This is not the age of treatises or manifestos or utopian theories. People have become suspicious of theories that promise them a better life, at least theories of the social change variety (as opposed to individual change). Here are possible reasons why. First, because such theories have historically failed to deliver. Second because people are more motivated by the kind of instant gratification they get from religion and emotionally charged images of heaven, hell, crucifications, etc. Third, because in the west, our stomachs are full, our minds are entertained, some people do what they love at least part of the time, almost everyone is too busy or stressed in their jobs to think much, and coupled with either a liberal or conservative ideology, that is enough for most people. And last, because there has been a growing realization that much (some would say all) human change is inward, personal and individual, there is no recipe for change that would work for everyone. Despite all this, there is also a growing realization that some change must happen, and that at least some of it will be on a social level.
As a scientist I have learned that we humans are just not smart enough (or it may not be even possible in principle) to predict the future too far ahead with our theories, so we try to go just a little bit further with simple hypotheses. I am trying to figure it out as I go along with experiments and a bit of theory. What I propose would be more likely to succeed if other people contributed ideas and actions.
Unlike millenarians, survivalists, peak oilers and anti-civ folks, I do not want to motivate by fear of having a collapse. What I propose would be more likely to succeed without a collapse, while certain resources are available and while most people in the west are not in survival mode (www.thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com).
I am writing this treatise for people who think that freedom, justice, sustainability, creativity and connectedness are also important, not just material goods and entertainment. Most of the third world may have forgotten this and so they will not be interested in what I have to say. They need to first get their bellies full, then go through a period of consumerism and preoccupation with material things before they might want to listen.
The following four ingredients may be necessary for a free, just, sustainable, creative and connected future:
• Local technology and economy
• Sharing resources and cooperation
• Living more simply
• A spiritual alternative to materialism and consumerism
I am trying to test these hypotheses as I live. To test some of them (that a local technology, living more simply and developing spiritual alternatives to materialism and consumerism have the aforementioned effects) I don’t need anyone to help. One of them (sharing resources) I do need people to help test, as I obviously can’t do it on my own. But all of these hypotheses might be easier (and more fun) to test with other people to help. For example, one of my favorite spiritual activities (to me spiritual means anything that creates joy, zest, consciousness and connection) is Israeli and eastern European folk dancing, which I can’t do alone. But I’m trying to learn dances, so that when people come, I could teach them
Definition and historical background
The idea of a local technology may be unfamiliar to most people, whereas there have been discussions of local economies recently. What I mean by a local technology is a technology where all processing of goods and all materials come from places no more than a few hoursa few days walk away. I don’t believe there has been such a technology in the west for a very long time. Some native peoples have had such a technology and I think that partially contributed to their good way of living. However, as far as I know, (a friend who has visited a contemporary native tribe in Brazil disagrees) many native people may also not have had the time necessary to engage in much art and science, their technologies being mostly subsistence technologies. Even if some privileged members of a tribe had the time, this may have been partially possible due to the low population density at the time and availability of some resources that are no longer available today (clean creeks, many nut-bearing trees, buffalo, etc), and it was not an option available to most.. In some pre-industrial societies where patriarchy had taken root, something close to local technology may have existed but freedom certainly did not exist for most people (references).
Groups such as the Amish and Hutterites may seem to have something close to a local technology, but the Amish use commercial fertilizers and the Hutterites use tractors (they probably use a lot more from the global economy (referred to as GE from now on) than I know). They are closer to a local technology in the west than anyone else though, encouraging local trades such as blacksmithing, coopering, butchering, shoe-making etc. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that these groups are also big into resource sharing, simple living and spiritual activities substituting for material acquisition and that most of the inhabitants have a tangible joy (amish?). As I will try to show later, these four ingredients synergistically reinforce and encourage each other. However, their technology is not advanced enough to allow much individual free time. Most of the time is spent on survival. Perhaps as a result, they also do not have much appreciation for the arts and sciences and their society is narrow in its spiritual expression (not tolerating any other than Christian-based expressions) and in the free expression of women..
So the local technology I am advocating does not currently exist (especially in a context that encourages individual freedom, women’s rights, spiritual freedom and cares about the arts and sciences), and probably never has existed, but there have been several technological developments in that direction, and more are needed. I will talk about these soon.
The other thing about a local technology, is that it enables a local economy. It is absurd to talk about local economies that only produce some services and local currency when they get most of their material goods from other places. But when materials are obtained locally and goods are produced locally, the economy can be local, whether it uses local currency, barter, or even a govt issued currency, whether people have private property or not, whether decisions are made by consensus or elected managers, and even whether some services and goods are given to or obtained from travelers who come to visit.
The idea of a local technology and the local economy it enables stems from problems that exist and have existed when technology and economy are non-local, or global. These can be summarized as enslavement of other people, enslavement of ourselves, and trashing of the earth.
Historically, the industrial revolution in the US and Europe was accompanied by massive exploitation of most people by a few. Most people toiled in inhuman conditions. They were helpless to change these conditions much, because they could not take care of their basic needs themselves and were dependent on the capitalist owners, the market, other farmers far away, and other workers far away. The situation was improved for some by having slaves, whether official or wage slaves, and then by exporting the institution of slavery to the third world, and by enabling the taking of its resources by economic means. Besides the ethical desirability of such a situation, we still have people who are completely dependent on an abstact inhuman scale system, doing mostly meaningless jobs, dependent on a market which is in turn dependent on the greed of the many and the manipulative power of a few (unlike most liberals I don't blame only the corporations or government or advertizers, but everyone who participates in the system). The strikes of workers in the US in the past, the protests of activists (though motivated by good intentions) in the past and present all betray a helplessness which would be corrected if people could feed and shelter themselves, being dependent only on their own resources and those of their neighbors. Marx got close to this concept with his wish for the workers to control the means of production. But if that happens through global institutions, it still involves abstraction, which allows people to exploit each other (even if they don’t want to, as is the situation with the middle class of the US exploiting the third world) and the earth. Also, if I still am not directly involved with producing my basic needs, but am dependent on people far away to do so, it either becomes a logistical nightmare to figure out how much to produce for other people far away (socialism) and one then becomes dependent on burocrats, or else one becomes dependent on a global market, which is impersonal and does not care about our differences except on a shallow level. As an aside, I must say at this point that two of the core beliefs of socialism, that an equitable distribution of material wealth is desirable, and that a brotherhood/sisterhood of humankind is desirable, I agree with. What I’m opposed to is the implementation of these ideals through non-local political, economic and technological means. Similarly, I am not opposed to global trade, as long as people are not dependent on it for basic needs. If we (both in the first and third world) can stand on our own two feet locally, then we can trade globally from a position of power, not of helplessness. And I am certainly in favor of free, creative enterprise, as long as it is mostly local and does not rely on exploitation. Whether such (sustainable and just) global trade is possible these days, is an open question. The distinction between basic needs and luxuries is also a slippery issue, which I will not now address.
