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The shadow side of the Great Mother archetype

Bernard Lietaer, in a brilliant 1997 article, describes the repression of the Great Mother archetype:

“The Great Mother archetype was very important in the Western world from the dawn of prehistory throughout the pre-Indo-European time periods, as it still is in many traditional cultures today. But this archetype has been violently repressed in the West for at least 5,000 years starting with the Indo-European invasions – reinforced by the anti-Goddess view of Judeo-Christianity, culminating with three centuries of witch hunts – all the way to the Victorian era.

“If there is a repression of an archetype on this scale and for this length of time, the shadows manifest in a powerful way in society. After 5,000 years, people will consider the corresponding shadow behaviors as ‘normal.’

“What are the shadows of the Great Mother archetype? I’m proposing that these shadows are greed and fear of scarcity. …

“Someone who has assimilated the Great Mother archetype trusts in the abundance of the universe. It’s when you lack trust that you want a big bank account. The first guy who accumulated a lot of stuff as protection against future uncertainty automatically had to start defending his pile against everybody else’s envy and needs. If a society is afraid of scarcity, it will actually create an environment in which it manifests well-grounded reasons to live in fear of scarcity.”

After 100-150 years of accumulating our societal “pile” of petroleum-provided consumer goods, our “scarcity” outlook is yet another form of defending that pile. We’re freaked about peak everything because it means we won’t have our SUVs and iPads.

Lietaer points out the abundance that exists within our local communities, when people produce at a grassroots level. His is real, tangible abundance, as in, backyard-harvested pears.

Similarly, Hopkins and his fellow UK founders have infused into the roots of the Transition movement to approach this project of transforming society with a spirit of creativity and fun. When we operate from this boundless creativity, art, and fun, we transcend the fear and embrace the positive side of the archetype.

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What it won’t be

If we wait for the governments, it’ll be too little, too late
If we act as individuals, it’ll be too little
But if we act as communities, it might just be enough,
just in time.
– Transition movement, Cheerful Disclaimer

The Transition movement understands, at an intuitive level, that government cannot fix it. We won’t be seeing large-scale, meaningful, sufficient problem-solving action — on global warming, environmental toxins, peak oil, social justice — from our government agencies, certainly not within the timeframe in which we need to see action. We understand this about tangible things like food, transportation, water. It is important to acknowledge that we won’t be seeing sufficient, meaningful action on economics or political reform either.

James Gustave Speth offers a very specific analysis of why this is so. On [page reference], I shared the quote from Peter Barnes about the self‑serving relationship between our current form of capitalism and our current form of democracy. Speth offers detail after detail of how the present system is flawed at a very basic level. These include

  • corporate personhood, that the law grants a corporations the rights of a human being;
  • limited liability, that corporate officers cannot be held liable, thus they cannot be held accountable;
  • shareholder primacy, that the primary duty of corporate officers is to look after shareholder profits, which trump even moral and environmental concerns;
  • externalization of costs, that the true costs to the community, humanity, and the planet don’t have to be weighed in decision-making;
  • corporations in politics, with the ability to influence everything from elections to policy and legislation.
  • (The list continues, and for full explanation, please read Speth’s book.)

Add to this Thom Hartmann’s list of how the present system is flawed:

  • political dominance, hierarchical/clear authority structures, get their resources through trade and conquest, absorb other cultures into their own identity, genocidal warfare against others

Reversing these isn’t a matter of making some “tweaks” to our existing political-economic system. These fixes represent a radical departure from how our current system has defined itself. In computer programmer’s terms, this isn’t a bug repair. This is a rebuild.

If one listens to Stoneleigh, Jared Diamond, Richard Heinberg and James Howard Kunsler, we are soon likely to have opportunity for that rebuild. But Hopkins and the Transition movement are working to assure that safety nets are in place, so that things going “bad” doesn’t have to become “unsurvivable” as we navigate through this period of massive, all-encompassing, transformative change.

It really comes back to us, the grassroots citizenry, to craft the real solutions that will make a better world.

Elements to uphold

Speth tells us what is wrong with the current political-economic system, and gives us a few slight clues as to the undoing of it. For the rest, we must turn his lists of “what is wrong” inside out, and use these elements as we create our local safety net.

Speth recommends “neighborhood associations,” which in my view basically translates to empowering the citizenry. Within the Transition movement, we already are doing this. We’re creating local community groups which are getting down to work, setting up “emergency care,” massaging the elements of the future economy into local functionality, and doing the preliminary work of observing and brainstorming to create the new structures for what is to come.

Turning Speth’s “what is wrong” inside-out, we discover new elements which we will need to uphold within our local community groups. We will need to adhere to these in order to avoid the mistake of replicating the flaws of the old structure in what we create anew.

Personhood. Within our community groups, corporations shouldn’t be granted the same standing as human beings. Humans are persons, and corporations are not people. The tiny city of Arcata, California has apparently formally acknowledged this; perhaps our T.I.s should too. Humans are entitled to the full assortment of rights that come with the U.S. Bill of Rights, the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Earth Charter preamble and similar documents, and the rights of human beings supersede any claims of corporate “rights.” Within our Transition circles and our immediate community, we must remember to uphold this crucial departure from business-as-usual ways.

Responsibility and trust. In the mainstream world, executives are able to hide bad decisions behind corporate protections, corporate entities and limited liability. History has proven that these “protections” erode the sense of responsibility to the community and to fellow human beings. Within the communities of the future, we will need to return to people being accountable for their decisions. People should act within good faith and the best of their ability, to uphold such concepts as the Rights of others. Within our small Transition circles, we cultivate an atmosphere of responsibility and trust, such that these become moot issues. At present within our fledgling community groups, this may seem like an absurd issue to mention, but as our safety nets become the new structures for the wider community, we must already have this root-level concept in place.

