"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Book Review - Ancient Futures

The other day I tuned in to BBC Radio 4, my favourite radio station and heard the tag end of a discussion on the AntiSocial Behaviour Orders, or ASBO's, that we mete out to youngsters who are determined to disrupt our UK neighbourhoods with their less than sociable behaviour. The idea being mooted was that parks for skateboarding and roller blading provided for our youth should be located adjacent to the swings and roundabouts frequented by the smaller children in our play parks. The theory was that the presence of the younger children would have the effect of "softening" the otherwise macho and "tough" youth attitudes.
Western Himalayas,LadakhThere may well be something in this. I have just finished a book by Helena Norberg-Hodge, Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh. Ladakh is a beautiful desert land in the Western Himalayas. It has limited resources and an extreme climate. But for 1000 years or more the people there have lived a synergistic life, a life based on mutual aid and cooperation rather than competition, sharing scarce resources and being virtually totally self sufficient. Everything was recycled, there was no waste, and most importantly of all, the people have been undeniably happy. And that happiness incorporates a deep contentment, sound emotional health borne out of a sense of security and belonging to an extended family in a sound community, a strong sense of self worth, with an accompanying strong self respect.
Why did I think of Hodge's book? In Ladakh the children of all ages mix together, along with the adults old and young. From a very early age the children learn to look after those even younger than themselves, and also those of more mature years. There is total respect and compassion between those of all ages and abilities. Jobs seem to get done within the family without any obvious planning or demarcation of roles. Caring and nurturing is not seen in any way as sissy. In fact it is seen as a clear strength amongst the boys. And the older people are an active part of the family, respected for their wisdom and knowledge, up to the day they die. There is little evidence of mental or physical deterioration.
Sadly the incursion of Western tourism into the region has damaged the traditions and the happiness and health of its people. Hodge has a vast experience of these people and their ways, speaks their language, and is superbly qualified to observe and write of the breakdown of their society and values. Her thoughtful and sensitive analysis of all the issues involved is a wake up call to us all. We seriously need to examine and challenge our assumptions in the West that economic growth is the best, indeed the only, measure of success.
You can read my full review of this excellent book on Amazon.
Hodge continues her work on finding a middle way for the economy through The International Society for Ecology and Culture which exists to promote locally based alternatives to the global growth culture. It is a worthy organization to support.
We have come a long way since Hodge first wrote her book, but there is a long way still to go. Nonetheless books such as this give me hope.

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