Sunday, December 9, 2012

Advice for December 2012 … and beyond

Advice for December 2012 … and beyond.
         (from David Tresemer)
I am frequently asked, “What’s the truth of December 21? Will the prophecies come true????” Here’s my advice about how to work with that time:
On 21-22 December (with an increasingly popular precursor on 12 December), the spiritual world will be there as always, caressing the human and physical world. Astrologically, there is nothing special about these days. There was a true event in the heavens that is having major impacts – the eclipse of the Sun by Venus in June, and I wrote a book about that event and its consequences: The Venus Eclipse of the Sun 2012. The effect of that rare event will be with us, as ripples, for years to come.
However, something will happen on those December dates. There will be a powerful upwelling – a surge, an earthquake – of human fantasy and hope, dreams and illusions. When the special things promised don't happen, the buildup will be followed by a collapse, and a depression. 
Therefore, the first order of importance on that day is to protect yourself from the illusions of the mob – the crowd, as a crowd at a soccer or football game, or a wild political rally. Being in the center of that frenzy can be very disorienting – difficult to keep your sense of balance. You may feel a huge swell of energy, a kind of inebriating joy, a whoosh of light. The irony here is that all those are actual indicators of a true experience of spiritual uplift. However, a crowd can create such phenomena without being able to sustain them. You can have a taste of what might come with diligent inner work.
Or it might be used as a mask for a cynically premeditated tragedy by those in power – because people expect it, or will explain it as Mayan sorcery.
You can imagine riding out on the edge of this mass appeal to meet true spiritual beings, as you might ride a mighty wave on a surfboard. That might be useful, though it is difficult to keep your balance at the edge of a wave that big.
         The function of prophecy is to motivate the will-power of human beings to meet the predicted waves – to apply themselves, to improve, to grow. The spiritual worlds will not do this for us – would you do all the homework of a child in school? You might perhaps help with the homework, but you wouldn’t take away the experience of learning from the child.
Very important is to be ready to pick up the pieces of others' disappointments after the wave passes. And to ask them (and yourself), “What am I really seeking? What am I yearning for? Do my fantasies take me away from this good earth, this great feminine being of love? Do my fantasies take me away from the pains of my life – my ‘homework’ – from which I’m meant to learn and grow?”
We grow every day, we learn to love. We let love rise up from our inside. The heart swells. Every day we have a new opportunity to learn to love. It sometimes sounds schmaltzy, this love word, but it is the most serious task of joy that we have before us.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Mondragon Part V

Notes on a visit to the Mondragon worker-owner cooperative system, by David and Lila Tresemer, September 2012 ( and, PART V

Now for some observations outside of the congratulations for their successful economic model. We would like to speak about spiritual forces. David asked one of the managers, “As your movement was begun by a Catholic priest (Arizmendiarriete), did the success of this movement bring people to the Church?” Answer: “Yes, though many belonged to the Church already. But that has ended. Now only the elderly attend Church, except for funerals, when other people come. Now half of the weddings are in the Church, and half are ‘social.’” “Social” meant outside the Church in a public setting, where the focus is on …#2 in our list at the beginning of these notes. Mondragon has changed the old Biblical polarity “you can’t serve two masters, and must choose between God (spirit) and Mammon (money).” That comes from Gospel of Matthew Chapter 6, verse 24. The polarity has become Labor (humanity) versus Money.

After this visit to Mondragon and this conversation, I view this now as a three-some:

1. LABOR – Humanity – what we do with our time, our energy, our work, and our attention. The highest value here is freedom of expression. Work is meant to benefit and enhance a sane world.

2. MONEY– as capital. If you watch money closely, you realize that it functions as an a-moral force. It simply seeks places to grow, no matter what the method – organic food and weapons are only differentiated by their ability to make more money. The characterization in the Bible of money as expressing a negative spirit – Mammon – becomes clearer when you spend time at gatherings of investors, as David occasionally does. The values there are on clearing away all regulations that have been put into place in order to protect Humanity, in order for Money to grow more freely. You can understand these conferences as servants of money. The hyper-rich think that they control money, and occasionally realize that they are the servants to money. Mondragon realizes this and insists that “money is not the master – it is the tool.” The way they do this is through cooperatives, that is, the Labor factor above.

