November 19, 2017

Returning to an ecological Way

Edward Goldsmith speaks at the Friends Of The Centre Annual Conference, 31 October 1992. The conference was organised by REEP in conjunction with Quaker group, Friends of the Centre.

My talk is going to be more in the nature of a chat than a formal talk, so I apologise to my audience, especially after they have had two wonderfully prepared and very brilliant talks by Helena Norberg-Hodge and Carmen Black. Little works of art. Mine is going to be far less audial.

Well what I have to say is really contained in this book (The Way: An ecological world view). We have talked about our world view – the western world view of industrial man, which you might call the world view of modernism. That is what I have called it – there’s no official name for it. You can call it the world view of industrialism if you like, which I am contrasting with what I call the world view of ecology – which is the best term I could think for it – but it is a very different type of world view to that of ecology. I suppose I should say something about world views first. This notion of world view, to me, is critical, as it is, I think, to the more recent philosophers of science like Kuhn, La Cartos, and others, and several people in the last decades.

In fact, a scientific proposition, or proposition of any kind, basically reflects a particular world view. Science itself is based on a particular world view. This book (The Way) is a critique of science. Science itself is clearly not objective. Even Karl Popper noted that in his book Objective Knowledge. He actually went so far as to say that “objective knowledge is knowledge without a knower”. By our very nature, we cannot entertain objective knowledge. We have to be subjective. We cannot be otherwise. However Popper thought it was possible to build up structures of knowledge – mathematical models and things – which had relevance to objectivity.

Of course, this was later denied (refuted) by Michael Polyani, who is very much my mentor, on issues of philosophy of science, and I quote him a great deal in my book. In actuality, underlying science is a whole body of metaphysical assumptions, of which our scientists are simply not aware. They are just not aware of these metaphysical assumptions, and nor are they interested in entertaining the metaphysical knowledge upon which these metaphysical assumptions are based.

One of the problems with our philosophy of science, indeed with our epistemology, in general, is that it is only concerned with conscious knowledge. Scientists are just not aware of this, or are not willing to entertain or accept it. It is as if this subconscious knowledge did not exist, at all. Michael Polyani in his great book, which to me, is the greatest of them all, on the subject of personal knowledge, points out that there is a whole mass of knowledge, of which we are not aware, which we cannot actually formulate or articulate. He refers to it as “ineffable knowledge”.

You know, if you ask Yehudi Menuhin to tell you how to play the violin, he can give you the most elaborate instructions, and if you try and follow these instructions to a T, you still will not play the violin like Yehudi Menuhin does. The reason is that Yehudi Menuhin isn’t aware of all the information that is required to play the violin the way he plays it. He just does not know what this knowledge is – it is just not known.

We have this mass of knowledge, and this knowledge is not simply disorganised, but organised to constitute a model of the world, where possibly our conscious knowledge, may well be nothing more than the tip of the iceberg. Yet here are our scientists pompously talk about objectivity, assuming that the propositions they make, have actually been achieved – have been reached by experimentation in controlled laboratory conditions and that these propositions can then be verified or falsified.

Well all this is so much illusion. Those propositions do very little more than reflect this world view which they entertain, which is very much the same world view with which we have all been imbued with since our childhood. I distinguish between the paradigm of science, which is basically the world view of science, and I see it as reflecting very, very faithfully indeed, the paradigm of modernism (the world view of modernism), with which we have all been imbued.

In fact, what seems to confirm this is that just about all the disciplines in terms of which we have divided modern knowledge, fit in together extremely nicely. They fit in together so nicely, and the fact that they fit in together so nicely shows that underlying them all, is the same set of metaphysical assumptions, the same ‘paradigm’, to use Kuhn’s term, or world view.

There is actually a book which I love, which is Donald Worster’s book, called Nature’s Economy, which is a book that is really worth reading. He is at the University of Kansas, and in the book he shows how ecology was once a highly holistic subject . By its very nature, you would assume it to be holistic and initially, it was not expressed in quantitative terms. It was respected in qualitative terms, and this was totally transformed in the 1940s to make it conform to the paradigm of science, so that it could be something that you could study in a laboratory. It became reductionistic so that you could cut things up and look at them analytically, as scientists do, so that you could express the result in quantitative terms, so that the subject could become ‘respectable’.

