Loomio – collaborative online decision-making

Loomio is a user-friendly tool for group decision-making.

Creating a world where it’s easy for anyone to participate in decisions that affect them.

Loomio.org appears to be an intelligently thought through approach to the thorny problem of online group democracy. It’s discussed in Can Social Software Change the World? Loomio Just Might – worth a read. Here’s a snippet:

“The key,” says Benjamin Knight, one of the members of the core team developing Loomio, “is building shared understanding before a decision is reached by the group.” He adds, “That means that when you get to the outcome, it’s not that everyone has to agree to the outcome, they just have to agree that its the best outcome the group can reach at that time.”

Murder is a “moral” act… so we need to question our moral impulses

Edit: Some friends on Facebook interpreted this post as saying that we’d be better off with no morals. No one is saying that here. I propose that we need a very small set of well considered morals, and a lot more ability to communicate, to negotiate. and to accept difference. Some argued that we need better morals rather than no morals (which is a straw man argument – no one has argued for no morals). I see that argument but I disagree, Morals regarding sexual orientation, or how a woman dresses or who she talks to, are best abandoned, and do not need anything to replace them other than mutual respect between us. 

I’ve edited the title to hopefully make it clearer that I’m questioning the moral impulses that arise from our monkey brains, rather than proposing that morals be entirely abandoned.)

Most murders and many wars stem from moral outrage and judgement* – primitive instincts that derive from a hodgepodge of causes.  Steven Pinker, psychologist, cognitive scientist who has written on why violence has declined) says that we’d be better off with less morality in the world.

  • I realize that could be a controversial claim, but motives for murder in Australia, for example, generally relate to a personal conflict rather than killing during a robbery, for example. 

Steven Pinker is professor of psychology at Harvard, and the author of:

among his other books.

A successful local food hub – what it takes

A local food story – an apparent success story – is Mad River Food Hub. The Co.Exist article is a nice long read, but for those like me who want to get to the nub, here are the highlights.

After a long intro about unprofitable and failing farmers’ markets, we get to local food hubs, and the hope that a system of local “food hubs” can make local food work by processing and bundling foods and delivering them to us. Wonderful idea – but like farmers markets, most food hubs are not thriving.

The only way farmers are going to make more money is by getting more value out of their products.

It comes down to this:

How do you “value-add”? “Through processing. Through delaying the availability of a product until you can get a higher price–storage. By getting your product to places that you haven’t had it in the past–distribution. And by running your business better–incubation.”

That’s Robin Morris, the brains behind the Mad River Food Hub. But even with these value-adds, Morris couldn’t make the numbers work for a profitable – economically sustainable – food hub, until he did the numbers for meat. Meat is a year-round business, with potential for significant value-add from processing and curing, products selling for up to $24/lb for dry-cured prosciutto.

Now, meat raises ethical issues, especially if you’re vegetarian. Personally, since I know people will continue to eat meat, I’m happy to see any move away from massive factory farms which cause enormous suffering. There’s no guarantee that local artisans will treat animals less cruelly, but at least there’s a likelihood of free range and organic products, which can be a significant improvement.

Back to the article – a key takeaway is that Morris approached his hub with a tough business sense, to make the hub and its food food producers profitable. The hub invested heavily in facilities so that its food-producing entrepreneurs didn’t have to – the hub is an incubator, allowing local food entrepreneurs access to the (expensive) infrastructure for launching their business, in exchange for a cut of the sales.

Finding a niche for the hub has also been key – the hub doesn’t compete at cut-throat price points to sell to institutional clients such as cafeterias. Of course – a small or mid-sized operation could never compete on price, and could only profitably supply an unusually understanding institution that committed to supporting ethical food.

In making this work, Robin Morris’s business sense and careful thinking about numbers and scale are crucial:

Cutting out the middleman to get more of the customer’s money into the hands of the farmer may sound great in a TED talk, but the reality is that there is no way to challenge the economies of scale of industrial food production, which is propped up by subsidies, kickbacks, and money-saving environmental shortcuts…

As a result, businesses are growing that otherwise would have no hope, and Mad River Food Hub operates without grants. The hub produces salamis, soups and “Rookie’s Root Beer” among products, and also packs and distributes farm produce. This approach makes local food possible. 

Says a soup maker, the first anchor client of the hub:

Just to fit out a place like this and meet USDA regulations? Let’s say $250,000… Easily. This allowed me to skip that gray area where I’d take on a lot of debt to ramp up and expand, and basically gamble that I could meet all the monthly payments.

This soup maker is also a CSA farmer, using the hub to pack and distribute produce. He sees the power of the infrastructure to make CSA usable and attractive:

The share shows up at work, it’s boxed, it’s got their name on it, and they walk out the door with it. The potential is really big… if I can drop it off on their doorstep, they sign right up.

This takes local food beyond the eco-nuts, those of us who go out of our way and pay extra to support it. With its efficiencies and its distribution system, it might just make for local food that is actually sustainable – because driving miles out of your way to pick up your organic veggies certainly isn’t.

See How To Build A Local Food System, To Make Local Food Actually Work | Co.Exist.

More reading on local food: Locally Deliciousbuy from Amazon or read on Appropedia.

Dehumanization studies

This talk by David Livingstone Smith (Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of New England in Maine) scratches the surface of an important, disturbing topic, and at 11:32 he points out an important omission in our study of history and war:

if we really do care about humanity and decency and peace, we should treat dehumanization with the same seriousness that we treated cholera and smallpox. We should devote resources to studying it. We should devote resources to disarming it. But the fact is, to the best of my knowledge and I know quite a bit about this, there is nowhere in the world where there is a center, where there is a department where there is a government agency, where there is an NGO specifically devoted to the study of dehumanization… If we want our future to be less hideous than our past… then this has got to change – it’s time we took dehumanization seriously.

I’m aware of many places for the study of the Holocaust and other genocides, as well as centers for peace and conflict studies – these could no doubt offer great insight. But to specifically study the psychological phenomena behind the atrocities we want to end, that would be a great step towards peace.

New Year’s Resolutions – What Works For You?

I’m conducting an informal survey. Have you ever made a new year’s resolution… and kept it? If so, you’re officially awesome, and I’d love it if you could share how you did it. What strategies did you use? What support did you have? How did you think about it, that made it easier and made it a reality? Any secrets to share? Please let us know in the comments.

Many resolutions are made, but few are kept, so in future posts I share ways to keep resolutions, and alternatives to the traditional new years resolution. For now, just these tips:

  • Try a January resolution instead. Then February.
  • Do it every day
  • Think ahead: How you can make it easy to succeed. What you will do to remember. How you’ll stay motivated.

How about you – what works, in your experience? Please share below.

Upskilling for resilience

Donnie Maclurcan of the Post Growth Institute muses on the learning we need in building resilient communities – and rightly emphasizes collective knowledge:

Voids in our individual skill-sets are actually critical to building harmonious communities. As Bill Kauth and Zoe Alawan say, “We need each other, and we need to need each other”. Caroline Woolard of the New York City barter platform OurGoods elucidates this concept in sharing that, “When you take a class in a barter system you know the teacher needs you too”.
Thus, I recently found myself wondering, what range of skills might we collectively need in order to thrive in post growth futures?
…there is a great deal to be gained from more of our learning happening together, building shared resilience in the process.

He also makes a good first pass at mapping the skills we could be learning as a community, to build resilience. See Upskilling for Post Growth Futures, Together