Some questions that, I'll admit, haven't actually been "frequently asked", but which I can foresee being asked...
1. Does this project fit into the domain of "Sustainable Development"?
A. Yes and no. This project seeks to bring about a sustainable human lifestyle in harmony, and not against, the natural processes of this planet which are required in order to ensure that environmental conditions remain optimised to human existence. Combustible industry is not bringing about the end of the Earth but the end of the human race!* However, when it comes to the word "Development", I have to be careful. I believe in developing universally the material standard of life of all the planet's citizens to a certain level. This is a purely technical, objective process based on the carrying capacity of the Earth and the fundamental conditions for human survival. These parameters will only evolve as the human species evolves, so to all intents and purposes, they can be assumed to be fixed. However, I do not promote economic development beyond this point. Evidently, "Sustainable Development" is an oxymoron in economic terms, because if something is sustainable, or durable, you can only sell it once! You can't keep selling someone electricity when they are producing their own, nor can you sell them food when they are growing their own.
However, I do not reject the word "Development" outright because I believe in what might be called spiritual development. Once the minimum acceptable standard of life is assured to each and every individual, then each and every individual can begin to explore his or her creative potential, be it in the field of technology with new inventions, in literature with new novels or poems, in music with new songs, in architecture with new designs, in showmanship with new tricks, in sport with better performance, in relationships with deeper commitment, I could go on! Essentially, liberated from the monotony of chore beyond that which is fundamentally necessary, all men and women will be free to pursue their own unique, personal development without the need for profit to survive, and therefore without the fear of failure, and with the pure goal of the limitless free exchange of creative output.
* Skip to 2:28 (I love George Carlin, but I disagree with the opening to this video clip because he separates human activity from nature. If humans attempt to preserve species on the brink of extinction, it may be anti-survival-of-the-fittest, but it is still a natural act. As Sitting Bull says: "Man thinks that nature belongs to him; it is he who belongs to nature.")
2. Your project sounds pretty utopic...
A. Yes, it does. Utopianism is a very bizarre thought set though. The line becomes extremely blurry between social adjustment which seeks to improve the world and social adjustment which seeks to create a perfect world. Every political decision made in Parliament or in the White House is made according to the existing social structures, which outsource production of energy, as food and electricity, away from the individual. In Marxist terms, this is perhaps the most fundamental alienation of the individual. The fact is, no political organisation would ever advocate returning power to the people because it would effectively diminish, if not eradicate, the need for political organisations. Governments are self-preserving institutions, just like corporations. In order to retain power, they will tell the public what the public wants to hear, and, once elected, are free to do whatever they want as long as they cause no (visible) active suffering to those sections of society with the means to express themselves. My ideas are not self-preserving. As mentioned above, they are based on objective, fixed parameters, which are technical, not political. That my ideas seem utopic is merely because they advocate social change without politics. And anyway, when it comes to facing the climate crisis, in the words of René Dumont, our only choices are "l'Utopie, ou la mort !"
3. So you're a Marxist?
A. No, I am not. I do not affiliate to any 'ism'. I see value in Marxist thought, in Situationist thought and in Anarchist thought, and to a lesser degree in some individualist thought systems. If this means that I am labeled a lefty, then so be it. Just because you don't believe that capitalism is the pinnacle of human social existence does not immediately make you a Marxist or a Communist.
4. So you're a lefty?
A. From Georges Bataille to Barack Obama, most intelligent political thinkers have come to see the artificiality of the Left/Right construct. Although I make rather large generalisations here, I feel they answer the question as to my political convictions. Leftist philosophy is generally collectivist in nature. Rightist philosophy is generally individualist in nature. When taken to their extremes, Communism and Fascism respectively, the result is the same: the few rule the many. The most politically passionate Collectivists end up making the decisions on the behalf of the nation, which squander everybody's individuality but their own, whereas the most politically passionate Individualists end up making decisions on the behalf of the nation whilst propagating the myth that "If you work hard enough, one day you could be in this position of power". They encourage individuality, but put upper limits on it. Both systems produce homogenous populations.
