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Deep thought - Oct 14

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Farm Work vs. Gardening

Michael Perelman, Transcending the Economy (book)
In order to understand the potential for transforming the economy, let me use a simple example that does not require much of a stretch of the imagination. Just think of the enormous contrast between farm work for wages and gardening as a hobby. Farm work is considered to be so abhorrent in the United States that we regularly hear that only foreign-born workers are willing to perform it. Supposedly, citizens of the United States would never be willing to subject themselves to the life of a farm worker.

While farm labor may be among the hardest, most dangerous work in our society, many people regard gardening as a pleasant diversion. While the United Farm Workers Union represents mostly downtrodden workers, a good number of wealthy people are proud affiliates of their blue-blood garden clubs. Over and above the time that they spend in their gardens, many gardeners enthusiastically devote considerable leisure time to conversing or reading in order to become better gardeners. In addition, many gardeners also willingly spend substantial sums for equipment and supplies to use in their gardens.

What, then, is the underlying difference between farm work and gardening? Farm work typically entails hard physical labor, but many gardeners also exert themselves in their gardens. The difference lies in the context of gardening. Gardeners, unlike farm workers, freely choose to be gardeners. During their free time when they work in their gardens, they want to be gardening. Nobody tells them what to do. Of course, gardeners are not entirely free to follow their whims. The rhythms of the seasons and the sudden shifts in the weather dictate some of what the gardeners do, but gardeners generally accept these demands beforehand.

As the psychologist, John Neulinger says: "Everyone knows the difference between doing something because one has to and doing something because one wants to" (Neulinger 1981, p. 15). We should also keep in mind that society respects gardeners. Our newspapers regularly print features of interest to gardeners. Some even have special sections to appeal to their affluent gardening readers. All the while, the lives of farm workers generally pass virtually unnoticed. After all, in our society, farm work is not "respectable" work in the sense that well-to-do families would not approve of their children becoming farmworkers.

If we paid farm workers as well as those who labor on Wall Street and accorded farm workers the sort of dignity that college professors enjoy, parents might still try to steer their children away from farm work because of the frequent exposure to potentially lethal toxins. But then, if society esteemed farm workers, farmer owners would not and could not spray them with impunity.

Gardeners engage in a modest sort of passionate labor. They tend to take pride in their gardens. They work with care and joy. They can take pleasures in their surroundings and feel a part of nature.

Farm workers take orders or, if they work by the piece, they must concentrate all their energies on picking an enormous quantity of fruits and vegetables, just to make ends meet. Recall how the short-handled hoe was designed to put a quick stop to any possible reveries about the farm workers' surroundings.

Our goal in making society work for the betterment of all people would be to convert our economy from something that resembles a nation of a few farmers working a multitude of farm workers into a new kind of economy that resembled a community of gardeners, in which workers would have good reason to attack their jobs with a sense of care, pride, joy and even exhilaration.

Michael Perelman is a professor in the Economics Department of California State University (Chico).
(13 October 2007)
The full title of the book is "Transcending the Economy: On the Potential of Passionate Labor and the Wastes of the Market". Google Book Search an entry for the book, as well as substantial excerpts. This snippet appeared at Marxmail.

Think-Tank Confidential

Christopher Demuth, Wall Street Journal
What I learned during two decades as head of America's most influential policy shop.
I have been presiding at the American Enterprise Institute for 21 years. Today I am announcing that I will step down before the end of 2008. The search for a successor has begun--this being AEI, it will be a competitive search, and we expect a happy conclusion long before the target date.

I hope to remain at the institute, if my successor will have me, pursuing my own research and writing. Policy think-tanks such as AEI have become important centers of applied scholarship, and friend and foe alike say we are terribly influential. But our position at the crossroads of politics and academics draws a certain amount of fire from both directions, and the reasons for our success are not widely understood. Here is my kiss-and-tell.

Think tanks are identified in the public mind as agents of a particular political viewpoint. It is sometimes suggested that this compromises the integrity of their work. Yet their real secret is not that they take orders from, or give orders to, the Bush administration or anyone else. Rather, they have discovered new methods for organizing intellectual activity--superior in many respects (by no means all) to those of traditional research universities.
(11 October 2007)
One does not have to agree with Mr. Demuth's poltical views to see that he has headed an extraordinarily effective think tank. If one wants to help set the agenda for the future, it might be good to learn from him. -BA

The Pain of Caring Too Much about the Earth's Death

Glen Barry, Earth Meanders
I am unwilling and unable to sit by stoically and impassively as the Earth, her creatures and humanity suffer and die; no matter how much it hurts emotionally, and you should not either
The Earth is dying and it makes me feel sad. Not just a bit tense or melancholy; but deeply and profoundly anguished, depressed, and angry. Humanity had so much potential that has been wasted. Our self consciousness, opposable thumbs, upright walking and ability for limited rationality has lead to great triumphs in philosophy, art, sport and leisure. But alas other aspects of our animalistic nature; libido, insatiable appetite, and desire to dominate, have won out.

