THIS WAS ORIGINALLY RELEASED AS A BONUS LONG FORM AUDIO ESSAY ON MY PODCAST PERMANENTLY MOVED IN MAY 2020.
JAY SPRINGETT IS A SOLARPUNK, THEORIST AND STRATEGIST FOR HYBRID ENVIRONMENTS. HIS CONCERNS ARE WITH CULTURE, HUMANS AND TECHNOLOGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT. HE IS CURRENTLY WRITING HIS FIRST PUBLIC BOOK: LAND AS PLATFORM.
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THIS IS IT
When Lockdown started I started writing. Writing about all the things that are important to me. How I was thinking and feeling about the world. Some of what I wrote between March and May ended up here.
Hello, You are listening to 411 Permanently Moved an occasional audio project by me Jay Springett. Written, recorded and edited across 40 hours between the month(s) of March and April of 2020.
As Above So Below
There is A War In Heaven.
After They fell from the weeping mother, They sort to each create their own worlds.
Worlds of their own logic and liking.
The battle is endless. Great waves crashing again and again against the shoreline of reality.
The backwash still fighting, struggling, for the upper hand. Each vortex forming a current in history.
The Others may arrive mysteriously by campfire light and bring the war to us.
Great knowledge: Weapons, Tools, Dreams.
The currents are redirected, dammed or absorbed.
Changing histories heave and swell.
Beware its riptides.
The dark departs. We see each world in the bright light of day anew.
The battle is in no body but ours, In no hands, no feet on earth but ours.
We must forage, plant, tend and sow.
But in the dark of night,
Do not stray too far from the campfires edge.
Stay warm and keep together.
Most of what follows is new material. Other parts are taken directly from my weekly podcast 301 Permanently Moved dot online. This piece is a collage. One which considers detours necessary. Tangents to add colour, shape, and shade. Subplots as weft picked up and dropped to support the whole. Signposts stand throughout. Promises made and direction delivered.
1903 – Interesting times
“May you live in interesting times”. A phrase you have heard many many times i’m sure.
In 1966 Robert F. Kennedy delivered a speech that included it:
There is a Chinese curse which says “May he live in interesting times.” Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind.ROBERT F. KENNEDY – DAY OF AFFIRMATION ADDRESS, UNIVERSITY OF CAPETOWN, CAPETOWN, SOUTH AFRICA, JUNE 6, 1966
Unfortunately this whole story is a load of old bollocks. There is no evidence of this phrase in china at all.
The website Quote investigator found that the earliest match for the phrase appeared in “The Yorkshire Post” in March 1936
The expression was used in a speech by the influential British statesman. Sir Austen Chamberlain – addressing the annual meeting of Birmingham Unionist Association.
He spoke of:
The “grave injury” to collective security by Germany’s violation of the Treaty of Locarno.
Sir Austen, who referred to himself as “a very old Parliamentarian,” said:—
“It is not so long ago that a member of the Diplomatic Body in London, who had spent some years of his service in China, told me that there was a Chinese curse which took the form of saying, ‘May you live in interesting times.’ There is no doubt that the curse has fallen on us.”
“We move from one crisis to another. We suffer one disturbance and shock after another.”Austen Chamberlain – address to the annual meeting of Birmingham Unionist Association 1936
And there you have it. A very old white dude relaying a pithy expression from his mate who probably made it up but instead attached it to the wisdom of the orient. But there’s still more to this story.
Sir Austin Chamberlain’s father Joseph Chamberlain wrote in a speech in 1898:
I think that you will all agree that we are living in most interesting times. (Hear, hear.) I never remember myself a time in which our history was so full, in which day by day brought us new objects of interest, and, let me say also, new objects for anxiety. (Hear, hear.)Joseph Chamberlain – speech 1898
So perhaps the phrase comes from the mind of Austin’s father, and became a foreign curse after the events of the first world war. I’d also like to note that new objects of interest / new objects for anxiety line echos the message of Paul Virilio’s Invention of the ship is the invention of the shipwreck
There is a clear implication, I think, that “uninteresting times” of peace and tranquillity are more life-enhancing than interesting ones, which, from a historical perspective, usually include disorder and conflict.
Indeed yer man Hegel wrote in the History of philosophy:
History is not the soil in which happiness grows. The periods of happiness in it are the blank pages of history.Hegel- History of philosophy
Even in 2003, Hillary Clinton released an autobiography that included an instance of the expression where she joked that Bill and I would ask each other, “Well, are you having an interesting time yet?”.
The question I have about all this is WHY? What is it about the truth of the phrase ‘May you live in interesting times’ that makes it feel like a curse. Perhaps even A truth perhaps so powerful that it becomes one – regardless of its origins.
In 1944 D. W. Brogan of LSE wrote that interesting times are “times not to be made better by any simple formula.“
It is safe to say that we do indeed live in interesting times. But it is also essential that we ask or challenge the blank pages of history and ask ‘Interesting for whom?’.
Yes we are living through catastrophic biosphere collapse, wealth inequality last seen by eyes in heads rolling into blood soaked baskets, and of course the contemporary age of planetary scale computation. Last year I spoke a lot about living in a time like this, and strategies for living through:
Focus on your friends, family and loved ones. They actually do matter more than any of the problems I just mentioned. People in your life experience tragedy and apocalypse all the time. Sharing these with friends and helping people though is more important than worrying about the tides or times of history.
Focus on the little things and make them better. The smear on the mirror that needs cleaning, the fraying seam of your friends jumper that needs sewing. Hold someone weeping like you will never let go.
