‘Tis the Gift to be Simple – A Visit to Sabbathday Lake

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Shaker barn

Off Maine Street at the crest of a rolling hill, just northwest of New Gloucester, Maine, one finds a tidy settlement of white clapboard houses nestled around a quiet road. If one had not seen the signs, one would not know that this is the last surviving active settlement of Shakers, which now consists of three members.  During a recent vacation trip to Maine to visit my wife’s mother and her family there, we spent some time getting to know this peaceful settlement, largely run by a cadre of volunteers known as “Friends of the Shakers,” who help the last members of the order keep their lifestyle going.

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Map and key of the Shaker settlement, from the historical landmark website.

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Google Earth capture of the Shaker settlement.

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The Girl’s Shop

We were taken on an hour-long tour (which seemed all too short, given the amount of things there were to see) by a friendly  volunteer; we were able to visit the meetinghouse and the ministry’s shop; had we asked for “Tour B,” we would have seen the Girls’ Shop instead of the ministry’s shop. We’ll have to go back next year and do that one.

Sadly, photography inside the buildings was prohibited, because there were 101,000 wonders that I would have loved to record. But it was fascinating to sit in the meetinghouse where men and women would enter by separate doorways, visit the living quarters of the traveling elders and eldresses who formed the upper levels of Shaker leadership, and see a number of places where they worked at creating simple but extremely beautiful (as well as utilitarian) objects for their daily needs.

We learned of a number of Shaker inventions, among which were those little wobbly casters that people put under school chairs, knowing that folks like to rock back on them; the Shaker version was made of wood, and I’ll be dipped if I know how it was done. We also saw beautiful examples of their handicraft, including cabinetry, chairs, tables, clothing, boxes, pegs for hanging everything on, as well as the functional architecture of their buildings. The books… oh, the books. I would have paid large money to be able to examine some of the volumes that were displayed in desks and cabinets around the buildings.

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Volunteers working in the herb garden

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The Shaker Library, back view

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Shaker Library, front view. With an advance appointment, one can visit this building. Next time.

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The Girls’ Shop, front view.

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Meetinghouse, built in 1794, and ministry’s workshop.

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The Herb Garden

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My wife (the Goodwoman of the House) in front of the museum office, which used to be the boys’ shop; exhibit museum on the right, formerly the spinhouse.

After the tour and visiting the museum, we spent (too much) time in the Shaker Store (formerly the Trustees’ Office; the trustees were members of the order who dealt with the outside world and were in charge of temporal matters, and often only associated with the rest of the community during worship services.) We bought some lovely yarn (I’m planning a nice fair-isle hat), some herbs, and a few books.

Much can be learned about the Shaker faith and history at their official website; theirs is a story of quiet faith, diligence, and devotion which has weathered many changes in the world around them. Their motto, “Hands to Work and Hearts to God” has essentially defined their way of life, although it is not their devotion to celibacy that has ultimately fueled their decline, but rather the concept of community over individualism. A well-written article in the September 1989 issue of National Geographic entitled “The Shakers’ Brief Eternity” presents a respectful and intimate look at their history and their present.

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This map from the National Geographic article shows past and present Shaker communities; in 1989, there were two dozen members in two working settlements, the one at Canterbury, NH having since ceased operation with the death of its last member, Sister Ethel, in 1992. (Bangor Daily News, Sep 9, 1992). Despite the devotion to God, there was philosophical disagreement between the communities at Canterbury and Sabbathday Lake; a 1988 article from the Los Angeles Times summarizes the essential point of division:

In 1957, after months of prayer, the three Eldresses [of Canterbury] — Gertrude, Emma and Ida — decided to close the covenant to membership.

In the past 10 years, three men and a woman in their 20s and 30s have become residents of the community at Sabbath Day Lake, but Eldress Bertha does not recognize them as members.

“To become a Shaker you have to sign a legal document taking the necessary vows and that document, the official covenant, is locked up in our safe,” she said. “Membership is closed forever.

“We must live true to our faith and must follow what our leaders say. Our leaders decided it was over, done with. It is sad, but Mother Ann predicted that in time you would be able to count the members on the fingers of your two hands and then the Shakers would be no more. This is where we are now. . . .”

