Telling Uncomfortable Truths to Progressives

Despite us having learned to be human within capitalist societies, more of us are breaking free from its limiting ideologies. Those ideologies include deep stories about dominating nature, competitive humans, constricted knowing, and perpetual material expansion, which surround us nearly all the time. That is why those ideologies also express themselves within social movements, political agendas, and some of our friends’ social media postings about latest fixation of legacy media. And as those ideologies shape our habits of thought, to separate ourselves from them can be difficult. Which is why it is so heartening to witness more people breaking free and beginning to live differently – and now calling on others to do the same. Whether staying in their jobs and promoting different ways of working, or quitting to make time to create local cooperatives, permaculture projects, emotional support groups, or to promote needed technologies and public policies, many people are improving their lives and those of others.

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It’s time they heard from you on societal breakdown

EDITORIAL for the Deep Adaptation Quarterly, Issue 10, April 7th 2022.

Over the past months, a few new terms have appeared in the news as pundits seek frameworks to explain what is happening around the world. I have read that we are in a period of polycrisis, or permacrisis, or even World War 3. There are various reasons offered for why more of us are experiencing tougher and increasingly anxious circumstances. Since the pundits work for legacy media organisations, the explanations we hear are anything other than the death throes of global capitalism as it hits natural limits. And since they speak from within the ‘Overton window’ of respectable conversation, neither do we hear that our situation can be described as the beginning of the breakdown of industrial consumer societies. Instead, a superficial, distracting, and sedating hope of returning to something more ‘normal’ is a compulsion for them. So I am pleased to greet you here in this Quarterly, outside that narrow scope of perception. 

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Where Wisdom and Geoengineering Meet

More climate scientists say emissions cuts are not enough and we face imminent catastrophe unless deliberately altering the climate. What are the options and challenges? I interviewed Dr Ye Tao who is proposing we use massive amounts of mirrors to reduce harm in the short term.

By Jem Bendell

In 2018, Dr Ye Tao was a Harvard engineer working on nanoscale magnetic resonance imaging. He read the Deep Adaptation paper on climate disaster, then cross-checked it with over a thousand peer-reviewed papers across several climate-relevant fields, and realised the growing existential risk to modern civilisation. So that included everything he was working on. He wondered what would be the point of continuing with his engineering work in such a scenario. Instead, Dr Tao decided to repurpose his expertise to try to give humanity a better chance of reducing the catastrophe ahead. Dr Tao has since been developing and promoting what he argues is a scalable, safe, green and flexible form of climate engineering. It proposes using mirrors to reflect the sun, mostly from the ground and over coral reefs at sea, to cool agricultural land, save fresh water, and preserve ecosystems. He arrived at this idea after analysing and debunking the science and economics behind other approaches to geoengineering (which is also known today as ‘climate repair’ and ‘climate restoration’). 

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Don’t blame Putin or Covid for your sky-high grocery bill

Today I launched my essay about the biggest scam in human history, which is the Central Bank buying of corporate bonds. The essay is available on the P2P Foundation website. I am delighted a promoter of radically democratic economic alternatives published the essay, as the scale of the ‘Quantitative Sleazing’ scam is an indicator of how it is hopeless to attempt reform of the monetary system. The multi-millionaires and their relatives in charge of the relevant financial institutions will continue to risk the collapse of monetary systems while enriching themselves and making us poorer through high inflation. You can read the full essay Responding to Inflation From a Pandemic of Quantitative Sleazing – P2P Foundation or browse below the twitter thread I produced to summarise some of the issues arising.

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Don’t blame #Putin or #Covid for your sky-high grocery bill. Blame the elites who collude with the biggest scam in history, involving #CentralBanks and their friends in finance, under the cover of the pandemic. A thread on #QuantitativeSleazing…

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Hoarding Green Righteousness Will Not Get Us Far – dialogue will

Looking at how some people in the West use the term ‘climate justice,’ I wonder if we are seeing the latest in middle class Western instrumentalization of the suffering and injustices of the world, for the purposes of further self-appreciation. That can occur because of the way commentators within the contemporary Western environmental movement have been inculcated in the hierarchical ideology of the Professional Managerial Class. Within that ideology, there is an instinct towards what Professor Catherine Liu calls ‘virtue hoarding’ where any issue of moral consideration is material for adding to one’s story of being an ethically superior self, who needs to impose one’s ideas on other people, particularly the working class. As decolonial scholar Professor Vanessa Andreotti explained in her Q&A with me, there is a lot more ‘composting of our shit’ from modernity that we need to do first before being useful in promoting either justice or healing after centuries of colonial domination.

