Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My take on solving for pattern

Solving for pattern: treating the individual as a whole

When so called ‘solutions’ to so called ‘problems’ deal, not with the whole problem, but only a part of that problem, further problems will surely result.

In agriculture in particular, what seem like spectacularly successful projects, invariably have disastrous side effects – unintended consequences – chiefly because the whole system of food production was not considered when going ahead with ‘improvements’. If goals are too sharply defined without taking into account the full range and panoply of interconnectedness of all the factors, then any action to achieve those goals will be accompanied by spectacular failures in those areas that are not taken into account. Look around at the world and the things that are happening right now. What can, on the face of it, appear rational, achievable, even desirable goals – an increase in food production by an industrialization of farming – can be gained only at exorbitant cost to the environment – the biosphere – to consumers, to the soils in the fields, and to water and land resources, and to people.

As it is with agriculture, so it is with any facet of life and how we gain what we need to live. If education is aimed only at certain specific aspects of people, it will fail in ways that, although may not be readily observable, nevertheless do fail the person so educated. In failing one, education fails all. Individuals live in communities; communities make up societies, and societies are a part of the total population of the world.

An individual’s needs are not confined to the need to earn a living, although that is a pressing one. All our needs contribute to what makes us human; we are a species that must eat, drink, and breathe to live. Maslow has illustrated this with his Hierarchy of Needs, and yet here we are educating our young people as if they only had three of them.

Howard Gardner has identified our various forms of intelligence: literacy, numeracy, relational, kinesthetic, artistic and musical, and yet how many of those are addressed by formal education outlined in a curriculum for learners.

Setting goals that are too vaguely defined or too sharply, excluding factors that need to be included, could lead to a sort of one dimensional person. How many of us have never been encouraged to do the things that we feel are essential to who we are? How many of us have actually been actively discouraged from following some pursuit on the grounds that we would never be able to get employment doing it.

Is it any wonder, then, that people despair, overcompensate for a lack of the fulfillment of a felt need? I believe that the outward signs of success are flawed, and take no account of people’s true selves or their real need to express themselves.

Our main way of designating success is money; if we have more of it, we are deemed more successful; less of it, less so! Taken to its nth degree, as it can be, a billionaire is held up as a paragon of virtue; with how he came by his fortune having no bearing on how he is viewed by the rest of us supposedly less fortunate individuals.

Invariably, a person worth billions never becomes so wealthy on the fruits of his own labours; he may be chairman of a corporate company, itself generating billions and billions.

We call such a company successful without really knowing much about how it operates, what it does, what effects its operations have on local communities or the environment. Yet we are expected, in a sort of sentimental variety of capitalism – almost amounting to a faith – to believe that everything that it does is beneficial, whilst overlooking everything it does that is detrimental.

We never solve for pattern; not in education, in agribusiness, industry, and nor do we do so when assessing success. The roots of our problems – our global problems and our local ones, are firmly grounded in this refusal to solve for pattern – preferring instead to ignore what is inconvenient, and to focus on what we are educated to focus on.
Robert L. Fielding

Monday, May 2, 2011

Solving for pattern

A good solution accepts given limits, using so far as possible what is at hand. The farther fetched the solution, the less it should be trusted. Granted that a farm can be too small, it is nevertheless true that enlarging scale is a deceptive solution; it solves one problem by acquiring another or several others.

2. A good solution accepts also the limitations of discipline. Agricultural problems should receive solutions that are agricultural, not technological or economic.

3. A good solution improves the balances, symmetries, or harmonies within a pattern – it is a qualitative solution – rather than enlarging or complicating some part of a pattern at the expense or in neglect of the rest.

4. A good solution solves more than one problem, and it does not make new problems. I am talking about health as opposed to almost any cure, coherence of pattern as opposed to almost any solution produced piecemeal or in isolation. The return of organic wastes to the soil may, at first glance, appear to be a good solution per se. But that is not invariably or necessarily true. It is true only if the wastes are returned to the right place at the right time in the pattern of the farm, if the waste does not contain toxic materials, if the quantity is not too great, and if not too much energy or money is expended in transporting it.

