Grenfell, Mad Management and Wise Leaders-John Carlisle

Richard Brown, a former director of InterCity and Chairman of Eurostar International, once remarked to me that there was a four letter word that managers of that time needed to understand: D-U-T-Y he spelled out. I agreed; now, and twenty years later, even more so. Forget about the wishy washy ethics campaigns or the generally meaningless PR exercises around corporate social responsibility. What we need to understand is duty, our obligation to others in our system and to the system and society. 
During my summer break I experienced two good examples. 
The first was at a conference in Switzerland on Human Security where I was running workshops. I met an advocate from South Africa, Paul Hoffman, whose company tackles institutionalised corruption through the courts, including challenging the President and Justice Minister. 
Paul stepped away from his very successful legal practice to take on this risky and arduous task. Why? He sees it as his duty to protect the rule of law and to point out obvious failures in the state’s duty of care, at considerable cost to himself.

Read more at:


What a Wonderful World!

Check out Barton Kunstler’s moving article on Nation of Change, for both Louis’ Armstrong’s life message, compared with what’s happening now in Trump’s America and the world….

In 1967 Louis Armstrong sang “What a Wonderful World”, written for him by Bob Thiele and George Weiss, who had in mind the tumultuous backdrop of the Vietnam War and the ongoing struggle for civil rights, which amplified the song’s power. Armstrong himself addresses this in his spoken introduction to his performance:

Some of you young folks been sayin’ to me, “Hey Pops, what do you mean ‘what a wonderful world? How about all them wars all over the place? You call them wonderful? And how about hunger and pollution? That ain’t so wonderful either.’ But how about listenin’ to old Pops for a minute. Seems to me it ain’t the world that’s so bad but what we are doing to it. And all I am saying is see what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance.

Today’s political context is as relevant to the song as it was 50 years ago. Yet it is unsullied by that ugliness. So I thought I’d present the lyrics as a commentary on today’s political scene because I believe the song, much like a magical incantation, possesses its own mysterious healing powers.

Sung towards the end of his life, “What a Wonderful World” captures what Armstrong himself brought to the world:

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom, for me and for you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world.

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These lines possess a perfect simplicity, as if polished by thousands of years of experience. They emerge as if we were seeing green trees and red roses for the first time, or perhaps in old age for the last time. The second line is the magical one, though: there are trees and roses and someone sees them bloom and through the generosity of the heart, he at once wants to share this miracle “for me and for you”. Only then can he think, “What a wonderful world.” It’s not just the trees, roses, color, or bloom – the “for me and for you” is the core of the wonder.

Then cut to Trump threatening to savage the National Parks through development and fracking. Witness the oil pimps lining up for new pipelines…the Koch brothers appointing the head of the CIA…the Secretary of Education closing schools and cutting school lunch programs while her brother, head of his own mercenary force, advises Trump on foreign policy from behind a dark curtain. We see environmental regulations tossed overboard by beady-eyed men doing their masters’ bidding, congratulating one another because they managed to raise the price on their souls another 10 or 50 thousand bucks.

I wonder at those seeking to undermine the Endangered Species Act so they can kill grizzlies and wolves and mountain lions as trophies of their pitifully perverse sense of manhood. They can’t wait to reverse the progress made in cleaning up our waterways, gut regulations aimed at keeping our food fresh and uninfected with lethal bacteria, and abolish limits on all forms of pollution. Where Thiele, Weiss, and Armstrong see the possibility of beauty and connection, our politicians see only profit in destroying and despoiling. And the profits they reap? That economy they so devoutly claim requires this destruction? They hide most of the profits to avoid taxes, robbing society even of the collateral social goods that their spoliation is supposed to produce.

