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Tahnee welcomes Helena Norberg-Hodge to the podcast today. Helena is a pioneer of the New Economics movement and has spent many years studying the driving forces behind why our economies are failing us, and what we can do about it. Through her writing and public lectures, Helena has been promoting an economics of personal, social and ecological well-being for more than 30 years. Helena’s perspectives are coloured by the many years she spent in Ladakh, part of the larger region of Kashmir, where she watched global capital completely transform entire communities. Helena is an absolute wealth of knowledge and a deeply inspirational leader in her chosen fields. Tune in for a truly insightful, informative and heartfelt chat.
Tahnee and Helena discuss:
- Food and human centred supply chain.
- Technology as a part of the problem not the solution.
- Helena's upcoming online event, World Localisation Day.
- The problem with neoliberal multinational global economics.
- How small business is threatened by the global economic model.
- How change needs to occur at both an individual and systemic level.
- Helena's journey and the time she spent in Ladakh as the catalyst for her path into activism.
- How we can create sustainable systems at the local level by drawing on insights from the global community.
Who is Helena?
Helena Norberg-Hodge is the director and founder of Local Futures, and the International Alliance for Localization. Helena's aim is to renew ecological and social well being by promoting a systemic shift away from economic globalisation towards localisation. Helena is the producer and co-director of the award-winning documentary The Economics of Happiness, and is the author of Ancient Futures: Lessons from Ladakh for a Globalizing World.
Check Out The Transcript Below
Hi, everybody and welcome to The SuperFeast Podcast. Today I'm really excited to have Helena Norberg-Hodge with me. She's the director and founder of Local Futures and the founder of the International Alliance for Localization. She's also hosting and facilitating World Localization Day, which is on June 21 this year.
I'm really excited to be supporting her and getting the word out and to be attending ourselves. We're really, just super excited and interested to learn more about this work because living where we do and doing the work we do, we feel like it's really important in this kind of global landscape to start also talking about what's happening locally and how we can ... You know, we're all living through the time of Corona and now the riots and movements with Black Lives Matter around Australia and the world and we're seeing governments just really behaving really ignorantly and persuing models that are really out of date and outmoded and I think the work that Helena is doing is just so important in this time. Really excited to have her here.
She's also had this really amazing kind of cultural life living in Tibet in Ladakh and she also has made films and written a beautiful book Ancient Futures: Lessons From Ladakh is the book and also the name of the film if I'm right. Is that correct, Helena?
This is the name of the film too so we have a book and a film and then The Economics Of Happiness [crosstalk 00:01:16].
Yeah, which is the one Mason and I have seen, which is really amazing. You also won kind of the alternative Nobel Prize, which is pretty rad. Is that for your work in that region?
Yeah. That was for the work in Ladakh.
Okay. Pretty impressive resume. Every time I've mentioned your name people are like, "Oh my gosh." You seem to have this incredible reputation, especially around this area and I'm sure globally as well. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to be interested in localisation and what that means for us in this age of globalisation?
Yeah. I had my eyes opened to this in 1975 when I arrived in this part of Tibet but belongs politically to India. It's called Ladakh and I was going as part of a film team, I was a linguist at that time living in Paris and I love nature, really love nature, but I wasn't an activist. I wasn't aware at all of these issues to do with the economy and local versus global.
I came in contact with the people who had never been pulled into this global economic system because they hadn't been colonised. Even the missionaries who had come earlier had not been able to destroy their culture. They still had their own Buddhist culture that went back for thousands of years.
They had a way of life that in many ways was a paradise. It was a Shangri La. Almost every person who came in the early days said that, they said, "Oh my God. What a paradise. What a pity it has to be destroyed" and I, having picked up a bit of the language, because, as I said, I was a linguist and I had [inaudible 00:02:58] part of a film team that in helping to make the film and picking up some of the language I then decided to stay on. I was just in love with the people.
I realised that if they heard these foreigners saying, "It's a paradise. What a pity it has to be destroyed" they would be absolutely perplexed and amazed because from their point of view, they were getting the impression that in the West we just had everything that they had, plenty of time, community, connection to nature, every mother having 10 live in caretakers for every baby, no one in debt, no one having to pay rent or mortgages, unbelievable leisurely time frame. There just wasn't the time pressures that we have.
All of that they assumed that we had and on top of that we had all of this amazing money and we were flying in aeroplanes and they were being told that if they just would hurry up and get their children educated, get them to school, then they'd be able to go into the city and get a modern job and have everything that we have.
I witnessed over the next sort of decade how this process of global economic growth and the global economic system transformed their total way of life. I witnessed how people were being pulled into the city to get that job, almost overnight, led to friction between groups that had lived side by side for 500 years. There had never been group conflict.
