How I got Here

There is no free will. If all our consciousness is selfless then it can only be illusion or God (or could it be both?)

Too much presence of mind, without some insight and love to go with it, can bring one to the edge of insanity. I know, because sometimes I go there. I sometimes feel close to things I don’t want to feel close to, but I have trust in myself to use that closeness to observe and learn, rather than react in an unhelpful way.

(Too much samatha, not enough vipassana, the bikkhu warned).

I can never really know how I got here. I’m just here, that’s all.

How I Got Here: An Ecopreneur’s Story #4

I burn with a vision for a radically different society, a radically improved one.

I’m so grateful to have these tools of the internet and the personal computer, and this WordPress platform. It’s like magic. I just can’t conceive of what the environmental impact is of these tools. It is probably and conveniently impossible to calculate the environmental impact of one laptop, one window onto the net, one blog site. How many animals killed. How much water polluted. It’s a shame that people like Bill Gates have a vision for a personal computer for every human being on Earth, instead of a community internet cafe (and multifunctional space) for every town, which would be far more sustainable.

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Whilst still based in my woodland home at Silent Haven, Devon, my entrepreneurial thinking deepened. I don’t know if the wildness of my surroundings contributed to the wildness of my dreams, but I think it did. I developed big dreams, all very egotistical of course, and yet also reflective of my frustration with how the world is, and how much better it could be for everyone -other species included. I have massive dreams for my business, but only because I believe I could help facilitate ‘business to end all business’, in a very literal sense. I do not believe that human beings are governed by market forces, except that we have made it so across most of the globe. It is only by utilising markets as they are, that we can radically change them and to an extent, dissolve them, revealing and renewing those human co-creative forces that have nothing to do with markets and everything to do with evolutionary multi-species-enlightened self-interest.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that it is only not-for-profit and non-business areas of society that have a monopoly on human wisdom, ingenuity, excellence in communication and co-operation, and even ‘love’. Both Adam Smith and Karl Marx reduced human beings to economic actors. An unfortunate result of classical / dogmatic Marxist thinking (notwithstanding Marx’s great contribution to history) has been a neglect amongst leftists of the great creative potential in human beings to create all kinds of diverse economies based on local, including environmental, needs, as opposed to centralised power structures. Both classical Marxism and Smithsonian economics presuppose a centralised state. The centralised state has allowed the rise of massive corporations, and all their implied unethical ways of being, essentially their environmental impact. In modern times we need ecopreneurs just as much as activists -ethical and ecological entrepreneurs, to break down the intertwined power of state and corporation, to create local and diverse economies. For the Marxists, I would like to suggest to you that this is the best and most grounded path towards socialism. With the right technologies employed and shared, local diverse economies could indeed give rise to ‘scientific socialism’, (although not necessarily in every locality) as Abdullah Ocalan calls it, as opposed to the ‘real socialism’ that we have suffered through history.

-As I deepened my interest in business, I started to read some good business books -books for the independent entrepreneur. I realised that the modern business world, if isolated in environmental context, is full of genius. Genius of logic, strategic thinking, communication skills, envisioning techniques, creative organisational structure and so on. But much more than this: the world of business, especially the world of creative independent entrepreneurs, contains some passionate, loving people, who genuinely want to share their passion and knowledge and love for the world. Yes, they make a living from their creative mission, but hopefully these people would also be facilitated in their joy and innovation in scientific socialist and localised diverse economic contexts, with a greater respect for ecology all round.

One book I read was ‘The Lean Start-up’ by Eric Ries. The key lesson I learnt from this book is the importance of envisioning (visualising and emotionally connecting with) what you want to achieve with any business, and the importance of pivoting, i.e. changing direction with the precise business model and / or product(s) it takes to realise the vision. Before reading this book, I was in danger of confusing product or current business model, with overall vision for change, and thus thinking that my vision had failed whenever a product idea (actually website idea) failed (which was all of them, all the time).

Another entrepreneur’s book I read early on was ‘The 100$ Start-up’ by Chris Guillebeau.  More than anything this taught me that many people (in the industrialised world) are capable of being an entrepreneur (if connected to the web), and in this context that almost anyone can be a consultant on something they are knowledgeable on or passionate about. The book also taught the concept of ‘just in time’ learning, meaning, it is possible to be engaged on a path of learning whereby you share your knowledge with customers as soon as you learn it, rather than thinking you have to get a degree in something before sharing and capitalising on your knowledge.

