Author Archives: Boone

The Economics of Cooperation

At East Wind we reap the benefits of cooperation. Because we work together, we are able to achieve a lifestyle of leisure and comfort while spending far less money than the national average. Let’s get right into the numbers (the following numbers are based on our fiscal year 2016-17, specifically July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017. As far as expenditures go, this year is representative of East Wind’s operating costs.)


It is probably impossible to come up with an accurate average population count at East Wind. Members leave East Wind and drop membership to pursue other opportunities, and new members are constantly joining. Members often leave the farm, sometimes for extended periods. At the same time, there are pretty much always non-members – visitors, and guests of members – on the farm whom we are feeding and clothing and who may or may not be contributing labor. To avoid even attempting to address this problem I will be using our population cap, which we were at for the year in question, of 73 members as our population count. This is slightly misleading as we do not have 73 full members and there are benefits such as full health coverage that only full members receive, but fairly accurate as most of the benefits of living at East Wind are shared by everyone living here.


Click here for a full description of East Wind’s labor system. Something not mentioned there is the many vacations we East Winders enjoy. While our weekly labor quota is 35 hours per week, once a month we have a holiday, and quota is reduced by 8 hours for the week the holiday falls in. Members also get the same 8 hour quota reduction for their birthdays. Every year members get three weeks worth of hours (105) on their anniversary as a ‘paid vacation.’

As a community we worked 101,798.9 hours for this year. Bear in mind that the following does not truly reflect our average working week but instead is a rough approximation based on the idealized population of 73 members. As mentioned above, East Winders will leave the farm for sometimes significant amounts of time. Furthermore, outside of the winter months we always have visitors and guests here who contribute labor to our community. These caveats noted, our total hours divided by 73 members and 52 weeks works out to 26.8 hours per member per week.


I cannot even begin to describe how well we eat here at East Wind. Every night at 6 our cooks put out dinner for community. The deliciousness and variety is continually amazing. Our cooks serve all different styles of meals: Thai, Southern, Mexican, Indian, Italian, barbeque, or just good ol’ meat and potatoes. Lunch is often put out at noon, usually consisting of leftovers and maybe a fresh dish or two. We are also free to cook whatever we want for ourselves at any time. During the summer there’s fresh produce from the garden, and there’s always cold raw milk on tap and freshly baked bread to eat. We buy things to eat that we don’t produce ourselves such as avocados, pasta, fruits year round, and chocolate chips. Desserts often just appear on the serving counter at night. You have to eat here to really understand, but I’d say we eat better than just about anybody. And we do it while spending way less on food per person than just about anybody. Our successful ranch, dairy, garden, and food processing programs contribute greatly to this low cost, high quality food.

Food Costs for a year:

Buying food: $81,138

Kitchen Supplies: $3,770

Food Processing (meat and veggie): $2,362

Garden: $5,639

Ranch & Dairy: $25,005

Water: $207

Total: $118,121

Total food cost per person per month comes to $134.84

We are able to keep our food costs so low because we provide a good chunk of our food for ourselves, outside of the money economy. And we of course do all our own preparation. The following breaks down how much time we spend growing, preserving, and preparing our own food.

Kitchen = 12,826.3 hours

Food processing = 4,381.2 hours

Garden = 5,677.2 hours

Ranch & Dairy = 11,178.8 hours

Meal Preparation:

One of my favorite things about East Wind is that every single night I get to enjoy a delicious, fresh, home-cooked meal. Before living at East Wind I would cook for myself, but with hardly any variety because I am a lazy cook. Cooking for one or two just always seemed so inefficient. Here that’s obviously not the situation. If we say that East Wind prepares about eleven community meals a week (seven dinners and four lunches) then we only spend .3 hours per person per meal. That level of efficiency is only possible in cooperative living. I guess you could pop something in the microwave and have it be ready in less than 18 minutes, but there is absolutely no comparison between our freshly made, many-dished meals and frozen microwave dinners. This .3 hours per person per meal also includes cleaning and all the ancillary chores associated with maintaining a kitchen like stocking and ordering food (which would be shopping for those in the mainstream).

Food Production:

I asked our incredible Food Processing manager if she had any numbers on our food production for the past year, and boy did she.


The following list is what we put up from our garden production in 2016. We certainly consumed much more than this, but there’s no way to know how much. A key thing to keep in mind is that the following was produced by our gardens and food processing kitchen. Our veggies are of the highest quality. We use completely natural methods here at East Wind, and you cannot get any more local. We use nothing artificial; no fossil fuel fertilizers, no pesticide, no GMO seeds, etc.

  • 100 gal. Tomato Sauce
  • 25 gal. Pickled Peppers
  • 10 gal. Roasted and Tomatillo Salsas
  • A small chest freezer’s worth of Strawberries
  • Two large chest freezers’ worth of Corn, Okra, Pesto, Sweet Peppers, Eggplant, Summer Squash, and more
  • 100’s of lbs. of Beets and Carrots
  • 3,000+ lbs. of Squash and Sweet Potato
  • ~2,000 lbs. of Potatoes


We have a fantastic dairy program here and milk 3-6 cows twice a day, every day. Our cows are treated extremely well, and like our garden, are natural. They are grass fed and we don’t use hormones. This year, they produced ~34,000 lbs. of raw milk (~4000 gals.). We drink a good portion of this. What we can’t drink we turn into butter, cheese, and yogurt. In 2016, we made ~150 lbs. of the most delicious butter I have ever had. Our butter is a rich yellow, so different from what you can find in stores. We also produced ~1,500 lbs. of all different varieties of raw cheese. In our processing we use no pasteurization, which maintains all the healthy probiotics native to raw milk.


Like everything else at East Wind, our meat animals are all natural and raised with love. We use no hormones or antibiotics, nor herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers on our pastures. Something that truly sets East Wind apart is our meat processing. We do everything ourselves. Our animals are raised, cared for, slaughtered, butchered, preserved (naturally, not artificially), and eaten all within a quarter mile radius. You cannot get more local.

We didn’t keep the most detailed records of our meat production for 2016, so the numbers that follow are averages.

6-12 Pigs @ 100lb. yield        900lbs. pork

2 Hogs @ 400lb. yield            800lbs. pork

3 cows @ 300lb. yield            900lbs. Beef


We have numerous egg layers in two mobile chicken tractors, and get an ample supply of farm eggs every day. The difference between our farm eggs and those we purchase is stark, the yolks of our farm eggs are a rich, dark, orange color, while those of our purchased eggs are a pale yellow. It goes to show that malnourished chickens produce malnourished eggs.

Medical Care:

East Wind provides medical coverage to the best of our ability for full members, including vision and dental. Our total medical expenditure came to $50,138. This works out to $686.82 per member per year. Compare this with the national average: “A 2015 Employer Health Benefits Survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that employer-sponsored family healthcare insurance premiums cost $17,545 annually, and the average worker contributed $1,071 for single coverage and $4,955 for family coverage per year.”

We also create a ton of our own medicine from herbs we grow in our herb gardens. These include salves, tinctures, tea blends, and more. Our healthy, active lifestyle further contributes to lower medical costs. Because we pay cash out-of-pocket for medical expenses we often get huge reductions in charges, as much as 40% off.


