Natural Education, Natural Enterprise, Natural Community: Creating a Virtuous Cycle

virtuous natural cycle
I‘ve been chatting recently with my European friend lugon, of fluwiki fame, about the recurring frustration many of us have trying to move from ideas to actions. Progressives seem to agree that natural education (unschooling), natural enterprise (making a joyful living doing something important that you love and do well with people you care about), and natural (intentional) communities make sense. But to most they seem to be just an ideal. Why are there so few success stories of these? Can we ever hope to scale them up or replicate them across the globe so that they replace the existing, dysfunctional systems?

I think the reason for the frustration is that the dysfunctional systems, for all their flaws and the immense damage they do to our psyches, our societies and our environment, constitute a vicious cycle, each element reinforcing the others. It’s not sustainable, but it does tend to hold itself together until something gives and it all flies apart. I’ve illustrated this in the red cycle in the chart above.

Our traditional education system teaches learned helplessness, and does not teach us how to make a living for ourselves. It perfectly feeds the industrial business-political-economic system, which wants an excess of cheap, frightened, obedient, dependent labour. As wage slaves we assemble into alienated bedroom communities, where the place we live is dictated by income and proximity to job, not sense of place or kinship with neighbours. These soulless communities are strictly utilitarian, and have no capacity to teach people, so education is closeted in institutions apart from the real world, where the propaganda can be propagated without any dissonance from reality.

This vicious cycle is self-perpetuating, but it is not sustainable. Pathological corporations destroy the environment and disregard human well-being in the relentless pursuit of profit at any cost. Alienated communities engender crime, poverty, disparity, stress, anger, despair and emptiness. The education system is loathed by its inmates, and serves as little more than an expensive incarceration for excess, untrained, and not-yet-obedient labour.

Most of us know, intuitively, emotionally, and (if we have the time and opportunity to become informed) intellectually, that this system is not how we were meant to live, and not an optimal way to live. So we try experiments (the black arrows in the chart above):

  • We try unschooling our children, or ourselves, as Holt and Gatto and Illich and Esteva have espoused. But it’s hard — it takes a huge effort because it’s so uncommon that the ability to learn from each other is not available. We have to do everything ourselves, so the experience lacks the social interaction it should have when it is a collective self-discovery of the world, of how it works, and a collective exploration of ideas to make it better. So we may, reluctantly, give up and go back to the traditional education system.
  • We try to become entrepreneurs, creating sustainable, responsible enterprises, but we can’t find working models to follow — every other entrepreneur has seemingly fallen into the industrial economy traps: the grow-or-die mythology, trying to manage and motivate employees, loss of control, the stress of marketing solutions instead of just researching and responding to unmet needs. The deck is stacked against us, and we can’t find others with the imagination to explore better ways to make a living. So we may, reluctantly, give up and go back to traditional jobs.
  • We try to create intentional communities, but as soon as they larger than a family they seem to self-destruct. People don’t seem to know how to achieve win-win consensus. Zoning authorities block all activities that don’t conform to the single-family residential model. The ideas of personal ownership of property and personal privacy seem so embedded in the culture that anything that compromises them sets us conflict.

The record of all these experiments in living a natural life is poor. Why is this? Is the only life we know the only life we can ever again hope to know?

I think the problem is that we give up too easily. This is understandable — it’s like riding a bicycle for the first time. Until you get up to the speed where movement and stability self-perpetuate, it seems a frustrating and hopeless endeavour.

We need to keep in mind that, as the green cycle in the chart shows, there is a natural economy cycle that self-perpetuates and self-reinforces just as powerfully as today’s dysfunctional vicious industrial economy cycle. We just need to get it moving fast enough. We need to get more experiments going, in tandem, reinforcing each other. If we offer unschooling and we offer entrepreneurship skills and we seek to buy from local natural enterprises and we work to build and network together self-sufficient natural intentional communities that offer an environment for learning in community, all together then will start to see these efforts reinforcing each other and creating a virtuous cycle.

