Deep solidarity

Deep solidarity

Sometimes, like Kant, I'm moved to write by reading something I so profoundly disagree with. Tonight, curiously, I'm moved by a wish for a little less disagreement. Reading Jeremy Lent's excellent post What Will You Say To Your Grandchildren? and seeing it so passionately take issue with Jem Bendell's "dangerously flawed" calls for Deep Adaptation, I just felt deep solidarity with both. I left a comment on Jeremy's piece, then thought I'd expand it a little and post it here too, because, in truth, vigorously debating the question of whether it's all too late is not where I want to see these two outstanding gentlemen spend their potency. The more critical question - I believe they would both agree - is what to do in these times. And, counter-intuitively and doubtless controversially, I've come to believe that the answer to the first question isn't necessarily central to that. Wendell Berry's words bear repeating: “Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success, namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.” For me, standing in resistance to the system driving mass extinction is not dependent on knowing - or even believing - we might succeed. I know Jem's a fan of this piece I wrote six years ago about my painful grappling with 'is it all too late?':
And yet there I was in Parliament Square on Hallowe'en when we declared rebellion against the UK government, and accordingly getting arrested for the first time in my life 14 days later. The next day I stood on Blackfriars Bridge and gave a speech to my fellow rebels about my experience in jail, but also about the fact that I believe it's all too late, and how I relate to that. Many have come to thank me since, for not being afraid to voice that dark truth, and for sharing a vitalising way forward for those who share that belief. The whole day was so profoundly nourishing, and while I don't intend or expect to have grandchildren - I have enough on my plate trying to ensure the safety of the children already on the Earth - it would be a rich pleasure to tell the tale to yours: https://vimeo.com/301399993 Of course, in the months since, just as Roger Hallam and others predicted, those 100+ arrests garnered headlines that helped launch a global movement in a world sick and terrified of the future we're creating. Does that change my belief that it's all too late? No. But does that belief in any way undermine the joy and delight I feel at telling a story with my life that I'm proud to tell? Not one bit! And I'll be proud, grateful and emboldened to know that when I take my stand this month, I'm shoulder-to-shoulder with authentic and impassioned folk like Jeremy and Jem.
Realists of a larger reality

