The red flower fell at my feet…

The red flower fell at my feet, as I walked past the high hanging basket in Exeter High Street. This was divine providence; synchronicity. On the bus journey to Exeter this morning I had been studying The Roots of Civilisation by Abdullah Ocalan. I am near to the end of this momentous literary and historiographical achievement, written by Ocalan from the prison cells where he has been incarcerated for the past twenty years.

I am at an exciting stage in the book, where Ocalan is describing the crisis of contemporary global capitalism and the corresponding crisis in democracy. His incredibly pragmatic and yet optimistic view of the progression of history is that contemporary capitalist civilisation, inseperable from contemporary democratic civilisation, is the most advanced form of human society that we have yet seen upon Earth -advanced towards our highest good. This is despite the obvious gross abuses within the system, which are in fact integral to the system.

Ocalan does not whine for some communist utopia like some other leftists. Instead, he is a truly radical and progressive leftist. He sees that within the limited democratic institutions and societies that already exist, alongside the disruptive technologies of the 21st century which show great potential for widespread distribution in a democratic and commonly owned way, there are seeds for a truly scientific socialism, as the next natural stage of advancement for human civilisation -in fact a necessary and urgently required stage in the face of the capitalist-ecological global crisis.

Ocalan gives a compelling and damning critique of what he calls ‘real socialism’ -the historical (actually ignorantly a-historical) attempts at socialism which have claimed to be scientific, but which have failed due to their gross materialism (divorced from the creativity and diversity of Nature), their adoption of oppressive centralised state structures in order to maintain their ‘liberated’ systems, their failure to address the oppression of women and finally the technological and scientific immaturity of the historical contexts which could not facilitate the true transcendence of class -not for very long anyway. This overall failure of ‘real socialism’, shows Ocalan, was down to an incomplete understanding of history.

In ‘The Roots…’ it is shown that level of technological advancement and class are intertwined within a society, and it is actually only now within the first quarter of the 21st century that we have the beginnings of the scientific and technological conditions that, in tandem with a grassroots democratic culture, can allow the development of forms of scientific socialism. My own view is that this scientific socialism, although it has not yet been defined to my satisfaction, could be arrived at via hybrid entrepreneurial-socialist localised economic and political systems which compete peacefully against wider capitalist-democratic systems for local dominance and local, democratic economic stability. In other words, my current understanding of ‘scientific socialism’ is a localised economic and political system with vastly reduced disparity between the rich and poor, and increased participation of everyone in democratic life, enabled by ubiquitously shared, close to zero cost, technologies (such as democratic decision-making mobile phone apps). I will expand on this in future posts. Localised food and energy production is also implied, and civil disobedience is also implied, as at least some of the functions of the state are relocalised in grassroots decision-making bodies.

When the blood-red flower fell freshly at my feet, it was as if the fresh scientific socialism advocated by Ocalan had entered the immediate physical world around me in a symbol of Nature-borne presence -but soon to decay if not acted upon.

I then sat in a cafe -a fine capitalist institution that sold me a hazlenut and chocolate croissant and a soya milk latte, an institution that despite its ethical credentials cannot claim to be seperated from the gross oppressions of capitalism- and wrote the bulk of this post.

After I left the cafe I hurried to the Quay and met for the first time an ‘indie online content creator’s group’ (advertised on Meetup.com.) I can’t tell you how enriching this experience was, in terms of how much I learnt about presenting my online writing in a more accessible and commercial way (since I intend to make money from my writing) and meeting other friendly people sharing the struggles of creating and marketing content and some of the solutions. Even the free version of the platform of WordPress that I use to blog, is an incredible system of magic (to anyone except the most technologically minded, those who understand coding) which the democratic culture of modern civilisation has allowed to be propagated and used freely by anyone with a computer and an internet connection (anyone who can get to a public library).

I do not see it as problematic at all that I exist and work in the capitalist sphere in a very active way, as an entrepreneur, and also exist in an activist socialist political sphere, where I aspire to the redistribution of wealth for a more balanced and stable society. This hypocrisy is integral to contemporary capitalist-democratic civilisation and I can’t pretend to be outside of it. Can you? The question is, how do we utilise this hypocrisy constructively, towards greater moral ends. The hypocrisy is in fact necessary in the transition phase to something like ‘scientific socialism’ or a scientific, technology-enabled socialist-capitalist localised hybrid. The hypocrisy of capitalism (and the hypocrisy of all oppressive human civilisations throughout history i.e. in some aspects, every civilisation) continues but is potentially resolved in the current transition phase between the decline of global capitalism and the emergent democratic (including technological) forms which contradict global capitalist forms in many respects, but simultaneously are enabled by them. The so-called sharing economy could be the typical and dominant phenomenon of what I describe. Needless to say, this sharing economy is not available to all. Not yet anyway.

Perhaps another feature of the necessary progression through the current global crisis is the full automation of all menial jobs globally, (excluding sustainable farming which should be fairly shared, fulfilling work) if coupled with a reversal of the negative impacts on the ecological environment of contemporary capitalist civilisation. Anthropogenic climate change could be the worst of these impacts and the one needing addressing most urgently, but not in isolation from every related negative environmental impact of modern human society.

