Category Archives: Travels

Money

From the title, this post seems to me to have too broad a remit but I wanted to document the changes in my relationship to money.

This blog was started at the outset of a journey in which I refused to engage with money. Money was being used as a weapon of power, particularly in the political landscape, and I wanted to disempower the people I did not agree with. When it comes to affairs in the humaniverse (a term I coined to describe what many people call ‘the real world’ or ‘life’ of the ‘universe’ when actually the thing they are describing is entirely dependent on humans to exist and so I call it the humaniverse), people only have power if everyone else collectively believes that they do. It’s possible to shift power if this act of believing is changed or halted. Since it was mainly the Chancellor of the Exchequer that I had problems with, and their domain is money, I decided to stop believing in it.  Now, some might say that money has non-human power of its own, or humaniverse power of its own, however I decided to see whether it merely had advantages, ones which it was possible to do without.

And I found that it was possible. It is only possible through many other aspects of the humaniverse supporting the journey of course. At first I might have said I was using a different system to live, but I don’t think that’s true, I was still part of the same mechanisms, just squeezing into an extremely unusual choice within that system.

Money is a key step in a short chain that humans have set up. You start with needing shelter, food and luxuries, you exchange your labour for a currency and you use the currency to fill the need. For most of us, money is that currency. By ignoring money I substituted other kinds of currency, such as time or domestic labour. My feminist sisters have done some excellent work in pointing out that vast amounts of female domestic and emotional labour support the lop-sided system of capitalism that rewards some labour with money but relies on lots of other labour that is given very little reward, an extremely disproportionate amount of which is done by women.

So in a straightforward sense I exchanged domestic labour for being able to stay overnight with friends and family and this depended on them still having jobs and paying rent, so was not really ‘outside the system’. In a slightly more subversive way, I removed unwanted food from the bins of supermarkets. This too is only possible if only some people do it, and thoroughly depends on the system.  It also demanded quite a lot of my time and physical energy, so that was the unit of exchange for ‘free’ food.

The biggest thing to try to do without money is try to find shelter. This endeavour brings one into the same category as the homeless, tramps, Travellers (Roma, gypsies) and squatters. All of these people are trying to derive shelter without traditional income streams and all of them have to move on frequently. This way of living requires time, travelling resources and a very large amount of emotional and physical energy. These strategies seem to be the most ‘outside the system’ strategies I encountered because they require almost total disconnection from every other service our society provides and can have a profound toll on physical health.

It is in this area that I had the most insight about the way we order our culture and how profoundly insecure and intolerant we are. Read more here.

However, the benefits of living without money were many.

Time

Not having to work gave me a lot of free time. After sorting out some food and housing for the day, I had many hours left over and I was almost stumped with how to fill them. I read lots of books and talked to people, but I could have learned whole languages or retrained in anything I wanted. I taught myself to juggle and practised for many hours. I read the whole of HPMOR and a good chunk of the LessWrong material. I had lots of time for reflection.

Mental freedom

The mentral freedom I experienced was likely only possible due to actively trying to turn away from money and earning money. This seemed a little like staring into a campfire for a lifetime, then suddenly turning around and viewing a dark, unkown vista that is the whole rest of the world. Entire landscapes of possibility seemed now open. With so much time to fill, something that requires time now seemed exciting, such as learning a language. The world actually felt like my oyster, instead of that being a thing people say.

This revelation was so strong because I’ve always had a life of desperately trying to earn enough money to survive, ie a poor/working class kind of a life.

With money out of the picture, my efforts were all focussed towards things like leisure, learning, helping others, creating art, making plans and basically everthing most humans wish they had more time to do. I found that not tying my decisions to whether it might help my career in some way enabled me to make surprising choices. It was possibly only then did I truly engage in or appreciate activities that you do for their own sake. This last is meant to be a corner stone of good mental health.

