Episode #26 This Civilisation is definitely finished. No more ‘business as usual’ – we need to turn towards life
Professor Rupert Read, Green Party activist, XR speaker, and deep adaptation philosopher, speaks openly, deeply – and with a raw, almost unique honesty – about the dangers of the current time, and the need to turn away from ‘business as usual’
There are times when we need to shock ourselves out of our complacency, when we need to realise how close to the edge of extinction., we are, when we need to step away from the fantasies of ‘business as usual’ and re-appraise the very nature of what it is to be human. And then to work out how to go forward in ways that are regenerative, compassionate, and that turn towards life.
Rupert Read – 24 theses on Corona
Rupert Read – ‘Pro-energy-descent’ review of Planet of the Humans by Michael Moore
Manda: My guest this week, though, is Professor Rupert Read, associate Professor of philosophy at UEA in East Anglia. He’s also an activist for the Green Party and one of the key speakers for Extinction Rebellion. He is absolutely immersed in the present moment in all of the challenges that we face now. And I had this idea that as a philosopher, we could really build together an extraordinary future that would give us something to aim for. And instead, I think we rather made the despair more convincing. So I spent a while deciding whether it was useful to even broadcast this podcast at all. I think that it is, because I think remembering where we are, remembering what we face, remembering the potential for catastrophe is worth it. Once in a while, I still think that making hope possible is a necessary radical act. And also, that hope is possible. that we can get there. And I will explain more of that when we get to the end of this podcast. But in the meantime, people of the podcast, please do welcome Rupert Read.
So welcome on this Friday morning to Professor Rupert Read. Rupert, thank you so much for taking time out and for wrestling with the technology to get us going and get us talking again. Now that we’re at what seems to be the dribbling end of lockdown – I’m not even sure of lockdown is still happening – how are these last few weeks been for you? Before we move into how things could be?
Rupert: [00:03:27.53] Well, I’ll come clean with you, Manda, personally speaking, in many ways, I’ve had a great lockdown. It’s been really bizarre because on the one hand, I’ve been just so furiously angry with our government for the way it’s committed tens of thousands of people to death. And I’ve been working hard to protest against that and write against that and so on. I’ve been very angry some of the time and and very concerned about the state of the world in ways that I think we’ll get to talk about more generally. But personally, I found it fine. I was writing a lot. I was catching up a lot. I was hearing the birds sing a lot. Literally, as many of us have been experiencing nature in my garden and in the local cemetery, which is an amazing wild place where I would go for my daily jog. I was absolutely loving the absence of cars on the street and planes in the sky above me, noticing the better air quality.
For those of us not in the front line or ill or dying, there’ve been many reasons, it seems to me, to find the past time, the past few months, actually pretty wonderful. And I think there’s a very, powerful message there. If only we were doing a more strong job as a society at heeding that message.
Manda: [00:04:51.26] There are places I want to go in terms of spirituality and sacredness. But actually, given that we’re here – there was an article in The Guardian today (today’s Friday, the 12th of June), saying that the CO2 output has spiked up again after two or three months of it falling because of lockdown. And you wrote a comment on that on Facebook saying this is the last boat – that we need to get on the boat to a different future. Which I imagine anybody listening to this podcast is on board with that or they wouldn’t have got this far. And it tags along with you having written a book called ‘This Civilization is Finished’, which we talked about in our previous podcast.
And so I’m wondering from where we are now, do you see a way forward where if we all, for whatever reason, got onto the same boat, stopped obsessing about statues and whether they need to come down – they clearly only to come down. let’s stop worrying about that – because we’re in the middle of the sixth mass extinction, and we have been given a gateway to a world that could be different. And we seem to be closing that gate. Have you in any way seen a way forward to opening that gate and creating a different world?
Rupert: [00:06:14.79] Well, what a beautifully put question. I’ve been trying to keep the gate open and encourage people to walk through it. The amazing portal, this gateless gate that we’re still somehow in. For example, in my piece ’24 Theses on Corona’, which is sort of the prayer that I wrote for what should happen at this time. I think that this time of the pause, this time of lockdown has been a sacred space for many of us in itself. And it’s given us the opportunity to reflect on what’s really important, I think that we have as a species and as a society, learn something about our vulnerability, which is enormously powerful. We’ve experienced emergency. We’ve experienced it together.
I think it’s been very beautiful the way that people have, to a very large extent, been working to or perhaps finding it natural to be together in this time and the cause. The great irony is we haven’t been together physically/ But I always use the term ‘physical distancing’ rather than the ‘social distancing’, because it seems to me that socially, we have actually been brought closer together, not least by things like the mutual care networks and the NHS clap.
So all the materials, as it were, are there in order for us to make more of a transition at this point. And I’ve also been working with Extinction Rebellion on protesting against the bailouts that are happening and arguing for this to be the the Green Transition that it should be.
Everything is in place in a certain sense for us to make the kind of change that we need to make. But it seems that we’re unable to do it. Of course, one of the main reasons we’re unable to do it is simply the enormous power of those interests that don’t want us to do it. Interests in favour of the status quo that are trying to pull us back into how we were before. I think that there is still a chance, but as you say, the the window is is closing. The gate is is closing. We cannot allow that to happen.
Manda: [00:08:28.43] And so, how do we find leverage to impact those who clearly want to maintain the status quo? Because like you, I loved lockdown and I feel very guilty saying that. And our go to metaphor is that we’re not living on the 10th floor of a tower block with an abusive husband and six children, in which case I am absolutely certain the lockdown was unmitigated hell. But the answer to that is not to change lockdown, it’s to change the nature of living on a 10th floor of a tower block with an abusive partner and six children so that it isn’t unmitigated hell.
