Wu Wei in the Ruins
My conversation with Alastair McIntosh, Caroline Ross & Dougie Strang
Over the past few days, Anna and I have been making the invitation to an online course in early May which will bring together readers of At Work in the Ruins – and this sent me back to the public conversations that took place during the UK tour.
One of these, in particular, I wanted to share with you. On a chilly February night, in a former boatyard in Govan, a hundred friends and strangers gathered to celebrate the launch of the book. It was a great joy to take the stage alongside three dear friends and to roll into the deep conversation that flowed in the course of the evening.
It’s twenty years this spring since I read Alastair McIntosh’s Soil and Soul and, as I told him on stage, it’s one of the handful of books where I can truly say that I don’t know who I would be, if I hadn’t read it at that moment in my life. For one thing, it’s the first place I ever came across mention of a thinker called Ivan Illich, as Alastair compares the world of his childhood on the Isle of Lewis to Illich’s description of the ‘vernacular economy’. Another strand in the book that left a deep impression was the Daoist concept of wu wei – doing-by-not-doing – to which Alastair was introduced by one of his mentors, the crofter and land reform pioneer, Tom Forsyth.
If Alastair first brought the subtlety of Daoist thought to my awareness, there’s no one who has taught me more about what it means in practice than, so it was a pleasure to bring the two of them together for the first time. Meanwhile, my friendship with Dougie Strang grew out of an encounter at the first Dark Mountain festival in Llangollen, to which Alastair brought Tom Forsyth on the long journey from Scoraig.
You’ll have to watch the video to hear the story of Tom’s appearance at that festival, a moment which I doubt any of us present in Llangollen will forget.
Huge thanks to all at the GalGael, ENOUGH! and the Centre for Human Ecology for organising such a marvellous event and making sure it was filmed for those who couldn’t join us live.
I have a couple more recordings of conversations to share with you in the next week or so, then I’m looking forward to getting into the flow of writing again.
Meanwhile, if you’ve been reading – or thinking of reading – At Work in the Ruins, then consider yourself warmly invited to take part in The Work in the Ruins, starting on 3 and 4 May. It’s worth saying that the book is only around 200 pages (or seven hours’ listening as an audiobook), so there’s time to read along and join the sessions.
If you’re not in a place to join us for the series in May, but you’d like to support my work, then do consider becoming a paid subscriber to this Substack…
…or simply sharing this post with those you think may appreciate it.
As always, thanks for reading.