Monday, October 5, 2015

Dancing with Doom

"The Shakers believed they were living in the last millennium, the final page of humanity, and since all people shared a brother/sister relationship, they should not marry as there was no longer a need to procreate."

What do you do if you think the world as we know it is about to end and the human race, at its crowning glory, go extinct? That was what confronted Ann Lee in the squalid English dungeon where she had been tossed for espousing a radical form of Christianity.

If you are Ann Lee, you sing and dance.

Ann Lee responded to her powerful, apocalyptic doomer vision of 1722 by creating a whole new religion, one its detractors called the “Shaking Quakers” (because they danced and were pacifists) or simply “Shakers.” When she was released from prison she took her vision out into the world and found a large following.

In Mother Ann's view, the Second Coming had already happened, and the world was inhabited now, not with a Christ in the flesh but in Spirit. The world of industrial capitalism, clearances, sweat shops, child labor, closures of the commons, oppression of women and minorities, colonial wars, militarism and slavery is doomed to fail (as Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier presaged a century later with his discovery of the civilizational heat engine and the greenhouse effect), as are people, and our role now, in the remaining days, is to return Earth to a heavenly garden for eternity.

Therefore, no one needs to be acquiring and owning private property. What is it good for, if abundance is everywhere? No one needs to have slaves. No one needs to go to war. And no one should bother to have children, because this is the final generation.

To borrow the opening lines from Arthur Bestor's Backwoods Utopias,
The American Republic, remarked the aging James Madison to an English visitor, is 'useful in proving things before held impossible.' Of all the freedoms by which America stood, none was more significant for history than the freedom to experiment with new practices and new institutions. What remained mere speculation in the Old World had a way of becoming reality in the New. In this process, moreover, the future seemed often to unveil itself.
Little wonder then that Ann Lee escaped re-imprisonment in England for her scandalous beliefs in peace, gender equality, antislavery and common property by crossing the ocean and finding land in the North American wilderness, near to where Emerson would later stand and remark:

If the single man plant himself indomitably in his instincts, and there abide, the huge world will come round to him.
Unfortunately, the Shakers were sometimes met by violent mobs and Ann Lee suffered violence at their hands more than once. Because of these hardships Mother Ann became quite frail; she died at Watervliet, NY on 8 September 1784, at the age of 48.

In August of 1805, three Shaker missionaries, John Meacham, Benjamin Seth Youngs and Issachar Bates (relationship unknown), having traveled more than a thousand miles into the western lands by way of Cumberland Gap and the Ohio River, mostly by foot, arrived at a lovely knoll above the Kentucky River which they called Pleasant Hill.

Within a year, they had 47 converts living together on a 140 acre (57 ha) farm, the twelfth Shaker Village in North America. As new converts came in, they added more buildings and land, eventually reaching 4,369 acres (1,768 ha). By 1812 three communal families — East, Center, and West — each with about 100 members, had been formed, and a fourth, North, was established as a gathering center for prospective converts. On June 2, 1814, the Believers bound themselves together in a more formal covenant with the Shaker Ministry at New Lebanon, New York.

The year 1805 falls into a period of US history that is for some a touchstone of the birth of a great nation, and for others the point of disembarkation for genocide and clearances that continue today. It fell between the War of Independence and a failed British attempt to re-establish a colonial outpost in North America that would only end with the Battle of New Orleans in 1814. In March, 1805, Thomas Jefferson was sworn in for a second term. In April, Beethoven held his baton aloft in Vienna for the first performance of the Symphony Number 3. U.S. Marines stormed the shores of Tripoli in search of Barbari pirates while Napolean was crowned King of Italy. On June 13, Meriwether Lewis and four companions first sighted the Great Falls of the Missouri River. In France, on July 29, Hervé Louis François Jean Bonaventure Clérel, Comte de Tocqueville and Louise Madeleine Le Peletier de Rosanbo, having just dodged the guillotine, gave birth to their son, Alexis de Tocqueville.

