Pro-activism and Social Homoeopathy
The Off-grid festival I went to a month or so ago awoke a lot of stuff in me that has been dormant for a bit too long. I had been feeling a real need to take part in more direct action, collectively with others, over the last few months and I think just being around so many courageous and inspiring people last month brought this up to the surface again. I think I was feeling a bit like I wasn't pulling my weight in that respect. In fact, I wasn't just feeling like I wasn't, I simply wasn't.
When you take part in large actions that make massive gains for the planet and all those that dwell on it, there is a fantastic buzz from it, as you can get a very real and immediate sense of the difference you've collectively made by working together for positive social change. It's a really energising feeling and something that can sustain you through endless meetings and the inevitable days when it all seems a bit too much.
One of the ironies of my life right now is that I can't easily go to such things as Climate Camp, which happening in London a few weeks ago, and other direct actions, because of the fact that I am living without money (and an additional vow I took in January to not use cars either). I live about 120 miles from Blackheath, where the camp was being held in London, which is a solid two days cycling there and another two days back. That's four days of pretty physical traveling before I even spend a minute at the camp itself.
If I used money I could easily drive there, take the bus or train, or even use Liftshare. But then I would feel like I was complicit in the activities that I was going down to campaign against. As Theo Simon wrote and sang, rather sarcastically and honestly about his own personal dilemma, in his song The Price of Petrol
"I didn't learn to drive until I was 30,
I swore I'd never join those hypocrites,
Now looking back I'm glad I did,
How else would I get to the gigs where we sing songs about how bad it is."
This inability to easily travel around the country makes me feel really isolated sometimes though. Most of my campaigning nowadays comes through the way I live my life and through my various writings, and these take every spare moment of my time. I don't regret this for a second; I've chosen this path and have made the conscious decision based on my belief that it will effect more change than anything else I believe I can do at this stage in my own personal journey (though I fully accept I may be completely wrong about this, most decisions we make are really just our best guess anyway).
So most of this campaigning is done alone, either behind a computer screen or, if I am lucky, on a notepad in a field on a sunny afternoon. Whichever way, it's always alone.
Which, to be really honest, is a lonely and sometimes an emotionally difficult way to do it.
A further irony is that I am fully aware of not being alone in this feeling of being a bit alone. There are so many people out there feeling exactly the same way as me, though probably with a greater financial capacity to have the freedom to change it if they so willed. My choice nowadays is often either to be alone or to cycle hundreds of miles, with little grey area in between.
Which got me thinking about whether all the people out there, working tirelessly on solutions to what they see as the major issues in the world, have time to be activists. But then I thought, maybe they're all activists too. Surely being an activist isn't just about cleaning up a mess? Not creating a mess in the first place must be a form of activism also.
So I came up with a new name for these people - Pro-activists! Pro-activists are all the social homoeopaths (people who look to get to the root cause of the problem and not just try to clear up the symptoms in the same way a western medicine doctor tries to clear up a rash) out there who, instead of contributing to the problems of the world and then busting their guts to try and clean up the mess, don't take part in the economic and political systems that fundamentally give rise to these problems in the first place.
This is certainly not a criticism of actions that firefight symptoms - firefighting is a hugely necessary course of action to take and my admiration for all activists is completely off-the-scale. But I just feel that the many who engage in pro-activism need to be accepted as activists also. Unless we start taking a pro-activist approach - and not just an activist approach - at some point in our evolution, there will always have to be people who have to dedicate their lives to cleaning up the mess, or having to go to jail for standing up against oppression.
I don't want that - I would love to see a time when the world no longer needs so many great people having to dedicate every spare second to fighting injustice. These people deserve to live the life they want to live themselves, like sitting round a camp-fire playing music or curled up in bed with a loved one in front of a woodburner on a cold winters evening. Not locked-on to a fellow activist on the road to Faslane. But that is what is going to happen unless we all get serious about not being complicit, to any degree, in crimes against the planet, our fellow humans and fellow animals anymore.
(So what is the most effective form of activism in your opinion? Is it this?)
(or is it sitting in front of this pressing buttons?)