Despite owning and running a nut butter business and factory, our per capita energy consumption cost is quite low. We heat a lot of our buildings with firewood which we harvest from dead standing trees. Only our business offices, factory, and certain member rooms (as well as hallways) have air conditioning.

Energy Costs for 2016-17:

Electricity: $35,571

Propane: $7,648

Forestry: $1,815 (2312.1 labor hours went into Forestry this year)

Total: $45,034

Total per person per month comes to $51.41.

Electricity consumption:

Total community kWh for the year: 544,830

Per person per year: 7,463 kWh

National Average: 12,987 kWh in 2014

Source: “Electric power consumption measures the production of power plants and combined heat and power plants less transmission, distribution, and transformation losses and own use by heat and power plants.“

It is worth noting that East Wind’s electrical consumption includes the energy consumed by our Nut Butters factory and yet we are still significantly below the national average. It is also worth noting that some of the buildings built here are not very energy efficient.

Nut Butters:

Our main community business, East Wind Nut Butters, made $630,000 in profit for fiscal year 2016-17. This amply covered our domestic costs. We put in 18,734 labor hours into this business, which works out to $33.63 per hour. Not bad for a bunch of hippies.

Total Cost of Living:

Factoring in the varied other costs that go into providing a high quality of life, we pay a total of $533.05 per person per month to live as we do. Included in that amount is each member’s Discretionary Fund, which is $150 a month. That number encapsulates every domestic expenditure: medical care, auto maintenance and gas, housing, food, energy, shopping, discretionary funds, phone and internet, etc. In short, we have an incredible quality of life for far less than most people spend.

Per capita, we each live on $6,396.58 a year, which is well below the national poverty line of $12,060.

Cooperation pays.

Why I Don’t Vote – Part II

In posting my last post Why I Don’t Vote (in national elections) to Facebook I received quite a number of responses, many of them critical of my stance. I wrote the following on Facebook to provide additional context to my last post and will repost it here:

Before I address my post I want to share a little about myself as many of you do not know me well. The past Presidential election was the first I did not participate in since being able to do so. I reached my majority in 2004 just in time to vote against Bush’s second term. I voted straight Libertarian (and Democrat when there was no Libertarian candidate). Though my thought has grown quite a bit since then, even back then I did not like the “System.” In 2008 I had planned to vote the same way but at the last minute inside the voting booth switched my vote for President from Johnson to Obama, swayed by the possibility of a candidate who might truly change things up. I was disappointed, finding Obama hardly better than any other politician. That being the case, I returned to voting straight Libertarian in 2012. Had Bernie been the Democratic candidate in 2016 I would have voted for him for the same reason I’d voted for Obama, on the off chance that he might actually be something different. But of course he didn’t win the primary.

I used to vote for the same reasons so many of you are telling me I should now. I’ve been on your side of this argument many times. My final argument when doing so was usually, “If you don’t vote, don’t bitch.”

What was different in 2016 was my perspective on politics in general. In 2012 I voted Libertarian mainly on the basis of their stance on U.S military involvement in the rest of the world, which is essentially that we shouldn’t be involved militarily in the rest of the world. I felt that by voting for Johnson I was voting against U.S. troops killing foreigners, especially innocent civilians. By doing so I felt I could then say, “At least it wasn’t me, I voted against our neoliberal foreign policy.”

But even then I knew that to be a cop-out. Despite my vote, it was really oil that drives the death and dislocation the U.S. has caused in the Middle East. Oil I was helping create demand for by driving a car, eating non-local food, and buying plastic products. Regardless of how I voted, my lifestyle was predicated upon the American Empire and the innocent deaths it causes. I was also by that same stint contributing to climate change, which I feel is probably the most urgent issue facing us as a species right now.

Perhaps this gives a window into my current stance on voting and political action in general. My vote for a third party candidate is meaningless in all but the most abstract sense. So much so that Vivian got quite mad at me leading up to the 2016 election when I told her I might vote for Jill Stein. She was angry I might “throw away” my vote on a third party candidate and gave me the classic “lesser of two evils” argument.

By then I had already moved to East Wind, and while we are most definitely still plugged into capitalism, I felt that I had changed my lifestyle as radically as I could to no longer support the destructive actions of modern civilization while still having a good quality of life. My guilt of complicity in the American Empire thus assuaged, I realized that not one of the Presidential candidates stood for a fraction of what I believe in, and in general I had no faith in the American political system.

This brings us to my post. As far as voting itself goes, I’ve already shared my thoughts on it. I think most people recognize that unless you live in a swing state, your vote in a Presidential election is pretty much only symbolic. For example, I live in the Red State of Missouri. Trump won the state by over 500,000 votes. Had I voted for Jill Stein as I had considered, he still would have beat Clinton by that same number. Had I voted for Clinton as my sister wanted me to, he still would have won by over 500,000 votes. I consider either scenario a meaningless difference.

I think where I differ from most of you who disagree with my post is that I try to take a global, rather than just national, perspective on politics. From a global perspective, I find the way we humans collectively live on this planet to be simply unconscionable. Approximately 9 million people die from hunger each year. That’s almost 25,000 people dying each day. Due to hunger. It’s not as if the food doesn’t exist to feed them – it does – but they can’t afford it. They can’t afford it because of our capitalist world-economy which unavoidably concentrates wealth in the hands of the few, leaving the many with next to nothing. So much so that they die from lack of food.

We are in the beginning of the sixth mass extinction event in the last 450 million years. According to the UN Environment Programme, we are losing 150-200 species every day; this is nearly 1000 times the “natural” rate. This is obviously not due to an asteroid, but is attributed to us humans.

We’re losing the rainforest. We’re losing the coral reefs. We’ve overfished the oceans. We are causing climate change which will be catastrophic for us and other species. And all of these trends look to be only getting worse as time goes on.

The driving cause of all of these – and many more – problems is how we humans relate to each other and our planet on a global scale – in other words, civilization. Now, did any of use create this system? No, we were born into it. But it is my position that if we do not work to correct it we are just as culpable. This brings us to the discussion of political action.

It is my position that by living inside this system one helps perpetuate it. I almost certainly at some point in my life bought an article of clothing made in a sweatshop. Was I aware of it? No. Did I still contribute to oppression and injustice? Yes. The same idea applies to virtually every facet of mainstream American life. We have the cheapest gas in the world outside of major oil producing countries because of our economic and military empire. A huge chunk, if not all, of the destabilization of the Middle East can be laid at our feet because of our interest in its oil. By buying gas and driving cars I feel we are complicit in that mass amount of suffering.

Are any of us in this thread doing these things directly? No. But I don’t see that as an excuse.

The best solution I’ve found to this problem is to stop contributing to this destructive system, to unplug from the Matrix. More than one person has called this “dropping out.” And they’re right. But they see it as me washing my hands of responsibility while I see it as stepping up and taking ownership for my part in our destructive world-system.

This brings us to privilege. All of us participating in this thread are incredibly privileged. We were born middle-class or better in the richest, most powerful empire the world has ever seen. Compared to so many others, we have it so easy, we have it so good. But privilege cannot exist without oppression. They are two sides of the same coin. Our nation’s vast material wealth comes at the expense of mass worldwide poverty and of the destruction of nature.

