread-winner, the home-maker could go to work and bring in some income. And if you don't have much debt; if your house is paid off and whatnot, and something really bad happens and you need money, you can get a mortgage, or you can go into some debt and have some expectation of coming out of it again. But if you've got both husband and wife already working 50 hours a week, and you've already got your credit cards maxed out, and you've already got a second mortgage, and something happens to one of those bread-winners, then you don't really have any surge capacity. You're screwed.
Jeff: I think that if you were going to try to envision the ideal, resilient, high surge capacity, domestic economy, you'd have husband and wife (or partner and partner) maybe both working in the “traditional economy” 10 hours a week each, and then working maybe in a much more community-focused organization or production capacity 10 hours a week each, and then maybe working  in domestic production, e.g. gardening or some other form of domestic production, ten hours a week each. That shows a pushing for localized self-sufficiency. It's not a very efficient system, but I think it has a lot of surge capacity. Probably either one of those people working 10 hours a week maintains enough proficiency or expertise in whatever their traditional state economy area of specialty is that they could surge if they had to. 
I think that's really the direction... maybe just one visualization of a direction in which we could be pushing. But that's certainly not compatible with the goals of the state economy.

One can look at the Farm's fallow fields and low population density, it's skewed age demographic and the barriers to entry for young people and describe the situation as a group of aging Baby Boomers who kept the long hair and the beards but abandoned the communitarian values of the Old Farm. I've heard many visitors to the ETC level this exact charge. I'm not saying that this is a completely inaccurate characterization or that the Farm doesn't need to take a hard look at the implications of admission standards that screen out young people who have a lot of passion and energy but little portable income. At the same time I can hold a view of the Farm in its current state as maintaining a much needed surge capacity that might well prove invaluable should unexpected conditions arise and the former Farmies living out in the general population find themselves in need of a familiar and welcoming refuge in rural Tennessee.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

ETC Voices Podcast 009

This episode features more conversation with Martina Westover about her search for the social technologies to facilitate community cohesion, Albert Bates on Right Livelihood, banjo music by Luke Who and a farewell from Jamie J.

The Albert Bates material was excerpted with permission from the Enlightened Business Podcast:

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Walkability and Diversity

Today's Writer's Block question on LiveJournal asks, “Do you prefer to live in an urban or rural environment? Why?”

Believe it or not, the pivotal and most interesting word in this question for me is “prefer.” When posed with the city-living-versus-rural-living question, I'm inclined to delve into big picture abstractions that turn on questions of viability and sustainability, but when asked what I prefer, I delve not into theory, but into memory. I have lived in very large cities, including New York City and Nagoya, Japan, and I have lived tucked away in the woods in Washington, Arkansas, and Maryland. And, of course, I have lived in suburbia. When it comes to quality of life, as much as I love trees, and creeks, and birdsong, I'm leaning toward city living as my preferred mode.

I grew up in suburbia. My father worked a job in which promotion meant re-location, and as child I remember living in the suburbs outside of St. Louis, Spokane, San Francisco, and Kansas City. As a child growing up in suburbia in the 70s and 80s, it didn't really occur to me that there was any other mode of life other than the suburban form, and in retrospect, suburban life had a lot going for it. I grew up in the days before children spent their pre-college years under practical house-arrest. Even before I started first grade, I would leave home on my bicycle with my friends and explore my suburban environment without adult supervision. I remember riding with a pack of other kids on bikes when I still had training wheels on my own bike.

I lived in Pleasant Hill, California from the latter half of first grade through the end of my third grade year, and I would disappear on my bicycle for hours to roam the network of trails through the undeveloped hills behind my house. This was normal for the mid-seventies, and unless I missed dinner, my mother wouldn't worry about my long absences. I returned to my old Pleasant Hill neighborhood as an adult. The hills where I used to ride my bike were covered with suburban houses. No child living there today has the opportunity for wholesome, adult-free adventure that I enjoyed in 1976.