Perhaps an example of this phenomenon is the discussion emerging around a rather ‘uppity’ damning of the Deep Adaptation movement that was published in The Ecologist Magazine. In an open letter by one of the authors on the receiving end of their ire, Matthew Slater wrote the following to the author:

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Annual update from Jem

This is the update I sent to subscribers to my personal professional newsletter, which I hadn’t sent for a year.

Many of us intuited, or calculated, that life would not really return to ‘normal’, even if we did not expect war in Europe. I hope that despite the stresses and strains, that your past year has had some silver linings. For me, it was a year of change. Workwise, it was a big year for my written outputs, with a book and journal articles out on Deep Adaptation to climate chaos. But it was also a creative time, with more poetry, art and music than ever before. For that, I blame the virus. But more on that later. First, I want to mention one thing that didn’t happen. I didn’t teach in person at all! So, I am super happy that in June I will once again lead a weeklong leadership course in the English Lake District. I hope I remember how to stand in front of people, rather than sit in front of a screen. And I hope that rationality and ethics prevail over jingoism, pride and hidden agendas, so that we see a resolution to the conflict in Europe well before then.  

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Leading in disruptive times – support yourself with a short course

“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.” A past participant in a week long leadership course in the Lake District, UK, with Jem Bendell and Katie Carr.

Most leadership courses that I know about are taught with assumptions that the world is getting better, that we know what better means, and that students of leadership want to play a larger role in that success. Whether leadership is being developed in management schools, public policy schools or by professional development consultants, those assumptions seem pervasive. As a Professor of Leadership, over the past decade I have attended many such courses, from the hills of Bali to halls of Harvard Uni. Even those leadership courses that are themed on the problems of environmental sustainability and social justice incorporate those three assumptions. If you think they are reasonable, perhaps even aspirational, then you would not be alone. Because they are assumptions that relate to some of the core ideas of modern societies. However, I take a different view. I believe that seeking personal success within a society that one assumes to be progressing is now an unhelpful starting point for learning leadership that meets the predicaments of our time. Courses that respond to that idea can even encourage people to regard themselves, others, and the world, in counterproductive ways. Instead, helpful forms of leadership in disruptive times can start from the perspective that the world is not going to get ‘better,’ that we can drop inherited ideas of what ‘better’ means, and that students of leadership can seek to engage positively in society without attachment to pre-determined outcomes. Rather, we can engage in leadership learning as a way of exploring what to become, and what to do, as societies become more unstable and the old ways of life break down.

Since 2014, I have taught a leadership course over a week that grows from this alternative starting point. Many participants have found the shifts in perception of both themselves and our times to be life changing. They have come from many walks of life – UN, governments, political parties, local governments, corporations, banks, NGOs, the police, academics and activist groups – and from many parts of the world. Since 2018, after I personally concluded that the collapse of industrial consumer societies is inevitable, the context of increasing disruption and the framework of ‘deep adaptation’ have become more important to the course. If this concept is new to you, I recommend listening to the introduction to my book on Deep Adaptation. Over the years, many of the alumni have stayed in touch and provide ongoing mentoring to each other. Because making a positive contribution to societies in crisis requires constant re-evaluation and looking after one’s own emotional wellbeing, that ongoing support is important.

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The Wisdom of Play in Times Like These

I first met Zori at an Improvisational Theatre workshop. I set up the free weekly gathering as I had recently discovered Improv and knew I needed it in my life. It is the perfect therapy for a perfectionist, for someone who feels they need to know and calculate everything before doing something. Because you can’t do that with Improv. After the workshop a group of us went to dinner and I told Zori the paper I had been working on. As a former IT entrepreneur and someone exploring the possibility of starting a business, she was interested in the environmental theme. I explained how during my year unpaid sabbatical from my University job, I had returned to reading the scientific literature on climate change, and had concluded that it is too late to sustain the industrial consumer societies that we depend upon. I had also concluded that this scenario was not in the distant future, but that many of us would suffer and die as a result of the breakdown of the systems that feed, cloth, house, protect and motivate us. 

“How long do we have?” asked Zori, as we waited for our dinner.  

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Ukraine: how it could go and what to do about it

The Russian invasion is shocking, terrible and worrying. In addition, the years of destabilizing of Ukraine by USA and Russia, and the ensuing civil war, has also been really bad. According to many analysts, who know more than I do about the politics involved, those past actions made this new war highly likely. But the new level of aggression from Russia is unnecessary and illegitimate. Like many people, I am feeling dismayed that people continue to kill each other for what appears to be a desire for power or expressing pride. Also, like many people, I fear how this situation could escalate. Hopefully the killing can be stopped, and political settlements reached very soon.

