The Gift: the nature of real abundance

by Geoff Olson

Although it’s a relatively obscure book, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property is considered something of an underground classic in literary and artistic circles. Canadian writer Margaret Atwood reportedly keeps half a dozen copies of Lewis Hyde’s book on hand for friends and acquaintances. Other fans of The Gift include writer Zadie Smith, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem and singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn, who was inspired by the book to write a song of the same name.

In a recent article in The New York Times Magazine, Daniel B. Smith observes that The Gift has been “adopted as something like the theory bible” of the Burning Man festival, a yearly gathering of artists in the Nevada desert where money is replaced by barter. Video artist pioneer Bill Viola says he remembers New York artists exchanging dog-eared, marked-up copies of Hyde’s book back in the eighties. My personal copy, which I found a few years ago in a used bookstore in Vancouver, looks like it has been through the wringer, literally. It’s underlined in pen and pencil throughout and the back pages are corrugated from water damage. It obviously passed through a few hands before it got to mine.

It’s difficult to summarize this cross-disciplinary, yet lyrical book. The first part of The Gift examines patterns of gift exchange in aboriginal societies. The second part explores the role and place of creative artists in a market-oriented world. In essence, Hyde’s book is one of the few studies ever made of the cultural anthropology of giving. It’s an ode to abundance, at both the communal and psychic level. Hyde’s work was partly inspired by the work on reciprocity by sociologist Marshall Sahlins, one of the first academics to question the classic definition of economics as “the science of choice under scarcity.” Sahlin’s words, quoted in The Gift, are as relevant today as they were in 1924:

“Modern capitalist societies, however richly endowed, dedicate themselves to the proposition of scarcity…The market-industrial system institutes scarcity, in a manner completely unparalleled and to a degree nowhere else approximated. Where production and distribution are arranged though the behavior of prices, and all livelihoods depend on getting and spending, insufficiency of material means becomes the explicit, calculable starting point of all economic activity.”

Early economists Paul Samuleson and Milton Friedman both begin their textbook examination of economics with the “Law of Scarcity,” and, as Hyde dryly observes, “It’s all over by the end of Chapter One.” In contrast, the work of early twentieth century anthropologists like Franz Boas and Bronislaw Malinowski demonstrates that the person in aboriginal cultures deemed worthy of respect and adulation is not the one who accumulates the most possessions, but the one who gives them all away. Among the Trobriand Islanders, Hyde discovered, it could take as long as 20 years for a necklace or armband to circulate around the islands and return to its original owner. Such objects were never intended as possessions to be hoarded, but rather as prizes to cherish for a time and then pass on.

Hyde determined that, in aboriginal societies, “gifts are a class of property whose value lies not only in their use, but “which literally cease to exist as gifts” if they are not understood as part of a communal network of reciprocal relationships. They are material expression of immaterial sympathy. Even though gift cycles were never the sum total of aboriginal market relations, early explorers and settlers were puzzled by exchanges that generated no discernible profit.

In the first colonies of Massachusetts, the Puritan settlers were so puzzled by the natives’ unique concept of property that they gave it a name, which had long been in circulation by the time Thomas Hutchinson’s 1764 history of the colony. “An Indian gift,” he told his readers, “is the proverbial expression signifying a present for which an equivalent return in expected.” Hyde points out that the opposite of “Indian giver” would be something like “white man keeper” or “capitalist.” In other words, “a person whose instinct is to remove property from circulation, to put in a warehouse or museum (or, more to the point for capitalism, to lay it aside to be used for production.)”

The gift, by its nature, breaks down boundaries. This has been its principle function in archaic societies: to put the tribe into accord, not just with one another, but also with the larger world of animals, spirits or gods. This is obviously not comparable to western gift giving, which usually entails two individuals exchanging a gift. According to Hyde, the minimum number for a gift circle is three.

Australian Aborigines commonly refer to their own clan as “my body,” using a personal expression of enlarged identity – just as we do in a marriage ceremony when we speak of “one flesh.” “When we are in the spirit of the gift, we love to feel the body open outward,” the author adds. In contrast, the assumptions of modern-day market exchange “may not necessarily lead to the emergence of boundaries, but they do in practice.” Today, these boundaries are even more obvious, not just in the enormous disparities between rich and poor nations, but within these nations themselves. And there are other more subtle boundaries, such as the walls we create between one another and within our own hearts and minds, as we internalize the values of commodification. The word “citizen,” which connotes communal participation, nets a little over a million hits in Google, while the word “consumer,” which connotes social isolation and material attachment, nets almost three million. That’s an intriguing measure of how we’ve come to define ourselves, at this critical point in planetary history.

With the academic assumption that all human relations take place within a matrix of diminishing possibilities, it’s no surprise that the world dominated by electronic capital has come to resemble its theoretical foundations in scarcity. They don’t call economics “the dismal science” for nothing.

But is scarcity really such a permanent condition for human beings? As American author and philosopher Robert Anton Wilson once observed, “Known resources are not given by nature; they depend on the analytical capacities of the human mind. We can never know how many resources can be obtained from a cubic foot of the universe: all we know is how much we have found thus far, at a given date. You can starve in the middle of a field of wheat if your mind hasn’t identified wheat as edible. Real Wealth results from Real Knowledge, which is increasing faster all the time.”

Technological invention depends on a class of cultural creatives not included by Hyde in his book: inventors, technicians and scientists. Yet we owe the makeup of the modern world almost entirely to their ambiguous gifts to society, from penicillin to plutonium, from airbags to armaments. And in recent years, the worlds of artists and technicians have begun to merge with digital technology. The accelerating pace of change has kept the cultural creatives, from songwriters to computer animators, scrambling to find their place in a fast-changing world. And as media monopolies look at their plunging circulation and sales figures, regrouping and selling off their failing properties, the Internet has remained an open portal for a wide range of creativity.

