A sketch

A Sketch

10 Downing Street offices

David Cameron: So why can’t we just form a coalition with the Labour Party?

Anonymous Special Advisor: Because it would be electoral suicide sir.

DC: I mean, they’re the best match for us in terms of policies, party structure, leadership style – I based my whole persona on Tony Blair after all. They agree with us on austerity, Trident renewal, supporting the Financial Sector, propping up house prices, clamping down on benefits claimants. And the numbers work out brilliantly – we’d have such a huge majority that the fruitcakes and loonies on the backbenches could vote against absolutely everything and it wouldn’t matter a bit.

ASA: While that may be true, sir, we’d be facing complete party wipe out 5 years down the line.

DC: Well I don’t see why. We’d have the most stable and moderate government in decades.

ASA: The fact of the matter is sir, that we rely on the votes of a number of demographics – retirees, middle class home-owners, wealthy landowners, small business owners and their employees and the like.

DC: The foundations of the Conservative party electoral success – yes.

ASA: The fact is, that a slim majority within each of these groups don’t actually like us very much, Prime Minister. They don’t agree with most of our policies and believe that we no longer represent their interests. They think we’ve sold out to wealthy party donors in the City, an out of touch financial elite and the interests of global corporations.

DC: So they’re not idiots. But I still don’t see the problem.

ASA: With respect sir, the only reason that half of these people still vote for us is that while they don’t think we’ll represent their interests in government, they fear how they will fare under a Labour government even more. If we put a Labour government in power, they’ve no incentive whatsoever to vote for us ever again. They’ll vote for anyone who might get rid of us. We would stand to lose at least 30% of our voters across the board and be lucky to get 100 MPs in 2020. Not to mention how much of the back-bench we’d lose to UKIP in the meantime.

DC: Alright, I take your point. Which small parties can we most effectively bully and bamboozle into propping us up?

—–

Meanwhile, in the office of the Leader of the Opposition, Westminster.

Ed Miliband: So tell me again why we can’t form a coalition with the Tories?

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Seeing the bubble

Fundamentally, one of the biggest defining factors of life in western countries for the past few decades – one of the things that sets us apart from most other countries, and most previous human cultures, is the comfort, security and stability that we are accustomed to. Regardless of how you decide to measure it, and even when considering personal tragedies and difficulties, we are in a very privileged position.

Ultimately, this unprecedented degree of safety and certainty is a result of our similarly unprecedented material standard of living. As an immensely wealthy society we can afford the kind of institutions (insane and dysfunctional though they may often be) that look after most of us incredibly well, and shield us from the slings and arrows that most human societies, for lack of any other option, have simply regarded as an inevitable part of life.

For me personally, beginning to see the bubble that separates my lifestyle from that of most other humans that exist, or have previously existed, was a huge factor in coming to the conclusions that inform how I live my life and what I expect from the future. Prior to really seeing this gulf, my reference points were all set from within the bubble – which meant I was by default accepting it as a given. Starting to see the entirely different examples of human life on the outside, and starting to understand what was required to maintain these differences, allowed me to gain some perspective on the future (and arguably the lack thereof) of our current living arrangements.

We could drop the bubble metaphor here for a minute and instead talk about this in terms of thermodynamics, by thinking of western culture as running at a higher temperature compared to cultures outside of it. Any differential in energy will naturally dissipate over time until it reaches an equilibrium – in the case of a hot cup of tea, the cup will lose heat to the air around it until it reaches room temperature. It is possible to maintain a temperature difference in such a way, but this requires certain steps to be taken, such as applying more heat, and ideally insulating the cup, but this requires the input of more energy. The greater the difference, the more it takes to maintain.

