Insidious Screenism

SUBHEAD: The young are actually sold helplessness and hopelessness under the guise of independence and mastery.

By Jan Lumberg on 25 January 2015 for Culture Change -

Image above: How a group of boys play outside has changed dramatically in the last few generations. From original article.

"Screenism" -- it is pervasive except among the very, very young, the very old, and the nature-dwelling primitive. It began with television over one half century ago, for those who had time for hours of passive entertainment. It was also for the electronically babysat, and still is.

Except, now hand-held mobile telephones, "tablets," laptop and desktop computers are "essential," and billions of the most active people on the planet depend on them as well as upon digital technology in general.

Everyone but a Rip van Winkle knows that far more kinds of imagery than TV, along with maximized communicating and information manipulation, have taken over society and lifestyles.

Meanwhile, scientific warnings against children's using screens have gone largely unheeded. The objections center on child development and health, although concerns over radiation emitted are addressed separately by different kinds of scientists and advocates for children (and adults).

Before covering these issues, let us tell the story of intrusive, invasive technology mostly embraced by an unquestioning, consuming public not protected by government agencies or mainstream education.

Other kinds of technology were intruding on modern life when television became ubiquitous: cars, nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, and perhaps the most lasting: plastics.

Consumerism's role as the reason for modern economics (i.e., profiting) was cemented, and only abates minimally through recessions. It does not abate nor is threatened by alternative philosophies or lifestyles.

Yet, the critique of consumerism, television and the "Plastic Society" commenced and flowered in the 1960s not long after imposing technologies that pacified and minimized human-to-human interaction took hold.

In October, we discussed "globalization for an unprecedented number of technologically dependent humans"1
The role of high-tech disempowerment in health and sustainability I have increasingly sensed that mass consumption of high-tech communication devices mostly disempowers people, especially the young. This is because they have no memory of what was simply and easily used by previous generations rather sustainably. The young consumers of high-tech are actually sold helplessness and hopelessness under the guise of independence and mastery. The glamour of the advertising and corporate social pressure offers the false and unobtainable: a life without nature and its light and darkness, its warmth and cold, life and death, decay and rebirth.
"Hyper-connection equals isolation after all." - Roger Cohen, New York Times op-ed columnist writing "A Climate of Fear" on Oct. 27, 2014.
Let us now examine the "unintended consequences" of runaway technology. Or perhaps not: if you're not already living next to a cellphone tower, go ahead and do that if you believe that whatever today's generation of humans is doing is just fine and dandy -- even if our grandparents and all our ancestors led more natural, untainted lives.

Were they deprived, or is it us? Today's consumers seem to fail, by definition, to engage in self-reflection to the point of questioning out loud what is being promoted and foisted. Do we not have masters, if we can agree that most of us "lucky" to have jobs are slaving our lives away largely to be able to buy things? Is not the perfect slave the one who has unwittingly given over his or her mind?

Science as a tool of mega-corporations, as more and more of us know, is proving to be an incalculable disservice to humanity and nature.

 So is the innovative advent of most modern technological systems, as we see as evidence mounts. Mistakes, well-meaning or not, are always part of being human, but writ large and relentlessly perpetuated they cannot be ignored or excused indefinitely.

Examples are greenhouse gas emissions, the plastic plague, depletion of aquifers for agribusiness, paving paradise, ad nauseam.

I predict that Facebooks' founders, Henry Ford, Dupont's plastics inventors, and others will not go down in post-consumer history as heroes or geniuses but rather as overall misfortunes to everyone and everything.

The aftermath of technological "progress" is the growing need to reverse technological dehumanization.
Facebook and the like as an exclusion of direct human communication is not a positive development for humanity or for the natural world, when we absolutely depend on the natural world increasingly raped and receding. It does little good to state this on "Fakebook."

The medium is the message, and so the sound-bite message and simplistic graphic sloganeering for the short attention span must be vacuous or unreal. Similarly, attempting to spread truth and expose society's lies and scams via total reliance on the Internet is a distracting substitute for better organizing.

Many observers have pointed out the paradox of massive dependence on electricity-demanding gadgets and using jet fuel, to fight both the effect of those innovations and the system that places them above human value. Yet practices do not change, as we feel the need to graduate to better, faster technology.

Efficiency has increased almost exponentially in terms of the amount of information processed and the speed of processing it.

Big users benefit the most, such as the Pentagon and transnational corporations. Waste has increased similarly in terms of toxic junk for landfills and elsewhere, partly due to planned obsolescence in the cellphone and computer industries. The electric power demand for gadgets, equipment and appliances is massive and largely unquestioned.

What to do about our historic wasteful, toxic, and radioactive dilemma seems off-limits or unfathomable even to people who acknowledge the general dangers. But if we can begin to minimize dehumanization by technology by maximizing direct human communication, by strengthening family, community, and connection to pristine nature, we are on a path to reverse lethal trends such as climate destruction.

 In so doing we may also more successfully end and avert war, as well as reverse reckless "development," i.e., big-business assault on people and the environment for private profit and power.
Specifics for a safe path include radical conservation, permaculture, bicycle culture, sail transport, removing roads and other asphalt, resurrecting traditional skills, engaging in resistance to the corporate state's oppression, and fostering freedom of expression and creativity.

These are well-documented and nurtured, for a small minority so far. They are suppressed but irrepressible factors for sustainability, and they enjoy some popularity, exploration, and furtherance by many talented, devoted practitioners.

During this time of life-and-death struggle for a sustainable future, it is vital to question the basis of Western Civilization and "progress" based on growth and mass control.

 Without frank discussion of overpopulation, the realities of energy and petroleum, the demise of the consumer economy, questioning inequitable social relations, and grappling immediately with rapid climate change, it is possible that many activist efforts to ameliorate our situation and plight will remain too isolated -- despite electronic connectivity.

Unity beyond clicking, Tweeting and gazing must also be based on principles of seeing wealth not as money or property, and embracing what nature offers without over-manipulation.

This may make the difference for a mass movement to successfully strive for an evolved world consciousness.

To move forward, we will have to let go of certain conveniences that recently latched onto people's lives.

As we discover that agribusiness via petrochemical and mechanical intervention for short-term advantage is poisoning and weakening us, and as we learn that antibacterial soap, for example, is a negative for daily use, and as we learn that the medical industry and insurance are not the main key to individual healing and public health, we find we have really not deprived ourselves, nor romanticized the more natural or primitive past. Rather, we instead liberate ourselves and take more control over our lives.

The idea of a break with entrenched conventions and today's dehumanized system can be most daunting, as socioeconomic collapse invokes for many a fear of complete chaos, repression, strife and loss. But as society has almost consistently evaded reasonable planning and simple changes for general welfare and stability of the biosphere, TUC -- time of useful consciousness, the high-altitude pilots' concern whenever Murphy's Law appears -- is dwindling fast.

Yet, there are signs that questioning the force of popular technology is gaining ground. A New York Times op-ed recently posed a question in its headline: "Can Students Have Too Much Tech?" Writer Susan Pinker posits that the wired classroom may actually widen the learning gap.

In another example of a possible turning tide, a celebrity regularly "fasts" to break from computers and artificial connection one day each week.
Tiffany Shlain insists that her family, for one day each week, ditches their smartphones and tablets to indulge in a simpler life... to unplug, relax and reconnect with her humanity. In her mind, technology's enormous power for good is great, but it's also dangerous -- shortening our attention spans and sending our amygdalae into overdrive. She believes that it won't be long before people swing back the other way and fall back in love with wooden gadgets like her new ukulele.
It should be self-evident that the computerization of society, including the internet and cell phones, are mostly about profit and mass control. These global-warming pollution-boxes' usefulness for communicating radical or dissident ideas is secondary, and do not undo the damage done by computerization and constant "connectivity" on a global scale.

On balance, the information-access and communication enabled by computers and their infrastructure often help environmental campaigns, for example, but overall the polluters' ability to manage data and communications outweighs the ability to fight the polluters' destruction.

And how did computers and the internet ever ensure privacy, other than some activists' and whistleblowers' attempts to thwart encroachment on privacy? They have not. But a skilled techie responded to a draft for this essay with these points:
  • Why do you avoid talking about the great things Internet communications have done for the people and environment?
  • How about a realistic discussion of leveling the playing field with democratic Internet media?
  • Replacing the corporatist media.
  • Ad-free reader-supported media.
  • Public media (KQED, NPR, etc.) that is sponsored by Koch polluters, automobile corporations, etc.
  • Real-time coverage and global response to corporate and government crimes.
  • "Don’t watch the media, BE the media”
  • I say keep incessantly hitting the comment boards and social media accounts of corporate media and polluter corporations with alternative news links and calling them out on their corrupt activities.
  • This from a Tweeter with 17K tweets; the things you can do if one doesn’t waste time drinking and playing music. [editor's note: ironically, this respondent is also a fine musician with acoustic instruments and makes fabulous paintings and drawings.]
Good points, but it seems that at best we fight fire with fire when fully engaging in high tech and various machines made of toxic materials that burn electricity. To begin with, it would have been nice if the "unintended consequences" of technologies' proliferation and market-driven ethics had been throughly debated and subject to everyone's approval.

