Friday, July 27, 2007

food sovereignty and the collapse of nations

artist unknown

I don’t speak Russian so I’ll have to wait until November when the Brookings Institute is finished translating ‘Collapse of an Empire: Lessons for Modern Russia’ into English. This book, by economist and former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, chronicles the end of the Soviet Empire, but I guess you got that from the title. Did you catch that part about the author being an economist? Good because that comes up later. Now as I said, I don’t speak Russian so you might be asking yourself, “What’s this guy going to do, try and review a book he can’t even read?” To which my response is No. Well, sort of.

The Christian Science Monitor is currently carrying an article by columnist David R. Francis that talks a bit about the book and offers some views by other notables about the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s. I thought I’d share some ideas about this discussion of alternative viewpoints concerning the end of Soviet system. I want to state up front that I am not and don’t claim to be an expert on the Soviet Union, its politics or prevoius system of government. I think though that this ‘fresh eyes’ approach at examining some of the factors that contributed to its collapse might allow me to offer an insight. Or maybe I’m giving myself too much credit. In any case I share the following about how this yet-to-be translated book and its review might point towards something we here in America should pay much more attention to.

Mr. Francis sets the stage for us by summarizing the author’s suggestions about the run up to the Soviet collapse.

What happened, states Mr. Gaidar, is that Soviet grain production stagnated between 1966 and 1990. Meanwhile, 80 million people moved from farms to cities. New Soviet output of oil and gas was not sufficiently expanded to provide the hard currency needed to buy grain abroad. Eventually, the Soviets had to borrow foreign money to buy grain.

It seems that Mr. Gaidar is basically saying that the collapse happened because a large portion of the population of the Soviet Union moved from the country to the city and stopped growing their own grain. But what is even more interesting to me is that that the author of the article himself seems not to make the connection or just skips over it in a bit of conditioning and goes on to blame the collapse on economics- on the inability of the Soviets to feed themselves not because there weren't enough people growing grain in that country but because of their inability to *buy* enough grain from other people to feed themselves because of decreasing oil and natural gas revenues. The idea that the Soviet collapse was due in part to the fact that the Soviet Union gave up on its capacity for food self sufficiency (food sovereignty) in an effort to pursue industrialization seems to elude the article’s author. And then from there implications for the continuation of the American empire and parallels about our own situation regarding food sovereignty started to pour out into my mind.

Here in the United States about 40% of our population farmed for a living around the turn of the 20th century. By 1950 that number had dropped to about 12%. Today fewer than 2% provide all our food. The other 98% of us work at a job which provides us money which allows us to buy food. We have given up our own food sovereignty as a people and instead rely almost entirely on an economic system to provide us with meals. To put it another way we have given up on growing our own food locally in order to have time to make money so that we can buy all our food from a shrinking number of people who grow it far away. And that is all well and good and our economic system is very different from that of Soviet Russia. We have capitalism and they had communism. I get that. But is our capitalist economy impervious to trouble? We’ve had our share of recessions, depressions and economic bubbles. We’re in the midst of one of the latter right now. Some argue it is beginning to burst so I’d say that at least the idea that our economic system is unsinkable would sound silly to anyone who’s heard of the Titanic. No ship sails forever unimpeded.

So should we be pleased that the USSR shifted from a rural populace towards a more urban population who were unable to feed themselves amidst economic hard times and therefore left their leaders no choice but to consent to revolution in the face of a starving population and no way to pay for food? Maybe. But that is an oversimplification of the history of another country I am unwilling to make. And it really isn’t one of the questions I am especially interested in answering anyway. Here’s another question, if the economic system in the United States of America, an economic system based on endless growth, runs up against a depletion of resources that physically slows or stops its ability to grow, will the U.S. face a similar collapse because our people, like those in the Soviet Union, have given up the capacity to feed ourselves directly (fewer jobs = less food)? Is that a possible road of revolution? I’m not talking about a failure based on some sort of conceptual schism between capitalism and communism. I’m talking about a failure due to an increasing resource scarcity that chokes the life out of growth economics. This has always been my beef with most economists. They seem not to recognize the limits- the physical limits of the natural world. I understand that in era of unprecedented growth and materialist prosperity, many people have been made to feel as if any and all is possible, but there is only so much of everything. Natural resources are limited. That means natural resources aren’t infinitely available. That means limits. That means infinite growth in our finite system is impossible even if short term growth seems to suggest that it is inevitable. Sorry to wander off on such a rant- let me put it this way. There are limits to growth. Those who fail to recognize this fact do so at the peril of us all.