It is my position that by enjoying our privilege without working to remove it we are in a morally indefensible position. I have tried to cease being part of the problem. I live below the poverty line and receive only $150 a month for discretionary spending, and yet still benefit in so many ways from the suffering of others simply by virtue of living in America. Short of living alone in the woods, which I don’t have the skills to do, I’ve yet to find a better solution.

To address the issue of voting one last time, I do not feel that many Americans agree with my views. I think most of us like being the richest country on Earth. I don’t think I could ever do anything inside of the system to address the many problems I see in the world in a meaningful way, so I am instead seeking to create change from outside of the system. I no longer will vote because I feel the economic world-system that our nation, and every other nation, rests upon is irredeemably broken and by participating in it I would be complicit in perpetuating it.

Furthermore, a friend from high school, JP, informed me that the  the Gilens and Page study I referenced in my first post has been debunked. I had not looked into their methodology until just now and agree with both their critics and JP in that their data does not support the conclusions they drew. That said, I still agree with their conclusions. I referenced that study because it succinctly summarized what will now require many more sources. One of the interesting things his link informed me of was that they considered the rich the top 10%, with a yearly income floor of $160k. I do not consider these to be “elites.” Perhaps oligarchy is overdramatic, but I don’t think anyone can argue that true elites, let’s go with the popular top 1%, have far more influence than the rest of us. I don’t have links ready to share, but I can mention books that have shaped my belief that the super-wealthy in many ways control the direction of society. Two books in particular were particularly illuminating: Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John C. Perkins and The Underground History of American Education by John T. Gatto. Another data point worth mentioning is that our central bank, the Federal Reserve is a private entity owned by member banks, which are owned by private citizens. While I have no idea who they are, I can’t help but imagine that there are some unimaginably wealthy central bankers who have an absolutely enormous influence on the world

Why I Don’t Vote (In National Elections)

This post is written mainly as a response to criticism from my sister Vivian, who thinks it hypocritical of me to advocate for political change when I did not vote in the Presidential election.Therefore I will at times be addressing her directly. This started when she took umbrage with me sharing the following photo on facebook:

First off, this Princeton University researcher sums up my stance pretty well: “I’d say that contrary to what decades of political science research might lead you to believe, ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States. And economic elites and interest groups, especially those representing business, have a substantial degree of influence. Government policy-making over the last few decades reflects the preferences of those groups — of economic elites and of organized interests.” [Update 8/20: I’ve learned that this study has been debunked. See my follow up to this post.] These “economic elites and organized interests” have been referred to as the Deep State. Real talk: America is not a democracy, it’s an oligarchy. And I’m not an oligarch.

For this reason and others, I have no faith in the American political process. I believe that working inside of the system is a waste of time. Vivian disagrees. She thinks that change is slow, but it is only possible by concerted, cooperative effort inside the political system. I think this view is naive.

By voting, you are implicitly agreeing that our system is just. It is a tacit agreement that the Way Things Are is acceptable, it is condoning the status quo. By participating in the 2016 Presidential election you agreed that it was a legitimate process to decide the leader of America. I don’t think it is. The French Revolution proved once and for all that the power lies in the people. When you vote in a broken system, you are handing that broken system your power. Furthermore, I feel that believing your vote has meaning actually dis-empowers you. By believing that your vote matters, you are less likely to engage in political action that does actually have an impact.

I’m going to even take this one step farther. You (Vivian) accused me of resting easy on my privilege. I going to actually flip this argument back onto you. You say that voting is meaningful. That working inside the system is slow and incremental but is what makes actual change. The very fact that you can afford to wait for slow, incremental change is what privilege looks like.

You’ve been more politically active than most people, but tell me, how many times have the changes you’ve pushed for become a reality? As I understand it, you’ve been on the losing side almost every time, even at the local level. How many hours have you spent demonstrating with nothing to show for it? You exercised not only your vote but also your right to demonstrate and speak and still nothing changed. Tell me again how voting is effective. The fact that you continue to support a system that perpetuates injustice simply does not make sense to me. Again, I will reiterate my basic stance that ordinary citizens no longer have any meaningful impact on the political process in America.

Here’s a brief list of political issues that I have feelings about: monetary reform, climate change, cutting down the rainforest, plastic in the oceans, ocean acidification, desertification, soil erosion, factory farming (CAFOs), monoculture agriculture, Monsanto patenting plants, Nestle owning water, fossil fuel dependency, economic structure (i.e. capitalism), American military atrocities in other countries, racism, fascism, gender inequality, wealth and income inequality, political corruption, police brutality, pollution, oil pipelines, human trafficking, ending the drug war, terrorism, NSA spying on all Americans, literal Nazis, the military-industrial complex, education reform and more.

Each of those issues have multiple people dedicating the bulk of their lives to righting those wrongs. And they’re losing. For every victory, there are five defeats. There will never be a congressperson, let alone a Presidential candidate, that will represent my stance on even a fraction of these issues. The US political system systemically precludes that possibility.

It’s too much. As an ordinary citizen I cannot make much of an impact on any one of those issues, much less all of them. It is impossible. The only solution I have been able to find is to cease being part of the problem.

I remember you arguing that while Hilary has her faults, she was the lesser of two evils. I don’t disagree. But that still doesn’t qualify her to lead the country. It’s a classic sales technique, that I learned as the “alternate of choice.”

The Alternate of Choice is a closing technique in the form of a question with two answers — and either answer is an agreement. The key is to give two solutions that both lead toward the sale. By giving two choices, one or the other is usually chosen. This is much better than what happens when you give one choice and the only other option is “no.” Here’s an example: “The way I see it, Mary, the only real decision we need to make today is how soon you can start reaping the benefits of our fine service. Shall we schedule our people out here tomorrow, or would the next day be better for you?” Once it’s scheduled, it’s sold.

“So Citizen, which will it be, the blue asshole or the red asshole?”

As if all of these reasons weren’t enough, there’s the simple pragmatic fact that my vote, should I ever cast it, would not count. And neither does yours.

I want to be clear that I am not against voting in general. In fact, I am very much for it. I am quite politically active here at East Wind. I attend, and speak at, virtually every community meeting we have. Not only do I attend them, but I have initiated our political process here by proposing meetings myself. I likewise vote on virtually every community vote we have. Furthermore, I regularly discuss community issues in my free time. The difference is that here at East Wind, because there are only so many members, every vote actually does count. When my vote counts, I vote.

I take a much broader view of political action than you do. I view every action as political. It is in this sense that I view myself as far more revolutionary than most people. For example, by living at East Wind I pay no taxes to the Federal government. This means I am not supporting the military in its killing of countless civilians in the Middle East. I am not paying for drone strikes. Anyone who does pay Federal taxes is. You are paying for those bombs, I am not. Another benefit of living here is that both my economic and carbon footprint is much smaller than the average American’s. I am thus that much less responsible for the devastation of our planet than the rest of my country. Lastly, I am in the process of writing what is ultimately a political book that I hope will have a far larger impact than my vote ever could.

