Spectacular Hornet's Nests As Renewable Energy Seedbeds
A follow up to my encounter with Don Harris on Tuesday appears here today, so I encourage readers to note both that examination of a renewable energy context and my earlier profile of this sturdy and estimable fellow. The beauty of Lookout Mountain mirrors the beautiful potential of human existence, just as the many challenges apparent in and around Fort Payne reflect the painful difficulties that we all face now.
Of course, again, I delineate Don's story in a way that clearly ties into matters of community. I have now expressed my astonishment to Don on three separate occasions that he has neither heard of nor read Wendell Berry; their conceptions of the local context, and of the nature of responsible stewardship, so closely parallel each other that they might be father and son, or blood brothers.
Elisabet Sahtouris, another close spiritual cousin of Don's, has spoken at great length about the sorts of wisdom that our dear Mssrs. Harris and Berry have sought to impart. In many cases, such sage advice has come in the form of 'indigenous' paradigms, such as those that Don mentioned and I chronicled in the article from earlier this week, about the Elder Brother's Warning.
We might listen to Dr. Sahtouris, presenting testimony to the United Nations in Santiago, Chile in 1992.
|"Biodiversity is essential in all living systems, including human. Monoculture is as destructive and dangerous in human social systems as in human agriculture; the failure to respect and protect indigenous and traditional cultures in the attempt to industrialize all humanity according to one model actually hastens human extinction."|
As we shall see, this out and out rejection of standardization as a value--not necessarily as an occasional tactic, but as something inherently worthy in its own right, connects the reader directly to Don's manifestation of the American dream in California over the past several decades. Such emblematic instances of this as Don's sneaking beneath the fence to shake the Dalai Lama's hand come to mind in this regard, but merely as an instance among a large field of other examples.
As well, issues of class and color and capacity form a vivid skein in today's material. Basically, the form that a reader's attentiveness might profitably take would involve, first, a recognition of the good luck generally manifest in Santa Cruz County. Second, the observer would acknowledge the hardships attendant on any attempt to transfer the results of such fortune to more distressed communities. Third, readers would affirm the benefit of advocating for a widespread deepening, to the four corners of the world, of precisely the serendipitous circumstances of Santa Cruz.
Also, in imagining how this might transpire, the notion of spectacle becomes important to delve. This central element in modern 'critical theory' and 'postmodernist' thought,' which readers may recall seeing prior to this, has two distinct faces.
On the one hand, a 'positivist' conception of the spectacular, with which Don Harris has repeatedly engaged in his work, appears in the writings of such brilliant philosophical analysts as Douglas Kellner, who in his article, "New Stages of the Spectacle," with Steve Best, tells us of the potential for activation and potentiation implicit in seeing the development of spectacular forms.
They quote Ludwig Feuerback in a resonant expression of the current moment, replete with paradox and dialectical frisson. "But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, fancy to reality, the appearance to the essence, ... illusion only is sacred, truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness."
On the other hand, the negation of potentiality is also inherent in such views, in which reality substitutes might parallel the 'bread and circuses' that doomed Rome as the ruling class there sought vainly to manage intractable contradiction and implacable opposition. Many proponents of the utility of spectacle dance along this delicate line between nihilism and engagement.
One authority, in a widely read assessment of spectacularist Jean Beaudrillard's thought process, sums up this critical sort of musing. "And the narcoticized and mesmerized (some of Baudrillard's metaphors) media-saturated consciousness is in such a state of fascination with image and spectacle that the concept of meaning itself (which depends on stable boundaries, fixed structures, shared consensus) dissolves."
Finally, the implicit necessity of resistance shows up in Don Harris' life with at least the same degree of brightness as the lively unfolding of mediated vaudevillian schtick. But this does not evolve as groundless rebellion, but instead comes to the fore as a disdain for social injustice. As one such pronunciation of such matters stated the case, quoting Plutarch, "An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics."
Out of this solidarity in favor of social equality emerges a panoply of attempts to fulfill this 'old-as-the-hills' judicious objective. Invariably, all such invocation of social justice must resist the ruling norms and seek a sustainable business model that is the only hope for doing 'business better' in a real world context.
