Updated: 04/09/2003; 10:53:58 AM.
Why is our food system on the edge of collapse? What is is about the distribution system that is so important? How can we find a better way?

Thursday, September 04, 2003

My dear friend Esme Johnstone, owns Château de Sours in Bordeaux. It is the harvest or vendage. He keeps diary of how this peak event takes place and for those of you that enjoy wine - here is a window into the process.

Esme is also a great host and has a beautiful place which you can rent - more on the site

He started his interest in wine at his father's table. He and I as little boys were introduced to the delights of the grape way before the legal age for drinking. I still only drink it but Esme went on to start Majestic Wine Warehouse in the UK which transformed how wine was sold. Until then, you bought it from small shops or from stuffy wine merchants. Esme in effect started big box wine retailing. For some time now Esme and Sara have owned and operated Château de Sours. He introduced the region to many of the better Australian processes and can as a result make good wine every year and great wine quite often. This year has the potential to be one of the greatest years ever with so much sun that he will have a small but very high quality yield.


7:43:02 AM    comment []

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Questions for all those who plan to run for office in the upcoming PEI Election

1. The economy - In the next 4 years (the life of the government) the potato processing side of our economy will collapse and will take down its surrounding infrastructure. As it collapses - US markets will close, there will be a drought/flood/ more disease etc, it will try even harder to survive and threaten our water and environment even further.

Will the new government use up all its resources to "save the jobs" or will it work to create an alternatives such as a local food system?

If they choose to "save the jobs" they risk the new future of tourism - eco tourism. A last ditch attempt to "save the jobs" will threaten in turn our landscape and will turn away the real future for this sector. The days of the beach holiday where families are satisfied with a cottage with 7 others on the Brackley Point Road are over as well - demography and shifts in values are seeing to that. Golf is also oversold and over capitalized.

Will the new government spend all their time and money in keeping this side of tourism alive and "saving the jobs" or will it support eco tourism that fits who we are and where the market is going?

We are seeing the end of the lobster fishery this year. The processors have not sold the spring inventory - changes in world taste and too much of  a production based approach - the fall season has seen stocks collapse. The industry is also over capitalized. There are too many mussels in the bays and they do not have enough feed - notice how small they are. There was huge die off of Malpeque oysters this spring. Are you looking at the reasons for this failure?

Will government "save the jobs" in the fishery? There are already $100 million in loan guarantees out to this sector alone.

Will we waste our limited resources on saving what cannot be saved or will we build the new?

Do we understand that it is our economy that produces the cash to pay for the education and healthcare that we feel is so important

2. Energy - Do we understand that we can break fee from oil by going to wind? Do we understand what this type of freedom might mean. Who chooses gas and oil over wind? Tell me why you prefer to be a slave to the oil industry when we could be free?

3. Education - is the issue about keeping schools open or is the issue how badly our kids are doing? Why is there no data available on drop out rates? Why will we not allow measurement? Why do we sit by and allow 40% of Islanders to leave school basically unable to read and write. Is the issue money? In the US they have poured money into this problem and have seen no improvement! Why are boys doing so badly? If more than 30% of boys are on drugs to get them through the school day is it the boys or the system?

Answer these question please Mr Politician before you waffle about money, school opening and class size

4. Health care - Our health care system now costs over 400 million a year and is growing exponentially faster than our economy. If this trend continues in 4 years time Healthcare will cost more than 60% of our budget. Don't talk about services anymore - tell me if you understand this dynamic! Tell me how you see what we have to do to get this growth stopped. Tell me what your plans are if you fail.

Why do you not talk about the fact that we spend half the total lifetime spend on care in the last 6 months of life in a vain attempt to defeat death. That is about 200 million a year! Tell me how you plan to help us and the medical profession deal with this most important cost driver.

Tell me that as our population ages and we have the oldest group in North America that you have a strategy for seniors that will shift them from being dependents to contributing members of society.

Tell me that you understand that drug use is growing at more than 9% compounded and will soon be the # 1 cost in the system. Tell me that you understand that most of this drug use is for lifestyle issues such as depression, hypertension and cholesterol. Tell me that you understand the research that these so called threats are minor when compared to our personal ability to cope.

