Putting Leo Babauta’s ‘Society, Reimagined’ into Practice

April 21st, 2010 § 0 comments

The world needs to change, if we’re going to survive.

Written by Everett Bogue | Follow me on Twitter.

This entire post is based off of Leo Babauta’s “Society, Reimagined” on Mnmlist. You should read Leo’s post before this, or you’ll be a little lost.

[UPDATE:] Leo posted a follow up to his original post on Mnmlist: society, reimagined: how to make it a reality.

Why I’m writing this.

“Sometimes I wonder if society could be vastly different, redesigned almost from scratch.” – Leo Babauta

The reason that I wrote this post is not because I’m an idealist dreamer, I really believe that we’re on the verge of being able to reimagine society in the way that Leo’s dreaming of.

I believe this because I’m already doing much of what Leo describes in his post.

This society is actually coming about in a much more natural way than we think.

The developments in localized Internet make many of these sharing opportunities more of a matter of implementation than chasing idle dreams.

The biggest point that I want to make here is that Leo’s reimagined society doesn’t involve as many sacrifices as you might think that it does. This entirely minimalist neighborhood, with the community building the houses and shared food, with a willing community to implement the ideas, would in fact allow people to live a much more free existence.

I know this because I’ve been implementing most of these ideas for almost a year now, and I’ve found that my time has been freed up considerably.

I used to work 40+ hours a week, and I still spent more than I earned. Now I work much less, and on projects which I am willing to pursue (such as this blog post, and art directing a magazine to help a friend.)

We’re already seeing big business being taken down in arenas such as information production (newspapers, magazines, publishing industry.) This is why I’m able to make my entire living off of this blog, as I’m supported by a group of enthusiastic readers who’ve decided they want to opt-into this movement.

It’s not hard to imagine the same developments, spurred by the technologies we’ve developed on the Internet, to soon carry over to other industries such as localized food production and independent entertainment.

Looking forward and looking backward.

It’s easy to compare Leo’s imagined society to how our societies used to live. Localized economies which were defined by their geography. This is definitely true, but the difference between then and now is the Internet.

The internet transcends the inefficiencies that existed in the society we used to have, previous to the explosion of industrialized big business that we saw around 150 years ago. I’ll go deeper into detail on this further down in this post.

This society reimagined isn’t stepping back to a simpler time, it’s applying simplicity to a better future.

The car, junked, in practice.

“I’d start by banishing the car. It’s supposed to give us freedom, but we’re chained to it and its expensive payments, maintenance, repairs, fuel, parking, pollution, and so on.” – Leo Babuta

Cars are on their way out in a couple of places in the United States.

I wouldn’t dream of owning my own car at this moment in time. It’s just too expensive, too impractical, and too much of a headache.

This year I’ve needed a car a total of one time. I rented a Zip Car for a few hours within moments of figuring out that I needed a car. It cost me $55.

Last year I rented a Zip Car to get from Portland, OR to Seattle, WA. It cost around $135 to rent it for a two-day trip.

Zip Car provides insurance, gas, maintenance, and parking/storage for their vehicles. That’s the four headaches of car ownership completely eliminated from your life.

Think about it:

  • How much of your life have to spent working to pay off your car?
  • How much have you had to spend working to pay for your car’s insurance?
  • How much time have you spent while your car was in the shop?

All of this is eliminated when take cars out of the picture.

We simply don’t need to dedicate the mental and monetary resources to car ownership anymore. Having a car is one of the many things that’s keeping you in the modern day rat race. If you opt-out of car ownership, you open a world of resources to dedicate to pursuing goals that you’re passionate about.

If the town you live in is too car centric, the answer is simple: move to a place where walking is possible.

It’s not impossible to re-think cities and towns across America as being walkable. You vote by where you live, if you choose to live in Portland over a sprawling metropolis like Los Angeles, these cities will be forced to reimagine their poorly designed sprawl when people declare that they want to live in cities and towns that are walkable.

This is totally doable, and many cities in America this is already happening.

Schools, erased, in practice.

“I’d also banish the school, at least as we know it: institutions that force learning, that homogenize children, that teach them to be robotic workers instead of thinkers, creators, independent learners.” – Leo Babauta

I have a secret to tell you, for most of my life I didn’t go to school.

“WHAT?!” You say.

It’s true. I’ve spent 5 of my years on this planet enrolled in school. Kindergarten, then I dropped out. Freshmen year of high school, then I dropped out. Then I went to New York University and graduated in three years with 2 majors. I went on to work at one of the leading magazines in the country for three years. This year I created my own location independent business in less than 6 months.

I was unschooled.

