On Culture Crisis and Ecocide

On ecocide and ethnocide, climate crisis and the second sight.

On the 27th of April, 2019, at the SNP Spring conference in Edinburgh the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon declared a “climate emergency”. In her speech to the  delegates she said she was inspired after meeting young climate campaigners who had gone on strike from school. Ms Sturgeon said “they are right”, and pledged to “live up to our responsibility” to halt climate change and pledged to speed up efforts to achieve zero carbon emissions. There was, the First Minister informed us, a climate crisis.

Next weekend there will be a conference in London about new forms of mental illness, climate anxieties and depression. Climate crisis, says the blurb, “presents psychotherapy with a complex but urgent challenge: how do we move from dread to resilience, from catastrophe to transformation, from helplessness to action, from fear to hope?”

How indeed? In his essay “Religion In Gaelic Society”, from his selected essays, Dùthchas Nan Gàidheal, John MacInnes makes this important observation,

“Most of what has been written, it seems to me, about the history of the Highlands is governed, often quite subtly, by an ‘imperial’ idea. Nor is this confined to the period in which the Gaels served the British Empire. As we all know there has been some reaction to that kind of historiography. But the reaction is still largely against economic imperialism, much less against cultural imperialism and the erosion of our identity as a distinctive people.”

The First Minister, last Spring and now again in the Autumn, is concerned with the economic imperial, less so, or if at all, with the cultural imperial. In Scotland, if we do not address the cause and effect of the latter we will never come to terms with the former. It could be argued that terms like “climate change” and “climate crisis” themselves are disempowering and a distraction from the realities of 21st century capitalism, which is the actual polluter. By that I mean they divert us from what has been termed “an unfolding ecocide”; the process of environmental wreckage which is the inevitable result of unbridled systems of financialisaton in banking and monetarism in government, promoted by elites on behalf of elites and with a military to protect them.

We now know the names of the 20 fossil fuel companies whose relentless exploitation of the world’s oil, gas and coal reserves can be directly linked to more than one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the modern era. They are the usual dreary roll call of Chevron, Exxon-Mobil, BP and Shell and state-owned companies including Saudi Aramco and Gazprom. We also know the names of the gangster hedge funds who finance this: BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street, which together oversee assets worth more than China’s entire GDP and who have continued to grow mega-dollar stakes in all these carbon extractors to the tune of $300 billion. They have also routinely opposed motions at fossil fuel companies that would have forced directors to take more action on climate change. Thanks to The Guardian and others this much we know.

This is how the ecocide unfolds. This is how we reach a climate crisis.

The cultural crisis is much more nuanced and subliminal in its manifestations. Unlike the climate crisis, which has been scientifically predicted and charted, the development of the cultural crisis requires different approaches and tools. One of the words for “poet” in Gaelic is fili, or “filidh”. According to accepted opinion it is connected with the root of the verb “to see”: the fili was originally a seer.

To return to John MacInnes again, in his essay “The Seer in Gaelic Tradition”, he is ruminating on the origins and functions of the “second sight” in Gaelic tradition; he writes,

“If we allow that an element of creative imagination is an essential component of divination, we might suggest that certain of the functions of the seer in older, traditional society have been taken over by the creative writers of modern society. I am implying then, that the seer is an artist and that the products of his (or her) vision are art-forms (whatever else they may or may not be) shaped by the expectations of society and its aesthetic needs.”

How many contemporary creative writers would welcome the title of seer, or accept that what they produce is “shaped by the expectations of society and its aesthetic needs.”? Very few, I would suggest. The cultural imperial is at work, deeply embedded in the subconscious, subliminally worming its way into the creative process and celebrating the appropriateness of what is produced to its needs. That is its imperial expectation. The aesthetic needs of the Scottish people are a different matter. This is not to say that there are not brilliant writers currently at work in Scotland: there undoubtedly are. But do they recognise their role in the cultural crisis: can they see what is happening?

