I believe that mycelium is the neurological network of nature. Interlacing mosaics of mycelium infuse habitats with information-sharing membranes.
– Paul Stamets
Over on Dwight Towers, “abeyance structures” have been mentioned in a spirit of gloom. DT tells us: “Essentially, what I am advocating is “abeyance structure” work. It’s not sexy, it’s probably pointless. But I don’t see the extremes of continuing to make Big Plans for Big Demonstrations and “Giving Up” as options. This seems like the Third Way?”
What are abeyance structures? “The political organisations and networks of people who keep a political movement alive in times of relative inactivity. Abeyance structures are often hidden from the wider public, but they play a special role in ensuring the continuance of radical ideas, tactics, identities and traditions.” – from Activist Wisdom, by Scalmer & Maddison
These good folks have it upside down. The real, living, critical, nurturing, necessary, primary work is the one that happens in the dark, in the grassroots, in the fertile soil, underground. Let me offer, by way of analogy, the lowly, crafty, possibly immortal mycelium. Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a mass of branching, thread-like hyphae, living in soil and decaying wood.
One Armillaria mycelium in Oregon is estimated to be at least 2400 years old and spreads over 890 hectares. While we may admire a delicate morel growing out from the soil or a cluster of honey mushrooms emerging out of a stump, it is the out-of-sight (and often forgotten) mycelium that is the essential part of the organism.
Mycelium begins its revolutionary, life-enhancing work by spreading widely yet inconspicuously, branching and linking, waxing strong. Then, when the conditions are right, the show begins. Mushrooms and toadstools – the colorful and multifarious fruits of the mycelia – rise overnight from the nurturing substrate and bloom forth in amazing profusion, lasting but a few days, feeding critters, opening minds, gifting the world with beauty, seeding other mycelia, and subsiding. You pluck one here, ten others pop up over there. You kick one apart, and the spores spread even more lavishly. No wonder fungi are among the most successful organisms on the planet.
Mycelium is pure fairy magic. Paul Stamets (of Mycelium Running) speculates that mycelium functions as a natural internet. There is no doubt it can remediate poisoned land. Could it also help us remediate a society poisoned by unrelenting abuse of power?
In the world of resistance activism, creating political events full of high energy and drama is a lot of work, and when these “fruiting bodies” die down, nothing’s left. The masses, somehow, go on their same old same old way. The legislators keep on passing toxic laws, undeterred. And the living planet keeps on being killed, piece by piece. Disappointment, over and over.
On the other hand, guerrilla dissenters are the spores and hyphae, sinking through the grassroots into the soil, grouping, flowing, forking, communicating, forming under-the-radar alliances… growing a resilient power-sharing culture. And when the conditions are right, fruiting bodies – guerrilla theatres, carnivals, flashmobs, encampments, and many other unique happenings — emerge, often spontaneously; they blossom for a time and vanish. Forget about boring marches and angry, futile protests. These showy, one-of-a-kind, playful excrescences bring fun and creativity to the streets, and draw people from all walks of life to join in. They are a play of light and color and sound; ephemera. Cut loose, cut loose from the dreary quotidian! Just like we have taught one another when and how to use nonviolence, we can teach each other to spark joy. Show the passers-by you’ve got something special; contagious, ebullient, irresistible. The vaster the mycelium, the more extravagant the fruiting bodies arising from the fertile undergrowth. Freed from the need to make the show into something big and lasting, we can play. When the mycelium thrives, the mushrooms take care of themselves.
UKUncut? Ephemeral. Anti-nuclear action to stop the train bringing spent rods into Germany? Ephemeral. Climate camp? Ephemeral. Tunisian la Qasba, Tahrir Square? Ephemeral. No sense regretting their fading and disappearance. The ephemera, like other intense moments, are to be lived to the hilt. They are not meant to be extended into the everyday. If, inconspicuous, we seed an abundance of afterculture undergrowth now, every warm and moisty morning will see fruiting bodies emerge. The fruiting bodies offer up their spores to the breezes and fade. The mycelium endures.
Rob Hopkins writes in his recent rebuttal to those who would push resistance activism into the Transition movement:
What I am trying to say I guess comes back to that quote I keep using from Tove Jansson’s ‘Comet in Moominland’:
“It was a funny little path, winding here and there, dashing off in different directions, and sometimes even tying a knot in itself from sheer joy. (You don’t get tired of a path like that, and I’m not sure that it doesn’t get you home quicker in the end).”
What I take from the Moomin quote is that perhaps an approach which approaches change like inoculating a community with mycorrhizal fungus that runs and spreads and pops up in the most unexpected places but which operates below the radar will, in the long run, be more successful than traditional activism.
Listen to the mycelium. Mycelium knows.