And I haven’t met anybody yet who doesn’t want this to be a moment of change. But I think that’s a reflection on my bubble, because I go to the local village shop and I buy The Guardian and I look at the front page of the Mail, and clearly the Mail wants us to go back to business as usual at the fastest possible pace. And they must be reflecting the people in power.
I believe, went to the same college as Boris Johnson at the same time. So you have some kind of insight into the thought processes that keep the people who currently hold the reins of power in place. What avenues are open to ordinary people to shift their viewpoint at this moment?
Rupert: [00:09:53.42] There are many things that that we can do, as there always are, more than than we think is. They’re old fashioned things which are still worth doing, like lobbying your MP. There’s talking to your neighbours and being busy on social media. Then there are things that probably have more leverage, such as what you do in your workplace, because this is a moment of potentially huge transition in workplaces. If we manage to seriously reduce the amount of commuting that happens, for example, right now, that will be a huge step forward and I think that is possible.
Then, of course, there are more full-on measures which are absolutely called for at this time. The importance of this moment, this year, this summer. – honestly, it cannot be overestimated. One is always inclined to say that. But I really believe that this is it/ That the last boat for a possibility of a transition which does not involve massive hardship, suffering and probably death is upon us.
I’m not the only one saying this, although I think I do feel it a bit more sharply than most people do. This is very much the view of my friend and colleague Jonathan Porritt. It’s very much the view of the Secretary-General of the UN, Antonio Guterres, and many, many others.
So it has to happen now. The more full-on things that have to happen now are things like activism through Extinction Rebellion. We need to be doing physically-distanced protests right now to make clear that we will not go back. No Going Back, no bail outs for business as usual. Instead, we need to bail out a plan for people and planet.
In that context, you ask about what those who were, quote, in charge, unquote, want to do. I think they, too, realize, at least to some extent dimly, that this is a moment for for opportunity and for change. And there are people even in the Conservative Party who are waking up to this. For example, I’ve been working at a tiny bit with Lord Randall, Theresa May’s environment adviser, when she was prime minister, who is, of course, a Conservative. And he kind of gets it.
And Michael Gove gets it a bit less. Michael’s an old friend and Boris gets it a bit less. And then there are other Conservatives who literally, you know, don’t get it at all. And they, I think, include Dominic Cummings (he’s not really Conservative)
Manda: [00:12:39.91] But he does seem to hold power. And he is clearly having his strings pulled by people who absolutely are way above him on some kind of pecking order.
Rupert: [00:12:46.00] And many of the figures in the in the cabinet. And this is a this is a government – and, of course, with Trump in America, it’s even worse – that is very attuned to the interests of big money. And that’s kind of it really.
Manda: [00:12:59.92] So is there the way that we can reach big money? Because that seems to me that the politicians that we have at the moment are puppets. It may be that I’m being conspiracist, but it does seem to me that they don’t have an original thought to share between them. And therefore, we need to reach the people who are pulling the strings. Have you seen any chinks of light in ways that we could be doing that?
Rupert: [00:13:23.86] Well, there are some chinks of light. Mark Carney (Governor of the Bank of England), for example, has moved quite a long way and he’s worth pressuring. We need to pour pressure onto the Bank of England. That’s a very good target for Extinction Rebellion type action at the moment. Because on the one hand, the Bank of England are saying, look, we’ve got to have a proper green recovery, as many people are saying. But on the other hand, the Bank of England have been literally bailing out the airlines and the oil companies during the last week away from the glare of publicity. So it’s an incredible kind of two facedness.
Rupert: [00:13:55.59] We need to have radical action. And now is that is the time for people to, in a physically distanced way, start doing that or to do it virtually. I’m working with people in Extinction Rebellion who are trying to get to the big oil companies and big finance behind the scenes. And that’s very worth doing.
But, you know, in the context of this podcast, of this remarkable idea of us being Accidental Gods and what we’re going do about it, it seems to me that the greatest power of all at this moment is for us to really wake up to and realise just how dire things are and start to come clean as I’m doing – as you’ve noticed – that actually the boat is leaving the harbour right now for any chance of a transition or transformation which is not going to be extremely difficult and unpleasant.
And that very realisation, the very realisation that basically we’re losing our last chance right now. That, of course, actually is our best chance. That’s the paradox of our situation, as it always is, that fully waking up to and fully perceiving the horror of the situation, which most of us including I really mean, most of us, – the Greenies or or eco spiritual types and so on – are very unwilling to do. That actually going through that realisation is the best chance of all of unleashing the saving power that still, I believe, lies in the danger that we are in the middle of.
I’m guessing one starting point for that is to read the Deep Adaptation paper, because for all that it’s now four years old, it does lay out in really quite stark terms how close we are to the tipping points and how horrendous the tipping points will be.
Manda: [00:16:00.35] I think most of us are there, but what we need is the general narrative to wake up to that while we have the BBC and Sky and Channel Four who are letting themselves be dragged down rabbit holes about whether Dominic Cummings went to Barnard Castle or not, they’re not starting every item with, “And we’re this much closer to the edge of extinction.” Which one thinks they would be if they actually understood? How do we reach those who shape our narratives?
Rupert: [00:16:42.17] By the way, the deep meditation paper is actually only two years ago, but perhaps it feels like four years. My difference from Jim Bendell, the author of Deep Adaptation, has always been that I thought it was not right to say, as he says in that paper, that collapse is inevitable and that it’s inevitable within a 10 year period. But, what I’m saying today is that it’s looking more and more as though what he said was prescient. I’m still not going to go with a 10 year timetable, but we are getting to the point where it becomes increasingly implausible to imagine that we’re going to get through this without at least some kind of very serious partial collapse events in countries like this one, let alone in countries in the in the global south.
So you ask, how do we get this through into the general culture and through the media and so on more? And I’d say, again, we can start with small things like, anyone who knows someone in the media should pressure them and speak truth to them, should complain and write and contact programs like BBC Feedback, things like that.
