Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Good Farm Is Neither Tame Nor Wild

I'd like to establish some loose conceptual boundaries for future essays, and take down a couple of pious assumptions while I'm at it.  In this short piece, I'll focus on what amount to two ideologies of farming, both of which are based on sloppy and narrow thinking about the place farms occupy in "nature", which, as a term and a concept, is of course also the victim of bad thinking.

Farming does, indeed, require lots and lots of thinking, but good farmers are a very humble lot, and end each season knowing little more than they did in the spring.  Actually, all farmers end the season this way, but the good ones acknowledge their perennial ignorance, while the bad ones see their short-term successes as evidence that they know what they're doing.  But good farming cannot be measured in crop yields.  Farming is land stewardship, and the skill of the farmer is measured in soil fertility.  It is possible to remove 440 bushels of corn from an acre of Iowa loam the same way it's possible to remove all the coal in a Tennessee mountain.  You can't do it every year in perpetuity, but if you add enough chemicals and plant tight, you can do it this year.  This is a stunt, not good farming.  It destroys soil structure, sends an irreplaceable resource down to the sea, depends on toxic inputs in vast quantities, radically suppresses biodiversity, exposes farmers to great financial risk, requires massive and expensive equipment, bulldozes our agricultural inheritance, concentrates wealth in a very few agricultural mega-corporations, etc.  Crop yield, seen as the sole evidence of farming skill, is impressive: roughly ten times more calories per acre than our pre-chemical, pre-GMO ancestors could produce.  But this is an engineer's success.  As long as farming success is seen narrowly as a problem of low yields followed by a solution of high yields, only the metrics of extractive industry will prop up the fiction of progress.  Because these yields come at a cost that the narrow metrics of progress do not acknowledge.

So, the "success" of the industrial farming model depends upon narrowly-defined problems, and narrowly-measured solutions.  It requires us to focus so closely on crop yields that we forget everything else.   Forgetting the health of the soil and the farmer, the state of agronomic culture, the health of the environment and the many species that are dying out in farm-country, the health of consumers, the radical redistribution of toxic wastes, the monstrous wastefulness of the food distribution system, and many, many other things it is possible to say that industrial agriculture is a success.  But the slightest inquiry into the true breadth of industrial agriculture's indiscriminate destruction reveals a broken and unsustainable system.

This broadening of our awareness of the destructiveness of industrial agriculture has brought many Americans to new, more ethical, healthier, and more sustainable eating and growing practices.  Since the late '60s, and very quickly in recent years, we have moved a significant number of acres out of chemical-industrial crop production and into superior methods, mostly industrial organic methods.  Around 5% of Americans now eat industrial organics every day.  These crops are produced without chemical inputs [except the fuels used for tractors on the fields and trucks to the supermarkets], and wildlife and farmers both are seeing the health benefits.  Some organic producers have shown a willingness to rotate crops, fallow fields, and preserve wetlands on their farms.  These intelligent [and traditional] methods help preserve soil fertility and biodiversity.  Organic farmers tend to use winter cover-cropping and compost to add organic matter back into the soil.  This simulates the life cycle of perennial prairies and is a vast improvement over the purely-extractive practices of "conventional" [chemical-industrial] agriculture.  Still, the economies of scale and distribution, and the lending and insurance practices that underwrite these farms all but require mono-cropping, minimum-wage labor, and complicity with the subsidized petroleum-based transportation system.  The soil has benefitted immensely in the small areas now in organic management, but the human and environmental costs are still unsustainable.  It is widely understood in the organic farming community, for example, that few operations would survive without illegal-immigrant labor.  And the produce is more expensive than most single-income families can afford.

