Chapter 9 (Part 2)
Chapter Nine – Recreating Community (Part 2)
New Ways to Live
We’re going to take a look at just a few aspects of the very many elements of community living, and how we can use undermining to help these elements become more attractive to others, thus strengthening the communities in which they take place still further. Specifically I am going to concentrate on three areas that affect us all, and three completely different ways of looking at them. These three areas are: economics, schooling and work. All three have already been discussed at some length, but now they need to be seen in the context of community living.
You will almost certainly be able to identify more areas and their alternatives, and in doing so can carry out your own analysis of how undermining can assist in their establishment as key elements of peoples’ lives.
Task 4: The Vernacular Economy
Two chapters back the concept of bartering was introduced as a method of undermining the cash economy. That point still stands and, for most civilized situations, bartering is the most practical starting point in both understanding the folly of the cash economy and creating a workable alternative. In the context of a community, however, bartering is just one segment of a much wider view; a view that Alastair McIntosh describes vividly in Soil and Soul, with reference to his Hebridean upbringing (the emphasis is mine):
At the deepest level of care is mutuality. As the owner of a fishing boat, let’s say, I will give you fish because I have plenty and you have need. It would be nice if you could give me some eggs in return, but only if you are able to do so. If you can’t, because you are too sick, too old, or just a bit feckless, somebody else will see that I have eggs…Now my giving you fish comes from a sense of obligation, because we are mutually part of the community. Likewise your giving me eggs. And nobody keeps a formal score of things because the village economy is centred around seeing that everybody has sufficient.
Let’s move on to the second pillar of the vernacular economy: reciprocity. Here I catch the fish and you, let’s say, still produce eggs. I agree to give you fish if you keep me in eggs. However, in this conditionality we measure only the function and not the degree of our sharing. If the fishing is bad, you still give me eggs. If the hens are moulting and therefore not laying well, I still give you fish…Usually in a vernacular society, relationships will be reciprocal when people are fit and of an economically active age, but mutuality comes into play as a safety net when they are unable to care for themselves.
The third vernacular pillar – and we’re starting to see a spectrum of economic understanding emerge here – is exchange or barter. Here the principles of measurement that lie behind cash economies drop into place. In a barter system, I give you, say, one fish in exchange for three eggs. In other words, goods and services have a price fixed in terms of other goods and services. Goodwill is no longer the primary driving mechanism, but we are still sufficiently connected to each other for the economy to be personalised. The immediacy of exchange means that, most of the time, we can see where our produce is coming from and we know who makes it.
The problem with barter is its rigidity. If I have fish to trade but I don’t want your eggs, we cannot do business. That is where, fourthly, cash enters the equation. It lubricates between supply and demand for goods and services. Money is, at its most primitive, just an accounting system. It records our obligations to each other using banknotes and other bills of exchange as IOUs. These are given legitimacy, normally, by a government bank in which people have confidence. The confidence demands faith. The focus of such faith however, has turned away from an immediate relationship with a home community and a local place.20
It’s interesting to note that in Chapter 7, when I introduced barter as a means of undermining, the concept possibly seemed radical, at least in the context of the capital economy. Now see what we have. Barter is relegated to Division 3 and ideas of reciprocity and mutuality, in the context of real community, seem normal.
The phrase “nobody keeps a formal score of things” is the turning point. When we barter, we expect something in return, and that implies a lack of trust. The key to taking things to the next level is using the cushion of community as a means of establishing that trust. If someone I do work for doesn’t have anything to barter and doesn’t insist on paying cash then I will see if there is anything they might be able to do for me in the future, such as a job in return or some produce when it is in season. That usually works fine for friends and family, but for others it is only within a community – unless you are very trusting – that this reciprocal arrangement can work as an ongoing way of doing things. On the other hand, the simple act of making reciprocal arrangements with people you do not know enough to ordinarily trust is enough to create at least a sense of goodness, and probably some connection that would not have been there had the transaction been completed at the point of action. To put it another way: if you do not hang up a telephone call you leave a connection open. This kind of connection can link communities together.
The undermining with such a simple act is more powerful than you might think. Not only are you undermining the capital economy both practically and as a belief system, you are also chipping away at the intrinsic lack of trust that civilization breeds into people. Bizarrely, we are taught to trust figures of authority, such as police officers and religious leaders, and institutions such as governments and banks (that vouchsafe banknotes then collapse when they are under pressure!), but we are not taught to trust each other as ordinary people. If we trusted each other then we would not need to use cash as a guarantee; we would be able to trade things in a much more informal manner, to the point that trade loses its meaning entirely. If we can re-establish that individual trust then the connections that bind communities together become exceptionally strong.
Quick Win: Trust Someone
This is easy to do, but for many people difficult to imagine doing. For one specific thing that you would normally sell, give it away instead. It has to be something that is yours to give away, and it must also be something that you would definitely have been able to sell for cash rather than something you might normally have just given away to, say, a charity shop. For example, if you have a manual profession then do a job for someone for nothing, or if you are selling something at a shop you own, or at a yard sale or boot fair, then give it away. But the deal is that the person to which you are giving that thing for nothing needs to know that at some time in the future it would be nice if they could do the same for you. They should also be someone that lives close enough to you so that you effectively share a community. The point is that you are trusting someone to make good on their word and thus making a connection with that person. You could also ask them to do the same to someone else, in turn making another connection. There are many variations on this idea, some more complex than others, but all of them in some way undermining the idea that we have to have some kind of guarantee before we are prepared to give something to someone or do something for them. Don’t stress about whether you will get something in return, in fact don’t even think about it. This is also about changing the way you feel about such arrangements and if things don’t happen then you can always try again.
In fact, the vernacular economy goes far beyond the trade of services and items. What about more fixed things, such as land? Ok, not many of us have anything we would confidently call “a piece of land” and certainly the vast majority of land in the civilized world is in the hands (at least on paper) of a very few institutions and individuals. In Scotland the extremes of land ownership are laid bare.
One quarter is owned by 66 landowners in estates of 30,700 acres and larger
One third is owned by 120 landowners in estates of 21,000 acres and larger
One half is owned by 343 landowners in estates of 7,500 acres and larger
Two thirds is owned by 1252 landowners in estates of l ,200 acres and larger
So two thirds of Scotland is owned by one four thousandth of the people!21
On the other hand, Scottish law allows for communities of less than 10,000 people to buy land as a collective responsibility, something that Alastair McIntosh can take part credit for as a result of his incredible work on the Isle of Eigg Trust (another reason you should read Soil and Soul in full). That this right hasn’t yet been successfully executed by more than a handful of community groups is in part due to Scotland having such a high level of inherited land “ownership” (a.k.a. theft from its rightful users), but there is at least the seed of an idea inherent in such a law, and from small seeds can grow wonderful things.
