History deep, prospect wide

There’s one other theme from the Introduction to my book that I want to raise in this cycle of posts before moving on to Part I.

But first, maybe it’s relevant to my theme to take a quick look at wider news. I heard they had an election over in the USA, but it seems all isn’t yet settled and there are competing narratives about the result and its implications. Was the Democratic victory fraudulent or bona fide? (Clue: the latter). Did the left of the Democratic party nearly lose the election for it, or help push it over the line? Was the Trump presidency a strange anomaly or a harbinger of future political turbulence? Is the onus on ‘liberals’ to understand why so many people voted for Trump, or on ‘conservatives’ to understand why so many more didn’t? Is Trumpism destined to live on in the hearts and guns of the now semi-mythical ‘white working class’ – or is it actually a project of the white middle class, or some other group? And, if implemented, will Biden’s climate policies be able to change the game, or will they meet an impossible trade-off between fossil-fuelled capitalism and climate-induced degrowth?

Closer to home here in the UK, a Biden presidency may spell the end of the no deal Brexit brigade’s ascendancy. Expect a last minute trade deal on disadvantageous terms with the EU trumpeted as a great victory, through which the remaining vital organs of British capitalism will be carved up between larger global players – perhaps with the UK itself as a political entity the ultimate casualty. Meanwhile, with the Northern Independence Party forming and opposition growing within the Labour Party against its lurch to authoritarian centrism, the supersedure state of which I speak in Part IV of my book may be upon us sooner than I thought.

Ah yes, so finally on the news front … my book. It was briefly riding as high as about #7,000 on the Amazon bestseller list, which I’m told isn’t bad going at all. See the My book page for some online resources (including how not to buy it from Amazon), recent reviews and other exciting news about said tome. And do please consider writing an online review, especially if it’s positive.

So … I’ll be watching with interest to see how the various narratives described above unfold, while hoping that the US (and the UK) will emerge from their present imbroglios without irreparable damage. But now I want to turn to another case of divergent narratives that I broach in the Introduction to my book.

On page 7 I write “Throughout the world, there are long and complex histories by which people have been both yoked unwillingly to the land and divested unwillingly from it”. These histories fuel many different and often competing stories about land, food and belonging, but also a kind of modern historical forgetfulness about the complexity of human relationships with land (and water) through time.

I argue throughout the book that it’s necessary to overcome this forgetfulness, and recover the stories of land and loss that lie behind it in all their complexity and dissonance. Without this, I doubt we’ll be able to make wise decisions that will really work locally about the many pressing issues we face today. We’d probably resort instead to superficial morality tales that have long outlived their usefulness drawn from an (also superficial) grasp of history. And such tales are legion. Here in England, they include the notion that enclosure spelled the end of peasant agriculture, that industrialization ultimately liberated people from poverty, and that this industrialization was some endogenous process of modernization and development that had nothing to do with England’s colonial exactions elsewhere in the world.

I’d hope people reading my book would come away from it with a sense that such stories are oversimplifications that no longer serve us. But the book makes limited headway in telling better historical tales, largely because I only had so many pages to play with and the world is a large and complex place. But those deeper tales do need to be told. Carwyn Graves’s interesting review of my book from a Welsh perspective is a good example of how one might begin that telling.

In the meantime, I’d suggest – to paraphrase a recent British prime minister – that “no history is better than bad history”. In other words, given the unique set of problems people presently face, it’s as well to try to be as open-minded as possible about how to solve them rather than drawing on bad historical analogizing to close off particular approaches. Here are some common examples of the kind of bad analogizing I have in mind:

  • This country/region won’t be able to feed itself in the future, because it never did in the past
  • A small farm future would be unpleasant because the small farm past was
  • There have been people in the past who were happy to quit peasant farming, so nobody will be happy to take it up in the future
  • Nobody will renounce mass consumer society for a small farm future of simple living in the future, because in the past people opted for the former over the latter
  • Technology will solve people’s present problems because it solved people’s past ones
  • Any future attempt to create local agrarian autonomy will be crushed by centralized states, as in the past
  • Positive change will be led by the downtrodden, because past experience shows they’re the ones who truly appreciate how the present system works

I’m not saying that such statements will inevitably turn out to be wrong. I’m just saying that they might turn out to be wrong, and a superficial analysis of past analogues to our contemporary questions is a poor guide to how they will, in fact, turn out.