They may see the ecocide but what of this,

“Seers of the past had a duty to warn of approaching danger; evasive action was possible; fate was not fixed to that degree. A social anthropologist might see this as a reflection of the Gaelic sense of history. For many centuries Gaelic society has been subjected to a process of ethnocide. We once had some command over our destiny; now we have none.”

This passage is also from The Seer in Gaelic Tradition by John MacInnes. So we have a process of ecocide and a process of ethnocide. Again, how many Scottish writer’s would be comfortable discussing our society, its environment and culture in such terms? I would suggest, very few. It could be argued that the state of Scottish literature – poetry and prose – and of such art forms as film and theatre, which co-operate with writers, is in a healthy state and thriving. It could be argued, but it would be far less than the truth if it were. The amount of energy invested in the spin on promoting the disingenuous line of what a “wonderful place” our creative community is in by the government only goes to conceal their real attitude, which is not what they can actually do for the arts but what the arts can do for the government. Unfortunately the artistic community can never – or very rarely – articulate a coherent or a united statement about this “wonderful place”, so are subsequently very easy to spin.

Recently I attended a forum which was to inform and promote how a national broadcaster sought to engage with new writers and how it “developed” them once they were “engaged”. They were keen to show off their system.

When I was learning my trade as a playwright many years ago one of my mentors used to insist that “Content dictates form”. Now it would appear that form dictates content. This is the new “system”. It is a system which eats writers because the system does not care about anything other than the system. The system has no culture and if the writer has culture then that culture will be stripped off them in order to fit the system. And so it goes on, writer after writer, and the “product” gets blander and ever more similar to what preceded it, until it resembles nothing more than melted plastic on a cooker; its only discernible feature is the tag of genre: crime, fantasy or whatever is in this month. This is because there is so much noise in the world of the system no-one listens and this noise has gone on for so long and is so loud that people have forgotten how to listen to the noises of the real world. There is no speech in the system, only babble. The system thrives on babble, it consumes noise. What the system hates is rough shapes, unusual voices and different colours. The tragic flaw in the system is that it is highly insecure, very nervous and perpetually on the brink of collapse. What it depends upon is the unbridled hunger of those who are desperate to be part of the system. This is what makes the system so dangerous and is one of the reasons why we have a culture crisis.

What the system would say to that is, “Look, there is so much happening. Product is getting out there. Audiences lap it up. People are winning awards.” The reality is that people do watch but they do not see. Nothing new is happening because it is planned that way. New is too dangerous. Nothing is produced that has any value and nothing is being released that will last for more than five minutes. If it were not so there would be another system in place, and this is the most destructive thing: the present dominant system of media and cultural control cannot tolerate an alternative system. This is where the near psychotic hunger of those who long to be “produced” and to become part of the system sustains the system. People who long to be part of the system are consumed by the system, they become part of the babble, the white noise of control. They are consumed and disappear. The supply is depressingly endless. This is the nightmare of the imperial process worked out on Scottish culture. The imperial idea needs a system. This system is killing creativity. In such a way are Scottish writers’ managed away from their native, their first audience.

No writer who has gone through this system will be any position “to warn of approaching danger” as John MacInnes highlighted the role of the seer in traditional Highland society. Instead the ethnocide is on-going, eviscerating cultural tradition and any sense of the local. The recent manifestation of this cultural crisis is the much hyped Highway 66 around the north Highlands which is the North Coast 500. This public relations blessing is now being seen for the societal curse it truly is.

The Highland property consultancy Galbraith has signed an exclusive agreement with the franchise that is North Coast 500. The NC500 website attracts a huge global audience and will now show Galbraith properties for sale within the circumference of the route on its interactive map. Galbraith’s Phiddy Robertson said,

“Tourism is very important to this part of Scotland and the NC500 brand has been a fantastic marketing tool bringing the Highlands to a wider global audience. Many buyers have first visited the region on holiday and have subsequently decided to settle permanently in the area or perhaps buy a property which also has the potential to offer a holiday let on site.”

This translates as, “Tourism is a highly corrosive industry which destroys everything it touches, given time. By selling houses through Galbraith’s this means that local people, especially the young and economically active, will have even less chance of having somewhere to live in the place of their birth and will add significantly to the increasing depopulation of the north Highlands and put even more strain on already over-stretched local services such as health and education.”

