Archive for February, 2008


Primitivist Theology

February 18, 2008

In my last post I wondered at the lengths Ran went to in his recent essay to deal with issues of ideology and today he posted a comment which answers the question much better than my speculation did.

… the main reason I wrote the essay was to go into theoryland and get primitivists out. If you really feel like going into the woods and living on roots and berries and deer that you kill with a handmade bow, go for it! But that’s not what I see. I see people who feel that this society is deeply wrong, and on top of those valid feelings, they build what I believe is a faulty intellectual framework: that we should go primitive. Then they feel guilty that they don’t really like practicing primitive skills, and that they’d rather eat pizza and go on the internet. I’m not trying to stop anyone from going primitive. I’m trying to stop anyone from forcing anyone else to do it…

Perhaps then, it’s an invitation to come and live in the grey areas between the extremes of modern civilisation and pure primitivism. As I said in my last post if we learn to listen to our inner voice (but not to blindly obey it, of course) then we will hopefully lose the need to rely on pre-conceived ideology to guide our lives and will also feel quite comfortable with imperfectly worked-out grey areas.


Exit Ideology

February 15, 2008

I’ve just read Ran’s new essay, Beyond Civilised and Primitive, in which he spends a great deal of energy battling through a veritable thicket of ideologies. Obviously Ran feels the need to address the various views of people who will be reading his essay but what I like is how he (knowingly, I’m sure) blows himself out of the water with this paragraph:

A more reasonable move is to abandon primitive life as an ideal, or a goal, and instead just set it up as a perspective: “Hey, if I stand here, I can see that my own world, which I thought was normal, is totally insane!” Or we can set it up as a source of learning: “Look at this one thing these people did, so let’s see if we can do it too.” Then it doesn’t matter how many flaws they had. And once we give up the framework that shows a right way and a wrong way, and a clear line between them, we can use perspectives and ideas from people formerly on the “wrong” side: “Ancient Greeks went barefoot everywhere and treated their slaves with more humanity than Wal-Mart treats its workers. Medieval serfs worked fewer hours than modern Americans, and thought it was degrading to work for wages. Slum-dwellers in Mumbai spend less time and effort getting around on foot than Americans spend getting around in cars. The online file sharing community is building a gift economy.”

I’ve spent time debating with Ted, who after embracing Primitivism for a while has now turned about face and completely opposes it. I’m sure that some of the strength of his opposition comes as a result of the attack he came under from Jason Godesky when he made the shift but the point I was to make here is the same one I made to Ted when he described me as having primitive or anti-civ viewpoints. Ultimately I don’t care for the labels, nor do I want to align myself with any particular ideological box. I am much more interested in finding information that is useful to me in my life and while there is much in primitivism and anti-civ theory that I gain from I’m definitely not signing up for the whole package deal. And I am definitely not keen on packing my family up and heading off into a forest somewhere either!

The truth is I am barely interested in appearing consistent and logical, especially if it’s at the cost of creative thought and the pursuit of new and useful ideas. Conforming to conventional rules of debate is necessary if you want to convert people to your viewpoint but the only person I am trying to convert these days is myself.

I was going to write something harsh about how the need for ideology is a sign of weakness – my civilised instincts are still strong – but really I think it’s a sign that people don’t know themselves well and are using an intellectual framework to do the job that their (silenced) inner voice is supposed to do.

I’m not saying that I’ve got this problem completely sussed but here’s some real-life needs that I am aware of and which are driving most of my intellectual searching.

– I want to be able to raise my kids without doing too much psychological damage to them.

– I want to undo the psychological damage done to me during my childhood and early adulthood so that I can break free and have a fun and satisfying life (which will hopefully make the above goal easier to achieve)

– and I want to figure out how best to organise my family’s life so that we can prepare for whatever societal changes are coming up (and also so that I can work on the above two goals)

Undoubtedly I’m a mess of internal contradictions like most people but I should be able to link most of my writing back to these needs. If people like some of the ideas I discuss while doing this, then that’s great but I’ve pretty much given up trying to convert people these days. At least I hope I have.

All this is not an attempt to discredit Ran’s essay by the way. The truth is I was actually thinking of a different person when I wrote a lot of this post but (like all good essays) Ran’s has got me thinking. I’m sure his blog gets more traffic than mine and I imagine that if he doesn’t deal with differing ideologies in his essay he is probably going to come under a lot of attack – he probably will anyway :-) . And incidently, I think it’s important to argue against certain people, like the ones who want to bring-on the crash – as Ran does.

As always the best thing Ran does with his approach to predicting the future is open our minds up to the possibilities rather than close everything down to a single linear prediction like most people working in this area. Rather than freaking me out and immobilising my thoughts his writing always leaves me with hope.

-Via Idleworm recently I found this interview of Bill Mollison with this invaluable quote in which he basically challenges the conventional approach of working out an ideology and then using that to determine our real-world actions.

Alan: Doing permaculture seems to be the opposite of abstraction.

Bill: Oh, I put it another way. I can easily teach people to be gardeners, and from them, once they know how to garden, you’ll get a philosopher. But I could never teach people to be philosophers – and if I did, you could never make a gardener out of them.

When you get deep ecologists who are philosophers, and they drive cars and take newspapers and don’t grow their own vegetables, in fact they’re not deep ecologists – they’re my enemies.

But if you get someone who looks after himself and those around him – like Scott Nearing, or Masanobu Fukuoka – that’s a deep ecologist. He can talk philosophy that I understand. People like that don’t poison things, they don’t ruin things, they don’t lose soils, they don’t build things they can’t sustain.

