Category Archives: Downshifting

Possibility Alliance

This extraordinary community has been on the map since 2007, and we had the pleasure of staying here for just a few days, and a return trip is definitely in order, probably for their free permaculture training. During our first visit we experienced a guided tour of the entire farm, we slept in the barn loft with other volunteers (during huge thunderstorms!), helped out with various permaculture projects and interviewed most of the community members about their experiences living electricity-free in rural America Other similar projects are starting up in Kansas City MO, England and beyond.


COMMUNITY COHESIVENESS:  This Gandhian-based community consists of six adults and three children, as well as two three-time apprentices during the growing season and many more regular volunteers, visitors and potential members. The community practices Quaker-style consensus decision making and mindfulness meditation as well as yoga and other “inner” work. This makes for a very tight-knit community with many radical ideas that are successfully being practiced. They have check-in meetings every morning over breakfast which are a lot of fun and provide intimate connection.  There are five main pillars of the community:

  1. BulletRadical Simplicity
  2. BulletService
  3. BulletPolitical/Social Activism
  4. BulletInner Work
  5. BulletGratitude & Celebration

Each of these are carried out in a wide variety of ways as there is not a dogma or “one way”.

SUSTAINABILITY EFFORTS:  Electricity-free, car-free and mostly petroleum-free (other than a few bike light batteries and the occasional ride from a friend). They generally feel as though most, if not all, “green” technologies are not actually green and when looked closely at are really taking a toll on the earth. For example they shared with us that solar panels are made of silicon that is scraped off the bottom of the ocean and causing damage to the ocean ecosystems. They live right in the middle of Amish country, and have chosen to adopt some similar practices, such as the use of simple technologies and an emphasis on community interdependence, as well as homesteading techniques, including horse-powered farm equipment, honey bees, chickens for eggs, a pond, a barn with hayloft and goats and more.  In addition to the ecological sustainability practiced here, they are definitely practicing many economic, spiritual and social sustainability methods as well.

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General Strike!

“used by protesters all over the U.S.

(and perhaps the world?)”

High Resolution Poster


The Tyranny of Entitlement

We read earlier about socialism for the rich, now lets read a bit on the idea of entitlement. One can often hear objections to socialism, re-appropriation of wealth, and entitlement when it comes to the poor and exploited, but what about when it comes to the rich?

. . . A perpetual-growth economy is not only insane (and impossible), it is also by its very essence abusive, by which I mean that it’s based on the same conceit as more personal forms of abuse. It is, in fact, the macroeconomic enshrinement of abusive behavior. The guiding principle of abusive behavior is that the abuser refuses to respect or abide by limits or boundaries put up by the victim. As Lundy Bancroft, former codirector of Emerge, the nation’s first therapeutic program for abusive men, writes, “Entitlement is the abuser’s belief that he has a special status and that it provides him with exclusive rights and privileges that do not apply to his partner. The attitudes that drive abuse can largely be summarized by this one word.”

The relevance of this word applies on the larger social scale. Of course humans are a special species to whom a wise and omnipotent God has granted the exclusive rights and privileges of dominion over this planet that is here for us to use. And of course even if you subscribe to the religion of Science instead of Christianity, humans possess special intelligence and abilities that grant us exclusive rights and privileges to work our will on the world that is still here for us to use. Growth economies are essentially unchecked and will push past any boundaries set up by anyone other than the perpetrators: certainly the fact that indigenous cultures already are living on this or that piece of ground has never stopped those in power from expanding their economy; nor is the death of the oceans stopping their exploitation; nor is the heating of the planet stopping the exploitation; nor is the grinding poverty of the dispossessed.

And the truth is, you cannot talk abusers out of their behavior. Perpetrators of domestic violence are among the most intractable of all who commit violence, so intractable, in fact, that in 2000 the United Kingdom removed funding for therapy sessions designed to treat men guilty of domestic violence (putting the money instead into shelters and other means of keeping women safe from their attackers). Lundy Bancroft also says this: “An abuser doesn’t change because he feels guilty or gets sober or finds God. He doesn’t change after seeing the fear in his children’s eyes or feeling them drift away from him. It doesn’t suddenly dawn on him that his partner deserves better treatment. Because of his self-focus, combined with the many rewards he gets from controlling you, an abuser changes only when he feels he has to, so the most important element in creating a context for change in an abuser is placing him in a situation where he has no other choice.”