It is from these experiences that lead to my current views about the sheer unapprecaited scale of output from all humans we as a species could receive by instituting Universal Benefit schemes.

Novelty

Because of having to move on a lot, and exploring new mental space, something novel happened to me almost every day. According to research I’ve read but not checked, novelty (or absence of routine) makes subjective experience of time seem to lengthen. If things are constantly new, it is as if time is moving more slowly. Perhaps because we generate a baseline expecation of how many things can happen in, for example, one day.

As a result, the year I spent homeless and engaged in almost constant novelty subjectively feels about the same as three years of a normal life. This is one of the reasons ‘travelling’ feels like such a transformative experience since the traveller has experienced (and changed as a result) at seemingly three times of the speed of normal life.

People make their reality narrow

After seeing a city in terms of only its abandoned buildings, rather than its desirable ones or after seeing a pedestrian railing as a playground instead of a crash barrier it is easy to see how many different realities exist for humans in the same physical space. You only see what you need to and human contexts are really narrow.

I sometimes experienced the opposite of what most people experience in certain places. For example, I perceive Birmingham to be very friendly because I was homeless and I locked eyes with homeless people. Homeless people smile a lot at the people that see them, so I experienced Birmingham as very friendly, the opposite of what most people find there.

Realising how context-specific humans can be, to the point of being entirely blind to physical objects was very useful. I now practice context-switching, particularly for city streets. I imagine how a lover of architecture would see a street, then a person looking for free food, then a parkour practitioner, then a squatter, then a property developer, archaeologist and so on and in that way attempt to see my environment in its intricate entirety.

Poor Person Pain

One of the things I learned was that as a poor person, I had developed antagonistic defences against things that I could never have, due to being a poor person. Instead of being in pain over the things I could never have, I created elaborate reasons for why I actually didn’t want them anyway, probably to alleviate that pain. I said and believed that a poor person’s life was more virtuous, due to reusing, recycling and sharing, that I didn’t want things like nice clothes because it was empty signalling, that following fashion was pointless, unethical or deceitful.

It was only through the subject of technology did I notice this behaviour by experiencing cognitive dissonance. I had developed a dismissive and curmudgeonly attitude to technology during travelling. It was indeed partly because I believed non-technological skills like reading maps and surviving when you don’t know where you were are important skills to develop and not lose. However that was not the whole story and in other ways I would describe myself as a person who welcomes technological advances and was not curmudgeonly about technology in general. I realised I had set myself up to hate the things I couldn’t have, because technology is rarely available for free.

Returning To Money

Returning to money, however, was no easy feat.

Me and myself

But who had uttered these words? They had not frightened me. They were clearly audible to me yet they did not ring out across the air like the chilling cough of he old man in the chair. They came from deep inside me, from my soul. Never before had I believed or suspected that I had a soul but just then I knew I had. I knew also that my soul was friendly, was my senior in years and was solely concerned for my own welfare.

– Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman

I’ve written before in my diary about experiencing dreams and waking moments when my internal-monologue ‘self’ has had a discussion with another entity inside my brain. This entity must also be myself, since it’s inside my brain, however it has certain unexpected qualities, chiefly that while my monologue “self”, the thing I think of as me, has a clear idea of what it is about to say, the other self’s intentions are completely opaque to me. I recall in dreams having a conversation and as well as having no idea what the self will say, I was surprised by its answers. Curiously, in this particular dream, the opaque self was looking after my wellbeing.

Ever since noticing this phenomenon I have also noticed how often one consults oneself, in a manner that implies two people are talking, how often I think of myself in the plural, how often I have a sensation of being divided or having differing thoughts simultaneously and of referring to myself as ‘we’.

My new thoughts of the day equate the self whose intentions are opaque with the part of the brain which causes me to take an action without conscious thought. I’m not talking about nervous system or autonomic actions, such as reacting away from pain, rather something I noticed that I was gaining while I was in my travelling year, which felt like the opposite of laziness. I found myself leaping up to take action to make something happen, rather than debating with my internal monologue about whether and how to take an action. In those moments it is as if the conscious self only engages with realising you are doing something after it has begun. It feels spontaneous, and “un-selfconscious”. 