But then moving to a somewhat bigger picture of what might be transformative. Again, it seems to me that actually facing up to climate and ecological reality and drawing the appropriate conclusions in terms of the way that one speaks, the way that one feels, which, of course, includes a very great deal of emotional pain and suffering and despair, the sharing of that, the sharing of that with each other and the sharing of that beyond our own bubble, as you put it, into broader places.
The turning to questions of things like, ‘If I really mean this (and I do) then what does this mean in terms of thinking about how I’m planning for the future building community, doing a bit of prepping, that kind of thing?’ Those are the kind of things that when one starts to do them, when one actually allows the emotions to move through, when one actually starts to change one’s plans and to share with others the fact that one is changing one’s plans in those ways, that’s what I think breaks through the defences of increasingly large numbers of people.
If somebody hears is you saying periodically, ‘God, it’s getting really bad, I’m really worried about the future.’ I think that has a lot less impact than if they actually perhaps see you break down in tears about it or if they actually see you joining a group who are building a community of smallholdings or something because you’re actually saying, ‘Well, this is a good thing to do anyway. But the real reason we’re being pushed to do this now, even though it’s not necessarily what we wanted to be our first priority or where our top skillset lies is that we think that this is actually necessary given the trajectory of society.’.
And it seems to me that it is possible that more of a shift in that kind of direction in terms of what people actually show and do could have quite a powerful awakening effect.
Manda: [00:20:23.00] I hope so. I found in conversations with publishers and people around publishing and the conversation goes, ‘Why would I write a book that will probably take four years to write and will probably not make a material difference to the future of the world? That seems to me pointless.’ And I hear – or I feel – a cognitive dissonance with the publishers because their world is so wrapped up in the problems of publishing: people aren’t reading very much, how do we get people to read? The idea that books might not be the future, and if they are, they probably don’t need to be fictional books about World War Two.
It kind of glances off. I’d like to believe that it sinks in at some level that it is far more important that we begin to build regenerative agriculture in the Clun valley and that we create Marches Grow Local and all of the things that we’re trying to do here. And that if I have an iota of spare energy, that’s where it’s going until the point where I can’t eat anywhere because I have no more money, at which point I may have to write a book.
So there is a lot of stuff wrapped up in that. I’m wondering how we step deeper. I listened yesterday to the ‘On Being’ podcast with Resmaa Menakem, who is a therapist who works very deeply with polyvagal theory. And he’s deeply embedded in how do we bring the racial issues to the front in America – he’s American – the podcast was recorded back at the beginning of lockdown and then played this week when it was obviously immensely timely.
And his argument was that it’s no good passing laws or getting people to come to meetings where you go’ Integration is a good idea. Diversity is a good idea. Being nice to each other is a good idea,’ because it doesn’t change anything until you have changed the bodily felt sense of how people are. We need to go much, much deeper than simply having conversations either within our echo chamber or even on the margins of our echo chamber. And I wonder if we bring this to the climate emergency, how can we reach deeper into people to the point where the reality becomes a felt reality rather than simply an intellectual exercise?
Rupert: [00:22:58.48] These are great questions. Going back to where you started there, you were asking whether it makes sense to write a book which is going to take four years? So I do think the question of Time Horizons is a good one now. I mean, in this world situation that we’re in now for years, as we said earlier, it is kind of an eternity in the sense that maybe we’ve only got eight years before we experience a collapse or even if it’s even if it’s 18 years or even 28 years, four years is still a pretty significant percentage of that and a hell of a lot of changed and either deteriorated or stabilized or conceivably improved within that time. And more generally, I think what you’re evoking there is a crisis of meaning, which I’ll be frank with you, again (as I generally am), which I am experiencing at the moment, as things in this semi post-Covid moment seem to start to slip away with us and to slip back to a situation that is in some ways improved, in some ways worse. I think to experience that crisis of meaning is one of the most powerful and necessary things we can probably do at the moment. And to allow ourselves to be for a while in this kind of diminishing, locked down summer to have more of a capacity to reflect than we normally do.
So turning from that to the question of how we might land this with more people who with whom it’s not yet really landed: again, I think it’s about finding ways of breaking through the kinds of resistances which are, as you imply, extremely easy to maintain if this stays at the level of an intellectual conversation. So that’s why I think that emotionality is extremely important. That’s why in my talks, for example, I often seek to evoke grief and perhaps despair, certainly fear, because fear is not just an unhealthy emotion: fear is also a rational emotion. And if you’re not afraid some of the time about the situation that we’re in, then you’re not paying attention. And that, of course, is what it’s all about. It’s about truly, truly paying attention and seeking to facilitate others in doing so. And that seems to me is the essence of the Bodhisattva at this time, as perhaps it always has been, but certainly at this time.
So I’d encourage people to use emotionality and the unexpected to encourage people to move out of their normal comfort zone. And so the unexpected, for example, includes people like me or people in Extinction Rebellion saying not that we have got to move a lot faster to mitigate and prevent climate catastrophe. But also, it’s too late to do this as fully as we were hoping 10 years ago or even two years ago. Of course, we need to mitigate our climate, deadly emissions. But part of what mitigation really means now is the literal meaning of the word, which is simply making things less bad, not making things brilliant and making things less bad.
I’m speaking here, of course, on the material plane at some level. Spiritually, it’s possible for things to be wonderful or even in a certain sense perfect while they’re deteriorating materially. But what I’m saying is that we need to find ways of breaking through some of people’s normal defences to force them to confront the materiality of the decline that is setting in. And to get people to face the fact that we are on a path of what I sometimes call ‘civilizational descent’ now. People have taught for many years about the need for energy descent, which is absolutely correct. But it’s now, I think, clear that the civilization that we are in is going to decline. And the way to handle it is by finding ways of getting ourselves and others around us to be willing to countenance energy descent and other forms of such descent. And to the extent that we’re able to do that globally, nationally, regionally, locally, in the neighbourhood, in our own homes, to the extent that any of those things are possible, then the material setting for the coming long emergency will be less bad.
