Unicivilisation Festival – Edited Highlights

Over the recent bank holiday weekend I was fortunate enough to attend the Dark Mountain Project‘s Uncivilisation festival in Llangollen, Wales.

I had a really great time and I met lots of interesting and friendly people who had all come together to discuss options for – as the website puts it – “a challenging and unpredictable future”.

The place was full of writers so there will undoubtedly be much more eloquent write-ups than I could muster; what follows are just my edited highlights.

The not-marketed-as-such-but-plainly-was keynote was Saturday at 3pm when George Monbiot was interviewed by Dougald Hine as a fireside chat. George reiterated his robust objections to the project’s aims though did thank it for starting a healthy dialogue. I enjoyed the talk which Dougald directed through some pointed and calculated questions though George did seem to be very much on the defensive which was a shame. He also did confirm that, yes, ‘we’ all were the weirdos relative to the mainstream UK population and warned us to not underestimate the global economy’s resilience even when under extreme pressure as it is currently.

Paul Kingsnorth – the other organiser and, as we figured out during the weekend, he and his wife were also fellow attendees at the Low Impact Smallholding course that I went on a year or so back – asserted very eloquently that western society had reached ‘peak comfort’ and that the sustainability/green/environmental movement which has now gone mainstream has been subverted to such an extent that its main focus is now on maintaining our current levels of energy availability and comfort, which is of course unsustainable.

Vinay Gupta gave a no holds barred pitch to us that our lifestyles are such that collapse would leave us ‘living the same as the people that grow our coffee’. He also informed us that we ‘live on a militarised island of prosperity’ gained through years of blatant theft and exploitation.

Alistair McIntosh gave a powerful and deeply moving talk on spirituality. As a card carrying atheist I normally run a mile from anything like this but it was compelling to say the least.

Mark Boyle also known as the moneyless man has been published in many places recently talking about his year or so living without money. He was pimping his new book which he was very keen to stress he would not be receiving a penny for, instead the money would go towards setting up moneyless communities. He was straight-up and clearly passionate about his cause and we had an engaging conversation with him.

Tom Hodgkinson of idler fame, in amongst a literary history lesson, talked (and sang) to us about how we’re taught to love the new and the shiny in order that we feed capitalism with its need for constant growth. He also talked about work-based positive psychology, to quote him from a recent article in the Ecologist:

Positive psychology is the idea that forced cheerfulness can actually make you happy. Happiness is good because happy people make productive and uncomplaining workers. Positive psychology is about being cheerful, outgoing and cooperative in the office. It is not about negative acts cheap viagra such as joining a union or protesting about pay and conditions and exploitation. It is also about loading a gigantic burden onto the shoulders of the individual: be positive, be happy, be successful. Any failure is your fault.

Overall I think his was my favorite talk, I’ll certainly pay more interest to the idler publication in future which comes out each year.

Andy Hamilton author of The Selfsufficientish Bible and founder of SelfSufficientish.com took some of us on an interesting tour of the pavillion area for a some wild food foraging. I learned that daisies are edible so would be a great addition to a salad sprinkled on top, nettles with white flowers are ‘dead nettles’ so don’t sting but can be used for all same uses (wine, cordage, tea) as normal ones. Apparently dock leaves boiled up twice (once for 15 mins to get rid of the toxins) can be used like vine leaves and clover toasted can be used like seaweed in chinese cooking.

Deek Jackson of the FKN News (follow the link and see him stood behind Gordon Brown at the recent general election) gave us a talk about his newly formed political party The Landless Peasants. Deek’s presentation style was rather forthright and he explained to us how we were all economic units crammed into our Gerbil cages (houses) going to work (on the wheel) and having our cages emptied (the binmen). I really enjoyed the talk as his style was rather refreshing however, I still have one issue with his party. As a concept – buying up land for the use of its members – I think it’s cracking however mixing that with politics isn’t for me.

There were other interesting talks. For instance I sat in a small circle discussing practical vs. creative chaired by Viv (who it turns out designed Ben Law’s house) and I was really annoyed to miss Vinay’s discussion on Collapsonomics not mention the countless other breakout sessions or main-hall presentations that I missed because I was chatting with another complete stranger out on the grass.

Oh, not to forget the music! I forget most of the band names but there was the excellent Powerdown gig on Friday by Marmaduke Dando and BBC2’s Folk Singers of the Year 2010 Jon Boyden on the Saturday proved himself to me multi-talented on the guitar, fiddle and accordion as well as being an amazing singer (and evidently songwriter).

Luke Concannon (famous for the JCB Song) did an amazing set on the Friday night. He was practically shaking with enthusiasm almost like an excited little kid and for his first number he was running through the aisles barefoot and serenading some of  us individually. The highlight for me was him inviting his friend, the author Alistair McIntosh, up on stage for an incredibly powerful rendition of a poem they had only performed a few times; it made the hairs stand up on the back on my neck. (London Permaculture snapped a good picture of it here). Luke is so hugely talented and I really look forward to him releasing more material.

Thanks to Paul and Dougald for organising it, I look forward to next year.

Related links

The Importance of Being Earnest (a Morning Star review of the Monbiot talk)

London Permaculture’s Flickr stream


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