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Michigan Land Trustees Newsletter

 April, 1993

Dear Friends,

... I just finished teaching a unit on utopias and transcendentalism and found it incredibly difficult for my students to “get it.” It's not that they're stupid or lazy, but because I think many of them are only half there in a sense that I can only explain as follows:

        You are joined to a great Self... And because that Self is inclusive, you are joined to all. “Awake! awake o sleeper of the land of shadows, wake!   expand! I am in you and you in me, mutual in love... Fibers of love from man to man... Lo! we are One.

--William Blake

and from Walt Whitman's 'Leaves of Grass:

And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?
        --I sing the Body Electric

Was somebody asking to see the soul?
See, your own shape and countenance, persons, substances, beasts,
the trees, the running rivers, the rocks and sands.
--Starting from Paumanok, 13

You furnish your parts toward eternity,
Great or small, you furnish your parts toward the soul
                    --Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, 9

All these separations and gaps shall be taken up and hook'd and link'd together,
The whole earth, this cold, impassive, voiceless earth, shall be completely justified,
Trinitas divine shall be gloriously accomplish'd and compacted by the true son of God, the poet...

Nature and Man shall be disjoin'd and diffused no more,
The true son of God shall absolutely fuse them

                        --Passage to India

I am with you, men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence.
                                    --Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, 3

and from Meister Eckhart:

Be thou therefore happily caught, and the more you are caught, the more you are set free.

“We live in a sinful society." "We live in a sick society.” What difference does it make how we say it? The language of psychology has displaced the language of theology. Hester Prynne; in her own day, was considered sinful, in need of years of penance and penitence before she could live in a state of grace. Hester Prynne, in our day, is considered dysfunctional, in need of years of therapy before she can live in a state of normalcy. Whether she has to recover her God's blessing or her own inner child, Hester must go through a process of recovery to fix what is wrong in her life. And our society--what process of recovery does it need to go through?

What is our sin, our sickness? The ready answer, I suppose, is materialism, in the form of mamon or the market economy and its attendant greed and desire for power. And that answer is wrong. It is wrong because the question is wrong, phrased as it is in language, whether theological or psychological, that condemns rather than perceives, that prescribes rather than understands, that names solutions rather than describes the process of recovery for getting solutions.

A better question, then: What is it we need to recover? Not what must we repent or be cured of, but what must we regain, and how do we regain it? Whether “it” is Eden of grace, innocence or normalcy, social democracy or a household economy or deep ecology, how do we regain it? Or put it another way: How do we understand William Blake in his best Chief Seattle mystical mode; or how do we moderns understand Walt Whitman, the self-styled poet of the Modern, who is seen as the voice of the radical individual materialist, since that is what we moderns have become and the post-moderns condemn? What do we need to recover in order to understand what they are saying, to perceive what they are seeing?

We see, at best, only half, and we settle for half. The problem is not that we are sinners or that we are sick. The problem is that we go through life with one eye closed and see only half. The problem of materialism is not one of which form the economy takes or of greed of power or sin, but one of perception. We see the half and think it is the whole and wonder what is missing, what we need to recover to feel whole.

What is missing is the spirit. And being the materialists we are, when we try to recover the spirit, we reify it with dogma and form instead of experiencing it in a relationship. We name it God or Goddess and use ritual to worship or evoke it as a thing outside ourselves instead of to perceive and experience it as a part of ourselves. When Whitman tells us the body is the soul, and the trees and rocks and rivers are the soul, we take him literally: These are the soul, and the soul is nothing more than these. And we miss the point. When Blake tells us we are part of the greater Self, we take him literally: We reconfigure our notions of the family and society and the earth as greater selves. And we miss the point.

