?You Gather? -Vegan and Climate Activism (for Heroines and Heroes) #13
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.
Until a few weeks ago I had been heavily involved with the internationalExtinction 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.
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!)
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.
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).
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:
!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.
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 cleaversand 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 Leftis 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 processof 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?!
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: email@example.com, address to Matthew.
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 Attractionand 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.
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.
‘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.
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 Civilisationshows 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.
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.
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.
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 principlesof 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 MonogamyBut 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: 2016The 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?
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.
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.
This re-written post is a celebration of the 3 year anniversary of me beginning Epic Tomorrows, and the 2 year anniversary of me becoming involved with direct action civil disobedience, via Extinction Rebellion (XR). I originally published this first post of Epic Tomorrows on 30th October 2017, one year and one day before I attended the Declaration of Rebellion in Parliament Square in London which publicly began the international XR movement. On that day I shed tears as Greta Thunberg -who had travelled to the UK with her father Svante in an electric car- told me and the others assembled there, ‘It’s time to rebel!’ Regardless of the criticism that Greta has since received, and that she is sometimes co-opted by corporatist interests, I know from first-hand experience that she means very well.
When I first published this post I had a very intellectual -maybe even abstract- view of rebellion, ‘revolution’ and ‘global systems change’. Since then I think I have developed a slightly more practical approach, largely informed by my direct experience of NVDA (non-violent direct action) and civil disobedience with XR.
My approach has also developed some humanity, I hope, and interconnectedness with the approaches of others, as manifested in the Epic Tomorrows YouTube channel that I started early in 2020, and with the help of @EpicTomorrows on Twitter.
I began the Epic Tomorrows blog, with this post, in ‘arrogant confusion’ but at least I trusted that something valuable would come out of it, which I believe it has, thus:
‘I’m sat on a rock in the river Taw. Never have I seen it so high. I’m here to wash away the distractions of life that I may focus on the highest stream within me; the stream of servant-leadership. There is no point in leading except to serve whom you lead, or you are only serving yourself…
We are just days away from the Gaelic festival of Samhain that has Celtic pagan origins. I love these old Celtic seasonal observances, even though I don’t usually celebrate them outwardly. Samhain is halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice -a neat orientation point; something that raises my awareness of the passing seasons and their different characteristics…’
Since writing this first blog post I have been on an intellectual adventure which has questioned the very idea of leadership, prompted by clear problems posed by the perceived leadership within XR. Nevertheless, despite fashionable anarcho- currents on the political Left, most recently with the help of ‘The Next Revolution’ -a book of some collected essays of Murray Bookchin, I have realised that true leadership is a good and necessary thing, at least at this early stage of human evolution, and should be encouraged and made accountable to ‘the led’ in every sphere of life; irresponsible (unresponsive) leaders should be brought down.
This post will likely go through many iterations, to always be a work in progress.
Maybe I will return to the post at the same time every year, as part of my narrative sense-making of the world through the celebration of anniversaries.
A working hypothesis
In the original post I went on to offer a ‘working hypothesis’ which was to define an area of exploration, development and activism for Epic Tomorrows (ET). It was nothing radically new. It didn’t ‘work’, in the sense that I didn’t ‘work it’ or ‘work with it’. In fact over the course of a few months as ET meandered, I lost my focus and forgot all about it. I think it’s worth returning to, so I have updated it slightly:
The somewhat philosophical hypothesis is that, on one level -albeit a very deep and important level- most suffering and death in modern society is closely associated with a lack of narrativeintegration. This suffering and death is implicit in globally poor standards of individual mental health and well-being; the well-being of groups and institutions; and the well-being and sustainability of global human culture as a whole. This root lack of narrative integration that is to blame, in turn arises from the much documented (and blatantly obvious) disconnection of large portions of humanity from the rest of Nature which in modern times is co-creative with (and has been accelerated by) a neoliberal globalised capitalist system (or system of systems) which creates extreme economic inequality as well as other dynamics of oppression, including male dominance and the complete destruction of traditional human cultures, and many species of wildlife. This disconnection has grown over many millennia.
Narrative integration, out of narrative disintegration, may be a useful personal and collective, explicit (cultural) goal within the wider activism of anti- and post- capitalist global systems change(s), even on the urgent practical level of civil disobedience.
An underlying assumption to this post is that there are two main types of thought we use to make sense of the world, propositional (or logical) thinking and narrative thinking. We need them in balance. At this point I would like to suggest the grounding practice of breaking down narratives into propositions, thanks to Daniel Schmachtenberger. For a great description of this practice, watch Daniel in this video from 1.36.30 onwards. Doing this with narratives we come across in the media, or discern in our own minds / lives, can help us assess whether these narratives are functionally useful (or ‘true enough’) i.e. whether they are based enough on sound logical propositions as well as integrated with wider truths and evolving human culture, or whether they are illogical and tend towards disintegration.