Unschooling is just as Leo describes it in his article. My parents pulled me out of school for 1st grade and just let me figure out what I wanted to learn. They never sat me down at a table and forced me to learn math.

We got one of the early Macintoshes when I was around 11, and I started to learn web publishing skills immediately. I had small websites on Geocities by the time I was 12. By 15 I was blogging regularly and gaining a following on Livejournal. By the end of college I was blogging professionally with Gawker Media and then was hired on by New York Magazine’s blogging team.

I credit Unschooling as teaching me the most valuable skill that anyone can ever have: the ability to learn to do things by myself. This is intrinsic motivation to pursue a skill that I need to obtain as quickly as possible with the resources that I have at my fingertips.

  • I wanted to learn how to write, so I did.
  • I wanted to learn how to program HTML so I could publish on the Internet, so I did.
  • I wanted to learn how to be a professional photographer, so I did.
  • I wanted to learn how to dance professionally, so I did.
  • I wanted to learn how to do journalism, so I did.
  • I wanted to learn to practice yoga in order have better health, so I did.

I wanted to learn how to create my own business online which will support my location independent existence, so I created a business on this blog in only 6 months. Now I can live and work from anywhere, and write crazy blog posts like this one.

I probably spent two hours a day learning the skills that I needed to survive in the modern world, when I was unschooling — most kids spend 6-8 hours in school a day. This translates into my spending probably two hours a day working on my business — most rat racers spend 8-12 hours a day in an office. The rest of my time I spend doing what I want, reading, practicing yoga, and relaxing.

The disaster that is modern schooling.

Modern schooling pushes out cookie cutter individuals who are forced to learn things that they aren’t interested in. If they don’t learn, they get hit with a stick.

When someone hits me with a stick, I hit them back.

Schooling creates legions of extrinsically motivated individuals who are created for the sole purpose of working in factories (factories being any job where you do what you’re told.) These kids do what they’re told, and don’t understand what’s wrong.

  • They buy things because people told them to.
  • They enter the rat race because they were told to.
  • They know the basics to get by.
  • They have been discouraged from specializing in any one subject that they’re passionate about.

Of course there are exceptions to this rule, there are brilliant kids out there who are rockstars at school and life. But for every rockstar, you have legions of kids who are forced to learn things they don’t want to know. These kids have their creativity killed by the time they graduate.

Seth Godin probably said this one best:

“The tragedy is that society (your school, your boss, your government, your family) keeps drumming the genius part out. The problem is that our culture has engaged in a Faustian bargain, in which we trade our genius and artistry for apparent stability.” – Linchpin.

Genius comes from learning how to teach yourself the skills you need to succeed.

Why we don’t need school anymore.

The internet has changed everything in regards to how information is delivered. You can have almost any answer to any question with a simple google search.

When you’re in school, you’re sitting at a desk without a connection to the Internet. No offense to teachers, but humans have limited knowledge. Teachers went to school themselves years ago, and they only know what they know.

Teachers are doing their best, but the Internet is doing far better.

The internet, when you’re given access to it, has far more knowledge than a teacher directing a classroom to learn specified approved knowledge that everyone is forced to learn.

What this world needs is not more factory workers. All of the factories are in China now. This world needs free thinking individuals who know how to obtain information on their own. We need people who aren’t going to accept the status-quo as the one and only option. We need people who will develop their own ideas and implement them.

The openness of the knowledge of the Internet has made this possible. Given the right tools, kids don’t need school anymore. I certainly didn’t, and still don’t.

Consumerism reimagined, in practice.

“It stems from my belief that somewhere along the line, we allowed ourselves to be sidetracked from what’s important — people — and instead have put profits, corporations, productivity, and consuming at the forefront of everything we do.” – Leo Babauta

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know how I feel about buying things.

We simply don’t need to consume and destroy at the rate which currently do.

The reason that we buy so much is quite simple:

In the early 1900s we all started working in factories. The problem with factories is that it’s incredibly easy to pump out more product than people will ever possibly want. The factory owners had a problem, what do we do with all of this junk? They had to sell as much as they were making.

So, they created a little tool called marketing. Marketing took the products that the factories were churning out and taught you to that you needed them.

Then the TV came around and we had a perfect situation for marketers: dumb people sitting in front of the tube every night! So someone somewhere came to the brilliant conclusion that they could run a commercial for a product and people who were watching on the other end would want to buy it.

Fast-forward to 2010, and we have an entire society who thinks because celebrities told them to buy millions of products that they don’t actually need, that they should.

The schools are setup to pump out factory workers who think buying things will make them happy.

The reality of the situation is the purpose of this blog: stop buying things and you can be so much more free than the rest of society. If you stop consumerism, you stop having to work 60 hours a week to support your over-extended lifestyle.