Like many of my friends, I look upon the suffering and dramas of the world and feel not only dismayed but also powerlessness. That sense of powerlessness can drive us towards an argument with whomever is within reach, particularly online. Such arguments might give a momentary release from our pain of being powerless. But such arguments do not necessarily achieve anything. Worse, they can shut down the space for lateral thinking and generative dialogue on how to reduce harm, avoid escalation and seek justice.

So, what should we do when wars break out? I am a member of a few networks of people who I have noticed consider themselves morally agentic individuals, many of whom have senior roles in their societies. I have seen a lot of messages in the last few days about what leaders should do, or what each of us can do. Most of these ideas look like either leading to escalation or being completely ineffectual. In contrast, right now, my honest view is that I have no idea what to do. Condemning the violence is obvious. Like many, I condemn the violence before the Russian invasion and from the Russian invasion. That part is easy for onlookers. But it does not have much impact. So, I find myself in a situation of wanting to learn more about why, how and what next, before deciding what might be useful to say or do.

With that reticence in mind, I have been surprised to see various people call for the militaries of the West to directly engage Russia. It is obvious where that could lead. Part of my own process of reflection is to consider the wider forces involved, in order to discern what situations might develop, so that I can avoid contributing to a worsening of a situation. That means I interpret current events with some understanding of the wider geopolitical tensions and strategies. For instance, some countries are on record in their geopolitical strategy documents that they want to prevent Europe from becoming a global superpower. However, destroying the continent in war would be a heinous way of doing that. It could be easy enough to make European nations struggle more for the gas that fuels its industry and fertilizes its agriculture. Knowing there could be hidden motives and machinations, I think that for all the people of Europe, Ukraine and Russia, we need to maintain ways of having calm conversations about what might de-escalate the situation and return Ukraine to peace and good governance.

That is why it is concerning to witness attempts to demonize anyone in the West who wants to discuss more broadly how this war came to be, or what a de-escalation might involve. The tactic of some journalists is to make it seem shameful to participate in a broader conversation, and for anyone who does that to be subjects of our disgust. Why do some journalists do that? They know that most people fear being shamed in public, and that anyone we are disgusted by, is never listened to. Therefore, the aim of shaming the possibilities for broader discussion on a war is so we all follow the narrative of the powerful in our respective countries: whatever that narrative is now or might become in future. So, when we see shaming tactics used, it reveals what agenda the shamers are working in service of: zero dialogue and maximum conformity. I believe that by reducing policy scrutiny and accountability in that way is unhelpful for the goal of peace and justice at any time, including wartime.

In direct opposition to that kind of shutting down of dialogue, I want to participate in open-minded discussions about what might be happening and what might happen. That is not to welcome any conspiracy stories. Indeed, belief in conspiracy stories that a group of people have a secret agenda that is driving everything is another way of dealing with the emotions of feeling upset and powerless – by blaming an imaginary all powerful evil entity. Instead, I want to offer a hypothetical scenario to stimulate your own reflection.

The scenario draws from two phenomena I have heard are happening ‘under the radar’ and which could become decisive. First, private money has started flowing into Ukraine to buy arms to fight the Russian army. Second, various non-state actors (businesses and others) are acting to try to take Russia off the internet. There are arguments for and against each action. But what might happen next? Here are my guesses at possible futures.

  1. The cyber-reaction by non-state actors to the Russian invasion partly succeeds, so that Russians are taken offline.
  2. The Russian government retaliates via cyber-attacks on the nonstate actors that worked to take it offline, as well as the financial donors to the Ukraine military.
  3. Suddenly various internet services around the world are disrupted. Your webmail doesn’t work and emails bounce. Your messenger services don’t work. Your financial transactions don’t go through.
  4. The world’s media announces this is a Russian cyberwar on the whole world. While there might be some truth in that characterisation, Russia responds that these are ‘false flag’ cyber-attacks, used as a psychological war by the West against its own people. Some alternative media in the West agrees.  
  5. The mass media in the West establishes the narrative that the West is now in a new perpetual state of cyberwar with Russia.
  6. BigTech responds to the cyber-security crisis by requiring all users of their services to prove who we are, with government issued identification. In many countries that requirement is mandated by law.
  7. Additionally, governments pass laws that any provider of internet services is now required to ban any users that are deemed either supportive of extremism or rogue states. The algorithms start hiding, suspending and deleting lots of people online.
  8. To not become victims of such algorithmic sanction, people sign up to services that help prove that we are not a person of concern. These systems involve various ongoing checks on our beliefs and behaviours.
  9. The war comes to an end with the powerful now having more control over our lives and what we are allowed argue about…

Why do I share this hypothetical scenario? Because any kind of disruptive event can be used to further the agenda of the powerful, and there is an important agenda to be aware of, that is not a conspiracy, but the natural progression of global capitalism. That is a trajectory of societies towards what Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis has called ‘technofeudalism’ where we all become the serfs of global technology corporations. To labour a point – recognising that horrors like wars can be used by elites to further the slide into technofeudalism does not mean there is a conspiracy. It would not mean that BigTech somehow provoked Vladimir Putin directly, or via US foreign policy. That is the way conspiracy theorists can undermine serious dialogue towards understanding how capitalist interests are always lurking to take advantage of disaster, or fears or disasters – from war, to health, to climate and beyond.  

