Saturday, 24 December 2011

Less Than Perfect (or self-forgiveness is the key to getting anything done, at least in my case)

Happy New Year!*

A couple days late perhaps, but I'll forgive myself that. I've made it my resolution to forgive myself when I slip up and fail to adhere to my plans perfectly (which as a crippling perfectionist* shall be a challenge). This is especially important to me this year as I have a grand master plan to add value to my life.

Perfectionism is the reason I don't post as regularly as I'd like. I've scrapped far too many posts because I didn't feel they were good enough. So daft. So from now on, I'm not going to aim for perfect, just for getting my point across and posting regularly. After all, if I don't post, I can't have the conversations I'd like to have with people.

Oh wait, I mentioned a grand master plan earlier, didn't I? All shall be revealed tomorrow.

Anyone got any good resolutions this year?

*I posted this on Jan 3 2012, I have no idea why the publish date is Dec 24 2011. It really had just been the new year, honest!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Does God Matter? (or would we live our lives differently knowing an undebatabely true answer?)

I typed this post up a week ago and lost it on my computer. I realised* half hour ago that it wasn't saved on my computer but to Google Docs. Duuuuuuhhhh.

*yes with an 's' - stupid Google stop trying to make me spell like an american!

God. What is He doing? Is He a He? Is He even real? What is the grand plan? Is there one? Does it matter?

...Does it matter?

I don’t think so. Not one tiny bit.

For pretty much as long as I can remember God and I have had a strange relationship. We don’t really write or call each other. Sometimes we poke each other to see what happens.

When I was really young, I think maybe five or six years old I made a really strange request of God, to test whether or not he was there. Now I know you aren’t meant to test God, but I was 5... or six... and didn’t know any better. You’re all going to laugh when you read this, and I’ve never shared it before so be kind :P

Tiny little five or six year old Brett, all tucked up in bed one night, wondered if God was real. And if he was real, did he listen? Did he grant requests? Would he listen to me? So I put my hands together, closed my eyes and prayed.

I asked God, to give me a sign that he was there and that he was involved in the world. Tiny little five or six year old Brett, all tucked up in bed, hands together praying, asked God to make it so that if he touched the colour orange, said the word orange, ate an orange, that he would need to shit.

Don’t ask me why. Of all the possible signs a person could ask for, my strange five or six year old brain asked to be tortured by the colour orange. And it worked.

For what seems like it was weeks, maybe months after that. If I touched orange, ate oranges, said the word orange, I would very shortly after need to run to the bathroom. So it seemed, God listened. I spent a long time avoiding orange in all it’s forms. Though I think after a while I prayed for God to take 
it away. And it stopped, though I was still wary of orange.

So for a while as a kid I was pretty certain God was around and paying attention and oddly indulgent of a chilld’s silly wishes. As I grew, I became extremely agnostic however, and these days I would chalk up that experience to being self-induced. I’ve spent many hours contemplating the divine. What form it might take. It’s name. How many gods there might be. Which religion might be right.

These days I would describe myself as a devout agnostic.* I want to believe very very much. Sometimes I feel there is definitely something out there watching over us, whether actively taking care or not. Other times I feel staunchly that there is nothing there and that the world is a construct of maths and science.

I am a scientist. I have a degree in biomedical sciences and I believe in evolution and the big bang. I believe the entire world can be explained mathematically. That doesn’t mean I discount the possibility of the existance of a deity, obviously, hence the whole agnostic thing. 

Whether God exists or not is not going to change my basic operating patterns. I'm going to live my life the same way either way, I'll still be a good person and do my best for all around me. If God is watching, hopefully that'll be enough to get me into heaven/nirvana/elysium.

I could spend hours writing and discussing the arguments for or against the existance of God. But why bother? What would be the point?

If God exists, then there’s a grand plan right?** And if there’s a grand plan we’re all doing exactly what we need to be doing. And if not, then who cares? Whatever the hell we decide to do is fine. To paraphrase Robin Ince in his TED: if there’s no God, we all get to decide what the point of our lives is. So we follow the grand plan and our lives are meaningful, or we do what we like to make our lives meaningful. Either way we’re all cool. Sweet.

