Sunday, 7 February 2016

Opting out

One of the greenbelt talks was by Stephen Oram discussing the question of opting out. And yes, I know that was ages ago, but it takes me a long time to put these thoughts in place sometimes. At the time, it made me think that the idea is a fallacy, because it is actually impossible to opt out.

I am very positive about the idea of opting out, in theory at least. There is some attraction about going "off the grid", cutting dependencies on others - no internet, no television, making your own electricity, recycling everything you can, growing your own food. Actually, I would miss the connection with others, but I would like to make my own electricity, personally recycle stuff more, have less reliance on services. I would also find it a whole lot of hard work, and enjoy not having to do all of this.

The problem I have is that it is only possible to be off grid to a certain extent. I want to identify the things we can do and the ones we can't.

The services are the first thing to try to sort out. Electricity can, if you have a large enough area, generate this from solar panels and wind turbines. Gas we have to do without, but we can heat with wood burners, and cook in a similar way, if we have an appropriate supply. So with a large enough area, this works.

Water we can achieve if we have a stream on our property, so we need to take care at finding the right place. Of course if too many people take water from a stream, it will run dry, so we also need to collect rainwater, and use this where possible. The other service, telephone and internet, is impossible to get without paying, so we either have to accept this or do without this. It is, of course, possible to have no phone or internet, but then you would not be able to read this.

Sewage can be dealt with by recycling the water having cleaned it up enough for some purposes. Recycling the excrement as fertiliser can be achieved with a little work - a dry closet does this, apparently. So the services can be attended to.

Food can be grown, if you are prepared to harvest and deal with it yourself. That is a large amount of work, but, assuming that you are not working outside your home, this should not be a basic challenge

The problem with this is that it has too narrow a scope. Which is a strange thing to say given that it seems to require a lot of planning and organisation. However, the aim is to "opt out", to remove oneself from a dependency on  a society that we might reject (for any reason).

Firstly, I presume that there is a house on the property, which has been built using resources from the society. This could be avoided if you choose to build the house yourself, but somewhere in that, there is likely to be some external dependency. Can you build a house yourself without using facilities from outside? It can be done by skip diving, but this is not opting out, this is depending on other peoples rubbish. If you use tradespersons, they are external resources that are needed.

An existing property has all of this already inherent in the location. This is opting out only for the now, using what has been created already. This is like being homeless for a few weeks, and thinking you know what it is like. It is one of the things that irritates me about the "sleep-out" events. One night sleeping out is a bit of fun. Every night is not. Claiming to be opting out, while still relying on what others have done is short-term opting out.

The other problem is that your little property cannot exclude itself from being part of the UK. If, as an example, the locals rivers are managed to not flood, then your property benefits from this work. Similarly, if it does flood, you can rely on the emergency services to assist. If someone is ill, you can take advantage of the NHS. Those aspects of "society" that do not affect us directly and imminently are easy to ignore, but they are still there, still aspects that you are engaged with. If the country is threatened from outside, the government will not point to your smallholding and say "you can invade there, they are opting out" - you are still reliant on the military, however much you might disapprove of them.

To me, this is the core problem with trying to "opt out". There are some aspects which are comparatively easy to avoid, with some thought and planning. But opting out of "society" is a whole lot harder. I think this is why I don't choose to opt out, rather I choose to be involved and try to change. That is not an implied criticism, just the way that I choose to go.

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