By Michael Smith (Veshengro)
Time and again people band about the word “self-sufficiency” when they actually mean self-reliance”. Self-reliance is possible while self-sufficiency will not and cannot be achieved on one's own. It is not possible.
Neither the Native Americans and other people such as those, nor others of our ancestors were self-sufficient; they were but self-reliant. They traded things they could not grow or make with those that could and did, and they traded “raw” materials from which to make things, from other areas, in some cases far afield even.
I have been looking at the term “self-sufficiency” for a very long time and also have, what could be describes as, dabbled in that field for a long time, as have others, and found that total self-sufficiency, as often advocated and proclaimed, by those that want to make money from the unsuspecting, is a fallacy.
You simply cannot be entirely self-sufficient; it is not possible, For, in order to be entirely self-sufficient you would have to be a master of everything which is not possible. You might be a jack-of-all-trades but you can never master everything.
You would have to be able to mine you own iron ore, smelt your own iron, produce you owns steel, in order to make knives and other iron and steel tools and that is just not a feasibility for an individual. We do not even want to talk about more modern things and devices such as telephones and computers. You simply cannot make them from scratch.
While you may be able to be self-sufficient, entirely or to an extent, in growing food for yourself (and your family), though that also depends on the amount of space and land that you have available for this, you simply cannot be in (most) other things.
We all will have to accept that total self-sufficiency is simply not possible and is but a fallacy often advocated by people wishing to sell their books and products.
However, self-reliance is a different kettle of fish. You can be self-reliant to whatever extent that you wish. It just depends on how much time and effort you can invest in this endeavor.
Attempting to become totally self-sufficient in anything not only sets the bar of expectation so high that a majority of us would give up with a huge feeling of failure, it is also simply is not possible.
It would also appear that many of the previous advocated of self-sufficiency have come to realize that and the fact that a great many people have finally come to understand that total self-sufficiency is not possible and the emphasis is beginning to shift.
I am not sure whether this is being caused by the recession or a real and proper shift in consciousness and understanding but the emphasis is changing from “self-sufficiency” to “self-reliance” finally, which is a good thing as it means that people are beginning to understand that total self-sufficiency is not possible, at least not if you do not wish to live the life of a hermit with virtually nothing but food and wearing only animal skins.
So , the difference between the two?
“Self-sufficiency” tries to encompass everything in your daily life from producing your own food to making your own solar panels; it would mean you are able to maintain yourselves without any outside aid. But this is basically something that simply cannot be achieved. We have to face that reality and, as said previously, even the Native Americans, and other such peoples, who were master in survival and self-reliance were not (entirely) self-sufficient.
Every time that someone tells me that, in the event of a looming crisis, they are going to bug out and go “far away from civilization” to live a total self-sufficient life I tell them “good luck” and they give me a strange look.
The truth is that anyone attempting it will – one – need lots of luck and – two – will be back very soon to trade things.
While “self-sufficiency” is, really and truly, not possible “self-reliance” accepts the fact that we are interdependent on other people. It allows us, however, to pursue our own course of doing things for ourselves as far as possible. That is “self-reliance”. Relying on oneself.
In order to operate a system of self-reliance it means that we also have to trade as locally as possible for other products that we simply can’t grow or produce ourselves.
If you remove the world “self” from “self-sufficiency” you are left with “sufficiency” and that is achievable and “reliance”, and even “self-reliance” can be achieved but total “self-sufficiency” is basically impossible and any attempt of it will leave you with little or no time to do anything else but provide for yourself and more importantly you would not be contributing to the local economy nor, more than likely, taking any part in the local community.
Now let's just look at a few aspects as to the fallacy of trying to be totally self-sufficient. Even with just growing your own food you already would be running into problems.
Vegetables have high water content, which can be as high as 98% in cucumbers, but they are low in calories. If you grew 100% of your own vegetables it will provide you with only 15-20% of your daily required calorie amount, and it would be a little like starving to death by eating celery as you use more energy eating it than you do from ingesting the nutrients.