I was recently talking with a friend who seemed to be expressing an inability to achieve unselfconsciousness. The state is something similar to being in flow, but the absence of self-monologue occurs when experiencing pleasure, rather than necessarily needing to be performing an optimally stimulating task.

Judging from my own experience, it seems as if the benevolent, opaque self is the thing that takes action and the thing that can knowledgeably talk to you. I believe it is the main part of human life. However the internal monologue self can only occur in a modern world where every need is catered for: food, shelter, warmth, care and social life are all present by default and require no effort to achieve, at least for a very long time in early life, leaving an inordinate amount of time to sit around thinking.

The monologue self and the talking part of the action self only exist because of language, and the monologue self is only so strong due to the complexity of language, the early age that literacy is achieved and the amount of time spent thinking in it.

In my own individual experience as a person simultaneously intelligent, shy, artificially walled off from social interactions and having a preference for reading and writing as solo activities, I think my monologue self has been strongly developed whereas the ‘take action’ self neglected (and even deliberately suppressed by my elders/environment).

Throughout my life I have craved to behave more unselfconsciously, to be less lazy, or less paralysed, to worry about and be afraid of fewer things, to embrace new activities and to feel less trapped having internal experiences that other people don’t seem to share.

These thoughts about the two selves and where they come from feel reassuring to me, as they suggest a path to strengthen the one that takes action, and hopefully increase well-being too.

 

 

London Transport

Londoners are famous to anyone outside of London for their thousand yard stare, their seeming indifference to all things involving social interaction and their stressed-out attitude. Everyone is in a desperate rush to get where they’re going and they’ll ignore everyone else as much as possible.

A Note On The Tube

Most of these observations are made by people who don’t live in London when they happen to interact with Londoners, which almost exclusively occurs on the Tube. Moreover, it is on the tube at Oxford Circus on the weekend, or central London in the rush hour. Such conditions are going to be a challenge for even the most kind-spirited individual, but even under these conditions I think Londoners are wholly underrated for their good wishes towards their fellow humans and London social norms are entirely misunderstood.

First of all, Londoners do make eye contact and even talk to each other on the Tube. It is a slow process, and requires the circumstances to be correct so that each party can be fairly sure that the other one is reasonably sane and actually desires to interact. This involves gradual increase of eye contact and something external upon which to comment.  Londoners don’t talk to non-Londoners on the Tube because non-Londoners don’t realise that refusing to make eye contact means “leave me alone”. In a city that screams for your attention every second and from every surface it is the height of politeness to leave everyone else around you their own personal space. This ‘personal space’ is an interactive space, or a communication space. Londoners deal better than anyone with a lack of <i>physical</i> personal space, as the rush hour Tube will testify. It is the demands on one’s attention that Londoner’s are sensitive to, since we are all trying to shield ourselves from the constant communication we are in with the city itself. As a result, demanding another Londoner’s attention is a matter of delicate etiquette. Any non-Londoner trying to make conversation with the entire Tube carriage has severely trampled that etiquette and will be met with cold shoulders and averted eyes, even if some of the people were inclined to talk.

In addition, the transport systems are incredibly busy. It is a simple fact that every seat on your vehicle will be taken, and many might be standing too. Now, no-one wants to have to sit next to a nutter. In other cities I’ve heard talk about how to make yourself look unwelcoming so that no-one sits next to you on the bus. Not so, London. London life obliges us to sit cheek-by-jowl during every journey we make. As a result, the social etiquette of *not* talking to the people next to you has evolved so that we can all get along, none of us makes the others uncomfortable and we can all get where we’re going unharmed.

