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As you all know, I’ve added a layer to my sustainability cake: local food. I just posted a comment through the Young Farmer’s Coalition about a bill moving through the House that can help them flourish – and encourage all of you to do the same. Time is short: comment period ends May 19. Post here now.
Here’s what i wrote (second part their standard language)
Dear Chairman Lucas,
Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony to the House Committee on Agriculture on the next Farm Bill. My district representative is being copied on this testimony.
I have lived on Whidbey Island in Washington for 7 years and have eaten the fresh healthy food our farmers produce – even though the price is higher than the industrial farming outlets called grocery stores. Now I am writing a book about it called BLESSING THE HANDS THAT FEED US and, as a NY Times and Business Week best selling author of YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE, I have high hopes of my message going far and wide.
One part of my message is that we need a “Marshall Plan for Young Farmers” – meaning less than 2% of our population farms, the average age of farmers is nearly 60 and our national security and food safety depends on domestic food production. Young farmers face huge obstacles – I know because I feature some in my book. They need training, land and financial support:
* training in growing regionally appropriate crops and marketing them successfully… and this needs to be free or low cost.
* land, either that they own or have secure tenure on for enough years to merit their dedication.
* Mechanisms to level the $$ playing field between industrial and local/organic food; price supports, rebates, tax credits…
And those who choose to start small farms, sell at local markets, feed their regions fresh, affordable, accessible, organic and yummy food need to be our heroes and heroines.
As it’s estimated that 125,000 farmers will retire in the next five years, it’s absolutely critical that Farm Bill programs help citizens get started in this challenging field.
I ask that the Committee endorse all of the provisions of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act (H.R.3236), including:
*Mandatory funding for Individual Development Accounts at $5 million per year. This program helps new farmers raise capital to start farm businesses and is tested and proven by organizations like Practical Farmers of Iowa and the California Farmlink.
*Mandatory funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program at $25 million a year. This program funds essential education for new farmers around the country.
*Authorize a new microloan program, to enable young and beginning farmers to better access FSA loan programs.
*Revise FSA rules to make loan programs more accessible to more young and beginning farmers.
*Reaffirm the existing cost share differential for BFRs within EQIP. Also, reaffirm the advance payment option allowing beginning and socially disadvantaged producers to receive an advance payment for the project’s costs for purchasing materials or contracting services, but increase the limit on the advance payment from 30 percent to 50 percent of costs.
* Amend the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program (FRPP) to make farm viability part of the purpose of the program and to give discretionary authority to the eligible entities that implement the program to give priority to easements with an option to purchase at the agricultural use value, deals that transfer the land to beginning and farmers and ranchers, applicants with farm succession plans, and other similar mechanisms to maintain the affordability of protected land.
These and other provisions within the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act will help new growers succeed and I urge you to include them in the next Farm Bill.
Oi! (Hi in Portuguese)
Please join me for the Taste of Brazil learning journey in October. Inspired by my new book, Blessing the Hands that Feed Us (2013), I have asked a high-integrity eco-social tour company, Aoka, to co-host this trip to the country of my soul – Brazil – where we’ll see first hand the challenges and opportunities of feeding everyone fresh, organic, affordable and abundant food.
Why Brazil? Why not closer to home?
The best way to know your culture is to get outside it. You see around your blind spots. You see your assumptions for what they are.
Sao Paulo is a sophisticated, thriving sub-tropical city of nearly 20 million, with a few ultra rich and millions who live in warrens of homes built to no code except what works, powered by filched electricity and with dubious sewage. Yet everyone eats! And the city is known for exquisite and varied cuisine.
Don’t you wonder about this miracle of food? See the range of strategies, from small scale permaculture farms to ginormous distribution points for food to feed the city and nation, from fresh organic cuisine to traditional Brazilian, and you will understand food systems better than 99% of eaters.
We’ll learn about Fome Zero, the commitment to feeding the nation, about the MST, landless peasant communities that squatted on unused land and now farm it. We’ll learn about the global research project on Metropolitan agriculture – the fascinating study of how cities “metabolize” food, and how to do it better.
