Is idealism a vice or a foundation and outflow of a properly functioning conscience and locally evolved culture? What is the functional and rational interplay of idealism and realism in view of an imploding environmental scenario? Is globally pervasive capitalism dynamically similar to locally driven market economy and how does it alternatively affect diverse local culture and the evolution of ideals therein?
People often start out as either idealists or opportunists. The opportunists go make wealth and fame following loopholes and salesmanship while the idealist go to the school of hard knocks to learn that ideals and success do not mix well in the world of business and survival today. This is simplified of course as in all of us there dwells a bit of healthy natural opportunism and a bit of the same in idealism. The wolf pack going after the weakest elk is both healthy and system symbiotic. The sportsman hunter going against the hard target of the strongest healthiest specimen is counter ecological and dare I say… deeply perverted. So balance of intrinsic and instinctual idealism with practical frugal opportunism holds a sort of sweet spot. The sweet spot comes naturally to the coaching of ancient culture, young ideals, and realism in a world where it truly takes effort to thrive.
That said; we have some odd dynamics at play today that are fully synthetic and that drive young entrepreneurs and ideologues off kilter rather than into balance as a natural system would. As a young farmer, I was certainly strong on ideals and even more so exiting the College of Crop and Soil Sciences ready for action. I took my idealism and folded it into my father’s aged wisdom and practical economic to re-invent his father’s farm that would support and add intent and value to my parents life for the next 20 years. It all went very well; the farm thrived, much clean healthy food was produced and my parents were well sustained right up until today.
Carpathian peoples of Romania and surrounding areas have lived successfully with their environment for thousands of years with the help of culturally embedded ideals that would be unfitting in other regions.
Kyrgyz people hold culturally embedded psuedo-ethno-religious ideals that enabled them to live in the same harsh and vulnerable landscape for many millennia without destroying their livelihood. Many of those ideals are impractical toward a globally connected economic reality.
Folding dynamic idealism into life within consciously evolving ancient peoples and communities was my next challenge. In the high mountains of Central Asia, refered to as the “roof-top of the world,” an ancient nomadic culture was negotiating the shift from 60 years of Soviet imposition and Leningrad/Moscow-centric policy. In a changing world, the new balance seemed to be a sort of complicated neo-modern nomadic sedentary collage fit to one of the most unique ethnic groups on the planet in an equally unique and fragile geo-biological region. Nomadic-Turkic idealism is of cultural-ecological importance and embedded deeply in symbolism and custom. It comes from 1000’s of years of successful symbiosis with the land but is less practical toward the increasingly global economic reality. Under a degree of isolation their culturally embedded ideals helped them sustain life and ecology in the fragile mountain lands as a homeland for thousands of years before the Soviet conquest. The geo-biological damage sustained in 60 years of Soviet “realism” was likely greater than that of 3-4000 years of their sustained nomadic presence. The story is a long and important one. Suffice to say, I embedded myself and my considerations, survived, loved a new kinship, gained a wide angle of perspective,and refined my own ideals through the many lessons learned. I returned to the USA several years later to grapple with the dynamics of a struggling and confused rural America and to continue filling my own painters palette of ideals and practicality.
The ancient wisdom is difficult to translate into today and yet indispensable to the environmental future.
In addition to my central Asian escapades, I had taught ecology to teens in the Republic of the Marshal Islands using nearby Pohnpei as a working example. I had worked and traveled extensively in Uganda, surfed the rails of Europe on a dime and a stray nickel, narrowly escaped troubles in Russia several times, and worked my way through a University degree in a strange farming town far from home without subsidies, grants, debts, or any savings or assistance. Living in many diverse cultures, societies, and scenarios idealistically and according to conscience was far from easy as pointed out by my friends and family, though I am not sure a life worth living is ever easy. Scathed or not, I retained the idealism holding out to do my part to make the greater dynamics of the whole or at least myself and my locale significantly better.
