April 26, 2016
In it’s war against Nature
Civilization has already lost
Realizing my Angst is nothing but me
staring into the Abyss of the terrible forgetfulness of Infinity
that will ultimately swallow is all in its embrace
Only to be confronted in the fleeting Moments
of the only true Magic we have at our disposal
in Love and Friendship
The little Ants that we are coexisting in the Web of Life
You on this side of the World
Me on the Other
You once asked for a sign that the Thing
called the Group still had any Meaning,
This intangible thing into which we poured all our Hopes and Dreams
perhaps now only exists by the grace of a lack of form much like the
unpredictable lives that we live
As we grow older Mystery easier to Witness,
yet harder to Bear
favoring the small and meaningful as the Real to dictate what we cherish
As we grow tired of those still chasing towards Progress in their
Arrogance and their Greed, into the Abyss
I am grateful that on this journey into Nowhere which is my Life
I can still call you my Friend,
April 12, 2016
Recently I was invited to join a Sociology Day at my old university. As an old alumni I was going to join a discussion table for a day with my old teacher, someone I still hold dear as a spiritual guide in finding a meaning ethics in our current hectic times. In a spur of inspiration I wrote this little piece on responsibility and friendship right down below.
A friend of mine wrote a little piece as well, he elaborated on friendship more. We accidentally did something we did not really do in a long time. We thought together and this is exactly where we want to be as the Middelburg group.
At the Sociology day we discussed the text a little further after my old teacher gave some feedback. I wrote the piece informed by a ssense of ethics that i developed inside the classroom together with some of my very special friends from back then.
You see, Sociology day in this setting is not about sociology as such. Our classes were essentially classes in ethics informed by readings from the Decolonial School of Thought, a group of Latin American philosophers that aim to imagine a new way of thinking from which we can start to abandon the capitalist ways we are pursuing right now. Google ‘Buen Vivir’ if i caught your attention with this, just a small example of what I am referring to.
We speak much about history and how things that happened in the past still influence society today, but even more than that we aim to figure out what our place is in the world, referred to as a ‘positionality’. We want to understand what our place in the world is when other people lead such different but somehow connected lives. Doing so we continue to discuss our ‘relationality’ to the world. Or how we engage in meaningful relations. See, we believe that the relations we have are the most important aspect of our lives and even if we do not always manage to stay readily in touch, we know that through our engagement we have made a little place for this thing we have there.
This introduction has become much longer than I initially inteded it to be, however, it is good stuff.
There is a plan to add a few pages with some theory to this blog. Some background reading through which those who are interesting can get a better understanding with what sort of a perspective the content of this blog is chosen to be shared, or produced.
So here we go:
In the end, whatever it is what are gonna talk about today, what I want is that you think about how you are going to make your life meaningful to yourself, to the people around you, your family and friends, to the people far away even if they don’t know it, to the people in the future and to the heroes that have struggled for the rights that you have today and for the people that still suffer from the wrongdoings from the past. I want you to think so and so that you will raise your conscience, that you will improve your character so you will become stronger, but not only to the benefit of yourself. I want you to become stronger for the benefit of the world, I want you to want to carry responsibility.
Because if there is one thing we need in this world its people who want to carry responsibility, people who understand that life is more than having a proper job and a family, people that understand that if we don’t struggle for justice, there are no jobs and no families.
People who are strong enough to look at the world and who see its ugliness and its beauty all at the same time, people who look at the complexity of the world and accept it for what it is, that there are no clearcut answers to the problems that exist, that understand that this doesn’t mean that we can only be happy if we look away. People that keep on loving despite all the ugliness hidden in all the turmoil, because they know that this is the only way they can stay happy in a meaningful way, meaningful to themselves and meaningful to others.
As a gift I want you to share with you how I found how friendship is the best motivator to keep carrying on. In a mutual understanding of what we are going for we find the strength to keep on standing up for justice and peace in a society that increasingly less dares to hold on to its dreams of freedom and equality and openness.
Storm is coming, therefore we need to firmly grasp hold of each other’s hands, so we can look each other in the eyes when the storm hits and still remember what we once dreamt and carry on.
My friend’s piece
I would like underlining what my friend Jurre said about friendship. In an ethical or emancipatory sense, friendship is about much more than how to spend your spare time. Having friends that you share values, convictions, dreams and aspirations with, is maybe the most important seed for action and transformation. Knowing that you are not alone, accommodated and supported, not only motivates but puts you in motion. True friendship allows you to be vulnerable, that is to be honest to others and to yourself, to be transparent. Real friends will hold you accountable, especially when your position is on of privilege. Friendship gives us the courage to act against all odds, to deal with fear and trauma. Friendship is a constant reminder of the need to be humble and attentive. Friendship gives us energy and joy. It is the retreat and safe space where we can relax and refresh.
On a different level, when we think about organizing, friendship can guarantee informal interaction. Growing up in an environment saturated by hierarchies, bureaucracies, protocol and many other forms of inherited implicit or explicit forms of formality (and coloniality), friendship can protect us from alienation and fragmentation. It alerts us in case we get lured into abstraction and (pre-)mediated forms of interaction that contradict our understanding.
Friendship in this sense is more than teamwork (or group work). Friendship is care and compassion, the ground on which we stand, and by extension the ‘method’ through which we grow and open ourselves to differences and learn.
Friendship is the heart of companionship.
With each other – through/ via each other – to each other.
(Miteinander, Durcheinander, Zueinander)
Simply put, there is no transformation without action, no action without collectivity, and no collectivity without friendship and love. Thus, it is not DIY, but DIT (to it together).
If you want to open spaces for engagement in your localities, build alternative structures for autonomy and self-determination, for hospitality and healing, don’t just team up and look for members, make friends and foster these friendships. 🙂
If you read this piece until the end, thank you!
If these words inspired you, resonated with you or made you feel better in anyway
….. Thank You!
