On giving up screens, meditating, and the importance of ‘not doing’

Because of my slight obsession with Forest Gardens and compost heated showers (and LOTS more on those later) I’ve been using the Internet more than usual recently and it’s definitely having a negative impact on my state of mind – I’ve been feeling less in control of my life and distracted. It’s not just the lame personal advertising (and if I’ve just bought something, no I probably don’t want a duplicate immediately afterwards!) but also the distraction to other places, the Pointillism to coin a phrase used by Zygmunt Bauman – I start somewhere and end up somewhere else…. Fine if I’m allowing myself time to do this, but not if I have a purpose in mind first.

The last descreen/ meditation period I did was back in January of this year, and when I contrast my state of mind now to how I was back then when I was meditating 4 times a day, I was so much more centred : my basic rules were no screens in the morning or evening, except a quick email check, or if writing something specific. No idle surfing, no watching TV over dinner, and then basically an evening routine which went something like:

  • Eat dinner
  • Tidy
  • Meditate
  • Read if you must, preferably about Buddhism
  • Yoga
  • Meditate

Obviously I’m not against the use of the internet or screens, I am well aware that connectivity is necessary and even advantageous in my line of work, and the net’s great for new ideas, speed of access to info and the dreaded self-promotion. However I defo need to restrict it because it encourages all of the following negative traits:

  1. It leaves no real time for actual people (not that I’m that into people anyway)

  2. It encourages me to take a superficial approach to knowledge rather than a deep approach

  3. It scatters my mind, it pulverizes my attention into tiny moments, leaving me adrift in an anomic sea of montage.

  4. It exposes me to the great evil empire of advertising.

(Actually reading that lot perhaps I should just disconnect altogether?!?)

Because of the extreme negative traits uncontrolled net use encourages in me, I’ve developed the following guidelines to restrict my usage of it, and in order to promote mindful living! By screens below I really mean ‘net use’ – (I’m currently writing this off line, so this wouldn’t count for example).

  1. Remember the ideal of the concentrated Buddha – Remember that I don’t need this internet shit!

  2. Limit the amount of time online – Structure my day so it begins and ends without screens, and live the majority of time off-screen. This actually easier said than done given that my job involves a lot of screen use, so all I’ve got left is to make sure that the vast majority of time not at work is spent off-screen. To this end I’m endeavoring to check personal emails no more than twice a day (and respond to them) and try and have 30 mins of screen time in the evenings and at wknds max. In the holidays I’m going to try for 3/4 days totally offline.

  3. Before going online I must have a clear purpose, a list of specific tasks I want to fulfill. I’m also going to time my usage to keep it down.

  4. When online only have one window open at a time, unless I’m specifically cutting and pasting/ adapting.

  5. Switch off PC and iPad at the end of the day and keep in the office, not the bedroom or living room.

Having written this, I feel more mindful already, and if yer reading this online, then see you not so soon in the future…

Making Compost

While I’m quite pleased with the productivity of my allotment so far this year, I’m putting way to much effort into maintaining the beds – what with watering, weeding and feeding.

What I should be doing is spending much more time on prepping the beds by building compost/ sowing green manures and mulching, and when I say ‘much more time’ I’ve realised (through doing a lot digging excuse the pun) that I need to spend hours, if not days, procuring the raw materials to make said compost and mulch.

In short, rather than spending a 20% of my time prepping soil and then 80% maintaining, I need to invert this ratio – I need to put 80% of my time into compost/ soil prep/ mulching which should then mean much less time maintaining, and this should also mean less effort overall, and thus greater productivity.

I’m getting into it – Here’s my latest compost pile, consisting of about 20 barrow loads of woodchip and then a similar amount of manure, grass clippings and just weeds – and loadsa water…..

woodchip compost

It reached 48 degrees within no time (It actually went up to 54 but I didn’t have my camera on me.)

20150630_175717

Inspiration for all of this has primarily come from the wonderful Back to Eden Documentary which features the amazing garden of Paul Gautschi whose main source of compost is wood chips, pure and simple – He put down a 15″ layer on his orchards decades ago, has topped it up every year (most years?), and now he can dig down to his elbow and still find a moist loam more than a foot down.

For his regular beds he uses compost derived from chucking a range of kitchen wastes and weeds to his chickens – He basically just chucks everything into the chicken pen and they just eat it all and scratch it all up – and the end result is a rich compost which you can plant straight into.

Another good example of wood chip gardening is in this video.

Here it’s recommended that you use rock dust and mushroom spores to compost the wood chips quicker, and it seems you get an OK compost after just one year, otherwise with just pure wood chips you’re looking at three years for the stuff at the bottom to start turning into something resembling compost (obviously the finer the grade of woodchip, the faster the whole process).

What I see as a more ‘classic’ way of building compost is demonstrated by Geoff Lawton in this video – basically straw and manure plus a few other bits. This involves a bit more effort than woodchip, but it is super quick as the product is finished in a matter of weeks. (NB the video below isn’t the actual video I wanted (I couldn’t find it again!) but it’s of a very sound guy explaining a similar method…)

For me, a much more accessible way of composting is provided in this TED talk, the simple message of which is ‘shred your leaves and save them’, that’s all you need.

Finally, something else which also appeals to me is using bioochar – Although the biochar burner I’ve built is total rubbish in that it doesn’t work. Back to the drawing board with that I guess.

NB – One final thing I need to mention is the Jean Pain compost method – this guy constructs a compost heap from wood chippings so enormous that he’s able to generate sufficient heat for his house and water for 18 months from one pile, and enough gas (generated by putting a sealed vat of cow manure in the middle) to cook with and power his truck, although I’m sure the Health and Safety police would have something to say about the later if you tried it in the UK today.

Obviously I’m not really in a position to build such an enormous heap, but I’m working on composting on a smaller scale…

Ongoing compost experiments on my allotment.

