Our species evolves as a social species. Singular identities are presented as parts in the whole. Mistakes; failures; wrong-doings evoke inherited suffusions of diminishment and shame. Similarly, a calculated wrong-doing by another may cut us to the soul.
Something has gone terribly wrong with eusocial evolution. Societies are currently behaving very badly indeed. There is a consensus to behave badly. Societies are behaving so badly that soon, what is accepted as civilised life will not be possible. Why has humanity chosen self-destruction?
Individuals can see this, but society does not.
How has this happened? Why are we not all so suffused with shame that the consensus changes? Most have knowledge to see that resources are pillaged, soils are degraded and that man-induced climate change is accelerating beyond man’s recall. We do care for our children, yet by what we do, it seems that we’ve no care at all.
Such struck attitudes – maintained causes – are common in history, but never have humanity’s physical and biological effects so dramatically massed against such a struck and plain stupid indifference to their causes.
Let’s consider seriously-struck attitudes – or perhaps simply – seriousness. I think we can see it in both humans and other animals. We become necessarily serious to pull ourselves together to do what we dislike, or in removing fear to act bravely. We also become serious to protect status and reject what might erode it (such as reasoned argument). Seriousness is the means by which we clear our throats, deepen our voices and protect our position. It is a thought removing state.
We’ve seen the wild life documentary in which serious, rival, herd animals face each other – oblivious to the pride creeping closer for the kill. We see serious rival politicians face each other – as climate change, resource depletion and loss of both mass and diversity of species creep closer for the kill.
I think there are two languages – the serious language of state and status and then the curious, convivial language of the goings on of life – of success and failure – comedy and tragedy – remorse and delight – the language of tools.
There is a perversity of human behaviour, which is unique to our times – to the Oil Age. Once upon a time, and in every time, but for our own, cultures were created, maintained and discussed in the language of tools. Anyone seeking or maintaining status could adopt a serious, thought removing attitude in the language of state, but that had no effect on the culture – It could not, because culturing requires thought. Historically the powerful have had no part at all in solving the problems of growing crops, weaving fabrics, building houses, roads, ships, cooking food… To do so would require them to shed the language of state and to adopt the curious, vivacious, vulnerable, doubtful, diffident language of conversation – of tools.
Earlier land enclosures had bled the vitality of economies. The idleness of enclosure accumulated the wealth of economic activity in which it had no part. In my terms, the language of state asked increasing rent from those who enhanced state/property values by the ingenuity of the language of tools. As enclosures spread, so the rich grew richer and the poor, poorer. Nevertheless, those who spoke in the language of tools continued to create the culture, which the powerful enjoyed. Knowledge was inherited and bequeathed and techniques were developed. Land had been enclosed by violence. We cannot argue with violence. Prudently avoiding violence, we revert to a state of them and us. They live in the great house. We have both the pleasure and the drudgery of creating the culture.
Them and us has been the state of things in the developed world, since at least the Late Bronze Age. Of course, anyone can stand on dignity in the language of state – a mother to an errant son – a craftsman to a lazy apprentice. In changed circumstance anyone can become them, just as some of them have become us. For instance, one of us, Oliver Cromwell, became one of them, Lord Protector of the New Commonwealth. As the poets note, them and us are levelled by mortality.
We can see that using violence to change the status quo, means maintaining a new status by violence. On the other hand, mother, father, daughter, son… easily escape their high horses by returning to the familiar, affectionate language of us – of tools.
I’ve been distracted. Let’s resume – the perversity of human behaviour which is unique to our times.
The perversity is this – oil power has become so attractive to the powerful that – the language of state has enclosed the language of tools. To be sure, we continue to chatter together in the language of tools, but the tools themselves have been removed from our hands.
From land enclosure (the gathering of rent from production) the powers have moved to enclose production itself. Now, tools are applied from within monopolies and from behind intellectual property enclosures – without intelligence, diffidence, doubt, curiosity, conviviality, delight… They are applied seriously as the status quo, by the serious status quo.
