Interview with Alastair McIntosh about social movements, cycles, #GroundhogDayOrEndOfDays

Alastair McIntosh, the Scottish writer and activist, kindly did an interview last month, the first for my “Groundhog Day or End of Days” project (see here).

You can (and in my opinion should!) read the transcript here, but here’s a few clips to whet your appetite.

And then I started to notice, you know, when I got involved with some CND type stuff, and so on, I noticed that every one of these campaigns would have a kind of half-life and it would rise very sharply and everybody would be saying, “Oh, this time we’re gonna do it. This time. We’re going to force the government’s hand, or whatever.. This is the big one. This is the breakthrough.”

And you know what? Kingdom never come. Not in that worldly sense of “thy kingdom come by” thy community come, thy opening up the way be done on earth as it is in heaven. Because it reaches a point of an apparent breakthrough and then it collapses.

So I learned that if I wasn’t going to become disillusioned whenever this happened, I had to anticipate it. And I frequently, my writing uses the metaphor of a surfer – that a surfer swims out and doesn’t waste time and energy grabbing every little wave that comes their way. The Surfer swims out. And I’ve never done it but I’ve watched my son doing it. And will maybe hang around for up to an hour, hoping for the perfect wave to come. And then surf in on the chosen wave.


marc hudson 45:27

You’ve kind of answered the question just there but I’ll ask it anyway. Besides burning out and selling out, then what other problems does this boom and bust cycle create?

Alastair McIntosh 45:43

It also creates false premises. So XR, have a big thing “Tell the truth.” But you’re not actually telling the truth when you’re misleading people as to how activism works. And I take XR as a presenting case, but it’s the case much more widely. It’s the case in politics. It’s all over this…


It leads to false hope. Which leads to the wrong kind of disillusionment. I say this because in my first book on climate change, Hell and High Water, that came out in 2008. I recommend what the Victorian Scottish preacher Oswald Chambers calls “The discipline of disillusionment.” Where he says we must become disillusioned. We must strip away our illusions of false hope in order to touch a deeper truth from which we can work realistically. So this is, what we’re talking about the activist world is not a disciplined disillusionment, it’s an indisciplined disillusionment that leaves people cast out as flotsam and jetsam on the beach. Sometimes quite psychologically damaged as you’re probably aware.

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