I am responsible for my actions, my work and the thoughts I contribute to the common pot. My thesis has been that whatever and whoever is in power over my culture and on whatever scale, the culture remains just what my friends and neighbours get up to. Power can assist or restrain; protect or destroy what we do, but nevertheless it is what we do.
History has some unpleasant lessons for my thesis. For instance, I picture a world of small nation states, integrated into cultural trading partnerships – sometimes sharing an international currency alongside more localised exchanges. I see some localised controls (protection) of money flow, but open borders for people. I say that the sea provides convenient trading routes to exchange cultural and climatic advantages – opposite coasts facilitate easier and better (more diverse) trade than national routes inland. However, the larger part of my economy remains to be generated locally.
An unpleasant historical lesson is that of empire against balkanisation. It is a horrible truth that multiple violent invasions resulting in empire have often brought peace between factions. Sometimes invaders have left the invaded cultures intact – to continue generating what was peculiar to that culture. The British Empire emulated the Roman – and would have done better by restraining its missionary tendency. The Mogul Empire did do better in that respect. Of course, although what was peculiar to a culture was creamed off as spoils to the conqueror, yet peace and some form of justice often remained.
My perhaps romanticised international trade of the Bronze Age may be unbalanced (if we are considering good lives) by the heroic warrior cultures of its city states.
Despite a fearsome warrior status, Scottish, rival clan culture and Welsh, rival princedoms were eventually unable to protect their kinsmen and peoples, from the violence of the more unified “and subjected” people of the Saxon/Norman kingdoms.
Nevertheless, I continue to dream of that balkanisation – indeed of Ruritania – bucolic, ingenious, convivial…. Welsh, Scots, Irish, English independence – manageable – democratic….
Can I dream of it, only because the dream can emerge beneath a globalised corporate trading empire, which keeps a sort of peace? No-one has locked me up for the dream.
However, that sort of peace may be disputed by the many hundreds of thousands very-recently murdered from very safe distances in regions which were thought to destabilise the motive powers of that empire – its oil supply, gas pipe-lines and its markets for consumer goods.
It may be disputed by the storm-tossed Philippines and by the many communities soon to be engulfed by the sea. That violently-maintained oil supply will in a just a decade or two, raise global temperatures by two degrees and sea level by a metre. It seems nearly certain that temperature will rise still further – leading to economic chaos in every corner of the world.
It may be disputed by those who watch degraded soils pour out to sea, or by impoverished communities who are forced to buy expensive seed and ditch their own varieties – to buy GM Golden Rice enriched with Carotene for Vitamin A to replace what people were missing in the first place – a few green leaves or a single root vegetable per day. Golden Rice is designed to keep people in the extreme poverty of a single bowl of rice a day without the “need” for a single vegetable – and without going blind. Expensive seed, which cannot be kept for re-sowing is the strangest sort of remedy for poverty. I think a green leaf or two would prove far cheaper, far more beneficial – and a source of pleasure.
I must dispute it just because cultures are what we do, not what the powerful would maintain. The only step is the first step, which leads to the next and all those which follow in sequence. The only house (for my actions) is my house. The only parish is my parish…. The only state is the family of all the families of which mine is a part. A country the size of Wales seems about right. Will Balkan-sized states learn from history? Normally, I’d doubt it. But these are not normal times. Balkan states may learn from this most extra-ordinary turn of history, which is that extra-ordinary fossil-powered behaviour will destroy all that is ordinary in all our lives.
I should have shrunk these words to a Balkan sentence, distilled from the loquacious empire of the book: Please become ordinary again.
Can we drink to that?
Anyway, empire, or large, composite nation states will always drain wealth towards the centre where rentier effect will lower manufacturing and agricultural value. Of course the same can occur in the microcosm of a similarly-regulated Baltic state. However, trade between Baltic states will be more equal and advantageous than that towards an empire’s centre. There is currently much Balkan conversation in Scotland about beneficial Scandinavian/Scottish trading alliances.
Moreover the trade blocks of today, such as the EU, the US, China and India are awash with corporate commodities which are utterly unresponsive to either vernacular needs, or physical laws of scarcity/surplus.
The forthcoming Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a European/American agreement to place “the wealth of nations” entirely in unaccountable corporate hands. The last trade restrictions are to be torn down and electorates will have no say (outside consumer-choice inside what is provided) in the governance of capital resources and the maintenance of commons. Here’s what the Trans-Atlantic Business Council have to say with regards to energy in their recommendations to TTIP.
To ensure non-discrimination in the trade of energy goods, the agreement should also reject the differentiation between different kinds of fuels based on arbitrary taxonomy such as that proposed by the EU Fuel Quality Directive, and more generally any measure having an extraterritorial anti-trade effect.
That arbitrary taxonomy holds what differentiates between the continuation of civilisation and its end. One extraterritorial anti-trade effect may be a civilised future. It is (I think) tacitly understood that the Trans-Atlantic Business Council will ghost write TTIP, for elected representatives of mere nation states to sign.
One well-meant, but still malignant effect of empire is that of individuals from mother countries setting out to make “the dependencies” better places. Young people (in particular) will set out in their “gap years” to “build” wells for clean water and so on. I use inverted commas, because those young people will have no skills, may well have conceited ideas about “education” and will, as likely as not be a further burden on local resources.
As usual Ivan Illich puts it best:
Cuernavaca Speech to US Peace-Corp Students, 1968
I am here to suggest that you voluntarily renounce exercising the power which being an American gives you. I am here to entreat you to freely, consciously and humbly give up the legal right you have to impose your benevolence on Mexico. I am here to challenge you to recognize your inability, your powerlessness and your incapacity to do the “good” which you intended to do.
I am here to entreat you to use your money, your status and your education to travel in Latin America. Come to look, come to climb our mountains, to enjoy our flowers. Come to study. But do not come to help.