But back to the question at hand, when (not if) the American economy of growth falters, as all such economies are bound to do, how will the 98% of non-farmers be able to buy bread? Are we in for the rough ride of revolution when we are unable to buy food? Another question- Will we be more willing to overthrow our corporate masters when they are unable to feed us? And another- Do we really need to wait for that to happen?

What would happen if the people of the United States of America made a preemptive strike not against another nation but against the choke hold of industrial agriculture and perilous position in which it places us? Perhaps we have already given up our freedom of choice, real choice over how we live our lives and have settled on the offered option of crappy supermarket tomatoes for which we pay the price of working from behind a desk! We grow fewer than 10% of the tomato varieties cultivated in the United States in the year 1900. 70% of the food in our grocery stores is processed; much of it heavily laden with fat or refined sugar or both. In a country where most of our congressional representatives support- are about to pass right now- a farm bill that rewards the makers of cheap junk food to the detriment of those whole grow our fruits and our vegetables, can we really say that we have a choice in what we eat? How it’s grown? What chemicals are sprayed on it? Would such a revolution not also give us back real choice?

Of course we have an alternative. We can, as a nation, turn away voluntarily from the industrialization of agriculture by rejecting a culture of consumption and promoting a culture of creation- not factory farming but local food needs met locally. We can reject the greed of materialism in favor of the freedom and stability of agricultural self sufficiency and local interdependency- the battle cry can be Food Sovereignty! And we can do it in advance of any possible economic troubles because of speculation, liquidation, inflation, or any other pseudoscientific notions about how wealth changes hands. We can begin again to base our society on providing our own needs and the needs of our communities.

This sort of democratization of support systems could lead in turn to a stronger democratic system of governance with the population ruling over themselves not being provided for by a few agribizness corporations. While writing this essay I shared the rough draft with a few friends, several of whom said something to the effect of, “The Soviet government gave the people their food but here in the U.S. we get our own.” To which I responded with strong disagreement. We do not get our own food in this country. It is shelved for us by grocery store stock boys. Transported to us by truckers. Grown a thousand and half miles away. Harvested by migrant workers who are paid poverty level wages or worse- much of it is grown under contract by corporations whose practices destroy local communities in other countries and leads to the devastation of our global environment and the further destabilization of more folks angry with America. Just because we *buy* our food at the grocery store doesn’t mean we have any real control over how we fed our families. What we have is the illusion of control and in this regard we might be worse off than the Soviets in terms of susceptibility.

A population that can feed itself can express power over a ruling minority not through violence but by withdrawing their dependency from the system of inadvertent indentured servitude by which corporatization and globalization have enslaved all of us who depend on far away others for what we can grow in our own front yards or buy from the besieged family farmer down the road.

Any way you slice it, our ability to feed ourselves is important in establishing any attempt at addressing the crises current facing humankind. Rapid resource depletion, population migration, global climate change, peak energy, a pandemic illness or any combination of these converging calamities could lead to more conflict and the possible collapse of our current system of civilization. Facing these issues can best be handled through a collaborative effort involving real education and a democratic approach towards problem solving. Personally I think a re-ruralization and a swift move towards self sufficiency, along with a return to local interdependency, could go a long way towards mitigating our problems and stabilizing our democratic goals and aims. We could learn something from the Soviets. Not the notion that institutional communism is a bad idea- we already know that- but the idea that giving up our ability to grow local food makes us more susceptible to the falling debris likely during any economic collapse. Can we use this insight to regain control over our food and our governing institutions before the real want of limits sets in? That is of course a question I can not answer but I hope so. I really do.


Refocus our eating habits. Adopt The Bullseye Diet.

For more insight on lessons to be learn from Post-Soviet Russia I highly recommend a marvelous read on the subject, Dimitri Orlov’s ‘Post-Soviet Lesson For A Post-American Century.’

The article I referenced from The Christian Science Monitor, by David R. Francis, is here.

Preorder ‘Collapse of an Empire: Lessons for Modern Russia

Author's Note: From the time I started this essay until the time I posted it, the Dow Jones Industrial average dropped 450 points. Why work to buy it when we can grow it? Why run that risk?