This is a product of 6 weeks of lockdown. Written in fits of mania. Each ending with a thud of the laptop lid, followed by an escape back into the rhythm of domesticity.
If to listen is to think, what then is to write?
Anne Lamott says that
“This is the business of becoming conscious. Being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?”Anne Lamott – Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
It turns out that (for me), most of being alive is currently about discarding the things that came before. I’ve had the time to re-read and re-visit previous things I’ve written and done. Personal journals dashed out in the depths of depression and despair, scratched out lines in notebooks, music made for no one but me. Lockdown offered me an opportunity for an archival visit.
Ideas, texts, music, work.
Most of what I’ve ever made has been thrown out or set aside. Returning to these things reanimate old emotions and memories of the time in which they were made. Things I’d also thought discarded. I wonder what in 10 years time I will make of this? Made in the midst of a pandemic. Produced in the time of Covid-19.
I, like many of you, have never felt this way before. I read old thoughts set down in fading pencil. Reliving old grief for the climate and the world around me, a world that I never in fact knew. I pull a book of memories off the shelf, and begin to read. An old black notebook with a tattered spine.
Tipex labeled with the year I found my way to the top of the Dark Mountain. At its summit I found (as the manifesto says). No deep revelation about the truths of human existence. What I found instead however, was my lack of surprise at just how easy it is to die.
I had been there all before.
Crohn’s Disease – they told me at 17.
‘A permanent disease. An infection of my gut and bowel’.
So that was it. That was my life now. All the dreams I had imagined for myself as a kid were changed forever.
I joined the 70% of people with a disability in the UK who’s disability was a hidden one.
I already knew that before me was an unspooling future. Potentially full of pain, danger and uncertainty. Operations, interventions and like all people, my inevitable death. The only question now was when not if.
From then on my life had new contours. A certainty. A fact. Or a truth that now bent the shape of spacetime in front of me. A wave that I could surf and with luck *knock on wood* A wave that I could also manage and control.
There was a before and an after. Before the earthquake, after the landslide. A personal disaster that is still ongoing. A truth re-signaled everyday with each beat in the routine of my daily medication.
I discarded over 15k words making this. Tangents on territorialisation and deterritorialization of Covid 19, digressions into hagel, the pre-socratics, all ideas perhaps of some use at another time. It was, and has been important to me to get them out of me and on to the page. Once written down then the thinking stops for a while.
All that thinking however shared a single thread:
THIS IS IT.
A collective ending of old truths and certainties. Things are not ever going back to normal. No matter how short our memories and how strong the desire to slip back into old habits might be.
It is a time, I think, to paraphrase Peter Grey:
“To offer the death rites to a culture that pretends that death can be cheated by buying the latest i-gadget or hooking ourselves up to plasma bags of young blood. These technological responses do not account for the wider environment which we do not control.”Peter Grey – Rewilding Witchcraft
For too long narratives have relied upon an appeal to a benevolent Gaia, the caring earth goddess. A green vision of the world suffused with golden light. Brought to life as a catalogue of facts about the world on vivid HD flat screens full of misery. Destruction of the land for rare earth minerals to the moment the worker packed it into a box stamped with a malevolent amazon grin.
The image of the earth mother will help us with our grief, our pain and awe, and teach us to pay attention. Perhaps. But once that process is done and we then have to listen to the world with open eyes and see things affresh.
As apes in concrete caves peeping out of doors and windows in the spring of 2020. What we sense is not the green goddess of nature, but instead what Corinne Boyer calls The Wild Adversary.
An essence of and in the world that is not kind. There are forces abroad that are dark and dangerous. Dread. The wild is so named because it is beyond human comfort.
This is A Truth of the world. We are not apart from it but embedded inside it. Civilisation is a myth brought back from given at the campfires edge.
It found fertile roots in our thinking. We have always relied upon our elders to steward or tell that story in new and interesting ways. To us to remind us of our obligations and fine print in the bargain that put us on this earth.
To quote Peter Grey once again.
“Our elders have failed us, they have not provided leadership, they have not provided counsel, they have been silent and compliant in the face of power.”PETER GREY – REWILDING WITCHCRAFT
Those elders that did speak, here in the UK at least did not reinforce the myths of our civilisation, but instead they said “Herd immunity”.
Daniel Baryon @apeirophobic recently wrote that:
What we are experiencing right now is the temporary death of the propaganda of consistency. What terror was once hidden (… ) now lies uncovered; a slavering, smiling systemic demon.
The representatives of the machine, in frustration, cannot help but reveal that they would sacrifice our lives, without hesitation, as tribute to their Moloch.
Curses // Spells
I’ve had a surprising number of messages from friends, family and clients asking for advice over the last few weeks. People I’ve worked for with suddenly nothing to trade. Everyones broke, companies’ revenue pipelines have collapsed, and friends have been made redundant. Others have laid shivering in the dark dreaming of demons.
A friend said to me the other day “the deeper into this year we get, the more I see why, may you live in interesting times is the worst of modern curses.”
These interesting times (as we have seen), only become a curse once someone has explained it so. Curses vary in intensity and form. We each deal with it in our own way. Curses are not a punishment for sins. They do not balance any books. They are frames of reference. Of influence. A way of processing forces beyond one’s control.
There is a feeling (I think) that all the crises’ currently unfolding around us are “chickens coming home to roost” A feeling I sense that is widespread. Capitalism, Environmental Collapse, Neoliberalism, the utter lack of any self reflection after the last Financial Crisis.
An elite only interested in stasis and a media environment so invested in illiquid history they did not recognise a skirmish lost. The Iraq war protests, climate camp and the financial crisis, a lost battle along the road that brought us here.