I also read the well-known ‘Influence: The Power of Persuasion’ by Robert Cialdini, but to be honest I found this book on marketing technique unsettling and a little dishonest.

Let me reassert, I understand that the modern globalised system of capitalism that we live with is an obsolete and destructive system which must be transformed and dismantled by varying degrees, and without delay. I understand that books like ‘The Lean Start-up’ and ‘The $100 Start-up’ are products of a few privileged minds that are invested in the current prevailing paradigm, and that rely on centuries of oppression of human beings and the planet, and are intertwined with continued oppression, however ‘ethical’ they are in places. But I cannot claim to be any less intertwined with oppression. Unless I throw my laptop away, throw away my connection to the internet, and live very frugally in a monastery-like setting, whether I like it or not I am a symptom and cause of the prevailing paradigm. My personal way of taking responsibility for that is to be a subversive entrepreneur, to draw capital to me from the middle classes and redistribute it for social and ecological justice. This is my intention, my vision.

-At one point I contacted a place that gives free business advice in Okehampton. I passed by them an idea for an ecologically-themed online directory. I was asked, ‘how are you going to compete with Google?’ and my answer was that people don’t always know what they are looking for with search engines -my directory would curate information and guide sustainable behaviour. I didn’t pursue this idea at the time, partly because I was put off by the official nature of the feedback I received, which was in terms of SWOT (the supposed strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats model of business planning). Classic SWOT doesn’t really work for me, although I think I use the concept implicitly in a more lateral way in everything I do now.

During this period of taking on a more entrepreneurial mindset, allowing space for my vision to grow, I managed to live quite frugally, partaking in scraps of part-time work here and there, and living rent-free in an ‘unlawful’ self-built dwelling in the woods. I would encourage anyone to do this, if on a careful and ecologically sound basis. The laws of the state are of course, no measure for what is sustainable behaviour for the continuance of our species.

I still feel like ‘I’m not businessy enough’. I have been conned by the business world into thinking that because I dress scruffily and ideally wish to live in a borderless and relocalised world, I can never be an entrepreneur, much less a CEO. The business elites of the status quo quite rightly feel threatened by my vision.

I say to you that we need to throw off the shackles of the stereotypes of the business person and the entrepreneur once and for all. Yes, this has been happening for a while now, but not in the radical way that I envision.

Now more than ever we need an army of super-ethical ecopreneurs, breaking down the environmental impact and excessive power of the large corporations and the state, liberating capital to flow more freely to where it is needed, and supporting the creation of buzzing localised economic hives, with a radically re-worked concept of ‘profit’, equated with enriching one community without disadvantaging another.

How I Got Here: An Ecopreneur’s Story #3

Once I started to lean towards entrepreneurial thinking, I went further into the internet resources available. I really didn’t have a clue what I was looking for and so got messy and sporadic results.

Like many people before me, I was distracted by and suckered into watching videos starring entrepreneurs (mostly white and male) who promised me I could make millions of pounds if only I just knew the right tricks or made the right connections. I’m sure that the main money-making trick of many of these so-called entrepreneurs is to sell their ‘secret insider knowledge’ to suckers like me. (Well, I’m not so much of a sucker these days, and although I have paid up for other deceptive schemes, sales-driven online ‘business mentoring’ hasn’t been among them.) ‘Affiliate marketing’ has featured heavily in the videos of the high-flying desperados. I call them desperados because they seem desperate to be rich, at the expense of ethics. Ethics-focused affiliate marketing does exist, but it’s not the norm.

So what is ‘affiliate marketing’? It refers to the marketing of other companies’ products on your website, according to agreements which pay you a percentage every time sales are generated from customers linking to the companies through your website. It sounds easier than it is. In order to attract people to your site in the first place, you have to provide outstanding and / or popular and / or very exclusive / niche content. The most common way to do this is by writing a blog, or hosting a blog with others providing the content for you.