After 10 years of huge tensions, after 14 years they were literally killing each other. By that time, this was in 1989, I had also been doing some work in Bhutan, [inaudible 00:04:56] work in Bhutan and I witnessed almost exactly the same process there. It was a very similar situation. They also had a Buddhist kingdom that had been cut off from the outside world. Both Ladakh and Bhutan had been protected by the Himayalas.
They were just so remote. They had been seared off for political reasons and both of them thrown open roughly the same time and in the same time period that led to this terrible bloodshed. In Ladakh, it was mainly between Muslims and Buddhists, and Bhutan between Hindus and Buddhists.
In the meanwhile, as I started speaking about this problem with the economic model and giving talks around the world. There had been lots of information from all over the world substantiating what I was saying and when I wrote a book later Ancient Futures that was translated into almost 50 languages and I would get from all over the world people telling me this story you tell of Ladakh is our story too.
I think I am telling a really important story and I feel supported and substantiated by all these people, almost 50 language groups, telling me this wasn't just a rare exception.
Really what that's led to is having to examine this economic system holistically, understanding how it has actually come to shape, everything we do virtually. It really has been shaping our thinking, our view of history, relationships to one another, our relationships to nature and in a fundamentally destructive way.
You'll hear a lot of critique of the neoliberal economy and so many people on the left in the Westernised world are very critical of what happened in more recent years, since the '80s basically with Margaret Thatcher and so on but when you come from [inaudible 00:07:05] we're coming from a deeper, I would say, spiritual awareness of the interconnections between human beings and the rest of life and this absolute conviction that intergenerational community is essential for our wellbeing. That's particularly for children.
What I saw in Ladakh was this tradition. Just this amazing, just unbelievably beautiful relationship between the wee little one year old and the great-great-grandfather ... You know, they'd be walking hand and hand, both of them barely able to walk, both of them [inaudible 00:07:44] speak clearly. They're both toothless. They're both hairless. They were sort of made for each other.
It was something that was so beautiful. I guess the thing that has made my work sometimes very difficult and lonely is that most of the people I've known intimately, personally, who have experienced something like this are by now dead and it does worry me a lot that a lot of people now would say go to many parts of the world they think they're experiencing tradition in rural remote communities.
But what I'm fearing is that in almost every place now, either colonialism, missionaries from long time ago or more recent, what I see is this mental pollution coming in through television and tourism as well, has so changed people and that means that people often find, very often, what they feel is a traditional village would actually be a few old people because all of the young people have had to go to the city. There would be, obviously, a lot of dissatisfaction and unhappiness as rural people are left behind and everything about rural life has essentially been marginalised.
That's been going on from the very inception of this modern economy. Yeah. There's just so, so much to say about it but it became very, very clear that ... Literally, I could probably list hundreds of reasons why the lesson from Ladakh was we must do everything we can to strengthen community and our deeper connections to nature, and when I say nature I mean also children having the opportunity to relate to animals.
That's a tricky issue today because people think that we should all become vegan but my experience was that all Indigenous people I know actually did eat animal products and they also had an ongoing caring connection with animals.
I just loved seeing a five year old boy care for a young baby goat just like I love seeing them carrying their little sister. I realised over the years that nurturing, we are animals and so it means, essentially, domesticated animals because we aren't and shouldn't be doing that with wild animals but that relationship with domesticated animals was so im turn nurturing young men and allowing them to maintain all of their feminine nurturing side. Now in neuroscience too people are recognising ... Actually I'm not sure if it's neuroscience but what we feel that there are some people who realise that this would effect the hormones of young men. It's actually really fundamentally important.
I came to realise that this deep connection to nature, this being embedded in nature, being much more deeply interdependent with particularly intergenerational community, was the foundation for the most remarkable joy and lightness of being.
I experienced people who were just so deeply relaxed in who they were. Part of this whole framework where you as a young person were involved in the nurturing yourself, you were also in the framework where you were deeply nurtured and where you felt eyes around you where a multitude of older people were there for you. They saw you, they heard you, they knew your name, they deeply recognised you as a unique individual.
The paradox is I discovered that when you had this really stable and secure community fabric, people are actually free to be genuinely an individual and we had all this hype about individualism in the modern world but I see a lot of young people petrified of in any way imperfect, petrified to live up to a standard image and to look important, and look busy, and to always send that message, "I'm fine. I'm okay" and not able to express their vulnerability, their imperfection.
To me, this has multiple levels but what happens when your role models are very intimately connected to you, you never think anybody is perfect because nothing in life is perfect. This is also why I remember asking mothers if they worried if their child didn't walk at age one they really absolutely couldn't understand my question. It took quite a while for me then to think why, because I spoke the language fluently but it took like half an hour before we figured out that they simply could not comprehend how anyone could worry about a child not walking exactly on some schedule. They were just laughing when I explained how in the West people would start worrying if the child didn't walk by age one. Their whole attitude was, "Of course, the child will walk at some point."
