The Great Humbling S2E1: ‘State of Alert’

We call these conversations the Great Humbling because we start from a sense that this is a time of being humbled, brought down to earth, and we want to ask what happens if we approach the moment we’re in on those terms?

In this second season each week we’ll be taking a state of mind that seems to be part of the mix of being alive just now.

So this is the Great Humbling: Season Two – Altered States – States of being, states of consciousness and of course the literal alteration of our nation states.

And this is episode 1 – ‘State of Alert’

Dougald introduces some of his summer reading: a critique of Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation paper and a piece from the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures collective that was published under the title ‘Preparing for the end of the world as we know it’

Ed reflects on a ‘Guide to Eco Anxiety’ that he wrote the foreword for, Nick Hayes ‘Book of Tresspass’ and Martin Shaw’s ‘Wolferland’

We explore the meaning of a ‘state of alert’, quoting Susie Orbach on these times: “How the outside impacts on the inside is something that people like me think about all the time. But now we are seeing it on a grand scale. The pandemic has been a prolonged assault from outside on our community. The state of uncertainty and unsafety it has created is new and utterly unfamiliar. Unless you are a refugee who has risked their life to get here, or a survivor of childhood abuse that could not be escaped, there is simply nothing to compare it to.”

We compare the Anglo and Swedish experiences on the pandemic and the big impacts e.g. ‘NYC Is Dead Forever. Here’s Why’

We relate a constant state of alert to a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and hypervigilance and all the negative behavioural aspects that entails, referencing David Morris’s book ‘The Evil Hours’

We make the PTSD connection with climate change via Kari Norgaard’s, Living in Denial –  ‘In some sense, not wanting to know was connected to not knowing how to know’ and a piece Dougald  wrote about that last winter in one of the Notes from Underground

We hope you enjoy our conversation and thanks for listening.

The Great Humbling S1E8: ‘How’s your humbling?’

Why we’re recording this final episode of Series One at night, as our children sleep

Reviewing the journey we’ve been on together since late March…

  1. Mapping Lava…where are we now on the emerging sensemaking and stories? 
  2. Can we afford an economic recovery?
  3. Towards a language of longing…
  4. Bestiary of metaphors
  5. World turned upside down 
  6. As deep as culture
  7. Cultivation of conspiracy

David Fell’s Eleven More Things: ‘WE MUST LOOK AFTER OUR KEY WORKERS’ 

“There are ways of identifying the things that really need doing; and these things that really need doing need to be done by people who we can call key workers.  If we don’t look after them, we are in deep shit: there’ll be no food, or no power, or no money, or no houses, or no healthcare, or no families, and there certainly won’t be any of the comforts and luxuries we’ve come to expect.

Do you remember that time in 2020 when everything nearly fell apart?  When all those people died and the only people who kept going were all those key workers? We must look after our key workers.”

Storytelling adventures with Ursula K Le Guin’s ‘The ones who walk away from Omelas’ and Ernest Callenbach’s ‘Ecotopia’…

Alan Lane, artistic director of Slung Low, a theatre company who relocated a few years ago to The Holbeck, the oldest working men’s club in Britain, in Leeds – and his very powerful post about their experience of being the ‘ward lead’ for social care referrals in their part of the city over the past ten weeks.

The story we’re telling is that no one in our community will have to go without food during this time and the only way to tell that story well is to make it true.

Rutger Bregman’s ‘Humankind’ in which the Dutch historian argues that the assumption that people are inherently Hobbesian, and need authority, control and power to manage their baser instincts is fundamentally not true

The Humbling as a lesson that will be endlessly repeated. Until it is learned. 

The pandemic as only a ‘warning shot’ (Inuit artist Taqrilik Partridge) of the real storm ahead 

Shakespeare “Is this the promised end? Or image of that horror?”

Churchill  “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

The Great Humbling S1E7: ‘The cultivation of conspiracy?’

Conspiracy literally means ‘to breathe together’. What is causing us to inhale such a complex mix of vaporous ideas right now? Are these ‘voodoo histories’ being written wilfully or are they a perhaps understandable response to fear and uncertainty? And how do these ‘double binds’ of inextricable impossibilities influence the way we receive information and shape our intention?

