How We Make Good Ruins – Part 1
Thank you so much for telling them that story. I see them every day when I look out my window and it still feels so deeply sad.
Ursula Le Guin said it best in her (much-quoted) phrase- 'Realists of a larger reality'. Tricksterism can be seen as a kind of missing piece in the current moment, I think. In Trickster Makes This World, Lewis Hyde speaks of trickster as a disrespector of boundaries. Like Hermes, who travels between realms to carry messages, part of trickster's job is to poke their finger through walls, like, 'See? it's not even there.'
Another thing about trickster is that they exist outside of the normal reciprocal relationships- of predator / prey, for instance. Hyde sees trickster as a kind of parasite. Trickster's first trick, across many cultures, is to catch a fish: that's true here where I am, where the demigod Māui fished up Te Ika a Māui, the North Island of New Zealand, where I'm writing from (I live at the head end, near the mouth.)
Trickster energy to me is about being cunning, and funny, and unboxable, and adapting to the moment- any moment. There should be no limit to that adaptability.
Dougald, I'm glad to hear you will be writing about practices. They ring truer than solutions, and I get the sense that you are in touch with many people around the world who have become disillusioned with fixing or saving and begun practicing instead. If fixing promises to reduce heartbreak, practice trusts heartbreak as a guide into the work. Thank you for your practice.
Word (less excel). Makes me think of Alastair McIntosh’s essay on tools in issue 8 of Dark Mountain: “But for me, if we are to minimise evil, the central question to keep on asking of any tool or technology is this: What does it serve? Only then can we dodge the pitfalls of idolatry: the worship of false gods.”
Sad to hear of hatchet jobs and attacks etc. on one of your previous courses I remember the phrase a world of many worlds. And of your own phrasing, something like consider the possibility you may not be right.
"If those trees are going to live and flourish, that requires us to show up, to stick around, to get back involved with the land and all the creatures that we share it with."
This echoes a realisation which came to me during one of my lockdown woodland walks a while back. The woods in this valley are new; 150 years ago these hillsides were mostly quarries, and it's incredible to see how much has grown in just the past few decades. But during that walk I was filled with the sense that we had pillaged the hillsides and then left them for "nature" to heal, and that this was a kind of abandonment. If we knew how to care for them - without trying to control their growth or impose any sense of how they "should" be - how much more could we support their flourishing?
For now, I do what I can, which mostly consists of walking, attending, and litterpicking. But I can't shake the feeling there is something more to be learned, or re-membered, here.
Thanks for this one. I have a bit impatient reading recent posts for you to get back to these themes. I very much like 'an approach that is centred on affecting the conditions of possibility... without seeking to control the situation or make it wholly predictable.' Conditioning the present so that something fruitful might arise.
Fixing the problem with the stuff that caused the problem seems like not wanting to really let go of it.
There has to be, and I’m sure there is, another, better, way.
Looking forward to where this goes on here Dougald!
I recommend The Ecotechnic Future and The Retro Future books by John Michael Greer. His premise is that our present global technological and capitalistic system is based on the abundant concentrated energy provided by natural gas and petroleum and there aren’t effective alternative energy sources(including nuclear) to continue to sustain in the long run our present energy intensive system let alone expand it. He argues that even the hardware of solar and wind technologies require coal, oil and natural gas to be made, nuclear included. Even the web of digital devices encasing us would decline. He gives a good picture of what life among the ruins would be like in a technological sense. A simplification with much more moderate use of technology dependent on produced energy and electricity.
Dougald! I’ve sent you an email, hopefully doesn’t get lost amongst spam, in response to this, I’ve got a small bunch of Philippine natives planted for you, Anna and Alfie as thanks to letting me join your at work in the ruins course earlier in the year. ❤️❤️❤️
And I put them in a spreadsheet ! 😂
Oh boy! As usual with your writing something resonates so powerfully within me with respect to my experience as a priest in a mainline church here in NZ but the same across the West. That the planting of trees goes into the database but their dying didn’t. I see this everywhere as the churches (the dear old CofE is especially captivated [sic] by this) trumpet ‘all the new things!’ but never comment on the massive dieback in ‘New Initiatives’.
I’ll get round to reading this more fully but the resonance with Iain McGilchrists contention that we are trapped in the Left Hemisphere of our brains, obsessed with the Novel and unreasonably optimistic - and of course the LH loves the hyper reductionism of spreadsheets. . . Well I cant help noticing it. Literally ‘Nothing to see here’. John 9:39-41
Thank you so much for recording the audio, I hope this will be a feature of your posts going forward!
One of the more important insights I've had in recent years is the realization that "thinking like a state" is also thinking like a business corporation ... or just thinking like a businessman or business woman in many cases. Now, of course, this is obvious, but the insight matured into the understanding that "business" and "the state" have been co-mingling and co-evolving for as long as capitalism and industrialism have been emerging.