Andrew Calabrese has stated this ever-apparent upsurge of struggle in terms that appear precisely calibrated to describe much of what Don Harris experienced in his snug California hole in the woods.
|"We are in the midst of a decades-long assault on social rights ... alongside concurrent ('revolutionary') efforts to expand corporate property ... (T)here also is an accompanying counter-revolution, reflected by considerable resolve across a variety of social movements â labor, environmental, human rights, and others â to resist particular patterns of global economic development that are seen as threats to ... the continued viability of social citizenship rights... (Thus), alongside efforts to establish transnational corporate rights are efforts that aim to articulate visions of a âpostnationalâ regime of social and cultural citizenship rights."|
Recollections of Tuesday's Autumnal context should bring to mind the Southern flavor and gritty patina of devolution that retained a grip on Lookout Mountain, from the environmental art of Howard Finster to the nonplussed glances that our little trio merited from local merchants. Church and drink and football and country music leaped out from every vista, while the parched forests looked on without judgment or attachment to whatever form that human potential revealed.
Environmental degradation surrounded us, in the midst of one of Gaia's most fulsome treasure chests of life. Evidence of cousins who were out of sync with each other, in the predominance of bail-bonding as a business enterprise, for example, coexisted with the multiple signs that four local boys had devoted much of the fortune of their success to refurbishing and further empowering their roots.
Thus, though we only skated along its verges and skimmed its surface the way that a waterbug flits along until the trout rises and snaps, we could infer the nesting beneficence of community alongside the travails of class domination and color prejudice. All the while, Don Harris rubbed his stubble and wondered if old mills and run down river front development might present a source of power both more benign and less anticipated than the looming premise of a much touted 'nuclear renaissance.'
In the midst of this 'be-here'now' merriment, some of which readers had a chance to peruse earlier in the week, reflections about an older context of time and place also emerged, which, in the event, formed the bedrock on which Don's life has risen, like a crazy-quilt set of redwoods reaching for the sun. Readers might turn to his original profile, in addition to skimming the next few paragraphs, to gain the local and general grounding in how Don's life blossomed in Santa Cruz County.
We might recall that the macro-environment that found Don looking for a place to hide away included the winding down of a brutal and unpopular war that his mangled leg had kept him from facing, and that his work, until he refused to continue grinding glass for weapons, had supported the war industry. Moreover, of course, the Black Panthers, the Summer of Love, Hippies and Yippies and all manner of musical upstarts such as Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead all spun a wild web of strange strands around Northern California during those years.
At the same time, in the minutia of his own life, he had graduated from the academy of biker-punks-running-nitro rigs to the professional speedsters who win cash prizes. "I still hold the land speed record for one category," he informed me, "though that's only because they got rid of that category shortly after I set the record." He laughed again, adding with a chagrined pull on his leg, "sometimes I think that the racing was a replacement for where a young guy's supposed to put his testosterone," and he chortles once more.
He had his well-paying day job too, all through this period of Vietnam and social upheaval, though finally, his shirking of labor associated with military contracts cost him his high-wage sinecure. This inaugurated the period during which he lived in his microbus and avoided the C.H.P. by entering state parks late and exiting them early. The experiences of these years reinforced his uneasy relationship with police forces that continues to this day.
When he decided that Idaho and Montana were too far afield, he rode shotgun, looking at properties closer to home, feted by the C.E.O. of the optics firm that he had jettisoned, a friend of his dad's, who meanwhile continued to fret about his wayward boy even as he did his professorial duty at the Livermore Labs in Berkeley. "He kept showing me the fancy developments," which Don couldn't afford despite having saved up a substantial chunk of his wages.
But, he notes, "I saw where I did want to be while we were driving one day. I asked him about some wild looking structures that could've been gypsy houses. 'Oh, those are just some hippies livin' in the woods. They won't last.'" In fact, joined by our hero, they are there to this day.
MERRY PRANKSTERS AND THORNY POTENTIATION IN EXURBAN HIDDEN HILLS
Probably the hardest thing for contemporary readers to 'grok' is this fervor of the late 1960's and early 1970's. Everything that Don has done, and everything that he has become, arises out of this wild situation, which, as he points out, "a lot of us expected was going to lead to revolution." He laughs now, given how absurd such a proposition seems in retrospect.
However, inside of the experience of those 'days of war and nights of love,' the belief that profound change was near at hand seemed much more inevitable than insane. "One of the Merry Pranksters, I mean he still would go with the bus sometimes," was one of his early neighbors. All tolled, anywhere from fifty to a hundred households sprang up, "like mushrooms," on land "that was an unbelievable bargain at $600/acre," so close to San Francisco, "right next to a state park."