Here I will need to pause for a minute to explain one of the big premises running through all of the articles on this blog (which many of you may not accept). The premise here is that there are 3 significant factors which combine to mean the exceptional conditions that underpin Western standards of living are coming to an end around us. In order of best narrative sense, the first of these factors is the growing affluence and global influence of non-Western countries. The second factor is our inability to grow global resource consumption to keep pace with this growing affluence. And the third factor is the various non-linear environmental crises that are exacerbated by the growing global consumption of resources (since ‘consumption of resources’ in essence means turning them into pollution faster than either the resources can be replenished or the pollution broken down) As such, a critical glance at the structures which maintain our privileged positions in the global order of things suggests that they inevitably at some point will no longer be able to take the strain.

Among those who have seen the bubble, and recognised in one way or another the implications of one or more of the above premises, its pretty common to see the fragileness of the bubble in absolute terms – i.e. to come to the conclusion that as our way of life cannot be maintained, it could come to an end at any point without warning. In practise, just as it didn’t come into being all at once, it will take decades for our exceptional way of life to completely atrophy. To change our metaphors once again, the bubble acts more like a city wall in this respect – crumbling due to lack of maintenance in some areas and still providing some protection in others, until eventually lack of upkeep makes it more useful as a historical talking point or a source of raw materials than as a barrier.

Seeing the bubble brings with it a lot of uncertainty – something we’re not particularly well equipped to deal with. We can’t be at all certain how long our privileged position in the world order can be maintained (there are some ethical questions about whether we should be maintaining it, but I think I’ll leave that for another time). We also have no idea how this will balance out in the long run – are we heading for a diminished place in a new multipolar world order where things like car ownership and foreign travel become a luxury, but globally most people maintain a quality of life improved by modern technology to some extent? Or will we find ourselves in the rather less privileged position of being a vassal state to the next ambitious imperial nation, more interested in concentrating wealth and power in a different corner of the world than seeing it spread out more widely? Or perhaps we’ll simply be unable to maintain an industrial society at all and begin the slow process of returning to some sort of feudal dark age? And what will the process of transition to whatever future scenario we are heading towards actually look like?

Ultimately these questions are unlikely to be answered in any final sense within our lifetimes. In coming to terms with this uncertainty, the response of many people is to ask: so what shall I do about it? Thats a pretty big question, and so I’ll have a stab at offering at least a partial answer next week.

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Unintentional Community

Humans are wired for living in small groups of like-minded people. Most species have hard limits on the size of their social groups, but humans seem to have developed a few tricks for getting past this. Our craving of novelty means we’re particularly adept at finding new and interesting ways of expressing ourselves, and ever more specific sources of our identity. As such, we manage to live in groups far larger than we can personally identify with by mostly interacting with niches of people we feel some sort of closer affinity to within one or more subcultures.

The larger the human settlement gets, the greater the diversity of niches is needed for this to be possible. The alienation of living with far more people than we can possibly have an affinity to, means we try to find or create bubbles of people just like us and shield ourselves from those other people of various stripes who do things differently. This might be based on political or religious outlook, but equally could be done in more mundane ways such as choice of entertainment and style of dress. While these more mundane examples run less deep, they have the advantage of being more visible, and so are a good shorthand for understanding the process. This can be seen fairly easily in how a mid-sized town will have far fewer choices of entertainment than a large city, but not necessarily a higher percentage of its residents twiddling their thumbs for something to do on a Saturday night. With less options available to them, the residents of the town opt to be less picky rather than stay home bored.

The fragmentation of our culture into myriad subcultures means that our difference to those around us is amplified and we spend our time surrounded by people who aren’t much like us at all, which can be incredibly draining. We quite naturally seek out people we share common cause with in some way or other. But living in a tiny niche also means losing the ability to make community with people who aren’t like you. And of course, they’ve lost this ability too from within their own niches. As such, the process can be self-reinforcing.

Massive human settlements will only take this so far however. There are two other crucial factors to this sprawling cultural complexity: access to transport, allowing people to travel greater distances, and mass communication, allowing people to create communities not limited by geography. Both of these are tied up in our material standard of living, and as such, a reduction in that means an inevitable reduction in the variety of subcultures available.

