On Competition

In the Eleventh standard, we had a lesson called The Other Side of the Hedge by E.M.Forster, in English (looking back now, we had some amazing lessons with good philosophical content). It is a satirical essay on the notions of progress we have in our civilized society.

To briefly sum up, the story starts with the protagonist walking briskly along a dusty road, lined by tall brown and crackling hedges on either side. He had been walking down that road for as long as he could remember, like everyone else he knows. It’s the only world he has ever known. He’s weary and stops by the wayside to rest. People jeer at him as they pass him. He is reminded of his brother, whom he had to leave by the roadside a few years ago because he couldn’t walk any further, and wonders whether his fate was going to be the same.

He feels a puff of cool air coming from the other side of the hedge, and he becomes curious to see what is there on the other side. He tries to peer through the hole in the hedge but gets stuck and has to wriggle completely to the other side. He’s amazed by the sight that he beholds- he had never seen such green grass, hills, meadows, the blue sky in its full expanse, clear pools before. He had known only the monotony of the road.

He meets an elderly man who greets and welcomes him. He asks the old man where this place led to, and he replies, “Nowhere, thank the Lord!”. That it led nowhere, and there could be a world without progress was inconceivable to our protagonist. Moreover, he’s puzzled by some peculiarities of this strange new world. When he saw a person swimming alone in the lake, he asks the old man, “Where are the others?”. He replies, “There are no others.” Again, it’s inconceivable for him that someone would be so foolish as to waste energy swimming alone, without anyone else to hold a race with.

He’s amazed to find in this world people he had known on the road, and the old man explains that people keep coming over to this side of the hedge when they are tired of “walking”. As they stroll around, he notices a gate from which ran a road just like the one he had been walking on for ever. The old man says, “It is through this gate that humanity went out countless ages ago, when it was first seized with the desire to walk… It is the same road. This is the beginning, and though it seems to run straight away from us, it doubles so often, that it is never far from our boundary and sometimes touches it.”

The day was getting older, and he told the old man that he should get going, back on the road. Though this world seemed pleasant, mankind had other aims and he felt he had to join them. But the old man wouldn’t let him go so soon. They passed by a group of people having their dinner, who invited the newcomer to join them, but he wouldn’t because he mistrusted them.

They now reached a new gate, similar to the first one and the old man says, “This is where your road ends, and through this gate humanity—all that is left of it—will come in to us.” His transformation is complete when he notices a person walking by and cannot believe his eyes when he sees that it was his brother, whom he had left by the road a long time ago.

This story influenced me deeply. It was a time when I had just started thinking about the problems with the human world, and had this feeling that there was something wrong with the world, and this story seemed to ring true. Right from the early school days, we are initiated into a world of competition, just like the road in the story. We are not aware that there is an alternative.

One of the main hurdles that we have, in escaping from the rat race, is our deeply ingrained belief that “progress” is essential to mankind. We believe that it is a natural law just like gravity, and to not progress would be to become fossilized. Of course, happiness is dynamic, not static, and we should be constantly renewing ourselves. But our notion of this renewal, along the lines of “progress” is misguided. Wherever we look in nature, we can see constant renewal in equilibrium with its surroundings. “Equilibrium” is the key word.

Also, in my previous post on Ishmael, I had mentioned how we have this misconception of “survival of the fittest” as an unbreakable law. But that is not how nature works, and that is certainly not the only way humanity can work. In fact, when you observe nature carefully, it is so diverse that each creature finds a niche, which suits its characteristics. I feel that our human world is similarly diverse and each one of us can find a niche which suits us. We don’t have to take part in the rat race, and keep “climbing the ladder” or “progressing on the road” (which doesn’t lead anywhere). For me, “success” is finding this niche which we can fit into, which gives us space to pursue everything that makes our life meaningful and worth living.

Note: The idea of niches evolved from a discussion with Ayyappadas, who says that our identity crisis is our failure to look for and create a niche for ourselves. When we follow the set trends of society that do not suit us, it’s likely that we lose a part of our identity.

Myths Debunked by Ishmael

Why do we humans seem unable to stop destroying the world and why do we seem unable to live in harmony with the world?