Manda: [00:28:42.94] Looking down the list of notes that I’ve just written to myself in order, this is a question that I asked for myself because I hear you about reaching the grief and the despair and the fear. I am also deeply embedded in neuroscience, and particularly at the moment, polyvagal theory, because it it’s relatively new and it’s relatively interesting. And my understanding, such as it is at the moment, is that fear and creativity are mutually incompatible. On a physiological basis, if we lock people into fear, there is a far greater tendency that they will become tribal. That we’ll end up with what we see in the States where there are armed militias, in some cases taking over the centers of their state capitals. That’s not a creative way forward. I’m not suggesting that you have an answer to this, but I’m remembering Raymond Williams, who is a wonderful old socialist in Wales who is said, ‘To be truly radical, is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.’
Rupert: [00:29:49.06] But, you know, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about that saying of Raymond Williams recently. And I think that it’s out of date.
Manda: [00:29:58.58] I think he was speaking to socialism back in the 30s, I think.
Rupert: [00:30:02.56] I think it may have been just the right thing to say in his time. But I think it’s not now. I’m of course not talking about locking people into fear. What I am talking about is being willing to experience the amount of fear, as it were, that it is only appropriate to experience. And the same with despair.
I’ve been very influenced by my teacher, Joanna Macy, who of course, for many, many years has been pioneering this work, which she used to call despair work. And basically her kind of starting point was that we are feeling fear. We are feeling despair. If we try to convince ourselves to use Phillips’s word that it would be better not to feel these things, then actually this is a form of of denial and suppression. And the repressed will return in unwise ways. Let us actually feel it. And that’s the only way we get to move through it. But we don’t get to move through it and leave it behind once and for all. It will keep on coming back because there’s the cause for it to come back.
So I want to say, as it were in response to Raymond Williams right now, what’s wrong with despair? Isn’t despair actually exactly what we need to not get stuck in, but have to perhaps really badly, to feel for quite a while to move through, to pass into something different.
And then it’ll probably come back again at some point because. Because that’s real. A way I started putting it recently is that we have to allow our desperate hopes themselves to despair. And only if we do that will we be able to find in the kind of way that, for example, Jonathan Lear, my philosopher colleague, describes to build a radical hope. What Joanna Macy calls Active Hope. Hope that isn’t the sort of pining, which is really just an excuse for inaction, but hope that is actually embedded and embodied and realistic.
Not realistic in the way that our conventional hegemonic culture encourages us to be, quote, realistic, unquote, but realistic in a far bolder sense, but one that nevertheless recognizes some thresholds that have passed and some limits to what is now possible.
You know, it could have been possible for us to have a sort of green industrial transition if we had really got serious about this. After the Limits to Growth people gave us their very clear warning almost 50 years ago. But now it’s not. And so. And so to make a concrete point of political economy now, there are a lot of calls now for a green new deal and a green industrial revolution. But we have to be very careful what you wish for at this point, if there is an enormous investment in kind of mega industrial, so-called green infrastructure. And if it’s quite uncritical, then actually we are going to be using up some of the last period of relative stability, because believe you me, what’s coming is likely to be a lot less stable than what we have now.
We could likely be using up some of the last of our literally capital of all kinds on something which cannot actually be sustained. This, I think is the point that that Michael Moore et al were trying to make in the film. ‘Planet of the Humans’, a film which I’ve argued is grossly wrong and unhelpful in a number of ways, as has been pointed out. But I think the reaction against it has been in some quarters has been too negative.
There are a lot of people reacting against it purely and completely negatively because they have bought into the idea of solar panels covering a vast areas of of our desert and wind turbines covering vast areas of our countryside and of our sea beds and so on and so forth in ways that are likely not to be sustainable and in ways that could be extremely ecologically damaging. We have to escape the mindset that holds, that we’re going to try to find a way of keeping this civilization juddering forward in roughly its current form. And that might have been possible a long time ago through a green transition. It isn’t possible now. And what we have to embrace instead, is a more challenging and difficult -but in many ways also more rewarding – path of energy descent, of relocalization, of living closer to nature.
To the extent that we build in doing these kinds of things and preparing for these kinds of things in this pivotal decade of the twenty twenties, to that extent, the world is going to be a better place for our children. But also, I would argue for us.
Manda: [00:35:33.85] For everybody who’s is still alive. Because listening to you say I’ve gone through one of those despair and then agency sine waves. I still like Raymond Williams. I think if we put ‘active’ as an adjective before ‘hope’ he hasn’t said anything that you haven’t just said. Because I don’t suppose he was suggesting people didn’t despair. And I’m not thinking either you or I suggest people don’t despair. But my experience and my understanding of fundamental human nature is that we have to have some degree of agency. Because my default is if there is only despair and actually if I look at my life really critically, the best possible thing I could do would be to find a rope and have been in the barn as we leave this podcast/ Because being on this planet is not helping it unless I can find a way wherein I genuinely believe that my presence is on the positive side of the greater balance then I ought not to be here. And that’s been a metric in my own life for as long as I can remember.
What’s changed within me is my metric of what do I think is on the positive side of the balance. And that’s changing quite radically over the last few months even. But if people listening to this are undergoing the same metric, if we leave people staring at despair and also staring at a future that is, frankly, unspeakably bad: the one where fundamentally we’re all going to end up being kebabbed over piles of burning tires by our bigger and nastier neighbours – if that is our future, then frankly leaving now while we have some choice of how we leave, would probably be the most rational idea.