Friday, July 20, 2007

big oil talks about a big problem

(From a March 2006 ExxonMobile misinformation ad)

The National Petroleum Council (NPC) has acknowledged peak oil. If you don't know anything about the NPC here's a bit from their mission statement.

The purpose of the NPC is solely to represent the views of the oil and natural gas industries in advising, informing, and making recommendations to the Secretary of Energy with respect to any matter relating to oil and natural gas..

So we're not talking about an altruistic bunch of folks here. This is the official mouth piece for big oil. One guess who the chairman is by the way.

This means even the oil execs are now willing to openly talk about peak oil. I would ramble on about what I think this means but The Oil Drum has great coverage (as always) if you click here. Energy Bulletin covers this bit of news here, and includes the following paragraph,

The short summary is, we've won respect and acknowledgment of our point of view, which is the most prudent view of the world oil supply. The new question is how to exploit our new advantage so that the world immediately embarks on mitigation to avoid the dire consequences projected by many folks.

Yes the time is rapidly approaching when real alternatives to the way we're living are going to be necessary and those people working on such plans will be in high demand. You might go so far as to call it the next American Revolution.

By the way, this report, straight from the mouth of Lee Raymond and big oil is entitled, 'Facing the Hard Truths about Energy.' That sort of sums it up doesn't it?

The Oil Drum covers NPC report

EB covers NPC report

The NPC full report (pdf)

Friday, July 13, 2007

a report on oil: mid summer 2007

Back at the end of June, while mainstream media was off covering, let’s see what was the story de jour in late June? Ah yes, the launch of apple’s new iPhone. Back in June, while all the paid reporters were off testing out their brand new $500 cell phones, the price of a barrel of oil was once again on the rise. From,

LONDON, June 28: The New York oil price surged above $70 per barrel for the first time in ten months on Thursday, amid tight supplies in the US, the world's biggest consumer of energy…. New York's main oil futures contract, light sweet crude for delivery in August, soared by more than a dollar to $70.52 in electronic deals -- the highest level since August 28, 2006.

The same website went on to explain that the sudden surge in crude cost happened,

after the US Department of Energy (DoE) reported that American petrol stockpiles fell by 700,000 barrels to 202.6 million barrels in the week ending June 22. That surprised the market, as analysts had expected a gain of 1 million barrels.—AFP

So the professional fellas following oil were caught off guard and the cost of crude has been beyond the $70 a barrel mark for upwards of two week now with nary more than a peep out of the iMedia. In fact, on July 2, MSNBC ran an article on their front page entitled, “Have Pump Prices Peaked For the Summer?” That was just before our nation was about the celebrate the 4th of July. Now I’m not going to go so far as to claim a special scheme in this case (we wouldn’t want to spook all those potential July 4th travelists would we?) Besides to speculate that the media didn’t cover $70 a barrel oil so that they would refrain from frightening Americans out of traveling for a holiday weekend would just lead to name calling. You’d call me a conspiracy theorist and I’d call you a coincidence theorist so let’s skip all that and get back to the matter at hand. Oil has risen to more than $70 a barrel and as it did so, MSNBC was saying,

‘If all goes well, pump prices may have peaked for the summer.’

Yeah! And then we all drove to the beach.

The article did get one part right saying,

This spring’s pump price spike drew widespread ire from American drivers. A survey conducted earlier this year, as the price of gasoline broke through $3 a gallon, found that more consumers were concerned about high gas prices than they were about terrorism or the state of overall economy…. But that concern has not put a crimp in consumption.

And yes MSNBC also covered the predicted increase in Independence Day driving,

Based on a national telephone survey, AAA estimated that about 41.1 million Americans will travel during the Fourth of July holiday week, up 0.8 percent from last year.

So all was well on the 4th and here we are approaching the ides of July and still only the faintest hints of coverage concerning the rising cost of crude- $73.46 a barrel as a type.

