Friday, November 23, 2012

This is What We're Taught

This is what we're taught
By age two or age three
We work hard in school
Go to college to get a degree

And that degree will
Tell the world who we are
Or who we are trying to be for society
While our dreams float among the stars

We get a job, build credit,
Buy some debt, save up, buy a car,
Because possessions apparently
Reveal how successful we are

Eventually we might
Even buy our first house
Meanwhile, we meet people, go on dates
Until we choose to make one a spouse

We get married, settle down,
Get a dog, have some kids
We love them, raise them, and tell them to
“Attack life, do it better than we did”

And this is our life
Pressured and planned out before we start
How much say do we really have
In becoming who we are?

How might one break the status quo
And walk away from all one has ever known?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Where we are Starting.

There are many challenges to be faced in today's world, and countless more in the years to come.  Those of us living in the USA will be facing years of increasing economic hardship, as the tide of oil and capital upon which the country rose to great wealth begins its long ebb. Climate Change is threatening to endanger the basic necessities and livelihoods of a substantial fraction of the world's population. Additionally there is a dysfunction in many of our institutions, problems can evolve much like organisms: legal, social, scientific, religious, and political systems which are relatively stable breed resistant forms of corruption just as surely as antibiotics breed resistance into bacteria; problems that particular institutions are very good at solving are dealt with very effectively, but those at first minor problems the institutions can't detect or control run rampant. No doubt by the same logic new institutions will rise to fill the niches no longer maintainable by current systems, but of course the transition is very taxing in the best of circumstances. These challenges listed above are challenges of circumstance, over which we as individual have little control; focusing on them, except in anticipating future limits we may have opportunities to prepare ourselves for, does little except invite despair. Circumstance is not what we must overcome, but is the context in which we must carry on.

This Thanksgiving I want to talk about one of the most useful habits in being able to carry on through times of hardship: gratitude. When times are tough, there is a constant temptation to take our circumstances as a misfortune; this temptation is realized in the opposites of gratitude, entitlement and nihilism. By entitlement I mean the feeling that we deserve a certain life, and that if we do not get what we feel we deserve a great injustice must have been done; by nihilism I mean (in this article's context) the feeling that if we do not get the life which we feel people ought be entitled, then life must be worthless such that there is no justice. These are very similar, but quite distinct, (and both members of a broader family of vices which are beyond the scope of this article) in the former case one believes in justice, and feels it has been slighted, one believes that things should be going differently, but a evil completely separate from ourselves is preventing it, a tell-tail sign of entitlement is the projection of blame for our problems onto a moral failing in some other group, idea, or force; in the later case of nihilism one concludes from events seeming unjust that there is no justice, and that there isn't anything worthwhile to be worked towards, a sign of this is seen in cynicism run rampant to a point of dysfunction, such that no effort can be gathered to change circumstances.

Fostering a sense of gratitude undercuts the shared premise that both pitfalls rely on, it means letting go of preconceived notions as to what we deserve and making the choice to find joy in what we have; poverty can be crushing to many, yet there have been great people who choose to find grace in what little they had and thus avoided the emotionally debilitating effects of hardship and sudden limitations on ones life. The difference this makes is huge, when the reality of hard times differs from our narrative of what we were taught we deserved we find that the narrative no longer works, with out a working narrative our minds can latch onto any number of dangerous habits of though, including the two explored here; gratitude's essential step of letting go releases that disconnect, and allows us to consider our circumstance as it is, with out the blinders of how we wish it were. Our long era of prosperity has hollowed out gratitude, because people for generations have habituated to getting what they want far more often than is typical, and we were for a long time able to get more exactly by disconnecting from reality and promising to fulfill everyone's wildest dreams. As that era of grown turns into an era of decline, those who remember and foster gratitude in their lives will find themselves blessed, not only by what they have been given and take time to acknowledge, but blessed by many new strengths that follow. A source of joy in small things keeps away depression which in many areas ravaged by decline debilitates huge parts of the populous; courage is fostered by gratitude, as the world no longer seems unjust and adversarial (never make an enemy of your circumstances, every blow you land will haunt you many times over) but instead as a place that has given you much and which will continue to give in its own time and manner, thus the world is a place where meaningful work can be done; clarity of thought comes from no longer having any motive to find blame for circumstances beyond our control, and our mind can put its considerable power behind constructive and creative responses;  generosity and good nature are fostered by the exercised ability to find goodness in others, which gives us the support of community, which most thrives in times of need.

