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Archive for August, 2009

The United States is in many ways a very passive nation. Politically, although there are many that demonstrate and now organize in ways on the web, as a civilization we delegate a great deal to elected and business leaders.

Economically, there is not as much small business entrepreneurship as is suggested by the talking heads on Fox News. The vast majority of our commerce is done with large corporations.

And more importantly, relative to libraries, we delegate a great deal of decision-making and even discussion to public officials (elected and appointed).

An example is the current discussion on health care. While the town meeting fracas’ get a lot of press, in my home town there has been woefully little public discussion of the objectives/characteristics sought, or the means suggested to achieve those objectives in proposed legislation or even preliminary discussion.

Americans just don’t bother.

There are many reasons. We are busy. It takes two working adults to provide for most households these days, and in many there is only a single parent. Even where all the adults are working it is difficult to make ends meet. We’re just too tired to read, to think, to discuss, and a bit hopeless.

Also, mass media still is strong and exerts a pacifying influence. We sit and digest from the very limited set of originating “thought” that is presented. Some then go ahead do what they are told, but when peoples’ comments at public meetings are so similar, it confirms an assessment of public intellectual passivity.

At the same time, the proportion of college-educated adults is at the highest that its ever been in US history.

Right now, there is no alternative to passivity. There is no forum for face to face discussion in most communities. Thankfully in the town that I live, there are electoral debates, even for “insignificant” positions, but that is sporadic, and doesn’t suffice to maintain an engaged and informed electorate, a citizenry.

Libraries have a unique and absolutely critical role in enhancing the degree and maturity of citizenship in our communities and nation and world.

They are the primary institution in our society for facilitating adult education. Colleges are oriented towards undergraduate or matriculating studies and do not make it easy for adults to participate. Even community colleges with a strong citizenship mission, are relatively expensive for an adult education class, and somewhat excluding.

Free public libraries offer the two primary means to responsibly and effectively facilitate citizenship in our world. They provide access to source materials and assistance at research. (Talk to our undaunted hero community research librarians, FREE.)

In a library that take seriously its role to facilitate citizenship, there are best-sellers, a few extra pulp novels and films, and most importantly a depth of materials on social issues, and aesthetic contribution. Stimulation to think, to discuss, to design, to engage.

The second critical service that libraries provide, that complements its citizenship enhancing role as library collection, is as a regularly available meeting and discussion venue.

In active libraries, the library meeting rooms are the most vibrant discussion venues in their communities. A library that regularly and FREQUENTLY hosts readings, discussion issues, films, music appreciation, etc. is the community center of a community that is buzzing.

In most communities currently, there are very few active discussion venues. Discussion of critical local, regional, national, and global issues, just doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen in religious venues. It doesn’t happen on street corners. It doesn’t happen in many living rooms. And, in too many locales, it doesn’t even happen in libraries.

And, as a result of no discussion, bad decisions are made, and no one is subsequently watching or counseling. Members of communities end up with little contact with each other. “I don’t care” ends up as the characteristic of formal citizenship. (Citizenship that dares the question of whether it is worth the name.)

While there is no guarantee that the citizenry of any community is going to rise to the opportunity that the excellent libraries in our communities provide, the absence of the option would compel our mediocrity.

To summarize, to my mind, libraries are the most critical institution in modern society that effects the degree and character of citizenship in our communities. That’s the role they’ve served in my life, and I am not alone.

I personally want to help. I want to help libraries raise money and in-kind materials for their collections. I want to help libraries utilize their meeting room potential with local and regional presentation, lecture and discussion. I want to publicize libraries’ prospective and realized role in our society.

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Public libraries are better than sliced bread.

This post is more than an appreciation post.

One of the great challenges of modern media is how to preserve the media distribution business and process in a way that is functional and allows writers, artists and others to justify their considerable time invested, to actually make a living from their craft.

With the advent of the internet itself, and further, with the ease of copying and distributing media, and the presence of already free media sites (Youtube), the media world has CHANGED.

The newspaper business in particular is in a state of upheaval and has been for decades, with the internet serving as the last very heavy straw.

