COP26 #1

Marking the journey towards the the last chance for the continued survival of whole species and perhaps even our civilisation: a conference of world leaders, meeting just over the river from where I live.

Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

Many

Many voices make great songs, and

Many arms have the strength to save

For beach is not a beach without a

Billion pebbles and sand cannot become

Sand without the breaking of a

Billion waves. And field is not field unless

We fence it and forest is not forest if

We will not let it grow. Many feet make the

broadest footpaths and many hands lighten

The lift of heavy loads. For a sky is blind

But for a billion stars and without a billion

Screens we see nothing.

COP26: raise (a lot of) small voices

In case you missed it, COP21, otherwise known as ‘the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’, starts in Glasgow at the end of this month. In other words, world leaders have a last last chance to find ways to reverse collective self destruction. We stand on the brink, hopeful that someone can perform an act of great diplomacy. Unfortunately, the host of this gathering of the great and powerful is… Boris Johnson. We might need divine intervention.

Or we might need to remember that even BJ is not immune to the pressure of public opinion. Momentum for change is often only obvious in hindsight, but I genuinely think we are seeing evidence of movement.

It occurs to me too that if we are to see this change, it will not actually be about one conference, or one main effort, or one great action. Rather it will be about a thousand million actions, shaped by the emergence of a different way to think about our relationship with the world that we live on.

I have been inspired by an ark that has appeared on the hillside in my little corner of Argyll;

You can read the full story here.

We need our artists and our story tellers. How else might we start to see things in a new light? We need lot of small voices to make up a whole massed choir (to which I will add my own dodgy tenor.)

As we move towards COP21, I hope to post a series of poems/thoughts/agitations.

A trio of brand new poems for world poetry day…

Michaela, who knows things, tells me it is world poetry day, so what better day to release some brand new poems in to the world?

By the way, these poems will feature in a brand new collaboration with the wonderful Si Smith at some point… watch this space.

Something has to kill you in the end…

Not everything will prosper

Not all that breaks first bends

Not everyone self-actuates

Some wounds can never mend

So if you planned to live for ever

Better think again my friend, for

Something has to kill you in the end

.

Not all streets are safe as houses

Some children fail to thrive

No engines run for ever

Not all species can survive

When icecaps are all melting

Why strive to stay alive, for

Something has to kill you in the end

.

Not all our cells stay healthy

Not all bacteria’s benign

When trouble brews like viral news

Not all will read the signs

It might be the final curtain

Or we might just recombine, but

Something has to kill you in the end

.

Prodigal ape

You cannot choose the weather

You must take it all, for do not

Cheeks sing to both sun and storm?

When you stand before a big sky

It is never silent.

.

You cannot ignore the forest, for like all

Prodigal apes you must eventually return

Crawl soft ground beneath the mother oak

Bury your nose in half-familiar musks

That smell of home.

.

You cannot swim against a river flow

It will go where it will to go

It might take you down to sea

Where awaiting on the shore

You’ll find me.

Slow

Slow like a river though the roots

Of ancient trees. Slow like sails.

Slow like a meadow in a wind that

flows forever. Slow like the sea.

Slow as the tears that stain an

Unlined cheek. Slow like Sunday.

Slow like stories waiting to

Be told. Slow like sunshine.

.

Slow like a worm moving deep in

Virgin soil. Slow like a friend.

Slow like a swallow flies in

New blue sky. Slow like religion.

Slow like the way that lichen

Grows on rock. Slow like a slug.

Slow like glacial flow of ancient

Ice. Slow like a poem.

.

Slow like a thought on a

Rainy day. Slow like pain.

Slow like the heartbeat of elephant

Or whale. Slow like a snail.

Slow like summer back when we were

Young. Slow like news.

Slow like the wait for a baby

To be born. Slow like God.

Active hope in the face of overwhelming despair…

Let me start with this image, of recovered migrant boats gathered together in Gran Canaria (From The Guardian. Full story here.)