3. SPIRIT. When you begin to understand that there is a spirit of humanity and that there is a spirit of money, you look for the greater spiritual force behind the context for all of this. Call it Gaia, or call it Mother Mary, or call it The Virgin, or call it Jesus, or call it any number of things – and then ask what are the values of that Greater Picture, that includes the earth (#4 in our original list). Don’t settle for claims of spiritual prominence by holy wars, which are demonic spirits working with money to suppress Humanity.

We realized the importance of spirit near the end of our visit when we suddenly “woke up,” so to speak, from participation in the tour – hearing speakers, taking tours of buildings and factories, talking with people, etc. – to seeing our surroundings. A key piece came from one of the translators, who said, “People from Mondragon can easily work in China or Brazil for three months or more, if they see it as temporary. However, if you ask them to move their home from one Basque valley across the hills into another Basque valley, it is quite difficult for them to do.” Aha – we looked around us and could easily sense what we had missed before – the power of an angelic presence, what some people recognize as Spirit of Place, or the archangel who acts as the Folk Soul – and especially powerful here. When you see that the cooperative movement arises to ensure the connection of people with their community and PLACE, and you realize that the angel (or archangel) or that PLACE assists in the cooperative initiatives, you get a very different sense of how exportable this idea might be. For creating a successful cooperative is not just about applying a step-wise installation manual. It requires great clarity about the support you’re getting from your community, your geographical place, and your archangel.

Even if you can’t “see” archangels, you can sense these presences. We tested the waters with our group for conversation about this sort of thing and found soon that this was not territory in which others had much experience. Or they were shy, an unfortunate by-product of the monopoly that extreme religion has created on talk about Spirit.

I also wondered about congruency. Here are people working for years, building up a good retirement fund, and then there’s that last day that they leave the factory. Several people mentioned that they don’t look back. But if they were building or creating something congruent to their culture that they’re protecting, then you would find the elders hanging around the centers of production, just because they had a passion for it. It seems that the elders don’t come back to visit the factories for washing machines. Then I wondered, “Are washing machines congruent with any culture? In fact, aren’t they actually congruent with every culture – in that everyone in a ‘developed country’ uses washing machines? Or… is there a way that they could become more congruent?” These are outstanding questions at the end of our journey.

Rudolf Steiner recommended a three-fold social organization that included:
THINKING – the sphere of culture and ideas, where the key word is freedom of expression, and the currency streams from ideas.
FEELING – the social or middle sphere of political rights, what Mondragon has cultivated in the ownership by workers of their production, and their rights in voting in their cooperatives. The key word here is equality, and the currency streams from the heart.
WILLING – the economic sphere where the key word is brotherhood/sisterhood, working together for the common good. The currency can be money, though more truthfully the currency is human energy employed in work towards a goal.

Mondragon has been very successful, though imperfectly as they admit, in realizing a balance of these three.

As we watch the imbalances in the several models that we presented, in the primacy of OWNERS in Part I and the primacy of MONEY in this Part V, we see that this experiment in human organization has much to recommend it, and we wish it great success – both in the valleys of the Basque country and the other places in the world where it’s being tried.

End of notes from our trip.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Mondragon Notes Part IV

Notes on a visit to the Mondragon worker-owner cooperative system, by David and Lila Tresemer, September 2012 ( and, PART IV

