Walking Away from Civilization: Working Models Based on Love, Conversation, Community

Living On The Edge 2
I‘m feeling a bit bruised from the mild raking over the coals I’ve received from some political activist readers. I can understand this criticism: I’ve been so fortunate in my life that it’s been easy for me to work around the political and economic obstacles I have faced in my life. My whole life has been, compared to that of most, incredibly easy.

At the same time, I think the criticisms that have been made of my recently espoused ‘Love Conversation Community’ philosophy-of-everything are unfair and a bit unfounded. Although this will be exceedingly difficult (I’ve been writing this article for three days, and keep scratching it out and starting over) it’s important that I give it a try. So here goes:

I believe that:

Whether you want to change the political or economic system, save the whales, stop global warming, reform education, spark innovation or anything else, the answer is in how meaning, and understanding of what needs to be done, emerges from conversation in community with people you love, people who care.

Generally, when that understanding is allowed to emerge, the consensus seems to be that, as Bucky Fuller noted, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new [working] model [of a better way to live] that makes the existing model obsolete“, a model that others can follow.

And while many doubt that such models are scalable i.e. that they could become pervasive in our society and actually replace what’s dysfunctional, I believe that (a) Margaret Mead is right in saying “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” and (b) when our civilization inevitably collapses later this century, such working models are likely to be essential to the building of a new, viable society.

If you don’t share these beliefs, I am not going to be able to convince you of anything. It took me a long time getting here, and a lifetime of experiences and all the study in my Save the World reading list to understand this, but if your worldview is different from mine, if you’re not ready to appreciate what I believe (or vice versa), then we’re wasting time and energy debating — go save the world your own way and I wish you every success.

If you do ‘buy’ the beliefs above, but think I’m wrong-headed in how I’m going about acting on these beliefs, then please bear with me; that’s what I’m now going to try to explain.

The criticisms I have received on my recent articles generally fall into two categories:

  1. That this ‘build new models based on love conversation and community’ approach is naive, romantic, impotent, and/or an abrogation of the progressive’s responsibility to confront and defeat our corrupt and horrifically destructive political, social, educational and economic systems, and
  2. That polyamorism is a red herring, a distraction from what urgently needs to be done, and a self-indulgence.

Let me try to address the first one first.

Progressives have been trying to confront the existing power structures for centuries. These power structures are based on and sustained by hierarchy — centralization, inequality, the use of force against those who do not obey those with power. We are taught from birth to play our designated role in the hierarchy, whether that be in the red, orange or yellow band in the graphic above. We are taught to know our place. If we are brought up conservative, we are encouraged to strive to be closer to the centre, to ‘succeed’ in moving higher up the hierarchy (picture the graphic above as being a pyramid, with the red as the peak towering over the ‘lower’ rings around it). If we are brought up progressive, we are encouraged to work ‘within the system’ for greater justice, to make the hierarchy a little less uneven in wealth and power, and ‘fairer’ for those who work hard to move within it as they wish.

Criticism #1 above comes, I think, mainly from those who are ‘caught’ in the light green band, the semi-marginalized, the disaffected and conflicted liberal/progressives and conservatives who have been tossed out or partially disentangled themselves from our dysfunctional and ruinous civilization, the technophiles who dream of something better but can’t quite unplug from the mainstream ‘power grid’, the libertarian idealists who think that individualism is the key (and can’t understand why all those other individuals can’t get with their program), the co-opted (mostly young) counter-culturals who are really just feeding the Man, and those who because of personal misfortune or lack of opportunity haven’t had the opportunity to Just Walk Away from this hierarchy to the very Edge.

The hierarchy survives the disaffection of the light green band by feeding the myth that it can evolve, that it is open to revolution. So we have petitions and demonstrations. The ‘light greens’ are the Howard Deane and Barack Obama supporters, the ones who believe that we can find replacements to prevent collapse before The End of Oil and The End of Water, who believe that there is a political solution to global warming. They are the ones fighting for regulations to prevent corporatist oligopoly, massive global corruption, the wrenching despair of global poverty, and the despoiling of our planet, ever hopeful that numbers alone will bring them victory. They are the ones who think the right to clean air, water, food, and soil, to free speech, to security from despots, torturers, rapists, murderers, thieves and criminals, to justice, can be ensured through laws and law enforcement.

