How will they look in hindsight, these strange times we are living through? Is this a midlife crisis on humanity's road to the Star Trek future – or the point at which that story of the future unravelled and we came to see how much it had left out? What if our current crises are neither an obstacle to be overcome, nor the end of the world, but a necessary humbling?
These are the kind of questions which we set out to explore in The Great Humbling. We hope you'll join us and let us know what you think.
Ed Gillespie & Dougald Hine
The Great Humbling S4E8: 'We Need to Talk About George'
We reach the end of Season 4 of The Great Humbling, though Ed and Dougald start the show with an invitation to a one-off live recording of a special episode with guests Rupert Read and Charlotte Du Cann for those who can join us in Norwich on 20 February.
As always, we start off by talking about what we've been reading, listening to, watching, imbibing, or otherwise taking on board in ways that get us thinking.
Ed has been reading a book called At Work in the Ruins by someone called Dougald Hine.
He's also working his way through Susan Cooper's classic series of fantasy novels, The Dark Is Rising. And he recently rewatched Roy Andersson's black comedy, Songs from the Second Floor.
Dougald talks about Gabor Maté's new book, The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture which connects to many of the themes we've talked about in earlier episodes, not least in relation to Vanessa Machado de Oliveira's Hospicing Modernity.
Then we come to the book that prompted this episode, George Monbiot's Regenesis. If you've not read the book itself yet, we recommend at least reading George's initial Guardian article in which he introduced his argument about the end of agriculture, ‘Lab-grown food will soon destroy farming – and save the planet’.
Ed mentions Chris Smaje's Small Farm Future for a rather different picture of the future of agriculture.
For direct responses to Regenesis, we also recommend:
– this critique by Chris Smaje;
– Simon Fairlie’s review of Regenesis in The Land magazine;
– Gunnar Rundgren’s ‘In defence of farming’;
– the investigation by Jonathan Matthews at GM Watch which details the origins and connections of RePlanet, the organisation with whom Monbiot is collaborating on the Reboot Food campaign;
– this Twitter thread from Rob Percival (head of food policy at the Soil Association and author of The Meat Paradox, Radio 4’s current Book of the Week) on the basic questions about animal farming and climate change.
Dougald talks about Iain McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary and the different worlds constructed and inhabited by the different hemispheres of the brain.
We discuss the ETC group report, 'Who Will Feed Us?', on how the world is fed today and how we navigate a climate-changed future, with its startling figure that 70% of the food humanity eats currently comes from the 'peasant food web' rather than the 'industrial food chain'. An analysis by A Growing Culture reveals the problems with more recent peer-reviewed papers which claimed to have debunked this figure. (You'll find the links to the papers themselves via the Growing Culture link.)
Ed talks about Michael O'Callaghan's reflections on AI and critical thinking, then reads a ChatGPT pastiche of a Dr Seuss poem. This brings out Dougald's inner Nick Cave.
We close with some thoughts from Marisol de la Cadena and Mario Blaser's introduction to A World of Many Worlds.
The Great Humbling S4E7: 'The Missing Episode'
So, here's what happened – after a long break, we sat down in early October to record the seventh episode of this series, but life got in the way and by the time we got around to editing it six weeks later, the world had changed so much that it felt like a historical document. Britain has (yet) another prime minister, Sweden has a government over which the far-right have an unprecedented influence. But here it is, in any case, 'the missing episode', so you can travel back in time and relive the thoughts that were on our minds earlier this autumn.
Some shownotes, then...
Firstly, a bow of gratitude to listener Lydia Catterall for her lovely words about the previous episode. Check out Lydia's work here: "Lydia aims to reveal, support and champion the creative people and ideas transforming the make-up of where we live."
After mentioning Felix Marquardt's The New Nomads, Ed goes on to talk about Gaia Vince's Nomad Century: How Climate Migration Will Reshape Our World. He's also been reading Laline Paull's novel, The Bees – 'a thriller set in a beehive, based on real honeybee biology'.
