Saturday, December 15, 2012

If Transition were as Popular as Online Games

Imagine if Transition initiatives had the kind of energy put into them that online games do. We'd accelerate transition awesomely.
The numbers for involvement, and that's passionate eye-popping engagement, not checking a box on a screen, are astonishing to me (a non-gamer until very recently). Take just one of the more popular role playing games, World of Warcraft. It has 11.5 paid subscribers who play about 210 million hours / week. Since the game was initiated in 2004 people have played about 50 billion hours with sweat pouring off them from positive stress, trying to – succeeding at – improving the skill and powers of their online avatar (their representative in the online world).
Fifty billion hours? Even the fact that WoW knows exactly, exactly, how many hours have been spent is telling. How many hours have been spent on Ttransition initiatives? There's no way of knowing at all, but I'm sure, and I'm sure you'll agree it's way way less than 50 billion. And if all online games were counted the number would doubtless be somewhere over a trillion (of course this is over more years than transition).
World of Warcraft and many other role playing games are in the business of saving the world in one form another, an epic adventure, just as, in its modest way, Transition is. I've been reading about games lately in a wonderful book by Jane McGonigal called Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. She's a young game developer who wrote her Ph. D thesis on games. You can watch her TED talk or check out her website.
In the book she says that a game has four essential characteristics. It's a natural to wonder if they can't be used to make Transition have more of the appeal of a game. I think they can, but it's not as simple as flipping a switch. There's something powerful in the ways that games can be used to influence reality, and many game developers are acutely aware of this. For example, development labs look like psychology labs with testing on just what positive emotions can be most directly elicited.
The four characteristics or a game are: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation. Let's look at them in turn with a few thoughts as to how Transition might start to share some of the game star status.
A Goal
A game goal is irrefutably concrete and directly visible. Get that ball over that line, put the puck in the net, get the sword from the stone of Alcazar and bring it to Carlingwood in time for Christmas. You get the idea. It's done or not done. And when it's done you get a reward of some kind, a point up on the board, a badge / new power for your avatar. Transition's goals are less clear. They often require us to step forward and make the goal itself, with no clear acknowledgement when that's done.
There's nothing that means that Transition's goals have to be invented by each initiative. The goals themselves could be a collaborative project that Transitioners everywhere work toward.
Feedback System
A game needs to show you how you're doing, and the sooner the better. In hockey, having the puck and being close to the other team's net show you where you are. Online games excel at this. They might have instant points for killing something, a complex grading system for your avatar based on what you've accomplished (including your ability to cooperate with others in joint “raids” or whatever); in online games the avatar looks different as you “level up”, and full and complete stats are instantly available to all on what you've done.
Transition has a weak feedback system, based on background noticing on who's doing what. There could be, for example, a series of steps within each project and a monthly recognition of the project that accomplished more of their steps. Or perhaps an annual goal for each project with progress visually there on each site.
If this evolved across the Transition network so much the better. “Epic” scales rule.
In games, the essence is that anyone can pick up the ball and go all the way. You can't mess with the rules of Scrabble: either it's a word or it isn't; a letter has the value it has and that's it. The rules rule.
In human organizations, human group psychology rules which means that unconscious power dynamics rule. In other words we start off following rules we don't know we're following, rules we mistake for reality.
For most of us that means power in an organization -  or a world -  comes from the top down. In Transition, the rules for initiating and taking responsibility for projects need to be made explicit and clear, important given human's exquisite sensitivity to “who's in charge here” thinking and our unwillingness to break social mores.
It's precisely because so few know how to break with the prevailing thought process that we humans pretend there's no need for Transition, despite an avalanche of information to the contrary. Our psychology rules.  It's a human reality that we need express permission / invitation to take leadership and ownership of a process, including the Transition process. The default is that we defer and only unusually brave souls or accidental insiders, the friends of leaders, take ownership for parts of the Transition process.
Voluntary Participation
The high rates of game participation flip the thinking that there's not enough involvement. The question is, do we respect how human's think and feel, and work with their psychology, inspiring them to play this game? People are willing tot play. The question is more, are we willing to invite them into a game and show them how to play?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A resilience mind

Sometimes I can see a relocalized local future, a hopeful future, sometimes not. 


