Q&A

(My column for July 2016 – in which I give myself a softball interview…)

Q. So, Skip, how was that “CommonBound” conference you told us about last month – the one about “new economics”?

A. Awesome! Fantastic!

Q. Lots of people?

A. Yes, a thousand or so registrants, with a very substantial proportion of young adults. I talked to a staffer from the New Economy Coalition, which sponsored the conference, and she said they had not anticipated such a strong response, so they were very pleased. I met folks from all over, as far away as Malaysia and Australia. There was also a broad range of classes and occupations represented, from forward-looking venture capitalists to community activists.

Q. What was your main “takeaway”?

A. A very strong sense that now is exactly the right historical moment for this kind of exploratory thinking, that the time is ripe for change. The old models don’t work anymore – we have new circumstances and challenges that Marx and Smith and the other classical economists and theorists couldn’t possibly have foreseen.  So it was very reassuring to see that so many people have been thinking along the same lines that I have been, and coming up with similar conclusions.

Q. Any discussion of the American presidential race?

A. Not much that I heard – except to cite the situation as an illustration of the need and the desire for new alternatives. (Of course, there were plenty of t-shirts for Bernie Sanders to be seen.) In fact, now that I think about it, I saw surprisingly little focus on using government, legislation, or political policy as tools for economic change – the emphasis was definitely on grassroots, on-the-ground, practical actions, and on communities taking on more responsibility for their own well-being.

A lot of this community-based action, by the way, is taking place in rural areas. There was an entire track of workshops dedicated to “Building the New Economy in Red and Rural Communities,” and Appalachia as a region was well-represented. In one workshop, conducted by folks from the Highlander Center in Tennessee, I learned about a website called Beautiful Solutions (https://solutions.thischangeseverything.org/) that is a database of “new economy” ideas and programs, and it’s a delight to browse through.

Q. What was the best moment for you?

A. The final workshop that I attended was a conversation with David and Fran Korten. Fran is the publisher of the fabulously hope-giving magazine called YES!, and David is a best-selling author  whose latest book is called Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth. Their work is the main reason that I got interested in this subject in the first place, and it was a special treat to be able to talk with them and express my appreciation personally.

David left us with a question to contemplate, and I’ll leave it here for you to think about as well:

“What is the story that you seek to change?”

Turn Away No More

I don’t think anyone has tried a Stephen Foster/Pink Floyd Mashup before… so here goes:

While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay
There are frail forms fainting at the door
Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say;
Oh, hard times come again no more

On the turning away
From the pale and downtrodden
And the words they say which we won’t understand:
“Don’t accept that what’s happening
Is just a case of others’ suffering
Or you’ll find that you’re joining in
The turning away”

‘Tis the song, the sigh of the weary
Hard times, hard times come again no more
Many days you have lingered
Around my cabin door
Oh hard times come again no more

It’s a sin that somehow
Light is changing to shadow
And casting its shroud over all we have known
Unaware how the ranks have grown
Driven on by a heart of stone
We could find that we’re all alone
In the dream of the proud

‘Tis the song, the sigh of the weary
Hard times, hard times come again no more
Many days you have lingered
Around my cabin door
Oh hard times come again no more

‘Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave
‘Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore
‘Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave
Oh, hard times come again no more

On the wings of the night
As the daytime is stirring
Where the speechless unite in a silent accord
Using words you will find are strange
Mesmerized as they light the flame
Feel the new wind of change
On the wings of the night

Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears
While we all sup sorrow with the poor
There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears;
Oh, hard times come again no more

No more turning away
From the weak and the weary
No more turning away from the coldness inside
Just a world that we all must share
It’s not enough just to stand and stare
Is it only a dream
That hard times….
That hard times will come again no more

(Sources: “Hard Times Come Again No More” by Stephen Foster; “On the Turning Away” by Pink Floyd)

ZIKA ZIKA

ZIKA ZIKA
(tune: “Iko Iko”)

My grandma and your grandma
They sitting by the poolside
Mosquito come and bite them up
I swear they almost died

(chorus)
…talk about
hey now (hey now) hey now (hey now)
Zika Zika zikay
Watch out where mosquito go
Keep the Zika away

They say that Zika awful bad
Zika Zika zikay
Make the mamas oh so sad
Tiny baby birthday

(chorus)

How to make mosquito go
Burn some citronella
Get yourself repellent spray
And spread it on your fella

(chorus)

See those doctors dressed in white
Zika Zika zikay
Give them money, so they can fight
Keep the Zika away

In Which I Make God Laugh

“If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” – ancient saying

And now, having told my various bosses, I can tell you.

My last day at the Wayne Independent will be Sept. 2.

I will then spend September and October doing what I can – writing, working for campaigns, speaking, whatever – to help keep this country from going totally over the political/mental brink.

After that, once the sentence is passed on Election Day (actually, I predict that Election Day will not yield a clear result, only more confusion, anger, and craziness), I will spend November and December wrapping up loose ends, finishing creative projects, getting rid of unnecessary stuff, and packing…

…because in January I plan to leave the USA, and head to Europe. There, I hope to spend some time with family, and hook up eventually with some form of refugee assistance or peacemaking effort – maybe in a performing arts role, maybe something else. (Now you know why I’ve been telling you about Emergency Circus and Clowns Without Borders and Christian Peacemaking Teams and all that stuff.)

If I survive that chapter, I may continue east… which might eventually bring me to South Asia, Japan, and then back around. That part is still unwritten.

Now you know as much as I know.

(PS. I anticipate no changes in my citizenship or marital status.)

