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Democracy Does Note Have to Be Majority Voting

Laird's Blog -

In response to my most recent post, The Mourning After, Frands Frydendal wrote:

Can democracy be wrong?

I think it can, meaning it has its weaknesses, and the recent election—in the nation that is supposed to be the vanguard of democracy—shows that a serious update is long overdue. Fortunately new knowledge to create updates has recently become available. 

The election of Trump as the President of the United States is only part of the evidence that democracy as we know it is obsolete. Clinton as the final counter-candidate and the whole process has denounced democracy's claim of being the final solution to the questions of state. 

Versions of democracy differ a lot, but they all rotate around majority decisions, and all the possible ways to influence the majority, including ways that allow for manipulation and collective folly. Of course majority voting is not used for decisions about scientific evidence, neither is it used (much) for business. 

The recent US election is only one out of many democratic decisions leading to questionable, inferior, or even disastrous consequences. Think of the democratic triumphs of Hitler, Brexit, Putin, Assad, Erdogan, and other examples of democratically re-re-elected despots.

Why is it that so many believe that democracy with majority vote is the best decision-making system for a nation or state? It all comes down to the lack of a better alternative. Winston Churchill said:  “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Maybe it is time to try something new. Otherwise democracy will indeed be the end of that chapter of history. 

I think it is an important task for community workers to locate and inspire communities that have the wish and potential to develop better, alternate versions of democracy, to a point where we can say it has been tried at least on a local scale. 

The bits and pieces to replace majority voting are evolving fast in the circles of sociocracy.

[As English is not Frands' first language, I have lightly edited his statement—hopefully without altering its meaning.]

In the face of our recent US Presidential election, Frands has made an impassioned plea to expand our thinking about what's possible with democracy. In particular, he questions how much practicing democracies have relied on majority vote to make decisions—offering up the recent US election as prima facie evidence of the folly of relying on the current system to yield reasonable results—and makes a plea for experimenting with other forms of democracy to liberate it from the manipulation we just witnessed.

By definition democracy means "rule by the people"; where every eligible citizen has a say in how things will go, and there is no presumption that some people have superior wisdom to others. At larger levels (nation, state, or even municipal) this generally translates into some form of representative government where decisions are made by a majority of elected officials or delegates. This adaptation is typically done to reduce to manageable levels the time it takes to hear from everyone. In a direct democracy—where everyone who cares to is given the chance to speak to the issues at hand—there just isn't enough air time to get it done.

Of particular interest to me, Frands hints at the direction he'd like to see experimentation take: some version of consensus, which stands in sharp contrast with majority voting. From this point forward I want to respond in two parts: a) consensus in contrast with voting; and b) sociocracy in particular.

Contrasting Consensus with Majority Voting
Consensus has two major historical threads that I'm aware of: 1) The Religious Society of Friends; and 2) Native American cultures. In the case of the former, Quakers developed consensus (which they style "sense of the meeting") as a way to conduct religious meetings. By creating a contemplative meeting environment with plenty of spaciousness in which members of the congregation can speak as moved, Quakers believe that they are nearer to God and that that is the best way to evince God's intentions.

This version of consensus was adapted to secular groups in the '60s and '70s, with the Movement for a New Society leading the way in the context of anti-nuclear protest groups making decisions at action sites. From there it blossomed into the most commonly used decision-making process among intentional communities—a position it's held for at least the last half century.

The link between Native American cultures (think Iroquois Confederacy in particular) and secular consensus is less direct yet nonetheless helps to establish that the roots of alternative forms of democracy (by which I mean something different than majority vote) are much more deep-rooted than Frands knows. While I am not aware of any instances where consensus in intentional communities has inspired municipalities to adopt it as their form of government, there are plenty of examples of schools, neighborhood associations, congregations, and nonprofits that have been moved to work with consensus. So there is a growing body of work along the lines for which Frands has advocated.

As a long-time consensus advocate and instructor (I've been at this for more than four decades) the main factor limiting the expansion of consensus is that it requires a commitment to culture change and personal work to consistently achieve stellar results. Without it, you're essentially importing competitive conditioning into attempts at cooperative culture, and it's a train wreck. Culture shift takes time and investment, and it's way more sophisticated than memorizing a new instructional manual and organizational chart.

That does not mean I'm giving up on the potential of consensus to be a viable alternative to majority voting, but I'm not sanguine about seeing consensus take over as a popular form of large-scale democracy. It just takes too long to hear from everyone, and requires that too many participants become self-aware about appropriate ways to participate.