Just as violence is deaf to reason (the purpose of violence is often to remove reason), so enclosure (ownership) is also deaf to reason. Property is patrolled to defend established ownership and not to listen to the chattering of us at the fence line. Property gives right to irresponsibility (home as castle). It has no need for the intelligence of senses, or to consider the effects of its causes.
Humanity, the species, is moving blindly towards the destruction of what she is creating, by what she is creating – in spite of the beautifully expressed chatter from us at the fence line. We converse with each other, but to the monopolies, we are a noise – a sea bird colony at nesting time…
Resource depletion, wild, impossible consumption and climate change are not denied, but unheard – lost in the noise. Our lobbying of monopolies and their tamed, dependant political parties and national governments is just the crying of sea birds. Elegant solutions to the economic drainage of enclosure are also lost in the noise. Yes. A land value tax to fund a citizen’s dividend would return funds from what has idly drained economic activity to what may regenerate it. It also would perform an act of social justice – the inheritors of stolen common would contribute some reparation. Tom Paine wrote Agrarian Justice in 1797. Few don’t see its truth and its efficacy. But a controlling monopoly never has and never will agree to be taxed. Only violence can stimulate a monopoly to respond. Russian and Chinese revolutions answered injustice with violence, but as we’ve witnessed they remained in violence, beyond reason, deaf to the language of tools, while providing no answers at all.
As G K Chesterton noted, Capitalism is the state run by big business, while communism is big business run by the state.
I vote in UK elections with a deep sadness. If I vote for the least-worst party likely to be elected, then I endorse the power of a certain shading of monopoly. Yet, with regards to climate change, if I vote for that least-worst future, then future humanity (a tall order) will have a slightly easier task of maintaining her culture. I don’t choose that path. Since I live in Wales, my vote has been for Plaid Cymru (the Party of Wales). It is a socialist and also a green party and has a voice in Welsh government, though very little in Westminster. More recently, my vote has been simpler. I vote Green. The voice of the Green Party is entirely merged in the cries of those sea birds.
But consider this – Only sea birds have the answers. Solutions can only be found amongst the languages of tools.
Also consider this – The control of tools (of creating cultures) by amoral monopoly is (as I’ve said) a very brief perversity of human behaviour.
I began with the question, why are we not all so consumed with shame that the consensus changes?
There is no law to prevent me from behaving better – from stepping out from that brief, suicidal perversity of ring road, retail park, suburbia and holiday flight – into the very ordinary relief of a life lived by laws of inherited humanity, physics and of nature. We can step out from amoral enclosure, back onto the moral common – all the while chattering amongst the voices of sea birds. We do so in the sanctity of home. We can do so in a new sanctity of work.
As we’ve explored in previous articles that stepping meets many obstacles on its road, such as entrapments of poverty and existing infrastructures of employment, distribution and so on. But it is our birth-right – one denied by oil-enclosure – to pick up tools and study how to use them – to participate in the creation of cultures. Historically cultural activity has been invisible. The chronicles describe war and aristocratic inter-marriage. The builders of the finest mosques or cathedrals have passed unnoticed. One or two are mentioned in the account books of power, but none for their techniques – only for providing power’s status-giving possessions.
This writer’s journey is mapped to integrate the cropping of a farm into the ecology of its terrain and then, by means of street markets, to integrate those crops in a durable and to be hoped, convivial economic community. It is a very ordinary journey that has far from succeeded yet. The infrastructures for its success are decayed, but still present – villages, towns, workshops, market squares… It is an ordinary journey, which replicates those taken over thousands of years and in most places in the world. Of course, I am highly privileged to begin with some land. I am also fortunate to be surrounded by the thoughtful advice and economic activity of sea birds, past and present. To the powers it is all just noise – the very same noise that once built towns, harbours and cathedrals.
The sea birds are nesting.