A Romantic Response to Crisis?

Every enrolment into the ‘Ritual of Becoming’ will contribute $50 to bushfire relief charities.

Since sharing my last museletter, I have spent much of The New Year immersed in outrage and despair. The continent I write from is on fire. A billion animals have died (including at least 20 humans).

»—> And so now each and every enrolment to the Choose One Word ‘Ritual of Becoming’ will contribute $50 to bushfire relief charities (see here).

Illo by dangerlam

Normally, the Australian fires are a terrific example of antifragility. Many of our ecosystems have evolved to benefit from fire (as a form of regeneration)—fires clear the way for new growth to occur. (An apt metaphor for personal development, perhaps.) But this is different: these fires are many orders of magnitude greater than any other fire in recent history (burning more land than the Amazon and Californian fires combined). Many of our ecosystems will never recover. Or rather, they will: but in a way that is much reduced (thus supporting much less diversity of life).

My friend Kai Brach published an article yesterday that comprehensively yet succinctly articulates what’s happening here down under—The new reality: this is Australia at 1°C warming (please read and share: we all need to face into the reality we have co-created).

Here’s an excerpt:

There are numerous Australian charities and NGOs who can use your generous donations, and from what I can tell they are receiving an overwhelming amount of support. In my opinion, the best way international folks can help is to focus on climate change action within their own country.

I heartily concur. And while of course we here in Australia need all the help we can get—we’re all in this together, on this one spaceship Earth.

We humans tend to be most motivated by what is immediately salient—we’re not so savvy with complexity, abstraction and the mid-to-long term. And climate change is potentially one of the most complex, multidimensional and enduring transnational existential crisis we currently face. We humans will rally hard in response to images of individuals suffering and in need* (this melts my heart)—but will emotionally ‘shut down’ (go numb) when confronted with scale. Our compassion fades.

* We will do what we can to rescue individual animals in pain—yet go numb when contemplating the inhumanity of wide-scale industrial farming, for example.

Perhaps this is an adaptive mechanism? According to Professor Randolph Nesse, depression might protect us from ‘blind optimism’.

“… characteristics of low mood increase an organism’s ability to cope with the adaptive challenges characteristic of unpropitious situations. In situations where effort to pursue a major goal will likely result in danger, loss, or wasted effort, pessimism and lack of motivation may give a fitness advantage by inhibiting certain actions…” (source)

When we contemplate the sheer magnitude of the complexity of the situation, it’s easy to give in to despair. The risk of danger, loss and ‘wasted effort’* are relatively high when compared to ‘business as usual’.° But this is not business as usual. We can’t afford to give in to despair.

* The feedback loops for meaningful progress in climate change are themselves have their own inherent latency and ambiguity—and thus can be unsatisfying as a motivator.
° One of the biggest costs with climate change action can come to the ‘self’. Maybe climate change action threatens the position you’ve worked hard to achieve in your organisation? Maybe it will ostracise you from your ‘friends’? Maybe you will, to some, appear to be a ‘fool’? Navigating these challenges is part of the inevitable ‘cost’ of venturing beyond business as usual.

And yet, as someone who has spent the past two years oscillating in and out of despair, I’ve come to learn that the denial of despair isn’t sustainable. It’s not a stable form of being (at least, for me). One can’t simply ‘think positive’ and ‘be optimistic’—not when you’ve traversed the labyrinths of reason and stared into The Abyss that lies below. Not when Ragnarök is calling.

Instead, I’ve somehow learnt to take a more ‘metamodern’ disposition—sublimating the adaptive mechanisms of despair into more vital, useful and contributive forms. This is where we see the exquisite ‘both/and’ juxtapositions of metamodernism come into play: it’s a romantic response to crisis. “The optimism favoured by metamodernists is of a brand that celebrates the erasing of boundaries and treats the indistinguishability of reality and unreality—or other supposed opposites, like irony and sincerity—as a creative rather than destructive force.” (source)

The darkness of cynicism and despair lives within me, of course. But this is counterbalanced by the cultivated fabrication of ‘optimism and hope’. I can LARP this shīt. It’s difficult to articulate, but here’s one way to look at it: you’re smart enough to know we’re in for a world of suffering and pain, and that it’s unlikely we will survive this without mass extinctions and all sorts of new hurt. And yet, valiantly, you act as though we can and will. With a wry glint in your eye, you don the cape and play your part.

This is the romantic response to crisis.

Because you’re also wise enough to know that, hey, we might be wrong. We might get through this, somehow. We might actually find the relative eutopia we seek. And besides, of any stance to take, we might as well act with optimism and hope.*

* That is: a sober kind of optimism and hope that is not blind, and that knows the situation is inherently complex, inter-contingent, paradoxical, non-linear and full of doubt.

I share this with you because our world is burning. Or perhaps—more aptly—our world is experiencing the symptomatic effects of human-exacerbated climate change. Some of the weather extremes won’t be fires, of course. It’ll be floods, storms, droughts, freezing conditions (and so on). All weather is the result of the sun’s uneven heating of our planet’s atmosphere—with more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trapping more heat, we’re going to see more weather extremes. And with this will come habitat loss, ecosystem collapse, food shortages and climate refugees. And more.

