Getting Real: An Election Message from the Dark Mountain

is co-author of the Dark Mountain manifesto and was at the core of the project for a decade. Originally from the northeast of England, he now lives in central Sweden. He writes the essay series and podcast Notes From Underground and is slowly creating a school called HOME.
Following the opening days of the UK general election campaign, I can’t avoid a sense of unreality. The scale of the issues likely to play out within the term of the next parliament is so much vaster than the ground on which the parties are picking their fights.

Looking at the issues which defined recent parliaments, you can excuse the politicians for not anticipating 9/11 during the 2001 campaign – and even the economic chaos of the past two years was of a scale not widely foreseen in 2005.

But look at the issues being flagged up by major, mainstream voices as likely to hit us between now and 2015:

  • The US military now warns of a real chance of Peak Oil leading to major global instability by 2015. (Remember the political impact of our little local fuel crisis in 2000?)
  • Currency markets see a real prospect of a sovereign debt crisis which could throw the UK and other economies into a chaos deeper than the financial crisis of 2008. The response to that crisis has had the effect of nationalising risk from failing institutions – not getting rid of it, but transferring it onto the nation states on which we rely for public services and basic infrastructure. Two years ago, we were bailing out banks – today, we’re bailing out countries.
  • Then there’s the scale of cuts in public services in the near future – not a risk, but a certainty, which is being ignored while parties argue about ‘efficiency savings’. People I talk to in local authorities are gearing up for 20-30% cuts across many areas of spending. None of them believe that these can be achieved in a way which isn’t felt, often painfully, by the public – and the kind of dishonesty about this that we’re getting from politicians can only increase the likelihood of social unrest as the cuts start to bite.

None of this is to say that we’re heading into immediate social collapse – though, as Paul and I wrote in opening of the Dark Mountain manifesto, the fragility of much that we take for granted is underestimated. But it does mean it’s time to get real. In the words of Vinay Gupta – who’s organising Dark Mountain Camp, in the week leading up to Uncivilisation – ‘If the risk of an event is higher than the risk of a housefire, our governments should be preparing for it – and if they aren’t, then we need to.’

So while Uncivilisation should be a hell of a lot of fun, it’s also about building a stronger community of people who are thinking hard about what we do in situations where ‘life as we know it’ is seriously disrupted.

There’s never been an event which brought this kind of network of people together – and it’s not just for a weekend, but it should be part of the fabric of something which exists year round, which leads to conversations, collaborations, new ideas and new work which wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

For me, Uncivilisation matters because it’s a chance to bring together some of the most high profile people thinking and working in this area with brilliant, radical thinkers and projects which have been relatively isolated until now. If things get as difficult as they could well do over the next five years, the existence of informal networks of people working on these problems from the kind of outside perspectives Dark Mountain invites could end up making a real difference.

That’s one of the reasons why – if you’re feeling as frustrated as I am with the unreality of those who want to lead us – I’d encourage you to join us in Llangollen at the end of next month.

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