April 6, 2016
Due to the accumulation of a terrorist attack with the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris last November 2015 and now too recently in Belgium on March the 22nd, two big topics defining our historic experiences met for the first time in the West. After the Paris attacks, the War on Terror clashed with the politics of the climate movement in Paris.
These events shook the world, but mainly they shook the west, since there was enough conflict in the world already. To be more precise, France experienced a retaliation as a response to its involvement in the mess in Syria and so did Belgium. What rather is the case is that the disconnection between Europe and its involvement the conflict in Syria is broken. While Western leaders and media shout out loud that Western values are under attack, reducing the conflict to a clash of values it rather is the case that Western audiences are being kept oblivious to fact that to the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks these are acts of war directly related to the Syrian conflict.
My argument is that the coming together different spheres of development defining contemporary history for many, being terrorism, the war on terror, the COP 21 and the climate justice movement last November has been a pivotal moment in recent history. Within it lie important clues as to what we can expect concerning the relationship between the State apparatus and social movements in the West. The way the climate movement was policed in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, make clear that whatever is left of democracy will increasingly be put to test in moments of crisis.
The use and abuse of crisis situations for increased control at the expense of civil liberties is centuries old and is well documented. Naomi Klein’s ‘Shock Doctrine’ would be a well cited source on contemporary examples of the application of this tactic. The Paris experience of the last three weeks invite for a unique opportunity to have a taste for what the future will bring as different developments such that of the police state and the corporatization of climate interventions come close to one another.
Given the implications of the Paris attacks I believe that the climate movement, together with other social movements, will have the difficult task to push for change in times of increased tensions as well as increased political conservatism concerning social movements calling out for justice. The climate movement will have to ponder deeply the implications of a ‘climate justice’ agenda in times where there remains less space for justice movements to work within accepted and legitimate civil spaces as these will likely decrease.
I am, pointing out that democratic rights and protection will increasingly be put under stress as ecological and social relations will come under stress. At the same time I want to put forward the question of what the role could and should be of a ‘Climate Justice Movement’ in a global context of increased stress on social and ecological relations. My own position on the subject is that the Climate Justice Movement needs to become aware of its historical precedence through the development of a self-awareness informed by its similarities with other historical social movements such as the anti-apartheid movement, the civil rights movements, the several anti-war movements and the anti-nuclear movement.
All the same current developments imply that the need for a strong voice centered around values of solidarity and peace will be needed more than ever as geopolitical tensions will grow while regional destabilization will so too. My question towards the climate ‘justice’ movement is how it sees its role with regard to this as it might seem tempting to define the climate movement as a movement that is ‘merely’ focused on a transition to a post-carbon economy, as it seems out of touch with reality to stick to such a restricted focus.
The Broader Philosophical and Historical Perspective
I would like to take on the work of Boaventura de Sousa Santos on Abyssal Thinking in his paper ‘Beyond Abyssal Thinking; From Global Lines to Ecologies of Knowledge’ from 2007 to reflect on how the Paris attacks have influenced how the Climate Justice movement has been policed in Paris. Santos describes how the world is made up of ‘Abyssal lines’. These lines stand for invisible divisions that divide distinctly different social realities with distinctly different underlying social mechanisms at play. Furthermore these abyssal lines stand for a division of the world into realities that remain mutually ungraspable for those on each side of the line.
What Boaventura de Sousa Santos describes is how the experience of the development of the Modern world has been inherently different for those who were European and those who were not and how these inherently different experiences are mediated through a power relation defined by colonialism. Whereas the ‘modern’ experience is characterized by a dialectics of regulation and emancipation, the ‘colonial’ experience is characterized by a dialectics of appropriation and violence. According to Santos these abyssal lines especially apply to the realms of knowledge (as in what is science and what is not science) and legality (as in what is legal and what is illegal). Furthermore, he maintains that knowledge from persons subject to the colonial dialectics per definition is unscientific and that legality does not apply to them.
This means that for the European the development of the so-called Modern Age is one of the Enlightenment, Industrialization and eventually the development of social democracies as a triumph of justice. The point here is that this history is premised on the engagement of Europeans in colonialism elsewhere. Therefore tor the large majority of the world the development of Modernity does not start with the Enlightenment at all, but rather with a history of oppression and destruction through the history of European Colonialism, starting precisely in 1492 when Columbus arrived in the Americas. He points out these abyssal lines are not static, they move. While before there was movement through which the dialectic of regulation/emancipation was expanding as decolonization took place, as in more people could have the hope that they would live in ‘liberal democracies’ with (semi-) accountable governments. Since the late 1970s the movement has been opposite.
This can be observed in how globalization came with increased appropriation of land and resources and the oppression of those standing in the way. the strategies for oppressing dissenting parties under the colonial regimes will increasingly be felt by dissenting voices in the Modern or European context. Lately, the dialectic of appropriation and violence has been expanding through neocolonial wars such as the Gulf Wars and now too in how Syria has become ground for a new proxy war between parties divided internally in the Middle East and between the East and the West and is now having its repercussions by breaking through the European experience of peace with terrorist attacks .
Santos maintains that the abyssal lines have become harder to draw as divisions have become messier. People subject to each side of the line are now living alongside of each other when they shouldn’t. Think of refugees, migrant workers and terrorists specifically and how they are being governed as they shouldn’t be among the general population while they actually are.
My point is exactly that the Paris attacks need to be understood in the light of this developments. I maintain that the logic of oppression will increasingly befall the Climate Justice Movement and other movements as the policing of criminalized populations of color intermeshes with the policing of other social movements that could priorly somewhat count on being entangled in the dialectic of regulation and emancipation.
Crisis intervention and the Death of Democracy: The real Spectre of the Paris attacks
I started writing on this piece just after the Paris attacks at the end of November, shaken as I was not just by the attacks themselves, but by their implications. Before the attacks in Paris my main concern for the COP21 was centered around the huge presence of business interests and the resulting market based solutions that was threatening to shape the complete agenda of how and by what standards climate change was going to be ‘countered’. After the attacks this, naturally, changed.
