The Way It Could Be.

Part 2 of 6.

Day 1: Afternoon Tea

After making tea they carried two trays down the veranda steps and some way into the garden where Jan and Pete set out the cups and biscuits on a tree stump table encircled by sets made from billets sawn from the tree trunk, all under a low ceiling of vines. Mike hadn’t noticed this spot before although he knew he’d passed it a few times now. It was like a little nest tucked into the shrubs. Not far always were water plants jutting from large tubs, an ornamental wheelbarrow overflowing with cacti and pumpkin vines tumbling down over a fence.

"This would be a fabulous spot in summer," Mike said. "Must be really cool under the vines."

"Sure is. We tend to go to different spots in the garden for tea in different seasons."

"Thank God for the seasons," said Gran. "I love the passage of the seasons. Each one lasts just long enough so I’m not tired of the last one but I’m looking forward to the next. When you live close to the ground, in your garden a lot and dependent on the rain and the temperature, you notice a lot and you look forward to such very different things as the seasons change. The first spring vegetable seeds shooting, how will the new peaches go, watching chickens hatch, the first strawberries. The first pumpkin pie, when the gum trees get their new suits of clothes in summer. Have you noticed how their tops thicken up with all the new glossy leaves? I love the red and the gold in gum leaves from a distance then. When I paint them I need red and chrome yellow in my palette."

Pete said, "For me, winter’s best. Collecting and cutting firewood, preparing garden beds, making sure the animals are warm, seeing how the bottled fruits taste, and at night, bringing in an armful of wood, the sewing and painting beside the fire, and sitting down to a plate of steamed vegies — best dinner anyone ever had, and about the cheapest. No king ever ate better than we do. Of course best if you can hear a gale outside or gentle rain on the roof. Cosy all tucked up in my little nest."

Jan’s turn; "Autumn for me. Quiet, gentle golden days after Summer’s fierceness. Butcher birds playing their flutes. And the possums on the roof with their heavy boots, and when the flying foxes stream overhead in their thousands, and the deafening roar of ten billion frogs after heavy rain. Lots of harvest jobs, bottling, drying, putting away, saving seeds. Working the bee hives before they’re too full of honey, or half your bees will buzz off to somewhere else because there’s not enough room in the hive. Ever seen them swarming? A frightening roaring. But Gran’s right; all the seasons bring their special delights. Summers are for mud brick making; they dry quicker. Winter is tea and scones in the foundry near the forge. "

Pete said, "Sometimes when the wind and the rain are at their wildest we rug up and go for a walk up to the bluff, just to get buffeted around and a bit cold and wet. Refreshes your appreciation of nature’s power and your fragility. Feel the power of the wind and how small you are, and oh boy does a log fire ever feel so good as when you get back, and the thought of that soft warm bed to crawl into later. It’s a mistake to be very distant from nature; you forget your dependence and insignificance. We cut wood late on winter afternoons, to get warm. Its nice to think you’re organizing the fire you’ll soon enjoy. You feel independent; I can manage this. I can provide for myself, I can swing this axe, I got the logs in months ago, I’m using up fallen branches. All is well."

Pete turned to Mike, "Can you figure out why we never travel? We don’t go away for holidays. There are heaps of enjoyable things to do here."

"We’re earth bound. That’s what’s wrong with your people. You have lost your earth bonding."

"What do you mean?"

"How do you feel about your place of living. Do you feel attached, bonded to it ?"

Mike smiled. "I feel its value is rising about $100 a week and when we sell we’ll have made a neat little capital gain for nothing. But I assume that’s not quite what you were getting at."

"Well, in a way it is I guess. People where you come from see their house as a commodity. We don’t see Amy as a commodity. We aren’t growing her up to sell some day."


"We’re bonded to Amy aren’t we? Well we’re also emotionally tied to our place, not just this house, but this community and this region and this geography. I could never leave it. It’s my place. That doesn’t mean I own it. It means I belong here. I’m attached. I know it. I’m familiar with its ways, what it gives, the problems it sets.:"

"Isn’t it a problem if you feel tied, that you can ‘t leave. Most people want to escape ties. They value the freedom to move and do other things."

"Well people here can always move if they want to, but in general people need roots, a place to come home to. Bonds are not necessarily bad and restrictive. We have a bond with Amy and that’s nice. Mind you its not that you always get on with the land you belong to. Ours can be cantankerous. Too little rain in summer. Sends our whole year’s supply of wind in August. Almost impossible to grow grapes and figs here, would you believe? And the iron in the wetland water deposits in our pumps and valves and we are for ever having to de-clog them. It’s a bit like family, they get on your nerves at times, but they are yours."

Gran said, "Earth bonding is crucial if the environment is going to be saved, and that’s why I fear that it won’t be. People will not do the right thing unless they feel emotionally attached to the land, and grateful for it and want it to thrive. I fear that only happens when you are dependent on your locality and when you have been there for a long time."

"Yes and all that makes me despair too," said Jan. "City people can’t really be expected to understand any of this, not when they feel no dependence on the land. They sell their house and move every five years." Then she said, "What have you got lined up before dinner Pete?"

"We’ll see Harry in about half an hour."

As they walked back into the kitchen Jan came in and a thought struck Mike.

"By the way Jan I meant to ask you, where’s the fridge?"

"We don’t have a fridge. Some people do but we don’t need one."

"How come?"

"We don’t need to store things for long. Most of our perishable food comes straight from our garden or a farm nearby to the table. If I want veggies or fruit someone down the street will probably have them."

"What about ice cream?"

"We don’t eat things that need a freezer. But we do have a big cooler. Come and see."

The walk-in pantry was roof to floor open shelves stacked with bottles and bags, many with hand printed labels. At the end was a tall cabinet. Jan opened the door to reveal something like a big fridge, with jardineers, vegetables and fruit on the bottom shelves and bottles, and screw top containers on the top.

"Put your hand in. It’s a Koolgardie safe. See the walls are heavy bagging kept wet from a water tray there at the bottom, and its set up in an air draft that’s pulled up all the time by the solar panels on the roof. The air moving past the bagging evaporates moisture and takes heat out. Not as cold as a fridge of course but all we need for leafy veggies, fruit, even milk. No need for big expensive fridge to put them in. Pete and I made this one but you can buy them cheaply from the fridge factory. They’ll help you build one in if you like."

"But vegies would last longer in a fridge, wouldn’t they?"

"Yes but like I said, we don’t need to store things for long here. This is quite good enough for our purposes."

"But its not as good is it?"

"Where you come from Mike there is no concept of sufficient or good-enough. People want the best, not what will do. Here people are much more likely to be satisfied with things that will do the job well enough. Take our couch for example. Do you think its uncomfortable? It’s OK to sit on isn’t it? The original covering is pretty shredded now, which is not surprising because Gran got it about fifty years ago. So we just drape those shawls and table cloths over it. We’ll recover it some day, when we run out of higher priorities. Its quite good enough for us. The house is more than good enough. I love it. In fact it is far too luxurious for us."

"Really." What would Eleanor be thinking now?

"It’s too big. We don’t need all this space. I’ve heard that more than one million people in Calcutta alone sleep on pavements. And here I even have a special room with a hot shower in it. You know I sometimes think the most fabulously luxurious thing I have is the shower…to be able to stagger in grimy after a day’s work and slosh off so comfortably."

"Eleanor doesn’t like showers. She’ll fill the bath and soak for hours."

Jan winced. "Oh no. All that water. We never stay in the shower more than two minutes. It’s for rapid clean up, not therapy. All that heat and water — such scarce things. We reuse the water of course, but you can’t reuse the energy. Mind you it comes from our rooftop solar panels, but sometimes we run out and have to use backup, so we keep our use down."

"To be brutally honest, Eleanor would think the house was…lets say.. a little too austere. She’d have it painted."

"I can understand that. Most people where you come from would see it as very drab. But it’s quite good enough. It doesn’t need repainting. We like things that are rough but honest, used, old, and especially resource-cheap. I see them as attractive — they’re the kinds of things I want around me. I don’t like new, slick, well painted things, mainly I think because I know they are morally problematic. If we painted this wall we’d be using scarce resources. It would be immoral to paint it."


"Yes. If we painted it we’d be using up resources that someone else in great need then couldn’t use, could they?"

"But they wouldn’t get them, just because you didn’t use them."

"True. But in general its because the one billion people in rich countries insist on having their resource-intensive lifestyles, especially their mansions, that most people on earth can’t get necessities. The less I contribute to that the better.

"Eleanor likes beautiful things."

"So do I. Look at Pete’s beautiful old boots, works of art, tough, battered, hard working, noble. And look at the beautiful old boot box they’re sitting on, made from fence palings, maybe ten years ago. Don’t you think it’s a delight. Wouldn’t Eleanor see them as beautiful?"

"It’s obviously a question of what you have come to see as beautiful or desirable or admirable isn’t it? When you know something about the global situation and resource scarcity you’re not so inclined to identify as beautiful anything that’s luxurious or expensive. In fact in general I see such things as quite disgusting, ugly, disturbing, at best crass and callous, at worst murderous."

"Isn’t that a bit extreme. Bad taste I might accept, but murder?"

"Mike, affluence kills millions of people every year. Its because one billion rich take most of the world’s resources that maybe three or four billion live in dreadfully deprived conditions, and many of them do not get enough to survive on. Its totally impossible for all to live as affluently as you do, so you can live that way only if many are deprived of their fair share. Rich world taken for granted living standards directly kill large numbers of people every day. So they’re murderous, aren’t they?"

"What would Eleanor say about our loo, an old cistern with a chain?"

‘Hmm. It could be that she’d see that as so far out that its back in again. I mean that might be regarded as trendy, as an antique -- No, on second thoughts, it would have to go."

"…and be replaced by a stylish plastic cistern with flimsy plastic fittings that gum up, crack and/or warp in a few years, meaning an expensive plumber has to come in and fix or replace it. Our’s is about sixty years old, and is indestructible, apart from a couple of washers we cut from old car tube. Brass fittings you see, last forever. Triumph! We can keep our things going. We don’t have to go to the supermarket much. I see old, cheap simple things as a repudiation of consumer way, an assertion of contemptuous rejection, a stand against the mindless newness and niceness that’s consumer society’s obsession."

"That’s black to white isn’t it; that’s the complete opposite of how most people think. They want ‘nice’ things. Shabby, cheap old things are not ‘nice".

"Precisely! And what does ‘nice’ mean? It means expensive, luxurious."

