Thursday, September 17, 2015


I was having a cup of tea with a friend in his polytunnel the other day and he was telling me about how hard it was to live a simple life minding his own business. He's about ten years younger than me, is married and has a kid on the way, and they live on a three acre plot of land which they bought with their own money and manage using permaculture. They work every day of the week, have practically no money and their ecological footprint is probably so small it might even not register, and yet they are suffering from endless harassment to get them evicted and complaints from nearby wealthy residents who feel that people shouldn't be allowed to live as they please. My friend had a simple explanation for all this, he said that as a nation and a culture, we are basically nasty and intolerant.

This got me thinking. Britain, after all, was the first industrialised nation. We had the enclosures acts from the 17th century onwards which kicked people off the land and turned it over to the pseudo industrial practice of sheep farming (the rearing of 'woolly maggots' as George Monbiot describes them). Wealth has been concentrated at the top for so long and the society has been stratified by class that imagining normal people living and working in the countryside is practically impossible for most.

Our culture is a dominator one. Due to a geological accident regarding coal, combined with a military nature and a lust for foreign goods, we ended up being the world's largest empire. When colonisers arrived in Australia and encountered Aboriginal people, instead of making friends with them they buried their children up to their necks in the sand and played a game where you had to kick off their heads with a single powerful kick. In India we caused mass famines and when people complained we machine-gunned them down. We did the same in plenty of other countries too. We divided up vast expanses of Africa, Asia and the Middle East and drew lines on maps which caused huge upheavals and sectarian violence. Nelson razed Copenhagen with naval bombardment, just for fun, and we devised the world's first concentration camps during the Boer War, and enthusiastically firebombed cities during the Second World War. And then, even when we stopped being an empire, we spawned Margaret Thatcher whose enthusiasm for the ideas of neoliberalism was enthusiastically passed onto Ronald Reagan and forced upon the world.

People don't like to talk about any of these aspects of Britishness. They prefer to talk about the engineering marvels we brought to India and how we taught the world to speak English. We brought football, cricket and tennis to the natives, and helped them become civilised. They might concede that there was the odd 'dark chapter' but that overall the empire building was all good and proper.

I was in London a couple of weeks ago and took the opportunity to visit the City (i.e. the financial district) to do a bit of background research for my online book Seat of Mars. Leaving Liverpool Street station one passes by a bronze statue of some refugee children. I looked at the inscription and it was a dedication to the selfless efforts of local people who took in 10,000 Jewish children from Germany prior to the Second World War. Valiant stuff, but this is the statue that many of the 35,000 City workers walk past every morning as they head for their high rises to unleash further financial mayhem on the world. How many millions of people has the City of London killed in the last few decades? It's a valid question, but don't hold your breath for an answer. Yet these City workers, for the most part, see themselves as good people. They run marathons to raise funds for cancer research, they donate money on Children in Need night, and they buy kittens for their kids. I have some friends who are City bankers and they are not evil people (though we don't have much to talk about these days). Hell, I was once almost a banker myself, luckily fluffing my interview at Citi.

So maybe it's just the system that is evil.

But then I see evil everywhere. I see the attack dogs set onto Jeremy Corby for daring to suggest scrapping nuclear weapons. I see evil in the pages of the Daily Mail and the Telegraph as they attempt to character assassinate anyone who wants to stop global warming, or as they incite violence against refugees. I see evil in the countryside where farmers and rich people collude to kill the wildlife in the most painful and inhumane ways possible. Fracking is evil. Bombing by drones is evil. Hosting arms fairs is evil.

Of course, if you say these things to people they will call you a traitor and a 'Brit hater'. They will point out that it's not their fault, all those wars of conquest, and that they have no need to feel guilty - even though our way of life is funded by one-sided trade deals, easy access to energy and a ponzi system of finance that allows us to continue to rack up astronomical levels of debt and consume huge bites of the world's resource pie. I'm not a Brit-hater - there are far too many positive aspects of life in these isles - but that doesn't mean I have to be an apologist for the less-than-wholesome aspects.