5. A good solution will satisfy a while range of criteria; it will be good in all respects. A farm that has found correct agricultural solutions to its problems will be fertile, productive, healthful, conservative, beautiful, pleasant to live on. This standard obviously must be qualified to the extent that the pattern of the life of a farm will be adversely affected by distortions in any of the larger patterns that contain it. It is hard, for instance, for the economy of a farm to maintain its health in a national industrial economy in which farm earnings are apt to be low and expenses high. But it is apparently true, even in such an economy, that the farmers most apt to survive are those who do not go too far out of agriculture into either industry or banking – and who, moreover, live like farmers, not like businessmen. This seems especially true for the smaller farmers.

6. A good solution embodies a clear distinction between biological order and mechanical order, between farming and industry. Farmers who fail to make this distinction are ideal customers of the equipment companies, but they often fail to understand that the real strength of a farm is in the soil.

7. Good solutions have wide margins, so that the failure of one solution does not imply the impossibility of another. Industrial agriculture tends to put its eggs into fewer and fewer baskets, and to make “going for broke” its only way of going. But to grow grain should not make it impossible to pasture livestock, and to have a lot of power should not make it impossible to use only a little.

8. A good solution always answers the question, How much is enough? Industrial solutions have always rested on the assumption that enough is all you can get. But that destroys agriculture, as it destroys nature and culture. The good health of a farm implies a limit of scale, because it implies a limit of attention, and because such a limit is invariably implied by any pattern. You destroy a square, for example, by enlarging one angle of lengthening one side. And in any sort of work there is a point past which more quantity necessarily implies less quality. In some kinds of industrial agriculture, such as cash grain farming, it is possible (to borrow an insight from Professor Timothy Taylor) to think of technology as a substitute for skill. But even in such farming that possibility is illusory; the illusion can be maintained only so long as the consequences can be ignored. The illusion is much shorter lived when animals are included in the farm pattern, because the husbandry of animals is so insistently a human skill. A healthy farm incorporates a pattern that a single human mind can comprehend, make, maintain, vary in response to circumstances, and pay steady attention to. That this limit is obviously variable from one farmer and farm to another does not mean that it does not exist.

9. A good solution should be cheap, and it should not enrich one person by the distress or impoverishment of another. In agriculture, so-called “inputs” are, from a different point of view, outputs – expenses. In all things, I think, but especially in agriculture struggling to survive in an industrial economy, any solution that calls for an expenditure to a manufacturer should be held in suspicion – not rejected necessarily, but as a rule mistrusted.

10. Good solutions exist only in proof, and are not to be expected from some absentee
owners or absentee experts. Problems must be solved in work and in place, with
particular knowledge, fidelity, and care, by people who will suffer the consequences of their mistakes. There is no theoretical or ideal practice. Practical advice or direction from people who have no practice may have some value, but its value is questionable and is limited. The divisions of capital, management, and labor, characteristic of an industrial system, are therefore utterly alien to the health of farming – as they probably also are to the health of manufacturing. The good health of a farm depends on the farmer’s mind; the good health of his mind has its dependence, and its proof, in physical work. The good farmer’s mind and his body – his management and his labor – work together as intimately as his heart and lungs. And the capital of a well-farmed farm by definition includes the
farmer, mind and body both. Farmer and farm are one thing, an organism.

11. Once the farmer’s mind, his body, and his farm are understood as a single organism, and once it is understood that the question of the endurance of this organism is a question about the sufficiency and integrity of a pattern, then the word organic can be usefully admitted into this series of standards. It is a word that I have been defining all along, though I have not used it. An organic farm, properly speaking, is not one that uses certain methods and substances and avoids others; it is a farm whose structure is formed in imitation of the structure of a natural system; it has the integrity, the independence, and the benign dependence of an organism. Sir Albert Howard said that a good farm is an analogue of the forest which “manures itself.” A farm that imports too much fertility, even as feed or manure, is in this sense as inorganic as a farm that exports too much or that imports chemical fertilizer.