You’ll see behind the tourist façade to the dynamism of Brazil and meet with experts. Informed eaters will change the world – you’ll go home inspired and wanting to make a difference.
Why me and food?
Yes, I’m known for the best selling book, Your Money or Your Life, but local food and regional food systems is where my attention has landed. I just delivered the first draft of my new book, Blessing the Hands that Feed Us, to my publisher and I am so fired up about teaching about transforming our relationship with food.
Food is life. Food is also hope. I now believe we have a shot at regenerating our regional food systems for a healthy future. This trip is part of my work for the future. I want you to join me – in Brazil and in this growing food movement.
Do you want to come but need more information?
Here’s the website with details about each day of the trip.
Here’s a special email address for this trip firstname.lastname@example.org – if you want to come, but need a bit more information or have some concerns, email me and I’ll address everything. Don’t let anything stop you if you feel drawn to join us.
Here’s the email of the trip organizer, Daniel Contrucci email@example.com. Founder of Aoka, our award-winning eco-social tour company, he’s an exquisite soul and has combed Sao Paulo for the richest opportunities for learning. His English is perfect, so feel free to ask anything about what to expect.
About the cost. The trip is not a bare-bones, inexpensive journey. Brazil is an up and coming global power and the Real (their currency) is very strong. Don’t expect an exchange rate like Mexico 30 years ago! Rather, imagine a week in New York City, eating well, sleeping in nice hotels and having intensive learning experiences daily with experts.
Also, very important! Daniel can help you design side trips before or after our week together. Go to the Amazon. Go to some glorious beaches. Visit John of God. Feel the beat in Bahia. Tour Rio. Go to Iguassu Falls. Visit indigenous communities or meet with people in your field. Daniel would love to help you design the perfect trip.
The dates are October 7-14, 2012. I want to share this adventure with you.
What are you waiting for? Sign up before June 1 and received a $100 discount.
Tchau! (Bye) Beijos (Kisses) e abraços (hugs),
Boy do I have some great opportunities you can jump on, if you choose.
* Some are free,
* some expensive but worth it,
* some are simply a chance to celebratewith me.
The free one is my class as part of the Spring of Sustainability Shift Network Teleclass series. The expensive one is a fantastic learning journey to Brazil. The celebrations… okay, we’ll start with one. The rest – my new book, speaking engagements and comedy troupe – will be at the end.
Albert Einstein and me
You read that right. The Post Growth Institute selected the all-time top 100 contributors to a paradigm shift. No, I’m not there – but they also list the 100 honorable mentions, and there I sit, with Einstein as well as Michael Pollan, Jared Diamond and Jane Goodall. In your day-to-day-life of dreams and setbacks you can wonder if you are making any difference – or a difference big enough to matter. This honor gives me juice for the journey. It is a reflection of my decades long efforts to promote the simple idea of having “enough” at a material level so we can soar in our hearts and souls and service.
Join in on this lollapalooza of sustainability. What a line-up of the “greats” of this movement! You can join in for free through The Shift Network which produces tele-seminars with a global reach using the Maestroconference platform, what I call conference calls on steroids because you can raise your hand, take polls and get in small group discussions – all from your telephone.
[Click here] to learn more – and sign up.
My title is: Transforming Your Relationship with Food – and is based on a year plus of local eating experiments and now writing a book about it. This taste might be delicious enough, but if you want more, why not join me on the learning journey, Taste of Brazil. See below
Food! We eat daily. We depend on food. The well-being of future generations depends on how well we treat the soil and seeds, how well we utilize diminishing resources like water and fossil fuels, how active we are building thriving regional food systems. The future of food is up to all of us – yet we know so little about how food gets from field to fork. Come learn by exploring the food networks in one of the most populous sprawling cities in the world.
We’ll spend a packed, enlightening week in Sao Paulo and environs
The food system that feeds you is largely invisible. It is a logistical triumph, and it is more fragile than we care to know. We’ll pull back that Wizard of Oz screen and see how it works – from massive warehouses to well tended Permaculture farms – so you can understand it and see how to be involved in your life and community in assuring safer, healthier, affordable, regional food for all.
