Carrying the Fire

It’s Saturday morning in a marquee at Unciv 2013. Margaret Elphinstone is reading from her novel The Gathering Night. The book is a vivid imagining of life during the Mesolithic period and it follows the fate of the Auk People, hunter-gatherers who inhabit the coast and islands of what is now Argyll. In the discussion that follows, we talk about the longing many feel for a life that is more ‘natural’, more instinctive, more connected to the rhythm of the seasons. It’s a deep longing, but we mostly agree that there’s no way back to the animist culture and lifestyle of the Auk People.

Later that day, or rather, in the early hours of the next morning, I’m lying on my back in the mud and straw, amidst a huddle of bodies, beneath a parachute strung amongst trees. I’m sober, have taken no hallucinogens, and yet I’ve spent the last few hours in a superbly altered state.

It might have been sparked by the fire ritual, conducted by folk from Mearcstapa and the Telling, but really it was collectively manifested: it emerged from the space and the night and all the people gathered at the Parachute Stage. It was a solo hum that became a chorus, that became shrieking and animal howling, that became, finally, wild chants and leaping dancers. There was no conductor, no choreography, it all just happened and fitted. It was instinctive and extraordinary.

A couple of months later I spent a week walking in the woods in and around Glen Affric in the Scottish Highlands. Glen Affric is one of the oldest ecosystem restoration projects in the UK. It’s also one of the most nourishing places I’ve ever been.

Pinus Sylvestris, the Scots Pine, is to northern glens what the English Oak is to the valleys of the south. Both fit well their ecological niche, and both have an iconic role in our culture and our deep sense of place. Walking in an expanse of either is to be transported; and, whilst it may well be a long way back to the Mesolithic, the woods of Glen Affric give you a sense of how the land might have looked to the Auk People of The Gathering Night. There’s nothing like the fauna of course, the lynx and bear and wild boar, the wolves. But it’s the kind of place where you’d expect such creatures to be and, being there yourself, it’s very easy to imagine their return.

Photograph by Em Strang

This idea of ‘rewilding’, both of the land and the self, has become increasingly popular amongst writers and thinkers associated with the environment (see this previous DM blog post in which George Monbiot discusses his new book Feral). It’s also one of the threads woven into the Dark Mountain Project. The idea of Uncivilised writing is very much a kind of creative rewilding, and whilst I can only speak for myself, the Uncivilisation festivals have seemed like staging posts on a route – I won’t say forwards. Each year I feel as though I’ve been unpacked and ruffled through. I’ve left feeling leaner and a bit more raggedy. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

Last year was the last Unciv, at least in the form it has taken so far. After four years, the organisers are taking a break and focusing their energy on other aspects of the project. However, if this leaves a large Unciv-sized gap in your life then fear not, there are other Dark Mountain happenings afoot – local groups continue to meet and plan events, and there are rumours of another Telling, this time in Sheffield. There’s also Carrying the Fire.

Now in its third year, Carrying the Fire is similar to Unciv in that it provides a rich mix of talks, workshops and performances. It also fosters the same kinds of meetings and conversations, the same magic that happens when you gather people round a fire under the stars.

This year’s programme will delve into some of those ideas behind rewilding, exploring the links between large-scale wilderness restoration and our own need for wildness in our lives. To help with the delving, there will be talks from the likes of Alan Watson Featherstone, founder of Trees for Life (the project which has helped plant over a million trees in Glen Affric and adjacent glens) and Kate Rawles, director of Outdoor Philosophy and author of The Carbon Cycle; there will also be live art and performances from, amongst others, the amazing Feral Theatre; and there will be creative workshops with the likes of Margaret Elphinstone and Cumbrian poet Kim Moore.

The full programme is being finalised – we have some very exciting guests, musical and otherwise, soon to be announced – and tickets are now on sale. Come join us for what promises to be a very fine gathering round the hearth. There’s even another parachute, strung amongst the trees in the woods at Wiston, though there’s no accounting for what might happen beneath it!

Carrying the Fire takes place at Wiston Lodge in the Scottish Borders over the weekend of 16th-18th May. Collection and drop-off will be available at Lockerbie mainline train station. Discounted tickets for early birds are on sale now. For more details and updates, go to the Carrying the Fire website: carryingthefire.co.uk

Superheroes: saviours of neoliberal globalisation?

