• Uncivilisation – hope and gloom in the woods

    by  • August 23, 2011 • Everything Else • 25 Comments

    I had a hard Dark Mountain. Not an unenjoyable one, but for me it was more about failure than success, which may be an interesting precedent. I don’t fail easily, but there is a time and place for everything.

    I was doing The Sacred bit, at least part of it, in dialogue with Dougald. There was heavy expectation that I’d perform The Miracle, a repeat performance of the 10 minute laser beam which I dropped at Uncivilisation 2010.

    We had an hour and a half, and I failed to deliver. What happened was modest, even pedestrian, certainly by comparison, valid but discursive and academic. The Rock did not come, and the Mothership did not descend, compared to the expectation of pyrotechnic display set up by last year.

    Later, I also seriously lost my temper to a hexayurt full of people, an intense experience of being an outcast in my own home-space, of watching others react to failing. I had a hard dark mountain this year.

    This, to me, was the humbling realization of limit. without enough space and room to do what is transcendent and immanent, I gave myself permission to be human, to fail and to muddle through. I was the center which did not hold, and it was fine.

    Without the confidence to command, I fell back on the desire to teach, rather than embracing the radical experience of being out of my depth in the waters around me. I would not even have known that this option, which I failed to inhabit, was there if it wasn’t for Bembo Davies, whom I met at the first Uncivilisation, and who’s become rather a mentor to me. But, anyway, rather than defining a response in a hermetically sealed ten minute framework, in which the goal was to deliver an opening, I was faced with an opportunity to create and then conclude on behalf of the community. And it did not happen. I muddled.

    All I can conclude is that the failure of our myths is the point of the experience, and I have experienced this first hand, and done my part to add to it.

    Where do we go forwards from here, together, is uncertain. The Utopian Pressure to be perfectly all-inclusive, balanced and universalist will continue to shape and sculpt Uncivilisation and Dark Mountain to a wide variety of concerns, and the community will strive and struggle as sensibly as it is able with those very flaws in our own personalities and cultures. Eventually the Far Right may come calling and we will discover what indeed is a bridge too far in inclusion in strength and learning, rather than allowing them in with weak pseudo-egalitarianism.

    There was not a despondent heart in the festival, however, many were sad and scared, perhaps, but free of the stuckness of fixed grief from too-long held false hopes and ghostly fears.

    In no way, shape or form can we afford to believe that we can “fix” things, that is the job of Transition Towns and perhaps the Green Party. To learn how to hold the truth, together in community, without changing our minds about what is true simply to make ourselves or others more comfortable seems, to me, to be Dark Mountain’s most easily expressed purpose.

    What I discovered is that I can do this for me, but I cannot do this for all of us. Perhaps no-one can. That was my Dark Mountain.

    What was yours?

    Now, a note on The Politics. This year’s festival was marked by the emergence of Uncivilisation and Dark Mountain as things of sufficient established value to have people beginning to struggle for self-expression in that context, rather than simply expressing themselves. It’s gone from being a Project, a collection of people, to being a Place or a Scene and perhaps, in some people’s opinions, a movement. But that Dark Mountain is now a Place or a Scene is without a doubt true and new.

    My own agendas are all in the 2010 talk. I said what I had to say there as well as its ever likely to be said by me, this side of the revolution 😉

    But, as the skirmishing begins, and different value systems seek and even struggle to define how the Our House of Dark Mountain is to be inhabited, let me make four observations.

    (1) What do we have in common with, and what do we have to learn, from those who are already poor?

    (2) How do the Abandoned Battles of prior generations – from Pastoralism to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and similar – relate to our present and our future?

    (3) The engineering. Always the engineering. I’m kicking around terms like CSEG (collapse support education guild, or perhaps collapse survival engineering group) as a follow up to the Gupta State Failure Management Archive but that’s more Green Wizards and Transition Towns than Dark Mountain, unless we have a literary movement with an engineering wing. And if so, what then?

    (4) The rhetoric of freedom, control and values sits ill with literature.

    I have a feeling that onrushing events may settle many of the issues about The Future of Dark Mountain this year. My take on it is that each of us has our own Dark Mountain to climb, and that we must face it individually, isolated, alone, but together.

    In that respect, it’s a lot like life.

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    Vinay Gupta is a consultant on disaster relief and risk management.


    25 Responses to Uncivilisation – hope and gloom in the woods

    1. August 24, 2011 at 9:27 am

      You said it all last year. And now we have to learn non-violence individually before we can act together.