"Yes, I guess you are right."

"Housing is a good example. A normal nice house where you come from is just far more expensive than the ones we are content with. Your people want luxury. They don’t want what is good enough. They buy Home Beautiful magazine and drool at the opulence. They envy the houses of the super-rich. If they ever qualify for a home loan what do they go for…a nice little good-enough mud brick cottage? No fear. They want palaces. They want a ‘nice’ house, one that costs at least 20 times as much as a good enough house…while maybe one billion people live under leaky palm frond roofs or in huts made from stones that will kill them when the next earthquake comes, or on the pavements or in deltas where the next flood will sweep their flimsy hut away. Mike, I believe most of the world’s problems are due to that disgusting four letter word ’nice’."

"What would Eleanor say to that outburst?"

Mike leaned back, gazing at the floor. "I’d say Eleanor, and the other two to three hundred million like her, have never thought about it. They’d be staggered at the suggestion that there’s some connection between global injustice and their house. She’d see nice as…a matter of normal, respectable living standards. She’d see this house as…to be honest…inferior, maybe primitive, intolerable really. Sorry, does that upset you?"

"Not personally, but yes. It’s what I’d expect of course, and I don’t mind what anyone would think about my beautiful house, but it is very upsetting that people don’t realize how directly their house actually is connected to global problems. Global problems are fundamentally due to the few taking far more than all can have, and they do it unthinkingly. Even if living in a house like this was a hardship, would it be too big a price to pay to defuse global problems?"

"What would Eleanor say if we explained all this to her. Would she still disapprove of this house?"

"…look, I’m having enough trouble trying to figure out what I think about all this, let alone what Eleanor would think." He wanted to get off the topic, and Jan sensed this.

"OK, OK. Sorry again. I’ll get off your back. But," with a smile," you just be more careful in future about saying things that make me hopping mad, alright?"

"I’ll try. By the way I like that," he said , pointing to a sticker on the cupboard which said, "WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE HOME…RIGHT BESIDE THE MEN."

"Yes that’s really important to us. We see the domestic situation as the centre of the universe. Not the work place or the economy. What matters most is a thriving, diverse, productive, active, self-sufficient household, with lots of things being done and made and cooked and repaired, with lots of conversation and entertainment and planning and visitors. The domestic sector is the most important one in the whole economy, and ideally men and women and kids should spend a lot of time there."

"Where I come from the house is vacant all day, except for sleeping and eating."

"Yes. People here can be around the house and neighbourhood most of the time because we only need to go out to paid work maybe two days a week. And where we live doesn’t have such a tight boundary. When you go out your door you have left home. But we live in and around the house and neighbourhood. We are darting out to the garden, a neighbour, the chooks, the herb patch, the workshop, all day. We don’t just live in the house. Maybe we should say our living place is about 100 metres across."

"What do the men around here think about this domestic focus. I mean where I come from they go to their important work in factories and offices. Housework is for women."

"Ah, that’s also really important. Some feminists worry that because our way makes the house and neighbourhood so economically important that it will just mean women become more trapped than ever in domestic drudgery. That’s quite mistaken. Our way brings men back into the house and neighbourhood to share the work and the benefits. Pete cooks and sews, and I chop wood and clean out chicken pens. The household should be the centre of everyone’s universe, with men enjoying living and producing there as much as women and kids."

Then Jan stopped and turned to look at Mike. "I’ve just realised how I can make the point. Have you seen our washing machine?"


"Yes you have."

"Where is it then?"

"In the living room. Come and look."

"Is it? I don’t recall. Strange place to keep it.’

"Oh its not there all the time. It moves around a lot. It’s fully automated, but its only got two feet. Mind you they are quite big." By now Mike knew there would be a trick ending to this adventure.

They walked into the living room, where Pete had his head in some papers, pen in hand.

"Peter," said Jan loudly, "Stand up, Mike want’s to inspect you. Claims he hasn’t seen you before. Take that idiotic gape off your face, I’ll explain later." Then turning to Mike, "See that thing does most of the washing, by hand, or by using our pedal operated churn. We made it from an old bike I do some of it too. It’s great exercise. So we have no problem sharing domestic chores. I can’t see why having a lot of production located in the domestic economy has to worry feminists."

"By the way Pete’s also good on the sewing machine."

"Oh so you do have some mod cons."

"Of course. Come and look." Just around the corner she pointed to an acient pedal operated Singer. "Isn’t that a work of art? We think its about seventy years old now. Does everything I need. Mind you we don’t use many clothes."

"Spare parts?" Mike asked.

"Doesn’t seem to ever break down. Simple mechanism. If we had a problem the boys and girls at Fridge Factory would fix it."

"Oops. Late again," said Pete. "We’re due to go over and meet Harry. I’d better see if he’s back by now. Pardon me, I’ll have to use our high tech inter-domestic communication system for this. Works like a dream. Phone’s sometimes fail. Email sometimes fails. But this system never fails. I can always get a message to Harry this way, and in real time."

"Sounds pretty swish. What is it?"

Pete walked to the window, opened it, leaned out and bellowed, "Ya there Harry?"

A muffled voice came back, "Yeah. Be right over."

"No. We’ll come over to you, OK?"


Pete closed the window, wearing a satisfied smile. "Harry and Frieda are our next door neighbours on this side."

They went out the nominally front door, turned right and threaded through more green tunnels and mazes, emerging at a neat little flower garden beside a low front veranda of another old weatherboard house. The door opened and there was a big middle aged man wearing a smile, an old shirt half unbuttoned, and the most heavily patched trousers Mike had ever seen.

"Hi there Mike. Sorry I couldn‘t come over when you came in earlier. Had to work this morning. Frieda’s out but you’ll meet her soon."

They went through to the kitchen and sat down. The house was simply furnished but even more austere than Pete and Jan’s. Eleanor would say it was at least drab, and probably shabby.

"Mike the main reason I wanted you to meet Harry is because he works for money full time. Most people in this town don’t. Most are like Jan and me, only working one or two days a week at a paid job, because we get most of the things we want without having to buy them. We get vegies from our garden, fruit from the commons, surpluses from others. But the point is that some people choose to spend all their time at a paid job, and that’s fine."

"Why would they do that if you could live well only two days a week working for money?"

""In my case, for two reasons," said Harry. "I do something that’s needed all the time, and secondly, because I like that job. I do like doing all the things Pete and Jan spend their week on, but I like my job better."

Mike said, "Harry is a great example of Pete’s supreme principle of labour -- you should never ever work for money."

"Hang on, this is all about the fact that he works five days a week for money."

"No he doesn’t. He works for the two reasons you should work. It just so happens that he also gets money for working, but that’s incidental."

"Explain. What two reasons?"

"Pete’s principle says firstly you should work because you like doing that kind of work. Second, you should work because you get satisfaction from providing that product or service to your community."

"Well, it would be nice if we could all proceed that way…but we can’t where I come from." He turned to Harry, "So you would earn much more in a week than Peter or Jan?"

"Yes, but I have to spend more than them, because I’m not putting so much time into producing things to use directly. For example I can’t spend much time in our garden or on working bees. So instead I pay more tax in money."

"By the way, what is it you do that’s needed all the time? Pete said most people only work a couple of days a week for money," asked Mike.

"I’m a doctor. I’m the only one in the three towns in this part of our region. People around here are frighteningly healthy but it’s a big area so I’m kept active much of the time. Mind you when things are slow I duck into the coop and help with something, mostly keeping the books."

Pete said, "Harry’s job also involves health education, things like teaching kids about diet. See our health focus is on prevention, not cure."

Harry said, "Living here does wonders for health. The food is perfect, no preservatives or pesticides or hormones, people get a lot of exercise, and no one is stressed or lonely or unemployed or dumped into poverty and everyone has things to do that are interesting and worthwhile and appreciated, and every one has community, so not many crack up or turn to dope or booze. But it’s important to teach and reinforce good habits all the time, especially with kids. I keep the town informed on new developments in health. I have a weekly spot on our radio station."

"By the way,’ said Pete, "Harry’s paid a wage. He’s the town’s doctor so like with most professionals around here we own the business and hire him. Some of the engineers around here, and the optometrist at Scotsdale, are private businesses. But we think health is too important to be run for profit."

Harry laughed. "I’ve suggested that they pay me according to how healthy they are. If they are ill and have to come to see me I should be paid less, but if they’re well and don’t have to see me then I must have done a good job and should be paid more, right? In fact I don’t want more pay. I earn much less than your doctor does, but when you live in paradise with all the other benefits, money isn’t important. I’m paid quite enough."


As they left Harry’s Pete suggested that they go for a short walk through a patch of forest not far away. He pointed out that he spent his day differently to Harry, working on many different things, most of them unpaid. "In a typical day I’ll spend an hour or two in the garden, a couple of hours making or fixing things, an hour visiting and helping, an hour on a working bee somewhere, half an hour discussing some public project with others, maybe some time helping Amy or her friends with arithmetic, and so on all day. Fifty different jobs but only two hours at my paid job, that’s how I like it."

Just ahead beside the path Mike could see a pile of medium sized logs coming into view. As they drew near he saw that it was a half completed log cabin about 5 metres long. No one was around. There were stacks of logs beside the building and one was set up on stumps with a two handled crosscut saw half way through it. Pete briefly turned to the left and took hold of one end of the saw. "Come on," he said to Mike. "Let’s finish this one off." Mike took the other handle and they began to saw.

"What’s the cabin for?" said Mike.

"It’s another guest house. We have several dotted around. Sometimes some of the kids will camp in them but they are also for people visiting The Glen."

"Who owns them?"

"Everyone I guess. I mean they’re public property."

"Who is building this one?"

"At the moment" said Pete with a smile, "…you and me!"


"Mostly the construction will be by working bees, especially when the heavy logs are ready to be lifted into place, but often you will find one or two people have dropped in to do some work, just like us. We just happened to be passing by and here we are doing a bit. See the blackboard there, under the shed roof. People will jot notes on it if there is something that next needs to be done when they leave."

"Mike was conscious of some difficulty in coordinating his pushing and pulling. Pete seemed not to be doing much, and going too slow.

"How about I finish it off?" Mike said.

"Alright," Pete stood back. Mike bent down and hacked into the log energetically, a bit jerkily but now making the sawdust fly. Soon he was through and the end of the log thumped to the ground. He stood upright and puffing and leaned on the saw, somewhat proud of his performance.

"Have you apologised yet? said Pete with a faint smile.

"Apologise? For what?"

