New Civilization News: What Is Self-Sufficient---And Are You?    
 What Is Self-Sufficient---And Are You? 16 comments
picture16 Apr 2007 @ 14:18, by Richard Carlson

Man can learn nothing except by going from the known to the unknown.

---Claude Bernard

The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.

---Henry Miller

I have been reading all day, confined to my room, and feel tired. I raise the screen and face the broad daylight. I move the chair on the veranda and look at the blue mountains. I draw a long breath, fill my lungs with fresh air and feel entirely refreshed. I make tea and drink a cup or two of it. Who would say that I am not living in the light of eternity?

---D.T. Suzuki

The drawing illustrates an article in the current issue of In Character, for which Joannah Ralston is credited with design.

When I set about to look for an image to illustrate this entry, I typed the word "solitude" into the search engine. A number of paintings showed up, but surprisingly not many that were created before the Twentieth Century. A few landscapes from the late 1800's seemed to celebrate Wordsworthian romance, but in his poems too we witness the beginnings of modern isolation.

For some time I've been concerned about a gradual loss of community and neighborhood connection that has occured in my lifetime. This may not be the case everywhere or among people who have not lived the kind of life that I have. I've moved around a good deal---especially in the 1960s and 70s---and am not living in the town where I was born. I tend toward liberal ideals and am not a member of a "mega-church." More conservative folks, who can trace lineage in the same geography back several generations, may enjoy a different experience. But how many of those are there, and is their number dwindling? And what good is neighborhood anyway, if you don't want people meddling in your privacy?

Bill McKibben's article in the current issue of the journal referenced above got me wondering whether a reinvigoration of community may be a major ingredient in solving huge problems that face us planetary inhabitants today. Bill McKibben is teaching at Middlebury College currently I guess, but has lived in the Adirondack Mountain region of New York for some time. You may have read his essays in The New Yorker and other publications, usually devoted to spiritual aspects of environmental concern. He's also written a few books.

This article doesn't talk about TV, industrialization, and overpopulation, which are topics that fly to my mind immediately when I think of wanting to get away from it all and just live in the woods with a computer. Here he suggests the very goal of getting off the grid and living the life of the self-sufficient survivalist ultimately may lead nowhere.

Old MacDonald Had A Farmers’ Market –
total self-sufficiency is a noble, misguided ideal
By Bill McKibben

Generations of college freshmen, asked to read Walden, have sputtered with indignation when they learned that Henry David went back to Concord for dinner with his family every week or two. He’s cheating; his grand experiment is a fraud. This outrage is a useful tactic; it prevents them from having to grapple with the most important (and perhaps the most difficult) book in the American canon, one that asks impossibly searching questions about the emptiness of a consumer economy, the vacuity of an information-soaked era. But it also points to something else: Thoreau, our apostle of solitary, individual self-reliance, out in his cabin with his hoe and his beans, the most determinedly asocial man of his time — nonetheless was immersed in his community to a degree few people today can comprehend.

Consider the sheer number of people who happened to drop by the cabin of an obscure eccentric. “I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society,” he writes. Often more visitors came than could sit — sometimes twenty or thirty at a time. “Half-witted men from the almshouse,” busybodies who “pried into my cupboard and bed when I was out,” a French-Canadian woodchopper, a runaway slave “whom I helped to forward toward the north star,” doctors, lawyers, the old and infirm and the timid, the self-styled reformers. It’s not that Thoreau was necessarily a cheerful host — there were visitors “who did not know when their visit had terminated, though I went about my business again, answering them from greater and greater remoteness.” Instead, it was simply a visiting age — as most of human history has been a visiting age, and every human culture a visiting culture.

Until ours. I doubt if many people reading these words have had a spontaneous visit from a neighbor in the past week — less than a fifth of Americans report visiting regularly with friends and neighbors, and the percentage is declining steadily. The number of close friends that an American claims has dropped steadily for the last fifty years too; three-quarters of us don’t know our next-door neighbors. Even the people who share our houses are becoming strangers: The Wall Street Journal reported recently that “major builders and top architects are walling off space. They’re touting one-person ‘internet alcoves,’ locked-door ‘away rooms,’ and his-and-her offices on opposite ends of the house.” The new floor plans, says the director of research for the National Association of Home Builders, are “good for the dysfunctional family.” Or, as another executive put it, these are the perfect homes for “families that don’t want anything to do with one another.” Compared to these guys, Thoreau with his three-chair cabin was practically Martha Stewart.

