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MLT Newsletter

December, 1992


Several months ago Michigan Land Trustees initiated a new project designed to promote more community self-reliance and local economic vitality.  We call it "trickle-Up economics" and our first task is to establish a Local Exchange Trading System--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 saw the potential value of this project but felt it could be promoted more effectively.  Toward that end he provided funds for a couple of naming contests.

"A new age is birthing," he wrote.  "It needs a new name, a new poetic mythology.  This new economics, or economics in general, needs a new name... In the good old American game of baseball, some strike out, some get a hit.  The object is to get the hitters HOME.  So there may be some poetic savant out there who will come up with a divinely inspired mythological message and hit us HOME."

A $100.00 prize will be awarded for the best name of this new economics.

A $200.00 prize will be awarded for the best name or myth for the New Age implied by the new economics.

To enter the contest, write or see Dr. Kenneth Dahlberg at 3051 Friedmann Hall, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI 49008 for a packet of background information and contest rules.  Entries must be returned to Dr. Dahlberg before March 31, 1993.

Sharon Crotser

The demands of the market economy constitute the greatest stress on the family and is the greatest threat to its survival.  Higher prices demand higher wages which may not exist ten years into the future.  As the market-the formal economy-attempts to supplant more and more of the home's services, the family must either have more money to pay for these services or be willing to diligently resist the market's influence and intrusion into its activities.  By taking creative and perhaps daring measures outside of the formal economy the family can be assured that its needs will continue to be met.

"Two or more persons related by blood or adoption," is the legally recognized definition of a family.  The traditional nuclear model consists of married parents and children aged from birth through early adulthood.  For much of the United States, the nuclear family is still the most common unit for raising the young and for nurturing its individual members.  The extended family, common to our old world ancestry, has been replaced by the nuclear family's friendship extensions Friendships have replaced kinships as family supports.

Looking at the variations of the word "family," "familiar" more accurately invokes the essence of the current model.  Smaller families also mean fewer people for kinship; a more diversified and mobile population has created different family bonds from previous generations. People create supports based on common interests and experiences out of the basic human need for interrelatedness.  Due to our mobility and diversity we base our choice of support on like needs rather than the pioneer necessity of relying solely upon one's own family.  From this basis we might move away from our cultural priority of independence to a more realistic interdependence of like-minded individuals.

Families need not fit the traditional model.  They may be of several generations of unrelated adults; they may be a collective of the homeless or of a certain religious or spiritual practice or of gay or lesbian persons.  In reality, "family" is not narrowly defined. Nevertheless, a great many people may not fit into any family model given the fragmentation and individualistic structure of our society.

To support our families (however they may be defined) in the coming times of financial need and resource depletion will require movement towards a more cooperative society not only for our physical needs but for our need to be connected to one another.

Ironically, our present material wealth is also a major threat to the unity of the family-eroding the family's ability to meet its needs outside the formal economy.  Self-sufficiency is undermined by the conveniences offered by the market.  The family is bombarded with slick manipulation by advertisers selling us on the latest convenience. Unfortunately, nowhere in our culture are we being sold on the very real need to be able to rely on oiir own gifts and abilities-to provide for ourselves.  The schools socialize our children for ease of entry into,
and acceptance of, industrial society.  Media images foster the belief that no real alternatives exist.

To counter this, parents can encourage children to think creatively and offer different views of subject matter or social issues.  Libraries are excellent resources for parents who wish to expose their children to other points of view than those which may be offered in the schools. Television, likewise, needs to be balanced with a healthy skepticism-- if it is to be utilized at all-and is probably the first item you will want to trade away in exchange for your neighbor's clothesline! Parents can become more involved in their children's schooling from more active participation in local parents' groups to deciding to educate the children at home.

The market economy also threatens families by the time demands made on those who participate in it (leaving aside discussion of how difficult it is not to participate in it).  The amount of time spent working for money-most employers do not usually have a flexible arrangement geared to the needs of the employee-predetermines the amount of energy and time one can spend of freeing oneself from it, and on the needs of family and personal nurturing.

Given that it is our dependence and reliance on a monetary system which most threatens family survival, planning our withdrawal is of immediate concern.  Money is a very real and constant issue.  Landlords do not barter for rent, nor are mortgage companies interested in shares of the garden's bounty.  Some alternatives include house sharing, commual living arrangements, building one's own home (much cheaper than to pay someone else to do it), and passing on the family home from one generation to the next.

