Notes From Underground #3: Is There Hope?

This is the third installment in a weekly essay series from our new Commissioning Editor, Dougald Hine. Notes From Underground is also available as a podcast or on YouTube.

The ABF House stands on a corner, halfway up Sveavägen, in the centre of Stockholm. Across the street is the party headquarters of the Social Democrats. Two doors along, the Grand cinema where Olof Palme spent the evening in February 1986 that would end with his assassination. The last of the three great Social Democratic prime ministers whose rule stretched almost uninterrupted across half a century, the mystery of Palme’s murder still lingers in the shadows of Swedish politics; the suggestion that it was connected to larger geopolitical struggles has never been ruled out. Whatever else it represents, his death has come to mark a watershed: beyond that point, the draining of confidence from the grand project of modern Sweden became unstoppable.

A blue-tiled box of a building, six storeys high, home of the Workers Learning Association, the ABF House stands as a relic of that lost confidence – yet on a late November night in 2017, its rooms are busy with classes and meetings and talks. There’s a queue outside the first floor lecture theatre for which I’m headed. The organisers are on the point of turning people away, when word comes through that the main hall is free and so we file along back corridors and into its raked seats.

On the stage in front of us, two prominent professors meet to debate the question: ‘Is there hope?’ I can’t help think how strange this would have sounded to the generation who built an institution like the one in which we are gathered.

We’re here for a clash that has spilt out of the comment pages of the Swedish press, a local echo of the alarm sent up by David Wallace-Wells with his original New York magazine version of ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’. On one side, there’s an anthropologist whose books on technology and capitalism have won an international audience. His opponent is better known on his home ground, an environmental historian who has written a series of books that introduce Swedish readers to ideas already circulating internationally; his latest is on the Anthropocene. A regular contributor to newspapers and TV programmes, he knows how to work an audience and is not above debating society tricks; he’ll caricature the other guy’s position, then make out this was an innocent misunderstanding. In short, he is not my kind of academic, yet it’s something this guy says tonight that will stick with me: a contrast he offers between two worldviews.

There is a division out there today, he says, between ‘those who believe in science, reason, technology and progress’, and ‘those who see a future undermined by fear and threat’. The first group, subscribers to what he calls Worldview A, are the ones who are engaging with the issues of the Anthropocene, while the others, the Worldview B-ers – ‘Well,’ he shakes his head, ‘these are the ones who don’t even believe that climate change is happening!’

The point he meant to make is clear enough: if there is to be hope, the first group must prevail. It’s a version of a story you hear a lot these days, since the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump. Yet in the pantomime simplicity of the way he tells it, I catch something else, an unexpected echo of an old argument that began as a bold generalisation about the history of English poetry.

*   *   *

In 1921, T. S. Eliot was working as a clerk in the Colonial & Foreign Department at Lloyds Bank. His first major poem, ‘The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock’, had been published in 1915; a twelve-poem pamphlet followed two years later. Now in his early thirties, he was an established presence within the world of the little magazines, a poet whose originality excited his peers, and a critic writing for larger audiences in places like the Times Literary Supplement. Still, confident as he was in his own judgement, he could hardly have expected a theory thrown out as a series of sweeping asides within a review essay to start a debate that would run for decades and shape the thinking of a generation. That was to be the fate of Eliot’s remarks on ‘the dissociation of sensibility’.

‘Something … happened to the mind of England’, Eliot wrote, ‘from which we have never recovered’. It happened around the middle of the 17th century: a threshold was crossed, on this side of which a new distance opened up between thinking and feeling. In the Metaphysical poetry of John Donne and Andrew Marvell, those two activities were still inextricably linked; since their generation, Eliot claimed, poets ‘thought and felt by fits, unbalanced’, no longer able to do both things at once.

As a claim about the development of English poetry, this would be disputed, and in later years, Eliot himself would revise his position: ‘All we can say is, that something like this did happen; that … it is a consequence of the same causes which brought about the Civil War; that we must seek the causes in Europe, not in England alone…’ To Craig Raine (Eliot’s successor as poetry editor at Faber), this amounted to ‘a Tour de France of backpedalling’, yet the revision is also a broadening of the argument. Indeed, it’s doubtful whether the influence of Eliot’s theory ever really rested on his diagnosis of the stylistic differences between Donne and Milton, so much as on the memorable formulation he offered for a larger historical idea. Over the following decades, on the left as well as the right, thinkers from F. R. Leavis to E. P. Thompson sought to articulate their sense that a great loss had accompanied the obvious technological and economic gains made on the journey to the modern societies in which they found themselves. If their attempts to account for this loss sometimes fell short or led into dangerous culs-de-sac, if such lines of thinking were routinely dismissed as nostalgic fantasies about a golden age, I am not convinced that those easy rebuttals really settle the matter.