This is the most important question I’ve had in life so far and I had been looking for an answer for, ever since I was in the Twelfth standard. This is not an easy question to answer. Many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are easy to find in observations made in our everyday life, but it’s not very obvious how they fit in together.

That’s what the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn does. It helped me consolidate my thoughts and changed my life forever. It’s the most important book I have read in my life, and I think it should be right up there among the most important books that have ever been written. I just thought I’d note down some of the common myths about humans and civilization that this book exposes.

1. Man is fundamentally flawed. The negative qualities of man like selfishness, cruelty, greed etc. outweigh the positive qualities like love, selflessness, kindness etc. And so, man cannot stop consuming the world.

This is not true. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with humans. All these qualities, constructive and destructive, are there in all of us. Given a system which fails to keep the destructive qualities under control, man will go on destroying the world, and given a system which can successfully keep them in check, man is perfectly capable of living in harmony with the world, as our tribal ancestors did for almost 190,000 years before civilization began. In short, we are captives of a civilizational system that makes us go on destroying the world.

2. Human history began only 10,000 years ago with the birth of agriculture and civilization. What happened before was insignificant and just a prelude. It was a long and uneventful chapter in the history of the human race. Man was always meant to be a civilization builder.

This is what conventional wisdom teaches us, through stories, text books, cartoons, movies, conversations, all sorts of media. We are made to believe that only after civilization began, did man fulfill his destiny, and potential and whatever preceded was just an uninteresting period when it was only a matter of time before man would discover the glory of civilization.

Evolutionary Anthropology has turned this view upside down, and the “Recently Out of Africa” theory reveals how resourceful our ancestors were in overcoming the challenges they faced in colonizing the entire planet. Not only that, by at least 40,000 years ago, people already possessed technology like the sewing needle, and sea faring vessels.

3. Tribalism was the first chapter of a story of which civilization is the second chapter.

Or in other words, tribalism is a relic of the past and has no relevance today. We are made to believe that civilization was a massive improvement over tribalism. But even today, tribal people lead very happy lives wherever they have been untouched by civilization. Ishmael says that tribalism and civilization are entirely different stories, based on contradictory premises.

4. Spread of agriculture was a revolution, much like the industrial revolution.

We are taught in history about the “Agricultural Revolution”. But there was no such thing. Around 12,000 years ago, the world was made of many tribes. Some of them followed the practice of selectively encouraging the growth of their favourite foods, and had been for centuries, but none of them practised full time agriculture.

It was then that a tribe in the Near East started practising this form of agriculture which led to huge surpluses, which made them powerful. They started expanding and this led to conflicts with other tribes. Some of them were lured by the power and seeming control over their lives afforded by this form of agriculture and joined with them, but most tribes resisted because they knew that full time agriculture meant a life of toil, and they were quite happy with their way of life.

But ultimately everyone had to either join or fight because the ones who practised agriculture were far too powerful for the hunter-gatherer tribes and they were intent on bringing every piece of land under agriculture. This is explained beautifully in Daniel Quinn’s article, The Great Forgetting . Also, this had many interesting consequences which ultimately led to the formation of classes, hierarchical societies, kingdoms, the need for legislature etc. as explained in another article, The Great Remembering.

This is quite unlike the Industrial Revolution where manual labour was systematically replaced by machines. “Agricultural revolution” was more like the Colonization of lands by the European powers during the 1500s-1700s.

5. Nature is a chaos which is not fit for man to live in and so man has to build his empire to put everything in order.

Not only is Nature a system in perfect balance with intricate feedback mechanisms, but all creatures that have evolved and survived, did so because they were very well able to live in it.

6. Man can do what he wants with nature because the laws of nature do not apply to us.

The laws of nature DO apply to us. Ultimately we are dependent on the green leaves of trees to capture sunlight and convert it into biological energy, to produce enough oxygen, for the proper functioning of the water cycle. Life, or the biosphere is an intricately woven web, and we have not even begun to understand the full extent of the interdependencies between organisms.