Realists of a larger reality

In 2014 Ursula K. Le Guin accepted the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters with a deliciously powerful speech. Aware that her time was nearing its end, she declared that her “beautiful reward” was accepted on behalf of, and shared with...
. . . writers of the imagination who, for the last fifty years, watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists. I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now. Who can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom—poets, visionaries; the realists of a larger reality. . . . We live in capitalism; its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art: the art of words. . . . The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.
Today, it is evident that those hard times have arrived for many, and will continue to arrive for ever more people around the world. As Simon Mont wrote in Tikkun’s recent issue on the New Economy, “capitalism is collapsing under the weight of itself, and it’s not pretty”. Our globalised world finds itself caught on the horns of a seemingly impossible dilemma – either cease growing, and so collapse the economy on which we all depend, or continue to grow until we overwhelm and destroy the ecosystems on which we all depend. As my late mentor, the historian and economist David Fleming, put it,
It is certain that there are no simple answers to this—none that could be proposed without proposing at the same time a transformation in the whole of the way we think, work and order our lives.
Polyp - Steady as she goes It was in this context that I read that wonderful issue of Tikkun, exploring just such "alternatives to how we live now". I found myself in wholehearted agreement with the pieces therein, but I could still hear that voice in the back of my mind – surely it’s not realistic. Despite the numerous inspiring examples cited, surely the mainstream economy is just too big, too established, too real, to be overthrown by such utopian dreams. I’m certain I’m not the only one with this internal realist for company. But as the much-missed Le Guin said, the age of such realists is ending. Indeed, they have come close to dooming our world. For those paying attention, it could not be clearer that our time demands “realists of a larger reality”. To take one pressing example, the inherently conservative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent Global Warming of 1.5ºC report makes it abundantly clear that the unfolding realities studied by climate science are dramatically outpacing the policies notionally intended to address them. They find that we must halve emissions in the next twelve years, and so their observations force them to call for:
Rapid and far-reaching … unprecedented transformation in the economy.
In other words, it has become impossible to be simultaneously realistic with regard to both the political climate and the physics of climate. The two stubbornly refuse to reconcile, so we are forced to decide which carries more weight, and then be profoundly unrealistic about the other. To take present policy seriously demands a total rejection of the science. And to take science seriously demands a total rejection of present policy (with grassroots movements like the Extinction Rebellion and Climate Mobilization emerging accordingly). As such, I turn to my internal realist with a challenge – which reality is it that deserves our allegiance: today’s political economy or physical reality? Slightly to my surprise, he sees my point, and switches sides. And then, as an unrepentant realist, he gets straight to the point: What then does this larger reality demand? How might we solve the impossible dilemma? What is necessary, that we might have a future? “Patience”, I counsel my unexpected new ally. First, let us consider what we face. An economy so violently contrary to our human instincts and desires that it leaves epidemics of depression, loneliness and suicide everywhere it goes. That uses mass media and financial stress to hollow our souls and seize control of both our days and our hearts, sparking not only economic and environmental devastation, but cultural and spiritual annihilation. Like villagers glancing fearfully up at the castle of some dauntingly powerful vampire, we live our lives under the shadow of the economy of undeath. We owe this reality no allegiance. But we owe it respect. It is a worthy adversary, no doubt. Yet its weak point is obvious. People straight up hate it. They hate their jobs and the materialist hollowness imposed on their lives. Nonetheless, as I grew up inside it the corporate media kept us blind to other possibilities, made it seem patently obvious – only common sense – that continuing to participate in this grim reality is the only realistic option. But it’s a lie. And while a lie may take care of the present, it has no future. The truth is that it takes immense energy (of all kinds) to keep a population suppressed – to fight all our contrary impulses; to quieten our profound inner misgivings, our spark of creativity and rebellion. Leunig - Healthy Economy And this energy is running low. The domination economy of mass media and financial stress is probably the most effective system for alienating people from their spirit that our Earth has ever seen, but cracks are appearing everywhere. The edifice is crumbling. We all know, of course, that it is unsustainable – devouring its very foundations as it does – but it is somehow easy to forget that this means that it will end. Easy to forget, perhaps, because for all that we resent the hollow emptiness it imparts, the prospect of its absence too is terrifying, for those of us who were only raised to secure water from a tap; food from a supermarket. As Mont writes,
Only by knowing how to stay alive without the dominant system can we actually have the courage and wisdom to abandon or dismantle it.
He’s right, but it sounds pretty daunting. Must we then build a whole alternative economy before we can begin? Fortunately not… ~~~ An Teach Saor I am writing this article from my dear compañero Mark Boyle’s small community in Ireland, An Teach Saor (The Free House). It is a home from home for me, and one of many, many places around the world where the residents are making the logic of money and the market obsolete – abandoning it, before it abandons us. For example, the ‘free pub’ and bunkhouse here – The Happy Pig – is a place where anyone can stay, free of charge, and remember what it is to not have to find money simply to have a place to exist. You may not have heard much about such places, because that suits the corporate media just fine. But awareness of this agenda brings with it an emboldening thought. Doubtless, for every bastion of hope and joy you hear of or encounter, there are a hundred more that you haven’t. It is a heartening multiplication that I regularly remind myself of; a counterweight to the mainstream media’s narrow, oppressive ‘realism’. Here at An Teach Saor a different future is being built, day by day, smile by smile. One that is grounded in relationships of love and respect, and ultimately in the only economic system that has ever truly worked – the system upon which all others have depended – Nature. Being here is a healing, nourishing experience, surrounded by inspiring books, wild nature and wonderful, trustworthy people with hands dirty from the soil, who seek nothing more from each other than the pleasure of companionship. Once we remember the taste of freedom, the zombie economy holds little allure. Yet Mark’s words take me back to the wider world...
Despite knowing little or nothing of the bloody, mucky realities of land-based lives, techno-utopians will warn you to be careful not to romanticise the past. On this I agree, and I know it first-hand. But be even more careful of those who romanticise the future.