In the last decade the consumption of news has largely been irrelevant to the forces that really matter. At its best, it was entertaining or enraging, at worst irrelevant. Suddenly the media is required to challenge power and inform the public. They failed and are still struggling with both. Trying to switch sides in a battle they didn’t realise they were in.
As I have mentioned ‘Chickens coming home to roost’ is not about the sins of the individual or a society coming back to bite or haunt the individual. It is a phrase about understanding forces beyond one’s control.
Curses are like “a bird that returns again to his own nest” , wrote Chaucer in The Parson’s Tale (~1390).
Curses returning to the nest should not be seen as blowback. There is no Three-fold Law or Law of Return. Only forces that keep influencing a person as they fail to take flight. The nest is a place of safety. Not a place of haunting.
I think deep down, people know that the chickens coming home is actually about curses and not about deeds. Pestilence has always been one of the original curses upon ‘the people’.
Curses work in a narrative universe. But so do spells.
2012 – The Run Out
When a landslide occurs. The severity of the event is measured by the distance of its ‘run out’. IE The distance and depth that the landslide travels.
The snow, mud or rubble follows the topology of the landscape. Following the route of least resistance landslides plough down the slope.
The global banking landslide that was the 2008 financial crash never actually came to rest. Its run out headed into civil society, culture, politics, and other parts of the economy manifesting as zero hours contracts and austerity and extreme edge continues to creep along. The events of 9/11 were nearly 20 years ago but its effects also continue to run out. Surveillance structures and Snowden.
Globally, with Covid-19 the mud is still only just beginning to pour from the top of the mountain. How long and deep the run out will be is anyone’s guess.
Lego Grad Student went viral last week with the following tweet.
If 20 formative years of your life involve a major terrorist attack, two recessions, exorbitantly expensive and unnecessary wars, tangibly worsening inequality, climate emergencies, and incompetence during a global pandemic, it might make you think things aren’t good.
The topology of the landscape that Covid-19 has begun to run into is a grand valley with very few obstacles. Already a graveyard with rising waters at the mouth of the river . A denuded ecological landscape that this event is ploughing into and over.
The effects of Corvid-19 have only begun. This run out doesn’t end when we all re-emerge blinking in the early summer sunlight, the ground will continue to shift under our feet, soft and prone to collapse.
It will be years even decades until the earth has settled. Our descendants will live with the final effects of the current situation. The world might be a very different place and the maps will need to be redrawn.
I use the landslide as a metaphor for two reasons:
1. The long run out is a term with a lot of utility when thinking about events like these.
2. Exponential laws are used in the study of them – as in epidemiology.
A lot has been written about the exponential nature of pandemics. I won’t repeat them here. However, it is important to understand the nature and ‘feeling’ of an exponential Event.
Writing in Nautilus magazine Aubrey Clayton wrote the following:
Nearly everything that has happened in the COVID-19 crisis has happened in the last week. But everything is happening faster every day—so guess what? A week from now, the same will be true: Nearly everything that has happened will have happened in the last week. Everything will accelerate, and we’ll struggle to adapt. If we continue reacting too late, as we have, it will only slow down when the virus starts to run out of new people to infect.Aubrey Clayton – To Beat COVID-19, Think Like a Fighter Pilot
The feeling of speed is one that we are all experiencing, and have been experiencing for a long time. Whilst it is dangerous to directly link or blame the outbreak on global capitalism I have some sympathy with the point of view – They both elicit the same feeling.
Our friend Lenin of course was entirely correct when he said
There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.LENIN – (citation needed)
There is of course a strain of ontology, or philosophy that has been talking about the nature of this condition for a while. Accelerationism.
Accelerationism isn’t a political project per-say, but more of a philosophical exploration of the condition we are all experiencing. It was born from the polis, not the ivory towers of academia. Matt (@Xenogothic) wrote on his blog last week:
There’s no such thing as “being an accelerationist” because there’s nothing I can do to impact the process of acceleration. It is something that is happening to us already (and has been for centuries) rather than something I can do. It’s naive to think any of us have our foot on the throttle of global capitalism. In that sense, “accelerationism” is a bad name.MATT COLQUHOuN – YOU ARE NOT AN ACCELERATIONIST
He goes on to quote someone else that Accelerology might be a better term.
Responding to the same essay, Paul Graham Raven noted:
I’m tempted to see accelerationism as Colquhoun sees it — which, I concede, may not be a universal conception of that term — as being a condition rather than a creed, in the same sense that postmodernity was a condition rather than a creed; in both cases, the conditionality may suggest certain stances in response, but that’s a very different thing to waving a flag that says “postmodernity, yay!”
(I wonder, then, if accelerationism might be the term to replace the awkward placeholder terms of “post-postmodernity”, “altermodernity” etc. Given Colquhoun’s closeness to the thought of Mark Fisher, it might also be seen as the dialectical successor to capitalist realism… which, one might argue, is what the coronavirus pandemic is currently killing off.)
What it is not, is a term synonymous with ethnonationalism. Or the idea that violence should be used to push Western countries into becoming failed states. It’s appearance in the long rambling manifestos of the far right I believe is an acknowledgement of the experience of the condition or sensation.
So today From my isolated cave in south west london I can feel the landslide, peering over the cliff at the old world that is falling away. Trying to project and see where tits long run out will flow.
At some point we will all need to precariously pick our way down the slopes. As we encounter more fellow travellers with whom we’ll need to decide which route we intend to go.