12. The introduction of the term organic permits me to say more plainly and usefully some things that I have said or implied earlier. In an organism, what is good for one part is good for another. What is good for the mind is good for the body; what is good for the arm is good for the heart. We know that sometimes a part may be sacrificed for the whole; a life may be saved by the amputation of an arm. But we also know that such remedies are desperate, irreversible, and destructive; it is impossible to improve the body by amputation. And such remedies do not imply a safe logic. As tendencies they are fatal: you cannot save your arm by the sacrifice of your life. Perhaps most of us who know local histories of agriculture know of fields that in hard times have been sacrificed to save a farm, and we know that though such a thing is possible it is dangerous. The danger is worse when topsoil is sacrificed for the sake of a crop. And if we understand the farm as an organism, we see that it is impossible to sacrifice the health of the soil to improve the health of plants, or to sacrifice the health of plants to improve the health of animals, or to sacrifice the health of animals to improve the health of people. In a biological pattern – as in the pattern of a community – the exploitive means and motives of industrial economics are immediately destructive and ultimately suicidal.

13. It is the nature of any organic pattern to be contained within a larger one. And so a good solution in one pattern preserves the integrity of the pattern that contains it. A good agricultural solution, for example, would not pollute or erode a watershed. What is good for the water is good for the ground, what is good for the ground is good for the plants, what is good for the plants is good for animals, what is good for animals is good for people, what is good for people is good for the air, what is good for the air is good for the water. And vice versa.

14. But we must not forget that those human solutions that we may call organic are not natural. We are talking about organic artifacts, organic only by imitation or analogy. Our ability to make such artifacts depends on virtues that are specifically human: accurate memory, observation, insight, imagination, inventiveness, reverence, devotion, fidelity, restraint. Restraint – for us, now – above all: the ability to accept and live within limits; to resist changes that are merely novel or fashionable; to resist greed and pride; to resist the temptation to “solve” problems by ignoring them, accepting them as “trade-offs,” or bequeathing them to posterity. A good solution, then, must be in harmony with good character, cultural value, and moral law.
Wendell Berry

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Themes and topics for future discussion

Conventional wisdom or the error of our ways
Economic theory for the masses
More is not better
The real value of education
Education doesn't stop when you leave school
Ambition – the top
Common sense
Doing without thinking
Thinking without doing
What being rich really means
Diminishing returns kick in early
All in the mind
Alienation isn’t just for the poor
Hierarchies – life
Education for now – based upon a model of 19th century industry
Education for tomorrow
The cult of the individual – desirable states and propaganda
The group
Groups and communities
The good life – a fallacy
If we go under, everybody goes under!
Work and pay and democracy and human rights
More ……
Robert L. Fielding

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Introduction to the ideas of Wendell Berry

Rule 1

1. Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth.

Robert L. Fielding: I think we should talk first about what the word ‘wealth’ means and then the meaning of the phrase ‘our common wealth’, don’t you?

Bert Thornley: Yes, I do. First, I think we should widen our definition of the meaning of ‘wealth’; if we do not, we are liable to make some fundamental errors.

RLF: As well as leaving out some fundamental notions.

BT: Right. Let’s think about what we generally mean when we speak of wealth. What do we mean?

RLF: I think we are generally referring to having a lot of money – the wealthy being rich in money.

BT: You say that as if you think you can be rich in ways other than financially. Do you think you can be wealthy without being rich in money?

RLF: I would say that for most people, being wealthy means being rich – well off, loaded – all those ways of saying rich. Wealth equals having lots of money.

BT: And so it is for countries as well as for individuals. A wealthy country is defined as such by the amount of money it has.

RFL: And by how much an individual in that country can usually earn every year – GDP per capita.

BT: With those countries in which the GDP per capita is highest being thought of as the wealthiest countries – USA, UK, UAE, Japan – what are termed Western countries.

RLF: And yet that number – GDP per capita might hide a multitude of cases of people living in poverty.

BT: As it is with countries, so it is with communities, with groups, families and individuals.

RLF: How can that be? How can a feature of a nation state be applied to a community, a group or family, or an individual?

BT: I am not comparing those entities per se, but rather am saying that the word ‘wealthy’ applied to those same entities – the nation, the community, the group or family or the individual is a misnomer – a red herring, if you prefer – in our ways of thinking about how people live.