Yet it is not my purpose just now to resuscitate Eliot’s historical claim about the 17th century. Rather, I am struck by the curious way in which it maps onto the frame that we were offered that night in Stockholm.

*   *   *

Look again at the terms in which they are set out, those two worldviews, the keywords used for each side of the divide: you have the people of science, reason, technology and progress set against the people of fear and threat. This is not a clash of ideologies, it is a map of a dissociated society.

Start with the partisans of science and reason, things which – almost by definition – stand apart from matters of feeling. A neurobiologist may introduce us to the chemical substrate of our emotional experience, but illuminating as such explanations are, no one acts as if her own life can be reduced to this layer of material causality. To make sense of the felt experience of being human, we tend to draw on other ways of talking and other kinds of knowledge. We may agree that there are purposes for which it is useful and appropriate to treat the world as though it could be held at arm’s length, we may be glad of some of the fruits of this studied detachment, but we do not imagine that this is how the world is lived.

Now, notice how the sober set of nouns which define the first worldview are queered by the choice of verb: these people are not simply (or perhaps at all) the practitioners of science and reason and technology, they are the ones who believe in these things, who have elevated them to the status of objects of faith. I have nothing against faith, it is a delicate and precious thing, and like any such thing, you should be careful where you put it. To put faith in reason sounds to me like one of those loops in the code that causes a computer program to start spewing out numerical garbage.

Turn to the others, the Worldview B team, the ones who feel the fear and sense the threat – and I want to say, is this not an appropriate response to the situation in which we find ourselves? Is this not how you feel when you read an article by David Wallace-Wells? You might then want to move through the fear, to find courage, but you don’t get there by mocking the fearful.

If there’s some truth in the simple schema according to which those who are fearful of the future are also ‘the ones who don’t believe that climate change is happening’, then this paradox deserves more than scorn. The poisoned seeds of climate denial were planted quite consciously by people who were well paid for their trouble on behalf of industries possessed by a demonic drive for self-perpetuation and expansion. They may never face the trials which they deserve. Yet these seeds grew in soil fertilised by the overspill of a wider culture. As we account for the conditions under which such alienation from and resentment towards science could take root, some share of the responsibility belongs to those who bundled up the practice of science, the faculty of reason and the promise of technology into a belief system. Their grand story of progress long since ceased to make sense of the experience of many people’s lives; their faith-based worldview contributed to the conditions in which denial could thrive.

With all its well-meant calls to optimism and its othering of fear, this Worldview A ends up approaching the clinical condition of dissociation, identified by psychologists: a pathological detachment from physical and emotional experience.

*   *   *

Something happened on the way to modernity: a severance between heart and head, a loss from which we have yet to recover, which can’t just be written off against the gains that were also made along that journey.

T. S. Eliot was neither the first nor the last to attempt to tell a story along these lines. As the century went on, other voices began to be heard, at last: people carrying parts of the story that could barely be seen, let alone understood, from the vantage points of white men known to us by their initials. Women, people of colour, indigenous people, rural people told stories of the brutal enactment of the severance on which the modern world was built, the new forms of slavery and exploitation that it brought into being; stories written on the bodies of whoever was other. Beyond the seminar room talk of postmodernism, the calling into question of modernity was taken up – as Gustavo Esteva and Madhu Suri Prakash declared – by those who find themselves on the receiving end of processes of ‘modernization’.

That map of the two worldviews which set me thinking of Eliot risks to reduce the situation to a stand-off between two groups of old white men: the A-team in their university chairs, turning out paeans to reason and progress for their publishers; the B-team with their MAGA hats, barbarians at the campus gates.

As one more white man who isn’t getting any younger, I want to put my faith somewhere else. If there is any hope worth having, in a time when we are rightly haunted by the thought of an ‘uninhabitable Earth’, then I don’t believe it lies in the triumph of reason, nor in the recovery of an imagined past. If I have any clue where it lies, I’d say it’s in the difficult work of learning to feel and think together again; to come down off the high and lonely horses that some of us were taught to ride, to recognise how much has been missing from our maps, how much has gone unseen in our worldviews.

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  1. Mary MacCallum Sullivan says:

    ‘the difficult work of learning to feel and think together again’
    I don’t believe we ever have really done this, Dougald, except in the face of outside threats. But it’s not a new idea – Shakespeare, as so often, was there already:

    Edgar: The weight of this sad time we must obey;/Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
    (King Lear, Act 5; Sc 3)

    Raymond Williams’ Long Revolution is arguably somewhere close at hand. Its desired outcome? ‘[C]hange in the form of activity of a society, in its deepest structure of relationship and feeling’ (Williams 1961, 2011: x). That’s where we’re headed, even if it is a long and winding road towards it.