7. The life of primitive man was unimaginably hard and terrifying and the birth of civilization was a relief.

We are made to picturise primitive man as a savage, without any morals, always on the futile search for food, always on the run from predators. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The so called “primitive” man lived in egalitarian social groups. Man is well adapted to eat an amazingly wide range of food, and it is inconceivable that primitive man could have gone hungry. Also man is not the preferred prey for any of the predators. So the life of “primitive” man was not that bad actually. In fact, anthropologist Marshall Sahlins went so far as to call the Stone Age people the “Original Affluent Society”.

8. Nature’s law is “Survival of the fittest”. Man is proving that he is the fittest, so it is inevitable that he will rule the world.

Survival of the fittest is an over simplified way to look at nature’s laws. True, there is competition at each level, but this competition is not like the one we have in our economies and politics, where any underhanded tactics may be used to maximize one’s gains. This is not an attempt to romanticize Nature, but it’s just that that’s not the way nature works. There are some rules which are invariably followed by all creatures, without which there would be no bio-diversity on our planet. These can be summarized as:

  • Take what you need and leave the rest alone
  • You may compete to the fullest extent of your abilities but you may not hunt down your competitors or destroy their food or deny them access to food

We have temporarily found a way to circumvent these rules with our technology, but anyone with common sense can understand that we cannot be absolutely independent and are ultimately dependent on the biosphere for many things that we take for granted.

9. Tribalism means living in caves, walking with leaves tied around your waist, and leading a hunter-gatherer existence.

Well, if that is what tribalism means, we can forget about it for good. Because there are too many of us today to be able to lead a hunter-gatherer existence. But there are deeper, valuable lessons to be learnt from tribalism as an egalitarian social organization that works and has been working for humans and our other ancestral species for almost three million years. Daniel Quinn defines a tribe as a group of people make a living together. He says that a “tribe” is to humans what a “school” is to fish, a “pride” is to lions, a “flock” is to geese etc. – a social organization that has been tried and tested by time, and passed down as a gift of natural selection.

Interesting Times

“May you live in interesting times”– an ancient Chinese curse.

Undoubtedly, we are living in interesting times. Of course, you may say. After all, we live in an age in which we can communicate with a person on the other side of the globe at the speed of light, travel around the world in a day, we have machines to do all the “dirty” work for us, tourists are venturing into space, we carry gadgets around in our pockets, that people a century ago would have considered magic, we are splitting atoms to produce the energy equivalent to burning thousands of tons of coal- in short- an age in which anything is possible.

Sorry to disappoint you, but that is not the sense in which I said “interesting times”. Perhaps, half a decade ago, I would have revelled in such thoughts- when I still hadn’t begun to see through the general belief that the only relevant world view is that held by the mainstream society. Yes, there was a time when I used to be excited by technology(As a student of technology currently, I’m definitely interested in it, but excited is perhaps far too intense a word). When I used to eagerly observe new models of cars on the roads, when I was fascinated by the things you could do with a computer, when I used to read about astronauts while holding my breath and wonder whether one day I would like to travel into outer space as well.

This popular fascination with technology is not because people truly appreciate technology-in fact, very few people understand it- but is a testimony to the ways in which technical gadgets and increased means of mass production which technology made possible, have supposedly “improved” our lives and rescued us from the alleged misery and filth which our predecessors endured in centuries past.

To come back to my original point, that is not the sense in which I said “interesting times”. I’m referring to the fact that exhaust fumes from our vehicles are heating up the earth and disturbing the climate system, the fact that more than a hundred species are becoming extinct everyday- more than any other time since the dinosaurs, the fact that we are six billion today and our population is still exploding, the fact that a significant portion of us go to bed hungry, the fact that water is becoming undrinkable and air unbreathable. I’m referring to the ecological, cultural and social crisis that we are facing today.

What is there about it that is so “interesting”? Fair question. After all, the crisis I mentioned is not something new to us. In fact, some of these problems have been with us for centuries. Only it has almost never been perceived as a crisis. There has always been an explanation for why these problems persisted in our society. It is the price of civilization and technological advancement. True, we face serious problems, but we have come so far, haven’t we? Surely, we are smart enough to conjure solutions to all of them, sooner rather than later. Surely, technology will help us solve our problems. We can clean up the atmosphere of excess greenhouse gases, and that will be the end of global warming, using genetic engineering and biotechnology we can grow a ton of wheat in a square foot, we can desalinate sea water and use it for drinking… the list is virtually endless.

