Sunday, 30 May 2010
Duel on a Dark Mountain
Last night I was in Wales, where they are planning for the end of the world.
The event was the Uncivilisation: Dark Mountain Festival, a cultural event that describes itself as a "training camp for the unknown world ahead". The prosperous, industrial civilisation that we know and sometimes love is unsustainable and could be coming to sticky end soon and the environmentalists who are trying to stop this are either desperately optimistic or in serious denial.
Dark Mountain was started a year ago by journalist and Guardian writer Paul Kingsnorth and social networking expert Dougal Hine, and the highlight of the first day of the festival was a debate between Dougal and Guardian columnist George Monbiot. (Guardian environment editor John Vidal was also hanging around and most of those attending the festival appeared to be Guardian readers, so it was all a bit of a Guardian love-in really.)
George had clearly arrived in pugilistic form, perhaps expecting he was being set up as the ritual sacrifice to the Dark Mountain the faithful. Using the polemic tactics with which he has dispatched Ian Plimer and others he put Dougal firmly on the spot for some of the things written in the Dark Mountain prospectus and book.
George has no time for a post-Apocalyptic future where the men have stubble and shotguns and the women wear fur bikinis. If he did he would spend more Saturday nights in Lewisham. The system we are fighting, he told the festival, is more robust than we give it credit for. Oil may peak, but it won't run out, coal seems to be going to last almost forever, and though the biosphere may wither and the climate boil, industrial capitalism will blunder on - unless we do something to stop it, and nihilism and taking to the hills to live solitary and frugal lives in hexayurts will not do that.
Perhaps not since social ecologist Murray Bookchin laid into Earth First! founder Dave Foreman has one strand of the environment movement laid into another. (Okay, I'm forgetting Monbiot laying into David Bellamy, and also Monbiot laying into the CPRE and also....I think I see a pattern here) and for much the same reasons.
Both movements have their roots in Deep Ecology and the writings of Arne Naess, and having been to numerous Earth First! gigs in the 1990s it was easy to see the Dark Mountaineers as EF!ers got a bit middle aged and jaded. Both movements rejected the promise of social democracy to solve the crisis, and both movements at least flirt with primitivism and a return to a simpler age.
All of that is Kryptonite to the approach of Enlightment inspired thinkers like Bookchin and Monbiot. But beyond Monbiot's sound and fury he does appear to be willing to give the Dark Mountaineers a chance. They are after all, by their own admission, a cultural and not a political movement.
Perhaps Monbiot's actions were more significant than his words. As (literal) darkness fell the Dark Mountain literati went into a conspiratorial huddle whilst George let his (metaphorical) hair down and enjoyed the music. Dark Mountain was clearly being warned, but not ignored.
Perhaps what Dark Mountain will become then is a chance for those of us who repeatedly bang our heads against the wall in the hope of making a saner world to pretend for a couple of days that it doesn't matter, that the world will stand or fall without us and that, should it fall, we will survive at least in spirit.
Maybe we should all just put our feet up and enjoy the music occassionally.