Following on from the Avengers Assemble and previous Iron Man films, Iron Man 3 was released in 2013, joined by The Wolverine and recently Thor: The Dark World. Though superficially just CGI-filled outings, these films tells us a lot about the USA. America is defined by Hollywood, especially certain genres that relate to US culture, superhero films being the latest to do this. Since X-Men’s release at the turn of the century this type of film has grown in popularity to become the mainstay of action movies, having taken the role once occupied by Westerns as defining what the USA is all about. More than mere entertainment they affirm America’s status as global superpower and leader of the ‘free world’. They are meaning-laden modern myths.

Traditionally, myths were sacred stories that had gods and supernatural characters interacting with humans. Many recounted a past, real or false, setting forth a worldview and outlining the codes of society within that. Obvious European examples came from ancient Greece and Scandinavia: where the Zeus fought the monster Typhon, and Odin searched for knowledge while dealing with the deception of Loki. They were gods who warred, had families and were jealous.

The endurance of these stories was their importance to the civilisations they came from, modelling behaviour and searching for a ‘golden age’ to provide answers to current problems; blending awe at the mystical whilst reinforcing the current social order. Effective myths had an aspirational theme to ensure the receivers were encouraged to believe in whatever was deemed to be culturally important.

Though no longer seen as part of the modern (or postmodern) world, mythical stories are still relevant, now presented in different forms. For the USA the Hollywood Westerns once performed this critical role, the underlying premise being the ‘frontier thesis’ (a myth for the formation of the USA) that gained popularity in the early 1900s as the country tried to define itself. Central to this was the Cowboy, a man formed by the frontier, who cast off the burdens of complex European society to relearn autonomy and resilience and thrive in a hostile environment. There was also the underlying theme of the open road, whereby the endless movement west was a metaphor for constant expansion and progress, whether economic or political. This competitive, virile, democratic culture was seen ‘exceptional’ and an essential part of US identity, remaining even after the ‘civilising’ of the frontier by fences and the railroad in the late 19th century. Being especially popular in the 1940s and 1950s these films were critical to differentiate and elucidate American ideals at a time it was cementing its place as leader of the West.

So Westerns, and the characters within them, were dramatised conversations with their audience epitomising the values of the United States and representing what the US was (or was not), using the empty expanse of the western USA to symbolise the open horizons and future possibilities of globalised (capitalist) economy, unimpeded by unnecessary rules and bureaucracy. Within that environment, rogue individuals (countries) were dealt with by honourable heroes: the Shanes and Rooster Cogburns, tough, flawed and lacking sophistication but bound by an honour code. However post-Vietnam the Western faded in popularity, being replaced by science-fiction in the Star Wars era (a blatant mythical piece), itself being partially superseded by superhero films. 

Iron Man is a recent but highly successful addition to this genre (first appearing in 2008), drawing on early 20th century comic books with elements of the private investigator, warrior and vigilante-gunslinger. Possessing no physical powers he is aided by complex technology, funded by his income from creative enterprise. With this mix of Sam Spade, knight errant, Clint Eastwood and Steve Jobs he uses unilateral military action to solve crises, demonstrating the continuing existence of USA’s exceptionalism (even after Vietnam) and the importance of international intervention. Iron Man’s alter-ego is Tony Stark, the chief executive of a military hardware firm. When he turns his back on this business, rejecting the arms’ trade, his solution is not to support peacekeeping but to build a suit loaded with weapons: the USA’s global policeman role. In Avengers Assemble he is supported by Captain America, symbolic of the USA’s ‘greatest generation’ of wartime heroes, and Thor, representing divine support for US activities and tapping back into earlier myths from the USA’s (cultural) past.

As a moralistic loner Iron Man embodies the tough individualism from the frontier myth, though flavoured with 007’s exotic consumerism and sense of duty. Like the PI or the lone gunman he is forced to step in and support the weak when the state and public services cannot. But rather than improve these services and provision, he demonstrates that only an informed (rich) individual can rescue us. This is the 21st-century twist, celebrating his wealth and defining him as a high-status citizen even before donning the suit. His Wild West is the open frontier of the global economy (and cyberspace) where he is free to act without the constraints of rules or red tape, and his relative invulnerability, more so with other superheroes, reminds us of the gods of old.

