The Uses of Photography in a Crisis

What use is photography in the environmental crisis? Is it only of cultural use? If something is of cultural use, what use is that? I do think culture is as useful as any other set of tools, and I will explain.

The recent exchange between Wen Stephenson and Paul Kingsnorth deals (interestingly, this time) with that ‘old chestnut’ question: Can art and storytelling be a solution to the environmental crisis? Those of us who have frequented ‘art and climate change’ networks over the past half decade have heard this asked ad nauseam. Paul makes clear that there is a big difference between art as a solution to crisis and art having value in a crisis. Paul says ‘we need a cultural response to the collapse of our world, if for no other reason than my personal desire to have an honest story to tell my children about how we destroyed beauty for money and called it “development”.’

On the domestic front, for me, art is exceptionally valuable, every day. From singing to cheer a grumpy child, or dancing when I need to exercise, or making costumes for a solstice parade, it makes me feel alive and connected. Art can be a compulsion for many of us. We know it doesn’t directly feed us but it brings knowledge, health, peace and connection with others, which all contribute to our basic needs. Some of us might make art compulsively when we are distressed or confused. But unlike most other compulsions, it’s not a dangerous one (unless your chosen ‘art’ involves harm). There is a mass of evidence pointing to the positive outcomes of participating in art, especially for people who have suffered cultural loss, emotional trauma, bereavement, ill health and disability or who find conventional ways of learning a struggle (and I believe that includes most of us).

I spend a lot of time measuring the impact of cultural engagement. As austerity bites deeper, many questions about the value of (publicly funded) culture already contain their own negative answer. Or the questioners seek answers that are impossibly ‘hard and fast’. In their hard and fast thinking lies the problem. The dominant paradigm is that there are single and foolproof solutions to the complexities of environmental or personal crises. But in truth there can only be clumsy and multiple solutions at best.

Art is valuable because it is, possibly, the best category descriptor we have for clumsy and multiple solutions. Or rather, art is generative of clumsy and multiple solutions. It pulls ideas out of our brain and feelings out of our body, mixes them with the ideas and expressions of other people, and of other living beings too, and feeds new stuff back in. It accelerates learning and connection by acting as a replicator and transmitter. It externalises and transforms. It reminds me of the symbiotic function of the hidden mychorrhizae fungus which allows trees to communicate with each other.

Those who dismiss the value of the arts often have a very limited view of them within a highly monetised value system. I don’t see art so much in terms of virtuosity, or rather techne-driven commodity. I think its value lies more in areas of therapy, design and knowledge generation. For me, the cultural is practical, and the more that cultural practice flourishes with wide demotic reach and diversity of form, the more uses it will have. I don’t believe so much in grooming people to be exceptionally talented in one art form so that they can entertain us and generate wealth. I think an education in the arts should be multimodal. Each mode on its own suits particular needs and then also the modes can combine in many possible ways to suit other, less visceral or specific, needs. My needs for art are satisfied by singing, writing and photography. They are all three, in different ways, suited to my need for art-making to be both technically accessible and rich in ideas. The techne part doesn’t dominate, but allows for poeisis.

Photography is now accessible to perhaps 3 billion people in the world, growing all the time as phones spread and gain camera (and video) functions. This digitisation and ubiquity of imagery, and blurring of genres of still/moving images, might be seen to diminish photography as an aesthetic genre but if so, I don’t think it greatly matters, and I don’t think it is the case. Nan Goldin, for example, tells young people not to try to be photographers because the digital has taken away the magic of the process. I can understand why this makes photographers sad but there is so much potential to explore beyond the magic of the imaging process. Photography as data, as documentation and instant expression can still be art. When images are overstylised in form and tawdry of purpose, most usually as seen in advertising produced by ‘creatives’, that’s when they can lose their qualities as art. That’s what I find sad.

Photography has wide appeal because it is a creative medium that easily allows more people to represent the world in aesthetically interesting and meaningful ways, whether to snap what they see or to create fictional images that are real-seeming. Or, we can so easily make images on a wide spectrum somewhere between capture and creation.

Photography has practical applications to the wider ecological crisis. There are some easy and engaging aspects to this: Photography widens the reach of cultural events and participatory artworks, through their dissemination. It allows us to share images of ecologically innovative designs and practices.

However, I think its most vital function is also its hardest sell: It helps us mourn, despair and beg for help, for example, using images of change to save or restore threatened places or when photography helps us visualise industrial systems, their damage and waste. The best known examples are Chris Jordan’s Intolerable Beauty and Ed Burtynsky’s images of industrial wastelands.