And that's one reason the property was so cheap. Supposedly, the State would soon condemn the tract and incorporate it into the Big Basin State Park that abutted Davenport. "When I first walked up to where my house is now," says Don, "it was such a mess." The now-departed lumbering operation had practically clear cut the redwoods that predominated in the area, "and by the time I sat down in the middle of my spot, I was covered in ticks and wondering if I'd made a good decision."
He said that he knew nothing about building a house, let alone all the details of plumbing, electricity, roofing, and so on that are matters of more or less strict codes in most places now. And this question of codified construction requirements has remained contentious to the present moment, as Don's testimony and a large cache of the documents that he brought along with him attest.
Even on the web, one can find echoes of the battles that went down in the past. With more time, I might even find the occasional case of direct documentation. As things stand, Santa Cruz County has a reputation much like that of Don Harris--as a place full of people who would welcome Thomas Jefferson in his most radical incarnation.
"35 years later," writes one journalist, a collective "studentsâ environmental report seems prescient."
Back in 1970, just when Don Harris was beginning to look around for a place to light, "(c)ollege students across the country unleashed a fury of protest. California Gov. Ronald Reagan ordered the stateâs campuses closed for a four-day 'cooling off' period as unrest spread... .And here in Santa Cruz, a group of students at the five-year-old UC Santa Cruz found itself embroiled in a dispute within the community reflective of the turbulent times. Led by a 27-year-old professor named Gary Griggs, about 30 UC Santa Cruz students had authored and distributed a scathing report titled 'Santa Cruz and the Environment.' (However), (r)eaction from area business and political leaders was anything but positive. ... The study was generally denounced as a piece of radicalism from the eraâs hippie movement. Words like 'slanted,' 'irresponsible' and even 'libelous' were employed by critics quoted in Sentinel stories.
Then-county Supervisor Dan Forbus labeled the report 'incompetent, incorrect, a terrible misuse of taxpayersâ money prepared with a disregard of the facts and done with political aim.' ... Critics pointed to factual errors. For example, the student report said 30 million gallons of sewage was discharged into the Monterey Bay from various sources; county officials fired back it was actually 42 million gallons. In another instance, the report asked why city beaches were never 'tested,' when it meant to question why beaches with high levels of bacteria were 'never posted.'
...Nevertheless, 35 years later, history bears witness to the communityâs embrace of the reportâs basic tenets â more recycling, no nuclear power, stricter logging rules. 'Virtually everything we brought up has since been cleaned up or was never approved,' Griggs said. Now, the establishment is centered on environmentalism. And the political battles and its landscape have evolved from fighting nukes to neighborhood squabbles... .(i)mportant battles to be sure, but maybe not the same as fighting nuclear power or bloody cow parts getting discharged into the ocean. 'The bar is higher,' said Griggs. 'Weâre sort of tweaking a high-quality environment.'"
One angry, arrogant young blogger also attests to the impact of this earlier seminal thinking, into the midst of which Don Harris had the good sense and good fortune to insert himself. "It's Always 1968 For These 'Groundhog Day' Hippies,'" fumes this fellow.
"I'd always thought Santa Cruz's lunatic 'progressive' fringe would eventually fade into the woodwork, as the county slowly turned into Carmel/Pebble Beach North, but that hasn't been the case. Instead, the rest of California became more like Santa Cruz, Berkeley, Santa Monica, Arcata and other flaky hippie strongholds. Maybe they won by default when most sane people abandoned the Golden State for Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and other greener pastures."
Now, inasmuch as Las Vegas is the most depressed city in the nation, Arizona teeters on the verge of civil war and proto-fascism, and Colorado embraces these 'hippy-dippy' schemes this scribe seems to loathe, one has to question his perspicacity. But he compliments, if quite backhandedly, the work of Don Harris and his cohort in the process.
A recent Indy-Media post speaks of continued friction over issues of class and access. "Jerry Henry is a street minister who has been repeatedly harassed ... at two shopping centers ...for advising young people on their right to use public spaces and accommodations, as sheriffs and Chamber of Commerce-supported businesses press on with 'social cleansing' and gentrification against the 'riff raff'" who so interfere with a well-managed shopping experience.
Of the notes that these three sources offer, Don Harris only mentions specifically Dan Forbus as a frequent opponent with whom he develops a relationship of mutually wary and grudging respect. But both in what readers have already heard, and in what follows, echoes and precursors to these present day annals of the area emanate from Don's stories.