I’m not against some modest and ethical affiliate marketing being added to a blog site on the strength of the followers that the blog has attracted, if the starting point was the artistic and ethical drive of the writer / entrepreneur to share their ideas / ethical business with the world. But building a website from scratch purely with the intention of making money from affiliate marketing; in other words, building a business which is affiliate marketing-based, seems to me so dead, so cynical, so unsustainable. The exception would be a platform that strives to change consumer behaviour, to promote only the most ethical of products across the board, to be an ethical superstore of other companies’ products. This just isn’t my bag, but I’m sure someone’s doing it.

Apart from corny entrepreneurial videos, I have also watched plenty of corny motivation videos on YouTube, although some of them have featured excerpts from motivational speeches, some by very famous people, which are very inspiring. It’s more the images that have been put with the audio that are corny -plenty of musclebound men ‘pushing’ their gym workouts, weight-training and boxing practice. I went through a phase of watching these. This is one of the better ones, which has at least made some effort to portray a balance of genders and ethnicities, (but not nearly enough so). Looking back, they were a stop-gap to keep my motivation high whilst I still didn’t have a clue what I was doing or where I was going with my new-found entrepreneurial mindset. I would like to see a whole range of motivational videos by women, for women, and by people of colour, for people of colour. I am staggered that this doesn’t seem to happen already. Or if it does, the videos are way down in the search results. When I searched YouTube today for motivational videos for women, the only ones that came up were exceptions on male-dominated motivation channels. However, that said, it was great to see Evan Carmichael’s ‘Top Ten Rules For Success’ by Maya Angelou.

Unless someone gets there before me, and I hope they will, one day, with all my ethical entrepreneurial profit (if that isn’t an oxymoron), I will make sure that there are more diverse motivation videos on YouTube, to motivate people from all backgrounds and of all identities, brought to them by people like them…

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The internet has allowed me to learn about the entrepreneurial activity of people from all over the world, from all backgrounds, although there is still a privileged white male dominance amongst entrepreneurs -certainly a white dominance. I have been staggered and warmed by the creativity of human beings in my virtual searches and have even been tempted at times by the neoliberal ideology that with a completely free market, the competition drive would solve the whole world’s environmental and social justice issues. This is bullshit, of course. Capitalism is predicated on perpetual growth on a foundation of finite resources, so deceit is at its core. Inequality of pay and inequality of labour roles are also central to the capitalist model.

So why do I want to be an entrepreneur? My starting place here is, whether we are consumers or business people, as modern human beings we are all implicated in global inequality and destruction of the environment. On a systemic level, being an ‘ethical consumer’ makes relatively little difference to the destructive nature of the capitalist model, and may even be the surest way of perpetuating the model by dissipating some of our guilt. The same can be said for ‘ethical businesses’, most of which aren’t very ethical if all the supply chains involved are taken into account. Meanwhile, global civilisation heads towards the edge of a cliff. The marketing ideology behind the destruction is the persuasion of potential customers to view consumerist ‘wants’ as ‘needs’ and inbreed in us and our children (most poisonously) a sense of entitlement to products and services which it would materially not be possible to provide to everyone on the globe.

Recently I stumbled upon the ‘ecopreneur’ concept. Ecopreneur, meaning an ethical entrepreneur who acts for social justice and the environment. In light of what I wrote above, is the concept of an ‘ecopreneur’ a con? Not totally, I think. Some ecopreneurs will at least attempt, however impossible it may seem to be, to purify their part in the web of complex interconnected supply chains that is contemporary global capitalism. I empathise and follow suit. I like the word ‘ecopreneur’. It at least signposts customers to noble aspirations. Ethical businesses and ecopreneurs may also be an important bridge to post-capitalist tomorrows. Epic tomorrows! But only if the ethics are deep, deep, deep and challenge the workings of the capitalist model itself.

I fully intend to develop products and services which are not only ‘ethical’ in the usual sense of ecopreneurs, but which aim much higher. Firstly, I intend to educate about the unsustainability of the current capitalist model, to any individuals, groups or businesses who are my customers. Secondly, my drive will be towards the relocalised cultures and economies that I believe will be essential to post- and hybrid- capitalist futures over the coming decades. In other words, I want to somehow be involved in the relocalising of supply chains and application to them of high environmental standards. Purifying and relocalising supply chains as well as customer bases, for all businesses, doesn’t just make social and environmental sense in the long-term. In the medium-term relocalisation offers resilience, buffering against the global threats of the coming decades. Thirdly, I intend to address global and local power imbalances in any services and products I develop. To use the likely global upheaval in the capitalist model this century to achieve social justice; by education and practice to help make sure that patriarchy, racism, homophobia and other prejudices have absolutely no place in relocalised post- and hybrid- capitalist futures.