To try to demystify my hypothesis, it is well established that us human beings partly make sense of the world, and of human culture, by the narratives and myths that we construct about ourselves and the world around us, as well as, more crucially, the underpinning unconscious narrative frameworks that guide our thinking and behaviour. I argue that our individual autobiographies and our collective stories and narratives have become excessively confused, hypocritical, falsely siloed, alienated and fragmented in modern society, including on the deep level of unconscious narrative frameworks, reflecting profound social and ecological injustice and trauma, and the distortion and subversion of this injustice and trauma by consumerist media manipulation. Moreover, non-consumerist narratives are deliberately disintegrated, supplanted and subjugated by consumerist narratives, at the behest of capitalist elites. Lack of conscious and unconscious narrative integration (and lack of narrative control) -including integration with non-human Nature- is the defining pathology of this situation. To re-integrate narratives -our own with our own and our own with other people’s- and to reclaim our narratives, is also to reconnect profoundly with Nature, individually, socially and through the wider culture.
-The best of this original post ended with the section above in italics, although I have added to the section substantially, including the links. In fact I am a little daunted even to finish this post. Really I’m way out of my depth, but I have always loved the risk of swimming into the deep, trusting I will find rocks to perch on before I become totally exhausted intellectually. If anything, this post will serve me, and I hope, some of you readers, as a basis for further exploration and study, and dare I write it, some renewed inspiration for activism and civil disobedience.
Narrative integration and mental health
When I originally wrote this post in 2017, I included this short section on my own mental health, which I have now expanded to include more tangible examples of disintegrated narratives-
I do not blame anyone, including myself, for any lack in my past or present life, but I do take responsibility for change.
My own life narrative of mental health is something that I’m working on. A few years ago it looked pretty shaky. However, the more I detach myself from conventional understandings of mental health -particularly the biomedical model of mental illness- the more I appreciate my unique journey and the gifts it has bestowed on me, as well as the unique challenges which could be headed under ‘mental dis-ease’. It has taken me a while to arrive at this understanding. Sometimes I struggle not to feel injured, to feel beaten black and blue actually, by the fragmented society that allowed me to be defined as medically sick and that still sometimes seeks to define me as such. Ironically, I view conventional attitudes to mental health as a contributory cause of mental ill-ness. I don’t blame individuals or even ‘society’. I am just sharing feelings and observations.
Reconnecting with Nature was key to my recovery from the worst of the dis-ease, and continues to be. Earth Nature as a whole is also key to my new, positive life narrative of mental health and purpose in life i.e. my new understanding of my journey. It is a journey of integration with non-human Nature, integration with and /or refinement of, and also some abandonment of, disintegrated and disintegrative narratives that I have dysfunctionally carried around with me, better integration with the people around me and integration with parts of myself I may have previously struggled to admit into consciousness –the ‘shadow’, according to Jung.
The catchword of ‘integration’ speaks of energy efficiency and resilience, but let us not become too resilient to the neoliberal capitalist forces which dominate us, or we will only perpetuate them.
Some of the various conflicted and fragmented narratives of modern culture that contributed to my mental illness in the first place, an understanding of which I am very lucky to write, is driving towards my liberation, are listed below. If they are not disintegrated, (whilst still posing as whole and powerfully directive by the human actors that serve them) causing conflict within me and in society in general, we can at least say that they are disintegrative or decompositional. I’m sure you recognise some of them:
A child should be raised primarily by its biological mother and father in a house isolated from other families. The parents should stay together for the duration of the childhood, and should agree on how to raise the child.
Middle-class academic children must attend university at aged 18. The working-class can go to hell.
Leaving university without a degree is shameful.
A university degree is worth more than a practical vocational qualification of a high standard.
The city is the place to be. The city is superior to the country, which is just a nice place to visit.
Using alcohol is the best way to relax.
The pornography industry is sustainable and acceptable.
Men must make the first move in relationships, and if you don’t have a girlfriend or at least a sexual partner, as a man, you are a loser.
If you are not heteronormative you are abnormal.
Monogamy is the only ethical way to conduct intimate interpersonal relationships.
Mental illness is best treated by pills, and is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.
(Patriotism for) the nation state is good and necessary.
We live in a democracy.
The only alternative to capitalism is communism (which hasn’t worked, so there is no alternative).
To buy is to be. To accumulate is to succeed.
Our colonial past was terrible, but we are entitled to the ongoing stolen fruits of that past.
Slavery and colonialism are of the past.
You cannot change the law by breaking the law.
This, whatever it is, is normal. This is the way it is supposed to be.