On a smaller scale, those who do have something we might describe as “a piece of land” might be persuaded, or might persuade themselves, to share it for the good of the community. Often inspirational chef and writer Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall started a project called Landshare off the back of a request from some potential growers who were struggling to find a place to cultivate. The project is by no means unique, but it does have a lot of media coverage behind it, as well as being relatively unsullied by corporate “partners”, making it a pretty good model for an online version of something that could easily be taken offline and continued on a more local scale.22 All you need is a noticeboard and a contact list, then with a few words across the grapevine see what comes up. Just off the top of my head I can picture half a dozen gardens a trowel’s throw away that would benefit both the landholder and other people in a flourishing mutual relationship. Related to this is the idea of mapping your local area for potential growing and sharing space, as well as foraging and other practical uses. This really is not as complex as it sounds. You obviously need some kind of map, and also the guts to talk to your neighbours, but by now that should be a joyful challenge. Even if your neighbours are not willing to share, the simple act of pointing out space that has the potential for growing, or making the most of (I have lost count of the number of apples and plums that are left to rot when they could be harvested), might be enough to start your neighbour doing something in the direction of self-sufficiency. On the foraging side, obviously you don’t want all-and-sundry stripping the hedgerows of everything edible, especially if it means other animals going hungry, but again a little knowledge can re-forge a connection that most people have lost – that of enjoying the natural bounty offered up on your doorstep.
Then there is the small matter of taking back the land that was once ours to share.
We: peaceful people, declare our intention to go and cultivate the disused land of this island; to build dwellings and live together in common by the sweat of our brows.
We have one call: every person in this country and the world should have the right to live on the disused land, to grow food and to build a shelter. This right should apply whether you have money or not. We say that no country can be considered free, until this right is available to all.
With our current system in crisis we need a radically different way of growing our communities. We call on the government and all landowners to let those who are willing, make good use of the disused land. Land that is currently held from us by force. By our actions, we seek to show how we can live without destroying the planet or ourselves. Free from the yoke of debt and rent, our labors can be directed to the benefit of all.
Though we may be oppressed for our actions, we will strive to remain peaceful. But we are committed to our cause and will not cease from our efforts until we have achieved our goal.23
This was not written back in the time of the Enclosures, or the Baronies stealing land by force from the common people of Europe. It was written in 2012 by a group called Diggers 2012, also styling themselves as a new generation of True Levellers. Gerrard Winstanley would know exactly what they are talking about, having been the driving force behind the original Diggers in seventeenth century Surrey, England. Motivated by a powerful religious belief, fundamental in nature, Winstanley looked upon the situation in the land where he lived and declared it should once again be common. This extract from his statement The True Levellers Standard Advanced: Or, The State of Community Opened, and Presented to the Sons of Men is a direct challenge to all landowners who hold power by force, taking their lead from the Monarch whose power was claimed to be of Divine Right. Clearly there was more than a simple demand for land going on behind Winstanley’s eyes, as righteous as such a claim was: the statement was predicated on the very same Divine Right by which land was taken from the people. In short, the Master’s Tools were going to be used to dismantle the Master’s House.
The Work we are going about is this, To dig up Georges-Hill and the waste Ground thereabouts, and to Sow Corn, and to eat our bread together by the sweat of our brows.
And the First Reason is this, That we may work in righteousness, and lay the Foundation of making the Earth a Common Treasury for All, both Rich and Poor, That every one that is born in the land, may be fed by the Earth his Mother that brought him forth, according to the Reason that rules in the Creation. Not Inclosing any part into any particular hand, but all as one man, working together, and feeding together as Sons of one Father, members of one Family; not one Lording over another, but all looking upon each other, as equals in the Creation; so that our Maker may be glorified in the work of his own hands, and that every one may see, he is no respecter of Persons, but equally loves his whole Creation, and hates nothing but the Serpent, which is Covetousness, branching forth into selvish Imagination, Pride, Envie, Hypocrisie, Uncleanness; all seeking the ease and honor of flesh, and fighting against the Spirit Reason that made the Creation; for that is the Corruption, the Curse, the Devil, the Father of Lies; Death and Bondage that Serpent and Dragon that the Creation is to be delivered from.
And we have moved hereunto for that Reason, and other which hath been shewed us, both by Vision, Voyce, and Revelation.
For it is shewed us, That so long as we, or any other, doth own the Earth to be the peculier Interest of Lords and Landlords, and not common to others as well as them, we own the Curse, and holds the Creation under bondage; and so long as we or any other doth own Landlords and Tennants, for one to call the Land his, or another to hire it of him, or for one to give hire, and for another to work for hire; this is to dishonour the work of Creation; as if the righteous Creator should have respect to persons, and therefore made the Earth for some, and not for all: And so long as we, or any other maintain this Civil Propriety, we consent still to hold the Creation down under that bondage it groans under, and so we should hinder the work of Restoration, and sin against Light that is given into us, and so through fear of the flesh man, lose our peace.
And that this Civil Propriety is the Curse, is manifest thus, Those that Buy and Sell Land, and are landlords, have got it either by Oppression, or Murther, or Theft; and all landlords lives in the breach of the Seventh and Eighth Commandements, Thous shalt not steal, nor kill.
First by their Oppression. They have by their subtle imaginary and covetous wit, got the plain-hearted poor, or yonger Brethren to work for them, for small wages, and by their work have got a great increase; for the poor by their labour lifts up Tyrants to rule over them; or else by their covetous wit, they have out-reached the plain-hearted in Buying and Selling, and thereby inriched themselves, but impoverished others: or else by their subtile wit, having been a lifter up into places of Trust, have inforced people to pay Money for a Publick use, but have divided much of it into their private purses; and so have got it by Oppression.
Then Secondly for Murther; They have by subtile wit and power, pretended to preserve a people in safety by the power of the Sword; and what by large Pay, much Free-quarter, and other Booties, which they call their own, they get much Monies, and with this they buy Land, and become landlords; and if once Landlords, then they rise to be Justices, Rulers, and State Governours, as experience shewes: But all this is but a bloudy and subtile Theevery, countenanced by a Law that Covetousness made; and is a breach of the Seventh Commandement, Thou shalt not kill.
And likewise Thirdly a breach of the Eighth Commandement, Thou shalt not steal; but these landlords have thus stoln the Earth from their fellow Creatures, that have an equal share with them, by the Law of Reason and Creation, as well as they.24
If this were written today then not a word would need to be changed; indeed even the archaic spellings could be excused as being the result of an inadequate smartphone keypad! In civilization nothing stays still, but nothing changes.
Winstanley and his colleagues set up camp on St George’s Hill and made a strident effort to grow food in the face of physical and legal onslaughts from the land “owners”. Four months later the group had been driven off under threat of attack from the army – they were behaving illegally and so the system decided something had to be done. Some of these Diggers moved to other sites, and other groups sprang up around England to persist for a short while. Sadly the movement died in 1651, crushed under the yoke of civilized hierarchy.
The time for the Diggers is here again, and this time it seems that both morality and numbers are on our side.