I still entertain a belief largely based in my spirituality, I would suggest, that we can do what Buckminster Fuller said, and build a future that renders the old reality obsolete – and that is one that in which people can flourish. So I’m wondering, first of all, how that lands with you. And then second, if you and I were to sit down now and we’re given the reins of the world, how would we create a future that averts the piles of burning tires and the kebabs?
Rupert: [00:38:03.95] Well, that last question is, in a way quite easy to answer. Like a number of colleagues I’ve been working for many years on grand plans for how everything should be better. And so, for example, I’ve contributed to Green Party manifestos, which are often lovely documents of how everything should be, which could be in theory could be implemented. But I do think we have to be pretty clear, as I say, that the time when those kinds of manifestos could be implemented, if they ever could be, is slipping away from us or probably basically already has gone. I mean, one way I sometimes put this, is if we were not going to be part of this civilisation that ends, then we would have the elected Green governments about 35 years ago, which is a long time, frankly.
Now, your point, about can’t we find a sort of Buckminster Fuller type approach that actually builds the alternative worlds, sort of more or less from below? I agree with that. And that’s, I think, part of what we’ve been talking about really in the last 20 minutes or so. That’s part at least of what all of us should be doing.
And of course, it’s exactly what many people in the Transition Towns movement and permaculture and polyculture and so on have been trying to do for a while. And I think those things will only grow. And that’s excellent. I think we shouldn’t be under the illusion, however, that those things are going to completely replace the existing power structure and set up of society.
The latter may end up evaporating entirely and leaving only us lot as it were, with the alternative more similar scale society. But that process is going to be drawn out and difficult. And here’s one reason why it’s going to be difficult and drawn out and why I’m not an advocate of the sort of the Schmachtenberger phase shift type scenario for how we might build to make this change.
There’s a crucial difference between the world conceived of kind of purely physically and the world conceived of as a human space. And the difference is that when part of the human world starts to move in a particular direction, the other part of the human world or parts can notice that and respond. And that response can be good or it can be bad.
And unfortunately, it is certain that to some extent the response that will be made to the moves we make to create an alternative world and to build that world to live in that world, it is certain that to some extent the response to that will be bad. One crucial reason for why is the market system that we have created and that is now, frankly, out of control: beyond the control of governments, beyond the control of a very rich people, even although they have more influence over it than most of us do on a Day-To-Day basis. But it’s not in anybody’s control.
Manda: [00:41:39.97] Could it not be brought under somebody’s control?
Rupert: [00:41:42.87] Well, there are ways there are things that we could do to try to bring it under control. And many of those things we should indeed be doing. For example, the kind of proposals made by my colleague Richard Murphy and Nicholas Shaxson to reign in the offshore world and to give governments a better handle of an share of tax revenue. Again, that would be one kind of key example of the kind of change that needs to be made due to re-leash the markets.
But to suppose that that could happen with any rapidity is is entirely delusive in a world where big money has such vast power and also where you have people like Trump and Johnson and so on who are friends of those interests, not enemies of those interests in governments.
Anyway, the point that I was about to make was that the problem with an unleashed market system – and this is the basis of my argument against Rob Hopkins many years ago when I said that the transition towns movement is great, but unless it has some kind of broader political context, it can never fully succeed – the problem is that when we start living more off grid and energy descending and so on and so forth – the market sees that as an impersonal price signal. The market sees that as a signal that there’s more oil available than there was before because these people in Totnes are not using it now. So we can just use more of it and we can just splash out. It’s it’s become cheaper again.
So these kinds of systemic effects that occur through through the horrendous economics of a neoliberal capitalist market system get in the way of the possibility of the sort of purity that we could imagine to a kind of phase shift approach if we focus on it from a sort of consciousness only perspective, or think of it purely by analogy to changes in a physical system.
There is a counter reaction in other parts of of that system. And frankly, that’s just the beginning. I mean, that’s an effect which nobody is particularly intending. It just happens through the market. There will also be people who are actually outraged and annoyed when they see others living closer to the land and rejecting their institutions. So we just can’t expect the transition that we’re hoping for and that we’re trying to build to be anything other than extremely painful and difficult and resisted. At one point of the past, it might have been. But now we’ve gone beyond that to a point where various kinds of conflicts are inevitable.
Now you then ask whether suicide is a rational option, to put it bluntly. And I think it’s wonderful of you to be so honest in saying that and getting us to try to think about it as I see it, we’re way, way short of that point. If that point wereever to arise. And there’s all sorts of things that could get in the way of that point. For example, we could decide to seek to find ways of defending ourselves. There are all sorts of possibilities there. Another kind of possible scenario, which one might imagine is that I am sure that many listeners are familiar with Star Hawk’s fantastic novel, ‘The Fifth Sacred Thing. What that proposes is that if you’re really serious about enough about nonviolence and if you’re willing to suffer a great deal in the process, then it’s possible that nonviolence could ultimately change or transform pretty much anything, including extremely horrific, militaristic mindsets.
Manda: [00:45:57.28] And it is possible that it doesn’t.
Rupert: [00:45:59.74] Yes, it’s possible that it doesn’t. And it’s also it’s also very important to notice, I think, that the only way she’s able to make that remotely plausible is by showing a path which, as I say, includes a very huge amount of suffering on the part of the on the part of the nonviolent.
And it ignores the history of the Holocaust, where there were walls of dead bodies and no sense in which the machine that was killing them was taking any notice of that. So I like the book, but I didn’t strike me as very plausible, to be honest.
Yes, it’s not at all clear that there aren’t human regimes which are impervious to the kind of hope that it’s invested in in a novel like that. And I think I think that Hitler’s Germany looks like it pretty much definitely was one. And I would be inclined to suggest that Trump’s America, I’m afraid is another, and quite possibly Johnson’s Britain as well. So this makes our situation, you know, very difficult and I think they are very honest questions that you’re asking are well taken.
