The complete book of self-sufficiency

My brother recently gave me a book called “The new complete book of self-sufficiency – The classic guide for realists and dreamers”. Todays post was written in 1976 by a man called E. F. Schumacher. His book “Small is beautiful” will be discussed on this blog later on (if you haven’t read it, go to the library and get yourself a copy, it’s worth it!), right now I would just like to share the foreword he wrote for first version of “The complete book of self-sufficiency”:

Forword to the first edition (1976)

Dr E. F. Schumacher, CBE

We can do things for ourselves or we can pay others to do them for us. These are the two “systems” that support us; we might call them the “self-reliance system” and the “organization system”. The former tends to breed self-reliant men and women; the latter tends to produce organization men and women. All existing societies support themselves by a mixture of the two systems; but the proportions vary.

In the modern world, during the last hundred or so years, there has been an enormous and historically unique shift: away from self-reliance and towards organization. As a result people are becoming less self-reliant and more dependent than has ever been seen in history. They may claim to be more highly educated than any generation before them; but the fact remains that they cannot really do anything for themselves. They depend utterly on vastly complex organizations, on fantastic machinery, on larger money incomes. What if there is a hold-up, a breakdown, a strike, or unemployment? Does the state provide all that is needed? In some cases, yes; in other cases, no. Many people fall through the meshes of the safety net; and what then? They suffer; they become dispirited, even despondent. Why can’t they help themselves? Generally, the answer is only too obvious: they would not know how to; they have never done it before and would not even know where to begin.

What if there is a hold-up, a breakdown, a strike, or unemployment? Does the state provide all that is needed?

John Seymour can tell us how to help ourselves, and in this book he does tell us. He is one of the great pioneers of self-sufficiency. Pioneers are not for imitation but for learning from. Should we all do what John Seymour has done? Of course not. Total self-sufficiency is as unbalanced and ultimately stultifying as total organization. The pioneers show us what can be done, and it is for every one of us to decide what should be done, that is to say, what we should do to restore some kind of balance to our existence.

Should I try to grow all the food my family and I require? If I tried to do so, I probably could do little else. And what about all other things we need? Should I try to become a jack-of-all-trades? At most of these trades I would be pretty useless and horribly inefficient. But to grow or make things by myself; for myself: what fun, what exhilaration, what liberation from any feelings of utter dependence on organizations! What is perhaps even more: What an education of the real person! To be in touch with the actual process of creation. The inborm creativity of people is no mean or accidental thing; neglect or disregard it, and it becomes an inner source of poison. It can destroy you and all your human relationships; on a mass scale, it can – nay, it inevitably will – destroy society.

 The inborn creativity of people is no mean or accidental thing; neglect or disregard it, and it becomes an inner source of poison.

Contrariwise, nothing can stop the flowering of a society that manages to give free rein to the creativity of its people – all its people. This cannot be ordered or organized from the top. We cannot look to government, but only to ourselves, to bring about such state of affairs. Nor should anyone of us go on ‘Waiting for Godot’, because Godot never comes. It is interesting to think of all the ‘Godots’ modern humanity is waiting for: this or that fantastic technical breakthrough or automation so that nobody, or hardly anybody, will have to lift a finger anymore; government policies to solve all problems once and for all; multinational companies to make massive investments in the latest and best technologies; or simply ‘the next upturn in the economy’.

It is interesting to think of all the ‘Godots’ modern humanity is waiting for.

John Seymour has never been found ‘Waiting for Godot’. It is the essence of self-reliance that you start now and don’t wait for something to turn up; and though the technology behind John Seymour’s self-sufficiency is still quite rudimentary, it can of course be improved. The greater the number of self-supporters, the faster will be the rate of improvement, that creation of technologies designed to lead people to self-reliance, work-enjoyment, creativity, and therefore the good life. This book is a major step along that road, and I wholeheartedly commend it to you.


About leyssensjan

Jan Leyssens is a designer and entrepreneur who strongly believes you can’t turn sustainability into a positive story if your main focus is on negative impact. When designing, he is always looking for the overlap between activism and entrepreneurship, technology and community. His main expertise lies in strategic business model development, Circular Economy, the makermovement, and social innovation. With a background in Industrial Design, Jan quickly shifted his focus towards business design and using the design process in strategic management. Jan is the father of two kids and founder & CEO of Regenerative Design, co-founder of Full Circle, ImpactBoost, and the Circular Design map, podcaster, storyteller, and changemaker.

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