Lots of people will likely accept this change – when they can’t drive to their church or their dance class, they’ll find one closer, even if it isn’t quite what they were looking for, and even if they find the culture strange at first. But some people might well fight it. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a growing trend of mass migrations of close-knit and inward focused but geographically diverse groups of people to one place to try to build some sort of life based on their ideals. Whether that’s a good or bad thing probably depends on your opinion of the groups of people doing it.

But the point I’m getting at is: Its wonderful to mostly spend time with people who are similar to ourselves in many ways, mainly because its so much easier. This is why some of us have friends all over the world but don’t know our neighbours. And why our neighbours don’t want to know us either. Its easy to tell people that they should get to know their neighbours – and its a commonly suggested solution to all sorts of problems, from across the length and breadth of the political spectrum. But without this reality check, its not particularly useful advice.

Intentional community (forming community with like minded people) is easy. Unintentional community (forming community with who ever is available) is far harder in comparison. But it is the latter that we are going to need far more than the former. As globalisation goes into reverse, as mass communication becomes less reliable, and as high speed transportation becomes only affordable to the very rich, many of the comfortable niches that we are used to inhabiting will atrophy, and we’ll have to make do with the communities we can still access.

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The limits of Community

I actually live in an intentional community (we are the 0.1%) and I want to dispel some myths, as there are a lot of people out there who seem to either have a really utopian vision of what this entails and aspire to live in one, or think its a really terrible idea that can only possibly end in failure and misery.

First off, I should cover the simple nuts and bolts of what an intentional community is. As far as I’m concerned its simply a group of people who share some of their living space, make decisions democratically and usually share some sort of ethos. It isn’t a religious group, a sex-cult, or a bunch of mad hippies who pool their income in order to grow kale and buy organic sandals (clearly it can be all of those things, but usually it isn’t).

The organising democratically bit is important, and is a big part of why many people think that intentional communities are so preposterous. We don’t have much of a culture of democracy in this country. What I mean by that is that we aren’t used to being part of organisations that are run democratically. Voting once every few years is about all that most people do to engage with a democratic structure, and lots of people don’t even do that. The idea of a small or medium sized organisation run as a democracy is simply alien to most people, and so they have no idea what that looks like. This is where the ‘that could never work’ element comes in – the idea of a group of people getting together to make decisions democratically is so alien, that many people think its impossible. Not an unreasonable assumption, given how poorly our national democracy represents the views of most of its citizens, but it should give pause to the idea that we’re a democratic society.

Lots of intentional communities have a focus of some sort. This could be as simple as living in a more environmentally friendly way, or as full on as embracing a particular type of monasticism. But most that I have visited have been fairly pragmatic. While intentional communities tend to attract a certain type of person, and have a bar to membership in that potential new members have to persuade the current members to let them in, the nature of democracy is such that the decisions made by the community as a whole tend to be the ones that its members find of most benefit, and not many people want to live as part of a community that places a lot of restrictions on how they live. And since members will change over the years, there is a natural tendency for communities with a more restrictive focus to mellow over time.

This is where the other end of the spectrum comes in. Many people who want to set up or join an intentional community have some quite impractical notions about the extent to which it will change their life, particularly in terms of the level of unity they can expect from its members. They may have an unrealistic idea, for example, of the amount of work themselves and other members are willing to put in – I know I did.

Do you want to live in a community that restricts its members dietary choices perhaps? Would you be willing to leave if in ten years time, if it turns out that the restrictive diet in question exacerbates an underlying health condition? Or perhaps your new partner subscribes to a different incompatible restrictive diet, and is not willing to live under such impositions? I am aware of an intentional community that went from being vegan to vegetarian due to a misunderstanding between the community and a new member about what the policy was, within which changing the rules seemed a lot fairer than asking the new member to leave.

Residents of intentional communities get a lot of benefits from their living situation, but a lot of the benefits simply come down to the fact that it is more economical to share some aspects of life between a group. The other benefits tend to come as a result of the social benefits of living and working with a like-minded group of people. We are social animals, and a lot of people who would find single living or being part of a nuclear family isolating take well to living in community.