Our Friend Lenin
6 Weeks into this pandemic it is clear that won’t be over for a long time. All the current talk of The Vaccine is at this point a media McGuffin. One assuring us that we can beat back the wild adversary.
We were for a time told “three more weeks of lockdown”. This of course masked the reality.
Understating the likely “18 months of extraordinary measures”.
Our political opposition here in the UK were calling for an Exit strategy as the deaths were still mounting. A naive and short sighted position. Doing no one any favours, with many flaws.
It is a line of thinking, or a demand that implies returning to business as usual — and thinking that we could be back to normal any time soon just … deluded. As a society we will be caught in the rhythm of the hammers and the dances well into the future. Put your left foot in, take the right foot out. The question we must ask is, where exactly do we shake it all about?
I think our elders know that reopening the economy won’t save it. It can’t be saved. It’s not the economy that they even want to save. It’s an act that will save capitalism. The awesome redistribution of resources has shown us that things could be a different way. To reopen is to simulate normality.
But things just aren’t going back to normal.
We are all inside, In the liminal. The threshold that is our doors are both physical and metaphysical. Once that marks the boundary between two phases. There was a before, and now there is an after.
I lost a load of followers right at the beginning of all this when I tweeted ‘All the most interesting periods in history begin with a good pandemic’ I deleted it because I was getting shit for it. But I didn’t mean it in a flippant sence, I was serious.
To repeat myself from Episode 20-10:
“The Plague of Athens during the second year of the Peloponnesian War literally created philosophy. The people of ancient Greece experienced a crisis of meaning very similar to the one we are living through today and they began to think their way out of the void. “Jay Springett – Living In A Time Of History
The plague of Athens revealed to the people of the ancient world the old ways were no longer viable. Old narratives were no longer true. There was a widespread feeling that the Gods had abandoned them. In a time of war too. We too are stuck in endless wars. Against terror, Drugs, Want. They are all war of story. The culture war is by and large a war about who gets to tell and shape the stories that get to call themselves a war. For example: we are not in a war against this virus, it is not a mugger or a curse we must endure. It is a rescue mission. The imagery is misplaced and should be rejected for another form of story.
The reconstruction of the Byzantine empire began after the Plague of Justinian, Afterwards he enacted reforms to increase accountability and reduce corruption. Their result was to lay the starting conditions for a 1000 years of future history. Where can we find the signs of these foundations today? In the UK we recently rejected the idea of not bailing out companies that avoid tax and pay dividends. The Bank of England is buying McDonalds debt without asking for influence over their day to day. Extra-ordinary times.
I think the stories we tell ourselves about our recent history largely focus upon the wrong things too. We value re-telling ourselves the trauma of short wars over the everyday trumas of humanity.
The entirety of 20th century history is shaped by the pandemics of the 19th. These are of course largely glossed over amid the historical in and outs of the first and second world wars. The heave and swell of forces that act in and upon the world are set aside to place humanity at its centre.
Whilst of course the opium wars and the famines in India are well known. “Third Plague Pandemic” is less so. Which led to more than 12 million deaths in India and China, with about 10 million killed in India alone. It began in 1855 and the WHO estimates that it ended around 1960.
You can read about the British Colonial Administration’s response to the Pandemic on wikipedia. If you do, let me know if you think it reminds you of anything.
There are many things I could talk/write about.
History is important, but the short version is that there is nothing new about our current situation except the page number and the chapter of the story that we find ourselves in.
The future of course will be like the past, only more so.
We are where we are (starting from)
The reason I brought up historical plagues is that Pandemics always rewrite the rulebook and change the landscape. Events such as these cast long shadows and shape our future stories.
Countries around the world have already thrown away the supposed rulebook. Cash payments directly to citizens, huge injections of cash into the ‘real’ economy. The ECB has demanded tight fiscal rules but now they affect Germany that’s going out the window. Even the jupitarian technocrat Macron acknowledges that it’s the states responsibility to step up swiftly when needed and put its citizens first.
All this won’t be enough.
Things are being poorly handled in the US and UK because the Austrian school has so many tap roots dug deep into the cores of our institutions. For all the Right wing yelling about the Frankfurt School’s influence in the academy, we now see that the capture of the political and economic class by neoliberalism and its modern interpretations of the Austrian school has been a disaster.
I don’t need to talk at length about the effect austerity has had on our resilience. The lack of action following Exercise Cygnus in 2016 is just one of many ongoing scandals. Brexit consumed the state, and inshallah we have more of that to come.
To talk of any kind of exit is infact to talk about an exit from our current narratives. To do so we should look towards one of its main storytellers. Thatcher. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the quote “there’s no such thing as society“. But let’s put that quote back into context:
“They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours.”Margaret Thatcher – Interview for Woman’s Own (“no such thing as society”) 1987
At its root, the Austrian school that captured our institutions believed that there are interdependent social systems and institutions that bring a sense of order to human affairs. Society is the sum total of all these systems. Including common law, Our practice of ritual and customs handed down through the generations. It believes that this evolving order allows individuals to give expression to their personal choices; and, by those choices, systems and institutions are shaped through continuous adaptation.
This view of society of course itself was still new at the time of the creation of their philosophical framework. Society as it is viewed through this lens, only emerged though the industrialisation of the 19th Century.
Due to the effects of 40 years of neoliberalism many of the interdependent social systems that early members of the Austrian school observed in the world around them have fallen away. Dissolved.