Without beautiful images of wild nature we would appreciate and understand it much less. This doesn’t mean that photography is the solution to ecocide, but it surely helps raise awareness. This Nature 2020 project is an example of awareness-raising about the value of ecosystems. Without photography to document the thousands of plant and animal species we are losing to mass extinction, we would have no idea of what we are losing (to pique our sorrow) and what could be restored if we are able (to pique our hope). I confess I do find it hard to understand why after so many years of mass public love for Nature programmes on TV, there is still so much tolerance of ecocide. I suspect the main reason is that for too long public service broadcasters have veiled the ecocide, training their cameras too much on ambulant creatures, without showing us how the system interacts with and is damaged by human activity. That’s why it matters that we now have cameras in our own hands, so that we can tell the story of environmental collapse as it happens and express how we feel about it.

The task that remains is to use this mass interest in image-making by creating sophisticated tools that combine expertise, imagery, other data and the social will to restore and regenerate damaged places. These shouldn’t be seen as just ‘science projects’ but integrated with emotion, narrative and beauty. It’s hard to explain what this looks like and I’m not going to try that now.

I’ll come back to explaining what it looks like, for me, when techne is not dominant but gives room to poiesis. I’m interested in writing that is creative and poetic but non-fictional, i.e. it describes the living world, and I’m also drawn to photography in similar territory. One of my favourite photographers is Frances Kearney. She often places people in landscapes where nature has been tampered with (by the military, by farmers and so on) but the people portrayed seem ambivalent and watchful, almost there by accident, uncannily part of but not embedded within the landscape. These are not activist or propagandist photographs: They quietly provoke memories and questions about how we live in landscape. They work for me, if not for everyone, probably because they are the North Norfolk landscapes of my childhood. (We have a family photo of me and my brother by this same black dome. After it was taken I had nightmares about hidden tunnels beneath crawling with Nazis.)

Untitled, 2006, Frances Kearney
Untitled, 2006, Frances Kearney
Untitled, 2009, Frances Kearney
Untitled, 2009, Frances Kearney

For me, this is photography to think and feel with. The images haunt me with their confusions while also giving me a sense of clarity and focus. I feel I am doing part of the work in just looking but it seems to do me good. I think that photography is most valuable when we are working hard to create poems about the living (and dying) world we inhabit, and when we are working hard to read them.

I’ve been working on themes in my own photography about how we see the natural world as children and as mature adults, how we prepare children for the future and how we cope with threats. I’ve made a collaborative exhibition with my family about tree diseases and climate change, called Fruiting Bodies.

Stoats on diseased beech tree, 2009, Bridget McKenzie
Stoats on diseased beech tree, 2009, Bridget McKenzie

I’ve made a memorial walk for the nine scouts who drowned 100 years ago this year, heading for summer camp on the Isle of Sheppey and buried in Nunhead cemetery. Their funeral parade was attended by over a million people, distraught after the Titanic sinking and worried about the preparedness of British youth in the face of a German invasion. The cliffs at Leysdown, where their bodies came ashore, are soft as butter. Gun emplacement buildings have fallen onto the sand, useful now as play structures. On my walk, my camera was seen as a weapon in the face of children as parent after parent, and then a coastguard, told me to put it away. Do we know what real danger is? Do we know what will last? Do we know how to help our children live in a world where nothing we know now will stay the same? Photography is a medium that deals with loss and change so it seems the best tool I have to ask these questions, even if I can’t answer them.

Warden, Bridget McKenzie (from set)

 

Puszta

The seemingly never-ending flatlands stretching east from Budapest go by various magic-sounding names – the Alföld, the Pannonian Steppe, the Great Hungarian Plain – but the best of them is the Puszta, which translates as ‘the bare,’ ‘the mere’ or ‘the empty.’ The Puszta is the westernmost of the Eurasian steppes, and modern Hungarians are descended from nomads who swept across these steppes into Europe the same way as the Huns and the Mongols. Today it’s mostly agricultural land rather than empty grasslands, and when I started planning this journey, someone – I don’t remember who – gave me the impression that crossing the plain would be mind-numbingly dull, a scrappy waste of farmland and urban sprawl crisscrossed by highways.