Do I sound too ambitious? Unrealistic? Have you never heard the phrase, Rome didn’t crumble in a day?

To read about my audacious vision for the epic tomorrows of Earth, go here.

 

How I Got Here: An Ecopreneur’s Story #2

So there I was, sitting in an unlawful wooden building which I co-built, in the middle of a field in mid-Devon, finding it the perfect inspiration to hatch my plans for the liberation of global society.

At Silent Haven, when it came to managing the land and self-sufficiency, it sometimes seemed I disagreed with my (now ex) partner, Jules, on almost everything. I suppose this feeling supported the visionary aspect of my mind which would constantly interrupt my working day with strategies and projects for my entrepreneurial future, that it urged me to run to the cabin to write down to work on later in the day, or when I got a chance. Jules and I are now the best of friends, but I don’t blame her for being exasperated with my mindset at the time. I wasn’t totally focused on the land.

However, living in the midst of Nature, on the edge of the law, gave my envisioning some groundedness, bite and congruence; what better place from where to imagine an entirely new ecology-based civilisation, with new criteria for human well-being, and new laws?

It’s a few years later and now I can look back at my time at Silent Haven -the development is now fully ‘allowed’ by the authorities- and appreciate how lucky I was to have that quiet and semi-wild place to contemplate my power and position in the world. My head was messy, including the stress caused by an oppressive planning law system. I was in and out of the so-called mental health services. Painful mindstates that I had kept in check for years, since my arbitrary recovery from that first initial breakdown at university, came back with a vengeance.

In the early years at Silent Haven Jules and I were blessed to meet, through a Buddhist group, some very kind no-souls who regularly gave us support and the practical use of their modern homes, including their computers. I began to see what an amazing tool the internet could be for inspiring visions of the future that were global in scope, as well as connecting with likeminded visionaries. Most of the ideas I had for ‘changing the world’ were wildly unrealistic. Nevertheless, Silent Haven and its support network became the eco-incubator of ideas which I have now taken in a more realistic, ecopreneurial direction.

Since my early twenties I had been acquainted with meditation and other aspects of a grounded, practical spirituality that addressed my mental health needs. During the Silent Haven years I discovered Richard Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ and a book called ‘Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership’  by Joseph Jaworski, which both mixed spirituality with business advice. I realised that the world of business was not universally the world of ruthless backstabbers that I had been told it was. It was an ignorant mindset and bunch of people that had given me that impression.

Yes, capitalism depends on gross inequalities at its very core, and requires continual economic growth at the expense of finite natural resources. Yes, I work to help end capitalism as it stands (lurches) now. However, there are good people and there are geniuses working within business. We need their skills and perspectives to get out of the mess we’re in as a global civilisation, whether we like it or not. This is my opinion but feel free to question me on it.

It was during the Silent Haven years that I realised that the ‘hippie mindset’ I had been largely influenced by up until then, was damaging to the causes that ‘hippies’ claimed to support. (I know I am making huge generalisations, but there is truth to what I say; please bear with me). Firstly, I identified that the so-called The Law of Attraction and other pseudo-spiritual theories are used as an excuse not to put in the necessary hard emotional, intellectual and physical work needed to evolve our human civilisation to the next level. Don’t get me wrong -I understand how the Law of Attraction works. It works, but only so far, and only in context.

In a similar way, I was angered with myself and others for harping on about ‘the good and simple life’ of back to Nature living. Once I was living in such a way myself, it turned out to be a very complex matter, and hard work. I became especially irritated by folk who gave Permaculture a bad name by taking the ‘working with Nature’ and ‘designing systems to maintain themselves’ aspects of Permaculture to the extreme end that they thought they could create edible paradises by sitting on their backsides and dreaming about them (the Law of Attraction, apparently). Some people seem to think that no-dig growing is the same as no-growing-at-all. I can say these things with a wry smile, as I was guilty of these mindsets myself.