These (bullshit) cultural narratives have intersected in various complex ways in my personal narratives and life episodes, in problematic ways, sometimes left unresolved intellectually and emotionally, including in simple remembered anecdotes and stories contained within future aspirations. I’m sure it’s the same for you.
It is Halloween, or ‘All Hallows’ Eve’, the beginning of the Christian observance of Allhallowtide: three days of remembrance of the dead. (Let us not remember too fondly, dead narratives which no longer serve us.) The modern Halloween is an integration of Samhain and All Hallows practices. What positive tricks and treats of narrative integration can we share with one another?
Epic post-capitalist tomorrows
The current focus of Epic Tomorrows is the accumulating and collating of online data as well as strategic insights, to help activists and revolutionaries achieve victories on the way to global systems change(s). The more accurate and relevant information we have, the more informed and efficient will be our actions. Naturally narrative thinking -with some conscious temperance- has a role to play in this information gathering and its application.
Narrative integration / disintegration can be understood in a variety of ways and historical contexts. Recently I have read some great analyses of the current state of the neoliberal globalised capitalist order, especially Wolfgang Streeck’s ‘How Will Capitalism End?’ and including ‘Postcapitalism’ by Paul Mason. I now reflect on how these readings inform the narrative integration perspective.
I have also been reminded recently of the colonialism that set precedents for neoliberal neo-colonialism and imperialism (especially Euro-American imperialism); reminded by the Black Lives Matter movement and my recent interviewing of XR co-founder Stu Basden who wrote this article which went viral.
Additionally, of some relevance here might be that since late summer 2020 I have been working on the concept (and flesh) of a global meta-strategy for global systems change(s); looking at how activists and their social movements can better co-ordinate and facilitate their strategising.
Finally, I should add here in respect of synchronicity and synchronistic events (synchronistic, not synchronous) that the other day (it’s Samhain / Halloween 2020 as I write this latest version) I received an email from the website provider Wix -who I used a long time back- that my old sites ‘need upgrading’. The main site I used Wix for was ‘Rebirch’, a project that has since mutated into a theory I am developing of holistic mental health whose updated title is ‘the 13 activist bases of mental health’. The essence of this theory is partly to show that all theories / approaches to mental health include highly arbitrary components / criteria, as well as to suggest a potentially useful new contemporary, albeit still arbitrary, understanding of mental health. ‘Narrative health’ is one of the 13 activist bases for mental health, and a base that ties the other bases together.
So in light of these recent developments and the synchronistic reminder of ‘narrative health’ as a potential foundation for mental health, I would like to pose the following questions as an expansion of the ‘narrative integration’ hypothesis, and to serve narrative integration as well as more generally, the re-integration of all human knowledge to serve activism for global systems change(s):
Is neoliberal capitalism in a critical condition, unable to support its own weight and global society for much longer? If most consumerist narratives collapse, as those narratives are premised on hypocrisy and disintegration, how will their collapse reflect in those parts of our identities which have invested in them, of buying our way to joy, success, and meaning? Will we be equally relieved and confused to be without consumerist narratives? Ahead of any possible global societal collapse, how can we reconnect to and reintegrate narratives of identity which support activism for a managed transition to global industrial and cultural systems post-capitalism and post-consumerism, including the heroism that may be required for such a transition? Who will we be during and post-transition and how will we remember and tell stories about how we were before the transition, as individuals, families, communities and nations?
Were democracy and capitalism ever really integrated as systems, or did each always prevent the other from fully realising, to the benefit of capitalism (as unchecked it undermines itself) but not to the benefit of democracy? If the latter is true, how do we atone our humanity with the use of narrative?
Is an integrated info-tech based coherent global system of postcapitalism possible and / or desirable, or should we be using our narrative cognition to focus on developing diverse post-capitalist place-based (localised) narratives, first of all for our individual life-paths? Or should we be imagining ourselves into futures which are both hyper-connected and localised?
How much are our personal life stories and ambitions polluted by fragmented and trauma-inducing, as well as trauma-carrying, colonialist, imperialist and slave-holding (human and non-human) mindsets?
How can bioculturally diverse communities dislocated and destroyed by colonialist, imperialist and global neoliberal capitalist narratives, relocate and rebuild with narratives supported by the narrative-driven mission statements and strategic aims and practical visions, of a decolonised international movement of movements (MoM)?
Is the fundamental narrative contradiction / disintegration that needs to be addressed by the awakening activist, the ongoing conflict and chaos between the heroic narrative of systems change, and the decaying narrative of ‘to have is to be’?
How can ‘narrative health’ be retained and supported in all activists and all human beings for their continued mental health and well-being, as part of a wider concern for regenerative human cultures?
