Dress like a woman, say sorry like a man, comment like a friend…

There’s just time in my busy current schedule for this brief ‘holding’ post to signal a switch in focus from my last few posts, which have concentrated on the furies of Trump and Brexit. The next few will concentrate on more practical agricultural matters, before I return to the Peasant’s Republic of Wessex.

But some kind of linking image is called for to signal the switch…and also to fill up some space on the page in order to make this post seem like it’s longer than it actually is. Aha! Here we go, a photograph of my dear wife and business partner, La Brassicata, doing something practical and agricultural – viz. preparing one of our fine new worm composting bins for action. And also, in relation to previous posts, doing something political – viz. dressing like a woman. I guess her already vanishingly small chance of getting a job at the White House has just taken another hit. Shame.


Attentive readers may have noticed that, for protection, La Brassicata is wearing a chainsaw helmet. It’s the farm’s old one, not the spanking new Petzl helmet that I’ve reserved for my personal use while wielding the chainsaw. Hey, nobody said that patriarchy would be defeated overnight.

Talking of gender issues, I feel the need to do something that men are stereotypically quite bad at – namely, apologising for obvious mistakes. Though, if I flatter myself, I’m not so bad at it around the farm. Especially when La Brassicata has the Skil saw in her hand. Anyway, the apology I need to make is that in the welter of comments that I’ve recently received on this site, a few of them got held up in the moderation queue and escaped my notice. So – sorry to those whose words remained too long unpublished. I’ll do my best to keep a better eye on the comments queue. But if you don’t want to place your faith in me, try not to paste links into comments – that way they find their proper niche in cyberspace more easily.

And, finally, talking of comments, of course it’s a delight for any blogger to see the numbers in their comment column regularly ticking into three figures, so perhaps I should just be grateful. On the other hand, sheer number of comments does not a quality blog make. My instinct is to take a hands off approach to comment moderation and allow people to write more or less what they like, so long as it’s not personally abusive – which has sometimes been a close call of late. On the other hand, I don’t want folks to be put off this site by too many long and angry rebuttals or counter-rebuttals. I have a few rules of thumb, honed through the years, about when I think it’s worth engaging with someone with whom I disagree online and when it isn’t. I’m happy to spell them out if anyone wants, but for now I’ll just say that for me personally there’ve been one or two more ‘isn’ts’ than I’d like creeping onto this site recently – and that I’d welcome other people’s views about how best to go forward from here.

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times. There seems to be a rising tide of ‘either you’re with us or you’re against us’ thinking these days, the politics of black and white. I prefer more shades of grey. And on that note, I guess my final comment for now on the Trump-Brexit phenomenon is that I readily acknowledge there were people who voted Brexit and (somewhat less plausibly) Trump out of opposition to neoliberalism and support for localism. Indeed, I seriously contemplated voting Brexit myself for the same reason. However, to suppose that what you voted for is what you’ll actually get seems to me in this instance to greatly underestimate the power of neoliberalism and greatly overestimate the power of liberal democracy.

27 thoughts on “Dress like a woman, say sorry like a man, comment like a friend…

  1. OK, I see that it is a posed photo (the blade isn’t turning) and I can tell that the drum is plastic, but even so, she should have the face shield in position when making the cut. Young and impressionable people might be reading your blog. They need to have proper safety procedures constantly reinforced.

    I also assume that these were salvaged drums, but if given the option, an open top drum might work better. No cut required and the cover can be either gently laid on the drum or secured with the band clamp.

  2. Perhaps the blade is turning. After zooming in, the tooth I thought I saw looks to be a shadow on the grass. My apologies.

    More importantly, what will the interior structure of your worm composter be like? Will it have stacking trays?

  3. Crikey, Joe – you’ve scrutinised this photo WAY more than me…I wasn’t even there. Criticising La Brassicata’s sawing skills isn’t something I’d ever presume to do – the risk of succumbing to the condition that I believe is call ‘man-splaining’ is just too great. However, when I put it to her, she said “Yep, he’s right – always saw with your visor down, kidz”. So there you have it.

    Yep, they’re salvaged drums with internal stacking trays. Maybe I’ll do another compost feature some time with a behind the scenes look at these bins.

