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A History of the Briarpatch

By Michael Phillips and Salli Rasberry

From the "Introduction" to The Briarpatch Book

Dick Raymond is the father of the Briarpatch concept which emerged in early 1973. Dick also is founder of the Portola Institute, which has been the catalyst for several community-based groups and publisher of the revolutionary Whole Earth Catalog. interestingly, a book called The Brier-Patch Philosophy had been published in 1906; it presented a nineteenth-century naturalistic/religious view of the rabbit world in which everything worked out for the best in the long run. Dick did not know of that book, and ironically his idea grew out of a much different experience. He and many others in the early 1970s were disturbed with the endless Viet Nam War and high inflation rates. Many within Portola were predicting an apocalypse, with the economy falling in shambles around our feet. ln this milieu, Stewart Brand was examining the tools for post-apocalyptic survival and planning in his new Co-Evolution Quarterly.

Dick's Briarpatch idea grew out of his image of a dinosaur-like demise of existing large businesses. ln his first visions of the Briarpatch he saw the giant corporate dinosaurs unable to find food for their enormous profit appetites. He visualized a business apocalypse, using such terms as "living with joy in the cracks" to describe the new subsociety in which "the cracks" referred to his apocalyptic earthquake image. The Briarpatch was to be the social system for survival, with Briars using the tools of living on less, sharing with each other, and learning through new small businesses. To this, Dick added the positive value of doing it all with joy. ln his vision, Briars were to be doing what they loved most, secure from the ravages of the crumbling culture around them. Their lack of material possessions and small-scale living would appear to others like real briarpatches—thorny places so unappealing to the greedy people around them that, like rabbits, Briars would be safe.

Dick and I were close friends and worked together on various Portola projects. Although I personally didn't believe in an apocalypse, I loved his Briarpatch idea for its joy and wisdom and quoted Dick's definition of the Briarpatch in The Seven Laws of Money, which Rasberry and I were writing.

Dick lived south of San Francisco in suburban Menlo Park, where the Portola lnstitute is located and where the very first Briarpatch journal was compiled by Gurney Norman. Gurney edited and published this first journal called the Briarpatch Review and sent it free to a select mailing list of friends and users of the Whole Earth Truck Store. Gurney is one of our spiritual heroes and the author of "Divine Right's Trip," a novel first published in the Last Whole Earth Catalog. His Briarpatch Review described the new Briarpatch Auto Coop, which had started that summer in Menlo Park, the Zen Center in San Francisco, and various Portola projects. The journal had a subdued but glossy layout in tablet format and was published in November 1973. The Seven Laws of Money was nearly ready for the printer by that time, and we encouraged subscriptions to the new journal in the last page of the book. However, Gurney moved on, and there was no community in Menlo Park to put out a second issue.

A sustained Briarpatch Review needed a real Briarpatch network to nourish it, and San Francisco was the ideal community in which such a network could be created. The two principals in that venture were Andy Alpine, a former lawyer and researcher, and me. We both lived in San Francisco and had met while working on another project. We got along wonderfully, and I hired Andy to do some work for me in sex research and to search for a waterfront office where I could offer small-business counseling. Andy finished the research and found the office by May 1974, and I opened the office in June.

Three months later I found that I needed help. I had been giving free advice to small-business people and potential Briars once a week, helping many to start their own businesses. They would get their advice on Wednesday and start following it. By the next Monday they needed a truck, by Tuesday they wanted a bookkeeper, and I wasn't around to help them with the necessary follow-through. Andy was the perfect person to help out, and he was willing to do it. He needed $250 a month, which we initially raised with six-month pledges of support of $50 to $100 from Lew Durham; Dick Raymond; Elliot Buckdrucker, a CPA friend; Werner Hebenstreit, an insurance broker; Tom Silk, a lawyer; Ron Wilton, a film producer; and me. My free business consultation and Andy's follow-up grew into the Briarpatch Network, a community which agreed to support Andy after our six-month pledges had run out.

Lew Durham, who was a founder of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church's radical 1960s social-change programs, played a role twice in 1974. He was one of the founding contributors who supported Andy's work, and in July he helped put on a conference concerning right livelihood and business. The conference was held at a camp eighty miles south of San Francisco, with twenty-five to thirty people attending. We all had great fun, and many of those people became part of the Briarpatch Network.