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For more than 200 years the human race has augmented its physical presence on Earth by using large quantities of stored sunlight (fossil fuels). This process has then been combined with:

- the “trick” of elastic supplies of money (tokens of power),

- the relentless ability of corporations to constantly grow larger

- the power which accumulations of “money” give to the “merchants of greed”

- the tendency of “populist” democracy to fan the flames of consumerism

- an economics that ignores the fact that all resources on a finite planet must be recycled

At a macro level the resulting human behaviours create a massive and life threatening impact on Earth's life support systems; at a micro level the dominance of wage slavery becomes an effective “prison for the soul”.

For millions of centuries the magic of photosynthesis has been sucking carbon out of the air and burying it in our soils. There are three key agencies enjoyed by humans which take advantage of the energy of stored sunlight created by this process:

- the motor car

- the flush toilet

- the strimmer or lawnmower

Our present civilisation evidently gets to feel highly powerful, over and above “nature”, as it enjoys these “flagship” toys which its “clever” technologies have invented. Your average punter gets some kind of spiritual kick every time he/she enjoys the sensations of mastery which these toys engender. The motor car zooms us effortlessly from place to place, the flush toilet zooms our “waste” away so it can be processed (somehow) somewhere else and our strimmers howl out their power over plants so all the world can hear it.

Now all the rhetoric, nature documentaries, protests and political green parties may strut their stuff. This is all very fine but at some deeper level more and more ordinary people are taking their own small steps to live more harmoniously with the forces of nature. The bicycle slowly eats into car use, the composting toilet becomes less terrifying and the scythe begins to compete with the strimmer.

While the strimmer shouts out “power over nature” so all the world can hear and the grass and weeds are pulverised to a shapeless mass, the scythe sweetly transforms human energy and skill directly into a beautiful movement that calmly slices away unwanted greenery. The misguided use of technology and fossil fuel is replaced by the healthy use of human muscle and brain. And, in this process, the whole relationship between humans and the Earth is put into a new context. Scything gives the user a new, much safer and healthier, role in the management of Earth's life processes – especially when the cut material can be properly composted so the nutrients are returned to the soil where they belong. Scything is a practical means of giving humans access to a different kind of satisfaction which is quite different from the “power over nature” thrill so often embodied in consumerism. Better still the realisation of this satisfaction does not need to be trumpeted from the pulpits of “sustainability” - those who take up scything will find their cultural values changed without fuss or fanfare. And we can only speculate as to how far these first seeds of cultural change may grow into other areas of people's lives. This is the subtle importance of “scything as a stalking horse for cultural change”.

Will Sutherland

July 2021

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