If you want to pretend that voting makes a difference, fine by me. You didn’t hear me criticizing your naivete until now after you forced the issue. I direct my political efforts in other directions that I feel to be more meaningful. It is not apathy that makes me refuse to vote, but conscientious abstention. I wish you would stop criticizing me for trying to solve the many issues of our world in a different way than you choose to. Be happy that we’re both working to make the world a better place.


This post is long overdue. I had originally planned to update this blog about every two months or so, but that’s obviously not happening. So I’ll update when I do.

A lot has happened since I last wrote of East Wind. Perhaps most significantly to me, I became a Full Member at the start of February. Provisional membership lasts a year at East Wind, after which Full Members vote on the Provisional Member’s membership. I passed 🙂 . This entitles me to the same rights as any other member of East Wind, including full health care (major medical, dental, vision), a full vote, 1/73rd ownership of East Wind, three weeks vacation each year, and the security of knowing it would take two thirds of all full members to force me to leave.

It has been a beautiful and mild summer here, with ample rainfall. Everything is super green even now in August. The local area here actually made national news due to the torrential rainfall and subsequent flooding that we received in late April. Many local bridges were knocked out and many people in the area lost their homes. It was devastating. Luckily East Wind came through pretty much unscathed. We lost a canoe or two, but otherwise came out great. Our creek became a roaring river during the flooding; I witnessed entire trees whizzing by going at least 20 miles an hour. Our hayfield flooded, as it is land owned by Army Corp of Engineers for just such an occasion. For about two months we had lakefront property due to the high levels of Norfork lake. The creek has finally returned to its normal level lately and it will be fun to explore how it is different.

My labor here has become relatively settled. While I enjoyed keeping an open schedule when I first got here, over time I found myself taking on more and more scheduled labor. It suits me well. An average week goes as follows:


I teach a dance lesson at 11am. Though not actually labor, the lady I teach gives me 1 PSC for each hour I teach her, so it works out to the same thing. I eat lunch at noon. While we are in production I have a nut butter production shift monday afternoon. These last usually between 3 and 5 hours.


Tuesday mornings I get up early and milk the cows at 6:30am. We currently milk four cows, which produce more milk than we can drink. The only other scheduled labor I have on Tuesdays is my HTA shift after dinner. HTA stand for Hard To Assign, and refers to cleaning the kitchen. I wash pots for two hours every Tuesday evening and consider it a bargain for never having to cook. The rest of my tuesday I keep open to be able to work on projects.


I milk cows again on Wednesday mornings and teach another dance lesson at 11. After lunch I make cheese. Lately I’ve been making mozzarella, which is about a ten hour process. I’m starting to get good at it, it actually tastes almost the same as you would find in a store.


The only scheduled labor I have on Thursdays is my CP shift in the afternoon. CP stands for Consumer Products, and essentially entails answering the phones and every so often selling some of our products to the rare walk-in customer. Since I have access to the internet while doing this shift, I often research for my book or catch up with friends and family.


Friday mornings I milk again, this time at 6am. I have my third and final dance lesson of the week, again at 11. In the afternoon I do my second CP shift.


Saturday morning is my bread shift, which I usually start at 8:30. There is a bread shift every morning so that we always have fresh bread. I make white bread because most other people make wheat bread. After lunch I have comptoil which entails collecting all of the full poop buckets from the composting toilets and replacing them with empty ones. It’s not near as gross as you might imagine. I then shower thoroughly, which is labor creditable. I then usually clean an elevator in the factory if we are in production.


Sundays I have no scheduled labor. Our community meetings are Sunday at 2 however, and are labor creditable. I attend almost all of them. Otherwise I usually take Sunday as a rest day, or catch up on things I didn’t have a chance to get to over the week.

I’ve also undertaken a few projects in my time here. The project I’m most proud of is also the most boring. Nut Butters had been losing potential customers due to not being certified by a third party food safety company. To become certified we need a Hazards Analysis and Control Points (HAACP) program and the foundation of a HAACP program are Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). SOPs are essentially written out instructions for everything that gets done in the factory. Everything. And that was my job. I took notes left over from previous managers and wrote out an SOP for just about every job in the factory. What I didn’t do my friend Warren did. It was a lot of time in front of a computer and wasn’t the most fun. It was important though, and in the end we got a 99/100 on our inspection.

A less important but much more fun project was building shelving and drawers for our new walk-in pantry. Our old pantry was too small and too old, and so this spring Becky tore it down and built a much nicer new one. I undertook to build the storage spaces for it. Our kitchen managers told me what they would like – a wall of shelving and a wall of drawers – and left the rest up to me. I drew out a design, compiled a materials list, ordered materials, and with help turned my vision into reality. These shelves and drawers should serve East Wind for years to come.

As I mentioned in my last East Wind post, I had taken our nut butter onto Amazon. Since then I have sold over $38,000 of our product there, at about a 25% profit margin. In July of this year alone I sold $8k. Not a huge deal compared to our bottom line, but I’m still proud.

One thing that has been really nice is how much time my labor here affords me to work on my book. I have a number of jobs that have a good amount of down time to them, namely my cheese makes, my breadmaking, and my CP shifts, and these allow me to serve community while at the same time making progress on my book. One of the many perks of this lifestyle.

Something that might be of interest to you is how I view the turnover in membership here. While the bulk of people that were here when I got here are still here, there has been a fair amount of turnover in the last year and a half. However, by and large I think it has been really good for East Wind. In that time we’ve gained some great new members, and the vast majority of those who have left are what I would consider people I’d rather not live with. In general, I feel that East Wind has amazing momentum in the positive direction. Nut Butters just had it’s best year in years, we’re building two new buildings this year, and there are more and more badasses on the farm.

So life is good at East Wind. Again, no promises, but I might post some updates in the relatively near future; some writing I’ve done for my book.


I didn’t vote in the Presidential election. Aside from the fact that by dint of living in Missouri my vote doesn’t count, this was a deliberate and considered decision. Essentially, I view participating in the political system as tacitly endorsing it.

Before elaborating on that, I want to make it clear that I think the Donald will be an absolutely terrible President. Regardless of how his Presidency plays out, America has almost literally just elected Hitler. Because he will be President, things will be worse for almost every American, myself included, that is not a rich, straight, white male. This would not be as true had Hillary won.

But let’s take a broader perspective. As Trump is clearly a power-hungry, egomaniacal, ignorant demagogue, how could anyone – let alone almost a majority of Americans – vote for him? I mean, right?! Who even voted for him? The answer is poor people, that’s who. And, surprise, surprise, poor people now make up the bulk of America.

Now, I grew up in an upper-middle class household in the Blue State of New Jersey. Almost all of my friends grew up in similar situations. With the exception of my friends here at East Wind, my friends live a very comfortable middle-class lifestyle in or near a city on either the east or west coast. Middle America is a different story.

At East Wind, I still live a very comfortable middle-class lifestyle. We call ourselves bougie here. But East Wind is in Ozark County, MO, one of the poorest counties in the entire country. When I first got here I volunteered a number of times at the local food bank. It was my first real encounter with poverty. If I’m honest, my main impression was simply dismay. I had never seen such beaten-down, broken human beings. It was hard to witness. And there weren’t just a few.

