Christmas Message from the Convivial Economy

The modern casino, which politicians and journalists, mistakenly call an economy is not held together by laws of physics – of scarcity and surplus –of laws of nature – or abstractly, by the wishes and ethics of citizen. It is held up by the religious fervour (the blind faith) of its punters. When they doubt just a little, then spending and investments slow. But when the cult’s followers lose faith in sufficient numbers, the whole cult and all its properties crumble. That resources are mined to extinction; that ecologies on which all economies depend are cascading; that climate change is accelerating beyond human recall – has no influence on the casino. All transactions – debt-created capital; usury; currency speculation; trade in shares and bonds are sequestered within the sanctity of its beautiful walls and are pledged at the beautiful altar. Outside, the evils of the world fall at a sordid 32 ft per sec sq and are nasty, brutish, cold, wet and short.


Democratically-elected cult followers have formed governments in every developed economy. The cult crosses political boundaries – both left and right are followers. All newspaper, radio and television stations promote the vision. Most of our friends are devotees. Self-professed independent BBC openly mocks all other views. Democracy and the cult are commonly regarded as synonyms – just as democracy and consumer choice are regarded as one.


Of course, the preferred measure of cult well-being is GDP – a measure of spending. As climate change parches soils, withers crops, and starves people – or conversely, floods coastal cities and destroys lives, crops and livelihoods, so spending will increase. When my house floods, I spend money to repair it – or pay rising insurance premiums. Funeral expenses, lawyer’s and doctor’s bills – all marvellously add to GDP. So, as assets shrink, cult well-being expands. This madness passes without note.


Now the tragedy is (to those who are pinned to the Earth at 32ft per sec sq) that collapsing casinos bring real gravitational economies with them. Companies fold, unemployment soars, tax revenues crash and spending on health and hard infrastructures crumble.


A dramatic reduction in spending is needed for economies to sit balanced within the ecologies and resources which must supply them. But such reduction will crash the casino – national currencies, shares and bonds will appropriately fall like a tower of playing cards.


So, arguing for de-growth of the casino is the wrong argument. Improving impossible systems can only prolong the impossible. People who still walk on real soil, pinned down by laws of nature, must carry on walking and appeal for others to join them. Life beneath a collapsing casino will not be pleasant, but we must all endure it. We can only endure if we have built an alternative economy which can emerge alive from beneath the rubble. Social connections, independent skills, local currencies and a common story-telling of the lives we’d like to lead – the binding of a mutual and beneficent purpose, will be enough to lead us through a certain amount of chaos. We could be happy.


The spending power of Christmas-celebrating nations means that these few days are the most destructive few days in both time and space on our shared planet. A Christmas message of hope and new birth at the darkest time of year is beautiful, true, ancient and perennial – but Christmas celebrations today are – fossil-fuelled travel and the manufacture of useless ephemera – utterly destructive and utterly heartless. They symbolise, not rebirth – nor innocence in a manger, but greed, narcissism and a decision to end future human cultures for a few moments of our own. Grandparents will cross the globe to visit grandchildren adding two or three tonnes weight of CO.2 to a single cross on the shoulder of a grandchild’s future. They’ll not carry it.


Those binary symbols are metaphors for the casino (which we currently call an economy) and the real economy of people, soil and resources. I pray that all of us, following a simple, quiet star, will soon set out to discover that new beginning.




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The Citizen, the Middle Class and the Government