In the half-context of materialism, greed and power are not sins or illnesses but perfectly rational behaviors designed to maximize the benefits of materialism for the self. And if we expand the notion of the material self to include some version of family or society or world, rational behavior will attempt to maximize the benefits to be gained from the exploitation of material resources and power. Accommodating a larger sense of self simply means accommodating a larger sense of the resources and power. Accommodating a larger sense of self simply means accommodating a larger sense of the resource base. In economic terms, this means internalizing externalities. If my idea of self doesn't extend beyond my own skin, I can externalize the cost of my behaviors to others: I will smoke a cigarette (or build a factory and dump its effluents) whenever and wherever I please. If I enlarge my sense of self to include family, I won't smoke at home (or bury the effluents in my own backyard). Or, to include society, I won't smoke in public places (and will ship the effluents overseas). Or to include the world, I will look to technology to come up with a safer cigarette (or an appropriate technology).  What I will not do is give up the material pleasures of smoking or technology because that's all there is: the material pleasure. And if I am convinced that, for the sake of my health, I must give it up, then I'll replace it with another and devote whatever time and resources are necessary to getting it and will have no peace or joy until I've gotten it abundantly. No matter what form the self, the family, the society, the economy or the world take for me, if its limits are material, its aspirations will also be material. - My destiny, my desire, my goal, my ambition, will be meaningless because materialism has to do with pleasure and pain, not with meaning. Or, if one insists on meaning, then meaning will reside in trying to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Or, if one insists on meaning, then meaning will reside in trying.

And to enlarge one's sense of meaning, one's perception? The answer is in Blake or Whitman and in psychology and religion, but the answer is not Blake or Whitman or psychology or religion. It is, according to Buddha, to take one way of phrasing the answer, right views, right resolve, right speech, ridht conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation. E.F. Schumacher tried to develop a Buddhist economics. His followers have tried to develop an appropriate technology. The aspiration towards and practice of one is not the same as the aspiration towards and practice of the other. One perceives the whole of our experience, the other only half. We begin to recover the missing half, along with peace and joy, by reading Blake and Whitman with both eyes open, by finding the right meditation to keep both eyes open long enough to “Awake! awake o sleeper of the land of shadows, wake! expand!” (Could Plato write a commentary on that line or what?) The Self is inclusive, and it includes not just women and men, straight and gay, red and yellow, black and white, rich and poor, market economies and home economies; it also includes spirit.

My wish is for every one of us to be set free to see it with both eyes open.

Pete Notier
December, 1992

Recollections About “The Old Radical”

Charles Glatt

I first heard of Axel Nielsen during the tumult of the late Sixties. A friend of mine within the peace movement advised me to go to Peoples Church so I could check out this man said to be well worth meeting. Not only did he attend services there, I was told, but he also saw to it that the church's literature rack was kept well-stocked with an impressive array of antiwar pamphlets.

My curiosity piqued, I simply had to heed this advise. It wasn't hard to spot Axel, a kindly but somewhat frail-looking man well into his seventies at the least. There he was, his coat lapels festooned with buttons--tridents, doves, and other paraphernalia identified with those who protested our country's involvement in Vietnam.

I found him warm, unassuming, and thoroughly earnest in his convictions. He pressed a stack of pamphlets into my hand and asked whether there were enough of them for me to give to all the persons I knew who needed convincing about the wrongness of that brutal war. My wife and I had to return to church the next Sunday, for there we'd met a kindred soul--and others who also were distraught about the moral and political climate rampant in the country. Just about every Sunday from then on I'd see him there proselytizing for a cause he so obviously cared about, seemingly unfazed by the hostile reception he sometimes got. As time went by, I found myself taking over from him the responsibility for stocking the literature display with peace propaganda.

My wife and I went to various rallies and teach-ins around Kalamazoo, meeting more and more people who were turning against the war. Often he was there; once he gave his testimony about the war in front of an audience filled with hecklers and dissenters. Despite the heat generated by sucb arguments, he always maintained his cool and politely stated his case. In the spring of 1969 a peace march was held in Chicago--Chicago, where Mayor Daley and “the city's finest” had 'beaten up protestors during what was later called a “police riot” at the infamous 1968 Democratic convention. I decided to go but with trepidation, knowing that the city could once again erupt in Daly- sanctioned violence against us “commies, pinkoes, and hippies.” I had to be there despite that risk; how could I do otherwise when I found out that Axel was also going to be there, marching right along with the rest of us on those mean streets?