One of the defects of the historical analogizing I’m criticizing is that it’s ill attuned to dissonance, contradiction and competing narratives. So while, for example, it’s true that Britain has long been a net importer of food, throughout this time there have been people arguing that it can and should largely feed itself. They weren’t necessarily wrong, they just lost the political argument. Maybe their successors will be luckier. Perhaps there are implacable forces in history, but I suspect not as many as at first it seems when so many people jump on the bandwagon of the ‘had to happen’ on the flimsy evidence of the ‘did happen’. The past could have led to a different present. The present may lead to a future beyond our current imaginings.

So let your history run deep, and your horizons scan wide. Next up: Part I.

29 thoughts on “History deep, prospect wide

  1. Glad my review provoked some thoughts! Your examples of bad analogizing are spot on, and the arguments themselves, though powerful (ie will and do appeal widely) are as you say intellectually weak. With one notable exception – this one: “Any future attempt to create local agrarian autonomy will be crushed by centralized states, as in the past”.
    I would speculate that ‘centralized’ is an operative word here (I wouldn’t bet against an inwardly benign Swiss SFF, for instance). It’s hard to envisage any ‘progress’ towards benign SFFs in more centralized states via a supersedure model that doesn’t involve decidedly malign societal disorder, and the implosion of the public sphere. I think the exception to this probably involves a scenario where:
    a) capital has sth other than land to invest in (arctic mineral resources?)
    b) there’s enough of a critical mass behind agriarianism among the population at large for it to be politically impossible for governing parties not to make space within macroeconomic policy for it.
    In the UK and many similar countries I think you’d need both conditions to be fulfilled to get far enough, fast enough.

    • “In the UK and many similar countries…”

      By some measures, Wales may already be further along the path to a supersedure SFF than many other places in the Global North (such as individual states in the USA).

      New Jersey (“The Garden State”) is about the same size as Wales (in square miles), but has three times the population, and its currency and money supply is based on dollars (the currency for much of a continent, like the euro) instead of a more local currency (like the pound sterling used in Wales).

      Wikipedia says that Wales “has a distinctive culture, including its own language, customs, politics, holidays and music.” No state in the USA has such a distinctive, separate culture.

  2. Indeed, there was a vote a couple weeks ago. Indeed, not all the voting has furnished conclusions (read Georgia heading to TWO Senate runoffs – which will make an enormous difference in our politics in the coming two years)… so in a sense we are still speculating about the impacts of said vote.

    From a perch here in a presently “red” state (Ohio) I would offer up a couple observations about some of your thoughts in the first paragraph. [will use an H and C for Host and Clem so I can bypass hyphenating…]

    H: Was the Democratic victory fraudulent or bona fide? (Clue: the latter).
    C: Bona fide only at the top of the ticket. While not necessarily “fraudulent”, calling it a Democratic victory is a stretch. Dems lost some house seats, and while some gains were made in the Senate… more to come there. So, overall for the left – a mixed result. The right can logically claim some favorable results.

    H: Did the left of the Democratic party nearly lose the election for it, or help push it over the line?
    C: Talking heads will debate this ad nauseum. And I’ll not help them do it. From my chair it appears there are some data to support both of those options. I do imagine we’ll see far less emphasis (by the left of the Dems) on the term ‘socialist’ and more emphasis on ‘progressive’. As various local races are reviewed across the nation I’m guessing some places will indeed find the ‘left’ hurt the outcome, while in other geographies it helped. I would speculate that AOC is best suited to stay in her provincial outpost… her opportunities for national office seem extremely poor right now.

