Archive for August, 2006


The one true way

August 27, 2006

This is another hurried posting so please excuse the rough writing. 

I think at one point I wrote that the reason for this blog was to track the progress of a new ecovillage . There’s been a lot of talk since then (and no action) and the blog has evolved to be other things, including a place for me to figure out some of the vision for the village. Behind the scenes we’re getting closer to starting but what I really want to note here is how my feelings about ecovillages have evolved.

Initially I was probably pretty entranced by the whole idea, but also I’ve moved from thinking a village was a good response to peak oil to thinking it was actually a pretty bad response and then on to not caring either way about how it might respond to peak oil and now I’m at a point where I want it simply because I want to have a tribe around me.

Raising kids in a nuclear family is hard enough, trying to raise them using Continuum Concept inspired attachment principles is even harder and I always find myself thinking ‘this problem would be instantly solved if I lived in a village’ or ‘this problem wouldn’t even exist if I lived in a village’. So now after feeling kind of ambivalent about being in a village I’m back to being keen on the idea and I’m very clear about why I want it.

I felt the need to give the ‘back story’ before returning to the recent debate about primitivists not being able to walk their talk.  I keep suggesting that people will need to start from an ecovillage before moving on to doing things like rewilding and I don’t want to come over like someone who’s bedazzled by the whole ecovillage concept.

I don’t believe that it’s possible for anyone to fulfill their promise and to fulfil their ambitions (unless they’re are civilised ambitions of course) until they have the support and healing that a tribe provides. Getting a tribe to function properly and doing the healing we all need may well involve forcing ourselves into crisis – it’s a tough, slow process. I refer constantly to an article by Tui ecovillage founder Robina McCurdy in which there is the implication that it might take 12 years to become a properly functional community. It could take longer – the article was written after 12 years of being a community so maybe there was more for Tui to go through.

What’s crucial though is that I can’t think of another way to form a fully functional tribe. A group of people could get together and declare themselves a tribe but there needs to be something serious to bind the members together. Our culture revolves around money and in an ecovillage the members are bound together at least in part by their common financial interest – once you’re in it’s not that easy to walk away. I know Daniel Quinn has recommended work-based tribes but I don’t know if anyone has made it work yet (see Jason Godesky’s experience of this).  Just heading into the forest with a bunch of people is out of the question, as has been noted it’s impossible to escape civlisations gaze – or it’s lure.

I always feel like I’m committing a taboo by suggesting an ecovillage to primitivists but I can’t think of anything else that has the right balance of detachment and connection with civilisation. We need to be disconnected in spirit so that we can grow mentally and spiritually but we still need to be attached to some of the material comforts so that we have the space to make these internal changes.

The argument that we need to attend to ourselves first before we look outward is not a popular one, people would rather read about someone else’s problems but I’m beginning to think it’s a very necessary step on the road away from civilisation. Unfortunately as my own life will testify, it’s much easier to go out and try to change the world than it is to turn unward and change ourselves.

BTW the title of this posting is an exercise in irony.


let’s try that again

August 26, 2006

Jason Godesky has also joined the debate about aspiring primitivists and hunter-gatherers and why none have yet to walk their talk in a serious way. He seems to be heading down a similar path to my posting on this topic and has included a fantastic quote by Tamarack Song from the Teaching Drum Outdoor School. I don’t think my posting on the subject was written very coherantly, I’m try to feel my way forward to a new understanding and there is a lot of raw thought bashing around in there, but even if I went back and spent a day tweaking it to perfection it wouldn’t come close to what Tamarack Song has to say. I’m not exactly sure where Jason got it from but here it is again;

I’m going to give you all some straight talk, in hopes that it will help to steer you on to a track might get you somewhere. The reality of the situation is that I have not met, or heard of, a single person in the past 40 years who has used the approaches that we have been talking about, who has been able to return to primitive living. This includes the authors of the popular books. Yeah, they might talk a good talk, but look at what they’ve actually done—a month in the mountains, a solo year in the woods, some time in Alaska—is that really living the Old Way? Where is the clan? Where are the elders? The children? Where is the example and clan memories to learn from?