Public politics. Already within our Transition initiatives, we are creating a very different culture of how people work together. With circle techniques, shifting leadership, Open Space, World Café, fishbowl events, and more, we are creating a “political” environment that includes transparency and equal voice for all. Human beings have a voice within this movement; corporations do not. In our Transition fishbowl circles, we consider the voice of fellow community members — fellow human beings — rather than the biggest corporation in town. In our vision plans and EDAPs, corporations can’t buy the results they want to see.

It will become important to remember this early culture, and the ways in which it is a radical departure from the mainstream way of doing things. As our community groups grow and gain new form, it is important to not relinquish these ideas — for instance altering our group’s form, approach, process, or mission in order to gain grant money.

We must be very careful about this as we embrace other organizations as partners. Perhaps that is why, in the new Transition Companion, Hopkins et al are qualifying the phrases “strategic partnerships” and “supportive partnerships.” In other words, we must carefully select partners who are supportive of the same mission, approach and process.

Errant direction can happen rather innocuously: A large “green” vendor asks for a table at your Transition event to sell their product. Their presence at your event will be perceived by the public as your T.I.’s endorsement of whatever they are selling. Thus vetting becomes important — is this company on board the trio of crises? Are you working toward the same general agenda? Or are they simply a green-cast way of perpetuating opulent consumerism? Are you so eager to fill your event with tables that you will take all comers? Or are you sticking up for the basic premises of our Transition initiatives’ reason for being: creating the new structures that will enable energy descent, and – despite peak oil, climate change, and biocapacity — provide a livable future for all.

Identity. Hartmann reminds us to uphold that unique sense of our own identity. Our Transition initiatives, even very early ones, have a unique identity within this society: We are the ones who are concerned about the trio of crises, and who use this concern as a driver for building new structures. The primary duty of our T.I. is to that mission. As the Transition process deepens, and more people and organizations get on board, we will continue to have a unique identity: as vision-holder, keeping track of the road ahead.

That identity is what will keep your T.I. on track when the easy temptation of business-as-usual might take you on a wild goose chase. It is important to embrace this unique identity – to craft it into your founding documents, and to revisit this unique identity from time to time within your steering group or core team, to remind each other of who you are and what this group represents.

Hartmann also reminds us about respecting the unique identity of others. In the case of our TI.s that might mean other nearby T.I.s, or (taking Practical Tool #9 into serious consideration) respecting the unique culture and voice of groups which the industrial-growth-paradigm-world discounted or overpowered.

Renewable local sources. “Renewable resources” has become a glib phrase tossed around in the vernacular with little connection to what it means.

David Holmgren stated (Santa Barbara, 2005) that in the future the symbol of “solar power” won’t be a PV panel, with its myriad of trace elements, plastics, delicate electronics, and global supply chain. Instead, the symbol of “solar power” will be a tree.

Eventually we must evolve to a model that defines “renewable local resources” with cradle-to-cradle criteria: How local is the source of the plastics and metals of those PV panels? What is the environmental impact of their extraction and eventual disposition? How is the global supply of the trace elements? What is the carbon footprint and embodied petroleum cost of their manufacture and distribution? Is the solar power thus derived made available to all on a fair and just basis? And is the expected volume of production in keeping with one-planet’s-worth-of-consumption?

As we build the new paradigm local economies, this long-term view must be in the backs of our minds. As we select movies and speakers for awareness-raising events, as we do outreach, as we set up the tools of the new economy, we carry this understanding.

Yes, it may get panned as a “hard-liner” view. But really it’s the laws of physics on this one small planet that are the true hard-liner. Our T.I.s are just the messengers, reminding people of what our culture has so conveniently tried to forget.

What might it look like?

When we’re analyzing potential scenarios for the future – for economics or for anything else – it’s important to distinguish the end goal versus the journey.

Perhaps it’s easier to see with a different topic. We can all agree that our current food system — now — with globalized supply chain, massive petrochemical inputs, subsidy system, processing, food deserts, etc. is unsustainable. In the future, many of us agree that the predominance of our food will come from local sources, that it will needs be organic, that processing will be vastly reduced. The journey from now to then will mean a long series of concrete steps that take us toward that goal — things like supporting existing local farmers economically, furthering urban agriculture, building more community gardens, etc.

In economics, many, many thinkers wish to tell us what is wrong with now and warn about what is going to happen to the present system (Heinberg, Stoneleigh). Several thinkers offer visions for the end goal, the future, what it might be like when we get there (Daly Steady State; Eisenstein gift culture; Hartmann Older Culture).

Some offer visions for how the journey from here to there might unfold. Of these, many convey their dreams for what the government might do (Speth, Daly, NEF text, Eisenstein’s “roadmap”). A select few offer concrete tools that can be used by the people to further this change (summarized in Practical Tools #1 through 9). We have to select our tools based on whether they will get us where we want to go.

“The Shadow Structure,” then, is the background understanding of where we want to go, and the rudimentary framework that will begin to take us there. On p. {x} is an early, early stage example, using Hartmann’s characteristics as the end goal.

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Thom Hartmann, in The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, gives us an idea of the magnitude of change that will be required. He reminds us of the Older Culture view, the tribal culture, of which Native Americans are an example. These cultures held a different notion of the place where humans stand in the order of creation: We are part of the world. It is our destiny to cooperate with the rest of creation. This is what it will take to achieve a sustainable society.

According to Hartmann, tribal or Older Cultures have five primary traits:

political independence,

egalitarian structure,

they get their resources from renewable local sources,

they have a unique sense of their own identity, and

they respect the identity of other tribes.

Hartmann contrasts this with the structure and nature of Younger Culture city/states: political dominance, hierarchical/clear authority structures, get their resources through trade and conquest, absorb other cultures into their own identity, genocidal warfare against others.