This week a leading scientist reported what many of us already knew and intuited: that climate change has already surpassed critical thresholds that ensure it will be dangerous and deadly. Increasingly humanity is called upon to come to terms with the fact that our habitat and societies are almost certainly going to fail. I believe that seeing clearly the Earth’s looming demise accounts for much of my and others' emotional pain.

We are witnessing a political, social, economic and ecological failure of unprecedented magnitude as the Earth is poised upon global ecological collapse. It is unsettling to know that your species is not going to make it. I believe strongly that we must continue our efforts to halt ecological collapse, by urgently pursuing policies such as ending the use of coal and ancient forest logging. And we must prepare our families and communities to pursue self-reliance, as we return to the land for a final stand.

Yet, how does one continue living and working with the certain knowledge that a time of extreme suffering, death, and the possible end of being is at hand?

Dr. Barry is founder and President of Ecological Internet; provider of the largest, most used environmental portals on the Internet including the Climate Ark at and http://www.EcoEarth.Info/ .
(11 October 2007)
Recommended by contributor Bill Henderson.

Gandalf, Gunpowder and Neil Gaiman's cats

Sam Norton, Elizaphanian
Last week Zachary Nowak paid me the compliment of responding to my article 'The Holiness of Stuart Staniford'. Nowak has written some very good articles about Peak Oil and the right way to respond to it (see here, here and here) and I should say up front that I would not class him as a 'doomer' in the sense I was referring to in my holiness article (or in this one).

However, it might be worth pursuing the debate a bit further - and that will take me on a little detour, via Neil Gaiman, Gandalf and Oliver Cromwell....

It seems to me that in Peak Oil circles there are often two sorts of repeating arguments. The first we might call 'anti-cornucopian' - this is all about persuading people that Peak Oil is real, that it is serious, that it stands up to intellectual scrutiny in a way that the CERA-style analysis just doesn't. The second we might call 'anti-doomer' - this is an in-house argument and, whilst it seems superficially the same as the first, ie it draws on much of the same material, it tends to get much more emotionally heated. I think we can put these attitudes on a spectrum, and we can label three hypothetical positions on that spectrum A, B and C:


With regard to Peak Oil, A says 'there is no problem' and effectively does not see the same things as B and C; B says 'there is a problem that's likely to take these sorts of shapes'; C says 'there is a problem and it will take this pattern'. And there are of course a vast number of different positions on the spectrum possible.

What I want to draw out is that, in argument with A, B and C would make exactly the same arguments - they would draw on the same analysis, the same geological investigations, the same historically observed data. There is, in short, a great deal of common ground between B and C; they would, it seems to me, precisely share what Zachary describes as a 'logical analysis of the facts'. Yet there is nothing to stop B and C having an intense argument about what will happen in the future - and from my point of view this describes many of the arguments in the comment threads at the Oil Drum...

Which brings me (at last) to what I want to say about hope - because I think it is the establishment and maintenance of hope which will allow for a better future to be created. In other words, hope is not primarily a sentiment, a feeling generated within oneself - hope is, instead, a virtue, a practice, a habit which can be cultivated and strengthened.

...Which brings me to gunpowder. I would disagree with Oliver Cromwell on all sorts of matters (grin) but there is a phrase attributed to him which I have always loved: "Trust in God, and keep your gunpowder dry". In other words - trust in God, but make all necessary provisions and precautions as your judgement of the situation demands. This is describing hope in the way that I understand it - not as a resistance to a painful acquaintance with the facts, but hope properly born on the far side of realism, after all the facts are intimately known, when questions of character and determination come to the fore. To sum up, I would say that position A above (let's call it the cornucopian) says: "there is no enemy, I need no gunpowder"; position C above (the doomer) says "the enemy is coming! light the gunpowder!"; position B - which is where I think we must pursue our future - says "I have my gunpowder primed - and I am quite ready NOT to use it".
(11 October 2007)
Contributor Sam Norton writes:
a slightly fuller biography might help explain where I'm coming from. I've studied Philosophy and Theology at Oxford, London and Cambridge, and I'm particularly interested in questions relating to the history of science and philosophy of mind, particularly how the emotions interact with our cognitive processes. In addition, before becoming a priest, I worked in the UK Department of the Environment, specialising at one point in the regulation of nuclear power. That might help explain why I end up writing the way I do!

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