Time to Look Down
Written during the strange autumn of 2008, in collaboration with Paul Kingsnorth, this manifesto became the starting point for the Dark Mountain Project. Its ripples continue to travel outwards.Launch book website
It is unusual for a twenty-page, self-published pamphlet to be given a two-page lead review in the New Statesman, and rarer still for that pamphlet to start a cultural movement that the New York Times can introduce to its readers as ‘changing the environmental debate in Britain and the rest of Europe’. Yet those are two of the more public markers of the strange journey taken by Uncivilisation: The Dark Mountain Manifesto since its publication in 2009.
People often assume that Paul and I had been friends for years, but in fact we got to know one another through the process of writing this text and dealing with the consequences of what we had written. We met – as people do these days – on the internet, leaving comments on each other’s blogs. Both writers, both recovering journalists, both of us had been through intense periods of involvement with activism and arrived at a certain disillusionment.
We were disillusioned with the state of environmentalism. It seemed that sustainability had come to mean sustaining the western way of living at all costs, regardless of whether this was possible or desirable. As carbon emissions continued to mount, prominent campaigners spoke privately of their pessimism, but still got up at rallies to give the same rousing speeches. The movement was in danger of becoming a church where the priests have lost their faith, but don’t believe the congregation are ready for the truth. And when you tried to talk about this, it was always framed as a choice between insisting on the efficacy of more marches, petitions, boycotts and treaties, in spite of decades of failure – or giving up, which meant despair.
We were disillusioned, too, with the state of literature and the cultural landscape. I remember feeling that most of the books being celebrated in the Sunday newspapers were going to look irrelevant or offensive in a generation’s time, given what we already knew about where things were headed.
The text we wrote was received as an intervention in the environmental debate – and became the subject of debate itself, much of it more generative of heat than light. Yet it was written neither as a blueprint for a new environmentalism, nor as a counsel of despair, but as an invitation to something stranger.
We had caught sight of the possibility that the great unravelling now underway might be, at its roots, a cultural crisis, a consequence of certain ways of looking at the world. And we were reaching towards a claim – that if the crisis itself is cultural, then those of us who work with culture, the storytellers and culturemakers, might have a role to play that goes deeper than the usual invitations to help ‘deliver the message’ from scientists and campaigners.
‘We stand by it, not as a stockade to be defended, but as a first attempt to say something, to work out how to say something, the fuller significance of which we are still discovering in the company of a growing gang of friends and collaborators, most of whom would never have met if we hadn’t been brave enough, or foolish enough, to commit these words to print.’
(from the Introduction to the 2014 edition)