Monday, June 29, 2009

Repost: Third and Final part.

PART THREE: THE COLLISION WITH THE REALITY TRAIN – WHAT CAN WE DO?

Our own dysfunctional communities are going to hit globalization, peak oil, and climate change and the education crisis head on in a serious claustrophobia of circumstances. In a way, there is a chicken and egg problem here, because in order to solve the financial problems that are coming, the social problems will have to be solved. And in order to solve social problems, financial problems will have to be solved. It’s a self-perpetuating feedback loop – the worse one side gets, the other follows and in turn worsens the first side. Somehow the cycle must be broken.

To combat globalization, we need to re-localize. But in order to do this effectively, we cannot be splintered into little cults. We cannot be judgmental or intolerant of lenient practices within the halachic framework. We need diversity of practice to revitalize our ability to cope and function. Relocalizing will create vibrant and sustainable economic systems that will be able to withstand the coming trough in the business cycle. This ought to also combat one of the most nefarious side-effects of globalization: neglect of the moral and ethical obligations of employers to provide what we in western society consider decent and reasonable working conditions. We have to bring back the “social contract” – no more hiring illegal aliens and other goyim so they can be paid less and mistreated and suffer unsafe or toxic working conditions with no Sabbath or vacation or whatever. We must be accountable to each other.

Relocalizing will involve taking the following steps:

1. We must, as a community, learn how to manufacture, make, repair, restore, and produce everything we need for daily life. This means small scale, sole proprietorship “manufacturing” businesses need to be set up. We can no longer afford or rely on imports from outside our area. We can no longer afford to enrich the transnational robber barons at the expense of our own community. In practice, the young men must begin learning these skills, trades, and crafts. What ones, you ask? Look around you. What is in your house? The young men need to learn to make every single item: every bit of furniture, every ceramic dish, glassware, metalwork, pots, pans, baking sheets, metal and wood utensil, toy, game, widget and whatnot, - everything from the picture frames to the upholstery and rugs.

2. How about small appliances? Even big ones? Instead of throwing away old stuff, we’re going to have to learn to repair what we already have – or make our own new ones. This means some young men need to study electronics and repair, even metalworking.

3. And young women have a role, too: sewing clothes, curtains, tablecloths, bed sheets, plain and decorative pillows, placemats, napkins, making candles, soaps, lotions, treats, candies, pastries, hand paint pottery and knickknacks, Judaica - things they can do at home, just like their grandmothers did. All that stuff we used to buy at Wal-Mart we need to learn to make for ourselves, keeping the money in the community. The women can contract their work out to retail shops run by other women – their own small businesses co-ops.

4. Food production, besides treats and candies, is going to have to get a lot more local, too. This will be a national trend – small sustainable home victory gardens, community gardens and greenhouses, and organic family farms are going to be springing up like mushrooms, and some of them need to be ours. That means the young couples are going to have to learn sustainable and organic farming – and work together with other couples to keep the farm running. We need our own fruits, vegetables, and nuts grown on our own farms - sort of like our own kibbutzim. One of my great grandfathers owned a dairy – we need these, too. We need to make our own local cheeses and butters, ice creams, yoghurts and kefir – without the extortion racket of corrupt rabbinic supervision hovering over them all. Instead of buying unhealthy factory farmed meats from giant agribusiness firms, we need smaller herds on the small farms, even individual pairs of animals in large yards – the girl animals supply milk, the boy animals grow up to be dinners, mostly, from our own small suppliers of beef, sheep, goats, chickens and eggs - instead of big conglomerations far away. That means we need more kosher butchers and cheesemakers, too – properly trained young men.

5. On the more urban side, we’re going to have to stop the “divide and conquer.” The focus should be on family businesses just like the old days – right down to the shop/store on the first floor and the family living above, so the family isn’t paying two mortgages and two sets of utility bills each month. The wife and children are involved and contribute as their schooling and duties permit. Homes will have to be multi-generational, and extended families will be the norm, not the exception.

6. That may mean some initial rebuilding to make single family neighborhoods more like the mixed use streetscapes of the past – but we must adopt a paradigm more like that of the Amish to accomplish this: everybody chips in labour free of charge to build each building, renovate each garage or basement into a viable business space, one at a time if need be, until the whole group is done. This only works with a certain economy of scale – meaning there will have to be cooperation and tolerance, again. The only cost would be materials, and even some of that could be obtained by donations. We can no longer rely on interest-based financing to get things done. We will have to remake our dysfunctional neighborhoods into viable communities with our own two hands – waiting around for someone else to do it for us isn’t going to work.

7. In fact, co-ops are going to have to be a big part of our new lives – no money involved. We need much more cooperation and much less isolation - home school coops instead of commercial-type day schools, babysitting coops, eldercare coops instead of nursing homes, men’s and women’s Kollel co-ops instead of paying tuition, and so on. “Social societies” for various community needs are going to have to return to life in a big way – not based so much on monetary donations, either, but with everybody pitching in.