Hartmann points out that the Older Culture was in place for more than 10,000 years of human history before our current Younger Culture came through and wiped out much of Older Culture. Yet the Younger Culture hasn’t been all that successful, hitting “peak” within a comparatively short span of time.

Our political-economic system is inextricably the Younger Culture: Political dominance, hierarchical and clear authority structures, trade and conquest, and homogenization of cultures are what defines it.

We can’t simply pick and choose and expect to attain a sustainable society. We cannot select “get resources from renewable sources” from the Older Culture list, while retaining political dominance, hierarchical structure, and conquest from the Younger Culture paradigm. It’s going to take much greater fundamental change.

That is why, as we create new structures for the Great Turning of society, the road forward won’t be lead by existing government or political parties. It must be lead grassroots, by the people.

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Once our “trauma center” is up and running, we can turn to Holmgren’s Permaculture Principles:

“Observe and interact.” We must learn how to observe, and what to observe. We must retrain our powers of observation for the new economy — our abilities to observe the right stuff so that the new structure won’t simply copy the old.

Some of the ideas brought out in this booklet may seem dramatically different and radical when posed as economic premises – ideas like the ongoing tie or emotional obligation of Eisenstein’s gift culture; the place centered consciousness of Norberg-Hodge or the Slow Food / Slow Money movements; The Great Redistribution and a socially-just economy. Our knee-jerk reaction that these are “out-there radical” underlines how far our current consciousness is from where we need to be. It’s going to take some time to figure out exactly what to design into our new local operating systems.

“Use slow and small solutions.” In true American style, we love BIG solutions. It’s very tempting to look to grand, sweeping fixes. It is tempting to expect government to solve it. But this case isn’t very likely to unfold that way. Slow and small solutions begin with setting up your community’s emergency center (Practical Tools #1 through #8), and starting to observe the right stuff.

“Design from patterns to details” is indeed another of Holmgren’s principles. Yet I suggest that right now we are so deeply immersed in the conventional economic paradigm that we lack the eyes to properly see the pattern. We aren’t yet ready to design.

In the dating world, “on the rebound” is a well-recognized phenomenon. When an individual is fresh out of a failed relationship, the likelihood of successfully finding the next long-term relationship isn’t high. There needs to be a cooling-off period – a time of mourning, a time of reflection, a time of learning from past experiences. Right now with respect to the economy, we are still in the failed relationship. We haven’t moved out or done the “rebound” phase. We haven’t internalized the lessons we need for a really successful subsequent design.

When we do start to think about design, the pattern won’t begin with utopian wishful thinking. It will begin with what we have right now. It will begin with one small planet, one global ecosystem, and 7 billion people, most of whom are located in cities. The pattern begins with peak everything and global climate change as a given. The pattern will embrace all of the petals of Holmgren’s Permaculture Flower.

The pattern that is emerging encompasses everything in human experience — money and power and government and businesses and housing and food and medicine and social interactions and the cultural messages all of us learned as youth. All of it is in the midst of massive, transformative change.

“The Great Turning” is an appropriate description for what is going on. In the midst of all that Turning, now is the moment for building local resilience, growing our ability to flex and adapt to whatever comes along.

Ecophilosopher Joanna Macy describes three types of action required to achieve The Great Turning:
• Holding action to slow down the destruction of life
• Creating new structures
• A shift in consciousness

Traditional environmentalism is in many cases a manifestation of Macy’s first dimension: Stopping Action, preventing further destruction, actions to slow the damage to Earth and its beings.

The Transition approach as outlined by Rob Hopkins and now being experimented with and customized around the world, is primarily a movement growing up within Macy’s second dimension: Creating New Structures, the creation of the better world of the future.

The Transition movement also touches upon Macy’s third dimension, a Shift in Consciousness, a shift in our deeply ingrained values.

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George Bernard Shaw famously said that all progress depends on not being reasonable.
It’s time for a large amount of civic unreasonableness.
– James Gustave Speth

At the beginning of Part III, I quoted David Ehrenfeld. He reminds us that our job is to set up a parallel alternative structure to have in place as a safety net, ready to catch our local community when the conventional system fails. This statement applies to economics, as well. To solve the full panorama of our economic ills, we must put in place the tools of community survival (Practical Tools #1-8), plus create the new structure.

I dislike the term “alternative structure,” because it makes it sound like we have a choice – which I believe we do not. For purposes of this booklet, I’ll call this new structure “the shadow structure.” In this I am referring to our safety net, a parallel structure which is put in place to catch us as the current economic structures wobble and crumble. Even more than keeping our local communities functional at a very basic level, this safety net eventually provides the rudimentary framework for the new economy.

The shadow political-economic structure we create will provide context for all of the other elements: local resilience-building businesses, alternative financial vehicles, community-based finances, our new vision reflected in new economic indicators. It will be like the bookcase into which we fit all the other pieces.

Ideally, this basic structure will reflect our new values (The Great Revaluing). It will reflect our new sense of sharing, of assets and voice (The Great Redistribution). Eventually, the shadow structure may evolve into the tool to facilitate The Great Rebalancing at a local level.

Perhaps the shadow structure will emerge out of an “Economic working group” that has been trying out the kinds of things described in Practical Tools #1-9 – experienced veterans in how these elements work “in the trenches” in our neighborhood.

A CAUTION: It might appear that one should start by setting up this new economic structure and then afterward add the pieces. But at this very early point in the crumbling of the conventional economic system, it is probably premature to know how the new structure for your local area would be well designed.

Meanwhile, your local community needs the in-the-trenches coping tools — like LETSystems, time banking, local currencies,a rudimentary network of post-petroleum proprietorships, and some local investment in the tools of resilience. These are your “trauma unit” or “emergency room” for when shocks happen to the wider economic system. They’ll get you patched up and stitched together so that you can hobble along in limited functionality. Now is the time to get your trauma center set up and fully functional.