Curtis Yarvin. technologist and extremely controversial blogger who literally coined the ‘Red Pill’ metaphor amongst the online right, recently diagnosed something similar in his long read ‘Plan A For The Coronavirus’
The terrible truth the virus has revealed is that the US and UK — as opposed to post-Communist Asia and post-Napoleonic Europe — are not even countries. They are free-trade zones. Our governments are not governments. They are bureaucratic anarchies with ceremonial elected monarchs. Pitting them against this ruthlessly objective virus is sending Don Quixote to Vietnam.
The Austrian schools successors Blair, Cameron, Obama etc shrugged at the situation they had inherited and didn’t care, the next quarterly growth reports and stock market numbers were due in at any moment.
The interdependent social systems that have made up our society for centuries have been hollowed out. Many of these groups were also dues paying. To pick names off the top of my head from the post war period : Rotary club, Round table, WI, Working Mens Clubs, Amature dramatic socieites, parish church groups. All are struggling for membership in 2020.
However, as we’ll discuss in part 2. There are already signs of change, the rapid formation of mutual aid groups in the early days of the crisis here in the UK are already inteched in the daily lives of 100,000’s of thousands of people. Even by the Austrian Schools own terms, these are newly formed interdependent social systems based on solidarity.
After any pandemic, the evolving order that the people ‘who would run the world’ call society will have adapted and reformed without their supervision. And they are scared.
Populations of many countries have seen in the last week just how quickly the awesome power of the state (let’s be clear it is awesome power. Daunting. given to it by the people). An entity that can reorder society if it so wishes.
Reality can be reshaped in a week, a day, or as we’ve seen hour by hour. Our institutions have always just lacked the will. Alongside the lockdowns and the remarkable financial measures being instituted. The magic money tree is a perennial arboreal metaphor that is planted in the UK with regularity. The problem our media and political class see with money trees is that it will change the view from their gilded towers. Of course the roots of any money tree can be used to attempt to bind the soil and maintain its stability.
It is illustrative that the first money trees were planted to bind the markets before more were planted again to bind the people. They will continue to be planted for a short time to maintain legitimacy. But the whole mountain is sliding into the valley. Perhaps some strong trees will weather the tumult but many will be swept away by the wave of destruction.
High Street chains that colonised our highstreats in the 80’s and 90’s are collapsing. Even Cath Kidston cannot Keep Calm and Carry On. Other well known brands are rent striking. I say well known brands rather than well loved. Who will shed tears over the Arcadia Group or Debenhams? I care for its employee’s and fear for many shop stewards’ futures. But we’ll come back to fashion.
During and the run out the new soil will not be fertile topsoil. Governments will not continue to plant large money trees but will try to sow a cover crop of fast grasses and ruderal species. A mix of seeds that attempt to trick people into rebuilding the world exactly as it was before everything fell down the mountain. This can’t be allowed to happen.
As we shall see. We need to have our own sacks of cover crop ready to sow. It is up to us to save and store this seed, and sprout some seedlings now. Not later.
Seeds are not just a metaphor here. I also mean literal seeds. The politics of seeds and crops is one fraught with colonialism and arrogance of power. Rowen White, Seed Keeper from the Mohawk community says that seeds carry much more than the blueprint of the plant that they can become. Encoded in seeds are ceremonies, the songs, and stories and lineages, and migration stories of the people who harvested and sowed them before us.
There are many of course who prefer to forget or ignore the stories of the seeds that make up the cover crop of reality. I’m not ashamed to admit that I have Tory acquaintances. They too have begun to express outrage. That the cruel callous government they voted for is now doing nothing to help them – personally. Some of this comes from the weak self-employment bailout. Some of it came from the empty supermarkets. Some of it disbelief at the handling of the whole situation in general. Londoners previously untouched by run out of austerity are finally experiencing the ground beginning to shift below their feet. There is the observation that the rates of mortality we have been seeing could have been and should have been much lower. These figures have nothing to do with the virus itself, but rather the systems in place to deal with such an eventuality.
I believe that encrusted scales will continue to fall from peoples eyes as the landslip becomes a landslide. I wonder what folks will make of Brexit as this current crisis continues to unfold regardless of previous political affiliation.
In the UK, the government and media’s response to the current crisis has been led by the public. It turns out that the hipster analysts were correct and the science we were led by wasn’t really science at all. It was a position bound by the limits of political opinion.
Boris’ Churchillian is routine wearing thin. Shaking hands with everyone all the way into the ICU no doubt. The problem of the media class being so close to power and the administration that became so evident during the election last year is even more exacerbated in this time of crisis. There is a revolving door, you don’t even need to squint to see it.
My local council is sending out more useful and practicable information. Yet I would never have known this or been informed if I hadn’t made an effort at the beginning of this year to be more informed about local politics. I doubt my neighbours are aware of the daily updates going out.
I hope that this event will solidify the message that the market does not, or should not have primacy over people. The state has enormous powers that can be used usefully and subtly. Going forward anyone who is worried about the impact of 0.2% of GDP growth for ecological restoration and climate change measures or even housing the homeless can absolutely go – do one.
We should not accept any attempt to return to business as usual after this event. The other day the price of oil went negative. CLO’s are also being downgraded, pension funds, neoliberal further education, and other core institutional elements of the global and local financial economy are creaking at the seams. The runout may have only just begun to pick up steam.
So many things once thought permanent now look precarious, even dangerous. Airlines, the oil industry, cars, and parts of the electronics industry. The landslip has swept industries from their feet and they had nothing to hold on to.
Many of them are complex financial instruments as much as they are elements of industry providing any real value. Over the past five years, American Airlines spent $11.9 billion on stock buybacks and paid out over $1 billion of dividends. As we speak Virgin Australian planes are impounded on the runway in Perth. Solid yellow JCBs demanding it pay its debts reaching $6.8 billion dollars.
