Chickens Coming Home to Roost

What is going on?

The world is changing rapidly: dominant narratives of progress, growth and human superiority (and their accompanying social, economic and political structures) are being exposed as insufficient to support human flourishing and sustainability within a wider ecological nexus of interdependent relationships.

This unravelling is happening faster and faster now, and so we are experiencing a lot of instability and intensity within human systems and social structures. On the one hand, this semiotic inadequacy means increased fear, anger, uncertainty, confusion, despair, overwhelm, depression and anxiety for many individuals. At another level, the reactive behaviours these feelings can lead to are being expressed as increasing destructive violence within and between human beings, as well as against other species and ecosystems. Said simply, as the stories of empire culture begin to fall apart, there is a desperate attempt to cling to its logos. More violence becomes necessary to maintain the belief system.

This systematic and structural violence to avoid the consequences of such a brutally distorted relationship with the natural world is reaching the end of its capacity to function. As the system ‘doubles down’ on its chosen strategy of domination and violence, natural systems are providing plenty of feedback and symptoms to demonstrate that mutuality and reciprocity are essential functions of successful life on this planet. Many people living in the rich epicentres of neo-colonial activity are waking up to the precarity of the human experiment and the gift – rather than entitlement - of life. Movements for environmental and social justice are gaining increasing traction and support as more people lose their relative insulation from ‘other people’s problems out there’. The chickens may finally be coming home to roost.

Yet we must also acknowledge that this violence is not distributed proportionately to responsibility. At every level of scale, we can recognise how those with relative power are able to export the pain and consequences of their actions onto other people, species, and places, as well as future generations – all in service to protecting a particular lifestyle and worldview.

This can seem obvious when reports highlight grotesque levels of financial and economic inequality.[1] In 2019, the world’s forty-two richest people held more wealth than the poorest half of the human population.[2] Whilst we must all work hard to reduce our complicity with this specific material violence, it is vital that we also attend to the subtle day-to-day ways that we continue to construct and maintain the "patriarchal, cisheteronormative, white supremacist, settler-colonial, Christian hegemonic, monoamorist, US-centric, corporate capitalistic, petrochemical industrial-growth society of death status quo".[3] In other words, it is not just greedy corporate elites who maintain this system; we must all interrogate the ways that we socially, culturally and behaviourally sanction the inequality and power of this ‘death status quo’. Being aware of the issue is not the same as the uncomfortable and difficult work of radically challenging compliance in our own lives.

What can we do?

Our adaptability and willingness to change is key. We need to be able to see ourselves and this world anew; to be able to bend, stretch, update and adapt to the novel and unanticipated circumstances we can anticipate in the coming years. Yes, we need enduring values and visions - visions of “a peaceful, sustainable, just and spiritually meaningful world” for example.[4] Yet, the constant unveiling of injustice, inequality and our own complicity means that we have to be willing to ‘sit in the fire’ and interrogate our own assumptions in what this world might look like.[5] This is the revelation that our experiences, mine and yours, are different. We need the humility to admit our blind spots, ignorance, wrongdoings and limitations. We need the courage to commit to authentic, clear speech, acknowledging that it is through intimate interaction and generative conflict that we can construct a more beautiful, and as of yet unknowable, world. This is what it means to build community across difference; to courageously step out of the echo chambers of our work and lives.

At the same time, we must give ourselves to a story and time frame far greater than our own lifetime.[6] Without which, many of our efforts may feel meaningless and empty. What is more, we run the risk of operating from a place of reactivity – in these times of great challenge that are upon us, as well as what may lie ahead in the future. A greater vision of time can resource us to give ourselves to what is important beyond our own individual survival; to resist the lure of egoic self-preservation that fuels the fire of violent conflict, separation and destruction.

We also need to let go of commercially-mediated ways of living to face this new reality and start building the practical resilience we need whilst restoring ecosystems. This means rapidly reducing our reliance on the energy-intensive petrochemical industrial growth system (for food, clothing, housing, transport, meaning, purpose, etc.). At the same time, we need to be upskilling in a myriad of ways to be in a more direct relationship with Nature (in every possible sense of the word!) whilst also supporting our local communities to do so as well. However, this work must not become insular to protect ‘me and my own’. We are all needed, and we all have a responsibility to consider how we benefit from the violence of this system and seek to do less harm, whilst finding practical, tangible ways to catalyse redistributive justice.

We cannot do this work alone, anymore than we can insulate ourselves from the consequences of recent human activity and ecological devastation. Whilst many continue to try, seeking new frontiers of exclusive refuge - perhaps New Zealand will offer safety?[7] Maybe Mars? [8] - the rest of us must begin to prepare for the homecoming of all that has been done. Dusk is falling, and the coop beckons...

[1] [2] Hickel, Jason. "The Imperative of Redistribution in an Age of Ecological Overshoot: Human Rights and Global Inequality." Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development 10, no. 3 (2019): 416-428. [3] (Industrial Growth System for Short!) - by Sarah Thompson Nahar: [4] [5] Arnold Mindell, ‘Sitting in the Fire’




*Photo by Sean Pollock on Unsplash