comments on:
Small Is Beautiful
as well as:
"Paper Heroes", "Human Scale"
& other sources which bear upon Schumacher's purposes
(updated: May 26th, 2017 by <craiger oochi at outlook dotty com> )

* You're at

* If you came here from 2WB, this page is a consequence of my casting about for a worthwhile book to illustrate approaches to annotation. I'd long meant to read Witold Rybczynski's Paper Heroes --which seemed perfect. That in turn lead me back to E. F. Schumacher's SIB, which I bought long ago and only skimmed, so the time for both has finally come (and then it went).

I'd planned to draw upon my own humble resources and those of others which come to hand --in an attempt to get at the heart of the human condition to which Schumacher was ministering, but I got bogged down with Schumacher's resorts to Papal authority in SIB and his quoting admonishments in his Guide For The Perplexed from Saint Thomas Aquinas (who encouraged the discovery and extermination of heretics during the Catholic Inquisition).

* Aside from SIB and Paper Heroes, I looked into:
    ~ Small Is Beautiful in the 21st Century: The Legacy of E. F. Schumacher, by Diana Schumacher
    ~ A Guide for the Perplexed (1977) E. F. Schumacher (I've already donated my copy to the WLL.)
    ~ Human Scale by Kirkpatrick Sale (well reviewed *here* by John Burnside of the New Statesman)
        --and: Sale is bringing out a sequel ("Revisited") in May of this (2017) year.
    ~ The Breakdown of Nations by Leopold Kohr
    ~ Dave Gardner's (and team's) work with GrowthBusters --and their film: Hooked On Growth.
    ~ My tribute at Transcendent Ceramics to that level headed visionary: John Stuart Mill.

If that sounds at all scholarly --I'm not^. Most of this stuff puts me to sleep, but I'll muddle on here a bit longer.

^ I don't have the heart but not the chops for this undertaking, so if I can find other commentary which strikes me as being "spot on", or at least close to the mark, I'll link to it.

I checked for cross-references among the authors on this web page --quite a few in Human Scale.

I was aware of Sale and his Human Scale (published in 1980) but had somehow never read the book --despite my own frequent references to our general culture/infrastructure needing to be "commensurate with human dimensions". I vaguely remember (ie: am not sure of it) listening to him present at a Community Services gathering in Yellow Springs Ohio --back in the 1970s. Sale dedicated his 1980 book to a number of good folks, including Griscom Morgan and his father Arthur (a principal in the REA). Arthur had passed on but Griscom, his brother (Ernest) (John too?) and sister (Jane)  were hosting the gathering. Community Services was, of course, in the service of small community. I take today's "Fellowship for Intentional Community" to be among its spawn.

My: what a book of relevant facts and insights! So glad he's about to speak to us once again in his sequel book. (Sale is about 79 years old now.) At Alternet is a pre-review with an extended excerpt out of the forthcoming Revisited. From that and what I've so far read of the 1980 edition, there are three disappointments:

    ~ Although he offers a good tip of the hat to our finite planet and to JS Mill in Part 4, Chapter 4 ("Steady-State"), Sale generally skirts the overwhelming issue of over-population, speaking mainly (but very well) about population density and optimum community size.

    ~ Although Sale famously began some of his talks back in the 90s by smashing a personal computer, he now (and even in his 1980 Human Scale) has nice things to say about the versatility of microprocessor chips and computer controlled "local" manufacturing. No doubt he hammered out Human Scale Revisited with a keyboard and word processing^^. I doubt if he appreciates how far down the rabbit holes of high tech, mass manufacturing/marketing and defacto technocracy we must go --to make chips^^ and digital devices affordable.

    ~ Although he presents us with many worthwhile facts and statistics from which to build at least an appreciation for our need of humanly fit places and ways to live, Sale also has lots to say about technological issues and (I'm sorry to say): he doesn't seem up to that task. He suggests underground housing (oblivious to the radon and condensation hazards?). He compares Hero of Alexandria's steam jet entertainment device to the brute power and energy of James Watt's steam engines. He refers to Watt as the re-inventor of Hero's steam toy, even though the first steam power patent was issued 70 years earlier (1698, to Thomas Savery), after which steam pressure operated engines had to wait another 100 years (until Watt's patents expired. (Watt invented the external steam condenser, greatly increasing the efficiency of piston operating steam engines --and finally did produce a rotary version of his engines to power mills, at the behest of his business partners.)

^^God: what would I do without word processing?! I keep trying to come up with a low tech, "human scale" way to do it (Arghhh). Word processing ranks right up there with the Gutenberg press revolution. Moreover: it's no longer possible to participate in the world of words without a digital interface and Internet connectivity.

However, chips/devices require huge capital investments and mass manufacturing to make digital products at all affordable. As Sale himself has clearly stated --but I'm going to quote the way C. Douglas Lummis put it instead: "It is liberating, I think, to remind ourselves that most of the technologies that a human being really needs to live an orderly, comfortable and healthy life are ancient. Choose a technology and you choose the politics (i.e.: the order of work) that comes with it. Choose mass consumption and you choose mass production and a managed order of work." (Find a bit more from Lummis by scrolling down from here.)