Lugon suggests a three-step process for getting past inertia, for getting this virtuous cycle going fast enough that is keeps going through its own momentum:

  1. Vision: Get a bunch of us together, bunches of bunches of us together, to start imagining how this virtuous cycle could work, perhaps using Open Source, telling stories of this Natural Economy as if it already existed.
  2. First Next Steps: Each of us, personally, can then intend to take the first steps to become part of the realization of this vision, and connecting with others and sharing all of our personal, collective, next steps. one step at a time, like pedaling that tipsy bicycle a little faster, a little faster.
  3. Contagion: We need to get others to believe that the Natural Economy is possible. Starting with those who are not brainwashed, who are informed, who care, who have the capacity to imagine and to intend. And then, as we start to get some working models of the full cycle in motion, spreading the contagion further, the incredible idea that the Only Life We Know is not the only way to live, that there is a better way.

I like it. I’m inspired to dust myself off, shake off the bruises, stop looking at the bicycle I’ve constructed and get back on the damn thing and this time, pedal and keep pedaling and not stop until….hey, it’sgoing by itself!

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7 Responses to Natural Education, Natural Enterprise, Natural Community: Creating a Virtuous Cycle

  1. Tom Schwartz says:

    What if someone were to start a forum? You could brainstorm in a great format for such a thing. I dont have the technical capabilitys to do it, but I think it would be a great thing for everyone.

  2. lugon says:

    “Bunches of bunches of us together” – I guess we already live in openspace!Trying to look at a set of initials for the 3 step sequence (it emerged from our conversation, I’m not the only one to blame for it), I think it could be Imagine, Do, Share. Does IDS sound right, or silly? Maybe simply imagine-do-share just like your Let-Self-Change. Anyway, this is not important.What’s important is that now that we’ve half started to imagine this bike in motion (great analogy!), what’s our first/next step? Tom suggests a forum. We could also use a wiki. Or a webchat site. Or a shared blog. Or we could simply drop our visions here. We would have to be somewhat specific.Your writing evokes images in my brain. I see people trying and failing, trying and failing, and it looks to me like a rubber band that is stretched and tends to go back to its original length, because we’re never strong enough to break it. So we may imagine ways of cutting the rubber band. Or maybe we’re better off if we just let go (i.e. work on our hand, not on the rubber band)? And of course, we need to be welcomed in the new world (pulled into it).More later!

  3. It’s already started. I see it in the small things, but there is a hunger for a more natural way of life. For example, a young couple recently bought a small farm here, with the idea that in several years it could help spark a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement. They presented this idea to a few families and within a month our Sackville CSA was born, with 20 families enrolled. The operators were amazed at their success and next year we will have 60 families. We should look to the younger generation for the energy and then help them surmount the barriers with our business experience.

  4. lugon says:

    Harold, that’s great!Now, what’s our role in this bike-learning experience? Amplify good feedback signals? Share what works, a la “positive news” sites but perhaps more focused? Can we envision a specific google-news section for this stuff?I’m also thinking, if I were Dave Pollard, would I grow my own food, organise people locally, “look to the younger generation for the energy and then help them surmount the barriers with our business experience”, or what?Dave has a local vision for his country – sustainability in Canada in one generation or something to that effect – and it could happen slow-mo paying painful attention to detail or maybe it could just happen, like the Sackville CSA experiment … Or maybe Dave can help build a way to help zillions of couples do similar things all over the place?Mind boggling.(A private note: just yesterday I started reading stuff by Seligman (positive psychology) and, folks, I’m a pesimist! Heh! Or maybe I was temporarily pesimist yesterday because of some sleep deprivation? Anyway – my point is if many minds change, then what?)

  5. etbnc says:

    Seems to me, if many minds change, good things happen.Cheers

  6. Graham says:

    My family has unschooled for years, I’ve read extensively, worked to create and yearned for learning organizations and sustainable private enterprises rather than big business and start-ups with exit strategies, and I’ve spent hours talking with my wife about how to live in a community that works rather than a bedroom community, so your blog hits home for us. You’ve explained the problem and the solution perfectly.Seems like there are many, many people who agree with your ideas and want what you want. I think these are ideas whose time has come!

  7. lugon says:

    Rob at tells about a documentary that sets out a strong argument that the transition to life beyond oil could actually bring many benefits to society.

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