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Center for Respect of Life and Environment (CRLE)
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Towards A New Production Ethic


Included on this page:
1.) Time frame for a one day exercise
2.) Time frame for a 90 minute exercise
3.) Content framework
     a.) General purpose audience content framework
     b.) Church community content framework
4.) Guiding Consensus seeking on values
     a.) The Process of Stating Farming Values
     b.) Tentative Values Classification, useful for an Overhead Projection
5.) The Process of Stating Principles and its Rationale
     a.) Ethical Principle Consensus must precede policy renewal and institutional reform (Why we need "Soul" first!)
     b.) Tentative Classification of Ethical Principles, useful for Overhead Projection

Tools for Consensus Formation Exercises

On this page you will find a variety of formats for helping a group of farmers, rural residents, environmentalists, farm labor, community food security supporters, etc. come to a preliminary consensus on the basic public values of family managed farming and on the mutual ethical obligations required to sustain those values. The tools presented are of two sorts: Time/activity frameworks and content/discussion guidelines.

Time/Activity Frameworks:
These are just suggestions, which have no more wisdom than what any experienced discussion facilitator might suggest, on how to allot time, move ahead and prevent seat-fatigue. They are based on the different levels of time-commitment. Soul has conducted consensus formation exercises varying in length from 90 minutes to two days.

Content/Discussion Guidelines:
There is less experience available in the work of leading a diverse group of people to express their fundamental values and the consequent ethical commitments needed to secure those values. In many segments of our society there is and almost cultural embarasment over the open declaration of fundmental values (even when they are dearly held). And there is even a stronger taboo against stating universal ethical principles. Neither of these cultural oddities suggests that such values and principles do not exist. Just let someone disparage a fundamental value held in an audience or transgress a basic ethical standard and the reaction will tell you quickly how real values and ethics are. The job of a consensus formation exercise is to get people comfortable with stating what those implicitly held values and ethics are.

The best way to get an audience to reflect on values and ethics without seeming to impose the facilitators ready-made list is to introduce, preferably after an articulate speaker has laid out her/his views on some issue of values/ethics (10 to 20 minutes), the distinction between values (which are the goals or goods) and ethics (which are the commitments which protect them). Then pull out of the speaker's comments the values he/she has appealed to and any ethical principles he/she suggested as needed. Then as a way of getting the audience and the speaker to continue digging, lay out one of the taxonomies (classification system) of agricultural values and later one of the taxonomies of ethical principles we provide.

Such taxonomies do not impose values or principles but simply stimulate the thinking of people. One could have a simple hodge-podge of questions. E.g. Are there values in enabling farmers to eventually own their land or have some other form of security in his profession? Are there values in life-long familiarity with a piece of land, a crop, a type of animal? But the danger of such lists is that, like a grocery list, things get left out. A careful taxonomy is an effort to make sure no area is uninvestigated.

Necessity of Basic Values
In spite of the openness of using a questioning system based on a taxonomy, no discussion or effort to reach consensus in any profession or vocation that serves critical human needs can be made absolutely wide open. When we discuss what we expect of a nation's medical system, we have to assume that the basic values assigned to medicine today are health and pain-control (usually, restored health and control of disease/trauma related pain--keeping healthy we usually assign to nutritionists, gym coaches, parents, public health regulations, common-sense etc). The ethical obligations of doctors, therefore are to cure and to keep comfortable.

When we discuss agriculture we have to assume the following basic values in food and fiber production:1.) Sufficient, 2.) Healthy, and 3.) Sustainable Food Supplies.
And these three must be obtained: 4.) by means that respect the rights and dignity of all the participants. Most commonly assigned values fit under one of the four above. For example, accessiblity of food can fit in "sufficient" as understood to mean that the food system as a whole must allow all to eat a sufficient diet. Future sufficiency fits under "sustainable" . Community food security is the same as local, reliable sufficiency. Under #4 would be such things as the rights of labor, the health of rural residents, the dignity of farm animals, etc.

Below we will provide taxonomies to guide whatever consensus formation activity you may be planning.


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