Matt and I have been very blessed in the last year, and have received great boons toward setting up our school. It is easy to lose track of those blessings during the stresses of day to day life. First I want to send thanks to my colleague and best friend Matt Holzapfel, and his daughter Maria, living alongside their family we have learned so much about what is truly important in life, the most precious wisdom. We have received many opportunies to raise more revenue for sponcering a Thinkery base in Oregon thanks to the Lairmer County Conservation Corp giving me an opportunies to begin as a sawyer professionally, and in thanks to The Fire Camp for giving Matt the opertunity to develop his Saw teaching skills, while building experience for more work. Thank you to our coworkers this summer for a great season on the crew: Andrew, J.C., John S., Tom, Rachelle, Tylor, Grant, Peter, James, Will, Leon, Zach, Justin, and Sam! Thank you to The New Earth Farm Project in Berthoud where we were so blessed to have a place to stay, and given countless learning experiences. Thank you to our friends who came out to visit and help us here in Berthoud, a by no mean comprehensive list: Mathias Babel, Dave Carter, Theran, Ryan, Jake, Devin, Eric Chancellor, Joe Haag, Samson, Brightheart, Trip, James, Dylan, Carly, Ryan Gray, Rachelle, Vanessa, and Peter; if anyone notices their name missing where it should be, remind me so I can give proper thanks. We thank circumstances for introducing Matt and I to Devin and Jake this summer, they have opened our perspective on many issues, and are both men who will one day offer so much to the communities in the terms of good old fashion craftsmanship rethought for helping a world of decline and salvage. We thank our families for being supportive of what on the whole is a rather ambitious and radical project. I thank fate for introducing me to Saraswoti Adhikari, who for the past few months has been a brightening source of inspiration for me personally. We thank our teachers: Jack and Kathy for educational projects around their homestead, Brightheart for introducing us to the possibilities of lime plaster and showing us his excellent leadership/teaching style. We are grateful for the opportunities we were given for education and information by being born in this narrow window of time, it is a blessing of world historic scope. We are thankful to the pioneers of permaculture, lime plaster, natural building, natural energy, organic farming, sawing, and countless other skills that I won't list here for doing the hard work of discovering that there is a way, after that point the road is much less frightening for those who follow using their map. We are grateful to have encountered the great thinkers of the western tradition, and grateful to those souls who are trying to continue their work in light of our current circumstance, I will for now just name John Michael Greer, James Carse, and Gregory Bateson. Thanks for the music: Andrew Bird, Grateful Dead, Bach, Scroobius Pip, Simply Swoti, Buckethead, Ghost Finger, The Talking Heads, and many many more. Thanks for the books: Plato, Nietzsche, Spinoza, Heraclitus, Deleuze, Zizek, Freud, Poe, Emerson, Wallace, Tolkien, Bateson, Greer, Wittgenstein, Russel, Moore, Ianto Evans, Bartman, Carse, and many more whos names escape me at the moment, but who are mostly too long dead to be offended. We thank the technological advancements which through the internet allow us to gain practical information and network with people across the world in making sense of our current global circumstances and building responsive networks.

There is more that I didn't mention than there is that I did mention, but this post is already wordy by my taste. The best way to show grace is to accept a gift fully and to make the most of it. So, this is where we are starting.

Friday, May 4, 2012


There are a growing number of people who are considering ways of life that are some how grounded outside of mainstream modern life. Their reasons vary greatly. For some there is an apocalyptic fear that society is going to fail in a brutal way in our lifetimes; this could very well happen for many reasons - climate change, peak energy, peak resource, over population, change of empire regime - but this is not my reason for wishing to leaving mainstream life, if such a disaster happens leaving society (even preemptively) only offers a thin layer of separation from such events.

For others there is a moral imperative to not participate in various "immoral" acts upon which our way of life is built. Simply put one can not create, en mass, the American way of life without building it on actions which are not compatible with the commonly taught American sense of morality. There are untold many rituals in our society to off set guilt. From recycling to charity and hybrid SUVs  to ethically responsible coffee brands. We buy these things like Catholic indulgences, granting us release from moral responsibility. For people not satisfied with the consumer indulgent cleansing we also have various brands of amoralism and analytic distance to offer. Yet moral concerns are not why I want to leave mainstream society, it is hard to feel moral outrage about operating in a system which has no implicit layer of significant moral choice. Though American morals in word do not agree with American morals indeed, who knows another moral code to judge them from? Who judges the judge? As a mortal I have no place to impose moral judgments on a society, what knows man of true morality? to feel guilt about such things is only barely in my nature it seems.

But I have always, even before thinking of the issues discussed above, felt like it would be good to try something else. A life of philosophy and discussion has been appealing, and to be able to control the means of production of my own necessities would make things simpler, even if it would involve giving up the luxiouries I was subjected to of being an American. Yet even then I will still be an American, think like one, talk like one, live in America... all those things; just maybe I can live where I rarely have to encounter the baggage of that fact.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Unintentional community.

James Carse makes an observation in Finite and Infinite games. "My parents could have wanted a child, but they could not have wanted me."

This brings me to a point that has been stuck in my craw about the phrase 'intentional community'.  I can intend a community, but I can't know what community I am intending.

We only open up a space to be filled.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Study and Practice.

This winter Matt is getting ready to settle into a project where he will get to do some really quality work making cob walls to retain heat. I can tell he is getting excited to be able to design and test some ideas on natural building, and I am excited to, in fact I hope to be able to join him for a while in January so I can keep up with him on practical knowledge, or at least stem the rate that his lead is growing.

Right now I am staying with my good friend Mathias a little outside of Philadelphia. We are going to work on some writing relevant to a larger cultural project that the farm is a part of, and hopefully condense some skills and resources relevant to the farm itself, but more on that later after more is settled.

So I am studying the farm project, and Matt is practicing it. Of course by the end of winter I am sure we will both get in plenty study and practice.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

So Much to Learn.