On this third year anniversary / development of the original post, I re-commit, better late than never, to exploring narrative (re-)integration, especially in service to activism and global systems change(s). As it is my YouTube channel that has taken off more than anything else, I will honour the commitment through the human connections that I make in interviews and online discussions that I will facilitate and upload.
Narrative and propositional thinking in balance, and the limits of ‘memetic tribes’
The following citation is from ‘How Stories Make Sense of Personal Experiences’ by Roy F. Baumeister and Leonard S. Newman of Case Western Reserve University. It is worth reading the entire article for a very complex and nuanced explanation of the various cognitive functions / motivations of story-telling and narrative thinking:
‘Narrative thinking sacrifices the generality of the paradigmatic mode in favour of comprehensiveness. Rich accounts can encompass many features, and so narratives are more flexible and can accommodate more inconsistencies than paradigmatic thinking. Internal coherence is the important criterion, rather than how falsifiable the stories are. Therefore, the narrative mode is well suited to reinterpreting and accommodating inconsistent information, as well as for helping people think about situations that involve conflicts or contradictions.’
Yet when the contradictions become overwhelming and profoundly traumatic, as I would argue they have become in globalised capitalist culture, the narrative function becomes highly disintegrated and dysfunctional.
It is now clear to me that although narrative thinking / narrative psychology is very important to how we make sense of the world and act upon it, ‘paradigmatic thinking’, also called ‘propositional thinking’, a general form of logical thinking, is equally as important. Nevertheless, this could strengthen rather than contest my initial hypothesis.
Baumeister and Newman again:
‘The point that propositional knowledge is useful for making stories brings up the issue of how distinct these two modes are…In practice…each individual’s accumulation of knowledge probably uses both modes in an interactive fashion’
Clearly, the current neoliberal global capitalist order (including the ‘communist capitalism’ of China) does not make logical sense. Extreme economic equality, various forms of oppression of most humans and Nature by a small handful of other humans, and the increasing destruction of the biosphere towards the point of a highly possible human extinction, are not sustainable and so do not make logical sense. On a global level, our paradigmatic thinking -our logical reasoning- is failing us, as we are allowing the destructive systems of neoliberalism and the elites that serve them, to continue. Okay, so we may be scared, but it is not logical to let that fear take us towards species annihilation.
Where narrative psychology comes back in, is that it could be precisely because our narrative interpretation of reality is currently so broken and dysfunctional, that our logical reasoning has also suffered (meaning that all forms of sense-making are currently degraded). I propose that this is happening for two main reasons. Firstly, because consciously or unconsciously, we are at a stage in human history where our thought has become ‘globalised’ -due to neoliberal globalisation and due to the internet- but without becoming coherently whole, or balanced in making sense of the world. Largely this is due to our disconnection from non-human Nature and our failure to fully comprehend or embody that disconnection.
However we are more aware than ever of our increasingly inter-connected and potentially threatening human world; perhaps falsely assuming that the non-human world that we impact -including the climate- cannot ultimately endanger us, we can’t help but defensively attempt grand anthropocentric world-encompassing narratives to make sense of things, inevitably based at least partly on sketchy, profit-driven, scare-mongering Big Tech and Big Media -manipulated representations of global events, whatever more elucidating material we may be consuming.
Overwhelmed by global data, perceived global threats and a need for global meaning to counteract the void in meaning created by a literally and culturally dislocating world system(s), our critical thinking and logical reasoning skills have suffered. When we feel forced to generalise and totalise to the extreme regarding global narratives of humanity, especially in a defensive mode, even if quite mildly so, we easily lose or subsume the practice of the leisurely, careful narrative-building that relies on and is co-creative with a fair degree of propositional thinking. As a result, not only our thinking, but our acting, is irrational.
Paradigmatic thinking requires propositions based on the law of cause and effect. Data overwhelm on a global scale, usually heavily biased even when it proposes to be objective, makes cause and effect propositions increasingly difficult. We could often be wholesale giving up on logical thinking in favour of defensive globalised narratives -often utopian or catastrophic in character. Our urgent need to make sense by story, due to this immature and fragmented stage of globalised consciousness has resulted in disintegrated stories which undermine the security and leisure we need to reason things out logically, which further disintegrates our narrative making.
Secondly, neoliberal capitalist and consumerist narratives, the deceitful outward expressions of ecocide -often as overt as consumerist fairy-tales used in advertising- have become more powerful in the world than logical thinking. The illogical personal and collective narratives that we form around the ‘to buy is to be’ mantra -illogical for our mental health and for the survival of our communities and our very species- are so profoundly a part of our identities at this stage in history, that they have undermined our capacity for propositional thinking. Moreover, we may be dissuaded from going too deeply into propositional thinking for fear of being confronted with our own hypocrisy -a hypocrisy that is central to the functioning of our lives (within the unavoidable megamachine of contemporary capitalism).