Ironically, the Internet is the closest thing we have today to aboriginal gift cycles. In spite of its downside, it has come to embody the ancient, archetypal habit of giving freely to strangers. From message boards to “wikis,” Internet users are willing to help each other, even though they don’t really have to and they don’t get “paid” for it in credit. The open-source movement, in which anonymous programmers tinker with and improve publicly accessible software code, and the “CopyLeft” movement to introduce a “creative commons” for freely distributed artistic works, defy not only traditional market economics, but all previous expectations of how people are supposed to behave in a market economy. Who voluntarily works for free, wanting only to contribute to a greater good? Millions, apparently. Homo economicus is not supposed to act this way.

But can anything considered traditional wealth come from offering services for free, as gifts? It’s all well and good for those who have the leisure or financial security to contribute for free. But how can any viable economic model emerge from such altruistic activity? Or could it be that our ideas about economics are limited, or even false? “Basically, it’s the problem that occurs when people focus too hard on the idea that economics is the study of resource allocation in the presence of scarcity. That only makes sense when there’s scarcity – and in digital goods, scarcity doesn’t exist,” notes blogger Mike Masnick in his Tech Dirt column.

Masnick is referring to how the digital age has brought about endless copying of movies, songs, software programs and other intellectual property. The costs of reproducing these creative works have essentially dropped to nothing, now that they can be reduced to a string of ones and zeroes. Prior to the digital age, an average civic cinema could only show films that would attract a little more than a thousand people over two weeks, most of whom live within a few mile radius. For the most part, this has limited screenings to major distribution films. Yet DVDs extend the shelf life of films, with the cost of a rental less than that of a movie ticket. With digital downloads, the costs per movie shrink further but the potential orders increase as well.

Wired editor Chris Anderson calls this tapering of cultural production “the long tail.” EBay is another long-tail business, Anderson says: “It is not about auctioning a few old masters for 20 million pounds apiece; it’s about providing a market where huge numbers of people can sell almost anything for a couple of quid.” There are physical limits on how many titles a shop can stock or a cinema can screen. But in a digital age, there are no such limits. Abundance, paradoxically, could be highly disruptive force in the traditional economy, as file-sharing networks and DVD knockoff shops have demonstrated. A number of tech bloggers are calling for a “new economics of abundance” so that civil society can shape its influence without legislatively killing its spirit.

It may sound absurd to speak of “abundance” in a time of a global economic collapse, environmental crisis, naked political opportunism and endless resource wars. Not only that, to praise technology uncritically is as one-sided as the patronizing worship of aboriginal cultures. Digital technology can isolate its users as much as it can connect them. If there really is an emerging economics of abundance, it will likely be a double-edged sword, with new problems of its own. But there is also the possibility it may offer an alternative to the worst excesses of monopoly capitalism and privatized kleptocracy. The way into a better future is to make past ways of doing things obsolete.

The real irony is that classical economics has always promised abundance through the management of scarcity. The SUV, the 50-inch television and the McMansion in a gated community have certainly been signifiers of middle-class comfort, but not sustainable wealth or social capital. In the past century, even reciprocal gift giving has been co-opted by the market, with the ostensible warmth and sentimentality of the Christmas season belied by the retailers’ bottom line, and the perfunctory mass-march of consumers for Christ.

Scarcity economics has both authorized and valorized our methods for emptying the world of its natural capital, while ensuring indebtedness – personal, national and ecological – is the norm. So it’s no accident that this dark vision of the world has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. With the threat of very real scarcity looming on the horizon – not just in credit, but in arable land, fresh water and other species – never before have so many of the world’s people been so ready for new ways in thinking and organizing their lives.

And the new ways are having an effect, at least in the area of power production. Almost weekly, there is news about leaps in the efficiency of solar power technology, as the costs of solar and wind devices continue to plunge. Solar power use is doubling every two years and will be the dominant form of energy source within the next 20 years, according to respected inventor and author Ray Kurzweil. Sunlight can’t be metered and it’s hard to imagine nations going to war to grab an enemy’s photons. Solar will soon be price competitive with the cheapest form of energy: coal. There is no way that “King Cong” – coal, oil, nuclear and gas – can compete with nature’s other bounty, with the gift we’ve always had all around us, its access limited only by our imaginations. The current economic downturn, along with the plunging price of oil, may slow the acceleration of this trend for a time, but as long as civilization lasts, it is unlikely to be anything but exponential and socially transformative.

Some argue that even without theorizing new technologies, it is conceivable that there already exists enough energy, raw materials and biological resources to provide a comfortable lifestyle for every person on Earth. That may well be so, but if further technological advances are only to serve further population growth, as they have in the past, the gains will eventually take us back up against the biosphere’s natural limits. Technological advance has to serve a higher purpose than endless growth. The mind must come into accord with the heart, and here Hyde’s work is instructive. Ancient patterns of communal gift giving acknowledge the true sources of wealth:

“Every participant in the (gift-giving) cycle literally lives off the others with only the ultimate energy source, the sun, being transcendent. Widening the study of ecology to include man means to look at ourselves as part of nature again, not its lord. When we see that we are actors in natural cycles, we understand that what nature gives to us in influenced by what we give to nature. So the circle is a sign of an ecological insight as much as of gift exchange. We come to feel our selves as part of a larger self-regulating system.