I see skies of blue, clouds of white
Bright blessed days. dark sacred nights
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

Commoning – perspectives on conviviality – Farm Hack

‘On commoning and the commons

Commoning is a social practice within a framework set by the commons as a structure and common arrangement. The commons can be seen as the foundation of a convivialist society, commoning as its living expression. Hence commons are not goods even though they are often described as such. And goods are not commons because of their “natural” properties but because we treat them as such. Therefore we can essentially describe the commons as an institutionalised, legal, and infrastructural arrangement for a practice – commoning – in which we collaboratively organise and take responsibility for the use, maintenance and production of diverse resources.  The rules of commoning are (ideally) set by equal peers whose needs are at the focus of a shared process. Opportunities for individual growth and self-development are combined with the search for shared solutions, meaningful activities with extended and deepened relationships, and the creation of material abundance with the care for others and for nature. Living together like this was and still is practised to various degrees all over the world. In the process, commoning has to be repeatedly scrutinised, updated and rehearsed in order to remain embedded in every day life. This can never be taken for granted, and needs a suitable framework which currently we can rarely find.

Common wealth

The results of commoning traditionally consist of the sustainable use of natural resources such as forests, water or soil. For example this is the case with irrigation systems for which the people affected (commoners) give themselves rules for the shared use that enable a long-term fulfilment of needs (irrigation of fields, protection of water quality etc.). At the same time commoning can serve as the basis for the creation of something new: knowledge, hardware, software, food or a roof over the head. Basically there is nothing that cannot be thought of and designed as a commons. In the end our perspective may be to even view human society itself as the shared good – as our Common Wealth – which we have to make our own in practise and shape together according to our needs. In the end our perspective may be to even view human society itself as the shared good – as our Common Wealth – which we have to make our own in practise and shape together according to our needs. However, at present, humanity seems to be very distant from this perspective.’

Commoning – perspectives on conviviality

Beyond Future Shock and Building Commonweal

Landing in New York on the 1st November, I have been giving lectures on Building Common weal, and how to build a Common wealth society, drawing on Rudolf Steiner’s social threefolding.

So I was shocked, though not surprised at hearing of the Trump victory in New Hampshire on the 9th. Not surprised because I had already met several pumped up Trump supporters, who reminded me of the passion  of the Brexit supporters. Saddened, as I had met many Clinton and Bernie supporters who had worked hard to make a difference. And one New York waitress told me the story of how Trump’s Atlantic City Casino bankruptcy had badly affected hundreds of small business contractors, including her father….

This is a turning point for the USA, and maybe the world order, a hundred years on from 1917 when the USA entered the First World War so decisively.

A friend, Barton Kunstler, wrote this article, which is worth reading

And Sarah Churchwell wrote on 10th November in the Financial Times:

This was an election carried largely on spite, which is no basis for a system of governance. Too many of our reactions have become infantile, and the leader America just chose exemplifies the worst of that infantilism: howling selfishness, preening narcissism, deathless ignorance.

So first we must grow up. And the most important lesson America must teach itself again is  that tolerance, progress, compassion, equality, security, even the common bloody decency that has been trampled in the gutter during this filthy election campaign, are not trophies we win. We used to speak of the commonweal, common well being…. Any attempt to build a commonweal, a greater good rather than merely greater wealth, is a constant process, and it comes from the willingness of the heart.

How can ‘commonwealth’ provide an original alternative to narcissistic, acquisitive economics and politics?

Preparing for coming back to the USA in November 2016, I recalled that the first time that I visited was March 1972, at the height of the Vietnam War, amidst the Great Society programmes such as  Head Start, which I volunteered on in Kansas City, Missouri. It was a time when working and middle class incomes were good, people were prosperous, but have fallen in real terms ever since.

So I asked an old friend, Barton Kunstler, what he thought of the current situation and this is what he wrote about how I could get more informed.(Quite a book list!) I thought  was well  worth sharing, as his insights helped my steep learning curve:

“ Counterpunch has a web site, while and have many good articles. Our Massachusetts senator, Elizabeth Warren, is the most outspoken public figure on banks and government, even more extraordinary as a first-term Senator. The thinkers and doers are numerous, especially in the area of alternative food sources. I see food as the US millennials’ keystone issue from which they attack corporatism, environmental degradation, etc., which is the class Millennial combination of Baby Boomer idealism and the pragmatism of so-called Gen Xers. In any case, their strength is their energy, pragmatism, idealism, skepticism, and their beautiful minds. The downside to their approach is that  the strictly political side is often distorted by being misinformed, sentimentalized (spikes in concern for feel-good quality of life issues that are important but often isolated from meaningful political context), and frankly, overly simplified.

