Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Everyone is trying, consciously, all the time, to have a civilization "not ruled by money"

jonathanstray (jstray) wrote,@ 2008-02-07 09:57:00
I believe fairly firmly that there is a fundamental, perhaps willful, ignorance of economics here. Those who work for core Auroville "units" receive a "maintenance" of 5000 rupees per month -- about $125. It's not much, but your housing is free, so it's enough to live. It's also not intended to be a salary. It's not quite linked to work as such, and you don't really have to work if you don't want to in Auroville. This is lovely, in a way. It's an ideal about how one spends one's life. Work should be a joy, not an obligation. Of course, the reason this is possible is that gazillions of rupees are pouring in from external donations and government grants. Auroville needs a plan for economic self sufficiency, but this would involve too much talk about money. There is stiff resistance among most people – even with my very sensible IT-trained friend Min – whenever I raise the topic of "economics." People don't want to talk about "making money" or "tax rates" or "deficit" or "being able to afford the things we want," because the citizens of Auroville are supposed to be above all that. Except that all of these things already exist here, they're just called different names. I think I shall have to try to find new language. But, I have to respect the fact that everyone is trying, consciously, all the time, to have a civilization "not ruled by money." It's just that I think that one important step towards this is simply to live in an abundance of everything, and this requires solid economic planning and actual technical knowledge.
My (volunteer) work is going well. I have completed drafts of the text of two of the eight panels for the Aurobille Environmental Exhibition which is supposed to be installed by the 40th anniversary of Auroville, Feb 28. I've gotten a firsthand taste of the collaborative process in two meetings with Nicole of the Visitor's Center. She feels very strongly that the exhibition needs to be very focused on the Auroville story; this old Frenchwoman was there in the beginning when it was nothing, when it was desert. The original people here reforested (it's impressive!) and built a town out of nothing at all. It must have been an intense experience, and Nicole brings all the attachments of that experience. What she doesn't have is perspective. Min and I successfully argued that the exhibition should be have a broader perspective. My opinion is that not many visitors will really care that much about the development of one little town, but if we can show that the problems faced here (erosion, water supply, energy generation, waste disposal, sustainable architecture) are in fact a microcosm of the global problems, we will have succeeded.I have also set up collaboration tools. To wit, yesterday I set up a mailing list and a Wiki where we will edit the panel text. In some ways the project is not really long or large enough to justify such sophistication, and anyway the people working on it are not familiar with such tools so I don't expect that much gain. The real point of this is to experiment and learn about how people learn to use such tools, and also hopefully to introduce them into Aurovillian thinking. Auroville needs proper IT tools and infrastructure badly. In my San Francisco life all my social and political interactions are dominated by online tools, and it's certainly changed things, I think much for the better. Given Auroville's mission, the potential for such tools here is enormous. I keep thinking about a Wiki for all the knowledge collected here, and for collaboration and consensus building generally...
I have also been trying to understand more clearly the relationships between individual will and societal structures. It's funny how my viewpoint shifts on this topic. In Ethiopia I talked at length to my friend Jenafir about social transformation. At that time I argued very strongly for individual responsibility, initiative, etc. I felt it was much more about single people taking responsibility for their lives; the primary problem in Africa, if one can say there is a "primary" problem, seems to me to be the almost universal sense of powerlessness. Nobody actually does anything there! Dependence is the rule. Here in Auroville, that is not the problem. Auroville is populated nearly 50% by Westerners who are used to taking initiative. Hence I find I am thinking much more about how the "system" directs people's actions. I keep wondering how to set this place up better. This is somewhat opposed to the general Auroville philosophy of "evolving consciousness", of personal development, of solving all systemic problems by first appealing to all that is high and noble in the individual; whereas my systemic investigations essentially take opposite approach, taking people as the imperfect, selfish, shortsighted, and fearful people that they are and trying to devise a societal structure that brings out the best in them. But there is a real preference in Auroville for informal, consensus, etc. methods, as opposed to formal structure and process, and I am starting to see that this is a valid experiment. For example, there is effectively a corporate income tax rate of one third, i.e. 33% on all business "units" in AV. But this tax is voluntary. There is no law (really none of any kind here beyond the standard India legal framework) and no coercion methods available to enforce this tax collection. Does this work? Will it work in the long run as the society grows?
Must the state ultimately be backed by force? Hobbes envisioned a Sovereign with absolute power as the basis of cooperative society; a half-century later Locke claimed that we can and should have strict limits on the power of the government. What is the next step in trusting individual citizens? My sense is that most contemporary theorists still feel that the state needs to have some coercive power somewhere. Is this true? My gut reaction is "probably." Here in Auroville, I think the general philosophy would tend to answer "no". However, there are problems that Auroville has yet to confront. For example, there have been criminal acts perpetrated by outsiders (including a murder), but Auroville has yet to be forced to deal with the shock of a criminal from within. This is probably because the society is young, (relatively) rich, and (relatively) cohesive. They are also very selective in who they let in in the first place (which is a whole other topic.) But I cannot see how they will avoid the day when they discover that one of their own has been stealing from the cookie jar, or worse. Then what?

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