The point and the ambition of this website is to build a comprehensive and coherent worldview that will help us all to live agreeably and in harmony with each other and with our fellow creatures for as long as the Earth will support our kind of life. For if we played our cards right – which for the most part means doing conceptually simple things well – then, even at this late hour, with catastrophe threatening on every side —
We and our fellow creatures should still be looking forward to a long and glorious future. We should be thinking seriously about the next million years – for starters.
That we should now be wondering whether we and other species can survive in a tolerable state even through the rest of this century is not only tragic (could there be worse?) but is absurd. Right now, though, the world is in such dire straits that to turn things around we need —
To re-think everything we do and take for granted from first, “bedrock” principles – and to re-think everything in the light of everything else.
The bedrock principles I suggest are those of morality – which aspires to tell us what it is right to do; and ecology – which aspires to tell us what it is necessary and possible to do. Political and economic so-called “principles” are mere ideologies. Overall, the necessary re-think amounts to nothing less than a Renaissance, which literally means “re-birth”. We need indeed to be radical, in the proper sense: to get back to the roots.
But in practice the world is led and shaped by a virtual oligarchy of governments, corporates, financiers, and their selected intellectual and expert advisers – and we cannot expect that oligarchy to initiate the Renaissance we need and to carry it through. For the most part the powers-that-be are wedded to the status quo, which they helped to create and which, in practice, is largely geared to their own needs and predilections. Accordingly, many or most in high places see no reason for a radical change of direction. And so –
If we want the Renaissance to happen, then we – people at large; Ordinary Joes and Jos – have to bring it about.
The method, though — the essence of Renaissance as opposed to Revolution – is not to have a fight with the powers-that-be, for we surely should do all that is possible to avoid violence, but –
To rebuild the world we want to see for ourselves, in situ, and leave the status quo to wither on the vine.
Renaissance implies cross-the-board transformation: metamorphosis (change of form); and metanoia (change of mindset). But the road to Renaissance has to begin somewhere, and the most obvious and fruitful place to begin is with food and agriculture. Agriculture sits right at the heart of all the world’s affairs, both human and non-human, even if governments like Britain’s don’t realise that. Unless we put agriculture to rights, then everything else worthwhile that we might attempt to do is compromised. Yet we can’t put agriculture to rights unless we have an appropriate economy and laws to support it; and we won’t have an appropriate economy and laws unless we have governments that see the need for change and have some idea of what needs doing, and an electorate that sees the need for a new kind of government — and new ways of installing what we need.
It’s a huge task, and it sounds like a version of Catch 22 – for we can’t it seems do anything properly until we have done everything else. Yet the beginnings of Renaissance are already in place. Many millions of people worldwide, and many thousands of organizations, are already on the case, and creating the kind of enterprises that the world really needs, and some at least of the necessary support structures, despite the status quo. With a little more coherence, there surely are enough people and enough good ideas to form a critical mass and change the world around, even at this late hour.
The task sounds endlessly complex, and is, yet I suggest we should never stop thinking about it, and acting upon it. Happily, though, despite the complexities, the necessary agenda can be summarized in a simple diagram:
The diagram breaks down the things we need to think about and act upon into twelve subject areas, shown here as “balloons”, arranged in four tiers. The lines between the balloons indicate that all the balloons must interact directly with all the others. Thus, in particular, economics must take account of and indeed be geared to the demands of morality and ecology. The economy cannot, as now, be treated simply as a way of increasing material wealth. Science should never be taught without regard for the philosophy of science. And the much-neglected and all-but-abandoned pursuit of metaphysics should be all-pervasive.
The top tier of the diagram defines THE GOAL: what we should be trying to achieve and why. Until someone comes up with something better I suggest our Goal should be:
“To create convivial societies, with personal fulfilment, within a flourishing biosphere”
All three are important – society; the individual; and the biosphere as a whole. Most societies and political and economic theories seem to neglect at least one of the essential requirements – which always, in reality, compromises all three. Indeed, more generally, most governments fail miserably to spell out what they are really trying to achieve. Most seem content with slogans such as “Put America first” or “Take back control” and crude economic formulae such as “Growth”. Very few indeed in the modern world have ever ranked concern for the biosphere — the living world — alongside our human ambitions.
Note “fulfilment” rather than the usual “happiness” – which all too easily degenerates into mere hedonism; and “biosphere” — living world, or natural world – rather than the usual “environment” which literally means “surroundings” – stage scenery – and in the modern, neoliberal mindset really means “real estate”.
With the Goal in mind we need to take ACTION, and this includes all technologies. Some technologies – the kind that E F Schumacher called “appropriate” – bring us further towards the stated Goal, and some lead us further away. We need to forge a new philosophy of technology to help us decide which is which.