We live in dangerous times. We have seen the political abuse of the situation by right pointing towards the so-called dangers of allowing the many refugees to enter Europe. The War on Terror once again took over the collective consciousness in the West. The Clash of Civilizations has once again proven its functionality as self-fulfilling prophecy, resurging fascism and xenophobia thankfully embraced another reason for espousing toxic discourse. These kind of ripple effects are amongst the ones to be expected.
One of the peculiarities about the events in Paris is that it has never occurred before that the ‘War on Terror’ affected the Climate Justice Movement so directly. Therefore we can we can witness in the Paris events how the state will respond to crisis. The exercise of democratic values will always be given up for security, while the claim will always be that this is done for the protection of those liberal values. The consequence of this culminates into many things, like for example the fact that communities of color will experience heavy policing, but also the marginalization of the only true force of democracy: progressive social movements.
Democracy wouldn’t exist without popular uprisings. One only would have to look for the cradle of contemporary Western Democracy, such as in the French and American Revolutions and year of 1848 to be remembered of the importance of popular uprisings. I speak Western Democracy specifically because I do not believe that Democracy is a Western invention, democracy has existed in many forms throughout the centuries all over the world just like totalitarianism did.
True democracy cannot do without the possibility of the people to revolt against their leaders and the way by which the ruling system selects its leaders, much like the first conception of modern democracy in Europe is to be traced back to the riots of the French Revolution. In this day and age the Climate Justice Movement is an example of a movement that is revolting against the political status quo by which the main causes of climate change, being capitalist industrial production and environmental exploitation, remain unchallenged by the political elites. The political elites rather cooperate with the business sector in looking for ways to keep the game the same, but somehow magically the outcomes different. If the movement is burdened by force from asserting itself, a real force of democracy is being kept in check by the status quo.
We have seen the severe and skewed restrictions of use of public space as the climate movement was heavily curfewed in Paris while Christmas Fairs were allowed to continue just like that. Thus the attacks reached, full potential. Freedoms for progressive elements in society were restricted; hate towards the marginalized increased and became more naturalized; another victory for ISIS as well as for the political elite and the conservative forces in the West.
An attack like this one, two weeks prior to the start of the Climate Negotiations has been nothing but crippling to any sort of bottom up democratic potential that could have been achieved at the COP 21. The plans the climate movement had were huge, the number of people expected to join the manifestations in Paris were estimated around one million in total. Eventually, only 15.000 showed up to make their voice heard at the last day of the Paris Climate at a manifestation intended to send a signal to the world that real change can only come from below and not from the leaders inside the negotiation rooms.
The slow death of democracy is developing creeping for years already. The Paris attacks have, however, made visible once again the workings of the process and the extent to which citizens are pacified spectators of this process under the guise of security. While public space becomes policed at the expense of social movements to assert themselves, migrants are increasingly cornered into the scapegoat role. At the same time space is created for (proto-)fascists to call for militias to protect the public domain from terrorist attacks.
The French government thankfully curtailed civil liberties in the French streets while it intensified its attacks on ISIS. I feel disgust when I see how the so-called liberal leaders claim the moment to call for a semi-crusade in the name of classical liberal tradition. Freedoms are already under pressure already for at least fifteen years. The curtailing of freedoms merely reflect structures of domination that underlie the so-called liberal democratic principles, capitalism.
The Climate Deal
So what is positive about the new Paris Climate Deal? 1) A deal is better then no deal. 2) The deal is better then what many people who followed the negotiations dared to hope for. But that’s it… really.
So what is bad about the deal? It shows in any way possible the entrenchment of the neoliberal status quo. While a few years ago we could still produce a voice that was critical of the links between policy makers and business interests this small moment of hope in middle of the misery of the 2008 crisis seems long gone. While we know that nothing was solved, those in power do not have to explain the overwhelming presence of market focused solutions anymore.
The COP 21 had come to the public with an agreement and the world was celebrating it. For the moment critical voices were not heard. If they would be, it would become clear that the deal is a scam in no time. The target set is unrealistically ambitious, especially when you consider the lack concrete targets to get there. There is no way to remain underneath the 1,5 Degree raise in temperature, especially not when there are no concrete limits to what taken out of the ground . It has already been laid out clearly by climate science that it is very unlikely that we manage to stay underneath the 2 degrees temperature rise and when I say that the current climate deal is nothing more than empty promises I can back myself up with the most renowned climate scientists, who by the way didn’t get as much of a say as they should have in the COP 21 negotiations . I guess the fact that they didn’t, but according to people on the ground, corporate representatives did sort of indicates once more exactly what is wrong with the global corporate UNFCCC negotiations.
This agreement has been shaped in a context where the Climate movement was choked while business people joined the politicians at the negotiation table and while the corporate class had all space to portray its visions on how to cash in on the coming ‘energy revolution’. No agreements on emission cuts are being made, while investments in fossil fuels are dropping fast no political commitments are being made on actually leaving it in the ground. While the use of coal for energy production is increasing. The transition to a fossil free future is completely left to the restructuring of the market . This reflects the lack of political will on acknowledging how close to the edge we really are. How we are chocking meaningful transition while we should be chocking the oil pumps. Remember when we were underneath the Eiffel Tower with a 100 meters long banner stating ‘It’s up to us to leave it in the ground’. This slogan could be interpreted in ways much more radical than what would be associated. The last word about the COP 21 is not that we have forged a climate deal, but that we forged a climate deal that runs short of what the situation demands. Therefore it’s up to us to leave it in the ground.