Dougald has also been on an interspecies reading trip – he talks about Amitav Ghosh's The Nutmeg's Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis and recommends Sarah Thomas's The Raven's Nest, 'a memoir about resilience and learning to belong, set in the elemental landscape of Iceland's Westfjords', as perfect reading for the dark months of the northern year.
Discussing the strange days that followed the Queen's death, Dougald reads from a piece that Diné elder Pat McCabe published on Facebook about praying at the tomb of King Ferdinand of Spain.
Ed quotes from Ursula K Le Guin's 2014 speech in which she speaks for the long historical view and being 'realists of a larger reality': 'We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings.'
Dougald remembers Rowan Williams writing in Lost Icons about the tension between the role of the 'monarch as icon', with its traces of 'sacred eccentricity', and 'monarch as absolute executive master'. Something was lost, Williams suggests, when the ceremony of the monarch washing the feet of the poor on Maundy Thursday was sanitised and replaced with the giving out of bags of coins – while 'the rot set in ... when monarchs started dressing habitually in military uniform'.
We discuss a passage in Paul Kingsnorth's Substack essay, 'The Nation and the Grid', about 'a situation in which nobody [on any side of politics or the culture war] is quite clear what they want or how to get it'.
We mark the loss of Bruno Latour and discuss his book, Down to Earth, and the images it offers for recognising the failure of the old political trajectories of left and right in the time of 'the new climatic regime'.
And as so often, our conversation comes around to the work of the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures collective, and the suggestion that what may be called for is to visibilise the absence of what is lacking from existing institutions and conversations, rather than move to fast to attempt to bring the absent into a setting which remains unchanged and will tend to distort or misunderstand it.
The Great Humbling S4E6: 'Nice to meet you'
After twenty-nine episodes recorded through screens and cameras, Ed and Dougald find themselves meeting for the first time and sit down for a conversation beside the mill pond in Loddon, in the garden of the Mill of Impermanence.
We hear the unlikely tale of how Dougald found Ed’s fiftieth birthday present, a copy of Uriah Heep’s fifth album, The Magician’s Birthday, while en route to a holiday in Great Yarmouth. A chain of serendipitous events leads to the unavoidable conclusion that Yarmouth is the spiritual home of the Great ‘Umbling.
This leads to a discussion of ‘serendipity’, the term coined by the novelist Horace Walpole in 1754, and its opposite, ‘zemblanity’, coined by the novelist William Boyd in 1998.
Dougald explains why he abandoned the article he started writing about all the things he learned from hitchhiking.
Ed talks about Gordon White’s Ani.Mystic and we agree that it’s a mindblowing book. Ed makes the connection to Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. Dougald brings in Paul Kingsnorth’s recent conversation with Rowan Williams.
Dougald talks about Danny Nemo’s Neuro-Apocalypse and the centrality of the concept of ‘ki’ in everyday Japanese.
Ed enthuses about James Rebanks’s English Pastoral.
Dougald reads from a recent essay from an anonymous Substack called Flat Caps and Fatalism, a dark picture of ‘The dishonest land’.
Ed lifts up the work of Ann and Martin Wolfe at Wakelyns Agroforestry as a local example of the possibility of a different relationship to land, even starting from where we find ourselves.
The Great Humbling S4E5: 'Belief'
Dougald poses a big question for this episode: what do we believe in? Ed responds playfully and paradoxically with ‘self-delusion’, citing Robert Trivers work on self-deceit that includes gay pornography and erection-o-meters. And lasers. Here's his RSA talk.
Dougald talks about the formative influence of spending the first two-and-a-bit years of his life in the grounds of a theological college and what happened when he told his Sunday school teacher that he didn't find Hell 'a particularly helpful concept’.
Does it matter more what we believe, or what our beliefs make us do? If there is a throne at the heart of a culture, what do we put on it?
Ed shares his own inherited belief from his late father: ‘Brickshit’. A story that entails psychedelic adventures and an uncanny set of synchronicities, a recurrent theme of these conversations.
Dougald asserts that he does not believe in coincidences, and expands on the idea of culture’s empty throne in the inter-generational absence of church-going, and the unarticulated loss that results in society.
