The Dark Mountain Project…

dark mountian

I came across this project a while ago, and got very excited by it.

A lot of my writing on this blog has been an attempt engaged criticism with our economic/political/cultural malaise. I suppose I am seeking to make sense of where we are up to, and looking for what is changing, for good or ill. This means that some of the discussion in this blog has delved into the shady world of economics and that I find it impossible to avoid political statements.

But I am not an economist, or a politician. I approach these things as a writer, a poet, a person interested in theology. You will understand my interest then when I read about the Dark Mountain Project. This is how they describe themselves;

The Dark Mountain Project is a network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilisation tells itself. We see that the world is entering an age of ecological collapse, material contraction and social and political unravelling, and we want our cultural responses to reflect this reality rather than denying it.

The Project grew out of a feeling that contemporary art and literature were failing to respond honestly or adequately to the scale of our entwined ecological, economic and social crises. We believe that writing and art have a crucial role to play in coming to terms with this reality, and in questioning its foundations.

The first thing that the project did was to publish a manifesto, funded by a crowd funding appeal, which sets out what they are about. If this is of interest it is well worth reading the whole thing, but here are a couple of extracts that made me shout YES!

The myth of progress is to us what the myth of god-given warrior prowess was to the Romans, or the myth of eternal salvation was to the conquistadors: without it, our efforts cannot be sustained. Onto the root stock of Western Christianity, the Enlightenment at its most optimistic grafted a vision of an Earthly paradise, towards which human effort guided by calculative reason could take us. Following this guidance, each generation will live a better life than the life of those that went before it. History becomes an escalator, and the only way is up. On the top floor is human perfection. It is important that this should remain just out of reach in order to sustain the sensation of motion.

Recent history, however, has given this mechanism something of a battering. The past century too often threatened a descent into hell, rather than the promised heaven on Earth. Even within the prosperous and liberal societies of the West progress has, in many ways, failed to deliver the goods. Today’s generation are demonstrably less content, and consequently less optimistic, than those that went before. They work longer hours, with less security, and less chance of leaving behind the social back- ground into which they were born. They fear crime, social breakdown, overdevelopment, environmental collapse. They do not believe that the future will be better than the past. Individually, they are less constrained by class and convention than their parents or grandparents, but more constrained by law, surveillance, state proscription and personal debt. Their physical health is better, their mental health more fragile. Nobody knows what is coming. Nobody wants to look…

…We imagined ourselves isolated from the source of our existence. The fallout from this imaginative error is all around us: a quarter of the world’s mammals are threatened with imminent extinction; an acre and a half of rainforest is felled every second; 75% of the world’s fish stocks are on the verge of collapse; humanity consumes 25% more of the world’s natural ‘products’ than the Earth can replace — a figure predicted to rise to 80% by mid-century. Even through the deadening lens of statistics, we can glimpse the violence to which our myths have driven us…

…We do not believe that everything will be fine. We are not even sure, based on current definitions of progress and improvement, that we want it to be. Of all humanity’s delusions of difference, of its separation from and superiority to the living world which surrounds it, one distinction holds up better than most: we may well be the first species capable of effectively eliminating life on Earth. This is a hypothesis we seem intent on putting to the test. We are already responsible for denuding the world of much of its richness, magnificence, beauty, colour and magic, and we show no sign of slowing down. For a very long time, we imagined that ‘nature’ was something that happened elsewhere. The damage we did to it might be regrettable, but needed to be weighed against the benefits here and now…

…Creativity remains the most uncontrollable of human forces: without it, the project of civilisation is inconceivable, yet no part of life remains so untamed and undomesticated. Words and images can change minds, hearts, even the course of history. Their makers shape the stories people carry through their lives, unearth old ones and breathe them back to life, add new twists, point to unexpected endings. It is time to pick up the threads and make the stories new, as they must always be made new, starting from where we are…

We believe that artists — which is to us the most welcoming of words, taking under its wing writers of all kinds, painters, musicians, sculptors, poets, designers, creators, makers of things, dreamers of dreams — have a responsibility to begin the process of decoupling. We believe that, in the age of ecocide, the last taboo must be broken — and that only artists can do it.

