The hermeneutical benefits of fungus…

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I first came accross the word ‘hermaneutic’ in the conext of trying to make sense of ancient scripture. In that context, it was a helpful way to understand how the ‘googles’ that we wear, albeit entirely unconsciously, affects what we see. In a wider application, this might mean that the dominant world views that underpin our understanding of the cultures we are embedded in prevent us from seeing things that would otherwise be obvious.

One of the most dominant ideas about who we are within arose from enlightenment thinking. We used to believe that evolution was a process of ascendancy in which naturual forces decide, by process of ‘selection’, how progress continues to be made. More recently, this same logic has dominated our economics, in which ‘nature’ has been replaced by ‘the market’.

Hermaneutic #1

Do not think

Trust instead in evolution

To shape the world, if not for best

At least for least worst

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Do not act

Worlds are not built, they

Emerged as tectonic friction

Then were abraded by natural forces

Beyond our control

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Do not rescue

Let weakness whither

Set the fittest free to celebrate

Ascendancy

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Do not regulate

Let greed sow seeds

Like forest trees, then let

Free markets grow

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The market, left to it’s own devices, is then thought to be self-regulating and capable of finding the best solution not just to any economic solutions but to all associated human implications.

Climate change has forced us, kicking and screaming in some cases, to re-evaluate this hermaneutic because free market economics is destroying the very integrated natural ecological system that inspired it.

The second hermaneutic also comes from the natural world. We know already how trees communicate with each other through the mycorrhizal network, but the more we look into this, the more remarkable is the relationship between fungal life (thought to be a third of all life on the planet) and the rest of the natural world. It seems that the truth is inescapable- life is found not in the individual spiecies, but in the ways they connect and interact. The ways the co-operate and support one another.

Hermaneutic #2

Tree is not tree without forest

Bird is not bird without sky

Man is not man on an island alone

With no fruit there is no fruit fly

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Fungus is not just about fungus

It carries the world on its back

It holds under soil the truth of us all

It gives out but also gets back

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In places of disconnection

Between the you and the I

Let mycelium grow and let nutrients flow

Lest we both whither and die

Looking for a publisher…

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I write this post for two reasons; firstly, I am looking for help. Secondly as an act of deliberate vulnerability.

Almost everyone I know who ‘writes’ feels like an imposter. This is particularly true of poets. Partly this is because the value or quality of writing is very subjective. How do you judge one poem against another? How do we ever know that what we write is ‘good’? Frankly, friends are unreliabe witnesses and even if we get some wider exposure, praise can feel hard to accept.

This might always be true, even when we have been ‘published’. One of the wonderful things that I have done is to curate collections of poetry for Proost, which involved giving previously unpublished poets that delicious sense that someone else had read what they had produced (out of the depths of their being) and liked it so much that they wanted to put it in to print. Whilst I hope and believe that this may well have helped some people along their creative path, in my own experience, the boost that this kind of recognition gives can be fleeting.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not think that confidence and self belief are necessary for artistic expression. In a post about a decade ago I wrote this;

 …I decided that great art does not require confidence (although as in all things, it may well help) but it does require tremendous courage. Because what we create, we create out of ourselves. And once created, it leaves some tender vulnerable part of ourselves out in the open where the wolves still range…

I have been gathering some work for a new project, which will be entitled something like ‘After the apocalypse’. It is a collection of poetry/meditation in three parts; before, during and after. If you have read my blog before you will already know the themes, but this project deliberately sets the pandemic as the backdrop for protest, hope, activism and change. The intention (when courage allows such a thing) is to take this project on the road somehow with a series of ‘conversation’ events- poetry readings/art/music/discussion – in which I hope we can start to dream together of a better way of being. Not that I have all that worked out yet of course…

I asked Si Smith if he was interested in collaborating, and he graciously said yes. If you don’t know Si’s work, then you should check out his blog here. He is fantastically talented artist, graphic novelist and illustrator. He is also a very generous bloke who has done a lot of curation/support of other artists and I often feel that I have simply asked too much of him. The imposter inside tells me that my work should not sit alongside his. This feeling was made keener when the publisher we were hoping to work with informed me that they were not interested after all. All the old doubts, which never went away, flood out in to the open once again.

