!Sensitive & serious strategy tips for heroic activists

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This post is constantly evolving. It may be messy in places, but use it! I will keep it topical by updating it regularly with links to current world events. I will also link to my video interviews with activists where I think it might be helpful. I’m facilitating the emergence of an activist community on YouTube here. In time I will consult specific activists for authorial / editorial contributions for this post, and add the names of those who provide significant contributions (if they wish).

It will probably be quite obvious from reading this extended post that I lean to the left politically, but as much as possible I have tried to make these strategy tips accessible to a variety of people from across the political spectrum (excluding the Far Right and those on the extreme Left who don’t think twice about taking innocent human lives).

A strategy is ‘a plan that is intended to achieve a particular purpose’. Strategy is also ‘the process of planning something or putting a plan into operation in a skillful way’. Strategies include tactics within them. A tactic is ‘the particular method(s) you use to achieve something’ -including to achieve a strategy.

An activist is, for the purposes of this post, ‘a person who works to achieve political or social change, especially as a member of an organization with particular aims’.

For every strategy tip below, at least six approaches could be borne in mind:

  1. The strategy tip can be applied to NVDA or mass civil disobedience.
  2. The strategy tip can be applied to conventional activism including legal protest, political campaigning / NGO-type activism / activism as education etc.
  3. The strategy tip can be applied to a dual, combined or ‘meta’ strategy of different groups, including where one or more are using civil disobedience and one or more are using conventional activism.
  4. The strategy tip can be applied to the meta strategy of a broad, society-wide ‘movement of movements’ (MoM) for a significant regime change or deeper systems change.
  5. The strategy tip can be applied to localised partnerships of activists and activist groups, with the purpose of furthering social or political change in their locality (a localised MoM which could also contribute to a society-wide or global MoM).
  6. The strategy tip can be applied to what is known as ‘dual power’ -creating the new society we wish to see -including governmental structures- in the shell of the old (without asking for permission) including in localised contexts.

1. Activism is a matter of life and death! Take your activism extremely seriously and develop international perspectives.

Women of the Civil Disobedience Movement against the February 2021 #MilitaryCoupInMyanmar

I hate war, but I also see that there is a great deal of useful advice to be found in military strategy texts, when they are applied to non-violent activism. Sun Tzu, in the Chinese military classic The Art of War said: ‘War is…a road to survival and extinction’. In war, if you get it wrong, you die. In activism, if we continue to get it wrong, other people and living beings will continue to die, and ultimately the human species could be at risk of extinction. If we are indigenous people defending our lands against States and corporations, or if we are trying to reclaim democracy from a military coup, our lives may be directly at risk right now. Even if we are engaging in conventional, non-confrontational activism, for instance campaigning for political candidates within existing local governmental structures, we could still bear in mind that the political and social impacts of all our actions have a global, if sometimes subtle, reach, affecting the life chances and even the mortality of people we have never met or even thought about. The globe is irrevocably interconnected like never before, and even a potentially de-globalised future will hopefully nevertheless be an internationalist one.

It is far easier to determine the wrong reasons for engaging in activism, rather than the right ones. The wrong reasons would include:

  • Being an activist because it’s cool (or because we look cool doing it on Instagram). There is nothing wrong with feeling ‘cool’ whilst doing activism or political organising, and having an appealing image can help a cause -the problem comes when the image is the prime motivation.
  • Joining a social movement primarily to use it as a ‘security blanket’ for hard times, without actively developing ourselves as activists and therefore developing the movement (helping it to move). We have to want to win!
  • Conversely, doing it only because we are sure we will win -for the sake of an easy victory. We must be active even when victory is not assured.
  • Doing it only because ‘it is the right thing to do’, hoping to be carried forward on a wave of moral righteousness, with no thought of strategy (see 2. below). Even if there is a clear moral imperative to act, that doesn’t give us any special protections, status or guaranteed victory as activists. In fact, a clear moral imperative to act makes it all the more important that we develop our strategy carefully to maximise our chances of success.

Additionally we must consider carefully if ‘activism’ is for us, and if so, what kind of activism, and what kind of role within any activist group we may be involved with. We have to consider carefully what kind of sacrifices, in terms of well-being, job options and freedom we may be prepared to make, considering such factors as our general health before beginning, and the potential impact on our families.

2. Do have a strategy i.e. a detailed plan of action to achieve concrete (let’s say granite!) goals.

I have fond memories of attending a Theatre of the Oppressed event at this community hub in Bristol, UK

Whether we are focused on the modest (but potentially challenging) aim of saving our local community centre from closure, or initiating a campaign to start or develop a society-wide revolution -we need to get organised and get ‘strategised’! Some activists are afraid of developing plans of action and the human organisations needed to implement and sustain them, because these imply the responsibility of leadership (or if we don’t like that word or concept, then ‘facilitation’, ‘co-ordination’ or ‘organisation’). See 4. below.

Where mass protests or movements are relatively spontaneous and without strategy, they often die off quickly -unless some kind of plan is developed. Spontaneous protests are necessary and often play important catalysing roles, but alone they are not enough. The energy of spontaneous rebellion must be harnessed in a structured way before it dies off, or turns to impotent violence and is repressed, or is co-opted and subverted by corporate or established political interests, however progressive they may appear to be.

Many people have heard of the so-called Arab Spring uprisings that occurred across the Middle East in the 2010’s, but not so many people are aware of the strategising -or lack thereof- that affected their success. As recounted in chapter 10 of This Is An Uprising, after the Egyptian revolution of 2011, the original student organisers fully admitted that they committed a strategic blunder in not having a grassroots democratic organisation or plan ready to fill the power vacuum left by the departing President Mubarak. It is one thing to take to the streets and another thing to facilitate a peaceful democratic transition. As a result, elections were dominated in 2011 by the highly organised Muslim Brotherhood, whose leader Morsi, once he gained power attempted to introduce measures and ‘reforms’ largely seen to be undemocratic. If plans for establishing or improving democracy are not thorough enough, anti-democratic opportunists will jump through the loopholes with potentially disastrous consequences. In response to Morsi, protestors were forced to take to the streets in massive numbers for the second time in two years.

Moreover our ‘enemies’ or their protective institutions (including state governments) will have tried and tested strategies and tactics to deal with activists, campaigns and social movements, so we mustn’t be complacent! These can vary in severity, including the passing of regressive anti-protest laws, as we have recently seen in the UK and around the world. Activist strategy must constantly counter and account for the strategy of the opposition, as well as what we know to be their basic resources and capabilities. Again, with reluctance we can learn from military examples; a military general would not take their army to war without systematically learning everything they could about their enemy and how to win against them. On the global level, the climate, ecological, humanitarian and underlying political and economic crises are a matter of increasing genocide and ecocide, so we need to get serious. (We also need to get sensitive).

Even if our activism is around narrow localised issues, these intersect with larger global crises. It’s a good idea to plan around these intersections. Saving our community centre today may be useless if unaddressed wider forces are likely to shut it down tomorrow.

‘Going with the flow’ in the context of activism is generally not an option; ‘the flow’ is by default heavily controlled by the opposition, including the oppositional culture that exists around us in contrast to the form and often the very essence of our activism. On a basic level we must also not confuse tactics for strategies and think that we are being strategic when employing isolated tactics, even when these have some immediate success. Tactics without overarching strategies to cohere and direct them may only provide short-term symbolic victories. We owe it to our causes to do better. For instance, the tactic of holding up placards and banners to raise awareness of an issue is fine as a tactic, but quite useless in achieving concrete (or granite!) change by itself, without a larger strategy including specific goals. Otherwise, the benefit could be little more than ‘feeling good’ or mildly irritating those in power.

3. Don’t over-strategise (or mis-strategise)!

Click on the image for more insights on how not to over-strategise (over-plan)

As we can infer from over-planning / obsessing around matters in our personal lives, over-strategising can prevent us from seeing activist / revolutionary opportunities for growth and success that are in some ways constantly unfolding all around us. This is related to the importance of designing flexibility into our strategising (see 9. below). Three factors that can drive ‘over-strategising’ are:

  1. Fear of failure / the unknown; trying to account for every possible scenario by over-detailed planning i.e. trying to entirely control the future, which just isn’t possible. The best we can do is design plans that are responsive to change, and train ourselves to be as aware as possible of the ecological and societal changes going on around us all the time.
  2. Not understanding what strategising is. For instance, writing out a detailed vision of what you want to happen is envisioning, not the strategising needed to achieve the vision.
  3. Lack of intel. i.e. information on boundaries to effective action: boundaries provided by political, economic, social, technological, legal and ecological (PESTLE) factors. A lack of information on these constantly changing factors can result in us developing meticulous plans of action that have no bearing on what is possible in the real world.

Moreover, ‘the more you plan, the more attached you become to your plan. And when you become too attached to the plan, you become inflexible. And then you tend to become frustrated and give up when the plan doesn’t go just as you imagined it.’ (Erin Gobler).

4. Know the difference between Grand Strategy, campaign strategy, tactics and tactical methods.

This classic book by Gene Sharp is a good place to start. More to be added soon, including regarding momentum-driven organising and the examples of XR and Social Ecology, and the relation of strategy and tactics to minimum, transitional and maximum programmes for change.

5. Know yourself as an activist.

What stage are you at and where could you be most useful? Do you feel able to work within an existing group, organisation or movement?If not, are you really sure?Perhaps it is personal psychological insecurity / unresolved issues rather than a genuine lack of alignment that is preventing you from working with a pre-existing group? If you are sure you want to go it alone, what impact do you intend to have?If you want to start a new group, organisation, or movement, do you have the friends / skills to achieve this?Alternatively, perhaps you consider your role to be a free-floating supporter and magnifier of existing movements, groups and campaigns, whether you do your amplifying work face to face or on digital media.

6. Have a realistic and clearly defined strategic aim(s) or Grand Strategic aim.

Including, don’t confuse your (possibly romantic) vision of global systems change(s) with what is strategically possible. We owe it to everyone to make concrete advances towards emancipatory strategic goals. ‘Fighting’ willy-nilly against an adversary just because it is morally the right thing to do, without a deeper consideration of realistic strategic objectives, can actually be counter-productive and obstruct serious social movements from making gains. Additionally, don’t aim too high, or too high too soon. Wishy-washy aims will produce wishy-washy movements. On the other hand, a ‘utopian’ long-term vision / aim, not time-bound or bound by current situations / resources, but made possible by the incremental strategy of the current context, is essential.

