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Adam Smith was a Muslim

The following lengthy excerpt comes from David Graeber’s “Debt: The First 5,000 Years.”  I was recently rereading the text when I was struck by this passage:

There was a particular hostility to anything that smacked of price-fixing.  One much-repeated story held that the Prophet himself had refused to force merchants to lower prices during a shortage in the city of Medina, on the grounds would be sacrilegious, since, in a free market situation, “prices depend on the will of God.”  Most legal scholars interpreted Mohammed’s decision to mean that any government interference in market mechanisms should be considered similarly sacrilegious, since markets were designed by God to regulate themselves.

If all this bears a striking resemblance to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” (which was also the hand of Divine Providence), it might not be a complete coincidence.  In fact, many of the specific arguments and examples that Smith uses appear to trace back directly to economic tracts written in Medieval Persia.  For instance, not only does his argument that exchange is a natural outgrowth of human rationality and speech already appear both in both Ghazali (1058-1111 ad), and Tusi (1201-1274 ad); both use exactly the same illustrations: that no one has ever observed two dogs exchanging bones.  Even more dramatically, Smith’s famous example of division of labor, the pin factory, where it takes eighteen separate operations to produce one pin, already appears in Ghazali’s Ihya, in which he describes a needle factory, where it takes twenty-five different operations to produce a needle.

Basically, many of Smith’s central ideas are Islamic in origin.  In other words, capitalism is an Islamic philosophy.  At the same time, the US is often cited as the epitome of capitalism.  I find all of this quite ironic, as the US considers Islam its enemy.

Wild Mind

This post is a review of Bill Plotkin’s 2013 book “Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche.”

I have to say that, after the first read-through, I don’t have much comment about this book.  I think that it’s probably great.  But it didn’t really hold my attention, even though I went through the entire thing.  I see it as a hand book, best used for hands-on application, rather than something for casual reading [as I was doing].

There are really just two diagrams that sum up the entire book:

This model is the second of three that Animas Valley Institute uses.  The first being the Eight Eco-Soul-Centric Stages of Human Maturation.  And the third being on personality types [not yet out].

I loved Bill’s first book, “Soulcraft,” because it had a strong storytelling aspect to it.  I think this book is more like Bill’s second, “Nature and the Human Soul;” more academic, less personal.

I look forward to coming back to this book when I need it.

Drop City

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This is a book review of “Drop City,” a published by Viking Press in 2003, written by T. C. Boyle.

A friend referenced this book.  And I’d recently read about the book’s namesake in this Aeon article.  And I’m the child of hippies and intentional-community folks.  So I thought it worth a read.

My reception?  Pretty negative.

Summary

A group of hippies in 1970 form an intentional community on a piece of land South of San Francisco.  Simultaneously, we’re made aware of a conservative redneck [I don’t mean this term in a derogatory way] couple up in Alaska, “making it off the land.”  The hippies get kicked off their land in California and move in next to the rednecks up in Alaska.  One of the hippies joins forces with the enemy of the redneck, and both enemies end up dying, after a lot of hardship due to them on the part of the hippies and the rednecks.

Reception

The book is extremely negative.  When something can go wrong, it does.  By the middle of the book I became paranoid, glancing around every corner, pondering what would be the next disaster.  And I have to say, I actually got pretty good at predicting when and how things would go wrong.

My guess is that our author, Boyle, is an atheist in the most pessimistic of ways.  There is not one shred of beauty in the entire four-hundred and sixty four pages.  Well, although there were many opportunities for beauty, our author missed all of them.  From many perspectives, the book could be romantic - people living off the land, focused on community and relationships.

Why do I say atheist?  Because the book just leaves you wondering, am I just putzing around until I die?  Does a human life have any real purpose or value at all?  It seems our author has concluded, no, it does not.  And although I won’t lay out my viewpoints here, I will mention that I disagree with him.  There’s still some hope left in me, some humanity.

There are some names dropped in the text which served some relevance to the generation.  At the moment, those of G. I. Gurdjieff and John McLaughlin are coming to mind.  So it’s not as though Boyle just made up the entire book.  Some aspects of the context aren’t that far off base.  But clearly, Boyle is not a hippy, nor is he a redneck.

There are some nice aspects of the book.  For example, we come to see that hippies and rednecks really care about the same thing.  Ultimately, this could be said about any two subcultures.  But it’s nice to find this slightly inspiring message hidden under all of the doom and gloom.

