Aberystwyth Transitions Reading Group Blog

Living in the Future?


Rather than Living in the Future the film reminded me of China Miéville’s excellent novel The City and The City, and so could have been called The Future and The Future: A parallel way of living that cannot wholly be acknowledged or wholly acknowledge the Other living. [Maybe that’s pretentious bollocks – but I can’t recommend the novel highly enough!] Living in the Future was interesting on so many levels: Age – Lammas isn’t fuelled by youthful enthusiasm but rather mainly experienced disappointment; Gender – living differently didn’t seem to have engendered (sic) fresh questions of male/female roles? [men seem better at Gaian portentousness?] Politics – I wonder if undertaking the Lammas project ‘on the radar’ (rather than ‘under’, which Roundhouse guru Tony Wrench did, and numerous others persist in doing) and getting Low Impact Development legislation in place actually makes it easier or more difficult for future LIDers? (perhaps it’s an option for the more law-abiding or unavoidably conspicuous project but personally I’d only be tempted into LID without having to deal with that slippery conflict/co-operative relationship with the frankly repellent paternalism and blinkered bureaucracy of the modern state); Legislation – if LID is going to work with the state the question the film highlighted about needing LID building regulations is vital (mains powered fire alarms required on properties without mains electricity, for example, and structural requirements that are over-the-top and inappropriate for different materials used differently); Leadership – more than anything, for me, the film problematised leadership and Paul Routledge’s notion of the ‘imagineer’ (1996?) – the man Paul Wimbush is the obvious candidate for the leader/imagineer mantle but the complexity of how a convergence space like Lammas is socially mobilised was evidenced by the various essential roles of others (different sorts of leadership?), e.g. the need for Simon Dale’s skills and having the materiality of a completed house to give Lammas a working identity, and the wonderful pessimistic, humour-filled scepticism of the Lammas guy commenting from the Aberystwyth showing – I’ve forgotten his name – is this leadership of sorts, or a virtuous type of non-following participation?  (And I wonder, is there a different sort of leadership exhibited by Lammas women?). On another level, vis-a-vis the linked showings of the film, it’s interesting how tolerant we are of the inadequacies of modern technology? There’s obvious potential in a linking technology that works better – but can it work better through current platforms/media, are we at the limits of what the interweb can do? A set of human protocols would help. Last night’s showing hook up of five or six audiences had a resonance of early cinema… (can we look forward to advances the equal of colour , sound and 3D (not)?

Author: masonk4

Academic, activist, clown, rebel, insurgent...

4 thoughts on “Living in the Future?

  1. The guy in Aberystwyth was Leander I think: he was so wonderfully honest about the challenges of adapting to a different life as well as community living.Yes it was a good one and personally it was great to see how much it had come on since we went to visit a few years back. I too felt the tension between the pioneering policy and going through that procedure vs just how much easier, more accessible etc it would be if you could not bother.
    I have to say I didn’t feel very tolerant of the inconveniences of modern technology – it was one of those rare times I wished I was in a big city with decent internet connections and everything just worked. It was a neat thing to try and enabled a far broader Q and a, if only we could have heard them!

  2. p.s. How impossibly demanding is a target of 75% (of income?) from the land? Where did that figure come from and how dare the state demand something like that from people! I simply don’t get how that level of invasiveness came to be (and to be accepted)> Did Lammas propose this themselves?

  3. Really interesting to hear your views on this, as it’s been my obsessive focus for some time. In a way, I think that both ‘on the radar’ and ‘off the radar’ projects of this kind serve a purpose. The latter because they are the cause of sustained pressure on the regulatory system, which is important. Another thing which has enabled that pressure to be effective is the intelligence and highly developed communication skills of key actors, not least Simon Fairlie and Chapter 7. By engaging with legislation and policy they’ve been able to call policy-makers up on the rhetoric and to demand acceptance on this basis. A lot of people have worked very hard at communicating in order to make the ‘on the radar’ stuff possible, including some people within the political system and the awful bureaucratic state of which you speak. The ‘on the radar’ stuff serves the purpose of making these kinds of lifestyles more accessible to people who, as you say, may not wish to live lives of insecurity, through being in the vulnerable position of always needing to hide and at any time facing the violence of potentially having their homes destroyed. In this way it makes it possible, at least in theory for a much wider cohort of people to experiment with this style of living, as well as serving to overcome a lot of the prejudice against it. The visiting days and website of Lammas are incredible tools for creating acceptance through making known something otherwise invisible to people living in the mainstream. The Lammas people are really exceptional and have gone through a lot in order to try and ease the passage for other people to make the steps or leaps in that direction. I think the planning policies are still far from perfect, but they are a start. I think at the 5-year point on this experiment the policy will have to be revisited to see whether it was ever realistic and whether it needs to be changed. I can’t see the project getting shut down over not achieving this very arbitrary goal. Ironically, for all that the Pembrokeshire policy was the first of its kind in Wales, it is more strict than equivalent English local authority policies which state only that a ‘majority’ of basic household needs should be provided from the land.

