The Earth Blog is a collection of personal thoughts, ideas and solutions in search of a future for this planet.
It only contains original work. These essays provide many of the tools needed to allow people to make a better world for the future - a world worth living in. Please take some time to read them.
We only have one world - let's treat it well.
Keith Farnish, Earth.
All work on The Earth Blog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.
* * *This burden is devastating, at least if you care about the future of humanity and the wider environment. How can anyone deal with that kind of blame? You have to, because it’s not going to go away for a very long time yet. Hiding away and trying to pretend you are isolated from all this mess is denying your participation in civilization: you type one character on the keyboard, watch one second of television, buy one apple from a supermarket, travel one metre in a car, send your child to school for just one day...you are taking part in a system that thrives on destruction.
* * *There’s absolutely no point trying to divvy up the responsibility between every civilized person. For one thing, where would you start in working out how much someone is to blame for all the mess? For another, and this is key, do you really think most people give a shit what happens to the global ecology? Of course not – you are among just a few people who care enough such that you feel that burden. One view could be that, given most people don’t give a shit, then why should we give a shit about their portion of the burden?
This is an experiment. I am going to write this essay straight-off, with no edits except for obvious spelling and grammatical errors. In a sense, writing like this is itself a form of self-liberation. Prior to written communication human beings communicated at a far more immediate level with little opportunity for correction at a later point in time. By writing in this form we have to be more self aware because there is no going back.
There is a phrase in the technological age which goes something like: “Once it’s online, it’s there forever.” Clearly this is nonsense. In a relatively short period of time the archives of Twitter, Facebook and even Google will be consigned to a heap of electromagnetic garbage with no means of resurrecting even one single Tweet. But while technology and, more specifically, the Internet, exists then we are held in a bizarre form of limbo by which we are encouraged to commit our thoughts and ideas as though we were free to do so while simultaneously we regret, and are made to regret, anything we put into such media. In short, we have forgotten how to conscientiously express ourselves.
A significant reason for this is due to speed. In a society where the ego is massaged through a simple measure of bandwidth vs version number, it is the fastest and shiniest that defines our worth. Pause in a conversation – as I dared to do in an interview a couple of years ago – and this is criticised as “dead air” or even stupidity. Surely I must respond IMMEDIATELY with whatever is floating at the top of my thought bubble in a non-clinical version of Tourettes, the flip-side of which consists of being criticised for saying whatever you did say because you didn’t think carefully enough about what you said! No wonder people feel misunderstood. One bad Tweet and you are toast. One pause too many and you are yesterday’s jam.
So, we have a tactic for self-liberation already: think. And don’t be afraid of being seen to be thinking. “Can I just think about this?” is not mental incapacity, it is natural. It is liberating because by doing so we run firmly against the technological grain of speed plus bandwidth plus change plus growth. Think about something and you might have time enough to realise things are not quite right. Think about something and you might also make the other party see that you value what they have said or written.
There is another phrase, which fewer people are aware of, but which actually defines the entire language of civilized discourse. “Framing the argument” is not about taking time to set out what you really want to say; the frames are not built by the individual but by the system that has the resources to build monolithic ideas from which its subjects must not deviate. A question on the radio might be: “What do you think this drop in profits means for the company?” The frame of this question is actually: “I am not going to acknowledge any disagreement with the capital economic model nor that the economic success of a company is anything but a good thing, so with that said, to what level do you think that a drop in profits is a bad thing or are you going to shut up?”
The Luddites of the newly industrialised Britain knew what they were doing when they broke the weaving frames of their hated satanic mills. Breaking the metaphorical framework of our linguistic structure, for language is the core of a culture, is truly a form of liberation. As we question the framing of any statement made on behalf of the system we peel the carapace from it leaving its soft innards exposed – so THAT’S what they really mean, and why they say it!