Perhaps my friend had a point.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps it is a case that those in the top positions are psychopaths, willing to do anything and everything to consolidate their power and enslave the masses using mind control techniques. I know plenty of people who are not evil. As a matter of fact, I don't think I know anyone who is evil. Most people, it seems to me, are good at heart. They want to help. They want to love one another. They want to stop the destruction of the world. These are the people it is best to hang around with - they're better for for soul and your sanity.

So why do we collectively put up with all this evilness? Is it because badness has a natural advantage over goodness? Do evil plans always work out in the 'real' world and good ones are just 'idealistic dreaming'? Does the devil have all the best tunes?

I have a theory. Could it be that it is because Britain is an island that was once fabled for its gold and tin mines? That it has been invaded again and again since the end of the last ice age, and that the settler populations always selected for the most war-like? For me, you could forgive the Anglo Saxons and the Romans, but it was the Normans that did it. With their Scandinavian blood, their aristocratic French ways and their lust for conquering - the country changed dramatically after 1066. One of the first things they did was catalogue all the people, land and assets in the Domesday Book. Invasion, murder and cataloguing - the start of the dominator culture. It's been almost 1,000 years and still the top landowners in this country can trace their lineages back to the Normans. Or maybe there is some kind of supernatural explanation ...

So, no, I don't think we are evil. Just some of us. The ones with the power. And the ability to project that power has been multiplied a thousand-fold since we discovered that you could burn coal and use it to power engines. So will we see a future where access to limited high-concentration energy also leads to a corresponding drop in the ability of bad men (yes, it's mostly men) to do bad things? One can only hope so.

Who knows, maybe in 500 years time it will be possible to live on a small piece of land and raise a family without having the collective wrath of a millennium of dominator culture threatening to fall down and crush you just for wanting not to be a part of that system.


  1. Besides being a quality some people possess in great quantity, Evil is an Emergent Property of Systems. The bigger the system gets, the bigger the Evil you get. The system then selects for the most Evil people to be in charge of it. So you have a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop for Evil.

    However, Evil depends on copious energy to expand its reach, and I developed an equation to explain it. S=G/E*2. In English, Spirituality equals Gravity divided by Energy Squared. As available energy increases, Spirituality decreases rapidly. Gravity is a constant in the equation for a given planet.

    However, as Energy decreases, Spirituality rises to Infinity. At a certain point we will cross the threshhold of this, and that is when Good will Triumph over Evil.

    The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth. Right AFTER the Meek get very, VERY Angry.


    1. That's an interesting theory. I've no doubt that having excess energy makes it a lot easier to capitalise on one's innate evilness and expand it into areas that were previously off limits. Our evolution as primates means that there will always be a temptation to go and invade that territory, steal those fruits and kill those other chimps. A complex technological society just means that those who engage in such pursuits can get away with it more easily.

      OTOH people will point out that Spain colonised South America without burning a single barrel of oil ...

    2. Spain was burning copious energy to do the colonization of SA. It takes a lot of enery to smelt metal for all those Muskets, Armor, Cannon, nails and hardware to put the sailing ships together, etc. They did it mainly by burning down a lot of forest.

      The Brits outdid them because they got hold of their Coal supplies even prior to the steam engine, starting in the early 17th century. More energy allowed them to build a bigger and better Navy.


  2. It would be nice to blame it on men, but Thatcher screws it all up! Power clearly deforms everyone without gender bias, it's just that women get fewer opportunities to become powerful.

    1. Was an autopsy ever done on Thatcher? Is there conclusive proof she wasn't a man? ;)

  3. My advice to your friend would be to maintain an air of benign tolerance but, if they persist in making life difficult, tell them to f**k off and mind their own business.

    People are so hooked into the System, emotionally and financially, that they can't see:
    a) How vulnerable they are within it
    b) Any conceivable alternative way of living.