Abdullah Ocalan, freedom fighter, more deeply feminist than some of the feminist Western women I have met, nobody knows whether you are still alive or whether you have died at the hands of your Turkish oppressors. In your honour Ocalan, and for the sake of the positive evolution of the human species, I internalise the strategically evolved tear-like petals of the red flower-head that earlier today was on the coffee-shop table in front of me, that every petal may symbolise a flame of tactical advance towards a reconciled global society -reconciled with Nature and honestly reconciled with the bloody history, including the oppression of women, that the progression of civilisations throughout history has depended upon.

Let these delicate flames not tell of more bloodshed and misguided ‘revolution’ (I do not refer to the Rojava revolution as misguided). As you say, Ocalan, the seeds of the new world system are already with us, are already beginning to flower in some places. All our courage, all our peaceful civil disobedience, all our entrepreneurship, is called upon to optimise the fate of the contemporary capitalist crisis.

Hypocrisy -a defining feature of the civilised psyche, #1 (part two of two)

In the first part of this post I described the typical hypocritical mindset of the modern ‘civilised’ person, which is reflected by the impossibility of ‘ethical consumption’ in our globalised consumerist culture. We are forced to continually ‘bracket off’ the uncomfortable truth about the human suffering and environmental destruction inherent in even the most ‘ethical’ of modern lifestyles.

I then put forward six criteria for truly ethical consumption, as benchmarks to work towards. I recommended that we treat our hypocritical failure to achieve these criteria, as ‘moral persons’, with gentleness, vigilance and humour. Also, let me here inform you that this post ends on a very positive / constructive note.

Now I want to look at the underlying narratives and stories that we tell ourselves as a society, which allow the continuation of our gross hypocrisy.  These narratives and stories are often pushed aggressively by the institutions, including corporations, of the financially richest people on Earth, in order to shore up their positions. This aggressive pushing is often not done consciously -it is a manifestation of unconscious (perhaps genetically driven) patterns of domination of certain quarters of society over other certain quarters, but amplified through technology and the powerful marketing machine of global corporate capitalism.

Thus, although these aggressive narratives are bringing humanity and whole ecosystems to the brink of extinction, characterised by their promotion of deeply unethical consumption (as opposed to the six criteria I have laid out), this is not something we can blame individuals for. Nevertheless, the behaviours of some individuals must be stopped.

My perspective on how unconscious narratives (as well as conscious stories) guide human behaviour from day to day is strongly influenced by my reading of Vivien Burr’s introduction to ‘social constructionism’.

According to social constructionism, a branch of social science that also serves as a critique of the social sciences, the whole of reality is socially constructed, meaning that so-called ‘facts’ are only facts by social agreement between human beings. Obvious examples are institutions like nations and money, which are only real insofar as we believe in them and act in their image. What is harder to understand is the contention that even the ‘facts’ of physics and biology are social constructs with no objective reality.

The ‘critical realist’ branch of social constructionism contends that there are ‘brute facts’ underneath our linguistic and socially constructed understanding of reality, but of course we can never see them objectively -only through our perspective of human language.

I am not a postmodernist, in the sense that I think that clearly, there is an objective truth of ‘brute facts’. The critical realist branch of social constructionism is useful in helping us understand knowledge in a fluid and social way. Once we realise that, regardless of brute facts, the way that knowledge is gathered, understood and expressed is by social agreement, and so is highly political, then we can begin to understand how better to understand and express reality in ways which promote environmental and political justice.

‘Narratives’, in social constructionism, are wholly unconscious drivers of human behaviour -threads of meaning which tie the social constructs of reality together.

Various hypocritical narratives (or stories that become hypocritical when they are internalised by so-called moral people, which most of us think we are) in modern global culture, prevent the six criteria of ethical consumption from being realised.

One such narrative is the one that says ‘capitalism makes everyone richer’. When we look at the living conditions of half of the population of the world, and the traditional community ties, including ties of efficient resource use, that have been broken by capitalism, we can easily see that this narrative is false. The narrative becomes hypocritical when internalised by folk who see themselves as moral, who unconsciously lean on the narrative to maintain their affluent lifestyles. I am not exempt from this.

This narrative and other related narratives have become deeply embedded in our culture and so in our psyches. You could say they are a means by which hypocrisy has become an essential feature of a functioning modern psyche. How could we live with ourselves without this integral hypocrisy? Because it is integral, it causes most of us minimal stress, except in moments of crisis and breakdown (which may become increasingly common as the current version of global civilisation reaches its natural resource limits and we are confronted with the truth). These hypocritically internalised narratives are not only abstract ideological bases for the continuation of a destructive global culture. They are stories that are continually lived and re-invented from day to day, in the culture that we consume and create, and in our social interactions and conventions of speech. These capitalist and related industrial lullabies (for an industrial communism of luxury is just as bad as industrial capitalism) are embedded in even the simplest of objects and phrases that we use from day to day.

For instance, vague and seemingly benign phrases like ‘hard work always pays off’ tend to be used in contexts which encourage us to equate hard work with personal profit to be spent at the expense of other people and the environment. ‘Organic and fair trade’ cotton clothes from halfway around the world persuade us that we are moral in how we clothe ourselves, but such goods could be worse overall for maintaining our hypocritical psyches than goods compared as ‘unsustainable’.

To reiterate and rephrase, as modern individuals we internalise and constantly refine and redefine a complex system of narratives, in unconscious agreement and compromise with one another. The narratives that dominate in contemporary civilisation are the ones that are pushed most ubiquitously and aggressively by the marketing forces of capitalism and the richest people on the planet. We internalise them despite ourselves. These marketing forces don’t just work in obvious channels of advertising, but in the very categorisation and expression of human knowledge and experience. In fact, the essential underlying driving narratives of capitalism are themselves forces of marketing. Forces of marketing which are internalised by aspiring moral human beings as hypocrisy.

