Rekindling Community: Schumacher Briefing No. 15
"An incredible book and one I believe that will change lives through doing." - Brainfood, howies®, 2008.
"Given there are only a hundred pages, this book packs a fair punch. Not only does Alastair McIntosh present a theoretical model of ‘the psychospiritual underpinnings of community’ but the theory is supported by summaries of research undertaken by colleagues into different aspects of the spirituality of community regeneration. I found the diagrams particularly useful.... This isn’t just another academic argument presented clearly, these are ideas that have a practical application and here are some of the ways in which they have been applied. The research is diverse and the theory comes alive in application. A ‘meaty’ book, thought-provoking and challenging." - Dearbhaile Bradley, Permaculture Magazine, No. 62, 2010.
"A gem of a book! These 100 pages are some of the best out there. In my opinion, the best work from this author since his seminal "Soil and Soul." Really, there is too much in here to highlight, and all of it rich and important. Anyone interested in how to rebuild community should read this. Anyone teaching an environmental science, ethics, or studies class would do well to assign this to their students. I will definitely revisit this over the coming years so I can be inspired by the wisdom and clarity contained within." - Todd Levasseur, Amazon.com, 16 Dec 2008.
"Rekindling community may not blatantly be about conservation of Nature, but has latent messages that are highly relevant. McIntosh speaks in the 1st. person, exemplifying the need to build community out of direct experience and personal relationship. His concern is with our community with nature, with the divine, and with one-another. Book and author take their cues from Schumacher’s belief that the grand problems we face are metaphysical, spiritual, ones, needing a response in kind. McIntosh reviews some of the background to this, succinctly linking quotations from western philosophy with a commentary.... Towards the end, he lays out a ‘pivotal question’: “If everyone walked their lives as you do, what kind of a world might we have?” Not easy – but important." - Martin Spray, ECOS: Journal of the British Association of Nature Conservationists, Dec 2008.
“Full of ideas … helpfully expressed visually in a series of illustrations ideal for use in discussion groups. It is this emphasis on wholeness which gives the book relevance to a wide range of issues, from healing at individual and societal levels to our care for the environment…. What a refreshing and invigorating way to look at community in all its manifestations.” – Philip Bryers, The Friend, 28 Nov 2008.
"What makes Alastair's work so important ... is that he brings together the metaphysical and practical, the mystical and the everyday. A short but significant book." - Dr David Lorimer, Network Review - Journal of the Scientific and Medical Network, Winter 2008.
From the Introduction
Between 2005 and 2008 I held a research grant through Scotland’s Centre for Human Ecology (CHE) from WWF International in Geneva. It was to support a team – mainly CHE fellows and our students who study in partnership with the Department of Geography and Sociology at Strathclyde University – to research the spirituality of rural and urban regeneration. We wanted to explore inner aspects of strengthening the bond that connects people, place and nature.
This Schumacher Briefing presents our findings. It profiles 13 pieces of research, each written up by the WWF-CHE scholar who carried it out. Around these I have woven a narrative that shares my own evolving understanding of the psychospiritual underpinnings of community. In so doing, I define spirituality as that which gives life, and specifically, life as love made manifest. That said, no intellectual definition of the spiritual can ever be wholly satisfying. Here we touch on the ineffable. For while spirituality can enlighten the mind, cognition can never reciprocally fathom the depths of Spirit.
For the most part this is not a book that deals with the nuts and bolts of community. Rather, it attempts to get to the foundations – what it can mean to discover community at the heart of humanity. My colleagues and I have left a thousand questions unanswered; after all, we had only a hundred pages. And we embody a spectrum of positions that range from socialism to advanced capitalism. But what unites these contributions is that they all seek soul....
In Chapter 1, I describe how my own understanding of community evolved when sent as a young man to Papua New Guinea to engage with appropriate technology as influenced by Schumacher.
Chapter 2 explores Schumacher’s insight that the troubles of our times are “metaphysical”, by which he meant, spiritual.
Chapter 3 examines what being human can mean, and how the Cycle of Belonging strengthens our interaction in community.
Chapter 4 focuses on the Rubric of Regeneration with rural examples of how spirituality can draw people and land into becoming communities of place.
Chapter 5 explores “economics as if people mattered”, using fundamental human needs to examine both urban deprivation and corporate social responsibility.
Foreword - by Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud, Director Corporate Relations, WWF International
I was really delighted when Alastair asked me to write a few words for this Schumacher Briefing. In my youth I was also inspired by Small is Beautiful, and to this day continue to be uplifted by Fritz Schumacher’s vision of a world in which capital serves humanity instead of humanity being enslaved by capital; a world in which people and nature co-exist harmoniously.
