It is difficult to describe everything that this homestead undertaking of ours means to me. I call it an "undertaking" because it is much more than the construction of a home by hand (although that in itself would be considered an undertaking by most people who, like us, have never built anything before). What we are doing is altering our lifestyle in a fundamental way - a way that will cause us to live our daily lives in a way that more closely follows our beliefs about what is right and wrong. While John is excited about the self-reliance and freedom involved with creating a homestead (an enthusiasm I wholeheartedly share), it is the potential to finally "walk the talk" that really excites me.
Over a period of years I have been becoming more and more aware that the life I live and have always lived (which can be best summed up as "the American dream") is wreaking havoc on the planet. I have always had a nice car, plenty of food, a disposable income sufficient to buy far more than the basics of survival. Although I don't feel guilt for living this way (having been born into it), I have become increasingly uncomfortable with it. Up until a few years ago I did not think twice about the way I lived, for it was the way I had always lived. Everyone I had ever known had lived much the same way. Yet the more I acknowledged the truth of all the consequences of such a lifestyle, the more I felt (and continue to feel) the need to change.
My perception of modern American life changed gradually from a state of oblivious acceptance, to a state where I began to acknowledge that there may be alternatives to the way of life I'd always known. Once I began to see that alternatives existed, it was clear I had choices to make. And I've always tried to make moral choices.
One basic definition of morality is this: "Morality is, at the very least, the effort to guide one's conduct by reason - that is, to do what there are the best reasons for doing - while giving equal weight to the interests of each individual who will be affected by what one does." (The Elements of Moral Philosophy, 4th Ed., by James Rachels)
Out of this definition I glean two simple rules to live by: "Do what there are the best reasons for doing," and "Give consideration to the interests of each individual who will be affected by what you do." This is what our homestead comes down to for me... a means of bringing my life closer to my ideals of what is moral. Let me give examples.
The first rule guides much of my ambition. I believe there are better reasons for growing your own organic food than for buying it all from the supermarket (in fact, this single belief may be the greatest driving force behind our choosing to start a homestead). I believe there are better reasons for turning human waste into compost than for using clean water to flush it away. I believe there are better reasons for using salvaged building materials than buying everything new.
Yet the second rule is almost inextricable from the first in that much of why I believe there are better reasons for doing some things than others stems from my awareness of the effects of my actions on others. "Others" is a very broad term for me, deeply rooted in my understanding that all of life is interconnected and interdependent. Although I see trees, songbirds, streams and fish, as "others," for me, the exception proves the rule... even if you only see "others" as other humans, you still cannot ignore the "others" I have listed. We humans rely quite heavily on the health of the trees and steams, on the food source of fish, on the pollinating and seed-spreading actions of songbirds (just to stick to these few examples). For this reason, I actually place these entities above humans when considering consequences (what good is it to protect human "interests" while destroying our basic support system?). "Others" of course, is not limited to those alive right now... it includes those who will inherit the earth from us. Our children and grandchildren will live with the long-term effects of our the actions we take today.
It is out of this understanding of "the interests of each individual who will be affected" that I base my personal morality. Thus, I believe that growing your own organic food is better because it eliminates the transportation of food from field to table by burning of fossil fuels; it eliminates the packaging of foods in plastics derived from fossil fuels (and all of the pollution of mass-production of that packaging); it eliminates the release of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers into the soil and air (and our bodies). To put it briefly.
At this point you may be thinking "Why don't you just cut all ties to modern life, move into the woods and live completely self-sufficiently as a hermit?" Well, I have seriously considered it. If all I wanted to do was assuage my conscience and live in a way that caused the least environmental destruction, I would take to the hills. In many ways, it would be a relief to do so, to cut all ties with the systems I believe are evil and live without guilt. Instead, here I am, continuing to drive a car, to buy the majority of my food from the store, to use all the many convenient products of modern life. I have given a lot of thought to how I can continue to justify living this way, being as opposite to my ideals as it is. I always come back to the same answer: I won't be doing anything to change the path of society by secluding myself from it.
So this is my challenge to myself: to strike out in search of a way to live sustainably in accordance with my ideals while remaining connected enough to society to inspire change in others. To create a new way of life which is comfortable, enjoyable, AND ethical. This is the essence of what this project means to me. There are many other reasons spurring me on: the yearning for the old simplicity of life that modern society has lost; a need to return to a family-centered sort of life; a very cynical (yet urgent) desire to hurry and learn the lost art of self-reliance before our imbalanced modern system falls on its face. These reasons are important too, yet none of them is as important to me as synchronizing my outward life with my inner truth. As Ghandi said, "Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony."