Noel Charlton and Gregory Bateson

I was very sorry to hear recently of the death of Noel G. Charlton. I did not know Noel well, but remember him as a regular and enthusiastic supporter of our Manchester Schumacher Lectures in the decade from the mid 1990s, often coming with his wife Jean to our post-event celebrations.

bateson_coverSome time later, Noel’s book Understanding Gregory Bateson was published – described as the first accessible introduction to Bateson’s work. A copy has graced my shelves for some years now, and does indeed provide a good source of information on Bateson, a true modern Renaissance Man who deserves study.

You can find good introductory material on Noel’s website. I can give no better introduction than to quote from this material:

“The thought of Gregory Bateson (1904-1980): biologist, anthropologist, systems thinker, psychologist, student of animal communication, ecologist and profound thinker, eventually drawing together science and spirituality, is now urgently, vitally important to us all.

His thought offers ways of using a new and wider understanding of mind and mental process as existing throughout the living world, of recognising our aesthetic sense of beauty as a guide to valuing of the systems of the ‘more-than-human’ world, and of learning to feel and act upon a new sense of reverence and respect for the living Earth and the vast process – the great ‘going-on’ – of the Universe.”

As I understand it, Bateson saw direct perception of the world as vitally important, without the intermediary of language – similar to the thinking of Alastair MacIntosh in my post The Master and His Emissary or Stephen Harrod Buhner in Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm.

If we can only tune in, the direct aesthetic sense of beauty tells us whether an ecosystem is healthy, what is the true need of a situation, how we should respond, etc. The language of thought is a later rationalisation and communication mechanism. Bateson uses words like aesthetic engagement, the sacred and grace to describe our needed relationship with the world. This is what leads to wise action.

Noel’s book traces the evolution of Bateson’s ideas throughout his life, from the early years that he was married to anthropologist Margaret Mead. It was based on research Noel did at Lancaster University.

I am not able to do full justice to this work, but it is clearly of some importance that Gregory Bateson’s work was brought to a wider audience. There is an excellent review of the book by Jean Hardy.

Thank you, Noel. We are all in your debt.

Verging on the ridiculous

For 60 years since it was built, our estate has had nice grass verges dotted with trees – many with cherry blossoms that make a pretty picture in early May. For 60 years these verges have been reasonably well maintained by the local council with the infrequent appearance of increasingly large mowers and strimmers.

Just recently, all the trees and lampposts appear to have been circled with weedkiller, so that each is surrounded by a circle of bare earth – not only unsightly but also with possible unanticipated side effects on the health of the trees themselves,  local dogs and drainage.

Now, no doubt this is a ‘cost saving’ measure inspired by the pressure council budgets are under because of the now 6+ years of ‘austerity’. Going round with weedkiller once a year is cheaper than going round with a strimmer several times. Yet no doubt there are people who would be happy to have the job.

This is yet another example where our political/economic system just is not producing the right answer. Aesthetics, environment and people all sacrificed to the god of money. It would appear that impossible choices are being forced onto local councils by central government.