    In my experience there is no point reasoning with such people. Folk such as your friend are just written off as "weird" or, worse, seen as a threat.

    The juxtaposition of those who are attempting to re-forge a life within limits and those who are still riding the fossil-fuel fun-ship seems most stark in the rural parts of our small island.

    I suppose your friend could always present his neighbours with a live chicken as some kind of peace-offering?!

    1. Good advice - but things have gone way past that point now. A bit of background:

      - There was a large stately home with a few hundred acres of land and forest
      - Plenty of rich folks (accountants, lawyers etc - mostly from London or the home counties) bought houses adjoining the land where they could live out their fantasies of being 'lord of the manor'
      - The aristocrat got caught in a compromising situation with his secretary. His wife divorced him and sued him
      - Because of this and a number of bad investments he became bankrupt
      - The house and land was broken up and auctioned off
      - Me and my friend bought bits of it and are separately trying to, as you say, re-forge a life within the limits of nature
      - Some of the the 'locals' didn't like it one bit and still regard it as 'their' land

      Saying that, there's not much they can do. We own the land - they'll just have to get used to that fact.

      Regarding the live chicken - !!! Ironically, they just got chickens and their neighbour came round and threatened to kill them (the chickens) for making chicken noises. Apparently the countryside is no place for chickens!

    2. Mark, the catch 22 is that the reason most people can't see any alternative is that for many of them there is no alternative. Either they don't have the mindset, health or access to land that might give them an alternative. We live in a system where the elite are looking out for themselves and I cannot see anyone or group on the horizon who would have the vision or gumption to totally reorganise our society and cut us off from the globalist nightmare stair case we are descending across the western world.

      Jason "we own the land _ they'll just have to get used to that fact", sounds like something a Norman baron would have said! just shows how deeply the dominator pathology is embedded in our national psyche even in our more alternatively minded members. To be fair that is part of the mindset you need to succeed in your situation. Would that you had a massive community of like minded co-operative spirits on their own or community land around you. All the best, just read The Path to Odin's lake by the way. It didn't change my life but I agree that there will be no change until more people establish a meaningful connection to the natural world. Particularly enjoyed your observations of how Swedish life is being impacted by their willingness to take in refugees.

    3. Hi Phil - glad you liked the book.

      To be fair, there are quite a few supportive people around us and we have set up our own community group where we do things like carve wood, make cider, have bonfires etc. It's just a few bad apples that spoil it for everyone else.

      When I said "we own the land" I'm just referring to the fact that there are bits of paper saying we own it by law. Thus it is impossible to 'evict' us from it. We are talking about tiny, tiny scraps of land surrounded by hundreds of acres of chemically treated monoculture - not really Norman baron like methinks! Nobody truly owns land, although the land may own us,

  4. Hi Jason,

    When I spotted the title to your most recent essay, my first thought was the Prodigy. Not sure what that says, but they rock and have done so for a very long time. They toured here very recently and I heard them interviewed. They came across as very thoughtful individuals. I never pondered the meaning of the song though.

    As to your friends, if they can be possibly evicted then I suspect that they are somehow leasing the property and if so then that comes with significantly less rights than the owner of that land. They have to live in both worlds because they have no other choice if they wish to pursue their interests. There are ways to produce your own food without offending the delicate sensibilities of the neighbours. Understanding the neighbours motivations is probably not a bad idea either as they are probably fearful of their own property prices and then kick them where it hurts. What they haven't quite learned to fear yet is that things could get worse if they don't back off. Just sayin, it is one option.

    In a system of minimal, stable or even declining resources, every win is someone else's loss and that is what you are seeing. People are people the world around. I've never travelled to another developed country, as I was always drawn to the third world countries. The people in those countries seemed pretty similar to me. The difference is that we outsource our responsibilities for doing the dirty work to the people that you wrote about. Those people at the same time are trying to expand their own access to resources in an environment where there is a declining resource base. But they don't act in concert, or pursue co-operative objectives and that will be their undoing. It is a fractal process rather than a co-ordinated response and it is dysfunctional. Unfortunately it means that sometimes your friends can become collateral damage.

