Thursday, 3 December 2015

Appealing to our Better Natures


Pieter Bruegel the elder, The Triumph of Death, painted c. 1562 

It is hard to change learned behaviours, but change is imperative. We have no choice if we are to halt and reverse the frenzied drive through the bleak landscape of societal and ecological decline. The climate is changing faster than we recognize. There are some that, remarkably, still - heads in the sand - fail to recognize this at all,  while calamities befall mostly those who can least bear them. Where will the next one hit?

At the top, governments are creaking. Their stock response to new challenges is often to pile on more misery through austerity and cuts to services. Refugees are corralled, ridiculed and marginalized. Hundreds of millions of people across the globe have been cast aside by globalization as human refuse. They are worth nothing to the corporate state. They are denied jobs, benefits, dignity and self-worth,” writes Chris Hedges at www.truthdig.org.

 The natural world is assaulted and battered. Wars proliferate; nations and countless (undocumented) innocents that do not count are condemned to an endless  cycle of suffering. Tit-for-tat, an-eye-for-an-eye, it is said, leads to a world that is blind. The elite are laughing all the way to the bank, of course. They double down on their attrition, knee-jerk vengeful reactions, arming shady militias and switching sides with their divide-and-conquer tactics. They shake it up, drive a wedge, and deliver with shock-and-awe pyrotechnics for the home audience. At the same time, pressing issues are ignored, vital choices are sidestepped, as governments in cahoots with corporations dither and obfuscate, kicking the collective can down the road, leaving their successors and future generations to try to clean up their mess.

Stand back, take a deep breath, and reflect. Where does all this lead? Where does it end  up? Back at the beginning, where we were, no progress made? What goes around, comes around. As Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr  noted in 1849: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” Time to press re-set and start over with a fresh approach.

 Hieronymus Bosch, detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights, painted 1503 - 1515

At the grassroots, a willful transformation is taking place, taking root and flourishing in many communities around the world. Passionate, fiery voices tell it as it is. They champion vital causes. They are intrepid souls like Vandana Shiva, Naomi Klein, Jane Goodall, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Jon Pilger, Chris Hedges, Julien Assange, Edward Snowden, Paul Craig Roberts, Eric Margolis, David Suzuki, George Monbiot, Nafeez Ahmed, Thierry Meyssan, Yanis Varoufakis, Derrick Jensen, Bill McKibben, Joel Salatin and many, many more….

Organizations such as Greenpeace, 350.org, Resilience, Sustainable Pulse, Survival International, Friends of the Earth, The Ecologist, Bioneers, Transition Towns Network, Pachamama Alliance, NextGen Climate, The Cornucopia Project, Non-GMO Project, Avaaz, WikiLeaks and many many more are raising the consciousness and effecting genuine change. The paradigm shift is underway. These worthy, truly transformative efforts are already stemming the slide in so many directions – a warming planet, extreme weather events, acidifying oceans, chemical pollution, heightened atmospheric radiation, depleted and poisoned soils, desertification, deforestation, threats to democracy, national and personal freedoms and much more besides….

Caring and sharing are occurring allowing a certain level of healing to occur. A parallel economy, replacing competition with co-operation is sprouting, utilizing principles of localism. Using only what we need, when and where we need it, individuals, families and communities are learning how to be frugal, minimize waste and work together creatively in a spirit of collaboration.

Social media have taught us valuable lessons in how to share, with friends, with community, with the world. Gone (sadly) are the days of letter-writing as a principle way of staying in touch across distances. We still have the ubiquitous phone, but lives have been transformed by the convenience and speed of text, instant messaging, email, digital video and image. We post to our Facebook wall, tweet, blog our thoughts and post our photos on Instagram. In sharing so instantly and often with our circle of friends and the world at large, we are having to learn how to prioritize our time instead of wasting it, and these lessons are hard. Time that used to be spent talking in person is replaced by hours of solitary surfing, browsing, ogling, googling, messaging, commenting, liking and posting, in thrall to our personal devices. Slaves to technology, it is easy for us to forget to look up, smell the coffee (and roses), spend time in Nature, and truly take in our surroundings, especially when swept away in the moment.  But at least in our digital pursuits, we are generally sharing, be it information or entertainment.

A lot of these easy means of communication come to us for free. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Blogger, WordPress and many apps are there for the taking. It is no wonder that we are streaming movies and news, using wi-fi, posting freely and abandoning mainstream television and newspapers. The talking heads of TV and the puppet scribes of the press are delivering mainly bland commentary sanctioned and sanitized by the corporate barons and their elite; alternative viewpoints online can be so much more salient and edifying when one learns where to find them midst the hysteria.

At the same time, many of us are seeking ways to share more locally, within our communities. While it is nice to be able to drink fine wines from France and Chile, eat artisan cheeses from Italy, sip on fair trade coffee from Costa Rica and Columbia, and use organic olive oil from Spain and Greece, we need to grow more food locally and market, consume it within our community.

Many of us have too much stuff stowed away; stuff that lurks in boxes and cupboards and basements, rarely seeing the light of day; stuff that other people could use. We have over-consumed. We can shift focus from buying-and-selling-and-renting-and-wasting to sharing-and-trading-and-using-and-returning. This would foster community participation and networking. As an organic farmer selling at farmers markets, I know well that it is good to trade with fellow-farmers and -producers; to share experience and knowledge with customers. A personal goal is to help develop a localized free exchange & trading of goods and services in the community which I call home, in which money does not need to change hands. A pilot program here in Northumberland is mooted.

The corporations may be tightening their control and governments may be leading us into wars and want with no end in sight, but smallholders and radical thinkers around the world are making a difference in effecting substantial change at the local level. In appealing to our better natures, they are helping to build resilient communities based on eternal virtues of love and empathy, through caring and sharing. Back in 1759 Voltaire advised in Candide “Il faut cultiver notre jardin.”


In 1969, Joni Mitchell sang
“We are stardust
We are golden
Billion year old carbon
Caught in the devil’s bargain
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden.”