Climate justice in Paris
I myself attended the last weekend of action in Paris. The main focus was the Red Line action at the Avenue de la Grande Armée and underneath the Eiffel tower, 15.000 strong. That is a lot of people, but it is a very small group of people if you consider that this is an issue that concerns the whole world and if you consider that 100.000 people filled the streets of Copenhagen. The Paris negotiations were indeed historic moment, even more so because they revealed so deeply how social movements are given increasingly less space to influence political process at a moment where we need change below very badly.
Before we took part in the protests we did not know what to expect. We had the images of the previous day of climate action in the back of our minds, where people clashed with the police and when there was zero tolerance for activist presence in the streets. It laid down a foundation of fear we felt quite strongly. Up until the last moment the authorities made us believe the demonstration would be illegal and we were in a state of mind in which we believed anything could happen.
I myself suspect that this way of dealing with the situation was most beneficial for the authorities. There was a strategy of deterrence that scared away many of the people that wanted to come to Paris. Thus when the negotiations would be concluded, either positively or negatively, there would not be too many people in the streets, which is good either way. In the case of a failed negotiations there would not be tens of thousands angry people in the streets that would have to be contained. In the case of successful negotiations there would not be tens of thousands of people to question whether it all is good enough for what is necessary.
…. and Beyond
Despite the silencing of the Climate Movement in favor of the corporate class there is one thing to celebrate about the presence of the climate movement in Paris. I witnessed the first hints of the Climate Justice Movement as a peace movement. I saw signs where the link between climate justice and peace or climate chaos, terrorism and war were stressed. The awareness is there. It only needs to grow and to develop into one of the core pillars of the movement’s consciousness.
At the moment I can see how the slogans used by mainstream activist platforms and spokespersons such as 350.org, Naomi Klein and Greenpeace are coming up with slogans that reflect a radicalism that is much needed, but does not necessarily reflect the activities they engage in, but they are seeds of the sort of consciousness we need. What is most important here is how the climat movement will pick up on them.
Underneath the Eiffel tower we chanted ‘It’s up to us to leave it in the ground’, Naomi Klein is travelling the world promoting her concept ‘Blockadia’, Friends of the Earth walked the city mapping their ‘Climate Justice Peace’ slogan on GPS. All these slogans and concepts are very much to the point, but the people behind it unfortunately merely play their political game at the level of the symbolic. The campaigners behind them are not going far enough yet to make them a reality. These slogans happen to express exactly what sort of direction the Climate justice needs to be taking. Taken together they are a very powerful message both to ourselves as to those who keep investing in and holding up the structures that need to disappear.
How to make it Real?
We indeed need to move from the symbolic to the structural. For example, a while ago in Germany the Garzweile mine was stormed under the slogan ‘Reclaim Power’ and they did by blocking one of the biggest brown coal mines in Germany for a day, made stocks fell and now RWE is casting of the mine because of ‘decreasing profits’.
What we can also learn from the Garzweile example is that while it might seem hauntingly impossible to halt the structures of production (or destruction if you will), in reality they are so vulnerable that the powers that be are scared shitless by the idea that the masses would move against them. It is but one of the reasons why international governance is increasingly less open to active participation of civilians. It would simply put into question whole structures of power, including relationships between the political class and the business class and intertwined geopolitical structures.
It would be much more convenient for the status quo if the strong culture of consumerism we are swimming in today simply stays up (as it indeed seems to be the case in many ways), meanwhile somewhere at the top of the pyramid a transition from an unsustainable form of capitalism to a supposedly sustainable form of ‘green’ capitalism is engineered by those that have the most at stake to keep everything the same.
We are unfortunately in a situation where the inherent contradictions in the status quo will increasingly lead to more conflict and less freedom. As the environment is decreasing in quality at fast rates we can expect higher risks of resource conflict. Such conflicts are already taking place in the form of landgrabs and so on. Such conflicts are often expressions of highly unequal power relations and they often come together with much killings and the evaporation of safety and peace, but perhaps we will also see a resource conflict among powerful nations or ‘blocks’ in our time as water is becoming scarce but the domination of world trade will continue to shift towards the Pacific. Like I said before, under the pressure of risk of conflicts democratic rights will easily disappear.
Climate Justice and Radical Peace
Could Paris be a lesson for what is there to come? Could it be a wakeup call? Could we take inspiration from that moment today? Could we learn from a long history of social movements to deal with the challenges of today? Could we remind ourselves of our common future? The risks we are taking for failing to live up to the challenge thus far? Could we keep the attacks in the back of our heads as a reminder of how future instabilities will culminate into struggles expressed as cultural clashes? Could we be brave enough to open our eyes to see how any attempt at security is merely democracy being stolen from us and reclaim what is ours, our democracy. Could we come together and rise above?
What we need more than ever is a coming together of people. To forge connections amongst ourselves which are stronger than the divisions that nationalism and racism aim to forge amongst us, that we understand that our faiths are deeply intertwined and that our destiny is bound together until the bitter end if we wish to avoid the worst pitfalls of our recent past. We are facing hard and difficult times together that could spell the darkest hour known to our collective memory, the world wars or the atomic bomb of our generation. We need to protect the commons, the commons that have been wasted for the last 200 years at least. What the climate justice movement shares with the anti-nuclear movement is that it is struggling against the consequences of where the journey of progress has taken us, lethal pollution which is transforming the natural world to great extends. What we share with the anti-apartheid movement and the civil rights movement is that we struggle for justice for the oppressed masses.
Climate justice is not merely about keeping capitalism out of the climate change solutions, hence fighting false solutions to climate change. As chaos resulting from climate change and other forms of environmental destruction, geopolitical mess, the entrenchment of globalized capitalism increasingly becomes interwoven it becomes clear that climate Justice is about more than fighting climate change and poor solutions alone. Social movements will be struggling to keep the peace in times of increased militarization, heightened chance of conflict and the decay of democracy. We need to demand better solutions. We need to frame justice in our agenda’s as the primary strategy to avoid conflict. We need to be clear about our position on how we deem our leaders responsible for putting us in the dangerous situation we are in by virtue of the lack of responsibility they have taken on the issue of sustainability, perhaps drawing on the Rio 92 agreements. This comes together with pleas for deep change since the status quo is one of deep injustice, rooted in centuries of colonialism. Things cannot remain the same.