The complex system of narratives that we draw upon daily includes ethical narratives which take us in the direction of planetary repair, community building and even the positive evolution and transformation of global civilisation as a whole. However, these constructive narratives yet have a relatively small purchase on our psyches, compared to the prevalent destructive ones. This truth, and our knowledge of this truth, compounds our general hypocrisy. This again brings home the importance of taking our integral hypocrisy as modern beings, lightly. Taking a harsher approach could easily be the recipe for mental breakdown. While on the positive side there is a human tendency to attempt a moral synthesis of all narratives within the self (largely on an unconscious level) there is also the tendency of narratives to fragment and interfere with each other. Thus, even the most noble of narratives become polluted and co-opted by the more dominant and oppressive narratives e.g. stories of capitalism and the related patriarchy.

Conflicting narratives within individuals, groups, nations and humanity as a whole can be rooted in differences in ideology, climate, race, historical culture, national identity and so on. While most of these differences are social constructs i.e. not objective or at least not ‘final and fixed’ differences, considering the ‘brute facts’ – or let me say ‘beautiful facts’- of Nature, we can use what we know of Nature and Natural events to provide a grounding for new synthesized global narratives which are regenerative of humanity and the planet, and which actually hold true. However, it is not enough to ‘create wonderful stories of how we want the world to be in the New Age’, although I admire the efforts of philosophers and others in this area, and they do have positive stories to contribute to the synthesized whole. Much more than this, it is vital for a more sustainable human civilisation i.e the next stage of human civilisation that will emerge after the coming turmoil, that the current dominant and oppressive narratives, especially the hypocritical stories of capitalism, are subverted and integrated into new forms. For the advance of humanity, to attempt to ignore or destroy the momentum and oppressive power of capitalist narratives would be naive, and cause the unnecessary mental breakdown of individuals -something which will increasingly happen too often anyway.

A truly regenerative, wholistic and therapeutic narrative is one that is not only ‘true’ as far as is possible in a socially constructed reality, (thus reducing hypocrisy) but one that magnetises, subverts or integrates less sustainable and more oppressive narratives / narrative aspects to or with it. Such narratives potentially are simplifying beacons and purifiers within the whole over-complicated global narrative complex that we carry around with us from day to day. In social constructionist terms, the most ‘true’ stories are the most sustainable ones. I personally think that narratives must be simple and dynamic in order to become unconscious driving forces in a wide diversity of human beings.

Let me give you an example. Related to the narrative of ‘capitalism makes everyone richer’ is the narrative of ‘anyone can make it as an entrepreneur. All you have to do is work hard and believe in yourself’. Clearly this is bullshit, and creates hypocrisy, although thousands of YouTube videos would have you believe otherwise. Ability to succeed at running your own business depends very much on which country you live in, what kind of education you have had, etc etc. This is not to deny the value of individual self-belief, hard work and passion to make change (and some ecopreneurs I think, do make relatively positive change, if they are working ultimately towards supporting the six criteria of ethical consumption).

But this narrative can be subverted and rephrased to support relocalised, sustainable human culture, in a way which minimises hypocrisy. This could also be called ‘ethical marketing’. Try, ‘anyone can make it as a productive local community member. All you have to do is work hard and believe in yourself’.  This is a thousand times more true than the equivalent entrepreneurial narrative. It may seem that I am making an obvious point. Perhaps I am, but it is also a profound one. If this alternative narrative were marketed in the right way, and to the right level, as part of a strategy of narrative re-telling and re-marketing in general across society, significant cultural shifts could be achieved, and many aspiring entrepreneurs could be subverted to support community and Nature. The point is, it is not enough to perpetuate this narrative in the same old ‘alternative’ circles. (Although it is fine to do that.) For a smooth Transition / Descent to a relocalised post-corporate-capitalist culture, there is a clear need for some of us to challenge dominant oppressive narratives more thoroughly by engaging with the whole contemporary marketing system and subverting it. This is about using a very powerful tool, while we still have it, to reach as many people as possible, to lessen the potentially increasing hardship inherent in our current civilisation reaching its natural limits.

This implies accumulating capital, in as ethical a way as possible, to fund the ubiquitous telling of these new integrative stories. However, perhaps so much capital may not be needed. With the rise of social media and near zero marginal cost of online content creation and sharing across the internet, narratives such as ‘anyone can make it as a productive local community member’ can be spread as never before, and indeed this is beginning to happen. To truly challenge and integrate dominant oppressive narratives however, and win over audiences, the new narratives must mimic (and perhaps gently mock) the old narratives, and the way that the old narratives have been told, as closely as possible. It is common business knowledge -and true- that it is notoriously difficult / unwise to try to change a potential customer’s behaviour. The key to gaining customers / audience members is ‘giving them more of what they want’ or in this context ‘giving them a more sustainable version of what they want’. This cannot be done by telling people that their current consumption habits or entrepreneurial aspirations are wrong. Not without giving them clear and attractive alternatives.

I would like to bring up my concept of ‘Deep Story Telling’ here. Deep Story Telling acknowledges that the underlying narrative complex in society is perpetuated across all social interactions and in the entire physical human-made environment, including the online and virtual environments. The re-telling of narratives and the telling of new ones, to support Transition, means story-telling on the level of the conscious reconstruction of language, including the phraseology of the everyday, the reconstruction of how we associate and understand ourselves as social human beings (including online), the reconstruction of economics, and the embedding of positive sustainable futures -epic tomorrows- in every building, and every object that we use.

