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.


  1. I should elucidate a little about the connections here. In 1990, marking the 10th anniversary of our receipt of the Right Livelihood Award, I attended the RLA convergence in Italy as a representative of The Farm. Stephen couldn't go but it seemed a fair trade because a couple years earlier I hadn't been able to take up an invitation to speak at Findhorn and Stephen had gone in my place and they made him a Findhorn fellow. At the meeting in 1990 in Italy, they didn't make me a fellow but I did meet Bill Mollison and a number of other RLA winners whom I admired. I would say that was the beginning of my permaculture exposure. Bill's partner of the time, Reny Slay, took time away from illustrating Introduction to Permaculture to go with my wife of the time, Cynthia Bates, to Venice while Bill and I bused around the Italian countryside.

    My connections to the ecovillage movement came from a different source, however, which was my interview for In Context magazine that led Diane and Robert Gilman to invite me first to Russia in 1991 and later to Denmark in 1993 to participate in meetings that led to the formation of Gaia Trust and later the Global Ecovillage Network. Gaia Trust provided some of the early financing for my prototype training center at The Farm, which has since been replicated on five other continents.

    This year's 30th anniversary convergence of the Right Livelihood Award will be held in Bonn in October. Stephen attended the 20th in 2000 but neither he nor I will be at this one. Peter Schweitzer, director of Plenty, will be representing The Farm and Plenty this time.

    The Ecovillage Training Center pushed out the frontiers of permaculture, first with the original ecovillage design course in 1995 and then with the financial permaculture course in 2008. More than 60000 students have received ETC trainings since its inception in 1994. The Farm is largely unaware of these accomplishments and we try not to make a fuss about them, but ETC, like the community of which it is part, has cast many seeds into the wind.

  2. Teacher is a good guide for me ;) Cop no idea :(
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