No Easy Answers…

It would be nice to believe in easy answers, but I don’t think there are any. The imposition of capitalism on nearly the whole world is at the root of our problems. The idea that money is what the world revolves around is central to how most people live to ay. We have lost sight of so much that is central to making us feel worthwhile, making us feel good about ourselves.

If we were to remove the current government from office, what would they be replaced with? We have seen the disasters that have followed revolutions in the past. And always in violent confrontations the most violent wins out. This is not what we need.

If we were to disband the IMF (oh please, I wish we could) how long would it be before the governments that it has infected with it’s capitalist corporatism realise that it has sent them down the wrong road?

What we need to do is not be violent, nor be passive and accepting, but to educate… to work to get people from as many walks of life as possible to see that there is nothing more valuable than a human life (or any other animal); that we need to value each other for who we are; that economics is just a way of trying to understand the movement of money, not a value system to run the world.

Empathy, kindness, compassion, love and understanding are what we need. The ability to see that people make bad choices, not because they are bad people (most of the time), but because they don’t understand what is happening for others, or why other people are important. They lack the emotional maturity to understand that other people are both real and important, not just tools to be used and the discarded.

We don’t need money to have a good life, an abundant life, full of love and laughter, we need people for that!

Human Scale

Here in Bristol (UK) a couple of years ago a new shopping area was built. It’s called Cabot Circus. It’s not my kind of place. I think it (like the Mall at Cribbs Causeway) is supposed to replicate an American shopping mall. Never having been to America, I have no way of judging that. What I can judge is that it is not human scale. It is an attempt at creating a cathedral to spending money, and wasting time in it’s worship.

Also recently I have had to visit Southmead Hospital, a recent building that again is not human scale.

It is another cathedral, but to which god I cannot fathom, and whoever thought that sick and scared people want to enter a large impersonal foyer has probably never been ill.

As I move around Bristol I am struck again and again, that the new buildings put up in the last 10-15 years owe little to practicality and intended use, and much to being “impressive”.

These buildings are not intended to give us comfortable, reassuring, safe space. They are to impress and intimidate us.

Even new housing owes little to what makes people feel at home and secure. It is much more about fashion. This has been the case with housing since it became big business rather than personal endeavour.

Most inhabitants of modern western cultures do not believe they have the skills they need to build their own homes. They do not know history where the home you could build in one day on common land is yours.

I would imagine a great deal of time was spent before hand stockpiling materials, and gathering friends and family to help out on the day. And we can see how homes grew room by room as need arose (and materials became available), leading to some fantastically quirky houses.

Modern houses are not built to meet human needs, they are built to fit a stereotype. They are built with a “one size fits all” mentality. But none of us is a stereotype and most of us struggle to make our homes work in a way that makes us feel good about ourselves.

And when you step outside? Do you feel uplifted? I can pretty much guarantee that, if you live in an urban area like me, you don’t. With grey and beige as the predominant colours, even with the unusually high proportion of green space in Bristol, much is depressing and demoralising.

The temporary escape to the local park is a lifeline, but all around is grey and noisy and the wrong scale. Cities are not human scale, people need open space to catch their thoughts and breath.

Further reading:

Small Is Beautiful – E F Schumacher

Human Scale – Kirkpatrick Sale

Permaculture Magazine (http://www.permaculture.co.uk/)

Transition Network (https://www.transitionnetwork.org/)

Transition @ Trinity 14 March 2015

On Saturday my lovely Tim & I went to Transition @ Trinity in Bristol (UK). It was an informal and relaxed atmosphere, with cake (donated by participants) and drink available from the off.

We all sat in a circle as we were introduced to the itinerary for the day, the organisers, and presenters. I didn’t see any egos in evidence. Lead by Angela Raffle we took part in some exercises designed to break the ice, which they did. The first person who introduced himself to me was Rob Hopkins. I managed not to be too hopelessly tongue tied.

We met a number of people, chatted for a few minutes and then were encouraged to talk to someone else. Everyone seemed very pleasant and supportive. Some had a really good idea of what Transition is about, others were new to the ideas and processes like us.

We split into two groups, one group who were already involved in Transition got together to undertake a “health check” with Sophy Banks. The rest of us had an introductory session with Sarah McAdam and Ciaran Mundy. It was both informative and enjoyable. It was well designed, with the idea of encouraging people to participate as much as possible.

