Suffering Fools Gladly


Once a year I try to travel outside my circle of comfort, both intellectually and geographically. Last year I spent nearly a week with Dougald Hine and Paul Kingsnorth, the genii of Dark Mountain, and met up at the same time with Ben Brangwyn, Rob Hopkins and some of their powerful team in the Transition Network in Totnes UK. Both meetings were delightful despite my unwarranted apprehensions and the fact I don’t travel well.

This year, in less than a fortnight (June 11-14) I will be in Montréal at the Next Edge Festival. It will be great to renew acquaintances with the event organizer (and Next Edge co-founder) Seb Paquet and half a dozen like-minded old friends who are offering sessions at the festival, and to finally meet face-to-face with some of the remarkable thinkers in the (invitation-only) Next Edge: Dealing With Collapse Facebook group whose thoughts and insights I appreciate so much — Sam Rose, Liz McLellan, Flemming Funch and Ben Roberts, among others. My session is titled 7 Generations From Now: A Collective Improv, and the write-up is:

Welcome, friend! Sit with me in this circle around the campfire, in these early days of the 23rd century CE. (You are your own great-great-great-great-great grandchild.) The two-century Long Emergency has finally wound down. There are only about 150 million humans left now, they tell us, and much of our planet is too hot to be inhabitable. The weather’s still wild but at least we managed to get all the nukes decommissioned. We live a much simpler, relocalized, neo-tribal life now, with the only real technology scavenged for essential medical and shelter purposes. But life is good, here on the banks of this ancient Canadian river. So, tell me, friend, how are you doing and what brings you joy these days?

The idea is simply to host and facilitate a conversation, with participants seated in a circle, imagining ourselves as our descendants seven generations hence, after civilization’s collapse. That’s it. Just a conversation. No “save-the-world” presentations, workshops or collaborations. My dear friend Nancy White has agreed to do a graphic recording on the “cave wall” of the session, in paint and chalk, and I’m trying to find some Montréalais who can do some spiffy post-civ face painting for us, so this conversation will have some artistic flair. It’s to be a playshop, not a workshop.

My sense is that the festival, like the lion’s share of the Next Edge Facebook group it draws from, will be full of earnest people urgently pushing new tools, technologies, practices, hackathons, collective consciousness-raising projects and potential ongoing collaborations to make the future better. For the same reason I almost never participate in the main Next Edge Facebook group, the idea of being asked to engage some of these people and explain why I think their ideas are interesting but ultimately aren’t going to survive civilization’s collapse, fills me with apprehension and triggers my “I’m going to be disappointing people” switch. My joyful pessimism is generally seen by many energetic and optimistic people as just pessimism, defeatism, or curmudgeonliness. Although I respect their zeal, I would prefer to spend my time in Montréal with people who understand the futility of world-changing, just being together with them.

I’m hoping that my session will attract principally those people prepared to do just that, and that the people who think their idea is an essential one I have been overlooking, will give it a pass. If that means no one shows up, that would be preferable to me to having to deal with a large circle of people imagining their world-saving visions two centuries hence, and hijacking the opportunity for us to just sit together, in contemplative gratitude, beyond hope, just imagining what a low-tech, low-complexity relocalized post-civilization society might be like — so that instead of dreading the future and grieving what we have precipitated, we can quietly celebrate the end of this ghastly but well-intentioned civilization and the emergence of thousands of diverse, sustainable, joyful human societies living connected with the rest of life on Earth in a way that today we can scarcely imagine.

I suspect my anxieties are overwrought, and that this event will be joyful and gentle and inspiring, and create some lasting new connections. The collection of intentions of attendees that one participant has assembled is encouraging. I’m trying to keep my expectations modest, despite the extraordinary effort the organizing team has put into this epic project, and mostly hover in the corridors of the Centre Vanier connecting, as Gonzo puts it, with “old friends I’ve just met”.

I’ll let you know how it goes. If you’re in Montréal, or can make it then, I’d be pleased to meet up. Already conspiring on a magazine article on group process with Jon Husband.

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3 Responses to Suffering Fools Gladly

  1. Nancy White says:

    If no one but us shows up, we can do cave painting!

  2. Liz McLellan says:

    I will be anxious with you if need be! I’m good at that!

  3. Paul Heft says:

    “I’m pleased to be here, visiting from the Chicago tribe. It’s great to take time away from my duties, managing the networked computer system that controls our solar panel arrays, wind turbine farms, and hydroelectric storage facilities that supply power to our communications meshes, highly automated factories, university research labs, and so forth. You folks don’t have air conditioning here?”

    Oh, maybe that’s not the low-tech, low-complexity scenario you have in mind. Sorry, I’m in the wrong future. Maybe yours is more realistic. It might be more fun, too!

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