No Exit - Andy Singer And among the books on the shelf here rests one that speaks to that very theme – Surviving the Future: Culture, Carnival and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy, a posthumously published work by my aforementioned mentor David Fleming. Therein, he reminds us of just how unusual today’s ‘ordinary’ is, and how profoundly unrealistic it is to pin our hopes on market capitalism – an economic system that has existed for less than 1% of human history and is already not only destroying its own foundations, but those of life on Earth. In his words,
The Great Transformation has already happened. It was the revolution in politics, economics and society that came with the market economy, and which hit its stride in Britain in the late eighteenth century. Most of human history had been bred, fed and watered by another sort of economy, but the market has replaced, as far as possible, the social capital of reciprocal obligation, loyalties, authority structures, culture and traditions with exchange, price and the impersonal principles of economics.
This historical context is critical. The New Economy our times call for is in many ways the Old Economy. We are rediscovering the ways human beings related to each other for hundreds of thousands of years before we were ripped into isolation by the brief historical anomaly of market capitalism, into which most of us alive today happened to be born. Suddenly it makes sense that living as we do here should feel so right. After all, what is the Happy Pig – which sounds so radical to modern ears – if not a simple rekindling of the ancient Irish tradition of hospitality? As Mont put it:
[The New Economy] is a groundswell to relying on a memory harboured in our hearts to make real a vision of humans returning to deep relationships with earth, spirit, and each other, that is constantly evolving and changing, while staying acutely cognizant of the fact that we must relearn how to keep ourselves alive without capitalism and extraction.
Fleming took that dear memory harboured in our hearts and wrote it large across the page. “We know what we need to do,” he writes, “We need to build the sequel, to draw on inspiration which has lain dormant, like the seed beneath the snow.” Lean Logic & Surviving the Future - David Fleming An Teach Saor is just one of thousands of communities around the world today inspired by his sparkling, tantalising writing, which also helped inspire the birth of the now-global Transition Towns movement. Why? Because his fundamental answer to our core dilemma is so refreshing – unique, perhaps, among modern economists. For him, the key to a better future lies not in jobs, growth and mathematics, but in culture, community and conviviality. He notes, for example, the startlingly extensive holidays of the medieval calendar (five months of each year, in some places) and ponders why the good folk of the Middle Ages were enjoying so much more leisure time than we are in our technologically-advanced society. What gives? He explains,
In a competitive market economy a large amount of roughly equally-shared leisure time – say, a three-day working week, or less – is hard to sustain, because any individuals who decide to instead work a full week can produce for a lower price (by working longer hours than the competition they can produce a greater quantity of goods and services, and thus earn the same wage by selling each one more cheaply). These more competitive people would then be fully employed, and would put the more leisurely out of business completely. This is what puts the grim into reality.
So in an economy like ours, a technological advance that doubles the amount of useful work a person can do in a day becomes a problem rather than a benefit. It tends to put half the workers out of work, turning them into a potential drain on the state (or simply leaving them destitute). Of course, in theory all the workers could just work half-time and still produce all that is needed, as is promised by today’s latest wave of automation utopians. But in practice workers are often afraid of having their pay cut, or losing their jobs to a stranger who is willing to work longer hours. In the absence of a sense of community or mutual trust, and having been taught to seek their security in a wage, people instead compete against each other for the right to perform the pointless tasks that anthropologist David Graeber memorably characterised as “bullshit jobs”. Dilbert BS jobs Meanwhile, governments see that the only way to keep unemployment from rising to the point where the system breaks down is through endless economic growth, which thus becomes a non-negotiable obligation – a dogma. So we just keep growing and cross our fingers that somehow Nature will continue to bail us out forever. As Fleming put it,
Civilisations self-destruct anyway, but it is reasonable to ask whether they have done so before with such enthusiasm, in obedience to such an acutely absurd superstition, while claiming with such insistence that they were beyond being seduced by the irrational promises of religion.
Take heart though, for when the current paradigm transparently offers nothing but a literal dead end, we can be sure that we are on the cusp of a fundamental shift. And Fleming provides the radical but historically-proven alternative: focusing neither on the growth nor de-growth of the market economy, but on huge expansion of the ‘informal’ or non-monetary economy—the ‘core economy’ that keeps our society alive, even today. This is the economy of what we love: of the things we naturally do when not otherwise compelled, of music, play, family, volunteering, activism, friendship and home. Yet over the past couple of centuries, this core economy has been much weakened, as the ever-growing stresses of precarious employment, debt and rising prices have left people with less time and energy for friendships, family and fun. As such, to sustain a post-growth economy we will need to get beyond mainstream economics’ aim of minimising spare labour. This ‘spare labour’ is what most of us might call spare time—time enjoyed outside the formal economy—a welcome part of a life well lived rather than a ‘problem of unemployment.’ Party night Those extensive holidays of former times were far from a product of laziness. Rather they were, in an important sense, what men and women lived for. ‘Spare time’ spent in feasting, performing, collaborating and merrymaking together formed the basis of communal bonding, membership and trust. These shared cultural ties then bind people together in cooperation, support and solidarity, the essential foundations for the communities which have thrived throughout history in the absence of economic growth (and its attendant certainty of devastating collapse) or full-time employment. As Fleming writes,
The [future] economy will depend for its existence on a deep foundation in culture. It is possible to live without it, but only for a time, like holding your breath under water.
Or as one of his readers put it – when productivity improves “in our system you have a problem; in Fleming’s system you have a party”. This is the party we are enjoying here at An Teach Saor, and in so many other places, families and communities around the world. Meanwhile, Fleming’s writing up on the shelf, with its rare combination of charm and rigour, reminds us that nurturing the core economy back to health in this way is not merely some quaint and obsolete shared longing, but an absolute practical priority – unadulterated realism. Wherever we are, we can spend our days relearning how to seek our security in each other – and in Nature – rather than in money, and as we do, we notice that the unfolding end of the undeath economy (no longer our undeath economy) becomes less something to fear, and more something to celebrate. We think less about what we might stand to lose and far more about the joys we had already lost and are slowly learning to regain, together. At long last we are remembering how to build a world in which, as dear David wrote,
There will be time for music.
-- Note: I first drafted this in September, but then decided to rework parts of it for publication as free-standing articles for Tikkun and Kosmos magazines. With those pieces now published, I have decided to release the original full piece here.
Why I’m Rebelling against Extinction (wait, should that really need explaining..?)

