What if this is it? Responding consciously to societal disruption

This is the Editorial for Issue 9 of the Deep Adaptation Quarterly. Subscribe to future Quarterlies.

As the initiator of what has become a movement for ‘deep adaptation’ to societal disruption and collapse, I am pleased to have this means to continue to share with you what I think is important as we experience more troubled times. In DA conversations we often speak of ‘societal collapse,’ yet do not often explore what we mean by ’societal.’ For instance, are there norms and values that are fundamental to what we experience as society? Could they be as important for some people as matters of shelter, nutrition, or health? Or should we ditch certain values that have been central to our experience of society, if we think that will keep us safer? Who decides the ‘we’ that matters and the others who matter less? And where would such ideas of attaining safety come from? These are topics explored by signatories to the Scholars Warning on societal disruption. And with such topics in mind, I liked a recent summary of the Deep Adaptation movement in a review of my new book: “Unlike the growing prepper movement that prioritizes personal survival at all costs, Deep Adaptation calls for adaptive responses that spring from solidarity with all life, which requires an expanded sense of self and kinship.”

Part of my motivation for staying engaged after my DA paper went viral was to contribute to kind ways of responding to increasing feelings of vulnerability. Not only ways that are kinder than a ‘Mad Max’ future of violent crime in a lawless society. Ways that would also be kinder than a ‘Major Max’ future of totalitarian governments using fear to generate public aggression towards independent thought and behaviour. This is because I value human rights as central to what society means and therefore any suspension or denigration of such rights is an aspect of societal disruption. Worse still, if such rights remain curtailed by power and undefended by much of the public, then that represents a societal breakdown. Something which, in hindsight, might be considered an aspect of societal collapse. 

Many of us who anticipate societal disruption and collapse have been fortunate to avoid much direct disruption to our own lives due to environmental loss and its knock-on effects. How will we respond when we sense our immediate vulnerability and that of our loved ones? Given the connections between environmental degradation and disease originating in animals (even if only because of reckless scientific experiments in response to that risk), then 2021 can be seen as the first instance of environmentally-related societal disruption affecting everyone (to different degrees) in rich countries. How have we responded? 

In many cases over the last year, people responded with curiosity and solidarity. However, numerous people have responded with blame, denigration, and shaming of alternative ideas so that they undermine policy scrutiny and support authoritarian suspensions of human rights. That form of societal disruption—perhaps breakdown—is occurring right now. It is something that some of us—our friends, colleagues, relatives, and neighbours—have been participating in, or tolerating. Because it is happening now and not in a theoretical future, the topic is inevitably more emotionally charged. Which is why many of us have shied away from it.

Until recently. More people in the field of collapse anticipation are publicly challenging the trajectory of societies, while anticipating the backlash they will experience from some. Paul Kingsnorth was co-founder of the group Dark Mountain, which started exploring collapse some years before Deep Adaptation. His interview, where he objects to divisiveness and authoritarianism as the mainstream response to public health in 2021, has been viewed over a million times. Some of the vitriol he received from well-known commentators in the environmental movement highlights the ongoing breakdown in civic dialogue that he was pointing to.

Perhaps his circumstances are instructive. Anticipating the breakdown of industrial consumer society, Paul moved to Ireland to live closer to the land and try to be more resilient. His situation is a reminder that although many of us might wish to leave behind activism and politics and live according to our values in more local ways, the state, mass media, and general public will not leave people alone. Resilience cannot be found one allotment or support circle at a time. Just as activism can become an all-consuming distraction, so anti-activism won’t insulate us from what is unfolding in society. All of it is needed.  

That is why this newsletter features both the personal and political—the inner and the outer—in responding to societal disruption. It is also why I have released both an article and a music video on the need to counteract mass media lies about different activists and instead find common cause in defending our freedom to care for each other and nature. And it is why I am delighted that an experienced facilitator in the DA field is launching ‘Freedom to Care’ online peer-support circles for people who feel they are experiencing medical aggression. I am hopeful that in 2022 more of us will learn from the limits and missteps of the 2021 response to public health and so be better prepared for future health-related disruptions with a better citizen-based agenda. Although some of us might seek to avoid arguments by choosing to regard the current suffering from public policies as neither relating to societal disruption or deep adaptation, that could imply not regarding human rights as constitutive of what we mean by society. Such avoidance could become an appeasement of abuse. In finding a way through the polarisation generated by mass media denigration of our fellow citizens, we will benefit from the counsel of spiritual elders such as Reverend Stephen Wright, who is the first Deep Adaptation Q&A guest in 2022, later this month.  

The climate emergency will not be receding (ever). The latest letter from the Scholars Warning explained that the failure of international climate policy was a result of decades of corporate influence. That same influence will be exerted over the way governments and media present options for responding to the ensuing chaos. That is why leadership and communication from people who do not want their ideas on how to care for each other to be shaped by corporate propaganda will be essential, and are why I will keep teaching that at University.

I hope you enjoy this upgraded newsletter, which benefits from a new editor, Dan Vie, and associate editor, Jessica Groenendijk. Dan is a community organiser on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. His work is in local activism and participatory engagement through the arts. He’s also one of the moderators of the DA Facebook group. Jessica is a biologist turned nature writer and volunteers with the DAF editorial team.

If you would like to give feedback on any of the content in this newsletter I recommend doing so via the Deep Adaptation Leadership group on LinkedIn.

Happy New Year,
Professor Jem Bendell
Publisher, Deep Adaptation Quarterly

Read Issue 9 of the Deep Adaptation Quarterly.

The Deep Adaptation Quarterly provides a summary of the last three months of news, views, events, and resources in the field of ‘deep adaptation’ (a concept and movement for reducing harm as we face and experience societal disruption). The newsletter is an independently-produced free publication, which aims to include a broad range of content related to collapse risk, readiness, and response. In it, we take a critical perspective on the culture and systems that have led to our predicament, and celebrate the solidarity amongst people in response. Not only will you read about the interpersonal, but also about activism on related matters. Subscribe to future Quarterlies.