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An excerpt from Lean Logic: A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It, by David Fleming (2016). Chelsea Green Publishing.
Asterisks* point to other entries in the dictionary.
Encounter. The act of recognising something – a person, a *practice, a *system – on its own terms; the particular character and wholeness of the other is acknowledged; *judgment and opinion about him/her/it are set in a *relevant context, rather than in the context of universal *general principle or immoveable *mindset.
To acknowledge the wholeness of a system – a woodland, a person, a planet, nature – means being aware that you are in the presence of something which has business and an agenda of its own, and which cannot be tamed by your understanding. To see nature as a whole, as its own self, you need to approach it with the *manners of the stranger – as noted by the great ecologist, Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862):
To conceive of it with a total apprehension I must for the thousandth time approach it as something totally strange.[i]
When the animal ecologist, Stephan Harding, observed the little muntjac deer in Rushbeds Wood – little pools of life, chewing their cud, pausing for a moment of meditative tranquillity, and seeming to radiate light in the shadows – there was encounter. When the system you have been studying looks back at you, it is not understanding that hangs in the air, but a “hallo”. There is a *conversation. You are not alone.[ii]
Encounter is about the fundamental experience of not being alone. It is free of the curse of understanding, which opens up the path to *control. If, for instance, Harding had programmed the muntjac he was observing (perhaps with *genetic engineering, implanted chips and wireless technology), he would understand it better, but there would be no encounter, just an extension of his clever self, a lonely scientific experimenter in a wood. To control is to be alone: there is nothing there which calls for engagement and a response. There is no need, if alone, for logic.
The starting point for encounter, then, is the hallo reaction, the acknowledgement that there is something there which is *quick – which has the gift of life, self, soul and the ability to surprise. It is also the starting point for thought, the signal for *logic to stir into life. By filling its environment with things it can control, the industrial *market economy has lost its grip on logic at roughly the same speed and time as it has emptied its environment of things it can say hallo to. Observing a little system chewing its cud among the shadows on a summer afternoon is good. Encountering a little muntjac is better. It can start you thinking.[i]. Henry David Thoreau, journal entry for 4 October 1859, quoted in Donald Worster (1977), Nature’s Economy, pp 91-92. See also Thoreau (1837-1861), Journals. [ii]. See Stephan Harding (2006), Animate Earth, chapter 1.
This is not a book to read from start to finish – although entry Number 1, on Abstraction, is engaging enough. Fleming defines abstraction as “Displacement of the particular – people, places, purpose – by general principle”. Within a few lines Fleming introduces someone I never heard of, Alexander Herzen [1812-1870], as one of the first writers to “make the case for local detail, for pragmatic decision-making, for near-at-hand, for ‘presence’. Fleming goes on to quote such other “scourges of abstraction” as Oliver Goldsmith, Montaigne, Joseph Conrad, and Matthew Arnold. And that’s all on page one.
Among the incredibly useful passages I’ve already discovered are: a long text about ‘resilience’ and its multiple meanings; a clear account of Energy Decent Action Plans; an explanation of Harmonic Order; a comparative guide to barter through the ages; and a section on Lean Health.
Fleming was a co-founder of the UK Green Party, chair of the Soil Association, and active from its early days in the Transition Towns movement. He was one of the first people in the world to understand the implications for industrial civilzation of peak oil, and a good deal of the book is about energy in its many meanings. Fleming was the inventor – and advocate for more than a decade – of Tradeable Energy Quotas or TEQs. This energy rationing scheme is designed to share out fairly a nation’s shrinking – as it must and will – energy/carbon budget, while allowing maximum freedom of choice over energy use.
But Lean Logic is neither a policy manifesto nor a dry technical guide. It’s an incredibly nourishing cultural and scientific treasure trove. Its pages span ethics, science, culture, art, and history. The book’s greatest strength, for this mesmerized reader, is the lightness with which it draws on knowledge from earlier periods of history, and from other cultures.