So what I am conceiving here is a climate justice movement that has self-awareness as a radical peace movement, with a desire to go beyond the projects of the UN and is ready to interfere with the geopolitical consequences of climate chaos.
What I started out with was to point out what is to be discerned from the way authorities dealt with the Paris terror attacks. Space for democratic appeal in the streets was curtailed for ‘security reasons’.
Following this pointed towards the works of Boaventura de Sousa Santos to point to how those countries that up until now have experienced liberal democracy close to what it has promised will increasingly experience tactics for oppression based upon strategies primarily in colonized and formerly colonized countries.
Then I went on to share my experiences in Paris and how I discerned some hints of a new self-awareness that I found very inspiring. I continued by putting forward a position on what it entails for a Climate Justice movement to be called a ‘Climate Justice’ movement. I claimed that under the current conditions a climate justice movement is much more than a ‘climate movement’ alone and that the movement will have to acknowledge that it shares traits with the anti-nuclear movement and the civil rights and anti-apartheid movements in times that a lot of turmoil will come to us while we discover that many of the political promises for a more just and sustainable world will mean nothing.
 de Sousa Santos, B. (2007). Beyond abyssal thinking: From global lines to ecologies of knowledges. Review (Fernand Braudel Center), 45-89.
 The War in Syria explained in 5 minutes: http://www.vox.com/2015/11/14/9735102/syria-isis-history-video
 Our Fight for Survival: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/11/climate-change-paris-cop21-hollande-united-nations/
 COP21 climate marches in Paris not authorised following – Guardian: attackshttp://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/18/cop21-climate-marches-paris-attacks
 Tollefson, J. (2015) Is the 2 °C world a fantasy?, Nature: http://www.nature.com/news/is-the-2-c-world-a-fantasy-1.18868
 A successful climate summit, but no progress for climate justice?: http://www.rosalux.de/news/42006/a-successful-climate-summit-but-no-progress-for-climate-justice.html
 James Hansen, father of climate change awareness, calls Paris talks ‘a fraud’: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/12/james-hansen-climate-change-paris-talks-fraud
 RUW abroad: The COP21 climate conference in Paris: http://stichtingruw.nl/2015/12/08/ruw-abroad-the-cop21-climate-conference-in-paris/
 Not a fair COP…a report from Paris by Robert Hutchison: http://www.capglobalcarbon.org/2015/12/15/not-a-fair-copa-report-from-paris-by-robert-hutchison/
 Risk of water wars rises with scarcity – Al Jazeera: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/06/2011622193147231653.html
 The World In 2030: Asia Rises, The West Declines – NPR: http://www.npr.org/2012/12/10/166895624/the-world-in-2030-asia-rises-the-west-declines
March 9, 2016
At the beginning of 2016 I made a trip around the North of Spain. I visited friends of mine in four different locations in the North of Spain. Besides this being a fun and cheap way of being on a holiday, the trip itself turned out to be an unexpectedly inspiring encounter with young people all doing community living and organic agriculture. What struck me in particular was that on three different occasions I encountered young people embarking on entrepreneurship endeavors in a country that is still suffering from an economic crisis.
In this article I would like to share with you the inspiration I found in Spain. I would like to share with you how ecovillage communities and start up organic farms are beautiful expressions of ‘Degrowth’. A concept used to by a social movement that wants to move away from the tyranny of economic growth. Doing so, I raise the question if the ecovillage movement can perhaps be a way forward to get out of the trauma that is raised by austerity policies into a more sustainable future. Besides that I believe that the Ecovillage movement and the Degrowth movement have much in common and I believe that they have much potential for making the vision of a sustainable society much more tangible.
The initial spark to go to Spain in the first place was that there was going to be a New Years Eve celebration in Valmayor de Cuestra Urria. This place is near to a city called Medina de Pomar in the province of Burgos. The more this idea reached the ears of our little network of friends the more people decided to join. I was one of them and it was amazing!
Already before I left to Spain, I decided that it would be a good idea to visit not only Santiago and Eva in Valmayor, but that it would be the right time to visit some more friends of which I knew they were somewhere in Spain. So I planned to visit four different places in three weeks. In each placed I wished I could stay longer than I actually did.
I stayed in Valmayor de Cuestra Urria for nine days and I worked outside whenever the weather was good enough to do so. I helped with setting out electric wire on the hills for the cattle, chopping down trees for construction purposes, I butchered and cleaned a rooster and so on. The circumstances were a bit rough since they were off grid, though they had a steady watersupply we had to be careful not to overuse our resources. The heating was arranged with a firewood stove that only heated the kitchen-living room part of the house so we slept in cold conditions with extra blankets. I absolutely loved it. I definitely enjoyed being able to observe the scenery with all its thorny shrubs, including the areas full of black thorn bushes with blue berries that are really nice for making patxaran. This is a liquor with these blueberries and anise and the people in Valmayor were already experimenting with making it. I say it again, Valmayor was a very very nice place to be!
My second visit brought me to an ecovillage in a place called Artieda. The friends I had there are a couple that, just like the couple running Valmayor de Cuestra Urria, had met in Droevendaal. They had also been at the New Years Eve celebration in Valmayor. During my visit at their place I got to carry around lots and lots of wood, to learn a bit about how to make beer (by doing it) and to more than a play a few games of dice while drinking surprisingly good cheap beer since they had run out of their own. The vibe of this place was decidedly different from Valmayor, not least of all, since it was situated in a rehabilitated monastery and it was much less isolated. Another striking difference was that there many more people and the community really was more established and structured, also in terms of the rules by which everyday life was organized. Most of the people there were in their thirties or forties and as a consequence of that there were many young children around. They had quite a few facilities and running projects, but more about that later.