Why I’m Rebelling against Extinction (wait, should that really need explaining..?)

I got arrested for the first time in my life this week. And I'm proud of it. As long-time followers of this blog know, over the past 13 years I've tried everything I know to get our society to change its omnicidal course. I've written books, co-founded organisations, taught courses, worked in my community, lobbied governments, given talks, participated in grassroots discussion and action... I've failed. We've all failed. As a global society we are accelerating towards oblivion, and taking everyone else with us. And last week, someone said something that stuck with me. That if everyone around you is carrying on like everything's fine, then no matter how much one reads or understands intellectually about a situation, it's so difficult not to go along with that. Equally, if you're somewhere and everyone else starts screaming and running for the exit, then you probably start running for the exit, even if you have no idea what's going on. Maybe there's seemed to be a disconnect between the message we've been bringing - that this society is knowingly causing the harshest catastrophe in history - and the actions we've been taking? Maybe if the wider public see that hundreds feel the need to go to jail over this, they might start to seriously ask why? With these stakes, it's worth a shot. https://vimeo.com/301399993 That film was shot yesterday on Blackfriars Bridge, one of five bridges surrounding Parliament that we occupied as part of the Extinction Rebellion. The sheer mass of thousands of people meant that the police couldn't possibly arrest everyone, so the bridges were ours for all the family fun you can see. But when, at the hour we decided, we collectively moved on, many ordinary folk stayed behind and refused to leave in order to be arrested. If all we have left to amplify the message with is our liberty, then we offer it up. And paradoxically - as I said in my speech in the clip above (from 4m15) - in doing so we have discovered a new freedom. That following our conscience and refusing to be bound by laws that insist on inflicting death and misery is an act of liberty. Hundreds of thousands of humans are dying of climate change each year now. Most of the wild nature that existed fifty years ago is gone. What's a little time in jail, by comparison?
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As I sat in my cell, I felt peace. I knew that I was doing all I could for our collective future, and am proud to have that recorded against my name for the rest of my life. Perhaps, as ever, Wendell Berry said it best, "Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success, namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one's own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence." Maybe we can't stop what's unfolding, but it would diminish us not to try. And yesterday was the first event I've attended that felt as though it might be a historic turning point. Equally, it might not. That's up to us. One child held a placard saying "When I grow up, I want to be alive". Yep. See you there next Saturday. (and there are plenty of crucial non-arrestable roles too) -- I'll leave you with the song that has been the soundtrack to my personal Extinction Rebellion. It makes me cry every time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTFFOr_G6ZM
‘The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation?’

