Thursday, January 10, 2019

Lurching Towards a Crisis

It’s been more than a while since I last wrote anything here, so it’s high time I corrected that. In the past year I’ve been busy with one thing or another and – well – updating 22 Billion Energy Slaves somehow managed to slip down the list of priorities. It’s not that I’ve been up to anything particularly interesting outside the usual earning a crust, raising kids, fixing up the house, working in the woods etc. so please accept my apologies.

Right, where were we? Well, when I last wrote anything here the UK was in the grip of the so-called ‘Beast from the East’ a high pressure system of cold air that had moved down over the UK from Siberia, that was met head-on with a winter storm that brought snow to most of the country, including down here in Cornwall where I live.

Although this wasn’t a particularly remarkable weather event it still managed to cause its fair share of disruption and destruction, with just-in-time deliver systems fouling up and perhaps reminding a few people how ill-prepared they are for such things in their lives.

Following the ‘Beast’ we had a very long dry spell, as an unusually hot summer saw grassy parks everywhere turn a dun brown colour, with older people reminiscing about 1976, the last time when something similar had happened.

Regular readers, if I have any, might remember that I am custodian of a piece of land that is mostly given over to coppice woodland, orchards and a small forest garden. I’m pleased to report that this suffered almost no damage from the hot, dry weather, other than the loss of a few young saplings (easily replaced) and the water level in my hand-dug pond sinking low enough to worry the resident newts. If anything the land, which I try to leave as ‘natural’ as possible, proved remarkably resilient, and for the first time ever I got a bumper crop of apples from the young trees (well, about 300, but it’s a start).

Summer also afforded myself and my family the chance to get away for a while.  Instead of being sensible and going somewhere to cool off, we opted to go to Greece, which was a bit like stepping out of the frying pan into the fire. Nevertheless, not being one to miss an opportunity to practice simpler living, I booked us a couple of pleasant weeks in a shepherd’s stone hut in isolated rural splendour on the island of Crete – it’s amazing what you can find on Airbnb these days.

With temperatures in the upper 30s (C), and no air conditioning except for one small room where the children slept, it was uncomfortable but bearable. The immense stone walls kept the worst of the sun out during the day, and by shutting all the doors and windows until after sunset it was possible to keep the indoor temperatures within a reasonably tolerable range. This was presumably not the case for the poor wretches in some nearby newly-built modern ‘villas’, who relied on the air-con being constantly on – something that wasn’t possible during the regular power cuts the island seemed to be experiencing.

It had been a few years since I had last travelled in Greece, and things didn’t seem to have improved much, despite the touted ‘recovery’ there. Driving around was a particular problem as the paint markings had been worn off roads and not replaced by the municipal authorities, and road signs were often rusted or vandalised. Away from the finely manicured historic centres in the cities, the conditions were bordering on the third world, with the requisite piles of rotting garbage, abandoned shells of cars and scavenging cats and dogs being strangely absent from any of the holiday brochures I’d seen before arriving. Still, Greece seemed to be hanging together, like it always manages to, and there was plenty of luxury on display amongst the decay.

Speaking of decay, this brings me to what I wanted to write about in this shortish update. Coming back from Greece and travelling through the English countryside on a sleek new train, I was gazing out of the window and marvelling at how lush and wealthy it all looked in comparison. The cows and sheep were healthy and fat – quite unlike the ragged and mangy livestock, mostly goats, we had seen wandering around the barren, litter strewn hills of Crete – the cars were shiny and mostly new, and the landscape was not littered with half-built but abandoned concrete shells covered in graffiti, which had been an all-too common sight in Greece. All in all, my country looked pretty wealthy, fertile and healthy.

This impression was confirmed by a couple of trips to London I took. The first one took me to Knightsbridge and Belgravia, in which I was shocked to find myself walking up a boutique-lined street where handy-looking security men stood just inside each store, only granting entry to those wealthy-looking enough to come in (i.e. certainly not me). And there were plenty of them. Even during my brief foray I saw wealthy Arabs and Chinese women pull up in limousines and enter these boutiques for a spot of exclusive shopping. I was later told that some of them might even have flown over just to buy a single million-pound handbag.

Ferraris tore up and down Sloane Street, racing one another at stoplights, while women with fur coats and dainty little dogs passed me by on the pavement. It was the kind of place where the term ‘obscene wealth’ seemed apt.

