Archive for December, 2006


accidental dropout (part 1)

December 22, 2006

I’ve broken this into two parts, the first attempts to pinpoint the aspects of my child hood that set me up to a life of non conformity and the second begins as an adult when I’m beginning to think for myself. I’ve tried to make it as brief as possible but it’s been such a slow journey that there is a lot to include. I never had a desire to run out on mainstream life and I’m really missing fitting in with those around me. I just made (and my wife too after I met her) what I thought was one logical decision after another.

There’s always the dilemma in any drop out story of how far back to look for the seeds of today’s life. Not surprisingly I’m going to go delve back into my childhood for some of the route causes, it could be argued that to understand my life you need to go further back and understand the lives of those who went before me but this is just a blog post not a freaking autobiography.

In the past I’ve pinpointed schooling and university as two of the major institutions that push us toward obedience and despite having thought about this a lot I still struggle to pinpoint why they failed to properly break me in. From all appearances and by all accounts I was the perfect student all through my schooling. I was quiet, I did what I was told, I got good grades and I knew what the adults in my life wanted from me even before they did. I was ‘mature’ for my age according to school reports.

I was always perplexed as to why other children were rebelling against their teachers and parents, it seemed very clear to me where the power lay in these situations and I much preferred to minimise conflict and keep receiving all that life-giving praise. In fact now that I think about it I was kind of different, on days when we had a relieving teacher and all the other kids were running riot I just sat quietly at my desk and felt sorry for the poor relief teacher – who was so obviously failing at their job.

The only conclusion that I can come to is that because I kept my head down nobody realised I needed breaking in, no one tried to crush my spirit (until it was too late). It was a different story for my brother who obeyed the inner need to stick up for himself and got knocked back big time. Our father was a school principal too so the school environment was repeated at home.

It still doesn’t add up totally though because despite his experience my brother is still perfectly comfortable with anti-civ critique and the idea of dropping out. also have noticed that he naturally gravitates to situations that are outside the mainstream. He even reads this blog.

It may simply be that our mother was loving enough to us as infants and gave us such a strong base that we would always have a store of inner strength to cope with school. It certainly didn’t feel like it at the time, as a kid I felt deeply insecure, weak and pressured by my peers but looking back it’s equally clear that despite this I never actually compromised who I was at any stage.

Credit too to my father. He regularly gets a beating around here for his school masterly ways but via his belief in educational principles he always forced us to ask questions and I think the questioning attitude became a life long habit because of it. (it’s back fired on him now but that’s another story). He also used the word ‘different’ as a compliment. Someone who was a bit different always earned his respect. It doesn’t sound like much but it made non-conformity just that much easier to bear.

Fast forward to university. Architecture School was a much more overt attempt at breaking my spirit. It was pure misery for a long time and a shock to the system for someone who had always been the toast of his teachers to suddenly discover I was ‘wrong’. Of course by then it was too late, despite still feeling dreadfully insecure and despite still using the old tactic of keeping my head down I could not bring myself to change my value system to suit the new culture I found myself in.

The fact that I had suddenly gone from being the perfect student to a hopeless case in the space of a summer made it obvious something strange was going on. What’s more, my teachers’ cause wasn’t helped by the fact that a lot of them were complete nincompoops and holiday discussions with my educational expert father about their inability to observe basic teaching principles only further served to undermine my respect for them.

Much to my surprise I discovered myself in my final year designing a course that totally suited my interests, I got a bunch of good grades and an award for one particular project – all to the surprise of my classmates who had come to believe that I was one of the unfortunates amongst them who just didn’t have the right stuff.

Being a five year course there was a lot of flexibility in the final year but if you’d told me beforehand that I was going to do anything other than a middle of the road approach I would have said you were mad, I just felt so scared of everything. Mostly I think now it was an act of self-preservation as I tried to remove myself from the grasp of a bunch of people who seemed intent on doing me harm.

So I escaped that period of life and continued drifting. I say drifting because all I did after that was follow other people’s suggestions about what I should do with my life. The fact that that turned out to be getting a respectable job and beginning a career meant it didn’t look like drifting but I really lacked any sense of purpose and basically I was still terrified of getting it wrong.