    • Perhaps it was just the wonder of seeing so much concrete farm reality in the photo that made it so mesmerizing. I could look at pictures of farm life all day.

      It’s also so refreshing to see what it reveals about the commonalities of farm life: the leak (?) in the roof of the trailer (caravan) covered with a tarp; the missing bucket on the lifting arms of the tractor means a change of implements perhaps or a repair (?); the two large polyethylene hoop houses in the background (I wonder if anything is growing?); the coppice growth habit of the trees behind the tractor (what are they?); the green color of the grass showing that it has not gone dormant (what month was the photo taken?).

      All you need to do is include a picture and you’ll see how the “thousand words” can end up being mostly questions or comments from viewers like me. Please don’t be afraid to do it again sometime.

    • Not on a plastic drum! Besides, the circular saw has a guide attachment that gave her a perfectly straight cut around the circumference of the drum.

      One should never use any kind of a rotary cutting tool, including a grinder, on a closed top drum that has ever held flammable liquids. Any residual vapor-air mix could explode at the slightest spark. Instead use a non-sparking de-heading shear. They are expensive but might be available as a rental.

  4. Thanks for further comments. Yes, I’d echo Joe’s warnings about cutting into drums unless you’re sure of the contents. And on saws over angle grinders in this instance.

    As to Joe’s impressive detective work on the picture:

    Leaky roof – check. Prior to our fancy tarp roof I think we may have been the only folks in town with a gutter inside their bedroom. Fortunately the days of the mobile home are numbered now that we have permanent planning permission.

    Missing tractor bucket – it’s complicated…

    Polytunnels – yes, we have winter salads mostly of the Oriental brassica variety growing in them – one of our more lucrative crops

    Trees – they do look quite coppice-y in the photo but they haven’t actually been coppiced. They were the original windbreaks we planted in 2004/5, alternate hazel and grey alder, the idea being that the low spreading hazel would fill in between the alder trunks. Seems to have worked OK. We even get some nuts from the hazels. And maybe some nitrogen from the alders.

    Grass – the photo was taken this February, a couple of days before I posted it. An advantage of the warm, wet climate in southwest England is that grass grows pretty much all year. Which is great, unless you decide to grow vegetables for a living. Though I’m feeding hay to the sheep even so – there’s still not really enough in the grass.

  5. Good day sir.

    Since this post was tagged in politics and neoliberalism (which was possibly a mistake), Id like to highlight a recent post from Imaginative Conservative in relation to

    “However, to suppose that what you voted for is what you’ll actually get seems to me in this instance to greatly underestimate the power of neoliberalism and greatly overestimate the power of liberal democracy.”

    The post advances the (green) conservative argument for degrowth and steady state economics in opposition to growth-orientated libertarian neoliberalism which includes the activities and protocols of protectionist regional trading blocs like the EU.

    Its not entirely coherent but an interesting read nevertheless.


    Within this context, if you vote for eu neoliberalism and vote against liberal democracy then surely what you are doing is adding to “the power of neoliberalism” and subtracting from “the power of liberal democracy”. In other words, your actions are directly substantiating your claim which is a kind of tautological self-fulfilling prophesy.

    • Stephen, it seems to me that what Chris was saying is that, in our current situation, it may not truly possible to vote against neoliberalism, regardless of what various political figureheads may purport. A sign of our times that a vote explicitly intended to be ‘against’ neoliberalism somehow winds up supporting forces in favor of it. An example of the old saying about all roads leading to Rome.

      Certainly, here in America, at least so far, the forces of neoliberalism do not seem to be on the run. And liberal democracy continues to take it in the teeth.

      • Hi Oz. That may well be Chris’s opinion but it is not mine. For me the eu treaties embody neoliberalism which then becomes national economic policy for all member states. Hence a vote for the EU is also a vote for neoliberalism and indeed also signals explicit consent considering that Cameron’s reform package (Best of Both Worlds) was largely a package of proposals to actually deepen neoliberalism. At the same time, a vote for the eu was also a vote against regaining democratic control over economic policy. Obviously then, a vote for Brexit was a vote for democratic control over economic policy and a vote against having eu neoliberalism imposed on the national electorate without ongoing national consent.