"For cutting the log? Look at him now. Two days ago he was a noble tallow wood, 80 years old. I’ve known him since I came here. He used to live about a kilometre away. We have killed him, for our purposes. He wasn’t asked. We just took him. Sheer ruthless, brutal power, totally overruling his preferences and interests. So at the very least it’s appropriate to say sorry and we appreciate what he will do for us. What an enormous luxury it is to be able to get logs like this, to have such beautiful building resources. This cabin could last hundreds of years. It will be extremely strong, and warm when we line it with clay and straw. We’ll get another little cabin but tallow wood will have lost his life to make it possible."

"Well I’m not used to thinking about timber like that. To me it’s usually just merchandise you pay for from the hardware store. What about the carrots we had for tea last night. They could still be enjoying life now too, if we hadn’t eaten them."

"Yes, that’s right. Its just a matter of being conscious of the fact that you are fortunate to be able to get and use and enjoy the things nature produces, and being conscious that their welfare is a consideration. Tribal people do this. Before they kill an animal they will express regret and appreciation. When you see the world this way you’re less inclined to take more than you need, and you’re grateful, and humble. If nature hadn’t made those carrots we couldn’t have enjoyed them could we?"

"But You and Jan produced the carrots. You grew them."

"No. We enabled them to grow in our garden this summer. It took a few hundred million years for those genes to arrive at the form they have now, and it took a few hundred years of careful selection and breeding to develop this variety. And you can’t grow carrots without soil, and rain and nitrogen and a certain range of temperature. Nature gives us all that. So when you see it this way you’re more inclined to look after nature. People won’t save the environment until they come to see nature like this. They won’t make the necessary effort unless they recognise how dependent they are on it, and how generous it is to us."

"By the way," said Pete, "You work too hard. We work like peasants. We plod. We relax and take it slow and get into an easy rhythm, and enjoy the work. There’s no need to hurry. Here, I’ll show you what I mean." He took the saw and placed it over the next crayon mark on the log. "Take hold." He nodded to the other handle. "Now just rest your hands on. Don’t push or pull and just sense my pace." Pete began to saw with a slow rythmical action, using long strokes and rocking forward and backward on his feet. After a few seconds he said, "Now start going with me, don’t push much but pull lightly." Use as little energy as you can, as if you were going to keep cutting all day."

Mike found that with the slow rhythm it was easier to coordinate with Pete, sensing when to reverse the stroke.

"It’s an enjoyable action, don’t you think?" said Pete. "A bit like a Tai Che exercise. You can chant to it, if you and your partner have a lot to do. The old seamen used shanties to coordinate their hauling, so they would maximise the force on a rope at the right instant. Do you get the feeling that the saw is really cutting well, efficiently? Nice isn’t it? That’s partly because it’s sharpened properly, but we are going well now. At first we weren’t coordinating too well so you would be starting to push when I was still pushing. That is wasting energy and it isn’t working beautifully. It is very important not to do the job just to get it done. You should also try to enjoy the doing. To me that’s partly getting a nice rhythm going, and its partly seeing that you are doing a good job, cutting a clean straight end, and it’s knowing that you are doing a skilled job, I mean knowing how to do it well and efficiently. By the way look at that nice saw dust pile. That ‘ll end up in the workshop."

"What for?"

"It’s useful for various things, including craft work. Makes great model tree foliage, mixed with paste. And it’s a good filler, made with paste or cement. The big goanna sitting in the workshop rafters his a sawdust core."

The end of the log hit the ground. "Well done team!" said Pete. "Beautiful work."


"Yes, we think it’s important to work beautifully, to do the job efficiently, using skill, using few resources, not wasting time or materials, not making mistakes, knowing where to tap or just how hard or the best way to go about it, so it will last, be strong, won’t need repairing for a long time, can be dismantled easily, oiled easily. Shoddy is ugly. A craftsman ends up having done a beautiful job, and produces it by working beautifully. He will clout that chisel just hard enough to take off just the right amount of wood in one go. He’ll put the hammer down and pick up the plane almost in one movement because he has been thinking ahead. It’s great to watch Tom making furniture; like being at the ballet. Hardly a wasted movement and no dithering or trial and error or mistakes, just smoothly and efficiently producing something that will look great and last for years."


As they approached the house Pete said, "Hey hasn’t it gone dark. We’re going to get a storm I think." Even before they reached the veranda there was a clap of thunder. :"Great! We’ll get something out of this one. I’d better shut some windows."

Jan was already scurrying around. Gran came out and stood on the veranda looking up at the sky. Within a few minutes heavy spots were heard hitting the roof and Gran backed away from the edge of the veranda. Pete and Jan came back and after a few more minutes heavy rain suddenly swept over the roof with a startling roar.

"Best thing about this house is the tin roof." Pete almost had to shout, smiling broadly against the din. "Come and watch the show."

They moved out to stand on the decking beside Gran, under the veranda roof but feeling little droplets swirling in with the squalls. The view across the town was almost obscured by whiteness as the rain drenched down. Even the big bamboo soon became only a ghostly outline, swaying in the erratic wind.

"Will you just look at that" Pete muttered to himself. Jan was saying "Fabulous, fabulous rain. Generous Gaia."

Mike was surprised at the carry on —where he came from rain is cursed. He sat back, alternatively watching the rain and the entranced trio. They seemed mesmerised, staring motionless, until Jan said, "Look, Peter the tank must be full, its running over." "Yup, I’ll just move the spout." He walked to the side of the veranda, reached into the deluge and pulled on a rope. "My automatic flip ver mechanism must have gummed up. Another job to check later."

"Pete made a float thing that just moves the spout to the other tank when the first one’s full. We also have a device that dumps the first 20 litres that has washed the roof off, before it pulls the spout over to the tank inlet. But really you don’t need to worry about that. You’ll always get some sediment in the bottom of the tank but it stays there. We have the most perfect drinking water in the world. And after this downpour it will taste sweeter than ever. You know somehow just the briefest shower spices it up."

"Best drink I ever have is water," said Pete. "Sometimes when you’re really thirsty it’s just miraculous."

Gran said, "Porter’s Pond will be right now Jan. Melissa’s reeds will leap."

"Yes," Jan turned to Mike. "You should see how the plants respond to rain. Somehow its got magic in it that piped water doesn’t have. You almost see a difference in the vegies immediately."

Again Mike was a little incredulous at all this ecstasy over mere water.

The rain eased a little. Pete leaned out and looked to the West. "We’ll probably get one of those incredible yellow and green sunsets out of this."

A few minutes later the storm had more or less passed. Jan said, "I’m going to look at the garden," and ran down the steps, holding a coat over her head. She was back within a minute. "Isn’t it great to see everything soaked and laughing. I’ll pop over the lane to see how much we got in Porter’s."

"Watch for a rainbow," Pete called as she ran off.

Gran called, "Peter, what does the rain guage say? How much did we get?"

Talk about kids playing in puddles Mike thought.

Fifteen minutes later Pete came in energetically and said, "Told you! Come and look. It’s on." Mike went out to the veranda. The view across the town to the mountain was perfectly clear, but everything was drenched in a yellow light blasting in horizontally from the west as the sun dropped into the distant narrow gap between clouds and horizon.

"Just look at those greens!" said Jan. Isn’t that incredible, how the yellow somehow exaggerates the greens, and everything’s so washed and sparkling. Look at the light on the blue gum trunks down there. Gaia’s done ’em with high gloss varnish. Must be something to do with the light going through the moisture still in the air."

"Soak it up," said Pete. "It’ll only last a few minutes and Gaia only puts this kind of show on a couple of times a year."

A frog let out a long screeching croak, something like a horse whinneying. "Listen to Freddy. He’s delighted too. He’s celebrating the rain with us." But Mike was still doing anthropology, reflecting on the funny natives with their strange obsessions. He was partly distanced by their fascination with an ordinary old downpour, but also felt a kind of envy -- how nice to get such a buzz out of a shower of rain. In the city everyone would be complaining.

Gran and Mike sat down to watch but a call from the front of the house drew Pete and Jan away. A minute later they returned with two adults and two teenagers.

"Mike meet Betty and Don, and Annie and Kevin. They’re here for dinner."

Mike found himself seated on the veranda chatting with Pete and Don. Pete had commented on the differences Mike had been confronted with throughout the day. Don said, "You know, one of the worst, saddest things about mainstream society is the enormous productive capacity that’s not harnessed. Consider the time, thought, concern, good will, that's just sitting there going to waste when it could be producing things that are greatly needed."

"You mean the unemployed?" Said Pete.

"No. I mean in addition to that criminal waste, how much time do peopled in Mike’s neighbourhood spend watching TV. Its about 5 hours per person per day I think, so that’s maybe 50 person hours per household every week that could be mostly going into doing things that matter, that enrich that neighbourhood, solve problems, build solidarity…and provide much more satisfaction than watching TV. How many people in your neighbourhood at this point in time are bored, or lonely, or sad. Mike, how many of them could solve their own problem if they could just talk to another person, let alone if some of the OK people knew them and ran into them or could be dropped in on for a cheer up. How much costly social wreckage would therefore be avoided. How much help could be given to single mothers or invalids or old people, by bored people who would get a kick out of doing that from time to time. How many suicides and serial killings and drug overdoses would be avoided? How much entertainment and advice and knowledge could be given that at present isn’t because everyone’s stuck in their own sealed-off little box, not even knowing who their neighbours are. How much more cooperative and helpful and caring would people be if others dropped in more often, got to know them and offered to swap or help and therefore established community. How much more good feeling and help would that stimulate?"

"Yes, you’re right," said Pete. "It’s inestimable. There’s a vast amount of capacity to produce to meet needs in any neighbourhood, and to get satisfaction from doing it, that could be released or harnessed. And its not an additive thing; its multiplicative. There’s synergism. If I help someone the are then in a better mood and will not only help me in return, they’ll help others too. Whereas in Mike’s society made up of private, competing individuals, when you beat someone he not only loses, its worse than a zero sum game, because he then becomes more determined than ever to beat the next guy. These things spiral, accelerate, up or down --- there’s powerful positive feedback."

Jan called, "OK everybody, let’s get moving. Anne can you pop some bread in the oven? And Kevin can you mix up some of that salad stuff up there, and there is fruit there to cut up too."

"Got a job for me?" said Mike.

"Oh yes thanks, can you set the table. Cutlery in the draw there."