Sociocracy as a Strain of Consensus
This particular form of consensus has be around since Gerard Endenburg adapted consensus to apply to his Dutch engineering firm in the '70s and was then imported into the US by John Buck in his book We the People, published in 2007.

While I appreciate that Frands is excited about sociocracy's potential as a robust form of consensus, I've looked at this fairly closely and believe it's substantially oversold. For a more thorough treatment of my reservations, see Critique of Sociocracy Revisited

While there is nothing peculiar to sociocracy that I consider a best practice (and thus, I don't see it as a panacea in response the failings of democracy), I think it's a mistake to get hung up on which form of consensus is best. It is huge when a group makes a commitment to functioning cooperatively and attempts direct democracy.

That represents radical change, and, like Frands, I'm behind it.

The Mourning After

Laird's Blog -

Progressives face an important choice today. 

In the aftermath of Trump's triumph Tuesday there is considerable soul-searching and despair among progressives. That's understandable, but it behooves us to not just sit in the corner wringing our hands. The issues haven't changed and neither has their urgency—I'm talking about climate change, LGBTQ rights, universal health insurance, education subsidies, and anti-racism programs. But our tactics will have to undergo some serious revision because the Republicans are about to have their way with us. 

They control the Presidency, the Senate, the House, and a majority of state governor slots. So we're in for a bumpy time.

And you can't blame it all on the Republicans or the bungling of the FBI. Of the 231 million registered voters in this country, a whopping 43.2% did not vote!

The question before us is how will we respond. Will we retire from the field to lick our wounds? Will we become bitter and cynical, talking only among ourselves and reinforcing the us/them dynamics that dominated the political rhetoric of the Presidential campaign? 

Or will we rise above it? Divisiveness and vilification of Other cannot be the answer. It cannot possibly "make America great again." Can we be gracious losers? Can we be the loyal opposition that steadfastly continues to state our concerns and to voice our objections to the suppression of minorities, the gutting of environmental law, and the repeal of Roe v Wade.

Our task is not to overthrow or to monkey wrench the government; it's to change it from within. And that means dialog. It means reaching out to the 63% of white men and 52% of white women (yes, you read that correctly: a majority of white women spurned Hillary and voted for Donald) who put Trump in the White House. We need to know why a majority of white women felt they could support Trump even after the awful misogynistic statements he'd made in the Billy Bush tapes were revealed, and after a plethora of women stepped forward to give personal testimony about his reprehensible womanizing.

It is our challenge to try to find ways to bridge between the fair, just, and sustainable world we crave and the land of dignity and opportunity they feel has been denied them. There is only one lifeboat and we're all in it. As progressives it's our job to initiate these conversations, reaching out to people we ordinarily don't talk with, hungry for the ways in which we're all human and can make common cause. This is not about the homogenization of our culture or bending others to our will; it's about getting along with our neighbors, people with whom we don't always agree or see things the same way.

Though the room just go darker, guess what? We have a light. And the preciousness of its illumination only increases as the darkness grows.

For me, this moment is highly evocative of the aftermath of 9/11. While Bush was immediately intent on revenge (striking back at terrorists with deadly force), there was a significant minority that was more focused on the question: why are some Arabs so angry with us that they bombed our buildings, killing more than 5000 all together?

Fifteen years later, I don't want to fuel the anguish and despair; I want to channel the energy of this election into a wake-up call for progressives. There is work to do. As activist and songwriter Joe Hill wrote in a telegram right before being executed in 101 years ago: "Don't mourn, organize!"

Cohousing, la nueva modalidad de viviendas para adultos mayores - Parabuenosaires.com

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Cohousing, la nueva modalidad de viviendas para adultos mayores
A diferencia de la muy extendida por aquellos años forma de vida “comunal”, estos grupos planteaban el “CoHousing” ya que mantenían en todo momento una economía propia y una vivienda de uso privativo. Lo que les permitía esta nueva organización de ...

Progetto Grande Treviso: trasporto pubblico più efficiente, servizi e cohousing - Oggi Treviso

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Oggi Treviso

Progetto Grande Treviso: trasporto pubblico più efficiente, servizi e cohousing
Oggi Treviso
TREVISO -Incentivare il trasporto pubblico locale, favorire l'accesso all'abitazione da parte di fasce sociali escluse e sperimentare nuovi modelli sociali e abitativi innovativi per fasce di popolazione. Sono questi gli obiettivi strategici del ...

