Breakthrough Action Research Questions for co-creating a threefold commonwealth society.

‘What kind of society we want, and how do we get there?’ were the burning questions that emerged from a November 2016 US Lecture tour. This took me from New York City, through NY State, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, then California to finish in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at the Biodynamic Association Conference.

This research and lecture tour was originally about Rudolf Steiner’s social threefolding vision for society and land trusteeship. However it was ambushed by the surprise election of Trump on 8th November. Just as the Brexit referendum shocked Britain on June 23rd, the Trump election also shocked many Americans. People even talked of ‘8/11’ as a follow up to ‘9/11.’

So with a Sacramento audience we discussed the relevance of Rudolf Steiner’s social threefolding at a seismic time. We asked, ‘ What kind of society do we want, and how do we get there?’ We explored what they saw as the Trump, Clinton and Sanders’ visions for the USA, and then relevance of Rudolf Steiner’s threefold commonwealth.

They contrasted Clinton’s neo liberal, market fundamentalist, business as usual, establishment approach with the Trump xenophobic, macho, racist, narcissistic, tax avoiding, protectionist, ‘America first’, approach. The Sander’s vision of free higher education, better healthcare, jobs, fair taxes, social inclusion, affordable housing and solidarity was seen as different, as positive, as was his personal integrity.

For me, a breakthrough light bulb moment was on the one hand to distill the comment, opinion, and analysis coming from the Brexit shock with the 11/8 Trump election, and Steiner’s social threefolding vision into four action research questions. Individuals can then choose to answer these questions, or a particular personal reformulation of a question question. So, instead of feeling powerless and confused, we can   take constructive action. The questions are as follows:

How are we developing a generative, mutual economy that works for all?

How are we caring for the earth?

How are we engaging politically for human rights, a more participative democracy, social justice, social inclusion, equity and peace?

How are we enabling creative, dynamic cultural life where every person can develop, and maintain, their whole human potential-so that they can freely contribute?

At Sacramento we also discussed the historic opportunity offered by the collapse of the neoliberal ideology to draw on Steiner’s seminal social thinking. Inquiring using the above four action research questions as individuals, as groups and organisations can make a difference culturally, politically, environmental and economically at a local, city and state level. We can start, or build further, from where we are. The Burlington, Vermont ‘model’ where Bernie Sanders had been the mayor came up as an example close to social threefolding. Some people said that we face such dangerous times with the Trump election that we consequently need to prepare realistically for the worst, yet also prepare for the best.

takingcareofearthourselves

However, I saw signs of hope everywhere I went, the ‘blessed unrest’ of individuals, groups and movements making a difference. There were thriving social businesses, biodynamic farms, creative schools, community gardens, and social movements like the Dakota pipeline protest, innovative housing schemes, civic initiatives and impressive evidence of good old American ‘can do’. In New York, the cityscape has been changed by the work of green guerrilla gardeners transforming waste lots, city parks, growing good food, addressing food poverty, increasing human security and community building. In small towns, you can see things like co-ops, community farms, free medical and dental services and signs of a thriving cultural life.

These green shoots can be seen as openings for a ‘commonwealth society. ’ This is happening all over the world. We only need to see what is happening, inquire, understand what is emerging, and connect up the dots. We live in a creative, enterprising age, and the lid just cannot be put on this social ferment. Just think how the invention of community supported agriculture, an application of Steiner’s associative economics, by Trauger Groh and others at Temple Wilton Community biodynamic farm in New Hampshire, has gone viral round the world? CSA offers a radical alternative economic model to the ‘free market’, where consumers, distributors and growers agree to associate together for fair prices for growing good food, guided by clear agreements.

Why a ‘commonwealth society’? ‘Commonwealth’ is an old word for society or state, meaning much more than just money. Massachusetts and Canada are formally called commonwealths. ‘Commonwealth’ includes our commons, such as land, air, water, language, relationships and culture, as well as industry, the economy, health service and our democracy. ‘Commonweal’ is connected, meaning common good.

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I observed how social threefolding lived in the will of many people- seemingly just below the surface. They had an intuitive grasp of boundaries between culture, politics and economy and how to clarify these. This was expressed by proposals such as, ‘Lets get the money out of politics’, or ‘Get the state and corporations out of education’. The shared understanding of the threefold separation of powers in the US Constitution, of the judiciary, legislature and executive, led to a similar distinguishing of the tripartite dynamics of the political, economic and cultural systems.

