‘Long Walks & Anarcho-Primitivism’, Part 3:

Wild tea making and the revolt against the machine

Going outside to brew rosehip tea is a gateway to a lifestyle revolution

Page bookmarks
(use section number as a hotkey to jump to it).
  1. Most ecological issues can be solved with “less”.
  2. Why ‘anarcho-primitivism’? (box).
  3. Technology is not neutral.
  4. Let’s take tea… literally! (box).
  5. In my kitchen, or sat on a hill….
  6. Humanity’s founding skill was the ability to apply heat to food (box).

Walking1, camping, and foraging, are the last ‘natural’ refuges outside technological society – the last ‘commons’2 open to all irrespective of wealth; albeit one that’s always under threat3. I know I’m not alone4 in that position. More importantly, I know there are many more5 who want to ‘downshift’6 into “something else” – other than where they are now – but have not the first clue how. Perversely, the poorer you are, the harder “having less” is. Getting past these obstacles to change is the purpose of this blog.

Our modern, convenient, technological society is like a helium balloon, that people happily cling-to as they ever so slowly rise into the skies of affluence, consumption, and pleasure: At first it’s exhilarating, as you are lifted higher and higher; problem is, no one thought to install a valve to release the gas to let you slowly descend when the ride is over; the longer you cling-on, the higher and the more painful the inevitable fall7 will be – when the balloon finally bursts as it expands, or when you can’t hang on any longer.

What you have to ask yourself is, ‘how can I most easily let go of all of this?’ – before you are forced to8.

Perhaps that seems a bit dramatic; but it’s a good summary of where many people are these days. If the ‘Covid Crisis’ has got people rattled, that’s more about the way it exposed the insecurity of their daily lives, rather than the direct risk of the virus.

People need options; but all ‘popular’ options take today’s technological dependency as a given; something not to be questioned. In this blog people’s dependence on technology will not only be criticised, we will also explore the alternatives to that lifestyle.

Rather than deal with big bold ideas, in each post I will outline a small part of the overall problem – hopefully with a video to explain what it is I am talking about. All this information is open for you to share, for free.

At the root of this discussion is a simple question: “What if, one day, everything just stopped; could you live happily?”

The reality of mass consumption is that the lifestyle it supports is dependent upon the ability to consume. Losing your economic status, or if the system falls into crisis, will quickly mark the end of that lifestyle.

Every ‘ordinary’ person in the system secretly knows this; and a lot of political and media fodder, from fashion to election messages, exploit that fear to get attention.

Generally though we just don’t think about it; except as apocalyptic disaster films, or mind-numbing TV documentaries. Society doesn’t like to address that reality, and when people ‘seriously’ try to, don’t expect that to appear in the mainstream media.

The moment you raise the question seriously, you invalidate the daily, mindless, care-free consumer existence that affluence projects. And even when TV shows or newspapers occasionally open this box of horrors, there’s always an, “and finally”, at the end – when they give some abstract and unlikely techno-fix that will ‘save you’, enabling you to go back to sleep once more.

This same unspoken insecurity is the starting-point for this blog. That vexed reality we can’t acknowledge: How it is possible to learn to live, “when the lights go out”, and do that very easily and cheaply. Better still, learn how those same ideas can create a safer route outside of this absurd system, before that crash happens.

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Most ecological issues can be solved with “less”

Most ecological issues can be solved with “less”: Less consumption; less pollution; less extraction; less waste; and combining all of those, less technology.

This consumption- and technology-critical argument was at the core of early environmentalism from the 1960s; but as the leaders of the environment movement sought to take ‘green’ into the political mainstream, from the late 1980s that radical core was dropped – in favour of more consumption-friendly slogans.

Now anyone could be ‘green’… if they could afford buy the right products.

Just as the pressures of consumerism made environmentalists abandon their core values, so, in the affluent states, the response of the mainstream left has been to abandon their principles too – the British Labour Party being a perfect example.

Today, what remains of leftist politics, and anti-capitalism, has retreated to the on-line world – ensuring its digital ghettoisation by the algorithms of social media platforms.

In fact, by accommodating affluence and consumption as a given, all radical movements have struggled to make any meaningful change in the last few decades.

From modern slavery to climate change, too many campaigns focus on the ‘bad’ results of the global technocratic economy;

ignorant of how the ‘positive’ effects of consumerism, and especially the screen-based digital world, warps people’s perceptions in order to protect and perpetuate itself.

For example, take the simplistic phrase, often-repeated by Deep Ecologists10 and Neo-Luddites11: “Turn it off”.

