There are books that tickle the mind (even change lives), and books that don't. I love books that clarify intrinsic complex topics (capitalism, love, freedom) in a beautiful and original way. If this Project In-Between is a humble quest for patterns to understand our shifting society, then books are my indicators.
I first picked up Monoculture by the Canadian F.S. Michaels for its colourful cover. Then the back flap tickled my mind. "As human beings, we've always told stories; stories about who we are, where we come from, and where we're going. Now imagine that one of those stories is taking over the others, narrowing our diversity and creating a monoculture."
These words had that promising 'Once upon a time' ingredient. Although the aim of the book is to explain how something more hard-core and less fairy-tale - our economic based society - is changing our life.
In agriculture, 'monoculture' refers to growing only one single crop over a wide area, instead of mixing different crops. Monoculture in agriculture means potato, potato, potato, potato. Monocultures can lead to the quicker spread of diseases.
But monoculture can also be used in a broader sense, as F.S Michaels shows; to describe a society's dominant way of thinking. When you're inside such a master story, though, you just call it reality since you're not always aware of the forces at work.
During the Middle Ages, the dominant monoculture was one of religion and superstition. Then, by the seventeenth century, the scientific monoculture was born. Ours, as the writer argues, is a monoculture shaped by economic values, and influencing six areas of our world (work, relationships with others and nature, community, health, education, creativity).
Extract from the book; "A monoculture doesn’t mean that everyone believes exactly the same thing or acts in exactly the same way, but that we end up sharing key beliefs and assumptions that direct our lives. Because a monoculture is mostly left unarticulated until it has been displaced years later, we learn its boundaries by trial and error."
I could have (tried to) read Marx' Das Kapital to expand my economic knowledge. But that's something only devoted PhD students do. And I did read (and enjoyed) David Harvey's The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism. But Monoculture, not even 200 pages thick, did the trick in all its simplicity.
It's a talent to admire these days; being able to explain a difficult idea (one that took ten years of research, see interview) in an easy way. Writers like Clay Shirky and Jeremy Rifkin master it too. It makes us go from insight to practice.
Elke Lahousse is a journalist, currently living in London. She works for Knack Weekend, the leading lifestyle magazine in Belgium. She introduced Project In-Between for The School of Life, read the previous posts here, here, and here,
Illustration by Sarah Vanbelle http://www.sarahvanbelle.be/
Read Part Two of this post: An Interview with F.S Michaels here.