In fact, this cheerful and blind optimism has brought us to the edge of peril, almost to a point of no return. The biosphere is a web interconnected in unimaginably myriad and complex ways, and not a pyramid with humans at the very top. We have been alienated from the natural world ever since the beginning of large scale agriculture. But driven by the unprecedented power and control which the industrial revolution made possible, we have been meddling with and tweaking the delicate web of life, tuning it to our advantage, in a massive scale that was previously impossible. And we have been unbelievably successful for a while. But the biosphere is not designed for domination by a single species. It thrives on diversity and competition, the very things we are wiping out so successfully, undermining its very ability to support life. No wonder it is starting to show signs of distress, threatening our existence, and that of other higher plants and animals. Hence the use of the word, “crisis”.

“But you still haven’t answered my question!”, I can almost hear you grumbling.”Why is it interesting? All you have succeeded is to paint a picture of gloom and doom in my mind.”

True. I still haven’t come to the interesting part. I’m taking you through the journey that I reluctantly set out on as a sixteen year old, when I first began to feel that there was something wrong with the world. Doom and gloom were the feelings that came to my mind when I used to think about the state of the world and where it was heading. Throw in helplessness, when I realized that this was the world which I was about to step into, and you have the complete set!

Now I come to the interesting part- it doesn’t have to be this way. I mean, there is nothing about human nature which dictates that we live this way, that we alienate ourselves from the natural world. We are brought up to believe that agriculture, civilization, division of labour and advanced technology are inevitable expressions of the human urge to evolve, and represent progress. There is very little evidence to support this claim. On the contrary, advances in anthropology and paleontology in the last few decades positively refute this claim. Science has played an important role in changing the way we think about the world. This, I think, is the true significance of science, and not the utilitarian pseudo-blessing as it is usually perceived.

Human beings have been roaming the earth for a few million years now. According to our beliefs, it was a long, dark, uneventful and stagnant chapter in human history. We were “just another animal”, until we had the brainwave to take matters into our own hands. It was a “difficult”, “savage”, “brutal” life. Having been brought up with this myth, I’m not surprised that until half a century ago, it was unthinkable that technology was anything but beneficial.

But now we know that most of what we generally believe about the lives of our ancient predecessors is nothing more than a myth, we have to embark on the difficult and seemingly impossible task of educating and convincing as many people as we can. For people who are thoughtful, free and flexible enough to accept and acknowledge such a radical change in perspective, are a tiny minority, though encouragingly a growing one(that an ordinary boy like me, brought up in reasonable comfort and good care, can perceive that something is wrong and mostly work it out for himself gives me hope!). A vast majority are blindfolded and trapped in the exploitative global economy of today, dependent on it for their livelihood. Its seeming infallibility is reason for despair, but we know that “seemingly infallible” need not mean infallible(look at communist Russia).

What we are doing today, continuing with buisiness as usual, doesn’t offer much room for hope. But a collapse of this mega-structure in the near future, is definitely a possibility, given its stark dependence on non-renewable resources like fossil fuels. In fact, there is enough reason to believe that we are approaching, and maybe even past, peak oil. Who knows, the current global financial crisis could be something more than just another recession. Such a collapse would be painful, yes- there will be increase in mortality. But it would be just a transition to a better and more sustainable future. I don’t believe even for a second that our planet can sustain billions of us indefinitely. The number has to decrease drastically, it’s got to happen and it will happen when we’ve reached the tipping point. But it’s not for us to decide what would be the ideal number. Natural processes will see to that. Perhaps it need not be a mass die-off as in a calamity. Perhaps it would happen through a lower life expectancy, and we might hardly notice it. We don’t know, really.