This was sort of the incredible wealth of this deep connected way of being and I realised fairly early on that it was actually ultimately economic pressures that were destroying this and tearing people apart and as they were pushed into the city then there's no space for the grandparents and they weren't needed anymore because now you were suddenly dependent on huge institutions far away and it was all about doing this job and it was a job that turned you into a very narrow little entity in a big system.
You were no longer someone who knew how to ... Already as a child you knew how to look after a baby. It wasn't something you had to read a book about [inaudible 00:14:08] have a baby yourself. You knew how to build a house, you knew how to look after animals, you knew how to grow food. Everyone knew how to sing and dance and make music. You were a much broader, wider and more developed human being.
What I saw was this narrowing as people went into the city and very rapidly this fear that, "Okay, I'm earning X amount of money now but every day the prices are changing." I saw structurally how this urbanising economic path where literally global markets and global institutions were behind it all, led to fear and, of course, as I said, the rise [inaudible 00:14:56] local people but also this fear that I'm never going to have enough money to feel secure so it led to this greed and hoarding and... Yeah. People changed dramatically.
All of this showed me so clearly, first of all, that human beings are not by nature innately greedy or aggressive. I'm battling now huge vested interests that are systematically putting out ideas that eradicate this knowledge that I'm talking about and it's very insidious and it's what children are taught now at universities, what we're taught through the media. It's just really very, very frightening to see how it's [crosstalk 00:15:45].
Are you talking about how they're controlling the messaging and the types of subjects studied and the ways in which things are taught? You know, that we gaze in a certain direction and don't look in the other direction. Is that kind of what you're getting at?
Yeah, but actually even more overtly than that, you know, there are books that reach everybody but in more recent years someone named Steven Pinker and these books get out really widely and his message is basically, "Don't worry about violence because in the past we were so much more violent" and the message that is being put out is subtly that economic growth through technology makes life better and better and better.
It's a package deal, an idea of progress and people very vulnerable to the idea that life has always got better through growth and technology and that's further back in the past we go the worst things were, it means that a book like mine that right now is in the schools in South Korea, for instance, wouldn't be in the schools in America. It's particularly in the English speaking world that corporate influence has been even stronger than some other cultures.
Who's paying for these media outlets. You look at the technological kind of industries, they're massive contributors to political and media campaigns.
I've spoken to a lot of those people who are continuing to promote this worldview and they really ... Most of the ones that I've known and I've had some in my family and most recently just last year I was meeting with Nobel Prize-winning economists, one of them is somebody named Joseph Stiglitz, who was the head of the World Bank, and he's a double Nobel Prize-winning and he's been a critic of globalisation, which I have been also actively involved in raising awareness about how the global economic system we have from the very beginning was very destructive but then in that neoliberal era in the last 30 years, 35 years, policies were brought in that were even more overtly supporting giant corporations, reducing any space for genuine democracy, corporate media, corporate-run medicine, corporate influence in education.
That process has been accelerating in the last 30 years, which is also the period in which most people recognise now that whether it's loss of biodiversity, extinction species, the terrible crisis of climate, the gap between rich and poor, which in every country has escalated absolutely obscenely and that's been true in every country I know of, including Sweden, my native country.
These trends have got worse. In some countries, it's much worse than in others and, particularly, with Black Lives Matter, the issue of black lives in a country like Sweden has not yet been an issue but I have seen ... I shouldn't say it hasn't been an issue but I have seen fear, racism, xenophobia increase there too because these policies that have led to a few people getting super rich and the majority of people struggling, and that's even the middle classes, has led to increased fear and prejudice everywhere.
I just so hope that people will be willing to focus more on this economic system and come together to look at how we can, all around the world, in every country, we need to be strengthening community and local economies.
You know, what that does is to actually ... It rebuilds those relationships that I talked about in Ladakh. It doesn't do it in, overnight. It doesn't do it in a complete and amazing way as they had it but I actually see a way that we in the modern world could have some greater comfort, some more communication and transportation without destroying ourselves or the earth.
There is a way forward that I'm really, really excited by and I'm excited by it because I also see it starting to happen. It's a many, many small initiatives and it's particularly evident in places like Byron Bay, where we are now, but many hubs around the world that actually starting to rebuild their community fabric, more human scaling businesses and interconnections, and definitely much, much greater attention to the impact this has on the earth, on nature, and its impact on climate.
Most definitely, yeah, in this time when we're talking so much about climate change and we look at the economic kind of models, which are all around foreign trade and they're not even supplying domestic ... I remember being appalled when I was a teenager watching it, must have been Four Corners or something and they were destroying the entire orange crop because they couldn't sell them in Australia because they were getting dollar a kilo oranges from California and they couldn't sell them overseas because they wouldn't travel or they weren't set up for that so they were just literally tipping them into a paddock to rot. I was just like, "That's insane. How can that be a system?"
Not uncommon. It's like really common.