There were words; there were actions. For a while, Canterbury cut Sabbathday Lake off from community funding; after negotiations by their respective legal teams, access was restored. The National Geographic article stated,

Canterbury Shakers accept the quiet ending. They believe Shaker values will endure but in different form. Canterbury slowed down decades ago. Sabbathday Lake chooses a more energetic path. There are sheep to be tended, herbs to be dried, a fence to be mended, meals to prepare. Those seriously interested in the life are sometimes invited to try it. Some stay; some don’t.

The author of the National Geographic article related,

The territory separating the two villages is a minefield of hard feelings. I had been cautioned not to mention my Canterbury visit to SabbathdayLake and vice versa. I ignored the advice with predictable results. At Canterbury there had been a silence when I mentioned Sabbathday Lake. It was an unpleasantness to be swept under the table. At Sabbathday the rancor is blunt, the hurt palpable. “They say Sabbathday was always the least of Mother Ann’s children in the East,” Sister Mildred observes.

While Canterbury functioned, the feelings were hard on both sides. Now that Sabbathday Lake is the last remaining community, memories and feelings may endure, but anyone who will is welcome to explore and embrace Shaker life. According to the tour guides there, the community receives somewhere in the area of two inquiries a week. However, the mean age of the three surviving Shakers is 65, and a fourth member left the community some years ago after he fell in love; the way of the “three C’s” – Celibacy, Community Property, and Charity – is not an easy one to follow.

I was delighted to explore the lives and history of these gentle people. I learned that the Shakers invented one of the first perma-press cloths in existence; that their blue wood stain lasts almost forever; that the finials on their chairs are all different, depending on which community made them; that they wove cloth out of fine wood strips to cover their boxes and other artifacts; and that they were skilled in just about every area needed to be self-sufficient. I look forward to my next visit, and hope that I can learn even more about them in the meantime.

What is the future of the Shakers? No one knows, but the last members put their trust in God as their community has always done.  In a 2006 article in the Boston Globe, Brother Arnold Hadd is quoted as saying,

“I don’t know the mind of God. However, I do believe that if we live in faith – as we do – that, as we have been called and chosen, there will always be others who will also be called and chosen to this life. So, our intention is that there will be more Shakers.”

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A view of Shaker Meeting from 1885. A photographer from the Poland Spring Hotel took this image. The Shakers are seated in the front benches. The spectators and guests from the Poland Spring Hotel are in the back rows. The women’s entrance can be seen at the back; the men’s entrance is just outside the right frame of the photo. In earlier days, a stairway existed at each end of the hall leading to separate living quarters for the traveling elders and eldresses of the ministry. Collection of the United Society of Shakers, Sabbathday Lake, Inc.

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Eldress Elizabeth Haskell (left) and Eldress Harriet Goodwin (right) pictured in their fancy goods workroom at the Ministry’s Shop at Sabbathday Lake in 1899. Collection of the United Society of Shakers, Sabbathday Lake, Inc.

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Sisters and girls, Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, ca. 1902
Pictured from left are, back row, Sisters Clara Stewart, Amanda Stickney, Mamie Curtis, Katherine McTigue, Lizzie Bailey, Laura Bailey, Sarah Fletcher, Jennie Mathers, Ada Cummngs and Claire Chace. In the front row, from left, are Rosamond Drake, Ethel Corcoran, Grace Freeman, unidentified girl, Irene Corcoran, Iona Sedgley, unidentified girl, Emma Soule and Emma Freeman. Although organized as celibate religious communities, Shakers still made provisions for the raising of children. By this time, most of the children who entered the community were orphans. They were placed in either the Girls’ Shop or Boys’ Shop, apart from the adults in the Dwelling House. Caretakers looked after the children, supervising their education, work and play. The group is on the front porch of the Girls’ Shop, Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village.
From Maine Memory Network.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

“Simple Gifts” was written by Elder Joseph Brackett while he was at the Shaker community in Alfred, Maine.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

If you don’t know the source, call it a “Chinese Proverb”

“May you live in interesting times.”

This “Chinese Curse” is a wish for the recipient to experience trouble and strife. However, it had nothing to do with the Chinese or China, at least not in this form. Robert Kennedy was the one who popularized the saying in Cape Town in 1966, but the original stems from at least 1936, possibly 1929, and refers to “an interesting age.” Read a more detailed treatise here.


“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Again, not a Chinese proverb; originated rather by Anne Isabella Ritchie, daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray, who wrote,

“He certainly doesn’t practise his precepts, but I suppose the patron meant that if you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour; if you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn.”

More details at The Phrase Finder

“If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it will always be yours. If it doesn’t come back, it was never yours to begin with.”

