I've been musing about self-sufficiency, following some eager and at times heated discussions about it at maison madcap and Eleutheros' place many miles from Babylon. It strikes me that many people are working on growing more of their own food, and some are attempting their own supply of heat, water, and a bit of electricity to power their blogging habit. Not many are attempting their own automotive fuel, but many are reducing their dependence on cars, partly by not needing to shop as much, and partly simply by choosing to travel less. From my own direct observations of various back-to-the-landers and other conservation-minded people, I would note many of the same initiatives going on, plus a great interest in alternative building materials (particularly plastered straw bales, in recent years).
I realize that complete self-sufficiency is not necessarily of interest to anyone. You can make a great contribution to conservation without going anywhere nearly that far. You can make yourself much less dependent on the system, without cutting yourself off from it. Remaining somewhat connected, you can keep more involved in your community, and perhaps avoid drawing scorn or negative press for yourself and other self-sufficers by seeming too extreme. Perhaps most importantly, that last bit of change to become completely self-sufficient would presumably take much more effort than many of the larger changes you made more easily at the beginning. You may have better uses for that extra effort.
Having said that, it seems valuable to have the know-how for complete self-sufficiency preserved in living form across the wider community of self-sufficers. Maybe not everyone needs to be a blacksmith, but it would be good to know that there was a blacksmith around, not too far away, in case that skill ever became needed.
Thinking along that line, I noted that there seem to be several areas where self-sufficiency enthusiasts fairly consistently opt for manufactured items. I'm thinking of clothing (or at least cloth, needles, and thread), tools, and roofing. There are probably more, but those are the areas that come to my mind.
Does this bother anyone else? I love to sew, but I rarely bother because I can have second-hand or even new clothing for much less cost than the cloth to make my own. I guess between my Dad and my sister, there is probably enough skill and equipment to make a lot of tools, but again, the raw materials probably cost more than the ready-made tools. There are warning bells going off in my mind here, saying there has got to be some serious exploitation going on somewhere, for the finished goods to be cheaper than the raw materials. And if so, maybe these areas should be a higher priority in a self-sufficiency project than simple cost-saving per unit effort would suggest.
What would happen if there was a major collapse in the global economy, or some kind of trade shutdown for our country, so that we were forced to become more self-reliant? Obviously food would be an immediate issue. In the chaos, maybe the utilities that supply gas and electricity to homes would collapse too. So far, the popular self-sufficiency projects would be paying off. But what if the changes were more gradual, with changes in world trade patterns making all imports less and less accessible? Everybody would be scrambling to grow more food, but to do so, they would be needing tools. Everybody would be working a lot harder, and needing good practical clothes, and wearing them out in a hurry. How quickly would our domestic capacity to produce tools and textiles catch up with the demand?
I get the impression that tools and textiles are unpopular do-it-yourself projects because they take a lot of effort and skill. I've never given more than a passing thought to tackling either one, except that I'm curious about how my Scottish forebears used nettles for fibre for fine cloth. As for roofing, I think there are some accessible do-it-yourself alternatives available, but a good steel roof is worth it for the protection to your investment in the building structure, and for the clean water you can collect from it. Still, at times I've wanted to experiment with other roofing materials just to keep the options open.
All this time spent musing, when I could have been plotting the obvious steps to grow more of our own food this coming season, and make our house more energy-efficient right now. I think I've let my son fall asleep untended again, too. If you don't hear from me for a couple of days, let's hope it's because I've decided to actually get something done.