In fact, it is only under those conditions that you could possibly hope to have Departments of Ecology in Universities. If it had not become reductionistic, it would continue to be regarded as something ‘airy-fairy’ – something not serious, something non-scientific. It had to be transformed – perverted, and as a result, the conclusions reached by ecologists around the world, today, are just about the opposite of those conclusions reached by the ecologists in the early days of academic ecology in America, where the study of ecology first began.

It did not start precisely in America, but most the activities relating to it first took place there, and the conclusions that were reached are quite different from those reached today. For instance, Frederick Clements and Victor Shelford were early ecologists in American universities, and they saw the world completely differently from the modern ecologists who teach in our universities today, who are reductionistic. As far as I am concerned, what they teach today, is anti-ecology. Needless to say, they loathe my guts. I was black-balled from the British Ecological Society on several occasions – they would not have me, they loathe me.

You see, it has been completely perverted so that ecology today now conveniently fits in together with the paradigm of science and modernism. A key aspect of science today is that it is self-consistent. The picture of the world that science ‘paints’ (a term first used by T. H. Huxley) is in my opinion, totally false. But it is a totally self-consistent picture. It sticks together – hangs together and has this extraordinary self-consistency, which gives it enormous power – so that it is difficult to dislodge. Consequently, anything that you or I might say, would just not fit in with scientists’ understanding of the universe, even if what we had to say was in fact true.

In reality, when you verify a proposition, whether scientific or not (there is, afterall, a distinction between a ‘scientific’ and a ‘non-scientific’ proposition), the act of verification, does not makes any sense whatsoever. For example, the whole purpose of Kuhn’s Structure Of Scientific Revolutions, which is the conclusion of his life’s work, is to show that there is no distinction between the two (a scientific and a non-scientific proposition). As he realized, a ‘scientific proposition’ is no more than a proposition which happens to be held by the scientific community at a given moment in time [audience laughter], and the notion of a ‘scientific proposition’ would change very radically within a matter of time, once people began to understand the flaws in the scientific methodology.

So to summarise here, we are talking about the world view of science. Science is self-consistent and any proposition that we would make, would not fit in with the world view of science. But in contrast, any propositions that any scientists make (propositions that are supposed to have been reached by scientific method), have in reality, been reached by a fatally flawed methodology. The scientists accept the methodology, because it fits in with their paradigm of science.

The things we might say, or that the ecological movement would say, are not accepted by scientists, because they do not fit in with the entire paradigm of science – a paradigm reflected by the specialized disciplines into which scientific knowledge has been dramatically divided. So this is reason for the necessity of creating a completely new ecological world view, which I have tried to do in my new book The Way: an ecological world view.

This is the first attempt – I do not pretend it is more than that, and it may be a sketch for other people, trying to do the same. But I think you need a world view, a complete ecological World view – which has precisely that element of self-consistency which the scientific world view (that we are combating) also has. It has to be religious, because science itself is a religion. Of that, there is no doubt whatsoever.

Science is totally religious. It has all the main features of a religion. The practitioners of science are people in uniforms – their white overalls are just like ecclesiastical dress. Scientists have a language which other people cannot understand (which gives them enormous importance) – this being mathematics, whereas Catholics would speak Latin. Scientists have their religious paraphernalia – they are always photographed with big machines, gadgetry and all sorts of strange measuring equipment in their laboratories.

They have their sacred premises – their laboratories are sacred premises, just like there are sacred Churches, and knowledge which does not emerge from these sacred premises, cannot (in their view) be taken seriously. Indeed, for them, any such knowledge, is automatically the work of a charlatan [audience laughter]. And they conduct the most abominable witch-hunts against anyone who dares to say anything which could be taken as undermining the principles on which their science rests (and hence their status rests, and POWER rests).

The witch-hunts against Rachel Carson after her book Silent Spring, and the witch-hunts against the book, The Limits To Growth – most of these witch-hunts were vicious witch-hunts, vicious. It is very much like members of medieval society, who had all sorts of civil activities conducted by the Church, on their behalf. In every way, science is a religion, and it is a religion based on a host of dogmas, most of which have not been properly formulated, and none of which can possibly be taken as having been verified in controlled laboratory conditions, and hence being truly scientific.