On April 3rd the CEO of Wizz Air said that “Most European airlines have badly mismanaged their liquidity. Now they’re all begging for state support.”
By April 21, Wizz Air had announced they were taking a £300 million bailout from the UK govt, despite holding £1.5 billion in reserves.
The global meat industry after cutting down our forests and jungles is now euthanising its cattle. Tourism, freight, transport, wholesale goods, construction and agriculture. All wrapped up in the global landslip.
You become a financialised industry when you believe yourself immortal. Just as states become economies, titans become casinos.
Yet some still prefer stasis and denial. Ryanair said it won’t fly if they have to introduce wider spacing with its seats. Heaven forbid that the health and comfort of the public be protected and improved. BA and Easyjet are just not refunding anyone. Instead offering theoretical vouchers for theoretical travel.
In the greek myths the titans came first, masters of the globe. Like many of the industries in trouble in this moment they once believed themselves indispensable and eternal.
But then the news Gods came and banished the Titans to Tartarus forever. How do we in 2020 begin to undermine and overwhelm these figures? Let us zoom in.
Treasures On Earth
We’ve been inside for some time. No one I know has bought any new clothes. Obviously people still are though, but I wonder if everyone who has actually needed them? Does the impulse to consume impressed upon us by nearly a century of advertising do anything to validate one’s sense of self in the middle of a pandemic? I’m not sure, perhaps there is a hangover. Shop online to alleviate boredom.
The Asos warehouse has been called a ‘Cradle of disease‘. Yet another industry built on chains of human misery and environmental destruction.
I will not shed any tears for the collapse of fast fashion, the industry, or any of its owners, or even its loss on the high street. Solidarity with its workers though, wash your hands, join a union, fight together for a better world.
I was 14 when Naomi Klein’s No Logo came out. All my older friends in the hardcore punk scene were instantly jazzed about it. I didn’t actually end up reading it until much later. At some point during university. By then we were already in a different world. WTO protests against globalism quieted by the war on terror.
The title was alone enough for me at the time. It told me everything teenaged me needed to know. At once an instruction and a command. As a difficult teenager I refused to wear anything with a logo – much to my mother’s chagrin. Trawling round shops trying to find blank hoodies, coats and jumpers. Knock of two stripe sports jackets from the market or Matalan. The same jackets that I only recently replaced after over 15 years with some much quality vintage Adidas ones. One of them that I parted with had a paperclip for a zip and the pockets were more holy than The Scala Sancta.
When asked by her colleagues about me recently, my girlfriend said “well .. he does wear his dead grandparents clothes”. I think that’s one of the only things they need to know about me. In many respects that’s all you need to know.
I fear that I may be falling into a familiar rant. But anyways. We must continue.
It is clear that fast fashion is and should be over. Low-priced clothing of Mediocre quality, sold rapidly by mass-market retailers that follow the latest manufactured trends. The whole idea of it is bananas.
(In 2015) ‘the fashion industry consumed nearly 80 billion cubic meters of fresh water, emitted over a million tonnes of CO2 and produced 92 million tonnes of waste’.Copenhagen Fashion Summit: How NOT to make the fashion industry more sustainable
It uses about the same amount of freshwater as Mexico. This is just completely unacceptable.
I sometimes walk around shops with people tutting at things with unfinished seams, loose threads etc. All there hanging on the rack. This is not to besmirch the people that made them of course. I’m sure they would like to have finished them too. But the fastness of the fashion doesn’t care. It wants to sell something that should be 50 quid if everyone was paid equitably and treated fairly including the environment. But instead fast fashion wants to sell it for 5 pounds.
Even pre pandemic the tide of bullshit was beginning to turn, highstreet brands everywhere were looking shaky. The brands that seem still confident (to me) seem to be those of higher quality and have slower turnover of styles. Our friend Saint Kondo has also contributed bigly to this changing view. The piles of clothes on one’s bed is one of the images of our times.
It is truly wild that our grandparents and great grandparents wore clothes that were of much much higher quality than the ones we wear today. True they didn’t own nearly as many items, and Sunday best was / is a literal thing. They were expensive and so they should be, but they were also made by someone down the road or someone from your church.
As the run out continues we need to collectively decide what are the things that need saving. Zara has flagged a 24.1 percent decrease in sales in the first two weeks of March; H&M says it saw a 46 percent drop the same month. There’s other Panicked retailers like C&A, Gap, Primark, Topshop, and Debenhams. And whilst it’s not anything to do with fashion, Unilever is crying over the fact the people have abandoned deodorant.
I say Fuck ’em.
We should all demand more from the items we bring into our lives. Demand more of the titans that influence our lives. When the shops do finally re-open. Just don’t go. Don’t buy anything. Fuck fast fashion. Offer them no lifelines. Let the entire industry fall away down the mountain and let us only salvage the things of quality and longevity.
Everything you own is already fine. As this period has shown there are more important things in life than trying to make yourself feel better by buying a new top, or a new pair of trainers. Learn to sew, fix and mend.
End of the Anthropocene
I hate the psyop Anthropocene.
The sheer peak arrogance of it. The period we tell ourselves in which ‘human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment’. That it was originally suggested by geologists to denote the visibility of humanities impact in the geological record has already been surpassed and forgotten.
The arts and cultural industries took this word up as a banner. Marched it forward believing that they were doing their bit for the environment. Institutions pretended their city slicker bougie concerns were relevant. Rather than actually making anything happen – at all.