The other assumption that prospective community dwellers tend towards is underestimating the negative implications of the social dynamic. For all its drawbacks, there are good reasons that wealthy nations embraced the nuclear family with such enthusiasm, and why most people who can afford to choose to live either singly, or as part of a nuclear family. Living with other people is hard work. Living with a group of other people especially so. It means putting up with the noise, bustle, mess and emotions of several other people. The upside to this of course, is that it if you can hack it, it teaches you both to be more tolerant of others, and to respect their boundaries by not making your mess and emotions their problem – essential skills in many areas of life.

Having such a fundamental part of one’s life as one’s living situation require democratic participation also has the added bonus of cementing the community together, and creating a far more cohesive group than what you might have in a shared house that isn’t an intentional community.

Of course there are arguments, and falling outs, and sometimes they test the limits of the community, occasionally to breaking point. People fall out, and people move out. An inevitable consequence of living with people is that one day you might not want to live with them any more, whether they are your spouse, your parents, or your friends. The big difference here is that intentional communities can change gradually, as members move out and other members move in, as well as member’s requirements changing over time, and so the nature of the living situation is pretty flexible.

Now on to the second part: There are quite obviously limits to what an intentional community of the pragmatic sort can achieve. If the community is there for its member’s benefit, then some members are not going to be willing to contribute more than is beneficial to them.

But what if you want more than that? What if you want your intentional community to be involved in feeding the homeless, or working the land together, or embracing “voluntary simplicity” or sharing income between the group? If that is the case, then you had best be prepared for some long discussions at the start to hash out exactly what the community’s expectations of its members are. You had also better be prepared to ask people to leave if they decide that they’ve found a new focus for their lives, and then tell them to do so if they don’t take kindly to your asking. Are you willing to make people homeless because they have become disillusioned with your way of life?

There are intentional communities that live like this. We tend to call them monasteries, or convents. Some of the stranger ones get called cults – and that may be a fair or unfair label depending on the social dynamic within them. But the nature of these sorts of community is that even fewer people want to live in them. The advantage that these communities have is a focus beyond their members – for all its faults religion does tend to bind a group of people together, and encourage them to work towards goals greater than their own.

So if you want to live in a community, you should ask yourself: Are you interested in providing yourself with affordable housing, and living with like-minded people? And more importantly, is that enough for you? If it isn’t, then will living in community allow you to find other ways to meet these needs? If you can put aside any utopian ideals you might have, you may still find there are a lot of benefits.

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Apologies for any of you who’ve been coming back to look for new posts – I’ve had a few weeks break as I’ve mostly been in fields this summer. I’ll be hopefully getting back to a weekly posting schedule now. Next week I’ll be talking about unintentional community

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What will you do for money?

Voluntary deindustrialisation gives plenty of opportunities for reducing the amount of money we spend. Less straightforward is a deindustrial response to bringing in money in the first place. Most of the skills we learn by deindustrialising are too niche to use making a living unless we’re willing to compromise them for the sake of making them profitable – I might one day have the skills required to build a house using nothing but hand tools, but if I wanted to make a living building houses today I have to use industrial technology to be competitive. At the cutting edge there is work for teachers, authors, and other folk catering to other sustainability and resilience minded folk, and those with a craft they excel at and some good business sense can make themselves a living marketing to people wealthy enough to be able to afford to pay for hand-made items. But extracting money from the wider economy inevitably requires some compromises.

What that compromise looks like will vary depending on your circumstances. It might mean going out to work, maybe in a job that requires you to run a car, and do something contributing more to the continued functioning of the industrial economy than anything else. It might mean claiming benefits and being reliant on the largesse of a shrinking and increasingly dysfunctional state bureaucracy. If you’re lucky and astute enough to have the kind of amounts of capital that means you don’t have to work it means relying on the continued functioning of global capitalism that pays you a profit on your assets and allows you to continue to trade them for usable currency.