Additionally, many reasonable human beings feel forced to adopt the defensive political identity positions of either ‘globalised’ on the one hand, desperately trying to salvage internationalism from destructive neoliberalism (including as part of pro-EU narratives in Europe) or nationalist-democratic on the other, often expressing the confusion of fake narratives of democracy on the macro and global level in the micro-unfoldings of our lives, knowing all-too-well that representative democracy is increasingly unreal and subject to corporatism and financial interests.
This isn’t supposed to be a damning of narrative thinking which has an important function in sense-making, but of a dysfunctional narrative thinking untempered by logic, put on the defensive by globalisation and co-opted by consumerism. This is in addition to the very physical ways that a neoliberal capitalist system has ripped up the habitats, communities, traditions and livelihoods which have been the basis of our Life-affirming and sense-making narratives for so long, globally.
This discussion is also informed by the Rebel Wisdom ‘sense-making’ series on YouTube. This latest videoin the series, with Daniel Schmachtenberger, brings up concepts of ‘narrative warfare’ and AI-directed social media control via ‘sticky’ content which increases our addiction to / use of these profit-seeking platforms (YouTube / Facebook etc) by appealing to and maximising our tendencies to tribal identity -regardless of whether or not those tribes are artificially created or reinforced by false or highly manipulated information about what is going on in the world. These tribes are pitted against each other on the platforms by AI-sourced algorithms, an infowar and narrative war which boosts the platforms and leaves them relatively unquestioned and unaccountable (the old method of divide and conquer) as well as spilling over into other more ‘independent’ parts of the internet, and into ‘real life’.
I would add, I have friends who don’t use social media, purportedly to control their own narratives, and yet I see these friends manipulated just as destructively, if not more so, by online propaganda from sources which to me are more obviously biased, even though the bias may be belied and obscured to my friends.
Naturally, internet-dependent tribal identities encourage a further disconnection from Nature, as well as the truth in general, which means a general individual and cultural tendency towards narrative disintegration / dysfunction, except where some effort and method is made to retain an overall view, including of the corporatist interests that manipulate us, which I am trying to do in this post.
Despite the insight of Rebel Wisdom, the profound disconnection from Nature that both allows and is co-creative with online narrative warfare and disintegration, seems to be relatively unaddressed on the channel (but I haven’t watched every video). Likewise the viral The Memetic Tribes of Culture War 2.0, which has provided some inspiration to the Rebel Wisdom sense-making series, fascinating and insightful though it is, does not do justice to the basic underlying lack of narrative integration in modern culture which is symptomatic of the neoliberal globalised capitalist (dis)order. The (dis)order that is co-creative (co-destructive) with disconnection from / destruction of, localised biocultural diversity and non-human Nature. As reflected in a disembodied internet space where appropriate locality-bound and natural resource-limited cultural coherency, potentially enhanced online by international solidarity and understanding, seem to be subservient to unaccountable globally projected egos and often hysterical virtual tribes whose narratives are largely created and maintained by corporatist interests, suffering obviously from a lack of grounding in the natural resource-bound real world.
The ‘six crises’ mentioned in the following citation are a fair enough framework for understanding the genesis of (Euro-American) memetic tribes except that the crucial underlying disconnection from localised, biodiverse Nature has been unstated:
‘We argue that six phenomena are involved in their genesis: secularization, fragmentation, atomization, globalization, stimulation, and weaponization. These ingredients respectively engender six crises: the meaning crisis, the reality crisis, the belonging crisis, the proximity crisis, the sobriety crisis, and the warfare crisis. We will examine each ingredient and crisis in turn…’
The memetic tribes article also completely fails to address its own Euro-American centrism and the implicit neocolonialism of its core arguments, blinkers which are themselves symptomatic of a global culture fragmented by its dissociation from and destruction of formerly coherent, localised biocultural diversity -and the localised democracies essential to the protection of this diversity. If the authors are aware of their bias, they don’t do justice to their arguments by leaving it unstated.
They also fail to talk about arrestable direct action activists / the civilly disobedient -ecology, climate and social justice focused- who go way beyond their tepid construction of SJA (Social Justice Activists) to challenge the institutions of representative democracy more fundamentally, often from a postcapitalist or anti-capitalist perspective. Perhaps, by their Euro-American reckoning, international movements of civil disobedience since Occupy! are not relevant to the ‘culture wars’, but this would be a strange assertion. Perhaps it is only Extinction Rebellion (XR) that has brought into the public intellectual sphere (at least the Euro-American one) the existence of the global postcapitalist movement (pre-dating XR and represented by a number of organisations) for civil disobedience triggered by the climate crisis and global biodiversity loss -despite capitalist-reformists within XR. Afterall, the memetic tribes article was written one month before XR’s declaration of rebellion.