I always look in amazement at people like Dan who is only twenty and already focussed on the important things in life but I needed a period to decompress and let the habits of childhood fade away. I hadn’t been broken but I had spent twenty years habitually obeying people and that takes a while to shake off.

I spent five years proving to myself that working as a professional was a bad idea, it might not have taken so long but I was still drifting and to start with I quite liked it. I had this real sense of elation at being able to do something genuinely useful after all that pointless hoop jumping that we’re put through in the education system.

Eventually though that feeling wore off as I went through three different employers in five years. The first were virtually incompetent and I left in frustration but the other two were far too competent, they saw in me someone who hadn’t been ‘finished’ properly and immediately set about making me prove that I would endure anything in order to succeed in my career. Fortunately I had a friend in a similar predicament so we swapped notes and charted a course out of there.

That’s the skinny version of my ‘career’ but I think that it’s significant that I just couldn’t be bothered with the effort required to turn myself into a thorough and competent professional. I was smart enough, young enough and white enough to succeed. I am creative and have pretty good people skills but I just didn’t care enough the future of my employer’s business or that thing called a career to put the rest of my life on the shelf for the benefit of… who? My bosses? My nation? My industry? the economy?

Go to part 2


accidental dropout (part 2)

December 22, 2006

Go to part 1

Where the dropout proper really starts is back in my first professional job. In 1997 I took a three month trip overseas (at someone else’s suggestion), I was very careful to make sure I had a job to go back to before I left but when I did get back I discovered what a dumb idea that was. I hated returning to the same depressing job so much that within six months I’d left again on another overseas trip. This time to Canada, with an English friend doing a climbing trip (We shot video of the trip which is what I have been editing this year).

The trip was notable because it was the first serious risk I had taken, not only was I a bit short of cash but this time I had no job to go back to. It seems pretty tame to me now but it took a horrible job with no apparent alternatives to get me going. As with most risks in our culture it was only a perceived risk and my life improved immeasurably when I took it.

The most significant event on the trip happened in a guy in Calgary when I guy we were staying with handed me a Noam Chomsky book. Suddenly everything fell into place, finally I had a decent explanation for the state of the world! It didn’t cause me to change my life right then and there but it did start me on a path that has lead me to here.

The other book that changed my life was Robert Kiyosaki’s ‘Rich Dad Poor Dad’.

I bet that’s got a few people scratching their heads but I’ll explain. I saw the book lying around at my parent’s place one day and picked it up after reading the blurb – which had me convinced it was piece of sociology about how rich people passed on their callous attitudes to their children.

I swear I’m not making this up. More importantly though, this was around the time that Karen and I had become engaged and I had finally started thinking about what I actually wanted to do with my life.

We sat down one might and sketched up a plan of our ideal house. It was the sort of thing engaged couples do but after that we drew again, this accounting for how much money we could raise for a mortgage. It was pathetically small (Architects in New Zealand earn diddly squat – another long story) and I knew we would need to extend it as soon as we had children and we were only planning to wait a couple of year’s at most for that.

It was at this point that I got this alarming vision of what my life was going to be like. At this time I was working for my second architecture firm and was fairly sure that it wasn’t what I wanted to spend the rest of my days doing. The thought that I would be trapped there for the next 25 years as we paid off a mortgage was incredibly depressing. I didn’t want to be one of those Dads who came home from work exhausted and grumpy but I knew that if we did things the normal way that is exactly what would happen to me.

It was after this terrifying vision that I read Rich Dad Poor Dad. I now understand that in the world of financial advice the book has nothing new to say but as the son of a teacher and a nurse the idea that regular jobs were an impediment to making serious money a real eye-opener.