Meanwhile, we need to find out as much as we can about how our lives were, before agriculture, before the Great Forgetting, so that we can intelligently choose a sustainable way of living and begin the transition instead of waiting with folded hands for catastrophe to strike. Some people say that there is no “going back to nature” for us. We can’t go “back to being a hunter-gatherer”. This is probably true. We know a lot, and we have developed wonderful disciplines like literature, art, science which have probably become an important part of who we are, but how much of it survives the millenia will be probably decided by how much of it is sustainable and in accord with the laws of the biosphere.

Probably, there is no “going back to nature”. But I firmly believe that we will go “forward to nature”, because that is where we came from, and where we ultimately belong. We will find another way of living, unimaginably more beautiful, and in harmony with nature. This dream is what drives me on, and dispels my despair. This is why I feel that we live in “interesting times”. There is no going back to the drudgery of the inhuman machinery that is the global economy. I have to find my path in the undergrowth. A path that leads me back to the glorious road which our ancient ancestors followed for millions of years, until we lost our way and ended up at a dead end- on the edge of a cliff.

The Great Forgetting

Read The Great Forgetting based on The Story of B by Daniel Quinn.

For thousands of years, people of our culture (not in the usual sense of the world, but as Daniel Quinn defines it- “if food is placed under lock and key and people have to work and earn money to buy it back, then the people of that place belong to OUR culture”, in short- modern civilization) believed that humanity, agriculture and civilization all began at roughly the same time, and that they are inseparable from each other. This meant that the general belief was that humanity was only a few thousand years old.

But today we know that it is not so. We know that humanity is about three million years old, and people had led a very different life from ours, obeying the laws of life which applies to all living beings on earth. This had been forgotten in the “Great Forgetting“, when one group of people (or more, we don’t exactly know) decided to take up totalitarian agriculture, convinced that human beings were meant to be the rulers of the world, and that they weren’t meant to live like lions and snakes and butterflies any longer. Man’s destiny was surely something more “glorious” and they broke with their past.

Now, if we call this event the Great Forgetting, something happened in the nineteenth century, which could have been called the Great Remembering. Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution and others followed up his research to tell us that we are much older than a few thousand years, that we evolved from “lower” animals, and did not just appear as “civilized” agriculturalists. This was a bitter pill to swallow as it shook the very foundations of our culture, which was based on the pillar of the alleged specialty and uniqueness of man which vindicated his rule of the world.

But nothing remarkable happened, really. Things went on as before, and the Great Remembering didn’t even happen. No one thought about questioning the assumptions on which our civilization was built. It didn’t even occur to anyone that this new finding could make any difference. After all, that’s pre-history. What did it matter if man evolved from the slime around him? He was always meant to be an agriculturalist, and the ruler of the world.

Nevertheless, a century and a half later, with the world on the brink of catastrophe, at least some people are starting to ask the right questions. It’s still a tiny minority, but importantly it is a growing minority. We can’t blame the Industrial Revolution, we can’t blame cars and factories and missiles. The seeds of disaster have been with us for a long long time- a culture that casts us as conquerors of a world which is hostile and from where we have to forcibly take everything we need. We can save the world only through changed minds.

“If there are still people here in 200 years, they won’t be living the way we do. I can make that prediction with confidence, because if people go on living the way we do, there won’t be any people here in 200 years.” —Daniel Quinn

Sail Transport Network

Wanderer way before

“The great age of sail didn’t end, it just took a break”

Over the past 100 years, all basic human activities like agriculture, transport and trade have all become heavily mechanized and highly dependant on non-renewable and polluting energy. We have built up an empire with no foundation- in fact, I would rather call it a sand castle in the air. We, as a race, are about to enter that point of our evolution when we realize this fact, and are forced to modify our culture to be in harmony with Nature. One of the biggest dangers to this evolution, apart from the actual destruction of the life-sustaining environment, is that during these 100 years of complacency, we have lost huge repositories of invaluable traditional knowledge.

One of these is Sailing. Just imagine- could there be a more efficient mode of trans-continental transport? It was the mode of transport and trade for many centuries- even millenia- before the steam engine pushed it to the sidelines. Now that we are about to enter an era of inevitable enlightenment(wonder how fast we can get rid of those nasty gas-guzzling smoke-spewing airplanes), sailing is bound be a valuable skill. That’s why I think we should all hail and support the activities of the Sail Transport Network.