Gathering steam and experience in a couple of analytical laboratories, my break came when an older man was ready to transition a cheap lease on a 72 acre farm and forest and a flock of sheep to me and my young family. I jumped in, changed jobs from what had become a 50K per year time, soul, and energy drain to a 25K per year mix of experience and proximity. The new job paid pennies in comparison, kept me within a few miles of the farm with no required overtime, and gave me greater experience in the realm of conventional large scale farming as perspective. At work I was assistant foreman of field operations overseeing 10,000 acres of estuary biomass production and poplar research. The organization used herbicides liberally, and my practical side withstood the proximity just long enough to find myself pushed into too much involvement. It was sort of like the lobster in water heating to a boil, but I jumped out before it got hot and let them know our agreement was only to very little involvement in herbicide use. Since my willingness had pulled me further in, I told them I would no longer have anything to do with the herbicides, would not work in or enter fields recently sprayed and would avoid any proximity where I could smell chemical in the breeze and I handed them a plan of how they could save on the chemicals and implement a non-chemical weed management plan. They kept me on but did not consider my plan. I worked evenings and weekends to get my own farm up and running and after 2 years was a full time independent certified organic farmer… and I was still ideals/conscience based. OUR FARM PHOTOS
Now my idealism had to grapple with the fact that the well-to-do were eating my food and not the poor and my community. I up-scaled to volume and efficiency to get to pricing that anyone could afford and then found that my community was being by-passed completely as I delivered in quantity to the large cities. Additionally, whatever I did to lower my prices to get my food on common tables was cut out by the high mark-ups of the stores to capitalize on demand for “local” product. California product in Portland was often subsidized by low mark-ups and in some cases sold at cost while my competing product was marked up as much as 400% of what I sold to the store for.
When the reality sunk in I imposed a stipulation that I would not sell to any store that would not agree to a reasonable standard mark-up as per fair trade. The stores refused. At the same time the USDA went through some controversial attempts to compromise organic standards regarding blueberries and were being sued by a New Jersey blueberry farmer to get them back to what they should be. I surrendered my organic certification in protest and solidarity. When the trial was settled and the standards re-established, I re-certified and I softened my approach to the stores and they immediately took my product. Having not sold to stores for 6 months, I took note without a word that a few had kept the signage with our local farm name while quietly filling the shelves from California, Idaho, and Canada.
My approach was changing from demands to actions. I had no local customer base in the town where my farm was a 10 minute walk from the center. At the same time I had a strong customer following 60 miles away in Portland and 36 miles away in Astoria. I made a mental note to rank priority to Astoria over Portland and to better tie in what I do to my ultra-local community. I first launched a CSA to supply local, but at the time everyone, though stunned by the articles and inserts in the local paper and volume of food available, did not buy shares. 5 people did subscribe. This made our system more complex since we then had to do double work balancing the new specialization with several of our other marketing strategies. We supplied 100% of a cooler full of diverse veggies from our farm alone each week, and the cooler was always full and always diverse. The next year we ran an ad for apprentices and workers in the local paper and decided to hire only those who seemed to really care about the way we did things. I sized up to where I could move from outside migrant workers to 100% ultra-local community. By this time we were most importantly an agroecological farm with the commitment to raise organic food and in so doing improve the surrounding and on farm environment and the society in which we farm.
Soon our farm evolved into the informal connection Hub for a couple of the recently graduated classes and things were humming. We were working as a community of people with everyone taking part in whatever they were willing to step up to, to maintain fair piecework compensation as we delivered over 10,000 lbs of certified organic vegetables every week from June onward and cycled $100,000 back into the local economy. I will cut that story short as it got us entangled in the vying for the I-5 corridor market and relating to certain commodity crops of importance for California, Idaho, and Canadian agribusiness. Within 3 years we were walking away from the challenge.
3 years after posting the ad and sizing up to involve the community we had another idealistic conundrum. We had done two things: we had theoretically shown that a small ideals-based agroecological farm could produce the best food in large quantity while competing in the wholesale large volume market, improving the local community, and the environment at the same time. The problem was that we were getting tired and each year we had even more pressure and work to do as a family. Every year and at times multiple times each year we were confronted with the market re-acquisition strategies of the large scale conscienceless conglomerates who had no self-imposed idealistic taxes to improve communities and surrounding ecology. Every year we tapped tenacity to find a way through, but at some point decided what was becoming our personal challenge would die with us having never changed anything and was therefore not all it was cracked up to be, and certainly not worth burning out lives for. Our Potato Photos Here
You see, individuals can do nearly anything by passion and tenacity, but if they are not pioneering a trail that common interests and efforts can navigate, they are not creating substantial opportunity for change or improvement. We were pioneering, but behind us there was no navigable trail, just a hard history of rugged perseverance that we could not expect anyone to follow. In fact, farmers and indigenous peoples farming/husbanding in the way we need them to so as to truly build a future, are notorious for eventually in old age directing young people and grandchildren to go a different direction and avoid the hardship. Here is where the idealism gets real.
