The Dark Mountain Project just convened their first festival in Wales. Dubbed as the base camp of the uncivilization expedition, it has had a mixed reception. A variety of feedback can be found, some of it at the Uncivilization Ning site, some of it at various blogs; see for example Dire Mountain, Imagining things differently, and A church full of underminers.
I have followed this project with considerable interest, partly because I adore their Manifesto, partly because I have been wondering for some time if they actually have what it takes to live their ideas. So far, I would say that in some important respects, they do not. Whenever people criticize them for that, they get defensive, and point out that theirs is a cultural project. They are about imaginings, writings, art, they say.
But isn’t it essential to live what you preach? I am not pointing down the path of activism, I am pointing to embodying our values in whatever we do. The organizers are well aware of issues like seeking out women for key roles, the desirability for not turning attendees into mere spectators, inclusion, and opening up creative space where spontaneity can flourish. Yet the reality of the event played out old scenarios… few women presenters, open mic time for those who could afford a generous donation, workshops of lecturers speaking to an audience and leaving little time for interaction at the end, presentations falling short of the promises made, helpers being excluded from key events for not having paid the full entrance fee.
The Dark Mountain’s Eight Principles say: “We believe that the roots of these crises lie in the stories we have been telling ourselves. We intend to challenge the stories which underpin our civilisation: the myth of progress, the myth of human centrality, and the myth of our separation from ‘nature’. These myths are more dangerous for the fact that we have forgotten they are myths.” Yes, but how about the myth of the necessity of elite control? Do we really need yet more events where people are divided into Presenters and Audience? The organizers set the agenda, choose the rest of the Presenters, and hold onto the reins. The Audience come to consume the offerings. Gadz, I am so sick of this model…
What I want is events that simply Open the Space and invite all of us to set the agenda, convene around those whose ideas we want to hear and add to, and speak with one another. In such a setting, the whole damn tired plaint of “how come there aren’t more women presenters” will vanish like last year’s snow, because the women who come will speak as much as anyone… or in any case, it will be up to them to make sure women do play a full role. By all taking part in crafting the festival, we practice handling our own affairs, together, as we move along!
Invite a bunch of interesting people, throw the gates open to all comers, and let the people who come create the festival that is meant to happen. This simple idea and subtle practice is called Open Space Technology. Silly name, I know. Just call it Open Space. Unconference is another take on it. Doesn’t it make sense? Shouldn’t the first order of uncivilization events be to unconference themselves?! After all, this is the way ye olde fairs were shaped. A convenient space was provided, some people took it upon themselves to ensure safety and basic comforts, and people came to play, trade and connect. Those that showed up were the right people. What happened was what was meant to happen.
I am aching for us unciv folk to say… ok, so let’s plan a gathering of other would-be mountaineers. We dream of a world where the people run our own affairs. So let’s come up with a way to do our gatherings that embodies this longing. Let us do our gatherings in such a way that as we all live through the event, we live what we preach: we share power, the teaching/learning flows back and forth, and we co-create the festival together.
Un-meeting, un-organizing, un-managing… let’s open up the spaces of our lives so that we the people finally look after our own affairs. Instead of marching to fulfill organizers’ goals, we can let the living essence of an event emerge through its own logic, its own serendipity.
We uncivvers dream of a world where we the people share power and design our world together, but still live a world where organizers hog power, control the design of an event, and bring in Presenters to entertain and educate Audience. So once more, the people who show up with high hopes are again constrained within the same old paradigm. Shades of Orwell: the clever pigs decide who will speak, what ought to be spoken about, where and when, and even who will be allowed into the various presentations. The rest of the animals obediently go through the motions, grateful to be allowed to ask a few questions at the end. And they pay to get in to be treated so!!! Bizarre, no?
But the intrepid Dark Mountain climbers did not entirely miss the opportunity of coming to live, for a few days, in a world where people work and play together and co-create, for a blessed moment, our own world. It turns out that Space actually did Open at the fringes of the festival, where people struck up impromptu happenings as they were inspired. The base camp came into being after all, out of the way of the old baggage the organizers brought with them. Hail Mountaineers!