“And where we have established such a relationship we tend to respond to nature as part of ourselves, not as a stranger or alien available for exploitation. Gift exchange brings with it, therefore, a built-in check upon the destruction of its objects: with it we will not destroy nature’s renewable wealth except where we also consciously destroy ourselves.”

If the economy of abundance isn’t strangled in its cradle – and it looks like we’re too far down the road for that to be possible – can it find rapprochement with the economy of scarcity, or even displace it entirely? Beyond that, there’s the question of what forms it will take, and if we can join the archaic wisdom of aboriginal gift cycles with the promise of computer technology. Some futurists have floated the idea of “energy credits” or some other notational unit to replace money. Others see nanotechnology, automated manufacturing at microscales, as freeing humans at last from the boom-bust cycles of scarcity capitalism. But, at this stage, it’s too early to see anything other than the vaguest outlines of a world evolving past free market monopolies and defunct, Soviet-style central planning. Given the many threats on the horizon, we may never get there, but it’s the business of the future to be unknown.

“Greed and completion are not the result of immutable human temperament, writes Bernard Lietaer, founder of the EU currency system. “Greed and fear of scarcity are in fact being created and amplified…the direct consequence is that we have to fight with each other in order to survive.”

Ultimately, the human relationship with the world is in part conditioned by how we interpret it – as one principally of scarcity or abundance. Perhaps one day we’ll realize we’re the custodians of life, but not its keepers, and we can wave goodbye to this shadow realm of hungry ghosts, fighting for pieces of paper decorated with the portraits of dead leaders. Singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn summed up the distinction between these competing visions in his Lewis-inspired song, The Gift:

In this cold commodity culture
Where you lay your money down
It’s hard to even notice
That all this earth is hallowed ground
The gift keeps moving
Never know where it’s going to land
You must stand back and let it
Keep on changing hands.

Making the links


Whether you are concerned with issues pertaining to health, the economy or the environment, the current democratic deficit in media limits opportunities for social change. If open public discussion is the oxygen of social change and progress; undemocratic media systems suffocate that oxygen. As Nicholas Johnson, a former US Federal Communications commissioner put it, “Whatever your first issue of concern, media had better be your second, because without change in the media, progress in your primary area is far less likely.”

illustration © Shanti Hadioetomo

Media ownership in Canada is more concentrated than almost anywhere else in the industrialized world. In June 2006, the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications’ Report on the Canadian News Mediaconcluded there are “…areas where the concentration of ownership has reached levels that few other countries would consider acceptable.” Since that report, we’ve seen several major media mergers including Rogers Communcations’ purchase of CHUM, Quebecor’s purchase of the Osprey newspaper chain and Canwest Global and New York investment bank Goldman Sachs’ purchase of Alliance Atlantis.

Making matters worse, as the focus of governments and policy makers has shifted toward strengthening commercial media, public broadcasters have been defunded or privatized. The CBC, for example, now receives half of what it used to get from Parliament 20 years ago on a per capita basis, and Canada ranks 16th out of 18 industrialized countries in terms of public financing for public broadcasting. The community media sector – a vibrant site of domestic programming and public participation in some countries – remains relatively weak and independent media continues to struggle to find the support it needs to effectively compete with big media.

The current transition from analog to digital media provides important opportunities to increase the diversity of media. While a lack of financial support continues to haunt independent media projects, the relatively cheap media distribution system provided by the Internet makes independent media more viable and accessible. However, looking at the history of other mediums (TV, radio) that could have themselves been utilized as open mediums, we would be wise to not take the openness of the Internet for granted. There is already a battle brewing between big telecom companies and the Canadian public. If the companies win, a small cartel of corporate gatekeepers will control both the cost and access of web-based content (See

Concentrated media systems reflect and reinforce a narrow frame of public debate and dialogue, diminishing our sense of new possibilities and alternatives for everything from political issues to our everyday lives. But history shows that when confronted with widespread civic engagement around media issues, politicians and policy makers bow to popular pressure. In recounting his successful (1930s) campaign to establish CBC Radio, early media democracy advocate Graham Spry said, “Our greatest ally was undoubtedly, anxious, disturbed and alert Canadian public opinion.”

In 2002, an Ipsos-Reid poll found that 86 percent of Canadians believed that the federal government should do something to alleviate public concerns about media concentration. I hope that this column will help alert and engage this unheard majority.

News: In a move that has disappointed many Canadian high-tech leaders and public interest groups, the CRTC announced on November 20 that it will not force Bell Canada to stop its controversial Internet throttling practices. The CRTC is abdicating its responsibility to Canadian people and putting us on a path towards a more closed Internet defined by the interests of big telecom companies. (Learn more at

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He contributed to Censored 2008 and Battleground: The Media, and has written for The TyeeToronto Star, Epoch Times and Adbusters. Reach him at:

Healthy holidays

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina

Are you planning any festive gatherings that will include food? Beyond the traditional fare, do you wonder how to nourish the range of dietary choices among your circle of friends and family? Does your group include vegetarians, vegans, raw foods enthusiasts or someone whose health concerns require that they eat healthier food instead of just loading up on cholesterol, fat and sugar?

Here are a few tips along with two vegan, cholesterol-free, no-sugar-added recipes that are suitable for many people with food sensitivities (apart from nuts). The delicious cookies are entirely raw.

When you serve appetizers at events, include one or more packages of the seasoned types of hummus that are widely available in supermarket coolers. These protein-rich dips help many vegetarians fare well at festive events; they can be served with raw veggies, crackers and slices of fresh bread.

If your group is considering a restaurant, check out and type in your location.

