Friday, February 8, 2013

A different Kind of Ted Talk


     A couple of thought pieces for you today.  

  First Dave Roberts  has a piece on the difference of looking at things and systems.   How do we "fix" the transportation problems - by changing out the cars, or changing the system?   see Thoughts on Widgets and Systems

  Paul Kingsnorth, does a longish piece covering a number of topics,  including working with a scythe, convivial tools,   Ted Kozinski,  a Short History of Progress, natural systems,  and the rise of the " neo environmentalist".    Its worth reading and re-reading as we struggle to find a way of dealing with the coming changes.

   He calls it Dark Ecolology.   Here are some of his conclusions and recommendations: 

"... The neo-environmentalists have a great advantage over the old greens, with their threatening talk about limits to growth, behaviour change and other such against-the-grain stuff: they are telling this civilisation what it wants to hear. What it wants to hear is that the progress trap which our civilisation is caught in can be escaped from by inflating a green tech bubble on which we can sail merrily into the future, happy as gods and equally in control.
In the short term, the future belongs to the neo-environmentalists, and it is going to be painful to watch. In the long-term, though, I’d guess they will fail, for two reasons. Firstly, that bubbles always burst. Our civilisation is beginning to break down. We are at the start of an unfolding economic and social collapse which may take decades or longer to play out – and which is playing out against the background of a planetary ecocide which nobody seems able to prevent. We are not gods, and our machines will not get us off this hook, however clever they are and however much we would like to believe it.
But there is another reason that the new breed are unlikely to be able to build the world they want to see: we are not – even they are not – primarily rational, logical or ‘scientific’ beings. Our human relationship to the rest of nature is not akin to the analysis of bacteria in a petri dish; it is more like the complex, love-hate relationship we might have with lovers or parents or siblings. It is who we are, unspoken and felt and frustrating and inspiring and vital and impossible to peer-review. You can reach part of it with the analytical mind, but the rest will remain buried in the ancient woodland floor of human evolution and in the depth of our old ape brains, which see in pictures and think in stories. Civilisation has always been a project of control, but you can’t win a war against the wild within yourself.
Is it possible to read the words of someone like Theodore Kaczynski and be convinced by the case he makes, even as you reject what he did with the knowledge? Is it possible to look at human cultural evolution as a series of progress traps, the latest of which you are caught in like a fly on a sundew, with no means of escape? Is it possible to observe the unfolding human attack on nature with horror, be determined to do whatever you can to stop it, and at the same time know that much of it cannot be stopped whatever you do? Is it possible to see the future as dark and darkening further; to reject false hope and desperate pseudo-optimism without collapsing into despair?
It’s going to have to be, because it’s where I am right now. But where do I go next? What do I do? Between Kaczynski and Kareiva, what can I find to alight on that will still hold my weight?
I’m not sure I know the answer. But I know there is no going back to anything. And I know that we are not headed, now, towards convivial tools. We are not headed towards human-scale development. This culture is about superstores, not little shops, synthetic biology not intentional community, brushcutters not scythes. This is a culture that develops new life forms first and asks questions later; a species that is in the process of, in the words of the poet Robinson Jeffers, ‘break[ing] its legs on its own cleverness.’
What does the near future look like? I’d put my bets on a strange and unworldly combination of an ongoing collapse which will continue to fragment both nature and culture, and a new wave of techno-green ‘solutions’ being unveiled in a doomed attempt to prevent it. I don’t believe now that anything can break this cycle, bar some kind of reset: the kind that we have seen many times before in human history. Some kind of fall back down to a lower level of civilisational complexity. Something like the storm that is now visibly brewing all around us.
If you don’t like any of this, but you know you can’t stop it, where does it leave you? The answer is that it leaves you with an obligation to be honest about where you are in history’s great cycle, and what you have the power to do and what you don’t. If you think you can magic us out of the progress trap with new ideas or new technologies, you are wasting your time. If you think that the usual ‘campaigning’ behaviour is going to work today where it didn’t work yesterday, you will be wasting your time. If you think the machine can be reformed, tamed or defanged, you will be wasting your time. If you draw up a great big plan for a better world based on science and rational argument, you will be wasting your time. If you try to live in the past you will be wasting your time. If you romanticise hunter-gathering or send bombs to computer store owners you will be wasting your time.
And so I come to this point, and I ask myself: what, at this moment in history, would not be a waste of my time? And I arrive at five tentative answers.
One: Withdrawing. If you do this, a lot of people will call you a ‘defeatist’ or a ‘doomer’, or claim you are ‘burnt out.’ They will tell you that you have an obligation to work for climate justice or world peace or the end of bad things everywhere, and that ‘fighting’ is always better than ‘quitting’. Ignore them, and take part in a very ancient practical and spiritual tradition: withdrawing from the fray. Withdraw not with cynicism, but with a questing mind. Withdraw so that you can allow yourself to sit back quietly and feel – intuit – work out what is right for you, and what nature might need from you. Withdraw because refusing to help the machine advance – refusing to tighten the ratchet further – is a deeply moral position. Withdraw because action is not always more effective than inaction. Withdraw to examine your worldview: the cosmology, the paradigm, the assumptions, the direction of travel. All real change starts with withdrawal.
Two: Preserving non-human life. The revisionists will continue to tell us that wildness is dead, nature is for people and Progress is God, and they will continue to be wrong. There is still much remaining of the Earth’s wild diversity, but it may not remain for much longer. The human empire is the greatest threat to what remains of life on Earth, and you are part of it. What can you do – really do, at a practical level – about this? Maybe you can buy up some land and rewild it; maybe you can let your garden run free; maybe you can work for a conservation group or set one up yourself; maybe you can put your body in the way of a bulldozer; maybe you can use your skills to prevent the destruction of yet another wild place. How can you create or protect a space for nonhuman nature to breathe easier; how can you give something which isn’t us a chance to survive our appetites?
Three: Getting your hands dirty. Root yourself in something: some practical work, some place, some way of doing. Pick up your scythe or your equivalent and get out there and do physical work in clean air surrounded by things you cannot control. Get away from your laptop and throw away your smartphone, if you have one. Ground yourself in things and places, learn or practice human-scale convivial skills. Only by doing that, rather than just talking about it, do you learn what is real and what’s not, and what makes sense and what is so much hot air.
Four: Insisting that nature has a value beyond utility. And telling everyone. Remember that you are one lifeform among many and understand that everything has intrinsic value. If you want to call this ‘ecocentrism’ or ‘deep ecology’, do it. If you want to call it something else, do that. If you want to look to tribal societies for your inspiration, do it. If that seems too gooey, just look up into the sky. Sit on the grass, and touch a tree trunk, walk into the hills, dig the garden, look at what you find in the soil, marvel at what the hell this thing called life could possibly be. Value it for what it is, try to understand what it is, and have nothing but pity or contempt for people who tell you that its only value is in what they can extract from it.
Five: Building refuges. The coming decades are likely to challenge much of what we think we know about what progress is, and about who we are in relation to the rest of nature. Advanced technologies will challenge our sense of what it means to be human at the same time as the tide of extinction rolls on. The ongoing collapse of social and economic infrastructures, and of the web of life itself, will kill off much of what we value. In this context, ask yourself: what power do you have to preserve what is of value – creatures, skills, things, places? Can you work, with others or alone, to create places or networks that act as refuges from the unfolding storm? Can you think, or act, like the librarian of a monastery through the Dark Ages, guarding the old books as empires rise and fall outside?
It will be apparent by now that for the last five paragraphs I have been talking to myself.


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