In America we have a national mythos, a collective story if you will, that anyone can make it. We call it the American Dream. For people like me who had never really seen poverty as anything other than a statistic and the occasional homeless person, the American Dream still rings true. But for a ton of Americans – again, now almost the majority – the American Dream is dead. But for those of us lucky enough to be born into the middle or higher classes, it can be easy to subconsciously buy into the idea that people are poor because they brought it upon themselves, that it’s their own fault.

I don’t believe that. I see widespread American poverty as a symptom of our world-system. A capitalist world-economy, especially when paired with a debt-based money system, will inevitably concentrate wealth in the hands of the few. As this happens, the many unavoidably become poorer and poorer. There is no way around it in a system such as ours. How else could there be widespread systemic poverty in the wealthiest nation the world has ever seen?

What this means in everyday life is that a majority of Americans are living in constant fear of being unable to provide for even their most basic needs. When someone is fighting just to keep a roof over their head or doesn’t know where their next meal will come from, do you think they can have any empathy for people for whom a major concern in life is what pronoun that are addressed by?

A friend of mine, whom I very much admire and respect, ironically wore a “Make America Great Again” hat at Burning Man. But to the beat down poor of America that slogan is not a joke. What Trump was selling them was a chance to regain their dignity. Put yourself in their shoes. You know you’re a good person. You know you do your best. Despite all this, you can barely make ends meet. How could this be your fault? To you, Mexican immigrants are actually a very real threat to your livelihood, as they will accept less pay to do the scant work still available in your area. To you, building a wall to keep that from happening actually sounds like a great idea. You know that Hillary is a politician’s politician, and that under her nothing will be different for you. Things will only continue to get harder and harder. Trump’s not a politician, he’s an outsider. He’s never played the game and he’s promising to kick those fat-cat politicians right where it hurts (recall that Trump absolutely trounced the traditional Republican candidates as well). And he’s promising to make things go back to the way they were, when it wasn’t hard to find a job or put food on the table.

Except, of course, he’s not going to do that. But perhaps you can now see his appeal to poor people. The reason he’s not going to do that is the same reason life is so hard for so many Americans in the first place: systemic concentration of wealth creating widespread and systemic poverty.

Here and there leading up to the election I’ve broached some of these ideas in conversation, and consistently encountered the argument from my more conventionally liberal friends: “Yes, Hillary’s not perfect, but she’s infinitely better than Trump. Think of how women, minorities, and the queer community will suffer under a Trump Presidency. Clearly she is the lesser of two evils.” And they are, of course, perfectly correct. There will be pain and suffering under Trump that would not happen had Clinton been elected. It is a great sadness that this is so.

But let’s now step back even further. America is the global hegemon and even the poorest of us benefit greatly from this being so. We have cheap energy and material wealth such as no nation has ever known, nor is likely to see again. But this great wealth and power of course has come at a price. America has toppled democratic governments, supported dictators, armed warlords, assassinated heads of state, and killed countless innocent civilians in the process. We as First World citizens have also – less directly through the world market – created the economic incentive for sweatshops, the destruction of the rainforests, the spoiling of the Earth’s rivers, and have created the sixth Mass Extinction Event (called the Anthropocene – Age of Man – extinction) through our effect on the environment, losing up to 140,000 species a year. This suffering is magnitudes greater than any that Americans will face under Trump.

And do you know what the primary driver of the world-economy is? First World consumption. These atrocities happen every day so that we can make, sell, and buy $800 shoes or bottles of wine. The way we collectively choose to live our lives on this planet, what I have called our world-system, is the reason we have war, why countless species are becoming extinct, and why there exist enough disenfranchised people in America for Donald Trump to be President-Elect.

Now, as Billy Joel said, we didn’t start the fire. But if you’re not trying to put it out, you’re part of the problem. And if you live a First World lifestyle, not only are you not putting it out, your consumption is actively stoking it. Our world-system is bigger than the American Presidency. Everything I’ve just pointed out would still be true regardless of who won last night. Which is why I didn’t vote yesterday. A vote, even for a third-party candidate, is still an implicit vote of confidence for The Way Things Are.

As Audre Lorde said, the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. I instead voted in a much more meaningful way – in actually what I feel is the only meaningful way – when this past January I left Babylon and moved to community. Not that East Wind is unplugged from the system, nor are we sustainable yet, but at least we’re trying.

Had Hillary won last night I can easily imagine what my Facebook feed would be like today. Everyone bemoaning Trump’s victory would instead be slapping themselves on the back for electing the first female President. As if she wouldn’t be President of the Patriarchy. Despite the meaningful changes she might have been able to enact regarding the rights of women, minorities, and the queer community in America, she would have continued Business As Usual with all its attendant atrocities I mentioned earlier. It just would have been more palatable. And those atrocities, I feel, are the far more pressing issues of the world today.

Up until last night, I honestly thought Clinton would win. However I was hoping it would be Trump. Not because I liked him or supported him in any way, but because a Trump Presidency will make heretofore hidden faults of the system show through more openly. It will be a very scary time. We First World citizens are addicted to our affluent lifestyles. Common wisdom has it that before an addict can recover, they must first hit rock bottom. I don’t think Trump will be rock bottom for all of us, but maybe he will be for some of us.

Trump’s base, the poor people of America, have few options available to them. The same, however, is not true of Hillary’s base. So if you’re reading this in America, and you voted for Hillary, I encourage you to consider what part you play in our global system. Perhaps you could hold up a mirror to your lifestyle and #checkyourprivilege.


It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, and the length of this post reflects that. I apologize for both the wait and the length. I’ve been pretty busy settling into my new life here.

April 18th marked my official three month anniversary as an East Winder, and I’m loving it more than ever. There is a vote on each provisional member’s membership at the three month mark, and I did not receive a single no-vote, which felt very nice. There will be one more vote on my membership at my one year anniversary, and should I pass that I will become a Full Member.

Spring is definitely sprung here in the Ozarks, and it is incredibly beautiful. I have never lived anywhere more gorgeous. The trees are flowering and leafing, everything is turning green, and it is all so wonderful. I have never before lived so close to nature, and find myself constantly grateful to do so now. I consider myself so lucky to no longer be trapped indoors when it’s a beautiful day out, and can instead either work outside or simply take the day off on a whim.

Being so much closer to nature has also given me the gift of looking at the natural world in ways I never have, and now wish I had been. The most notable thing is an appreciation of seasonality. Living in Babylon (what East Winders call mainstream society), seasons pretty much just meant the weather would change and the leaves would grow, change color, and then fall off. But watching winter turn to spring here has given me a completely new appreciation for the seasons, and their effect on the world around me. Working in the garden I’ve started to learn the order of planting, and for the first time became concerned about frosts. Being out in the woods first cutting down dead trees and now herding our goats, I see the land take on a very different character as some plants sprout and grow and others fade away. Strawberries, instead of being available whenever I want them, only come once a year (which is almost upon us!). I’m learning to identify the different plants that grow here, what they signify, and what they may be used for. I went mushroom hunting last week, and found my first morels, a highly valued delicacy. These too only appear for a few weeks out of the year.

