January 30, 2017

Strength and Courage

Linda + Gregg = Strength and Courage

"Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength,

while loving someone deeply gives you courage!"

- Lao Tzu

January 27, 2017

Victor Lebow On Consumer Capitalism

Victor Lebow was an American economist that is oft-quoted by those of us that have the gall to question the value of consumer capitalism to humankind. I bring him up as NBA reader Saffron commented recently, "Victor Lebow wrote an article Price Competition in 1955. I highly recommend it, and maybe you will publish it in the future."

I was already familiar with Lebow, and with the most published quote from his work, which I now see comes from the section of the paper called, "The Real Meaning of Consumer Demand".

“Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption.”

But I had never read "Price Competition" in its entirety. The paper is full of quotable passages beyond the one that comes up most often in discussions of Lebow. Information like this lets us confirm that we have been trained to want, trained to desire, and trained to buy everything, or at least as much as we possibly can.

"To use a military analogy, marketing involves the over-all strategy of distribution, while merchandising, advertising, promotion, and selling comprise the tactics. The costs of distribution actually represent the pressure needed to maintain the high level of consumption. Our economy demands a constantly expanding capacity to produce."

Why do we want so much stuff? Because of the enormous amount of pressure brought to bear upon us. Under the constant assault of marketers, backed by hundreds of billions of dollars per year globally, you can hardly blame people for wanting to buy things.

What is more surprising is that anyone is able to resist the military style campaign, dare to value non-conformity, and refuse to participate in the materialist feeding frenzy. When the average human is subjected to something like thousands of pleas to buy stuff every day, it can be hard to say no to the drug of buying things that we don't need. The advent of television made it even harder.

"Television achieves three results to an extent no other advertising medium has ever approached. First, it creates a captive audience. Second, it submits that audience to the most intensive indoctrination. Third, it operates on the entire family."

Wow. If that doesn't make you want to throw out your TV, install an ad blocker on your computer, and monkey wrench a few billboards, nothing will. There are more such eye opening passages in Lebow's paper, and I recommend anyone interested in knowing how we got here read it in its entirety.

Apparently there is some confusion as to whether the author was advocating consumerism in order to stimulate the post WW2 economy, or was warning us of the perils of moving in that direction.  Regardless, it does explain why our consumer capitalist-based society is the way it is.

Thank you to NBA reader Saffron for the idea/inspiration for this post. And to another NBA'er, Terri, for doing some of the research I used to whip this up.

Read Victor Lebow's Price Competition in 1955 here.

"What becomes clear is that from the larger viewpoint of our economy, the total effect of all the advertising and promotion and selling is to create and maintain the multiplicity and intensity of wants that are the spur to the standard of living in the United States."
- Victor Lebow 

January 25, 2017

Simple Life, Calm Mind

My mom had a favourite saying when my 4 siblings and I were young and prone to panic at the smallest slight.

"When in trouble
when in doubt
run in circles

Now I know that is what we call a sarcastic remark, but after that how could one not see the futility of doing things that don't help to solve the problem at hand? I guess it was effective.

A simple life is a calm life. A calm life is one in which one may face all challenges with equanimity and passion. Being calm has never hurt anyone. Can you be too calm?

When you make the madness of modernity move aside, it leaves only you. That can be scary at first, which is why we are so prone to being easily distracted by things. However, approaching and getting to know our source in stillness is not something that should be neglected if we are to be ready in a rapidly changing world.

Whatever the future may bring, there is no better preparation than cultivating a calm mind. From an internal stillness we can more effectively address whatever gives us that panicky feeling in the pit of our gut. Like what is happening in many guts right now.

Efforts toward stress reduction, and effective and meaningful change, do not include running in circles screaming and shouting. No anger, no threats. It is time for decisive action. A calm mind prepares us for just that.

I say, "Bring it on". I have been calmly waiting for this for a long time. I am hoping that a simple living revolution of cooperative and compassionate communities will be part of what replaces living under competitive capitalist consumer constructs.

Remember to breathe.

January 23, 2017

Alone And Undistracted

 Anne LaBastille knew what it meant to be alone and undistracted.

You don't need to live isolated in the wilderness to be alone and undistracted, like Anne LaBastille did in the Andirondack Mountains of NY. But it helps. She loved her cabin as her place for "refuge, quiet, and as a peaceful place to write and contemplate". 