My impression, however shallow, of Britain being a very wealthy place was only confirmed by several other trips around the country, most recently to the Midlands town where I spent my teenage years: Solihull.  Now merely part of the urban sprawl of Birmingham, Solihull has changed a lot since I lived there in the 1980s. Back then it was a dull but fairly prosperous place – a good small town in which to bring up a family, perhaps. And now? Now it seems like every building has been turned into a wine bar, a department store, a fancy eatery or a café (just how many hipster cafés does one town need?). Every other car is a BMW or Audi or a pumped-up SUV, and – to my horror – the pub where I misspent much of my youth – where we used to play Motorhead’s The Ace of Spades on the jukebox at Volume 11 – has been turned into an upmarket bistro.

Trips to other places around the country offered me a similar view. So, there is plenty of wealth on display, but how much of it is real and how much of it is a mirage?

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear me say that the vast majority is a mirage, mostly paid for by debt that can never be returned. Because every glowing jewel of wealth is swamped in a landscape populated with people drowning in debt and finding that every month their wages or benefits seem to buy just a little bit less than the last month. Dilapidated housing estates are filled with food banks and addiction and mental health therapy services, while a ragged and growing army of homeless people populates the streets even in wealthy towns.

Britain really has turned into a ‘tale of two countries’, with the shining metropolitan elite and the wealthy upper middle classes who are able to earn a salary from globalised business on one side of the scales, and everyone else on the other. Unlike in America, it is still theoretically possible in Britain to work a minimum wage job and just about scrape by on the rent, the utilities and the food bill, but only if you have access to some state-provided benefits and don’t have any expensive tastes or addictions. Nevertheless, one unexpected bill or unforeseen expenditure, such as a boiler failure or a car breaking down, can throw you into debt – debt that you may then struggle to break free from. More and more people say they are skating on thin ice.

But then many people don’t even have the luxury of a minimum wage job, and are instead forced to work in the gig economy or an a zero-hour contract where they must make themselves available for work yet perhaps only be allocated one hour or more a day. One only has to join a money savings tips or debt advice group on social media to read daily tales of woe from ordinary people who just can’t figure out how they have fallen through the cracks or haul themselves back out again.

On the subject of cracks, the biggest crack of all is the one that has opened up politically between the haves and the have-nots – being played out in real time in the proxy war of Brexit. Most people don’t recognise Brexit for what it is: a fumbling attempt by the ordinary working people of Britain to plunge a dagger into the dark heart of their own elites. The standard official explanation promulgated by the mainstream is that Brexit was a horrendous error of judgement on the part of former prime minister David Cameron, whereby he allowed the (racist, xenophobic, unwashed) population a chance to exercise their ill-informed judgement on a matter of great importance, namely whether the UK should leave the EU.

Following a period of intense state propaganda to coerce people to vote ‘the right way’ a 52% majority responded that they would vote for the exact opposite of whatever the bunch of celebrities and suits was telling them to do. The fallout from this has been nothing less than spectacular. In some cases, long term friends became overnight enemies, people found themselves ostracised by their families and the liberal (i.e. globalist) media has become a kind of video loop that simply repeats “We’re doomed, you stupid fools” over and over.

What’s more, long-standing political parties are tearing themselves asunder over the issue, with both the Conservatives and Labour endlessly trying to figure out whether to fight one other or amongst themselves, or both. The result is a kind of Bird Box Kabuki theatre of blindfolded politicians wandering around on a stage randomly stabbing one another.

The elected politicians, of course, know that it’s their job to defend the status quo, which at the moment means defending the interests of globe-spanning corporations, over the will of the people ,while spouting fine words and making a show of ‘democracy’. And yet those cussed voters (52% of them) won’t be quiet about demanding that their elected representatives bow to their will.

And while it might be amusing to sit back and watch this absurd display of political theatrics, the fact of the matter is that it is less than three months before the official date when the UK leaves the EU and nobody seems to have the faintest idea of what will happen because they are all too busy arguing.

Is this the sign of a stable country that is confident about its place in the world, unified as a whole and willing to make short-term sacrifices for a longer-term common goal? I think not. One could only imagine if someone of the calibre of, say, Winston Churchill was still prime minister.  He would no doubt go to Brussels blow cigar smoke in the faces of Donald Tusk and Jean Claude Juncker, slam his fist down on the desk and lay down the law to the snivelling bureaucrats. He’s then walk outside the European Parliament, give his famous victory sign and make a speech about all the glories that will lie ahead, without neglecting to mention the shared hardships we’d have to go through first.

Instead, we have Theresa May; a vacillating, automaton-like career politician with no discernable moral credo; someone who actually campaigned against Brexit in the first place but now, unconvincingly, claims to own it. The suspicion, of course, is that she stitching the nation up, selling out its interests and handing over sovereign power instead of retaining it.

I’m no fan of Churchill, but you get the point, I hope.

