April 20, 2017

On Self-Sufficiency

I hold self-sufficiency as one of the highest aspirations that truly liberates us from dependence on money, market and other systems of exploitation. Most people in the environment/ organic food space would agree. But there are others like Aaron von Frank of Tyrant Farms who says one can never be self-sufficient.

His idea of self sufficiency is the proverbial man on island who must survive using only the material at his disposal. But that's total self-sufficiency, an extreme version of it, as stultifying as total dependence on others. To me, to become self-sufficient does not mean abandonment of everything produced by society, even tools, rejection of community, all organisation and social institutions.

There are degrees to which one can be self-sufficient just as the degrees to which one can be dependent on others. One can participate in community and yet can be self-sufficient to a high degree. On the other hand a complete reliance on community only breeds conformity and lack of critical thought. It's unhealthy for a community to produce only yes-men. How do you expect a member to be critical of community when the well-being of his family depends on it?

E F Schumacher, author of "Small is Beautiful" wrote about self-sufficiency in a forward to John Seymour's "Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency". In the one-page piece Schumacher succinctly provides the forgotten context around self-sufficiency and highlights why it is a fundamental requirement for the health and well being of human society. I find myself going back to it time and again. It is included below in full.

We can do things for ourselves or we can pay others to do them for us. These are the two "systems" that support us; we might call them the "self-reliance system" and the "organization system". The former tends to breed self-reliant men and women; the latter tends to produce organization men and women. All existing societies support themselves by a mixture of the two systems; but the proportions vary.

In the modern world, during the last hundred years or so, there has been an enormous and historically unique shift: away from self-reliance and towards organization. As a result people are becoming less self-reliant and more dependent than has ever been seen in history. They may claim to be more highly educated than any generation before them; but the fact remains that they cannot really do anything for themselves. They depend utterly on vastly complex organizations, on fantastic machinery, on larger and larger money incomes. What if there is a hold-up, a breakdown, a strike, or unemployment? Does the state provide all that is needed? In some cases, yes; in other cases, no. Many people fall through the meshes of the safety net; and what then? They suffer; they become dispirited, even despondent. Why can't they help themselves? Generally, the answer is only too obvious: they would not know how to; they have never done it before and would not even know where to begin.

John Seymour can tell us how to help ourselves, and in this book he does tell us. He is one of the great pioneers of self-sufficiency. Pioneers are not for imitation but for learning from. Should we all do what John Seymour has done and is doing? Of course not. Total self-sufficiency is as unbalanced and ultimately stultifying as total organization. The pioneers show us what can be done, and it is for every one of us to decide what should be done, that is to say, what we should do to restore some kind of balance to our existence.

Should I try to grow all the food my family and I require? If I tried to do so, I probably could do little else. And what about all the other things we need? Should I try to become a Jack of all trades? At most of these trades I would be pretty incompetent and horribly inefficient. But to grow or make some things by myself, for myself: what fun, what exhilaration, what liberation from any feelings of utter dependence on organizations! What is perhaps even more: what an education of the real person! To be in touch with actual processes of creation. The inborn creativity of people is no mean or accidental thing; neglect or disregard it, and it becomes an inner source of poison. It can destroy you and all your human relationships; on a mass scale, it can - nay, it inevitably will - destroy society.

Contrariwise, nothing can stop the flowering of a society that manages to give free rein to the creativity of its people - all its people. This cannot be ordered and organized from the top. We cannot look to government, but only to ourselves, to bring about such a state of affairs. Nor should anyone of us go on "waiting for Godot" because Godot never comes. It is interesting to think of all the "Godots" modern humanity is waiting for: this or that fantastic technical breakthrough; colossal new discoveries of oil and gasfields; automation so that nobody - or hardly anybody - will have to lift a finger any more; government policies to solve all problems once and for all: multinational companies to make massive investments in the latest and best technology; or simply "the next upturn of the economy".

John Seymour has never been found "waiting for Godot". It is the essence of self-reliance that you start now and don't wait for something to turn up.

