Russ's Regenerative Design From lines to circles, from grey to green. Thu, 29 Oct 2020 14:09:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Russ's Regenerative Design 32 32 Theorectical Inspiration Fri, 02 Oct 2020 04:33:57 +0000 I’ve been reading this awesome science fiction series the last month.   It’s a triology called the Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin.  If you haven’t heard of it yet, you have now, and you’ll be hearing more.  Apparently, its slated for a big HBO series.  And with good reason.  Its solid, fascinating and a great story.  And personally…  inspiring!

The author Liu Cixin is fabulously scientifically literate.  Like any good science fi, his work involves extrapolations of current science.  However, his grasp of current science is so commanding that the extrapolations that he paints are vividly educating, compelling and engaging.  But this novel, which begins in rural China, has been more than just a good read, educating and thought provoking.  Personally, living rural Indonesian village, I’ve also found it to be deeply inspiring.

Without spoiling the story, the novel paints a picture of an advanced alien civilization in a three sun solar system that is inherently unstable and unpredictable (“the three body problem”).   They discover the Earth– a stable solar system– and set out to invade.  However, the trip from their star to ours will take 400 years, and they are concerned that human technological progress is so fast that humanity will catch up to them.  So in advance, they send some autonomous quantum particles at the speed of light to Earth in to disrupt the theoretical physics work being done by scientists on Earth.  The particles can’t do anything physical, but they can disrupt all the particle acceleration experiments being done around the world.

The idea is simple.  By preventing humans making progress to understand the basics of matter and the universe, they will not progress technologically.  And it make sense!  The depth of our theoretical understanding of the world– of atoms, electrons and their forces– are were we able to progress to electricity, nuclear power, space exploration.  Without theoretical progress we’ll never get to the big applications– fusion power, non-combustion space propulsion, etc.  The entire novel, and Liu’s next two books in the series, are based on the importance of theory.   In the end, its not the scientists or soldiers or politicians that make the crucial breakthroughs, but those doing the theory and philosophy.

Go theory!

Over Covid, I’ve been going deep into reflection and the lonely and thankless task of theoretical development.  I say “thankless” because unlike the practical ecological work that I often do, working with communities, groups and governments to make and build actual physical stuff, when your doing theory, you don’t see any physical results.

Deep down you know its important, but the task of relentlessly refining words and sentences to hone the requisite succinct precision of axioms and tenets is well… not the funnest thing in the world!   I am working on several new concepts that inter-connect like a matrix.  I must have written 5,000 words, to get 500.  Its a process of constant conceptual refinement.  You work on one concept, only to understand the other better.  Then you have to go back and refine the first.  Its like simplifying a complex quadratic equation, cancelling out variables, until you get its most simplified version.  In fact, that’s actual what it is– but with words!

The three body problem has encouraged my intuition that the development of ecological theory is not just important, its crucial.

I am seeing that we’re a lot the Earth in the story that can’t move forward with technological progress and solutions, because its theoretical understanding has been blocked.  However, for su instead of alien’s blocking us– its the economic systems that  we’ve created that have taken a life of their own.

Recent stories in the media tell about “how big oil misled the public into believing plastic would be recycled” (that’s the actual title of the paper) or how oil companies have known since the 1980’s about the existential risks of burning fuels but buried it.  I wrote a story myself on the “evil illusion of recycling“.  In a moment where everyone is talking about conspiracy theories, the way that petro-captial system has systematically conspired to undermine our collective awareness of ecological reality is biggest and most dramatic conspiracy of them all!

Without accurate awareness, its no wonder that all our technological attempts to be greener, to reduce Co2 emissions, to reduce plastic pollution, have failed.

Its not that we don’t care about our planet.  Its not that we’re some sort of virus destroying its own habitat.  On the contrary.  My observation is that we’re all tremendously concerned and motivated.  Rutger Bergman does a great job of making clear that humanity is in fact potently motivated towards helping, solving problems and assisting others when properly informed (another great book: Humankind).   We’ve simply not had the real world facts to place ourselves properly in a redemptive narrative.  We’ve been stuck in an old and flawed ecological paradigm, and we just haven’t had the accurate feedback to build a theoretical ecological foundation for moving forward with real solutions.

