I was at a meeting yesterday to discuss the needs of travelling people – Showpeople, bargees, Romany and other travellers. I learned a great deal. I also observed there were people from a more official background who couldn’t help but suspect that maybe at some level, what travellers really wanted was to settle into bricks and mortar homes and be like everyone else. Happily there were other voices able to point out that these other ways of living matter to people, and that travellers tend to go into bricks and mortar only when no other options are available to them.
We’re supposed to want normal homes, and large ones at that. I’ve seen facebook conversations full of dismay over tiny flats. We’re supposed to want cars and televisions, and then officialdom organises everything around the assumption you have those things. Infrastructure is nightmarish this way. For a rural person with no car, getting to the doctor when you’re too sick to walk a mile to catch a bus, is a serious issue. The pressure to have, to own, to be normal, comes at us from so many angles.
The idea of people who do not want to have, is threatening to many. The great argument that you must want, you must earn more to pay more income tax, to grease the wheels of the country so that we can all have more stuff… it’s a never ending cycle, and all it does is take us deeper into unsustainability.
I’m watching friends whose desire is to have a small patch of land and be self-sufficient. To rent privately without discernible income is almost impossible. To get a mortgage without regular employ is equally tricky, even if you know you can make the money work. Some bod in an office will look at the numbers and pump them through an assessment based on the certainty that you must have a car, some gadgets, a this, a that, £500 worth of insurance for the contents of your freezer, never mind that you don’t even own a freezer…
The subtle ways in which we are funnelled down the same routes, into being similar, fascinate and appal me. Of course the more similar we are, the easier we are to manage. Fewer headaches for the planning department there. Much governmental and organisational stuff requires figuring out who will be wanting what in the future, and of course the more normal we are, the more predictable we are. It’s easier to sell us stuff, make us do things, and plan out what to tell us we want next.
Thou shalt have exactly the same as everyone else in your geographical area and economic bracket, and thou shalt be happy with it. I met a travelling showman yesterday, passionate about his way of life, determined that the system would fit in around him, rather than he and his family being pressured to change in order to fit the system. He made me want to cheer. Conformity may be convenient for some, but it is much more sterile than diversity.
We are told continually, for all kinds of reasons that there is an unavoidable trade-off between security and freedom. You can’t have it both ways, allegedly. That debate always misses out the issue of personal responsibility. And, for that matter, responsibilities held within communities. There is no need to sell our individuality to fit the preferences of corporate and government machines, but the alternative, requires us to take more responsibility for ourselves. That in turn means needing systems that allow us more choice about what we want to be responsible for. Freedom to choose different brands of toothpaste, is not freedom. The freedom to live in the manner of your choosing, be that in a yurt as a goat keeper, on a boat, in a caravan, is a much bigger and more important kind of freedom. The freedom not to own, not to depend on a car, the freedom not to stay still, the freedom not to want to be wealthy.