With these two industrial agricultures in mind, one relying on chemical inputs and government subsidies, and the other depending on cheap labor and government subsidies and well-off consumers, a small group of more holistic farmers has started to produce, mostly for local markets and on a very small scale.  Many tiny farms have sprouted around the country in the last several years, staffed by mostly young and idealistic farmers who subsidize the inefficiencies of their farms with enthusiastic cheap labor.  They do not aim to win contracts with Whole Foods, choosing instead to sell their produce to local restaurants, or at the farmers' market, or even to grow only for their own consumption.  Really, they are doing what almost all of our ancestors did for millennia, but this deep conservatism appears radical in our topsy-turvy times.  Out of these tiny farms, --some run by pseudo-homesteaders, some by vegans, some by libertarian-leaning market-naysayers, some by rural families who simply do not otherwise have access to decent food under the industrial model--, has emerged a loose new food ideology that draws heavily from the themes of protest movements since the late '60s.  Very roughly speaking, these small farmers speak of an agriculture that eschews "science" [by which they appear to mean “pretentions of objectivity"], corporate measures of productivity, market factors, and newfangled products, methods, and varieties.  They tend toward the polyculture of our ancestors' kitchen gardens: many varieties of fruits and vegetables, especially those adapted to the particular conditions of particular farms; a mixture of annual and perennial crops; the inclusion of animals into the system; suspicion and general rejection of high-input chemical methods; an intense interest in seed-saving and the preservation of heirloom varieties; and a growing interest in seasonality, crop rotation, succession-planting, cover-cropping, composting, grazing rotations, and other deep practices that are focused on soil-building, and which industrial agriculture since WW2 had almost extinguished.  This is a small but real revival of wisdom we almost lost.  But some of the mores and language of past protest movements have crept into the rhetoric of late.  Even the more traditionalist of these small farmers have a reflexive tendency to explain the life of these small farms in terms of the farms' wildness, or approximation of wild conditions.  One farmer I know will not fence out deer, because, as she says, "Who am I to keep them out.  This is their land."  Another will not pull weeds, because she claims they suffer.  Another watches gophers kill everything he plants, but doesn't act, because he believes the gophers are crucial to the health of his farm.  I see trees unpruned, unchecked population explosions of aphids and grasshoppers, rabbits in the carrots, dogs locked in pickup trucks barking at the rabbits, hawks taking chickens, skunks gorging on eggs and spraying dogs and farmers, volunteer potato plants scattered throughout beds of other plants regardless of rotation schedule, and a general reliance upon a faith that the whole system will "balance itself out over time", to quote one callow landowner.  The unquestioned assumption behind all of this, I suspect, is that wilderness is the proper typology for farming, or, expressed differently, that a farm is a simulacrum of the untamed wild.

I want to propose a middle way.  Between the narrow, blinkered stupidity of the extractive industrial model, on the one hand, and the everything-goes wild-farm model, on the other, is a place our ancestors would recognize.  In it, farms are neither strip-mines nor jungles.  They are neither monocultures nor havens for weeds and pests.  These farms are carefully cultivated, carefully planned, and tend to be neat and tidy.  The farmer operates in space and time, planting enough of what the family wants to eat, but not too much, and with knowledge of what has grown where in the past, and what will grow where in the future.  The farmer knows the soil [or, at least, what it will do while remaining totally mysterious], never knows the weather, has a more or less articulate sense of what each patch of ground needs right now, and probably hopes that someday someone he loves will take over and be just as conscientious.  He makes tough decisions: remove the pretty old apple tree to let in more sun; get rid of the pigs because they eat too much for this plot; phase out the damned Menorcas because they can fly over any fence and they love lettuce; grow no solanaceas this year because disease hit last year... he neither imposes order nor quits pursuing it.  He recognizes that not all plants and animals are useful to his family, so he weeds [all summer long], and does whatever he can to help the corn get a buttress-root up on the pigweed.  He shoots the skunks.  He tries everything to keep the deer out, and finally buys taller fencing.  He sees himself as a kind of conductor of an unruly orchestra.  He knows he has to work with these contumacious musicians if he ever wants to make music.  And, if he persists, and keeps his hubris under his hat, and reads lots of books, and pretty much dreams about his farm all day and night for the rest of his life, he will bring it all to moments of concord.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ecology, Ethics, and Inaction

It should be our Western prerogative to validate the intuitions of the Buddha with the clear sight of science.  Science has, after all, led us through the blasted Cartesian wilderness toward the long-suspected oasis of the One.  The late Enlightenment propels us toward an enlightenment, in which all things are finally and correctly understood as interdependent.  At least it is possible to extrapolate from the trajectory of our incomplete but growing understanding the location and nature of this oasis: it is where the arcs of cosmology, deep ecology, and modern liberal ethics intersect.

The principal mirage that obscures the way forward is the specialist's insistence that things be viewed, described, and explained in isolation from other things, from the systems of which they are parts.  As Buddhism insists on "correct view", in which every thing is connected to every other and there is no such thing as "independent origination", so science, gradually, perceives that there are no closed systems and that the distinctness of things is ultimately illusory, more the product of obscured perception than of objective observation.  Science, over and over, proves the empirical and takes it farther, beyond subjective perception and into what intuition has always seen: a vast and single entirety.  This should complicate our ethics and bring the runaway modern project to a wheel-locking halt.  I hope it does.