Often it’s a good thing to begin a journey with low expectations. Yes, the landscape was monotonous, stretching levelly on and on towards absolutely no horizon, but the feeling that it could go on forever, in any direction I looked, wasn’t dull at all but deeply thrilling. The Puszta felt like another world, a vastness of open space and silence, in which I often walked for hours without seeing another person. I followed country roads, rivers and occasionally railway lines, or navigated by distant church steeples visible across many miles of uninhabitation. The cloudlessness of the sky began to feel quite unnatural, as if the workings of nature had stopped, the weather as unchanging and endless as the landscape. During the days there were almost no sounds apart from skylarks and the wind, the clattering of yellow reeds, and the steady crunching rhythm of my boots in the dust. I saw deer so frequently I almost stopped seeing them, and in amongst trees found their yellowing skeletons, the tattered remains of foxes and hares, and once, beside a railway line, exactly half a dog.

For several of these nights I camped, pitching my tent beside the Körös River in the uncertain hour between daylight and dusk. Each evening became a period of adjusting my senses to the new surroundings, my nerves familiarising themselves with the local night noises. The rustlings of small beasts in the undergrowth, magnified by the silence, sounded as big as horses. Sometimes there came a furious cry, somewhere between a grunt and a scream, from some unknown hunting bird, and one night it took a long time to relax to the sudden pop-clunk of plastic bottles on a driftwoody beach as the temperature dropped, releasing mysterious pressures. There was always the comforting chorus of birds settling in the trees, the evening outrages of dogs, the church bells of distant villages – birds, dogs and people all marking another day’s death with their own forms of music. One morning I woke to the shadow of a polecat leaning up against my tent, its little clawed hands outstretched, peering at me through the mesh like a person gazing through a shop window.

For various reasons, both conscious and unconscious, I returned to Budapest for a few days after almost reaching the Romanian border – the distant outline of blue hills the first intimation of a new land – jumping on a westbound train and unravelling in a few hours a week and a half of walking. It was a strange sensation. The land was reduced to a yellow-brown smudge, a blur of ‘scenery.’ Once I was back in the neon-lit streets I could suddenly empathise with the people I’d met in the Alföld who practically shuddered at Budapest’s name, saying, as country people always do, the capital was too big, too crowded, too frightening, too noisy. Almost immediately, that emptiness started to feel like a dream – a desert squeezed between two different cities – and, in the way of dreams, it altered my perception of the present, defamiliarising the streets I thought I’d come to know. After the expanse of the plain, the silence, the hugeness of the skies, I was suddenly aware of the way in which buildings hem you in, channel your movement, control not only where you walk but where you see as well. Perhaps most of all, I was aware of the sudden reappearance of horizons – in every direction, as far as the eye can’t see.

 

Endgame, Volume 2: Resistance

Endgame, Derrick Jensen (Seven Stories Press, 2006)

This book is about violence: civilisation’s violence against the natural world, and Jensen’s belief that we need to use violence of our own to respond.

Premise Seven, from the early pages of Volume II: ‘The longer we wait for civilisation to crash – or the longer we wait before we ourselves bring it down – the messier the crash will be, and the worse things will be for those humans and nonhumans who live during it, and for those who come after.’

Endgame – and here I am summarising a sprawling and diverse book – is an argument for speeding collapse along. Strategies include dynamiting dams, shutting down refineries, disrupting electronic shipping networks, and breaching gas pipelines. Jensen relates conversations with friends – ex-military personnel, hackers, activists – who discuss weak points in the system. He argues that crippling the system will not be as difficult as one might imagine, and that everything is now so interlinked that it would take ‘fewer [people] than Jesus had apostles’ to bring it all down.

Jensen admits that violence terrifies him – ‘I’m glad I’m a writer,’ he says, throughout the book – and that he has never put these ideas into practice. His primary purpose is to convince the reader that non-violence has come to a dead-end in this particular struggle. Much of Volume II is devoted, then, to attacking the philosophical foundation of non-violence.

One element of this foundation is the belief that each person has a core of decency that can, eventually, be reached, perhaps only in the absence of physical compulsion. This conviction is a matter of faith – ‘core of decency’ is simply another way of saying ‘soul’ – and it is not surprising that most philosophers of nonviolence, from Tolstoy to Cesar Chavez, have been devout, if unorthodox.

Jensen does not work off this view of human relations. He has no faith in reaching the public (this is sensible, considering the likely constituency for collapse) and has given up on converting the CEOs of logging corporations. He views the relationship of such entities with us, the land, and its creatures as being closer to that between pathological abusers and the people they abuse.

