Tuesday, May 31, 2005


...and welcome to my blog.

I hope to provide you information about communities and community building as a solution to many of the ecological, economic and social problems we are facing in the realm of sustainability. My interest in this was peaked (no pun intended) as I read the transcripts from The First Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions sponsored by The Community Solution. This perspective was a ray of hope for me in a cloud of despair and gave me something to work towards.

Since then I have been exploring ways of engaging in and with communities and would like to share what I have been learning. I started off by considering what it would take to start an intentional community, and am reading the bible of this genre titled Creating a Life Together by Diana Leafe Christian, a resident of Earthhaven and an editor of Communities magazine.

This led me to wonder if I could create a career serving ICs, and I explored getting a Green MBA at the North Bay Campus of the New College of California in order to do this. My research about this possibility has led me to broaden and deepen the question to how could I serve communities in general as we transition to a new reality in the post-oil age.

I also see the need for organizations to make this transition as well, and consulting with them about their sustainability, like Natural Logic, for example, is another path that I might pursue.

I am just beginning my journey, and have a lot to explore and learn. I will record my experience here and invite you to join me.


gus steeves said...

Hi, Liz,

Good luck! I came across your blog at random and am also interested the IC concept, so I'll drop in on you occasionally.


Anonymous said...

Hey Liz, thanks for this, it expands our conversation and gives me a better view of what you’re working on.

I have out-of-town guests, so my responses might be fitful, but a couple of things struck me right away—-more as a springboard for allowing me to ramble and offer impressions than anything erudite.

The comment in the link re the peak oil conference, that many older cities could be energy efficient, reminds me of past experiences in Europe and NYC where people walk or bike to work in the morning and pick up ultra-fresh food (and flowers) for dinner on any street corner along the way home.

Years ago I visited friends in Manhattan living high up in a (rent-stabilized!) condo, high enough that you could no longer hear the city below (which as a mental contrast seemed to give a particularly peaceful edge to the quiet upstairs). Yet if you wanted a pack of cigarettes at 3:00 a.m., you would either pop down to the store on the corner or, if you were feeling lazy, call a cabbie for delivery (yes of just one pack; this was before the nicotine court-wars). Not to mention that though it’s a 24-hour city, things quiet down enough that people still skate down the middle of the biggest street at that hour.

Wouldn’t wanna live in NY, but Jacksonville, which looks a lot like Atlanta, highlights the difference almost painfully. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more oil-dependent town. If gas became suddenly unavailable, people would start starving within a week (if they didn’t fry first from lack of air conditioning).

JAX is wholly a driving city, apparently one of the biggest in the world geographically, and reading that link made me suddenly able to articulate what I couldn’t before: that this sprawl feels unacknowledgedly artificial, as though to say the residents had gotten together and decided it should be so, which is of course bullshit. Even within sub-communities and neighborhoods, there’s no possibility of walking TO your destination. And when you get there the place is so large you tend to shove your car around the parking lot as you move from store to store.

And more than anyplace I’ve ever been, JAX has a limited variety of enterprises (mostly large chains), so everywhere you go, it’s the same as where you’ve been, contributing to that sense of surreal artificiality—-except, of course, for the one place you actually need, which by law is on the other side of town. The only other thing I’ve read about that is designed to look perfectly identical no matter what part of the globe you’re on is the American army base (right down to the food choices in the cafeteria). Which seems scarily significant.

To me, there’s a haunting, depressing sense of superficiality here, as though people were mostly inconsequential and only the places mattered, which from one perspective is I suppose the truth. If so many weren’t beach-laid-back to start with, they might protest. Or maybe they do and I’ve simply not been here long enough to hear it. But largely, Jacksonites seem cheerful and optimistic, and when I complain about anything, the response is more often than not subtly disapproving (of me), although less like I didn’t get it than as though they were trying to reassure themselves by reassuring me that everything is just fine and, if one would only exercise a bit of patience, can only get better. A lot of people are from someplace else, which may account for some of it, a fact which persistently echoes in most of the larger cities I’ve visited or heard about.

This brings up another thing we talked about: how inefficient for growth top-down governance often is. Plus that other sticky subject: ignorance, denial and lack of accountability—-and what a revelation it can be simply to find anyone else who prefers a more participatory approach.

Some of the stuff I’ve run across recently either along these lines or which highlights additional brick walls I fear we’re racing toward, is stuff we’ve already discussed (“Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” “Prey” by Michael Crichton, the video “The Corporation,” the Fox TV special earlier this week about invading Iran), but a couple I think I forgot to mention are “No Place to Hide,” about the future of (non)privacy, and “Chatter” (government and industrial signal-espionage and surveillance). Oh, and I forgot to tell you last night. Something that really impressed me from the movie “Amistad” was what Cinquey said to John Quincy Adams near the end (I mostly quote because I backed up so I could write it down): “I will call on my ancestors. I will draw them into me. And they must come, for at this moment I am the whole reason they have existed at all.” I thought about that, and I got real quiet, because boy does that put the finger on the nail.

The other intriguing point in that link is the repeated warning about the dangers of relying on high-tech solutions. I keyed on that because it coincides with my recent yearning to stop trying to solve problems (like how to structure my life and what to have in it) from the end and begin back at the beginning. Instead of saying, “How can I simplify this mess?”, to ask “What can I not live without?” Because the beginning is only one place while the end is multiple, even infinite.