        Therefore, whilst of course political decision making often involves judging one set of balances with another and so nothing is opaquely black and white (largely due to underlying moral considerations and exceptions to the rule), Brexit was pretty clear cut. You either want to regain national democratic control over neoliberalism or you dont. If you want to continue to be bound up with eu neoliberalism without effective democratic control in that changing eu treaties requires a monstrous amount of coordination between the different institutions of the eu and between 28 different member states and their electorate then vote to remain in the eu.

        For me then, it is pretty clear cut and as such pretty much black and white. Either you want national democratic control over economic policy or you dont.

        For sure other issues intertwine but ultimately all these issues should be under national democratic control.

        Similarly many aspects of international regulation including environmental protections were already international conventions which were simply adopted by the eu to which the UK is already an independent signatory.

        So in response to your point, a vote against neoliberalism isnt really the point as such, the point is having a democratic choice over the matter. Under current eu treaties, every elected party in EU member states has to adopt eu neoliberalism whether they like it or not even if Green Parties were elected.

        So obviously having national democratic control over national economic policy doesnt automatically means neoliberalism will just disappear but it does mean a party can stand at elections and potentially be elected on the basis of economic policy that is not neoliberal. This is a far cry from having very little democratic choice over the matter.


        • Stephen, your text was ambiguous – I thought you were referencing something Chris said, but apparently not.

          I’m not going to respond at length to your comment directly above, except to say the following seems dramatically oversimplified to me (a bit like ascribing a single cause to the fall of Rome):

          “Obviously then, a vote for Brexit was a vote for democratic control over economic policy and a vote against having eu neoliberalism imposed on the national electorate without ongoing national consent.”

          Anyway, I’m reading Ancil’s post to which you linked – a fair amount there I agree with. It’s a worthwhile reminder that there are, in fact, conservatives who are not in full-throated support of the merchant State, in fact who oppose the insanity of economic growth uber-alles. Thanks for posting it.

      • Hi Oz. Just to counter your argument with some evidence ref this interview with Theresa May from The New Statesman

        “To the bewilderment of many on both the left and the right, she (Theresa May) is intent on breaking with the orthodoxies of neoliberalism, but from the right.”

        “To me, May is a communitarian,” said Ryan Shorthouse, the director of the right-leaning think tank Bright Blue. “She has moved left economically and to the right socially. She doesn’t like excessive individualism and is putting the state central in reforming society. She recognises that globalisation and liberalism have downsides.”

        Its worth reading the article if you want to get a more nuanced insight into Theresa May rather than the usual prejudiced perspectives (propaganda) coming from the left.

        Of course, whilst we are still in the eu, then any elected govt must continue to abide by eu treaties/rules including the eu economic policy of neoliberalism. Obviously then eu apologists and eu supporters are pretty keen for the UK to sustain eu neoliberalism and so from their perspective all roads do indeed lead to Brussels. However, thank goodness that democratic choice means that this aberration of democracy is not a foregone conclusion and that in principle, roads can lead to anywhere we like, within the scope of reason at least.


        • The problem is that once outside the EU the UK is still a member of the WTO, the IMF etc and has no room to manoeuvre itself out of a neoliberal global economy at that level of supra-national obligation, unless it chooses to join the likes of North Korea, Eritrea, Somalia etc outside such institutions – which is clearly not on the cards. I think it’s true that May has more communitarian instincts (it’s also true that she was essentially a Remainer who got the premiership by default because there wasn’t a credible Brexit candidate) but which will be her legacy – the communitarian who gave George Osborne the boot, or the neoliberal holding hands with Donald Trump because she needs trade deals with him? My punt is on the latter. If the Brexit narrative had actually been an anti-neoliberal one that acknowledged an autarkic UK would be much poorer, but promised a fairer distribution of resources and an emphasis on a socially and environmentally sustainable economy, then I’d have voted for it (and probably been on the losing side of that vote too). But it wasn’t. The expanded parliamentary agency delivered to the UK by Brexit has little bearing on the trajectory of neoliberalism, which will only end through much wider national and international global crises and transformations of political and economic institutions. Those crises and transformations seem almost inevitable. Brexit is a sideshow to them – more a symptom than a cause, but one that prefigures some of the nasty stuff that’s likely to hit the fan. Maybe it’ll work out well for us – a case of Greer’s ‘collapse early to avoid the rush’ at the national level. But I’m doubtful.