There are companies that are able to establish gates to use of media, that preserve or even enhance their ability to earn revenue. The Wall Street Journal for example never went to a free distribution status, like say the New York Times. (That is consistent with their prior business model anyway though, with the NY Times surviving by advertising primarily, while the Wall Street Journal survived by subscriptions.) New revenue-generating media paths include Netflix (now streaming and downloading) or Audible in the audiobook world.

The previous era’s media model was of highly produced, highly invested, star orientation. There are only 50 or so independant prime time TV slots, maybe 100 if you include more specialized but still widely watched cable shows, including documentaries. They have very high costs of production, and therefore must sell MANY copies and/or views to recoup their investment.

In the documentary world, there are thousands of programs produced, driven by individuals’ passions and creative sensivitivity. Production costs are a small fraction of what documentary production costs were even a decade ago, with the advent of inexpensive but high-quality cameras, hard-disk recording potential now, and inexpensive but also high-quality post-production and DVD authoring software.

The star system is breaking down to an extent, but right now only enough to be threatening, not enough to break the back yet. Similar in status to the automobile industry. It still hobbles along, though doesn’t make rational sense to continue its habitual business model and structure.

On the documentarian and intelligentsia side, academia (some post-academia think tanks) is the name of the game. Intellectuals teach now, more than they publish for non-academic consumption. They don’t as a rule now write for newspapers from a range of perspectives, nor for intellectually oriented magazines. A few stars still do.

So, where do libraries fit in. Historically, libraries’ role was validated by the concept of “informed citizenry”. Prior to the contributions of Andrew Carnegie (ironically), libraries were somewhat marginal institutions, considered subversive. Their presence was promoted by the same groups that encouraged literacy, including among blacks, women, immigrants, Indians, workers.

Upon Andrew Carnegie’s retirement, he funded and championed libraries and literacy as a long-term investment in economy and citizenship. Carnegie never adopted the subversive ideas of literacy advocates, but instead normalized them. That Andrew Carnegie built and endorsed libraries changed how they were perceived and their social role.

But, libraries were still always positively subversive in fact, their existence and social role. They were free from fees, and free in availability (notwithstanding Jim Crow like legal segregation in siting). They were great equalizers. Great black novelists Richard Ellison, James Baldwin and Richard Wright publicly endorsed public libraries as critical to their self-education, and mentioned their equalizing influences in their novels periodically.

Over time, many libraries devolved from their role as facilitating an educated citizenship, to more an alternative mass media distribution path.

I love it. I don’t use Netflix or video rentals anymore. I use interlibrary loan from the public library. I listen to literally thousands of recordings, all from the library. But, I still understand it as partially a distraction from libraries’ critical mission/role.

And, in that light, I suggest that free public libraries can serve that critical role more effectively than any other institution in the modern world, of facilitating responsible and empowered citizenship.

Because of libraries’ potentially subversive role, they have historically “lied low”, avoiding attention and avoiding contention. That a few individuals like me get our entertainment from public libraries is not a big deal. Its not like “everybody did it”.

At times when individual libraries have extended themselves publicly beyond their sanctioned marginal role, there have been periodic punitive reactions by publishers, and even by lawmakers.

Libraries funding currently comes primarily from municipalities, and some from foundation and government grants, but those are usually for specified uses (like the Gates Foundation grants for digital equipment. Definitely a great help, but was that a grant, or advertising, product placement?)

So, they lie low.

I think they should speak up. I know the typical image of a librarian is not as a fighter, but more of a reclusive. It isn’t true. Most librarians regard their work as a particularly effective social service and are highly motivated to assert that. They are also woefully underpaid. (And, libraries are also not subject to the market’s pressures for competitive efficiency. I personally wish they were more efficient.)

I believe that if libraries were empowered with significant funding, that they could become the primary means for the non-star, but still extremely worthwhile, tier of substantive media material.

There are 30,000 library branches in the country. If 1/10th committed to purchase intelligent material published enhancing the citizenship role, that would average 3000 units of a film run, or a publishing run, a long way towards justifying investment in a publication. It would provide important work for intellectuals, artists, documentarians/journalists in particular, equalized by merit of their content, more than by glitz.