Being intertwined from the outset (as told in books like The Nutmeg’s Curse by Amitav Ghosh and The End of the Megamachine, by Fabian Scheidler), these two institutional forms have fused. Both think in spreadsheet terms. Both have their eyes on the bottom line. And this fact helps tremendously if what we're trying to do is understand why we can never seem to generate a means of applying politics (defined as decision-making in groups) that doesn't just replicate more of the same disasters and failures. It's cultural evolution I'm speaking of when I say the two institutional forms co-evolved. And cultural evolution is an essential key to understanding the political disaster which is "modernity".
Both the state and the business world (a Siamese twin?) behave like a papercliip maximizer (Google it), except what they maximize isn't paperclips but the concentration of economic and political power into hierarchies. And both depend entirely on what economists call "externalization" of costs, especailly "negative externalities". Negative externalities sounds complicated. But it just means harm and damage -- to people, to public health, to ecosystems, to the biosphere.... The Siamese Twin institutions of modernity -- business and the state -- cannot be reformed. They resist reform so intensively and effectively because to reform to the extent necessary would be to put an end to them. And they have a strong immune system.
What we who want the saplings to survive need to do is to look closely at how we can refuse to play the game in accordance with the "rules" of the Megamachine (Siamese Twin).
Why did the community not come to know these saplings were dying and reach out to the dairy farmer to offer collective, community help? Community aid. The saplings had entered the community by entering the soil there. And the community failed the trees and the farmer -- even if the farmer only really cared about the grant money and not so much about the saplings.
Sometimes -- very often! -- the care of saplings has to be done voluntarily. It's not a thing to just throw money at. It often requires communities organized in such a way to come to the aid of saplings on a volunteer basis, as an act of caring for a community -- of caring for life.
Care is not something the Megamachine has, or does. It's not in its design. Only humans living in an "living culture" -- or community -- can do that.
We're all saplings now.
i, for one, am proud to call myself an innumerate romantic.
will the Zoom conversations be recorded and made available elsewhere, for those who can't attend in realtime? i would love to participate but 2pm EST is crunch time for at-home parenting.
I’ve heard several variations of this story of mass plantings dying now. Some where they weren’t watered, or were planted in the middle of summer, and another where the entirely wrong trees were planted. On top of the spreadsheet issue you mention, there’s also the disillusionment of those who give their time to help plant trees in these various green initiatives. Spending a day or more of your life trying to do something good for the planet only to find it end in waste likely has a counter effect where people may no longer want to get involved.
I listened to your talk with McGilChrist a while back and loved it. I think a lot about his work and how much it applies to so many of the problems we face. My partner works in software creating decentralized processes and is constantly dealing with left brain rationalists who want to measure individual productivity and force top down measures. Over and over again she will prove and show how they are missing root issues and cannot get better results by simply forcing people to work faster/harder etc. Time and time again the rationalists will come back to the table with the exact same solution as before (faster, more efficient, and measure productivity but only from one side.)
McGilChrist once described the left brain being in a hall of mirrors that will repeat the exact same thing over and over again.
A recent issue has been that one of the company founders where my partner works has been a single source problem for many, many issues. Rather than look honestly at this, the company wanted reports on each individual employee to see how effective they were. If you weren’t at a certain grade you could be fired. Take a wild guess who wasn’t included in the graded system? The entire C-Suite and all the VPs. There’s really no one honestly looking at the competence of the upper managers, the board nor the c-suite has a bottom up perspective, and there is no one measuring how much is lost when people are afraid to speak up and offer genuine solutions. No one is measuring how damaging it is to fear being fired for offering the right solution.
Sadly as James mentioned above I don’t see that these systems were ever meant to work for all, they were designed to extract and create wealth for a few while externalizing the negatives. Start-up culture has managed to exaggerate these issues to such a degree companies more often than not end up devouring themselves and become their own externalities when the venture capital group that owns them takes the remaining husk of a company and combines it with another husk of a similar company in their portfolio and sells the two as a new company(product.)
Sadly, we seem to be getting worse at the spreadsheet issue. The chaos of these structures tends to teach many people how to survive within these systems and often rewards blind ambition rather than acquiring hard skills or legitimately working to improve the systems themselves. I write all this because we seem to be entering the “green tech” phase of your/Rhyds mass planting death story. *Unless of course everything collapses. ::starts tap dancing while holding a copy of “At Work in the Ruins”::
According the analysts at J.P. Long awaited Peak Oil is now truly upon us in the next year and after that a continued shortfall in oil production compared to demand for the foreseeable future. Scroll down the page to see the relevant graph https://www.jpmorgan.com/insights/global-research/commodities/energy-supercycle
Yes, I know they are spread sheet people but they may be on to something. They are recommending energy stocks as the increased price per barrel will more than make up for the smaller production. And so it goes- the needs of the investor class will be met!
I find myself moved to share a concern as we move into this phase of our explorations, based in Vanessa Andreotti's warning that we who grew up in the "First World"/modernity are too quick to design solutions and don't want to do the hard, slow work of disentangling ourselves from colonial perspectives. As someone who'd written a book three years ago describing what I thought was an alternative view of future possibilities, I winced, and I wonder still about the balancing of being able to envision different ways of being so that we can move towards them vs. our unconscious recreation of what we already know.
And as you, Dougald, well know, community is built by kindnesses -- that much I know for certain!