Friday 31 December 2021

Many Cries of Pain

The Rhyme for Reciting entitled Many Cries of Pain was written by Murray McGrath well before the onset of the Covidvirus lockdowns in 2020. It raises many current issues and is presented here as a tribute to Murray, who died in December 2020.

Many Cries of Pain

The good Earth revolves and flies out through space

It's beauty and magic show ultimate grace.

The wonder of nature blooms and blossoms all round,

The birds of the air offer colour and sound.

The creatures that crawl, swim, wriggle and run

Living together since time had begun.

And each with its needs for surviving and giving,

Enough is enough for community living.

Then along came humanity, sure of its role,

To conquer the Earth spirit, body and soul.

Such a fabulous source of pride and of pleasure

Was enough to corrupt man's greed, beyond measure.

No more satisfaction from having enough,

The demands of the ego want more and more stuff.

In the civilised world, it's money that matters.

Cash in on the living and leave it in tatters.

A great source of profit, mass production of meat.

We'll pay through the nose for a nice tasty treat.

Who cares for poor creatures who suffer and die

In disgusting conditions, we turn a blind eye.

But we suffer too, in so many ways.

A diet of death that handsomely pays,

Is promoted and treated to taste quite delicious.

When reality is, it's just not nutritious.

On a diet like that you're bound to get ill.

But the doctor's on hand, and the right sort of pill

Will soon have you better and up to your tricks.

Modern medicine works well with its technical fix.

We're lucky it seems, to have such a service,

But a much closer look might make you feel nervous.

Corporate corruption takes advantage of trust.

With an evidence base you'd think that it must

Be the best you can get for keeping you well.

But vaccines and drugs make big profits to sell,

So keeping you ill, is what suits them best.

Big money for them, tough luck for the rest.

So they mess with the evidence, distort the conclusions,

Select the results, create healing illusions

Spend lots of money, promote and conceal

That they don't do the job, don't really heal.

Poor doctors are victims of this grand deceit

Their ways come from evidence, all they have to treat.

Well trained and brainwashed, conditioned to do

What science prescribes, it's not about you.

But the Earth keeps on turning sadly knowing its fate,

And the suffering cries into space, radiate.

The universe weeps and wonders, looks on

The magic, the beauty, might soon all be gone.

So we've got a planet and creatures to save

We can do it, let's do it, but we must be brave.

From Rhymes for Reciting by Murray McGrath (2019)

Wednesday 22 December 2021

The Catholic Worker Movement

As facts and figures float across our consciousness through the various news media that technology has made available to us, it is very difficult to focus our minds on what is happening in order to judge what appropriate action we might take. One silly example could quite possibly assist in bringing present events into the wider context of historical events.

Apparently 90% of the world's physical trading freight is carried by sea. This has given rise to the addled notion that removal of those freight ships from the sea would, according to the Archimedes principle, cause sea levels to fall, mitigating the effects of rising sea levels due to global warming. The nonsensical thought leads to a vastly more interesting one. If 90% of the world's physical trade did indeed cease forthwith, all our Households would be dramatically affected. There would be no bananas in our fruit bowls. Many of the items presently in stock in our fridges, freezers and kitchen cupboards, bedrooms, wardrobes, sitting rooms, garages and offices would simply not be there. As the world's ecological, political and economic systems stand on the brink of collapse, it is high time we explored some fundamental questions about our present lifestyle priorities. Fortunately, we do not have to start from scratch. In the mid-twentieth century the Catholic Worker movement blazed a trail for us to follow.

Led by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, the Catholic Worker movement embraced people of all faiths and none, including people from all walks of life, of all ages, rich and poor, highly educated and totally unschooled, people with homes to go to and people with nowhere to lay their heads but the pavement. The term 'catholic' means universal, embracing all. But it has the further connotation of being based upon the moral and ethical social teachings of the universal church. Those values pervade and inform the writings of the authors of universally-read books that were household names throughout the English speaking world and beyond. They were read and discussed by homeless down-and-outs like Peter Maurin, who was said to be the best read man in America. His Easy Essays are full of references to the names of key social philosophers, whose relevance continues to the present day. Many of those names appeared in Commonweal, the influential journal on social issues that is still in publication. Contrast these writings with the political psychology and mass manipulation through fear that is driving the world population into totalitarianism. (See UK Column News for sources)