*Don’t argue. I get to choose what I call myself.

**Which would link in nicely to my thoughts on free will vs determinism, but that's too much for this post.

Definitely want to hear what people think on this one. Let me know :)

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Preparing for Spring (or collecting plastic bottles and dirt for my nefarious purposes)

A few days ago I started watching TED talks obsessively. For those not familiar, TED organises conferences around the work discussing different themes and has some amazing speakers come and talk about their work, prospects for the future, life, poetry, science, EVERYTHING! They are amazing. I'd known they existed for a couple of years but never watched any, until the other day. And now I'm hooked. It's my new morning routine. Breakfast or a cup of tea and a TED talk. It's a great way to start the day as they generally leave me feeling inspired and revved up to take on the world.

By far one of my favourite talks was given by Britta Reilly of It concerned the development of systems for growing vegetables and plants in small indoor spaces, particularly flats and studio apartments. I would absolutely recommend anyone check it out, even those of you with your own out door spaces to grow, just for the pure joy of seeing the inspirational and innovational approaches being developed as a collaboration of everyday people across the world who live in cities but want to grow their own food.

This is basically an arrangement of plastic bottles with good soil in them being used to grow things. A pump system is used to get water to flow through the soil and provide nutrients. As more people are collaborating and sharing their designs (which is what has really driven the development of this project and allowed for enhancements in energy requirements and carbon outputs etc) the systems get sleeker and better and could really make an impact.

So this is my challenge for 2012 though it starts now: collect as many plastic bottles as possible (without giving money to bottled water companies on account of they're stupid), start a small compost pile somewhere, decide what to grow, collect materials to construct the frame and build the thing!

What an exciting way to take my first steps into homesteading. If I can achieve any measure of success with this, I will be over the moon and able to integrate growing my own food with some of the plans I have for the next decade or so of my life before I have my own land.

Thoughts, comments and concerns welcomed as ever. I'm really keen to hear what people think about this. I'm sure there's some aspect I'm overlooking.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Here, Have My Job (or how my not being employed will benefit the world)

Just a quick post today to share a point I read on Early Retirement Extreme, a blog about gaining financial independence. Part of what worried me about the idea of homesteading was the thought that I'd not be contributing to society. A point was made on ERE that, especially at the moment, with unemployment so high, removing one's self from the work force actually reduces competition for jobs, so in that sense it's good. This really helped resolve my issue, because I realise I can still be a valuable and productive member of society even if not employed. I can run my own business, volunteer, develop some useful hobbies, focus on the homestead. By not being formally employed, I'd be giving my job to someone else. If I was then running my own business, I could maybe even employ someone else. That's two extra people employed than before!

My gift to someone else.

Also I want to say thank you to all the new readers and followers. Actually I'd like to thank the older ones too.I didn't realise until I had a flick through this blogs stats the other day but there have actually been quite a few folks coming by, including in the first month a lot from Romania and now from Russia apparently. Interesting and hello. Special thanks to Stephen and Phelan for sending people this way.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Green Energy (or how much should we sacrifice for the sake of our values?)

The dilemma: how much should we sacrifice, or ask others to sacrifice for our values? Particularly if the others have different values than our own?

I've been struggling with a decision recently. Not a massive one, but given my current situation a fairly important one. The decision? Whether or not to sign up for green electricity, given the increased cost.

The reason I've struggled with this is that I'm currently unemployed, again, and thanks to stupid depression, that's not likely to change in the near future. The budget is tight, and I'm not the best at sticking with one at the best of times.

While I'm living on minimal income, I've been constantly wavering between going for the cheapest option to make life easier for myself, and picking the slightly more costly option that is commensurate with my values. For several weeks I've gone back and forth depending on my mood and outlook, but finally a couple days ago I settled on doing what I feel is the right thing.

Deciding to go for a green energy scheme, I signed up for Equigas from Ebico and electricity from Good Energy, a 100% renewable energy company.

Now, there were other companies, notably nPower, who also provided certified green energy schemes that would match my electricity usage with 100% renewables and cost a fifth less than Good Energy. So why Good Energy?

nPower are primarily using non-renewable sources for electricity and just topping up with renewable to match my demand.