Anyway, the idea I’m trying to convey here as I get back on track with this blog, is that we are reaching limits, both nationally and internationally. The bad choices made over the last 50 or 60 years are coming back to haunt us, and they are playing out through the systems of society and economy in complex and unexpected ways.

In the UK we’ve got ‘Brexit’, in France it’s the ‘Yellow Vests’ and in the US it’s Donald Trump. All of these so-called populist uprisings represent dissatisfaction with the status quo – a cohort of people in each place who have seen themselves and their families and towns become ever more disenfranchised, broken and dispirited, while all the time the media cheerleaders insist that they are mistaken.

For the most part, the people don’t yet recognise the tectonic shifts that have taken place in the realm of energy availability that has led them up this blind alley, or the over-financialisation of their economies that has got them to this point, instead they still think political and technological solutions exist that will allow the problems of our age to be dealt with.

Unfortunately, unless the Chinese discover the dark side of the Moon is covered in a vast black sea of crude oil, they are in for a rude awakening. Alas, it will be a messy and confused time if and when this realisation kicks in. Interesting times indeed. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Fragility: a Reminder

Greetings readers. You might be wondering why I’ve gone a little quiet here. Do not fear - apart from a few disruptions to my everyday normality, everything is fine here. I simply haven’t had much time to do any writing lately as I’ve … been doing a lot of writing. Yes, in a strange twist of irony, writing my posts about financial resilience somehow enabled me to land in a job where I write and edit finance articles for a living.

So, working full-time with a group of other financial journalists hasn’t left me with too much spare time on my hands of late.

It’s a bit unusual working in an office again, having spent the last five years doing a selection of jobs that have included being an outdoor woodsman, a builder’s labourer and a wine waiter/barman in a swanky hotel.

Luckily, the job came just in time. In the last few months we’ve had a run of bad financial luck, with numerous things breaking down and requiring costly repair, as well as being hit with various unexpected charges. To top it all, my wife lost her job when the care home she worked in dramatically closed down when it was revealed the owner had been embezzling funds for the past 14 years.

As a result of this we’ve been living somewhat constrained lives so far this year, which is certainly good practice for the future. In fact, I would say, by building resiliency into our lives we haven’t really broken a sweat over these recent interruptions. So, all in all, it’s ongoing good practice, and my wife has just (today) been offered a new job that pay better than the last one, so something positive came out of it.

In other news, you may have heard that the UK experienced some cold and snowy weather last week. The so-called ‘Beast from the East’ mass of cold Siberian air moved over the British Isles, where it was met by Storm Emma moving up from the south. Most places got a fair covering of snow, including where I live in Cornwall, which hasn’t seen so much of the stuff since the mid-1970s.
Predictably, chaos ensued.

Drivers, not knowing how to handle their vehicles in snow, crashed cars all over the place, with hundreds stuck on motorways overnight in freezing conditions and without blankets to keep them warm. The country came within a whisker of running out of natural gas, and was only saved by burning epic amounts of coal in power stations. Schools and shops closed, people panic-bought bread and milk, and a handful of people died.

And then, after a day or two of fun, the snow melted and everyone was forced to go back to work.
Despite this, there has been a huge knock-on effect on the food distribution system in the country. When I went to my local supermarket two days ago the shelves were still more or less empty of fresh food. There was zero milk, bread or meat to be had, and only a few bits of cheese and yogurt and ready meals left. On the other hand, there were plenty of vegetables and fruit and tonnes of snacks and junk food.

The fact the shelves were still bare almost an entire week after the snow had cleared just goes to show how fragile and vulnerable the food distribution network in the UK is. Hopefully a few people will have seen this as a wake-up call to increase their food stocks at home, and perhaps even learn to bake bread and make other food from fresh ingredients. This time we got off lightly, next time we may not be so lucky.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Mental Capital: Not Losing your Marbles

Do you ever get the feeling that society is losing its marbles? Have some of your friends gone mad and can now only talk stridently about transgender bathrooms, Brexit and the latest presidential Tweet? Do you want to avoid the same fate? Then read on ...

An essential aspect of Holistic Resilience is mental capital. As I outlined previously, Holistic Resilience means taking account of all your different forms of useful and available capital and treating them as essential components that make up a larger whole.  But mental capital is an especially important one, because you can get by for a while without some of the other forms of capital, but you won’t last long at all without any mental capital. But what is it?

Mental capital is that weightless, difficult-to-quantify stuff that is stored within the bony attic of your skull. It encompasses your intelligence, skills, charisma, philosophical outlook and – with a bit of luck – some common sense and a sense of humour.  