This trip will attract eco-tourism travelers, academics, activists, agriculturalists, advocate for policy shift – as well as eaters who want “a taste of Brazil”. The rich mix of participants alone will help us all learn.
If you are a student, you may be able to get academic credit for the learning journey through your institution. If you commit to inform and inspire your community through talks or events, you may be able to raise part of the money that way – either in sponsorships before or in your lectures later. If food and food systems is part of the big contribution you want to make to the world, perhaps a Kickstarter campaign could raise what you need from your networks. We’ll help you get really creative in offset the cost of this learning journey.
Blessing the Hands that Feed Us
You’ll notice a theme! I’ve turned my attention to local food – eating it, researching it, and writing about it. For me, working on food security, justice, sovereignty, accessibility, sanity, wholesomeness is the richest work I’ve done to date on sustainability. No longer trying to staunch the flow of resources out of the earth and into landfills via consumerism, I’m now working to literally change how we eat so that future generations can eat.
Eating closer to home means more vital local economies, healthier, fresher, more nourishing food and “relational eating” – caring about, investing in and ingesting of the communities we live in. relational eating is an act of belonging, not just eating anywhere food, anytime you want, bought in anonymous outlets that require nothing more from you than money. I’m almost done with the second draft of this book on shifting from being a consumer in the endless food-courts of the world to becoming an eater in a local food system. It’s due in 6 months and I have a shot at delivering a wonderfully human and useful book for eaters everywhere.
Follow my progress by liking the page on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BlessingTheHandsThatFeedUs. I’m posting links daily to the wealth of inspiring and hopeful articles I find as I write.
“Local food?” says Phyllis Wertzl my comic alter, a Jewish mother come to visit her daughter Rachel on Whidbey Island, “In New York all food is local. We go down to the street and it’s right there.”
If you aren’t on Whidbey you may not care about Comedy Island, my improv and sketch comedy troupe. I simply want you to know that people are laughing their heads off while we knock their socks off – quite a clean up job at the theater every time we perform. It’s feeding my soul and realizing a dream. I always wanted to be Lily Tomlin when I grew up. Throw in Whoopie Goldberg, Ana Devere Smith, Eve Ensler and Elaine May… Perhaps I’ll live long enough for that too.
I’ll be at Bard College in upstate New York to speak – along with dozens of luminaries of alternative economics – at the Strategies for a New Economy conference. It promises to be a transformational event. I hope you can join us – especially if you are on the East Coast and travel is not difficult.
Life is good – mine, yours, the whole enchilada
I’m grateful to be alive in these times, with friends and networks like you working along side me to leave this world in better shape than we found it. Boomers are the generation who thought we could stop the bomb, stop overshoot, replace toxics with love. It’s a bigger job than any of us imagined, but we have generations behind us to encourage us and generations ahead of us we can support to keep on with the work. Through studying local food systems – the ones that are growing up in the cracks of the sidewalk, not the industrial strength ones that are crumbling by their own weight – I am gaining hope for the future because I see it growing greener in front of my eyes.
It is a time of choice. In my book I suggest that at very least we each sprout seeds on our kitchen counters. The seed is the future. Seed, soil, sunlight and water = life. Be nourished by watching a small garden in a glass jar – and be nourished by eating them. From there, graduate to container gardens, backyard gardens, community gardens, school gardens, food bank gardens, market gardens… and pretty soon you’ll see the world growing. Enjoy this film – and then:
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Best to you
(and her finger puppets)
While this blog is called “Your Money or Your Life” I am migrating the core understanding of living your values financially to living your values through your eating – and I’m bringing you along. The book arising from the potters wheel of my mind is called Blessing the Hands that Feed Us. I have asked some of my local farmers featured in the book to answer questions about why they farm, even in the face of minimal net income.
As the answers roll in, I am more in love with them and my work as a “word farmer” – our motivations meet in love for the tangibles of earth and life and the intangibles of love and service.