Can I suggest that you take a moment to ask yourself what emotions this picture evokes.

On the one hand the image churns in our fearful underbellies, into that dark part of us so easily exploited by proto fascists like Trump and Orban of Hungary. It is visual evidence of the hoards of ‘others’ massing at our borders wanting to take what is ours, or to come in such numbers as to overwhelm our culture and replace it with something alien and foreign. Something should be done, right?

But each one of these boats represents a story of human desperation. Undoubtably some (perhaps even many) of the passengers on these boats did not survive their attempts to reach Europe from Africa “…Caminando Fronteras, which has spent 14 years tracking and helping to co-ordinate the rescues of people who come to grief en route to Spain from Africa, estimates that 1,922 people died or disappeared while trying to reach the Canaries by sea between January and the end of June this year. (2021) By their calculations, the Atlantic route claimed 1,851 lives last year…” (Again, from The Guardian.) These are vast numbers, on just one of the routes used by people desperate to escape from all those usual evils that circumstance and growing global inequality has inflicted upon them. Men, women and children. Families setting out on a perilous journey with one aim- to be able to live lives of peace and prosperity, like we do. The human tragedy is hard to grasp, and then impossible to bear.

So, if you are like me, you feel yourself being sucked downwards in a vortex of powerlessness and despair. Our social media feeds highten this experience, constantly bringing us click-worthy extremes and promoting the most hateful and reprehensible voices, because there is nothing that captivates and invigorates our ego like our own outrage. Ultimately however, because there is nothing we can do about the state of the world, no wonder that we turn away and seek numbing distraction.

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Pexels.com

Thinking again about our individual responses to the picture above, it is clear that most of them must inevitably be passive responses. These might still be important, as clearly ‘public opinion’ is still shaping international responses to the so called ‘migrant crisis’, but on the whole, most of us have no direct influence on the complex circumstances that force people out on the open sea in small boats, beyond charitable giving or signing petitions. Where then do we look for hope? Surely these are not our only possible responses? Surely our hopes for the world used to amount to more than this?

I am working on a new book at the moment, which will be a collection of poetry, with art work from the outrageously talented Si Smith, which has the working title ‘After the apocalypse’. The project began about 5 years ago, in different times before we ever thought of face masks and social distancing. Back then, it seemed like the world was being dragged down a different sinkhole by Trump and his ilk. It felt important to resist in any way we could and for me this meant writing a lot of poetry. For Si, it meant producing and curating art. As the Trump/Johnson years have unfolded, it has been hard to hang on to the spirit of resistance. The set backs and defeats have mounted. Protest poetry began to seem like an indulgence, or an affliction of yet more misery on people who had seen enough of that already.

Then came the pandemic. The great disruptor. The great leveller (or so we thought). The killer and seperator. The window through which we look at things differently. The point at which the old normal is no more.

The project then took another shape, in which it was necessary not just to look backwards, but also to look forwards. But how is this possible, without hope? To conceive of a new world we have to hold an image of it in our minds. To work for good means that we have to have some idea of what goodness looks like. This is a huge challenge because most of our aspirations have been individually curated for us by our consumer culture. Instead of protest poems I began to write things like this;

Joy 2

Joy is not a bauble

Not a bubble, too soon burst

Never manufactured cost effectively

It is not bought or sold

It is not gold

.

Joy is not a jacket

You pick from a handy peg, it is

Never something worn externally

It is always a surprise

Like sunrise

.

Joy requires no skill

Its practice is not taught

It is not being ‘happy’ or content

It is just being open, to the

Beautiful and broken

.

Joy is an ambush

Hidden in plain sight

Wrapped up in the most unlikely things

It often comes with grief, not even

Promising relief

.

Joy is a squirrel

Transcending a tree

It is music played directly on the spine

You do not need to look, because

It stabs you the gut

I read recently about this thing called active hope. This has nothing to do with blind optimism or pie-in-the-sky positivity, rather it refers to a process by which we might reset our lives towards meaning and that elusive sacred thing sometimes known as goodness, or grace, or dare I say it, holiness. Yes, I think it is time to reclaim the word from the religious bigots and apply it instead to something less dualistic and a lot more ordinary.

