42 episodes

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 Dougald Hine

    • Society & Culture
    • 5.0 • 26 Ratings

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 S5E8: 'State of the Humbling'

    The Great Humbling S5E8: 'State of the Humbling'

    The end of this fifth series of The Great Humbling finds us looking back over the loose ends from earlier episodes, exploring the wider field of “Humility Studies” and asking who exactly we think we’re talking to, anyway?
    We start with Ed reporting back from The Fête of Britain, the inaugural festival of the Hard Art collective, which took place in Manchester last week, where he found himself hosting a gameshow whose panellists included Clare Farrell, Lee Jasper and the folk singer Jennifer Reid, who specialises in singing broadside ballads to reconnect audiences with the working class tradition of the northwest of England. Other goings-on included our friend of the Unitarian Church leading a “Sunday Service” which included a choir conducted by Brian Eno and a “sermon” from Jarvis Cocker. Ed also describes his late-night outreach in a Salford bar, where “Psychedelic Pete” thanked Hard Art members for bringing this chaos to the city.
    Among all these adventures, there’s a serious question that we take with us on into this episode, one that’s been put to us by our friend Jamie Kelsey Fry: who do you think you are talking to? In any of the work we’re doing, are we preaching to the choir, or talking a language that can bridge across boundaries and invite all kinds of other voices into the conversation? And does this matter? Our first answer is: there’s room for each of these kinds of talk, but it’s good to know which you’re actually doing.
    Dougald chases up a few other loose ends from this episode. He and Alfie have reached the ninth instalment of The Bagthorpe Saga, but despite the efforts of listeners, the elusive tenth book is still out there, so the search continues! (And a reward awaits the finder of a copy of Bagthorpes Battered.)
    Talk of “burning a million quid” – from our early episodes on the KLF (S5E3, S5E4) – gets woven into the earlier thread of Making Good Ruins (S5E1), because Drummond and Caughtie’s ritual on the Isle of Jura anticipates the project of using economic resources in ways that make no sense according to the logic within which our economic system imagines them. During a conversation with and Christopher Brewster, Dougald finds himself scrawling “Let’s burn a billion dollars!” across a page in his notebook. But as Ed suggests, what’s at stake might be not so much burning money as composting it, or ploughing it into the soil.
    Ed introduces us to the concept of “zombie leadership”, drawing on a paper about the “Dead ideas that still walk among us”, brought to his attention by professor of leadership, Jonathan Gosling. (We’re also introduced to the word “demulcent”, which sounds like something you might use on your skin.) And we learn about the US Department of Defense Strategic Command paper on “Counter-Zombie Dominance”, which reminds Dougald of the hugely popular study circle run by Sweden’s Workers Learning Association around Zombie Apocalypse Survival. Turns out that zombies are – as the anthropologists say – good to think with. [Insert joke about brains here—Ed.]
    We discuss Donald Trump as an exemplar of zombie leadership – but Dougald points out that Trump also capitalises on alienation from expert-ocracy, which itself has aspects of zombie leadership. There’s zombies everywhere! (US election 2024: “vote for the least worst zombie”?)
    The serious point here is a connection to the “problem” vs “predicament” distinction from John Michael Greer which Dougald drew on in At Work in the Ruins. A problem is something that has a solution (a way to fix it that returns you to a situation resembling the previously existing state of affairs); if something doesn’t have a solution, it’s not a problem, though it may well be a predicament. When you have a problem, it’s a good idea to get the best group of experts in a room to come up with a solution; but in the face of a predicament, what’s needed is a far more distr

    • 55 min
    The Great Humbling S5E7: 'Founders Confessions'

    The Great Humbling S5E7: 'Founders Confessions'