Therefore, as we British and Americans need to see how things work, a number of people whom I met are writing up case studies for a 2017 anthology of how they are working with Steiner’s social threefolding in practice, for example on their biodynamic farm, in their school or bank[i]

However, the threats Trump poses also need recognizing. Just as it is hard for us to now view a film of Hitler speaking at the 1930’s Nuremberg rallies and not think, ‘How could they be taken in?’ so our grandchildren may view Trump in the same way. How can we understand those who voted for Trump? (Note: i.e. only 24% of the electorate voted for Trump, Clinton got 2.75 million more votes, and just less than 50% of the US electorate actually voted)

To answer the question of why people voted for Trump, it is vital to analyze the role of the corporate and social media. These were expertly used to manufacture consent and votes. Many people now get their news and ‘information’ from the social media, from friends‘ recommendations, and from the automatic recommendations of algorithms. ‘If you like this, then you will like this.’ Many people see uncritically through the lenses of their social media and personal ‘filter bubbles. ’ Just as with the Brexit campaign, it was possible to ruthlessly spread malicious, unfounded rumours, factoids, lies and half-truths. The more vicious and shocking, like the allegation Hilary Clinton was a paedophile which originated with some Macedonian youths, the more people clicked and forwarded their friends with a message, ‘Have you seen this?’ And the more negative the information, the angrier and ‘pumped up’ people got in their social media echo chambers. This was ‘post truth politics ‘ in action.

But such social media manipulation by Trump would not have resonated with people if there had not been real grievances to address. His campaign targeted a  mixture of social conservatives from all backgrounds- some with white supremacist and racist views, and ‘left behind’ working class people who were economically more radical. Many jobs had gone to China and   to Mexico, communities were run down, people were afraid for their jobs, health, houses, security and their children’s education. Trump was able to get through to such people and successfully blame the liberal capitalist elite such as Clinton for the loss of jobs.

From a deeper point of view, Trump also tapped into the many people who are suffering both psychologically and spiritually. [ii]They feel they have ‘failed’ to achieve the American dream, they feel losers, half human. Having internalized the neo liberal ideology of competitive individualism and Social Darwinism, they have no one to blame but themselves. Secondly, there is a deep lack of self worth, self-respect and human dignity coming from not feeling that their work, if they have any, is respected and has value. In any case, their labour is treated as a commodity to be bought and sold on the market, a point Steiner makes strongly in Towards Social Renewal. Consequently, they feel bad, self-hurting, afraid, failures. Moreover ‘the liberals’ try to make them ashamed of their socially conservative values. For example, this is a pivotal September 2016 quote (gaffe?) by Hilary Clinton, that was used with deadly effect by Trump:

‘You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people, now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric.’

Trump was able to mobilise ‘left behind’ peoples’ spiritual and psychological injuries, and direct the hurt and anger at   scapegoats such as the immigrants, liberals, big Washington government, Muslims, even war heroes like Senator John McCain and ‘crooked Hilary’. The use of social media, where you get constant confirmation of your views and grievances, really ‘pumped up’ people. We saw the same phenomena here with Brexit, where the Gloucestershire millionaire Arron Banks spent £7.5 mn on a toxic social media campaign that pumped up enough people to swing the vote to Leave.

neoliberalsocietydiagramDiagram of the Capture of Politics and Culture by the kleptocratic Plutocracy, Corporatocracy, Mediocracy for the Acquiring Private Wealth and Power. [iii]

So, from Steiner’s analysis of the social question, a key part of the answer to these deep human spiritual injuries is profoundly cultural. We need a dynamic renewal of creative education, the arts, sciences, spirituality, health, and our food culture so that people can develop and maintain their spiritual, creative, human, and social potential. If you think of the cost of this, consider the huge costs of not educating people for creative human freedom and dignity.

Creative cultural life is breaking through, despite the capture of large areas of culture by the corporate media and by government. (If you want to control people, command the pulpit, the schoolroom and the media.) But until we see culture, such as free creative education as centrally important, then the conditions for proto fascists like Trump and Farage will continue.

And the immediate future of the US looks dangerous. Firstly, Trump appointed the ruthless Steve Bannon as his chief of staff. He is ex-Harvard and Goldman Sachs, and an architect of the white supremacist leaning Breitbart website. Secondly, Trump has the police and military on his side. Thirdly, he can bypass an anyway Republican Congress if necessary with executive orders to push things through. And it only takes a ‘Reichstag fire’, a terrorist incident to exploit, so as consolidate power.  I already heard several personal stories of racist and sexist intimidation before I left the USA, as indicators of a conflictual, fragile social climate.

What are the positive ways ahead?

There is hope in the dark, as Rebecca Solnit writes so movingly. [iv]Preferring not to react by becoming an alcoholic or committing suicide, I choose to remain an optimist. People across the USA told me that its time to wake up more, to keep creating positive alternatives, whether in our own lives, with those we meet, with biodynamic farms as green oases for social, cultural spiritual, economic and ecological renewal, or creative Waldorf schools, ethical banks and our various projects.

We have significant capabilities, not least to address the spiritual and psychological questions of people seeking creative personal renewal. And the current situation offers an opportunity for us to answer in our own different ways the four action research burning questions that emerge from Steiner’s societal thinking:

How are we developing a generative, mutual economy that works for all?