 Now we are left to wonder exactly how harmful cellphones, cellphone towers and wifi really are. The attempt to apply the precautionary principle and to inform consumers is met with industry clout to suppress any questioning or resistance.

Evidence pops up but is soon forgotten in the rush to sell, buy and use questionable technology: a widely reported story in 2007 was that "People should avoid using Wi-Fi wherever possible because of the risks it may pose to health, the German government has said." (Germany Warns Citizens to Avoid Using Wi-Fi, in on Sept. 28, 2007)

A few years ago the telecom industry pulled its lucrative convention from the City of San Francisco because of the rather mild local labeling law for any cellphones sold, because they emit heat or radiation (Specific Absorption Rates, or SARs). One might have passed this off as some mistaken paranoia on the part of excessive liberal politics.

But many governments, including Finland, Israel, Russia, China, France, Sweden and India recommend that children simply not use cellphones. Brain tumors and lowered sperm counts are high costs to pay for always being able to connect with a screen/pollution device.

Two medical science websites reported late last year that cellphone use presents a risk of brain tumors. The headlines:
"Brain Tumors And Cell Phone Use Found To Be Linked (Again)" from "A study has found that cell phone usage may be linked to a higher risk of developing glioma, a type of brain tumor that is often deadly." (12 Nov. 2014).
"Long-term Cell Phone Use Linked to Brain Tumor Risk" from Medscape: "Long-term use of both mobile and cordless phones is associated with an increased risk for glioma, the most common type of brain tumor, the latest research on the subject concludes. The analysis included 1498 cases of malignant brain tumors; the mean age was 52 years. Most patients (92%) had a diagnosis of glioma, and just over half of the gliomas (50.3%) were the most malignant variety — astrocytoma grade IV (glioblastoma multiforme). (13 Nov. 2014)
Studies that show cellphones and cellphone towers to be virtually harmless usually have industry backing. Cellphone towers are claimed to be safe compared to cellphones, but it cannot be denied that the towers spread the cellphone use. In 2012, Asian News International (ANI) reported via Yahoo News,
Doubts cast over "no cancer risk for kids using cell phones" (04/06/2012): "Scientists have raised doubts over a study published last year that did not succeed in finding a link between mobile phone use and brain tumours in children and teens. They have asserted that the study actually indicates that cell phone use more than doubles the risk of brain tumours in children and adolescents. The concerns come from the Environmental Health Trust, a group whose stated mission is to promote awareness of environmental issues they think can lead to cancer."

Perhaps more far-reaching than preventing consumer warnings, was that during the Clinton Administration, the construction of all cellphone towers was protected by a law that made any opposition by a community be based only on aesthetic objections, and never matters of health or environmental impact. Why was there such concern about what was being done by those doing it -- was it a kind of admission of suspected danger and damage?

Privacy objections are mounting, from the standpoint of how much watching is being done by powerful corporations. The New York Times ran the story "F.T.C. Says Internet-Connected Devices Pose Big Risks," by Natasha Singer who reported that "The agency said the devices, which make up the so-called Internet of Things, also raise serious security and privacy risks that could undermine consumers' confidence." This concern reveals that the main priority is for consumers to keep spending, not necessarily to protect health or encourage people to "plug in" with real human interaction.

Thanks to Edward Snowden and others, countless people now have an idea of how much surveillance is carried out by governments and contractors, whether legal, illegal, known or secret. But for the technologies and laws involved to be made more secure for the user, in terms of freedoms upheld, must the downsides of computerization and radiation-emitting connectivity, along with dehumanizing machine-linking via screens, remain unaddressed and ever more out of control?

"Good evidence suggests that screen viewing before age 2 has lasting negative effects on children’s language development, reading skills, and short term memory. Researchers at Princeton University reported that exposure to television during the first few years of life may be associated with poorer cognitive development... Use of technology under the age of 12 years is detrimental to child development and learning (Rowan 2010)" 


Into the Belly of the Beast

SUBHEAD: Kauai residents are heading to Basil and the world headquarters of pesticide company Syngenta.

By Gary Hooser on 19 April 2015 for HAPA -

Image above: Greenpeace puts banner titled 'Syngenta Pesicides Kill Bees!" on Syngenta headquarters in Basil, Switzerland. From (

[IB Publisher's note: HAPA is the Hawaiian Alliance for Progressive Action (]

Yes, myself and two other Kauai residents are heading this coming week to share our Kauai story with the people and government of Switzerland, home to the world headquarters of Syngenta.

Syngenta, you will remember, is the primary plaintiff presently suing the people and County of Kauai for the right to spray poisons next to our schools, hospitals and homes.

We are attending an international conference in Basel, Switzerland sponsored by organizations who share our concern with regards to the environmental and health harm caused from the actions of large transnational chemical companies.

Our hosts in Switzerland have also arranged for me to attend and speak briefly inside the actual Syngenta shareholders meeting.

I will have only a few minutes on the microphone and intend to tell Kauai's story and ask the Board and shareholders of Syngenta to withdraw from their lawsuit against Kauai County, honor the laws passed by our community, and provide Kauai County with the same respect and protections afforded to the people of Switzerland.

Syngenta is a Swiss corporation and many of the restricted use pesticides they apply regularly on Kauai are banned in Switzerland.  Atrazine, paraquat and 4 other highly toxic pesticides that Syngenta uses on Kauai are forbidden from use in their own country. 

Please help me carry a strong message to Syngenta from Kauai, from all Hawaii and from all over the world by signing this petition ( and sharing it with your friends and contacts.

I intend to present this petition and copies of all signatures, along with my formal statement directly to the Syngenta Board of Directors and shareholders.

Syngenta must know and understand that our movement and our commitment to protect the health and environment of our community is not going away, but rather only grows stronger every day. 

Please sign and share this petition (text below):

I join the residents of Kauai and support them in asking the government and people of Switzerland to instruct Syngenta, which is headquarted in Switzerland, to:
  1. Offer Kauai and all Hawaii the same respect and protections that are afforded to the residents of Switzerland.
  2. Stop spraying Atrazine, Paraquat and 4 other pesticide "active ingredients" which are banned in Switzerland but are sprayed by Syngenta on a regular basis next to and upwind from Kauai schools, hospitals and homes.
  3. Honor Kauai's laws as they honor the people and the laws of Switzerland. Ask Syngenta to drop their lawsuit against the people of Kauai over a democratically passed law (Bill 2491/Ordinance 960) that would establish pesticide buffer zones around the places we live and go to school. Ask them to stop using the courts to hide information about what they spray and to what they expose Kauai's people on a daily basis.
I stand with Kauai and all the people of Hawaii in asking the Swiss people and the Swiss government for their support.

Why sign the petition?

Syngenta, one of the world's largest chemical corporations, sprays tons of restricted use pesticides on the tiny island of Kauai - next to schools, hospitals, and homes. Many of these pesticides are banned in Switzerland, Syngenta's HQ. Show your support for Kauai by signing this petition!

Change They Don’t Believe In

SUBHEAD: The true genius of Hillary is that she manages to epitomize every failure of our current political life.

By James Kunstler on 20 April 2015 for -

Image above: Caricature of Hillary Clinton. From (

The unfortunate consequence of not allowing the process of “creative destruction” to occur in banking and Big Business is that the historic forces behind it will seek expression elsewhere in the realm of politics and governance. The desperate antics of central banks to cover up financial failure can’t help but provoke political upheaval, including war.

It’s a worldwide phenomenon and one result will be the crackup of economic relations — thought by many to be permanent — that we call “globalism.” The USA has suffered mightily from globalism, by which a bonanza of cheap “consumer” products made by Asian factory slaves has masked the degeneration of local economic vitality, family life, behavioral norms, and social cohesion.

That crackup is already underway in the currency wars aptly named by Jim Rickards, and you can bet that soon enough it will lead to the death of the 12,000-mile supply lines from China to WalMart — eventually to the death of WalMart itself (and everything like it). Another result will be the interruption of oil export supply lines.

The USA as currently engineered (no local economies, universal suburban sprawl, big box commerce, despotic agribiz) won’t survive these disruptions and one might also wonder whether our political institutions will survive.

The crop of 2016 White House aspirants shows no comprehension for the play of these forces and the field is ripe for epic disruption.