OK… turn it off and do what exactly?

Let’s say I turn-off the power and gadgets in my life; now what? How does the average person work, travel, or buy and cook food?

The idea of ‘dropping out’ of today’s technologically-enabled society represents a ‘double-bind’12; you can’t exclude yourself from society because the way it functions prevents you from doing so safely. Rather like a closed religious sect, turning off the technology in your life creates an automatic ‘social death’, that cuts you off from everything else in your life that you value.

For that same reason, the opponents of environmentalists or anarchists always use this argument as an attack13; that ‘turning-back progress’ is impossible, and so continuing with ever-more14 technology is the only viable option for all humanity.

The very naïveté of the ‘turn it off’ statement, the assumption people can just put down the gadgets and walk away, embodies the reasons for its failure. On the positive side though, by solving that failure, we might begin to make deep ecology, or anarcho-primitivism (see box), a practical option for the average person to seriously adopt.

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Technology is not neutral

Technology is not neutral. Technology reinforces the economic and political culture of the present-day, by allowing the corporate economic system to operate in the way it does:

Convenience food and ready-meals were not a conscious consumer choice – no one lobbied for them! They were designed to free people from food preparation, due to the excess of time most people (primarily women) were made to work outside the home – which made traditional food preparation from raw ingredients impossible.

Likewise, on-line banking isn’t a means to free people from a physical bank to manage their money (or realistically, their debt). It’s designed to allow finance corporations23 to cheaply manage people’s participation in the economic system – and in a way which gives them greater surveillance capabilities over people’s lives, to more easily algorithmically exploit them as a resource for profit.

The ‘gig economy’24 is not simply the result of large employers conspiring to casualise employment practices. The more precarious nature of employment isn’t just the result of governments and corporations manipulating the laws and practices of employment. It’s the technologies behind ‘platforms’25 and ‘human resource management’26, often based upon greater surveillance and data collection, which created the ability for those changes to take place – and which trap people into an ever-more precarious jobs market managed by technology.

Just as many people on the ‘political right’ dismiss poverty or unemployment as a “lifestyle choice”, so those on the left dismiss economic exploitation or polluting industries as a ‘choice’ of capital.

The fact is all sides are trapped within this system because – by its nature – you can’t disengage the unwelcome side of the modern economy without disavowing its benefits too. Again, it’s a ‘double-bind’ for them too; anyone who doesn’t act like a ‘good’ businessman or capitalist will be put out of business by the ones who do.

You can’t leave the system, even though your prospects in it are dire27. What you must do is replace it with something else; something that you can maintain yourself.

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In my kitchen, or sat on a hill…

In my kitchen, or sat on a hill, the core of my ‘simple’ lifestyle revolves around the kinds of basic skills that can be learnt from walking, and camping, and foraging. That, with a little explanatory philosophy and history, is what I wish to share here:

Yes, there are lots of reasons for why getting outdoors is good for you32; but beyond all the health33 and mental well-being34 stuff, walking and camping creates a physical space in which you can learn the skills required for ‘downshifting’35 – exiting this high-tech., high-cost, dead-end ‘modern’ lifestyle.

It sounds absurd, but having the ability to go outside and brew a bowl of rosehip tea36 on a hill, is a gateway towards a lifestyle revolution (see box). It’s not the literal tea-brewing (see box); it’s the mind-set created by regularly and enjoyably undertaking such ‘uneconomic’ activities37.

In a sense, walking and camping are the workable alternative to the simplistic ‘turn it off’ message. That’s because walking and camping comfortably rely on developing skills through practical experience. Rather than a hard break, you are creating a space to ‘decompress’38 – to learn the skills to create a parallel lifestyle outside of the consensual, economic restrictions of society.

That is what I will explore through the future editions of this blog: How, by spending time developing practical skills outdoors – outside of the restrictions of everyday ‘economic normality’ – there is a means to move beyond the expectations of that lifestyle. Even if that does not lead to you rethinking your lifestyle in the immediate future, as the inevitable breakdown of ‘normality’ grinds inexorably forward over the next 10 to 20 years, these skills will give you options to deal with those events as they arrive.

Everything must change: ‘Going with the flow’ has no viable future39; as the extent of the ecological crisis becomes clear – that we are past the point of ‘no return’40, and there is ‘no going back’41 to mainstream normality – people need to find a means to progress42 from the ‘technology trap’43 of modern lifestyles; consciously avoiding the traps44 of the past three centuries of industrialisation45, and the seven decades of the consumer society46, to find their own alternatives47.