    In our latest episode, Ed and Dougald compare notes on the experience of being founders – or co-founders – of organisations. What did we learn along the way? And what do humble forms of leadership look like?
    We were recording on Shrove Tuesday, so the episode kicks off with a discussion of seasonal customs, including the Swedish semla…
    On a recent Danish tour, Dougald returned to teach at the Kaospilots school, reconnecting with one of the inspirations that set him on the path of kickstarting projects and organisations in his twenties. The last day of that tour was also the first anniversary of publication of At Work in the Ruins.
    Meanwhile, Ed has been speaking at the annual conference of the UK’s Garden Centre Association, which got him thinking about quite what a significant proportion of the country’s land area is made up of domestic gardens. The association’s chairman turns out to be called William Blake – which takes us back to our earlier conversations about ’s brilliant book on Blake, which friend-of-this-podcast gave to Dougald on last year’s UK tour.
    Talk of gardens also takes us to the importance of domestic gardens within ’s projections for how the UK could feed itself in A Small Farm Future, and also to ’s .
    There’s another thread running through this episode about the deeper understanding of Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday and Lent as a season of reckoning with the places where we are aware of falling short – and a chance to make changes.
    Dougald talks about taking up the invitation to a Communal Digital Fast made by and of the . He also confesses to having binged the final season of Game of Thrones, before cancelling the family’s streaming subscriptions, thereby completing a project that is all Tyson Yunkaporta’s fault… And this brings in John Lanchester’s essay on watching GoT where he compares the number of hours invested with the amount of time it would take to learn Spanish fluently.
    One thing the two of us have in common is that we both co-founded organisations while we were in our twenties – in Ed’s case, Futerra, and in Dougald’s, School of Everything.
    We talk about Peter Koenig’s concept of “the source”, which many people have met through the work of (who was the missing sixth co-founder of School of Everything!), and the question of whether the language of “co-founders” obscures the reality that a project always begins with one person as its source, and that the marker of the source is that they are the person who asks for help.
    This definitely fits the origins of Dark Mountain, another of the organisations that Dougald co-founded, which started with a blog post from , announcing his resignation from journalism, but also floating an idea for a new publication, “something deeply, darkly unfashionable and defiant”. At the end of that post, he wrote:
    What I really need are collaborators; fellow writers and artists… who would like to help make it happen. This is a long journey, I imagine, which begins here. I need people of integrity and ideas to help me shape it and make it happen.
    We talk about the valorisation of the founder within the culture of Silicon Valley, but also the reality – especially in organisations that aren’t aiming at making anyone rich – that the founder is generally the person who can’t clock off at the end of the day. Ed remembers a year when he took no salary for his work with Futerra.
    Ed talks about Sam Conniff’s The Uncertainty Experts and the relevance of a tolerance for uncertainty to the role of being a founder.
    Dougald remembers something he told the Dark Mountain team in the last weeks of handing over to and colleagues who have taken the project forward:
    If there are things that you’ve seen me do that I look good at doing, most of them I started off really bad at doing, and you’ve just benefitted from the mistakes I made earlier.

    Thinking about a school called HOME, Dougald describes it as a vehicle f

    • 58 min
    The Great Humbling S5E6: 'The Low Agreements'

    The Great Humbling S5E6: 'The Low Agreements'

    This is the episode where we finally left Skype, which we’ve for some reason been using to record these conversations for four and a half series. Switching off the lights as we go, Ed wonders about other examples of old systems and technologies that are still in use, such as Windows Submarine.
    Dougald reports back on his trip to Gothenburg – and makes an appeal for help in locating a copy of Helen Cresswell’s Bagthorpes Battered, the tenth and final instalment in her saga about the terrible (and hilarious) Bagthorpe family. If you have a copy gathering dust on your shelves or boxed away in the attic, a reward is offered, and you’d also make an eight-year-old boy and his dad very happy.
    Picking up on last episode’s discussion of populism, Dougald brings in a PhD thesis by the Brazilian scholar Neto Leão, ‘Vernacular Forms of Living: Thinking After Ivan Illich’. 
    ‘To hell with sustainability!’ Neto declares, echoing Illich's pronouncement, ‘To hell with good intentions!’
    Among the framings that Neto draws from Illich is his emphasis on the necessity of setting social limits: before we even get to ecological limits, our capacity to live well together requires us to make collective choices that include saying no to certain possibilities, technologies and forms of ownership. ‘Natural thresholds are generally crossed after social limits are breached,’ he writes.
    It’s interesting to set this alongside Kate Raworth’s influential Doughnut Economics, which maps ‘planetary boundaries’ together with ‘social boundaries’.
    The difference is that, in Raworth’s mapping, the social boundaries are presented in terms of a minimum of basic needs, rather than a limit that it is unwise to exceed.
    Neto also draws attention to ‘Peace vs Development’, a talk which Illich gave in Japan in 1980, where he distinguishes the pax populi (people’s peace) from the pax economicum, the enforced peace from above that results from a ‘balance of powers’, as represented by globalisation. Illich presents the pax economicum as the successor to the pax romana of the Roman Empire.
    There are clues here for the search for good forms of ‘populism’ that we spoke about in the previous episode – while Neto develops Illich’s thoughts by suggesting that the pax ecologica is now offered as the successor to the pax economicum.
    The contrast between the pax ecologica and the pax populi is reflected in the contrast between what Neto calls the ‘high agreements’ (the kind made at COP meetings and similar summits) and the ‘low agreements’, made at scales much closer to the ground. The low agreements may look too small to be worth taking seriously, yet it is at these scales that choices about social limits become possible, whereas these are unthinkable from the perspective of high-level sustainability discussions.
    Neto fleshes out his picture of the ‘low agreements’ with fieldwork from an island in Sao Paulo province, Brazil, where the villagers have made collective decisions about limiting the amount of electricity and the uses to which they are willing to put it within their community.
    Thinking about other examples of ‘low agreements’, Dougald remembers ’s recent post about ‘Unscreening’, the 6.30pm power-down ritual that he and his wife have created, where they put their phones away in a box, beautifully made for the purpose. (There’s a connection here, too, to the larger conversation about ‘Sowing Anachronism’ that and have been hosting over at the .)
    The story of the community in Brazil reminds Ed of his experiences visiting the Isle of Eigg and the journey of community-owned electricity that the residents have been on.
    Ed talks about some work he’s been doing with the Forward Institute and a discussion around what humility in leadership looks like, where they found themselves talking about the terrible counter-example of the Post Office Horizon scandal in the UK and the horrif