Traditionally, large families and kinship groups shared dwellings. Shared living space was only one aspect of the society which shared many of the risks, tasks and joys of life.  Today, groups of people could divide household expenses into more manageable amounts than can the nuclear family freeing its members to devote more time to their own nurturing and'the nurturing of the household.  Many an old farm house and neglected Victorian-era urban home can be come by inexpensively. Since this is such a sound and practical solution to a most basic problem (and many others as well) why so few people in the United States choose this lifestyle deserves examination.

One possibility may be that not only are we an individualistic society but we are a disturbed individualistic society.  Great social fracturing and change has occurred within the last 60 years.  Some of this change has had its roots in an earlier, rigid conformity-demanded for the unity of the group.  Conformity demanded at the total, or near total, sacrifice of the individual will ultimately fail.  This rigidity and insistence that the needs of the individual be subjugated to the needs of the whole may have sent many of its members off to the freedom of a more autonomous culture.  Ironically, a society whose members make no allowance for the need for interconnection with one another is equally sick.  Therefore, in our endeavors to restore and promote unity--to more closely share in each other's lives-we are challenged to allow both the individual and the group to flourish.

The family's withdrawal from market economy enslavement can be furthered by itemizing where income (our umbilical cord to the formal market) is being drained away and where a non-market (informal) function can take the place of the "bought" item or service.  Gardening and home canning not only saves money but is satisfying both to the taste buds and the spirit.  Both activities can also foster family unity.  Energy conservation measures pay for themselves quickly, and even the truly broke can winterize with cheap or free materials (newspaper is an excellent insulator for drafts, door jams, etc).  Household energy savings can be achieved by simply  no longer wasting it (the basics of turning off the light when you leave the home, dressing for the season, etc).  Clothing and other household items are easy to acquire at garage sales, flea markets, and thrift stores.  Cars can be shared just as homes can.  In fact, car sharing is probably a more realizable goal
for our individualistic society than is mass sharing of our dwellings. Automobile costs are exorbitant-everything from their actual purchase, to mandatory insurance one must acquire to own one.  Repair and fuel costs have and will continue to skyrocket.  In a society or community which seeks to remove itself from the world made by the formal economy, the need to rely on the auto and the desire for private ownership of it will decrease,paving the way (no pun intended) for neighborhood sharing of cars just as we might share lawn mowers.

Families need to take stock of their non-monetary assets and skills-- the informal economic strengths of families.  Most households contain many goods which contribute to the household's self-sufficiency.  Home canning equipment, the sewing machine, cooking facilities, construction and home maintenance tools are only a few of the many implements families may. have which enable them to provide more and better for themselves.
Households contain a wealth of such goods purchased to provide self- service, in direct opposition to the market economy which asks families to instead buy service.

Family skills include carpentry, canning, gardening, parenting, crafts (knitting, crochet, sewing, and wood working), and animal husbandry. Homes are places of charm and nurturing for their members, or"at"least they have that potential.  Yet, as Scott Burns states so convincingly in The Household Economy, such activities are not recognized for their true value, since no dollar value is attached to them.  Families can begin to think in terms of providing for their needs without the use of money.  Perhaps the childless household may wish to provide occasional child care for the family next door in exchange for labor to help repair their dwelling?  Not only is service provided for each, but lives are enriched by the personal interaction.

We all have skills and abilities which we may share with one another to our mutual benefit and growth even though we are not used to thinking of  ourselves in this way given the dominance of the market economy and
the long shadow it extends across the culture.  One aspect of the long shadow of industrial society concerns the government's intrusion into the home.  Zoning laws, burial regulations, birth control issues, and prohibitions  against domestic livestock are some examples in which government has sought to control the family.

 Individuals and communities need to work with local governing bodies to assure that groups of unrelated adults who have similar goals will not be excluded from the neighborhoods of"single family dwellings" or from governmental benefits bestowed upon the latter.

Where we once experienced all the large events of living within our own homes, from the births of our children to our last moments on Earth, these have now been taken over by institutions and regulations situated in faceless and impersonal buildings.  We can instead discern our own personal and spiritual needs in the bringing in and sending on of the living and, based on that, communicate our choices to local governments
and hospitals (where legal obstacles may exist).  Families can again control these crescendo experiences of our lives.  Midwifery is a very practical application of the desire for a more family-centered birth, without institutional in intrusion.  A midwife attended birth is also less costly and, in many cases, less dangerous than a hospital birth.

Perhaps no one in the family has known as much institutional intrusion in its life as has the baby.  The family has a multitude of abilities to provide for the care of this new person without reliance on the numerous gadgetry offered by the corporate world.  Breast feeding is the ideal nourishment.  Cloth diapers replace the artificial need for prompt disposal of anything remotely untidy.  Baby food can easily be made at home.  Family unity and satisfaction have the potential to increase when the family provides for  the care of its newest member in such direct and self-reliant ways.

