Monday, May 07, 2007

not all who wander are lost

My apologizes. It been over a week since I posted anything and that was just a rambling video assortment of vaguely peak oil oriented talk. It's planting time here in North Carolina and as usual I am behind. Its bad that I am behind because I would do well to take full advantage of the growing season and get food from the yard onto my table as soon as possible. But its good because part of the reason I'm behind is the fact that I have been offered two other growing spaces in my neighborhood and they've both taken the first steps towards becoming community gardens. So yesterday, while my chamomile and mibuna seedlings were begging to be transplanted into my front yard, I couldn't hear them because I was a block away helping Jodi and her mother plant corn, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, peppers, potatoes and a few peanuts. And the shed's a mess and the mushroom logs aren't all inoculated yet and my wife is going to throw my out is I don't get the mudroom roof replaced. She says it's not suppose to rain indoors. So life's a bit crazy here. And that's ok.

All of this got me thinking about motivation. I was reading Albert Bates' book The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook, and while I haven't quite finished it, I can already say I recommend it. Perhaps a more formal review later. As I was saying, while reading this weekend, I came across a passage that described the changes necessary, post peak oil, as overwhelmingly mental. That is, we will have to make physical changes to the way we meet our needs and acquire our wants, but those changes are possible only after a change in mindset. Until we adapt to the idea that the future will be fundamentally different from the past, we will keep tripping over mental baggage we've been lugging around with us all our lives. It encumbers us and makes for a pretty miserable experience when faced with the realities of peak oil. It has the potential to trap people into a banging-head-on-wall mentality that is at worst unproductive and at best wasteful and dangerous. The sooner we wake up to the change the better we'll be able to make the mental adjustment and realign our perspective to real reality, not the kind shown on TV.

Ran Prieur has been hosting a running conversation about motivation. If you don't read Ran by the way I highly recommend him. His view is a very refreshing one. He has some great essays and an interesting blog style that is less a projection and more a discussion. Plus his recommended reading is often excellent. But again I wander... I mentioned motivation. Ran recently labeled different types of motivation as follows (emphasis mine):

1) Motivation by Love is what we have as kids, but then in school it gets crushed out of us and replaced by 2) Motivation by Obligation, which makes us reliable servants of a centrally controlled system. Also there's 3) Motivation by Community, which was more common in the past, but even now is the main thing that keeps people from totally sandbagging at their jobs. Also, as Joy mentioned yesterday, there's 4) Motivation by Need, which is very strong but only appears in a crisis, which is why we create and look forward to stressful situations. Finally, when we try to return to motivation by love, we often end up in 5) Motivation by Desire, in which we're always trying to "get motivated" to achieve culturally programmed goals of material wealth, hedonistic pleasures, and social status. This includes the "alternative" status of, say, having a popular blog and building a cabin. The only way to get our love back is to practice noticing and following it even when nobody appreciates us -- in fact, if we find ourselves admired, we should be suspicious!

When I think about either my motivation towards making change in advance of peak oil, or the motivations of others, I consider the last four regularly. 2) Motivation by Obligation is a large stumbling block for many people. They can't (or think they can't) learn to live differently, let alone outside of the formal economy, because they feel motivated to oblige others. This ranges from keeping the desk job that "pays the bills", to leaving the front yard as lawn because the neighbors wouldn't want to see corn growing there. These obligations stand to change in light of peak oil though. I think relationships and expectations will facilitate such a change. Consider 4) Motivation by Need. If you're having trouble buying enough food for your family you might make time to learn how to garden and you might not feel obligated to keep the lawn looking nice for the neighbors. And of course hungry neighbors might not care, as long as you share your corn with them. You might even feel obligated to do so. ;-)

Then there's 3) Motivation by Community. I think as peak oil requires our way of life to change, it has the potential to change what we view as important communally speaking. This could be good as it might lead to a more democratic discussion about how resources are used in local communities. Many hands make light work and if those hands can work together towards reasonable responses to peak oil, they might lead towards communities motivated by moderate self sufficiency, cooperation and interdependence. I think community is key and the motivating factor associated with group behavior is one reason why.