He mentions a man with whom I am unfamiliar, though I would probably have heard of him if I watched more television. "Peter Coyote was in and out of Santa Cruz. He's done great work, in books and movies both I think, to document the period, and to talk about renewable energy too."
Peter's website describes a fifteen year old video review of the sixties as a "compilation of the sights and sounds of ... a decade of love and war, resistance and rebellion, acid, Woodstock, hippie communes, free love, free kitchens, and flower power--including interviews with those who lived it first hand," such as the talented actor and writer himself.
A recurrent theme in dialog with Don is the preternatural conservatism of many 'rebels,' in stark contrast to the wastrel insanity of capitalism as we now practice it, "completely unsustainably, I might add," Don says as an aside to punctuate his thinking about electricity usage. "It's amazing how little you need," in the way of electricity or otherwise, to run shops, do industrial work, or have comfortable homes in a wonderful spot.
"I wore out that old mill I told you about," he says by way of example. He never went without needed light; "I always had heat, or almost always." And the photographs of the tricked-out funk of low-tech building processes, combining sustainable power with heating, and cooling technologies that themselves show a mix of sophistication and ancient principles of conserving Winter heat and discarding Summer sun, illustrate a beauty that surpasses slick photography taken for propaganda purposes.
In one handwritten note that Don penned for the Community, he writes, "The Last Chance Community has for years been struggling to express a new and fresher vision of living and a troubled world," calling on "our representatives to do their jobs and represent our, the people's interests in implementing existing State Law." They weren't lawyers, but they'd found that rural, owner-built housing was allowable, even if, as one of their flyers quipped, the jack-booted developers wanted "yer money, yer money, and more of yer money."
"They'd always say that we were building a slum," Don recalls, speaking of the planners and other enemies of the 'hippy enclaves.' "Or they'd say we were going to get sick from the water or burn ourselves out since we didn't have electric up to code."
"But we always thought of it as a laboratory." We were standing atop the dam at Desoto Falls as he said this--he'd already explained the venting shaft that we flanked, how it kept the discharge pipe from crushing in the event of a vacuum inducing blockage. "All those pictures I showed you were proof that our 'lab' was coming up with some darned good ideas, some really nice homes that were built to last for a lot less money than places that have fallen to pieces a lot more frequently than anywhere in the purview of the 'Last Chance Community,'" which is what they called themselves.
"Part of the point of everything we did," he continues, "was to let people experiment with how to make a home for less money, how to find a way to solve problems for themselves, working with neighbors and whatever tricks we could get from libraries and magazines and working with basic common sense." If this sounds too good to be true, maybe its applicability is less resilient than some other aspects of what Don relays to us.
On the other hand, as an upcoming report about Detroit's inner city renaissance, replete with organic gardens and bootstrap problem-solving, makes clear, Don Harris' recollections might be due for an eternal return in all sorts of neighborhoods that want to contextualize a sustainable business environment. Maybe the recognition that much of codification is for developers' profitability will lead to a loosening of strictures without attendant devastation of health and safety. Greater miracles have come to pass.
Detroit and many other places would rally cheerfully behind what Don petitioned the County to notice, a set of compelling reasons to do things in a more grassroots fashion. Such an approach would serve to bring about numerous benefits.
|"1. To provide the opportunity for citizens to build safe, ecologically sensible homes.
2. To drastically reduce housing costs.
3. To increase individual freedom.
4. To reestablish government as the responsible expression of the people's will. ...
6. To stimulate cultural diversity and artistic creativity. ...
9. To encourage development of badly needed alternative energy and waste disposal technologies."
And speaking of miracles, in the midst of this environment of assertive hippies, confronted by befuddled and nonplussed bureaucrats, the zooming trajectory of HarrisHydro was occurring, as my initial profile of Don detailed. "I've got to tell you I'm not kidding either, what I told you earlier," he says as the spectacle of one of Little Rivers three canyons beckons first his gaze and then mine. "A lot of what I did was funded directly by pot further North," in venues such as Humboldt County and more, where entire counties now operate in a code-optional environment about many matters of residential construction.
"We never got that level of control here. We always had to try to deflect one scheme or another to root us out." Repeated run-ins with zoning, planning, and those "people who hate composting toilets," took place, with developers always abuzz in the background. "I became this expert witness, almost, in anything that we did with the Board of Supervisors."