These days I’m valuing my intellectual side less and less. It was developed during attempts to colonise my mind (at educational institutions) so I’m really not sure that it’s good for me at all but I also know that in it’s proper place it can be used to counter-act some bad (learned) instincts that I seem to still have.


As for the most challenging of Ran’s new ideas, that tribal hunter gathering is not necessarily our natural state, I’d find that hard to argue with since I tend to think that humans are born with a lot of potential but are otherwise a blank slate and can therefore head in any direction from there. With a proviso however, that we are born needing (expecting?) certain conditions to enable us to reach our full potential and to lead happy, satisfying lives – and that the environment found in peaceful tribes appears to be the best that anyone has found for doing this.

Whether that actually means we are supposed to live in such a state probably depends upon your ideology – and if you don’t have an ideology you’ll probably not care either way because you’ll be more concerned with figuring out a practical means of making your life more fun.


Joe Polaischer

February 14, 2008

I’ve just received word via email that Joe Polaischer died yesterday. Joe was a great advocate of Permaculture and preparation for energy descent. Decades before most of us worked out that sustainability was important Joe and his partner Trish were out there showing how it could be done with their work at Rainbow Valley Farm.

He was such a passionate and energetic character I find it hard to believe he could go so suddenly. He will be missed by so many.

I wrote about Joe here and here and in one of my most popular interviews on Raglan Community Radio I discussed all manner of issues relating to living lightly here.

actually, that link goes to his talk from the 2005 Ecoshow that I recorded. The radio interview is here.

The text of the email reads:

We’re sorry to have to let you know that Joe Polaischer of Rainbow
Valley farm died yesterday, at the farm.

Joe’s funeral will be on SATURDAY 16TH FEB at 2.00pm, at the Matakana
Pony Club on Matakana Valley Rd. There will be a gathering after the
burial at the Matakana Hall. Please bring a plate and a bottle.

Rest in peace Joe.


The Joy of Crash

February 11, 2008

UPDATE: Ran’s added an email comment from me about faith in politicians:

As someone from the outside I’m always amazed at how much faith US citizens put in their politicians. I mean there appear to be scores on the internet who genuinely believe that Ron Paul is going to make everything all better. I’ve yet to meet anyone in New Zealand who feels that way about any of our politicians — even though they are genuinely more representative of the people.

Just in case anyone has got the wrong idea I should point out that New Zealand is no political nirvana. True, we have proportional representation and a Green Party in parliament but we have also been screwed over by our political system in pretty fundamental ways. Really, I think that rating a political system for how well it serves the people is a bit like rating an ocean for how dry it is.


Great comments from Ran today:

The closer America gets to economic collapse, the more I sense viscerally that hard collapse and violent revolution would totally suck. And I think the critique of civilization begins to work against us when we move from thinking to action, because it’s too black and white. Of course, eventually, we must evolve stable societies built on autonomous action, but I think that’s going to take us thousands of years, and in the meantime, we’re going to continue to have large complex societies muddling around and making mistakes.

I’ve been feeling wary of the crash for some time, some good might come out of it but as I said in my About-page ‘we’d be bloody nuts to look forward to it’.

Frankly I’m finding family life tough enough, heaven only knows how we’ll cope with a serious crisis.



February 2, 2008

From Sharqi and/or Donald over at Noble Savagery comes the cryptically titled “just like that sonofabitch gonna wind up in the white house every time. It’s actually a short story about a kind of post-apocalypse existence. I’ve got a short attention span these days but this one kept me gripped – but then it’s always a pleasure to read some fiction that is based in a value system that I share.

As with many of these discussions (both fiction and non fiction) of those who are brave enough to leave the soul crushing but safe urban environment to live outside the system, I’m often left wondering if I – given how well domesticated I am – would actually have the courage to make that sort of step.



February 1, 2008

My life seems to be going through a phase of contraction at the moment. The previous five years or so have been a huge expansion and probably I went too far too soon and now I’m consequently turning more inward. After being involved in various radio activities and the anti-GE movement my focus has now pretty much closed down to work and family. Astute readers will also have noticed that my blog posts have become erratic and often far apart. 

Aside from what is probably a natural tendency to withdraw after pouring out a great deal of my energy I’m also struggling to give my kids what they need at the moment. Having a full time job isn’t helping but essentially it’s the old nuclear family hell thing going on. I still think I’m giving them a better chance to be themselves than most kids get but as a fully domesticated human I find it increasingly difficult to cope with my ‘wild’ children.

I suppose someone reading my old posts might think that I have a good handle on parenting but the truth of the matter is that I find myself in daily combat with my kids. I don’t have the energy to cope with behaviour which is basically their civilisation-coping mechanism and the more stressed I get the more I start to parent like my parents did. Sometime it gets so bad that I pull back a ways but what’s happening is still a long way from my kids really need – although it’s also a lot better than they would have got if I hadn’t found books like The Continuum Concept.

Sara said along time back that the main difference between her and other mothers is that she doesn’t rationalise her behaviour to her kids. Hopefully her (and our) kids will get through childhood without the usual emotional confusion – even it looks tumultuous at the time.

Every parent wants their kids to have what they didn’t have and it’s true for me too – I want them to be able to express themselves and not be as emotionally straight jacketed as I am. 

So for now I will attempt to endure my five year old’s expressions of ‘not-rightness’ without having to fully domesticate her. The one thing I won’t be doing anymore though is criticising mainstream parents because doing things this way is damn hard and I can’t now blame anyone for doing what it takes to survive this stage of their children’s lives. 

Perhaps my grandchildren will be blessed with parents who can cope with their undomesticated nature.