The art of changing gracefully

Does the Findhorn model have lessons for all of us?

Much of this last week was taken up with the visit of an old friend from what we here sometimes refer to as the ‘real’ world. I hugely enjoy such visits because it allows me to see this wonderfully unique place in which I live with fresh eyes. I have lived here for over 20 years and sometimes I take it for granted. Life feels quite ordinary and not that different to life anywhere else. And in many ways it is not. We eat, work, shop, watch TV, have families and other relationships, go on holidays and do all the things that people everywhere do. The difference lies perhaps in the way we do these things and the priorities we have.

I was showing my friend around and explaining to her the various connections between the Findhorn Foundation and the affiliated but independent organisations, the distinction between the Foundation and the community as a whole, the different relationships that individuals have with the place and I became aware of how complex, yet successful, this particular organism is.

There is no place quite like Findhorn— spiritual community/intentional community/educational centre/ecovillage/light centre/therapeutic community/experiment in alternative life styles/hippy commune—it has been called all those things.

All of these are partly but not entirely true. Take two or more Findhorn residents and ask them what this community is about, you would find that there is no agreement. So anything I write about it is my perspective only.

For me the uniqueness of this place comes from the fact that it has been allowed to grow organically, moving in response to an inner pattern that is not altogether clear but presumably knows what it’s doing, and outer conditions. This ability to metamorphose and adjust is, I believe, the reason why Findhorn continues to thrive whereas deliberate communities with a more rigid structure tend to die or become calcified oddities, estranged from the world and talking only to themselves.

From the early days the qualities of change and flexibility were highly valued here. Change was generally regarded as favourable (even when it wasn’t) and transformation welcomed. We were encouraged to embrace the New, whatever that was, and release the Old. This attitude has allowed the community to move gracefully with the shifts of time and circumstances.

The evolutionary imperative is ‘adapt or perish’ and Findhorn has proved itself able to adapt and survive. We will increasingly need these skills in the future. Major environmental change is in process and business as usual cannot continue despite the assurances of the dinosaurs. The small mammals like Findhorn and other ecovillages modestly lurking in the undergrowth, learning to live differently, may be the ones to show a way for us all to survive.

Getty
Show Hide image

By refusing to stand down, Jeremy Corbyn has betrayed the British working classes

The most successful Labour politicians of the last decades brought to politics not only a burning desire to improve the lot of the working classes but also an understanding of how free market economies work.

Jeremy Corbyn has defended his refusal to resign the leadership of the Labour Party on the grounds that to do so would be betraying all his supporters in the country at large. But by staying on as leader of the party and hence dooming it to heavy defeat in the next general election he would be betraying the interests of the working classes this country. More years of Tory rule means more years of austerity, further cuts in public services, and perpetuation of the gross inequality of incomes. The former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Seema Malhotra, made the same point when she told Newsnight that “We have an unelectable leader, and if we lose elections then the price of our failure is paid by the working people of this country and their families who do not have a government to stand up for them.”

Of course, in different ways, many leading figures in the Labour movement, particularly in the trade unions, have betrayed the interests of the working classes for several decades. For example, in contrast with their union counterparts in the Scandinavian countries who pressurised governments to help move workers out of declining industries into expanding sectors of the economy, many British trade union leaders adopted the opposite policy. More generally, the trade unions have played a big part in the election of Labour party leaders, like Corbyn, who were unlikely to win a parliamentary election, thereby perpetuating the rule of Tory governments dedicated to promoting the interests of the richer sections of society.

And worse still, even in opposition Corbyn failed to protect the interests of the working classes. He did this by his abysmal failure to understand the significance of Tory economic policies. For example, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer had finished presenting the last budget, in which taxes were reduced for the rich at the expense of public services that benefit everybody, especially the poor, the best John McConnell could do – presumably in agreement with Corbyn – was to stand up and mock the Chancellor for having failed to fulfill his party’s old promise to balance the budget by this year! Obviously neither he nor Corbyn understood that had the government done so the effects on working class standards of living would have been even worse. Neither of them seems to have learnt that the object of fiscal policy is to balance the economy, not the budget.

Instead, they have gone along with Tory myth about the importance of not leaving future generations with the burden of debt. They have never asked “To whom would future generations owe this debt?” To their dead ancestors? To Martians? When Cameron and his accomplices banged on about how important it was to cut public expenditures because the average household in Britain owed about £3,000, they never pointed out that this meant that the average household in Britain was a creditor to the tune of about the same amount (after allowing for net overseas lending). Instead they went along with all this balanced budget nonsense. They did not understand that balancing the budget was just the excuse needed to justify the prime objective of the Tory Party, namely to reduce public expenditures in order to be able to reduce taxes on the rich. For Corbyn and his allies to go along with an overriding objective of balancing the budget is breathtaking economic illiteracy. And the working classes have paid the price.

One left-wing member of the panel on Question Time last week complained that the interests of the working classes were ignored by “the elite”. But it is members of the elite who have been most successful in promoting the interests of the working classes. The most successful pro-working class governments since the war have all been led mainly by politicians who would be castigated for being part of the elite, such as Clement Atlee, Harold Wilson, Tony Crosland, Barbara Castle, Richard Crossman, Roy Jenkins, Denis Healey, Tony Blair, and many others too numerous to list. They brought to politics not only a burning desire to improve the lot of the working classes (from which some of them, like me, had emerged) and reduce inequality in society but also an understanding of how free market economies work and how to deal with its deficiencies. This happens to be more effective than ignorant rhetoric that can only stroke the egos and satisfy the vanity of demagogues

People of stature like those I have singled out above seem to be much more rare in politics these days. But there is surely no need to go to other extreme and persist with leaders like Jeremy Corbyn, a certain election loser, however pure his motives and principled his ambitions.

Wilfred Beckerman is an Emeritus Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, and was, for several years in the 1970s, the economics correspondent for the New Statesman