If you’ve been following me on Twitter (see feed on the sidebar), you may have already seen these articles that I am linking to in this post. I came across Paul Kingsnorth via an article in Grist. The article (or blog post) was intriguingly titled ‘I withdraw’: A talk with climate defeatist Paul Kingsnorth. The post is basically a discussion between him and another writer Wes Stephenson.
The ideas that Kingsnorth mentioned in the article were interesting enough that I wanted to read more. So, I read Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist, an essay that Kingsnorth wrote and that was published in Orion magazine, and the stuff he wrote in the essay resonated with me. Here’s an excerpt:
A two-month break from my country, my upbringing, my cultural assumptions, a two-month immersion in something far more raw and unmediated, has left me open to seeing this place as it really is. I see the atomization and the inward focus and the faces of the people in a hurry inside their cars. I see the streetlights and the asphalt as I had not quite seen them before. What I see most of all are the adverts.
For the first time, I realize the extent and the scope and the impacts of the billboards, the posters, the TV and radio ads. Everywhere an image, a phrase, a demand, or a recommendation is screaming for my attention, trying to sell me something, tell me who to be, what to desire and to need. And this is before the internet; before Apples and BlackBerries became indispensable to people who wouldn’t know where to pick the real thing; before the deep, accelerating immersion of people in their technologies, even outdoors, even in the sunshine. Compared to where I have been, this world is so tamed, so mediated and commoditized, that something within it seems to have broken off and been lost beneath the slabs. No one has noticed this, or says so if they have. Something is missing: I can almost see the gap where it used to be. But it is not remarked upon. Nobody says a thing.
After reading the essay, I felt despair. Despair, because what Kingsnorth wrote about was something that I had felt sometimes, fleetingly, but that I’d not paid attention to; reading about it suddenly made things explicit. The best way to explain it is that it’s like the lens with which I was viewing the world had changed and I could not see things the old way anymore. A burst of clarity. (I will write more about this later; for now, let’s keep the focus on Kingsnorth.)
I decided to read more about Paul and found out that he co-founded something called The Dark Mountain Project, which you can read about via that link. Here’s another excerpt:
The Dark Mountain Project is a network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilisation tells itself. We see that the world is entering an age of ecological collapse, material contraction and social and political unravelling, and we want our cultural responses to reflect this reality rather than denying it.
I also started following him on Twitter (@paulkingsnorth) and then read another one of his essays (published again in Orion). Dark Ecology is a powerful and brave essay about “searching for truth in a post-green world”. Here’s an excerpt:
I’VE RECENTLY BEEN reading the collected writings of Theodore Kaczynski. I’m worried that it may change my life. Some books do that, from time to time, and this is beginning to shape up as one of them.
It’s not that Kaczynski, who is a fierce, uncompromising critic of the techno-industrial system, is saying anything I haven’t heard before. I’ve heard it all before, many times. By his own admission, his arguments are not new. But the clarity with which he makes them, and his refusal to obfuscate, are refreshing. I seem to be at a point in my life where I am open to hearing this again. I don’t know quite why.
You may read Kingsnorth’s essays and feel that he’s being defeatist or that he’s a pessimist. For me though, what he’s doing nothing short of heroic. It takes an incredible amount of courage to write what he’s written, and to, in his words, “withdraw”. I’m not sure that I have that kind of courage; if I do, I am still finding it.
So, do me a favour and please do read these two essays that I’ve linked to. They’re long but they are worth the effort. So, go on now; I’ll be here when you get back.