    2. August 24, 2011 at 11:07 am

      I managed to almost completely miss all of your session on the sacred, saw the hexayurt only half-built and the closest I got to conversation with you was watching some guy shaving off your beard, but I appreciated your presence there and respect your honesty and reflection here. Wish we’d got to hang out, but had plenty of my own festival navigations and preoccupations to contend with. Another time, I hope.

    3. Warren Draper
      August 24, 2011 at 4:53 pm

      For different reasons I spent the festival trying to escape my own darkness, and I too had demons to wrestle this year – stages and microphones not being the least of them 😉 – which is probably why I felt most comfortable in those moments where surrender was not only welcomed, but absolutely necessary… during Tom & Rima’s amazing storytelling, during Liminal, etc.

      With this in mind I can’t help but wonder if the talk on the Sacred would not also have been better placed out in the open, possibly by candlelight, and possibly overlooking the open graves of the natural burial site… those uncomfortably small holes which manage, like our own skull caps, to contain the abyss…

    4. August 24, 2011 at 5:52 pm

      I think you’re hard on the sacred talk. I shared with you some of my misgivings, but the people you bought together on that stage, and certainly the death section of the talk, was incredible. I felt it was that hour and a half that became a hinge to my experience of dark mountain.

      You’re right to note the problems of an emergent scene, and the ensuing struggle to make sure the scene can be inclusive and positive for all involved. This was something I observed and worried about for much of the time there, despite (or possibly because of) my lack of ownership/stakeholderyness in the whole project.

      But then, until the festival finished and the space opened up again, the highlight of my second day was getting some one-to-one with you. Seeing some of that spirit in action. Being not entirely sure if you were fucking with me or opening my mind to new ways of looking at things or both. One day I hope to speak more with you, hopefully when I am a bit less mindclouded.

      But while I felt there were some misjudgments, and work needs to be done on the space as a whole, and ensuring people are aware of the nature and problems of communicative spaces, I think the fact was that this was a place for growth. It was a place for people to come together, see some common ground, and look at the mountains ahead of them.

      It’s certainly what I did.

      I thank you immensely for taking some time to tell me some more of what you’re about.

      And your observations are as concise, deep, hard to grok and patently useful as ever.

    5. August 24, 2011 at 7:19 pm

      Vinay, good to hear about your Dark Mountain. I didn’t think all of the Sacred talk failed – the part about death really spoke to me. I do feel though that it was an incongruous setting to hear about sacred things, that stage and audience situation, or possibly it’s just not compatible with my experience of the sacred. Maybe you and Dougald wanted to bring the idea of the sacred closer to those who tend to reject it when it has any “strange” or New Agey connotations, and that’s fair enough. The bit on sex I felt did not work because some of it was simplistic and sweeping thoughts about gender. Which brings me to some thoughts on holding space in the hexayurt. There is a lot I’m processing about that, but here are my immediate thoughts. I respect your will and ability to hold a space safe. I was slightly too drunk to put my thoughts and feelings clearly at the time, but afterward I thought, what if there was someone in that space who could have held it safe in a totally different way, less metal sword and fire, more steady earth and diffusing water? Well, we won’t know. Mainly, it felt strange to me to be taken control of in that situation, without understanding what the situation even was, like a child by its father. As you asked what makes someone choose to be a listener in a given situation, I would ask what makes someone choose to take control? The worry that no-one else will maybe. And there would be many answers to both questions, which only each of us can give for themselves. All weekend, I saw the tension of Dark Mountain to open from the pub conversation between middle class educated men into something else, how to include, what to include, and you’re right it’s the next challenge. It’s my Dark Mountain too. But in the opposite way, how to make myself heard without feeling I have to kick the shit out of people intellectually/metaphorically. I had a much more challenging Dark Mountain than last year, but also a more profound one. It’s getting serious.

    6. August 26, 2011 at 8:05 am

      Hello Vinay

      We met at last year’s Dark Mountain – I was the guy who did that poetic talk with my friend Iain MacKinnon on the pipes and with old Tom Forsyth holding up his watch and making his epic crofter comment: “Ever since I came down here I have been living by deadlines, but where I come from, we live by lifelines.”

      I was pointed to your blog by Senja Meyerricks who I had asked for an overview of Dark Mountain 2011 as I was not able to make this year. I find your blog response here fascinating because the spirituality is conveyed in the honesty, or humility in that composting sense of humus, of what you write.

