"Funny how our assumptions control us. We assume sustainability has three
dimensions, realize they can't be measured in comparable units, and despair.
Marston Bates wrote in 1950, discussing the way folks can argue about the
'boundaries' of predation, symbiosis and parasitism:
"Our problem really is with the human mind, which needs to deal with
discrete categories, even when these have to be imposed on an essentially
continuous series. The trouble comes when we mistake the nature of our
categories... Science sometimes achieves rigid definition that can be
handled with precise mathematical logic; but often also it must deal with
vague and essentially undefinable concepts, where logic becomes a handicap.
I think an important part of the scientific method is the ability to work
with indefinite and provisional concepts, to accept approximations which can
be used until something better is available. To be scientific in this sense,
is to be unsure, to be indefinite where knowledge or the nature of the
material does not warrant definiteness..."
Marston Bates, The Nature of Natural History, Princeton Science Library
Edition, 1990, p 140.
I think this has application both to how we look at the business of farming
and how we undertake the business of discussing. Some of this discussion
(which I have tried to read in one dose, having been away from the computer)
seems to reflect agendas well away from the core business of sustainable
farming, which we ought to hope could be carried out by as many farming
persons as possible, either corporate or private, all of whom have
dimensions of good and evil, competition and cooperation; and perhaps a
third dimension here and there..
Some of the rules and definitions tossed around seem to drift off from a
central concern to see that exploitation of the earth, on any scale, by any
persons, should result in that part of the earth being no less rich in its
ecology, no less exploitable, over time. That principle promptly demands
compromise - in at least three dimensions ;-) (e.g. we crave houses with
very limited biodiversity inside; we wish to reserve some places in a town
or country plan for some 'non-productive' use; we wish to vary time scales
for measuring return to comparable ecological value in different places;
and, most difficult, we wish to expand some individual (corporate or
private) freedoms, and take away others).
Maybe it is not in the purity of the idea of sustainability but in the
nature of such compromise that the real issues are to be pursued - that is,
the issues for definition are in the nature of the principles of compromise.
In part that involves defining what is not to be compromised - but there is
a need to be honest with ourselves about the cultural and attitudinal
baggage we bring to that process.
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