My last decade working with “the plastic problem” (heh… title of another novel?) has given me lots of real world experience about what is actually happening ecologically.  From this I’ve been working on a theoretical framework for petro-capital transition.  My passion and focus had been waning the last few weeks.  But now, reading this great novel… I am inspired and back at it.

Thanks Liu Cixin! 🙂   And thanks Irfan for the book recommendation!


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The Long Story of Plastic Mon, 14 Sep 2020 09:20:59 +0000 Over the last few covid months, I’ve had a chance to reflect deeply on the issue of plastic pollution and delve deep into its causes. My team and I have mined some important insights through discussions and writing, and we’re now getting ready to share them. Our biggest realization?

Most important of all is telling the long story of plastic.

Over the last few years, the world’s attention has been drawn to the second half of the story: to where plastic goes after it leaves our hands. More and more folks are realizing that whatever we do with plastic, its ending up in the biosphere and that Recycling, incineration, dumping simply delay the inevitable. It is fantastic that this awakening is happening– and with it an unprecedented concern arising for the earth’s biosphere and desire to do something.

However, this has only made us more aware of the problem of plastic pollution.  It hasn’t made clear what that something is that we should do.

In order to answer that, we need to know the first part of the story.  What is plastic exactly?  Where does it come from?  How did it get to our hands in the first place.   After leading thousands of plastic workshops with folks from dozens of countries, I am acutely aware of the widespread ignorance of plastic’s short and long backstory.

Knowing the short-term industrial story helps us see past false solutions.

Knowing the long-term million year history of plastic is key to solving it.

But actually ‘solving it’ isn’t descriptive enough– in fact, the deeper I have delved into it, the more I see that the solution lies in plastic itself.

Have I piqued your curiosity?  Well then… let me tell you a story! Check out our newly published page on

Plastic: The Long Story


And if that piques your curiosity more, you can check out our academic level white paper, which lays out the science and research we’ve been doing to piece the story together

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I Came For The Plastic Mon, 24 Aug 2020 06:44:27 +0000 I’ve always been a big believer in intentionally choosing difficult and challenging life circumstances.  Be it to face personal fears or to stoke creativity in the face of challenge, this principle of existential immersion has inevitably lead to roads that are arduous, ugly and difficult– yet deeply enriching.

This is a photo of my road in Bali and the small jungle river that I pass on my walk each morning to my favorite cafe.  Here in Bali, there’s really no solution for plastic, and so this is where it ends up.   Bali isn’t exceptional of course– the whole world doesn’t have a solution for plastic, its just that here the reality isn’t hidden.

Whereas some people come to Bali for its famous beaches, I came for its plastic– an issue that was hitting the media five years ago as I sought to continue my regenerative innovation work.   And though it hurts my heart to see it every morning, having this in my face, is what keeps me focused and has helped me stay motivated– especially through the long covid days and months.

Its so easy to get lost in the news of the day, the passing politics and issues of the instant,  to worry about careers and bills and what choices to make next.  Seeing the river each morning keeps me focused. When I start to think about my generational legacy on the planet, it strikes me that there’s simply nothing more important than our personal ecological harmony.  I mean, where does all our food come from?  What brings us the most joy?  What makes us healthy?  What will ensure the joy and healthiness of our children?  Our answers to all these questions fundamentally depend on living in healthy ecosystems.  And how we live in our ecosystems, right now, is being watched by our children.  The choices we make today will be echoed and amplified over time to the good or ill of our ecosystems… and everything else.

That said there’s one great thing about plastic.  Maybe in fact, its why I’ve gravitated to it in particular as a challenge…

Unlike the crises of ocean acidification, climate change, species extinction, or glacial melting, with plastic  we can actually touch it.  Whereas all those other crises extend so far in time and space (hyperobjects in the words of philosopher Timothy Morton) that they fast overwhelm, the ubiquity of plastic in our moments enables us to make daily, practical choices– small choices, but one’s with existential spin.

And since plastic is something that connects across cultures and continents, it uniquely is suited for intentional, united, and mandalic collective action.