What about things that we consider to be more ethereal, such as ideas? This is already a wildly exciting proposition, that the online version of this book is part of, as is everything I write: simply, it’s given away to the benefit of all who can benefit from it. When I took Time’s Up! to my publisher, apart from being delighted to have it accepted for publication I also insisted that the intellectual property remained mine to share as I wished. The publisher had the rights over the sold-as-printed version25, but otherwise the words were mine to distribute as I saw fit, to the extent that this was written into the contract. To quote:
The Author hereby grants the Publishers the exclusive licence of printing and publishing the said Work during the period of copyright in volume and serial form in all languages throughout the world and also the exclusive licence to assign or licence such rights to others subject to the conditions following, on the understanding that the Author may post the text online under Copyleft terms.
As far as I know this clause is unique in publishing circles. It shouldn’t be. Ideas are for sharing, as any good scientist (as opposed to one that is in hock to corporate interests) will tell you. Copyleft is a great, and to most people, amusing word, which in itself can spark off all sorts of discussions. It does what it says on the tin: you can’t keep something to yourself, you have to allow others to copy it. The terms I attach to my work are in the form of a Creative Commons licence, which allows anyone to copy, edit and re-distribute the work, so long as it is appropriately credited, not passed off as someone else’s work and, most important, no one makes any money out of it. This idea is almost endemic in the world of computer software, best exhibited by the Open Source Initiative, which regulates the distribution of non-proprietary software across the world to ensure compliance with a set of standards designed specifically to benefit the user rather than any commercial interests. For space reasons some more technical sections have been taken out:
Open source doesn’t just mean access to the source code. The distribution terms of open-source software must comply with the following criteria:
1. Free Redistribution
The license shall not restrict any party from selling or giving away the software as a component of an aggregate software distribution containing programs from several different sources. The license shall not require a royalty or other fee for such sale.
2. Source Code
The program must include source code, and must allow distribution in source code as well as compiled form. Where some form of a product is not distributed with source code, there must be a well-publicized means of obtaining the source code for no more than a reasonable reproduction cost preferably, downloading via the Internet without charge. The source code must be the preferred form in which a programmer would modify the program. Deliberately obfuscated source code is not allowed. Intermediate forms such as the output of a preprocessor or translator are not allowed.
3. Derived Works
The license must allow modifications and derived works, and must allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software.
5. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups
The license must not discriminate against any person or group of persons.
6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor
The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.
7. Distribution of License
The rights attached to the program must apply to all to whom the program is redistributed without the need for execution of an additional license by those parties.
10. License Must Be Technology-Neutral
No provision of the license may be predicated on any individual technology or style of interface.26
I don’t know how uncomfortable you feel about clause 6, but after an initial “oh” I realised that this encapsulates the entire spirit of Open Source. You create something, you give it away, you don’t interfere. Just like the person you trusted to give something back to you in return for your free item or service, as a programmer, an author, a musician, an artist, or any other creator of intellectual matter, you are trusting the recipient to not misuse that trust you have granted. If they do then, hey-ho, that’s the civilized world for you, but overall you are taking part in something far bigger: the return of mutuality to the world. Mutuality is the highest echelon of the vernacular economy, and that’s where we have to be headed if we are going to build the kinds of communities that provide an alternative to the civilized world.
Task 5: Unschooling
First a statement: Unschooling may be right near the front of the queue for building strong, resilient communities – certainly it’s near the start of our lives – but it needs to be feasible, continuous and more attractive than the alternatives.
Ok, so what is Unschooling?
Self-evidently, it is not schooling, but it is far more constructive than that, being a philosophy as well as a practical way of doing things differently. Idzie Desmarais, a Quebecian who has (almost) never been to school, provides three definitions on her blog I’m Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write:
I feel like several different explanations, all equally accurate, just from different angles, are in order:
Version #1: Unschooling (usually considered a type of homeschooling) is student directed learning, which means the child or teen learns whatever they want, whenever they want. Learning is entirely interest driven, not dictated or directed by an external curriculum, by teachers, or by parents. For an unschooler, life is their classroom.
Version #2: Unschooling requires a paradigm shift, one in which you must stop looking at the world as a series of occurrences/resources/experiences etc. that can be learned from, and a series that can’t. The world doesn’t divide neatly into different subjects, and you can’t tell right from the outset what a seemingly unimportant question, interest, or TV show obsession will lead to. I learn from: wandering, wondering, listening, reading, watching, discussing, running, writing, daydreaming, searching, researching, meditating, hibernating, playing, creating, growing, doing, helping, and everything else that comprises the day to day happenings of my life.
Version #3: Unschooling, at its heart, is nothing more complicated or simple than the realization that life and learning are not two separate things. And when you realize that living and learning are inseparable, it all starts to truly make sense.27
This is, no doubt, a very personal version of what Unschooling means, but the subjectivity makes perfect sense in that Unschooling doesn’t prescribe just one way of doing things. Unlike the one-size-fits-all curriculum and model of learning offered by national school systems, Unschooling recognises that there is no one right way to learn. Just as there is no one right way to live.
Just for completion, it’s worth asking the question, “How is this different from Homeschooling?” to which there is a similar array of answers offered by practitioners, but one key distinction. Unlike Unschooling (sometimes called Home Educating), Homeschooling still legitimises the bulk of national / state curriculum guidance, except that guidance is applied in a different setting. This is important, as Homeschooling has historically been used as a way of imposing other, often just as damaging beliefs, upon children, such as fundamentalist religious teaching. It goes without saying that Homeschooling is a far more “acceptable” thing than Unschooling to the institutional schooling system, given its formal nature.
Unlike Homeschooling, Unschooling is not an ideology, it is an absence of ideology. Thus it undermines the industrial system in two ways:
1) There is an inherently uncivilized methodology involved, eschewing formal structures, hierarchy, timetables and such life-wasting things as career goals and narrow academic syllabi. Children are not being taught the “importance” of these things, and so never accept them as normal.
2) It is centred on communities rather than institutions. Unschooling requires support from others in order to provide the range of interest, activities and wisdom that is enriching to the learners (and educators) involved. As such, without at least a knowledge community it cannot exist; and without a real, human community it cannot thrive.
In Chapter 6, we looked at Knowledge Sharing as a way of countering the school system. Implicit in this was that the people involved had not (yet) removed themselves from the school system. We are now moving away from that into something that stands on its own. Both strands are required: undermining the school system from within, and providing alternatives from without. By providing an Unschooling environment in the communities in which we live, we can really help people struggling over the decision whether to withdraw from formal schooling. The more people unschool, the stronger these communities become, and the more attractive Unschooling and community life become to others.
I cannot leave this section without citing the example of Erica Goldson. You might recognise her name, and she is certainly a hero of mine. In 2010 Erica carried out an audacious act of undermining under the noses of the very people, and in the grounds of the very institution, she was undermining. A valedictorian speech, also known as a dux speech in some countries, is a farewell speech given by the most notable student or students in an “educational” establishment at the time of their leaving. Erica Goldson’s valedictorian speech was ice-cold, calculated and cracked open the myth that institutional learning is to the benefit of most individuals and society as a whole. Certainly it is of benefit to the system as a whole, but as this part of the speech demonstrates, the benefit stops there:
Here I am in a world guided by fear, a world suppressing the uniqueness that lies inside each of us, a world where we can either acquiesce to the inhuman nonsense of corporatism and materialism or insist on change. We are not enlivened by an educational system that clandestinely sets us up for jobs that could be automated, for work that need not be done, for enslavement without fervency for meaningful achievement. We have no choices in life when money is our motivational force. Our motivational force ought to be passion, but this is lost from the moment we step into a system that trains us, rather than inspires us.
