Friday, February 09, 2007

Go ahead! Experiment with my life!

Remember those cheesy “choose your own adventure” novels? I used to read those a bunch when I was a kid. I was kind of a dorky kid that read fantasy novels like Lord of the Rings and I was all into those choose-you-own-adventure books. Can you believe I was a nerdy kid? Seems crazy, I know. But there you go. I also built model airplanes and hung them from the ceiling of my room with fishing line. So I guess I am a first-class dork-wad.

Anyway, for a long time I have thought of my life like one of those books, a kind of living experiment in seeing what happens next. And since adolescence the organizing principal of the experiment of my life – the central research question, in other words – has been: “How far can I coast on charm?”

Well, I just spent several hours updating my CV, which forced me to look back over all the places I have been and what I have done. I think at this point I can put my research question to rest and declare the field closed to further inquiry: Apparently I can, in fact, coast a helluva long way on charm.

While it’s pleasing to have a result that I know I can rely upon, I’m left with a vacuum – a void – while I come up with another research question I can apply my life to. Since Nature supposedly abhors a vacuum, I thought, why not frame up a couple of research scenarios and put the question to the community?

So here you go: Go ahead, experiment with my life!

I was put on this planet to shake things up – not just to sit around and fart and pick my nose and complain about popular culture, although I do those things quite a bit. I’m here to leave a mark on society and on the planet, for better or for worse, but definitely a distinct mark of some kind, even if it’s a sort of greasy stain or unseemly discoloration.

By the way, as for this bit about “being put here to shake things up” … I don’t know if any of this is true or not. I don’t know what is true or isn’t, or even what truth is. I’ve just about completely given up the search for Truth. I’m much more concerned about what “works,” what is “effective,” what “feels good,” and is “groovy.” Call me a Sophist if you will: I can’t take any more high-minded, supposedly pure, idealized Socratic verbosity about Ultimate Truth.

In fact, my life is a game that I find immense pleasure in playing. The game I am currently playing is called transformation. How it’s played is I have to work out how to most effectively cause transformation for many, many people. To cause transformation in the lives of many, many people means helping them to make their lives a lot more groovy, in a big way, that sticks.

OK, so let me explain some things…

Transformation is a quantum shift in grooviness. To Transform myself means to make my life a lot more groovy. Like, way more groovy, not just a little bit nicer. So much nicer, in fact, that after the quantum jump my previous way of being is almost completely unrecognizable from my new level of quantum grooviness. I mean this quite literally. Electrons do this kind of thing all the time – one minute they are in one energy level, and then POOF! the next moment they are in a completely different energy level. I’m not making this up. The crazy thing is that they are never between energy levels. So how do they get from one to the next? Quantum mechanics: weird properties of matter that make no sense to us because we cannot detect their effects at our normal scale of life.

So all I am doing here is applying rudimentary principles of quantum theory to my everyday life in effort to cause these quantum jumps in grooviness, which is just my term for how integrated I feel with the rest of the universe. Being in a state where I perceive my integration with the universe is synonymous with “feeling groovy.”

If you don’t like the term “groovy,” if it seems too hippy-dippy for you, you can substitute quality in its place. Quality describes a relationship you have with your self and your surroundings. It’s pre-intellectual in nature – that is, it’s not a tangible thing or a concept you can think about in the typical sense. It’s something that you know what it is when you experience it, but you don’t necessarily know how you know you know it.

So, being in a “groovy” state means being in a quality relationship with whatever you’re doing in the present. It means being there and really participating, having energy and attention and focus and connection with what’s going on. It means not being caught up in grief or drama or stories associated with the past; and it means not being preoccupied, anxious, worried and fearful about the future. In this state of being-in-the-present you can develop a quality relationship with your surroundings, including other people, and experience the freedom and peace that arise naturally when you are not identified with (caught up in) ego-generated pain and suffering.

Maybe this seems like I am getting “way out there.” So let me get to the point: If everyone, or not even everyone but, say, most people or even just a lot of people, felt this state of groovy integration – or quality, or presence, or whatever you want to call it – then we’d have no more wars and ecological devastation – these kinds of negative trips would be impossible, irrelevant, wouldn’t happen, wouldn’t even come into consideration, period, end-of-story. So there’s the motivation for dedicating my life to promoting quality and the general groove and helping to cause this kind of transformation in many, many people.