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Getting Trumped on Tuesday

Laird's Blog -

Tomorrow we'll get to see if a person can get elected President of the United States campaigning on fear and anger—because Trump sure isn't running on qualifications (unless you have a soft spot for bluster and misogyny).

Over the course of my lifetime I've observed the steady erosion of civility in political discourse. (I yearn for the good old days of Humphrey and Dirksen). In this era of extensive polling and psychological profiling, candidates have moved sharply toward vilification (in contrast with discussing issues) because studies show that that has the greater impact on how people vote. Ugh.

What could possibly be a more potent validation of that theory than the viability of Donald Trump's candidacy? He's tall, rich, arrogant, racist, a blatant womanizer, has no experience in political office, and no reverse gear in his demeanor. As a collaborator he makes Genghis Kahn look thoughtful. He is the absolute embodiment of competitive spirit, who will fight until the end and has no qualms about who he climbs over or trashes en route. On top of all that, he's a whiner, graceless, and has minimal self control. In short, he's completely odious and inappropriate. And yet, he's within a few percentage points of being the favorite tomorrow.

Take a moment to let that sink in. That's how far he's been able to ride the tiger of anger and fear. His policy ideas are naive and unworkable, yet he's found resonance with labeling his opponent as Crooked Hillary, and making the pathetic case that his philandering is OK because Hillary's husband did it, too. Are you kidding me??

I wish I were.

I could rail against Trump all day, but he only does his shtick because it works. Rather than focus on the avatar, I'm more interested in what's going on in our culture that such tactics are effective. I believe there is a deep reservoir of hurt and anger in this country. The delineation of its elements are some combination of:

—Life is unfair. We were raised on the promise of the American Dream and it's inaccessible.

—Jobs are being exported overseas or obsoleted. And even if I'm fortunate enough to have one, I'm underpaid, disrespected, and without job security.

—The chasm between the rich and everyone else (like me) is yawning wider all the time.

—There is despair that my individual voice is too weak to be heard, or is ignored when it is.

—Politicians lie, the media lies, and so do doctors, lawyers, and bankers. Who can you trust these days?

These issues have been gestating for decades and will not be solved by tomorrow's election. Nor, I'm afraid, are we likely to see any diminishment of vitriol in political pronouncements—regardless of who wins. It may feel good (at least in the moment) to vote your gut, but lashing out will not rebuild trust. Not ever. What it will take is winners reaching out across the aisle to lend a hand to losers, because the bigger picture is that we're all in the same lifeboat.

Sadly, even taking that first step (which may strain credulity to imagine—Trump offering the top job at EPA to Elizabeth Warren, or Clinton appointing Chris Christie to head a blue ribbon panel on election reform) is susceptible to vicious criticism. (Note how viciously Obama was disparaged for attempting bipartisan dialog during the early years of his administration—it was labeled a sign of weakness and roundly dismissed.)  

What does it mean that Republicans are boasting that if Clinton is elected and they retain control of the Senate that they'll indefinitely tie up in committee any and all of her Supreme Court nominees? Is that just a measure of the GOP's resilience, bouncing off the mat after a knockdown—or a sign that the apocalypse is upon us?

It seems to me that we'll have to start by acknowledging these deep hurts (which, I want to point out, can be done without assigning blame) and taking their measure. There will need to be room for people to express their anguish and a place for that to land. Not because anyone meant to hurt the disenfranchised, but because the actions of the powerful have had that effect, and no lasting bridges will be built unless the abutments upon which they are constructed are secured to the bedrock of open, heartfelt communication (as opposed to posturing and mugging for the camera).

I'm gravely concerned that we may have gotten so inured to mudslinging and slimy behavior that we may have lost our ability to discern integrity, or our will to insist on decency from politicians. And I mean all politicians.

While someone will undoubtedly get trumped Nov 8, will it be Hillary? The Donald? Or the American people?

Dia de los Muertos 2016

Laird's Blog -

Today is All Saints Day. It is also the Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, when the veil between the temporal and the spirit world is said to be thinnest. In Mexico this is a time to remember those dear to you who have recently departed. Notably, it is treated as a time of celebration. It is neither somber nor macabre. Gravestones are spruced up and altars are festooned in bright colors and momentos. Favorite foods are prepared.

I am especially drawn to this holiday because it addresses a societal need. Overwhelmingly I experience our culture as ritual starved, and I think we have an unhealthy out-of-sight-out-of-mind attitude toward death. Having experienced a long, slow dance with my own mortality this year (in the guise of multiple myeloma), I say bring it on!

