Thursday, January 29, 2009


Remnant III: the meek shall inherit the earth

I have long considered this beatitude to refer not so much to the human community as to the most probable heirs of earthly life: insects and bacteria. Hebrew scholars point out that the first meaning of the word meek in Jesus’ time was those who had been forced off their land. Modern scholarship reminds us that Jesus was not just the inconvenient itinerant rabbi to the righteous burgher and farmer, but a revolutionary Jewish peasant. Like most revolutionaries in societies with radical imbalances in wealth and property, Jesus addressed land reform, and the most basic means for this was to reinstate land to those who had lost it, often unfairly. Thus, the meek shall inherit the earth meant the disinherited would get their land back

One of the most devastating consequences of the industrialization of farming and the consequent vastly expanded global trade in agricultural products is the loss of the ability of the small farmer to feed his family. The process started about a hundred years ago, but quickened after World War II, vastly accelerating in the last twenty years. Uniting the Jeffersonian and the Isaiahan, a wise farm policy would not only restore farms to farmers, but reclaim the core of subsistence farmers upon whose genius any remnant of humanity must depend for survival in a vastly changed global ecostructure. The alternative is indeed my hardcore sense of “meek” - insects and other humble creatures whom no man knows (John Rutter).

In our time of critical need, we require all variety of remnants. Those who quietly do what is just, not what is expedient (Isaiah) ; those who speak and act to serve the truth with a wise view of the long term welfare of both civilization and the earth which enfolds it (Plato); and, crucially, those who reinherit arable land to form the basis for sustainable agriculture (Jesus’s meek). These include all those who have lost their land to landlords, banks, and corporate conglomerates. Along with the revolution in energy use and unrestrained consumerism that is required of us, we need a revolution in farm credit and markets (a fair and equitable carbon tax would be a good start) to restore the possibility of subsistence farming and trade in agricultural commodities that makes bioregional sense, not global profits at huge carbon cost.

While visiting sites awarded funds by Right Sharing of World Resources, I visited an organic farmer in Tamil Nadu, South India. On a small plot of land he fed his family most of what they needed, and traded with other farmers for his cash needs. He said he had previously practiced conventional western farming with large inputs of patented seed and fertilizer, which forced him into an untenable burden of debt. After three years of organic farming, he was out of debt, and his fellow farmers were coming to him to learn how he had achieved this. He held a modest hope that the tide might turn in his local area.

The subsistence farmer, now rare and precious, is among the most meek human beings. But between him and the humble creatures that we may never know if we continue destroying rainforests before scientists can document their uncatalogued denizens, is an even rarer remnant, the first peoples adapted to life in the few remaining wild places. They live in the rainforest of Brazil and West Africa, the Kalahari Desert, and herd reindeer in the tundra. These too are critical to the survival of the human remnant after the immanent collapse of civilization brought on by the ravages of global capitalism, overpopulation and consequent climate change. The remnant will need to know how to subsist not only in the remaining lands with adequate soil and moisture, but also in extreme climates, getting along with few of the homogenized amenities of global trade. Let us embrace them in advance of the climate emergency, which has already begun to arrive in many quarters.

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