Instead that period last decade became a parade of horrors in art galleries, museums and undergraduate essays. “Look what we’ve done, they said”. In an attempt to somehow shame others into perceiving the problem. But during many of the events I watched and attended last decade, to my ears I did not detect any shame. Instead there was some kind of human pride, look what ever done to the world. We’ve named this new historical era after ourselves!
I’m sorry if I’m offending some of you friends. But in general I genuinely believe the period that I’m referring to is a dark one for the arts and cultural complex. We might as well have all just queued up for more quaint sightseeing tours and boarded the anthropo-scenic railway and sung its a small world after all.
It’s not to say that the art and work produced was bad, some of it was very very good. Vital even. But much of it for me fell flat. I had already grieved for the world. The glamour of the Anthropocene also denied a history of humanity. We burnt so much effort in discussing this new human epoch. That we collectively ignored and failed to offer thanks to our ancestors that lived through the real human epoch. The Holocene.
A short era in anyone’s estimation against the grand drama of humanities total history. All of what we call quote un quote civilisation has happened during the Holocene. All the preceding history that led to our current moment and set of crisis. Our ancestors lived through it all. They dealt with plagues, coughs, fevers, famines, droughts, floods, wildfires and more. All of it is just 10,000 years long. 350 generations. And right at the very beginning of that chain stands Gobekli Tepe. As Gordon White says in the book star.ships
Before we knew how to farm, before we lived in villages, before we even knew how to make pots.Gordon White – Star.Ships: A Prehistory of the Spirits
We built a star temple on a hill
A temple built in the middle of a landscape that would have been as much of a nowhere than as it is today. They brewed beer, it might even have been hallucinogenic, without doubt they would have dance, cried, and sang, loved, laughed and lost loved ones. And 30,000 years even before that, 40,000 years before today a world completely different from our own, people were laughing, chatting and dancing whilst carving sculptures like The Lion Man.
The experience of being human is just the same today as it was back then. The entire period of time since we reached collectively what anthropologists glibly call cultural modernity.
The anthropocene is an arrogant word. It is almost as arrogant as the word Nature. I have, I hope you will note, being careful with my language so far, the only time I’ve used it was in relation to Gaia, the great mother.
When you interrogate the word nature, it disintegrates like a moth’s wing under any kind of inspection. The process of its dissolution highlights so many of the problems we have when trying to talk about the world around us. The pandemic like a flood or a fire is an important reminder that humanity is not apart from the world, we are deeply embedded in it. There are even some species that require the way humans disturb the landscape to reproduce.
When did nature start? Or more excitingly when does it end? What is natural? All these questions are bound up in confidence of empire and western empirical science. Endless rows of bugs under glass labeled with names written in a dead language all pinned to a wall. Collected, classified and categorised.
David George Haskell wrote in The Forest Unseen
We live in the empiricist’s nightmare: there is a reality far beyond our perception. Our senses have failed us for millennia. Only when we mastered glass and were able to produce clear, polished lenses were we able to gaze through a microscope and finally realize the enormity of our former ignorance.David George Haskell – The Forest Unseen. A YEAR’S WATCH IN NATURE
We are still so ignorant today, Saint Ingram only uncovered how the soil food web worked in 1999, and Monica Gagliano is currently upending everything we know about cognition, and memory in plants. Doing so with the plants not as subjects but partners.
We lack clear and precise language to describe the world around us.
The term native species is just as racist as mustachioed men in imperial uniforms sipping tea and discussing “The Natives”.
Invasie, exotic, endemic, naturalised.
One of the greatest projects our society needs to embark on here in the west is to shed our language and our thinking of these terms. We don’t and shouldn’t ever use them when we talk about people, and we shouldn’t use them when we talk about plants either.
Decolonisation is one of the most important projects of our generation. The decolonisation of science doubly so. Why do we say that ‘only plants and trees that were here in this area when some white dude saw them and wrote it down 200 years ago’ are what is natural in this place at this time. Our ancestors and perhaps even Neanderthals filled Europe with hazel. Polynesian seafarers brought at least 23 different types of plants and trees with them to Hawaii. As partners in their endeavour. Not just plants, but people. The question you must ask yourself is whether the plants have agency in this too. What exactly is it about lawn grass that convinced humans to cultivate it across vast areas of the earth?
I could continue to look in amongst the shifted topsoil of the landslip to find the mushrooms and mycelia. But that is a discussion for another time.
Covid-19 has been an important reminder to us all, I think. That we are not the masters of this earth. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that it has ever been any other way. We need to urgently change our language and our thinking. There is no war against the virus. It is no enemy, it just… is.
The capitol T Truth is that we are both of the world and inside the world. Active participants in its creation, yes, partner to some and antagonist to others, but we are all at the mercy of the Wild Adversary.
This Is It
This is it.
Back in 2015 Saint Atwood wrote a long read on medium called ‘It’s not climate change, it’s everything change” and said the following:
Like every other species on the planet, we’re conservative: we don’t change our ways unless necessity forces us. The early lungfish didn’t develop lungs because it wanted to be a land animal, but because it wanted to remain a fish even as the dry season drew down the water around it.Margaret E. Atwood – it’s not climate change, it’s everything change
Perhaps now, during the first major pandemic of the 21C we can break out of some of our conservatism. It is a crisis that should bookend the long emergency that began with the pandemics of the 19th.
Role the worlds around in your head, say them out loud if you have to. Try them out, see how they feel in the mouth. How do they make you feel?
Abracadabra. “I create as I speak”
This is it.