Every culture has its pathologies, and ours is self-reliance. From some mix of our frontier past, our Little House on the Prairie heritage, our Thoreauvian desire for solitude, and our amazing wealth we’ve derived a level of independence never seen before on this round earth. We’ve built an economy where we need no one else; with a credit card, you can harvest the world’s bounty from the privacy of your room. And we’ve built a culture much the same — the dream houses those architects build, needless to say, come with a plasma screen in every room. As long as we can go on earning good money in our own tiny niche, we don’t need a helping hand from a soul — save, of course, from the invisible hand that cups us all in its benign grip.

There are a couple of problems with this fine scenario, of course. One is: we’re miserable. Reported levels of happiness and life-satisfaction are locked in long-term one-way declines, almost certainly because of this lack of connection. Does this sound subjective and airy? Find one of the tens of millions of Americans who don’t belong to anything and convince them to join a church, a softball league, a bird-watching group. In the next year their mortality — the risk that they will die in the next year — falls by half.

The other trouble is that our self-reliance is actually a reliance on cheap fossil fuel and the economy it’s built. Take that away — either because we start to run out of oil, or because global warming forces us to stop using it in current quantities — and our vaunted independence will start to lurch like a Hummer with four flat tires. Just think for a moment about that world and then decide if you want to live on an acre all your own in the outermost ring of suburbs.

The idea of self-reliance is so deep in our psyches, however, that even when we attempt to escape from the unhappy and unsustainable cul-de-sac of our society, we’re likely to turn toward yet more “independence.” The “back-to-the-land” movement, for instance, often added the words “by myself.” Think about how proudly a certain kind of person talks about his “off-the-grid” life — he makes his own energy and grows his own food, he can deal with whatever the world throws at him. One such person may be left-wing in politics (à la Scott and Helen Nearing); another may be conservative. But they are united in their lack of need for the larger world. Not even to school their kids — they’ll take care of that as well.

Such folks are admirable, of course — they have a wide variety of skills now missing in most Americans; they’re able to amuse themselves; they work hard. But as an ideal, especially an economic ideal, that radical self-reliance strikes me as being almost as empty as the consumer society from which it dissents. Consider, for instance, the idea of growing all your own food. It’s clearly better than relying on food from thousands of miles away — from our current industrialized food economy, which figures “it’s always summer somewhere” and so orders take-out from that distant field every night of the year. Compared with that, an enormous garden and a root cellar full of all you’ll need for the winter is virtue incarnate. But if you believe in many of the (entirely plausible) horror stories about what’s to come — peak oil, climate change — then the world ends with you standing shotgun in hand above your vegetable patch, protecting your carrots from the poaching urban horde.

Contrast that with another vision, one taking shape in at least a few places around the country: a matrix of small farmers growing food for their local areas. Farmers’ markets are the fastest-growing part of our food economy, with sales showing double-digit growth annually. Partly that’s because people want good food (all kinds of people: immigrants and ethnic Americans tend to be the most avid farmers’ market shoppers). And partly it’s because they want more company. One team of sociologists reported recently that shoppers at farmers’ markets engaged in ten times more conversations per visit than customers in supermarkets. I spent the past winter eating only from my valley; a little of the food I grew myself, but the idea of my experiment was to see what remained of the agricultural infrastructure that had once supported this place. And the payoff was not only a delicious six months, but also a deep network of new friends, a much stronger sense of the cultural geography of my place.

Or consider energy. Since the 1970s, a particular breed of noble ex-hippie has been building “off-the-grid” homes, often relying on solar panels. This has been important work — they’ve figured out many of the techniques and technologies that we desperately need to get free of our climate change predicament. But the most exciting new gadget is a home-scale inverter, one that allows you to send the power your rooftop generates down the line instead of down into the basement. Where the isolated system has a stack of batteries, the grid-tied solar panel uses the whole region’s electric system as its battery: my electric meter spins merrily backward all afternoon because while the sun shines I’m a utility; then at night I draw from somewhere else. It’s a two-way flow, in the same way that the internet allows ideas to bounce in many directions.

You can do the same kind of calculation with almost any commodity. Music doesn’t need to come from Nashville or Hollywood on a small disc, for instance. But you don’t have to produce it all yourself either. More fun to join with the neighbors, to make music together or to listen to the local stars. A hundred years ago, Iowa had 1,300 opera houses. Radio doesn’t need to come from the ClearChannel headquarters in some Texas office park; new low-power FM lets valleys make their own. Even currency can become a joint local project — all it takes is the trust that underwrites any system of money. In hundreds of communities, people are trying to build that trust locally, with money that only works within the region.

Thinking this way won’t be easy. We’re used to independence as the prime virtue — so used to it that three quarters of American Christians believe the phrase “God helps those who help themselves” comes from the Bible, instead of Ben Franklin. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is harder advice, but sweeter and more sage. We don’t need to live on communes (though more and more old people are finding themselves enrolling in “retirement communities” that are gray-haired, upscale versions). But we will, I think, need to figure out how to stop relying on both oil and ourselves, and instead learn the lesson that the other primates and the other human cultures never forgot: we’re built to rely on each other.