Of course all of this was happening under the shadow of a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) that said,

Despite four years of high oil prices, this report sees increasing market tightness beyond 2010, with OPEC spare capacity declining to minimal levels by 2012

The truth is, has a wonderful article out about how peak oil is all over and yet dodged about in a recent commentary concerning the IEA and its most recent , um… thoughts. Andrew Leonard quoted this section from the IEA,

While there might be a temptation to extrapolate this trend, citing a peak in conventional oil output, a degree of caution is in order. Firstly, the concept of "conventional" oil changes with time, technology and economics. In the early 1970s, much offshore production was deemed unconventional, but this portion of global supply has since grown to account for 30 percent of the total.

OK so they want to redefine “oil” to avoid uttering the word “peak.” But there’s more,

Peak or plateau production is frequently taken as shorthand for impending resource exhaustion. While hydrocarbon resources are finite, nonetheless issues of access to reserves, prevailing investment regime and availability of upstream infrastructure and capital seem greater barriers to medium-term growth than limits to the resource base itself.

No, no, no they say. We’re not approaching peak oil, but we might be experiencing a few problems that could best be blamed on, well, something that resembles peak oil.

Of course we could invade a country in the area of the Earth with most of the remaining petroleum still to be extracted, but even doing that might not lead to quick and easy oil legislation that would strengthen our outlook on future supply. And some smart people are already calling us out.

Six Nobel Peace Prize laureates have released a statement in opposition to the proposed controversial Iraqi oil law, that some observers believe could go before Parliament as early as this week.

The laureates include Betty Williams, Mairead Maguire, Rigoberta Menchu, Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi and Wangari Maathai.

The statement reads, in part, “The Iraqi oil law could benefit foreign oil companies at the expense of the Iraqi people, deny the Iraqi people economic security, create greater instability and move the country further away from peace.”

Then again peace has never been at the forefront of American foreign policy.

I pick on mainstream media but give credit where it’s due. The L.A. Times L.A. Times ran a story that said,

The International Energy Agency, energy advisor to 26 industrialized countries, cautioned that a crude crunch was on the way because world demand was rising faster than production.

But my favorite article of recent comes from Times of India which reported,

World oil prices fell on Monday after rebels in key energy producer Nigeria freed a three-year old British girl.

I am certainly glad she is free and safe but let me add that when the worldwide cost of oil rises and falls on the fate of one small child, it’s obvious that there is some else, something bigger going on than just tight markets and rising demand.

Instability has a cause. One of my main beefs with the media is that they often point out the effects but do little to relate them to the underlying cause. Immigration is a great example. With all the brouhaha lately I have been only amused. Personally I think the fairest solution would be to form a council with Native Americans from all the indigenous nations and send before them every man, woman and child in America to decide who gets to stay and who gets to go (finally some real settling of genocidal scores) but since that’s not likely to happen could we please, as a nation, talk about the underlying cause of rampant illegal immigration and stop bitching about what is, or is not, an expectable language to speak out in public?

Jeff Vail just published a wonderful piece over at the oil drum concerning the state of Mexico. Mexico is the number two supplier of oil to the U.S. just after Canada and only a bit above Saudi Arabia. Mexico’s ability to produce oil is in big trouble.

This in turn is already causing ripple effects throughout that nation but it could spell bad news for a nation already sending its citizens northward at a alarming rate. But this is not discussed in the media. We hear mostly about the xenophobes and the reactions to the xenophobes.

So why did I fail again to write about how I am making useful change in my life in response to all this craziness going on, if undiscussed, in the world as we approach peak oil? Why did I instead just banter about concerning what’s really going on in the world. Because I’m just generally annoyed and thought I would share and because it’s great therapy and because I thought you might like to play connect the dots.

It should be noted that I am about to get up out of this chair drive to the bike shop. I will be purchasing my new mode of transportation soon. This coming Monday marks the first day of my more local job and I will soon be trading in my internal combustion engine for a bicycle commute. So you see this bitching is a form of release before the real work of change begins; just so you don’t think I’m a total drag.

But if you’re interested in a run down of all above concerning what is not being discussed about the most important topic of our times, here’s the short list:

The iPhone is stupid.

Oil is, and has been, above $70 a barrel for two weeks.

Watch for a rise in the price of gas.

The IEA pretty much confirmed peak oil.

No one wants to say “peak.”

We probably peaked in May 2005.

Americans are still increasing oil consumption.

Trilby Lundberg sold her soul to Lee Raymond years ago.

Nobel Peace Prize laureates think the proposed Iraqi oil law sucks.

A three year old recently brought down the cost of crude.