When that ended, we were about to be briefed about networking during lunch (which sounded fabulous). Unfortunately both Tim and I were feeling a little under the weather by then. Tim’s back was complaining about him sitting still for such a long time, and we were both very tired, so we called it quits.

I have to say that the experience reinforced the value of Transition for me and everyone else. I’m looking forward to getting involved once Tim and I have slightly fewer pressures in our lives. We found it uplifting and encouraging. If you have the chance to go to anything like this event I suggest that you grab the opportunity. I doubt that you will regret it.

Tradition

Tradition is a good place to start. There is a reason why something has been done by more than one generation, it works, at least a little bit, for some of the people. Is that a good enough reason to keep doing whatever it is? Well, no. Definitely not. Every tradition has it’s day, and then it should be evaluated to see if it really is a good way of doing (or thing to be done)

Many cultures through history have had slavery. I can see no moral, or practical, justification for slavery. I don’t think slavery ever was, and never should be, justified. That it’s not good for the slaves, should be able to go without saying. But neither is it good for the slavers or slave owners. When you brutalise or dehumanise another human being, you also brutalise and dehumanise yourself.

We are all connected, what you do to others you also do to yourself. People who are judgemental, judge themselves first. The sad thing is they are always far harder on themselves than they are on anyone else, and anyone else is on them. People who treat other people as if they aren’t real, do so because they are afraid they aren’t real.

You cannot treat another human being badly without it having a harmful effect on you. And to close your eyes to people being hurt around you is nearly as bad, sometimes worse. When we take responsibility for our own actions, it does not mean that we can them close our eyes to what is going on around us.

It means we have to respect other people’s right to make their own mistakes and find their own answers, but we still have a responsibility to try to get other people to understand what we believe. So that they have that information to evaluate too.

Tradition sometimes lasts because it is a good way of doing things, sometimes it lasts because no one realises it isn’t a good way of doing things, sometimes it lasts because people are afraid of change. Why are people afraid of change? They are afraid because they haven’t practised stepping out side of their comfort zone and have not discovered the rewards of trying out their “stretch zone”.

In permaculture there is frequent reference to the value of edges, the edge of your comfort zone is a great place to be. It’s often both frightening and exhilarating, to dip ones toes into new water, to try out a different behaviour, can be quite wonderful. It can also be quite awful, but even that teaches us something new and good about ourselves.

Personally, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of tradition. I don’t like lazy ways of making decisions about people’s lives, our how our society should be run. There is often insufficient flexibility to cater for everyone’s personality or needs.

All women are not the same, neither are all men. Why should they be lumped into one category? That’s lazy stereotyping, it also means that some people never get to find their particular aptitude, because they are told (at a very young age) that they “can’t” do that because they belong to the “wrong” group for that particular activity.

What is particularly worrying at the moment is the disconnect between what is happening in British society (and other societies too) and what the media is claiming is happening. So many people still cannot believe that the mainstream media would lie to them because “someone would stop them if they told lies”. Why they believe this, is a mystery to me.

Our culture has changed rapidly and in an unhealthy direction in the last few decades. We have moved away from the traditional lifestyles that were rooted in a certain common sense, to a society that has little real security or resilience. This Britain could not survive the depredations that were visited upon it during the second world war. This Britain will be lucky if it survives the next ten years.

We need to revisit some of the traditions that our parents and grand parents knew, and see if they might not be more healthy for us to re-embrace now.

Happy And Healthy

So, I’m thinking the question is “what does a human being really need in order to have a happy and healthy life?”.

I’m guessing most people would include different things. But let’s start with the real basics like access to enough food to maintain health, and preferably a shelter that would protect from the worst vagaries of the local weather.

The question is what else do we actually need? I think we need people around us, to love, support and challenge us. I think we also need activities to give us a sense of purpose and usefulness. We need self respect and a small dollop of self reliance. We also need beauty, maybe human made, maybe nature.

For me, that covers pretty much everything. The interesting bit is how we go about meeting those needs. At the moment, in most industrialised societies, not all of those needs are being met. People are increasingly isolated, they interact with others via computers, missing out on the joys and challenges of face to face interaction. And like many skills, the less you do it, the less confidence you have in your ability to do it, so the more you avoid it.

People are a challenge, and a delight. A hug from a good friend is more health giving than a bushel of veggies or fruit (fresh veggies and fruit are very good for you). But, in Britain, my generation are pretty much the first generation that have not grown any fruit or vegetables as a matter of course, to supplement that which we buy. We have already lost many of the skills that previous generations took for granted.