This etiquette has evolved out of necessity however I believe it is a testament to humans overcoming their tribal, in-group/out-group tendencies – something which is extremely hard to do. The complaint is still raised that this system isn’t very happy because it essentially leads to everyone ignoring each other but frankly the “let’s chat on the bus” way of doing things has the unacknowledged downside that people also feel free to be openly hostile to each other. In London, I have yet to observe anyone so much as raising their voice on a bus or a tube, let alone have a fight. In a city of 7 million people teeming all over the transport system, this is nothing short of a miracle.

A Note on London Bus Drivers

London bus drivers are the friendliest bus drivers I’ve ever come across, and there is really no need for them to be. If someone’s Oyster card is not working, they let the person on for free. If they see someone running for the bus, even though there is guaranteed to be another bus coming along in 8 minutes or less, be it day or night, the driver still holds the bus to allow them to get on. Pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike are awful road users around London buses, seeming to have suicidal tendencies, but bus drivers never get angry. Why should this be so? I have no idea, but it is.

A Note On London Cycling and Taxi Drivers

I always try to cycle within the Highway Code and in such a way that another road user will not be freaked out by my behaviour. I love to cycle in Central London and have not once had a near miss. The first time I was beeped by a taxi driver, I was quite upset. However I quickly realised that, like most other communication in London, it was by no means a personal slur and oddly also complied with the Highway Code. London taxis use a very short beep to signal their impatience. Beeping the horn in the Highway Code simply means “Warning – I am here” and this is pretty much what a London cabbie means when he beeps you. It means, “we’re all busy trying to get somewhere, you are in the way, warning – I am here and I’m about to swerve around you.”

I find road use can feel relatively safe if the vehicles around you have predictable behaviours. Luckily, London taxis are fairly predictable, in that they want to be away from you, and fast. I often move to the centre of my lane if overtaking me at that moment would be a bad idea, and move far left if there is a good spot to overtake me (given oncoming traffic). Since knowing what I know about taxi drivers, I seem to have good interactions with them. They appreciate that I mostly try to get the hell out of the way, and give me space when it’s impossible to overtake anyway. These days, I only get beeped at when I probably am in the wrong.

A Note On Standing On The Right

It may seem harsh at first, but it is the simplest, easiest and oh-so effective rule which enables everyone to move around this town at their chosen speed. I am fully behind it as a rule. Don’t make excuses, just stand on the right.

Life Isn’t Hard

In numerous ways, I have come to observe that people think something is more worthwhile if it is difficult to achieve, or even more strangely, if it is painful to achieve. Additionally, if ‘the norm’ is to do one type of thing and someone comes up with an easier thing that achieves broadly the same goals, people caught up in the norm will not leap to celebrate and change their lives, rather they will mock and criticise the person who has found an easier way and enjoin them to come back to the hard way.

The first example I observed referred to jobs and working. Since I was homeless, jobless and drifting I had opportunities to hang out with other people in similar situations. I visited some squats, and I was struck by the industry of the people living in them. Everyone was either studying, volunteering, fixing things or making art. Their mental health levels seemed very high. When I was on a protest against the current government’s austerity measures, the most common shout hurled at the people protesting was “get a job”.

If the intent of this request was “be a useful member of society” then the speaker is simply wrong to think that these people were not doing so. I think, however that the speaker did not desire the person to be a useful member of society, they actually did expect the protester to get a job. And not because that’s the ethically correct thing to do, but because everyone else ‘has’ to, everyone hates it, and it’s not fair if some people can get away with not having to. Of course the penalty of not having to is living in insecure, frightening housing circumstances with few utilities or comforts, in all weathers whilst living outside of a society so frightened of them that they are actively legislated against as a group.

It seems to me that creating some kind of system of very basic shelter for extremely low rent would enable many others to be able to not have a job. This may involve changing what we value in our society (such as art and caring for others), which of course would enable the emancipation of disadvantaged groups, particularly women. But no, if ‘the norm’ is to toil and suffer, then we all should, according to popular wisdom.