Yeah and yet ... I don't know. I just don't understand, think about this. I do think Covid has definitely helped. You know, when people started realising we can't even make our own gowns and masks what's going on? They realised how fragile the supply chains are. I do think Covid in that way is creating a major rethink.
I also saw many countries how this unjust system meant that people of colour were much, much worse off in a pandemic, and as they're still seeing in places like America.
It has led to quite a wake up that also included ... We have such a big network and are connected with people on every continent and it's just been so heartening to hear about the number of people who started growing some food and planting things from seed and really enjoying slowing down a bit.
I think I'm so, so hoping now that this will really spark an interest in what I call the big picture understanding, the bigger picture so that instead of just treating isolated symptoms ... Like if we just look at climate change in isolation and we don't understand its links to this global economic system and we don't understand either that the media has been so dominated by big business, it's not just Murdoch, it's virtually everything you hear in the mainstream, hasn't been telling people that the reason those oranges were just rotting on the ground and why we have everywhere, every year, the most unbelievable waste in food is because we've allowed global corporations to run our food system and they're running our government as well.
I think looking at the food system is one of the best ways to understand why we really must move towards a more local path instead of continuing to globalise.
Once you start seeing that picture, you start seeing that not only do you have, as we said, in one year when these crops just rot but every single year, every minute, virtually as we speak now, food is being imported and exported across the world. Literally the same product so that Australia will import wheat from Europe and exporting wheat to Europe and importing those oranges from California and just destroying the local oranges.
Right now they're importing 20 tonnes of bottled water I think from the UK and they're exporting 20 tones of bottled water to the UK. Scallops are flown from Tassie to China to be peeled and flown back again. Fish flown all the way from China to America to China to be treated.
This is going on while we talk about climate change but the official description of climate change and it's sort of cure has all been focused on the individual. The individuals have this finger pointed at them saying, "What is wrong with you? We have told you about climate change and you haven't changed anything. You're still driving your car, you still want to go on holiday on aeroplanes ."
It's led to a sort of conclusion that human beings are just innately greedy and another very popular mantra right now is people never learn from information. We've got to do it differently, we've got to do storytelling, we've got to do something else.
People didn't get information about the easiest, simplest way to reduce emissions and that would be that we eat our own oranges here and California eats their own oranges [crosstalk 00:26:00].
Start there. Shuck your own scallops.
You know, I can send you right now just most recently, a perfect bit of propaganda to, hopefully, explain to people how we really got to ... We have to wake up to the truth of the type of conspiracy, that is a very different type of conspiracy from what most people think. I see it as a structural conspiracy where tragically allowing business to become bigger and bigger and bigger and more global, allowing global traders to have so much power over different countries and allowing basically a system that started with slavery to continue to go in the same direction for several generations. That is the disaster that lies behind climate change, behind poverty, behind epidemics of depression, behind almost every serious crisis we face.
We don't need to go back to living as some ancient traditional culture. Partly, with localisation, we understand in any case we need to adapt more to different ecosystems, different cultures so we're talking about diversity, we're talking about local people having much more power over their own lives but also closely intune with the real economy, which is the living earth, the real economy. There's nothing we depend on, nothing that doesn't come from the earth.
Of course, we've allowed this structural conspiracy to escalate where business has been allowed and not just allowed [crosstalk 00:27:47].
It's been encouraged.
Yeah. Encouraged through blind adherence to an economic, really, a myth, which started early on in the modern economy, something called comparative advantage and saying, "Oh, no. Don't say self-reliant." Self-reliance has been described as hardship, has been called subsistence and that's why the truth about cultures like Ladakh and Bhutan are so important in terms of re-examining these assumptions.
We've all been brainwashed. I certainly had and I was in Ladakh for years before I even recognised what I was seeing. I was there for years and I was still thinking, "Well, it is a very hard life" because they were carrying things on their back. In retrospect, I now realise that there are some exceptions, I would definitely choose a future with some glass in windows but it was just ... The more we learn about our bodies, the more we learn to use our bodies and use the muscles we've been born with, not only to be healthy but to be happier ... You know, again, neuroscience showing all this.
The picture that I am painting is really one that I think so many people would agree with but the big difficulty is reaching them because instead ... I started telling you about the propaganda that just now has come out is a short film from the Financial Times where they start off ... It's so cleverly done because what they do these days, they show these images of these huge ships going back and forth and they talk about how all these emissions of food being transported around the world really looks like it's very damaging for the climate.
But then in this supposedly reasonable way lead you in and the conclusion is, "No, no, no. Those emissions are really not that important. If you care about the people in Kenya, you should be buying their flowers in winter."
Now no one is there telling people that in Kenya they're using the best, most fertile land to grow flowers to be flown to Europe, and while people are going hungry there. I actually believe in the structural conspiracy that the people who produce these things are not even aware of the truth. They haven't been there or if they have, they might have met some business people in Kenya who were making money out of selling those flowers.