A few days after reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad a friend of mine who had just moved to Raglan (which was half an hour’s drive to the west of Hamilton where I lived at the time) dropped in and told me about this piece of land he’d just seen out there. He wanted to buy it but it was too much for his family to afford. Apparently it was the right size to subdivide into four parts, it had water views and was relatively flat. In short it had development potential

This was my opportunity! My get rich quick scheme – or more accurately, my pay-of-the-mortgage-quick scheme. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep, I lay there nearly all night planning how we could make it work. We had no money but we did have comfortable middle class parents with nice houses that could be used as collateral. My father who had spent his adult life renovating and building houses on the side in an attempt to build capital was more than happy to help out. He wished he’d been as daring as we were. Now instead of working hard in the building industry only to see the profits going somewhere else I would be keeping that money in-house.

We signed for the land the day before our wedding and trucked the first home on six months later. With great enthusiasm we flew into the work of renovating the house, adding a deck and carport and redecorating the inside. It took a year before the combination of doing that on weekends and holding down a highly stressful job started to get to me.

We were also pregnant with our first child so naturally we extended the mortgage and I left my job. It was six weeks before our first child was due and I’d just told my bosses that I was leaving because working for them was bad for my mental health. I was tired but surviving on the buzz all of this gave me.

Now instead of being in an office all day I would be outside doing something physical, building, painting and digging (OK, I wasn’t so keen on the digging) with just a bit of office work thrown in for wet days. It was certainly a change and I like being more active but I have also learned that if I’m going to work it needs to be with people. In fact, not just with people, it needs to be about people.

I was so quiet as a child that I still find it hard to believe I have an extrovert type personality. I keep being surprised at how bored I get working alone but all those personality tests keep putting me out there so I guess it must be true. At least now that I was taking risks I was able to learn more about myself.

At last in my 30s I was finally figuring out who I was.

I count myself amongst the lucky to be at home while my children were young, it has I hope, saved me from turning into the distant grumpy Dad that you commonly find in suburbia.

What was really interesting too was that now that I didn’t have a regular job some of my beliefs started to change. Although I never liked my job and knew that my bosses’ desire that I help them ‘grow the business’ was nonsense I was still in a position where I had to stay in denial about the true tragedy of paid employment in order to get out of bed each day. Without the need to believe this nonsense I was able to see more clearly the lies I had been telling myself. Especially the lie that I had no choice but to kill myself a little bit day by day in exchange for money, prestige and security.

The flexibility of working from home also allowed for other things to happen. I’d discovered via Znet (which I had found while looking for Chomsky articles) a website for Alternative Radio. The website said that they gave their show free to community stations and I immediately thought ‘wouldn’t it be great if our local station would play it?’.

It soon became apparent that if I wanted it to happen I would have to play it myself and so I soon found myself on-air introducing the show and playing music in between segments. I had previously held no interest in being a DJ but I quickly found myself reading out news items, playing other alternative news shows, and filling out the entire 3 hour slot. Eventually I began conducting my own interviews on New Zealand based issues because there was no one else doing it and then syndicating the show to a handful of Low Power FM stations in Auckland and Wellington. For good measure I also set up my own low power station in nearby Hamilton, transmitting from the roof of my parent’s house 24 hours a day.

As well as this I began to get active in both Indymedia and the anti-GE campaign, the latter after being utterly freaked out by the thought of pharma-crops when I read an article by a prominent NZ anti GE campaigner. I think every second radio show was about GE for a while after that. I was getting a real buzz out of my newfound ability to have an effect on the world. It was also tremendously satisfying to be working on things I genuinely believed in for the for the first time in my life.

Another thing I noticed is that my music tastes began to expand again, I hadn’t been exactly stuck in one place like some of my old friends had been but leaving work seemed to shift me to a state where I was (and still am) in need of something quite different. I now like far more experimental music than the mostly commercial stuff I used to listen to.

Initially I was too scared to tell people I met through my activism that I was a property developer. It didn’t really fit my identity but eventually I started to state it outright and enjoy the bemused reactions. It did come in handy though, when our anti-GE group made a presentation to the local council. I was able to stand up and say “Hi my name is Aaron, I’m a property developer and I’m very concerned about release of GE organisms in the district”. I was not what they were expecting to say the least.

