I just thought I’d come along and say ‘Hi’ – just for a chat, I have nothing mind-blowing to communicate.
So – things I have been thinking about ~
Over the weekend I was reading articles in a recentish copy of Permaculture magazine. I’m interested – always and very – in Mark Boyle and his challenge to live without money (Permaculture ran a feature article), but I just can’t see how it works. It seems to me that he consistently fails to factor in that he is fit, strong, young and male.
The things he focuses on – walking not cars, foraging and scavenging, collecting rainwater and firewood, improvising shelters, showers and stoves, having ceilidhs and parties – I think these are the easy things. They are counter-culture and require a bit of nouse (familiar word to you? Yorkshire. Basically means common sense and initiative. Said ‘now-se’ not ‘noose’), but they are not the real challenges.
After everyone had gone to bed, Hebe and I sat by the fire chatting. Someone at the masonry had told her that in Greece and Spain they are in dire straits – not enough resources for hospitals to function and medical care to be given. Her friend said in another year we could expect the same here, if the economic trends continue. So we talked a long while about living without money and meeting adversity – what we thought we realistically could and could not do.
I think I could live well on very, very little, provided the infrastructure of society remained in place. I’d be entirely comfortable with having my gas, water and electricity supplies cut off – we send more electricity to the National Grid than we use anyway. I’m cool with the idea of foraging and scavenging, and we have a garden full of fruit trees and herbs, we grow veggies too. I have enough clothes to last me a lifetime, and I know how to make clothes from old sheets and things. I can sew and spin and cook. I’m a whizz at lighting fires, and I’m used to washing by hand. I can make pots and baskets, we can sing and dance and play instruments, I know how to look after newborns and people who are dying. I have hardly any possessions, and I own nothing that I care about losing. I’d be happy living in a tiny hut so I could put out my own housefire if I had one, so I wouldn’t need a Fire Brigade. I’m peaceable and solitary but also potentially dangerous and not very moral, so I think I could get by without the police and the prisons. I loathe school with a passion so I wouldn’t be sad if the schools closed. I can never get what I want at the library anyway. I’d be actively pleased if the supermarkets closed down and all the chain stores. I’ve grasped how to minimise the chances of getting heart disease and diabetes and cancer and all the other lifestyle illnesses, and how to have a go at making them better if they occur.
So life without money as described by Mark Boyle seems like a jolly good idea to me. I like going out for afternoon tea at Bettys and Fortnum and Mason and Waterfalls and what I call The Gandalf (it's called The Randolph really but this is the only way I can remember the name), I like going to the theatre and the cinema – but I wouldn’t be greatly bothered if such things vanished from my life either. I like my computer and the possibilities it brings me, the information, the ability to earn money, the chance to be inspired and learn from others – but if those possibilities got up and left me, well, I’d just be grateful that I had them for a while.
Provided I had a patch of garden, the means to acquire oats and dried beans and pearl barley, I think I’d have everything I needed to hand.
Those, to my mind, are not the difficult things. But there are some things I can’t see a way to fix without money.
Suppose, in ten or twenty years time, my uterus prolapses. How the heck am I meant to fix that without a hospital and a surgeon and an anaesthetist? And how can we train the surgeon who will do that operation without a university and a teaching hospital now? An operating theatre needs lights and instruments, sterilising facilities, anaesthesia, at the very least. How does that work without money?
How d’you get spectacles without money?
Social possibilities underwent a radical change in England when the bicycle was invented and became available to the ordinary person. Sure we could manage without cars, but how are we going to make bikes without money?
And if we all lived in a more primitive way – kept goats, chickens, maybe more horses for transport – wouldn’t we need a vet at some point? How do we train and equip vets without money?
I am not in favour of a society based on debt and usury, which is what we have now. Time and again the Bible warns against that, and the church has ignored those warnings. I see that debt (which is what all our money now is) requires a growth economy, which is inherently unsustainable and will inevitably crash. But I can’t see how we can sustain any kind of infrastructure without some form of currency. And without some sort of infrastructure, a great deal of serious misery and suffering is inevitable – death in childbirth of both mother and child, gangrene and tetanus, and the social evils that arise from small, insular social groupings (persecution of minorities, genetic disorders caused by inbreeding etc). It is not the idea of death that worries me really – my own or anyone else’s. Whatever else death does, in some instances it offers a radical solution! It’s being trapped in a living, suffering body that terrifies me – for myself or for anyone else. To have the responsibility of care for someone I love, without the means to bring remedy or relief. No meds. No emergency services. No diagnostician.
One might say, in a society without money people (doctor/vet/tradesman) would give their services for free, and in exchange the people would support them with eggs from their hens and apples from the garden. But that’s not the issue. How would we get the sick person to the doctor or the doctor to them? Where would we get replacement surgical instruments? How would we manufacture reliable anaesthetics? We can go back to medieval practice and learn a lot, but even in the Middle Ages, in Ancient Egypt, in the early Hindu civilisations, they relied on currency for the advance of knowledge and expertise.
I’ve thought about this a lot (can you tell?)
I now think the only thing I can do is live as simply and resourcefully and kindly as I can right now, then stop worrying: focus on today and trust in God. But even simplicity isn’t that simple. It’s quite complicated working out the next step and the next step and finding the discipline to put it all into practice.
Another thing I’ve been thinking about a lot, is relative and intrinsic worth in the context of personal success. One of the best books ever written, David Whiteland’s Book of Pages, was remaindered. By contrast, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is what you might call ‘quite good’. It’s okay, but not excellent. Yet it succeeded massively. It hit the bullseye of the zeitgeist, where David Whiteland was too sophisticated in his thinking and too far ahead of his time. If he tried again now with that book, and had a good enough publicist, it should be fêted all over the world. Book of Pages should have been a cult book, as big as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or The Lord of the Rings. It deserved to be. But the estimation of worth is often determined in our society by promotion – you need a platform. People don’t seem to know something is good until someone they see as a celebrity tells them it is – Oprah Winfrey is a great maker-up of minds. Nobody knew Eckhart Tolle was one of the wisest men in our generation until she pointed it out. Success is no measure at all of intrinsic worth. Why not? It ought to be.
Another thing I’ve been thinking about – oh no, wait . . . that’s probably enough, isn’t it?
Well, I’ll just tell you about a couple of things that made me laugh. I went to church. There’s almost always some zany thing that happens at church that keeps coming to mind later and making me laugh.
This time, there were two things. One was at the Eucharist (I hope you aren’t going to be shocked by this or think I’m irreverent). The minister, a creative soul, was not satisfied with the words ‘the body of Christ’ in placing the bread into our hands. However this minister was also afflicted with a certain sibilance in pronunciation, so that ‘th’ came out as ‘s’. So it came about that I received the host on Sunday morning with the surprising admonition ‘Feed your face on the body of Christ’. You will be pleased to know that I retained complete decorum. But we laughed a lot about it once I got home.
The second thing was a child being let loose on the (carefully scripted by an adult) introduction of the hymns. Thus we were encouraged to work towards the ending of all hat red.
(Not complaining. not criticising. Not cynical. Just amused.)
A few links for Book of Pages
THREE AVAILABLE ON eBay UK RIGHT NOW - but they are £23.90 + £2.00 p&p.
Quotes here at Good Reads
On Amazon US but more expensive than Amazon UK and only one review, see here.
Good review here - though the reviewer has not picked up on the subtleties and number jokes, or the Zen mind.
David Whiteland's website.