    H: Was the Trump presidency a strange anomaly or a harbinger of future political turbulence?

    C: Anomalous right now. My hunch is that without Trump to browbeat the other Republicans we may see several of the more competent conservatives bounce back and stand against the Trump-tide. But I said “right now” because there is a sense that in some quarters there will be other conservative voices to rise up and continue to carry a Trump-tide banner. And of course there will be future political turbulence… the question might be better couched as ‘Will future turbulence be greater or less as Donald moves off center stage?’ – for which my reaction then is a bit of ‘I dunno’ mixed with ‘I hope it isn’t worse’. Something significant should play out in the first many months of the Biden presidency. If idiot ideologues on the left try to hammer the ‘losers’ just because they won the most recent national contest then I imagine many on the right will dig in and make matters uglier than they need to be. Here’s hoping olive branches are passed around so fervently that their inventory makes the pandemic shortage of toilet paper seem, well… so yesterday.

    H: Is the onus on ‘liberals’ to understand why so many people voted for Trump, or on ‘conservatives’ to understand why so many more didn’t?

    C: This one is easy… each side has to do its own evaluation. But I would add another question for the conservatives – in a post Trump US, who and with what message will come to lead the party.

    H: Is Trumpism destined to live on in the hearts and guns of the now semi-mythical ‘white working class’ – or is it actually a project of the white middle class, or some other group?
    C: This one bothers me. I dislike the characterization. I do think there are some folks for whom this characterization is spot on. But I also find it TOO oversimplified and part of the language and sensibility of what above I referred to as ‘idiot ideologues’… there are real people, of more than one melanin content, working for wages and trying their best to make sense of the world they inhabit. Some of them want labor unions and progressive politics. Others just want the outside to leave them alone. In a sense, one could make a very persuasive case that the US is just too big to be one polity. Sorry for that scold… to the heart of what I think is your question – Trumpism will fade IF there is a more inclusive turn from Washington to not just hear the voice of the ‘other’ but to incorporate their concerns as justly as possible (an end for which I can only hope and pray – as it won’t be a simple run).

    H: And, if implemented, will Biden’s climate policies be able to change the game, or will they meet an impossible trade-off between fossil-fuelled capitalism and climate-induced degrowth?
    C: Great question. Perhaps the best of the bunch. First off, the senate races to be run-off in January will impact this. Biden will be able to unilaterally do some things like re-up with the Paris accord. I look for that to be a reality. And there are other things the president can do without the full backing of the Congress. But to really go where we should in terms of climate we’ll need one of two things – either winning both runoffs in Georgia so that there is a Democratic senate, OR… some erstwhile centrist Republicans who are now out from under Donald’s hammer now step up to work across the aisle. I’d personally prefer the latter, regardless of what happens in Georgia.

    IF that last question was meant more as a ‘what difference can a Biden admin make at this point… we’re so screwed’ – well, I’m more of a glass half full kinda guy.

    C: Because you didn’t specifically ask – “Will soybeans help solve any of our difficulties?” I’ll offer an opinion anyway…. OF COURSE! 🙂

    • just looking at the centralist state versus the sort it out amoungst yourselves , you only have to look at the covid lockdowns , blue states lock down ,red states dont , the blue states believe in centerist control , “we know better” “do as you are told ” red states belive its your personal choice , during a oil / climate crisis which is better , those on the ground or those sitting in offices ? , as with the London war AG ordering the growing of potatoes on the top of buxton while the farmers knew they were waisting their time , control economies did not work in the USSR in plentyfull times they will be a disaster during a period of degrowth .

  3. Hmm.

    I remain as ignorant as ever about the deepest thoughts and aggregate souls of my fellow U.S. citizens, but a couple of observations spring to mind here with your prompting.

    It does appear that we will have a ‘Biden’ presidency, though I still wouldn’t bet my house on that outcome yet. ‘Biden’ in quotes, because if we learned anything in the last 12 years here, it is that we have no solid knowledge of who has final authority in this country, if anyone.