And also because, as I’ve said, I’m continually astonished at how little progress technology often delivers. I’m old enough to have lived professionally through typewriters and dedicated word processors, and I can tell you now what I realized then, that such “progress” isn’t straightforward at all but more like 3 steps forward and 2 ½ back.
Sure you can kick out a million different letters to a million different addressees by simply creating two documents. And sure that’s supposed to save time on the next letter. But as proved over and over again while sending out corporate Christmas cards, half the time you’d have been almost as fast typing by hand, what with system crashes and learning curves and the fact that next year you’re going to write the whole thing over again anyway and update your address list drastically. I’m not saying there’s NO progress; I’m just saying I’m glad to see people finally acknowledging that it sure ain’t all roses in machine-land.

And don’t forget that carpet business owner in “The Corporation,” who said (1) that the cost of industrial products is far, far above the stated consumer price, and (2) that the requirements of sustainability are so high that at present there is literally no industry on the globe that meets them. Ha.

Company calls. More later.


Liz Logan said...

Hi Joss,

Thanks for your thoughts. You articulated the problem so well. I ran across a similar idea about simplifying in Kurt Cobbs' blog today: http://resourceinsights.blogspot.com/ .

Anonymous said...

Hey Liz--

Re the complexity question, and having read the link to Kurt Cobb's comments, I'm reminded of a book that meant a lot when I read it (3 or 4 times): "The City and the Stars" by Arthur C. Clarke. In specific, the point where Alvin meets the machine intelligence that runs the City, and if I remember, he describes its physicality as 'having no moving parts' and marvels that for that to be true, it has to be supremely advanced. I was a teenager the first time I read this, and I felt like I'd stumbled on one of the secrets of the universe.

Since then I've noticed from time to time how the organization of things, if it evolves, seems to run in a cycle where simple becomes complex and more complex....but then if it is to continue to live and not explode at the seams, it must go on to a higher level by resolving all the preceeding complexity into a new unified singularity. Not just something larger, but the equivalent of a quantum leap to a new level of integration. Not just a bigger baby, but a child, then an adolescent, then an adult.

I strongly suspect that's where we are now: at a point where complexity has reached (maybe overreached) the maximum the structure can hold before it begins to turn back into chaos, and our job as humans, within ourselves as well as in our outer societies, is to forge new unions, selves if you will--in fact previously unimagined selves because they've never existed before--which are capable not only of containing all those little bits in their newly aligned configurations but also newly capable of functioning as personas on a level which can use all those little bits AS that new self to explore undiscovered levels of (as yet) disorganized stuff...

Cobb defines it well when he describes: "... a population accustomed to having giant international corporations and central governments organize large parts of their lives." To my mind, to the extent we allow dissociation of certain parts of our functionality, either because others perform them or because we do not remain simbiotically and benevolently related to whatever fulfills them, we are less than the complete personas we need to be to function "sustainably" as selves.

I don't feel like a new self yet, exactly, though I'm sure it's a process with many discrete steps, but I can say that to whatever extent I've been able to implement this, my best tool has always been to question motive and results. To ask: What do I really want? What really needs to happen here? And where am I right now in relation to that? Because on any level of organization, complexity has a way of smothering over simplicity, particularly of original motive, into a million and one nonessential diversions.

And I don't think 'it' is evil to be that way, because just like people can't really blame machines, until complexity is organized into a causal (and not just "intelligent") self, all those bits are simply effect.


P.S. I don't mean necessarily to post anonymously, but I just tried to sign up as a blogger and it wouldn't take me to that page for some reason.

Anonymous said...


Hope I'm not blogging the horse here, but I have a question to toss out here about complexity, because I find this puzzling.

Maybe the problem is that this gets into another critical area, where we don't much like to look, which is the places where instead of integrating toward evolution we let all the complexity merely rot.

My father, who was an amateur linguist, sometimes commented that languages don't actually grow more complex, but simpler (this is apparently uncontested fact in the linguistic world). Modern languages are considerably more simplistic than ancient ones. Yes, modern languages may contain more and more words about the many new and different things going on in a societal environment, but as for the level of organization within the language itself, that doesn't (within known history) actually evolve but rather devolves.

I remember one particular example, which is that older Chinese poetry was mind-bogglingly multi-leveled. Using just a few words, a poet (who was revered as a high-level thinker as well as artist) was expected to infer simultaneous themes, such as: the nature of nature; the state of politics (including his position on same); the meaning of life; the problems of social interaction; the mysteries of intersexual relations; etc. etc. etc. Ancient Chinese words (and to a lesser extent modern Chinese ones) themselves were multi-use. One word meant many things, depending on how it was used and where--and it not only meant them serially but in parallel, so to speak. And poetry in particular was a way to highlight correspondences between otherwise seemingly disparate things (like a Mandelbrot Set), with the result opening up for the reader like a beautiful flower.

But a more immediate example is seeing "Amistad" for the first time a couple of days ago (where I'm sure they used wordage from actual historical documents). If you listen to Adams talk in court, you notice he speaks in complete sentences (which we tend not to) which are not just well developed but extremely precise (meaning the level of organization not only contains a lot of information but has that information organized and configured optimally). Or as is sometimes used to describe something so perfect that nothing can be removed or added without destroying its perfection: his speech is "elegant."

Maybe this brings up another concept Cobb also touched on: that without remembering what went before, the future merely repeats the past?


Liz Logan said...

Hi Joss,

We may need to simplify as we evolve while at the same time preserving the intellectual complexity we need now. One of my concerns is the decline of critical thought in so many spheres of our lives.

You bring out the dichotomy of being able to see things in "wholes"--people or ecosystems, for example, while at the same time not denying or minimizing their complexity.

Anonymous said...

(1) An interesting man


(2) If you haven't already mentioned it, a site which posts profiles of specific corporations:


- Joss

Anonymous said...

Also part of "Endgame," a list of transnational corporations:


- Joss

Fay said...

Liz, I share and support your interest and objectives to create a livable post oil existence. You are perched on the bleeding edge! Good luck.