Nobody seems to know where this old saw comes from. Quote Investigator has some ideas, but one thing’s for certain – it’s not an “Ancient Chinese Proverb.”

老狼說。

The Maine Adventure

I’ve been out of town for a week and have not had regular computer access. But  here’s a preview of some things to come.

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On fire from the top down. Color was at its peak in the north and west, but just beginning to show in the south and east; still got to see some beautiful displays, though. More to come soon.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Daddy’s Girl is not Daddy’s Wife!

This needed to be said. This needs to be shared.

inshadowz: out of context

Iran passes new bill that lets men marry adopted daughters

Within the same month as the news told of an eight year old girl in Yemen died from internal injuries sustained from being forced to perform her “marital duties” to her 40 year old husband on her wedding night, a man five times her own age, the lawmakers of Iran cough up a bill that will allow men to marry their adopted daughters from as early as the age of 13.

“Officials in Iran have tried to play down the sexual part of such marriages, saying it is in the bill to solve the issue of hijab [head scarf] complications when a child is adopted.

“An adopted daughter is expected to wear the hijab in front of her father, and a mother should wear it in front of her adopted son if he is old enough.”

This is the…

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Don’t boycott just because it’s the popular thing to do.

The below opinion was posted on Facebook by Ezra Horne. It is reposted here by permission. The point is to look carefully at the knee-jerk response, because it may just be counter-productive. Consider all the factors, and think first.


WARNING: Long unpopular rant about the remarks by CEO of Barilla Pasta:

“[Guido Barilla] added: “Everyone has the right to do what they want without disturbing those around them””

I translated this article in google, but it shows his statements in context a lot better than the media here.

http://www.radio24.ilsole24ore.com/notizie/lazanzara/2013-09-26/guido-barilla-spot-famiglia-122352.php

“”Okay, if they like our pasta and our communication, then eat, or eat another pasta. One can not always please everyone. ” “I respect everyone” – adds Barilla – “do what they want without disturbing others. I am also in favor of gay marriage, but no gay adoption for a family. From the father of several children I think it is very complex to raise up the children in a same-sex couple. “”

I think the LGBT community loses credibility with these fights. We can express our disapproval and even boycott, but constantly calling for boycotts on everything is ridiculous. You could boycott Barilla, but how do you know that some other CEO for some other pasta brand doesn’t have the same opinion but is smart enough to lie when asked? Or that the checkout girl or the manager of the super market doesn’t approve of gay marriage personally, but isn’t actively fighting it. By encouraging this “groupthink” we are basically sending the message that it’s not even okay to intellectually disagree with us. It’s pretty 1984 if you ask me. When you punish honesty, however hard to hear, you encourage people to lie, and lying will make the progress we’re trying to make a lot harder, as we will think we have more support than we really do.

Maybe the guy IS actively fighting gay rights, but during another part of the interview, he says that is okay with gay marriage, just not gay adoption. So I predict this guy’s opinion of gays is going to actually get WORSE.

Why not get Dan Savage to invite him for a Pasta Dinner to show him gay families are healthy, normal and stable? Help him see why he should be more supportive, not lash out at a guy who is not really “antigay” but has a perception that women are central to the family, (as MANY people do) and needs help seeing how it can be done.

I am not boycotting this brand. I understand if you do, but it’s a good product at a price point I can afford, and the man doesn’t hate gay people, he just has an opinion which needs to be changed.

A boycott is just going to make him lie, say he’s changed his mind to save sales, and then teach his children about how the gays BULLIED him with hate speech even though he just shared an unpopular opinion. So you pick the outcome you’d prefer.

A Muslim’s Response to Kenya

Over at reddit, a user posted a question under the heading “Atheist looking for knowledge in light of the horrible events in Kenya.” A user named /u/Alienm00se responded with a very clear and cogent look at the extremist mentality, one I wish were shared openly by more members of the Muslim faith. It’s worth repeating, so I share it here.

First; you need to understand the extremist mentality. This is simultaneously independent of any single, and inclusive of any and all religious (Christian/Muslim/Jew ), socioeconomic ( CommunistCapitalist ) and political beliefs ( White Supremacist Conservative/Eco-terror Liberal ). The extremist believes that their way of life, the circumstances in which they grew up, are the only righteous/fair/proper way to live and believes this with such fervor that they are offended merely by the existence of other lifestyles and points of view.

