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Rabbit Holes 🕳️ #57
From self/community-sufficiency as a mindset to the power of subtraction, the insecurity machine, critical ignoring and the problem with 'combatting' climate change
THIS WEEK → 🛠️ Self-Sufficiency As Mindset ➖ The Power of Subtraction 😰 The Insecurity Machine ➕ Critical Ignoring 🚿 ‘Combatting’ Climate Change
Rabbit Holes 🕳️
As always, here are three perspective-shifting ideas to create a better world, plus some fun extras below. Enjoy!
#1 🛠️ Self/Community-Sufficiency As Mindset
It’s interesting to think of a self-sufficiency mindset as a critical, necessary, or even undervalued asset in a world shaped by decades of consumerism, convenience, technological progress, and globalization. Maybe we should leverage the idea of personal and especially communal self-sufficiency more as a way to, at least partially, step out of “the system”, take back control, and experiment with alternative modes of living.
“In his incredible book ‘Weapons of Mass Instruction’, John Taylor Gatto presents the idea that self-sufficiency is a mindset more than any activity. A mindset of seeing yourself and those around you as producers rather than consumers. A mindset of striving for independence rather than dependence. He states that people in ‘early federal America held the ideal of self-sufficiency as the very pinnacle of achievement. The ideal household aimed to produce its own food, clothing, shelter, entertainment, transportation, medical care, education, childcare, and social security’.
In contrast, he asserts that modern society is now “composed of persons who cannot design, build, repair or even operate most of the devices upon which their lives depend” and that most things are in truth “literally unintelligible to them”. As a result, us modern people must “accept a great number of things on faith” as our “way of understanding is now basically religious, rather than scientific”.
This is a very uncomfortable perspective for those of us who pride ourselves on living in the “age of science” and like to think that we have a pretty good grasp of how the world works. But in fact, most of us have far less true understanding of the world than people from societies of the past. This is, of course, particularly true of indigenous tribes, past and present, who are often referred to as primitive and yet have an incredibly deep understanding of the world. An understanding that enables them to be self-sufficient within their communities and live as a harmonious part of nature. […]
Perhaps […] the red herring in self-sufficiency is the term “self”. What we should be aspiring towards is not to be truly independent and live alone in the woods, but to develop personal capability and community sufficiency, in which we contribute to a shared effort to build resilient, caring communities whose focus is on production to meet needs, rather than consumption to meet wants. […]
This has never been more important. We are now at a point in history when we are not only dependent on physical systems like power grids, global food supply chains and sewage systems, but also mentally dependent on search engines, sat nav, calendar notifications, grammar checkers, meal kits and heart rate monitors. The rise of AI will exponentially accelerate this trend. If we're not careful, we'll go from being the most intelligent and resilient species on Earth to a populace of computer controlled zombies who don't truly know how to do anything.
The time is now to reignite a shared passion for self-sufficiency and to find opportunities to “undertake” it wherever we can - in our work, in our gardens, in our homes and in our communities. This is how we'll create a resilient foundation from which to build a positive future in uncertain times.”
#2 ➖ The Power of Subtraction
How do we cope with accelerated lives, the fear of the new ChatGPT version being able to do our – anyway not so meaningful – job, busy work schedules, and that constant “I am exhausted” feeling? Most people would say self-optimization is the solution: “it’s not that the AI replaces you, but a person with AI will..blabla…,” so basically learn how to use it; or join the 5 am club and use Notion to manage your to-do’s more efficiently; ohhh and optimize your sleep, take supplements and basically do what Huberman says in his podcast…. Well, I don’t know… This article here reframes things a bit:
“The tactic of subtraction goes against the grain of the so-called mind-set revolution, in which it seems everyone is adding this or that quality to their mental approach. The growth mind-set. The abundance mind-set. The gratitude mind-set. But in this genre of self-optimization, if it can be called that, we are adding more and more duct tape to something that isn’t broken — our mind — until it is so covered we lose sight of the beautifully designed machine underneath it all and it thus becomes, in fact, broken. […]
Reading about what top athletes considered the ideal state of mind led me to a few surprising conclusions. First, the power of subtraction had been there all along. Though you can find it in interviews and writings from Olympians, top coaches, sports psychologists and even samurai warriors, it was rarely explicitly articulated. Second, it’s much harder to practice than I realized. Third, you win more when you embody it. And, for the record, there’s nothing wrong with winning.
But to untangle ourselves from those bonds of self-worth, we need to cultivate more subtle qualities — emotional intelligence, restraint and the ability to recognize and acknowledge our own feelings. The key is removing barriers to clarity, not adding them in hopes of reaching our goals. […]
‘Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add but when there is nothing left to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness.’ [Saint-Exupéry][…]
Adding comes naturally in life, from the simple act of living; habits form, mental patterns become fixed. Jealousies, insecurities and phobias take root with disturbing ease. We may try to fix ourselves, but often by slapping on more strips of duct tape.
