This week, we have two interviews on Nonviolence Radio, the first with peace activist, religion scholar and author Francesca Po; the second with Jared Spears and David Fix from the E.F. Schumacher Center for a New Economics.
Francesca and Stephanie explore the concept of “self-religion,” the subject of Francesca’s chapter in the upcoming book, “Religion and Peace.” Self-religion, as Francesca describes it, is a deliberately chosen religious outlook drawn from diverse religious sources. This kind of “pick and mix” religion reveals in individuals an “ability to hold multiple religious authorities or multiple worldviews in their ideology.” And this, Francesca suggests, plays a key role in conflict resolution as the ability to acknowledge a range of different authorities allows people to recognize divergent beliefs as legitimate and valuable.
Stephanie and Michael’s second interview takes a deep dive into various aspects of an economics of peace. David and Jared explain some of the activities carried out at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, from local currencies to community land trusts. Together they discuss and start to illuminate a different vision of economics, one that is grounded in smaller, local communities where people are empowered to make choices as to how they want their societies to be structured and which values will serve as their foundations. The Schumacher Center offers resources, information and support as we endeavor to create communities “where people can develop their own economy that isn’t reliant on degrading anybody or degrading the natural resources, and is really meant to uplift everybody.”
Stephanie: Our first interview on today’s show is with Francesca Po about her new co-edited academic volume from Wiley-Blackwell publishers called Religion and Peace. Francesca is a religion scholar and board member of the Metta Center for Nonviolence…The book project was a labor of love for Francesca as it combines her three interests in religion, spirituality, and nonviolence.
Francesca: Religion and Peace, is kind of – it’s like a university textbook on the topic, religion and peace. But it is a combination of contributions from academics as well as activists and people in the field doing peace work. So, it was really nice to be able to be part of this project because it does combine all those things with my work in religion, spirituality, and nonviolence. It brings all those things together in one. So, I’m really happy to be able to share it with you guys.
Stephanie: I had the chance to speak with her about her chapter, ‘Witchy Activism…Self-Religion in Global Peace Movements’. In it she discusses how the concept of self-religion is becoming a dominant feature within nonviolent activisms, and how religion evolves and can be honored as a path to the sacredness in all of life through a lens of nonviolence.
Francesca: Yeah. So, like I said, my specialty is in contemporary religion. Self-religion is what I call what most people recognize as anything from the New Age and anything that branches off from that. So, things that are kind of New Age, New Age-y, holistic, some people have called like pick and mix religion, just take a little bit of everything. People who say they’re spiritual but aren’t religious.
And I say, “Witchy” in the title here because that is the term that people are using now in contemporary religious circles. People say that they’re witchy, or they do witchy practices. So, it’s within that overall umbrella of contemporary, ‘spiritual but not religious’ practice. And even, arguably, a doctrine.
Stephanie: And so, you can be raised in a specific tradition and have a religion given to you and have a practice of self-religion, right?
Francesca: Right, right. Exactly. So, the reason I call it self-religion, the direction of academia – we’re trying to kind of theorize what these New Age-y, post-New Age-y, spiritual movements are, where the self is authority. So you as an individual are able to take multiple religions and kind of pick and mix your own combination of things that you like.
We hear that a lot when people say, “Oh, I grew up Buddhist, but I grew up in the United States, so I have some Christian in me. I also do a lot of witchy things, so I burn my sage every morning and maybe read the tarot” – that kind of religion.
I call it self-religion because I want to point that part out where people can pick and mix. But really, I also want to highlight that it’s different from the way that people have seen it and that it’s not this narcissistic – like let me just pick and mix whatever I want. It actually has this positive side to it where that self aspect of it really is more of just a doctrine that’s being taught when you are going and engaging in these events.
So, people are saying, “Go to your truest self. Find your truest self.” So, that’s kind of where the word ‘self’ comes from. But ultimately, there’s a positive side in the ability to pick and mix. And that’s kind of what we’re going to get into in terms of what – my argument of why self-religion is a positive thing for peace-building and even the peace movements that we’ve seen in history.
Stephanie: What role do you see that self-religion has played in peace movements? I know that there’s – in your writing, you discuss what looks like mainstream religion on the outside. When you poke into it more, it’s actually variations on self-religion, right?
