Introducing ‘A World Turned Upside Down’, an old english ballad ‘a brief description of the ridiculous fashions of these distracted times’...coined in protest at Parliament’s attempts to make Christmas a solemn occasion (not a traditionally english raucous one)
David Fell – The Economics of Enough – and his piece: Eleven Things So Far – manages to be the most random and one of the most thoughtful things Dougald haas read among all the hundreds of thousands of words written in and about this crisis – close to the spirit of these conversations.
He quotes Bill Bryson’s list of things done by 19th century vicars with economic security and a lot of time on their hands – “Never in history have a group of people engaged in a broader range of creditable activities for which they were not in any sense actually employed.” List includes:
- George Bayldon compiled the world’s first dictionary of Icelandic
- Laurence Sterne wrote ‘The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman’
- Edmund Cartwright invented the power loom
- Jack Russell bred the terrier that bears his name
- Octavius Pickard-Cambridge became the world’s leading authority on spiders
- William Shepherd wrote a history of dirty jokes
“Not one of these people disappeared up their own arse in the belief that they had achieved some over-privileged insight. And why? Because at least once a week they had to stand up in front of a group of perfectly ordinary people and talk to them in terms they understood. They were forced to stay grounded.”
David Fell then talks about all the people “talking about all the things they want to see different ‘afterwards’.”:
“Talk has begun of the ‘exit strategy’. And plenty of people are also talking about all the things they want to see different ‘afterwards’.
Generally, as far as I can tell, these plenty of people – all of whom are serious and well-meaning – are asking for the same things they’ve always asked for: for more trees, fewer evil corporations, an economy in the shape of a circle or a doughnut or an éclair, proper funding for this that or the other, an end to homelessness and hunger and poverty. I’m seeing it being written that, in order to get these (in general laudable) things, the policy options need to be ‘oven ready’ or ‘on the table’ or some other metaphor indicating that the idea has to be sitting there just waiting for the moment when…
When a calm and thoughtful politician decides it would be a good idea? When a high-impact think-tank puts it into a paper which is well-received by an open-minded SPAD? When a courageous civil servant or a parliamentary committee or an aspiring opposition leader indicates his or her interest?
What is happening right now is way, way outside the think tanks and the media bubbles and the usual channels. What is happening now is tens and hundreds and thousands of millions of people having the most profound experience of their lives. We are in the middle of the most profound flux...
Talk about afterwards if you want; but don’t expect it to mean much. After what? We don’t even know what the what is yet.”
We weren’t planning on turning this week’s episode into an audiobook of David Fell’s blog, but frankly Dougald couldn’t help himself!
Ed begins with Thomas Pueyo’s ‘Hammer & the Dance’ one of the most read articles on the corona crisis. Which brought to mind TSEliot’s ‘In the stillness, there is dancing’ from Four Quartets:
“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.”
We then discuss ‘Planet of the Humans’ the HIGHLY polemical/controversial and perhaps badly unevidenced conspiratorial narrative, within which there is a kernel of truth – ‘are we saving the planet, or OUR* way of life’? *’Our’ meaning the top 1B as Dougald has mentioned previously…and the logical fallacy that industrial civilisation will save us from industrial civilisation.
Followed by a sobering piece from Grist, The World Is In Lockdown So Where Are All The Carbon Emissions Coming From? The current forecast drop of 5.5% in global carbon emissions as a result of the crisis – the biggest drop ever – is not even 7.5% a year we need to have a decent chance of meeting the 1.5 degree goal
We reflect a little on lockdown ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ – what irrational impulses might arise from living lockdown a little too enthusiastically? Dougald cites an article by Dr Farrah Jarral in the Guardian about people whose mental health is benefiting from lockdown – but that there’s another sense in which this is all taking place in a simulation.
We finish up with a bit of Manfred Max Neef, the Chilean economist who pioneered ‘Human Scale Development’ and barefoot economics, so have been checking out his ideas around needs…one of which is ‘idleness’
And conclude with a hopeful story this week, from India – Ram Subramanian from Tamil Nadu on the ReMembering and ReEnchanting Podcast and Ed’s first two serious conversations with senior business people re ‘steady state’ businesses that might still be successful even if they end up dramatically smaller than they were pre-crisis, and with no plans to grow – changing a very very deep narrative? That’s an inversion of such an intense orthodoxy, I am curious to see how that new story emerges…
Plus whether Martin Shaw’s powerful mythical teachings r.e. despots who in order to seize power take out their hearts and bury them…the resolution comes from the recovery of the buried heart. Dougald wrote a piece ‘The curious tale of Boris Johnson’s heart’ last year…and Ed wonders aloud if a near death experience, and new fatherhood (admittedly for the umpeenth and uncertain actual number of times!) might turn Boris’s world upside down? We live, as always in grounded hope…