Archive for February, 2017

What is Homesteading?


Prosperous Homesteading has been out for a little over a week now and has been selling extremely well. But based on the feedback so far, the concept of “homesteading,” as defined in this very practical book, needs to be better explained. Yes, you can register your house as a “homestead” to shield it from foreclosure or to lower your taxes; would you then be homesteading? No.

Homesteading is not a hobby, a business or an individual pursuit; it is the main activity of a family. It is an essential “lifehack”—a way to get around the strictures imposed on us by a crumbling society that is set in its ways and incapable of even considering absolutely essential changes. It is about insulating yourself and your family from the vagaries of a system that is running amok, and about regaining a viable future and peace of mind.

A little over a decade ago I stumbled on another lifehack: seasteading. We sold the house and the car, moved onto a sailboat and sailed off. This has allowed me to quit the corporate job and to devote the bulk of my time to doing research, writing and generally enjoying life. The sailboat, as a lifehack, has allowed my family to break out of the “iron triangle” of house—car—job by which much of the population is enslaved.

Although seasteading has allowed us to drastically reduce our expenses, and has given us a lot of options, as a solution it is incomplete: we still require an external income, and in a precarious economic environment such dependencies are not to be taken lightly. Homesteading solves this problem, by making the homestead produce everything the family needs, including the surplus wealth needed to maintain it and to buy the few things that have to be bought.

So, what is “homesteading”? It is most certainly not gardening. Most people who garden still shop for food, while prosperous homesteaders grow everything they eat with the exception of those things that can be purchased in bulk much more cheaply than they can grow them, such as grains (to be milled on the homestead as needed, because stockpiling flour doesn’t work), and items that the homestead cannot produce, such as salt and spare parts. Other exceptions include luxuries such as olive oil, coffee and tea.

Homesteading is not farming, because farmers generally produce some number of cash crops that they sell instead of concentrating on producing everything they use and cutting out shopping for food. Farming is a highly regulated activity; homesteading is hardly regulated at all. It is possible to operate a business from a homestead (and this is often a good idea); but it is a terrible idea to treat a homestead as a business.

So, what is homesteading? It is the activity of finding and slashing every umbilical cord that binds you to the outside, debt-based economy. It is the process of eliminating just about every expense by making the homestead provide food, water, fuel and, last but not least, capital. It is the accumulation of capital, in the form of farmland and livestock, that allows a homestead to pass the homesteading legacy on to the future generations—to the children born on the homestead.

To prosper as a homesteading family, expenditures must be redirected from things that don’t produce and don’t last to things that do. Bills for cable television, mortgage, insurance, fossil fuels and numerous labor-saving devices, comforts and luxuries are eliminated outright. Electric and water bills are either pared down or eliminated (depending on the local situation). Expenses for nonproductive assets, such as shelter (a.k.a. the house) are slashed. Instead, money is redirected toward productive assets: land, livestock, tools and implements.

Some people who commented on last week’s announcement have asked a reasonable question: What about community? Yes, community is very important, and it was precisely the presence of the surrounding community of prosperous homesteaders that has allowed Jeffers and his family to find a way to prosper as well. Thus it can be said that a prosperous homestead requires prosperous homesteading neighbors. Strong families make strong communities. To survive, communities must be intergenerational and make an explicit goal of providing for their children. In essence, a homesteading community is nothing more than the extended family.

Prosperous Homesteading


Update: as of Thursday morning, just four days since the book became available on Amazon, it has broken into the top 10,000. At this very moment, its bestseller rank stands at #6,246. So far, this is shaping up to be the most successful book I\’ve ever published. And it certainly deserves to be: here is a book that many people can actually use to significantly improve their lives. Thank you, and please help spread the word!

If you expect the future to resemble the past, then you are very likely to be disappointed. Quite a few people understand this, but don’t know of any alternative to continuing to do what they are accustomed to doing—driving to a job, shopping, paying bills—until they no longer can. They can’t figure out anything better to do than shove their children through an overpriced educational scheme so that upon graduation they can take part in a game of economic musical chairs—until they no longer can either.

A lot of people also find the future too depressing to think about. Yes, it is depressing to think about cities and suburbs with no electricity, running water or functioning sewers, buried in rotting garbage and trash and overrun by feral dogs and armed gangs. It is far more pleasant to escape into a fantasy world where renewable energy saves the day as soon as the fossil fuel industry gets out of its way, or where the fossil fuel industry saves the day as soon as the environmentalists get out of its way, or some other politically motivated nonsense.

One question that doesn’t seem to be asked enough is, What alternative is there that actually works? The answer is surprising: there are hundreds of thousands of people living throughout North America who will be largely unaffected by the dismal scenario outlined above. When the electric grid fails, they won’t even notice. When cities and suburbs became uninhabitable due to filth and crime, they won’t even know about it. When starving vagabonds come trudging by their homestead, they will be fed a good meal and gratefully move on.