I only have easy access to certain materials on my allotment, and not having a van doesn’t help acquisition of industrial amounts of material. However, I am actually quite fortunate in that I do have easy access to all of the following, and so have piles of these ‘raw materials’ on my plot.

  • LEAVES – There are lots of nearby trees, so if I can get over the slight self-conscious feeling of scrapping the nearby cycling path in autumn I can get barrow loads of leaves.

  • WOODCHIP – A local tree-surgery company has very recently taken to dumping woodchip on the allotment. I think they may be doing this on the sly but whoever they are, THANKS!

  • HORSE MANURE – We also get horse manure delivered.

  • GRASS CLIPPINGS – somewhat obviously

  • FOOD/ PLANT WASTE

  • WEEDS

  • WOOD for BIOCHAR (*although this needs burning in advance!).

Piles of these materials will all rot down of their own accord, but what I’ve learnt from the above videos is that the whole process can be sped up a lot by combining the above ingredients in a variety of ways. I’m guessing one of the combinations below will give me an ideal blend in terms of both quality and speed of finished product.

Present compost blends -

  1. Woodchip (sieved), horse manure, grass clippings, existing compost/ dirt

Planned future experiments

  1. Shredded* leaves, horse manure, food waste, grass clippings, existing compost/ dirt

  2. Biochar, horse manure, grass clippings, existing compost/ dirt

As I see it there are two majorly major advantages of having a healthy obsession with dirt -

Firstly, in the long term this is the most efficient way of gardening – OK it is a lot of effort sourcing and and compiling the materials, and you need some patience while it all rots down, but after a few years you’ll end up with the most amazingly rich soil, and maintenance in terms of weeding and watering should be much reduced because soil will be less compacted because of continual layering/ mulching.

Secondly, from a land-ethics point of view regenerating the earth after years of depletion seems like a pretty good life-purpose to me.

And talking about life, or rather the end of it – There is something very comforting about working with dirt, in that becoming one with it (i.e. Rotting) will be, after all, my final destination. Yours too!

(* I’m going to try shredding using a few bits of wire attached to a long drill bit, if not I’ll fall back on using a petrol strimmer I part own.)

On Permaculture as a Low-Cost Lifestyle

I’ve just spent half an hour perusing the Annual Monitoring Report for Tir y Gafel Ecovillage (aka Lammas).

I don’t imagine this would float a lot of boats, but as I expected it’s striking just how low their outgoings are. Here’s the annual figures for what I’m assuming must be the two single person households on site (given that they’re a lot lower than the other households).

Plot C Plot F
Cost of need Met from land Cost of need Met from land
domestic wood use £650.00 £650.00 £300.00 £245.00
domstic gas use £108.00 £0.00 £90.00 £0.00
domestic electricity use £1,291.00 £1,291.00 £1,168.00 £1,110.00
Water £506.00 £506.00 £385.00 £385.00
Food £3,466.00 £700.00 £1,800.00 £642.00
Phone £156.00 £0.00 £350.00 £0.00
clothes £0.00 £0.00 £40.00 £0.00
maintenance £0.00 £0.00 £35.00 £0.00
council tax £0.00 £0.00 £0.00 £0.00
transport £1,000.00 £0.00 £1,000.00 £0.00
Expenditure met from land* £3,147.00 £2,382.00
£ from land based enterprises £1,700.00 £1,740.00
Totals £7,177.00 £4,847.00 £5,168.00 £4,122.00
Further monies required to break even £2,330.00 £1,406.00

*before income from land based enterprises is taken into account 

After housing costs (which are not included above) we have two annual expenditure figures of £7K and £5K, with THE single largest expenditure item being on food, which here includes alcohol and munchies (which is odd given that food growing is one of the key things Lammas seems to do.)

Expenditure is clearly kept incredibly low by virtue of electricity being generated on site through burning wood and use of other renewable sources and transport being minimal due to mainly working on site, as well as the fact that above two people must live in caravans given the zero figure for council tax.

There are items which are not included in the above table, but no matter, what this data strongly suggests is that once you’ve got your mortgage paid off you can get by on £5-7K in a year as a base income, and this comes down to £2-3 K a year if you can get your own electricity generated on site.

A final advantage shown by this example is that it is clearly possible to generate some (albeit limited) money from rural enterprise.

I’m actually staggered by the above figures. I mean, I always knew low-impact living significantly reduced dependence on money, but this has surprised me… £2-3K a year is really a startling figure, actually £5-7K a year is pretty good.

At some point I’ll add in how this compares to my own expenditure and insane (consumerism as usual expenditure).

The question in the meantime is simply one of how can I get a piece of this action and how soon, just without the community bit, in which case apparently it’s not really Permaculture, but then again I’m sure the definition’s open for debate (at least as long as you don’t want to formally use it to engage in the Permaculture Pyramid selling scheme.)

Early Retirement Extreme June Update Analysis II

Or on how getting into early-retirement makes you dislike the curiously ordinary life of the worker-consumer even more intensely, and how it makes you hate yourself for any remaining traces of normality.

When I started out nearly 12 months ago I originally planned to work for another 7-8 years before ‘moving on’. However at some point over the last year I’ve become desperate to escape work, to the extent that I was, a couple of weeks back, looking to get out in 18 months. The interesting thing is that, on reflection, this urgency doesn’t have that much to do with work, which (although subjecting me to severe psychological abuse 200 days of the year) hasn’t got that much worse in the last 6 months. Thus my increased desire to escape it has probably got more to do with getting the ERE bug. I think the effect goes something like this -

  1. You set yourself an early retirement goal – In my case originally 52.

  1. You start recording in religious detail your expenditure and savings and getting a bit obsessive over the maths of early retirement.

  1. You realise that if you can shave 10% of your expenditure here and there then it means you can retire another year earlier, or 20% another 2 years early, and retiring at 48 sounds a whole lot better than retiring at 50, and 8 years sounds much better than 10.