Alastair is a thinker and writer in the same tradition, a man of compassion and integrity whose spiritual ideals shine like a beacon in the darkness of this materialistic age. And I believe that, like Schumacher, Alastair is helping to describe and unfold a more holistic worldview.
The old industrial-capitalist-reductionist worldview is no longer adequate for our needs, and a new paradigm is emerging, because in the words of the poet T. S. Eliot, we “. . . are no longer at ease in the old dispensation.” In fact we are increasingly dis-eased by our overconsumption and the consequent environmental and social decline that is spreading rapidly around the world.
So, can we expect this new dispensation any time soon? Yes, it is already beginning to take shape in our midst, but we must not be complacent. We are at a crossroads, and we must take individual responsibility to consciously nurture this new beginning.
It should be clear that although in one sense we are only a part of the web of life, we are also co-weavers. Whatever action we take shapes and reshapes the world we live in. The challenge is to ensure that our actions are benign and of benefit to all.
If we take up this challenge, the new paradigm will be an expression of a transformed way of being, based on compassion and understanding, and founded on mutual respect. Respect for the Earth, respect for each other and for different ways of seeing and being. It will be further strengthened through collaboration, partnership, and a shared vision aimed at building the ‘fullness of community’ that Alastair believes is “. . . the only hope both for the dignity of the human condition and for our co-evolution with Earth.”
The Earth will once again provide for the needs of all, humans and nature, not just for the few who enrich themselves at the expense of nature and the rest of humanity. We will celebrate natural diversity and embrace a plurality of cultural and spiritual meanings.
Because we express our being, in and through nature, the current state of the planet reflects the impoverishment of the human psyche that has lost its sense of wonder and awe. It no longer sees the ‘Great Spirit’ both concealed and revealed in the natural world.
From the standpoint of Schumacher’s Buddhist Economics the ecological crisis we are experiencing today is a rather predictable outcome of the kinds of deluded human behaviour the Buddha described 2,500 years ago. Greed, hatred and ignorance, the three poisons the Buddha spoke of, are now so widespread that we are quite literally poisoning the seas, the air, the earth itself.
Thus, the imperative of the present era is to BE rather than to DO. In order to DO BETTER we must BE MORE. This is not a justification for passivity and inaction; rather it is a call for the intensification of action, but at an interior level. It is a call for interior transformation and growth. This is not referring to external, physical ‘Limits to Growth’ but rather to the potential for limitless, interior, spiritual expansion.
To hasten this transformation and renewal we have to focus less on the outer and more on the inner work. This is the paradox of action. For ideas precede intelligent action. So, if our thinking is Holistic, Healthy and Holy, then our resulting actions will bring about positive change. It is surely more than just coincidence that holistic, healthy and holy, all have a common etymology.
As Kabilsingh puts it: “Only when we understand the true nature lying within can we live harmoniously with the rest of the natural world.”
Through the transformation and growth of our inner being and the liberation of the hidden Self, outer renewal will occur. As Alastair puts it: “Self-realisation is not rocket science. It’s just about getting real. Become yourself. Be yourself! Draw forth the same in others.”
An Extract (from Chapter 2: Metaphysical Disease)
Many Logs to Make a Blaze
Once when my son Adam was about 10 years old, we went together to a music festival on the remote Scoraig peninsula in the north-west Scottish highlands. Folks from the lowland cities were camped out all over the grassy meadow overlooking Loch Broom. As I walked about, a youth in his mid-teens came running over. His demeanour was typical of a young man from a disadvantaged urban background. “Is that your son?” he asked me, pointing to Adam who, I could see, was sitting with the youth’s friends around a fire. “Man . . . he’s amazing!”
All that had happened was that Adam had encountered the lads vainly trying to get their campfire going. They’d been holding a cigarette lighter to a single huge log hoping it would eventually ignite! He’d simply shown them how to split it and make some kindling. That way the fire could start small and develop a heart for itself. By stacking larger sticks around in a pyramid, a chimney effect is created that sucks air in and through from underneath. The fire thereby breathes. Bigger sticks catch on from the heat kindled in smaller ones. It takes many logs to make a blaze.
It’s the same with the kindling of community. Here, too, the name of the game is creating a heart within a hearth fuelled by many shapes and sizes. These warm and fire one another up. And once again, the right structure is needed at the centre to let fresh air in so that all can breathe. There’s one difference between a community and a cult: a community has semi-permeable boundaries that allows for the in and the out of the breath, but in a cult people are trapped, sucked dry and suffocate.