In nature, headlong growth and all-out competition are features of immature ecosystems, followed by complex interdependency, symbiosis, cooperation, and the cycling of resources. The next stage of human economy will parallel what we are beginning to understand about nature. It will call forth the gifts of each of us; it will emphasize cooperation over competition; it will encourage circulation over hoarding; and it will be cyclical, not linear. … The economy will shrink, and our lives will grow.
— Charles Eisenstein, Sacred Economics (p.17)

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Economics and social injustice is such a significant issue that it demands its own Practical Tool point. Our society currently has deep economic divides which are worsened by race, culture, geography and prejudice.

NEF writes of the Great Redistribution where power, asset ownership, voice, and political clout will have to become more fairly distributed across the populace. If we are to be successful in overcoming current problems, then as we design long-term, viable economic solutions we will have to overcome some potential pitfalls of a purist Relocalization model.

This isn’t to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but rather to remind us to temper it a bit. I strongly believe that the Relocalization model and “unleashing the creative genius of communities” are key to our society designing our way out of this mess. However with respect to social justice, to equality of voice, and fair shares of assets, going into the post-petroleum era we have a lot of inequity and some potential skill deficiencies, paradigm gaps, and generations-engrained enculturation to overcome.

Not an island

Dashed collective expectations are very dangerous.
–Stoneleigh, “Century of Challenges” DVD

The Transition movement is founded upon a strong base: Start where you are. Operate on a scale at which you feel you can make a difference.

That said, we cannot forget that our local communities are not islands. Particularly within our cities, we are kidding ourselves if we think we can “transition” only our own neighborhood without regards to the next neighborhood over.

No matter how many local vegetable gardens, water cisterns and solar panels we install in our local neighborhood, if the next neighborhood over has none, when tougher times come what do you suppose people from that unprepared geography will do? We cannot take the survivalist approach and say “I’ll take care of my own” with complete disregard for the rest. Our Transition effort, our local resilience, is ultimately only as successful as the whole.

Here at the Transition Los Angeles city hub, we often use this paragraph in the materials we use with leadership:

Our common goal is growing local community resilience and self-sufficiency throughout the Los Angeles basin. We realize that we cannot succeed alone; our individual security during energy descent within this massive LA basin is entirely dependent upon the degree to which we have prepared the whole area.

It is very easy to get entirely caught up in the flurry of local activities and events and not find the time for outreach. But at this early, early stage of Transition awareness-raising (here in L.A. but similarly across the entire U.S.), we cannot afford to neglect our neighboring communities. Particularly when those neighboring communities are economically disadvantaged and are less likely to initiate a Transition group on their own.

Design influences

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
– Chinese proverb

Within Permaculture we teach designers to observe the design influences upon a site: how sun, wind, fire, or neighboring uses might affect the garden. Some significant design influences for a socially-just economics are education, information resources, and enculturation.

My husband is a computer software engineer. He once sagely pointed out that poverty isn’t just a lack of assets; poverty also means lack of access to information and to Western cultural resources. Those of us who have grown up in affluent communities – even those of us who have since “voluntarily simplified” and intentionally changed our level of consumption – are well accustomed to seeking out information. That might be via internet, public library, books, magazines, networking groups, etc. We know how to (and we are encultured to) look for answers.

Many people within more disadvantaged neighborhoods do not have this enculturation. They are less likely to jump on the internet and learn about peak oil and learn about the Transition movement. They are less likely to encounter information about outside-the-box solutions like the sophisticated bartering systems of LETS and time banking. They are less likely to discover which professions will become dead‑end as we move into a post-petroleum era. They are less likely to be exploring how to organize a community and learning how to overcome the pitfalls as we (society as a whole) relearn this forgotten skill.

In a piece on another matter, Hopkins wrote: “What we see in Transition is that often those who get engaged, offering their voluntary time, are people with some spare time and with particular skills, and a confidence that their input of energy will make a difference. In more disadvantaged communities, these things are in short supply, so the [UK proposal Hopkins was writing about] does not operate in a level playing field.”

With respect to pure Localization and our more disadvantaged neighborhoods, Hopkins’ statement is quite accurate. Firstly the part about time: We need to realize that these may be neighborhoods whose best potential organizers are working 2 to 3 low wage jobs to feed extended family thus have little time to learn about and expand the Transition movement.

In Hopkins’ quote, the part about confidence hit me hard. In many ways these may be communities that have never before been empowered to self-organize, for whom “unleashing the creative genius of communities to respond brilliantly to times of great challenge” may draw blank faces.

In my pre-Transition community service experience, I witnessed this in an African American inner city school in Washington DC, in a predominantly Native American school in Arizona, in heavily Latino schools in L.A. These were pockets of people whose history in poverty bred hopeless acceptance, which developed into apathy and inability to generate change. Community meetings which should have rallied spirit and brought out connections to get resources, instead played out with audience members waiting to be told what to do. Our projects had to first instill the basic idea that positive change could in fact happen, before we could get down to teaching the mechanics of how to go about creating it.

Hopkins goes on to point out that nonprofit organizations, social service organizations, social justice organizations already know about and have been working to overcome this un-level playing field; there is much we can learn from them.

New forms of “support”

The fledgling Transition movement is – in many cases – unfolding first in communities and neighborhoods which are predisposed to being more progressive, more intellectual, more highly educated. We (the Transition movement as a whole) will have to develop ways to help less-affluent neighborhoods get organized toward Transition concepts. This assistance will probably have to be far more than our current level of supporting fellow TI’s by answering questions about how we coped with similar issues, or sharing Trainings.

We may have to invent new models to help those disadvantaged communities develop information‑distribution systems, in ways that corporate America has never bothered to develop. When Transition Los Angeles (TLA) did tabling in South LA it was an eye-opening experience for us. Up until that point TLA’s information distribution systems had been entirely web-based: webpage, Google Calendar, email announcements. In South LA we discovered that approximately 40% of the people who stopped by our table didn’t have email.