[Note: actually, nobody is able to prove these things reside within the brain, and there’s a growing amount of research into the idea the brain is simply a transceiver that accesses information from other realms, but for the intents and purposes of this piece we’ll just assume that your brain is the storeroom of your mental capital. Oh, and another thing, you have two brains as opposed to the standardly assumed one, but that’s not really relevant here.]

Thus, without looking after your mental capital you would not only be very dull and uninteresting, but also functionally dead. This may account for the popularity of all those zombie movies. Those shambolic, brain-gobbling walking corpses are they really just an uncomfortable metaphor for those who haven't managed to hold onto their mental capital and, on a use-it-or-lose-it basis, have reverted to the undead.

It might surprise some people to learn that being an undead zombie type of person, far from being an unsatisfactory situation, is actually considered the ideal when it comes to being resident in a Western country. An ideal —that is —from the point of view of those who stand to benefit from such a state of affairs. In the minds of politicians and business tycoons, having control over a population who have let their mental capital dwindle to apocalyptically low levels, must be a bit like how a shepherd feels with a couple of well trained border collies at his command able to make the flock of sheep go exactly where he wants just by whistling.

How did it get to be like this?

The industrialisation of our technocratic societies has given our handlers some great new tools to exploit us. They can easily make us do things that are against our self-interest, such as buy a product (no matter how shoddily made) or inject our minds with an ideology (no matter how half-baked) almost at the push of a button. This is achieved through an elaborate mind control system called the media, and the clever part is we think all the stuff that appears in our heads was our own idea!

Thus, if you ever find yourself buying a brand new car on credit even though your other one works just fine, or if you catch a reflected glimpse of yourself marching around the streets wearing a pussy hat and demanding that millions of people from alien cultures be allowed to flood your homeland and make those same streets unsafe for you, then you might want to stop and think for a moment. A good question to ask yourself in such a situation is: who stands to gain from this? 

If you think like this for long enough you'll probably start to suspect that powerful forces are — you know — toying with you. And that's not a good thing. You may feel that the whole thing is a bit ... sinister.

Ever get the feeling that ...

We now live in a world where the president of the United States can type 140 characters into Twitter on his iPhone and, within minutes, cause hundreds of millions of people around the world to descend into a state frenzy and lose their minds. It’s an enviable amount of power that would make even a grand wizard in an epic fantasy novel jealous, but he — and others at that end of the food chain —only have that power because people willingly give it to them. So, given that any degree of resilience would necessitate protecting oneself against such intrusions on your valuable mental resources, how best to put up a firewall?


We all like to think we possess some degree of intelligence. We might not think of ourselves as being a genius per se, but we at least like to think of ourselves as more intelligent than them (with them being those stupid dunderhead ignoramuses who just won’t listen to reason).  But what is intelligence?

Some people say you are born with intelligence and some say it's a question of nurturing.  Whatever, we’ll probably never know because, ironically, we’re not intelligent enough to truly understand it and measure it. Still, one way NOT to measure it is by using IQ tests. These can be gamed, as has been proven i.e. you can get better at them by anticipating the types of answers required and seeing through the underlying logic. IQ tests measure a person’s ability to do IQ tests.

Perhaps a better way of understanding intelligence is to assume there are many different categories of it, and that everyone has varying levels of each. In the 1980s the American psychologist Howard Gardner identified nine different types of intelligence, including categories such as existential, natural, musical and bodily-kinesthetic. We intuitively know this to be true (intuition being another type of intelligence our ancestors used, yet has fallen out of use since the Enlightenment). Everybody is clever in certain ways, and our current obsession with measurable and narrowly-defined notions of intelligence have got us into the fix we’re in today.

From a personal perspective it pays to figure out where your gods-given talents lie, and make use of them accordingly. It also pays to build up your knowledge and improve your theoretical model of the world and how it works, because this is probably the best survival tool you’ll ever possess. A standard school education doesn't really do this as, like IQ tests, the focus there is on getting a good score. So how does one build up intelligence?

Reading a lot of books is a good start, especially if they are challenging, offer different viewpoints and span a number of eras to illustrate how ideas wax and wane over the ages. But this is perhaps not for everyone (especially if you are more oriented towards interpersonal methods of intelligence and learning), so in this case you may learn more from watching videos on YouTube and attending talks.

