The Humbling

An invitation to contribute to Dark Mountain: Issue 9

is the co-founder of the Dark Mountain Project, of which he was director from 2009-2017, He is the author of nine books - three novels, two poetry collections and four works of non-fiction - all of which, it turns out, tell the same story: how we walked away from the wild world, and how we might get home again, if we can. He runs the Wyrd School which teaches wild writing and art and lives in the west of Ireland.


The older I get, the more I begin to understand the irrational, under-the-surface nature of whatever it is that drives the writing process. I’m sure the same thing must be true for all creative endeavours. One of the comforting stories our civilisation likes to tell itself is that the truth of what it means to be human must ultimately be accessible to exploration. Everything, in the end, must be unpickable by reason, logic, discursive thought, science and measurement. Everything must be amenable to being turned into ‘data’ and measured against everything else. How else would we tell if ‘progress’ was really happening at all?

This is nonsense, of course, and the process of creativity demonstrates it well. One of the questions you sometimes get asked as a writer is, ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ I don’t suppose anybody has the first idea how to answer this. I certainly don’t. Whenever I sit down to write something, I am guided by something bubbling away under the surface. I have a strong sense that something needs to be said, but often I don’t quite know what it is before I say it. The best things I have ever written have been guided by this invisible thing, either inside or outside me. Sometimes it can feel like I’m not even gripping the pen.

This was certainly the case when I sat down to write what would become the Dark Mountain manifesto, seven or so years ago now.  I had a strong and strange sense that the world was shifting on its axis, that change was on the horizon, that it was big and unknowable and unstoppable and that it demanded a response. I still have this sense, and I think that many other people do as well. That great, unstoppable thing seems dimly visible across the horizon now, as the global economy continues to crumble, as climate change kicks in faster than  predicted, as ecosystems continue to deteriorate, as methane bubbles up from under the tundra. I don’t think we have the luxury of planning for the future anymore. I think the future is already here.

Recently, on this blog, we have featured analyses from Chris Smaje and Dave Foreman of one response to this bubbling and rumbling: so-called ‘ecomodernism’.  In the past, I’ve also written about this coalescing movement of people, who I’ve referred to as ‘neo-greens.’  I also contributed an essay to a recent book on the subject, which is well worth a read if you want to understand what is becoming an increasingly popular push for total human control of the Earth.

In one sense, this project – to turn humans into gods, who control everything that lives – is as old as humanity itself. Every religion warns against it, every old story features a version of it. Perhaps we have always wanted to be gods, in the civilised world at least. But now there is a kind of urgency to it which we haven’t seen before. Now we are told that being gods is the only alternative to the mass destruction of non-human nature which must inevitably result from our current path. Now we are told it is our moral duty to control, through advanced science and increasingly frightening interventionist technologies, the very detail of life on this planet.

It’s a grim, despairing vision, in my view. Who wants either of these futures? Either the majesty of nature being run into the ground by human desire, or a totalitarian, locked down, uber-technological world of total human planning and control. To me, they both sound like hell. But given the choice between tightening our grip and loosening it, what will be the popular option? The answer to that seems pretty clear to me. We are going to keep digging until we can’t dig anymore: until we reach solid rock, and bang our heads against it.

What does this mean for those of us who reject this vision, and the assumptions which it is built from? I’ve been brought back to that question by reading these recent blog posts, and seeing this debate intensifying in other places too. All of it has taken me back to the moment when I began writing that manifesto, and when we began planning this project, because in many ways it was a project which  set itself up against this vision. We saw many elements of our culture –  including literature and art, including environmental campaigning – beginning to slide into the dark tunnel of instrumentalism, scientism and hubris, and we wanted to hold up an alternative to it. We wanted the Dark Mountain Project to be a place where people could gather to look for alternative visions, to question the assumptions behind the narrative of the so-called Anthropocene, to take us back to older ways of seeing, to make them relevant to where we are now. As I look around me,  this seems a more important task than ever.

The next Dark Mountain book, our eighth, which is published in October, takes a close look at the technological underpinnings of the current human project. It’s a departure for us, and we’re excited about it. This book is in production at present. After that, next April, we will be publishing another of our  anthologies of writing and art. This blog post opens the call for submissions for that volume: Dark Mountain issue 9.

Issue 9 is not a book with a formal ‘theme’, but as I think about the kind of writing and art we’re looking for, I look back to that moment of writing the manifesto, I look around me at the fight over the Anthropocene narrative, and I am reminded again of one of the roles of Dark Mountain: to be a refuge for people who are unpicking our dominant stories, and offering alternatives to them. Perhaps this tale of humans usurping the gods is the most dominant, and the most ancient, of all.  In the face of it, I wonder: how might we humble ourselves again? Humanity is going to be humbled one way or the other, so we may as well begin the process ourselves. What might the aternatives to the Humans-As-Gods story look like, told in fiction, non-fiction, poetry and art,  starting from where we are?

That’s a question you might like to bear in mind as you think about submitting work for our ninth collection of uncivilised writing and art. We very much look forward to seeing what you send us.

The submissions deadline for DM book 9 is 30th November 2015. We are looking for writing and art in all genres and none. Please don’t send us anything without first reading our submissions guidelines. Send all submissions to [email protected].  We respond to everything we receive, but we are a small, part-time team, so it may be a few months before you hear back from us.

  1. Paul, do you know the music of Nahko Bear and the Medicine People? Nahko is a young American singer-songwriter of mixed mixed Apache, Puerto Rican and Filipino heritage who is creating new narratives and community through music. Your post reminded me of him because one of the things he says over and over in his music is “Be humble.” Humble toward the earth, humble towards each other.

    You can hear some of his music here:

  2. Paul, do you know the music of Nahko Bear and the Medicine People? Nahko is a young American singer-songwriter of mixed Apache, Puerto Rican and Filipino heritage who is creating new narratives and community through music. Your post reminded me of him because one of the things he says over and over in his music is “Be humble” … humble toward the earth, humble towards each other.

    You can hear some of his music here:

    1. I randomly wandered here from a FB posting from Sharon Blackie to discover someone from my own back yard…Kind of live in Bklyn. And this is the Cherry on Top of my month!! Thank you!! Off to listen to as much of him as possible and purchase whatever I can!! This prayer is needed more than ever!

  3. Its always struck me that the last two Greek gods to leave the world, all that stood between men and evil, where Aedos (humility and shame) and Nemesis (righteous retribution).


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