Spirals of Hope

Winter Oak Press have just brought out a series of free mini-booklets called Winter Oak Branches of Knowledge. The fourth of these is adapted from the final chapter of my new book The Stifled Soul of Humankind and is called Spirals of Hope. Here is the text, reposted from the Winter Oak site:

Deep anxiety is a common personal reaction to the world stripped of meaning and authenticity in which we find ourselves today. One solution proposed for this crisis of the spirit is to “live in the Now” and thus put into some kind of distant perspective the nagging confusions of our contemporary society, to root oneself in the physical reality of each moment, finding a firm foundation in the sensations of looking, listening, breathing, walking, eating.

But, while an obsessive nostalgia for the past is clearly unhealthy for any individual, so is the addiction to the present moment that results from living excessively in the Now. It encourages a drifting and passive kind of experience. Despite the intention of shedding the ambitious and anxious ego, the Now personality can become selfish, glorying in the irresponsible spontaneity of its own eternally present tense. It may manage to avoid anxiety in this way, but only by ignoring the fact that anxiety is a symptom. The root causes of the problem are simply ignored and any real remedial action indefinitely postponed.

What applies to the individual also applies to the macrocosm of society. Collectively we are also tempted to retreat into living purely in the Now, in the face of the disorientating storm of anxieties swirling around us. Living perpetually in the present tense of the News, we simply respond intuitively to the stimuli it offers, find ourselves carried along from one issue to the next. Attempts to reach a deeper long-term understanding of our collective predicament are made virtually impossible by the constant white noise generated by accounts of history serving the interests of the status quo. Sometimes it’s merely the sheer amount of irrelevant detail that makes it difficult to make out any real shape to what’s been happening to humankind, but often these accounts are deliberately misleading. 

Los Amigos de Ludd write that capitalism imposes its own reality by “reducing History to a succession of stages in the fulfilment of its own dogma, and the past to a skeleton of concepts and abstractions”. Michael Löwy argues that reality has been obscured by a modern mindset which “sees the movement of history as a continuum of constant improvements, of irreversible evolution, of growing accumulation, of beneficial modernisation for which scientific and technological progress provides the motor”.

In contrast to this official story of Progress are visions such as Walter Benjamin’s famous imagining of the angel of history, as inspired by Paul Klee’s painting Angelus Novus. “His face is turned towards the past,” explains Benjamin. “Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress”.

Like Benjamin, we need to be able to step back from the frantic ever-changing detail of the Now and see that it is part of a much broader and more significant scenario. What we will see is a humanity dispossessed, a society in which freedom, autonomy, creativity, culture, and the spirit of collective solidarity have been deliberately suffocated by a ruthlessly violent and exploitative elite hiding behind the masks of Authority, Property, Law, Progress and God.

Such enslavement of humankind should be enough to incite the desire for change, but there is, in addition to all this, another factor: this capitalist industrial civilization is also killing the planet. The situation could hardly be more urgent and yet our culture barely responds, shows no sign of changing. The core problem is perhaps that our society is no longer alive and you can’t expect much in the way of response from a corpse! Our so-called democracy is a sham, the people disempowered and cowed into submission by Authority and there is therefore no obvious way that the majority can influence the direction society takes, even on detailed points, let alone issues of fundamental importance.

However, it is important to remember that this sensation of powerlessness is all part of the psychological trickery used by the authorities to ensure our compliance with the continuing status quo. Living collectively in the Now, we are blinded not only to the past, but to the future. More specifically, we have become convinced that just as Progress has inevitably brought us to where we are today, so it must continue to take us to wherever it must lead. We are taught that the future is essentially pre-determined, according to the historical laws which we are told have shaped our world, and there is nothing we can do about it. This lie has even come to be accepted by radical opponents of industrial capitalism, who insist that the best we can do is to adapt to the grim future that will inevitably be delivered to us by the system.

In truth, there was nothing inevitable about the way our society has turned out. It has taken centuries of repression to impose the will of a sociopathic elite on the population. That repression continues today, along with the possibility that it will fail to hold us down. Seen from our enemies’ point of view, there is nothing inevitable about the continuation of their system at all. They live in constant fear of losing control, of being overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the lawless mob. That is why they devote so much time and energy to feeding us lies, locking us up, acting out the theatre of Authority, sending in riot cops and armies to put down any signs of resistance to their global slave-labour system.