How are we caring for the earth?

How are we engaging politically for human rights, a more participative democracy, social justice, social inclusion, equity and peace?

How are we enabling creative, dynamic cultural life where every person can develop, and maintain, their whole human potential-so that they can freely contribute?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: My US lecture and workshop tour, 1-23rd November, took in New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, California and Santa Fe New Mexico, was made possible by friends and hosts. One outcome will be a Collection of articles about social threefolding to be published in Sum

[i] For more details contact martin@hawthornpress.com.

[ii] See also Rabbi Michael Lerner in http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/psychopathology-in-the-2016-election-3

[iii] Large, M., Common Wealth, 2010

[iv] Solnit, R., Hope in the Dark, 2016

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US Lecture and Research Tour :Building Commonweal 1st-2nd November 2016 Dates and Venues

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November 2016 US Lecture and Research Tour by Martin Large

 Hope, Fear and Building Commonweal: Rudolf Steiner’s Threefold Vision for Society

 What social future do we want and how do we get there?

This lecture and research trip is an opportunity to learn from positive US social, economic and political develoments, meet people similary engaged,   and also share questions arising  with those  working practically with Rudolf Steiner’s social ideas and vision for a threefold commonwealth or society.

Visiting the USA in October/November 2003 on a Winston Churchill travelling fellowship, I was inspired by New York guerrilla gardeners and by community land trust pioneers across the USA such as the Fellowship community at Spring Valley, Burlington Vermont CLT and Temple Wilton Biodynamic Farm. This led to working with others on  CLT National Demonstratioon Projects to help set up many UK community land trusts for social housing, changing UK law, innovative co-op community financing and farm land trusts in Britain, including the Biodynamic Land Trust.

At a time of great change and challenge, amidst the mess of market fundamentalism, I will ask, ‘How does Rudolf Steiner’s dynamic social thinking inspire us to build a more free, equal, mutual and earthcaring commonwealth…… One biodynamic farm, vibrant school and social business at a time?’ … However the starting point is, ’ What are your burning social questions?”

I work as a facilitator and live in Stroud, UK. Books include, Social Ecology (1981), Futures that Work (2002), Common Wealth (2010), which draws on Steiner’s social threefolding to map an emerging commonwealth society. Asked when working in civil war torn former Yugoslavia in the 1990’s, ‘What, then, is the alternative to communism and capitalism?’ I have been action researching this question ever since..

Dates, Venues and Times of Talks and Workshop

3 November; Anthroposophical Society  138 W15th St   New York NY 10011 . New York City 7pm: Hope, Fear and Building Commonweal: Rudolf Steiner’s Threefold Vision for Society-How do we get there?

More information: walter@wawrite.com

4/5the November talk/workshop in Spring Valley: Hope, Fear and Building Commonweal: Rudolf Steiner’s Threefold Vision for Society: How do we get there?

More information: rafael@threefold.org

Sunday 6 : Restoring Hope: 

Rudolf Steiner’s Social Vision of a Threefold Commonwealth: 7pm Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School, Music Room

518-672-4465, x223 

or glamb@thecenterforsocialresearch.org

Thursday 9: Temple Wilton, New Hampshire evening talk Hope, Fear and Building Commonweal: Rudolf Steiner’s Threefold Vision for Society and Community Farm/Land Trusts

Contact: groh.alice@gmail.com

Friday, Nov 11, 7:30pm – 9:15pm; Rudolf Steiner College, Sacramento: Evening Talk: Hope, Fear and Building Commonweal: Rudolf Steiner’s Vision for a Threefold Commonwealth- What social future do we want and How do we get there?

Saturday Nov 12, 9:30am – 4:30pm , Rudolf Steiner College: Threefolding Conference

http://rudolfsteinercollege.edu/events/threefold-conferenceContact:

2016 Biodynamic Conference: Tierra Viva: Farming the Living Earth

November 16-20, Santa Fe, NM

 

 

Open Food Network for Developing Fair Farm to Fork, Buyer-Supplier Relations

How do we develop fair, farm to plate, buyer supplier relations? This burning question  will be posed at a Workshop that I will be attending at the upcoming Biodynamic Association Annual Conference from November 16-20 2016 at Santa Fe, New Mexico.