About the time our second child was born (and we’d moved the third house onto the property) my friend in Auckland who runs Radio Chomsky recommended a talk by Derrick Jensen. I was so impressed by the talk that I took A Language Older than Words out of the library and found myself reading another of those life changing books.

This new critique of civilisation coupled with an awareness of peak oil really started to change my ideas of what our future might hold. The development was coming to an end and although I didn’t know what I would be doing afterwards I knew it wasn’t going to be more of the same. The original motivator had been to escape the mortgage and now that it was gone I found that making money for it’s own sake to be kind of dull. Added to that it had gradually dawned on me just how environmentally damaging our building industry is and I wasn’t sure I could keep sticking used chemically treated timber in the ground and new chemically treated everything into a house that my family was living in.

I discovered Ran’s website one night while trying to research the abiotic oil issue after an on air argument about it with one of my regular guests and quickly warmed to his take on the anti-civ world. His conclusions suit me better than Derrick Jensen’s and I spent many an evening reading his old essays and zines. A few months later I found myself setting up a blog after mistakenly thinking I had to do so to comment on someone else’s site – I quickly realised I had plenty to say and enjoyed that initial buzz you get when people start to visit. Now I’m really enjoying the interplay between the various blogs that exist round these parts. All this from another chance occurrence.

I don’t quite know what will happen next, I’ve had a lot of fun since leaving work but the excess of enthusiasm has left me a little burnt out. We’ve sold out last house and we’re travelling around the country in bus visiting old friends and seeing the country one last time. We might visit a couple of eco villages along the way and next month I’m doing a one week earth building course in Whangarei.

I’m dead keen to get a community around me, I know a village is one way of doing it but we’ll have to wait and see how it pans out. Right now I need to chill out for a little while and let the experiences of the last few years wash over me before I do anything else. I may have left the working world behind but I still find it damn hard to sit still and relax.

One thing where I think I have been really lucky is that even though Karen is a few years younger than me and I’ve kind of pushed her into things faster than she would have liked we still haven’t had the sort of major disagreements that I see happening amongst other couples about life philosophy. Best of all we’ve always been able to turn in-ward for support when the external criticism about how we live our lives or raise our children gets too great.


dropping out and going home

December 19, 2006

Devin left this comment at Frank Blacks:”All I really want, in the deepest sense, is to be loved and appreciated for who I really am. I don’t want to be lonely. All I really want is to go home.

All I really want is to go home.”

That resonates with me so much it gave me goosebumps. That phrase; all I want to do is go home’ pretty much sums up everything I do, not just on this blog but EVERYTHING.

Except there isn’t a home for me to go to, I’m probably going to have to make one.


I’m amazed at how sophisticated this dropout discussion has become since it was started almost accidentally by Casemeau.

For a while I’ve been wondering about gathering together people’s droping out stories. They can (and should) range from people who’ve gone as far as leaving their country to office workers who haven’t made a move but have had their head turned upside down by reading something inspiring.

This blog is not the place to do it really, Ran and/or Dan have more control over their sites than I do but maybe an independant site would work too, I don’t know.

The idea first came when Casemeau wrote his dropping out story, there’s something illuminating about a person’s personal experience that no end of advice-giving can duplicate and I find I’m really fascinated by it.

Maybe I should just invite people to send in their stories, I’m scared of starting anything like a project right now, or making a ‘thing’ out of it, but what do people think – good idea or bad?


the answer to everything

December 16, 2006

As you can tell from the previous post I’ve been out of contact for a while and I’ve only now seen the comments on Ran’s blog about that awful therapist who reccomends that couples stop being nice to each other in order to improve theier sex lives. As far as I can tell this is just another case of trying to find a solution within the confines of civilisation. Without the understading that our needs can not be met living in a nuclear family this sort of thing is going to keep happening.As regards this particular issue I remember a discussion on the continuum-concept list about how the fact that the men and women of the Yequanna tribe spent most of their day apart and led quite different lives. One person commented that this must help maintain the sense of mystery between couples. Beyond that though a person living in a functioning tribe wouldn’t expect their partner to be everything for them and meet all their needs in the absurd way we do in our culture. They wouldn’t expect it and they wouldn’t need it because they would have close relationships with a good number of people.