Tell me that you understand that most of our ability to cope, to learn and to think is set by the age of 6. Tell me how you intend to shift resources to get behind this knowledge.


Tell me that you understand that it is not business as usual. Tell me that you understand that we are coming to end of the industrial system Tell me that you can see how fragile our world is today. Tell me that you would, like to ask us to help.

My sadness is that of course the election will not be fought around these questions but about the same old stuff of my job versus yours - of being bribed with our own money - of offering simple solutions to complex problems - of blaming the others.

It is even more sad that we have run out of time. In the next 4 years - the life of the next government - the forces will converge. Our resource based economy will fail and our primary social institutions will fail as well.

But we can surely attempt to change the political conversation? Is this not our responsibility. Politicians do not lead they follow.

Can we not use the tool of the internet to talk about the real issues? Why not pillory those who talk rubbish. Why not support those who talk sense?



11:43:11 AM    comment []

Saturday, July 05, 2003

Many of us ask how best to change our industrial society. Many have an idea of what we need as a species to survive - a more networked world where we work with nature rather than against her. But we don't know how to get there. Maybe we don't need a plan but only to wait for what will happen.

My thesis is that we have endured a number of food/technology crises. Each time we this has happened, we have had to make a fundamental shift in how power is used and society is therefore structured.  I think that we are on the brink of such a crisis today. Let's have a quick blog-like look at our history in this context and then look at what is coming in our lifetime.

Let's revisit the breakout in 60-40,000 bc that I have talked about earlier today. Remember that we think that complex language was an adaptation to hunting on the savannah and hence was our start as homo sapiens - the tool maker. Our new ability to learn across tribes and across time, rather than only directly face to face in present time,  gave us the ability to adapt to changes in the environment by using culture not biology.

This ability to adapt via culture has given modern man a huge adaptation accelerator that we have been relying on ever since. Think about this for a moment, all other species have to make biological adaptations to environmental change. This is very slow. Humans can use culture or collective learning. Example - Modern man migrated north into the ice because he had clothing, fire and the culture to use weapons and boats in the hunt and tools in the preparation of food. A small ape could compete with a Polar Bear! This ability has given us a unique advantage in the acquisition of food. But this is also a poisoned chalice. Our ability to get food at a rate higher than a natural fit with the resource tends to lead us to over-exploit the resource. As with all systemic processes, the food system tends to collapse suddenly leaving man in a crisis that not only affects his stomach but his society.

Until the breakout, the world was full of large and slow animals. Giant sloths, giant tusked mammoths etc. They had evolved to be very large to make it to hard for the predators of the time. Large size was also an adaptation to cold weather. A large animal has a smaller surface to size area and can therefore hold heat better. Clovis man had the hunting tools, the social structures and the food processing capability, butchery, drying, cooking etc to devastate animals that had been immune from predation before. This lead to a population explosion. By 10,000 bc man had reached every corner of the earth.

Here is the beginning of the pattern that we need to understand. We find a technology for food production that is so successful that it leads to the collapse of the underlying resource. We then have to reinvent our society to take on a new technology. Which in turn leads to a population explosion and the destruction of the underlying resource and so on. Question - will we ever learn?

By 10,000 bc we had effectively wiped out the large animals. It was not just us. The coincidental & dramatic end of the ice age must have been a large factor, but we probably tipped the system. Hunter Gatherer man woke up one morning with nothing left to hunt and had to hand over power to the Gatherers. I bet the end might have happened in the life of a generation. A boy would have been born into plenty and died of starvation. The big game harried by man and failing to adapt itself to the change in climate must have gone like the bison or the carrier pigeon as if overnight.

What must this have meant socially? In short, the men became unemployed as they are a bit today. These were not Gatherer Hunter societies. They were Hunter Gatherer societies. There must have been a revolution in power as women became the prime food source. In many parts of the world, man stopped being a nomad and had to settle. What had been gathering quickly turned into gardening and animal domestication. We see this shift in power in the rise of the Goddess and the sacrifice of the son king every year to ensure the harvest. The idea of property emerged. In the era of the Goddess, property went through the female line. So power was held in a gynarchy - a hierarchy of women. In this time there are no walls and no evidence of much inter tribal warfare. It must have been a golden age unless you were the Son King - but even then you had a good year.