8. For things that don’t “co-op” well, such as semi-professional services, repairs, etc., many groups and small towns have developed their own paper “currency,” that is earned by volunteering and contributing time and effort in various ways, to be spent at local shows of other service currency participants. It’s a glorified barter system, basically – and perfectly legal. You earn by contributing your skills, and redeem your points/credits for skills you lack.

To combat peak oil, we must first and foremost arrange our lives to avoid dependence on automobiles or busses that use gasoline and diesel, as well as other odds and ends we may have that use gas.

9. For those with “outside world” employment (and as many men as can be need to be, to bring money into the community that hopefully stays here!) getting to and from work must be the top priority – that means finding a home near where you work, or within walking distance of a mass transit line. For those rebuilding their own communities along older mixed use styles – persistent lobbying for streetcar service and/or bus routes is essential to serve the ground floor shops/stores. If need be, expand or start your own service – with electric busses and trolleys.

Needless to say, that means a sufficient number of young men are going to need to have secular degrees in actual fields of knowledge for market-rate employment jobs to accomplish this influx of wealth to the community.

10. The homes must also be located within walking distance of grocery stores, bakeries, and specialty food shops – preferably family owned businesses run by neighbors! - and open space allocated for a farmer’s market, too. Or vice versa – shops and stores are going to have to inhabit some space on residential blocks. We must also make wagons and coolers for getting the groceries back to the house: European style wheeled shopping bags, backpacks and cloth grocery bags – and recognize that buying a week or twos worth of groceries at once is not really going to be possible anymore. We’re going to have to move to a more European and Near Eastern style of grocery shopping – every day or two.

11. Obviously, with walking or biking to get groceries, medicines, personal and household goods becoming a much bigger part of our lives without SUVs, Mom’s focus is going to have to be in managing the home, business and personal paperwork, running errands, caring for children and parents, and participating in co-ops or manning the store/shop while Dad is doing his co-op duties. Older children will also be involved – it really has to be a family effort.

12. Home gardening is going to have to make a comeback, also. Herbs and spices, some veggies and fruit trees or bushes - if you have a yard don’t waste an inch of it on grass, unless you have a few chickens or goats for eggs and milk. You can’t eat the grass. Plant something you can eat. Make jam and sell it or trade it. Dry herbs. Freeze veggies.

13. We must learn to make and maintain things like “reel” mowers and other non-electric yard and garden tools – and train the neighborhood boys how to use them. They can help with the chores at home and earn co-op points (or maybe even a small bit of cash) helping busy or elderly neighbors. Which brings me to another point – in reality, every kid over 14 should be contributing to the family budget in some way, even if it’s just an hour or so a day.

To deal with climate change, we need to get better control of our utility bills, first and foremost. Secondly, we need to take steps to set up alternative power sources for our community necessities and get “off the grid” as much as possible for everything else.

14. Conserve water – fix leaks, when hot water heaters wear out, replaced them with inline heat fixtures. Upgrade old toilets and showers to new efficient models when they need repairing or replacing. Use soaker hoses and mulch in your garden instead of sprinklers. Do I really need to tell you only to run full loads of laundry and dishes? You know these things.

15. Heating oil or natural gas conservation should be a top priority. A concerted effort is going to have to be made by the community to help families replace HVAC systems and major appliances that run on oil or gas with systems and appliances that run on electricity – and minor appliances that are old fashioned and manually operated. That necessarily includes natural gas stoves – wasteful things like the blech need to disappear and be replaced with an energy efficient crock-pot for the main meal of the day, and healthy salads, fruits, veggies, lox, etc. that don’t require heat for the rest. Not only does wasting precious non-renewable resources make your personal utility bill worse, but it also drives up the overall price of natural gas and burdens the poor – something we are commanded not to do.

No matter what your house is heated with, you need to go on a serious hunt for leaks and air infiltration around pipes, cracks, doors and windows. Use that blow-dryer stuff plastic to cover windows and unused doors in the winter – and make sure your fireplace doesn’t leak air like a sieve, either. These things really do have a huge impact on your utility bill.

16. Conservation of electricity you should already know how to do in general. In specific – one thing to seriously consider is to not run the clothes dryer in the spring, summer or fall when the weather is reasonable, use clotheslines instead. In the winter, the dryer can help heat the house – or you can save more power by drying clothes on retractable lines indoors at night and then fluffing them in the dryer briefly in the morning.

17. Get those double hung windows operating – chisel off that paint, so that they can work like they’re supposed to. To get ventilation, you have to lower the top AND raise the bottom. Heat rises and goes out the top, creating a negative air pressure, which draws in cooler air at the bottom. A ceiling fan will also help. Air conditioning needs to be minimized as much as possible – we only run ours for the hottest six weeks of the summer season. (And then only if the temps are above the upper 80s.) When you do run the A/C, you need to have heavy drapes to draw over the windows and doors, to help keep the heat out. You can also re-apply the window plastic during A/C usage.