These dogmas, these basic assumptions make a mockery of the very term ‘scientific’. You cannot build up any body of knowledge which does not rest on basic sound principles, so the idea of verifying a scientific proposition in order to render the proposition ‘scientific’, is totally ridiculous. There is no true verification – it simply does not exist. You can read about in my book The Way, where I show how Michael Polyani has already pointed this out. We all know that verification of a proposition cannot be truly applied in practice, nor falsification of a proposition (or hypothesis).

So science is both religious and a religion – just like any other religion, and I see the two, science and ecology, as being inconsistent with each other. Certainly, if we take the basic premise of the religion of the modern world, of our religion, the religion of science (or the world view of modernism) the basic premise must be the notion of progress.

If you consider the notion of progress, progress is actually blasphemy, because if you look at it in religious terms, it suggests that god did a bad job. He really did. God, must have been totally drunk or half-witted when he created the world [audience laughter] because he did a totally bad job. He created such a completely imperfect world, such a hopeless place, that we have got to set out, systematically, and methodically, to transform it, to completely transform it, and make it absolutely different – to transform it, on the basis of our vastly superior plans. That is what the notion of progress is all about.

Science, technology and industry have got to completely re-transform, completely re-transform, the world and to completely make a completely different one. It will be a world that will look like the City Of London, which we have just passed through [audience laughter], if they have their way. That is what our model is. This is their idea. How can any theologian, in any normal religion, as we understand the term, accept this very principle? I would have thought that any, any, any religion, must be based on a principle that God created the world and he did a reasonably good job [audience laughter], and was not totally half-witted or drunk, because this is what is presumably assumed.

So, it (science) is a religion and it is anti-ascetical (antiscetic), the religion of science. I am not holding scientists entirely responsible, by the way, to the problems we are facing, because scientists tend to be employed by industry and government – and nor do I really hold them responsible. We are part of a system, that is heading in the wrong direction, and it is moving rapidly in this wrong direction.

So it is clearly the knowledge which we have built up, which serves above all, to rationalize and hence legitimise the direction in which we are moving, which must be wrong, and not only wrong. If you are heading in the wrong direction, it is not a question of the speed at which you are heading. If you are going at 100 miles per hour towards a precipice, you are not going to solve too many problems by cutting down the speed and moving to 20 miles per hour. You are still going to go over the precipice. You have actually got to move in the opposite direction.

So the knowledge is not only wrong, but it is, fundamentally wrong, and I really go so far as to say (I take almost as assumed) that if I am told something, and it is conventional knowledge (the only subject I know about), then is not only wrong, but it is the opposite to the truth. It might sound slightly paradoxical, but that is not surprising. If it is knowledge which rationalizes the direction we are moving in, and this knowledge is compelling us into heading over a cliff, then we need a completely different organisation of knowledge, which has got to justify, rationalize and legitimise, our move into the complete opposite direction.

That is, I am afraid, what we need right now. Now this is an introduction to The Way. If we believe that the basic principle of our modern scientific world view is progress, and the basic direction of our society is towards progress, then it must be the basic tenet of this world view of modernism, that science, technology and industry can create paradise on Earth, from which all the problems that have confronted us since the beginning of our stay on this planet, will have been eliminated. There will be no more problems: no poverty, no unemployment, no anything, no disease – none of these problems.

I have even seen a something written by a scientist some years ago, telling us that even death will be eliminated – death is a disease and science will eliminate death. You see, scientists are talking about a new paradise on Earth – a material paradise that science alone will create. Now if you believe that, then clearly you have also got to believe what I take to be the second tenet of the world view of modernism, which is that benefits are necessarily man-made.

We believe, and doctors will tell you, that pills from hospitals are the way to provide one with health. When Lord Beveridge started the National Health scheme, he said “OK, it will cost £10 million (or whatever) but that’s OK. In a few years time, everybody will be so healthy, that we will be able to close down the National Health Service. We won’t need it. They will have taken all these pills, and they will have gone to so many hospitals, that they will all be terribly healthy.”