Speaking for myself, I find enormous strengths in their kind of spiritual traditions that have influenced me and the spiritual practices that I’m invested in. And quite simply, also in the beauty and the sacredness of the nature of the earth as a whole in a specific wild places. More specifically, and at this point, I’m inclined to think that those kinds of things will never place me personally in a situation where where I would take the way out that you were describing. But, I might be proved wrong.
Manda: [00:47:57.20] My feeling with that is always the day you realize that it would have been a good idea as the days too late. Pre-empting that one has always been my aim. But we have talked about spirituality and sacredness or you have touched on them tangentially before we really go down that route, Joanna Macy’s ‘Three pillars of the Great Turning’ still seem to me an interesting structure and metaphor with which to work. And it seems to me that a lot of the political moves, the actions that XR takes and that we could take come under the rubric of ‘holding actions’. There are some systems, designs and your ’24 theses on a pandemic’ were heading towards systems designs, but even Green manifestos have always seemed to me to be very low on Donella Meadows twelve levers of change. That we’re dealing with iterations of the existing system rather than transforming the system radically, and that we need the systems design that would create radical transformation, which is what Humanity Rising is trying to do. And we need the shifting consciousness. And so my first question is, do you still think those three pillars are right and relevant? And if so, where would the shifting consciousness from your spiritual perspective take us?
Rupert: [00:49:28.75] I do think the three pillars are still relevant. However, I do think it’s very important to note that Joanna’s own perspective on them and on the situation has altered quite a bit since she wrote that. I met with her and spoke with her about this last year and her perspective now is not quite the same as Jem Bendell’s, but actually her perspective and my perspective are pretty similar now. I don’t want to speak for her, but I’ll just say that I think that she is a lot less optimistic about the great turning than she was when I first studied with her.
I think that the way we should probably think about the Great Turning now is that it is something that we should be, in some sense, aspiring to and trying to create. And that is something that we can create on certain scales. What I’ve been trying to suggest is that I think that the notion that there will be one all-encompassing Great Turning that will succeed is no longer credible. And I think the consciousness shift that we should be seeking, we need to think of it on a retail basis as much as on what I call a whole scale basis.
That to the extent that we can have a change of consciousness in my life and your life and the life of people listening to this podcast and the life of people living in your valley or the life of a third of the people living in your valley or whatever it is – that’s great. And we don’t have to think that if we don’t do it on a total basis, then we haven’t done it at all.
And it’s a good thing we don’t have to think that because it isn’t going to happen. And it’s actually a recipe for burnout. And that’s actually one of my key concerns here, which has been baked into Extinction Rebellion from the beginning: that we need to find ways of ensuring that as individuals and as activists and as movements, we are not setting ourselves up for burnout and we will set ourselves up for burnout and we will be un-regenerative, to the extent that we have chronically unrealistic expectations and are failing to perceive the meaning of the changes that have been occurring for a long time, and especially those that have been occurring recently, which have altered my perspective and have altered Joanna’s perspective. So I think that’s my answer to your question, if you think it answers it.
Manda: [00:52:34.65] I wouldn’t agree with you, but I think we might be ending end up reiterating stuff, the meaning of the changes. So in the lives of the people listening and in your life as we move forward from where we are now, where would you invite people to go see spoken where energy descent, relocalization and connecting to nature with our last few minutes? Energy descent is obvious, it just means using a lot less energy, which means a radical transformation of how we live because we have come to live very energy dependent lives. Is there a resource that you can point people to help with energy descent?
Rupert: [00:53:21.36] Oh, sure there’s lots of stuff. I mean, it’s integral to to transition towns. My colleague Samuel Alexander, who did this ‘Civilization is Finished’ with me, he’s one of the world’s experts on it. You can look at his his books. I’m also thinking maybe it’s worth us after the podcast, sharing some resources, some links and so on.
Manda: [00:53:44.88] Yes. A follow up we can put in the show. Notes. That would be great. Yes. Also for relocalization. Because that, again, it’s it it’s much the same as beginning to buy local food. Beginning to do whatever you do within your local area. And yet we are connected by Zoom across the world. So I think yeah, I think a lot of the reason that people get very stuck is this belief that we’re going to end up, if not the piles of burning tires and the kebabs then living in mud huts, dressing ourselves in the skins of whatever animals we are able to catch, which won’t be many because we’ve lost those skills. So the idea that relocalization can be an improvement on what we have now is something that I think isn’t, for me, adequately explored and yet was beginning to become explored during lockdown when localization was what happened and people found it (other than the people on the 10th floor of the tower block with the abusive partner) were genuinely finding that their world was improved. So the radical shutdown of bullshit jobs, finding which jobs are viable, and useful, finding the jobs that that meet the criteria of one’s heart’s greatest joy meeting the world’s greatest needs seems to me an absolute key. And that we could shift we could shift the markets. I’ve got a note now in red. I don’t often make notes and read when I’m talking to somebody but my note is in read regarding this idea that the market is unassailable. Seems to me one that was demonstrably disproved during lockdown. Along with there is no magic money tree. And lo and behold, actually, there’s a magic money forest. We do make money up out of nothing and then handed out. That’s been the case for a long time. It’s not linked to the gold standard. It’s not linked to any possible metric of value. So the market is a human construct. It’s not a physical law of nature. And therefore, if the eight richest men in the world who are all white, most of whom are North American, got together and decided to change it, I guess it would change. It’s not beyond changing.
Rupert: [00:55:52.80] I think one the two of them now are Indian, but you’re basically well taken. Yes, absolutely. The finding of the magic money tree during lockdown was enormously useful for those of us who’ve been arguing for years that climate and ecology are an emergency and we need to find the adequate resources to deal with it. It’s no longer a plausible thing to say there just aren’t those resources there. I never meant to say that the market was immutable and unchangeable.