Ecocide demands a response. That response is too important to be left to politicians, economists, conceptual thinkers, number crunchers; too all-pervasive to be left to activists or campaigners. Artists are needed. So far, though, the artistic response has been muted. In between traditional nature poetry and agitprop, what is there? Where are the poems that have adjusted their scope to the scale of this challenge? Where are the novels that probe beyond the country house or the city centre? What new form of writing has emerged to challenge civilisation itself? What gallery mounts an exhibition equal to this challenge? Which musician has discovered the secret chord?…

This response we call Uncivilised art, and we are interested in one branch of it in particular: Uncivilised writing. Uncivilised writing is writing which attempts to stand outside the human bubble and see us as we are: highly evolved apes with an array of talents and abilities which we are unleashing without sufficient thought, control, compassion or intelligence. Apes who have constructed a sophisticated myth of their own importance with which to sustain their civilising project. Apes whose project has been to tame, to control, to subdue or to destroy — to civilise the forests, the deserts, the wild lands and the seas, to impose bonds on the minds of their own in order that they might feel nothing when they exploit or destroy their fellow creatures.

Against the civilising project, which has become the progenitor of ecocide, Uncivilised writing offers not a non-human perspective—we remain human and, even now, are not quite ashamed — but a perspective which sees us as one strand of a web rather than as the first palanquin in a glorious procession. It offers an unblinking look at the forces among which we find ourselves….

So, uncivilised as it might be, let us rise to the challenge! They are having a meeting at Whiston Lodge in Scotland next year- I may even try to get along…

I noticed that one of my favourite musicians is involved in the Dark Mountain Project- the wonderful marmite on toast songwriter Chris Wood. I feel an uncivilised song coming on…

Neo-Cons and the opportunity gifted by austerity…

trickle down economics

What do you do when faced with a broken economy?

Let us examine a couple of options;

Firstly, we might decide that something has been going wrong with the way we run our lives. We might realise that our lifestyles have become skewed towards debt-driven consumerism, buoyed by a false sense of prosperity caused by rising house prices for those already comfortably situated on the property ladder. We have become a country who have stopped producing things but are addicted to imported gadgets whose pending obsolescence is measured in months even before we get them out of the box.

Over the last 20 years there has been a revolution in the banking and financial sectors. A thousand new ‘products’ offering new ways to borrow. Billions have been generated on paper, and a few rich people have benefited hugely. However, much of the activity is like some kind of confidence trick. It is not related to any real life events, it is just a shuffling of decimal points, the blink blink of binary code. It means nothing to ordinary people. Until it all goes wrong that is.

What can we learn from all this?

  • Can we break the debt cycle, move to more simple ways of living?
  • Can we consume less, share more, recycle, make products that last?
  • Can we protect the weakest from the consequences of failed capitalist experiments?
  • Can we develop a housing market not based on me-first insular ownership battles? Is renting or shared ownership a bad thing?
  • Can we tax more where appropriate, and make sure that the taxes are actually paid?
  • Can we start to make decisions based on sustainability, not just talk about doing so?
  • Can we stop talking about ‘market forces’ as the only human motivation possible to generate mass action. As if money was the only human capital of any value.

Perhaps in the mess of all this, there is a way to mend not just or economy, but for our culture to flourish anew…

The trouble is, there seems to be no real sign that this kind of agenda suits those in power. They seem to be more interested in option B;

The problem with the economy is not one of over consumption, it is caused by excessive public spending. It is caused by welfare systems that breed inefficiency and dependency. It is caused by a lack of fluidity in certain flows of capital around the markets. The proper response should be as follows;

  • Cut public spending.
  • Slash welfare budgets, slash health care spending.
  • Support these unpopular moves with a blame game- stories of benefit scroungers and immigrants coming here to fill our social housing and claim our benefits.
  • Cut taxes to business to encourage productivity.
  • Attack power of unions.
  • Slash at any external power that has a human rights agenda. It will be a threat to the freedom of the market.

