All Our Relatives

Image by R. Crumb

“The Ecotopian Solution” in R.Crumb’s triptych is the world I dream of when I envision finding my way to bioregionalism. Small scale, low-tech, organic, close to the earth. In fact, this is the only way of life that has any possibility of continuing in a world of finite resources.

I learned about bioregionalism in anthropology classes in graduate school, where I studied Athabaskan and Inuit cultures that lived a life we would call bioregional, but for which they had no name. It was just life. Later, I learned more about this lifeway today from Alaska native people in their villages.

81k1efmrzwlsl1500_600Athabaskan society was, and still is to a large extent, organized around kinship groups who live along the river systems of Alaska, Canada and the United States Pacific northwest. Theirs is a matrilocal clan-based society, that is organized around a moiety, or division of clans into two main groups, either eagle and raven, or wolf and raven. They live in villages on the river banks of watersheds, along which they count their kin as being more closely related than others of clan and moiety on other watersheds.

Clan-based societies often have what is called a social storage system based on activating fictive kinships in times of need. This means that when a village or villages in a bioregion suffer food or other resource shortages, the members of the village can go to other villages that have more and find clan members who will help them, whether or not they are blood kin. These “cousins” will be recognized in the village, even if no one has ever seen them before, a grave situation in a land where strangers are viewed with extreme suspicion.

This social storage system is supported by cross clan marriages, meaning that a clan member from one moiety, eagle/wolf or raven would marry a member of the opposite clan on the opposite moiety, in this case raven. The way it works in a family is that girls are raised in their mother’s clan and marry a man from their mother’s opposite clan, usually their father’s clan. Boys are raised by their mother’s brother and marry a women, often a cousin, who is from his mother’s clan.

When there is a death in the family, members of the opposite clan of the person who has died prepare the body for burial, arrange the funeral and present gifts to the family. The family of the deceased gives gifts to all the members of the opposite clan who took part in the funeral. A year after the death, the opposite clan throws a memorial potlatch for the dead, at which gifts are exchanged between the two clans.

This social system creates mutually intertwined relationships of obligation that help to prevent intervillage conflict. It’s hard to attack your neighbors when they’re also your kin.

The clan system is uniquely adapted to bioregional living, where animals and plants are viewed as relatives as much as men, women and children. When you depend on kin for your health and well-being, and they depend on you, you’re less likely to inflict injury on them or deprive them of needed resources.


Myths we keep telling ourselves

Congress Must Act to Keep the Economy Growing


Economic growth is the problem, not the solution. Furthermore, Congress can do nothing to “keep the economy growing,” fortunately, since Nature trumps Congress every time.

Keeping the economy growing is impossible in a world of finite resources. Keeping the economy growing has resulted in all the ills we experience in our world today: climate change, Peak Oil, famine, disease, poverty, the heartbreak of psoriasis.

What we desire Congress (the opposite of progress) to do is to protect us from the ravages of for-profit corporations attempting to “keep the economy growing” to benefit said for-profit corporations at the expense of the people.

“Greed is the ugliest of the capital sins.” Ed Abbey

"Getting Free:" the response

I finished reading James Herod’s Getting Free today. (See yesterday’s entry) It’s good as far as it goes.

There’s one glaring omission: it says nothing about place.

Getting Free is an exclusively urban, human-centered anarchist strategy. Yes, we must displace capitalism and replace it with anarchism. Yes, we must organize locally to provide viable alternatives to the oppressive central state. It is the basis of organization that is lacking in this work.

Herod dances around a hole in the living room floor big enough to drive a Volkswagen bus through. He rejects all historical attempts to organize anarchistically, to oppose the state and to provide social alternatives, while continuing to pretend that humans organize themselves through logical, rational thought rather than genetically evolved responses to their environment. He doesn’t understand how human society works (in fact, he rejects all division of social science, including anthropology) as well as historical accounts of how pre-state societies organized and maintained themselves.

This is a major failing of socialist and anarchist thought. For some reason, socialists (if I may lump anarchists in this overbroad grouping) do not understand and rarely consider humans as part of the biological mix, as functioning species in the overall ecosystem web.

Today, facing the twin specters of climate change and peak oil, we must consider how humans will return to living in place, or die out altogether. It’s obvious that capitalism cannot prevail in this energy and climate reality. No economy based on unlimited growth can persist in a world of finite resources.

Furthermore, humans “traditionally,” biologically and evolutionarily organize themselves naturally in bioregions, that is within meaningful geographical, geological and biological units that are self-evident to those who live intimately within them. ‘Twas ever thus. This is the template on which human social organization has been formed historically, until the advent of “cheap” energy in the form of fossil fuels, that allowed humans to ignore, temporarily, this essential connection between animals, including humans, and place.

Therefore, any proposed human social organization must include, as the basic starting point, the bioregion in which the humans live, and the on-going relationships among the humans, the place and the plants and animals with which we co-inhabit in the bioregion. Bioregion is the basis for human freedom, democracy and anarchy, just as it is for all living things.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be working on bringing these principles of living in place together with the principles of anarchist social organization, to craft a vision of a possible direction into the dim mists of the future.