I was thinking about that because I think so many people often ... You know, they play at that whole social justice kind of like, "Help them have what you have" kind of a thing, which, naively, sounds really beautiful I think, yes, it's a really nice emotional piece for people. I think the creators often aren't aware of how the actual economics of what's going on happens ... Yeah. They just don't appreciate ...
Even with aid, I remember studying with a group of women that was about problems of aid and this idea of coming in and giving money and it's like that's not really the solution. It's more about who is the best taro grower? Get them to teach other people how to grow taro. That's a better solution for aid. You know? Or how to make the soil better or how to build a better hut.
This is where we come in with our expectations and our cultural kind of indoctrination and you said that as well, like when you're in Ladakh it's like you have to learn to see differently when you enter these places. It takes time and it takes humility and the ability to drop your ego and be in a space of learning I think.
Yeah. I also think, for me, what's scary about it is that because in so many places now people really have become impoverished and they really aren't very happy so there's been a fragmentation of the family and very often the young people have left so then it becomes really easy to think, "These poor people. How can we help them?"
I've also seen that in the most remote areas like up on the Tibetan plateau, the most remote traditional nomads are almost the worst affected. They have developed this idea that they are the most impoverished, backward primitive people in the worst sense of the world and they just beg you to give them money to send their child to school. They think that's their responsibility, that's the future, living out on the land is backward, primitive and their children are being left behind.
This is something that most Westerners are not aware of that so when they go and those people themselves say the first thing you can do to help us out is build a school or give us money to send children to school because very few people are looking at the bigger picture and they're not seeing that these children that are being sent to school are then now in the thousands of applying for one job. You know, sometimes having gone through university, applying for jobs as cleaners and those people that are helping with the school they don't realise that the end result is there's now suicide among young people, one a month in a place where it would happen maybe one in a generation before.
It's all about seeing the connections and also Tahnee... You know, one thing that's scary is that the next iteration of this whole issue of aid became with the help of the World Bank, microcredit and so then people in the West were told, "You're all wrong with aid. That was very patronising. You came in there and you just dumped money and created dependence."
Then they came up with the idea of microcredit, which was suddenly marketed as this way of not creating dependence but actually coming in with a loan creates much more dependence [crosstalk 00:33:53].
Repaying them and interest and ... Yeah.
They were pulling people into debt who have never been in debt before.
They become customers of the bank, don't they?
If everyone is a customer then we all ... Well, not we profit but they profit.
Yeah. Now what's difficult is to say, "You shouldn't go in" and maybe give a microcredit loan... It's not that simple. You know? Each context has to be scrutinised much more carefully but I think once people could get a much better understanding of the bigger picture, as I say, understanding those connections between what's happening in this global economic system, understand how almost everything we do now, we've got to be examining it carefully that we're not ending up reinforcing a systemic support for even more globalised, even more commercialised ways forward.
Right now one of the biggest threats, as I said, is leaping into of a new robot culture where robots are being romanticised, they're being pushed by the FAO so the UN, again, has so many good people in it but as an organisation the UN is, essentially, appointees from these governments and most governments are shaping their policies around what big business is demanding.
This is just sort of structural conspiracy that we need to understand better to understand that even something like regenerative agriculture, we need to be looking really carefully at systemically what is happening on the ground when people use that word, because it's actually being massaged into a way of only talking about soil, only carbon, not about diversity, not about shortening distances, and once we really get the bigger picture we should be encouraging wherever possible diversification on the land, shortening the distance to the market, and trying to create a generally circular economy, not a corporate circular economy, which they are now pushing where they say, "Oh, yeah. We're recycling all our waste and we're making this wonderful product out of plastic and now we're melting it again" and it's all toxic stuff. Usually making things we don't need.
We need to be looking really carefully at what are the real needs and I just want to say that the best way to understand global/local is to look at food and the food system. It's the best way to understand and it's the best and most important area to focus on.
Also, what you're doing with health in terms of the mushrooms or the herbs or the plants that can genuinely restore health through the natural methods. It has to do with our relationships to the land and it has to do with much more human scale chains of connection.
Once we start going via this global corporate systems, even when there are really good people involved, it cannot support diversity, it cannot support real empowerment of people, it cannot support the community fabric so there's a structural reason why we must go slower, smaller, more local. That all goes together.
I just wanted to ... Having a business that's a conversation we have all the time is we've had offers from people to invest in all of these things and we think, for us, to keep it to this point where we can control the ethics of the company and how we do business is so important.
I can feel ... Like Mason studied business and what you're talking about, he learned how to be polite in a meeting with a Chinese buyer and all this weird stuff that had no application to running a small family business, like what we do.