    1. Dougald Hine says:

      Mary –

      Well, thanks for bringing us around to Shakespeare! As an undergraduate, what got me curious about Eliot’s ‘something’ that had happened in the 17th century was wanting to understand how you get from Hamlet’s ‘more things in heaven and earth… Than are dreamt of in our philosophy’ (as the Folio version has it), to Milton attempting to straighten out and make reasonable the mythic material of Genesis, to Pope deliberately invoking Milton’s project of theodicy (in his Essay on Man), but now dispensing with myth altogether and addressing the question with a performance of philosophising.

      Revisiting Eliot, Leavis and others as I was writing this essay, one thing that struck me was the places where their arguments echo things I’ve heard from indigenous scholars and activists. For example, there’s a recent text from Elwood Jimmy and Vanessa Andreotti which works with a social cartography of “Bricks and Threads” to talk about two contrasting sensibilities, associated with settler colonial and indigenous ways of being, in a Canadian context. Writing about the epistemologies associated with these ways of being, they say:

      “Brick sensibilities take language to be something that describes and indexes the world. Knowledge is something that can be discovered and/or transmitted, and accumulated… Thread sensibilities take language to be both practical and metaphorical. Language can never describe the unknowable wholeness of the world, but it is extremely useful to move things in the world.”

      I don’t have it to hand tonight, but I came across a strikingly similar passage about language and our assumptions about its (in)ability to describe the world in Leavis. I’m neither a philosopher, nor a literary scholar, nor a historian of ideas – and I’m sure someone who was could produce plenty of examples of this thought from other times and places. But what the similarity suggested to me is that the sensibility whose loss Eliot, Leavis and others were fumbling to account for within their own cultural history has resonances with the marginalised (but not lost) sensibilities of groups who have been on the hard end of ‘modernization processes’ of colonialism and development (back to Esteva and Prakash).

      Someone else who wrestles eloquently with this stuff is Wendell Berry. In his essay ‘Two Minds’, he offers a contrast between the Sympathetic Mind and the Rational Mind. When I write about ‘learning to feel and think together again’, I am reaching for something similar to what Berry means by the necessary escape from ‘the reign of the Rational Mind’.

      For my part, then, I’m strongly persuaded that there is something historically and culturally peculiar about the kind of separation of thinking from feeling – of intellectual activity from sensual experience – which has been dominant around here, lately. Although as Eliot adds in his original essay on ‘The Metaphysical Poets’, this exposition may be ‘too brief, perhaps, to carry conviction’!

    2. SleepingDog says:

      @Mary MacCallum Sullivan, I have considered whether Shakespeare’s plays contain anarchist idylls (The Tempest’s Gonzalo’s island musings are almost there, although he slips a king in, possibly for the censor’s sake). In other words, places where humans organise themselves by words (not unlike a stage). Some of the plays contain forests where people consider animal rights (the Forest of Arden in As You Like It) although they tend to end up back in court society. Rejection of money-based society leads Timon of Athens to call for the Earth to be given back to the beasts. Perhaps (Merchant of Venice, Two Gentlemen of Verona) humans are on a continuum or a level with animals. Although the people who feel or discover these links with animals are typically the lowest in society or refugees from high society cruelties. As Clifford says in Third Part of King Henry the Sixth, Act 2 scene 2: “The smallest worm will turn, being trodden on” and animal parents defend their young.

      If you look at the plays as a system, containing projects running throughout, it seems to amount to a strong criticism of political economies and their endemic corruption (pronounced in the late historical Henry VIII: concern for the direction of travel, it seems). If we lose the forest, we are doomed.

  2. Bilco says:

    My view is that the modern phenomena of disassociation isn’t hard to explain. It’s the result of an animal being taken out of the habit in which it evolved – tribal, close to nature, natural diet – and increasingly placed in one that is non-optimal – isolated, indoors / polluted, unnatural diet. We have merely done to ourselves what we have done to all those industrially farmed & experimented-upon animals. Our intelligence has allowed us to escape the first evolutionary hurdle (freeing us from predation / famine) but leaves us unable to escape the problems created by that intelligence (WMDs, over-population, excess energy use). Intelligence has been described as a lethal mutation – useful in the short-term but fatal in the long-term. If we were talking about any other species that was unbalancing its environment (e.g. Red Deer in the Highlands) then a cull would be being proposed right now. No doubt such a proposal is running through the minds of some of those Worldview Type As & Bs…

    1. Dougald Hine says:

      Bilco –

      When people make this kind of argument, I’m always struck by two things. First, the total lack of interest in or awareness of the role of culture. Secondly, how soon they get around to talking about ‘culls’.