Too many very dry logs will blaze up, burn what’s all around about, and burn out in the fire of their own ungrounded enthusiasm that exceeds ability to deliver in a sustained manner. Equally, an unseasoned log placed in the heart of things when still too green and wet is a damper, and can even put the whole fire out.
Our metaphor could be extended endlessly. The essence is that community is about creating synergies out of diverse parts. Just as a skilled fire-keeper has a feel for the qualities of different kinds of wood at different stages of seasoning, so we too must cultivate our understanding of what human beings are if we are to become keepers of community. That is why becoming grounded means having one foot in the physical realities of this world and the other in the dynamics of people.
On the one hand we need to understand physics – the properties of matter – as with our practical example of fire-making. That’s the realm of things like land, buildings, and knowing the nitty-gritty practicalities of how things work or grow. On the other hand, we must reach behind such outer hardware and get to the software that is the inner nature of being human. Such is the continuum between the physical and what philosophers call the metaphysical.
The etymology or word-origin of this Greek term is meta, meaning beyond, behind or transformed, and physika, meaning the nature of physical things or matter. Metaphysics is therefore concerned with what underlies the outer surface of the material world. It means reaching behind the ordinary, using both concept and metaphor to move beyond normal ways of seeing and being, so to discover inner layers of truth that will transform our perception and experience of reality. In the work of community-building, it means reaching behind seeing a human being merely in economic terms – as an entity needing to be fed, clothed and housed – and connecting up such vital practicalities with what it takes to bring a person alive from within. For that life within is the heart of the fire of life. Without it, branches thrown on top will never kindle.
Schumacher talks about metaphysics at least a dozen times in Small is Beautiful. We therefore cannot engage adequately with his ideas unless we get metaphysically turned on. This is how he diagnosed the human condition (6:99):
The task of our generation, I have no doubt, is one of metaphysical reconstruction. It is not as if we had to invent anything new; at the same time, it is not good enough merely to revert to the old formulations. . . . The deepest problems of our age . . . cannot be solved by organisation, administration, or the expenditure of money, even though the importance of all these is not denied. We are suffering from a metaphysical disease, and the cure must therefore be metaphysical.
Why, then, do we not hear more about metaphysics? Why is it not at the heart of every curriculum and constitution? The answer is that it has been deliberately marginalised by materialistic philosophers. It doesn’t fit the secular and mechanistic ideology that strips the sacred from both people and nature.
.... An interest in reality thereby places before us the two bottom-line questions of all philosophy. One is ontological, and the other epistemological. ‘What are we?’ and ‘How do we know?’ Such is the territory we must now tread in deepening the question, ‘What is community?’
Although most of the work described in this Briefing comes from years of community engagement by myself and the WWF-CHE Scholars who I worked with, some important theoretical aspects evolved in the context of my submitting a dozen of my previously published works, most importantly Soil and Soul, for the degree of PhD by Published works at the Academy of Irish Cultural Heritages (AICH), Faculty of Arts, University of Ulster. As a Visiting Fellow of AICH this entailed writing a "short" (it grew in the making) thesis linking material published over the previous decade and showing how it collectively constituted a PhD. It was something I undertook because, these days, not having a PhD has sadly become an impediment to participating fully in academic life. However, in the course of pulling it all together my supervisors challenged and assisted me into exploring more deeply what I meant by such expressions as "spirituality" and in particular, its relationship to "essentialism". It became for me a very valuable exercise in its own right - a taking of stock of where I'd got to and a consolidation of that ground. I am especially grateful to my supervisors at the AICH, Professor Ullrich Kockel (President of the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore) and Professor John Gillespie (Head of Research in the University of Ulster's Faculty of Arts).
The thesis was examined and passed without revisions on 28 June 2008 by Professor Máiréad Nic Craith (Director of AICH) and Professor Michael Cronin (City University Dublin, author of Translation and Globalisation). The PhD text can be downloaded at this link: Some Contributions of Liberation Theology to Community Empowerment in Scottish Land Reform 1991 - 2003 (4 MB PDF file). See below to make use of downloads of images that I commissioned for use both in the PhD and in Rekindling Community. The Irish launch of Rekindling Community (and also, of Hell and High Water: Climate Change, Hope and the Human Coindition) will be held at AICH at the Magee Campus of the University of Ulster in London/Derry at 4pm on Mon 3 November 2008.
