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Friday, 24 September 2010

Dark thinking for dark times - The Dark Mountain Network

A couple of months ago, reading an extremely thought-provoking and provocative article by Paul Kingsnorth on openDemocracy entitled 'Confessions of a recovering environmentalist' (a colleague and friend Andy Dobson written a response), I followed a link from the article and discovered 'Uncivilisation: The Dark Mountain Network: A space for conversations in a time of global disruption' and ordered a copy of its first publication Dark Mountain, which I'm part-way through.

Part of me was repelled by the strong pessismtic (or realist) 'ecocentric' critique of human-centred green thinking - largely I supect because I detected or could only believe that the almost celebratory tone of 'the end of human civilisation as we know it' was motivated by a deep and disturbing misanthrophy...and therefore I was transported back over 20 years to my negative and gut reaction to certain misanthropic - and at times racist strands of - 'deep ecology'. It is clear that the Dark Mountain project is animated by deep ecological concerns, and can be seen as yet another spontaneous green/ecological response to the crisis of our time, and the great transitions that are unfolding and will quicken as this decade progresses. Other related responses include the Transition movement, the related peak oil /post-carbon discourse, such as the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, permacultural inspired thiking and movements (especially around food and land - is it perhaps no surprise, at least from my anecdotal evidence, that most Transition towns are focused around, are strongest in or at least have their foundation in local food production and connecting to the land?), to Collapsonomics and anarchistic 'eco-primitivism' .

But there is a growing number of reports and writings both within civil society and from within the 'state system' which point to the looming threats coming down the pipe in the coming years. These range from the recently leaked German Military report on the destablising political implications of peak oil to a report from the Irish think tank FEASTA, written by David Korowicz entitled 'Tipping Point: Near-Term Systemic Implications of a Peak in Global Oil Production - An Outline Review' .

Collapse, threats, apoclyptic thinking, dread and a clearly identifable 'endism' can I think be fairly used to characterise these new and emerging forms of green thinking and action. Dark thinking for dark times indeed...

And I think they all have a point, and whether one agrees or disagrees they should not be simply dismissed as doom-sayers, irritating 'teetotalers pissing on the party' - though no doubt they will and have been. They may after all be simply pointing out the bleeding obvious that 'the emperor has no clothes' and rather than trying to green our existing way of life (perhaps in a more regulated, perhaps even more democratic manner), we should prepare ourselves and our communities to live different lives, 'fit for purpose' for living in more resilient, low-impact societies. That issue - and its a huge one of course - will have to wait for another time.

For now what I'd like to conclude with is what attracted me about Uncivilisation. Apart from its brutal honesty, it was in both the Dark Mountain manifesto and subsequent edited volume, the integration of culture, music, poetry, imaginative fiction all tremendously 'life affirming' (or the sugar to sweeten the pill perhaps). It has always been my view that one of the appropriate responses to crisis is creativity and imagination, and certainly the style (if not necessarily) the substance of the Dark Mountain project is one that those of use active in thinking and acting about green issues and the pressing need to create and sustain individual and collective resilience in face of the inevitable transitions we are facing, need in these anxious times. To think about living life in a carbon constrained, climate changed world will require not only courage, something I think is evident in the Dark Mountain perspective, as it is is also in all those movements, practices and groups that stand against foundational aspects of our dominant culture (and here, and of course partly speaking from where I stand, people active in Green parties and environmental, transport, food, land reform groups etc. - though I feel the DM perspective wrongly dismisses the latter). But along with courage it is the creativity, the reaching into our culytural imaginary that I also think is to be applauded in the Dark Mountain intervention. An perhaps 'intervention' is entirely appropropriate here in that the DM call (for it is clearly such) is one which in part calls on us to 'stop', down tools as it were and re-think and re-act. If as the now commonplace view has it 'business as usual is not an option', why would we not entertain the prospect that 'thinking as usual is no longer an option'?

This cultural turn is to be welcomed not simply for the inlcusion of this life affirming perspective but also more importantly because it forces us to confront the deep cultural, ethical and psychological imperatives driving ecocide (if I were not weary, as a humanist, of the term, one could include 'spiritual' in that list). Perhaps my main worry here is the tendency (and one I detected long ago in deep ecology) for this cultural turn to also go along with or act as a prelude to a depoliticised or anti-political turn in green thinking. While of course a lot more argument is needed to substantiate my closing comment here - I remain unconvinced - and not a little troubled by - the claim that the solution to the deracinated contemporay human condition lies in a depoliticised reponse to our current crises. Perhaps one indication of this is when the The Dark Mountain Network becomes a Movement.


  1. Hi John -

    Thanks for a very thoughtful post. I've been encouraged by seeing the way that others are making the connections between Dark Mountain and other projects and movements - often with a greater ability to notice and draw out the relationships than is possible from where Paul and I stand.

    One thought came back to me reading this, from a comment I wrote on Dave Pollard's recent post:

    "Perhaps it's only by a withdrawal from today's political questions that we can do the thinking which will leave us with political options the day after tomorrow?"

  2. Thanks for getting in touch Dougald...yes there are lots of dots to be joined and this spontaneous erruption of diverse responses is to be welcomed - only the niave could think that there would be a 'one size fits all' approach to reversing unsustainability and enhancing resilience. Good on you, Paul and others in the DM project. You commend to Dave reminds me of a similar one I've always liked from EF Schumacher - our job is not the make the wind blow but to ready our sails so that when it does blow we can catch the wind....

  3. Great blog, John! And I agree that we need a 'long run up' - I really do think that the 'results tomorrow' policy community approach to dealing with these issues will be counter-productive in the long run. And I agree that this will include cultural change. I (personally) don't go as far, though, as withdrawing from today's political questions (as Dougald suggests) - though it's quite possibly necessary that other people do. If we all did that the way would be left completely open to the malign forces trashing the planet and most of its people.

  4. I think it's interesting for a self-proclaimed Leninist to accuse deep ecologists and those who have similar politics of misanthropy. You follow the politics of a mass murderer who rivals Hitler. You follow the politics of a man who built one of the most totalitarian regimes in human history. You follow the politics of a man who built one of the most ecologically destructive empires in history. Sorry, but it's rather hard to take your claim of "misanthropy" very seriously in light of your self-labeling as the follower of a earth-destroying, mass murdering tyrant.

  5. Will the wars for resources end, and be replaced by wars against over-consumption? When the choice is between flooding London, or destroying Florida and Midland Texas, where should the Trident missiles be targeted?