How the minnows repelled a shark, by Ken Sprague
The fish and a shark:  Ken Sprague

“We can see all of this in the Bernie Sanders campaign which I view as having been a wonderful, almost entirely positive political experience for a nation in desperate need of such. Bernie has pledged to continue the fight for the issues he has raised and that is precisely what we need. The so called “Bernie revolution” will not be furthered by young people turning away from the election or further political engagement. I can deconstruct Hillary’s record with the best of them but she is a rational human being who understands politics and if one disagrees with her (as I do and many other Sanders supporters), then elect her and other Democrats and hold their feet to the fire. This is one more area where the social three-folding idea is helpful: by distinguishing the boundaries between activism in the three spheres. Some issues are primarily cultural but when advances are made they are seen as great political advances when in fact the political and economic power elites can adapt to liberal advances, for instance, in regard to legalization of marijuana, gay marriage, and transgender use of bathrooms.

The social media, digitized aspect is very powerful, obviously, in terms of both the younger generation’s approach to political and economic change and a more general social evolution, but it can also be over-stated. These kids still have strong friendships, great empathy, and so on, but the mediating impact of the on-screen life is profoundly unsettling, even to many of them. Yet as the Obama campaign showed so well, and in doing so was only the tip of the iceberg, public discourse in all realms is being transferred to the digital environment and the implications are vast and unreadable.

If real change is going to come, it will have to include those cyber-channels, as it has been in the mis-named Arab Spring, Occupy, and most happily, Bernie’s campaign. The Millennial generation in the U.S. grew up under the grotesque presidency of George W. Bush. Obama initially inspired but ultimately disappointed them by his lack of vision and his inability, even in his first two years, to marshall his political mandate, although in the past year or so he has somewhat redeemed his promise. Nonetheless, eight more years of war, Guantanamo, a weak and shaky economic recovery, and runaway corporate and financial power has disillusioned most young people on politics to a degree that older activists have trouble grasping, however iconoclastic we may have been.

My read on the US is that it is an absolute singularity in terms of historical conditions, not just “unique” as all societies arguably are, but utterly singular, operating according to laws that no one has ever observed before. The combination of wealth, technology, complexity, size, and military power alone—the sort of inorganic variables—would make it so. But the organic variables are toxic. By those I mean the distinctly cultural and historical qualities embedded in human experience: the anti-intellectualism, medieval religiosity, racial animus, swaggering self-image of the self-made gun-toting male. Also: celebrity culture which is really about everyone being their own celebrity and their identity being the primary object of worship; the decline in schools and public discourse; the way the right wing has managed to “tar and feather” the notion of a common good or common-wealth”; the sheer narcissism—weird in itself but how it has utterly saturated the political and economic functions; and so much more.

Our unique position after WW II, when we were the sole engine of economic and military power, the heroic colossus that saved the world (in our minds), gave rise to the American myth of ever-expanding personal and national wealth. The de-regulation of the stock market and financial operations shifted the notion of wealth from affording the luxurious counterparts of items that everyone had—luxury cars, a house valued at maybe 10 times the average, a selection of excellent suits or gowns—to a horizon-less greed for the next power of ten: the ten-millionaire realizes how limited they are beside the 9-figure honcho, and once one can see the billionaire brand up ahead, one must achieve that. With the disparities in wealth the system begins to fracture and the values shift towards the narcissistic self-worship not of wealth but of oneself as a modern Sardanopolis. Not to mention the real cost as no economy can produce enough wealth to support that kind of greed without sucking dry the poor and middle class.