They really believed at the time, that health was something you acquired by eating pills, and we still do today. You see, this is the dominant view of the world, and so it is with everything – even with the social order. The notion of the social contract assumes that people are naturally chaotic and so people have to get together and decide that they are going to sign a contract, which will create a form of organization with institutions that are going to maintain order, and that order is actually maintained by the police and law courts.

However, if you know any anthropology, you will realise that the societies that evolved that anthropologists look at, were relatively orderly, and they did not have governments and law-courts and things of this sort, or a ‘police force’. If you remember in this country (UK), the first police force was set up by Sir Robert Peel. That is why policemen are called ‘bobbies’. This idea that the police maintain order is fundamental to the world view of modernism.

This notion of order – that everything worthwhile is satisfactorily maintained, is a man-made notion. I think in terms of a world view of modernism, you would deny the notion of progress. I think it is a basic assumption that God did a good job. The world is designed in such a way that it does satisfy our requirements. The traditional people that we write about, were not poor as we make them out to be. We tend today, to interpret all our problems in such a way so as to make them appear amenable to the only solution we wish to apply, which is economic development, i.e. progress, and so it is with all our problems.

People are sick, so we need more hospitals; people are disorderly, so we need more prisons and more policemen; and so it goes on. Everything – every problem requires, a massive amount of economic development, and hence economic development becomes the overriding goal, indeed, the only goal – because we have decreed that economic development is the only means to solving our problems – the only means. Building hospitals, building prisons, housing policemen – all the problems in the world can be solved by economic poverty. Poverty, we are told, is a shortage of material goods, and if everybody had a washing machine and a television set, they would not poor anymore. If you believe all that, then all this makes tremendous sense – it fits in perfectly.

Now one of the main issues today is the notion of order. One of the main features I want to discuss is the concept of order and the notion of the Way. What do I mean by the Way? To me, in the archaic period, the goal of early man, primitive man, tribal man, traditional man, vernacular man, chthonic man, palaeolithic man, was to maintain order – the social order, the economic order, the ecological order and indeed, the critical order of the cosmos.

This is a very unoriginal book. It is highly unoriginal because I am a traditionalist and I believe that the answers to humankind’s problems and to the problems of the world, are to be found in traditional society. So I look and see why our ‘solutions’ today do not work, and then I look at traditional peoples and look at the solutions they applied to the same kinds of problems. It would seem to be quite clear, that tribal man, in general, really felt that if anything went wrong, it was due to something he had done where he had upset the fundamental order of the living world, or of the cosmos.

I’ll read a passage from it, by an anthropologist called Hendrick Kraemer [The Christian Message In a Non-Christian World, New York, Harper & Brothers, 1938. Reproduced in a book by Robert T Parsons – Religion In An African Society]. Kramer says:

“the dominating interest in tribal society is to preserve and perpetuate social harmony, stability and welfare. Religious cults and magic practices have achieved this purposing view. Everyone who has lived with a primitive people, and has tried to immerse his mind in theirs, knows the deep-rooted dread they foster towards any disturbance of the universal and social harmony and equilibrium, and the intimate inter-independence they assume, as existing between these two – a violation of this harmony and equilibrium. Whether this is in use in the universal sphere, for example, by an unusual occurrence in nature, or from the social, by a dangerous transgression of tradition, or by disturbing events, such as the birth of twins, calls forth the corporate and strenuously religious activity towards restoring the harmony and thereby saving the fertility of their fields, their health, the security of their fields, and the stability and welfare of their tribe, from becoming endangered”.

In other words, traditional man, saw the world as having a definite order – a definite organization. He saw it as structured in a specific way, and he saw it as displaying a particular order – an order that is reflected, not only in the world of living things, and in the Cosmos too, but also in his society. Now this is tremendously important. Of course, this is totally denied by the scientific world. Absolutely unacceptable. It is the antithesis of the principle of the selfish gene, which by the way, represents the orthodoxy in scientific circles today. The ‘selfish gene’ means everyone is for himself. This is part of the whole paradigm.