      I think that’s the starting point (and usually, the ending point) of spiritual journey: this is not about what we know at an ego level. This is not even about teaching when confronted with failure in the ability to command, because it is not about command. The spiritual trip is about whether we’re prepated to let our outer ego selves yield – surrender (as distinct from submit) to something immensely greater than us, which holds the context of our lives and our times, our entire mythos and logos, and of which we are integrally a part – “tat tsam asi” (thou art that) as the Hindu scriptures put it; “I live yet not I but Christ within” as Paul put it on one of his better days; all faces of Buddha nature; children of the parthenogentic Goddess.

      The starting point for this is not thinking we’ve got it sussed, but to acknowledge that on our own in our small selves we can’t do it. We have to connect to our Great Selves, the universal Self, and that is not a snap process. That is the lifelong journey of facing the despair and yet insisting on trying to live in love.

      What excites me about Dark Mountain / Uncivilisation (there is a problem with using 2 names, I prefer the former) is that it stands at that starting point of facing up to dark truths. It does the shadow work. The challenge to it henceforth is not to get stuck wallowing there. Svenja tells me there was quite a bit of discussion this year about people being in love with apocalypse. Well, we need to remember what apocalypse etymologically means. It means revelation – to remove (apo) the cloth (calypse). We need, and I use here a term from Eastern Orthodox spirituality, our apocalyptic love to be not a nihilistic wallow, but “apocatastasis” – literally, revelation of what is there (stasis).

      And that is where the spiritual challenge comes in. It calls us to enquire, “What, precisely, is there?” Do we see only doom and gloom in our apocalyptic perception, or is there a much deeper hope for the evolution of life on Earth and the human condition underlying that doom and gloom? Is that the view potentially offered from the high paths of the Dark Mountain? And if so, how can we, as a learning and loving community, start to see it. Dare we cultivate the spirit, as one great teacher put it, of “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God”? Or is purity of heart too great a challenge, and God a concept that our rational minds are not prepared to entertain because it gives us the creeps even more than the thought of worldly apocalypse? And if so, might we be barking up the tree of the wrong kind of God, the wrong understanding … and so, what is the journey of understanding we are on if we are to escape the nihilism of death … which I believe was quite a bit of what your exploration of spirituality centred on?

      To me, these are the big trippy questions of our era. At the moment they are hardly on the green agenda. This is the superficiality of much of the green movement. It sees the physics, but fears the metaphysics. I am therefore thrilled to hear that at Dark Mountain this year you ventured to explore spirituality. I am glad I was not there otherwise I would have become over-excited and somebody would have dumped on me too much medication of some form of alcohol or other anaesthesetising medium. I am not surprised you struggled with the session. It is often like that, but keep going. Deepen. Read the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, Luke’s gospel and great spiritual classics of our time like Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet and Alice Walker’s Colour Purple, not forgetting Dostoevsky’s Karamazorv (Fr Zozima’s sharing) on the way, and not just Hesse’s epic Siddhartha, but also his little known Knulp, which is very Dark Mountainish.

      These are the soul food for our times, and we need to munch them up, shit them out, and make from that compost that can feed new life. That’s what the veiw from the mountain says to me. Thank you for your sharing, Vinay, for its honesty which is the hallmark of the spiritual touch, and my apologies for this rant … but I just felt like it!

    7. August 26, 2011 at 10:29 am

      Vinay – almost everything you said during the session made a lot of sense. It was just too big a topic. How can you possibly hope to cover ‘the sacred’ in an hour and a half and have an audience as disparate as this one leave satisfied?! (or satisfy yourself…) Too many people with diverging philosophies, many of them perhaps expecting too much. It couldn’t possibly be all that to all those people. It was a start. Let’s continue it next year, maybe with some views or myths or stories from a group of people with differing concepts of the sacred. But let’s not give up on it. I’m with Alastair, it’s too important for that.

    8. August 29, 2011 at 9:39 am

      I wasn’t at the session on the sacred, but if it was less than a success, it was probably for two main reasons.

      Firstly, as Sharon suggests, it’s massive topic, too general a heading, and with no guidance, terms like ‘the sacred’ will be struggled over by people who have their own feelings about where it should lead. It can end up being a battle of agendas.

      Secondly, a stage with a microphone and an audience and a standard-issue panel-type discussion was not the right format for this conversation. But we live and learn, and next year we do, indeed, need far more of this. I hope Sharon, Alastair, you and others will help us think about how that can happen, because it certainly needs to.