5. Not right, not left, what are you?
A. The only 'ism' which describes me is Anarchism. Anarchism accepts the futility of a political philosophy which is based purely on Collectivism or Individualism, and seeks to synthesise the two. I try to take Anarchism one step further, and make the connections between Collectivism, objectivity and materialism, and between Individualism, subjectivity and spirituality. Only those needs which are common to all humans may be satisfied by a Collectivist system; only those desires which are unique to each human may be satisfied by an Individualist system. By satisfying the Collective needs without self interest or discrimination, Individuality may flourish without causing any harm, indeed, catalysing human creative endeavour.
6. Hmm, spirituality, so you're religious?
A. No, certainly not. There is nothing spiritual about organised religion. To me, the adjective 'spiritual' refers to the human spirit i.e. that which renders humans different to all other animals. It is a combination of conscious and conscience, of memory and morality. Above all, it rests on the resolution of the ultimate contradiction of the survival of the species and the survival of the individual. It is catalytic to my survival to kill all humans, such that there is more food for me. However, in doing so I guarantee the destruction of the species. If, however, I devote my life exclusively to the service of others, I will die of exhaustion. Learning how to work together, to prosper beyond those actions which give us a merely genetic advantage (be it on the individual or collective level): that is spirituality, because it is what makes us human.
7. So you are anti-religion?
A. Yes. I am not against the Bible, the Torah, the Qur'an, etc. I have read (admittedly small) parts of each, and I see value in some writings, and not in others. I also have nothing against anybody who uses these books to enhance their lives and their interactions with others. I don't even take issue with those who try to spread the teachings to others as they believe that they are offering a humanistic service.
To me, religion is not a lofty, untenable metaphysical concept, and can be summarised thus: accepting authority which cannot be proven. My only problem with the religious texts (in almost all instances, save Buddhism) is that they claim to offer the one pure Truth. They do not. There is no one pure Truth (at least, there is no truly universal comprehension of the, well, universe which may be understood by humans - dare I say yet?!) and, frankly, all so-called religious texts should be treated as rich philosophical and literary offerings and certainly not discredited outright, but not swallowed outright either.
8. You say that one shouldn't just swallow religion, but what about other ideas which claim to be perfect?
A. You shouldn't swallow ANYTHING. I am a passionate supporter of the work carried out by the Zeitgeist Movement, for example, but I have chosen to work outside of its activist framework in order that I maintain my own independence and faculty for criticism of the Movement, without such judgments being blurred by my pride of being part of the movement or the desire to retain any position of power or responsibility therein.
I realise that, as this project develops, there is going to be a moment when I must cease to think of it as my project, because I cannot be trusted to make perfect decisions. Only individuals can think, but groups arrive at the best decisions. In order to maintain an element of objective criticism in the work of this project, it will necessarily have to adopt an essentially anarchist organisational structure, such that no personal interest of any kind may obscure the progress of the project.
9. You keep mentioning Anarchism - are you some kind of terrorist?!
A. No! Absolutely not. Anarchism has NOTHING to do with terrorism, and the fact that a social philosophy based on the principle of equality and prosperity without rulers ('an - archy' - literally, 'without rulers') is perceived by the general public as meaning a return to savage chaos, to be arrived at through the deployment of bombs and machine guns, is a sad statement on the closed mindedness and cynicism of the world today. Those who conflate Anarchism with terrorism do humanity an injustice (especially Johnny Rotten).
10. Is your ultimate goal the destruction of the monetary system?
A. No. I seek to create a society where money is not required in order to meet the basic standards of living (electricity, healthcare, food, shelter, waste disposal). The project does not, at present, have any ambition further than that point. The current monetary system will fall, though, because in maximising cost efficiency and profits, it seeks its own demise, for it is cost efficient to have every job performed by machines, but then people would not have jobs, and therefore no money, and therefore no purchasing power. Unemployment will rise to a level where the monetary system is truly untenable. I believe that when this moment comes, interest in the Off the Grid project, and others of its kind, will skyrocket. I would be surprised if Off the Grid achieved its global aim before the downfall of the monetary system.