Vesanto Melina is a BC-registered dietitian and co-author of the following nutrition classics: Becoming Vegan, the Food Allergy Survival Guide andRaising Vegetarian Children

Here are two vegan, cholesterol-free, no-sugar-added recipes that are suitable for many people with food sensitivities (apart from nuts). The delicious cookies are entirely raw.

Cashew and Vegetable Stir Fry

From Becoming Vegetarian by Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis (Wiley Canada, 2003).

For this stir fry, we suggested specific vegetables, however, you can try others such as asparagus, cauliflower, Chinese greens, daikon radish, mung bean sprouts and mushrooms. For appealing textures in a stir fry, add the denser vegetables at the beginning for longer cooking. Add the more leafy vegetables at the end. Chinese or Thai chili garlic sauces (available at Oriental stores and many supermarkets) can be hot, so use more or less, as you prefer. Makes 4 cups (two servings). Recipe can be doubled.


2 tbsp cashew butter or peanut butter

1-2 tbsp Chinese, Thai or other chili garlic sauce

1 tbsp tamari, Bragg Liquid Soy or soy sauce

1 tbsp water

Stir Fry:

1/4 cup or more cashews 1 large red or white onion, sliced

2 tsp olive oil 1 large carrot, sliced diagonally

1 cup broccoli florets, chopped

1 red pepper, diced

1 cup bok choy or Chinese cabbage, chopped

1 cup snow pea pods

In small bowl, stir together cashew butter, chili garlic sauce, tamari and water to make a smooth paste. In a preheated hot wok or pan, cook onion in oil over high heat for 3 minutes or until beginning to brown. Add carrot and cook for 1 minute; add broccoli and cook for another 30 seconds; then add red pepper, bok choy and snow peas, cooking just long enough to heat through. Add sauce, stir to combine, sprinkle with cashews and serve over brown rice.


Sweet Nut’ins


From The Raw Food Revolution Diet by Cherie Soria, Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina (Book Publishing Company, 2008).

Sweet Nut’ins are a perfect holiday cookie for all ages. Soaking improves the mouth feel and mineral availability of nuts. For dried fruit, use chopped, pitted dates or try any combination of dates, dried apricots, blueberries, cranberries, cherries and figs (with stems removed).

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

2 cups almonds, soaked for 8 hours, rinsed and drained

1 cup walnuts, soaked for 8 hours, rinsed and drained

3 cups dried fruit

1 tsp almond extract or 2 tsp orange zest (minced orange peel)

In a food processor outfitted with the “S” blade, grind the almonds and walnuts until coarsely chopped. Add the dried fruit and almond extract or zest; process until ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Using a tablespoon, form small balls and flatten these with your hand, making cookies about 1/2 inch thick and 2 inches in diameter. Enjoy these soft, chewy cookies immediately or store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer.

Variation: If you have a dehydrator, you can place the formed cookies on a tray lined with a non-stick sheet and dehydrate the cookies at 105 degrees F/40 C for 12 to 24 hours, depending on how crunchy you want them. These healthy treats make excellent gifts that can be safely mailed. They also freeze well.

Support the food declaration

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

I never thought I’d see the day when one man could make such an enormous difference to the planet. We have just begun a new era of politics where, out of necessity, the people will now drive the agenda. The most powerful nation in the world – the one that contributes most to climate change and war – now has an administration willing to listen and respond to the needs of the people. There’s really only one thing left for the people to do: to decide what the future looks like so we may move there smoothly and easily.

A brilliant start can be found at, a US website that has initiated a Declaration for Healthy Food and Agriculture. Will you sign up? The Declaration follows:

We, the undersigned, believe that a healthy food system is necessary to meet the urgent challenges of our time. Behind us stands a half-century of industrial food production, underwritten by cheap fossil fuels, abundant land and water resources and a drive to maximize the global harvest of cheap calories. Ahead lie rising energy and food costs, a changing climate, declining water supplies, a growing population and the paradox of widespread hunger and obesity.

These realities call for a radically different approach to food and agriculture. We believe that the food system must be reorganized on a foundation of health: for our communities, for people, for animals and for the natural world. The quality of food, and not just its quantity, ought to guide our agriculture. The ways we grow, distribute and prepare food should celebrate our various cultures and our shared humanity, providing not only sustenance, but justice, beauty and pleasure.

Governments have a duty to protect people from malnutrition, unsafe food and exploitation, and to protect the land and water on which we depend from degradation. Individuals, producers and organizations have a duty to create regional systems that can provide healthy food for their communities. We all have a duty to respect and honour the labourers of the land without whom we could not survive. The changes we call for here have begun, but the time has come to accelerate the transformation of our food and agriculture and make its benefits available to all.

We believe that the following twelve principles should frame food and agriculture policy, to ensure that it will contribute to the health and wealth of the nation and the world. A healthy food and agriculture policy:

1. Forms the foundation of secure and prosperous societies, healthy communities and healthy people.

2. Provides access to affordable, nutritious food to everyone.

3. Prevents the exploitation of farmers, workers and natural resources; the domination of genomes and markets; and the cruel treatment of animals, by any nation, corporation or individual.

4. Upholds the dignity, safety and quality of life for all who work to feed us.

5. Commits resources to teach children the skills and knowledge essential to food production, preparation, nutrition and enjoyment.

6. Protects the finite resources of productive soils, fresh water and biological diversity.

7. Strives to remove fossil fuel from every link in the food chain and replace it with renewable resources and energy.

8. Originates from a biological rather than an industrial framework.

9. Fosters diversity in all its relevant forms: diversity of domestic and wild species; diversity of foods, flavours and traditions; diversity of ownership.

10. Requires a national dialogue concerning technologies used in production and allows regions to adopt their own respective guidelines on such matters.