Yet, despite this sort of blanket meaning of wealth, we each aspire to it as though it is the Holy Grail, if you like, held up to all as the most divine state – to have lots of money – without really knowing what such a life with money may actually be like.

RLF: Exactly right. We imagine it is like saying to the hungry, lots and lots of food with solve all your problems, when, in actual fact, what we should mean is that some food will solve one of your problems, albeit, at the moment, your most pressing one.

BT: And thinking about wealth using that analogy – of giving the hungry lots and lots of food..

RLF: Overfeeding, if you like.

BT: That’s good, by overfeeding the hungry, we remove, at a stroke, all of the problems of that hungry person, but all we do by overfeeding him, is to give him a different set of problems. By overfeeding him – overcompensating for his hunger, if you will, we make him overweight, with all the attendant problems that go with that condition.

RLF: So, what is really beneficial for him is enough food, rather than too much.

BT: And, as food is perishable, if we give him too much of it, a lot will be wasted.

RLF: And worse, will go uneaten by those who are still hungry. And although the first grace is to eat, as someone once said, overeating brings on its many ill effects.

BT: Do you think we can learn anything about we can learn anything about the distribution of wealth from this?

RLF: Yes, we can, but, alternative theories of how wealth should be distributed are at the heart of politics.

BT: And you are in trouble right away as soon as you use the words, ‘should be distributed’.

RLF: Why?

BT: Because when we talk about how things should be, we usually mean how we think they should be.

RLF: And what is the matter with saying that?

BT: The problem is that my way – my ‘should’ may not be the same as yours. It is in the deciding whose way prevails, that we account ourselves democratic.

RLF: And democracy is the Holy Grail of politics, is it not?

BT: It certainly is, and yet there is a problem with that concept.

RLF: What is it?

BT: It is this; that many, many varied systems of governance attribute the adjective democratic to their systems.

RLF: How so?

BT: One may think of one party states.

RLF: Yes, well what of them? Surely they are not democratic, are they?

BT: Their proponents and adherents would tell you that they are.

RLF: How can that possibly be right? How can a state in which there is no choice of ruling party possibly call itself democratic? What choice do people have in such a system?

BT: But just suppose that all in are accord with the tenets and ideals of that one party, would you still quibble at it being called democratic?

We might look at what we think are outwardly democratic states and yet question whether they are really democratic.

RLF: How can you question a system in which every adult citizen gets the chance to vote for the party of their choice?

BT: Well, to begin with; what if no one party fits one person’s ideal choice? What then? Is such a system of governance democratic or not?

RLF: But political parties seek to appeal to the majority of voters, don’t they?

BT: Certainly, and to do otherwise would be probably to commit political suicide at the polls, wouldn’t it?

But although a party might appeal to a majority of voters, it still might not appeal to a minority.

RLF: But what can they do but appeal to the majority?

BT: Would you say that if you were always in that minority?

RLF: I see what you mean – most probably not.

BT: If you were always discriminated against at the polls on the grounds that you were not a member of the majority, and the majority always elected a government to enact laws that favoured that same majority, even at the expense of the minority of which you were a member – would you still call such a system democratic?

RLF: I most certainly would not.

BT: Then what would you call it?

RLF: A system that tyrannized the minority, in the name of the majority.

BT: Exactly, and you would be right.

RLF: Then how can we proceed? There are always going to be majorities and minorities, aren’t there? How can any system hope to govern fairly, under those conditions?

BT: By not infringing the rights of individuals in that minority, by making rights trump cards, to be used to defeat or remove the effects of decisions that were instrumental in demeaning the rights of minorities. We call specific systems democratic ones despite their infringing upon people’s human and civil rights.

RLF: Point taken. Let us return to the distribution of wealth. As we stated earlier, it is the possibility of someone calling the shots, as it were, in saying who should get what that we generally object to as free men.

We in the West have come to regard the ‘fairness’ of the free market as the best arbiter of who gets what – who becomes wealthy and who doesn’t.

BT: And are you then saying that allowing the distribution of wealth to be dictated by liberal free market economics is fairer?

RLF: That is the general feeling, yes.