In addition to the enslavement of people in the west due to not being able to produce their own basic needs, there is another kind of enslavement that happens when one buys a car, a house and/or land for a price that one is unable to afford without a loan. Usually, the price of a house or land (or the cumulative rent that is paid for rental property) does not reflect the energy put into that land or house (which includes both cost and labor of the previous owner), but based instead on the ability of greedy people who have something to exploit other greedy people who don’t have something but want it (and if we trace the explotation back to the beginning, it involves outright stealing of land from native people).. Almost everyone in the west is both an exploiter and exploited in this sense. In order to pay for the high price, rather than wait till one can afford it, people usually take out a loan, which usually doubles or triples the actual price of the car, house or land, making them indentured often for life to the lender. I do think that lenders should charge some interest to get a return for their risk and labor in managing the assets, but apparently there is no risk, as the latest baleout of lenders by the government has shown. Even before that, the ability of a bank to foreclose on a house and resell it minimizes the banks’s risk. Living simpler, in small rooms or houses, sharing housing, land and tools, having fulfilling things to do so that one is not obsessed with nesting and creating a fortress against the world, and producing basic needs locally to minimize car use may stop this kind of enslavement. I will talk more about nesting later, as this is a complex subject.
So much for the enslavement of our souls. As far as the enslavement of third world people, I think that just like abolitionists of the 19th century, we must realize that right livelihood is not enough for an ethical life. No matter what you do for a living, whether a doctor, teacher, musician, activist, farmer, scientist, etc., you are still participating in a system dependent on slaves to produce your basic needs. The only ethical thing to do vis a vis this slavery as vis a vis confederate slavery is to work towards its abolition. Whereas this was possible through a civil war in the 19th century, that option is not available today. Legal means of influencing the rights of workers abroad haven’t worked so far, and in my opinion won’t work because the system needs the slaves. I will say more about the efficacy of fair trade in abolishing slavery later (more about difference with confederate slavery—how it was transformed to wage and domestic servitude).
Wage slavery--people needing to spend most of their time at a meaningless, boring, unfulfilling job, continues in our time despite past promises that technology will free people from menial labor and drudgery**. So far technology has freed some (most in the west) people from physical (not menial) labor while enslaving others (the third world), and at the same time keeping most people in the west in uncreative and unproductive jobs (or jobs like in the mental health field that try to fix problems that are mostly caused by the system) that take most of their time. So detaching from the GE and showing by example that we can live without the slavery is the only option I’m aware of.
In this treatise I do not discuss environmental issues much because I don’t have much new to say about these. One thing I will say is that environmentalism has obscured both the enslavement of third world people and the enslavement of our souls. I am not sure why it is easier for people to consider the abstraction of global warming, carbon footprint, destruction of the rainforest and declining biodiversity but ignore the abstraction of slaves making their stuff for them. It is interesting to me that a book which was mostly about the latter, had the title Confessions of an Eco-Sinner (probably because the publisher thought it would sell better than Confessions of an economic exploiter). There are a few who while caring about nature and conservation, also care about social justice and freedom—mostly young anarchists. My sympathies are with them, but I don’t think they have a viable program for extricating themselves (and thereby serving as an example to everyone) from the GE. I wonder if the concern with ecology sweeping the globe is not a smoke screen to prevent people from sharing resources, living simply and developing a local technology, as well as recognizing that their survival is dependent on enslavement of third world people, and that they themselves are thus enslaved. To recognize these things would mean going beyond the environmental brownie points attitude reminiscent of self-congratulating religionists, towards an orientation which requires fundamental change. When one comes from an attitude of how do we promote freedom for everyone (including the ecosystem of which we are a part), one is compelled to work on implementing the 4 ingredients (or other ingredients you might add to the poltluck). It doesn’t matter then if one has to travel (and thus contribute to carbon emissions), or use the internet (reduce travel but promote computer factories) in order to promote freedom. But it does matter if one is not actively working, even in the smallest ways, towards implementing the 4 ingredients, even if, say, one feels virtuous about not traveling much. A friend was accusing me of being more unsustainable by traveling as much as I have been, after I asked her for some mullein from her yard, that I wanted to plant closer to the bus, for my winter toilet paper. However, traveling by car or plane might actually promote the infrastructure of a free, just, sustainable, connected and creative future, for example by recruiting other people to help in the endeavor. It is an example of the ends justifying the means. Any way that we can use the resources available to us from the global economy to promote local living is fair game. The only relevant question in this respect is not “am I a good environmentalist?” but “how am I working towards implementing the 4 ingredients?” Also, we must not be too hard on ourselves as we continue to use the fruits of the global economy because we did not come from a culture that can support local living. We must use the infrastructure we have. Indeed to not do so would be counterproductive. Some people could use this as an excuse for continuing the status quo of their consumptive lives. It comes down to what is your intention and what concrete steps are you taking to achieve it. Is your intention to continue to bring in resources for yourself and your family, or is it to promote freedom, justice and abundance for all who wish to be responsible. Is your intention to relinquish personal responsibility for what you produce and consume and blame the advertisers or corporations, or is it to work every day towards more sharing of resources, local technology, spiritual activities and simple living. And does the overall pattern of your living demonstrate that intention?
Another thing I will say about environmental issues is that trashing the earth is usually not acceptable to people if the part trashed is close by to where they live (Not In My Back Yard).
Here are reasons why a local technology/economy would be a good thing:
Why a local technology
• Harder to hide exploitation, pollution, environmental destruction, and toxic dumping.
• Less incentive for resource wars (what about historical wars where that were local and yet went on merrily?)
• Harder to trash the earth, if the trashing occurs in one’s or one’s neighbor’s back yard (or better yet, if you share the back yard with a bunch of people)
• Ability to live more ethically as a result, without being forced to participate (usually indirectly) in these nasty activities just by having to survive in a system that depends on them.
