01 July 2010

Can Urban Foraging and Radical Self Help Kickstart the End of Capitalism? Douglas Lain Intends To Find Out

Douglas Lain is a US writer and podcaster with whom I collaborated on a petition against the US invasion of Iraq, though we have never quite got round to collaborating on a story. Doug's latest venture should be of interest to writers of all stripes, and to people interested in Transition Towns, community resilience, and urban foraging besides: he is "crowdsourcing" the funding of a radical self-help guide to urban foraging, and you can help by contributing up to the deadline of Wednesday 14 July.

So, Doug, tell us what it's all about!

Q: What is “Pick Your Battle?”

A: It’s the title of the radical self-help book that I’m seeking funding to produce, but more than that it’s something everybody needs to do. That isn’t to say that everybody needs to turn their attention to urban foraging and psychogeography, although that might not be a bad thing. It’s just that Industrial Capitalism has been on a collision course with reality for a long time now. Certainly for as long as I’ve been alive there has been a pervasive if denied realization that the economic and social systems we live inside of are inhumane, destructive, and ultimately unsustainable.

Q: Why urban foraging?

A: Because it’s simple. The plants and trees are already there, the food is being wasted, and it presents the forager with an opportunity to interact with the environment and community in new and spontaneous ways. I do not advocate any romantic notion of returning to our hunter/gatherer past, but do advocate changing our relationships so that this kind of activity could play a role in everyday life.

Q: Psychogeography? What is that?

A: Psychogeography was a technique developed by the Situationist International in the 50s, a technique for urban wandering and discovery. By moving through the urban landscape, by allowing themselves to be led by the contours and implications of the built environment around them, the Situationists made discoveries about the way different parts of Paris were designed to have different psychological impacts. The main thrust of psychogeography was to discover how our built environment limits our creative activities. A couple of quotes from the Situationist Theorist Guy Debord illustrates the point nicely:

“When freedom is practiced in a closed circle, it fades into a dream, becomes a mere image of itself. The ambiance of play is by nature unstable. At any moment, “ordinary life” may prevail once again. The geographical limitation of play is even more striking than its temporal limitation. Every game takes place within the boundaries of its own spatial domain.”

“The atmosphere of a few places gave us a few intimations of the future powers of an architecture that it would be necessary to create in order to provide the setting for less mediocre games.”

Q: What is Kickstarter and how does it work?

A: Kickstarter is a funding platform for artists, designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, journalists, inventors, and so on… Successful Kickstarter campaigns include David Branin’s film Goodbye Promise, Megan Quicke’s Coffee Adventure Book, Melissa Gira Gran and Meaghan O’Connell’s book Coming and Crying: Real Stories about Sex, and Ted Rall’s Comix Journalism project. A Kickstarter project receives pledges from backers who want to see the project succeed, but if the project doesn’t meet its funding goal no money changes hands. It’s an all our nothing situation. The maximum number of days a Kickstarter campaign can last is 90. The Pick Your Battle deadline is July 14th, 2010.

Q: What will you do with the money you raise?

A: The money raised will go to printing, distributing, and promoting the book. A bit of the money will go to living expenses as I organize various foraging projects, radical field trips, and take the time to write.

Q: What kind of writer are you? Your novel is coming out with Tor. That’s a science fiction publisher, right?

A: Right. I am a science fiction writer. I’m also a journalist, a fantasy writer, a literary writer (on my good days), a blogger, a philosopher, propagandist, and so on… These genres are useful for focussing ones mind, but they don’t constrain me or how I approach writing.

Q: Why urban foraging? That’s not really your thing, is it?

A: Dmitry Orlov, the author of Reinventing Collapse, points out that one mitigating factor for people when the Soviet Union collapsed was the prevalence of Kitchen Gardens. Alternative forms of agriculture and increasing self-sufficiency should be everybody’s thing.

For years the bio I’ve attached to my various fiction projects has read: “Douglas Lain recognizes that he is a member of the entertained public — a public that Guy Debord described in his 1978 film In Girum Imus Nocte et Consumimur Igni as ‘dying in droves on the freeways, and in each flu epidemic and each heat wave, and with each mistake of those who adulterate their food, and each technical innovation profitable to the numerous entrepreneurs for whose environmental developments they serve as guinea pigs.’”

The Pick Your Battle project is my attempt to move beyond cynical recognition of my condition.


Mariana said...

Interesting post Tim.
To get involved with Urban Forging locally check out this website: http://urbanforaging.manukadesign.co.nz/
they have links to foraging maps in the sidebar.

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Mariana. Here's that link again:


Kathleen Jones said...

Interesting interview, Tim. I'd be very happy to see the end of capitalism and worry about the way increasing numbers of people live in an urban environment and are becoming separated from the natural world that supports them. Some children over here don't even know where milk comes from! And butter? !!!!

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Kathleen. I lived for most of my childhood years in rural Southland, so although we weren't a farming family, the natural world (modified and unmodified) was all around. Our son has lived all his life in Wellington, and we sometimes forget that he has spent next to no time around farm animals.

I don't think capitalism is a sustainable economic system, on a large scale at least - the trick is what to replace it with, and how to manage the transition.

Alex said...

I have been doing some work for food redistribution charity and as part of my research read this book


still in a slight owe from it. Urban foraging is a great idea, me personally, I would like to try out Freeganism. Makes so much sense.

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Alex! Freeganism sound entirely logical to me, though I'm aware that I also have an emotional response of "Ooh, I'm all middle-class and respectable - I can't possibly be seen doing something like that!" It's a scruple that would quickly disappear if Freeganism became necessary rather than optional.

Alex said...

I agree.

At the moment there is no legal framework to prevent supermarkets from disposing edible food. Donating it is a problem as well as in NZ the donor and say a charity are not protected form public and civil liability.

Freeganism is logical but the ultimate goal is to improve efficiency in the food sector.