Good Energy use 100% renewable energy sources and have smaller generators spread throughout the country in hundreds of different areas. Local generators support communities and provide jobs across the country. In addition, Good Energy's hydroelectric power comes from small watermills as opposed to damns which have a questionable environmental impact.

For me, I like the idea of supporting a company that is dedicated to developing green electricity usage and local projects and exclusively uses renewable sources. To paraphrase from their (obviously biased but still valid) literature: it's more like buying from a farmers' market than a supermarket.

As for gas, this is a tough one and still not quite resolved.

I signed up the other day for (non-profit energy provider) Ebico's Equigas. This provides gas at a low flat rate regardless of payment method or usage, which for me as someone using a prepay meter and little gas compared to the national average is very attractive, plus it has a positive social impact by providing more affordable gas. The downside is that there is no mention of the source of the gas on their website, nor of any projects to increase renewable gas production.

Enter Ecotricity. They produce a large volume of their gas from waste products and are developing technology to produce it en masse from natural algae. The downside is the cost is 1.5 times that of Ebico for the amount of gas I would use. Spread over the course of the year that's not the end of the world, and the sums involved wouldn't typically be seen as wallet-busting. However as someone who is striving for financial independence in the long run but who's values drive him to lean towards Ecotricity for it's renewable gas projects, the conflict of ideals is challenging.

My mind is still changeable though. While I am inclined to pick Ecotricity, I am waiting on Equigas to get in touch with me regarding the exact sources of their gas. That will be the clincher either way.

One day I'll be off grid and all this will be a thing of the past. But until then I am struggling to balance my responsibility to the Earth and society, with my responsibility for helping ensure that WIB and I can afford to live while we try to get stable.

Any thoughts, comments and opinions are more than welcome.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Ethics of Homesteading (or will the world fall into chaos if I grow my own food?)


I would just like to point out that I am fully intending to homestead one day and the point of this post is to explore the ethics behind my decision. I am not ragging on homesteading. :)

I’m big on society. Splitting all our essential tasks up and divvying them out between us so that each task is performed by specialists such as farmers, power companies, builders, engineers etc. has allowed humanity to develop into the flourishing, creative and high achieving species that we are today. The formation of societies wherein individuals work together for more than just protection has freed up the time of many to perform non-essential tasks. I guess I should clarify what I mean by essential and non-essential.

Essential tasks are those which cater for our most basic needs. I’m sure most people know what their basic needs for existence are but I’m going to use Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs to illustrate my point:

So according to Maslow, our basic needs are: food, air, drink, shelter, warmth, sleep and sex. While I guess sex is an important biological need, it’s not vital to individual survival so I’m going to ignore it for now. (Although I guess societies have a specialised group of people to cater to that need too).

Straight away it’s easy to see how societies have people to cater for our basic needs. Though initially I was a bit uncertain of how society provides air, I think it’s fair to say that government pollution regulations are now providing that in a sense. Catering for our basic biological needs doesn’t require the whole of the population which frees up plenty of people to fulfil our higher needs, from safety through to self-actualisation. And that’s what makes society so friggin’ awesome.
My issue with homesteading stems from the idea of removing one’s self from society. While I believe people should be able to ‘opt out’ of society, would it be right to do so?

Now I know that many homesteading families have at least one member still in employment and so are still contributing to society in that fashion. However, I question the effect of their reduced economic input. Spending less money on food, which is often a reasonably significant portion of their expenses, means less cash flow. How negative is the impact this would have? Probably not very at all.
But what if a large number of the population decided to homestead? Perhaps the cash flow would simply shift; rather than going to supermarkets and corporations it would move through local markets and farmers, growers and breeders. But it would never be as much as if all food were to be purchased through the supermarkets, due to the nature of homesteading, i.e., seed-saving and breeding your live stock to replenish those slaughtered.

Of course the reality is that only a tiny fraction of the population homesteads, or has the desire to, so the overall economic impact is tiny. Even if there were vast numbers of people looking to homestead, there’s a natural limit due to land availability. Although there is more than enough land for every family to own an acre in the UK, and a few acres in the US, not all of that land is farmable. Even if it were that would deprive us of the space and man power needed to sustain society as we know it, full of the luxuries and benefits that we enjoy and are hardly likely to give up.

