The Dark Mountain Project
We deluded ourselves we are in control, or if not we should be, soon will be. We tell ourselves stories that reinforce our delusions.
The machine is stuttering and the engineers are in panic. They are wondering if perhaps they do not understand it as well as they imagined. They are wondering whether they are controlling it at all or whether, perhaps, it is controlling them.— The Dark Mountain Manifesto
The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilisation. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with freedom and culture merely civil, — to regard man as an inhabitant, or part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of a society. — Henry David Thoreau
Without mystery, without curiosity and without the form imposed by a partial answer, there can be no stories—only confessions, communiqués, memories and fragments of autobiographical fantasy which for the moment pass as novels. — John Berger, ‘A Story for Aesop’, Keeping a Rendezvous
Somebody enquires: are you still a Marxist? Never before has the devastation caused by the pursuit of profit, as defined by capitalism, been more extensive than today. Almost everybody knows this. How then is it possible not to heed Marx who prophesied and analysed the devastation…? Yes, I’m still amongst other things a Marxist. — John Berger, Hold Everything Dear
Those who witness extreme social collapse at first hand seldom describe any deep revelation about the truths of human existence. What they do mention, if asked, is their surprise at how easy it is to die. — The Dark Mountain Manifesto
To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing. — Raymond Williams
And I imagine that he saw, finally,
That though rock stands, it does not breed.
— Robert Hass, The Return of Robinson Jeffers
Dark Mountain, the name conjures up a hollowed out mountain in a post-apocalyptic world. Metaphorically, that is an appropriate image.
We are at a crossroads.
A world in which everything is the same, a monochrome world of dull greys, where everyone looks the same, thinks the same, wears the same clothes, listens to the same music, all towns look the same, Clone Town, a world controlled by global corporations, humanity reduced to mindless consumers, a world running out of resources, a world where 1% of the population own more than half the wealth, a heavily polluted world, a world of sweatshop factories, low wages, a world driven by greed, a world rapidly approaching thermal runaway, a McWorld.
Or we can celebrate diversity, a rainbow world, a world of slow fashion, slow music, slow food, where culture and nature is valued, where people think, are creative, where farmers still save their seeds, where market towns are still market towns, with stalls and little alleyways, and shops run and owned by local shopkeepers, where we value our heritage, where people can experience live music and theatre and dance, where people can express a different thought than the Group Think, can show dissent, without being criminalised, marginalised, attacked by the forces of state repression ….
We have monocultures, not only in what we see grown in the fields, but monocultures of the mind.
Should global corporations own seeds, own the rights to life itself?
If we look at the rise and fall of civilisations, we see the fall, the collapse, came when they laid wast to the land around them. Eventually they exceeded the carrying capacity of the land.
Now, we are exceeding the carrying capacity of the planet. Our current economic and political system is not only destroying our planet, its primary rationale of existence is to destroy the natural world, thus containing the seeds of its own destruction.
Such stuff as dreams are made on, William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Prospero:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Once a year, The Dark Mountain Project publishes a book (from 2014, two a year). Each book, a collection of essays, prose, poetry and art, reflecting upon the state of the world as we find it today.
My curiosity aroused, I decided to order the latest of The Dark Mountain books, Dark Mountain 4, published summer 2013.
Ordering a nightmare, and I do not like that paypal is collecting personal data when ordering, even though not using paypal.
Ordering and having delivered to Greece, double the price.
Maybe Amazon better. Listed, but not in stock. The only one listed, Dark Mountain Issue 2 — Summer 2011, at a mind-numbing £38! And that was the lowest price, I have since seen at a mind-boggling £95! Neither price includes postage! Quite why people would pay these prices Dark Mountain can be ordered direct from Dark Mountain beggars belief, but then fools and their money are easily parted.
It would appear these are collectors books.
I tried again, paypal crashed, something had gone wrong. Do I start again, do I get double billed?
I tried again the following day. A few more false starts. Eventual success. A nightmare.
The books are not available as e-books. This is a mistake. Not that I prefer e-books, far from it, I would far rather have a real book in my hand. E-books reach a far wider audience, the reader may not have the pleasure of a real book, but at least they will not be denied the pleasure of the contents. I suggest publish on leanpub, set a low minimum price, with the option to pay more.
Submissions or contributions, are by a call on a blog.
Contributors do not get paid, but they do get a free book. This is a neat idea. They are thinking for the future, pay contributors. No, a bad idea, a free book is far nicer.
Art, music, story telling, is clearly important to us as human beings. Why, otherwise, as Grayson Perry asked in one of his Reith Lectures, did Man find his way into caves and paint those amazing cave painting? That we are the only primates who engage in story telling, may come from our early desire to sing.
What we fail to realise, how fragile human existence, how brittle our civilisation. We need soft systems, not hard systems, systems that can absorb shocks, not ones that shatter with one hard blow.
Few men realise,’ wrote Joseph Conrad in 1896, ‘that their life, the very essence of their character, their capabilities and their audacities, are only the expression of their belief in the safety of their surroundings.
