Were there any justice in the world, April Fools day would be the annual nuclear power holiday. The industry started by fooling us from its very inception.
Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace has been the vehicle for the development on nuclear weapons around the world. The Price Anderson nuclear insurance act fools you into thinking there is liability protection from nuclear accidents, there is not. Pundits from Fox News to the NY Times claim reactors are a solution to climate change, but they aren’t. Nuclear proponents claim they produce inexpensive power, but they don’t. One of the biggest jokes on us is the idea that renewables with constantly decreasing generation prices are not going to eventually beat out extraction based technologies like fossil fuels and nuclear. In fact, we are well past this point.
Were we to embrace this obvious fact, we would not be building 5 reactors in the US right now. In the spirit of this nuclear foolery holiday a small handful of British activists blocked the road going into operating UK reactor Hinkley B. Their basic complaint is that this reactor is operating past its design life and endangering the locals and money is being wasted on upgrading it, especially given the fact that the price of renewables is markedly down in the UK. But the real joke this year is Hinkley C. The proposed total cost for this new giant Anglo-French reactor complex is over US$ 50 billion. This project is often billed as “the most expensive energy project ever.” It is also being attacked for its massive subsidies by anti-nuclear Austria. With a government negotiated contract guaranteeing $137/MWH which is twice the current UK wholesale price and over 5 times the current US price.
Don’t be fooled.
I have not done a single Transparency Tools workshop on the current PANYC trip. I have however been working with Ogtar who has so far done two of them. In trying to explain the technique to him there are some things which I observed that I think are worth commenting on. The first is that I see as the three levels of transparency.
The first level is simple self revelation. Most common among the our tools for this are “If you really knew me” and hot seat (where others deeply question someone in the group). While people are encouraged to be a bit daring in these exercises, you are always at choice as to what you reveal and how much.
The second level is empathy building. This is when instead of a self revelation you reflect experiences or emotional states you have had which are similar to those of another member in the group. This type of transparency frequently comes out while the crosstalk tool is in use or “i have a story about you”. After some transparency exercise (and especially after “if you really knew me”) we ask for cross talk, where the share of one participant has sparked an empathetic or other emotional response from someone else in the group. By sharing this (in crosstalk or some other tool) it builds bridges between the members of the group who have similar histories.
The third level is emotional housekeeping. When a member of the group tells another something which is standing in the way of clear and complete communication. This is most regularly done using the Withhold or Unsaid tools.
It is this last level of transparency which I refer to as the sharp edge of this tool set. This is because it is where some of the most important healing and connecting work is done. And it is also the tool in which it is most easy for people to mess up and hurt each other. In part because of this it is the tool I most often introduce new groups to, without having them try it on each other.
Often, if the group consists of people who don’t know each other, it is an inappropriate tool to use, because there is not anything important for people to clear with each other. But even when there are things to clear among participants, in the first or second transparency tools session the group may not yet have built up enough trust for it to make sense to try. And again this week while we were introducing a NYC collective house to the full Transparency Tools set, someone grabbed this tool after it was explained and used it to get stuff off their chest which was bothering them about another person in the group. [This also happened with the Catalyst Ecovillage group we trained in February.]
There is something deeply satisfying to me as a purveyor of these tools when new users feel so excited about a tool they are introduced to that even when they are discouraged from using it, they daringly grab it pick it up and try it. So far the results have been impressive and positive.
Crow screwed up. They recently acted out in a way that had made people feel uncomfortable and some even unsafe. It could have been any of a number of kinds of things: An intoxicated incident, a minor consent violation, a petty crime, even an especially poor choice of guest. The specifics don’t matter. Crow knew that they had created a problem for themselves with Acorn and they were coming to me for advice. What could they do to make things better? How could they mend their frayed relationships with other members? At Acorn this answer is easy, you do what we regularly do, you have a clearness.
And it turns out that this is a very good thing. Many communities have self care mechanisms that feel punitive. As i have written, the Feedback system at Twin Oaks very often feels punishing, even though it often need not.