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17 Apr 2007 @ 15:34 by vaxen : Alien-Nation
"When I set about to look for an image to illustrate this entry, I typed the word "solitude" into the search engine. A number of paintings showed up, but surprisingly not many that were created before the Twentieth Century. A few landscapes from the late 1800's seemed to celebrate Wordsworthian romance, but in his poems too we witness the beginnings of modern isolation."

You might try looking outside the 'parameters of the "Western" Civ.' for something a little more divine. Say... like Chinese, or Japanese woodcuts, silk screens or whatever your imgination can conjure for your search.

But, the North American Union was not designed yesterday and alienation tends to enable the fast talking political clowns, traitors, in their quest for dominance over all that lives and breaths (spirit = breath.)

I have lived, alone, in some of the wildest places on earth... for years at a time. Even so one knows, inherently, the simplistic unity of the overall world system.

Get out of the body (exteriorize) and take a good look at the overall bio unity extant on planet Earth then take another look-see at those who would divide us from ourselves... divide and conquer. What better way to divide than to seperate the individual into a multiplicity, a composite being, whose valences know not of one anothers existence. MK ULTRA (Multiple Personalities) in a nut shell.  

17 Apr 2007 @ 20:40 by b : Those who refuse the existence
of the human spirit seperate from the human body are the traitors to humanity.
Those who use the human mind to stuff with images of ignorance deny the individual freedom. Know yourself then act, for yourself and for others. Freedom must be taken again and again. It is not enough to just be.  

18 Apr 2007 @ 14:40 by rayon : Another Payoff too Jazzo
working together as described above in communities, generates more energy to the actual output thro working, making lite of the load. I am self sufficient in my vitamin and enzyme production, say 35 % of which is grown at home, indoors. I make my own tonics for travelling, and my doctor even handed me packets of powders to mould into my own pills, I was furious, with all these upside down plates everywhere for the first effort at pill making, and drying. It did not last for long, she got a supply of ready made pill potion thankfully. Could have also quaffed down the loose powder, but one breath in the wrong direction and out puffs the powder too, real fun and games, but not when life depends. I mean you have to get the liquid addition just right, some batches are more absorbent than others, it was a nightmare. Some drying pills grew mould. I have no idea why my doctor did this!

There are many preparations done at home to great all round effect. Burn ointments, something for this ache and that pain, depending on the season, I know what causes this and that, good and bad: even astounded a leading dentist with my abilities to stem reactions 100% with natural remedy, also proving him wrong on his statement (a handsome man, what do you expect?) as to a cause, as a authority he lectures, so saved him the embarrassment, but his assistant was duly impressed. I have a shop ointment for broken bones and oil. What else . . hm . . there are potions to reduce back ache (not for me) but have given to others, many get forgotten through lack of use . .

But Jazzo, you son bakes the bread, what can be better than this?  

18 Apr 2007 @ 15:48 by vaxen : Bakes the bread

This one evokes, at least from me, feelings of "solitude."  

19 Apr 2007 @ 09:08 by rayon : wOw
This should find acceptance - what a lovely thing, but it is made up, specially for Jazzo I think, or is it current Chinese work?? The Poppies certainly are rendolent of their normal association with things Orient and opiate, but the background and base show an truly organic make up of both comfort and a new dawn.  

19 Apr 2007 @ 11:38 by vaxen : Truly Organic Ageless
Washing Yarn Temple


State plots against state
intrigues come thick and fast
but here at Washing Yarn Temple
Xi Shi offers us harmony
a pair of faces can beam
just from turning to glimpse her
while thousands of seasoned troops
ground their weapons and surrender
Fan Li achieved his greatness
by turning away from the world
while Wu Xu had to die
in order to wear down the government
the great river confers a name
upon a place like Zhuji
but this blue mountain has long been known
as a beautiful woman's birthplace.  

19 Apr 2007 @ 18:55 by vaxen : Wabi-sabi:
Wabi and Sabi: the aesthetics of solitude

Nearly all the arts in historical China and Japan derive their aesthetic principles from Taoism and Zen Buddhism. The two great philosophical traditions proved compatible specifically with the culture and psychology of Japan. The hallmark of a Chinese or Japanese masterpiece free of modern influence continues to be the naturalness and uncontrived, even "accidental" appearance of the work. The artist works with and harmonizes nature and its universal accidents. The guiding principles are wabi and sabi.