    I think your points about age and gender are also interesting. Something that was left out in the film was the voice of the one unpartnered woman on the site (probably because she did not want to be filmed). You may not have noticed people referring to ‘nine families’ a lot, she does notice this a lot, and feels excluded. The ‘terrace’ idea conceived of in the original plan (when Larch Maxey was involved), actually involved a terrace-style building, so Leander and Katie (+3 kids), Ayres and Marianne (+3 kids), Jane and Andy, and Jude would have been in that. However, it ended up being individual structures and relatively conventional family units, providing another reason for feeling excluded. Perhaps if the original plan of 30 households had been workable (the local opposition was massive and partly based on the argument that a settlement of that size would outnumber and overwhelm the local villagers), there would have been more diversity on site. With only 9 plots (and all original applicants accepted), it’s possible that the people there gravitated towards each other because they had things in common (e.g. children close in age). On the gender front I don’t know about males being better at Gaian portentousness. I think all the film succeeded in showing on film was that the men perhaps seemed more willing to be in the limelight and talk about their ideas. But even that is I think at least partly a result of the film maker’s choices. As Jasmine said at some point in the film, there are a lot of big personalities on site, and that means that the quieter people don’t get heard from as much, and in fact just don’t seem to talk as much, while they are still committed to the cause and ideas and working hard at it, but for various reasons prefer to just get on with it rather than talk about the ideas all the time, and I think that’s only partially a gender thing, and more so just a personality thing.

    In terms of big personalities and leaders, I think that is also a clever thing about this project. I think you’re right in that Paul is an obvious leader in many ways, but he also deliberately refuses to take on that role or to in any way tell people what they should be doing and how. Everyone took different approaches to the building regs saga for example. As a leader, Paul might have said: we are all going to find a way to comply (which is what he did). But he didn’t and just let everyone do their own thing. However, letting people do their own thing also upset people because to a certain extent leadership was expected, though perhaps in a different way, i.e. to stand together and argue for new and different building regs. What it illustrated for me is that when a community comes into conflict with outside forces, waiting for consensus isn’t always an option. Since, in this particular case, even inaction would have been a kind of action (i.e. defiance) and would have therefore been a decision, which some people didn’t want to make. It tested the limits of consensus governing in this way. At the end of the day, there was give and take and the households who were, rather bizarely taken to court managed to get all charges dropped through some modifications and compromises (e.g. battery-powered fire alarms with back-ups were accepted).

    When we were discussing the strategic niche paper, you said something I thought was really interesting and I wrote it down. That was that if you are living in the cracks of capitalism but you don’t stick your head up, the system is quite happy to let you go on doing that. I think the Lammas project, by going ‘on the radar’ is being really powerful and effective as a social movement, whereas staying under the radar, though important and instrumental in getting to this point, does not necessarily accomplish. For that reason, in spite of all the difficulties and struggles (which are not all necessarily unique to LIDers either), I think it’s incredibly valuable and important project. And I’m not just saying that to justify my PhD (although I will probably be bringing that up in some sort of teary-eyed polemic during my Viva defense).

  4. I think you’re right, Katherine. I wrote a paper for Environmental Values about justice in sustainable building materials selection – a draft is on academia.edu. In it I commended Lammas and LILAC for taking on board social justice issues and not just cosily using lime and straw bales in an escapist/elitist eco-village: that challenge to the system is brave and essential if things are going to change. I’m afraid that I have personally never had the courage to do what Lammas did and take on the state – faced with being compelled to fill in any any sort of form I get too angry and/or lose the will to live. Thanks goodness there are braver and more patient people than me!

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