** I've found a good summation (thanks to Wikipedia) of Steady-state economy concepts --which ends by considering the good work of ecological economist Herman Daly. I might not have anyone in that summary who comes across better than (the Wiki included) J. S. Mill, but my hat is off to this presentation.

* Per some of my other web pages, I've long had concerns about both human population pressures and the stresses of basic changes and technological "progress"^, but I wasn't seeing enough evidence that those who worry about overpopulation were very keen on the issues of technological over-reach (as to become incommensurate with "human scale" --that eloquent refrain of Kirkpatrick) and the limits of personal engagement/identification with large societies. Conversely, authors like Sale, Schumacher and Kohr could speak to problems of communities, technologies and states becoming too large/complex, but they had little to say about population growth/limits.

^ Yes: I deeply appreciate word processing, my web page authoring program and the Internet. Can't quite do that with toy alphabet blocks, tin cans and string  :-))

Either we'll get a grip on technological "progress" or we'll get caught up in its grip and requirements. Ken Kesey advised: "either you're on the bus or you're off the bus". I suggest that the point of getting on the bus is to get off the bus --at a destination --even if we're currently uncertain just where that place is --until we get there.

Hmmnnn. So how bad was doing a draft in the bad old days --without word processing? We'd double space our work (I recall that being a common requirement for submissions) to allow room for limited rewrites/corrections and an editor's blue penciled comments. However: that was only after several such drafts and my own corrections.

Coming up with a clean final was the hardest. "White Out" correction fluid was nearly a budget line item for me. Time! It all took so much time, but was it that all wasted time? Dwelling upon and thinking about my words-in-a-row is always time well spent.

And then there's the matter of included images. Oh my but that use to be tough to deal with.

  Earlier writ:
* Until getting back into SIB, I wasn't aware that late in life (1971), Schumacher made a long matured decision to join the Catholic Church. Having attempted to recover religious community myself (18 years ago, within a non-creedal Christian congregation), I understand the "coming home" pull that can have. I can also understand a cradle Catholic staying the course and hoping for the best. Joining the Catholic Church, however --especially for someone with Schumacher's background --gosh: that seems so over the top. There's so much bad baggage, plus the RCC is on the wrong side of our many impending, over-population driven train wrecks.

Another big problem for "population policy" advocates is in referencing spirituality. Schumacher's citations of Papal pronouncements are a hard sell to many of the progressive, socially motivated folks that Schumacher's messages (and mine) want to reach and motivate.

That said, a humanist spirituality (grace, empathy, community, empty/loneliness) is deeply important to me. I believe it's essential to forming a more perfect society and to overcoming our rampant American "winner-loser" sociopathy. It behooves a spiritually aware person to so "witness" --so I credit Schumacher for that, and by all the accounts I've seen, he was an exemplar of a good person and a nice fellow to be around.

* Leopold Kohr, one of Schumacher's early mentors and a champion of small scale whatever, went on at length spinning fantasy plans to divide up Europe and the United States into Swiss style cantons, but his proposals don't strike me as being useful --or actionable by the individual and small groups. I must add, however, that on March 7th, 2017, U.S. News & World Report declared Switzerland "the best country in the world" (to live in, presumably). The USA's ranking slipped to 7th place (largely due to our unseemly choice of Trump for president?).

I've barely gotten into "Small is beautiful in the 21st Century / The legacy of E.F. Schumacher", by Diana Schumacher, who is E. F. Schumacher's daughter-in-law --but it's so far not very inspiring. She does concede there's an overpopulation problem --somewhat as if her father-in-law couldn't have anticipated such a development.

* Straight away: I must commend Schumacher, Kohr and any other rare person who tries to swim against the fierce "growth is good", "bigger is better" current of our society --even if they're only talking economics and community size. However, an endlessly growing population means we're headed for growing vegetables in our hair and taking turns breathing. (We'd of course be saved from such a fate --by catastrophe.) Some current growth links:

* Growthbusters (and their movie). Here and at other good venues, Dave Gardner looms large. He operates out of Colorado Springs, spreading awareness in the foot steps (and beyond) of Professor Bartlett (who's in the movie).

* There find a banquet of compelling population related articles, served and maintained for 20 years now by a Ms. Karen Gaia. (Thanks for staying the course, Karen!)

* Witold Rybczynski makes telling points (in "Paper Heroes") about the inefficiencies of small scale housing (stand-alone "tiny houses", say), manufacturing, energy generation and especially sanitation efforts --but much of such criticism seems (to me) predicated on large and growing populations (the universal case, of course). Low population density not only makes humbler "alternative technologies" more viable and less damaging, but can instill a sense of craftspersonship, mastery, collective ownership and pride in those who live by and work with it.

* We mustn't conflate casual, untutored efforts to cobble an alternative life style together --with the potential of community efforts undertaken by an informed and open-minded group. Although craft and attention to detail might still see John Henry best the steam drills of high tech, large scale infrastructure --that's just not the point.

Being an old technician, I like WR's book and find it easy to engage with his details ----(more later)

These matters go by degrees and I mean to emphasize understandable technologies (home made/executed or not), rather than any illusions of higher efficiencies or (especially) "self sufficiency/reliance". We're social animals who owe any success to standing on the shoulders of our past and present communities.

"Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly" --especially if it's your personal best.