What makes the difference between a hopeful heart and a fearful one, as we contemplate radical change or some form of collapse in our future? I think it's the state of mind or consciousness of the observer, basically how able we are to relate to others and the emerging situation. It's us that's the common link.

And what in our outlook helps us see our way to a future we want to live in? And how can we encourage that?

We're able to see more clearly when we see ourselves as part of and connected to the inside of the social transition we're in. When we're not isolated observers. The old adage “If you're not part of solution you're part of the problem,” could be rewritten here to say “If you're not part of the problem, you're not part of the solution.” (I saw this in Adam Kahane's excellent book on the dynamics of system change, Solving Tough Problems.) If you don't see how you're contributing to the present situation, there's not way for you to connect with others to make it better. You have no skin in the game with your fellows! Then we're left with stockpiling food, with arming ourselves and retreating further.

And that's no fun!

The more we see that our own lives, warts and all, plug us directly into the real issue, the more opportunities we have to work with others who are there with us in order to make it better. And that is fun, though challenging too! (Challenge had better be fun; we'll have plenty of it!)

The desire to play it safe is strong in me. I've often tried to stay outside of conflict and maintain a rational "understanding - and been perceived as distant and controlling. Inside I've felt afraid of seeming incompetent, of looking unable to handle problems that might arise in groups (or the community). Not until I've been willing to not know the answer, or willing to imagine that there is none yet, have I been able to be in touch with, and even enjoy, what's really going on. As any person learns to be a bit more present he or she increases the community resilience that will be so helpful to have as a recourse and resource when trouble comes.

There are a number of things we can do internally, all easier to say than to do. I think that a small group is a wonderful training ground for us to practice these skills. The small group is itself a practice, and a powerful one. When trouble comes, as it will sooner or later, the skills you'll learn of deep listening and being able to speak your truth without blame will help you help those around you move forward. 

One crucial personal skill, it seems to me, is the ability to be with others without making them responsible for how you're feeling. Without getting reactive, in other words. This frees you up to seek common ground with them and to see possibilities that weren't visible before. We actually do have common ground, if we're patient enough to wait and find it.

I try and practice these things: 

Listening to what others have to say without forming a response or what I have to say. Just hearing their story as something valuable for me to know.

Being OK with not knowing what's going to happen next, with not having the right answer. This feels so much more comfortable and effective a position. Nonetheless, I still find myself trying to look good when I feel exposed myself. We all have a deep conditioning to look good so I try not to make this too big a deal.

Recognizing that screwing up is part of the process.

I also do some work with "parts" of me (Big Mind Process or Voice Dialogue), and I find meditation  helpful in clarifying that "I" am not limited to my social self, among other benefits. 

If you don't form or join an intentional small group, then try and notice this. You're already in a small group every time you engage with another. Each small conversation is an opportunity to listen, to “not know what's going to happen,” to be able to take a little risk or a big one, to say what's really on your mind. The small group is just a microcosm in which it's easy to practice all these things, but maybe for you it's later or not at all. 

No problem.

I happen to think that the whole “field” of human consciousness, if I can call it that, is becoming more aware of itself, is already transforming so that the natural intimacy of being real is increasing  (Social media give us a hint of this but social media is not it.) To say this from the opposite side, overall we're becoming less committed to our ego perspective. The relational local future we want is happening already, partly because it's so needed and our unconscious intelligence starts to create it. And it needs all the help it can get, just as we do.

You can start a small group yourself with just one other person. Meet regularly and tell the truth best as you can, that's the key.

These guys do it nice
Resilience circles:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Revitalizing a depressed rural area as an eco-haven?

This plan for rebranding a rural area as an eco-haven speaks about where I live in eastern Ontario, but the idea could fly just about anywhere. The early birds win! 

An ear to the ground or a quick look at the web shows that a significant number of Canadians, old and young, are concerned about the future. They see that non-renewable planetary resources are being used and not replaced and that life-support systems are in decline worldwide. They fear falling urban housing prices and  coming higher interest rates, a shaky global banking system, climate disruption, and  shortages  or crucial resources. . . little things like that.