“Now is the moment for us to explode the ultimate lie with which we have been brainwashed – that we are powerless”

We are living in an age when many of the illusions of Authority are falling away and many millions of people across the world are seeing the truth behind the false constructs which prop it up. Cynicism is rife but we seem to have stopped there, balanced on the point of no longer believing in the system but unwilling to go any further, to take the final step into outright resistance. Now is the moment for us to explode the ultimate lie with which we have been brainwashed – that we are powerless.

The first step is to understand how it is that we have been duped, how we have been reduced to a state of psychological submission. Then we have to rediscover within ourselves the vital spirit that makes us strong, the sense of collective belonging and empowerment that so frightens those who would keep us and our descendants as their slaves. It barely matters what we term this power within, so long as we do not allow it to be overshadowed by the myth of a power outside or above us – there can be no authority, no god, but ourselves.

From this perspective, the situation of the human race looks quite different. It seems impossible that it could ever bow its head in slavery or stand idly by while its mother, the Earth, is destroyed in the name of short-term greed. It seems unthinkable that people could ever have forgotten that the desire for freedom lies at the heart of their very being. Reconnected with the long-forbidden knowledge of its own power, a people will naturally be propelled towards its innate and eternal needs. Like the green shoots of a plant seeking out the sunlight, humanity will always have a natural tendency to fulfil its inner organic potential.

Peter Kropotkin could be describing our own times when he argues that “there are periods in the life of human society when revolution becomes an imperative necessity, when it proclaims itself as inevitable”. But, of course, revolution is only inevitable, or indeed possible, if we take whatever action is necessary to bring it about.

It is here that we must again confront the comfortable habit of perpetually living in the Now and with it the whole concept of time as something that sweeps us along like small twigs in a surging river. This is Time regarded as Authority, as an obstacle to our power to shape our own reality, to become the people we want to be. 

We are not bound to travel to any particular future, there is nothing inevitable about any outcome, no matter how likely it may look from our present vantage point. While we recognise the existence of circumstances that stand in the way of the future we would like to see, there is no reason why we must therefore accept that their influence will be decisive. It is, as Ernst Bloch says, always possible to replace the fatalism of a “because” with the determination of a “despite everything”.

“We have to reintroduce ourselves to history, not as observers but as participants. The power that we can rediscover in ourselves is, among other things, the power to create the future”

We have to reintroduce ourselves to history, not as observers but as participants. The power that we can rediscover in ourselves is, among other things, the power to create the future. We have to create our own narrative – the narrative of revolution. Like the prophesies of rebels past, our narrative can become self-fulfilling. There is a self-feeding circular momentum that we need to get started. The understanding of the need for revolution, the dream of revolution, the hope of revolution, the belief in the possibility of revolution – all of these must be fostered in turn before revolution can ever take place.

For this task we need a powerful collective vision and determination that can inspire, that can transform, that can regenerate, that can sweep aside seemingly immovable obstacles and turn remote possibilities into hard realities. Humankind needs new generations of idealistic young revolutionaries, heretics, inspirés with a burning sense of purpose and destiny, with the unquenchable energy to will into existence the new world of which they dream. We need, as Kropotkin insists, “intrepid souls who know that is necessary to dare in order to succeed”.

We won’t get them by sticking to dry dispassionate analysis of history, by being bogged down in detail, by being waylaid into dead ends of pointless abstraction or pedantry. We won’t get them by shying away from the truth, by compromising with the system, by regarding passionate polemic as an embarrassment. We won’t get them by trying to regulate and repress the spirit of our own revolt, by pouring cold water on others’ attempts to bring about change, by sneering at hope itself.

