We are still humans behind our tweets and capable of dialogue

Do you remember when discussion about public health and civil liberties in one’s own country used to be calm and deliberative? A bit boring even? Well now we live in more interesting times. Because the legacy media and establishment pundits do not like open conversation about these subjects, and demonise people with different views, many of us have become shy to speak our minds. In the environmental sector, organisations have been silent on these topics, unless it is about their own civil liberties. Of course such a sectarian embrace of human rights is neither coherent nor effective. Environmental activists facing more and more jail time for nonviolent protest is a clear indicator of that failure. 

As the Canadian Prime Minister gave himself the power to freeze the bank accounts of people supporting non violent protests that he disagrees with, the topic of freedom rightly exploded on social media. And so this issue arrived in the corner of the internet that is made up of environmental folks on Twitter. The campaign group Extinction Rebellion tweeted an invitation to discuss whether its rebels should be concerned about what is happening with reaction to anti-mandate protests around the world. It got some support and criticism, with some critics demanding people lose their jobs at XR for even inviting the conversation. One concern was that the question was invited with a link to my music video and blog that promote unity across all kinds of protests against corporate power and the State’s abuse of power. So someone decided to delete the relevant tweets. A screenshot of one of the tweets was shared by a former leading figure in XR, asking why delete something on a topic that is so central to non violent direct action? 

My stance is that authoritarianism is not the answer to societal problems. Otherwise China would be perfect by now. My stance is that humanity has got itself into this catastrophic environmental situation because of the economic system – capitalism – and not because we humans are all naughty people who need a strict father dictator with better morals than us to order us around or freeze our money. Sadly that view does not appear to be in the majority in the environmental movement at the moment. Or at least not according to the people who speak out on green issues in the media and online. 

One academic chose to criticise me for my views. She disagrees with my views on the climate predicament, as well as civil liberties and the pandemic response. Perhaps criticise is the wrong word. According to her, I am a bad faith actor, who is anti-science, with no academic credibility, who is supporting racists, the far right and conspiracy theorists. Probably she had not read my proposals for a much less corporate and more worker solidarity based agenda on the pandemic. Or my criticism of the western media and commentariat for ignoring the experience across Africa. According to this Professor of Economics, I am also into grift. I had to double check the definition: ‘a petty or small-scale swindle’. That would be for running 2 workshops in 2019, which I didn’t make profit from. When faced with such baseless abuse, one could turn away. But when someone is calling you a swindler in public, replying with a tweet seems less tiresome than talking to your lawyer. So I did (see below). 

[Search for more or Subscribe]

However, after sending that tweet, I realised that I had momentarily become defensive about hosting learning experiences. How bizarre. I thought back to those amazing experiences in 2019 and how they helped with my own transformation and other people with theirs. I suddenly felt immensely proud of the impact of those events and fondly of the people who attended. I thought of Dr Vanessa Andreotti, who came to the 2nd retreat and helped me learn more about Western modernist delusions. Her new book on Hospicing Modernity is essential reading to help understand the damaging responses that all manner of political camps are engaged in throughout the West as societies destabilise. I thought of Michael Shaw, who sold his house to make a film about Living in the Time of Dying. I thought of Dr Malika Virah Sawmy, who went to COP26 in Glasgow to offer new ways for people to explore the reality of their emotions about the climate crisis and is a spokesperson for the international Scholars Warning on societal disruption and collapse. I thought of Herb Simmons who has been doing important work in promoting the use of natural carbon drawdown techniques. I thought of Sue Brayne who brought Death Cafe processes into the Deep Adaptation Forum to help people with their grief about the environmental predicament. I thought of Dean Walker, who has been continuing to interview people to share their truth about living with an anticipation of societal breakdown, or an experience of it. I thought of Shu Liang, who continues to help organisations think through the implications of societal disruption, and also helped the Deep Adaptation paper get released in China. I thought of many more who went deep together in 2019 as we came to terms with our horrible and frightening situation.