Active hope is a concept put forward by Chris Johnstone and Jo Macy, as a way to help those of us who want to make a difference to reconnect with… hope. Perhaps we should start with a story;

Shambhala. Does it remind you of the Kingdom of God that Jesus spoke so much about?

Writing in this months Permaculture magazine, Chris Johnstone describes active hope as a three step process, something like this;

  1. Start from where you are, with an honest appraisal of how you think and feel about your immediate world. Perhaps it might be time to re-callibrate your hopes and aims, or to let go of things that need to be let go. He describes some of thee as like ‘carbon-heavy hopes’ that might be no longer fit for a world plagued by climate change.
  2. The next step is about choices. He suggests that from wherever we are, even if it currently feels like a difficult and hard place, there are always a lot of different ways that things can develop, a lot of different versions of how the story can go. This step then is to choose the one you hope for. As long as we are able to make these choices, then we open up the possibiity of allowing hoped-for futures to act through us.
  3. The third step is to take actions that might make those hoped for futures more likely.

Johnstone suggest too that when we face worries about the world we are living in, we contrast the usefulness of these two questions- ‘Are we hopeful?’, and ‘What are you hoping for?’. The first might be self defeating. The second one is anything but.

There is another important thing here, which was also part of the story of the Shambhala warriors, and that is the idea that small actions, taken by many, then amplified by the connectivity between all things, have a power beyond our immediate understanding. This takes some imagination in a culture that has glorified individualism.

This is where I am today, looking for active hope.

Dirty old river

To be fair, the old Clyde is cleaner than it was, at least to the eye. All the old heavy industry that used to clog the shores of the river all the way up to Glasgow and beyond has mostly long gone, so it would be strange if it were not. But the clearer waters hide something else.

There have been reasons to be optimistic. Some iconic species like otter, seal and porpoise can been seen out in the estuary. We have even been visited by killer whales, and small numbers of wild Salmon have been finding their way up river for over a decade now.

But all that contaminated land continues to leach toxins in the the river. That is just the old stuff, not all the plastics that have found their way in there in the last decades. Then there are the things happening up the river in the watershed- mostly phosphates from farming.

At present, there is consierable focus on a large fine handed out to Southern Water for releasing raw sewage into the rivers (because it is cheaper to pay the fines than invest in new treatment facilities) but it should not come as a surprise that the Clyde has had similar incidents.

The obvious thing about the estuary though is how empty it is compared to what SHOULD be there. It is a bit like looking at our contour-planted hilsides, devoid as they are of almost all the flora and fauna that used to form the great rain forests, and getting excited by the presence of an eagle. The fish are not there. The reefs and kelp beds are shrinking, the sea bed has and is being scoured by trawlers dredging for the only commercial crop left, prawns and scallops. There is a summary of much of this here.

The thing is, we can do something about this. The toxiicity up river is frankly more of a risk to us (apart from the phosphates and other agricultural polutions in the upper river). There is however great evidence that marine protection areas, partiularly ones that can be policed as easily as the Clyde estuary could be, work.

Let us not be complacent. The firth of Clyde is lovely, but it is not healthy. It needs our help.

Dirty old river

Dirty old river all rusty and brown
Coughs out a ship from the dirty old town
Scavenging birds patrol overhead
Searching for things only recently dead

Last resort trawler hauls close up to shore
Scrapes up the last scallop and the very last prawn
A flatiron-shaped tug smooths out towards sea
Like the impossible flight of the last bumble bee

The dirty old river that once was pretty
Collects like a sewer from the arse of this city
Where once swam the salmon, the perch and brown trout
There are only jobbies bobbing about

Some thoughts about the current state of progressive left wing politics in the UK…

Firstly I have to declare an interest- I joined the Labour party again after decades because of Jeremy Corbyn. I thought his style of politics was both necessary and hopeful after years of austerity and the erosion of compassion and evidence-based (rather than ideology based) welfare provision.

