David Fleming, on ‘Encounter’

Extract from the late David Fleming’s Lean Logic: A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It chosen for Kosmos by the book’s editor Shaun Chamberlin

David Fleming

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.  Encounter knows the limits to its understanding; acknowledging that the other has its wildness, its privacy, its own reasons, its defences against invasive explanation.

It does not approach systems with crafted innocence and call it evidence-based science. It is not embarrassed by the application of judgment.  It does not pretend to understand the whole school just on the evidence of dissecting the geography teacher.

Encounter 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.

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 “hallo”. There is conversation. You are not alone.

Holism is sometimes reduced to a brief and benign glance at the surface, rather than persistent and deep engagement with a system, including some painstaking understanding of at least some of its parts. Without that, you are not being “holistic”; you are flattering your intuition with powers of insight which you may not have fully earned.

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, or manners.

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.

VIDEO | Encountering Another Being II

Dr. Stephan Harding, Resident Ecologist at Schumacher College, shares a moment of magic in describing the idea of ‘encounter’. Viewed by millions, this is a segment of the forthcoming film about the radical economist and ecologist, David Fleming, ‘The Seed Beneath the Snow’.
Find out more here: flemingpolicycentre.org.uk/seed-beneath-snow/