I am a strategic idealist. This means I am anchored to rationally justifiable ideals in the context of culture and environment that I want to make in-roads for others to live out in their own way without excess hardship. OK, that is still clear as mud isn’t it? I share ideals with all of humanity that do not have practical application or routes due to the environment in which we live. I believe this testifies to a need for strategic pioneering of a new normal. That is what I hope we can all accomplish in our time. Currently it is common for the young idealists to evolve into the system functional realism that is far less than ideal holistically. After a fair amount of struggle, people tend to surrender to the fact that a full palette of ideals cannot be carried in today’s weirdly complex world without sinking you. In other words; today’s world strips people of conscience as synthetic manipulative systems push them to avoid penalties and hardship that are themselves anti-social. Important points of right and wrong are left in favor of an easier life or success conveniently yielding a top-down controllable national populous. Consider that for a moment if you need to.
Let’s navigate back to the farm scenario. Farms are the foundation of sedentary civilization. Ants farm, bees farm, and among others, we do as well. Farms guide and enable the definitions and the wiggle room to create meaningful civilization for settled society. Farms and cultivation systems including fishing and forestry tell the story of how society’s productive support systems mesh or not with the ecology that ultimately sustains everything we do, storying the lives of our yet to be born children’s children and all the creatures they will share the planet with. Understanding the implications, I have always hoped to use my gift for natural and ecological savvy with agriculture to make my personal best and most fulfilling contribution and to make it something that I and those around me can both be proud of and helped by over the long term. It is my passion and ideal.
I am proud to say I helped pioneer the topic of soil health at Washington State University, giving my final thesis on the subject. My professor chuckled through the entire presentation mumbling about the humor of soil having health before he gave me the top grade. Healthy soils produce healthy plants. Conscience is a seed planted instinctually and cultivated by paradigm, culture, and experience. Like a farmers crop, it needs the proper environment and healthy soils to grow to healthy maturity. Strong healthy conscience in the members of a society are a keystone in foundations for quality of life in the locale; the “colony”—borrowing a term from the hive.
Again, returning to the farm, I saw that beyond the hump we were struggling to overcome in the farm business the synthetic global market environment was assembling a mountain in the random direction of their choosing. I pieced together a picture that showed us losing our course to follow that of the market and agribusiness, … some would say realism. I pulled out my compass. My conscience and ideals as the compass pointed away from the mountain in another direction and it was not one that included a sustaining financial flow for our business endeavor or feeding an insatiable shortage driven economy. To say that another way; if I would have continued to overcome the market pressures I would have had to sacrifice ideals and conscience as I up-scaled and refined one more time through more debt and more accompanying constraints. I could not have continued to compete with the ideals of triple bottom line in improving the surrounding and on farm environment, improving the community, and producing sufficiently within the constraints of the market, and, the abundance for simple folk that I sought had no place in that direction.
I looked around and saw the same with others. Testing my assumptions I reached out to one who, like me but in the Seattle market, had been a mid-size community based wholesale organic supply farm. Also similarly, they were challenging the idea that small and medium size conscientious farms could not succeed in larger volume supply chains. They had succeeded as we had, but on an even larger scale, and interestingly, like me, saw the path up the mountain in front forcing them into a long struggle in the ideologically wrong direction. Unbeknownst to me, the year before I called, they had sold everything they owned in machinery, left their leased lands, and bought a bicycle shop in Florida. In their absence, Seattle lost several million pounds of high quality organic potatoes per year replaced only by market controlling conglomerates thousands of miles away. When we finally talked, the advise to me even before my update was “ if you are thinking of continuing in the wholesale market, don’t; they will just beat you up every year until you can’t take it anymore.”