How poor of me to have a moment of reducing the importance of those two retreats in my life, just because of some words on the screen of my phone. I am not defensive, but proud of what we learned and achieved in our retreats. I am honoured to have worked with Katie Carr on those retreats and thus learned how better to hold space for deep emotional work. I am grateful that we managed to work out ways to provide the same kind of experiences online, and are doing so in March for a group who are signatories to the international scholars warning on societal disruption and collapse. 

I also realised how unempathetic of me to distance myself momentarily from the whole enterprise of organising workshops. So many of my friends lost their livelihoods because of pandemic policies that made in-person workshops impractical. Not all of them could access government money. So whereas people with large and regular salaries from academic institutions do not have to worry about whether a lack of sign ups means they won’t have money in the bank at the end of the month, self-employed people who offer workshops must have a passion and dedication to continually take that risk. 

Reflecting on the importance of meaningful workshops and the bravery of workshop producers, meant I wanted to that you, as a reader of my blogs, hear about those being produced by people connected to the Deep Adaptation Forum. A quick browse of the events page at the Forum shows a schedule of online events, including a deep relating session, a business sector meeting, a spiritual song circle, a death cafe conversation circle, an ecopsychology activity, a decolonizing meeting, and a training on nonviolent communication on disagreements. Clicking through from that to find more personal tailored support, I discovered an expanding community of Deep Adaptation Guides, with a range of relevant experience and capability to help us cope better as we experience eco-distress. That is a great diversity of stuff, all reflecting a huge amount of love and energy. Please check them out and tell friends and colleagues. 

Twitter seems to bring out unusual forms of communication from some people. For instance, I find it hard to picture a fellow Professor on a panel with me at a conference saying to my face in front of an audience that I am a bad faith actor, a swindler, a far right sympathiser, with no academic credibility. If I close my eyes to imagine it, I can only see someone hyperventilating and not actually getting the words out. On twitter this kind of interaction is a combative zero sum approach. It invites jeers from a cyber crowd against one’s enemy. There is no aim for something new to be created together. So it is a patriarchal mode of interaction, where domination is the aim. It is similar but even worse than the way people engaged in formal debates when I was at University. Like most, I find it difficult not to succumb to the format. On the leadership and communications course that I teach in person once a year for a week in the UK, we explore various alternative ways of engaging with each other in generative dialogue. We explore how our inner world of emotions, with cravings and aversions, shapes how we think, decide and speak. Katie and I identified that as crucial to how we can arrive at new insights in the face of societal disruption. Last year we published an academic paper on this “deep relating” approach and its facilitation. It involves people putting down the masks and armour of their professional roles. Seeing how my critics engaged on that thread on twitter, I wonder how different it would be to sit in circle with them for a week, sharing our fears and uncertainties. Certainly it has been transformative for past participants who work in XR, business, the UN, local government, and TV. 

Just because I am a (part time) academic who teaches some courses as part of my job, does this mean the course I mentioned is not a “grift”? I think many courses in University can be a waste of time, as people are simply seeking the certificate. But for this course, I continue to do it because it has been life changing, including for people who are engaged in world changing. So after a stressful time witnessing and responding to combative tweets, I am feeling both relieved and excited about the certainty that there is a more beautiful and powerful way of being in dialogue, even when in disagreement. 

However, we still live in a world where, through online interaction, the accusations mount and the othering continues. If you have been experiencing difficult emotions as a result of corporate medical orthodoxy imposed upon you from media, government, bosses, colleagues, friends or family, then you do not need to suffer that alone. The “Freedom To Care” initiative is organising circles of support.

Thx for reading, 


“Amazing facilitation. Extremely open climate. The feeling of being in a safe space. The group work I just wanted more of.”

“The mix of gentle, reflective and meditative practices, joyful play, hard academia and questioning debate and conversation allowed me to engage with each element in a different way, and preventing me from becoming weary mentally or emotionally from too much of one thing.”

The course takes place in June in the English Lake District. It can also be done as part of a University certificate or masters degree.