The prospect of another Clinton – Bush election contest is a perfect setup for the collapse of the two parties sponsoring them, ushering in a period of wild political turmoil. Just because you don’t see it this very moment, doesn’t mean it isn’t lurking on the margins.

This same moment (in history) the American thinking classes are lost in raptures of techno-wishfulness. They can imagine the glory of watching Fast and Furious 7 on a phone in a self-driving electric car, but they can’t imagine rebuilt local economies where citizens get to play both an economic and social role in their communities. They can trumpet the bionic engineering of artificial hamburger meat, but not careful, small-scale farming in which many hands can find work and meaning.

The true genius of Hillary is that she manages to epitomize every failure of our current political life: the obsessive micro-manipulation of image, the obscene moneygrubbing, the tired cronyism, the entitlement masquerading as sexual equality. Mostly, though, she has no idea where history is taking us, in case you’re wondering at the stupefying platitudes offered up as representative of her thinking. 

I’m not advocating for this gentleman, but it will at least be interesting to see Martin O’Malley jump into the race and call bullshit on her, which he will do, literally, because he has nothing to lose by doing it. The eunuchs on The New York Times Op Ed page certainly won’t do it.

What happens on the world financial scene will determine the flow of events up into the 2016 election. The built-up tensions and fragilities are begging for release. The defining instant might be Greece’s unwillingness to fork over another debt payment, or the death of the shale oil “miracle,” or some act by Saudi Arabia’s enemies, or some chain of exploding booby-traps in the shadow banking netherworld. 

The great surprise for America especially will be the recognition that our current living arrangements have no future. That’s the only thing that will prompt a new consensus to form around some alternate, more plausible future, and the emergence of a generation willing to fight for it, even if it requires some real creative destruction of the things that are killing us anyway.


Cooperatives, Collectives, Commons

SUBHEAD: Bank robber Enric Duran started the Catalan Integral Cooperative. An answer to predatory capitalism.

By Nathan Schneider on 7 April 2015 for Vice -

Image above: Enric Duran in Barcelona in 2013 accused of bank fraud of more than $500,000. From (

Being underground is not a condition Enric Duran always takes literally, but one night in late January he went from basement to basement. At a hackerspace under a tiny library just south of Paris, he met a group of activists from across France and then traveled with them by bus and Metro to another meeting place, in an old palace on the north end of the city. On the ground floor it felt like an art gallery, with white walls and sensitive acoustics, but the basement below was like a cave, full of costumes and scientific instruments and exposed masonry.

There, Duran arranged chairs in a circle for the dozen or so people who'd made the journey. As they were settling in and discussing which language they'd speak, a woman from upstairs, attending an event about open licenses, peeked in through the doorway. She pointed Duran out to her friend, trying, barely, to contain herself. After the meeting was over, she came right up to him. "You're the bank robber!" she said.

In that basement Duran held court. Slouching, the 38-year-old anticapitalist activist had a space between his two front teeth, grizzly hair, and a matching beard—black except for stray grays mixed in throughout. He wore a white sweatshirt. His presence was discreet and stilted, yet it carried authority in the room. While others made small talk he looked off elsewhere, but his attention became total as soon as the conversation turned to the matter on his mind and the opportunity to collaborate.

He had gathered the group to describe his latest undertaking, FairCoop, which gradually revealed itself to be no less than a whole new kind of global financial system. With it, he said, communities around the world would be able to trade, fund one another's growth, redistribute wealth, and make collective decisions.

They would hack currency markets to fund themselves while replacing competitive capitalism with cooperation. He proceeded to reel off the names of its sprawling component parts: FairMarket, FairCredits, Fairtoearth, the Global South Fund, and so on. "We will be able to make exchanges with no government controls," he promised in broken English. To get the project going, he had hijacked a Bitcoin-like cryptocurrency called FairCoin.

The French activists indulged him with questions based on whatever hazy grasp of it they could manage—some political, some technical. How does FairCoin relate to FairCredit? What can you buy in the FairMarket?

How many FairCoins go into each fund, and what are they for? Most of these came from the men, all more or less young, who stroked their chins as they listened. Most of the women left before it was over. Duran's voice was never other than monotone, but his responses nonetheless sang a kind of rhapsody. The answers to a lot of the various what-if questions were some variation of "We can decide."

The only reason that the group was willing to even consider this bewildering set of possibilities was that Duran was, in fact, a well-known bank robber—the man who expropriated several hundred thousand euros from Spanish banks during the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis, for which he was still in hiding from the law.

He had used the momentum from his heist to organize the Catalan Integral Cooperative, a network of cooperatives functioning throughout the region of Catalonia, in northeast Spain, which the activists in Paris were attempting to replicate throughout France. His undertakings tended to work. Perhaps even this.

Before robbing banks, Enric Duran networked. As a teenager he was a professional table-tennis player and helped restructure the Catalan competition circuit to be more equitable. He turned his attention toward larger injustices in his early 20s, when he read Erich Fromm's diagnosis of materialist society and Henry David Thoreau's call to disobedience.

This was the late 1990s, high times for what is alternately called the global-justice or anti-globalization movement. The Zapatistas had risen up in southern Mexico in recent years, and just weeks before Y2K, activists with limbs locked together and faces in masks shut down the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle.

According to Northeastern University anthropologist Jeffrey Juris, in Barcelona "Enric was at the center of organizing everything"—so much so that he became one of the main sources for Juris's book about network culture. People called him el hombre conectado.

Duran helped organize the Catalan contingent for protests at the 2000 World Bank and IMF meetings in Prague; a cop there whacked him on the head in the streets. He called for ending reliance on oil and for canceling the debts of poor countries. He was then living on a small allowance from his father, a pharmacist, until using the remainder of it to help set up a cooperative infoshop in Barcelona called Infospai in 2003.

He'd hoped to support himself with Infospai, but it was soon plagued with money problems, like the projects of so many activist groups around him. They needed new streams of revenue that capitalism was unlikely to provide.

Duran had been studying the nature of money, which he came to see as an instrument of global debt servitude on behalf of financial elites, carrying the stain of their usurious dealings wherever it went. He became convinced that big banks were the chief causes of injustice in the world. But, he thought, maybe they could be a solution too.

An entrepreneur friend of Duran's first suggested the idea of borrowing money from banks and not giving it back. At first they talked about organizing a mass action, involving many borrowers, or else just making a fictional film about it. After the friend died in a car accident, Duran decided to act by himself. In the fall of 2005 he began setting up companies on paper and applying for loans.

Soon, he had a mortgage from Caixa Terrassa worth €201,000 (then nearly $310,000). It was the first of 68 acts of borrowing, from car loans to credit cards, involving 39 banks. The loans, he said, totaled around €492,000—€360,000 not including interest and fees along the way. That was more than $500,000 at the time.

For almost three years, Duran worked steadily and methodically. "My strategy was completely systematic," he wrote in his testimony, Abolish the Banks, "as if my actions were part of an assembly line in a Fordist production system." He'd carry a briefcase to meetings with bankers, though he couldn't bring himself to wear a tie.

For a single item—say, a video camera—he'd get the same loan from multiple banks. As he acquired more cash, he funded groups around him that he knew and trusted. He backed the Degrowth March, a bicycle ride around Catalonia organized in opposition to the logic of economic growth, and equipped Infospai with a TV studio.

The beginning of the end came in the summer of 2007. Duran noticed signs of the mortgage crisis forming in the United States and decided that it was time to prepare to go public. During the next year, he assembled a collective to produce a newspaper detailing the evils of banks and what he had done to trick them. The people who helped organize the Degrowth March could become a ready-made distribution network throughout Catalonia. He selected a date: September 17, 2008.

The timing was pretty amazing. On September 15, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, marking beyond doubt the arrival of a global financial crisis. That morning Duran flew from Barcelona to Lisbon, Portugal, and then the next day from Lisbon to Sao Paulo, Brazil, where his friend Lirca was living. On the 17th—three years to the day before Occupy Wall Street protesters took over Zuccotti Park in New York—volunteers across Catalonia handed out 200,000 copies of his newspaper, Crisis.

Until the day before, most of them had no idea what news they'd be spreading. The international media picked up the story, and Duran became known as the Robin Hood of the banks.

He now refers to this as his "public action." All along he'd planned it that way—a spectacle, but one that would create networks and build momentum for other projects. "This is not the story of one action," he said. "It is a process of building an alternative economic system."

In Brazil, Duran set up a website for supporters to discuss the next move. At first, the plan was to mount a mass debt strike. People around the world started organizing to renege on their loans, but the scale of participation necessary to hurt the banks seemed overwhelming, and the plan was scuttled. In the last months of 2008, Duran, Lirca, and their friends pivoted toward another proposal—the Integral Cooperative and, eventually, the Integral Revolution.

