Dealing with the future by learning from the past

Sam Smith – A time of crisis like this can bring back some old values and skills that we had been taught were no longer important in a time of modern media and capitalism.

For example, what are farms’  new role in a time like this?

Beyond providing food, there’s something else to be gained from farms. Farming was built on a model that emphasized skill, cooperation and multi-tasking in a way not seen in a typical corporation. These are skills that we are going to need in a big way these days.  For example, you can own a farm, but to run it well you’re going to need help you not only pay, but respect, work well with and rely upon.

And like these times, we can not longer escape reality by clever marketing. Reality is all around us. Just like at a farm. I was taught this early in summer work  When I was 13 I helped to move a house and about the same time helped jack up a 120 foot barn to put more rocks under it. Both these incidents remain in my mind because they showed the triumph of skill over talk, a quality necessary to successful farming. Nelson Mandela, for example,  credited cattle farming rather than universities as his inspiration. Moving herds around, he explained, had taught him how to lead from behind.

The other place where I discovered skill and cooperation leading power was as an officer on a Coast Guard cutter. All 50 men on our ship, regardless of their rank, were essential to our work and while one might have more authority than others, you were still highly dependent on them, leading to a spirit of mutual assistance.

I was reminded of this with the firing of Captain Brett Crozier of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt. Like a good captain would, he put his crew first with his plea for help. The Navy Secretary, Thomas Modly – despite having once been a Navy officer himself – acted as he might in his former job as managing director of PricewaterhouseCooper – and dumped Crozier. It is worth noting that the crew cheered the captain Molby had fired.

Such qualities as skill and cooperation soar in times like these. It was a matter I addressed back in 1994, in my book Shadows of Hope:

The question we ought to be asking is not what a failing system should be doing but whether such a system can do anything except to make matters worse, all the more so by trying to do something about it. The problem is similar to that illustrated by President Eisenhower’s bumbling agriculture secretary Ezra Taft Bensen. When Bensen announced that he would be working day and night on the farm problem, another politician wisely commented, “I wish he wouldn’t. He was causing enough trouble when he was just working days.”

Ironically, we have come to our present unhappy state in no small part because of our willingness to turn over individual and communal functions to the very systems we now ask to save us.

Functions formerly performed by community, family and church have now been assumed not only by government but to an increasing but unappreciated degree by the private corporation. Consider the modern shopping mall, a common contemporary replacement for a town business district. Although these complexes clearly serve a public function (and are often built with considerable public concessions), they are in fact controlled by a single corporation…. The village square has thus been privatized….

There is also the economy that Hazel Henderson calls the counter-economy — the non-monetarized economy — which she says is “still invisible to most economists and policy makers. It is based on. . . altruism, volunteering, community and family cohesiveness, cooperation, sharing, respect for the environment and the rights of future generations, and conservation of all resources — human and natural.” The economic effect of this economy is enormous. For example, the UN’s International Labor Organization, studying the role of women in the nonmonetarized segment of the economy, has reported that women globally work 47 percent of all productive hours, but receive only ten percent of the world’s wages and own only one percent of the property.

We have been forced into a time when public relations, clever systems, corporatism and technology won’t save us. We need to rediscover some of the earlier values and techniques used in times not as purportedly clever as ours were meant to be.  We need cooperatives more than corporations, skill more than slogans, and decency over just winning.

2 thoughts on “Dealing with the future by learning from the past

  1. Dear Sam Hope you and Kathy are well and safe . Thank you for your last two writings. As Albert Einstein wrote, Problems can not be solved by the same mentality that created them. And the old Chinese curse has come to roost. May you live in interesting times. Ben

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