Going back to speed (he says as he removes the accursed timepiece from his arm, not realising it was there) it is worth considering the nature of domesticity and the part technology has played in its history. There is no doubt that the removal of open fires from homes has massively reduced the presence of particulates coating every surface, but that doesn’t mean that vacuum cleaners have by the same principle removed the drudgery from domestic life. Hard floors can be swept with brooms; carpets cannot. The introduction of the vacuum cleaner made carpets a desirable item for every civilized person – you couldn’t hang them out to beat them so you had to have a vacuum cleaner (or at least a carpet sweeper), and because vacuum cleaners were available then people filled their homes with carpets. And animal hair. And dust mites. It’s hardly worth me mentioning the dishwasher, but it is such a classic example of the myth of domestic “liberation” that you really have to marvel over the power of the culture that makes us believe rinsing, then loading, then waiting (with thumping noises) an hour, then unloading and usually hand-drying, and then putting away far more items of crockery and cutlery than we would have ever used had we hand-washed, is actually saving us any time at all.
Simplify your life. With each fewer item of so-called domestic automation you return to a far more self-determined level of work. No washing machine may equal less white whites and a lot of heavy scrubbing, but think of the number of times you wash clothes compared to how much you need to wash them, and as for the size of the wardrobe…It’s not any easy thing, but it is SO liberating in a way Hoover and GM never imagined we could be thinking.
And what of the timepiece lying on the desk beside me? There was a part of my life that took such things so very seriously until not so long ago. I genuinely hate being late for people and until the whole of a community is able to embrace their natural biorhythms and use natural light as a timekeeper I will have to glance at the clock to know when I am due to be somewhere, but not having a watch on my arm is a wonderful thing (I don’t mean having a phone in my pocket as a replacement either). The symbolic shedding of a cultural binding is one thing. Not being bound to a timetable that is almost totally set by the world of industrial work is another, albeit tougher, thing to overcome. Start with weekends, then evenings, then the whole damn time. You will learn to time yourself remarkably quickly, but the next time someone wants to make an appointment don’t synchronise watches or phones or iPads; synchronise your internal clocks.
These are all just small steps towards personal liberation, but for good reason they are also all achievable. You do something, you tell someone about it, they do it. They may not be on the same page as you but they experience the liberation all the same. Then they share those experiences with others. That’s how communities start.
And while you’re here, you might want to read a few other tales of liberation: try “Finding My Limit” and “What If…We Stopped Using Money?” also on The Earth Blog. If you like those then it’s time you were undermining.
Keith Farnish is the author of “Underminers: A Practical Guide for Radical Change” at www.underminers.org/
It’s been five months since I last wrote for The Earth Blog; to be honest I’ve been doing better things, like working within my community, enjoying my family as they grow up, keeping the house and garden ticking over in the frigid winter months and welcoming the perfections of spring days with a wonder that only comes from connection with the place I now call “home”. I’ve also been writing a second book, but that’s a different story, and one that I won’t dwell on for now.
Five months and a new essay, but one that shares striking similarities with the opening of the last one – for this is also about making the most of what is within your reach, nurturing it and understanding it. I recall that ride over the hill into the teeth of the Autumn wind every time I make the same journey. The plum trees have just finished blossoming and I have found some fruiting cherries along with enough firewood to carry us through next winter on similar journeys – that and a procession of car-encapsulated people who must travel as fast as they can, as far as they feel merely to fulfil what they see as necessity. I have yet to ride to Kelso, another 4 miles or so further than my Melrose jaunt: there are busier roads and there isn’t much more to find and, yes, we drive. Sometimes, as last week, it is essential from my point of view (to collect that wood which now sits at the side of the house waiting to be sawn up); sometimes it is useful, and sometimes it is just for the pleasure of being somewhere else – usually when we are with someone else who wants to see what there is around us.
But there are limits. Often we make subconscious decisions that negate the need to vocalise our thoughts. “That’s too far” or “We don’t need to do that” take precedence over “That would be nice to do” more often than not. That doesn’t make us perfect by any means, and to be honest the pursuit of perfection is bound to end in failure – humans have randomness built in, and our foibles are often what distinguish character from bland compliance. I don’t want to be perfect; I just want to be honest. With that in mind, here’s a question we all need to answer:
Where is the nearest place to you that you like to be?