Most calories come from grains, meat and dairy products, so if we don’t have our own livestock or wheat field then we only really supply 25% of our own food needs.
Real and total “self-sufficiency” would get more complicated when you look at other commodities like fuel, etc.?
Can you make your own fuel? If not you have already lost on the “self-sufficiency” game.
Will you have enough seeds to save this year to be able to sow for a good harvest next year? If not then you have a problem.
Do you sew or make your own clothes and if so where does the wool come from? All questions that total “self-sufficiency” would ask of you and many more.
If the answer is no to one or more of those questions above then you will have to realize that total “self-sufficiency” is not possible, which it is not anyway, and thus only more or less total “self-reliance” is possible.
Trading Zones is an idea that as suggested by author Toby Hemenway and it would appear to be a great one.
The idea is of trading with the local community for products and services and while this is important at any time it is even more vital in a recession.
The old saying “if you want a job done well, do it yourself” may a bit outdated now and, it has been suggested, simply shows poor management skills. We can make life easier by working together and putting our trading into Zones though there are time when Do It Yourself is always a good option, as it saves money and resources.
However, as to the Trading Zones the suggested one would be as follows:
Zone Zero. This is your home and land and the relationship you have with it.
Zone1. Is the connection to other individuals and families.
Zone 2. Is dealing with local commerce and other activities in the immediate area.
Zone 3. Dealing with regional businesses and organizations in the country.
Zone 4. Larger and more distant enterprises.
By limiting the amount of times we need to use zone 4, by buying petrol or metal for example, and concentrating more on the zones 1-2, shopping, trading and socialising locally we build up a stronger community. There really isn’t much sense in staying in zone 1 all of the time, it would get very lonely.
On the other hand, maybe, we should rethink, and we will have to anyway, this “buying gasoline” bit anyway and look at other ways of transportation and no, I do not mean the electric car and truck. Electric vehicles are not the answer and are not the future. The future, once the oil is getting more and more expensive and finally will no longer be brought to the surface as it will become too expensive to do so, the future will be, once again, that of human-powered transportation and of the horse and mule (and other animals), as it once was.
Bill Mollison, the Australian “Father of Permaculture”, makes a good observation in his “Introduction to Permaculture” book where he says: “We can also begin to take some part in food production. This doesn’t mean that we all need to grow our own potatoes, but it may mean that we will buy them directly from a person who is already growing potatoes responsibly. In fact, one would probably do better to organize a farmer-purchasing group in the neighborhood than to grow potatoes.”
Do what you can where you are and make a difference in that way. If you can only grow stuff in containers because you have no garden or your backyard, etc., is hard standing, then do so and, well, even potatoes can be grown in containers and other planters.
You may not be able to grow all of your food but you can grow some of it. Can and otherwise preserve any surplus for use later and also look at other ways in which you can become more and more self-reliant.
This is a way for money to stay in the local area and this can be a great way of trading with one another on a local trading zone basis and it is not a new concept really and is, in some ways, but a different way of bartering.
Local currencies, mostly in the form of paper “money”, or coupons, as one might call them, have sprung up in many places around the world and are very prominent nowadays anywhere where the Transition Town movements gets a hold.
Coins in this field are rare and this may have to do with the legal situation in many countries where the striking of coins, of any kind, is the realm of the state. On the other hand, if they'd be claimed to be “tokens” then that could also be done, I am sure, and in many ways such “money” would be better than paper, also as far as forgeries would be concerned for, no doubt, it will happen also on that small scale.
The Brixton Pound, which is an alternative local currency in use in Brixton, a Borough in the South-East of the British capital, now also has electronic payments via cell phone. Whether that is such a great idea, I am not all that certain about as, as far as I am concerned, we should be getting away from the electronic forms a little more. Technology is bound to fail, sooner or later, and what then?
Let's have LETS and other such local currencies in the form of physical products, even as wooden tokens (coins), as some have done, rather than on the cell phone or such like.
To recap once again... self-sufficiency is a target that is, basically, unachievable; self-reliance, on the other hand, is achievable, and it can be achieved in stages even.