Get it?

Good. I’m glad we understand each other. Now, here’s where you come in:

Below I describe some more details about what I think transformation could look like, and two possible scenarios that I might go about, in playing The Game of My Life, to cause lots of groovy transformation, for many, many people.

Your job is to pretend you are reading one of those cheesy choose-your-own-adventure novels. You just got to the part where the Hero (me) has to decide whether to fight the fire-breathing dragon or the terrible sea monster. Only in this case the fire-breathing dragon is academia and the terrible sea monster is industrial agriculture. Yeah, that probably sounds confusing – but keep reading, you’ll see what I mean…

So, the overall question is:

“What strategy will I use for facilitating transformation?”

And more precisely, by transformation I mean:

A broad and deep shift in consciousness and lifestyle practices, on the part of many people, to ways of being that are nurturing and regenerative, in both social and ecological dimensions, and as distinct from the currently prevalent exploitive and destructive patterns.

And let’s start by dividing this question of strategy into two possible approaches, one termed the “academic-institutional” and the other one termed “local-grassroots.” By voting in the “comments” section of this blog, you can play choose-the-adventure from these two scenarios. I’ll tally the votes after a while and plot them on some kind of graph because I like to geek-out with numbers and make them into graphs. Then I’ll post the graph on this site so you can see which scenario wins out.

Be sure and put your name with your vote so that I can make sure each vote counts only once. And please feel free to leave commentary as well describing why you chose as you did.

Now for the scenarios…

Scenario One:

Should I finish a PhD and take a more academic and institutional approach to transformation, primarily through activities such as research and teaching with universities, non-profits, NGO’s etc.?

In this case, I would focus on economics and “development,” politics and globalization, and target upper-level decision-making structures (e.g. the UN, World Bank, universities, non-profits and think-tanks) to promote primarily top-down transformation.

This strategy would lend itself to city life and a “modern” lifestyle, probably involving a lot of travel and advanced technology.


Scenario Two:

Should I take a more local, hands-on, down-to-earth approach to transformation, through the creation of a small, primarily self-reliant homestead and organic farming community?

In this case I would work with others to build a model community that promotes health and a high quality-of-life, sense of place, ecological awareness, meaningful work, and nurturing values and character. It would be a practical experiment with small economics, possibly through participation in a CSA program. It would offer opportunities for teaching and research, though these would be aimed primarily at engaging, inspiring and empowering “regular” people (as opposed to shifting consciousness among “elites” as in the academic-institutional approach) such as high school and college students, churchgoers and other local community members, as well as workshop and short-course attendees, for example.

And, it would lend itself to a primarily rural lifestyle and involve growing most of the food consumed, producing on-site much of the consumer durables used, utilizing mostly on-site renewable energy sources, embracing more of a low-tech lifestyle, and existing in interdependence with the supporting ecosystem, surrounding community and local economy.


Please carefully consider these choices and how effective either path is likely to be in facilitating transformation, their respective pluses and minuses in terms of the learning and experience I’m liable to encounter along either path, as well as the probable implications for lifestyle and livelihood. Consider also how you might fit in to either plan – chances are you will be part of the transformation and your own level of quantum grooviness is at stake! Feel free to email me with clarifying questions.

And most especially, remember! You are experimenting with my life here! So choose wisely, and together we may acquire the One Ring of Grooviness and rule all of Middle Earth, forever and ever…


Amanda Kearns Aykroid said...

My personal opinion: To effectively shift the lifestyle practices of many people you will need to utilize both scenarios.
These 'practices' as you call them are pretty MAJOR to big business success. And, in turn, most big businesses have big payrolls to maintain and are not so eager to go eco-friendly when it means increasing budgets to allow the use of green products or increase budgets to remove enviromentally damaging waste materials.
Honestly, while some big businesses look at measures to reduce waste, the number one factor when considering what to use for materials is profit over lose. This concept business majors are taught from the beginning 101 courses, and most coporations do not put environmental plans of action into effect until they have spent millions cleaning up whatever 'oops' has recently occured or paying whatever fines the EPA has imposed on them.