Likewise, the hospice movement has begun to return to the dying their dignity and allows loved ones greater access to the terminally ill.  It has also helped to shape our individualistic society into something more humane and compassionate; and it enabled death to come back into the focus of society—not to be shamefully hidden away as an event we don't want or need to deal with.

In order to encourage and utilize many of the family's skills, family units must be egalitarian in nature.  Tasks need to be shared, not isolated to whichever gender the culture has deemed suitable to its accomplishment.  Traditional roles need to be relaxed.  In the ecological household we are all consumers and producers; we are all bread winners (bread bakers?) and devourers of the bread.

The greatest change which must be made for the family to begin its adjustment to a regenerative society can only come from within its individual members.  Informal discussions of our hopes and dreams, finding out what others have said and done about such changes through the local library, and a willingness to go where no formal institutions will lead are the tools families may use to accomplish this endeavor. Ultimately, the family's survival depends upon its awareness of what is truly threatening to its unity and what is truly  supportive of its
tasks, and that we maintain the ability to overcome the subtle and not so subtle institutional inducements to remain in ignorance.

Dear MLT Newsletter Editor,

It was good to hear that neither Southwest Michigan nor Palm City, Florida have gone completely bonkers and have yet to be fully consumed by the dominat paradigm.  I was beginning to think there were no signs of "intelligent" life left in those areas.  Not that humans are overly intelligent anywhere.  But who am I to sit here in front of the same stupid computer terminal as George and Joe and spit and sputter some irrelevant nonsense about saving the planet Earth?  I consume the same crazy electricity, burn the same fossil fuels, eat the same overly processed shit, shit the same overly processed food, and flush it down into the same overflowing Earth.  Volcanoes will spew it back to us.

We will get rained upon, snowed upon, and pissed upon from the bowels of the Earth.  The Earth will purify itself, cleanse itself of its human pests.  We will be shaken from the Earth as a dog shakes fleas from its body.  I am just as guilty as you, George.  If anything, I have become more mainstream over the years.  I grow very little food. I drive a foul beast of a car more than I ever did.  I make more money than I ever made.  I am more in debt to the consumer world than I ever was...

Is optimism blind?  Whose reality is not an illusion?  Perhaps those of you who are able to create a positive reality will at least save your own asses!  Visualize health, happiness, a sense of purpose, a "New Age."  Some of us are unable to create this reality; we need anti-depressants, counseling, therapy groups... "Sally used to play
with hula-hoops, now she tells her problems to therapy groups.  Oh my..." I wish poetry made a difference Joe and Mike.  The written word fades into oblivion while the grass still grows on the hillside.  But I suppose poetry does do the individual some good, both as a means of expression and as a way to learn from others.

With that in mind, I would like to participate in your contest, Joe:

1.  "New Worldly Odorousness"
2.  "Visualizing Industrial Collapse"

Jim Martin
Ellsworth, Maine
August, 1992


Palisades Watch, the grassroots citizens group formed to stop the proposed high-level waste dump at the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in Covert, Michigan, will be holding a series monthly benefit dances on the first Saturday night of each month through June.  The events will run from 9 pm to midnight at the Park Trades Building on Kalamazoo Avenue (across from the Goodyear Tire Co.) in Kalamazoo.  All proceeds go into opposing the intended on-site dry cask storage system for spent nuclear fuel rods. 

The Southwest Michigan Greens meet at 7:30pm, at the People's Church, 1758 N. 10th Street, Kalamazoo on December 28th, January 25th, and February 22nd.  Contact Maynard Kaufman for more information.

The next meeting of the MLT will be on Sunday, January 31, 1993 at the home of Ken Dahlberg. The 4 pm meeting will be followed by a pofcluck, and-as always-all are welcome.

Well another year has passed.  Hopefully next year will bring fewer frosts and a bit warmer growing season.  Thank you to all who contributed to the newsletter over the past year.  Thoughts, comments, essays, poems,
and any other submissions are always welcome.  Dcn't forget about the contest.  (Since the irony of an MLT cash prize may not be lost on some of you fine folks, in lieu of cash the MLT could offer poultry, firewood, or hay of equal of greater value to the winners.)  Also, for many of you it's about time to renew your membership.  The minimum membership fee is only five dollars (or five dozen eggs).  Thank you for your support and happy holidays to you all.

--Michael Phillips, editor

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