Many friends of mine in Scotland went a different way and changed their alegiance to the SNP, beleiving it was only possible to escape the inertia exerted by conservative middle England by breaking free altogether. Whilst I recognise the strengths of this argument I am not yet willing to give up on internationalism nor on the northern Britishness that was my place of origin. I also feel deeply uncomfortable with nationalism of all kinds; history tells us it very rarely ends well.

Next I also have to acknowledge privilege. I am a white middle aged male- the tribe that are usually part of the problem. Making any ‘intervention’ into this area is fraught with the risk that I do not help, I merely add another diversive voice into the open wound that the debate around antisemitism has already left on the left wing of politics in this country.

Why do it then? Mostly, becuase this is how I process things- I research and write about them, striving for depth and honesty, accepting that my views are also shaped by my own prejudices.

The hope that Corbyn represented has been mostly squashed. For some, he was hung, drawn and quartered by the media using an area of life long strength – his battle against racism – which was relentlessly weaponised against him. Others say he presided over a system that failed to deal effectively and transparently with… you fill in the blanks.

On the most recent evidence the very least Corbyn stands accused of is inadequate leadership. But then, his ‘leadership’ skills were never really to the fore; he was never that kind of leader, instead healways more comfortable showing small scale empathy, siding with the little against the big. Perhaps the skills required to be the figurehead of a wide agenda in the face of multi-facetted opposition were never his.

But was/is he an anti-semite? More than this, does the left have an antsemitism problem?

How do we even begin to answer these questions? Last year, I found the arguments in this video compelling. I was struggling to reconcile my own experiences with the picture being painted by the media, and the points made by the late David Graeber rang true;

It is perhaps all too easy to indulge in whataboutism when faced with more blatant racism practiced on the right. Do you remember the so-called ‘Trojan horse’ scandal from 2014? It surrounded a leaked letter supposedly written by an education official describing a plot to take over local schools in the name of Islam. There is a fascinating Radio 4 programme about it all, here. Basically, the letter was a fake, but that did not stop the whole mechanism of the state and the Murdoch media raising a storm. Gove, then education secretary, appointed an expert in counter-terrorism to investigate, who concluded that there were indeed problems caused by radicalisation.

Meanwhile, a Birmingham council investigation, led by a headmaster, disagreed entirely, concluding that the real problem was to do with school governance (remember that Gove was trying to push through his ‘academy’ system, where parents run their own schools independent of councils.) You can guess which report was all over the news.

This kind of racism has no challenge in the media; neither does it even seem something to be ashamed of within the Conservative party. It is the amost-acceptable kind of racism.

But two wrongs do not make a right. I needed to understand, as much as possible, exactly what had been going on with my own party.

I read the report.

All of it;

If you are at all interested, I suggest you do the same. But here’s the thing; don’t expect a smoking gun that will clear everything up, pointing firmly to the guilty party. The reality is much more complex and much more human. Not that you would think that if you only read the newspapers. The headlines have been conclusive. Corbyn had been ‘unmasked’.

The report indeed found the party was guilty of ‘3 unlawful acts’; political interferance in the complaints process, inadequate training and examples of direct harrassment (key figures who used antisemitic tropes and stereotypes). The devil is in the detail here though and I really do suggest you read the report in full. I was left in no doubt that there was antisemitism within the party, arising from ignorance, clumsiness, anti-Israel feelings and even the old nonesense about secret Jewish cabals that run world affairs from the shadows, but I was also left with the feeling that this would be true of ANY political party, or ANY institution, if you asked the same questions of it after so much blood letting on the issue. The party reflects the society in which it emerged from, although perhaps it feelishly felt itself to be better than it really was. After, we are the GOOD guys, right?