The central ethic of "progress" is, and always has been, to identify and solve problems.  The principal agents of progress are the people who stand to profit from solutions, and the managers and engineers they employ to do the solving.  When profit entices, it behooves the profiteers to define their problems as narrowly as possible and to employ specialists who know exactly how to provide a quick, efficient, and cost-effective solution.  For example, in the 1950s the population of the American southwest was growing very rapidly, and was facing the natural limits of water and power availability.  An association of Arizona ranchers, Nevada gambling magnates, Los Angeles developers, and the like petitioned the U.S. government for permission and funding to build an enormous dam in Glen Canyon.  The problem was lack of accessible water and power, and the solution, as the interested parties and their managers and engineers saw it, was to trap the Colorado behind a wall.  To engineers, this is an "elegant" solution, as it kills both problems with one stone.  The managers loved it because everyone involved worked on one tidy project, well away from the usual complications of competing interests.  And the profiteers loved it because they were suddenly empowered to extract enormous wealth from a natural resource.

They defined the problem narrowly, and solved it.  This is progress.  But what was the real problem in the arid southwest on the 1950s?  Had the ranchers, under pressure to produce more beef for the new sunbelt, begun to overgraze their fragile land?  Did the development of Las Vegas and Los Angeles depend upon shortsighted wishful thinking about water and power?  Did the Washington politicians and bureaucrats, the Army Corps engineers, and the citizens of Phoenix see the Colorado as an untapped resource that begged for exploitation?  Yes.  Of course they did.  As the late Dave Brower, head of the Sierra Club during those days, said to an as-yet un-enlightened Stewart Udall, Secretary of the Interior, and beholden to the dam's backers in Arizona:  "You can't have been down in that canyon and have un-reserved enthusiasm for this grotesque project".  He was right.  The interested parties had not been into Glen Canyon.  They didn't know that it contained one of the most diverse and unique ecosystems in the country, that it was the northernmost outpost of many subtropical species, that it was full of ancient artifacts and that it had been home to several civilizations, or even that it was incomparably beautiful.  And even if they had known the place, how could Glen Canyon's real value, completely unquantifiable, compete against the relentless measuring and projections used in the calculus of progress?  Remember, progress is solving narrowly-defined problems.  It brooks no complication.

But what if Glen Canyon were seen, correctly, as one of the hearts of the world?  A place necessary for the health of the whole?  If the developers, ranchers, managers, engineers and politicians had known, in some deep, enlightened way, that Glen Canyon had its fingers and veins and neurons spread across the entire region and overlapping the edges of other regions and systems ad infinitum forever to the everexpanding edge of the One?  Their definition of the problem would have expanded, their calculations would have become infinitely complex, they would have become humble in the face of their own inexperience and ignorance, and they would have become immobilized by a kind of holy anxiety.  This anxiety arises from the mere suspicion that everything is interdependent.  This suspicion, more a matter of intuition or faith than a sure knowledge, utterly dams the modern project, based as it is on narrow perceptions and a greed for solutions.  What could have saved the canyon, and us as a species, and the world, is the inability to act decisively.  Certainty is our enemy.  Hubris is the impetus behind the grotesque "solutions" of progress.  Only ignorance, the father of certainty and hubris, could fail to see Glen Canyon for what it was: a magnificent local unfolding of the One and a part of us all.  The new people of the southwest needed more meat, so they identified their own heart as meat and cut it out and ate it, and now they wonder why they feel weak.

Of course, most of the above has been said, more or less, many times before.  In fact, I have become very, very tired of pretty much all standard forms of environmental-defense writing.  Some people still need to learn about the ripple effect and the principles of ecology, and some people will find "spiritual" defenses of the environment powerful and convincing.  I do hope that good writers keep coming to the defense of the natural world, and that the agents of progress will drop to their knees in humility and remorse as they read these defenses.  But I want to return to the notion of holy anxiety, because I have less faith in the efficacy of environmental defense than I do in the ability of people to become overwhelmed by the boundlessness of their ignorance, to the point of paralysis.

