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How would we know if society was mad? If it had lost touch with reality and was simply deluded much of time? But I get ahead of myself already.

Mental illness is already a much-contested domain. Many medical doctors and many psychiatrists want to insist that there are physical concomitants of mental disturbance, a “chemical imbalance in the brain”. Every aspect of this has been debunked; there has been no chemical imbalance found, the brain may well not be the site of mental disturbance, so-called cures have been shown to cause lasting brain damage, et cetera.

I studied with a lovely man, Noel Cobb, who worked extensively with R.D. Laing. Ronnie Laing was convinced that when a person was deemed mad, the dysfunction was in society — not in the person. There was a house in east London for schizophrenics where this point of view was validated, and Noel worked there with the residents. …


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Your medical data is being used without your permission in ways that will undermine your health — it just is — and there is nothing you can do about either the theft of the data or the nature of the misuse of it. In fact, your right to understand and influence your own health is disappearing; your health will be determined elsewhere by criteria you have zero control over. For you own good, of course!

The labels attached to this health governance putsch are either philanthropic and charitable, as in the Gates Foundation, or are emergency responses to perceived crises, responding to fears often stoked by the governments concerned. By definition there is no question of democratic oversight, not even retrospectively. …


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The purpose of a system is what it does. Stafford Beer said, with a twinkle, that the purpose of the Jaguar spares department was to keep his vehicle off the road. With a bit less twinkle and a bit more angst, we want to explore why we should acknowledge that what system does is just an important set of facts and insights to set alongside and against what anyone’s intentions might be, or what they say their intentions are.

The political discussion and debate seem to be largely about facts. About whether some statement or number is correct or not. Let’s put this discussion to one side by just saying Warm Data. You don’t get a clear picture by simplifying, you get it by building a sense of the entire context in many, many dimensions. …


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It’s autumn when everyone celebrates the glorious colours of the trees as they turn — “tree” is one of the first words of many children. A tree is one of those taken-for-granted things, beings, that we suppose we don’t need to understand in more depth. But if we look at what we think trees are and what they have to teach us if we watched and listened properly, they are truly wonderful.

What we call a tree can be part of a much larger and older organism. An aspen can be part of an organism with 10,000 other aspens and that organism can be 10,000 years old — one of the oldest beings on the planet. Notice how the language does us a disservice here: we can only talk of aspen trees as though they were singular, not part of a greater plural. …


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There is a class of people who think that pedestrians and cyclists should keep out of the way of cars. Not of course as an immediate avoiding action but as policy. A colleague who serves on a panel in Merseyside will confirm that the Merseyside Police think that road safety is about keeping roads safe for motorists. He finds that infuriating in a pillar-of-the-community sort of way.

If there was a single thing that would make a substantive difference to our future it is abolishing car culture. Cars are almost as deep in our psyche as food. As a wonderful metaphor, the lovely man we bought this smallholding from wanted it so that he and his children could race quadbikes on the fields. …


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The opposite of self-determination is not slavery but being played. A slave knows what the game is and can respond accordingly: it is foul but it is honest. Being played cannot be honest; by its very nature it is a subterfuge that maintains the illusion of self-determination while making sure that it cannot exist. In all probability, if you believe you have freedom to act for yourself, there are power players who welcome your belief.[1]

My colleague John Smith talks about degrees of freedom. He is concerned to keep real choices open, even if doing so sacrifices apparent advantage. The other side of this coin is that the people who are trying to play you want apparent degrees of freedom: choices that are not real. For a topical example, Caitlin Johnstone argues cogently that there is not real choice in the coming US election, that both parties are warmongers who depend on the illusion of electoral process. …


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Asking better questions is recommended by many wise people. The word “better” is a clue that this is not a straightforward process. When we ask a better question, a line of thought emerges that leads to a more productive view of the world — but productive is just another post hoc value judgement.

Here is a starter for ten. How do soil nutrients move uphill? Many nutrients are highly soluble in water. Water has been known to move mainly downhill — the exception would be capillary action. It rains and, as a result, nutrients move from high ground to lower ground. And in poorly managed situations they can pollute runoff and the rivers it ends up in. …


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There is a chapter in Bateson’s Steps to an Ecology of Mind in which he explores and bemoans the guidelines for describing previously uncontacted tribes. His salient point is that the categories that form the framework of our thinking such as economy and culture are not categories that belong to or describe the tribes concerned. “How does the economy of this tribe function?” can be a seriously misleading question. The more it seems unavoidable to us, the more damaging it is.[1] I want to use this brilliant work to illuminate how the world that will emerge from our current global difficulties and the collapse of our culture may not be described within our current categories. And economy is central to that. …


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There are plenty of people who think that problems are caused by wrong acts; i.e. you do something wrong and you suffer or someone else suffers. In an extension of this thinking, people think that if they don’t do anything wrong then they will be alright. I think this is just germ theory in another guise: if we keep the germs out, we will be healthy.

If people have a religious cast of mind, then the word for these bad things is sin. There are rules about what you must and must not do. There are sins of omission and sins of commission. I notice, because of my cast of mind, that these religious people typically project their values and beliefs into the rules. …


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What could be simpler than grass? What could be more Welsh than hilly grass fields grazed by sheep? Isn’t that just the way it is?

George Monbiot is his book Feral uses the word sheepwrecked. He means that between the sheep grazing everything down to a short sward and allegedly compacting the soil with their hooves, Welsh hills are a desert. He is deeply wrong, but it is a good starting point.

What happens if you don’t graze a Welsh sheep field? We planted fruit trees in two of our fields and, as amply demonstrated by some escaped sheep in half an hour or so, sheep would rather eat young fruit trees than grass. …

Aidan Ward

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