Even the super-rich hotelier Ken McCulloch (valued as far back as 2006 as being worth £45 million), who delivered the Moffat Lecture at Glasgow Caledonian University last Tuesday, has highlighted the “Outlander effect” on the Highlands. Recently he said he visited a well known beauty spot which has gown extremely popular with visitors doe to the Outlander TV series. “It’s like kilts on ice,” he told the press, “it’s not my idea of why people would want to come to Scotland. It’s a bit like jumping on the bandwagon and doesn’t give a proper view of the country.”

Just what view of the country Mr McCulloch actually sees from his tax haven of Monaco is a moot point. Does his yacht contribute to the ecocide as much as Outlander does to the ethnocide? I wonder what he made of the Queens coach and horses driving a great big hole through the constitution on Monday? How often does the monarch get to deliver the Conservative Party’s election manifesto? Boris Johnson’s Queen’s Speech agenda displayed all the hallmarks of the politics of the lynch mob. This is modern English Conservative culture on display and it is a political crisis for the majority of the English people, never mind a cultural crisis for the Scots. Desperate and weak governments always try to curry favour by stirring up hate, highlighting criminality and increasing punishment and generally trawling the seabed of reaction. Mob orators of the Boris Johnson sort, (even though they get the Queen to ape their lines) do not speak reason, not even if he tries to wash his bile clean by rinsing it through the Queens marbles.

So how do we move from dread to resilience, from catastrophe to transformation, from helplessness to action, from fear to hope, as the London conference on mental health and climate anxieties has asked? For Scotland the move will be undertaken when we make the transition from colony to country, when we begin to seriously undo the ethnocide so that we can tackle in co-operation with others the ecocide. We have to dismantle the imperial idea and take our people from a cultural crisis to a cultural celebration.

Comments (17)

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  1. Craig Devine says:

    As always, tremendous writing George- this is why Bella needs to continue on its mission to promote a diversity of opinion and writing that goes against the grain of the ‘system’- and the recent contributions of Andrew Eaton Lewis, George Kerevan, Stewart Bremner, Mairi McFadyen, & Mike’s own prodigious & searing contributions (among others) that make Bella in a league of its own in terms of Scottish political-cultural sites. Even the recent Michael Gray article concerning the virtues of ‘gradualism’, as it most probably diverged from many readers own views, and possibly even the opinion of Bella’s editors (?), but nevertheless that is the kind of divergent vitality that defines this site in comparison to the homogeneity & autocratic tone of other prominent Scottish independence sites. May the ink continue to richly flow through your pen George.

    1. Aw thanks Craig, kind words.

      Yes we are lucky to have these writers (and many more) on board, and Michael Gray’s analysis isnt my own – but part of our objective is to publish challenging and provocative work that widens our readers (and our own) perspective.

  2. DialMforMurdo says:

    As usual an excellent article from George, with lots to chew over and ponder, everything from the sorry state of creativity, Brexitmageddon and the state of the Highlands and Islands.

    I found it interesting that one of the first houses offered for sale on the NC500/Galbraith page is one of two identical built for purpose McMansions on decrofted land. Coming in at a shade under £500,000 and having spent its entire life as a rental, there’s two sides to its tale. 1. Not many locals within a thousand square miles could ever afford to buy it. 2. It was a local who owned the croft, decrofted part of the land, gained planning permission, built the houses, made a living from their rental and and is now reaping the profit from the probable sale, that will no doubt be sold to someone of affluence from elsewhere. I say probable sale, simply because the market is static, the NC500 has had little effect on those looking to shift their homes, all it’s really done is raise awareness of tucked away places that previously had a cache as secret treasures whose locations were worthy of being shared by intrepid travellers with only the trusted few…

    The irony is that the NC500 route has in a short time become yet another dependence hoisted on local economies, without which shops would go the way of libraries, banks, doctors, public toilets and post offices. It has unfortunately become a vital part of the Highland economy, without locals and tourists using the local shop for basics (Amazon won’t deliver a pint of milk and a pan loaf) what’s left of a community?

