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Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Quest for a better counter culture

You have to live the change you want to see. It does no good to rant against the corporate/political/military state while still benefiting from it.

We all know about the “environmentalist” who drives a big SUV. They always have a good excuse why they need such a behemoth. It’s for the children’s safety, or because they haul garden tools twice a year, or it’s so they’ll have room for the soccer team.

How about all those Tea Party people who want government out of their lives -as long as the Social Security checks keep coming in and Medicare is left alone?

There are those who protest against the military, but benefit from US protection of oil supplies, or other resources.

Against nuclear power? Against dirty coal? Want to tear down dams to let the salmon run free? Fine, but are you using more and more electricity each year?

Against the exploitation of Chinese child labor but you love your I-phone?

I’m criticizing, but gently. We can’t radically change things we’ve come to depend on. The alternative to the dominate culture is perceived as doing without, hardship and discomfort. Sadly, too often this is the reality. That’s why things get tweaked around the edges but nothing radical gains much traction.

What we need a counter culture that does the good things we want to do, but is a lot of fun. The lone hermit in a mountain cabin route is only attractive to a tiny slice of the population. It’s kinda boring. We can do better than that. Even the 70s counter culture could offer recreational drugs and free love.

I don’t have a plan in place. Things don’t work that way. I do have a few suggestions. A good counter culture has to address the weaknesses in the dominate culture. What are the weaknesses?

Work for many people is unsatisfying. Even those who like their work probably would like to do a bit less of it.

Home ownership for many has turned out to be a bad deal. Debts and expenses are large burdens. Few enjoy their homes as much as they thought they would.

Cars promise freedom, but don’t deliver. Again, there are high expenses: car prices, gas, insurance, registration, and parking. All so that you can commute to that crummy job and sit in traffic to do it.

Higher education doesn’t pay off like it should. Costs are higher at the same time the rewards of a degree are diminishing.

Our lives are driving us apart from other people. We don’t have the sense of community that our ancestors had.

Even Churches don’t deliver like they should. How many religions satisfy spiritual needs? How many just make a person feel judged and uncomfortable?

With weaknesses like those, one would think a counter culture could gain some traction. There are some things that have potential. Perhaps it’s just a matter of putting together the right elements under a unifying philosophy?

In no particular order, here’s a few things that are working:

There are people who are living happy mobile lives. I’ve met people who live on boats for so little money you would not believe it. Some live the RV life. It did work better when fuel was cheaper, but it’s still viable. The trick is to have a pretty self contained unit where you can camp away from commercial campgrounds. There are many strategies for this, everything from staying on wild lands to stealth urban camping. Some people travel around and haul all their necessary goods with a bicycle. Others live out of a backpack.

Tiny houses are catching on -cheap to build and easy on resources. Another route is cohousing. It can be in a planned community or it can be as simple as two families sharing one house.

Debt free living gives people options. Often this is combined with extremely frugal living. When needs are small, income generation can be very casual.

Then we have hackerspace, makerspace, and any sort of creative space. Communities of people get together to share space, equipment, and ideas. This actually has the potential for a whole new industrial model.

Alternatives to currency are gaining traction: barter and gift economies, precious metals, or maybe even something new like Bitcoin.

One thing that really needs improvement is something that brings people together and that cuts across all demographic lines. We’ve got to find a way to all have some fun with each other. No solid ideas here. Maybe we’ve got to find some way to recreate the way tribal people get along.

Religion is always a hot topic, but I’ll go there anyway. In the end, I believe we are all responsible for our own spiritual development. The job can’t be delegated to a minister, the Pope, a guru, or even our parents who may have picked a religion for us when we were babies. A lot of people consider themselves spiritual, but not religious. I’m not saying we need a new religion. Don’t we have enough? We need to take responsibility for our own soul and not worry so much about other people’s.

A successful counter culture will have to address what it means to be human and to have a satisfying life . . . or it’s going to have to provide some great cheap thrills. Maybe a little of both.
Utopian ideals have always fallen a bit short. Communes have always sounded great, until you find yourself digging in the dirt 12 hours a day without enough food to eat and no time or energy to contemplate life’s greater mysteries. Now if you had a commune that could supply all a person’s needs and many of their wants by working hardly at all, you’d have something. People would sign up for that.

I really don’t know how to put together a Utopia. If anyone tells you that they do, they are probably lying or deluded. Still, there are plenty of tools out there to put together a “Pretty Darn Goodopia.”

The old culture doesn’t have to destroyed. Abandoning it for something better works well enough.



  1. Phyllis (N/W Jersey)May 20, 2012 at 5:08 AM

    It is a good idea, but then some politicians would come along and mess it up......again.

  2. What Phyllis said. I like all the things you mentioned. I would happily live on a boat, in an RV, or even a tiny house. The tiny house is not allowed due to city "code". Marinas that "allow" liveaboards are rare as hen's teeth here. I know of only two, and they're too far from my work to be practical. Plenty of RV parks, but I've been down that road with my family already, and they want no parts of it. Though the way things are going, they might not have a choice...

  3. A person's utopia has to be found within their own mind.

  4. I have to admit, plenty to think about in this post.

    I'm sure if we all put our minds to it we could come up with something!

  5. start up a "maker workshop" be it in a garadge, basement or other area

    start tinkering and making stuff with what you got