Through the chaos of conflicting signals and the dizzying maelstrom of information in which our digital minds are plunged day by day, a tenuous, but sustained and increasingly piercing sound can be heard by whoever chooses to listen. It is a chorus of voices repeating the same message in unison: “The human species is busily engineering its self-destruction, and taking much of the living world with it. We are doing this, right now. This planet might not remain habitable much longer.”
But the voices don’t seem to be making much of a difference as far as we can see. Nothing large-scale and meaningful is being done to put an end to economic growth, halt climate breakdown, and prevent the mass extinction of other species. Collapse is in the air.
Surely one can blame entrenched social, political and economic structures for this state of things. But how did these structures rise to dominance in the first place? Could their historical triumph, and the apparent fatality of their persistence, be due to certain deep-seated worldviews? If so, what are the fundamental metaphors that have led mankind to inflict such acute destruction on the biosphere and on itself? And what new ways of thinking must we shift into, collectively, to avoid the worst?
Focal points of action // Paradigm shifts
[WORK IN PROGRESS]
This article is a perhaps quixotic attempt at answering the eternal question: “What should I do with my life?”
It seems difficult to overstate the scale of the issues (outlined here) facing both humanity and the biosphere as a whole: from climate change to biodiversity loss, and from increasing economic inequalities to the rise of authoritarian governments, global trends are hardly cause for optimism.
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, by Naomi Klein. Knopf Canada, 2007
In This Changes Everything, her latest book, Naomi Klein mentions how she used to be more concerned about the political and economic aspects of global issues—in particular, the issues brought about or exacerbated by the role powerful corporations—than by more “environmental” aspects (although the deeply problematic human-nature relation is of course indissociable from political and economic considerations). Obviously, her view then shifted, and she now considers climate change the greatest challenge of our time.
After reading This Changes Everything, which I found particularly convincing (see review here), I felt hungry for more; Klein’s prose tends to be full of verve and rather passionate, to say the least, and yet the points she makes are both convincing and well-researched. So I decided to pick up The Shock Doctrine, which was published ten years ago.
“In short, dropping out and planting vegetables is not an option for this generation.” – p405
This Changes Everything. Capitalism vs. the Climate, by Naomi Klein. Simon & Schuster, 2014
This Changes Everything investigates the climate change crisis—what has caused it, what it means and how it should be addressed—from a decidedly political standpoint. As the author states, she is less interested in “the mechanics of the transition” (i.e. the nitty-gritty technological shift) we need to accomplish than in “the power and ideological roadblocks” that stand in the way. It is a stimulating and invigorating approach.
Recensé : Les défricheurs. Voyage dans la France qui innove vraiment. – Éric Dupin, La Découverte, 2014
Cet ouvrage est le fruit d’une enquête de terrain de près d’un an et demi (entre 2012 et 2014) dans toute la France, pendant laquelle l’auteur est parti à la rencontre de ceux qu’il nomme les « défricheurs » – c’est-à-dire des gens vivant en rupture avec les valeurs dominantes de la société, et qui « s’emploient à innover, à expérimenter de nouvelles façons de vivre, de consommer ou de produire. »
Simon Fairlie’s essay “The tragedy of the Tragedy of the Commons” was written as part of a series aimed at debunking the “myths of civilisation,” in other words “propagandist narratives innocently posing as Facts, which help underpin our civilisation’s view of the world and itself.”
The particular text he addresses here is of course Garret Hardin’s 1968 article “The Tragedy of the Commons,” which has become one of the most cited academic papers ever published, and whose thesis has “framed the debate about common property for the last 30 years.”
In “Beyond Civilised & Primitive,” Ran Prieur explores a dichotomy that has long been part of the debates raised by the environmentalist movement since its inception; a set of standardised images relative to our concepts of mankind and society, which tends to give rise to many a pipe dream on either side.
According to “primitivism,” in order to escape from the many ills of modern-day society, mankind should return to the Golden Age of pre-civilisation — as exemplified by the so-called “primitive” nations we know today, or following our fantasies concerning the lives of prehistorical humans:
Another conversation from this Issue #1 which I found rather thought-provoking is one that took place between Anthony McCann and Derrick Jensen — titled “A Gentle Ferocity.” This is how the former introduces the latter:
[Jensen] has a hardcore reputation. Books such as Endgame (2006) have made him arguably the most prominent contemporary ‘critic of civilisation’, if we can talk about such a category. But Jensen does not only offer critique, he advocates actively bringing down the systems on which we currently depend. He reports conspiratorial conversations with ex-military personnel and hackers who discuss ways of bringing global trade to its knees. He champions direct action against an industrial system which destroys the natural world – perhaps most famously in his calls for people to blow up dams to save salmon rivers. His anger is directed, too, at those who say there is no room for violence in activism: he enjoys ‘deconstructing pacifist arguments that don’t make any sense anyway.’
In “Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist,” Dark Mountain co-founder Paul Kingsnorth reminisces on formative experiences that made him develop deep feelings for the natural world, along with the consciousness that man is not at the center of the universe — in other words, the “ecocentrism” described earlier in this issue by J. M. Greer. According to Kingsnorth, while this ecocentrism was present with great purity at the heart of the early green movement, it started to disappear with the mutation of this movement into “environmentalism” (where the “environment” is considered as something “out there,” separate from people), and its passage into mainstream society:
“Black Elephants and Skull Jackets” documents Dougald Hine’s no-holds-barred conversation with Vinay Gupta. The two met in a Mayfair squat, as faculty members of the Temporary School of Thought, “a free university where anyone can pitch up and offer classes,” which was about to be held in said squat for three weeks (among the lectures they presented: “Deschooling Everything,” “Economic Chemotherapy,” “Infrastructure for Anarchists,” and “Avoiding Capitalism for the Next Four Billion” — audio and notes here). Hine and Gupta later went on to co-found the Institute for Collapsonomics.