11. No religion, no politics, where do you derive your morality from?
A. The root of my morality can be summed up as follows: "Do anything as long as it does not prevent others from doing what they desire, and treat others as you would like to be treated." My morality is derived from the unique human capacity for empathy.
12. But I like the Western model, where all I have to do is pay my bills and buy my groceries. Your way sounds like hard work...
A. Compared to society today, you would have less work to do with the Off the Grid approach, and certainly less stress. In terms of external energy i.e. electricity, maintenance is minimal. Once you have solar panels or a wind turbine in operation, it operates without human interference! No bills, no stress. Similarly, the genius of the hydroponic method is that you don't need to water the crops - they take the exact volume of water they require (no more, no less - no danger of under- or over-watering) from the hydroponic solution. Your only concern therefore is maintaining healthy reserves of hydroponic solution (which would, alas, have to be manufactured offsite), sunlight, and seeds! Of course, if you are lucky enough to have fertile land available to you, more traditional crop growing methods can also be sustained.
Also, don't forget, just because you are not working hard for your lifestyle today does not mean that it's just coming from nowhere. The West is still shamefully dependent on third world slavery (here's looking at you Gap and Nike), so returning the responsibility (which must come with power - at least superhero films have taught us something!) to the people will also engender an awakening of consciousness.
13. Is hydroponic agriculture linked to GM?
A. In case anybody's wondering about the adverse ethical or ecological impact of hydroponic agriculture, let me settle your conscience: there are none. Hydroponic agriculture is nothing to do with genetic modification. The best way to describe it is like regular arable agriculture but without the dirt. Plants do not need soil per se, they need water and minerals, the most common source of which is soil. But extract the minerals and the water, and hey presto, your plant can grow in that! There is also no toxic waste: only water to get rid of. The only concern is equal and fair distribution of hydroponic solution (and sunlight!) and ensuring that you have the necessary tools and know-how to aerate a hydroponic garden. (Here's a clue, if you've ever kept fish in an aerated fish tank - which is really the only way you should keep fish - you already know how to do this!)
14. So I can grow my own crops, but can I rear my own animals?
At the moment my response to this question is two-fold:
a) Of course you can if you have the desire and the land and time available. Animals are, unsurprisingly, more works than crops (the hydroponic method does not apply!). Meat production would work much better on a community scale, as it did about 100 years ago: one farm per community to provide the local meat and dairy needs.
b) Although I am not pro-vegetarianism on moral grounds, there are some interesting ecological - and health - benefits to life without meat. An interesting statistic on average calorific output in the current Western agricultural method: one third of arable output goes directly to human consumption. Humans therefore consume 100% of the calories (i.e. energy) contained therein. Two thirds, however, go to animal consumption, destined to become meat for human consumption. When humans eat this meat, they obtain a mere 10% of the initial arable calorific output given to the animals. This means that humans obtain only 40% (33.3% x 1 + 66.67% x 0.1) of the actual calorific output of arable farming.* Meat production and consumption is NOT energy efficient.
Furthermore, the idea that daily intake of animal protein is essential to human health is a myth. The trend towards animal protein intake being higher than arable protein intake only began in the early 20th century, and there are millions of people alive and healthy today who eat meat only very scarcely (once a week, in the original tradition of the Sunday Roast), if at all. Beans and grains provide the same protein, although variety in a diet is healthy too.
Finally, many people often fail to make the connection between these two scientific facts which are often taught at a young age:
The analysis of these two facts is as follows: the more animals there are on the planet, the less free, drinkable water there is. Some environmentalists say that water is running out. This is not true per se, the water is not just disappearing, rather it is contained within humans and livestock, the population of which, in both instances, is growing at an unsustainable rate. If we continue to overpopulate the earth with more humans and more livestock, the less water we will have left. Vegetarianism and population consciousness are therefore two possible approaches to this problem which really must be promoted and considered by the largest possible number of people.
