Stephen Kahn

Archive for March, 2012|Monthly archive page

Sensitive post

In Hard to tell on March 29, 2012 at 9:43 pm

One of the common characteristics of Transition Whidbey (and Transition Towns in general) is a concern about “sensitivities (more commonly known as “allergies”). Many of the people who come to meetings, and quite a few who don’t come to meetings because they say something at the meeting place, no matter how carefully chosen, “triggers” their sensitivity, whether it’s a scent, or a food substance, or a dust, or whatever) talk about how they suffer from their sensitivities.

As with everything else, this issue is a complicated mash-up of truth, confusion, injustice, and blackmail. Many people do indeed have sensitivities, some of can be detected and confirmed by “objective” means, and some of which cannot. The issue of sensitivities also provides a splendid scope for liars, scoundrels, and manipulative martyrs.

When I was a child, I often had allergy attacks. I thought they were the result of pollen (which they surely were). As my family always had cats, I did not realize my attacks were also the result of allergies to cat dander. When I first started going with my wife, she sarcastically suggested that my allergies were psychosomatic.

All my life I had eaten seafood. At the age of forty or so, halibut started to make me throw up. After some cautious experiments, I determined that I can steal eat cod and salmon (and mother other fish). I avoid halibut now, just to be on the safe side (and I am sure, must to the relief of a few fish).

Now that we are in our sixties, my allergies to pollen and cats have diminished (though not disappeared entirely). My wife has developed allergies to cats and pollen, so she has switched her pet affection to chickens. I avoid suggesting that her sensitivities are psychosomatic, as I know which side of the bread my marriage is buttered. I have also developed something of an allergy to Transition Towns, so I have stopped attending their meetings.

In Hard to tell on March 14, 2012 at 6:26 pm

Almost by accident, I began attending some Transition Whidbey meetings. After a few innocuous sessions with ecological and agricultural themes, I began to suffer an uncomfortable feeling, something like what I feel as a person with mild allergies when hay fever season begins or a cat has been sitting on my lap. As the meetings became more “touchy-feely” and “New Age,” I realized I was having (in a very mild way compared to a person who has undergone real combat or some other traumatic life and death situation) a kind of PSTD reaction. The people I saw participating in Transition Whidbey reminded me uncomfortably of the people I had encountered at Cerro Gordo decades ago.

In my days of involvement with Cerro Gordo, I perceived many of the participants as vulnerable to a leader who struck me as something like a cult leader and something like a scam artist, but not quite fitting either profile exactly. In the Transition movements, I saw what appeared to be similar personality traits, including:

  • optimism – normally an admirable trait, but carried to the point of wishful thinking and lack of sensible alertness and wariness in many cases
  • striving for peace and tranquillity – again admirable qualities and goals, but also rather counterproductive when edging into traits such as denial and head in the sand foolishness.
  • aversion to conflict, again an issue of striking a reasonable balance between hostility and aggression and passivity and timidity on the other hand.
  • religiosity while denying any religious belief. This is a tricky issue. I am an utterly irreligious person (something like Christopher Hitchens in this regard – though obviously not as smart or informed); however, all my life I have maintained fairly good relationships with quite a few very religious people. One of the traits I find exasperating in “New Age” groupings, such as Transition Whidbey, is that they simultaneously say something along the lines of “We are not religious” and “We believe in God, and we are very spiritual.” I can accept and mingle with non-sociopathic and tolerant religious believers, but I now find that I prefer straight-forward, unvarnished, unflavored religious belief. I drink both coffee and tea. In both cases, I drink them “straight,” without sugar, cream, or a lot of fancy flavorings.

[to be continued]

The New Age Ecology Cults (#1)

In Hard to tell on March 10, 2012 at 11:07 pm

Another cultish group I participate in is Transition Whidbey. My participation in this group provoked a bit of a flash back for me, because it reminded me of a group I participated in over 20 years ago called Cerro Gordo, located in Lane County, Oregon. My wife and I were tired of living in the city, and dreamed of having a “homestead” in the country. While I was team-teaching (on ecology, oddly enough) at Tigard High School (located in a suburb of Portland, OR), I attended a fair about ecological living at the local Mall (named Washington Square). I met a group of people who had set up a display promoting their rural community, which they called Cero Gordo, and described as an “eco-village.” My wife and I began to participate in Cerro Gordo, regularly traveling about a hundred miles from our home in Portland, OR to visit their “gatherings” where people collected on weekends to talk about how wonderful it would be to live an unspoiled life style in a rural area. At first, my wife and I were quite attracted to the community and its founder’s ideas and plans, and we pitched in with unskilled and ignorant enthusiasm to help it may come true. Although the exact details are not the same, there is quite a bit of resemblance to what went on at Cerro Gordo to T. C. Boyle’s fine novel, Drop City.

The Cerro Gordo eco village, in our opinion, went very astray, in ways involving a lot of disputed money, land, and broken dreams (including the alleged suicide of the founder’s wife). Although my wife and I had not lost a lot of money, we felt a lot of harm was taking place that needed to be stopped. As we had legal standing because of real estate investments and contributions to a non-profit organization, we brought a lawsuit which turned into a fairly spectacular affair, lasting three weeks (a long time in the trial business) and eventually being upheld by the Oregon Supreme Court. Not only had we not lost much money, we eventually gained a fairly substantial amount of money through winning the trial, a result which left us feeling rather uneasy about the morality of the whole thing. Which is a lot like a T. C. Boyle novel, if you think about it.

Many years later, here on Whidbey Island, I accidentally came into contact with a very informal, anarchistic, mostly below the horizon line group of people known as Transition Whidbey, part of a larger anarchistic group originating in the British Isles, known as the Transition Towns movement.

(To be continued)