Our shrinking trust horizon

The ‘trust horizon’, and what it means for the future

A version of this article appeared in the Coffs Coast Advocate on 11th February 2012

Politicians typically make a bad situation worse, as quickly as possible. The [economic and political] systems that we have established have become sclerotic and unresponsive. Hostage to vested interests. They have no ability to adapt quickly to provide for changes that happen very rapidly… So I don’t look for solutions from there….There aren’t really any mechanisms for these large bureaucratic institutions to offer anything that will help…­­­What they’re far more likely to do is suck resources to maintain the centre, like a body that’s hypothermic, cuts off circulation to the fingers and toes to preserve the temperature of the core…Unfortunately for us, we’re the fingers and toes, we have to look after ourselves, nothing is coming from the top down.”

Nicole Foss, speaking with Italian interviewers in January 2012.  

Nicole speaks of the diminishing ‘trust horizon’: how large, centralised political institutions that have evolved over the last few hundred years are losing, and will continue to lose, their legitimacy; and with it, the ability to impose norms and rules that most people will accept. “The response these institutions typically have”, says Nicole, is “surveillance, coercion and repression”. Recent police actions towards the Occupy movement in the United States would seem to confirm this assessment.

The solutions Nicole proposes to the converging financial and energy crises – and she stresses that these are not solutions to maintain “business as usual”, which is “no longer possible”  – are grassroots, “from the bottom up”. The starting point is the recognition that the large centralised systems on which we have come to depend will, over time, begin to fail to “deliver the goods and services that we have come to rely on”.

Grassroots initatives, on the other hand, will work, according to Nicole, because they are based within the ‘trust horizon’.  “Where trust still exists”, says Nicole, “systems working within it can operate really quite well. The critical thing is that they’re small, they’re not bureaucratic, they’re responsive, they make the best use of very small amounts of resources, because there’s no enormous administrative overhead…It is amazing what can be done at a very small scale.”

Hearing this, I’m reminded of the concept of ‘square foot gardening’, popularised by Mel Bartholemew, who claims that his raised bed intensive method achieves the same yields as conventional gardening, but at half the cost, a fifth of the space, a tenth of the water, five per cent of the seeds, and two per cent of the work. Such claims might appear exaggerated, but there are impressive examples of substantial food production in small spaces with less inputs. And just last week, we learned that backyard chooks are producing as much as 12 per cent of the nation’s total egg production, according to the Australian Egg Corporation.

The Square Foot Garden
The Square Foot Garden

But there’s no time to lose in building local economies and social systems: “The key point is, we have to do it right now, because we don’t have a lot of time before we start to see centralised systems failing to deliver what they have delivered in the past.”

What’s the glue underpinning the newly configured trust horizons? Relationships and community. “It’s the strongest approach”, says Nicole. “We do need to do things at an individual level, because if we are on a solid foundation ourselves, we can help others. But we must build community: relationships of trust are the foundation of society.”

“So we need to know, and work with, our neighbours”, Nicole continues. “ We need connections, family and community, so that we’re less dependent on money. In many parts of the world where people have little or no money, their societies function entirely on barter and gifts, working together, exchange of skills – this works as a model, at a small scale. It’s this kind of structure that we need to rebuild.”

Nicole Foss will be speaking at the Cavanbah Centre, this coming Saturday, 11th February, from 12 pm to 2.30 pm. Gold coin entry, light lunch for $5.