26 June 2011

What is Self-Sufficiency

Self-sufficiency turns out to be a profoundly political choice.

What is self-sufficiency?

Nailing down a coherent answer to this question is proving much more difficult than I anticipated. In some ways it is easier to describe some things that self-sufficiency is not. It is not, really, truly, the arduous work of keeping yourself fed, watered and shod all by yourself. The term is loaded and deceptive.

On the other hand I have not, in some 25 years of searching for one, found a term that better expresses the goal of our striving. “Subsistence” might work, but carries a great many negative connotations. “Subsistence" seems to suggest a feeling of struggling to scrape together the barest necessities of life, a mental image of impoverished third-world peasants scratching in the dust for a handful of grain. Self-sufficiency, in contrast, turns out to be a fulfilling and meaning-filled path ever diverging from the debt-fuelled treadmill that is consumerist culture. It turns out to be a path to community – meaningful relationships with our neighbours and with the Earth, a path of immensity, adventure and discovery.

Self-sufficiency is the diametric opposite of commodity production. Self-sufficiency means taking of control of producing the necessities of life. The consumerist machine – the contemporary globalist economy – wants to turn everything that is part of the humanosphere into a commodity to be bought and sold. Water, food, shelter and ideas have all been turned into products that we are expected to buy. Even freedom, justice,  and personal relationships have been productised and must be justified in terms of their commercial value. This is a debasement of our humanity, of our self-worth, and is why we are seemingly unable to halt activities inimical to our existence on the Earth – activities that actively diminish and destroy the natural systems that we need for healthy life. It took me a very long time to understand that the idea of self-sufficiency is utterly seditious to corporatist economics. That it subverts the social and psychological pressures brought to bear on us at all times by the economic machinery, from the moment of our birth to beyond our demise. It explains why the self-sufficiency journey has, at times, been an extremely difficult one. The path of renouncing the material “benefits” of mainstream consumerism in favour of the ultimately more interesting and rewarding path of “self-sufficiency” is one of the most challenging emotional transformations anyone can undertake.

The ideas of self-sufficiency touch on every aspect of our lives. It starts with attention to the most basic necessities of life: water, food, warmth.
From a core of basic essential physical needs, self-sufficiency spirals outwards, ramifying fractally into emotional and spiritual domains, until finally it butts heads with contemporary society, offering solutions and techniques that might, with luck, with intelligent application, with mindful research and development, offer us ways out of the techno-fix, high-energy impasse that humanity has wandered into.

Self-sufficiency turns out to be, in its most powerful essence, a mindset. A psycho-spiritual stance that says, "How hard can it be?"

Random thoughts. My intention is to develop some of these lines of thinking further in days and weeks to come.

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