      1. Wayne Brown says:

        Cull – now there’s a word. There are various ways of defining cull, but they all include selection.

        So who/what selects ? Does it require intelligence ?

        The culling possibility suggested by Bilco, and followed up by yourself Dougald, is the intelligent? culling of one set of humans – the wrong set, presumably. But you use that to dismiss the rest of his argument.

        So here’s a question. Do you see any mismatch between the development of technology and our evolution as a species ?

        1. Dougald Hine says:

          Wayne –

          Our relationship to technology is certainly a huge part of the mess we are in. But all this talk of us ‘as a species’ side-steps the particular cultural histories of how we got here – and, as I already said, that side-stepping has a nasty tendency to lead to talk of culls. At which point, I have little to say, except that I dissociate myself from this kind of thinking.

          1. Wayne Brown says:

            Dougald – a short response. Forget the cull nonsense.

            Culture is the over layer of our ‘natural’ selves. It is skin thick. Like our physical skin it protects us from all manner of nastiness, and requires constant maintenance. When times get hard the need for maintenance grows – but it seems reasonable to suppose that, given past experience, that need may not be met.

            And technology, where do you start? The technology we have developed will not disappear when/if our culture is not maintained. We can now flatten forests and cover the emptiness with soya/concrete at a rate undreamt of not so long ago, but that only happens if somebody decides it’s OK – skin thick?

            I recommend a visit to Crawhill Multiverse near Sanquhar. A work of earth moving art science designed by the late Charles Jenks, and compare how long it took to create, compared to Callanish or The Ring of Brodgar.

            ps The above is just what I think. I didn’t find it at the top of a mountain. Cheersbut W.

  3. SleepingDog says:

    This is related to the ‘classical-romantic’ divide? Perhaps systems-thinking versus story-thinking, structural versus superficial? Yet these are not oppositions but elements commonly working together, any division commonly transcended. Perhaps physics is what the universe looks like from the outside; and consciousness is what the universe looks like from the inside.

    I think you need a philosophy of science (and technology, and reason, and progress) to understand where scientific hypotheses and questions (and therefore progress) come from. Often these would be called creative, or inspirations from Nature, or fiction, or from anomalies and problems with existing explanations and new data.

    Scientific models of the future may be unintelligible to some (science is necessary training for citizens) which increases uncertainty and likely fear. Although bad science, paid-for science and pseudoscience is commonly storified for mass consumption, such as commercial advertising. Yet science fiction represents the great cultural attempt to tackle the future.

    As far as I remember, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig’s novelistic attempt to transcend object and subject to find quality as the relationship between and independent of (indeed prior to) them, sought to establish value as the third corner of this set. I can hardly call it Worldview C since it is prior to A and B by his argument, so lets treat the alphabet as a wraparound ring and call Quality (or value) Worldview Z (for Zen, perhaps). Exploring Worldview Z, we add elements missing from A and B, such as all the intersubjective, collective and contingent entities: not just, for example, culture and civilization, but the culture of a far-future civilization stemming from our own. What kind of Culture would we want this to be? What route, what Golden Path needs to be taken to arrive at it? What do we include in our value systems (Earthlife? biodiversity as riches?)?

    Incidentally, talking of mysterious assassinations of Swedes, I just watched Murder in the Bush: Cold Case Hammarskjöld over on BBC iPlayer. Here we see the problem of telling a story without having a detailed or functional model of the organizations behind the killing. And that difficulty is also part of the documentary. Interestingly, although we see how systems are in place to create a deniability between MI6 (and CIA) and the ‘mercenary’ white supremacy murder battalions, what is the gap between MI6 and the authority for assassination on her Majesty’s secret service? Queen Elizabeth’s revenge for Suez, perhaps?

    So back to object, subject and value within culture. There was an interesting Philip K Dick quote in science-fiction-philosophical-end-of-world computer game Talos Principle:
    “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
    Take a value that matters generally to us, like fairness. We can ask if a computer game is fair, and if a story-movie is fair, but they tend to mean different things. In a game, fairness is generally about the system (is the system fair, or does it ‘cheat’?). In a story-movie (or novel) we may think the director (or author) is unfair if they break the rules or otherwise cheat in some way (like a ‘cop-out’ ending).

    If as a culture we rely too heavily on subjective-romantic-superficial storytelling modes that play on emotional reaction rather than engage reason, we lose sight of objectives. If we dryly document the world without engaging people’s emotions, we lose the impetus to action. We need value (or quality) which is both objective and subjective to inform, guide and motivate us. We need structure and story, model and passion, questioning everything but not doubting everything, building collectively with shared future goals, not falling fearfully into wars of supremacy based on fallacies of reason.