A lot of people would find that attractive today, but perhaps not for too long. Even LaBastille was a part time hermit, engaging in a full life outside her mountain retreat. Perhaps it was the amount of time she spent with a lack of distractions that allowed her to be as involved as she was.

Never before has being distracted while with others been so easy, and solitude so out of favour. Too much connectedness. Too many screens, apps, devices, phones, movies, shows, games, and an expanding universe of virtual realities to choose from. When does it stop?

When are we ever alone and undistracted?

Crowds and distractions are hallmarks of modern life. Consumer entertainment is everywhere, in your face 25/8. It is normal to spend long periods of time as part of actual and/or virtual crowds or groups, sharing distractions through entertainments and other illusions.

A 1996 Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll indicated 31% of U.S. residents wanted more time to themselves, whereas only 6% wanted less (Crossen, 1996).

Humans have important biological needs for attachment, affiliation, and sociality. But we also harbour yearnings to spend time alone. Just like being with others is good for us, spending time alone and undistracted also has positive benefits.

Benefits of Solitude 

- wards off potential perils of over stimulation, a very real threat in these days of infinite choice and content

- can result in decreased self-consciousness

- enables freedom of choice with respect to thoughts and actions one finds intrinsically interesting

- the mind may be better attuned to, or more likely to generate, daydreams, shifting emotions, and novel thoughts and associations that contribute to creativity

- sets the stage for self-examination, reconceptualization of one's self, and coming to terms with change

- is a precondition for enlightenment

Being in solitude is a common spiritual practice across time and traditions. Just ask Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, and the Buddha about solitude, and they will tell you what wonders they discovered. You must admit, that is a pretty good endorsement.

You do not need to be a spiritual leader, or wilderness hermit, to gain the benefits of a little solitude now and again. You just have to remember to make it happen. It may be beneficial to set aside some time each day to practise quiet listening in solitude.

It can be done inside, or outside. In the city, or in nature. Still or moving. At home, or away.

Do not try to force anything and do not give yourself a hard time if you are not able to do what you hoped. Do what you can to make time to be alone and undistracted, and most importantly, be kind to yourself in the process.

Bring that kindness into the interactions you have with all life. Authentic experiences of solitude will ultimately bear fruit in greater kindness and compassion toward ourselves, others, and the planet.

January 20, 2017

Beauty Abounds

I think every carrot from the garden is a gift of beauty from the Earth. Every carrot, large, small and differently shaped.

There is a lot of pain in the world right now. It is real, and it is not necessarily your fault. Brace yourself, after today there is likely to be a lot more.

Joe Brewer thinks that what you are feeling is a symptom of capitalism dying.

It is that, and more. It is just about everything we know that is dying. Systems that we have relied on for decades are ceasing to deliver the goods. Diminishing returns are everywhere. No one seems to know what to do, although times like these do spawn slick sales people that appear to have all the answers.

The death knell of change even tolls for The Circus, which is closing after 146 years. The billionaire owner said something to the tune of "more has change in the last 10 years than the last 40". A lot of that change has been ugly, and not just for the circus.

In spite of this, beauty remains.

Yes, there is a lot of ugliness out there. But there is always more beauty. Ugliness and pain have limits. Beauty is infinite.

But only if we have the time and calm state of mind necessary to perceive it.

Now, more than ever before, it is important to find the beauty in every moment. Because there is always something beautiful regardless of where you are at. Open yourself to it, and it will appear. Enjoy it. Revel in it. Share it around.

As the rate of change continues to accelerate, and as yucky stuff rises to the surface, we need something to get us through. That something is the beauty that exists in every moment. It is a salve for the mind.

Then, refreshed and reassured, we can do what needs to be done.

January 17, 2017

Stuff: Potential Obstacle In Any Home

Henry David Thoreau's cabin had few obstacles to living "deliberately" while confronting
"only the essential facts of life".

A home is a very personal thing. Each of us sets up our homes differently to reflect where we are in life at the time. But the important things are usually fine tweaks to a well established set of things that culture deems to be necessary to attaining the good life. But are those possessions freeing us, or are they obstacles to addressing more important considerations, the "essential facts of life"?

In consumer cultures the list of home essentials has been growing for decades. Unsurprisingly, houses have been bloating at the same time, just to contain all the stuff. During that period, my own list of what I consider to be essential at home has been shrinking as my desire for simplicity and freedom from the stifling weight of stuff has been growing.

