The mise-en-abyss, the double-bind and the Hirschman & Cocker Protocols…

While I wait to receive “no, not shortlisted” and “thanks for doing interview, but no thanks” emails, I am going through piles of printed off articles and putting in three piles – a) for (re)reading and blogging about soon b) for “one day” and c) can go in the recycling (once blank A4 and A5 harvested).

I was an ambitious lad, once, with endless and unfocussed curiosity about any number of things.

This inevitably leads to maunderings/reflections on the role of “intellectuals” and their proximity to power. In medieval times the Church elite would have a good time of it, while the peasants laboured in the fields. The theological niceties of how many angels could dance on the head of how many pins made not a whit of difference to those peasants, even though the talk was all of the Kingdom of Heaven blah blah. The church elite would communicate in literally a different language (Latin), and travel in style from place to place. Now it’s all completely different, of course. The academic elite have a tolerably good time, while the sacrifice people labour in the sacrifice/export processing zones, subject to slow violence. The theoretical niceties of how many sustainability transitions pathways will lead to how many techno-nirvanas make not a whit of difference to those sacrifice people; it could all be in Latin as far as they are concerned. But I digress.

I actually came here to maunder/ponder on what I am calling “the double-abyss” (with a passing and not-entirely helpful nod towards Greg Bateson and his “double-bind“).

I’ve kind of touched on this in a video about why my “All Our Yesterdays” project is getting so little traction.

The first abyss is climate change itself. To be specific (since the climate has always changed, as our fuckwitted denialist friends are fond of reminding us), the anthropogenic global warming thanks to the enormous amount of carbon dioxide, methane “etc” that we’ve tipped into the atmosphere while simultaneously deforesting, over the last few hundred years, accelerating markedly since the 1950s. There is, unlike “local” environmental battles, where you can imagine stopping a road being built, or keeping genetically modified organisms off the supermarket shelves etc, no “smell of victory” on climate. If you think for more than five minutes, you realise that there is no way out, that the “ozone analogy” just does not work (“we banned CFCs and solve the ozone hole, we can therefore do the same for climate change” – yeah, look, whatever you need to tell yourself.) Climate change stinks of death, defeat, despair, futility. Only a certain relatively small percentage of the population is – for differing reasons – both willing AND able to go there.

And that’s just the first abyss. Because if you take a deep dive into

a) how long we have known and how long the fossil fuel interests have been weaponising “balance” and “academic culture” and doing their disinformation and regulatory capture strategies,

and you ALSO look at

b) the pathologies of social movements, and the predictable patterns that social movements go through

then that is a nice big steaming helping of more defeat, despair, futility. Nom nom nom.

And in my experience, people who do, however wonkily, the first abyss are not up for the second. It’s as if people use up all their cognitive and emotional courage in accepting the reality of climate change – in accepting that they have been lied to about “progress”, “democracy” “technology” and the special place of human intelligence in evolution. If you then ask them to stay frosty, to stay skeptical about the things that are supposed to cope with that, to ‘mitigate’ it, then it’s all too much. People will lash out at you as ‘unhelpful’ or ‘cynical’ even (especially?!) if you are proposing achievable innovations that might actually do something (however small) about the problems you are identifying. Or they go full doomer and say that because we have failed in the past we cannot (as opposed to will not) do differently in the future, and so close off important and uncomfortable conversations about what could be done in societies with freedom of speech, freedom of assembly etc.

There was a guy called Albert Hirschman, who came up with this notion that if you found something “not working” in your tribe, then really it was a case of maybe saying nothing or maybe speaking up (Voice), and if there was actual change, then great, but if you were ignored, or efforts at change were not successful, you were really left with the choice of Loyalty (shut up and smile, go along with the tribe’s soothing self-delusions) or Exit.

And there’s always the Cocker Protocol

I will confess that I struggle to see much point in laying out the “Groundhog Day or End of Days” stuff, because the audience for it is so small, and I am doing it at least twenty years too late.

Meanwhile, there’s moorhens to be fed, and cats to be tickled. Not an ethical position, I know. But I am at the stage of saying “bite me.”

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