Epiphanies to Come

Love Conversation Community
If at first the idea is not absurd, there is no hope for it.
— Albert Einstein

These days I have the sense that some kind of epiphany is near, some sudden understanding that has eluded me up until now. I have been learning and letting myself change at an unprecedented rate over the past two years, and I know more change is in the cards. Somehow I know that this next great change in my ideas, my philosophy, my intentions, will be about simplicity, about making things easier. Our lives are too hard, too complicated, too busy. And most of the people I know are not very happy.

I am happier than I have ever been, but I am disturbed that I have lost some good friends in the process, mostly because I just don’t have enough time to be everything that everyone I love wants me to be for them. I am disturbed that my life is too busy, that I don’t have enough time to just think and pay attention. I am disturbed that I cannot articulate what has happened to me and what I now believe, to those who, until recently, were sailing alongside me in my amazing journey of discovery and self-realization.

The first great epiphany* in my life came in my last year of high school, when I suddenly discovered how to write, and that I loved to write and to read and to learn and to discover. My second great epiphany came just six years ago, when I began seriously studying anthropology, the history of culture and the philosophy of science. That epiphany was the realization that the way we live now is not the only way to live, that the presence of humans on this planet was an improbable accident, a serendipitous occurrence, and that our modern, 30,000-year-old civilization was not a natural evolution but rather a gut-wrenching and massively ‘unpopular’ adaptation to a series of crises that threatened our species extinction, a cultural lobotomy. My Save the World Reading List documents this learning voyage for me. I have always been a naturalist, an environmentalist, and it seemed obvious to me that by studying nature we could find better, more natural, more joyful ways to live today, in communion with all-life-on-Earth.

The third epiphany, and the one that this blog has largely documented, occurred almost three years ago when I read John Gray’s Straw Dogs, and suddenly realized that trying to ‘save the world’ from civilization’s excesses was futile. He provides a compelling argument that our civilization is in its last century and then concludes:

Political action has come to be a surrogate for salvation; but no political project can deliver humanity from its natural condition. However radical, political programmes are expedients — modest devices for coping with recurring evils. Hegel writes that humanity will be content only when it lives in a world of its own making. In contrast, Straw Dogs argues for a shift from human solipsism [belief in our aloneness and our disconnection from everything else]. Humans cannot save the world, but this is no reason for despair. It does not need saving. Happily, humans will never live in a world of their own making.

Since then I’ve been refocused, as my blog masthead now says, on ‘finding a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works’. That ‘better way’ has been and, I thought, would continue to be, through walking away from civilization (as Daniel Quinn describes it and as Bucky Fuller espoused) instead of confronting it, and Letting-Myself-Change to become a model, and to develop models, based on Love, Conversation and Community, of a better way to live. Life’s meaning emerges from conversation in community with people you love, I’ve concluded.

I am at heart an uncomplicated guy. I’m perhaps even lazy — I don’t like working hard. I want things to be simple, easy, natural. I’m an incorrigible idealist — I am in love with imagined possibilities, especially when those possibilities are rooted in how humans apparently lived before civilization, and how wild creatures have always lived. I don’t think life should be hard, or was meant to be hard. It makes far more sense, from an evolutionary perspective, for life to be easy, carefree, full of fun. I think this is what I observe when I study wild creatures and I think this is how humans lived before they left their natural rainforest habitat.

I think I was born a century too early — I believe that, once our terrible (though well-intentioned) civilization has collapsed, the world of the future will again be joyful, easy, natural, full of Love, Conversation and Community. In this future world there will at last, again, be time and space to live a natural life. In our overcrowded world there is neither, and we are so effectively indoctrinated by modern propaganda that we can’t imagine another way to live than the only life we know.

I have great respect for those who don’t share my infatuation with creating Model Intentional Communities (MICs): A few examples:

  1. Dave Smith quotes Wendell Berry as saying ICs are “a rather escapist idea”. I love Berry’s work, but I have always had reservations about his orthodox religious views. He believes the world is the way it is because of God’s will, so it is not surprising he is offended by the idea that ‘God’s creation’ is a total fuck-up. Why, why, why, should we not have the ability ‘to pick our own neighbour’? It is only impossible today because we have been brainwashed to believe we have the (God-given) right to so overpopulate and pollute the planet that we must live cheek-to-jowl at the expense of all other life on Earth.
  2. Stephen Downes worries that IC’s “take us into an environment where all our transactions are group transactions”. It fascinates me how well we have all become indoctrinated by the culture of individualism. What will it take before we realize that ‘we’ are not individuals, but merely containers for our body’s organs, which evolved ‘our’ brains and consciousness as their feature-detection system? When will we get past this dangerous delusion that we do, or ever can, ‘possess’ land, property, people or other creatures? That we have ‘rights’? A transaction is nothing more than an exchange. To the extent it is an exchange of information, such an exchange is, ideally, collective. To the extent it is an exchange of ‘property’, it is either a gift, an equalization of Gaia’s resources, or it is a transfer of the proceeds of theft. Why are we so frightened of being collective, a part of community, belonging to the land, and a part of all-life-on-Earth? What do we have to hide?
  3. Dave Snowden argues that (a) IC’s are a retreat into isolationism and a breeding ground for cult behaviour, (b) no ‘natural’ community has ever been egalitarian, and (c) MIC’s are over-prescribed and a distraction from more important political and social actions that our world needs. Dave is a brilliant thinker and an extraordinary debater, and he is of course entitled to his opinion. But it is exactly that — an opinion, based on his worldview, which does not jibe with mine. My ‘prescription’ for MICs is evolutionary, diverse and well-connected with each other, the very antithesis of isolationism and cultism. It is hard for me to imagine anything more isolated than the modern ‘nuclear’ family, except perhaps orthodox religious sects, Gulags and factory farms — these areall modern social constructs designed to enhance propaganda and conceal outrages from public scrutiny. My reading of history and anthropology is that all natural communities are egalitarian, but then I had to work past the psychological dogma that equates self-organization and alpha behaviour in animals with human hierarchy (which is nonsense), and the political propaganda that portrays ‘pre-historic’ humans’ lives as ‘nasty, short and brutish’ (when the opposite was true). My ‘prescription’ for qualities for an MIC was a starting-point only, a list of capacities and principles that I think I would like to see in people I lived in community with. A ‘model’ is exactly that — an example, hopefully one that works and can be adapted by others, not a cookie-cutter template that permits of no variation or evolution. As for MICs being a distraction from other important social, economic and political innovation and work (Dave cites microlending as an example) I can only say that I can’t imagine a better location for incubating such inventions than an MIC.

I really don’t see much point in getting into debates with people who think my intention to focus my energies on Love, Conversation and Community is ill-conceived, impractical, or a distraction from more important work (or worse). I agree with Lakoff, and Daniel Quinn, that there is no changing the minds of people who see the world through a completely different lens or worldview. I hate arguing, and I don’t like being baited (e.g. Dave Snowden in his post gleefully linked to a blogger who was so offended by my proposed MIC that he wanted to find it, “burn down the walls and glory in its destruction” — I would have thought Dave above that kind of provocation).

While I am unfazed by the critiques of my stance on MICs and on polyamorism, and intend to make both important elements of my life, I confess that the criticisms bother me, mostly because I think they represent a misunderstanding of what I’m saying, and proposing to do. I take responsibility for that misunderstanding — as a writer my meaning should be clear. If people understand but don’t like what I’m saying, that’s another matter, one that doesn’t concern me. But the misunderstandings concern me. So just to be clear:

  • The capacities and principles (including poly) I’d like to see in my MIC are negotiable, and they’ll evolve as collectively agreed upon by the members of the MIC. They’re not for every MIC.
  • The MIC I am a part of will have no leader. It will be responsive and responsible and sustainable and connected to other ICs and open (as a working model) for others to explore and learn about and discuss. It will be a place of innovation and collaboration, and it will be generous with what it creates.
  • I’m not trying to build a Utopia. There is no such thing and no such place. You can be an idealist without being an ideologue. I just want to be part of a place built on love and conversation, where life is easy, simple, meaningful, joyful. That’s not Utopian, it’s natural. Even in today’s terrible, overcrowded world.

I’ve quoted Einstein above (another guy with a great admiration for simplicity) because the vituperative nature of much of the response to my ideas has convinced me, more than anything else, that I’m on to something important.

I thought it was interesting that, in her new book, Diana Leafe Christian, recognized as the authority on ICs (she’s lived in several and spent a lot of time visiting and studying others), identifies almost exactly the same capacities that “work well” in ICs that I did in my post: high degree of “self-confidence, self-acceptance and self-esteem, assertiveness, humility, willingness to listen and learn, to serve, and to contribute to something larger than yourself”. Her arguments for joining or forming an IC if you have these qualities include lessening ecological footprint, being healthier, experiencing connection and having more fun. She doesn’t wax on them being ‘models’. But these sound like good models of how to live to me. And these are working models, not just some debatable theory.