Contrast also the term 'worker' as used in 'Catholic Worker. In producing the Catholic Worker newspaper, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin took on board the battles of the urban, industrial workers with their low wages, strikes, lock-downs, unemployment, inadequate living accommodation and homelessness. However, they also promoted the dignity of labour and the love of good work that is to be found in peasant farming communities the world over. All work on homes and communities, including the art and architecture of churches, cathedrals and community infrastructures, brings respect to the worker. Above all, work on the land brings the physical and spiritual well-being that is so sadly absent from waged and salaried employment and many an urban household divorced entirely from the land and nature.

The history of the Catholic Worker movement has been documented in various ways, often alongside records of similar movements seeking to create communities based on a living relationship with the land and the natural world. (See Dan McKanan's work.) It is becoming increasingly apparent that self-organisation based upon self-education will become central to creating a viable social order based upon a just relationships between humanity and the land. In this, the Catholic Worker movement has a great deal to teach us.

In writing the following, Peter Maurin took a leaf out of the writings of Arthur Penty and other guild socialist writers.

Outdoor Universities

The machine

is not an improvement

on man's skill;

it is an imitation

of man's skill.

Read Post-Industrialism

by Arthur Penty.

The best means

are the pure means

and the pure means

are the heroic means.

Read Freedom in the Modern World

by Jacques Maritain.

The future of the Church

is on the land,

not in the city;

for a child

is an asset

on the land

and a liability

in the city.

Read The Church and the Land

by Father Vincent McNabb, 0.P.

See also earlier blogs, including An Agricultural Act (12 December) Voluntary Poverty (18 November)

Thursday 16 December 2021

The Agronomic Revolution

As "The-War-To-End-All-Wars"(1914-18) ended a century ago, Spanish Flu took millions of lives on top of those lost in the war Although many worked hard to build a safer, saner world, they failed, and, as a result, we inherit a sorry history. The founding of the Soviet Union totalitarian state led to the death of untold millions of peasant farmers. It was followed by the rise of Hitler's Nazi Germany, Mussolini's fascist Italy, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the bombing of Dresden, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Vietnam, Korea, Afghaninstan and so on, on and on. In the meantime, humanity made war against the natural world destroying rainforests, and replacing sustainable peasant farming techniques with financially profitable agribusiness that suits neither man nor beast. Presently we are seeing the frightful isolation of the elderly and dying, the injecting, masking and isolation of children, and the evaporation of basic human rights, all in the name of scientific and technological 'progress'. At the heart of the matter is the economic system. The world of finance forces us to sell our time for money to the highest bidder in order to buy the necessities of life.

According to the text books, economics is the "study of the allocation of scarce resources to infinite wants". But this leads to the 'diamond/water paradox. Water is essential for life, but it is plentiful. Diamonds are a luxury, but they are scarce. Hence diamonds sell for a high price, whilst water sells for a low price. The paradox invites us to consider the two basic forms of economy, the financial economy that is driven by finance and competition, and the real-life economy through which we manage our lives in cooperation with others and using the resources of the natural world. The financial economy that presently rampages across the world is, to put it simply, out of control because it is beyond the comprehension of rich and poor alike. It does not have to be that way. All that is necessary is to take a long, hard, unbiased look at what is actually happening.

When we do so, we discover three basic, interlocked economic systems or networks, all of which are keyed into the money system in their various ways. These are the macro-finance corporate world, the local Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), and the individual Households (upon which everything depends).

The macro-finance corporate economy comprises the massive, world-wide, interlocking networks of transnational corporations that currently rampage across the world playing havoc with every living thing in their path. The networks of finance and Big Pharm corporations control production of armaments, pharmaceutical products, cars, computers, transport systems, agribusiness, mass produced foods, consumer durables, the mass entertainment and information media and, increasingly, the political and legal systems. Corporations include all the familiar names that appear daily in the news media, and whose products are brand names.

The micro- Small and Medium Sized economy consists of a mass of small businesses supplying goods and services to the local community. These include hairdressers, taxis drivers, high street shops, producers of all manner of electrical, plumbing, building, engineering, health care and education services.