The technology behind John Seymour's self-sufficiency is still quite rudimentary and can of course be improved. The greater the number of practitioners the faster will be the rate of improvement, that is, the creation of technologies designed to lead people to self-reliance, work-enjoyment, creativity, and therefore: the good life. This book is a major step along that road, and I wholeheartedly commend it to you,


April 18, 2017

What is Our Purpose? A Ten-year Old Answers

A simple conversation with my ten year old nephew indicates that the answer to the eternal question, "Why are we here?" is not so elusive after all.

In Ringing Cedars books children are considered next to Gods in their purity of thought. The elders treat children as adults in respect and never disturb them when they are engaged in thought. It is also said that the elders often use the children as a benchmark to check their own purity of thought.

A day or so before my nephew Kshitij turned ten he came for a sleepover and I decided to check his purity. I also wanted to test my own assumption that anyone could be made to understand our purpose on this planet with a simple guided conversation. I learnt about this method in a book by Tom Chalko.

Below is my recollection of the conversation as it happened over six months ago as we lay down on the bed ready to go to sleep.

Me: Kshitij, let's do an exercise. I'll ask you a series of questions and you tell me the answer of each. This is not a test though. There are no right or wrong answers. Just think about the question for a moment and then let me know what you think.

Kshitij: Okay.

Me: What do you think is easier of the two: to build a house or put life into a dead body?

Kshitij: (Begins to say "to put life into...", stops midway and corrects himself) To build a house?

Me: Okay. Do you think a house could build itself? That all the material needed comes together and ends up in a functional house with a kitchen, toilet, carpeting etc?

Kshitij: No.

Me: Okay. Do you know why? Maybe because a house has to be designed first? It has to be thought of and planned and it has to be built by someone, right?

Kshitij: Right.

Me: Okay. Okay, so if a house cannot build itself, do you think life can create itself? Remember, you said it's easier to build a house than to put life into a dead body.

Kshitij: No, I don't think life can create itself.

Me: Okay, so can we agree that if a house cannot build itself, there's little chance that life can create itself.

Kshitij: (Nods in agreement)

Me: If a house must be designed by someone, can we then also agree that life must have be designed by someone as well?

Kshitij: Hmm.

Me: Life is much more complex than a house. There are so many species that co-exist in harmony with each other and there are complex systems such as the seasons and the solar system. Everything has been designed in such great detail even at the level of a cell.

Can we agree that such a complex life must require a high degree of intelligence to design it?

Kshitij: Yes.

Me: Can we call this, the great intelligence? Or let's say, God?

Kshitij: Okay.

Me: Alright, let's talk about something else for a moment. Do you know anyone or have you ever seen anyone designing or creating something without reason?

Kshitij: No

Me: There's always a reason, right? Even if it is to pass time or destroy what's created right after creating it, no one creates something without a reason.

Kshitij: (Nods)

Me: So there must be a reason for creating such a complex life too, isn't it?

Kshitij: Yes.

Me: Why do you think the great intelligence or God designed life and created our world?

Kshitij: (thinks for a moment and delivers a thoughtful reply) For his entertainment?

Me: (delighted) "For his entertainment!" Exactly!

In other words, can we say, "for his pleasure"?

Kshitij: Yeah.

Me: Now tell me something. Which of these two acts do you think would please God, the great intelligence: those that improve his creations or those that destroy them?

Kshitij: Improve.

Me: You've answered all questions, Kshitij! Thank you.

Kshitij: Mamaji, can I go to sleep now?

Me: Yes, Kshitij. Have a goodnight.

April 17, 2017

Kimi Werner: Living in Nature

How one woman's bond with nature formed during childhood kept calling her in youth to return to it.

In this wonderful TEDx talk Kimi Werner, a free diver and fish hunter, uses her life's story to illustrate a key lesson she learnt - that of slowing down when everything tells you to speed up. Her talk deeply resonated with me but not just because of the stated lesson. What really shines through is how her childhood memories of living in nature shaped her experiences later in life.

Kimi Werner hosts a NatGeo series currently running in India called "Living Free with Kimi Werner". I haven't seen the show but am told in it she travels the world to live with "people who are not just surviving, but thriving in the wild".

UPDATE 18-Apr: A longer interview with Kimi was broadcast by PBS Hawaii.