Thankfully that’s not going to happen.

So what was the point of this post? Well, it is an introduction to the big-picture impact of homesteading. In coming articles I am going to address aspects of homesteading that include: a more detailed look at economics, energy, responsibility to the less fortunate, responsibility to society, and society’s responsibility to homesteaders.

I apologise for the weird flow and lack of focus in this post, I’ll probably write a more coherent revised version in the future, but for now this will do.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Howdy, Stranger (or good lord it's been a while since I posted, luckily no one is around to notice)

Feel free to skip this post, it's just one of those 'oh god sorry I haven't written' posts, which are stupid and I ought to have known better!

Well hello there. Long time. Come in, have a cup of tea and a biscuit. We should catch up.

OK, here's the breakdown of my life recently:
- look for jobs
- find job charity fundraising on the streets for what would be reasonable pay except that the travel is unpaid and takes up between 3-5 hours each day
- receive miracle phone call from employment agency giving me a few weeks on placement as a science technician in a school
- receive invitations to interview for positions as healthcare assistant in hospital operatingwards (amazingly exciting and appropriate for my life) and also for research technician at university (not as exciting and useful as healthcare assistant job, but would be enjoyable enough and pays 5k extra)
- Oh, also receive interview for job at McDonald's. Begrudgingly accept interview invitation because I will secretly enjoy being a part of the cause of the global health crisis that is OBESITY! Dun dun dun.

Right anyway, so that's that. I apologise to you and to myself for not working harder to stick to the schedule I had set out for myself and to write the posts I actually want to. Life is a lot more settled now, so I'm going to spend the rest of this evening actually doing some writing. Next post soon!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Liberal guilt (or 'Why, oh why did I throw that plastic bag in the bin?')

Hi any and all of you who might have found your way here.

The move is still in progress, sort of. I've got most of the necessary stuff, but still need to get more and have been out walking up and down streets looking for jobs.

I've been thinking the last few weeks, because I've not got much else to do, about how far is reasonable to expect people to go in terms of recycling, reusing etc. In my current situation, I have no counter-top box for food waste because for whatever reason, my normally excellent local council hasn't sent me one yet. For all my food waste then, I've lined a plastic bag with newspaper and been putting peelings, and leftovers in there to eventually put in my building's communal food waste bin outside.

Now I know lots of people who wouldn't bother. They wouldn't want the possible smell, or the hassle of any drips of food-waste tea that escape the bag. But for me, it just seems like the obvious thing to do. My waste bag (which thankfully hadn't started smelling) was half full so I took it out to empty it. I was left with an empty, dirty carrier bag. Which after a moment's thought I threw into the large general rubbish dumpster. It's been playing on my mind whether I should have held onto it and rinsed it out to use it again. The more I've been thinking on it the more I feel like that's what I should have done. I think when I go home I'm going to grab it out of the dumpster (which was full so it's on the top - I'm not going dumpster diving for a carrier bag) and wash it out and save it to use again. I hate that I have any plastic bags in my house right now, but I've not got my hefty-reusable bags with me at the moment either.

Anyway, to actually make a clear and concise point here: was I wrong to throw the bag away? Is it reasonable to expect people to clean and reuse dirty (with food waste, not like dog mess or something) bags when the only effort is running water and hanging it over the bath to dry? How far does or should the normal social expectation go in that sort of situation?

My major thoughts on the topic are to do with the fact plastic bags are awful for the environment, use up oil (especially important in our time of nearing peak oil) and the fact that I threw away something that could have been useful to me at least several more times.

OK, I'm now wracked with guilt. Even if I had to dumpster dive I would get that bag back now.

Hopefully I'll be back again soon. For now, take care.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Upping Roots (or moving 200 miles is hard without a moving van)

So although I didn't say officially anything about posting regularly, or specifically on Sundays, that was what I was hoping to do. That got buggered up already because I'm in the middle of moving back to Manchester, where I graduated from university a couple of months ago, from London, where my parents live. Oh well.