Can you learn to live like them? It turns out that yes, you can; and here’s a book you can read to get you started. It is written by someone who took up homesteading after reading a lot of what he now calls “hippie propaganda”—books written by people who think they know homesteading theory, but wouldn’t last long if they tried putting their theory into practice, so they stick to writing books with pretty pictures of make-believe homesteads. After much trial and error (mostly, he readily confesses, error) he chanced to look at how his prosperous homesteading neighbors did things, and had an epiphany. He then put what he saw into practice. Finally, he wrote a book about it—a short, simple, approachable book—which I edited and published. Unlike the “hippie propagandists,” Greg Jeffers is the real thing: his homestead produces most of what his family uses and generates wealth, and his mailbox is quite empty of bills.

I expect that quite a lot of people will respond with a question along these lines: “Not everybody can do this; what about the rest of us?” Allow me to answer. There are hundreds of thousands of prosperous homesteaders in North America. Club Orlov Press sells thousands of books. Supposing that this book—Prosperous Homesteading breaks all previous records, as I hope it will, and sells 10,000 copies, and further supposing that a whopping 10% of those who read it actually take up homesteading as a result, that would boost the number of prosperous homesteaders by less than 1%; sounds doable. As for “the rest of us,” I see two options: 1. go back to thinking about fossil fuel/environmentalist conspiracies; or 2. build yourself a houseboat that sails and take up seasteading. Some day, when there are hundreds of thousands of people seasteading prosperously I hope that somebody will write a book called Prosperous Seasteading. If that happens and I am still around, I hope to be able to edit it and publish it. In the meantime, please read this one.

And here are some videos produced by the author. Please watch them, to get an idea of what prosperous homesteading looks like.

Women on the verge


A conversation between two of my friends, James Howard Kunstler and Piero San Giorgio, about Piero\’s recent book, which I translated and published. Please have a listen.

You are not in control


My recent book tour was very valuable, among other things, in gauging audience response to the various topics related to the technosphere and its control over us. Specifically, what seems to be generally missing is an understanding that the technosphere doesn’t just control technology; it controls our minds as well. The technosphere doesn’t just prevent us from choosing technologies that we think may be appropriate and rejecting the ones that aren’t. It controls our tastes, making us prefer things that it prefers for its own reasons. It also controls our values, aligning them with its own. And it controls our bodies, causing us to treat ourselves as if we were mechanisms rather than symbiotic communities of living cells (human and otherwise).

None of this invalidates the approach I proposed for shrinking the technosphere which is based on a harm/benefit analysis and allows us to ratchet down our technology choices by always picking technologies with the least harm and the greatest benefit. But this approach only works if the analysis is informed by our own tastes, not the tastes imposed on us by the technosphere, by our values, not the technosphere’s values, and by our rejection of a mechanistic conception of our selves. These choices are implicit in the 32 criteria used in harm/benefit analysis, favoring local over global, group interests over individual interests, artisanal over industrial and so on. But I think it would be helpful to make these choices explicit, by working through an example of each of the three types of control listed above. This week I\’ll tackle the first of these.

A good example of how the technosphere controls our tastes is the personal automobile. Many people regard it as a symbol of freedom and see their car as an extension of their personalities. The freedom to be car-free is not generally regarded as important, while the freedoms bestowed by car ownership are rather questionable. It is the freedom to make car payments, pay for repairs, insurance, parking, towing and gasoline. It is the freedom to pay tolls, traffic tickets, title fees and excise taxes. It is the freedom to spend countless hours stuck in traffic jams and to suffer injuries in car accidents. It is the freedom to bring up neurologically damaged children by subjecting them to unsafe carbon monoxide levels (you are encouraged to have a CO detector in your house, but not in your car—because it would be going off all the time). It is the freedom to suffer indignities when pulled over by police, especially if you’ve been drinking. In terms of a harm/benefit analysis, private car ownership makes no sense at all.

It is often argued that a car is a necessity, although the facts tell a different story. Worldwide, there are 1.2 billion vehicles on the road. The population of the planet is over 7 billion. Therefore, there are at least 5.8 billion people alive in the world who don’t own a car. How can something be considered a necessity if 82% of us don’t seem to need it? In fact, owning a car becomes necessary only in a certain specific set of circumstances. Here are some of the key ingredients: a landscape that is impassable except by motor vehicle, single-use zoning that segregates land by residential, commercial, agricultural and industrial uses, a lifestyle that requires a daily commute, and a deficit of public transportation. In turn, widespread private car ownership is what enables these key ingredients: without it, situations in which private car ownership becomes a necessity simply would not arise.

Now, moving people about the landscape is not a productive activity: it is a waste of time and energy. If you can live, send your children to school, shop and work all without leaving the confines of a small neighborhood, you are bound to be more efficient than someone who has to drive between these four locations on a daily basis. But the technosphere is rational to a fault and is all about achieving efficiencies. And so, an obvious question to ask is, What is it about the car-dependent living arrangement, and the landscape it enables, that the technosphere finds to be efficient? The surprising answer is that the technosphere strives to optimize the burning of gasoline; everything else is just a byproduct of this optimization.