I don’t forget what a pleasure it was to teach the basics of land-based living to the volunteers that came to Silent Haven. I know that it woke at least a few people up to possibilities of realistic land-based career paths (even if I couldn’t follow them myself). I also remember with fondness discussions I engaged in about the next stage of civilisation that humanity is destined for. To dream and envision is very important; to have the space to do that. But at some point we have to start digging (or the work of no-digging); we have to get wise to the times that we live in and use all the tools available to us, whether spades or computer keyboards, to negotiate the next transformation of human civilisation.

How I Got Here: An Ecopreneur’s Story; Permaculture, Business and Mental Health Integrated Process #1

Hello! Let’s introduce some music into this blog -or it will dry up completely! Here is an old gothic song by Type O Negative, paying homage to my origins amongst the wilds of Scotland. I am the perennial Green Man.  Permaculture must always begin with wilderness! The wild non-human society of the whole of Earth is the mother of human society; and that umbilical chord is meant never to be broken.

This is a post all about my lifepath (the short version!) and how this bears on my current perception of myself as a practising ‘activist ecopreneur’ in the realms of mental health, business and Permaculture. I want to INSPIRE other folk who at heart want to try a similar path, folk who have a lot of drive if only they would uncover it and stop listening to the voices in society that would have them follow a conventional career path, to serve conventional masters. That is, those entrenched institutions of corporate capitalism, patriarchy and kyriarchy that would appear to reward coercion and greed. We must rebel against those! Resistance is everything!

This post may seem like a very self-absorbed exercise, but I feel that to properly know oneself, including one’s whole history in its socio-cultural (including political) context, is necessary for the wisdom required by the aspiring positive changemaker (that’s me). Permaculture -at least according to Graham Bell– requires that we individually and collectively track our impact on the Earth’s resources as far as possible. Coming to terms with my history will enable this. I will explore this further in future posts. I also want to build up trust with my readers; I want you to know me pretty well; and if you want, to learn from my victories and ‘mistakes’ i.e. learning experiences.

My first community breakdown, the first of many, (but of course, I am a modern person) happened when I was three years’ old and I was torn away from my early playgroup friends (Craig, Caroline, Kirsten) for the sake of my father’s career. From Scotland to the southwest of England. It was not his fault. Market forces prevailed. It was and still is, a rich man’s world, of course. It’s all about the money.

dark side of moon

My father left the family home when I was six, not to return (although I would see him fairly regularly.) This remains the central wound of my life. However it is a wound that has taught me a great deal about the makeup of society; about gender roles, capitalism and marriage; about patriarchy and class. Moreover, this initial wound has spurred me on to a deep interest in the creation of a sustainable human society. There was a delay of a few decades before the wound was really focused into this positive drive for global harmony. Meanwhile, and not necessarily through any fault of my father’s, I missed out on being fathered. It was perhaps an ideal and elevated version of ‘the father’ when I would think, ‘Wish You Were Here’.

I didn’t know anything about mental health, business or Permaculture for the first 20 years of my life; well, not very consciously or coherently. However, I did learn how to write. Off and on since primary school age I have loved to write. I have also found an affinity with musical expression since aged three, mainly using the family piano.. Add to that an enjoyment of drama from aged 11 onwards; so I’ve always been highly creative and expressive. I’ve only begun to properly focus my creativity and expression recently; now in my late thirties. The Epic Tomorrows blog is partly a manifestation of all those years of creativity, re-focused. I have every faith that this could be a stairway to heaven.

I went to university mainly because everyone said I should. I had a pretty difficult time although I made a good friend, since lost to me. After two years I suffered a ‘mental breakdown’ and left without a degree. For want of more explanatory words, I was ‘anxious’, ‘depressed’ and ‘paranoid’. This was the drug-induced breakdown of my spurious ‘self’. Looking back, it was something that needed to happen. The violence and suddenness of it was unnecessary (blame the criminalised drug trade) but I certainly needed psychic ‘rearrangement’ in order to grow as a human being relative to a complex modern society; relative to the context of my upbringing. The violence and suddenness of a lot of the music I listened to was also unnecessary, but I still hold a place for the energy and righteous anger of heavy metal! It’s in my roots.

