In this excerpt from an interview with Emergence Magazine, Paul Kingsnorth talks about how the necessary cultural shift, if it happens at all, will not be a fast one or even one which we can rationally plan. Rather, it will be the culmination of a lot of small shifts over a period of generations. You can read the complete article here.
Emergence Magazine: How would you go from removing yourself from that story to being part of a new story, which, as you were saying earlier, is more about living in relationship with the Earth, and is connected to an older story? It seems like a big leap in some ways to make.
Paul Kingsnorth: I think it is a big leap. I don’t think it’s a leap that you can consciously make. I don’t think we are in a situation where we can sit down and say, “Right, we need a new story and a new way of seeing.” People’s worldviews and their stories and their myths develop out of their circumstances. That’s true of any culture. From the smallest tribe to the biggest civilization, people develop a story that fits with their practical experience. While we’re all still wealthy and sitting around having middle class lifestyles, the story of progress makes perfect sense. It will only change when those things fall away.
When we hit a wall and it’s impossible to believe that this is working anymore, when things are getting considerably worse for most people, then we’ll start thinking about the world differently. New things will emerge from that, but that’s a long process. It’s not something that can be consciously constructed. I think we are making a mistake if we think we can sit down and draw up some sort of monomyth or new way of seeing that everyone is supposed to buy into. We will believe what appears to be true. For some people in the world today, it appears to be true that things continually progress in a sort of upward direction. There are a lot of other people for whom it doesn’t look true.
Emergence Magazine: What made you shift from thinking that you could create new stories, tell new stories, and share new stories that would shift people’s perspectives, to this idea you have now in which these perspectives will shift in their own time in response to people’s circumstances?
Paul Kingsnorth: Well, I think I can still do that in a way. It’s what I do when I write, although I don’t necessarily do it consciously. But the act of writing an essay, or the act of writing a novel, or the act of telling any kind of story are very small ways of telling different stories and challenging things. I think actually that that’s what the work is—people doing things at really quite a small level—at a personal level—doing their small work.
I think that what I used to believe (arrogantly, probably)—that we could work together to create some grand new story for humanity—was just foolish. But that doesn’t mean that lots and lots of small stories don’t come together to form something bigger, which I think is probably how it always works. If enough people are questioning the way the world works and the values we have and the stories we tell ourselves, then what they will start to do instead will start to add up to something. This is really what we have been trying to do with the Dark Mountain Project for nearly ten years. …
I always come back to the same answer, which is that those of us who can do what we can should just do it without any expectation that it’s going to lead to a quick world-changing solution, because I don’t think it is. It’s more a sense that—those of us who can, building refuges, protecting what we can protect, telling the stories we can tell, trying to look for truth—if that’s what we’re doing—and hoping that that can be passed down generations as things go on. It’s a long process. I think Gary Snyder said something like “we’re in a two-thousand-year or maybe even a five-thousand-year process of trying to live well on the Earth.”
I don’t think that this is something that we are going to turn around in a generation or two. I think it’s just slow work, so we will just do what we can do.