BT: And who, may I ask, are this system’s most ardent advocates – the wealthy, or those less so?

RLF: Generally the more affluent in society are in favour of fee market economics.

BT: And these are the same people that are the chief beneficiaries of such a system, aren't they?

RLF: Yes, they are.

BT: So it’s really no accident that the system they opt for favours them, is it?

RLF: No, it isn’t. But we should return to the vexed question - What is wealth? – shouldn’t we?

BT: Yes, let’s do that. We said that if we didn’t, we would get bogged down in discussions that took us way from the more important ones, didn’t we?

RLF: Yes, we did, so let’s return to the subject at hand. Is wealth not the abundance of money? What else could the word refer to?

BT: We usually think in terms of money when we speak of wealth and the wealthy, but I think we are wrong, or at least not wholly right.

RLF: You will have to elaborate – illustrate what you mean, won’t you?

BT: Yes, I will. First a question: What is the most important thing in life?

RLF: I would have to say happiness, and health, of course.

BT: And which would you put first, health or happiness?

RLF: I would say that health should come first.

BT: Why do you say that?

RLF: Because if you are not healthy, it is probable that you are not entirely happy either, whereas if you are healthy, you have a fair chance of being happy, other things being equal, as we say.

BT: So health is number one, is it?

RLF: I should say so, yes.

BT: And then happiness?

RLF: Yes.

BT: And where would you place wealth – having an abundance of money? Would you put it third, after health and happiness?

RLF: That’s a good question.

Robert L. Fielding

Rule 2

2. Always include local nature – the land, the water, the air, the native creatures – within the membership of the community.

Robert L. Fielding: Whenever people plan to change things within their community, it is usual to take people into account. Only rarely are water resources, land, the air we breathe or the living creatures that roam around us also taken into account.

Bert Thornley: Why do you think that is so?

RLF: That’s difficult to say; there are probably a variety of reasons.

BT: Yes, but I think the main one is that these resources do not have a voice when things are being planned. Who will speak up for the air, for example?

RLF: Well, people should, they have to breathe it; their children have to breathe it.

BT: The water companies may well speak up for the resources they manage; farmers may speak up for the land they own, but what about the rest of the biosphere; plants, animals, insects and fishes – who is going to speak for them?

RLF: Well, of course, there are bodies who do speak out for the way animals are treated; the RSPCA, for example, but they usually confine their protests to how pets are treated.

That is probably one of the roots of the problem; that because we only rarely interact with animals – mainly domestic and farm animals, most of us probably regard the rest of them – wild animals – as pests.

BT: I agree. Take the fox, for example; it is traditionally regarded as either the prey of packs of hounds, or a killer of chickens. If any animal so much as touches anything we say belongs to us, we kill it, and yet the fox is a beautiful animal that graces our wilder places, and has a right to live.

RLF: It’s easy to defend a beautiful animal like the fox, but what about the brown rat – has that animal a right to live?

BT: Such animals are called vermin and as such are both objects of derision and attempts to eradicate them.

RLF: But we probably do so without much idea about what rats actually do – whether they prey on other creatures that constitute a greater threat to human health. Rats are subject to what you might term historical prejudice – they carried the viruses that started the Great Plague, it is thought, and so we think of them as pests – dangerous pests – to be killed.

BT: Whereas I should say that very few of us know anything at all about the life of rats – only a sort of anecdotal knowledge.

RLF: And so it is with what we know of most living creatures that live around us and share our space in the communities in which we live. We know very little and yet are willing to dismiss them as a nuisance, even as dangerous.

BT: I once heard of a scheme in China to remove all the birds in one particular grain growing region of that huge country because they were eating the grain there.

RLF: What happened?

BT: Well, birds were persecuted and killed, and people thought they had done a good thing in removing the birds that were eating the grain they had been growing.

RLF: So they were right to cull the birds, were they?

BT: Not at all. From the moment birds started to be decimated, swarms of insects started to appear, insects flourished in the absence of the birds. You see, the people’s solution to the problem of stopping their grain from being eaten by birds did not solve for pattern.