In response to one farmer I wrote something rough but heartfelt and I wanted to share it:
“i don’t know if i told you that i am calling what i discovered “relational eating” – that eating is never a lone act, tho the industrial systems fosters that illusion. It is a relational act. Our food is connected to seed and soil, farm and farmer, forest and forager, and the living system, especially when we eat the food of our locale, food that breathes the same air we breathe. The industrial/commodity system hides all that like the glasses in the Emerald City and the tricks of the Wizard of Oz.
i learned from the YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE work that the consumer culture lives like a vampire, by breaking human bonds and sucking our vitality (to be terribly graphic). every bond broken engenders the loneliness and insufficiency that sends people into consumerism to fill non material needs. so it is with food. we are nourished without being related and it is fundamental insanity. i suspect “lone eating” and being nourished by processed and packaged food-like substances contributes to all food disorders, personal and systemic.
this appears to be up to the lone individuals to fix in their own lives, but it is not. it is up to us to change our collective approach to nourishment.
Another dynamic of the consumer culture: problems are systemic but our notion of freedom makes us believe our power is in personal solutions. While fine for the aware individual, it is disaster for all of us eating the output of the invisible grinding system, permitting the industrial/commodity approach to food to make problems we as individuals – believing in a false notion of freedom – must solve. Now the problems are multiplying so we the people are crazed with trying to know enough to fix ourselves.
I say reversing this dynamic starts with seed and soil and farmers like you joined by eaters like me who advocate for change, join organizations, build businesses, raise money, spend money locally, lobby, work for change, partner with farmers in every way, allowing them to grow our food while we grow their capacity to farm.
This is all relational eating. This is what i bow before and what my words are dedicated to – as well as the pure joy when the words are flowing and when i know my words have carried ideas across the chasm between my heart/mind and another’s – and inspired a shift in them as well.“
Here’s some reflections from my personal journey seeking – and finding – love.
It is St. Valentine’s day. He was a saint – a confirmed bachelor in love with the divine – who illegally married Christian couples. Risky business in his time. Is it an accident that Governor Christine Gregoire of my State, Washington, just signed into law the right of same sex couples to marry? Defending the right to celebrate romantic love in the face of repressive societies marches on. Saint Valentine, the near-myth goes, was beheaded. Opponents of same sex marriage are after Gregoire’s head too.
While today we celebrate Cupid’s arrows, I want to celebrate whatever might have inspired Valentine himself to the single life. We can’t consult him (if there was a him), so I’m free to riff on these other flavors of the open heart.
A long life and many loves have taught me that the heart simply wants to love. It’s actually indiscriminate – given it’s head, so to speak, the heart would pour out love in great effulgent song. In fact, music, drama, stories, art, dance all vibrate our hearts. We laugh, cry, hold our breath, worry and wonder as the stories unfold. We show up en masse to be moved in this way.
The heart without someone or something or somewhere to love ends up lonely and sad. We think we lack someone, but I think the lack is of a receptacle big enough to receive all we have to give.
I’ve noticed this with all my human loves. When they end, part of my grief is my heart’s confusion about where my love goes now. It shrinks back into its little hole in the chest and waits for another occasion to run out the door, arms flung wide.
Sometimes you encounter a love that lasts a lifetime – in your own coupling or seeing another’s. It’s sweet and tender from beginning to end. We all go to weddings and cry because our hearts recognize themselves in the willing mutual surrender – if only for a moment – to another fragile being. When our friends first fall in love, we congratulate them, sometimes squealing like teenagers whispering at their hall lockers. What is it that so loves love? That heart of our hearts that simply wants to pour out in wild abandon.
My heart – like yours – has been on a long journey. Since my partner of 27 years died, I’ve bumped along like so many confused people later in life, regressing to teenagers to run romance around the block one more time or pondering why they are alone. I’ve had some unforgettable experiences, and some I’ve resolutely forgotten. I developed an ideal that I call “bonded yet free.” Can one be both madly in love and wholly oneself? I think that’s a koan, not a blueprint, but my life isn’t over so I hold it as a possibility.
