Category Archives: Community

Ivan Illich and the Coming Cultural Revolution

Ivan Illich

Do educational institutions make people stupid? Do medical institutions make people sick?

Such questions may at first glance seem preposterous, but they were raised in all seriousness a few decades ago by Ivan Illich, and strongly argued in his books, Deschooling Society (1971) and Medical Nemesis (1975). In both cases his arguments stem from his overarching belief that as institutions become too large and too centralized they end up doing the exact opposite of what they are intended to do. Over the subsequent decades, we’ve seen mounting evidence that Illich was correct in his assessments. In our attempts to improve efficiency, eliminate uncertainty, and get more done in less time, we have allowed everything to become too big, too rigid, too fast, and too centrally controlled. In the process the individual has become ever more helpless and alienated and more dependent on impersonal institutions that are being corrupted by their power and inherent conflicts of interest. As Illich argues, we have become slaves to our institutions and our myths about who we are and how the world works. George Bernard Shaw spoke similarly in declaring that all professions are “conspiracies against the laity.”

Ivan Illich (1926–2002) was a Catholic priest, theologian, philosopher, and social critic, who became famous in the 1970s and 80s, and although his fame may have faded a bit in recent years, his ideas and works have been, and remain highly influential and are now more relevant than ever. Notable in this regard are such resources as The International Journal of Illich Studies, the upcoming, The Philosophy of Ivan Illich: An 8-Week Course, being offered by Nina Power, PhD, and a brand new book by noted journalist and broadcaster, David Cayley, titled, Ivan Illich:An Intellectual Journey (2021).

Cayley has followed the work of Illich since the 1960s, and in 1989 he visited Penn State University where Illich was then teaching, to record a series of interviews that were then used in a five part series in Cayley’s Ideas program that aired on CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Company). That series titled, “Part Moon, Part Travelling Salesman: Conversations with Ivan Illich,” was comprised of one hour segments that included biographical information and comments about Illich and his ideas by others who knew him. The series is now available online and can be accessed here.

I became an instant admirer of Illich and his work in the early 1980s after reading both of the above mentioned books, as well as his prescriptive work, Tools for Conviviality (1973). In the latter he points out what Wikipedia calls “the institutionalization of specialized knowledge,” and “the dominant role of technocratic elites in industrial society.” Illich argues in favor of “appropriate technology” and the reacquisition of practical knowledge and simple tools that empower people and help to build community. In short, he calls for a general deinstitutionalization of society and a reconceptualization of what it means to be human.We have, by and large, internalized the belief that we are, in Illich’s words, “poor, sick and ignorant,” and in need of institutional services to remedy that situation.

In August of 1989 I had the honor of welcoming Illich to give a presentation at the 8th Assembly of the Fourth World and Decentralist Congress that was held in Toronto, Canada. As President at that time of the School of Living, the sponsoring organization, I served as moderator of the event which also included presentations by such insightful thinkers and activists as Leopold Kohr and John Papworth.  

Both Cayley and I have taken Illich’s insights to heart in our personal responses to the ongoing crisis of civilization and to its latest manifestation, the “pandemic” and official reactions to it. Cayley’s sentiments are expressed in his recent post, Concerning Life, in which he delves deeply into Iliich’s expressions of what the word “life” actually means and what Illich meant when he said that life has become “an idol” and “a fetish.” He and I seem to share the view that the concept of life has been distorted in the public mind as Christendom, and religious institutions in general, have tried to accommodate with a materialistic civilization that is now unraveling.

For me it comes down to this: Life is more than breath and pulse, flesh and blood, muscle and bone. The fear of death inhibits true life which is more than physical, it is spiritual– free, adventuresome, and spontaneous and open to unknown possibilities. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he said, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25). And this, from a more secular point of view states the same essential truth: Life is the destiny you are bound to refuse until you have consented to die. –W.H. Auden.

God grant that I might find the courage to push through my fear whenever it arises, to embrace my destiny, and choose to truly live.  

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How, Then, Shall We Live? — What we might learn from the Amish

I grew up in the 1940s and 50s, a time that I consider to be the Golden Age of prosperity and promise, a time when the middle-class was growing larger and more prosperous and it seemed that things would only continue to get better. It was a time when a family could manage quite nicely, as mine did, on a single modest income. My dad was a “debit agent” for a big mutual insurance company, selling life insurance and collecting the premiums from policy holders within his territory, or “debit.” On his modest income he was able to provide us with a nice home, put both my sister and me through college, and allow my mother to remain at home to take care of us kids, keep house, and prepare our meals as middle-class wives typically did in those days.