Francesca: Oh, yeah. Yeah. That’s a really nice observation that you made there. What I say about self-religion though is that ability to pick and mix and ability to have multiple authorities. So the previous notion was the self is the authority, so it sounds a little bit narcissistic or people have criticized this kind of spirituality as narcissistic. But really, its ability to hold multiple religious authorities at the same time, and a lot of those would be established religious traditions.
A huge part of the chapter goes through a variety of tokenistic peace movements in the world in the modern period. I start at the independence movement in Sri Lanka and then I moved to the independence movement in India, as you know, with Gandhi. Then there is the 1960s counterculture globally that happened, particularly with – I just do a general one and also jump into Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnam War, engaged Buddhism. There’s Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement, and I even go to Pakistan and Sufism, to the most recent things that happened with the global Black Lives Matter protests.
So, I look at all those events and I look at the religious traditions or spiritual movements that are kind of driving them. And I make the case that it’s self-religion that’s really allowing these movements to happen. Because you see that the spirituality or the religion that’s moving these currents – or even just the leaders of these movements were people that had self-religion. Which is that ability to hold multiple religious authorities or multiple worldviews in their ideology.
Stephanie: I think that in most people’s minds, mainstream religion is a major source of conflict and violence in our world. So, this notion that self-religion, sort of hiding within mainstream frameworks, seems to provide a different power for the role of religion and peace movements and peace building and nonviolence. How does self-religion tie into nonviolence itself?
Francesca: I would say that in nonviolence or nonviolent movements or these peace movements, and kind of lumping them together as one. Any kind of work in negotiation, peace-building, or the nonviolence work, and conflict resolution, you’ll see that mediators will – it requires this ability to hold multiple worldviews so that all sides or both sides are able to feel seen and recognized.
And so, the reason why self-religion is like a direct tie to that is because again, it’s a worldview. It’s a religion, or it’s a way to see religion, or it’s a certain kind of practice where you are holding those multiple worldviews.
Religion can be seen as kind of like an ethic that people live by or can just be a reflection of the way that people see the world. In this sense, there is this religion used in a very broad way that allows people and actually encourages people to hold multiple worldviews at the same time, and not just kind of any one tradition or any one worldview at a time.
So, it takes away from that othering and it really, by definition, requires individuals and groups to hold multiple worldviews, and then they can coexist with one another. So, I’m saying that my argument in the chapter is that within a lot of these peace movements and nonviolence movements, they have this underlying religion or spirituality of holding multiple worldviews. And that is the very thing that allows for the conflict resolution to happen.
Stephanie: It keeps making me think of this principle in nonviolence that I think actually comes from Jainism [ani-ki-thad] – multiple realities that everyone – the concept that everybody has a piece of the truth.
Francesca: Yeah. It’s kind of like that story of the blind men and the elephant. So, it is that, but also it recognizes though that everyone almost has the whole elephant, but like, you can have multiple elephants.
Stephanie: There’s more than one elephant.
Francesca: There’s more than one elephant. [Laughs] And it’s okay to have more than one elephant. It’s a bit paradoxical in that sense, right? Because people assume that you can only have one religion or else it means that if you recognize another religion then yours must be wrong, you know?
The reality is that human beings are able to live within paradox. It might be difficult to understand, living in the gray as opposed to the black and white. People are saying it already, “I can be Christian and Buddhist at the same time,” you know? It doesn’t dilute either one.
So, that’s kind of what my argument is with self-religion, that humans are able to hold multiple authorities. It might seem contradictory, but it’s more paradoxical and multiple worldviews can coexist.
Stephanie: It seems like you’re naming a reality that a lot of us are already living with, without having – well, I don’t know which religion I participate in, or I don’t know what I am. Just here’s a practice that I do. If I dig into it, I think that you’ve given it a name: self-religion, how to hold multiple religious threads together on a much larger search for truth, on a much larger search for nonviolence.
Francesca: I’d like to think that humans have been doing this. We’ve just been living in cultures and societies where we have these categories. They’re like individual monoliths. But they have overlapping boundaries and have very permeable boundaries within one another.
Stephanie: And what a time that we live in as well, at least that we can speak openly about this sort of rejection of some sort of outward authority.