To have any chance of addressing the disruptions, rather than becoming victims of the elites’ use of such disruptions for their own strategic aims, we in the general public must maintain our capacity for open dialogue. Sadly, we have seen that a lot of people just engage online to feel part of a morally superior mob. Indeed, some people may be trying to make us engage in that way precisely to enforce conformity with the dominant narratives, as I described earlier.

So back to the question of what should I do? Whether on the conflict in Ukraine, or on the way that capitalists take advantage of disasters to further their power? After taking the time to reflect as I wrote this blog, I came up with the following ideas.

  • Perceive. Let’s seek to notice how various ideas that we are hearing are inviting us to feel about ‘categories’ of people. Let’s notice if we are feeling disgusted or angry as a result of such information, and try neither to conclude nor communicate from such emotions. Instead, let’s ask for more about the potential implications of what is being said. That can be done publicly, in all kinds of ways. For instance, as usual, I wrote a blog mainly to be able to share with people I know, so that I can have better conversations about this situation. You might decide to engage journalists or politicians about it. Sometimes you will be called names, threatened or maligned in some other way. Don’t worry too much about that as many people will recognise such tactics for what they are, and it will give you are chance to point out such tactics as a toxic ploy (yep, I speak from experience).   
  • Protest. I was involved in anti-war demonstrations in the past, particularly in 2003. It did not stop the war. But it demonstrated that there was not such widespread public support for it. People in Russia are rightly protesting against the war. People in Europe may also start protesting against any escalation from the West. It is important that the media in any country is not allowed to get away with telling just one story about public opinion. Once you start protesting against a war, you might want to continue supporting efforts to stop all wars. For instance, the horrors in the Yemen cast a shadow on any of our expressions of concern for people in the world.
  • Prepare. Not only could wars trigger a cyber-crash, but the onward march of techno-feudalism, under the cover of cyber security, could also compromise our basic freedoms. Either the direct effects of war, or the impacts of a cyber-crash, could trigger socio-economic hardship or breakdown. It is wise to try to become a little more resilient to such disruptions. That does not just mean having a couple months of food in the cupboard. It means not having everything you depend upon on the internet, and not having everything you eat or enjoy dependent on global supply chains. It means knowing neighbours better to be able to share heat, light, and food, if necessary, and a sense of camaraderie when you might be feeling anxious. That is a long-term project, connected to trends that are, in some places, called Transition Towns and Deep Adaptation. There is no harm in transforming your anxieties into doing something practical and local right now. And I am not just talking about people in Europe; cyber-attacks could affect everyone connected to modern consumer societies.
  • Pray. Whether religious or just aware of fields of consciousness, you might believe in the power of prayer. Since I took up meditation, I have not prayed for a while. So today I will pray again. What kind of divine consciousness I will pray to – and how – is something I will have to experiment with.  

I am sure there will be many other things to do that I have not thought of. But it is OK not to know. To pause. To not let the fear open us up to any manipulation or jingoism. So I am interested to know what you are thinking and feeling, and am opening comments below for a few days. I will do some gardening on them if there are any comments or insinuations about character (mine or any others), as my hope is for something better than that.

Stay loving, stay free 😉


PS: If you are feeling such anxiety that you feel like you might not cope, then apart from seeking immediate support, I recommend this guide from psychologist Dr. Aimee Maxwell. It is something also offered as a backup for participants in the Freedom To Care support circles and has been widely recommended.

A Positive Song in a World Gone Silly

During the pandemic many people appear to have had their capabilities for logic and ethics vaporised in the heat of fear and the distortions of reality from elite interests.  Consequently, from a serious public health perspective, the conversations about the pandemic are mostly silly. That does not mean there are really serious and damaging outcomes for individuals and societies. Millions of lives were lost and many might have been saved with smarter actions and more free flowing information. Now millions more lives are being risked due to the impacts of policies on supply chains and the cascading impacts on the poor worldwide. But given how much misinformed piety and pseudo professionalism is on show, it can be helpful at times to simply laugh at the orthodoxy on the pandemic. Here are some examples. 

Medical officials ignoring early outpatient treatment from their frontline colleagues? Arrogantly silly. 

Bigtech firms suppressing such information that might save lives? Ruthlessly silly. 

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