Does religion start as a joke that falls into the trap of taking itself too seriously? If everyone we meet is God in disguise, how might that influence our metaphysical manners? Is prayer a shortcut to ancient mysteries?
Ed concludes with some thoughts on ‘interbeing’ and finding magic everywhere amongst the ruins.
The Great Humbling S4E4: 'Are we going to talk about Ukraine?'
We started this podcast in the early weeks of the pandemic, talking about the stories circling around it. A crisis had come out of the corner of almost everyone's field of vision and became, within weeks, the only thing in the news. Two years on, something similar has happened, so we arrived at this episode wondering whether or not to talk about Ukraine.
Dougald remembers Ivan Illich's short text, 'The Right to Dignified Silence' (in In the Mirror of the Past), written in support of West German campaigners who refused to enter into a reasoned argument about nuclear weapons, choosing instead to express themselves through public silence.
This reminds Ed of the Silent Parade in Manhattan in 1917 to protest violence against African Americans, and also of the wordless presence of XR's Red Rebel Brigade.
Ed quotes from Douglas Rushkoff's 'Doing Less to Help Ukraine':
Instead of filling our channels and brains with uninformed opinions, we should stop and breathe. We are not there, we not informed, and we should shut up — except, maybe, to stand in solidarity with our fellow human beings. We can bear witness to what is happening. Instead of adding more conflict and confusion to the crisis, we can help metabolize the trauma of our fellow beings. We are all connected, after all.
Dougald reflects on L.M. Sacasas's comment about the impossibility of being silent in online spaces. We either contribute to the noise, or we disappear altogether from view.
We wonder about the role played at a moment like this by the kind of quieter online spaces – the 'dark forests' of the internet we discussed at the end of last series – in contrast to the escalatory patterns of social media.
Dougald quotes Justin E.H. Smith on how social media turns protest into 'upvoting' and 'downvoting' options like creating a no-fly zone, with terrifying implications.
Ed speaks about the 'onion layers' of history that leave us all weeping, and we discuss Branko Marcetic's article on the historical context of Ukraine.
Ed brings in the heartening story of the two Scottish gardeners who drove to Ukraine to rescue three students trapped in the city of Sumy.
This reminds Dougald of the story of Illich being asked by a friend, "Don't you care about the starving children in the Sahel?" No, he replies, because to care would mean selling my belongings and going there and doing something, and I am not going to pretend that this is my intention. Illich's point is that we use the language of care too lightly. The example of those Scottish gardeners is what care, in Illich's sense, actually looks like.
We ask why this war is dominating the headlines, a question brought into focus by Ahmed Abdulkareem's article, 'Tears for Ukraine, Sanctions for Russia, Yawns for Yemen, Arms for Saudis'.
One layer within this is racism: the victims in Ukraine 'look like us', as more than one journalist has let slip. Dougald quotes from a fierce article by the Kenyan cartoonist Patrick Gathara that turns the foreign correspondent's lens on Europe and its 'tribal conflicts'.
Another layer is the fear we rightfully feel at the thought of nuclear esculation. Ed brings in Vladimir Pozner's talk at Yale and our blithe indifference (until this war) to the threat of nuclear weapons.
A further layer involves the way that this war reveals the rickety foundations of the 'mansion of modern freedoms' (a phrase that comes from Dipesh Chakrabarty's The Climate of History, with echoes of Vanessa Andreotti's 'The House Modernity Built'.) Dougald quotes from Rhyd Wildermuth's Substack essay, 'The Haunted Mansion of Modern Freedom', which wonders about what this war has done to 'the fantasy of historical progress, urban civic religion, and the Pax Capitalis', and how far this is colouring the Western response. There's an invitation to sit with current events as part of a larger process of the collapse of the house modernity built.
To sit with that kind of awareness i
We’ve been listening back to the first episode we made, almost two years ago, in the early weeks of the time of Covid.
Maybe it’s the influence of revisiting those early episodes, or maybe it has to do with Dougald turning up to our January recording with a glass of bubbly in hand, but we find ourselves ranging freely – and at some length – in this conversation we’re calling ‘Remapping Lava’.