This is an exciting opportunity for all of us to create literary, artistic, entrepreneurial and practical forms which obviously or subtly manifest a fresh and Nature-integrated narrative landscape. One that is permeated with truth i.e. deep sustainability. One that normalises a new kind of civilised human psyche which is not dependent on hypocrisy -such a moral psyche as has never before evolved. This moral narrative landscape must be shared online as much as possible, to subvert the dominant oppressive narratives. The hypocrisy of using an internet which may itself be unsustainable, can be acknowledged and integrated.

Finally, it is crucial that we live out the new story-complex as we create it. We cannot tell stories of relocalisation without at least beginning to relocalise ourselves. The great ecological advice for our times ‘think global, act local’ might be more helpfully redefined, for some of us doing this Deep work, as ‘think global, tell stories online, live them out locally’.

If, by telling these stories some of us are able to accumulate global capital, in order to redistribute it and further propagate sustainable Deep Story Telling, whilst at least living in a relocalised way some of the time ourselves, then I suggest that this could be a viable and noble path. We may have to sacrifice ourselves to hypocrisy more than we would like, in order to enable more of humanity to live sustainably and hypocrisy-free in the future.

 

 

 

Hypocrisy -a defining feature of the civilised psyche, #1 (part one of two)

We are all a bunch of hypocrites. It defines us as civilised people, and it defines us as modern people, but bear with me -there is a positive way out.

***

There is a lack of coherency in my moral stance towards the world. There is a constant presence in my subconscious of the hypocrisy at the heart of modern civilisation, which includes me within it.

This is a hypocrisy which allows members of a society (the ones that perceive that they care) to claim a high morality whilst they conveniently ‘bracket off’ the past and current enslavement and exploitation of peoples around the world. Without the exploitation of workers around the world, modern ‘moral persons’ (myself included) would not be able to enjoy their affluent post-industrial standards of living, including their complex high morality.

Similarly, the destruction of the non-human natural environment is depended upon for the continuation of our luxurious -and morally luxurious- lifestyles.

We can claim to live ethical lifestyles by making so-called ethical consumption choices, but really, ethical consumption choices are extremely rare. Almost all consumption choices support a global economic and political system which is founded upon unlimited economic growth on a planet of finite resources, and also a system which has resulted in the richest 1% in the world owning half of the world’s wealth. Just think about that for a second. This is a problem when those richest 1% are not doing all they can (to put it mildly) to address the global crises that afflict our species.

Exceptional, truly ethical consumption, within the current global capitalist system, and considering the global crises, would have to adhere to the following criteria:

1) Products and services would have to be sourced and produced locally to their point of consumption, meaning that every element in the supply chains of that production would have to be local. Local production allows the highest transparency of process and thus highest potential energy efficiency of production. Also, the least transportation involved, the greater resource efficiency. Local production is also more resilient to global and remote events, including crop failures and environmental disasters. Finally, fair trade and the fair treatment of workers can be assured if the whole production process is within local reach. ‘Local’ is of course a subjective value, but should be taken to mean within decades of miles, rather than hundreds and thousands of miles. ‘Local’ does not necessarily respect state boundaries as state boundaries are not a criteria of sustainability (just look at the military conflicts around the world).

2) Products and services created / consumed would have to result in minimal ‘waste chains’ in production and consumption i.e. processes of waste and disposal, and such processes would have to be kept local. Truly ethical consumption implies that there is no ‘waste’ whatsoever in the product consumed, although ‘waste outputs’ may have been converted into inputs into other systems / processes, run by other agencies in the community.

3) Products and services consumed must be made using sustainably sourced materials. The definition of a ‘sustainably sourced’ material is open to debate, but common definitions include lack of ‘damage’ to the environment in the material’s extraction and processing, as criteria. This is conveniently vague. I would suggest that a sustainably sourced material is one that, in its harvesting and processing, preserves or even enhances local habitats, biodiversity and ecosystem services.

4) Truly ethical consumption pays attention to all the workers that have been involved in the creation and selling of the product or service. Beyond fair trade and fair treatment and payment of workers, if any workers commute over long distances to get to work in private fossil-fuelled vehicles, and arguably even private vehicles fuelled by a renewables-based energy grid, then the sustainability of the product is seriously open to doubt. (Unsustainable is unethical). Commutes may be mitigated by incorporating into them other functions useful to the community. Additionally, the coherence and sustainability of human culture is damaged by excessive mobility. Fragmented culture in turn can result in a further disconnection from and degradation of the environment.

5) Similarly, it is highly questionable whether products and services that rely on consumers from distant places, including via the internet, can ever be sustainable or ethical. As in 4) above, waste of fossil fuels and other energy sources, degradation of the environment, and fragmentation of human culture are all implied.

6) Finally, the nature of the product or service itself, including what it is used for, how it is used and what narratives it plays a role in / supports, is implied in ‘ethical consumption’. If the product or service encourages the consumer to disregard these six principles in any other products and services consumed, then it is unethical.

Now we can see why some form of ‘protectionism’ of local economies (although that word has negative connotations) is a desirable thing. Refer to the writings of David Fleming on this.

