More than that, is it possible to grow well-thy - truly, comfortably, sustainably wealthy, in the broader sense of holistic well-being, security, leisure, abundance, generosity, opportunity etc. - via ethical, regenerative, law-abiding and low-risk means alone?
This question has never been far from our minds in the process of growing VEDA into a healthy, prolific social organism. We want a world where that kind of livelihood is both feasible and broadly appealing, yet we're still clearly a ways from that place in the course of global affairs. The discrepancy has recently been drawn into sharp focus again in a rather exasperated article by an aspiring and by all measures dedicated young Permaculture designer, teacher, facilitator, and researcher, part of a vital collective in Pennsylvania:
Low income and lack of societal investment - not to mention a dozen other substantial obstacles - are paralyzing the leading edges of the crucial cultural transition of our time, throwing up practical and psychological roadblocks to many who would otherwise lead the charge. Is deeply ethical living today a kind of inverse luxury, relegated to ascetics, radicals, nomads, and dirt-dwelling workaholics? It's certainly not a career track that calls out strongly to young adults setting their course in life with visions of something like 'success' and stability as they launch into adulthood.
As much as people want to give it a go, it's darn hard being a trendsetter, breaking ground literally and figuratively in such forbidding landscape. There are very few visible role models or compelling case studies to orient by. The few that do stand out, such as a Geoff Lawton or Penny Livingston, seem to have been at it intensively, almost messianically, the better part of their full grown lives - becoming adept salespeople in the process. And, they are for the most part solo emissaries. Working, harmonious, bountiful communities or other restorative collective undertakings are even more rare and precious. Why? No really, why?
How are we stuck in this torpid story of conflict, struggle and failure at a time of unprecedented awareness, technology, urgency, know-how, and connectivity? Regenerative enterprise? Sustainable community? Permaculture lifestyle? Is it all just so much wishful thinking?? Are we short of money? Or of trust?
As with most things, there's 'truth' or wisdom on both sides of the coin...much to integrate from the perspective of financiers and policymakers as well, even as the immediate result of their work sits in contravention to our aims.
Resilient, human scale agrarian lifestyle practices are not a target for venture capital or savvy entrepreneurialism, even with the growing wave of "social" enterprise attention today. They don't just plop down onto a Business Model Generation canvas and connect the dots from concept to "cha-ching". Their upside is just too nebulous. It's uncommodifiable in today's economic thinking. From a market perspective, such ambitious fringe living is not an extension of LOHAS; it's more like LOSER - lifestyles of subsistence and environmental regeneration - and it does not compute. It's dismissed then, passed over by the usual channels, the essential currents and currencies of status quo society. And to their (sadly also our) detriment.
What a pretty, hand-picked pickle that is! To cure it, we're going to need to spice things up on several levels. That's what VEDA and a number of other groups are working towards already, including the Susquehanna crew of Ben Weiss in the article linked above. There's of course no magic tincture solution, but from everything that *has* been learned and shared so far along with careful observation of emerging trends, we can identify important patterns to track and employ.
- Understanding and communicating purpose, identity, values etc. - culture craft
- Starting small, staying agile, prototyping in serial and parallel - open collaboration
- Connecting to community and forging supportive networks - keen engagement
- Developing integrated production systems and capital - whole systems design
- Living systems of wealth, and creative commons - open value accounting
- Embracing change, and proactive evolution - collective intelligence
- Persevere beyond what you think is possible! - (because, life!)
The business people, the money people, the law people, and the people people are beginning to take notice and make way. Remember, it's not their job to lead, nor to take your word for what the future holds. But there are ways to entice them to come along or open doors, to shift the game one subtle new agreement or discovery at a time. "Call me trim-tab" as someone once said.
One of the earliest inspirations for my own journey into Permaculture and intentional community, Stephen Brooks is still avidly advocating for these things from his lush and resilient outpost on the Caribbean coast of Central America, going on 20 years now of fruitful and impactful alternative living, in community, through high and low:
Every story and experience is unique, as well as the ultimate goals, intentions, values, and vision that drive people to and through this landscape. Understanding at a very deep level the motives that we each carry, how these align and interweave (and sometimes don't) is essential learning for each of us on the path. By steadily accruing the kind of clarity, confidence, compassion, keen drive and other important 'micronutrients of success' that accompany great leaders in any field, we can start to chart a course and create the future that we want to belong to, one that fully acknowledges and even reciprocates what we've invested to help shape that reality.
Many have been preparing ground and striking roots already, despite such adverse conditions. This work is bearing fruit for growing numbers who have dedicated life and work to whole system transition. It deserves recognition. One of the best ways to do so, is to continue to spread the story of what's possible.
Lead image from appleseedpermaculture.com - another one of the laudable pioneer groups