The economy of individual Households is crucial to the existence of the other two economies. The full implications of this statement call for much self-help research, discussion and debate in the immediate future. Starting with Your Money or Your Life, leading to Radical Homemakers, Green Housekeeping and the Book of the Home. These point us in the direction of the key issues of food, farming and finance. In short, the Agronomic University of Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin and the Catholic Worker movement as a whole. This is the area where we can all, each one of us, make a contribution that will make all the difference. (More in due course).

Sunday 12 December 2021

An Agricultural Act

In these troubled times we are called to examine our basic assumptions about food and the other necessities of life. A child can assume that food, clothing and accommodation will be provided by a parent figure. An adult cannot. All the necessities of life that we consume come to us at a price paid by others, in the form of soul-destroying work of many kinds. Meanwhile, the processes of packaging, transporting and disposing of the waste is causing untold damage to the natural world. Presently, the financial system allows us to live in childlike dependence upon a motherly market system that we do not understand, and that is rampaging across the corporate world, completely beyond our comprehension or control. It is time to recognise how the act of eating connects us with the land upon which it was grown.

Eating is an agricultural act. Food comes to us when the labour of others is skilfully combined with the produce of nature and the land. In the course of his teaching, Peter Maurin (of the Catholic Worker) drew attention to the work of Guild Socialist Arthur Penty. In Guilds, Trade and Agriculture, Penty argued that the international financial system, based as it is on competition, was the root cause of war, degradation of the land and poverty amidst plenty. The alternative is international cooperation based upon the revival of agriculture.

"The revival of agriculture implies a return to the idea of communities that are as self-contained as circumstances will allow; and such communities inevitably rest upon agriculture. In an earlier chapter I showed that the revival of agriculture was necessary alike to the solution of our unemployed problem and to provide us with food. .... But it is necessary also for another reason: to ensure a healthy population. It came as a surprise to most people in this country that recruiting statistics [for the First World War] revealed the fact- that we had a larger percentage of physical inefficients than any other country at war. But it is not surprising, remembering that no other country in the world has such a large proportion of her population living in crowded towns nor been industrialized for anything like the same length of time. These statistics prove that a town population gradually loses its vitality. In the past this vitality was every generation renewed by a stream of population from the country. In this light a peasantry on the soil is to be regarded as a reservoir from which the towns replenish their stock, and therefore agriculture stands on a different basis to that of any other industry, and its welfare should be protected at all costs.

"From a mercantile point of view it matters little whether the population be engaged in the production of food or motor-cars. But from a national point of view there is all the difference in the world, since the production of food guarantees a nation's future while the production of motor-cars does not. Yet when we remember how big business dominates national policy we cannot be surprised that, being, as we saw, heedless of its own future it should be equally heedless of that of the nation. If, therefore, one aspect of the return to fundamentals is a return to the principles of justice, honesty and fair dealing, the other aspect is a return to the land; to a life lived in closer contact with the elemental forces of nature."

Those words are even more relevant today than they were when first published in 1921, exactly a century ago. They lie behind the Catholic Worker movement's case for agricultural communes, also known as 'agronomic universities' (see previous blogs).

Saturday 11 December 2021

Small and Local is Better

According to an article in The Tablet this week, small, independent local shops are doing well . Former daily commuters, finding themselves with more time on their hands, have started to explore high streets and local farm shops. As more return to their offices, it seems they are continuing to favour local shops.

"It might be a bit of a faff to queue to place an order for a goose or turkey at the local butcher, then to stroll to the greengrocer for the sprouts, turnips and potatoes, but the food will generally be better" and the whole experience is better than using the supermarket. There would seem to be signs of an intriguing new normal, more in line with that envisaged by the guild socialists a century ago. Then, as now, small businesses run by local people to give service to local customers seemed infinitely preferable to dead end jobs in factories and offices (the 'bullshit jobs' of today).

As people were picking up the pieces following the shocks of World War I and the Spanish 'flu, many turned to the works of 19th and early 20th century Guild Socialist thinkers, including John Ruskin, William Morris, Thortsien Veblen, Arthur Penty, distributists such as GK Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc, and the Arts and Crafts movement as a whole. When Dorothy Day (of the Catholic Worker movement) writes disparagingly of the desire to obtain a weekly wage (see Blog for 10 December 21 on Security), she is referring to Peter Maurin's teachings on the works of these writers. The blend of theory and practice offered by guild socialist thinkers has been put into practice in some places, but the dead hand of corporate world finance has been allowed to dominate all three spheres of the social order, providing an illusion of security as it destroys the natural and human world upon which it remains dependent.