All technologies are relevant but the one that we really have to get right (and in many respects are getting most wrong) is Agriculture, which must be complemented by an appropriate Food Culture. Agriculture is at the heart of all the world’s affairs, both human and non-human. If we get it right, then the Goal at least becomes possible. If we get it wrong, then everything else we may aspire to achieve is compromised. The kind of farming that is appropriate to our world I call Enlightened Agriculture, often shortened for PR purposes to Real Farming. Just to anticipate, the kind of high-input industrial agriculture that is now favoured by the powers-that-be is in many important respects the precise opposite of what is really needed – and is heavily implicated in all the world’s problems, from climate change to economic inequality.
But we can never create or support the kind of technologies we really need, farming or otherwise, unless we have an appropriate INFRASTRUCTURE. The infrastructure – the organization that holds the whole society together, or should do — has three major components: Governance, the Economy, and the Law. More on this later; suffice to say here that the infrastructure is the intermediary – the medium through which we are able to translate our aspirations into useful action. That is, its task is to provide the mechanisms by which we can realize the goals of conviviality, fulfilment, and a flourishing biosphere. Present systems leave us a long way short. But then, no system that I know about has ever been designed expressly with those Goals in mind.
Lastly, all our ideas and hence the way we live and treat each other and the world at large are shaped or indeed determined by our underlying MINDSET: the sum total of the things we think we know or take for granted, all of which shape and are shaped by our attitudes. I won’t say that “attitude is all” but it is what lawyers call a sine qua non. What we care about, and whether we care about anything at all, and what we choose to do about the things we do care about – all depend in the end on our attitude.
Everything – the history of our species and of our society; our own personal experiences, in effect from the moment of conception; our education, formal and otherwise – combine to shape our mindset. But among all these influences I reckon we can reasonably pick out four: our sense of Morality, which aspires to tell us what is right and wrong; Science, defined broadly, which probes the mechanisms of life and the universe, and hence aspires to tell us what is; Metaphysics – which is much neglected but in truth may be the most important pursuit of all, which many suggest addresses life’s “ultimate questions”, including why there is a universe at all. Finally, The Arts, which may be seen as the human imagination in full flight, and which seek to express in the most memorable ways whatever the imagination reveals. The arts take us to places we wouldn’t otherwise have gone — and these excursions are vital.
Overall, to put the matter portentously, we might say that the grand ambition of this website is:
“To help to construct what might reasonably be called “the Universal Wisdom” and to apply the Universal Wisdom to everyday life”
Or, in more detail:
“To apply the bedrock principles of morality and ecology, underpinned by the absolute presuppositions of metaphysics, to politics, the economy, and the law, and so to our attitudes and ways of life and everything that we do”
In short, the task before us – humanity – is:
“To devise ways of living that are rooted in the bedrock principles of morality and ecology, and are geared to the goals of conviviality, personal fulfilment, and harmony with the natural world”
In this website I want to explore what all this entails, taking the individual subject areas – the balloons – one by one; though always seeking to consider each area of thought in the light of all the others so as to create an all-embracing, coherent worldview – but one that continues to grow and evolve. We must not yet again enmire ourselves in dogma! The task is never-ending since perfection is impossible – but it’s a vital undertaking if we seriously care about the future.
More to the point, though, I want this website to become a forum for everyone who cares to take an interest to share their thoughts, helping to refine the “Universal Wisdom”, helping to forge new relationships, and leading to further and ever more decisive action. The Goal is of course utopian and utopia by definition is always out of reach; but over time we could and should move ever closer to it. And that, rather than increase in wealth and power, is what “progress” really ought to mean.
So please add your thoughts by using the comments section at the bottom of each blog post or page.
I intend this website to complement the College for Real Farming and Food Culture, which I helped to set up. But this is my own personal take on things.
My excellent friend Ziauddin Sardar – a former colleague from New Scientist and now founder and editor of Critical Muslim – has summarized the mind-shift that’s needed as follows: “We need to move from disciplinary enclaves to integration of knowledge. This journey begins with the acknowledgement of (a) the limitation of disciplinary perspectives that cannot … Read more
Within days of her dubious appointment as Britain’s Prime Minister in September 2022 Liz Truss and her chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng produced a budget-that-wasn’t-a-budget — which was widely condemned by experts the world over, and by people-at-large. Ah, she said, but we are merely being “radical” – which is necessary to get us out of the … Read more
One response to “The ingredients of Renaissance”
Thank you Colin for spelling all this out so clearly – it’s very much in line with what Neil and I had in mind when we started Commonwork at Bore Place, and what current trustees are aiming for. We need a mass of initiatives in this direction if we are to find the way forward and actually embark on it, and I do feel hopeful that many such initiatives are happening at grass-roots level, unsung by the unsympathetic media. Radical democracy!