It's just for so many people that's almost ... I don't know. It's seen as you're not reaching your full potential, you're not going to what's possible and it's like we constantly have to say, "No, we don't want more. We want to do better at what we're doing. We want to slow down. We want to make sure that we still do know the people we buy herbs off." You know?
It has to be this constant effort and checking in and I think when you look at a corporation there's no space for that. It's not built into the system. It's just about the bottom line and the profit and the meeting with the board. Yeah. It's like a whole redesign I think.
Even when you look at how politics is ... Everyone is like, "What's the budget doing? What's the economy doing?" What about the people? How is our culture? How are the children going? I feel like we're just having conversations all the time.
I think it's really good also to have this conversation to recognise how pressured we are by the culture and how here you've done really quite well and yet if you don't keep growing it's like you're a failure and when is enough enough? What is that level of balance and sort of keeping a generally sustainable balance where you know that you're doing well enough, especially where you have enough awareness to know exactly how they're being grown and that that's happening in truly ecological and ethical way and all the way across to the consumer and being aware and also aware enough to realise that doing podcasts, as you're doing, I think is one of the most important things you can do because you're swimming in a sea of enormous pressures to get bigger or die.
It's just like the individual. Like I said, when you get into this system where you're suddenly caught up in this anonymous system where how much you earn is never going to be enough unless every day the prices are going up. Once we start creating more localised systems we start changing that a bit but the reason why I'm glad you're doing podcasts is I hope it will help to get out enough awareness so that we start also pressuring for policy change.
When I say pressuring for policy change, I really believe that the combination of the activists that started XR and they've started Occupy could come together in a really powerful movement to, essentially, take the economy back, to now make it very clear to political leaders, we know the game, we know the exact point that we need to look at and that is your commitment to global trade and you're subsidising, you're taxing, and you are regulating in a way that is destroying the smaller and also Tahnee you should keep in mind that literally every business that operates within a national arena is being squeezed for taxes, being regulated, and in the meanwhile the giant global monopolies that do not pay tax [crosstalk 00:41:03].
Right. [crosstalk 00:41:04].
[crosstalk 00:41:05] subsidised and deregulated.
We were talking about this today because, for us, to like register a herb with the TGA or something it's thousands of dollars and it's a giant headache. Then you look at some of these medical companies with vaccines and they get rushed through, no testing. You know? You're just like, "Hang on a second. How is it that a herb is more dangerous than an injected drug?"
And, you know, the actual truth is also that these multinationals have been working to pressure governments to bring in those regulations because that would destroy their smaller companies. They've been pressuring governments to make it illegal even for farmers to sell food from heirloom seeds.
Yeah. I remember learning about that at university with Monsanto through India and they were getting them sucked into that loop of the seeds that don't reproduce that were genetically sterile and then they're having to buy them or the World Bank is giving them loans so that they can buy the seeds and then they end up in debt and it's just this cycle, which is completely evil. There's no other way to look at it.
Yeah. They were fining the seed savers. They were women storing the seeds and they were getting fined because they were keeping fertile seed that could reproduce.
It is an evil system and yet I see a lot of good people supporting it and that's why I also feel in a way positive in a sense that I really believe that we're in such a mess and on so many levels because of the blindness to how this system works.
What I'm finding is that I go higher up the ladder and talk to these Nobel Prize-winning economists or to ministers and so on, I'm seeing the higher you are up the power ladder, they're more blind. They're running even faster and they're relating to the whole world just through numbers. They don't see the people, they don't see the soil, they don't see the earth worms.
They cannot understand diversity. Diversity is inefficient. Monoculture has to be the way in those laws, and monoculture is deadly. It's deadly. It's destroying the soil.
On the other hand, not only do I feel optimistic because I see this blindness but that is related to what I see, which is that most people are looking for love and connection. Most people if they're helped to be guided to once again communicate in a more real, vulnerable way with other human beings and they start actually connecting at a deep level and do that in communities as they do in alcoholics anonymous and now in many emerging therapies where the combination of deep connection to others and to nature, to the animals, to the plants, that heals people and it's been proven all around the world and yet it's a micro-trend because the dominant system pushes psychologists and therapists and counsellors in exactly the opposite direction. You know, give them a quick drug, put them in prison, you know if they're not behaving well.
And they make money out of them when they are in
They make money out of it.
I mean, that's another [crosstalk 00:44:26].
[inaudible 00:44:26] globally I suppose maybe why I feel more optimistic than many of my colleagues or friends my age because I just see despite this huge pressure and all the money pressures, the regulations, the battle and so on, I just see so many amazing initiatives and amazing people.
Almost every day I will hear about positive trends that demonstrate that this is not about human nature, human beings despite this enormous pressure are actually managing to create alternatives and a whole movement that, the best word that I can come up with is localising, is just demonstrating and start getting this circle of positive change happening.