Basically, these lifestyle concepts you are proposing are not black and white. You can not expect go to back to school for your PhD and then target upper-level decision making practices and promote top-down transformation through teaching students nor should you create a semi-contained project where you confine yourself and your ideas to a small self-reliant homestead community.
I honestly think both efforts will prove less effective than you wish or intend because they target a fairly specific group of people; many of whom I feel will share the same eco-friendly views as your own or whom are interested in the same subject as you.
Rather, what you need to do is change the minds of people, much like myself, who once didnt see a convenience in becoming more eco-cautious.

As the saying goes: To make big change and to make up for big lose you need to take big steps.

Lets pretend for a moment that vegetable oil represents big business and that water represents green-living. Your question should be: 'how do I mix oil and water'?

As we all know intermolecular bonds play the major role in why oil and water dont mix just as big business and green-living create the same surface tensions with each other. However, we also know that if you shake the two vigorously the oil molecules will suspend inside of the water molecules for a matter of time until both begin to settle again and separate into their own substance.
What you need to figure out is how to promote big business in a green environment and learn a way to shake big business so hard that it stays forever suspended inside of that green environment without separating itself back into its natural state. You also need to figure out how to make green environments and practices practical and more feesible in order to make it appear more attractive to big business.

To effectively change many individuals lifestyles you will need to show a huge population how an eco-friendly self-sustaining community can thrive and essentially, how it can thrive in a big city environment cohesively. Why? Because while elements within our environment might change, chances are big business will be here for the long hull.
Now,in order to change worlds perceptions toward becoming eco-friendly you will have to show a corralation between industry and green environments and how the two can not only co-exist but also flow smoothly together and eventually become a cohesive environment after being shaken vigorously.

The way to do this you might ask?

The way to do this is to determine a lazy and less costly way of promoting eco-friendly ideas in big business and in conventional homes. The 'whats in it for me concept' that Americans constantly ask.
One way the government has personally stepped in is by creating tax write offs for energy saving building materials to promote resource conservation in traditional homes. Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Airlines is stepping in by offering a $25 million dollar reward to the first person who scientifically figures out a way to withdraw 1 billion tons of pollutant out of the earths atmosphere each year for at least the next 5 years. This offer of course must be proven by NASA to work before money is rewarded, but none the less its a step in the right direction even if it means paying someone to solve a major problem facing the world.

Some corporations like AT&T have even stepped up by offering cash incentives to employees who eat healthy and work out at least 3 times per week. These corporations have found a recent correlation between healthy employees and a reduction in corporation medical premiums. What they have found is that employees who are healthier in their diets and exercise are less likely to become sick thus resulting in more production because the employee isnt calling off from work and reduced insurance premioms over time. They have mathmatically determined somehow that for every $1 spent, they save $3 per employee. A big savings for them in the long run.

So, here are a few ways you can market your groovy lifestyle scenario.
I agree, community involvement is key, you will gain a lot of community support by participating in volunteer organizations. Targeting organizations that are already green-planet friendly is fine and you should involve yourself in a few of them, but rolling up your sleeves and delving into the nitty gritty organizations that you could potentially influence through your continued participation and 'charm' -ultimately making a broad scale impact- will produce a much larger return if/when successful.
If you feel a particular college class or subject will serve you well in the future continue your education. But continue it for the education not the Phd.
If you havent already, I think it is VERY important that you take a business applications course and also a marketing course.
In order to change big business you kinda need to know what and how they are thinking and operating other than just the 'save a dollar' theory, if you dont already.
I also recommend a marketing class so you can put all of that charm into action and create a marketing plan to promote your ideas to big business and human-kind in general.
Many people see lifestyle changes as an inconvenience, obviously. The generic "its healthier for you and will keep the planet green longer" only works for a few million. What about the remaining billions? And, while the government is working on tax incentives for individuals whom choose eco-friendly and energy-saving building materials etc. they are underplaying the harm big-buddy corporations are having by not honoring emitions regulations. Why? Because of how the US economy revolves.
To slay the bad-breathed dragon you should determine how to put into action the plans that are not only eco-friendly but will also not create a 'hardship' on the lazy population that is our society.

