Where Did We Go Wrong? A Tale Of Our Times.

I think there is little doubt of, but there could be much opposition to, the statement that humanity, as a collective, has made a complete hash of living on planet Earth. That situation, I also think, has now been realised and there is frantic non-action being proposed at the highest levels to not deal with that reality but to make profit out of not doing so – while the opportunity for profit exists, and to hell with the consequences. Not that there is any way, as I keep saying, to do anything meaningful about it. We have sown our seeds (mostly GMO these days) and must reep the appropriate rewards. That, since we are not the masters of our own destiny (though I’m sure there are those who would also disagree with that statement), is only just and fair and appropriate. We have swallowed our poison and now want some antidote? Such arrogance! And also such self-deceit that anybody or anything else (if such there be) would care what happens to us.

So, how did this come about? Where did we go wrong? What wrong turn did we make? Was there something we missed? Was there a point in time when we passed up our final chance? Indeed there was, and it occurred just over 110 years ago. I will try to relate the story as best I can – with references as appropriate.

Please note I am not offering any solutions to the problems we face – there are none. But wouldn’t it be interesting to know why? After all, if we should somehow (as some folks believe) find ourselves back here in another thousand or several thousand years or so and the same opportunities exist, wouldn’t we want to do something different? Well, when I say there are no solutions, that is not quite true. Actually it is true for now, for our current situation – from which there is no turning back – but in another 1000 years or so, conditions may be entirely different – if there are still a few humans still struggling to exist and hoping for better days to come. There is that same opportunity, that same concept, that we previously turned down, to our dying shame. It is worth considering.

And no, before anyone interjects, it is not permaculture – a melding of permanence and culture with natural agriculture and common sense, born I think in the ’70s and fine-tuned to be the modern Permaculture Movement, which is in reality nothing much more than an entrepreneurial business model for living on funds garnered from useless individuals who couldn’t work out the common-sense alternatives for themselves. I have been there, done that. I hold a PDC certificate which entitles me – though as with many other a qualification, it is just a piece of paper, not backed by years of practice in the knowledge it claims to bestow. I even have the black permaculture bible (a useful book by the way, full of interesting theories, none of which will work in the modern world but are ideal for more primitive conditions) autographed with a personal message from the father of modern permaculture – the late Bill Mollison – author of the book. I learned all I needed to know on the course and in the applied gardening and planning I did over several very useful years of practical discovery on how things work. I was never going to be a professional permaculturist, thankfully.

That is all well and good, but modern permaculture will not work on the large scale (as with all other proposed ‘solutions’) without an industrial society to back it up – except perhaps when beginning a new human settlement from scratch, on a smaller scale, with human energy and none of the benefits of modern society. But that is a lot of hard work, and not possible now, for us, in this time.

However, our greatest failure, the opportunity which we in the last resort passed over, is related to a form of permanent agriculture and an associated way of life. Hope earnestly (there is no work to do, except… see next paragraph) for that opportunity to come again, at some future point, before we all pass away.

The only meaningful plans we can now make are to preserve knowledge for the future. But how do we do that? Our present data storage will die with us and will be useless to future generations. Ask yourself, “how did useful information come to us?” Well, one way was by word of mouth – ‘story-telling’, but if there are few or no survivors of our race, that is going to be either impossible or left to the traumatized few, who are not guaranteed to be the brightest or most learned among us, increasingly so as time passes. So, a no go. What else is there? Cave paintings, rock carvings, papyrus or parchment rolls? There is potential there, but who can guarantee that caves and rocks, exposed to the elements, will stand the test of time? Especially under potential climate extremes. Ok, what else? Well, by far the most valuable base of past knowledge known to man, and the only way we know something of our beginnings, how cultures were structured, and many other practical aspects of life, are the many thousands of stone or clay brick carved records discovered among the ruined libraries of the cradle of civilisation in what was once the fertile crescent of the Middle East. Many thousands of which still remain to be translated. Who knows what we may have missed that was so carefully passed down to us. So, if you want something to do, get carving (in cuneiform – if it was a translatable first written language once, it can be so again) or baking bricks to be so carved, and find a discoverable environment in which they can be safely stored for posterity – like beneath the mounds of once occupied buildings in dry desert areas?. Please don’t think this is a silly idea. We would probably still be totally ignorant of our past if our forebears had not taken the trouble to carefully and painstakingly record what they did, apart that is, from relying on the wild guesses of supposedly expert academics. Fortunately, and I really believe this, if any of our current generation survive to the next global era, they will most likely be among the ‘peasants’ who still live fairly basic lifestyles in rural settings far removed from modernity. I hope there still are some of those people somewhere.