Francesca: Right, absolutely. I think it is a privileged time that we are able to do that, you know? I mean some places, easier than others, but a lot of my examples are more contemporary. So, I do start at those independence movements, but it required a lot of strength for people to speak out and actually say things like, “Both of these are true to me.” So, you know, Gandhi with his Western education, but his Eastern roots. And even in the Sri Lankan movement, it was people who were Buddhists but also they were Western educated. And so, they took a lot of what they learned from Christianity into their worldview.
We see that this is happening. It’s always kind of been there. It’s only really now where we’re noticing that it’s every day practice. We see it named amongst each other, I think, in the colloquial, but we don’t see the established, mega-religion covering it.
Stephanie: In your chapter, you call it, “The New Age.” New Age.
Francesca: Yeah. I start with calling it, “The New Age,” because a lot of what we know now kind of branches from the New Age. And yeah, I break it down in terms of how people have been seeing the New Age and how that transitions into what I was saying now, so my title is “Witchy Activism.” People use the term ‘Witchy’ to denote those types of spiritualities now.
Stephanie: Okay, so how do you work with the difference between respectful self-religion and cultural appropriation or religious appropriation that some people might find insulting even within movements. An example might be in, say, when everybody set off to help with Standing Rock. It was based in Native American leadership. And with that leadership came practices and religious practices that were, to be respectful, are part of people who are the authority in that religion and who are the authority in that movement. My sense is that it might be a very tricky space to take on practices that you weren’t necessarily invited into.
Francesca: So, how do you discern what’s respectful? There’s the negative kind of appropriation, and there’s also kind of the respectful incorporation where it was shared. There are certain practices and traditions that are shared. I think like any kind of practice or religion, there’s a kind of discernment that goes on.
When anybody appropriates, I would recommend that it’s a practice or a tradition that they’re incorporating into their own practice, that it’s actually a practice that’s supposed to be shared, or that they’re using it with recognition of the authority. So, self-religion is the ability to hold multiple authorities. So, you’re still recognizing a lot of the traditional authorities. And it’s not yourself as the authority.
So, the word ‘Self’ is really just kind of – you go to these events, people tell you to “seek your deepest self.” That’s kind of what the word self is because in a lot of these traditions you are encouraged to seek your best self, your deepest self, your most true self. But the actual practice of it is recognizing religious authorities or spiritual authorities in and of themselves. And when you appropriate, ideally, hopefully, you’re doing it in a way that’s respectful to these authorities.
Stephanie: It seems like people who are practitioners of self-religion honor that they’re stepping into a mosque and that they’re willing to step into a mosque.
Francesca: Right, right. Exactly. I think there’s the image of somebody that is just going to like a crystal shop, taking these crystals, getting some sage and just doing a pick and mix of their own made-up practices. That is very much real. But I think there’s also anybody that’s taking their spiritual path very seriously, they would, I would hope, look into the history and the depth of the practice that they’re using. And they would really know whether or not this is something that’s appropriate for them to be doing or not, you know?
Just like in any religious tradition, there’s people that might be doing it in a respectful way or disrespectful way. So, self-religion isn’t different in that way, you know?
Stephanie: Absolutely. So, how can people find the book or your chapter?
Francesca: At the moment, the book is in its first release, so it’s just in hardcover. It’s meant for libraries and institutions, but you can buy it. You can buy it anywhere that you can buy books, directly from Wiley Blackwell, the publisher, or Amazon or wherever you are used to buying your textbooks.
I wanted to actually highlight some authors that might be noteworthy to the nonviolence world.
We have Eli McCarthy, who teaches at Georgetown. He’s part of the Catholic nonviolence movement. We have Cynthia Boaz, as you know, who’s our honorary board member, who teaches at Sonoma. We have a couple of Gandhi chapters by Anna King, who’s the Director of Research at the Centre for Religion, Reconciliation and Peace, at Winchester in the UK. We also have Dean Johnson with a chapter on Martin Luther King, who’s the Director of the Peace and Conflict Studies in West Chester University in Pennsylvania. So, those might be the chapters that are important to the nonviolence world, or in the nonviolence circles.
Stephanie: You’re at Nonviolence Radio. We’ve just heard from Francesca Po on self-religion and her chapter within her newly co-edited book, “Religion and Peace” from Wiley Blackwell.
