Monday, September 8, 2008

Getting Edgy 2: Ideas

The final chapter of Hope's Edge (see my last post for more) begins by talking about perceptions, how there are solutions to food and hunger problems all around us, but we don't see them because of our expectations. This leads back to the 'Thought Traps' of the first chapter. (To recap: "One: The enemy is scarcity, production is our savior; Two: Thank our selfish genes; Three: Let the market decide, experts preside; Four: Solve by dissection; and Five: Welcome to the end of history.") Here the Lappés provide 'Five Liberating Ideas' to replace the 'Thought Traps': "One: Scrapping the scarcity scare, realizing abundance; Two: Laughing at the caricature, listening to ourselves; Three: Putting tools in their place, tapping the savvy of citizens; Four: Discarding dissection, solving for pattern; and Five: Busting free from 'isms,' creating the path as we walk."

I think these 'Liberating Ideas' are worth a post unto themselves.

The first idea ("Scrapping the scarcity scare, realizing abundance") goes back to Frances Moore Lappé's original books, Diet for a Small Planet and Food First. Her early realization was that people everywhere in the world are able to feed themselves, it's diverting food resources that produces scarcity. She talks about gathering "thirty years of myth-shattering evidence" supporting this and gives examples from Bangladesh, India, and Kenya of local solutions to hunger. She makes the point that "half the world's grain goes to animals" and notes how much food was rotting in storage or restaurant dumpsters. In Belo Horizonte, Brazil, the city government uses eggshells and manoic leaves (which had been thrown away) to enrich flour, making it highly nutritious. Frances Moore Lappé even talks about how knowledge can be abundant or scarce depending on whether it's hoarded or shared. Quoting the Lappés summary: "Cutting through the scarcity illusion, we're able to see potential abundance all around us, even in what is now waste. We realize that growing food in ways that sustain the earth and people is not only productive but linked to the changes essential to slowing population growth." (For more on population growth, see my post of 8/21/08. I'm also reminded of Capra's adage that "... an ecosystem generates no waste". See my post of 8/27/08.)

The second Liberating Idea is "Laughing at the caricature, listening to ourselves". Here the argument moves beyond food to human nature. Are we essentially selfish? Frances Moore Lappé writes that she and Anna share 'the same intuition': "We need to feel both connected to others and useful beyond ourselves." They claim that they heard this desire expressed in everyplace they visited around the world. Their quote on this idea: "Now we can see that the image of ourselves as merely selfish materialists is but a shabby caricature of our true nature. We would never have survived as a species if it wasn't for our need--and our capacity--for effectiveness and connection."

Their third idea is "Putting tools in their place, tapping the savvy of citizens." This means going beyond hierarchy to the realization that "every human being has a contribution to make." The Lappés document the shift taking place in movements around the world. They quote, not only from the famous activists they've interviewed, but from the many people who have gotten involved and made these movements possible. They talk about using 'the market' as a tool and claim "Economic life is not about our relationships to things... It's about our relationships with each other..." Their summary of this idea is: "Now we can turn technologies--even the market itself--into tools, not tyrants. Scientific tools can help us--but only when citizens draw values boundaries for their application."

And the fourth idea ("Discarding dissection, solving for pattern") is something that has been eluded to throughout the book. "Solving for pattern" is a term from Wendall Berry but it's probably not an accident that the Lappés learned it from a woman (Zenobia Barlow) who works with Fritjof Capra (See my posts of 8/23, 8/25, and 8/27. It also reminds me of something Gregory Bateson might say, which isn't an accident either.) At various point through *Hope's Edge, Anna Lappé contributes sidebars that she entitles 'Pitfalls of Not Solving for Pattern' giving examples from around the planet of 'experts' who were so focused on one thing that they didn't see the whole picture. In talking about whole systems, they quote Capra: " systems are self-organizing networks whose parts are interdependent." (Oh, yes, complex adaptive systems...) And then Capra again on how scientists have gone "from seeing objects to seeing relationships, from quantity to quality, from substance to pattern." And Frances Moore Lappé goes on to say: "Anna and I can't help but be struck by how similar even Fritjof's choice of words is to those of Hannes [one of the creators of a Europe-wide sustainable development network], Jean-Yves [a French farmer and ex-teacher], the MST farmers. Really, almost everyone we met." The Lappés' quote on this: "Now breakthroughs in science and technology allow us to perceive the interrelatedness of diverse problems and their solutions. We have the tools to build on nature's genius and tap the best of ancient wisdom. We can also see more clearly the power in the ripples our own choices make in solving the world's problems."

The fifth and final idea is "Busting free from 'isms,' creating the path as we walk." (It reminds me of the title of a book about the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation, We Build the Road as We Travel--I wonder if that's an accident.) The corresponding thought trap was (in full) "Welcome to the end of history: Communism, socialism, and facism have failed. Human evolution has finally triumphed in the best system we can create: global corporate capitalism, in which everyone stands to benefit from the creativity and wealth it unleashes." The Lappés start by demolishing the myth of the free market. They quote from the chairman of Archer Daniels Midland: "There is not one grain of anything in the world that is sold on the free market. Not one. The only place you see a free market is in the speeches of politicians." They talk about "evolving capitalism" (but I suspect there are other systems evolving as well) and give examples from throughout the book (most of these movements were covered in my last post--but they also mention the growth of worker-ownership throughout the US). Anna Lappé takes on Thomas Friedman, author of *The Lexus and the Olive Tree (a book that claims that there's really no "mass popular opposition to globalization"). He claims the only opposition in Brazil is Sem Teto, which he describes as movement of peasants who live by the side of the road and steal trucks. When the Lappés asked him about the MST he said he hadn't heard of it when he wrote the book. It also turns out that "Sem Teto is actually an urban homeless movement" --showing how much Friedman knows about "mass popular opposition". Frances Moore Lappé references anthropologist Ruth Benedict who after looking at cultures around the world noted that "In the more conflictive cultures, individuals gained prestige by accumulating goods or acting in other ways benefiting themselves alone, whereas in the better-functioning cultures, the status of individuals rose or fell according to their contribution to the whole." The Lappés go on to say "from Brazil to Bangladesh we saw new cultures arising in which the individual and the community are reconnected, and in which, therefore, status does come from one's contribution to the whole." Their quote on this point: "Now it's clear that global corporate capitalism --economic life cut off from community life--is not inevitable, nor fixed, nor the best we can do. Millions are letting go of all 'isms'--ideologies with one unchanging endpoint. They're re-embedding the market in values respecting nature, culture, and themselves."

And I have to say that Hope's Edge was an amazing book in terms of its breadth (covering movements from around the world) and its depth (really looking at what traps us and offering ways to move ahead). I will probably have to get it because I can see using it as a reference, again and again. I might even use a few of the recipes.

Next stop: Democracy.

Quote of the day: "Grameen and the MST, and really all of the groups whose stories we share, are just examples of the millions of people worldwide, experimenting, struggling, failing, and succeeding in carving new paths and creating a world in line with their deepest values.
"The people we met are pushing the edge of possibilities, not asserting that they've reached an endpoint. ... Wangari had it right that night in Nairobi. Our task is to keep walking, not to believe we've arrived." - Frances Moore Lappé
Word (or phrase) of the day: Microgreens
Hero(es) of the day: Julia de Burgos

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