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This is the very first Ramble – a new feature series bringing you a wide array of Chester voices. The opinions expressed in Rambles belong to the writers and do not necessarily reflect an amble standpoint. We believe respectfully delivered viewpoints deserve a forum, with the aim of encouraging healthy debate, reflection, new ideas and to stimulate positive change.

It was fantastic to attend a packed St Mary’s Church last month, for the annual Murmurations event.  Evidently, there are a good number of people concerned with the major issues we face in the world and it was very interesting speaking to so many fascinating people in order to get an understanding of current thoughts and attitudes.

When considering that society is perhaps most vividly understood by contemplating its extremities, it was equally fascinating to observe Nigel Farage and his supporters when he spoke at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in March. Having witnessed the contrast of the two events, and of their attendees, one gets a very clear picture of the heavily competing opinions and points of view.  So contrasting and firmly held are these respective viewpoints that it’s easy to perceive a great battle of wills taking place right here before us, across the UK and in this very city.  But what is this battle all about?  What do those at the Crowne Plaza stand for which those at St Mary’s Church oppose?

Brexit is an obvious answer, but the problems run far deeper; if Brexit were to suddenly disappear, there would still be a huge gulf between the Murmurations Gang and the Brexit Club. Good versus Evil some may say, but absolutely not, you cannot support progressive thinking on the one hand and persecute your opponents on the other. Perhaps capitalism versus socialism is a more apt title for this battle albeit, again, I am uncomfortable with this as it limits matters to mere political issues.  Maybe, before deciding on what title to give this great battle, we should take a moment to consider what the major issues facing the world really are. Very briefly, and non-exhaustively, we have poverty and the disparity of wealth, the environment, the state of our collective mental health and our lack of acceptance and attitudes towards one another.

And perhaps the greatest distinction between Team Murmurations and Team Brexit is that the former recognises the relevance and importance of these problems, whereas the latter perhaps gives them far less consideration and rather invests most of their energy and faith in pursuing corporate and individual wealth.  Let us therefore proceed with the match title of The Thinkers vs The Money Worshipers.

Having defined the two combatants to this analogical battle, we must not forget that there is another stakeholder, and that is the Spectators i.e. everybody else.  We are often prone to forgetting this, which is a fatal mistake because, whilst the spectators might not be actively battling, they are by far the most important group of people – they’re so great in number, and because they will ultimately determine, through audience voting, which side is the victor.  So, to succeed, and live in a world where progressive thinking reigns supreme and money worship is a thing of the past, it’s not a question of crushing our enemy, but rather one of convincing our audience.  Do I believe that we’re succeeding in doing so?  No, I’m afraid I don’t.

Sadly, as things stand, I believe that the ordinary person is leaning towards the Money Worshiper’s mindset (the current political landscape probably confirms this).  Naturally we are inclined to ask why.  Personally, and perhaps controversially, I believe that this is because the thinking movement has been hijacked and in some circles is often little more than a trendy clique, or it is certainly perceived to be.  To take an example, let us explore the recent surge in the popularity of veganism. In a thinking society, veganism can only be a good thing; the environmental benefits of not consuming meat and dairy are enormous, the health benefits I believe are indisputable and of course it enables us to completely avoid animal cruelty and exploitation.  Anybody who wishes to know more, I would highly recommend reading books such as The China Study or How Not to Die.

What I would not recommend doing is something which I did in 2017, and that is going to the Vegan Life Festival at Event City in Manchester.  And that’s because it had very little to do with veganism; I would estimate that only 30% of the stalls were actually selling food. The remainder were up to all kinds of nonsense, selling gongs and weird rugs and incense and there were people chanting and prancing around, it was frankly ridiculous. I seem to remember that a lot of the stalls had names like “Ocean Karma” and they were flogging all sorts of crap that nobody, vegan or otherwise, could ever possibly need. As I stopped to contemplate this, I was left thinking that somewhere, some sort of New Age Del Boy must have said to his younger brother “let’s sell all this crap we’ve got in the garage to a bunch of vegans. But how do we appeal to vegans? I know, let’s call ourselves something far out. Ocean is good because it comes from nature, and then let’s borrow a completely unrelated word from Buddhism, and then we can jam them together and then we’ll look just the part and people will buy all this crap we’ve got.”.