Don calls both the most visible communal group, the Black Bear Commune, and the Last Chance Community, along with the other outliers and interlopers who found themselves arrayed against the powers that be, "the most unintentional community that ever existed in common against the rules of strict government." The peculiar lack of access to their section of the jurisdiction, wedged between the ocean and the State Park, with a coastal highway along the other side, "probably saved us on many an occasion."
They occasionally faced criminal sanctions. The County would sometimes take a 'wild hare' spin through the area and "red-tag" a bunch of homes, meaning that condemnation would soon follow. In one case, over a hundred houses faced this kind of action. "Our position was all-for-one and one-for-all," and they'd organize some sort of meeting or process that for a couple of years staved off the snapping monsters who represented 'development' and the red-blooded American desire for profiteering opportunities.
The tactical orientation of the Last Chance alliance was thus strictly communitarian. "We had spies in most departments" in the county. The strategic breakthrough for how they could hang on to their homes and their land came about one time, "when I was sitting in a bathroom stall," laughed Don. "I heard the 'liberal' Supervisory Board guy taking a leak and carrying on a conversation with the real 'reactionary' on the board." The 'liberal' guy was pretty weary apparently, after the last skirmish that they'd all attended.
"It's just a hornet's nest they got up there. I don't want to touch it."
To Don's delighted amazement, their nemesis, the 'conservative' who always wanted to give the developers a carte blanche, agreed, adding, "Thank God they're easy enough to ignore." and a commitment to hornet's nests that are easy to allow to fade away, almost a 'game of hide and seek,' became the watchwords of Last Chancers. "Everybody knew about the hornet's nest."
"We weren't really sure exactly what we'd do if 'push ever came to shove' until Tom Noddy came along." Don looked my way, seeing if that name rang a bell. "He's pretty famous," a bubble-blower of world class proportion, "been on Johnny Carson, that sort of thing." For years, to pursue his particular expression of the present modality of the 'spectacular,' he had been homeless. "So finding a place where he could put up his own shack, in Santa Cruz, was pretty miraculous."
"He told us: 'You got to give 'em a show that they can't ignore. You got to put the idea in their heads that you'll do anything, and I mean anything, to hold on to your property. And you'll publicize every move." Tom Noddy came up with the notion that a 'lie-down-in-front-of-the-bulldozers' spectacle would serve very well as the hornet's threat.
Internecine affairs that both save and destroy became a part of this saga.
"We knew that this new planning guy was pretty strait-laced, but he had a reputation as a womanizer. Well, one of our group was a notorious 'manizer,' and really good looking. We arranged a meeting," and this new hot-shot never worked against them from then till when he retired.
On another occasion, though, this older fellow--meaning about our age now--came to sit in this house that a fairly well off drug dealer owned. He ended up with a "live-in girlfriend" who liked other fellows too, including the dealer who owned the house. "One day, the 'caretaker' came back to discover 'his' girl, who couldn't have been more than 22 or 23, in bed with the house's owner." The next thing they knew, the 'red-tags' were flying, since equal protection meant that to bust one meant that all would need busting.
And that's not nearly all, folks. Don Harris stared down FBI agents and converted them, from the sounds of things, by talking about Jefferson and hydropower. He entertained the CIA in the aftermath of leading a giant protest against the assassination of a goof friend of his at the hands of the Contras. This is a story that, if we had the right kind of television, would make a series which might last a decade.
In the end, Don Harris has lived a life of sweet honey and sweet community and sweet love, doing work brilliantly that serves humanity. Thus, he's both a hero and the luckiest man alive. And he wants to share more, now that he knows that he can't get too many more white hairs.
The slash-redwood thickets have turned into young stands of real trees again. "I'm always trying to catch hold of how the forest thinks," he purses his lips to say. He tells me of the triple-stranded DNA of redwoods, resistant to radiation, as indicia of what might be necessary to survive our own excesses, and certain natural events that are, in their very nature, unpredictable, like a purging perhaps or a strong sneeze.
Meanwhile, the Merry Prankster's son has a prototype kite wind mill that may herald a new Last Chance renewable energy hero. That's the nature of community, when it is real. Miracles not only can happen, but they also do regularly appear, because that's what happens when you put people together seeking something gentle and good and real. "Life will always end in death," Don nods, "but we can live like kings used to live if we'll just learn to get along with the earth."