I ache for these people. I was one of them most of my life. I love their ideals. It should be possible. They have occasionally won great and important victories, briefly ‘beat’ the system. And if you compare civilization today to what it was at its worst, a few hundred or a few thousand years ago, there is the illusion that we are making progress, that we are moving inexorably in the right direction. The Man wants those in the light green band to believe — their hope pacifies them, keeps them distracted, keeps them co-opted, participating, keeps them from Just Walking Away. The Chinese built the Great Wall early in our civilization not to keep the Mongol hordes out, but to keep the newly enslaved and dubious peasants, the pawns of the new civilization, in. To keep them from Just Walking Away.

But if you compare today to the way we lived before civilization, before what Daniel Quinn calls ‘The Great Forgetting’, you can quickly see that there has been no progress. It’s a dream. From this distance, from a prehistoric perspective, from The Edge, you can see that our civilization, like all the civilizations that preceded it, is an exercise in untrammeled excess, careening over the cliff to its own collapse. We’re skidding at breakneck speed on sheer black ice into a chasm. Those in the red, orange and yellow bands can’t see it, won’t see it. Those in the light green bands are scrambling frantically to grab the steering wheel, the brakes, the accelerator, trying to get it back under control, yelling at the rest of us to “Do something!”. But those of us on the Edge, in the dark green, know it is far too late. We only have a little while before the crash, so we might as well enjoy our time, in love, conversation and community, as best we can. While we are physically in that spinning, hurtling, out-of-control vehicle that is civilization, in our minds and hearts we have Just Walked Away.

Activist Barbara writes “I assume you have abandoned your efforts on the social/political front and wish you all success in your personal life”. She is a victim of The Man — her disease is much more debilitating than mine, though both are diseases of civilization’s excesses. I completely appreciate her position, and why she feels this way. But I have not abandoned my efforts on the social/political front. I am building new models of how to live and make a living, based on conversation in small community with people I love, models of how a ‘political’ and ‘social’ and ‘educational’ and ‘economic’ ‘system’ should work, and can work. I don’t know if they can work on any scale before civilization’s collapse — I’m just a local model builder. I doubt it, in fact. But that won’t stop me building them. This is who I am and this is my Purpose. These models will not save the world, because I don’t think it can be saved. But they will enable us, here, now, to make a meaningful life together, to learn, to discover, to share joy, and perhaps to create a legacy for the seven generations to follow, some of whom will live or be born after civilization’s collapse — some models that they just might find useful as they build in the ruins left from the catastrophic destruction we have, with the noblest of intentions, wrought on our lovely fragile blue-green planet.

Our civilization will have one, and possibly two, legacies. The first will be the Sixth Great Extinction of life on this planet. It is already well underway, and accelerating at a rate we are only just beginning to realize.

The second, if we create it, in love, conversation and community, will be some working models of what we might have done differently if we’d only known in time. They will be the only important learning of 30,000 years of astonishing and ruinous civilization — the learning from our mistakes. We sit here, those of us on the Edge who I love so dearly, so ecstatically, amidst the Dark and Gathering Sameness of the World, building these models, quietly, joyfully, in the hope that, one day, they might be of use.

(Tomorrow — I’ll tackle criticism #2, that polyamorism is a self-indulgence andnot necessary to effective self-sufficient ‘model’ communities.)