As this show is about transforming religion and economics, what we’re calling “God and Money in the Path and Pursuit of Peace,” we turn now to economics. For this, I had reached out to the E.F. Schumacher Center for New Economics and connected with their team members, Jared Spears and David Fix, who offered an introduction to the economics of peace. They emphasize community land trusts and local currencies as well as the work and legacy of E.F. Schumacher, as well as Bob Swann. Let’s hear from them.
David: The Schumacher Center’s mission is to envision a more just and regenerative economy, apply those concepts locally here in the Berkshires, and then spread those models so that other communities can replicate in their own way.
And so, the new economics is really, as E.F. Schumacher described in Economics, ‘as if people and planet mattered’, which seems very intuitive but is quite different from how mainstream economics approaches the issue.
Jared: When we talk about ‘a new economics’ at the Schumacher Center, we’re talking about an economics which is values-embedded, more human-scale and also place-based. So, if you think about the way that the global economy has transformed in the last 40 or 50 years, it’s sort of been in the opposite of each of those directions, right?
So, it’s ‘economism’ which minimizes all other human values and prioritizes monetary value or transactional value as measurable and study-able, right? And so, governments or other entities can pursue GDP growth and ignore the human factors, environmental factors, hidden costs associated with some of those economic transformations.
Human-scale, in terms of just people being able to actually work together to cooperate and to determine their own economic futures.
And so, that’s why we also think that place-based is very important, which is to say, starting from the ground up, right? Being able to think about communities or regions which have a degree of self-sufficiency, and which are able to trade and cooperate with one another as opposed to having too many regions or communities experience now, which is a feeling of dependency on a global market which can be unforgiving and unpredictable.
Stephanie: I was listening to E.F. Schumacher’s talk from Findhorn the other day. And I was just astounded at how much it opened my awareness about just the way that engaging in my life every day is promoting a world of injustice.
As an example, just driving in my car – the way that cars themselves represent almost like the driving force of capitalism.
Jared: You mentioned E.F. Schumacher’s speech. So, he’s our namesake. And the book that he wrote which really launched his international career, Small is Beautiful, was published in 1973. So, next year, it’s approaching its 50th anniversary of publication. So, at the Center, we’re looking forward to that.
But you know, he did talk a lot, especially in the 70s. There was an energy crisis and a cultural awareness about the finite resource that cheap fossil fuels represent. And really, a questioning of the huge structures and infrastructures that the entire economy and society as a whole were really built around cheap oil.
And so, I think it’s interesting for me as someone who personally – you know, I’m a millennial, so I wasn’t alive at that time, right? And I grew up in the reaction against the movement that I think E.F. Schumacher was a part of, which was encouraging really a wholesale reconsideration of how we structure our lives, how we go about our day to day, and the economy being a part of that.
And so, I think with climate change and everything else that we’re experiencing in the world today, we’re coming back around to the problems that those – like E.F. Schumacher and others – were trying to highlight at that time. As you mentioned, the way that we use land, and the way settlements are really hyper-concentrated in a few megacities, I think that’s definitely something that E.F. Schumacher and others had highlighted, which is still something that we deal with to this day.
Here at the center we also think about land in terms of land access and ownership, and who gets to determine how land is used. So, one of the projects that we have, the Community Land Trust Program, is designed to address that. We can talk more about that.
And then another is money. We’re also proponents here of local currencies that can work as a compliment to national currencies.
And so, in the Berkshires, we have a unique experiment or sort of a unique compliment to US dollars, which are BerkShares. That’s a local currency that’s been around for over 15 years. It now has a digital component.
But that’s a way that people really, I think – kind of what you’re speaking to, Stephanie – it’s a way for people to take this broad understanding of these big interconnected issues and to practice something in their everyday life that feels like it’s working towards some of the things that I talked about before – an economy which is place-based, which has a human element to it and which represents the values that many folks here in this area hold dear.
David: The current economic system, it’s very detached from each other and from land. And so, I think that’s also what we try to emphasize in our work, how to make economics more personal and more community-based. Because really, at the heart of economics, it’s people exchanging goods and producing goods. So, we’re trying to get back to that idea.
Michael: I’m just cycling back to something that you said, Jared, about counting and quantifying everything. I remember, I had the great pleasure and honor of meeting Schumacher and squiring him around to all my courses at Berkeley. And he told us that while he was kind of trapped in the U.K. during the war, they set him to watching over a herd of cows, the farmer having been drafted.