    But to your questions about how the population gets fed, the Biden constituency lives primarily in the large urban parts of the country. If we draw a scale for access to food where the dependence on access to land is on one end of the scale and access to money on the other, this whole country is mostly clumped pathetically on the ‘access to money’ end, but Biden’s constituency moreso than average. I believe this matters.

    I doubtless do not share my rural neighbors’ political leanings, but we all certainly rely on their practical know-how. And their land & machinery, etc.

    Another observation is that this whole business (we being humans) is a cultural problem. Caitlin Johnstone is fond of reminding us that the narratives that we allow to control our lives and culture are only just that – stories. And we can change them if we want to. If we are willing to change our minds, the wattage required to make a different thought is so small that our biophysicist friends can barely even measure it. Yet we remain stuck. I am not optimistic about our prospects for mass unstuckedness.

    I see a few small glimmers here and there. But that cultural juggernaut is huge.

    I am happy and relieved that Trump is (most likely) (going to be) gone. But still I believe, and none of my friends will agree with me, that the reason the Democrats hated Trump so much was not for his continual lying, but for those few times that he told the truth.

    Oh well, we arrange our realities as we do in order to get by in the world, I guess.
    So I will keep muddling along…


    • just as a thought the democrats have spent four years trying to prove trump lied and failed up to and including impeachment !

  4. As soon as I get my copy of your book, which I ordered from the Book Depository over a month ago, and then read it I promise to write an at least somewhat favorable review. I am already well behind the curve in contributing to your spot on the best-seller list through no fault of my own except snubbing the almighty Amazon. Bezos is donating a tiny corner of his cash flow ($10B) to fighting climate change so maybe I will backslide before too long.
    Out here in the middle of the ocean there is a small opening for small farms. Tourism, which amounted to 30% of our economy and therefore determined our political and economic reality has collapsed. Somehow we are all managing to survive relatively cheerfully. In many ways life is better without so many tourists, except that there are less jobs, more anxiety. Does this really open up some kind of space for people to consider farming as a possible way forward? More than there was a year ago certainly. I get the sense that there is more subsistence/micro- farming and gardening going on. There is still very little support and encouragement for anyone considering a serious transition from the tourism industry to the agricultural. This reluctance to get fully behind agriculture as a positive path forward has a great deal to do with the assumptions that you bring up in your list of bad historical analogies.
    It will take generations to build a sustainable and humane farming culture. Might as well start now. Or now. Or now?

  5. A view from small farm southern Appalachia –

    * On the question of “fraud-or-not”? I have no idea. Pundits and media analysts/critics – ones that I trust – are falling on either side. Headlines at alternative/adversarial media outlets are flip-flopping on a daily or hourly basis. I have no idea what to make of it.

    It at least appears that the vote totals were close, in particular in some key swing states. The Dem establishment, including Hillary, were telegraphing before the election “under no circumstances should Biden concede.” What about the circumstance of actually losing?

    For four years the Dems’ and the Dem-aligned media’s attitude has been “get rid of Trump by any means necessary,” which has included subterfuge by the US national security state and flogging baseless conspiracy theories about Russian collusion. It would be hard to imagine that the Dems would be above cheating in the election.

    I’m no Trump fan and didn’t vote for him in 2016 or this year, but under the circumstances it doesn’t seem unreasonable to contest the election and request recounts in some places. To do it by ALL_CAPS ranting on Twitter, well, that’s not helpful. The Dems have tried six ways to Sunday nonstop for the past four years to invalidate the last election. Their caterwauling now about Trump “refusing to concede” is a just masterclass in their utterly un-self-reflexive hypocrisy.

    * About progressives/the left

    On this the people in Biden-land are pretty clear. When asked during the campaign (during an epidemic) if medicare-for-all came across his desk as Pres., Biden said he would veto it.