…a teaser for some of Si’s work for ‘After the apocalypse’

Finding a publisher for any written material is very hard, particularly for poetry. I have quite a lot of experience in and around the edge of this world and know well that there are now many routes to market through self-publishing and using on-line resources, but still, a pubisher who knows his/her business is what I am hoping for. The problem of course is that so are thousands of others. How on earth do we cut through the noise and find someone who is willing to give this project a chance?

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In the spirit of the sort of vulnerable courage described above, I decided to ask for help.

If you have read anything I have written and found it to have usefulness or value, then you already have my deepest thanks. However, if you also have any contacts or suggestions for a publisher, then I would also be very grateful.

War…

Tomorrow is remembrance Sunday, the day when we remember what happens when we allow international relations to decend in to war, and the terrible human cost that has to be paid in the prosecution of this war.

Or at least this is what I think we are remembering, but with a heavy heart, I have to say that this is perhaps not the primary message being communicated within our culture each year in association with this solemn day,

All war is evil. Some are more evil than others. Those leaders who take us to war do so with the explicit compliance of we, the citizens, fed as we are by images of the noble heroic soldier sacrificed in order to preserve our ‘freedom’. This idea has some historical truth, but this truth obscures as much as it reveals.

I am going to celebrate this day by posting this video, because I think we need to hear from an actual soldier.

COP26 #21

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Peace be with you #2

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Peace be with the drunks and the punks and the dirty old bums

Peace on all scroungers and wasters

Peace be on you and peace be on me

Peace be on fakers and haters

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Peace to the takers and road-rage tail-gaters

Peace to the internet trolls

Peace on conspiracy theorists and paid-for think-tankers

Peace to misogynist assholes

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May peace come to rest on the council estates

And fall like spring rain on the suburbs

Let peace be sold cheap in our shopping malls

And quaffed by all boozers and losers

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Peace on Mubarak and Jair Bolsonaro

Peace be on Bashar and Trump

Let peace flow right down on the old hallowed ground

Of Golgotha’s garbage dump

COP26 #20

“Not surprisingly, this sense of bleakness and futility has seeped into wider culture. A recent international survey of young people found that 75% believed “the future is frightening”, 56% thought “humanity is doomed” and 39% were “hesitant to have children”.

Climate change is a critical issue and one that will require considerable political will and social resolve to challenge. Hallam and Franzen and similar thinkers insist that only an apocalyptic vision will persuade people to take action. In reality, as the environmental journalist Hannah Ritchie has observed: “Once anger transitions into hopelessness, we struggle to achieve much at all.” Telling people that there is no future is hardly conducive to getting them to act to change it….”

(This from here.)

We need the next generation to dream of different, better ways of being. We need them to revolt against the world we have made, to tear down our institutions and make their own.

What skill set will let them do this? Pessimism is almost not likely to help.

As a father of two now adults, I have watched them struggle with these ideas. The problems of the world are so hard to take on when you are struggling aleady with your own becoming.

A few years ago I wrote this for my son;

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Brave

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You were never bold. As a boy you

Beheld the world from distance, as if

The cliff edge was closer. But

Behind those beautiful eyes were

Lands of your own making, where

Wild beasts roamed, unfettered.

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Why do the small cruelties outweigh a

Thousand kindnesses? Why do

Softest souls wound deepest?

Would that it were possible to stay

Inside those dreams you had

But only half remember.

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But you were always brave. It requires courage

To take a good long look but then still leap.

Sure, the horizon seemed no closer after the

Small steps, but you made them anyway.

And when days are dark from the doubting,

Take shelter my son. It never rains forever.

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The life singing in you is not just journey,

Nor located at some distant destination.

It is here. It is now. It’s what happens

When wounds half-heal but bleed not

Blood, but good. It is not in the width of things

But their depth. It’s a rediscovery of love.