• One becomes useful to one’s community in a concrete sense- production becomes about relation instead of alienation.
• One is harder to control by governments, corporations or advertisers if one and one’s community can produce everything locally
• No need for energy, CO2, trash-producing packaging, and time associated with long range transportation of goods.
• Freedom from being dependent on people who know you only abstractly and want to exploit you, or a system that cares not about your happiness or human potential.
Those familiar with permaculture will notice some similarities between the concept of local technology and permaculture-espoused technologies. But as far as I know, there is no general recognition of the importance of local technology in the permie literature. Nor is there much emphasis on resource sharing or spiritual activities. Perhaps as a result of these, most people who identify as permaculturists are completely dependent on income from the GE in order to buy their food, fuel and other basic needs. Usually they do this by teaching permaculture classes. This might not be a problem for them. After all aren’t we all dependent on the GE in one way or another? Yes we are but there is a difference between a continual dependence and an initial dependence of which one is working to abandon. All of us who critique the GE are hypocrites to some extent because we don’t want the GE yet we are dependent on it. But in one case we are dependent on it in order to live (and so we will continue to be dependent on it) whereas in the other case we are dependent on it in order to become independent of it, which seems a lesser hypocrisy. When it comes to food production, there is no one I am aware of who with forest gardens or other gardening ideas from permies, is able to get even close to self-sufficiency. I am not sure why that is, but I suspect it has to do with not placing enough importance on local economy/technology, on sharing resources and cooperation. There is also a tendency (and this not just among permies) to focus on luxury/value-added foods such as ferments, honey, wine, bread, jam, herbs, etc., before figuring out how to supply our nutritional needs in an efficient, sustainable way. Food luxuries are great and make life more enjoyable, but if we don’t give priority to high-calorie per unit area foods such as potatoes, and foods which store well such as peanuts, grains and dry beans and root vegetables, we remain dependent on the supermarket. Note that sometimes what is a luxury for some may be a necessity for others, as in making tempeh, which has the necessary vitamin B12 , which is hard to get for vegans (which may also be gotten from beer)..
Specific areas of local technology
Food production—efficient agricultural methods that use only human power have been developed recently, such as Biointensive. These can be supplemented by hunting and gathering in areas (such as the Ozarks where I live) where these are still possible, i.e. where a great diversity of animals and trees are still around. Obviously this kind of agriculture requires metal tools with wooden handles, and efficient hunting requires either guns or bows, whereas gathering requires containers. So we need to think about metal/wood/string and baskets. Gunsmithing may be too complicated to justify the investment if we can make good bows, but I don’t know. Cooking can be done in solar cookers and rocket stoves. Canning requires sealable glass containers and rubber/metal lids, and may be able to be done in solar ovens. Processing grain requires machines (not petroeum driven!) if it is to be efficient. We need to learn how to make and maintain these machines. They can be powered by pedal power.
Healthcare/medicine—we need doctors (such as the ones in Cuba) who help keep people healthy for barter or local currency, and people who live a healthy life, connected to others, nature, and pursuing their calling while participating in a productive life. Such people will be healthier than the average westerner. If they have accidents then local doctors can treat them without fancy machines that can’t be made locally. If they still get diseases they can still be treated without being robbed. If they get old and start getting sick, then maybe it’s time to die. Most childhood diseases can be treated with low tech. Antibiotics can be made with low tech. Optical glasses can be ground with low tech.
Computers, solar panels and phones—it will take many years or a technological breakthrough to make these locally. We need scientists and engineers to start working on this problem. Otherwise we either give them up (write letters instead of using phone), or make a compromise and share as much as possible to minimize our consumption and cost. We could limit the use of computers for special purposes such as mathematical computation.
Batteries--I don’t think it should be too hard to make lead acid batteries from old ones, but I don’t know.
Electronics (such as solar power controllers and battery desulfators)—we need to figure out how to make these out of discrete components and how to make these components locally, or give them up.
Micro-hydro generators—should be doable with low-tech metal work
Lighting-oil lamps using animal or plant oils? Learn how to make LEDs? Can we produce enough bees-wax sustainably for wax candles?
Glass—I think I might get into this one myself. If the ancient greeks could do it, so can we. Can we do it sustainably?
Metal—we need blacksmiths and tool sharpeners. Perhaps other metal workers like tinsmiths.and coppersmiths.
Pipes—we need to either make plastic or rubber, replace pipes with aqueducts, or find new materials.
Building materials—earthbags, straw bale, cob, hand-milled lumber, salvaged metal (like my bus)., locally made glass.
Transportation—locally made bicycles and very few shared cars/busses that can be maintained with locally made parts.
Heating-rocket stoves using small sticks that usually don’t even need cutting (and if they do it is easily done with a hand saw), and warm clothes
Cooling—open the windows, shade the house with trees in summer, jump in the river, lake, pond or ocean.
Washing—dishes by hand, clothes by hand and foot in washtub and then dry on clothes line. Make soap from oil and lye (from wood ash). Solar shower for the pleasure of warm water, and heat by wood stove when the sun is not out, it’s cold and you must bathe.
Clothes—we might do well to relearn the art of brain tanning deer hides. Otherwise, it takes a lot of cotton to make clothing. Perhaps there is potential for fiber crops such as Kenaf. In the mean time, there are plenty of clothes that will last a long time if they are taken care of, and if they are worn even after they are worn out. Patching is also a good idea.
Weapons for hunting and protection—I have a friend who thinks that the best defense is to give attackers booze with promise of more if they let you live. Studying the history of western civ makes me think otherwise. Pro-active pacifism (ala Ghandi, Jesus and MLK) might be the best solution.
Technofixism as a defense mechanism, decision-making and compromise
I am often amused and annoyed that people are more interested in the technological aspects of my vehicle/shelter than the sociocultural ideas that might require them to make an inconvenient or uncomfortable change in their basic lifestyle. They are impressed that my bus runs on used vegetable oil and that I have solar panels on the roof, but when I mention anything about sharing resources they get a blank look and quickly change the topic to some other technological topic like earthbag houses. Same reaction to the electric fence I built--how cool that we have one more techno-toy so we don't have to change anything fundamental about ourselves.