6.5 Know the difference between the necessary and the sufficient.

6.6 Know the difference between socail and political movements, and know that both are needed.

7. Don’t be limited by ‘realism’. Gay marriage rights, This Is An Uprising, p 89 ‘rather than being based on calculating realism…’

8. Balance Symbolic and instrumental demands and know when to use both: 119-120 This Is An Uprising. Movement demands are rarely purely symbolic or purely instrumental / practical

Symbolic wins can precede concrete wins, such as case of Salt March, MLK and potentially XR after symbolic wins of declarations of climate emergency and non-binding citizens’ climate assembly.

9. Know how to frame, and declare, minor and major victories. Gandhi and ‘the minimum consistent with the truth’.

10. Set targets publicly and achieve them. This Is…page 135

7. Develop & be guided by shared visions of the ideal result or society you are working for, & a shared strategic vision of how to get there, incorporating minimum, transitional & maximum visions of change.

Understand how these visions relate to your Grand Strategy and campaign strategies (if you are working on a big enough scale to be planning more than one campaign). More to be added soon, including avoiding entropy / wasted energy across diverse groups that have the same or similar aims i.e. the development of strategic partnerships for all stages of vision. With thanks to XR, but XR doesn’t go far or deep enough. The shared vision must include a maximum diversity of voices, for strategic as well as ethical reasons.

8. Develop ‘transitional concensus’ with different groups. (Develop my own theory).

8. Be for, as much as against.

In the absence of alternatives, stopping an injustice will not stop the injustice occurring again.

9. Define and then strategise to attack / influence all the pillars of power simultaneously, to bring the power down… (start top page 92 This Is An Uprising)

9. Make sure your strategy is flexible, but not too flexible.

Relates to 8. below. As more people join your group, there will be more collective experience and insight to contribute to the development of strategy.

9. Power exists; deal with it! Balance between leadership and horizontal organising, including democratically sourced strategy.

This could be the issue that makes or breaks your activist group, organisation or movement, as it has made or broken many others. If you are a communalist, like I am, or if you are an anarchist, you will always be looking towards abolishing all social and political hierarchies, and therefore initiating and growing groups and movements that are as decentralised and horizontally organised as possible. Even if you are a centrist or mildly right wing, if you’ve read the corporately biased book The Starfish and the Spider you will appreciate that it is decentralised and to an extent non-hierarchical businesses and organisations that have often had the competitive edge. (This doesn’t mean everything in an organisation has to be decentralised).

Types of decentralisation…cultural, political, strategic etc

Make sure that ‘decentralisation’ isn’t done in a way which looks like ‘centralisation’. Best way is to be fully decentralised / locally autonomous as soon as you have more than a handful of people involved.

Cultivate leadership but not the cult of leaders. Do not be afraid of leadership, initiation, co-ordination, or facilitation. Make it strictly boundaried and accountable where it has to exist. Lead yourself and encourage others to lead themselves.If you are part of a social movement, let it be leaderful! The leaderless social movement or revolution is a myth. Bookchin quote…

Therefore power must be institutionalised in directly democratic structures, but movements for social and political change must also be leaderful, so that leadership and social / activist innovation are also institutionalised / held accountable / prevented from becoming entrenched, but encouraged to the extent that we need a passionate diversity of leadership and experimentation to achieve social and political change in current societies…

Incorporate again The Tyranny of Structurelessness.

Balance horizontal organising with fluid and temporary vertical organising when the situation calls for it, but beware the cult of leadership!Every group, organisation or movement needs founders or initiators. [hard strategy element]Beware the cult of leadership!Don’t letinitiators of activist organisations and movements own and direct those orgs and movements, or become entrenched spokespeople or dominators of strategy, however nice or charismatic or clever or well-researched in strategy they are.The wisdom of the crowd is greater than thewisdom of one on strategy, however much of a specialist that one appears to be, and no-one is perfect, so faults in the one that has too much power will be magnified disproportionately and have a disproportionately negative effect onthe org or movement that the one purportsto lead. Beware the manufacture of leaders by lazy and simplistic journalists and media platforms -keep relative control of your org / movement narratives! [hard strategy element]

My own guiding utopia of communalism…doesn’t have to be yours, for you to appreciate this strategy tip.

Institutionalise an ongoing democratic strategy-forming process, and allow some actions outside of the strategy.

10. Consider that different stages and domains of a growing group / movement require different frms of organisation, so holacracy could suit a rapidly growing movement but not a stabilising / consolidating one

10. Don’t rely on professional strategists (but do listen to them).

11. Ensure strategic literacy across your groups and movements -share your knowledge on strategy.

(For instance, you could discuss these strategy tips with all your members). For larger groups, consider developing strategic literacy workshops to ensure that the whole group / movement remains strategically fertile.

12. Critical connections are more important than critical mass.

(Can happen in a bad way too -Priti Pathel and Rupert Murdoch). Many successful activist organisations and groups were started by a very small group of friends who knew each other very well and trusted one another. [soft strategy element]

13. Balance between organisation and mobilisation -use momentum-driven organising.

Page 96 This Is An Uprising

14. Be a heroine, a hero or a theyro.

(Non-hierarchy doesn’t mean no hero quest, despite colonialist, patriarchal etc myths) Self-development, risk, vitality…socio-eroticism.

15. A strategy is more than just the sum of its tactics.

More needed, including regenerative cultures.

16. Be intersectional.

Define the basic terms and language of your activism clearly and accessibly to the general population, and creatively expand definitions. For instance, consider having a fluid conception of the term ‘activist’.Ideally, most of society could be classed as ‘activist’, if only we could convince everyone of their value in fighting for what they believe in. Many people are engaged in this fight without considering themselves ‘activists’. This is not about goals and demands, but basic language. And diverse language!

17. Have leaderful movements but avoid the cult of personality (Otpor, This Is An Uprising, 68-69.)

18. Be aware of the Overton window, what its position is and how to shift it…as it shifts a movement’s stragey can evolve, e.g. XR helped shift Overton window and now uses glass breaking, whereas at the start of XR this wouldn’t have been so acceptable.

18. Know some history, but don’t sacrifice the present to the past. Link to NVDA database. Part of Heller’s CRITICAL PHASE.

19. Get to the real history e.g. Claudette Colvin before Rosa Parks

19. Know the present (info and intelliegence gathering).

20. Study war strategy seriously -then subvert it..

21. Study business, management and marketing strategy seriously -then subvert it.

22. Study ‘personal development’ industry strategy -then subvert it.

23. Employ PESTLE.

24. ACT UP! -divisiveness is unavoidable and boundaried anger is okay.

25. 240-241 This Is… Black Bloc, mostly white young men, are an insult to strategy…but they must be planned for

25. Polarisation tactic (has XR used it wisely?) Know WHEN and HOW to use polarisation and balance with transitional concensus.

24. Brainstorm dilemna actions, from history, and imagined.

24. This Is…p150 ‘A common misconception…’

25. Sharp’s political jiu jitsu, expand, including luring large forces to the wrong place

24. How to start a group (link to Activist Handbook) DIVERSE founding group with DIVERSE and always expandin / refining P&V. I will use XR’s P&V as a guide, and expand.

25. Understand the centrality of mass participation civil disobedience in social (and political, but Chaia’s qualification) change.

26. Disruption is essential

27. Sacrifice is essential to inspire public and strike fear in foe…disruption PLUS sacrifice is ideal.

28. Escalate carefully.

29. Know whether to escalate quickly or slowly (my argument for global systems change is escalate slowly),

30. including a useful reframing of the global struggle up to this historicl point)

26. Use non-violent DISCIPLINE, but don’t judge aggressive or violent protest when it erupts. (Burning station to the ground after George Floyd, polled well in America) Context is everything.

27. Levels and types of non-violence -build resources for solidarity and movements, not for arguments and division. Gnadhi ‘to use violence is to co-operate with the government’ but this doen’t cover covert sabotage.

28. 237-238 This Is An Uprising, peripheral violence at marches not useful, but are there counter-examples? Look at successful disciplined actions of the Shell 7…and Money Rebellion moving forward. Need to distinguish between undisciplend and disciplined propety damage / sabotage

29. 249 This Is An….Rqdical violent flank or threat of violnec could have use, look at Black Panthers-MLK dynamic.

29. 249-250 This Is… non-violent discipline across a movement is not easy and needs frontloaded training / culture

29. 242-243 This Is… performative vioence and agent provocateurs…beat them with disciplined non-violence.

29. 244-245: Learn from the failure of the Weathermen…

29. Even if not working strategically with other groups, include all groups and movements in your vision, because they exist…e.g. support covert sabotage even as an overt non-violent movement that doesn’t use sabotage….be aware of the eco-syste of activism (an important part of intel) however make sure boundaries are clear –

30. Be wary of working with strong, established, structured orgs, however radical they purport to be…they have a lot to lose, are not agile in the face of opportunity and revolutionary change and may be an obstruction to our goals (especially if they hierarcgical / dominated by a few minds)… This Is…page 255…they may be useful in early days for recruitment / prmotion etc and in later days but don’t count on them…

30. – ‘mixing civil disobedience and monkey-wrenching is suicidal’ Judi Bari, but that was a moment of history, surely it depends on the discipline, and where the Overton window is at.

31. p261 This is…’when it comes to mass upheaval…activity’

32. p262 ‘When mass mobilisations…to flourish’.