During all this time, those older than me were barraging me with years of “you are too idealistic, you need to give that up…” I was supposed to have kids and trade in the idealism for “realism” and I declined to do so. Instead I recognized that the idealism that I embodied was more rational toward prosperous sustainable society and a future worth passing on, than the “realism” recipe for economic success and an “easy” life.Interestingly, those realists’ success may be only puddle deep as evidenced by subsidy, medication, “drugs”, entertainment, and generally heavy support for disproportionately high numbers of people in their prescribed model. More importantly, it leaves younger folks disgruntled, disappointed, and confused. The young peoples respect is lost in a darth for intrinsically understandable integrity and respectability, the absence of deep rooted ideals, and a patheticly inadequate painters palette of actionable conscience based ideals, ill-equipped to effect solutions to any real problems of our day. I find that I am more in tune to younger individuals, those still with natural palettes of ideals, than those older and steeped in synthetic system oriented truths of the day. In the idealistic youth I find the basis of world changing tribe and deep comradery even if it is in rustic form.
Now I can fail a hundred times and get up again, but I need the younger folk on my side. You see, I decided long ago on a “vow of poverty” in a kind of custom form. I even registered the decision with the federal government for certain reasons somewhere around age 25. All that is less important than the particulars, one of which was that I would not amass wealth, but would instead put that energy and effort into improving the lives of the people around me, making stronger communities, and opening routes to more sustainable interaction with the environment. I need the young people because it is them who I am investing in, not, pension funds or those they are attached to and shared with. I cannot afford to lose the respect of the ideals intact young folk unless I am ready to abandon my own ideals, which I am not. I live pointedly to build a respectable semblance of life for the next generation to follow that will not lead them off the cliff. I need the path to be well laid, reasonably safe, not too difficult, and ideologically sound, and I need people to find it fairly reliably. Paths well laid need to give others accelerated momentum to launch into their own golden contributions so this dream of restarting the upward spiral of conscious evolution can progress.I am saying that the exact thing the system strips from us is what we need, to create a tomorrow that is not a trail off a cliff. Conventionally, prevalent respectability comes along with a collectively trained synthetic conscience of a dyeing society, while respectability recognized by younger people is in fact pure and actual. We need healthy conscience and ideals to navigate to a tomorrow that is not hell for all those coming after, the other creatures, and the earth. We do not need to over-write conscience with capitalist equations of success or equations that create top-down controllability or that please a mis-guided elder-ship who themselves are drifting, un-grounded, and confused.
The collective conscience creates an artificial “realism” that is not in the best interests of humanity and needs to be confronted strategically.
As neither an elder or a younger I would sum it up like this: rationally solid idealism beats any that is programmed by our suicidal and psychopathic society. Personal conscience cultivated through healthful ongoing evolution from youth to adulthood warrants commitment to a faithful rational following, at times confronting the collective “wisdom” of our time. Baring conscience and sincerity, we cannot right the capsizing ship of our civilization.
When naturally evolved personal conscience matches the collective societal conscience, things will be on the upswing in that society, but it is the personal conscience of respectable people with knowledge and integrity and not the collective mass conscience of coincidence, happenstance, or manipulation, that drives the proper normal. Thankfully, within a global tribe and internet connectivity, there is a level of support to build upon. If one says your idealism needs to become realism, retort: “the ‘realism’ of our time needs to be brought down to earth where I, you, and the rest of us live.” When their “realism” gets real, we will not need to swim counter to it. As long as it is based on a synthetically parasitic environment and promises of unicorns and something from nothing real, our strength will be in holding strong to conscience and ideals while we work self-sacrificially to bring human considerations and systems down to earth—when we occupy conscience. The point: When the system efficiently creates monsters, we get overwhelmed, and perhaps frustrated or angry, but we must not fight the monsters and lose our time and energy, and we must not become the monsters that thrive in this type of environment. We need to mindfully and strategically change the societal environment when it runs counter to the rational dictates of intrinsic conscience and ideals. We see the flowing current taking our friends and neighbors away to Lola-land; does it click that the problem is the flow direction of the current and the fix is to change the gravity that drives the flow?
Let us build on and navigate in line with our conscience; our tribe needs us. Who we are while we do, is more important that what we do to create the tomorrow we seek. Cultivate knowledge; occupy your conscience with me; live by your ideals, and we will change our world.
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