Friday, November 12, 2010

Turning back the clock, or why choosing to become landed peasants is a political statement

It has often seemed to me that in modern society we have replaced one external locus of control in religion, for another in corporate capitalism. The mechanisms are different, but many of the results are similar, that we as a people submit to the idea that someone 'out there' has the right and power to influence our existence, often more than we do ourselves. I began wondering if there are ways we really could move towards independence and true self determination while fulfilling our need for community. I thought about the ways that this external locus of control has made me uncomfortable in the past and what I was motivated to do about it.

An example I thought of was something that doesn't seem very political at all - a glass of water. It started off as conservation, I didn't want to be responsible for water shortages, or the need for another super dam and all of it's environmental ramifications. But it became more than that. I'd been doing some reading on flouride, and chlorine, and realised that no matter what my conclusions were on their relative safety, I couldn't do anything about it anyway. I didn't like the ownership a corporation had over the water falling from the sky, and who could have it, and for how much. I even heard that some water corporations were examining ways they could charge people for collecting water from their own roofs if they were in their designated catchment. However I felt about it, I was powerless, one small voice in a highly centralised system. And this was with regards to something that was central to me, in fact making up over 70% of my body. The payoff was of course, I did not have to take responsibility for the quantity or quality of that water. In this case I could, with a great deal of expense and fighting with said corporation, take that responsibility on myself, which I did. But what if we reach a point where we can't?

“It seems to me a very good thing, in theory as well as practice, that there should be a body of citizens primarily concerned in producing and consuming … that there should be in the community a sort of core not only of simplicity but of completeness… But there would be somewhere in the centre of civilization a type that was truly independent; in the sense of producing and consuming within its own social circle. I do not say that such a complete human life stands for a complete humanity. But I do say that this man who supplies his own needs is very much needed. I say it largely because of his absence from modern civilization, that modern civilization has lost unity.” – G. K. Chesterton, The Outline of Sanity, 1926

Then I made the connection that a particular arm of the environmental movement, often called 'urban homesteading' is as much a political statement, as it is a practical, green lifestyle choice. I like planting a carrot because of all the externalised, corporately infrastructure I'm NOT using to do so. Consistent, universal supply is great (if one allows the remain hidden the true cost of such a system), but let's not allow the point where such things become our only option slip by unnoticed. A carrot. Whoda thought.

“We therefore consider whether it is yet conceivable to restore that long-forgotten thing called Self-Government: that is, the power of the citizen in some degree to direct his own life and construct his own environment; to eat what he likes, to wear what he chooses, and to have (what the Trust must of necessity deny him) a range of choice.”