Like the bank action, the idea was both political and practical. Duran had financial difficulties with Infospai, but it also taught him that there were certain benefits to organizing as a cooperative. The Spanish government normally exacts a hefty self-employment tax for independent workers—on the order of about $315 per month, plus a percentage of income—but if one can claim one's work as taking place within a cooperative, the tax doesn't apply.

Amid the cascading crisis, people were losing their jobs, and the tax made it hard for them to pick up gigs on the side to get by—unless they were willing to join together as a cooperative. Duran wasn't planning a traditional cooperative business, owned and operated by its workers or by those who use its services.

Instead he wanted to create an umbrella under which people could live and work on their own terms, in all sorts of ways. The idea was to help people out and radicalize them at the same time. The rich use tax loopholes to secure their dominance; now anticapitalists could do the same.

The group chose the word integral, which means "whole wheat" in Spanish and Catalan, to connote the totality, synthesis, and variety of the project. It emboldened Duran, and he began making promises of his return to Catalonia. He devoted much of the remaining money from his loans to a second newspaper, We Can! While Crisis had focused on the problems of the banking system, We Can! would be about solutions. The cover declared, "We can live without capitalism. We can be the change that we want!" It outlined the vision Duran and his friends had been developing for an Integral Cooperative.

On March 17, 2009, exactly six months after Crisis, 350,000 copies of We Can! appeared throughout Spain. The same day, Duran surfaced on the campus of the University of Barcelona, and he was promptly arrested. Several banks had filed complaints against him. The Spanish prosecutor called for an eight-year prison sentence.

Duran was thrown into jail, but he went free two months later, after an anonymous donor posted his bail. Thus began almost four years of freedom and organizing with his friends. They made sure to set up the cooperative legal structure at the outset, so that the tax benefits could draw people into the system. Then the priority was to arrange for necessities: food from farmers, housing in squats and communes, health care by natural and affordable means. By early 2010 the Catalan Integral Cooperative (CIC) was real, with commissions and monthly assemblies.

The following year, when the 15M movement, a precursor to Occupy Wall Street, installed itself in city squares across Spain to rail against austerity and corruption, protesters swelled the CIC's ranks. Replica cooperatives began to emerge in other regions of Spain and in France. None of the money from Duran's loans actually went to forming it, but it grew with his notoriety, his networks, and his fervid activity.

Image above: Rooftop garden at the headquarters of the Catalan Integral Cooperative. From original article.

A few blocks from Antoni Gaudi's ever-unfinished basilica, the Sagrada Familia, sits Aurea Social, a three-story former health spa that has served as the Barcelona headquarters of the CIC (pronounced "seek") since February 2012.

Past the sliding glass doors and the reception desk is a hallway where products made by members are on display—soaps, children's clothes, wooden toys and bird feeders, a solar-powered reflective cooker. There are brochures for Espai de l'Harmonia, a hostel and wellness center, where one can receive Reiki treatments or take aikido lessons. Beyond, there is a small library, a Bitcoin ATM, and offices used by some of the 75 people who receive stipends for the work they do to keep the CIC running.

On certain days, Aurea Social hosts a market with produce fresh from the Catalan Supply Center—the distribution warehouse in a town an hour or so to the south, which provides this and the cooperative's other markets throughout the region with about 4,500 pounds of goods each month, most of which come from the cooperative's farmers and producers.

Each of the enterprises advertised at Aurea Social operate more or less independently while being, to varying degrees, linked to the CIC. At last count, the CIC consisted of 674 different projects spread across Catalonia, with 954 people working on them.

The CIC provides these projects a legal umbrella, as far as taxes and incorporation are concerned, and their members trade with one another using their own social currency, called ecos. They share health workers, legal experts, software developers, scientists, and babysitters. They finance one another with the CIC's $438,000 annual budget, a crowdfunding platform, and an interest-free investment bank called Casx. (In Catalan, x makes an sh sound.)

To be part of the CIC, projects need to be managed by consensus and to follow certain basic principles like transparency and sustainability. Once the assembly admits a new project, its income runs through the CIC accounting office, where a portion goes toward funding the shared infrastructure. Any participant can benefit from the services and help decide how the common pool is used.

Image above: Espai de l'Harmonia, a CIC-affiliated hostel and wellness center. From original article.

Affiliates can choose to live in an affiliated block of apartments in Barcelona, or at Lung Ta, a farming commune with tepees and yurts and stone circles and horses, where residents organize themselves into "families" according to their alignments with respect to Mayan astrology. Others move to Calafou, a "postcapitalist ecoindustrial colony" in the ruins of a century-old factory town, which Duran and a few others purchased after he found it for sale on the internet. (Further details about Calafou cannot appear here because VICE does not publish under an open license, a requirement the colony's assembly has for press wishing to cover it.)

Not far from there, a group of anarchists runs a bar and a screen-printing studio in a building that once belonged to the CNT, the anarcho-syndicalist union that ran collectivized factories and militias during the civil war of the 1930s, orchestrating what is almost assuredly the modern world's largest experiment in functional anarchy.

Like the CNT, the CIC is making a new world in the shell of the old—so the utopian mantra goes—and, to a degree that is not at all utopian, creating livelihoods for themselves in a place where livelihoods are not at all easy to come by.

For years now Spain has been sunk in a perpetual downturn, with an unemployment rate exceeding 20 percent for the general population and hovering around 50 percent for those under 25. The exasperation has given rise to Podemos, a new populist political party that opposes austerity policies and is poised to displace the establishment. But the less-noticed side of this uprising is movements like the CIC, working closer to the ground and reshaping the structure of everyday life.

The office of the CIC's five-member Economic Commission, on the first floor of Aurea Social, doesn't look like the usual accounting office. A flock of paper birds hanging from the ceiling flies toward the whiteboard, which covers one wall and reads, "All you need is love."

The opposite wall is covered with art made by children. The staff members' computers run an open-source Linux operating system and the custom software that the IT Commission developed for them, which they use to process the incomes of the CIC's cooperative projects, handle the payment of dues, and disperse the remainder back to project members upon request.

If the taxman ever comes to CIC members, there's a script: They say that they're volunteers for a cooperative, and then point him in the direction of the Economic Commission, which can provide the proper documentation. (Officially, there is no such thing as the CIC; it operates through a series of legal entities, which also makes it less dependent on any one of them.)

Insiders refer to their system, and the tax benefits that go with it, as "fiscal disobedience," or "juridical forms," or simply "the tool."

Accounting takes place both in euros and in ecos, the CIC's native currency.

Ecos are not a high-tech cryptocurrency like Bitcoin but a simple mutual-credit network. While the idea for Bitcoin is to consign transactions entirely to software, bypassing the perceived risk of trusting central authorities and flawed human beings, ecos depend on a community of people who trust one another fully.

Anybody with one of the more than 2,200 accounts can log in to the web interface of the Community Exchange System, see everyone else's balances, and transfer ecos from one account to another. The measure of wealth, too, is upside down. It's not frowned upon to have a low balance or to be a bit in debt; the trouble is when someone's balance ventures too far from zero in either direction and stays there. Because interest is nonexistent, having lots of ecos sitting around won't do any good.

Creditworthiness in the system comes not from accumulating but from use and achieving a balance of contribution and consumption.

The CIC's answer to the Federal Reserve is the Social Currency Monitoring Commission, whose job it is to contact members not making many transactions and to help them figure out how they can meet more of their needs within the system. If someone wants pants, say, and she can't buy any in ecos nearby, she can try to persuade a local tailor to accept them.

But the tailor, in turn, will accept ecos only to the extent that he, too, can get something he needs with ecos. It's a process of assembling an economy like a puzzle. The currency is not just a medium of exchange; it's a measure of the CIC's independence from capitalism.

A word one often hears around the CIC is autogestió. People use it with an affection similar to the way Americans talk about "self-sufficiency," but without the screw-everyone-else cowboy individualism. They translate it as "self-management," though what they mean is more community than self. It's like what used to be called commoning—the sharing of common resources, like a forest nobody owns, or the air.

This kind of ethic is more cherished in the CIC than any particular legal loophole; the tax benefits just draw people in. The more they can self-manage how they eat, sleep, learn, and work, the closer the Integral Revolution has come.

From project to project, the CIC enterprises and their respective members seem to bear an uncanny resemblance, the way dog owners are said to look like their pets. These are the projects they created, not just a job they happened to get, and it shows. To make a new economy, you need all kinds.

One of the feats of integration that the CIC has managed to accomplish among Barcelona's subcultures is the relatively peaceful coexistence of two opposing identity types, the punks and the hippies. They stay separate but in a way that's mutually supportive.