    If anything the route and its subsequent viral attention has served us well by pointing out the chronic state of the infrastructure and the centuries of underspending across the Highlands. Where once there were vibrant settlements now there are views and ruins. Or as the state surveyors would term us, ‘SPA’s’ nothing to do with jacuzzi’s unfortunately, we’ve become ‘sparsely populated areas’ On top of the ‘Climate emergency’ we’re also facing a serious second clearance a ‘depopulation emergency’ if you will. The alarm bells have been ringing for the past 20 years and apart from a somewhat stalled bloat in Inverness the rest of the Highlands and Islands are facing a catastrophic 25% drop in our working age population in the next two decades. The Hutton report commissioned by the Scottish government has merely collected the data and published it. Over the past two decades, whilst those under 16 year of age have shrunk by 22% ( see school closures) the rise of codgers over 65 relocating to parts North , West and Wet has risen by 23%… Oddly enough many of whom are somewhat miffed over the rise of oiks driving North and using their single track roads without the care a bus driver traversing the Hindu Kush might muster… Auto-nimbyism?

    https://www.hutton.ac.uk/sites/default/files/files/research/srp2016-21/RD3.4.1%20Note%20WP1-3%20web%20-%20published.pdf

    So what’s the solution? Cover it in aspic and leave it to the Chinless or stick a pay toll on the Kessock Bridge and the Bealach na ba? Alternatively, how about whatever the Scottish government manifests itself after Brexitopalypse and the final IndyRef, goes full Stalinist and shifts some of the population in the bizarrely congested central belt, incentivises businesses to relocate North of Perth and South of Hamilton and help folk build their own affordable, sustainable, passive homes on a hitherto unseen since WW2 scale? Taxes increase, infrastructure is improved, congestion eases and we power it all from state owned renewable energy…

  3. Adirondack80 says:

    Excellent and salient points are made in the article about climate change discourse, and the corrosive effects of unregulated tourism.

    I am a little perplexed. As a Gaelic speaking furriner, who has lived in Edinburgh, Nottingham, Manchester, Derby, Aberdeen, and other parts of the world…does this mean I shouldn’t contemplate moving the Highlands with my education, skills and experience and capacity to make a positive contribution to the places where I live?

    “…that local people, especially the young and economically active, will have even less chance of having somewhere to live in the place of their birth and will add significantly to the increasing depopulation of the north Highlands and put even more strain on already over-stretched local services such as health and education…”

    Who will arbitrate and how whether or not someone is able to join a community? Stepping back a bit, and removing the tourism lens,
    it resembles ever so slightly Brexiter arguments against free movement. Migration in and migration out have many benefits to economies and individuals. We know
    (from a lot of research) that individuals who move during the course of their career, tend to be more successful (on their own terms) than those who don’t. One of the main problems facing places like the Highlands (a culturally, socially, and economically diverse region, but for the sake of simplicity let’s treat it as a single entity as the articles has) is absence of consistent, evidence-based workforce and labour market planning/strategy at national, regional and local levels (there are no doubt exceptions, usually locally); a failure of adequately integrating technology into development strategies as well as ensuring a digitally skilled citizenship; and probably a failure to use university or other research in
    policy and planning – I am sure people are doing PhDs where they are uncovering all sorts of useful insights but the borders between research, policy, and deployment
    can be frustratingly impermeable sometimes. And I would really be delighted to discover evidence to the contrary about anything I’ve said, as it would make me feel more hopeful.

    1. Hi Adirondack, you say: “I am a little perplexed. As a Gaelic speaking furriner, who has lived in Edinburgh, Nottingham, Manchester, Derby, Aberdeen, and other parts of the world…does this mean I shouldn’t contemplate moving the Highlands with my education, skills and experience and capacity to make a positive contribution to the places where I live?”

      Not for me to say – I think the point being made was that there’s a nexus between the overtourism strategy and the housing crisis. It’s an observation that’s difficult to contend isn’t it?