That meant TLA had no setup for contacting them. It also revealed that large numbers of LA residents didn’t use the internet on a regular and consistent basis the way that many of us regard as “normal.” And South LA is not the poorest area of our city!

Perhaps the best answers will come from a localization model of forming productive partnerships with the specific nonprofits which are already locally invested in these communities: by educating the nonprofits about peak oil + climate change + economic contraction and their likely ramifications, and asking the nonprofits how this disadvantaged community could proactively respond.

There is a danger here in crossing the line – from our brilliantly conceived “solutions welling up from the grassroots” model into a “do it to them” model. I do not know how we will accomplish this.

What are the answers?

It seems to me that this chapter within the Transition movement is yet to be written.

§ Perhaps it means awareness-raising about the long term nature of this economic downturn and the fact that it demands unprecedented change – change in professions, change in suppliers, change in our attitudes about taking on debt, change in lifestyle habits toward much more self‑sufficiency, change in the way we transact business and our financial vehicles.

§ Perhaps it means regarding those nonprofits who are working locally within the disadvantaged neighborhood as an integral part of the local neighborhood, helping them to learn about resources such as Edgar Cahn’s No More Throw Away People; and helping them to set up time banks and LETSystems.

§ Perhaps it means creating alternative “job fairs” to highlight the need to look beyond jobs and begin putting in place resilience-building local businesses.

§ Perhaps it means siting some of our Transition reskilling events in that other neighborhood.

§ It may mean helping local groups navigate the complexities of getting access to land on which to grow food. The Transition group in my neighborhood is helping a local middle school (58% African American, 22% Hispanic, 48% eligible for free or reduced-price lunch program) to set up a plot-style community garden on school grounds. Plots will be made available to individuals and families based on the criteria of whether they have access to land.

§ It may mean obtaining translations of Transition videos and books by tapping into our international Transition Network. Here in L.A. we’re already beginning to explore how to get the message out in Spanish.

§ It may mean devising non-internet, low-tech ways to get the word out about events and meetings. It may mean phone trees, or cultivating relationships with churches and interfaith networks to help get the word out. Recall that in pre-petroleum-era times, the pulpit was a powerful information‑distribution point.

§ Perhaps we’ll work with existing centers within these communities – churches and schools for example – and share our resources in how to change the cultural stories we tell each other. Within less affluent communities, some of these cultural stories may include waiting for help from the outside, hoping for an external savior, rather than a responsibility toward do-it-yourself.

§ It may mean overcoming mainstream media messages with alternative “media” (“Becoming the Media” ingredient). It may mean helping immigrant neighborhoods to reconnect with the knowledge and values of their culture of origin, helping them to value this as wiser than the false direction that American culture has recently taken, from which we must now back away.

§ Along with all of this, it may also mean listening in ways we haven’t been trained to do. Early Transition materials suggested we “listen to the Elders.” Here in L.A. we realized that many of our chronological-elders are themselves products of the industrial growth paradigm: they are 1950’s-and-later transplants to this geography. But within the immigrant neighborhoods, the elders who once lived in what our culture often dismisses as “third world” cultures may hold some of the important earth-based wisdom and low-tech solutions for our area.

Our experiences in South L.A. http://www.transitionus.org/blog/reflections-diversity-and-internet-connections

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The concept of “social enterprise” has been gathering traction in the U.S. It’s kind of like a hybrid of the business world and the nonprofit world.

In its most basic form, there’s the example of a gift store within a museum: the profits from the store fund the social cause of the museum. In more complex forms, there are micro-loan businesses that fund third-world startups, bakeries that employ at-risk workers, and a myriad of creative examples.

In the UK, the REconomy project is taking this concept a step further, to ask “What might a social enterprise founded on Transition principles be like?” What might the “social enterprise” model be like if it were founded around the types of business we need for a localized, post-petroleum, leaner economy world?

The UK group has begun identifying certain characteristics which they feel are essential to such an enterprise. These characteristics include co-ownership, democracy, and reinvestment of the profits into the local community.

What is a Transition Enterprise?

1) Resilience outcome. Will benefit the local community by improving its resilience or wellbeing in some way
2) Low Carbon. Minimizes carbon emissions and thus contribution to climate change
3) Natural Limits. Works within the natural resource (and energy) limits of the planet, including ecosystem services. Works with suppliers that do the same.
4) Appropriate Localization. Considers viability of business model post peak oil, and level of independence from globalized corporate macro-economy and its risks.
5) Not just for personal profit. Goes beyond distributing profit to individuals, with at least some profits reinvested in the local community.
6) Community assets. Holding public or “commons” assets and wealth in trust for community benefit (can’t be sold by individuals).
7) Locally accountable. Independent and accountable to a defined constituency who are democratically involved in governance of enterprise

(Thoughts from the UK’s REconomy project)

Social enterprise thus becomes: the business model of the future (i.e. conscious); a way of financing social causes (via “business” profits); a way of holding community assets or “investing” (The Commons; co-ownership); a way of regulating business and investment (democracy).

Here in L.A. we have begun exploring the question as well. One of our working group participants introduced the model of the Mondragon Cooperative Complex. This Spanish model could inform and enrich the UK ideas. Specifically:

Mondragon’s limits on income disparity between the highest paid executive and the lowest paid worker could help define the UK’s bar on personal profit (REconomy’s bullet #5).

Mondragon’s integrated educational element informs the UK’s appropriate localization (REconomy’s bullet #4) by studies and, by virtue of its being integrated, provides a continuous supply of appropriately trained workers to meet local needs. Additionally it provides local retraining as the progression of this transition era phases out some local needs and offers new ones.