Over Covid, I’ve been pretty silent on social media and my blog here.  But that’s not for a lack of thinking, reflecting, coding and writing.   Afterall, each day I pass this little river and since the scorched, degrading and leaching plastic running out to the ocean.   I am convinced more than ever that “the problem is the solution”  (to quote Bill Molinson’s first principle of permaculture) and that plastic has great potential for ecological redemption.  In fact, because through it we also touch the petroleum powered capital economy at the root of all our ecological malaise, following the road to solving plastic is the road to much more.

I’ve been mining insights and am getting excited to share the philosophy that is emerging.

Stay tuned….

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Busting out of the Covid Cave Sat, 18 Jul 2020 14:43:38 +0000 It’s been a while.  I miss writing.  I miss my blogging.  Oh… it’s not as if I haven’t been writing.  Indeed, the entirety of Covid, my fingers have been dancing on my keyboard.  I can clang out a good 40-50 words a minute when I am focused, much to the chagrin of my partner in the next room.  Sometimes I even amaze myself when half my brain sits back and just listens to the relentless click click of keys as the words flow forth.  Alas, these days, the vast majority of these words have been spent on reports and web pages, emails, java script code, html, css, and meeting notes, heavy with meaning and intention.

Its no nearly as fun as a good unplanned run of verbosity.

I must say though, I have been writing about some pretty interesting stuff.  Over the covid crash, the isolation has done marvels for reflection.  On the philosophical front, I’ve been digging deep, and mining the insights like its 1898!  Our website is now chalk full of fresh new page courtesy of my clickety clicks.  The thing is, this type of writing needs to be meticulously polished before it can be shared.  You can’t just sit down write a philosophical discourse and hit POST.

When you get to writing about cutting edge ideas, it’s a little like laying a stone fence– each  and every word needs to be carefully considered, before being placed.   My last essay took months to refine before it was ready to post.   Heck, sometimes you need to take your chisel knock some edges of the rock so that it fits.  I think I’ve invented about half a dozen new words and tense this last year.

And I really yearn to use them new words!

It would be lovely to emerge from the covid cave and back into the light with these new stones– maybe even gems! — that I have found down here.   I’ve been fantasizing about returning to make blogs and facebook posts once a day.  My more rational side scoffs at the waste of time– words that could have otherwise been typed into essays and code with far more ‘consequence’.  But what’s with all this consequence, if you never have any fun with it?  My joy in writing is the twist and turn of terms, playing with paragraphs and dancing with meaning and metaphors.

Time to ink my pen and bust out of this covid cave!

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Full Open Source Luminous Sword Wed, 29 Apr 2020 05:37:39 +0000 Today, I am incredibly grateful to be writing this post on a dazzling Librem 13 laptop that runs on fully open source hardware and software.  It’s an amazing computer, endowed with the best of vibes and a great story.

I use this sleek black machine to do my writing, communicating, web and app development.  Its an essential tool in my quest to keep tons of plastic are kept out of the biosphere.  I suppose if I were living in the world of the Hobbit or Game of Thrones this sleek, fast and lithe device would be my magic sword, shinning and cutting through the darkness.

Of course, like any magic sword… this one has a story.

I met Trisha on a beach in Palawan, Philippines back in 2014.  It was a super intense and pivotal movement of my life as my time in the Philippines was coming to a close.  Trisha, a retired New Zelander with a passion for living gently on the planet, happened to be visiting my friends at the Maia Earth Village on the island.  It was one of those fateful encounters, that you have no idea will have so much consequence.

Hanging out and charging

Trisha really liked the home-made solar charger that I had with me.   The openCharger was indeed pretty cool– it was a village co-creation that my Igorot friends and I had made.  It turned out Trisha had a passion for empowering social and environmental projects.  She insisted that I make another one for her, and put down a deposit.  I promised I would get her one!

It took almost a year, but I was finally able to get it to her in New Zealand.   We’ve kept in touch over the last five years.  In 2016,  we realized that by complete coincidence, we both have homes in the same small town in Bali, Indonesia.  Here in Bali, she has observed the slow unfolding of the work of my partner and I; raising ecological consciousness through ecobricking in Indonesia.  She has watched our work grow from a few tepid Bali schools in 2014, to to a roaring social movement in 2020 involving millions.