Jensen, who was himself the victim of childhood sexual abuse, discusses the work of psychologists like Jane Caputi on the nature of abusive relationships, where returning love for hate simply allows the abuse to continue. Abusers rely on such treatment, he argues, since it lets them continue to get what they want without any consequences that they can appreciate. In this view of things, the abuser is not torn up with remorse about his actions and never will be. Such people may, for whatever reason, be constitutionally unable to feel such emotion. Either the core of decency is missing, or has been buried so deep as to be essentially lost. The abuser, then, is only going to stop when the person being abused gives the abuser no other choice. Jensen repeats this line several times.

I can accept all of this and still be at a loss for what to do next. Jensen is very cavalier about talking about ‘industrial civilization,’ as if this entity were easy to identify, isolate, and attack independently of the world at large. But his target tends to obscure what is actually being discussed. Where I live, many people will freeze to death without heating oil. If the electricity goes out, cars will crash, hospital life-support systems will shut off, huge quantities of food will begin to spoil. How many people is it okay to kill? And if our only goal is to create chaos, and if we believe (accurately) that the real root of our environmental problems is simply too many people, I can think of any number of increasingly terrifying solutions to this problem.

Jensen does not suggest any such measures, but he also willfully softens the human suffering that the collapse of this system is going to entail, and I not satisfied with his justification that it will be worse later. I had the same thought, while reading this book, that I have when seeing advertisements for new drugs from the pharmaceutical industry: ‘You are not wise enough to know what this will do.’ Industrial society is no less complex than the human body or an ecosystem – in cannot be, since it encompasses both – and I am not interested in snapping a single thread to see what will happen. I am not even sure that disruption will help bring about collapse: when a car is heading towards a cliff, how do you speed up the process, by shooting out a tyre or stepping on the gas?

The indigenous communities that Jensen looks to for inspiration – and who represent his success stories for violent struggle – were not interested in combating abstractions like ‘the colonial system’ or ‘industrial civilisation.’ They wanted something simpler: like an abused person, they wanted to be left alone. I prefer their example to Jensen’s proposals.

While I was making my way through Endgame, I was also reading Theodora Kroeber’s Ishi in Two Worlds, about the Yahi Indians in Northern California, and the last surviving member of the tribe, whom they called Ishi. When the Yahi tribe, after fierce fighting, had been almost exterminated by white settlers, the remaining members decided that, instead of continuing a hopeless struggle, they would hide. For over a decade, they vanished into a portion of their own land, now ‘owned’ by others, maintaining their traditions in the midst of people who wanted to kill them. How did they manage this? Kroeber writes:

Some of the Yahi sources of strength might be said to be that they were on home ground and that they were already skilled in what they had to do to live… Of very great importance to their psychic health was the circumstance that their sufferings and curtailments arose from wrongs done to them by others. They were not guilt ridden, nor were they ‘alienated from their culture.’ Their aims were modest, reasonable, realistic; their egos and ambitions uninflamed…

How much of this can we say for ourselves? Very few of us feel indigenous on the land where we live; and most of us have participated and continue to participate in the system that is destroying it. Guerrillas know the land better than their enemies, they care more, and they are willing to make larger sacrifices. They are also fighting for something real beneath their feet.

Jensen writes: ‘What do you want? The question is not rhetorical. Don’t just pass it by and move to the next chapter. Stop. Put down the book. Go outside. Take a long walk. Look at the stars. Pet the bark of trees. Smell the soil. Listen to a river. Ask them what they want. Ask your heart what you want. Ask your head. Ask your heart again. Then figure out how you’re going to get it.’

This is good advice. I don’t know what your surroundings will tell you. I usually don’t know what mine are telling me, locked away beneath the pavement, but when I can hear them, they don’t talk to me about systems, industrial or otherwise. This is the language of the disembodied human intellect. When I am lucky, they show me small ways to contribute to the land’s health and its future ability to sustain life. While barely significant, I am much more confident in the results of such activity than blowing up a pipeline.

If development threatens land that you love, though, and you have exhausted conventional options, by all means consider a variety of tactics. (And anything, anything, please, rather than another march; the Occupy people were more creative.) And remember, as Jensen points out, that nonviolent movements only succeed when there is a viable violent alternative. Listen to your temperament; you can decide which one you’d rather be.

There are only two sentences in Endgame that seem to me like a lie, and here they are: ‘I’m really angry that I had to spend the last couple of months deconstructing pacifist arguments that don’t make any sense anyway. I’m angry that I’ve had to spend the last three years writing this book to show conclusions that should be pretty damn obvious.’