I stayed in Artieda for four days, after which I took a BlaBla car ride to Huesca to visit an old housemate of mine. I only visited her for a single night. She was busy studying for exams, so I could only stay for one night, but we agreed that should come over some time again because I for sure didn’t catch all of what is there to see. After hanging out for a night at the local ‘cervezeria artesenal’ , which is the Spanish name for ‘special-and-local-beers-pub’ we went on a little tour during which she showed me where she and her friends were working of the restoration of the old farm house and the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project run by her friends where she got her food.
After this I went on to Barcelona by bus, a trip during which I saw a huge and beautiful awe inspiring flock of birds filling the sky, like the biggest I have ever seen. I couldn’t get my eyes off of it, but I could also not help but to notice that everybody else on the bus was extremely engaged with their smartphones, which is sometimes I normally don’t really mind, but at that moment I found it a real waste of time.
Background –economic crisis of the South of Europe
Ever since the close-complete-meltdown of the banking sector in 2008 the South of Europe is experiencing a crisis. Whether this crisis, or at least the depths of its impact, was unavoidable remains a highly politicized subject of debate. It is no secret however that the impact of the economic crisis is extremely severe. While youth unemployment remains high throughout the south of Europe (up to 46% in Spain December 2015), the European Union has enforced controversial and far reaching austerity regulations for the sake of financial stability and for the sake of the budgetary agreements as recorded in the Maastricht Treaty. These dictated the need for sound fiscal policies, with debt limited to 60% of GDP and annual deficits no greater than 3% of GDP.
While entrenched interests in the EU and beyond leave the burden of the blame with the irresponsible economic management from the national governments, the voices from the South of Europe point towards the deadlock situation brought on by the austerity policies. One thing is clear though, as austerity politics are ravaging the foundations of the social democracies in the South of Europe, social security webs are vanishing and people are left on their own devises to get by.
While the depths of the suffering brought upon the South of Europe as a result of the austerity driven economic restructuring should not be underestimated, many people have observed that people in Spain and elsewhere are still making the best out of the opportunities they are presented with. The way they deal with the crisis is becomes very interesting when we take into account that the chosen strategies can basically be conceived of as do-it-yourself resilience strategies. I would not go as far as to claim that the projects that I visited were very consciously countering the impacts of the economic crisis. Rather I think that it is very interesting and potentially important that people are actually building up projects in a society that is suffering from economic crisis and stringent austerity policies.
The Need for Alternatives and Where to Find them
What makes the economic crisis is extra severe is the crisis of imagination. The peculiarity of the current situation is that the inherent injustice of the current state of capitalism is becoming increasingly uncontested, yet real and substantial critique is heavily sought after. We have yet to find viable alternatives around which we can organize for change. Viable alternatives need to respond to those needs that capitalism fails to address. This means viable alternatives need to address at least social justice and environmental justice.
I came across a quote at the hand of the former Shell house-philosopher that I found particularly interesting, since it is inspired by the experience of trying to change a multinational from the inside out and it sums up well the current order of things, the relationship of the powers that be to the need for radical change included (translated from Dutch)( Akkerman, 2016):
But there certainly is something happening to the climate and you cannot hold that the oil companies are truly pushing for change. They speak of sustainability and that is a fine principle, but in our business model sustainability often means to make sure we can continue on the path take for just a little longer. We try to scruff off the bad parts but we don’t really want to change the recipe, but the alienation of ourselves and of nature is integrated into the recipe and there you see: Shell is not the problem, it is society. We need new ways living together and we need a new vision of the future.
We need to imagine new paradigms of social organization and it appears that real alternatives need to be imagined and materialized at the grassroots before they can grow. More importantly, we need to realize new paradigms do exist, but they are still small. They are however present in the lived experiences of people who have found ways to start up entrepreneurial initiatives while staying true to their ideals and values.
In the following part of this article I want to share some of my experiences with three of such initiatives.
Ecovillages and Organic Entrepreneurship in Spain
In all three cases I was dealing with young people with an interest in organic agriculture in the south of Europe. They are all inspired by agro-ecological ideas and they are living in community arrangements.
They all happen to be academically educated, but equally important is how they all used to live in the same student community in the Netherlands prior to their current living conditions. This is how we all know each other. Academia, activism to certain degrees, community living and a shared interest in sustainability are already present in Droevendaal.
They all live in relatively young community arrangements. You can sense how the community ties are of tangible importance to their own wellbeing and to the success of their enterprise. Often there is a strong connection between the communities where they live and the ways in which they are marketing their produce.
Funnily enough everywhere I went I ran into a holy trinity of beer brewing, community living and organic agriculture. It surely seems to be a winning combination for experimenting with the economic viability, ecological sustainability and the social stability of their lives life.
Valmayor, Artieda and Huesca
So during my trip I have visited three different places that can be considered ecovillage communities. I went to a place close to Medina de Pomar in Burgos, another place in a village called Artieda close Pamplona in Aragon and to the city of Huesca.
Valmayor de Cuestra Uria is an ecovillage under construction that has been going for one year now. You would be hard pressed to find a place that is more typical of the abandoned villages in Spain to be reoccupied by young idealistic people from the North. The village itself consists of six ruins, a church in ruins, two houses, a camper and a house used for storage of construction materials but that wouldn’t be fit for much more.
They have access to some 270 hectares of rugged mountainous grassland full of bushes and herbs (lots of lavender!) and forests for their cows to graze on. They have some 26 heads of cattle now and they wish to expand to some 40 heads of cattle. Other people in the village are brewing beer which is traded with the ecovillage Artieda, which I visited right after Valmayor de Cuestra Uria. They have friends that want to establish a vegetable garden focused on breeding ‘forgotten’ vegetables to contribute to agrodiversity in Europe and who want to perhaps start growing algea. There are plans to construct a biodigester, which can be used to produce liquid fertilizer and natural gas out of manure. When I was there, there were attempts to start with the construction of an ecotoilet and the construction of a bread oven was already well underway.