Because these films are set in post-September 11th and financial crisis, debt-riddled USA, roles have shifted so that the Western’s Native American antagonists have become terrorists and the bandits are rogue businessmen, though aliens — representing inscrutable foreign cultures — still endure. Of course, they are dealt with by a straight-talking, white-male hero using his own skill and ingenuity.

Despite (or possibly because of) the important messages woven into the narrative, these films do not ask searching political questions. There is no consideration of the motivation of subversives or what larger issues are raised. The answers are always provided by technology and violent engagement, not social change or compromise. Like the USA after the financial crisis there is little analysis of the system, blame being attributed to rogue individuals that need to be purged. With a political-realist perspective we are reminded that bad things just happen. Some people commit evil acts and that is why we need our protectors, our heroes.

But these heroes are not ordinary people. They are the superheroes, the new gods, the unique individuals — in the case of Iron Man, a wealthy benefactor — who ensure our society is protected. With their actions the world can continue on its safe track towards a bright future. Led by the USA, civilisation can advance. As long as we trust in light-touch liberal democracy, Iron Man, the technologist-hero-gunfighter-god (and his like) can be free to protect the American Dream; maintain the open road. As the need arises the free-market will (Gaia-like) spawn further superheroes to save us, allowing progress to continue unimpeded.

And that is the films’ real message: times are tough but don’t worry. The exceptional (entrepreneurial) individuals will save us as long as we give them space and freedom (from regulation) to act as they will. If we just trust the system, try not to intervene, the competitive, democratic culture of USA will naturally keep producing these unique individuals. These films suggest that despite signs of collapse, American-led globalisation is alive and well, waiting to fight back and carry on with the neoliberal project. Our gods will save us if we just keep the faith. Like all previous civilisations on the verge of collapse, we can retreat into myths as society unravels around us.

In Sips

There is danger in writing, the pinning of things that float, the iridescence of moths, it goes if you keep touching

Bonfires, hair, rain.
The smells that make memory, what do mobile phones smell of?

Footprints in the snow at midnight, everything new and soft. No days are alike when you’re young. Winter is your friend, not something that delays trains. Foxes circle the lawn as low thunder breaks

Fear the dark and the silence, feel safe with hi vis neon and megaphones

Hunched and ashen-faced in mines of computers, lights and alarms go off and on; we emerge blinking with strange new customs. Untethered and adrift, flecked with violence, together alone, like suburbs

Statistics, systems, resources; I could be any old doll whose hair you burnt

Mid-century wood veneer cocktail cabinets, mannequins whose plastic skin has turned airplane-orange, lone ashtrays, kitsch throwaway dreams

Unstable and unheard, existing precariously like wildflowers beneath the pavements

The rain and the night have vinyl’d the city, taillights bleeding sickly rivulets in the streets. We wait for machines to move us from one place to the next. Space invaded; with headphones you won’t feel it

Bull fighting, tulipomania, football. We are no longer safe in numbers

Friends are not what Aristotle thought they were. They sip each other, editing the senses; they feel guilty about time and they share in isolation, tapping the hormones at weddings

Desires whispering along fibre optic cables to be mined like resources; cities like circuit boards; connectivity and obsolescence; you can feel it in your teeth when you watch TV

Broken cots and abandoned suitcases; something in the shadows beneath the eaves. Innocent eyes darting with feigned invincibility; unfinished homework. When you look back everything is in sepia, propped up by a shrouded figure

Escalators, cars, office chairs; the atrophy gets designed in

Driving past the Society for the Preservation of Useless Objects you wonder if this is what will remain of us. The conclusions they will come to with our snuff boxes, doll’s houses, colonial photographs and mummified rats

Power isn’t a man or a manifesto; time and space are currency; identity is a commodity and so is debt; drones and bots the agents of will to power

We meet through the interface while the organisation watches; lovers pacing the circumference of a snow globe; slivers of self for consumption; nostalgic distractions to ease the transition; reality refracted in shards of simulation

I returned to my old house fifty years later, ivy creeping silently over cracked window panes, the once red bricks faded. Foxes wait in the tall grass while a crow watches from the rusty aerial. The hatch at the bottom of the garden; the apparition; the sad spot where baby birds fall from their nests.

