Transformational Heresy

Maddy Harland, editor of Permaculture Magazine, uncovers some contemporary heresies within our society’s worldview. Unpicking the current, destructive mythologies of our time, she believes, could support social and ecological transformation.


“It’s characteristic of democracy that majority rule is understood as being effective not only in politics but also in thinking. In thinking, of course, the majority is always wrong.”

Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

Throughout history human beings have invented heresies (theories that are strongly at variance with established beliefs or customs) and usually regarded as ‘provocative’ by the status quo. Heresies involve holding power over people and often appear under the cover of the predominant religion and its attendant scientific worldview. In the post-industrial world, our heresies are subtly imposed and laced with a cultural and ecological consequence as deadly as arsenic.

I want to discuss three contemporary heresies and reframe them in their transformational context. The concept of ‘Transformational Heresy’ arose out of a conversation I had with the eco-poet and activist, Helen Moore. The gist is that our post-industrial growth culture has demonised so many areas of our lives. For example, new technologies with decentralized economic models, ideas that empower ordinary people, and traditional, even ancient insights and practices that are outside the patriarchy of the state.


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2 Responses to “Transformational Heresy”

  1. Vishwam Jamie Heckert
    Vishwam Jamie Heckert
    December 11, 2014 at 12:47 pm #

    Beautifully clear and cutting essay! Thank you for reminding us what is truly possible.

  2. Avatar
    Michael Davias
    May 28, 2018 at 8:41 pm #

    The True History of Science is punctuated with the introduction of great heresies. I say “True” history, because it is my contention that subsequent to each and every great paradigm transformation brought on by what was initially considered a great heresy, a great pogrom was initiated to rewrite the trajectory of scientific process, sanitizing it so that all the vile actions the establishment are hidden from the novitiate student scientist. We are collectively left with a new generation who hew to the image that science advances “on the shoulders of giants”, rather than by (typically) an outsider who is brave enough to announce that the King has no clothes.

    A recent example is Australian physicians Robin Warren and Barry Marshall, who first identifed the link between Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) and ulcers back in 1982, concluding that the bacterium, not stress or diet, causes ulcers. The medical community resisted the heresy and was slow to accept their findings, because of the $$$$ associated with the then-current protocol of surgery and diet. It took 10 years for their cure to be “proven”, and another 5 years the government to mandate training of physicians to change their ways. Is this a known fact? Are physicians and researchers now trained to push back on “common knowledge”, which this example as a moral story?

    Thomas S. Kuhn documented this facet of the scientific process in “The Structures of Scientific Revolutions”, back in the 1950s, and his messages (and his paradigm shifts) was ignored by many. Recently, James L. Powell revisited the friction in his book “Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences From Heresy to Truth”.

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