We are more than robotic bookshelves, conditioned to blurt out facts we were taught in school. We are all very special, every human on this planet is so special, so aren’t we all deserving of something better, of using our minds for innovation, rather than memorization, for creativity, rather than futile activity, for rumination rather than stagnation? We are not here to get a degree, to then get a job, so we can consume industry-approved placation after placation. There is more, and more still.
The saddest part is that the majority of students don’t have the opportunity to reflect as I did. The majority of students are put through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations and secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of it. I will never be able to turn back these 18 years. I can’t run away to another country with an education system meant to enlighten rather than condition. This part of my life is over, and I want to make sure that no other child will have his or her potential suppressed by powers meant to exploit and control. We are human beings. We are thinkers, dreamers, explorers, artists, writers, engineers. We are anything we want to be – but only if we have an educational system that supports us rather than holds us down. A tree can grow, but only if its roots are given a healthy foundation.28
Watched by her peers, the staff of Coxsackie-Athens High School in New York, millions of people via YouTube, and countless others via news reports and bloggers worldwide, Goldson demonstrated the importance of two of the key tools in the Underminers Toolbox: Communication and Creativity. As a one-off, this was notable; as a regular occurrence in such events, this will be a major disruptor to a school system that celebrates rote-learning and obedience. More than that, though, is the continuity the speech provided to those that were prepared to listen. Just before the extract above, Goldson made the comment: “A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him.”
Communities are places of learning, but they are also places of work. Walking away from your job, as I suggested earlier, is stage one. Walking into something better is stage two.
Task 6: Real Work
While working to undermine the Job Culture we will need to turn what was once considered mundane work into something we all do, not just because it is necessary to the community – that’s a hard sell in the civilized world – but also because we want to do these things. There are countless individual acts of work that you and I do every day for ourselves, without which we would not be able to live with any semblance of purpose or dignity. A person who needs round-the-clock care depends upon the acts of others to provide for them, and to a greater or lesser extent we all depend upon the acts of others whether directly or indirectly. For the most part, these acts are unpaid. Yes, even in a culture driven by the desire for wealth and status, the vast majority of acts – acts we can truthfully call useful work – are not rewarded by anything civil society would consider to be of value. We do them because they are part of ordinary life; part of being a good person.
Exercise: Unpaid Work
For a short while, write down or think of all the unpaid things you do for yourself and for others in a typical day. Everything, however small and insignificant should be included. Be sure to include things you do while in a place of paid work that are not part of your formal job description. I can guarantee you will be surprised at the number.
You might think some of these are trivial, such as waking someone up in the morning or making lunch for yourself, but their value in comparison with the things most people do in their job of work is far greater in terms of how much they contribute to normal living. In a society that doesn’t actually need money to exist, a paid job has no significance. Survival, on the other hand, requires damn hard work from time to time, as well as the kinds of tasks that many of us would consider unacceptable. Dealing with the shit of one baby is pretty easy for a parent; dealing with the shit of a whole community is much harder, and messier! So as civilized people we have turned such tasks over to slaves, human slaves that may or may not be paid, or machines built and run using rapidly depleting materials that cause massive environmental degradation. Either way, we don’t have to do these tasks ourselves, and the moment they threaten to intrude on our lives we recoil in horror.
There is nothing horrific about dealing with shit; just learn to do it properly, as a family and as a community. The same goes for all the other tasks that are required to live a normal life. Some of them are dull, some of them are messy and some of them are back-breakingly hard. All of them are essential and we have to learn to once again accept them, however much of a mental realignment this requires. To be frank, though, the second time you ever change a child’s nappy is nowhere near as stomach-turning as the first; eventually it even becomes enjoyable, because you learn to accept this as an essential part of caring for that child. Can we do the same for every task we do?
By turning the mundane into the enjoyable you can bring people together in surprising ways. I was tempted to place Bob Black’s seminal essay, “The Abolition of Work” in Chapter 7, and there are important lessons there for bringing down the Job Culture, but as a way of undermining the perception of drudgery that essential tasks carry in civilized society, I can’t think of a better way than turning work into play:
What I really want to see is work turned into play. A first step is to discard the notions of a “job” and an “occupation.” Even activities that already have some ludic content lose most of it by being reduced to jobs which certain people, and only those people are forced to do to the exclusion of all else. Is it not odd that farm workers toil painfully in the fields while their air-conditioned masters go home every weekend and putter about in their gardens? Under a system of permanent revelry, we will witness the Golden Age of the dilettante which will put the Renaissance to shame. There won’t be any more jobs, just things to do and people to do them.
The secret of turning work into play, as Charles Fourier demonstrated, is to arrange useful activities to take advantage of whatever it is that various people at various times in fact enjoy doing. To make it possible for some people to do the things they could enjoy it will be enough just to eradicate the irrationalities and distortions which afflict these activities when they are reduced to work. I, for instance, would enjoy doing some (not too much) teaching, but I don’t want coerced students and I don’t care to suck up to pathetic pedants for tenure.
Second, there are some things that people like to do from time to time, but not for too long, and certainly not all the time. You might enjoy baby-sitting for a few hours in order to share the company of kids, but not as much as their parents do. The parents meanwhile, profoundly appreciate the time to themselves that you free up for them, although they’d get fretful if parted from their progeny for too long. These differences among individuals are what make a life of free play possible. The same principle applies to many other areas of activity, especially the primal ones. Thus many people enjoy cooking when they can practice it seriously at their leisure, but not when they’re just fueling up human bodies for work.
Third – other things being equal – some things that are unsatisfying if done by yourself or in unpleasant surroundings or at the orders of an overlord are enjoyable, at least for a while, if these circumstances are changed. This is probably true, to some extent, of all work. People deploy their otherwise wasted ingenuity to make a game of the least inviting drudge-jobs as best they can. Activities that appeal to some people don’t always appeal to all others, but everyone at least potentially has a variety of interests and an interest in variety. As the saying goes, “anything once.“29
What we are looking at here is not just making mundane work enjoyable in itself, but doing these things in a way that works collectively: essentially, sharing the load. Take the example of digging a garden to plant onions. Three people “share” the work. One digs over the soil, removing stones and other unwanted matter, and creating a tilth in which to plant; another follows on planting the onion sets in rows, covering them up and watering them; another makes the tea. In order of enjoyment, you would probably say that for a sizable patch of land, the Tea Maker has it best and the Digger has it worst. But the Tea Maker gets no exercise beyond stirring and pouring, whereas the Digger is getting a large dose of life-affirming physical activity. The Planter, somewhere in the middle, doesn’t have as much physical graft, but is doing something as equally mundane as the Digger, so maybe the Planter has it worst. Or the Tea Maker. What if these roles were regularly swapped; say, for one round of tea at a time? Everyone shares in the drudgery, the rest and the physical labour. Everyone also shares in the end-product, a task well done, and a feeling of solidarity.