There came a day when we were invited to Axel's home just outside of South Haven. Met his wife, Edna, who proudly showed us scrapbooks which chronicled his exploits over the years. Until then I didn't know that he'd run for Congress in 1952 as a peace candidate on a platform of immediate disengagement from the Korean War. I saw yellowed clippings of editorials from the local newspaper excoriating him for his “treasonous” ideas. I saw photographs of members of veterans organizations picketing in his front yard, calling him “Communist” and “appeaser” and the like. He lost the election, of course, but he continued to agitate for peace and reconciliation with the Russians and whoever else was being villified as our enemies. Perhaps his views about peaceful coexistence were naive, perhaps it was imprudent to let his family and business suffer because' of the public vilification and the boycotts that his neighbors so eagerly used against him. Perhaps...

In post-McCarthy America he joined the Ban the Bomb movement. In the Sixties, he was in the vanguard of the antiwar movement before it was fashionable for the intelligentsia or the youth to turn against the destruction of Southeast Asia. So I learned a lot about Axel Nielsen, the old man who wouldn't keep his mouth shut when he saw militarism and jingoism rear their respective ugly heads; the old man who tirelessly tried to convince “the Silent Majority” that the war was not the only effective and honorable option to counter the threat of falling dominoes around the world.

On several occasions Axel pulled out his wallet and laid several bills in my hand. I can still hear him say, “I took this out of my Social Security check so you can buy more pamphlets; and you folks need gas money so you can drive out to the shopping malls to hand them out. People have got to know the truth about this war.” And he gave generously to the Peace Council and Peace Watch, two local organizations devoted to the cause.

When the war was finally over, Axel seemed at a loss over what to do next with his passion and his pocketbook; perhaps this was inevitable-- the let-down after someone has spent so much of himself over such a long period of time on a cause felt to be so noble. Because his health was failing, I seldom saw him at church after that. And there were no more peace rallies to attend. The last time I saw him was in 1977 at his 50th weddIng anniversary. I met his granddaughter from out-of-state. We talked about his exploits and about those scrapbooks. She said she wanted to write a biography. I offered to help, but in less than a month he was gone, and I never saw his granddaughter again.

The details have escaped me, but I know I saw and editorial comment in the Kalamazoo Gazette--a memorial of sorts to “the old radical.” His notoriety was more widespread than I realized. Whoever had given him this sobriquet seemed to have described him well, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. Axel was indeed somewhat radical in his political views, but to characterize him~ thusly on political ideology alone would miss the point. More “radical” than his anti-establishment views about war and peace was his conviction that one person can make a difference and that one must try--even in the face of overwhelming odds (southwest Michigan being no hotbed of liberal points of view)--to say that the emperor has no clothes. This gentle visionary endured public contempt, even slander, without any trace of resentment, without any trace of hesitation. He was a man who risked much in his lifetime and may have lost much in terms of social approval and a good income--but one thing he didn't lose was his integrity.

The very term, “the old radical,” indicates a connection between Axel Nielsen and the Michigan Land Trustees. The ideas espoused by the foundation, including promoting a non-monetized economy and a much greater sense of community, are truly radical in a capitalistic society wherein individual freedom (as exemplified by that trite saying, “It's a free country”) is usually given greater weight that the notion of social responsibility and where the profit motive has been elevated to the status of divine law. 'Radical ideas aren't good just because they are radical, but they need to be entertained and tried just because there may be a better way to live than with the status quo. We owe that effort to Axel as well as to ourselves and our progeny.