“But who can I trust? Who is right and who is wrong?” goes the cry. The answer to that is that there is no answer. You’ll just have to figure it out yourself. Saying that, there are a few red flags that indicate the person on YouTube from whom you are trying to download intelligent ideas is shovelling smoke:

  • They have large staring eyes (or narrow dead ones) and they never smile. It is easy to imagine these idealogues holding a knife dripping in blood or ordering the execution of people who disagree with them
  • The production quality of their videos is too good for an amateur production (indicating they are probably being funded by some billionaire somewhere)
  • They believe the Earth is flat or that we are being controlled by Lizards in human meat suits
  • They have a made up name (indicating they have likely been convicted of something and done time inside)
  • They claim to know and speak “The Truth”
  • Their every utterance is dripping in sarcasm
  • They begin their TedX presentation with a slide of planet Earth

Simply put, if you cannot imagine having a long and engaging conversation with them over a cold beer beside a fire, then they are probably not worth listening to.


Everyone has some skills, but not many people have any useful ones outside the narrow area of specialisation they have ended up working in. Skills are a strange thing because you can’t tell who has them simply by looking. That person sweeping the street with a cigarette dangling from his lower lip might be the next Jimi Hendrix, and the woman handing you your change in the supermarket might be a talented artist destined to be known down the generations.

These kinds of skills are great for the upper realms of human experience, but could they truly be considered useful? In terms of resilience, perhaps it’s time to get back to basics with some foundation skills that will make life a lot easier for you as the service industries made available by cheap oil go the way of the dodo. Any list is likely to be a long one, but at the very least, some competence should be sought in:

  • Cooking. You should be able to cook a basic meal from scratch using whatever ingredients are available. Storing food is also a valuable skill
  • Harvesting food from nature. Aside from fishing and hunting, this means learning to forage for edible plants and also growing your own vegetables/fruits/nuts
  • Self defence. Being able to protect yourself and your family from attack
  • Mending things. This could include sewing worn clothes, fixing broken electrical appliances or stopping the leak in your roof
  • Education/story telling. Passing on your knowledge, traditions and cultural norms to your children or the children of others

Telling stories around a camp fire is a useful skill

Character and charisma

Your character is made up of the personality traits that define you as a person. Good character has to be worked at and is not simply a case of writing virtue signalling platitudes on Facebook. However, like intelligence, good character is  anathema to modern society because it shows a certain level of resistance to accepting the norms handed down by social engineers. Given that our societies are now in an advanced stage of psychotic breakdown, having the strength of character to resist the tide of half-baked pseudo ideologies, such as cultural Marxism, can make you stand out from the herd.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about this beyond living with honour and sticking to your guns. Remembering that your duty is to your kin – meaning your family and your community (in the absence of a tribe) – is what gives you honour, and is where you will draw strength.

Charisma is slightly different. Some people seem to have it and some people don’t. It’s that indefinable quality that makes other people want to be around and listen to another. Unfortunately, a lot of people with charisma are not necessarily worth being around, and some are downright psychopaths. And charismatic psychopaths, from a personal resilience perspective, should be avoided at all costs as they will suck the life right out of you like a vampire. In past times, when people lived in small clans of no more than 150, psychopaths were identified and disposed of before they could inflict much damage. Quite often this would be disguised as a hunting accident (“Yeah, Quarg just kind of slipped off the cliff and fell onto his spear when we were chasing the bear.”) or they would have their throats slit and their bodies tossed into bogs so that they couldn’t reincarnate.

In the modern world it is illegal to slit people’s throats and toss them into bogs, so psychopaths are now permitted to rise to prominent positions in business and government, where they able to inflict the most damage.  If you suspect a psychopath is feeding off your own mental capital the best thing to do is ghost them. This means you completely block them out and never have contact with them ever again. Being glib, vain and shameless creatures, they will come crawling back to you with flattering remarks and gifts, but you should never let them near you again.

A European bog body - a tradition of getting rid of psychopaths that is no longer allowed

Mental stability

Assuming you’re a regular type of person with no overwhelming pathological mental health conditions, there are certain things you can do to help keep your peace of mind in an increasingly insane world. These things are often remarkably simple, some suggestions include:

  • Alcohol and recreational drugs. Alcohol is a depressant, marijuana eats away at your character and psychedelics can open your mind so much your brain falls out. Moderation is the key here.
  • Sleep. Getting enough good quality sleep is super important to mental welfare. A lack of either triggers a whole host of reactions by your body, including feelings of depression and stress, and your immune system suffers too. Conversely, a good night’s sleep (or several; many of us are so sleep-deprived we need up to a week to fully recover) will have you feeling clear and sharp. Incidentally, alcohol disrupts sleep patterns and prevents REM, which is one reason why you wake up feeling so lousy after hitting the bottle.
  • Nature. The modern world has isolated most of us from nature and this is making us extremely unwell and depressed. It is very hard to be depressed when you are surrounded by wildness and nature. 
  • Exercise and diet. Vigorous exercise triggers the release of endorphins, which give you a feeling of wellbeing. Also, following a healthy diet with all the right vitamins and minerals (preferably from wild plants or biodynamically grown food) means your body will be stronger. Avoid putting glyphosate into your body, which causes inflammations and cancer, and is most readily found in non-organic wheat, lentils and dried pulses.
  • Trolling. Don’t be a troll. If you find yourself hammering away of your keyboard late into the night passive-aggressively hurling insults at strangers over some cause du jour, this means your mental health is slipping.
  • Digital crack. Similarly, limit or exclude from your life Facebook, porn, computer games and mainstream news as these will all rot your brain and turn you into a gibbering, salivating digital untermensch.
  • Annoyances. Eliminate those little niggly things. Do you need a filling in one of your teeth but have been putting it off? Have you relegated that important paperwork to the bottom of the pile? Are there a dozen annoying things that need fixing around the house that you never seem to get round to? Get all these things fixed and you’ll feel a lot better. 
  • Clutter. Also, get rid of everything in your living space that doesn’t belong there. Make everything tidy and clean and you’ll feel like a weight has been removed.

But most of all, stop allowing unfettered access to your mind by the parasites who benefit from feeding off it. Instead, simply ignore them and do something creative instead. Play the guitar, paint a picture, create a garden, design a role playing adventure ... all of these things exercise your creative capacities, meaning you have added something of value to the world, rather than responded negatively to something of no value. 

Common sense

This, unfortunately, is not as common as it once was and should perhaps be renamed. It is yet one more thing that is being taken away from us and preventing us from living as authentic and individual human beings. Wikipedia defines it as:

“[the] sound practical judgment concerning everyday matters, or a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge that is shared by ("common to") nearly all people.”

Given there’s no way to teach this there’s very little to be said about it other than that it’ll probably be a long hard slog before it resurfaces.

A sense of humour

Finally, having some sense of humour is an important aspect of mental resilience. Some of the funniest and seemingly light-hearted people you’ll ever meet are those who have been through the worst times. Call it “dark” or “gallows humour” if you like, but being able to laugh in the face of existential adversity is a human attribute of the highest order. [Just remember, there's a fine line between gallows humour and outright nihilistic cynicism; don't walk on the wrong side of the line.]

Following the much-quoted Kubler Ross model of change (a euphemism for "grief") will inevitably eject you out its backside as a changed person at the “acceptance” level. Congratulations, you’ve survived! 

Now, how do you react to the feeling of impending doom that has been instilled in you? 

Hopefully, with your new Stoic outlook on life, you'll decide to make the best of it and lighten up a little. After all, there’s literally no point moping around complaining you were born, and dramatically screaming “Why me?” at the sky as rain pours down and lightning flashes around you. 

Get on with your life in the best way possible. Be thankful that you’ve been jolted awake rather than face living the rest of your life cocooned in some blandly cosy yet false notion that everything is awesome and you’re in control. 

And then make some jokes about it.

Friday, January 5, 2018

A Tour of Fox Wood

Greetings all and happy New Year. Hope you all had a good one — I've been working in my woodland this week and thought I'd make a little video to show people what I'm up to. It came out a little bit longer than I anticipated, so it's probably best to watch it with a cup of tea.

This is my first YouTube video, although there will be more, so please don't be too harsh in your judgement of my efforts.

Normal writing schedule will recommence shortly.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Hard Goods

In the last couple of posts I’ve talked about the idea of having a range of types of capital to foster resilience. I started off talking about financial capital, because that is the form that first springs to mind for most people when they consider planning for the future, but it’s only one of ten different forms I outlined.

The next one I want to write about is hard capital. When I talk about hard capital I’m talking about physical objects that you can put your hand on. These are things that come under your orbit of control that you can put to good use in order to achieve your primary aim. What is your primary aim? It is, I would suggest, to stack the odds in your favour of living a good productive, healthy and happy life for as long as possible, and to resist being sucked into a chaotic void. Sound reasonable and realistic to achieve?

Many people these days have unrealistic aims. They want to do things like save the world from global warming, or push humanity onto a higher level of vibrational consciousness, or smash the patriarchy (whatever that is). As such, they are set up for failure, and the void stretches before them. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with aligning your life with your values and hoping for the best, but making an unachievable aim the major focus of your life will drain your energy faster than a solar battery on a cloudy day.

Instead, a wiser course of action would be to focus on things you can achieve within your own life. Once you’ve got your own house in order you’ll be of greater use to your family, your friends and your local community. Who knows, you may even have some energy left over to dedicate to achieving world peace.

