The Stirrer

As you may well gather from the title of this post, it’s quite personal and one where I’m possibly taking a bit of a risk in baring my soul. While it may be personal in some regards, in other respects, it’s echoing what other writers I follow have been grappling with in various ways. Now I’ve walked away from what passes for an anarchist movement, I’m effectively politically homeless. That’s actually quite liberating in that it’s allowing me to explore certain areas that in the past, I wouldn’t have gone near. One of those areas I want to explore is the need for some kind of spiritual underpinning to my activism.

Below is a paragraph from an earlier post: All change… 8.7.23.

One way my thinking is turning is that within me, there’s a growing need for some kind of spiritual dimension to my activism. That may in part be down to me being the wrong side of sixty five and starting the process of confronting my own mortality. A lot of it is down to seeing how dysfunctional, dystopian, depraved and downright f**ked up things are. It’s starting to recognise the need for some kind of spiritual grounding to keep me sane. It’s also to stop me going down a nihilistic and ultimately, self destructive path.

The post you’re about to read is the start of that process of seeking this extra dimension to my activism…

I spend a certain amount of time monitoring social media – Facebook, Notes and Twitter – in a bid to keep up with what people are thinking and saying about a range of issues. That includes monitoring those who I would describe as political enemies as well as allies and everyone in between. It’s something I feel is necessary in order to keep my finger on the pulse. It’s not an easy task, with one of the main hurdles being separating out the valuable bits of signal from the cacophony of noise. It’s also not easy because the process necessarily involves reading about and seeing the worst of humanity. That’s not just the issues being discussed but the online behaviour of some of the enemies I feel obliged to keep an eye on!

Information overload is a thing. There’s only so much information, misinformation, news, clickbait, lies, trivia, distraction, slagging people off, malice, hate and ill will a person can take in one day just looking at social media. That’s before we have to deal with the deluge of advertising it feels like we’re being constantly subjected to. There are varying responses to such an intense bombardment. Some people seem to thrive on it and actively embrace it. Others try their level best to zone as much of it out as is possible. A few people blindly lash out against it. Some of us are doing what we can to subvert it…

The ‘news’ cycle is just that – a cycle. An issue may be ‘hot’ for a few days before disappearing from the headlines. Just because an issue disappears from the headlines, it doesn’t mean it’s not an issue any more. It’s just that it’s served it’s purpose in generating a response, whether that’s outrage, incredulity or sadness. For sure, there are some commentators who try to keep issues alive and provide some depth but in an age of clickbait, their voices often get drowned out. A combination of constant churn, shallowness and tribalism make it difficult to take a few steps back and try to work out and understand what’s actually going on. You can’t help getting the impression that’s exactly what the powers that be want. That’s because the last thing they want are people starting to think more deeply about the situation they’re in, what’s wrong about it, what has caused it and most importantly, how to fight back. Hence the considerable effort being put in to discredit pretty much any alternative source of commentary and news.

Then there’s entertainment. There’s nothing wrong with being entertained and having something to take you away from the cares of the day for a few hours. What does have to be questioned is who provides the entertainment and what agenda are they trying to promote. In an age of mass entertainment, that question has to be asked. Obviously, different forms of entertainment come with different agendas and sometimes no agendas at all. As entertainment is something that in the main is provided for us rather than as used to be the case in past centuries, something we made for ourselves, it’s legitimate to question the motives behind those providing the entertainment.

The pace of modern life means that most people don’t have the time and energy to develop their own forms of entertainment and creative expression that would add some genuine meaning to their lives. For sure, in the modern age there have been people striving to create their own culture at the grassroots but all too often, attempts to do that have either been assimilated or marginalised and even derided to the point where practitioners simply give up trying. The thing about grassroots entertainment and creative expression is that it’s about people finding their own authentic voice.

Something that before the age of mass entertainment has been going on, in many diverse forms, for centuries as people seek to find some genuine meaning in their lives. Allowing people to find some genuine, spiritual meaning in their lives is not something that the powers that be want. That’s because once people start to discover a deeper, spiritual meaning, one that’s connected to the natural world that supports us, they’ll start asking awkward questions about the increasingly dysfunctional and dystopian system we’re forced to endure. That would never do, would it?