"And each other," I add.
He laughs. "Right."
Peter Coyote has just recently participated in a production that makes this point. "Power Paths", a one-hour film directed by Bo Boudart and narrated by Peter, chronicles a "renewable energy development in Indian Country (and) offers a unique glimpse into the global energy crisis from the perspective of a culture pledged to protect the planet, historically exploited by corporate interests and neglected by public policy makers. The film follows an intertribal coalition as they fight to transform their local economies by replacing coal mines and smog-belching power plants with renewable energy technologies. This transition would honor their heritage and support future generations by protecting their sacred land, providing electricity to their homes and creating jobs for their communities."
That's what Don Harris stands for. And that's why I'm telling his story as best I'm able. I'll hope folks have a chance to string along.
That Don Harris has stood for non-traditional means of expressing his life's purpose is as obvious as the sunshine on a crisp Fall day atop Lookout Mountain, as tangible as the ticks that thrived among the once nearly clear-cut redwoods in the rich burgeoning of which he now lives. This sense of having a stand is the primary point of his life: not the ideology, but the action.
His game leg belies his surefootedness in many camps, the ability to hobknob with survivalist fringe folk who still call on him to help with the guts of their now ultra-sleek 300 MPH cycles. But he can also fit right in among the World Social Forum folks, and any old-hippie crowd on earth would recognize him as one of their own, even if they didn't know the specific honors he was due as a hydro pioneer.
This capacity to balance seemingly incompatible eventualities may be why Don can help Native Americans, backwoods libertarians, cooperative farms, communes, and all manner of well-heeled referrals from friends to gain a measure of control over their power supply. And this capacity to accept and fit in may be why he can imagine playing a role in helping inner city or poor rural Southerners to find the combination of head and flow that will permit a true 'renaissance' electric if it can come to pass.
In any event, this ongoing 'balancing act' certainly underlies his powerful belief that "we're just not paying attention to systems under stress," so that "the whole thing could collapse if we're not careful." His insistence that a more mutual system of production and consumption must flower also flows from this belief in maintaining symmetry, where inputs offset outcomes, and "we allow for creative spaces to develop that aren't strangled by rules and regulations" that almost always are present "as much for some developers cash-out as for any homeowner's safety features."
Moreover, the many predictions that this off-the-grid--and according to the militant zoning-and-standards advocates 'off-the-wall'--would act as a laboratory, a stewing pot, for the development of new ideas and new methods has proven true. Not only did the Harris-hydro improvements of micro-hydro, capacitating literally millions of homes--and with the ability to potentiate tens or hundreds of thousands of communities--grow directly from the funky home-shop environs of Santa Cruz, but we also now see wind and solar innovations that could form a new cutting edge for appropriate technology.
Of course, that all depends on somehow or other operationalizing community-led policy in matters of energy. While the peculiar conjunction of geography and development and a diehard willingness to be a 'hornet's nest' allowed for this little unplanned social experiment to survive and thrive, such forces will not, at least short of a miracle or a meltdown, elicit sustainable business and corporate responsibility out of the present-day establishment's visions of a 'nuclear renaissance' in everyone's future.
Don Harris is not necessarily much inclined to consider theoretical matters in all of this. He was at the Flathead Lake, Montana gathering of the tribes twice in the last ten years, showing folks the ropes in a way that tangibly contributes to community empowerment, both electrical and social. And he nods sympathetically at my ramblings of what the South's special drawbacks and needs are in this regards. I don't have answers either; some way or other, though, the knowledge that Don and those like him from the nerdy, unwashed outback, composting toilets and organic gardens resplendent, can contribute to a grassroots movement, of that I feel certain.
Finally, Don's experiences say a lot about how courageous a common citizen can be. Not everyone, at least not at just this conjunction of terror and 'patriotism,' could smile equably and rub elbows with FBI and CIA agents sent to vet one's 'freedom-loving bona fides.' Don did it; he stands for the Jeffersonian possibility of this country in spite of Hamilton's reincarnation, possibly even in the personage of Barrack the Magnificent, now so powerfully ascendant. All those who honor any actually plausible manifestation of sustainable business can learn from his tutelage.
Don readily accedes that privilege has played a giant part in the success of those with whom he has fashioned such a 'tres-chic' alternative lifestyle barely a stone's throw South of San Francisco. Nevertheless, as his constantly inquisitive attitude toward Lookout Mountain suggests, precisely the outcomes of his personal prerogatives led him to contemplate possibility in a creative way, whatever the challenges might be to any realization of such potential.
