6 reasons for all hardcore vegan activists to get to London RIGHT NOW! (with epic pre-ramble -?You Gather? #13)

?You Gather? -Vegan and Climate Activism (for Heroines and Heroes) #13

Pre-ramble:

Hello heroines. Heroes, how are you doing? Are you keeping a lid on the patriarchy? I hope so.

Woohoo it’s kicking off in London! Look at this video! Especially the kids having fun! Bring your kids to London to rebel!

Believe it or not, my heart has been very heavy today. Heavy with planetary grief and personal loneliness. And heavy because I couldn’t find the inspiration to write this post -that is, until I visited my friend the River Taw.

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The River Taw -‘upstream’

Until a few weeks ago I had been heavily involved with the international Extinction Rebellion (XR) but right now I have taken a step back. I am still fully supportive of XR. I need a rest, I need to play it cool with the Law to get a visiting visa to Canada, and I need to focus on Epic Tomorrows. We do have to be strategic as front-line activists as to how and when we get arrested (if at all), and as to how we manage our time and lives in general.

I will admit I am finding the gathering, listing and curating of websites into spreadsheets for my Well Gathered workbook terminally boring at times. But I also have intense flashes of vision as to how this gathering is leading towards a truly valuable service that could help speed up activism the world over. That may sound bold, but if you are as obsessive as I am about the truth, and how to present the truth to make positive change, you will understand my claim!

Gathering information this past week about farms and slaughterhouses in the UK, particularly as regards farm animal welfare, it occurred to me how vast a spell society is under when it comes to where and how our food is produced. Spell is surely the right word. We do not live in a scientific society or a rational society, let alone a humane one.

One of the interesting resources I found this week is a map of all the dairy farms in England and Wales, compiled by Project Calf, here. (More resources are listed in Well Gathered).

I have often heard the ills of the modern world blamed on positivist and Enlightenment thinking -specifically that the only valid knowledge is that which is scientifically verified. Yet when it comes to modern industrialised farming, especially animal agriculture, no amount of scientific verification that the industry is wrecking biodiversity, the atmosphere, animal welfare and human health, seems to affect its continuance.

The media has a lot to answer for, of course. I look back incredulously at my childhood and the flood of tv adverts that I must have absorbed, telling me that pasteurised, homogenised cow’s milk is the best source of calcium. (I have now researched this to be a ridiculous claim. I will write a post on this within the next fortnight).

It is only by gathering enough information, misinformation and disinformation on an issue that we can learn the truth enough to communicate it to make change. Once we have learnt that truth, we must be as strategic as possible in how we apply that truth to our activism -including in the messaging that we convey to prospective supporters.

Well Gathered is my attempt to provide a tool which helps you gather the truth and then employ it in activist strategy.

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The River Taw -‘midstream’

Back to XR -daily my heart is both lifted and torn to see the various extensive news items about the Rebels in London. Torn because part of me wishes I was there. They are holding down at least four different locations, including Waterloo Bridge where hundreds of arrests have taken place since the beginning of the Rebellion on the 15th. Here’s Caspar of the Climate Media Coalition in a photo of the bridge he uploaded to Facebook this evening. (I will get to those ‘5 reasons…’ of the post title, just bear with me!)

Caspar on Waterloo Bridge

I have been smiling at the scenes on Waterloo and at Oxford Circus which can be described as more of a party than a protest. So far I have witnessed (remotely) the transforming of Waterloo Bridge into an urban garden, a classical violin concerto at the same location, a massive pink boat bolted into the ground in the middle of Oxford Circus (illegally of course) and dozens of Rebels being carried off by police amongst cheering crowds.

Then I read critical comments of XR from folk on Facebook who just don’t seem to get it -and by ‘it’ I mean the severity of the ecological crisis we are in. Yes it would be better if XR had more of a diverse ethnic and class representation, but it doesn’t. We are still trying. You won’t beat us with whining criticisms or even intelligent (but still whingey) online articles, so please join us and help us improve in those areas where we obviously need improvement. 

God knows I realise that in XR we need to appeal to so many more people and types of people than we are currently doing. I thought this Guardian video was really excellent in its inclusion of the two young women who made the point that if it was a group of mainly black people sitting down in the road, they would have been arrested much sooner (most probably).

Personally I am wondering about the builders working on a new block of flats right opposite the block I’m in. How could they be persuaded to the XR cause? How can I teach them about the severity of the ecological crisis? In a way that they will listen?

Being quite alone in my flat, everything I feel as I engage with folk online (even if it is only one-way engagement) seems to be magnified -drawn in sharp relief against the emotionally uneventful -and not a little stressed- background of my day to day life right now. It seems as if the stress and the uniformity (dullness?) I am currently experiencing are pre-requisites to the business launch of Epic Tomorrows, but actually I know it doesn’t have to be like that.