Globalization hit the US particularly hard, especially as we were so used to being isolated from its effects given three oceans to our east, west, and north (Canada is the northern ocean! haha), and poor broken Mexico and the fragemented Caribbean to the south. Today global events really matter. Even during Vietnam, when I was a very argumentative person, so many people would angrily tell me they were tired of us being pushed around by little countries and we should therefore bomb the hell out of Vietnam. I would ask for examples of these terrible bullies. Needless to say, they didn’t know of any actual cases or they’d rant about Castro and Cuba.

Is it possible that the American experience simply was designed to make people stupid? People who are intrinsically nicer or more delicate than I am go on and on about the middle class feeling betrayed and abandoned, etc., and I do understand how such devastating blows to one’s social and psychological self-worth can lead to the Tea Party or Trump. But that’s still too kind because face it, these movements are saturated with racism and with irrational attachments to politicians and policies that run contrary to their members’ self-interest. There is a simmering violence just below the surface and a mad infatuation the phallic compensation of firearms that is terrifying, especially when one poll indicates millions of Americans may go to the polls carrying a gun, though I’m skeptical of that. So it’s hard for me to adopt the condescension of those who would explain away these proto-fascist (I no longer use the term “crypto-fascist” as the “crypto” part seems outdated) reactions as largely reflexive. We are human beings and we have minds in order to avoid self-destructive, pathogenic behaviors.

At any rate, why does societal uncertainty result in such a bizarre set of responses as we see in the US today? Perhaps we are a singularity with a lack of models or orientating “memes” to guide us in such circumstances. Thus people who do initially have well-functioning brains with a strong potential to cultivate a mind wind up desperately seeking validation from the most “amygdala-friendly” sources: the repetitive rants of a Hitler or Rush Limbaugh or the venting of a Trump. In time, this does have a neurological effect, especially as there’s so little in the culture to counteract it. The myelin sheathes around the neuronal paths that feed amygdalic gratification grow thicker. Instead of many branching dendrites the brain is dominated by one or two superhighways leading direct to the red button. Violence and genocide are the result of the button being pushed over and over. (I use “amygdala” advisedly, as a schematic short-hand for whatever aspects of the brain are drawn into this closed-loop). Part of the disdain for Hillary, and the disappointment in Obama, is that people want authentic, clarion voices that can lay out a vision not only of hope but of effective action (Occupy). Most politicians can’t offer it because that’s not who they are. Why is Obama so adamant about the Trans Pacific Pact? It’s a horrible idea but his agenda, aside from wanting everyone to be nicer, splits off from those of most Americans on that sort of globalist issue.

I’m reading a great book that just came out, “White Trash” by Nancy Isenberg. I’m on page 50 and it’s already had an impact on me. \Two others are Takaki’s “A Different Mirror” about the immigrant experience, already 20 years old, and a book that’s been around about 30 years, Beyond Geography by Frederick Turner (not the late 19th c. Frederick Turner).

A book that was co-written/edited by a Stonybrook professor that I bought when it came out in the very early 70s is Rothenberg and Qasha’s “America: A Prophecy”. It’s a collection of primary sources that does something of what Galeano did in his books, presenting the sources in such a way as to create an alternative narrative of American history, unearthing hidden currents and showing what might have been and, at the time it came out, what people thought might still be. Speaking of currents, one of the all-time masterpieces of American historical writing is a book that was sidelined by the Cold War backlash against all the progressive scholarship of the 20s and 30s (even in the field of classics): Vernon Parrington, “Main Currents in American Thought”, which I have in the form of one of my father’s old college text books, though it’s not a “textbook”. Parrington presents diverse voices from the scope of US history with a brilliant commentary on each. It’s a unique, profound book and as a traveling companion in America, as good as a book can be.

The “self” itself is in play in US society, which is not only unique but still a pacesetter in many cultural developments world-wide. The self has devolved\ from an identification with “god” and cosmos and tribal or civic affiliations, etc. over the course of millennia. In the post-Marcuse world (one way to reference it), the self has become a profoundly unstable notion of an identity. The individual self is, when in balance with more extensive, “inorganic” frameworks, a wonderful engine of creativity and guardian of human dignity and social justice. In narcissistic contexts, the self cannot bear the full burden of all that is demanded of us as members of a complex society. We may worship the idea of ourselves, spend much of our income in enhancing the self and its image and most of our mental energy thinking about it, but the energy expended is a measure of the anxiety this multi-tasking selfhood inflicts upon us.

