I’ve written about this before (Expect the End of the World. Laugh.; Trapped in Hope, Practicing Resurrection) but reading a recent New York Times piece about Paul Kingsnorth and The Dark Mountain Project has reawakened my prevailing sense of cheerful hopelessness about the natural world — which includes pretty much everything we know, including us — and the need to not only engage imagination and faith but to disengage from false hope.
Kingsnorth, responding to Naomi Klein’s comment that grief is important because it can lead to change, agrees “with the need for grief but not with the idea that it must lead to change — at least not the kind of change that mainstream environmental groups pursue”:
“What do you do,’ he asked, ‘when you accept that all of these changes are coming, things that you value are going to be lost, things that make you unhappy are going to happen, things that you wanted to achieve you can’t achieve, but you still have to live with it, and there’s still beauty, and there’s still meaning, and there are still things you can do to make the world less bad? And that’s not a series of questions that have any answers other than people’s personal answers to them. Selfishly it’s just a process I’m going through.’ He laughed. ‘It’s extremely narcissistic of me. Rather than just having a personal crisis, I’ve said: “Hey! Come share my crisis with me!”‘
Maybe others aren’t feeling this sense of crisis, aren’t grieving, really are positive that we can lick this thing. All I can say is, I’m not. And it’s OK. There is much to celebrate and to love every day.
Later, Dougald Hine, a partner in Dark Mountain, is quoted:
People think that abandoning belief in progress, abandoning the belief that if we try hard enough we can fix this mess, is a nihilistic position,” Hine said. “They think we’re saying: ‘Screw it. Nothing matters.’ But in fact all we’re saying is: ‘Let’s not pretend we’re not feeling despair. Let’s sit with it for a while. Let’s be honest with ourselves and with each other. And then as our eyes adjust to the darkness, what do we start to notice?’
I love that question: What do we start to notice? That’s an experience I want to have and share and talk about with others. It reminds me of the permaculture principle, Observe and Interact. Unless we notice what’s before us, around us, inside us, then when we act we are like characters in a play, doing what’s scripted, what’s expected, our role, instead of really relating, soul to soul, minds and bodies engaged, with ourselves and all other beings.
Some, like George Monbiot and Naomi Klein, feel that Kingsnorth has given up. I think he is still spending his life being true, doing what matters most to him, preparing for the future in each daily, present moment, and supporting what he loves in his community:
“Last week, he and his wife made a long-planned move to rural Ireland, where they will be growing much of their own food and home schooling their children — a decision, he explained to me, that stemmed in part from a desire to distance himself from technological civilization and in part from wanting to teach his children skills they might need in a hotter future.
“Yet Kingsnorth has never intended to retreat altogether. For the past three years, he has spent a good portion of his time trying to stop a large supermarket from being built in Ulverston, in northern England. ‘Why do I do this,’ he wrote to me in an email, anticipating my questions, ‘when I know that in a national context another supermarket will make no difference at all, and when I know that I can’t stop the trend caused by the destruction of the local economy, and when I know we probably won’t win anyway?” He does it, he said, because his sense of what is valuable and good recoils at all that supermarket chains represent. ‘I’m increasingly attracted by the idea that there can be at least small pockets where life and character and beauty and meaning continue. If I could help protect one of those from destruction, maybe that would be enough..”
The bolded bit reminds me of Andre Gregory’s reiteration of the Findhorn community’s idea, and Gustav Björnstrand’s idea, in the film My Dinner with Andre (1981), that in a dystopian future there may be pockets of light, or islands of history (like the underground in the Dark Ages), where humans can continue to live and perhaps “preserve the light, life, the culture … to keep things living.”
I’m also reminded of Tolstoy’s short story (or parable, or catechism), “The Three Questions” (1885); the three questions, with their answers, are
- When is the best time to do each thing? The most important time is now. The present is the only time over which we have power.
- Who are the most important people to work with? The most important person is whoever you are with
- What is the most important thing to do at all time? The most important thing is to do good to the person you are with.
With the amendment I would make of “person” to “being,” I think it’s a recipe for right action at all times.
Kingsnorth’s calling also reminds me of Johnette Napolitano’s lyrics in her (Concrete Blonde) song, “True,” a kind of prayer:
One more sunset
Lay my head down – true
One more sunrise
Open my eyes up – true