Perhaps you think my definition of ‘ethical consumption’ is too strict. If so, please enlighten me with your definition. I would be happy to debate this. However, the point is that most so-called ‘ethical’ products and services hardly begin to address the reasonable six criteria detailed above. Or, where one or two criteria may be addressed thoroughly, others will be relatively neglected.

But we must not dwell in guilt! We must not beat ourselves up. We are now all part of an infinitely complex global economy and civilisation. The infinite complexity is rooted in an infinite complexity of interactions with the natural environment, some less ethical / sustainable, some more ethical / sustainable. A compounding factor is that the complexity is almost unfathomable / untraceable. The only way to ensure a mostly benign impact on the planet and other people, is to live radically at odds with modern society. The most realistic way to do this would be to live in an insular community of likeminded individuals. A level of civil disobedience of ‘the law’ is also implied.

We have been heavily conditioned since childhood by the marketing forces of consumerism, to want what we don’t need. We can aim by degrees to support the truly ethical consumption criteria detailed above. This implies supporting the relocalisation of culture and economy, globally. Meanwhile, we can take our hypocrisy lightly. For instance, for the time being I prefer to view the internet as an incredible tool, which in one light it truly is, that can connect me, paradoxically, to a global movement of ‘relocalisers’ who are questioning and attempting to slowly transform the current global economy -at least theoretically which is a good start.

Hypocrisy seems to be essential to all large, centralised civilisations. It was certainly essential to Rome, where luxurious strides forward in philosophy and culture belied and depended upon the Roman slave-holding system. (For an interesting perspective on this, read Abdullah Ocalan’s ‘The Roots of Civilisation‘). We can conceive that in a future decentralised version of civilisation, hypocrisy may not be so necessary. However, once we accept that hypocrisy is ingrained in us as (modern) civilised people, there are various psychological responses available to us. We can use all our emotional and intellectual repertoires to treat ourselves and our consumerist habits (and behaviours to which we are bound by law) with, for instance, gentleness, vigilance and humour. We can then at least begin to restrain ourselves to the extent that ‘no consumption’ is the best kind of consumption, when the criteria 1) through 6) above cannot be achieved.

In the second part of this first post on hypocrisy and modernity, I will look at the underlying narratives and stories that we tell ourselves as a society, which allow the hypocrisy to continue. I will look at how we are often living out fragmented and conflicting narratives, compounding the hypocrisy that is already inherent in some of those narratives. I will draw on the insights of ‘social constructionism’, a branch of psychology which is also a critique of the field of psychology.

I will also look at how we can consciously create alternative more helpful narratives which support relocalised futures, using techniques of Deep Storytelling.

Finally, let us celebrate the fact that we are hypocrites and be joyful about it! For if we are not conscious hypocrites, we are unconscious ones -the most dangerous and destructive kind. Either that or we are consciously cynical or worse, consciously immoral. These are cowardly and defeatist positions to occupy.

Good luck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: ‘Finding Earth, Finding Soul’ by Tim Macartney

I enjoyed finishing this book the other day, which I had started a few months back then discontinued. I was inspired to synchronise my reading of the second half with an escalation in my efforts to launch my blog and further, a fledgeling business inspired by the blog (coming very soon). To add to the synchronicity, I saw my good friend Jenny, who lent me the book; I don’t see her often these days. She told me of her time at Embercombe -the house and gardens in Devon, not far from me, that were bestowed on ‘Mac’ (the book author) as a thank you to him and his company ‘Pathways’ for helping businesses work with more integrity and connection to Nature.

The essence of the synchronicity is that I am striving to launch a business in a way that is deeply respectful of, even repairing of, the environment, as well as inspiring social justice for disadvantaged groups in society. I am striving to use all the entrepreneurial savvy available to me, but in an ethical way. Similarly, Tim ‘Mac’ Macartney, with Pathways, attempted to bridge the gaps between the corporate world, and eco-spiritual integrity; authentic and ethical leadership. I personally am scathing of corporatism and wonder whether Mac was wasting his time with these big actors complicit in the global destruction of the environment. For me, the end of corporatism is necessary if we are to move on, constructively and healthily as a species. I do think there are exceptions: ‘Transition Corporations’ that would have obsolescence designed into them; special rafts to carry us from here to there, using the power of capitalism to transform or even end capitalism.

Nevertheless in ‘Finding Earth…’ with his very poetic and Nature-inspired language, and his revelation that he started his ‘invisible path of authentic leadership’ as an anti-corporate gardener in a business development centre, Mac has shown me that, underdog though I may be, I am capable of mixing in a variety of different circles, including corporate if necessary, to help make the changes that I see need to be made. My poetry and deep connection to Nature can be a help -actually must be at the core of my directed action- even in the most capitalist of contexts. But I need to find some courage!

I was also impressed in the book by the willingness of Mac and his Pathways business team to take risks on a human rather than purely financial basis. There is the incredible story of Dorota, a Polish woman in her 20’s with no business experience. Based on her heartfelt longings for purpose and her belief in Pathways, Mac took a massive risk in supporting her wish to develop ‘Pathways Poland’, which then happened (after a bit of a shaky start).

I also take as a timely warning Mac’s early idealism. He had ‘plenty of dreams, plans and ambitions’, he writes, but it came to a point where he realised he needed to act. Ideals can drive us and guide us, but if they are not grounded in what can be done in the here-and-now, then they can be counterproductive -an escape. I know this only too well, but I’m working on it.