The health giving virtues of growing your own, are not just contained in the goodness of the food, they also stem from the confidence, self respect and self reliance that comes from having done it yourself.

Having the skills and ability to build your own shelter, is another great confidence boost. I’m not suggesting that any one person should have all of every skill, this is why we need communities. We all have strengths in different areas, we need a community of people we can rely on, who can rely on us. So that between us we have most possibilities covered.

No one skill is more important than another, they all have their place… we need thinkers and planners and doers and makers: cooks; washers; diggers; builders; carvers; knitters; needle workers; gardeners; dreamers; story tellers; weavers; negotiators; the list is very long. Some people will have more than one skill, that still doesn’t make them more valuable. Hierarchy is a nasty, divisive way of thinking.

Mutual respect is much healthier. It needs to be part of the new story we are all trying to write for the future. We need a healthier, happier future. One with fewer unnecessary distractions and divisions in it. One where each one of us is valued as a whole human being.

Priorities…

I was talking with one of my friends the other day about priorities. We think that Western society has lost it’s way, at least partially because our governments prioritise economics (money) over people. This is a serious mistake for a whole load of reasons, the main one being that money is a tool. It gets used as both a weapon and a god, but only by people who don’t understand it.

Many people have no understanding of economics at all. They think it is incontrovertible, they don’t realise that it is every bit as theoretical as any form of philosophy. It is the philosophy of how financial systems work. It is a science in as far as any analysis of real world behaviour is a science. It is as flawed (if not more so) as any other science of human behaviour.

What economists predict is based on a hypothetical view of the world. Their view is built out of all sorts of assumptions to do with the importance of money and it’s supremacy in every decision making process.

This is not helpful in a world where people starve through no fault of their own and even though there is plenty of food. This is what Looby Macnamara would call scarcity thinking. But we live in an abundant world, which could be even more abundant if people didn’t feel so embattled. If people felt safe and secure they would not need to stock pile so much in the way of material possessions.

We need a serious paradigm shift away from scarcity thinking and economics, to the various approaches that Looby talks so coherently about: Abundance thinking; Solutions thinking; Systems thinking; Thinking like nature; Co-operative thinking; and Thinking for the future.

When we think differently we act differently, some times it works the other way around, but mostly it works best if we change our way of thinking first. The big thing that most people struggle to grasp is that we are part of nature.

We cannot be separated from it in a healthy way any more than any part of our bodies can be separated from us and still survive. Nature, the world, is the big healthy system, we are the malfunctioning kidneys, the dodgy knee, that dreadful headache. Not vice versa.

Yes, I meant that. The world would be fine without us. We would not be fine without the world. We don’t need to save the world. The world will save itself, maybe by getting rid of those pesky humans. If we want a world that continues to nurture and feed humans then we need to look at things a different way, we need to see that we are the guests and a little respect and gratitude would go a long, long way.

Further Reading:

Looby Macnamara – 7 Ways To Think Differently

available from http://www.spiralsofabundance.com/index.php?id_product=469&controller=product

Vive La Revolution Permaculture – Part 2

So how do we embrace permaculture when we have no knowledge of it? When you look at websites about it they talk about the need for design and the importance of planning, and this is intimidating. Especially for me. I was brought up to do things right… first time.

This has been an ongoing battle throughout my life, to forgive myself for not getting things right first time. To not beat myself up for not being perfect. And when you scratch the surface of permaculture theory you find that the teachers haven’t got things right first time, that they aren’t perfect and it’s OK.

The reason there is the stress on planning etc. is because if you are going to go the whole hog and recycle all waste (including human waste); build ponds or swales (to keep as much water on your property for as long as possible); even building raised beds, in fact any kind of major landscaping project needs to be planned, because it’s not a job that you’re going to want to do twice, and it’s going to be difficult or sometimes impossible to change later.

For most of us who are thinking of dipping our toes into permaculture, planning need not be quite so important. If you’re thinking of planting a tree then there should be some forethought, but a way around that would be to keep it in a pot until you are certain where you want it. The same for other smaller plants, you can keep them in pots and move those pots around the garden until you’re reasonably happy.

Don’t forget though, the soil in your pot isn’t necessarily going to be the same as the soil that you plant into. Also, bear in mind that pots may need watering, especially terracotta which dries out much faster than anything else.