Taking a lead from the few remaining, truly connected indigenous tribes, shows quite clearly that enjoyment and laughter, are not only desirable but essential to cohesiveness. In Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes, his beautiful and revealing exploration of the lives of one Amazonian tribe, Daniel Everett observed with civilized astonishment how much the Pirahã laugh, before realising that they have to laugh:
Pirahãs laugh about everything. They laugh at their own misfortune: when someone’s hut blows over in a rainstorm, the occupants laugh more loudly than anyone. They laugh when they catch a lot of fish. They laugh when they catch no fish. They laugh when they’re full and they laugh when they’re hungry. When they’re sober they are never demanding or rude. Since my first night among them I have been impressed with their patience, their happiness, and their kindness. This pervasive happiness is hard to explain, though I believe that the Pirahãs are so confident and secure in their ability to handle anything that their environment throws at them that they can enjoy whatever comes their way. This is not at all because their lives are easy, but because they are good at what they do.30
Working together, playing together, eating together, sleeping together (platonically or otherwise). These are things we do as families as a matter of course. In larger groups, we struggle far more with these kinds of things, and others. Yet the Pirahã have no problem at all with this level of collective intimacy, largely because that is how they survive, and have always survived.
If we are to move forwards as communities then we have to learn to do more things together rather than continue to exist in the atomised state civilization uses as a tool to keep us in continuous material competition with each other. Yes, of course there is a great joy to be had in the spirit of competition, and I would never wish to deny anyone that. I play a bit of cricket and run against other people from time to time, as well as skimming stones as far and as many times as I can to try and impress my children (it still works!) That is all fine, and is good for the soul as well as the mind and body, and little things like that help to bring people together rather than push them away. They, along with so many other things such as growing food, cooking, making shelters and fire, and perhaps learning to play a musical instrument, help us understand the nature of success and failure better than any academic study ever could.
It sounds perverse, but failure and success are two sides of a very thin coin, and far closer to each other than their opposition suggests. We learn from our own and others’ failures, just as we learn from our own and others’ successes. We also take pity and pride in those things, picking others up and also congratulating them. This mutual struggle between success and failure is the kind of competition the industrial world doesn’t want. This is the kind of competition that is healthy and an essential part of the human spirit.
So, we work together, and we compete together, and we grow stronger with every new day. We need to because, like the Pirahã, we will have to face up to the challenges of a rapidly changing world. If we can undermine civilization in time then the real world will still be there in all its bounty, and all its rawness. Whether we undermine the civilized killing machine or not, we will be at some point be exposed to the real world. Communities who know how to work together will be able to make the most of what the real world has to offer.
Looking After Numbers One, Two, Three…
I’m not suggesting that nothing good ever came out of civilization.
There is a regular argument I see against anti-civilization views which goes something like: “How would you be able to type this kind of thing or be able to do any of the other neat things you do from day to day without civilization?” It’s a spurious argument which takes its cue from Creationists, who (among other things) claim that we must have been designed by a supreme being, otherwise how could we be the centre of the (our) universe. Such pro-civilization arguments place civilization at the centre of everything, aggrandise technology in particular, and almost always fail to acknowledge there being any other ways to live.
Despite all this, civilized people have brought about some good things, or at least things we would really struggle to now do without.31 For instance, anatomical knowledge and general surgery; sanitation and food hygiene; a certain level of rationalism that challenges superstition (although that last one could be my civilized brain having panic attacks about religious fundamentalism) and, not least, the knowledge of what types of human behaviour should be avoided. There aren’t many other really useful things civilization gives us that other cultures might benefit from. And even then, the presence of these things in other cultures could result in the loss of things that make that culture what it is. Who am I, or any person living in the civilized world, to say what another culture needs or doesn’t need?
But the same doesn’t apply for a culture that is coming out of civilization. The fact is there are certain key systems that will need to persist for a while as civilization is undermined and carefully brought down or in the absence of this, collapses with brutal consequences. You can have one or the other, but I know which one I would prefer. So while things are coming down we will almost certainly need some kind of healthcare provision, food distribution network, perhaps an energy grid for a while but certainly a way of getting forms of energy to where they are needed, and probably some localised form of security if only to keep the soldiers and other enforcers out. As Underminers we need to be acutely aware of those things which, at least in the short term, could cause net harm should they collapse or be taken down.
Ironically it may be a key role of Underminers to ensure that, while obsolete and downright harmful things such as global money markets and mass entertainment / advertising are being removed, underlying structures that support more important systems are protected while they are needed. Come to think of it, this is not so ironic considering it is the normal behaviour of governments to siphon as many resources as possible away from important services – such as emergency healthcare, and basic social provision for those with very low incomes – into the coffers of shareholders and private investors. Underminers and those that fight against extreme poverty and for basic welfare are ideologically pretty close.
Beyond such easily identified post-civilization needs, we then have to consider what is to be established in the longer term. We know that we need communities to take us forward, but how best should those communities provide for themselves? One way of looking at this is through the eyes of Abraham Maslow, whose classic “Hierachy of Needs” still has great relevance, despite many attempts to challenge and update it. One update that is worth noting, however, is that of Douglas Kenrick et al, who took the original hierarchy and applied the order in which humans typically acquire these needs to it.32 What is important is they still acknowledged the usefulness of Maslow’s own work, placing the two structures next to each other, as the diagram shows.
You might be wondering what such a discussion is doing in a chapter dedicated to communities. The answer is: everything. As I stated right at the beginning of the chapter, community is the natural state of human beings: dependent upon each other, working together to ensure the stability and success of whatever collective form we take. Any discussion that encompasses the needs of humans moving forwards, by its very nature, is a discussion about communities. Without community, all we are talking about is survival, and nothing else.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t fancy a world where surviving day-on-day is the only thing of any worth. Ask anyone who has lived a truly connected existence whether all they cared about was being alive and you would get a host of different answers: all of them including one or more other reasons to be alive and to truly savour what it means to be human. Maslow puts this very well:
These basic goals are related to each other, being arranged in a hierarchy of prepotency. This means that the most prepotent goal will monopolize consciousness and will tend of itself to organize the recruitment of the various capacities of the organism. The less prepotent needs are minimized, even forgotten or denied. But when a need is fairly well satisfied, the next prepotent (‘higher’) need emerges, in turn to dominate the conscious life and to serve as the center of organization of behavior, since gratified needs are not active motivators.33
So, while basic survival is the predominant motivator other, more distinctly human behaviours are pushed to the edge until survival becomes more routine than urgent. At this point we see from the two diagrams that the next most “basic” requirement is something that can be described as “affiliation” or “belongingness”. A cheerleader for civilization would consider this to be less important than status within society, but from both the above studies and countless observations of basic human need in crisis, it is the collective instinct that overrides everything but raw survival. And, even then, it really isn’t possible for the vast majority of people, civilized or not, to survive long-term without the help of others. The extraordinary, and extremely rare, stories of people going off into the wild and surviving for more than a few weeks (3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food…) attest to the need for something more organised and co-operative.