The shift to patriarchy and to the power system that we inherited, comes from the technology used in food preparation and from a different response in the east to the collapse of the large game source. .

Pottery is a key technology platform. Most of our transforming processes today are based on the idea of applying heat and pressure. Nature on the other hand uses water and enzymes. A new breakout for man came from learning how to use high temperatures to make pottery for food storage and cooking. This technology lead directly to the technology of metal working which in turn lead to advanced tillage tools, such as the plow and then to weapons. It also lead to the wheel. The first wheel was a pottery wheel. Some consultant of the time, an outsider, must have one day made the click and suggested that the wheel could be attached on a different plane to a sled and we would have a cart. With a cart and a plow you can have farming. With farming you can have a surplus. Until this time nearly everyone had had to work in food production. With a surplus, new occupations open up not directly related to food. With a cart and a surplus you can have a city. With a surplus you can feed priests, soldiers and civil servants. With the new tools and the domestication of oxen to pull the plow, we had a population explosion that is only today levelling out at maybe 8 billion in 2050.  

In the east another process  unfolded. Here the men did not give up power to women and settle. Instead, they selected a small number of animals that could be domesticated, sheep, goats and horses and became herders. They developed a very extreme form of patriarchy. Gods were men and were cruel. This group migrated west.

The tipping point was when the Herders and their Gods met the Farmers and their Goddess. The herders, saw that stealing food and calling it taxation was a "good thing". They saw that they could use the huge surplus populations as armies and priests and our modern world was begun. At first the Goddess married the God, Hera and Zeus. But then Yahweh, and later Allah, killed the Goddess off. Her ghost is Mary

There are many subplots along the way. Enclosures, the agricultural revolution and the advent of industrial farming and distribution. But we have been on an arc of the same system of exploiting the bounty of nature and using force and power to dominate those that grow food since Babylon. This at one level has been very successful. We have enjoyed a huge population explosion.

But we are near the end. We will see the end of wild fish in the sea in our lifetime. We, like Clovis hunters, will only have memories of fishing the ocean. Like Clovis men our ability to use technology and organization will have deprived the world and ourselves of a great bounty. We too will have overexploited the soil itself. But most importantly we will have overexploited fresh water.

In 50 years time it will not be possible to grow food in California. In 50 years time the Orgalla aquifer will have run dry and we will not be able to grow food in the mid west. In 20 years time China and India will have outstripped their water supplies. Maybe our world will be warmer as well and we will have droughts thanks to nature as Clovis man endured the great melt. In 50 years time our population will be about 8 billion just as our food system comes to a halt.

If we are smart we will use some hiccups along the way to start making some changes.

In 10 years borders will be shut to the transshipping of food as food safety scares such as mad cow, foot and mouth, wart etc are used politically to protect local food systems. The whole idea of mono cropping aimed at exports will die off. The farmers in the west will crack before the water runs out.

In 5 years, the outcry against processed food and its role in our obesity epidemic will start to change food habits in the mainstream. This month we have seen Kraft and Nestle begin to make changes. Pop and trans-fats will be seen like tobacco. A demand will rise for food grown in a new way.

Our children will have to reinvent how we get and process food. Vast cities with only 3 days supply of food will no longer be able to rely of an industrial complex to send them cheap food. I have seen this in Ukraine where every family in Kiev has a Dacha plot and ensures its food supply by gardening. In Havana, every family has an urban plot.

As with the end of the large animals or the takeover of the Gardeners by the Herders, all our power lines will shift. Vast agro-industrial enterprises will have no place in a such a a world. The process of cityfication, started in Mesopotamia 6,000 years ago will have to unwind.

It will not be the internet per se that will change how and where we live and who has power or not. It will be the end of our current food system. It may be the internet that will enable us to adapt more quickly to whatever we find as the alternative but be assured when power shifts it is not a fun time.