My first problem with this is that manufacturing and selling crap that nobody needs is bad for the environment, whether it’s some sort of earthy trinket from Ocean Karma or a big old plastic bottle from Tesco, unnecessary resources have been deployed in manufacturing and transporting something that isn’t needed. The second problem I have is that nonsense like Ocean Karma is deeply damaging insomuch as it drives away the ordinary man, or our spectators (if you’re still with me on the battle analogy).

Let us suppose that a week before the Festival a very middle of the road man went to the doctors suffering with stress-related illnesses and heart problems. If the man was fortunate and he saw a doctor who didn’t just prescribe him pills, they might have recommended that he consider a vegan diet for his heart and that he try meditating to overcome his stress. Open to this suggestion, our poorly man may have elected to go to the Festival. Now, try and place yourself in the shoes of this man who is stepping through the doors into an unknown world, with a huge degree of trepidation; his normal enjoyments are football and fishing and he’s never been to anything like this before in his life.  What on earth would he think of Ocean Karma and all of the chanting and cavorting around in knitted sandals? I imagine he would leave straight away and resort to taking some pills instead. Which is an awful shame for all concerned.

What would have been much better is if our suffering man went along, met another very approachable and influential man who was visibly healthy from his vegan diet, who explained in plain English why certain foods are good, and why others are bad, and sold our suffering man some healthy vegan food which wouldn’t cause him to endure too great a departure from his ordinary diet. And that takes me back to my original point; to promote change, we have to appeal to the ordinary majority, the people in the middle, the people who can be swayed by reason. This will never be achieved if we adopt extreme behaviour or practises.

When we adopt extreme behaviour, whether we intend to or not, we disenfranchise people and drive them to adopt opposing viewpoints. We need to appreciate that people are naturally inclined to fear change and that there is a great deal of trepidation whenever new ideas are raised. People need introducing to new ideas gently.

To return to my example of veganism, I am proud to say that I have been a vegetarian for all of my life and a vegan for a number of years. I am even prouder to say that I’ve influenced a dozen or more friends, partners and colleagues (as well as my children) to adopt vegetarian/vegan diets. If we then consider who these people in turn may have influenced, then change has been achieved on an exponential level. In order to influence people in such a way, you have to be sensitive to the fact that, fundamentally, they are fearful that something new will impinge upon their enjoyments. Maybe therefore, if you want to help to influence somebody to become vegan, ask them what their favourite meal is and then suggest how they could make a meat-free alternative.

What you mustn’t do is lecture them about how five-pound notes contain traces of animal fat and that money is therefore evil. Yes, I’d support any movement to change this practise, but I have to admit, I roll my eyes when I walk into a vegan restaurant and there’s a sign up saying that cash isn’t accepted.  What we’re actually doing when we preach in this manner is competing amongst ourselves and trying to show who can be the most right on. The consequence of playing Right On Top Trumps is not only that extreme behaviour will ultimately prevail but of course the day will come when you do need to use cash for some purpose or another and you’ll look like a total hypocrite.

At this point I would like to introduce a test, a test of whether or not what we preach is going to appeal to the ordinary person in the middle, or whether it is going to cause them to recoil and run off and get a job as an irresponsible banker. I‘ll call it The Jeremy Clarkson Test, and we should apply it to our conduct and speech whenever we’re arguing for or promoting change. For example, if we say to Jeremy, “Jeremy, all them coffee cups end up in the ocean or in landfill, get a reusable one mate,” he may give this some consideration.  If you say “Jeremy, you need to reduce your carbon footprint – let’s find ways to make you eco-savvy and give you a LOHAS lifestyle – I’d like you to redecorate using pale colours – soft tones reflect more light and therefore you should get away with using lower wattage bulbs and still achieve the same levels of illumination,” (yes this is a real suggestion that I found on a green website), then he’s going to laugh at you.  And to be honest, so am I.