Over the last years, we have stayed in touch with dinners and coffees.  At key moments– inflection points– she would step in to encourage Ani and I with her good energy.  When we were shy a couple hundred dollars for making posters and booklets for a convergence of ecobrickers in Jogja, one of Indonesiania’s main cities, she handed us some cash.  When we were low on food, she invited us offer for dinner and surprised us with a bag of groceries.  When we, were short of funds for a flight to Jakarta for an important meeting, she chipped in.

These influxes of energy at just the right moment helped us compound our impact by several orders of magnitude.  That Jogja convergence?  It led to the first Indonesian city to fully endorse ecobricking.  The Jakarta flight?  The meeting was attended by the top leadership of the world’s largest Muslim organization who have since been disseminating ecobricks to their 98 million members.   The food?  Well, that was a little more indirect, but it kept us going with our work with websites and social media that engages people we can’t meet in person (this video on our work has 47 million views so far).

Jombang, East Java – Another city follows the example of Jogja by training a team to disseminate plastic consciousness throughout their region.

Of course, even engaging millions of people with social media is a drop in the bucket compared to the ocean of global plastic consumption.  This is why every big company invests tens of millions of dollars into app development to drive engagement (in their case to generate profit and capital).  But how does a non-capital movement keep up with these big budgeted slick app and platforms?  Well, thanks to the open source movement, comparable data technologies are available for free, and there are awesome services out there that empower the keen to keep up.

Of course, you need a good personal computer to take advantage.

And this is where Trisha saw another inflection point.  Seeing us with the latent network, development talent, vision and drive… but just missing the tools, she offered to help me get me the needed computer. She asked me which one… and I immediately knew the answer.

Purism is a principled, social purpose company based in the US.  They only sell one model of laptop– the Librem.  Unlike the majority of big tech companies, their business model does not center around data collection.  Consequently, with a focus on privacy and security they build with only open source technology.  They cut no corners in their work and use the best components available that meet their principles.  The result is a laptop that has no branded logo, kills switches for data and video, and running a super solid Linux OS.  I let Trisha know that the 13′ inch model was ideal for both my work and travel and she ordered it for me.  After some trials and tribulations getting it from the US to Indonesia (thanks Jack and Merlin!) it finally made it to my desk.

I use my Librem 13 aggressively everyday and it continues to run as smoothly and as fast as ever.  Through it and Purism, I’ve connected with all sorts of other open source technologies and project.  Using the machine, I’ve been able to lead the development of our webapp.  It’s now rocking with over 40,000 users.

That said, there’s been something even more valuable that I have gained through the process.

Trisha and I consciously established a safe space and encouraged each the other to express our needs.

In my case, if I needed help with something, I was to ask her for it directly.  Meanwhile,  if she had the need to allocate her energy elsewhere, or felt she wasn’t in a position to help, than she committed to expressing that clearly.   This luminous arrangement empowered us both.   For me, the hardest about my work leading a non-capital social movement, is asking for help.  My ego and the notion that it clings to of being able to do it all alone, cries out in agony at the thought of admitting otherwise.  Even if deep down I know that with the help of others something valuable and crucial can be realized, even if I know that there is a vast community of resonance out there eager to help, it is still enormously challenging to concede what my ego perceives as weakness and dependance. The safe space gave me the courage to articulate my needs and broke through the fear and ego that were holding me back.  Once expressed, it almost didn’t matter if Trisha helped or not… I was past half way there already!

I’ve come to grasp that asking for help, and expressing my needs and emotions is not the weakness my ego thinks it is.  Rather, for me, its been a road of cultivating a my power to cocreate with others.   After all, asking for help is the other side of the coin of giving– the latter couldn’t exist without the first.  In the end, giving and receiving are but terms we put on the ebb and flow of humanity’s co-creative process.  To the extent that I can past my ego to ask for help, the more others can give and the faster we can get on with manifesting important things together– like open source, non-capital, regenerative solutions for the pressing challenges of our age!

Wooosh!    Can you hear it?  That’s my sword cutting through the dark night.

Thank you Trisha!



Our intention is to have everything freed down to the schematic level, but have not cleared all design, patents, legal, and contractual details. We will continue to advance toward this goal as it aligns with our long-term beliefs.