* These statistics were presented by Jean-Louis Bal, Directeur des énergies renouvelables à l’ADEME, in a conference on renewable energy in Paris, 13/06/2009
15. But what about other foodstuffs, like cheese, biscuits, soft drinks, chocolate...?
A. The organisation of production and distribution systems for luxury items (i.e. those things which are not essential to human survival but which satisfy real human desires - the line is admittedly blurry at times), within or beyond the monetary system, is beyond the current scope of this project, which seeks to first raise everybody to the minimum acceptable quality of life (food, shelter, hygiene, energy) before beginning to think about luxuries. The only thing I can say in this regard is that technology has advanced so far that most of these things can be produced with minimal manual human input. That we still have manual labourers today is only so that they may retain their purchasing power (this is of course also the reason for the birth of the so-called service industry, the pursuit of meaningless jobs to maintain the worker's purchasing power and sustain the economy). Technological unemployment is currently a taboo subject because people see it luditically as a threat ("Hey that machine's taking my job!") rather than progressively as a liberation ("Hey, that machine has freed me from that boring job and allowed me to pursue my actual interests!") The fall of the monetary system will most likely be caused by technological unemployment. Only with basic needs universally satisfied from the ground up can people begin to embrace the technology which replaces them as the slaves in the treadmill.
16. So the idea is that my life will be governed by machines? That sounds scary...
A. A lot of people fear becoming subservient to machines in a technologically advanced civilisation. The fact is, the machines will only be, and could only ever be, slaves. Humans need slaves, they always have and always will, entities which will take care of the essential manual labour tasks. However, machines cannot rebel against us, and could never rule us, because they are not human. They have no spirit, no desires, they can only follow human directive. Machines will soon be able to cater for most, if not all, of our collective, material, objective needs (food, energy, shelter), but, by definition, cannot satisfy our individual, spiritual, subjective desires (for love, art, music, poetry etc.) because they have no humanity! Although we attempt to quantify creative output in terms understandable to machines (this is known as quantifying quality: giving a video game 96% or an album 8/10), the fact is that all spiritual satisfaction is subjective. We enjoy games, books, music, poetry etc. so much more because we feel comfortable when we can relate to the stories, sounds, words, characters etc., or indeed, because we can't and we enjoy feeling lost! Machines cannot determine human happiness, only satisfy human needs. In short, we will not be slaves to the machines, the machines will be slaves to us.
17. But how will technology continue to progress without the capitalist incentives of competitiveness and profit?
A. The idea that monetary gain is the only impetus to attaining new heights in any domain - be it art or engineering or anything else - is a myth. Capitalism is less than 200 years old. Newton, Pasteur, Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare - did these people make significant contributions to humanity because they could make money out of it? No. There was no money to be made.
As for competitiveness, people don't seem to realise that it can be maintained outside of a free market economy (which is itself only 30 years old). By centralising industry, you can still maintain competitiveness within a central institution. You need a new self-sustaining chocolate production system, for example, well then you assign the design brief to 2, 5, 10 designers, each competing with each other. The designs would be judged, and the best one upgraded with the best parts of the others, with those whose input is most used being rewarded with awards.
Engineers and scientists often see as much beauty and joy in their work as poets or artists. The idea that people would simply cease to be interested in advancing human knowledge and capability without capitalism is ridiculous. Capitalism may have spurred us to the most productive technological age since the dawn of time, but it has also all but wrecked our social and ecological environment. By taking money, the fear of failure and the necessity of success, out of the equation, ruthless profiteering, speculation and investment will be halted, and a more holistic, eco-conscious approach adopted.
18. It sounds like our environment is in serious trouble! What can I do to help educate people as to the immediacy of the situation?