28. Ends don’t justify means.

28. This Is…278, ‘A healthy movement ecology…from this history’

29. Practising getting in and out…

29. Winning over the army could be easier than winning over the police 93-94 This Is an Uprising

Don’t think that you don’t have good ideas on strategy! The best strategies are crowdsourced. [soft strategy element]

Learn to discern between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ strategy elements, or yang and yin. Hard does not equate with strong and soft does not equate with weak.In fact, over the long term of an activist campaign or movement, it is the so-called ‘soft’ strategy elements which are likely to sustain it the most. Learn to appreciate when you have too much hard or too much soft in your strategising and strategy. All strategy elements will have a ratio of soft to hard in them. The soft / hard categorisations in this list are my own subjective choices [soft strategy element]

Emergent strategy covers a range of soft strategy elements. It is advisable to become familiar with the classic text on soft strategy, ‘Emergent Strategy‘ by Adrienne Maree Brown.From the book: ‘Emergent strategies are ways for humans to practice complexity and grow the future through relatively simple interactions’. [soft strategy elements]

Have an understanding of the pivotal importance of non-violent direct action (NVDA) and mass participation civil disobedience to achieve the radical social changes that we need to see across the world to respond to ongoing planetary crises, including the climate crisis. Since 1988 when James Hansen first warned the US government about anthropogenic climate change, over 30 years of conventional political campaigning, petitioning, marching, protesting, lobbying and Green politics has failed to stop greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from rising. This is why direct action must be central to all activism moving forward -history shows that mass civil disobedience can work, where other methods have failed. [hard strategy element]

Do not throw the baby out with the bath water, regarding conventional activism. Everything and everyone is interconnected. We can only move forward to a new changed reality by utilising every existing element in our favour. Thus, although direct action should be central to any serious global movement for radical societal change, other ‘softer’ forms of activism can still be useful and complementary. The best strategy looks to incrementally gather support from all quarters of society, or as many as possible. [hard strategy element]

Use tactical diversity. According to research by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, the most successful social movements for regime change have been the most tactically diverse. This means that any overarching strategy must allow for and encourage tactical diversity on the ground. Tactics can in turn be employed by a huge diversity of tried and tested methods, and plenty of untested ones. See Gene Sharp’s famous 198 Methods of Non-Violent Action for some ideas. There are many methods not included on Gene’s list. [hard strategy element] Tactical diversity does not mean violence!

Have a laugh! Use humour in your tactics. This can be at the expense of your adversaries.’Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon’ said the community organiser Saul Alinsky, on page 128 of his classic, Rules For Radicals. A social movement that is famous for using humour, including ridicule, is Otpor. [balanced element]

Critical connections are more important than critical mass. (A. M. Brown).

Avoid cliquiness, especially in initiatory / founding groups of orgs or movements. Cliquiness is a barrier to the application of a strategy of mass mobilisation. [soft strategy element]

Low barriers to inclusion in your groups and organisations are essential. [hard strategy element]

Orientate your strategy to an ecosystem of theories of change, but don’t take that ecosystem too seriously or rigidly.

Timing is important.

Know the difference between an organisation and a movement, and between organising and mobilising.

Don’t take the ‘3.5% rule’ too narrowly: ‘…the victorious [movements] uniformly fostered broad-based public sympathy.’ p109 This Is An Uprising…Also expansion of theory, what is 3.5% of global population, and of internet users…?

Use scenario planning in a specific, boundaried way and don’t let that detract from a realistic strategy responsive to currently unfolding events.

Know the difference between regime change and systems change.

What do you personally mean by global systems change(s)? Make sure you are working to a definition that is intelligible to others in your group / movement.

Improve your propositional / logical thinking and research skills. See through media spin, and critically analyse deeper deliberate or unconscious media narratives and other narratives that serve ruling elites -including some CEO’s and bankers- but also don’t be co-opted by totalising conspiritual ‘conspiracy narratives’ that encourage you to ‘come to your own conclusions’ by rejecting logical thinking to link together disparate emotive events and facts that have been presented to you as related, for obscured and potentially right wing anti-globalist ends. Seek out anti-globalist narratives which are intelligent, scientific, and directed by social justice. Encourage others away from dodgy narratives and towards narratives of global systems change(s) to post-capitalism.

Become aware of the cognitive function of narrative thinking. Become aware of when you are using narrative thinking in a strategically useful way, and when you are not. Become aware of the cultural narratives that may have co-opted and disintegrated your life and your mental health. This will be highly person- and context- specific.

Beware falsely siloed and polarised, tribal and memetic narratives and identities, manipulated if not created by social media companies and Big Tech. These narratives and identities divide our capacities for collective strategising and civil disobedience. 

Be less of a fairy-tale consumerist, keep getting back to Nature and mend some broken stories -this will help ground your activist strategy.

If you are privileged enough, develop a conscious activist life strategy. By ‘activist life strategy’ I refer to the unconscious or conscious strategies, tactics and practices that we use to move forward in our lives towards the strategic activist ends that we wish to see, such as achieving targets of social and environmental justice within the movements we are involved in, in a way which simultaneously meets our requirements as holistic human beings. These requirements include our need for balanced lives in respect of our homes, families, communities and our overall well-being -including the prevention or mitigation of ‘activist burn-out’. Do this in a way which supports the less privileged. Travel outside of your comfort zone.

Develop an understanding of ‘narrative integration’ as potentially key to strategic goals, as well featuring in the means to achieve those goals.

Use narrative thinking in the important work of the creative envisioning of global systems change(s), as well as scenario planning; include the envisioning of realistic pathways as opposed to just utopian end-states, important though those visions may be for keeping us emotionally engaged with our activism.

Be the best a heroine can be.

Celebrate victories and anniversaries!

Vanessa Nakate, Ugandan climate activist

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kurdish Question; An Answer for All of Us? (Descent Politics #1)

Introduction:

This post is not aimed at the general public. This post is aimed at revolutionaries, ecopreneurs, sociologists, anyone who suffers from mental ill-health or who works in mental health, feminists of all kinds, political strategists, Transitioners, environmentalists and others who see the inevitability of the coming energy Descent to a more localised, resource-wise future the world over. Last but not least, this post is aimed at the Kurdish community and those who support the Kurdish experiment in radical direct democracy and feminism that is happening in northern Syria, and that is being threatened RIGHT NOW by an illegal and immoral invasion by the oppressive Turkish government of Afrin, in the Syrian north. Yes, Turkey’s invasion may be partly in response to America’s supposed (perhaps mis-stated) decision to support a Kurdish-led military presence on the northeast border between Syria and Turkey -although Afrin is in the northwest. Yes, of course, America supports the Kurds for its own geopolitical ends in the region, (not just ‘the defeat of ISIL’ which has been led by the Kurds); nevertheless, the Kurds, historically defensive as opposed to aggressive militarily, are once again the object of nation-state oppression.

In this post I hope to show that in the likely future of natural resource scarcity and hence more localised community and culture globally, experiments in self-governance such as that of the Kurds in northern Syria should be generally supported and studied, and could be key in our collective human future of a more grounded existence, within natural ecological limits and crucially free from patriarchy; a freedom the Kurds are making strides towards. Please note that a later version of this post will include more supporting references; right now I am working to a tight deadline.

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Politics:

‘The Kurdish Question’ refers to the issue of political governance of the Kurds and their striving as an ethnic group towards independence over the years. The Kurds predominantly inhabit a region known as Kurdistan which currently has no international legal or political recognition. Kurdistan takes in parts of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. The history of the Kurds shows that the Kurds as a semi-nomadic people have achieved various levels of autonomy over the centuries in different parts of Kurdistan. However, despite international promises towards the cause of Kurdish sovereignty, since the 20th Century Kurdish moves towards self-determination have been beset by ruthless military and cultural oppression at the hands of all four of the nation states co-habiting with Kurdistan. In recent decades, Turkey has been particularly oppressive.

The situation in the region of Kurdistan as a whole is complex. For the purposes of this post I am just focusing on northern Syria. Since 2011 when the internationally manufactured ‘civil war’ in Syria began, the Kurds in the north have used the situation to their advantage, to break away from a historical narrative of oppression of their culture and people by the institution of the nation state. The ideological leader of the Kurds in Turkey and northern Syria, Abdullah Ocalan, from his solitary confinement in a Turkish prison, has argued that it is the nature of the nation state itself that has allowed the oppression of the Kurds. Although it would appear that the so-called Syrian ‘dictator’ Assad has treated the Kurds relatively well; nevertheless the northern Syrian experiment is a valid departure from and revolution against the -arguably unsustainable- nation state itself. It is in fact the aggressive institution of the nation state- particularly as modelled by America- that has invaded and broken up a Syria which was actually democratic and stable by Western standards.

Abdullah Ocalan was founder of the PKK in Turkey and Iraq, as a response against Turkish and Iraqi oppression and oppression in Kurdistan more generally. The PKK is still controversially classed as a ‘terrorist organisation’ by Turkey and its EU and US allies, although a ruling in a Belgian court in September of 2017 classed the PKK as engaging in an ‘armed campaign’ (akin to ‘freedom fighting’) as opposed to terrorism. Since the 1990’s, after reading the work of Murray Bookchin and others, from prison Ocalan underwent an ideological change which saw the PKK shift its focus from Marxist-Leninist to ‘democratic confederalist’. Ocalan builds on the Kurdish history of tribal and community decision-making to show that a so-called organised ‘anarchosocialist’ (anti-state) direct democracy model of governance, exercised from the street level upwards, is a preferable method of governance to a centralised state -whether capitalist or communist.

This model of democratic confederalism has been trialed in the so-called semi-autonomous zone of northern Syria for the last several years. The model as advocated by the staunch feminist Ocalan includes provision for all-women assemblies, all-women villages and safe houses for victims of domestic abuse. The model also includes the aim (purportedly realised on the ground) of achieving a minimum of 40% of a single gender in any elected assembly, and the provision of one woman and one man as a co-leadership of all democratic assemblies. Assemblies have proven to include all ethnicities in the Kurdish-dominated region, with Arabs and others working alongside Kurds. For more on the revolution in northern Syria see here and here.

It is particularly noteworthy that simultaneous to pioneering this promising method of feminist localised governance in the Middle East, with US support the Kurds of this region have successfully defeated so-called ‘ISIL’. (Let not the Western manufacture of ISIL detract from the corresponding reality of organised hateful jihadists on the ground which need defending against in realtime). All female Kurdish-led defense units of the YPJ have been key in this defeat.

I do not support war. Let me make that clear. Sometimes defensive actions seem unavoidable. The incredible thing about the revolution of northern Syria is that a model of equality, feminism and localisation (to a degree) has occurred amidst -perhaps because of- conditions of extreme military and patriarchal pressure, conflict and inequality; negatives arguably driven by forces implicit to the institution of the nation state.

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Ecology, Earth Culture and Economics:

If democratic confederalism can work under such extreme conditions, perhaps it would be appropriate as a model to try in other regions around the world. Meanwhile, the Kurds and their local allies of Arabs and others in northern Syria, deserve our support.