So much has been written about the expectations and projections and fears and pains of giving our hearts to romantic love. No need for more on that! Let’s move on to the singularity of love.
Over time I noticed that I was happy most of the time just being single, free to follow my intuitions and instincts.
Yet in a coupled society, be it straight or gay, my happiness as a single felt out of place.
About five years ago I found a book called Quirky Alone. It celebrated those of us who are so ourselves that even when we partner we are two quirkies getting it on. Still, “quirky alone” felt like having a chip on my shoulder in a coupled society. I often said in those days, “Anyone I partner with would actually have to make my life better and every day I like my life more so every day the bar goes up.” Did I really really mean it?
Here are some thoughts single people have in a coupled society:
Someday I’ll meet “the one”. I just have to… want it more… let go and let god… expunge my resentments from past relationships… resolve my issues with the parent of the opposite sex… be willing to surrender… to change… to let someone else lead…give up being Peter Pan and grow up… let love in… learn to ballroom dance or fish or scuba dive or ski… edit my profile on OK Cupid… get out more… lose weight… move to another city. You’re avoiding love… you have inner work to do that can only be done in a relationship… don’t give up… don’t settle… keep the faith.
Here are things friends say to single people: you’re just too smart… to accomplished… too self-centered…you want it too much… you don’t want it enough… well, if you lost 10 pounds… Don’t worry, someday you’ll meet someone!
I began to question what actually was wrong with being single? Especially at my age when there are no kids to raise. I wondered if my intermittent desires to partner arose precisely from the fact that most of my friends are coupled. Did I want to have a partner just so my coupled friends would think, “Let’s have the So-and-Sos over for dinner,” so I’d feel more normal. I started calling couples “Salt and Pepper Shakers” – at least the ones who always go around together.
Recently I found a book called Singleism about the social stigma of being single. It spoke to me so loud I thought someone would tell me to turn down the radio.
It confirmed what I’d begun to think. What if nothing was wrong with me? What if for whatever reason I am designed to be unattached to one person so I can live something deeply real about me: I love loving and I express that love through friends and communities. I receive friends into my heart and with some I can pour out my heart in a way I’ve never done in a romantic relationship. I see the needs of my beloved – friends, groups and communities I care about – and invest my creativity in finding ways to make life better for a wider circle. For several years after my partner died I prayed for someone to come and love me, support me, admire and adore me, to see me and want me and be there as I wobbled. Who doesn’t want that? The answer always came back: your singleness is precisely what I want from you. I want your longing to drive you not into couple-dom but into service.
I’m no saint (Valentine or Vicki) but I now see that single isn’t an exclusion from normal society nor is it a disease, an unfulfilled state, a failure to really love, a reflection of my selfishness or not measuring up. It’s not “quirky alone” even. It is a way of life that supports my soul. I love who I go to sleep with. I love who I wake up with. I love how my heart pours into writing and speaking and leading and friend-ing and creating and philosophizing and beauty and comedy and evolving in wisdom. I suspect that many people in long term relationships have – by my age – have evolved to this state of self-love and self-expression. Their marriages rest in companionship rather than rise in eroticism. Perhaps even some coupled people envy my singleness but loyalty and fear of reprisal keeps them mum about it.
Would I like to be fully met by another being who is also fully single, also wedded to him/herself. Always. Would I like some of the services of partnership, like help around the house and affection and a live-in playmate and support when my courage flags. Always. Can that happen outside romance? I’m beginning to think that for me it only happens outside romance.
So let me today celebrate this love in me, you and all of us. It is not incomplete, second-fiddle, sloppy seconds or almost ran. It is our nature. For me this is closer to agape than eros – I don’t want to turn these feelings into sex. Let me celebrate how juicy and sexy and sensual and delightful and freeing it is to be single without any background noise of “Don’t worry, some day you will meet someone.”
p.s. – did you know that “cupidity” means “covetousness, avidity, hunger, acquisitiveness”? Makes you wonder, no?