In addition, there is something essential in human beings’ projection of the ego into and through the things we can control—mates, territory, possessions—and our deities usually reflect something of th nature of what we admire and how we control it (mingled with the natural forces we cannot control). So a weather god is also a god of laws that protect property and state power, or the post-Newtonian deity is basically a clockmaker whose work embraces nature and the human mind. In a consumerist, market-driven society the self and the deity both become dispersed through our objects, with some, such as houses and cars, most eminent in the pantheon, but all in all, the deity and the ego are fragmented and fractured throughout countless objects. This is interesting as the deity who is chopped up and distributed among the community in a feast or other fable-like catastrophe is as old as myth.

Anyway, this hits us from two directions at once: anxiety over each piece of ourselves out there (he stole a cookie from the store, he deserved to be shot!) and anxiety over the hollowness at the core of being. But we have entered a new era in which the proliferative self-image is taking precedence over the objects. Hence “information is power”, “quantum physics is about information, not energy”, etc. All nice sounding concepts but in the popular agora it means that the construction of a data-rich image of one self (see all the high-tech product ads for the idealized image of cutting-edge, liberated, gorgeous (of course!), people all living on the same screens using the same software) becomes the ultimate product. This is obvious in politics but is more insidious in human relationships and in all manner of exchange, such as currency, commerce, and communication. In the end, this leads people to grasp at the most illogical, irrational, amygdala-driven images, the Trump or the Militia Defender of the Republic or the “I’m not Left or Right, I’m Middle of the Road” vacuity, or just an unending stream of violent or trivial media images or actual acts of violence themselves.


How the minnows repelled a shark, by Ken Sprague
How the minnows repelled a shark, by Ken Sprague

The notion of “commonwealth” seems to me to have immense potential because it is far older, with a much richer history and legacy, than acquisitive economics and politics. Even the US militia movement resonates with it on some level. Black and Hispanic and Asian cultures, not to mention Native American, are still largely committed to it. It offers the vocabulary and the genetic and tribal resonance to offset, to some degree at least, current ideologies and compulsions. It is also, oddly enough, encouraged by the cyber-social-media revolution, an irony so massive it can define our civilization for the next century or so if it can survive that long. It is also squarely in the mind-set of the Millennial generation.


Open Food Network for Developing Fair Farm to Fork, Buyer-Supplier Relations

How do we develop fair, farm to plate, buyer supplier relations? This burning question  will be posed at a Workshop that I will be attending at the upcoming Biodynamic Association Annual Conference from November 16-20 2016 at Santa Fe, New Mexico.

So often, farmers and growers see in the shops a big price mark up of the food they grow. At the same time, they are barely making a living. In the UK, aggressive supermarket buyers have sometimes forced the price of milk, for example, below the economic cost of production. So one response is for producers use various methods such farm gate sales points, community supported agriculture (CSA)  or  running a farmers market stall to reach the consumer directly, and bypass the middleman distributor, wholesaler or retailer. Not surprisingly, there has been a huge growth around the world in both famers’ markets and in CSA’


And great oaks form small acrons can grow! In Sweden, Salta Kvarn, one of the largest Swedish box schemes,  is run from Jarna near Stockholm and is biodynamic. They have now set up stores in Stockholm. The Salta Kvarn  bakery started in the 1930s in the basement of a treatment center for young people with mental disabilities, because they wanted to bake bread from organically grown grain. In 1964 they bought the mill next to the treatment center, and Salta Kvarn was founded. Several products have the Demeter label . In 2008 the company was rewarded with the award Newcomer of the Year, awarded by the Farmers’ National Association and Food Federation. In 2013 it  produced about 150 products sold in shops and health food trade. The company is owned by a number of Foundations.

