Pearls in the Oyster
Having spent yesterday morning selling Stroud pounds I spent the afternoon in one of the necessary, but not always entirely joyful, organisational meetings that we have shared during our Transition process. It was chaired with affability, firmness, charm and tact by Nigel Westaway, and I am truly grateful to those other members of TS who keep this structural vehicle on the road - Helen, Mike, Simon and John.
I have a difficult role in these processes. I used to think that it was just that I am a difficult person, but advancing years and a greater degree of reflection have brought me to realise that my ability to be critical and step back and have another perspective on our activities is my role. Although I always feel respected and valued for this - which is one of the reasons I live in Stroud! - it is an uncomfortable job and one that can require a great deal of energy.
'Constant vigilance is the price of freedom' is a great slogan, but what does it mean? To me, it means that, because we cannot be sure precisely what put us in the mess we are in, we must question everything. An important recent example for Transition Stroud is the process of incorporation. While we know that the limited liability company has emerged from exactly the system of exploitative economics that is driving the planet to destruction, we can also see how using it wisely could greatly help to facilitate our work.
Another example is the first paragraph of the Portland energy action plan, which was circulated at the meeting. It neatly explains how, according to economic theory, the market system works to ration scarce resources, so that as they are running out prices rise. This is the very same economic system that I spend my working life trying to eradicate, because I know that it is a power play to preserve the position of those who over-exploit and extract an unfair share of the earth's resources. The real causes of changes in the prices of commodities - wars, speculation on futures markets, corporate shenanigans - do not feature in these bogus but culturally accepted explanations.
The best and most radical things that we can do as Transition Stroud are those that arise from our critical insights and turn into subversive tools that have change designed into them but move beyond our control and become active in the hands of people we don't even know. I hope the Stroud pound is designed like this. Radical comes from the Latin word for Root, and French philospher Gilles Deleuze talks about the rhizome as an image for how change comes about. A root-system of underground potentialities burst into unexpected life in distant places. Our job is to plant the rhizomes, ensure that the soil is fertile, and welcome the plants as they emerge. This is my view of a Transition strategy.
I know that others in the group are just as wary of standard structures and ways of doing things - not to mention funding applications with their in-built cultural assumptions - and I feel reassured by this. I'm even more cheered that James has agreed to be a director. I know that when the two of us are exhausted with taking a critical edge there will be others who will take our place.
I originally thought of this role of constant vigilance against the tyrannical structures of authority as being a thorn in the side or perhaps a fly in the ointment. But now I think the best metaphor is pearls in the oyster. I can imagine us as that little bit of grit that, in some miraculous process of exchange with its host, creates a beautiful gem.
'Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men [and women!], undergo the fatigue of supporting it.' -- Thomas Paine: The American Crisis, No. 4, 1777