Building the New

by John McHugh

It has been said that science moves forward one funeral at a time in reference to the opposition to change that exists from those heavily invested in a way of thinking.

This can also be said of economics.

The massive realisation and awakening to the exploitation occurring all around us is now building pressure and many believe that we can find a better way of interacting with the world and have a strong desire to take action.

The revered scientist and economist, whom we followed unquestioningly in the past are now losing their reverence, they have become lost in the detail, stuck in a paradigm which they are unable to comprehend and as a result, keep up with the change now required of us.

To keep a pace with this change, we can only follow ourselves, or more specifically our intuition


IF one comes to realise that the motivation of profit (and continuous growth of profit) within the system of capitalism is destructive and can’t be maintained in a finite world and that this motive also leads to a continuous increase in inequality between poor and rich, then a search for a different motive might seem like a logical first step.

This search opens a Pandora’s Box on what motivates people in general. “Dunker’s candle problem” is an experiment  worth looking up which shows how using profit as motivator actually reduces performance for tasks that require even a small amount of problem solving capacity, as it narrows our focus and blinds us to the solutions which often exist in the periphery. This experiment has been repeated all around the world in many different guises and is considered to be robust yet is totally ignored in our current system.

Where the attention goes, the energy flows

This is another way of saying what we get in life comes from what we put our energy into. If we genuinely put our energy into achieving profit and growth, it is very likely we will get profit and growth.

The destruction and suffering seen in the world should come as no surprise as within a capitalist system, humanity doesn’t place any direct emphasis on peace or harmony.

The film “Bedazzled” is a great metaphor for the unintended consequences we often get when we are driven by a selfish goal, and this can be seen playing out today in a world driven by profit and growth. But what could we replace the profit motive with?


Our purpose is something much more intrinsic than generating profit.

This is usually something that inspires us and captures our imagination and resolve. It will be different for every individual and can only be discovered when one breaks free of the expectations of society, family and friends and ceases judging ourselves through the eyes of other people.

Extra momentum can often be gained when those with a common purpose unite and co-operate to increase their chances of success. 

One of the purposes of the Clondarrig Farm Project is to create a real example that can show much more positive outcomes can be achieved when we free ourselves from a negative guidance system.

Our intention at Clondarrig is to demonstrate how we can regenerate nature through our interactions and how we can adapt and enjoy the process of change rather than finding it painful, especially as we face into a period of time that requires unprecedented change.

A more specific purpose could be to produce nutrient dense food without the requirement of fossil fuel derived inputs. Food that can nurture all involved and an engaged local community, providing them with health and food security that isn’t based on exploitation of the natural world. Those who are inspired to action by that purpose then co-operate to form this community.  


In the last blog I discussed how competition is the vehicle that drives  the capitalist system fuelled by the exploitation of nature which it simply views as a set of resources.

In a community focused regenerative system we choose to achieve our purpose through co-operation rather than competition.

The phrase “survival of the fittest” (often attributed to Charles Darwin but actually coined by Herbert Spencer) seems to suggest that competition and natural selection is what drives evolution and survival in the natural world. We now know that this is only half of the story and that another large force plays its part; co-operation.

Everywhere in nature we see synergies between species that have adapted and learned to co-operate with other species.

In agriculture we see this with legumes and rhizobium bacteria but as we learn more we realise that no plant or animal can actually survive without co-operating with bacteria and fungi and even viruses.

We now know that we humans have ten non-human cells for every one human cell showing the massive extent to which our existence is based on co-operation and that it is actually the dominant agent in evolution.

If we look to nature for solutions it tells us that co-operation can be a much more positive vehicle to propel our existence than the dog eat dog world we have come to accept.

The early co-operative movement highlighted an example of the success that can be achieved with co-operation but unfortunately over time their original purpose became obscured, they gradually reverted to the capitalist model and the ideals on which they were originally founded transitioned to making and growing profit and becoming competitive.

As people become more organised and united by a common purpose these structures can once again play a role in a transitional phase of breaking free from the confines of capitalism.

Mutual Aid Societies

Mutual aid societies also known as benefit or friendly societies were another fascinating example of people uniting together to overcome a common obstacle. These were common in the eighteenth and nineteenth century and were often formed out of necessity through people uniting together to provide a type of insurance against unexpected events such as ill-health.

They were also common amongst immigrant communities in various countries to help provide resources to allow the new immigrant to get established; in employment, access to money, to establish businesses or to access education etc.

Many of these societies too, lost their way or were derailed by those who became threatened by them and the autonomy people were deriving from them. These were replaced by for-profit insurance companies and credit institutions and government backed social welfare programmes.

Greta Thunberg’s speech delivered to the United Nations earlier this year highlighted her increasing despair and frustration in looking for solutions from a political class dreaming of “fairy tales of eternal economic growth”. Those who look for solutions from the top will also likely become increasingly frustrated as the sector is largely stuck in a perceptual prison where the required changes would involve them sacrificing their hard earned advantage that they have gained from playing the system effectively. This tints their perspective to the point that they are likely to throw every kind of sugar coated solution to various symptoms of the problem to evade dealing with the problem itself.

In this reality mutual aid societies or bottom up problem solving approaches have a large role to play in addressing these problems. These problems start at the literal bottom; the soil and water beneath our feet, how we view it and as a result how we treat it. Is this a commodity to be used and exploited to generate profit, or is this something we are very literally born of, built up upon and destined to return to?

From Compassion to Regeneration

If co-operation is the vehicle that drives progress in a new world, then what can we use to fuel it? The competitive system we currently exist in is fuelled by the exploitation of land, labour, capital and enterprise to extract value that can generate profit. It is by its nature an extractive process that degrades all it interacts with. 

The fuel for this new co-operation driven model is something that comes natural to us all but has been largely suppressed for many generations; compassion

Compassion is something most of us know and can easily extend to our loved ones, those within the sphere where we don’t feel we have to compete.

Once we exit that sphere, then compassion is seen as weakness in the current system.

Through breaking free of that mind set we can find a fuel source much more than worthy of replacing the exploitation fuel we currently use, and in the opposite manner, this fuel regenerates all it interacts with. Compassion involves seeing everyone and everything as an extension of ourselves, the people we interact with are all family, struggling with their own struggles that we can either help or hinder.

The soil, water and atmosphere around us are the materials we are moulded from.

The plants and animals we exist alongside are the synergies waiting for us to gratefully embrace rather than exploit into extinction.

When we look to each other with compassion, we will find all the building blocks we need for restoring paradise.

The question is;

Do we leave the idealism to our children or grandchildren or do we say the time to build is now?