11. Enforces transparency so that citizens know how their food is produced, where it comes from and what it contains.

12. Promotes economic structures and supports programs to nurture the development of just and sustainable regional farm and food networks.

Our pursuit of healthy food and agriculture unites us as people and as communities, across geographic boundaries and social and economic lines. We pledge our votes, our purchases, our creativity and our energies to this urgent cause.

Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide. She grows her certified organic “Seeds of Victoria” a

Choose happiness

THE POWER OF NOW by Eckhart Tolle

Would you choose unhappiness? If you did not choose it, how did it arise? What is its purpose? Who is keeping it alive? You say that you are conscious of your unhappy feelings, but the truth is that you are identi€ed with them and keep the process alive through compulsive thinking. All that is unconscious.

If you were conscious, that is to say totally present in the Now, all negativity would dissolve almost instantly. It could not survive in your presence. It can only survive in your absence. Even the pain-body cannot survive for long in your presence. You keep your unhappiness alive by giving it time. That is its lifeblood. Remove time through intense present-moment awareness and it dies. But do you want it to die? Have you truly had enough? Who would you be without it?

Until you practise surrender, the spiritual dimension is something you read about, talk about, get excited about, write books about, think about, believe in or don’t, as the case may be. It makes no difference. Not until you surrender does it become a living reality in your life. When you do, the energy that you emanate and which then runs your life is of a much higher vibrational frequency than the mind energy that still runs our world – the energy that created the existing social, political and economic structures of our civilization, and which also continuously perpetuates itself through our educational systems and the media.

Through surrender, spiritual energy comes into this world. It creates no suffering on the planet. Unlike mind energy, it does not pollute the Earth and it is not subject to the law of polarities, which dictates that nothing can exist without its opposite, that there can be no good without bad. Those who run on mind energy, which is still the vast majority of the Earth’s population, remain unaware of the existence of spiritual energy. It belongs to a different order of reality and will create a different world when a sufficient number of humans enter the surrendered state and so become totally free of negativity. If the Earth is to survive, this will be the energy of those who inhabit it.

Jesus referred to this energy when he made his famous prophetic statement in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the gentle; they shall have the earth for their possession.” It is a silent, but intense, presence that dissolves the unconscious patterns of the mind. They may still remain active for a while, but they won’t run your life anymore. The external conditions that were being resisted also tend to shift or dissolve quickly through surrender. It is a powerful transformer of situations and people. If conditions do not shift immediately, your acceptance of the Now enables you to rise above them. Either way, you are free.

It is true that only an unconscious person will try to use or manipulate others, but it is equally true that only an unconscious person can be used and manipulated. If you resist or fight unconscious behaviour in others, you become unconscious yourself. But surrender doesn’t mean that you allow yourself to be used by unconscious people. Not at all. It is perfectly possible to say “no” firmly and clearly or to walk away from a situation and be in a state of complete inner non-resistance at the same time. When you say “no” to a person or a situation, let it come not from reaction, but from insight, from a clear realization of what is right or not right for you at that moment. Let it be a nonreactive “no,” a high-quality “no,” a “no” that is free of all negativity and so creates no further suffering.

If you cannot surrender, take action immediately: speak up or do something to bring about a change in the situation or remove yourself from it. Take responsibility for your life. Do not pollute your beautiful, radiant inner Being or the Earth with negativity. Do not give unhappiness in any form whatsoever a dwelling place inside you.



Adapted from The Power of Now, copyright 1999 by Eckhart Tolle. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA, 800-972-6657 (ext. 52). Visit

Conscious communication

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

The single, biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. – George Bernard Shaw

By the age of two, most humans are learning how to talk. However, some people can go a lifetime without ever learning to really communicate. Communication is one of the biggest problems between couples and between parents and teens. While there may be a lot of talking going on, it is often “talking at” rather than “talking with.”

The word communication comes from the word “commune,” which means to be in a state of intimate, heightened sensitivity and receptivity, as with one’s surroundings.

Humans are gifted with the ability to share meaning. This happens best when there is a heightened sensitivity and receptivity to what the other is saying. We see this during the honeymoon stage of a new relationship when both people hang on to each other’s every word and intimacy develops as each person shows real understanding of the other. To truly see and know another is the deepest of all intimacies.

Of course, it is ego that gets in the way. When it has its own agenda, it is not so interested in another’s point of view. Think how present and responsive we can be when listening to the trials of a friend. We have no real vested interest in how he or she views the situation or chooses to respond. We simply want to be there for them and lend support.

However, dealing with a spouse or teen when there is a difference of opinion is another matter entirely. The ability to listen with a supportive and receptive ear somehow disappears as ego is immediately on guard. Ready to attack or defend, there is no time for ego to take up the cause of the opponent.

Ego assumes power and what began as differing points of view becomes a win/lose contest. It is now about challenging the views of the other and making him or her wrong. Ego must do this for if the other is right, then ego is wrong and ego will not stand for that. Ego will argue for its “rightness” even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Fairness, respect and validation of the other go out the window.

Often, this is a long-standing pattern and two people will fall into it almost unconsciously without realizing it has happened. Interestingly, even though both are contributing to the negative process, each person will blame the other for being difficult. Unquestionably, the relationship suffers and the partners will not have the trust and closeness they undoubtedly both desire.

There is a way out, however. It requires a conscious shift and staying conscious regardless of what the other person says or does. It helps to set a goal of always making the relationship more important than the issue and to then establish an agreed upon process to use when discussing an issue. For example, the agreement might be that each person states his or her case without interruption or interrogation and the listener repeats back the essence of what was said to ensure accurate understanding.