Thus, though he doesn't proffer answers about conundrums of class and color, he is comfortable in feeling that "there's a way around all of that," so long as we look at the right models from the past: again, he mentions how astounding he found Monticello, "like it was our little corner of California, growing out of the President's brain." And he emphasizes that T.J. freed his slaves, even if he benefited from the system. "He saw how wrong it was."
Of course, Don and I are aging a lot more quickly than either of us would like. "It's a natural process," he sighs. "Everything ages and dies; you can't fight it." The upshot of this recognition is that the story, all of the examples, that tumbles from Don's memory like the Little River in flood must find a way to serve to teach, to illustrate, to inculcate not only the technical marvels and inventive creativity that he evinced, though those are clearly important, but also the 'Elder' wisdom that this man who has walked through so many forests can offer us.
Don's affinity for Native American thinking is not accidental. He has already communicated to the attentive reader of my profile of this redoubtable fellow that, though 'we' conquered 'them,' they managed "to live a heck of a lot longer on this continent, a lot more in balance, than we have," rape and plunder attending our few centuries here.
Many observers also document such husbanding on the part of the original occupants of this land. Now, in many cases and many places, these inaugural stewards are prodding us to listen.
|"The Hopi, with the help of many friends, made forty-five years of effort trying to tell their prophecy orally in the United Nations, succeeding at last in 1993... .Their prophecy does not suggest we would be better off without industrial society. It does suggest that the wisdom and knowledge of indigenous peoples must provide the context in which we make, use, and dispose of industrial goods if we are to survive. This view of things from their perspective is consistent with our own growing understanding of the need for ecologically sustainable development."|
An offshoot of this deep ecological consciousness is the drive to craft beauty and power with the combination of head and hand and heart. Philosopher Richard Sennett is one of many thinkers who make this connection.
"The Craftsman names a basic human impulse: the desire to do a job well for its own sake. Although the word may suggest a way of life that waned with the advent of industrial society, Sennett argues that the craftsmanâs realm is far broader than skilled manual labor; the computer programmer, the doctor, the parent, and the citizen need to learn the values of good craftsmanship today." And we might shout, hurrah! when he mentions citizenship.
Don's notes to the county, his constant dialectical dance with those who asserted authority, and whom he resisted, and his long standing acceptance of a homeless bubble blower's advice about spectacle, point to another ultimate lesson of Don's amazing life and times. We can put on such a show that turning away becomes next to impossible, at the same time that the agenda in play appears no more easily resisted than a layer cake would be easy to refuse on the part of a hungry youngster.
Many commentators confront us with the way that standard media expositions use negative spectacle to chain or dispirit us. Educator Peter McLaren writes that, recently, he was "(d)riving home from a research site where violence is a harsh everyday reality for kids."
In the event, "I was appalled, but not the least bit surprised, to hear on the radio that two of last year's most popular Halloween costumes were a bloody football jersey and masks of Nicole and O. J. Simpson. When I finally made my way through the traffic and arrived home, I flipped on the news, only to find that the first "human interest" story was on the making and marketing of "Drive By Fashions" â popular clothing such as jeans, baseball caps, and t-shirts that are riddled with live ammunition before they hit the store shelves. ...The commodification of violence and fabrication of fun that obfuscate the realities behind these featured stories embody the exact kinds of symptoms that ...emanat(e) from a 'predatory culture.'"
But people need not wallow in their victimization. Doug Kellner and Steve Best drive this point home in a recent article.
|"The afterlife of the ideas of Guy Debord and the Situationist International is quite striking. Economics, politics, and everyday life is still permeated with ... spectacle ... and the concept of "spectacle" has almost become normalized, emerging as part and parcel of both theoretical and popular media discourse. Moreover, Situationist texts are experiencing an interesting afterlife in the proliferation of 'zines and Web sites, ... . marked by a profusion of cultural activism which uses inexpensive new communications technology to proliferate radical social critique and cultural activism. The authors extend themselves further and "argue that simulation and spectacle are interconnected in the current forms of society and culture. We then offer an analysis of what we theorize as the new stage of 'the interactive spectacle that provides both new forms of seduction and domination, and new possibilities for resistance and democratization. At stake are formulating categories adequate to representing the transformations of contemporary society and devising a politics adequate to its challenges and novelties."|
Neither Don nor his multitude of co-conspirators need have read a word of these nerdy boys. But their work, and their creativity, and their success, and their struggle, embody these important formulations of how life can reflect a desire for 'business better.' Yet one more key component of Don's biography is his cocky and yet gentle maintenance of a smiling resistance to the powers that be.
