A Beautiful Adventure

It should be a beautiful adventure – living in community again – supplying each-others’ needs. Learning the skills for that will prove to be another beautiful thing. As a tool touches its materials, so the human imagination touches the Earth. Earth reverberates at the impact. How far? Imagine all those near infinite influences touching others and creating still more sparks – some for the worse perhaps. Then, we imagine the better, like Edward Thomas paused (in his express train) at Addlestrop station – and for that minute a blackbird sang – and round him, mistier, further and further – all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire… Would you embark from the train into that other world?
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Imagine travelling again, along valleys, up gradients, crossing rivers, meeting people, sitting on a pub bench as dusk arrives and as bats replace the last swallows – both feasting on the same day’s hatch – an insect feast – and all connected as the traveller is to her destination and as the intricate complexity of every species is – vibrating in both time and space from a pub bench through Oxfordshire to Gloucestershire.
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Imagine the end of the internet, aviation and the family car – the end of travelling without travel and the end of google. Imagine the primary source of learning to be our senses – the sight, touch, scent and sound of the world and then also the senses (the enticing news) of others. We’d test that on our own experience, or adventure to seek it out. Thus, the tale-telling is born, which eventually become stories of ancestors – commons – common mythology.
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Listen – the internet, aviation, family car, suburbia… must all end anyway. They can only be powered by a consumed Earth.
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It’s very strange, but most people seem to want to consume the Earth, thinking the future will somehow replenish the present. They stand in a fiction – often a science fiction. Certainly, every government of every developed economy believes in that cargo cult – of future salvation landing from future shores on the beaches of the present – of the Gods of Cargo. We stand on the shingle and chant, Progress! Enlightenment! Modernity! The present is backward. The future’s the thing.
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Come away, my friend, have a cup of tea and then, shall we walk a little, on the Earth?
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Let’s digress –
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Now, the main criticism which most green thinking aims at our ancestor, Adam Smith is his notion of the efficiencies gained by division of labour. We find it difficult to argue against it with regards to efficiency, but we say, But Adam, what about the human soul? But I think if we read Adam’s thoughts as a single complex whole, he’d have the last laugh. At the very centre of his vision is his understanding of the evils of profit. It’s true, that in all “developed” economies, efficiencies of economies of scale have led to increased profit, diminished wages, and diminished leisure time. He would regard that as the deepest of cultural tragedies, which have led to today’s poverty, shrunken skill, slave labour and hoarded wealth. If he could see us today, he would immediately note that the invisible hand was a withered, shrunken anachronism, dangling in useless ugliness at our sides.
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The greatest wealth of nations is seen in economies with high wages and low profits and the least, in economies with low wages and high profits.
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To Adam, division of labour leads either to increased leisure time, or to increased wages. Of course, a lovely combination might be a smaller increase in wages knit with a smaller increase of leisure time. How much money do we think we need? How much leisure time do we think we need? For myself, I’d probably choose the leisure to engage in wider economic activity – community projects and pleasures and even occasionally, a monkish cell, or by the peripatetic thought-stimulus of a walk by the sea-shore – to improve the writing of this book.
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Let’s now consider mechanisation –
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As our community settles back into its terrain, can we come together inside a factory, so that its efficiencies generate more leisure time? Need the fat mill-owner (Josiah Bounderby) grow fatter on the labours of his thinning slaves? Need slavery (education) be taught at a very young age, by Mr Gradgrind?
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Of course, we cannot have Coke-town – that is the model for what we have today – – belching unused wastes and fire-born CO.2. But we can have mills and manufactories which use the power of gravity, which, in turn, powers looms, forges, grain mills and timber working. The sluice and the water wheel are thousands of years old and can be both built and used in community. They increase leisure time, because they create goods (not necessarily for sale) in a short passage of time. People can come together there. They can sing and gossip as they work. They can weave their own designs – both practically and spiritually – function and elegance combined (Ruskin).
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Profit would destroy the purpose of the mill and also increase the costs of building it. It would remove the pleasure of building it. As children, we loved to play at such designs – channelling water over, or under, or around, or into dammed pools. We’d sail stick boats and sometimes perhaps, design a water wheel. Without the need for profit and with increased leisure-time, adults can play too – inevitably leading to far simpler and better designs than our modern engineer, working within the restraints of his “brief”. Remember, a resilient economy must be largely composed of money-less activity. Money is a useful tool, but no more.
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I think it probable that direct traction from gravity, through water, to machinery will prove a step more efficient than gravity, through water, through turbine, through electricity to machinery.
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Why not stick a very small turbine, in the sluice, for electric light, to illuminate our work in dark days?
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We could do without the factory and sit in happy solitude at our cottage looms, but convivial company and more leisure time may change our minds. Remember though, profit, rent, usury and the amoral trading of the mills original source of finance – that is of tradeable shares and bonds will make the proposition irrelevant. We must abandon such monetised mills – abandon the enclosure and settle the common. Always, always, always return to the cottage and then build a community of friends. Then by common ingenuity, and on the common – build the factory. However, I think that non-tradeable shares could be issued within a community for the beginnings of such adventures.
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When Edward Thomas listened from his stationary express train window to those more and more distant blackbirds singing, he listened, by the chance of an interrupted journey, to an enchanting land. Let’s be similarly enchanted, because our industrial journey has been well and truly interrupted – by oblivion.
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