I find my self being quizzed about how to solve the various small problems of farming, and I am surprisingly good at giving very convincing answers to these questions. But I want to admit to a degree of hesitance about thinking that I have 'everything in order before I being.' I have witnessed many farm techniques enough to know that the solutions are out there, and they work. But to make the farm requires coming up with techniques for the exact circumstances of that particular, yet unknown place. So it is important to remember that I will be flying my the seat of my pants for a few years on the farm, and needing help who have more experience in particular skills. Going to other farms and learning can only ever go so far.

To reach the level of mastery sought I will need to do types of trial and error that I have no right to do on anybody else's land but my own. So I am not worried about getting everything in order before I begin, instead I want to have a more relaxed pace for the first year, during which time the sufficient basics to go on can be learned. This requires resources to support the project at the beginning. The resources available to the project right now are enough if we are lucky enough to get a good land deal.

Conversations with people traveling off the west coast suggest to me that if we go around to a few desirable properties willing to put decent cash on the table, even if the land is going for a much higher price or not at all for sale, and willing to do it right quick (let's assume we have already inspected the land and deemed it suitable) alot of people will be willing to listen, and maybe for a bit under the expected price. If this money can be saved, the relaxed pace of the first year can be afforded. Also there have been a couple of people who have implied that they might be able to offer some small aid, always in a casual conversation and I understand the offers as very hypothetical, and any small aid would go a very long way in helping us afford the farming education we need, the time to figure stuff out thinking with our hands. So if you are able to contribute information, equipment, money, books, labor, or any other kind of support; do.

Not knowing.

I know that Matt is going to be with me on the farm project. And I have several other friends that I hold in high hope. But even the ones that I feel generally confident about, other then Matt, I don't know which ones will actually be there. I think that for some people it is hard to commit to a project that doesn't actually have its land purchased, which I admit makes a lot of sense. And even if I knew who would be there, there would be no way to know who will be staying, that's fine though, I wouldn't want someone who didn't like it to stay. So I am always looking for more maybes.

I am on a train heading out of Chicago, I go to the observation car, not for the views of the halogen speckled darkness, for the company. I have meet many good people on this trip, and some people that even if they aren't good I still like 'em. Folks ask me where I am going, why I am going there, where I have been. And talking about the dream of the farm is tied to every aspect of my life, my trips doubly so. And people from all walks of life are very impressed, in fact sometimes more impressed then they have any right to be, I must be too good at spinning this yard. But there is more to it then that, folk are eager to hear that there can be an alternative to the way of life that surrounds us. Its a story that people want to hear, and they pull it out of me more then I give it to them.

Are these people the people I want to invite to the farm? If they want to wwoof for a few weeks or two they would be worthy as soon as we are able to support such visitors. And maybe by grace we will find a couple of people that would fit in for longer. More importantly it has shown me that there is a hunger for projects of this nature, it gives me cause for cautious optimism. The close friends who I have invited, I hope they come and at very least try the farm life for a while, because some of the cases I am thinking of are people I already know would be good for the farm, just if the farm can be good for them.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Look at your hand.

I will tell you how to see everything you need in life right on your five fingers.

Look at your pinky finger, look at it and be reminded-
     You need to breath.
  • Good air, fit lungs, medicine to stay healthy, and good aromas.
Then look at your ring finger, look at it and know-
    You need to sleep
  • A lot goes into a good nights sleep. You need shelter, one that feels save and warm; you need to have a satisfied mind that won't keep you up with thoughts half thunk, a tired body healthy and well exercised from the day, and a clean soul that won't trouble you with deeds left undone.
Now look at your middle finger, it reminds you of a basic need-
    You need to shit
  • Some of us don't like to talk about it, some people don't even like the word, but we all know deep down how important it is. It means you have to eat, and to shit well, you need to eat well. Means you need to exercise and move around. Means you need to be able to take care of the shit somehow, most people just flush it out to sea, but its better to decompose it on land, leave those minerals to the earth, but you gotta find a safe way to do it, compost it. You need to keep your body clear, inside and out.

Your pointer finger
    You need to love
  • "I ain't  gonna tell you how to love or be loved, because you get a different genie each time that lantern is rubbed." To be human, you need love in your life, maybe not always a special sweet heart (though that is nice when it happens), but you need to have love, your very life depends on it. Without love you never would have made it past your first week, and I doubt many of us could live a whole day with out some love, even if its just caring for yourself. We can't be a human alone, our speech, our thoughts, our triumphs, our deaths, it's all with others, part of our shared life.

But then there's your thumb, the one that grasps things, it gets you in trouble.
    You want to control things.
  • Now control ain't a bad thing, we all know that its mighty useful to have some control from time to time. But wanting to control things gets us in trouble. Most the other animals don't have so much control, and they do just fine making do with the world as it's given to them "the sparrows in the sky, they do not sow or reep..." but we can shape the world. The thumb makes us want to hold on to things, to control things to shape the world. Make a fist, see how your thumb covers the other fingers: you can't love with control, you can't control the fact that you shit, you can't maintain control in you sleep, and you have no control on how much longer you will be breathing for. Controlling things can be good and can be useful, but be mighty careful, the chains that bind go both ways.

I stole the basic idea for this post from a cool dude named Leaf living in Eugene, as far as I know its his original material, and I wanted to give credit where credit is due. But I did have to rebuild a lot of it from scratch and half remembered conversations long past.

This blog is also about the adventures of getting to the farm, and this gem is one of the real highlights of going through Eugene a couple weeks ago.

