“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero
Perhaps the Russians are wiser than the rest of us:
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Any gardener will know that wisdom as well as vegetables can be found in their garden.
Gardening can be many things; it can be a simple mechanism for growing food, a creative statement, a pathway to recovery or a subtle act of economic rebellion.
Gardening can also lead to the re-engagement of modern humanity with themselves and the natural world through the mechanism of gardening and perhaps with the genetic drivers of our true nature.
In effect gardening allows the creation of a modern techno-tribe. Consider the benefits of gardening in terms of food production and the buffering of communities against catastrophes, the enhancement of happiness and spiritual well-being, and the general health of the individual and their community.
We have been told, for some time now, that our world is shaped by “The Market”, an intellectual concept much-loved by economists. The basic idea that this concept is based on is that we, as individuals, are motivated by greed and self-interest rather than compassion and the desire to get along together. In this construct we are supposed to be “rational beings” without emotion or “irrational” concern for our fellows. We are assured that this apparently overwhelming entity will ultimately have our interests at heart and be stable enough to ensure our happiness and survival. And we are told that there is no alternative.
Here I assert rather that human society is structured by cooperation and mutual dependence and that the breakdown of cooperation should be viewed the exception rather than the rule. And that we are currently in the middle of just such a catastrophic breakdown. For the vast majority of our history we lived in small groups which were held together by the bonds of mutual dependence. This worked for hundreds of thousands of years, so why have we been convinced to ignore the possibility of cooperation as a structuring social force for the last few decades in this long history. We are told that there is no malice in this cold and unforgiving view of human nature, but perhaps no wisdom either. We do not have to be poor to live together in peace we just have to accept that cooperative affluence it is possible.
So communism failed, or so we were told. It is a shame no one has informed the most populous nation on earth of that apparent reality and also we ignore what is arguably Asia’s most dynamic economy, Vietnam, that this is the case. It is important to note that these two economic powerhouses suffered almost total destruction in the last century, one as a consequence of internal strife and colonial manipulation, and the other from generations of discord. And so what if the failure of a socialist attempt to address these massive injustices was due to the concerted efforts of two of the worlds most powerful countries, the USA and Britain, who have exported to the world their own internal inequities rather than internalising their dependence on differential access to resources and wealth .
This was never a level playing field and yet they have arisen to challenge the superiority of the “free market” economies in both trade and manufacturing. The USA defends itself against the laissez-faire approach of these nations to production by the imposition of trade barriers and military intervention. It seems the boot is now on the other foot.
Certainly “Communism” was both flawed by the imperfection of its implementation and the remnants of past attitudes and beliefs, the clinging influence of old elites, acting out of fear of being overwhelmed, and possibly out of bitter narrow-minded self-interest. But surely the idea that people are equal and have a right to a reasonable life is not something to be held in contempt.
And perhaps it was challenged by the sheer scale of the endeavour it undertook, but it certainly was actively undermined by vigorous and aggressive capitalism. Many people in the old Soviet Union and elsewhere are now wondering if they have not swapped the devil they knew for a new and less ideologically focussed one.
The triumph of rat-capitalism over an attempt to overcome the ancient inequities of feudal Europe and Asia is not a failure of ideology but a sheer underestimation of the inertia of social systems and the dominance of fear in the minds of those who have been for so long oppressed.
Solzhenitsyn or Tolstoy could have easily been writing about the sweatshops of Asia, or the mines of the Third World owned by large corporations as about the deprivations of the Soviet Union. The argument about ideological superiority among the “developed” nations has ignored the fact that in the developing world people are still paying for our affluence.
The trouble with the constant assertion of a negative view about ourselves is that we may come to accept it; the lowest common denominator in our interpretation of our fellow citizens and ourselves. This leads to a world dominated by envy and resentment and to individuals wracked with fear of their fellows and for their future.
I propose here that we should spend time in an environment that promotes both cooperation and also which allows the development of some real personal independence, while interacting with the natural world in a productive and sustainable manner.
Digging in a garden, and growing some of your own food in a secure environment, would seem to be a very a basic proposition; something you would expect to be able to do in any civilised society. I assert here that you should also expect to be able to buy decent food if you had the money to pay for it.
By any measure these are not unreasonable statements.
In our current society we expect to have instant access to the internet and own a car that does twice the legal speed limit but it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the time, space and resources to grow some food for yourself and your family.
Accessing the means to address these simple needs seems so basic that we could assume they were “rights” that we could take for granted. There were times where history and circumstances make food supply difficult, and in many places in our contemporary world getting enough to eat is still a daily struggle, one which many people lose.
We should remember that we are privileged and that privilege may be a transient phenomenon.
Although this sad reality exists elsewhere, it is certainly not currently the case in the ”West”. We can gather the most obscure things from the corners of the earth and visit places which were once the fabric of legend; on a whim.
It is however becoming more difficult to either grow or purchase healthy food in an increasingly fraught and frantic world where the assumed “rights” of many people are being slowly eroded by our acceptance of an economic system that we feel is increasingly beyond our control.
We don’t have time to hug our kids any more so gardening would seem to be well outside our range of daily activities.
It is strange how quickly we have lost our access to things which seem so basic when we pause for a moment to think about them. Why can’t everyone in countries as vast as Australia and the USA have a small plot of land which will ensure their security in times of need and the satisfaction of growing some of their food without destroying their lives to “earn” it?
Clearly we have been conned.
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