There was an old-timer there and he was counting the cows rigorously every day. And the old-timer said to him, “If you count ‘em, they’ll never thrive.”
Jared: That’s very good. I think Schumacher was excellent for being able to bring those real-life anecdotes that sort of encapsulated his theories and his teachings. And so, that’s one of the pleasures of our work, I think. We hold a lot of those recordings or transcripts of talks that he gave.
The Center for New Economics website is a place that folks can discover a lot of that and actually see and hear Schumacher talk for himself, which for the reasons I mentioned before, I think those talks really resonate for folks, especially of the younger generation that might not have experienced that time in the 70s first-hand.
Michael: Great resource.
Stephanie: So, do people come to the Center for New Economics and say, you know, “Help us. Help us start a local economy or help us do community land trust?” How do people interact with the center?
David: Yeah. We do hold a research library at the center. And so, we have a lot of visiting scholars who are doing research, who come to utilize our archives and our library to further their work.
We also do receive quite a few requests from activists or from community groups who are trying to do similar things in their own towns or cities or regions, usually focused on either community land trust or local currencies.
But we do kind of hold the history of new economics in general. And so, we can provide that as a resource as well.
Jared: The Schumacher Center has held an annual lecture series every year for the past 41 years that’s really a treasure trove of speakers, noted names in the new economics movement from throughout the years who give a 40-minute talk.
And so, all of those talks – many of them are recorded, or if not, they’re transcribed. That can be found, again, at the Center for New Economics website.
So, that’s one place where people go just to get inspired and to grapple with unlearning some of the things that they might have learned in Econ 101 or from what we absorb every day from mainstream media.
And then, as David mentioned, we do have folks who are practitioners, who are actively looking to build things in their communities, who come and look to what we’ve established here in the Berkshires, kind of as a model. So, whether they’re looking at that local currency model, that’s something that we’ve seen a lot more growth outside of North America, in places like Europe and Latin America.
There’s been a real profusion of complementary currencies in different regions, which is exciting for us to see globally. And then here in North America as well as in Europe, the community land trust movement has also been growing in recent decades. I think the last number I saw, there’s over 275 community land trusts in the United States alone.
So, that’s us. Both of those things represent people, citizens, members of the community getting together, realizing their power to transform the economy in a way that they want to see rather than waiting on institutions or markets to do things for them.
So, the local currency that I mentioned that we have here in Berkshire County is called BerkShares. I think similar to the one that you described. Many of these currencies – the idea is just to keep money circulating locally rather than to have what we consider wealth leakage, right?
Often money leaves a particular community or a particular region disproportionately to what that community might be gaining in terms of export. And we think about systems and institutions and whether or not they provide a net benefit to a particular region or whether or not they represent something extractive to that region, right?
And so, the idea of the local currency is that it provides that natural counterweight. So, if you think about the effect of big box retailers coming into a community, delivering goods at lower prices, undercutting small locally owned businesses – that’s sort of the general story of what I think many communities in North America and elsewhere would recognize over the past few decades.
The local currency is a way to essentially keep money moving within locally owned businesses. Businesses that operate within the defined economic area, and that have a built-in disincentive.
For example, with BerkShares, it’s free for a business to accept and to recirculate BerkShares, which are valued 1 to 1 like US dollars. You walk in and, again, you either pay with physical bills or you pull out your phone and use a QR code.
So, you’re paying just the same way that you would pay with US dollars, but what you’re doing is you’re paying in a money that that business owner has an incentive to find a local supplier or a local service provider that they can recirculate that money rather than, you know, importing something from far away or relying on sort of a faceless corporate service provider that they might use.
And so again, I think it provides a really nice way for people, individuals, to integrate that into their everyday lives and be conscious of the decisions that they’re making and really think about whether they want to order something online from Amazon or find somebody who purveys or maybe even produces that thing in their community.
As David mentioned, that kind of brings a human relationship, one-by-one, back to everything that you’re doing in your economic life. But then when we think about it at the regional level, it’s really protecting against that wealth leakage, making sure that the money that’s in a community is recirculating. And long term, we see the local currency as a tool for a type of local economic development that prioritizes local production and local exchange.
And so, people can really think about what are the natural resources that we have in this area that maybe in the past have been a basis for production or for service provision. And how might we be able to build that back as an element to that local resilience and local self-reliance that we talked about at the beginning that we do?