But because Acorn does regular individual clearnesses, adding another one to normal rotation almost always feels accessible. The clearness format is the same as a routine clearness (meetings with each individual member, checking in about their experiences of each other, and then a group clearness which summarizes all the individual clearnesses).
The lesson is clear here. When you are designing self corrective systems within a community, you need to consider how they feel to the users. It is not enough to insure the community is taken care of, these systems need to feel non coercive to the members who are going through them. The best way to have that effect is to have a familiar and non-threatening group communication facilitating tool. I think the clearness process is one of the better ones.
A week later i talked with Crow. They had done a bunch of clearnesses and felt much better about their connection to the community. They felt better understood.
The most common complaint about community clearnesses is that they take a lot of time. “Do i really have to talk to everyone else in the community one-on-one?” Only if you want there to be cohesion in your community. Only if you want to be able to fix significant mistakes people make and successfully rebound from it. You only need to do this if you want a healthy community.
For many people this is too much work and i think this is central to why so many communities fail.
Supermarkets are hugely problematic. They distort purchasing behaviors, contribute to obesity, cut wages to farmers and more. There have been several responses to this situation, including farmers markets. The direct workaround for supermarkets is Community Support Agriculture or CSA for short. CSAs have customers buying shares directly from farmers and typically every week they get part of the harvest in a box they go pick up. When harvests are good, customers share in the bounty, when harvests are low customers agree not to complain, and as a result, they feel like they are in the game together with the farms.
CSAs give better prices to farmers by cutting out the powerful broker of the supermarket. They provide money faster to farmers, earlier in the season when they often most need it. They share the risk between farm and end consumer in a way that supermarkets have no interest in sharing. They typically offer better profits for farmers and lower prices for end customers.
Our fine friends in Freedonia have taken this idea to the next level. [If you don’t remember Freedonia is our pseudonym for actual urban communities which are doing clever but illegal things in undisclosed locations.] They are starting Community Supported Dumpster Diving (CSDD) or what one communard calls Community Supported Gleaning.
Active dumpster diving collective households pull in dramatically more food from dumpsters than they themselves can use. Other collective households agree to sort, clean, prep, store and divide the bounty as it comes in (often at absurd o’clock in the morning). Finally a set of other collective houses come and pick up the recovered food and feed it to their people.
If you have not been dumpster diving in an urban area, you might miss the cleverness of this plan. Normally, dumpster divers are presented with a dilemma. There are 60 bunches of perfectly good banana’s here, but if i bring them all back 1) we will never eat them in time and most of them will rot. 2) We will spend a bunch of time cleaning and storing them and will end up losing out on other dumpster bounty.
CSDD solves this problem in several ways. Crews get sent out knowing their own collective household need not clean and consume everything they rescue. By having the different people doing food prep from the people who are doing the dumpster diving, you avoid asking exhausted dumpster divers at 3 AM to then spend hours cleaning and in some cases food processing all the bananas. By spreading the dumpstered treasure over several different collective households, you share pro tips, strategies and critical information about urban dumpsters among a growing crowd of experts and don’t burn people out by having to do so much dumpstering in an given week. By having separate crews doing cleaning and food processing, you rescue a greater fraction of the salvaged food.
There are complex discussions going on between Freedonia and other collective households. Who can join the CSDD? Is it possible to just buy shares (like in CSAs) and not do any of the work? How do we evaluate the different types of efforts, space needs, storage costs, administrative work etc?
But the Freedonians i spoke with said the project (still in early stages) is going fabulously so far, people are not sweating the details and are upping the collective dumpster diving game dramatically – dropping food prices for people living in cooperatives, reducing the amount of wasted food in the system and providing adventurous activities for people who might otherwise simply be sleeping.
i am excited about where this idea can go, and that it proves that by cooperating we can create a lifestyle which is both more resilient and more fair.
I am not into birthdays, including my own. Turns out if i simply turn off the Facebook birthday notification of mine, I can avoid the dozens of robotic “Happy Birthday” messages which I get from otherwise creative people who like me. I had a lovely birthday including a trip to the free STI clinic, an unrelated rushing around adventure and lovely conversations about forming new communities in Colorado. It felt like a good day to be alive.