You might find it useful to look at companion planting. There is good evidence that some plants do much better when planted together. But the advice is generally, try it out, see what works, repeat that which is good, avoid that which fails, but be aware of other factors that might influence outcomes.

Good luck with your food growing. 🙂

Against the 1%

So you think your government is corrupt. You think the 1% have bought all the politicians. If that’s the case what are you going to do? You could be one of what the unkind call the sheeple, one of the people who follow either because they are happy to or because they can’t think how not to. Or you could step away from the path others expect you to follow.

If you’re going to choose your own path, you then have to decide whether you’re going to completely go it alone or if you’re going to team up with other people who you think might see things the same way as you do.

Going it alone, completely alone, is a trendy and sexy decision. The maverick or outsider has long been a romantic figure. The one person who is brave enough to say what others dare not even think. They are the heroes of many, many movies. However, how many people in the real world who have taken that stance can you think of who actually have made a difference?

They certainly do exist, Florence Nightingale, Mohandas Gandhi, Rosa Luxemburg, Martin Luther King, Anne Frank, Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai. Some wonderful examples of what a truly human being can do. But how many in each generation have that greatness in them? And would you really set yourself up as being an equal to any of them?

Then there is the problem of aligning yourself with any group (it’s always been a big problem for me anyway). Groups often seem really good to start with, then the group dynamic becomes more and more apparent, you get to know who’s going to say what and which people will actually do what they say they will… I’m sure you’ve all been there.

It can really put you off the idea of aligning yourself with any group. However, the advantages of being in a group are phenomenal. Having other people around with ideas and their own motivation can be brilliantly supportive. But it really does have to be the right group for you. And that’s where the Transition Network wins hands down.

They are aware that not every group is going to work out and they offer courses on how to deal with some predictable situations. They are also not afraid of the idea that, so far, we don’t have the tools for dealing with some dynamics. They don’t try and shoe horn everyone into a “one size fits all” system. It’s up to you and the people you are working with to work out what your priorities are, what structures and “rules” you need in place…

It’s a very grown up approach, expecting everyone to make their own contribution and to take responsibility for themselves. And Transition isn’t just about talk, actually talk is just the glue, it’s about action… local, small scale, practical action that a small group can undertake to give them a better chance of surviving in this world that is falling further and further into insanity.

They are trying to increase what they call resilience, that is the ability to flexibly respond to the challenges that are likely to be confronting us in the not so distant future. They really are trying to create alternatives to current structures within society. Different approaches to current problems, diversity is strength. Diverse approaches, that none the less are allied to each other is huge strength. This is permaculture written into societal forms.

If you really want a Resource Based Economy (RBE) this is where you will find it, if not already in action, then well along the road of planning for implementation. If you really want caring, supportive communities, here they are. If you want that rosy future, this is how we’ll get it. This is an international movement that is quietly subverting mainstream society and politics. If the establishment realise how much of a threat they are we can expect reprisals as soon as they work out how to enact them.

And to protect this wonderful, precious shoot of new growth we need to galvanise ourselves into action. We need to make sure that the establishment doesn’t workout how to stop this movement away from material values to real moral values (I’m not talking about conventional religion here, though I’m sure space will be made for it if it’s important to you).

You see what I’m talking about is we need to vote, we need to vote against the mainstream parties. If you don’t vote you are effectively giving your vote to the establishment, because what is not against them, is for them. Think about it. Those who do support the establishment will be voting. If you don’t vote against them then not only have you not used your vote, but you may have invalidated the votes of others who are anti-establishment.

I am not advocating supporting the LibDems, nor Labour, and you don’t want me to start on how I feel about the CONservatives (or their smaller, nastier shadow, UKIP). I am talking about the real alternative parties that the mainstream media (owned by the Conservatives) ignores. I’ve mentioned them before, no doubt I’ll mention them again… the Green Party, SNP, Plaid Cymru, Mebyon Kernow, Monster Raving Loony, The People’s Assembly, actually any of the small parties who can’t afford to cover the whole country, or even an independent candidate if they seem trustworthy.

I’m not suggesting this will be easy, I am very aware of the level of corruption and misinformation that is going round. But if we don’t vote we are handing parliament back to the establishment on a platter. I, for one, won’t do that.

And while you’re waiting for the election why not check out The Transition Network http://www.transitionnetwork.org/ and see what you think about them.