The rat race sucks.
What if it sucks and grinds so many people because the dynamic has faults? It leans on perpetual growth. I got into a 30 year mortgage not based on my zeal to spend 11,000 days working towards home ownership. It was because we talked ourselves into believing that circumstances would improve. I would be able to shortcut that 11,000 days journey to 8,000 or 6,000 days through income improvements and my financial growth. With my next 25 year mortgage, I will be paying it down until I am 73 years old. $2000/month now will be harsh, but the inflation driven by perpetual growth will mean that $2000/month in housing costs in the year 2041 will seem like a good deal. That’s the upside of perpetual growth. Go to Vancouver and sink your fate into a million dollar home and you’re on board for 25 years of paying $5500/month.
What if property prices correct downwards so that housing matches the other cost-of-living factors? People could be left holding a million dollar mortgage and $500k property.
Perpetual growth is impossible and what if that impossibility comes home to roost? Why would it happen now or in a couple years? Russian Roulette. If this some big seismic correction is coming, it wouldn’t be the result of 10 bad years. It would be the result of the last 75 years ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Z5py1098RA / https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBGhbLv8lnI ). Seventy-five years since the Bretton-Woods agreements made the economic world what it is today. The Americans fixed the global standards to the US dollar. If the US dollar climbs or falls, all of the our fates roller coaster with it. They are the world’s superpower. Twenty-five years ago, they had competition from the Soviet Union. That super-power fell. That demonstrated to me that a superpower can evaporate. Powerful nations and empires rise and fall. What’s different now is that our economic world is linked to the American superpower and superpowers can and do fall apart.
If our fates are tied to a model linked to impossible perpetual growth and a receding superpower, what happens next? We’re going down. Do we need to? Not at all.
We depend on oil, debt and growth. Those are three elements that don’t exhibit themselves in nature. Oil is great way to bank energy for use when we need it as opposed to when it’s generated. Debt allows us to buy things we cannot afford now and make incremental payments later. Perpetual growth happens in humans and in diseases. Growth happens until the host dies.
What if we transition away from this model? What if we look for ways to use energy when we generate it? What if we live within our means? What if we acknowledge and live with the idea that our day-to-day lives should emulate seasons and lifecycles?
How is that done? There are lots of example of how to living in-tune with nature and ease. I came up with the following in under five minutes:
- Do things in daylight that require light.
- Dry your clothes in sunlight on a clothesline.
- Use wind to cool off your house. Open the windows!
- Put more temperature tolerant items in a cooler on the back deck when it’s cold outside. Why do you need to thaw your Christmas turkey in the fridge?
- Save up to buy something as opposed to getting in debt to get it now.
- Buy berries in season.
- Plant veggies as a hobby.
What would ideal living look like? How could we have our cake and eat it too? Can we keep the precious and important things in our lives? I think: yes. This is a matter of reconciling two things: our priorities and our capacity.
I have been struggling with retooling my life in the last few years. Ten years ago, “vacation” was synonymous with “shopping.” I would go to Vancouver, Calgary or Bellingham to shop shop shop. On one trip, we could barely close the van door. That appetite was emulated by my own build: I was a big fat consumer. A perpetual appetite comes with buying into the illusion of perpetual growth. The collection of toys, novelties and crap made me happy. I am not going to treasure things as much as I can treasure memories.
Perpetual growth and debt is a toxic combo. The need to satisfy debt takes more and more work. It hinges on more and more prosperity to survive. It’s an addiction. I want to be free of that addiction. Finding ways to be free of that debt-work combo is one way to come to a point of reconciliation.
Our brains have been rigged for surviving as a tribe. A family is too small to be viable in the long term. A city is too big and too prone to anonymity. The right size we can psychologically integrate is that of a tribe: either 50 people we see all the time or 500 people we can identify and know of (the Facebook dynamic of what a tribe is). This bigger number is too big to really get our heads around, but we’re already cyborgs: we can lean on technology to keep that bigger number and harder to manage mental feats. If technology stays in our lives, we can use it as a tool to keep ourselves happy and fulfilled. Find a tribe. Find a model that may be the fusion of a tangible tribe. Gain membership in several virtual tribes that don’t expect a lot and may not provide a lot of tangible benefit but still satisfy something.
Swap away from the oil standard. The participation in debt will provide a lot of worry and not much satisfaction. Worse still: the less efficient our oil-driven debt lifestyle the better it works internally: the more people in can involve: retail, bankers, employers, shippers and shipping. If we take players out of the mix through efficiency, the model starts to breakdown. DVDs can be shipped, but Netflix is more efficient. When you go for the better model, it lead to the closure of Blockbuster and many similar retailers. When the music industry was faced with the same shift, it dug in its heels and sued music downloaders. This is why I take a moment to crow about our need to swap over to the kilowatt standard and reward efficiency and automation. Make each kilowatt accomplish more work.
