A Time to Take Stock

What do I take with me into the New Year? What to follow up on? What to lay fallow? What to give new or renewed focus? It’s a time to take stock.

I wrote these lines a few days before the first of January. At the time it seemed good “advice,” yet too much trouble to attempt in the haze of the mid-holiday back-eddy, the time between the contraction and close of year’s end and the expansion and renewal that seems to come with the return of light.

After a short pause to “collect” my thoughts, I wrote the following. It’s not directed at boat design/boat building as much of my recent thinking has been. It’s on a more pressing and general topic. This seems to be the right forum for it. It follows the founding dictum of Fine Lines, “What do we design when we stop pretending?

We need a new kind of builder/contractor – I could also say designer/architect. The “Housing Industry” is no longer an escalator running forever upwards on inflated housing prices and incontinent home equity borrowing. We don’t need someone to help us install the latest marketed junk as we fiddle away value in an increasingly untenable way of life.

We are, or will very soon be, stuck where we are whether we like it or not. We don’t have easy credit or liquidity to move laterally, or vertically, in a market that is fundamentally broken. Our housing was not intended to last or to help us conserve what we have. It is deteriorating rapidly along with the rest of our ill-considered infrastructure. There doesn’t appear to be anywhere to turn to find anyone to help us delay or at least soften this decline. No way to consider improving our conditions in ways that hold up beyond the current fantasies of some future return to “normalcy.”

This creates opportunities for people with the skills and the flexibility of vision to meet these new needs. People who can help steer us towards the realization that there might be some alternative to sitting idly by as we cycle between expecting everything to be fine and cringing in fear of some total collapse that leaves us no way out. This requires people willing to help those around them turn “real property” into the foundation for communities in which we can maintain real lives. People willing and able to take incremental steps towards refashioning our local infrastructure while forging bonds and useful ties among us where now there is too often only physical aggregations of atomized and alienated consumers.

Here is a partial list of what we need to do this work.

Materials

We need to be prudent about how we deal with the physical materials needed to modify structures to fit a changing reality. We need to recognize that we are already deep into the decadence of manufactured goods. The best tools are about one hundred years old. The best building materials are either depleted or rarely available. The “appliances” intended to make our chores easier are shoddy and ill-considered in their suitability for their purported functions. They are instead “optimized” to provide “good numbers” for some business bureaucracy somewhere far-away. Our modes of transportation are grounded on assumptions that are untrue and meet “needs” that were manufactured to provide markets for their consumption. Roads are ribbons of toxic waste spread across the landscape so that the more “valuable” fractions of the petroleum they are made of could be sold to us as we careen down them at unsafe speeds in vehicles that quicken our movements without providing any lasting benefit. All other alternatives; boats, trains, bicycles, and our own feet are sacrificed to the immense and immensely toxic requirements of the car. Any attempt to conceive of a restructuring of these alternatives is sacrificed in the name of boondoggles in which future “progress” will, with the “appropriate” enormous and centralized investment, lead to magical “super-trains” and “super-cars,” boats, ped-mobiles, and on and on. In the meantime our ability to fund any alternatives at all, in modest and local experiments looking for ways to tear ourselves away from the tyranny of the mass-aggregation of our lives undertaken simply to profit someone else, bleeds away into the ground or disappears into thin air like the earth’s long-held stores of buried hydrocarbons.

Labor

So few of us have any inkling of the way work is a part of life, not a fetish either to be avoided or to wallow in in fits of obsession in the absence of any of the other healthful aspects that make up an integrated life. We worship “ease” without considering its costs; to ourselves, to others, to the world. We measure work’s value only as a means to the accumulation of money we value because it buys us out of reality into a fantasy where our whim is King.

“Capital”

One of the greatest factors today in holding us to bankrupt ways of thinking and doing is the power of the myth of financial capital. At this point much more energy is being expended holding onto this myth than is being “generated” or “created” by following its tenets. The tangle of social constraints this dissonance perpetrates is one of the greatest obstacles to our finding any way forward. We are stuck in a frenzied resistance unable to do anything but deny the existence of what is ruining us.

Community

It’s a fools errand to try to disentangle the misinformation so many willingly lap up to bolster their wish that they exist independently, luxuriating in the rewards of their superiority. Those trapped in these delusions will carry them to their graves. The question is do we let them take us all down with them? Human animals have never thrived outside viable living communities. These have tended to be small, local, and particular – even peculiar to their surroundings. While the Juggernaut has worked ceaselessly to destroy any vestiges of living communities wherever it has found them, we need to focus on holding onto whatever scraps remain and to re-membering what has been lost.

And so?

This has just been a short musing. Much of this has been covered elsewhere in bits and pieces or with varying amounts of integration among the elements. None of this is “new.”

I do feel an urgency to put this musing out there. I don’t know the best way to connect with the people interested in pursuing these goals in a spirit that refuses to be short-circuited by falling back into the assumptions that have led us astray. This needs to be both a rigorous intellectual effort combined with grass-roots and hands-on physical, social, and even political work – though not in any way recognizable to those who now hold hegemony over that title! It’s not about doing one and then the other. It’s not about “planning” and then “executing.” It’s about recognizing an urgency and then having the discipline not to go off half-cocked after “solutions! Life is not a problem and does not require solutions, it needs to be recognized for what it is and lived.

This process provides no guarantees. We have too long held our lives hostage to those cunning enough to dangle such promises before our eyes. This call meets one simple criteria. If we stop putting all of our energy and intelligence into avoiding life and shift our priorities to its discovery and support, we cannot be worse off than we are today.

This isn’t a reinvention of some scheme or technique to get from “A” to “B.” While a lot of effort should be expended on figuring out where we are now. There is no value at all in trying to outsmart “fate” and predict where we are going. The whole “Future” game is bunk! There are as many views on how to go forward as there are people thinking about it and that is good. So long as we don’t try to funnel all our efforts into identical parallel streams. Unless we allow for Dissensus we are continuing to narrow our chances and not improve them. This isn’t a call to form or join a “Movement.” In fact, the effort required to break our habits of consensus and coercion to feel the comfort of marching feet surrounding us is going to be one of our greatest challenges.

What I am looking for is a self-identifying series of declarations coming from a variety of people wherever they are who are interested in pursuing this simple act of vision and dedication. In my own life, the biggest stumbling block I encounter is the extreme difficulty of opening this kind of conversation with the people I know and am surrounded by. The social pressures, whether self-inflicted or pressing down from out of the force of the dominant culture’s pervasiveness, make it close to impossible to break through in “normal” social contact. This realization is why I turn to the web. It’s why I keep tapping out a signal hoping for a response, not picky about where it may come from, just hoping to find a few who can then connect and possibly provide the catalysts for the development of community somewhere.

Without such contacts, we are each of us lost in the confusion that surrounds us without any inkling of possibilities that may be just out of our sight. This is why I keep on tapping.

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