    1. Dougald Hine says:

      SleepingDog –

      Thanks for these thoughts! Eliot was very much a classicist – and your comparison to what Pirsig is trying to do in his strange and wonderful novel-cum-grand-philosophical-theory is on the right track. For Eliot, though, the classicist position would be something similar to what Pirsig is reaching for, a reconciliation between (or transcendence of) the rationalist and romantic positions. What complicates matters is that we start with a power imbalance between those two positions, a dominance of the Rational Mind (in the terms in which Wendell Berry writes about in the essay I mentioned in my reply to Mary).

  4. John McLeod says:

    Dougald – thank you, and comment contributors, for another fascinating discussion thread. I think that this is all part of the (impossible?) task of making sense of how we have got into this mess, and what we can do to get out of it. As a psychologist, I have lived with the consequences of separating thinking and feeling over the course of a long career. However, I had not appreciated that TS Eliot had got there first – this is good to know. Within psychology, I think there is a gradual appreciation that the real problem is not whether thinking or feeling are more important, or even how they fit together, but that they are both viewed as existing inside an autonomous bounded self. The question of what psychology might look like in the absence of a concept of an autonomous bounded self, is a much harder problem to address.

    I would like to respectfully challenge Dougald’s closing statement on futility of any attempt to ‘recover an imagined past’. There was a time, not so long ago in the history of the planet, that human beings lived in a sustainable way. By some accounts, even within recent history, suicidal and unsustainable exploitation of natural resources only really began to have an impact about 70 years ago. This suggests to me that, in the real past, there existed knowledge and skills about how to live in balance with the world. I believe that it is essential to recover that knowledge and these skills – around such topics as how to live wihout plastic, how to grow food, how to mend and repair, and so on. And also, how to understand ourselves differently. To integrate these practices into our everyday lives requires acts of imagination.

    1. Mary MacCallum Sullivan says:

      I’m interested in your view that there is old knowledge about how to live in the world in a state of balance that we have lost, but that could be recovered. The problem might be that this was assumed, rather than thought through and acted upon from a place of knowing, of awareness of the choices we face now that we didn’t ‘then’, I would argue.

      So, yes, we have work to do ‘to understand ourselves differently’. And it’s for psychologists such as yourself and psychotherapists like me to bring forward ideas as to how to do that work ‘To integrate these practices into our everyday lives requires acts of imagination’, as you say, and it’s just those acts of imagination that are so hard for us in this age of precarity and deliberate disinformation, cruelty and greed. That’s the cause of so much anxiety, depression, and all the forms of ‘mental ill-health’ that mitigate against the hope that Dougald looks for. There’s a moral crusade called for here, as well as political and behavioural change.

      1. John McLeod says:

        Mary – thanks for your response. You wrote: “the old knowledge… was assumed, rather than thought through and acted upon from a place of knowing, of awareness of the choices we face now that we didn’t ‘then’,” I am not so sure. I think that a characteristic of being human is a capacity to reflect and innovate. What might seem to us now as taken-for-granted traditions, were all choices or discoveries at some point in the past. I do not think that present-day life is necessarily characterised by choices grounded in a place of knowing and awareness. When I look back at my own life, I do not recall giving much thought to new opportunities such as using plastic, ready meals, foreign holidays, etc etc.

    2. Dougald Hine says:

      John –

      I’m very interested to hear of the gradual appreciation within psychology of the problem with the concept of an ‘autonomous bounded self’. Some of the most rewarding conversations I’ve had over the past two years have been with Vanessa Andreotti, who talks about the work of the Decolonial Futures collective that she is part of as ‘a non-Western form of psychoanalysis’. When I asked her about this in an interview for the latest issue of Dark Mountain, one of the things she pointed to was the way that the concept of the individual self within Western psychoanalytic traditions makes little sense to the indigenous traditions which she and many of her collaborators are coming from.

      As for what I said about ‘recovering an imagined past’, I’m not sure that we are really in disagreement. I am convinced that we have a huge amount to learn from the ways in which people have made life work in other times and places – this is quite central to my thinking – so the point I meant to make is only that this process of learning is harder than ‘going back’, recovering some earlier state.

  5. John S Warren says:

    “T.S. Eliot was neither the first nor the last to attempt to tell a story along these lines.” Quite; but the attempt to tell a story depends on who is listening, and who determines its significance. ‘Something … happened to the mind of England’ proposes a “mind” of England that is perhaps a far more difficult and contentious proposition to grapple with than the debate about the development of poetry that flowed from TS Eliot’s idea.