“Sail Transport Network is a movement. For thousands of years, wind energy moved people and goods all over the world without pollution. Today, dwindling, geopolitically sensitive oil is used for every form of transportation and commerce. Even e-commerce with computers is dependent on forms of petroleum, and trucks and cars clog roads to a deathly degree.

The Sail Transport Network is dedicated to finding answers to the problems of tomorrow by looking back to the way it worked before. Trade, exchange, and travel are the basic triad of intercultural connection. If we can reduce the dependence on oil in these three areas, we will have reduced the majority of oil dependence in the world, while establishing through STN a model for sustainability in the new post-oil, greenhouse-ravaged world.

There once was a time when you could walk down to the local harbor, and see nothing but great sailing ships. These ships stirred something in the soul of humans then, and it is that same stirring that can bring us into a cleaner, more sustainable future. The great age of sail didn’t end, it just took a break. Now is the time to take up the sheets again, as it were, and sail into a future of sustainable trade that doesn’t cause wars for non-renewable resources.”


Ishmael thought for a moment. “Among the people of your culture, which want to destroy the world?”

“Which want to destroy it? As far as I know, no one specifically wants to destroy the world.”

“And yet you do destroy it, each of you. Each of you contributes daily to the destruction of the world.”

“Yes, that’s so.”

“Why don’t you stop?”

I shrugged. “Frankly, we don’t know how.”

“You’re captives of a civilizational system that more or less compels you to go on destroying the world in order to live.”

“Yes, that’s the way it seems.”

“So. You are captives- and you have made a captive of the world itself. That’s what’s at stake, isn’t it?- your captivity and the captivity of the world.”

“Yes, that’s so. I’ve just never thought of it that way.”

–from Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn.

I hope most us wouldn’t deny that we are destroying the world. If you do, please look around you and think again. But why? Why can’t we stop? Is it that we are fundamentally flawed? That’s what people generally seem to believe. All the time we hear that this is the price we have to pay for civilization, the price for being human, the price for all the advancement we have had so far.

The truth is that our civilization is shockingly ignorant of the laws that govern life on our planet. No, not ignorant, really. Shockingly convinced that those laws do not apply to us. Like Mr.Quinn says in his wonderful book, imagine a person who jumps from the top of a tall building and says- “See, the law of gravity doesn’t apply to me. I’m still in flight!” Surprisingly unscientific for such a scientific people as us, wouldn’t you say?!

If you have ever felt the thought of why we seem unable to curb our ever-accelerating fall towards destruction, haunting you, this book is a must-read. It’s a thought that has grown on my mind during the last few years, and has come to occupy a central position in my mind and changed the way I look at the world. That must be why the ideas expressed in Ishmael resonated with my thoughts.

Ishmael is a book full of original ideas and should be right up there among the best books that have ever been written.

Village Life- The Only REAL Life

“The value of a village? I’ll have to think about that, because for me I can not imagine any other life than village life, so consequently it is very hard for me to see the value of village life. It is like if you asked me, “What’s the value of love for a couple?” And I think, well I don’t know. Any city I see is for me a nonsense. I can love the people, like in New York. I loved New York because there was a big humanness in New York, but at the same time, from the beginning for me the city is a nonsense, it’s absurd. It’s like a big octopus with suckers pumping the countryside around. A city has no life of itself. If the trucks that bring the vegetables and the food to the city stop for only two days, the city would collapse, die. If you cut the electricity, if you cut . . the city is a completely artificial life. A village can live and live and live for hundreds of years if you cut all those things because it’s on the Mother Earth, on the living Earth, and because the number of people is small and all that. I mean, a village, with all its mistakes and jealousy is a natural self that breathes and has a pulse. It might be sick in some places, but its alive. For me, the big thing is that a city is unreal. Of course, there are humans, so we love it. We’ll go there, but the city is biologically unreal, it doesn’t live of itself, it has no life of itself. Everything you touch in a city is dead. It does not evolve, it’s paving, it’s stones. There is no life in a city of itself, therefore it’s hard for me to say what is good in a village, because the only life I see as possible for human beings is a village life.

