What might it mean for a community to be shaped by its function in the landscape? We have lost the sense that the landscape has its own power, its own needs, its own interdependence with the people who live in it. The paths available for communities to take without doing violence to themselves are much more constrained than we might think.

We can get some of the flavour of this question by thinking about the Amish or inhabiting the world of Wendell Berry. Almost every question is a community question, from personal relationships through agricultural methods, wise use of technology…


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…


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…


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…


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…


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…


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…


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…


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…


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…

Aidan Ward

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store