    I have always suspected that the ‘The Waste Land’ reflects TS Eliot’s reading of James Tnomson’s ‘The City of Dreadful Night’ (1874). The reason I refer to this, or indeed wrote this comment at all, is that Thomson’s bleak text seems to me (without wishing to turn this suggestion into anything more than a personal, intuitive surmise), to represent the human effect of “the brutal enactment of the severance on which the modern world was built” and the personal, human anguish and alienation provoked by “the new forms of slavery and exploitation” than anything to be found in the mannered, knowing, scholarly over-refinement of TS Eliot’s work.

    1. Dougald Hine says:

      John –

      Well, the idea of a singular ‘mind of England’ is certainly one of the things Eliot has been pulled up on – not least by Craig Raine – and I’m sure Bella readers and contributors could bring their own perspective to analysing its psychiatric condition!

      Thanks for pointing me towards Thomson’s poem, which I’m sorry to say I hadn’t read. I shall correct that.

      1. John S Warren says:

        I have reflected on “the mind of England” since I wrote this comment; and discovered that my observation, in context was peculiarly inappropriate. I found that had been decisively eclipsed, indeed contradicted – by James Thomson, who wrote this critical comment in a collection of poems in 1889: “The English mind follows the fashion: purchases what is cried up, irrespective of its real value”. This is perfect irony , and such is the just retribution for my temptation to indulge what was a facile, obvious and carelessly unscholarly generalisation.

        1. Mary MacCallum Sullivan says:

          I believe the ‘mind of England’ (or an aspect of it as currently manifested) might just usefully be discerned via the outcome of the English voting in the GE 2019, to be known on 13th December, probably…

  6. Ellen says:

    Thank you for these words. Written and spoken. Like most of the time when academics talk to each other (or is it just dumping their opinions on a hungry audience?) I feel dizzy. Too slow to capture and pin the words but sensing that something doesn’t grip within me. Honestly, beside the idea/fact/rumor that there are always more than two teams operating and A is using the arguments of B and the other way round until even the coaches of both teams are fallen off the track, I never thought that the division was where it was made that night on a stage in Sweden. Maybe I am naive to the bone, but I always thought of team A with all their science and reason are the ones who fear and deny climate change. Selling new technologies, enslaving people on and on, consuming ‘resources’ they gave an artificial value before, up to exploring other planets cause they fear the future and much more the present. Not even looking in what we are in or why is it so difficult to fetch this great loss that everybody feels. Some more, others less. Close by or far away. Where is the team confessing that we screwed it, that climate change is on its way and not an event we can argue or drink away. Maybe we can not find them in old-white-male-academic-profiles but in a generation working with their hands, hearts and minds as one. I do not know.

  7. Derek Henry says:

    No there isn’t. We will destroy ourselves in the end.

    Power has to be taken it is never given up.

    Why did all the slaves not attack their masters on the cotton farms to win their freedom ?

    Whay did all the prisoners at Auschwitz not attack the guards to win their freedom ?

    Even when we do get the courage to do these things. Ultimately, it always ends up back to where we started. The powerful rise to the top and it quickly becomes an oligarchy. Change happens then it reverts to type.

    So why is this and the answer is life is hard and Human nature. Human nature is not very nice it is evil infact. We like to think human nature is nice, warm and fuzzy. It’s not it is selfish, cold and sharp as a razor blade. You can put it in as many fancy words as you like, but the very first humans that inherited the earth would have seen this staring back at them from the lights of the fire in the shadows, of the caves they were living in. It doesn’t matter if you are type A or B human nature in both are the same. Some hide it better than others.

    Humans suffer from GROUPTHINK. They have to be accepted by a group and then revert to type in that group. Every echo chamber I’ve come across sufferes from it including this one. Think neighbour hood watch schemes that would stick in their neighbours for bringing out an Aldi bag from the boot of their car when it should have been Marks and Spencer. Or asking a plain white van to go away and come back with the John Lewis logo on the side as the Xmas presents get delivered. Yes, both of these things have happened.

    Plato imagines human beings chained for the duration of their lives in an underground cave, knowing nothing but darkness. Their gaze is confined to the cave wall, upon which shadows of the world are thrown. They believe these flickering shadows are reality. If, Plato writes, one of these prisoners is freed and brought into the sunlight, he sill suffer great pain. Blinded by the glare, he is unable to seeing anything and longs for the familiar darkness. But eventually his eyes adjust to the light. The illusion of the tiny shadows is obliterated. He confronts the immensity, chaos, and confusion of reality. The world is no longer drawn in simple silhouettes. But he is despised when he returns to the cave. He is unable to see in the dark as he used to. Those who never left the cave ridicule him and swear never to go into the light lest they be blinded as well.