          • Maybe I’ve not paid enough attention to the charters for the IMF and WTO, but it seems to me the current state of affairs bubbling around the future of the EU (Brexit being only one symptom) could mark the cards in a global fashion that could make the IMF and WTO rather helpless.

            We on the NWestern edge of the Atlantic basin are watching a couple of pretty significant trade deals get wopped upside the head (though TPP wasn’t yet in play – its trashing gets set next to the likely reworking of NAFTA, and so forth). Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy… not necessarily on best of terms with IMF. Potential US, Chinese trade squabbles will test the metal of the WTO.

            So, as I started out above – I don’t understand the political capital upon which WTO and IMF build their cache… but I’m guessing the significance of national fervor in an international setting will stress the two… maybe not to breaking, but certainly to a point where the U.N. may need to have more to say. Then perhaps instead of roads leading to Brussels, they’ll lead to New York. Heaven help us.

            Now where’s a good silver lining when you need one?

          • Well, quite – the demise of the EU, WTO & IMF would indeed signal that bigger crisis, and seems to me quite likely. What also then seems quite likely is that neo-liberalism will give way to beggar-my-neighbour protectionism, trade wars and nationalism of the kind that precipitated world war in the 20th century. My vote would be for ‘neither of the above’ but there wasn’t a box for that on the referendum ballot paper.

  6. Chris, I’d be interested in your heuristics regarding the ‘when it is and when it isn’t’ question. I struggle with this very thing from time to time.

    • My heuristics for when it isn’t worth engaging with someone online with whom I disagree, in a nutshell would be:

      Personal insults or accusations of bad faith

      A debate that isn’t generating anything I find interesting or educational after 2-3 exchanges

      An argument of the form “You don’t know what you’re talking about because you haven’t read X”. Double that if it’s expressed as “come back and discuss this with me once you’ve read X”. Triple it if X was written by the person I’m debating with.

      Relatedly, an argument of the form “I’m an expert on this – and you’re wrong”. Unless the expertise is then quickly deployed convincingly enough to persuade me of my error.

      An argument of the form “Your position is ideological, whereas mine is based on the facts”.

      An argument of the form “It’s easy for a comfortably-off westerner like you to say that, but kids are dying in the Third World because of attitudes like yours”.

      An argument of the form “You say you understand/espouse X, but you don’t really understand/aren’t a true believer like me”.

      An argument of the form “Well, you would say that because you’re an X”.

      Usually, arguments that place heavy ideological weight on words or phrases such as “progress, romantic, nostalgia, turning the clock back, sepia-toned, utopian, twenty-first century, modern, urbanism, or ‘nobody wants to farm any more’” – unless I’m feeling especially patient.

      Generally, positions or interpretations that are staked out so differently from my own that it feels like it would be at best very time-consuming and at worst impossible to establish common ground.

      And more specifically, totalising arguments that tend to the tautological, for example of the form “the EU is an inherently neoliberal institution whereas the British government isn’t, therefore a remain vote is inherently supportive of neoliberalism whereas a Brexit vote isn’t”.

      Though to break my own rule on that last point, I’d venture to say that I’ve seen nothing among the major players in the Brexit camp to suggest any of them are committed in any way to a non-capitalist political economy, and even if they were they would have virtually no leverage to deliver it either in terms of Britain’s incorporation into the global economy or in terms of its domestic political culture, which like all other modern democracies is also strongly corporatist and, as the Marxists might say, ideologically overdetermined. I think neoliberalism is destined to start sinking under the weight of its own contradictions, probably sooner rather than later, and maybe the Brexit vote will help send it on its way, albeit only as one small part of a much bigger picture. Whether what comes after will be any better is another matter – to my mind, the signs aren’t good. Political choices are complex – trying to isolate the voting options of greatest purity in relation to specific political stances is, for me, a royal waste of time which I hereby add to my list of ‘isn’ts’. Trying to track the complex and often unexpected consequences of the political choices that do get made is more interesting.

      I’d agree, though, that there’s some interesting terrain within conservatism which overlaps considerably with various aspects of green, agrarian and even leftist thought and isn’t assimilable in any simple way to the kind of right-wing positions I tend to criticise here.