Absurd, eh? Maybe there’s hope for it.

*It is perhaps ironic that I’m using the word ‘epiphany’ to refer to a sudden realization or manifestation of meaning. The word has been thoroughly co-opted by organized Western religion, but I’m using it inits original sense of ‘something that suddenly appears’.

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9 Responses to Epiphanies to Come

  1. Steve Bean says:

    You’re not misunderstood by all, Dave.I just finished Quinn’s If They Give You Lined Paper, Write Sideways. Actually, that was a few days ago. Last night I finished Forrest Carter’s The Education of Little Tree. Beautiful (and right in line with what you envision.)You’re on a valid path.Peace and Love,Steve

  2. Dave Snowden says:

    Dave, one of the reasons I wrote that blog is that we care about many of the same things, and I think (yes its my opinion) that your withdrawal into ICs is a loss. A few things in this post however concern me:1 – you say I gleefully linked to a negative blogger. Well that is not true. Matt was (as I said) being ironic but I also very explicitly said that I thought he was going too far. To quote :OK I didn’t have Matt’s ironically expressed desire to find Dave’s MIC and spray graffiti on the walls, burn down the buildings and glory in its destruction but I am concerned.” Hardly gleeful old friend.2 – I have never portrayed pre-historic humans as “nasty brutish and short” but they were tribal, family based and had authority structures. In making the statement that natural communities are egalitarian, you are making an assertion that has no authority in any literature which I had read. You say that your reading leads you to that conclusion. Well please support it with some references. I have bookshelves of material on that subject and (to be brutal) I think are guilty of a sort of naive romanticism here. However I am happy to be proved wrong (with the emphasis on proof).3 – The real issue however, and it comes through in several of your posts, is that you are seeking to isolate yourself from debate. You want to reduce your blog postings and engage in conversations with like minded individuals. I could go on, but that is the characteristic of the cult which my blog post referenced. Some of the phraseology continues this. The statement that we would agree with you if only we understood you is equally worrying. I don’t see anything in your restatement that I did not understand the the first time round.I think I could also take some offence at the way you use pejorative language to describe those who disagree with you. “vituperative nature of much of the response to my ideas has convinced me, more than anything else, that I’m on to somethingimportant“. “Bitter and abusive”, the meaning of vituperative does not characterise my response, or that of others that I have read. Concern yes, for you and for the various causes and values that unite us, but that is different. Another characteristics of cults is that they do start to define the world as for and against, and to interpret any engaging criticism as an attack. I really would not want you to go there.

  3. Dale Asberry says:

    In making the statement that natural communities are egalitarian, you are making an assertion that has no authority in any literature which I had read. You say that your reading leads you to that conclusion. Well please support it with some references.

    And yet you do the same thing!

    I have bookshelves of material on that subject

    Does this mean that your argument is more valid? I’m not sure about the language of debate, but doesn’t this logical fallacy have a name?

    However I am happy to be proved wrong (with the emphasis on proof).

    The issue that I have with comments like this is that I’ve come to realize that there is no amount of proof I can come up with that is adequate to prove. If that person is convinced of their own hypothesis, truth doesn’t impact their belief. More subtly, it puts me into a defensive posture — an emotional play to invalidate or lessen my relevance regardless of proof. Finally, definitive proof on any subject of any complexity can rarely be found. There will be differing opinions on the meaning and value of any statement and the ‘real’ truth can’t ever be uncovered.

    The real issue however, and it comes through in several of your posts, is that you are seeking to isolate yourself from debate.

    I can’t speak for Dave P, but when I find myself confronted with someone who is radically different in position to me, there is no amount of debate that will change their position or mine. However, this presupposes that I spend time talking intellectually about stuff… in fact, I will not, I will DO it. If in my attempts my ideas are wrong I will change them, again, regardless of my debater’s position. Why waste time talking? Do it.I’d also have to say that I’ve learned the most from those who actively avoid debate. They didn’t even tell me that they disagreed with my ideas… they encouraged me to explore them! If I didn’t have the results I expected, they’d just smile and describe alternatives.Your alternatives are essentially minor alterations to the status quo. When has this ever really worked?A friend of mine once said, “anything that could truly change the world would be illegal.”

    vituperative nature of much of the response to my ideas has convinced me, more than anything else, that I’m on to something important

    Although I’ve not said this publicly, people will defend their denials to the death. I think Dave P has discovered this “path marker”.Yes, I think that Dave Pollard is a bit romantic and naive in his views. On the other hand, he’s also committed to putting them into use. I think real experience will solve any naivete and his writing will non-judgementally avoid those same pitfalls. If anything, Dave’s inclusiveness and willingness to coexist with other perspectives means that he is at least in the pursuit of truth. Any argument that is exclusive or “shuts down” another is flawed — truth exposes, it doesn’t tear down.

