March 3, 2006

I’ve recently realised that one of the great themes of civilised life is that of escape. Not that people will like to be told that a major factor of their life is the desire to escape civilisation but the way they live their lives surely betrays their words.


This only really hit home for me when I considered how advertising uses the concept. Holiday travels are always sold as ‘escapes’ or ‘the ‘ultimate getaway’. It is undoubtedly significant that we talk about our holidays from the pressures of civilisation in the same way that we talk about a jail break. Perhaps we should pay more attention to what our sub-conscious is telling us.


If we have a problem in life, our solution is usually that of escape. Job sucks – get out. Don’t like your town, evacuate! Don’t like your wife – run away! And if we can’t change the circumstance our usual recourse is to endure the circumstances until they end – again treating life like a prison sentence.


What happens then for people who escape civilisation by entering an ecovillage? Will they end up like the institutionalised prisoner who makes a break only to find that they don’t know how to live outside the prison walls?


Ran Prieur makes the point when giving advice about dropping out that it should be done slowly. Likewise with communities he recommends that the transition should be a lifelong one with movement back and forth between ecovillage and civilisation. There are after all, plenty of stories of people who try to make a total escape only to end up back in civilisation – perhaps like the mythical repeat offender who has come to prefer life behind bars.


Unlike the repeat offender I don’t imagine it’s practical for an ecovillager to spend long periods of time away from the village and in fact this is one of the potentially terrifying things about an ecovillage – especially the ones hidden deep in the middle of nowhere. Getting out is not easy. It is with some considerable relief that I’ve taken on board the idea that I might try to find ways of easing this pressure.


For instance I really like the town we live in and would feel disappointed to leave it and it’s people behind, so why not put the village in the town – or at least connect it up – maybe we can get the best of both worlds.


I had already come to the conclusion that in a post crash world a village standing by itself could be quite vulnerable and that getting my town (Raglan, pop. 3000) prepared for a post-peak world would make more sense for short and long term survival and security. It would be easy with Raglan too, there’s probably more permaculturists per head of population in Raglan than anywhere outside Australia.


I haven’t gone very far into this yet but I think the idea is worth pursuing. Land on the edge of town is quite expensive but in a post-peak world that will probably change. It also makes sense too in that we would then be ideally situated to do things like serve the town’s food and seedbank needs. I expect that are also other potential ‘synergies’ (to use a highly debased word).


One of the things I’ve learned about designing built environments for groups of people is that there needs to be physical places all along the public/private continuum so that people who want to have a quiet moment alone, people who want a small gathering and people who want a party can all be catered for.


Likewise I imagine breaking from civilisation might be the same. A village on the edge of town will hopefully have access to a wilderness out the back, a traditional group-life experience and also connections with the town. Connections with the town can then be broken down into full-on, such as working in the town, partial like doing business with the town (either by going to the town or the town coming to the village) or sporadic according to need or desire.


Sounds pretty good to me. I guess now it’s just a matter of figuring out how to make utopia happen.


One comment

  1. T.G.I.F.

    Posted by: nulinegvgv | 03/02/2006

    Very insightful stuff about how we use the word escape. I’ve maintained for a long time that one of the central themes of civilization is the feeling that we need to be “saved”. I imagine that goes very well with the idea of escape.

    I also like your idea of providing spaces for people all along the private/public continuum. Opening up this space is what allows for people to be truly free, engaging at any level they feel comfortable. Connecting that to breaking from civilization is very helpful, I think.

    If we were to frame it in terms of addiction recovery, going cold turkey rarely works. Those who accept this seem to be far more successful than those who do not. We must plan to accomodate failure as well as success.

    – Devin

    Posted by: Devin | 03/03/2006

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