Uncivilization and Uncertainty

Uncivilization, the byword of the Dark Mountain Project, is a great “Dumbwaiter Speech,” that pared down “Elevator Speech” distilled to a single word. Scaled up to a sentence we have, “What do we do when we stop pretending?” This hits the point precisely. We face this question as individuals and within the various affiliations we inhabit as a society. Of the two, Uncivilization seems prescriptive and negative; while  “What do we do when we stop pretending?” is an open-ended challenge, a clarion-call.

Uncivilization is apparently negative – in a time when we are constantly exhorted to be “Positive!” It seems to desire a return to some previous state, evocative of some previous alternative. The problem lies – as with any call for a return – with the univalent dimension of time. We can’t go back to any previous point even if we could “see” another time with enough clarity and specificity to be able to use it as a direct model.  I don’t think that is what is meant by Uncivilization, though that will have to wait for another post to clarify. To confuse people into assuming you wish for any such thing appears counterproductive. The longer question is a corrective, its juxtaposition with the shorter term, while laudably jarring, doesn’t seem to make up for the introduction of so much confusion.

Any time we find ourselves lost, it’s only natural to look backward along our trail for the spot before we went astray. While topographically we can retrace our steps, temporally it’s never an option. There is value in the impulse, so long as we use it to generate a “map” both to recognize what we find wrong with our current situation and to highlight aspects of our past, to find talismans with which to recognize their semblance in new landmarks ahead.

The progression from blithe ignorance, leading to a recognition of dissonance in our present state, on to the discovery of actions with which to respond; is characterized by a jarring moment, a dope-slap, an ejaculation of surprise as we open our perception to our precariousness, and the need to raise our view from out of the morass of our assumptions as we move to take in a wider perspective. “Uncivilized!” Is just such a cry.

When someone is out to manipulate others, to coerce us into following a preconceived plan, probably inimical to our own best interest; it’s extremely important for them not to confuse us. Of course their whole purpose is to confuse, but the best way to succeed is to create the impression of a semblance of certainty. We respond to these assurances by relaxing our guard and letting ourselves accept what has been cloaked in a presumption of authority. We are so accustomed to this – from both sides, as practitioners and as victims – that we judge any presentation first and foremost on its merits in relation to this “ideal.”

This is a problem! When someone is genuinely attempting to find a way through confusion, past a barrage of contradictory input, all the messiness of our only contact with reality through sensory perception as we embody our existence; it is not only impossible to avoid confusion, it is essential to admit we have no choice but to wade through much confusion and uncertainty if we are to get anywhere at all!

This seeming contradiction is one of the hardest lessons. we need to learn to deal with this discomfort as we try to communicate our relationship to our over-all predicament. When our habits and preferences all cry out for ease and assurance, although these have always led us astray, it is so difficult to insist we abandon all that’s familiar – including these same habits – so we can struggle to find a new way forward at this archetypal moment.

*

I’ve harvested the preceding from my notebook. It was written just before I left for the Dark Mountain Camp and Festival. The very next entry is made up of notes from Anthony McCann‘s  workshop, followed by notes on Dougald Hine’s conversation with Penny Rimbaud. My pocket notebook has entries on Alex Fradera, Paul Kingsnorth, more Dougald Hine and the amazing Alastair McIntosh. On my return, I’ve been reading these writers and others in the Dark Mountain Issue #1.

I’m reeling as currents in their works resonate with what I’ve puzzled over for so long, and the way in which these same themes reflect and repeat across this variety of writers and their distinct sensibilities. A deeper analysis will have to wait, but for now I think it’s enough to comment in what Alex might call an “unprepared” way, after Keith Johnstone; what Anthony might see as a “signpost to thoughtfulness… (a) mutual influencing… (a) participation in the consequences we experience.”

