Mark is an environmental campaigner based in Albany WA with a professional background in town planning sustainability and journalism. In addition to facilitating workshops and writing extensively on sustainable town planning and holistic activism, he is also the co-host of the Post Growth Australia Podcast.
As the climate and ecological emergency intensifies, we are gaining a greater understanding that it will not be resolved by single issue, magic bullet solutions. The idea that ‘renewable energy will save us’ or ‘going vegan will save us’, or ‘reducing the population will save us’, risks feeding into the same behaviour that has led us into this crisis. All three will play a role, but within a much more interconnected context that embraces joined-up thinking.
However, our society is ill-equipped to engage in this kind of thinking and for Western civilisation it is a problem that has been passed down for generations. Because while language is an amazing ‘gift’ that has enabled us to cooperate more effectively as a species, it is much less effective at portraying the complex integrated reality that language has evolved out of.
Language by its very nature, breaks the complex down into relatable concepts, which is great for communicating our needs but if left unchecked, certain ideologies start to dominate over others. This in turn benefits powerful vested interests to the extent that those vested interests increasingly control the narrative.
The more that this happens, the more we seek our identity through opinion and perspective. This is why so much of our communication succumbs to logical fallacy because the goal of conversation becomes about winning rather than sharing and building upon our ideas.
One common example of a logical fallacy is the ‘false dilemma,’ which plays off supposed opposites (1). So, we end-up for example, with the idea that the act of job creation is the opposite of environmental preservation, which ultimately leads to the accepted narrative that the pursuit of economic growth should never be challenged.
Therefore, to paraphrase Alan Watts, “the object of any words that we put across should be to show the limitations of words and of thinking” (2). This is why it is essential that at least part of our identity, whether it be religious or secular, is grounded in something that lies outside of language in the unspeakable world.
This is liberating because it enables us to identify with being the observer of something that is too big and complex for language to properly encapsulate. Therefore, we can detach from our emotional attachment to single narratives and instead look towards how those narratives can evolve and interconnect with other narratives. This allows us to co-create something that is bigger than the sum of its parts. As a result, we start to develop a more systems- thinking approach that is focussed on integrating ideas rather than playing them off against each other.
Even science, which is something that we might associate with objective truth, can be approached as a celebration of uncertainty, as the love of science can lead to a sense of awe at the beauty and complexity of nature and the humbling experience of how much there is yet to learn.
For example, a recent ground-breaking study at Heriot-Watt University revealed “that two contradictory versions of reality can simultaneously exist in the quantum world. (3)”
The authors of the study went on to state:
The implications of this study extend beyond the confines of the laboratory, prompting unsettling questions for physicists regarding the nature of reality itself. Quantum mechanics, designed to describe the subatomic world where conventional physics rules break down, faces a paradox where measurements may not be considered absolute truth.
So, if we peel the onion back enough layers, we always return to this unspeakable world.
The practice of simply spending time in nature as the observer, without wanting to manipulate it or bend it to our will, is an essential component of many First Nations cultures and Eastern philosophies such as Taoism. Fortunately, there are environmental movements such as Deep Ecology which place great emphasis on these teachings but collectively as a global culture, we urgently need to remember.
This remembering will also help us to better understand how the misuse of language (as well as physical and sexual violence) is used to perpetrate trauma from one generation to another as well as sideways to our contemporaries. As users of language, we have an obligation to break this cycle by being assertive while also being compassionate; all the while consciously choosing not to project our own shadows onto others.
Such shifts in behaviour put us in a much better position to both look-for and build-upon the common ground that connects us. This in turn, will better enable us to develop an integrated approach to activism that is complex and robust enough to carry differing opinions and worldviews within it. That way we can all be of service in a manner that is more in symbiosis with the unspeakable world that we are all connected to.
You can read an extended version of this article in the Holistic Activism booklet which can be downloaded here. (4)