Didac Costa is unapologetically a hippie; he claims the label in a way that's a bit cringe-inducing in American English. Lately, he has been planning a new CIC-affiliated commune, temporarily code-named Walden Bas, after Thoreau's pond and an old local word for forest. The land he's in the process of buying is a rugged mountainside, with the ruins of a few old stone farm buildings mostly reclaimed by vegetation.

He showed me around like a well-worn Sherpa, explaining his plans for where everything will be—from the swimming hole to the Wi-Fi antenna—with such familiarity and exactitude as if they were things of the past that had come and gone. This is where he said he wants to end up for good.

A "non-dogmatic libertarian," sociologist, and spiritualist, Costa bears an imposing, circumspect presence, honed by ayahuasca sessions with Brazilian shamans and the marijuana he keeps in a tall tequila tin. His enthusiasms come with references to thick books, though he does not consider himself above spending a week digging in the mud to make a few feet of road by the ruins he not yet owns; he claims to relish it as meditation. At 39, he is a few years younger than his graying head of curly, chin-length Catalan hair and the dark crevices around his eyes suggest.

Image above: Didan Costa. From original article.

Before the CIC, Costa was already using social currencies. He studied them for a few years in Argentina and Brazil, then came back and started one in the Catalan town of Montseny. (It began on January 4, 2009, the day after Bitcoin came online.) He already knew Duran from some abortive "crazy project" involving a boat full of hippies that was supposed to sail from Brazil to India.

But after Duran got out of jail, the two started collaborating in earnest. By late 2009, preparing for what would become the CIC, they met with people in the Tarragona region who had started another independent social-currency network. They decided to link their currencies to a common system.

Now, at least 20 local social-currency networks throughout Catalonia are connected through the CIC.

Costa helped start Calafou in 2011. He settled there, but he soon found that he didn't get along with the acrimonious punks who came to dominate the colony. In contrast, his planned eco-village will be hippie to the core: music festivals, Rainbow Gatherings, ayahuasca, yurts, yoga, Vipassana meditation. Financing has been tricky, especially since he lost 80 Bitcoins—around $20,000—to a hack of the Bitstamp exchange in January. He calls Duran his financial adviser, and they talk regularly. While he waits to close the deal on the land, he lives in an apartment close by, where he can watch it, visit it, and draw up plans.

About an hour's drive east toward the coast, one of the CIC's chief punks lives in a tiny medieval town with a death-metal name, Ultramort. Raquel Benedicto often wears a black Clockwork Orange hoodie and has dyed-red hair. There are rings all over her ears. Her nose is pierced at the bridge and septum, though the piercings are not always in use anymore. She has to avoid street protests, because when cops attack her she fights back, and she can't risk that now that she's a mother.

With her brother, recently returned from years of food service and surfing in the British Isles, she started the town's only restaurant, Restaurant Terra, at the end of 2014. It is a CIC project through and through: Meals can be paid for in ecos, and it regularly plays host to regional assemblies. Members of the local forestry cooperative, which uses a donkey to help carry away logs, come to her for their pay. In the back, Benedicto is also starting a school for local kids, including her three-year-old son, Roc.

Benedicto met Duran during the 15M movement's occupation in 2011. She was already pissed off, but he showed her something to do with it—"something real," she said. She began working with the CIC in the Welcome Commission, learning the Integral logic by teaching others, and by talking as much as she could with Duran.

Soon, she was on the Coordination Commission, the group that orchestrates the assemblies and helps the other commissions collaborate better. But that work has been burning her out, and she's been trying to step down to focus on running the restaurant. "I'm starting to do what I want, finally," she told me.

At the same time, she has been working to spread more of the CIC's operations out from Aurea Social in Barcelona to local assemblies throughout the region. Duran and Benedicto are often in touch about this sort of thing, but she has to be careful. The police once took her phone, and they've interrogated her friends about his whereabouts. She keeps her phone away when she talks about him and encrypts her email. Benedicto is one of the people who keep the CIC running in Duran's absence, who make it no longer need him.

At the end of January, the CIC held its annual weekend-long assembly, devoted to planning the coming year's budget. Sixty or so people sat in a circle in Aurea Social's large back room, with spreadsheets projected above them. A woman breast-fed in the back, while semi-supervised older children had the run of the rest of the building.

Benedicto took notes on her Linux-loaded laptop as debates came and went about how to reorganize the commissions more effectively, about who would get paid and how. That weekend they also decided to end EcoBasic, a cautious hybrid currency backed by euros that the CIC had been using—a decision that brought them one step away from fiat money and closer to pure social currency.

In the fatigue and frustration of it all, one could be forgiven for failing to appreciate the basic miracle that this many people, in an organization this size, were making detailed and consequential decisions by consensus.

Over the minutiae, too, hung the looming prospect that whatever local decisions they made were part of a model for something bigger. During an argument about whether Zapatista coffee constituted a basic need, a web developer in the assembly was quietly writing an encrypted email to Duran about changes to the FairCoin website, the public face of the CIC's new planetary stepchild. Most people there at least knew about it, but only a few were ready yet to let it distract them from their particular projects.

"Enric thinks about something and everybody starts to tremble," Benedicto told me during a break. "No, no—we've got a lot of stuff to do, and now you want to do that, really?"

In France, Duran fills his days and nights with as much activity on behalf of Integralism as his underground condition allows. He is out and about, passing police officers on the street without a flinch, changing where he lives and works from time to time in order not to be found too easily. He shares his whereabouts on a need-to-know basis.

Perhaps the strangest thing about his daily existence is its steadiness, and the absence of apparent anxiety or self-doubt about the scale of his ambition. "I feel that I have these capacities," he told me.

One overcast day in Paris, following an afternoon meeting with a developer working on the FairMarket website, Duran set off to one of the hackerspaces he frequents, one whose Wi-Fi configuration he knew would let him send email over a VPN, which obscures one's location. He was sending an update to the more than 10,000 people on his mailing list. After that was done, he went to meet with a French credit-union expert at the office of a think tank. Her abrasiveness and skepticism about FairCoop didn't faze him in the least.

Although the discussion seemed to go nowhere, his only thought afterward was about how best to put her networks to use. At around midnight, he introduced FairCoop to the heads of a sharing-economy association in the back of their co-working space. In order to continue the conversation later, he showed them how to use a secure chat program.

Following the cryptography lesson, he went back to an Airbnb apartment and sat down with his computer. There he worked until 4:30 in the morning—intensely focused, eating the occasional cookie, smiling every now and then at whatever email or forum thread had his attention, and typing back by hunt-and-peck.

All day and all night, a second laptop in the room emitted a glow as the FairCoin wallet program ran on it, helping to keep the currency's decentralized network secure. He sleeps four or five hours, usually. No cigarettes, no coffee, rarely any beer. He's not a cook. He makes one want to care for him like a mother.

Duran is currently attempting his third great hack. The first was the "public action"—hacking the financial system to benefit activists. The second was the CIC and its "fiscal disobedience"—hacking the legal system to invent a new kind of cooperative. The third is FairCoop—hacking a currency to fund a global financial system. Like the second, the third was born in the underground.

Duran's trial had been slated to begin at last in February 2013. By that time, it didn't seem like it would be much of a trial at all. None of the defense's proposed witnesses had been approved to testify; the authorities did not want the courtroom to become a stage for political theater.

A few days before the first proceedings, Duran went underground again. (The English word he uses for his condition is "clandestinity.") At first he shut himself away in a house in Catalonia, but when that became too restrictive, he left for France, where he'd be farther from the Spanish police and less recognizable in public.

With not much else to do, he began learning all he could about cryptocurrencies—the new species of online money of which Bitcoin was only the first and most widespread. Cryptographic math makes it possible to record transactions on a shared network that relies on no government or central bank. Friends of his had already been building Bitcoin-related software. In its infancy, Calafou was once known as a center of Bitcoin development. In early 2013 Bitcoin was beginning its rapid ascent from near worthlessness to a peak of more than $1,200 per unit.

Early adopters became rich out of nowhere. Duran noticed the market-adulating individualism that tended to pervade the cryptocurrency scene and wondered whether the technology could be used for better ends. "I was thinking about how to hack something like this to fund the Integral Revolution," he recalled.

Among the hundreds of Bitcoin clones out there, each with its particular tweaks to the code, Duran found FairCoin. "This is a good name," he thought to himself. Part of what supposedly made FairCoin fair was that it didn't rely on Bitcoin's proof-of-work algorithm, which rewards "miners" who have warehouses full of machines that do nothing but guzzle electricity and churn out math.