Environmental writing tends to lack advice for getting out of this trap beyond, at the fringe, advising that you quit your job, move to the countryside, grow your own food and live without money. Ok, so that’s a bit of a lazy stereotype – you will find very few people advocating this as a mass strategy, but it is certainly an ideal that is widely held up. It contains within it a lot of useful concepts, and is great if you adopt it piecemeal as and when it fits into your life, but as a wholesale strategy it simply doesn’t make sense for the vast majority of people.

That isn’t anyone’s fault by the way. Subcultures build their own ideals, and this one is merely a collection of parts that individually make sense in plenty of cases, but have been taken to an illogical extreme. Its the very human tendency towards simple all encompassing answers. But in this case all we have as response to this particular conundrum is a piecemeal collection of little steps, which can be adopted or ignored as appropriate.

But needless to say, I don’t think that resilience automatically involves kicking in your job. More important is making yourself less dependant on wages, by reducing the amount you spend unnecessarily. Handily this ties in well with other resilience projects, which tend towards doing more things yourself and relying on your local community more, both of which will help reduce your outgoings.

By freeing up a chunk of your income every month, you then have an income stream that you can invest in longer term resilience planning like training courses or purchasing tools or equipment for a favourite new skill. This also opens up options like paying off your debts more quickly and taking the kind of long term financial decisions with high up-front costs that are guaranteed to save you money and make you more resilient in the long term.

Equally, you could invest this money in your local economy, or reduce your working hours in order to free up time for other projects. It also means that you have a steady buffer. A reduction in your income due to inflation, illness or unemployment will cut into your savings, but your lifestyle will be able to go on as before, or at least the shift will be less of a shock.

For me, having experience in construction, this meant gearing my skill-set towards energy efficiency and inexpensive maintenance. It also means making a hobby out of working with hand-tools sometimes, even if power tools might make more economic sense. If you worked in public health, for example, it might mean brushing up on crisis management, and working out what health interventions make sense under ongoing economic constraints. If you work for an engineering firm, consider how much of a local market there might be for what you produce, and think about what products could be produced inexpensively that could better target local markets. Hopefully this will remain an interesting thought experiment, but a little mental preparation can’t go amiss. And even if it never does become necessary, it might provide some food for thought on improvements that could be made.

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Urban preparedness – the case for staying in the city

Despite whatever pop-culture models of societal collapse might say on the subject, it is pretty clear that city living is going to continue to be a fact of life – certainly for the remainder of our lifetimes and probably for longer. And there will be plenty of deindustrialists who remain in cities – by choice, or from simple financial necessity.

I would imagine that a lot of the readers of this blog really value escaping the confines of the city. Maybe like me you spend most of the summer in various fields and woodlands. Maybe you have acquired some land, or would like to at some point in the future. You might be seeking self-sufficiency, somewhere you can afford to live or maybe you want to start a local food business. You might be after the reassuring realness of land, at least compared with the ephemeral and untrustworthy fiat currency you will need to exchange for it. You might have some more emotional (and no less valid) reasons – romanticised rural living has been used as a counterpoint for the potential alienation of city life for probably as long as there have been cities, and back to the land movements have been a feature in previous civilisations during times of strife and dysfunction.

I myself am not immune to this – in fact, getting hold of a few acres is on my bucket list. I’d like to to do some re-wilding, have somewhere to host events in the summer, and maybe grow an orchard. But I’m certainly not trying to get hold of some land to provide myself with a place to live, because the city holds a lot of advantages for me.

In this respect, its all about population density. Living in a dense urban area means I can access the services I need on foot, and that I can go a lot further relying only on public transport. In a de-industrialising society, living in a city provides a more secure access to what remains of societal infrastructure – simple things like electricity, public safety, health and sanitation are more cost-effective at scale, and a higher population density will make them easier to replace with localised alternatives as the versions of them that we have now atrophy and/or go bankrupt.