      Diversification of the economy and investment in public housing would seem obvious ways to go.

  4. Liam Crouse says:

    Good article. I would offer this example in terms of literary Scotland, since you mentioned it. Go to a congress on Scottish literature, or open an anthology on the subject. How many voices do you see which are not in English? How many are in Gaelic; how many in Scots? Then consider how much material there is in said languages, which were once the medium for the majority of national and local dialogue, for many centuries of our nation’s existence. Why do we not give platforms to these voices? Is it because ‘no one speaks them’ or that they are ‘inaccessible’? Is it the literature’s fault if the professor – who is the expert on the matter supported by the Academy – can only open one door into the house of our multilingual Scotland? Perhaps the ‘outliers’ don’t fit into our system? Perhaps they are marginalised. Perhaps they are dangerous. Perhaps there is an ethnocide being continued.

    1. This is a really good and valid point Liam. It operates at a more mundane level too though. Since we started publishing in Scots the level of vitriol and ridicule poured over any article is incredible. The level of deep-seated cultural self-hatred is astonishing and (almost) completely normalised. Hatred towards gaelic works in slightly different ways.

  5. Robert says:

    “The First Minister, last Spring and now again in the Autumn, is concerned with the economic imperial, less so, or if at all, with the cultural imperial.”
    After the SNP Autumn conference featured sideshows sponsored by BP and Heathrow airport, I can only conclude that the FM’s main concern is to give the appearance of being a world leader on climate while remaining on the best of terms with the merchants of planetary catastrophe. Not much challenge to the economic imperial here.

  6. Derek Henry says:

    Brilliant piece !

    Most of the answers you are looking for are here…

    https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Why_Minsky_Matters.html?id=C1BFCQAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button&redir_esc=y

    Chapter 5 should be copied and pasted into every left wing manifesto and a lesson for the likes of Arran.

    What is important is only countries that can run government budget deficits higher than 3% can implement the changes that are needed.

  7. Derek Henry says:

    Unfortunately, it is going to get a lot worse before we get the chance to make it better.

    This will be a game changer next year.

    https://stephaniekelton.com

    Scotland does not have the tools to grow local economies from the ground up. With the SNP so he’ll bent in meeting the neoliberal fiscal rules of the EU to gain entry. As the growth commission pointed out quite clearly.

    The only option it has to reduce the government budget deficit required is

    a) Slash spending

    b) increase what taxes they have.

    Insanity !

    Growth will crash and unemployment will bloom. All to meet some insignificant numbers in the growth commission that means nothing.

    There is light on the horizon the link above and the paradigm shift in macro economics has already started. The reverse brainwashing of voters has begun.

    https://www.reuters.com/article/usa-economy-debt/rpt-in-planning-for-next-us-recession-economists-say-dont-fret-about-debt-idUSL2N26W1F0

    The question is will the EU listen? Or will they still require a debt to GDP ratio of 60% and below?

    A pointless exercise a nonsense as Japan has shown with their debt to GDP ratio of 250%. Do you think that will stop Japan with their own currency and central bank from rebuilding after the typhoon?

    Of course not.

  8. Derek Henry says:

    Just wait till it really gets going.

    The SNP will start to either slash spending or increase taxes to get Scotland into the EU. The SNP are staying quiet about it.

    It is not political or ideological but accounting fact that when you start slashing the government budget deficit you slash the non government sectors surplus. The non government sectors being Scottish households and Scottish businesses. You destroy their surplus in other words their savings.

    As you can see from the real data when the Tories slashed the government budget deficit.

    https://d3fy651gv2fhd3.cloudfront.net/charts/united-kingdom-government-budget@2x.png?s=wcsdgbr&v=201903131352V20190821&d1=20090101&d2=20191231&url2=/united-kingdom/personal-savings

    So when the SNP ramp up this nonsensical exercise and start destroying Scottish household and Scottish business savings it just pushes more and more into debt. Private debt the debt that matters. It pushes people into the arms of the banks.

    In these communities debt levels will increase.

