This series of blog posts considers how the dominant story of controlling nature came to be and how we might change the story again, to one more likely to persist into a viable future for all species. It was Yuval Noah Harari and his captivating book, Sapiens: a brief history of humankind (2011) which brought a lot of disparate thoughts together. Nations, money, human rights and religions are all stories we create to make sense of the world around us, and to maintain social order.
Maintaining social order has been a vital part of human civilisation. It was achieved in the past more through fear (of God, execution or some other suffering) than today’s manipulation of our desires: follow the rules and you can afford comfort, convenience and exercise your right to be happy. The internet means that everyone’s ‘story’ is out there, in the ether, creating followers and trolls alike. But we don’t seem able to view our own beliefs in any kind of wider context of what science and/or different cultures tell us. More and more, if people disagree with us, they are just dismissed as wrong. I can well imagine a young person from anywhere in the Middle East becoming quite upset as they learn what ‘the west’ has done to their country in the past. Yet, we don’t discuss why ‘terrorists’ believe what they do; we don’t talk about why the US is deemed by some as the ‘great Satan’ because to do so might be seen as an admission of guilt.
We are social beings, and have been since before our species, Homo sapiens, evolved. Yet ‘progress’ blunders on, polluting the environment regardless of who or what lives there, ‘gentrifying’ poor areas rather than pulling poor communities out of poverty, boldly venturing into space again while here on Earth we are creating a technological, energy-hungry future with rarely a nod to the problems of replacing fossil fuels as our main source of energy. Our oceans are full of plastics and have been for decades, but thankfully someone who people listen to, Sir David Attenborough, has now pointed out the horrors plastic wreaks on the lives of others. Plastics were invented less than a century ago, yet their footprint already reaches everywhere. And they are made from oil, let’s not forget. Why doesn’t the campaign to reduce plastic waste become a campaign to reduce our need for plastics altogether? Remember that there is more to plastics than packaging and poly bags. Need an artificial limb or a pacemaker? You’ll need plastic. But there is such resistance to questioning how we live and what we see as being ‘right’ or ‘true’. I don’t claim to have any answers but I do know that without people, ecosystems would get along just fine. Without ecosystems, nothing survives. I really cannot work out why we don’t get that.
This is a crazy time to be alive, and it’s tricky keeping up with the various ‘narratives’ out there. Trump’s going to nuke North Korea. Oh, now the Winter Olympics have brought North and South Korea together, and Trump is going to meet his arch nemesis. Phew, Armageddon averted! But wait, in England the Russians are at it again, this time in Salisbury (Salisbury of all places!), striking terror into, well Teresa May anyway. Diplomats, or are they spies, scatter. Meanwhile, back in the US, Trump has fired Rex Tillerson, who is just the latest in a long line of senior officials who have quit, been fired, or eased out by the White House. I felt I knew what was going on in the days of W; just follow the oil. But these Trumpean times have me well and truly baffled.
I think I’ll end this post with a couple of quotes from acclaimed novelist, Ursula Le Guin who died recently. The news I was watching played a clip of Ursula accepting the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2014. She spoke of the need to see ‘other ways of being’.
“We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings! Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art and very often in our art – the art of words.”
In her 1974 book, The Dispossessed, she said, “You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.”
So, I write.