Renaissance Woman Tools Up
This is a reflection on my experience of the enlightening and practical course, Tools for a Regenerative Renaissance.
If you feel moved to support me in my work as an unsalaried Regenerative Culture leader, you can make a donation here.
TFRR is run by Phoebe Tickell (whose work on Moral Imaginations is inspiring for mine on Possitopian futures) and Stephen Reid (a co-operative technologist and cultural changemaker). The course stood out amongst the welter of online offers responding to the planetary crisis variously through culture, care, technology, science, practical work and activism, because it promised to bring all these together. It certainly delivered, or at least provides masses of raw material for learning to emerge if participants continue to use the material and weave connections with fellow students. It’s created a kind of virtual library for the Regenerative Renaissance we can tap into for future thriving.
Thirty eight years ago I began studying History of Art. At the same time, I discovered global warming while being active against nuclear weapons. My life split like an atom. My days were immersed in art and aesthetics, big ideas of past civilisations. I felt I was Renaissance Woman — exploring the delights of philosophy, literature, art and history. But my nights were dripping in future anxiety. I was fixated with images of dystopia and annihilation, unaware of how to learn or shift from this.
Planetary destruction by industrial civilisation went largely unspoken in my daytime world of art, history and cultural education. In this world, hope for the future lay in educating people about the past, and enabling creative expression. For the past few years, I’ve been trying to fuse these two parts of my life. The main vehicle for this fusion is setting up Climate Museum UK, to bring cultural education into play with the global realities of the planetary crisis. The fuel for this vehicle is the personal learning we pursue as associates of CMUK and share with each other, so my challenge is to distill the hours, pages and fathoms of learning from TFRR to share its medicine with my colleagues. This post is a first attempt at distillery.
Creating this pot of medicine means picking one leaf from the forest of notes and memories for each of the six weeks.
Leaf one: Seeds and Circles
The main session was focused on Seeds, the conscious currency, and the founders Rieki Cordon and Cece Heart. We paid for the course in Seeds, and will be paid back many more when we graduate, to use for regenerative projects. This was one of the key tools I wanted to learn about, although I still need to understand it through practical use.
The leaf I pick from this week’s learning is a conversation with Tyson Yunkaporta and Sherri Mitchell, What If Indigenous Wisdom Could Save the World. Their whole conversation was a tree in itself, but I liked these ideas: Civilisation creates enclosure, but closed systems don’t exist. You can’t have the myth of progress unless you have a myth of primitivism (i.e. that modern/white people are more advanced). In order to have a growth-based system you must have inequality (more demand than supply). Systems that shut down abundance rest on systems of caste.
I’m looking forward to using my Seeds to help create a little bit of abundance.
Leaf two: Soil and Soul
This week was about Regenerative Agriculture & Thriving Local Economies, with guests Daniel Wahl and Precious Phiri. I spent a lot of time wandering in this week’s forest because I’m embarking on research into public attitudes to food sustainability. The session also covered more urban applications of tech such as microgrids of energy and connectivity, and it was the most overwhelming week of all.
Precious asked us to prepare a statement about the life I want now and what the future will look like. I wrote about how my hope lay in eco-capacities for healing the great separation that extractive, colonial civilisations have created. Daniel’s talk was a brilliant deep dive into his work on designing regenerative cultures. He talked about, amongst much else, how classical economics disconnect us from place, that soil is a portal to presence, and regeneration is about re-indigenisation. We have to move from belief systems that rest on redeeming our soul to redeeming our soil.
Amongst many, the leaf I pick is from watching the film 2040 by Damon Gameau.
I enjoyed how it visualised the Doughnut of social needs within planetary limits, showing how the most affected people fall into the hole, and animating how the doughnut (lifebelt?) needs to expand. The hole looks bleak but actually in the edges, where people have to be ‘positively deviant’ to avoid falling too far in, as 2040 shows, are vibrant communities, indigenous wisdoms and ingenious ideas. This helps me answer one of my questions: How do we put Culture in the Doughnut?
Leaf three: Currencies and Gifts
Session three was about regenerative economics and crypto-currencies, with a focus on Celo (see their principles here) and Circles. I felt warmer to Circles as it seemed a more human system where currency flows to grow solidarity between people rather than accumulates. I also liked the fact that it’s an art practice by its founder Sarah Friend.
So, what’s the leaf? In this week I rewatched this short film of Charles Eisenstein on Sacred Economics. A special session with Charles as guest speaker was arranged later in the session, and you can watch that talk and discussion here. We don’t earn all the things that make life good. We know life is a gift, so in a gift economy we are working with and for life, and for truth. You give according to need and gratitude is generated. When this is replaced with money based on extracting from life, gratitude and community are broken down. Sacred economics allow for the internalisation of costs (including environmental damage) and providing a social dividend. The currencies presented in this third session aim to embody the gift economy.
This is helping me revisit some thinking I did 7 years ago, when I came up with the idea of Oikonomics as a way to think about valuing Culture and shifting from a Cultural sector based on commodities and at the mercy of the financialised world to a commons-based culture.