The kitchen and adjoining room were soon a bustle of activity. Again Mike felt a strange mixture of feelings. Many things had been attractive and interesting, but some were unsettling, even faintly annoying, and somewhat difficult to grasp well. He couldn’t pin it down well, but there was a vague sense of personal assault. Fran’s house was the main problem. The figures seemed misleading, he resolved to go over them later. There was something quite disturbing about a twerp like Fran, grinning in her house, 15 years before he could own his, and, what was it, some $345,000 cheaper. And above all, here he was engulfed in a family and run off his feet when he hadn’t expected any of this, and indeed hadn’t had time to even think about resisting. He felt he’d had no option but to just go along all day.

Pete had lit a fire, although it was not very cold. It made the crowded room more convivial.

"Soup everyone?" asked Jan as she came from the oven carrying a large pot and placing it in the centre of the table. "Careful it’s hot. Help yourself". Gran followed with a basket of hot rolls.

Pete turned to Mike. "You know I estimate that everything on this table was produced within 500 metres of here".

"No," said Kevin immediately, "Not the salt".

"Oh yes, that’s right, that’s imported into the town, but we use very little of that."

"But what about the tablecloth?" said Anne.

"Yep, said Jan, Daphne made that. Gave it to me two years ago".

"What about the crockery?" said Mike.

"From the pottery."

"Oh well, last try. What about the cutlery?"

"From the foundry" said Pete. "Hey, we must take you there tomorrow, if there’s time. Only one more place interesting I’d say."

"What’s that?" said Kevin.

"The glassworks".

"Yes I agree. When Tommy’s blowing glass that is. But all the other hot stuff is fascinating. Don’t you think? The moulds and that. Especially with the roar of the gas furnace. Makes me think about the forces of nature. I think of volcanoes."

"I’m too timid to be a glass blower" said Jan.

"Ever tried?" asked Mike.

"Oh yes. Tommy will give anyone a go at doing it. But it’s quite an art. I’m much more at home at my spinning wheel".

"And with her leather work, and pottery painting and in the greenhouse," said Pete. "You have too many things on the go Jan".

"Well you should talk. He got out his flute the other night, and realized it was six months since he’d had time to play it. And now want me to sympathise because he’s forgotten which end to blow into."

Pete looked at Mike. "That’s typically the story here. Most people are very busy. Everyone is into arts, crafts and in their gardens and in the workshop. But that’s how we like it. There aren’t enough hours in the day, but that’s because there are so many things we want to do. Of course some people manage better than this household. Jacko just take things at a leisurely pace. He runs a great veggie garden and keeps his house neat and tidy, and reads a lot, but isn’t into much more. So it’s up to you, you can take it easy if you want to. I just find there are so many things I want to do, the days are never long enough".

The conversation wandered through other topics for a while, then in a lull,

Mike said, "I’m still having difficulty understanding your food production system. You said most of your food comes from local sources. I can’t see what this means for areas and population densities. I mean it takes millions of hectares to feed Australians, so I would have thought this town would always need a lot of food imported, even though you grow a lot here."

"The US figure is about half a hectare of cropland to feed one person," said Gran. "That’s not including exports, and its land in addition to settlements. Do you know what we need here?"

Jan said," Gran’s fierce on agriculture Mike. She’s on our ag committee and knows all the figures. The committee monitors and researches a lot. They have records going back for years."

Gran said, "We can easily feed a family of three from a normal house block, about one-fifteenth the area that agribusiness takes."

"No. That’s hardly believable."

"It’s all in the books in your local, library. Get Jevons or Blazey on intensive home gardening. It can yield about one thousand times as much food per ha as beef production."

"How can it be so big?"

"Firstly because we eat very low on the food chain; mostly vegies and fruit, and little meat. No beef or mutton. You can get 100 times as much food from tree crops as from meat, per ha."

Jan cut in, "Did you know over 60% of the grain grown in the US is fed to animals. Terrible waste! "

"Then we get many crops per year from the same land. Agribusiness only gets one. When one plant is finished we immediately put something else in that spot, and it might be big tomatoes started long ago in pots."

"Our poultry and fish take up negligible area. Just little pens and ponds around the town.. The poultry require a little land for grain production, but they and the rabbits get the kitchen scraps. They get some grain from seeds when they free range on parks and meadows, in the orchards and woodlots and seeds from the trees we plant in the chicken runs, like wattles. No dogs here to harass them remember. Then there are all the fruit and nut trees throughout the town. Guess how many we have."

"No idea."

Pete got up and walked out saying, "Better go get the Bible."

Gran went on, "In house yards about 3700. That’s only 15 per house. But then there are all the trees beside footpaths and in parks and on the commons. That’s another almost 4000."

Pete came back in carrying a folder. "She’s right. Some of them are timber trees, but if you assume three quarters are fruit and nuts averaging say 15 kg yield per year, that’s 110 kg of food per person free from our trees every year."

"What’s the document?"

"Oh, it’s…" Pete turned to look at the cover but Gran said, "The Annual Status Report of the Agriculture Committee."

"What Pete should have pointed out earlier is that roads used to take 8 hectares in this town, but now they take 2. That’s six more now as commons."

"And our food involves no overhead cost in pesticides, or fertilizers and hardly any for tractors. We do irrigate, but most of that is gravity fed from tanks and dams up the hills, and the pumping is done by our renewable energy. So there’s almost no footprint associated with those inputs."

"What about grain then?" Mike asked. "Surely that takes a lot of land somewhere, and has to be imported."

"No, not really. A person requires only about 100kg a year at most. We get 5-7 tonnes of grain per ha here, so that’s only 160 square metres per person per year. Some corn, barley, wheat, oats and rice are grown at the home garden level. Some of the tree crops are for flour, like acorns and chestnuts, and some of these have yields up to three times those for grains. We have about 20 ha outside the town for grain."

"Milk, and cheese?"

‘Yes that’s a big one. The town dairy takes 45 ha, but some sheep, goats and cattle graze within the town."

"What about fibres, for clothing?"

"Remember we don’t use much new clothing. Some cotton, flax, and hemp are grown within the town, and these take little land given the 5-6 tonne per he. yield. The main item here though is wool. Some sheep are grazed within the town but we do need about 30 hectares outside it for sheep. Some of that wool goes to regional mills. And note again that these grazing lands usually do other things as well, like collect water and grow fruit and timber."

Pete then said, "Now we should relate those figures to the wider settlement pattern. The Glen as a housed settlement is about 700 metres across, so maybe 50,000 square metres, and that’s about 50 metres per person. It, Scotsdale and Wintonvale are about 2 km apart, centre to centre. That means each town 400 hectares, and the area with houses, roads, community things, takes up 150 ha, leaving 250 ha for local industry and services, which don’t take much, and energy, and wilderness."

"Ah, energy. Yes, how does that get accounted."

Don came alive. "Yes it’s the big problem. I’m on energy committee. Give me the document Pete I know where to find the numbers. Again we cut the problem right down by consuming as little as possible in the first place. We use very little liquid fuel, because we rarely need to go anywhere by car. We have buses, and some deliveries between towns and within the region by truck or rail. OK, here I’ve found the summary numbers. Let’s see if I can pick out what I want. Yes, Australia’s present per capita oil and gas consumption, except that used for electricity generation, is 117GJ. Now methanol can be produced at a net yield equivalent to 34 gallons per tonne of input plant matter, mostly trees. We assume a tree yield of 7 tonnes per hectare per year."

"Too many numbers," said Jan. "Mike can’t follow all that."

"Alright, they just mean that for each Australian we’d have to harvest 3.9 ha of forest to replace current oil and gas consumption.

"…which is impossible," said Gran.

"That’s right. Australia would need to constantly harvest 78 million hectares of rich forest, and we only have 40 million hectares of forest and 20 million of cropland…"

"All seriously over worked already," said Gran. "And the energy use rate is growing at about 2.5% every year, so it will be about four times as great by 2050."

" And we don’t have anything like that much spare land capable of 7 tonnes per hectare."

"So this is how we come at it," said Don, shuffling through pages. "We allocate 100 hectares from the 250 not already taken for biomass production, two thirds for cars and one third for all other purposes, including transport and industry. Now the 66 hectares for cars enables only about 8%of the car travel per person Australians average today. We find that’s enough, but again you can see that the reductions you people in consumer society have to face up to are huge. We get by because we have a way of life that involves very little need for travel or transport or construction."

"But what about plantations a long way away from the town?" asked Mike.

"Yes, some use of them might have to be made, but of course where the’re located doesn’t alter the basic footprint problem much does it.. You still have to find the land."

"Cooking and refrigeration?"

"Cooking is mostly by wood and garbage."


"Thought you’d baulk at that. About 500 tonnes of waste nutrients go through our garbage gas diggesters in this town every year, from toilets, gardens and animal pens. That produces a surprising amount of methane, around 3000 cubic feet, which we use for engines and cooking."

"And that keeps it out of the atmosphere. It’s some 25 times worse for the greenhouse problem than carbon dioxide you know."

"Then we have to provide electricity," said Don. "Our domestic electricity use is miniscule, well under 10 killowatt hours per person per year."

"That’s incredible. Our house uses three times that much in one day!"

"We know! How do I get that figure? Well we only use electricity for lights, computer, radio, a few small tools, and some people have a small black and White TV which only uses about 18 watts. Our lights are 20 watts. A family might use only 60 watt-hours a day. Now that’s 2532 megajoules of electricity, so a power station at 22% efficiency needs 10,128 MJ MJ of thermal energy to generate that much electricity, and at 16Gj per tonne of wood, that’s 660kg of wood, and at the 10 tonnes per ha per year that our forests grow, that requires only 1/15 of a hectare per household, or 17 ha for the town.

"You’re dazzling us with too many numbers again!" said Jan.

"Sorry. Our committee goes over this stuff all the time. Sustainability is essentially about getting the footprint right down, so we have to focus on these sorts of figures. If we add the things I’ve mentioned then you get a footprint of around .25 hectare per person, and that’s probably good enough. The global average productive land available per person later this century will have fallen to about .8 hectares, allowing too little really for wilderness."

With all these heavy numbers flying around, Kevin and Annie had been silent. Pete saw that a change of topic was well overdue so he turned to them and said, "Why don’t you tell Mike about what life is like for teenagers around here?"

"All right, what kinds of things do you want to know?"

Mike had to think fast for a moment. "Well is there a drug problem here? Where I come from, parents worry a lot about whether their kids are safe. Like getting into gangs, and racing around in cars, showing off."

