(1) Cooperative problem-solving and deliberation (Latin: de thoroughly + librare weigh), including deliberation with oneself. A moment of deference is due to the power of conversation: often it comes empty-handed but sometimes, crucially, it is the bearer of good judgment, raising the collective IQ by—who knows?—20 points? Do nothing that matters without consulting a conversation.

(2) The how of encounter.

(3) The interaction that builds a community; the process of emergence. As the artist Santiago Bell demonstrated at the Bromley by Bow community where he was resident, craftsmanship and community building are in some senses the same process, building timber by timber, relationship by relationship, conversation by conversation.C255

(4) Verbal grooming—a way of sustaining close bonds more efficiently than the actual grooming which, as the anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggests, it replaced.C256 Conversation has the advantage that you can do it with more than one person at a time, and that it differentiates better: grooming feels about the same, whoever is doing it for you; conversations (on a good day) are unique to the people who are there. Conversation can descend to the instrumental, lacking the intrinsic emotional depth which is contained in touch; it can be cold and distant—less engaging than physical reward, more rejecting than physical rebuke; it can be cruel. And yet, a conversation has originality and specificness to the people who are having it; it has freshness; it stays in the memory; it plays; it bonds.

Here are the latter stages of a grooming-conversation between two people at the end of a difficult day and, until a moment ago, not quite agreed on the way home. At the end, there is even a touch of grooming:


Tietjens let the cart go on another fifty yards; then he said:

“It is the right road. The Uddlemere turning was the right one. You wouldn’t let the horse go another five steps if it wasn’t. You’re as soppy about horses as . . . as I am.”

“There’s at least that bond of sympathy between us”, she said drily. “Gran’fer’s Wantways is six and three-quarters miles from Udimore; Udimore is exactly five from us; total, eleven and three-quarters; twelve and a quarter if you add half a mile for Udimore itself. The name is Udimore, not Uddlemere. Local place-name enthusiasts derive this form “O’er the mere”. Absurd! Legend as follows: Church builders desiring to put church with relic of St. Rumwold in wrong place, voice wailed: “O’er the mere.” Obviously absurd! . . . Putrid! “O’er the” by Grimm’s law impossible as “Udi”; “mere” not a Middle Low German word at all . . .”

“Why”, Tietjens said, “are you giving me all this information?”

“Because,” the girl said, “it’s the way your mind works . . . It picks up useless facts as silver after you’ve polished it picks up sulphur vapour; and tarnishes! It arranges the useless fact in obsolescent patterns and makes Toryism out of them . . . I’ve never met a Cambridge Tory man before. I thought they were all in museums and you work them up again out of bones. That’s what father used to say; he was an Oxford Disraelian Conservative Imperialist . . .”

“I know of course,” Tietjens said.

“Of course you know,” the girl said. “You know everything . . . And you’ve worked everything into absurd principles. You think father was unsound because he tried to apply tendencies to life. You want to be an English country gentleman and spin principles out of the newspapers and the gossip of horse-fairs. And let the country go to hell, you’ll never stir a finger except to say I told you so.”

She touched him suddenly on the arm:

Don’t mind me!” she said. “It’s reaction. I’m so happy. I’m so happy.”

Ford Madox Ford, Some Do Not . . . , 1924.C257


Conversation is one of the arts in its own right: it is the hot centre of culture.C258 We recognise Horace’s Lalage and her vitality because we come upon her in conversation:


Dulce ridentem Lalagen amabo,
Dulce loquentem.

I will always love Lalage,
sweetly laughing and talking.

Horace, Odes, 23 BC.C259


Related entries:

Dialogue, Courtesy, Disconnection, Fallacies.

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was a cultural historian and economist, based in London, England. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a pioneer of post-growth economics, and a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, 'Lean Logic' and 'Surviving the Future', published posthumously in 2016. These in turn inspired the 2020 launches of both BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong's feature film about Fleming's perspective and legacy - 'The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation?' - and Sterling College's unique 'Surviving the Future: Conversations for Our Time' online courses. For more information on all of the above, including Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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