Whether or not they're right to be concerned, the perception of the problem is very real. (Just this morning I was speaking with a young guitar maker from Montreal who'd like to move out “here”- that difficult to define vast expanse stretching west of Perth out to Tamworth that I sometimes shorten to “Westaperth”). By his account many of his friends dream of a country lifestyle too, but are hesitant about how to proceed into what to them is very unknown territory.

Out here Westaperth, we're experiencing a different problem: the population decline and reliance on handouts and pension income that typically marks depressed communities. While we know what a great place we're in, many on the outside (as evidenced by their behaviour) see this as a great place to come visit for a few weeks during the summer or  a fine spot to move to  on a hefty retirement income. Not the go-to spot for building a future here and now.. In short the people who would actually help build that future aren't coming and staying.

Here's the key point: the community with the willingness to intentionally open its door to dissatisfied or alarmed urban dwellers who are looking for a real alternative – the willingness to actually be that alternative – will do very well indeed.

Here are some suggestions as to what such an open door might look like. They're gathered from conversations with “Westaperth” folks who think about these things. Quite a few of us as it turns out and probably many more if asked.

Before I get to the suggestions . . . a few years back Mother Earth News wrote about a number of locales that had been remarkably successful in being thriving, “great places” to live. These communities had a number of things in common: climate and natural resources to be sure but also something harder to define but easy to recognize . .  and recognize it is just what the folks who moved there did.  They had a powerful sense of local grass-roots community as evidenced by  a commitment to long-term self-sufficiency and sustainability. The factors they had added up to a stronger local “flavour” that everyone could recognize and want more of.

Sustainability can't really be accomplished by one or even many individuals acting alone; it's a property of the system as a whole.  A micro-example of this can be seen in local farmer's markets. They're awesome social hubs and they provide revenue for vendors and service providers. But by and large they're labours of love. The reality is that they don't financially support many of the farmers participating, who effectively subsidize the venture. (Service providers like masseuses may be an exception.) Farmers markets, like all local business and like the community itself, need a robust set of local interconnections to be healthy and sustainable.

Toward more local flavour
These ingredients would tend to increase local “flavour” by being indicators of a real sustainability.

1)    make shared land use a simpler, more available option. Allow people to buy or live on land together more easily - they could farm together for example. Many people feel that they couldn't lead a sustainable life on the land without more hands to help, and they're likely correct. And some can't afford the land without an outside job, which means they've no time to do the farm work .This step would require a change in thinking. It's not what we've done in the past. But for the community willing to put out a welcome mat that anticipates the difficulties city dwellers, especially young ones, have in moving to the country, the benefits could be enormous: more landowners, more tax revenue, spin-off publicity, community satisfaction, an influx of new ideas and energy. would signal a game-changing difference for many change. The participating municipality benefits because  land there are more tax payers.
2)    hold a local and low-tech sustainability fair
3)    identify and invite the segment of population concerned about sustainable future to look at what “here” has to offer
4)    Consider  “common security clubs” in which members support each other in reaching pracitical sustainability goals .Such goals could include supporting individuals getting more than half their food from local sources, solar hot water heaters, local labour exchanges, permaculture installations and more.
5)    Introduce and expand the “welcome wagon” idea with regular meetings in which newcomers can air and find solutions to their practical problems, and let them know these are here.  Such a group already exists for locals.
6)    Support the formation of a local eco-village. While one is already struggling to come about in Westaperth, and is attracting attention from afar, others would love to move toward an "eco-village" model if they thought it could be done. It wouldn't take much encouragement from councils for an area to be a centre of “buzz” in the alternative community.
7)    Turn  local “dumps”  into “Reuse Centres” along the lines of the one in Mcdona'd's Corners.. The Reuse Centre epitomizes a community spirit that locals and visitors alike notice. Cottage dwellers bring visitors to the Reuse Centre to show them the kind of place they live. Do these  cottagers and visitors dream of living here full-time? I believe they do. (The young woman I took there declared it her favourite store and made a point of taking her boyfriend there. He loved it too. Cost? Almost negligible.

The benefits I'm listing here are certainly not guaranteed. But what is fairly certain is that the current slide toward population decline and dependence on outside resources will continue without a change of direction.

The perception that “here” supports sustainability and country living will make the area more attractive to new initiatives and businesses of all kinds, not just the alternative variety.

Population will tend to increase with associated tax revenues and support for local businesses.