    Biden has indicated disinclination to give cabinet positions to Liz Warren or Bernie. Biden admin is staffing up with neocons and warmongers. Biden’s head of climate-stuff is a recipient of huge amounts of cash from fossil fuel companies. Kamala Harris is a darling of Wall St. When asked about accusations of “socialism,” both Biden and Kamala scoffed, laughed and, bragged about how much they like stomping progressives.

    * The culture war is really a class war, and it is real. The Dems have become the party of affluent urban/coastal elites with degrees from prestigious universities, Silicon Valley, and the non-Fox media.

    I don’t understand why you would consider “semi-mythical” the (white) working class. Just under a third of Americans get a four year college degree. People who don’t go to college, or do but don’t graduate, or attend junior/community college or vocational school, or go to work right out of high school still make up a large majority of our citizens. Many of these non-elites are white. They’re hardly a “myth.” And the disdain and disgust that affluent liberals display towards them from on-high is no myth either.

    *Will/can Trump go away?

    Regardless of how Trump will almost certainly try to continually inject himself into national controversy, my question is what would the media do without him? The “Orange Man Bad Show” brought failing mainstream media outlets and pundits back from the brink of cancellation in 2016 and has sustained them with record levels of eyeballs and profits since. As much as they claim to hate him, he’s provided them a fantastic gravy train and a powerful lever of outrage with which to beguile the citizenry. With Trump out of the picture and “Sleepy Joe” at the helm, why would anyone turn on MSNBC?

    • Strange how Hunter dissapeared out of the news after it was released he is under investigation for money laundering .
      Trump is the only president that has not gone to war since Trueman , one reason why they hate him .
      As for joe europe should be terrified ( but they aint ) his closing down of fracking gas stops the exports of LNG and throws them at the mercy of Russia , England is in an even worse state being at the end of the russian pipelines and having the EU declaring to stop the electricity interconector’s from france and holland after brexit , Putin is getting old it could easily get nasty after he retires , europe the uk and the usa are printing money to keep their countries afloat especialy with the lockdowns , a new russian government that wont accept $ for oil/ gas could bring Chris’s small farm future by christmas 2022 .

  6. Thanks. Some responses to a few points.

    First, Carwyn – your review raised some wonderfully rich questions in the space of just a few words, which I very much appreciate. I’m itching to engage with those questions but the proper place will be when I get to the discussion of Part IV, so I’m going to hold fire for now. Suffice to say that yes, I agree – the most congenial kind of supersedure state imaginable is one where capital mostly stays away from farmland and where there’s a critical mass behind agrarianism. I think that configuration is possible, though perhaps not probable. (And by the way, Chelsea Green are hosting a webinar with me in conversation with Jane Davidson on 10 December, where hopefully I’ll learn some more about issues in Wales).

    And now to US politics. Perhaps I should have better clarified that the various narratives about the election I portrayed weren’t particularly my own framing of the issues but ones I picked up from wider media. Still, let’s run with them…

    I’m detecting cynicism in the comments about a Democrat administration which I’m happy to endorse. I’m sure it’ll be terrible. But if President Biden rejoins the Paris climate accords, does even one small thing that works against the interests of the fossil fuel industry and avoids inciting racial violence then he’ll probably have been a better president than Donald Trump. It’s a low bar. Maybe Eric is right that the Democrats hate Trump the most for his occasional truths – I’d be interested to know what those truths were. As I see it, the main truth has been the venality and dysfunction of the system (and not just the US system) which Trump’s buffoonery has revealed better than the Democrats’ chicanery. Still, the place to go from that isn’t another four years of Trump.

    Regarding the “mythical white working class” no apologies from me I’m afraid for this framing, but perhaps an apology for not making my point more clearly, which I’ll now try to do – but it involves a little back story. When Trump was elected in 2016 several voices on this blog delighted in spinning the John Michael Greer line that he was a champion of working people in a way that liberals just couldn’t see because of their privilege. It seemed to me pretty obvious then that he wasn’t. And he wasn’t.

