The Great Re-Think

Colin Tudge

The Great Re-Think

A 21st Century Rennaissance.

Book Briefing

by David Lorimer

Colin’s felicitous phrase ‘convivial societies in a flourishing biosphere’ is the mantra
conveyed by this remarkable tour de force of a book, the fruit of a lifetime of wide
reading and deep reflection on the key challenges of our time, rooted in his case in
our agricultural practices. The thesis is that we have to rethink everything from the
first principles of morality and ecology, grounded in a transcendent metaphysics that
was also rediscovered in the Florentine renaissance. Such a renaissance has to be a
grass roots initiative for the very good reason that the dominant corporate oligarchy –
a complex represented by Big Energy, Big Food, Big Agriculture, Big Tech, Big
Chemical, Big Pharma and Big Finance, with its focus on increasing wealth and
power – has bought up government policy and mainstream media, forming what
some people refer to as a Deep State in terms of its pervasive global influence.
However, as Paul Hawken noted in his 2007 book, Blessed Unrest, millions of NGOs
are already working towards a more humane, regenerative and compassionate
world, but the whole movement lacks a coordinating structure that could potentially
be provided through Internet means. This theme has come up in a number of our
recent webinars, notably in connection with indigenous cultures and the Humanity
Rising initiative.

As Colin shows in the diagram accompanying his article in this issue, a grassroots
Renaissance has to begin with a change of mindset and therefore values, the
transformation of infrastructure towards genuine democratic government, green
economic democracy and law, and action in terms of enlightened agriculture, food
culture and appropriate technology, all in the service of a convivial society in a
flourishing biosphere. This means redefining our aspirations and correspondingly our
institutions and values, elements that determine the structure of the book: the nature
of the task, the goal, action, infrastructure, mindset and prospects for the future. On
the diagnosis front, Colin notes that our economies are still geared to maximising
consumption and economic growth rather than well-being, and gives a good
overview of the present state of the world. He then asks three fundamental
questions: what is good? What is necessary? What is possible? He states – quite
rightly in my view – that ‘All human action should be guided by moral/metaphysical
principles on the one hand, and by the principles of ecology on the other.’ (p. 40) The
systems implication is that ‘everything must be rethought in the light of everything
else’ and in context in order to arrive at a coherent holistic worldview that applies
perennial principles to everyday life.

The current economic context is one of neoliberal competition originating in the
1980s, and which is now past its sell by date in terms of collateral destructive social
and ecological fallout and the fallacy of such metaphors as trickle-down and rising
tides lifting all boats in a world of rising inequality. Even 100 years ago, philosophers
like Kropotkin were highlighting mutual aid and cooperation as an alternative view on
Darwin, which the more recent work of David Loye has reinforced. We are by nature

convivial creatures with built-in empathy for each other. A flourishing biosphere has
to be based on the same fundamental principles of morality, ecology and the sense
of the sacred, characterised by Albert Schweitzer as Reverence for Life: ‘although
competition is an inescapable fact of nature, cooperation is the norm.’ (p. 84)
Moreover, Gaia theory has amply demonstrated the reciprocity between life and the
Earth in complex ecosystem feedback loops.

In terms of action related to jobs, crafts and robots, Colin charts the evolution of
technology where IT ‘can be seen as the ultimate extended phenotype.’ Schweitzer
also pointed out that there were three forms of progress relating to technology,
socialisation and spirituality– he regarded the last as the most important, what Colin
calls progress of heart and mind. Incredibly, he notes that ‘we are organising our
own redundancy as a species, relegating humanity itself to the sidelines… which is
surely not a sensible ambition.’ (p. 109) This policy is underpinned by ‘uncritical
technophilia’ in the service of maximising short-term profit and market share –
characterised as the ‘realistic’ view; this word needs to be comprehensively
redefined. The same redundancy is evident in industrial agro-monoculture with its
arguments about economies of scale, and consequent displacement of millions of
subsistence farmers into urban slums. Interestingly, current developments echo
those of the early 19 th century when skilled tradespeople were replaced by poorly
paid machine minders. Hence Colin’s powerful argument that ‘what matters most is
the effect that our technologies have on ourselves – our ways of life, our politics, our
relationships, our health, our psyche – and on fellow creatures and on the Earth.’ (p.
121)

