Friday, 3 March 2017

TimeBanking: A Revolutionary Model for Building Community Resilience
by Bailey Mead, Praxis Managing Editor:

In this new political climate which brings daily assaults to the vitality of our communities and the safety and well-being of ourselves and our neighbors, knowing who you can trust and who you can call on feels more important than ever before.

We’ve seen our neighbors terrorized in recent weeks by ICE raids and the Muslim Ban during just the first month of the Trump administration. In this time when many may be afraid to take bold actions to protect their neighbors, it is imperative to build solidarity between communities, and especially with immigrant communities.

We need each other, but what if we don’t know each other? Or maybe we know each other, but how do we begin to work together?

Our survival requires active resistance, but our future requires us to simultaneously build resilience and create sustainable new ways of being that allow all of us to live and thrive. We know that effective resistance requires connection, and connection helps build resilience. So how do we truly connect?

TimeBanks, an alternative currency model that helps create strong community relationships, are active in at least 34 countries throughout the world. TimeBanking reinforces the inherent and equal value of every person and allows people to access services they might not otherwise afford. It is not bartering, which is subject to income tax, but rather a circle of giving or a skill exchange.

A TimeBank consists of members who agree to exchange services - individuals, organizations and businesses can all be members. You do something for someone else for an hour and you earn an hour time credit to spend later on a service from anyone in the TimeBank.

For example, if you drive someone to the airport, you earn an hour of credit, which you can then spend by having someone mow your lawn. That person who mowed your lawn will also earn an hour credit and can spend it getting their computer fixed. TimeBanks foster a culture and cycle of ongoing reciprocity; the concept is simple but the implications are huge.

Circles of Giving Image courtesy of Timebanks USA

Our ancestors knew that cooperation and exchange were essential to health and survival, but the legacy of colonialism, capitalism and racism has left us so isolated from each that we often don’t even know our neighbors.

Building on this ancestral knowledge about the strength of community and the work of 19th century socialists who introduced time-based currencies, Edgar Cahn, former legal counsel and speechwriter to Robert F. Kennedy, formalized the idea of TimeBanking in his book, Time Dollars: The New Currency That Enables Americans to Turn Their Hidden Resource-Time-Into Personal Security & Community Renewal, a book co-authored with Jonathan Rowe in 1992.

He also introduced five core values of TimeBanking in his book, No More Throwaway People:
  • Asset: Every one of us has something of value to share with someone else.
  • Redefining Work: There are some forms of work that money will not easily pay for, like building strong families, revitalizing neighborhoods, making democracy work, advancing social justice. Time credits were designed to reward, recognize and honor that work.
  • Reciprocity: Helping that works as a two-way street empowers everyone involved - the receiver as well as the giver. The question: “How can I help you?” needs to change so we ask: “Will you help someone too?”  Paying it forward ensures that, together, we help each other build the world we all will live in.
  • Social Networks: Helping each other, we reweave communities of support, strength and trust. Community is built by sinking roots, building trust, creating networks. By using timebanking, we can strengthen and support these activities.
  • Respect: Respect underlies freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and everything we value. Respect supplies the heart and soul of democracy. We strive to respect where people are in the moment, not where we hope they will be at some future point.
I first learned about TimeBanking almost a decade ago when I met Kim Hodge, former labor organizer and Executive Director of the MI Alliance of TimeBanks. I worked at the Area Agency on Aging and she wanted to explore the possibility of integrating a TimeBank into the aging services network in southeast Michigan.

While that particular TimeBank never got any traction, I was intrigued by the concept and the possibilities for my own Southwest Detroit neighborhood, home to a large immigrant population where the average household income is lower than the rest of Detroit.

I was involved in our community garden and knew many of the neighbors on my own block, but didn’t know many of them well. Our Hubbard Farms neighborhood had an email listserv where we shared information about everything from local crime and negligent suburban landlords to cultural events, politics, and annual strolling dinners. We were connected, but at least in my case, I didn’t feel like we had meaningful relationships.

Kim knew another woman in my neighborhood who was interested in starting a TimeBank. The three of us met and very slowly began to organize the Southwest Detroit TimeBank in 2009, which is now called Unity in Our Community and has grown to 690 members.