Henry David Thoreau considered the ownership of material possessions beyond the basic necessities of life to be an obstacle. That has certainly been my experience. The best bits of my life so far are the ones where I have been living in stark simplicity.

Things like camping, extended backpacking trips, living out of a van for extended periods, and staying in a spartan monks room as a student all made me wonder about all the other stuff that we are told are necessary for the "good life". If I can survive happily with very little, what is the rest for?

I had to wonder if my possessions were a life enhancer, or obstacles. I decided most of it fell into the "Obstacle" category, and have been busy identifying and removing them from my life ever since. Add in reducing my ecological impact in a time of increasing scarcity, and there was no going back. I couldn't see the down side.

Still, no one can tell anyone else what they need to live the life they want. And Thoreau is not the only one inviting us to "simplify, simplify, simplify". In response to my last post here, readers offered up their take on the simple home, and the simple life.

I couldn't of said it any better myself. Go to the post to read even more good ideas.

"Enough is a roof over our head, love, nourishing food, clean water, simple attire for modesty and something to stimulate, like a conversation, art, craft, book etc...everything else is the custard on our cherry tart."

"I think a simple home is one that feels perfect to you. A place to lay your head safely, be warm and comfortable and have those you love around you, equally in comfort. A place where the things you have in your home are things you own and that don't own you. Items that are either useful or beautiful (or both!)."

“I’ve recently been house sitting for a friend & only took the bare minimum with me. I completely agree, I barely missed anything & actually felt freer and lighter without all my possessions.

When thinking about setting up a new house, it is also helpful to look at all the amazing stuff on Craigslist/gumtree(Australia)/thrift shops/giveaways. There are more than enough things already out there in the world, so even for things you decide you really 'need', it is almost never essential to buy them new - support businesses & practices you don't agree with.”

"I tend to be much more functional and less aesthetic in my home. Simple, easy to clean and maintain. I lean toward higher quality and good maintenance so things around me don't wear out, get sent to the landfill and have to be replaced. I also want stuff that I can move around from one room to another. I like open floor plans."

The take away? Warning! Stuff is a potential (and likely) obstacle in any home. Proceed with caution, and simplicity. Thanks for the excellent feedback everyone. It's not too late to join the conversation. Add your thoughts here.

January 13, 2017

Setting Up The Simple Home

You are setting up a new simple home. What would you put into it to make yourself comfortable?

At the end of August a member, and frequent commenter, on this blog reported a piece of tragic news. Those of you who read and/or participate in the comment section of Not Buying Anything will recognize the following somewhat disturbing comment from our friend, Madeleine:

"About 3 weeks ago a large part of my home was destroyed by fire. I can honestly say that as we ran from the burning building things like saving our favourite 'stuff' or even photos did not cross our minds. All I thought of was getting the children and animals out. And as I watched the fire and waited for the fire truck to arrive I felt so grateful we were all alive. It is hard not to be able to live in our own home for a while, but other than the truly useful - pots and pans, towels and sheets - there is nothing I'm going to miss."

A while later Madeleine left another comment in response to my post "That Is Enough".

The idea of 'enough' is one I have been pondering a lot over the past few years, and am certainly thinking about it every day as I begin to replace the useful items lost in our recent fire. How many dishes is enough? How many wooden spoons, towels etc? I would like enough to do the job efficiently, and not a bit more. 

So how does one set up the simple home? Valuable information like this could be used by those starting from scratch whether a young adult leaving home for the first time, or if one is downsizing, or moving across the continent, or recovering from a devastating home fire in which everything was lost.

Linda and I did exactly this when we moved from Turtle Island's (the original inhabitants here used this name before Europeans came and relabelled the area"North America") west coast all the way to the east coast. We gave away everything we owned, except for the few things we could fit in our travel van.

In starting over, we had the same feeling as Madeleine - we wanted to set up our simple home efficiently, and with not a bit more than what we needed. What we found was that we needed to acquire very little to quickly become comfortable in our new home. We also found we did not miss anything we left behind.

I am planning on working on another post outlining what we did buy to settle here in our new Nova Scotia home. But for now, I turn it over to the NBA comment crew. If you were starting over, how would you set up your new simple home? What would be important to replace, and what could you live without?

While Madeleine is currently taking a screen break (and rightfully so considering what her family has been through, and the continued challenges of getting back on their feet), when she returns we can direct her attention to this post in the hopes that we can all contribute to helping get her and her family back on their feet in the most simple and efficient manner possible.