4) Motivation by Desire is not necessarily a bad thing I think. The perceived social status of driving a BMW is an example of one such desire I think is an awfully stupid motivation. But my desire to grow good snow peas motivates me to work towards a yet-to-be-accomplished goal that might well be an impossible waste of time. So far I've found it difficult to grow them here in NC. The unpredictable late winter/early spring weather has joined forces with a several other factors with the end result being a couple of handfuls of peas for quite a bit of time spent. I would probably do better to concentrate on spring greens and starting summer seeds but I want to grow peas even though I don't necessarily need them. Now it's almost a mission. However, the desire for really tasty tomatoes could get people out in the yard. The desire for more time could be the motivation behind tossing out the television. The desire for a great sex life could be the motivation behind flowers picked for my wife. Desire must be evaluated but this can easily turn into a discussion about meeting needs and wants as we move into the future. Deep down I still think most people want to enjoy life.

The first factor mentioned in the quote above is 1) Motivation by Love

The only way to get our love back is to practice noticing and following it even when nobody appreciates us...

This is where I was headed. I can remember when a few of my posts at this site were first recognized and linked by larger distributors of Internet information. My audience expanded and a funny thing happened. I started to feel obligated to post (#2 Motivation by Obligation). I started to be concern about what other would think (#3 Motivation by Community). And I started to consider what others might want to read concerning more traffic on this site (#4 Motivation by Desire). Of course I obviously don't post very often or on a set schedule. I don't mind ranting even if I wander off of my self described focus of Southern U.S. peak oil preparation and I don't decide to write about certain subjects just so Adam and Bart will link to them. I am still doing this mainly because I enjoying doing it. But those ideas, those other motivations didn't even enter into my head when I was just writing for fun; to get out all the thoughts in my head surrounding energy descent. Then it was just for me and it felt a bit different.

Of course I enjoi being a part of the discourse and that means focusing on topics and researching issues and participating in activities that might not be my first choice of activity at any given moment. For instance, this book will not get written if I write only when I feel like it about only what I feel like writing. But I think there's something to this idea of paying attention to 1) Motivation by Love. I think its the cornerstone of a lot of really special projects. And this is where me and Matt Savinar, among others, disagree. I do not believe the best ideas necessarily come out of paid projects. Sure, one must earn a living. Being able to purchase the ingredients of life is important because few, if any of us, will ever be total 100% self sufficient. Do you know how to smelt metal? But my point is that out of 1) Motivation by Love comes the best and brightest of ideas. They radiate with some special force that can't be duplicated by other motivating factors. I think it is no accident that so many authors write their best book first, that so many directors make their best movies early on in their career or that the music industry is full of one-hit wonders. I think it is really easy to allow other motivating factors to creep into a success and forget about the importance of being motivated by love.

And so I think it is important to "practice nothing" on occasion; to follow on a path whose outcome isn't even considered; to be rather than to try to be. Its hard for those of us who have been taught to "get motivated" but I have a hint that spending some time trying to just doing what we love is not only important but necessary if we're going to stay happy and fulfilled. So while this post might seem to have nothing to do with peak oil preparation, in my humble opinion, it would be a mistake to think so. During the coming change we will all need to be open to new ideas, even those of us who speak out regularly about what we think the post petroleum era will look like, and excellent initiatives aimed at peak oil problems will be of utmost importance. It look likes dreaming them up might require us, at least some of the time, quite literally to do nothing.


Anonymous said...


This sounds like a great book--I'll see if I can get it down at my local library. I agree that most of my best work (I'm a children's counselor) happens when I'm in a space where I'm just enjoying myself, and not thinking about what I "must" do, or behavioral goals, etc.
Thanks for the good food for thought.

Anonymous said...

Uh...that's not a book at all, is it! Just checked out the website. Gotta learn to pay better attention, one of these days! Good website, anyways....;)

BloggerOnSite said...

This is actually a great article indeed! The motivation definition certainly oozes my confidence in work level and education level. Sometimes not all our dreams becomes true enough but in reality to achieve it this kind of motivation, support and never-end hardworking will propel us to be someone in the future!

nulinegvgv said...

thanks bloggeronsite.

anonymous, you can order a copy of 'The Post Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook' by Albert Bates using the following information.

tel: 931-964-4474
fax: 931-964-2200
email: petrol (at)

It is definitely a worthwhile read.

Albert Bates is not to be confused with Ran Prieur whose work is not a book but available online at Ran Prieur

Sorry for the confusion.