The Dark Mountain project has been much in the news this week: a half-sympathetic before turning critical piece by George Monbiot in the Guardian, followed by a response the next day from the project’s founders, followed on Friday by an op-ed piece from Simon Lewis that rather smugly seeks to trump both previous articles over the question of when, exactly, the collapse of industrial civilization is going to take place. The coverage was picked up in the US, generating a largely sympathetic reaction from Robert Koehler in the Huffington Post.
The Guardian pieces are tailed by streams of bile, invective and ridicule, pouring from the backed-up sewer of the human psyche that is Comment is Free. I can think of other words beginning with ‘f’ that would be more appropriate, but don’t need the sidetrack just now. Most of the abuse – when it actually relates to the content of the original articles – is targeted at the Dark Mountain project. It’s not my purpose to rehearse and rebut those comments here – plenty of reactions are out there if you follow the links and check out the blog on the Dark Mountain website. Antonio Dias’s thoughts on ‘the mainstream’s misunderstanding’ of Dark Mountain are also worth reading.
The comment threads depress and anger me; but beyond those reactive emotions, what I sense happening is basically folks reacting to having their buttons pushed very hard indeed. Rudimentary shadow psychology: those uncomfortable reminders of the parts of ourselves we have disowned and buried under psychic debris, or dealt with by offloading onto another. Those truths we most strenuously deny are those we most urgently need to examine.
Or, if you prefer, the toxins that come to the surface when a necessary healing process begins.
Attention bestowed within the confines of mainstream media discourse inevitably distorts and belittles what the Dark Mountain project is about. But hey, that’s the mainstream media for you. The attention has been valuable: it’s spreading the word to more people who might not otherwise have got to hear about the project; it’s helping to finesse ideas, arguments and possibilities around what the project could be. The original manifesto pretty much intuits what would come pouring out of the sewer once Dark Mountain broke cover; and those who are watching the project from all sides know that, for every rabid Guardian reader who writes the whole thing off as hypocritical guff because it’s against modern civilization but has a website, there is someone somewhere in the world coming on board because it’s exactly what they’ve been thinking or sensing too, sometimes without being able to put words to it until the manifesto handed them some to get started with.
All this got me into thinking more deeply about why I feel so strongly in solidarity with the Dark Mountain project. This desire to be completely on side with something happening right now is for me unprecedented. I’m one of those people who generally feels hopelessly out of synch with her times: too young for the Sixties and punk; too inhibited for rave; out to lunch or not paying attention when successive waves of the zeitgeist rolled up to be surfed. Add to this my scholarly tendency to stand outside cultural movements and analyse their foibles, rather than jumping in and taking part without heed to the consequences.
This time is different. I feel a passionate connection to this project, despite having no obvious skills or knowledge or input or art to offer it yet (which doesn’t stop me from trying). I kept questing for a metaphor to describe my feelings and the most honest approximation I could find was that I’ve fallen in love with it. The same oceanic sense of borderless possibility; the same heart-quickening thirst for contact, for news, for communion; the same tremulous anxiety and pain. Pain which gets narrated as a fear of rejection, but is really the pull and tear of growing far beyond into ourselves, which is what love asks of us when it calls.
Unlike some who have approached the project with greater caution and reasonable questions which they would like answered before subscribing, my passion for Dark Mountain is sweeping and unconditional, but it is not blind. I’m certain I’m not alone in reacting like this. From my first reading of the manifesto last November, I already knew that this was only part of a truth. I knew that it wasn’t for everyone, that in the short and possibly medium term it could be proved wrong about the dynamics and timing of collapse, that it would likely open the floodgates for a whole welter of activities and creations that I personally would have no time for – as well as plenty that would thrill and enchant me. That it probably wouldn’t publish my writing, because I’m not ready yet. But none of this mattered, because it wasn’t what was important for me about Dark Mountain.
I can empathise with the impulse and the necessity to ask questions and scrutinise the nonexistent fine print. People are rightly fearful of the future once they stop believing the self-serving hype of industrial civilization, and Dark Mountain has given permission to begin asking so many previously suppressed questions. What skills should we learn to maximise our chance of surviving collapse? Have you taken account of how humans are likely to behave in conditions of resource shortage? Why the focus on poetry and other new writing? Offering parts of answers is absolutely worthwhile: it helps create the essential conversation, it fleshes out what’s actually going through people’s minds. The problem with how some of the questions are posed, though, is that they’re still begging between the lines for certainty, for solutions; still (understandably) bound by the ankles to the myth of human problem-solving prowess, even as the questioner wants to break free. They are framed in a way that unconsciously believes that we can keep project-managing the future, avoid looking squarely at our predicament.
So, what draws me to the Dark Mountain then? It’s pretty simple. It’s not quibbling over the likely timetable of industrial civilization’s collapse. It’s not whether or not the project has given up on environmental activism. It’s not even especially the prospect of discovering some exciting new poetry. What the Dark Mountain has done, through its manifesto most of all, is deliver the kick that broke through the prison wall of a stultifying culture.
Inside the prison it was airless and dark, overcrowded but tightly managed. There was only one story, and it had only two sides – black and white. The inhabitants were reduced to savaging and cannibalizing one another for sustenance. But nobody admitted there was a problem. In fact, it was getting to be like the film Alphaville: any words which you might have used to begin to articulate the problem had been deleted. People braver than me had managed to tunnel out. Even braver people had succeeded in planting big cracks in the wall, using the deleted words. I carried the prison in my head, kept serving it, but knew that deep down I didn’t believe in it, never had done. One giant step last year and I was finally outside, but the prison stayed in my head. Then I stumbled from one thing to another and upon the Dark Mountain manifesto, and the wall finally caved in.
Beyond that wall is the stink of earth and blood, the freshness of grass and birdsong, the awesome weight of trees and dancing. Here is the precious thread weaving us back into the web of nature. Here is the reality, not the spectacle, of our predicament: uncertainty, suffering, death, endurance, sharing, laughter. Here is dreaming, here are artists, here are deep breaths drawn after a near-fatal suffocation. Above all, here is what true wildness looks and feels and smells and tastes and sounds and senses like. The will to be truly oneself without restraint, yet always with respect to the limits of being alive upon this earth. Wildness which births and nurtures diversity, extravagance, play, creating and acceptance, without needing to wield power, strictures or stage-management.
Raw wild. The calling of the piper.
Whatever else Dark Mountain means to others, whatever else it can be and will come in time to create and foster, whatever it turns out in the end to have been wrong about; this one kick was needed. And this kick matters.