So wildly has humanity as a species been blown off her evolutionary course towards a deliberately chosen destruction, that all we can hope is, since our understanding has been so commonly wide of the mark, that today will prove no different – that there may come a chink of surprising natural redemption through our own gathering clouds.
Economic activity has currently affected at least a projected two degrees of global warming – and increasing floods, droughts and storms. Two degrees may, or may not be beyond a tipping point, but unless we utterly change how we live today, then three degrees and accelerating to utter chaos, are inevitable. Nevertheless, today’s consensus remains – that we live today as if there is no tomorrow – that tomorrow is an abstraction, while today is real. We have elected as a society, that our children will take care of tomorrow – our brilliant children. Climate change is an idea. The day to day problems of my life are real.
Now, while GDP is a useless measure of economic health, it remains an excellent measure of economic destruction – the faster we spend – the faster we remove the ground from beneath our feet – as spending increases, assets diminish – as spending continues, so suicidal anthropogenic CO.2 swells in the atmosphere. What’s more, though a two percent annual increase in GDP means a two percent increase in trashed assets, it also means, more or less, a two percent increase in CO.2 emissions – which, in turn, means a step closer to throwing away all statistics as climate balances topple chaotically.
Of course, that climate balance is a life balance. An annual two percent rise of trashed asset only makes mathematical sense when we consider assets as lifeless gases and minerals with isolated and measurable properties. When we consider the ecologies on which all economies utterly depend, then again, we throw away all statistics as species and relationships between species cascade. Man is just one species within that cascade.
That relationship is a beautiful thing – a lacework of immeasurable wonders. It is a source, not only of economic well-being, but of happiness. It could stimulate a renaissance of economic activity – and a hubbub of exited conversation as economies attempt, by both trial and error, to integrate with their ecologies. Fossil fuelled societies had become divorced from Earth. Now that we know our folly, we must suit for a new relationship – without the mirrors and with far, far fewer demands. All that we take must now be returned – biomass for biomass. The web of connections recedes into complexity beyond our limited perceptions, yet when the horizontal sun shines through, as through those spider webs in the early morning grass – invisible at mid-day, all we can say is holy!
Tragically, NGOs, corporations and governments turn away from that relationship towards mitigating our currently bad behaviours. We lower vehicle emissions, green new public spaces, reduce pesticide use, encourage recycling, garden organically, discourage plastic packaging and create markets for renewable energy. But although these activities are benign, they also do real moral harm – they suggest that we can continue our way of life, but in a nicer, less destructive way. They distract from the real problem, which is that our current way of life (however green) is utterly self-destructive. They provide the illusion of transition, but in truth, provide the opposite – a justification for a slightly more benign status quo – in which there is no transition – and in which we stay exactly where we began.
Those benign activities suggest that what is deeply immoral (destruction of future cultures for the temporal comforts of our own) is the opposite – that we are living a personally-considerate and moral life.
We’ve become so accustomed to bungled “top down” solutions to economic and social problems; to those qualified “experts” arriving on site, that we’ve forgotten that all effective solutions have been “bottom up” – from where a tool actually touches its materials. That forgetfulness means that we do those nice things, such as recycling and refusing plastic bags, while petitioning governments and corporations to contribute what we imagine is their – that is, the important, organisational bit. We believe governments and corporations are the primal tool-makers. Our belief in democracy suggests that a badly-behaved government will (if we lobby hard enough) be replaced at the next ballot by a better one. So, we recycle, sign petitions and continue as before.
Our faith in “top down” may derive from a communal faith in the power of hard-fought democracy – even consumer-choice is a personally-empowered vote for top-down provisions – so that responsive corporations act rather like responsive, democratically-elected governments. We elect, by our purchases what will soon appear on the shelves. Even though our chosen political party is not in government, we say we have done our bit – democracy chose against us, but democracy is important. Similarly, even though as much of our chosen produce as we’d like, is not on the shelves, some is and we’ll continue, by our market signals (as in the ballot), to change all that.
It would be easy to characterise our passivity as positivity – as optimism. In truth it is as black and tragically-negative as any event in history. I go too far? Slightly – there is little deliberate evil done, but nevertheless unprecedented evil is done by that passivity.
Consider this – the passivity is justified by a deeply suppressed lie. We deny that governments and corporations are ideas – that they have no physical qualities. We pretend that they powerfully shape our lives and that we and our personal decisions are insignificant. We deny that cultural and economic changes are affected by people shaping their own lives and work-places – that skill and ingenuity are there, at the bottom – not at the top. We deny that the changing forms of culture are actually the shaping hands and dreams of ordinary people.
And here’s a larger thing – we deny what we do in common – a pub chorus shares the same song – individuals find the pitch, discover harmonies and gain the joy of the whole.
I am not insignificant. I am the physics of the culture.
People exist, but connected by ideas of governance, justice and behavioural codes. That is why we become shocked by the sudden appearance of a governing personality (or dictatorship), whose hubris ignores those codes – Henry VIII, Tony Blair, David Cameron, Donald Trump… All solutions to our current predicament – that is finding ways to live within our means – must be applied by ourselves. Parliament is supposed to be a collection of voices gathered from the constituencies – bringing news of religions, philosophies, pleasures, trade and the trades – to together devise some collective actions (taxation and infrastructure spending), to remedy injustices and to maintain all the colours of a national identity. Currently there is no news from the constituencies, because the constituencies are waiting with rusting tools for never-to-be-released directions from central government.
Slowly and everywhere shops and workshops are boarded-up as corporate sea water washes murkily into the emptying spaces. So, the message to government is what remains – the corporate message and so, in turn, the consumerist message. Our members of parliament are not sent to Westminster with post bags of constituents’ actions and thoughts on trade and the trades; with news of species loss in our regions, or the cultural methods, specific to our regions, which we’ve devised to mitigate climate change. And there are no governmental directions, because government, being but an idea in the heads of citizens, has not the means to affect anything without the physical contribution of those citizens. Economic reactions to changing soils, weathers and resources are frozen in a tableau – a two-dimensional silhouette of the doctrine of “our proud democracy”. So, we have the ballot, consumer right and consumer choice. We’ve desolate town and village centres, where people once gathered for work, trade, study, experimentation, companionship and pleasure. We’ve fields abandoned by the intelligences of real people and occupied instead by a cynical tide of a handful of corporate, patented drug pushers. And we’ve a binding moral idea of overall governance – a governance which does not exist. Imagine the moral landscape as a physical one, in which morally abandoned ground is the low ground and hills are independent thought. Imagine the corporate brine (or low life) slopping wherever gravity pulls it. Look to the hill tops and how far dispersed. What has to be done, can only be done through the dykes, sluices and filters of the moral imaginations of citizens. Yet, dry land is shrinking, with little defence against the turgid waters
This is a nightmare that needs the genius of Charles Dickens as narrator – not Kafka – too narcissistic; too personal; too narrow… George Elliot would do it pretty well, or E M Forster. We need humanity – sticking to English language (like this essay), Shakespeare’s; Chaucer’s words are like bequeathed commons of soil, rock, green growth and moral light in the swirling obscurity of swamp fever. Today, we are as Dickens’s mud larks at the low tide of the dead waters of Victorian Thames. Naming flower, tree, birdsong – actually we need Everyman – you and me. We need to gather at the pub piano – at the community hydro project – at the skills of joiner, cabinet maker, weaver, knitter, farmer, brewer, baker… gathering at the river…
We need to assert commons – commons are those immutable islands in the stream of economic growth and technological progress. What is that progress? It has been accelerating use of fossil fuels. It expands today, by mining tomorrow. It will be the retreat – the rapid deceleration of burning things and the rapid shrinkage of GDP. Then, the progress will be in the diffident resettlement of the always part-mysterious ecologies of which any economy is one small part. An untouched and sacred tomorrow will be the central purpose of progress – that is – the happiness of children. Of course, shrinking GDP will mean collapsing money, share and bond markets – we can endure those things only by the solid physics of renewed earthly connections and by connecting with each other. That also means the collapse of the rent-gathering middle class. The middle class goes as the money goes.
Are we brave? If not, then no bravery will be brave enough to face three degrees of climate warming and rising. That is the current trajectory. IPCC (the world’s middle class) has chosen that trajectory.


