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.


  1. You are correct, our money shifts to other items, canning jars, and more raw goods,( e.g. wool and flax ) under processed materials (i.e. cloth) and so forth. We also tend to spend more money with locals that offer things like wheat, firewood, and meats.

    Society and homesteading, now that will be interesting. By the nature of what we are doing, we tend to be very isolated from the world at large. We are not opting out, more of pausing it and playing when we feel the want to do so.

    Looking forward to reading your upcoming posts. Just be careful not to over analyze it to the point you no longer wish to proceed.

  2. Firstly, apologies for using the phrase 'opt out', I know it's not exactly accurate.
    Haha, I over analyse everything! It's a disease and one that does probably hold me back. I'm working on it. Would you say your outgoings have decreased at all since you started homesteading and have become increasingly self-sufficient?

  3. you are suffering from a "split" in the brain that is normal. 4-5 years ago i suffered the same...

    i am sure Phelan wasn't as dedicated/focused as she is now an she is right, we tend to be more isolated. it's not opting out, but that is what it FEELS like at first..

    society is a construct, i am sure you have seen "The Matrix" .. it's about taking control for yourself, in the end you more options, not less.. Phelan says as much..

    outgoings do decrease, but they seem so much more rewarding (at least to me) .. i don't sit in the same pub night after night wondering why i feel like i am spinning my wheels..

    nothing is more rewarding than diy (you might lose a little more hair, but you will feel like it MAY, finally, be up to you..

    don't over-analyze this response ;-)

  4. I'll try not to read too deeply into your comment.

    I love diy. I'm not very good at it, but I love it. I rarely get the opportunity but I really enjoyed learning to how to fix my parents car when it broke, cooking from scratch (I've a loaf in the oven right now) and I look forward to one day building some of my own furniture to go in the house I'll build.

    My brain is definitely split, you're right. It's tough trying to reconcile my different wants and needs and figuring out what's more important and will be more satisfying. Initially I kind of thought of homesteading as a way to live apart from society and do your own thing with the local community. It must be great to have that sort of freedom, but I'm realising more and more that you aren't separate from society so much as... I can't think of an appropriate metaphor... but I'm sure you know what I mean.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...