Involve and infect people. Look for ways to involve people in this shift. When I was growing herbs and vegetables, I felt really successful. I didn’t provide the sunlight or the nutrients in the depths of the soil, but I participated in the process and it gave me in deep satisfaction that a high score on a video game will never provide. This long form commitment to making this happen is what we really want. We want to plant the seeds and serve the vegetables-- and we get something out of all of the steps in between. We want to be hugged today and know that a hug is there next month, next year and the next decade. We want to be able to treasure what we accomplish and then we can accept that lives are seasonal. Our world spins. It’s seasonal. Plants are seasonal, life has a cycle. People leave, people die and we can take a moment to play a role in life.
It would be fantastic to build a space where we can infect people with an appreciation of how life can play out. A place where we can learn how to live different. This doesn’t have to be about just digging in the dirt. We’re more than farmers. We can find ways to enrich our lives.
What would a space like this look like?
Living space. We would open up space to our tribe: young, old, people with skills, people who need to learn. It would have space for those who call it home. It would be home to people who work the land and perpetuate the space. It would be home to visitors and those who want to learn; or share what they know. It could be even a place for people to relax and recharge.
Capacity. We have gotten so good at efficient living that we can make buildings with negative environmental footprints. They can provide more energy than they use. They can offset more CO2 than they generate. Smart combinations of insulation, wind power generation, solar power generation, heat pumps and integrated growing space can turn buildings into environmental wins.
Learning space. The key part to infecting people with a new lifestyle is to have space to teach others how to live differently and live well. This space would have a way to hold workshops, hands-on learning experiences and let them live there while they gain skills. Beyond training, the learning space could host micro-conferences to let people come together to evolve these ideas-- nurture them; and make them more evocative and pernicious.
How could this happen?
We’re still living in the present economic, bureaucratic and zoning models. It would be great if one could plunk a big cluster of buildings on a farm, but the agricultural land reserve (ALR) would make this almost impossible. It could be built as a resort or a multiple family dwelling. The former (resort) would not bar family living necessarily, so it makes sense as an approach.
As a resort, it could be built to have a variety of housing options: single occupant, family dwelling, and transient space (space for guests who came to learn or just recharge). It could even be set up like a hotel with conjoining room that could be changed with the tenancy.
As property, there are a number of ways the space could be let out to users. Rather than say one model is the only way, many of these buy-in models could be available.
- Outright purchase. Buy space like it’s a condo, or space in a co-op. As with a condo, there would be monthly service fees (like strata fees).
- 99-year lease. You don’t own it, you just have 99-years on the space to kept or transferred to others.
- Rentals. Rent month to month.
- Stay. Rent daily or weekly in keeping with a visit to the location.
- Sweat equity. Some of the spaces could be let out to those who work on the grounds or teach in our workshop space. They get their space in exchange for work.
In the near term, this would look like a resort and an investment opportunity. Under the hood, it would be a community bent on getting as close to self-sufficiency as possible.
- Power generation from nearby sources: solar, wind and micro-hydro. Ideally, to the point where the community can be a net exporter.
- Food production: use the green space to grow as many items destined for the table. This could be a venue for a learning experience, as visitors and residents learn how to grow their own food.
- Smart alternatives can be put into place to diminish the community’s footprint: better insulation on the buildings; collection of rainwater to offset the draw on the region’s water supply; low energy appliances in use in the homes; workspace for the residents so that they don’t need to commute to their workplaces.
This would require finding space with arable land: big enough to house a small community of 30 to 50 people plus space for guests and workshops. It could be bootstrapped by potential residents, but there is something bigger in play: this is about building the prototype of a new model. By making a small, abundant and self sufficient community, this is something that can sustain itself. It’s a model that can be tweaked, perfected and replicated. Instead of looking at the world as seven billion people in need maybe they are 140 million communities with their own unique flavour and capacity for self-preservation. Dismantling the sense of belonging that we need makes us more portable. Pinching off that need for community ignites a need we satisfy through consumption. It also allows us to look to our nation for connection. It doesn’t work and we’re all sick because of it. We did this to the First Nations people over the last 100 years: we pulled the kids out from the culture and raised them to be good white kids. We’re doing it to ourselves too: the more we are tied to pop culture, the better our current world works. But working well in a faulty system isn’t a win. Instead of being better consumers, we need to have a more enriched life. I propose this model of community. I propose that this is a way to find serenity in how we live our lives.
Are there people out there who would want to be part of making something new? Something that could lead others to live in better conditions and escape the current rat race that our culture lives in. What do you think?
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_of_Discontent - Britain went through this is in the 1970s.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2ll1mzLulc - The movie, Collapse.
http://www.businessinsider.com/asian-russian-gulf-french-and-chinese-bankers-hold-secret-meetings-about-abandoning-the-dollar-2009-10 - Business Insider’s take on the 2009 talks to discontinue use of the US Dollar for oil purchases.
http://www.carmenspagnola.com/2015/07/tnp55-nicole-foss-on-how-to-build-a-lifeboat-2/ - What to do about the Econopocalypse
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