Mondragon’s integrated banking supports the UK’s concept of community assets (REconomy’s bullet #6). And Mondragon’s integration into a wider network – a cooperative complex – keeps the UK’s local accountability (REconomy’s bullet #7) from becoming elitist. It introduces a broader, area-wide perspective into the democracy.

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Social enterprise

Uncategorized

The shift from a growth economy to economic contraction has turned our concepts of “profit” and “income” upside down. The idea of “investment” has similarly been radically altered.

In the old paradigm, when we thought about “investments,” it meant turning our money over to some mega-institution for them to “invest” for us. We expected interest or dividend income in return for the use of our money. If you have checked any financial institutions lately, those concepts come from a bygone era. Interest income rates are now next-to-nothing, and people no longer reap dividend income. They gain only from adjustment in the market value (i.e. the “popularity contest”) of stocks. Mere slowdown in economic growth has completely altered investment horizons, and ongoing economic contraction will assure that this change is semi-permanent.

Additionally, as we have all learned, the purposes to which those investment funds were being put by those mega-institutions were far from environmentally conscious, socially just, or resilience-building. Meanwhile, here in our hometowns, we have very worthy and necessary resilience-building projects which are desperately in need of funding.

Within a Transition context, the need for community-based investment arises because the infrastructure we currently have (massive freeways, sewer systems, etc.) doesn’t match what we’re going to need for a post-petroleum, climate-altered, economically lean future. Things like local water cisterns, community gardens and acquisition of land for urban agriculture, bike share programs, localized businesses in core / survival industries, local powerdown manufacturing of basic goods.

The idea of community-based investment is to retain what investment funds you do have within the community, and put them to work on resilience-building projects locally within your community. In Totnes, they are pooling their investment funds to build community-owned wind farms. In Marin, California, people pooled their funds to buy options on farmland to keep it out of the hands of suburban developers. In Washington state, L.I.O.N. investors provide seed money for Transition-type small businesses.

As your local community begins to examine what resilience-oriented infrastructure you already have, versus what you need to create or install, these needs will begin to present themselves. Community-based investment is a very solid and logical way to finance those projects. It is also a way to finance the start up of resilience-building businesses (Practical Tool #4).

From the investor’s side of things, community-based investment is a way to put your money to work where it is needed most. In my opinion we haven’t seen the last of the “too big to fail” banking industry disintegration. (Stoneleigh forecasts it quite clearly) Putting your investment locally, where you can see it, with local people who you’re growing to trust through local community gatherings might be the wisest course available to you.

In these times of market contraction consider this very practical observation: if everyone around you is losing investment valuation, the way to “get ahead” is to lose less quickly and less severely than everyone around you.

In a talk in Totnes, Devon, UK, Tim Jackson emphasizes that at this point in history, rather than seeking “rate of return,” people with money to invest should shop for local investments which might help secure our collective future and help preserve peace and safety within the local community. In other words, in the new paradigm, security, peace, and safety are so dear that they are worth “investing” in, with hopes to preserve them.

Charles Eisenstein would argue that such investments should rightly be zero interest, zero rate of return. In Sacred Economics, “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul,” he gives a detailed example of how “the goal of paying interest or dividends to investors, to give them a positive rate of return, conflicts with the goal that makes the company socially or environmentally ‘conscious.’”

So then, what do you get in return? The primary “investment income” is the security, peace, and safety of your hometown, the place where you are living and raising your family. Additionally, you will own pieces of your hometown future, pieces of the essential infrastructure of the new future.

Eisenstein expands upon this: “It apparently goes against rational self-interest to lend money at no interest, or to give it away. That, however, is a very shortsighted self-interest because while the present money system may easily disintegrate in the next few years, the ties of gratitude that gifts create will persist through any social tumult. … the best security you can have is to ensconce yourself in a gift network. Start being a giver now.”

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Community-based investment examples

  • Totnes, Devon, UK: Totnes Community Wind Farm and Totnes Anaerobic Digestion Partnership and http://transitionculture.org/2010/09/13/the-launch-of-the-totnes-renewable-energy-society/
  • Further details at p. 139 of Transition In Action, the Totnes Energy Descent Action Plan
  • Agricultural land trusts (Marin, California http://www.malt.org/ )
  • Mendo Food Futures, Mendocino County, California http://campfire.theoildrum.com/node/5158
  • Of all the approaches listed in this booklet, community-based investment is perhaps the most under-developed, here in the U.S. The types of things we’re seeing being done within Transition Initiatives in the UK – investment in local power companies, community-owned bakeries — may be a bit cutting-edge for us here. Here in the U.S., many of these would require financial and legal sophistication to set up formally — issuing a Prospectus and public investment legalities and such. If you have old-paradigm investment professionals within your Transition initiative or within your community LETS network, perhaps they could lead the way.

Pre-existing financial entities where your community might be able to create a fund (probably in exchange for a fee)

  • Community Investing http://www.communityinvest.org/overview/what.cfm
  • Community Foundations http://www.communityfoundations.net/page14088.html
  • A very simplistic setup for much smaller funding amounts: ChipIn or PayPal widgets on your website

Other variations on the concept:

  • Citizens Land Bank http://www.cesj.org/homestead/strategies/community/cic-full-nk.html
  • The “Town Banks” concept mentioned in this article http://sustainableindustries.com/articles/2008/12/banks-new-economy
  • Create something similar to The Community Foundation www.nlacf.org
  • Take the ideas of the “Declaration of Interdependence” of the B Corporations and go local. www.bcorporation.net

Minimize your participation in the conventional Big Bank system

  • MoveYourMoney.info
  • Independent Community Bankers of America (see Practical Tool #5)
  • Local credit unions sound like a good deal, but do your homework. The ones I researched in my own neighborhood were federal credit unions and they invested in things like car loans and other non-sustainable and un-resilient stuff.