You could really sense that this is an ecovillage still under construction. They have many projects to be started up and many projects that are still under construction. They have many friends coming over who help them out with work on the farm. It’s like WWOOFing with the WWOOF!
Artieda, only two years old, already felt much more like an established community when I was there. With 62 people in the community it is a rather large community in its kind. They inhabit an old monastery that before they took residence has also been a spa-resort and was squatted by drug-users before it became the ecovillage community it is today. Here you can clearly see how the ecovillage initiative is capable of rehabilitating a space that was affected by a rough past.
There are many things established in Artieda and some projects are still on their way. The community run according to a sociocracy inspired decisionmaking model. They already have a working biodigester of which the gas is used for cooking The fact that someone from Valmayor de Cuestra Urria went down to Artieda to learn about how to make and how to use a biodigester shows how the ecovillage network can sustain and improve itself.
They also have a permaculture run community vegetable garden for their own consumption. They host the European office of the Global Ecovillage Network. My friend Adri is brewing beer. The community deals with their food waste in a chicked coop. They have an art gallery in the old church. Finally they have a project where they keep 40 heads of cattle under a cooperative ownership construction in a Living Commons Association. The Living Commons Association wants to recover land for common use of land for agroecology purposes.
Some of the projects that are still under way, like my friend Adri who is currently brewing beer, will start up a 0.4 hectare organic vegetable garden with the intention to start a CSA. Other projects in the pipeline are the strawbale soundstudio and a magazine on bioconstruction and eco construction.
It was not only for the many things that are already up and running that made Artieda feel like a more established community. The community is on average simply much older as most people have passed the age of 30 by quite a bit already. They have many kids for whom they organize homeschooling in a style that reminds of the Montessori concept. Also the organization of everyday life is much more rigid, with for example strict schemes for who should look after the heating system, set lunch times and set prices for the food and so on. Such rules are sometimes necessary to make living together with so many people practically possible, but it does miss a little bit of charm of the free vibe that was hanging around Valmayor de Cuestra Urria.
When I had a conversation with the leading professor, Susana Narotzky, of the GRECO research project on the social impact of austerity in the South of Europe about my holiday, she was especially interested in the question of whether kids were born in the communities I visisted and she was happily surprised to hear that in Artieda kids were running around in abundance, reminding me that indeed ‘social reproduction’ is used as a key indicator in anthropology to observe how successful communities, peoples and countries are at maintaining themselves intergenerationally and that Artieda is quite successful at doing exactly this.
Besides the fact that Huesca seems to be a town full of dogs there is also a small network of young idealists around that is involved in the following things: restoring an old farmhouse, participating in a CSA in organic vegetable production and not least of all in brewing their own beer. And with this it seems like I stumbled upon another version of this holy trinity that has characterized my holiday trip for those three weeks. I was told there were more projects up and running, but I didn’t get to see or hear about them yet.
The network in Huesca is one that really is made up of people that come from or have moved to the city and so it candidate to become the most embedded community of all three communities I have visited. Also it is not really a community yet and by that I mean that they are still working on their place to stay before they can live there. In that sense they are also the youngest community of all the ones that I visited.
Ecovillages as a testing ground for a new Horizon, a degrowth perspective
To round up this article I would like to dedicate some space to a discussion of my encounter with these ecovillages in Spain from a slightly more theoretical angle, doing so I also want to make visible some of the more promising ideological alternatives to the current disaster of austerity driven neoliberal capitalism. Like this I can add some sort of a horizon to these experiences. Also, by doing so I hope to show the combination of at the ecovillage and organic agriculture is a strong one that is becoming a viable alternative for more and more people that wish to create change from below.
The horizon of alternatives is already burgeoning for those who know where to look. Though they by far are not the only spaces in which alternatives I want to draw this part of the article on the use of degrowth perspectives. This is a fields that have been growing and which dynamism show they are still in development and hence are promising fields to take notice of. Besides that, degrowth thinking carry traits that hint at the potential to answer this need for a response to the crises caused by current capitalism.
In my opinion the position of the Degrowth movement is best voiced by Vincent Liegey in the following quote taken from an online interview and it is not far off from the position with which I started this article:
We are facing a convergence of crisis. I would call it a crisis of civilization, an anthropological crisis. An economic financial crisis on the one hand and environmental on the other hand and in the middle you have all cultural, social and political crisis in the middle. We need really to decolonize our imagination as I said yesterday. It seems that we need to go deeper in questioning a lot of believes, like the believe in economy, the religion of economy; the believe in progress; the believe in development; the believe in growth, that growth would always provide more wellbeing and to start to redefine the lines of a new model of society, a new paradigm and to question how we can make a transition from this growth society, from this development society which accumulates all these crises.
So Degrowth is a concept used by a movement focused tackling the growth paradigm by which our economic systems are run and which they see as the core of the problem. Besides the development of a critique of growth, which to my mind can be read as a critique on capitalism, the movement is concerned with developing a vision on viable alternatives. Answers are found in concepts such as conviviality, meaning to say that we built our lives on interdependencies with the people around us in a society that is much more community driven and autonomy. Autonomy to construct the institutions we think we need for ourselves to further our own conceptions of what we think is good for ourselves as a collective.
Furthermore, arguments are made for work that is centered around the production of goods to be used and consumed by the producers, rather than to be sold. Not that there should be no trade, it should not be the core goal of work. Rather, if we want to move to a society that is organized according to a principle of voluntary simplicity we want to be less dependent on money, we want to work less time to earn money, so we have more time to earn ourselves a decent and fulfilling life.
Thus by choosing to depend on ourselves and the communities we are part of, by choosing voluntary simplicity we open up the door to a new kind of living, a new kind society.
