A checklist of the six very big ideas that we need to develop and act upon if we are to save ourselves and the rest of the world from what at the moment looks like an inevitable meltdown.
These notes are meant to accompany the new videos – the five conversations on “Real farming, good food, and a cross-the-board people-led global Renaissance”.
1: First, we must define our GOAL – which should be, I suggest, to create
Convivial societies; personal fulfilment; and a flourishing biosphere
All three are essential. If any one is deficient the other two are compromised too. Indeed the three desiderate are like the three legs of a three-legged stool. Take any one leg away and the whole thing collapses.
2: All our thoughts and actions must be guided by the “Bedrock Principles” of Morality and Ecology. Morality aspires to tell us what it is right to do; and ecology seeks to work out what is necessary (in order to do right); and what is possible. If what is necessary exceeds what is possible then we are in trouble. In many areas these days that seems to be the case.
3: Although it is fashionable to argue that morality is “relative” – different individuals and different societies have different standards, and there are no absolutes – I like to point out in contrast that all the world’s bona fide religions, however different their theologies, share the same core moral principles, which may reasonably be seen as universals – or indeed as absolutes. The basic three are:
A sense of Oneness
Oneness is a metaphysical concept. It implies a sense of unity with all humanity and with all other living creatures — or, indeed, with the universe as a whole. The sense of oneness is very strong in all the great Eastern religions but much less so in Christianity.
If we emphasized those three bedrock moral principles we would not go far wrong. Our present government – cruel, destructive, inefficient, arrogant, divisive, and generally dysfunctional – seems intent on ignoring all three, if indeed it is aware of them at all.
4: All our efforts should be centred on food and farming – the things we absolutely have to get right, and in practice in large part are getting most wrong.
Agriculture should be built on the principles of Agroecology and Food Sovereignty.
We also need a corresponding Food Culture based on the guidelines of “plenty of plants, not much meat, and maximum variety”.
In truth there is a near-perfect one-to-one correspondence between good (agroecological farming); sound nutrition; and the world’s greatest cuisines on a broad axis from Italy to China.
5: All big ideas of all kinds – including those of morality and science – are underpinned in the end by “absolute presuppositions”. These presuppositions are the stuff and the subject matter of Metaphysics. They cannot be described by rational means alone but are essentially intuitive. We need to cultivate our intuitions.
The cultivation of intuition of an appropriate kind is, I suggest, the distinguishing feature of Religion. Fundamentalist religion tends to be immensely destructive but religion of a non-dogmatic, non-hectoring kind seems to me to be essential. The knee-jerk atheism that is so often seen as the antidote to fundamentalism is too crude by half.
6: To turn things around – to rescue ourselves and the world from the catastrophe that is already upon us – we need to re-think everything we do from first principles, and to re-think everything in the light of everything else, and re-structure accordingly. It all amounts to a nothing less than a Renaissance
But the virtual oligarchy that dominates the world – a fractious but nonetheless coherent consortium of powerful governments, corporates, various brands of financiers, and their carefully selected intellectual and expert advisers who tell them what they want to hear – have their own agendas and are not on the case. So the Renaissance has to be led by us – people at large: Ordinary Joes and Jos. In short, the world now needs A people-led global Renaissance
The chances of success – of actually creating a convivial, fulfilling world for humanity, while keeping the natural world in good heart – are slight but non-zero. So long as there is a small chance of escaping disaster, we ought surely to act on it, with all possible speed and vigour.
The modest ambition of my latest book, The Great Re-Think, and of this website is to explore what’s entailed.
The above outlines the absolute basics. All the rest is elaboration. Including:
>> Politics and economics must be treated simply as pragmatic devices. So-called political “principles” are no such thing. They are simply ideologies, which is not the same at all.
>> The extremist offshoots of capitalism known as Neoliberalism and rentier capitalism – give everything a cash value and compete for a bigger share of it in the no-holds-barred global market – is dogmatic ideology of the worst kind. St Paul told his disciple Timothy (1 Timothy 6:10) that “The love of money is the root of all evil”. The neoliberals demonstrate the truth of this. Neoliberalism is the enemy of the world, the most dangerous pandemic of all.
>> I feel much the same about Logical Positivism: the philosophy that grew up primarily in Vienna in the early 20th century which says that no idea should be taken seriously unless it can be “verified” by formal logic (maths) and direct observation. The LPs evidently believed that the only ideas that fit the bill are those of science — a view of the world that is now known as “scientism”. In logical positivism/scientism metaphysics is seen as literal nonsense. Logical Positivism finally died a death in the 1970s when philosophers finally acknowledged that no idea – not even those of science – can in fact be “verified” beyond all possible doubt. But scientism lives on, beneath the radar as it were – leading many scientists to believe that they and they alone are party to “the truth” and that their ideas should be prioritized above all others. Alas, some mountebank politicians believe that too, or pretend to. In short, science needs to purge itself of scientism, the scion of logical positivism.
>> In similar vein, science should not be seen simply or primarily as a way of controlling and subjugating nature, as Francis Bacon perniciously envisaged at the start of the 17th century. Still less should science be seen simply as the source of high technologies that will help us “compete” in the global market as seems to be the attitude now. The technicalities of science are of course essential but can mainly be left to the specialists. But science as a whole should be seen and taught universally as a cultural pursuit, of huge aesthetic and metaphysical significance.
>> By the same token too we need to develop and promulgate a convincing philosophy of technology: general — moral, ecological, and metaphysical: principles that can then provide guidelines for all technologies from drugs to billionaires’ yachts and from ersatz meat to AI and robots.
>> Metaphysics in the broad sense needs to be restored as a formal discipline and returned to centre-stage. It includes the concept of transcendence and gives meaning to the term “spirituality”.
>> Overall, I wold like to help build a worldwide movement of like-minded people that bit by bit (but as quickly as possible) would bring about the vital, People-led Global Renaissance. This website is part of this war-effort, or so I like to think. It’s a vaulting ambition doubtless but as Robert Browning commented: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp — or what’s a heaven for?”