The beginning was slow, full of stops and starts, but it wasn’t long before we assembled a “Kitchen Cabinet” to lead the TimeBank. We elected a treasurer and a secretary, collected $20 from each person to print business cards, put up a website, and subscribed to hOurworld, software specifically designed to track TimeBank hours.

In hOurworld, members can set up profile pages and list offers and requests, which can be scrolled through by other members. When someone offers to perform a service, the two members negotiate how it will be done and how much time it is likely to take. In order to assure accountability, the member performing the service logs the time, and the member receiving the service has to approve it before the time credit is transferred from one account to the other. If the service has not been performed as expected or did not take as much time as the giver indicated, they can negotiate how to make it right.

However, because the nature of TimeBank transactions are relational rather than consumerist, problems like this rarely arise. When they do, the TimeBank leadership is there to help mediate the situation.

Lathrup Village TimeBank members working in the Lathrup Village Children’s Garden. Image courtesy of MI Alliance of TimeBanks

Instead, when starting the Southwest Detroit TimeBank, we found ourselves faced with other challenges. It turns out that people have a really hard time asking for and accepting help. While we had many offers, we had very few takers.

On top of that, when a TimeBank first begins, there are typically only a handful of members so the offers are not very diverse. In our case, all of our original members had to commit to taking each other up on one or two offers every week so that we could begin to earn time credits and get experience TimeBanking.

To help us grow, we also employed another common practice in TimeBanking, allowing members to earn credit for attending meetings, handing out flyers or recruiting new members. We began holding group events and inviting neighbors.

We held a BBQ at the park and a group painting party at the home of two retired nuns, both Kitchen Cabinet members, and together painted the walls of their entryway and front room. Another member offered Mexican cooking classes. These kinds of group projects gave us opportunities to introduce new people to our TimeBank and we slowly began to grow.

Within a few years, the TimeBank had grown to 150 members, which is the number recommended for a group with enough diversity in skills to keep people engaged. Bridging Communities, a nonprofit serving seniors in Southwest Detroit, agreed to host the TimeBank and dedicate staff time to it. This made all the difference for our future.

Finding a host organization is an important step for sustainability with any TimeBank. It not only makes it possible to seek grant funding, but because volunteer leaders eventually tire out or move on, a paid staff position insures consistency and stability.

In 2012, when I moved across the state to Kalamazoo, I sought out the small local TimeBank, but it ceased to operate soon after I arrived. Like many volunteer-run start-ups, a short life span is common, and it is the reason that the MI Alliance of Timebanks exists: to offer support, training and connection to TimeBanks and to share best practices for start-ups.

Fortunately, the Unity in Our Community TimeBank has continued to grow and make a tangible difference in members’ lives. For example, a mechanic joined the time bank, making car repairs accessible to those who might otherwise be stranded in a city with unreliable public transportation.

Members also recently helped Musid Ali rebuild his house after his family of twelve survived a house fire as a result of arson. These are just a couple examples of the more than 25,000 hours members have exchanged with each other since the TimeBank began. Early on, the neighborhood health clinic joined, creating the possibility for uninsured and/or undocumented members to access health care using time credits, but I was disappointed to learn that they never became a fully active member in the TimeBank.

Pontiac SUN TimeBank members removing old carpeting from a member’s home. Image courtesy of the MI Alliance of TimeBanks

TimeBanks can be a way of meeting basic needs, but they can also be a way of building skills. Say you have always wanted to start a catering service, but you want to give it a try before launching a business. You could offer to cater a party or teach a cooking class and see how you like it. Or maybe you have always wanted to learn Spanish. You can spend your time credits taking classes or being tutored by another member.

An especially humanizing aspect of TimeBanking is the common agreement that everyone’s hour has the same value, and that people of all ages and abilities are valued equally. A physician’s hour spent performing a physical exam is worth the same as a child’s hour spent pulling dandelions from someone’s lawn. An accountant’s time spent preparing taxes is worth the same as someone’s time spent returning bottles for refunds. All work is valued equally, based on a negotiation between giver and receiver. This redefinition of work breaks down class constructs and turns the capitalist idea of work on its head.