So that is the challenge, should you choose to accept it. What do you think? How much would be just enough, and not a bit more, for your ideal simple home?

January 12, 2017


I would argue that these tailings ponds (and many others) leach toxic substances into the Athabasca River.
Because I use fossil fuels does not invalidate my point. Research has shown toxic leaching is happening.
I would like an "oil activist" to respond to this without telling me, "You're a hypocrite, so shut up".

With Jane Fonda recently conducting a tour of Alberta's tar sands, I was ready for the predictable backlash from oil activists (yes, it's a thing). I was not disappointed.

Often when anyone tries to defend the environment, they are labelled hypocrites. They point out how Fonda arrived in Fort McMurray in a plane powered by the fossil fuels she seems to be speaking out against. They may not realize it, but they are committing a logical fallacy, or error in reasoning.

The logical fallacy of Tu Quoque (pronounced "too kwoh-kway"), Latin for "you too", seeks to avoid responding to criticism by turning it back on the accuser. It assumes the accusers argument is wrong because they "do it too". It attacks the person, not the argument, and it is both wrong arguing and wrong thinking.

Oil activists and other anti-environment types (if you aren't for it, you're against it), often use attacks on the other side involved by making blatant or subtle efforts to sabotage, undercut or demean them. This also is used to make the speaker look good, right, moral, trustworthy or in other ways better than their opponent.

But the whole purpose of an argument, or discussion, is not make yourself look good. It is to address the issue at hand. It is to be involved in a communication process whose goal is the growth of both personal and mutual understanding. Personal attacks are a no-no. Please stick to the argument.

Because the celebrities that speak out against the tar sands consume fossil fuels to get there, does not invalidate their argument that this extractive industry is harmful to life in general.

And it is. The tailings ponds alone are an environmental catastrophe - if birds land in them they die. Thousands have died in them already, and more will in the future, despite all the sound cannons they blast off on a regular basis to prevent birds from doing what comes naturally. The environmental NGO Boreal Songbird Initiative has estimated that some 166 million birds could be killed over the next 30 to 50 years as a result of tar sands extraction.

Another problem with using the "you too" personal attack is that there are currently not any viable alternatives to fossil fuels. So how, exactly, is one to get to the open pit mines of Fort McMurray without burning fossil fuels, in order to have a discussion about fossil fuels?

I wonder if we could successfully remove the opportunity for the tu quoque error in communicating if  we walked to the tar sands wearing "no fossil fuel footwear" and a woollen outfit? And lived caves and grew all our own food? And didn't have computers?

Better yet, maybe when our opponents dismiss our arguments by saying we are hypocrites, we could respond by saying,

"You know, that was a personal attack, so you automatically lose the argument. Sorry.

If you'd like to re-offer your last comment without the personal attack then you may still convince me, but otherwise... thanks for the discussion.

Like Jane, I'll take my win and go home."

January 11, 2017

It Takes A Forest

Why are trees such social beings? Because there are advantages to working together.

We already know that it takes a village to raise a child. We shouldn't be surprised to learn that it takes a forest to raise a sapling.

Author Peter Wohlleben says just that in his new book The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate.

"Why are trees such social beings? Why do they share food with their own species and sometimes even go so far as to nourish their competitors? The reasons are the same as for human communities: there are advantages to working together. A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old. To get to this point, the community must remain intact no matter what. If every tree were looking out only for itself, then quite a few of them would never reach old age. Regular fatalities would result in many large gaps in the tree canopy, which would make it easier for storms to get inside the forest and uproot more trees. The heat of summer would reach the forest floor and dry it out. Every tree would suffer. 
Every tree, therefore, is valuable to the community and worth keeping around for as long as possible. And that is why even sick individuals are supported and nourished until they recover. Next time, perhaps it will be the other way round, and the supporting tree might be the one in need of assistance.
A tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it."

Every tree is precious and meaningful in the forest, just as every human is precious and meaningful in the human world. Never mind "survival of the fittest", we have evolved like the trees, through mutual assistance and cooperation.

We as individuals are only as healthy and strong as our supporting communities, and as society as a whole.

This magnificent Eastern Hemlock in the back yard forest could not have survived for 100s of years
without the support of its surrounding community.

January 6, 2017

Simple Pleasures - Snow

From my back door, across the field, and into Kione's winter wonderland in the woods.