This brings him into the centrality of agriculture with its emphasis on ‘bigger and
smarter technologies that maximise outputs and minimise labour’ whereby
machinery will eventually be controlled from the farmer’s computer terminal. Such
developments, as Colin rightly points out, ‘are the very opposite of what is required
to foster conviviality and to keep the natural world in good heart.’ He then discusses
the evolution of agricultural systems, explaining his own policy of ‘enlightened
agriculture’ which he has translated into corresponding organisations and
conferences on Real Farming. This is all well worth reading in detail – farms are
regarded as ecosystems and agriculture as a key component of the biosphere. The
key is to imitate Nature’s biological efficiency of sustaining life with minimal input and
minimum waste, which involves a radical redefinition of the term efficiency as
understood in capitalist terms. Colin sums this up in a series of six great untruths that
threaten to kill us all. Correspondingly, he explains his ideas on a new food culture,
drawing on the history of the nutrition and emphasising the importance of traditional
cooking and folk knowledge, including putting cooking and gardening on the school
curriculum.

The section on infrastructure covers political governance, an economy fit for
purpose, and law as it relates to land management. Colin engages in radical
critiques of all these systems, proposing a number of axes between polarities and
advancing a view based on Keir Hardie’s green social democracy to replace our
existing system of ‘metadarwinism’ and rule by oligarchy – the key question
becomes ‘how to break the feedback loop that keeps the oligarchy in power and to
expose the crude thinking lies behind it.’ (p. 200) He shows through the history of
economics how we have evolved a system devoid of morality, ecological principles

and compassion, a somewhat ironic development in view of Adam Smith’s work on
human sympathy. Since the 1980s, finance capitalism has come to dominate
economic systems where wealth has trickled up, markedly so as a result of
pandemic lockdowns that have devastated small businesses worldwide. Colin sets
out six key components of Green economic democracy, including a role for
community ownership with a minimalist and circular economy. His chapter on the law
of the land builds constructively on the radical ideas of Henry George.

The last part on mindset brings us to philosophical and ethical essentials required to
underpin a 21 st -century Renaissance. Colin discusses three basic approaches to
morality – utilitarian/consequentialist, deontological/ focused on duty, and virtue
ethics. He then proposes a universal morality based on compassion, humility and
reverence for life, quoting the Dalai Lama’s call for a Revolution of Compassion. The
next chapter gives a good summary overview of the history of science, culminating in
an important section on the need for science to be taught alongside philosophy of
science, including such empathic approaches like that of Barbara McClintock. I
would like to have seen some mention in this discussion of the work of RG
Collingwood, whose Essay on Metaphysics was a riposte to the logical positivism of
the 1930s, making it crystal clear that metaphysics represented by presuppositions is
an essential underpinning of all intellectual activity, including science. This work has
more recently been developed by Nicholas Maxwell.

Overall, the cultural missing link is metaphysics with its core questions: what is the
universe really like? What is goodness? How do we know what is true? How come?
In addressing the first question, Colin discusses transcendence, oneness, the sense
of mystery and intuition. Increasing numbers of people, including myself, are
sympathetic to the view that ‘consciousness may be a principal component of the
universe itself’ (p. 314). However, Colin does not take the further step of explicitly
discussing the western tradition of gnosis or direct non-dual knowledge that is its
own experiential validation through what is traditionally known as the eye of the heart
or the eye of contemplation. By contrast, the eye of reason requires evidential proof
since its method and perception is indirect rather than direct, as Radhakrishnan has
pointed out. The concept of oneness is absolutely crucial since it logically entails
interdependence and interconnectedness that have profound implications at every
level, as I myself have argued in Resonant Mind with my proposal for an ethic of
interconnectedness. At the very least, Colin argues that the ideas of transcendence
and oneness should be taken seriously along with his ethic of compassion, humility
and reverence for life.

All social movements are based on key orienting principles and ideas. Most readers
will agree that we are in need of a transformative upgrade based on our most
profound transcendent and scientific principles. As Colin highlights in his conclusion,
the ingredients are in fact already in place but kept largely out of view by the
pressure of our current dominating infrastructure. As I suggested in my first
paragraph, we need better coordination and communication of this New
Renaissance worldview to which the Network is devoted, along with countless
resonating self-organising initiatives. This brilliant analytical synthesis is a hugely
significant contribution to articulating the necessary framework and should be very
widely read, discussed and acted upon.

Colin

Author

Colin Tudge

Colin Tudge is a biologist by education and a writer by trade who has worked for some years worked for BBC Radio3, New Scientist, and Farmers Weekly, and is author of about 20 books on the life sciences, agriculture, and food – and is increasingly interested in metaphysics. He a co-founder of the Oxford Real Farming Conference and the College for Real Farming and Food Culture. His latest bookThe Great Re-Think, is published by Pari Publishing and available online from Blackwell’s and Waterstones.

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