  1. Saving everything you can means you have much less of a life than previously – there are less vents for the frustrations of work.

  1. (When you have little extra time after work) trying to generate second income streams proves largely fruitless in the grand scheme of things, this creates more stress.

  1. A stressful life means you want to get out!

  1. You start comparing yourself to other early retirement aspirees and get competitive, wanting to bring the key date down.

  1. Very importantly you realise the extent to which you’re being shafted by the system. These points are kind of in chronological order, but this is the most important one I think. This annoys you – a lot – my particular bug bears are interest on the mortgage and service charge on my flat.

  1. You start to look around for alternatives to get the above charges down and land-squatting comes up as the favorable option to be put into effect immediately – so this means you may as well jack in work and become a postmodern peasant asap. This doesn’t sound very appealing at the moment, which creates yet more stress.

In fairness, the original drive to retire early was brought on by the fact that my job is doing me severe psychological damage, and has also turned me into an agent which inflicts harm on others, and I will need to escape from in the medium term, but the job does come with good holidays and is well below my intellectual capacity to manage, and so I do have the mental capacity to cope with this abuse for another 5 years, especially when the income’s good and my original retirement model based on a 7-8 year projection (OK I have shortened it a little!) results in such a comfortable retirement, so I’m led to conclude that my recent desire to get out and retire even earlier is simply because of getting caught up in the goal of ERE, rather than accepting that my current situation is OK, and that a medium term plan is manageable. In short, I probably don’t need to ‘move on’ in 18 months.

Here’s a modified 5 year plan to address the above:

  1. I still want out in five (academic) years. I’ve calculated this means another 925 days at work from September next year. This is realistic, then I’ll downsize, move out of the area and go part time at age 47.

  1. Realise that I have no money to do anything and get into ‘doing nothing’ in the evenings – cleaning the flat, meditating,working the allotment, the odd Sociology blog, that’s it for the next five years.

  1. Abandon for now the second income streams most of them are too much like work(do these later) and instead focus on developing resilience (ie land squatting) skills. Work out a five year plan to develop these skills – this should be fun.

  1. Give up screens – Searching for alternatives means I’ve spent way too long on YouTube looking at compost showers and so on…. It’s doing my head in.

  1. Just chilax.

Early Retirement Extreme UK Update 2 – June 2015

Fingers crossed this formats OK, I just cut and paste the job-lot straight from Open Office, pictures and all.

End of June – And I’m now sixth months in to my 7-10 year plan to (semi-) retire by the time I’m 51, and ambitiously by 48. This is the first of my intended 6 monthly updates, this allows enough time to show clear progress (hopefully rather than regress) and also these things to take quite a lot of time to review.

Executive Summary

  • Total Net Wealth gain of £13300 (since Februrary 2015)

  • Average total monthly expenditure not including mortgage – £903

  • Averge monthly savings of – £557

  • Average savings to expenditure ratio – 64% (if I include mortgage payments)

  • Overall I give myself 8/10 – For once I’m actually going to focus on the fact that I’m doing most things right, rather than the few things I could improve on.

Reminder of Original Long Term Financial Goals – Updates in Italics

  • Be mortgage free in 7-10 years (£137K outstanding)

  • Pay over £1000 a month towards the mortgage (15 year term) with a mind to either using savings or ‘trading down’ to pay off early.

I’m easily on track to do this in 10 years if I stay put in my flat in Surrey. However, the £140 I pay (in reality it’s probably more) towards service charge every month is becoming increasingly insulting, and so I’m looking at ‘downsizing’ to a house in a poorer area and commuting to work, possibly as soon as the end of 2016.

  • Save £200 a month towards a ‘land fund’ – eventually to be used to purchase a van and land on which to establish a forest garden.

The ‘Land Fund’ is simply an investment account – I use Fundsmith, which I can thoroughly recommend – It’s now worth about £12K – and it gained £3K in value in the last 6 months – yes, that’s right, a 25% gain in 6 months – NB this isn’t a high risk fund, in fact, quite the opposite! Based on these figures I’m actually tempted just to leave it untouched and live off the income generated in my late 50s.

  • Save an absolute minimum of £250/ month in additional funds (=£30K after 10 years, without accumulations). Ideally this figure will be significantly higher.

I‘ve done quite well here – my average overall savings each month is £577 – I put £200 into the ‘land fund’ so that means my overall ‘other savings’ work out at £377/ month without accumulations. I’ve actually got £17K kicking about which is enough (just) to buy a small piece of raw land already, although it is extremely rare to find exactly what I want for this kind of price. If I could double this to £30K I’d have much more chance.

NB The reason I keep banging on about land is because land squatting is a key part of my ERE strategy.

  • Find additional income streams to boost the above figure. Target = £20K in five years.

I’ve realised I am not realistically going to generate any significant second income streams in my spare time, basically because I don’t have any spare time. (It’s actually quite interesting that it’s taken me sixth months to realise this, or maybe it’s about acceptance – I can’t actually do any more than I’m already doing without compromising my mental health). Thinking about it, this amazing piece of insight might just be more valuable than any financial gains I’ve made.

  • Continue paying into the Teacher Pension Scheme.

It’s not quite a no-brainer to keep paying into this, but it still makes sense. The amount I pay in has increased, and because of recent changes to the scheme I’m now stuck with a pension at 60 of around £7K/ year – everything I pay in from now on is not worth claiming until I’m 65 – If I claim my future contributions at 60, I lose 25% of the value of current and future contributions (what I’ve already got is protected, but then again I’m sure this could change under the nasties.)

Now onto the more detailed updates…

June Update One – Spending days compared to non-spending days

Early Retirement UK

I know it says nothing about how much I actually save/ spend but these are a great little invention! No spending days have prevented me from buying several superfluous coffees, munchies, and stopped silly trips to Poundland and Wilkinson’s. I can’t put an exact figure on it but I reckon a saving of somewhere in the region of £20-50 a month?.