Let’s pause for breath and consider the words of Carolyn Baker before plunging headfirst into the process of creating some form of community that is prepared for (almost) anything. More than anyone, Baker acknowledges that any major change can hurt, but by preparing for its inevitability, that hurt can be a powerful force for rejuvenation:
Community does not happen as a result of process groups and dialog circles. While these tools may be valuable in many respects, they cannot take us where soul is calling us. Only soul can take us there, and it will do by pulling us down into the darkness where we encounter loss and pain and where we can “commune” with other suffering souls through poetry, story, ritual, song, celebration and creating beauty. In communing in this way and through these eruptions of community out of soul, we find an “unintentional” community that may be more solidifying than anything we could have tried to make happen.34
Carving a spoon provides a good analogy for real community: just as you must find the object within the wood, rather than imposing a form upon it, any community you are part of should be an organic coming together of people, not some die-cast model of perfection.
Task 7: Building the Community Toolbox
To undermine the perceived need people have for the industrial system, we need to give them the knowledge through which that need disappears. The range of necessary knowledge is vast and, as anyone who attempts to “go it alone” will realise, is not the domain of any one person. In any group of people, though, there is a knowledge base upon which others can draw and learn from.
Near the beginning of Chapter 6 is a section called “Creating Resilient Individuals” which towards the end focuses on Knowledge Sharing. Although this is ostensibly about liberating the developing mind from the grip of the school system, it is the start of a vital learning experience which can be widened to encompass entire communities and people of all ages. The knowledge, in the case of communities, starts with the most basic needs and works through all of the skills that a community requires to be resilient, cohesive and long-lasting. While by no means definitive – nothing that has intentionally been written down could ever be definitive – the Rewilding Community Toolbox takes a brave stab at covering all the major areas of learning by which a community could at least come out of civilization relatively strong and intact.
The term Rewilding is important (notably, it’s absent from my spell-checker) and deserves definition prior to any use. One of its most notable proponents is Peter Bauer a.k.a. Urban Scout whose book Rewild or Die is well worth reading as a way of challenging many of the more damaging preconceptions civilized people have about other ways of being. Bauer carefully reviewed the various ideas around rewilding, and concluded that a new definition was necessary that would stand on its own rather than requiring any further explanation. I believe it also defines very many of the goals of undermining:
Rewild, verb; to foster and maintain a sustainable way of life through hunter-gatherer-gardener social and economical systems; including, but not limited to, the encouragement of social, physical, spiritual, mental and environmental biodiversity and the prevention and undoing of social, physical, spiritual, mental and environmental domestication and enslavement.35
The Rewilding Community Toolbox clearly observes the outcomes of long-term rewilding. Rather than regurgitate the entire contents you can find it yourself by following the reference. I have also placed a copy on the Underminers website. The main headings listed below are useful in themselves as a way of building discrete learning “packages” for the community. I have added “immediacy” groupings at the end to help with this, but obviously knowledge acquisition is an ongoing process, it never ends:
Aquaculture (Medium Term, use in a matter of months)
Bug Foraging & Cultivation (Short Term, use in a matter of weeks)
Clothing (Short Term)
Communications, Signaling & Encryption (Short Term)
Containers (Short Term)
Depaving (Medium / Long Term, use in a matter of months / years)
Emergency Preparedness (Immediate, use prior to and immediately after event)
Empowerment – Psychology, Creativity, Learning, Critical Thinking & Planning (Immediate / Short Term)
Fasteners – Cordage & Glue (Short Term)
Field Dressing Animals (Short Term)
Fishing (Short Term)
Food – Preparation & Cooking (Immediate)
Food – Preservation (Short / Medium Term)
Food & Water Storage (Short Term)
Foraging Wild Plants (Short Term)
Frugality (Medium Term)
Fungiculture (Medium Term)
Health Care – Exercise & Fitness (Short / Medium Term)
Health Care – First Aid & Medicine (Immediate / Short Term)
Health Care – Hygiene, Sanitation & Dentistry (Immediate)
Health Care – Mental Health (Immediate / Short Term)
Health Care – Nutrition (Short Term)
Heating & Cooling (Short Term)
Horticulture & Food Foresting (Medium Term)
Hunting & Tracking (Short Term)
Micro-Livestock (Medium Term)
Self-Defense & Security (Short Term)
Shelters (Immediate / Short Term)
Social Skills – Sociability, Consensus, Negotiation, & Conflict Resolution (Short Term)
Trapping (Short Term)
Travel – Movement, Navigation, Time-Telling, Measuring, Weather Forecasting (Short Term)
The real joy of the Toolbox is that it doesn’t give you “Everything you need to know about…”, instead just outlining the main topic areas and allowing for local knowledge to fill the not insignificant gaps. The guide has the following advice for users:
Take stock of what you already know, and any relevant skill-sharing or supplies you can access. Mark in at least 2 different ways: one for things you know conceptually or through witnessing, and one for things you know through your own practice. Classify skills for personal relevance, accessibility of locations or materials, and effort required, highlighting or underlining the easiest – with the – highest-impact. Start with “Empowerment” then prioritize by immediacy to survival.
If you have a small group (or even a pair) of like-minded folks, divide the skills into “things everyone should know” and “things at least one should know for now”, and from there divvy it up and practice. Once people become competent they should teach others, as specialization breeds dependency and fragility. You don’t need to know every little thing, but everyone should know the basics. Start with the minimum in each area, make a routine, and practice diligently. Practicing in pairs or small groups will help make the learning more fun and more reliable. Start a local skill-sharing group if possible. It takes time, support, and humbly learning from failures before one becomes competent. Enjoy!
The idea of starting with “Empowerment” rather than practical bushcraft-type skills mirrors the vital need to remove the Veil of Ignorance before assuming people are ready to take responsibility for their own destinies and communities. The rest of the advice is just damn good sense. Enjoy! Indeed. This should be an enjoyable process, otherwise how can you even consider sustaining intensive learning over a long period of time?
A lot of circles are closing here. Enjoyment has to be part of learning, and learning has to be a replacement for the industrial schooling system. One method of bringing indoctrinated people back to a connected state is with Forest Schools or, as I prefer to call it, Outdoor Education. This approach is not just about being in a specific environment (woodland, tidal zone, wide open space etc.) but applying a tried and trusted methodology that is being adopted not just by groups of liberated people, but even by institutions that are undoubtedly going to be undermined by such a style of learning.
In essence, Outdoor Education / Forest School is a co-operative learning experience which uses a combination of practical teaching (e.g. fire making, shelter building, tracking), artistic expression (e.g. story-telling, natural arts, music-making), playing all sorts of games – especially “wide games” which encourage exploration – and “down time”. All of these activities encourage both co-operation and personal development, and all of these activities take place in an environment that is as far removed from the civilized world as possible. Over time, and it can take a few days, the mixture of fun and serious activities, co-operation and the uncivilized environment cause a fundamental shift in what is normal. The shift is tangible and long-term. If anything it is not the skills that are important but that other, less obvious effect in shifting the participants’ mindsets away from “civilization good” to “wild good”.