I feel there are echoes of this argument when people question me about non-monogamy. I often hear the assertion (or its implication) that a non-monogamous person is not truly committed to their relationships or is in some way losing a level of depth or intimacy by having more than one partner. I normally reply that time is a factor, so it might take longer to reach the same level of intimacy with one of my partners as a monogamous couple might do (although, I work very few hours and spend much more time with my partners and friends than people who are full-time workers).

After this argument of taking slightly more time, the defender of monogamy normally has a perplexed look on their face because they want to put into words the feeling that exclusivity is somehow more committed. I think it’s because they are trying to indicate that monogamy involves sacrifice. Monogamy involves shutting off certain parts of yourself and your life, in favour of the relationship  (this can happen in poly too, of course, but we’ll continue to examine the point). If you are willing to do that for a person, you are ‘committed’, you must ‘really’ love the person. And this sacrifice somehow gives you something in the relationship. Well, if this psychological state gives you other benefits, then perhaps, but I don’t believe personal sacrifice on its own confers any specific benefits, it just feels like it should because it is hard, and painful. People often believe that if something is hard or painful, it must be better than something that isn’t.

Not only that, but when people are presented with a better way of doing something that really is easier and less painful, they become angry or resentful. There are several psychological factors in play which create this response including: embarrassment, attachment to the past, resistance to change and feeling their efforts have been devalued. It is much easier to reject the new idea than change their own.

Indeed, psychological factors can go far deeper than that. I was raised in a religion that encouraged extreme sacrifice in the present for a promised rosy post-apocalyptic future. I think this particular religion is successful because of the difficulty of the present-day sacrifices, rather than in spite of them. Pain and suffering seem worthy because they seem real. Like the self-harmer, many people feel tossed around by whirlwinds of emotion, hormones, depression or even imagination and seek to ground themselves in reality with pain.

In addition, the matrix of protestant work ethic perpetual expansion capitalism implies that anyone who toils will receive their just reward, which unfortunately is simply not true. Toil and pain for its own sake will not automatically earn benefits.

Some things are hard and painful but also have a tangible benefit, like working hard at a skill or sport, or (perhaps) putting money in a high interest savings account, but the level of difficulty or pain involved in a project does not automatically indicate its worthiness or utility. As with anything, a quick check on your assumptions about things is often a worthwhile exercise.

Some things are really easy, and fun. Some things that seem difficult don’t have to be. In the affluent parts of the world in particular, life isn’t pain. Life isn’t hard.  Don’t bring down the people who have found a better way; copy them.

Don’t have preferences

It is almost a year since I quit it all and went a-roving. Reflecting on my experiences, I had cause to wonder: “Why am I so happy?”

Well I recently realised that I don’t really have preferences any more. In the course of my travels, my life could be made easier if I didn’t have strong preferences for things. I could save money if I took the bus, I could sleep if I didn’t mind what I slept on, I could eat if I accepted what was offered to me. Of course, I could do all of these things while still holding a preference, but this would result in psychic distress if I hated everything all the time.

Further, I have spent time with people whose interests do not align with mine. Due to repeated exposure I came to realise  that their interests lead to some very interesting ideas, ideas I ended up devoting significant time to exploring. It took me a fair while to overcome my immediate dislike of the topics but once I did i was able to assess the utility of this new subject area and found it both useful and interesting. I subsequently experienced one of the steepest learning curves I can remember.

These ideas of utility and analysis have largely replaced preferences as a way of determining courses of action. It seems preferences will lead to experiencing more of what you’ve already had, while utility normally leads to something new, such as my learning above. Additionally, preferences can be a source of discord between people, while a lack of preference helps to harmonise. For example, deciding with friends on what film to see or what meal to eat. If the point is to enjoy each other’s company, a lack of strong preference will help you come to a decision and enjoy the experience.