Instead, FairCoins were distributed with what seemed like a spirit of fairness. The original developer gave them to whoever wanted them when the system went online in March 2014. But the whole thing may also have been a scam; the currency went through a quick boom-and-bust cycle, after which the developer disappeared, presumably with a lot of money.

The value of FairCoin peaked on April 15 last year at a nearly $1 million market cap. Halfway through its subsequent free fall, on April 21, Duran made an announcement on the FairCoin forum thread and on Reddit: He had begun buying FairCoins.

"Building the success of FairCoin should be something collective," he wrote. "FairCoin should become the coin of fair trade." Between April and September, Duran used the stash of Bitcoins he'd been living on to buy around 10 million FairCoins—20 percent of the entire supply.

For most of that time, the coin was close to worthless, abandoned by its community. With a small team behind them, Duran set about buying and planning, while Thomas König, a web developer in Austria, tweaked the code, fixing security problems. They began experimenting with ways to replace the competitive mechanisms FairCoin had inherited from Bitcoin with more cooperative ones designed to fit into the FairCoop structure. By the end of September, CIC members started to invest in FairCoins, and the value shot up again to 15 times what it had been while Duran was buying them in the summer.

Just as the CIC is much more than its patchwork of local currencies, FairCoop is much more than FairCoin. Duran intends FairCoop to be a financial network for cooperatives, governed by its participants. They can sell their products in the FairMarket, trade with one another using FairCredit, and finance their growth with FairFunding. They can buy in at and cash out with It is to be for the whole world what the CIC is in Catalonia.

He has laid out the beginnings of a structure, in the shape of a tree—councils and commissions, markets and exchanges, each seeded with FairCoins. One fund's job is to build software for the ecosystem, while another's is to redistribute wealth to the Global South. Bolstered by a $13,800 grant from the cosmetics maker Lush, thanks to a friend from his global-justice days, Duran is spending every waking hour enlisting everyone he knows to help make FairCoop something useful for post-capitalists everywhere.

What could make the hack actually work is its combination of the coin and the community. The more that local cooperatives become part of the network and use its tools, the more FairCoins will be worth in cryptocurrency markets, where wide adoption helps make a coin valuable. To build the community, therefore, is simultaneously to finance it. If the price of FairCoins were to reach the price of Bitcoins now, for instance, Duran's initial investment would be worth more than $2 billion.

Then again, cryptocurrencies can siphon away value as quickly as they can create it; Bitcoin has been shedding its dollar price for more than a year now, down to around a fifth of its peak—a loss that could be devastating to a fragile cooperative that might want to invest in FairCoin. But the idea is that FairCoop's success won't be staked entirely on FairCoin.

Duran doesn't see the currency as the kind of salvific software that tech culture trains us to expect, one that will correct human imperfection if we hand ourselves over to its perfect design. He wants to use it to create trust among people, not to replace trust with a superior algorithm. "If you are not creating new cultural relations," he told me, "you're not changing anything." Just as CIC members try to make their community stronger than any one legal structure, he'd like to see FairCoop become strong enough that it can outgrow FairCoin altogether.

For all the plan's manic complexity, it's also a plain and simple extension of the logic of Duran's previous endeavors: Cheat capitalism to fund the movement, take what already exists and recombine it. But even this unlikely track record is no guarantee. In the hackerspace basement-cave in Paris, while attempting to on-board the French Integralists for his new project, Duran added, as if it were no problem at all, "We don't know if this is going to work."

One does not often see hippies glued to the political news on TV. But Didac Costa was, in his makeshift apartment just under the mountainside where his commune will someday be. Familiar faces were on the screen. Podemos had recently secured five seats in the European Parliament, and polls suggest that it could win the national elections to be held later this year.

Costa was in the running for a spot on Podemos's regional council. He hoped to agitate from within, to make the party more supportive of Catalan independence and social movements like the CIC.

In France, meanwhile, Duran was reading the news from Spain on his computer. Mayo Fuster Morell—his first girlfriend, now a prominent media scholar—was in the Podemos leadership, along with people he'd known and organized with for years.

He was also watching Greece, where the leftist Syriza party had won an election and was preparing to take control of the government. He culled through its ministers to see if any might be interested in FairCoop. He was on the lookout for some way to hack Southern Europe's new political climate.

He was also thinking about his own return to freedom. In the winter he assembled a small team of people who are working with him in person, both on FairCoop and on his own cause. Back in Catalonia, friends have been trying to arrange some kind of restorative-justice process as an alternative to a trial and prison sentence, but there hasn't been much progress. His father died last year, and he couldn't go to the funeral. Weighing more heavily on his mind, it seems, is the thought of how much he could do for FairCoop if he didn't have to hide.

He needs to find investors, to arrange meetings, to carry out the various tasks a new enterprise demands, and doing so in the confines of clandestinity puts daily constraints on an undertaking that would be difficult enough on its own. Jail would be worse, of course, but he has had enough of this.

The bank robber is ready to be a banker.


Farm Generation

SUBHEAD: This year, mud season presents my family with the chance to pull together more closely than ever.

By Shannon Hayes on 8 April 2015 for Yes Magazine -

Image above: IB Publisher's note: This old place in Chautauqua County NY my family called simply "The Farm". It was my mother's mother's place. After my mother lived there I did. I took this picture in early 1989. My children own it now, but decided not to live there. To tough a life, too lonely, too far away from everything. When this snow melts it will be mud.  We all knew "Mud" was the season between Winter and Spring lasting from  late February to early May. It was not unusual to have snow on the cherry blossoms on Mother's Day. Photo by Juan Wilson.

I take a tentative step on the woodland trail I've been breaking in all winter. The snow is too soft today. I sink to my knees. Sighing, I call to the dogs. We abandon the woods and sludge instead through the muddy driveway and out to the road for our morning walk.

As I step out onto the road, I dodge the thawing dog poops that had been hidden for months by gently falling blankets of white. The snow banks are dirty. The ground slurps as I traverse it.

We call this mud season, and it seems only fitting that my family should choose this time of year to begin working on our farm transition plan. In other words my parents are getting older and it’s time we start planning exactly how they’ll hand the farm off. They bought the land in 1979, and Bob and I joined 20 years later. After being in business for 36 years, mud, slush, dirty snow, and dog bombs seem a fitting landscape as we begin this process.

Mom and I signed up to take a farm transition class together at our local extension office. We thought it would get us off on the right foot. We've been spending every Wednesday afternoon down there for the past few weeks. I don’t think we knew what we were in for. This simple life that we are trying to ensure for her and dad, for Bob and me, and for our children, is turning out to be anything but simple.

Thoughts of the garden, plans for lambing season, and even the present reality of boiling sap are replaced with flinty explanations of things like living wills, disability planning, cash flow spreadsheets, and financial scorecards.

I make my way down the road with the dogs, trying to wrap my head around these issues. Nikki, my biggest dog, dashes off into the woods for a minute. He returns triumphant with a skull from some fallen wild animal. He tries to bring it along on our jaunt, but soon seems to grow tired of carrying it. The other two dogs and I stop and wait for him to decide what to do.

He looks around. The snow banks on the roadside are too high for him to climb up and hide it in a field. The driveway is too far back now to leave it there.

Finally, he comes to a decision. He drops it on the side of the road. Then he pisses on it before moving on. The whole macabre scene seems to wrap up my feelings. My parents have put their lives and souls into our family farm.

And now, to segue in a new generation and safeguard all that they’re done, we make plans for their deaths. Then we piss on their agrarian remains to claim them as ours. It all seems so unfair to them.

And as for me, it seems equally unfair. For 41 years, I’ve been the farmer’s daughter. I have supported them by my presence. The farm has been theirs, my job has been to fill in the interstices—manage markets, come up with supplemental ventures to support my family, work in the cutting room, help with the website, and take care of customers. They are the leaders. I am only their support.

But now, we must make a shift, whether we want to or not, if we intend to keep taking care of the land and supporting our customers.

And just as we must endure the ugliness of mud season in order to find spring, our family must face head-on all the ugliness in our business. We must confront our communication barriers, our emotional hot buttons, our accounting errors, our management mistakes, our miscalculations.

We must plan for mom and dad’s death, and the ability of the farm to live on in their absence. We must plan for Bob’s and my death, and the ability of Saoirse and Ula carry it all forward, should they so choose.

At this moment, I envy anyone who does not face managing a farm inheritance. I envy anyone who can inherit something as simple as money. I envy anyone who can inherit nothing, walking into the future with only memories.

But I have to face it. As the snow recedes, it exposes bit by bit our mistakes from the previous year, and the things that need fixing—the boards that need nailing, the ground that needs raking, the fence lines that need tightening. Like lush summer, or glorious fall, or restful winter, it comes every year. It is not a surprise.