I graduated from university in June and had originally hoped to start working at a bar that said they would give me a call as soon as all their student staff left for summer. I guess their student staff decided they'd rather work all summer than go home and be fed and housed by their parents. Long story short, I didn't find a job in time to be able to stay so I had to move back in with my parents until I could find a job and move back to Manchester, where I planned to live with my wholesome Irish boyfriend.

Anyway, I found a job, in London, which will cover rent and all that lark so WIB and I went on an intense flat hunt and found one... with a nice size kitchen counter under a south facing window, perfect for growing things indoors. Plus, as an additional sign this was the flat for us, there was a house plant there that had been abandoned by the former tenant. We adopted him and named him Charlie.

So that's what I've been up to the last week, which is why there's no post on the ethics of homesteading, I've been too busy moving and enjoying the comfort of a bedroom with no bed as it hasn't been delivered yet. Oh, and to top it all off I can't afford a moving van to move all the stuff in my parents' shed up to the flat yet, so it's going to be in stages as I travel to and from London each week for work.*

Oh aaaand I've found a florist that also randomly stocks small chilli plants. Let the indoor suburban homesteading commence.

*I realise it's mad to be commuting to work two hundred miles from where you live each week, but I'm just going to chalk it up to the same spirit (read insanity) that makes me want to homestead. I'm still going to have to stay at my folks place a few nights a week until I find work up North, but at least it's a step in the right direction.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Covered in Mud (or Immediate results are the best)

Today I've been out in my parents' garden, weeding the flower beds. From such work I derive a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. It's nice to have instantly visible results after putting in effort. As a result my hands are stained with mud, which has worked itself around my nails. I'm hesitant to scrub it all off, because it's a nice reminder of what I've done today. However, I habitually pick at my nails, so I'll have it all out in a few minutes.

Working outside today in the fresh air and with the ground has reaffirmed my decision to pursue a life homesteading. The problems with that decision, at least for me, are that I will find it difficult to spend time doing something that only benefits myself and my family. For as long as I can remember I have had the inbuilt need to have my life be contributed to improving the world around me. Somehow I will have to find the balance between fulfilling that need, and achieving my dream of living off the land.

But that is the topic of my next post, which will be about the ethics of homesteading.

Until then.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Societies Are Alive (or beginning the discussion of the responsibilities of individuals to society)

Sometimes I think that societies are alive. They grow, they respond and adapt, they consume and, in a fashion, they reproduce. As for people, we are societies’* cells and messengers. Their basic components.

Being human means being a part of something larger than yourself, whether you like it or not. Individuals, while invaluable in and of themselves, are also vital pieces of the greater organism that is society, which is constantly shedding and replacing them concerned with the welfare of the whole. Humans are born into situations that they may not choose for themselves, and have to make the best with whatever their lot in life is. The big question is: how to make the best of your life?

Many believe that we are here to serve a divine purpose, and that whatever hardships we endure in this life are to teach us lessons that will nourish our souls and prepare us for the hereafter. Others believe that this life is all we have and that the circumstances we are born into are random and meaningless and as such we ought to be ruthless in acquiring the best of everything for ourselves and in the pursuit of happiness in this life.** Personally I am uncertain, but have come to a conclusion that will hopefully enable me to make the best of my life, which I will explain in another post.

The aim of Basic Humanity is to document my journey toward building a life that balances my own needs with my sense of social responsibility. It will explore why I've decided to build towards a life homesteading and my experiences with that, Hopefully it will also foster discussion about the responsibilities, if any, of individuals to society and the human race as a whole, as well as the extent of the freedom individuals should have to live as they please. Interspersed among that will be pieces about my own life experience and plans, particularly in relation to social responsibility, wherein I will dissect my views on matters including: living consciously, frugality, consumerism, capitalism vs socialism, religion, economics, politics, mental illness, self-sufficiency, environmentalism and homesteading and it’s place in modern society.

There’s an incredible amount to talk about and I’m keen to get a discussion going. Right now, I’m excited to get typing and explore the essence of basic humanity.

* Societys’/societies’? I agonised over that for ages. General consensus after a quick google search was “societies’”, but I’m not convinced.

** That is not to paint all the religious as selfless and giving, nor all atheists as cold and selfish. Obviously there is a mixed bag of people in both categories.
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