Below is a reflection upon several things I have read and listened to since leaving the farm. These are concepts that stood out to me and caused me to further reflect on my experiences at Plukrijp.
We live in an individualistic society, valuing ourselves as individuals, not as part of something larger and greater than ourselves. Capitalism and consumer culture have taken advantage of this concept of the ’individual’. People are encouraged to consume partly as a means of defining who they ‘really’ are. Express yourself! ‘Because you’re worth it.’ We are trapped in a cage created by a worshipping of the all-important self. Imprisoned by our own short term desires. Driven in part by consumer culture, there is an emphasis on the idea of the freedom to be an individual. We feel that we are free but does this form of individualistic consumer life really provide us with freedom?
As Adam Curtis puts it “We have been told that freedom, is freedom to fulfil our trivial and petty desires, but real freedom is freedom from our trivial and petty desires.”
We feel that we are free to consume whatever we want in order to create any kind of lifestyle we desire. When our desires are so frequently manipulated by those who want us to consume, can we consider this freedom? We are motivated to pursue what society has taught us to deem as valuable rather than any true understanding of our own value.
We live in a society that encourages fear and the control of any potential risks. The fear of chaos/lack of order and the fear of the perceived ‘other’.
Additionally, people now live their lives as a spectacle. Opening them up to the external observer. To be viewed and validated by others. Where the number of likes on facebook equates to a greater sense of self worth. Where people don’t do things to do them but to be seen to do them by others. The phenomenon that motivates people to give a £20 note to a homeless man but only after they have started videoing the act to share with their ‘followers’. A world in which we carry around the eyes of hundreds or thousands of others with us in our pockets and routinely display our lives to them for their judgement.
There is a need for a new story. However the factors above, among others, make any kind of revolution unlikely to happen. In ‘21 lessons for the 21st century’ Yuval Harari describes how we started the 20th century with three grand stories; the fascist, communist and liberal. Fascism was knocked out by the second world war. The years between the 40’s and the 80’s saw a battle between the remaining two stories, until the communist story also collapsed.
We were left with liberalism as the ‘dominant guide to the past and the indispensable manual for the future of the world.’ Liberalism has not been, as some had once hoped, ‘the end of history’. We are now faced with a ‘tidal wave of disillusionment’ towards liberalism. It is this disillusion that can explain the current climate of Brexit and president Trump. People are no longer happy with the current structure that the liberal story takes.
It seems that we are now in the position that there is no story left to believe in. The disorientation this causes can lead to apocalyptic thinking, particularly in the left. ‘Trump signals the end of the World!’ We are in need of a new story.
What are we to do in the face of this lack of a believable political story? In a culture of hypernormalisation in which we know the way things are is not quite right, but that feeling is ‘normal’ and we are pacified, feeling unable to do anything about it? Where people are so highly unlikely to feel the need for, let alone create, a revolution? When we face major problems that require global cooperation?
What can we do about it?
It’s easy to feel powerless.
Writers like Harari, Curtis and Harris use their skills to create tools of communication that inform others and encourage conversation. We can do this in our own way, talking about the topics we find relevant and important, with others we encounter. Maintaining the conversation with open discussions about where we are and where the hell we are going.
In asking the question, ‘what can we do about it?’ this quote seems pertinent.
“Don’t engage in oppositionalism, establish alternatives and live in them.”
Sometimes, the more force you use to push something away, the more force is generated to push right back against you. Rebellion can take a different form than outright opposition.
In this way, Plukrijp is a beautiful form of resistance and counter culture.
The concepts of permaculture, and how these are realised on the farm, answer many of the problems of society listed above.
Community and the acceptance of the whole as being greater than the part. If one is integrated into a real community, it is difficult to maintain a strong sense of individualism. When daily efforts are pooled and group energy goes into work that serves the community as a whole, it is tangible how much more can be achieved with a sense of we rather than I.