As always we begin with what caught our attention this week

Ed – The House of Beautiful Business – The Great Wave and their principles of Intimacy, playfulness and surrender…’Only those who let go have both hands free’:  https://livingroomsessions.house/previous-sessions 

Collective Psychology Project: ‘This too shall pass: Mourning Collective Loss in the time of Covid-19’ the world’s biggest psychological experiment https://www.collectivepsychology.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/This-Too-Shall-Pass.pdf 

Exploring ancestral wisdom (why, uncomfortable truths, ways forward) r.e. Apocalypse (unveiling), Restoration (rupture) & Emergence (birth of the new) myths…

8 lessons about grief: embrace it, it will get worse before it gets better, more collective grief to come, grief is not an equaliser, we need to grieve together, learn how our ancestors grieved, new rituals & practices, loss is natural…telling stories…

Dougald – Simon McBurney & Complicité’s The Encounter, available for streaming until Friday

Conspiracy theories… Patrick Farnsworth – Facebook post , his podcast Last Born In The Wilderness:

“We are witnessing things fall apart as we speak. And the more you believe this is some Deep State/One World Government plot to force us all to get microchipped or vaccinated or whatever, the more it shows how in denial of this fact you really are. There’s no fucking plan, at least not really. It’s all crisis management to serve short-term profit motives in a socioeconomic system designed to expand infinitely. That program is reaching its logical limits on a planet that is finite, and much of what we are witnessing is a part of that reality. 

It requires a great deal of humility to see it for what it is. The most well resourced institutions and individuals in this time are scrambling to manage these cascading changes for their own ends, and many of them are doing poorly at it, believe it or not. I imagine it’s comforting in some way to believe this is under control, that there is a plan here, but there really isn’t. And that’s okay, because that’s the way it’s always been, and always will be. It’s our blindness and hubris that says otherwise.”

David Aaranovitch’s ‘Voodoo Histories’: https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/108/1087014/voodoo-histories/9780099478966.html

The Cultivation of Conspiracy’, Illich

David Fuller – Medium post, Cashing In On Covid 

Medical Nemesis/Limits to Medicine – http://www.darkpharma.nl/uploads/7/3/2/8/7328594/medical-nemesis-ivan-illitch.pdf 

Ben Chijioke aka ‘Ty’: https://tymusic.co.uk/ 

Barney Glaser & Anselm Strauss, ‘Awareness of Dying’ (1965)

Centre for the Study of Existential Risk https://www.cser.ac.uk/

Sir Martin Rees’ ‘Our Final Hour?’: https://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/18/books/it-was-fun-while-it-lasted.html

Jon Alexander and the New Citizenship Project his Medium blog:  https://medium.com/@jonjalex/johnsons-message-is-very-deliberate-and-very-dangerous-here-s-how-to-combat-it-d336cae96348

Christos Galanis – ‘Health, Wholeness and Death Amidst the Coronavirus Pandemic’ https://medium.com/@chris.english.classes/health-wholeness-and-death-amidst-the-coronavirus-pandemic-60e7822bf0f

Emily Stewart on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/activity-6665364730208755713-NfAa 

Intention matters…it would be a terrible irony if in seeking a common breath together, we were suffocated by misinformation, in seeking simple but wrong solutions we didn’t heal but rather opened wounds,  and in seeking to prolong life we missed it’s true purpose?

The Great Humbling S1E6: ‘As deep as culture’

We start with Martin Shaw’s hare-piece (hair piece?) –  ‘A Hare’s Leap or a Rabbit’s Hop?’, a typically stirring offering from Dr Shaw that bristles with energy and soul, and backbone…

“Culture is being forced to leap at this moment, but we run grievous risk of a rabbit hop back to safety not a hare leap into the deeper life.”

