Last week, our eco-village, Änggärdet, played host to two days of Live Action Role-Play (LARP) along the theme of how life could look in the near future, 2016-2027, post peak oil and economic collapse. Life after Capitalism! Live action role play, as I understand it, (I might have got this wrong, but this is how it looks from being involved this time) is where a story and a situation are created as the framework and players are given roles and scripts to play out, with more or less room for improvisation. There are a series of events that take place, according to a master script. One basic theory being tested was the idea of a participatory economy or Parecon (link to wikilinks).
It is an interesting theme for people like myself, involved in Transition and the eco-village movement, as both these movements see very little hope for us to carry on the way we are, the changes being driven by Peak Oil and economic collapse.
Check out the 2027 website here.
Our eco-village offers a lot of space, a collection of tools, a few sheds and soil in need of working, so from that starting point the role-play activities were devised – to be part of a larger exploration of the theme. And everything had to be done by hand as fossil-fueled machines (and agriculture) were a thing of the past in 2016-2027.
IN ROLE OUT OF ROLE
What I would like to share are my experiences of hosting the Role-Play and being part of the action. This is the “out of role” reflection part, to use LARP language. I will say that these perspectives are entirely my own, with reservation for me having they got the whole LARP idea backwards, the plot designed by the arrangers muddled up and what I thought my role was totally confused. Maybe that is part of the fun and the learning of LARP.
Anyway it was a lot of fun, but at the same time there were some quite profound insights to be had.
It is a powerful thing, I believe, just to give oneself the opportunity to, through play, take a step backwards and consider how the future might play out. They say that so much economics is psychology, and I believe you can’t really understand something unless you get up close to it emotionally, through trying it out, or role-playing. Businesses can gain from the approach, too. You need to put yourself in your customer’s situation, and to try things out from their point of view. And why not politicians and local government officials?
PRISONERS ON WORK DUTY OR CITIZENS DOING THEIR SHARE?
Scenario one was where our eco-village was under the control of the government. Citizens were organized in work parties to help out with the food shortage. My role was farm foreman and I directed the citizens to the field where they had to pick up, with whatever tool they could find, potatoes from very heavy clay soil.
What made the whole thing interesting was the presence of the military. I found myself saying that they were there to protect the citizens from terrorists. In fact they were there to control the citizens. I made up a few stories of how work groups were infiltrated and tools were stolen, work disrupted, etc, and how I was thankful for the military presence and they should be too.
Muttering all the time that the collapse was the fault of the intellectual elite who had not seen Peak Oil coming, I went around encouraging the citizens to work harder as the food was badly needed.
The military players were great at organizing the work details. Without their help I would have had to be running around instructing and advising. If I needed anything I just told a military guy to find a “volunteer” and one appeared.
As someone who has organized working weekends at the Eco-village and been involved in organizing the members of the village, I can say that if we had five military with machines guns we would have got a lot more done by now, and any potential discussion about the right thing verses the wrong thing or wrong way would have been cut very, very short!
Actually, I saw a spurt of activity when the thought crossed players’ minds that we might be waiting for the potatoes in order to make their evening meal. Anyway, five bags of potatoes, unsorted, were delivered without complaint, and the citizens seemed to be going along with the whole thing.
What surprised me is how easily a story like that, believable in itself, can be sold to people when they are in effect being marched from the bus to the field, being interrogated as to their political persuasions and generally harassed by people with guns. It all felt strangely safe and secure and gave me another view of what the military can actually achieve when engaged in civil activities.
Should the effects of Peak Oil be so drastic that there is civil unrest, I have no doubt that a militarized model where the military are “protecting” could be achieved if the story were made believable enough. To put it another way, as the citizens knew they would be getting warm soup at the end of the exercise, and as everybody was in the same “boat” – the military had to eat with them – they seemed not to be too miserable at all.
There is something in everyone that Aldous Huxley, author of the novel “Brave New World” calls the need for the “good order”. We like to see an effective organization, have everything ordered and even roles divided clearly between us. As long as we are all in the same boat, we will pull together.
On the other hand, if there are large differences, I think that is something that fosters discontent. We didn’t have a huge hierarchy and displays of riches where many were poor in the role-play. If you are going to have wide differences then I think you have to work harder at creating fear, and harder at weaving a plausible story. Was it not Hitler who said that if you are going to tell a lie, a huge one is easier to get across? Anyway, the lack of visible hierarchy was quite a disappointment in a way as I had had visions of me playing the “double hard bastard”. I wonder if the real bastards aren’t the nicest people with the best stories after this.
