On having it rough

How to use a scythe

How to (properly) use a scythe. Source: http://milisoft.ro/MainPage.php?iditem=0e80845be8cc044b469ff8292985e184737496d2


This is about “having it rough”. What do I mean by “having it rough”?

I guess everybody has an uncle, or a grandfather or a fatherly figure, well, somebody who, living 20, 30, 40 or 50 years ago, would have a different experience of “what a man needs to do”.

These “old timers” would be capable of doing stuff, like chopping wood, starting a fire, which they would consider as pretty basic (=everyone can do it); on the other hand, I suspect that nowadays the average city-living person would be fairly hard-put to perform these actions.

Can you imagine handing an axe and some logs to a guy living in a city and telling him:

“Okay, you’ve gotta chop those”?

His first reaction would probably be:

“Can’t we just go and buy them some place already chopped?” or

“Can’t I just pay somebody to chop them for me before I chop off my leg or something?”

I mention this because (sure enough) I have an uncle who’s living in the countryside in Romania, an uncle towards whom I’ve always felt and still feel inadequate.

Why? Because I’m the city-boy; I’m the kid who would come every summer from the city, too skinny, not enough muscle, can’t properly hold a scythe (in case you have problems distinguishing between “sickles” and “scythes”, for the latter think the classical image of Death holding a scythe).


We have been using the scythe to cut grass before the petrol-driven mowers came onto the scene; as far as I know,

everybody in Romania has been using this tool for cutting grass for thousands of years.

People would cut grass with this huge scythe, which you can use to chop down a small tree; so you had to be careful when you cut the grass around the sapling of a tree because with one move you could cut it down.

This scythe requires a lot of skill to be maneuvered (as you can imagine) and not to cut oneself or others around you. That being said, even nowadays you can still see boys who are 10 or 12 manipulating a weapon-like object with a blade length of slightly over 1 meter, curved inwards, which they hold at double-arm length from their bodies as they move it in a swishing motion from side to side:

Swoosh …. swoosh,

Swoosh …. swoosh.

Of course I was inadequate in terms of using this tool, but I now look at people around me in a more consumerist culture and I feel like my uncle must have felt towards me:

“Oh, man, these guys are so spoiled.

These guys have no idea where all the stuff comes from.

They haven’t done a hard day’s work.”

We live in a time and a society in which the concept of “hard labor”, of “having to earn your bread by the sweat of your brow” is not really present that much anymore, except for a very small segment of the population (in a developed country).

You look at those stats where they have 60% of the population doing agriculture in the 60s (let’s say) and then it’s 5% doing agriculture now.

What happened with the 55%? Did they all move into a city?

What happens when all these guys are no longer capable of using a scythe? Well, they become capable of using other stuff, like manipulating numbers in their heads and using computers, or driving trains or other huge machines, which do a lot of the other work.

Now, at any given moment,

these guys are working together and depend on each other in ways that have never been true in the past.

If the train driver of today’s world drives the train, it’s because he depends on a lot of other guys who drive trucks and bring the food to a supermarket near his house, or even deliver it to his house.

The train driver doesn’t go back home after driving a train all day to plant his crop. Usually.

So what happens when we’re no longer capable of using a scythe or an axe? When we don’t know how because we forgot? Well, nothing happens. So far.

You have to fast-forward to crisis situations (and we’ve been having quite a few of those and they’re growing in number; see “climate change”) where we no longer have what we call “basic services”.

By “basic services” we mean “other people do stuff for us and we don’t notice it (or them)”; so whenever you hear somebody talk about “basic services”, “the lifeline infrastructure”, it means

“people doing stuff for you, which you stopped noticing”.


Hey, do you know? You're very lucky that you can always use water!

Hey, do you know? You’re very lucky that you can always use water!


When people stop providing you with the fuel

  • to warm yourself,
  • to warm your food,
  • to warm your water (which other people deliver to your house so you can wash yourself),

when this link is cut, people are thrown back 50-60 years ago.