    So the ‘myth’ isn’t that there are working class people, or – within the framings of our present social world – that there are white people. The myth is that Trump was their champion, a myth belied by the demographics of his support in 2016, which were basically indistinguishable from every other Republican president (maybe if we dropped the ‘working class’ and just went with the ‘white’ we might get closer to the truth). For sure, the Dems mostly aren’t the champions of working people either, but that’s another story.

    Which brings me to Josh’s point that “the culture war is really a class war, and it is real”. If that’s so, then I’d suggest that it’s a three-cornered class war, in which middle-class conservatives have found a cultural – and, increasingly, a racial – language to appeal to (some) working-class people in ways that redound mostly to the benefit of the middle-class conservatives, and not to working-class people. Whereas middle-class liberals, who share much common ground with working-class people, are perhaps failing to find that language. I think Josh pretty much made this same point in a comment some time ago. Needless to say, my sympathies are not with the conservative middle class.

    I agree with Josh that there’s real middle-class disdain for working people, and vice versa. Here in the UK, the Blair government greatly increased access to higher education – something I was sceptical about at the time, but I think has had the positive effect of somewhat decreasing that mutual disdain among the young, and decreasing the susceptibility of young working-class people to cooption by conservative middle class interests. How to plug all that into urban/rural issues in the context of a likely future need for a turn to agrarianism is a major puzzle. Unless we solve such puzzles, then while like Clem I hope the Trump presidency was an anomaly, the truth is it probably won’t be.

    Interesting that Josh says credible media analysts are falling on either side of the ‘was it fraudulent?’ line in the US. On this side of the Atlantic, they seem to be falling pretty much 100% on the ‘no it wasn’t’ side of the line, even the ones who normally align with our own version of right-wing populism. I’m not sure what that tells us, if anything. Maybe that Michelle is right – let’s just start building a sustainable and humane farming culture. Now.

    Sorry for not picking up on other points, but I think I need to leave it there for now – thanks to all who commented.

  7. I’m not a big online commentor. I was just trying to remember where I have commented online over the past several months and all I can remember is a handful of posts here. I think that is because I enjoy Chris’ writing so much and because many of the comments I’ve read here have been so thoughtful and edifying.

    It occurred to me later in the day while out for a run that what motivated me to comment on this entry was something like the perils of leading into discussion of a Small Farm Future (the philosophy or the book) by way of recent US politics. Things are a huge effing mess right now and I worry that how fraught all that BS is not a good lead-in to the core sophistication and quality of the ideas expounded in SFF. It definitely triggered me to opine on recent political controversies rather than engage with themes from the book/blog in my previous comment.

    I read Chris’ thoughtful and astute reply on this thread and am ready to jump into a debate on some of the points raised. But that’s not the point – I’d just be dragging us off course. Chris, you’re “early” in a lot of your ideas in my opinion. That’s why you’re #7,000 on Amazon and not #70 or #7. Our culture writ-large isn’t ready for this kind of thinking yet at the level of macro-institutions (media/social media, politics, business, academia). At the grassroots level all over the world I suspect there is tacit massive buy-in, and I can confirm congruent sentiments in several of the “low-resource” places where I’ve lived and worked in the US and abroad (SE Asia, Latin America). Which I find truly bracing and a cause for optimism. But there are times when the Western macro view is hegemonic in our collective societal thinking for good or ill (mostly ill in my opinion), like during contentious and fraught US elections overlaid with an infectious disease pandemic. Sheesh.

    Coincidentally I just got your book today in the mail, which followed close on the heels of James Suzman’s “Work – A history of how we spend our time.” Looking forward to both these reads and I will try henceforth to restrict my commenting to prefigurative topics of humans’ sustainable interactions with the environments we’re embedded within.

    Love y’all –


    • Thanks Josh, appreciated. My forays into general politics have got a mixed reception over the years, but I find it hard to separate agrarian futures from the play of general politics. Anyway, my posts to come will generally be sticking more closely to the drift of the book. I hope you enjoy reading it … and hopefully commenting here too.