I would argue that if the authors want to contribute more fully to an understanding of globally disintegrative narratives and dysfunctional narrative thinking in modern culture, they need to address postcapitalism and expose their Euro-American bias. Otherwise they are in danger of contributing to narrative disintegration as much as resolving it, themselves tragically subject to the AI-directed siloing of thought and narrative identity that Schmachtenberger exposes.
Covid narrative disintegration
It is hard to write about the current situation with the novel coronavirus worldwide (writing in late October 2020). I am not well-informed enough, and I am bombarded by disjointed narratives about the virus, in part reflecting the narrative disintegration discussed above. Clearly, the lack of reasoning and logical thinking symptomatic of much contemporary being-in-the-world and associated with a degradation of the function of narrative cognition, has resulted in a surprisingly large, perhaps unprecedented in scale, proportion of the global population not believing in key elements of the global coronavirus narrative, as presented by governments, inter-governmental organisations and the mainstream media. Regardless of my lack of scientific knowledge, I can offer some limited observations of what is going on on the level of narrative thinking.
Online and other media data overwhelm, from conflicting and politicised -overtly and covertly- and corporatised sources of information, including from within the supposedly objectively scientific medical professions, has fuelled the disintegration and incoherency of narratives surrounding the virus.
Online tribal polarisation largely created and manipulated by the algorithms of social media and Big Tech giants as discussed above, perhaps compounded by the confused and falsely contradictory narrative of so-called memetic tribes, also as touched on above, are further fuelling scientific misunderstanding and profound narrative disintegration (although one does not always lead to the other).
Further, a latent mass tendency to conspirituality, magnified by the internet and exacerbated by more of us spending more time online during the social restrictions imposed by the virus, is accelerating narrative disintegration surrounding the virus and weaponising totalising narratives of a shadowy New World Order (the theory goes, that has fabricated or created or manipulated the virus to impose some form of global control), providing some of the impetus for the recent rioting in the streets in response to covid lockdown measures. This is not good for the mental health of the conspiritual and everyone they come into contact with. Moreover rioting subverts and disempowers revolutionary energy that could be used in more scientific and strategic rebellions against global authorities, to achieve genuine gains towards the radical postcapitalist global systems change(s) that we need to meet the ongoing climate-ecological-economic-humanitarian crisis of humanity. On the other hand, I will be pleased if the rioting results in more financial compensation for the lockdown being distributed to the poorest.
Conspirituality is fed by very objectively justified mistrust of national governments as well as largely unaccountable inter-governmental organisations like the World Health Organisation and the World Economic Forum(partnered with the United Nations Development Programme). Neoliberal globalised capitalism, as well documented in Streeck’s ‘How Will Capitalism End?’ has eaten away at the institutions of representative democracy (spurious to start with) to the point that we cannot trust that governments and inter-governmental organisations are putting people before profit, even in a global pandemic, regardless of whether lockdown measures are sufficiently protecting public health for the time being. Similarly we cannot trust that (fear and panic surrounding) the pandemic isn’t being deliberately magnified towards corporatist ends. What plans are being undemocratically made for our futures by the vastly influential European Central Bank, World Bank, IMF, WEF and the institutions of the UN, whilst we are safely ‘locked’ away? One doesn’t have to believe in a conspiratorial ‘New World Order’ to be deeply worried and angry -just read Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein; events like the novel coronavirus have been progressively manipulated by corporatised governments since at the latest the mid 1970’s.
Unfortunately, right wing schizotypal populist figures like Trump manipulate anti-globalist and conspiritual sentiments for their own corporatist-nationalist ends, openly supporting and reaping the rewards of globalised capitalism on the one hand, whilst shouting loudly on the other against ‘global technocratic elites’ like WHO. To be sure WHO is corrupt, like any large inter-governmental technocratic organisation in a neoliberal capitalist system, (which is not to say there aren’t many passionate and humanity-serving individuals within WHO). Trumpists criticise global elites in a disingenuous way that does not challenge the system that creates those elites in general. Meanwhile, Trumpists benefit from the system and their confused followers. As it is right wing populist leaders that shout the loudest in criticism of unaccountable global elites, unfortunately vulnerable people of disintegrated or schizotypal mindsets, (including people I know) in situations like a novel pandemic, feeling overwhelmed, will turn to these ‘leaders’ and their bullshit disintegrative narratives, instead of more intelligent critics and critical integrative narratives of globalised capitalism grounded in science and guided by social and environmental justice.