I definitely lose resiliency points when it comes to being able to feed myself, compared to if I were living rurally. But the other side of that is that living rurally would isolate me from the networks I rely on to meet my various other needs. Plus, I would inevitably be far more car-reliant than I am now, simply because I’d have far fewer people and essential services within walking distance. There’s also the minor issue that I’m not all that bothered about food production. Sure, I wouldn’t mind learning and practising it at some point, but its pretty far down the list. And what with a garden and various community projects near me, and plenty of opportunities to volunteer rurally, there’s nothing stopping me from learning what I need to know from Central Swansea.

And in practise, living rurally wouldn’t exactly mean I automatically start growing lots of my own food anyway. From knowing a lot of people in the current wave of theback to the land movement, it varies immensely how much self sufficiency is a focus, and lots of rural people get Suma orders and pop to the shops like the rest of us. This isn’t a criticism by the way- all of the people I know who are making a go of rural resilient living have my respect – we need more people getting access to land for all sorts of reasons. If you’re rehabilitating it into forest gardens and organic smallholdings to provide food, fuel and fibre for local consumption so much the better. Just as we need to put together the first inklings of a deindustrial urban economy now, that will also need to link up with a productive local rural economy.

In fact, urban deindustrialists benefit greatly from making some connections with their rural counterparts. Having friends with land has given me plenty of chances to gain skills, including low-tech housebuilding, coppicing and slaughtering pigs to name but a few – usually in exchange for nothing more than my time.

But the fact remains that by chasing self sufficiency, we are trying to create a particular form of human ecology – that of a small hamlet that produces all, or the vast majority of its own goods and services, without recourse to a wider economy, save perhaps for a few luxuries. This might well be a sustainable human ecology in a few hundred years time in some parts of the industrialised world, but it doesn’t look like a sustainable one now. There are simply a whole ream of inputs required to create this ecology (in the form of skills, land availability and economic isolation) that just aren’t there.

I think we’re in a good position to be trying to put together the first building blocks of some new human ecologies, and that this benefits from being tried out in both urban and rural settings. However it needs to start from a place of pragmatism, and a recognition of what is and isn’t feasible given what resources we have available. And if we start from this position of pragmatism, we can better choose our areas of focus, and from there decide the best starting point.

Some of my starting points have been learning low-tech construction skills, growing grassroots democracy and giving my son a decent education. Yours might mean you want to start somewhere completely different. Either way, I’d be interested to hear about it.

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Deindustrial Economics part 2: Specialisation

Last week I talked about some of the barriers to achieving self-sufficiency, some unhelpful assumptions inherent to the term, and how these might be worked around. This week I’m going to try to persuade you to adopt a slightly different approach – a degree of self-reliance combined with some specialised skills.

I feel obliged to point out that there’s nothing particularly novel or clever about this idea. In fact, having met a lot of people who have made serious moves towards self-sufficiency, this is in essence the path they have ended up taking. I think it is still worth writing about because getting a handle on what some degree of self-sufficiency looks like in practise removes a lot of the barriers to actually pursuing it.

I think the term ‘self-sufficiency’ fails to differentiate between dependence on industrial society and dependence on other human beings, feeding into a lot of the individualist assumptions inherent to Western culture. Severing dependence on industrial society is a worthwhile goal, though is not going to be fully achievable for most people. But severing dependence on other people is neither possible nor particularly desirable.

I think that there is also a psychological element at play here. Striving simply for one’s own survival is a pretty empty goal, and is not likely to be enough to motivate most people, but working towards greater self-reliance locally is far more motivating because it offers meaning beyond our own basic needs.

So if we start with the assumption that some degree of reliance on other people is no bad thing, then it quickly follows that a pretty reliable strategy for the future is being a useful person to have around. Any skills for self-reliance are going to make you useful to have around in this coming century, since these sorts of skills are likely to be growth industries. But the really useful people will be specialists – people with the capability of practising some skill or other that it simply isn’t feasible for most people to learn.