We know it has to be true in economics. For Adam Smith, the basic message regarding the individual, was that it is by looking after your individual interests that you can satisfy the requirements of the whole. How do you explain that? Via the ‘invisible hand’. This notion is reflected in all the disciplines in which we divide our knowledge. We will talk about evolution and how natural selection is nothing more than the invisible hand at the biological level. I am not the first to remark on that – I am just repeating what many people have said. It is based on the same principle (everyone is for himself), whether at the biological, the social or the economic level.

Everywhere today, you see individualism and atomism. The biological world has been atomised The whole of our society has been atomised. Everything is atomised. Even now, scientists adopt the individualistic concept in ecology. You would believe it possible. But since a man called Herbert Gleason wrote an article in 1927 that was very much laughed at, at the time – since then, it has now been adopted and it is assumed that you can understand the function of ecosystems by looking at their individual parts.

Now this whole notion of the atomisation of the living world, has to be assumed, if you are going to justify the reductionistic method of modern science. It is there to justify the methods which scientists (and our academics, industrialists and politicians) have adopted. If you assume that you can understand things by looking at their parts, you are denying that there is any organization in nature. If things are organized in a particular way, you cannot understand their organization by looking at the parts themselves. It is only by looking at the whole.

One of the original principles of ecology, when it was first taught in academia, was just that. The whole is more than the sum of the parts, because it is organized. This is now denied by the ecology they teach – the shameful ecology they teach in our universities – it is denied. You would not believe it possible but it is. Everything is possible today.

Now of course, I’m very attached to the teachings of Jim Lovelock, who was a neighbour of mine, for a very long time in Cornwall. We held meetings in Cornwall to look at the implications of his Gaia thesis. His thesis [or Gaian science] is in this respect, irreconcilable with the modern science, even though he sees himself as a scientist – very much so. He is very keen on being a member of the scientific community.

Yet you cannot reconcile his notion of Gaia with modern science. His notion of Gaia is basically the biosphere, together with its atmospheric environment and geological substrate. He see the working of the whole of this ‘great beast’, as one unit. It is an organization and it has a critical order, though he wouldn’t use the term. Let me quote from him. What he says fits in with what I told you about the tribe’s view of the critical order of the world:

“The atmospheric concentration of gases, such as oxygen and ammonia, is found to be kept at an optimum value, from which even small departures could have disastrous consequences for life.”

He is returning to the view of your tribal man. Disastrous disasters that could occur, like climate changes etc, are the consequences of failing to respect the critical order of the cosmos. This is precisely how tribal man saw it, yet this view is totally opposed to the one which science holds when looking at these things. If you are sick, they will start looking at bits and pieces inside you. They even look at the human body and refuse to admit that it has a critical structure: they still look at the parts. Now this is a critically important point.

What is important to tribal society? What is important in traditional society? For me, what is important, occurs in all tribal societies. I am very generalist you see. I do not mind being told that either. I think it is easier to generalize than to particularize. There are always exceptions to rules, but generalities are much more likely to be true. Now regarding generalities, as I see it, all traditional man, understood that the biosphere had a critical order. They understood that their welfare depended entirely on maintaining this critical order.

All of them too, had the notion that there is a particular path or ‘Way’ which it is essential must be taken. As I describe, the path or ‘Way’, was dictated by their different cultural patterns, consistent with their different metaphysics, as expressed in their different mythologies, or rather, as justified by their different mythologies. Now, this path or ‘Way’ was precisely that path or Way that served to maintain the critical order of the living world, and of the Cosmos.

Equally important is that it is by taking this path that you observe the law – the critical law – of your society (the gnomos, as the Greeks called it), and also the law of the biosphere, and the law of the cosmos. Very interestingly, there is a passage from Pythagoras as quoted by Lamblicus, in which Pythagoras says just that. He says, the gnomos (the law of societies); the lomos (the law of the cities of men); the dike (the laws of the living world), and the themis (the laws in the kingdom of the Gods), are one and the same.

This is all critically important to me. It is quite evident that you cannot have conflicting laws. If the laws of your society, conflict with the laws of the living world, which in turn conflict with the religious laws of the cosmos, in all its sense, then, there are going to be terrible maladjustments. Such conflicting laws are not just viable. For the whole enterprise to work, the laws must be the same, as they were in all of traditional societies. Thus, it never occurred to people that the same laws did not apply, in so far as they used the word ‘law’.