A Proposal From the Farm Managers

Bobbi Martindale and Jon Towne

Change seems to be the buzz word this year. In the transition from a Republican to Democrat administration (hopefully the latter will prove to be kinder and gentler), we felt the need to re-evaluate our situation as farm managers. Our over-riding feeling of the past few years has been one of guilt: Have we done enough to fulfill our's and the MLT's expectations as farm managers? We've been assured by several members that the MLT has no problems with us, but then, the matter has never been fully discussed. More importantly, it is our own expectations of ourselves that have not been met. Should we continue to pay the low rent that reflects the property's tax-free status? We have one child in the local school system and soon will have another. In our estimation, we need to be doing a heck of a lot more for the Bangor area than we are doing now.

The farm has been continuously tilled organically and permaculture has been broadly applied according to a general plan. But is this being done on an emphasis and scale appropriate for a non-profit organization like the MLT? Our goals for the farm are personal: to grow our own food and fuel; to live lightly on the land; to make a few bucks; and last but not least, to pursue my interest in exploring and exploiting aspects of natural communities by integrating them into peoples' sustenance and livelihoods by the process known as permaculture. Also, I just like trees and I keep a lot of trees, shrubs and other plants as “pets.” While these goals aren't incompatible with MLT's goals, one MLT goal is not included. The farm is not made accessible to the community via PR, workshops, or other programs. We find ourselves unmotivated to pursue this. As the LandTrustFarm, PR should be the most important aspect to be exploited and we are falling short in that area.

Another shortcoming regarding the current situation is that some necessary repairs and remodeling need to be done on the house. We don't think that the MLT has the resources for what we have in mind, and we really don't want to sink a lot of money into something that isn't “ours.” (We're talking new carpeting, windows, doors, furnace, siding--the works.)

The past three or four years have been rough for us. The illness and death of my mother, my having gone to nursing school and acclimating to the stress of a full time job have taken their toll. During much of this period, Bobbi served as the only bread winner along with trying to be an effective parent.

For us and MLT we see two options. One is for us to step aside-- to move on and allow new farm managers to have a crack at it. I'm sure there are people who would jump at the chance. In a very real sense, MLT is only as strong as the people in it and this would give an infusion of new blood.

The other option is more palatable for us. We would buy the farm lock stock and barrel. MLT would receive an infusion of cash which might also invigorate it. We would then continue to do what we have been doing: growing our own food, farming organically, and practicing permaculture. We could even be on the board of directors!

Our proposal is this: we sign a land contract for the total price agreed upon with one-quarter of that price down and the balance payable in one year. Of course the farm would be out of MLT control and we cannot guarantee its future.

So how about some opinions, feedback, alternative proposals, insults, whatever, concerning this important, if not earthshaking, subject.

(Editor's note: the MLT Board will be considering Jon and Bobbi's proposal within the next couple of months. We implore the membership to please provide input regarding this matter.)


Several months ago Michigan Land Trustees initiated a new project designed to promote more community self-reliance and local economic vitality. For now, we have decided to call it 'Trickle-Up Economics” and our first task is to establish a Local Exchange Trading System (or LETS) in the neighboring small town of Bangor.

If this pilot project is successful in the economically depressed town of Bangor it could work anywhere to help people recognize alternatives to the formal jobs-and-money economy. It represents a paradigm shift from exclusive dependence on the market economy to a balance between -it and the household economy, a homecoming of economics as it were. For unemployed persons it represents a Third Way beyond dependence on a job or welfare.

One of our members, seeing the potential value of this project and wanting to promote it, has suggested a contest to publicize it and has provided money for prizes.

A $100.00 prize will be awarded for the best name (and accompanying reasons for its choice) for this new approach to economics.

In addition, our benefactor has challenged us to think about the many other and broader cultural changes that are involved in this paradigm shift. To quote him:

“A new age is birthing. It needs a new name, a new poetic mythology.... We have all known for thirty years that the world needs a new poetic mythology.... In the good old American game of baseball, some strike out, some make a hit. The object is to get the hitters HOME. So there may be some poetic savant out here who will come up with a divinely inspired mythological message and hit us home.”

A $200.00 prize will be awarded for the best titled poem or short essay capturing this new age in mythic or poetic terms. The name of this new age also needs to be included as an integral part of the poem or essay.