DamNation

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I recently watched a film about dams produced by Patagonia.  It’s called “DamNation.”  I watched in via Vimeo On Demand, a service I’m quite fond of.

My take on it?  Excellent.  My parents are freshwater ecologists, so it’s understandable that I’d be sympathetic.

The premise?  Dams are bad.  We have tens of thousands of dams in the US, and they’re not doing us much good.  They’ve killed off phenomenal “natural resources,” such as vibrant fisheries.  And they barely do anything for us.  At one point they supplied 50% of our country’s power; they now supply 7%.  It’s not that they’ve become less efficient; our use of electricity has relentlessly outstripped their capacity.

The silly part, and the part that I didn’t know, was that dams have a maximum lifetime of only a few hundred years.  Is hydroelectric a renewable, sustainable energy source?  Absolutely not.  I won’t get into solar and wind here; they aren’t renewable or sustainable either, but that’s for another time.

If you think about beavers, it’s obvious.  Beavers make a damn in a stream.  The stream becomes a swamp.  The swamp fills in with sediment.  The swamp becomes a meadow.  And then eventually the meadow becomes a forest.

The exact some things happens on a much larger scale with dams; they get sedimented in and become worthless.  It’s just a matter of time.  And that’s only if they don’t collapse first [which can definitely also happen].

One aspect of it that’s a little surprising for me, considering Patagonia is a billion-plus-dollar company, is the Deep Green Resistance bent of the entire thing.  Essentially they infer that if the government doesn’t cooperate in restoring these ecosystems, it’s up to us to fix these problems ourselves.  The films an inspiring blend of liberal and libertarian values.

I highly recommend it.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

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This post is a book review of “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk" by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.

At first glance, I thought this book looked cheesy.  I didn’t like the color scheme or the design.  It talks about how many copy it’s sold right there on the cover.  And it doesn’t have a title.  Instead of a title, it has a lengthy description which makes it impractical to name in conversation.  Also, my copy was printed on low-quality acid pulp paper [it was severely yellowed even though it’s only ten years old].  Inside it, it had all of these exercises, which intimidated me a little bit.  I ended up skipping them for reasons of practicality.  Well, I read through them, but I didn’t have someone to practice them with.

But my partner asked me to read the book as my birthday present to her.  This was back in December. And I’m not yet a black belt in childhood communication, so I read it anyways.

After all that, I’d recommend you not to underestimate the potency of this book.  It’s not just a book about communication with children [especially your own children or children that live in your household].  It’s a book about life.

There are some strong parallels to Zen.  Living with children is a little like the monastic life: stark, bleak, austere, solitary.  It requires a lot of discipline, resolve, vigilance, and steadfastness.  This book offers inspiration, reassurance, and a new set of skill to excel in this environment.  It could even be called a spiritual handbook.

For the most part, the book avoids the Separationist mentality.  It’s thesis: that children are a product of their environment.  What does it take to be a good communicator with children: listening, empathy, minimalism, openness, realism, adaptability, observation, nonjudgementality.

This book has given me a lot to work with, and I look forward to putting it to practice.

Read More

Violence

I don’t really follow mainstream media, but two of my friends told me about an event that recently happened at UC Santa Barbara.  Some young, privileged, white guy from the “Men’s Rights Movement” stabbed three people and shot many more, then committed suicide, resulting in something like ten dead and seven wounded.

I don’t know his name, and I’m not that interested in looking it up.  The point is, these events happen all the time.  I said this back at Sandy Hook, and I think it’s all I can say now.  This is normal.  This is who we are.

Earlier this week I read a mammoth article in the Atlantic titled “The Case for Reparations.”  It’s about slavery and racism in the US, and how our country is built on principles of white supremacy.  These recurring shootings are part of that story.  Of course, it’s larger than white supremacy.

Ta-Nehisi, the author of the piece in the Atlantic, says that we need to come to terms with who we are as a nation before we can truly begin the process of healing.  He gives the example of an addict–the alcoholic.

Hippies would say, it starts with acceptance, with love.  Before the healing can come, before things can start getting better, we need to accept ourselves for who we really are; we need to love ourselves in this moment, without reserve.