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An Open Letter to the Soil Association

After decades of wasted time, when the Soil Association could have been a respected voice, calling on citizens to live within their ecological means, we’ve finally come to a cliff edge. We’ve but three or four years remaining to change how we live and change utterly – or to continue as we are and be changed both as a culture, and as individuals, by catastrophic flood, drought and storm. Those effects are apparent now, but will swell during just a few decades to unbearable proportions.
I’ve been speaking of this for so long, you may say that the stylus on my original (you say, laughably antique) gramophone is stuck in the groove. That groove has remained as a perennial truth and so – yes, I’m stuck.
Self-congratulatory voices proclaim (for instance) 100% electricity generation for Scotland by Scottish wind on a windy day, or the spread of solar panels in California, where the sun always shines, but this is meaningless – it was always going to be easy to generate current electricity demand by true renewables (wind, solar, hydro), but heat, transport and industrial/agricultural machinery? – Heat will be a struggle -the rest are out of reach. No renewable source has that much energy. The only solution is to abandon those demands and to find other ways to live.
Carbon capture and storage, wild hopes of future green technologies and equally-wild claims of accumulated carbon by a variety of farmed crops (the worst being grassland) all combine so that we do nothing to change our lives. Meanwhile, climate change is caused by how we live.
Here are some things that can no longer be – suburbia, super markets and retail parks, the family car, aviation (yes, all aviation), large container shipping and related road transport, fossil-powered field systems… My list is not really disputed by anyone who does the sums – it’s just that most hang on to the comfort of CCS and also to a fantasy of more beneficial land-use (mass forestation) and to geo-engineering.
Here is something I wrote in reply to a friend who regularly and helpfully comments on my writing –
Your understanding of permaculture is as deep – in love, gratitude and loyalty, as mine has been of organic systems – both formed in receptive, searching youth. Perhaps we both did find moral, ancestral codes to which we remain obliged – even though those ancestral voices were themselves very young! Of course, in maturity we can trace permaculture and organic tendencies in almost every period of history. When you were drinking at the good well of permaculture, “organic” voices had already become corrupted, opportunistic, consumeristic, branded, disconnected and shallow. I still drank (I thought) at the original spring. That accounts for my reactionary tendency. The leaders of the Soil Association have trampled carelessly over my holy ground – over my soul.
I reckon, permaculture can easily embrace the organic architecture without change – that is, an economic system which integrates with its ecological effects, by imitating the behaviours of organisms. That includes, not only rules of return – biomass for biomass, but an attempted (that is active) understanding, moral, spiritual, practical and scientific, of a natural world integrated with an economic world. The primal organic spring, like the permaculture spring, irrigated thoughts on trade and the trades and on households, as much as on farming systems. Such a spring is a perennial source of delights.
That such a source of delights was spurned, by the organic movement itself is a wound, which has never healed in me. To integrate an economy into an ecology is a difficult thing – with much leakage and cumbersome mismatching. We are fortunate that natural systems are so forgiving and that we are given such a wide leeway for mistakes. As a farmer/grower, I think the best I can aim for is a near enough balance – and so a permaculture. I’m reliant on a little leeway (principally sunshine). Recently there have been outrageous claims of farming systems, which accumulate carbon – and keep on accumulating it – the worst example being the grassland alchemists. Both permaculture and organic movements are polluted with them.
Yes. In disturbing natural systems, we cannot but be disruptive. It is fortunate that good growing techniques can aim for a near enough balance. We cannot be more ambitious than that. (It is a high ambition) Actually, where we fall short, the beneficent linear, non-cyclic contribution of sunlight may contribute to fill a little of our cyclic deficit. All good farming land in UK is cleared, natural woodland (or reclaimed coastal/wet lands) and only as undisturbed (unburnt) woodland can we consider it to be a net carbon sink. Our justification for disruption is the growing of food – we cannot add carbon sequestration to the list of our indulgencies. Similarly, our justification for disturbing the forest is for timber, but there again we must temper our sequestration dispensation.
Those sequestration claims are made to delay acceptance of this truth –
The ways we’ve chosen, or have been coerced to live are causing climate change, (& cascading ecologies & pillaged resources). The only method to restore a climatic balance is to change how we live. That is the only solution – not just a part of the package. We must search for ways to live within our ecological means.
Searching for ways to green how we currently live is futile. Our demands are too great. Searching for ways to green the supermarket is futile. Its demands are also too great. Though every super market is clad in solar panels, and though all the food sold is organically-grown, yet still – its demands will be too great. Pursuing the greening of those demands leads to three degrees of warming and soon. Those vast organic acres, which supply the super market, will draw down carbon into their soils only to the optimum point, where they stabilise after years of substance abuse. They cannot balance out centralised distribution (including internet purchases), suburbia, commuter culture, the family car, aviation, the manufacture of useless consumer goods…
The Soil Association should be side by side with the transition town, permaculture and agroecology movements in transition towards ways in which communities can live within their means. That is – as agricultures. That is also towards re-centred suburbia, and revived village and town centres, in which work and pleasure are walking distance from anyone’s door. Those infrastructures are decayed, but still present – awaiting occupation – proper shops and trades, appropriately-sized factories and workshops, market squares and also the pleasures – library, church, temple, mosque, concert hall, theatre, pub, café… That is, if you remember, the original and convivial organic dream of the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s. To appropriately-sized factories, we may add appropriately- sized fields.
For the past twenty years the Soil Association has been actively working against her own dream – chasing an ephemeral realism that super markets are (to quote her leaders) here to stay.
Well, if they are here to stay, then it will be to witness their own destruction – that is the end of settled human cultures and the overwhelming of every coastal city on Earth within decades.
We have seen at COP23 that governments of developed economies (fixated on economic growth) are incapable of assisting the changes necessary to remain within two degrees of warming (1.5 degrees are now beyond reach). As Kevin Anderson says, “Twenty-seven years after the first IPCC report, emissions this year (2017) will be 60% higher than in 1990” (economic growth has considerably outstripped the growth of wind turbines and solar panels) The future is entirely in the hands of civil society. Those organisations, such as the Soil Association, which were created by that civil society, may return to the places where they were born. I propose that, as those prodigals return, the richness (and innocence) of their natal soils should prove both a relief and a pleasure to them. After years of inappropriate anxiety, they may grow and breathe properly at last – as they (and nature) first intended.
Patrick Noble