Now what is important about this ‘Way’ – this notion of the Way (maintaining the critical order of the cosmos) is this. There was a term or word, for the Way, in most of the Archaic societies, and there was a word for the opposite path: the anti-Way, which was the way that led to the disruption of the critical order of the cosmos. Among the Greeks, the Way was the dike, or the themis, or the lomos when it applied to people within the society, and the terms seem to be interchangeable and the words did not always mean the Way – often it referred to simply order itself. But often it referred to the path you must take to maintain this order.

There was the notion of the asha in the Avestars and the Persians; originally among the Indians, the Vedic Indians – the Vedas, was the notion of the r’ta (sometimes spelt ri’ta); and there was an anti-Way, which was the un-r’ita. Eventually the term ceased to be used, but the un-rita was used a lot by the Vedas in the earliest books, and in later classics, you still find that they talk about the un-rita but they do not talk about the r’ta anymore, for dharma takes over, which means precisely the same thing.

Then later on, the dharma was taken over by the Buddhists, and the dharma is still very important with them today. The same term was used in ancient Egypt with the word maat. If you read that great, great, remarkable book by F. M. Cornford – the great classical scholar, who wrote From Religion To Philosophy, in it he shows how the early religions of man, were for him, largely concerned with the great cosmic forces like moira (fate) and dike (the Way). Dike also meant righteousness and law and justice, and slowly these forces were personified. There was the goddess of the r’ta – the goddess Aljuna. They had gods for all these different forces.

In many societies, there is not an explicit word for the Way, but the term is, nevertheless, implicit. There is still a way that you must follow, even though they do not have a word for it. Now is also true if you look at early religion. Original chthonic religion – as it tends to be called – the religion of the God, Chthon, which is the god of the Earth, could be called Gaia religion. I call it ‘chthonic’, but it could easily be called, Gaia, easily.

Actually, if I publish another edition of The Way, I will the god of the Earth, Gaia. Chthonic religions, is really the religion of the Earth. It is certainly the original religion, and was not replaced by Christianity, as most people think. It was replaced by the religion of the Olympian gods, who were already divorced from the normal living world. The Olympian gods were much more sky gods than Earth gods. Importantly, the original chthonic gods, had become the demons (because the Gods of one religion become the devils of the next), and the new demonic gods (such as the God of Mount Olympus) as Henry Frankfurt said in his story of Mesopotamia, were no longer regarded as subject to the great forces of the original chthonic.

In original chthonic religion, and in original chthonic societies, the great laws, the lomos, and the dike etc, were treated with much more importance, for the gods themselves had to conform to the laws, whereas the new demi-gods did not. The Olympian demi-gods were perceived to above the Gods. The demi-gods espoused the principles of individualism, which was already setting in, long before Christianity came in. In her study of Greek religion, Themis and Polygonomer: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion, Jane Harrison documents this in great detail.

So this to me is tremendously important. In any case, the important thing about the Gods of traditional society, and in chthonic religion, is that the Gods were organised and structured in such a way, as to reflect the order of society, and the order of the natural world. They had a Pantheon which reflected the order of the cosmos, in order to serve them. They had to maintain the actual structure of the living world, of the cosmos, which they faithfully reflected, and helped to sanctify.

Then of course, there was another notion which helped maintain the structure (and direction) of the living world and the cosmos, which is the notion of vital force. Just about all traditional people held a sacredness for the living cosmos, which was really very closely connected with this notion of vital force. They saw the whole world as being permeated with this vital force, and this vital force, they saw as having a particular structure. It had the same structure as the living world.

For traditional people, the important thing was to maintain the structure of this vital force – the way it is described. By performing rituals, fulfilling (individual and collective) duties towards society and by maintaining social structures etc, traditional peoples were maintaining the order of this vital force. I go into that in some detail in my book because it is an interesting subject. So in effect, it is by doing maintaining (or preserving) this vital force, by observing the chthonic religion, by simply behaving and fulfilling the rituals, and maintaining the order of this vital force – maintaining the way this vital force is organised, you are preceding along the Way.