On which point, I would like to publically state that whoever thought up the title for the television series Man vs Wild has some seriously fucked-up views!
Stories are the glue which holds communities together. In the form of yarns, songs, poems and other expressions of human vocal creativity, stories are far more than just retellings of what happened to whom, they encapsulate the very soul of a society. It is through stories that histories are maintained. It is through stories that lessons are learnt. It is through stories that vital knowledge is transferred, from generation to generation, changing with the teller and the time but always maintaining the essence of what needs to be conveyed. There is nothing that cannot be encapsulated in some form of storytelling, and thus it is possible to contain an entire culture within the medium of the story.
It will come as no surprise that the more civilized a society becomes the less important that society regards storytelling. One could suggest that civilized people don’t “need” stories any more as everything is now recordable, re-playable and able to be held in some archived form for later recall, be that a simple tale, a satellite image of the Earth’s surface or the instructions for making a nuclear weapon. But that observation reduces the vibrant, human nature of the story down to mere data. Once you do that then the story no longer has any real meaning – with stories, moreso than perhaps any other thing, the medium is the message.
But we have lost the ability to tell stories as we have acquired stuff, and even the writing down of stories damages their cohesive effect. It was high romantic and recorder of folk tales, Walter Scott who observed, and may have helped instigate the loss of the oral tradition in the Scottish Borderlands.
When he heard my mother sing [the ballad of Old Maitlan’] he was quite satisfied, and I remember he asked her if she thought it had ever been printed, and her answer was, “Oo, na, na, sir, it was never printed i’ the world, for my’ brothers an’ me learned it frae auld Andrew Moor, an’ he learned it, an’ mony mae, frae ane auld Baby Mettlin, that was housekeeper to the first laird o’ Tushilaw.”
“Then that must be a very auld story, indeed, Margaret,” said he.
“Ay, it is that! It is an auld story! But mair nor that, except George Warton and James Steward, there was never ane o’ my sangs prentit till ye prentit them yourself, an’ ye hae spoilt them a’thegither. They war made for singing, an’ no for reading; and they’re neither right spelled nor right setten down.”36
A rough translation of the last paragraph, for non-Scots speakers, is: “Yes, that’s true. It’s an old story! But more than that, apart from George Warton and James Steward, there were never any of my songs printed until you printed them yourself, and you have spoilt them altogether. They were made for singing and not for reading; and they’re neither spelt right nor set down right.” James Hogg, the interviewer, passes over Margaret’s astute and forbidding observation as one would expect of a documenter of high art, but at least the observation remains – a stain on the pages of every book that claims primacy over the remembered word and tune.
Should we be so harsh about every “collector” of poems, songs and tales? There is something to be said for preserving that which may be lost forever as a culture takes its leave of the Oral Tradition; but there is a huge difference between a smash-and-grab approach to collection, and using the act of collection as just a small part of preserving the traditions of a culture. Unless the tradition itself is maintained, nurtured and encouraged from within, free of the destructive influences of the civilized world, then “collection” is no better than theft.
We have already discussed issues of community integrity in the section called “Protecting Communities” so will not linger on it here. What is worth noting though, in advance of undermining, is that any efforts to recreate and sustain the tradition of storytelling may help protect existing traditions simply because the same things that are melting that vital glue are in operation wherever civilization plies its trade.
Task 8: Telling Stories
One of my greatest pleasures as a father of two is to read to my children. I hold few stories in my head, for my culture frowns upon anything that cannot be filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, de-briefed and numbered37, but when I read out loud I don’t just say the words. My intention is to create worlds in the heads of the listener; so the like of Lord of The Rings, the Harry Potter series and the entire canon of Douglas Adams has been shared evening by evening, sometimes a single book taking months of careful teasing out. Needless to say my impersonations of Gollum, Gandalf and Professor McGonagall have yet to be equalled. I would love to be able to pass tales on through memory alone, for it is through memory that storytelling really has its power. I believe there is nothing to match the summoning of a good campfire story as a demonstration of the power of words.
What I can do from memory is sing songs.
However you best retain and then pass on words is how you can best undermine the unwritten law that anything of value has to have a physical form. I believe the first step to reinstating the oral tradition as the predominant form of knowledge transfer is to learn for yourself in the (non-physical) form you are most comfortable with. The second step is to pass that on to others, so that they can decide for themselves whether that is the form by which they wish to use that knowledge. But it is not just the content you need to pass on, that is for later; far more important is passing on the pleasure that comes from retelling that content in whatever form works for you. The environment in which that retelling takes place is most definitely part of this, which is one reason the camp fire story holds a powerful symbolism for many people. I recently started asking friends whether they are a Fire, Water, Air or Earth person just out of curiosity (I am, despite my claims not to be a latent pyromaniac, most definitely a Fire person). The “elements”, unlike such spurious symbolism as zodiac signs, contain more than a mere metaphor as to the way a person connects with the real world: I connect strongly with the act of making and maintaining a life-giving fire. Other people experience no greater pleasure than to swim in wild places, or to work the earth to grow food, or to stand on a precipice with the wind tousling their hair. These are real connections and if you can learn how people best connect then you can create the environment by which the greatest pleasure can be gained through any act – in this case, receiving, and learning how to retell, a story. This lesson holds for all forms of teaching / learning, inspiring / being inspired, loving / being loved.
The other part to creating a pleasurable experience is by exuding the pleasure you get from the act of telling. You can liken it to the difference between giving a presentation with the aid of Powerpoint slides and a script, and a presentation that is given with no visual aids or prompt. The former is bound to be stilted, mechanistic and exude little in the way of energy. Compare this to the freedom (and for many people, admittedly a little fear) allowed by the crutch-free approach. Yes, there is no support evident, but the effect of having nothing to hold you changes how the audience receives the presentation – in a way, they become your support, and this shared experience further enhances the act of telling. Storytelling has to be a shared experience for it is through sharing that communities become strong.
What is emerging is the sense of two difference spaces: outside the community, and within the community. Within the community is not to the exclusion of all that which is outside, but it is within this space that the vast majority of what matters, takes place. Outside of the community, at least at first, is likely to be the civilized world that doesn’t want strong communities to exist. Storytelling helps to create this dichotomy for the benefit of everyone within the nascent community. Go and share.
Susan Maushart documented a wonderful “experiment” (this is what she referred to it as) in which she banned all screen-based forms of communication from the house she and her three children occupied. What transpired was a period of almost boundless creativity within the four walls, accompanied by an unalloyed period of real communication that had been almost absent from the family in the presence of electronic gadgetry. Maushart makes the point late in the book The Winter of Our Disconnect (a title, I assume, chosen as much for its irony as for its Shakespearean overtones) that, of course, books are as a much a disconnecting form of communication as are smartphones, but the real point of the “experiment” was to see what effect the absence of the currently favoured forms of communication would have on the household. The passage that holds most relevance for this section is an apparently remarkable outbreak of singing, as if this was some alien, inhuman happening:
And then, pulling into the driveway, I hear funny sounds coming from the living room. And voices. Loud voices. Loud male voices. My heart lurches in my chest. I don’t have a cell phone anymore, so there’s no way anyone can contact me while I’m out. Up to now, I’ve been fine with that. In fact, I’ve been ecstatic with that. But at this moment…? I race to the open front door and that’s when I see it. I stand there in shock, my mouth as round as a laser disc.