People generally don’t keep doing things they hate, and Jensen lectures about these ideas almost constantly. As far as I can tell, he thrives on opponents. One feels this everywhere in the tone of this book. Jensen compares his writing to warfare, where he anticipates your objection and counters it before you can bring it up, just as soldiers try to reach higher ground before their enemy. I’m sure this makes Jensen a fantastic debater, but it is a bizarre way to think of readers. Such a writer will never leave out an argument because he is confident that he has already communicated the necessary spirit. Instead, we are all going to be plugged full of word-bullets, lest we ambush the author from an unguarded spot.

Endgame strikes me, then – despite its protestations at the end to ‘puzzle your own way through’ – as a very intelligent book that has minimal faith in the intelligence of its readers. It is about twice as long as it needs to be, and although I dog-eared dozens of pages, I may very well not have finished it if I wasn’t writing this review. Nonetheless, I am glad the book exists, and I hope you read it.

A story to end with: Gandhi, as you can imagine, comes in for a pounding in Volume II. Most of us have heard
some of the more extreme anecdotes, and it is hard not to have complicated emotions when thinking about him.

One story, though – which is not in this book – has always filled me with admiration:

A mother brought her son to Gandhi, and wanted him to tell the boy to stop eating so much sugar. Gandhi told her to come back in a week. She left, puzzled. Why a week? she asked, when they returned. Because, Gandhi explained, he had still been eating sugar himself, and he wanted to make sure that he could deliver the admonition with sincerity. Even with children – perhaps I should say especially with children, who are always being given hollow advice by adults – he refused to tell anyone to do something that he hadn’t done himself.

Now, an idea can be valuable without being practiced; many of the deepest ones exist only as aspirations, because they are impossible for most to us to live up to. But – as we try and mess up and fall short, a certain vehemence present while theorising tends to drop away. Jensen, for example, is very conflicted about what to do with invasive species, because he has first-hand experience hacking away at non-native bushes in his yard. If a dam that Jensen breached had drowned his neighbour’s daughter – if runoff from a flooded factory had poisoned a stream (further) – and if people without heating oil had denuded what was left of the forest around his house – well, he might still make the same points, but in a different spirit.

Fuck you, I think Jensen would say, getting ready for an argument, your caution is just another excuse for doing nothing. To which, I admit, I have no response.

Hope in the Age of Collapse

When my Dark Mountain essay ‘Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist’ was republished in the American magazine Orion a few months back, it caused a useful stir. Naturally, not everybody liked it. The American writer Wen Stephenson was not impressed by what I had to say and slapped a metaphorical glove across my metaphorical face with a one line put-down: ‘this is what giving up looks like.’

Naturally, I couldn’t let this pass, so I told Wen that wishful thinking was no substitute for honesty, and perhaps he should stop reading so many Bill McKibben articles. Fortunately, things went uphill from there and spiralled into an interesting correspondence, which reached its natural climax this month when Wen asked me to engage in a conversation on his blog (Wen writes a blog from the birthplace of Henry David Thoreau, which piqued my interest) about the themes of the essay and of the Dark Mountain Project.

This is turning out to be quite a good exchange. Personally, I’m finding it interesting to compare it to the duel I had with George Monbiot three years ago along the same kind of lines. A lot has changed in three years. That early exchange generated more heat than light, but this is more of a conversation than a debate, and the world it is being held in seems quite different. Best of all, neither of us is pretending that we have any answers. I like that.

This discussion is going to play out over the next few days. I’d really like it if others wanted to wade in too.

Lions After Slumber

Up on the crags, the southwesterly wind can be felt more keenly, chilling the fingertips and ears. The morning’s sleet has left the limestone slicked with a dull sheen, the colour of tarnished pewter. Ribs of grey stone protrude from the stretched skin of the earth. The highest point of the crags, a prow of gnarled limestone beneath a wind-pruned hawthorn, forms a natural pulpit, a shelf of soft turf behind the rock allowing a person to stand with shelter and support, overlooking the ground which falls away to the road and the valley, sedge-filled and sodden with winter’s rains.