Why didn’t it work for them, and why won’t it work for you? Because they carried civilization with them into the wilderness, and you likely will as well. You can learn all the skills you want, and The Mother will spit you back out just about as fast as you went in. The more stubborn individuals will last a few months or maybe a year, but rest assured, they’ll be back.

Why? Because they didn’t do their work. We come from a technological society, so we naturally think that substituting primitive technology for civilized technology is our doorway. The only problem is that Native people are not into technology. They spend only a couple hours a day providing for their simple needs, and they mostly use simple means. Look at their tools—few and crude, and their craftwork — basic and utilitarian. What a Native person excels at is what I call qualitative skills—how to sit in a circle with your clan mates and speak your truth, how to find your special talent so that you can develop it to serve your people, how to use your intuition, the ways of honor and respect, how to live in balance with elders and women and children, how to speak in the language beyond words, how to befriend fear and live love. Without these skills, you will surely die. Or else you’ll go back to the life that shuns these skills.

Where are the elders? Where is the example? I wish I knew.

Where Jason and I differed is that he believes that when civilisation come down re-wilding will happen naturally, where as my point was that we need to learn to live in a tribe before that can happen. I don’t think these points are mutually exclusive. In fact I’ve written in the past that my big concern is that in a post crash society, when we will need to rely on a community for survival, we may not know how to do it any more. I guess we’ll find out soon enough whether that’s true or not.


What’s Missing.

August 25, 2006

There’s a discussion that Ran has picked up on via Free Range Organic Human and a few reader comments about how no one really seems to be making it as a hunter-gatherer despite a lot of good intentions. There’s also a comment about how Permaculture Homesteaders usually end up being disappointed with the results of their labour and Ran even says he doesn’t really enjoy going up to his land that much. 

Meanwhile I’m talking about getting an eco-village or permaculture-village going, but in some ways I feel the same. I really don’t care much for ‘Eco’ this-and-that and I don’t care that much about ‘Permaculture’ either (even though I just took a weekend introductory course on the subject). I think going primitive and re-wilding makes a lot of sense too, but as usual, could I care less? 

Yeah, some days I couldn’t give a stuff about all that. Some days the thought of having an environmentally pure eco-village leaves me dry but what this discussion has made me realise is that what I do care about, in fact what I obsess about, is the VILLAGE aspect of the phrase Eco-village.  I want one. 

One of things that civilisation is really good at is separating us from each other (and here’s where all this stuff gets interesting again). I may not be excited about primitivism itself but I do know that primitive solutions can build community where high tech ones destroy it. I think that although caring for the earth may not get me out of bed some days caring for the part of the earth that my village occupies could be a real head turner and I’m sure that even though creating a food forest may sound like groovy idea, creating one with my tribe so that we have the time (once it’s fully established) to enjoy being a tribe could be an especially meaningful activity. 

So here’s what I want.  What I really want. 

What I really want is to be able to work with friends, and to be able to do it at a pace of our choosing. I even want to be capable of choosing a pace other than civilised-fast. 

I want to immerse my kids in an environment that is totally supportive of their needs. I want to immerse myself in an environment that is totally supportive of my needs – then I might be able to support my kids better than I do now. 

I want to have my friends nearby, not several hours drive away. I want to spend my time with people who know where I’m at instead of having to endure years of superficial relationships in my daily life. I want to build a house with friends instead of doing it alone, slowly. 

I want to have access to which ever level of social interaction I need at any given moment. I want crowds some times and I want solitude other times, I usually can’t get either of those in a nuclear family. 

I want to be surrounded by people I trust. I want that badly. 

I want to be surrounded by people who support the way I choose to live, it’s got to be better than having to be ready to defend myself to my friends and family at any given moment. 


This suspected lack of progress may also be something to do with our culture’s tendency to get caught up in the superficial groovy aspects of any particular topic. Going primitive requires all sort of skills that may or may not be of interest to you but the main thing it probably needs to make it work is a sizeable group of people – and so far I don’t know of anyone, no matter how skilled and knowledgeable, who’s gone into the forest with anything more than 5-6 people. 