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Good Ordinary Time

All true, beautiful, good and useful works of art – both (so-called) high art and folk art, become worthy of passing between generations only when the artist expresses – not a vision of herself, but of common and timeless humanity. Once and future humanity is expressed in a common voice, which the accumulating generations discern, understand and pass on. In that regard the simplest nursery rhyme is often more potent – more alive – than the latest time-laden, time-frozen, fame-endowing arts-prize winner. Fame gives identity. Identity trivialises art.
The finest artistry is shamanic – a personality, with complex name and possessions sheds both by rite of passage to become simple humankind – Everyman. In that state, the pen begins to flow…
What is good ordinary time? It is lived experience. Proper artistry discovers and becomes not a personality but the species herself – in a renewed and of course, utterly contemporary sensuality. Inherited and bequeathed moral patterns both undermine and transcend the tyranny of time – the brutality of Iron Age chariot, offshore bank account and other pernicious and hopefully – soon to be ridiculous ephemera. The central form of every work of art is its moral form. Even in a simple chair – function, elegance and the growth of the wood which supplied the tree combine as a moral story – of what is fitting – of how our lives can happily endure.
What is extra-ordinary time? It is unsustainable experience. It is in contemporary licence to live as others cannot – in both time and space – by our descendants and by our neighbours. It ignores what is fitting in time and space. It defies the common humanity of ancestors and descendants. It says to viewers, listeners and readers of a contemporary piece, bring yourself – interpret as you choose – I have no binding moral – both past and future are dead.
Today, living in extra-ordinary time, we’ve decided – we’ve consciously chosen – to end settled future human times, because of the time-pressing importance of grasping some pleasurable and extra-ordinary time of our own. That is a simple truth. Move with the times, we say – this is the twenty first century. Actually, what we say is, “Forget what you see, or, at any rate, don’t look.”
Again, where is good ordinary time? In the palpable evidence of climate change – in the hole in the Earth, from which I’ve taken my materials – in the outraged cry of timeless Everyman at the sensual evidence of the cascading ecologies of living time – in all that is lovely about the sights, sounds and scents of an ordinary progression of days, nights and seasons.
Though it’s man-made, climate change is not ephemeral. It lives in deep and recurring stories of hubris and nemesis; of forbidden fruit; of bells tolling from sunken towers… Oh Everyman!
Here is Kevin Anderson speaking of his constant brushes with extra-ordinary time –
“There is a very clear understanding amongst virtually all of the academics I engage with, whether directly on projects or simply through discussions following seminars etc. that “growth” is sacrosanct. Economics trumps physics – and given, from a funding and career perspective, it is unwise to suggest that our scientific conclusions beg questions of the ‘immutable economic logic’ of modern society, we find ways of reconciling the two. Not by fiddling data but typically by adopting expedient assumptions – from the ubiquitous use of BECCS and very early global peaks in emissions through to using increasingly low probabilities of meeting 2°C and recourse to magical build rates and technical utopias. Perhaps most disturbing of all – the more we reluctantly subscribe to such expediency the more we begin to forget we’re doing so reluctantly, and the more the rhetoric becomes the only ‘reality’ – very Orwellian!” – Rambling thoughts on 1.5 Celsius, economic growth and academic freedom, Kevin Anderson
Yes – the more we reluctantly subscribe to such expediency the more we begin to forget we’re doing so reluctantly, and the more the rhetoric becomes the only ‘reality’ – with no ear for the passage of the ordinary and proper time which we witness in the mutations of space, or for the knowledge, as we receive those surprises, that we too are Everyman, who can search for the good, true, beautiful and useful.
The more we reluctantly subscribe to the expediency that gross domestic product is more imperative than the collapsing ecosystems on which all production depends – so the more we subscribe to the notion that though economic collapse is inevitable – it is in the future – and the future is abstract – and that when the future arrives, the future (our own impoverished children) will take care of it.
It’s an old tragedy that economic well-being, measured by spending (GDP) will blossom as war, flood, storm, drought and fire remove capital assets – including the lives of citizens. Costs of rescue operations, funeral and hospital services and a surge of rebuilding bring a resurgence of spending. Actually, in all developed economies, the same is happening now and un-noted. Assets shrink, while spending increases. No one measures assets, or the natural ground eroding beneath our feet.
We can measure the effect in the atmosphere – as spending increases – biomass and biodiversity shrink – and atmospheric carbon dioxide increases, just as GDP swells in the bank. GDP is exactly proportional to increasing atmospheric CO.2 – and to decreasing terrestrial assets – the inhaling breath of the Earth. GDP measures unhappiness.
The roll of good ordinary artistry is to sing the passages of good ordinary time which brings before us the current and passing mutations of currently-diminishing space. It can sing the species – their songs, scents and sights and it can sing of once and future homo sapiens. If an artist finds nuance in the self-permitted pleasures of a holiday flight balanced by the refreshment it brings to her artistry – or similarly a climate scientist – her flight to a climate conferences, balanced against her self-importance as a messenger – she argues against the species and against Everyman. She lives with the property (land, status and intellectual) narcissi – whose re-assurance is not terrestrial evidence, but the mirror. The mirror shows no children; no ecology; no economy – only the justified identity, behind a legal enclosure.