As a country, are we there yet?  I don’t think so.  Are things going to get worse?  I’m quite sure they are.  This isn’t a fringe issue.  We’re going to see more violence, and it going to hit closer and closer to home, until the core mythologies that keep our nation alive are in bloody ruins.  Well, maybe we won’t have to go that far.  But I’m not feeling a national tone of self acceptance yet, and so that’s all I need to see to know things are going to keep getting worse.

But when we’re ready, the road after acceptance lies ahead.  And from what I know of the terrain, it’s a pretty good road!

The New Food Revolution

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This post is written in response to National Geographic’s recent cover article, “Feeding 9 Billion.”

First the cover sets us up for for excitement; “wow, a revolution!”  And then we get to the article, “huh, 9 billion, people keep relentlessly mentioning that number, ever though it’s arbitrary.”  The opening to the article: “It doesn’t have to be factory farms versus small, organic ones.  There’s another way.”  ”Oh, so they’re going to take a new, innovative perspective on food issues.”

A Five-Step Plan to Feed the World

According to National Geographic

  1. Freeze Agriculture’s Footprint
  2. Grow More on Farms We’ve Got
  3. Use Resources More Efficiently
  4. Shift Diets
  5. Reduce Waste

Analysis

Where does the money come from?  When reading National Geographic, I’m constantly assaulted by ads for Texaco, Syngenta, and Intel.  Are these companies coming up with solutions of the future?  Absolutely not.  So even before the starting line, National Geographic’s insight is looking pretty compromised.  Also, this article was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.  They also funded the Green Revolution, and look how that worked out…

Who decides how to feed the world?  Well, that’s definitely not a realm within the scope of human sentience or domain.  This is the wrong question.  Even if we had the capabilities to work on this kind of scale, we’d fail.  But we don’t have this competence.

Then there’s that number: nine billion.  What drives human population growth in the modern era?  Debt creation.  So if the economy collapses, we’re not going to get to nine billion.  If global warming throws a curve ball, we’re not going to get to nine billion.  And then there’s the fact that I use, on average, the same amount of resources as fifty people from China.  So with that kind of spread and imprecision in the implications of the population number, focusing in on such a thing is totally meaningless.

These steps are so vague as to be not even worth mentioning.  I didn’t see any thorough investigation of production methods.  What about permaculture?  What about agroforestry?  What about the fact that, for many indigenous peoples, there are no such thing as “wilds.”  On some scope, humans serve as a keystone species in every biome.  So numbers like “agricultural land” become useless metrics.

Increase efficiency?  We all know that increasing efficiency increases consumption.  It’s called Jevon’s Paradox, and has been well documented in many instance.

Moving Forward

So if National Geographic, is totally off base, has not even the most rudimentary understanding of how to approach these issues, and is embedded within systems destined for failure, where do we go from here?

First, I think we need to be asking different questions.  Let’s bring things back to a human scale.  Rather than, “how do we feed the world,” try on “how do we feed our community” on for size.  And by community, let’s put the scale roughly at 300 to 5,000 [building on the insights from “A Pattern Language”].

Second, let’s think outside of the box.  I’ve already mentioned permaculture and agroforestry.  This kind of stuff is where we’ll find room for improvement; different paradigms.  The old ways aren’t going to keep on working.

Third, let’s move away from number’s and toward intuition.  Again, keep it human scale.  Numbers are abstractions, and create a perception of separation between us and what we’re measuring.  This is one of the roots of violence.

Further Reading

"Debt: The First 5,000 Years," by David Graeber

"The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible," by Charles Eisenstein

The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible

This post is a review of Charles Eisenstein’s fourth book, “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible,” published in late 2013 by North Atlantic Books.  I got a copy through iBooks and read it on my iPad, but you can read it free online if you prefer, at the link above.

Reception

"The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible" serves as a handbook to the midwives of a new age, a spiritual guide to the permaculture/new economics nomads, a wake up call for those in Silicon Valley and the Financial District who have found success in our current world, and an inspiration to burnt out hippies to give this love thing one more try.

We find ourselves at a transition between ages, moving from the Age of Separation to the Age of Interbeing.  Humanity is in a stage of adolescence.  But our entrance into young adulthood is by no means guaranteed, although change is inevitable.  I find the title to be misleading, as the book isn’t about the Age of Interbeing, but rather, how to get there.  This is likely the more useful topic.