Yesterday I was reading through some writing, lying in the front room, sun falling on my face, birdsong floating through the open window. That was lovely. Today I was popping a couple of small loaves of bread round to a friend (I am experimenting with open loaves and have to make them small to fit the rising mounds of heated dough into the oven), and took the back way past sheaves of wild garlic, up the side alley where the ground never dries, and back to the main road where a cup of coffee always greets me in the house with the blue door. That is pretty special, and I can have tea if I want. Simple things, and so close; and you might have something like them. But for many people such idylls are harder to find, not necessarily because they are far away but because they seem unattainable. Are they, though?
One of my favourite spots as a child was a tree in the middle of a broken up Tarmac parking area where my sister and I used to play imagination games, and hunt for slow-worms among the grass edges. It was a crappy spot that appeared like so many other bits of “wasteland” to hold no pleasures, but we thought it was special and would head for it in preference to the municipal park that would take 10 minutes to reach rather than a sharp sprint to the end of the road. The park was fine if we asked first and stayed together. The tree on the Tarmac was within the limit our parents defined as “just round the corner” so we could visit it whenever we wished. Its closeness was part of its appeal: in a way that tree was ours.
In summer holidays thousands of students from Britain go over to India, Thailand and Vietnam to experience something they then place on their Facebook and Flickr pages in the form of albums of joy – or perhaps gloating. I sometimes come across these, or others from American students in Machu Picchu; Australian students in London; X students in Y faraway place...all taking similar experiences and memories from somewhere the appeal of which seems to lie in its distance more than anything else. The oddest thing of all about these forays to faraway places is the lack of connection they generate. For some it may be a moment of mental realignment, but for most they experience only what their own cultural window can comprehend. They are observers in a place alien to them (though, sadly, becoming less alien with each new hotel, shopping mall and advert for Bud Light) – distance has brought them to what is essentially a very large television screen with fantastic surround sound.
That’s not to say that experiencing other cultures is wrong – it can make us see where our culture is going so wildly off-kilter as to have become the globally destructive force it is – but they are not our cultures, and so we can only make of them that which is within our experiential boundaries. We have to find our own special places, not borrow (and often steal) those which belong to someone else.
Which brings me back to the places we can go to now. Walk out of the door and keep walking until you find somewhere that belongs to you; places you feel a connection to. They don’t need to be green, flowing, sun-kissed or rain-washed. Do you know your neighbours? Could you knock on their doors and be welcomed in for a drink and a chat? Where is the nearest place you can join with people who are special to you – a local pub or a cafe maybe, or a community centre, bench, piece of pavement?
Such inconsequential places, and such seemingly trivial reasons to go there. Just a few words, a bite to eat, a passing smile, a friendship reignited, a love on fire. We ignore these local places because the civilized world insists that our boundaries are distant, we can achieve anything, we have no limits. The Diaspora of our mechanised, electrical, money-soaked commercial excesses has, indeed, reached round so far it hits itself on the back, and screeches past to take another lap of the little blue-green dot we live on. In universal terms Earth is a dot. In human terms it is all we can ever intimately know as a species, and as I look out of my window I can see – what? – a few hundred metres; a couple of miles if I get up high.
Why go further when what really make our days go round are those apparently inconsequential dealings with the things that are so close to us? Yet we choose to ignore them because there is a bigger world out there. I refuse to accept that and choose the places I can walk to, run through and, if I really want to open my mind up, cycle there and back. That is my limit; all I can really know, and love, and nurture.
One day we will be forced to accept that the limitless world we thought there was is closing in once more. Back to where we started, like the frog who refused to accept there was anything beyond the woods, not because the frog was stupid, but because the frog had all it needed right there in the little piece of world it knew.