Another benefit is that TimeBanks value the contributions of senior citizens. In a society that assigns human value to a person’s ability to produce, older adults are burdened with a diminished perception of their worth. When this is internalized in combination with social isolation, and a decreased physical ability to perform household work, many elders succumb to depression and illness.

In a TimeBank, the inherent value and wisdom of our elders can be received and valued while allowing them to access necessary services they can no longer physically perform themselves. For example, they can teach skills like knitting or reading in exchange for window washing, oven cleaning, or home repairs. It may even be possible to earn and save time credits as a way of preparing for retirement.

Beyond members exchanging services with each other, TimeBanks are responding in creative ways to local needs and connecting members in personal ways to global issues. The Pontiac Sun TimeBank in Pontiac, Michigan is working on an innovative project with the local hospital.

“Many patients need follow-up care after being discharged from the hospital,” Kim Hodge explained. “Whether this is a ride home, shopping and cooking, or friendly calls to check on them, TimeBank members can provide those services.” She also said, “A member of the Lathrup Village TimeBank whose relatives were being killed in Syria offered a class to educate other members about what was happening there.”

Unity in Our Community TimeBank members teaching a Yemeni 
breadmaking class. Image courtesy of MI Alliance of TimeBanks

Perhaps the most powerful reason for TimeBanking is the real strength and safety in knowing and trusting your neighbors. It takes vulnerability and openness to let someone help you, and the reward is getting to really know and trust each other. In my case, I was reluctant to let strangers into my home. So, if I didn’t know someone, I began by asking for help with things like mowing the lawn or teaching me something at the local coffeehouse. Also, as an introvert, I found that it took real effort to interact with new people, but it was well worth it. At the very least, people who know each other are less afraid of each other, less likely to call the police on each other, and less likely to vote and act against each other’s interests.

On a practical level, you know who to call when your car battery is dead or you want to borrow a tool. At best, you build nurturing relationships and begin to work together to make your neighborhood and your community becomes a better place. For instance, in the Unity in Our Community TimeBank, members can earn time credits for working with Welcoming Michigan, an immigrant rights organization.

For every benefit of TimeBanking, there are questions about things like liability, reliability, and trustworthiness. Hodge says, “TimeBanks just don’t attract the kinds of people that are looking to pull one over on anyone. You have to do your own gut-check, just like you would if you were hiring anyone to come into your home and perform a service. In the years that the MI Alliance of TimeBanks has been in operation, we have not heard of a single issue with liability.”

She said, “the single biggest challenge is keeping people engaged and in the habit of asking each other for help. Most successful TimeBanks have a dedicated organizer who knows the members and reaches out to make matches between people’s offers and requests.”

These are just a few of the possibilities and examples of TimeBanking, but communities across the globe are creating new ways to use this model every day. The time is ripe for finding ways to lessen our dependence on consumerism and strengthen our connection to each other. 

For more information on starting a TimeBank or to connect with an existing one in your area, visit hOurworld and TimeBanks USA.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Brave New World: The Pill-Popping, Social Media Obsessed Dystopia We Live In

Image 20170222 6409 1189121by Tony D Sampson, University of East London, The Conversation:

The Orwellian dystopia of Doublespeak is very much in vogue right now thanks to concerns over Trump’s use of “alternative facts”.

But alternative facts are just the tip of a dystopian iceberg that owes more to the soft brainwashing technologies of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World than it does to 1984’s harsh Stalinist oppressions and propagandist trickery.

To grasp the Huxleyesque nature of current events we need see them as part of a culture increasingly pervaded by the ideas of neuroscience - what I have termed neuroculture.

The origins of neuroculture begin in early anatomical drawings and subsequent neuron doctrine in the late 1800s. This was the first time that the brain was understood as a discontinuous network of cells connected by what became known as synaptic gaps.

Initially, scientists assumed these gaps were connected by electrical charges, but later revealed the existence of neurochemical transmissions. Brain researchers went on to discover more about brain functionality and subsequently started to intervene in underlying chemical processes.

Interpretation of Cajal’s anatomy of a Purkinje neuron, by Dorota Piekorz.

On one hand, these chemical interventions point to possible inroads to understanding some crucial issues, relating to mental health, for example. But on the other, they warn of the potential of a looming dystopian future. Not, as we may think, defined by the forceful invasive probing of the brain in Room 101, but via much more subtle intermediations.


Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) is about a dystopian society that is not controlled by fear, but rendered docile by happiness. The mantra of this society is “everybody’s happy now”. As Alex Hern argues in The Guardian, Huxley presents a more relevant authoritarian dystopia to that of 1984, one that can still be “pleasant to live in for the vast majority, sparking little mass resistance”. The best dystopias are often dressed up as utopias.

Aldous Huxley in 1954. Wikimedia Commons

It is Huxley’s appeal to emotional conditioning that most significantly resonates with today’s dystopian neurocultures. He noted the clear advantages of sidestepping intellectual engagement and instead appealing to emotional suggestibility to guide intentions and subdue nonconformity.

As such, to achieve its goal, the society of Brave New World combines two central modes of control. First, the widespread use of the joy-inducing pharmaceutical, Soma, and second, a hypnotic media propaganda machine that works less on reason than it does through “feely” encounters.

Today’s neurocultures correspond to these technologies in conspicuous ways. To begin with, the rise of neuro-pharmaceuticals, like Prozac, have drawn attention to a growing societal need for self-medicated happiness. But equally alarming is the rise in prescriptions for ADHD treatments, like Ritalin, which control attention while simultaneously subduing difficult behaviour. The ADHD child’s mental state is a kind of paradoxical docile attentiveness.

The College of Emotional Engineering

Comparisons can also be made between Huxley’s College of Emotional Engineering and contemporary social media. In his book, the college is an important academic institution found in the same building as the Bureaux of Propaganda, with a unique focus on emotional suggestibility. This is where the feely scenarios, emotional slogans and hypnopedic rhymes are written. This kind of propaganda is for mass media consumption, but today’s emotional engineering takes place in far more intimate and contagious arenas of social media.

For example, in 2014, Facebook took part in an experiment designed to make positive and negative emotions go viral. Researchers manipulated the news feeds of over 600,000 users in an attempt to make them pass on positive and negative emotions to others in their network.

Streamlining emotions. rvlsoft /

The idea that social media acts as a vector for both positive and negative emotional contagions might help us to rethink Trump’s ability to seemingly tap into certain negative feelings of disillusioned US voters. Certainly, the contagion of fake news is typically a poisonous concoction of fear and hate. But much of the populist appeal of Trump (and Brexit) has perhaps played on more joyful encounters with celebrity politicians than those experienced with the dry intellectual elites of conventional politics.

Roses or orchids?

The pervasiveness of today’s neuroculture started with the neuroscientific emotional turn in the 1990s. Scientists realised that emotions are not distinct from pure reason, but enmeshed in the very networks of cognition. The way we think and behave is now assumed to be greatly determined by how we feel.

The seismic influence of this profound shift has extended beyond science to economic theories concerned with the neurochemicals that are supposed to affect decision making processes. It also underpins new models of consumer choice focused on the “buying brain”.

The advent of neuroeconomics, followed by neuromarketing, has resulted in further spin-offs in product design and branding informed by emotional brain processing. The consumer experience of a brand is now measured according to the frequency of brainwaves correlated with certain attentive and emotional states.

Perhaps there’s nothing new in neuroculture. Advertisers have been trying to infect feelings since the advent of advertisements. Similarly, politicians have been kissing babies for affect since the age of the crowd. Maybe my idea of neuroculture is an example of what has been cynically termed neuro-speculation. But in an age hastened by social media and self-medication, there is a dystopic intensification of infected and manipulated feelings that cannot be ignored.

Not everyone agreed with Huxley’s predictions of a neuroscientific dictatorship. One literary critic once compared him to a rabbit going down a hole only to think all the world was dark.

But it was the attention he received from scientists that should alert us to the profundity of his dystopia. In particular, the 20th century scientist Joseph Needham argued that scientific knowledge is not immune to political interferences. Needham called Huxley’s Brave New World an “orchid garden” - a demonstration that scientific knowledge does not always lead to a bed of roses. Huxley, he noted, helps us to “see clearly what lies at the far end of certain inviting paths”.

Tony D Sampson, Reader in Digital Culture and Communication, University of East London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.