“[Hare] nags, and pulls and bites until something vast is happening to us. We are dragged into the presence of strange angels and so  pathetically grateful we can only weep in this Chapel Perilous. For Hare, the Chapel Perilous is the fecund state of that changeable dimension we gesture to and dimly call our heart. Perilous is it, when the animal presences are absent, when there’s no sweet stink of the low bellied spirits. Hare will clamp his buck teeth straight into the beating organ, swinging back and forth like a lunatic pirate on the rigging in the most Machiavellian storm of most trembling imaginations till we are out the door, into the night, into the storm, into the rain.”

As Martin says – ‘Artists are waiting to get LEAPT’

We explore the Vasteras hares and our mutual observations of magpies this week.

Ed listened to a great interview with Margaret Atwood by Cheryl Strayed in her new podcast ‘Sugar Calling’. Atwood is known for her environmental activism, and mentioned Barry Lord, co-founder of Lord Cultural Resources, an international Museum Planning Consultancy…

His book  ‘Art & Energy – How Culture Changes’ describes how the dominant energy system of the day defines the culture, it’s actions and values – and that energy transitions are by their very nature – therefore culture wars:

  • Wood – access to land, forest, feudal
  • Coal – culture of production and the industrial revolution (massive manpower)
  • Oil and Gas – production to consumption
  • Electricity – culture of modernism
  • Nuclear – culture of anxiety
  • Renewables – culture of stewardship 

Dougald responds to this with ‘A virus doesn’t care about your stories’ Daniel Schmachtenberger – and asks what’s culture got to do with a pandemic…

Dougald talks about ‘Swedish exceptionalism, cultural memory and the Prime Minister’s recent speech – “Lives, health and jobs are under threat” – putting economic damage there alongside human casualties

Ed talks about British ‘deference’, obedience, over-zealous ‘busy-body’ police officers and general acceptance and respect of authority, but also British exceptionalism – lots of ‘Blitz spirit’ and war metaphors (as we discussed in Episode 4) and the Prime Minister’s lucky escape spun into ‘indomitable strength of character’ as if grit, determination and a stiff upper lip defined one’s survival chances?

Ed also refers to John Snow and and the original ‘contact tracing’ of cholera in Soho in 1850’s. Do we love/laud mavericks AFTER the fact…and do we LOVE a bit of mad, maverick conspiracy theory too?

Dougald explains Sweden has had more casualties than the other Nordic countries, but it doesn’t have the exponential rise in deaths that ought to be what happens if you don’t have a strong lockdown, and says it’s been a bit humbling for him having been deeply troubled by what felt like a relatively casual approach here, to see that it’s not playing out in the way that a lot of people feared, perhaps due to local, culturally specific factors – the amount of “social distancing” within the existing norms?

And is there an element of something getting lost in translation? Are there indirect means of influencing behaviour that are almost illegible to those of us not bred into the Swedish way of doing things, but that are having a major effect?

Ed reflects on the role of leadership right now too…

In uncertainty we seek familiarity – but unfortunately the reality of evolving understanding means leaders are having to constantly revise what they say, as new evidence emerges, new guidance, sometimes contradictory, is issued. Is it a time in which deeply held beliefs can turn out to be completely wrong?

Leadership right now feels a lot more like ‘holding space’ for vulnerability, creating psychological safety – but being really honest, able to admit ‘not knowing’ and having permission not to be a hero.

We conclude with a  good letter from the CEO of AirBnB to employees: ‘We don’t know when travel will return. When it does it will be different’

Are they returning to the idea of human connection – real people in real homes. What does it mean to “Travel like a human”…feels like a humbling

Does a culture need to be broken by beauty, truth or its own consequences in order to be  opened up to real change?

The Great Humbling S1E5: ‘A world turned upside down’

Introducing ‘A World Turned Upside Down’, an old english ballad ‘a brief description of the ridiculous fashions of these distracted times’...coined in protest at Parliament’s attempts to make Christmas a solemn occasion (not a traditionally english raucous one)

David Fell – The Economics of Enough – and his piece: Eleven Things So Far – manages to be the most random and one of the most thoughtful things Dougald haas read among all the hundreds of thousands of words written in and about this crisis – close to the spirit of these conversations.