Sharing and resourcefulness. If most things are shared and we aim to waste as little as possible e.g. eating skip food, building with recycled materials like pallet crates, exchange via the freeshop and a repair rather than rubbish mentality. This way of thinking, alongside taking stock of what it is we really ‘need’ greatly reduces the perceived ‘need’ to consume. There comes a recognition that all needs can be met, that an abundance can be found, without any mindless consumption.
This is also linked to the idea of value based upon substance. In general society, value is somewhat determined by the way a person looks, dresses and what they own. This concept, in part, drives the consumption of ‘fashion’. Buying the latest ‘style’ and then throwing it away when it no longer serves as a symbol of status or identity.
In permaculture, as it is realised at Plukrijp, this becomes a redundant idea. Value, in this instance, is based instead upon what an individual contributes to the community. When you are surrounded by people who do not look at the external in order to assign value but rather at the inner qualities and skills one has to offer, when things are shared and there is no way to gain value based on what you own, you are invited to assess where your own value truly comes from. This idea welcomes a degree of self reflection. The image one has portrayed is no longer blindly reflected back and one has the opportunity to be faced with what was hidden behind an artificial image.
With the realisation that we do not need to consume in an attempt to piece together some false image of ourselves to the external world, we move one step closer to “freedom from our trivial and petty desires.”
If you are fully engaged with the community when living in a place like Plukrijp you should no longer feel the need for validation from distant, external audiences e.g those found on facebook. There is the opportunity for genuine human interaction. There is no need to reflect a false, artificial image of who you are. To frame yourself as a spectacle. Due to proximity, it is far more likely to be recognised as false. To continue in falseness or spectacle will only rob you of real experiences with other human beings who are physically there, waiting for connections.
An openness and honesty in communication also means that superficial connections are quickly moved on from. When this happens, conversation becomes authentic and there is no need for the superficial stroking of egos. We are presented with the potential for real self-reflection, introspection, feedback and growth.
“For me, the key to happiness is to know the truth about yourself and the World.”- Harari.
In this way, real communication helps us towards an understanding of our minds, the minds of others and a deeper, more lasting sense of satisfaction. This cannot be found in the chasing of things that provide temporary hits of satisfaction such as facebook likes.
We also live in a world in which facebook sends us a feedback loop of our own opinions. We don’t encounter this living in a community. We are not fed back our own opinions but are confronted by interactions with others whose opinions differ from our own. This allows us space to reflect on and learn from what others think. Recognising that our own World view is not the be all and end all but rather the beginning point for much greater understanding and learning. It is almost impossible to grow if you are never challenged.
Frank often talks about the function of fear. How we are often living so far from our limitations that we live in fear because we remain unaware of what we are really capable of or the pressures we can take. In this way, fear acts as control and keeps you smaller. If you never truly push to the edge of your limits because of fear then you will never grow. You will get smaller as you put up new boundaries inside of your true limitations and as such, perpetually increase your fear.
When we live in a World in which the narrative is saturated by fear. Growing up in a fearful society with fearful parents. What is brave is to acknowledge that much of that fear is constructed in your own mind. Then to learn to move on from that imagined fear and push to your limits. Is the fear real or a story? Where is the tiger?
To me, taking the step to live in this communal way, or even further to create a space as Frank and Martine have at Plukrijp, is one of the greatest things you can do in reaction to some of the problems of general society. To write a new story, not only for yourself but to invite others to come and live and write and edit that story with you.
It may not be a story that everybody wants to read. Or for some, it is a story to dip in to occasionally rather than on a permanent basis. For me, it symbolises that we do not have to sit and wait for someone else to write a new story that includes us. We can take it upon ourselves to find that story and to live it. To embody it. To show others how it’s done. In my eyes, it’s the greatest form of opposition to some of the shit parts of society. Plukrijp has inspired me to pursue a different way of living.
If any of this is of interest to you I can highly recommend the following:
Hypernormalisation by Adam Curtis (film),
The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis (film)
21 Lessons for the 21st century by Yuval Noah Harari (book),
The Waking Up Podcast by Sam Harris (ep. 68 is with YNH) and
Under the Skin with Russell Brand (eps with both Curtis and Harari, also a podcast)