Purism on their Librem laptop

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Single Use Plastic during Covid-19 Fri, 03 Apr 2020 12:28:10 +0000 Stuck at home, Ani and I have found ourselves consuming more plastic than usual.  Its seem that we’re not alone.  Understandably, in the face of a pandemic, there are a lot more important things than the problems of plastic, and it seems that globally plastic production and consumption has suddenly jumped up.  I couldn’t help but wonder though, what role is plastic playing exactly in these crazy pandemic times?  After all, a look at the history of pandemics shows a pattern of waste accumulation compounding already challenging situations.

Breaking research in the US this month indicates that SARS-Cov-2 (the virus that causes CoVid-19 disease) can last for up 72 hours on plastic.  In fact, of all the surfaces that the researchers examined, the virus remained viable the longest on polyethylene plastic.  One of the main materials for single use plastic.  Since ecobricks are all about securing single-use plastic, my team and I sat up and took note.  The consequences are more than significant.  Since then we’ve been furiously investigating the implications.  And figuring out… what to do with the plastic!

This recent US research, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine echoes an earlier, rather prophetic study in 2015.  UK researchers examined a different strain of corona virus, but came to the same conclusions that plastic can harbour and pass on the the virus.  The 2015 UK researchers, warn in no uncertain terms, about how the virus can spread on plastic surfaces: ”

the virus retained infectivity for 5 days on all surfaces… Therefore, natural contamination of common surface material with very few coronavirus particles could represent a considerable risk of infection spread if touched and transferred to facial mucosa.

All this is pretty relevant for anyone who uses plastic and who is trying to social distance during Covid-19. For some reason though, the media hasn’t made the connection between this study and the plastics that are used for packaging food and other necessities during this period.  A big fuss is being made about bringing back plastic bags to help out during this period and Starbucks banning disposable cups.  But no one seems to be talking about how single-use plastic is perhaps the most dangerous fomite, given that it moves around from buyer to seller to waste disposal and is intimately handled by humans during consumption.

Although fomite (i.e contaminated surface) transmission is not as significant as virus transmission through the air,  over the first few hours that plastic has been contaminated, touching it, then touching ones face, is exactly what the UK researchers in the 2015 research warn could be a dangerous potential method for the virus to spread.  And with all the packaged food and goods being bounced from one location to the next, plastic is connects factory workers to restaurant workers to people in their homes to waste management workers.

Now all that said, personally, I really hate it when people refer to ‘research’ and make alarmist claims.  It pains me to it in a blog post without footnotes and references. (alas there’s no way to make footnotes here!).

Our white paper in progress! Check it out…

THIS is exactly why, my team and I have been working furiously for the last week to release not only a white paper documenting our research, conjectures and conclusions.  From this we base our guidelines on how ecobricking can mitigate the ‘fomite’ (a surface that transmits the virus) risk of plastic.  Our white paper draft is 17 pages, with 2 pages of end note references.

It turns out that the process of cleaning and drying ones plastic to prepare it for ecobricking, is exactly what is needed to prevent plastic from becoming a fomite.  And in case any contaminated plastic gets in the bottle, it is securely contained and will deactivate in several days (–from a survey of 14 virus survival rates in back in 1991).

We’re getting ready to publicly release our white paper.  If anyone with a science background has some free time to take a look at the paper we’ve come up with I’d be much obliged.  Or if you’re just interested, I invite you to take a look at the pre-release.  I’ll post the link to the latest PDF in the comments below.

Ani and I, in between working on web pages and white papers, are washing and sun drying all the plastic we consume.  That’s our clothe-line with plastic from our latest home delivery from our favorite Ubud Raw Chocolate shop.  As soon as the plastic comes into our home, we take the food out, cut it open, then wash it right away.  We then put it up to dry in the sun.  Once dry, we cut it up and ecobrick it.   That way the plastic  won’t be a burden on the banjar (Balinese neighbourhood) right now– I actually haven’t seen anyone collecting plastic for a while now.