Although the revolution in northern Syria purports to be ‘ecological’, in reality it is a war economy which does not currently allow deep and strategic conservation and biodiversity enhancement measures. Nevertheless, there is a present ecological awareness as integral to the literature of the revolution.

The Transition Movement and the work of Richard Heinberg in books such as Powerdown, have shown that future global society and culture will be increasingly localised, as increasing scarcity of natural resources, particularly oil, mean that vast, centralised economies and infrastructures will no longer be viable. The inevitable energy Descent that we face can either be negotiated in an easeful way (a gradual descent) or in a sudden and shocking way i.e. if we don’t adequately prepare for it. Localised polyculture food production will be central to the Descent.

Abdullah Ocalan’s work; specifically his Roots of Civilisation shows how the institution of the nation state, including its patriarchal nature, is implicit in social and environmental injustice worldwide, including the hegemony of a grossly wasteful US-led consumerist culture -enhanced by the US-dominated internet. Ocalan gives hope that democratic confederalism, or at least, let’s say some organic form of localised direct democracy including strong ecological and feminist elements, could be a widespread viable alternative. If the Descent is unavoidable, surely we should be ensuring that we don’t waste this culture-changing opportunity (and potential war-zone) in terms of feminism and social justice; not just to attempt to live ‘in a greater harmony’ with non-human culture and Earth culture as a whole as advocated by ‘Transitioners’. Specifically, integral to this harmony should be the explicit design of feminist and communal systems of locality-governance which ensure that patriarchy and cultural oppression don’t survive during and after the Descent. These systems of governance can nestle inside as well as ultimately challenge and negate centralised nation states. This is shown in the northern Syrian case, where some national infrastructure (at least administrative) is still used alongside the radically democracised one. The nation state, argued here as an obsolete, energy-wasteful and patriarchal super-structure, can be transcended during and after Descent, and allowed to peacefully decay.

For me, the role of ecopreneurs in the modern world is firstly to align with the Descent and secondly, if making profit, to redistribute wealth to ease the Descent for all. Thirdly, I suggest that ‘Descent ecopreneurs’ should have social and political justice at the forefront of their minds, and reflected in their staffing and any partnerships they make. Although there will naturally be many co-operative economies developing as part of the Descent, I think there is still an important place for innovating ecopreneurs to push forward radically equal and politically just structures and products which could propagate and support emergent localised systems of governance around the world.

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Narratives of Cultural Whealth:

Ideally, as I implied in my previous post, ‘What is culture….?’ what happens after Descent is permaculture in the fullest sense of ‘permanent (i.e. deeply sustainable) human culture’. Mental health recovery must be a central focus in Descent and permaculture, and if the official field of Permaculture can develop a branch of social science to deepen its understanding of social currents and motivations, then so much the better.

The mental health of all of humanity is indirectly -and sometimes directly- related to the health of global non-human ecosystems. In ‘The Age of Insanity: Modernity and Mental Health’ John Schumaker further shows how urbanisation and degraded urban environments have a huge impact on mental health. But more than this; Schumaker shows how modern society itself has become pathological, except for some redemptive pockets that are few and far between. Reading Schumaker alongside Ocalan, it does not take too much of an intellectual leap to hypothesize quite reasonably that if social -including feminist- justice is designed into a gradual Descent / Transition to permaculture, then overall, a post-Descent world will look a lot better for human mental health than the pre-Descent one. This is even considering the change to low-consumption lifestyles we will have to make during Descent. Of course, modernity-related trauma is rife, or rather, trauma that has been made more prevalent because of the institutions of modernity (best exemplified perhaps, by the capitalist nation state). Thus, trauma release and mental health recovery will take a while; we will all be nursing our mental wounds long after Descent. Descent itself will produce additional trauma and mental illness, proportionate to how sudden it is. I hope that ecopreneurs will remain mindful of, and will even focus down on, the mental health dynamics of Descent.

Key to mental health is cultural empowerment. We must all feel able to comprehend and further influence the (now global) culture we live in. This comprehension and influence depends, in turn, on our power and agency as narrative-makers, story-tellers and engaged actors and audiences in and for the stories that are, hopefully consensually, told about us and to us. Even after Descent, it is hard to see how human culture will not remain global in some aspects. Indeed, global justice and cultural exchange should be tempered and refined dynamics after Descent; retaining the internet, somehow, could be very useful, if there is no possibility of centralised and corporate domination. Thus, the grand story of Descent that begins right now, and the post-Descent story of permaculture, must be interwoven by all of us in a way that also does justice to our very individual stories of trauma, joy, political oppression and cultural integration. And the grand stories must be livable.

Since the inception of the Transition Movement the power of positive story-telling about our collective futures has been key. Shaun Chamberlin developed this theme particularly well in The Transition Timeline. It had a big impact on me when I read it a few years back. Now I would like to see all of us develop this theme in a grand way which also does justice to all the various conscious and unconscious narratives we have lived by up until now, including considerations of feminism and social justice in general. If we do not fully admit into our consciousness as many narratives as we can, the light and the dark, then we may be derailed later by unexpected characters and plot turns in the grand future stories we are trying to manifest.

Now is the time of moving from confused global narratives towards more coherent and integrated localised ones. Globally however, our continued and remaining interconnection means that it is all our responsibilities to be involved in Descent on a global as well as a local level, if we are able. Otherwise, there is no telling what foreign conflicts may scupper local Descent plans. Certain regions, such as the Middle East, are particularly volatile. It would be wonderful if, as a species we could build on the suggestion of Abdullah Ocalan that the Middle Eastern region is calling for its own cultural Renaissance, akin to the European Renaissance. In conversation with the peoples of the Middle East, we can be inspired by the groundwork of the localised and feminist Kurdish-led governance of northern Syria. Within the context of such localised semi-anarchic power structures, where diverse ethnic tribes can work together, even remotely we can support inspiring possibilities for cultural transformation-in-Descent that draw on the rich biocultural heritage of the whole Middle Eastern region. The same can happen for all regions of the world.

Think of a golden influence spreading outwards from the Middle East in post-oil routes of culture and trade, bejewelled by the cultural traits of a thousand different ethnicities, intermeshing with an emergent vibrant global permaculture…

-It is the time of such great stories. We must live out these great stories; work hard for them, or not so hard, depending on what suits us. We must work to create the conditions for those who would be cultural heroes of the Descent;  Transition prophets and messiahs of permaculture. We must nurture our children with this great Calling in mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is culture? What is permaculture? Part three of three:

In the first two parts of this three part series I explored the concepts of human culture, especially global human culture, Earth culture (human plus non-human culture on Earth) and how these have become unnaturally divorced from one another in the modern world, with the accelerating help of the internet. The divorce is an illusion, but nevertheless is damaging. It would be tiresome and depressing here to have to describe the worsening health of the ecosystems here on Earth -by ‘health’ of course I mean the ability to support human life. I am of course human-centric in my perspective; it is virtually impossible not to be. The mental health of all of humanity is indirectly -and sometimes directly- related to the health of global non-human ecosystems. I will go into great length in future posts.

So!

I am actually hopeful for humanity’s evolution to the next stage of civilisation, which in some respects, to some people, will necessarily look like uncivilisation.

Where does ‘Permaculture’ come in? Firstly, a brief description of origins: Permaculture with a capital ‘P’ refers to a ‘systems thinking’ approach to the ecological design of human-made edible crop systems, but also incorporating other useful crops, and sustainable settlements centred around these systems. The original meaning is ‘permanent agriculture’. The crop systems mimic non-human ecosystems (or more accurately, Earth culture ecosystems) to achieve resilience and minimal negative, perhaps even positive, ecological impact. The most common example of the designed Permaculture system in temperate climates (e.g. the UK) is the ‘forest garden’ which mimics the climax habitat of mixed deciduous woodland, with edible types of flora to represent all the various canopy and ground cover and shrub layers to be found in a natural woodland, especially in the most productive and diverse, woodland edge habitats. The first manual on Permaculture was written by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and published in 1978, titled Permaculture One.

Over the years, Permaculture has been adapted to a variety of climates and contexts around the world, and has given birth to a tradition of Permaculture courses (the standard introductory course being the Permaculture Design Certificate or PDC) where invaluable knowledge and skills of agroforestry and other elements have been passed on to thousands. Although there has been and still is a question mark over Permaculture’s ability as an approach to provide food for large numbers of people, it has been clearly shown to conserve and enhance soil health -key to the future of biodiversity -including humanity- on Earth. (This brings up the issue of excess human population. Let’s look at that another time.) Additionally, the concept of permaculture has expanded to include ‘permanent culture’; a way of looking at and designing the whole of human culture with deep sustainability in mind; at its root, learning from the infinitely renewable patterns and resource flows at play in Earth culture as a whole.

Now, a few words about the capitalist protection of knowledge in modern culture. Why did I refer to Permaculture ‘with a capital P’? Well, as with all areas of knowledge in a capitalist society, there is some implied ownership of the ideas; of the approach, by the people who originated it and teach and practice it today. If you are not an accredited teacher, you cannot teach Permaculture with a capital ‘P’. In an often chaotic global culture, where the truth can be anyone’s guess, the building up and protection of banks of knowledge and practice, especially as regards ecological sustainability, can be worthwhile. On the other hand, the PDC can be seen as a middleclass pursuit with a middleclass pricetag, despite there being subsidised places on some courses. The protection of knowledge in this way also perpetuates the fragmented, alienated and atomised consumer culture discussed in parts one and two of this post series. Admittedly, as long as friends pass books between them, and free libraries and internet facilities still exist, there will always be a slow dissemination of Permaculture knowledge to the rest of society -in the way of most human branches of knowledge. Most importantly, as Graham Bell notes in his excellent book The Permaculture Way, ‘permaculture with a small p’; those aspects of human conservation, agricultural and sustainability knowledge included in Permaculture, that have been practiced for generations as our natural biocultural heritage -otherwise known as ‘common sense’- is available to all of us. We can be ‘doing permaculture’ without even realising it, just as we are ‘doing culture’ all the time, and the culture we do, can always be said to be more, or less, permaculture than it could be.