There are those who reject hope as unrealistic and those who reject it as being passive, as being reliant on factors outside our own control. But both positions fail to see that hope is in fact a vital factor in our ability to change reality and that, far from playing a passive role, it is the key to inspiring active participation. “Let us remember that if exasperation often drives men to revolt, it is always hope, the hope of victory, which makes revolutions”, says Kropotkin and he argues that the action it inspires will itself feed back into the positive energies of the revolutionary spirit: “Courage, devotion, the spirit of sacrifice, are as contagious as cowardice, submission, and panic”. 

Prophecy brings hope, hope brings courage, courage brings action, action brings inspiration, inspiration brings more determination, renewed hope, deepened courage. Once this magical spiral of revolt has started spinning, it takes on a life of its own and becomes, in Kropotkin’s phrase, “a revolutionary whirlwind”.

The authentic urge to revolution can be destructive, but never negative, and behind it there be must always be a vision born from the heart of humanity. There is something therefore much deeper behind the will to genuine revolution, to anarchy, than mere opinion. It rises from the depths of our collective soul and thus, by extension, from the natural world of which we are part. It is the vehicle of an intangible organic need for things to be made right, for humankind and the planet it dominates to once again exist in harmony with the Tao. 

This restoration of the state of nature, of the Golden Age, is demanded by natural laws next to which our artificial human laws look feeble and ephemeral. Once unleashed, the mighty strength of a global uprising summoned by the life-force itself will have no difficulty in sweeping away for ever the violent machineries of a tyranny which has stifled humankind for far too long.


“Prophecy brings hope, hope brings courage, courage brings action, action brings inspiration, inspiration brings more determination, renewed hope, deepened courage. Once this magical spiral of revolt has started spinning, it takes on a life of its own”

Don’t Kill Yourself!

A letter to an anarchist friend 

I was deeply shocked by what you told me last night in the café.

I know I didn’t say much at the time, almost brushed it aside with a few empathetic mumblings.

But this morning I’ve been struck by the immense sadness behind your words and feel the need for a somewhat delayed reaction.You said, as I am sure you recall, that the world we live in is so bad, so far beyond redemption, that you feel like killing yourself to escape from it.

I never would have imagined that you could feel like that – feel like I do, in fact, though I’ll come back to that later.

You are, after all, young (from my point of view at least), perfectly healthy (apart from a slight cold which I am sure was not a pertinent factor!), in a stable and loving relationship, financially secure thanks to a job you don’t seem to mind too much, actively involved in trying to make the world a better place…

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that this is not enough. Why should it be? But you’ve always seemed to me like someone blessed with an inner force of positivity, propelling you forward with such momentum as to leave doubt and despair trailing helplessly along behind.

Maybe if your life had stopped in some way, then I would have accepted that all this debris had caught you up and entangled you in its confusion.

But then it’s not really about you at all, is it? Any more than my own unease and anxiety are about me and my little life.

You’ve had your eyes open long enough to see the whole picture, the picture that most people around us have to blank out of their consciousnesses in order to remain ‘sane’ – which means to carry on living out their phoney existences in a phoney manner without being troubled by the inconvenience of thought.

You’ve seen all that. You’ve seen the layers upon layers of lies that smother us and stop us from growing tall and strong inside as nature intended.

You’ve clambered up on the shoulders of the people you’ve met, the writers you’ve read, the dreams you’ve dreamt, and you’ve seen that beyond the wall that surrounds our everyday lives is another wall, and then another, in concentric circles marking out the limits of our identity, our freedom, our imagination, our potential.

We are all prisoners of a society, a civilization, so life-destroying, so corrupt, so ruthless, so brutal, so all encompassing, that all who see its hideous face revealed are in danger of being turned to stone – immobilised by the sickening dread of complete powerlessness.

How can we destroy this monstrous machine that is pulping into mincemeat so many tender, hopeful, human beings like you?

How can we even start the task of destroying it? Or think about starting to do so?

Whose life is long enough, whose energy and courage sufficient, whose patience and perseverence so divine that they could embark upon such a mission with any kind of confidence?

How can you free someone who doesn’t even know they are a slave?

How can you inspire people to win back something they don’t even realise they’ve lost?

How can you urge them on to fight an enemy that they can’t see, that they can’t distinguish from the wobbly stage scenery and cardboard props of what they have been taught to think of as reality?