It is easy to be enamored with technology because in a way it is easier to deal with than the thornier issues of collective decision making and cooperation, especially in the culture of rugged individualism. My thinking on this currently is I advocate a minimalism when it comes to mandatory collective decision making and cooperation. Let us agree to cooperate on basic food production and preparation and basic shelter, but anything beyond should be left to individuals and voluntary subgroups to decide. And as far as food production/preparation and shelter, I have come to believe that despite some issues, consensus is the way to go. That way the minority does not get rolled over by the majority, and everyone feels really heard and if things go well, everyone is satisfied by the emergent third way (as opposed to democracy where compromise is the best solution to hope for). There are several prerequisites for consensus, such as clear agreement as to goals and values, respect, low egos, and skill in the formal consensus process. When one or more of these is absent, there will be problems.
There is another aspect to technofixism which I think is partially misguided, but also has some value. This is the idea that planning technology/economy is worthwhile-something all governments (not just the former soviet one) are engaged in. As far as planning a local technology/economy, there is a temptation to start with agriculture and shelter and then see if we can come up with a minimalist plan for a local technology and economy. As in, we need tools, therefore we need a blacksmith and a woodworker, we need greenhouses, therefore we need glass making capability, etc. We will quickly find that each of these technologies is currently tied to the global economy through materials not available locally or massive factories that take enormous and global resources. Every current solution to a technical problem that is needed for the implementation of these technologies could be considered and alternatives that involve only local materials proposed and implemented-but this process is complex and not guaranteed to work. Alternatively, we could start with more “primitive” but local technologies and see if we can improve on them to reflect current human population levels, pollution and decreased biodiversity. While some planning might be useful, a free evolution of technology, based on need and avocation may work even better, or may work better if combined with planning. This approach will undoubtedly generate much wasted effort (and wasted resources), but also involved everyone’s creativity, not just a few planners.
But until all things can be made locally, do we continue to buy them or do without? I say we continue to buy only if we have the money, not if we have to work much for it. What we need to work on is sharing resources, producing everything locally and substituting spiritual things for material ones. Giving our energy to the old system (aka working for money in the GE ) takes energy away from creating the new system.. It is also possible to work a little in the old system in order to make some money, but one needs to consider how much energy is taken away from creating the new system.
Why share resources and cooperate
• Less waste, more eco-friendly
• Less materials and energy per person, more eco-friendly
• Less labor per person for necessities, more free time.
• Can help group cohesion (if some conditions are right, for example agreements about tool maintenance) and connectedness.
• The advantages of specialization, something which also happens in the current global economy.
It is one of our biggest challenges to cooperate and share resources. The need for autonomy and individuation are real and natural. Part of what repels people from the GE is their feeling like cogs in a big machine, not able to produce much of anything without the implicit cooperation of thousands of others across the globe. Having the cooperation be impersonal actually makes it easier. Also, people have different standards and needs (These things, along with the convenience offered by the GE lulls people into bondage, an effect more powerful than the repulsion. One ring to bind them all—the ring is hard to resist).
For example, I don’t share what I consider a western middle class standard of tidiness and don’t need to wash windows more than once every few years unless some unusual obstruction of visibility happens. If washing windows often didn’t take any time from what I consider more valuable activities, I wouldn’t care. Why would I want to cooperate with someone who wants to wash windows once a month? It would be a less efficient way for me to live, time taken away from physics, music and dance. I will try to pick people who more or less share my concern for having an ethical, responsible, conscious life of creative endeavors, but even then there will still be differences in standards and needs. Thus I need to find compromises because I would like the advantages of sharing resources and cooperating. In the window washing of communal spaces example, we could agree on an intermediate washing frequency between once a week and once every few years. The obvious compromise of me doing some communal activity that the window cleanliness freak does not like to do in exchange for her washing windows does not work because I would still feel like I am subsidizing her with the extra time I spend on whatever task that she is not participating in because she is doing something I consider a waste of time. I may choose to subsidize her not only because of my own self interest in having the advantages of cooperation and resource sharing outweigh the disadvantages, but because I respect and value this person, knowing her on a face to face basis and realizing that she is different from me. This respect and valuing will hopefully be reciprocated when this woman realizes that I have different worthwhile needs that are in conflict with the window washing, and she may be more likely to compromise. Another possible compromise is that the window cleanliness freak now does more window washing than me but on her own personal time, not communal time, without feeling resentful or having expectations that I will do as much window washing as she does. I suspect the problem will become less acute as people start getting more in touch with their creativity and have better things to do than wash windows, as women start feeling more secure and don’t have to resort to make-do obsessive-compulsive work in order to gain a false sense of security, and as communal bonding and personal spiritual growth produce smaller egos and happier people.
Why live simply
• First two same as above
• Because the earth can’t support the whole population living like the western middle class.
• To have more time for the things that matter
• To have less stress
• Because it keeps one humble and humility is good for connection with others
Reluctance to give up the fruits of human ingenuity as manifested in technology and examples of how simpler living can be better living
We are so used to having labor saving devices, and luxuries which make life more interesting and comfortable, why would we want to give them up? We are so used to having such a great variety of food available most time of the year, why would we want to give that up? And some of us (like me) don’t want to give up the great adventure of science (yeah, I know it’s been misused, like anything else in a GE), and the technology that allows us to listen to music from far away, make and watch movies, or any art form that is (or its distribution is) made possible by technology. I am convinced that human ingenuity will in the long run make most of these things possible with local, sustainable technology. The inventors and engineers who figured out current technologies simply were not constrained by sustainability and localism. In the mean time, we can drastically cut back on luxuries by adopting the other 3 ingredients. As far as basic needs, it is clear to me from my own experience that we can have those with less labor by adopting all four ingrdients, including technologies which are local and sustainable.
I will give several examples from my own life, not to boast, but to hopefully bring the discussion to a practical level.
I use the humanure system which includes pooping and peeing in a bucket and composting outdoors using hay (I scythe it, but also collected hay that some neighbor bush-hogged). It avoids indoor plumbing and makes use of the organic matter instead of wasting it. It takes a bit more maintenance than just flushing, but maybe if you count the plumbing and material production for toilets and sewers/treatment plants, that isn’t true.