We were a bit surprised when we attended the university to discover how little they understood about history, culture and context. Mondragon may face the challenge of being too isolated from world affairs and awareness of global concerns outside their own geography. One of the members of our visiting group said that the first response to this system in the United States would be, “Oh, that’s just Marxist,” with the subtext that it’s communist and will take away your rights and make your life more miserable. Actually, in Mondragon the high value on freedom underpins the whole system – freedom from the whims of overpaid executives at big companies. However, we understood how this knee-jerk reaction of “Marxist!” would occur.
So we asked a student, “How do you respond to criticism that this system of cooperatives is Marxist?”
The student looked puzzled, “Who?”
“Karl Marx,” we said, “social theorist of the 19th century?”
Blank look.
We asked further, “Do they teach about Karl Marx or the philosophy of the relation of labor and capital?” The student shook her head, “Sorry, I haven’t heard of him, and no they don’t.”
Unbelieving that these students hadn’t been prepared to respond to the criticism of “Marxist!,” we asked three more students. Same thing. They had never heard of him - or any of the other philosophers who have wrestled with these experiments of social organization. They simply thought that the worker-owner cooperative ideology stood on its own.

We realize that one’s philosophy of work has to be governed by your sense of “where is this leading?” It seems that the western ideal pictures a rise to the high echelons of the corporate world, bonuses of stock options and baskets of money – then a private jet, a gated mansion in a gated community likely in the Caribbean, with staff who are not uppity because they come from a poor neighborhood and can easily be replaced. The ideal and goal of Mondragon is to ensure a vibrant and healthy community of human beings putting their efforts into work that provides their families with an adequate income while producing a product useful to other people in the world.

The question: “Is it possible to have a people-focused structure that can be competitive and resilient?” Mondragon answers, “Yes!”

Tours of interested people are now coming from all over the world. Because, no matter what the reactions are – “Marxist!” or “Hidden Capitalist!” – this system creates jobs, maintains jobs, and solidifies whole communities.

We may have gotten some of our facts incorrect, and there are plenty of other facts to learn about their systems. Several managers repeated, “This isn’t paradise, and we’re not perfect,” same words, which suggests that the central group devised this response to criticism. What they have is not paradise, but very hopeful.

More in the last part, Part V.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Mondragon Part III

Notes on a visit to the Mondragon worker-owner cooperative system, by David and Lila Tresemer, September 2012 ( and, PART III

Management at Mondragon has the job of figuring out what the world marketplace is doing. Fagor, their big factory, makes clothes washing machines (and other things) in big factories with lots of moving parts and expensive equipment. Our guide said that, “In ten years, all of these kinds of things will be made in Africa and Asia. It’s our job to figure out what will be needed in the future, and begin retooling our factories now.” He said that it requires a 500,000 Euro investment to create one job in a foundry. That’s 50 million Euros for 100 jobs. It requires a 200,000 Euro investment to create one service job (without so much expensive equipment). When you look at how an investment might be made redundant in a short time period, you hesitate to make that investment!

To repeat, tensions exist in competition with other manufacturers.  The Mondragon cooperatives are islands of cooperation in a sea of world-wide competition.

The system of governance in the cooperative gives more power to the individual.  Thus there is an expectation that the individual is educated about the company, and motivated for best interests of the company rather than solely for their personal welfare.
As a result, during these times they have been known to vote to take salary cuts of up to 12%, keeping everyone employed, as that is the highest value.

Brief history of their founding: In the 1930’s the Basque valleys could not be reached easily as the roads were poor. The Basque language was unlike Spanish or French. The Spanish government cut them off from many services. Poverty was rampant. A Catholic priest assigned to them, Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta – sometimes called Arizmendi (Ah-rees-MEN-dee) for short – determined to assist their development. He began with five people who shared his values, and began a school to train them in technical matters. Soon after they began constructing clothes washing machines and electrical heaters. It took years to form other cooperatives, start their own bank, etc. – the long slow growth curve that begins horizontal and now has gone near vertical.

Arizmendiarrieta means oak (ariz), mountain (mendi), place of stones (arrieta). He put in years of hard work to organize the people in the Basque country, beginning in Assarte (Mondragon), Spain. Some quips from him: “To democratize power, we must socialize knowledge.” Thus shows his emphasis on education that continues to this day. “The ideas you don’t put into practice are only reflections.” Thus his emphasis on actions. “Your savings or your suitcase.” – meaning either put your money into the new bank that they were starting, or leave town.