It is very much a human construct, although we did unique to bear in mind, that doesn’t mean that it is fully within the powers of polities as they are currently constructed to rein in, because it would be very, very difficult if any polity wanted to fully rein in its its money markets, now because those markets would immediately start betting against the state or government, whatever.
Manda: [00:56:55.05] We could shut down the markets tomorrow if we as a global humanity chose to.
Rupert: [00:56:59.70] Yeah. But part of what I’ve been seeking to say is that on the one hand, to the extent that it’s possible that is roughly that is indeed what we should try to to do. But on the other hand, we need to understand that there would be enormous and immediate pushback against that.
Manda: [00:57:23.37]Surely that depends on the narrative, the way it’s being spun, because the problem at the moment – one of the many problems seems to be that our tribal instincts are pretty much unchanged for the last 10,000 years. And we have framed the environmental narrative in tribal terms such that if it were perceived as a tribal instinct that was shutting down the markets, then the tribe that did not perceive it as being on their side would react. And yes, there are many sub-tribes, but there are broadly two. There are those who care about a future in which people flourish and those who care about a future in which they win. Michael Moore, before he went off, did really weird stuff, did a very interesting interview with Steve Bannon asking why does the right win when the left doesn’t? And Bannon said broadly, ‘Because we on the right know what we want and we know how we can get it. And we are going for headshots while the rest of you are still playing at pillow fights.’
And what they want is a white supremacist patriarchal theocracy, and they know exactly how they plan to get it. And they are utterly ruthless in doing so. While we’re still arguing on the left …let’s not go into all the things that the left argues about – but broadly the different ways that we might achieve something that we’re not even sure what it is that we want to achieve. And if the right perceived the shutting down of the markets as being something that was politically motivated, thereby tribally motivated, then we would see militias on the streets on a scale that even the Black Lives Matter has not yet brought out. But if we were to reframe the narrative such that it had the power of an idea equivalent to there being a meteorite heading for the planet and shutting down the markets will stop it. Let’s leave aside that that’s a physiological impossibility. Then everybody would be behind it. The numbers of people who were not behind lock down were tiny. Yeah. And largely shut up quite quickly when the body bags started flowing.
Rupert: [00:59:25.89] And that, again, is very hopeful. But I think that we need to remember that roughly what you’re suggesting, is basically what XR said and we sought to do it in a way that was beyond ideology and that could be very broad based. And XR had fantastic success in changing public opinion and in influencing some of what government a parliament does.
But virtually nothing in terms of what actually happens on the ground has changed. And there has also been enormous resistance. And meanwhile, more time has passed. And in Britain, we’ve had a general election result, which was absolutely catastrophic. And now we’ve had this pandemic which provided this fantastic opportunity for a reset.
And people are being waking up to what matters under lockdown or waking up to, as you say, why human life is so much more important than GDP numbers and so on. And yet it seems that we are heading back into something not that dissimilar to what we had before. You put these things together and it’s just very hard to see what the grounds is for optimism of the kind you’ve just been outlining. Now, one can always say, well, I don’t have any grounds. It’s purely a faith based or counter empirical concept. But then one has to notice that if one does that, one can no longer take succour from the success of movements in the past, like the civil rights movement, for example, or the people power movement in the Philippines, because one is then saying, I’m not basing things on any evidence, I’m just purely hoping. And that’s always open to people to do. But what I’m saying is, let’s be a little bit clearer about what it really makes sense now to hope for. Partly because if we don’t, then there will be burn-out and there will be depression and it will be even worse than if we proceed along the kind of road that I’m proposing. But bear in mind that actually, in terms of optimism, if we compare you and me, there are some metrics on which we could describe me being more optimistic than you. So I’ve said, for example, that I am less inclined to think that there’ll be a point where for me, suicide appears as a rational outcome.
And I think my threshold with suffering is slightly less than yours.
And of course, you know, you’re a woman and I’m a man. There’s lots of lots of things we could go into there to talk about. For me, one really wonderful fictional text here is, is The Road. Both the book and the film, which I discuss in my recent book, ‘A Film Philosophy of Ecology and Enlightenment’. And the argument that I make there is that what people usually miss about The Road is that it has a happy ending and there is actually a redemptive tale.
It paints an absolutely, utterly bleak picture, which sounds like it stopped you. But incredibly, it has a kind of a happy ending. And what I think what it’s really about is how it’s possible to go through truly unbelievable horrors and still for that to be worthwhile and for something good to come out of it. And that’s part of the place where I am now. And I hope that that kind of broadly stoical approach or attitude may be able to become widespread in the years to come, because I think we might need it. We, in our tribe, as it were, as you put it, although I would raise a little question mark about the way you’re using the term tribe, because I think you’re using it in the way that we normally do, which sort of implies that there’s something bad about being a tribe and goes along with this phrase tribalism that we have.
But of course actually, in a certain sense, what I’m suggesting when I talk about relocalization, is that we should we should face the fact that although it be wonderful if we’re able to preserve global communication in the future, we’re moving in to – and I hope that we do, and I hope that we can still Zoom with people on other side of the world and so on. I hope we will travel a lot less. And in fact, I know we’ll travel a lot less – a relocalized world is coming in terms of actual movements. And I think that that coronaviruses is and is a harbinger of that. It’s coming either because we be more or less choose it intelligently or because it will get imposed upon us through a brutal collapse event if we try and carry on with the degree of hyper mobility we’ve had. But the future that we’re going to move into, the more local future, will be a future where actually the way we live will be a bit more like the way we used to live with tribes when living in tribes wasn’t a bad thing. It was simply how it was. And tribe, so long as they’re not super mutually hostile and predatory is actually a way of describing how human beings for many, many millennia, lived very well in ways that we could look back to as well as look forward to.