    9. Pingback: Festival reactions « The Dark Mountain Project

    10. August 29, 2011 at 11:46 am

      For sure happy to participate in a discussion about how to deal with this next year, Paul. The trick is to find the definition of sacredness that most people can accept without bringing individual specific beliefs/ dogmas into it. I think that’s possible; there are a lot of stories/poetry that can enable it. On the other hand, you’re always going to have the folk who won’t countenance any part of it. It’s probably a question of learning to live with that, not forcing, just gently exploring for those who care to.

    11. August 30, 2011 at 1:38 pm

      Hello, Alastair, you’re a hard act to follow, and thanks for all the kind words.

      I walked a very fine line between detonating the munitions sitting under the stage, and not casting enough light to illuminate. What I did not do was stand on anybody’s buttons hard enough to make things happen.

      That’s a crude phrase, but it’s the two great modes of teaching: shedding light, and peering into darkness. The two may go together in ratios.

      I’ve always been a much more competent peerer-into-darkness than a shedder-of-light, as suits my nature, and the challenge before me was (in my own mind, of course) the volatility of the peaceful equilibrium which had broken out at Dark Mountain this year.

      The first year there was huge projection of Cultural Angst on to Dark Mountain. Every discontent that people had with the environmental movement, the art world, society and in many cases themselves came to the table as people made the Utopian Lunge. Shatteringly hard things were the order of the day, particularly Dougald’s head-on with George Monbiot.

      In many ways, this year’s Dark Mountain took up from where you left us last year – a community with some solidity to it, and a haleness born of being among long-awaited friends. Just holding that scene together seemed like our top priority at times, as we began to negotiate the tricky cultural interfaces between Dark Mountain as an entity, and the wider community.

      There are two facets to this. The first is negotiating with other groups which already have a defined identity. Transition Towns and Dark Mountain share so much in terms of core values, but also express for the most part in totally different worlds. The trickier interface is with feminist and queer consciousness, as universal abstracts of equality and openness meet the simple particulars of “most of the people that are on stage are blokes” without because of any selection bias, but without enough inclusion to satisfy the people for whom gender balance is a core area of focus. I think that everybody has to recognize that gender balance is an ongoing cultural struggle, and if new-and-promising things are sandbagged because their efforts in that area lag behind people’s ideals, we’re back in the Utopian Pressure category. Constructive expansion of the circle solves these issues, sandbagging doesn’t.

      I had a few people that I made uncomfortable by the unabashedly hetronormative session we did on sex, too. I took ten men and ten women from the audience, had them mingle, then separate into single gender groups. Needless to say, five minutes later you could cut the tension with a knife, and as the Sage Representatives of each group danced out to meet, heartily did the air crackle. I didn’t mean to make anybody feel excluded, but again we have the pragmatics: if we assume a 1-in-10 or 1-in-20 dilution of gay and bisexual individuals, I’d have needed a very, very large audience indeed to run a similar short exercise including all preferences. But there is a balance here, and I was glad to talk to people who had concerns and explain that, yes, I was just doing what we could manage in the theater of the space, not excluding anybody, and that I personally don’t mind who people sleep with, and think of gender as a complex space filled with creation and variety, rather than a simple biological inheritance.

      But now, like Tim who talked about having close encounters with machine gun wielding youth rigging ballots in Nigeria, I have procrastinated because the truth is unpleasant.

      What I wanted to talk about, what I perhaps should have talked about, is the role of the theology of apocalypse, and the dominion of man over nature in creating the cultural conditions to end life on the planet at the hands of materialists.

      That was uphill both ways, and gravel for breakfast, and as a peerer-into-dark-corners, not a shedder-of-light, I chickened out from raising the topic at this time with this audience. I’m not sure we could have made any progress in understanding those issues, and I think the attempt would have rattled nearly everybody involved past toleration.

      There are some holes too dark to peer into, even with a flashlight, in an open room on a sunny afternoon at the best festival of its kind.