    • 53 min
    The Great Humbling S5E5: 'Make Populism Good Again?'

    The Great Humbling S5E5: 'Make Populism Good Again?'

    Here's a rundown of references from this episode...
    Leah Rampy, Earth & Soul: Reconnecting Amid Climate Chaos
    Bill Drummond, 45
    David Mitchell, Unruly 
    David Graeber & David Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything
    Jay LeSoleil, 'Green' Elites vs Green Left Populism
    Avtryck/Imprint – a documentary from the Swedish Transition Towns movement
    Chris Smaje (from 2016), 'Why I'm still a populist despite Donald Trump: elements of a left agrarian populism'
    'Desert' – an anonymous anarchist text, quoted in Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World
    Debbie Kasper, 'Microcosm of Transition' – about the day the cow came home

    This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit thegreathumbling.substack.com

    • 54 min
    The Great Humbling S5E4: 'The Forever Project'

    The Great Humbling S5E4: 'The Forever Project'

    Our final episode of 2023 finds Dougald already in his Christmas jumper, as the tiredness of a busy year catches up with the pair of us. 
    Ed opens a window on Sophie Howarth’s Lighting the Dark: An Advent Calendar.
    We share the Benjamin Zephaniah poems that have been going round in our heads, since the news of his death was announced, ‘To Do Wid Me’ and ‘Rong Radio Station’ and ‘Luv Song’.
    Ed’s been reading a doorstop of a novel, The Deluge by Stephen Markley.
    Dougald has been revisiting the work of Pam Warhurst and Incredible Edible Todmorden, including something he heard her say about finding ‘a forever project’, something that you’ll be working on for the rest of your life.
    We pick up the story from last episode about the KLF, inspired by John Higgs’s book, The KLF: Chaos, Magic & the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds.
    Uncannily, it turns out that the KLF released a new single the day before we recorded our previous episode – here is KLF KARE & Harry Nilsson ft. Ricardo Da Force, Everybody’s Talking At Me. Possibly not going to make Christmas Number One.
    This takes us back to the zenith of the original KLF era, the video to Justified & Ancient ft. Tammy Wynette. And then there’s KLF vs Extreme Noise Terror at the Brit Awards.
    One of the striking thoughts from Higgs’s book is about the timing of the KLF moment, coming in the early 1990s, after the events that marked the end of what historian Eric Hobsbawm called ‘The Short Twentieth Century’ (1914-91). Higgs writes about the ‘liminal’ moment of 1991-94 – apparently these are the only years in Wikipedia where the list of things that ‘happened in this year’ gets shorter rather than longer over time.
    Anyone writing about the cultural history of the early 1990s tends to reference Douglas Coupland’s Generation X – and Dougald points out that the novel ends with three pages of statistics about a generation growing up poorer than their parents. So in its origins, this wasn’t just about a cultural moment or a ‘slacker’ trend, but the beginning of a reckoning with the unravelling of the rising and broadly shared prosperity of post-war America – which then got swept under the carpet in the second half of the 1990s by the take off of the internet. (Coupland himself shifted focus, writing Microserfs – about tech employees – and jPod, which ‘updates Microserfs for the age of Google’.)
    As Higgs says in his book, it’s one thing to start burning a million quid, it’s another thing to finish it – it takes a long time and it’s pretty tedious – and if you don’t believe this, then you too can Watch the K Foundation Burn a Million Quid.
    Dougald remembers something that Slavoj Zizek writes about in Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?, the Lacanian idea of ‘ritual value’ and sacrifice as what tears the net of the total logic of ‘use’ and ‘exchange’ value.
    Meanwhile, Tammy Wynette singing ‘They’re justified and their ancient and they’ve still no masterplan’ prompts a connection to the anonymous Substack, Philosophy in Hell, and a post (brought to our attention by Liz Slade of the Unitarians) called ‘Instead of Your Life’s Purpose’, where the author advocates for a ‘non-linear approach to meaning’:
    Instead of imagining yourself as the hero of a Hollywood movie, imagine yourself as a particularly hearty ancestor that you might brag about when drunk:  the one who rode bareback, founded a town, fought a grizzly bear, raised 10 kids, saved her son’s life by drinking the governor under the table, and went to the frontier to stay one step ahead of the hangman and her gambling debtors.
    Ed brings us into land with Higgs’s theory about the ultimate significance of the K Foundation burning a million quid – what if this is an intervention in idea-space that makes it thinkable that money can be stopped? Did they plant a seed for the economic chaos of the decades that followed, bu