Then… once things return to normal, we can use the ecobrick to expand our garden benches.  🙂



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A Corona Day in Indonesia Fri, 27 Mar 2020 02:12:18 +0000 Well, things sure have changed in the last few weeks.  When Ani and I arrived from Europe to Indonesia, Corona Virus was just a rumour.  Now, its full fledged reality.  My ultimate frisbee tournament, then pickup, were the first things dear to my heart to be shut down.  Now as countries around the world close up their borders and shutter their instituions, life here in Indonesia is catching up to the global compression.  So much more of our lives that we held dear are falling by the way side.

Our ecobrick trainer training sessions are continuing, giving us a glimpse of how things are in other parts of Indonesia.  We had twenty participants who shared their stories the other night.  In Bogor, that was one of the first places hit in Indonesia, things have been shut down for a while now.  The military patrols the streets there.  Our friend tells of a neighbour 300m down the road who had passed away.  Here in Bali, the shutdown is catching up day by day.  A few days ago, cafes and restaurants in Ubud were still open.  Now they are closed.  Now we’re hearing that in our banjar (i.e. neighbourhood) we need to stay put and that road blocks are going up between areas.

For me its been a moment of some despair for another reason though:  I can palpably sense the shift in attention of the world from climate and environmental concern.  Of course, it is understandable, people and governments are rightly focused on health and immediate safety.  But there’s deeper dynamics going on I feel.  Shortly before the virus really hit, I picked up the only book in Ani’s Uncle’s apartment– the Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein.  I spent some time flipping through it while recovering from jet lag and paper writing.

When I was in Palestine, the night before the second Antifida broke out, when agitation was running high, I went over to visit my friend.  I remember seeing something dark move on the wall.  Curious, I turned on my flashlight and was shocked by the size and blackness of a palm size scorpion poised on the wall.  I had been there about half a year, and had never seen anything like it. I remember, sitting and staring at it thinking to myself… whoa… this is not a good sign.

Could that one book in the apartment also have been a sign?

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein describes how capitalism exploits crises for market gains.  She gives examples like the aftermaths of hurricane Katrina, of the tsunami that hit Sri Lanka, and the Iraq war systematically increased the disparity between rich and poor to the detriment of healthy society and environment.  while citizens are excessively distracted (emotionally and physically) to engage and develop an adequate response, and resist effectively. The book suggests that crisis were exploited as opportunities to push through policies that benefit the elite, their companies and multinational corporations.  Alas, I’ve been in several crisis and I’ve seen with my own eyes how it goes.

Of course, it can go both ways.  These moments can also be seized for regenerative reformations as well.  It is up to us.


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Transcaste Concept Mon, 02 Mar 2020 04:56:32 +0000 I am really excited… I think we’ve found an important new word for a concept that has pressing modern significance. A few weeks ago, Ani and I were immersed in the Bandung Spirit conference in Paris and Le Havre. On the first day, Dr. Seema Parhihar from Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi gave the introductory talk at the conferences initiation at a lecture hall in the Sorbonne, University of Paris.  She spoke about all the problems in the world today, and how any solution, to truly be a solution would have to rise above gender, class, economics, geography, etc.

This is precisely one of the phenomenons of the ecobrick movement!

Plastic connects everyone across all those very boundaries.   Whether your rich, poor, man, woman, young, old, or living in India or Canada, you’ve got plastic and the problem of what to do with it.  Consequently, our ecobrick workshops tend to be demographic mixes  that cut across all those classes.   We’re really proud of this and are only starting to realize its importance.

However, it is also a phenomenon that I had been struggling to distill into a principle. As I wrote down some of Dr. Seema’s words, it struck me that there was no simple term for this idea of rising above classes and barriers. Indeed, my own writing about it in our academic paper, had required a sentence or two to describe:

Ecobricking it turns out, unites rich and poor, east and west, young and old, men and women, and everyone in between”.


Dr. Seema is right though, the concept is so important that it categorically makes or breaks a potential social solution– in other words, if a modern solution doesn’t transcend all these boundaries, then its not really a solution.  Instead it is perpetuating the very same social, gender, economic and cultural classes– and these are the very problem!  This is corroborated in my experience working and living around the world and seeing various attempted technological solutions.  It is also flushed out in this recent essay on how “wealth inequality [rich/poor divide] is the real culprit for climate change”.