It may be likely that the balance of power will once again shift between the sexes. I suspect that the new food system will be local and will be closer to gardening than farming. Women are already in the vanguard in this field.

So what do we do? We can wait for the collapse. You say that it will not happen. It's a matter of simple math, when you take more water over time than is recharged, it runs out. When you pollute your water systems as we are on PEI over time with nitrates, you tip at a point in the future and you have no usable ground water. If we do nothing, all this is only a matter of time. Or we can wake up and see that water and food are the key. We will not be able to save the western water shed, not the Orgalla nor India or China but we can save ourselves. All we have to do is to wake up and look at the trends. Then we do as man has always done we get together and find a new way!



5:25:26 PM    comment []

Friday, June 20, 2003

Of course, cafés have long served as the locus of business activity for independent consultants, creative types and teleworkers (as well as brewing-places for novels, coups and revolutions). But the new clientèle is different. In contrast to previous recessions, more professionals are out of work. Technology has changed, too, allowing people to job-hunt or devise new business plans untethered from their clunky desk computers and tangled-cord home phones. Moreover, with the number of cafés growing from under 2,000 in 1991 to over 14,000 today, these people now have plenty of places to go.

Their habit may also herald a deeper trend in the workforce: an era of nomadic teleworkers, whose jobs are no longer tied to one particular spot. Quinn Mills, a professor of economics at the Harvard Business School, believes that companies, “with their urge to regiment”, are unprepared for this. Not only the unemployed, but workers too, may prefer to decamp to Starbucks: great for reducing overheads, but perhaps less good for productivity.

For coffee houses themselves, their new status as job centres has helped the industry buck the slumping economy. In 2002, the gourmet-coffee sector earned a record $8.40 billion in revenue, with cafés accounting for more than half the sales. Many coffee houses, belonging both to publicly-traded companies and independent retailers, are reporting sales growth of roughly 7%. And though $4 for a cappuccino may seem steep, it's pretty good for a New York per diem office rent.

On PEI it is the Formosa Tea Room

9:20:38 PM    comment []

If I was the Premier sitting in cabinet and I was serious about Islanders becoming healthier what would I do?

I would divide the issue into two. I would look at what Government could do directly and then I would look at how government could influence behaviour indirectly. At the core I would position the issue as being behavioural and I would focus the direct and indirect work on levers that influence our behaviour.

The Direct Approach


  • The research is in that sugar and simple carbs are the main culprit in both adding the pounds and in creating the addiction and system changes. The best analogy is tobacco. For years we all thought that smoking was cool. Now we know it is at the heart of our public health crisis. The same is true for sugar. We all grew up drinking pop. Smart parents gave their children juice in the bottle. As we became time- stressed, we relied increasingly on processed foods where a large ingredient is always sugar. It will be Government's job to help us all understand that sugar is possibly a larger threat to our public and personal health than tobacco. The irony is that we have done this job for fat but our fears have largely, not entirely, been misplaced. Low fat as an idea has been a goldmine for the food processors.
  • I would start with getting agreement with the other Premiers who all have health systems that are groaning under the pressure, to begin the same type of information campaign about sugar as with tobacco - the objective will be to shift our perception that sugar is ok to that it is a risk. We would then nationally build a campaign using real people whose lives had been turned around by getting off a high sugar/carb lifestyle to tell us how much better they were. This would not be a campaign of experts but of neighbours. Key to the campaign would be mothers talking to mothers about the risks of a high sugar diet for their kids and giving them tips on the alternatives. The habits begin here. What failed in tobacco was the expert talking down. What worked was a neighbour telling us that we as smokers would harm not ourselves but innocent bartenders.

With a shift in public opinion we would have the room to begin to act.


