converging thoughts #3

Tonight I have several ideas that I want to talk about under the notion of community. This is the third pillar of my converging thoughts.

My brother lent me Ferenc Mate’s third book on Tuscany, “The Wisdom of Tuscany” last winter and over a few cold nights and a few glasses of wine, I read through the book. The sense I got from the book was that rural Tuscany was still very much a community. It was a group of people with deep relationships with one another. They all had their roles, their place in the community. They all worked to support each other, through good times and bad. And they learned to enjoy their community/communion with each other.

Towards the end of the book Ferenc may have made the point or I realized it: the industrial revolution and industrialization of society has led to a loss of that sense of community, that interconnectedness. I think one of the things that is a common point among Mate’s, Mayle’s, Mayes’ books is that they are immersed, living in a community. The sense of satisfaction that brings is one of the appeals of their books.

For Christmas, I got a copy of Ben Hewitt’s book, “The Town that Food Saved“. I picked it up shortly after I finished Mate’s book. It is a fascinating book. In a sense it is portraying two communities in one town. A small town in New Hampshire had been a granite producer around the beginning of the 1900′s. When granite went away as a major building material, the town moved to an dairy based economy. As the food chain consolidated with industrialization, the town drifted towards a somewhat “closed” community that didn’t produce much for “export”, but managed to look themselves, subsistence.

A new community has been developing in the town. It was a more “open” community, focused on producing premium product, aimed at the 1% ers. I had had this theory of how to generate an economy by catering to the 1% ers before reading the book and it was a huge “aha” moment. Here was a community that was doing exactly what I had theorized. In producing product for the 1% ers, they were also lifting the economy of the town. What also fascinated me is that the new economy was very much a community in the same sense that Mate described in Tuscany. It was like a post industrialization model. Such an imagine has had me hooked since I finished reading the book. Not only do we discover a post industrialization model to create value, but we re-connect to the community that we lost with industrialization.

I think this notion of community is really key to think about. As I kid growing up in North Carolina, Mom kept me out of trouble by having me spending all my spare time either at church or in Boy Scouts. As an adult I drifted away from organized religion for many reasons, but I remember the “Golden Rule”: Treat others as you would want to be treated. In Boy Scouts, there is the phrase, Do a good turn daily. These are fascinating concepts that have stuck with me.

However, as an adult, I moved into the “real” world. I regret to say that the “Golden Rule” has a much different meaning in other parts of the world, i.e. He who has the gold, rules. It is fundamentally the notion of Every Man for Themselves. This was hugely apparent to me when I travelled to India. I worked for Hewlett-Packard, where the “old” HP practices the first version of the Golden Rule, but then as I moved away from that environment, I saw that the second version of the rule was true in a lot of the technology industry. And the more I have come to think of the finance industry, the second version of the rule certainly seems the stereotype. In fact, the thing I realized is growing up believing in the first version of the Golden Rule left me ill prepared to deal with the world that ran by the other Golden Rule.

All of that being said, Every Man for Himself is a world without community and I think Do unto Others is a key part of the world with a sense of community. I ask myself where I feel more satisfaction, more happiness, it is a world with community. Ironically, this is true even though I am at heart a lone wolf introvert.

I think in one of my earliest postings, I described how the three M’s (Mate, Mayle and Mayes) neglected to focus on some of the obvious negatives. If we don’t think much of the government in our state or country, we could always do worse…

That being said, I do think there is the “General Welfare” clause in our constitution, that never seems to get much conversation, but  as I think about it, being a student of US history, the founding fathers really meant that government should care about the general welfare of the population. As I look at how this works, it is central to the core debate going on in our country. Clearly not everyone believes as I do. When you see the injustice, the enforced poverty, the disadvantaged, it is hard to turn away and at least I tend to have a response: the government should do something about that.

Another book I read was “Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlosser. My learning that I want to share from that book is not about the notion of whether you should be vegetarian or not (which is a something to think carefully about). There are two entirely different main points that stick with me.

The first is the discussion of Monfort meat packing in Colorado. For almost 20 years I lived close to Greeley, Colorado. There was the joke that to find Greeley, starting from the East, you went West until you smelled it and then North till you stepped in it. I do recall the distinct odor of feed lots and meat packing. However, my memories were that Monfort was a fairly decent company to work for. I didn’t realize how they had transformed as described in the book. After reading this portion of the book, I was definitely in the camp of the government should do something here.

But then I got the end of the book and the author made the point that pushing on the government or hoping the government would fix things was a futile effort. He did point out however that by going to the largest customers of the meat packing industry, i.e. the “Golden Arches” and protesting against the problems in their supply chain was an effective approach for change. In other words, don’t rely on the government, follow the real money and figure out how to make a difference. To me, this was the central lesson of the book.

All of this leads me to the fact that we need a new economy. Not one based on industrialization, but one based on producing value add, premium products for the 1% ers. And it most definitely needs to operate in a community where there is mutual support and mutual success. As I think about it, either you enable your fellow citizens of the community to achieve success or you end up paying for in one unhappy way or the other. Community and Do unto Others seems like the path to follow, I think it just gives a much better result, for yourself as well as your fellow man. And the government doesn’t make the community, you do.

Ok, next, and so what do I think can be done with these thoughts…

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