The reaons this psychologist’s advice actually works though is because by getting away from being totally nice to each other we’re able to vent all the resentments that have built up from living so close  and once those feelings are gone we’re able to get back in touch with the feelings of attraction that are still lurking somewhere beneath the surface.

Naturally I don’t agree with the idea that children should be relegated in importance so that the parent’s can get their sex lives back. It’s no surprise that this idea is common in our culture but some therapists just need to grow up.



December 16, 2006


We’re doing our bit to hasten the arrival of peak oil by driving this, a Bedford 12DZ3, round the country over summer. The plan is to catch up with old friends, and see the country before it becomes too expensive to do this sort of thing, plus out lives are at one of those cusp moments where we’re not tied down by obligations so it’s a perfect time for us.

I had meant to make a posting about it before we left but ran out of time with the usual mad rush to get everything ready that always seems to happen at times like this. We’re currently up north on Karen’s parent’s farm for the holiday period and we’ll head south again once everyone is back at work and the holiday spots have empied out a bit.

We’ll have sporadic internet access (same email address) so I might manage a few posts but we’ll see how it pans out.


Dropping out

December 5, 2006

There’s a fascinating discussion happening on Living in a Van Down by the River about dropping out. It started off with a worrying attempt to define what dropping out was until Devin turned up and reminded everyone that “Dropping out is not a fucking club”.

He pretty much summed up the spirit of dropping out at the same.  Aside from the semantic impossibility of being ‘in’ an ‘out’ club there is also the danger of creating a new ‘thing’ that would merely end up being something else we need to drop out of. It’s something that seems to happen to most ‘out’ groups, often because they are co-opted back into the system but if not then because the whole act of creating the ‘in’ group is such a civilised behaviour.

Ran has talked about the difficulty of finding a phrase to describe how  he lives and acknowledges that he’s uses ‘dropout’ because there doesn’t seem to be anything better. The biggest problem I have with the word which is that it doesn’t reflect the dynamic nature of what we are trying to do round these parts. It’s widely acknowledged that people within the system do their damnedest to avoid change but we all need to be aware that it’s our journey and not where we are relative to others that’s important with dropping out,

The town I live in is considered to be a pretty radical place, full of hippies and other non-conformists but after living here for 5 years it’s become apparent that the hippy style is just that; a style. It’s something for people to wrap their identity around and I’ve become aware that people who I once thought were quite radical haven’t changed the whole time I’ve known them and even worse they give me the same looks that purely mainstream people do if I talk about something that extends them. I actually feel kind of let-down by the situation, they’re just as conservative as right wingers, the only difference is where they started from.

Although I’m wary of creating a definition of dropout I am also being pretty clear that a dropout should be defined by their movement. This means that if (for instance) Casemeau were to spend the rest of his days living in his van and not changing then I would say he was clearly less of a dropout than a corporate paper shuffler who is saving up their money to buy a homestead out of town.

All that aside though, there is a point where ‘dropout’ has even bigger problems which is that it defines us totally in relationship to civilisation. I think it’s awesome when people start to detach themselves from the system and it’s great to see how far they get. My hat’s off to each and every one of you but at some point we need to stop looking over our shoulder and figure out where we actually want to go. Not just because we’d be in a better position to inspire others to join but because it’s something we really need to do – maybe more than anything else.

All through this debate the issue of how we civilised people lack a proper identity is pinpointed as a major issue, we’re aware of how it even threatens to derail the discussion itself. My hope is that the task of building a new culture that properly suits us, preferably with other people, will help to ground our identities. Maybe it’s the other way around – or maybe it’s work that has to be done concurrently.

It’s hard to know how it will all work out but the very act of undertaking this kind of journey will undoubtedly bring us into conflict with inner demons, it’ll be pretty obvious when we need to take our eyes off the horizon and turn inward and fortunately for us there are those who have already trodden this path.