To those who have been hurt directly by all of this, I feel deep sympathy, but these remain murky waters. It has become even more difficult to hold our ‘allies’ in Israel to account for their blatant human rights abuses towards Palestinians and their disregard of international law. The left has done what it always seems to do- fractured into warring factions, divided against itself.

One of the reasons that my Scottish friends often give for deserting Labour and opting for the SNP’s vision of a left-leaning independent Scotand is the fact that Scotland returned overwhelming Labour victories for a generation but this got the left no-where. After all, the political system in the UK seems rigged towards Conservative success. A case in point might be the last election, in which left of centre parties polled a much higher total vote than that achieved by the Tories, who were nevetheless rewarded by an overwhelming majority by our first-past-the-post election process. Proportional representation therefore is most definitely not on the agenda. Instead, we have moves to introduce voter ID measures right out of the American Jim Crow playbook which will almost certainly disenfranchise many traditional left wing voters amongst poor communities. Power is bought and sold at expensive dinners where access to the ears of ministers is literally for sale to those who can afford it. Let us not ever kind ourselves that the money is being spent is for altruistic purposes. It is a shame on our country that there is no sign of a political movement to clean up this cess pool, and replace it with a system that limits/polices political funding and lobbying structures and also regulates so called ‘think tanks’ by making their funding transparent so we know who is paying for their dodgy messages.

The questoin that we constantly seem to ask is this one; can the left ever win a majority in this system, or do we only win by a Blairite move to the safe centre? (Safe that is for the vested interests suggested above whose investment has paid back so handsomely.) Perhaps my Scottish friends have it right and we have to give up on old Albion and build our tartan nirvana north of our new Hadrian’s wall. The problem I have is that although there is much of old Albion I would be very glad to leave behind, there is much that still lies close to my heart; the history of resistance, from the Diggers, to the Chartists, to the Tolpuddle martyrs and the Kinder Scout protestors.

Perhap this is just pointless nostalgia, but I would argue that it is more than that. It is about an ideology, a moment, a set of liberating and inspiring ideas about how the word is, and how it could be, despite all the evidence to the contrary, despite the failures. It has already achieved so much, mostly things that are taken for granted; pensions, benefits systems, the (George-medal-winning for gawds sake) NHS, environmental regluations, free education, safer working practices and so on… all of wihch are under attack both north and south of the aforementioned wall. I am longing not for a flag, but for a quiet revoution of new ideas.

The last labour manifesto had much in it to get excited about. New economic thinking, a green new deal, investment in localism and the promise of genuine change. The trouble was that despite the good things it continued, it lacked a story, an overarching narrative. I hate to say it, but it also lacked a communicator who could inspire more than just a cult following.

Then we come to Starmer. The leader whose main quality was that he looks like a softer more caring Tory. He appears to have a strategy of just biding his time, appealing to the common sense of the common man, waiting for the seemingly inevitable Johnson self-destruction. But I for one am becoming increasingly impatient with him. I have no idea what he thinks. I can see, as if from space, his attempts to not upset the tabloids, even if this means refusing to champion causes that desperately need a champion, but I can not decide what he is for, what he wants to achieve, what passions motivate him. He has no story for me to believe in.

John Harris in The Guardian puts it like this;

Complaints about Labour’s lack of “narrative” are now so familiar as to be aching cliches. Clearly, if the party has no language in its collective lungs, that is only symptomatic of deeper problems that Starmer has so far ignored. The list is long: the fact that Labour can no longer monopolise the politics of the left; the dwindling of the party’s old power bases in industry and the trade unions; its lack of a meaningful presence in plenty of its supposed heartlands, and the resulting sense of the party leadership in Westminster being a distant clique…

…Over the weekend, the Labour leader announced a new policy on the public sector “buying British”, and a public relations drive on crime. Depending on your point of view, those things will either represent necessary action on some of Labour’s weaknesses, or a grimly familiar resort to faux patriotism and “toughness”. But neither suggest any kind of confident story about what Britain has recently experienced, nor a vision of where it should be heading; a cynical public will either not notice, or see such manoeuvring as proof that the people who run the party are still very anxious.