Connecting Theory to Experience
In the efforts of all the people that I have come across in Spain I see direct manifestations of the kind of thinking developed around the concepts of Degrowth. I think that it is important to notice that autonomy, valued highly by Degrowth thinkers, is such an important value for people that live in locations where the overarching structures of social welfare and functioning markets are no longer to be taken for granted. Under the circumstances people may want to choose to rely on the most basic of resources for living which are their land, their houses, their skills and their community instead.
It is of great importance to have living examples of communities like these spreading out over the landscape to become small pockets of change and inspiration, but also as a resilience mechanism and a place where outsiders can learn what it practically means to live a life of voluntary simplicity in conviviality with others and how you grow food for the sake of your autonomy.
It is from these examples that we can develop the theories around which we can voice alternatives to capitalism and neoliberal austerity politics. It is from these experiences we can organize conferences around, that we can think about what we could do to improve the conditions and the possibilities for people to live better and sustainable lives and to be able to tell each other stories of inspiration in times of crisis.
We need these kind of developments in Degrowth thinking, (though not only Degrowth thinking, I would be the last to claim that there is only one way up the mountain, movements and ideologies of change come in many different forms, from Slow Food to Occupy Wall Street), supporting networks of many different movements that intersect with the eco village movement or the Degrowth movement, such as the Transition Towns movement, because no matter how inspirational it was to see what I saw in Spain I did notice that the people involved in these kinds of projects were not the poorest, not in talents, not in access to networks, not in education and even if they weren’t filthy rich, they were also not the poorest in terms of money. If we would want this to be a solution to tackle poverty where it hurts most we would need to find ways in which more people have access to land and to ecovillages.
A critical note: Ecovillages and privilege
If new modes of changes are to be taken seriously, we should consider to what extend a particular mode of change is accessible to those who are most in need.
Hopeful as the ecovillage movement in Spain might be, it remains striking that those who I have encountered within the Ecovillages so far were all people that had enjoyed high levels of education and had access to empowering networks and sometimes even had a lot of luck. If it shows anything, it would be that perhaps not everyone that should be offered the opportunity to be part of an ecovillage is able to grab hold of an opportunity. What I am saying is that perhaps the ecovillage movement is quite embedded in the remainings of the middle class and sometimes ecovillages have a distinct upper class taste to them.
When I was in Artieda, I heard of ecovillages in the neighboring valley that were completely squatted and did not want to have anything to do with the ecovillage in Artieda. I am quite curious to find out who those people are and if there is a class distinction to be observed there.
If the ecovillage movement wants to be an inclusive movement, it should be critical of the terms and conditions at which people can enter, not that I am claiming that any ecovillage should be open for anyone if that might mean that social problems like drug abuse and criminality might enter a community. The same goes for the Degrowth movement. Those active within these movements should be keep a critical stance towards processes through which people might be wrongfully excluded.
I hope that as grassroots movements for alternatives grow stronger and become solidified, they will find ways to formulate ways in which policies could be altered or investment programs could be formulated to the benefit of the goals of the movements. Questions of inclusivity and exclusivity for people from different backgrounds, such as from impoverished communities, should be part of this.
I hope I have been successful at communicating how inspiration my trip across these three ecovillage initiatives in Spain. I could advise anyone to make a trip towards an ecovillage or to an organic farm and to stay there for a while, to relax, to be outside, but also to spur the imagination for what a transition from ‘welfare’ to ‘wellbeing’ might be.
The practical ways in which people make something out of their lives by going back to manageable projects for which one needs practical skills and concrete social relations as it appears with the ecovillage living, the beer brewing and the organic farming that I saw everywhere definitely hints at a way to live a wholly different 21st century kind of lifestyle. One that disconnects somewhat from the increasingly connected, but increasingly volatile word out there and replaces it with newly discovered practices that might simply prove to be more trustworthy in the long run.
If we really want a broad ecovillage movement to be part of that, we want to do something that has never been done before. Which is to alter a system moving away from more complexity to less complexity and this is one of the many ways in which we are at the start of a revolution of which we are only starting to scratch the surface of what it exactly entails. One thing is sure though, the transition will lead to a beautiful new way of living, since we move from prosperity to welfare.
 Stevo Akkerman, Trouw, (02/02/16) Bij Shell werd ik de Marxit die ik nu ben http://www.trouw.nl/tr/nl/5116/Filosofie/article/detail/4236732/2016/02/02/Bij-Shell-werd-ik-de-marxist-die-ik-nu-ben.dhtml
February 4, 2014
Recently a blog post went viral, translated into 16 different languages the post was called, Don’t Date a Girl who Travels. Wonderfully written and accurate in the description of an independent woman who can’t be tied down, a woman meant to explore, a woman who should not be held back.
I read this post and smiled, recognizing many of the values identified as ones that I have discovered in my own life of travels. It’s tone empowering, fierce, a life lived unconventionally, a women wisely choosing to follow her own will, not that of someone else’s.
Yet I couldn’t help questioning; Why not chase life right along with her? Why has an article celebrating a passionate woman ended with a proclamation to let her go? Why is confidence and daring curiosity in women so often paired with solitude?
So, here goes my response…
Do date a woman who travels.
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January 8, 2014
A new Documentary on the people that killed of enemies of the state under the Soekarno regime. Anti-communists creeps killing of people in the name of the state.
January 5, 2014
A reflexive Missionary coming to terms with hhe pis own mission and his own faith. The point here is not to direct people from their faith necessarily, if you believe that your faith helps you to be a happier better and more consious person I want you to continue with practising. The purpose for uploading this video is to share a story to teach humility. In this story the reversal takes place in a situation that historically was the beginning of the colonization of the minds of people all over the world. Thats why missionaries traveled abroad. They never listened, they always spoke. They had the opportunity to learn from the wealth of human experience, but they only learned the language of the Other in order to impose their own views. To me that is a crime. See what happens to this man who could not help but listen.