I have been reading with interest the recent discussions that seem to have
emerged after Nat Bacon's great idea to introduce new blood through an infusion
from Graze-L. (By the way, Nat, some time you might tell me how to subscribe to
this--I am a grazier myself, but have not tapped into Graze-L). Let us remember
that it is where cultures meet that the most interesting developments arise.
It would be useful to think back in our minds to see why our discussion led so
easily from cattle-poeple to capitalism. What are the preconceptions that take
us there? I am just suggesting some reflection here, not drawing any
But getting back to the point of my heading, I think that one of the reasons
that we are having trouble with semantics is because we are forgetting the real
name of the picture that Patricia Dinces presented to us, and that is POWER. It
can be wielded by different systems, with diferent means, and with many
different consequenses. The big issue here then is the question: Who has the
power to do what? And how do we make sure that any one person, or any one group
of people do not wield an inordinate amount of power?
I think this is where Dan Hemenway's contibution is so important. It addresses
the issue of scale. The power to do good, and especially the power to do harm,
should be kept at a scale where we can celebrate our successes, and take credit
for them, and be able to laugh at our mistakes, whithout making catastrophes out
of them. In that way, we might ensure that power is able to be held by the most
number of people in the most equitable way possible. This, I believe comes
close to defining the kind of democracy that Patricia Dines implies in her post.
So what does this have to do with sustainability? I think the relevance of the
above to the discussion of sustainability is that we must come to terms with the
fact that sustainability is a political statement. It also implies that we must
have a vision--a holistic vision, in which the choices that we make as we go
about our daily lives are consistent with our vision. If our vision is one in
which we attempt to avoid concentration of power, because we believe that
empowered individuals will be better off, then we must strive to establish
mechanisms of some sort to ensure that.
I cannot, however, assume that when someone talks of sustainability, they
necessarily share my vision. Nor can I be sure that when someone talks of
democracy, they share my vision of democracy. Hence the misunderstandings, and
also, the need for dialogue.
If my vision is one of a vital community, where trust is a norm, where every
one has an economic role to play, where everyone has a contribution to make,
then I must start by making choices that lead in that direction.
But this is not easy to do. Just as an example, I feel priviledged to be part
of this discussion, but I wonder how consistent with cultivating a local
community this discussion is. Maybe I should be down the road having coffee
with my neighbors, and discussing local sustainable enterprises, rather than
typing on my keyboard, sending messages into the internet. Sure, it is a great
tool, a democratizing tool, a power sharing tool. But it is the product of a
powerful system of defense, designed to protect some of the things that we
believe in, and some of the things we disagree with. I know folks who take
their commitment to consistency with their ideas so seriously, that they shun
this type of discussion.
For what it's worth, don't worry whether eating meat is a capitalist statement.
Just make sure that when you decide to eat meat, this decision contributes to
your vision of the way the world should be. And if you have not thought about
that, it's about time you start. If we had more clarity about our visions, we
could make faster progress in implementing them, and would be faster at
recognizing our mistakes. And if we keep the scale of our endeavours to an
appropriate level, we will avoid catastrophes, and have more fun along the way.
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