Nodding With a Smile to the Sacred


stone circle at avebury uk; photo by the author

I had the great pleasure to meet and spend an evening with Ben Brangwyn, who co-founded the Transition Network with Rob Hopkins, during my recent trip to Totnes UK.

Rob has just posted the interview that came out of that meeting, on his Transition blog. The blog’s theme for this month is “Celebration”, so the questions wove around that theme. In times of collapse, the definition of celebration that came to me was a somewhat muted and understated one, the idea of ‘nodding with a smile to the sacred‘. Have a read and let me know what you think.

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3 Responses to Nodding With a Smile to the Sacred

  1. You mention that “It is such a privilege to have such freedoms.” I quite agree. And I do find that there is a bit of an elephant in the room when amongst collapsniks and transitioners – the elephant being the reality that those who have this privilege and these freedoms are predominantly the relatively wealthy middle-class, and/or those who have already retired from the treadmill.

    Now, I say this not to detract from anything that folks have earned and appreciated through their lifetimes, but to draw attention to the folks on the other side of the fence (which includes myself and my partner, and everyone else around where we live). My partner and I are in our 30s, and have also retired from the treadmill (early, yes, but was there any point staying on it to accumulate the wealth to buy our way off the treadmill and not be able to spend time working to help others? We chose the latter option… being that there was little likelihood of the former working out), but without the resources to pad our nest (we don’t own the roof over our heads, and our ‘land’ is a 1-metre perimeter around our rented cabin). We are painfully aware that the majority of people share our position – of having little to count on in times of crisis – being that most people around the world are poorer than most collapsniks and transitioners, and are not in a position to opt out until/unless it is facilitated for them by those with greater privilege…

    …which leads me to my beef with the Dark Mountain Project: frankly I feel it’s irresponsible to take one’s privilege and run away to the hills with it while others – landed in the shit we’re in by the very privilege of those who could afford to buy their way off the treadmill (usually the source of the high incomes that the few enjoy is part of the problem) – are forced to fend for ourselves with next to nothing.

    It seems to me that one’s position on the political map can only be chosen if one already has sufficient privilege. The rest of us either aren’t on there at all, or face only one available option: Deep Green Activism. Perhaps that’s just my own bias, but frankly it’s all I feel able to contribute, and there’s nothing for me to receive until/unless others with greater privilege choose to share it, which I find they generally don’t.

    Now I really don’t want to get at folks who have worked hard all their lives to be in the position they’re in now, but I would like some acknowledgement that there are many, many more people around the world who also work damn hard, do get what we’re up against, but are, quite frankly, buggered.

    Anyhoo, I know I’ve strayed from the topic, but I wonder if you have any thoughts on the above? I wanted to ask a few questions of David Holmgren and Nicole Foss when they did their double-act round my way last week, but elected to keep it for private conversation rather than open a can of worms in front of a 300-strong audience ;-) Anyways, I ended up not asking as we ended up just playing catch-up, having not seen each other in well over a year, and then they headed off on the next leg of their tour the next day.

    Being that I’m a bit riled up right now after processing what I’m feeling to write that, I wonder if ‘communitarian’ should be on there at all. I mean, to my mind, communitarian would imply sharing what one has with one’s community, but most communitarian folks seem to be eco-village types. This implies buying one’s way into a lifeboat with a certain degree of privilege. Those without the dough don’t get in. How communitarian is that – to only enable access to the cashed-up? But this is where we’re at, sadly… with self-preservation the domain of the already privileged.

    In closing, I’m pretty mad at the Dark Mountaineers for cutting and running on the rest of us and not recognizing that what enabled them to do that was their privilege. Class is an issue. I think this is the main reason we cannot appeal to the majority of people – the truth is just too damning for those with whom we choose not to share our privilege.

  2. BTW, I did like your take on ‘celebration’. I don’t feel there’s anything to celebrate, and much less to come, but ‘nodding with a smile to the sacred’ seems to make sense. I feel I understand it even though I wouldn’t put it that way. For me it’s really a matter of living a more connected life, which some people elect to call ‘sacred’, or ‘spiritual’. For me it’s just Deep Green, as that’s what my heart bleeds for all that we have done and all that we are doing. I cannot celebrate, but I can protect, I can nurture, and I can heal.

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Kari: Yes! Thank you for raising class and privilege as an issue. Your totally justifiable rant would be perfect for a certain Australia-based magazine we both know, as the lead article for a whole edition on this issue. It would also be brilliant as one of the inaugural posts on the Generation Alpha blog (I think Ben would agree).

    Having said that, I don’t think Dark Mountaineers are any more privileged, on average, than those in any of the other ‘collapsnik’ camps. And I would say I know lots of people of very modest means who I would describe as Dark Mountaineers (i.e. people who believe global economic, energy and ecological collapse are inevitable in this century, but don’t believe anything can be done, on any scale, to make the collapse any easier or gentler). I don’t sense any smugness in that position; it’s basically an existential acknowledgement that we’re fucked, and that we would be better off doing small-scale, local actions, and doing our best to make life a little better every day for those near and dear to us, and basically trying to exemplify that insistence on joy in spite of everything. I think I would be in that space, now, whether I were privileged or not. I think it’s the opposite of “running away” — it’s looking reality in the face, right now.

    So what is the responsibility of those with privilege in this predicament, with respect to the vast majority who are without? That’s what I would like us to explore, because I have no clear answer to that question. I was involved with the Occupy movement, which argued, compellingly, that while a large-scale redistribution of wealth and power wouldn’t “solve” our predicaments, it was at least a start, and better than “doing nothing”. My conclusion is that it was a pipedream, that the systems simply would not let that happen, and that to hang one’s hat on achieving that impossible goal was an exercise in futility and a waste of time and energy. I feel, now, along with most Dark Mountaineers I think, the same way about the mainstream “environmental movement”, which I believe is likewise an exercise in futility, and which has become so bound up in its PR campaigns with the forces it opposes that it has almost become complicit with them — every new atrocity generates another demonstration, another letter-writing campaign, and where does that get us?

    When economic collapse comes, most of the trappings of privilege will disappear too, as they did for so many in the 1930s, only much more so. The wealth is almost all paper, and it will become worthless. The physical assets of the privileged in places that will be ravaged by climate change, which is most of the developed planet, will have to be abandoned. What will be left of privilege then, when it’s just billions of people migrating in search of a safe and healthy place to live? Perhaps the knowledge of some other possible ways to live; perhaps some essential and shareable skills; perhaps an integrity of health and self-knowledge that will make some of the formerly-privileged able to be of use, when the rest of the world most needs that.

    But I am open to other points of view, and I love your anger — it’s a long-overdue and justified reaction to what we humans have done to this planet, even though it was mostly inadvertent, and an appropriate response to what we greedy borrowers and gamblers have imposed on future generations. I believe fiercely that we must simultaneously inhabit and live with all five “stages” of grief (the model that says you can ‘graduate’ to pure acceptance has been discredited) — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. That is the only human response that makes sense, and we all have to work together, starting now, to help each other cope with it. But if that’s only possible with a thorough airing of questions of privilege, courage, commitment and compassion, where we challenge each other and question everything, then let’s bring it on. Once we move through that to a shared understanding of who we are and what we must do, we will be stronger, we will love each other more, and we will have what it takes to fare forward, even if it will only be our descendants who will see the light on the other side.

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