Another prospective library publishing approach is to pre-fund media or publishing specifically for library distribution first, then market distribution later for those that want to privately own a production or publication.

They would be subversive institutions in the positive real meaning of the term, stimulating discussion, rather than just an irritating sliver loss of revenues on best-sellers.

More during the week.

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“Live simply so that others may simply live”.

A decade or so ago, an old acquaintance of mine, Vimala McLure wrote a wonderful book, “The Ethics of Love”, which was an elaboration/exploration of the practice of yama/niyama in three relationships: From/To “One”, From/To other individuals, From/To society. (She and another long-time friend Jody Wright are leaders in the infant massage commitment, to really invite new souls into the world lovingly.)

Yama/niyama is the 10 commandments of yogic practice. They are considered a prerequisite and complement to meditation and physical yoga.

Aparigraha/simplicity is one of the ten. Fanatic interpretations of aparigraha are common and dangerous. In other posts, I’ve described my own distorted application of the principle, almost analagous to an eating disorder. Ironically, I indulged in the practice of “enough”.

So, what is enough practically? “Enough” changes at different stages in one’s life, as our roles, responsibilities and ability to enjoy, change over time. Its up to us to learn our needs, and adjust our behavior as our and others’ needs change.

The practice of yoga implies a great trust in human nature. It doesn’t deny that there are inherent conflicting impulses and needs, but does note that our natural state is one of energy, attention, health. And, that the purpose of moral principles and other intentional efforts (disciplines) is calm minds to realize that healthy responsive status.

In a calm natural state of mind, we are more effective at accomplishments, resolving conflicts, enjoying and in a coherent manner.

From that primary criteria of calm energized minds, political and social assessments revolve around the extent that a context or effort facilitate “enlightened” individual and social consciousness/experience.

The values of yama/niyama are in some ways elaborations of really the single criteria of healthy consciousness.

Its similar to the relationship of the ten commandments and later written and oral elaborations in Torah to the first two commandments. Its described that Hashem (the ONE) communicated the first two commandments to the exodusing community at Sinai, and the two and the rest were later summarized in writing only. (First written directly by Hashem, then dictated to Moses.) The first two made an authoritative imprint.

“I am the Lord thy God” (the essential unity of all things, linking the transcendent with the material/sequential).

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Triviality is not the same as profound unity/integration. Don’t be distracted from full consciousness.)

Simplicity is one of the yama/niyama values and is one of the ten commandments. “Thou shalt not covet/desire/scheme for anything that is thy neighbors” (Enough is good enough.)

I like it.

From Vimala’s description, it is a worthwhile exercise to periodically reflect on simplicity in three critical relationships.

Have I simplified my relation to the transcendant? Is my mind a clutter? Does the clutter hide or distort the natural intuitive (self-evident) recognition of the simply and naturally profound? How? How can I reduce the unnecessary and artificial constructions?

How can the value of “enough” actually be enough?

In my relations to others, do I create unnecessary artifices, making simple productive and enjoyable interactions complex and confused?

On a material level, do I hoard? Do excess possessions weigh me down, as a “diseconomy of scale”?

Does my family have enough? Is it guided by “enough” as its optimum?

In society, do systems facilitate individuals and families to universally acquire enough? Or do our economic and social systems result in unhealthy distributions of income and wealth to the extent that many don’t have access to enough while others have excess to the point that they are ineffective as human beings?

Does society provide available means for individuals and families to provide for its members throughout their lifecycles? Does it facilitate the healthy care of infants and children (that are by definition dependent)? Their education, their gradual inclusion in rights and responsibility? Does society facilitate universal sufficient compensation, continuing education, and support for the physical and mental health of contributing adults? Does society facilitate a universal opportunity to care for the very sick, the mature, the elderly? Does it facilitate a way to keep the mature and elderly relevant, contributing in a meaningful way, if no longer professionally or physically?

Enough is a great word, a great criteria for personal and social values.

If one has/uses less than enough, then reform is needed to reach health. If one has/uses more than enough (resulting in inefficient waste or out and out corruption), then reform is needed to stay effective and let others simply live.