    Monday, November 28, 2011

    Perma-culture and Tabbed browsing. But in the other order.

    Anyone who has every borrowed my computer briefly to check their email, or something of the like, probably noticed that I leave a huge number of web pages loaded on my computer at a time. This post has an appendix which lists what I happen to have up at time of writing, to give a feel. At first glance this could appear to be simple ADHD, and there is that element I don't deny, but I want to suggest that the Internet does something more. It shapes the very way I perceive the world. Cross connecting many different co-sustained lines of thought, mixing different ideas on  topics in terms from countless fields. Each tab a particular core of ideas, tied and considered in light of the others. But what does this have to do with the farm project? Well, this is the level of the individual.

    The material level is represented in permaculture, instead of focusing on maximizing one crop, even in a given field, many different factors are considered at once. If a particular crop fails or under performs it only increases the space available for the others it is planted along side. Also there is less need to control the system from the top down (farmer working the field), as the management of the garden is actually part of the intrinsic relations of the organisms in the garden, plant and animal alike. Instead of having a leader (the farmer) controlling the whole system, the intelligence of how to grow well is programmed directly into the relationship of the plants and animals, the garden has a type of intelligence that is good at thriving. What could a farmer have to teach a plant about growing, anyway? might as well try to teach a fish to swim.

    The social level is similar. Instead of one group project that must be over determined at the beginning there are countless individually operating projects, each an attempt to improve the farm, and there are certain relations (as opposed to individuals) that form checks on behaviors that oppose the group. Individuals are the worst choice for a watcher to prevent selfishness. A solitary self charged with protecting the group from selfs acting for their own interest is a fox guarding the chickens. So social interactions should be set up so that the interactions are the checks. There was a farm community where a small group damaged a valuable area of the commons, the operation had a consensus model, but it couldn't respond to the issue before the damage was done. Individuals waiting for consensus let the damage take place. Some people then suggest having a leader to bawl people out for such group harms, but that is a poor use of time: anyone with enough experience to be a good leader should have better things to do then play police man. So what about we decentralize the leadership position, make everyone leaders after their own level of experience? This done to people without knowledge of living in community could lead to chaos. So lets model it after the permaculture farm way of growing things.

    Some plants aren't good for eating, but they may loosen the soil, block wind, fix nitrogen, pull up deep humidity to share, bring nutrients to the surface, distract wild animals from coveted crops, be good for growing up, provide bedding, or make good mulch or compost. Most plants can be usefully integrated into a permaculture system, but that doesn't mean they should all grow unchecked. Grass can become too thick, so geese or sheep can mow it back, or squash could shade it, or mulch fall can suppress it, or perennials can out compete it. Conifers shade out other plants and some even poison the soil, but humans can mill it (the benefit to the garden giving you two birds for one stone), and small conifers won't be able to out compete other trees often enough to form a fire climate forest. Goats could ruin huge stretches of garden, but they are also good for clearing stretches for the next planting. There isn't a need for a boss in charge of these individual elements, but by setting up the right relations the management become automated. Humans fill the role of top predator to keep the animals (domestic and wild) in a healthy balance, but need not resort to raising animals just for the sake of killing them. We can work for the garden responding to its needs by sowing seeds to set up beneficial plant relationships, eating crops at their peak so that young plants growing between them can have the room they need. It is important to remember that a farmer sculpting the land to their vision is not a permaculturalist, instead in permaculture we mind the land and respond to its needs by simply adjusting the relationships between elements.

    So what of society? Instead of a master sculpting the community to their personal ideal, a group of teacher who offer their services to help people adjust social and physical relations as need arises. Including being ready and able to give healthy outlets to the human desire to control others, so instead of rejecting "type a" personalities as control freaks, help find situations where high degrees of control are desirable: herbalism, sanitation, crafting, animal slaughter, herding, dog training, orchestrating performances, teaching technically difficult material, and so on. Instead of rejecting the lazy or the unintelligent, recognize that 98% of the work that actually make human life possible doesn't require intelligence and smarts is likely as not to get in the way; that relatively little work is actually needed to live, and that even a lazy person can cover room and board just with good spirits in times of plenty, and that laziness is relative, even a person who prefers to spend there time relaxing can still be generous and happy to help with projects if asked from a true heart. If we actually need (I don't mean want) the help of a person prone to be lazy they will almost always be eager to assist its been my observation. And a person who won't respond to the need of another, most likely has a much deeper issue then laziness, but even these issues can be worked on with proper wisdom (seeking persons with proper wisdom). But there is no need to adjust relationships until someone needs help, and then the teachers, the real masters, the authority (authority of the author, not the king) can offer whatever help they are able to. And everyone can be an authority, because there is a wisdom to begging, ask not pennies from the penniless, nor for wisdom from fools. But if you know what to ask for, everyone has some authority they can offer you.