      So those are my more collected thoughts, Alastair, and I hope to feel your presence again soon,


    12. August 30, 2011 at 5:10 pm

      I don’t have much to add, Vinay, except that the spiriual journey is a lifetime’s work, so you can only start to lift the lid in an hour. I am interested by your comparison with Transition. It takes a very practical approach which is good in starting to move beyond only having criticisms to make of the present system, but we also need the inner depth to give the values from which to ground what we’re about. And we need a huge dollop of humility, because this is an agenda that the sages have been working at for thousands of years, and we can’t expect to get things fixed in a few years even if that does leave it “too late” to stop a lot of the suffering. I leave you just with 2 quotes that I happened to type out this afternoon for something else:

      From Jimmy Boyle’s A Sense of Freedom, Canongate, 1977 (he was once considered to be Scotland’s most violent criminal before he turned artist and reformer after being treated with empathy in an enlightened prison experiment): “The key to the whole thing lies in the relationship of the people with the group, and the understanding that no one person is bigger than the Community, that the commitment is to the Community, and not the individual…. I’ve expereinced all sorts of punishments in my life and all have been very easy in comparison with the Community hot seat.”

      From Tolstoy’s Resurrection, Penguin, 1966, p. 450: “The whole trouble is that people think there are circumstances when one may deal with human beings without love, but no such circumstances ever exist … human beings cannot be handled without love … it cannot be otherwise, because mutual love is the fundamental law of human life.”

    13. August 30, 2011 at 6:03 pm

      “What I wanted to talk about, what I perhaps should have talked about, is the role of the theology of apocalypse, and the dominion of man over nature in creating the cultural conditions to end life on the planet at the hands of materialists.” Here’s the curious thing, Vinay – I believe that’s exactly what would have worked 🙂 I just sent an email to Paul proposing exactly that approach for a session at the 2012 festival. If you go straight in (as you guys did) with, for example, the Hindu perspective on reincarnation, you instantly alienate a bunch of the audience who don’t believe in that particular ‘dogma’ if you’ll forgive the phrase. (I, on the other hand, was lapping it up!) Similarly if you’d had anyone on there spouting a specifically, pagan/ wiccan/ buddhist/ whatever perspective. People at Dark Mountain don’t I believe, want dogma. They want insight. The Deep Ecology approach to spirituality (which you describe pretty perfectly in the bit I’ve quoted at the beginning of this comment) is, I think, fairly risk-free precisely because it’s dogma-free and therefore a very good starting point. ‘Apocalypse’ is a scary word to some and a turnoff to others, but the whole issue of the disconnection with earth and the separation of humanity from ‘nature’ having caused the equally significant rift between humanity and any acceptable and value-free concept of the sacred, is something I think everyone at DM could accept. I come to this from a narrative and transpersonal psychology background – the concept of ‘re-earthing’ that follows from this recognition that we’ve become disconnected and no longer see the earth as sacred. If only you’d follwed your instincts I think you might have found that what followed wasn’t scary at all, but might have led exactly where we needed to go. I think everyone who attends an event like this is up for peering into dark corners. And so many have, and emerged from it with some insight, as is apparent from the post-festival blogging.

    14. August 30, 2011 at 6:48 pm

      I wish you had talked about this Vinay, the apocalypse. I have a feeling you are underestimating/misjudging the audience you had. I don’t know what you mean by “this audience”. The theme you are describing is one that a lot of people I interact with (not just those connected with Dark Mountain)talk about, despair about, work with. This has again been confirmed to me in lots of conversations after the festival, in person and online. I have no doubt that you can bring a particular valuable perspective to all this, and I have always very much appreciated your thoughts on dark things and found them inspirational. This stuff is out there already, and what we need now is the right spaces to explore, experience, deal with it and become clear what it means for our actions, how we work with the dark and the light. There will be much more of this next year and in between.

    15. August 30, 2011 at 7:38 pm

      I must have asked 30 people the Friday night and the Saturday morning what they thought the space would bear from their conversations with people.

      I was very aware that Dark Mountain had been fairly conflict-free so far. There was a grinding tension from the under-represented feminists, but otherwise the space was harmonious.

      What I had to say was not going to leave the space in that way. If you think that a bit of discussion of reincarnation alienated people, what I would have said about monotheism and the destruction of the earth would have left most of the audience ready for a lynching.

      I didn’t exceed the holding capacity of the space. Possibly I didn’t even get close to it, but there was enough sparkiness in the discussions people had with me afterwards to think that I’d rattled some people substantially.

      If I’d pushed it, the backlash could easily have poisoned the rest of the Dark Mountain experience for a lot of people, possibly damaged the long-term health of the community and the festival.

      I may have judged it wrongly, but I’m happy with the course that I took.

      It wasn’t my community to risk.