Tocqueville would later write, after visiting the Shakers:
"I met with several kinds of associations in America of which I confess I had no previous notion; and I have often admired the extreme skill with which the inhabitants of the United States succeed in proposing a common object for the exertions of a great many men and in inducing them voluntarily to pursue it."
The Shakers believed they were living in the last millennium, the final page of humanity, and since all people shared a brother/sister relationship, they should not marry as there was no longer a need to procreate. Instead they believed people should live communally as a family of brothers and sisters. Children who arrived with married converts or were produced through accident or divine intervention could decide whether to remain in the community when they reached the age of majority.

The site in Kentucky was on poor land a great distance from Eastern markets, but by pooling their property and skills and adopting wholesome, mindful work as their primary spiritual practice, the colony prospered. They raised broom corn and made flat brooms so good that when floated to New Orleans by river they returned home by the Natchez Trace with saddlebags full of gold. They raised fruit and sold it dried or as preserves (more than ten tons in one year). Like the other emerging Shaker communities, they sold garden seeds through catalog sales and by 1825 were a thriving, handsome community with large stone and brick dwellings and shops, grassy lawns, and stone sidewalks.

 Their 40 miles of stone walls took 12 years to build.

They had a municipal water system well before some towns in their area. By 1825 they had spigots in their kitchens. Their mill had an elevator for moving grain to the upper floor, and they had a mechanical corn sheller. Each large dwelling, housing 50 to 100 residents in apartments, had a central kitchen and did laundry in machines run by horse power.

One of their barns included an upper floor for storage of grain and hay, a cutting machine for chopping fodder, and an ingenious railway for delivering feed to the cattle. Even though it was the end of the world, their sense of security endowed them with creative energy that knew few limits.

Their association, according to the Shakers,
is one of joint-interest, as the children of one family, enjoying equal rights and privileges in things spiritual and temporal, because they are influenced and led by one Spirit and love is the only bond of their union: As it is written, 'All that believed were together, and had all things common — and were of one heart, and of one soul.'
In the words of Horace Greeley,
Not through hatred, collision, and depressing competition; not through War, whether of Nation against Nation, Class against Class, or Capital against Labor; but through Union, Harmony, and the reconciling of all Interests, the giving scope to all noble Sentiments and Aspirations, is the Renovation of the World, the Elevation of the degraded and suffering Masses of Mankind, to be sought and effected.
The promise of such an undertaking was seen by the abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, in 1840:
Can society ever be constituted upon principles of universal Christian brotherhood? The believing Christian, the enlightened philosopher, answer — IT CAN. Will this organization commence with the entire race of man? With existing governments? Or with small isolated communities. Doubtless, the principles of this new organization must be matured in the hearts and lives of individuals, before they can be embodied in any community, but when the new organization commences, it will doubtless be in small communities.

By the autumn of 1808, Pleasant Hill was established in its current location and in 1809 the Center Family Dwelling, now the Farm Deacon's Shop, was finished. The following year a stone Meeting House was built across the road from Center Family, but the New Madrid quakes of 1811-1812 damaged its stone foundations. The foundations were elaborately rebuilt with two-foot-thick freestack supports every eight feet, and the roof made of great engineered arches to both support the stomping and dancing of 500 Shakers on the first floor, and to permit them to dance and sing unobstructed by support columns, which were made more massive and placed into the 2-foot-thick outer walls.

Access to distant markets for their goods and necessities required them to lay roads and navigate the treacherous Kentucky River. In 1813, they established the first Shaker Ferry five miles North of Pleasant Hill and constructed a wagon road on both sides of the river, lined by their distinctive stone walls. They constructed a North-South road that ran from the river, through the center of their village and then South to Harrodsburg. When the railroad arrived, it crossed the river by high iron trestle just upstream of the Shaker landing.

Economic sustainability was a cornerstone, so brooms, seeds, medicinal herbs, cheese, canned goods, buckets, straw hats, carpets, cloth and shuttles moved on the river, first by flatboat, then keelboat, and later by steam paddlewheel to Memphis, Vicksburg, Natchez and New Orleans. Tool castings, building materials, pickling spices, tea, sugar and glass jars came back the other way.