I don’t use toilet paper, except in winter or when away from my bus. I use leaves. No need to kill trees or pollute, or become dependent on the toilet paper company. Eventually I will plant enough Mullein or other big, soft-leafy plants to not nead tp in winter. Using the traditional Indian left-handed method might be an option…
I have an outdoor solar shower, that uses salvaged hoses and a black tank I found at a junkyard. Again, this eliminates the need for indoor plumbing, its complexifying effects on building, and its eventual destructive effects due to burst pipes (which is one of the top insurance claims).. I fill the shower tank with a gravity-fed hose from a spring when it gets empty. Once the temperature drops below freezing during the day, I have to heat water on the stove (see below) and bathe in a tub.
I cook on a rocket stove (it’s purring right now next to me), which I also use for heating. This eliminates the need for propane, a fancy appliance, chainsaws, and lots of wood. I built it out of mostly scrap parts, except for the stove pipe, the bit of ferrous cement, and a few cinder blocks which cost me less than $50, sand I dug up from the creek bed, clay I dug from a cave, and hay that my neighbor bush-hogged. The point is not that the stuff I bought was cheap (because the low cost is mostly a function of our empire’s ability to use slave labor abroad), but that I used mostly scrap parts and locally available materials. I could have done better by using rocks instead of cinder blocks, but that will be a future project—I can’t do everything perfectly the first time, especially when winter is coming--there was not much time. The other point is that I sacrificed some short term convenience that I could have had with a propane stove or a conventional wood stove, for long term sustainability. I actually still have some propane, which I intend to use till it’s gone. I need another stove for cooking outdoors, as I don’t like to use the indoor stove only for cooking if it’s not cold enough to need heat, and in the summer it would make the bus too hot. There is still a technical problem with the rocket stove—it needs feeding every few minutes and I am working on a simple mechanical, gravity-fed feeder.
I also use passive solar heating indoors, letting the sun store its energy in mason jars full of water, and under the bus by insulating with plastic sheeting and storing water underneath, creating an effective greenhouse.
I do have electricity, a luxury I have not wanted to part with so far. I use it for indoor lighting, my laptop, CD and tape player, fan, little water pump (a relic from the guy who sold me the bus, it pumps water from a 6 gallon tank into the kitchen sink through plastic tubing—when the pump breaks down and is unfixable, I don’t think I will miss it much, I will pour water into the sink by hand) and 5 cubic feet fridge, which I supplement in the winter with the outdoors. The electricity is from the sun, in conjunction with 3 solar cells and four batteries. The solar cells should last longer than me if they don’t break from falling tree limbs, but the batteries have a lifespan of about 10 years. I hope I have extended their lifespan by at least a factor of 2x by building a cheap circuit (~$30 in electronic components) called a desulfator which prevents sulfation, the main failure mode of lead acid batteries, from happening.
I have spent some of my days gathering wood, hay, nuts, apples and pears, cleaning the spring and protecting it, building the thermal bench for the rocket stove, insulating the bus, but most of my time is now spent thinking about a problem in theoretical physics, playing music, reading and writing. In the spring I will be more busy with gardening, but even then I hope to have time for activities that are not directly related to survival and comfort. If I can’t do physics, make music and dance, then the revolution will have failed. We must show that we can live more simply, yet have more time for spiritual activities, or our revolution will not inspire, will not overcome inertia, laziness and fear.
Although most of these comforts and luxuries were obtained at least in part by using non-local materials and technologies that I had to purchase, the dependence on the GE is mostly a one-shot deal, as opposed to a continual dependence. Compare for example solar energy with the energy that is purchased from the electric company. I pay up front for the solar cells, batteries and desulfator electronics, but then I am free. The power I get from the sun is enough for about 10 people at a cost of about $3000. Ten people purchasing power at an average cost of $100 per month per person would be paying $3000 every three months, indenturing themselves to the GE.
Compare making oil using a hand/pedal-cranked oil press, making flour using a hand/pedal-cranked mill which can also dehull grain, with using motor-driven presses and mills. Consider in general using pedal-powered tools vs power tools which get their power from the electric company, which gets its power producing pollution and war. The bicycle parts may be made in China until we learn to make them ourselves, but in the meantime, we are free after the initial purchase, instead of being dependent on the GE on a continual basis.
Or compare using hand tools, planting plants which act as natural insect repellents or decoys/attractants, creating a virtually weed-free bed with Biointensive methods, and recycling kitchen waste and humanure vs having to buy
petroleum and parts for power tools/tractors, fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides. The former is a one-time interaction with the GE, whereas the latter is a continual dependence.
With the use of plastic for insulation I do create a continual dependence, since plastic doesn’t last long and I can’t make it. Going to home-made glass would solve this problem. I am investigating how to make glass on a small scale, for local use, out of local materials and recycled glass
Though I’ve made a lot of progress on local technology and living simply, I need to make more progress on the local technology front. My first priority was agriculture during the last planting season, but I hardly got to harvest anything before I decided to leave due to interpersonal problems. I will continue to focus on agriculture, and perhaps one or two industries like glass and match-making. Just as important, I need to make progress on the other three ingredients. I need to find a way to attract other people, or join with others whom I’m aligned with, in order to share resources, spiritual activities like music, dance, ritual, and Chi-Gung, and intellectual activities like physics, anthropology, biology, literature and sociology. I may need to live more simply, like give up the computer if I can’t figure out how to keep this one going once it breaks down, or if someone doesn’t figure out how to make computers locally..
Why substitute spiritual activities for material goods and entertainment
• To proactively minimize the necessity for conflict resolution, a form of conflict prevention
• Because behavior is seldom changed through negative means. Positive alternatives work better
• Because life becomes more vibrant when one is engaged in spiritual activities—they truly satisfy the soul, as opposed to material addictions.
Many greens talk about the need for greener technology while ignoring the other three ingredients, assuming that one-household consumption is unalterable, and that greed and selfishness are part of human nature. Also, they still are thinking in terms of global market capitalism, whereas a system of production for local use before market would be more sustainable.
Some communitarians tout the benefits of sharing resources and possibly living more simply, while ignoring the other two or three.
Some spiritual groups talk only about spirituality or maybe also sharing resources, but ignore local technology and living simply. They thus continue to participate in a corrupt system which relies on slave labor and war, produces pollution/environmental destruction and contributes to alienation between people and between people and nature (although they will usually deny this and say that all problems are caused by ego, lack of compassion, insufficient consciousness, not giving oneself to Christ, not following the commandments, not following the Koran, etc).