Jan-June 2015 Update Two – Expenditure and Savings Summary

  • Ratio of expenditure to income excluding mortgage – 64%

  • Ratio of expenditure to income including mortgage – 23%

NB For calculating the above savings to expenditure ratio I always count service charge (an outrageous £140/month) as ‘expenditure’ but for the first calculation I count mortgage payments as savings because in the future my flat will act as an investment which will bring in an income (while I squat in a field).

Technically I should count the interest part of this as expenditure and the repayment as investment, but honestly I can’t be bothered to work this out and recalculate it every month as the repayments change, so stuff that! Just reduce the figure by a few percentage points if you’re uncomfortable with it.

Early Retirement UK

  • Frivolities = beer/ coffee/ subscriptions/ transport, (because I only really use transport for entertainment rather than work).

  • Necessities = council tax, services, food, ‘stuff’.

  • Property = mortgage repayments + service charge.

January- June 2015 Update Three – Total average monthly expenditure excluding mortgage more detailed breakdown

This is really the headline figure – and it comes out at just over £900/ month, or £11K/ year – This is an honest account of how much I will need in retirement to live extremely comfortably. The service charge is something which is going to disappear hopefully very soon, but I figure the future cost of running a van which I currently don’t have will come out around the same amount of £140 a month, maybe more, so I’ll stick with £900 a month to live off.

Early Retirement UK

Of course if I can pull off a land-squat my services costs will fall drastically, as will my food costs, so all of this could come down to nearer £5-600 in future. Whether that’s sustainable or not remains to be seen!

NB – The obvious immediate area for improvement besides service charge (PAIN!) is beer, I intend to hammer this down from September.

January Update 4 – Total Net Wealth

Well I’ve gained £13300 in 5 months – I’m happy with that, hence the 8/10!

This is what it’s all about! Remember, £200K is enough to semi-retire on! IMO anyone who already has more than £200K of TNW and is still in full-time work either really likes working, or if that isn’t the case suffers from a compulsive disorder (addicted to over-consumption) and/ or lacks imagination.

I don’t feel particularly comfortable posting details about my TNW, but it comes in at £101K including property – Half way to what I need. Rapidly may this increase!!!

It’s kind of comforting to know that that’s enough to buy some kind of Quinta in Portugal – I’ve even taken off £4K from the figure to factor in a contribution to selling up and moving on in case it comes to that! It also doesn’t include a small emergency fund I’ve got stashed away.

So all in all, I’m on track to achieve my ERE goals, I could do better, but I think this not so extreme route to retirement (land squatting aside) is sustainable!

Permaculture as an Alternative to Consumer Culture

I’ve been thinking a lot about the viability of Permaculture as an alternative to the consumerist mode of existence recently.

Permaculture is the practice of working with nature to design efficient, productive ecosystems, incorporating the principles of sustainability and fare-shares. The Permaculture Association (The Permaculture Association n.d.) suggests that there are three main aspects to Permaculture – Firstly there is an ethical framework, secondly the principle of understanding nature, and finally a design approach to working with nature.

As always a few examples are the best way of illustrating what Permaculture actually is…

Firstly I recommend checking out the case of Lammas. Based in Pembrokeshire, on about 75 acres of land, this is one of the few fully legitimate (in planning terms) eco-projects in the U.K. It combines the traditional smallholding model with the latest innovations in environmental design, green technology and Permaculture. The ecovillage was granted planning permission in 2009 by the Welsh Government and is currently part-way through the construction phase. The current residents aim to bring in £100K per year from the land, up from £2500 from the previous tenant farmer’s sheep farming.

Tinkers Bubble is another famous (in eco-circles) example of 9 adults living on 28 acres of land living in self-built low impact dwellings. Very similar to the above, but just on a smaller scale.

A more individualistic example, and an absolute classic in eco-circles, is Tony Wrench’s Low impact roundhouse – built over a decade ago in Pembrokeshire National Park and (after a huge struggle) granted retrospective planning permission. This example proves what you can do with £3000, if you happen to have an appetite for a ruck with the planners.

For further inspiration, the Permaculture Network provides plenty of links to some pretty inspiring examples of Permaculture Projects which range from your squatting type examples such as Yorkley Farm in the Forest of Dean to basically people’s back gardens. (37)

Finally, I highly recommend Permaculture Magazine (with an international circulation of over 100K) which has the acolade of being my favourite all-time bath time reading material.

To what extent is Permaculture a viable solution to Consumerist Culture….?

In short, I’d argue that Permaculture is one of lynch pins of an alternative culture which is not based around consumption, but rather ‘co-production’ with nature. This diverse movement is full of innovators who focus on producing their own food, energy and to an extent goods using sustainable and creative techniques adapted to local environments, so rather than consumption being focused on, this seems to be about going back to production, and the way things are produced (sustainable) as a unifying principle.

Given the DIY nature of the Permaculture movement it is possible to spend the rest of your natural life learning (both intellectually and practically) about aspects of living sustainably – If you ever managed to get your head around everything to do with planting a food-forest, then you can move onto aquaculture systems, low-impact building or small-scale off grid energy systems – If you get the bug there is easily a lifetime’s worth of exploration, non of which is based around consumption.

(It may not be your thing of course, but personally I find all of this fascinating.)

Obviously there are limitations to what Permaculture can do – It can easily be criticised for being retreatist in the light of global problems such as militarism, the refugee crisis and the ethical challenges of multiculturalism; and possibly a bigger problem is just how middle class the movement is – besides efforts to big up ‘Urban’ Permaculture and reports of Permaculture in the developing world in the UK at least your only option to really do full on Permcaulture is to either risk your capital in a collective venture such as Lamas or find approx. £30-40K yourself, buy some land and prepare yourself for an almighty ruck with local Nimbys, not to mention the anachronistic weight of the UK planning system.