COP26 #19

I have written before on this blog about how the ancient myths from the beginning of Genesis might be read as an allegory of the rise of mankind, from our start as hunter gatherers, to farmers, to accumiulators, to city builders then to the destructive rise and fall of empires. You can read more about this reading of the Bible here.

You may wonder what some ancient stories from the Bible have to do with climate change?

I think the stories we tell each other in order to make sense of our world matter, and perhaps none more than our origin story. We have been raised on the idea of human progress, defined technologically. Even with the destruction of world wars and the real and present realities of climate emergency, this myth is very hard to counter. We still hear grand plans to solve our problems technologically; some brand new carbon scrubbing technology, or brand new electric cars.

But what if we need to go back to the beginning? What if the problem started when we forgot the theology, the ecology, the politics and the economics of the garden of Eden?

What if, as we ate the fruit of the tree in that ancient story, we separated ourselves from the harmony and balance of the ecosystem that sustains us? What if this was our ‘sin’ all along, and that these sins are now finding us out?

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The fruit from tree of the knowledge of good and evil

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We ate then separated

We were in leaves, we were in tree

We were not I but we were we

We saw beauty rise in everything

Like birds we were not taught to sing

We were not young nor were we old

We were the way a thing unfolds

The way a breath is whisper soft

The way small feathers stay aloft

We were not here we were not there

Our garden covered everywhere

We ate then separated

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We ate then separated

We formed in tribes, we played with fire

Always motivated to acquire

We gobbled down small chunks of knowing

And knew where every wind was blowing

We knew each sin we should commit

And just how atoms could be split

We built a house behind high walls

And stuffed it full from shopping malls

We ate then separated

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We ate then separated

But hold a memory deep inside

Of how the soil did once provide

Of how the speckled forest floor

Embraced tiny mushroom spores

Of how the stars were mystery

And love made electricity

Of how each body is but host

To the spirit and the holy ghost

We ate then separated

COP26 #18 (why everything you know about economics is probably wrong)…

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Most of the problems that our world is faced with at present are economic ones.

Or to put it another way, the way we organise our economic relations at both macro and micro levels is both the cause and the sustaining circumstance of global warming.

Or to put it one more way, any solution to the climate emergency has to be an economic one.

These things being said, where are the economic solutions? Why are different economic arrangements being not being openly discussed and debated in the mainstream media on a daily basis? Where are the breakthrough ideas? Where is the careful economic critical analysis of just how our economies are bringing us towards disaster? More importantly, what might be the best economic solutions?

Part of the problem is political. After all, economic theory is mostly seen through the lens of sectarian politics. ‘Progressive’ left wing solutions have been so effectively dismissed, vilified and undermined that it has become entirely logical to dismiss them as crackpot communism. Consider the efforts to introduce a version of the Green New Deal both sides of the Atlantic and the partisan campaign fought against it.

Another part of the problem is that the power of wealth suffocates all threats to their own ascendancy. This is not always deliberate (although often it is) rather it is an emergent quality of privilege and systems that have evolved that enshrine inequality and over consumption.

Then there is something about the nature of economics itself as an acedemic discipline. Remember the Post Crash Economics Society? The study of economics has too often happened within the comfort of its own establishment. There are many notable exceptions but the students revolted for good reason.

Having said all that, the ideas are there if you look for them. More than this, I would argue thtat we MUST look for them. We must find a way to educate ourselves so that when we hear both political parties talking about national debt and gross domestic product as the main economic factors that determine and justify economic policies we can scoff in their faces from a position of knowledge. With that in mind, the point of this post is to propose a couple of places to start.

Firstly, the world being done by the New Economics Foundation. You can read their latest e zine here which gives a good spread of articles from a different perspective.

Next, consider the brilliant work done by Thomas Piketty. Here is a TED talk he did about the role of wealth in our societies, and how this is pulling us towards destruction.