Underminers

Having read and admired Keith Farnish’s first book, Time’s Up!, I played with the hope that his new book, Underminers: A Guide to Subverting the Machine, would be a fulfilment of the promise of that book. In Time’s Up!, his orchestration of the natural world from one ten-millionth of a metre to organisms the size of planets and beyond filled me with an awe at life that I had not felt since my early forays into science fiction, when I contemplated life forms whose alien shell guarded beauty that had once been present during childhood romps through the woods.

In the new book, this celebration of the miracle of life and rage at its desecration would be transformed into effective tools of resistance. Having unsuccessfully sought the sacred sense of life in the pious abstractions of the environmental movement, whose primary goal was so obviously to preserve the comforts of civilisation with a splash of floral colour, I was tired of imaginary battles that always ended in noble defeat. It had long seemed to me that the same sense of purpose as the French Resistance, the same willingness to endure the necessary pain while maintaining unwavering attention to detail, and a readiness to give up one’s life for the cause, was exactly what was called for if we were to stop the manmade extinction of life on earth. The following is a brief attempt to understand his concept of civilisation and the power it has to lock us into a life that is not our own.

The definition of civilisation according to Mr. Farnish is disconnection. But while he ably defines the means of disconnection, he is less clear in this book concerning what we, the civilised, are disconnected from. Obviously, our Mother reaches out to us, her tendrils constantly seeking to repair her lost connections with us. But if we are to dedicate our lives to the destruction of industrial civilisation, we had better have an unshakeable sense of what we are struggling toward, not merely against. Where does the spirit flow when the tools of disconnection are disconnected?

Most of the book focuses on techniques to break our connection to civilisation, but he assumes a concept of civilisation which looms in the background like a dark emperor who never reveals his face. We need to shine a light on that face.

The justification for civilisation is that it promotes all that is best in humanity: its moral standards, its spiritual aspirations, its love of knowledge, its disinterested science and technological prowess that sheds abundance so freely. The alternatives are invariably portrayed as violent, superstitious, closed to rationality, progress, and enlightened human behaviour. Like a swan, the word ‘civilised’ leaves a wake of aspirations and expectations which are as powerful as they are mysterious. It carries the aura of whatever is decent, upright, refined and forward-thinking. It embodies everything that one who cares about his fellow human beings values. To question this is to question the very foundation of our lives.

Mr. Farnish defines the word ‘civilised’ in these terms: ‘Yes, we hear the word “civilised” a lot, but the meaning of that is false: good, moral behaviour is not civilised; it is just good moral behaviour. We also hear the word “citizen”, again in purely positive terms as someone who abides by the rules of society and is generally a well-rounded person: but someone who abides by the rules of society and is generally a well-rounded person is not a citizen; if they are a citizen they just happen to be a subject of civilisation.’ This definition touches on but does not deeply explore the power that lies behind the word. What the word ‘civilised’ does is munge together concepts that are actually distinct in a way that supports the ruling order.

‘Civilised’ — what lies encased within this word? How can we break it open? I’m not interested in linguistic analysis, but the morphic resonance which this word emits. What is the nature of that resonant field it creates in our minds when it is spoken? I sense two parts in it: one is a sense of goodness and order with an aura of progress and a sense of comfort. That comfort is the seductive element because it implies that we need this comfort in order to be good. It tells us we need freedom from the constant battle for survival in order to break through to a new realm in which progress becomes possible. This progress constitutes the foundation for further comfort and thus further goodness. The freedom from material want opens the door to promises of creative revelations and a life of beauty, freedom and wealth.

The other key element in the word is a deep moral aspiration. To be civilised means to respect the bounds of the other. It carries within it a sense of right order in human relations. In the Christian sense, it overflows into love for all humanity and its salvific destiny. In its secular meaning, it invokes human rights and the democratic ideal. But it makes the realization of these ideals contingent on the flourishing of a system that provides its material foundation. And that is where the distinction between its root meanings must be located. This is the core of the word’s power. It draws on our basic sense of meaning in human existence. What is it that gives us a sense of meaning and purpose? It is the striving for an ideal of contentment, beauty, stability and livingness that fulfils the roots our being.