Richer political seams should not be hard to come by. Particularly in England, where the Covid crisis has highlighted two key things: the panicked incompetence of the people at the top, and the kind of injustices that a decade of Tory-led governments has made immeasurably worse. We now know, for example, that the death rate from Covid in some areas of England has been 25% higher than the national average, and that the impossibility of home working for millions of people has increased their exposure to the virus, with awful consequences. Thanks to Marcus Rashford, the everyday prevalence of hunger has permeated the collective consciousness; the fact that 6 million people now have experience of universal credit has further exposed the cruelties of the benefits system….

Even in the short term, you can not fight populists like Johnson (or Trump) by the application of liberal norms and appeals to decency and good manners- they lied and cheated their way past all that years ago and even their supporters know it, they just do not care. The end result is that it is that much harder to get the general public involved in political discourse after social media driven polarisation has devalued any political speach to ‘just another lying useless politician’. We know that Johnson is a charlatan, but he is at least colourful. He has floppy hair and says outrageous things. Who cares that Starmer forensically destroys him at parlimentary questions every week? The only thing that will rid us of Boris is Boris himself, or his friend waiting in the wings for their own crack at the top job.

But short termism will not hack it in our current situation, with widening inequality, climate change and all. The left understands the problem all too well; here is Monbiot in case you need to hear it again;

What has been lacking almost entirely at the heart of the politics of the left is a clear alternative to the growthism that Monbiot spells out so well. Even when we see it for what it is, it is almost impossible to challenge the dominance of the ideas that allow it to coninue because we can not concieve of what an alternative might look like. (Yes we need a communicator who can spell out this vision, but we must also fear that some communicator because he or she can easily become a 1930’s style dictator in these fluid times. One possible defense against this is a strong movement, mitigated through a network of local politics.)

But the clues are there. Some of them have been talked about for so long that they have almost become cliches. The problem we have now is how we unite to construct that story together, despite all the division, in order for someone to tell it in a way that people can once more believe. This means that whether they like it or not, the SNP, who have perhaps thrived on the Sottish distaste for all things Tory, need a revitalised labour party, because otherwise, post independence, what story will they tell? The same void that afflict the left will affect them, and the danger is that the void will be filled with those who wish only to serve themselves.

The world we emerge into will be the one we choose to make…

Is this true?

Many of us has been watching the world for changes throughout this pandemic – changes for both good and ill. Today, the UK media is full of stories of the re-opening of ‘non-essential’ shops in England (but not here is Scotland) and how this has brought great relief, not just to the traders, but also those of us desperate to return to the great social good that has defined our era: consumerism.

That sounds so judgemental and sneering – as if I do not shop. We have all been caught up in the same cycles of disatisfied wanting, followed by orgiastic aquiring, then post-coital morning-afters in which we awake to the realities of how those thing swe desired failed to deliver any lasting pleasure and in fact might have made us feel worse.

But even as the planet is consumed around us, we still seem to think that the answer is to be found in consumption. We NEED that posh new electric car, right? After all, think how amazing we will look when other people see us passing by, waving our ecological credentials for all to see. Our (my) instagram feeds are full of photos of foraging equipment, eco-toilet paper and fine foods I have made from healthy produce shipped in from half way around the world.

Photo by Burak K on Pexels.com

Will anything really change, even after the wake-up call offered by the pandemic and our enforced sabbatical from the life we lived before it?

I think the answer to this question will depend entirely on the attitudes and attention we bring to bear upon it. Cynicism will easily draw us towards inertia and anxiety and fear will spin us off into self destruction. There will always be reasons to point at others and find them wanting, thereby absolving ourselves for the continued dissonance between what we feel to be right and the way we continue to live our lives towards consumption.

As I write this, I feel my head dropping and my spirits sinking and there it is again. Intertia. As if nothing can ever change.