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Uncategorized

At the beginning of Part III we reminded each other than the economy is basically the sum total of transactions between people. At that same basic level, “money” is simply the markers we use to record those transactions. There is no mandate that transactions between people can only be counted via one kind of marker. In fact, plenty of perfectly valid and life-supporting transactions can be accomplished without any markers at all.

We have grown up accustomed to a monoculture of the national currency (U.S. dollars, British pounds, etc.) but — just like in agriculture, just like in human culture — for a resilient future we’ll be much better off with a polyculture.

Peter North shared a brilliant vision in his book, Local Money: “We can see a LETS scheme or time bank being used for local production and exchange of things we can produce at home or in a local community … More complex goods would be produced by local businesses, perhaps using a local or regional scrip … or a business-to-business exchange. More local production could be developed using local currency loans, or through a local bank … Special-purpose currencies could finance local food production and Community Supported Agriculture, and local power generation …” All of this will probably operate parallel to a national currency that handles the few out-of-area trade transactions.

In other words: multiplicity. Instead of one financial vehicle, the old U.S. dollar, we’ll have many ways to facilitate economic exchanges between people. If one of those financial vehicles is encountering temporary problems – for instance the U.S. dollar suffering extreme inflation or extreme deflation — we’ll have other financial vehicles to fall back on.

Scarcity of conventional cash

One of the scarier parts of the Depression of the 1930s was when banks closed. People were no longer able to access the cash which facilitated all the doings of everyday living. If our cash is all in one place (Big Banks), we are in very serious jeopardy. If our finances are maintained through a wide diversity of vehicles, we have a lot more resilience built into our system.

Eisenstein says “What we call recession, an earlier culture might have called ‘God abandoning the world.’ Money is disappearing, and with it another property of spirit: the animating force of the human realm. At this writing, all over the world machines stand idle. Factories have ground to a halt; construction equipment sits derelict in the yard; parks and libraries are closing; and millions go homeless and hungry while housing units stand vacant and food rots in the warehouses. Yet all the human and material inputs to build the houses, distribute the food, and run the factories still exist. It is rather something immaterial, that animating spirit, which has fled. What has fled is money. … so insubstantial (in the form of electrons in computers) that it can hardly be said to exist at all, yet so powerful that without it, human productivity grinds to a halt.”

Stoneleigh declares “Money is the lubricant in the economic engine and without enough of it that engine will seize up as it did in the 1930s, when farmers dumped milk they couldn’t sell into ditches while others were starving for want of the money to buy food. There was plenty of everything except money, and without money, one cannot connect buyers and sellers.” source

Note the “money in motion” circling arrows in Stoneleigh’s diagram below. When the amount of “money in motion” decreases, there is less “lubricant” to facilitate the economic engine. The circles constrict and decrease. There is little money in motion to facilitate even the most basic necessitites. Right now, as we undo the credit bubble there will become fewer and fewer of those circling arrows.

By opening the avenues to additional types of “lubricant” – money substitutes, currency alternatives, gift culture – we can, at the grassroots level, assure that transactions can still flow despite the restricting supply of “money in motion” i.e. conventional cash.

Expanding the supply

Different types of financial vehicles serve different purposes. Most of us don’t think about it very much, but some people do. (see Peak Moment YouTube video about the scarcity principles built into our US dollar system)

A local currency can be designed in such a way as to prevent hoarding, to instead encourage a greater flow of transactions within a local community. A time bank can become a vehicle which brings out the hidden talents or the undervalued efforts of its members. Each has an important role to play in bringing out a more complete panorama of community “wealth.”

Different financial vehicles will attract different pools of participants within your community. Your local sharing arrangements will attract individuals. Your local bartering systems will attract mostly individual households and proprietorship businesses, perhaps with greater emphasis on services than on goods. A local currency will work nicely for local businesses because it functions in predictable accounting units like the national currency.

But local currency isn’t for everyone. Hopkins et al spent a bit of time getting Totnes businesses interested in accepting their local currency, the Totnes pound. This action puzzled me. Then I realized that I was mentally applying the Totnes actions to my own (vastly different) neighborhood. When Totnes folks were encouraging their local businesses to embrace local currency, they were working with independently-owned local businesses. By contrast, in my neighborhood there are lots of chain stores where local currencies simply won’t work. Striving to get the chain store type of business involved in an alternative finance scheme is moving in entirely the wrong direction. We must recognize that the chain store is a doomed animal, if for no other reason than its dependence upon cheap consumer goods transported worldwide by cheap oil. As such, chain stores are not part of our safety net, and there is no need to figure out complex designs to fold them into our new, expanded financial structures.

A Transition community can easily begin to set up a diversity of financial vehicles. Which one should your community have? To share the wisdom of Vidya Chaitanya of Transition Mar Vista: a community may one day need all of these. Start with the one that feels easiest to do right now, given your community dynamics, your people resources, and your community needs.

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Listed from easiest/simplest to most complex:

Simple sharing arrangements

  • small-scale, easy-to-set-up, neighborhood-level sharing ideas.
  • Sharing arrangements might include carpooling networks or informal childcare co-op arrangements, pet care co-ops, elder care co-ops, etc. They may include garden sharing (you can piggyback on the established friend-finding network GrowFriend), tool sharing (example: Portland), neighborhood libraries (example: Los Angeles), book swaps, seed swaps (how to).
  • Group purchasing: You can buy in bulk, save money, and access better stuff. Small food co-ops (how to: Los Angeles EcoVillage). Group purchasing software BuyingClubSoftware.com
  • Simple sharing arrangements are a great entrance point into alternative finances, because they’re very easy to set up. They get community members accustomed to dealing with each other in a new way (outside of US dollar transactions), which can open the door for other financial vehicles. They can be fun and delightful in themselves, and grow the spirit of the community.
  • See The Sharing Solution by Emily Doskow and Janelle Orsi for great ideas. http://thesharingsolution.com/ and http://shareable.net/