Raking rice paddies in China with an ox-drawn plough. Engraving by J. June after A. Heckel.
 via Wikimedia Commons

Five Thousand years ago

That is when humans first began to live appropriately in what can truly be called a ‘sustainable’ way. Today, we have no idea what ‘sustainable’ means. It means, in simple words and within the context we are discussing, living in a way that will enable you to exist contentedly and prosper, to a reasonable extent, for the next five thousand years or more.

There is only one existing culture which has followed that path of sustainability into modern times. I am not sure if they still do that today to the same extent and ‘being taken out of poverty’ is not necessarily a good alternative. Especially if it now places them within a modern society that could well be short-lived, along with its global associates. Is that a real improvement if it only proves to be temporary?

I am talking of course about China. A nation which has only in recent years changed the basis of its existence to be aligned with modernism, a form of capitalism mixed with a form of communism. I cannot be more specific about China’s long-term prospects as a result because I just do not have that knowledge. I hope to gain some sort of understanding as I continue to read Godfree Roberts book “Why China Leads The World”. If I am able to relate something worthwhile at a later date, I will do so. In the meantime, let me tell you of the drastic mistake we made 110 years ago.


Franklin Hiram King (1848-1911)

Have you heard of Franklin Hiram King? Possibly not. But with a name like that he has to be American, yes? He was, and he was canceled in a situation remarkably reminiscent of the Woke terrorism going on today and the COVID purges that have not yet fully entered their active phase. He was fired because he became a threat to the existing paradigm by suggesting they were going down the wrong path and by offering an alternative solution. The similarities to today’s cancel culture are eerily spooky. He died not many years later. How can you go on living when you know you have the right answers but they are rejected for some short-lived but progressive folly?

Yes, King had all the answers that were needed for mankind, especially the rich and dominant sectors of mankind (the Chinese and other Asian cultures were at the time still living sustainably in their 5,000 year old peasant manner) to alter course to one that would ensure the continuance (perhaps in a slightly different form more akin to the Chinese form) of Western culture for potentially thousands more years. Instead, by rejecting outright King’s offered solution (and again I don’t have the specific details to make a more structured assessment) they condemned their culture, indeed the whole of Western culture, to perhaps little more than the 100 years that have elapsed since that time. A hundred years in which those cultures, while enriching themselves (or at least 0.01% of themselves – the rest being condemned to creeping poverty) have slowly crumbled and wasted away, to perhaps now be past the point of salvation in any real physical sense.

What good is wealth from a modernity which has only a one hundred year ‘Use By’ date, and from which are produced all the factors which have incessantly led to the demise of itself and its hosts.

I think I have said enough, and I promised references. Well here are two very good articles which form the basis on which I have produced this piece. I consider them both to be well worth the reading.

“Chinese Peasants Taught the USDA to Farm Organically in 1909: 100 years later we are still learning” – JSTOR Daily – ‘where news meets its scholarly match’ – A fine article which grapples with these issues in ways I couldn’t hope to.

“Franklin Hiram King” – Organic (Ltd) – An Australian website, the only purpose of which seems to be to provide information on “A range of individuals who have contributed to organic agriculture” and to list a number of associated books – This article is a short explanation of King’s life and work.

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