Monday, November 23, 2009

Competition or cooperation

Last Thursday I read a column in the International Herald Tribune. The columnist, an American reflected over that when he was lecturing in Paris, students saw solidarity as the antonym to competition, while where he came from monopoly was the first choice. I think the observations contains more than a simple difference in culture or language. The French apparently saw the fierce (economic) competition as opposed to solidarity.

For me I would have selected cooperation as the antonym to competition. That is, we can solve problems, or exploit opportunities not only through the model of competition, but also through cooperation. The platform for the (capitalist) competition is the market. The platform for cooperation can be society in the form of state but also in the form of civil society organisations.

In real life, I don't think the choice is the either/or but both or all three. We certainly need comptetition (and diversity) but no progress is made in human society without cooperation, and without solidarity progress might be immoral, without heart.

A problem today is the competition has been given supremacy as an ideology. Yes it is an ideology with its own fundamentalists, and they are as scary as other fundamentalists.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Small is not only beautiful - it is productive as well

Recently I had the pleasure of moderating a seminar at the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry in Stockholm. It was about how organic farming can meet the challenge of climate change. It was an interesting seminar, which showed how complex the reality is, and that there are no simple solutions. The seminar had a very wide approach to the issue and included aspects not only of bio-diversity but also about social diversity, one farmer, Anders Lunneryd, explaining how immigrants are working with vegetable production at this farm as own enterprises.

In essence niches and border zones are very important for biodiversity and for resilience. Not only diversity, but also productivity is often a lot higher in border zones, just think about coasts or waterholes in the desert, or the farmland-forest border. In permaculture and agro-forestry such border zones are created. I remember what Tor Nörretranders wrote in The User Illusion (Märk Världen) about how the modern civilization tries to make thing predictable, how there are no straight lines in nature and hardly any in old cultures while the industrial society is full of them. With science and technology we strive to make things predictable and repetitive (and there is no coincidence that my thesaurus says that boring and monotonous are synonyms to repetitive). While what we think is beautiful is almost never predictable and repetitive. Esthetically we seek complexity all the time, not chaos, some order is actually preferred by or senses.

For a new farming system, for a new relationship between man and nature but also for a future society we should seek diversity and complexity. It is also in this line of thought where one can find a rational argument in favour of that “scale matters”. I have always had sympathy for “small is beautiful” as Schumacher said, but I found it hard to provide solid arguments for why that is. With this perspective of border zones, complexity and diversity also points to that small may not only be beautiful, but also productive.

This is perhaps an interesting example of a border zone. Kids laughing and swimming in pool in the main square of Asuncion, the capital of Paraguya, which I recently visited. The main squares in these former Spanish colonies are mostly very strict, but here it was all relaxed, like the whole town.