On Grazing the Allotment as a Dinner Strategy

Maintaining an allotment with a full time job is a challenge. Although I do love planning and sowing and planting, watering (in the early morning), even weeding, TBH I find the process of stopping off after work and harvesting and processing the food before dinner quite tedious.

It’s not so much the actual digging up and picking, that’s quite enjoyable, it’s that plus the shelling and washing before cooking that just makes the whole process simply too time-consuming for it to be enjoyable.

So I’ve hit on a new evening eating strategy – Instead of harvesting, processing and cooking I’ve switched to grazing and eating immediately as I harvest except for those things which need cooking, which I then take back, wash and just cook up with some salt or soy sauce and that’s dinner. For those things which I think need washing, I just put them in a colander and run them under the tap, everything else which is most things I just eat straight.

It’s a bit weird – Today I started with the radishes – some of which had got a bit large, so I just ate all the non-woody bits and chucked the rest on the compost, then I moved onto the Kale, which was delicious, and the one small head of broccoli which the slugs hadn’t demolished (honestly, freshly picked broccoli more than anything else tastes completely different to the stuff you buy, it’s actually completely different and not even comparable, just a shame it’s so difficult to grow).

Then onto the mange tout, which is again another world when freshly picked, before moving on to some spring onions and lettuce/ chard and spinach, as well as picking some for tomo’s lunch box, before moving onto the strawberries, also saving some for later as there were too many to eat in one sitting/ standing/ bending down/ whatever you want to call it.

I also picked shed loads of broad beans and cooked them up at home with a bit more kale I’d saved.

I’d hoped to have some new potatoes by this time – but I’m reluctant to dig them up because having tickled them they seem a bit small – I think I over-nitrogened the soil.

Anyway, although eating in this way feels a bit nuts, it’s actually completely sane when you reflect on the following massive advantages –

1. Time efficiency – It saves time in terms of cooking, the ‘sit down meal’ and the washing up, also it does tend to mean you maintain the allotment while eating, picking off the odd weed for example.

2. It’s the cheapest way to eat – Theoretically, if you could just get used to just grazing, there’s no need to spend money on what Michael Pollan would call ‘edible food like substances’.

3. Health benefits – The fresher, the higher the nutrient content – You can’t get much fresher than two seconds from picking to mouth.

4. It’s the most natural and ethical way to eat – in that it’s the furthest removed from the industrial-food chain.

5. It gives me this strange sense of connection with the !Kung Bushmen of the Khalari and other traditional hunter-gatherer tribes – completely unfounded I know, but in my deluded little head I feel in-touch with my pre-historic self.

6. I actually like the fact that it’s a slightly nuts way to eat – It’s habit breaking. For example I can’t watch TV while I’m grazing, well I guess I could with a 4G iPad, but honestly, it’d hardly be ergonomic.

Incidentally I wish I had some nuts, that’d make the whole grazing process even more wonderful, or at least it would in the late autumn, assuming the squirrels are willing to share.

I’ve also been inspired to look up other inspiring examples of people who have set up the ultimate grazing gardens – here are a couple of examples….

Paul Gautschi is one of the world’s most inspiring gardeners – In this excellent video: Back to Eden, Paul uses serious mulch, mostly wood-chip which has turned into the most amazing compost and produces the most amazing quality looking fruit and veg for (after you’ve set it all up!) minimal effort. There’s some great grazing footage at about 1 hr 25 (NB – It is freely available on Vimeo if you click the link!)

Back To Eden OFFICIAL FILM from Dana & Sarah Films on Vimeo.
I’m using this as a model for my allotment, and am now trying to spend at least 60% of my time building compost rather than maintaining (I think the ratio should be higher, but I’ve got to be realistic!)

 

Closer to home, I’ve never been but one of the most interesting, and possibly largest examples of a food forest is Plants for a Future, established by Ken and Addy Fern many years ago.There’s footage of Ken grazing his ‘garden for all purposes’ from about 16 minutes in.


(NB the first section’s worth watching too – on the classic forest-garden of Robert Hart.)

Anyway, I don’t want to get lost in Forest gardening, I haven’t quite got enough money to buy the land to go there yet – The point of the videos is that they’re good examples of other people who graze, and on a much larger scale than me, and that proves I’m not nuts, I think.

Bauman’s Consuming Life Summary – Chapter Two – The Society of Consumers

Bauman’s Consuming Life A Summary – Chapter 2 – The Society of Consumers

Summary of chapter One 

A fairly lengthy, paraphrased summary with a few comments in italics
In consumer culture people behave ‘unreflexively’ – without thinking about what they consider to be their life purpose and what they believe to be the right means of reaching it, without thinking about about what prompts them into action or escape, or about what they desire, what they fear and at what point fears and desires balance each other out

Nb – In defining consumers as unreflexive – that is, anyone who limits their conscious reflection to questions of what to consume- rather than focusing on the ‘deeper’ questions of life – Bauman seems to deny that such people have any sense of agency – they are not fully human. 

The society of consumers stands for a set of existential conditions under which the probability is high that most people will embrace the consumerist rather than any other culture, and obey its rules.

The ‘society of consumers’ is a kind of society which ‘interpellates’ its members primarily in their capacity as consumers. While doing that, ‘society’ expects to be heard, listened to and obeyed; it evaluates – rewards and penalizes – its members depending on the promptness and propriety of their response to the interpellation.

As a result, one’s ability to engage in consumerist performance has become the paramount stratifying factor and the principal criterion of inclusion in or exclusion from society, as well as guiding the distribution of social esteem and stigma, and shares in public attention.

(Following Frank Trentmann) This is historically unusual – for most of the modern period consumption was little discussed and when it was it was typically associated with eccentricity and wastefulness.