A middle way, with latitude and flexibility of application. A useful value.

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I use the metaphor of a bicycle to describe health, physical health, financial health, psychological health.

A bicycle is only stable if it is moving. Some adepts can retain their balance on a bicycle without moving, but I need to have my wheels turning at least some to keep from falling.

Personal and community economy is the same. Things fall apart if people, assets, skillsets, traditions are idle.

I’ve had periods in my life, when I was actually poor. I lived in a communal setting that had basically fallen apart. All but another family had left. We couldn’t afford our land payments. I didn’t have transportation to get to work. Winter was coming on, and after the first snowfall I left to return to my childhood home. When I got to suburban New York, I weighed 135 pounds (30 pounds less than an optimal healthy weight). On the trip home, I ran out of money to pay for gas or tolls, 100 miles from New York while traveling with an 8-month pregnant woman. A New York state toll person loaned me $5.00 personally to buy gas and pay the turnpike toll. I’m sure that she was surprised when she received the repayment.

I didn’t know how to take care of myself. I adopted a form of voluntary poverty, a guilt and a supporting political ideology, that was not simplicity, but more punitive. I adopted a monastic view of life. I digested too much of the tropical Indian monk’s view (while I lived in snowy New England), and supported it by thin new left Marxist references that accomplished no transfer of power to community, but did disempower me. I admired characters in Russian novels (Father Zossima, Prince Myshkin), Franciscan monks, yogic monks. Even the language of “the middle way”, I took in as monastic (Siddhartha), not as actual Buddhist teaching of enough, but less than enough.

I was not a monk. I just was enamored with the romantic saintly image.

I didn’t know myself, my needs, my abilities. I didn’t accept my own fallibility. No parent, no sober mentor, no frank counselor was present to guide me. My friends were either as confused as I, or not confused and actually proceeding to get their lives together and my dogmatics irritated them. I fumbled along, still am fumbling along, and still confused by many of the same personal and social themes.

I know a few things now that I didn’t then. I know that financial health is not something to be ashamed of, but is in fact a simpler way of living. I know that rational and moderate self-discipline is not equivalent to less enjoyment or less freedom in life. I know that time is finite, and that it is one of the assets that I can and must keep within my control. I know that my intentions alone are not a sufficient basis of others’ trust, that what I deliver and how I present myself is. At the same time, I also know that my relaxed self-trusted effort and public person need not be false or contorted.

I know that a willingly productive and attentive life itself earns the right to live, to reasonable income. My sincere effort, skill and sensitivity is enough.

I also know that I have an obligation to contribute to public good, to help those that need help, to develop public assets and services, to help retain/restore wilds, and to think for the future, and to invest funds for the future (not only for short-term profits or gains).

I currently oppose the anti-corporate view that concludes that global corporations are so powerful that there is no room for community of any model. I find that attitude to itself be disempowering and distracting, a form of self-punishment, rather than of community affirmation and joy.

I do believe that there is a moral entropy to the “natural” progression of concentration of capital ownership, absent really assertive individual and community self-care and innovation. But, that the way to counteract that entropy is not by any resignation or revolution, but instead by creative and sensitive initiative, both individual and collective.

One consequence of living beyond one’s means, is that one self and one’s community grows poorer.

In the town in Western Massachusetts that I know well, industry has been leaving over half a century, shifting our (and many other) formerly industrial towns to underemployed and now in the vacuum of value-adding work, a retirement destination (inexpensive but still close to amenities). The average net worth in town is much much less than previously, and because of the influx of second home-owners and retirees cashing out of expensive homes in New York, Boston and Connecticut, home prices are higher than prevailing wages can support.

There are a minority that are comfortable, and actually have some disposable net worth, and fewer actual wealthy that have earned their wealth hereĀ  (fewer in number, but more assets). In the hills, near the many close to failing dairy farmers, are forested mansions with tennis courts, horses, servants. But, the wealthy that live in the region are mostly global wealthy, and invest in global securities (stocks, LLC’s, hedge funds) and not in either public assets or local small-moderate businesses. They reside in the Valley, but its hard to say that they live here in a social sense as they are not dependent on the Valley’s community health for their health.