    Chris Hedges has been highlighting it for decades and why he won a pulitzer prize. Chris is pur version of these authors you noted.

    ” Alienation has been further accelerated by social media. People at public events stare at their phones instead of talking to each other. They stare at their phones inside museums, at spectator events, and while driving, eating, and screwing. They take selfies while sitting on the toilet. They feel naked without their phones, like a baby without its pacifier. Their addiction to dopamine fixes makes them constantly check their emails and Twitter accounts, and frequently hear phantom ringtones. It makes them desperate for constant reassurance that they exist.

    Social media creates nationwide echo chambers that sustain tribes which compete with each other for the coveted status of “victim.” Tribal bickering and rampant narcissism in turn keep the peasants from uniting against their rich owners, and from collectively addressing things like climate change and runway pollution. It makes leftists scream “Fascist!” while right-wingers scream, “Communist!”

    All sides have regressed to infantile dream worlds. All sides cheer for wars that make rich people richer, and poor people into homeless refugees.

    The liberal ruling elites use fake progressives to silence true progressives. It’s like the owners of a prison who order “trustee” inmates to torture regular inmates. If the “trustees” don’t torture, they are tortured themselves after being thrown to the regular inmates. The liberal establishment’s function is to protect the rich and those marching today are their “trustees ”

    The ” trustees” is very apt point pick a job any job and the ” trustees” are there and it because of the ” trustees” society always revert to type no matter what change has taken place.

    Chris himself and many other journalists that were purged from the system by these ” trustees” had to form the Truthdig site to report what was happening in the world. Most of them earned pulitzers when they actually meant something.

    Lets take a look at economists the scientists that are supposed to come up with solutions to help and nuture the planet and help mankind. Now when you read this about economists I want you think of any profession any job in the world.

    It’s the psychology of groups and pack behaviour GROUPTHINK. You’ve done very well at secondary school and then go to university and shine through and achieve academic progress. The selction process as you go through university is that by the time your at the end of your undergraduate years. The bright sparks go through their post graduate studies and a PHD and they get an academic job the creme da le creme.

    So you’ve invested a lot of your early years to get this PHD to get into the academy. With economics you end up with a very defined set of work tools and foregone a lot of income to get to this stage.

    Not many academics become top line researchers most of them become text book pushers. So by the age of 45 you’ve risen to a certain rank in the academy and normally that’s the end of your progression. Good researchers can move up further and get a chair and get to be called a professor. Where a lot of people have reached their ceiling and pump out stuff from a textbook that the publishers brings around every year. Fill up your time as an administrator or a teacher.

    The end of life syndrome approaches and all you are waiting for then is to retire on your pension and live the life and hope your health holds. So why on earth at that point would these people abandon their life’s work and admit that large parts of it are wrong. What’s the motivation for that. Particulary when you are in a group that have incredibly rigid rules with respect to promotion, with respect to asigning status, with respect to getting any publications or research money. In a very disciplined community in economics.

    You’ve learned to play the game and jump through hoops along the way. You’ve learned not to rock the boat. You’ve reached your career progression and waiting for your retirement.

    To come out then and say alot of the textbook pushing has been wrong is to defy your scholastic community. Stop the brightest when they are young from getting promotion, publications and research money. The group membership becomes your priority and when new imperical evidence presents itself to show the textbook pushing has been nonsensical. They’ll forego the oppertunity of a revision of their ideas as maintaining membership and status within the group is more important.

    Groups work out all sort of ways to behave like that. When anomolies come in from the real world they revise history. They rewrite history to reflect the group. Look at all of the revisions carried out after the great depression. Some of stories now being told about the great depression do not reflect reality. they also just deny things and make stuff up. Deny that the whole financial system was saved in 2008 by global government deficits. That’s how they overcome their own personal doubts and maintain membership of the group.

    It’s foundational and social psychology of group behaviour. Eventually when some rebels do come along the Paradigm collapses.

    It’s now the dominant idea in Psychiatry that the brain can repair itself. Up until the early 60’s everybody believed it couldn’t. If you had a brain injury tough luck. In the early 60’s a guy came up with the idea that the brain can repair itself after an injury. That view was not the view of the group. The dominant view that the group built career’s on vilified that young academic the senior professors of the group destroyed him.

    Imperical evidence from the real world starting showing up that brains do actually repair themselves after injury and in the middle of the 1990’s another young academic came along with the view that brains repair themselves after injury. Paradigms don’t shift until the dominant ambassodors of that paradigm die. You have to wait until the senior professors all die out so their is an open playing field again. Or the group lies and says they knew that all along. It wasn’t recognised fully by the academy that brains repair themselves until the early 2000’s.

