What a day!
There’s been quite a lot of discussion around grand systemic change – the idea that we’re on the edge of something big and exciting and a little scary. But as with most situations when the world changes, there is some debate, uncertainty, and fear about what’s going to happen. The lack of common vision is a source of worry to some (it’s OK, any future worth a damn will necessarily be comprised of a number of visions, probably including yours); what the rules might be (don’t worry about that too much, just be clear on what the rules must not be, and focus instead on the guiding principles and all will fall into place); what transitional steps we take to get there (always a toughie, but remember that transformative change typically takes a) much longer than you want it to, b) a particularly inspiring person in the right place at the right time, c) a big – often catastrophic – event, or d) a coherent and urgent effort); and what language we use to describe both the change and the new future (try to keep it neutral since you want to include as many people as possible – consequently it’ll probably be irksomely vague for a while); and how we navigate out of the old world safely before it collapses around us (keep calm, but don’t carry on – doing the same thing and expecting change is madness).
A few conversations I’ve had this evening have touched, too, on how campaigning groups rarely find closure on a topic. Even after a good day there’s still more to do, more letters to write, more people to engage. But even when you win, and you suddenly find you’re not alternative any more because you’ve been accepted by the mainstream as obviously sensible and what we should have been doing all along, no one actually comes out and says that. No one holds you and your colleagues on their shoulders and marches through the streets with a ticker tape parade to celebrate a collective epiphany. And it’s easy to be resentful in that situation, because there should be some reward, some virtue in being right, dammit, otherwise what was the point? Well you know what the point was, so let it go and celebrate; and then think about it from the other side’s perspective. Of course they’re not going to come out and say you’re right, because they’re human. They’ll start applying more and more of your ideas and pretending they were their own, such as permaculture design principles applied to mega-greenhouses, and cows fed on roughage, but on account of cost not morality. But remember too that you’re using their gene technology to speed your breeding processes, and mirroring some of their logistics to distribute organic food deep into city centres, miles form the nearest field. You are working on the same problems together, and the more both sides can acknowledge this the more swiftly it can happen.
An example of where this didn’t happen was with poor Peter Kendall from the NFU. There was a distinct point where it was clear that only a minority were sympathetic to what he was saying – and he was, after all, saying we should work together – and he visibly gave up, offered one last piece of advice, and left it at that.
Of course I’m a bit of a hypocrite here, since I, too, willfully repeated a comment he made today which I don’t think he believes in, to wit that moral and ethical decisions should not stop us from pursuit of certain ideas. I sincerely doubt he’s suggesting eating pensioners or deep-frying cloned kittens, and I suspect that given time and the right arguments he’d see the inherent sense in the precautionary principle, or the pressing implications of resource shortages. He seems to be motivated by a desire to feed the world in the way which makes the most sense to him with the knowledge he has and the world in which he finds himself. The sole difference between him and the organic farmers in the room is that they know they can change the rules the world works by; Peter seems to think he can’t (at least not in the time available) and reacts accordingly.
I’m possibly wrong. I’m certainly patronising. But the evidence is so very very clear on the issues that to deny it is impossible. Therefore another explanation must be true and in the absence of further evidence that’s how I make sense of it. Fancy an open dialog, Peter? I agree with you that we have to work together to solve these problems, and it might be illuminating for us both to better understand each others driving forces, and perhaps you can help me understand mine so I can stop writing long articles about it and just go get my hands dirty.
First posted on the Soil Association blog.