  7. From Stephen’s link above – to Ancil’s post:
    But in 1830, the hitherto largely recessive evil of nationalist power reared its head in the person of Daniel Webster who argued for “union,” consoli­da­tion, and an expanding economy. His oppo­nent, Senator Hayne of South Carolina, like most Southerners, wanted free trade and the keeping of their traditional way of life, the precondition of true liberty.
    end quote.

    First, I, like Oz would like to thank Stephen for the link. I found some of the message worth reading. I do have a rather significant issue with Dr Ancil’s use of the Webster/Hayne debate as an example of failing liberty… for Senator Hayne’s version of liberty would allow one man to own another. This hardly seems the sort of liberty we might espouse today as something to be sought above “union”. Another Senator from South Carolina just a couple decades later led the cry for secession and a very bloody war. Liberty is a great ideal, so long as it isn’t peddled for a few and in spite of others.

    But Ancil does deliver on some fair points at other times in his piece.

    I hope I’ve managed to remain within the heuristics necessary.

    • Thanks Clem (and Oz).

      Synchronicities abound. Let me explain.

      This quite remarkable post from today elucidates perfectly the distinction between mainstream enlightenment and radical enlightenment with the former highlighting the double standards you mention (especially rights for whites but not blacks) and the latter extending the enlightenment ideals of toleration, personal freedom, democracy, racial equality, sexual emancipation and the universal right to knowledge to all regardless of race, ethnicity etc etc.

      I know very little about the American Civil War but on first reading it seems that the North is pursuing a more radical enlightenment approach whereas the South a more mainstream enlightenment approach.

      Its a long but coherent read.


  8. 1. Out of the eu, the uk becomes independent of eu commercial policy and external tariff policy which are protectionist institutions in their own right. So in a sense the protectionist conditions, the potential for trade wars etc already exists at an international regional bloc level. They dont happen and nor will they if nations become more independent because we are all so interdependantly connected economically these days. In some ways this is the deeper function of the IMF, the WTO and the multitude of international regulatory bodies that exist these days.
    2. Being out of the eu actually puts the uk in an influential mediating position between the us, china, india and hopefully russia (at some point in the near future). A global Britain isnt necessarily a neoliberal Britain.
    3. In the main it is free trade agreements that embody neoliberal policy not the IMF or WTO so we just have to make surrme future FTAs dont embody damaging and disempowering policies.
    4. Once out of the eu, Labour will be back on its feet again.
    5. Theresa May was easily the best person for the job. She appealled to both Brexiters and Remainers alike for her fair-minded cautious approach. She likes to see the evidence before making decisions.
    6. I have to say but only because I’ve noticed this quite often, but it is like you treat the eu referendum like a national election choosing between two political parties/sides. Obviously it was a national debate not an election which extended far beyond the hyperbole of the parliamentary campaign. For me discussions were occuring on all levels and obviously what made it interesting (for me at least) was that the outcome of the debate (as opposed to an election) was that it was to be decided by one person one vote in that every single vote mattered. Therefore, in proportional terms, the parliamentary campaign was abit of sideshow for me which people either engaged with or did not. For me people were thinking for themselves perfectly adequately and so everyone was having their own take on it. For me Brexit was about advancing the democratic opportunities to think beyond the neoliberal box rather than being democratic hemmed in by eu economic policy.
    7. Obviously eu treaties are one thing, IMF/WTO policy suggestions are another. Out of the eu, the uk regains an independant voice at the top table of these int trade institutions. So who we elect as a direct influence at the global stage.
    8. Free trade agreements are struggling as Clem says which Brexit may have facilitated considering it was in part a rejection of neoliberal globalisation.
    9. This is what makes uniting behind sensible policy so important whether it is perceived as left or right. Being able to be creative is more important that structuring left and right as ideological fortresses.
    10. Regaining national democratic control over national policy means we have everything to play for. But whilst there is a division on the basis of superficial left/right prejudices when in reality people on both the left and right simply want the same thing then it will always be harder to overcome elite control. Common ground is sustainable prosperity within ecological limits which allows people to live comfortably without being dominated by big business or big state.
    11. May is not interested in protectionism and although she is interested in free trade, she is also interested in social mobility, social justice and protecting green infrastructure, at least within the context of interpreting the brexit vote as a vote to leave the institutions of the eu and a vote for economic and social reform.
    12. Our biggest problem in my opinion is how to get ourselves out of public debt. This is perhaps the biggest driver of current neoliberal policy. However even the IMF now recognises that austerity stagnates growth. In some ways unplanned degrowth or economic stagnation is a good thing but in other ways it is not since it doesn’t change how people think.
    13. At present, the people who seem to want eu neoliberalism are Labour liberals, Conservative Liberals, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party.
    14. For me it is the long game thats important and so the national debate and the different outcomes around eu membership was an opportunity to bring back to the national electorate the debates and democratic choices over social, economic, environmental and cultural policy.
    15. On balance people voted out which gives me hope that people do want to debate and be able to make democratic decisions on national policy.
    16. I havent been able to find specific IMF policy that can be considered neoliberal
    compared to eu treaties which specify in detail policy which can be considered neoliberal.
    I can reproduce the relevant eu treaties articles if interested.
    12. The general trajectory is towards reduced global trade tariffs and so reducing the need for protectionist trading blocs. Greater global cooperation regarding trade regulations and standards. Nationalism is simply reclaiming democratic control over national policy in the face of increasing globalisation. Brexit was largely rejecting the strategy of universaling international forms of social and economic liberalism. Our post-liberal future will be a working out of power between national and international institutions in relation to global inequality and within country inequality, cultural self-determination and democracy.
    12. Greer seems to be just copying David Holmgrem Crash on Demand thesis