Dealing with one aspect of a problem in isolation; disregarding other factors, means that other problems will appear – some far worse than the original one.

RLF: I see, so that is why all aspects of a community must be taken into account before any action is taken.

BT: Yes, I should say that is probably the main reason for taking everything into account.

RLF: But that would mean comprehensive studies undertaken by bodies with expertise.

BT: Whereas what usually happens is that only so called ‘vested interests’ decide what action to take. Many of those interests are financial ones.

RLF: And those groups – corporations, companies take a far too narrow look at anything – particularly at communities that include plants and animals as well as people.

BT: And they define their goals too narrowly too.

RLF: What do you mean?

BT: Corporations exist to maximize profits.

RLF: Often at the expense of anything and anybody?

BT: Precisely; and if that is done, and communities overlooked, disastrous consequences invariably ensue.

RLF: So what is the answer?

BT: Well, to begin with, we should realize that looking for, ‘the right answer’ – the one and the only one, is planning for failure; that there is nothing of the sort. Better solutions are reached by more knowledge, not by conveniently ignoring variables that get in the way of quick fixes. Economics treats these as what it calls exogenous variables – those either to be ignored or at best factored in rudimentary, simplistic ways for convenience and this impatience of ours to get things moving at all costs.

RLF: That is well said – “at all costs” – in fact, that is just what is never done. All costs must be what they mean – costs of everything to all.

BT: Rather than only those costs that can easily and readily be quantified.

RLF: Precisely; taking into account only what can be quantified is a corporation’s way of progressing. That concept – 'what is quantifiable’ is at the root of all our problems.

BT: Well, most of them, let’s say. But why do you think that is so?

RLF: The old adage, ‘Time is money’ has something to do with it. This obsession with action – immediate action – the more immediate the better - this is at the root of our problems.

In our headlong dash to act, to get money flowing, we systematically ignore factors that, when compounded, destroy what is left after this rushed action.

BT: When are we going to learn that the world – our world, our environment – the ecosystems that support life – all life – including ours, is not organized along the same lines as those we suppose – those systems we impose upon ourselves and then on the rest of the world around us – the natural world.

RLF: Of which we are also a part; let’s not forget that.

Robert L. Fielding

Rule 3

3. Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbors.

Robert Leslie Fielding: Whenever beginning a scheme to produce anything we should always try to get supplies locally, before resorting to going further afield, and we should help each other.

Bert Thornley: Why do you think we should have what is needed locally supplied locally?

RLF: Well, I should say that the first reason, and possibly the best one is that those living in any particular community will know best what their needs are.

BT: But there are other good reasons, surely, for ensuring that local needs are met by local producers?

RLF: Of course, I should say that communities grow stronger if each helps – doing what they can to help others.

BT: Do you think there are any material benefits of locals supplying for local needs?

RLF: Surely. Those farmers, let’s say, who farm locally will understand what is beneficial and what isn’t; what can be done without disadvantages and what can’t.

BT: Good, let’s deal with the first of these; people living within a community are best placed to know what the real needs of the community are likely to be.

RLF: With the corollary being that the views of those remote from that community will be less well placed to know what those needs are.

BT: We had better be careful, in thinking that, to allow for the fact that there are often experts in practically every field. Shouldn’t their views and their professional advice sometimes be taken into consideration?

RLF: Yes, they should. I am not suggesting that in our efforts to meet local needs we isolate ourselves from sources of knowledge and expertise outside the community, but rather that informed decisions are made by those who have to live any with changes that are made.

A farmer advised to increase the size of his herd of sheep to numbers that cannot be sustained by other resources is asking for trouble.

BT: But surely he would be well aware of that, wouldn’t he?

RLF: He would, but people who find themselves either needing to increase their income or else who are advised to take actions solely on the basis of increasing profits can sometimes be persuaded – often are persuaded – to do things that go against what we might refer to as ‘best practices’.

BT: What might those be?

RLF: Well, returning to our first proposition; members of local communities know what those are; what suits the land and the farmer. Interested parties from outside the community may well be unaware of this, or may actually encourage farmers to ignore such considerations in favour of just a single aim – to increase income.

BT: Isn’t increasing income what farming is all about?