Deacon's House, likely home of Issachar Bates
Something still more important was exchanged. “Shaker” as a brand became associated with purity, frugality, and wholesomeness. This was achieved first by the Seed Division, which produced the nation's first mail order seed catalog and became the largest seed company in the Hemisphere. Later it would be synonymous with Shaker furniture, with its clean lines, lightweight sturdy material, and perfect joinery.

As pacifists and abolitionists the Shakers ran afoul of local opinion, especially in times of heated tempers, before and during the War of Northern Aggression.

It is ironic that it should be the Great Civil War that brought Pleasant Hill low, because that was a war, first and foremost, between combatant paradigms. The rapidly industrializing northern states, fueled by coal, oil (including whale oil), and the latest energy saving machinery from England and Germany, could afford to replace human slaves with energy slaves to considerable financial advantage. They eyed the slave economy of the South, with its cotton and coal wealth, as a way to supply their machines.

Abolition of slavery was not a central goal of the war-makers, and indeed, the Union, as it formed to oppose the Secessionists, contained the slave states of Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri and West Virginia.

The Shakers at Pleasant Hill were devout abolitionists. They adopted the practice of buying and freeing slaves, and since freed slaves could not work or own property in Kentucky, they offered them sanctuary and equal stake as members of Pleasant Hill. In 1825 a pro-slavery, anti-pacifist mob attacked Pleasant Hill and destroyed some of its facilities.

Nonetheless, during the War the community fed thousands of soldiers, from both sides, who came marching up the North-South road, the main artery between Harrodsburg and Lexington, that passed straight through the center of the village. Given the choice between rape, pillage and plunder and Christian charity, the Shakers poured out of their dwellings and placed food in the hands of weary soldiers and cared for their wounds. Both armies "nearly ate [them] out of house and home," a Shaker witness reported, but they survived the war intact.

The worse tragedy came after the war, when Lincoln's policy of reconciliation and restoration died with him and the original Northern industrialist goal of regional subjugation returned to the fore. The Shaker's lifeline, the river, was cut off to them, with all Southern commerce on the Mississippi banned and high tariffs imposed on Kentucky trade goods. Living in rural Tennessee, we can personally attest that these policies continue in more subtle forms to the present and most strongly affect border states like Kentucky and West Virginia, where children are still forced by economic necessity (student loans and medical blackmail) to go down into the mines and pick at hard rock seams or operate giant bulldozers, scrapers and cranes to remove whole mountains, to extract coal too dirty to be burned in the United States for export to China.

The policy of celibacy insured that the Shaker religious society would not long outlive the first generation, and by 1900, only 34 remained at Pleasant Hill. The Shaker community was dissolved in 1910 and in 1923, the last member, Mary Settles, died. She was pleased to live long enough to see women's suffrage and planned to vote a straight Democratic ticket on her first ballot. She said that Shaker sisters had always had equal rights within their communal society.

After her demise, the village slowly began going back to nature. Some of the pasture land was used or absorbed into neighboring farms, but occasionally pilgrims would arrive and marvel at what remained. One such visitor was the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, who wrote:

[T]he marvelous double winding stair going up to the mysterious clarity of a dome on the roof ... quiet sunlight filtering in—a big Lebanon cedar outside one of the windows ... All the other houses are locked up. There is Shaker furniture only in the center family house. I tried to get in it and a gloomy old man living in the back told me curtly 'it was locked up.' The empty fields, the big trees—how I would love to explore those houses and listen to that silence. In spite of the general decay and despair there is joy there still and simplicity... Shakers fascinate me.

After Mary Settles passed, the land went into private hands and was parceled up. The Meeting Hall, with its well-supported grand ballroom, became an automobile repair garage. Oil stains the hardwood floors.

In 1961 a group of Lexington-area citizens launched an effort to restore the property. By 1964 the Friends of Pleasant Hill had organized a non-profit corporation, raised funds for operating expenses, and secured a $2 million loan to purchase and restore the site. Eight buildings were restored by 1968 and placed on public display.