Gift Circles

  • A gift circle is an open circle where people come to help each other, and share their needs and services. People share their services and help as a gift, without expectation of anything in return. The purpose of a gift circle is to allow people to help each other and to create a sense of community, and to further the gift economy. (See Eisenstein, page 37)
  • How to start a gift circle http://trustcurrency.blogspot.com/2010/10/how-to-start-gift-circle.html
  • In a discussion circle here in Los Angeles, the issue was raised of problems inherent in gift circles — someone giving too much and feeling taken advantage of, etc. The observation was made that these human-dynamics issues were really part of all human exchanges and interdependencies, but that in many ways the conventional money system with its built-in disconnection has allowed us to ignore these uncomfortable issues. That shifting to any of the more “alternative” models we have been discussing means facing these human-dynamics issues again.

Local bartering arrangements

  • Basic barter: a basic cash-free exchange. You walk my dog; I wash your car, transaction complete. Basic barter breaks down if you don’t have what I want: for instance I wash your car but I don’t have a dog for you to walk. It also breaks down if there is a significant valuation difference between the items being exchanged. Thus more sophisticated bartering quickly becomes necessary.
  • Time Banking: Time banking is a form of sophisticated barter. As you perform tasks within the community, you “bank” hours which you can spend on things within the community as a whole. I wash your car, you walk Mary’s dog, Mary bakes Ted a pie, and I trim Ted’s bushes. Within the system we are whole. Usually a computer is used to track the credits, but it can be done manually as well. Time banking is best for exchanging services; since the basic unit being exchanged is an “hour,” you have to invent a local protocol for when you try to exchange goods.
  • Time banking proprietary software is somewhat “plug and play,” but your community will incur an ongoing fee in U.S. currency. I hesitate to recommend this given the content of the Stoneleigh lecture. (note: Before you sign up with the U.S. proprietor of the Time Banking software, please do your homework and learn about the history of the company).
  • See a list of time banks in the greater Los Angeles area
  • Cities and larger communities might look into the regional work being done by Fourth Corner Exchange. www.fourthcornerexchange.com
  • In Ithaca, New York, they printed physical paper “Ithaca Hours” to exchange; their system has attributes of time banking and local currency, combined.
  • LETSystems (Local Economic Trading Systems) are very much like time banking, except that (1) the software is open source, thus potentially free to your community; and (2) the valuation of each credit is set by the individuals who are making the exchange transaction, thus there is much more flexibility.
  • For LETSystems see YouTube example from New Zealand , YouTube explanation from Asheville NC , article explanation.
  • Edgar Cahn’s book No More Throw Away People emphasizes how bartering systems can be used to reward and cultivate previously undervalued services within a community. Examples he gives are care for the elderly, neighborhood watch, volunteerism, and more. These jobs are necessary to make a community functional, yet our U.S. dollar system dismisses them without value. Neighborhood bartering networks are a chance to bring these necessary-yet-undervalued skills into the local economic sphere.
  • Time banks and LETSystems can become tools to ease mainstream people toward more of a “gift culture” mentality. One LETSYstem explanation said to think of it like “trading favors.” The goal of either LETS or time banking is that your account balance should hover around zero – close to “even” in giving and receiving favors within your community. It takes a passionate time bank coordinator – a cheerleader – to keep encouraging mainstream participants to use an unfamiliar system in Transition times. But this is what it takes to rebuild the fabric of social relationships and culture of reciprocity.
  • Older books by Edgar Cahn such as Time Dollars explain how LETS and time banking could be achieved without computers ‑‑ a very important criteria for some of our less affluent communities. (see my prior insights on “Diversity and Internet Connections”) Tracking can be done on paper, for instance with a passbook system akin to the banking passbooks which were prevalent in the 1960’s, and a periodically printed magazine-style directory.
  • Both time banking and LETSystems seem to require a dedicated “cheerleader” to keep the excitement going and keep the system feeling fresh, exciting, and new. Over a two year period in our Los Angeles area, we saw four time banks/LETSystems started, of which only two are still going. The ones with staying power have a driver – a cheerleader, plus in each case the local Transition group is using the time banking system to run their reskilling classes, which helps keep the system alive.

Other alternatives

  • The Peter North vision includes business-to-business exchange. A Google search for “business to business exchanges” pulled up several existing networks. I have not reviewed any of them, but as your community begins to need it, know that some networks do already exist.

Local currencies

  • Local currencies are perhaps the most high-profile of these suggestions. They gain the most press, they command attention, but they also represent a huge step up in both complexity of setup and cost to create and run. If your community is considering creating a local currency, please refer to Peter North’s Local Money to understand the foundational decisions you will need to make – including fiat, demurrage, security features, circulation, mutual credit, backed currencies — so that your currency will work well for the specific needs and issues of your community. My review of his book is here.
  • Creating Wealth: Growing local economies with local currencies, by Gwendolyn Hallsmith and Bernard Lietaer. Particularly the Appendix: “The Community Currency how-to model”

National currency / U.S. dollars

  • For managing those U.S. dollars that we do have, community banks are typically more in touch with the unique culture and needs of their local neighborhood. Hopkins and North don’t mention them because apparently community banks have vanished in the UK, but we still have a few here in the U.S. Find out if your neighborhood has one http://www.icba.org/consumer/BankLocator.cfm Support them, educate them, and fold them into your Transition activities.
  • Keep in mind, however, Stoneleigh’s cautions about the banking system. The repercussions of past banking practices will likely affect all banks, whether Big or local.
  • Learn more about the bank within the Mondragon cooperative complex and its unique policies and practices. https://sites.google.com/site/LAtransitionenterprise/project-updates/themondragonmodel
  • See more at Practical Tool #6 about community-based investments.