This year I've lost two.

Fred Huebner (March 20)
Fred was my uncle, having married my Dad's only sister, June. He was well into his 90s when he died, so he didn't get cheated, and I'm pleased to report that he enjoyed reasonably good health (including golf) right up until the end. 

While we were not close, we were family. 

Sadly, my father had a lifelong enmity toward his sister (June, Fred's wife) and that severely limited contact between the families, even though we lived in neighboring suburbs of Chicago. When my Dad and June's father—my grandfather—was alive, he would insist that the families do things together. But that commitment died when he did, and there were no more joint Christmas or birthday get-togethers after 1972.

June and Fred had two children. Decades ago their daughter, Diane, contracted cancer and predeceased her parents. Their son, John, has suffered from disabilities all his life. He never lived alone (until now) and is currently wheelchair bound. In June's latter years her health was delicate and she required constant care up until her death a few years back. So Uncle Fred's family has endured more than its share of health challenges.
Like Job, however, Uncle Fred was a person who didn't complain about the hand he'd been dealt. Instead, he dedicated his life to being happy. I know that may not sound like much, but it was. Almost always we have choices about how we spin the events around us, and for Uncle Fred the glass was never empty. He would bring a bit of sunshine into any room he entered. Though not an ambitious man, he was a loving husband and father, and a curious man. (One of the last times we communicated he passed along photos of Saturn taken from outer space—he couldn't resist sharing his amazement at what we're learning about the universe.)

We could all do worse than be that curious in our 90s.

Joani Blank (August 6) 
I lost a friend and community lost one of its staunchest promoters when Joani died this past August of pancreatic cancer at age 79. She had lived a full life.

As the cancer wasn't discovered until June, the end came fast, but Joani made the most of it, spending her last few weeks surrounded by friends and family, celebrating their shared lives. She died at home in her beloved cohousing community, Swan’s Market, in downtown Oakland.

I first met Joani at the national cohousing conference held on the campus of UC Berkeley in 2001. Though it was a "home game" for her (as an East Bay resident she could sleep in her own bed each night), it was immediately obvious to me that she was a tour de force who’s energy would be strong in any setting. She was one of the early adopters of cohousing, and worked tirelessly to promote it all the years that I knew her.

Joani and I didn’t always see things the same way. For example, she viewed cohousing as the epicenter of community living, while I saw it as just one of many good choices available under the big top that the Fellowship for Intentional Community has erected for showcasing options in intentional community and social sustainability. Yet, in the end, our differences were minor and we recognized in each other the same burning desire to create a more cooperative and just world. We were fellow travelers.

On a personal level, Joani stood out as someone you could work things out with. As an activist, she was aware that feathers would sometimes get ruffled. Whenever that occurred she wouldn’t necessarily change her viewpoint (or her style) but she’d tackle differences straight on, being willing to hear your side and to work constructively to a mutually agreeable solution. She did not duck the tough questions. While I’d like to tell you that this quality is common in the world today, it isn’t—and Joani was all the more precious to me as a friend because that’s the way she lived her life.

Joan and I crossed paths early on as I helped organize benefit auctions for a number of cohousing conferences and she was a generous contributor, often sending something sizzling from Good Vibrations, the groundbreaking sex-positive business that she started in 1977, with the goal of providing a "clean, well-lighted place for sex toys, books, and [later] videos.” Long before she died, Joani had converted Good Vibrations from “her" business to one that was employee-owned.

While she was undoubtedly better known as the proprietress who started Good Vibrations, I knew her as an icon in the Communities Movement. I last saw her in May at the regional Cohousing Conference on Aging in Salt Lake City, and we had our last exchanges via email in late June after she knew she was sick.

She faced death as fearlessly as she faced life: directly and with her eyes fully open. What better epitaph could one have?

Cohousing per disabili negli immobili dell'ex Opera Pia, l'idea al convegno 'Dalla legge alla vita' - gonews

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Cohousing per disabili negli immobili dell'ex Opera Pia, l'idea al convegno 'Dalla legge alla vita'
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OPINION: Seeking sustainable communities - N.C. State University Technician Online

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N.C. State University Technician Online

OPINION: Seeking sustainable communities
N.C. State University Technician Online
Investing more in sustainable communities, communes or cohousing will help solve our sustainability malady. STAR, Sustainability Tools for Assessing and Rating Communities, describes a sustainable community as an “healthy environment” where citizens ...


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