"My name is Arthur Doohan and I'm a banker in recovery." We're at the beginning of the Uncivilisation Festival in leafy Hampshire Downs. Three hundred of us have gathered in a marquee to listen to the Collapsanomics Panel that includes an ex-WikiLeaks worker from Iceland, a writer and hacker from the US and a justice specialist from the Russia.
Uncivilisation is no ordinary summer festival. People have come here not to escape from reality, but to face it and the Irish banker is opening this Living Through the Unfolding Breakdown session with an unswerving set and setting.
This weekend's event was the second gathering organised by the Dark Mountain Project, a movement that began two years ago with a manifesto published by two former journalists, Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine.
Its two main tenets are that we are living in a time of systemic collapse and need to engage with this through a new narrative; and secondly that we need to look at humanity from a "deep ecological" standpoint, as one species among many on the planet.
Originally the project was set up to create a writers' journal, but the manifesto has also inspired singers, craftsmen and artists and it is this mix of earth-based creativity and intellectual discussion that defines it.
"A space," says Hine, "where there is room for reflection and no immediate rush for answers or actions.
"Two years ago we were called crazy collapsatarians, but now so much we have taken for granted is breaking down around us. We are going to have to get used to living in a different world than we were promised when we were growing up and find our deep capacity for adapting."
Dark Mountain has been accused of being doomist, romantic, dangerous. But there's a kind of freestyle openness you find when people start to get engaged with Things That Matter; when death and failure are allowed in. One thing is clear – we are not here to be entertained or feel good. We are here to talk.
Dark Mountain is not a campaign movement. It's more interested in wielding a scythe than grinding an axe and though most people here are highly politicised, the discussions around the fire are exchanges of knowledge and experience, rather than argument. There are workshops on low-tech skills like foraging and scything, talks about General Ludd and mythology, sessions on "wild writing" and "off-grid" publishing. People ask questions and offer ideas – more participants than audience.
"We write with dirt under our fingernails" states the manifesto and what strikes you is that the emerging narrative is not some urban dystopia. It's rooted directly in the materials of nature. It shares a lineage with English visionaries, dissenters and poets and yet feels distinctly modern; planetary; something we are all inventing together.
The awareness of being at a historical tipping point is what brings everyone here: writers, activists, philosophers, NGO workers, people from parallel "downshift" movements like Transition Towns. Uncivilisation bears the urgency of the times. No one is wearing fairy wings. Anton Shelapanov, brought up in the shadow of a Siberian gaol and now a resident of Tottenham, gets 15 people to stand within a roped circle. And then 45. That is what the cells were like in Russia in 1995, he says, and talks about the tinderbox conditions in British prisons after the riots. A young writer from Yorkshire speaks about finding meaning in her community's experiences after the Miners' Strike. An independence leader from West Papua sings for the 250 tribes being exterminated by the Indonesian armed forces and corporate interests.
Dark Mountain is about finding the light in the darkness; a new way of proceeding. It seemed the high moments all took place at night: sitting under the stars as the Russian storyteller emerged from the shadows in a bear mask ringing a bell. Hearing the Feral Choir howling in the woods. Following a trail of lights through the trees and finding a naked man curled around a deer skeleton in a performance called Liminal. It feels like the beginning of the story of the world. Not a world shaped by politicians or by global corporations, but by storytellers and singers who make us feel at home on the earth.
If Uncivilisation was giving us a glimpse of the future, we have everything to meet up for.
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