Speaking of food, I need to rave about how well we eat here. It is absurd. I have never eaten so well in my life. I’m an admittedly lazy cook, and would be grateful simply to have food regularly prepared for me. But it is so much more than that here. I eat a huge variety of meals, in a large variety of styles. Every meal has at least five different dishes, and often more. And it’s all freshly made, from the best quality of ingredients I have ever heard of. Only the very, very best of restaurants could match the quality of ingredients here, and even then I would not be sure. I’m not sure it’s possible to be more local, organic, farm-to-table, than we are. There have been a large number of meat-heavy meals since I’ve been here as winter is the time to slaughter animals, which have almost all been born, raised and cared for, slaughtered, and butchered right here on our farm. I actually helped to butcher the last pig we killed this winter, and found it to be an incredible experience. Not only was I grateful to have the opportunity to learn how to carve and preserve an animal, but I also learned a lot about how bodies are built. It turns out a pig’s musculature is not all that different from ours, and I found my knowledge of human anatomy to be quite helpful in separating the different muscles of the pig. Our garden is getting into full swing and will provide us with delicious and nutritious veggies all year long.

Another form of food processing I have started to learn is the art of cheesemaking, which I am finding fascinating. Cheesemaking is important here because it allows us to preserve our excess milk, produced by our dairy cows, AND because cheese is delicious. I’ve made a couple cheeses now: simple farm cheese, ricotta, whole milk ricotta, and a passable attempt at feta. There have been some bumps, but so far I’m decently happy with what I’ve produced. We are very lucky to have an incredibly intelligent, knowledgeable, and meticulous food processing manager, Rin, from whom I consider myself very lucky to be able to learn from, as well as eat the products she presents to community. Cheesemaking is also my first venture into fermentation, which I find to be a really interesting field of study. Beermaking is next.

I’ve also:

… started to learn to use our sawmill. I think it’s so cool that some of the dead standing trees we cut down a few months ago during Forestry season are now being turned into lumber by us. The work itself is a little rote and mechanical, but I find it really rewarding to be able to produce our own lumber. I really enjoy working with and learning from Dusty, a co-manager of both Forestry and Building Maintenance. Before coming to East Wind he ran his own contracting company in LA building mega-mansions for movie stars and is incredibly knowledgeable and skilled.

… been working production shifts in our nut butter factory. “Nut Butts” is currently the lifeblood of East Wind, and allows us to do all of the other awesome stuff that we do here. I’m therefore more than happy to work in the factory and help support our lifestyle here. The shifts are usually 2-4 hours long and are pretty simple. There are a few different jobs on each shift, which one person will do for the length of the shift. Each job is straightforward and simple, and it’s actually kinda fun finding a rhythm together to bang out the job.

… worked at the local food bank a few times. East Wind grants its members labor credit for hours spent in community service, which we call Community Support. I think it’s pretty awesome. Working at the food bank was actually a pretty depressing experience for me. Ozark County (wherein East Wind is) is very poor, and until handing out food here I had never encountered poverty on this level before. To directly see and interact with their suffering made me sad for them, and angry at the system that creates that level of suffering. It also made me very grateful for the countless blessings in my life.

… worked a little bit in the garden. Nothing too special, mostly doing some planting and hoeing, but I find it’s quite enjoyable work. There are usually other people around and we chat and joke while working. When it’s a particularly nice day I usually work in the garden to be able to enjoy the weather and get hours at the same time.

… started goat herding. And it’s probably my favorite work on the farm. I get to walk around and chill on our beautiful land for three hours with our goats, which are great animals. And the mamas just kidded! Sadly it was a rough birthing season for our goats as four of the babies were stillborn, and we might lose one of our mamas, Ocean. The four kids that did survive however are ridiculously cute, friendly, and playful. Because of that they don’t like to go too far from the goat barn, but soon they’ll be going out again. I like to goat herd as I get hours to just sit in nature and do as I please: read, pet goats, practice music, or just be.

… been working to improve how East Wind handles it’s domestic grey water. Currently it empties out onto a hillside, which is obviously less than ideal. Apparently there used to be a sewage pond, but then someone decided to build a new system and left it unfinished in its current state. So another East Winder, Will, and I have been working first to cover up the standing water, which is just about done. Next step is to decide on and design a permanent solution, and then implement it.

The largest project I have undertaken since getting here has been creating an seller’s account for East Wind and listing our nut butters on there. It was unexpectedly hard to create this account for us due to Amazon’s unclear requirements to do so. Once I was finally able to get cleared to sell on Amazon it was a good bit of work to list all of our various products with appropriate information and pictures. However it’s all done, and we’re live and have already shipped five orders. I’m pretty proud. Should you be so inclined, you can buy our healthy and delicious nut butters on Amazon and support East Wind. Who knows, I could even have been on the shift that produced what you buy.

Dusty (of the sawmill) is also involved with the Ozark Neighborly Exchange, a local organization encouraging locals to come together and create self sufficiency through the unity of their neighbors. They put on a one day congress a few weeks back and a bunch of East Winders and I attended. There were some cool presentations by some impressive people there, and I learned a good bit. It was also encouraging to see about 200 people there, and to know that there is a community of like-minded people in the greater Ozark area. Until then I was unaware of the strong self-sufficiency/back to the land sentiment here in the Ozarks.

Something else I love about East Wind is all of the crazy talented musicians here. It’s so nice to have live music around. And then we have weekly jam nights, some of which have actually sounded really good. A couple will be getting married here soon, and an East Wind band has formed to play at their wedding, I’m looking forward to hearing them play. II still haven’t started working on my music much, finding that figuring out my labor and socializing take up the bulk of my time, but I have started playing the drums a little bit. There’s at least a few other people here into EDM production, and I’m looking forward to learning from them.

While I’m in fantastic spirits now, there have been a few rough patches for me. Nothing serious, but I have found myself lonely at times. What I told myself during these times (and which has since been proven true) is that it’s normal and to give it time. I’ve started to build real connections with people here, and feel it will only get better with time. When I would get a little down I would perhaps question if this all wasn’t a big mistake, but there was always an answer: I can’t imagine a more powerful way to fight for what I believe in.

Another much less serious… let’s just call it a complaint though it hardly qualifies is that the internet can be quite slow at times. Usually it’s slow but workable, but sometimes it just does not go. This is something I’m going to be looking into to see if we can’t find a better option. However I really like that I’m not connected to the internet 24/7 anymore, which I did not expect. Now I have to take a five minute walk if I want to use it, which is no problem when I need to but is enough to stop me from defaulting to browsing Reddit or Facebook when bored. When I first got here I asked about getting Internet in the dorm buildings and learned there was a community meeting about five years ago and community decided against it. Apparently at Twin Oaks and Acorn, the other two large FEC Communities people hardly ever socialize because they’re all in their rooms on the internet and it harms community. I find that a really compelling argument and no longer wish for Internet in my room.

I’ve been playing a lot of games here, which I enjoy. There’s a bunch of chess players here, and I play more chess than I have since leaving Dallas when I lived with a chess Master. I’ve also got back into Magic, which I used to play back in highschool. I never could quite bring myself to get rid of my cards, and now I’m glad I didn’t. I’ve also played a good amount of Catan, and have started to learn Go. Oh! And also Tak, which just got invented and will only be familiar to fans of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles.