You know, following Schumacher’s teaching, we really feel like that’s a cornerstone of sort of a sane economic system is one where local production is preferred.
The BerkShares notes which were printed back in 2006, they each feature a local hero. So, on the 10 BerkShare note, the person behind me, that’s a portrait of Robyn Van En who was one of the first CSA farmers in the United States. And her farm, Indian Line Farm, is sort of credited as being among the very first to model that community-supported agriculture concept.
So, we claim a little bit of ownership of Indian Line and Robyn as well in that intellectual sense of CSAs being a great example of a kind of community oriented economic development model, which has really grown a lot in recent years. So, she’s just one example of the type of ethos that we try to cultivate here in the southern Berkshires of economic, self-reliance, and innovation.
Stephanie: Can you contrast that with cryptocurrency?
Jared: Sure. I’m happy to address that. For BerkShares, that group actually does use a cryptocurrency technology. The underlying technology is called, “blockchain.”
So, there’s a similarity in the underlying technology between what local currency groups like BerkShares are using and what some of those big headline grabbing sort of icky-feeling things like Bitcoin which – we know that those are using way too many resources, and we know also that it’s really primarily used as kind of a speculative asset. Or that’s been the dominant story over recent years, right? It’s been people just looking to kind of get rich quick. And obviously, people then getting disappointed if they got in too late because the price of Bitcoin rises and falls.
As I mentioned, with BerkShares, the value is fixed one-to-one with the US dollar. So, there’s no fear of BerkShares losing their value, and there’s similarly no advantage. It’s not a get-rich quick scheme, right? Like no one is buying BerkShares hoping that they’re going to increase in value and outpace the dollar or anything like that. It is really a means of exchange.
And so, that’s where local currencies prioritize money as a means of exchange, not as something that’s extractive. There is the ability to use that blockchain technology in a way that benefits Main Streets.
And so, that’s part of the education that we try to do with this app pilot that we’ve launched in the last year is to show that there are ways to use it that avoid those kinds of dominant narratives that we’re familiar with and associate cryptocurrency with.
David: Yeah. And so, similar to local currencies, the community land trust model that we promote can be used as a tool for communities to have more autonomy over the direction that they want their regional economy to go. The community land trust movement is really based off of this idea that land should not be commodified as it currently is in our market system. Land was given to all of us by the Earth, and it should be used by all and for all of us.
And so, the way that we currently treat land is as a speculative commodity that people can profit off of and exploit and really just extract from for profit. And so, what the community land trust does is it allows you to take land off of the speculative market and hold it in a trust in a community-held non-profit organization.
And so, this is a little distinct from what I think you were referring to earlier, Stephanie, which is a conservation land trust which similarly preserves the land permanently. But what a community land trust innovation allows us to do is preserve land, but also allow people to live on the land and gain equity on the land.
And so, this is also in addition to a tool for environmental conservation, also a tool for social justice and economic justice. And so, I think that’s what’s so great about the community land trust model.
Michael: Sometimes when people become acquainted with Schumacher’s ideas, they get very worried that he’s kind of a Luddite, and they’ll have to give up their car and so forth. And there was a beautiful film that I can no longer find. It was called, Gandhi’s India, in which Schumacher was interviewed.
And he talked about his wristwatch, and he said, “In my local community, I cannot manufacture a wristwatch. And I do need to have one.”
So, what we need is a reasonable balance, where I don’t turn this into, what you guys were saying, a speculative model. That really seems to be the tragedy with the stock market and every other aspect of our economy. That instead of trading real goods and services, as Fritz would talk about – I mean Schumacher – would talk about, that it’s usurious, actually. People try to take advantage of the market to get the capacity to buy things. In other words, money. Which they didn’t really produce and didn’t really earn.
Jared: Yeah. I mean, there’s a whole lot that we could talk about. We also affectionately refer to E.F. Schumacher as Fritz around the center, so that’s familiar to us. And I think the idea that he really expounded during his lifetime that addresses kind of what you’re talking about is the idea of appropriate technology. He also sometimes called it intermediate technology.
So, the general concept there is that if you think about the way that machines and sort of tools that are used in the production process have developed over the last 150 years or more, it’s always towards this kind of maximization of scale, right? Industrial scale we think about. He was talking in the 70s, at probably the height of the industrial revolution in the Western world. Now, we sort of live in a post-industrial era, so there’s a constant revisiting of what he talks about with technology and thinking about what’s applicable.
