Liberation

This article is based on quotations from three writers, of three different nationalities, who share a spirit with which I am in sympathy:

  1. “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”
  2. ”The real cycle you’re working on is the cycle called ‘yourself.’”
  3. ‘I thought that the democratic system was not only a form of government but a school of political experience coextensive with the nation.’

Years ago I somehow became aware of The One-Straw Revolution, by Masanobu Fukuoka. I think I read about it in the Next Whole Earth Catalog (1980); later, a comrade at the farm where I worked in 1988 told me about it. Recently I chanced upon the book itself (in a 2009 edition by New York Review Books) in Pandora Bookshop here in Istanbul. The Preface by Wendell Berry quotes the passage from page 119 that is the first of the quotations above:

The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.

This is the conclusion of a paragraph that mentions Lao Tzu and Gandhi with approval. Fukuoka talks about farming with nature, not against it; asking not what we have to do to get food, but what we can avoid doing. When one is open to an awareness of the interconnectedness of things, one may find that some apparent problems, with farming or anything else, will solve themselves.

I will acknowledge the great difficulty in actually practicing Fukuoka’s form of “do-nothing farming.” It seems to require great attention to what one is doing (or not doing). But then one may find that learning to give this attention is a benefit to oneself. Hence the sentence quoted above.

I would propose a variant of the sentence as:

The ultimate goal of government is not to provide jobs to the population, directly or indirectly, but to allow the people to cultivate and perfect themselves.

This is an idea I tried to express last summer at the Nesin Mathematics Village: the Village should be supported because it does encourage this cultivation of oneself.

But Fukuoka may be closer in spirit to Robert Pirsig, as in the quotation from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that is used in the front matter of a paperback edition to promote the book, and that is the second of the quotations above:

The real cycle you’re working on is the cycle called “yourself.”

The cycle—or the crop, or whatever you are working on—is nothing without you. Pirsig’s paragraph continues:

The machine that appears to be “out there” and the person that appears to be “in here” are not two separate things. They grow toward Quality or fall away from Quality together.

Wherever you are working, there is government, though if you are Robinson Crusoe, that government may indeed consist of yourself alone. In An Autobiography (1939), R. G. Collingwood brings matters explicitly to government, in the third passage quoted above:

I thought that the democratic system was not only a form of government but a school of political experience coextensive with the nation.

Democracy is a school. It does not give you stuff, but gives you the means to work out stuff for yourself, in collaboration with your fellow citizens as appropriate. This vision would seem to be quite contrary to that of the current President of Turkey, who seems to have been quite successful at giving people stuff, or simply in making it possible for them to grow in material wealth, but who wants to pursue his own vision without having to listen to anybody else. According to Semih Idiz in Al-Monitor (February 3, 2015):

“I should be the one determining who I work with, but can’t do this under the present system because there are those, the judiciary for example, who prevent it,” Erdogan said in an interview with the state-run TRT network Jan 29. “You can’t run a country, or a city in this way. This is the inadequacy of the parliamentary system,” Erdogan said. He went on to give examples from other countries to reinforce his argument.

“For example, the system in England is a semi-presidential one in which the operative factor is the queen. Is there a sultanate in the US? It’s not a sultanate if it is the US, Brazil, South Korea or Mexico. So why does it become a sultanate when the idea is advocated for Turkey?” Erdogan asked.

His critics were quick to point out that Erdogan has a mistaken notion of the British system of government, and conveniently overlooks the checks and balances that exist in the US system restricting the powers of the president.

“The president intends to run the country through presidential decrees. This does not exist in any presidential system. … Erdogan wants a special kind of presidency for himself. This is called a dictatorship,” Akif Hamzacebi, a senior member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said in a news conference in Ankara.

The passage from Collingwood is worth setting in its larger context, which praises what the British parliamentary system could be:

My attitude towards politics had always been what in England is called democratic and on the Continent liberal. I regarded myself as a unit in a political system where every citizen possessing the franchise had the duty of voting for a representative to parliament. I thought that the government of my country, owing to a wide franchise, a free press, and a universally recognized right of free speech, was such as to make it impossible that any considerable section should be oppressed by government action, or that their grievances should be hushed up, even if a remedy for them could not be found. I thought that the democratic system was not only a form of government but a school of political experience coextensive with the nation, and I thought that no authoritarian government, however strong, could be so strong as one which rested on a politically educated public opinion. As a form of government, I thought its essence lay in the fact that it was a nursery-garden where policies were brought to maturity in the open air, not a post office for distributing ready-made policies to a passively receptive country.

A post office is then what Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wants his regime to be. Collingwood’s phrase “nursery-garden” is reminiscent of kindergarten, which in fact may also describe what Erdoğan wants Turkey to be: a land of perpetual children, governed only by himself. But I think Collingwood is referring to a garden where plants are raised, as he says, to maturity.

Writing in 1939, Collingwood has seen the Fascists gain power in Spain, and he has seen the Nazis occupy Czechoslovakia, in each case with the acquiescence and even connivance of the British government. This failure of British democracy has been made possible by newspapers that seek to entertain rather than inform, and by philosophers who teach that thinking itself is only an amusement.

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One Comment

  1. Posted February 5, 2015 at 5:25 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I got curious about Collingwood after reading your posts.

    An interesting book (hoping the HTML link code will work) by Francseca Polletta mentions similar thoughts regarding (participatory) democracy as school in the context of American social movements. Never got around to finishing it (my ignorance on the subject prevented me from following the details of the history closely), but even the introductory chapters I managed to read were thought-provoking.

    Curious about your experiences in the farm, will read the piece soon.

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