Now (thank God), most religious, socioeconomic and political beliefs do not claim this extremist view, and in fact preach against extremism in favor of tolerance of – if polite disagreement with – other points of view. The extremist must therefore seek twist the belief system in order to make it seem as though its original intent was to promote the destruction of other points of view.

Extremists in Islam, admittedly, perhaps have an easier time with corruption this than other groups, because Islam itself was born in a rebellion of sorts against the ruling pagans of the city of Mecca – the Qurayish. In an effort to liberate themselves from Qurayish rule, and to guarantee their right to freedom of religion and speech, the early muslims fought a revolution against the Meccans for many years; and both the Prophet Muhammad and the Holy Qu’ran give lessons on the rules of war to guarantee that the Muslims did not lose their humanity whilst fighting for freedom.

The Islamic rules of warfare are as follows:

  • “Fight in the name of your religion with those who fight against you.” (read; for self-defense only)
  • “And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrong-doers.”
  • “Permission to take up arms is hereby given to those who are attacked because they have been oppressed – Allah indeed has power to grant them victory – those who have been unjustly driven from their homes, only because they said: “Our Lord is Allah”.

Explicitly forbidden is:

  • Murder of women and children, old men, monks, peasants, employees and traders who are not engaged in the battle.
  • Fighting during months that are sacred to the muslims and to their enemy.
  • Fighting solely to make the enemy muslim; “There is no compulsion in religion. The right way has become distinct from error.” , “But if the enemies incline towards peace, do you also incline towards peace. And trust in God! For He is the one who hears and knows all things.” , “Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! God loveth not aggressors.”
  • Disturbing the peace of civillians: “‘Anyone who disturbs free passage in the streets and renders them unsafe to travel, striving to spread corruption in the land by taking money, killing people or violating what God has made it unlawful to violate is guilty . . .”
  • Sneak Attacks – Muhammad (saw) mandated that 4 months notice be given before an attack.
  • Any violence that is not absolutely essential to one’s survival; ““Do not be people without minds of your own, saying that if others treat you well you will treat them well, and that if they do wrong you will do wrong to them. Instead, accustom yourselves to do good if people do good and not to do wrong (even) if they do evil.” , “And do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness.”
  • Cutting off water to an enemy population
  • Depriving them of food by destroying crops/livestock; “I instruct you in ten matters: Do not kill women, children, the old, or the infirm; do not cut down fruit-bearing trees; do not destroy any town…”
  • Mistreatment of the enemy’s body while living (torture) or dead (mutilation)

CLEARLY – Terrorist attacks of any kind, including the atrocious massacre in Kenya, goes directly opposed to all muslim teachings; including and especially laws governing war because the terrorists:

  • Killed innocent men, women, the old and children and
  • Did so in an unprovoked sneak attack that
  • Disturbed free passage of the streets for the purpose of
  • Attacking people for not being muslims to make non-muslims fear for their lives because
  • They were filled with hate so strong it prevented them from being just and righteous human beings

Obviously, many religions do not have any rules regarding warfare, so as stated above the arguments made by other extremists are intellectual, rather than having the ability to point to scriptural mentions of war. However, these laws regarding warfare lead to many lives being saved and the reputation of the Muslim army as good and honorable in its time. For example, when the Christian armies took Jerusalem during the Crusades, they murdered every muslim or jewish man, woman and child in the city. Despite this fact, when the Muslims came to re-conquer the city, Saladin allowed even the surrendered soldiers to leave peacfully with their families, despite the earlier massacre, and allowed christians and jews to visit the city for pilgrimage. Despite their claims to the contrary – today’s Mujihadeen are nothing like the early Islamic warriors.

Finally; The Qur’an assures Christians and Jews of paradise if they believe and do good works, and commends Christians as the best friends of Muslims. I wrote elsewhere, “Dangerous falsehoods are being promulgated to the American public. The Quran does not preach violence against Christians.

Quran 5:69 says (Arberry): “Surely they that believe, and those of Jewry, and the Christians, and those Sabeaans, whoso believes in God and the Last Day, and works righteousness–their wage waits them with their Lord, and no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow.”

In other words, the Quran promises Christians and Jews along with Muslims that if they have faith and works, they need have no fear in the afterlife. It is not saying that non-Muslims go to hell– quite the opposite.

When speaking of the 7th-century situation in the Muslim city-state of Medina, which was at war with pagan Mecca, the Quran notes that the polytheists and some Arabian Jewish tribes were opposed to Islam, but then goes on to say:

5:82. ” . . . and you will find the nearest in love to the believers [Muslims] those who say: ‘We are Christians.’ That is because amongst them are priests and monks, and they are not proud.”

