November 26, 2016
"How many times can a man turn his head, and pretend that he just doesn't see?"
"If you are dependent on people who do not know you, who control the value of your necessities, you are not free, and you are not safe."
I am wondering how much longer all this can last. I am wondering when the willingness to settle for compromise or submit to coercion will end. I am wondering what it takes to shed the conditioning that encourages us to blame others for the state of our world and thereby negate our personal power and responsibility. I am wondering when the voices, anchored in their own potency, will rise up and declare:
I am wondering how long these voices will echo, isolated and distant, before they will resonate loudly enough to become a clarion call for the revolution of love. Rooted in the trifecta of community economics, ecological stewardship, and sexual sovereignty:
It is time.
It is time to leave behind moral relativism in evaluating political leaders. It is time to walk away from the tactics that intentionally polarize so as to hide the truth. It is time to let go of the fantasy that it is possible to heal the separation inherent in the modern global economy and still maintain the modern American lifestyle. It is time to acknowledge that we each have blood on our hands -- the blood of the Earth and our fellow humans -- and to feel the grief the body carries for destroying these pieces of ourselves. It is time to make the choice that our convenience and our comfort is not worth such senseless death. It is time to end the war on love, sexuality, health, wholeness and our erotic selves.
It is time to get to work whole-heartedly creating the culture(s) we want to live in.
You want to live in a culture that is no longer dependent on fossil fuels? Or a culture where individuals have real power to change their lives? You want to live in a culture of artists and healers or one that pioneers strategies for a modern gift economy? You want to live in a culture of gender queer permaculture practitioners or one that honors the Earth as sacred? A culture that embraces sexual freedom and expression? Or encourages collaboration across economic and technological divides? Any of these are possible.
The desire to create more choice lies at the heart of most social change movements. For much of human history, revolutionaries have resisted domination and have refused to be forced into a monoculture of human experience, thought or expression. For instead, we yearn to be free to spend our time, heart and energy on the things that we truly believe in. As we step up to run our leg of this relay race to create a society that is free and voluntary, by definition the one tenet that needs to form the foundation of our work, and be upheld as the essential principle in all our relations is consent.
Consent Culture: Moving Beyond Sexuality
Consent -- it's a hot topic these days.
Broadly speaking, consent means saying "yes" from one's own free-will; to agree. In recent years, the popular usage of consent has narrowed to refer more specifically to an agreement to engage in physical or sexual touch. The phrase "consent culture" refers to a culture that upholds the social norms that each person is sovereign over their sexuality, and any touch, sexuality and intimacy will be openly agreed to. Yet, despite the passionate and meticulous effort to create a consent culture in sexuality, even the most practiced and pioneering subcultures still routinely experience incidents that demonstrate a lack of respect for the ownership and the responsibility that adults have over their own body and sexuality.
How can this be?
Many suggest that it's because people have so deeply internalized the current social norms of sexual expression and gender roles that they have become either unable or unwilling to honor individual sovereignty. Breaking free of the psychological chains of conditioning is necessary, it can take significant effort and simply takes time. However, we are not defined by our past or the culture we grew up in.
The problem we face with creating a consent culture is that compromise and coercion are systemic in all aspects of our modern lives, not just sexuality. Ecology reminds us that when all things are connected, we cannot change just one thing.
The roots of consent culture grow deep and wide, enveloping all areas of human culture including love and sexuality, economics and business, governance and politics, spirituality and art. Any good gardener knows that growing healthy food is about growing healthy soil. So to create a consent culture with resilient roots, we are first called to cultivate the cultural soil that undermines the power of coercion and domination and fosters the emergence of consent and partnership. By doing this, we create the opportunity to grow -- from the ground up -- this cultural transition towards consent and it's companion values of love, freedom, community, trust and ecological stewardship.
Consent, Compromise and Coercion
Confucius is quoted as saying "The beginning of wisdom is calling things by their proper names." So laying the groundwork to cultivate a consent culture involves first distinguishing consent from both coercion and compromise.
Saying yes when you don't have a meaningful option to say no is not consent. In other words, in order to give consent, one must have meaningful options to choose from. For consent to exist, so must choice.
However, not all choices bring equally desirable outcomes. One can choose to work a job that pays the bills but does not feed the soul. One can choose to stay silent out of fear of the responsibility that comes with speaking up. One can knowingly use technologies or substances that cause harm because of the benefits they bring. These are just a few examples of compromise -- situations in which meaningful choice exists, but each choice brings with it some undesired consequences. Compromise is a form of consent -- one is freely making a choice, despite imperfect or undesired outcomes.
We move into categorically different terrain -- the dark realm of coercion -- when individuals, corporations, or nations threaten violence as a means to force a certain outcome. Submitting to coercion is not compromising, nor is it a type of consent. It is having one's sovereignty violated by another's threat to initiate violence. Cultures of dominance, aggression and fear are built upon a foundation of coercion. Coercion has been the underlying tenet of most nation-state governance since time immemorial. Even today, the velvet glove of politics merely cloaks the iron fist that lies beneath.