Such is the bait. But the realization of this promise is contingent on the fulfilment of certain duties. Those duties include obedience to the system’s legal foundation, submission to the authorities who maintain and enforce that structure, and shouldering the burdens of building and maintaining the material groundwork upon which civilisation rests. In the modern capitalist version of the story, corporations form the central pillars of the civilised hierarchy. Submission to the interests of these pillars is fundamental to enjoying its benefits.

Before we can undermine the tools of disconnection, we must first understand what it is we are undermining and how deep the psychological, physiological and spiritual roots of the phenomena are. Progress is the guiding principle on both the left and the right. What is the purpose of human life? Civilisation answers, ‘It is to become ever more intelligent, rational, creative, and spiritually evolved.’ What is the method? It is to build an extensive material foundation that provides the comfort and wellbeing that makes a truly human life possible.

As Mr. Farnish indicates, I believe that we should draw a dividing line between these two factors: the promise of human fulfilment and the means to its achievement. What the word ‘civilised’ embodies is the advertising paradigm: give them a shining vision of what their life could be, then make them work to enrich your company while returning them nothing but a cheap substitute for life. Then make them believe that the thrill they experience in the brand is the thrill of life bonding them to the greater human community.

The elements of the deception are as extensive as the infrastructure of modern civilisation and must be constantly rotated in order to maintain the illusion of novelty, but the essential program never alters. These shadows of fulfilment which we chase into the night constitute the essence of our false life, while our true life lies weeping behind us, somewhere lost in the desert.

But there is something else that must not be undermined, which grows stronger in us when we disconnect: good, moral behaviour is how Mr. Farnish refers to it at the point where he defines civilisation. Yet I feel that ‘good, moral behaviour’ symbolises an array of extra-civilisational realities that are hinted at rather than celebrated. He references them in the distinction he makes between the legal and the lawful: ‘On the other hand, I do give a fig and more about whether something is lawful or not. Humanity has, whether formally or not, passed down something called Common Law, which consists of the basic rules that should be observed in a just society under all but the most extreme conditions. For instance, under Common Law it is wrong to intentionally kill or harm someone without their consent; it is wrong to take something that rightfully belongs to someone else; it is wrong to impinge upon someone’s basic human rights of clean air, fresh water, food, warmth, shelter, companionship, liberty and other things related to human dignity. Actually there are surprisingly few things that could be considered to comprise Common Law, which is significant, because anything more specific would imply a particular culture being imposed upon an individual or collection of people.’ This invocation of Common Law speaks to an older concept of law which corresponds to the fundamental rights and obligations of communities and the individuals that make up those communities.

The word ‘civilisation’ attempts to confiscate the source of morality, but moral behaviour happily overflows the bounds of legal obedience. Those who rule would have us believe that moral boundaries coincide with the demands of civilisation, that the obedience of right reason is obedience to the state and its corporate masters. But Common Law suggests another spring of morality and by that standard civilisation fails.

The ultimate violations of the Common Law are committed by the civilised: ‘So, it is civilised people who are causing climate change; it is civilised people who are sucking the oceans empty of fish and filling the waterways with pollutants; it is civilised people who are consuming global energy supplies at an expanding rate.’

But something is missing in this analysis. We know what it is to be disconnected. Daily we experience the aridity of living far from the sources of life. But what would it feel like to feel the splash of the clear water that irrigates our souls?

What is it then that fills us not merely with rage at the horrors visited on the body of our Mother, but reminds us of a hidden identity which survives from unexpected infusions which somehow continue long after despair seems final? This is the force that Mr. Farnish grasps after but never quite touches, though it lies beneath the surface of his guide to disruption like a barely suppressed shout for joy. It is the eternal sunrise we once lived within and could remember even now if only we hadn’t agreed so often that a sense of life’s greater purpose was the invariable mark of the loser.