Values are generally different: They value the best interest of the Whole, rather than promote the supremacy of the individual. They take care of each other, and help find employment for another coop member if his or her job becomes redundant. 

Cooperative of cooperatives (120 of them altogether): Once in that group, they consider their main task is to keep all employed. They move people around as market conditions change.

Some details:
·      In Spain you must employ handicapped people for 2.5% of your workforce or give 2.5% of your profits to funds that support the handicapped. Mondragon has chosen the first, and they are happy at how this has made their companies more diverse and interesting, and responsive to the communities in which they live.
·      Unemployment in Spain 40% (or higher). Unemployment in the cooperatives 0%.
·      Taxes on companies in Basque country: 28.6% of profit. However, if you are a coop and you have a 10% Education Fund and at least a 20% Reserve Fund (Mondragon averages 45% for the Reserve Fund) and at least 80% of your workers are members of the coop, your taxes to Spain are 10%.
·      The bank, Caja Laboral, spends 40.60 Euros to get 100 Euros in profit, compared to the usual expenditure of 50 Euros. Their delinquency rate is 5% (vs. other banks 9%). They have 1.2 million clients.
·      They have a rule for change: 25% of their products should be new every four years.

To become a member, it costs $15000 euros, plus 3-year (or is it one? – my notes are not clear on this point) trial period of provisional membership (the worker is paid during this time)—to be sure there is alignment all around. They currently have 84,000 members in the Basque region and 15,000 throughout other parts of Spain and the world.

Some problems in our view:
·      They don’t address their own food production for their area. Their businesses are primarily for export, such as clothes washing machines to go all over the world.
·      The factories are big, metallic and lonely (not really different from anywhere else).
·      They currently focus on manufacturing as their business (washing machines, solar panels, …) which puts them at the mercy of international markets where the rules are quite different, e.g., low wages in Asia. 

In many places in the world, workers don’t want to share in the risk of the enterprise. Coops aren’t for everyone. But they do provide a model for cooperation at its best in regards to a community taking care of their own. The ideal of a group of people pooling their time, energy, money, and ideas to make something work is terrific. It contrasts with people who say, “Just give me a job. I don’t care what I do. If I don’t like it, I can drop out and get welfare.”

Coops aren’t the total answer, but they go a long way towards improving the situation for workers.

More in the next Part IV.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mondragon Part II

Notes on a visit to the Mondragon worker-owner cooperative system, by David and Lila Tresemer, September 2012 ( and, PART II

A 600-person committee oversees the entirety of the 120 cooperatives. If business is failing in one sector of their businesses, instead of laying off workers from those cooperatives, they strive to find employment for those workers in cooperatives in other sectors that are doing all right. The entire 100,000-person workforce is looking after itself by ensuring employment for everyone. Imagine those meetings of 600 people trying to manage their 100,000 members effectively. Prior to the Global Financial Crisis and its second wave that is now very hard on Spain, it was much easier. Since 2008 and especially in recent years, it has been very challenging. Yet they’ve succeeded, and their unemployment is 0% whereas Spain’s is 40%+.

Here are some of the details. Of a company’s profits (gross income minus cost of materials of production, cost of labor, cost of overhead, and taxes), 10% goes to an Education Fund, 45% goes to a Reserve Fund (replacement and upgrade of buildings and equipment), and 45% goes to the workers. That last 45% doesn’t go directly to workers but to a Capitalization Fund (basically a large pool of money that the company then invests) that is held in trust by the company. The company pays the worker 7.5% annual interest on the worker’s accumulated share of the Capitalization Fund. When the worker retires or leaves, the worker’s share of the Capitalization Fund is paid out completely to the worker.

So how do you become a member of a cooperative? It takes three years probation, an investment entry fee of 15000 Euros (as of today about 20000 US$), and an approval vote of all your coworkers. Once you’re in, you’re part of the system of cooperatives and are ensured employment until you retire. You can be voted out but that is very rare.

