Mystery, Original Sin, Agriculture

I’ve been reading a new work by an old friend, Wendell Berry, titled A Small Porch.

Also…have been reading from the writings of Russell Moore, ethicist for the Southern Baptist congregations.

Both writers are concerned about our societal loss of soul.

Industrial animal agriculture and the treatment of soil by industrial grain farming are unfortunate and enormous examples of a loss of soul.

Mr. Berry points out the inherent mystery in our universe…how, whatever new knowledge we gain, there ALWAYS remains great mystery. From that realization he infers the need to act humbly.

Mr. Moore points out that, as humans, we are profoundly flawed…thus the religious concept of original sin. He also infers from that original sin a need to act humbly.

I too am concerned about our souls.

Both writers believe careful scale, humility, and reasonable compassion are central to good work.

Young Farmers Break The Bank…Continued…3% Of Your Wealth

In the last post, I recommended rethinking how your savings, investments, pensions, etc. are being utilized. Most conventional investment mechanisms used by Wall Street do little to diversify wealth and expand social equity (many would say today’s financial markets do quite the opposite – they are, in essence, wealth concentrators). Invest 3% of your wealth in local farmers and food enterprises….and advocate that your community’s institutions, foundations, etc. do the same!

Rhode Island has two major foundations, The Rhode Island Foundation and The Champlin Foundations. Both foundations had above $500 million in assets. I am not familiar with the investment management of The Champlin Foundations.

The Rhode Island Foundation contracts their investment management to a private consulting firm who in turn contracts with other investment advisory firms to manage particular industry/area portfolios. There is no overriding social responsibility criteria to their consultant (I’m certain, I requested it and their only social responsibility actions are to contract with a consultant who advises them how to vote on proxy issues). There is no overriding agro-ecological responsibility criteria.

I have requested a list of their investments and did not receive a reply (although I did receive a long email from their CEO defending their investment behavior).

May I suggest you write to the major private and public foundations and retirement funds in your community/state and ask them 1) if they have social responsibility criteria for their investments, 2) if they have agro-ecological responsibility criteria for their investments, and 3) if they have a list of their investments on a given recent date that they might provide to you.

Please ask them to consider investing 3% of their wealth in sustainable, socially responsible, local farm and food ventures.

Give Directly

An interesting new model for charity…give money directly to needy folks…no strings.

Give Directly

Many charitable organizations use a model that trys to make decisions for the poor, including determining what is best for them. Evidently Give Directly is finding there is evidence that direct ‘no strings’ money can work well…and has an even greater multiplier than traditional charitable approaches.

Vaclav Havel’s Critique of the West

An interesting essay by Philip Howard.

Western governments, Havel said, are organized on a flawed premise not far removed from the Soviet system that had just collapsed. “The modern era has been dominated by the culminating belief,” he said, “that the world … is a wholly knowable system governed by finite number of universal laws that man can grasp and rationally direct … objectively describing, explaining, and controlling everything.”

These bureaucratic structures are profoundly dehumanizing, Havel believed, striving to control choices that should be left to human judgment and values. This “era of systems, institutions, mechanisms and statistical averages” is doomed to failure because “there is too much to know” and it cannot “be fully grasped.” The drive towards standardization is fatally flawed, Havel believed: “life is nonstandard.”

The heavy hand of centralized bureaucracy, Havel observed, makes everyone first powerless, then listless. “We have lost sense that there is a way out, lost the will to do anything,” he said. “The more we know about dangers like global warming, the less we seem able to deal with them.” These systems also marginalize community and leave people with a “fundamental sense of nonbelonging.”

Think of Havel’s statement:

“Politicians seem to have turned into puppets that only look human and move in a giant, rather inhuman theatre; they appear to have become merely cogs in a huge machine, objects of a major automatism of civilization which has gotten out of control and for which no one is responsible.”

Our Congressional politicians, and sadly our very well-meaning President, often look like puppets in an inhuman theatre.

A Worst Case of Cultural Deterioration

The past few months I’ve made a decision to aid and collaborate with two organizations in South Providence, RI. One is the Southside Community Land Trust, a wonderful organization that owns and aids the development of urban gardens. The other is Amos House. Amos House has been around for 35 years, starting as a soup kitchen in a two family house in a very poverty stricken area of South Providence. It now offers an array of social services to folks, many of them in desperate need of aid, food, shelter. Amos House is also a wonderful organization. Both organizations appear to have great staff…..and both organizations fulfill a personal need I didn’t know existed.

Yesterday I was walking around the Amos House campus with Eileen Hayes, their CEO. Part of their operation is across the street from what both of us assume is a significant burial ground. It is perhaps a few acres of hundreds of graves, contains a number of magnificent historical gravestones, and is surrounded by a fancy black iron fence. It is owned by Grace Chruch, a historic church in the center of Providence’s downtown area.

The cemetery is a disaster. Gravestones are all over the place – damaged, falling, fallen. There is no lawn or tree maintenance (we visited right after a major storm so there was some recent tree damage to add to the already unkept property).

It was sad. I cannot imagine how it could happen. I know Providence and Rhode Island are in a terrible economic state, but how could this occur?