He quotes Bill Bryson’s list of things done by 19th century vicars with economic security and a lot of time on their hands – “Never in history have a group of people engaged in a broader range of creditable activities for which they were not in any sense actually employed.” List includes:

  • George Bayldon compiled the world’s first dictionary of Icelandic
  • Laurence Sterne wrote ‘The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman’
  • Edmund Cartwright invented the power loom
  • Jack Russell bred the terrier that bears his name
  • Octavius Pickard-Cambridge became the world’s leading authority on spiders
  • William Shepherd wrote a history of dirty jokes

“Not one of these people disappeared up their own arse in the belief that they had achieved some over-privileged insight.  And why? Because at least once a week they had to stand up in front of a group of perfectly ordinary people and talk to them in terms they understood.  They were forced to stay grounded.”

David Fell then talks about all the people “talking about all the things they want to see different ‘afterwards’.”:

“Talk has begun of the ‘exit strategy’.  And plenty of people are also talking about all the things they want to see different ‘afterwards’.

Generally, as far as I can tell, these plenty of people – all of whom are serious and well-meaning – are asking for the same things they’ve always asked for: for more trees, fewer evil corporations, an economy in the shape of a circle or a doughnut or an éclair, proper funding for this that or the other, an end to homelessness and hunger and poverty.   I’m seeing it being written that, in order to get these (in general laudable) things, the policy options need to be ‘oven ready’ or ‘on the table’ or some other metaphor indicating that the idea has to be sitting there just waiting for the moment when…

When what?

When a calm and thoughtful politician decides it would be a good idea?  When a high-impact think-tank puts it into a paper which is well-received by an open-minded SPAD?  When a courageous civil servant or a parliamentary committee or an aspiring opposition leader indicates his or her interest?

What is happening right now is way, way outside the think tanks and the media bubbles and the usual channels.  What is happening now is tens and hundreds and thousands of millions of people having the most profound experience of their lives.  We are in the middle of the most profound flux..

Talk about afterwards if you want; but don’t expect it to mean much.  After what?  We don’t even know what the what is yet.”

We weren’t planning on turning this week’s episode into an audiobook of David Fell’s blog, but frankly Dougald couldn’t help himself!

Ed begins with Thomas Pueyo’s ‘Hammer & the Dance’ one of the most read articles on the corona crisis. Which brought to mind TSEliot’s ‘In the stillness, there is dancing’ from Four Quartets:

“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.”

We then discuss ‘Planet of the Humans’ the HIGHLY polemical/controversial and perhaps badly unevidenced conspiratorial narrative, within which there is a kernel of truth – ‘are we saving the planet, or OUR* way of life’? *’Our’ meaning the top 1B as Dougald has mentioned previously…and the logical fallacy that industrial civilisation will save us from industrial civilisation.

Followed by a sobering piece from Grist, The World Is In Lockdown So Where Are All The Carbon Emissions Coming From? The current forecast drop of 5.5% in global carbon emissions as a result of the crisis – the biggest drop ever – is not even 7.5% a year we need to have a decent chance of meeting the 1.5 degree goal

We reflect a little on lockdown ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ – what irrational impulses might arise from living lockdown a little too enthusiastically? Dougald cites an article by Dr Farrah Jarral in the Guardian about people whose mental health is benefiting from lockdown – but that there’s another sense in which this is all taking place in a simulation.

We finish up with a bit of  Manfred Max Neef, the Chilean economist who pioneered ‘Human Scale Development’ and barefoot economics,  so have been checking out his ideas around needs…one of which is ‘idleness’

And conclude with a hopeful story this week, from India – Ram Subramanian from Tamil Nadu on the ReMembering and ReEnchanting Podcast and Ed’s first two serious conversations with senior business people re ‘steady state’ businesses that might still be successful even if they end up dramatically smaller than they were pre-crisis, and with no plans to grow – changing a very very deep narrative? That’s an inversion of such an intense orthodoxy, I am curious to see how that new story emerges…

Plus whether Martin Shaw’s powerful mythical teachings r.e. despots who in order to seize power take out their hearts and bury them…the resolution comes from the recovery of the buried heart. Dougald wrote a piece ‘The curious tale of Boris Johnson’s heart’ last year…and Ed wonders aloud if a near death experience, and new fatherhood (admittedly for the umpeenth and uncertain actual number of times!) might turn Boris’s world upside down? We live, as always in grounded hope…

The Great Humbling S1E4: ‘A bestiary of metaphors’

In this episode Dougald and Ed explore the ‘bestiary’ of metaphors stalking this time, the creatures of our imaginations, we are walking with beasts – black elephants, green swans, impossible hamsters – and nightingales.