Now here is where we get to the crux of it. For me, Permaculture (and ‘permaculture’) as an approach to designing sustainable human society, has the potential to be both a containing basket for all of modern global human culture, and a weaver of that culture into something deeply sustainable in the long term. It is a criticism levelled against permaculturists that the term ‘permaculture’ is used very vaguely by many, as a New Agey concept that bears little practical fruit for society as a whole; a concept that attracts dreamers, more than doers, despite the practical PDC courses on offer. I take on board this criticism, but I respond that, just because a set of ideas and practices inspires contemplation, poetry and envisioning, it doesn’t mean that those ideas and practices aren’t also very useful, (effects on biodiversity and soil health as compared to other agricultural systems, for instance, are proven.) For me, it is the sometimes vagueness of the term ‘permaculture’, with a small ‘p’, that is its strength; in these twin paradigms we live in of obsolescence of the dominant civilisation-mesh (Nature-destroying) and Transition to the new one, it is precisely because we don’t know exactly what the future holds, that we need flexible approaches and concepts to get there…

-But more than this. I think that Permaculture, or permaculture, whatever, has the potential to develop a branch of ethical social science. The ethical social science of Permaculture would be rooted in the observation of Nature and other principles of Permaculture as they stand. Principles such as ‘maximising edge’, ‘integrating functions’ and ‘creating no waste’. Integrated with current grounded Permaculture practice, and branching out from those roots, the ethical social science of Permaculture could develop  a vocabulary of theory, research and consensual society-design which is cross-disciplinary, integrating the language of ecology and sustainability with the language of the social sciences. As the social sciences often don’t question the foundations of modern culture on which they rely, the new ethical social science of Permaculture, with its key feature of reintegration of segregated and protected areas of human knowledge; a grounded and cross-disciplinary approach, would also have the overtly political aims of environmental and social justice at its core. (Where existing social sciences are generally unconsciously / covertly political, at maintaining unhelpful social and economic structures).

The ethical social science, (or sociocultural science?) of Permaculture could be a key developing discipline -and may it be rigorously disciplined!- in creating what permaculture -permanent culture- purports to be. Specific elements of the science would tackle the alienation, atomisation and fragmentation of the dominant modern global culture, and also the tracking and potential guiding of emergent global culture as defined by the internet. It has been concluded by many, more well-researched and scientifically grounded than I, that relocalisation of culture, including a ‘powerdown’ of natural resource use, will also be key to the sustainability of global human culture in the longterm. This fits entirely with the necessary project of de-alienation and de-stratification that I have implied in all three parts of this series, which works on renewing and building culture that is grounded and based on our experiences and face to face human interactions in the here-and-now.

Mental health and well being are inseparable from this grand project of permaculture, including the protection of planetary biodiversity, and the ethical social science of Permaculture would explore, track, describe and influence human well being in a way that is reintegrated with Earth culture (human plus non-human culture).

Key to mental health is cultural empowerment. We must all feel able to comprehend and further influence the (now global) culture we live in. This comprehension and influence depends, in turn, on our power and agency as narrative-makers, story-tellers and engaged actors and audiences in and for the stories that are, hopefully consensually, told about us and to us.

 

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A final thought: The relationship of modern human culture to truth, is ambiguous. Well, that includes this blog post. How much of this is really true and how much is based on the theories of academics who don’t get out much? Academia is itself an isolated and alienated area of stratified modern culture i.e. a key symptom of this culture which is potentially (and often actually) out of touch with the way we as individuals live our various cultures from day to day. Thus the ethical social science of Permaculture will fail if it relies on academics; if it is not constantly informed by the way that all subcultures of human beings live from day to day, and how we all perceive ourselves, including culturally. 

I’m looking forward to getting outside again after writing this, and socialising some more with the folk in my neighbourhood. I’ll catch you next time.

 

  

 

What is culture? What is permaculture? Part two of three:

All human cultures are contained within a single global human culture. This is at least a useful concept, as all human beings have ways of being in common; but more than this: the existence of an interconnected global human culture is more real than ever since the proliferation of the internet and fast digital communications. Since peoples first made contact with each other, historically we can speak of ‘global culture’, but the modern difference is that now there is a constant two way process of creation and assimilation working between (relatively) every individual (even if they only hear of global changes from others) and global human culture as a whole, comprised of course of all of humanity. Indirectly, if we have ever had any contact whatsoever with the internet or digital communications, then we have influenced all that is human in the world. This is quite a staggering truth!

Global culture that is technologically interconnected and thus technologically defined in this way is emergent (it’s very young) and so it is not properly understood. This emergence is difficult if not impossible to fully track and process. However, trends and dominant features of modern global culture reflect those national and international cultures that have the fastest communications and the most developed technologies relating to the internet, as well as the biggest corporate online presence. (Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft are all American companies). Thus, although all cultures have their positive and emancipatory aspects, the problems of political cultural oppression by dominant cultures and by individuals, consciously and unconsciously, as noted in part one of this post, are potentially amplified by online culture. (At the moment, American culture dominates by a long way).  However, online culture contains a potential amplified resistance to oppression within it, (whether the oppression is basically internet-facilitated or not). As long as basic online freedoms of information search and social association are maintained…

There are potential and real joys of a modern interconnected world, with its inspired sense of collective identity and diversity of lifestyle choices open to often culturally and politically aware agents of co-creation. However, modern global culture is alienating more than grounding if it provokes a preoccupation with what is happening elsewhere, away from our geographical localities and away from our physical bodies. Additionally, since modern global culture (including online) is dominated by capitalist economics, in general treating individuals as isolated economic units, there is also a general ‘atomising’ effect as well as an alienating one, where the social and indeed explicitly cultural aspects of humanity are subordinated to our capacities for production and consumption. ‘Culture’ then becomes predominantly something we consume, dependent on financial purchases and the associated ‘free’ consumption of certain elements, (which often are not free if you don’t have access to a computer or computer literacy skills). This results in more alienation of our cultural experience from what is actually happening in the here-and-now of our bodies and physical environments, as well as what is happening to global non-human culture (wholesale destruction) to keep the momentum of our cultural experience going; cultural experience which is largely unaccountable in its global ecological impact; so multifarious are the origins of every modern cultural experience.

The very modern experiences of culture discussed above, although demonstrating potential to seed alienated subcultures which could be means to ends of less alienated ones, in general speak of an increasing fragmentation and incoherency of global culture, even as it emerges, (an emerging chaos). To summarise, via technology we have seemingly, although not actually, divorced human culture from non-human culture, approaching a peak with the tech advance of the internet -with fragmentation and incoherency resulting.  Experiences of non-human (and within it, human) ‘Nature’, we consume online and through other media, and the actual Nature experiences we are subject to, are too often for most of us an escape from, or a distraction from, not a way of, ‘being’ in the modern world. Needless to say, the mental health of all of humanity is jeopardised; mental health being rooted in the physical environment and a coherent sense of culture -more on that another time. It is nothing new to say all this. It’s still frustrating to have to say it. It’s still all so unrealised by people in general, partly because of the complexity of the situation, and partly because people don’t want to learn more about what they feel powerless over. Bear with me, things can get better… Something called ‘permaculture’ may have the answer. Well, my version of it anyway. I’ll explain next time.

 

What is culture? What is permaculture? (The New Year According To Who?!) Part one of three:

‘Happy New Year’ I suppose. Although I would rather celebrate New Year around the Spring Equinox, as Persians, Kurds and some Neopagans do. Starting the new year in the middle of the winter is a ‘rum affair’ if you ask me (in the language of an Agatha Christie novel. We live under the Gregorian calendar; it wasn’t the butler did it but Pope Gregory XIII). Also, note that there are thirteen moons in every year, and the first new moon of this calendar year isn’t until 17th January. Anyway, structuring the year is always going to be tricky, and there are various cultural implications of when and how we celebrate New Year. For a sense of culture and social cohesion, maybe I should have destroyed my health with alcohol last night afterall. Ah well, like I said, it’s a rum affair.

‘Culture’ is a word that is bandied about a lot but it is difficult to pin down. I think of human culture as ‘the sum of everything we do’, particularly those things that we do from day to day, repetitively, that define our collective and individual identities. Culture in this broad sense doesn’t just include all of our doing, but all of our thinking too. Everyone ‘does’ culture in every moment; we are all a part of a universal human culture which is different from the cultures of other species and the human culture of the past; although, past culture bears on present culture in a continual process. Human culture is also influenced by and interdependent with non-human culture; the non-human ecosystems that make up Earth. Together with non-human culture we are ‘Earth culture’.

The online Oxford Living Dictionaries definition of culture that fits loosely with these ideas is the second one listed, which says: ‘the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society’, (and I would add, ‘or species, or planet’ etc). Visit the full page here.

On the human level, we can talk of the cultures and subcultures of geographically located places, like our villages, towns, regions and countries. There are also subcultures that are defined by points of view and types of behaviour; for instance subcultures based on types of music. Subcultures are also based on socioeconomic status, or class. The habits, ways of doing things and thinking of members of one economic class will share certain likely common characteristics not common to other classes. Cultures of many types and on different scales overlap each other or nestle inside each other in complex ways. Our individual and collective senses of identity are also very much rooted in culture. Additionally, ‘online culture’ refers specifically to the culture of the internet, and ‘digital culture’ to digitally enabled or digitally altered culture.

Definitions of culture usually focus on the social element; those behaviours etc in a society or group that are overtly shared. Particularly strong expressions and reinforcements of culture are shared rituals and celebrations which are repeated over time; and so tradition usually plays a strong element in any culture. However I would also like to add that even our most private thoughts and private moments are culturally defined and in turn have a cultural impact; in other words, every part of our experience has a social (or consciously anti-social) element which bears on how we relate to others from day to day, and the various cultures and subcultures of which we are members.

To complicate things, the cultures which we perceive ourselves to be members of are not necessarily the cultures whose members would generally embrace us, and additionally, people in general may perceive us to be members of various cultures (depending on the perspective) that we don’t actually identify with. Others’ perceptions will affect how they behave towards us and can become self-fulfilling, so that we are pigeonholed into subcultures from a lack of personal motivation and /or skill on our side to be identified otherwise. This process of pigeonholing can further affect the lifestyle choices and cultural options available to the pigeonholed. There is a real power dynamic here of the labeller over the labelled. We can see that culture and labelling -of self by self and other- are closely related. So far we can also see that ‘culture’ indicates a very complex and uncertain reality for individuals in the modern world, although great opportunity is also implied.