18. The community is, last but not least, going to have to band together to help homeowners install solar shingles/panels and home wind turbines, and similar larger systems for community needs. As rolling blackouts and staggering price hikes due to the underlying costs of oil and gas and coal for electric generation become larger and larger problems, we need to find ways to get “off the grid” and either generate our own power or find ways to do things without it. If you live in an area with nuclear or hydroelectric power, you may still not be out of the woods – shifts in rainfall patterns can cause both dams and nuclear power plants to have to shut down. It’s good to consider alternatives.

To make all this possible, some educational and social changes are going to be necessary.

19. To make a serious issue short – the ravs are either part of the problem or part of the solution. Those who are not part of the solution are going to have to be overthrown from their little fiefdoms. We do this by no longer contributing to their shuls, day-schools, yeshivas and charities and by operating our own co-operative education and self-help groups instead. Those who are part of the solution identify themselves as such by their words and actions – they speak out about these issues and make positive moves toward implementing suggestions like those in this article that will restore the physical, spiritual, and financial health of our communities.

20. We need an intensive public service educational campaign about signs of physical, emotional, sexual abuse and drug abuse. People need to understand that their physical and psychological safety is their right as human beings – not to mention American Law – and blind support of molestors and perpetrators just because they are Jewish and/or are in positions of authority is no longer acceptable. Those claiming to be leaders must be held to a higher standard, not a lower one.

21. We need a second intensive public service educational campaign to alert people for signs of investment fraud, insurance fraud, government fraud, theft and graft at all levels – to know when they are being employed by scammers and to protect themselves from scams. Again, just because these things are done in the name of getting money for Jews and Judaism does not make it acceptable. Indeed, it makes us reprehensible in the eyes of the public and is a terrible chillul Hashem. Part of this must be a campaign to be obedient to and respectful of local and state building codes and zoning regulations – this issue has caused a great deal of animosity towards us and must stop.

22. We need a third intensive public service educational campaign to re-assure young people that they have a future in Judaism and as Jews, even if they lack the aptitude for full-time Torah study. To that end, we need to meet their emotional and social needs with music, social events, sports, and extra-curricular classes on topics they’re actually interested in, not just Torah.

23. As for formal education, modern secular educational studies are going to have to receive a much greater emphasis. Those with professional career aspirations and apparent ability need to go to college or trade school and learn a professional career in a market-rate employment field – and this needs to be done without saddling the young man with interest paying student loans. For someone with true aptitude, the community needs to try and put scholarships together for tuition.

24. Only the most brilliant and astonishing students should be maintained in yeshiva or Kollel, as decided by the community at large as to how many they are willing to support.

25. Every other young man needs to be apprenticed learn a skill, trade, or craft for a small shop/store or business or small family farm, whatever his interest appears to be – starting as a teenager. [Ditto for girls.] An apprenticeship and journeyman training system, similar to that of Europe, needs to be developed that provides men employment and job skills. Some of this would be in Torah scrolls and T’fillin, of course.  But mostly the skills and crafts would be in household goods, furniture, wood and metalworking, and all that.

26. The marriage problem is going to have to be seriously tackled with some intense re-education and changed attitudes. Far from shunning BTs and converts, they need to be brought into the fold enthusiastically. Unrealistic expectations and idiotic lists of “required” stringencies need to disappear. More chaperoned opportunities for mixing must be made available to teens and young adults. And yes, marriages should be arranged/facilitated at young ages – when biology intended young people to become married, not the unnatural extended childhood imposed by modern feminist-led society. That does not mean every young couple is entitled to separate housing, though. Extended family situations are going to have to be the norm, not the exception.

27. Corruption and graft, crime and abuse is going to have to be held to a zero tolerance policy, period. We are going to have to reclaim our right to safety and security.

28. Our second highest priority needs to be getting each and every member of our community out of debt – the collective power of the community can accomplish this. Once it’s done – NO NEW DEBT. If debts are incurred within the community, no more shenanigans – they must be completely released whether paid or not at the Sabbath year, as Hashem intended.

29. Our highest priority needs to be making sure every husband and able-bodied man has a living wage job, either their own legitimate trade, craft, skill, shop, store or garage/basement business - or working for someone else at living wages. And every teenage young man should be following right behind. We must not hire from outside the community at all unless there is absolutely no one left to hire. This is not an invitation to “make-work,” nepotism and other abuses – it is a call for people to search diligently for talented individuals and hire on merit and interest and talent from within our own community.

This is a broad outline – and frankly, I don’t have much hope that it will actually be accomplished. What we need to be is a lot more self-sufficient and a lot less like secular society in many respects. Specifically, we need to remove money as the focus of our lives and aspirations and instead substitute real Torah, family, and the satisfaction of personal accomplishment which contributes to community sustainability. Instead, we have become parasites off of the worldly system we claim to not be part of. What is necessary is no less than taking our children and our business away from the entrenched order – to starve it to death before it starves us to death.

The discussion at this point will I hope be constructive. Shalom.

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