Such stalwart struggle is difficult. Precisely because of the above 'spectacularization' of commodity production and consumption, at the least distraction becomes ubiquitous, in this, the age of ADD and kids addicted, legally, to speed derivatives. In "The Culture Industry," a prescient investigator capsulizes this process of misdirection.
|"(W)hen taken altogether, the assorted media of the culture industry constitute a veritable web within which the conditions, for example, of leading an autonomous life, for developing the capacity for critical reflection upon oneself and oneâs social conditions, are systematically obstructed. According to Adorno, the culture industry fundamentally prohibits the development of autonomy by means of the mediatory role its various sectors play in the formation of individualsâ consciousness of social reality. The form and content of the culture industry is increasingly misidentified as a veritable expression of reality: individuals come to perceive and conceive of reality through the pre-determining form of the culture industry."|
This humble correspondent cannot watch television for this very reason. Others of my cousins, not so sheepish as I am, manage their interlocutory habits more effectively. In any event, the basis for the rebellion that Don's life, in playful and yet serious fashion, has exemplified is the recognition of inequality and injustice. He is not an angry fellow, but something akin to a well of fury nonetheless lies beneath his reflections on the loss of his friend Ben Linder.
The irrefutable demonstration of injustice and inequality is ubiquitous. One recent study argues unequivocally that any child's "future (is) largely determined by social status, not brains. Consider Bobby and Jimmy, two second-graders, who both pay attention in the classroom, do well, and have nearly identical I.Q.s. Yet Bobby is the son of a successful lawyer; Jimmy's works infrequently as custodial assistant. Despite their similarities, the difference in the circumstances to which they were born makes it 27 times more likely that Bobby will get a job that by time he is in late 40s will pay him an income in the top tenth of all incomes in this country. Jimmy had about one chance in eight of earning even a median income.
Unopposed, this and other authors demonstrate dispositively, this inequity and noisome injustice just grows over time. However, when we stand up and vocalize that we see what's happening, all manner of social movement becomes possible. This gushes forth from Don Harris like his gimpy enthusiasm, which more often than not leads the way down the steepest slope despite his limp and his seven decades of labor on the earth.
The advocates for social balance see the process in this way: "From "collective consciousness" to collective action... . Given the proper socio-cultural conditions inequalities can spawn collective behavior, which historically have been major agents of social change. Examples in the United States include the labor, civil rights, ethnic, old age, and the women's movements of the past century."
And they also include the days and creations of Don Harris, of Santa Cruz County, California, in all his perambulations around our spinning globe. We ignore his example, we turn off his gentle admonitions at our peril. He asks us to pay attention to the likes of this.
"Negative forces are going to continue to grow stronger, so we ourselves must continue working positively so that the consequences can be averted. We must work together with the Younger Brother, and now that species are disappearing we must explain what is going on. This is happening because they are acting against the sacred sites... . More and more indicators appear, like the birth of deformed children, as sacred sites are interfered with. That is our thought and this above all we will continue saying to the world. This is why we were born and live and this is what we declare. We invite other indigenous people and all people in the world to grasp the situation in which we now live. ...Now the most important sites are themselves being destroyed... .(so much so that, if we do not act) then we are doomed as we shut down the life-energy of the world."
John McPhee wrote of this as "The Control of Nature." Elisabet Sahtouris terms it "The Conquest of Nature."
"At present human existence is dominated by a technological society founded on the mechanical worldview of western science with its materialistic values--a worldview, value system, and way of life that for all its benefits has brought us to the brink of disaster. It stands in sharp contrast to the worldviews, value systems and lifestyles of indigenous and traditional peoples, which are only now beginning to be recognized as valid in their own right and possibly critical for our very survival as a species. For this reason the formulation and implementation of knowledgeable, sound, participatory policy on indigenous peoples is a vital task."
And, I would say, a similar 'participatory policy' in relation to grassroots communities, and 'knowledgeable and sound' capacitation of common folk that is a part of such policy, goes hand in glove with the reunification of our various cousins into a sustainable whole.