‘Will there be singing in the dark times. Yes, there will be singing about the dark times’

Bertolt Brecht 1939

We begin by revisiting a quote from Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees in 2015:

It is imperative to guard against the downsides of such an interconnected world…The magnitude of the societal breakdown from pandemics would be far higher than in earlier centuries. English villages in the 14th century continued to function even when the Black Death almost halved their populations. In contrast, our social framework would be vulnerable to breakdown as soon as hospitals overflowed and health services were overwhelmed—which could occur when the fatality rate was still a fraction of 1 per cent.’

And note that in these supposedly ’unimaginable futures’, Wimbledon Tennis Tournament has been quietly paying a £1M annual pandemic insurance premium for 17 years which has just paid out £100M

This week’s negative oil prices reinforce the idea that almost every day these days is another previously unthinkable ‘thought experiment’. As Lenin said ‘There  are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen’

Dougald takes us back to 2011, when it was “kicking off everywhere” – the giddiness of those times when it was felt that what might lie ahead “can’t be any worse than going back to normal”. But Vinay Gupta warned ‘A much, much worse world is possible’.

We look at ‘supply chain weirdness’ and the vulnerability of water purification systems to a  shortage of chemicals, industrial carbon dioxide ironically and consider Stephen Jenkinson’s – ‘Stranger Days’ – a sobering voice – and ‘the instinct to get on the other side is a traumatised instinct’, to rush forward into relief, even to do it imaginatively by dwelling in the beautiful possibilities of another world. This can be an escape from dwelling with the trauma of the world we’re in right now – so what’s the alternative? To sit with the discomfort, sit through it, and a humbler kind of hope:

‘Do I think we’re going to seize this moment as a collective and seize the moment? I doubt it. Is it there to be seen anyway? Yes, it is… little pockets of sanity and lucidity that aren’t seduced by the old seduction of getting back on with our lives…’ and those pockets might play a disproportionate role, they might be the source of inspiration in times to come.

Ed explores the idea that ‘the unknown may hold more value than the known’ and the notion of ‘UNLEARNING’ in which resist the lure and pull of the  familiar – even though it feels comforting in uncertainty. We discuss Marion Waller, adviser to the Mayor of Paris on ‘tactical urbanism’ (rapid experimental change using PEOPLE) and the metaphor of cities as forests not machines – is this part of the role of metaphors – the space for playfulness?

‘But what is a metaphor?’ asks Dougald. Why are they so powerful? They re not like a crossword clue with a one-to-one solution – they arer tools for working with the unknown, that  can’t be fully known/controlled. Dark Mountain as a name, created an image with unanticipated possibilities.

Ed takes us on a whistle-stop tour of the metaphors whirling around us right now:

Phoebe Tickell’s ‘Moral Imaginations’ train metaphor:

“we’ve been on a train that has been hurtling towards a cliff-edge, an irreversible cliff-edge — once we’re off that cliff there’s no way of re-winding that train or stopping the train once we’re off the cliff-edge those systems are in play (and she’s obviously referring to climate change). And it’s as if we’ve basically had a fire in one of the carriages, and it’s made us stop the train. And suddenly we’ve looked outside and we’ve asked: why are we on a train that is hurtling towards that cliff-edge? We need to stop the train.” (ref. E M Forster – The Machine Stops in Episode 2)

The boat metaphor: ‘We’re all facing the same storm…but in very different boats’

The WAR metaphor is EVERYWHERE, the news narrative can feel like an action movie. ‘The Frontline’ (victimhood, sacrifice, fodder for forces greater than yourself, military logistics, command and control planning, ’clapping the troops’, PPE crisis is like weapons without ammunition). But is the language of war misplaced? ‘No one is trying to kill each other here, arguably the world is saner right now’ (Liz Gilbert)

