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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.

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10 comments

  1. What’s interesting about that last paragraph is that I nearly twisted myself in knots trying to figure out whether the need to be born into a tribal-like setting actually meant we ARE supposed to live in hunter-gatherer tribes (or not) when I realised that I just didn’t care very much.

    I’m quite happy believing the two ideas; that we are born mostly as potential and can go anywhere with it, and that we are born needing a certain environment to fully realise that potential with out worrying that there might be some contradiction in there. After all it’s probably just one of those paradox things again ;-)

    probably the main reason I’m not that exercised by the issue is that whether we’re generally required to live in a hunter gatherer tribe or not there’s no way that I, or my children, would be able to live that way given that we have already spent this much time in a different environment. And if you want to know why that’s my final argument just go back up to where I’m talking about my 3 needs.


  2. I think that, before one can think clearly about the issues mentioned, one has to first become aware that the ‘conquistador culture’ (Sorenson) has colonised all of our minds, right down into the sub-conscious and un-conscious levels. To a degree, it is us and we are it.

    Even after decades of using meditation and other techniques of psychic cleansing, it’s amazing how I can be seduced by some glittering tv ad for a must have gadget or take sides in an argument because of some engrained loyalty established in childhood, and which, theoretically and intellectually, I had entirely rejected.

    I think we have to fight to be our ‘true self’and it’s a bewildering struggle if there is no clue as to what ‘true self’ might look like, or in what social or cultural context it might be healthy and happy.

    It is perhaps the most profound and difficult of all philosophical enquiries. What is a human being ‘meant’ to be ?

    In the social and cultural context in which I have spent my life, we ‘are’, but somehow we are never what we were ‘meant’ to be. We exist in torment and dissatisfaction, yearning and anomie, like captive animals born and bred in a zoo, trying to imagine what our natural habitat might have been like…

    I’m fortunate. The cage door was open and I had the courage and desperation to jump out.

    I read Ran Prieur’s ‘Beyond civilized and primitive’ today (which lead me here). I don’t find any of his scenarios of the future either attractive or likely.

    No doubt, he is addressing his parish, and rhetoric is more effective if it poses an optimistic destination.

    But there seems to me to be a fundamental problem. He (and most others) speaks of such and such being the case ‘in hundreds of years’. At the same time, he quotes scientific data that shows the speed at which ecosystems are collapsing.

    Now, the total global system, biosphere, which sustains all life, (and which had achieved relative equilibrium) depends upon all the ecosystems, from the Amazon, the Pacific, the Tudra,right down to a single mossy boulder and ferns providing a microclimate for some obscure nematode.

    It’s the ‘rivet popping theory’. The plane can lose a lot of rivets and nobody notices, until suddenly it begins to fall apart.

    I think the biosphere is falling apart in front of my eyes, in my lifetime. I’ll be astonished if the human species makes it to the end of this century.

    Sorry if that sounds gloomy and pessimistic. I think Homo Sapiens had it’s chance and blew it. It was close. If we’d addressed Global Warming 25 years ago we might have got by for a bit longer. But IMHO, if anyone thinks we’re going to survive 6 degrees by the end of this century (which is within the numbers being predicted and discussed) they are deluded.

    We will have killed something that took 4,500 million years to produce us, without ever really understanding what it was, or what we are, or why we exist. On any moral and ethical value system, the crime is so vast as to be beyond measure because it’s right off the scale.

    Sorry again if that’s depressing conceptualization. IMHO, it’s a realistic estimation of where we are at.


  3. Chris wrote:

    “I think we have to fight to be our ‘true self’and it’s a bewildering struggle if there is no clue as to what ‘true self’ might look like, or in what social or cultural context it might be healthy and happy.”

    theoretically I have an easy answer to this; As soon as we stop looking for another model and just listen to our inner voice we’ll start to to solve this problem. How we do it practically speaking is a bit harder


  4. My main priorities are:

    – Spend time with my children and interact with them. I do not want to be an absent father who is always at work.