    Paradigm shifts happen one death at a time. Groupthink makes sure we always revert to type with an oligarchy and human nature will always make sure when we stare back at ourselves from the shadows of the light in the cave and not fully understand what is staring back at us. The ” trustees” are there, they are there at all times, keeping us in our place.

    1. Have you heard of Walrusing Derek?

  8. Laurie McCann says:

    Dougald, In response to your comment “…a severance between heart and head” has delivered a loss from which we have yet to recover.”

    Yes, Somewhere somehow some number of millennia ago the left brain grabbed both reins and is taking us for a wild ride on that high and lonely horse, sure to be knocked out of the saddle by the low hanging branch of Global Thermaldynamic Dysfunction aka Climate Change.

    Dougald, In response to your thought: I’d say it’s in the difficult work of learning to feel and think together again…”

    Indeed, the means and processes by which we can convene in groups and do this work are manifest. Thousands of people are learning & using these skills, every day, around the world. You and others may already be familiar with some or all of these (CAPS to facilitate visual & conceptual ease). For the record…


    Joanna Macy: Active Hope

    CONVENING & CONNECTING [what are we to do, and with whom?]

    Dialogue / David Bohm
    The World Café /Juanita Brown:
    Appreciative Inquiry / David Cooperrider
    Open Space Technology / Harrison Owen:
    Transformative Scenarios /Adam Kahane/
    Social Lab / Said Hassan:
    Future Search /Marvin Weisbord, Sandra Janoff:

    INTO THE NITTY GRITTY [how meet the greatest possible number of mutual & separate interests?]

    Mutual Gains (aka Interest-Based) Negotiation: Bill Ury, Roger Fisher, et. al
    Graphic Recording: Geoff Ball
    Graphic Facilitation: David Sibbet

    REALLY BIG PICTURE [Practices currently most engaging & fruitful for me]

    Ming Tong Gu: Personal & Planetary Healing through Wisdom Healing Qigong
    Newton Harrison/Helen Mayer Harrison: The Time of the Force Majeure (Integration of art & science covering 45 years of their work in a fascinating & beautiful large format book.

    AS FOR ME…

    Notwithstanding 30 years as a facilitator of successful multi-stakeholder collaboratives, a Dystopian Dark Darwinian view prevails: The human race is a failed experiment. We are getting exactly what we deserve. Oh, well. Reboot. Better luck next time.

    More eloquently stated:

    “Life has shaken off at least five mass extinctions to come raging back. The sixth extinction, fomented by humans, was preceded by the Cretaceous, which killed the last of the dinosaurs and allowed the mammals, now free of such super predators, to venture forth in daytime. The Harrisons’ (see above) position on mass extinctions is that if 200 to 300 million years remain before the sun’s slowly increasing temperature makes most of life on earth impossible, nature then has several 50-million year periods to evolve a ‘ learning or wisdom behavior taking place in some future version of human civilization, relentlessly tuned to the way nature has learned to use energy.” Paul Mankiewicz & Dorion Sagan / The Essays /Time of the Force Majeure.

    My great sorrow is the suffering to be unleashed upon the many sentient beings- human and otherwise- who are in no way responsible for the chaos, great pain and loss that is coming. I often find myself caught between accepting that the root of all suffering is the desire for things to be other than they are (per Shakyamuni Buddha), and the aspiration not to turn away from any suffering being, regardless of causes or conditions, as long as I am capable.

  9. Steve Wheeler says:

    This, inevitably, reminds me of Spengler:

    ‘But in Puritanism there is hidden already the seed of Rationalism, and after a few enthusiastic generations have passed, this bursts forth everywhere and makes itself supreme. This is the step from Cromwell to Hume. Not cities in general, not even the great cities, but a few particular cities now become the theatre of intellectual history — Socratic Athens, Abbassid Baghdad, eighteenth-century London and Paris. “Enlightenment” is the cliche of that time. The sun bursts forth — but what is it that clears off the heavens of the critical consciousness to make way for that sun?

    ‘Rationalism signifies the belief in the data of critical understanding (that is, of the “reason”) alone. In the Springtime men could say “Credo quia absurdum” because they were certain that the comprehensible and the incomprehensible were both necessary constituents of the world — the nature which Giotto painted, in which the Mystics immersed themselves, and into which reason can penetrate, but only so far as the deity permits it to penetrate. But now a secret jealousy breeds the notion of the Irrational — that which, as incomprehensible, is therefore valueless. It may be scorned openly as superstition, or privily as metaphysic. […] According to Aristotle, the old religion is indispensable only to the uneducated, and his view is Confucius’s and Gotama Buddha’s, Lessing’s and Voltaire’s.’

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