Indeed I have had moments this week of relaxing -relinquishing personal rules that aren’t serving me and taking on new guidelines of efficiency, as well as allowing a little spontaneity here and there.

One such spontaneous moment was this morning. I couldn’t face beginning this post. (Yes I know, I know, and now it’s too long). I felt so lonely. I have begun a relationship with a woman in Canada -the plan is that she will move here to live with me. We’ve been getting on extraordinarily well, but not being physically in each other’s presence is of course frustrating and can make the loneliness in-between our communications more acute.

With it being a nice sunny day, I decided to get down to the Taw for a little relaxation and refreshment. I found my regular sitting spot with the intention of finding some inspiration for today’s post.

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The River Taw -‘downstream’

Realising that I was dehydrated and hadn’t brought water, and not trusting that the river Taw doesn’t have toxic agricultural run-off in it, I stayed only long enough to read the first story in the gathering of tales that is ‘Fearless Girls, Wise Women and Beloved Sisters’ by Kathleen Ragan. (The featured image at the top of this post is the front cover.)

I was indeed inspired by ‘The Stolen Bairn and the Sidh’, a folk tale from Scotland. To cut a short story even shorter, a human woman leaves her baby (bairn) on a cliff path to go in search of water (not advisable at the best of times). Of course the Sidh (big fairy type beings) make off with the bairn and take it to their kingdom.

Our heroine can only enter the kingdom to retrieve the baby if she presents two objects of uncommon beauty and value to the Sidh, which she does by crafting original objects with her own hands. The first object is a gown made from downy feathers that she collects from the cliff-side, shed from eider ducks, with her own golden hair sown in which she cuts off for the purpose. The second object is a harp made from a whale bone washed up on the beach, strung with some more of her hair.

After reading the story it struck me how the climate and ecological catastrophe that is unfolding around us can be likened to the kingdom of the mean Sidh. The fairies are not evil but presented as mischievous and thoroughly misguided, in the same way that our fossil fuel CEOs are. The bairn is all our children, our nephews and nieces who are currently held hostage by a future that we have as yet failed to avert.

In order to get our bairn back, we must use two unusual and rare forces. The first is mass civil disobedience. The second, put in motion by the first, is participatory democracy. There will be no quick techo-fixes, which is why our own hands, our own hard work are implicated in both of these forces.

We must cut off our hair -in other words our vanity and consumerist egos– in order to employ these forces effectively. Moreover, movements like XR for me can only be the very beginning of a long journey to respond effectively to The Evidence of the declining efficiency and growing evils of neoliberal capitalist economics.

So now I will get round to the original point of this post, which was intended to catch any straggling vegan activists who for some reason haven’t made it to London to join XR (maybe it’s a good reason, like mine is).

XR vegan meal

6 reasons for all hardcore vegan activists to get to London RIGHT NOW!

1) XR needs your energy! Some vegans have been amongst the highest energy, most focused people I have met, and game for a fight, metaphorically speaking. For some vegans it may be something to do with the discipline of keeping a vegan diet, in the beginning, which is hard if you are not used to it. I know this discipline has given me a feeling of focus and sharpness, which is akin to how I have felt in the austere environments of Theravadin Buddhist monasteries. As long as it is peaceful, can you bring this energy to London right now please? Folk are being arrested on Waterloo Bridge and at other locations all the time, with a constant need for reinforcements. It’s fine to bring your kids and you don’t have to be ‘an arrestable’. 

2) There are already lots of vegans involved in XR. I know them personally. XR naturally attracts vegans because it is a peaceful, compassionate, heartfelt movement for ecological justice. Listen to this Talk Radio segment to hear about how the police are baffled at how happy the XR activists are, even as they are getting arrested.

3) Living vegan alone is nowhere near enough to save the planet / save our civilisation from collapse. I expand on this a little in point 1) of the most popular post I have ever written here. 

4) We need to get more strategic about our activism and the way that issues intersect. Any serious vegan, I would suggest, should also be campaigning on the addressing of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss, as the meat industry is heavily implicated in both. If XR achieves its aims of the creation of a national citizens’ assembly to oversee reduction to carbon zero by 2025, then naturally a drastic reduction of large-scale industrialised meat farming in the UK will occur. But first we need to achieve our aims. Bake some vegan cakes and get to London!!

5) It could be good PR for veganism as a stand-alone issue, if you get to London now. There have been unlimited news reports on the XR actions in London and internationally in the past few days, including some sympathetic Financial Times and Sky News coverage. Make your vegan signs, be creative and gentle and suggestive with them! Mingle into the general XR signage. You may even be able to gather enough vegans together in London to do a separate vegan action at a well-known meat establishment. How about a sign that reads:

‘Vegan for XR’ ??? or even just ‘XR Vegan’ (XRV) ???