It is the dawning realisation that our existence is not the closed circle we pretend it to be that sustains those reconnecting to their forgotten life. While our abusers threaten us with fantasies of violence and insecurity if their order is threatened, the underminers sense a greater order that lies beyond the suicidal frenzy electrolysing civilisation in its terminal decline. That order can be evoked by a phrase as simple as ‘good, moral behaviour’, but what is being unlearned is what makes that phrase seem so small. In reality, it has the power to disenchant us from the animatronics that daily seem more shrill, desperate, and tawdry as each emerging crisis swells towards its crescendo.

Being pioneers

Sixty percent of the population in this area left.

Sixty percent!

They went on to be pioneers in the land of milk and honey, they ran away like rats from a sinking ship and they left 40% behind, ruins scattered all over the land, empty buildings, empty spaces, traces of destinies – they hang above our heads, the 60%, like fluffy white clouds, like ghosts.

The previous pioneers

The pioneer is an important character in modern Western civilisation. This is the myth of the rebel, this is the story of the self-reliant, independent individual, the one that got away, the one that sought new territory and created a better life. With his own bare hands.

Late 18th-century pioneers play a vital role in our understanding of self not only for the Americans but for all of us: they have become our mental images of seeking new land.

A tight family unit. A strong, hard face. A gun and a brutal slaughtering of the previously existing. (History is a ruthless storyteller; I am sure that not all pioneers were the same.)

I speak of the pioneer because we too seek new territory, as a species, as a culture – the ship is sinking!

Names

They call this area ‘Little Canada’. I suppose there can only be so many variations on the same theme: pine, birch, cliffs, lakes, moss, sun rays and knee-deep snow. I suppose that’s why we don’t call the land by its distinctive real name: Värmland. Northern Sweden.

The emigrants took all of the names with them. What is left is the pines, the birch, the rocks and the lakes. I always dreamt vividly of Canada and Alaska only to realise one day that the landscape is the same here, but my dreams of solitude and pride had been given American names. Why? Because over half the population here left, leaving the other half with romanticised longings.

It’s not that I’m angry with the pioneers.

There was hunger here, poverty, overpopulation, religious suppression – there were sweet dreams of starting all over. They were desperate – so they packed their skills of farming and building log cabins, they kissed their families goodbye.

I understand why they had to leave. I don’t understand why they had to kill all the natives in the land of milk and honey.

It was a time of new stories fighting old stories, as if they were mutually exclusive. The new stories won, I know, because nobody speaks about the old stories any more, not even here.

We call ourselves pioneers

Two years ago we threw out all our stuff at the landfill, quit our jobs, fetched the kids from school and ran like hell, yes, we ran like hell, it was a great escape.

Nobody does anything like that without intimate knowledge of desperation: (debt) poverty, (social) claustrophobia, (ideological) suppression and such.

So we ran for the hills, yes, we ran to the forest, and here we decided to settle, we decided to become pioneers. We took down trees and built our own log cabin. We washed our clothes in the river, taught ourselves to farm, to hunt, to survive – but unlike the previous pioneers we had no skills. Nothing. Zip. Nada. We knew nothing about nothing. School didn’t teach us how to build a fire, how to forage, how to be a tight family unit, how to have hard, strong faces – we had to teach ourselves, and I won’t lie: it wasn’t funny.

And there was an anger. Why had we not been taught these things?

But then, after a while, anger drifted away to be replaced by a realisation: action. Action is the only thing that matters.

The importance of action

Our days are filled with action. Every fibre in my body is tense from action.

We don’t have running water, we don’t have electricity, we don’t have money but we do have action, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. See, I have been a passive spectator all of my life. Not any more.

Every little action has an immediate pay-off, every action is directly linked to the benefit of the action: chopping wood so we won’t freeze come winter. Priceless! Meaningful!

Even now as I sit here, I am absorbed in action: in front of the fireplace, birch logs radiate a subtle heat, a thorough heat, there is a full moon outside, frost, the lake sounds like fireworks as the chunks of ice rub against each other and the surface freezes. I just put my three year-old son to sleep, and now my action is this: know that we exist. Know that an alternative is possible.

It’s not easy. No. But it’s possible.

It seems that more and more people run for the hills. I see some of them settle.