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12 Responses to Walking Away from Civilization: Working Models Based on Love, Conversation, Community

  1. Meryn Stol says:

    I hope you’re not feeling “bruised” because of my comments, they weren’t intended that way. I only criticize people who I think have the highest potential, so please see every disagreement from me as me trying to make you even stronger then you already are.Reading this post, I’m amazed by the thoughtfulness in the way you’re handling criticism, which only confirms the high marks I have given to you.”I am building new models of how to live and make a living, based on conversation in small community with people I love, models of how a ‘political’ and ‘social’ and ‘educational’ and ‘economic’ ‘system’ should work, and can work.”This makes you and anyone who does the same an emerging leader. Thinking of yourself as marginalized isn’t good for your self-esteem. Let’s think of those in the center as “sitting ducks”, ok? :)”This is who I am and this is my Purpose.”I don’t believe that one is what one thinks, but showing a new and better way of living could very well be anyone’s purpose in a time when this is so badly needed. Of-course, people can only discover this if they have been on a path like yours. I’m only saying that what you’ve discovered about yourself could be more general than what you think. “That which is most personal is most general.” — Carl Rogers”These models will not save the world, because I don’t think it can be saved.”What I find interesting is that while I agree with your general analysis of what’s wrong in the world, I don’t think you have ever made a strong case as to why people wouldn’t change their ways in time. If we can set a good example, with a rational yet emotionally engaging explanation could be just what is needed. It might just work, in time. Of-course, it needs to be scaled up fast, that’s why we need to communicate.The fact that I’m optimistic and you’re pessimistic seems like the biggest difference between you and me. Isn’t that strange?From a “functionalist” perspective, you have become a strong conductor of a self-healing process. You are doing great, Dave.I might be able to sell people my optimism, but I won’t ever buy your pessimism. Why not keep the doom & gloom to the capitalist system, and be optimistic about the communitarian approach? I’d debate you if you want to. :)

  2. Chaitanya says:

    Hey Dave,This post really clarifies your position, but i have some fundamental disagreements.From this post, it is clear that you intend on creating models that are completely independent and disconnected from the current one. Personally, i think a better approach is to work on creating models that are (a) scalable , so that people who wish to move to the new models can do so with a bit of effort (b) incremental improvements over and organically connected to the current model. In short, i still believe evolutionary improvements in model, whereas you advocate a revolutionary improvement.The reason i favor evolutionary models is (a) I believe this is a more positive approach, instead of assuming that civilization will collapse, whatever it may mean. (b) I don’t think one can create a model for post-civilizational world, right now. We simply do not have a clue how the world will be after hundred years. Suppose you are betting on run away climate change, how can we build a model for food consumption, if we don’t know which crops that climate favors ? I know you are thinking in terms of social, political, economic principles, but still the argument holds. (c) How can we assume that if people are not ready to embrace the model today, they will voluntarily embrace it post-civilizational collapse. Are people suddenly going to change their world-views amidst the ruins of collapsed civilization ?About “great forgetting”: Yes Dave, we may be in an illusion that we are progressing now. But, what is the proof that Dan Quinn is not in illusion about life 30000 years back ? We don’t even have accurate historical accounts of few hundred years back, yet we can deduce the quality of life 30000 years back from archeological records ? Iam not saying Quinn is absolutely wrong, he may be right. But, iam saying there’s no proof of this, and it is not really useful to base our actions on assumptions about life 30000 years back.Where i disagree with Quinn and his ilk, is that they don’t see things from an evolutionary perspective. It’s really ironic, because while they argue that humans must go back to “nature”, they don’t see human actions now as being part of nature ! We are the evolutes of nature, and this is how we behaved given the instruments and capabilities nature has given us. Now, it doesn’t mean we cannot improve upon this and move forward incrementally. But to take life 30000 years back as some fixed yardstick for how life ought to be, seems arbitrary. Tell me, when has life on earth been static. It has always been dynamic throughout millions or billions of years. The human actions in the last 30000 years, are also part of evolution. Whether it is a “failure” or “success” depends on how we choose to measure failure and success. Do we know what’s nature’s basis for assessing success or failure ? Did nature say to us that living a relaxed life like hunter gatherers is its pinnacle of achievement ? With our puny intellect, we have a reaction that things now are somehow a “failure”. They may well be, or may be not. It’s all natures game plan. The best we can do is make incremental steps towards how we view “success”.I know Dave doesn’t view “philosophy” or “spirituality” positively, but incase other readers are interested i’ll present my point of view: See my latest post “Gaia and Yoga” in my blog. Yoga is an ancient Indian philosophy, which took an evolutionary perspective on life. It sees life evolving from single-celled to plant to animal to human to beyond, with a sense of direction and goal. It presents a comprehensive view of life. Whether it’s empty dogma or magnificent vision of life, you can judge by the depth of its message. I have discussed how we can view the current environmental crisis from a Yoga perspective, in my latest post. Please leave any thoughts here or on my blog. I come to the conversation with an open mind.Anyway Dave, please don’t consider this as “raking over the coals”, but as another loving contribution to conversation from a memberof global community.