To realize this system, they had to create their own bank. You can go to a bank as a group of equal-worker-owners, and pull together collateral from everyone to satisfy the bank that it can risk loaning you money to buy equipment to realize your idea. But it’s easier if the bank was begun by the Mondragon system, as they understand more readily. The bank gives a special interest rate to cooperatives.

Furthermore, they have developed some amazing support systems for their efforts:
·      Finance – that bank, Cajo Laboral, is the second largest bank in Spain
·      Education. They started a university (see below the story of how it began), and this gives them a steady stream of trained workers and inventors/designers, as well as research facilities for some of their inventions
·      R & D – Research and Development. Some cooperatives are dedicated to R & D. Companies on average pay more than the usual for R & D – typical for industry being 5%, and Mondragon’s average 9%.
·      Social Welfare. They have a very good pension plan and health care plan. The latter includes preventive health care, meaning attention to nutrition and exercise – so there is a nod in the direction that we were hoping to see, though not at the level we had hoped. In this should be put the social welfare of others, as there are various projects of technical assistance to other countries that the cooperatives fund. They are aware of the studies that show that trust is good for your health. Inequity and distrust are bad for your health.

Now for some observations so far. The cooperative system can be looked at as a means to preserve worker power in a region where the workers were severely repressed in the Franco years. Now they have fought back with a comprehensive system that supports their community. You have to see Mondragon from this point of view. It is a mountainous area where the valleys are filled with six-story apartment buildings that house the Basques, speaking their unusual language whose origins are not understood. This can be viewed as a mechanism to protect a community, in this case, several beautiful valleys linked by a common cultural heritage. Inside the system, it looks like a great invention to support the community. Outside the system, it looks like another set of companies who are competing in the global marketplace – against the low wages of Chinese workers, against the government subsidies here and there, against rip-offs and copiers of R&D’s good ideas, etc. The Mondragon cooperatives sub-contract to other companies that exploit their workers (low pay, no benefits, the throw-away-worker mentality) in China and South America. Thus from the outside they appear to play the capitalist game, which the apologists view as necessary to keep that cash flow from outside to inside, into the cooperative system.

More story in Part III.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mondragon Part I

Notes on a visit to the Mondragon worker-owner cooperative system, by David & Lila Tresemer, September 2012 ( and, PART I

These notes are intended as helpful for those considering alternate forms of shaping social initiatives in the world – how people work together to make something.

First off, credit is due to Georgia Kelly, leader of the Praxis Peace Institute in Sonoma, for putting together several groups of people to tour the facilities in Mondragon, Spain. We were on her fifth tour with 16 other people. She has done more than anyone to introduce the Mondragon principles and techniques to the West.

The question is: How can people come together to create a viable business that cares for the quadruple bottom line of a venture. These items are NOT in order of preference as they are all important.
1.     1. The success of the venture that awards those who set up the venture (the inventors/designers/entrepreneurs, who become the owners and stockholders) – OWNERS
2.     2. The care of the lives of the people who work there to make the products or services that go into the world (the workers) – WORKERS
3.     3. The care of the customer so that they receive something of high quality and safety – CUSTOMERS
4.     4. The care for the environment from which materials are taken to make the products and services, and to which materials are returned when the product has been used up (and also when there is waste in the process of manufacturing) – ENIVRONMENT

In our naiveté, Lila and I had assumed that forward thinking people would include all of those considerations, including others:
·      * good health through regular exercise such as yoga or morning eurythmy or Tai Chi
·      * an emphasis on participatory sports rather than on spectator sports
·     *  health through attention to nutrition including an emphasis on organic food free of pesticides and GMOs
·     *  a sense of the spiritual connections to the abundant earth and heavens that supports all of our activities
·      * gratitude for life expressed through ceremonies of the seasons
·      * and so on.
·      * One more: an ideal pictured by Rudolf Steiner about central Europe in the 19th century – workers who at night practice the violin and join together in little ensembles for the sheer joy of music.