This also ties in to a personal mission of mine. To me, the big challenge of the next couple of centuries is getting through the collapse of industrial civilisation with as many of the skills, knowledge and technology required to maintain a complex society as possible. The skills and their associated infrastructure of industrial society are entirely dependant on global supply chains and cheap fossil energy, so cannot survive the coming decades in their current form and will need to be overhauled, replaced or abandoned. Skills for subsistence will help keep people alive, but a wider range of specialised skills represent the seeds of a new eco-technic infrastructure further down the path of energy descent.

Since energy production correlates so strongly with societal complexity, I think its fair to say that some degree of reduction is simply unavoidable. But if there is the will to do so I still think that there are significant amounts that can be saved. The barrier to doing so is that in most cases it is not presently economical to gain the skills that will be of benefit in the future, and in many cases, by the time it becomes economical to gain these skills, it will be unfeasible or impossible. Today, even if things are getting more difficult, many of us westerners have significant surpluses of either time, money or both, especially in comparison to what we might have in a decade or two. When those surpluses go away, setting oneself up with the tools and skillset for a useful trade will be beyond the reach of many, even if that trade is immediately called for and economically viable.

The other big threat to long term complexity is current over-production. If for several generations, many human needs can be met from a salvage economy, rather than by producing new goods, then unless these goods can be reverse-engineered, when current goods can no longer be maintained the technology will simply no longer be available.

If skills for subsistence and home production is your thing then don’t take this to mean you should be looking elsewhere – in fact, for many this will be a good starting point for finding skills that lend themselves to specialisation. Instead of considering fields like weaving or horticulture primarily for your own production, consider how they could be scaled to provide for other people too. But there are plenty of fields outside of this that should be considered just as important.

Last week I talked about the difficulty in achieving self-sufficiency (or the advantages to not doing so) in certain areas – lighting, communications, healthcare, transport and so on. A return to a peasant lifestyle would mean minimal or no specialist inputs in these areas, which essentially boils down to a significant reduction in quality of life for most people. This is something which I think can be avoided. If steps can be taken now, even by a small number of people, to maintain a little bit of technical specialisation, then this may mean that future generations have better access to some of the simple technologies of industrial society that could be practised at a lower level of technology. I’m thinking of things like radio transmission, bicycles, vaccination – technologies which which could have huge impacts on future quality of life.

For the most part, learning the sorts of skills to maintain these technologies will not make you a living in the present day, apart from in a few specialised niches where you can successfully market them to wealthy people who can afford to pay developed world labour prices for goods. The very reason these skills are at risk of being lost is because it is not economical in some way to practise them– either because they are produced far more cheaply by the industrial economy, or because a more energy intensive alternative is able to out-compete them.

For some people, a good starting point for a possible specialist skillset might be one relating to your current line of work. While it is a cliché that the developed world doesn’t produce anything any more, in practise many people are still involved in producing real goods and services in some way. Obviously your results may vary – its much easier to consider things from this angle if you’re in healthcare or education than if you’re in insurance.

You could consider what your workplace might have looked like 50 or 100 years ago. Did your particular job exist? If not, what were some close equivalents, and in what way did the skillset required for them differ? What tools and equipment that you use today was not yet in widespread use, and what was used instead? If your workplace didn’t exist then, what did people do instead?

A big advantage of this line of exploration, is that it puts you in a pretty good position when wider failures in the industrial economy threaten your profession. Having the knowledge required to adapt to changing circumstances could mean that your workplace successfully adapts when others fail to do so. And even if your work does shut down, you’ll at least be well placed to offer a lower tech alternative.

If your line of work offers no such opportunities for pre-emptive adaptation, then an alternative plan might be to simply choose a field of future expertise to pursue in your spare time. This could be a technology or skillset that you find particularly enjoyable, or you could more pragmatically choose something that you see as being particularly useful further down the line.

Becoming an expert in your chosen de-industrial field is not necessary – this exercise is as much about getting the framework in place now for when you might need it later. At this stage, the goal is building up a collection of the tools (if any) you might need, and getting regular practise.

And of course, if you can get some other people interested, and learn some skills together, so much the better.

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