We are also now at the point where we desperately need more people to wake up to that and to actually start doing it, supporting the local food systems, supporting the local pub, and also put a bit of effort into what I call big picture activism. You know, helping to get the word out so that we can ... When I say get the word out, I'm talking about the fact that I have been involved I alternative things from the time of Ladakh, 45 years ago.
You know, I taught at the University of Berkeley and that's where we set our office for our institute and I was involved in place like Bolder in America and in Totnes this in England and in France and Germany so more alternative places and alternative when you analyse it means this coming back to nature and to community. It's about human scale, it's about all the fabric of local. I had never heard of Byron Bay. Never heard of it. Just like most people in Bryon Bay have never heard about all those other places.
Even in Japan, I know key places where you start getting life coming back to life as there is that connection because you can't go at it alone and that's one of the really important messages I want to get out. If you're questioning things, try to do it as part of a group. Try to come together. Support each other in that connection. Be sure you also spend some time rethinking those assumptions.
We like to lead people with five words, connect, educate, resist, renew, and celebrate, and the first word I see as so fundamental that the system operates by making us feel isolated and on our own and with climate change and pointing the finger and, "You as an individual" [crosstalk 00:47:10].
Terrible. Terrible. It's the anti-social media. It's so frightening. To come together right now in Covid maybe more online but hopefully soon face to face to actually have even just two or three people just change their I to a We. Then the next thing we really want people to do is to be willing to take a deep breath and be willing to think really holistically big picture, is there really a way forward that's going to be now at this ... We're in a lot of trouble. We need to find systemic solutions. We can't continue to just treat every single issue separately. We need to come to the root causes so that this is what we have ...
You know, we have materials and so on that then lead us to say there is a way forward that is healing for you as an individual, for you as a family and for the entire planet but it does require rethinking some basic assumptions that you may not realise you're actually subscribing to ideas that support the dominant system.
As part of that rethinking we really want to encourage people to be willing to also say no and yes. Not fall into this also very well massaged mantra spreading out, telling people, "Only focus on the positive. Don't want any negativity." We believe that negative thinking about ourselves and negativity in our internal environment, being angry and obviously depressed has a very negative effect on our health and it sort of breeds negativity.
But being willing to say no to nuclear power, to this mad economic system, being willing to say no to a new development that's clearly destructive, that in no way has to affect us negatively. This thing about thinking and creating the world we want to see through thinking is much more to do with our inner world. [inaudible 00:49:25] maintaining that positive, calm and loving attitude is vital and we can be very loving as we still say no to developments that we know are harming life, are harming the community. This resistance and renewal is important that we be aware that we need both.
I personally am completely devoted to non-violence. I'm really devoted also to try and not even feel anger. I know that when I feel angry at something or somebody I'm harming myself. Even as we talk about this horribly unjust system and evil system I still try to maintain a positive climate inside my body and in my soul.
It's funny, though, also, to interrupt but I was just ... Even in our business in the last three years it's grown so quickly and I can really empathise how when you get to the top of an institution, how you can lose sight of what's happening. We went from having three staff to 20 staff in three years. There was a time there where I was so overwhelmed that I didn't know what was happening. I can honestly say I wouldn't have ... I'm really lucky we have such great people in our team but it's really easy for things to get out of control and to feel that pressure from the vested interests.
I feel like there's this deep empathy in me for ... Even Bill Gates. I've had people writing to me saying, "Oh my God. He's the devil incarnate" and I'm like, "I can empathise that he thinks technology is the solution." I don't agree but that's what he's been raised in and that's what he believes and to change his mind is incredibly difficult.
I'm so thrilled that you said that because I do see a pattern where people assume that everyone at the top is completely conscious of what they're doing and they are evil incarnate. I just don't see that. That's also what gives me hope. I mean, I'm not very hopeful at all that we're going to change Bill Gates but enough people will wake up and say, "That is enough." We need the numbers. It's about the numbers.
In a way, we're being really stupid if we allow a few men with essentially no real wealth because the money that they're accumulating has no inherent value. If it were gold coins at least they could melt it [crosstalk 00:51:50].
And do something with it. Alchemise it into something.
Yeah. Even then, a huge pot of gold coins. It wouldn't get them very far. [inaudible 00:51:59] truly make [inaudible 00:52:02] escalating with the deregulation of global economic activity but we really I think have a responsibility and the opportunity to try to get this picture out. It just doesn't have ...
I find when people assume that all these people in power are evil and then they're obviously then assuming if we put good people in, everything will be fine. Well, no, it wouldn't because the structures are incapable of respecting diversity, incapable of actually doing what we need to do.
I think about that with politics all the time. People go in with really good intentions and they get spat out again because the system does not want that. It doesn't foster those kind of ethics.
See, that's again ... I also do think ... I hope you'll think about it this way because, for me, that's why I've been begging friends not to go into politics because I keep telling them as an individual, you just won't be able to do anything. The key about politics is that we at the grass roots should be much clearer about the policies we want, we're economically illiterate. It's not only economic illiteracy so certainly the number of people, especially women I talk to when I talk about the economy their eyes just glaze over and they're just not interested.