  • Kids are bused home on PEI between 2.30 and 3. Most parents work and do not get home until 5.30 - 6. Madness! I would set up a sports program for all kids that would extend until 5pm. There is no shortage of gyms, rinks grounds. The shortage is a universal program of sport for children that fits the school day and that fits the reality of the workday for parents. The objective is twofold to significantly increase the weekly rate of activity and to set the habit of taking exercise as a lifetime habit
    • This strategy would be inclusive and broaden the effort from elite sports and elite players. It would still get behind the school teams but would offer a comfortable place for all types
  • School meals - I would set up a healthy breakfast club at school. Many Kids miss breakfast - time pressed, no habit or worse no money. Breakfast is arguably the most important meal of the day. This meal would be billed to public health. This would be a real meal and would avoid Mr Kellogg and Mr Tim Horton.
  • Ban soft drink vending machines - Coke has preyed upon poor school boards with deals on vending that are driven by volume.
  • I would teach cooking and nutrition as part of the core curriculum especially for the younger kids. One of the reasons so many eat only processed or junk food is that no one knows how to cook anymore. Again we aim to create the habit of cooking and we teach nutrition not from a book but from learning how to cook well and to enjoy what we have cooked.

Waste, Labelling & Taxation - A Counter Attack on Food processing

  • As part of my communication partnership with the other premiers I would also get national agreement to push back at food processors. They have taken over food and they spend over 10 billion dollars a year in the US to persuade us to eat their products. I would move on two fronts. Packaging and labelling. - I would use the inventory management software of the distributor to track the items and I would give the industry 3 years to eliminate waste that could not be recycled easily and to reduce waste as a percentage. After three years I would double or triple the PST on packaging that failed this test. In other words I would push back at waste at the source. At the same time I would demand, as with tobacco, that health warnings be put on all processed food and in places that served it that contained high levels of sugar/Carbs/trans fats. So at MCD you would see a sign on your pop cup that told you that you were taking a big risk in drinking more than one of these a day. Your pack of Sugar Pops would have a picture of a person giving themselves an insulin shot and so on. Very significantly I would include formula in this program. Formula should have a large health warning linked to obesity.
  • I would not change the tax rates for three years as so many are addicted and are poor and feel that they have no alternative. But then after the 3 year public relations war, I would bring in a series of significant tax hikes. Significant so that there would be no room for adjustment. Such a health tax might be a flat tax of say $2.00 an item so a can of pop would go up $2.00. I would also ban all ads everywhere that promoted high sugar/carb/trans fat foods 
    • Of course the food industry will go nuts. This is why only a national agreement will work. The alternative is to pay for the costs of an obese nation. We are winning the war on tobacco - why not for food? Let's be clear here, the food giants are acting in their own interest and not ours.They are the main driver in the dietary problem that we face as a society. They can be part of the solution as well. The smart ones will take that root- our time pressure will not go away - there will be  a huge market for healthier alternatives

The Indirect Approach

Young Children - We have to change behaviour and to set new habits when we are malleable enough to respond. This means a focus on very young children and their parents. Most of the current effort on obesity and many other issues that are most plastic in early life, such as literacy,  are being tackled with a focus on adults where changing behaviour is most challenging. I think that this is because those that have set themselves up as the experts, such as the university and the Heart and Stroke folks, obviously live in a world of adults and would like to help their constituency. But if strategy is defined as making the best choices, then we have to shift our focus to young children and those that influence them most, their family, the school system and the ad budgets of the food processors

  • Prenatal classes are an excellent channel. Parents are at the most ready to learn and have the most energy.  The whole issue of diet needs to be explored perhaps with the meeting taking place around a kitchen table as well as on the floor with pillows. All aspects of diet especially the breast/bottle issue need to be explored
  • Family resource centres should be identified as the next channel as they influence parents right after they have their babies
  • Day care should be examined to ensure that it is aligned as well.

The point being that by the time children get to school in grade 1, there should be 7 years of focused effort on setting up good habits at home.

This is a strategy. What do you think of it?

8:14:10 AM    comment []

Is the PEI Healthy Living Strategy a Paper Tiger or will it help?