‘The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation?’

This post was originally written by me for the film's own blog, but I have kindly given myself permission to reproduce it here ;) You can watch the above taster in full here. As executive producer of The Sequel, I'm proud of what we've created, and can't wait to see the impact it has in the hands of the wonderful Bullfrog Films! Emerging from a few months of frantic editorial work, we have two exciting pieces of news:
  1. the film is finished! We are absolutely delighted with the final, hour-long creation, and much look forward to hearing what you all think.
  2. ...and, happily, it's not just us who rates it. The ever-impressive Bullfrog Films have had a sneak preview and immediately signed up as our global distributor. Fantastic news!
We are also exploring the possibility of taking on a separate distribution partner for the UK/Europe (contacts welcome!), but utterly thrilled to have such distinguished partners helping bring our work to a wider audience worldwide. Without doubt this early success owes a huge debt to all of you, both for your input to the finished film and for the enthusiastic sharing that has led to over 4.5 million views for our tasters, like the one above. Thank you. Once we have news from Bullfrog about the final release date we will of course let you all know; we know that Stacy Canterbury is not alone in saying that "all these 'tasters' have made me hungry for the full meal!" That's coming soon, and for now we can begin by revealing the official blurb for the film (note the new, hopefully intriguing, title...) - let us know what you think!

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The Sequel: what will follow our troubled civilisation?

Opening with a powerful ‘deep time’ perspective, from the beginning of the Earth to our present moment, this film recognises the fundamental unsustainability of today’s society and dares to ask the big question: What will follow?

Around the world, fresh shoots are already emerging as people develop the skills, will and resources necessary to recapture the initiative and re-imagine civilisation, often in the ruins of collapsed mainstream economies.

We encounter extraordinary projects and people from four continents, from the likes of renegade economist Kate Raworth, conservative philosopher Roger Scruton and Gaian ecologist Stephan Harding to localisation revolutionary Helena Norberg-Hodge, inspirational practivist Rob Hopkins, eco-pioneer Jonathon Porritt and philanthropist composer Peter Buffett, among many others.

They are cultivating a resilience not reliant on the impossible promise of eternal economic growth; developing diverse, satisfying, convivial contexts for lives well lived. And lives that could leave a legacy to be proud of - a future worth the name.

As we discover, all were inspired by a work of rare depth that is rekindling optimism in the creativity and intelligence of humans to nurse our communities and ecology back to health – Lean Logic: A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It - the posthumously published lifework of the late David Fleming. In his words:

“We know what we need to do. We need to build the sequel, to draw on inspiration which has lain dormant, like the seed beneath the snow."

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“The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation?”: a film about the extraordinary task of inventing a future…

“The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation?”: a film about the extraordinary task of inventing a future…

Our film about David Fleming's potent legacy is starting to take shape. And here's the first taster - a beautiful five minute wander through Deep Time, with a shocking ending..! https://vimeo.com/236050600 I'm so proud of these tasters, and happy to see that they're currently going viral on Facebook, with over 1.5m 2.5m 4m views already. For more head over to the home of the film: https://www.flemingpolicycentre.org.uk/the-sequel/ We look forward to hearing your thoughts there, especially on what else should be included when the final film comes out next summer :)
Dark Optimism – The Album

Dark Optimism – The Album

Because why not? I have a passion for tracking down that elusive rarity - eco-songs that don't suck! And thanks to several Dark Optimism readers, my collection's growing, from a wide range of genres. Back in 2011, I published the first 'Dark Optimism album', but sadly it was lost due to my using an external MP3 player which later disappeared. Just hit play below for the 2017 edition, with a few more recent favourites added to the mix: [playlist ids="4766,4769,4787,4797,4773,4771,4798,4795,4780,4781,4786,4785,4792,4779,4790"] --- Honourable mentions also to these pieces from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Akala and RapNews, each brilliant in their own way, but not quite hitting the spot for this collection. Enjoy! And any more songs (or other creative responses) that you'd like to share greatly welcomed in the comments below.