So the Quran not only does not urge Muslims to commit violence against Christians, it calls them “nearest in love” to the Muslims! The reason given is their piety, their ability to produce holy persons dedicated to God, and their lack of overweening pride.

The actions of the extremists on rampage killings in Kenya are no more loved by us Muslims than any of the school, temple, workplace, mall, parking lot, or movie theater mass shootings are loved by Americans, and we condemn and despise them for their actions every bit as much as you do.

Asalaamu Alaykum!

The doctrinal differences in belief systems in this context is irrelevant. Neither Christianity nor Islam is practiced perfectly by imperfect people. But hearing a declaration of this nature from a practicing Muslim goes a long way toward reassuring me that Islam is a religion of peace, at least with respect to their non-Muslim neighbors, and those who are guilty of extremist violence are defiling the very faith they claim to honor.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The Journey to Ethical Capitalism

A friend of mine posted the following image on Facebook, which got me thinking. And when I think, I have to write. Sorry.

To most of the world, the words America and Capitalism are synonymous. While we no longer look for Bolsheviks under our beds at night and the McCarthy era is thankfully over, there is still a cachet of disrepute about anything that seems remotely connected with the idea of socialism – one example that has long dwelt in my files is “The (Modern) Little Red Hen,”  originally Prepared by the Pennwalt Corporation and published March 1983:

Once upon a time there was a little red hen which scratched around the barnyard until she uncovered some grains of wheat. She called her neighbors and said, “If we plant this wheat, we shall have bread to eat. Who will help me plant it?”

“Not I,” said the cow.
“Not I,” said the duck.
“Not I,” said the pig.
“Not I,” said the goose.

“Then I will,” said the little red hen. And she did.

The wheat grew tall and ripened into golden grain.

“Who will help me reap my wheat?” asked the little red hen.

“Not I,” said the duck.
“Out of my classification,” said the pig.
“I’d lose my seniority,” said the cow.
“I’d lose my unemployment compensation,” said the goose.

“Then I will” said the little red hen. And she did.

At last it came time to bake the bread. “Who will help me bake the bread?” asked the little red hen.

“That would be overtime for me,” said the cow.
“I’d lose my welfare benefits,” said the pig.
“I’m a drop-out and never learned how,” said the duck.
“If I’m to be the only helper, that’s discrimination,” said the goose.

“Then I will,” said the little red hen. And she did.

She baked five loaves and held them up for her neighbors to see.

They all wanted some and, in fact, demanded a share. But the little red hen said, “No, I can eat the five loaves myself.”

“Excess profits!” cried the cow.
“Capitalistic leech!” screamed the duck.
“I demand equal rights!” yelled the goose.
And the pig just grunted.

And they painted “unfair” picket signs and marched around the little red hen, shouting obscenities.

When the government agent came, he said to the little red hen, “You must not be greedy.”

“But I earned the bread,” said the little red hen.

“Exactly,” said the agent. “That’s the wonderful free enterprise system! Anybody in the barnyard can earn as much as he wants. But under our modern government regulations, the productive workers must divide their product with the idle.”

And they lived happily ever after, including the little red hen, who smiled and clucked, “I am grateful. I am grateful.”

But her neighbors wondered why she never again baked any more bread.

Dr. Adrian Rogers, Southern Baptist pastor and conservative author, offered up this oft-quoted gem of wisdom:

“You cannot legislate the poor into freedom by legislating the wealthy out of freedom. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend, is about the end of any nation. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.”

Rogers makes some valid points about taxation and how government is funded, but the quote most often appears in partisan screeds inveighing against the evils of forced income distribution (supposedly demanded by Democrats and other evil, liberal sectors of society.) But as convenient and gratifying as it may seem to take from the rich (who of course, have far more than they need) and to give to the poor (who are poor through no fault of their own, but rather because of the greed which festers in the corporate heart), taxing the pants off the 1% to give to the rest of us is not the idyllic answer that many would assume. A comprehensive solution is much more complex.

As the above cartoon illustrates, all is not well in the world’s greatest bastion of free enterprise. Despite quotes such as a recent one from Jon Voigt, to wit: “Capitalism is the only truth that keeps a nation healthy and fed,” as early as the end of the 19th century people were looking critically at the mechanisms we have developed to drive commerce and enterprise:

I heard the following story some time ago, and it’s always stayed with me.

