Against Complacency: the fierce voice of Patrick Noble

We don’t need more renewable energy to power how we live, but to change how we live so we don’t need that power.  –  Patrick Noble,

There are some writers on the internet that get thousands of clicks and hundreds of comments every week.  Generally these writers work hard to build their online community of readers.   Their art is that of building a common language.

There are others who don’t have the knack or interest in building their readership.   I suspect they are the kind of artist that is fascinated by something on the horizon, something that is not readily visible, and even less readily conveyable.  Their art is that of illumination and discovery.

Patrick Noble is more like the latter kind of writer. His voice is unique;  his essays  often brilliant and always challenging.  They initiate new thoughts and they channel old echoes.  They are not easily approachable essays because Mr. Noble’s thoughts move unpredictably: striking out in new direction often only to spin back upon themselves.  His style changes, his mood changes – from nostalgia to anger, from cold analysis to playful inventiveness. He has a knack for inventing terms that distill new thoughts into a single, easily grasped concept.

One of Noble’s useful terms is what he calls “the casino,” which is to say the dominant vision of “the economy” – a vision that sees the economy as led by the big banks and hedge funds and by their spiderwebs that reach everywhere through big loans and all of the big projects they make possible – big infrastructure, big agriculture and big manufacturing – and the global supply chains and business-friendly politicians that make it all work.  These spiderwebs destroy (creatively destroy, in their parlance) everything small and local in their path through the “efficiencies” generated by “scale.”  Which is to say, by externalizing social and environmental costs.   It’s a grand game to be on the inside of – easy money and lots of it.  Not so great for everyone else,  especially the non-human else.

The thing is that the bulk of the cruel violence of today’s world is directed to supress real economies and cultures and to implant the supplies of the casino. The bargain is for an increase of consumer rights, in return for a statutory corporate supply. That bargain has been the EU project.
It is vital for the ingenuity of a region to assert itself in ways that are unique to its terrain. Leaving the EU is a vital first step for those within it. Otherwise, attempts towards economic de-growth and lives lived happily without fossil fuels and within the restraints of terrain, will be thwarted. Tragically, Brexit has been led by those who seek far worse – that is, the scrapping of human rights and the imposition (with no bargain) of corporate supply. That is also a world of competing gangster princedoms, whose only restraints are a rival’s power and potential violence.

Patrick Noble argues for a kind of populism that is the opposite of the lazy political populism that has become so popular recently.  It is a populism that is  radically responsible and self-critical.  Instead of the irresponsible blame-game that is so common on both the right and the left, he asks us to take responsibility for our world, absolute and unflinching responsibility.  It is an argument that is as discomfiting as it is empowering.

How are cultures made – stories told, houses, bridges, harbours, roads, ships, churches, mosques, temples built? They are made by the unrecorded skill and ingenuity of ordinary people. Power may have a hand in restricting, taxing, bleeding and outright destroying those things, but it has not the means to make them. You say that power can pay for them? – How? Its wealth is derived from the above restricting, bleeding & etc. Without the skill and ingenuity of physical people, power can have no substance. Truly, it is a ghost in the machine. 

And Mr. Noble runs an organic farm in North Wales called Bryn Cocyn. He is well-worth reading.


One Reply to “Against Complacency: the fierce voice of Patrick Noble”

  1. As a footnote to your post, Michelle, and to Noble’s book title above, I’ll add this nugget from Ivan Illich’s (delightfully slim and wise) book ‘Tools for Conviviality’:

    “I choose the term ‘conviviality’ to designate the opposite of industrial productivity. I intend it to mean autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and the intercourse of persons with their environment; and this in contrast with the conditioned response of persons to the demands made upon them by others, and by a man-made environment. I consider conviviality to be individual freedom realised in personal interdependence and, as such, an intrinsic ethical value. I believe that, in any society, as conviviality is reduced below a certain level, no amount of industrial productivity can effectively satisfy the needs it creates among society’s members.”

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