    16. August 31, 2011 at 9:53 am

      It seems to me that people are at their most engaging when voluntarily humble, vulnerable. Is this a participation in the sacred? Perhaps. That’s what I saw in your original post, something I respect and find humbling.

      In some ways I feel complicit in your situation, as you will understand. So I am not quite comfortable – I hesitate to speak in this particular private-public arena, invading this space which is quite definitely yours – and where you have made yourself vulnerable. I want to affirm that what I say here is said in the assumption of sufficient friendship to carry it through, and with the awareness that we both [all] have things to learn.

      I suggest that you were set up to fall – given a role which you conspired/agreed to fill. The failure to perform, to deliver, is part of the scenario. You were there to do your party piece, like a performing dog, and that – especially in the space of the sacred – is a mistaken enterprise.

      The other thing that I’m driven to say is that you’re still missing/misunderstanding something. You function (as someone else pointed out to me) as an engineer, and that (naturally) affects your way of seeing, of categorising the world. This is efficient for engineering tasks, but when you lift the veil (to steal from Alastair) it doesn’t fit with how the world (all things animate, even supposedly inanimate*) lives.

      Warning–strong words coming.

      To me the “could cut the atmosphere with a knife” is bullshit; you told us that we should feel that, but I saw a silly game, a farce, not tension. That’s a harsh thing to say – especially here, in your vulnerable space – but I want to pull out the rug from under you and your conceptions, categorisations, of sex and gender. You acknowledge space for ‘other’ sexuality and essentially ‘other’ it; you make it facts and figures and use these to justify a failure to take account of the reality. But you’re missing something. Gender and sexuality are not binary, rules you can measure. You allow only for ‘straight’/ ‘non-straight’, clear workable categories. But living beings don’t fit that model; this is part of what queer theorists have come to recognise, been called to recognise. Sexuality, gender, are categories we assign to deal with people – but it’s like being forced to tick one box on a census form, when you know more than one option is true. And even that is a lousy analogy, because it may suggest that there are fixed categories in which people participate: male heterosexual, female heterosexual, male homosexiual, female homosexual, male bisexual, female bisexual… (and even the order of this list is complicit in something). Reality is a spectrum, but more than that, a circular spectrum, a spherical spectrum, a multidimensional space with no privileged centre, in which we position and shift our identities. Within such space nothing is ‘other’ (everything is other?); all are included. And sometimes we’re asked to put our identities in a box. But the enterprise is like boxing the sacred – you can be sure it will escape!

      Whether or not we choose to be apprentices in the telling of tales, Dark Mountain, embodied in the storyteller, encourages/requires us both [all] to become better listeners.

      * I’m of the kind that listens to stone circles.

    17. August 31, 2011 at 10:10 am

      One other thing (because I only just caught up on the latest comments): describing an issue with ‘under-represented feminists’ is indicative of the problem. And this is not a point principally for you – though one you can learn from. (If I had my own blog, I’d be making it there.)

      There are many who are not participating – not I think by deliberate exclusion, but by a kind of blindness, which -as one of my roommates said- is no excuse. In my experience, feminists do not object to the absence of feminist voices but to the absence of female (and other *categorised* – yes, like it or not, this is how we function – idem, mea culpa) voices. To date, male, highly educated, articulate voices dominate the ‘main space’ of the festival (see how it is privileged simply by the description, ‘main space’).

      On this I would make two points – (1) there are ways to participate without speaking, but this does not justify a silent mainstream audience; (2) the degree that the diversity of the living world is not participating impoverishes all of us – this is not a “feminist” problem.

      Here’s to a richer Dark Mountain…!

    18. August 31, 2011 at 11:52 am


      Most of the people I talked to about the dance of boys and girls we did were delighted by it. A few people queried it’s hetronormativity. But in the time and space available, that’s what I did.

      I think you’re feeling the clash between postmodern and traditional cultural models, basically.

      I’m from a culture, specifically the Naths, who both revere sexual creativity in the sense of “where babies come from” but also have no kind of problem with other forms of sex. We *do* privilege hetrosex as “where babies come from”, but that doesn’t mean we’re anti-homosex. What makes hetrosex special is respected. What makes other sex special is also respected.

      Does that make sense? To respect the biological creation of new people as a special category does not disrespect other categories.

      It’s a subtle line, I’m sure some people will read it wrong, but do have a think about it.