But this is not good enough. I HAVE changed, at least in part. Even if my individual choices are a drop in the ocean, the ocean is made up of… lots of drops. I know this for a fact, being somewhat of the sea-faring salty dog of late.

But for change to take place, individual action (easily rendered as ‘consumer choice’) is just not enough. Change can only happen if we rediscover the collective; if we stop pretending that the world is a binary one made up only of zeros and I’s.

The pandemic surely has made this clear yet again. As well as revealing global and national inequalities in harsh light, it has reminded us that global problems require global solutions. Trump has been Trumped by Biden the middle-man, who now seems to be revealed as rather more radical than we suspected. Even in this fractured polarised world, a window has opened, through which new light can get in, no matter how dirty the glass.

This blog is primarily about ideas; it has long been one of the ways that I try to explore the coming together of spirituality and economics, politics, art and social justice. Partly this is because I have come to believe that ideas shape us for good or ill, even when unrecognised and unacknowledged. Some ideas enter into the zeitgeist of what is seen as ‘normal’ human relations and become almost unassailable. They take on the certitude of ‘common sense’ and as such, any challenge seems absurd. Of course, there is often a power dynamic to these ideas too- they create winners and losers, so the winners pour huge resources into maintaining them.

Think about this for a moment in relation to one of the foremost dominant ideas of our time- individualism. I wrote a blog piece about this once before in which I tried to describe the way that individualism permeates our culture;

ECONOMICS. The dominant economic model for the western world is still Neoliberal economics, which is based around the idea of individual autonomous consumer units

POLITICS. ‘There is no such thing as society’ said Margaret Thatcher, and successive governments on the left and right have tried to prove her correct. Instead we have strivers/skyvers. There are those who are contributing to society and those who are ‘excluded’. The latter need only individual solutions.

RELIGION. We offer only a personal Jesus, who seeks to save the world one sinner at a time. The Hebrew God, who refused even to be given an individual name, and was collectively engaged with a whole nation, has been forgottten.

THERAPY. It is not just because of swiftness and convenience that ‘self-help’ has become such a huge seller and gained such traction within the world of mental health. We can only see individual solutions to what are mostly collective problems.

HEALTH. Positive thinking is offered as the cure all for everything from depression to cancer. Your healing comes from the power of your individualism.

The idea of individualism, even if it contains important truth, masks an alternative reality- perhaps best understood by contrasting two approaches to understanding the natural world.

Following on from the enlightenment and the work of Darwin, we began to see the natural world as one in which the fittest survived, and the weak were discarded. Nature, red in tooth and claw, was a system of competition and conquest, much like our market economies. Supporting the weak is futile. Let nature take it’s course.

Meanwhile, back in old-memory, there are ways of seeing the world as being a great interconnected family- animist folk ideas that we discarded (replaced by idividualised versions of Christianity of course) in the name of science. More recently though, we have learned more about the world of funghi.

Funghi make up about a third of all living organisms on the planet, if mostly unseen and out of sight. The mushrooms we see are merely their infrequent reproductive eruptions, whilst down below the long tenderils of micota are the information superhighway of the natural world. They connect, exchange nutrients, break down, feed up, co-operate and facilitate in ways that we are only just beginning to understand. Funghi form the perfect analogy of a natural world that is anything but individual. A world in which one element is entirely dependent on the other- no, more than that – rather one element is indivisible from the other. They can not exist in isolation, but only in connection.

This idea of connectedness and ‘one-ness’ is found throughout the great religions, in economics, even in politics. So why has it slipped from our zeitgiest? Whose interested are being served here? What changes are prevented if we suppress this idea, perhaps even label it as ‘communism’?

If anyone fancies exploring how ideas/spirituality/activism might come together and form a fungal mass, then it is well worth checking out this podcast, featuring Gail Bradbrook (above), founder of Extinction Rebellion.