Manda: [01:04:56.73] It’s ‘not being mutually antagonistic’ that matters. I think that in my quest for Conscious Evolution, I definitely want to move beyond the oxytocin dopamine based metaphors of tribalism to a point where we can retain the best of being connected and not have to use that as a reason to create Others who are beyond our tribes and antagonistic.
Definitely. So I’m completely aware of the time. This is this is stretched wave. Here’s your vodcast. It’s been really interesting. As ever, talking to you, I think there’s room for at least one, if not two other podcasts where we could have gone down other pathways with other directions. But I think we have to bring it to a close this time. And at some point we’ll do podcast number three where doubtless the world will have changed yet again, turned on its axis and be facing in yet another direction. And we can see where we both are in our quest for active hope, because I think the thing that we both have is a sense that hope is an active process. And where we separate quite widely is that I don’t find The Road any way a happy thing. But I did not get past chapter one. I could read the first chapter in the last chapter. I am not going to read the bits at all because my threshold for suffering is quite clearly a lot lower than yours.
Anyway. Rupert, thank you so much. It’s been really, really interesting. I loved the sense of getting to the edges of where we are and where we think we could be and exploring the possibilities. And thank you for your honesty. It’s really good.
Rupert: [01:06:39.40] Well, I think it’s been mutual. And I love the engaging with your thinking and with this sort of Accidental Gods hypothesis, which to me has a massive nugget of truth at the centre of it. So, yeah, it’s fascinating to have this discussion. I look forward one day to a podcast number three.
Manda: [01:06:57.31] Thank you very much indeed. So that’s it for another week. Enormous. Thanks to Rupert Read for the depth of his thinking and the raw honesty of it, for his willingness to go to the edges of ourselves and explore what’s there. We talked on a bit after the end of the recording, and I really wish I’d left the microphone on, because we came to a different place. I think, because I genuinely believe that the thing that is missing from all of this is the connection to the web of life and the ability to ask of the rest of the natural world, ‘What do you want of me?’ And the new directions that the answers to that might yield that will take us beyond where our current thinking limits us. It feels as if we get locked in a box, going round and round, bouncing off the walls of ‘Yes, but this is how things are.’ And we know how things are and we know they’re not good. But we have the capacity to change. We have the capacity to choose to change. And in doing so, we open the doors to realities that we cannot yet know. So I think in our conditioning of narratives, we need new ones to supplant The Road. I am still not planning to read that.
So, yes, it matters that we understand where we are. And definitely, as I said, if we carry on our current trajectory, then things definitely look pretty bad. But evolution happens under moments of intense pressure. And we are under intense pressure and we are seeing the old systems crumbling so fast beneath our feet. And we have no idea what will replace them. So we have, I believe, a moral responsibility to do whatever we can to envisage new and different ways of being – and then to be those. For what it’s worth, when I do the ‘What-If?’ meditation just now (so we’re in the middle of June 2020), when I spend an hour or so settling into the closest that I can get to access concentration, and then open the gates to ‘What would it feel like if we got everything right?’ Then after the entirety of lockdown – so that’s 11 weeks of practicing this – I’m getting to the point now where I’m feeling the kinds of heart connection that we feel when we’re with a trusted friend or a group of trusted friends, when we’ve done something, or taken part in something that needed us – where we were the linchpin. Where we have done what only we could do, being the right person in the right place at the right time – as part of a group of being the right energies in the right place at the right time.
And that sense of, ‘Yes, we did this!’, the sense of mutual appreciation of having got things right. That feeling when it fills my heart space and spills over into the world – that is huge. And the others in the group are not all people. Some of them are, but most are from the rest of the web of life. The hill behind the house, the trees, the rocks, the red kite, the mycelial networks in the ground, that sense of genuine comradeship, of togetherness, of being part of something bigger, where each of us is essential, where we know what we need to do and we get on doing it. That sense of connection is extraordinary. And this, I believe, is what humanity is for. I believe this is what spirituality is about, it’s about being able to make that connection. It’s about being able to fully connect with the sacred, to really let that settle what’s sacredness is and what being a part of sacredness is. We do not have to let ourselves be separate any longer. Day by day, moment by moment, we are being taught that that is no longer necessary and in fact is destructive. And so we can reach for that connection. We can be it. Nothing less is good enough now.
Anyway, if you need more of a sense of how things could be, go back and listen to Abel Pearson last week. He is someone who is living that connection to the land, who is making a difference, who is growing the food and touching the lives of the people in his local area. He is doing everything that Rupert and I believe will take us forward.
And – that apart, there are links in the show, notes to the resources from Rupert. And also I will put a link to that On Being podcast with Resmaa Menakem that I think is absolutely essential listening just now if we want to understand the polyvagal implications of the Black Lives Matter movement and of how we can change our felt sense of where we are. In the meantime, we will be back with another conversation next week. And until we do, thanks as ever to Caro C for the music at the head and food to the podcast, and for the sound production. Thanks to Faith Tillery for being the other half of the creative team that is Accidental Gods. And for designing the web site. If you want to see the wonder and the beauty of what she’s created, that address is Accidental Gods.life on the Web. The show notes are there, the other podcasts, the visualizations and meditations in the Pandemic Resources which we will leave up even when the pandemic isn’t here. And that’s where you find the portal for the Accidental Goes membership program, which is a structured training designed to help us to make that connection with the All That Is and with the More than Human world so that we can ask the question, what do you want of me? And hear answers that a clear, coherent and constructive.
So if you know of anybody else who would like to be the change, who would like to be active in asking that question and living out the answers, then do send them the link. And that’s it for now. See you again next week. Thank you and goodbye.
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