We appear to share a yearning to look into the knotted tangle of our assumptions, and uncover the hidden fears they nurture; to gain a tolerance for, more than that, a willingness, even an eagerness to swim in uncertainty as Ishmael does at the end of Moby Dick. There is a quiet call for humility, not as penance, but as a compass. A resolve to look into doubt and peel back its layers, not to remove it, but to get a feel for how it operates, how it is a helpmate as much as a bringer of pain. We share an instinct for immersing our human perspectives in a “Deep Past,” reeling outward across great spans while we grasp hold of particularities and revel in the fine grain of perceptual reality as it ticks past us in the now, now, now, now.

This has nothing to do with “movements” or with induction into some sort of cadre, where an oath of allegiance is called for as members “sign-up” to articles preconceived. It’s more like a discovery of family, a deep familiarity, a shared DNA that brings comfort, solace and a great feeling of strength, not just simply through a sense of validation derived from shared ideals, but as a result of a workmanlike build towards a community with all the functionality that relationship implies.

What does this have to do with Design? Anyone who’s stuck with my idiosyncrasies this far must have some sense of why I include this here. If design is the practice of drawing distinctions so that physical interventions can be made in this world, then there is nothing more fundamental than mapping-out a place from where these distinctions can be made. As we lose the luxury of irresponsibility regarding what we call forth, it is imperative that we spend significant effort looking deeply at the wellsprings for future action. For me, that takes me back again and again to the threads and currents surrounding the Dark Mountain Project and the people who make up this loose constellation of thinkers, writers, doers and makers.

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8 Replies to “Uncivilization and Uncertainty”

  1. Reading the first half of this, it made me start coming up with words that might do better than ‘uncivilization’: perhaps ‘decivilization’, implying an undoing away from the root word, rather than a negation; or a pairing of the unraveled civilization with words of affirmation: ‘reconnection’, or ‘rewilding’. Then I reached a point of agreeing with Alistair McIntosh – this is just my displacement activity kicking in. Reading further into your post, I arrive at a different understanding: the point of a word like ‘uncivilization’ is not to describe something with an accuracy that can be deferred to, but to create the dissonance needed to shift an awareness from tangled assumptions to living step-by-step with our predicament. To arrive where you end up in the last paragraph, at the place from which distinctions can be made. The most powerful words so far seem to be the ‘dark mountain’ itself, embraced as the imagination locale for this inquiry, a place where members of a scattered tribe are finding each other. Considering, too, how important being in place, in other distinct locations within the world, is to the character of the inquiries emerging.

    & thank you for your comments; I’m honoured, and inspired on.

  2. Reading the first half of this, it made me start coming up with words that might do better than ‘uncivilization’: perhaps ‘decivilization’, implying an undoing away from the root word, rather than a negation; or a pairing of the unraveled civilization with words of affirmation: ‘reconnection’, or ‘rewilding’. Then I reached a point of agreeing with Alistair McIntosh – this is just my displacement activity kicking in. Reading further into your post, I arrive at a different understanding: the point of a word like ‘uncivilization’ is not to describe something with an accuracy that can be deferred to, but to create the dissonance needed to shift an awareness from tangled assumptions to living step-by-step with our predicament. To arrive where you end up in the last paragraph, at the place from which distinctions can be made. The most powerful words so far seem to be the ‘dark mountain’ itself, embraced as the imagination locale for this inquiry, a place where members of a scattered tribe are finding each other. Considering, too, how important being in place, in other distinct locations within the world, is to the character of the inquiries emerging.
    +1

    1. Matthus,

      Sorry for the long wait to see this posted! Your comment was lost in spam hell.

      I think you’ve taken my point as I had wished it to be read. I too feel the power that lies within the name Dark Mountain, “as the imagination locale for this inquiry, a place where members of a scattered tribe are finding each other. Considering, too, how important being in place, in other distinct locations within the world, is to the character of the inquiries emerging.”

    1. Likewise!

      Yes it was. Well worth the cost and effort of traveling 2,777 air miles each way! (via Amsterdam and Liverpool)

      I appreciate your engagement and look forward to our further dialogue!

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