The guild socialists coined the term 'wage slavery' to denote the sale of one's time to an employer in return for the money to house, clothe and feed oneself, and raise children to be workers in their turn. For guild socialists, the better option was a network of small business, especially farms, run by and for the local communities, operated by all and run for the benefit of all. Subsequent experiments in 'worker control' such as Mondragon, have floundered because they were merely operating within the corporate capitalist financial system, the workers having good pay and working conditions, and receiving a financial share of the profits, but operating under the moral premises of capitalism. This is an area very much in need of research, study and in-depth discussion - at local level, by local people - with a view to establishing practical alternatives to building up poverty amidst plenty and wrecking the natural world as we do it.

The work of Rudolf Steiner presents some clues. His fundamental social law begins to make sense within the Guild Socialist context.

"Now, the main social law set forth by the science of spirit, is the following: 'The well-being of a total community of human beings working together becomes greater the less the individual demands the products of his achievements for himself, that is, the more of these products he passes on to his fellow workers and the more his own needs are not satisfied out of his own achievements, but out of the achievements of others.' All the conditions within a total community of people which contradict this law must sooner or later produce misery and distress somewhere. This law holds good for social life with absolute necessity and without any exceptions, just as a natural law holds good for a particular sphere of natural processes. But it should not be thought that it is sufficient for this law to be held as a universal moral law, or that it should be translated into the attitude that everyone should work in the service of his fellow men. No, in actual fact the law will be able to exist as it should only if a total community of people succeeds in creating conditions where no one ever can claim the fruits of his own work for himself, but where, if at all possible, these go entirely to the benefit of the community. And he in turn must be maintained by means of the work of his fellow human beings. The important thing is to see that working for one’s fellow human beings and aiming at a particular income are two quite separate things." (See Ilya Zilberberg "The Genesis and Understanding of the Threefold Social Order", New View, Issue 73, Autumn 2014.)

As Zilbergerg explains, every individual has a series of basic needs that must be satisfied. Hence we have to examine more closely both the needs themselves and the body social from which their satisfaction comes. Basically, the numerous and diverse individual human needs fall, by their very nature, into three distinct categories. Now the satisfaction of these three categories of needs comes, respectively, from three different sources, which constitute three distinct spheres of the body social – the economic sphere (the production, distribution and consumption of commodities), the cultural sphere (education, science, art, religion, etc.) and the legal-judicial sphere (the province of legislature, government and politics).

Every single human being living on the planet remains utterly dependent upon everybody else. Hence we are obliged, of necessity, to play a responsible part in all three aspects of the threefold social order. And that means moving beyond the child-like dependence upon the technological, increasingly transhumanist Brave New World that is being imposed upon us. It is now necessary to consciously train ourselves, as adults, to draw upon our common birthright of the universal cultural heritage of humanity. And the only place for that to be done is locally, on a small scale, following the logic and the model of the Catholic Worker movement.

Friday 10 December 2021

Dorothy Day on Security

NOTE: The following passage is taken from Dorothy Day: Selected Writings, Edited by Robert Ellsberg, (2005) pp69-70. It is highly relevant today, not in the least dated with the passage of time. What is needed now is a revival of interest and practical action in the fields of food, farming, home, family, health care, the care of the land, the arts and true sciences, politics, culture and economics. And the place to start is Round-table Discussions on the lines advocated and practiced by Peter Maurin, Dorothy Day and the world-wide Catholic Worker movement. See The Catholic Worker and the Land, Blog 17th October 21.

Dorothy Day on Security

Christ told Peter to put aside his nets and follow him. He told the rich young man to sell what he had and give to the poor and follow Him. He said that those who lost their lives for His sake should find them. He told his followers that if anyone begged for their coats to give up their cloaks, too. He spoke of feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless, of visiting those in prison and the sick, and also of instructing the ignorant. He said: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." He said: "Be ye therefore perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."