In all honesty I don’t think I can see Primitivism working until a full-on functioning tribe tries it. Worse still I suspect any kind of tribe won’t work properly unless it’s spent 15-20 years knitting itself together in an eco-village with that small umbilical cord back to civilisation firmly in place. And even beyond that, I’m beginning to think that being primitive is a bit of a side issue – maybe no more than the icing on the cake of being a successful tribe.

Maybe what all these primitivists, re-wilders and permaculture homesteaders are missing is simply their tribe, or maybe it’s just what I’m missing.



August 12, 2006

There’s a reader comment on Ran Prieur at the moment about well meaning parents who glue their kids train sets together, destroying any creative learning opportunity and probably the very reason to have the train set.

No doubt the parents think they have created the perfect configuration for their child but really this is completely bonkers, except…

Except I have this same urge myself (not to glue train sets together, but certainly to micromanage my kid’s activities), probably the difference between me and them is that I have certain ideals for my children AND I occasionally reflect on my actions. This means I don’t do stuff that is as mad as that but I still do attempt to apply too much control. My first reaction when our oldest child asks to do something is often ‘no’. Moments later I realise that I have no good reason for saying this and (confusingly no doubt) change my mind.

I’m trying to figure why I do this. I know that the need for control is caused by fear, but what do I fear? A dirty floor? A wet item of clothing?

Why would I fear things like that? I don’t if I think about it but there is something deeper there. I fear that things will go wrong, that my kids will ‘get it wrong’. When I got it wrong as a child the consequences were mostly negative and I want to protect my kids from ‘getting in trouble’. Again, if I think about it I don’t fear this but the instinctive reaction is clearly very strong.

I went to school so my childhood experience taught me over and over again that ‘getting it wrong’ is to be avoided, in fact MUST be avoided. I remember adults telling us in wise tones that we should learn from our mistakes which I found very confusing because I knew that mistakes led to being shouted at or being seriously talked at or to the stigma of failure or to embarrassment and humiliation. Do that to someone for their entire childhood and you’ll induce a kneejerk reaction that can never be done away with.

Even worse my father was a teacher, trained in the ways of the system and I got mistake therapy at home too. Worse still, he was a head teacher and even worse he was a really good one. He thought he was providing a secure environment by relentlessly enforcing rules but what he was also doing was teaching the underlying values of the system.

I was such a good boy. I got really good grades, I never did anything wrong and I never tried anything new for fear of not being an instant sucess. It’s taken until my 30’s to gain awareness of this but I am forced to operate at an intellectual level all day since my instinctive reactions are so very appalling.

There’s more though. The book Disciplined Minds (which I review here) explains how the main role of the university system is to teach students to internalise the value system of their ‘owner/employer’. This is required by the system because professionals don’t simply follow orders, they have to make judgement decisions and the elites of society want total confidence that they will be make the right choices.

It’s a superb book and I highly recommend it but right now I want to extend the author’s thesis to the entirety of our society. To lesser degrees we are taught this same lesson in other areas – from parents, or school, or employers, even the school bully. Again I return to my father. What makes it clear to me that I internalised his value system is that I was completely unable to enjoy rock music if he were both in the same room together. My Dad has appalling taste in music, preferring the country music and easy listening part of the spectrum, this didn’t leave much room for the preferences of his teenage sons. I always found it amazing that I could have such differing reactions to the same song but the concept of internalising your superior’s values certainly explains it. Amusingly my brother knew Dad’s taste too but tended to respond by playing the music even louder if he was around rather than turning it down like I would.

What seems clear is that virtually every aspect of our controlling and hierarchical society is self reinforcing. It selects for behaviours that don’t just serve the system but act to reinforce the main lessons as well. It’s so pervasive and inescapable that parents end up gluing their kids trains sets together and creating offspring who are even better servants of empire than they were.

If anyone has a theory as to why a small percentage of us have been able to escape this cycle I’d love to hear it because when I write it like that the system just seems so incredibly unstoppable – although I do appreciate that it’s strength is also it’s weakness in that it selects for people who are in all other area of their life incompetent.