Thursday, December 29, 2016

#162 Outside the law?

Dear all,
I hope you're all finding ways to rest and replenish in this slowed down winter holiday time.  Sometimes the way Christmas, for instance, has been secularized and commercialized makes me want to take a stand against the whole thing.  I've been challenged (once again) this season to consider how the holidays can remind us of our best and most enduring values, and what it would take to decide to approach every day as a "holy-day".
Wishing you love and strength for the new year,

Outside the law?

I’ll never forget the little boy on our street who, when asked to pick up a snack wrapper he had dropped, defiantly replied that his mother let him litter.  While many of us may have an ambivalent relationship to the law, I’m not sure I’d ever heard such an unapologetic decision to live outside of it—and I wonder what laws he flouts as an adult.

Beyond attempts to live outside the letter of the law, there are also those who defy a less clearly defined social contract, the expectation that everybody will grow up, be responsible and do their share of the work. They tend to cluster in two extremes:  those who cannot find their way into the social contract because of inequity and oppression and respond with various kinds of lawlessness, and those who have access to enough money to buy their way out.

Their experience outside the social contract is very different. Those with too little who have broken criminal laws are pushed into prison in a system that seems increasingly intent on barring such people from equal participation in society forever.  Those with too much often drift untethered outside the circle, roaming from one adventure to another, bedeviled by the irony that, when anything is possible and nothing is required, choice itself loses meaning.  Yet this individual freedom, the right to do anything we want, unconstrained by limits, is held out as the ultimate good in our society.  

This is a problem, since we are all subjects of another big law out there—natural law—that we didn’t create and can’t change.  We have been blind.  The discovery of an ancient layer of compressed plant life confused us into believing that our energy supplies are unlimited.  The earth and its atmosphere’s enormous capacity to absorb waste lulled us into assuming that it had no end.  We assumed there was an “away” into which we could throw things.  We thought we could find high tech solutions to water shortages, greenhouse gas increases, soil degradation, resource depletion. We have been trying to live outside the natural law since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, but are facing its ever more unavoidable requirements.

It’s a hard transition to make.  We have channeled our narrative of living within the law into harsh punishment of the smallest infractions by the most marginalized people.  (Perhaps it’s not surprising that those whose violations are breathtakingly bold and outsized—damaging tens of thousands of lives in high-stakes gambling on home mortgages, or avoiding billions of dollars of taxes in complex off-shore schemes—get a slap on the wrist, if not a pay off.)

One way of reshaping the narrative is to embrace the challenge of living within, and being constrained by, natural law.  The possibilities are endless.  Explore all the other options to cool yourself before turning on the air-conditioner.  Do without foods that have traveled thousands of miles, and cultivate a taste for what’s local and in-season.  Stand against the pressure to buy new when what you have will still serve.  Get somewhere without a car.  Practice savoring each tiny taste or moment of a luxury, so you don’t need much to be satisfied.  Think of this not as privation, but as a series of victories in finding joy living within the law.

Of course individual change is not enough.  Those who are rogues when it comes to the law of nature need to be stopped, and standard legal and political remedies will likely fall short.  Nonviolent direct action—which challenges the law, but is prepared to abide by its consequences—is a promising way of pushing our current system from the inside to reshape its boundaries.

As I reflect on it, there is something about that little boy’s distain for the letter of the law that resonates with the rebel in me.  But I resonate more deeply with restorative justice practices, where nobody is ever pushed outside the circle.  It is so clear:  as members of the community of life on Earth, we all belong within the circle of its law.


Toes on the curb, I stretch

as I take in the beauty of the park.

It makes the backs of my legs ache

but it’s a good ache.

I don’t mind.

Are there other stretches

not just in body

waiting for that choice

to welcome the ache?

Imagine:  A New Economy is Possible!

Expanding health care

To help San Francisco provide access to quality health care for its uninsured adults, a law was passed in 2006 requiring covered employers to pay towards the health care costs of their employees. Healthy San Francisco is not health insurance, nor is it tied to a job. It is a program designed to help uninsured individuals in the city find access to affordable health care services. It allows eligible employers to make their obligated health care contributions directly to the City. The collected funds can then be accessed by their employees, either to help cover the cost of medical services or to receive medical reimbursement accounts. The city’s mid-sized businesses have employer health care spending requirements of $1.63 per hour, while large businesses pay $2.44 per hour and small businesses are exempt.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently

New York’s American Museum of Natural History, one of the world's most respected science museums, has slashed fossil fuel investments from its $650 million endowment.

Portland, Oregon has just adopted the first tax penalty on corporations that pay their CEOs more than 100 times what they pay typical workers.

As part of the growing #MoveYourMoney and #GrabYourWallet campaigns in support of the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, Norway’s largest bank has sold its assets in the project.

The Army Corps of Engineers has announced that it will not approve an easement that would allow the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota.

Toward a Right Relationship with Finance. 
Check out this new book that I co-authored on Debt, Interest, Growth and Security.

The growth economy is failing to provide equitable well-being for humanity and a life-sustaining future for Earth.  However our institutional endowments and individual retirement are dependent on that same growth economy.  This book:
    • offers background on our current economic system--how it is based on unearned income on the one hand and debt on the other, with a built-in momentum toward economy inequality and ecological overshoot;
    • frames the conversation within the context of our deepest values and beliefs;
    • suggests plausible and historically grounded alternatives to the current system, particularly with regard to financing retirement; and
    • invites everyone to imagine new forms of durable economic and social security, and to help create the relationships and institutions that will make them a reality.
With many people now counting as never before on the performance of Wall Street for retirement security, how can this system be challenged with integrity and effectiveness?  Can we break with our dependence on financial speculation and build up new structures of security in a transformed, life-centered economy?

To order the book, or read it on line, go to and scroll down.

More resources

Resource from my friend Daniel Hunter, Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow; An Organizing Guide.

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:

In, Pamela Haines locates her family's homey DIY celebrations on a class spectrum of different connections to upward mobility.


Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years: (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years.  NOTE THE NEW URL. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Pamela Haines

To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.