Cultures of all kinds are woven together by underlying stories or narratives which can be truthful or not, and harmful or not. These are unconscious for most of the time and may remain obscure to many of the members of these cultures (for instance, the story of ‘infinite progress’ that underlies capitalist culture). There are also many stories consciously told within and across different cultures, of course; many wonderful (and not so wonderful!) diverse and colourful stories, all of which play a role in shaping cultures, from classic myths, through novels to blockbuster films. These do not only shape the cultures they originate in, especially in the modern human world which is interconnected more than ever before.

Some stories and elements of stories -both conscious stories and unconscious narratives- are told by cultures (as ‘tellers’) about other cultures (as ‘the told’); again this can become self-fulfilling for the told, especially when the tellers have the greater political power and cultural reach. In fact, some of these narratives serve to maintain the dominant cultural position of certain tellers, resulting in a very real oppression of the told (or in this context read ‘minorities everywhere’ for ‘the told’). Women as a whole have also been and continue to be culturally dominated by men, largely unconsciously on both sides (but consciously in key places of power), using such insidious stories. With these features of ‘labelling’ and ‘story-telling’ discussed, culture becomes a very political concept and also one that has a huge impact on mental health, dependent on whether people feel culturally empowered or not, within the mesh of overlapping cultures which they are subject of and to.

I think it is true to say that as modern individuals we all have a ‘cultural repertoire’ which I would define as ‘the sum of all the attitudes, feelings, thoughts and behaviours internalised within us which we can choose to employ variously and selectively according to cultural context and personal cultural aspiration’. In fact I would say that everything about us can be used as a cultural instrument by us or by others acting on us, or with us. Although ‘feelings’ are typically described as more reactive than the other more proactive elements of ‘thinking’ and ‘behaving’ etc, actually we have a lot of choice about the way we feel and how we process or use that culturally (without going into how others can use our feelings for their own cultural ends).

Personally I am very lucky: I realise that I have a large cultural repertoire at my disposal which allows me to move fairly comfortably (but never completely comfortably) through many quarters of society. But this has become a deliberate cultivation and survival strategy for me -borne partly from a former mental breakdown- and is partly a sign of a culturally incoherent modern society. My ultimate position is to assume membership of a complex global culture, but grounded ecologically in my home region of mid-Devon, or more widely and conveniently, southwest England. I have a great feeling of cultural freedom. Some people don’t have the privilege of cultural understanding that I have or do not take on identifications like this with much confidence (my own intellectual confidence borne in part from my privileged white liberal middle-class culture); and so culturally they may retreat, more or less, into subcultures -including physical localities- which in modern times are often incoherent and fragmented. (I touch on this incoherency and fragmentation a little more in Part Two of this post).

I theorise that many people don’t realise the extent of their cultural repertoires or don’t have the skill to employ them effectively. Many more people are culturally impoverished, meaning that there is a lack of cultural options available to them -in awareness, and practically. Also, their socioeconomic status or ‘class’ may make it very difficult for them to realise the extent to which their culture is actually impoverished, the extent to which it is dominated by insidious cultural stories from other quarters, and the extent to which it is unnaturally divorced from the land and (mostly non-human) Earth culture (more on this in Part Two). Then again, even those in the most culturally dominant quarters e.g. the nation state culture of governments, and the technological culture of Silicon Valley and the like, do not usually realise the extent of their unnatural divorce from Earth culture or rather, are in denial.

On the plus side, although it may be partly a spuriously neoliberal view, in modern times there is more opportunity for some, including those traditionally from quarters of the culturally oppressed, to develop larger and more diverse cultural repertoires than ever before, especially using the online culture of the web, which includes the ability to group with others to form subcultures in the pursuit of social and ecological -and hence cultural- justice. Yet, the choice not to have so much choice has been taken away, potentially at the expense of the model of the grounded, nurturing, localised culture that some would like to have the option of ‘returning to’ though they might have never personally experienced it. On the positive side again, via internet culture there are currently many inspiring ways to connect with and be touched by people and events from around the world, which can bring emotional fulfillment and nurture certain aspects or identifications of culture that we hold within ourselves. Additionally, internet-based subcultures, for instance formed around special interests, can provide support and well being for individuals who are otherwise relatively isolated.

This is where I am right now; I am relatively isolated and lonely; I exist between worlds, the rural and the urban, the individual and the communal, the unemployable and the entrepreneurial; and currently, although I am lucky to feel part of a global as well as regional culture, it’s all a bit confused. 2018 for me will largely be about how I define myself culturally amongst all the cultural options open to me (and open to most of us). How I redefine myself culturally will also be key to how I move the Epic Tomorrows blog forward. I have high hopes and aspirations that internet culture, despite its shaky ecological foundations, can be a massive force for helping shape emergent global culture -and all the subcultures and individuals nestled within- in a way that has social and ecological justice at its core. In Part Two of this post I will look more at the concept of ‘global human culture’. In Part Three I will explain why I think Permaculture, with a big ‘P’ and permaculture with a small ‘p’ both have potential to be the containing baskets, as well as the weavers, of a globally sustainable culture. I will explain why I think a branch of permaculture needs to develop as a fully fledged ‘ethical social science’, in order to facilitate globally sustainable culture.

And now, feeling a little uplifted that I have finally finished (Part One!) of this post, I feel more genuinely able to say, with great cheer, and a herbal tea instead of a beer…in a culturally reinforcing kind of way…Happy New Year!

 

 

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

 

Ideas (maximising edge)

Two nights ago, whilst asleep I had a vision. I call it a vision and not a dream because it had no narrative; it was just an image. Soon after I saw the image, I woke up. It was an image of a Permaculture tanker. It was a converted oil tanker, half a mile long, converted into a floating forest garden -based alternative community and human economy, growing its own biodiesel for the engines as well as having wing sails attached for extra propulsion. Who will help me realise this dream? You can buy a second-hand oil tanker for a few million on websites such as this: Tankers

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Two days ago I joined the monthly meeting of the Hatherleigh Edges Permaculture and Community Regeneration Group. This group is not just open to folk from the village of Hatherleigh, but also anyone who can get to the meetings who is interested in sustainable, ecology based community work, starting from Hatherleigh and expanding outwards. After feeling lonely recently, it was great to connect with my neighbours about issues and ideas such as supporting isolated elderly people in our local community and seed swapping.

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Yesterday morning, on my 30 mile cycle to Dartington for continuing counselling foundation skills training with Heartwood, I was simultaneously inspired and disgusted. Inspired by the Devon hedgerows and dry stone walls on the edge of Dartmoor, and disgusted by the fumes from passing vehicles that I could not help but inhale. Where is the network of motor vehicle – free bridleways criss-crossing Dartmoor, allowing cycle and horse travel between towns? Where are the public stables and undercover bike shelters? How’s this for a business idea?: a pub that caters specifically for cyclists and horseriders, with stables (as used to be common) and dormitory accommodation.

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And another thing: Is it Council for the Protection of Rural England or Council for the Protection of Industrial Agriculture?

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Yesterday’s Heartwood training was an introduction to Gestalt theory, in the context of counselling. A gestalt is an organised whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.  Thus, a human being is a gestalt of sorts. Gestalt-based counselling and psychotherapy aims at greater integration of all the parts of a person with each other / the whole, including the physical body and all the various aspects of the mind / personality. There is a focus on the experience of the present moment, and how psychological integration can be achieved in this present moment. How could this approach be used to integrate human society better with itself and Nature? I would love to start a discussion on this theme. Please comment below! Here is some more on Gestalt: Gestalt

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Sometimes, distinct words will pop into my mind as if from nowhere, in the voices of different kinds of people that I have encountered in the past. There is often emotional content to these words, and they often have a double or triple meaning. For instance, yesterday as I was approaching Newton Abbott by bike, the word FTSE / ‘footsie’ appeared in my mind, and I heard it spoken by a woman of my age or perhaps a little younger, with some humour and warmth. It was spoken in a confiding way, as if advising me on the direction I should take (the words often have this feel). The meanings were that first, I could do with paying more attention to the stock market (it could be useful for any entrepreneur) and secondly that it is ok for me to be in a warm, flirty place with women, although I struggle with this. Does this experience sound bizarre? It is just part of my gestalt; it is how my unconscious sometimes alerts my conscious; by using semi-fictional identities of generic characters, based on people I have met in the past or encountered through digital and other media. I think my unconscious has developed this dynamic guiding process in line with my very conscious yearning to ‘learn from everyone in order to help everyone’.

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Positive affirmations: they only work if you imbue them with emotional content, and if you also work to manifest what they relate to. Otherwise they can result in internal conflict and soul-destroying disappointment.

Here are some positive affirmations and wisdom sayings I’ve used, some self-penned, some assimilated from elsewhere: ‘I am enough’ /// ‘I am innocent’ /// ‘I am fearless’ /// ‘Enlightenment is…total observation of Nature’ /// ‘Love is the Law, Love under Will’ /// ‘Enlightenment is…beginning everything with death in mind’ /// ‘Enlightenment is…total freedom from addiction’ /// ‘Character is greater than personality’ /// ‘The best heroes have a combination of vulnerability and strength’ /// ‘Anxiety and stress can often be a sign of doing too much or too little’ /// ‘Private victory before public victory’ /// ‘Victorious warriors win in their hearts before going into battle’ /// ‘Everything is me’ /// ‘The opposite of addiction is connection’ /// ‘Be proactive’ /// ‘Begin with the end in mind’ /// ‘I am not afraid to be a leader. I am not afraid to explore uncharted territories.’

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City-country conduits: Statistics like these show that the world’s population is increasingly urbanised. Articles like these show that humanity could be at risk of a major breakdown of civilisation either this century or the next. Since cities import most of their food, energy and water from outside the city limits, their densely-packed populations are more immediately at risk from a society-wide breakdown in economic and energy infrastructures.  I have long thought that the resilience of civilisation as a whole could be improved by establishing conduits between city and country in a way which increased understanding and communication between rural and urban populations, as well as flows of energy and resources both ways to reduce the impact of infrastructure breakdown on cities, and the potential burden on the country of fleeing urban citizens. This would in essence be a releasing of pressure on cities by ‘merging’ them better with their rural surrounds, but not in an environmentally destructive way. Regional food security is also implied in this vision, so that ideally, polyculture food growing systems would surround the city and provide all of its food needs (not a new idea). Most importantly I would like to see well-planned and sustainable mobility between city and country increased significantly. I smile at the prejudice of ignorance that exists between city and country dwellers. When I am in the city, sometimes even my most intelligent city friends may make ignorant remarks about rural dwellers and rural life, and when I am around my rural home, I will likewise hear fearful and ill-informed remarks about city-dwellers. This isn’t necessary! This kind of two-way prejudice will only make any serious large-scale infrastructure shocks -which as I’ve said are not unlikely this century- be felt worse and dealt with less efficiently.