Leaf four: Practices and Horizons
Session four was a really useful week for me, informing how we develop Climate Museum UK as a distributed museum with a membership model. We’re also developing a programme called Future Us, aiming to help young people imagine and pursue their own thriving futures in the context of the Earth crisis.
A key inspiration for the session was the work of Frederic Laloux on reinventing organisations as living, evolving beings. Structures for autonomous, horizontal management are not based on ‘predict and control’ but ‘sense and respond’. This creates environments where people can be their best selves.
Samantha Slade founder of Percolab and writer of Going Horizontal was the main speaker for this session. You can get a sense from this talk where she explains that 85% of workers are not engaged in their work, and extractive business models are killing the planet. These are three ways orgs can work as commons:
- Compensation as conversation — negotiate with colleagues on a project basis to feel fair for everybody. Transparent self-determined salaries.
- Collective decision making — saves management costs. “People need to create the rules by which they are governed.” Elinor Ostrom
- Not everything has to be transactional — give away some services for free. Have open meetings where anyone can come.
The leaf I take away is the importance of micro-practices. Meetings are where relationships are built, and the culture of an organisation grows with daily practice of making proposals to express your ideas and needs, and using consent or consensus based methods to move forward.
Leaf five: Co-ops and Stewards
This session was offering useful tools to learn about co-operative structures for organisations. A couple of key concepts explained:
‘Steward-ownership’ harnesses the power of entrepreneurial for-profit enterprise while preserving a company’s essential purpose to create products and services that deliver societal value and protecting it from extractive capital.
Stephen Reid’s explanation of a platform co-op was helpful: “A platform cooperative, or platform co-op, is a cooperatively owned, democratically governed business that establishes a computing platform, and uses a website, mobile app or a protocol to facilitate the sale of goods and services. Platform cooperatives are an alternative to venture capital-funded platforms insofar as they are owned and governed by those who depend on them most — workers, users, and other relevant stakeholders.”
The speakers for the session were Derek Razo of the Purpose Network and Trebor Scholz, writer of Uber-Worked and Underpaid: How Workers Are Disrupting the Digital Economy. Stephen Reid also introduced us to lots of tool libraries, or libraries of things, which was inspiring.
The leaf I pick is world-building after watching The Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin. Stephen highlighted her work ‘The Dispossessed’ in which people in the utopia Anarres attempt to live without property. Because they own nothing they also have no possessive pronouns. It was relevant to the session’s topic because “A key concept in the social imaginary on Anarres is the idea of society as an ecology, within which people have a ‘cellular function’ — a way of living that is their ideal contribution to the whole.” (Quote from piece by Hari Kunzru)
They identify as autonomous people but they are also colonised by the people of Urass. Le Guin’s father, Kroeber, was an anthropologist who worked to preserve the intangible heritage of First Nations Americans (e.g. Yahi people), which gave her a founding insight into colonialism.
This book is one cited by Rupert Read as a rare example of a ThruTopia, a future world imagined by following through from evidence of what is happening now. This fits with my thinking about Possitopia. Watching this was a wonderful reminder of the possibility of making a more just and thriving world by imagining and naming worlds, and that we can think about complexity by using these worlds as thought experiments.
“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.” Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed
Leaf six: Voices and Places
The final session was presentations by course students, whose proposals had been voted up. Of all the great contributions, the leaf I pick comes from Daniel Blydon’s talk about Civic Square. He mentioned the Dark Matter Labs work to explore new principles and practices of public good organising.
“How we organise has always been interwoven with how we perceive ourselves. Our prevalent models of organisation are heavily designed with a bias to self-reinforcing ideas of humans as separate and self-interested individuals and our systems designed with an emphasis to stratify and control. When we apply these principles to the purpose of creating ‘public good’ it leads to ‘good’ that is entangled with deep harm.”
This is insightful for my project for Climate Museum UK, collective collecting of incidents of Everyday Ecocide. How can we organise and do public good in ways that don’t perpetuate this subtle, normalised culture of ecocide?
From this point, what am I going to do? Definitely, more learning! I now have so much to read and so many platforms and tools to try. And I’ll also be interpreting this learning for others, turning some of this into a 4 week ‘Learning Journey’ (sign up here). I want to find ways of making it more accessible and visual. The image below shows Rembrandt’s mother reading a lectionary, staring at the illustration. Images have long been a vital tool in expanding public literacy. I’m returning to my History of Art roots, to explore the potential for the visual communication of complexity and ecological ideas, partly expressed in a visual handbook called Find Your Flow and Change the World.
There’s another aspect of this painting that is resonant for today. She’s reading a passage stating that those who wish to do good must give away half of all they own to the poor. This reminded me of an environmental campaign urging people (in wealthier countries) to reduce their consumption by half. And then there’s E O Wilson’s call to protect Half the Earth. What would that transformation look like if enough people did consume half (but still enough for all their needs) and also protected or rewilded half of the Earth? It’s really hard to imagine but it would be beautiful. And the tools for it are all in this course.
NB: The three Renaissance artworks in this post are high res images made freely available to the cultural commons that is the Rijksmuseum Studio.