We had been thinking of going with the term ‘transclass‘, but Dr. Seema’s presentation on the economic situation in India got me thinking about the ancient Indian caste system.  “Caste” is a word  that connotates (for me anyway) antiquated social structures that perpetuate a systematic injustice– in particular in India.  The interesting thing is that people beleived (and some still do) that caste is an existential reality for people.

We’ve come to understand that castes aren’t innate, but a cognitively devised social structure.  Only to the extent that someone believes and puts energy into the caste concept does it have social consequences (i.e. the systemic injustice).  By believing something else (changing one’s religion, politically supporting change, moving out of India, etc.) the force of social structure is diminished.    But most of all, the concept’s imposition on reality can be reduced by simply participating in social structures in which the concept is obsolete.

Let’s take a modern example close to home for all of us.

Perhaps the deepest rooted caste category of all is our “humanity”.  When we talk of human rights and seek to avoid environmental contamination because it will effect human health, tourism, the economy, and our grandchildren we are very much mired in an archaic anthropocentric world view.   Of course, humanity is just one species on the planet, whose fate is inextricably intertwined with all our fellow companions on planet earth.  To forget about them, is not just short-sighted but ultimately damaging for us all.

It is fascinating to see how ecobricking reaches this transcension.  Ask a teenager in the UK why she is ecobricking and she could easily say “for the turtles”.  A man in Indonesian could likewise easily say “for the whales”.  This motivation and intention beyond our old anthropocentric caste system is crucial.

We’ve got lots of other social structure that benefit us to transcend. They are similar caste-like relics of archaic paradigms and meta-narratives.  Once labeled so, then we can work to  transcend them and step into movements in which they are obsolete.  And by giving a term to this principle of rising above antiquated classifications, we can define our movements as such.


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The Prince and the Priest Thu, 06 Feb 2020 17:45:33 +0000 Today I had a fascinating conversation with Frère Damien.  When I first arrived at the monastery 10 years ago, Frère Damien was a novice–  early 30s, and just having entered into the order. Today he is the Abott– having been elected a few years ago as the head of the community by his brothers. Frère Damien presides not only over the Abbey de Scourmont, but also over the Chimay brand of beer, and twelve other daughter monasteries around the world– from Wales to the Congo.

Frère Damien and I got talking about business this afternoon over two Chimay Reds.  I shared my observation that for-profit corporations, with their profit motive for returning value to shareholders, are ecological and community destructive dynamic. I asked him how the monastery, with the significant revenues generated from its beer sales, got around this problem and were able to benefit the local region so much.

Frère Damien explained that monastery was founded in the 1850’s at the urging of a local priest to the Prince of Chimay who preside over the Chimay region, and the surrounding swamps, fields and forests. The priest urged the Prince to invite and commission a Trapist monastery so that they could serve the spiritual needs of the villages and develop the untamed lands on his vast estate. The order was founded with regional agricultural development as one of its goes and continues to this day.

However, during the second world war, their peaceful routine came to a halt.   The monks were removed from the abbey by the invading Germans, who plundered the buildings for steel and other resources. The monks were sheltered by villagers during the years of the war.  Its a kindness they never forgot.  After the war, with the monastery and villages damaged and destroyed, the monks took the Prince’s orginal mandate to new level.   In the shadow of destruction and tragedy left by the occupying army (see my last post) they reunited to not only to rebuild but also to give back abundantly to community that had kept them safe and which had suffered so much. This mission recruited many young men who had been alienated after the war (perhaps a little like Père Jaques). It was a this point that their commercial cheese brewery was established, taking the regular table beer of the monks and establishing it as a brand for sale outside the monastery. From the outset, the brewery was established as a non-profit, but, with an underlying fervent desire for serving and giving back to the community and region.

Today whereas other monastic beers are content to limit their brews, Père Damien sees no problem in expanding to meet global demand– so long as it bring more jobs and economy to the region.

I am in awe at the success and beauty of this model.  Unlike the stories you hear out of Silicon Valley of the “dystopian nighmare” created by corporate technology corporation in San Franciso.  Ecologically, the monastery maintains have transformed the previously “barren and wild plateau” into a majestic forest of towering pines, fertile fields, pasture and gardens.  Socially, the brewery brings in hundreds of millions of euros to the region, employing thousands of locals in jobs that they can really be proud of. Spiritually, the monastery itself is a bastion of peace where visitors from around the region (and around the world sometimes too) come for peace and restoration.