The social revolution of the 1960s and 70s brought some massive cultural changes, including the rise of the environmental, civil rights, human potential, feminist, gay-rights, back-to-the-land, and peace movements, along with a relaxation of sexual mores, a shift to more casual modes of dress, the hippies, the flower children, experimentation with psycho-active substances, and experiments in communal and cooperative living.

The leveling of class distinctions and income distributions that characterized the post-World War II era continued up until about 1980. Around that time many of those earlier trends seemed to run out of energy, and reactionary forces threw many of them into reverse. Notable among the latter has been the massive reversal of economic fortunes of the middle and lower classes. Despite huge increases in productivity and increased material abundance, class and wealth differences again began to increase and have by now reached unprecedented proportions. For most families, the income from one job is no longer sufficient.

But my purpose here is not to recapitulate the history of that era, nor to critique it, but simply to introduce the reader to a drastically different way of living that has been thriving for decades, if not centuries right alongside the high-tech, consumerist, debt-ridden rat-race that most of us are caught up in, and to suggest that there may be something important to be learned from the Amish as we try to reinvent civilization amidst the present intensifying chaos. 

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Given my interest in social justice, economic equity, personal freedom, intentional communities, and the social phenomena of the 60s and 70s, it is not surprising that I would discover Donald  Kraybill’s book, The Riddle of Amish Culture, which for me was an eye-opener that showed me a much different way in which people were able to thrive. That was sometime in the 1980s, the same time as my involvement with the School of Living which caused me to make frequent trips into Pennsylvania where School of Living headquarters were then located. Those trips took me through parts of the state where Amish farms and businesses were numerous.

Recently, as I was sorting through some of the many boxes containing my archives and personal records, I came across a photocopy of an article titled, Amish Economics by Gene Logsdon that appeared in the September-October 1986 issue of Community Service Newsletter. Rereading that article after so many years and in the present day context of social, economic and political upheaval, it struck me as being even more pertinent now as we struggle to reimagine how we ought to be living on this finite planet. I’ve scanned that article, converted it to a PDF file, and am making it available here for your edification.

In spite of what many consider to be their backward ways and their inclination to eschew much of modern technology, the Amish have managed to thrive both as a religious and social community as well as economically while many in the conventional world have struggled to survive. According to Wikipedia, “The Amish are among the fastest-growing populations in the world.” Between 1920 and 2019, the Amish population in the United States increased from about 5,000 to 350,000, and they have spread beyond Pennsylvania into many other states, notably Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, New York, and Michigan.

Now I am not advocating that we all live as the Amish do, but I think we might do well cultivate some of their attitudes about community and mutual support, and adopt some of their agricultural, land stewardship, and small business practices. Amish communities also enjoy certain freedoms from government policies and dictates because of their religious beliefs and practices.    

If you’d like to dig deeper into what the Amish might teach the rest of us, you can learn a lot from the links in this article and from the Amish Times.

Your comments on this article would be welcomed.

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My latest interview with Greg Magarshak

This discussion between Thomas H. Greco, Jr. and Intercoin founder Greg Magarshak covers a wide range of topics including the principles of sound currency issuance; mutual credit clearing; proper allocation of credit; the problems of centralized power, depression, and inflation; empowerment of small businesses and local communities; crypto-currencies; universal basic income (UBI), and more.  

Newsletter February 2021 — The Impending Failure of Wikipedia and other news

In this issue:

  • “Artificial Intelligence,” Bots, and Censorship: Why Wikipedia can no longer be trusted
  • Censored on Facebook
  • Consolidating and Preserving my Legacy
  • The Farm
  • Now, for your edification and amusement

Read it on my Mailchimp site.

Who’s Reset will it be?

The oligarchs, plutocrats, and technocrats have a plan for you. It’s been called the “New World Order,” and now, “The Great Reset” which is being promoted by the World Economic Forum. Despite their high sounding rhetoric, you and I will have no role in formulating this plan, rather it is self-elected “global leaders” who will “come together to design a common recovery path and shape the Great Reset.”

It is imperative the people around the world come together now to plan our own future, one that is based on our own common values, needs, and a shared vision of how humans can live in harmony with nature and with each other. One current initiative that intends to facilitate that effort is “The Greater Reset” which is upcoming starting Monday, January 25th and continuing through Friday, January 29th.

Our World. Our Way.

The Greater Reset Activation: January 25th – 29th, 2021

“The Greater Reset is the world’s collective response to the World Economic Forum’s Initiative: The Great Reset.

“We offer an alternative to the WEF’s top-down, centralized, authoritarian vision. Our desire is to help all people find community and liberty by providing practical steps and knowledge for co-creating a world that respects individual liberty, bodily autonomy, and choice. We invite you to join us for 5 days of discussion about the diverse opportunities available for those who seek to live in harmony with humanity and the planet, while respecting our innate freedom.”