I lived in the Kansas City suburbs from the start of fourth grade through high school and two years of community college. Again, I had friends and bikes, and there was no expectation on the part of a parent in those days of being able to pinpoint your child's exact location within a matter of seconds, and again, suburbia hadn't filled every inch of undeveloped space, and there were pastures and woods into which kids on bikes could escape adult supervision and engage in all the acts of imagination, cruelty, and pyromania that used to be purview of childhood. As with old my California stomping grounds, the process of suburban infill has erased those Temporary Autonomous Zones from that suburban landscape, and children living there now live in a panopticon.

I'll spare you the harrowing details of my close encounters with death as a teenager in suburbia. Suffice it to say that automobiles, alcohol, and no place for teenagers to go is not the most workable combination of elements imaginable.

When I left home, I went to the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri where I lived in a dormitory. Again, I had friends and no adult supervision, and I lived in the marvelous walkable environment of a university campus. My food came from the dining hall, and since I was 21 years old upon arrival, I could buy alcohol for my freshmen dorm-mates, which meant I mostly drank for free. That was pretty much the ideal living arrangement, but we all know that college is a temporary dream-world which vanishes long before we appreciate just how good we have it, so I won't include it in the list of candidates for my preferred living arrangement.

After a semester of dorm life at UMC, I spent the next year living in a dormitory on a small college campus in the very rural town of Nakajo, in Japan's Niigata prefecture. Again, on a college campus I had everything I needed within an easy walk, and lots of friends with cars made alcohol an easy acquisition. Again, it's the fantasy bubble of college life, and so it doesn't count.

After I finished college I wanted to return to Japan. I applied for the JET program, a system administered by the Japanese government that places native English speakers in Japanese public schools to teach English, but I didn't get it. Instead, I spent a summer in Alaska trying to make enough money in the commercial fishing industry to get back to Japan under my own financial steam. That summer I got a taste for life aboard a boat. The 18-hour workdays and exploitation by unscrupulous employers keep my memories of the life aquatic from being fond ones, but I could well imagine life on a boat agreeing with me if I had any say in who else lived on board and where we went.

Eventually, I did make it back to Japan, and shortly thereafter I had my first apartment. It was actually fairly large by Japanese standards, and I could only afford it because it was old, not in great repair (by Japanese standards) and apparently owned and administered by the local Yakuza (organized criminals). I lived two blocks from a subway station, and I could be in the commercial center of the city within 45 minutes of walking out my door. The city has castles, parks, museums, zoos, and endless opportunities for amusement and diversion. 

I lived there with my American girlfriend, and she attended Nanzan University, which was about a half-hour's walk from our apartment. Between home and the university was a small, unassuming Buddhist temple called Tooganji that had an enormous metal statue of the Buddha in their back garden. I spent a lot of time there, and the priests never hassled me or asked me to move along.

Wikipedia describes Nagoya as the fourth most populous urban area in Japan, and just about everything one could want, other than solitude and quiet, can be found there. What's more, just about all of it is accessible by public transportation. If there were any American cities that offered the immense range of activities and the kind of car-free mobility that I enjoyed in Nagoya, I would probably be living there right now.

When I returned from my second stint in Japan, I ended up in grad school back in Columbia, Missouri. This time I lived off campus. Still car-free, I lived in a variety of student slums within an easy walk of the campus and, of equal importance, within walking distance of the old downtown. As with most small cities, the bulk of commercial activity has shifted out to the business loop off of interstate 70, but the old downtown core, being an easy walk from the college campus, is replete with places to eat, drink, play pool, get tattooed, dance, and buy comics, video games, and, if you're into that sort of thing, clothing. I remember spending long hours sitting outside of the St. Louis Bread Company, reading comics, drinking endless refills, and talking to friends and acquaintances who happened by in a steady stream. I've never been to Europe, but as I understand it, this is a fairly typical experience for Europeans. For me, this sort of experience is confined to a tiny portion of my biography, and I have little expectation of finding it again any time soon. 

