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An emptiness

I promised a few people that I wouldn’t just blog about the smug happy part of my trip, so here’s a post about my current feeling of emptiness.

I have quite deep and varied moods, and try to learn about them, what causes them to shift, and how to accept being in them for what they are. Each mood brings something to my life, and is there for some reason, so I don’t want to wish them away.

There is one big part of my current feeling of emptiness, that is a recent therapy session with my last partner, whom I hadn’t seen in person for nearly a year. This post isn’t supposed to be a public airing of that story though. That deserves it’s own more specialized space, which it has.

This post is perhaps intended to be about a wider feeling. This trip features many memories and ghosts for me. I’ve cycled many of these routes before in other times. There are a lot of echoes of hopes and dreams that didn’t come to be.

One of the fascinating things to me is that this feeling exists entirely within my own head, I have created it. But what purpose does it have, if any? From my past experiences a time like this can be a great empty space in which new hopes and dreams emerge when they are ready, and the contrast to the empty space around makes them stand out.

Perhaps like a chopped down forest, the sadness of the cut down trees, but the joy and freshness of the new growth. I’m actually typing this on a chopped down tree stump, that’s one of the things I love about being in nature most of the time, it’s a rich ground for metaphors.

In this case this literal forest hasn’t got much new growth, but the potential is there for it to grow back better than the mono culture pine forest it was before. Perhaps it will be another mono culture pine forest though.

I usually don’t write about this kind of empty feeling as it doesn’t feel ready for sharing. It’s vague and unclear. I can’t get a hold of quite what it is.

There is a hopelessness there too, and one form it manifests itself is skepticism for change, connected to the book I just started reading. The book is “Who owns England?” and a story quickly emerges of the changing surface of land ownership (from feudalism and long held aristocratic titles, through to newer ownership via business, oil, or corrupt money flows) but essentially the same story as ever, a small number of people outsmarting the masses with clever ways to avoid accountability (or even knowledge of the extent of their wealth).

Throw in a bit of climate change, old and new forms of colonialism, the surprisingly resilient patriarchal structures and all the others forms of shit. We’re pretty screwed right?

I like to not hide away from these realities, and acknowledge the truth of them. A blind optimism feels empty to me. At the same time I also know my moods will vary, and at another point I will be overwhelmed with the beauty of a tree in the evening light. The tree doesn’t say everything will be alright, it just exists exactly as it is, and that helps me to appreciate it, exactly as it is.

I’m not only skeptical about the contents of the book, but the whole concept of what me reading it means. I more-or-less already know the story. There is some bad shit of one flavour of another, and then some wise sounding recommendations for how to fix it, and some links to projects looking into this topic. Maybe a tiny step I can do to nudge it closer. And me knowing most of it won’t happen.

But this is not action itself, and the book also exists in another dimension, the economic reality of publishing, it should sell, it should have nice quotable bits, it should not scare or depress people too much, and it should have clear solutions to seem more upbeat. I know the rough model. I read many books like this before.

I don’t mean it as an insult to the book, it’s good, and the topic is really important, and the solutions probably very sensible. There are lots of positive stories in there of campaigns that have led to very useful laws, e.g. the Freedom of Information Act, Right to Roam, extending accountability laws to offshore tax havens, etc… Great work, please keep it up! Close this dreary post 🙂

And I always want to remember, as I said before, this mood is in me. It’s not the book. Or the land. Or the law. It’s part of me.

Somehow, whilst interesting, and it is inspiring me in certain ways, it doesn’t quite move me as I might wish for. It feels like more of the same. Insightful analysis, and small incremental steps forward on one particular topic. The problem feels much bigger right now.

I want to connect the dots between all these things (whatever “all these things” are). But it feels a bit out of reach. My sense is we (humanity) took a very wrong turn when we lifted rationality high above all other forms of knowing (and I am someone who is most at home in rationality). That’s a big of a grand claim for right now though, and I am wary of such simple narratives.

I think that’s enough writing for now, as I look at the grey skies and the fallen forest.

Thanks for reading!

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Paul Davis

    Not entirely how much you want more extensive comments here from me, or from anyone. But it was a long, beautiful drive through the Rockies today, and so there’s this …

    > Somehow, whilst interesting, and it is inspiring me in certain ways, it doesn’t quite move me as I might wish for. It feels like more of the same. Insightful analysis, and small incremental steps forward on one particular topic. The problem feels much bigger right now.

    This seems to imply that there’s something else that either the book or your response to the book could be. At one (somewhat reductio ad absurdum) end of some hypothetical spectrum: full on mass participation revolution! At the other (much closer to the one you’ve already identified): nothing at all.

    But perhaps it’s important to ask where your own “theory of change” or “theory of response” originates? What is there in the world that supports the idea that there’s some other response at all? What historical events (or accounts thereof) give rise to this sense that “surely there must be more than just “incremental steps forward on one particular topic” ” ? Events like the storming of the Bastille are (a) rare (b) of unclear provenance. There’s an undercurrent of “should” in here that I don’t know the underpinning of, as in “people who know about this stuff should (surely!) do X” where X is something bigger than small incremental steps. But why? What’s the moral imperative (actual or desired) that connects understanding and action?

    Lasch’s book “Progress and its Critics”, for all its flaws, makes a very extended argument that the entire view of a society being somehow in motion towards better things is a very modern idea that would have been rejected throughout most of human history by most humans. I’m not sure he’s right, but it’s an interesting contra-position to consider for a moment that perhaps “progress” is an option rather than a moral imperative. That leads down some fairly dark alleyways, but also opens a few windows on things that it are easy to take for granted.

    Maybe a similar level of questioing needs to be applied in some sense to “the problem feels much bigger right now”. Why does it feel bigger? How can we tell the difference between a big problem and a little problem? Are we even able to correctly identify problems at all? Is correctly identifying the scale of “the problem” the best path to take when attempting to work on solutions?

    Also … “My sense is we (humanity) took a very wrong turn when we lifted rationality high above all other forms of knowing”. Not entirely sure who “humanity” is in this context. Huge chunks of the human population of our planet don’t subscribe to this idea. It almost seems like a tautology – “rational people lift rationality high above …” – until perhaps we make a connection with power. It’s not humanity en masse that lifted rationality high above all other forms of knowing, it’s those with power and wealth who did so, because rationality seems to be the best way to make predictions about the world, and that’s critical for accumulating and retaining power and wealth. Meanwhile, oodles of people seem to put huge amounts of, yes, literally faith into intuition, folklore, folk psychology, animalistic anthropomorphism and even religion of various kinds.

    Anyway, didn’t mean to take over the post, so pedal on!

    1. John Hoggett

      It all went wrong in the early Neolithic, well that’s one view that Raoul Vaneigem holds, as well as someone else whose name escapes me, an originator of anarcho primitivism perhaps?

      Rationality as a way of running human affairs sounds like an enlightenment idea to me.

      As for the storming of the Bastille, that brings to mind Marx, who I think was writing in the wake of the French and other revolutions around that time that got coopted by the Bourgeoisie. According to some it has been downhill ever since. The Platypus Affiliated Society has the slogan: The Left is Dead, Long Live the Left. There writing on the failure of the left seems pertinent to what you bring to the discussion.

  2. Rhian

    I hear you, Nick!

    Interesting thoughts, both.

    Back from the Scottish island ..

    1. Paul Davis

      Perhaps John Zerzan?

      1. John Hoggett

        That’s the one! But he is echoed by Veneigem who writes like an artist, richly and bitterly declaiming the state of humanity.

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