Laurent, is one of the guests staying this week with me at the Abbey. He describes monasteries, like Scourmont, as accupunture pins on the energy lattitudes of the planet. The pins being modals reverberating peace and healing locally and up and down the lines. Its an apt metaphor.

I find the business model of the abbey tremendously inspirational– especially when you see around the fruits of the Prince and Priest’s intention over a 150 years ago. However, for our day and age, I feel the business is lacking slightly. Or rather, that we can learn from it– and apply an era appropriate evolution to the concept. The abbey is slightly mypoic in its regional focus. What about founding an institution that serves the planet? Or at least takes into consideration planetary dynamics and meta services? CO2 sequestration. Plastic sequestration. An enterprise founded to generate fervently generate great revenue for the purpose of serving and enriching the planet’s ecological harmony, imagine what kind of contribution it could make…………….

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Les Memoires de Père Jaques Wed, 05 Feb 2020 21:50:22 +0000 This week I have journeyed to Chimay, Belgium to take a little retreat at the Abbey de Scourmont. I am so grateful. Really, this is more of an excuse to see my old friend Père Jaques. Père Jaques (90) and I go back ten years ago when I was passing by on my bike and they took me in at the monastery during a snow storm. This evening we sat down over a couple of their world famous brew. And wow, the stories. Somehow Père Jaques and I got talking about the second world war which he lived through as boy.

Père Jaques (90) and I go back ten years when I was passing by on my bike as I traveled to Berlin. He took me in at the monastery during a snow storm and I insisted I stay for a while. This evening we sat down over a couple of their world famous brew and caught up. And wow, the stories. Somehow Père Jaques and I got talking about his experiences as a boy during the second world war.

Ani Himawati and I have been watching some war movies during our time in Holland– 1917, Downfall, etc. But his stories were nothing at all like the movies. Films have some coherence to their events; a plot, a story-line. For Père Jaques the stories were just one epic– yet random– tragedy. One after the other, after the other.

His father was a doctor for the Armée Blanche– the Belgian resistance. His mother a nurse. His town was completely immersed in the German occupation in 1940’s when he was 10. He recalls a 19 year old boy who hid in an abandoned building for months to avoid being captured and recruited by the Germans. Père Jaques had the job of sneaking him food each day. But then the Germans found the boy. Before they could take him though.. he shot himself in the head.

He recalled one of his teachers, Mademoiselle Van Durmen, at his school who’s husband was a resistance leader. When he was killed by a bombardment in 1940 she became active too. Finally the Germans caught her and sent her to the concentration camps. Père Jaques thought she had died, but ten years after the war he heard she had escaped. In the camps she had written everything down in a journal. Apparently she took a vow of silence in the a nunnery and took no visitors (at least Père Jaques couldn’t arrange a meeting). But before she passed away, she published the journals and left them for people to read at her old convent.

He tells of his strict Dutch teacher who heard a shell incoming to the school and yelled in French to take cover under their desks. The next door building was destroyed but no one was hurt.

He tells me of a Canadian fighter pilot, shot down and crash landed in a field near his home. His father took him home and they hid him and tried to save him– but could not. Before he died though he gave Père Jaques his brass compass which he kept for years.

And then there was the time he was riding with a red cross motorcade and a German plane came down from the sky and machine gunned the convoy. I got the impression many people were killed. Père Jaques hid in the ditch, then he got up, and without anything better to do, started walking and walking down the road the country they had been traveling. He seemed to remember more the walk than the actual attack. He walked the whole day without stopping.

During the war, his mother died from sickness. Later his father and then his brother were captured and killed by the Germans.

“But the story’s not finished” interjected Père Jaques.. a decade later, walking through the town of Waterloo he suddenly came face to face with a memorial and photo of the 19 year old boy who had shot himself to not be captured. “There he was, right in front of me. Son memoire”. His memory.

No one will ever make a movie of Père Jaque’s stories. But hearing, remembering, how war can make tragedy normal and mundane is more chilling than anything you can seen on a screen.


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