You can get program details, and sign up for “The Greater Reset” at https://thegreaterreset.org/

Relocalization and Community Empowerment–How to get it done

You won’t want to miss this webinar with
GAYLE MCLAUGHLIN for a conversation on
How a Progressive Alliance Can Change Culture

Gayle McLaughlin was a two term Mayor of Richmond, CA and she is currently running for the Richmond City Council in 2020. Under her leadership as Mayor, Richmond increased the minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2008. Homicides were reduced by 70%, and the Richmond Chevron refinery was forced to pay $100 million dollars in additional taxes after a successful lawsuit that required payment for the environmental hazards and harm they caused to the community. She led the fight against foreclosures in Richmond. She co-founded the Richmond Progressive Alliance, which was the precursor to the California Progressive Alliance. As Mayor, she also oversaw the hiring of a new police chief who radically altered the police culture in their community by reorganizing the police force to one that worked with, instead against, the community. In 2016, she helped pass the first new rent control law to take effect in California in 30 years. Her book, Winning Richmond: How a Progressive Alliance Won City Hall, is available online. Gayle has never taken any corporate money in her campaigns and she has won every one thus far. Her enlightened leadership has altered Richmond but, as she says, there is much to be done to keep the progressive values and gains alive. Which is why she is running for the Richmond City Council again.

Gayle’s first book, Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money, and the Remaking of an American City, was published in 2017 with a foreword written by Bernie Sanders. In 2019, her political memoir, Winning Richmond: How a Progressive Alliance Won City Hall, is literally a how-to for radically changing city governments. In all of her campaigns for public office, she has never taken any money from corporations.

Friday, June 26 at 4:00 pm, Pacific Daylight Time.

Tickets: $20 General. * $15 for Praxis Members – Zoom link sent upon Registration. Click Here to Register. If you cannot afford a ticket or need a reduced fee, please Contact: info@praxispeace.org  

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“Everything’s up to date in Kansas City,” including free public transit

On December 5, the Kansas City council voted unanimously to make city bus routes fare-free. While the city’s light rail has been free for some time, fare-free service will now be extended to include all bus routes.

Well, it makes good sense, doesn’t it? At a time when income disparities are becoming ever more extreme, lower income people still need to get to work, and greater mobility has many benefits in terms of productivity and quality of life. Besides that, a shift toward mass transit has positive benefits for the environment. I, for one, hope that other cities will follow this example.

Read all about it at, Kansas City becomes first major American city with universal fare-free public transit.

 

How to get the job done!

Several months ago while hiking in Sabino Canyon near Tucson I noticed out of the corner of my eye something astonishing. Fortunately, I happened to have my phone with me so I recorded it. I’ve recently taught myself some video editing skills so now I am able to share the experience. The video below clearly shows what can be achieved when there is coordinated action working toward a common objective. Are humans as smart as ants?

A prime example of stigmergy

You can also find it on YouTube at https://youtu.be/Vg-8J72Jp-Y. Help it go viral.

Democratizing capitalism

Cutting Edge Capital’s Vice-President Brian Beckon provides a crash course on investing and community development, and describes how ordinary people can invest some of their savings in local profit-making ventures that conform to their values. The strategies being worked out by his firm are aimed at creating healthier, more resilient and self-reliant communities while enabling small investors to earn a share of the profits generated by businesses that they believe in and wish to support. Approaches like these are essential to building a more democratic and equitable economy. Listen here.

How to Bring Liquidity Into an Economy, Free of Interest, Inflation, and Boom and Bust Cycles

Abstract
Most economies suffer from a lack of liquidity, especially outside the large corporate and government sectors. This lack of means of payment (liquidity) is a fundamental cause of unemployment and failures of small and medium sized businesses (SMEs). It generally derives from flaws that are inherent in the centrally controlled systems of money and finance and the increasing indebtedness of both the private and public sectors. The surrender of monetary sovereignty by national governments to central banks, and to currency unions, such as the Euro, and their increasing indebtedness, as in  as in the case of Greece, have made it virtually impossible for their economies to thrive.

This article describes how domestic or community liquidity, i.e., means of payment, that enable the process of reciprocal exchange of value, can be created by various entities at various levels, from communities and business associations, to municipal governments and agencies, to national governments. The main obstacles to their implementation are not economic, but organizational and political, yet there is still considerable leeway within which the value of local production can be monetized in the form of circulating private currencies and trade credits created within associations of buyers and sellers. This article describes how that can be done.

Read the complete article here.

This subject was the main focus of my 2017 workshop in Greece.