Today, looking at the tiny house on wheels a teenager on Whidbey is building got me thinking about the motorhome – the Ultimate Vehicle – I and my clan built in the early 70′s. A decade ago, sure I wasn’t going on the road again any time soon – I gave it to one of our dearest friends, Jason Weston. He sent these photos of it in the desert a few years ago – still fabulous after 40 years. If you are a builder/tinkerer and want to know more, you can comment.
Dear Friends far and wide!
As we round the bend into the touted yet mysterious 2012, I offer a small reflection and celebration.
The celebration: Day One of 2012, 20 years after publication of Your Money or Your Life, it is featured as one of USA Weekend’s 5 Personal Finance Books for 2012 you can bank on.
As the economy rocks, I’m glad so many people used – and will use – this program to get financially grounded so they can roll with the current punches.
For half a decade, reading the tea leaves of the economy, resources and climate, I’ve encouraged everyone I know to settle where they want to ride out the waves of seismic changes ahead. I have here on Whidbey Island.
- I wrote future fiction stories for books like Imagine and Hope Beneath Our Feet.
- Moving to Whidbey Island, launching Transition Whidbey (in the Transition Town model from the UK) and writing Blessing the Hands that Feed Us (Viking/Penguin 2013) all come out of this intuition unto conviction.
- In partnership with Aoka, I’ll be leading a sustainable food systems trip October 5-14 to Sao Paulo, Brazil (my second home) to learn about the vibrant food movement there. Stay tuned. Itinerary coming soon.
I’ve also served for several years on the Board of Transition US, working to catalyze communities around the country – hopefully hundreds more this year – to use the excellent Transition organizing approach to get their communities moving towards resilience.
Everything that calls me has a quality of “blessed if you do, blessed if you don’t” – if nothing untoward happens for a decade or two, all these endeavors bring me great joy.
Yes, I’m sort of Little Mary Sunshine of Doom and Gloom. As Leonard Cohen’s Anthem says:
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
Things are cracking. Let the sun shine in.
My community right now is grieving the death of a little girl on Christmas Day, crushed by a limb falling onto her family’s car. Another friend’s father just died. Another friend hangs on the edge. Occupy Wall Street is shaking things up, speaking for the millions falling off economic edges.
I have a sense that we will see more cracks in what was the smooth surface of a culture that thought we could grow and consume and borrow our way out of our problems. It won’t be bells tolling for others. The bells will ring in all our lives, calling us out of our comforts, cracking any illusions of predictability.
Helen Keller said, “Life is either a great adventure or it’s nothing.” The adventure is here and much depends now on our attitudes, on turning into the storms asking “what is possible now that this crack has opened?”
Much also depends on “loving the ones we’re with” – not just the people living with us, but living around and near us – your neighbors and towns-people – we used to rush past in pursuit of bigger dreams than our little local lives offer. When they say “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for” it means our local “we.” Who else could it be? Some work for justice, some for innovation, some for peace, some for security, some for art, some for the children. Let’s all now stop a moment and realize we are working together for our communities where we all belong.
A lot of quotes, but for me conventional wisdom seems more poignant now. It contains the wisdom of people of prior eras, people who actually were born, lived and died close to home. Maybe that’s why Your Money or Your Life is a top pick for 2012. It’s conventional wisdom, repackaged for our times.
I hope you will avail yourself of the tools of transitioning – there are so many! Transition US – and many more. I’m loving my local life, and eating has been a powerful way to express this love. I hope you enjoy the 100,000 word meal I’m preparing of ideas and stories and practices and promise that will be Blessing the Hands that Feed Us.
So I send you my very best wishes for a deeply happy 2012. Let’s hold hands and jump into it together.
Here are two beautiful meditations from our home, the earth and spirit.
I checked my old personal blog today and found this post from July 4, 2006. At the time I was working on a book about Freedom and Limits – working hard and in isolation and obviously wanting to leak some of it out! Still holds true. OWS is about limiting the 1%’s ability to play a winner takes all game. Not by wrenching money out of their pockets but by using democratic tools to change the conversation. It’s a challenge to freedom = money conversation. Enjoy this tasty morsel, flash from the past!