So, if global capital, even represented by those members that live or vacation here, will not sufficiently invest in local enterprise or commons, who will?

We (whomever we is) will have to. And, we will have to do that by developing our net worth, and putting it to accountably productive enterprise and public service.

We have to work to increase both private and public net worth, and more than just in terms of market value of our homes. We need balanced communities, that contain both value-adding and residing components. Further, among the value-adding components, we need enterprise that serves inter-regional trade (exports to other regions/micro-regions) and intra-regional trade (local services).

We need to live frugally, to save, and later when our savings reach a point of being discretionary, to invest, and in a form that keeps the local and regional “bicycle wheels” moving. Actual investment IN something, rather than speculation for gain.

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From some interpretations of Keynesianism, it is “patriotic” to consume. Even among some anarchist perspectives, it is socially beneficial to consume on products/services made within one’s community, an example of not hoarding, and of increasing the degree and ways that one is in active local relationship.

The shift from passive “consumer” (affluenza) to active liver is a choice. It takes determination to assert oneself, to take back one’s own life. We are naturally (and unnaturally) socialized beings. We care what others think of us. We need to be part of a larger community, some community that cares about us, that has our back. And, to some extent, to achieve that need, we conform in ways, in some ways constituting a fundamental compromise.

The modern insidious conformity occurs relative to mass media, ever-present overt and hidden advertising. It is intimate, invited into our living rooms, now for generations, invited into our web experience. It applies the worst methods of social conformity, fears and envies (likely a form of fear), and seeks to create habits in us.

We are branded, meaning that some company has intentionally imprinted a conditioned response in some form in the part of our brains that habits are formed. Its rational from perspective of a business. It takes a lot of effort and money to make a first sale, therefore the branding process and all that accompanies it is needed to make the much easier second sale (food for example). The branding process is a means to get you to trust any product that has the “….” brand. Both legitimate (quality, consistency) and intrusive and excessive (packaging, imprinting advertising, addictive components) methods are used.

To just say no, is a courageous and critical means to resist, to take back control of one’s consciousness. Rather than a chain of imprinted stimuli, and conditioned responses, it is an assertion of our freedom. Freedom to and freedom from.

It takes some intentional discipline to become aware of the means and experience of our manipulation.

The marketing process includes a suggestion confirmed by an experience, a promise fulfilled. When you see some advertising on television, or more subliminally a product placement in a film, the intention is a manufactured suggestion “try me”, but also the creation of the definition of the expected reward. “You will feel younger if you use this shampoo.” Then, when experienced, there is often an artificial designed and manufactured stimulus, say the presence of sugar in a cereal, or caffeine in a drink. That very small rush (your brain knows it feels “better”, like a hunger relieved) confirms the advertising. (You did feel “better”.) Tested a couple times, still tentative, and the intended conditioned response becomes in fact a conditioned response, stimulated by a logo, or a color, or a package shape.

Resistance to that imposition, that “oppression”, occurs by becoming aware in your body, how and when imprinting is being attempted on you. (It is one of my greatest gripes to see imprinting advertising inside and by “simple living” advocates. Some are attempting to use only the positive aspects of branding – trustworthiness through quality, integrity. Others are using the term “simplicity” as their conditioned response brand, very confusing.)

Next time you read a magazine, turn a page with your eyes closed. When you open your eyes, note the feelings that you experience and the elements of an ad that evoke those feelings. Note the elements of the ad that are informative, versus elements that attempt to impose a conditioned response/suggestion. Remember that ad, and the next time you go to a store, intentionally walk past the area where that product is displayed, and similarly close your eyes or clear your mind in some other way before walking past that item, and note the effect. As an experiment, buy the product (pick one not too unhealthy, or too expensive), and again close your eyes or clear your mind and experience the product. Note the physical stimuli. (Your cells and brain note the introduction of sugar or caffeine. They are by definition addictive, meaning they shift your cells or brain experience from hunger to “satisfied”. A switch, nearly literally, and remembered, but inaccurately.) Go back to the store a couple days later intentionally, and repeat the exercise of closing your eyes and observe your reaction. It will have changed, from eyes lighting up from stimulated curiosity, to eyes lighting up from hope of relief from the conditioned hunger or pain.