For the better part of modern history (that is, throughout the era of massive industrial plants and massive conscript armies), society ‘interpellated’ most of the male half of its members as primarily producers and soldiers, and almost all of the other (female) half as first and foremost their by-appointment purveyors of services.

It was the body of the would-be worker or soldier that counted most; their spirit, on the other hand, was to be silenced, numbed and thereby ‘deactivated’.

The society of consumers, on the other hand, focuses its training and coercing pressures on the management of the spirit – leaving the manage- meant of bodies to individually undertaken DIY labour, individually supervised and coordinated by spiritually trained and coerced individuals.

This coercive pressure is exerted on members of the society of consumers from their early childhood.. Following Daniel Thomas Cooke…

‘the battles waged over and around children’s consumer culture are no less than battles over the nature of the person and the scope of personhood in the context of the ever-expanding reach of commerce.’

The society of consumers does not recognize differences of age or gender (however counter-factually) and will not make allowances for either; nor does it (blatantly counter-factually) recognize class distinctions. From the geographic centres of the worldwide network of information highways to its furthest, however impoverished peripheries…

‘the poor are forced into a situation in which they either have to spend what little money or resources they have on senseless consumer objects rather than basic necessities in order to deflect total social humiliation or face the prospect of being teased and laughed at.’ (In Ekstrom et al, Elusive Consumption, 2004.)

However it is down to the individual to negotiate the staggering amount of info in order to make the right consumer decisions to avoid derision.
Since ‘social fitness’ is the responsibility of the individual, if people fail to make the right choices they are blamed (and thus constructed as ‘flawed consumers’) – we are taught to believe that there is nothing wrong with society, because there is plenty of choice, and so if people fail to succeed they are not deserving of care.

At least the above is the case if we are unreflexive viz our consumption habits.

Consumption is an investment in everything that matters for individual ‘social value’ and self-esteem, thus the crucial, perhaps the decisive purpose of consumption in the society of consumers is not the satisfaction of needs, desires and wants, but the commoditization or recommoditization of the consumer: raising the status of consumers themselves to that of sellable commodities.

If you wish to take part in society, you have to consume in this way – turning yourself into a commodity – this is a precondition which is non negotiable thus market relations are fundamental to the society of consumers, as is the calculating mindset which goes along with it.

I’m left wondering what Bauman would make of attempts to set up alternative, low impact cultures assisted by alternative financial avenues such as Kick Starter?

Becoming and remaining a sellable commodity is the most potent motive of consumer concerns, even if it is usually latent and seldom conscious, let alone explicitly declared.
The society of consumers, with its compulsive and willing individualization places a magnified emphasis on the on the subject as the one who has the duty to make oneself something, and on the individual as being the one who is responsible if one fails.
NB – I guess to simplify one of Bauman’s basic points you could just say that we believe that we are responsible for own successes and failures in life only because that is what society tells us, and this isn’t necessarily true.
In the society of producers, society took on the role of a ‘collective Prometheus’ – it took responsibility for the product in exchange for the individual conforming to social norms. If you just ‘became’ what society asked of you’ that was enough – your Promethean challenge, and sense of of Promethean pride could thus be earned if you fulfilled your social role.
However, in the age of individualisation, now that society ‘doesn’t exist’ (TINA) just becoming what society wants is no longer an option – ( in the consumer society the point, the task, is to continually become something else)
Being born, having become something are now sources of ‘Promethean shame’ and the task of the individual is to perfect themselves – to become more than they are, and there is never an end to this process… life is a never ending struggle of becoming.
Because of this, being a member of the society of consumers is a daunting task, a never-ending and uphill struggle. The fear of failing to conform has been elbowed out by a fear of inadequacy, and consumer markets are eager to capitalize on that fear, and companies turning out consumer goods vie for the status of the most reliable guide and helper in their clients’ unending effort to rise to the challenge. They supply ‘the tools’, the instruments required by the individually performed job of ‘self-fabrication’.
However, following Gunder Anders, it is absurd to think of those tools as enabling an individual choice of purpose. These instruments are the crystallization of irresistible ‘necessity’ – which individuals must learn to obey, in order to be free.
Cites teen fashion as an example.
I’d be interested in looking at the social construction of retirement in this… to what extent is retirement constructed as a time when we are expected to ‘consume hard’? Does all of this end then?


There are two versions of human history – That of life as a progression towards greater rationality and freedom, of which consumer choice is the latest ‘highest’ expression, the other is of the increasing colonisation of human life by commodity markets – the society of consumers is its zenith because humans are now obliged to interact with eachother at the same level as the products they consume (as explained above) – they purchase products in order to maximise their own market-value and they have no choice but to do so.
NB – I get the impression that Bauman sides with the later version.
Markets today are sovereign, you only get political rights if you are able to consume – people such as the underclass and illegal immigrants (flawed consumers) are seen as having no rights in the popular imagination, and there is no authority they can appeal to because the state’s ability to draw the line between the included and the excluded has been eroded by the market – it now makes these decisions, and it has no tangible body that can be appealed to if people feel unfairly excluded.
In recent decades the state has shifted many of its functions sideways to the market such that the state has now become the arbiter of market demands, evidence in the centrality of economic measurements as the state’s primary indicators of its ‘success’.

The secret of every durable (successfully self-reproducing) social system is the recasting of its ‘functional prerequisits’ into behavioural motives of actors – the secret is making individuals wish to do what is needed for the system to reproduce itself.
In the modern period, this required an emphasis on deferred gratification – people committing to the idea of putting off pleasure now in order to reap the rewards in the future.
We also see in the general theories of the time – such as Freud’s reality principle and in Bentham’s panopticon – that the good society could only be constructed with the individual’s subordination to the society.
(However, such theories were themselves a product of the crisis of community – the very fact that people were thinking about community demonstrates that community is no longer ‘taken for granted’ as it was in traditional times, and because of this, it was already losing its power as a coercive force).
Much of the modern period thus involved nation states vying to restrict freedom of choice through panopticon style discipline and punish rule, but this was always cumbersome.