To homo sapiens, the species, and to the good ordinary artistry that speaks for her, that identity is no less than the devil. I am devilish. My friends and I move between good and evil. I regularly do wrong. There is no nuance in that. It cannot be balanced by a contrary right. We can forgive, but It is done. At night I sit and listen to the song of Everyman. Where beauty chimes with truth the tears come – or if we remain in mind and supress the heart – we shake with wild laughter. Open both and we laugh through the tears.
For a dramatist, today is the most epic of all human times – which is why no dramatist can face it. But what of Everyman? What of good ordinary time? Good ordinary footsteps will find good ordinary ground. All are capable of them. There could be a fashion for it. The sensual rewards are immense, for instance, that blackbird singing in that apple tree and then, you and I dear friends, sitting together with some good ordinary wine. Narcissus, the muse of nearly all contemporary art, is lost in labyrinthine images of himself and explorations of so-called profound fears that ordinary gusts of wind may, at any time, disintegrate the reflection.






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More on Status Enclosure and Climate Change

Much of environmental and also left-wing conversation has been led into a class war. We must educate the uneducated – enlighten the darkened – civilize the barbarian.
Yet that whole landscape (& social-scape) is a delusion. Actually, the so-called, educated middle-class is the largest contributor to both climate change and inequality in both wealth and opportunity. The equation is direct – the more we spend – the more we consume – the more we cause climate change. And then again – the more we spend – the less another can spend – and so the more we become the barbarian who undermines the culture.
The first step to mitigate both resource depletion and climate change is to shrink our needs. The first step towards a more egalitarian society, in which all can happily participate, is also to shrink our needs. The proper question to ask in that process is, what is happiness? Let’s re-educate ourselves by that question. For most of us, at home, there’s so much to change and change utterly, that shaking the lapels of climate change deniers is a waste of fast-diminishing time.
What is happiness? Even the most defensive must know that it is not in property, or achievement – it is in what we see, smell, taste, touch hear… – in what we do. And which of those sensory things most evokes happiness? Presence of family, friends, food, scents, sights and sounds of nature…? None of those things should be denied to anyone. Of course, inequality can remove the possibility of even such simple things.
It’s well to remember that our behaviour today is not yet palpable in effect. Inertia in ocean, ice cap and in the swell of ecological vibrations means that all is worse than we can currently sense. This year’s storms were built from last year’s consumption. Next year’s storms have already been created by what I did yesterday. Similarly, the warbler in the hedge who so delights me with his song, may be gone from the Earth in a season by the way I currently live – diminishing lovely complexity towards the lifelessness of mere elements. The balance of atmospheric carbon dioxide has been achieved by a massively complex, balancing and re-balancing of all living things.
It’s fair to say (physics says it) that our problem is not the climate change deniers, it is the self-satisfaction of the climate knowledgeable middle-class. The care, ingenuity, dexterity and complex responsiveness of the trades have been enclosed and boarded up – just like those boarded-up town centres – once the hub of a wider community of trades and husbandries. There is now no one to respond to the natural physics – the ecologies on which all economies depend and are a part. Community has become blind. As laws of physics and biology unfurl, there is no one of professional status to note them. If professional has come to indicate status enclosure, then anyone, who wishes for a pleasant tomorrow, must understand – today calls for the time of the working amateur – of those who love – and who may eventually make a profession of it.
Today, the world’s leaders are gathered again to discuss measures to communally mitigate climate change. That is, the world’s middle classes – civil servants, politicians and climate scientists. In spite of regular gatherings over the years, since 1990 carbon emissions have continued to rise and are still rising. Nation states will present their targets and outcomes for what is convenient and simple – that is electricity generation – It will be easy to supply all current electricity needs with true renewable sources – for UK that means mostly wind – and it can be done quickly and cheaply. Future electricity demands (imagining current transport and heating needs supplied by electricity) are a different story. In short, those demands will not be met. Earth does not provide that much energy. At COP 23 a handful of true professionals will profess that to resolve impossible demands, we must remove those demands – that economies which consume too much must shrink their consumption. But that will not be discussed at a government level and that is why carbon dioxide emissions will continue to rise.
Behind the lucrative enclosures, the title of professional has come to imply – one who is discrete, taciturn, guarded… I hope that new amatory professionals from every cast and class will begin to sing without restraint – to profess their common human souls. There’s a commonwealth to reclaim and fences to grub up – both a part of the pursuit of happiness. Living on less has been the central pursuit of just about every religion, or philosophy since human cultures grew complex. It could become fashionable – if we remove that fixed gaze on our properties, we can watch the world expand.