None of these are part of the Mondragon system or the culture of the area. These enlightened positions are as rare as elsewhere, with a bit more in the health area that we discuss further below. Indeed, the quadruple bottom line is not operative in ways that one can find elsewhere. The place where Mondragon puts its entire attention is on #2, and on smoothing the age-old tension between #1 and #2. Yes, they pay attention to #3, as any company desiring longevity would do, and to #4, as many companies do, but it’s not at the top of their list. They succeed in not valuing only #1 which is tearing the USA apart. They succeed in supporting actual human beings who do the work - #2. Well done for that.

In regular capitalist ventures, the emphasis has come to be more and more on profit, even at the cost of longevity of the initiative. The managers are made into owners through bonuses of stock options (the privilege to buy a stock at a specified low price) awarded to them by the Board of Directors (made up of high-level managers of other companies). Their efforts are to raise the price of the stock through whatever means available, often at the expense of #2, #3, and #4. Then they “exercise the option,” buying low and instantly selling high. At the largest corporations, the Chief Executive Officers earn in income many hundreds of times more than the lowest-paid line-workers. The salaries and the bonuses of cash and stock options have been gutting companies. The workers have been laid off and, as the experts say, “these jobs are not coming back.”

Consider a very different model. The 120 Mondragon cooperatives in several different business areas employ approximately 100,000 people. Each cooperative is run by a committee made of the workers. As they all stand to gain or lose by the decisions of the committee, the workers – whether management or line-workers – vote in the best interest of all. One person one vote. Managers make no more than 6 times what the line-worker makes.

And here is the unusual aspect of their model. Their highest goal in the above list of the quadruple bottom line is #2. Their job is to maintain employment for all of their members. Even if the company votes to take a pay cut across the board – workers and managers alike.

More story, and increasing details, in Part II.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Christ-Sophia - who or what are they?

Lila and David are offering a workshop:
Christ-Sophia Creation Myth, August 24, Friday, 5:30 PM to August 26, Sunday, 2:30 PM. Description and explanation below. To sign up, or for more information, contact Lila at LilaPlays - AT - $320 includes five meals and two nights accommodation.

Christ-Sophia Creation Myth
Lila and David are offering a sleep-over – an Exploration – from August 24 to 26 to create a short-term residential community with this theme. The title begs certain questions:
• Who or what is Christ?
• Who or what is Sophia?
• What is creation?
• What is myth?
Because of the many misunderstandings about these terms, we’d like to speak briefly about what they mean. We’ll start at the end and work backwards.
• What is myth?
The notion of myth has gotten a bad reputation lately as something visioned, something promised, yet false. According to the modern view, it’s an illusion. However, we see myth working in a different plane – it’s something that never happened, but is happening all the time. We will explore this conundrum more closely in our Exploration.
• What is creation?
“Where you are going” requires an understanding of “where you came from.” What is your origin? And the bigger question: Where do people originate? Where does the world originate?
• Who or what is Sophia?
Greek for feminine wisdom, we will explore the being and reality of Sophia. For this, our location surrounded by Nature at MorningStar house will be very helpful.
• Who or what is Christ?
For most people this is the most challenging term. Christianity, especially fundamentalist Christianity, has claimed exclusive privilege to answer this question. We disagree. To us, Christ cannot be defined so easily, and cannot be confined to a historical story (of Jesus) nor to quotes from the Christian Bible. More accessibly, Christ means light, and love – and we will work together in our Exploration to rediscover the meanings of those words too. This Exploration has nothing to do with convincing you of a particular dogma about Christ, but rather of re-opening routes of genuine personal experience to that being.
Our methods include living together because we will find that in the small actions of life await abundant opportunities to experience the Christ-Sophia Creation. We will read and enact aspects of the Gnostic Creation Story; we will create together direct experience (i.e.‘gnostic’) in Nature, with the Being of Sophia, and with the StarFire energy of Christos.  The key to this Time is that each of us creates the Seed of Anthropos (the Possible Human) through the balanced communion of Christ-Sophia within.