Part of the act of rebelling means stepping back from modern life in whatever ways are possible. It means shutting out the ‘news’ agenda, even if only for a few days. It means shutting out social media and the constant clamour for attention and validation. It means, as far as is possible, getting out into nature, slowing down, breathing more deeply and reconnecting with the natural world that supports us. It means starting to think more deeply about how we relate to the natural world that we’re supposed to be a part of. It means thinking about how we can relate to each other in a more meaningful way that strengthens the bonds between us. For a growing number of us, it means searching for some kind of spirituality to help us understand why we’re here and what life is actually supposed to be about. It’s not an easy process, not least because the demands of modern life actively mitigate against any chance of being able to take some time out to think and contemplate.

Mocking people for having religious beliefs is no longer something I would do. Part of that comes from my search for a kind of spirituality that will help me better understand why I’m on this planet in the first place. This is why I take issue with former comrades who mock religion without making the effort to understand why some people want to explore their spirituality. The same applies to those former comrades deriding people who choose to live in nuclear families. All of this represents of kind of woke authoritarianism that I’m finding it harder to keep my mouth shut about. This is why I wrote the points below in Principles… 25.6.23.

  • Being more in touch with nature means recognising that we have no right to play God.
  • That applies not only to the ecosystem that supports us, but also to our own bodies.
  • Just because science says it can be done, it doesn’t have to be done!
  • Do no harm really does have to be a guiding principle.
  • We support the freedom for people to decide how they live providing it has no adverse impacts on others or the ecosystem that supports all of us.
  • If people feel that the traditional nuclear family is the arrangement that suits them best, that’s fine.
  • If people want to live in a commune, that’s also fine.
  • We support the freedom of religious/spiritual belief providing it has no adverse impact on other people.
  • It’s reasonable to assume that a society more in tune with nature and the rhythms of the seasons will be a more spiritual one.
  • To dictate how people live with and alongside each other and also how they express their spiritually smacks of authoritarianism.
  • We’re not authoritarians because we trust people to make the right decisions for themselves and their communities.

The kind of spirituality I’m looking for in what is still an ongoing search, is one that recognises our place in nature and our connection with each other at the level of the community. Recognising our place in nature means an awareness of the passing of the seasons and the changes that brings. It’s about the celebrations and rituals that mark the passing of the year from the winter solstice, Imbolc, the spring equinox, Beltane, through to the summer solstice and back via the autumn equinox. It’s about the bonding that comes from participation in these celebrations and rituals. It’s about recognising the wherever you are on the globe, there will be celebrations and rituals marking the passing of the seasons. It’s about recognising that we are a part of nature and not sitting above it.

It’s also about a sense of place, of roots, belonging and connection. All of which would be connected to a recognition of where we sit within nature. It’s about a love of locality, be it your village, town or city neighbourhood. It’s about caring for where you live. That’s caring about the people who make up your community. That’s also caring about the environment and landscape your community is situated within.

Given how dysfunctional, toxic and increasingly dystopian the world is becoming, one of the few things keeping me on track and relatively sane is this quest for some kind of spiritual depth, located in a harmonious relationship with the natural world and a real sense of community. If it wasn’t for this quest, I’d probably be heading off down quite a dark, bleak road. There are days when the crap of the modern world overwhelms me and I feel that I am heading off down a bleak, nihilistic road. That’s why I make sure that every so often, I take time out to switch off from the cacophony of modern life and head off for the fields and woods to try and get some space and calm. My heart goes out to anyone who feels the same but finds themselves stuck in a large, alienating city.

Can we achieve a deeper sense of spiritual connection with nature and with each other in a world that feels more toxic as each day passes? There are a good few of us, each trying in our own way to achieve this. Sometimes it feels that we’re making some incremental progress. At other times, it feels that the walls are closing in and there’s little hope. Increasingly, I get the feeling that things are coming to some kind of a head but, that’s a feeling that comes more from intuition than anything I can put my finger on. I’m kind of resigned to there being some kind of collapse or crisis before we can get back onto the right track. That’s not a comfortable feeling to have, particularly when all I wanted was a quiet retirement! However, maybe catharsis is the only way we’ll get to a better place…

Further reading

Love & Revolution: forging a shared vision of our free future – Paul Cudenec 10.7.23

The hippies were not leftists (and Nixon was not a conservative) – Mr. Raven 9.7.23

On the Gardening of Species – Walking With Goats 7.7.23

Into the Desert, Into the Woods – Paul Kingsnorth 7.7.23