"There’s not much stuff like that here," said Kevin. "I think because there are so many OK things to do all of the time. Like there is always someone at Mario’s, and some people doing something interesting at the workshop almost any night. And on Saturdays there’s the get together in the main hall, with musicians. And there will be a skit or something. And there are lots of games and things to do. And you can walk into any firm like the glassworks and watch, or go up to the craft room, or go for a bike ride or go canoeing."

"Or help out in the working bees," Annie said, "Or just help out on somebody’s farm or help out on a building site. And there’s our youth club. So there’s usually plenty of interesting things for kids to do."

"And the festivals and celebrations and market day and the working bees," said Jan. "We should explain to Mike that one of our committees oversees youth affairs" said Pete. "Their responsibility is to monitor carefully how the kids are going, and what problems if any are coming up. There are kids on the committee. One of their main concerns is to make sure there are plenty of good activities for kids. So they organize events, like adventure tours, dances. And they can arrange working bees to build facilities that are required".

"Yeah, that’s how we got the new flying fox," Annie said. "Someone came up with the idea of running it right across the main lake, right between the two big trees. So now it’s another thing that we can muck around with."

Annie turned to Kevin. "Remember when you were being a pain in the bum, and they pulled you out and left you there?"

"No I can’t remember that."

"Now tell Mike how you got back?"

"Can’t remember".

"Come on, yes you can!"

"Well I can", said Annie. "He whimpered and pleaded for ages. Then he realized they really weren’t going to pull him in. So he bailed out, splosh. He had to swim in".

"Try this", said Pete. "One of Molly’s wines".

"Real mystery trip", said Jan. "They are always nice, but she won’t label them. So you never know what it is, till you try. That’s her little joke. What’s this one?"

"Apricot taste, I think," said Mike. "By the way do you drink beer and wine, I mean like the ones I can buy in my suburb?"

"Yes, we do drink beer and wine, but it’s all made in the region. There is a weird and wonderful range. Most of it is hobby production for home use, but with a little bit for sale. For example, Molly only makes a few bottles to sell. But there is brewery at Scotsdale, quite small, but its a normal firm selling beer and other alcoholic beverages."

Suddenly a clatter at the front door. People stopped talking. Jan said "Oh, Princess Amy returns."

A few seconds later in came Amy, barefoot, blonde hair sticking out all angles. A torn dress and holding a pair of muddy shoes. "Hello everyone. I’m hungry".

"Where have you been, we thought you would’ve been home long before this".

"We went right up to the lookout. Rusell got a puncture and that slowed us down. No one had a kit, so we had to walk all the way back to Johnson’s".

"I’ve baked muffins. Would you like one?" said Gran.

"Yes. I could smell them as I came up the lane."

"I thought you would. Where freshly baked muffins are concerned, Amy has no will at all".

"Where Gran’s baking is concerned, no one has no will," said Jan. "Amy this is Mike".

"Hi Amy."

"Hello we saw you get off the train."

"But no one was there."

"We were. We were lying in ambush, in the tree house with Terry’s telescope. You nearly fell off the train."

"Well no one told me the platform was way lower than the train."

Gran came in with a tray. "Here dear, with your favourite jam. But this is not one that I made. It is Marg’s secret recipe. See if you like it."

Amy sat down and got to work on the muffin.

A little later Jan said, "Hey you two had better get a move on or you’ll be too late to catch that committee."

"What committee?" said Mike.

"Oh the water committee. Have you got a coat Mike? It’ll be cold out, but the fire will be on at the workshop."

"Are you coming down Jan?"

"No. I’ve seen their agenda and there is nothing I need to input on. I’ll check the minutes some other time. Don and Betty will stay here for a while. What about you kids?"

"We’ll help clear up. There’s a play reading at Mario’s, but its not on until late."

"Whose play? Not Petra’s group again?"

"Yes. They’re OK."

"No, they’re always too dark and mysterious. Witches and spells. I can never follow their plots. Don’t think anyone else can either. They throw themselves into it, I must admit."

"Petra’s a really good performer."

"I agree. I agree. It’s her play writing I have difficulty with. But people turn up to their performances."

"Yes, that’s true. Well tell me tomorrow on how this one’s shaping up. It’s a sort of early rehearsal isn’t it?"

"Yes, they’re trying bits out on us."

"Well go then," said Pete, moving off quickly. "We’ll see you for a late cuppa."

"Hang on. I’ll get my notepad."

Pete plunged into the dark, quite familiar with the way. Mike stumbled a few times until they reached the sparsely lit lane.

"Tell me something about the committees? What’s this one for?"

"Well you could say the town is run mostly by voluntary committees at the neighbourhood level. They look after things like the workshop. There’s one that deals with the community fruit and nut trees. They decide when pruning and spraying and picking are needed and they might do some of that or arrange a community working bee. There are committees for water and energy and the library and the wood lots and the ponds, and one for looking after old people, and one for leisure and entertainment, and even one for quality of life."

"Wait a minute, what do you mean, looking after old people?"

"Well many old people live around here. Mostly they don’t move out of the house they’ve lived in for years to end up in a nursing home. Apart from being a very expensive way to look after old people those are not places most of us want to end up in. So around here we make it possible for old people to stay at home. That takes some organising. In some cases someone needs to drop-in a few times a day. The house might need repairs. Outings and events are arranged. Those things are overseen by a little group of volunteers. That’s the looking-after-old-people committee."

"Must be a huge amount of work."

"No. Actually most of the looking after is done spontaneously by all the people around here. See we’ve all got the time to do things like drop in. The committee just oversees and thinks about anything else that needs organising, but the people who live here do the dropping in and occasional cooking of a meal or taking someone to the doctor, or just having a chat or helping with a bit of housework."

"How do you get on a committee? Does someone allocate you?"

"Mostly it is just that someone takes an interest and goes along to the meeting. If there’s enough people involved they might think about helping somewhere else. Sometimes a committee will call for more members. Maybe someone will decide to take a break for a while. Maybe that committee can be a bit bigger for a while, or call on her when they need a bit more help. It’s all very informal and easy-going. Not that there aren‘t conflicts at times."

"But why do people volunteer for committees? What’s in it for them?"

"Well you can see that the welfare of people around here depends very much on how well these community services are carried out. If those windmills aren’t kept in good working order our electricity supply from them will go down and we will have to pay for more electricity from the mains. Or if our fish ponds aren’t kept in good order we won’t have fresh fish. So everyone knows it’s important that we organise ourselves to look after these things. Everyone knows that if they do their bit on this or that committee or working bee others will be attending to the other tasks that need doing and we will all get the things we depend on from this area. So people have a strong inclination to offer their services on committees and to turn up to working bees. It’s uneven though. I mean some people do much more than others, some really love poultry or bees, or spend a lot of time on the library team. And that’s OK."

"But surely some people don’t pull their weight, don’t contribute at all," Mike said.

"No, very few people do little. Sure it is quite uneven, but like with the working bees it simply doesn’t matter if some do less than they should. There are some people who everyone knows are a bit lazy, but that doesn‘t matter much. Most of us do turn up and get the jobs done and that means we can all enjoy good fresh food and a convenient workshop and so on. Our situation isn’t threatened if a few don’t pull their weight. And remember it’s not as if we are having to do more of some terrible task because someone else hasn’t turned up. People like doing these things."

"Hey do I recall you saying you even have a committee for quality of life? What’s that do?"

"Ah, probably the most important committee in town. It monitors objective indices, like how much illness, crime, storm damage, and subjective things like interview and survey evidence on how happy people are, what problems they have, what they think needs to be changed. They make reports to the town, including recommendations, and they hold public meetings. Sometimes they’ll focus on what some group’s situation is like. At present they are working on the situation of old people again; they do that every few years."

Soon the workshop came into view and Mike was surprised at how lit up and active it was. They went inside and up the stairs. Looking at their rough-sawn timber and black bolt heads Mike realised how like a barn or a warehouse the whole building was. No slick polished plastic surfaces or elaborate fittings. Everything was rough but honest. Not much paint, just natural wood mostly. The windows and doors were different sizes and shapes, obviously recycled from many different places. He remarked on this to Pete who said, "Yes, we like things that are as cheap and simple as possible, so long as they are convenient and efficient and durable. I like being here and we like its atmosphere. It is a resource-cheap facility. And because most of the carpentry is rough beams and boards there is no problem when the kids knock things around or someone spills a can of paint."

They had been standing at the top of the stairs and could hear voices in a nearby room. Pete went across, pushed a door open and said, "Hi there. Here we are. Are you in the middle of something; we can come back a bit later."

Someone said, "No. Come on in."

Mike entered a room in which five people were seated or reclining in a variety of chairs and bean bags. A couple were quite elderly but one was a teenage girl.

"Everybody, this is Mike." People quickly introduced themselves and Pete said, "What are you up to?"

"We’ve been looking again at how to increase the capacity of the methane digesters in Ash St. Over the last three years two families have moved in to that area and that means more waste water is going into the tanks and out again before the waste has had time to digest properly, so we aren’t getting as much gas from them as we could."

"Do you know what garbage gas digesters are?" Pete asked Mike.

"Not really."

"They’re basically just tanks that sewage goes into from the houses and public toilets and animal pens. They produce methane gas, and the effluent is recycled to our gardens and orchards. That’s why no artificial fertilizers are used around here."

"We use the gas to run some of our fridges and cars. There are two neighbourhood cars here. Did you notice the blue van parked out the front when you came in? Most people rarely need a car but if they do they can take one of these two."

"Take one?" Mike said.

"Yes, you sort of hire it really, just sign for it and record the distance you travelled and pay later."

Mike asked, "Isn’t there a central authority that controls water and sewage around here?"

"We get assistance from the Regional Council in special circumstances, say there’s been a big problem, like drought or flood. But most of the time we supply our own water here in this town, from rainwater off our roofs and stored in tanks and from the small dams in the hills, and we look after the gas digesters and the pipes that treat the wastes and deliver them where they are needed. You realise I assume that all the wastes going into the digesters are really valuable nutrients that have to be returned to the soil. You can’t have a sustainable society unless you do that. We recycle all food nutrients and animal wastes back to our soils. This committee just keeps an eye on these systems. If something needs fixing we might do it or arrange for the next neighbourhood working bee to do it."

"What about health standards?" Mike said.

"Well all that’s pretty simple. Lots of places in the world have been recycling their waste nutrients to their local soils for eons. It is quite safe to do if you just take simple precautions, like drip irrigating fruit trees. But there are regional inspectors who check the systems now and then to make sure they’re up to standard."

