Reviving humanity and creativity in this time of dying

The Deep Adaptation Quarterly is out. it shows what a lot of stuff is happening under the radar of the mainstream media’s attention to social change. This is my editorial – you can also read the full newsletter and subscribe to the next.

Editorial – Reviving humanity and creativity in this time of dying

Anxiety about climate change and its impacts was discussed more widely in mainstream media in the last few months. For both children and adults, the main message coming from psychologists is that we can become more open about our feelings, rather than suppress them and pretend we are feeling fine. Although greater discussion of that in the mainstream is a step forward, it was unfortunate that a typical assumption of modern culture appeared in nearly all the reporting I read. That is the assumption that people positively engage in society because we believe we will make situations better. Instead, many people engage to make things less worse or because we believe in doing what’s good and true, whatever the situation or outcome. The dominant ideology of modern cultures, where material progress is assumed to be good and uncontestable underlies the limited ways motivation is discussed. However, just because material progress might be dying, does not mean we kill our humanity or creativity. This newsletter contains information which illustrates the wide range of creative solidarity that is emerging from people who anticipate societal disruption and collapse.

Many people want to live according to their unfolding truth, help others in bold ways, and be more creative and expressive precisely because they anticipate greater disruptions to their way of life. Creativity is one important response. An increasing amount of poetry and stories are being shared on the blog of the Deep Adaptation Forum. Music has been released that is inspired by a Deep Adaptation approach to life. I have also worked with the creative arts, to produce a multimedia art project that will raise funds for the children of Bali who have been badly affected by the pandemic. The project, called #BreakingTogether, incorporates one of my poems about climate anxiety, and includes the theme of impermanence – thus counter to the ideology of material progress.

For years the group Dark Mountain have encouraged cultural expression to help people explore what a new way of being human in a time of disruption and collapse might feel like. Moving ahead, it appears to me that artistic activity of all kinds will not only be important for personal wellbeing of the people involved, or the funds raised for charity, but also for more massive communication. Because we are entering a crucial period for sense-making about the environmental situation, as more and more people become aware of how bad the situation is becoming. That was the main theme of my recent essay reflecting on the past year since I left management of the Deep Adaptation Forum. The concern is that people could be susceptible to messages that suit the interests of corporations and incumbent power, and not get to hear about the diversity of ideas that are shared by people engaged in the Deep Adaptation conversation.

When collapse-anticipation does get discussed in the mainstream media, even now it is lampooned, or labelled as unhelpful ‘doomism’. In my most recent academic article I analyse the evidence-base of the claims that people who anticipate disruption and collapse are unhelpful for either enabling social change or public mental health. From both a sociological and psychological basis, I conclude those claims are not robust. Therefore, they may reflect the desire of the authors to negatively frame and marginalise people with opinions that make them feel uncomfortable. That’s something worth naming to make it easier to discuss – adaptation delayism. The paper is also available in a 1 hour audio format here.

Reviewing the paper, the former financial coordinator of Extinction Rebellion (XR), Andrew Medhurst explains how his own acceptance that massive disruption had become inevitable shook him out of his day job and into full time activism. Something similar happened for XR founder member Skeena Rathor, who, yesterday, shared her reflections on a summer of bad climate news. She argues that we need more people in the public eye talking about compassionate responses to disaster, to offer an alternative to the rise of authoritarianism. It is an important invitation for the environmental movement to consider,  articulate and uphold key values, as more people in both national and intergovernmental processes wake up to the peril (at COP26 and beyond).

The widespread inability to be present to what is happening in the world andcommunicate about it is why we are in the current predicament. That inability is partly the result of our systems of media, money, economy and politics. The same processes that drove the calamity continue now as societal disruption spreads. Therefore misinformed aggression towards people in ways that worsen problems and ignore root causes, will be an aspect and accelerator of societal collapse. So I am not under any illusions. Our attempts to respond to calamity and vulnerability in positive ways that reaffirm human dignity are not likely to have a significant effect when faced with the ongoing communication dominance from incumbent power and the habits from modern culture. But many of us will try anyway, because it is both right to try and it is part of our own self-respect and self-actualisation. With that in mind, I anticipate a lot more radical creativity in the coming months and years. Let’s go for it!

Right now, I invite you to watch the 3 minute video of the making of the multimedia art project #BreakingTogether, as well as browsing the many initiatives in this newsletter (our next issue will be at the end of the year).

Prof Jem Bendell, University of Cumbria, UK
Distinguished Fellow, The Schumacher Institute
Managing Editor, Deep Adaptation Quarterly