      • https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/11/shopping-i-can-t-really-remember-what-that-is/
        from the world economic forum and trending on twitter ,
        “Welcome to the year 2030. Welcome to my city – or should I say, “our city”. I don’t own anything. I don’t own a car. I don’t own a house. I don’t own any appliances or any clothes.”
        even the soviets allowed you your own clothes , This senario would mean you and i would not own our property , animals or crops , would you bother to get up in the morning if the state provided everything ? . Humans work in the ” whats in it for me ” catergory , I certainly would not work 14 hours a day for ” the love of it ” yet that is what this imbacile seems to want me to do , the realities of this world dont seem to make it up to the heady heights of the world leaders and it frightens me !

    • Josh insightfully an poignantly offered:
      Our culture writ-large isn’t ready for this kind of thinking yet at the level of macro-institutions (media/social media, politics, business, academia).

      And therein he also suggested some of the direction of the conversation was drifting off target.

      Perhaps I can bend the point a bit to bring it back to a grounded SFF discussion…

      I agree that most of the thinking under consideration here is not centered upon a ‘felt need’ by very large swaths of modern humanity. Liberal, conservative, anarchist or hermit, there seems little appetite for long range visioning… or at least sufficient appetite to allow the messaging to rise to a level where it might be detected as signal above the noise.

      And though political struggle is not something I yearn to engage, I also see some merit to Chris’ point that agrarian futures will blend with political futures whether we want them to or not. So it seems some attention to issues in the wider world are appropriate as we locally focus on matters in our smaller communities.

      As for “bending” the discussion… messaging a concern or an idea that is not front and center for our macro-institutions can take a great deal of time. Shortening the process often leads to the screaming and shouting, slandering and libeling, we’ve witnessed. Thus in an earlier comment above I raged against ‘idiot ideologues’ where I was imagining folks from both sides of the air sucking issues that dominate today’s news. Just because we have common cause with a particular viewpoint I don’t think we need to absolve those who take the point forward with incendiary rhetoric and violence. [and if in said rant I implied that Chris is such an idiot ideologue… then I’ll apologize]

      To the ‘great deal of time’ – I think it is appropriate to discuss all the implications of a small farm future, and to converse here and elsewhere about pathways, and needs along those paths, to assist us in realizing a better future (whether it is exactly as we envision or some trade off that works as still better futures follow on).

      Several months back I offered here a review of Alan Jacob’s text ‘How to Think’. He has a new offering called ‘Breaking Bread With the Dead’. I don’t yet have a copy, and may only access a borrowed one, but it appears to continue on the concept of preparing ourselves for civil discourse and peacefully finding common ground with the ‘other’ – those we find outside our warm and fuzzy kindred.

      Politics has been likened to making sausage. And I for one am a big fan of sausages. So in a certain sense I suppose I ought hold my nose and at least attempt some insight into political matters – especially at a local level, and eventually onto broader landscapes. We shouldn’t consider political thinking as taking us to far afield of a SFF.

  8. Earlier this week, a committee meeting of MPs looked into the problem of supplying seasonal agricultural labour after Brexit. The idea of putting agriculture on the school curriculum was one of the ideas raised (decades ago, some British schools did offer Rural Studies, I believe), along with farming apprenticeships. Sadly, this tantalising news ended with the words “unfortunately, the Education Minister wasn’t at the committee meeting to comment.”