Once both sides of the issue are understood, it is not about trying to convince the other to agree or give in. This will only lead back to arguing and the accompanying negativity. Rather, the next task is to work together to find a compromise or solution that will work. Whereas, in the old way, each person merely reiterated his viewpoint and perhaps denigrated the other with escalating intensity, in the new way, once each person has stated their case, there is a shift: having heard my way and your way, we now work as a team to find a “third way.”

This takes practice and mutual co-operation. If the process starts to derail, it needs a time out. Reminding each other that the relationship is more important than the issue and refusing to let ego jump in and take you out of integrity will assist in establishing a higher road.

Gwen Randall-Young is a psychotherapist in private practice and author ofGrowing Into Soul: The Next Step in Human Evolution. For articles and information about her books and “Deep Powerful Change” personal growth/hypnosis CDs, visit

Ripping tales


Scene from RiP: A Remix Manifesto

Intellectual property rights is one of the most vexing issues of the digital era. People on different sides of the planet exchange music, software, images, TV shows and even entire movies over the internet. Traditional media companies are terrified; the old business model has been predicated on big media being able to control the distribution channels – CDs, DVDs, TV and so on – but digital technology and the internet have changed everything. Users are becoming more sophisticated at ripping, editing and sharing digitized content for free across the wires, using peer-to-peer software. It may not always be strictly copyright legal, but as media conglomerates are discovering at great expense, there’s little they can do to prevent this growing trend.

RiP: A Remix Manifesto, a feisty, NFB-produced documentary showing at the Whistler Film Festival December 4-7, is a call to overhaul copyright laws. As the title suggests, RiP is particularly interested in the legally grey area of remixing existing works, although director Brett Gaylor also introduces individual mom ‘n pop downloaders who have been stamped on by the heavy boot of the litigious music industry. The group includes high school kids, a Texan pastor and Jammie Thomas, the single mom ordered to pay the recording industry $222,000 for allegedly downloading 24 songs. By criminalizing its customers, the music industry has set itself up for attack and Gaylor has great fun mocking its bully-boy tactics.

RiP focuses on trendy, laptop musician Girl Talk, aka Gregg Gillis, a Pittsburgh biomedical engineer who mashes-up hundreds of samples from other artists’ works into his own distinctive compositions. The film suggests that artists have borrowed from their predecessors since time immemorial and that digital mash-ups are just an extension of that. What’s more, the cost of getting clearance for Girl Talk to perform the songs would be prohibitive. So he doesn’t, although the threat of litigation always hovers over his head. Gaylor memorably makes the point about how copyright is stifling creativity by teasing us with footage of a Girl Talk gig where everyone is clearly having a great time (including Paris Hilton), but the soundtrack is muted. He uses the same device with the song Happy Birthday – owned by Time Warner – to show how absurd copyright law can be when taken to its natural conclusion.

This is the kind of film where everyone is either a villain or hero. Metallica and the Rolling Stones come off badly as big-business recording artists, while Radiohead, which released its album direct to the web for whatever price fans wanted to pay for it, appears progressive. Star interviewee is Lawrence Lessig, the Stanford prof who came up with the ubiquitous Creative Commons licence and helped make redefining copyright laws one of the blogosphere’s causes célèbres.

Manifestos aren’t subtle things; big media is not quite as loony as it appears here. Some artists won’t warm to the message “Times are changing; get used to it,” but RiP’s campaign-style approach still pays off with an entertaining 80 minutes complete with snappy, video mash-ups and montages. Look for Rip in cinemas this spring. You can contribute to a remix of the film at


Robert Alstead maintains a blog at

This is your moment

EARTHFUTURE by Guy Dauncey

We live in exciting times. We don’t need to pray for the day when real change will start rolling. It’s rolling now so don’t pass this one up! Things may seem sleepy in Canada, but don’t kid yourself. Just because the government in Ottawa is stuck in the 1950s, it doesn’t mean the rest of us have to be.

What does it mean to wake up and join in? The answer to this question is unique to you, whether you are reading this in a café, on the bus, in the bath or over the breakfast table. I may be writing for a quarter-million Common Groundreaders, but, in reality, I’m writing for just one person – and that’s you.

Story #1. In 1995, Josep Puig, a Green Party city councillor in Barcelona, Spain, worked with the city staff to install solar hot water panels at City Hall. He then worked with local builders and the city to craft a bylaw that required all large new buildings in the city to install solar hot water. The bylaw was copied by other towns in Catalonia, then by Madrid, and in 2006 solar hot water panels were made compulsory for new and renovated buildings throughout Spain. One man, supported by good partners, kick-started Spain’s solar revolution.

Story #2. In 2002, Felix Kramer, an entrepreneur and market strategist in Palo Alto, California, founded a group called CalCars with the goal of bringing clean, advanced vehicles to market much faster than the major car companies. In September 2004, the group converted a Toyota Prius into a plug-in, hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) that could run on batteries for the first 60 to 80 miles. They then showed people what they had done. By 2007, Ford, Toyota and GM were all planning to have PHEVs on the road by 2010, and in October 2008, $1 billion was assigned to advance the development of PHEVs in the $700 billion bank bail-out. One man, supported by a group of very geeky software engineers, is changing the automobile industry globally. See

Story #3. In September 2003, Cindi Seddon, principal of Pitt River Middle School in Coquitlam, BC, decided to ditch the junk food that KFC, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut were serving in the school cafeteria, replacing it with real food for her students. She also turfed junk food out of the vending machines. She had solid support from her parent committees and staff, but the Coquitlam School Board thought otherwise and ordered the junk food back on the menu, claiming it had that authority and she did not. Cindi’s actions triggered a media storm and a public debate and, as a result, in 2007, the province banned highly processed foods and foods with large amounts of sweetener, salt, fat and calories from school cafeterias and vending machines. If Cindi had not decided enough was enough, our kids would still be eating junk food in BC schools today.