All that we have known to be solid and stable has slipped away below our feet. The time ghost is at the door. Like the ancient Greeks of Athens the great green goddess of mother earth has seemingly abandoned us. If we stray too far from the campfire we might meet Rona.
The run out has begun.
One of my most read blog posts last year I tried to summarise what the most important thinkers (to me) seem to have in common. I wrote the following:
You do not know what the fuck is going on.
Your job is to be absolutely certain that you have no idea what the fuck is going on.
And from that raw chaos, that raw uncertainty.. as a default state of being.
Learn how to feel.
How to move forward and act in the world.
Witness, Comprehend, Inhabit
This whole piece has been an attempt to articulate the above. Perhaps I should have just said it right at the beginning. We have absolutely no idea at all what is going to happen. Clouded the future is. The only thing that we can be certain of, is that there is no certainty at all.
Let us return for a moment to the other metaphor. The state planting trees to bind the soil on the slopes. What kinds of things have they planted beyond the paltry crumbs thrown at the table of human welfare so far?
The massive bailouts, into an economy that they can’t even be sure that can be saved. Negative oil prices. Alarming and swift push for total bio surveillance, a crackdown on civil liberties and our freedoms of assembly. Microsoft has a Patent application for a cryptocurrency system tied to human implantable chips. And google and apple are building the tracking system to save us from ourselves. Palantir of course is already on the job.
And the always grinning giant Amazon is making 11,000 dollars a second. An institution that some people estimate powers up to 50% of the entire internet. A technology along with the retailer that powers it that have shown themselves to be public utilities.
Today as I write this script the UN released a report concerned at the authoritarian responses, surveillance, closed borders and other rights abuses that are taking place under the fog of the so called viral war. A health crisis that is fast becoming one of human rights too.
We face Infinite Quantitative Easing. Years of rolling lockdowns. And the surveillance industry either moving in or merely just dropping its disguise.
This time, is being used by those with well laid plans to put them into action. I don’t think it’s conspiracy to say that this interregnum is an effective vector for them to advance a specific set of plays.
And yet there’s more,
As we sit in concrete caves: there’s a ‘Megadrought’ emerging in the western US that might be worse than any in 1,200 years. The ongoing and alarming plague of locusts in East Africa. A disaster so serious that it is being prioritized over efforts to prepare for the virus.
Because locusts like us prefer carbohydrates. There’s also been serious crop failures in India, China and Middle America. And the impact of the many devastating recent wildfires across the globe is only just coming to light. Kelp forests, coral reefs, and deep sea food chains are all collapsing.
This is not a drill.
What we could be facing this year. Around the world is a famine that the World Food Programme has described as biblical proportions. They estimate that 36 countries are facing unimaginable horror. Ten of those 36 countries already have more than 1 million people on the verge of starvation in addition to the 135 million people already facing crisis levels of hunger. 2020 when counted amongst the 821 million people already chronically hungry, could be the year when we see more than 1 billion people pushed into dire situations.
That’s 1 in seven people.
With memories fresh of empty shelves in supermarkets, perhaps we are now all a little more aware of the fragility of our food supply systems. Built on global supply chains and just in time fulfillment. It is only now a small short jump from countries hoarding their own PPE and medical supplies to hoarding food. The Eurasian Economic Union just banned Staple Food Exports Until 30 June. And the largest US meat company just warned that the food supply chain is breaking down. With slaughterhouses and processing plants forced to shut there are too many animals waiting to be fed into a global machine that has stopped grinding.
The global system of interconnected supply chains that was slowly built around us in the name of consumer choice cannot operate in a world of balkanisation and hard national borders. Things need to be re-thought. Urgently.
There are already bread tailbacks at food banks in the US. In the UK, 1 in 14 people have used a food bank at some point since the financial crisis. Last year The Trussell Trust found that 94% of its users were ‘facing real destitution,’ unable to buy essentials to stay warm, dry, clean and fed.
We too here in the west could be looking at the year where we leave our homes and find the supermarket just as empty as they have been recently. A great deal of alarm has already been raised around Uk food security. Speaking of hard national borders. Much of it flagged and surfaced by Brexit planning but ignored. Just like our preparedness for a pandemic. Combining the two we are falling short by 80,000 agricultural workers.
Brexit now seems like a quaint storm in a tea cup compared to what we could all be facing. But it is not quaint and it is not fear mongering to say that we could be facing some very severe issues.
So what, to quote our friend Vlad once again – What Is to be done?
Well well well, that was nearly 40 hours of work to make. I hope you liked it or at least found some of it interesting anyway. It feels good to put some of the cards you’ve been holding in the burn pile.
I would also like to thank Gordon White for his friendship and support over the years. The rescue mission, the salvage mission, the campfires edge, star temples on hills in deep time. Many ideas and influences on my work and in this essay stem from him. If you are hearing this thank you to Gordon White then it is because you are listening to a re-uploaded version of this essay. In the original version I used and referenced his ideas without credit and without thanks.
That was unacceptable behavior on my part.
One of my most long held and firm beliefs is that in order to foster mutual flourishing with benefits to all who participate in a community of thought or action: one must give judicious and generous credit wherever possible. I deeply regret my error in judgement and wish to apologise to him directly here.
“I recognise my failing and will be sure to correct it” is a sentence that should be said from the heart and then acted upon. This is part of my action. It would be an understatement to say that his work and thought has been a huge influence on my life and so to our friendship.
This familiarity however is no excuse to become blind or uncaring towards one’s influences. Sometimes lessons learned can come with great costs. One must be as quick to act on those learnings as possible. This is a lesson that I will not need to be taught a second time.
It won’t ever happen again.
Thank you Gordon.
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