Operating by the precautionary principle and utilitarianism, I believe it is currently right and more-or-less based in sound science to adhere generally to the lockdown measures that have been imposed in France. However, retaining my own sense of meaning and logical as well as narrative thinking skills, I see no harm in flouting the ‘no more than 1km from the house and for no more than 1 hour’ rule on daily exercise. I am currently based in a very rural area, and there are miles of gorgeous autumnal country footpaths about, conducive to mine, my partner’s and our relationship’s physical and mental health. My ‘narrative health’ also benefits, in the sense that any stories of cognition I construct around Nature and my local natural surroundings, including a deep appreciation of the changing season, distract me from the narrative disintegration of the internet, and integrate my present with previous Nature-based narratives of my self which ground and inspire me, including in my activism which is ultimately Nature-based. On a walk recently I took pleasure in recounting to my partner, similar walks I had taken in the Devon countryside in the UK.
As for the virus, the only observation I care to make is that it is real and it is novel. As for governments’ and intergovernmental institutions’ responses, and the responses of the media and various sections of the internet, the best I can do at this point is to summarise by arguing that responses and popular reactions to those responses are heavily polluted and directed by neoliberal corporate capitalist interests, and /or an understandable fear, mistrust and misunderstanding of those interests.
It’s a shame because, absent an anti-statist revolution along something like libertarian municipalist lines, strong states will be increasingly relied upon / called upon to deal with the unfolding climate and ecology-driven (neoliberalism-accelerated) global crisis. With trust in ‘democratic’ governments at an all-time low, the rioting we see now at covid lockdown measures is nothing compared to the rioting we will see in response to mistrusted (probably justifiably so) measures that governments will likely be forced to hurriedly implement during the disastrous events projected for the next few decades, associated with the ongoing global crisis of humanity.
Ideally, on the level of narrative integration to serve activism for global systems change(s), we should use the covid ‘situation’, if at all possible, to encourage the disillusioned, conspiritual, mistrustful, depressed and confused, to step (further) away from consumerist-capitalist lifestyles -‘to have is to be’ fairytales- which implicitly support corporatised governments as well as intergovernmental and private global elites -all of those interests that are most responsible for the global crisis of humanity.
Additionally, both propositional and narrative thinking skills need to be encouraged in all of us but particularly the vulnerable, in a way that promotes a localised Nature-groundedness as well as, crucially, a courageous curiosity about the experiences and stories of other human beings in other cultures around the world. We must strive for this even in the midst of global disaster, so that international solidarity takes precedence over ‘lowest common denominator’ right wing racist and nationalist narratives and responses. This will promote the holistic well-being of all of us.
If we can get away with it safely, I advocate travelling as much as possible!
Revolutionary rivers, two modes of thinking and activist strategy
It is partly thanks to the river Taw -revisited many times over the last few years- that this post has developed.
It is hard to view a river logically, in purely cause and effect terms, as it is the quintessence of flow with its infinite and ever-changing currents. To be aware of its causes and effects would almost be to be aware of every molecule of H20.
Similarly, it is impossible to view how I got here in my life, from where I was three years ago when I started Epic Tomorrows with this post, in purely cause and effect terms. The twists and turns and encounters are just too numerous and mysterious, the data too overwhelming. And so it is with personal life narratives. We remember and retrospectively create and retell our lives in ways which we believe provide meaning to our continued existence as well as, we hope, the continued existence of the communities in which we are embedded.
Remembering that I have regularly walked along the river Taw which is local to my flat, to take a break from my reading, writing, and contemplating, it is more than mere fancy to include the river in the integrative narrative of this blog post. The river breaks have given Life and breathing space to the developing mission and practice of Epic Tomorrows, including on YouTube.
It was one year and two and a half weeks since I had begun Epic Tomorrows, when on November 17th 2018 I was involved in the infamous ‘bridge blocks’ of five rivers crossing the Thames in London. This mass act of civil disobedience resulted in many arrests (including mine) and the launching of Extinction Rebellion (XR) into the international media and the activist consciousness of at least the climate movement of the industrialised global north.
The tactic of the bridge blocks according to Roger Hallam, one of XR’s main strategists at the time, was to ‘split the city in two’, which, when combined with ‘filling the prison cells to over-flowing’ with activists was intended to force the government to give in to XR’s demands. It was worth a shot but it didn’t work for a variety of reasons, mainly because we just didn’t have the numbers.
Unfortunately, when I was on the phone to a key and influential person within XR after this event, he was deluded as to the success of the actions, proclaiming with fervour, ‘the government will fall by Christmas!’ Needless to say, they didn’t. I only bring this up because this influential person was assumed to have greater strategic insight than most of the people around him, and a lot of strategy work was left to him. This is unfortunate when it seems as though he let his romantic vision and wishful narrative of strategic success cloud his practical assessment of what had actually been achieved and therefore what needed to be done next.