  3. Dave Smith says:

    The big changes that I have observed is that you have moved from following your head to following your heart (without losing your head); and moved from thinking big/world to small/local. This is exactly what is needed everywhere, regardless of the Pollard details of your own personal way of doing that. Small, community lifeboats is the only hope now, whether in a rural village or urban neighborhood. Every community is different, and differently adaptive in its one-of-a-kind region.But trying to build a “model” is, I think, a distraction and not a useful goal. Usefulness comes in creating what works and brings meaning to the participants who care right now in this place. Others will decide later whether it was a good model or not. Certainly provide a record and share the experiences, successes, failures, as you do now, and if asked. But the goal is not to be a model of the Pollard Way, but rather to thrive in what was previously devastation. Modeling will take care of itself, no? Dave

  4. Meryn Stol says:

    I hadn’t understood the “isolation” part of your plan. I think the “new models of how to live and make a living, based on conversation in small community with people I love,” could be better realized as integrated with current society then isolated. Would you or other people of your community suddenly drop some friends? If not, would these friends be somehow not part of your community? Are you actually suggesting a kind of citizenship to qualify to be part of your community? I thought we’ve grown beyond that. Friends are friends, and through some six degrees of separation, everyone is connected. We have a global community.I think that a firm rejection of the current way of living in western society doesn’t mean you can keep being friends with those who don’t. Those who are still living in the old dream need you even more than those who agree with your worries and your view of a better society.Regarding model building, I think the community model will simply emerge from people acting true to their heart.

  5. Now, I’m still not clear whether I’m living in the light/dark green zone or whether my concern for your direction is rooted in Category 1 or 2, but regardless I am thrilled to see you address the disconnect–and quite elegantly, I might add. I’m eagerly awaiting your response to Category 2…A few bonus thoughts:+ I see three ways to potentially change the world: 1) Direct conflict (and threats), which will generally only work if you possess overwhelming force, but which may also require the willingness to follow through and/or totally eradicate the opposition; 2) Infiltration, which involves gaining the confidence of your opponents then subtly using your influence to change the system from within; 3) Invention, which is essentially creating an entirely new idea or system which others can clearly see is superior to the existing paradigm and to which they will subscribe willingly.I think different personalities will have an affinity for different methods…I tend to prefer option 2, whereas you are clearly a 3! I think each has its place and its own set of challenges. I say this merely to remind you not to discount those of us who are trying to change the world in our own way but still love you for what you’re doing!

  6. joan says:

    i think you really did need to write this for us (and part two, as well). alot of my concern lately has been for you going off and doing stuff that seemed frivolous when the really serious problems hadn’t been fully addressed. i thought that, like your physical health crisis earlier, you had perhaps started to have a mental health crisis (not that you’d gone off your rocker, just that you couldn’t deal any more and wanted to shut off the bad). i’m happy to see that this is not the case. i also see much that i agree with in part one and it’s interesting to notice how engaged all the commenters have been so far – this was some excellent writing! i think i will have more to disagree with in part two but i am looking forward to reading it.

  7. Brutus says:

    I’m puzzled by what so many commentators communicate as a fetish for irrational hope and positive thinking in the face of what is shaping up to be radically desperate times. Perhaps I’m alone in having resigned myself to a quiet fatalism regarding the wave of suffering and death (on a scale we’ve never witnessed) about to come crashing over us. Lots of folks are already talking about afterwards, but I doubt there will BE an afterwards for most of us. I have little expectation that any amount of planning, skills, and preparation will suffice to stem the deployment of power by either the remaining industrial states as they make their last stands or the hungry hordes that follow before we ebb to almost nothing. Whereas other civilizations seem to have merely faded away, I expect ours to go out with a bang.We all suffer from our own unique set of delusions. Surviving any of what’s going to happen will be just as arbitrary, I think, as the accident of birth. What challenges us most on the short term is continuing to live according to a humane and ethical standard. What lies a bit further over the horizon is already inalterably decided.