There is a huge mental and morale boost from activism as you can really feel and see the direct benefits of what you do. Whether that is saving an area of ancient woodland, stopping suppliers getting to a nuclear arms factory or liberating some animals from the torture chambers we call laboratories. However, you don't get that adrenaline rush from pro-activism (social homoeopathy), and therefore it can sometimes be really difficult to maintain hope, motivation and the required inspiration to keep going.
Even those who want to dedicate their lives to coming up with solutions to make the world a kinder, more gentle, compassionate, ecological, respectful and loving place want to be happy too - I think we all forget this sometimes with our focus on the bigger picture. They want to feel needed and loved and maybe even a little bit special every now and then.
There are some beautiful souls out there who seem to manage to be both activists and pro-activists, and I feel a real need to become one of those. I'm just not sure how, to be honest, though. I already work 7 days a week most weeks (though work is probably the wrong word as it is my passion in life) and have little spare time for those I love. So where will I find time for big social actions? Should I just compromise slightly on my ideals? Like my very recent ridiculousness, for example, in not taking a lift with a friend to climate camp even though she was going there anyway. Or should I continue to stick to what I believe in 100%, not flinch on my ideals and hope that it pays bigger dividends in the long term?
Its hard to think long term, however, when you see such suffering and destruction around you in the short term.
I guess I've been asking myself what is the best use of my time on this planet recently? The overwhelming majority of people are never going to give up money voluntarily and so symptoms such as factory farms, sweatshops, war and environmental destruction will continue to persist. Therefore should I just spend my time helping those I can and cleaning up the mess left by us all collectively? Yet in my heart I know I need to be the change I want to see in the world regardless of whether I am alone as a minority of one or as part of a majority of millions.
I don't know. I'm really happy in life right now, in fact I've probably never been happier, but I feel a bit isolated and alone sometimes in terms of the bigger picture. And sometimes I just want to feel the love I feel when I am around people committed to positive social change. So whilst life is absolutely fantastic right now, some little thing is lacking and I am not sure exactly what that is. Maybe it is just more connection with the rest of this really fantastic movement of people.
Anyone feel the same sometimes? Or am I truly alone in feeling alone sometimes?
THE FREECONOMY BLOG is written by Mark Boyle, founder of the Freeconomy Community.
Comment on this Post:
Solan comments ...
I think that's a difficult question to answer. My own experience is I was taken around a cattle market when I was 9 and couldn't eat meat after that. Then I discovered Ghandi in my teens and looked at yoga in a new way. Later came the Quaker meetings, and I never felt I was going it alone after that. Every-one has trouble living up to their ideals, and you need to hear other people bravely admitting it, to realise you're not the only one, when you're struggling to be a better person.
Meera comments ...
Mark, if you are a man who believes in the equality of all animals, including humans, then you've got to see that you are not alone with so many living creatures around you - animals, birds, trees, etc. Even if you are talking about living pro-activist's life alone, you're wrong. Every creature other than the humans lives like a pro-activist and their population, too, is far greater than humans'. Also, if you can't go to massive campaigns, you must not despair, as you're leading an even bigger campaign with all the non-human creatures around you. It only needs to be brought to notice. This human minority is conditioned into thinking what they think right now and it'll definitely take time to change their thinking. But IT WILL HAPPEN. It may even take a generation, as people don't easily change in adulthood. I think you are doing the BIGGEST SERVICE to Mother Earth, even if people say you're just one person, a minority. Single-handedly, you are giving the best example possible, I think, and inspiring many, even if they don't want to accept it outwardly.
Embers comments ...
Sometimes it seems that as a race of intelligent and increasingly aware people, we are plodding frustratingly slowly towards taking responsibility for the effects of our actions on the environment, taking only tiny steps towards living consciously.
Radical leaps made by those who break from what are considered conventional behaviours and lifestyles can be incredibly inspiring. Change can be daunting but it's people like you Mark (and you're not alone) who offer encouragement to those of us who are a little afraid to step outside their comfort zones. With your example we can see evidence that we don't need to rely on so much of the infrastructure we've built up around ourselves to cocoon us from the 'harsh' realities of nature.