A friend with a car made it possible to shop at a big grocery store on the outskirts of town and thus secure a source of affordable food to supplement the mostly over-priced fare available downtown. One year, I purchased a campus housing meal plan, which meant that while I didn't live in the dorms, I could eat in the rather nice dormitory cafeterias at least once a day. Again, this was college, but because I was not only a student, but an employee of the university, that living arrangement orbits closer to the realm of sustainable possibility than simply paying tuition and living on faith and student loans.

When I left grad school, I moved to Seattle, and after a bit of couch-surfing I secured a studio apartment downtown. I worked one block from my apartment, and I lived in that small downtown apartment for longer than I've lived in any other place in my adult life. Again, I had no car, and again, I depended on a friend with a car to get me to and from the sorts of grocery stores you don't find downtown. 

This was a marvelous arrangement for many of the same reasons that I loved living in Columbia, Missouri. Everything I needed was within an easy walk of my apartment, and because I did so much walking, my idea of “an easy walk” covered far more ground then than it does now. I could step out my front door and walk to see some of my favorite bands play live, or linger in bookstores and museums. I could reach Seattle's famous Pike Place Market in about 10 minutes on foot, and so I would go there on a whim with no plan in mind.

I have lived in far too many places as an adult to describe them all here, but in addition to all of this city living, I have also lived in the rural hinterlands, and while they have much to recommend them, one thing I really missed while living out there in the boonies was the opportunity to walk. In both rural Arkansas and rural Maryland, my opportunities for walking were extremely restricted. Almost all land out away from rural population centers in this country is private property. The roads lack sidewalks, and to set foot on any of the picturesque pastures that scroll past one's car window is to risk an encounter with a jealous land-owner or the police.

Here at the Ecovillage Training Center on the Farm I have a rather unique living experience. Without getting in a car, it's hard to reach anything other than the restorative ambiance of the woods, but without setting foot off the ETC grounds I come into contact with a steady stream of dynamic and lively souls. I live in an inn, and interesting people stay here. It doesn't offer me the range of social choices I would have in a city, but the social filter of the Farm puts me in daily contact with a choice selection of people. I don't know how long I will be here, but I suspect that I will only come to fully appreciate my situation here in hindsight.

My reflections reveal to me that what I really value is walkability and opportunities to spend time with excellent people as well as the option of being left alone when I've had my fill of social interaction. Knowing that, I could probably satisfy those wants in a variety of settings, but it seems to me that a big city or a college town offer the most promise. The country offers natural beauty, a slower pace of life, less intrusion and micromanagement by civil authorities and a high probability of running into people I know. The 'burbs seem to offer the worst of both worlds, and without a car or the sort of usable mass transit that one rarely finds in the United States, suburbia just isn't even an option.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

ETC Voices Podcast 008

KMO talks with Nathanael Johnson about his investigations into the harsh realities of medicalized birth in the United States. Nate also shares a recording he made of Ina May Gaskin talking about the role of midwifery on the Farm and how she discovered her life's work as a midwife and a teacher of midwives.

Music by Old Soul.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Abyss

A year ago I had a very stable routine. Five days a week I would wake up around 9 am and get to work on the next episode of the C-Realm Podcast. Some days I would record telephone interviews, other days I would edit them, on yet other days I went to the Chesapeake City public library to get online and correspond with the other people whose voices grace the program. I put two to three hours into the project most days.

After my daily stint of gratifying work  I would steel myself for the portion of my day that I gave over to alienated labor in the service of a corporate behemouth. I worked my cubicle-serf gig from 3 – 11:30 pm with the better part of an hour's commute each way.  I would arrive home well after midnight, feed the cats, read for a bit, and go to sleep. In the morning, I would get up and do it all over again. On days when I wasn't working my so-called “real job,” I had my two sons with me, and I made no effort to do any work on the podcast when they were with me.

This was a period of high misery for me, but in terms of keeping my creative output high, it worked well. My best mental energy is available to me in the morning, and working nights left my mornings and my best psychic fuel available for my own projects. Having the mornings available for my own creative activity and leaving only the dregs for my corporate employer helped things along, but the key ingredient was social isolation.