How do we stop the abusers who perpetrate a perpetual-growth economy? Seeing oiled pelicans and burned sea turtles won’t move them to stop. Nor will hundred-degree days in Moscow. We can’t stop them by making them feel guilty. We can’t stop them by appealing to them to do the right thing. The only way to stop them is to make it so they have no other choice.

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And remember, “The only way to stop them is to make it so they have no other choice.”

Voluntary Simplicity: The Forgotten Art of Renunciation

sitting under cypress tree

In modern industrialized cultures the only visible people living in radical simplicity are the urban homeless, who are not generally following a voluntary calling, but are suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness, or personal tragedy. The usual response of the public is pity, or maybe disgust. But if a movement of contemplatives voluntarily chooses to be homeless, to re-awaken the spirit of renunciation and speak openly about it, this reception might be transformed. If expressed as a calling, and a joy, perhaps simplicity-living with just what’s needed-could become, again, an honored value, and recognized as the essential foundation to a life of freedom, contentment, and true wealth. This is the vision of Touching Earth Sangha.

Read on . . .

socialism for the rich

US Banks Reject Effort by UK Bank Execs to Rein in Pay

From the Independent:

Chief executives from the world’s banks discussed the plans at a secret dinner held at Claridge’s, the London hotel, last October, at which several leading British bankers are said to have suggested that the sector should take greater responsibility for its part in the crash, and do more to reduce the vast bonuses paid to staff.

But the recommendations were met by stiff opposition from the US banks JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, according to one source. “Some of the US bankers were furious about attempts to reduce pay throughout the industry, arguing that any such move smacked of socialism and would be fiercely resisted,” the source said on Friday. “It’s not the way the Americans like to go about their business.”

Yves here. The evidence that US capital markets firms are firmly in the hands of hopeless sociopaths continues to mount.

The fact set is undeniable: the big firms in the industry engaged in a massive campaign of looting, of running enterprises in which the employees were consistently overpaid relative to the risks and true profits of the firms. The result was that they were overleveraged. The only reason the industry survived was due to massive public subsidies, from equity injections to special lending programs to super low rates to regulatory forebearance. By any right, the firms should have failed, and the bankruptcy course should have gone full bore after the pay earned in the bubble years as fraudulent conveyance.

The British bankers seem to understand:

1. The industry is responsible for the financial crisis and the toll it has inflicted on innocent bystanders

2. The industry should be very grateful indeed for all the emergency rescue, particularly since virtually nothing has been done to prevent the industry from resuming the same sort of profitable-looking reckless behavior that nearly drove the world economy off the cliff

3. Banks’ current profits are also due in significant measure to all that lovely cheap funding on offer from central banks, in effect an unexpected reward for having caused the crisis. Reader NYT pointed out:

GS [has] gone from a privately funded balance sheet to a government funded balance sheet since the October meltdown. They paid only $6.5B interest on only $500B of debt in 2009. That’s about 1.3%. Given that some of their debt is long term debt (e.g Buffet’s 10% loan etc) issued prior to 2009, they must have replaced almost all of the $500B in debt with loans from the Fed.

Looks like the financial crisis worked out very well for GS. They are paying $25B a year less in interest than they paid in 2008 and it looks like no one is even talking about why GS should not be given this huge and ongoing government subsidy.

4. The wisest course of action is to try to resume as much of status quo ante as possible while keeping a low profile so that the public and officialdom will not decide to interfere in this juicy little racket. That means avoiding in engaging in the most press and public annoying behavior, namely, paying lavish bonuses, is not a very good idea right now

5. But the US banks are convinced of their divine right to feed at the trough

The astonishing bit is that the US banking execs have the temerity to self-restraint on pay “socialism”. They are benefitting from what most would call socialism for the rich, but is more accurately termed Mussolini-style corpocracy or good old fashioned pilfering from the public purse.