In summary, as winded as it seems, you should go back to school to fine-tune some of your ideas through a business, marketing,and maybe a few more educational courses, teach a couple classes at a university, live on a self-sustaining eco-village to promote agriculture in your own life, promote green environments through presentations and volunteer efforts and just do the whole shabang. Then you'll never have to wonder 'well what if I had tried the other scenario' you will have modified both to allow for an exceptional life through living, learning, and impacting others.
This of course is just my opinion on how the 'hero' in the 'adventures of boy wonder' should play-out.
One last thought... develope a eco-friendly business course that you can travel around the US and possibly world promoting at colleges and universities. You could also look into writing a grant proposal that the government might fund and then pay the college 'X' dollars for holding this new course on their campus. Kind of like Winthrop getting some money for using all eco-friendly chemicals on campus now. This would begin to shine a different light on young business majors who will ultimately be the next backbone of the big business system.
So often people fight systems. Try to find a way into the system so that you can shine a different light on it in an attempt to modify current teachings. This you could effectively do through a new eco-friendly business course in universities and colleges and grants never hurt to fund your project nor do they hurt when trying to market your concept to the schools you target.
Now theres a thought!

Darwin BondGraham said...

yeah man, both.

Chelsea said...

I don't like the idea of doing both because it sounds too stressful. I vote for #2, because it seems to be what you are wanting to do (like, you wrote three times as much about it, and had a bunch more groovy things to say about it, and sounded a lot happier). I don't think the right question is what do we think will be more effective? I think the right thing to ask is God calling me to do through the talents he gave me and through what my heart communicates via joy? Also I think the way of Christ is one of downward mobility. Finally, when markets collapse and nation states really go at each other, knowing how to feed people (aka, survive on the land) is going to be important. Thanks for emailing, Josh!!

Judith said...

I think you should come back to Berkeley and start an Ecovillage because my life has certainly lost the majority of its grooviness without you being around. You are a born academic- you can always choose the bucolic agarian isloation after your PhD but it is not so easy in reverse. By writing and teaching I think you can essentially transform the lives of many more people but perhaps not as deeply as the few you would work with in a small community. I think your chances of true personal peace and happiness are possibly higher in a more rural setting but I think you also thrive through being a little tortured. You are growing so much from what you are doing now that I am not sure how much of the restless intense evangelical Josh is still there but I would hazard a guess he is just brooding and biding his time. In the end you will continue to deeply affect those around you wherever you go and everyone you come in contact with will benefit from your friendship, wonderful insights, passion and determination. If you remain true to yourself you will be a guiding light for those around you wherever you end up.
But.... I would be more grateful if you came back to play mandolin to my rapidly improving fiddle playing!

Anonymous said...

I think the 2nd choice, but then I would bec. it is more of a pacticle choice. I like a lot of Amanda's suggestions as it would allow you the best of both worlds while you are also reaching out to those outside your usual community. Those who already believe as you do can help you inform others who have not yet gained the knowledge you have. I would also hope that you select the life that will make you happy. You don't have to prove anything - just be yourself. You are a very fine human being.

PAPA-SAN said...


Elizabeth said...

Interesting post - I especially love what you have to say about finding grooviness. I am on a bit of my own adventure to do the same thing and I love how you summarize the whole thing. As far as your next step, of course it has to be the one that feels right for you. That being said, if it were me, I would choose #2 for several reasons. You don't have to get a PHD or be in a traditional academic environment to continue learning, studying, writing and making waves among people who are in that environment. And it's not for free, it can cost a lot of money to pay someone else to guide your learning. I think I would rather do this myself. Also, I think that I want to influence people by living the the example. I can write a book or scholarly articles about how I have it all figured out and hopefully a few people would read those, but I think I will be most influential when I'm not even trying. Just living your life in a way that is true to the principles that you believe in is a shining example to all that you know. You can set up your own small scale eco-village/farm/commune, whatever you want to call it, where you can live your grooviness which will also cut down on the amount of money that you need to earn. This could allow you to set an example on a grass-roots level AND you will be able to spend your free time hosting interns, writing papers, giving lectures, i.e. spreading grooviness but without the rigors and confines of the academic world. For example, through your blog, you are already going to be involved with some professors class and thus influencing the academic world through your current grass-roots involvement. Good luck deciding - let us know when you have it figured out! Hope to link up with you again in India or Nepal! - Elizabeth