    Adapting human lifestyles to meet the needs of the planet.

    • Interesting comment – it deserves a long answer, but a short one will have to do. I agree with some of it, and disagree with some – particularly towards the end – though I do see where you’re coming from a bit more clearly. I’m less optimistic than you about the nature of the national conversation and of nationalism more generally, about May’s political skills and her realistic options, about Britain’s post-Brexit global influence and about the various possible trajectories of protectionism. I think we probably also have different conceptions of what neoliberalism is, and the way the various supra-national institutions function in relation to it. Well, I guess we’ll see how it all unfolds. Brexit is certainly the more interesting of the two options. Interesting politics can be a mixed blessing, though.

  9. So Nationalism took on a pretty ugly face in the last century. Especially in Europe. What’s to keep that from coming back? Global sympathies? Instantaneous communications? Fear of unimaginable consequences of international conflict? Other suggestions?

    I like the opportunities afforded by nearly instantaneous communications. But global sympathies would really be nice.

    • Personally I think global economic interconnectedness is probably the greatest peacemaker amongst elites. Global communications is probably the greatest peacemaker amongst citizens.

      Nationalism wasnt ever really the problem imo. It was colonialism and resource wars over rubber, oil, cotton, metals mixed with the last vestiges of aristocratic imperialism (that is warring elites) that was the problem.

      Following WW1, the draconian Versailles Treaty effectively created the economically deprived conditions for national socialism and facism to emerge. As Germany reconsolidated its economy and identity under ‘Volk’, the notion of ethnic purity began to emerge which juxtapositioned with the ongoing Jewish question that dominated intellectual Europeans at the time. These forces combined into a strong national identity which wished to rescue the Germans that had been partitioned off into neighbouring states as part of the punishment Versailles Treaty. This directly led to conflict with Poland as a result of Germany demanding back territory that the Allies had taken to reconstitute Poland as a sovereign state.

      In effect it was the punishment Versailles Treaty that restarted the European Wars not nationalism which is why the Marshall Fund, the IMF and the UN were set up after WW2 in order to peacefully and diplomatically reconstruct Europe.

      The world, except for more maverick States, are now so economically interconnected that if one falls they all will. The Great Wars of the past are particularly unlikely and now we’ll be looking at terrorism, climate chaos, civil wars, ecological degradation and migration as the biggest challenges.

      In my opinion, it is only the elites that started wars and it is only the elites that create the conditions for civil unrest. Not necessarily on purpose but because they think they know best as well as seeking power i.e superiority complex, so for them disrupting societies is just part and parcel of their grand planning which is why I think consolidation between the people is important and why national resilience (especially food security) is even more important. As such, if anything was or is going to lead to conflict it was or is the actions and decisions of (eu) elites rather than the national identity of the (european) people.

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