Finally, one of our own Kate Rowarth, who has given us a very simple and powerful model that might replace our dominant neoliberal hegemony. Here are 7 short vids that might change the whole world- start with this one and follow it through.

COP26 #17

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Climate change will effect us all, but not equally.

It is a present reality for many places in the world- not just the high-profile disasters like forest fires and flooding, but also the encroachment of sea over low lying pacific islands, or threat to many marginal ways of living through altered growing conditions or depleted wildlife. It is likely that we will see more political/economic instability as resources become squeezed.

We have been told to expect mass movements of refugees as people are forced to move away from places that are no longer able to support them, or as they are displaced by wars of unrest. But we are used to refugees, right?

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Other

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I am not like you are

I breathe under water

I make mystery prayers

To a god you don’t know, and

I lurk at your border with outrageous demands

I see what you have and I hold out my hands

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I am not like you are

My skin is of scales

Should your tongue cut me deep

I will not feel pain, so

I climb in small boats and I sneak across sea

I see all that you are and I wish it were me

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I am not like you are

I ate my own child

I walked through the fire but

Others were burned, and

I swarm through your neighbourhood, take over your town

The house that you live in is where I am bound

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I am not like you are

I walk on all fours

I beg and I steal

But still feel no shame

I snatch what you offer, give nothing back

Wait the right moment when I will attack

COP26 #16

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Pandemic

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Did we learn?

Did we listen to the deep rumblings

In the ground beneath our clay feet?

Or are we unteachable, even

By the old year passing?

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They say that hindsight

Is always twenty-twenty, but

What if they were wrong?

What if, when eventually unlocked

We carry on regardless, as if

The plastic pot we feed from will

Always cost nothing, and as if

That last Advent candle

Will burn on forever?

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Can collective stupidity of this kind

Have any hope of vaccination?

It is as if the only infestation

That matters on this planet is human

The pandemic is not sickness after all

It is cure

COP26 #15

We hired some e-bikes for a week, to see if we can integrate them in our lives as a form of transport.

We need to talk about hypocrisy.

hypocrisy hɪˈpɒkrɪsi noun

The practice of claiming to have higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case.”his target was the hypocrisy of suburban life”

It is a word that I have heard often used in and around the climate debate. The gathering of world leaders arriving by private jet, only then to be whisked around Glasgow in massive convoys of gas guzzling luxury vehicles. The eco-warriors who chug around in old vans and take sneaky foreign holidays. The virtue signallers who fill their expensive houses with eco-technology and their garages with Tesla supercars whilst having a carbon footprint many times that of their neibours.

The COP has started with some interesting announcements. Two proto-fascists (Modi and Bolsanaro) have made big promises. Even BJ has said things that make people like me nod in agreement. Now we just need action.

I have even heard Rainbow Warrior called hypocritical for forcing traffic to stop over a bridge whilst it sailed upstream to protest outside the COP. Or protesters who glued their hands to the road called hypocrites because an ambulance might have to take a detour.

Then there is my own hypocisy. I grow my own veg, try to live simply and in ways that do as little damage to the environment as possible. I write pompous poems and try to convince others of the rightness of my cause. I have decided not to fly anywhere ever again. Meanwhile I drive a diesel car, and live a live of comfort that most of the world could not dream of in my own house, surrounded by my own land. Even though I try to eschew consumerism, I am not immune to the allure of gadgets, even though I already have far too much stuff.

But there are worse things to be. Better to reach out towards something good than never reach at all.

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Thorn

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It has been said there are three kinds of people

Hypocrites (whose actions never match their ambition)

Cynics (mostly only adept at calling out hypocrites) and

The morally pure who could throw that first stone

(If it were ethically permissible)

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Me, I know what I am, for

Like St Paul, if I rise on my own pride

A thorn in my side soon bursts my bubble

I crash back to earth and lie

Motionless

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But intent is not nothing

Better hypocrite than cynic

For there is no fool more foolish than

Those who only see the fool in others

Who see a brick as something to throw

When in fact it a palace in embryo

A school seed

It is the foundation of my teetering tower