roots

After my breakdown I was soon taking anti-depressants and anti-psychotics at the suggestion of the medical establishment. I was on these for a few years. Psychiatric medication is a very subtle issue on which I don’t want to be misunderstood. Let me put it like this: I strongly believe, from the research I have done, that although the medication superficially allowed me to move forward in life, on a deeper level it not only left the causes of my dis-ease unaddressed, but allowed underlying causes to be compounded and worsened by neglect. Nowadays, neuroscientists and psychiatrists at the top of their professions will admit that there is no known neurochemical cause of mental illness. This is despite public belief to the contrary, influenced by years of marketing by pharmaceutical companies. For an excellent and very well-researched expose of all psychiatric medications, please read this book Anatomy of an Epidemic. In short, the drugs don’t work, but I’m still very much alive.

-Which is more than I can say for some of the residents I worked with in a 12-bedded unit for adults living with ‘mental health issues’; knocked out by medication and the negative affirmations of psychiatrists-

-After I returned to Somerset from university, it took me a couple of years to get on my feet again. But something very beautiful happened. My deep suffering led to my feeling great empathy for other human beings for the first time; I wanted to help anyone and everyone who had ever suffered from mental ill-health. My own heart and mind were also helped enormously by taking up meditation in my mid-20’s. This helped me wean myself off psychiatric medication. My heart became a little firework. The problem was, in the mainstream mental health services, I was working in a system that on an institutional level didn’t care enough for the true causes and cures of mental dis-ease. After a few years, I left my mental health work, disillusioned.

To cut a longer story shorter, for the purposes of this post, I then started to volunteer on land-based projects; conservation projects, woodlands and smallholdings; gaining an understanding of land-based living and ecological sustainability issues. My attraction to these projects was partly their beneficial effect on my mental health, and I soon came to see, although I have only been able to fully express this recently, that mental health and the ecological sustainability of human culture as a whole, are fundamentally linked. I started to learn,  mercy, mercy me! about the ethics and principles of Permaculture (permanent culture) and how these could be applied to society in general; not just to sustainable food growing systems, which are the origin and specialisation of Permaculture.

During a few years where I lived on a low impact woodland project, mostly without electricity, in my own very individual way I developed a theoretical framework of ‘Permaculture’ (very loosely formed) with which I found it was useful to address all the ills of the world -including mental ill-health- in a coherent, sustainability-focused way. I developed strong political views during this time also, seeing the ‘neoliberal’ patriarchal corporate capitalist paradigm as the conglomerate evil monster of unsustainability that must be killed at all costs.

monster

 

All you good good people! It is only in the last three years or so that I have realised that capitalism, at least for the few decades to come, can be part of the solution, as well as the problem. In order to redistribute wealth for social and environmental justice (not to mention mental health!), change political and economic systems and weaken the power of the over-powerful institution of the nation state, there is a strong case for the rise of ethical, political, independent entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs whose aim it is with their businesses to re-embed human beings in their landscapes and create a globally sustainable human culture, necessarily involving challenges to those in government, local or central, as well as challenges to large corporations. Who said you can’t be an activist and an entrepreneur at the same time? I have now come to the view that more than ever we need those individuals who are critical of corporate capitalism in theory, to stop their hypocrisy of working for corporate giants and be more creative in how they make a living. This is the path I have chosen to follow, although in my case I was never working for a corporation (except perhaps the NHS).

In my own case, a fair degree of desperation and frustration have gone into my drive and aspiration to be an entrepreneur. I almost don’t know what else to do; but the ethics explained above and the integrity of my lifepath leading naturally into this new direction, still hold true. Nowadays, my mental health is a subtle subject (as any human being’s should be). I still suffer from certain extremes at times, addiction and instability. I still get kind of blue and I still need time out.

In modern times, mental health and well-being can best be expressed in terms of social and environmental sustainability; in other words, we need to ask ourselves, how are our emotional and mind states socially and environmentally defined, and how do they contribute to the larger narratives of our lives in the contexts of sustainable and unsustainable elements of modern global society?

Essentially, I am a writer first and an entrepreneur if I’m lucky. If one doesn’t follow from the other, at least I hope you get something from my writing. As for what’s to come, ah um…just…get ready!

christmas tree