October 22, 2017

The Great U-turn – Foreword

The Great U-Turn: De-industrialising Society was written by Edward Goldsmith and published by Green Books in 1988. It contains seven thought-provoking and prophetic essays on diverse themes.

The Foreword was written by Nicholas Hildyard, a co-editor of The Ecologist, in March 1988.

Edward Goldsmith is a radical in the true sense of the word. For him, no analysis is rigorous enough unless it is pursued to its logical conclusions: no solution acceptable in the long-term unless it tackles the roots [Latin: radices] of the problem.

Were he dealing with some arcane philosophical riddle, or some minor point of political theory, such intellectual rigour would cause little offense: on the contrary, it would be widely applauded. But applied to the problems of modern industrial society – from pollution to degenerative disease to the miseries of social alienation – Goldsmith’s ‘root-and-branch’ radicalism poses such a fundamental challenge to conventional thinking that many have reacted by rejecting its conclusions out of hand.

Nor should that surprise us: few of us willingly undertake to subject our most basic values to a fundamental reappraisal, for to do so inevitably threatens to undermine the very premises that underpin our whole way of life. Every ‘No’ to received wisdom is a ‘Yes’ to being an outsider – an unenviable status at the best of times.

Yet, just such a reappraisal of our basic values is inescapable if the ecological holocaust being unleashed throughout the world in the name of ‘progress’ is to be halted. Indeed, it is only when we examine our basic values that we begin to grasp how far we have strayed from a way of life that is compatible with the long-term health of the natural world on which we depend for our survival.

For, as Goldsmith makes clear throughout this seminal book, the social and ecological problems confronting us today cannot be solved by a little tinkering with the system: they are too deep-seated, having their roots in the very nature of industrialism. Indeed (and this is a critical strand in his argument), Goldsmith rightly points out that conventional economic and technological ‘solutions’ often serve only to exacerbate the very problems which they are intended to solve. His discussions of the health crisis and the problems of unemployment make the point in a masterly way.

Given that Goldsmith identifies industrialization as the root cause of today’s ecological and social problems, it is only logical that he sees their solution as lying in ‘de-industrialization’. Here he is at his most controversial. For unlike many political thinkers, his alternative society is modelled not on some imaginary Utopia but on the real world of those traditional societies which for millennia have lived a prosperous and healthy life without destroying their environment or causing social alienation.

To his critics, that emphasis on such ‘tribal’ societies reflects at best romanticism, at worst an attempt to turn the clock back. But as Goldsmith himself points out, traditional societies are the only groups in existence which can provide us with a working model of social and ecological stability. It would be arrogant in the extreme not to learn the lessons that such societies have to offer. As for turning the clock back, that is clearly impossible. What is possible, however, and eminently desirable, is a reversal of those policies which are leading us relentlessly to destruction. The question is: will we make the great U-turn in time?

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