But the usual comment is: "You must distinguish between counsel and precept. You forget that He said also: 'All men take not this word, but they to whom it is given.' 'He that can take it, let him take it.' "

Paul Claudel said that young people have a hunger for the heroic, and too long they have been told: "Be moderate, be prudent."

Too long have we had moderation and prudence. Today is a time of crisis and struggle. Within our generation, Russia has rejected Christianity, Germany his rejected it, Mexico fights to exterminate it, in Spain there has been a war against religion, in Italy Fascism has exalted the idea of the state and, rejecting the Kingship of Christ, has now a perverted idea of authority.

In this present situation when people are starving to death because there is an overabundance of food, when religion is being warred upon throughout the world, our Catholic young people still come from schools and colleges and talk about looking for security, a weekly wage.

They ignore the counsels of the Gospels as though they had never heard of them, and those who are troubled in conscience regarding them speak of them as being impractical.

Why they think a weekly wage is going to give them security is a mystery. Do they have security on any job nowadays? If they try to save, the bank fails; if they invest their money, the bottom of the market drops out. If they trust to worldly practicality, in other words, they are out of luck.

If they sell their labour, they are prostituting the talents God gave them. College girls who work at Macey's - is this what their expensive training was for? - boys who go into business looking for profits - is this what their Catholic principles taught them? - are hovering on the brink of a precipice. They have no security and they know it. The only security comes in the following of the precepts and counsels of the Gospels.

If each unemployed nurse went to her pastor and got a list of the sick and gave up the idea of working for wages and gave her services to the poor of the parish, is there not security in the faith that God will provide? This is but one instance of using the talents and abilities that God has go to each one of us.

What right has any one of us to security when God's poor are suffering? What right have I to sleep in a comfortable bed when so many are sleeping in the shadows of buildings here in this neighborhood of the Catholic Worker office? What right have we to food when many are hungry, or to liberty when the Scottsboro boys and so many labor organizers are in jail?

To those in whose minds these questions are stirring, there are those words directed:

"Today if you shall hear My voice, harden not your hearts."

July—August 1935

Friday 3 December 2021


 The season of Lent always reminds me of my childhood, especially the years between the ages of four and ten which were spent in Headingley, Leeds. At that time I became increasingly aware of a cultural gap between my family and the families of my school friends. For them December was the time of preparation for a materialistic Christmas of getting and spending, with a few Christmas carols thrown in. What Santa would bring you was increasingly, even at that time, the question asked of children by passing adults and other children. There was none of that in my household.

In my family, as Christmas approached, past Christmases of poverty and war came increasingly to mind. My mother introduced us children to the spirit of Advent, the time of coming to midwinter and the signs of hope in the greenery of the advent wreath, the four advent candles and the story of advent told through the advent calendar. The birth of the Saviour and the traditional rights, anticipating the birth of new life in nature in approaching spring, are still celebrated across the Continent of Europe.

During those early formative years of early childhood I attended a Church of England primary school and a Methodist Sunday School. there I learned the story of the birth, death and resurrection of the Saviour, Jesus. Later in life I learned the story of the Christian Church, its teachings based on loving and giving were corrupted by the quest for power, domination and the perpetration of evil. Even later in life I became a Roman Catholic and learned great wisdom from the parish priest, Canon Patrick Delaney. He was firm in his faith. The teaching of the Church is quite clear: "love God and love thy neighbour as thyself". But, when all is said and done, God is Divine. The Church, on the other hand, is a human institution, with its weaknesses and failings.

On reflection it becomes clear that the purely materialistic culture under which we are presently condemned to live is neither divine nor human. A society based primarily upon self-interest - my pay, my house, my bank account, my clothes, food, holidays and dog come first. Charity comes as an afterthought. Even, sadly, the child becomes a personal possession.

Advent is, perhaps, a time when we may start to face up to the fact that we are in the final stages of a materialistic nightmare that looks set to engulf humanity and eliminate it from the face of the earth.

It need not be that way. But if change is to come about, it will not come from a decree from above, from the scientists, the politicians or the technical experts. It will come, and can only come, from the ordinary people everywhere. The music, poetry, hymns and stories learned in childhood and rehearsed throughout adult life remain our most precious resource. They are a resource that can endure, is highly sustainable, and can be shared by all, once basic needs are met. (To be continued)