I'm beginning to think it's partly because they just assume, "Well, this is far too big. Can't change it." They've been brainwashed into believing that it's this almost evolutionary process that's just inevitable so no point thinking about it or a lot of people also think, "I never will be able to get my head around it" and a lot of women say to me, "Helena, will you just shut up? I'm not interested."
Yeah. Now, I mean, it's also ... Yeah. I've heard a lot of people saying that for instance... Yeah. Trade treaties and the global economy and no interest to me. I just sort of want to say to them, "Well, it means you're not interested in whether you're going to have a job or not, you're not interested in the health of your child, you're not interested in democracy. You're not interested [crosstalk 00:54:15]."
Yeah. Where your food is coming from.
In terms of what the World Localization Day Summit because that's happening June 21, you have so many people coming on, some massive names. You've got Russell Brand and Satish Kumar, I loved his book, and Jane Goodall and Amanda Shaver and yourself, of course, Charles Eisenstein. You've been endorsed by the Dalai Lama, which is about as good as it gets.
Noam Chomsky and Zach Bush is on the program.
Yes. Zach and Johann Hari, I loved his work on addiction.
That was really beautiful. And beautiful Ella who's local to this region.
Joanna Macey. So many good people. That's happening on the 21st at 6 P.M. Is this a series of talks? What can people expect?
It's a program that is going to be about four hours. We don't expect people to sit through it in one go but we hope that they will want to watch all of it. It will be available so once you sign up and everything then you can look at it again and we hope people will see it as a repository that they hopefully will want to share with other people.
We will be also later on offering the individual talks and interviews on the website so you can go if you want to hear more from people. It's been pretty much a nightmare having to cut things down and [crosstalk 00:55:35].
Yeah, because this was originally an in-person event or mostly in-person. Yeah. Then Covid happened.
You guys have pivoted to an online space, which is a lot of work.
And also we're doing a webinar the following evening at 7:30. There will be a webinar with some of the speakers from the program answering questions.
Wonderful. People can sign up World Localization Day dot org. I'll share the links to that in the show notes and share them on our social media. I wanted to just touch on I think just finally what I've really appreciated about your work as I've trawled through it is that you have this really balanced harmony between globalisation and localisation in the sense that you're not telling everyone to isolate in their communities. You're sort of inviting people to share what's working and share ... It's kind of the best of... A human-centred approach I suppose, what you talk about, the best of what we're doing here and you can share this out and make models that work.
It's more of this idea of bringing it back to the humans and this kind of grassroots sharing and connection. Is that right? Am I on the right track with that?
It's not to shame people for travelling or for engaging with other cultures. The system is what's really causing the issue. Let's go back to people and back to real connection and community.
Also, that when we think that if we do get into an aeroplane or we do drive our car that we're destroying the planet without knowing that actually whatever we're doing on that individual level is a tiny fraction of why climate change is happening. We just need to look at the bigger picture and then, yes, as individuals we could do more but we need the help of policy change.
It drives me mad to see this self-blame that's being pushed now where people are actually in many places that train lines have either been shut down or trains have become so expensive ... It's more expensive to travel by train from Devon to London than to get in an aeroplane and fly to the other side of the world, certainly, the other side of Europe. All of that has happened because of policy change that we have not been told about. If we had had the big picture, been more economically literate, there's no way that people would have allowed this insanity of supplying food back and forth across the world. That was obviously the easiest way to reduce emission but instead this narrow focus on you, the individual, this blame on the individual.
I'm really worried now about young people with Black Lives Matter. We have to be so careful we're not saying to young white people, "This is your fault. You, as a white person, you can't speak anymore and you've done this, you've created this." We really have to try to come together and work absolutely as broadly as we can across all cultures and races across the world to a system that has so been ...
From the very inception, this system we want to change was racist, it was misogynist, it was based on overt rejection of the feminine and any people of colour. It was literally based on slavery. This is how the whole thing started and slavery today is actually as bad as it was from the very beginning but it gets hidden from us.
Yeah. Just different forms.
I think there's a huge release that can come if we realise that this self-blame or blaming the other is not going to get us anywhere. You know, even though, we're talking about even at the top we're going to waste our energy blaming Bill Gates or thinking that just putting another person in his place is going to make a difference. it's really about us coming together and we can start at the local level by building just new economies that really reduce our ecological footprint [inaudible 00:59:39] but then also speak out, educate ourselves and educate others.
Such a beautiful place to finish on I think, Helena. Thank you. For everybody, you have to get on this World Localization Day dot org. I will put the link in the show notes and we will share it out everywhere we have people watching so you guys can come along. I'm really grateful for your time. I know how busy you are right now so thank you for sharing your story.
I am grateful to you really.