      On the feminist side, there’s also a cultural issue here. Does Western Model feminism really seem to be delivering the goods for people? Most of my spiritual teachers have been old ladies, grannies, acting on models of female power from other cultures. My guru was Jewish, teaching as a Hindu, for examples. Those other-culture models of female power seem to me at least to be much more effective, genuine and authentic than the relatively recent feminist reconstruction of female power that has happened in Western society. The Western Feminist model of female power has lots and lots and lots of western cultural baggage wrapped up in it, and therefore does not work very well, at least in my eyes.

      As for the set up to fail: if anybody did that, it was me. I was sure of my capability to Bring The Rock, and I misjudged it. Such is life, we live and learn.

      Be well, V>

    19. August 31, 2011 at 12:32 pm


      Commenting on the ‘dance of boys and girls’, you set up a scenario which promised to be interesting and climaxed (anti-climaxed) in a disappointing nothing. There just wasn’t any tension (though the conjuror desired to convince us there was, and the scientist presumed that the experiment would go to plan announcing success without observing the results). I honestly have no visceral objection to the exercise, but I observed it fail (and others said the same in conversation, unprompted – I tend to be a listener rather than a leader in such things). My reaction was bemusement; reflection on why it didn’t work (and observation of your binary treatment of sex and gender) was secondary.

      So, on gender-sexuality, where you cross-reference a particular model of ‘traditional culture’ with ‘postmodern’, I contrast ‘early modern European’ with ‘modern European’, and the ways in which queer theory has emerged as a response to the complexity of erotic identities (because it’s an area I’ve been reading on). The point I was/am making is that these boundaries are imposed, but you seem to be making hetero/homo an essentialist division. Maybe I’m misunderstanding you? I don’t (didn’t) take you as ‘anti-homosex’, but I do read you as reductionist. As far as I can see my point stands, and I challenge you to think further. (And I trust that we both participate in the postmodern, and perhaps the post-postmodern, since we are participants in the historical moment.)

      On feminism, I agree that Western feminism is broken and unhelpful, but because feminism is flawed, it doesn’t mean the point that a feminist is making is necessarily wrong. Hence putting a feminist badge on it may well be unhelpful – and that’s what I thought I was getting at. Expressing the issue as feminist because it was voiced (poorly, I think) by a feminist is to fall into a trap.


      (Now back to my essay on Blake’s erotic bible, or something.)

    20. August 31, 2011 at 12:33 pm

      There should have been a “late” in the modern (and I could deconstruct modern/postmodern, but I really do have a paper to write).

    21. August 31, 2011 at 12:39 pm

      If you think the culture needs more participation from female leaders, all I can suggest is being one and participating.

      As for the exercise, I carefully briefed our Male and Female leads that three things would happen.

      * the audience would fall palpably silent waiting to see what would happen


      * either the silence would become tangible and solid, and the tension would not break into laughter by itself, and they would have to come forwards and meet to break the tension,


      * people would erupt in laughter to release the tension.

      We got *very* lucky, in that we got the static silence, then *just* before contact was made, one of the girls said “we’re with you, Raga!” and, right before the moment of contact, one of the lads said “you’re on your own!” and everybody laughed.

      So what happened was exactly what I had expected to happen, with that nice little bonus that we got both stillness and laughter, and therefore was successful from my perspective.

      That was what I had in mind.

      What was your expectation? What would you have classified as “success”?

    22. August 31, 2011 at 12:44 pm

      On essentialism, try http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abhinavagupta as a source. The category doesn’t really apply to Hindu thought.

    23. Pingback: Facing reality and our own Dark Mountains – thoughts on Uncivilisation 2011 « Musings of a part-time peasant-wannabe

    24. Iona
      October 2, 2011 at 1:58 pm

      Sorry – I hadn’t meant to break off the discourse but got overwhelmed by the to-do list. Not such a bad thing since I was over-argumentative and insufficiently reflexive.

      To begin with, a point of clarification (on which I think we agree): It wasn’t a scientific experiment. (Too many uncontrolled parameters; no control group; blah.)
      So, I’m going to move away from the discussion of “success” since there’s no satisfactory objective measure; we have different experiences and I think it’s unproductive to continue pursuing something on which we won’t agree.*

      Instead, let’s grant subjective correctness to both our perceptions. So let me treat your broader argument; I trace the underlying assumptions as follows. You argue from statement (a) that there was a perceive) high degree of tension, to conclusion (b) the tension is to be explained (only/purely) in terms of a unique male-v-female-gaze vibe and (c) this is down to a generic civilised-human hangup with sex-which-might-make-babies.