Somewhere in your unfolding life there may be a story like this that will be your story. It may begin with someone knocking on your door, asking, “Can you help us?” Or it may come from within as a quiet idea and a sprig of determination.

You don’t need to know how you’re going to achieve your idea. You can learn as you go along. You need just three things: 1) A clear image in your mind of what the end result will be. 2) The skills to pull it off, which probably include people skills and partnership-building skills. 3) The willingness to put one foot in front of the other and to keep going when you meet obstacles, seeking help and advice from your partners. If your first thought is “I don’t have the skills,” go out and get them. You won’t regret it.

Do you have a small voice, saying, “I really want to contribute to a better world, and I’ve got this idea…?”

If you do, don’t pass it up. This is your moment.

Guy Dauncey is president of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, editor of EcoNews and author of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change and other titles. He lives in Victoria.

Blowin’ in the wind

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

Energy underpins everything we do. Human societies have become increasingly complex, requiring ever larger-scale sources of continuous energy. Now, energy fuels not only our activities, but our economies as well. If we don’t choose our energy sources wisely, we can do more harm than good.

Non-renewable energy sources such as fossil and nuclear fuels are not sustainable and have also taught us that technological advances often come at great cost. These fuels can never be a long-term solution because they will run out. They also create emissions that pollute our air, water and soil and contribute to global warming or long-term radioactive waste problems.

Renewable energy sources will not run out and they don’t cause the same kinds of environmental problems as non-renewables. But that doesn’t mean we should adopt renewable energy carelessly. Biofuels can create problems if fuel production comes at the expense of food production. And wind power, if not properly planned and sited, can harm birds and bats (although Danish studies of 10,000 bird kills revealed that almost all died in collisions with buildings, cars and wires; only 10 were killed by windmills).

Alternative energy sources are absolutely necessary. Global warming will kill birds and bats, as well as other species, in much greater numbers than wind power. We need to believe in our ability to develop solutions. During three decades of producing the TV program The Nature of Things, we’ve often encountered difficulties filming in exotic locations. Back when we worked with film, we always took a lighting person with us. I dreaded working with one lighting guy because whenever he was faced with a demanding challenge, he’d respond, “It can’t be done.” We’d have to cajole him until we accomplished the task, but it drained the crew’s morale and wore us down. Another lighting person would respond, “Well, this is a tough one, but let’s give it a try.”

The mental attitude that underlies the way we approach any challenge is a huge part of how well we deal with it. For more than 20 years, leading scientists have warned us that the dangers of runaway global warming are so great that we cannot continue along the same path. Yet the response (usually led by the fossil-fuel industry) has been “It’s junk science” or “It’s too expensive; it’ll destroy the economy” or “It’s impossible to meet the reduction targets.” These kinds of reactions demoralize or paralyze society.

Compare those comments on the challenge of climate change with the American response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor or the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik 1. There was a sense of solidarity of purpose, to win the war or to beat the Russians to the moon. Throwing everything at winning led to all kinds of unexpected bonuses: the American economy blazed out of the Depression, while the race to the moon resulted in the Internet, 24-hour news channels, GPS and cell phones. Making a commitment to resolve a serious crisis generates opportunities and creates jobs.

Already, renewable-energy technologies are creating employment and giving economies a boost around the world. Countries like Denmark and Germany started shifting to renewable energy sources after the OPEC oil embargo in the 1970s. Today, Denmark obtains 20 percent of its energy from wind power and is aiming at 50 percent by 2020. Germany, which obtains 14 percent of its energy from wind, is the major exporter of wind technology and has created more than 82,000 jobs in the wind sector and more than 200,000 renewable-energy jobs in total. Wind power has become the country’s fastest growing job creator over the past three decades.

Even the U.S. Energy Department believes that wind power could provide one fifth of that nation’s power by 2030. Other studies have shown that wind, solar and biofuel energy could create five million US jobs by 2030.

The problem with the climate challenge is not a llack of solutions; it is a lack of will. As we saw with our lighting technicians, our attitude toward what confronts us will have a huge impact on how we achieve results.

Take the Nature Challenge and learn more at


Truce not war

Thank you very much for the article about the events that took place on December 24, 1914 [Remembering war, Geoff Olson, November 2008]. It’s a very beautiful and inspirational piece and the question of where to mark events like December 24, 1914, on the calendar is so important. I think many more people are asking this question these days. I’d rather be taking part in celebrating “Christmas Truce” day rather than romanticizing the loss of young lives to wars. Thanks again.

– Alex Rojkov


Food Matters a must-see

There are many things that I am still not sure of, but one thing I know for sure: we all live on the same common ground called Mother Earth and we all rely on the same air, water and food supply. Alarm bells have been ringing for centuries and we have refused the wake-up call to start treasuring this Earth. Now, two individuals have produced and directed an incredible documentary in their attempt to wake us up once again to the dangers that lurk within our food and what we must do about it. Please take this wake up call seriously. I encourage everyone who cares about their own health and the future of this planet to get their hands on a copy of Food Matters. Watch it, pay attention and pass it on to as many people as you can. Go to to get a copy or copies of this powerful film. Please do your part to help yourself and others take charge of their health. Doctors treat illness; wellness is our right and responsibility and the food we eat and the lifestyle we choose do matter. My deepest gratitude to James Colquhoun and Laurentine ten Bosch for their dedication and to all those who spoke so truthfully in this documentary. I will be equally dedicated in doing my part to get this information out to the world. [Common Ground published an interview with James and Laurentine in the October 2008 issue.]