Mexico is a major oil supplier to the US and is in big trouble.

And I will write something more useful sometime soon.

I promise.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

a state of fear

I steer my bark with hope in the head, leaving fear astern. My hopes indeed sometimes fail, but not oftener than the forebodings of the gloomy.
- Thomas Jefferson

Fear is not the natural state of civilized people.
- Aung San Suu Kyi

When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.
- Henry David Thoreau

A State of Fear

The second half of the 20th century certainly saw plenty of economic losers among those of us living in the United States of America, but I think it’s safe to say that I’m speaking for a majority of the American population, when I point out that our recent history has included most of us having enough food to eat, enough water to drink, and plenty of clothing to wear. Most of us have some sort of roof over our heads and a car to drive about town. We have access to medical care and some sort of a free education. But beyond just meeting our most basic needs, many American Baby Boomers and the generations of their children who’ve followed, have been able to fill their closets with expensive clothes, their living rooms with flat screen televisions and their stomachs with a seemingly endless supply of cheap, processed food product. The post World War II era in America can be aptly described as a period of relative easy for those of us in the majority middle class. We’ve devoted our spare time to shopping, lawn care, or just washing our autos, with little thought given to the anomaly that is our point in human history. It is difficult for those of us who have grown up in the relative luxury of this our materialistic, consumer culture to fathom real want. And this is why it is so easy for us to fear and so easy for that fear to be used against us.

Our national savings rate is just one example of how strongly we are attached to our habits of personal consumption. The savings rate for the average Americans as a percentage of disposable income dipped into the negative numbers in the second half of 2005 and has stayed there ever since. It seems as if these days, we Americans are willing to go into debit by borrowing money on our credit cards or against the equity of our housing bubble homes in order to maintain our non-negotiable way of life. Why is it that even when it appears obvious that a more practical approach would involve reducing our levels of consumption, most Americans are seeking such shortsighted means to address the material wants they have come to think of as needs? As a society we have come to associate things with happiness, consumption with contentment and we are deeply afraid of what living with less might mean. In the face of resource depletion, energy descent and global climate change, why don’t we just make do with less? Because we’re afraid of change, afraid of the unknown and afraid, if only subconsciously, of learning that maybe having bigger, better and newer might not really deliver the happiness the advertising industry promised. Yes at the center of our fears is the suggestion that this might all have been a big lie and that we have been slow to recognize the costs of our actions in terms of real happiness and the bankrupting of biodiversity on this planet; to say nothing of our insane levels of personal financial debt. These days we’re afraid of many things, chief among them that we might have destroyed our children’s future for nothing. There is an awful lot of fear going around.

Of course there are other, more palpable fears out in our society at present; fears manufactured by those who profit from this culture of consumption. There are those who are not interested in the health and human happiness of the people in this country but rather they are infected with the fear of change in a way that is so absolute as to turn them against all other human beings and in fact against all other species of our planet in favor of gathering personal wealth in the form of material goods. Some speak of this sort of sickness as greed. Others call it gluttony but at the heart of this avarice is fear. And as it will do, this fear has caused those who have it to spread it out among the rest of us. Fear of change has been injected into our American dream to paint its revision as a nightmare. Yes, this spreading of fear has been on purpose. And it is getting worse.

As a nation we have allowed the US government to scare us into accepting a dramatic reduction in our personal freedoms over the past several years. As a response to the terror acts of September 11th 2001, Congress approved the USA Patriot Act, which among other actions allows the federal government to access our tax and medical records, agrees to secret searches without probable cause and even gives the government the ability to track which books we check out of our public libraries. During the months immediately following 911, thousands of men, many of them United States citizens who happened to be Muslims, were detained and held for weeks in secret locations without being charged. Since those events, more than 8,000 Arab immigrants have been interrogated solely because of their religious affiliations. In addition the US government has and probably continues to participate in ‘extraordinary renditions,’ the term used to describe the kidnapping of suspects (formerly innocent until proven guilty) who are then flown to other countries for interrogation. All of this in the shadow of the fact that our government has largely repealed Habeas Corpus, the right of a prisoner to petition the courts against unlawful imprisonment, a fundamental right of Western law dating back to the 14th century. And of course we all know now about the current administration’s program of secret wiretapping which allowed the executive branch access to the phone conversations of American citizens without court authorization. Why would Americans allow such an erosion of civil rights here in the land of the free? It’s simple, as a people we have given in to their fear.

