Editorial: Down the Dark Mountain

IssueSeptember 2011
Comment by Milan Rai , Emily Johns

This issue we carry a report from a participant in this year’s Uncivilisation festival, inspired by the Dark Mountain project and manifesto (see p3). This is a very intriguing initiative, self-consciously metaphorical. There are two faces to the Dark Mountain manifesto, it seems to us. On the one hand, it is refreshing to hear despair honestly spoken: “our sense that civilisation as we have known it is coming to an end; brought down by a rapidly changing climate, a cancerous economic system and the ongoing mass destruction of the non-human world”; “Secretly, we all think we are doomed: even the politicians think this; even the environmentalists.”

It can be liberating, even the beginning of healing, to express our negative emotions in this way, to name our perceptions. It can release the energy that was being used to suppress our awareness of what we really feel.

On the other hand, there is a difference between a subjective feeling and an objective fact, between a possibility or a probability and a certainty.

The manifesto states that it does not “presume the outcome” (of ecocide), but in truth it does assume the inevitability of catastrophe: “There is a fall coming... Hubris has been introduced to Nemesis. Now a familiar human story is being played out... the story of how that people will cope with the crumbling of their own myth.”

One of our speakers at the forthcoming Rebellious Media Conference, Noam Chomsky, has referred sometimes to “Pascal’s wager”. The French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist Blaise Pascal argued in his Pensées that, given the impossibility of knowing whether God existed, it was rational to believe in him. If God did exist, one would win everything by believing in him (eternal life in heaven). If he did not exist, one would lose nothing by having believed in him.

Chomsky argues that people of conscience today are faced with an analoguous situation in relation to the future of humanity. If we assume that humanity is doomed, and act accordingly, humanity is certainly doomed. If we want humanity to have a future, a decent future worth living in, we have to act on the assumption that this is achievable, even if this is far from certain. Chomsky is fond of Gramsci’s motto: “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will”. In an age of uncertainty and destruction, despair is a luxury that can be enjoyed only by the privileged.

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