Because paralysis, of a particular kind, will save us.  Progress needs focus, haste, efficiency, power, certainty, professionalism, specialized knowledge.  It demands that we "leap into battle" and "just do our job", without dithering.  It demands firm, decisive action. But at the moment in which we see progress as a series of narrow solutions to narrowly-defined problems, each of which leads to ever-ramifying and unforeseen problems, the proliferation of which cannot be ever stopped with more engineering, we are open to insight.  And this insight suggests, in the place of progress, a tentative, provisional, second-guessing, contemplative approach to problem-solving.  It places little trust in callow, enthusiastic youth.  It is impatient with the ecstatic ignorance of faith.  It abhors jihad, and force of all kinds.  It favors minimal action with minimal tools, with the least effort possible.  It meanders where progress demands a straight line.  It changes its mind where progress is certain.  It hems and haws.  It wobbles.  It's actually downright feeble and pathetic.  Or so it seems. But when the rigid structures of progress have proven to be merely brittle, and have crumbled to dust, the wiry and lean, wily coyotes of equivocation will still be setting their snares, and mocking the weatherman, and dawdling in the deepest canyons in summer running their hands along the cool walls of what they suspect is their very own heart.

Friday, March 23, 2012

"Laugh in Dismissal"

From Curtis White's essay "The Barbaric Heart", published in Orion, May/June 2009:

"We ought to discover that there is something superior to the Barbaric Heart, a Universal that is not only Nature but human capacity and creativity as well. We ought to discover that we are a part of this One, an animal among animals. Ours should be a Dionysian world that refuses the cold comfort of both the capitalist manager and the ecologist technician. The Dionysian does not so much refuse these worlds as laugh in dismissal. Its world is indulgent and ecstatic and curiously impersonal. It is not an animal lover; it is simply happy among animals. It is not a nature lover; it is nature. It doesn’t pity the plight of the polar bear; it romps in the snow. It is a thoughtful and beautiful animal, but it is an animal. The Dionysian fucks, eats, looks for the ecstasy of transcendence, and worships the same gods that the animals worship. Not the God that gives laws, but the gods that encourage living things to thrive. 
We are that strange and wonderful animal that has the metaphysical comfort of knowing that she is part of the tragic chorus of natural beings. We are members of that faith that knows that life is indestructibly powerful and pleasurable. And the mark that we will leave upon the world will not be the mark of brute force clothed in the false virtues of the barbarian but the mark of the ultimate realist, he who makes his own world, demanding the impossible and calling it Beautiful."

Has your day been Apollo's?  Has he recorded your keystrokes, fined you for that overdraft, docked your pay for forgetting to punch your time-card?  Laugh in dismissal!  He falls at sunset.

Curtis White Essay

Please follow this link to an excellent essay on the unity of human work and environmental destruction:
I recommend you set aside some time to read this carefully.

Notice how all endeavors based on the myth of isolation and separateness are unsustainable?  Any action taken in hubris, which is to say in ignorance of its connection to everything, is likely to cause harm.  Our duties as workers start with facing the depth of ecology with profound humility, then vowing to do no harm.

"I'm just doing my job.": an excuse enabled by specialization.

Also note that White uses the inevitable two examples of the depths of our current specialist ignorance: we don't know how to grow and preserve our own food, and we don't know how to build our own shelter.  I will continue to insist that our most fundamental human condition, as naked, omnivorous apes, ties us to shelter and food production in the deepest way.  I think this depth is where White's "spirit" is located.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A very fine essay on handwork:

I recommend this wholeheartedly.  Very finely written, and totally informed.  It certainly puts the gleam of gospel truth on my own experience as an educated office worker with the heebyjeebies.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Some Costs of Convenience

Modern mobility encourages a broad and shallow familiarity with places.  Just as frequent over-watering of desert plants encourages shallow roots, our ability to flit from place to place as whim directs can leave us so dislocated that our metaphorical roots, the structures that commit us to places in all their particularity, atrophy and weaken.  As with so many forms of technological progress, the revolution in mobility comes with both benefits and costs.  Our ancestors struggled mightily to cross mountain ranges that today serve as little more than scenic backdrops for our destination-focused travels.  They do very little to test our mettle or force our attention to what is present.  This great convenience permits us to see far more of the globe that our ancestors ever dreamed.  It is instructive to consider the costs and benefits of any comfortable, time-saving new technology in terms of effort, because effort is not just something to avoid.  It is also one of the prime factors of learning, along with aptitude.  If our learning is the product of our aptitude times our effort, it follows that labor-saving advances reduce our opportunities to learn in direct proportion to the amount of effort they save us.

It is difficult to criticize labor-saving convenience.  There is some real truth in arguments that distinguish between "dumb" labor and forms of effort that are seen to be more inherently edifying.  To establish a spectrum between dumb and edifying forms of effort, let's say that using a hammer to make gravel out of rocks is dumb.  And let's say that long hours in the laboratory in pursuit of a cure for childhood leukemia is inherently edifying.  The degree of coercion under which the worker labors may also affect the calculus.  Using a hammer to make some gravel because you want to is probably more edifying than making the same amount of gravel, using the same technology, because you are being whipped.  However, no criticism of dumb labor and its conditions can be complete without considering the interior state of the laborer.  Looking only at the product, the hardness of the work, and the replace-ability of the worker by a machine [or by other, distant, unknown workers] fails to address the fact that all work transforms the worker.  All work is done with more or less awareness and intention, which are not just the mental states of the laborer at work, but the mental states of the retreatant in meditation, the devotee in prayer, and the artist in his or her constant struggle.  Just as sitting quietly can be lazy or focused, just as the recitation of a prayer can be rote or worshipful, and just as not all the artist's struggles are productive, so not all laborers rebel at the work or wish it done or become unreflective brutes.  In fact, among the common experiences of laborers is a sense of solidarity with other laborers in a knowledge that is theirs alone.  A kind of wisdom, about the strengths and weaknesses of the body, about a job well done, about endurance and pacing and fortitude, and about the travails of others may be uniquely available to those who earn their bread by the sweat of their brows.

It follows that effort avoided is wisdom lost.  This complicates the usual calculus of labor-saving. Understandably, given the choice, we will choose to avoid dumb labor and spend our time doing what we perceive to be inherently edifying, or at least fun.  But if we are forced to consider what convenience costs us, we may well choose to eschew some kinds of convenience for the sake of learning lessons that not all moderns are required to learn.  The entire Romantic era of Western history was deeply driven by a sense that modern convenience comes at a cost.  Whereas their Enlightenment forebears tended to see labor as the unfortunate cost required to attain a product or other benefit, the Romantics began to suspect that a great inheritance of wisdom and insight were dying, at least among the educated and wealthy.  Today's appreciation for outdoor adventure, travel, sports, self-improvement, rigorous hobbies, and the like arose in large part out of the Romantic sense that comforts insulate us from hardship and nature, and that the culture is losing the wisdom that comes from exposure, hardiness, stoic endurance, and uncomplaining toughness.  A comment on my last post briefly addresses this topic.  I'd like to expand upon roro's implied comparison between commodified food and food that we hunt, gather, and farm.

The Mormon settlers in Utah knew something of the travails of travel that modern travelers do not.  Not even a Christmas Eve in an airport with a screaming toddler, waiting for an overbooked flight to Salt Lake City, can impart the wisdom the settlers learned as they raced against the seasons to the edge of exhaustion through unfamiliar and hostile territory.  Likewise, hunting, gathering, and farming to eat require a depth of experience that contains uncommon wisdom.  We meet our ancestors on the hunt, in the woods, and in the furrow.  That is where they lived.  As I've outlined above, their, our, labor is what's required to uncover the treasure of experience.  But always, in procuring food the old way, and in so many other labors, the work itself is not the only teacher.  The other great teacher terrifies us so deeply that our entire culture of comfort is dedicated to its eradication.  We refer to it only in the negative: uncertainty.  The hunt is always uncertain.  The hunter's skill counts for something.  But chance, or fate, is the overwhelming presence on the hunt, so overwhelming, in fact, that many hunting cultures ritualize the humiliation of the successful shooter.  He [almost always he, but not anymore] may not be allowed to eat till the end of the meal, or he may get the worst cut of meat.  He may even be the brunt of ritualized mockery, or not be allowed to claim his success.  Hubris was not permitted.  Uncertainty is what makes the universe mysterious, and therefor compelling.  It is central to human nature that we will direct ourselves into uncertainty because what we need is there.  The revered shamans went out and came back with a light to shine into the uncertainty, which was always, at least metaphorically, in the wild.  The wild was full of treasure and nourishment, and monsters.  Equally, farmers have always planted in hope, and harvested in gratitude.  For farmers, nothing is guaranteed but labor.  We save seed, break ground, weed, beat off the pests, and hope for rain, but always the lean years follow the fat.  Labor like this teaches humility and deep reverence.  If your summer's unremitting effort can end in a minute of hail, you are unlikely to boast or tolerate arrogance.  Farmers tend to see arrogance as a form of stupidity, or of callow inexperience.  It is terrifying to be uncertain about food.  Here I need to observe that the perception of certainty, as, for example, that there will always be more steak in the supermarket, is delusional.  Certainty does not exist.  Only the perception of certainty exists, and the fuel for this delusion is comfort.  The ease with which we drive to the store and buy the steak fuels our sense that everything will continue as it is, that all is well.  This partly accounts for the willfulness with which most people deny the horrific and precarious state of our food supply: their sense of certainty, their faith in continuity, maybe even the flavor of their other faiths, relational and religious, depends upon the delusion of food security.  It is not overreaching, I believe, to say that hunting, gathering, and farming your own food bolsters you against delusion and clears your eyes to the world as it is, in all its ever-changing sublimity.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Food, Shelter, and Community.