Fake News/Telecoms  metaphor – ‘interrupting  transmission’ or ‘communicating bad messages’ 

The Italian Job. Is this scene the ULTIMATE representation of the economic recovery in lockdown? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZCaSyid4m0 (suggested by Ed Dowding)

SPACESHIP EARTH – Buckminster Fuller (Ellen MacArthur), world as machine without operating instructions, no passengers only crew 

Dougald explores why that Spaceship Earth metaphor had a massive influence on the environmental movement via Stewart Brand and refers to an interesting moment in the Jenkinson recording, musing on the virus and this moment as “replacing the Earth seen from space with the Earth seen from Earth”, which feels humbling, echoing something Ivan Illich almost says in the closing pages of ‘Deschooling’, getting to the moon was the easy part, it’s finding our way home again that’s the real work.

Ed Introduces the ‘Bestiary of Metaphors’

Black swans (unforeseen, game-changing, rationalised in hindsight)

White swans – grimly predictable (climate)

Green swans – John Elkington – exponential, regenerative business?

Dougald brings in THE BLACK ELEPHANT – Collapsonomics story (link here)

Ed replies with the Black Jellyfish – we think we know/understand something superficially simple, that is actually far more complex, with a nasty sting in tail

THE IMPOSSIBLE HAMSTER (Leo Murray)…none of us is safe – from the impossible hamster (no one expects this!)! We are walking with beasts, metaphor isn’t supposed to be safe, it is dangerous and subversive, things come out you’re not expecting, this is about being beyond control

‘None of us is safe…until all of us are safe’ 

To which Dougald responds: none of us is safe, full stop, citing Helen Keller’s grounded hope, not traumatised hope:

‘Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.’

Wouldn’t it be something… if whatever pockets we may have a hand in, whatever we may get to take responsibility for in the unknown world that lies ahead, it could be grounded in that spirit…

The Great Humbling S1E3: ‘Framing a language of longing’

In this episode we explore the framing of a potential ‘language of longing’, beginning with the usual reviews of our recent relevant reading: ‘Eco-Anxiety’ by Anouschka Grose (which explores pertinent themes:  anxiety, trauma, grief, immortality systems and death denial – as well as their counter-points joy, wonder, awe, imagination, wild generosity and radical friendliness) for Ed, as well as Martin Shaw’s forthcoming book ‘All Those Barbarians’ – the ‘grimoire’ of the School of Myth, which introduces us to the story of the Gordian Knot, and the idea of timeless and time-bound stories. 

Dougald then explores a statement from the editors of degrowth.info

And this piece: ‘The Pulsation of the Commons: The Temporal Context for the Cosmo-Local Transition’ by Michel Bauwens with Jose Ramos

Which takes us into a fascinating conversation around the work of Hungarian-American Peter Pogany and the ‘staccato’ version of societal change that requires chaotic periods between stable interludes. 

We then talk about the need for ‘believing our eyes’ in the sense of the rapid rewilding we can’t unsee. The Venetian dolphins might not be real. But the idea of them is something we obviously desperately want to believe. 

Dougald then introduces Ivan Illich’s ideas around ‘conviviality’, which we combine with Julia Watson’s ‘Lo-Tek: Radical Indigenism’ and the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures collective which asks how we might be ‘hospicing modernity and assisting with the birth of something new, undefined and potentially, but not necessarily, wiser’.

Or what Jay Cousins calls ‘Upcycling the system looks both among the rubble and the not-yet-fallen towers, and then takes what it needs to leverage a kinder future’

We then return to Michel Bauwens and Pogany – asking how we might stabilise at a new level, a humbler level based on a way of approaching the world that is not characterised by exploitation and extraction – as Vanessa Andreotti would say, ‘in as-yet-unimaginable futures’

We conclude with thoughts on one of our first discussions – the challenge of articulation? This is why storytelling is often powerful, as Martin Shaw always says ‘a wild way of telling the truth’…

To not be sucked into the ‘economy-speak’ (as we almost were in Episode 2 perhaps?) but to stay true to the articulations that touch a different  part of us – perhaps the heart?