HIPPY RELIGION OR COMMUNIST DREAM?
Scenario two was from a later period, 2027, where peak oil and the collapse of the economy had galvanized people in this part of the world into taking matters into their own hands and creating self-organising communities.
The scene being played out was where a group of people studying our way of life were invited to spend the day experiencing what it was like to be a part of one of these communities.
To make the scene as dramatic as possible, the idea was to hold an opening circle ceremony in the paddock, and to see how far we could go in chanting, holding hands, looking into each other’s eyes – that sort of thing.
My first surprise came even before we got to the paddock – a guy playing the “professor” was going around stating that we were living chairman Mao’s dream. To tell the truth, the gameplan was based upon one of the pieces of wisdom from Chairman Mao. He had said that the way to change people is to:
1) Take them out of their ordinary life
2) Give them chance to reflect on their past
3) Build a bridge to the future
4) Stimulate a powerful emotional experience
5) (And this step is needed to give all the others meaning) Introduce a way to repeat and reinforce
We arrived at the paddock for the opening ceremony, which involved everyone holding hands and me reciting the “circle incantation” about how life is a circle, we organize in circles and we play our part in the circle that is the cycle of nature.
Unfortunately, or maybe luckily for the ones who feel uncomfortable with this sort of thing, it started to rain quite heavily so the more touchy-feely part we had to skip.
However I will say from my own view that the opening was rather a sweet experience. There IS something magical standing in a paddock, in the rain, holding hands talking about that which is important and feeling a connection to nature.
Well in the barn, the task was given to the “visitors” to create a healing garden. A healing garden is a garden that heals the soil, heals the air, heals humans and provides a place to be and to reflect.
The way to heal the soil is to make tons of it. We had chosen Hugel kultur, a method that recreates how the forest builds soil: you cut down trees, place the logs at the bottom and pile twigs and hay and then animal manure and finally leaves and grass on the top.
I also set the task out as self-organizing, drew a rough diagram on a large paper that I had hung up, roughly explained the task and pointed them to the tools and invited them to get on with it.
At this point the rain was coming down still quite heavily. I asked the group if they were up to doing it in the rain and they all (or most at least) said YES!
Now, this is the point in all working weekends and in the affairs of man in general that gets quite interesting. The inner “pull” comes and people feel drawn to one thing or another. It’s amazing to watch as people self-select, self organize and/or go through a bit of soul searching and in this case probably confusion as to if they are playing themselves or the role.
So for this bit I basically took a bit of a back seat and hoped.
The job was tough, especially for those who had decided to dig as the soil was more or less waterlogged and very muddy.
What people learned, what they went through as they scrambled in the mud, I will leave to them to reflect on and look forward to hearing both in-role and out of role reflections.
What I learnt was that making gardens is a human activity that can and should involve everyone, and that given a task and a general agreement people like to get on with it. It is healthy and you get good exercise and it creates a good feeling. People will self-organise but it is a journey we all need to take to grow to be really good at it, as our culture is more about having things organized for us.
As if by magic, the Hugel mounds appeared in the beginning of a mandala form. As they took shape, the work seemed to go smoother as players got the idea.
What really gave the day a golden edge was the weather. After gushing down for the first part, and drizzling during the mud digging, the skies cleared, the sun came out and we were able to meet back at the paddock in glorious October sunshine, the beginnings of a garden behind us.
Holding hands again, we invited the players to the closing ceremony and to express some of what they felt from the day. Sweet, and for me rather too short as the bus was waiting, the final ceremony brought the day to a close.
One thing I reflect on from the day is that the modern way of life offers too few opportunities to get together like we did, doing fun and useful things in harmony with nature. And the opportunities to get together and express anything from how irritated we feel with minutia to celebrating being alive and part of the universe.
The aim of day two was to create a manifestation of a culture of abundance and appreciation. Everything that was on the timetable was presented as an invitation. The various activities were presented as a celebration or expression of appreciation. And life was presented as an opportunity to enjoy, appreciate to have fun. As I overheard one player say – “I think using a scythe is fun!”. I can hear voices saying things like: “Yes, but if you HAD to do it and were very tired and hungry you would see it another way.” But what if we organized society so we rarely had to be in that position? If day one was an expression of a culture that focused on their being a lack of everything, day two was the opposite: surrounded by abundance, you invite people to be generous, to appreciate and to express that appreciation. Maybe, in some little way this role play gave us a glimpse of what an amazing, healing, healthy culture we can co-create together.