In isolation, coercion can harm individual lives. In combination with the internal resignation that often accompanies compromise, coercion can overtake entire cultures, and turn fear into the operating principle of a society. When we turn a blind eye to the capacity we each have to change our lives, we become complicit in our own oppression. Greed, deceit and hatred exist, but they only pose an existential threat to collective freedoms when the public (that's us) chooses to replace personal responsibility, sovereignty and choice with blame, victim-hood and apathy.
Dylan's haunting lyrics apply to us all.
When we turn our heads, when we settle for compromise, we are choosing to do so. This is a hard pill of personal responsibility to swallow. Even more so because the power of compromise grows under its own cultural inertia: usually, the more each individual compromises, the more perceived benefits accrue to the next person who compromises. At a certain tipping point, it can feel like there are no better alternatives, or any alternatives at all.
This effect can cascade down through the generations to the point where what really is a choice is perceived simply as the way it is -- the water we swim in, the air we breath. Relying on the global economy to provide for our basic food and energy needs, internalizing the belief that males are superior and extending this patriarchal worldview to expecting the government to provide for our well-being, seeking security and happiness through the accumulation of monetary wealth -- these are just a few examples of individual compromise that have become the cultural norm.
Historically, resisting coercion takes the form of either evasion or armed defense. In contrast, resisting compromise, means creating better choices. To isolate coercion, mitigate compromise and cultivate the soil that can grow a culture of consent, we are called to create for ourselves more options and more choice.
Cultivating Choice: From Effectiveness to Abundance
Since consent only exists when we have meaningful options, to cultivate a culture of consent we must cultivate choice. We create options to choose from by generating abundance. Abundance arises out of relevant productivity, and productivity stems from effectiveness accompanied by the motivation to apply one's skill. This deceptively simple sequence applies to nearly all aspects of our personal lives and of human culture, so I will explore each as a general principle in hopes of offering an overarching road map towards a consent culture.
Effectiveness lays the groundwork. From personal relationships to ecological stewardship, social organization to economic transactions, philosophical inquiry to technological development, effectiveness is what enables us to create our desired outcome. To be consistently effective, requires knowledge and skill, qualities that usually take time, practice and discipline to acquire. Without being effective at what we do, we are less capable of creating the options that allow us to engage in enthusiastic consent.
However, effectiveness alone does not generate abundance. It needs to be accompanied by motivation. The human organism is keenly sensitive to incentives -- we are motivated by anything that will help us meet our core needs and desires. Generally, we seek pleasure and avoid pain. We are also hard wired to want to be creative and to contribute. So incentives need not be monetary, and fiscal incentives are usually just a stand in for our true desires. Belonging, appreciation, and security, for example, are all powerful motivators. The power of incentives, however, is double edged. For if incentives are misapplied -- if social norms, for example, send the message that effectiveness is not desired -- productivity can come to a screeching halt.
Productivity precedes abundance and is the process of applying effectiveness to generate the desired outcome. Whatever the task -- whether it be creating a product for market or developing greater trust in a relationship -- effectiveness is the skill to make it happen and productivity is the doing of it in a useful and relevant context. Effectiveness without productivity means little; knowing how to do something is different from doing it.
The result of relevant productivity is abundance. Abundant social capital, physical capital, monetary capital. Options. Opportunity. The option to say No. And therefore, the option to say Yes. Without abundance, there is little choice. Without abundance, we exist in a culture of scarcity. A culture of scarcity is the breeding ground for fear, and fear enables coercion and encourages compromise. In contrast, a culture of abundance supports the growth of truth, trust and transparency. With multiple options from which to choose, a culture of abundance also supports the emergence of consent.
In the interconnected web of human culture, creating abundance, choice and freedom in our economic and governance systems is a necessary foundation for the emergence of a consent culture in sexuality.
Creating Freedom and Security through Earth Stewardship
As a student of nature, I have learned to study the roots. The linguistic roots of the word 'economy' is telling. It tells the story of the human relationship to community and place, to livelihood and sustenance. In the isolation of the "modern global economy", it also offers a tether point to anchor economic relationships in the places and communities that are uniquely capable of offering value, security, and freedom for ourselves and the ones we love.
Tracing back the meaning of economy leads us to two Greek words: oikos and nomos. Eco stems from the word oikos, the Greek word for home or household. Interpreted narrowly, oikos can refer to one's dwelling; interpreted more broadly it refers to the land and seas -- the entire Earth -- that is simultaneously our only sustenance and our only home.
Nomos is Greek for manager or steward, and also means law or custom. Tracing the meaning back further, nomos referred to a field or pasture, and it represented the lifeblood that sustained Greek culture. Over time, nomos appears to have evolved to refer to the customs that nourished this lifeblood and those who stewarded it. So central was the pasture to Greek society, that the phrase that once referred specifically to laws and managers of the pasture grew to denote law and manager as general terms.
Let. That. Sink. In.
Life demands that we engage in the economy -- the series of actions, interactions, processes, exchanges and relationships that provide for and support the health and wellbeing of our bodies, communities, local ecosystems and the Earth as a whole.
Stewarding our home lies at the foundation of human life and culture. It provides for our physical nourishment. Moreover, participating in this natural economy nourishes the human need for contribution, meaning and purpose. Yet, the "modern global economy" has so perverted and distorted these foundational tenets of what it means to be human, and in the process has alienated so many, that it has cast a veil over the path to reclaim the economy of community and place.
Let's remove that veil.
The agrarian philosopher and poet Wendell Berry writes,
When we choose to reclaim the economy through stewarding the health and well-being of our home, we are choosing to create freedom and safety for ourselves and our loved ones. When we choose to produce for ourselves the basic things we need -- energy, food, water, shelter, clothing -- and create a relationship with the land and local networks of others doing the same, we are choosing to create options and alternatives that undermine the power and allure of economic and ecological practices that we do not believe in.
When we create freedom and security for our communities through Earth stewardship, we break our dependency on oil companies and industrial agriculture. Then, we are no longer complicit in the destruction they cause and we are free to live in a way that truly aligns with our values.
Establishing a personal relationship with the systems that provide for our basic necessities is the most fundamental step we can take towards establishing a consent culture in all areas of our lives. Having true freedom of choice in how we meet our basic needs, frees us to determine how we shall govern our communities. And within the context of economic security and resilient self governance for our communities, the expression of sexual love no longer stems from need or fear. Instead, it is lovingly held by the community it supports.
Governance: Towards Community of Voluntary Association
Usually when we speak of government, we speak of national, state or county government. But what of community -- a group of people who choose to dedicate themselves to each other and to a place? What of the voluntary association of individuals who come together out of mutual interest to create partnerships that further the needs of each involved? We risk our very existence when we overlook the power and potential of this most fundamental level of community.
There are essential social functions that can be performed and protected only by community. Wendell Berry identifies several, such as "the care of the old, the care and education of the children, family life, neighborly work, the handing down of memory, the care of the earth, respect for nature and the care of the lives of wild creatures." Attempts to rely on national government to manage these vital, inherently local, functions routinely fail.
The path towards reclaiming these existential aspects of healthy human culture involves cultivating a network of communities that take back into our care the stewardship of our home -- including the land itself, the people who tend it, and the knowledge systems that enable us to do so. Nothing short of this will generate a culture that deeply loves and cares for the people and place we call home. Such communities already exist, and most of them need additional caring and knowledgeable people to join them.
Moving towards governance by communities of voluntary association is a radical step away from domination and towards partnership and consent. While such communities by definition cannot overtake systems based in coercion and fear, the existing power and economic structures are so supremely unsustainable that it's only a matter of time before they will buckle under their own weight. When the dust settles, communities that are rooted in ecological stewardship and voluntary association will have the opportunity to flourish.
Joseph Campbell offers that "The past must die in order for the future to have a place to be live." We are the midst of this death and rebirth cycle. Governance that arises only through the willing consent -- not conquest -- of the governed is rare and beautiful. And it is worthy of our deepest efforts.
Sexual Freedom 2.0
I hope this exploration has furthered the understanding that to create a culture in which the sexual sovereignty and dignity of each individual is honored is to create a culture in which individual sovereignty and dignity is honored, period. When we have accomplished this, we will have created a truly free and voluntary culture. Trust and choice, abundance and security, freedom and integrity will be the water we swim in, the air we breathe.
Since all things are connected, however, sovereign sexual expression is not just the beneficiary of voluntary and community-based governance and economic systems, it is the generator of them as well. For, sexual love lies at the heart of community life.
Sexual freedom, as with any kind of personal freedom, does not imply the pursuit of one's personal interest without regard for the interests of others. Nor does it mean that we are free to act without consequences. Sexual freedom requires a high level of regard for how one's behavior and choices impact other individuals and the community as a whole. The road we have collectively travelled to enjoy the quality of sexual freedom and sovereignty that we now experience has been long and is marked by the sacrifices of many. There is still more road to travel, and there are those who are eager to infringe upon the freedoms so carefully reclaimed.
So, to be sovereign, we must protect the structures that protect our sovereignty. To be free, we must protect the structures that protect our freedoms.
Sexual Freedom 2.0 -- a socially mature, community-minded and eco-centric expression of sexual sovereignty -- can play a vital role in motivating the transition to a culture that stewards the Earth towards a culture of abundance. Meaningful sexual partnership can offer affirmation and belonging that encourages the productivity needed for communities to meet their basic needs through stewarding this earthly home. Leaving behind the adolescent mindset that focuses solely on short-term personal gain, Sexual Freedom 2.0 invites the sexually sovereign to come together out of choice and out of love to cultivate, literally from the ground up, options, freedom, security -- a consent culture -- and blaze a path for others to follow.