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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How I Got Here: An Ecopreneur’s Story #3

Once I started to lean towards entrepreneurial thinking, I went further into the internet resources available. I really didn’t have a clue what I was looking for and so got messy and sporadic results.

Like many people before me, I was distracted by and suckered into watching videos starring entrepreneurs (mostly white and male) who promised me I could make millions of pounds if only I just knew the right tricks or made the right connections. I’m sure that the main money-making trick of many of these so-called entrepreneurs is to sell their ‘secret insider knowledge’ to suckers like me. (Well, I’m not so much of a sucker these days, and although I have paid up for other deceptive schemes, sales-driven online ‘business mentoring’ hasn’t been among them.) ‘Affiliate marketing’ has featured heavily in the videos of the high-flying desperados. I call them desperados because they seem desperate to be rich, at the expense of ethics. Ethics-focused affiliate marketing does exist, but it’s not the norm.

So what is ‘affiliate marketing’? It refers to the marketing of other companies’ products on your website, according to agreements which pay you a percentage every time sales are generated from customers linking to the companies through your website. It sounds easier than it is. In order to attract people to your site in the first place, you have to provide outstanding and / or popular and / or very exclusive / niche content. The most common way to do this is by writing a blog, or hosting a blog with others providing the content for you.

I’m not against some modest and ethical affiliate marketing being added to a blog site on the strength of the followers that the blog has attracted, if the starting point was the artistic and ethical drive of the writer / entrepreneur to share their ideas / ethical business with the world. But building a website from scratch purely with the intention of making money from affiliate marketing; in other words, building a business which is affiliate marketing-based, seems to me so dead, so cynical, so unsustainable. The exception would be a platform that strives to change consumer behaviour, to promote only the most ethical of products across the board, to be an ethical superstore of other companies’ products. This just isn’t my bag, but I’m sure someone’s doing it.

Apart from corny entrepreneurial videos, I have also watched plenty of corny motivation videos on YouTube, although some of them have featured excerpts from motivational speeches, some by very famous people, which are very inspiring. It’s more the images that have been put with the audio that are corny -plenty of musclebound men ‘pushing’ their gym workouts, weight-training and boxing practice. I went through a phase of watching these. This is one of the better ones, which has at least made some effort to portray a balance of genders and ethnicities, (but not nearly enough so). Looking back, they were a stop-gap to keep my motivation high whilst I still didn’t have a clue what I was doing or where I was going with my new-found entrepreneurial mindset. I would like to see a whole range of motivational videos by women, for women, and by people of colour, for people of colour. I am staggered that this doesn’t seem to happen already. Or if it does, the videos are way down in the search results. When I searched YouTube today for motivational videos for women, the only ones that came up were exceptions on male-dominated motivation channels. However, that said, it was great to see Evan Carmichael’s ‘Top Ten Rules For Success’ by Maya Angelou.

Unless someone gets there before me, and I hope they will, one day, with all my ethical entrepreneurial profit (if that isn’t an oxymoron), I will make sure that there are more diverse motivation videos on YouTube, to motivate people from all backgrounds and of all identities, brought to them by people like them…

***

The internet has allowed me to learn about the entrepreneurial activity of people from all over the world, from all backgrounds, although there is still a privileged white male dominance amongst entrepreneurs -certainly a white dominance. I have been staggered and warmed by the creativity of human beings in my virtual searches and have even been tempted at times by the neoliberal ideology that with a completely free market, the competition drive would solve the whole world’s environmental and social justice issues. This is bullshit, of course. Capitalism is predicated on perpetual growth on a foundation of finite resources, so deceit is at its core. Inequality of pay and inequality of labour roles are also central to the capitalist model.

So why do I want to be an entrepreneur? My starting place here is, whether we are consumers or business people, as modern human beings we are all implicated in global inequality and destruction of the environment. On a systemic level, being an ‘ethical consumer’ makes relatively little difference to the destructive nature of the capitalist model, and may even be the surest way of perpetuating the model by dissipating some of our guilt. The same can be said for ‘ethical businesses’, most of which aren’t very ethical if all the supply chains involved are taken into account. Meanwhile, global civilisation heads towards the edge of a cliff. The marketing ideology behind the destruction is the persuasion of potential customers to view consumerist ‘wants’ as ‘needs’ and inbreed in us and our children (most poisonously) a sense of entitlement to products and services which it would materially not be possible to provide to everyone on the globe.

Recently I stumbled upon the ‘ecopreneur’ concept. Ecopreneur, meaning an ethical entrepreneur who acts for social justice and the environment. In light of what I wrote above, is the concept of an ‘ecopreneur’ a con? Not totally, I think. Some ecopreneurs will at least attempt, however impossible it may seem to be, to purify their part in the web of complex interconnected supply chains that is contemporary global capitalism. I empathise and follow suit. I like the word ‘ecopreneur’. It at least signposts customers to noble aspirations. Ethical businesses and ecopreneurs may also be an important bridge to post-capitalist tomorrows. Epic tomorrows! But only if the ethics are deep, deep, deep and challenge the workings of the capitalist model itself.

I fully intend to develop products and services which are not only ‘ethical’ in the usual sense of ecopreneurs, but which aim much higher. Firstly, I intend to educate about the unsustainability of the current capitalist model, to any individuals, groups or businesses who are my customers. Secondly, my drive will be towards the relocalised cultures and economies that I believe will be essential to post- and hybrid- capitalist futures over the coming decades. In other words, I want to somehow be involved in the relocalising of supply chains and application to them of high environmental standards. Purifying and relocalising supply chains as well as customer bases, for all businesses, doesn’t just make social and environmental sense in the long-term. In the medium-term relocalisation offers resilience, buffering against the global threats of the coming decades. Thirdly, I intend to address global and local power imbalances in any services and products I develop. To use the likely global upheaval in the capitalist model this century to achieve social justice; by education and practice to help make sure that patriarchy, racism, homophobia and other prejudices have absolutely no place in relocalised post- and hybrid- capitalist futures.

Do I sound too ambitious? Unrealistic? Have you never heard the phrase, Rome didn’t crumble in a day?

 

 

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

Introduction:

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

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

*******

Politics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

*******

Ecology, Earth Culture and Economics:

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

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

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

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

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

*******

Narratives of Cultural Whealth:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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