The immorality of the state

I’ve been listening to the broadcasts of the “Winter Soldier” hearings, on Democracy Now from Pacifica Radio. It’s absolutely gut-wrenching stuff. I remember driving across the country, listening to the first Winter Soldier, broadcast live on Pacifica stations. I switched from one to the next and sped through the zones where I couldn’t hear it, as much as one can speed in a 1964 Volkswagen bus.

I think of the immorality of sending young men to a desert thousands of miles away from their homes, where they are encouraged, nay, ordered, to commit the most horrendous atrocities against innocent human beings.

If they just killed people, it would be bad enough. These young men… yes, and some women… are taught to denigrate other humans, to consider them as less than human, to hate them and to take pleasure in hurting, maiming, torturing and cruelly killing them in unspeakable ways.

It’s not their fault. Yes, they participated willingly, if any impressionable youth propagandized into joining the military can be said to have done anything willingly. They were thrust not of heir own volition into an alien landscape where people were trying to kill them, with reason, of course. Steeped in a culture of violence and exhorted by their leaders to acts of horrible violence, it’s no wonder that they shoot, stab, blow up and bomb their helpless victims, then live with their acts the rest of their lives.

Meanwhile, the perpetrators of these international crimes rest at their ease in obscene comfort and safety thousands of miles away, watching the scene on CNN and Fox Network, smoking their Cuban cigars and sipping on a fine single-malt whiskey. They don’t see the blood on their hands, nor do they take credit for the lives of thousands of young men and women permanently scarred and distorted.

If there were any justice in the world Dick Cheney, Joe Lieberman and John McCain would be stripped naked and staked out on a street in Baghdad for the locals to have their way with them. It wouldn’t make any difference in the long run, but some folks would sleep better at night.

In the broader view, it is not just cruel, amoral people such as Bush, Cheney and all the others who create such carnage. On their own, they would only be petty tyrants, neighborhood thugs, confidence tricksters and carnival hucksters, easily dealt with by an armed and aroused vigilante society.

Given access to the reins of the state, however, their immorality takes on global proportions, where they can ratchet up their murder, rape and pillage to epic proportions, relegating Genghis Kahn, Ivan the Terrible and the Celtic hordes to mere amateur status, neighborhood bullies, local ruffians. Adolph Hitler had nothing on Dick Cheney when it comes to roughing up the neighbors.

The most frustrating part of it all is that we citizens can do nothing to rein in the excesses of state power. The political process is controlled and pre-ordained. Elections consist of “which corrupt politician would you prefer to guide the imperialist ship of state?”

The answer is “None of the above.” The only rational response to a corrupt state is non-cooperation. This does not mean no political involvement at all. It means concentration on local politics and local decision making, where we live, were our decisions have immediate results, immediate consequences and where those we vote for have immediate responsibility to the electorate.

All together now… face Washington, D.C., place your right hand over your heart and repeat ofter me:


Everything in its time

Sometimes it feels like being stuck to the tar baby. Not enough time to read, not enough time to write, hardly enough time to think.

I only work part time; you’d think I’d have plenty of time for reading and writing, a bit of quiet contemplation now and then, perhaps an Om or two. Some times it just doesn’t work out. The damn novel takes up more time than I have left.

Gotta clean the carport, put a new chain on the bike, pull broom in Arana Gulch, report that scofflaw down the streets who parks his fifth-wheel trailer on the corner. (Anarchy means no rulers, not no rules). Then there’s bike committee meetings, letters to editors and politicians, and just keeping up with the daily, disgusting news.

It’s tough.

I’ll just have to buck up, count a wave or two, appreciate the pelicans flying by in wavering v’s. Everything in its time.

Living in Place

This “Orion” article and commentary conflate rationalism and scientific understanding with technology and capitalist exploitation. It assumes that because capitalism uses the language of science to justify exploitation of the natural environment, that it is science that is at fault, not an unrealistic economic system.

More importantly, the article fails to acknowledge theoretical and practical environmental work that has already been done, and is contiuing right now.

We call it Living in Place, or reinhabitory strategies, based on the work of Peter Berg, Ray Dasmann, Gary Snyder, Ed Abbey and many others.

Living in Place is akin to bioregionalism, that is, living in a place in full knowledge of the biological and geophysical cycles of the bioregion in which we live, and living such that we do not consume resources faster than they are naturally replenished, or produce waste faster than it can be naturally dispersed.

Living in Place is based on a scientific understanding of our bioregion, that is, based on observation and testing. It does not rely on spiritualism, supernatural beings, nonphysical reality or any other irrational belief about the natural world. The problem with belief is that it is subject to change at a whim, unlike science, which relies on observation and verification. Reality is what hangs around when we stop believing in it.

