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 #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.