    – Ensure my children have a balanced education. Get involved with them as they get older, and make sure they get to be aware of all the stuff they don’t teach you at school. I want them to be independent adults, not dependent on society to provide everything – jobs, food, etc. School actually teaches them to be dependent on the system, not independent of it. (State schooling is a pet hate subject of mine).

    – Start to prepare for the oncoming crash in various small ways, by learning and doing other things. I’m not going to switch off from my current lifestyle immediately, because that is too extreme and doomed to failure for me one way or another. But everything I can do about learning a different way of living will help prepare me e.g. grow my own vegetables in my back garden.

    And the common element to all of these is TIME. It takes time to do all of this. And at the moment I do not have that, with holding down a 9 to 5 job to bring in the wages, and another 3 hours a day travelling to and from work, and doing the normal family things on the weekend.

    So my one goal is to change my job to one that gives me more time back. I don’t really care what the job is, other than it be local to where I live so that I don’t waste time commuting each day. I’m trying as hard as I can, but it is very difficult to find such a local job. Everybody today has an expectation that everyone will travel many miles to work each day, or work 5 or more days a week. And many jobs are now in faceless corporations run by bean counters (accountants), not real people.

    Money really doesn’t matter to me anymore. Time does. Money is essential to pay all the bills, but nothing more beyond that. I’m also beginning to believe in living in the here and now more and more, rather than just keeping your head down, work hard, and hope that good things will eventually come to those who wait. When time is so important, why waste it doing anything you do not want to do (fun, enjoyment) or do not have to do (food, shelter, clothing). Modern life seems so imbalanced in this respect. Why do I spend 37 hours a week effectively locked in a room in an office? When I could be doing something much more enjoyable instead.

    I agree that we cannot ‘unlearn’ all of the things we now know about the sciences and the way the world works, and revert to being primitive people again. My main believes are around simplicity – don’t make things any more complicated than they need to be – and community – knowing and being involved with the same people on a day to day people.

    Modern civilisation seems to be the opposite of these. I have a thought that things will partially revert to primitivism if a full crash were to happen, simply because we are reliant on so many external things to supply us with what we need. And if these external links and supplies were to become broken and disappear, I think things would get very messy very quickly. But that is an imposed form of lifestyle change, rather than one of choice. And if the crash is gentler or longer in scope, then this kind of thing may not happen.


  5. Good post!

    “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 the do the job that their (silenced) inner voice is supposed to do.”

    Amen! I’m just experimenting with a few potent techniques to re-align “me” with my body, which I’m hoping to comment upon in the later book drafts.


  6. Actaully, I agree with you Aaron moe than you might think. My trajectory has kind of corrected again.

    Ted


  7. John, nice to see your list of priorities rolling off the tongue so easily, maybe there’s something about having a family that focuses the mind on practical issues :-)

    I agree with you that focusing on simplicity and community is a key to getting our lives sorted, although I’m making slow progress with both :-)

    I’m intending to write a post on work soon as I’m currently in a form of employment which is fun but low paid. I too say that money is not important but I have rediscovered that it can loom really large in your life when it get to be in short supply.

    Dan – I look forward to hearing about your realigment.

    Ted – I didn’t mean to bring us back to old debates – I was just using that situation as a illustration of how I react to having labels (and by inference, ideologies) applied to me. As I recall I think we eventually came to the conclusion that there wasn’t that much difference between the two of us. Undoubtably something made possible because we weren’t attempting to defend entire ideological packages.


  8. […] he has on our culture really shows through in the philosophy he produces. It reminds me of a quote I posted recently from Bill Mollison I can easily teach people to be gardeners, and from them, once they know how to […]


  9. […] « Suburbia DOA Doom, Gloom and Ka-boom! May 23, 2008 A few weeks ago I posted a quote from a Bill Mollison interview that included this […]


  10. […] 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. (source, via) […]



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