The Great Re-think

In ‘The Great Rethink,’ Colin Tudge embarks on a penetrating dissection of our current predicament, setting forth an ambitious manifesto for a balanced political, cultural and ecological life. The book certainly provides a good primer on the state of our society and its impact on the natural world. Combining his encyclopaedic intellect with a down-to-earth moral sensibility, Tudge lays bare the mismatch of current politics, culture and industry with a truly sustainable economy. 

He brings together sharp logic and real compassion to arrive at this manifesto for a better future. The structural logic, typical of Tudge, is set out in a diagram on the cover of the book (based on his own scribbled synopsis) that really sums up the rationale behind his approach. His formula for human success in the future is encapsulated in the statement of the goal of ‘a convivial society within a flourishing biosphere’. There is not much to argue against here, though our society seems intent on rushing in an opposite direction. 

Tudge’s consequent fierce condemnation of Neoliberalism is based on well argued propositions about how a sustainable society might be organised and, importantly, what the basis of its attitudes might be. Perhaps uniquely, he sees food and farming as central to his renaissance. He is a biologist and a farmer and has promoted what he calls ‘real farming’ for many years. In one of his other succinct slogans he suggests that farming should seek to satisfy the requirements of a healthy diet, summed up as “plenty of plants, not much meat and maximum variety”. Tying in effectively with small-scale mixed farming, the formula is equally good for human and planetary health. It opposes the profit driven basis of factory farming and its consequences: poor diet, destruction of the soil, animal cruelty and elimination of wildlife.

The focus on food clearly identifies a central set of problems, but Tudge might be accused of underplaying other aspects of our current economy and lifestyle that are also leading to ecological and climate disaster: travel, energy use, non-biodegradable materials etc.. However he tackles some of these in his chapter headed ‘Jobs, Crafts & Robots’ where he looks at technology as a whole, interestingly dividing it into three fundamental stages: primitive, artisanal/traditional and high tech. The analysis that follows acknowledges Luddite (long used as a pejorative term) wisdom and suggests caution in the face of high technology solutions to industry and life.

A important feature of the book is its serious attitude to spirituality and its courage in addressing metaphysics as an important area of examination and source of judgement. The exploration of social infrastructure and governance, while far from perfect or exhaustive, certainly touches on issues that many other influential thinkers avoid and deserves strong recommendation for its sheer scope. “The great rethink” might be criticised, as other similar books can be, for good analysis but a shortfall on solutions. Ultimately, the change in attitude that Tudge rightly identifies as central to the necessary reorientation of our society is hard to see happening when so many powerful vested interest steadfastly resist. Tudge sees an evolutionary approach to change that could just take too long, in the face of the urgency of necessary action.

These criticisms should not undermine the importance of this ambitious book, its scope of thinking and its value as a touchstone for a possible Renaissance that could bring about ‘a convivial society in a flourishing biosphere’ and the conservation of the Earth as we know and love it.

Tudge, Colin, The Great Re-think, A 21st Century Renaissance, Pari Publishing, Italy, 2021

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