– Bonnie Friesen


San Francisco artist looks to replace lost eyeball with webcam

Tanya Vlach, who lost an eye in a 2005 car accident, thinks installing a Web cam into her prosthesis would be quite a sight. A one-eyed San Francisco artist wants to replace her missing eye with a Web cam – and tech experts say it’s possible.

“I’d always given thought to using cameras to restore sight to the blind,” said Dr. William Danz, whose patient, Tanya Vlach, wants the groundbreaking device. “This is a little different, more like James Bond stuff.” Vlach, who lost her eye in a 2005 car accident, wears a realistic acrylic prosthesis, but she’s issued a challenge to engineers on her blog: build an “eye cam” for her prosthesis that can dilate with changes of light and allow her to blink to control its zoom, focus, and on/off switch.

“There have been all sorts of cyborgs in science fiction for a long time, and I’m sort of a sci-fi geek,” said Vlach, 35. “With the advancement of technology, I thought, ‘Why not?’”

The eye cam could allow her to record her entire life or even shoot a reality TV show from her eye’s perspective. Vlach said she will let inspiration strike once she has the device. “There are a lot of ideas floating around…nothing too exploitative,” said Vlach. “I don’t want to be a spy and infringe on people’s rights, and at the same time, there are amazing possibilities.” Vlach’s challenge, first reported by tech blogger Kevin Kelly, has inspired blog posts from around the world and e-mails to Vlach from dozens of eager engineers.

Mobile computing expert Roy Want told the Daily News the technology exists. “It is possible to build a wireless camera with the dimensions of the eyeball,” said Want, a senior principal engineer at Intel. “You can find spy cams or nanny cams designed to fit into inconspicuous places in the home.”

Want said the camera, which would be encased in Vlach’s prosthesis to avoid moisture, could link wirelessly to a smart phone. The smart phone could send power to the camera wirelessly and relay the camera’s video feed by cell phone network to another person, a TV studio or a computer.

In a world where eye cams are common, they might serve as a kind of computerized backup to people’s memories, Want said. “You’d never need to forget anything again,” he said. “You’d never lose anything. You could ask it, ‘Where was the last time I saw my keys?’”

– Joe Gould, Daily News writer


Gates and MacKay statements disingenuous

Neither Defence Minister Peter MacKay nor U. S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates were straightforward or candid in their statements regarding Friday’s daylong meeting of defence ministers from the U.S., Britain, Holland, Australia, Estonia, Denmark and Romania.

MacKay called upon NATO countries he considers slackers because they have placed caveats on their forces that prevent them from being deployed in combat areas to remove them. He knows their decisions are based on public opinion just as was his government’s decision to be out of combat in 2011.  Why would Germany, Italy and France alter their positions because of Obama when he says we won’t?

Gates must consider the media to be naive (another meaning of disingenuous) in saying “that despite the violence, coalition forces remain in control of the country.” and that “the Taliban do not hold any land”.

A year ago the Senlis Council reported “Taliban in Control of 54 Percent of Afghanistan”. Conditions have worsened since then when it was concluded that “The Taliban are the de facto governing authority in significant portions of territory in the south and east, and are starting to control parts of the local economy and key infrastructure such as roads and energy supply.”

An Aug. 6, 2008 (AP) article stated, “ Sometimes villagers go to the Taliban because their courts move faster and appear less corrupt, experts said. But at other times, in Taliban strongholds, people are afraid to turn anywhere else.”

Gates is down playing Taliban strength because in his words “The most important objective for us for 2009 in Afghanistan is a successful election,” Mr. Gates said. “One of the things we talked about his morning was trying to surge as many forces as we can prior to the election, to try and provide a secure environment for the election.”

“Many politicians and party leaders of the country are concerned by the fact that the instability in Afghanistan will negatively affect the election process. The experts say that holding elections in the country is impossible under the situation, when the security is not ensured, and serious measures are not undertaken with regards to the opposition, who speak against the power.”

The election is proceeding. Gates aim is for it to be seen as a being successful. Whether his “spin” that the Taliban is weaker than it is will be an assist is yet to be determined.

– Joe Hueglin, former PC MP, 
Niagara Falls,


Is Pristine Power exec misleading public?

Harvie Campbell, an industry insider with Pristine Power, wrote in a Vancouver Sun guest editorial Nov. 21 that BC buys expensive peaking power at spot market prices, which is not true. We buy coal and nuclear power from Alberta and Washington when it is cheap at night and resell it to California the next day, during peak demand, when we can make an average 500% profit in less than 24 hours.

He uses numerous statements to justify privatizing of BC Hydro. We have been making as much as $500 million a year reselling imported power. The position Harvie takes is based on the same lie that BC Energy Minister Richard Neufeld keeps repeating to convince us we MUST develop private power.

When we check the figures we find these people are wrong. While coal and nuclear are dirty and unsustainable, they are not uneconomical as Harvie Campbell and the BC government are claiming.

It must be repeated of course that the BC Liberals passed legislation to put BC Hydro out of business regarding new power projects, now bein built by private concerns at much higher prices. Accenture, BCTC, Powerex, and the private power projects are all designed to move BC Hydro to privatization.

When the governor of California was here recently it was to buy our power, not for some insignificant but high profile hydrogen highway. PG&E spent $16 million alone, planning how to move more BC power to California.

– A.B. Hansen,
Vancouver, BC