Crises are amazing times for evolution, in fact it generally takes crisis to get evolution happening! If everything is sailing smoothly, why change right?
For a lot of people in Australia it has been a gruelling summer, heavily impacted by widespread fire – which will have ongoing effects lasting many years if not decades and generations. And now? The entire world is faced with a new way of thinking about how we go about life because our systems are not built to cope with an emerging, highly contagious disease.
This statement – about crisis and evolution – of course assumes we have the privilege to upfuck our lives and do something different without dying of it. A lot of people are left behind, being unable to escape to their splendid isolation in a lavish home office and orders of whateveritisyoufeellike online. Personally, we’re basically unaffected socially – having already been nomadic, isolated, and working plus schooling from home in a remote rural town for a while now. So despite financial hardship, we’re relatively OK.
From this point of privilege, it is easy to gloat or rant about how awesome we are and you all should be doing the same. Lord (whichever one you choose) knows I’ve tried – with a growing pile of draft posts over the summer, all of which are egotistical shit. Maybe they’ll be released as the fuckwit files later…
It is also easy to cast the events of late 2019 and early 2020 as ‘black swans’ – events that could never have been predicted. This is patently not true – even Nassim Talib the black swan guy thinks so. ‘Normal’ – the fragile system which ignores its dependencies, hijacking the planet more or less in order to feed even more fragile egos, is the very thing which precipitated our current situation!
Brittle systems focussed on extraction and materialist consumption have been a hot topic my entire adult life. We forget about the needs of humans and other planetary companions if we’re focused on reducing risk and funneling extractive profits to ever smaller numbers of people. We’re getting to see first hand how brittle systems fail – perhaps we needed to!
It is increasingly clear, and increasingly discussed across the globe, that ‘normal’ was the problem – we can’t go back to that.
With conservative politicians, economists and commentators already talking up a ‘snap back’ to the normal which allows catastrophic fires and pandemics to wreak havoc on our natural world and exacerbate inequalities, we need to raise the volume about something else. We need to snap forward, to something else…
Arundhati Roy talks about pandemics as portals in this fantastic essay which you all should read. We can choose how we travel through it – dragging through our heavy baggage; or casting our baggage off and treading lightly into a new way of being. If you’ve been reading anything else on this website, you’ll instantly know which way we’d prefer to go. We want to go lightly, for our planets’ sake and for our own.
Evolution is hard. Every change feels abrupt, like the old whatever you were is shattered and you’re all of a sudden in a new skin that isn’t familiar anymore. The old, comfortable us is hard to resist. We can end up wallowing in the past a long time before we become able to tear fully away from it.
Even if that evolution has been coming for a while, there’s always a point at which a step over the precipice has to take place. This is the snap forward. To draw from skiing, the ‘drop in’ to a difficult line with no exits. That point where you’re now fully committed to your endeavour and now need to ride it out come what may.
Snap forward… to what?
Sometimes, snapping forward looks like going backward. This is because we look to the collective experience of humans for hundreds of thousands of years in order to draw on what has worked, and what hasn’t. It turns out that history tells us a lot about how extractive, top-heavy societies work out in the long run.
Snapping forward looks different. It looks slower. It looks like it is centred on planetary health, with everything cascading down from there. Australia’s indigenous cultures would say ‘what took you whiteys so long to figure that out? We’ve been trying to tell you for 250 years’. It turns out we euro-originated whiteys made ourselves forget quite some time ago, and then became super fucking arrogant about how awesome we were for cutting our noses off to spite our face. Don’t worry, this story ends well, there’s room for everyone…
And room for us all to change.
Talking about a new normal is really not new at all. My whole adult life has been filled with concepts of a sustainable future from many sources – some modern, many as old as civilisation itself. We’re not facing particularly new problems. However, we are definitely facing a new scale of old problems because we’re starting to hit limits around how much one planet can do for us. We’ve done this before in bits of the world, run out of local space – my generation is the first to grow up knowing we’ve hit the global space limits…
Does this mean we should find new planets? No. It means we need to live differently. We need to evolve.
A friend of mine recently shared with me a decade old vision about slow-forming the world (primarily the United States of America) using technology, reality television, lasers and chickens. It’s a fantastic premise, and brings together a lot of ideas around integrating technology, old wisdom and a necessary re-imagining of living with our planet. I love it!
I’m not sure that reality tv is the right medium though – from this point of view, reality-reality is dramatic enough!
Documents like the Uluru statement from the heart speak about a vision of reconciling hundreds of thousands of years of wisdom and connection with modern ‘ways’. Movements like Australia Remade are really thinking hard about what a sustainable, inclusive society might look like. The permaculture movement seeks to re-imagine agriculture using modern tools and ancient knowledge. Even childrens books – like Uno’s Garden – speak about a wish to move forward into a more balanced state. Not abandoning technology; but using it to our planet’s advantage (which is, of course, our advantage also).
In some ways we’ve seen this. Cities are using this time to make life more human friendly. We’re thinking harder about the things we actually need. We’ve been shown that generations of neoliberal rhetoric about what is, and is not publicly fund-able are wrong. We’ve also seen astounding uses of community-building technology to force governments to think a lot harder about what they’re doing.
…we’ve been shown that we can change, fast. We can snap forward.
…and we need to keep going. For decades now David Suzuki (among many others, he’s just the one that stuck out right now) has spoken about enshrining an environmental right to clean air, clean soil and clean water. These should be the foundational tenets of our new normal – everywhere on the planet. On top of this we need to look at ways to support ourselves. We need to work out how to feed a world without the nitrogen-potassium-carbon mining approach of large scale agribusiness. Permaculture is one path (go watch INHABIT while you can!), regenerative approaches to large scale food production are another.
Driving all of these are fundamental re-writes of how we go about our lives as a society. Re-imagining whats important to us! A businessman who isn’t super popular right now once said something like ‘to look after your business, look after your staff’. This can be recast to a planetary society as:
“to look after your humans, look after your ecosystems and everything that supports them”-loads of people for a really long time now
It isn’t enough to be less bad. A key premise from permaculture is that we need to create a world in which we set out to do good. That our footprints are things we want to leave behind. This is a profound departure from the humanity-as-a-plague view which besets our current vision of how to do better on planet Earth.
What footprints should we leave?
…is the question we should all be asking. Having our ways-of-doing thoroughly shaken, how can we ask this of ourselves again?
Is the answer any different now, to what it was a year ago? And what footprints do I want us to leave? This would be a really long list – so I’ll leave just a few – foundations on which to build everything:
Move more slowly, listen a lot
Unify rather than divide – we are all one planet
Focus on social solutions to social problems
Planetary health comes first – our own health depends on it!
Social equity is everything. When we’re not all subsistence living, we can do amazing things!
Work on the ‘why’ of systems.. why is school like school? why is work like work? What could they be like?
Our political and social structures should stream down from a bunch of questions like these…
Unlike many commentators, I don’t think the current COVID19 panedemic is a once-in-a-generation opportunity that we need to rush in order to take advantage of. Yes, it is most definitely a clear signpost! However, we have the opportunity to change every single day. And we should reconsider our ways of being, every single day.
What does it look like to go further than do no harm? what does it look like to do good? We are super clever. We can do this. With ourselves, then our societies, and we can use appropriate technology to help!
Thats the new normal I want. I want my footprints to grow seedlings of regeneration, and hope.
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