Monday, March 2, 2015

Economics of Happiness Conference: Portland 2015: My thoughts





I just finished a great weekend spent with many fellow wisdom practitioners, trying to shift our enormous paradigm into a sounder way of being. I come away from the conference feeling both elated...knowing the solidarity of a shared vision, but also overwhelmed at how to truly manifest such an endeavor on a wider scale.


Highlights from conference:

  • Portland local Nora Gedgaudas ,and her presentation on the paleo diet as it pertains to native cultures, seemed a bit misplaced. Firstly, the data is still very much in contention, if not outright rebuked. Dr, Micheal Gregor of NutritionFacts.org and PlantPositive are just two examples with many credible sources cited-and those are mainly from a nutritional angle, let alone environmental, political, ethical etc. Secondly, the way Nora presented the case for paleo as being a definitive "best practices" for diet was overreaching. It would have been wiser to go with a presenter who could show several angles to dietary life in a holistic way, but because of the correlation between indigenous cultures and paleo, that was her angle..but to have no vegan voice to differ seemed misguided, and grants credence to such beliefs. It would have been fascinating to have a panel primarily focused on food alone; growing, markets, dietary, ethics, harm footprint etc, I was going to raise points of awareness after she spoke, but a fellow vegan voiced rather eloquently on the systems of oppression/ethical approach that is seemingly lost on the paleo crowd. How the paleo diet manifests itself in the practical, real world is an enabler for more animal abuse; obfuscating and appeasing terms like "ancient wisdom", "humane", "free-range"( (Nora's words "in the sunshine and open air") etc. Exploitation is exploitation. (I will note peoples like the Inuit who primarily survived on animals, because their harsh regions cannot support plant based living. This is understandable for their survival. However, as my friend Satya pointed out, how many Inuit today truly eat in ancient ways? Could they be using their old meat based cultures as a rationalization for continued animal consumption using the fossil fuel soaked corporate supplies? I don't know the answer to that, but welcome insight.)

  • Bayo! Bayo! Bayo! Bayo Akomolafe is one awesome dude. Exuding a deep, loving wisdom, he was seemingly cherished by everyone at the conference. We resonate very much on transformative philosophies guiding our paradigm shift. <3



  • Charles Eisenstien! He was one of the key people at the event, and I attended his workshop on Sunday.  I managed to shake his hand and told him of his impact on my path....I had thought about a selfie but it wasn't the time or the place... He has such an effortless style of being profoundly insightful, it was a delight to have him here. He reiterated one of his central themes of how we are shaping our new story.  We actually invited Charles and Bayo to Food Not Bombs tonight(Monday) so fingers crossed. :)




  • Cameron! Local activist and hurler of dodgeballs(my thumb still hurts) Cameron Whitten spoke about the nature of social media to create change, citing the Arab Spring as major inspiration. Not so surprisingly, there was some backlash against this view from some in the audience who worry about screentime, lack of real human connection, and the rise of "slacktivism"(resharing/posting things on social media but not acting). As a fellow millennial, but one born early enough in the 1980s('82) to not be fully indoctrinated with pc technology/internet, I can see many sides of the debate. Overall, I still think social media does far more good than harm, and it's only going to grow in use while we have structures that maintain it.
Cameron Whitten


  • Climate Change Workshop: I attended this workshop on Saturday,  hosted by Dick Roy and Lenny Dee. Both are tireless agents of change for our environment and a more equitable world. I liked how Dick used the analogy of climate justice akin to a war front, and if we apply enough pressure and persistence in a focused area, we will eventually breakthrough into new territory. Many of us had congruent viewpoints on how to address these concerns, but there was a point of awareness I raised that is worth noting. A gentleman had posited that the real issue wasn't personal change, but more legislative or higher level avenues. I said the driving force fueling the  corporatocracy, is our own demand for certain standards of living. He also framed the issue of "downsizing" in the pejorative sense. At this, he received feedback  reframing that statement, and actually recognizing the immense gains from a movement towards simplicity. I also made sure to emphasis the vegan element in climate change, recommending Cowspiracy as something to watch.

  • More breakout/workshops: I loved the plenaries and speakers, but it felt hard to really meet fellow attendees and delve into smaller scale groups within the structure of the conference. Some of the onus is on us to provide space for that(talking over meals, hallways etc) but perhaps in future, some more structured time to connect would be wise. It's a tough balance I'm sure, and I commend the organizers for due diligence.
  • Lack of vegan community involvement: There was a host of progressive partners for the conference, but absent was organizations like NorthwestVeg and Food Not Bombs.Regarding FNB specifically, we actually could have provided free food for a day/meal, like we did a few months back at the same location(Eliot Center) for the Pacific Northwest Social Forum. I'm not sure why exactly, and perhaps I should been more involved with this process, but no doubt FNB and NWVEG would have added value to the assembly. As I grow in my activism, uniting like this is tantamount.


On balance, it was a honor to attend, but I do feel something amiss... Part of my discomfort is not seeing or hearing enough for a personal focus on change...there was a lack of radical practice and awareness. Not to say that things  like time banks, legislating against the TPP, retooling our education system etc  are without merit...they all play a part in addressing our crisis. However, from my area of focus, no substantive change can occur without first a thorough personal exploration of ways we directly contribute  to harm and suffering, and how we go about stamping out those delusions. How many attendees at the conference were car-free? How many were vegan or even vegetarian? Lived in tiny homes/yurts? What of their moral/ethical/spiritual framework? There is no definitive, be all end all answer...we must each cultivate our own awareness on these complicated matters, and I can only offer a few suggestions  to probe for self-betterment.  Times like these require radical forms to manifest if we have any hope of authentic, holistic change. 

Many thanks once again to the organizers of the conference, most notably Victoria Clark and Hellena Norberg-Hodge-cheers!

Economics of Happiness Documentary(2011)



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