Some would say we’ve been here before.  G. I. Gurdjieff talks about a time before the sand storms of the Caucuses 7,000 years ago when human civilization was at least as developed as it is today.  The Shivapuri Baba said we’re coming to the close of a 6,000-year period; and as humanity is much older than that, his statement infers there have been cycles of development before this one.  Ancient Origins would have us believe that the distant past of our race has been anything but primitive.

Regardless of whether you pay those sources any attention, something does set this stretch of human history apart from anything in recent millennia: the ecological limits with which we’ve already begun to collide.  Deep Green Resistance can get you a good sense of the circumstances.  Certain communities have periodically reached these limits before on a regional scale, but this time it’s global.

Are we going to make it this time?  Why didn’t we make it last time?  Charles might liken the first question to the way that Bill McKibben talks of global warming.  Speaking at Slow Money in 2011, I remember Bill reminding us that it’s our obligation to have hope when pondering the possibility of coming to right relationship with the biome of the planet earth.  Behaving as say, Goldman Sachs, has, putting the economy before the planet, has no possibility but failure.  So why not look on the bright side?

Late in the book Charles gets into his view of miracle.  A miracle is an impossible event.  And what defines possible?  Our worldview, our paradigm.  One aspect of this transition between ages involves a fundamental shift in perspective.  In the Age of Interbeing, there are no islands in the universe.  Every being has a relationship with every other being.  Questions of scale take on a very different meaning.  From the perspective of Separation, the smallest acts can have impossibly large impacts.  Think fractals, think microcosms, think holism.  

During this transition, we have a foot in each world.  The rules that govern possibility take on a shifty nature.  We walk between two divergent realities, sometimes unsure which one houses us at any given moment.  One useful model can be that of roles; we each have two faces, one for the old world and one for the new.  Our role in Separation might be an accountant, when our role in Interbeing might be artist or gardner.  It takes courage and strength to show our new faces to the old world, and in some circumstances, the old world can crush these faces.

That’s where community comes in.  Belief is a social force.  Enlightenment, if you please, is a communal activity.  J. G. Bennett was very much of this perspective.  And it makes sense: in Separation the frame of reference focalizes around the individual; in interbeing, the focal point is community.

And yet the path that Charles describes in the book, the challenges that we each face during this transition, are primarily internal.  Where as Charles’ middle two books focus more on cosmology, this book is a return to a spiritual approach, similar to that of his first book.  The experience of reading it reminds me of “The Power of Now.”  Both are personal, humble, and practical accounts of how we can each work on ourselves.

Moving from the grand story of humanity Charles draws in his lengthy earlier works, this book is short, approachable, and focused on the self.  I find this progression natural and fitting.  If we seek to change the world, we must change ourselves.

I’m left with a number of concepts to ponder.  One such topic is that of authenticity.  In Interbeing, we do things because they matter.  We don’t take one action in anticipation of it leading to something we desire; every act is a monad.  For example, in Interbeing, we don’t get a degree to get a job.  We could get a degree, but only due to it’s inherent value.  In other words, value is completely illiquid.  In contrast, in Separation, value has been commodified and liquidated through money.  To those in Separation, money is the essence of value.  In Interbeing, we need a fundamentally different understanding of money.  This is an expansive concept to try to wrap one’s mind around.  Maybe that’s one of the reason Charles used the word hearts in the title as opposed to mind; with something this different, understanding grows out of an intuitive feeling, rather than a mental model.

Charles mentions that he think’s we had our first chance for transition in the ’60s, and that we blew it.  He says we’re currently at our second chance.  And he thinks that if we miss this one, we’ll have one last time around 2050.  This is interesting to me, because I think that the transition is happening now, but won’t be complete by 2050.  So I guess I see a much longer timeline for transition than he’s thinking.  Unless maybe he has the same timeline, but just thinks we haven’t started yet.

In the book there’s some great stuff about reason.  I often use reason as a crutch, and it’s even something I’ve written about before.  Charles asks, “What if the choices are really coming from somewhere else, and all the reasons we cite for the choice are actually rationalizations?”  I see reason as breaking integrity.  Integrity, as the root would have us know, has to do with one, with a whole.  Reason turns our world into dualities: what we do, and why we do it, separate from each other.  This sort of reason is an artifact of Separation.  Here’s my post from a few months ago on the subject.