There are a few other moments in the book which really stood out for me. Some are autobiographical incidents -including one very dramatic life-focusing event- and others are more points of wisdom and philosophy, along with the standard call to heroic action that is the feature of any environmentally aware book written in the past decade or so.

I was also pleased to read about Mac’s awareness of feminist issues, although he could have gone deeper.

Essentially, Mac seems to agree with the basic tenets of The Evidence section of Epic Tomorrows; he says that we are in ‘crisis’ as a species due to our degrading of our planet home, and quotes politicians who agree. He includes climate change and biodiversity loss in his assessment. But this was back in 2007. Things have gotten worse since then.

 

Footsie 100 / Severn Trent PLC

Footsie 100 is a game played between 30 men, 30 women and 40 people who like to be identified as neither male nor female. The collective of participants is known as ‘the footbath’ and this phrase can also refer to a venue holding a Footsie 100 event. The object of the game is to transmit foot movements around the footbath, using only bare feet, with eyes blindfolded. Everyone invents their own foot movement to start. In the first stage of the game, players transmit and receive movements in a two-way exchange. They move around the footbath to do this with one person after another. In the second stage, players are asked to memorise their favourite received movements and start to transmit these movements instead of their own. If a movement is mirrored in a single exchange, those two players are out. This process continues until the winner is revealed as the person with the least popular preferences.

-Actually, I made all that up. You probably realise this. What is true is that a few weeks back now, a quiet voice from nowhere spoke to me the word ‘FTSE / footsie’ (see the ‘Hearing Words #1’ post of November 21st 2017). I took this to mean a couple of things. Most importantly, that I should take a look at the FTSE 100 index (as an aspiring entrepreneur I suppose).

Reading from the list on Hargreaves and Lansdown of the richest one hundred companies trading on the London Stock Exchange (not that I yet understand how stock markets work) a handful caught my eye. Associated British Foods plc, AstraZeneca, a pharmaceutical company; British American Tobacco, Coca Cola, Intercontinental Hotels Group, Rio Tinto, Royal Dutch Shell, Severn Trent and Unilever. These are not collectively the richest in the 100, but they are some of the ones I’ve heard of, and to me demonstrate how far from a globally integrated and sustainable culture we truly are.

Reading back this list, Severn Trent PLC seems to be the most incongruous. How is it that a water provider and sewage treatment provider could be in the richest top one hundred companies on the London Stock Exchange? How is it that Liv Garfield, the CEO, earns almost £1.5 million a year? Should such profit be made from providing these most essential of human services? Or are the most essential of services the hardest to provide in modern society? I don’t know, but something doesn’t seem right. On their website, Severn Trent claim:

  • Our bills for water and sewerage combined are the lowest on average in England and Wales
  • We have one of the lowest average capita water consumption rates in the UK

If these claims are true, what does it say about how much we all pay for water services in general, across the UK? How can Severn Trent profits be so large, if prices are so low? Does the profit come through provision of their business services including ‘renewable’ energy?

Something isn’t right. What stories are we telling ourselves, as a culture, as a civilisation, that makes this okay?

 

 

 

How I Got Here: An Ecopreneur’s Story; Permaculture, Business and Mental Health Integrated Process #1

Hello! Let’s introduce some music into this blog -or it will dry up completely! Here is an old gothic song by Type O Negative, paying homage to my origins amongst the wilds of Scotland. I am the perennial Green Man.  Permaculture must always begin with wilderness! The wild non-human society of the whole of Earth is the mother of human society; and that umbilical chord is meant never to be broken.

This is a post all about my lifepath (the short version!) and how this bears on my current perception of myself as a practising ‘activist ecopreneur’ in the realms of mental health, business and Permaculture. I want to INSPIRE other folk who at heart want to try a similar path, folk who have a lot of drive if only they would uncover it and stop listening to the voices in society that would have them follow a conventional career path, to serve conventional masters. That is, those entrenched institutions of corporate capitalism, patriarchy and kyriarchy that would appear to reward coercion and greed. We must rebel against those! Resistance is everything!

This post may seem like a very self-absorbed exercise, but I feel that to properly know oneself, including one’s whole history in its socio-cultural (including political) context, is necessary for the wisdom required by the aspiring positive changemaker (that’s me). Permaculture -at least according to Graham Bell– requires that we individually and collectively track our impact on the Earth’s resources as far as possible. Coming to terms with my history will enable this. I will explore this further in future posts. I also want to build up trust with my readers; I want you to know me pretty well; and if you want, to learn from my victories and ‘mistakes’ i.e. learning experiences.

My first community breakdown, the first of many, (but of course, I am a modern person) happened when I was three years’ old and I was torn away from my early playgroup friends (Craig, Caroline, Kirsten) for the sake of my father’s career. From Scotland to the southwest of England. It was not his fault. Market forces prevailed. It was and still is, a rich man’s world, of course. It’s all about the money.

dark side of moon

My father left the family home when I was six, not to return (although I would see him fairly regularly.) This remains the central wound of my life. However it is a wound that has taught me a great deal about the makeup of society; about gender roles, capitalism and marriage; about patriarchy and class. Moreover, this initial wound has spurred me on to a deep interest in the creation of a sustainable human society. There was a delay of a few decades before the wound was really focused into this positive drive for global harmony. Meanwhile, and not necessarily through any fault of my father’s, I missed out on being fathered. It was perhaps an ideal and elevated version of ‘the father’ when I would think, ‘Wish You Were Here’.