The weather has been wonderful this April, and there have already been some days spent hanging out at the creek drinking and enjoying the sun and the water, something I’ll never grow tired of.

I’m sure there’s more I’ve done that I can’t think of at the moment, but that’s all I’ve got for now.


Originally published April 29, 2016


Hello from East Wind! I’ve finally made it into community, and have been here for two weeks. I can’t get enough.

I’ve only been here a short while but so far it is everything I was hoping for and more. I love that I spend a big part of my day outside. I love that I see the stars at night, way more than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. I love that I’m learning a ton of new skills. I love that I essentially answer only to myself – that for the first time in my life I feel free. Being here just feels so right.

So far the majority of my energy has gone towards settling in and finding my groove here. My biggest priority has been getting my labor situation set up. Labor quota is 35 hours a week, with any additional hours worked getting “banked” to be used later. Building a nice cushion of banked hours is one of my first goals and I’m off to a good start. I banked 14 hours my first week, aided by a lowered quota for MLK Jr. day. This week I’ll bank around five hours, depending on what I do after I post this.

I’m trying to make a really good impression here and feel a strong call to make as big an impact here as I can. To that end I’m trying to figure out where I can  make the biggest difference. I’ve tried to spread my work out among many different activities to both get a better understanding of what makes East Wind run as well as figure out what I might best like to do here. One thing I’ve immediately found that I love is simply the freedom to have a diversity of labor throughout the week. I also really love that I am the only person that decides what I do and when I want to do it.

So far the biggest chunk of my labor has gone towards Forestry. We head out into our woods at 9am most mornings and fall dead standing trees. If the wood is in good shape and the tree straight we will cut it into long (10-16ft) sections and haul it to the sawmill to be made into lumber. The rest of the trees we cut into short sections (12-18in. “rounds”) and throw them in the back of a truck to be taken back to community to be chopped into firewood. I’d mostly just helped carry the rounds from a tree to the truck, but yesterday used a chainsaw for the first time. I was doing well until I poured chain oil into the gas tank by accident. It made the saw inoperable but otherwise didn’t hurt it, and I then learned how to take it apart and clean it’s engine – my first experience learning how engines work.

Last week I spent a good amount of time repairing an old greenhouse. I helped replace the main supports and reframe the end-walls. It’s almost finished, we’re just waiting for the plastic to come in so we can cover it.

I’ve also been helping out with a big project of reorganizing a big common space to make it more useful. It’s involved moving lots of file cabinets and such, organizing a massive vinyl library, moving said massive vinyl library and the shelves that hold it. Today I started breaking down a giant bench/counter that East Wind used to use to make their rope sandals.

I also helped instigate a work party to clean the community closet (“Commie Clothes”). It was overfull and really disorganized and would have been a very big and boring task for anyone person to do. So I bought a 30 pack of PBR to entice people to help. We got a ton accomplished and had a great time drinking beer, trying on weird clothes, and just being social in the beautiful weather. (Side note: the weather has been ridiculously nice this week. It’s been 60 and sunny for like the last 7 days. Simply gorgeous. I consider it a huge blessing that I can be out in it rather than stuck inside somewhere.)

I was asked to help plan a big party for Validation Day, which East Wind celebrates instead of Valentine’s Day. Everyone gets a blank card and people write nice things to each other and decorate each other’s cards. And then the party is apparently one of the bigger ones East Wind has, and I’m helping plan and organize it.

This past week I attended the weekly Nut Butters (East Wind’s main business) management meeting. While there I learned that they need people to do Sales and Marketing and so I started seeing if there was anything I could to help in that way. The reason I had been invited to the meeting is that I had expressed interest in exploring the possibility of selling our products on Amazon. We are not currently on Amazon and so I’m now spearheading seeing if that would be good for us.

I really like the people here and am starting to make friends. People have been friendly and welcoming, and there’s a cool social dynamic where there are a few “party spots” in community and on most nights there’s at least a low-key party going on in one of them. I also love the fact that at the end of the day when people are sitting around hanging out that the conversation will be a discussion of the best diet for the animals, or what’s being planned for the garden next year.

I want to give a special shout-out to the food situation here. I frickin’ love it. Twice a day (noon and 6pm) there’s a hot, delicious, and healthy meal served up for me. Big variety and always super tasty. There is always freshly baked bread sitting out with butter, jelly, and various nut butters. We have milk from our dairy cows on tap 24/7, which I take good advantage of. If I’m hungry later at night there’s always a yummy, easy meal to be made of leftovers. And the best part of it all is that a lot of that food is from our own land. We also get our water from our own well, and have a reverse osmosis filter, and it is the best water I’ve ever had. No fluorine nor chlorine, which I very much appreciate.

Other than friends and family, so far I don’t miss anything from mainstream life here. And I just love being here, it feels so right. I constantly find myself pausing at random points in my day and just appreciating life here. Somewhat relatedly, I find myself more present here and my mind clearer and quieter. This was an unforeseen but very welcome development. I feel I can be myself here more than I have anywhere else except for Burning Man.

That pretty much covers my experience so far. I’ll share more as I do more!

Originally published January 31, 2016


A week from now I will be at East Wind. Pretty crazy. It came much faster than I was expecting, and right after the holidays. Caught me a little off-guard but I’m super excited and have been wrapping up my business in “the real world.”

I’m also a little nervous. There’s definitely a small part of me that wonders if I’m not making a huge mistake. It’s hard to turn one’s back on all conventional wisdom. It’s not easy knowing most people think I’m making a big mistake. Will I really like it there? Will I be happy? Will I find meaningful connections? If I’m honest with myself the answer to these questions is: I don’t know.

But I do know that these questions come from fear. And I know that this has been my dream for more than eight years. And I know that I have yet to conceive of a more powerful way to fight for our future, which I believe with all my heart desperately needs fighting for. And I know I can see no way to be truly happy living a mainstream lifestyle. And most importantly, I know the only way I can know the answer to these questions is to do it. And so I am.

I’ve already stripped my possessions down to what could fit in my car when I came to Missouri from New Jersey, so I don’t have much packing to do. Throwing clothes in boxes is most of what I have left. I work four last restaurant shifts, and at last get to say goodbye to work as it’s normally thought of. That I know I won’t miss.

I won’t be doing it right away, but I will be cancelling my cellphone service. I’ll be using the Internet and East Wind’s landline to communicate.

I’m stepping into a big unknown. Wish me well 🙂

Originally published January 10, 2016


Wikipedia states that “a mental model is an explanation of someone’s thought process about how something works in the real world.” More accurately it is an representation of someone’s understanding of a certain piece of the world.

This representation is composed of symbols arranged in a relationship to each other. Let’s take for example a locked door. A simple model of this real world situation might include three symbols: the door, the lock, and the key. If one does not have the key then the lock keeps the door closed and it is impassable. If one does have the key then the door is no longer an obstacle and becomes passable. The way these symbols relate to each other forms the model of the locked door. And to a degree this model matches reality and thus is true to that same degree.

However reality is more nuanced than our simple model suggests. One could more perceptively understand the lock to be a physical system. And should one understand that physical system – that is to have an accurate mental model of how the lock operates – one has the ability to manipulate it in such a way as to open the door even in the absence of the key. Or perhaps one might realize that the door is composed of particle board and will cave in to a forcibly applied shoulder.

