A sceptic's take on being human – or should that be virtuous?
Is the tide finally turning?
The environmental movement didn’t start last week – I just thought it was worth mentioning it because Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” was published in 1962, that’s 57 years ago, and ever since then, we’ve been pushing back at the problem with very little apparent success. Was it Thomas Kuhn that wrote that science advances as scientists die? He wasn’t being harsh, but simply pointing out that vested interests rarely go away because a better explanation has been found. Billions of pounds/dollars have been spent on defending the indefensible as the evidence of environmental damage has mounted up year by year and decade by decade.
But this week I’ve suddenly felt a bit more optimistic. When Kuhn wrote about ‘paradigm shifts’ it always seemed that they mostly involved obscure corners of particle physics where there was no immediate impact on the way we do things round here. This week it’s been astonishing to see the public response to the Extinction Rebellion protests in London. On TV and on the radio – or wireless as we ancients prefer – there have been an increasing number of programmes explaining new approaches to the crisis that’s engulfing us. What’s different is that ‘common sense’ seems to be changing in the incredibly swift manner of a paradigm shift. Everwhere I looked last week there were pieces on do-dig and no-till systems. A short walk to any bookshop will demonstrate the level of interest in ecology and climate change. The Microsoft TV advertisement extolling yet another technological solution to the moral and ethical problem of intensive farming seems suddenly out of date, and although the prophets of Baal with their endless expensive technologies are dancing vainly around the altar of progress the fire never comes. [That image comes from a very funny Old Testament story] After decades of fruitless handwringing, our young people have siezed the initiative and it feels good.
Something has shifted under the surface and the belief that change is possible is gaining traction. Alleluia!
I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun.
When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths.
What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs.
But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more.
Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.
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