    What about the damage to the commons caused by a small group of people run amok? Occasional damage is natural and to be expected, but large damage takes time. Once a healthy system of relations has evolved there are people who have accepted the responsibility of minding for the wellbeing of each aspect of the commons. Wisdom dictates that we must care for each other, yet there are certain people (our closest friends, our family, and so on) where we have a special connection, not just to respond to a cry of help or an appearance of need, but to actively check in on, make sure they are ok, just in case they do need help but no one was in the right place. Similarly with the commons, we should all be mindful of the commons, care for it in part and whole, but there are certain parts that each person can be the advocate for the trees, the defender of the ducks, the friend of the orchards, the guardian of the tools, the provider of the firewood. I don't suggest or rule out such titles, but any part of the commons that is especially close to us could use a watcher. Who watches the watchers? Since what is good for the ducks depends on what is good for the trees and so on, we all do. This prevents people without understanding from wrecking things, to deal with conflict of interests between people who do posses a degree of understanding thats where the need to care for each other comes in, conflict resolution skills from people able to give appropriate guidance.

    There is no top, just interconnections that modify over time to be more responsive to need. Even we are put a part of the lands "commons" for the road goes both ways, and we trust that the good earth will provide, so long as we know how to work with it, and not rule over it. Waiting for those interconnections to grow, and helping them along is as much a part of permaculture as knowing plant species is. Permaculture is a type of culture as much as a type of gardening.

    Glossary of Terms:
    Permaculture: Gardening that gradually improves the soil without need of external inputs by growing plants, animals, and fungus that support each others needs in a way similar to how a healthy natural ecosystem works at its peak. Humans being, of course, one of the animals in the permaculture ecosystem.

    Human: The most dangerous and unpredictable animal raised in permaculture, but if handled with love, respect, and care they can be a very fun, useful, and rewarding part of a functional environment. Do not over feed or expose to television. Do not to startle them, most humans were raised indoors and in partial isolation, they ofter have a difficult time adjusting to the wild, especially at first. Many were raised in ways that cause them to prefer isolation and distance, respect their need for distance as you would respect the needs of any animal that was maltreated.

    Authority: 1. A jerk who thinks that what they say actually has something to do with how others should act. 2. Someone who actually has useful experiences that they are willing and able to share when asked, but doesn't think that their experience is the be all end all which must be minded.

     Rhizome: A really useful word that you are ready to learn. It both refers to a plant with many shoots that share energy, nutrients, and information but such that each shoot can operate independently of the others, and to and system where various interconnection parts operate together with out a center leader to control the whole, a multiplicity.

    Fractal: A pattern made of self similar parts, each of which contain elements that resemble the whole pattern. The Thinkery is a fractal, the same patters that appear in the garden appear in the social system, this is a benefit to learning because understanding of the garden system is useful to understand the philosophy and culture both of the farm, and vice versa. Traditional societies are also fractal in weird ways, which is a big part of the reason why they treat people who are different in cities the same way they treat plants which are different in fields.

    Appendix of current tabs, because I might as well just show you how crazy I am, and this is a disturbingly accurate way to photograph whats in my mind at a given time.

    More Thoughts on the History of an Idea:

    The project has been an ever-evolving idea, which has passed out of the circumscription of philosophy where it started as a means to an end--and was furthermore a means designed by the processing of the activity that was to be its end. That is, the goal of philosophizing. The farm is not to be a utopia by the design of philosophy, nor for the purposes of philosophy. Nevertheless, there is a certain logos (a living word; a word that sets forth a life and a world, that in turn speaks the word) to the place, as we have planned thing so far, and it differs both from the society at large, and from other attempts at communities or Eco-villages. This fact is what makes me not underestimate the value of attempting to gain land for ourselves, rather than separately joining communities that are already established.

    The attempts at community in the 1960's (and most places today are reformed continuations of the ideas of the 60's communes) were constituted very much out of the peculiar self-understandings of the time. It is important to note, in this, that something like McLuhan's "the medium is the message" is true here, and in the broadest of senses. McLuhan suggested that when studying the way people communicate, it is more important to discover how the message is transmitted, than to discover what the content of the message is. In fact, this equalizes this dichotomy between medium of exchange and message entirely; it suggests that what are experienced as wholly private inner feelings generated in isolation from a world we interact with, and merely expressed by means of manipulating that world, are actually the product of that world itself, and thus to the same degree manipulated by it.

    This is a surprising statement, and one that goes beyond many of our self-conceptions about how we hold ourselves aloof form technology as individuals and are able to use it at a distance, not affecting our own inmost being, even as it becomes enmeshed in our personal sustenance, thoughts, feelings etc. which we then "express" to the world using those very means of exchange. Take the telephone, for instance, and its effect on American families over the course of its existence. it enabled families to move away from each other--which still using each other for emotional help, advice, to assist with money, and to be alerted to all of life's big events from afar. This ability to speak with one's family no doubt furnished much of the courage to move away, and participated in the excited movement of people around the country for work, school, travel, & etc. And this technology, as it shaped people's lives, filled in the content with which they spoke--and, indeed, changed the way they relate fundamentally to each other, over such distances.

    This is not a technological determinism, and I don't mean to deny here that there are idiosyncrasies of human expression that cannot be captured by a mere history of technology. In fact, such a thing would be precisely opposite what I'm saying. The way human beings exercise their understanding of things, and of themselves, is contingent and variable and based on the accidental and intricate nature of people within their psychical and mechanical environment; however, this contingent and variable human thought neither exists as content to the form of mechanically reproduced expression; nor as the master of this expression. Rather, it is coupled into it, and part of it. machines of various types--media machines--produce symbols that can change the minds of humans who then produce more symbols. It is impossible to say that, in this arrangement, one or the other--the human or its "environment" are in control.

