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Monthly Archives: February 2009

Bring back National Service

Just thinking through how our society copes with climate change. One way might be to bring back national service.


1) We need to train a generation of young people how to deal with crises, whether that’s food riots, race riots, or extreme weather. They will have to be physically and mentally tough, resilient and disciplined.
2) In general, we need to instill a war-time discipline into the country if it is going to cope with a drastic reduction in our quality of life.
3) We need a bigger domestic emergency force.
4) We may need a bigger external defence force as well.

What are the arguments against it?

1) It’s the first step to a fascist military state.
2) We need experts, not amateurs.
3) We need a bigger global peacecorps, not brownshirts at home.
4) We need de-centralised innovation and spontaneous systems evolution, not goose-stepping drones.

I think the arguments for are better than the arguments against. If you want the UK to be at a forefront of a global solution to food shortages, helping other states that are failing, then you will need an even bigger armed forces.

Our country will need to become much more disciplined very quickly, and I think national service is one step towards that.

The US seems to be thinking along the same lines. Eg the Innovations in Civic Participation’s Youth Service and Climate Change initiative. President Obama also seems keen to resurrect JFK’s Peace Corps spirit. Ask not what your climate can do for you. Ask what you can do for your climate.

I wonder if this could become part of the Resilience programme which Martin Seligman developed, and which the government is now piloting in some schools in the UK.

That programme is based on the assumption of an affluent society. But it could easily be adapted to a much more Stoical sense of resilience – how to survive and stay positive, engaged and ethical in a crisis-prone society.

Gaia versus Demeter

By the way, just as a supplement to my last post, Lovelock picked the wrong name for his earth goddess. He should really have called her Demeter.

The narrative he says will occur – the goddess of the earth gets angry with the pesky human population, and turns her face from us, leaving the earth a wilderness – was told by the ancient Greeks.

Demeter loses her daughter, and she goes into mourning. The earth becomes a wasteland:

“Then she caused a most dreadful and cruel year for mankind over the all-nourishing earth: the ground would not make the seed sprout, for rich-crowned Demeter kept it hid. In the fields the oxen drew many a curved plough in vain, and much white barley was cast upon the land without avail.”

The humans try to propitiate the goddess through the Eleusinian Mysteries, and finally she comes out of mourning, and we are re-born, as children of the goddess.

This ancient myth was one of the most sacred myths for the Greeks. It was the mythical foundation of many of the greatest tragedies, such as Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus and Aeschylus’ Eumenides. It was also the basis of their most sacred religious festival, the Eleusinian Mysteries.

These tragedies, and the mysteries, taught the Greeks the same basic fact that we are now about to learn, most bitterly: civilisation depends on the benevolence of nature. If we forget that, we are heading for a fall.

You can read the ancient hymn to Demeter, which tells the story of the Mysteries, here.