It’s a bunch of kids, five of them, around the piano.
They. Are. Singing.
Toto? I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.
“What’s next on the agenda, dudes? A taffy pull?” is what I’m thinking but don’t dare say. If they are sleepwalking in another decade, far be it from be to disturb them. This, I realize, as I practically tip-toe to my bedroom, strenuously feigning nonchalance, is the moment I’ve been waiting for. Doing homework, sure. Reading and listening to music, absolutely. Practicing saxophone, cooking meals, sleeping and eating better – all of that has been extremely gratifying. At times verging on the magical, even. But it’s this above all else – this, what would you call it? Connecting? One to the other, in real time and space, in three dimensions, and with all five senses ablaze…38
For such an eye-opening experience, the book ends on a distressing note, but not it seems for the author or, apparently, her children. They return to their gadgets with unbridled pleasure as though nothing had changed at all. Maybe it was all the homework.
More seriously, the most likely reason the “experiment” ended in such ignominy is because there remains a host of Tools of Disconnection trying to keep such simple and vital pleasures as storytelling, playing games and just being together in the same place from ever happening. If we take the phrase “the medium is the message” in this context, it is clear that anything that promotes physical media, whether that be an iPad, a television or a book, as more desirable than vocal communication is a Tool of Disconnection acting against the glue of community. Thus, we currently have myriad forms of information transferral all clamouring for our attention and actively trying to obsolete the previous incarnation for, above all, commercial reasons; and all the time putting the boot into ordinary human communication. Hark back to previous chapters and there are many ideas on how to reverse this mass distraction from the real world – they are as relevant here as anywhere else.
Task 9: The Power of Families
There is a special kind of community we need to finally consider, a type of community that naturally points towards the subject of the next chapter. It is our family. Many people are lucky enough to remain close to their biological families; others, an increasing number, suffer from the pain of familial breakup and disintegration. Some people, and I know a few, feel happier to be without the family they were born into, although I am convinced that, given the opportunity, all of us would rather be part of a loving family than not. Family does not have to be the biological type either. Many families consist of a mix of biologically close members in human terms – what we would conventionally call “relatives” – and those who have been brought together by other events than birth. Step-sisters, foster-children, second cousins, great uncles, close friends, even neighbours that are there when you need them: all potential family members.
The only definition of family I can really think of is “a group of people who voluntarily spend, and enjoy more time together than they do with the surrounding community.” I suppose, ultimately, it’s the genetic bonds that call the shots, but that is not always the case, and such thinking is a little disingenuous to those groupings that have far tighter bonds than many “real” families. We have friends who we consider as much part, if not more a part, of our family than many people we are biologically related to. We love them and treasure them as part of our family and, perhaps, they feel the same about us.
The point I am trying to make is that you know who your family is.
And knowing who your family is really matters when it comes to knowing who you can depend upon in hard times. This is going to be a very short Task, but a crucial one in determining how we approach an uncertain future, and how we tackle those things that test us in the groups of people we are closest to. Sharon Astyk sums it up beautifully in her book Depletion and Abundance, a work I consider to be essential reading:
No matter how maddening they are, no matter how frustrated you are, no matter how difficult moving in together is, no matter how close the quarters or stressful the situation, these people are your tribe. It is in some ways easy not to love and appreciate the people who are always there, especially when you sometimes wish they would be elsewhere. It is also worth noting, however, that the world is not full of people who will share their homes with you, add water to their soup so your husband can eat, rock your child through a nightmare to let you sleep, give you the coat from their backs and the bread from their table, and say, in a thousand words and gestures, “You are one of us.” If you have such people in your lives, treasure them.39
Treasure your family; treasure your friends; treasure your community – and nurture them all. When times get tough, and when things look like they are truly beyond your control, a strong connection with the people you hold dear can be more powerful than anything that seeks to break those connections apart.
20 Alastair McIntosh, Soil and Soul: People Versus Corporate Power, Aurum Press Ltd., 2001.
21 Ed Iglehart, “Territory, Property, Sovereignty & Democracy in Scotland – A Brief Philosophical Examination”, http://tipiglen.co.uk/property.html (accessed May 2012).
22 See http://www.landshare.net for more information (accessed June 2012).
23 “About”, http://diggers2012.wordpress.com/about/ (accessed June 2012).
24 The True Levellers Standard Advanced: The State of Community Opened, and Presented to the Sons of Men by Jerrard Winstanley, William Everard, Richard Goodgroome, John Palmer, Thomas Starre, John South, William Hoggrill, John Courton, Robert Sawyer, William Taylor, Thomas Eder, Christopher Clifford, Henry Bickerstaffe, John Barker. John Taylor, &c., 1649, http://www.strecorsoc.org/docs/truelev.html (accessed June 2012).
25 As opposed to A Matter of Scale, the original manuscript which I still have complete control over, including for free print distribution.
26 Open Source Initiative, “The Open Source Definition”, http://www.opensource.org/docs/osd (accessed May 2012).
27 Idzie Desmarais, “New to this blog? New to Unschooling? Read this!” http://yes-i-can-write.blogspot.co.uk/p/new-to-this-blog-new-to-unschooling.html (accessed May 2012).
28 Erica Goldson, “Here I Stand” from America via Erica, http://americaviaerica.blogspot.co.uk/p/speech.html (accessed June 2012).
29 Bob Black, “The Abolition of Work”, http://www.zpub.com/notes/black-work.html (accessed February 2012.)
30 Daniel Everett, Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes – Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle, Profile Books, 2008.
31 You could argue that this is inevitable given that civilized people are human beings, and civilization is – fortunately – not quite powerful enough to wash all traces of humanity away.
32 Douglas T. Kenrick, Vladas Griskevicius, Steven L. Neuberg and Mark Schaller, “Renovating the Pyramid of Needs: Contemporary Extensions Built Upon Ancient Foundations”, Perspectives on Psychological Science 2010 5: 292, http://www.carlsonschool.umn.edu/assets/144040.pdf (accessed June 2012).
33 A. H. Maslow, “A Theory of Human Motivation”, 1943 (Originally Published in Psychological Review, 50, 370-396), http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Maslow/motivation.htm (accessed June 2012).
34 Carolyn Baker, Navigating the Coming Chaos: A Handbook for Inner Transition, iUniverse, 2011.
35 Urban Scout, Rewild or Die, Urban Scout LLC, 2008.
36 James Hogg, “My first Interview with Walter Scott” Edinburgh Literary Journal (27 June 1829) 51-52, http://spenserians.cath.vt.edu/CommentRecord.php?action=GET&cmmtid=8520 (accessed July 2012).
37 Spot the reference and you win the the pleasure of having spotted the reference.
38 Susan Maushart, The Winter of Our Disconnect, Profile Books Ltd., 2011.
39 Sharon Astyk, Depletion and Abundance, New Society, 2008.
Version 1.01, published 24 October, 2012