Aug. 21st, 2012


Aug. 21st, 2012 12:52 am
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People say that the Soviet Union was strange for its obsession with tractors and combine harvesters, that there was something bathetic about elevating agricultural machinery to the pinacle of civilization.

It's harvest right now.

You usually see the dust first, rising behind a treeline. Then you round a corner and see one of these massive machines working boustrophedon as Greek was written.

Setting aside the kings, there are folk who'll praise Locke or Hobbs, or Newton or Gallileo, or Caxton or Watt, or Shakespeare or Moliere for civilization.

But I reckon no one has done as much to civilize man as folk like Jethro Tull or Fritz Haber; people who tinker with tractor PTOs and patent better three-point linkages. I think it's beyond reasonable argument that the tractor engine is the pinacle of engineering.

These days I'm getting quite tired of arguments about politics and modern technology. I am passionate about aspects of both, but that doesn't mean that they're particularly important.

I've never been sure that agriculture was a particularly good idea. Whether it was or not, the loop between agricultre and nomadism has considerable hysteresis, and we are agrarians. One of the hysterical aspects is population size. There are more people than any other single species of vertebrate. Another element is fixed Nitrogen. More Nitrogen, -- the primary rate-limiting nutrient of plant life, -- is fixed anually by the Haber process than by the entire biosphere.

There was an awful lot written about the West country by people who went there on holidays, and at its best it touches on the mysteries and pain of living, but tends to make a poor geography lesson or almanac.

People often put industry and agriculture in opposition, but industry is an palliative and analgesic to the worst effects of agriculture, to its dehumanising and hegemonic pressures, while never claiming to treat the underlying disease.

Let's not kid ourselves that if we were hungry we wouldn't be looking at ducks in the park or rabbits in the field as tonights dinner; that we wouldn't be idolising at every slaughter and fighting over every berry and fruit if our bellies were empty. We can all claim to be self-realised and in harmony and all the while connected by an umbilical to pea-harvesters and silage clamps. In the background to almost any magnanamous act, every act of charitable giving and compassion, is a combine harvester.

If food grows very poorly next year we will strangle animals and steal bread.

L and I watched hedgehogs in the garden last night, mating and searching for food. This morning the bus hit a woodpigeon, which flew on but sounded mortally wounded. On the way home, a moorhen was recovering a single chick, a black ball or uncontrolled fluff, which had separated from its parent in the wake of a passing coxless rowing boat. As they swam back, chirping insistantly to each other, they were separated by another college boat. The parent swam away in three or four powerful strokes, but the chick was narrowly missed and tossed aside. In the end they reached the protection of the willow on the far bank. Swans were cast every which-way, but swans can handle the world themselves.

As we spread across the land it is irritating to see our river so pointlessly used for so imperilling a sport. All animals are heterotrophs and eating is such a part of us, reflected in the structures of our body, -- we're crossed right through by eating -- that I think food is almost a sacrament, and that admits acts which would otherwise be barbarity. I find it hard to believe that, for me, that could be countermanded by anything of the mind.

nn all
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