However, in Stroud, Gloucestershire where I live, we have both a thriving Saturday Farmers Market, Stroud Community Agriculture Farm-a 290 member CSA co-op , and StroudCo which was set up several years ago by a group of local food activists as a distribution platform to link local buyers and suppliers who for various reasons wanted something different. It is a food hub.

As a food hub StroudCo sources local produce from local farmers, bakers, growers, beekeepers, preservers, fermenters and other suppliers. Through their website members can order from all these different producers and collect their shopping in one place. Many producer members are also shopper members and vice versa. The aim is to create a market place that facilitates a direct link from producer to consumer.

Nick Weir, one of the founding directors of StroudCo  food hub (  is working with other UK food markets, co-ops and hubs to introduce a UK instance of the innovative and amazingly practical, timely Open Food Network, which originated in Australia.


What is OFN? Open Food Network (OFN) is an open source (free) web infrastructure to decentralise the food system. OFN national “chapters” collaborate and have non-profit principles. The OFN enables producers to offer food and drink for sale direct to the public or through any kind of hub, market or retail outlet (collectively called shopfronts). Producers and shopfronts can then cross sell each other’s’ products and establish distribution arrangements. OFN also provides some sales reporting and and accounting functionality. By creating a “group” users can link various producers and hubs, where one hub manages a catalogue of products and coordinates logistics for other hubs. This allows for lower transport costs and reduced CO2 emissions. OFN also enables visibility of the food ecosystem on a map, allowing the actors to identify and create new links and partnerships.

Why OFN? The current food system produces many negative externalities (health issues, loss of biodiversity and topsoil, antibiotic resistance, low-nutrient food, waste, high suicide rates in the agricultural community, etc.). All these externalities are the symptoms of a sick food system. But what are the root causes behind this disease? All these problems are caused by two major root causes:

The growing distance between producers and consumers, primarily physical (urbanization, globalization, accumulation of intermediaries) and psychological (we no longer know where our food comes from or how it is produced, and we give little value to our food and easily waste it)

Increasing trends of centralization, concentration and vertical and horizontal integration during recent decades has shifted the power from producers to agribusiness, and now a handful of multinational agro-industries control the food system (seeAgropoly report) .

OFN addresses these root causes by facilitating the creation & administration of local food ecosystems and by providing transparent information, thus bringing producers closer to consumers and enabling the decentralization of the food system.

The OFN guiding values are:

Land: we support farmers and producers using regenerative agricultural practices

Global Commons: all members of OFN co-create and share the responsibility for the Commons.

People first: we are building a human system, which defends at its heart mutual respect and empathy, as well as diversity, inclusion and tolerance.

Transparency: we are deploying transparency both on the platform we are building as well as in the operation of our organisation.

Constant evolution: we live in a world of perpetual change, which requires continuous adaptation and agility.

Empowerment: our project empowers individuals to create their own activity, and gives the freedom to choose the food system they desire.

Subsidiarity: decisions are most effective when they are taken at the most local level appropriate.

Systemic change: we believe in a global transition that addresses the root causes of a broken food system, not its symptoms.

Who for?

Farmers, market growers, artisans, breeders wishing to sell their products

Producer groups or farmer’s markets who wish to distribute their products collectively

Distributors and wholesalers who want to restore transparency in their supply chain

Grocery stores, independent shops, restaurants and cafeterias wishing to source directly from producers

Consumers who collectively purchase direct from producers (Community Supported Agriculture, buying clubs, cooperative grocery stores)

To find out more about the global OFN community visit

To join the global OFN discussion forum visit

If you want to follow this up, then Myriam, based in France,  is  a “global community gardener” for the OFN. She supports people who want to set up OFN in their country or region. She is an entry point for any info about the project (community, values, international development, etc.).

In the USA, Mike Kilmer, has  started investigating  the OFN for the USA, but there is not yet an official entity leading the project there. Mike has set up a US staging server and some other local people interested have started to play with it (