The questions we need to ask are

1. What is the trend for obesity - frightening about 59% of Islanders are at least overweight

2. Is the trend accelerating or flattening out - accelerating exponentially

3. What is the potential impact now and in the future - one view would be to look at the incidence of type II diabetes and its related costs? Our health system will be overwhelmed. Type II diabetes has been normed from being a rarity to being on track to include 30% of the population. It has a myriad of poor outcomes and side effects and consumes a huge amount of system resources. It can be mitigated though by a radical change in lifestyle - giving up carbs and taking more exercise. Hard things to do until we have the motive of diabetes. But even then, many are so habituated that they cannot change.

4. What are the key factors for a lifestyle - habits! How and when are these set? Is this genetic or habit based What are the 2-3 habits that are most deleterious? I would look at the amount of sugar/carbs that we feed to kids - tests with rats show a high sugar/carb diet fattens like no other and creates addiction. After all we fatten cows on corn =sugar. The tests show also that a genetic switch is thrown and obesity/diabetes tendency will be embedded in the next generation. What is at the heart of our inactivity? Why do some kids stay active and others don't? What is different from the activity levels of kids 30 years ago and now - busing, TV sport etc. These are powerful questions which are not being looked at by the strategy.

The healthy living strategy sounds good on the surface but is essentially flawed in my mind. How? They did not think about the deep reasons. The process behind it - let's all get together and shout more loudly that we should eat better and take more exercise.

We can all say - we don't take enough exercise or we don't eat the right foods. We can all expose each other to more information about why we should change but without addressing the deep reasons why, we are wasting our time.

Government do this all the time - they confuse intellectual heavy lifting with consulting the community. If the Heart and Stroke folks were doing such a good job, why are deaths from this area on the rise? A lesson for us all.

If you see a problem and think that you will solve it by asking all the current "suspects" how to fix it - you will go no where. Why - because they are all inside the problem themselves and will only be able to see the the issues from the aspect of the problem

Eating and exercise are habits. These habits have a powerful grip on us and are formed when we are very young. We will find the answers when we look at how we as parents set the habits at home and at the habits set at school.

What do we habitually put on the table? Do we give toddlers lots of juice thinking that this is a good thing and not understanding that we are setting the palate. How big a role does pop play in our house? Do we all eat a lot of processed food especially breads, cakes and cookies? Do you eat margarine rather than butter? Is the TV the main baby sitting aide? How big a role is TV in our lives? Do we sit around at home and take little or no exercise? What is our habit for the kid's lunch box.? Does our local school have a deal with Coke and have a drink machine on the premises. What food is served at school. What exercise do our kids take as a matter of course at school?

I have hardly mentioned the big bugaboo - fat. The evidence is in. The addictive substance and the substance that is at the core of the problem is sugar/carbs. You don't believe me? Then correlate the rise in obesity with the rise in the consumption of sugar/carbs.

At the turn of the century the average American ate two pounds of sugar. Do you know what it is now? 160 pounds, and for many of us it's probably twice that. The human body didn't evolve to handle that kind of input. The pancreas works overtime to flood your system with insulin several times a day, every day. By the end of each day, it's completely exhausted and your bloodstream is still jacked up with dangerously elevated levels of sugar. Eventually your pancreas functionality is borderline to failure and you've got adult-onset diabetes. Eventually it fails for good and suddenly you're a diabetic.

A study about a year ago got a lot of press. It showed that a child who drank two cans of soda a day WILL be overweight. That's two cans of soda, not "lots of high fat foods."

At the turn of the century something like 2 or 3 percent of people were dying from heart attacks and stroke. What is it now? 70% and rising? You don't go from 2% to 70% with a slight decline in lifetime physical activity. But what about a typical lifetime sugar (carbohydrate) consumption increase of eight thousand percent?

What do YOU think the connection is?

6:29:38 AM    comment []

Friday, June 13, 2003

Black pudding - made from congealed pigs blood and lumps of fat encased in an intestine - mouthwatering!

I don't know what is happening to me this week but I have this huge hanckering for the food of my childhood. I have just polished off half a bar of Cabury's milk chocolate. It is father's day on Sunday and my daughter Hope has asked me what I want. I want the great English breakfast. Ideally this will include - black pudding, sausages, bacon, fried mushrooms, baked beans, fried tomatoes, fried bread and three fried eggs - PLUS English toast (Superstore has it) served cold with lots of butter spread thickly on it with Robin's home made marmalade. I am lucky that my chloresterol is off the scale low.

