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284 pages, Paperback
First published March 16, 2017
I’m thirty-seven now. The world is smaller, more tired, more fragile, more horribly complex and full of troubles. Or, rather: the world is the same as ever it was, but I am more aware of it and the reality of my place within it. I have grown up, and there is nothing to be done about it. The worst part is that I can’t seem to look without thinking anymore. And now I know far more about what we are doing. We: the people. I know what we are doing, all over the world, to everything, all of the time. It’s why the magic is dying. It’s me. It’s us. [page 67]
This voice tells me that I am one of the luckiest people on Earth. It tells me I am a middle-class man from a country grown fat on centuries of plunder, that I have a university degree, that I go to restaurants and have a laptop computer and an internet connection, and I can publish articles like this in magazines. In other words, I am somewhere up near the top of the pyramid of human material fortune. And that in turn means that I am up near the top of the pyramid of human cupidity and destruction that is driving the natural world to the edge. [page 94]
But certainly the endpoint of a culture that focuses on human desire above all things, rejects all previous ways of living, worships machines, sneers at the spiritual and sees the world as a collection of components to be taken apart and analysed in the service of utility, is a world in which humanity disappears further into narcissistic virtuality, ‘improving’ its own capabilities with its technology while the world burns around it.
Or is it? Is there even an ‘endpoint’ at all? Perhaps this is the wrong way to look at what’s happening here. Because we are not faced with that Manichean choice I once imagined we would come to: are you man or machine? We find ourselves, instead, on a spectrum; or perhaps a slow train, with a clear direction or travel but with no defined stops. Where - whether - to jump off? It is never clear. [Page 111]
And so I come to this point, and I ask myself: what, at this moment in history, would not be a waste of my time? And I arrive at five tentative answers. One: withdrawing. [...] Withdrawn to examine your worldview: the cosmology, the paradigm, the assumptions, the direction of travel. All real change starts with withdrawal. [...] Two: Preserving non-human life. [...] Three: Getting your hands dirty. [...] Four: Insisting that nature has a value beyond utility. And telling everyone. [...] Five: Building refuges.
When you sit with the Earth, when you make it your witness and when you act as witness for it - what do you see? What are you compelled to do? These are questions that take us beyond political stances, beyond principles, beyond arguments about engagement or detachment. They are questions, it seems to me, that can never be answered in any way other than the strictly personal. Sitting or acting; engagement or retreat; perhaps there need be no contradiction. [Page 222]
The time for civilisation has passed. [Page 279]
"We live in a time of social, economic and ecological unravelling. All around us are signs that our whole way of living is already passing into history. We will face this reality honestly and learn to live with it"