Excerpts, Notes, and Additional Resources

Table of Contents:

  1. Separation
  2. Breakdown
  3. Interbeing
  4. Cynicism
  5. Insanity
  6. Force
  7. Science
  8. Climate
  9. Despair
  10. Hope
  11. Morphogenesis
  12. Naivete
  13. Reality
  14. Spirit
  15. Orthodoxy
  16. Newness
  17. Urgency
  18. Scarcity
  19. Doing
  20. Nondoing
  21. Attention
  22. Struggle
  23. Pain
  24. Pleasure
  25. Judgement
  26. Hate
  27. Righteousness
  28. Psychopathy
  29. Evil
  30. Story
  31. Disruption
  32. Miracle
  33. Truth
  34. Consciousness
  35. Destiny
  36. Initiation

Mythology

  • Who am I?
  • Why do things happen?
  • What is the purpose of life?
  • What is human nature?
  • What is sacred?
  • Who are we as a people?
  • Where did we come from and where are we going?

Interbeing

  • That my being partakes of your being and that of all beings.  This goes beyond interdependency - our very existence is relational.
  • That, therefore, what we do to another, we do to ourselves.
  • That each of us has a unique and necessary gift to give the world.
  • That the purpose of life is to express our gifts.
  • That every act is significant and has an effect on the cosmos.
  • That we are fundamentally unseperate from each other, from all beings, and from the universe.
  • That every person we encounter and every experience we have mirrors something in ourselves.
  • That humanity is meint to join fully the tribute of all life on Earth, offering our uniquely human gifts toward the well-being and development of the whole.
  • That purpose, consciousness, and intelligence are innate properties of matter and the universe.

Seeds of the transition

  1. Wisdom lineages
  2. Sacred stories
  3. Indigenous tribes

Miracle

  • When one is aligned with the purpose of service, acts that seem exceptionally courageous to others are a matter of course.
  • When one experiences the world as abundant, then acts of generosity are natural, since there is no doubt about continued supply.
  • When one sees other people as reflection of oneself, forgiveness becomes second nature, as one realizes “But for the grace of God, so go I.”
  • When one appreciates the order, beauty, mystery, and connectedness of the universe, a deep joy and cheerfulness arises that nothing can shake.
  • When one sees time as abundant and life as infinite, on develops superhuman patience.
  • When one lets go of the limitations of reductionism, objectivity, and determinism, technologies become possible that the science of separation cannot countenance.
  • When one lets go of the story of the discrete and separate self, amazing intuitive and perceptual capabilities emerge from lifelong latency.

Healing

  • It will come from the people and places that were excluded from full participation in the old Story of the People, and that thus preserved some pieces of the knowledge of how to live as interbeings.
  • It will come from the ideas and technologies that were marginalized because they contradicted dominant paradigms.  These include technologies of agriculture, healing, energy, mind, ecological restoration, and toxic waste remediation.
  • It will also draw from marginalized or near-forgotten social and political technologies: consensus-based decision making, nonhierarchical organization, direct democracy, restorative justice, and nonviolent communication, to name a few.
  • It will engage the kinds of skills that our present system suppresses or fails to encourage.  People who have languished outside our dominant economic institutions, working for very little doing what they love, will find their skills and experience highly valued as pioneers of a new story.
  • It will liberate the marginalized parts of people who have been suppressing their true gifts and passions in order to make a living or be normal.  To some extent, this category probably includes every member of modern society.  We can feel the stirring of these suppressed gifts any time we their, “I wasn’t put here on Earth to be doing this.”
  • It will embody and validate marginalized parts of life, the things we neglect in the rush and press of modernity: qualities of spontaneity, patience, slowness, sensuality, and play.  Beware of any revolution that doesn’t embody these qualities: it may be no revolution at all.

A Gathering of the Tribe

My tweets on the book - #AgeOfReunion

Everywhere I go, I find the same thing: young people who were seemingly born into the understandings it took my generation decades of hard struggle to achieve… The patterning of the old world has a very superficial hold on them.
Charles Eisenstein on page 290 of 310 in the iBooks edition of “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible,” 2013, North Atlantic Books
The age of the guru is over–not because we don’t need help from the outside in order to inhabit a new story, but because the transition is happening to so many people in so many ways, no one person can, on his or her own, serve the traditional function of a guru. Those who tried to serve this role in the late twentieth century, if they hadn’t the good grace to pass away or the good sense to retire from guru-ing, generally came to ignominious ends, embroiled in scandals of money, sex, and power.
Charles Eisenstein on page 283 of 310 in the iBooks edition of “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible,” 2013, North Atlantic Books
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