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Ensuring Earth is fit for the next seven generations: This is the ‘7th generation principle’ of governance and human culture in general, as propounded by various Native American tribes. It is the idea that every human action and every human decision should have a benign or regenerative effect on the next seven generations of humans to live on the planet, by caring for Nature as a whole (that which supports us). By average modern understandings seven generations amounts to 7 x 25 years = 175 years. This benchmark of sustainability is often quoted in modern movements towards ecological living, but we don’t always stop to appreciate that seven generations is 175 years. Perhaps we should. I advocate sitting in meditation, alone or as part of a group, and trying to envision what the Earth might be like in 175 years. It is almost impossible to guess at, which is precisely the point. How often do communities, businesses and governments plan this far ahead? With the the increasing intelligence of our software, one hopes that more of this will be directed towards scenario planning and global strategy with Earth’s overall ecology at its core. If well-directed, and that means by human beings with deep empathy and experience of Nature, AI could be a force for greatness in putting the 7th generation principle into practice. It’s time to bring the wilderness into Silicon Valley!

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DEEPLY SUST: sustainable events management. Don’t you think it’s a good name? Use it if you like and please feel free to credit me. This is just a vague idea I had for a company. Festivals, even the most ecological ones, have dubious sustainability credentials. They involve the transportation of materials and people from miles around, sometimes even from abroad, to all converge on one poor overburdened location before being transported all the way back again. A truly sustainable events management company would look at how different festivals and events could better network with each other and share infrastructures and materials. It would also advise events and festivals within a given region or even nation on how to organise and synchronise calendars for maximum efficiency, skill-share, custom and positive ecological impact between all. Additionally, lasting legacies for all local communities that hosted festivals and events would have to be looked at. How about that for sustainability?

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‘REAL BOYS’, ‘REAL GIRLS’ and ‘TRANSREAL’: Where are the magazines for real girls and real boys, and for that matter, trans kids and the genderwild? When I walk into a big newsagents and look at the magazines sections for children and teenagers, I want to throw up. They are full of damaging stereotypes, plastic toys and the usual bullshit obsession with celebrity. I know that isn’t what every child wants, but somehow, because it’s what most children have been convinced they want, this vacuous culture revolving around Barbie and Action Man -like stereotypes still dominates. Apparently there are no risk-taking entrepreneurs in the children’s magazine industry. Where is ‘Real Girls’ magazine? ‘Real Boys’? ‘Transreal’?

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CO-OPETITION: My idea for a co-opetition is a competition that rewards co-operation over competition at every step of the process. I understand this is a paradox. It would take some clever designing to create motivating and sustainable co-opetitions with prizes. I know there are people doing this already, and maybe I / you can join them. We need innovation to save the world from ourselves, but innovation does not just happen in ruthlessly competitive contexts, as the hyper-capitalists would have us believe. Innovation happens in regenerative community contexts, indeed it must if society is to survive.

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POSITIVE SCENARIO MATHEMATICS: Where are the software designers and mathematicians working together with ecologists, permaculturists, alternative financial analysts, energy experts and complex systems theorists to design scenario planning apps for the lay person, and the activist or business organisation, ensuring the greatest positive ecological impact of all our trajectories, in ways which reflexively weave as many human life-paths as possible into well defined mutually agreeable outcomes? Come on people, get to work!

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ECOMOVES: Where are all the companies that offer to clear houses and bankrupt business premises in the most ecologically sound ways possible? Including the recycling and ‘upcycling’ of objects and materials and selling for profit, using the timing of moving to new homes and premises to introduce more sustainable practices and materials as standard? These companies could build up databases of sustainable clients and businesses with which to woo their customers, providing much more than standard removal and installation services.

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PSYCHEDELIC CARE-HOMES: Where are all the psychedelic carehomes? I mean the ones playing 60’s and 70’s music, the ones with space hoppers, magic mushrooms, meditation, radical politics and all the other signs of the counter-cultural revolution? I haven’t visited any care-homes for the elderly in a while, but the people who turned 18 in 1960 are now aged 76. Are the more alternative and radically left wing elderly types being catered for? Are they being catered for enough?

Coppicing

I’m full of semi-wild ideas. I may as well share them all with you. Some of them may even come to something.

I’ve long had an idea for a consolidated network of coppices in Britain, including hazel, sweet chestnut, ash, willow and oak coppices, which could provide the British Isles with the materials to make some mass products that are currently made out of plastic. See the following link for a basic description of coppicing: Coppicing basics

This coppicing network (.co.uk? .org?) would serve many purposes. Fundamentally it would help conserve and promote biodiversity. Research indicates that there are many ancient coppices that have fallen into neglect in this country, since the latter half of the twentieth century. Accurate data on this is hard to come by. Such coppices would benefit from regeneration, from a wildlife as well as a human productivity perspective.  My proposed network would also consciously include the smallest land-owners and forestry enterprises, and encourage the planting of more coppice, as part of biodiverse, mixed habitat woodlands, managed according to a balance of conservation, agroforestry and Permaculture principles. Thus, mixed land-use livelihoods would be supported by the proposed network. In mixed food and timber forest gardens, non-native species providing harder wood could also be integrated (I’m thinking of bamboo, particularly).

My proposed network would only work in close partnership with a team of producers of products that people actually want, on a large scale, in conjunction with a team of creative marketers, including social media marketers. Sometimes the managers of the coppices would also be producers and marketers. Specifically, I think there is scope for developing coppice wood products to replace common products that are currently made from plastic i.e. oil. Standard predictions show that oil as a global resource will became more scarce and expensive over the coming decades.

Here are a few common products used globally, that are currently often made out of plastic (oil). I used the following website for most of these: Polyplastics ; lighting stands, blinds, pan handles, chopping boards, mixing spoons, storage containers, toothbrush handles, hairbrush handles, soap holders, disposable razors. My question is, could these products be made out of coppiced wood native to temperate zones (particularly the UK)? Obviously some of them can be (and have been) made from bamboo.

I understand that it would be no small task to produce and distribute and market products made from materials farmed by a diversity of small- and large-scale growers, and difficult to replace products in the marketplace that have been made from plastic for so long (such as toothbrush handles). I share ideas like this in the hope that someone with more knowledge than me, but with just as much enthusiasm and diligence and vision, might develop the ideas into something productive on the ground.

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I had a great day the other day coppicing in a patch of hazel in mid Devon, and passing on the skills. It was a cold November day, sunny with showers. My muscles were given a workout from the hand sawing (I didn’t personally use the chainsaw although there was one on site). My mental health benefited from the light, and the knowledge that I was helping the biodiversity in that particular woodland. There is relatively little woodland cover left in the UK. With what is left being in isolated pockets, human intervention in the form of re-instating and propagating semi-wild coppices to provide different heights of woodland canopy, and woodland edge habitats, could help ensure that biodiversity is maximised. Any development of sustainable coppice products that reduce our dependence on plastic, would be a bonus.

I’m really interested in hearing from anyone who has any thoughts on my ideas. How could this be developed? Please comment below, and ‘follow’ my blog to get my posts weekly to your inbox. Thanks.

Loneliness

PART ONE:

This is really hard. I’m listening to Seth Godin, the marketing guru give me advice on how to connect with people and develop a free blog that people will actually be interested in, in a time-poor and choice-saturated modern world. Surely with my writing skills, envisioning skills, empathy and imagination I can do this?

But I want to do more than just this. I want to provide a service that helps our relationship with the rest of Nature, that integrates society more closely with Nature and itself, that there are no more lonely people; that the multiplicity of possible connections online actually translate better into meaningful face to face connections, and those all-important oxytocin-releasing hugs. (Anyone got a hug for me? I need one.) Here is a great TED talk on Youtube about the negative feedback loops, biological and neurological, that happen as a result of loneliness: The lethality of loneliness

It seems to me, from what I’ve observed and the reading I’ve done, that the capitalist model of society, as it currently exists in its dominant form, prevents a proper integration of culture that could almost eliminate loneliness.

Three examples (which overlap in various ways):

