New Domestication

The building of households’ competence to the point at which they can provide most of what they want from their own, or local, resources. This entry will put on one side, for the moment, uncertainties as to how much of the industrial establishment needed to supply the equipment to produce local energy will survive the climacteric. Instead, let’s project some trends . . .

Some 8,000 years ago, before agriculture had been invented, people had to go off on hunting and gathering expeditions for their food. This worked well because it meant that they had no need for cultivation, nor for the responsibility of rearing animals, caring for them and preventing them from straying or being stolen. Getting food in this way did not take very long, so they had a lot of free time, and hunting also had the advantage of being a significant ritual, making sense of the community’s place in the natural environment and, in a settled hunter-gatherer ecology, caring for it with wisdom. The harvest was governed by the ecology, and by the human animals’ understanding of it, not by the amount of work they did.N95

But hunting and gathering did not provide food for many people, so that, with productivity gains—cooking (especially the discovery that grains could be made edible by cooking), selection of the most nutritious fruits, and improving climate—the growing populations of early societies gradually evolved a different way of doing it. Instead of relying on the wild to breed and provide their food, they did it themselves. It was harder work, but it was successful, bringing the cultivation of food and the rearing of animals within the perimeter fence, under their direct influence and care; and improving them, often out of recognition, in the process. That was the first domestication: a response to necessity and technology.N96

The second domestication could be a similar response. It will mean bringing the provision of goods and services under the direct influence of the domestic economy. And it will need the right equipment:


The tale of the oven: a story of domestication

1. Before the oven was domesticated, villagers had to go out and hunt for one.

Villagers in the Middle Ages did not usually have an oven in their possession, so they had to do their baking in the kitchens of the local manor or priory and, of course, there was a tendency among these oven-monopolists to exploit their position. If the loaves were burned or half-baked, for instance, there was not much the villagers could do about it. The other monopolist in the technology of food preparation was the miller. Even after small hand-mills had been developed, there were local bans on their use; villagers had to carry their corn to the mill, and when they got there they had to wait around, perhaps for days, for the job to be done, or for the millpond to fill, or for the wind to get up. Bakers and millers had villagers in their power, and used their advantage, with “all sorts of tricks and vexations”, to wind them up.N97

2. Then, with domestication, ovens came to live in the kitchen.

Later, houses were built with “a big bread-baking oven in the wash-house. This was like a large cupboard with an iron door, lined with brick and going far back into the wall. Faggots of wood were lighted inside and the door was closed upon them until the oven was well heated. Then the ashes were swept out and baking tins with joints of pork, potatoes, batter puddings, pork pies, and sometimes a cake or two, were popped inside and left to bake without further attention.”N98

3. Unfortunately, with the Enclosures, and the migration to towns, domestic ovens became rare luxuries . . .

“And at the same time there emerged from scores of by-streets, lanes and nameless turnings innumerable people, carrying their dinners to the bakers’ shops. . . . In time the bells ceased, and the bakers were shut up [for a few hours], and yet there was a general shadowing forth of all these dinners and the progress of their cooking in the thawed blotch of wet above each baker’s oven, where the pavement smoked as if its stones were cooking too.” And then the bakers opened up again and the people picked up their cooked Christmas dinners and took them home.N99

4. . . . until twentieth century builders came up with a very tame version with a friendly suburban nature . . .

The specifications for a typical semi-detached house erected in North Ilford in 1934 and costing £745 included a gas cooker in the kitchen.N100

5. . . . which had the strange effect of starting to drive the family wild.

The traditional family meal is on its way out, according to a Mintel study. The revolution has been facilitated by the microwave. “Where is the witty conversation, the thoughtful table manners, the intergenerational communion that family meals are supposed to generate? Gone to a silence punctuated by grunts.”N101

6. But maybe the technology that started the trouble was the fork:

“The invention of the cheap fork in the Industrial Revolution was the start of table manners, and the end of the communal practice of eating from a single dish and drinking from a single cup. It was a momentous innovation: from that time, the rites of the sacrament of holy communion and of family meals went their separate ways.”N102

The challenge presented by the failure of the market economy will lead to a different way of meeting material needs—that is, to the domestication of industry. Although the transition to this new domestication will never be complete, any more than that of the first domestication (for instance, fish and boar are still hunted and wild food is still gathered), industry will increasingly become part of the competence of household production. This is the natural conclusion of industrialisation.

The domestic sector, ranging between the scale of the household and the community, will supply itself. It will be enabled to do this by a deep reduction in its needs, with a corresponding advance in the ability to meet needs and wants, alike, from its own skills and resources and the place it lives in.N103


Related entries:

Complexity, Localisation, Neotechnic, Ecology: Farmers and Hunters.

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was an economist, historian and writer, based in London. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, Lean Logic and Surviving the Future. A film about his perspective and legacy - The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation? - was released in 2019, directed by BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong. For more information, including on Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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