The difference among these four is that we can share resources, live more simply and have spiritual alternatives to consumerism right now, whereas a local technology and economy might take a long time to develop. There are already people working on local technology, but there are many challenges that remain, especially with regards to alternative materials, complicated processes that are too energy, tool and material intensive (such as making computers).
Interactions between the four components
The 4 ingredients form a mutually reinforcing system:
Making most of our stuff locally would encourage
• sharing those things that we can’t make locally (such as cars and computers). Also the stuff that is hard to make would make sense to share so we don’t have to make a lot of it
• living more simply, as any extravagance would not be made by some far-off and abstract slaves, but by us and our neighbors and family. The cost would reflect the real energy involved, not based on exploitation or borrowing from the resources of future generations
• relationships between people, instead of thinking of them abstractly as consumers and producers, or markets. It would also encourage relationship with the land. These are the foundations of my kind of spirituality-relationship with one’s community and one’s land. Also an ethics that does not rely on slavery.
Sharing resources can encourage
• local technology because if someone has some tools or materials that I need for making something, I can use them instead of having to make or get them from scratch
• living more simply because it discourages hoarding for oneself and family, or consuming in order to feel superior/have higher status
• an atmosphere of good will and create more free time for people
Living more simply can encourage:
• people to look for ways of meeting their needs without needing to get a job in town, which means local technology
• sharing resources, because if someone already has something I need, I don’t need to waste time and energy making it or making money to buy it
• more free time to pursue a calling and to interact with people in uplifting ways (such as doing yoga together, folk dancing, and playing music(
Substituting spiritual activities for material goods and acquisition can encourage
• local technology like local musicians instead of piped music and local craftspeople to make the instruments
• sharing resources because one feels good about one’s community members if one interacts with them in spiritual ways instead of in purely utilitarian or quid pro quo ways
• simple living because one realizes that beyond a basic level, material goods can’t produce deep joy and the addiction to material things is replaced by the real satisfaction of spiritual ones.
Not only do the 4 ingredients reinforce each other, but if any one is missing, it is harder for the other 3 to thrive.
The desirability of some global commerce in order to have luxuries and pursue some science and art.
As long as the satisfaction of our basic material and spiritual needs is met locally, we are living free, not enslaving others, we are taking care of the planet and our souls. But some things might take a while to make locally that we need for our spiritual well-being, such as musical instruments, ink, film equipment, lab equipment or computers. In the short run, it may be necessary and desirable, in order to do science or art, to purchase tools and materials from the GE. The film maker needs a camera and film. The musician needs her instrument. The molecular biologist may need some lab equipment. I am all for sacrifice of personal comfort, but not art or science, although the scale of both could be pretty simple and not require much energy invested to obtain the tools for doing art or science. Similarly, a bit of chocolate from time to time, or a shared computer and internet may make sense In the long run, I see global trade of spices, inks, soda ash and other things which may be impossible to produce in some regions. But being a trade in luxuries, it will not have the same potential for abuse as trade in necessities.
I think global trade can be fair, but not the way things are set up right now. Though farmers and artisans do most of the work, they get the least money even with fair trade. The western retailers get the most money. Part of the problem is that it is not a level playing field. They need us for basic survival, they act mostly out of desperation, whereas we don’t need them at all for the trinkets and luxury items we buy from them. The same applies to cottage industries which make luxury items in the US, except that there is less transport and middlemen involved so they can charge higher prices. Global trade, whether called fair or not is still largely determined by market forces (see Confessions of an Eco-sinner for an example of this in the cocoa industry) which are rigged against those with little economic power in the third world. If everyone could make their own basic necessities locally, then they would bargain from a more powerful position: they could choose to not make those trinkets, or make them but only if they get a comparable deal as the western retailers currently get. They would not starve if they didn’t make them. Nor would they be dependent on luxury items that they have been brainwashed to think they need which currently come from the west. Even if trade for luxury items was fair, it makes very little difference as long as most trade (for everything else) is unfair.
Also, currently fair trade hasn’t happened with operations that require a lot of capital, because nobody has offered a lot of capital to build a factory or mining operation. Maybe the markups on products that require much capital are smaller than on luxury items and so there would not be much profit for the western retailers who would sell basic products if they were to be competitive with retailers who buy from unfair trade factories. With luxury items the western retailers can afford to make a bit less profit, but not so with basic products.
Any unfairness in trade is easy to ignore or rationalize if it’s happening on the other side of the globe.
Local trade tends towards fairness on the average because free people who can take care of their basic needs won’t tolerate unfairness when it is staring them in the face. If you see how much time people are putting in, how much skill and care, you don’t want to short-change them, especially if they are your friends.
Global Economic vs Global Ecologic systems
The GE is a system which like all sufficiently complex systems, tries to perpetuate and preserve itself. There is no need to postulate conspiracies for the purpose of self-preservation. The smoke screen of goody-two-shoes environmentalism is an example of a systemic attempt to divert attention from an aspect of the system which would elicit revolt from most people. Life on earth (ecology) is another system which tries to maintain and perpetuate itself. Its interests though are opposed in many instances to the economic system, not just because of global warming, decreasing biodiversity and pollution, but because the GE is killing the life force of humans
Obstacles to implementing the 4 ingredients
First, there are excuses for the enslavement of the third world that people make, mostly liberal people. These excuses were probably made by all ruling empire dwellers, including the Romans, the Confederate South, and the Nazis for their slaves:
The first excuse is that those people would starve, die, be less free or do much worse without the sweatshops that we provide for them. This ignores the fact that before the west came and expropriated the means of livelihood of those people (from the land they lived on), they were doing better than now. If you only look at the recent past, before the sweatshops, but after the stealing of land, then sure, they are better now (a possible analogy is jews who were moved from a concentration camp to a factory or from a harsher concentration camp to a less harsh concentration camp—of course they had it better in the factory or the less harsh concentration camp, but they had it better during the period before they were put in concentration camps in the first place. Or another analogy is confederate slaves being sold from a harsh master to a kinder master, or from the field to the house) The question to ask is what was life like for native people before there land was stolen. The answer to this question that most westerners give also exposes the bias of what a good life is. The ability to provide for one’s family/tribe with few material possessions, have a rich social and spiritual life and be connected to nature is considered poor and bad by this viewpoint, whereas those people may have considered themselves to be happy and wealthy. Even in conditions where empire and /or patriarchy has existed for many years before the western empires came (like in China), it is not ethical to continue the enslavement of people. Even if some people are freer (like most women coming from a patriarchy) in the sweatshops, ask yourself if you are a woman if you would want to work there, and if you are a man if you would want your mother, sister, wife or women friends to work there. And then ask yourself if the freedom to shop at a mall or have a TV or be able to look a man in the eye is good enough, the best that the west can offer those women. We should be able to offer them the freedom to be artists, doctors, engineers, scientists and scholars. But the way the economy and ecology of this world are right now, that is impossible for most of them.
The second excuse is that we bring them medicines or education, or other western goodies. That is kind of us, but it is no excuse for enslavement. We could bring them the medicines without enslaving them. We also take medicines from them, does that mean that we should be THEIR slaves?
The third excuse is that they often choose to work in the sweatshops, or low paying agricultural jobs. If the choice is between starving and working in a sweatshops, then of course they will choose to work in a sweatshop. But if they had the choice to go back to how things were before their land was taken away, perhaps they would choose to be free instead of slaves. Also, the fact that some of those people can be greedy and seduced by the extravagance of the west does not make it right to take advantage of their gullibility.
The fourth excuse is that their lot will improve (i.e. they will join the middle class). This one was not made by previous empires—it is mostly untrue. Most of them will remain slaves. The extravagance of the west needs slave labor to persist. If all those workers became like middle class westerners (this is impossible also because the earth can’t support our western footprint even when we are a small fraction of the world’s population), who would supply the cheap labor that we depend on to have cheap stuff?
The fifth excuse, and this one is unconscious, is that we need our cheap stuff and we really don’t want to mess with the system that brings it to us. It is just too abstract for most people to think of where their stuff comes from and much more gratifying to just consume the stuff.
Comfort and security
Second, whether due to nature or culture, I have been surprised to find out over the past 5 years that in general (but not always) women over the age of 30 are more concerned with safety and comfort for themselves and their children (if they have any) than men. Also from my study of history it seems to me that men nowadays are more concerned with comfort and security than men 200 years ago. The first observation makes evolutionary sense because pregnant women and women with young children are not as able to take care of themselves without help—they are more vulnerable than men during that time. In a more general sense, we can correlate feminine tendencies with maintenance of the status quo, and masculine tendencies with variation and getting out of the status quo. What our culture evolved from these basic biological facts was first women who were oppressed and made completely dependent on men to provide them with basic necessities. After the feminist movement, we have both men and women who are mostly dependent on the third world for their basic necessities, but in a position of consumers who are indirectly oppressing the third world and unable to produce almost anything on their own. There are a few men in the west who either professionally or as a hobby engage in building and related activities, but women in the west have mostly chosen not to be involved in the physical infrastructure of houses and instead to either pay men or get their partners to do it. The reasons don’t really matter for the purposes of this discussion.
The way that this division of labor is relevant to comfort and safety is that if a woman does not have to build and maintain (and produce materials for) her house, which is the main symbol of comfort and safety (and the main relic of the nesting instinct), if she does not know what it takes, in human labor and ecological impact, to build/maintain/produce materials for her house then she will not have much incentive to curb her appetite for bigger houses, remodeling the kitchen, buying more appliances and furniture to stuff in it (and she is also not participating in the making and installation of the appliances and furniture). The abstraction of labor and materials does away with a negative feedback loop that regulates consumption. This abstraction has become more or less true for men employed in white collar professions, so they also have no incentive to curb their wives’ needs for comfort and security. And more generally, even blue collar tradesmen are not aware of the labor and ecological destruction that goes into getting them the raw materials for their trade. Most factory work has been exported to the third world. Out of sight, out of mind abstraction is good for consumerism, but bad for living simply and forming deep connections. The men also have comfort and security needs, but they manifest differently than the women. For the men, acquiring or keeping women is a manifestation of the need for comfort and security—and that currently implies providing the women with material comforts and security.
For us this symbiotic partnership to provide the women with material comforts and the men with women is bad news—it is a reactionary drag on creating a new locally based economy and culture and simple living because in order to get there from here, some discomfort and less safety has to be experienced. There may be comfort and safety once we get there, but they will be less of material nature and more of a social and spiritual nature. Material comforts will be simple and home made (or at least made by people we know), and activities that foster connection to people and nature will largely substitute for consumerism, shopaholism, coffee, cigarettes, and other addictions. The pursuit of material comfort and safety invariably becomes an addiction, because material comforts beyond a basic level are just a substitute for our longing for connection, peace, adventure and creativity, And that is what I define as addiction: something which we try to substitute for a basic need, but can’t because our bodies and spirits won’t be fooled (and hence it never satisfies for more than a few moments)
How can we overcome this reactionary (but also nurturing and maintaining) tendency (I need my healthcare, my coffee, my imported wine, my fancy food, my car, my big house, my appliances, my (wo)man, etc)? One possibility is a temporary separatism where a few pioneering men build up the new economy and culture without women (and also without young children, old people, pets, and anyone who is incapable or unwilling to pull their load and thus is a burden which can be more easily accommodated once the initial infrastructure is built). But men who are willing to give up women are rare (I might have trouble with that one…). Perhaps we could do it with gay men? Unfortunately many of those men have the same reactionary need for material comfort and safety. No, we either need to buck up and give up the comfort of women for a while, or find women who are exceptional, willing to undergo some (hopefully temporary) discomfort and insecurity in order to achieve our goals.
In a way, the consumeristic quest for comfort and security are also a reaction to an ugly dangerous world, a reaction ineffective in achieving the goal which motivates it, like all addictions. We need to convince women and men to pursue the 4 ingredients in order to achieve these goals. We need to reclaim the natural, beautiful instinct to nurture and nest and redirect it towards these 4 ingredients.
These statements may be taken as misogynistic, or scapegoating women for consumerism. Although I do think that consumerism is mostly driven by a nesting instinct gone awry (but see below for a refinement of this idea) and that the nesting instinct is stronger in women than in men, it is a systemic problem, as I suggest above. But let me say more about this. In the following I borrow ideas and nomenclature from Rudy Balantine, author of Radical Healing, based on a lecture of his and personal conversation.