I think that I will have a single malt now and contemplate Sunday morning.

9:17:31 PM    comment []

Friday, May 30, 2003

Chapter 1 - The Gift

Here, in the 12th Chapter of the Gospel of Luke, beginning at the 22nd verse:

"Jesus said to his disciples, 'Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies: they neither dye their hair nor inject Botox between their eyebrows, ( a great sermon) yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not adorned like one of these.'"

In tribal society there might be periodic shortages, even famine, but the overarching mindset is of a world filled with opportunity for the skilled hunter and gatherer. With no property as a core idea, I cannot fear that you might take my property away from me. In the tribal world, nature is brimming with stuff.

Let's explore this for a while and then look at how these tribal views fit into how modern science now sees the world and how the emerging new economy also fits the tribal model of the Gift.

Tribal people inhabit a world of relationships and energy. With few possessions, things are of little value. Tribal people know that everything that they think or do has an effect on the universe itself! They know that they are integrated into the world.

So every thought and act ripples out every where and has the potential to effect everything and everyone. When a hunter kills an animal for food, he sees the act as a "gift". In his mind, the animal allows itself to be killed by him. No matter what his skill - the hunter works hard to be grateful. The act of killing for food is a sacred ritual. The animals must be propitiated before, during and after the hunt.He knows that his energy and his relationship to the animal are critical to his success and hence to the survival of his tribe.

In a tribal setting, the bottom line for the survival of the individual is the survival of the tribe. This is why hunters and gatherers share what they hunt and find. Your reputation as hunter is dependent on two aspects: your success in hunting and your generosity in sharing. As a gatherer you share your wisdom about where food may be found and how all material brought into the camp can be converted into food, tools and clothing. Women in tribal life are responsible for the manufacturing side of the economy. Men for tools, for protein and for defence. The survival of the tribe depends on the skills being passed on well to the next generation.

So, at the heart of tribal life then is the social interaction that transfers all this knowledge into doctrine and onto the next generation.  tribal survival depends as much on the sharing of knowledge as in the sharing of food. Sharing is not a fantasy about being nice, as we teach kids in kindergarten to share their toys, but is a survival strategy enabling a small and physically weak primate compete with all other animals and all the varied environmental conditions that nature can inflict. TBA

12:49:59 PM    comment []

Thursday, May 22, 2003

What is the essence of relationships in Hunter Gatherer society? What lesson can we take from this and apply to our own relationships - to friends, to spouses and to our children.

At the heart of all our modern relationships is the need for control. Our school system is all about control. Institutional life is all about control. We seek to reform our wives and husbands. Our friends and children become improvement projects. We seek to control our own lives.Why - because the idea of property and hence the fear of its loss is our driver.

The most important piece of property that we hang onto is our life itself. The Western ideal is to cure death itself. None of this fear of the loss of property and hence control applies to a hunter gatherer. The HG has no property. A reason I believe why the native Americans were so bemused by the white man's need to negotiate treaties for land. Who could conceive of owning land in a Hunter Gatherer society. You would have hunting grounds that you would defend but you did not own and hence control the land itself. How could you, as a HG, imagine that you could control nature?

Security is still an issue but the HG finds security through working smartly with nature and relies on the collective wisdom of the group, or tribe, to tackle this difficult task. In this context then, the essence of the HG worldview is the need to develop the types of wisdom and personal value that will contribute to the survival of the group or tribe. They accept that the world out there is more powerful than they are. They know that they cannot control it - that they can only "access" it. To access its bounty, they have to understand it. To understand it they have to understand themselves and they have to be in harmony with the group so that its collective wisdom can be tapped in a timely way. So personal growth  and trusted connection to the group and so to its collective wisdom is the core survival process. They depend on the community for their security up to a point but not on any individual. They take charge therefore of their own lives. Their purpose is not the illusion of happiness but of growth and integration. Power in the group comes then not from the application of force but comes to those that are the most spiritually developed and the most integrated.