While undertaking research at the University of Ulster (see above) and writing Rekindling Community, I commissioned a series of illustrations to use in both. Some of these are based on the work of other people such as Jung, Camara and Wink. Others are entirely original. But all might be of use to readers of my work and for this reason, I am rending the artwork "Copyleft", meaning that it may be used by anyone for any life-giving purpose, with or without acknowledgement as befits the situation (though acknowledgment is advisable in academic situations and courteous in most others), and with freedom to modify as might be useful to your purpose. These can be downloaded from the links to the 4 versions that follow. Some of the Powerpoint slights are animated to unfold in stages on mouseclick, but I recommend that, unless you've got very high speed internet, you check out the low resolution version first. It will appear blotchy as some of the shadow effects are compromised, but it will give you a flavour of what's on offer. These are big files and so I've set them to open in a new window and, as such, if you have pop-ups blocked on your browser you may have to hold down control as you click to open the links. Your browser should tell you if this (or an equivalent operation) is necessary.
Other images used in Rekindling Community are my photographs, except where indicated in the captions or the p. 4 credits. The poster "How to Build Community" (and many other wonderful works of art like it) can be purchased from the Syracuse Cultural Workers here.
For readers' convenience I have listed below endnotes that have life web links (valid as of 8 October 2008). Many of these pertain to rare third party resources that I have posted for my own students' use on my own website. Below these I have also provided an erratum.
Live Endnote Links
4. See Alastair McIntosh, ‘Wokabaut Somils in Sustainable Forestry: New Hebrides to Old’, The Tree Planters Guide to the Galaxy, Reforesting Scotland, Edinburgh, No. 4, 1991, pp.5-7, online at www.alastairmcintosh.com/articles/1991_wokabout.htm.
5. I have posted an extract from Bernard Narokobi’s Melanesian Way at www.alastairmcintosh.com/general/resources.htm - see specifically http://www.alastairmcintosh.com/general/resources/1983-Bernard-Narokobi-Melanesian-Way.pdf
6. Catalogue and permissions: www.syracuseculturalworkers.com.
7. The Margaret Thatcher Foundation disputes the order of the wording, and its wider context is not without wisdom. See www.margaretthatcher.org/speeches/displaydocument.asp?docid=106689.
38. See my article on Cold War psychohistory at www.alastairmcintosh.com/articles/2003-cold-war.htm
45. See www.landreformact.com. Also John Bryden and John Geisler, ‘Community-based land reform: Lessons from Scotland’, Land Use Policy, Elsevier Ltd, Issue 24, 2007, pp.24-34.(See also my personal index of land reform publications at http://www.alastairmcintosh.com/contents-5-landreform.htm.
51. Hélder Câmara, Spiral of Violence, Sheed and Ward, London, 1971: online at www.alastairmcintosh.com/general/spiral-of-violence.htm.
54. Iain Crichton Smith, Towards the Human: Selected Essays, Macdonald Publishers, Loanhead, 1986, pp.56-7: online at www.alastairmcintosh.com/general/resources.htm - see specifically http://www.alastairmcintosh.com/general/resources/1982-Iain-Crichton-Smith-Real-People-Real-Place.pdf.
56. T for T’s new website is expected to be www.trainingfortransformation.net (should be operational late in 2008, meanwhile see http://www.sangonet.org.za/portal/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4078&Itemid=385). See also www.VereneNicolas.org.
57. Manfred Max-Neef, ‘Development and human needs’ in Paul Ekins and Manfred Max-Neef (eds.), Real Life Economics, Routledge, London, 1992, pp.197-213, online at www.alastairmcintosh.com/general/resources.htm - see specifically http://www.alastairmcintosh.com/general/resources/2007-Manfred-Max-Neef-Fundamental-Human-Needs.pdf.
It's just the way the cookie crumbles that there's always a few gremlins that creep into my books caused, for example, by things I've played around with after the publisher's proofreading! Most are trivial typos and they are listed here for correction in any subsequent reprinting. Only the one about endnote 21 is consequential. The minor ones are shown here in the hope that if there's any more not on this list, sharp-eyed readers might be good enough to inform me via firstname.lastname@example.org and we can fix them in any subsequent reprinting. Note that the first time you use this email address you'll get a bounceback asking that you confirm your authenticity with my spam check system. I also love getting feedback from readers, and I try always to send a reply, albeit usually a brief one out of necessity and sometimes not immediately due to the usual busyness.
8 October 2008