    Cheers. Chris

    1. Hi Chris. No, my friends own their land outright. It is smack bang in the middle of the countryside. The problem is, in Britain at least, there are many rules and laws that prevent you from living on land even if you own it. A lot of it has to do with keeping the housing bubble inflated as this is the way the rentier class get a free ride on an expanding bubble.

      Ironically, they are Cornish, and most of the rich people in nearby houses are English. This is unfortunate - it is almost impossible for young local Cornish people to be able to afford a house - they have all been hoovered up by wealthy people (many of them are second homes). As a result there are people living in tin sheds, caravans, tents, benders, boats and camper vans all over the place.

      OTOH my friend (and me) are keeping records on which people are being particularly nasty to us now because we perceive a time in the future when they may be forced to rely on their local community and what it can produce. In those circumstances they will be last in the line.

      There's a lot more to this than I can say here, but there really are people out there who have decided their mission in life is to make life impossible for those who don't share their values. It's quite frustrating.

      BTW did you receive the book yet?

    2. Hi Jason,

      Hmmm, I had to fight tooth and nail with the local powers that be to get to live here and oh boy did they make it difficult for me. They need to seriously read the Art of War by Sun Tzu and get some new perspectives on the matter - it is not like it is a new problem.

      Of course, I have read of your problems in that section of the UK. Interesting, and I bet that it has deep historical roots.

      I too gather useful dirt on people that I believe that I may have a problem with in the future, but I reckon it is sort of like when I was young: I spent my money going to martial arts training to learn how to fight because I didn't want to fight? Sun Tzu advises to take the initiative.

      No, I'll check the post office again tomorrow - I have no mail delivery here - but bear in mind that it is a long way from your place to here. I look forward to reading your story.



    3. Sun Tzu! He's the master.

      Last year my friends got married and threw a huge party on their land. There was free booze and all. That certainly got a few more people 'on side'.

      Plus, this who are kicking up the most fuss have illegal water connections running across our land. You know what they say about people in glass houses ...

  5. we perceive a time in the future when they may be forced to rely on their local community and what it can produce. In those circumstances they will be last in the line.
    I suspect it won't actually come to that, because I take it they are the type of people you see on the awful BBC series 'Escape to the Country'. Only a particular set of circumstances has enabled wealthy people to live in the countryside but take the urban lifestyle with them. If those conditions go away they would have to choose one or the other.

  6. I do think evil is promoted by the system, and that it was the fact that Britain commanded the introduction of modern capitalism in so many countries that made you guys evil. I don't think any other people would have done much better or worse given the conditions. Evil take place again and again, when people are in evil spots. I don't believe in that there are truly evil people, but there are conditions where most of us can make evil things. Of course, it comes easier to some, and some resist - perhaps to the end. People wanting to do good often make evil things, because they believe that the aims justify the means.

    It is good to reflect on these things, even if there is no definitive answer.

  7. late in your comment cycle- but here goes. "Evil"- I'm not an ecologist, but my layman’s assessment is that massed violence is a successful adaptive behavior, and over time, pacifism or other less violent behaviors will logically be removed from the gene pool. There are plenty of examples of cooperative and stable group cultures, but I wonder if the added element is agriculture at scale. The foundation of stored foods, resulting hierarchy, and ability to develop specialization might be the key that unlocks Pandora’s box. In a relatively stable society with entrenched wealth, violence can be economic or subtle, but is still imposition of will. Fossil fuels merely multiplied this tendency by an order of magnitude or two. I also wonder if it is any coincidence that the hymenoptera order, many of which store food and live in organized groups, also engage in large scale warfare?
    Can we as a species, through conscious choice, take a wiser, less violent path, or are we mere slaves to the subconscious and millennia of selection? Evidence does not counsel optimism.


I'll try to reply to comments as time permits.