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Firstly, I’ve no wish to define people by accidents of birth and then condemn them for the effects of those accidents – by accent, dress, or other filial habits. Whichever class we’ve been born into will remain as our original soil. Parenthood, love, loyalty and some behavioural codes, remain on that sacred ground. There’s nothing we can do about our entry into the world, or about our remaining gratitude for it. However, as adults (if we accept that rite of passage) we must look about at the wider world – our connections to and our effects within it.
I’d like you to consider that the current middle class is a defended enclosure by those whose income is largely composed of rent. Perhaps as powerful as land enclosure, I ask you to contemplate a modern enclosure – status property. I leave aside the historical middle class – the yeoman, guildsman, bourgeoisie… I think they may have passed away.
The negative effects of land enclosure are copiously documented by well-known economic philosophers, dating back at least as far as the Reformation (Thomas More). The negative effects of what I’ve chosen to call, status enclosure, as far as I can tell, are not documented at all.
Status enclosure is the means to a monopoly of services. Lawyer, dentist, GP, architect and so on have gained right of enclosure to impose a large rent for their very existence – not for what their labour may provide. Rates such as £250, or £300 per hour are commonly demanded from those who must seek their services. Rent payers may be earning less than £10 per hour. I propose that right for rent has created a new class division – so much so that the middle-class has become a class enclosure. It has accumulated wealth by demanding rent from those who have fast become poorer. The equation is direct. That a whole class has grown rich by gathering rents from another is a plainly shaky foundation for a stable future. It is now evident that rent payers have been bled so dry, that professionals have become anxious at the dry river beds of their once-seemingly perennial spring. The middle-class has bitten too hard on the hand that feeds it.
Another and highly significant element of both status property and land property is the right to behave as we choose behind the fence – home as castle – trespassers will be prosecuted – my qualifications speak for themselves – in the sanctity of the home… Enclosure defines a right to irresponsibility, whereas commons (now lost) had defined rights to responsibility. That right to responsibility provided a place in larger society and a self-respect. Commons, which once maintained both personal dignity and social well-being, (the common good) have become almost entirely enclosed into other peoples’ properties (both land and status). Loss of place and self-regard has fermented an ill-defined yearning which, in turn, has penned the following tragedy, containing spun characters such as Mr Immigrant, Mr Wastrel and so on. A more productive view may be comic (tragedies and comedies share identical plots).
Yes, it’s both tragic and comic that the super-rich (who own most newspapers and radio/television stations) have managed to stir an inevitable class resentment away from reason and justice and into a right-wing revolt. That is apparent in the Trump and extreme right wing Conservative Party victories and in Brexit. The middle class – often Blairite, or American Democratic (but still neoliberal) have been outraged by the folly of it all! The so-called working class has revolted. Yet, in truth, how can ordinary people not revolt? – They have no more space to breathe.
The comedy lies in a historically recurring banana skin – monarchy’s appeals to “the people” against the machinations of the barons. The modern comedy is evident in that same plot and so it seems that brutal history continues. New monarchies have emerged. Equally, they appeal to the people against a wily middle-class of civil servants, politicians, professional people and law makers. The oligarch, or billionaire is an individual – flesh and blood – Look – you and I are the same, says oligarch to crowd. Yes, says crowd to oligarch, we are the same. The laughter is of the mind. The same plot, felt with the heart, may easily break it.
Royalty (not the preserved and mostly harmless museum people) lives and the people love it. That’s the Daily Mail’s front page.
But recent disturbances originate with neither oligarch nor people. The oligarch has been opportunistic. They emerge from those nice status enclosures. Though oligarch stirs the people to pull down the fence, the problem began with the essential amorality of the middle-class. (decadence)
Those status enclosures had fenced out the responsibilities of the trades and they’d simultaneously fenced-off, or boarded-up the eyes and ears of the trades. Our boarded-up town centre is a metaphor for everything. There is no one to notice that resources have been pillaged and that climate change has probably accelerated beyond human recall. All we can hope, is for less destruction. Liberal minded subscribers to Friends of the Earth will still regularly jet to holiday and work destinations. They will mock climate change deniers, while merrily causing climate change. Behind the enclosure we can live a fiction that behind other enclosures appropriate specialists are beavering away at preventing climate change. They are not.
Here is seventeen-year-old Edgar McGregor with the truth about us all:
Dear Children of Planet Earth,
Driving, to me, is one of the coolest things I have ever done. It isn’t the power, it isn’t the responsibility, and it isn’t the mobility that has captivated my love. When I roll down the windows and I feel the wind on my face, it feels as if I am free from my everyday worries. The wind allows me, in addition to being free, to be hopeful for change, and, it is almost as if I feel like I can breathe once again. I feel as I am leaving something behind that I am disappointed in, as I am chasing after the sunset at a wicked pace. No other entity has a power on my mind like that. As I look in the rearview mirror, however, I see what I was disappointed in. I see adults. I see them fighting, bickering, name-calling, blaming, destroying, framing and terrorizing. I see nasty political fights, angry mobs, and corrupt leaders. I see divided countries, violence and war. Among those terrible things I see something that I treasure dearly. I see something I cannot go forward without. I see Earth. I then realize, on my adventure to success with a face full of freeing winds, I have left behind my home planet. In the same cage as those fighting, bickering, name-calling, blaming, destroying, framing and terrorizing adults is our very own Earth. They are using it to their advantage, and they are overusing its resources. It is the object that gives them life, and they have total disregard for it. It is almost as if they do not care whatsoever about it.