Clearly, what is important is that tribal man, and not just tribal man but traditional man, interpreted every problem, whatever the terrible problem might me, as actually indicating, that they had strayed away from the Way. Why is there an epidemic of disease? Why is there an invasion of the Philistines in the Bible? We sinned against the Lord (this explanation is in the Bible). We strayed away from the rules of our ancestors; we have not fulfilled our obligations to our ancestors, and to the other spirits of nature – to the Gods – the chthonic gods. Therefore, what is happening? We have disturbed the order of the cosmos, and now we have got these problems – these terrible epidemics. What must we do? We must return to it (the Way – or rules of our ancestors).

Now this is tremendously important: returning to it – fulfilling these obligations – which if you want to use ‘elegant’ modern language, fulfilling our cybernetic obligations. A cybernetic system is one that maintains itself along its course. If you send a missile to hit an aeroplane, the missile is so well ordered, that it takes in signals, and if it strays from its course, its correct the error, so that the missile hits the aeroplane. In a sense, with everything we do, we correct our errors along the Way. If I pick up this pen, it is a very complicated process of control, and I correct any divergence of the pen. If I want to put it in my mouth (heaven forbid), or put in on this paper, these very complicated processes, and if instead I put it in the wrong direction, I correct the error, along the Way.

This whole notion of correcting errors, and actually, keeping along a course, is critical. You notice that errors are corrected, even at the level of an embryo. An embryo develops towards an end state. What upset the great German geneticist, Driesch? He suddenly said that science “cannot enable me to explain what I have just seen”. He observed the development of an embryo of a sea urchin, or the embryo of the salamander (I forget which), and he cut bits off it – all sorts of frightful things to it, yet it still tried to develop into a normal baby embryo. It still tried to reach its end state. It still tried to reach its goal.

The embryo is teleological you see. You cannot escape from teleology. It is just impossible. The embryo was trying to do this, now how on Earth do you explain this in terms of the paradigm of science? A fruit fly, which has a gene for eye formation, was observed. The gene for eye formation, was taken away, but it still developed eyes. It still found other ways of doing it – a principle known as equifinality. It reached the same goal, but proceeding from different positions, and in spite of all sorts of perturbations.

The fruit fly was maintaining its homeostasis. It maintained, its homeorhesis, to use the term of C. H. Waddington – the great biologist. It is not just maintaining the same position in time, it is returning to the ground-position after an external disturbance. It is maintaining its position on a course. It stays on its Way.

Now Waddington used the term homeorhesis in embryology. He was an embryologist and a geneticist. He is one of our great theoretical biologists and he is not sufficiently honoured. He should have received a Nobel Prize, and still should. Waddington was a great, great man, and he talks about homeorhesis, meaning ‘on the same flow’ – keeping on the correct path. It corrects divergences from its path. If there is a problem, it will return to the path (Waddington referred to it as the ‘creo’). It is guiding itself on the Way.

For me, the Way in traditional society, is the social, cultural and religious equivalent of the creo. This is the necessary path which traditional people needed to maintain. It is exactly the same principle – exactly the same principle. Why shouldn’t it be? We are all part of precisely the same genus. You cannot separate the behaviour of an embryo, from the bringing up of the child. When you produce a baby, it has to be brought up in the family, it has to be educated – and the whole of its life is one process. You cannot divide its life into two processes. To suppose that its life is run by totally different laws at different stages of its development is totally preposterous.

When the later part of its life occurs, within its community and society, it is bound by its religion, which is obviously part of the same process, and subjected to the same laws, and the same terminology, as used for describing the whole developmental process. So it is quite unjustified to have different terms, and different languages, for describing different phases of this whole process, which is fundamentally and ultimately the same process.

So, to me, this notion of returning to the way is fundamental, essential and critical. What are the implications for us? Well it is quite clear. We have moved in the opposite direction from the path that we must follow in order to proceed along the Way. Instead of returning to the Way when there is a problem, we assume that each problem is caused by our failure to move sufficiently away from the Way.

What is development? We develop a country by taking resources that we cannot replace. We have a country, in Africa, or somewhere, where people live in their small communities. They have all their self-sufficiency, their food, they run themselves, they look after their old, educate their children, they live in a beautiful environment – with forests and rivers, and we decide this is backwards and we bulldoze the whole place, push them into slums, cover the whole place with grass plantations, destroy their culture, their religion, wipe out everything, put up a few skyscrapers and push the people into massive slums – and within a decade or two, half of humanity will be living in these slums.