After generation upon generation in cages, do birds lose the urge to fly? Or do they just accept that a feeble fluttering from perch to perch is the nearest they are ever going to get?

No, it’s not enough, this half-life we are condemned to lead, with chains and blinkers on our souls as we trudge on and on, turning the treadmill of profit for the greedy, loathsome few, sometimes holding hands or singing together to make us feel less worthless.

It’s not enough even to have tried to escape, to have smashed your head against the wall time and time again, the blood mixing with your tears as you scream that you WILL be free.

And it’s not enough to find some quiet corner of the global prison where you can pretend you are at liberty, to crouch in some sheltered spot, behind a bush maybe, and hum sweet songs to yourself with fingers firmly planted in both ears to stop the sound of humanity’s wailing from disturbing your reverie.

It’s not enough, I know, and I have also often thought that suicide was the only way out – a comforting emergency exit in case it all does finally become unbearable.

My own contemplation of self-murder does not shock or thrill me any more, though. It bores me. It’s been aired so often over the years, the decades in fact, that it’s become stale and indigestible. But when you come out with same idea, it makes we want to weep.

Don’t do it! Don’t kill yourself!

I don’t know how serious you were, but don’t even talk about it, let alone think about it!

I wouldn’t say this if you were already dead, if you had sunk into a way of being so superficial that there really was no point in you staying alive, if you were compromised, polluted or stymied to such an extent that the earthly form we know as ‘you’ had nothing left to offer.

I have nothing against suicide in some, nay many, circumstances.

But to kill ourselves because of our despair at finding ourselves born and trapped in this prison-world is to miss out on an amazing opportunity.

When I was much younger, I had a vision of myself on the top floor of a multi-storey car park in the suburban town where I grew up.

I could no longer bear living in the realm of the plastic undead and I stood on the edge of the wall, the sun in my hair and the breeze making me squint, ready to step into the void.

At the very moment that I stepped out, an old man appeared from nowhere and pulled me back. I didn’t know who he was at the time, but I suspect now that he was maybe the concept of my older self.

He told me that, instead of jumping from the car park, I should simply close my eyes and imagine I was doing so, imagine the fast falling, the impact, the end.

I should think about everything that was now gone. My memories, my connections, my fears, my hopes, my perceived obligations.

And then, he said in this vision of mine, I should open my eyes again and find, to my astonishment, that I was still alive, still there, still real.

But all the rest of me had really gone. All those things I should or would have done would now never be accomplished. All that life I should or would have led would now never unfold. Nothing was expected of me. Nothing was demanded of me. I simply was.

Think now, he said, how and who you want to be, all freed from the burdens you have been persuaded to take upon yourself.

Think now of what potential you possess as a raw human being with the power of moving, talking, interacting with the world around you.

You are an angel fallen from the sky, he said, still draped in the afterbirth of the celestial mother.

You have been sent here to do what you can, do what you must, to help bring about the great insurrection of the enslaved and dispossessed, to help crack open the crust of earthly power and deceit and unleash the tide of cleansing fire that swells beneath.

Imagine if all the would-be suicides in the world did the same – pulled back from the brink and became what they knew deep down they needed to be! What an army that would make, taking on the life-deniers with nothing left to lose!

He saw that I had understood and he said: “Just think – if you had really stepped over that edge, you would have died. Instead, you’ve been born.”

I’ve always remembered this whenever I contemplate suicide, even though it only ever took place in my imagination. I like to think I have lived by it to some extent – but, I’m afraid, not as deeply as I would have liked.

It wasn’t a one-off, though, and from time to time I leap again in my imagination, eyes tightly closed, and open them to find myself wrapped in a fresh skin, pulsating with new determination to leave my constructed self behind and throw my earthly presence, all clean and unencumbered, up against the scaly flesh of the Beast.

So don’t kill yourself – just offer yourself up, time and time again to be used as they see fit by the forces of good, of life, of resistance to evil.

We are all lonely sparks of light, separated from the Whole and homesick for reunion.

That day will come soon enough, but while we still have our own separate form, we have work to do, a destiny to fulfil.

Long may you continue to shine!