  9. My wife just picked up my copy of SFF at the Uppsala English Bookshop (an extraordinary bookshop!) today, so the review will take some time, and I probably will start in Swedish. Meanwhile, I am writing a review of Martin Hägglund’s This life. It could perhaps be interesting to combine those two books in one review. I am stunned by the fact the Hägglund’s book hardly relate to the physical and living world, and that technology is only discussed as a means to avoid “necessary” labour, which he thinks should be minimized as opposed to spiritual labour. I assume your book will have a very different perspective…..
    While I have a lot of sympathty for the downtrodden, I think it is quite hard (not impossible, Phoolan Devi comes to mind) to find social movements and change that have speerheaded by them as a collective. I think it is rather interesting to see how often it is actually a kind of elite that are in front of changes, even though they don’t necessarily has anything material to gain from the changes….
    And yes I think the rest of your list is is equally flawed.

  10. Thanks for the further comments. Not much to add, except to say I’ll ponder the issues further. As I see it, it’s neither possible nor desirable to separate discussion of creating a just and sustainable agrarianism from the play of present politics, but I don’t want to spend too much time arguing about Trump, Brexit etc. So it’s good to get some feedback…

    Glad you’ve got your copy of the book Gunnar. Looking forward to seeing your review – er, but I’m afraid I’ll have to wait for the English version…

  11. Wide prospects- well………
    The dynamic of land use versus the overall societal power structure is one more thing that changed dramatically with the fossil fuel era.

    just my layman’s two cents:
    In the past, once agriculture enabled a way to store wealth via grain and other crops, control of and accumulation of land based production was the base for centralized power. Serfs or peasants may have worked the land, but the “profit” flowed to whichever king or strongman had the skill to employ force to control his turf.

    Hunter gatherer cultures don’t follow the pattern of empire because there is no accumulated food/wealth sufficient to make larger political hierarchies feasible.

    Fossil fuels created a whole other range of ways to accumulate wealth and gave elites plenty to work with in creating their empires and complex hierarchies.

    As this brief phase wanes, land and its productive output will once more become the primary base for centralizing forces to wield power.

    So while the future does not have to follow specific past historical events, the underlying tendency in humans to class stratify, coerce each other, and create hierarchies will still be there. I certainly hope that your effort to encourage a land use/social structure pattern that will make it harder for inequitable power relationships to hold sway is successful, but I think the prospects for an egalitarian and sustainable future are rather narrow.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m on board, following the discussion here, but realistically, I think it is a long shot.

    • I agree. I think the most likely possibility involves warlordism (during the collapse phase) segueing into feudalism. Another, less probable, scenario is a more egalitarian agrarian tribalism, which is what you often get without overarching state-structure influence.

    • I agree there’s an underlying tendency to class stratification, but there’s also a tendency to overturn it (I discuss this in the book). A good deal of human history can be told through those two opposed tendencies. I think we sometimes overstate the ascendancy of the former in history because power loudly proclaims itself and gets more of our attention. Nevertheless, I agree that class power often does win the day, albeit only ever temporarily, and that, peering into our likely future, equitable arrangements seem something of a long shot. But since I’m not a fan of class inequality, which I think will lead to complete disaster in the years ahead, I feel it’s worth trying to chart the best course I can find away from it … but with no firm view on whether that course will be successful. I’m not saying there are no lessons to be learned from history. Just that bad historical analogising can lead us to reject choices that are worth a second look.

      Regarding warlordism and feudalism, these are tricky terms and it depends exactly on what people understand by them. As I see it, the chances of anything resembling what I’d call feudalism in the near future are low, but – as I argued in a recent post – the chances of a modernised version of some aspects of it in the form of fascism are high. Another reason why I’d like to try to find a different course…

      I’ll come back to some of these points in relation to Part IV of the book.

    • There is an old saying ” those that beat their swords into plough shares will plough for those that do not ” .
      England still has its medieval power base , you may laugh but those that are lords got there by being ruithless , they have a head start on everyone else .
      The USA is a failing behemoth ,east and west coasts dominate , at a rough unfinished calculation Trump won over 2000 counties Biden won over 200, that says Trump has the vast majority of land that grows food voting for him and that discrepancy will not last forever , those numbers prove we allready have serfs and lords , as you say serfs and peasants work the land now the lords control the finances , and provide bread and circuses for their dependant urban pessantry .

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