In our first, simpler model we take the lock and door to be fundamental entities. However on closer examination find that the lock is actually a physical system and the door is impassable only as long as it remains unbroken. Putting the sturdiness of the door aside, our expanded view of the situation has more than three symbols. The door and key are still only two, but the lock has revealed itself to be a constellation of symbols: pins, springs, cams, and more. We could this much further, describing the pins in terms of the metals they are composed of, and those in terms of their chemical and physical structure, and those in terms of their atomic compositions and bonds, and those in terms of quantum mechanics, and on and on. Looking at the world like this in everyday life is of course just silly and no one does so. Likewise I don’t need to know how an internal combustion engine works to know how to drive a car. Knowing that when I turn my key the engine starts and then powers my vehicle is an abstraction, but is all that matters to me functionally.

Like me and my car, none of us understands how everything in the world truly works. We instead understand the world through our symbolic representation of it. We even model each other. We might know exactly how a friend would respond to a situation. And then sometimes they surprise us – our model was off.

The basis of our models are our premises – our fundamental assumptions. Our premises are then things we take for granted in our mental models, like how I take for granted that my car will move when I press the gas pedal.

In some models, most notably mathematics and to a lesser degree science, we explicitly state our premises – our assumptions. In math we call these axioms and in science we “define our terms”. In everyday life our assumptions are much more likely to have been taught to us as children, and these we often carry throughout life without ever stopping to question if they are true or not.

Models are a abstract representation of reality, and therefore a unavoidably partial representation. Just like the written transcript of MLK Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech cannot capture his voice the way an audio recording could, and neither could hearing the recording compare to actually being there for his march on Washington, a representation will always miss out on some aspect of reality, and to that same degree will be inaccurate.

To make sense of the sheer infinity of reality, we use models, which essentially look at reality and say: this part of reality is important, and the rest doesn’t matter. This is of course quite useful, and many models we use are quite accurate, but all models fall short of perfectly capturing that which they model. The key to building a good model is deducing which aspects of reality matter, and it is important to note that this decision happens outside the model itself. Choosing what parts of reality to include in one’s model is where assumption enters the process. The person creating the model to a degree arbitrarily determines what part of reality does and does not matter.

The arbitrariness can be tempered by comparison of the model to reality. If the model fails to predict reality at all, one can safely conclude that the inherent assumptions of the model are untrue. Counter-intuitively, models are the most dangerous to truth when they are most accurate – accurate models can lull one into a false sense of security, a false belief that the model completely represents reality as it is. When this happens the assumptions that lie at the base of the model are no longer noticed. A very huge and tragic example of this is the assumption that underlay the formula that spurred the housing market bubble and crash of 2008.

Using models is unavoidable, nor should they be avoided. However we should strive to be aware of the assumptions that underlie our models, as our starting premises will inevitably color the understanding our model produces. When we understand our models and their assumptions, they are a powerful tool for us. When we accept a model blindly without questioning its underlying assumptions, the model controls us.

I write this post to provide a base for my further ideas. I will be as diligent as possible to declare what assumptions I make in my thinking, this post itself being part of that diligence. All ideas I put forth on this blog are of course models, and thus are not perfect representations of how things are and should be examined critically. This post, along with that on critical thinking, are my boilerplate entreaties that you examine my ideas on their own merit and not just take my word for them. That being said, I believe what I have to say has value and truth, or I would not waste my time writing it nor your time reading it.


Language is a system of symbols that we call words. Words (and all symbols) are abstractions. The word “dog” is not a dog. But hearing (or reading) it activates the symbol interpreting system in your brain and brings to mind your personal understanding of what a dog is. Because this happens, if I tell you “I have a dog.” you understand that I have a four legged canine animal companion.

But the symbol “dog” can never capture the reality of an actual dog- it’s loyalty, friendship, playfulness, warmth, etc. Likewise any word is not the thing itself. This becomes obvious if we think about a dictionary. A dictionary defines each word, but it does so in terms of other words. Each definition is ultimately circular in nature. Wikipedia has a list of extreme examples of this.

This is because of another aspect of the symbolic nature of words: they are arbitrary. There is nothing in particular about the word “dog” that suggests an actual dog. Hence different languages each having different words that all mean dog. (There are some words that do appear to be less arbitrary than most. For example, the words for Mother and Father are eerily similar in most languages.) Words gain their meaning through association with personal experience. When you hold, pet, smell, and play with a dog and someone tells you this is a dog you associate the experience you are having with the word “dog”. As you encounter more dogs you learn to associate the word “dog” to a general class of animal. It is through association with personal, subjective, experience that arbitrary sounds gain their meaning.

Because symbols are abstractions they can be manipulated in ways that are independent of reality. Thus if I write “flying dog”, despite no such animal existing you can still understand my meaning and imagine a dog that can fly.

Now philosophers have always debated the nature of truth and probably always will. I suspect that turning words back onto themselves – using words to establish criteria to evaluate other words – will never be completely satisfactory due to the nature of symbols themselves. Because symbols are abstractions they cannot encompass even the tiniest piece of reality wholly. As George E. P. Box said “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” As you can see, relating this phrase to the concept of truthfulness itself results in a recursive unresolvable pattern.

Putting that aside, I am going to put forth a definition of truth that is probably not novel, but that at least I have not heard of elsewhere. Truth might most usefully be defined as the degree to which a given symbolic representation matches one’s personal, subjective experience of reality. If I tell you “That black bear is eating those berries.” and you see that I am pointing to a bear that is black and is eating berries then my sentence – my symbolic representation – matches your subjective experience fully and thus is wholly true.

Let’s digress for a moment. An aspect of symbols that can introduce confusion into communication is that the same symbol can represent more than one thing, or conversely that various symbols can represent one and the same thing. Perhaps the bear that is eating the berries is a Sloth Bear, which is in fact black. But you could absolutely interpret my same sentence to mean that the bear in question is an American Black Bear – incredibly common in North America. Without some outside consideration, it is not possible to know from my words alone whether I mean a bear of the color black or a member of the species Ursus americanus. Likewise a sugary, carbonated, non-alcoholic beverage may be referred to as soda, pop, a soft drink, sodapop, or even coke (meaning any brand, not just Coke), all different and yet equally valid. To resolve either of these confusions one must either seek additional information (ask a clarifying question), utilize another medium of communication such as body language or tone of voice, or make an assumption as to their meaning.

Returning to the concept of truth, there are some interesting consequences of the definition I have put forth. Most notably that all truth expressed in symbols is necessarily subjective. This is currently a very radical statement, which I will give its own full treatment in a later post. Another is that a person can only understand a system of symbols – a theory or model – if it maps to experiences they have had. One can read about being in space, but it is an empty understanding until one actually experiences weightlessness for themselves.

I write this post to establish a foundation to the ideas I will later espouse. One most certainly can go much further that this, and explore how symbol relates to the senses, emotion, and even our physiology, but I think that unnecessary for the scope of this blog. I will go no further than the symbol and think it sufficient to explain the foundation for higher levels of understanding.