    • 42 min
    The Great Humbling S5E3: 'We Used to Have Fun'

    The Great Humbling S5E3: 'We Used to Have Fun'

    We take a different route into our conversation this time around, in what turns out to be the first in a two-parter woven around John Higgs’s book, The KLF: Chaos, Magic & the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds, which Ed has been reading. It’s the kind of book that detonates in the mind, sparking a million connections.
    First, though, we start out talking about humbling moments, great and small, prompted by Dougald’s experience of stumbling upon a conversation between two listeners who had very different responses to our previous episode.
    The KLF conversation takes in George Orwell’s near-death experience off the coast of the Isle of Jura, where he wrote 1984. Also Alan Moore’s From Hell and his understanding of ‘ideaspace’. We learn about the dream of a yellow wave that haunted Carl Jung in the years before the First World War – and Ed shares his poem, Foxtime, written in January 2020, which came to feel like a premonition of the pandemic.
    All of this brings Dougald back to something from the last episode, where he briefly quoted from John Berger’s essay, ‘The Hour of Poetry’, something he expanded on in a subsequent Substack post. According to Berger, the purpose of poetry is to connect the separated, and our friend Dan commented that this couldn’t mean ‘the poet/author/artist being imagined as a professional, solitary figure producing a commodity for a living’, it has to be the opposite of this. 
    And as Dougald was sitting with this comment, an email arrived from Ben Eaton of Invisible Flock with a story about how some words from At Work in the Ruins had come to be used in an extraordinary installation in their current exhibition in Leeds, This is a Forest. (Strangely enough, Dougald has also been part of an exhibition this autumn in Västerås, Sweden called Säg att du är en skog, ‘Say You Are a Forest’.) 
    Meanwhile, the follow-up post about ‘The Hour of Poetry’ triggered a fascinating conversation between Roselle Angwin and Richard Kurth, a glimpse of way that words can call us into relation and away from the traps of becoming (in the title of Stewart Lee’s stand-up show) a ‘Content Provider’ in a self-commodifying machine.
    Join us next time, when Dougald will have read John Higg’s KLF book and we’ll see what we learn from Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty’s inability to explain why they burned a million quid.

    This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit thegreathumbling.substack.com

    • 52 min

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5
26 Ratings

26 Ratings

Stoic81 ,


I really enjoy this podcast for presenting deeper ways of examining the world from a “making good ruins” perspective. Names frequently mentioned include Paul Kingsnorth, Tyson Yunkaporta, Gordon Whie (Rune Soip), etc

MPwow ,

How far

I had to laugh with Ed suggesting that John O’Groats was a long way from Lands End, the UK is such a tiny country. I loved the poem Ed it was very impactful it really punctured the episode in a way that was surprising. Beautiful conversation as always, despite Dans downer on most things most of us still see some glimmers of possibility, I don’t care that this may sound foolish, I am a fool.

Tobar03 ,


An oasis of sanity and sense.

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