A letter to Paul Kingsnorth

Dear Paul,

I watched with interest the recent program on Dutch television, De aarde draait door, featuring you and your family.

The program presents you as a renegade environmentalist, with or without your approval, I don't know. Please allow me the following brief interpretation of your statements.

What was intended to be a weapon for increasing the impact of the environmental movement, namely the adoption of the vocabulary of economic efficiency, has turned around and usurped the very heart of the movement itself. We regard the forest as a machine performing “ecosystem services” such as sequestering carbon, not as an entity with an inherent worth and dignity. The large-scale implementation of technological solutions (wind turbines, solar arrays) to reduce carbon emission is part of the problem, not the solution, in your view.

I agree that substituting the anthropocentric utilitarian frame for an (eco-)spiritual vocabulary is necessary for generating the philosophical kernel of a sustainable human presence on earth. I agree with your acknowledgement of the limitations of rationality when it comes to accurately understanding and dealing with the complexities of our ecological predicament. But I differ with you in your categorical disqualification of Progress as the secular religion of our time and the root of the evil we face.

The fact that you accept the children of Progress (automobile, electricity, internet etc.) in your personal life instantly and obviously lays bare the inconsistency in your position. I propose bridging this intellectual schism by embracing more and rejecting less of what humanity is doing in what is now commonly referred to as the Anthropocene. Taking a broad view of the career of human culture from prehistory to the present, and bringing compassion to our review of humanity's imperfect evolutionary path will, I believe, help us see Progress in a more favorable light. I could not put it more eloquently than Terence McKenna:

Humanity, correctly seen in the context of the last five hundred years, is an extruder of technological material. We take in matter that has a low degree of organization; we put it through mental filters, and we extrude jewelry, gospels, space shuttles. This is what we do. We are like coral animals embedded in a technological reef of extruded psychic objects. All our tool making implies our belief in an ultimate tool. That tool is the flying saucer, or the soul, exteriorized in three-dimensional space. The body can become an internalized holographic object embedded in a solid-state, hyperdimensional matrix that is eternal, so that we each wander through a true Elysium. (Terence McKenna, New Maps of Hyperspace, in The Archaic Revival, p. 93, HarperOne, 1992)
Photo by Ambir Tolang on Unsplash

For McKenna, technological progress is inextractably linked to spiritual progress. He taught me that we must take seriously our collective end-time yearnings, the most pervasive manifestation of which is perhaps the UFO phenomenon. I see the narrative of climate change (at least in part a reiteration of the biblical flood myth) as the publicly sanctioned expression of millenarianism of our time. Of course, its proponents can and will never admit to this, clad as they are in the impenetrable garment of scientific reductionism. “Climate change” predicts the end of the world in strictly material terms. Therefore, it is not conducive to a renewed spiritual orientation. Could it be that this radical materialism is the central obstacle in humanity's desperate quest, rather than the notion of progress?