  8. Janene says:

    Hey –First off, Dave, let me join many of the other commentators in complimenting the quality of this article. This is one of the hardest things to express, ofttimes, and you have an exceptional job of putting these thoughts down coherently and compassionately. Specifically, I don’t know if I overlooked it previously, or if you compiled the statement in a new way… but the blockquoted

  9. Chaitanya says:

    Janene: Re scalability and organic connectedness:By scalable i did not mean “unlimited growth”. I meant that whatever solution is proposed must be practicable by humans who are *willing* to practice it now. Iam not interested in niche solutions. By interconnectedness, i did not mean that current lifestyle somehow should be preserved. I meant that there should be a transition path so that people can be on the path here-and-now. Hope this clarifies.All: i was thinking about what i mentioned in previous post, and i would pull the ideas together as follows:past – present – future. We know the present way of life is not sustainable. There has to be a change. Iam completely for change. Which way do we change is the question.I’ve read some anarcho-primitivist literature .. Quinn, Jensen, Zerzan etc. Infact, Jensen’s book “language older than words” is what introduced me into environmental issues. It was a really powerful book. However, i feel thier ideas are rooted in the past. They don’t present an inspiring view about the future. Its all about “Life was great before agriculture. Dismantle civilization. Lets go back to being hunter gatherers”. Zerzan seems to go so far as saying that development of language itself is a “mistake” ?somehow, thier view of life, however romantic they may sound, has an element of negativity and going-to-the-past sentiment. Why did nature evolve thought and intellect, if all it wanted was being hunter gatherer and eat berries ? Admittedly, the thought instrument that nature evolved is very limited, and resulted in current crisis. no ? somehow, nature did not provide (yet) the full capabilities in a human, to have a comprehensive view of life. So, humans just went around doing stuff what their limited capabilities told them. I believe we cannot go back to being “hunter gatherers” in that sense. We simply have different instrumentation. We will put it to use.There’s a saying. “Ignorance is bliss. Knowledge is power. Half knowledge is dangerous”. I think we humans are in this “half knowledge” phase. We are neither ignorant like animals fully operating on instincts. Nor we have a comprehensive view of life, to act responsibly.Now, this is the situation where i found ancient Indian Yoga philosophy, to be making a meaningful contribution. It says in no equivocal terms about *future* possibilities of humans. The depth of Yoga message about human evolution is what got me interested. This message has survived for thousands of years in India despite all the problems we had. no small achievement. And the supporting thing is, it does provide a very scientific perspective on modern crisis such as the environment. So that’s the choice as i see it. Go-back-to-the-past or think-future.Dave quoted Bucky fuller .. “build a new model that makes existing model obsolete”. Now, how may in this world would sign up for a hunter-gatherer mode ? Is it inspiring ? The human mind simply will not be satisfied with that. That’s why we need to investigate more positive and futuristic models, which don’t just talk about going-to-past, but take the best from the present, and move into the future.To some people it may seem like “irrational hope”. To me, dreams of going back to some past state are irrational-hope. Who’s wrong. Who’s right. Who knows. We’ll keep chugging along the path we’ve chosen and future will reveal everything.

  10. Quinterra says:

    Janene seems to have covered the rest, but I have to address this:”The fact that I’m optimistic and you’re pessimistic seems like the biggest difference between you and me. Isn’t that strange?” -Meryn StolYes, it is strange. Since when did accepting the world’s fate and working towards improving the little life left fall under the category of pessimism?

  11. Hi Dave,The fact that you stopped to formulate a response to part or all of your comments is proof that change does result from conversation and a sense of community. We are conversing and the only reason you are bothering to answer me at all is because you feel that I may be a member of your community, until proven otherwise via dissenting basic philosophy. However, I think the

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