The Brooklyn-born psychologist Abraham Maslow had a great deal to say on this matter. Maslow thought that the aim of life was to achieve “self-actualisation”. By that he meant climbing upwards and away from the drudgery of day-to-day existence, and achieving something truly remarkable with your life. To him a self-actualised person is:

“A person who makes full use of and exploits his talents, potentialities, and capacities. Such a person seems to be fulfilling himself and doing the best he is capable of doing. The self-actualized person must find in his life those qualities that make his living rich and rewarding. He must find meaningfulness, self-sufficiency, effortlessness, playfulness, richness, simplicity, completion, necessity, perfection, individuality, beauty, and truth.” Abraham Maslow

To this end, Maslow then went on to create his famous “hierarchy of needs” triangle, which sets out human needs, from the most basic to the most refined, with the implicit suggestion that we must all set out on a journey to climb our own personal pyramids.

Looking at the triangle, you may notice that, moving from the bottom to the top, is roughly equivalent of moving through the ten forms of capital needed for resilience which I outlined (financial, hard goods, mental, social, health, employment, bio, time, emotional and spiritual).  That is to say, one level needs to rest on the base of the one below in order to move up to the next level, with each level becoming narrower and more refined as you ascend. The pinnacle of the pyramid is the state of self-actualisation, and it rests on the firm base of the other states below it.

So, with the ideal of achieving our highest form of human experience, the next level of capital we’ll need to develop is the hard stuff. And the biggest piece of hard capital most people will need, and also something that appears very low down (i.e. of fundamental importance) in Maslow’s hierarchy, is a building in which to live. A home can take many forms, but it needs to provide shelter and safety at the very least. Ideally you will own your home and have the security of knowing that it’s yours and cannot be taken off you except in the most extreme of circumstances. Alas, housing across the industrialised world is a traditional favourite for speculative investors, meaning the price bears no relation to the materials involved in its creation. This puts home ownership out of reach of many people, forcing them into a life of renting or being shunted around from one social housing project to the next. And for now, strict zoning laws and obstructive planning rules keep it this way. Despite this, many people have found their own creative solutions. These include:

  • Tiny homes. Often the size of a garden shed, and sometimes on wheels to get round planning laws, tiny homes still provide the function of protection (from the elements), a safe place to sleep, a physical address and a store (however small) for other hard goods such as clothing and cooking wares. Pros: affordable: Cons: may fall foul of planning laws, not much space for anything except living
  • Earth sheltered buildings/hobbit holes. Increasingly common in northern Europe, these are partially dug out of the ground and usually hidden from view. Being constructed of natural materials and scavenged waste, they are very cheap to construct and are often situated on land deemed agricultural. Pros: cheap to build, close to nature: Cons: usually illegal, prone to demolition if discovered
  • “Wheel estate”. Living in a car, camper van (RV) or caravan is increasingly common, especially for people in the generations either side of the baby boomers. In the US there are now entire ‘communities’ of elderly workers living in these conditions and working for companies such as Amazon. Pros: very cheap, usually legal, mobile: Cons: little security, prone to breakdown/devaluation
  • Squats. Taking over unused buildings is not a new phenomenon but it is increasingly common in large cities. Pros: free: Cons: illegal, unsafe

If you’re one of the lucky few who can afford to own a regular house with a bit of land attached in the form of a garden, you should count yourself very lucky. However, there are pitfalls even here. We are told, and most people assume it to be an absolute truth, that houses are an asset. It’s an article of faith that they always rise in price over the long run, leading to the maxim “safe as houses.” But a house is not just an asset, it’s also a liability. Once you own a property that is legally registered in your name you are on the hook for whatever local taxes the increasingly cash-strapped municipal authorities decide to throw at you. Can you decide you don’t want to pay these taxes? Not without landing yourself in court — and if you still won’t pay, you may end up in prison (which is the ‘housing solution’ of last resort).

What’s more, houses decay. Roof tiles fall off and let water into the loft space. Damp spreads up walls from basements. Window frames rot and need replacing. Heating and cooling systems break down and cost a fortune to get repaired. The list goes on …

The aim of the game is to make your house more of an asset than a liability. You can do this by choosing to live in an area with low property taxes, running a business from home, making sure it is insulated properly so that it doesn’t waste energy, setting it up to run on renewable power, renting out a room (or even the whole house if you live in a touristy area), making use of outdoor space to grow food — again, the list of what you CAN do is long.

So, if you find yourself in the fortunate position of being able to buy a house, choose wisely. Get one that has a proven track record of standing up — newer houses (at least in the UK, and, I suspect, elsewhere) are made of cheap and shoddy materials that — even by the builders’ own admission — are not designed to last more than four or five decades.