    Loans

    Credit cards

    Mortgage payments

    Pay day loans

    Internet access

    Mobile phone bills

    Energy bills

    Travel expenses

    The list is endless as you now pay more for services that have been privatised rather than in a one off income tax payment.

    So less and less disposable income is spent on goods and services that employ people in the local area. These communities will be devastated. As businesses get pushed into more debt that means less investment in growth and more investment in paying down debt service.

    It makes me furious that the SNP are not being challenged on this.

    What is worse once in the EU and you sign up to the single market these neoliberal self imposed gold standard, fixed exchange rate rules are a permanent fixture. The non government sectors surplus can’t go above 3% of GDP. Households and businesses cannot hold a combined surplus of 3%. Most of that will be a business surplus not a household one.

    Why the surprise it was ex bankers within the SNP that wrote the growth commission. Pushing more people into the hands of the banks.

    These communities need a job guarantee scheme run at the local level by people who live in these places. They need policies introduced from the Common Weal library. The only way to do that is the double out.

    Out of the UK.

    Out of the EU.

    Running our own affairs.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=WS9nP-BKa3M&t=45s

    1. Douglas says:

      Please just SHUT THE FCK UP Derek and stop ruining the BTL debate on Bella Caledonia.

      Fck off somewhere else you bore…

      1. Derek Henry says:

        What ?

        Facts ruining the debate ?

        Keep coming with the personal attacks it is hilarious!

        1. Douglas says:

          Derek, you’re talking about issue which are not related to this article. You’ve been doing that over many weeks and months now on numerous articles. Why not go on to Twitter? You’ll probably spark a debate there.

          BTL on Bella Caledonia is an interesting place for debate, unique in Scotland. You’ve been spoiling it for weeks now. I’m the third poster to point it out.

          As for Maastrachit and the EU 3% rule, we all know Derek, okay? I’m old enough to remember the debate back at the time, as most posters on Bella probably are, certainly George Gunn, author of this article, and Mike Small. So, I know you think you’re telling us something we don’t know, but you’re wrong, okay?

  9. Sharon Gunason Pottinger says:

    The bones are still here. Making our future depends on making the bones dance. SWRI had its name changed and the motto ‘home and country’ was changed to ‘women together’. While some argued that this was a change to fit with the times and make it more attractive to younger people, I saw it as part of the deracination you describe. Feminizing something has historically been a way of devaluing it. And taking the ‘Rural’ out of the name another way of making country living more invisible and thus easier to legislate out of existence or turn into a Living Museum for the amusement of picture-taking tourists. The road back from being a colony begins from the inside. Permaculture starts with folk who are self-reliant–not good lifers or isolationist fanatics but people who know how to look after themselves and each other.

  10. SleepingDog says:

    In the segment about the “national broadcaster”, the “system” creating a uniform “product” sounds a lot like Peter Watkin’s critique of what he calls the Monoform which he apparently rebelled against while at the BBC.
    http://pwatkins.mnsi.net/dsom.htm

    Yet, turning back the clock to the time of the bards, whose ritualized, formulaic, repetitive performances were surely an earlier and much more restrictive Monoform that were even more backward-looking? The Bardic Bombast Coterie? I bet that insular and elitist group had its share of critics back in the days, complaining that it was biased in favour of the status quo, whose idea of injecting balance was staging a contest between bards, and dominated by the arts and humanities at the expense of people who knew one end of a tool from another. Result: social stagnation, human potential of the non-elite remained unlocked, and the natural world described poetically but forever misunderstood?

  11. Wul says:

    A great piece from George. Thank you.

    These quotes really chimed with me ” “…evasive action was possible; fate was not fixed to that degree.” ”
    And
    ” “We once had some command over our destiny; now we have none.” ”

    They highlight the main reason I support independence for Scotland. We ( and I don’t mean the SNP, I mean us Scots) need to be able to shape our future. Inside the UK we simply don’t matter. We have no agency.

    There are very few willing to go against the cultural grain to support “evasive action”. Alastair McIntosh and Bob Holman stand out; two men willing to live amongst those they wish to show solidarity with. There will be others.

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