And once we’ve shuddered at the bitter elixir of hard truths that it shows us, we know what to do. We pick up the rake, the hammer, the pliers. We pull on our gloves, walk out into the sunshine, and face whatever it is that we must fix.

The seasons will turn. We will have another growing season. We will have another resting season. And then mud season will come around again.

In a lifetime of farming, I have learned this much. Mud season is as important as summer growth. It is the chance to rebuild, redesign, and repair.

And the way to get through it is to get up each morning and stare it in the face, do what the day will allow, go to sleep at night, then get up and do it again the next morning. Victory will not be found in one glorious maneuver. It is slowly uncovered through daily toil, through commitment to process.

I turn at the bottom of the road and call the dogs to me for our climb back up the mountain. As we retrace our steps, the dogs find the skull that Nikki marked.

Each of them takes a turn carrying it the rest of the way home, a prize for the pack, brought about through teamwork. I laugh at their antics. With a light heart, I go back inside, take off my boots, and get back to work.

This year, mud season presents my family with the chance to pull together more closely than ever.

If we can work through it, there will be more maple syrup, more honey, more wild apples for the cider press, more grapes on the vine, more spring lambs, more wool blankets, more chicken dinners, more burgers on the grill, more days laughing with customers, and more hot summer afternoons by the pond…for many years to come.


Why Permaculture?

SUBHEAD: Permaculture is the design arm of the paradigm shift we must go through to heal the planet.

By Toby Hemenway on 16 April 2015 for Pattern Literacy -

Image above: Gathering at the Scandinavian Permaculture festival of 2013. Photographer Oyvind Holmstad. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Here’s how it happened to me: Back in 1990 I was playing hooky from my unsatisfying biotech job in Seattle by browsing the homesteading shelves in the public library. I pulled down a thick black book I hadn’t seen before called Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual. As I perused the pages, suddenly my previously fragmented life made sense.

I had been fascinated for years with ecology, appropriate technology, economics, gardening, evolution, construction, energy systems, social justice, and a raft of other seemingly disconnected fields. But I didn’t want to specialize in any one of them, and I had been watching with some envy as my friends dropped into successful careers in various niches.

Now, finally I knew what was going on. What a relief to find that a whole-systems approach could tie together the many disparate pieces of my life. This is, I know, a familiar and exalting experience for many when they first encounter permaculture.

Another familiar and not-so exalting experience for most of us is trying to explain permaculture to our friends and families, and receiving blank, confused, or condescending looks in response. I’ve explored this problem in the past, as have others. I’ve continued that journey, and want to share some of my latest thoughts on how we can explain permaculture to others and where it fits into a larger picture.

Just as permaculture helps umbrella many seemingly unrelated disciplines and places them into a larger context, we can understand permaculture better by seeing where it lies, in turn, in its own larger context.

Much of the difficulty and confusion around permaculture stems from its protean nature: It can be many things to many people. It’s been called a philosophy, a movement, a design approach, a set of techniques, a practice, a worldview, a land use ethic, a science, a pseudoscience, and even a religion.

I’m finding that the most fruitful way for me to think about permaculture is that it is the design arm of a paradigm shift. To be more specific, it’s the design approach for achieving the goals of the sustainability movement. And I mean sustainability in the largest sense, not just environmental sustainability but social and ethical as well.

Permaculture is what we use to put into action our growing understanding that humans must fit into the web-work of the rest of life or we’ll make this planet uninhabitable for us and for countless other species. It gives us tools for social justice and for working together.

 To use a Buddhist analogy, it tells us how to do the “chop wood and carry water” work that remains after enlightenment; in this case, the enlightenment of gaining a whole-systems perspective. After your world changes, there’s plenty of work to be done. That work is permaculture.

Much of the knowledge that made permaculture possible has been around much longer than permaculture. Seeing that larger context helps us see which problems permaculture is trying to solve—for it is, indeed, a problem-solving toolkit.

That context includes the ancient indigenous wisdom that inspired much of Bill Mollison’s vision. It also includes the ecological science that emerged in the late nineteenth century. Important, too, are the whole-systems sciences that first appeared in the 1940s, laid out by people like Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Norbert Wiener, Kenneth Boulding, and Donella Meadows.

And there is the outrage and grief over the despoliation of the planet that spawned the environmental and sustainability movements, which found voice in the 1950s with Rachel Carson and many others. These are some of permaculture’s teachers and mentors, and they were each building a worldview much more coherent than the dominant paradigm of reductionist science could ever offer.

The entire framework that their work was based in had to arise before permaculture could exist. To give that large framework a single name, I think of it as whole-systems thinking.

This larger context of whole systems into which permaculture fits and plays a role is why I am reluctant to use such grand terms for permaculture as philosophy or movement. Permaculture is a part—and an essential part—of those larger sciences, philosophies, and social movements, but it’s not the whole story. It doesn’t encompass them, it derives from them.

And, most importantly, permaculture gives us the tools we need to bring this new understanding of whole systems into the world in physical form and action. Once we have learned to think this new way, permaculture tells us what to do to make it real.

Permaculture, then, is a systematized program for enacting the worldview of the social justice and sustainability movements and for bringing the wisdom of indigenous knowledge into contemporary life. It is whole-systems thinking in action. It’s what we need to do to be living in alignment with the new paradigm, so nicely phrased by Rafter Sass Ferguson, of meeting human needs while retaining and enhancing ecosystem health.

The genius of permaculture is that it is both a tool for enacting the new paradigm of whole-systems thinking and a way to learn how to make that paradigm shift. To use permaculture effectively, we need to have made the transition to the holistic worldview. Until we have done that, permaculture can look like a set of gardening techniques, or at most a set of practices guided by a list of dogmatic principles and three ethics. We can’t get good at it until we have moved beyond the reductionist view that most of us were brought up in.

But the beauty is, simply practicing permaculture teaches us to think in whole systems. Sheet mulching, just to take one possible path, helps us see the soil food web, which shows us what creates the conditions for healthy food, which can point us toward food justice, and then this helps us see how human and planetary ecology are interdependent. Permaculture is a tool for working our way toward these larger understandings.

And if you’ve already made the paradigm shift, permaculture tells you how to manifest it in the world and in your life. These mutually reinforcing aspects of permaculture are part of its power. That, not incidentally, is how whole systems work: Their interconnections are their strength.

Knowing that permaculture is embedded in a larger movement toward sustainability and in a whole-systems paradigm also constrains us from doing stupid things with it. We won’t use permaculture to try to sustain the unsustainable.

Putting a green roof on a pesticide factory can’t be permaculture design. Reducing waste or energy use at a toxics manufacturer isn’t a viable design project because we know that we must take all the system yields into account. A planet-killing process can’t be reformed; it must be eliminated at a higher design level.

This also shows why a set of ethics is naturally embedded in permaculture. When we are thinking in whole systems, we inherently are aware of the consequences of our actions, and we know that there is no such thing as an externality.

There is no “away.” In a whole-systems view, pollution and human suffering aren’t incidental by-products of manufacturing so-called wealth but are seen as central yields that highlight bad design. In permaculture, care for the earth and care for people become inherently integrated into the design process.

Indeed, those are the ultimate products of our designs; the other yields—money, consumer goods, even food—are the by-products.

The understanding that permaculture is what the sustainability movement uses to manifest its vision helps clear up the thicket that has grown up around describing permaculture. I don’t see permaculture as a philosophy or even a movement in itself, but rather is part of a much larger movement: the great paradigm shift that our species must undergo to be able to remain on this planet.

That movement and paradigm are far greater than permaculture. Permaculture, however, plays a central role within that greater movement and that whole-systems philosophy, because it is, so far, the best approach for putting those global visions into practice.

Without the design approach and strategy-building tools of permaculture, the environmental movement could remain mired in protest, negativity, a battlefield mentality, and the compromising and destructive alliances increasingly being made with corporate polluters by The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, and other institutionalized environment groups.

Permaculture can help them move forward, because it provides the solution set for the problems identified by the environmental and sustainability movements, and does it in ways that allow those communities to break out of the old-paradigm, beholden-to-big-money traps that large non-profits and NGOs are stuck in.

In its social structure and design methods, permaculture reflects the local-scale but widespread, distributed-network approach to solution-finding that is one of the hallmarks of whole-systems design. It allows those who use it to escape the fundraising treadmill, the scarcity mentality, and the us-versus-them mindset.

We learn in permaculture that a key question to ask of any design element is, “What is its function; what does it do within its context?” So let’s ask that question of permaculture itself: What function does permaculture perform in the world?