The two dominant principles of Chinese and Japanese art and culture are wabi and sabi. Wabi refers to a philosophical construct, a sense of space, direction, or path, while sabi is an aesthetic construct rooted in a given object and its features, plus the occupation of time, chronology, and objectivity. Though the terms are and should be referred to distinctly, they are usually combined as wabi-sabi, as both a working description and as a single aesthetic principle.

The original connotation of wabi is based on the aloneness or separation from society experienced by the hermit, suggesting to the popular mind a misery and sad forlornness. Only by the fourteenth century in Japan were positive attributes ascribed to wabi and cultivated. As Koren1 puts it,

The self-imposed isolation and voluntary poverty of the hermit and ascetic came to be considered opportunities for spiritual richness.

Indeed, wabi is literally poverty, but it came to refer not to the absence of material possessions but to the non-dependence upon material possessions. Wabi is a divestment of the material that surpasses material wealth. Wabi is simplicity that has shaken off the material in order to relate directly with nature and reality. This absence of dependence also frees itself from indulgence, ornateness, and pomposity. Wabi is quiet contentment with simple things.

In short, wabi is a way of life or spiritual path. It precedes the application of aesthetic principles applied to objects and arts, the latter being sabi. The Zen principles informing wabi enjoyed a rich confluence of Confucian, Taoist, Buddhism, and Shinto traditions, but focused on the hermit's insight and the reasons why the hermit came to pursue eremiticism. These philosophical insights are familiar: the recognition of duality as illusion, the clinging to ego and the material world as leading to suffering, the fear of death precluding a fulfilling life, the appreciation of life's evanescence as a prompt to living in harmony with nature.

The life of the hermit came to be called wabizumai in Japan, essentially "the life of wabi," a life of solitude and simplicity.

Although several fifteenth and sixteenth century figures in Japan stand out in making the transition from wabi to sabi (Shuko, Rikyu, Ikkyu), the process was an organic one already occurring among poets and artisans. The tea ceremony was the first "contrived" expression of sabi, meaning that the wabi principles would be embodied in specific objects and actions.


19 Apr 2007 @ 22:27 by vaxen : Wuthering Heights...
Or is it 'withering belief systems?'

"...out in his cabin with his hoe and his beans,..." His hoe? Now why is no one up in arms about this? Sheesh! And all this time I thought he was out there alone!  

20 Apr 2007 @ 03:32 by Kung Fu Louie @ : Kung Pao Chicken
NCNr's on vacation? Or has everyone all of a sudden gone "Thoreauvian?"
"We try harder!" --- Avis?

Itsa "Corporate World." Corporations are "legal fictions." As long as people are dependent upon a economic slavery to the worlds 'Central Banking System (those gents and ladies behind every single war that has ever been) then they will not be happy. Freedom and Liberty (from Corporate Slavery) will end the old game which is the same game that has been going on for millions of years. Don't you think that it is time to end the "old game?"  

20 Apr 2007 @ 09:24 by jazzolog : As The Sun Sinks Slowly Upon Solitude
we might think Friday night always is a good night to eat out---er, uh, in the (sputter, hak, koff) community? Pfap! Excuse me. However, I remain a kung pao shrimp man!  

21 Apr 2007 @ 02:14 by Mulero @ : Fried Rice...
Friday night, and any night, is a good night to eat out if you've a good places, or places, in mind... where good food is served to good people by good people. But... this is Murka China town San Francisco is far away... a whole nation away.

Never had Kung Pao Shrimp cause I gave up sea food a long time ago. Got sick on it too many times.  

25 Apr 2007 @ 09:55 by rayon : Evening Star Venus
Just a bit on the wabi-sabi notion of imperfection which I have been looking up since first hearing via Vax earlier. A little link here as sympathetic late in the day contribution:

Had no idea of this within my wider pic of the East. The concept is pressure relieving to society and I like it very much, presumably there are standards of acceptance within the actual Art forms below which exponents should not go? Not just any ole thing can be passed off under this guise? How to see it actually? All very interesting. To find something really new to one after so much holds promises for the new day ahead.

The link is also charming and sure to be of appreciation to host Jazzo too. What about a special wabi-sabi log section for wabi sabi comments for when the inclinations to notify the special experiences occur? As well as a bar room on the ncn place list, there could be a wabi-sabi room whose bon mots would undoubtedly finally contribute to accumulated notions of PEACE. This would provide a nice alternative to not having full FREE speech even at ncn, well some of us don't anyway. Love wabi tkyou vaxx.  

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8 Jun 2016 @ 09:03 by Best Source @ : It’s hard
It’s hard to find knowledgeable people on this topic, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks  

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This is great and really informative.. I'll keep following your web and your article, thanks for sharing :)  

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25 Oct 2008 @ 05:37: Politics, economy, culture and society of New Civilization
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