A great performance is nothing more than a lovely moment, and lovely moments are everywhere. To arrive there, you need to prune away what is causing anticipation and frustration — impatience with those you love, jealousy toward a friend or anger at your children. As Saint-Exupery advises, we must take away until there is nothing left to remove. What is left when you do that? Only an action. You are in it, then, in sports or in love, with clarity, intensity and solidity. You adjust quickly and deftly. You are no longer bound by addition. You are free to act.
That’s winning. That’s perfection.”
#3 😰 The Insecurity Machine
Another great (re-)framing from an interview with Astra Taylor, the author of the new book The Age of Insecurity. In it, Astra focuses on one specific negative emotional consequence of capitalism, which is felt by everyone, even the privileged and wealthy: Insecurity. There is no “enough” in capitalism… This is super interesting because as I have explained here various times, I think it’s essential to find such “common grounds” in order to build a mass movement of solidarity to change things. But read for yourself:
“Insecurity, as you said, is ubiquitous and uneven. One source of capitalism’s power is that whether people have some or a lot, they don’t feel like they have enough. On the one hand, especially from a debt organizing perspective, it may be hard to take seriously the problems of a wealthy, privileged person. But on the other hand, you can see that in a country without universal healthcare, all it takes is a cancer diagnosis to decimate your wealth. Maybe you’re an entrepreneur with a small business. Most businesses don’t make it! Even the mythic American entrepreneur is subject to a certain kind of precarity.
There’s a feeling that you can’t rest. Let’s say you manage to save money, and you put it in your 401(k) because you don’t have state-provided security in old age. If there’s a downturn in the market, you’re going to be destitute instead of finally being able to take a break and enjoy the last years of your life. Not everybody is desperately indebted or poor, but this economic arrangement is damaging to many. Most people feel it every day, because they can’t count on anything—they worry that if things go wrong, they will be delivering DoorDash in their 70s or older, like many people do. They don’t have economic security.
We’re also living in a moment of intense ecological instability, we’ve just been through a pandemic—there will probably be future pandemics. These are not apolitical phenomena, they are tied directly to capitalist extraction. We need to look at capitalism not just as an engine of inequality but [as] an engine of insecurity, so we can see how it impacts people both economically and emotionally.
Capitalism isn’t working for any of us, and that’s the basis of solidarity. We can recognize the differentials, that insecurity hits those who are marginalized and poorest and most oppressed the hardest. But it’s also present at every rung of the income ladder, and that’s part of capitalism’s grip. It’s why people can’t get off the treadmill and say, “I’ve got enough.” In a society with healthcare, pensions, or other forms of a safety net, you wouldn’t have to be rich to be secure. But the irony of capitalism is that even rich people don’t feel secure!
The interviewer also asks this amazing question: “What do we not get to think about when we’re insecure?”
“What does it mean to be human? What is the nature and meaning of life? What could we create if we weren’t just trying to survive? If you’re desperately trying to get ahead or stay afloat, you don’t get to ask these questions.
The point is that insecurity has effects on what we can imagine and what we’re open to.”
» NPQ | Capitalism, the Insecurity Machine: A Conversation with Astra Taylor by Rithika Ramamurthy & Astra Taylor
💡 When critical thinking isn’t enough: to beat information overload, we need to learn ‘critical ignoring’ – The Conversation
”Critical ignoring is the ability to choose what to ignore and where to invest one’s limited attentional capacities. Critical ignoring is more than just not paying attention – it’s about practising mindful and healthy habits in the face of information overabundance.”
🎙️ How to Not Go It Alone on the How to Talk to People podcast by The Atlantic
”The values of individualism that encourage us to go it alone are in constant tension with the desire for community that many people crave. But when attempting to do things on our own, we may miss out on the joys of coming together.”
🎙️ Holding The Fire
“Award-winning journalist and author Dahr Jamail hosts in-depth interviews with leaders from around the world to uncover Indigenous ways of reckoning with environmental and societal breakdown.”
📕 The Evolved Nest: Nature’s Way of Raising Children and Creating Connected Communities by Darcia Narvaez, PhD and G. A. Bradshaw, PhD
”A beautiful resource for Nature advocates, parents-to-be, Animal lovers, and anyone who seeks to restore wellbeing on our planet, The Evolved Nest reconnects us to lessons from the Animal world and shows us how to restore wellness in our families, communities, and lives.”
🚿 Shower Thoughts
That’s it for this week!
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