Now, I used to love meteorology, the study of weather, with a passion. The wind was part of that deal, but so were the rains, thunderstorms, clouds, hurricanes, tornadoes, oceans, life and everything you can think of. As the years progressed, I watched as the weather started to change. I watched as my beaches collected trash. I watched as winters disappeared and summers lengthened. I watched as the ice caps melted, and hurricane after hurricane made landfall. I watched as wildfires devoured my beautiful mountains, while storms eroded my beaches. Maybe I should stop saying “my”….. These mountains and beaches, oceans and lands, jungles and deserts are not mine, but rather, they are ours. They are for the old, the young and they are for the unborn. It is our duty to protect them from the fighting, bickering, name-calling, blaming, destroying, framing and terrorizing adults. We must stand up to those who want to profit off of our planet.

Fellow teenagers and kids, it is our turn to solve this issue. Clearly, our parents cannot handle the one job they were given. We, the smartest species on the planet, failed at protecting our very own young. Any animal can do that, so why couldn’t they? We, however, refuse to do the same to our future children. If we fail, it is game over. We are the children Carl Sagan told them to protect the Earth for, and somehow, they told him no. They told him their bank accounts, vacations, and avocados were more important. They may have been too shy or scared to make this transition to a cleaner world, but we are not. Whether or not they will help us, support us, or care, we will fix this issue. We will set the first example for future worlds to look up to, to remind themselves that they too can unite their people to fix a common issue. We will take the dangerous roads. We will make the difficult decisions. We will make the necessary sacrifices. We will take the biggest step for mankind, and we will do all of that in the name of our own kids. They are our top priority. If our parents do not believe that you and I can change the world forever, all they have to do is just watch us.
Edgar McGregor’s rallying cry is to common humanity – beyond class and beyond enclosure. Europeans and Americans are distracted by a class war of their own making. Had liberal, middle-class values prevailed and elected a Hilary Clinton, or an Ed Milliband, then we’d still be blindly hurtling towards utterly degraded soils and catastrophic climate change. Nevertheless, it has become convenient to blame Trump, Brexit, or Theresa May and forget that our own trajectory was identical. The illusion created by status enclosure is that someone of status is in charge – we say, at £250 per hour it’s a gold-plated certainty. (Well, 25 to 1) But there is no one.