That two to three hours which I spent on the podcast each day was almost always completely free from interuption, and I got a lot done. My misery did not stem entirely from my social isolation. I have a high tolerance for solitude, but as I talked on the phone with authors and activists about the need for face to face interaction with neighbors and members of one's real community, I was acutely aware of the irony; the C-Realm Podcast with it's high-minded messages about community grew out of the soil of my own solitude. I longed for the opportunity to spend time with friends doing nothing in particular. I longed for shared meals and physical labor that would yeild tangible benefits for myself and my community. I longed to hear live music performed out of love rather than as paid performance.

I enjoy all of that in abundance now, and I am aware of just how thoroughly my wishes have been granted. I even have chickens in my life. At the same time, the C-Realm Podcast has suffered. For years I received praise from listeners via email expressing their amazement at the consistent high quality of the program. Now I'm getting feedback telling me that the shows have been hit or miss recently, and I didn't really need to be told that. I knew it already.

A year ago, I was doing just the one podcast and blogging haphazardly as often as the spirit moved me. Now I do two weekly podcasts (the C-Realm Podcast and the ETC Voices Podcast) and blog more rigourously, so the mental energy that used to feed one podcast now feeds two podcasts and a blog, but it seems to me that the strain on the C-Realm Podcast comes mainly from the fact that I now have, for the first time in many years, a “life.”

Here at the ETC, I eat three shared meals a day. I regularly enjoy spontaneous live music. I literally live in a forest, and I hear far more bird song than I do roaring engines. We even seem to be outside of any airline flight paths here (although we get our share of black helicopters befouling the audible environment with their noise). It's beautiful here, but it's also complicated. There are people; people who come to me and ask me questions. People who come to me in need of assistance with this task or that. People who come to me for help in interacting with other people. And the phone rings.

From the perspective of my having a life, these are all positive developments. From the perspective of the C-Realm Podcast, KMO's having a life is a problem. What to do?

I realize that it probably seems like I'm winding up to announce a podcasting hiatus. Not so. I have no intention of giving up the podcast that brought me here nor in scaling back the production schedule. People have written to me and suggested that I take longer to gestate each program and only release a new episode when I've got something that I am proud of, but I take pride in maintaining the weekly production schedule. I also believe that the best interview material comes unexpectedly, and I happen across it specifically because the podcast demands to be fed on a regular schedule. Had I not been scrounging to feed the beast, I would have missed out on some of the most stimulating and enlightening conversations that I've had since the Fall of 2006.

It seems that the solution to the problems that arise from an embarassment of social riches is yet more social interaction. I've written this entire essay up to this sentence without interuption because I managed to impress upon the right people with repeated, gentle reminders that I have committed myself to writing at least a thousand words every Saturday and that today is Saturday.

Communication is what I do best, and yet I do less of it with the people around me than I know I should if I want to honor what they do while securing the time and solitude I need to do what I do. I'm not the only person creating content around here. Albert Bates blogs and writes books. Merry, the innkeeper, gives far more of her mental and physical energy to the Ecovillage Training Center than I do, and she not only blogs, but she also shoots, edits, and posts videos.

The biggest challenge for me is in articulating the importance of sticking to my production schedule when I know full well (and I know that everyone else knows) that if I miss one of my self-imposed deadlines and end up posting to this blog on Sunday rather than on Saturday or (God forbid) that I should upload a new episode of the C-Realm Podcast on a Thursday rather than on Wednesday, no buildings will fall into rubble. No children will go hungry. No would-be podcast guest will withdraw her participation. No otherwise generous contributor will think twice about supporting my efforts.

There's just not that much riding on any given deadline, and yet the idea of missing one scares me in a way that the prospect of living without income or not knowing where I will be taking shelter from the elements six months from now does not. Merely entertaining the possibility of faltering in my weekly production of the C-Realm Podcast feels like tottering on the edge of the abyss.