Today, with 34 original 19th-century buildings and 2,800 acres (1100 ha.) of restored farmland, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is "the largest historic community of its kind in America." It is a place of continuing enchantment. Ann Lee herself recognized how revolutionary her ideas were when she said, "We [the Shakers] are the people who turned the world upside down." The walls echo the music and dance of a people who believed they were the last of their kind, but as it turned out, they weren't. At least, not yet.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Hope Fear Debt Paranoia

"Michael Moore: 'The Pope's first miracle.'"

Hope, fear, debt and paranoia have been recurrent themes running through our past month as we traversed the northwest corner of the European continent through Iceland, Britain and Denmark.

Iceland is the country that told the world its bankers are not too big to jail and it will not be blackmailed by London, Bonn, or the European central banks. It is still taken to the woodshed regularly and reminded who is in charge. Icelanders are not free to leave their country or to take money with them if they are allowed to go.

Britain is Europe's bad boy, master of every latest Ponzi scheme and constantly one step ahead of collapse, eking astonishing profits as all about her topple and fall. Denmark is a dreamweaver, whose sheer powers of imagineering seem to emanate an aura that can warp reality. With nothing but fairy dust to back its notes and debts, it is poised to test the durability of its famed social capital when placed in the vice grip of open imigration. Like many former bastions of European liberalism, it has taken a hard swing to the right and is getting set for the clown show that follows.

The United States is far along down the circus trail, having starved its science, educational and social programs for decades while feeding its population a steady diet of numbing pharmaceuticals, mind-rotting television, high fructose corn syrup and GMOs, until they can be readily induced in their coma to vote against their own interests, over and over, producing a government of popular lunacy — clownocracy — a Mad Hatter's Tea Party overseen by Donald Trump, as Queen of Hearts; "a sort of embodiment of ungovernable passion - a blind and aimless Fury" (description by Lewis Carroll).

Debt is a theft of the options of future generations. To escape debt and claw their way back from penury people will rape, plunder and pillage every last sacred resource, leaving not an inheritance but a ruin. Cascading debt may sweep much of civilization away, perhaps in Jubilee, but the damage will have been done to foundations — and be visited as ecosystem death. Every dollar that cannot possibly be repaid in sweat and hours becomes a drain on Earth's operating system. We grew giddy wealthy on our energy slaves. Don't look now, but they just left and winter is coming.
Obstruction is an occupational hazard we accept because we are in the business of bringing hope, otherwise labeled permaculture, or ecovillage, but we are frequently obstructed and overpowered by those other three elements — fear, debt and paranoia. From time to time we break through enough to peer over the horizon and see what might yet be.

Fear and paranoia are what drive the security state apparatus we encounter most closely and personally when we stand in long lines at airports and then let some gentleman we have only just met fondle our genitals. Of course, we could avoid having our genitals fondled if we would agree to placing ourselves in front of his death ray for a few milliseconds. We know that a few milliseconds won't kill us on the spot but its like buying a ticket in the cancer lottery, and we go through airports often so if we didn't do this fondling ritual we might soon have a shoebox full of such raffle tickets, and who knows? We might win.

Research suggests that anywhere from six to 100 U.S. airline passengers each year may be getting cancer from the machines.  Still, any time you opt out, some brainwashed TSA officer will try to persuade you that scanners are “safe,” or equal to “less than three minutes of air travel,” glossing over the fact that even the lowest doses of ionizing radiation — the kind beamed directly at the body by the scanners and qualitatively not much different in the non-ionizing radiation of millimeter wave devices — will increase your lifetime risk of cancer and inherited damage to your offspring, increasing your and their susceptibility to hundreds of genetically related diseases and disabilities.

It is refreshing to go through airports in Europe and not have to go through these machines because they are banned in Europe and would have been banned in the United States had the scientific or medical community made the call. As it was, the call was made by apparatchiks who skipped the legally required public comment period before deploying the scanners, and bypassed the Food and Drug Administration by waving their Patriot Act, and then, in defending these cruel devices, relied on a small body of unpublished research to insist the machines were safe, ignoring contrary opinions from U.S. and European authorities that recommended precautions, especially for pregnant women. Rapiscan employed Chertoff Group, founded by Homeland Security Nomenklatura Michael Chertoff, to make sure the government worked for them.