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I see one of the greatest follies of these times in the power of architects and the disempowerment of builders – what I call status enclosure. That enclosure acts like land enclosure by the extraction of rent without returning an economic/social contribution. It also severs the connection between tools and their effects. For instance, a farmer buys (with her own money) pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, fertilisers and seeds as an integrated architectural package. She reads instruction (from the corporate architect) on the sides of the drums and sacks. She makes no attempt to understand what’s in the drums and sacks. She is told by the architect that in applying that system she’s become the “cutting edge of the industry”, I’m cutting edge, says the proud farmer – who has ceased to be a farmer and has become both the funder of and also the tool of a distant and careless architect.
Meanwhile, the truth of an agriculture’s dependent integration with ecological cycles, becomes lost. The connection is direct – between the application of a tool and natural reactions to it. Larger society is dependent on the sensual hand, heart, perception, ingenuity and loyalty of the farmer – but fields have been abandoned by the senses of people and occupied by the senseless (actually without senses) architectural tools of corporate monopoly.
There is a danger here of a battle between good and bad architects, in which we must naturally support the good. Naturally we cheer the good, but a good ecological design remains a senseless design. The presence of the (middle class) architect and a lack of the (working, peasant, yeoman – your choosing class) farmer remains the central problem.
Now, if we remove the architect from her enclosure and from her class system and replace her in a just and properly functioning society, she may have an equally (egalitarian) proper function. That function may be within either the scepticism of science, or the morals of philosophy – she can move between both at differing times. Also, our farmer may be a curious reader of the latest contributions to both science and philosophy and those contributions may broaden her facility to understand nature’s reaction to her own tools. If, because of that insight she adjusts her techniques, it remains a farmer’s, not an architect’s adjustment. All the contributions to a culture – musical, poetic, literary, philosophical, scientific – enrich it and also enrich it beyond the coercions of power. They add to commons of bequeathed humanity – also beyond the manipulation of power. That addition is the finest addition and it is to those commons that I appeal, to throw off the architects of power and to re-instate the arts of builders. In short, I appeal to the memory of ancestors and to those who’d have descendants. Today’s architecture is the briefest of perversities – riding the back of invading and fossil-fuelled monopoly.
Tomorrow, shrugging off enclosure, the architect and the farmer may converse happily on the common, but each with a clearly separated role – the farmer in the field – the architect on the page. On Winter nights, the farmer will love to turn those pages. On Summer days, the architect may wander, entranced – breast-high, among scents and sounds of (as days pass) green to golden fields of corn.
What is ordinary is marvellous – ordinary sights, scents, tastes, sounds, breezes, days, seasons – complex beyond unravelling, but knit into culture like good ordinary wine…
Ordinary skill is the same – too complex to unravel but similarly knit into marvels of sea and soil.
Ordinary ways of life are now overlain and (for Europeans) nearly totaly abandoned by invading and extraordinary architectures impossible without fossil fuels – ring roads, retail/industrial parks, massive machinery, aviation, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, matricides…
I propose that most would lean back into those abandoned lives with a sigh – like a nice cup of tea and one’s favourite chair. We left it, as Marie Celeste for a new era – an architect’s vision, to which we contributed no part. To be sure, we’d left an ordinary mass of ordinary human folly, injustice… – find a wrong and it would be there. But since we had our trades – within those trades and with new knowledge contemporary to changed times, we could… dream on you say.
Nor will I engage in discussing merits of historical periods – follies of kings, bishops and factory gates – merits of trades, guilds and common fields… – as you’d expect.
Mine is a good ordinary vision of good ordinary wine. It is palpable in the elegance of those parish churches – the joy of mosques, temples, cathedrals – too complex an elegance for the pen of architect. The power behind the cathedral is a flaw – but consider this – that flaw is an enclosure – rather like the architect’s enclosure. It is not a flaw in the jewel. That musical eruption – Bach, Haydn, Mozart, even Beethoven was patronised by corrupt, self-serving powers, but that is no flaw in the jewel. Shakespeare politically prudent – surviving two bloody courts – bequeathed us jewels. Chaucer, the customs official… The border ballads – Thomas the Rhymer sung from folk memory amongst violent (or fearful) border reevers… sung like good ordinary wine.
Today, enclosure is pretty much complete. In truth, it completes the end of civilisation. The evidence is absolute – climate change, fast-depleting soil and utterly-mined resources. There is no one in charge to notice. Of course, there remain a few self-determined proper shops and trade’s people – just as there are a few independent minded farmers, but they are tiny islands in a vast sea. Enclosure (the tide of that sea) is the means to private property and rent – which lie outside social commons and apart from laws of physics, economics and nature. The last public services (they are commons) will soon be enclosed. Most already are so. Within their property, owners behave as they choose, without commons of restraint. They have no eyes, or ears. Consumer signals? No. Demanded and accepted consumer right within monopoly supply, gives a monopoly credence, but does not change it.
We can’t tell how the powers will behave as we reclaim commons, pick up our tools and attempt to live properly and ordinarily with each other. We do know that we follow an ordinary, and very well-trodden, course of history. Governments, kings and squires have forever manipulated, but skilled and ingenious house-holders and trades people have similarly forever (until very, very recently) managed the economy.
Where that pattern was interrupted, or weakened has been by land and resource enclosures. For instance, catastrophic land enclosure and the sack of monastic social systems at the Reformation dispossessed the skills of whole communities, which sought refuge where they could – in swelling cities, prostitution and other degradations. Nevertheless, the ordinary trades continued to manage the larger economy. Coal enclosure and its companion, the factory gate, later opened to receive still more of the dispossessed. So blind enclosure gained more effects just as European history “progressed”– that is – as further commons were swallowed into the enclosures of the architects. Even so, many continued self-determined trades and did so into living memory.
I think and hope that many from both left and right of politics would consider it a relief to sink into the comfort of a gently applauding ancestry. Of course, the applause is in our imagination, but that imagination narrates the unwinding tale of Everyman’s place – her identity; her terrain; her culture. Hey! Storytellers narrate, farmers farm, fiddlers tap my feet and shoemakers make shoes – and good, ordinary, proper architects design possibly-good permacultures – on the page – not on the land. The page is a wonderful thing and all may do better by opening the book.

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