Aside from housing, land is another eminently sensible physical thing to own. Whenever people ask me what I’d do if I won the national lottery (which is a pure thought experiment as I don’t buy tickets) I always answer that I’d buy land. As much of it as I could afford. Wherever I saw a field or a woodland or a degraded piece of scrubland, I’d buy it. I’d then get as many people as possible living and working on this land, restoring it to ecological health, growing food and generally being an example to others of what can be done.

Even if you don’t own any land, you’re still going to need some tools to ensure you can make some form of living. I have three main tools: a car, a laptop and a chainsaw. My car allows me and my family to get around and to move things that would be very difficult if we had to rely on muscle power alone. My laptop enables me to gather information, communicate, organise my life, apply for jobs, write blogs and books and a host of other things too. My chainsaw allows me to cut down trees and then butcher them up into small chunks in order to produce firewood, building materials and charcoal — something that would be very difficult to do if I had to rely on hand saws alone.

It's probably a good idea to get hold of any tools you think you might need in the future. The time to buy them is now, when all it takes is the click of a mouse button to have a diesel powered delivery van roll up outside your house a day or two later. Sites such as eBay are a great place to find old hand tools.  And old hand tools tend to be better than modern ones as the quality of metal ores used to be far higher than they are today. I have hammers that are probably 70 years old and still in great shape, and hammers that I’ve had only a year or two but are damaged after only light use.

Other hard goods that will improve your basic resilience in this category include:

-       Food and water. You should have enough food to hand to last you and your family through several months of disruption to supply. Most people operate a ‘just in time’ mode of living, going to the supermarket every day and having mostly empty shelves. This is an efficient way of operating, but it is hardly resilient. It’s best to build up a basic store of things that keep a long time, such as rice, dry beans and pasta, and then build of a store of canned goods, sauces, stock cubes and other items that will make consuming your bland basics a little more interesting. If you have somewhere to grow food, make sure you also have enough seeds in store. Always buy non-GMO heirloom varieties.

Clothing. Make sure you have enough clothing to last you a long time. If I had enough money, I would buy several pairs of really good boots, dozens of thick socks, several rainproof coats and hardwearing overalls, and I’d store them away for future use. Here’s an anecdote: my wife’s grandfather was a policeman in Denmark during WWII. One day the Nazis invaded and arrested all the police, but he managed to escape. For the next three years he lived rough in a forest, working with the resistance and enduring unbearably cold winters — an experience he never forgot. In 2002, just before he died it was found out that he had been saving in the attic all the socks, gloves and hats he’d been given over the years — “You never know when the hard times might come again,” he said.

Quality stuff. Despite the cornucopian abundance we enjoy at present, almost everything produced for consumers these days is cheap and shoddy. Unfortunately, for people on a low or average income, these are the only affordable options. Nevertheless, it pays to seek out quality things that will last a long time, and these can be cheaper than you think. Flea markets and charity shops are great places for the discerning scavenger to pick up quality objects. I have bought cast iron frying pans, ceramic pots and high grade ore tools very cheaply from these places. eBay is great for this too (just this week I purchased a hard wearing wax jacket for £40 that would have been £260 new – the reason being there was a small hole in one of the pockets.) If you can afford it, buy quality new things too. It might be painful to fork out the extra in the short term, but if it means you won’t ever have to buy said item again it will have been worth it.

Books and manuals. Again, these are very cheap at present and easy to obtain, so you may as well stock up if you have the space. “How to” manuals will be worth their weight in gold in the future as the internet becomes less and less useful as an information source, as will good quality fiction and non-fiction. Now is the time to build up your personal library.

Things of beauty. Okay, so not strictly ‘necessary’, but they will add value to your life. I don’t want anything in my house that isn’t either useful or beautiful, and some of the things I own perform dual roles. I’ve bought oil lamps from antique shops that look nice on my table now but will give light in the event of a grid interruption, artwork handing on the walls created by friends, furniture upcycled by my wife and old oak chests with beautiful painted artwork that I picked up for a song as they no longer fitted with people’s contemporary ideas of interior design.

I’m firmly convinced that if you live in a modern industrialised nation you can get hold of most of what you need to furnish your home either for free, or almost free. After all, this is exactly what I did in the very first blog post I ever wrote on here, seven years ago when I had no money.

So, anyway, there were some thoughts on getting hold of the hard goods you’ll need to build up that level of resilience in order to move onwards and upwards towards your aim of living the best life possible under the circumstances you are presented with. 

I’ll be taking a break for a few weeks in this series as I’m between jobs and focusing on getting the next instalment of my sci-fi book series written — the next in the series is called Neptune Rising — so have a great Yule/Christmas and see you in the New Year!