We can no more walk away from civilzation, than we can shed our skin. Our civlization is more a part of us than our personal identity; it transcends the individual. Our culture is what teaches us how to be a human being, and it is culture that persists in telling us dysfunctional stories about how to live in a world of finite resources.

In order to change our relationships to the natural world, we must change the stories our culture tells us about how to be a human being.

This is the work of reinhabitory strategies. This is how we relearn how to Live in Place.

Michael Lewis
Leona Gulch
Pacific Place

Industrialism, environmentalism and anarchism

A long time ago, near the beginning of my short tenure on this whirling chunk of rock, Ed Abbey discovered that we humans are in deep shit. He saw, in the desert and elsewhere, the effects of a global megamachine on the rampage, uncontrolled and uncontrollable, laying waste to the neighborhood, and the neighbors, eating living things and non-living habitat, excreting greed, consumerism, acquisitiveness, folly and deceit, fueled by an economy conceived in a fantasy of infinite resources, rolling along on wheels of cultural distraction and deception.

Fifty years on, things are worse than Ed ever knew. The United States of America is controlled by a fascist corporate cabal, with a demented puppet at the steering wheel, and no pretense of dissociation between government and its corporate controllers. The people of the United States, supposedly the heirs of democracy and the rulers of this democratic nation, are disenfranchised, dispirited, distracted and disinterested. This is no accident, as the new rulers of the corporate oligarchy have worked for decades to get us to the point we find ourselves in today.

This is bad enough culturally, the loss of a brilliant human ideal, a glowing promise of freedom and liberty in a land where each human could work toward his or her greatest development. What’s so much worse is that this evil imperialist empire lays waste to the non-human world in its pursuit of human gain. If our own species is bent on driving over the edge of the abyss, pedal to the metal, so be it and good riddance. Unfortunately for the rest of life, our car is hitched to everything else living, and we’re dragging it all over the edge with us.

Fortunately, Mother Nature is far cleverer than Dick Cheney or even Carl Rove. It turns out that everything really is hitched to everything else, and we’ve found, and some of us have even admitted, that there is a limit beyond which even “Homo sapiens” cannot go, and we long ago exceeded that limit. Geological processes grind slowly and they grind exceedingly fine. Once put into motion, they take a long time to wind up their flywheels, but once moving they cannot be easily stopped.

The flywheel of climate change has been pushed into faster motion by the industrial excess of human consumptive society. No use arguing about it, it’s real, cannot be denied with any credibility. And, as disappointing as it is to the Sahara Club and Foes of the Earth, there’s nothing humans can do to stop it. A hundred years from now, a short breath in the life of the Earth, this place will be much hotter than it is now, and billions of life forms, including humans, will have died a premature death. More importantly, far fewer life forms, including humans, will survive to replace them.

This doesn’t mean that Life is threatened on Earth. Life is far tougher and more resilient that that. Life will continue on its merry way, until the Earth cools down again, 10,000 years from now or so, an eyeblink in geologic time scales. And some form of life, perhaps different, perhaps old Homo sap hisself, will rise to ascendancy.

So, having received this death sentence for “Civilization, if that’s what it is, which I doubt, what’s a body to do?

Most of us alive now reading these scintillating photons will live to see some of the coming changes. Our children, if we have any, will live to see the beginning of the great die-off and may or may not survive to see human population reduced to a reasonable level. Our grandchildren, if any, will live in a world completely different from that we enjoy today. They’ll live at more northern latitudes or at higher altitudes. They’ll live simply, with technologies closely attuned to the places where they live. They won’t know a “global economy” except as legend. They probably won’t even know about some mythical White Castle in the East where the evil Oval One lives and casts his net over the land. They’ll know the place where they live and how to live in it.

Or they won’t be alive at all.

What we do now is get real and stop pretending that life will continue as it has for the past fifty years, and start preparing for real life bearing down on us like the Titanic on an iceberg.

Forget about saving the wilderness. It’s gone. It’s history. There’s no place on Earth that’s not irretrievably changed by human endeavor. Wilderness exists only in the human mind. What we have to save is the wild, both outside and inside of us, the future inhabitants of the New Wild, our true home.

I’m not talking survivalism here. That’s another fantasy that leads to madness. I’m talking about Living in Place, reinhabitory strategies, relearning to live in the places we inhabit, not on them. This is the way our descendants, if any, will live of necessity. We might as well start practicing now and avoid the rush.

Start off by reading “Good News,” and take it serious. Then dip into Gary Snyder, Peter Berg, and, of course, more Abbey. Wouldn’t hurt to read James Lovelock and Ernest Callenbach, too, just to see what the possibilities are.

Then, get busy, learn about the places where you live. Forget about desert hiking and river running. Soon, you’ll have more desert than anyone can use and most rivers will be dry or piddling little streams.

Or, you can fritter away your remaining days pretending none of this is true. It doesn’t matter. We will all die in our time and take our right places in the earth to feed the future inheritors of our folly.

I just hope I live long enough to see Hiway 1 clogged with dead SUVs… all six lanes.

Bwthyn Lleuad Bae
Pacific Plate