I don’t want to sound as if pleasure has gone out the window, having a preference can indeed enable you to choose between two options and get satisfaction from the results, however lack of preference leads to new or different experiences, which I find very pleasurable and when something comes along that particularly aligns to my preference I appreciate it all the more. A nice hard double bed in a private room – what bliss!

I feel this thinking extending to having “opinions” or a political stance. It seems increasingly awkward to me to think I might have an opinion on something without having analysed as much information about the subject as possible. Even with very woolly topics, such as social norms or politics, it is possible to have strategies for analysis and doing this rather than blurting out random emotional bollocks seems eminently more sensible. And analysis is by necessity more dispassionate. Again, I’m not dismissing the idea of passion, in fact I’m still really rather attached to it, but I sense that my thinking until this point had been disproportionately pulled towards the emotional, irrational end of the scale.

I’m almost embarrassed to be writing this, under the sidelong glances of my current peers, but once again I feel at a point in my life when I’ve finally come through a decades-long temper tantrum to humanbeinghood on the other side. Letting my preferences drift away from me has improved my life considerably.

2012 is coming to an end

I felt a slight shock when I realised that 2012 is almost over. Here is my traditional post musing on the things I’ve done this year.

I gave away (almost) all my worldly possessions. I went to my third BiCon. I had group sex! I had group sex more than once! I had group sex with people I’d only known for a day! I went to Doncaster, Middlesbrough, Manchester, Bradford, Cambridge, Portugal and Madrid for the first time. I walked outside of Birmingham New Street Station. I cried infront of a painting. I went to a psytrance festival. In a foreign country. I swam in a lake sparkling with fool’s gold. I saw a lizard. I volunteered for litter picking at a festival. I saw how the world works. I learned how to get food out of bins. I was travelling/homeless for two thirds of the year. I read/watched the entire run of Promethea, My So-Called Life and Firefly. I fell in love. I added some notches to my bedpost (including three girls and a royal marine!) I blagged three nights in a caravan after a festival. I went backstage. I was a runner for stilt walking performers. I met some famous drum ‘n’ bass DJs. I did bi activism. I stayed over in a squat. I stopped being scared of London. I saw Tube mice. I hitch-hiked. I ate melon and liked it. I kissed a guy with a forked tongue. I made many new friends. I stayed on a boat in the Lake District. I met many people who will change the world. I tried mushrooms. I stopped taking sugar in my tea. I got so ill my period came a week and a half early, and I mistook it for kidney disease! I broke up and got back together with the same person! I walked on a slackline! I learned to juggle! I protested outside the deputy PM’s house! I lead a protest charge with “She’ll be coming round the mountain”! I marched with the trade unions against austerity (twice)! I saw a world title boxing match! I went to a gig with someone I didn’t know. I saw my father. I met my step grandmother, and other estranged family. I entertained revolutionary thoughts. I  took my clothes off for cash. I joined libraries in four different cities. I got a tax rebate. I “looked poly” in public. I confused people. I loved it when my boyfriend kissed a guy. I stayed awake all night and worshiped the full moon. I wrote dirty stories for money. I went to OpenCon. I was captain of a starship. I lost my childhood. I quit my job. I had dinner at Harvey Nicholls. I was looked after. I busked on the street. I got pet rats and had to give them away. I felt human. I stayed alive.

This year I’ve had a So-Amazing Life.

And what have I learned? When it comes to food, you get what you’re given, be grateful for it, don’t waste any and always share. When it comes to sleep, just do it when you want to or when you can, there’s no need to worry. You can learn to change your sleep over time, including where you can tolerate doing it. A futon on slats is the best way to sleep ever. Food is only out of date when it smells bad. Food is all around you, the more humans in any given space, the more free food you will find. The humaniverse will take care of you, if you let it. Be patient. Walk everywhere. Be the change. Doing new things makes life feel full. Being somewhere comfortable with nothing to do slows time down. Follow your highest excitement. Whatever your heart sings for. Who dares, wins.