Option B, for most of the last 50 years, has not been a politically acceptable option, not even in the height of the Thatcher years. However, the current economic ‘crisis’ seems to have turned all this on its head. Neo Conservatives have an opportunity to move forward an agenda that they have never had before- mostly because organised collective opposition has been so weak.

If you want to see any kind of evidence of this, check out the news. The Tory party conference is in full swing, and a rather nasty, negative set of policies are being touted;

Repeal the Human Rights Act.

Make people on Benefits do ‘voluntary’ work.

Stop immigrants receiving health care and benefits in this country.

No sign whatsoever of option A. There is no money in it for those who are already rich on the benefits of the system that got us into this mess.

Mad ain’t it?


17 rules for a sustainable economy….

Wendell Berry is a prolific author, activist, poet and also a farmer in Kentucky, USA. He is also a life long Baptist Christian.

He came up with a list of what he saw as the best way to change our destructive Capitalist global economy into something more human scale, more sustainable and in tune with our environment, where ever this might be on the planet.

See what you think- might such a set of rules actually work in the real world?

A community economy is not an economy in which well-placed persons can make a ‘killing’. It is an economy whose aim is generosity and a well-distributed and safeguarded abundance.

Wendell Berry is a strong defender of family, rural communities, and traditional family farms. These underlying principles could be described as ‘the preservation of ecological diversity and integrity, and the renewal, on sound cultural and ecological principles, of local economies and local communities:

1. Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth.

2. Always include local nature – the land, the water, the air, the native creatures – within the membership of the community.

3. Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbors.

4. Always supply local needs first (and only then think of exporting products – first to nearby cities, then to others).

5. Understand the ultimate unsoundness of the industrial doctrine of ‘labor saving’ if that implies poor work, unemployment, or any kind of pollution or contamination.

6. Develop properly scaled value-adding industries for local products to ensure that the community does not become merely a colony of national or global economy.

7. Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the local farm and/or forest economy.

8. Strive to supply as much of the community’s own energy as possible.

9. Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the community for as long as possible before they are paid out.

10. Make sure that money paid into the local economy circulates within the community and decrease expenditures outside the community.

11. Make the community able to invest in itself by maintaining its properties, keeping itself clean (without dirtying some other place), caring for its old people, and teaching its children.

12. See that the old and young take care of one another. The young must learn from the old, not necessarily, and not always in school. There must be no institutionalized childcare and no homes for the aged. The community knows and remembers itself by the association of old and young.

13. Account for costs now conventionally hidden or externalized. Whenever possible, these must be debited against monetary income.

14. Look into the possible uses of local currency, community-funded loan programs, systems of barter, and the like.

15. Always be aware of the economic value of neighborly acts. In our time, the costs of living are greatly increased by the loss of neighborhood, which leaves people to face their calamities alone.

16. A rural community should always be acquainted and interconnected with community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.

17. A sustainable rural economy will depend on urban consumers loyal to local products. Therefore, we are talking about an economy that will always be more cooperative than competitive.

A vicar in a riot…

Someone tweeted this today- which I think is a rather wonderful piece.

It tells the story of a Chaplain Hayley Matthews on her way home, suddenly ‘Kettled’ along with a group of looters and rioters- and their strange reaction to the presence of a dog collar.

In his piece, she said this- which I really liked…

The trouble is, we do have a two tier society without a doubt, and while bankers have been allowed their bonuses having stitched us up every which way, we will continue to pay for this in more ways than one, and tonight is just one of them.  With the cuts aimed primarily at the poor and the needy and the disenfranchised, things can only get worse.

And what will we do?  Continue to promulgate the values that have created this deadly cocktail of haves and have-nots, faithless, hopeless people who have been taught that consumerism is a recreational right and all moral and religious education completely nonsensical?  Surely THIS is nonsensical?!

Please God that we wake up and smell the coffee, before we condemn yet another generation (no pun intended).