      Point (c) might be subdivided to show an additional underlying assumption which is perhaps your starting point – that “humanity” (as a whole or in some restricted subgroup) has (unnecessary) issues with sex. Let’s call that “(d)”. I’ll return to it below.

      On point[s] (c) [and d], I’m not clear to what extent you regard this hangup (feel free to use a different term) as a product of civilisation, of culture (as a subset of a given civilisation), or something broader. I think you intend it as human-specific; I also think you regard it as in some sense avoidable (because you think it’s a mistake) but sometimes you also seem to imply that it can’t be avoided – make human males and females look at each other and there will be an inevitable sexual tension. So maybe you can clarify this? **

      Now with reference to (b) and (c), it seems evident to me that non-hetero-sex contexts produce tension (possibly higher tension) among onlookers. You presented a dramatic performance, and I will offer similar data since I don’t know what scientific experimentation there is extant within the field. I acknowledge the limitations below.

      Two or three weeks ago I went to see the Celine Sciamma film, Tomboy, at the local arts cinema. It is a beautiful and stunningly-well-acted film, and I thoroughly recommend it. The audience (observers) were in-my-perception palpably quiet (your silence criterion) at moments in the film, and the tension was at least in part to do with the non-heterosex content. (There’s more going on here, but I don’t want to spoil the film.) I don’t see a lesser degree of tension in this context. [See notes for an additional example.] †

      Now as regards limitations, at least some of what is going on in such films (as distinct from your drama) is related to specific desire between individual characters, so they’re not perfect replicas of your drama. ‡

      I guess that’s where your “mass study” would be difficult to construct in a non-heterosex way, because a heterosex identity is socially assumed as normative, i.e. [rightly or wrongly] most people in “our civilisation” will assume that others are heterosex unless given reason to question this; therefore a mass experiment where the observers’ reactions are what matters will privilege heterosex. However, this doesn’t lead us to (b) and/or (c); it can demonstrate issues with sex (underlying assumption (d)), but not that these are specific to heterosex.

      Accepting the difficulty innate in providing non-heterosex examples, I will shift back to what I think is a starting observation for your argument, distinct from the performance: Sex is an area of unnecessary tension and hang-ups among humans. (This is “(d)”.)

      I remain to be convinced that this is in any sense stronger in a heterosex context, or that it is related to making babies. So here’s an alternative theory for consideration: Social discomfort around sex is biologically constituted (in addition to the emotional aspects noted below –cf ‡). It is related to the exchange of bodily fluids, viz the contradiction of a biologically-necessary general repugnance toward others’ bodily fluids (limiting transfer of disease) with the drive toward acts which necessarily involve the exchange of bodily fluids.

      Now (I hear you say) the biological drive to exchange such bodily fluids is indeed attributable at some level to the necessity of reproduction for humanity’s survival and so to heterosex activity. That notwithstanding, awkward attitudes to sex are not restricted to or more acute because of heterosex, since other sex also requires exchange of bodily fluids, and is experienced as a biological drive by some.

      I hope that makes sense. If you’re inclined to discuss further, I suggest in an offline forum. Apologies if I was over-belligerent in my previous interaction; it wasn’t personal. I do respect the grace and humility of your original post.

      * One point of curiosity though: Were the people who told you that they enjoyed it, participants and audience, or just the former (I’m assuming not just the latter though feel free to correct me)? It strikes me that perception would be quite different based on whether or not someone had been briefed.

      ** This parallels my query on essentialism: on the one hand you seem to present something as essentialist, and on the other, you say that essentialism doesn’t apply to your worldview. I am puzzled at the contradiction, hence the request for clarification. Giving general information on Hinduism doesn’t clarify the paradox I perceive in your expressions.

      † Another example would be Chansons d’Amour, though since it is more surrealist (due to the genre) it’s a trickier example. Such examples feed into questions about culture v. civilisation, since both films are French and the uproar around Sophie Fontanel (giving up sex) definitely has culture-specific aspects.

      ‡ In a one-to-one desire context, some of this is about intimacy, emotional vulnerability, and the “risks” — fear of rejection (judgment, etc). Those aspects are not what I think you were interested in/speaking about.

    25. October 29, 2011 at 5:12 pm

      I find this whole discourse borderline racist, to be honest, and deeply, deeply culturally imperialist.

      How would you start to address those issues with your discourse?


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