This is what we do. If there is poverty, and there are people in the slums, instead of saying we have to retreat, to go back, to return to a more sustainable way of life, we say exactly the opposite. We say “these people are poor because we have not built enough skyscrapers, because we have not pushed them out of their villages fast enough, because we have not destroyed their communities fast enough, because we have not converted them to the modern way of looking at things, sufficiently”.

We say, that these people are ‘under-developed’, and that we have to continue the process of their development. So here we are. We actually know that the problems we are facing here, are due to a previous phase of development, and instead of interpreting them as such, with all our science, and all our brilliance, and all our universities, and all our computers – we interpret them in precisely the opposite way, in exactly the opposite way. We also assume that we have not proceeded fast enough.

It is like if I bash a man on the head with a hammer and he suddenly collapses, but then I immediately go and look at him, and say “My God! I haven’t bashed him hard enough. If I’d bashed him hard enough, he’d be alright. I’ll get out my hammer and bash him again.”. [audience laughter] This exactly what we’re doing, you see. We need to realise that we have moved in the wrong direction, and we simply have got to return to the type of society in which our ancestors once lived, of that there is no question at all.

If you actually turn to the problems that face us, we now know, because we have been told by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) set up by the United Nations, that we have got to cut down emissions of greenhouse gases by 60 – 80 percent right away, though politicians are refusing to face any of this – they don’t give a damn. The fact that we are heading for a climatic catastrophe, does not seem to concern them. They are only interested in the interest rate and other sorts of trivia of this type – unless you can change a society by fiddling with the interest rate (and I think you’ve got to be a child to believe that), but then again, we are run by children – let’s face it.

So here we are. What we have to do? Just to prevent a climatic catastrophe: we’ve got to cut down energy use massively, and to cut down energy use massively, we have to deploy our society in a very different way, with many more people concentrated in small communities, villages and small towns. We have got to conduct our economic activities on a very much smaller scale, catering for much smaller markets. In other words, we have go to move in exactly the opposite direction to which we are moving today – with GATT and Maastricht, and all these absurdities. So, we have to go in that direction for a host of other reasons.

For me, when you diverge from this, you are multiplying problems. Development is a problem multiplier. To use artificial fertilizers, you change climate. You kill off the menagerie fixing bacteria, you pollute the rivers, and with eutrophication of the rivers, the fish die off. You create nitrites which are carcinogens and there is no end to the problems you create. When you create a much weaker plant with an elongated cell, thin cell wall, low osmotic pressure, low sugar content, it needs many more pesticides than before, but it becomes full of water, and so it cannot store the bloody pesticides, because it is full of water. The plant takes up water to protect itself against, as a reaction to all the water.

We can go on, drawing up an endless catalogue of the problems caused by artificial fertilizers. It destroys tribal societies – any of the societies. Small scale peasants cannot afford the fertilizer, or the pesticide, or the other hybrid seeds, so they are all pushed off into the slums. There is a catalogue of disasters. It is introducing artificial fertilizers and ‘solutions’ of this sort, which creates and multiplies problems.

Now, when you actually dispose of these problems, you are moving in the other direction. Instead of multiplying problems, you are multiplying solutions. If you actually move people into small communities, you are solving a host of problems. You are providing a vast number of occupations of all sorts for people. Not only are you cutting down on energy consumption, you are solving the problem of acid rain. You are cutting down your dependence on resources which have to be provided from elsewhere – on oil in the Middle East. There is a catalogue of problems that you solve, just by moving in the right direction.

So we have no alternative, really, but to return to the Way. Having said that, we cannot re-constitute the past. Quite clearly, we have been marked indelibly by the experience of the last few hundred years. So all we can do is return in that direction and move in a direction, and create a society, which will have a lot to do with, and which will have a lot in common with the societies of the past, and which can, and must obviously been inspired by their experience, but which will not be the exactly same. The new society will be clearly influenced by what we’ve done in the last 150 years, for better or for worse. Thank you. [audience applause]


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