I didn’t know anything about mental health, business or Permaculture for the first 20 years of my life; well, not very consciously or coherently. However, I did learn how to write. Off and on since primary school age I have loved to write. I have also found an affinity with musical expression since aged three, mainly using the family piano.. Add to that an enjoyment of drama from aged 11 onwards; so I’ve always been highly creative and expressive. I’ve only begun to properly focus my creativity and expression recently; now in my late thirties. The Epic Tomorrows blog is partly a manifestation of all those years of creativity, re-focused. I have every faith that this could be a stairway to heaven.

I went to university mainly because everyone said I should. I had a pretty difficult time although I made a good friend, since lost to me. After two years I suffered a ‘mental breakdown’ and left without a degree. For want of more explanatory words, I was ‘anxious’, ‘depressed’ and ‘paranoid’. This was the drug-induced breakdown of my spurious ‘self’. Looking back, it was something that needed to happen. The violence and suddenness of it was unnecessary (blame the criminalised drug trade) but I certainly needed psychic ‘rearrangement’ in order to grow as a human being relative to a complex modern society; relative to the context of my upbringing. The violence and suddenness of a lot of the music I listened to was also unnecessary, but I still hold a place for the energy and righteous anger of heavy metal! It’s in my roots.

roots

After my breakdown I was soon taking anti-depressants and anti-psychotics at the suggestion of the medical establishment. I was on these for a few years. Psychiatric medication is a very subtle issue on which I don’t want to be misunderstood. Let me put it like this: I strongly believe, from the research I have done, that although the medication superficially allowed me to move forward in life, on a deeper level it not only left the causes of my dis-ease unaddressed, but allowed underlying causes to be compounded and worsened by neglect. Nowadays, neuroscientists and psychiatrists at the top of their professions will admit that there is no known neurochemical cause of mental illness. This is despite public belief to the contrary, influenced by years of marketing by pharmaceutical companies. For an excellent and very well-researched expose of all psychiatric medications, please read this book Anatomy of an Epidemic. In short, the drugs don’t work, but I’m still very much alive.

-Which is more than I can say for some of the residents I worked with in a 12-bedded unit for adults living with ‘mental health issues’; knocked out by medication and the negative affirmations of psychiatrists-

-After I returned to Somerset from university, it took me a couple of years to get on my feet again. But something very beautiful happened. My deep suffering led to my feeling great empathy for other human beings for the first time; I wanted to help anyone and everyone who had ever suffered from mental ill-health. My own heart and mind were also helped enormously by taking up meditation in my mid-20’s. This helped me wean myself off psychiatric medication. My heart became a little firework. The problem was, in the mainstream mental health services, I was working in a system that on an institutional level didn’t care enough for the true causes and cures of mental dis-ease. After a few years, I left my mental health work, disillusioned.

To cut a longer story shorter, for the purposes of this post, I then started to volunteer on land-based projects; conservation projects, woodlands and smallholdings; gaining an understanding of land-based living and ecological sustainability issues. My attraction to these projects was partly their beneficial effect on my mental health, and I soon came to see, although I have only been able to fully express this recently, that mental health and the ecological sustainability of human culture as a whole, are fundamentally linked. I started to learn,  mercy, mercy me! about the ethics and principles of Permaculture (permanent culture) and how these could be applied to society in general; not just to sustainable food growing systems, which are the origin and specialisation of Permaculture.

During a few years where I lived on a low impact woodland project, mostly without electricity, in my own very individual way I developed a theoretical framework of ‘Permaculture’ (very loosely formed) with which I found it was useful to address all the ills of the world -including mental ill-health- in a coherent, sustainability-focused way. I developed strong political views during this time also, seeing the ‘neoliberal’ patriarchal corporate capitalist paradigm as the conglomerate evil monster of unsustainability that must be killed at all costs.

monster

 

All you good good people! It is only in the last three years or so that I have realised that capitalism, at least for the few decades to come, can be part of the solution, as well as the problem. In order to redistribute wealth for social and environmental justice (not to mention mental health!), change political and economic systems and weaken the power of the over-powerful institution of the nation state, there is a strong case for the rise of ethical, political, independent entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs whose aim it is with their businesses to re-embed human beings in their landscapes and create a globally sustainable human culture, necessarily involving challenges to those in government, local or central, as well as challenges to large corporations. Who said you can’t be an activist and an entrepreneur at the same time? I have now come to the view that more than ever we need those individuals who are critical of corporate capitalism in theory, to stop their hypocrisy of working for corporate giants and be more creative in how they make a living. This is the path I have chosen to follow, although in my case I was never working for a corporation (except perhaps the NHS).

In my own case, a fair degree of desperation and frustration have gone into my drive and aspiration to be an entrepreneur. I almost don’t know what else to do; but the ethics explained above and the integrity of my lifepath leading naturally into this new direction, still hold true. Nowadays, my mental health is a subtle subject (as any human being’s should be). I still suffer from certain extremes at times, addiction and instability. I still get kind of blue and I still need time out.

In modern times, mental health and well-being can best be expressed in terms of social and environmental sustainability; in other words, we need to ask ourselves, how are our emotional and mind states socially and environmentally defined, and how do they contribute to the larger narratives of our lives in the contexts of sustainable and unsustainable elements of modern global society?