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
What *IS* Freedom Anyway? July 4, 2006
Death by Hyper-Freedom
July 4, 2006
This morning the coastal fog hugged my little village tight, the sunny feeling of blue skies, parades and expansive American freedom very far from our shores.
I love that sunny feeling. I love that most American part of myself: my optimistic, generous, can-do self. The world is my oyster… and I’ll share because there’s plenty.
But a fog has rolled in on freedom in America and before it rolls out for the day, yielding to sunshine, potlucks and parades, I want to reflect on the fog of self-centeredness, self-importance and overall self-ishness that now passes for freedom in America. Underneath the rhetoric, both on the streets and in the ‘halls of power’ you hear playground taunts. “It’s mine and I can do whatever I want with it. You can’t tell me what to do. I got here first and you can’t have it.” This bully freedom, entitlement freedom, numero-uno freedom has troubled me for a very long time. Almost as long as the can-do freedom, the generous freedom, the expansive, inventive, creative freedom has fueled my life.
I recently offered a workshop on freedom using one possible title for my upcoming book: If this is a free country, why don’t I feel free? Nobody signed up. Thankfully, I found it curious rather than devastating. One friend offered this explanation: “I don’t see that I have a freedom problem. What would I, or anyone, get from it?” In other words, he has real problems. Relationships. Food. Job. Aging. Money. Insecurity. Discrimination. Parents. Kids.
Actually, I think these are all freedom problems. Problems with the partial – and therefore devastating – current idea of freedom in America.
Here’s why. The very hallmark freedoms that permit the sunny version of America have now gone hyper because we’ve made anything that limits us the enemy of our freedom.
Limits, though, enable freedom. They shape and direct freedom. We all place boundaries to protect what we cherish and express what’s within us. Art, design, houses, games, marriages, markets, traffic, values are generated by limits. Rather than talk intelligently about limits, though, we rail against them. We want to grow without limit. And this hyper-freedom is killing us.
Competition in an open and free marketplace has become hyper-competition, a war of all against all. From pre-school to board rooms, the competition for the few seats at the wee table is fierce. As the wealth gap increases, the race to occupy the top 10% gets more ruthless. If you want your kid to go to Harvard rather than flip burgers, gotta start his education early. Like in the womb. Birth is way too late.
Choice has gone hyper too. From being able to select from a range of products rather than one state issued pair of shoes, we’ve entered the era of oppressive, obsessive choosing – picking the right cell phone, internet service provider, car, computer, cereal, investment, vacation and on and on. And who has the time – we have to work 2 jobs to afford it all.
Which brings me to time. From the freedom to work hard to get ahead we’ve gone to hyper-speed: 24/7/365. If you don’t keep pace, someone else, right behind you, will get ahead of you. The need to exceed the speed of those you are competing with has us sacrificing sleep to keep up. As John deGraaf, founder of TAKE BACK YOUR TIME, contends, we need time to care – to love, parent, learn, worship – and as a society we are not time friendly. Even activists suffer, urgently keeping pace with the train-wrecks of injustice, war, global warming and more.
Each individual’s freedom to have, do or be what we want has become hyper-individualism, a burdensome loneliness of people cut loose from community, who pay for connection by bonding with companies that don’t care about them, eschewing churches then going to workshops and therapists to simply be heard, losing first loves and not knowing where to find the next one. The up and coming household is single. With cat. Like mine.
How many of our relationship, food, job, aging, money, insecurity, etc. problems are rooted in this hyper-freedom world where the only way we know to feel free is to get away from what holds us. It is harder to bond today. Harder to stay bonded. Harder to have job security, harder to care for our bodies and families, harder to find love because the forces of dissolution – away – are so much stronger than the forces of connection. The ties that bind immediately pinch – and we move on. Studies show that loneliness and isolation lead to body and soul disease and early death. We treat the symptoms, but do not question this toxic freedom that convinces us all that to be free is to be on top, at choice, on the go and on our own.