  • A key unit of contemporary capitalism, the monogamous family unit, does not always bring with it an extended network of familial support. Further, when the unit is encouraged to compete with other units in a capitalist sense, this can often prevent a well-connected social embeddedness in a community, or in wider society -especially when waged work is done away from home. Social embeddedness is key to preventing loneliness, felt both on the inside and outside of families. The relative economic predictability of the monogamous family unit plays a role in its prime position in contemporary capitalist society. See The Extraordinary Political Power of Moving Beyond Monogamy But economic predictability is not mental health. Many monogamous families are very happy, but I hypothesize that this norm creates the polar opposite of many lonely people, the incidence of which would be reduced in a society that wasn’t mono- family unit -centric. A properly integrated culture, one relatively free from loneliness, is surely one where the shared identities of everyone are constantly reinforced in face to face interactions, (not just online ones), including at home. These interactions are on some level ‘cultural events’ in that they propogate or carry forward culture, ideally often involving a degree of human touch as well, and not just between lovers, family and friends. This can still all function if you are someone who ‘likes their own space’ (as I do) -that’s fine.
  • In the UK, the relatively large number of single person households (7.7 million in 2016), I think does not reflect the desires of those people for human connection. See Families and households in the UK: 2016 The modern consumerist mantra is ‘I want whatever I want and I want it now’. We are marketed capitalism-driven stories by mass Media that tell us we shouldn’t settle for anything less than the perfect home, with the perfect life partner, and the perfect job. We ‘happily’ continually dislodge ourselves from neighbourhoods in the hope of finding better ones. I contend that this has a detrimental effect on the coherent sense of culture that I think is integral to making meaningful human connections. Many people say they ‘just like living alone’ and ‘can’t share’ but I contend that this is a faulty attitude (which I often have myself, in my own flat!) borne of a lack of understanding or exploration of the diverse private / communal living boundaries and arrangements which are possible, or alternatively a lack of appropriate communal living situations on offer.
  • Economically-driven loneliness is common in modern society. I suffer from it myself. There are different kinds of economically-driven loneliness; I discuss only one kind here. For people who find it difficult to make money, and for people like me who find it difficult to orientate their lives around making money, the financially affordable options for meeting like-minded people face to face are drastically reduced -especially in rural areas, unless you are lucky enough to be connected to charitable land-based enterprises or fulfilling volunteering opportunities. In modern society the ‘like-mindedness’ of people is often dependent on the type of culture they spend money on consuming. Although internet-based culture is largely free, if I am financially poor I am by default uncultured by the dominant capitalist model and moreover there are large gaps in my very understanding of the whole culture I live in. It is largely up to individuals to work out a sense of the whole culture they live in, based on what they consume. So the important work of cultural integration in modern society, you could say, is done by individuals and groups of individuals in a haphazard way, depending on what culture they have consumed, largely dependent on what they’ve spent their money on (whether food or cinema trips or academic textbooks), in turn dependent on the capitalist forces of marketing. The financially poor are often emotionally isolated from this whole process, and end up lonely. This blog is my own haphazard project of integration, but by eventually including as many sources (especially integrative sources) and people as possible, I hope that over time it may bear useful fruit. Otherwise, I may just be another force for disintegration, especially if I charge people for what should be free, once the business wing of this blog is developed. I do think capitalism can be reformed or gradually usurped by something more evolved. A re-orientation of society to Nature / land -based socialising and culture must be key.

Possible solutions to these examples of loneliness, briefly (to be expanded on in future posts):

  • More normalisation and society-wide support -including legal and financial -for extended family living units (as used to be the case in this country, for instance), communal living units and polyamorous (ethically non-monogamous) living units. In normalised polyamory living units, the travelling of some individuals between units would be common, in a culturally supported way. This type of living unit is potentially inclusive of individual-types who are failed by the strict monogamous standard.
  • More support in Government Planning and in architectural practices, for more of a diversity of housing designs and living arrangements for single people, including more allowance of self-builds, and different options for managing private / communal boundaries and spaces. On a deeper level, the reduction in power of consumer-driven culture.
  • More opportunities for socialisation and the consumption of culture for the financially poor, especially in rural areas. Alternative localised economies which are not aggressively competition based. On a deeper level, the evolution of capitalism into something which has the whole of Nature, alongside human social justice, at its core.

The internet may be the most powerful tool that we’ve ever had, ironically, to reconnect with Nature and with each other face to face. How can I use the internet to translate the multiplicity of possible online connections into actual face to face connections (and hugging!) ? How can we use diverse connections online to reshape the actual, physical society we live in, in a way that all but eradicates loneliness?

Perhaps this blog -Epic Tomorrows- could be a force for good on this mission. Will you help me?

PART TWO:

Why am I lonely? I practise gratefulness -gratefulness for everything in my life. So with every aspect of loneliness I discuss, I can reflect on how it’s a whole lot worse for others. That’s not to discredit the nuances of my personal experience.

Although I have a basic safety net of financial support from my family, I struggle to find work. This is partly due to my mental health needs. In general I can’t afford to go out and socialise in the ways that people tend to do. The stress and anxiety of looking for work exacerbate this loneliness.

Yet, I am skilled and versatile. How much worse this kind of loneliness must be for those who have no family, or less skill sets than I have. Capitalist culture isolates and devalues the mentally ill, and the skilled creative person who hasn’t got entrepreneurial savvy.

I live a semi-nomadic lifestyle. This is the way I am and is the only way that makes sense to me in this decrepit modern society. I give society that label from a place of wanting justice for all. For myself, if I wasn’t compassionate for others globally, I could conceive of my life and live it as comparatively one of the most privileged people in history.

As it is I can move around and pick the best bits from the city and the country, and the so-called rich and poor neighbourhoods. Thus I can begin to form within myself a wholeness that I intuit is true and sustainable for me and for the globe as a whole. My intuition is bound to be some way off, but I can hone it, especially as I gain knowledge of what is going on in the world, and what has gone on.

This does not mean I am not loyal to community and place -I am loyal. But I like to travel inbetween the places I am loyal to, and sometimes outside those places.

Capitalist culture does not support the nomadic and the semi-nomadic. It is not easy for me to connect meaningfully, as I move. I am lonely. But how much worse it must be for certain homeless wanderers, and some single people who feel they have to move house every few years in order to get the right kind of paid work.

I am lonely through self-awareness. Through a heightened sense of self-awareness and thus awareness of society, I am forced into loneliness. This includes awareness of the insubstantiality of my ‘self’, of all human identities. Modern society is falsely stratified according to skill sets, with the aim of greater economic productivity for the various nation states. This has resulted in arbitrary ‘personality types’ of, for instance, the so-called ‘sporty’, ‘creative’ and ‘scientific’ types which are actually just facets of one humanity, nurtured to a lesser or greater degree in different people. This isn’t denying the role of genetics -in fact genetics are responsible for perpetuating these arbitrary divisions- but they are not to be set in stone.

It is lonely not to meet people who are aware of this fragmentation of society and self and who are positively addressing it in themselves. But I realise that I need to get out more. But lack of money. See above. And lack of confidence. See below. Yet how blessed I am! How much more lonely must be the person who feels fragmented, or feels like a fragment of the wholeness of what it is to be human, without any awareness or knowledge of why they feel this way!

The nation state makes me lonely. Getting my news from various YouTube channels (including, but rarely, the BBC) it is clear that international politics is 80% about aggressively maintaining national borders / identity, and those borders and identities as extrapolated across the world in trade agreements and branches of corporations. Of course it is lonely to live in this world of competing national warlords. When will we dispense with them? But how much more educationally privileged I am than the nationalist who believes in her nation, and yet in her mistrust of all immigrants, foreigners and non-nationalist natives, is potentially still very lonely.

Okay, now take these modern statements:

‘I am shy.’

‘I suffer from social anxiety.’

‘I am an introvert,’ (except when I’m not.)

Being tired rather than energised by human company is supposed to be the sign of an introvert, and yet sometimes recently I have begun to be energised by some forms of company, and by company in general. I have a theory that like ‘personality types’, the ‘introvert-extrovert’ binary is a false construct which has grown in strength due to entrenched interests and oppressive power structures in society, especially in the latest form of society known as globalised capitalist society. In other words, ‘the extrovert’ denotes the person who on the surface has adjusted to capitalist society, and the ‘introvert’ is the person who on the surface, hasn’t. There will be exceptions and subtleties. Isn’t it then, usually the introverts who are the most incisively critical of modern society? This is the beginnings of a theory and needs a closer looking at.

As an ‘introvert’ (although I am purposefully becoming more balanced) and as a ‘shy’ and ‘anxious’ person to whom modern society doesn’t make much sense, I am of course lonely. Despite achieving positions of facilitation and leadership, sometimes the most basic human connections, or conventions of connection, elude me. Nevertheless I am infinitely luckier than the introverted person who believes they were born introverted, and than the socially anxious person who believes in the biomedical model of mental illness to the extent that they will take tablets for years before addressing their own personal growth.

I am polyamorous. I am also sexually liberated. In contrast I live in a society that is monogamous, and both sexually promiscuous, in a negative way, and sexually repressed. Being thus at odds, I am lonely. Especially as there is a very small pool of partners available to me. But I would rather be lonely and free in my expression of love and sex -if only in my head- than deeply connected within the web of hypocrisy of modern intimate relationships.

PART THREE:

I understand that aloneness is a rich state to be in, but it is no excuse for the endemic loneliness at the heart of modern culture.

Here I am again, with some more ways in which I am lonely! Ah, but I am grateful. I am really grateful. Every waking moment of mine is full of the luxuries of relatively clean air, relatively unpolluted food, and signs of a biodiverse Nature around me. I am fit and healthy and versatile. What more do I want? Well, I want to ensure that these ‘luxuries’ are standard for everyone, in the likelihood of approaching global upheaval.

I am heavily critical of contemporary society and culture, and so I am lonely. I am deeply aware of how the current global civilisation-mesh -global capitalist civilisation as a whole- cannot last. Just as all previous empires and civilisations have collapsed and evolved, so will this one. What makes you think that capitalism is so special?

Fossil fuels are becoming more scarce and there is not enough time to develop infrastructures based on other fuels, before the disintegration and Descent of the old infrastructures. We are globally ‘way behind time’ in terms of preparedness for the necessary civilisational shift of the coming decades. This is largely due to the stubbornness and fear of the kings of the old systems. This could be a good thing, as civilisation breakdown-breakthrough will finally show us the irrelevance of these kings and their habits-of-highly-ineffective-people.

But I am lonely in my realisation of the transience of capitalism. I attempt to educate others, so that I don’t feel so lonely. I suppose it is the loneliness of the leader that I feel, but I wish to encourage leadership in all of us.

*

I live in an alcoholic culture. A culture that uses alcohol to subvert valid anger, displace carnival and to dumb down the revolutionary intellect that is within all of us. Hone your revolutionary intellect kids -you’re going to need it!

I don’t like to drink much. In that sense I could be lonelier than the average drinker. Maybe I’m just in the wrong country.

*

I am genderqueer, or I prefer, ‘a gender rebel’. Not to identify with traditional masculine and feminine concepts, puts me at a disadvantage of connection, you could say. A certain loneliness results.

*

Being a change-maker and an entrepreneur is lonely. I am on a bridge over an abyss. I am afraid of what is on the other side, and I may fall and have to climb my way back up to the wrong side of the chasm -where I started from. Ironically, in order to strive ahead to build strong post-capitalist community, I have to sometimes sacrifice my connection in-the-meantime to the scant community that is already in my life.

*

I am celibate, but erotically so. This is the result of the disjunction between my liberation and the repression of the society around me. It is especially lonely when in my attitude I am misjudged as ‘easy’ or on the other extreme, ‘prudish’. Nevertheless, celibacy contributes to my rich aloneness which is something separate to my loneliness. Without some of this fertile solitude, I would not be able to write about the isolation that so pains me.