And I would answer that it gives us concrete methods to bring our new understanding of whole systems into reality so that we can live regeneratively. It is the set of tools that the social justice and sustainability movements can use to plan and manifest their vision of a better world. Permaculture is the design arm of the paradigm shift.

See this series concerning an overview of Permaculture practices from 2010:

Permaculture Part 1 - Growing Zones

Part 1 of a 6 part series on Permaculture Design Guidelines. Overview of permaculture zones.

Permaculture Part 2 - Multiple Functions

Part 2 of a 6 part series on Permaculture Design Guidelines. Each element has multiple functions.

Permaculture Part 3 - Relative Location

Part 3 of a 6 part series on Permaculture Design Guidelines. Saving time and energy with context.

Permaculture Part 4 - Problems & Solutions

Part 4 of a 6 part series on Permaculture Design Guidelines. Trading disadvantage for advantage.

Permaculture Part 5- Design Diversity

Part 5 of a 6 part series on Permaculture Design Guidelines. Mix as many differing plants as possible.

Permaculture Part 6 - Use of Space

Part 6 of a 6 part series on Permaculture Design Guidelines. Stacking plants vertically for strength.


Fukshima die-offs occurring

SUBHEAD: In Fukushima area a really striking drop-off in numbers of birds as well as other species.

By Admin on 17 April 2015 for ENE News -

Image above: Barn swallows with abnormal white spots on their plumage were found near the Chernobyl plant after the disaster while similarly plumaged swallows in Fukushima were also reported in the wake of the 2011 disaster. Photo from Dr Timothy Mousseau, professor of Biological Sciences at the University of South Carolina and researcher for the Chernobyl and Fukushima Research Initiative From (

University of South Carolina, Apr 15, 2015 (emphasis added): Dwindling bird populations in Fukushima… as several recent papers from University of South Carolina biologist Tim Mousseau and colleagues show, the avian situation there is just getting worse… They recently published a paper in the Journal of Ornithology showing results from the first three years… Many populations were found to have diminished in number as a result of the accident, with several species suffering dramatic declines… What might be most disheartening to the researchers involved, and bird-lovers in general, is how the situation is progressing in Fukushima. Despite the decline in background radiation in the area over these past four years, the deleterious effects of the accident on birds are actually increasing.

Dr. Tim Mousseau, USC biologist: “The declines have been really dramatic… now we see this really striking drop-off in numbers of birds as well as numbers of species of birds. So both the biodiversity and the abundance are showing dramatic impacts in these areas with higher radiation levels, even as the levels are declining.”

CBS News, Apr 16, 2015: Near site of Fukushima disaster, birds still in peril… birds are becoming a rarity around the damaged nuclear site… “There are dramatic reductions in the number of birds”… Mousseau told CBS News. “In terms of barn swallows in Fukushima, there had been hundreds if not thousands in many of these towns where we were working. Now we are seeing a few dozen of them left. It’s just an enormous decline.”… Around Fukushima, Mousseau predicts the worst may not be over… “So now we see this really striking drop-off in numbers of birds as well as numbers of species of birds. So both the biodiversity and the abundance are showing dramatic impacts in these areas with higher radiation levels, even as the levels are declining.” Mousseau said the reason comes down to the long-term impact of the radiation. “It takes multiple generations for the effects of mutations to be expressed…”

Journal of Ornithology, A. Møller, I. Nishiumi and T. Mousseau, March 2015: Cumulative effects of radioactivity from Fukushima on the abundance and biodiversity of birds… overall abundance and  diversity of species on average decreased with increasing levels of background radiation… the relationship became more strongly negative across years… Although there has been great public interest concerning the ecological, genetic and potential health consequences of the Fukushima radiological disaster, basic research to date has been surprisingly limited… Recent seminal studies of butterflies exposed to radioactive contaminants associated with the Fukushima disaster found strong evidence for increased mutation rates, developmental abnormalities and population effects as a direct consequence of exposure to radionuclides… Murase et al. (2015) made an equally compelling case for radiation having a negative impact on reproductive performance in the decline of Japanese goshawks.

Environmental Indicators (Journal), A. Møller and T. Mousseau, 2015: Many species occur both at Chernobyl and Fukushima, allowing a test of similarity in the effect of radiation on abundance…. among the 14 species occurring at both sites [the] slope of the relationship between abundance and radiation for the 14 common species was… much stronger at Fukushima… [Since 2011] the effects of radiation on abundance became much more severe.


Pacific Ocean Catastrophe

SUBHEAD: Emergency shut-down of US west coast fisheries after crash of forage fish population.

By Mark Slavo on 17 April 2015 for SHTF Plan -

Image above: Illustration of the Pacific Ocean Food Web. The Small fish, like sardine and anchovy, that feed on zooplankton, thatare the foundation of the food web for larger birds, fish, and sea mammals. From Seattle Times and (

Earlier this week Michael Snyder warned that the bottom of our food chain is going through a catastrophic collapse with sea creatures dying in absolutely massive numbers. The cause of the problem is a mystery to scientists who claim that they can’t pinpoint how or why it’s happening.

What’s worse, the collapse of sea life in the Pacific Ocean isn’t something that will affect us several decades into the future. The implications are being seen right now, as evidenced by an emergency closure of fisheries along the West coast this week.

On Wednesday federal regulators announced the early closure of sardine fisheries in California, Oregon and Washington. According to the most recent data, the sardine populations has been wiped out with populations seeing a decline of 91% in just the last eight years.
Meeting outside Santa Rosa, California, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to direct NOAA Fisheries Service to halt the current season as early as possible, affecting about 100 fishing boats with sardine permits…

The action was taken based on revised estimates of sardine populations, which found the fish were declining in numbers faster than earlier believed…
The council did not take Wednesday’s decision lightly and understood the pain the closure would impose on the fishing industry, said council member Michele Culver, representing the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. She added that it was necessary because a new assessment of sardine stocks showed they were much lower than estimated last year, when harvest quotas were set.
Source: New York Times via Steve Quayle / ENEnews
Sardines, like honey bees, don’t seem important to the casual observer. But just like honey bees, which are experiencing their own colony collapse, they are critical to the propagation of the global food chain. The immediate effects can be seen on the creatures next in line:
90 percent of this year’s class of sea lion pups were starving for lack of sardines to eat.

The sardine populations have crashed 91 percent since 2007,” he said after the vote.

“We would have liked to see this happen much sooner, but now we can start to rebuild this sardine population that is so important to the health of the ocean.”
But even closing of commercial fisheries may not be the solution. As Snyder points out in the aforementioned report, there are some unexplained phenomena occurring in the Pacific ocean and either scientists don’t have a clue what is happening, or someone is keeping a gag order on researchers.
According to two University of Washington scientific research papers that were recently released, a 1,000 mile stretch of the Pacific Ocean has warmed up by several degrees, and nobody seems to know why this is happening.  This giant “blob” of warm water was first observed in late 2013, and it is playing havoc with our climate.  And since this giant “blob” first showed up, fish and other sea creatures have been dying in absolutely massive numbers.
The issue could potentially be one of climate change – but not the kind of climate change we hear from politicians who just want to put carbon tax credits in their pocket. Rather, we could be talking about cyclical climate shifts that have occurred regularly throughout the course of earth’s history. And with those shifts come massive migrations and species die-offs.
Or, as one contributor at suggested, the answer to why this is happening should be obvious:
We have three cores melted out of their reactor buildings, lost in the mudrock and sandstone, which we have failed to locate and mitigate.

We have an underground river running under the ruins, which we have failed to divert around the reactors.

We have three empty reactors, containing nothing but corium splatter left when they blew up and melted out.

We have the Pacific Ocean Ecosystem, which we have stressed beyond endurance, through ocean dumping, over fishing, agricultural runoff, and now unrestricted radiation.

We have the sudden collapse of the Pacific Ocean Ecosystem, with a threatened collapse of the biosphere.

We continue to allow corporate and governmental inaction.
What in hell did you think was going to happen?
Something is wrong with world’s food chain and one Harvard Professor suggested last year that recent signs, namely with the die-off of honey bee populations, are a prelude of things to come:
But he now warns that a pollinator drop could be the least our worries at this point.
That it may be a sign of things to come – bees acting as the canary in the coalmine. That not only are we connected to bees through our food supply, but that the plight that so afflicts them may very well soon be our own.
Could it be that the collapse of honey bee colonies, mass sea life die-offs, and changing climates in once lush growing regions are all the result of the same underlying phenomena?

If so, then we can soon expect not just higher food prices, but a breakdown in the food chain itself.

And though none of us can truly prepare for a decades’ long (or longer) food disaster and the complexities that would come along with it (like mass migrations and resource wars), we can take steps to make ourselves as self sustainable as possible, while also preparing emergency plans to respond to the initial brunt of the force should it hit.