"And Bill here is an engineer, and if we need other technical advice there are other professionals living around here we can call in."

"But almost all the time and effort needed to run the system comes from this community, in a voluntary and informal way. No one is a paid official or technician or worker."

"So what have you decided to do in Ash St?’" Mike asked.

"Oh we don’t do the deciding. We just think out the possibilities and the pros and cons. This will be on the agenda of the town meeting after next. But it looks as if we will be suggesting construction of a new digester. Some of us think its not so necessary yet, so we’ll have to write up the arguments for and against so people can consider them at their leisure before the vote."

He turned to his fellow committee members. "Well, what are the options? Obviously we’ll have to put in more tank capacity, but where and how much?"

"Look at the contour map there. It seems to me that we’d be wise to put a tank down the slope here, because the new apple orchard is going down the bottom isn’t it?"

"Has that been settled yet?"

"Yes. Last week."

"OK then that does make some sense -- gravity feed to the tank from the three new houses and then gravity to drip irrigate the orchard."

"And will that enable some of the input to the existing tanks to be diverted to the new one?"

"Can we be sure they won’t overload in wet weather even without input from the three new houses?"

"We’ll have to get some measures on that. That’s a job for when we meet there on Saturday. I’ll also check what Fred say about it. His opinion might clinch it. He’ll have the numbers from that study five years ago."

"What are the other options? Well a tank could go back of Jordon’s fence, that’s central for the three and it would require much less pipe. There’s not much slope to that spot though, but it would serve them. Remember that there might be more houses there some day. We need to provide for that possibility don’t we?"

"Don’t know. I mean that hasn’t been discussed much. Is that where new houses are most likely to go, if we ever want any more that is?"

"Well at least we’ll have to list that consideration when we set out the issue for public discussion."

"Even if we do have more houses there some time I think the site down the slope is the right one. More pipes needed yes but there’s all the slope below the orchard that could be served some day, from that tank."

"OK, we’ll have to set out those options and approximate costing and working bee time. Bill you can handle that can’t you."

"Yes. Fred has all the information for that. He’ll tell us what we have to do there. When do we need the estimate?"

"Not urgently. We’re supposed to put up the options paper by Monday next week."

"There’s also the question of the best line for the input pipes. The direct routes for two of them will go through established gardens. It wouldn’t be much more costly to go around but those options will have to be set out too."

"Good point. Look at the map there. Damn. This one would go through Paddy’s fruit trees. I guess that’s out."

"Yes, but spell it out in the report as an option, although I guess we’ll recommend the longer way for that one. Any other considerations?"

"We’d want the job done before the wet season wouldn’t we?"

"I think so. There have been overflow problems there already."

"We’ll put that in the paper too. It will take a few working bees but I think working bee committee can organize it before the rains. I don’t think they have a lot to get us through before then."

"OK I’ll knock out a draft statement of how we see it and get it to you all in a day or so, and we should be able to put up a cleaned up version by Monday. Anything else we’ve overlooked on this one?"

After a pause, "OK. Next item. A few people have said too much rain water is getting away down the slope below The Basin and the swales there need some work. Anyone familiar with that?"

"I was there last time it rained and I didn’t see a problem. The run off was going into the Smith St hollow well enough, and it soaked in within a day or so, but that was light rain."

"Yes. I don’t know whether we’re losing some in heavy rain."

"Well the Anderson’s think we are, but they don’t seem to know how much."

"Looks like we should get clearer about the situation when it does rain a lot."

"Yes we can’t do anything until we know. So we should all remember to go look at it when there’s heavy rain. I’ll put a note on our fridge. In any case is taking the water to Smith St the best option? Wouldn’t it be better if we could take it the other way, into the slope off Maple Lane, where the wood lots are?"

The next item was to do with a report on the desirability of trying out a new type of tank. After some discussion they again decided to make the information available but with some critical notes about uncertainties the report left.

Then Bill turned to Pete, "Why don’t you guys go down to Mario’s for a coffee. This stuff must be boring you. We have three more items to go. Go on, clear out."

"OK," said Pete, "We’ll go, but Jan’s getting supper so we’ll go straight back home."

"Pete, don’t tell Mike how confused we sometimes get. Let him think this was a typical meeting, eh?"

"Of course. We’ll go then. Thanks everybody. Oh, did you see the grapefruit we left on the surplus table. We lugged our crop up earlier. Make sure you check if there are any left."


There were more people in the main hall at Marios and as they went through someone began planning a fiddle, competing with faint hammering coming from the workshop.

Suddenly the lights dimmed and Mike had to stop moving for fear of colliding with something. He was just getting his bearings when some weird music started playing and an eerie blue light came on. Then a giant cat appeared, human sized and irridescent. It began to dance out from his left, into the small space in the center of the tables. Pete leaned over and said, "Black light dancing"

"What’s that?"

"Ultraviolet light; costume has markings on it that react to the light."

The cat stretched and crept and pounced and preened itself, for a minute or two, and then curled up and went to sleep, with the music providing the loud purring. Then someone called "Puss,Puss!" and the cat sprang awake, and bounded out of the room, and the lights came on. People cheered and laughed. Mike and Pete again headed for the door. As they walked into the dark Mike said, "Strewth. What was that all about?"

"Who knows." Said Pete. "Things like that happen all the time. Probably one of the kids in the dance group. You can be sitting there and, bang, something like that will hit like a tornado, unannounced, then go. Someone just thought it would be a fun thing to do. Mind you that space is set up for performances, with lots of hidden lights and switches out in the workshop near the gallery railings where someone can work them out of sight. Pity you won’t be here for poetry night. People just stand up and read bits of their writing, some serious some funny."

"What did Bill mean about being confused?"

"Oh that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Its just that often a committee realizes issues are more complicated than they thought and they just can’t proceed without getting more information. I’m on the forest committee and the youth committee and we are often realize that an issue is more complicated than we thought and we can’t get anywhere without getting more measurements or doing some interviewing. But that’s OK; that’s what we are there to do."

"So tell me how it works. They said the committees don’t make the decisions, but the town meetings do. What are they? How do they work?"

"The water committee will type up how they see the options at this point in time and let us know by when they want feedback. Then they’ll review the situation, taking in the information they themselves will have got by then, and maybe put up the revised analysis, or their recommendations for adoption. Sometimes the clarification and sorting out goes on and on a for a long time, because some issues are quite complicated and it takes time for us all to become sure about what’s best. So at some point the issue will get onto the agenda for a town meeting or a referendum."


"Yes. Sometimes the vote will be a show of hands at the meeting, but on some big issues there will be a written vote, so a clear statement of what the preferences were can be recorded."

"How often are the meetings?"

"Once a month. A special one can be called in between though. But it is important to understand that the meetings and votes are not very important. They just formalize and finalise the decision which has really already become clear."

"How’s that?"

"Well the important part is the long messy process of discussion between people, and the committee getting more information and clarifying options and implications. We make sure that things are not hurried, so that everyone has time to come to a confident view about what the best option is. The crucial mechanism here is just all the informal discussion that goes on, over dinner table, in the street, at the market. This is how people slowly sort things out and move towards agreement about what’s best. Usually it becomes clear what we all think is the way to go, and then someone will put the item on the agenda for the next town meeting. Mind you someone there might take it off again?


"It’s always possible for someone to say, ‘Look, I don’t think we should decide that yet because quite a few of us still aren’t sure’. If it is clear that many are unsure or there’s considerable difference of opinion we defer it, and highlight the problems or the difficulties that need more thought."

"Why don’t you just vote and do what the majority says? That’s how democracies work isn’t it? Save a lot of time."

"Ah, no, no, and for two very important reasons. First it would be most unwise to push something through if many aren’t yet sure it is a good idea. Its no good if we do something lots of people will be unhappy about. After all the point of it all is to find ways and solutions that maximize satisfaction and welfare around here. See, I want an outcome that others are happy with, for their sake, so it’s not satisfactory to me if I get what I want passed but many people are unhappy about it. That doesn’t make for a good town atmosphere and it would mean I’d run into people who know I was one who forced them to accept an outcome they didn’t want. Strong social cohesion is absolutely crucial here. The town can’t work well unless we all get along pretty well and keep up happy willingness to contribute\. So it is best to go on looking for a solution all think is the best for all in the circumstances."

"And the second reason?"

"The point of our politics is not about struggle between groups each out to get what is best for them at the expense of others, in a zero sum competitive game. It is to get the right answer for the town. Think about the digester example. People are asking themselves what in fact would be the best option to maximise efficiency of nutrient reuse, minimise work, minimise inconvenience to Paddy and his orchard. We almost never have an issue where it’s the vote is about which interest group is going to get through the decision that favours them and denies the interests of some other group. Its almost always a vote about what is the best strategy in view of the need for the town to function well. So if at a point in time we see that there’s much dissent and uncertainty then obviously we aren’t clear about what the best strategy is, either technically or in the sense of what suits people best, it makes sense not to make a decision but to have more discussion and thought."

"That’s a bit incredible, that you are all such super-nice people, trying to avoid what would upset others."

"No, no. That misses the point. It’s not essentially about being nice to each other. The crucial thing is that the town will not work well if we do not find the right answers, the technical ways that will in fact work well, and the arrangements that will not damage the local ecosystems we all depend on, or social cohesion. So there’s a powerful incentive on all to try to find the way that’s best for all and not to think in terms of your own self-interest."

"So you are saying I think that the process is not adversarial."

"Yes, that’s right. That makes an enormous difference. We’re heavily dependent on our local ecosystems, our water sheds, our forests and soils, and on our social cohesion, because our food and jobs and security and entertainment come from them. So we have to be sure we do what is best for our environmental and social systems, and that makes our politics very different to yours. Ours is essentially about working out what is the best policy for the region, whereas yours is only about groups struggling to get what they want at the expense of others. So here the incentives that come from our situation are right -- they push us to think carefully and to look for what’s best for all. Think about that forest on the mountain." Pete said pointing into the dark. "Much of our water comes from that slope, and Petersen owns some of. Now what if he proposed developing a motel on it? He as much as the rest of us know that would jeopardise our very existence. You lot in consumer society won’t go about politics in a cooperative way until you get into our situation, highly conscious of our dependence on keeping your locality and your social cohesion in good shape."

"But isn’t it a sloppy, inefficient form of government, if it takes so long to make a decision and you have to get most people to agree, and anyone can block it?"