In other words, we are living in an illusion, but so long as everyone else believes in the illusion, all will be fine, or so we try to convince ourselves.
We pretend we are not like lemmings, heading over the cliff, we pretend climate chaos is not real. And so long as we can all keep up the pretence, it is business as usual, Big Business as usual.
We all thought the rotten banks were safe. It only takes a few to recognise the Emperor has no clothes.
When our economic growth is built on continuing consumer spending with nothing underpinning it, other than the faith it can continue. Indeed, the very act of consuming, is the Brave New World soma, it keeps us in a state of stupefaction making it impossible to see reality. So long as we have the latest consumer ‘must have’, we are happy, only we know we are not happy, therefore we must consume more, a junkie desperate for the next fix.
Each generation was led to believe theirs was the better lot than those who had gone before. It appeared to be true, it became cast in stone. It was called Progress, nothing could be allowed to stand in the way of progress.
Then something strange began to happen. From the 1950s, 1960s, as people acquired more things, things they did not really need or want, but were told they did, they found they were not happier.
Then even stranger things began to happen, their material wealth, that would always rise, they knew it would always rise, was this not their inalienable right, was it not set in stone, stopped rising, then began to fall. But coupled with that, their quality of life began to fall, their sense of well being, not simply as measured by their material wealth.
We have been led to believe Nature will provide all, there are no costs to be paid. That it is a free bank from which we can all draw and there are no deposits to be made.
We are told we need a High Speed Rail Link, HS2, to link London to Birmingham, that will enable us to reach Birmingham 20 minutes sooner than the existing rail network. No one explains why, why we need to reach Birmingham 20 minutes sooner, or why we even need to go to Birmingham.
We are told we need fracking. No one explains where the water will come from when most areas are in drought, and water users are encouraged to conserve their water usage. No one explains what we will will drink when our ground water becomes contaminated.
We are told to consume. No one explains how a finite planet supports infinite consumption, or indeed what is the point of consumption, why we need to keep buying stuff we neither need nor want. We are told it makes us happy. We all know that not to be true, at least we know it not to be true when we pause from consuming to think about it.
The Third World is offered Development. Fill the factories with cheap sweat-shop labour, produce cheap goods for the West to consume. Turn the land into a sink for Western chemicals, grow commodities the price of which is controlled by the West. The only ones likely to survive are those who de-link from the global economy built on an illusion, who work with Nature, only Nature is changing, even they may not survive.
Where does, this lead us, we may ask, what be the answer, thoughts Robinson Jeffers expressed aloud in Answers:
Then what is the answer? Not to be deluded by dreams.
To know that great civilisations have broken down into violence,
and their tyrants come, many times before.
When open violence appears, to avoid it with honor or choose
the least ugly faction; these evils are essential.
To keep one’s own integrity, be merciful and uncorrupted
and not wish for evil; and not be duped
By dreams of universal justice or happiness. These dreams will
not be fulfilled.
To know this, and know that however ugly the parts appear
the whole remains beautiful. A severed hand
Is an ugly thing and man dissevered from the earth and stars
and his history … for contemplation or in fact …
Often appears atrociously ugly. Integrity is wholeness,
the greatest beauty is
Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty
of the universe. Love that, not man
Apart from that, or else you will share man’s pitiful confusions,
or drown in despair when his days darken.
Worldwatch Institute issue their annual reports on the State of the World. Very gloomy reading.
Transition Network recognise we need to get from we were are now, to where we need to be, and try and map a course from one to the other.
John Berger chose to live outside of the city, in the mountains of the Haute Savoie, in a valley too steep for mechanical farming and therefore among the last enclaves of peasant life in western Europe. The location, gives him a foot in two different worlds, the world that once was, and looking outwards the world that is, or thinks it is.
When I came here I was mostly with the old peasants, because the younger ones had gone, and they became my teachers. It was like my university, because I didn’t go to university. I learnt to tap a scythe, and I learnt a whole constellation of sense and value about life.
In Greece, with the collapse of the public sector, high unemployment, austerity being used as a cover for Shock Doctrine, where once young people left the villages, many with no prospect of finding meaningful employment, are returning to the villages, learning like John Berger to work the land.
Only the poor can afford the luxury of seeing the world as it really is.
We delude ourselves with what if …
What if we genetically modify plants, we will be able to feed the world. What if we carry out massive geo-engineering, we will be able to combat climate change.
When we gain control, and it is always when, not if, the only question left, is how do we use what is ours, sustainably?
We delude ourselves we are in control, or if not we should be, soon will be.
We tell ourselves stories that reinforce our delusions. Should we not tell ourselves stories that force us to face up to reality?
The Dark Mountain Project discuss the state we are in, the paths we need to follow or at least explore, through essays, prose, poetry and art, and now music. One of the principle means of doing is a book, Dark Mountain, an anthology, published once a year, and from 2014, twice a year.
The Dark Mountain Project is a network of writers, artists and thinkers in search of new stories for troubled times. We promote and curate writing, art, music and culture rooted in place, time and nature.
No 2 Top Story in The Poet Daily (Thursday 19 December 2019).