In 2003, the US military invaded the country of Iraq because George W. Bush and his administration told the American people, and the world, that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and that he was an imminent threat to the United States and our allies. In the run up to the war, the Bush administration also constantly suggested a connection between the terror attacks of September 11th and Saddam Hussein. Yes, fear was central to our willingness to support the invasion of a country that had not harmed us. Lost in the terror talk was the fact that we were the ones that armed Saddam in the first place or the fact that the Middle East is sitting on top of the remaining 2/3 of the oil left in a world that has peaked in global petroleum production. The truth behind the decision to go to war was hidden by a heavy dose of fear. We now know there weren’t any weapons of mass destruction and the Bush administration has now publicly denied any connection between Saddam and 911. Lots of scary for nothing, but so much damage has already been done.

More than 3,500 U.S. soldiers have died fighting over this error and hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi have been killed because of the decisions made by our president and yet the authority of the current administration, both morally and legally, has faced relatively scant opposition. Most Americans now say they oppose the war but the vast majority aren’t willing to take to the streets in protest or even talk openly about impeachment. They are afraid of being labeled un-American or worse yet, they are afraid of being punished by those in power. What a sad state of affairs that our government might make such a colossal mistake in terms of human lives lost and money needlessly wasted (the cost of the Iraq war now topping 1 trillion dollars) and yet we as Americans are scared to do anything about it. Or perhaps it’s a combination of fears too great to overcome; afraid of the terrorists, afraid of our own government, maybe even afraid of what will happen to our economy here in consumption USA if the Middle Eastern oil goes to China or India instead of suburban American. 40,000 people die in America each year in automobile accidents yet we are mostly unafraid of cars. Fewer than 2,800 died on September 11, 2001 and yet we have allowed our leaders to twist those events into a national fear so strong that it has replaced reason, prudence and discretion.

But still I argue that this fear of terror, this terrorism on the part of our leaders, who pass out anxiety on the nightly newz, is possible only because we are in our hearts afraid of living in a manner different from the affluence most of us have come to know. We associate having fewer toys with a less satisfying life. We relate physical labor to a painful existence. We correlate small, simple or uncomplicated ideas with a life lived of less enjoyment. We are a product of our product culture, and we are deathly afraid of changing it.

Most of us have known a life lived largely with the creature comforts of a relatively high level of material wealth and are therefore easily frightened by any idea of going without it. This fear takes many forms as it calls attention to our culture as a way of life based on material wealth, not on human connections to each other and our natural world. But there are other ways to live. It is possible to imagine a world mostly free from fear. The problem is casting off the prevailing anxiety of our present way of life. In order to glimpse a fearless existence we need the ability to temporarily escape to a place where we are free to envision it.

I recently spent 4 days living completely outside in a farm field in central Tennessee. I was there to attend the bonnaroo music festival and this meant sleeping in a tent, eating under a trap and walking miles a day to get water, to use a portable toilet and to listen to phenomenal music under the blaring sun in daytime temperatures of around 95 degrees. And it was awesome. I was with 4 friends and we largely traveled together. We went without most of the comforts of our regular lives, though we had a roof, albeit fabric, and food and water and companionship. We took some tea and we drank some beer. I brushed my teeth with a plastic toothbrush and ate fried mushrooms from a food vendor and was treated to the most spectacular laser light show I have ever seen, so I can’t claim to have lived in anything like the conditions faced by many of those in third world countries. I don’t mean to suggest that my vacation from consumer culture was without some of the advantages of our affluent society. Tickets to the event after all were $200 a piece. But I did go without air conditioning. My group had no television. There wasn’t any way to get around without walking. No couch, no bathtub and no Internet. We shared cell phones and kept our food cold with dry ice. Like I said, not poverty level existence by any means, but my traveling companions and I went without much of what most people think of as necessary in modern American life. And because of that, not in spite of it, we had a blast. The atmosphere was one of kindness with a focus on each other, friends and strangers alike. People gave things away, shared and talked to new people. Obviously festivals are a time of fun but this environment left me free to suppose that our existence is not predetermined as that of a frightened citizenship who work most of their days indoors to collect things and but stuff and consume crap before falling asleep in front of an idiot box. We hear everyone talk about, “What is really important,” during monumental points in our lives. After the death of a loved one, during a graduation ceremony, in the toast of a wedding couple we hear our fellow citizens talk about how people, not things, are that which is most important. And then most of us go back to a way of life that is exactly opposite from that which we hear in such speeches. Think about what life would be like if we could live out this dream. Are we too scared to even imagine? I know that idea frightens those who sell us our substitute.