New folks with new ideas will inject new vitality and directions that we can't imagine yet.

Compared to top down initiatives, the dollar cost is extremely low. The actual “cost” is in the work of creating a vision of something new and possible and working toward it.

Any part of Westaperth that's able to capitalize on the spirit of the time and the huge appetite for change by really welcoming newcomers will become a magnet for new energy, creativity, business and tax dollars.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Three cheers for messy transition!

 Your localization, your transition to  a lower energy use future is unlikely to be a smooooth trip to a pastoral utopia. No, more likely it has a messy side, the celebration of which is subject of this post.

Richard Heinberg`s phrase  "the end of growth" (also this title of his outstanding book) is the shortest possible description of what`s coming. As you likely know, the change that will result from the end of growth will change pretty much everything about pretty much everything. It'll shake-up on how we live, work, travel, and eat. It will challenge our very identity.

One side of the transition to no growth will likely be messy. Messy, messy, messy! I don’t mean that it can`t or won`t be fun and beautiful too  - I think it will be (more about that later). But it can`t help but mess up the neat categories we’ve had and wanted to have for how we imagine our future.
Let me share some of my own messy story.

Radical Relocalization started out very primly and properly on a flush of success and enthusiasm. I moved to the country for a new relationship, started a monthly group there and a newspaper column based on sharing skills for self-sufficient living. Over time, for good reasons, each of these faltered. My partner and I split up, the place I bounced to was difficult. The column ran out of people to interview in our sparsely populated area. And the monthly group chose to be leaderless after a year and a half – I'd been the leader - and people stopped attending.

And at times since I've felt uncomfortable speaking out for relocalization, when my own wasn’t looking so good.
But that`s not the whole story of course. A turnaround came when I created a couple of local places to put out there how it was going for me, and to hear others with their own transition story. It was a safe space for the highs and lows of how we were actually doing. We called it a listening circle (in a nearby town I called it a Learning Circle). From the start this lightened things up, was fun and engaging and a place where new ideas naturally emerged.
The listening circle is a place where we`re hearing more of how it really is for each other, the triumphs and challenges of working our way through transition. It’s not a place for political diatribes, blaming somebody out there for what's not working. The group is safe and respectful, and paradoxically helpful, even though it makes no attempt to fix. Being with a group of people who are transparent with their own `transition` normalizes our own. When it’s safe to be screwed up when screwed up we are, it becomes clear that we’re really not unique in our relocalization challenges. It becomes evident that much of the time we’re invested in stopping something from happening – in putting the brakes on a transition under way. 
The group also demonstrates and important truth, that transition happens partly in a “we” space; it's a collective phenomenon. Part of it happens in an “I” space, too as we rise to meet the challenge with who we uniquely are. Transition is both an Ì`and a `we` phenomenon. Both / and, just like it's messy as well as creative.
Coming out of the listening circle are a number of other projects. At the root of them all is wanting to engage with more people in more ways around transition. I want this for myself for selfish reasons but also because I believe that our very best chance lies in a bigger more inclusive transition story, one that involves my local community more deeply, and more communities of communities.

The best chance of all would be to have a tipping point of people creatively involved in transitioning to a local, sustainable, just world as if their lives depended on it. Which of course, in a real way it does.

That's what I want and the story I'm learning to live in. It's a story that makes room for the mess, embraces the full catastrophe, but steps up to imagine a world that can work for all. A bigger story.
What I want too is more engagement with other transitioners and relocalizers of all stripes.

I'd be very happy if you'd drop a line with anything that's up in your own messy and marvelous transition.


P.S. If you're on twitter, I'm @Relocalizer

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Petro-Canada and Esso gas boycott

There;s an online initiative afoot to have people target the two biggest oil companies operating in Canada ((Petro Canada and Esso), boycotting them until they bring the price of a litre of gas down to a dollar. The assumption is that oil companies are in cahoots to keep the price artificially high and we can break their “cartel” by forcing some companies to break rank. Related to this is the idea that speculation is causing the price hike we're seeing.

If those were were the causes of the high prices, this would be a great strategy. But the increase isn't mainly due to them. It's the rising cost of discovering, extracting and transporting oil that's behind the hike. Peak oil is here and oil prices are not to go down – ever – with the exception of some surface price volatility.