Essentially, I am a writer first and an entrepreneur if I’m lucky. If one doesn’t follow from the other, at least I hope you get something from my writing. As for what’s to come, ah um…just…get ready!

christmas tree

 

Taw Samhain

I’m sat on a rock in the river Taw. Never have I seen it so high. I’m here to wash away the distractions of life that I may focus on the highest stream within me; the stream of servant-leadership. There is no point in leading except to serve whom you lead, or you are only serving yourself. There is no point in serving except to lead whom you serve. In other words, don’t let your leaders become complacent. Let them know how life is for you and if they don’t listen, replace them.

We are two days away from the Gaelic festival of Samhain that has Celtic pagan origins. I love these old Celtic seasonal observances, even though I don’t usually celebrate them outwardly. Samhain is roughly halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice -a neat orientation point; something that raises my awareness of the passing seasons and their different characters. Samhain is a festival of spirits and the dead. Apparently it is a time when the boundaries between this world and the ‘Otherworld’ are more easily crossed. Personally I am reminded of my ancestry, especially the recent ancestry of my grandparents. I am lucky to come from rich and diverse stock. ‘Taking stock’ of food supplies and cattle returned from their summer pastures, was another traditional Samhain theme. Personally, I am reminded to take stock of where I am, how I got here and what I have to offer.

In this first blog post for Epic Tomorrows, I offer you a ‘working hypothesis’. It is nothing radically new but I intend that in the coming weeks and months I will show how this hypothesis can be consistently applied in many different contexts. That may be a little radical to some. I hope it’s useful. Please tell me if it isn’t, or help me improve on it.

The hypothesis is simply that a lack of narrative integration in modern society is responsible for a great deal of unnecessary suffering and death. This suffering and death is implicit in globally poor standards of individual mental health and well-being; group, institution and business efficiency and well-being; and the well-being and sustainability of global culture as a whole. The root lack of narrative integration that is to blame, centres on the disconnection of humanity from the rest of Nature. This divorce began at the dawn of civilisation (the agricultural revolution) at the latest.

To demystify what I have just written, us human beings make sense of the world, and of human culture, by the stories and myths that we tell ourselves, as well as, more crucially, the underpinning unconscious narratives that guide our thinking and behaviour. Our individual autobiographies and our collective stories and narratives have become confused, hypocritical and fragmented in modern society, reflecting social and ecological injustice. Lack of integration is the defining pathology of this situation.

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There’s plenty of great stuff going on in the world. I’m looking forward to using this blog to connect up with it more. I also intend to help positive change-makers of all kinds connect up in useful new ways. For me, integration is the key word. I am aware that all this may sound very abstract so far. I will give you a solid oak example by way of my personal history or ‘how I got here’. First, let me quickly explain that I do not blame anyone, including myself, for any lack in my past or present life, but I do take responsibility for change:

My own life narrative of mental health is something that I’m working on. A few years ago it looked pretty shaky. However, the more I detach myself from conventional understandings of mental health -particularly the biomedical model of mental illness-  the more I appreciate my unique journey and the gifts it has bestowed on me, as well as the unique challenges which could be headed under ‘mental dis-ease’. It has taken me over a decade and a half of trial and error to arrive at this understanding. Sometimes I struggle not to feel injured, to feel beaten black and blue actually, by the fragmented society that allowed me to be defined as medically sick and that still sometimes seeks to define me as such. Ironically, conventional attitudes to mental health are actually a contributory cause of mental ill-ness. I will write at great length on this in later posts. I don’t blame individuals or even ‘society’. I am just sharing feelings and observations.

Reconnecting with Nature was key to my recovery from the worst of the dis-ease, and continues to be. Earth Nature as a whole is also key to my new, positive life narrative of mental health i.e. my new understanding of my journey. It is a journey of integration with non-human Nature, integration with the people around me and integration with parts of myself I may have previously struggled to admit into consciousness. I am convinced that ‘integration’ in these ways is key to others’ mental health too. I want Epic Tomorrows to be a place of discussion about this, amongst other things.

I also have a strong intention to develop Epic Tomorrows into a blog-based business. I intend to inspire an Earth-integrated Tribe of co-creators to help me develop products of information, integration and emotional connection that have genuine transformative value in the lives of individuals, groups, institutions, businesses and communities. This will take some time. A few years at least. I have some rough ideas of services I may provide. Things are coalescing in my mind, and it’s exciting. The catchword of ‘integration’ speaks of energy efficiency and mental resilience. Meanwhile, it is my joy to share my ideas with no thought of financial profit. The blog will always be free.

I am immensely grateful to the marketing guru Seth Godin for helping get me to this point, as well as the online business community ‘Fizzle’. Fizzle are an example, for me, of how the internet can be an incredible integrative tool. I am learning from writers, bloggers and entrepreneurs from all over the world. It took me a few years of searching through slimy online business gurus before hitting on these fresh folk. (Good-hearted and environmentally minded entrepreneurs need more help in finding the right resources, and in integrating them -a subject for another post!) I have been set in good stead to remind myself continually that Epic Tomorrows is always work in progress and can always be improved.

It is a day before Halloween, or ‘All Hallows’ Eve’, the beginning of the Christian observance of Allhallowtide: three days of remembrance of the dead. The modern Halloween is a mixture or perhaps integration of Samhain and All Hallows practices. As we remember all the positive change-makers that came before us, what positive tricks and treats of integration -for mental health, for business health, for sustainable culture- can we share with one another?

The sky is clear today and the harvest sun is warm on the wildness of the Samhain Taw.

Please share your thoughts with me! Please comment below.