The norm of marketing in cosmetics, in much food, much entertainment, is the intentional manufactured conditioned response.

Other themes are also fear-based, often in larger products. Say with cars, there is the invocation of testosterone or fear of driving a less impressive car than one’s colleagues. Furniture, homes, cellphone selection, computer selection similarly.

Even individuals that have long noted the imposition of modern marketing techniques in their past, are well-served by reminder of the process in general and the specific ways that they individually are imprinted. Marketing/advertising is everywhere, and it seeps in. Our brain and cell chemistry is common. Our needs for approval are common. There is no permanent distinction between enlightened and not. It takes some work to be free.

I/we are more than the set of conditioned responses that we’ve been programmed. I choose to RESIST the inner colonialization.

I insteand choose to transform my former conditional responses to awareness, to freedom (always relative, and always changing over your life), and to relationship (rather than conformity).

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Synnergies

You don’t find many economists advocating for simplicity. Many prominent liberal economists (Robert Reich, Paul Krugman, Robert Kutner) support the values of simplicity, but note that “if everyone did it”, the economy would be forced to change. The economy is like a bicycle. It needs to spin to be stable enough to move forward, to provide any service.

In an economy that changes, the first experience is of some failures. People spending less makes the economy’s bicycle wheels spin more slowly.

Demand for products diminish relative to productive capacity to serve needs. Retailers, distributors, manufacturers, source commodities processors and growers, experience lower volume and revenues through their systems than can cover their fixed costs.

As application of sophisticated equipment, appended to information processing technology and software was a prominent means by which companies succeeded over the last couple decades, a large portion of their costs are fixed. (Formerly, the primary fixed costs that companies bore was for personnel, including pensions and benefits. In business at large, the primary fixed costs have shifted to equipment and technology. Ironically, equipment and technology are often more hungry than personnel, and even less flexible.) Revenues decrease from less volume itself from lower prices resulting from decreased demand relative to supply (inventories). The result is decreased operating profits.

The whole supply chain for automobiles is a case in point. While the auto industry was a primary economic driver in the US for the last 80 years, it is no longer. Aside from the effects of international competition, we just don’t need that many cars and trucks. Its NOT in the society’s interest to artificially stimulate the demand for a less necessary service.

As inventories sit on dealers’ lots, the price and terms that dealers must offer favor buyers. As volume of sales decrease, plants sit idle (fixed costs of financing, insurance, basic maintenance continues). Dealers lots and sales reps sit idle. (Fixed costs of facilities, inventory carrying charges, continue). The only beneficiary of decline in new car sales volume are repair shops, and they only marginally.

As the auto industry crashed (barely avoiding burning), the government stepped in to temporarily preserve any infrastructure remaining (parts manufacturers, financing institutions, dealerships, auto engineering of a wide variety of expertise, distribution companies).

But, as the business model that auto companies employed was itself inefficient, bloated, inattentive to the market, that cannot be repeated indefinitely. To avoid simply throwing away their enormous prior investments, stiffing banks and former employees, creating a cascade of bunkruptcies, society needs them to survive. To survive over the long-term they need to define a new business model.

In “Natural Capitalism”, Paul Hawken and Amory Lovins described a 21st century needed business transition from a goods-based commerce to a service based commerce. In many cases, the same terms are used to describe the demise of the American economy. Rather than skilled workers building cars (a good), they flip burgers at McDonalds (a service). But, that is not what Hawken and Lovins were referring to.

Using autos as an example, they were speaking of shifting from an business model that succeeded by making more numbers of cars, to a business model that succeeded by providing transportation services of which private cars could be a component, but not the determinant of success. Instead, the determinant of success of a transportation services company would be its ability to get members of a population from their origination to their desired destination as efficiently, flexibly and comfortably as possible. It might take a different portfolio of assets and services to accomplish that redefinition of their economic offering.