That’s maybe the  difference between what Anouschka Grose calls ‘Solastalgia’ – finding discomfort where you used to find comfort (Latin ‘Solacium’ = comfort, Greek ‘Algia’ = pain) and Joanna Macy’s ‘radical hope’?

Thanks for listening. Do follow us and get in touch via our Facebook page

The Great Humbling S1E2: ‘Can we afford an economic recovery?’

You can hear the rising chatter: the bubbling of ‘back to normal’, the stimulus packages, the business resurrection plans, the recovery that everyone is longing for, and at the heart of it the sense that economic growth is the answer. But is it? Perhaps the biggest sacred cow, so deeply embedded culturally as to be unquestionable, is ready to be de-pedestalled? 

In this second episode Dougald and Ed hold a conversational space around challenging the idea that whatever form the recovery takes it has to ‘sound like growth’. 

Time Codes

We start by reviewing some of our respective reading of the last week:

  • ‘The Machine Stops’ by E.M.Forster – a prescient parable from 1909 in which humanity resides underground, it’s needs met by an all powerful machine, which then stops, with destructive and transformative consequences (1.40)
  • ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ by Robin Wall Kimmerer – the (literal) grassroots sleeper hit that became a New York Times best-seller, celebrating science, soul, soil, indigenous wisdom and spirit. Especially the idea of ‘The Honourable Harvest’ (4.52)
  • ‘A Paradise Built in Hell’ by Rebecca Solnit – compelling stories of post-disaster communities recovering with joy and in unexpected collaborative ways, versus Hobbesian views of people and ‘elite panics’ (10.11)

15.44 ‘Is green growth possible?’ Can 3% annual growth ever be sustained? The virus has  pushed us where we never expected to be with a third of the economy gone, it will require a huge effort just to get back where we were. The problem of ‘Jevon’s paradox’, the choice between a post-1918 pandemic that led to the ‘Roaring Twenties’ and the terror of the thirties, or the post-1945 settlement of the social contract that created the NHS, Arts Council etc? Or is this ‘Death Star Economics’? Growth does not mean security and wellbeing, we are revaluing societal roles radically.

23.44 Beyond the technical, monetary questions – is there an emerging ‘insider willingness’ to face reality? A sense of a boiling/breaking point? How to question the economic growth assumption? This is NOT about sustainability – maintaining this system for the 1 in 7 people on the planet who enjoy it, while making a false promise to the other 6. Is it about ‘negotiating the surrender’? We have realised that whole chunks of the economy can disappear overnight, a wild thought experiment has become reality.

28.40 Pause or Reset? The lobbying to ‘own the settlement’ with a rapid return to business as usual has begun. Some interest from Benefit Corporations, but still not ‘steady state economics’. Now the commercial and political realities have changed can we talk about ecological limits FIRST? Amsterdam’s ‘Doughnut Economics’ recovery plan looks interesting.

34.42 Mutiny? Is there a shadow leadership movement ready to address this paradox of infinite growth? 

38.08 The invitation: How do we offer the frame for this ‘bravest of all conversations’ beyond the previous suicide trajectory? Can we raise the volume of the quiet whispers?

38.58 Permission for the impossible:  Only the impossible is interesting. We need leadership to hold the space to tackle this most sacred of cows as a great unifying idea, not that the machine has stopped. How do we start that impossible conversation – beyond growth?

41.00 Pandemic as portal: We conclude with Arundhati Roy’s much quoted Financial Times piece, and reflect on the caution needed around messianic, millenarian or quasi-religious transcendence:

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

Further References:

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— Ed & Dougald

The Great Humbling S1E1: ‘Mapping Lava’

How will they look in hindsight, these times we’re living through? Is this a midlife crisis on the road to the Star Trek future, or the point at which that story of the future unravelled and we came to see how much it had left out? What if our current crises are neither an obstacle to be overcome, nor the end of the world, but a necessary humbling? With Covid-19 calling into question the ways we have been living, Ed Gillespie and Dougald Hine set out to explore what it means to be humbled.