Well done for giving up using cars and I can see that it's difficult to know where to draw the line, but I reckon you've hit the nail on the head in realising that you're missing out on so much vital and beneficial connection with people by imposing such stringent restrictions on your freedom. Such zeal can be a catalyst yet also may suffocate potential.
Ana comments ...
The illustration of you on the magazine link, sums up pretty well how hard has been your living choice Mark. However, don't think for a minute has been pointless because you
can not see the benefits straight away, give it time and let the seed grow. Respect loneliness it's very relative, I've been lonely in the past, during motherhood as I'm a full time mum and at this moment on time, my youngest starts full time school soon so I'm looking forward to this time at the allotment as a liberation and trying to make it a bit more productive that has been during the past years, but lets see how long all the excitement last! ; )
Georgina comments ...
I believe that everyone is their own life experiment, and when you begin to compare yourself to others or what they are doing, it may mean that you're just taking time out from yourself to observe what's going on around you. A sign of progression. And it's a good thing, we're just not so accustomed to this awareness. Though if it goes too far, resulting in you changing course only because you think you 'should' be doing that or that, then you're out of balance. Regard loneliness as a 'true' sense of being, and it's there as the real you to help you out.
'When the mind is still, the whole universe surrenders'
Mark comments ...
Thanks for the feedback and comments guys, I guess there is no 'right' or 'wrong'. I think if we all just do what we are passionate about the rest will take care of itself.
Marion comments ...
I read your article with interest. I understand your dilema. I realised over 30 years ago when driving in the usual que to work that I didn't have much time for quality of life. I thought about my grandfather who had farmed smallish farms. His passion was mixed farming, he worked 7 days a week and never had a holiday. The only time he changed out of his work clothes was Sunday mornings when he went to Chapel. I wondered if this was really living and did he have a quality of life? His life style was slower than mine but like me he had no time to stand still and consider a better way of living instead of slogging away just to earn enough money to exist. I didn't know the answer then and I don't know the answer now. I guess it's about balance.
beewhatsun comments ...
It seems to me that the mainstream majority needs to be involved and enaged rather than ignored and dismissed. I think the central contemporary issue is the growing lack of reciprocity and empathy between people, thus everyones sense of isolation, a distance exacerbated by the media and popular culture not to mention our alienation from the rhythms of nature. Nature will shake us off like fleas if things tip too far, we are only killing ourselves, life will power on in one form or another, we are self destructive in our nature and as such, as a species, deserve everything we get.
marina comments ...
i just joined up to the freeconomy, having read about you in permaculture magazine. i have just read this post and my intuitive response is that you are being very hard on yourself in pursuit of what is clearly a very worthy aim as well as a fulfilling passion. i have found that as i grow older i am more willing to see the benefits of compromise than when i was ayounger, more idealistic person. part of the reason for this is that it is just more complicated when you have kids. their needs have to come in to the equation, which means a lifestyle such as the one you have chosen, for example, would be pretty difficult to imagine. i'm sure that there is much value in having examples of what is possible to inspire and teach others, but i guess that we all have to decide where to place ourselves on the compromise continuum. i felt that i would have accepted that lift to climate camp because the value of your being there, sharing your skills and inspiring others to join the freeconomy, would outweigh any negative incurred by your perceived complicity in the oil economy. particularly since your friend was already going. i hope you will be able to consider accepting such offers in future. i really admire your ambitious project, and hope that it will lead to significant positive change around the world. i intend to take up the challenge of becoming a freeconomist, though i will be a part-timer for now. i look forward to freesharing, learning some new skills, making new friends and hopefully, to making a difference. Rgds, Marina
ride on comments ...
ride on brother
sergio comments ...
Hello Brother Mark'
Beautifull,how wonderfull to see and feel sincerity !!!
YES IT'S ALL ABOUT FEELING...
ALL IS WELL !!
WITHIN IS THE ANSWER... Whith great humility and knowledge the river look his way to the ocean!
UNCONDITIONAL LOVE IS THE ANSWER...
WOPG.ORG.... SOMETHING REALLY FUN IS HAPPENING...YOU ARE ALIVE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!