But there is still a National Center for Appropriate Technology in the United States. I believe it’s based in Montana. It’s out in the West. As we practically carry on this work with land and currency issue, they continue to think practically about the implications of technological development and there are some videos on YouTube where you can see E.F. Schumacher, and he’ll visit, you know, where he worked with fishing cooperatives in the Northeast.
And it was thinking about how to take some of the technological innovations and inventions of the past decades but apply it in a way so that a small community fishing cooperative can have infrastructure that works for their needs and work in a way that doesn’t require masses of people to go into factories and degrade their daily existence.
This is like a tool that a handful of people can use. Maybe it doesn’t rely so much on external energy sources. You know, so that’s the idea of the intermediate is sort of finding a happy balance that is able to get jobs done efficiently and provide an economic benefit, but maybe does so in a way that’s better for the people to use it, better for the planet, ideally for both.
David: Yeah. And also, what your comment reminds me of, Michael, is Schumacher’s idea of Buddhist economics. He wrote in “Small is Beautiful” that from the point-of-view of Buddhist economics, “production using local resources for local needs is the most rational way of economic life.” And so, of course, there are some things that, by necessity, will need to be imported. And if there’s a surplus, things can be exported. But I think it’s really about looking at the resources that we have in our own communities and thinking about what we can produce here that we currently aren’t producing here, and what do we have to import?
Stephanie: Now, we’ve been talking about alternate currencies and land trusts. So, how does that fit into a vision for an economics of peace? Like, what’s your big wild vision for an economics of peace? Inspire our imaginations. Plant seeds for us.
Jared: Well, I think if it’s okay, it might help to take a step back and talk a little bit about one of our co-founders, Robert Swann, who really provided the initial vision and energy for this organization that grew into the Schumacher Center. Bob Swann was sort of a devotee of the peace movement.
Before he had even really discovered nonviolence formally from the teachings of Gandhi, he was a conscientious objector who was imprisoned during WWII. And so he, along with other conscientious objectors in his prison, he read voraciously. He called prison his sort of university and his monastery. He organized correspondence courses with Arthur Morgan, who was a noted community economic practitioner in the Midwest.
And he really wanted to think about the root causes of war, right? And thinking about sort of WWII as this global war and very much an industrialized war. And the conclusions that he came out of prison thinking about, this idea of an economics of peace, were really dedicated to land, to currency issue, and also to this sort of broader idea of ownership and labor.
And so, he really felt like the ability of nation states to sort of manipulate currencies and use them to speculate and drive speculation around war materials and weapons and arms races, right? Like the connections between money and violence in that sense, were enough for him to really feel like this idea of a regional currency could provide a counterbalance to that.
And that kind of goes back to further back in US history where it was only until relatively recently, maybe 120 years ago or so, that the US government became the primary provider of currency bills, right? Like local and state level, banks had previously been the primary way that people got those promissory notes or those currency notes.
And so, he looked to that as just a way to sort of decentralize that power and that authority, and to root it again in local production or local resources so that the value of money had some sort of real corollary to a particular good or basket of goods that came from a particular place.
And then with land, similarly, it was about that ability to speculate on land which has a parallel on the global level to – you know, nation states grappling with each other over the rights and uses of land. And so, the idea of this community land trust, as David put it, does have, I think, a radical ethical conviction at the heart of it, which says that land shouldn’t be owned by any one person or by any one group. It can be used profitably for the benefit of an individual, for the benefit of a community, but there are responsibilities that come with those rights.
And so, the community land trust was the solution that he developed, that really felt like it addressed those needs and could kind of provide that diversified ownership of land, both to sort of solve an economic problem but also to build towards an economics of peace.
David: I think just to add some context rooted in how Bob Swann pioneered both of these movements in the US: the community land trust movement specifically started during the Civil Rights Movement in the American South. Bob Swann was in Albany, Georgia, rebuilding black churches that had been bombed during this time, and he was working with this man named Slater King, who was a civil rights activist.
He learned from the people there that what they felt was the main impediment to some sort of economic security for black people in the South at the time was access to land. People were being institutionally denied access to land at the time. And so, this is when the community land trust movement was born in the United States, specifically to provide – I believe it was about 6000 acres of farmland to black farmers in Albany, Georgia in the 1960s.