Now, this feels like it should not be such a huge challenge because if you took a guy from the 60s and threw him back 50-60 years ago, he would have more problems than in his day, but he would still be able to overcome most of them:

A guy from the 60s could still remember

  • how to start a fire,
  • how to find a proper place to sleep outside
  • how to walk on unpaved roads,

as he was still in touch with Nature.

But for us… The same distance in time feels nearly unbridgeable. By “unbridgeable” I mean “most of us wouldn’t be able to adapt (in time)”.

Let me explain the modern sense of crisis, let me explain why people say:

“Oh no, people believe in man-made global warming but they’re not doing anything.

They seem to constantly forget about it:

A new day of work, a new day of shopping.

It’s because of an all-encompassing sense of helplessness.

It’s not just that we need to change our attitudes towards how much CO2 we produce, or how much CO2 we help produce by consuming the way we’re consuming.

It’s also about planning for the immediate crisis that will follow, which requires re-learning some basic skills.

People don’t want to do this. People want the Government to provide the “basic services”.

Even in times of crisis we still expect things to work even when everything breaks down.

You see this in the silly images on TV where some guy is actually sand-bagging his $100,000 car thinking “I’m going to prepare for the flood; I’m going to protect my car”.

Source: http://www.gtspirit.com/2013/10/13/typhoon-fitow-floods-a-car-collection-in-china/

Typhoon’s coming! What do we do with the car collection? Source: http://www.gtspirit.com/2013/10/13/typhoon-fitow-floods-a-car-collection-in-china/


Yeah, I know it’s stupid, but the point is that (like this guy) we cannot imagine the flood in terms of the real impact it has on actual people; he can only imagine it up to 20-30 cm or whatever the height of the sandbag happens to be.

  • What if it’s going to be 2 meters?
  • What if you can’t use your car?
  • What if you can’t use your house? How about sandbagging your house next time?
  • What if you can’t warm yourself up?
  • What if you can’t get food for a couple of days?
  • What are you going to do?

This is what we mean by disaster-preparedness in Japan; the government considers these scenarios and then people prepare for it, running drills and so on. However,

we also need to prepare on an individual level and this is where people fail.

I see the same phenomenon in people who try to learn English; they think the “basic service” should be there:

“At school I should have enough knowledge imparted to me by the teacher”.

Yeah, you should get lots of knowledge from the teacher, but it won’t be enough, you still need to work a lot on your own to get it.

You’ll still need to prepare by yourself because you’re the one who’s going to use this knowledge, or the skill

  • of lighting a fire with wet wood,
  • of setting up a tent,
  • of finding things to cover yourself,
  • of scavenging things to eat…

And you will have to work with other people, other people like you who are also going to feel lost:

Oh my God, what’s going on, what’s going on? Why haven’t they restored basic services?

There would be other people like you and (here we come back to the feeling of anxiety)

you know that everybody’s as incompetent as you are.


I look around me and what I see makes me wonder: Are these guys going to be able to survive?

This is why I’m starting these kaizen dialogues, to reach out to other people and tell them: “I know I’m letting you have it really rough, but there’s no other way of saying it. It’s going to hit you.”

As Bob Dylan said, “A hard rain’s a-gonna fall”.

How do we know this? Well, in the next couple of weeks, have a look at the sky in the place where you happen to live and tell me:

Have you ever felt as apprehensive as you feel these days?

Take a look at the sky, take a look at what is going on outside in the next couple of weeks. Don’t read anything about global warming being real or a conspiracy; don’t worry about what people say.

You don’t need the scientific data. Take a look outside. Take a look at the sky for a couple of weeks and let me know:

  • Do you think you’re able to deal with all this?
  • Do you think that the building you live in can deal with all this?
  • How many times?
  • How many years before it becomes too much?

When you come to realise this, remember to learn not only survival skills:

You’re not going to go out there by yourself and start killing others to get your food.

That’s stupid, because other people would come and kill you, so don’t do anything idiotic like these guys going in a cabin and stocking on guns and cans.

That’s not the way. Remember, in your daily life (as a city-boy or city-girl)

  • to chop some wood,
  • to learn some basic skills,
  • to look back at the people who offer you basic services and
  • to prepare for the crisis.

What crisis? The hard rain that’s a-gonna fall.

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