All of the abandoned huts, all of the places that somebody left – new people move in, new people create new stories, in the ruins of the old.

We’re all a new kind of pioneer.

We’re not here to shatter the old stories, though – we’re here to carefully listen, to merge the old stories and the new stories, that´s the kind of pioneer we are. We’re reclaiming.

We’re the new pioneers. In the old land.

Inside out and outside in

My husband and I are from the countryside, but like everyone else we were raised to think that everything exciting was somewhere else.

We were outsiders looking in, we were fighting to get in, we gave up everything to be let in. The cool crowd. The creative gang. The career.

They fucked us up real good by telling us that we were nothing in ourselves, that we had to consume to become.

At one point the desperation, the passivity and the feeling of failure became too much. That’s why we ran.

That – and then for the children. This is important. Would we want for them the life we had had ourselves?

Something happened, out there, out here, in the wild: living primitively in nature, meeting the people of the forest (all the freaks and the resistance in the sewers and in the forests, like Robin Hood!) changed us. Embracing standing outside, looking in, changed our perspective forever. We can never go back. We see now how bad it is – do you see how bad it is?

One day, before we ran, he said: ‘It’s the biggest betrayal of them all – to see something, to know something, really know,but not react to this knowledge.’ I think he is right.

We ran because of the betrayal. We couldn’t betray ourselves, the kids, not any more.

We had to create a new story… it was the ethically and morally right thing to do. Postmodernism took away our action, it even took away our morals, everything has become a matter of relativity. But hey, look at us, we’re taking it back!

Stories

We had to begin at the core. Yes, there is a core.

The core is historic.

Sixty percent of the population left to find a better world, leaving the other 40% with a hole in the heart that lasted generations. Do you know how it feels to be left behind?

So the 40% embarked on a splendid, visionary journey, and together they created the Scandinavian welfare model. ‘We are all together,’ they said. ‘We are all in the same boat.’

But as the pioneers failed in America, the 40% failed in the homeland.

Enter crisis, austerity. The welfare nation crumbles.

There was a stage of sorrow and grief, naturally, but here we are, years later, with two holes in our hearts.

Left by others. Betrayed by ourselves.

There was a stage of disillusionment and despair.

As I said, nobody does what we have done without knowing despair.

Now, was this is the right thing to do? To run, to try and create a better life, with our own bare hands?

It was right for us – it might not be right for you – but listen, there’s a general question here: should one leave the existing, dysfunctional model behind, or should one stay and try to fix it?

Our culture offers two stories to describe this situation: the story of the pioneer and the story of the state.

Both stories are narrow and restricted… so let’s re-tell and redefine.

Maybe there is a middle way, I don´t know. Maybe you can be both a pioneer and a full member of a community?

Lessons to be learnt

I think the 60% in the past was right in leaving. I think seeking new territory is essential for the human being (never surrender, never surrender!) but I wonder if one could seek new territory in the homeland, instead of invading someone else’s territory, causing despair, misfortune and war.

And maybe we shouldn’t seek new territory exclusively in the material world. Maybe we should acknowledge that the two things are interconnected: mind and matter.

The old pioneers tried to conquer matter, but perhaps they forgot themselves. Roots. Maybe we shouldn’t do that.

I think the 40% was right in creating the welfare model but maybe, because of the hole in the heart, they shouldn’t have focused so much on unison and conformity. ‘We are all in the same boat’ quickly became ‘don’t rock the boat’, which made it almost impossible to change anything. In a time of drastic climate change and rising social inequality this has become a problem.

Maybe the 40% should have allowed more personal space so that we, the newer generations, don’t have to actually escape to be able to breathe, to own our actions, to own our morals?

And if we build communities, maybe we should be very well aware of this. Extremely aware.

Anyway, it was a dark, dull day in the forest today – no fluffy white clouds, just a low grey sky. Winter is acting strange. The old people say they’ve never experienced anything like this. In Little Canada there is always snow around Christmas, but not anymore.

I guess something has changed.

DRENGENE
Illustration by Signe Kjær

The graphic illustrations in this essay are made by Danish artist Signe Kjær. These illustrations appear in Andrea Hejlskov’s book Og Den Store Flugt (not yet translated into English).