Handy tips on how to behave at the death of the world

(Apparently, this seminal text has disappeared from its previous location. So I found a copy I had stashed. Anne Herbert gave me permission to repost this a long time ago. So here it is: the origin of the phrase “random acts of kindness”…)

 

Handy tips on how to behave at the death of the world

by Anne Herbert

Sometimes it comes in a dream, and sometimes in one more newspaper headline. And then you know. With your cells and past and future you know. It’s over. We are killing it all and soon it all will be dead. We are here at the death of the world – killers, witnesses, and those who will die. How then shall we live?

PROBABLY GOOD TO TELL TRUTH as much as possible. Truth generally appreciated by terminal patients and we all are.

Good to avoid shoddy activities. You are doing some of last things done by beings on this planet. Generosity and beauty and basicness might be good ways to go. Avoid that which is selfserving in a small way. Keep in mind standing in for ancestors including people who lived ten thousand years ago and also fishes. Might be best to do activities that would make some ancestors feel honored to be part of bringing you here. Silent statement to predecessors: Well, yeah, we blew the big thing by killing ourselves. I tried to honor you as much as I could in that context by doing the following:

TRANSFORM YOUR OWN POWER-OVER BEHAVIOR to whatever extent possible. Life system of world being efficiently killed by human habit of going for power over. Tasteful to try to profoundly correct that to extent that you can even though it’s too late. E.g. Men profoundly understand and change around relations with women. White people profoundly change in relations to people of color. Humans profoundly change in relationship to other beings on planet. This constitutes thank you note and note of apology to the whole history of the planet. I mean it has been rather great, sunsets, oceans, some art, some moments between beings, smells of fresh mornings. As we kill it all by dominance habits too huge to stop, we can thank it for the good times and say sorry by changing our own participation in the dominance stuff in some profound way. Doing this kind of change will involve confusion, embarrassment and awareness of activities and attitudes you have not been conscious of. Doing this kind of change will involve increased aliveness for you personally, a fine thing to bring to a dying planet. Be in radical alignment with particular forms of aliveness being smashed. Particular species, human cultures, styles of living are being obliterated brutally now. In as much as we all going to die fairly soon, the stylish thing to do is to align with one of the lifeforms and help it be itself as long and strong as possible.

Eschew blandness. Eschew causing other’s pain. We are all the target so wear bright colors and dance with those you love. Falling in love has always been a bit too much to apply to one person. Falling in love is appropriate for now, to love all these things which are about to leave. The rocks are watching, and the squirrels and the stars and the tired people in the street. If you love them, let them know, with grace and non-invasive extravagance. Care about the beings you care about in gorgeous and surprising ways. Color outside the lines. Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty. This is your last chance.

PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: COMMON BOUND

The unforeseen support generated by the Presidential candidacy of unabashed Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, which may or may not be history by the time you read these words, is but the latest in a series of body blows that have rocked our notions of Business-As-Usual in the past couple of years. (Others have been delivered by such folks as Elizabeth Warren, Thomas Piketty, and Pope Francis.) Bernie’s campaign demonstrated in no uncertain terms that there is a strong, widespread, and undeniable desire for new ways not only of doing business, but of structuring society itself.

This kind of thing happens from time to time. Some even say it’s a cycle.  In a fascinating article on the Evonomics website, Dr. Sally Goerner lays it out:

Oligarchies always collapse because they are designed to extract wealth from the lower levels of society, concentrate it at the top, and block adaptation by concentrating oligarchic power as well. Though it may take some time, extraction eventually eviscerates the productive levels of society, and the system becomes increasingly brittle. Internal pressures and the sense of betrayal grow as desperation and despair multiply everywhere except at the top, but effective reform seems impossible because the system seems thoroughly rigged.

In the final stages, a raft of upstart leaders emerge, some honest and some fascistic, all seeking to channel pent-up frustration towards their chosen ends. If we are lucky, the public will mobilize behind honest leaders and effective reforms. If we are unlucky, either the establishment will continue to ‘respond ineffectively’ until our economy collapses, or a fascist will take over and create conditions too horrific to contemplate.

So some kind of change is coming – but what, exactly, shall it be?

The term “new economy” has been a buzzword for nearly a quarter-century now – but it has come to refer to at least two very different visions. On the one hand, it simply refers to new, usually technology-driven, ways of making money, and of connecting buyers and sellers of products and services. This was its main meaning back in the 90’s, and it manifests today in Uber,  AirBnB’s, and other companies.  (See this article for a brief overview of this kind of “new economy.”) But the driving ideas, and the definitions of success, are still by and large the same, even if some of the methodologies are different. Here, we are still solidly within the realm of capitalism, the bottom line still rules, and getting a solid financial return on investment is still the main goal.

The other kind of “new economy,” though, asks different questions altogether – not just about “how” but “why.” There are a myriad of new terms, theories, and approaches being generated – some of which are explored on the website of the Next System Project, which I told you about a few months ago – but I think the key difference is one of values. This new economy, for example, is concerned less with concentration and accumulation and more with proper distribution – less with short-term gain and more with long-term sustainability – less with exploitation and dominance, and more with cooperation and inclusiveness.

For this reason, I suggest a new term – the “New Values Economy” –  to describe this still-being-dreamed system, which will someday replace what we now see falling apart. And I want to invite you to join me in Buffalo the weekend of July 8-10 for a conference called “CommonBound,” sponsored by the New Economy Coalition (http://neweconomy.net), to learn more about and help to shape that coming future.

Yoga in a toga (limerick)

A Roman clad only in toga
Attempted to do hatha yoga
Things were going quite grand,
Till he tried shoulder stand
With results that were crude, crass, and vulga.