And so, the model is really rooted in a movement, a nonviolent movement and a peace movement. So, that history is carried with it, even as it grows in popularity today.
Jared: Yeah. I think maybe one more thing just to add, which we don’t talk as much about, you know, we don’t have an active program in the way that we do for those two other fields. But another thing that was very important and remains important to our vision for a new economy is diversified ownership. So, worker-owned or community-owned businesses or, you know, at least under – owning the underlying land, or other assets.
I think that’s definitely part of it because you also think about – like I mentioned before, the ability for work in a society to either be degrading or dignifying to the human person. And so, when you combine those three things of land, labor, and capital, and how there’s this positive vision of how communities can organize themselves to be, you know, interdependent amongst themselves and less dependent on an extractive market. I think that’s the vision that has guided us and continues to guide the Schumacher Center, it is essentially one where people can develop their own economy that isn’t reliant on degrading anybody or degrading the natural resources, and is really meant to uplift everybody.
Michael: Just a very quick question. Thank you so much, people. This is really, really enriching. But I know that another crossover figure between economics and peace that was important in the early days for Schumacher was Richard Gregg. He spoke very excitedly, actually, about how he had discovered his books and something about tree-cropping and how that got him into this intersectional posture of money and nonviolence for peace.
Jared: Yeah. What I know is that Richard Gregg was one of the foundational influences for Bob Swann. Whether or not they shared that personally, I think that was – you know, a lot of the shared background – intellectual background between Robert Swann and E.F. Schumacher. When they met and began to collaborate, they were working from the same material, so to speak.
So, Richard Gregg had gone to India, walked with Gandhi, studied and learned from him for a number of years and wrote The Power of Nonviolence. And again, I think that’s also the connection to Bayard Rustin who helped organize the March on Washington and is credited as being one of Martin Luther King Jr’s nonviolence mentors, right?
So, you kind of get back to the root of all of these wonderful movements over the past 75 years or so. And Gregg is just the name that comes up again and again. Gregg also wrote another book called The Big Idol, which Bob Swann, similarly, cited as part of his inspiration for that idea about currency and why national currencies were inextricably tied up in global wars.
And so, the idea that alternative currencies and regional currencies could sort of multi-solve both economic problems and peace problems at the same time.
Stephanie: Does your Center consult with communities who want to integrate a new local currency?
David: We don’t really have an established consulting arm. But we do welcome inquiries from practitioners who are looking to implement some of these ideas in their own communities. And so, we often invite people here to the center to talk through ideas or often welcome Zoom calls to share our own experiences and guide people through the process based on their own vision for their communities.
Jared: Yeah. And we have a lot of resources, like working documents, that we have available on our website. So, for example, with the community land trust model, everything that the Schumacher Center has sort of helped found, the Southern Berkshire Community Land Trust, and all those materials like legal documents –
David: I mean, just the theoretical foundation for some of these ideas. But yeah, in addition to – I mean, the legal documents are always the most grueling parts to figure out. And so, those are nice to just have so that you can adapt it for your own needs.
Jared: Yeah. And then similarly, with local currencies, I don’t think it’s quite yet developed to the point that it’s just plug and play, so to speak, but we do have materials on our website where we try to inspire local community groups to organize similar things for themselves and to identify the pieces that they need in their business community and in their banking community to bring those ideas to life.
Stephanie: Awesome. That’s beautiful. Thank you so much. It’s completely inspiring. I mean, given that the war system is so based in economic drudgery and problems, to start looking for concrete solutions that people can do based in new economics is always inspiring. And to have somebody to talk to about that and who are centering their lives in helping to share this information is very inspiring.
David: As Bob Swann said, he thought only an economic program could reach to the heart of the world peace problem. And we – yeah, we agree.
Jared: And that’s why we focus so much on citizen-led action, right? I mean, we know that economic policy is obviously a huge sphere of influence. But we also recognize that I think people get sort of stuck in either anxiety about the state of the world or burnout about protesting and galvanizing votes.
So, in between those things, community-based action is a source of renewal, and a source of ongoing motivation for people to realize those ambitions and do things at the local level that do matter.
Stephanie: With thanks to our mother station KWMR, to our Nonviolence Radio Team, and to all of you our listeners. Until the next time, please take care of one another.