In 2013, under threat of a court order, TSA removed the ProVision, made by defense contractor L-3 Communications, from the most busy US airports but re-installed them in smaller airports, such as ours at Nashville. With the L-3, a passenger enters a chamber that looks like a round phone booth and is scanned with a form of low-energy radio waves which have not yet been shown cause cancer, but only because that kind of epidemiological research can take up to half a century. Nonetheless, the mechanism for DNA disruption is established by research into powerlines and other sources of electromagnetic radiation. Millimeter wave devices like the L-3 re-sequence DNA in dividing cells. Does that sound safe?

A review by the National Academy of Sciences found “no compelling evidence” that there is any level of radiation at which the risk of cancer is zero. Rapiscan and the Chertoff group rake in half-a-billion tax dollars per year because safety advocates, medical community and the FDA cannot get traction against paranoia.

We don't place the rational avoidance of premature death and disability in the category of either fear or paranoia. It is merely good sense. We also know that if even ten percent of people were aware of the risk and acted rationally with regard to those airport scanners and opted for the pat-down as we do, then the whole fake façade of security would come to a grinding halt. TSA might actually re-examine their machine's efficacy and decide to do as they do in Europe: junk them.

Which brings us to the Pope and the U.S. Budget.

John Boehner looking like the cat that swallowed the canary
Watching the Pope speak to Congress from the C-Realm watchtower in Brooklyn we were struck by how uncomfortable the Speaker of the House, Hon. John Boehner, a devout Catholic, seemed during that part of the speech, so passionately phrased and delivered, about not falling into a polarized view of the world. The whole Republican plan for world domination is based on repeating the mantra, “Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.” This is how they can get away with not releasing the Senate Committee Report on torture, fight trillion-dollar wars against countries that have not threatened them, dig deeper data mines for blanket surveillance, and why you have to take off your shoes at US airports but not abroad. 

In 2001 “Shoebomber” Richard Reid attempted to detonate explosives packed into his shoes while on an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami. He just gave himself a hotfoot, no worse, but he is now serving 3 consecutive life terms without parole, plus 110 years, in maximum security prison. There was also an underwear bomber on Christmas Day, 2009, using about the same size device, made of identical plastic explosive, but for some unexplained reason no one asks us to take off our underwear.

There is also no reason to imagine that the plastic explosive used by both the Shoebomber and the Underwearbomber would be detected today any better than it was in 2001 and 2009. It would pass right through x-rays and scanners without looking any different than any other shoes, underwear, belt buckle, book or briefcase. The scanners are useless as detection devices, but useful to keep an entire population frightened, and that is the idea. It is about polarization. Us and the Muslims, the rich and the rabble, survivors and zombies.

The Speaker, seated a few feet behind the Holy Father, was fidgeting and then wiping tears. Right afterwards Republicans voted to drop their usual budget blackmail and avert yet another government shutdown, saving billions in tax waste and fraud, and the next morning after attending mass as he does daily, Boehner, the highest ranking member and third in line to the Presidency, announced he was retiring from politics at the end of October, giving only one month's notice. He said he came to the conclusion after morning prayers that “today's the day I'm going to do this. Simple as that.” 

Michael Moore called this the Pope's first miracle. "God knows what’s next over there,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told her staff members. “Coming from earthquake country, this is a big one.” Boehner "blamed the House’s hard-right members, who he said were unwilling to govern," which was, of course, the Pope's point.

A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.

Perhaps the Pope gives USAnians too much credit. Still, the line about “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place” has real substance in the context of the Bush/Cheney legacy. Paranoia is in the driver's seat in Washington. It is not a rational fear, based on real enemies. It is an irrational fear based on a perverted sense of entitlement and the perceived but incorrect need to protect your superabundant ill-gotten gains from forceful repossession by their rightful owners.

Ironically, this has been the racket of the Holy See for a couple millennia. What's more to be feared than burning in Hell for all eternity? Is that what John Boehner thought about in his morning prayers?

If he is changing his life now and wants some real hope, we will be offering more permaculture design courses next Spring.





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