"No. It’s messy, yes. But you are defining efficient as quick and decisive. If that’s all you want, yes let’s set a date and all vote. That way you will not get good decisions, decisions that as many as possible are happy with. When that’s the goal you can see that this messy way is in fact the most efficient way to achieve it."

"But you couldn’t run a country like that."

"Precisely! That’s a knock out argument for not having big things if you can help it. It’s the smallness of scale that enables us to do it our way. Everyone can discuss the issue, everyone can participate. Then everyone feels they own the decision. And often our way is actually much faster than yours. Think about how slow your bureaucracies often are. Takes months just to get a letter back from them, let alone until the bulldozers turn up. We can call an emergency meeting and get working bees on an urgent job within a day or so."

As they approached the veranda steps Mike nearly tripped over something large that got as big a surprise as he had, and bolted. It was a shaggy black seep.

"Oh, that’s Padme, one of the village lawn mowers. Terry must have brought her over. She was due to do our lawn."

"Don’t you have a proper mower?"

"Yes, Padme!"

"Doesn’t she eat the garden?"

"No. She’s tethered to a peg and can only reach the edge of the grass. The garden edge is circular. Back to work Pad. Never breaks down, never needs oiling. No problem starting on cold mornings. And she’s a nice person. And did you see her coat?. Terry will get three or four jumpers out of her this year. She and Don spin you see. Some of our jumpers come from them. I have one that is ten years old. Hand knitted jumpers are terrific, long lasting. Mind you I’ve patched that one up many times." Then he called out, "We’re back."

"Kettle’s on -- heard you coming," Jan called back. "How’d the committee go?"

"We left early but they made some progress on the digester problem. Did you know one of the options would take one of the input lines through Paddy’s orchard, or have to kink around it and that would lower the slope. Bill’s not sure there’ll be enough slope if it goes around."

"Oh dear, that makes a difference. I don’t think I’d agree with running it through

Paddy’s. I know Peta wouldn’t want that either."

"The working bees would minimise any damage of course, and replant if necessary."

"Yes but it would be a mess for Paddy. He’d agree with it going though I know if that was the best route, but I don’t think we should inflict it on him, not at his age. It would take a long time for the garden to get back to normal."

"Well, we’ll see what people think after the options go up."

Mike asked, "Would Paddy have to accept it going through his orchard if you all concluded that that was the best way?"

"Oh no. The problem is that if that’s the best way for technical reasons Paddy will probably say do it, and then we’d have to decide whether to. I’d vote against that because I know it would be inconvenient for him."

They sat down at the kitchen table to tea and too many scones and cakes again. Gran was in her chair in the corner knitting.

"Nearly the end of your first day Mike," said Pete. "What are you thinking?"

Mike felt a little irritated. "Well that’s actually a difficult question."

"I thought it might be. I think we know how difficult it must be to sort us out. We know our ways are quite different to where you come from."

Mike was very conscious of having been uncharacteristically quiet and acquiescent all day. He’d been taken over, hijacked almost, and run off his feet, and confronted with many strange ideas and visions. And was still feeling uneasy about Fran’s house challenge. The combined indigestion now triggered a floodgate.

"Yes, rather different," he began slowly. "I guess my main problem is that I feel I have no real idea how things really work here. I mean, I can grasp the obvious, like the free fruit and the beautiful landscape and that there are working bees keeping the windmills painted. But a lot doesn’t seem to add up. I don’t understand the economy, and I don’t understand…well … I guess its motivation. It’s as if everyone’s on holidays, and no one’s working and everyone is artificially nice and cooperative…as if there must be difficulties and grind that I’m not seeing. It’s a bit hard to explain…"

"What am I doing now Michael?" Gran interrupted.

He looked up, surprised, "Well…knitting."

"Yes but am I working. I’m making a jumper for Amy. Am I working?"


"I’m doing it because there’s nothing I would rather do right now. I love knitting. It’s my art form."

"One of them Gran. Muffins are another, and spinning..,"

"And it keeps my fingers nimble, and I like making things for Amy. So am I working or playing. Is this work or leisure?"

"I don’t know," said Mike.

"Nor do I," said Gran. "So the distinction is useless. The point is that people around here spend almost all their time doing what they want to do, you could say playing, but at the same time they are getting work done. What about that lettuce we had in the salad. We produced that by doing something we love doing, gardening."

"Yes I can see that, but it bothers me. Can that kind of motivation be sufficient? See, where I come from work is definitely work, and it makes the world go round. It’s relentless grind and its hard, mostly. Sometimes it is very satisfying, like when I get a good article in without the sub editors butchering it too much. But, you have to push yourself most of the time. Like, no one would voluntarily get out of bed on a Saturday morning and go to work because that’s where they most want to be. I don’t see that sort of energy, grit, drive, pushing yourself, the striving or whatever it is that has built the world despite difficulty. I mean in my office you see it in the competitive achievement, the struggle to be better, to get your story accepted, to get the promotion. It’s a kind of quiet fire-in —the-belly aggression, determination to win through, get there. See, in my world without that sort of gritty, fighting, don’t-let-the-bastards-beat-you, working fighting spirit you just go down. You don’t make it. You might not get trampled, but you will end up stagnating in some back room. You have to apply yourself, because life’s difficult and competitive. We can’t all be editor, but I could. So I have to go after that as hard as I can, or stay where I am, and if I don’t perform so well there I won’t even stay there. I mean if my game slips noticeable I’ll be sacked and if I get to be sub editor then Dan won’t, because there’s only one vacancy coming up and its me or Dan. I’m not complaining about this. I’m saying that’s the way the world is, for humans in modern society. It’s the competitive situation that makes us work and strive, and gets things done and gets us to innovate and build and create great things, and important in all this must be that aggressive determination to push onward, work, grind, get through, achieve, win, get to the top….that somehow I don’t see here, and I can’t see how things can really function well without it. I’m not putting this very well I know. But…things here seem …nice, maybe too nice and too relaxed. I mean I don’t understand how things can tick over then. So I keep thinking I’m only seeing the surface and there must be dynamics underneath that make it work, that I can’t see and that when I do understand them I’ll see how the basic human nature, motivation is there and driving things after all."

Mike had hunched forward, elbows on knees, staring at the fire, as if to eliminate distractions from the task of articulating his thoughts. No one spoke for a few seconds.

Then Pete said slowly, "That’s very, very interesting. I think you are onto some very crucial things here. I mean things that are to do with the essential differences between our way and the mainstream’s way. To me it is indeed very much to do with the kind of motivation and world view you put.

Jan said, "You have jumped us into tomorrow’s agenda Mike. Today we’ve only shown you the easy stuff, the landscape, the workshop, how we make cheap houses, where good food can come from. That’s the technically easy realm. Tomorrow we want to introduce you to the hard stuff, the systems and values and mentality and motivation people have here, and how very different they are from where you come from, and how you can’t do what we have done here unless you change in these much more difficult areas."

"I think you put it well Michael," Gran said. "But I think your underlying assumptions are profoundly and tragically wrong, and responsible for much of what’s wrong with the world."

"Really. What do you mean?’ said Mike, revealing surprise.

"You are assuming that that syndrome of grind, striving, restless energy, obligation to achieve, succeed, the need to compete, the need to be aggressive, is both inevitable and desirable, that it builds civilization, it motivates and gets the effort out of us, it produces progress, and without it we’d all still be sitting on the beach waiting for the coconuts to drop. Am I right?"

"I suppose so…yes I think that’s what I mean. Obviously you can have too much aggression and competition, but what matters surely is the drive and discipline to work hard, the determination to achieve despite the difficulties, overcoming, the striving to develop yourself and to develop things. And yes when you look at where we’ve come from, living in caves, you have to say it’s that striving to achieve, explore, conquer even, tame the rivers, clear the forest, dig the mines, built the cities, beat the enemy…all that takes energy, dedication, self-discipline, effort…determination to get through, to produce, to come out on top, solve the problem."

Mike paused again. Suddenly Pete threw his head back, opened his mouth wide and let out the most disgusting, rumbling, protracted and contrived burp, ending in a long satisfied "Aaaaagh!", and then looked around the room with the grin of a half-drunken oaf who just knows he has pulled off the funniest performance and all will applaud, when in fact it has been the most appalling social blunder.

Jan said quietly "Oh, no," and put her head in her hands.

Mike was totally stunned, with no idea what to make of it, or how to respond. Even inflappable Gran had stopped knitting. What the hell was going on?

The silence was difficult, and long.

Then Pete smiled faintly and said quietly, "Sorry Mike. Let me try to explain. Sometimes mere words are not enough to make a point. Have you heard the one about the babbling devotee who had come to visit the guru and wouldn’t stop talking and talking and the guru poured tea for him, and when the cup was full he just kept pouring and pouring as it ran everywhere, and then he said, ‘Sometimes when the vessel is too full in the first place it is impossible to get anything new into it.’ I’ll bet that neophyte remembered that for ever."

"What I’m struggling with here is how to get across to you something that mere words can’t convey very well. See the world view you described is in my view just so profoundly mistaken and tragic, and in fact repulsive. I must stress I don’t mean to attack you personally here. I have only known you about eight hours and you seem to be a very nice person. But you also seem to me to be very conventional in the view of the world and of humans and of life that you take for granted. And if I just used words I do not think I could convey to you how appalling and revolting I find that world view. So, how did you feel when I burped. No need to answer…"

Mike cut him off, "Staggered. Very shocked…disgusted. It was like being in awe looking at a great painting and some oafish ignorant boor comes and kicks his muddy boot right through it. It sort of train wreck contradicted, smashed, the nice image of this Pete fellow I’d formed over, what is it, eight hours."


"Yes, I see, I think. That’s how you reacted to my world view."

"Yes, something like that. I don’t mean I was surprised. I know that’s how you think, but it is essential for your whole visit here that we get across to you the significance of the difference. Our culture is not just utterly opposed logically to the one you sketched, but we have to get across to you how strongly we reject it, how much we dislike it, how morally objectionable it is, and how responsible for the world’s pain…"

Mike said, through a forced smile, "You realise of course that you are expressing disgust at the fundamental creed cherished by people where I come from."