RLF: It is certainly true that farmers have to earn a living, like we all have to do, but my point is that they have to balance resources so that the farm is able to carry on in ways that benefit all; land resources, water resources, animal resources, and human ones, in addition to financial resources – if one is left out of any equation to increase the produce of a farm, others will inevitably suffer and cause problems.

BT: And extending that to the community as a whole, we should include others within that community- other farmers.

RLF: And those that do not farm – everyone has a right to live and make a living, let’s not forget that.

BT: What about local rivalry – even local animosity?

RLF: What do you mean?

BT: If two particular individuals are in competition, how should they proceed? You can’t expect rivals to cooperate when their living is made in similar ways, can you?

RLF: That is how, traditionally, trade is viewed, as competitive.

BT: And is it not?

RLF: It is, but it is something like a self-fulfilling prophesy to say that trade is competitive because that is the way it has always been – competitive between traders – people making something to sell.

BT: And economists speak of equal and unequal competition; the former being something near to the normal position where many produce similar articles, selling to similar customers.

RLF: But I do question whether this competitiveness is the best way to conduct business.

BT: Some would say it is the only way; that it is natural.

RLF: Do you see, that is where we err – we say something is natural when it is nothing of the sort. Natural means of nature, whereas buying and selling is an entirely man made, one might almost say synthetic, arrangement.

A better model in these times in which certain aspects of trade have got out of sync with the environment would be cooperation rather than competition.

BT: Why do you say it would be better – better in what way?

RLF: Competition in trade usually involves different producers making the same product, trying to gain the edge over companies making the same things.

BT: Again, it is natural that one company should try to sell more of its produce than its rival can.

RLF: There you go using that word again. What competitive trade does is duplicate – make the same things regardless of anything but whether the market can stand to have two or more identical products, whereas what I am suggesting is that it would be much less wasteful if one of those identical products was abandoned in favour of something else.

BT: And who would decide who abandoned what? In the present system, the market decides – the consumer decides to buy or not. Could you better that? Could you make an alternative system fair? I think not. Centrally planned economies that have tried to dictate to producers what to produce and what not to produce have traditionally been accused of partiality – of adopting means that are not democratic.

RLF: And that accusation has stopped us from being sensible with our resources, and our needs.

BT: But, again, if you dictate to people what to buy and what not to buy, are you not telling them how to live?

RLF: That's true. We should be educating people how to live rather than, as you say, dictating to them how to live.

Our education systems are predicated on this rivalry, whereas, I am suggesting that they are inappropriate for our survival on a planet with finite resources.

Meeting local needs with locally produced commodities would be one way out of this impasse; educating ourselves to want what is good for all in the community.

BT: But that has always been shunned, philosophically and economically.

RLF: And yet treating everyone as an individual rather that a member of a community is precisely what has led us to our present circumstances – overproducing – wasting – overusing – spoiling.

The new societies that sprang up in the wake of the Industrial Revolution hundreds of years past, had to have dominant ideologies to make people act in certain ways and bring acquiescence.

That is what is needed now, for we are at a point in time in which changes caused by advances in technology, consumer behavior, and marketing, all within the milieu of environmental change, are propelling us towards an uncertain future.

BT: So you think that by concentrating on local needs being met more and more by local suppliers, we can counteract these changes?

RLF: Yes, I do. Local communities focusing, not on commercial rivalries of corporations, but on the real and pressing needs of citizens, would begin to remove this ignorance of ours – an ignorance that has turned into conventional thinking. Treating the world as a place from which we can take and take and never put back is changing our world in bigger and more catastrophic ways than the beginnings of industrialism ever did. Industry is our life – our livelihood even, but, if we are not careful, it will be our undoing too.

Treating the world and its citizens as if we all had the same needs – those foisted upon us by fashion, by conventional ways of viewing the so called good life, is responsible for our predicament.

Treating local needs as real needs rather than the ones we are supposed to desire, but don’t actually need, would go some way towards beating this blindness of ours; it would restore our judgment to our ourselves instead of to corporate ideologies that state financial profit as the one true goal of any activity. That is at the root of our problems.
Robert L. Fielding