A. Two things must now happen simultaneously.
We must cease unsustainable combustible industrial methods within the next 10 years, or else Grenland's glaciers will melt, simultaneously rising the sea level and releasing massive quantities of methane trapped underneath the ice sheets which will only accelerate global warming. The net result of this, it is estimated, will be an irreversible 7 metre rise in sea level over 60 years.* This will spell the end of most tropical islands, will flood most of Bangladesh, and every coastal town and shipping port in the world will be lost. So industry must cease now before it is too late.
Simultaneously, we must explore and promote new methods of social existence, such as the system I am advocating or the Resource Based Economy of the Venus Project. If the current economy, which is based on energy displacement (money is, essentially, a material concentration of energy: if you have money, you can get things done!) is going to fall, we need to have sensible social alternatives in order to avoid the rise of fascism among the scared, rioting masses.
It would be great to have the luxury of choice when it comes to sustainable social existence, but we don't. We must change now, or our own children's poverty will be on our heads.
* This forecast comes from the Yann Arthus-Bertrand documentary Home (2009)
19. But what difference can I make?
A. All the difference! The first step is to get talking. Talk to everybody. Here are some tips on how to spread the information.
Beyond spreading the message, the most important thing you can do is learn about sustainable lifestyle from a technical perspective, be it renewable energy, hydroponic agriculture, durable and adaptable architecture, biodiversity studies, alternative economics etc. These are the subjects of the 21st century, and will make all the difference. If you already have expertise in some such relevant field, start pooling resources in order to put forth a holistic approach to future progress. Education and healthcare are also, of course, and have always been, essential to human progress and happiness, and will always be worthwhile career choices.
* UN statistics/projections displayed at the Habiter écologique exhibition, Paris, France, 13/5/2009 - 1/11/2009.
20. If we don't act now, what is the ultimate worst case scenario?
A. If the information is not sufficiently circulated among the public to create a groundswell of democratic activism, then the response will have to come from governments and industries themselves. These institutions aren't stupid, they know the truth of the urgency of the situation, and one thing they are good at is self-preservation, so don't worry: Western banks, governments and industries will react and switch to sustainable methods. The biggest danger, though, is that the developing world, especially China and India, are "developing" at a cataclysmic rate in order to "catch up" with the West who have been raping the planet for 200 years. The worst case scenario is that, at the point of no return, the "developing" countries will not be prepared to halt their industrial "development" when they are so quickly "catching up" so much, and they will have to be stopped by force. This will be World War III. The propaganda will paint these "developing" countries as greedy, narrow minded gas guzzlers and destroyers of the planet, and paint the US, the UK, Oceania and Europe as the enlightened defenders of the environment, when in reality it is they (the West) who caused 99% of the destruction of our environment and it just happens to be the "developing" countries which will pose the straw which breaks the camel's back and threaten to tip us over the edge into irreversible destruction and chaos. THIS IS A VERY REAL POSSIBILITY AND MUST BE AVOIDED AT ALL COSTS.
21. But really there's no such thing as "off the grid" living or self-sufficiency, is there? All human, plant, animal, mineral and cosmic processes are inextricably linked to a greater or lesser degree...
A. Correct. The "grid" to which I refer is the state of being entirely dependent upon the powers that be to feed and fuel you without you understanding how this fuel and food is developed, sustained, transported. If you don't understand something, you cannot make a judgement as to its value, and if you don't know what something is worth but you know that you need it to live, you'll pay any price for it. What I seek, then, is an end to corporations charging what they can or want for goods and services, and for people to realise first hand the value of the goods and processes that nourish and furnish their lives.
To put it another way, we work to make money; we make money to pay rent and bills and buy food. As long as we need money to live, making money will be a massive factor in choosing how to spend our time i.e. our horizons are limited from that which is possible to that which is profitable. Without having to worry about making money, we'll be free to pursue our true desires. I like to call this idea "Art without guilt", because art is really a decadent luxury when 1 billion people on this planet are starving. The humane application of hydroponics and renewable energy across the world will go a long way to relieving us of our guilt at enjoying life while so many others are suffering, because it will get to the root causes of that suffering, and eliminate them.
The Goal >