Two weeks home from the music festival one of my friends, who had just been for the first time, asked if I ever experienced an emotional hangover upon return from this annual event. I told him that yes, after a few weeks of pleasurable nostalgia concerning the trip, my return to the work-a-day world of our crazy culture creates in me a longing to return to that farm field, that place where I walk, I sing, I feel and I enjoi the people and the world around me; not through a film of fear but through direct experience: joy, pain, laughter and ache; all in a good days fun. The experience revives my heart and refreshes my soul and one year from now I hope to return to that place where I know others set aside fear and rejoice in a few days lived without it. In the meantime I’ll try to remember what it is that tugs at my spirit while I am away working hard (too hard I think sometimes) to realize this dream as a new reality. The answers are all so simple that even I forget them sometimes so it helps to go and listen and be reminded and be thankful. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity again. Certainly long term life can’t continue on in a field without making plans to meet our most basic needs and wants. But this trip always brings to my mind the idea that happiness is not wrapped up in all that we so desperately cling to and fear for losing in terms of all our stuff.

Of course those of us who are aware of the fact that this fabulous wealth of oil will be in short supply are guilty of cultivating fear. Those who understand the hard facts that surround the warming of our planet also used fear as an alarm that panics people into denial or worse, brazen opposition. Too little top soil. Not enough fresh water. Extinction. Die-off. Famine. Floods. Disease. Death. The sky really is falling and we are not afraid to shout it out in our own fright and to frighten others. But I’m not so sure that such behavior helps, especially if we don’t offer a vision of how we all might be better off if we change our destructive lifestyles. Fear is after all, the very same behavior that lead to all our problems in the first place. Had we been content to wander this Earth and take what was offered we might have been happy and free from fear even still today. But our ancestors stopped to try and force their will upon the planet. Not satisfied with what was available, our species entered off on this journey of sickness in separation from nature, of which fear and its anxiety are a symptom. It is too late to go back of course. The idea that we can again roam the Earth free from long term fear is untrue. There are too many of us now and we’ve forgotten how to do it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t examine the mistakes of our recent past. It doesn’t mean that we can’t see fear for what it is, a debilitating emotion concerning anything but the most fight or flight response. FDR was right, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” To think otherwise is to burden ourselves with the idea that we can alter the unalterable or that we can not do that which can be done. It clouds our vision and makes it hard to understand the true state of our predicament - this materialistic way of life is killing us; both as individuals and as a nation.

The truth is that we’re afraid of losing the very stuff that is making us sick. We cling to our disease as if to let it go or to leave it unprotected is a sin. We tell ourselves, “We mustn’t change the way we live. We mustn’t stop the firefight of its protection. To do so would be to… to…” In truth to do so would be to live again and to turn our society from one so concerned with avoiding death that we are willing to avoid living life. And even though this knowledge and the truly logical behaviors associate with it are easy to understand, practicing such an obvious inspiration is not so easy least you alienate yourself from all the others who are afraid. Those who are afraid want you to be afraid as well. Talking about fearlessness is heresy. Teaching it is a sin. Working against the establishment of fear can also get you in trouble, but having gotten a glimpse of a world without it, I really just don’t have a choice.

So it is with these thoughts that I suggest you plan your own personal vacation from fear. It might involve time spent quietly alone. It might mean switching off the television, tuning out NPR and going offline. The outdoors will help and will make you too far away to be bothered with the fear that spreads across our country. It’s probably a lifelong process to try and heal from its effects and doubtless fear will be plentiful in our nation for generations to come. Genuine catastrophes and fear mongers alike will see to that. Me, I’m doing my best to balance my life and live it with time devoted to cultivating a fearless existence. No one’s perfect. Life’s not fair. And bad things are going to happen to all of us. It’s not about being unprepared or looking at life through rose colored glass but I promise, if you can cultivate a time of your own away from fear, you’ll live a life with more room for joy and just maybe this planet will be a better place because of it.