We all know the proverb of teaching a man how to fish; the challenge is in getting us to practice it. Self-reliance, according to the saying, is far more useful than continual outside aid. Yet each year, droves of consumers still choose to abandon small-scale, local production in favor of high-tech factories run by international corporations. Over time, many local communities have lost their local artisans, and with them the means for self-sufficient production. Without the butcher, baker, and candle-stick maker to pass on their traditional knowledge, practical skills are quickly forgotten. Eventually, basic life necessities must come entirely from imports thousands of miles away.
More than nostalgia is at stake here. Keeping production local is the key to a sustainable culture, since local producers can better use appropriate technology suited for the environment and local economy. Compared to centralized factories, local producers burn less fuel, use less chemicals, and profit more from the long-term health of the land. Small-scale producers can better substitute unsustainable machinery with human labor and local know-how, and they help communities avoid depending on distant, unreliable supply chains for basic survival.
One way you can bring self-sufficiency back to your local community is by learning to do things yourself instead of shopping. By doing things yourself, you can bypass our dysfunctional consumer culture while saving money, learning practical skills, and having fun. The possibilities are endless: you can learn to sew clothes, make fruit preserves, fix bikes, build furniture, repair old electronics, start a vegetable garden, and even build a solar thermal heater. In fact, there has probably never been a better time for the do-it-yourself hobbyist. Anyone with an internet connection today is a mere hyperlink away from the largest collection of self-sufficiency books ever compiled.
For over a decade, software engineer Alex Weir has been hosting CD3WD, a massive digital library with the mission of helping the poor learn to do everything themselves. CD3WD contains over 10,000 e-books (14GB of digital data) of high-quality, public-domain material stored on CDs (now DVDs) for distribution to the third world. Nearly every aspect of self-sufficient living—from vegetable gardening to assembling a low-tech washing machine to building adobe houses—is covered in this massive compilation. For the third world, CD3WD currently offers free DVDs of the entire digital library. For the rest of us, the compilation can be downloaded from the website at no-cost, or DVD copies can be purchased for a nominal price of $20. It’s a bargain when you consider its amazing value. Aside from the Bible, this may be the most useful collection of books in the history of mankind.
It’s difficult, however, to discern this on your first visit. CD3WD is very
humble about the way it presents itself. Visitors will at first notice the complete lack of attention paid to visual aesthetics: the retro-style HTML design, mismatching color scheme, and chaotic organization of books doesn’t inspire much confidence. CD3WD also describes itself as a set of books for the poor, which creates a subconscious stigma for those of us reading in richer nations. So as you browse the site, just keep in mind that CD3WD is truly a diamond in the rough.
From another angle, however, the humble nature of CD3WD is its greatest strength. Because this project is geared towards helping the poor, it has a very pragmatic focus. The collection strives to include only practical, technical books with limited fluff. Its books are written with depth, and yet, simultaneously, are written in simple English for accessibility. Unlike typical DIY books, CD3WD focuses on sustainable development through appropriate technology. These books use techniques that are cheap, reliable, and simple to set up. Since the poor often don’t have access to electricity, gasoline, or industrial chemicals, these books recommend locally-available resources instead.
There are do-it-yourself projects inside this collection to match everyone’s interests. For those who can’t garden, consider checking out manuals on woodworking, home construction, and making clothing. Other interesting books cover preserving food, blacksmithing, and building composting toilets. Suburbanites who bicycle commute can benefit tremendously from the bicycle repair books; fellow homesteaders should check out those gardening books published by VITA (Volunteers in Technical Assistance) and BF (Better Farming).
More than anything else, this compilation is worth checking out because it teaches us that we can survive without shopping. It is a refreshing message in a consumer culture where all life’s needs are currently satisfied by malls and chain stores. There is joy in discovering that modern people can indeed be self-sufficient, even if they can’t practice it all right away. Gradually, these books might encourage us to be self-sufficient in ways we had never thought possible before. Perhaps then we can get one step farther away from buying fish fillets and one step closer to actually fishing.
Update (10/12/2011): CD3WD is a great project overall; however, it has come to my attention that the huge CD3WD library may include a tiny amount of material on family planning. Often, this involves the practice of abortion, which the Bible teaches is murder. Please enjoy CD3WD’s library, but don’t support or practice abortion in any form.