As an anti-materialist, I am an unusually difficult person to get presents for. Most people don’t even try. With the exception of my generous mother, it was almost a gift free celebration. Lovely.
But as the day ended, in the last look at email messages I got the most lovely present from Audrey from the far reaches of Quebec. Audrey is one of those shooting stars we get through the communes, who enchant us endlessly but we can’t hold onto because they have other adventures that beckon them.
Without even knowing it was my birthday, she game me the most lovely of presents – a translation.
One of my favorite self-generated pieces of propaganda is a morsel of writing from way back called “Why I am an anarchist.” There is a strange history to this piece, which includes that it exploded the collective that was supposed to turn a set of these essays into a book. But that is another story.
Audrey appreciated this proclamation and mentioned when she last left Twin Oaks/Acorn that she planned on translating it. And I did not think much of it. People offer these kinds of things with some regularity, but translation is non-trivial work and can easily get lost behind the rest of the things you are doing.
I am pleasantly surprised and gratified for my multi-lingual friends who help spread these radical ideas around. What a lovely unextraordinary day to be alive.
While on the recent Point A trip, a hybrid group of Catalonyians and Acorn-affiliates met in the cozy basement room of a bodywork studio in Brooklyn. Paxus introduced this group of charismatic New Yorkers and communards to the transparency tools.
The Catalysts are an incredibly clever bunch. These folks know that if they do a good job crafting their agreements and cultural fabric, they can create an amazing eco-village. And while they are a fundamentally fun loving and playful crowd, community building is difficult work and they have been hard at it. Especially drafting written agreements- for everything. For land ownership, for the membership process, for the types of cottage industries that might happen, the mission statement- the tasks go on and on. Important, complex and often slogging work.
This is not actually what this group of people wants to be doing. What they want to be doing is falling in love. This is where the transparency tools come in.
I have experience with some of the transparency tools used, as I used to be part of a meditation community in DC in which we met 2x a month to have a sit followed by a discussion.
Often in this format and during retreats (which happen twice a year) we used the “If you really knew me…” and Hot Seat tools. I’ve already witnessed how effective they can be in bringing a group together, and it was no different with the Catalysts.
Frequently when starting, it takes a round or two of “If you really knew me” statements for everyone to start to open up. What was so beautiful about this night in particular was each person became transparent almost immediately. People were sharing their stories with each other so willingly and with so much faith that the group wanted to hear them.
We transitioned from “If you really knew me” statements to Hot Seats, the Catalysts asking questions and Paxus explaining the benefits of the many tools.
Due to the wacky Point A trip agenda and time constraints, we were only able to fit in three 5-minute Hot Seats. The group did an excellent job being clear with their questions and answers, and everyone involved continued to be engaged.
To wrap up the evening, Paxus began to explain the tools that go beyond being personally transparent and begin to create transparency in relationships. Specifically, these tools are Unsaids and Withholds. These tools can create space for resolution of conflict as well as giving members an opportunity to appreciate one another. They are also notoriously tricky.
This point in the evening is when things really got interesting. Despite Pax expecting to solely explain Unsaids/Withholds and not try to do any that evening, members of the group began to use the tools without any hesitation. Several conflicts were put on the path to resolution within ten minutes, with the tools used practically flawlessly.
What then evolved seemingly naturally- after what could be seen as complaining or criticism of the Withholds- was the graceful move into appreciations, which were equally rich and revealing. As we left it was clear the group wanted more. The Point A crowd- which are in some sense carpetbaggers from Virginia trying to build community in NYC- felt like we had really done our job.
Triple Threat Tony is a small giant and regular editor of Your Passport To Complaining. She’s involved with the Point A project as an organizer/secretarial wench and hates celery almost as much as comma misuse. Trip, as she is known to her close circle of small giant friends, smells faintly of chocolate chip cookies and rocket fuel. When she isn’t dismantling the patriarchy or destroying capitalism, she pretends to be an Acorn intern.