A successful investor would often say, “Little pigs get fed. Big pigs get slaughtered.” A lot of people are waiting for these big pigs to get their just deserts.

less is more

by Tara Lohan


Some people clip coupons, I save stories I see about people deciding that less is more. And lately, this hobby has been keeping me quite busy. In the last week alone I’ve easily read a half a dozen stories about folks who are opting for less stuff, smaller houses, no cars. Could Thoreau’s admonishment for us “simplify, simplify” finally be catching on?

Here’s one story from the New York Times. The Strobels had a two-bedroom apartment, two cars and full-time jobs that left them in a “work-spend treadmill.” So they quit. They donated their stuff, got rid of their cars and downsized to a 400-square foot studio. Mrs. Strobel whittled her possessions down to 100 items.

Continue reading less is more

“perhaps the best way for people to express outrage and inflict pain on oil companies is to use less fuel, thereby lowering overall demand.”


Q. Dear Umbra,

In light of the recent BP oil gush, I have begun to think more critically about where I purchase gasoline. And while I don’t drive all that often, when I do fill up every three or four weeks I would like to support companies that are taking extra measures in social and environmental responsibility. Are there any particular gas stations noted for this?


A. Dearest Rachel,

Your question reminds me of something Socrates once said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Given this massive and unyielding Gulf oil spill, your critical thinking about gasoline purchasing is just what we need to address our oil affliction.

Globally, we humans go through about 84 million barrels of oil a day, according to the American Petroleum Institute. Our current, unexamined use of oil is nearly as impractical and dangerous as this gas station scene from Zoolander:

The Gulf isn’t the only place in the world beset by leaking oil right now. Nigeria has oil spills going on concurrently with the Gulf disaster. You might be surprised to learn that the five major oil companies all have clean up plans that are very similar to BP’s. And we see how that plan’s working out.

So how do we turn this brown upside down?

Unlike coffee, the other brown fuel, gasoline does not have a “Fair Trade” label, the seal of approval that tells us better trading conditions and sustainable practices were embraced in the making of the product. In my dreams, an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organization would exist to promote the responsible use and management of oil. Like the Forest Stewardship Council which “encourages the responsible management of the world’s forests,” this new organization might have a sticker that tells us which gas is better to buy. We could call it the Oil Stewardship Council. If anyone is interested in starting OSC, sign me up to help.

Ah, but I digress, dear Rachel. You asked about which oil or gas companies are trying to do it right. (Before I answer that let me just say that in case you were thinking of boycotting BP, it isn’t really an effective option. Since most BP stations are owned by franchisees, making boycotts more painful to small businesses than to BP at large.)

Attempts have been made to rank oil companies. You can check Green America’s Responsible Shopper Guide, which rates an oil company’s level of social and environmental responsibility. Type the oil company name into the Responsible Shopper search field and you will be taken to a page chock full o’ oil information. Consider listening to La Gasolina while you browse.

Victoria Kreha, Responsible Shopper Coordinator, says Green America ratings are based on “published articles, reports by other organizations and level of egregiousness in the company’s practices.” But even the highest rated company, is still the “best of a bad lot,” according to Todd Larsen from Green America. Adds Kreha: “Exxon has funded climate change denial, Shell has been involved in human rights abuses, polluting local water supplies and poisoning crops.”

Since there’s no perfect choice, here’s how I like to think about buying gasoline … Every time we go to the pump, a pelican dies.

It’s a great motivator for using less gas. Which reminds me, Rachel. I want to commend you for driving infrequently. If we all drove a little less it could have a tremendous impact. Meatless Mondays are lowering people’s carbon footprints. May I suggest Carless Tuesdays?

If we all take the bus, bike, walk, telecommute or find some other carless way for just one day a week we could have a big impact with a small sacrifice.  Even The New York Times concluded that “perhaps the best way for people to express outrage and inflict pain on oil companies is to use less fuel, thereby lowering overall demand.”

If you do have to get on the road, here are some of my favorite fuel-saving driving tips. And here are eight other ways you can help make a difference with the Gulf oil spill.

As you know, Rachel, the spill is a disaster. But if we’re smart and continue to examine our consumption habits, we can make better choices and a better world. This is our moment to change things. Thanks for stopping to fill up at this station, my friend.

Keep on trucking (figuratively, of course),