Sustainability is certainly a freedom problem. How can we address overshoot – the condition we’ve been in since the mid-70’s of using up more of the earth’s resources than can be replenished – if we can’t tolerate the fact of limits. Hyper-freedom says we can just get away from problems: invent something new, farm in Siberia, live in space, live in a gated community, find a substitute source of fuel. How, pray tell, will we substitute for water. We are up against major limits and in total denial, and hyper-freedom is the major enabler.
No, it’s not a free country anymore. We are not free to rest, to eat good food, to hang out with people we love, slow down, live at a sane pace, feel secure in our communities without sending armies to our borders or distant lands to stop people before they come and get our good life.
Oh, except for our few holidays, like 4th of July. Today. Freedom day. And what are we celebrating again? I’ll celebrate freedom in America when we get off the hypers and settle down to being a decent kid on the big planetary block, working and playing well with others, valuing our souls and collectively setting some boundaries we collectively respect. Give me grown up liberty or I fear we are all choosing death by hyper-freedom.
p.s. later in the day after the fantastic picnic and parade
Today George Lakoff in the Boston Globe also wrote about the framing battle over freedom in America*. He, like me, counted the number of times…
“President Bush, in his second inaugural address, used “freedom,” “free,” and “liberty”… 49 times in 20 minutes. “Liberty” has become the watchword of the radical right. The right has taken over the use of these words as part of its appropriation of patriotism. Progressives must reclaim not merely the words “freedom” and “liberty,” but the ideas that made this a free country. To lose freedom is awful; to lose the idea of freedom would be worse.”
A political advisor yesterday, hearing me speak, said the “right” wins in the voting booth because of our uneasiness with “hyper-freedoms.” It stands for “law and order” (who wants lawlessness and disorder?), “safety” (who wants danger as a collective way of life?), “protection” (no one wants to be defenseless). Can you see how the conversation needs to shift to where we place our limits to get more of what we value, not freedom vs. limits? Yes we all have “family values.” How absurd to think “the left” wants a rootless, valueless, disconnected, dissolute America, but that’s how the “freedom” issue shows up.
We need to ask: “What values do we actually share here in America?” Answering that seriously will take real soul searching. Consumerism wins because it’s the one common good, or goods. Americans (so the myth goes) all want, deserve and have a right to more stuff. Don’t fence me in when I’m at the store!
But if we agree, for example, that good families are essential to a good society (as they always have been!), then we ask, “What are the qualities of good families that we want more of?” There’s a great conversation for you! Safety? Protection? Care for the young? Education in “knowing right from wrong”? Love? I am certain “left” and “right” would generate very similar lists. Then we ask, “What minimal limits must we collectively place on ourselves – through laws and culture – to get the good families we want? How do we win the ‘good family’ game?” Okay, we’re back to the debate, but with a lot of respectful conversation and shared understanding. We arrive someplace in the vicinty of families where there is love, stability and decency over time. So how do we get that? Well, now we’re into the very lively diversity that is America.
We need to get out of the debate with its dueling frames. We need to get into the respectful conversations about “what we hold dear” and “what limits we agree on to protect those essential goods.”
Lakoff is correct. The left has lost all the important marbles: freedom, values, morality, law, order, family. What’s left is not recapturing the flag, but questioning the game. We all want freedom, values, morality and such. How – through what permissions and prohibitions – will get us there… that’s actually the essence of the conversation that is democracy in America and in that conversation all the jingoistic, bombastic, ideological bullsh-t (left and right) will be as convincing as an Emperor who has no clothes.
Long time no post! I’m writing a new book about local food and am in steep learning and deep writing mode. But I am taking a break from the computer to attend the Slow Money Conferencing in San Francisco October 12-14 which brings my two fascinations – food and money – together. I’ll write more as the weeks go on about how food and money relate (not just cost!) and how my new book, Blessing the Hands that Feed You; Lessons from a 10-mile diet (Viking 2012) parallels the transformational tools in Your Money or Your Life.
I am super excited to be participating in the transformation of my local farming community while I eat the fresh, yummy food my farmers grow.
If you are near San Francisco, I hope to see you at this Slow Money conference and dream together over the years to come about regenerating our local food systems.