A personal view by Dirk Campbell

  Because of the way life has evolved, organisms respond to immediate concerns rather than gradual ones – a threat from a predator, for example, rather than environmental change. Humans are like all other organisms in this respect. Because nature has bequeathed us the additional ability to imagine, we can also greatly inflate certain perceived threats and diminish others. Our criterion in any situation is: how does this directly affect my and my family’s immediate safety and food supply? Most of us make our choices and decisions on that basis. So we ignore the dangers that we hope won’t affect us directly, even constructing counter-arguments to prove that the dangers themselves are imaginary. Or acting in response to imagined dangers, and then regretting it. Such is the complexity of the human mind.

The EU referendum was a whim thought up by Cameron’s advisors to take the wind out of UKIP’s sails at the last election, and which ended up shooting him in the foot. It has been talked up by all sides as if it were the most important political event for decades. The Leave camp is ecstactic; the Remain camp is depressed; the media chew endlessly over the implications. Just like football supporters and sports commentators for whom the big match means everything; whereas in reality it doesn’t mean very much at all, except a lot of heightened emotion, including xenophobic hysteria. Like the financial knock-ons, frightening while they last. But these blips are temporary. Normality will soon reassert itself. The real problem is not so much with the blips, but with normality. Governments everywhere accept unquestioningly the mantra that growth equals happiness and decline equals misery – the ‘grow or die’ agenda of big business – and turn a blind eye to the long-term destructive effects of the mantra.

Probably the only government that wields real power today is the hereditary monarchy of Bhutan. Despite appearances, all other governments do little more than provide service and infrastructure for big business, on the premise that what’s good for business is good for everyone: a manifest falsehood. The EU referendum is a huge distraction from the political/economic programmes going on in secret, most notoriously TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). One of the main aims of TTIP is to allow companies to sue governments if those governments’ policies cause a loss of profits; which means that sovereign states will not be able to decide what business is carried on within their borders. They will no longer be able to ban, for instance, fracking or genetically modified food, because if they do they risk being sued. This shouldn’t surprise anyone; it’s merely continuing a trend which has been going on for years. As things currently stand, big business would continue to rule the roost here whether Britain were a member of the EU or not.

Take the recent majority vote by EU member countries to reject the EU Commission’s bid for a new licence for Monsanto’s Glyphosate weedkiller. I’m not a chemist or a gardener, so I don’t know specifics. But I am old enough to know that glyphosate was being recommended on Gardener’s Question Time forty years ago because, unlike Paraquat, it was said to break down on contact with the soil, so wouldn’t stay around to poison the soil. Maybe that’s true, maybe it was Monsanto’s marketing hype. Nowadays people are saying Glyphosate is carcinogenic. Maybe that’s true, maybe the danger is overstated. (A lot of things are carcinogenic, including oxygen; that’s why we’re advised to eat green vegetables – they contain anti-oxidants.) Whatever the truth about Glyphosate, the Commission’s big fear following the vote to ban it is a multimillion euro lawsuit from Monsanto.

Big business has the money to take governments to court, and the money to influence the legal process. It’s an acknowledgment that the law is in theory above both governments and business, but in practice business has all the leverage. Large financial operators have more than once threatened the British government with pulling out of the City if legislation were introduced compelling them to pay proper levels of tax. And they are by no means alone in that. The negotiators on TTIP, representatives of transnational US corporations, are very happy that the EU referendum is taking what little spotlight there is off them, and that we are for the most part distracting ourselves with concerns about immigration, terrorism and the like, so they can carry on undisturbed with their plans to reduce existing regulatory barriers for things like food safety, environmental legislation and banking.

So what can we do about all this at a local level? Anything at all, or should we just give up? By its very nature, local activity appears to have no wider impact, or if it does, it’s momentary – think of the wave of interest sparked by the Lewes Pound. A global news story for a week. We think that we either have a direct influence or that we have none. But the truth is subtler and more interesting. I would like to introduce you to a model developed by the management consultants Butler Cox (now the Leading Edge Forum) in the 1990s. In this model society divides into three groups: inner-directed, outer-directed and ‘subsistence’. The inner-directed group is the minority concerned with deeper values and the broad view. They are exploratory, pioneering. They can be from any social stratum but are usually from the well-educated middle class. The outer-directed group, the majority, takes in all social classes and concerns itself with appearance and aspirational consumerism. The ‘subsistence’ group is engaged primarily with day-to-day concerns and getting the cheapest deal, and has little influence on consumer patterns.

The point is this: the consumer values of the inner-directed group tend to be adopted by the outer-directed group after a period of fifteen to twenty years. So all the main consumer trends you can think of, from yoghurt to laptops, including food, clothes, travel, transport, leisure activies, health or communication technology, were pioneered by people in the inner-directed group and adopted later by the outer-directed group. (Think Steve Jobs and iPads.) Butler Cox’s advice to business executives was to keep an eye on the interests of the inner-directed group today in order to predict future more generalized trends. Using their model we can predict the progress of the issues which concern us at the present time. I am confident in the assumption that Transition Town Lewes members are all part of society’s inner-directed group, and that we would largely agree on our values concerning food production, carbon emissions, renewable energy, sustainability, biodiversity, the economy, green politics, health and spirituality – not only here in Lewes, but all over the country. Probably all of us voted to stay in the EU, but we are by definition a small minority, so we didn’t greatly affect the outcome. And it doesn’t greatly matter.

What matters is that we remember that we do have an effect, and that our effect is gradual. We should not expect the majority to share our views and get depressed if they don’t, or rail against their limited mentality and short-term vision. This would be wrong, because we are all part of the same gradual process and we have different functions within it. The majority of people in society, the outer-directed (and in a democratic society that includes government), are concerned primarily with wealth creation and not with value creation, hence their values are derived from what others have established. The abolition of slavery is a case in point. Before Wilberforce, abolition was regarded as an unquestionable economic disaster; afterwards it became an unquestioned moral standard. The fall of the Berlin Wall became inevitable when decades of brave East Germans flouting the authorities became a mass movement. Naomi Klein’s film This Changes Everything was recently shown in Lewes thanks to the efforts of Joe Aeberhard, and I was impressed by the congruence of its message. Society does change, but it takes commitment on the part of those with vision, and their actions can only be small-scale. So let’s stick to our turf, doing what we can and what we do best, without undue haste or desperation, trusting an invisible but certain effect.

Dirk Campbell