Once you stop buying, you can begin to support yourself doing what you’re passionate about.

What do we put in the place of consumerism?

The answer is coming about quite naturally. The internet has enabled people to make a living doing what they want. In Leo’s society reimagined, we are all connected through the Internet to people in our neighborhood who create clothes.

When we need a pair of jeans, twice a year — this is honestly how often I buy quality jeans. If you don’t buy crap, your jeans last longer — We will contact our local jean maker who will make a stunning pair of jeans by hand which will last for the next six months. We can make almost all of our products this way.

Yes, this means that products will cost more, because it will be essential to support the local industry — the jean maker guy is also your friend! You won’t be able to get 14 pairs of jeans for $35 each. Instead you will pay more for one or two pairs of jeans for more which will be locally design, made to fit, and by a person with a face.

How do you put this into practice?

  • Start seeking out local artisans who create the goods you need. Support local independent industry.
  • Buy used stuff. There is so much out there already, use Craigslist and visit flea markets to find stuff that you need, when you actually need it.

We obviously need to design Internet communications systems like Craigslist/Facebook/Etsy which allow us to locate local products and services in our neighborhoods. With enough searching you should be able to buy locally made products.

That and stop buying stuff you don’t need from big business.

Health Care, reimagined, in practice.

I’m a huge fan of Jay Parkinson’s Hello Health. Using the tools of the Internet, Jay Parkinson is busy reimagining health care as a system that supports the health of it’s neighborhood.

This health system would fit perfectly in support of Leo’s reimagined society.

In Jay’s reimagined health system you can video chat, text message, and occasionally have in-person visits when they are necessary. Doctor’s are compensated for their time, instead of being compensated for fixing you when you’re deathly ill. Imagine that?

I can’t discuss this further, because I just don’t know enough about health to detail everything. Jay explains it better in his recent interview with Big Think.

Agriculture, reimagined, in practice.

“I’d get rid of supermarkets and huge agribusinesses and food flown and shipped from thousands of miles away. Instead, we’d grow our own food, right in our backyards, or in community gardens.” – Leo Babauta

The final piece of this reimagined society is that we need to stop eating food that’s grown thousands of miles away on monoculture farms that are coating all of their products in pesticides.

Leo suggests the best way to do this: grow your own food. Rooftop gardens, and backyard farms are going to need to become a reality.

We are so disconnected from our food in modern society, we don’t even know where it comes from.

Have you seen Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, or his Ted Talk? Many kids in this country don’t even know what a potato is anymore. This goes back to the failure of schools, above. How can we teach math, and not teach our kids to identify vegetables?

Growing food solves that knowledge gap. So does pulling kids out of school.

Health is one of the primary responsibilities of any individual, and the easiest way to be healthy is to learn how to eat food that is good for you.

Another option is shopping at local farmers markets. In many cities you can walk to your local farmer’s market and obtain locally grown vegetables from permaculture farms. For more on this see my True Food diet, and read Michael Pollan’s An Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Yes, shopping locally for food costs more. Pollan states evidence such as locally grown Apples have 4-times as much nutrients as a monoculture pesticide-produced shipped-across-the-country Apple. There are nutrients in permaculture soil that has been wiped out by big business.

Spending more money and time on food will make you healthier.

In addition to growing your own food and shopping at local farmers markets, we will need to use the Internet to establish vegetable trading systems for local economies.

I want to be able to know that my neighbor has a sack full of onions that he’s trying to trade or sell, so I can go knock on his door and buy a onion when I want to. The internet makes this an easy reality, we just need someone to develop a Facebook/Craigslist like system for local food trading.

To wrap this all up.

I don’t have all of the answers, and I certainly don’t know how to code a local food trading web 2.0 application. I think it’s only a matter of having the need for this system for it to come into being.

I’m just doing my best to live this life as best I can, and to the best of my beliefs.

I’m sure some of you will disagree with me. Some of you had school kick the imagination out of you long ago.

I just hope this will help you recognize that this life is possible.

  • You don’t need to own a car anymore.
  • You don’t need to go to school anymore.
  • You don’t need to buy stuff anymore.
  • You don’t need a big house anymore
  • You don’t need to buy crap food from supermarkets anymore.

There are alternatives to all of this, as I discussed above and Leo discusses in society, reimagined.

This reimagined society is cheaper, more efficient, and in a lot of ways has much less impact on the planet than the current situation. Yes, it will reshape this country if more of us start to implement it.

Best of all, we can make it happen now. We have many of the tools that enable it to happen.

I know there will be challenges, but I also know that it’s easier than you think it is to make this a reality.

This is a conscious choice that we can make, and it’s possible. I know this because I feel that I’m already implementing it to the best of my ability.


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