In the post-modern era (mistakenly conceived as a decivilising process) the civilising process takes the form of the ‘obligation to choose’ but this breeds little resistance because it is represented and conceived as freedom of choice.
People now are obliged to seek happiness and pleasure and this is lived through as an exercise of ‘freedom’ and self-assertion. Today it is as if the (individualised) pleasure principle has taken over the reality principle as the primary regulating force in society. (Reminds me of happiness is mandatory.)
When society confronts us (which it rarely does as a totality, these days) it does so in ways which make it easy for us to act as solitary consumers… (rather than in large collectivities). Bauman now gives several examples of this:

  • As mentioned earlier on in the chapter, this starts with childhood
  • At university, the new future-elite of consumers are socialised into the norm of living on credit (phase one)
  • At home we have TV dinners and fast food, which protect solitary consumers.
  • The primary acts of consumption are done in swarms – groups who come together for limited times with loose connections.
  • Elsewhere Bauman has also written about the nature of shopping malls, privatised public spaces of individualised consumption.
  • Even our post-modern ‘collective’ carnivalesque acts reinforce individualism – we come together in fringe moments to get our ‘collective’ fix and then go back to being individuals again .. ..

 

The chapter finishes with something about tax cuts to the rich and shifting taxation away from income to expenditure which doesn’t make much sense in the context of the chapter.

Zygmunt Bauman’s Consuming Life (2007) – A Summary of Chapter One

A summary of Zygmunt Bauman’s Consuming Life (2007) – Chapter One

I use paraphrasing heavily below, so a lot of this is Bauman’s own words, just cut down a lot and also simplified in places. Love the guy’s literary style but it doesn’t always result in accessibility. The chapter is broken up into about nine sub sections, but I’ve knitted a few of the ideas together below to condense these into

Chapter One – Consumerism versus Consumption

1.1 – The basic characteristics of consumer society

The chapter only briefly deals with consumption – which is part of all societies – at the beginning, the remaining 90% deals with consumerism, or the unique features of the consumer society, which emerges with the decline of the society of producers some years after WW2.

Consumerism describes that society in which wanting has become the principal propelling and operating force which coordinates systemic reproduction, social integration, social stratification and the formation of identity and life-policies.

In consumer society wanting, desiring and longing needs to be, just as labour capacity was in the producers’ society, detached (‘alienated’) from individuals and recycled/reified into an extraneous force.

In the previous society of producers desires were always, after deferred gratification, eventually meant to be satisfied.Moreover, the function of objects of consumption, once acquired, was to provided a sense of durability and long-term security. In contrast, the consumer society associates happiness with an ever rising volume and intensity of desires, which imply in turn prompt use and speedy replacement of the objects intended and hoped to gratify them.

Consumer society has the following characteristics (my numbering)

  1. An instability of desires and insatiability of needs – Consumer society thrives when we want more and when those wants have a high turnover rate – i.e when the goods we buy provide satisfaction for a limited time period only.

  2. The desire for Immediate gratification – which has given rise to a ‘Nowist culture’ – or a curiously hurried life. However, because today’s products only have a limited life span and a stigma once its date is reached the motive to hurry is only partly the urge to acquire and collect, the most pressing need is to discard and replace.

  3. Pointillist time – Time is experienced as ‘broken up, or even pulverised, into a multitude of ‘eternal instants’ episodes which are not connected to each other. Bauman suggests that these episodes are like ‘Big bangs’ – they are pregnant with possibilities of magnficent things happening, however these moments rarely live up to their promise and it is in fact the excess of promises which counters each promise not lived up to.

1.2 How the consumer society effects our worldview/ inner pysche/ general way of seeing the world.

In the consumerist economy product innovations grow at an exponential rate and there is increasing competition for attention. This results in a flood of information which we cannot cope with which manifests itself in vertical stacking (think multiple windows on the go at the same time).

Images of ‘linear time’ and ‘progress’ are among the most prominent victims of the information flood: when growing amounts of information are distributed at growing speed, it becomes increasingly difficult to create narratives, orders, developmental sequences. The fragments threaten to become hegemonic.

This in turn has consequences for the ways we relate to knowledge, work and lifestyle in a wide sense.

Firstly this results in a blase attitude toward knowledge – the essence of which is the blunting of discrimination

Secondly it results in melancholy – To be ‘melancholic’ is ‘to sense the infinity of connection, but be hooked up to nothing’ – a disturbance resulting from the fatal encounter between the obligation and compulsion to choose and the inability to choose. (This seems like an evolution of the concept of anomie)

The crucial skill in information society consists in protecting oneself against the 99.99 per cent of the information offered that one does not want.

1.3 The consumer society promises but fundamentally fails to make us happy

The society of consumers stands and falls by the happiness of its members

It is, in fact, the only society in human history to promise happiness in earthly life, and happiness here and now and in every successive now – also the only society which refrains from legitimizing unhappiness.

However, judged by its own standards it is woefully unsuccessful at increasing happiness.

Bauman now draws on research carried out by Richard Layard to remind us that once average income rises above approximately $20K per head then there is no evidence whatsoever that further growth in the volume of consumption results in a greater number of people reporting that they ‘feel happy’.

In fact a consumption-oriented economy actively promotes disaffection, saps confidence and deepens the sentiment of insecurity, becoming itself a source of the ambient fear it promises to cure or disperse.

While consumer society rests its case on the promise to gratify human desires, the promise of satisfaction remains seductive only as long as the desire stays ungratified. Clever!

A low threshold for dreams, easy access to sufficient goods to reach that threshold, and a belief in objective limits to ‘genuine’ needs and ‘realistic’ desires: these are the most fearsome adversaries of the consumer-oriented economy.