So often, farmers and growers see in the shops a big price mark up of the food they grow. At the same time, they are barely making a living. In the UK, aggressive supermarket buyers have sometimes forced the price of milk, for example, below the economic cost of production. So one response is for producers use various methods such farm gate sales points, community supported agriculture (CSA)  or  running a farmers market stall to reach the consumer directly, and bypass the middleman distributor, wholesaler or retailer. Not surprisingly, there has been a huge growth around the world in both famers’ markets and in CSA’s.food-drop-sorting-boxes

 

And great oaks form small acrons can grow! In Sweden, Salta Kvarn, one of the largest Swedish box schemes,  is run from Jarna near Stockholm and is biodynamic. They have now set up stores in Stockholm. The Salta Kvarn  bakery started in the 1930s in the basement of a treatment center for young people with mental disabilities, because they wanted to bake bread from organically grown grain. In 1964 they bought the mill next to the treatment center, and Salta Kvarn was founded. Several products have the Demeter label . In 2008 the company was rewarded with the award Newcomer of the Year, awarded by the Farmers’ National Association and Food Federation. In 2013 it  produced about 150 products sold in shops and health food trade. The company is owned by a number of Foundations.

However, in Stroud, Gloucestershire where I live, we have both a thriving Saturday Farmers Market, Stroud Community Agriculture Farm-a 290 member CSA co-op , and StroudCo which was set up several years ago by a group of local food activists as a distribution platform to link local buyers and suppliers who for various reasons wanted something different. It is a food hub.

As a food hub StroudCo sources local produce from local farmers, bakers, growers, beekeepers, preservers, fermenters and other suppliers. Through their website members can order from all these different producers and collect their shopping in one place. Many producer members are also shopper members and vice versa. The aim is to create a market place that facilitates a direct link from producer to consumer.

Nick Weir, one of the founding directors of StroudCo  food hub (www.stroudco.org.uk)  is working with other UK food markets, co-ops and hubs to introduce a UK instance of the innovative and amazingly practical, timely Open Food Network, which originated in Australia. https://www.openfoodnetwork.org.au

 

What is OFN? Open Food Network (OFN) is an open source (free) web infrastructure to decentralise the food system. OFN national “chapters” collaborate and have non-profit principles. The OFN enables producers to offer food and drink for sale direct to the public or through any kind of hub, market or retail outlet (collectively called shopfronts). Producers and shopfronts can then cross sell each other’s’ products and establish distribution arrangements. OFN also provides some sales reporting and and accounting functionality. By creating a “group” users can link various producers and hubs, where one hub manages a catalogue of products and coordinates logistics for other hubs. This allows for lower transport costs and reduced CO2 emissions. OFN also enables visibility of the food ecosystem on a map, allowing the actors to identify and create new links and partnerships.

Why OFN? The current food system produces many negative externalities (health issues, loss of biodiversity and topsoil, antibiotic resistance, low-nutrient food, waste, high suicide rates in the agricultural community, etc.). All these externalities are the symptoms of a sick food system. But what are the root causes behind this disease? All these problems are caused by two major root causes:

The growing distance between producers and consumers, primarily physical (urbanization, globalization, accumulation of intermediaries) and psychological (we no longer know where our food comes from or how it is produced, and we give little value to our food and easily waste it)

Increasing trends of centralization, concentration and vertical and horizontal integration during recent decades has shifted the power from producers to agribusiness, and now a handful of multinational agro-industries control the food system (seeAgropoly report) .

OFN addresses these root causes by facilitating the creation & administration of local food ecosystems and by providing transparent information, thus bringing producers closer to consumers and enabling the decentralization of the food system.

The OFN guiding values are:

Land: we support farmers and producers using regenerative agricultural practices

Global Commons: all members of OFN co-create and share the responsibility for the Commons.

People first: we are building a human system, which defends at its heart mutual respect and empathy, as well as diversity, inclusion and tolerance.

Transparency: we are deploying transparency both on the platform we are building as well as in the operation of our organisation.

Constant evolution: we live in a world of perpetual change, which requires continuous adaptation and agility.

Empowerment: our project empowers individuals to create their own activity, and gives the freedom to choose the food system they desire.

Subsidiarity: decisions are most effective when they are taken at the most local level appropriate.

Systemic change: we believe in a global transition that addresses the root causes of a broken food system, not its symptoms.

Who for?

Farmers, market growers, artisans, breeders wishing to sell their products

Producer groups or farmer’s markets who wish to distribute their products collectively

Distributors and wholesalers who want to restore transparency in their supply chain

Grocery stores, independent shops, restaurants and cafeterias wishing to source directly from producers

Consumers who collectively purchase direct from producers (Community Supported Agriculture, buying clubs, cooperative grocery stores)

To find out more about the global OFN community visit https://openfoodnetwork.org/

To join the global OFN discussion forum visit http://community.openfoodnetwork.org/

If you want to follow this up, then Myriam, based in France,  is  a “global community gardener” for the OFN. She supports people who want to set up OFN in their country or region. She is an entry point for any info about the project (community, values, international development, etc.).  myriam.boure@gmail.com

In the USA, Mike Kilmer, mike@mzoo.org has  started investigating  the OFN for the USA, but there is not yet an official entity leading the project there. Mike has set up a US staging server and some other local people interested have started to play with it (https://staging.usfoodcoop.org/map)

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