"Yes. I remember once seeing a documentary on the British fighting the French in Canada. At one point this small band was being attacked by the native Indians. There was this scared huddle of red coats in the wilderness, being picked off, 5000 miles from home and unlikely to ever see it again. And you say to yourself, ‘What the hell are they doing there. Curse the English and their damned restless energy. Why couldn’t they have stayed home and just taken it easy in their gardens and villages and pubs.’ But no, they have to be so damned driven to go out and develop and conquer and take and dominate, and so ready to work so hard at it, even to risk their precious lives. Can’t stand still, must explore, must master, must push the other bastards off and take what they have. Look at the trouble that has caused. Contemplate the glorious British Empire, established by no less than 72 colonial wars in which god knows how many natives and peasants were slaughtered. Why couldn’t they have been content with what they had and just tended their gardens and relaxed, and if they want a sense of progress then develop better conversational skills or write better plays?"

Silence, except for the clicking of Gran’s needles.

"So, go get it, can do, master conquer…does all that really build a better world, or just acquire more wealth for the most energetic few? Your world is led by CEOs who are obscenely rich in the first place, but the only thing in their heads, the thing that leads them to sack thousands, the thing you allow to be the sole determinant of where your whole economy and society go, is their manic, frenzied obsession with making even more money and building an even bigger corporation. And you all not only go along, you applaud. If your purpose was to do what is best for people and for the environment, would you allow that pathological motivation to have any place at all? It contradicts what we need, which is an overriding commitment to the welfare of other people and of the ecosystems of the planet. That’s about craving for peace and harmony and a relaxed pace and havens in which people can recover and be happy and thrive and grow. What a different world it would be if those CEOs and their hard working executives could just slow down and not drive and crash through and work so much and just appreciate what they have and get satisfaction from their gardens. If they could just be, instead of having to do. Their very restlessness belies insecurity and fear I think, fear of the vacuum of purpose they’d fall into if they didn’t have another hostile takeover to work on. You guys work at least three times too hard."

By this time Mike had regrouped. "But would anything ever get done if we didn’t have what you’re condemning? Would civilization have been built. Would there have been any progress?"

Gran waded in. "Michael, is your world progressing? Is it civilized? At least 160 million killed in wars in the Twentieth century, with every prospect of an even better tally in this one. Mike do you know that every measure is now showing that the quality of life in your civilization is now falling from year to year, even though all that striving is raising the GDP a good 3% every year…"

Jan took it up, "…while you are destroying the ecosystems that everyone depends on, precisely because of the mania to produce more, consume more, work hard, innovate, master, grow."

Pete said with a grin, "Hey team, we’ve got him on the ropes, lets put the boot in now! Next point Mike, you make the so-dominant conventional assumption that humans are and have to be and should be intensely competitive, aggressive, determined-to-prevail individuals. In your society that’s perfectly true. You have no choice but to go out there and fight for your own advantage, knowing that you can go down, and many do."

"Like the, is it 50% of small businesses that start and go bust, because there isn’t room for them all," said Gran.

"And the fact that there are often about 20 unemployed for every job vacancy," Jan added.

"You know that you had better make it as an individual because no one is going to care for you if you fail. In fact if you do fail they will turn on you and attack you as a drag on society, adding to the welfare bill, living off their hard earned taxes, and a moral failure, pathetic at best and despicable at worst. So, you have no choice but to grind and struggle and work and compete as an individual in aggressive competition with all others, to be among those who come out as the winners. People in your society could not care less about those who can’t get a job. Eliminating unemployment is not a political issue. Any party that said ‘We’re going to get rid of unemployment, but we’ll have to raise taxes a bit to do it’, would be committing electoral suicide. Disabled people, mentally ill people, old people, anyone who can’t compete and provide for themselves are dumped into poverty or dependence on ever-diminishing and grudging welfare cheques. It’s a society in which anyone can win…but everyone can’t. In a competitive society a few win and take most of the wealth, but most fail and are dumped and deprived. Great way to organise a society eh?"

Gran quickly took the stage again. "Notice how this attitude permeates your folklore, the myths, stories, sport even are essentially about some individual hero confronting adversity or evil, competing violently usually, and triumphing with his foot on the adversary’s face in the mud, admired by all onlookers vicariously enjoying the deliciously deserved beating. Make my day."

Pete continued. "If on the other hand your world view was cooperative and collective none of that would be true. Billions of people today and over the last several hundred years would have had a totally different life experience if we could have replaced that terrible individualistic, competitive, aggressive, greedy, winner-take-all syndrome with one that is primarily about cooperative concern for the welfare of all."

Gran said, "I’m thinking about during the Great depression, with around 30% of American workers unemployed for years. Why the hell didn’t people just get together and form Community Development Collectives like ours, and start putting their idle labour and skills into producing for themselves most of the basic things they needed. Such a collective response never occurred to them!"

"Because they could only think as individuals."

Gran continued. "As I understand it most tribal people are intensely collectivist; they couldn’t have survived if they were not. And our society was still more or less like that a mere 500 years ago. It’s not that its natural for us to be individualistic and competitive. Somehow we went wrong a few hundred years ago."

Jan said, "That’s very encouraging I think. It means we could do it, because we know we once did."

A pause again, Mike back to looking at the floor, Gran clicking away.

Mike said, "Ok, you are saying that central to your way is a quite different syndrome of ideas and attitudes, but I’m a bit taken aback by how problematic you see mine as being."

"Yes, we do see the opposition as immensely important, and significant for human emancipation."


"It’s about feeing ourselves from the terrible oppression we inflict on ourselves by the conventional ideology. There is absolutely no need or excuse for poverty, unemployment, homelessness. We haven’t got any of them in The Glenn have we?. Why? Simply because our world view is not focused on how can I maximise my advantage but on how can we organise things so that everyone is cared for and has a high quality of life and can thrive…which of course is the best way to maximise your own welfare anyway. That’s very easy to do, if you want to do it. We do it very easily. No hardship, no deprivation, no grinding resented discipline. But you lot just refuse to even think about any of this."

"And why do we do it? Is it that we are saints who force ourself against all desire to go to working bees? No it isn’t. It’s because doing what will make others happy and what will make this region thrive and what will generate conviviality and synergism is what we want to do, what we enjoy doing more than anything else."

"And," said Gran, "That dramatically reduces the need for all that work and striving and achievement and competition. And it’s because we have a cooperative economy that makes sure all are provided for, that we eliminate the need for everyone to compete furiously for jobs and sales that are too scarce, using up resources in the process."

Jan had been unusually quiet. "Yes. I see it in terms of defusing, or perhaps redefining the situation, in a way that eliminates so many problems -- just prevents them from occurring. See, because we take the simpler way and we focus on what’s good for all there are so many problems that we then don‘t create, like traffic jams, resource depletion, environmental damage, poverty, homelessness, mental illness, people on drugs. And this means there’s far less need for systems and power stations, and managers and social workers…and all that work and discipline. Whereas the more problems consumer society creates the more you think you need more investment, more development, more technology and more work to solve them. You think that the more you produce the more wealth you have and therefore the more you can spend on solving the problems…which you are creating by doing all that producing in the first place."

Pete allowed time to go by. Mike didn’t speak but nodded, indicating that he was mulling it all over.

Pete went on, "Sorry but there’s another huge assumption I think you have revealed, that life is a struggle, that nature or reality sets us this endless difficult task of getting by, and to do it you have to toil, in a context of scarcity and risk and danger and difficulty. Nature is stingy and it takes a lot of effort to get from her what we need for a comfortable existence. We have to trick and force her into yielding and producing, and it takes great effort."

Gran said, "The curse of Adam, thrown out of the Garden of Eden and condemned to struggle for existence ever since."

"Well, we in The Glen see it completely differently. There need not be an antagonism. Nature is abundantly bountiful and generous. If we just organise sensibly we could have everything we need for a delightful existence. Nature gives us the rain, for nothing. She gives us the soils and the forests and the sunsets. People living in The Glen get all the food they need easily, they have perfectly adequate, in fact beautiful houses, not through toil but through enjoyable creative activity. There are few risks, certainly none of starvation or poverty or loneliness. No one falls behind or gets trampled. And all at a relaxed pace. How is this possible? Simply because we consciously, deliberately set out to organise it, and we have the sense to realise that you can’t do it unless you cooperate. On the other hand your economy pits you against each other and thereby creates the struggle, makes you work too hard, puts you in a situation where many must fail, and puts you in a situation of risk. lf you organise things competitively then, surprise surprise, some few will win and take everything and most will be deprived."

Mike responded, "Yes, but you could argue that the Western turn to competitive individualism two or three hundred years ago liberated us from the feudal situation of stultifying acceptance of rule by kings and despots. Don’t you see a dilemma here, with the tyranny of the collective as an even greater danger than the devil take the hindmost inequality that individualism and freedom can lead to.

"Yes, certainly, but surely it’s a matter of finding the right balance. Surely there can be abundant freedoms for individuals, and scope for deviance and non-conformity, within a frame that is basically about cooperating and concern for the common good. I’d say that’s what we have here. People have extremely different religious and aesthetic values, but there is a core of collective values. It’s a minimally sufficient factor we are after…enough glue. I can’t think of any constraints on my freedom that I resent.

"I’d say it’s precisely because we are sensibly collectivist that people here enjoy most of their freedoms," said Gran.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, its because we get together to provide for each other that people are free from things like poverty and homelessness and loneliness…"

"And free to learn violin or to garden about four days a week!" said Jan.

After a short silence Jan took the opportunity and said, "Oh dear it really is getting late. Poor old Mike must be very tired, and he has a big day tomorrow. We have lots of adventures planned.

Pete said, "Gawd, Mike, sorry for the all the lectures. We have piled such a lot of ideological stuff on you. ..but that’s what you are here for of course"

"That’s OK. It is all very interesting, but yes it is a bit hard to come to terms with it all quickly."

Pete went upstairs with Mike to his room and checked that he knew where things were. "Like a nightcap, a drink of something?"

"Oh, a glass of milk would be nice. By the way where’s Amy?"

"No idea," said Mike, as if not needing to explain and as if it was of no consequence anyway. "I’ll send the maid up with the milk."

Mike unpacked a few things, his mind racing from one theme to another. The big folder of work he’d brought from the office was still sitting there.

A few minutes later there was knock at the door. Jan came in with a tray carrying a glass of milk and some biscuits.

"Oh thanks."

"Got everything you need?"

"Yes, except a clear head. Look can you tell Pete I’m not offended at the lectures. Don’t say I asked you to say that, but just let him know I understand there’s a lot that he, you all, want to get across, and a lot to be explained and argued."

"Alright. Pete can be a bit long winded. He’s aware of that. He’s conscious of the size of the difference between our world view and the mainstream, so he’s trying to get that across -- and you can’t imagine how I hate it when he does that burp."

"…you mean…"

"Night Mike."


Part 3