6) It’s fun! There are all kinds of civilly disobedient shenanigans going on. Watch wonderful example:

 

Thanks for reading! Please like, comment, share or slam! Additionally, feel free to drop me a line at epictomorrows@gmail.com to help me evolve in my service to you, (or just give me a load of abuse if that’s your thing). Subscribe to blog posts by email at the top of the sidebar. Click here to buy the WELL GATHERED Workbook. Heroic!

Here’s the Facebook version of this post (click on the little blue ‘f’ to go there!):

[Latest XR London arrests: over 400 and counting]

 

?You Gather? Vegan and Climate Activism (for Heroines and Heroes) #5

!Hi folk, how is your heroic activist journey going this week?

This week, I think what I have been struggling with most is a combined lack of face to face human connection (as usual) as well as a perceived lack of recognition for my talents, and for this blog. I am beginning to realise just how much work and effort will be required to build my blog audience. I have set myself a date of 10th February to increase my audience from 60 to 130, as part of a bigger exponential curve of increase up to 1000 followers by the end of March (the amended launch date of the Well Gathered spreadsheet). Apparently this is needed to make 30 sales at a 3% ‘conversion rate’. Well, it’s not quite that simple. Anyway, I have a lot of great resources to help me, it’s just a case of working through them.

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As human beings, as activists, and especially as vegan activists, it’s important that we eat healthily. This can include gathering some wild greens. Today on my walk in the lanes I was reminded of cleavers and pennywort.

I really didn’t want to go out on a walk, with the weather being so cold and wet, but a nudge from a new friend by text (a co-worker from Extinction Rebellion -XR) reminded me that I really should. A few days previously I had told him how good it is for my mental health to get outside and into Nature. I was quite comfortable with my aloneness -not the same as loneliness- as I struck into the lanes and fields.

Despite my isolation, through my work with XR I am gradually becoming part of a community of fascinating and caring activists. Most of the contact is online or by phone, but that’s okay. It’s good news, since ‘finding and strengthening community’ is one of five things on my slightly obsessive list of ‘the five most important things that I need to be working on until I achieve them’. FYI, the Well Gathered spreadsheet will include a sheet listing online well-being resources for activists.

On Monday I spoke with a new friend from XR who has offered me weekly one-way check-ins by phone i.e. offering to hold space as I share what’s going on for me emotionally and intellectually. A semi-professional therapeutic arrangement. We did end up discussing a bit, but it all felt very natural, boundaried and supportive. She is also one of the only four (!) people so far, who have subscribed to my blog by email.

Then mid-week, something really amazing happened. A political rapper from Atlanta, Georgia in America who I had written to on a whim asking if she would do an interview with me for Epic Tomorrows, got back to me and said ‘yes’. Queen Left is her artist name, and I predict big things for her in the world of hip-hop. What has music got to do with activism? Everything! Here is a vital tip for activists wishing to make connections with other activists, to amplify their campaigns. I contacted Queen Left on YouTube, via the ‘About’ section on her YouTube profile. Not all YouTube profiles reveal email addresses, but some do. It’s worth sniffing around. Choose someone who feels a little out of your league, but not way out of your league.

Through my contact with Queen Left I had a revelation about my website content. I had already been working towards incorporating more of the heroic and the mythic into my site. Truly we live in an age of monsters and heroines, dragons and epic quests, and viewing things like that can be a useful and inspiring way to deal with the complexity and ecological catastrophe of contemporary life. But as I was out on one of my increasingly regular Nature walks, just after Queen got back to me a couple of days ago, I suddenly had a vision of the ‘soundtrack’ for Epic Tomorrows.

Months back I started a site named ‘Music of the Resistance’ -MOtheR for short- which listed hundreds of rebellious music tracks via links to YouTube, Soundcloud etc. I had no idea whether it would ultimately prove to be legal, but I really enjoyed the process of building up the resource, and a few people submitted their own favourites to the website, which was the best part. I eventually abandoned that project due to the ambiguous legality and not getting on with the Wix platform I was using, and also not having the know-how or energy to transfer the information to another platform.

The music is still with me. I like rebellious music of all genres, according to a very wide definition of ‘rebellious’ to include classical and jazz (especially jazz) and even mainstream pop songs that have a rebellious edge or message. I also just like well-written and well-produced music. Since music is in my bones, why should I keep it separate from my blog? Am I not all about gathering every part of myself to serve the whole of myself, and to serve the whole of you, my reader? And don’t you love music too?