Still to come:

get dp’d, apply to a PhD, start my own business, get a tattoo, get my driving license, go to Burning Man, eat at high table.

Disaffection

Despite being subject to clear confirmation bias, I can’t help but notice a restless desire among both young and old to do something that is not this thing.

I simply no longer want to play the game. I want to retain the advances of society, like medical care and library books, but I don’t want to be compelled to carry out 40 hours a week of meaningless work. Or even 20 or 10 hours a week. People like myself and others like me strive to find work that does satisfy a sense of meaning, or that helps others. These jobs are typically exactly the professions nobody wants to see disappear;  in local government, healthcare or charity. But with state cuts being at the level they are, these sectors are shrinking and the work is punishing on the mental health of the employees. I could only take it for 8 years, and even that was part time. The cost of having meaningful work seemed to be my sanity. I loved my job so much I was willing to sacrifice it for a while, but I just couldn’t keep it up.

The tyranny of meaningless work is a necessity largely because of the cost of occupying a home with heat and running water. Rent and utilities (you notice I don’t include food) made up 60-70% of my salary while I was working, and even though I worked part time I earned more than double the minimum wage per hour.

One option for myself and people like me is squatting, within which circles I have experienced and witnessed a high level of mental health and self worth. Freed from the necessity of rent, people who squat have more time to devote to their own projects, for many this includes formal education, formal and informal paid work, volunteering, expansive artistic projects and political activism.  More than this they are mentally freed from the shackles of demoralising or demeaning work over which they have no control. Within this scene I have met restless, highly motivated and highly talented individuals who have forsaken capitalist life because it does not fulfil them, but who have little else but political activism upon which to turn their not inconsiderable talents. Is this really the best way to structure our society? Everyone who squats chooses this life as preferable to the ‘rat race’ despite major hardships such as unstable living conditions, lack of heat, water and electricity and sometimes even food. Considering the level of happiness I have observed, they are right to choose this life. But why should they have to?

Recently, residential squatting was made illegal. This is a significant ideological move on behalf of the people currently in power, because it closes down one of the major options for citizens who do not want to play the game. There is no malice in their actions, they wish no-one else harm or degradation of their daily lives. They do not take anything out of the system unfairly, since they have previously paid taxes, are unable to claim benefits and potentially require less medical attention than any other group for whom we provide free health care (which includes foreign nationals who do not pay tax in the UK). In my experience squatters are leaders in re-use and recycling of materials, from food wast to furniture to grey water. They also put in many hours per week to contributing to their community, from growing food to washing up.

Who is that said the level of ideological security of a social system can be seen in its treatment of people who do not want to be inside of it?

There is growing evidence that we all want to escape from the systems that do not work. Transformational festivals are a growing global phenomenon that sees many thousands of people assembling in spaces to listen to music, dance and commune with each other. The locations are typically deep in a natural environment such as lakes, forests or deserts. Artistic expression is a strong theme of these festivals with high levels of attendee participation – the festival is created by everyone for everyone because we are aching for a sense of community and connectedness with each other and the natural world.

When I was at such a festival, (Boom in Portugal) I had an uncontrollable urge to cry “I feel human!” I had not felt this way in my own living memory. When did my humanity (feeling of being human) leave me? I had not previously felt a distinct lack of human feeling and yet here was this surge of joy that could only be expressed in one way: I feel human.

Something is terribly wrong and my hopes of changing it wax and wane.

The idea of winter solstice, 2012 heralding the beginning of change for human life is an intoxicating one. But no serious, rational person could entertain such thoughts as an arbitrary date for some magical reason affecting the course of human life. Perhaps, though, that is exactly the point. We valourise rationality and seriousness but our society does not behave as if it believes in them. Perhaps light-hearted irrationality is exactly what we need at the moment, since all other paths lead to insanity or death, while the ones that are don’t are systematically closed to us.

I don’t mean anyone any harm, I just don’t want to play any more.