Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Take Control

Can we truly feel powerful in our daily lives? When the news, day after day, paints this picture of a government out of control that wants to run every detail of our life and take away things we want and believe we need, how can we feel powerful?

We can sally worth with false machismo waving our weapon. We can stick our head in the proverbial sand through a variety of means like percoset, oxycotin, little blue or purple pill, marijuana, alcohol, etc. We can forward emails about the 28th amendment to our friends and threaten to boycott some business or product. We can even send money to the NRA, Sierra Club, or the Organic Consumers Organization.

Will any of those actions really change anything? They will probably make you feel better for a little while because at least you did something or you temporarily forgot about your perceived state of disempowerment. But when you do wake up in the morning and read the newspaper or that forwarded email from a friend or talk with someone about the daily events, the feelings come right back. You could become a hermit and just unplug completely.

The hermit's life does have a certain appeal. Maybe you could just be in a community of hermits who have completely unplugged from all forms of media. It could work but is a radical step especially if there are family members and friends you like to see, or you like to travel using modern methods, or you want to eat above subsistence level.

So, what can we do to take back our sense of power in the world today? We can Unplug From The Man as Dr. Sherry Ackerman advises. In her publications she advises us to adopt an everyday attitude of reducing our dependance on "The Man" and gain independence. She gives practical advice on how to gather wild food, recycling, and in general changing our mindset so that when the kitchen tool you always use breaks the first thought in your mind is not ordering a new one from Amazon, but how to substitute something else you already own for it.

Will gaining independence foster "taking control"? The definition of independent in Websters: a (1) : not subject to control by others : self-governing (2) : not affiliated with a larger controlling unit 

Does that answer the question?!

The other trait of those being independent is independent thinking in your own self-interest. An interesting essay by Jared Diamond was published recently. He talks about how humans constantly overreact to uncontrollable risks and underestimate ones we can control.

Studies have compared Americans’ perceived ranking of dangers with the rankings of real dangers, measured either by actual accident figures or by estimated numbers of averted accidents. It turns out that we exaggerate the risks of events that are beyond our control, that cause many deaths at once or that kill in spectacular ways — crazy gunmen, terrorists, plane crashes, nuclear radiation, genetically modified crops. At the same time, we underestimate the risks of events that we can control (“That would never happen to me — I’m careful”) and of events that kill just one person in a mundane way.
Mr. Diamond uses the example of falling in a shower as something that is actually much more dangerous to him personally at age 75 and much more likely to occur because he takes one every day, than any of the events beyond his control. So, the next takeaway is look for those everyday activities you perform and do them mindfully and reduce your own risk. That can be taking precautions when using power tools to eating well to reducing or eliminating other risky behaviors in your life like racing your car around that blind turn, taking illicit drugs of unknown strength and mixture, or a myriad of activities you know are risky.

Take control today! It is not difficult. Start with the small things and keep working on it everyday. As Ms Ackerman wrote in her Sticking It To The Man article:
Another form is something I call unplugging from The Man. Scott Nearing put it succinctly when he wrote that he:

"must reduce wants and even needs to a minimum; wherever possible, serve myself, raise and prepare my own food, wash my own clothing, do my own building and repairing, maintain the best of health to avoid the heavy costs involved in sickness, keep down such fixed costs as rent, interest and taxes; never borrow and take on interest slavery, but always pay cash; build up a capital reserve sufficient to cover a full year of unemployment, and be prepared for emergencies."
We may only do a portion of these, but, it does not matter. Every little thing adds up to more independence. And, following in the definition from Webster, that means less control of us by others.

Take Control! I salute your independent attitude!


Keith said...

I just read your Take Control blog and would like to present a contrarian view. As I read the recommendations, it suddenly struck me that what you propose is what we just endured for the past 5 years. We are an interconnected society, an economy that is dependent upon the division of labor and through that division we exchange labor for a common currency which can be used to procure the services and products of our fellow citizens. If everyone were to do all things listed such as growing their own food, maintenance and repair of their own habitations, etc. essentially spending less money would this not lead to a recession? Or at the least contribute to a widening of the already existing income gap? Although I espouse to as much independence in my own life, I am not sure that it contributes to a better economy. Any thoughts?

Sojka's Call said...

@Keith - if you follow that logic, then it fits nicely with Paul Krugman's continue to expand the money supply and government spending economic philosophy.

If you believe that we need to cut government spending and the deficit, then we must reduce our own spending. For instance, if we are going to cut government spending that means spending less on health-care, social security, defense, agriculture. Those are the big ones.

If the average person is taking control by spending less on food, spending less on their health-care, spending less in general, they could get along without as much of a government hand-out

Keith said...

Seems like you took a leap from an exchange system where people derive income from labor and services and the reductions in those services etc. through do-it-yourself to government handout. How did that logic flow work.

The middle class is based upon cross skill, product and service exchange. If the only source for money is the purchases of those goods and services are the wealthy most business can not survive and the bulk of the inter-middle class exchange ceases to be viable. This becomes the sort of economy that Romney espoused, a trickle down economy.

I think all of us did a little of the reduction by doing ourselves during the last 4-5 years and most of the country. We are now in a period where consumer spending has increase, and the leap frog effect of employment improvement followed by more consumer spending is beginning to take hold and on and on...is beginning to take hold with no significant impact to inflation. Add to that the report that in California, income tax revenues are already ahead by $4B and we aren't out of January yet. That in a state that has a balanced budget and a reduction in debt.

I just dug up a carton of Mother Earth News magazines from the 60s and early 70s, a monthly that was chock full of ideas to make one's life self sufficient. I was really enthused at the time, but it is a pretty difficult road to stay on. And it really didn't takeoff in any large scale. Clearly, it can be done on a limited basis with regards to food if you live in area that is fertile, has enough water and a sufficiently long growing season or enough pasture to raise animals, albeit even you mentioned the cost benefit isn't competitive with the market pricing. Certainly the quality is better, but if the objective is economic driven, if the argument is reduced spending then it fails the test. Try and see if you can produce for less and report back the results. You have the time, although once again you are trading your time which was highly compensated in your past life, and it quickly becomes clear why most don't practice this independent lifestyle. There is just a better cost/reward benefit from applying ones energy to specialized employment. Again there are the personal accomplishment, the quality of food rewards but most people choose to buy that through the system of division of labor.

Sojka's Call said...

I agree with much of what you say. For instance, if paying someone to do work for you is less than what you make per hour and you don't have the time, the answer is obvious. But, reducing our needs and tightening our own belt is not going to hurt the economy - it will position us to absorb reduced gov't spending.

And, if you are taking care of your own health in a better way, that is going to reduce money to doctors. Using your logic that would be bad. Come on Man! All these suggestions are in the same vein. Make yourself healthier physically and financially and that is good for you and in the long run good for everyone.