As for me, I am determined to continue to be that drop in the ocean I alluded to earlier. I will plant my potatoes and my poems. I will try to reuse, exchange and recycle.

And as we emerge from winter, things will soon start to grow. (This from my aforementioned instagram feed!)

Poetry reading (and other stuff) for world poetry day…

We decided to do something for World Poetry Day, this Sunday the 21st of March.

All proceeds from these events will go to Shelter, because if the pandemic has taught us anything it is that homelessness is something we can do something about… if we want to.

Michaela will be doing a live ‘poetry in to clay’ on FB, You can check this out by via our FB page here.

We will be auctioning a one-off seatree assemblage (again, to raise money for Shelter);

…and I will be doing this;

LIVE POETRY READING ‘The times we live in now’

Sunday afternoon, 21st March, from 3.30, via zoom.

Join us if you can- with the warning (in case you needed it) that my poetry is not for the faint of heart. It offers no easy answers or shallow comfort. It does not shrink from disturbing, unsettling issues, but (I like to believe) it also reaches towards hope…

The intention is to have three parts to the reading, focussing on before/during/after pandemic. How many poems we read will depend very much on those of you who participate… and how much chat we have (please be kind!)

I will be reading my way though a lot of poems written during the lockdowns, hopefully with a bit of explaination and discussion as we go along.

You can sign up and get log-in details here.

Currency…

Photo by David McBee on Pexels.com

Who decides what something is worth?

When in human history did the exchange of goods become replaced by the storing up of wealth in some kind of symbolic token?

In case you missed it, the progression of wealth-accummulation has moved on recently. What started out with weights of precious metals has long been replaced by bank notes promising that value is held elsewhere. Increasingly this value has been entirely symbolic -arbitary even. Economic systems ascribe and vary value according to mysterious forces that are as remote as the movement of stars in the heavens once were.

More recently, we have seen the rise of digital currencies; Bitcoin and the like. It feels revolutionary, like the wild west. Huge profits, huge losses. A gambler’s paradise. Most recently we have the advent of the deliciously titled non-fungible tokens. Like the tulip bulb bubble (that burst in 17th C Dutch society) NFT’s are a way to ascribe value to anything, in this case mostly to digital creations that then can be traded and stored away as wealth.

It is a reality that I find deeply depressing, for reasons that I can’t easily describe…

Currency

After the corn mouldered in the storehouse, and

Even gold was corrupted by baser metal;

After bitcoin bubbles burst like a septic blisters, and

Digital riches turned out to be all-too fungible after all –

How will we know what we are worth?

How can we pay for sunsets, or stars?

How will we afford for rains to still fall?

Will there be a point to life at all?

Human races…

I’ve been thinking about how we measure our becoming – the way that we used to think that human ingenuity would always triumph in the end. Perhaps it will, but then again we have been here before, right? We try so hard to convince ourselves that what matters is slowing time and denying our mortality, whilst at the same time only living life in a linnear fashion.

I get glimpses sometimes – not certainties – just hints that what we are is not just what we can see and touch. Then I remember to all those deep religious thinkers from every tradition who saw everything to be connected and that the spirit that lives in all of us is the same.

The god who loves things by becoming them as Richard Rohr would have it.

But I can’t make sense of any of it, apart from exploring it with poetry.

Human races

.

The upright ape ascends from knapped flint to

Silicon chip. He scratches sonnets in split slate and

Solves problems (almost) as fast as he makes them.

Alchemy promised gold, but instead it turned the

Lights on, lighting a road ahead called Progress.

.

There is nothing new under the sun; the circle is still

Unbroken. Empires rise whilst others fall; ours was

Not the first at all. It turns out that our times were never

Linear (just oscillation) and that for every page of

Knowledge gained another is forgotten.

.

But what are we, if not whisps of the same Spirit?

We carry in us the same am-ness as all things that ever were,

Hidden under thin skin and hubris, waiting for those moments

Beneath stars or trees or tenderness when we remember;

It was all about connection.

.