From this pulpit, in 1657, it is said that George Fox preached to an assembled crowd of hundreds. ‘I visited friends till I came to Pardsey-crag,’ he wrote later in his journal, ‘where we had a general meeting, which was large, quiet and peaceable, and the glorious, powerful presence of the everlasting God was with us.’ We can imagine them ranged on the pock-marked grass below the crag, their necks craning upwards, feeling unnaturally stiff in their Sunday best starched collars, the mud brushed from their twill waistcoats and heavy labourer’s shoes. For it was the rural poor, the disenfranchised and landless, who gathered in huge crowds to hear Fox preach. The English Civil War was passing into memory; even the power of Cromwell was bending to the slow drift to a restored monarchy. In the countryside, people were exhausted, poor, downtrodden. Fox was offering a view of heaven which was theirs to command, a challenge to the hegemony of the church, the nexus of power between religion and state which kept these people in poverty, which took their slim earnings as taxes in order to line the walls of country houses in silks and mahogany. Most of all, he was offering them a view of freedom, a self-determinism which could be exercised in meeting-houses and drawing-rooms, which needed no mediation or authority.

Fox had preached from this same pulpit at least once before; the village below had become a centre of dissenting thought; a Friend’s Meeting House had been established here in 1653, a school shortly after. In time, this village would become a minor epicentre for Quakerism, a node in the collective memory of those years of religious fragmentation. From the top of the crags, it is easy to understand why the place drew such crowds when Fox preached: it commands a view across fields and mosses, across receding lines of hills and farms, out of all proportion to its modest height. The landscape below is splayed like the view from a hunting hawk; hedgerows and fields, the valley sketched brown with sedges. Faintly, threading through copses and crags, it is only just possible to make out the main road leading westwards to the towns on the coast.

On the 3rd of February 1812, Percy Shelley travelled along this road by coach on his way to Whitehaven, where he was to catch a boat for Dublin. He had lived in Keswick for four months with his new wife Harriet, who by then was exasperated by this itinerant life, this shiftless existence from rented cottage to borrowed apartment, this chasing after literary and political fame. Shelley was a seeker of another sort; not for religious truth, in the way of Fox and his followers: Shelley’s hunger was for justice and equality, fuelled by the lean energy of youth familiar to anyone who has toyed with political activism. Keswick was a staging-post on his journey, a chance to circle in the orbit of the great poets of Romanticism, although Shelley himself was equivocal about the attractions of the Lake District, writing ‘tho’ the face of the country is lovely, the people are detestable’. The trip to Ireland was his next great adventure, a chance to spend some of his desire for radical engagement, his wish to nurture some of the spirit of the French Revolution, which had not yet been trodden into the muddy fields of Belgium. His Address to the Irish People reads now like a sixth-form essay on politics; earnest, heartfelt, naïve.

For Shelley, drowned at a young age in the Gulf of Spezia, his life was marked by that anger and radicalism, that earnestness and passion, spinning wildly between the idealism of the cause and the hubris of his own chaotic personal life. After Ireland, he oscillated between England and Italy, forever at one remove from the political change that was taking place in northern Europe. Eight years after his stay in Keswick, from another temporary home in Italy, he wrote the poem that would, years later, crystallise his radicalism: The Masque of Anarchy was dispatched in immediate response to the murder of innocent protesters in St Peter’s Fields in Manchester in 1819, although published much later:

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many — they are few

The Peterloo Massacre, as the Manchester Observer rapidly dubbed it, was the flash-point in a longer struggle, urged by a desire for voting reform, by disgust at the sickness and corruption of an over-powerful parliament in the hands of an ignorant elite. It was about unfair taxation and the increasing levels of poverty in the growing cities; as much as anything, it was about the lack of voice which ordinary working people had. Its point of connection with George Fox and religious dissenters almost two hundred years earlier are those things which so often collude in social struggle: land, liberty and the power of the spoken or written word; the right to organise and congregate, the right to speak or write unpopular truths; ‘speaking truth unto power’, as the early Quakers dubbed it. The dimensions are timeless, although the settings might change: these are the ingredients of dissent on St. George’s Hill and Kinder Scout, at Greenham Common and outside St Pauls Cathedral, tapped out on the wires of that generation’s new media, whether by telegram or twitter, in the shadowed spaces of public houses or internet forums.

On Pardshaw Crag, George Fox’s pulpit is still washed by south-westerly rains. The pock-hole in the limestone, scoured over years by pebbles and rain, where he is said to have propped his pipe while he spoke, is filled with muddy water. Even on the dullest of days, the view extends across low lines of hills and woods to the coast, to the wind turbines flapping lazily in the winter wind, to the factory chimneys and nuclear installations on the coast, and beyond, to the grey immutable sea. It is a fancy to imagine his words echoing still amongst these crags, echoing in the voices of the patient crowd as they shuffle home to Pardshaw and Lorton and Eaglesfield, to Prague and Budapest, to Cairo and Homs, like lions after slumber, an unvanquishable number.