A hamlet life, or village life, or community life is a life where you know every one of the people you live around. I think that when the village becomes so big that you don’t know everyone who lives around, you must stop the growth. I think everything you must reach with your hands and with your feet, like within a stroll of half an hour, for example. The world is at the tip of our finger. When it stops being reachable by the tip of our finger, it becomes monstrous, it escapes us.

What is good in a village is hard for me to say in that way. I really see that it is the only possible life, is village life. I see very much like Gandhi visualized it, a world of decentralized village democracies. That is the way he called it, or a gentle anarchy he called it. I see very much that the best way to be interdependent with our heart and the best way to feel we are one is to first be very independent with our basic needs. If, for example, I am too much depending on you for my clothes or for my food or for my fuel, it would be very hard to have really clean relations at the level of the heart. Maybe I have a truth to say to you. “Eh, Robert, I think that’s not right with you.” Your attitudes or whatever. I won’t say it because you’re furnishing me with the wood. I won’t dare to say to you the truth that you need as a friend, because you might take it bad and you might not give me wood anymore. Therefore, hypocrisy comes very quickly if we are too dependent on the material level. We need to be self- sufficient, like decentralized village democracies, as much as possible. When I say village, I mean a real village, not a residential village. I mean a village where there are gardens, goats, cows, a little dairy – a village like a community we see today. To be as much, as much, as much as possible self-sufficient on all the basic levels of clothes, shelter, warming, fuel, building is the best way to have the best possible relation with the next village because our relation is really coming from the heart. It is like people who married for money, or who married to get a bigger estate. It is very hard to keep the love pure in that way, but if you are marrying someone who has nothing to give you, you have nothing to give her materially, it’s just love. I believe very much that the best way to clear up our relationships all over the planet is self-sufficiency.

I don’t see self-sufficiency as a kind of isolation. For me it is not the opposite of communication. It is the best way to start clear on our communication, because our communication must be coming from the heart. We go to the next village for a feast, or we go to the next village because we want to see other people who are a bit different from us. We don’t go there because we are going to please them so that in return we are going to get this or that. All over the world the economy is based on that. The planet has become such a place of lies, and hypocrisy, and a wrong vibration between people and countries. So I see the village as being very independent economically.

Another aspect I will say about that thing is a more spiritual aspect. For example, why a village should be self- sufficient, or why we, in our little farm, homestead, should be. We were really striving, working hard on that idea that here is the place we are going to depend on; to have our cultural life, our spiritual life, our material life, our food, everything, because that’s more spiritual. For me it is as important. I don’t speak about the economic factor. Oh [changing his mind], very quickly, we did not want imported products or oranges. We bought no products from other countries, especially not at all from poor countries, but not even from other countries, because we know that when you get oranges, for example, from Morocco in France, it’s the cheapest fruit, because in Morocco people are starving. They are paid less than nothing to pick the oranges, and where they pick the oranges, they can not grow their own vegetables. And if some people try to grow their vegetables, they are put in jail. It happens the same in Honduras and El Salvador with the bananas, so we must stop eating those things clearly and simply, because it means suffering and it means unrighteousness in other parts of the world.

But the other aspect of it is also that for me importing things is like saying to God, “Hey, your world is not well done. We have not enough vitamin C here, we need oranges.” And it’s not true. He will tell you, “No, you have enough. Look, you have wild rose hips here, or you have this or that.” We saw that in our place where we lived in Norway. The balance of nature was perfect. You could grow, and you could pick in the wild, and you could fish, and you could find everything that the body needs, for shelter, for everything. So using things that are around you is a kind of way to say to the great spirit, “Hey, it’s perfect. Look, I have everything I need here.” That’s the best way to express your total gratefulness towards the creator who made the world perfect, in every place it’s perfect. Eskimos might eat only meat and seal fat and clothe themselves with seal skins. It’s perfect for them. Any place has all it needs for keeping a human alive, and not only alive, but happy and everything, so self- sufficiency is a way to express your contentment, your satisfaction. Dependency is a way to express your dissatisfaction, and your everlasting discontent – you are never satisfied. You want an orange, you want bananas, you want coffee, you want this. It doesn’t grow here, but you want it. It’s a way to say, we have not enough. It’s like if we are in a house together and I am always running away. It’s like if you are married with a woman, and are always going to sleep some nights with another woman, because you are not in love with the first woman. It’s a bit what we do when we are not satisfied with what we are. The earth is a woman, is a beautiful queen. Around here we have everything we need, and we will express our satisfaction and contentment by developing all our senses and exploring around and seeing that around is everything we need, to transform it into food, into art, into beauty, into shelter – everything is here.