Consumer society thrives as long as it manages to render the non-satisfaction of its members (and so, in its own terms, their unhappiness) perpetual.

Necessary strategies to maintain this involve hyping a product to the hilt and then soon after denigrating it and creating goods and services such that they require further purchases to be made – so that consumption becomes a compulsion, an addiction and shoppers are encouraged to find solutions to their problems only in the shopping malls.

The realm of hypocrisy stretching between popular beliefs and the realities of consumers’ lives is a necessary condition of a properly functioning society of consumers.

In addition to being an economics of excess and waste, consumerism is also an economics of deception.

1.4 Individualised life-strategies are the principle means whereby consumer society neutralises dissent.

The society of consumers has developed, to an unprecedented degree, the capacity to absorb all and any dissent. It does this through a process which Thomas Mathiesen has recently described as ‘silent silencing’

In other words all ideas threatening to the existing order are integrated into it.

The principle means whereby this is done is through individualisation – whereby individual life strategies become the route to Utopia to only be enjoyed by the individual – changing lifestyle, not society.

To follow the metaphor used by schoolboy Karl Marx, those visions are attracted like moths to the lights of domestic lamps rather than to the glare of the universal sun now hidden beyond the horizon.

The possibility of populating the world with more caring people and inducing people to care more does not figure in the panoramas painted in the consumerist utopia.

The privatized utopias of the cowboys and cowgirls of the consumerist era show instead vastly expanded ‘free space’ (free for myself, of course); a kind of empty space of which the liquid modern consumer, bent on solo performances and only on solo performances, always needs more and never has enough.

Lifestyle strategies smack of adiaphorisation – removing sense of moral responsibility for others.

Explaining the Rise of Solo Living

This post aims to provide a mini review of a recent book by Eric Klinenberg on the rise of single person households. It is relevant to the AS Sociology families and households increasing family diversity topic.

Increasing numbers of people are living on their own in the UK.

increase solo living UK

This trend is, in fact, mirrored globally as shown by this somewhat bewildering infographic from Euromonitor 

increase single person households
This is an extremely important social trend which presents a fundamental challenge to the centrality of the family to modern society. In the USA, the average adult will now spend more of their life unmarried than married, and single person households are one of the most common types of household. We have entered a period in social history where, for the first time, single people make up a significant proportion of the population.

There is often a tendency to see people living on their own as sad, lonely people who have ended up that way because of unfortunate circumstances – such as never having met ‘Mr Right’ and being desperate to do so (as in the ‘Bridget Jones’ character), or having gone through a relationship breakdown.

However, according to relatively new research from America, such stereotypes are not correct.

goingsolo2-385x584Eric Klinenberg spent seven years interviewing 300 single Americans who lived alone, and the general picture he got was that these people were exactly where they wanted to be – living on their own was not a transitory phase, it was a genuine life choice. On the whole, living alone is seen as a mark of social distinction, living as part of a couple is for losers.

While single by choice is very much on the up among younger people who have never settled down into a long term cohabitating relationships and have no intention of doing so, it is also the norm among older people who have come out of relationships. Where older people living alone are concerned, and these are mostly women, they are not all chasing the dwindling population of men in their age group (given the higher life expectancy for women). Most of them are in fact wary of getting involved in relationships because doing so will probably mean becoming someone’s carer (again), and similarly they are skeptical about moving back in with their children (and possibly their grand children too) because of fear that they will become an unpaid domestic and child-sitting slave.

NB, as a counter to the above, not all singles are happy about it, however. One such group consists of mainly men on low wages who are unmarriageable and live in ‘single room occupancy facilities’ often suffering from various addictions and who practice ‘defensive individualism’ in order to cope with their bleak situation.

So how do we account for this increasing in single person households?

Klinenberg provides four reasons…

Firstly the wealth generated by economic growth and the social security provided by the modern welfare state – Klinenberg’s basic thesis is that the rise of single living is basically just a reflection of increasing wealth. When we can afford to live alone, more of us choose to do so. We especially see this where Scandinavia is concerned, and nearly half of the adult population live alone.

Secondly, the communications revolution – For those who want to live alone, the internet allows us to stay connected. An important part of Klienenberg’s thesis is that just because we are increasingly living alone, this doesn’t mean that we are becoming a ‘society of loners’.

Thirdly, mass urbanization – Klinenberg suggests that Subcultures thrive in cities, which tend to attract nonconformists who are able to find others like themselves in the dense variety of urban life. In short, it’s easier to connect with other singles where people live closer together.

Fourthly, increased longevity – because people are living longer than ever and because women often outlive their spouses by decades rather than years — aging alone has become an increasingly common experience.

Personally, I’d like to tag on a fifth…. There’s an obvious link between the increasing divorce rate and the number of Single Person Households – When people get burnt in relationships, many of them are unwilling to go back, as with the older women mentioned above.

Brief Analysis – the differential trend in solo living in the UK.

According to the info below, money seems to have an impact on the trend in solo living – the increasing trend has been driven over the last decade by older people, who can afford to live alone, while the number of 16-44 year olds going solo has actually decreased…. It looks like this trend is set to falter, and possibly mainly due to economic reasons!

Single Person Households by age UK

 

How can you use this information?

Firstly, it’s directly relevant to the ‘reasons for the increase in single person households’ topic (obviously), part of the AS Sociology families and households diversity in family life aspect of the course.

Secondly, you could also use it to criticise The Functionalist Perspective on the importance of the nuclear family – the rise of single living is hardly resulting in social collapse!

Thirdly, it’s a nice example of how in-depth qualitative data generated from interviews can challenge media stereotypes about singledome, and add some flesh onto some dry statistics.

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A hyperreflexive blog focussing on critical sociology, infographics, Buddhism and extreme early retirement