It's a natural reaction when hard times hit to look for someone to blame. Instead of thinking we're the 99%, look at what we can do, there's a thread of “look at what the 1% is doing to powerless us.” We actually do have power if we're ready to use it.

That power comes from person to person support and work together, from imagining and building what we want for a more beautiful world, from developing greater self-reliance and “community glue”. It won't help if we ignore reality – the end of growth as we've known it – and find a scapegoat for our unwillingness to see. What's truer is that 100% of us have benefited from cheap oil – it's fueled every part of our modern world and the lifestyle we enjoy.

If there's an upside to less available oil is that we may put less of it into the atmosphere, even though what we've already placed there is going to be a central fact of life for future generations.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Do All in Fun, "Comrade!"

The idea of the end of growth changes everything about our world. None of us wants to hear that – none of us want to know that – but for me it's become a reality. For you too? I'm not going to make the case here. Richard Heinberg's book The End of Growth does that powerfully but doubtless you've been following growth's progress and have made up your own mind. I'm assuming the end of growth to be true in this post. This means that our economy is never going to get back to material growth; there can be great advances in life and culture but we'll have much less energy to do it with. That fact changes everything.

If that's true, how do we come to grips with a phenomenon like this? With a lot of hard work, thought, grieving, caring and building perhaps. But at the risk of being glib, I'll outline a quick and dirty path for responding to the challenge of “the end of growth”, roughly the one I'm following myself. There can be many formulations but these are mine today.

My mini-map consists of three steps: deep agreement that the end of growth is indeed true, imagining a future we want that takes this into account, and taking steps to create it. Deep Agreement, Imagine Future, Create. First letters come down to DAIFC . . . “Do all in fun, comrade”. 

Here's what that looks like!

Deep agreement
We don't really believe that the end of growth is coming, even if we do. That's because this notion goes up against some very strong conditioning that we all have. I mean, everyone and everything around us shouts that the institutions and dynamics around us are going to continue on their present path. So we see one thing, and the world reflects back another, or at least has a story about another, called Business as Usual.

This dissonance between the two sets up a lot of conflict within us that requires considerable personal skills and smarts of a kind that aren't taught in schools and that are not usually talked about in fact To really believe in something different from consensus reality is stressful for everyone – it's no failing to fall into it. It's natural because the skill of thinking differently from the tribe isn't part of our evolutionary heritage. That's because most of that has been lived in tribal situations in which conformity to the group's trumped individualization. That was appropriate then. Unfortunately, the end of growth, material growth, means that we've got to grow ourselves and make room for what we know to be true. Deep agreement, in other words, of the broad notion that smaller and more local is coming and coming to us. I don't believe it's possible or necessary to know the details of when specific changes are going to happen. The essential point is that we ignore the end of growth at our peril.

Imagine a Future you want
Deep Agreement is the least risky of the three steps in my map. The next, and the next riskiest is to Imagine a Future we want., Really, how would you like it to be? Not what do you fear (there's a place for that but it's not here), but what do you want? It's an act of courage to imagine what we want, to imagine it in color and drama, with all the excitement that we save for our vacation. To allow ourselves to invest in that future imaginatively is to take a powerful step toward its accomplishment. That's part of what makes it risky.

The method that works for me, is really no method. I get out paper and coloured pens and start to draw and create a map with words and arrows and super-rough sketches. I just put in all the parts I want, things that actually please me that reflect a down-sized life, things that have some juice for me, not just things that I think would be good for me. As someone with a strong altruistic streak I have to watch my tendency to do “good” rather than what actually turns my crank.

Whether it's just with pencil or pen, with colourjled markers, with big scrapbook paper or printer paper, I get something down that's got some juice for me. Some people have never given themselves the gift of allowing the dream to get out there in front of them, on a piece of paper. It's not hard and it's fun.

The third component is Creation, to actually start doing something toward accomplishing some part of the picture. I take something small or big and get on it. I don't worry about whether what I want is realistic at this stage, because I know I often sell reality short on this one. This is a time of change and things that might have been impossible no longer are. In a time of endings there's extra room for new beginnings. Creating something just because you like it is a radical act that, in my experience, has unpredicable consequences. It creates more stuff.