These essays will deal with our locations within the work economy, within our communities, and on the Earth.  To write about location in its several senses is to consider the causes and effects of modernity, which has uprooted us, and which, so far, has not accommodated or tolerated the kinds of wisdom that flourish in intentional rootedness.  To choose to become native to a place, to paraphrase Wes Jackson, is, in very real ways, to set oneself against the demands of the global economy.  So, as the poor worldwide flee their ancestral farms for manufacturing and service jobs in large cities they are forced through a kind of economic and social sieve through which their traditions, folkways, languages, rich local knowledge, and idiosyncratic inheritances may not pass.  What the economy wants from them is their conformity to a system of production that cannot even perceive their richest human wisdom, let alone revere it as the accumulation of millenia.  And, as the economy grows and links the entire population, each person becomes less and less valuable per se, and more and more interchangeable with others, more expendable.  The economy thrives on each individual's willingness to spend the hours, days, and years of his or her life doing ever-more specialized jobs, and to do this always under the threat of replacement and with the live sense that the work, which is to say the life of the worker, is meaningless except inasmuch as it contributes to the economy.  No person craves a life of hyper-specialized effort for the enrichment of a few distant managers, nor does he or she find purpose and meaning in highly-proscribed and repetitive attention to the most narrowly-defined tasks and problems. I will argue that a person's sense of meaning, purpose, and satisfaction is largely dependent on rich and varied experience, and that insight, that exultant moment of comprehension, will come in proportion to our breadth of unmediated awareness of the world.  Where the economy demands our servility as mere technicians and experts, our hearts want us to be scientists and explorers and artists.

By necessity, as I write about the dislocation of modern life I will also criticize the shape of labor today, and the demands of profit.  These critiques have been made 10,000 times since the countryside began to empty in the 1840s.  Rather than try to say something new about labor and monopoly capital per se, I will focus on what I see as remedies that we can enact at the smallest scale: our choice of work; our more-or-less conscious relationships to the cash and credit economy; our relationships to the labor of others, near and far; our senses, more or less healthy, of what we want from life, and where and how we will seek it.  I hope that many intentional, informed, individual choices will steer the larger economy onto a more humane path, but, at very least, the lives of each person will become broader and more full of meaning and satisfaction.  I propose an art for living.

Notwithstanding the abstract terms I've already employed above, most of my proposed remedies will be quite small, for individuals and their families.  I will organize these essays around a few universal themes, because we are all people, and our natures are all basically the same: we are gregarious, omnivorous, hairless, intelligent apes with nimble hands, and brains built for language and problem-solving and memory.  As such, we crave friendship and conversation, delicious food, secure and pleasing shelter, solutions to puzzles, work to do with our hands, and the sense that we are contributing to the life of the tribe.  We have been banished from the garden, and are hemmed-in every side by the wilds and the tamed.  We rely on each other, and are compelled to compete.  Resources are limited, so the great spiritual practice is compassion.  So these essays will deal with food, shelter, and community.  As I see it, our true wealth is here.  If we can eat well, live in clean and safe houses, and interact meaningfully with others, our needs are met.  I can't think of a more succinct criticism of the mass economy than this, because mass economy insists on commodifying what is at the heart of our humanity.  It profanes what is sacred.

At the heart of the human world, or each human life, is a hearth, a kind of altar to what we need most.  We used to cook there, get warm there, meet there as lovers and families, eat there, even bury our dead there.  These things kept us alive.  Food, shelter, and a place in the tribe are the crux.  Be wary of any attempt to debase these things.  Take responsibility for them.  Resist the market doctrines that put them up for sale: as you job-out your food, your housing, and your social contact you forfeit your humanity.


I dedicate this blog to those who feel lost in their specialties, and who are ready for a more abundant life.