  4. etbnc says:

    Dave Pollard wrote: “I don’t think life should be hard”I agree.What frustrates me, as I watch this latest drama unfold, is that it looks harder than I would think necessary. But I’ve seen this show before, several times with various characters, and I remind myself that it proceeds according to the values and needs of its actors. So be it.I notice your fare forward draws from Eliot’s Four Quartets. There’s another quote I like that’s also from Four Quartets: … the end of all our exploringWill be to arrive where we startedAnd know the place for the first time.Fare well forward, Dave. May your learning path be painless, not only for you, but for the accidental tourists who may travel it with you.

  5. Siona says:

    Dale’s comment sparked something in me that I’d been wanting to post earlier. I’d be curious to see what would happen if, instead of engaging in academic arguments about whether or not these hypothesized models would work, those who disagreed with Dave P encouraged him to continue exploring and testing and supported his experiment in this new form of living. A skeptic who truly believes in his or her position ought rest assured that Dave would discover for himself that his hoped-for approach isn’t quite the solution he’d imagined

  6. Jon Husband says:

    The real issue however, and it comes through in several of your posts, is that you are seeking to isolate yourself from debate. You want to reduce your blog postings and engage in conversations with like minded individuals. I could go on, but that is the characteristic of the cult which my blog post referenced. Some of the phraseology continues this.The statement that we would agree with you if only we understood you is equally worrying.Generally, I agree with this statement by Dave S. I have been reading this blog, every post, for quite a long time, and this has been building. Dave P. has often stated, in various wordings, that he is moving towards a position where he doesn’t care what other people think .. of him, of his position .. In one sense that is most admirable, and something I aspire to .. but in another sense, it is (I think) a signal of some form of withdrawal into a defined-boundary-to-be-defended worldview.That said, I often wish i were as capable as Dave P. of a world view that contains as many factors, or perhaps that I could express as clearly and articulately as Dave P. my worldview which I think (may) cover a wide range of factors.To be extra clear .. I have an enormous amount of respect for you, Dave Pollard, and consider you an extraordinary (in the fullest sense of that word) human being and an important friend, and I will support and defend you at basic levels as fiercely as I know how to do.

  7. Siona says:

    I think there are two ways of looking at it the direction that Dave S observed, and which Jon picked up on. Sure, it might be a retreat from debate and argument and dissenting worldviews into some isolated, cultish fantasy. It might also indicate, though, a desire to no longer waste time attempting to convert others to a pet perspective, and to start truly engaging with–and living–a philosophy, rather than defending it as theory. If the living of this philosophy / approach starts infringing on the rights of others (and it could be argued that my / our current lives already do… ) then perhaps an objection might make sense. Aside from that, though, I see no reason to be concerned about this shift. In fact, it’s one I feel a bit proud to witness.

  8. Dave Snowden says:

    Dale – if someone makes highly controversial statements in a public forum and provides no evidence in support of them, even when questioned politely then are are putting themselves in an indefensible position. If they decide to disengage from debate (or even discussion) with people who disagree with them then they are on the route to cultism. I make no apology for trying to pull back a friend for whom I have great respect, from that path. It looks like I have failed.

  9. Matthew Kalman says:

    Could Dave Snowden, or anyone else, ever ‘pull back’ Dave Pollard from his current path?Probably not.One lesson I think I’ve learnt from the various models of adult psychological development is how unstoppable it can be.Prof Clare Graves said that each stage of growth in our values is like a ‘Grail quest’, where we feel we can almost grasp that answer we seek. But the next thing we know our values have changed we’re on a different Grail quest.If Dave P wants more self knowledge about where he is in his own process of growth he could do the Jane Loevinger-based assessment of ego level, used in business circles in the form of the Leadership Development Profile (offered by Harthill). Or learn about how values grow in stages, as shown by the ‘Spiral Dynamics’ model.You can read about this ego/leadership model on my website here:http://www.integralstrategies.org/actionlogics.html (maybe Dave P is negotiating the ‘Individualist’ stage, who knows…)This kind of self-awareness/self-knowledge might help ensure he never gets ‘stuck’, but keeps on learning and growing – as before.I know it’s a bit, er… well, hugely, arrogant of me to pontificate about Dave P’s personal growth – but there you go…Cheers,Matthew Kalmanhttp://www.integralstrategies.org

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