Its change. Laws that currently regulate existing norms of business relationships would need to change. Some existing regulation might be counter-productive, actually enforce economic inefficiency and inhibit personal frugality. In other cases, new regulation would be required to responsibly govern new potential norms of economic relations.

The business model based on services supports a vision of simplicity, in which individuals may consume only what they need, not a whole vehicle when they only need a vehicle for a few hours/week. But those enterprises are also vulnerable to business volume changes and therefore require a spinning economy to stay on its wheels (the bicycle metaphor).

It is a different vision of simplicity than the rustic, and the two conflict in some basic assumptions, though they share a Yankee value of efficiency and frugality.

In “Natural Capitalism”, Hawken and Lovins describe an economy that can and needs to scale down its consumption of materials. (Limited supply and limited waste disposal capacity.)

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Living well

In January, I lost my job of 8 1/2 years. Initially, due to bureaucratic foul-ups, I didn’t receive unemployment for 3 months. My family lived off of the equity in my house.

We were forced to take a hard look at our situation. We dusted off a book that a friend had recommended three years ago, that we had bought but didn’t read, “Your Money or Your Life”.

Not everything in the book hit me as truth, but a great deal did. In a nutshell, the thesis of the book is that our lives are our own. We decide how we are going to live our lives, and what we are going to do with the things within our control that are finite. To do that, we need to know our situation, and know ourselves.

The book is the basis of an accounting/counseling practise that I hope to develop over the next couple years.

The book constructs a series of exercises and commentary to assess how we have been living, what is important to us, and how to realize the aspects that are important.

The exercises in the book are both empowering and sobering. For example, in examining my income over every year in my life, I identified that I had sufficient earning capacity to provide for my family and my own enjoyment, but that I did so inconsistently.

I noted that I often acted as if my property was not my own, but controlled partially by my own imaginings of what I didn’t have external permission to spend money on, and keep. I can see working it out with my wife and family what to own, but worrying about my aunt and uncle’s impressions that haven’t been to my home in a decade?

Similarly for how I use my time, I kept a log of a week, and discovered relatively odd patterns of time usage.

In taking an inventory of my assets and liabilities (big and small), I recognized that I still had assets from a business that I ran in the early 90’s taking up a quarter of my basement. (I still have them.)

The next exercise was to examine where I/we currently spend money.

Food,
Clothing,
Shelter,
Fuel,
Transportation,
Health care,
Entertainment,
Exercise,
Insurance,
Education,
Travel,
Taxes,
Charity,
Care of parents
Gardening

In looking more closely at each area, we realized that there were likely significant savings that we could realize, with simple modifications, while even improving the quality and control that we experienced.

An example is food. When I and my wife were working full time, we ate a great deal of packaged and moderately processed foods. We had less time to comparison shop, and our two gourmet children (actually, quite a blessing for us) demanded specific foods often out of season for their recipe experiments.

By shifting to a simpler diet, made much more from original ingredients and complemented by a garden, we saved nearly 1/2 of what we had been spending previously. We learned to cook better and eat better (nutrition and taste).

We observed similar potential savings in many other areas of our life.

Some savings can only be realized by larger personal decisions. For example, we’ve done the “low-hanging fruit” for energy conservation. It would take a renovation to make the next level of improvements.

Another critical observation that we made was that in many many ways, important social institutions that would enhance a person/community’s ability to live simply and save money, just do not exist.

For example, in assessing our clutter, we sought to put it to subsequent use. We divided our stuff into “for sale” (some fashionable clothes that we no longer wore but were still very functional), “for potential common use” (books that we’ve read that could be in a public library), “for potential collective use” (lawnmower – why does every family on the street own a lawnmower), “for those in need” (old coats that were still functional), “for recycling”, and “for trash”.

It would be useful for there to be a regular flea market in every large town for items that might be saleable. It would be useful for libraries to accept in-kind donations that could then be available to the community. It would be useful for there to be neighborhood tool cooperatives.

Why don’t those projects happen? Not because they are impossible, and not because of some external compelling force (mass media DOESN’T control us).

I think mostly just because noone has done it.

I actually consider those kinds of things my mature mission in life, to help create the projects, the institutions, that enable people to live prosperously, but with less, less money and less stress.

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