The joy of a Canadian winter is not your face freezing off in a minus 30 wind chill. Nor is it having the sun set at 4:00 pm. Or driving like you are on a skating rink. No, the premier joy of winter for me and many other winter enthusiasts, is snow. Puffy, powdery, every flake is unique snow.

A blanket of fresh snow is a gift from Kione, the Greek goddess of snow and winter. Around this time of year she leaves her work, cursed by some, thanked by others.

But if you have the time to enjoy snow-bound areas, natural or otherwise, you would probably agree that it is a whole lot of fun, not to mention quite magical. The possibilities and pleasures are endless: skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding, skating, fat tire biking, ice climbing, glacier traverses in the back country of the Rockies, winter camping, tobogganing and sledding.

I'm not the only creature leaving tracks in the snow in these woods.

Those who like snow, like it a lot. This is the camp I fall into. The beginning of a snow storm is one of the most exciting times of the year,  and not only because of the pleasures of outdoor activities. A snow storm changes everything for everyone all at once, uniting us all in temporary survival mode.

When Kione comes, she throws an icy wrench into the functioning of the machinery of civilization, just to remind us who is boss.

Everything either slows down or stops completely after a big snowfall. Roads and highways close. You can walk down the middle of deserted city streets, quiet, muted, and muffled by the mantle of white stuff. You might be the only thing moving, besides the flakes gently falling around you.

Exciting and intense storms cause airports to shut down, and airports never shut down. It is one of the rare times that civilization lifts its foot off the gas pedal and takes a break from the maniacal pace.

It can get so crazy that people actually stay home and enjoy each other's company over cups of hot beverages. They stay home and revel in the comfort of their warm and snugly shelters separating them from the snow piling up at the door.

Then some of us go out to play.

January 4, 2017

What Are You Doing?

“Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can?"  - Sun Tzu

There are many problems on our planet that need to be addressed, be they political, environmental, spiritual or otherwise. Most seem gargantuan and intractable. This is leading people to wonder what they could possibly do to help. As it turns out, there is a lot that each of us can do.

However, none of it will be easy. It will be worthwhile, though, and our survival depends on what each of us decides as individuals.

Overall, one of the best things you can do is carefully attend to how you use energy, food, and water. These "Big Three" account for the majority of damage being done to our ecosphere. Think about the level of efficiency with which you use these precious resources. Are there areas you could make improvements?

While it has not been popular for years (I suspect because it bites into potential profits and tax revenue), conservation is still the best way to go. All resources we use should be treated with the respect that these sacred gifts deserve. We honour them by using them wisely.

There are also specific things one can do, too numerous to list. I will start with a few that come to mind. You can probably think of a few of your own.

1. Civic Involvement - join a club, or start one. Get involved, and empowered. Volunteer at a school, or food bank. Help establish a community garden, join Habitat For Humanity, search and rescue, or a beach cleaning. Go to town hall meetings and demand answers from elected officials. Write letters. Make phone calls. Talk to the media about what you are doing.

2. Spend Your Money Strategically - choose to purchase products from companies and people you support, boycott those that do things you don’t like. Have a boycott list handy to view a couple times a year as a reminder. Better yet, withhold your money all together. Choose to stop buying certain things, permanently.

3. Spread The Word - let people know what you are doing, and why. This is how small individual actions and efforts spread and result in a big bang of change.

4. Practice Voluntary Simplicity - a simple lifestyle is a more sustainable lifestyle. It can also be a happier, more content way to go.

5. Never Listen To Naysayers - never let anyone, ever, convince you that individual actions can never make a difference and are only an exercise in futility. Individual choices are where the work gets done. More beneficial choices will lead to better outcomes.

Each of us has the power to do something every moment of every day. We can move toward a better world one decision at a time. The choice is ours to make.

January 2, 2017

Strange Pull

Yielding to the pull of my love for wild areas - first bike ride of the year.

In 2017 I am taking some advice from the 13th century poet Rumi. Maybe a lot of advice from Rumi. He seemed to have figured a lot of things out. Like "do what you love".

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”
- Rumi

This year I will be drawn by the strange pull of what I really love, knowing that it will never lead me astray. By this time in my life, I know what has a strange pull on me. Living simply allows me the time and head space to yield to that mysterious attraction.

Things like hiking, biking, spending time with my besty, Linda, music, growing and cooking wholesome food, and sharing life with our human family. Enlightenment and saving the planet are also on my list of Things That Have A Strange Pull On Me.

Is that too much for one year? If all goes well, I have 363 days to find out.