    And I would stress that this includes not only machines that are directly related to media, but the whole built up horizon, and natural horizon, in which people exist. And, again, it can't be said that one is particularly the master. There is a world that speaks our voices, yet our voices speak this world. The world of streets and cars and skyscrapers speaks and is spoken in a different way from a world of steppes and cattle and yurts.

    The particular world that expressed and was expressed by the discourses that led to the formation of the communes, and then served as the form by which relations between humans were thereby conducted, was a very different one from that which we face. It was the world at the very zenith of technological triumphalism, whose horizons appeared to stretch out far into the heavens with a limitless supply of nuclear power. This power, in turn, was seen as the natural continuation of the then constant surge of energy from fossil fuels, which in its early period grew with exponential strength and was still increasing in that time. Our current system of global, technological economy had no limits, and was of such a determining character that it imposed its own internal logic upon the natural world that was still partially outside of it, also on the relations between human beings within it.

    This was a logic of energy and engineering, and the first beginnings of a computational revolution, a revolution that understood the entire world in terms of mecha-materialistic natural processes that left no room for feeling and living, except as brushed into the bare corner of an inexpressible personal (private) subjectivity, in which to even talk about was meaningless. The world in its own significance and living connection, separate from human beings yet still including human beings, was understood symbolically insofar as it evokes certain forms in the human psyche.

    As a result, the communes existed under the auspices of an environmentalism and Eco-spiritual aestheticism. They proceeded out of an understanding of the world as "spaceship earth" which could be regulated as an ever more fertile techno-utopia, and which furnished a symbol of mother earth which was of intrinsic psychological value and significance, which could only be cultivated by consciously setting aside wholly natural places from the touch of human machinery.

    They also existed under ecological notions of balance or homeostasis and a moralistic diagnosis of the ills of society. That is, the understanding that the earth was comprised of interlocking Eco-systems, which each had their own special operating range that was set by the close cooperation of different parts according to a longstanding process of evolution. This balance was upset by specific western technologies and understandings, which were said to have treated the world as something to be raped and exploited.

    Finally, they were characterized by the ideology of human progressivism; Western subjectivist Buddhism and generically Eastern thought; and a utopian understanding of human nature. The possession of human beings with the symbolic understanding of systems eliminated the misguided understanding of people apart from each other, and of mankind apart from nature, with these illusions being dispelled personally in individuals by the application of meditation, yoga, and related techniques. These techniques, as taken up in the west, aimed at reaching a silent inner core or kernel of a person, which could serve as a "groundless ground" from which to divorce one's self from one's upbringing, and rebuild a masterful self that could be in harmony or homeostasis with the world, while dispassionately applying a systematic understanding.

    All of this was united under the overarching logic of systems theory, which in turn is actually just abstracted from formal logic--the highest construction of western philosophy--first into computers, and then as an analogy (sometimes hidden in assumptions) from the computers that were increasingly used to analyze the world, into the world which was analyzed. Like a computer, which is just electricity directed through really small switches (or "logic gates") the world was seen through the eyes of ecology, which said that there was a universal energy following through natural systems, and these systems consisted very much of the same sorts of things one sees in a computer, to control, regulate and organize the input of energy into organized systems, before it is dissipated--much like in an engineer's diagram--as heat.

    In the midst of this, the communes and subsequent experiments were very much the product of the high fantasies and ideals that were produced by people who lived and aged in the zenith of technological, industrial civilization, and in its most privileged place. Combined with these very modern ideas was an unrealistically rosy nostalgia for the innocence before.

    If this sounds like I am describing what could broadly be called the liberal streak to off-grid communities (as opposed to the post-political,) its because I am. in general, attempts to exit society and live off the land are over-determined by the political discourse from whence they came, and instill the logic of one of its extremes into the constitution of the living and built environment in the empty and marginal spaces of rural America. The communes and their successors were political acts, and this in the sense of existing within our ineffectual ideological binary which serves, on both ends, to uphold things largely as they are--rather than in actually touching upon a way of life that could operate outside of, and come to challenge, this system as it is so constituted. They were defined by a choice, rather than for example the inheritance of rural peasantry.

    And I don't mention the right-wing alternative because it is either characterized by an ineffectual representation of existing rural populations, whose anger and despair at their own continued impoverishment by impersonal economic forces is cynically misdirected by way of an increasingly paranoiac and self-contradictory ideology. Or else it is childish survivalism, which (in my experience) consists of folks area sustaining a fantasy of self-sufficiency only through the constant input of funds from military pensions and disability cases. And this is also not to say that the hippies are bad or wrong: I have no problem with hippies; I like hippies.

    Yet, I don't think places inherited from the counter-culture will work in the coming age without drastic changes, and we are uniquely positioned--that is, our age and generation--to effect a mutation in the logos governing betwixt human beings; this is because we have seen the absolute pinnacle of technological civilization--but also we will see its slow, crushing decline; the catastrophic, despairing decline and the revelation it shows. I don't think we yet have seen a living example of a particular living machine that has mutated out of the mode set forth by civilization broadly construed.