The Fisherman

Author: Unknown

A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them. “Not very long,” answered the Mexican. “Why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the American. The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs…and those of his family.

The American asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?” “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs … I have a full life.” The American interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat.”

“And after that?” asked the fisherman.

“With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise.”

“How long would that take?” asked the fisherman. “Twenty, perhaps 25 years,” replied the American. “And after that?” the fisherman asked.

“Afterwards? That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the American, laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!”

“Millions? Really? And after that?”

“After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends.”

  This is called “looking beyond the mark.”

In the headlong rush to profit from production, the corporate world somewhere lost sight of the fact that their producers were human beings who also needed to support themselves and their families:

Only one thing counted: the bottom line. MBA’s, CPA’s, and a whole plethora of alphabet-soup degrees became de rigeur in corporations, with the most successful being the ones who could trim the most fat from expenses, often at the expense of the very people who were creating the value.

For obvious reasons, these individuals often became the least popular in the company:

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Scott Adams, Dilbert

Taken to its unpleasant but logical extreme, we end up with CEO’s and board members like this:

I once worked for a man who thought exactly like this. He came to our company from Hewlett Packard, and was probably the most evil individual I have ever had the misfortune of working for, a two-bit golf hustler who had parlayed his ability to manipulate people into a position of responsibility. [1] He used almost the same words when he told me he wanted me to spend less time with my church and my family, but I refused to kowtow and lick his boots. When, out of spite, he told me I needed to start working evenings and weekends, I told him, in so many words, to screw himself with a cactus. It was expensive for us, because the job had involved an overseas move, but it ended up costing the company because I sued their asses for breach of contract and they settled. Called my suit a “nuisance,” but they settled anyway. Although I have always tried to avoid Schadenfreude, I was quite gratified to hear that several months later, this bottom-feeder was terminated for malfeasance. And, it wasn’t too much later that the entire company went belly-up and was absorbed by a larger entity.

The news today is not good. The US has outsourced the majority of its well-paid manufacturing jobs to places like China and Pakistan and Madagascar. Few companies are hiring full-time employees; most are relying on temps or temp-to-hires, keeping hours below 30 hours a week to avoid having to provide benefits. For reasons incomprehensible companies still demand 110% effort and employee loyalty, even though they are not willing to reciprocate with job security or any sense of value toward their staff.

One of my favorite quotes from the Star Trek universe comes from  Jean-Luc Picard in “Star Trek – First Contact”:

The economics of the future is somewhat different. You see, money doesn’t exist in the 24th century… The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of Humanity.

In the framework of today’s economic environment, this dream seems about as attainable as replicators and holodecks – but there are some bright spots among the gloom, companies who are doing their best to buck the trend; companies like Costco have understood that treating their employees well is not an expense but rather an investment.

The creation of an economy based on the principle that people are more important than profits, while still recognizing that commerce is what drives the creation of wealth, is something that will require changes far beyond the confines of the boardroom. An excellent examination of how to work toward Ethical Capitalism is found at Common Dreams, which article I heartily recommend.

While the world of unbridled capitalism advances to the beat of “It’s not enough for me to win, everyone else has to lose,” other voices are becoming louder; the concept of degrowth [2] is looking more viable when compared to the alternative.

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Glutting the smallest segment of society on the labors of the rest of us is a model that will ultimately implode under the weight of its own inequity; it cannot endure. As impossible as it might seem to restructure society in such a way that we build a world that works for everyone, with no one left out, it is morally imperative. As human beings we owe it to one another to give our fellow sojourners on this spaceship earth a fair shake. Any other course of action will have repercussions, even for the supposed “winners,” that will diminish us all.

In light of the above, I’d like to offer my own, slightly-modifed version of the first cartoon above:


The Old Wolf has spoken.


[1] If anything he said could be believed; in addition to his other scintillating qualities, he was without question a pathological liar.

[2] Degrowth … is a political, economic, and social movement based on ecological economics and anti-consumerist and anti-capitalist ideas. Degrowth thinkers and activists advocate for the downscaling of production and consumption—the contraction of economies—arguing that overconsumption lies at the root of long term environmental issues and social inequalities. Key to the concept of degrowth is that reducing consumption does not require individual martyring and a decrease in well-being. Rather, ‘degrowthists’ aim to maximize happiness and well-being through non-consumptive means—sharing work, consuming less, while devoting more time to art, music, family, culture and community. (Wikipedia)