If we are to be heroines and heroes in the disaster movie of 21st Century humanity, then by damn don’t we need to do it to a stunning soundtrack?!

When I had this realisation the other day, I literally danced for joy. Queen Left is dancing too.

As always, write to me with your activist -especially vegan and climate activist- dilemmas and I will try to help you out with them. You can contact me about anything else too. Email: epictomorrows@gmail.com, address to Matthew.

How I Got Here: An Ecopreneur’s Story #2

So there I was, sitting in an unlawful wooden building which I co-built, in the middle of a field in mid-Devon, finding it the perfect inspiration to hatch my plans for the liberation of global society.

At Silent Haven, when it came to managing the land and self-sufficiency, it sometimes seemed I disagreed with my (now ex) partner, Jules, on almost everything. I suppose this feeling supported the visionary aspect of my mind which would constantly interrupt my working day with strategies and projects for my entrepreneurial future, that it urged me to run to the cabin to write down to work on later in the day, or when I got a chance. Jules and I are now the best of friends, but I don’t blame her for being exasperated with my mindset at the time. I wasn’t totally focused on the land.

However, living in the midst of Nature, on the edge of the law, gave my envisioning some groundedness, bite and congruence; what better place from where to imagine an entirely new ecology-based civilisation, with new criteria for human well-being, and new laws?

It’s a few years later and now I can look back at my time at Silent Haven -the development is now fully ‘allowed’ by the authorities- and appreciate how lucky I was to have that quiet and semi-wild place to contemplate my power and position in the world. My head was messy, including the stress caused by an oppressive planning law system. I was in and out of the so-called mental health services. Painful mindstates that I had kept in check for years, since my arbitrary recovery from that first initial breakdown at university, came back with a vengeance.

In the early years at Silent Haven Jules and I were blessed to meet, through a Buddhist group, some very kind no-souls who regularly gave us support and the practical use of their modern homes, including their computers. I began to see what an amazing tool the internet could be for inspiring visions of the future that were global in scope, as well as connecting with likeminded visionaries. Most of the ideas I had for ‘changing the world’ were wildly unrealistic. Nevertheless, Silent Haven and its support network became the eco-incubator of ideas which I have now taken in a more realistic, ecopreneurial direction.

Since my early twenties I had been acquainted with meditation and other aspects of a grounded, practical spirituality that addressed my mental health needs. During the Silent Haven years I discovered Richard Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ and a book called ‘Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership’  by Joseph Jaworski, which both mixed spirituality with business advice. I realised that the world of business was not universally the world of ruthless backstabbers that I had been told it was. It was an ignorant mindset and bunch of people that had given me that impression.

Yes, capitalism depends on gross inequalities at its very core, and requires continual economic growth at the expense of finite natural resources. Yes, I work to help end capitalism as it stands (lurches) now. However, there are good people and there are geniuses working within business. We need their skills and perspectives to get out of the mess we’re in as a global civilisation, whether we like it or not. This is my opinion but feel free to question me on it.

It was during the Silent Haven years that I realised that the ‘hippie mindset’ I had been largely influenced by up until then, was damaging to the causes that ‘hippies’ claimed to support. (I know I am making huge generalisations, but there is truth to what I say; please bear with me). Firstly, I identified that the so-called The Law of Attraction and other pseudo-spiritual theories are used as an excuse not to put in the necessary hard emotional, intellectual and physical work needed to evolve our human civilisation to the next level. Don’t get me wrong -I understand how the Law of Attraction works. It works, but only so far, and only in context.

In a similar way, I was angered with myself and others for harping on about ‘the good and simple life’ of back to Nature living. Once I was living in such a way myself, it turned out to be a very complex matter, and hard work. I became especially irritated by folk who gave Permaculture a bad name by taking the ‘working with Nature’ and ‘designing systems to maintain themselves’ aspects of Permaculture to the extreme end that they thought they could create edible paradises by sitting on their backsides and dreaming about them (the Law of Attraction, apparently). Some people seem to think that no-dig growing is the same as no-growing-at-all. I can say these things with a wry smile, as I was guilty of these mindsets myself.

I don’t forget what a pleasure it was to teach the basics of land-based living to the volunteers that came to Silent Haven. I know that it woke at least a few people up to possibilities of realistic land-based career paths (even if I couldn’t follow them myself). I also remember with fondness discussions I engaged in about the next stage of civilisation that humanity is destined for. To dream and envision is very important; to have the space to do that. But at some point we have to start digging (or the work of no-digging); we have to get wise to the times that we live in and use all the tools available to us, whether spades or computer keyboards, to negotiate the next transformation of human civilisation.

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.

 

*

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.

 

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