    Permaculture, to be sure, has developed ways of individuals existing on the earth in a way that effectively works for their co-sustenance with the natural and built environment around them. Holtzer and Fukuoka, for instance, have fundamentally mutated in regards to their relation to non-human life; and Jaimie Mantzel has a mutated relation to work, construction and the body that has unleashed a potentially awesome power, if it could spread to others. But this doesn't extend quite yet to social existence, and this is the problem we must participate in.

    The difference between us and previous attempts is hard to quite quantify, but to give a bit of the flavor: whereas before there was systems theory and homeostasis, we have a machinics of rhizomatic arborescence. Whereas before there was the construction of surrounding natural phenomena to psychological symbols (the Jungian inheritance) and Western Eastern spirituality, we have a pan-materialist animism. Whereas before there was progressivism we have, in effect, a hybrid theory that places the Marxist concept of alienation in juxtaposition with energy economics and its reality of breakup and decline, all in the face of the potentially limitless evolution of humankind and the vast, superhuman intelligence it, as life, participates in. Whereas before there was a moralistic reaction against society, we have a dispassionate study of the economic pattern of centralized statist exploitation that addresses all levels from the intra and inter-personal level of desire, to the global world historic. And whereas before there was a utopian understanding of human nature, we have an understanding of humans as an assemblage with a desire and psyche coupled into and reflective of the group, and the various co-assemblies found in conjunction with it.

    Our hope is ultimately to build something out of the future generation (though, of course, accepting folks whatever their age,) whose consciousness was shaped both by the decentralized networks of computing that were the absolute zenith of technological power, but also young enough to enter in this this period of decline with a consciousness that is adaptable; that can mutate out of its technological milieu and reapply itself to collective arrangements of humans and other things in an environment where one's power and place is in the things that are build and which grow out of the hands of a worker, who works no longer under the auspices of money, except insofar as the community needs it in order to exist as a "liberated space" in a wider world. But rather, a worker who works instead as the exercise of their own strength and potential as a marvelous hominid body, with a brain grown out of its early monkey milieu, and reapplied to a world of words and thoughts by which their wider world may be re-related to itself in building and growth, according to those words and the labor of those hands, which are built out of the dwelling other hands have made.

    This, of course, stresses the differences rather than the commonalities, but the commonalities, I think, are obvious.

    Saturday, November 26, 2011

    The basics of the first encampment.

    A tent, large, to sleep in and to protect tools which are vulnerable to the elements, with a rocket-stove to stay warm by and to cook with.

    Garb for multiple weathers with good boots, good sandals. SOCKS

    Cot, and sleeping bag.

    Food, mostly rice, flour, beans, lentils for bulk. Also seasonings and various other things to compliment. Coffee? Supplement of wild forage until the crops start growing in a couple months.

    A composting shitter. large bucket, bench, hole in bench, tarps, sawdust, tp.

    Tools, Shovels, picks, hoes, machete, maul, wedges, sludge hammer, hatchet, two bit ax, bow saws, pruning saw, leather man, survival knife, digging knife, draw knifes, hand drills with bits. Rakes, forks, scythes. Rope. cord, blocks,

    Files, sharpening stones.

    Water filter

    Cooking rocket stove. metal barrel, a few feet of chimney with a chimney joint, cob.

    Cooking equipment, dutch oven, frying pan, utensils, my mug, my bottle, my bowl.

    Electric source, power converter from a farm truck if there is one, or a bike generator.

    Laptop, lights, camcorder, notebooks, pens, classic books (Going full Thoreau). Chest to keep these things safe from rain and such.

    Chain saw, and saw mill. full personal protective gear. chaps, helmet and ear protection. a dolmar--a type of gas can that also has a reserve for bar oil. files, and a couple extra chains. there is specific chain called ripper chain for the saw mills too. two cycle mix, wedges. spair parts: air filter, chain tensioner, sprokets, needle bearings, e-clips. a scrench and a raker gauage and the special small flat file stihl sells ot file down your rakers.

    Seeds, much more on this topic in another post.
    Maybe sapling, get some food trees started early. something to protect the trees when they are young.

    Pigs, electric fence, moving pig shelter, water source.

    Thursday, November 24, 2011

    Not Past or Future, but Present.

    I have touched on the history of the project, and said a few things about the plan for what will be. But I want to discuss where we are.

    The funds to start the farm are tantalizingly close, with in a few thousand dollars of buying the land. And we have much of the equipment needed for the initial encampment, with a plan for the first few seasons that is quite minimalistic, to save costs. Matt and I are both completely committed to the project, with all the appropriate bridges burning. Our mutual friends Will and Vernon are both interested, and will certainly be important allies, and perhaps residents as well. Mathias, another friend made through the philosophy department, is dreaming his own life on the east coast, a kindred project, yet offering to spend a season or so helping us get founded; a favor that will surely be repaid when his project takes concrete form. Through his work in the forests of America Matt has found several good people that have shown some degree of interest, or at least curiosity in the project. Since beginning work as a wwoofer I have filled my contract book with good people, some of whom have shown interest in helping break ground on the homestead. One even showed interest in seeing if his dreams of homesteading are compatible with the type of community, as a resident or close neighbor. Its wonderful to have found some people who are already acquainted with community life to help us get of to the right start.

    Its a bit nerve racking watching the economic brinkmanship games being played across the globe, hoping they won't damage the economy too badly before we are ready to support ourselves. Trying to simply conserve funds and wait for the time to be right is sometimes the best we can do. But there is alot of reading, alot of writing that needs to be done, alot of details to work out.