If archetypes or energies influence the outlook and behavior of people then we would be advised to understand the so-called masculine and feminine archetypes. These are only called masculine and feminine because in our culture men manifest more of the masculine energies and women more of the feminine ones. Not that this is an immutable pattern, or a desireable one. In my opinion a more desireable state of affairs is one where individuals balance these energies within themselves instead of projecting them onto the other sex. This is an instance of the more general Jungian principle of incorporating the shadow, which Jung referred to as getting in touch with the anima (in men) and getting in touch with the animus (in women). Bringing a magnifying glass onto the archetypes, we see that at a finer level of resolution there are two types of masculine and two types of feminine energies. The first type of masculine energy, which could be referred to as the Penile Masculine, is the driven, unrelenting, penetrating energy which can build houses but also destroy rainforests and kill. It had gotten out of balance with the first kind of nurturing, creative feminine energy (which may be called the Uterine or Nursing Feminine) and brought about the feminist movement and later the assigning of responsibility for war and ecological destruction. The second type of masculine energy, which may be called the Testicular Masculine, is a protective and restraining energy. It provides limits on the unbounded creativity and need for resources of the Uterine Feminine. As in “sorry honey but you can’t have a bigger house, unless we figure out a sustainable way to do it. Think of the destruction of rainforest that will provide the floor boards. Think of all those who are expropriated in order to get and process that wood, steel and copper. Maybe we could build out of local materials? Maybe we could share with others? What is it you really need?” realizing that this conversation between the Testicular Maculine and Uterine Feminine can happen within one person, not just between men and women or butch women and femme ones, or masculine and feminine men. It is not then that there is something wrong with the Uterine Feminine (of which the nesting instinct is one manifestation) that is the cause of Consumerism. The imbalance of our present society is one of not enough Testicular Masculine. It is a psychological imbalance within individuals, which manifest itself on the larger level of the system known as culture.
And what of the second kind of feminine energy? This one we might call the Cervical Feminine or Kali. My understanding of Kali is different than Rudy’s. I see this energy as an emergent global effect, being built out of numerous unbounded and unbalanced (by the Testicular Maculine) individual greeds for resources without knowing what it takes to extract, transport and transform those resources into products. Rudy sees it as an individual energy which has a ragingly destructive but cleansing (and hence ultimately constructive) effect.. Rudy thinks this energy is also out of balance and we need more of it. He could be right, but I would like to see Kali energy (according to Rudy’s nomenclature) coming out more from men, who have been repressing and have been repressed from that aspect of themselves.
Our vision has been clouded by correct but limited theories trying to link the evils of this world with patriarchy, so that we were blind to these issues, which I consider to be one of the biggest naked emperors in the history of empires, because most people don’t see it even though it is obvious once they recognize it.. The exposition of a naked emperor, or more generally of hidden injustices and hypocricies (nakedness not being an injustice, but pretending nakedness is clothed is a hypocrisy) which are the result of imbalances is usually rewarded with hemlock through the veins, nails through the limbs or a bullet through the head, or less dramatically through shunning and ignoring, unless it is done through the indirect path of art and parables, but even then...A positive alternative (restoration of balance) must be offered while exposing the naked injustice and hypocricy.
Another obstacle is a confusion between the natural reality of a global ecosystem (the Gaia Hypothesis) and the man/woman-made misguided reality of a GE. People see the beauty of an interconnected natural world, and the beauty of global communication and think this implies that a GE is also desireable.. There are and have been spiritual philosophers (e.g. Wilber, Hegel, Aurobindo, Gebser, de Chardin) who envision a global or integral consciousness and this also is somehow confused with the desireability of a GE. I say communicate globally, but produce and consume locally, at least for basic needs.
Dangers of enslavement by local community instead of market, govt, capitalists, burocrats or corporations
Sometimes I worry that unless egos are kept small, the potential for power play and even enslavement is there even with a local technology/economy. Yet, I hope that the other 3 ingredients can prevent enslavement. If, in order to get my basic needs, I only need to work an average of 10 hours per week, I am hard to enslave. If everyone lives simply and does not accumulate material goods, it is hard for them to enslave others (as with land or factory owners). If we share production of basic needs, who will be the oppressive owner? I suspect that power-trips will arise occasionally, but enslavement will not.
Who is likely to help
Though being open to surprise and possibility (like in those two epic battles in Lord of The Rings, friends and allies may come unexpected), I find that it may be useful to understand who is most likely to help, in order to focus attention on that group. Let us consider a few subgroups of people and see if they may be interested in these ideas:
Women, as we have already mentioned, are not likely to come, because they are more interested in short term comfort and security for themselves and their families than grand visions of freedom and joy for humanity. They may come later, when things are more safe and when there is a culture to plug into. There are a few blessed exceptions.
Hippies, existing communitarians and liberal people who are deeply entrenched in the system through job, house, or trust fund are not likely to come initially, because they are entrenched in the system, and because they are too soft to endure the hardships necessary to build up infrastructure. They may also be too stoned to work, or too dogmatic about consensus. Later, if they see something working well, they may come, or duplicate what we have done.
Young anarchists are not likely to come because most of the energy they get from being anarchists would dissipate if they stopped protesting and started doing something constructive. Some of them might have a waking up experience if they start thinking about why there are so few OLD anarchists, realizing that without a constructive alternative to work on, the old anarchists become absorbed in the system, through job, house, and family.
Those inspired by the Christian Gospels and other mystical, ecstatic traditions, may come if they have not built philosophical fortresses around them to spare them the pain of having to take (at least partial) responsibility for change, instead of leaving it up to Jesus, Collapse, UFOs or another savior.
Liberal military people are my favorite bet. This is because they already understand through experience what it means to build trust and live simply in a communal situation, to get things done efficiently through a hierarchical decision making process, to care about freedom, and to have the testicular masculine balancing the creative feminine. Some of them may have also come to understand the economic causes of war and want to work proactively for a joyful peace.
If there is little hope, then let us build, plant, dig, harvest, invent, dance, make music and write plays anyway and die like humans with dignity, instead of awaiting our death like sheep being led to slaughter. There is no cause for depression if the vision does not come to be in our lifetime. Identifying one’s ego with the vision can cause depression, but we realize that this vision, like all visions worth their salt, do not come from the ego, but from the collective subconscious, the greater system of life, God, or whatever you want to call it.
**When there is vision, some autonomy and variety, jobs that would have been considered menial without them, become joyful. One of my favorite jobs is making compost, which can include raking and dumping animal or human manure.