It turns out that the fact that so many people are forced to own a car has nothing to do with transportation and everything to do with petroleum chemistry. About half of what can be usefully extracted from a barrel of crude oil is in the form of gasoline. It is possible to boost the fraction of other, more useful products, such as kerosene, diesel fuel, jet fuel and heating oil, but not by much and at a cost of reduced net energy. But gasoline is not very useful at all. It is volatile (quite a lot of it evaporates, especially in the summer); it is chemically unstable and doesn’t keep for long; it is toxic and carcinogenic. It has a rather low flash point, limiting the compression ratio that can be achieved by gasoline-fueled engines, making them thermodynamically less efficient. It is useless for large engines, and is basically a small-engine fuel. Gasoline-powered engines don’t last very long because gasoline-air mixture is detonated (using an electric spark) rather than burned, and the shock waves from the detonations cause components to wear out quickly. They have few industrial uses; all of the serious transportation infrastructure, including locomotives, ships, jet aircraft, tractor-trailers, construction equipment and electrical generators run on petroleum distillates such as kerosene, jet fuel, diesel oil and bunker fuel.

If it weren’t for widespread private car ownership, gasoline would have to be flared off at refineries, at a loss. In turn, the cost of petroleum distillates—which are all of the industrial fuels—would double, and this would curtail the technosphere’s global expansion by making long-distance freight much more expensive. The technosphere’s goal, then, is to make us pay for the gasoline by forcing us to drive. To this end, the landscape is structured in a way that makes driving necessary. The fact that to get from a Motel 8 on one side of the road to the McDonalds on the other requires you to drive two miles, navigate a cloverleaf, and drive two miles back is not a bug; it\’s a feature. When James Kunstler calls suburban sprawl “the greatest misallocation of resources in human history” he is only partly right. It is also the greatest optimization in exploiting every part of the crude oil barrel in the history of the technosphere.

The proliferation of small gasoline-burning engines in the form of cars enables another optimization, forcing us to pay for another generally useless fraction of the crude oil barrel: road tar. Lots of cars require lots of paved roadways and parking lots. Thus, the technosphere wins twice, first by making us pay for the privilege of disposing of what is essentially toxic waste at our own risk and expense, then by making us pay for spreading another form of toxic waste all over the ground. Suburban sprawl is not a failure of urban planning; it is a success story in enslaving humans and making them toil on behalf of the technosphere while causing great damage to themselves and to the environment. Needless to say, you have absolutely no control over any of this. You. Are. Not. In. Control. You can vote, you can protest, you can lobby, donate to environmentalist groups, attend conferences on urban planning… and you would just be wasting your time, because you can\’t change petroleum chemistry.

That the need to make people buy gasoline trumps all other considerations becomes obvious if we observe how the technosphere reacts whenever gasoline demand falters. When rampant wealth inequality started making owning a car unaffordable for more and more people, the solution was to introduce larger cars for those who could still afford one: minivans for the mommies, pickup trucks for the daddies, and for everyone the now common SUV. And now that gasoline demand is dropping again because of falling labor participation rate and an increase in the number of people who telecommute, the solution will no doubt be driverless cars which will cruise around aimlessly burning gasoline. Mommies may think that a minivan will keep their kiddies safer than a compact would (not true unless they have 8-9 kids). Daddies may think that the pickup truck is a sign of manliness (true if you are some sort of gofer/roustabout; pickup trucks are driven by picker-uppers, a subspecies of gofer/roustabout). But all they are doing is obeying “The Third Law of the Technosphere,” if you will: “For every improvement in the efficiency of gasoline-fired engines, there must be an equal and opposite improvement in inefficiency.”

So, perhaps you should just relax and go with the flow. After all, being a slave in the service of the technosphere is not immediately life-threatening… unless you crash into a tree or get run over by a drunk. But there is another problem: this arrangement isn’t going to last. The net energy that can be extracted out of a barrel of oil is quickly shrinking. In less then a decade the energy surplus required to maintain a car-centric lifestyle will no longer exist. If private car ownership and daily driving are required of you in order to survive, then you won’t survive. There goes at least 18% of the world’s population, which will find itself stranded in the middle of an impassable landscape. Oops!

Given that you are not in control, and given that the car-centric lifestyle is an evolutionary dead end for your subspecies, what can you do? The answer is obvious: you can plan your escape, then join the other 82% of the world’s population, which is able to live car-free. Some of them even manage to live entirely outside of the reach of the technosphere. Let their example be your inspiration.

Parbuckle and Launch


Most of what it will take to assemble QUIDNON from a kit is quite easy. The plywood panels that make up the core of the hull are fitted together using mortise and tenon joins which are then fixed in place using wedges driven in with a mallet. Outer layers of plywood are glued on and screwed in place using an electric drill. Joints are saturated with epoxy and filleted using brushes and other hand tools. An outer layer of fiberglass is applied to the hull by draping it in fiberglass cloth and saturating it with epoxy using rollers. Most of these are fun activities for family and friends. But there are two operations that are daunting for even the seasoned and experienced DIY people: flipping the hull over, and launching it.

Continue reading…