In some way or another it helps to keep track of the progress I'm making. For example, if it's write 1000 words every day for a month, then I might make a little pie chart up with the days of the month on it, and color them in each day. Noticing change creates more change..

Are my three steps too simple? Probably, but they are a start, they will get things moving in the direction that supports your thriving at the end of growth. Other skills will become evident too, just one of which I'll mention now.

It's a big help to have local support, a person or persons who share the view that change is coming and will hear your progress or at least be in tune with it, witnesses to it. You can give them the same “love”. A small group would be the best thing because it effectively becomes a mini-culture for the change you want.

There are other skills and vast learnings along the way, for sure. But the important thing is to make some movement. It's not easy but actually easier than doing nothing. And fun!

Do all in fun, comrade!

Friday, March 16, 2012

What's worth knowing?

What's worth knowing now? How much do we have to read about what's happening in the world?

How much do we have to know about the future before we can start to be part of it?

Very little.

We were all trained in school to have a view of education that consisted (yes, I'm generalizing) of scattered bits of info about the world out there. Scattered because the learning was in different subject areas. A smattering of "larning" from that time remains with me, but the odd hodge-podge of factoids and tidbits that I remember have litte to do with subjects that were taught in the order that they were. What I remember were details that I'd "incorporated", taken into my own body of knowldge for some reason that, while not conscious, was uniquely my own.

I mention this because I'm wondering how much what we read daily, whether in the relatively enlightend world of the information web, or absorb from mainstream media, really comes out of the same model of learning that informed (or misinformed as the case may be) our school years. Thoughts that "meander like a restless wind inside a letter box," as John Lennon had it.

What's it for, in other words, what I'm learning about? A case in point for me, is the continuing boondoggle in the European financial markets. Quite a while ago I understood that they're going down, that there'll be multiple defaults, sooner or later, and that the contagion will spread. I know this for myself now. Why study the day to day procrastinations and fumbling pretense that it's just a bad case of hiccups? I do read about them, and track them on the radio, but I've not learned much new doing so in quite a while. I remain sure as I can be that the reality check is on the way, in the mail as it were. I didn't know the timing back then and I don't it now.

One could say I should be willing to consider I might be wrong, keep an open mind. But an open mind can be a made up mind. The world really is more like round than flat. People who've made up their minds don't change them because of reevaluations of complex data. They skim complex data to prove they're right or they study it in detail to prove they're right. People making up their minds can explore data with some rigor and some do.

For me, I read "disaster porn" for titillation and entertainment only, like junk food. I'm weaning myself off it though. It's part of my world but a diminishing part. The big picture is enough, is better.

The real nutrition comes from another direction entirely than stuffing more current affairs into the maw. Current affairs in the case of the mainstream media highlights this case: discussions don't consider the central issues except tangentially, never head on. The fact that real issues are mentioned at all gives the mainstream media credibility and keeps us buying in. It's like the inclusion of occasional dissenters to give the sense of hipness and relevance. Long as they don't take a hard look at the structure of media, rather than bathe in its content. Leftish media doesn't see the structure of media either, but that's another post.

No, the real nutrition comes from exploring and developing and creating something that's new for you, really new. Something alive and burning. Poet David Whyte said (or quoted someone, I'm not sure) that the poet is somone who overhears something he doesn't want to know. We all overhear that something.  If we're willing to bring it forward, it's something that comes out of your the place where your heart's imagination meets the world's imagination, something that's emerging and powerful and necessary for you. That thing, whatever it is, brings life and power to the world and to you. It saves you. If it stays hidden it festers and becomes anxiety. It goes off like sour yoghurt. It goes off but part of its nature is that whenever you find your way back to it, it's there, whole and entire, not a mark on it. And it's sweet.

To know that thing that is your small part of the whole body of knowledge, is what's worth knowing. Your working on it and finding a way to bring it forward gives life and contributes to the whole, however long it takes, however hard it is.

The story now, in the world and in us, is a story of change. It's evolution in real time. I don't know how it's going to work out in the details, not at all. But I do know the big direction of the outer change: it's toward more local resource use and more local community.

But everyone who finds their way into the story of change will discover, I think, as I do, that the change is really about them, about a change they need to make for themselves, something that connects their imagination to the larger imagination. We can do this.