Narrative thinking and narrative integration must not be developed at the expense of propositional thinking. Propositional thinking is key to the strategising that we need to build successful social movements and execute their missions for global systems change(s). A little older and wiser than I was two years ago, I would now suggest widespread strategic literacy within activist movements, perhaps via strategy study groups, rather than leaving the strategising to a select few, despite what their academic and experiential credentials may be.
Naturally strategic literacy should include learning deeply from the successes and failures of as many previous social movements as possible, and if possible learning from -and where appropriate merging with- the strategies of disparate existing social movements for social and environmental justice, as long as the importance of the centrality of non-violent civil disobedience is recognised.
One area where narrative thinking actually complements strategy forming is ‘scenario planning’. This has long been used by multi-national corporations and governments and refers to the thorough mapping out of a future scenario or diversity or scenarios with a variety of PESTLE characteristics, as possible futures to plan for and put in place organisational responses to. In scenario planning it is acknowledged that the envisioned futures will be inaccurate, but they will nevertheless have features which will likely resemble features of the future that actually unfolds. Thus planning for a variety of unfolding scenarios, although simplified and inaccurate in their conception, can help organisations and social movements be flexible and responsive to unfolding events, strategically and on the ground. Comprehensive scenario-planning is also co-creative with realtime events and can help us manifest, as large organisations or social movements, the futures we desire.
The thorough envisioning of futures / future scenarios and how we might reach them, or be subject to them, is a highly creative process which makes full use of our narrative thinking skills, complemented by more specialist understandings of propositional knowledge, ideally outsourced to groups of specialists in each of the areas denoted by PESTLE.
Ongoing narrative conclusion; revolution is not the place for romance, but it is the place for heroism
To reiterate, aside from the specific function of scenario planning, we cannot afford to let narrative thinking dominate our strategic thinking for global systems change(s), although an integrated and integrative narrative thinking will always be necessary and complementary.
If we are not logical in our strategy, then we will not create the global systems changes we need to reinstate both propositional and narrative thinking as central to our sense-making and well-being in a balanced, sustainable, post-capitalist world.
Further, highly strategic thinking is directly opposed to wishy-washy romantic revolutionism (informed by Hollywood-ised fictional and ‘non-fictional’ simplified representations of direct actions and revolutions) and a lot of New Age thinking that is prevalent even amongst (partially) practical activists. This romantic and New Age thinking is partly a result of neoliberal capitalist narratives which co-opt rebellious individuals, whether they are fully conscious of it or not, with the disempowering belief that at this stage of history, true resistance, or true strategic success with a social movement (systems change or even regime change), is impossible, despite evidence to the contrary. True revolutionary power is given away to privileged New Age dreams of individual politico-spiritual sovereignty, romantic revolutionism (even amongst XR strategists!) and the occasional impotent riot. I thank Murray Bookchin for some of these insights, as expressed in the essay collection ‘The Next Revolution’.
Paradoxically, in very general terms it may, however, be necessary as well as joyful to conceive of ourselves individually as true heroines and heroes of our own lives and of our global culture and society, figures of mythical proportions, drawing from heroic archetypes to respond to the calling of our culture to facilitate or speed up a managed transition to global systems change(s) i.e. something post-capitalism. Boundaried rituals and celebrations (Celtic-inspired or otherwise) could help with this self- and community- mythologising. However this shouldn’t leak into our strategising, inadvertently taking us into a drunken feature film (which seems to be the direction that some XR groups have taken). The power of narratives of mythical heroism are to give us a moral and other-worldly courage to deliberately take large but calculated -as far as possible- risks for the sake of humanity’s future, as well as potentially to present this revolutionary mission in an attractive and deeply felt artistic narrative form, to the public -witnesses and potential recruits. But let not this presentation, this cultural expression, be confused for the more essential practical elements of any strategy, least of all by the actors involved. Sometimes the partying should be saved until after the action…
Here are 15 sensitive strategy tips for serious and heroic activists and ‘revolutionaries’, including the use of narrative thinking. I’m addressing you, the reader in the first person, but this advice applies equally to me. Periodically I intend to expand this list of strategy tips in a separate post, which will also be linked from here:
Do not be afraid of leadership. 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!
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.
Do have a strategy! Bookchin is one good source to expose the myth of ‘spontaneous revolutions’ i.e. it turns out that these revolutions are always guided by highly organised militants.
Don’t confuse your (possibly romantic) vision of global systems change(s) with what is strategically possible.
Do 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.
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 Grand Strategy, campaign strategy, tactics and tactical methods. This classic bookby Gene Sharp is a good place to start.
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 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 more 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, for balanced lives in respect of our homes, families, communities and our overall well-being -including the prevention or mitigation of ‘activist burn-out’. Travel if you can.
Develop an understanding of ‘narrative integration’ as potentially key to strategic goals, as well featuring in the means to achieve those goals.