    Forming community.

    I am looking forward to turning the topics of food forestry, pig-tilling, composting, and so on; first though I want to tackle head on the issue of community.

    Many intentional communities, famously the communes of the 60's and 70's, fell apart into broken friendships and power struggles. This was a sufficiently consistent pattern to raise concern for anyone interested in trying to create community. On the other hand we know from anthropology that humans have successfully lived tight knit communities of up to 150 people for many thousands of years with great stability. What makes the difference between a gang of people at each others throats vying for power, hiding from the gaze of controlling self appointed leaders, and a community of families living in cooperation and relative peace?

    Every commune and ecovillage that failed fell in its own unique drama of competing egos, but some basic issues have been a recurring problem in all such attempts that have come from Western culture. When put in simple language the problem is so obvious it is almost insulting: We are domesticated, and when taken out of the context of the society we were raised in we do little better then a show animal abandoned in the wild; and the historical solutions to the basic problems that arise have been naive and idealistic.

    The skills of living in community need to be taught. This is demonstrated by the fact that the most successful intentional communities have been religious and educational communities, with relatively little regard for which religion or which teaching the community has at its core.

    The communes of the last generation treated anger, jealousy, desire for power, and the like as traits that we could simply evolve beyond, caused by living in an unjust society. This turned out to be a very insufficient treatment of the problem. These traits are a perfectly normal part of human existence, and have roots in healthy reactions to specific situations, even if we could completely remove them from human nature, it is hard to say for certain if what we would end up with would be desirable.

    Some writers like Danial Quinn recommend the tribal way of life as a model for how humanity should live, I am very sympathetic to his ideas on that topic, but also recognize that modern humans can't be reintroduced to a tribal life directly, any more then a quarter horse can be let loose with the mustangs. A lot can be learned from the way tribal societies are structured, and those lessons can be incorporated into a community over time. For the Thinkery people interested in joining the community can start as guests, and transition to students, to residents, and finally to teachers (residents trusted to help evaluate other persons progress in becoming part of the community). Being initiated into the way of life at a place is important. The person starts out being guided in how to live, and develops increasing autonomy, eventually not needing any external guidance, and finally being trusted to and recognized as a good source of guidance in matters of their expertise. Another time I will deal with the particular system of initiation that I will be offering to guests, though bare in mind that there will likely be several different paths of initiation available, offered by different teachers.

    Sunday, November 13, 2011

    A taste of the history of an idea.

    In today's post I have to contend with one of my recurring sins, being verbose.

    I want to share with you the first part of the story of The Thinkery. But its a story that has been occupying my mind for three years, and its difficult to prune all the branches to something that fits in one blog post.

    Once upon a time, my friend Vernon went to Graduate school. He looked at it from the inside and said "this place is not good for people to live."

    Hearing this, and being dedicated to a life of philosophy I asked "is there a good way for people to live, and practice the 'life of the mind'?"

    We debated all evening, discussed all week, and thought all month. Finally we had an image that seemed plausible. A self sufficient community of thinkers, teachers, craftfolk, and artisans. But it was just an idea.

    A couple months later though, things changed. Matt, a friend of Vernon and myself, showed up in Greeley and said "Start looking for farming internships to learn from, someday we will actually create the philosophy farm." He had heard the idea from Vernon, and had the vision to recognize that it was a true possibility.

    Since then I have learned a lot about farming, permaculture, and community. And the vision for the farm has transformed. Its goals have changed, more focused on the pure issue of community. Philosophy was once the purpose of the farm, now it is only an aspect of the higher purpose of human community.

    My next post will be about finding the people that are ready for community and one of the great difficulties for the farm. Specifically we will have to look at how the modern idea of family is a major challenge to overcome.

    Tuesday, November 8, 2011

    Welcome to the Thinkery.

    It is a place where people come to think about the most important questions. Where most of our living comes directly from the land we dwell upon. Where music and celebration accompany conversation and meditation.

    Come here to teach or study on any topic with interest enough to generate conversation. Physics, maths, music, dance, philosophy, etymology, linguistics, poetry, farming, culinary arts, wood working, smithing, carpentry, lime plaster, anthropology, psychology, chemistry, community building, economics, politics. Any interest can be shared, skill learned.

    Or at least someday it will be. Matt Holzapfel and I (Ray Wharton) have been working toward the foundation of a farm, home stead, eco village, school. A community of people interested in a simple life of conversation, celebration, family, and friendship. Also developing Permaculture knowledge to increase the general understanding of this exciting new way of life.

    I can't predict what parts of that vision we will be able to realize, but this blog with follow our work to try realizing that vision, and search for other visions.

    [Edit: The long term goals of the Thinkery eventually supporting and being supported by self sufficient learning communities, inspired in large part by monastic traditions and intentional communities remains true, but our current starting point is the formation of skill sharing lessons, tool co-ops,  community out reach, and pragmatic services for the local community while we build the broader community which the Thinkery has come to be synonymous with in our hearts. We are still shopping for just the right piece of land, still building our skills, and still finding new friends who can offer increasingly divergent approaches to how a community of learners can subsidize their educational efforts during hard time while helping to add resilience to the local community. 23 November 2012]