So therefore, it comes back to the big wisdom and knowledge of the tradition. To see that, I had to take my bag on my back and go to see people who know that. All over Europe, in some places of Germany, some places of Scotland, especially the mountainous parts, some places of Spain, Italy, or Morocco, or Norway, there are people who have built their houses only with the local wood. Where all food and recipes are made only with the things that grow around. In Norway, the basic food was potatoes, bread, fish, and milk, which is only about four things, some berries, but from those things, thousands, hundreds of different kinds of bread, recipes, hundreds of ways of making milk, you know, preparing milk. You are not going to run after exotic things, but see how you can use in depth all the local things. It is the same in the way to honor stone and wood. You are not going to learn it from the world today. You open a recipe book, you are sure half of the products are from India, from Africa, some are local. We have no more that sense of integrity of things being here. So you have to go to the places where the tradition still exist to learn that wisdom and that kind of good way to use the local things.

from Village Life – Reflections by a French multicultural explorer : An interview with Francois Monnet, by Robert Gilman

“What is Education for?”

We are accustomed to thinking of learning as good in and of itself. But as environmental educator David Orr reminds us, our education up till now has in some ways created a monster… If today is a typical day on planet Earth, we will lose 116 square miles of rainforest, or about an acre a second. We will lose another 72 square miles to encroaching deserts, as a result of human mismanagement and overpopulation. We will lose 40 to 100 species, and no one knows whether the number is 40 or 100. Today the human population will increase by 250,000. And today we will add 2,700 tons of chlorofluorocarbons to the atmosphere and 15 million tons of carbon. Tonight the Earth will be a little hotter, its waters more acidic, and the fabric of life more threadbare… It is worth noting that this is not the work of ignorant people. It is, rather, largely the result of work by people with BAs, BSs, LLBs, MBAs, and PhDs…

— from What is Education for, by David Orr

Like the author says, one of the most common myths associated with education is that ignorance is a solvable problem. “Ignorance is not a solvable problem, but rather an inescapable part of the human condition. The advance of knowledge always carries with it the advance of some form of ignorance. In 1930, after Thomas Midgely Jr. discovered CFCs, what had previously been a piece of trivial ignorance became a critical, life-threatening gap in the human understanding of the biosphere. No one thought to ask “what does this substance do to what?” until the early 1970s, and by 1990 CFCs had created a general thinning of the ozone layer worldwide. With the discovery of CFCs knowledge increased; but like the circumference of an expanding circle, ignorance grew as well.”

Another myth is that “knowledge is increasing and by implication human goodness. There is an information explosion going on, by which I mean a rapid increase of data, words, and paper. But this explosion should not be taken for an increase in knowledge and wisdom, which cannot so easily by measured. What can be said truthfully is that some knowledge is increasing while other kinds of knowledge are being lost. David Ehrenfeld has pointed out that biology departments no longer hire faculty in such areas as systematics, taxonomy, or ornithology. In other words, important knowledge is being lost because of the recent overemphasis on molecular biology and genetic engineering, which are more lucrative, but not more important, areas of inquiry. We still lack the the science of land health that Aldo Leopold called for half a century ago.”

This is a serious issue that the author addresses in his article. Our education and the presumptions on which it is based, are fundamentally flawed. And today, when we are on the verge of destroying our planet, our only home, we have to think critically about the education that’s supposed to prepare us for living a wholesome life on this planet, but has actually “fragmented the world into bits and pieces called disciplines and subdisciplines, that after 12 or 16 or 20 years of education, most students graduate without any broad integrated sense of the unity of things.”