Before we get onto the main theme of the discussion, we bring back the tradition of asking each other what we’ve been reading or listening to lately that’s got us thinking.
Ed talks about Bewilderment, the new novel from Richard Powers, whose last book was The Overstory.
Dougald has been discovering the joys of Tintin and gives us his Captain Haddock impression. He also talks about David Cayley’s book of interviews, Ideas on the Nature of Science, based on the epic CBC radio series, How to Think About Science.
Ed reads us a little from The Owner of the Sea, Richard Price’s retelling of three Inuit stories, and tells us about a serendipitous connection with Lucy Hinton’s poem, Singing Bone.
Talk of Inuit poetry takes Dougald back to Taqralik Partridge’s challenge to consider the pandemic as the ‘warning shots’ of a larger storm into which the world is headed.
So what is the shape of the storm, how is the lava looking, as the pandemic enters its third year?
Talking about the atmosphere in the UK, Ed mentions Cassette Boy’s Rage Against the Party Machine. He also brings up the Dutch museums and arts institutions that reopened as hair salons and gyms in response to Covid restrictions.
As another marker of the sense of shifting stories over recent weeks, Dougald brings up the Guardian interview with Clive Dix, former head of the UK’s vaccine tax force, headlined ‘End mass jabs and live with Covid’ and a report from the second week in December on protests in Austria that was the first time he’d noticed these treated as legitimate, rather than reduced to a story about the far right, conspiracy theorists and ‘anti-vaxxers’.
Talking about who has had a ‘bad’ pandemic brings us to the role of public intellectuals and the philosopher Justin E.H. Smith’s Substack piece Covid is Boring, where he expresses puzzlement over his peers enlisting as ‘full-time volunteer nodes of information on epidemiology’. Smith is in favour of mandatory vaccination, yet he’s also disturbed by the failure to question ‘the regime that covid has helped install’.
Dougald connects this role of ‘thinking on behalf of science’ rather than ‘thinking about science’ (in the sense of Cayley’s book and radio series) to the enlisting of artists to ‘deliver the message’ about climate change – and refers to the work he did with Riksteatern on what other roles art might play under the shadow of climate change.
We decide that there are different ways of answering the question of who’s had a ‘good’ pandemic.
Oxfam’s wealth aggregation analysis gives a pretty clear picture of who has benefited economically from the pandemic – answer, billionaires (which may be why they are all throwing themselves into space…).
But talking about whose moral standing emerges strengthened from the past two years, Ed brings in an interview with Rosebell Kagumire, talking about the role of women in recovery.
This reminds Dougald of something Laura Stephens says about ‘recovery, discovery, un-covery’ as three aspects of what’s going on.
Ed talks about Julia Hobsbawm’s book The Nowhere Office, on the future of the workplace.
We mention Paul Kingsnorth’s three-part essay series, The Vaccine Moment, and the questions he asks about ‘the machine’.
We talk about valuing uncertainty – and that reminds Ed of Sam Conniff’s Uncertainty Experts.
And having started the episode by marvelling at how we used to make hour-long episodes in series one, we end up … making an hou
A hand down
Whenever I’m in danger of getting swept along in a righteous current, or have started to enjoy the view from today’s soapbox, an episode of The Great Humbling drops and it’s like Dougald and Ed are offering a friendly hand to help me step away and regain my footing. For which I am deeply and humbly grateful.
Missing you guys
I hope you are coming back soon for my conversations? I binged every episode over about 2 months and it really got me thinking about humility in the face of our current social and environmental challenges. The truth is we just don’t know how our planet functions and we have been going around with such arrogance and detachment. I really like the work of Charles Eisenstein who is another reflective artist who looks at humility in a lot of his work. Keep humble guys! I hope to join a circle at the next school called home. Thanks for all you do.
Continuously and consistently inspired, guided and humbled by Dougald & Ed’s open enquiry, wide reading and generous sharing.
Thanks guys ✨🙏🏻✨