One of my big personal shortcomings is ambition. Last month, I went to visit the legendary Mondragon cooperatives in the Basque Country (Spain). I planned write eloquent posts on a different important topic every day, so all my readers would have a clear understanding of what is going on there, and what it means for the struggle to find a replacement for our failing capitalist economy.
As it turned out, I don’t even grasp those things myself. I came back with more questions than I had before the trip. Trying to understand Mondragon is like trying to understand Belgium or something; really you can only begin to do it by living there for a year or three.
Don’t get me wrong – I still learned a lot, and still plan to share that as much as possible in future posts here and in other publications. I believe that our prospects of continued civilization on this planet are directly linked to our ability to find new ways of living together, with models like Mondragon playing a key part in our discussion.
It was a disillusioning trip. I don’t mean that as a criticism, and if anything, the Mondragon model seems more real and applicable than ever before. Basques are great people (except for those who aren’t) but they are just people.
One lost illusion is that Mondragon is some sort of utopia that cannot be reproduced. The Basques have certainly faced unusual circumstances, but I no longer believe that they are somehow unique in their ability to cooperate and run ethical businesses. Mondragon may be uniquely Basque, but many of its lessons can be applied everywhere that people identify as members of some sort of community (that is, everywhere).
Mondragon is also imperfect, and those imperfections must not be ignored. On the one hand, the flaws of Mondragon affirm that the Basques are not a magical people whose feats of cooperation can never be matched. On the other hand, if we paint a picture of Mondragon as utopia, sooner or later we’ll find that it is not. More importantly, the world will find that it is not, and may be tempted to dismiss us as the latest batch of idealists willing to overlook the very real flaws of our idols.
Having said all that, I’m making my notes available for those who want lots and lots of detail.
A couple of disclaimers: First, it was an overwhelming flood of information (nearly 10,000 words is my feeble attempt to capture 10 days of input). Second, my handwriting is not the greatest and I’m not the best notetaker in the world. Third, I typed these up roughly a month after I took them, so in some cases I wasn’t able to decipher whatever I wrote. So please do not quote me on any of this (and yes, I know this is the internet). This is for entertainment purposes only, and should not be taken as any sort of reliable factual account of details. Enjoy, but check your own facts.