Because some kind of spirituality is absolutely essential to forming a coherent identity, that is content with its position in its community and the larger world. Such spirituality is, however, becoming increasingly hard to come by. “Consumption and materialism tend to drive out religion,” Hamilton writes, “and the more a society emphasises material pursuits and extrinsic motivations as the path to a happy life, the less validity it attaches to the pursuit of meaning or to life’s inner evolution”.21 Part of Hamilton’s argument is to show how ancient wisdom has never stressed the pursuit of happiness as an end in itself, that such an objective is false, and ultimately unrealisable. He notes: “The purpose of life is not to be happy; it is to understand ourselves so that we can achieve personal integration or reconciliation with our selves. It is a process rather than a final state … the pursuit of wellbeing becomes something associated less with day-to-day gratification and more with the evolution of a life, of the potential within each person, and of the ethical principles that underpin right behaviour, an idea that has as much resonance in Buddhist as in Christian thought”.22 For many, the conclusion he reaches is, has been, and always will be absolutely and finally inescapable: “modern consumer capitalism’s preoccupation with calculation and a narrow form of rationality is hostile to the acknowledgement and expression of humans’ deeper need for some connection with the mysterious, whether through organised religion or through more personal forms of spirituality.”23 For me, it is this idea of perpetual striving, of a continual tuning and re-tuning of the self in response to life’s victories and failures, in the context of an intensely personal, yet intensely felt, spirituality, that is of the utmost importance: “One of the benefits of spirituality is that it provides an inner landscape within which other, more mundane life goals are embedded. As a consequence, spiritual striving resolves conflicts between other life goals and this conflict resolution makes for more contented souls”.24

Hamilton’s book is immensely important, and has the feeling of a text that has been written at precisely the right time, on the cusp of vital and massive social, political and religious change. His final conclusion couldn’t be more shattering: “The transition to a post-growth society will be just as far-reaching as the transition from feudalism to industrial capitalism or from industrial capitalism to global consumer capitalism. It will fundamentally transform power relationships, social institutions, our relationships with others, our ethical rules, our attitudes to the natural environment and, ultimately, our consciousness”.25 It is in this final area, in our individual souls, that the changes will begin. It is in this final area, too, that the changes wrought will have the most impact. As Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” My interest in farming stems directly from this belief. It is a rare life in which time can be carved out for solitude, inward meditation, and the calming, spiritual enhancement of labouring on the earth. It is also a rare life that can ever take the full measure of the soil, and find itself full of its wisdom. Even a man like Thomas Jefferson, writing to a friend late in life, observed: “Though I am an old man, I am but a young gardener”.26

Bibliography

1. World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms: http://www.wwoof.org
2. Clive Hamilton, Growth Fetish (London: Pluto Press, 2004), p. 120.
3. Ibid., p. xi.
4. Ibid., p. 65.
5. Ibid., p. 67.
6. Ibid., p. 70.
7. Ibid., p. 88.
8. Ibid., p. 109.
9. Ibid., p. 210.
10. Ibid., p. 129.
11. Ibid., p. 19.
12. Ibid., p. 20.
13. Ibid., p. 43.
14. Ibid., p. 3.
15. Ibid., p. 30-31.
16. Ibid., p. 191.
17. Ibid., p. 197.
18. Ibid., p. 195.
19. Ibid., p. 162 (from Sennett, The Corrosion of Character)
20. Ibid., p. 70.
21. Ibid., p. 52.
22. Ibid., pp. 48-49.
23. Ibid., p. 52.
24. Ibid.
25. Ibid., p. 205.
26. Letter to Charles Willson Peale, 20 August 1811, from Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book (1944).