Facilitation is a core skill. You act as a spiritual midwife to the growth of those in relationship with you and they return the favour.

So in this world, your spouse is your key partner is developing your self and him/her. Your job as parents is to ensure that your children have the range of experience that will set them on their course for the maximum development and hence the security of the tribe. The entire tribe participates in the raising of all the children. Your friends are part of the social and economic unit, the tribe, that gives you all the best chance of coping with a dangerous and uncertain world. Knowing that life is fragile, death has not the fear for the HG as it does for us. So paradoxically they enjoy life more. This lack of fear is not rooted in a belief but in their observation. Being students of nature, they can "see" that life does not end irrevocably but is transformed within a great cycle of death and renewal. 

So how can this knowledge help us?

Since the dawn of agriculture and settled living, we have lived in a growing illusion that we can succeed in controlling the world around us. Even our new Gods have set us apart and in control over nature. For us, controlling nature is our Destiny. In small areas we applied technology and it looked as if we would conquer nature. Today we are seeing the cracks. Disease such as AIDS and SARS. Breakdown in the food system - mad cow. Weather anomalies. In our institutions we spin the wheels harder and harder but we accomplish less and less. Many loyal and hard working employees are getting laid off and cannot see why their deal with the company has failed. Most families today are one parent. Marriage is failing as a concept that we can live with. More than 30% of our children are failing in school. Many have to be drugged to stay in school.  Addiction to things, to sugar and to escape is rising. Look at what we are watching on TV now!!!! Health care cost, especially drug use are out of control.

The illusion of our being able to use technology to control our world is cracking.

Controlling what cannot be controlled is exhausting - Hunter Gatherers show us that there is a societal model that we can apply again which at its heart is built on one idea which we can replicate. That one idea is that we cannot control others, or the world. There is only one person that we can control and that is ourself. In this world of accepted uncertainly comes a new security. This security is based on the power of a group to solve complex problems and to understand the world so that they can cope with it.

Our security come with earning a place in such a group. In tribal life there are no handouts.

Such an idea does not require us to wear skins and go back to hunting in the classic sense just as the ideas of the greeks and the Romans did not require men in the 14th century to put on togas. Many of us are starting to accept that we cannot control others or the world. Many of us are already earning our place in social and economic tribes. Web-logging itself is I think an important agent in this process. Many of us are now self-employed in an new way and if we look carefully are in fact "hunting and gathering". The world of the Hunter Gatherer - the world of wild and not domesticated humans - our home for 4 million years is I think re- emerging from a 7,000 year experiment with domestication where the HG thought he was domesticating plants and animals but ended up domesticating himself!

For me, this book written in public is a voyage of discovery - I have some ideas already but they will become clear to me and to you as I write more. It would be fun to have you along for the voyage.

I have an old map found after 15 years of reading. Here is where I intend to go. I will look at work itself and how the economy in HG terms could be adapted to our circumstances. Inside this part we will look at the ideas of the Gift and of a world view of Abundance. We will see how the Hunter Mindset fits the emerging world of the Free Agent Nation. We will look at how HG groups governed themselves. We will look at their relationship to food, water and the spirit. We will see how they dealt with the issues of health and education and how they used the power of the community to have the most important impact on both. We will look at art as a functional world of participants rather than voyeurs. We will examine the world of the spirit and how the HG made the connections to the universe and to the natural world and integrated this into his being. We will look at how gender operated as two distinct worlds that came together as opposites to offer the power of the whole. We will see the difference between property and place. Place being the intensely understood piece of land where all was known about and where the soul resided for all time. We will look at the needs for us to fit into not only place but into a social scale that enables and supports community and growth (Magic Numbers) We will reconsider time and discover once again the access points to dream or non linear time. We will look at the stages of life, their gateways from child to youth to man to sage, We will look at death and finally we will look at purpose and how Hunter Gathers find meaning in their lives.

Welcome to this journey

12:06:12 PM    comment []

© Copyright 2003 Robert Paterson.
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