And yet still, there are practical things we can do. Kai’s article shared many good things. Here are a few more things (from the lens of a wizard-philosopher).

  • Be curious and kind. Glib, I know. But if we all feel a little more seen and heard, and if we all feel a bit more of a ‘sense of belonging’, we are all less likely to turn to purchasing more material items to fill this lack. Feeling more secure increases the likelihood of more generous, creative and collaborative behaviours. We are thus more inclined to cooperate, and thus more likely to coordinate action at higher levels of complexity—which is exactly what we need in this crisis.

  • Resist in place. Perhaps the most heartening idea I have been introduced to in the past year is the notion of refocusing attention back to our local communities. This idea is championed in Jenny Odell’s book How To Do Nothing: Resisting The Attention Economy. As someone who spends far too much time in abstraction, this has been an important reminder. To echo Kai—find things you can do within your own country; your own community. Get to know your local ecology. Support local endeavours. Cultivate more of a sense of connection and belonging in and with those around you.

  • Earn less; enjoy more. Reconsider what’s important in life—what meaningful progress really means, to you. Do you really need to hustle so hard? Is meaningful progress really just about a numerical improvement in income? Your follower count? The box-ticking of bucket-list experiences? …or is there something deeper at play? I suspect, in most cases—with deep introspection—we want to feel a sense of connection and belonging to something greater than ourselves, and a sense of contribution to a brighter future. The Art of Frugal Hedonism might help.

  • Awaken the sleeper agent within. Maybe you’ve been working your way into a position of influence within an organisation. You’ve been quietly playing your part, doing all the things to support growth and whatnot. And now, in 2020, you’re in a position to exert more influence—to raise the questions, make the demands, and pull the levers that steer us towards a future less dark. Or maybe it’s time to leave your job? A lot of talented people leave ‘morally bankrupt’ organisations in the pursuit of something better. And they’re often quite prepared to take a large hit to their income to do so. Of course, such a decision is personally incredibly confronting—hence why a sense of belonging and the security that comes from a deep connection to community is so important.

Actually come to think of it this list might seem rather tepid. And yet—the most significant changes can occur via the accumulation of many small acts (and from significant shifts within). All of these points—and particularly that last point—relate to how we relate to ‘who we are’. The sense of ‘identity’ we cultivate for ourselves.

And perhaps it’s time—past time—for you to contemplate at depth not just who you are, but who you might need to become in the dark quest ahead. If so, the Choose One Word’ Ritual of Becoming might be just the thing for you.

($50 from every enrolment will be donated to charities in Australia—see below).

“We understand how dangerous a mask can be. We all become what we pretend to be.”

Bast explains to the Chronicler in The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Some of us have learnt to don a mask to ‘fit in’ and play our part. Perhaps we thought we’d take the mask off some day, but lo! the mask has shaped and influenced who we are now. Suddenly we are ‘corporate’, or whatever. And maybe this ‘version of self’ no longer serves for where we are, and where we want to be.

The Choose One Word’ Ritual of Becoming shows you how to craft a new mask for yourself. An authentic ‘persona’, if you will. Paradoxically, we do this not to conceal who we are but rather: to reveal newer and truer facets of ourselves. And in doing so, become so.

The ritual itself is necessarily deep—undertaking it helps gird you to face into the challenges ahead. To liberate your ‘self’ form the patterns of the past, to become who you need to be.

Sounds so woo, I know—but it’s deeply pragmatic. You can learn more about the programme at www.chooseoneword.com

$50 from every enrolment will go to support wildlife rescue, first nations peoples and ecosystem rehabilitation

Lifetime access is $149 aud, with $50 of each enrolment will going to the following charities:

  • WIRES (the folks are providing immediate native animal rescue and care)

  • Fire Relief Fund for First Nations Communities (this fundraiser supports immediate assistance to First Nations people—the ongoing connection of First Nations people to land and culture is critical to life on this land)

  • Australian Wildlife Conservancy (longer term protection of threatened species and ecosystems via the acquisition of land and creation of nature sanctuaries)

Donations will be made weekly for the next few months (perhaps longer), and we will provide receipts for anyone who needs to see them. Affiliate-Ambassadors will still receive their $50 commission-tributes as well.

Remember also: if your luck is down and you truly can’t afford the programme, please get in touch and we’ll give you access for free. The more we (co-)develop as people, the more we move closer to a world that is more curious and kind (and a future less dark).

PS: This is The Year of The Bard for me. I’m showing up more this year, to bring more curiosity and enchantment to this world. The Wizard in me loves this list of ‘how to talk to climate skeptics’—but the Fool in me knows that people aren’t swayed by reason alone. Hence The Bard arrives to weave new narratives and reawaken slumbering myths. To dance betwixt fact and fiction, wielding ‘truth’ and ‘meaning’ like an artist. Or well: attempting to. Let’s see how the year unfurls.