April 24, 2014

The way to cosmic harmony

A review of The Way by Edward Goldsmith by Pedro Burrezo, editor of The Ecologist for Spain and Latin America and member of its publisher, EcoActivistas. It was originally published in The Ecologist under the title ‘Icaria – la mirada esférica’.

This article was kindly translated for this website by Victoria Miller.


Edward Goldsmith is not only the founder of The Ecologist in the UK, but one of the most brilliant representatives of the international environmental movement, of which he has been a part since the late sixties. He received the Alternative Nobel Prize and has fifteen edited books to his name, of which the latest was The Case against the Global Economy.

But all this would be nothing if there did not truly exist in his thought a vision. A vision that, expressed with a vast multitude of references, has the ability to excite our emotions and at the same time, to tell it like it is, without deviating from the strictest rigour. The book is subtitled ‘an ecological world view’.

The Way is precisely what it claims to be – the exemplary behaviour that a people must develop in order to maintain harmony with the Cosmos. Far from being an isolated and doctrinal theory, Goldsmith’s thought proceeds with a devastating natural logic, just as water does from a spring, and is upheld by a multidisciplinary study of the world, of the environment, of society and of man.

Ecology, politics, economy, history, poetry and religion form a whole with which Goldsmith with carries out a thorough investigation of the age of modernity and, like a surgeon wielding his scalpel, he dissects it to show that a destructive cancer is eating it alive. The Way is structured in brief chapters of two to three pages each, which makes the reading of it – which may be fragmentary – easier.

Each chapter opens with quotations from diverse thinkers that, in one way or another, summarise or introduce what Goldsmith studies in depth in that chapter. The entire book is teeming with references, and still more references to thinkers from all over the world, in which the author cements his criticism or construction of the ‘way’.

Even with three decades in the ecological movement, leading different ecological campaigns (against nuclear energy, against the chemical industry, against GM) the basis of Goldsmith’s thought changed little over this time. But the book that concerns us today is also the quintessence and the culmination of this whole evolution. If anyone is worried by the solitary lifestyle of a grassroots fighter, let us be clear that what was in Teddy’s day a largely unknown movement nowadays counts many rebel fighters among its numbers, united by this ‘way’ to which Goldsmith refers. In fact, as the author explains in the prologue, “Like all syntheses of this type, the book cannot be considered the work of one individual alone. I owe much to many people, some alive and some already passed away.”

Criticism and solutions

It would be very easy for Goldsmith to limit his criticism to the infinite data available on how companies and governments have devastated the environment, how they have acted against mankind itself and against future generations. But for this author goes much further. His work on the ‘way’ has been to unravel the very reasons for, and explain how, man has created a modus vivendi which legitimises every barbarity.

Far from being content with an ‘all is lost, there’s nothing to be done’ attitude, the author shows us ways to escape from the unsustainability of an abhorrent and sordid economic and social system which is based on the alleged objectivity of science and ignores the basic values that, until recently, governed the plans of man.

There are moments even, in which reading The Way is, sincerely, emotional. Above all, when Goldsmith moves away from typical left wing topics, to wrangle with the nuts and bolts of ‘progressive’ society and finds local solutions to global problems which cause scandal among the entire Western political sphere. For some they are too revolutionary and for others they are too traditional. Everyone is scandalised because, in short, Goldsmith supports a legitimate morality which, based on living in an immoral world, everyone seems to have already forgotten.

The return to a small, familiar world, where old traditions prevail, where ‘small is beautiful’, where the spiritual (please, do not confuse the spiritual or the sacred with the dogmatic) and the everyday form an inseparable whole. A harmonious world, respectful of ancestors and the environment, a world ruled by natural laws. An essential world, without atrocities hidden behind euphemisms. A world where there is no examination of one particular thing, because that particular thing forms part of the whole, and that thing could not be what it is without the rest. All this is the quintessence of Edward Goldsmith’s thought. He also becomes impassioned when he speaks of an ‘emotional ecology’, in contrast to the sterile society in which we live.

Luckily for everyone, Goldsmith renounced neither beauty nor poetry. His book, therefore, begins with a Chinook Indian blessing: “We invoke the earth, our planet home, with her beautiful depths and vertiginous heights, her vitality and her abundance of life, and together we ask her: Teach us, show us the Way”. It is not the only quotation. There are many others. Eugene Odum, for example, wrote, “The basic laws of nature have not been abolished.” And Richard St. Barbe-Barker:

“In almost the entire world man has neglected the Divine Law and the laws of nature for his own judgement, in his suburb, he has isolated the terrestrial stage, forgetting that he is but one of the actors, put there to represent his role in harmony and unity with all living beings.”

We culminate with another quotation – staggering, demoralising and accurate like few others, from Alexandre Koyre,

“Science has substituted our world of quality and sensorial perception, the world in which we live, love, die, for the world of quantity and rectified geometry, a world in which, although there is a place for everyone, there is no place for man.”

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