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One square metre and a stool

by William Bowles • Friday, 8 June, 2007
 

‘All the freaky people make the beauty of the world’ — ‘All The Freaky People,’ Michael Franti & Spearhead

1 Square MetreFor the most part, television is crap, driven as it is either by commercial interests or in the case of the state-run network, by something that tries to mimic the demographically driven commercial networks. But occasionally good stuff pops up, for example, every year the BBC has this daily programme that runs for three weeks, called Springwatch, based in an ‘organic’ farm somewhere in the West Country. It has hundreds of tiny cameras voyeuristically placed to watch the animals do their spring thing.

It’s repetitive stuff; mostly birds, flying, fornicating, fledging and dying but there are occasionally, little gems, like in the episode the other night (4/6/07) with some fellow who had, years ago when he was still a kid, marked out a one square metre section of his backyard and every day, he just sat and looked at it. He got to know it intimately, all its comings and goings, but on a miniature scale so the watcher has to reduce himself as it were, to the same scale as the insects that live out their life and death struggles in this tiny patch of land. And there’s a lot going on even, he suspected, the watched were also watching him, perhaps even recognised him (we witness a grasshopper giving him the eye).

There was no scientific purpose to it, nor a book or movie to be made, just this guy sitting in his backyard every day for years, watching the same square metre of garden. There’s something very Zen about it and as the guy rambled on about his one square metre he fantasised about creating a global club of ‘One Square Metre Watchers’. It could, it should, catch on.

Then I started to wonder why I was so struck by the idea and I started typing this (and burnt my rice as a result, something I never normally do) thinking all the while that there was something elegant, intimate, universal and entirely pointless about watching the same square metre of nature but then perhaps that’s the point, why should everything have a ‘reason’? Then I wondered whether he photographed it every day as well? Probably not, it’s not his style.

But still I had this ‘thing’ nagging at the back of my mind that there was something else going on here but I just couldn’t put my finger on it until I realised that the reason I was attracted to the idea was that it represented in miniature what we’re missing from life—connections.

Then too I realised that every square metre of nature is doing the same thing, billions of living creatures connected in an invisible (to us) web, with every creature doing its thing, everyone that is, except us (and let’s not forget the guy in his backyard).

But then prior to capitalism, virtually everyone had this kind of intimate relationship to Nature, after all their lives depended on it, and now it seems we have come full circle, for once more our lives depend on re-establishing that intimate connection with Nature. The question is, can capitalism do it?

Sorry, trick question. There is an innate insanity, irrationality in the way capitalism works that makes the idea of our ‘One Square Metre’ being extended everywhere an impossibility for capitalism to envision let alone act on the insight.

For the better part of five centuries it has fought wars, overthrown governments, starved entire populations into submission and conducted propaganda campaigns, all to persuade people that capitalism has the answers to all our needs. But what it can’t do is create even one, tiny square metre of nature in all its amazing complexity, nor does it care to, where’s the profit?

The core of the capitalist rationale for its existence is the mythical ‘power of the market to even all things out’, in other words let business take care of things and everything will be all right. It has to be this way because capitalism transforms people into commodities too, hence the relationship between people is a ‘business one’, and a relationship that also applies to the natural world; it’s there for the taking regardless of the consequences and it’s ‘free’, that is to say, free to capitalists, it’s the rest of the world that pays the cost.

The problem is that the ‘market’ doesn’t ‘even things out’, it’s not some human variation of Nature’s ‘survival of the fittest’. In fact applying the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ to human society is a perverted mis-application of Darwin’s insight, for Darwin applied it to organisms within a species. This is not to say that entire species don’t die out through a change in the environment that a particular species simply could not adapt to in time, for example a catastrophe of some kind, but the ‘market’ is not going to solve the problem of climate change anymore than it has solved the problem of the gross inequality that exists between the rich and the poor (one of its major claims to ‘fame’).

The argument that capitalism is ‘natural’ underpins all the propaganda about the ‘free market’ (let ‘nature’ take its course). The reality however is somewhat different for ‘competition’ in the natural world is driven by very different forces than those that power capitalism.

Meanwhile, under pressure from an increasingly frightened populace, the G8 ‘Summit’ agrees not to do anything of any value about the climate, something that even the mainstream media can’t paper over. Instead, as things heat up-both literally and figuratively-the burden, predictably, has been shifted from the world’s numero uno producer of greenhouse gases, the US, to all those damn Chinese and Indians. This, after spending decades persuading them that the West was the way to go. But all the indications are that it won’t work.

China and India are now unstoppable industrial juggernauts feeding the West’s insatiable demands for (cheap to produce) consumer products and services. The awful truth about ‘uneven development’ is revealed when we realise that the developed nations, having stripped their own profitable resources and faced with ever-diminishing returns on investment locally, had no choice but to seek out new investment opportunities for all that cash sloshing about in the global circuit of capital.

This is how TV’s Channel 4 ‘News’ announced the G8 ‘deal’

‘Jon Snow is in the tricky to pronounce German town of Heiligendamm, where G8 leaders have agreed to a compromise deal on tackling climate change.

‘Head-to-head talks between Tony Blair and George Bush early this morning paved the way for an agreement under which the major polluters – including the United States – will “consider” reducing emissions by 50% by 2050.’ (Email 7/6/07)

It’s all pure, unadulterated bullshit for the reality is that the US and the EU will only agree to “consider” a deal if China and India are included as ‘equal partners’. But the US, with only 5% of the world’s population, produces 25% of the world’s greenhouse gases and China with about 20% of the world’s population, only 3%.

And anyway, without a radical restructuring of their economies, they intend to reduce energy and resource consumption by getting the populace to buy ‘green’ instead, hence the propaganda blitz on ‘conservation’ and instilling guilt trips on all those households bulging with (mostly unused) consumer products. So rather than there being a recognition that we have to do some radical restructuring of our economic and hence political relations, a whole new world of consumption is opened up. Soon, every damn thing will be ‘green’, that’s what they mean by ‘business as usual’.

The whole thing is insane which brings me back to my ‘one square metre and a stool’, a tiny square of sanity in an otherwise loony world.

Can anyone really defend the actions of those who rule us. Ruthless, grubby and mediocre people with small minds, disconnected from humanity by their own lack of same. What struck me about my ‘square metre’ watcher was the totally laidback intensity of his vision and just how something so small and insignificant could fill his universe, yet there was a time when most people had something very similar at the centre of their lives. I fear that unless we find a way of communicating his vision of rediscovering our true place in the world, we are lost.

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