Shaun Chamberlin: Surviving The Aftermath Of The Market Economy
Historian and economist David Fleming undertook the writing of Lean Logic a grand vision that projected out the likely path of collapse for our currently unsustainable way of life, as well as the key success factors society will need to cultivate to come out the other side. Sadly, he died in 2010 with the 350,000-word manuscript still in draft form.
Following his death, his writing partner Shaun Chamberlin distilled the book's prime conclusions into the more accessible Surviving The Future: Culture, carnival, and capital in the aftermath of the market economy. Shaun, who has also been deeply involved with Rob Hopkins in the Transition Movement since its inception, stresses that localized communities that pursue developing as much independence from the central economy as possible will be the foundations for creating a sustainable, enjoyable future.
As Fleming wrote:
The great transformation has already happened. It was the revolution in politics, economics, and society that came with the market economy and which hit its stride in Britain in the late Eighteenth century. Most of human history has been bred, fed, and watered by another sort of economy, but the market has replaced as far as possible the social capital of reciprocal obligation, loyalties, authority structures, culture, and traditions with exchange, price, and the impersonal principles of economics.
The market’s achievements and answers sound authoritative and final, but what is truly most significant about them is how naïve they are. If the flow income fails, the powerfully bonding combination of money and self-interest will no longer be available in its present, all embracing scale, and perhaps not at all. It must inevitably fail as the market demands ever-increasing productivity and thus relies on the impossibility of perpetual growth. In the meantime, the reduction of society and culture to depend on some mathematical abstraction has infantilized the grown-up civilization and is well on the way to destroying it.
Civilizations self-destruct anyway. But it's reasonable to ask whether they have done so before with such enthusiasm and obedience to such an acutely absurd superstition while claiming with such insistence that they were beyond being seduced by the irrational promises of religion. Every civilization has had its irrational, but reassuring myth. Previous civilizations have used their culture to sing about it and tell stories about it. Ours has used its mathematics to prove it. Yet, when that relatively short lived market society is gone, we will miss its essential simplicity, its price mechanisms, its stabilizing properties, its impersonal exchange, the comforts it delivers to many and the freedoms it underwrites. Its failure will be destructive. The end is in sight. During the early decades of the century, the market will lose its magic.
It is the aim of Lean Logic to suggest some principles for repairing or replacing the atrophied social structures on which most human cultures were built as the basis for a cohesive society that might survive the turbulent times to come.
Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Shaun Chamberlin (46m:57s).
Chris Martenson: Welcome to the Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host, Chris Martenson. It is December 20, 2016. And these are troubled times. It’s getting harder and harder for everyday folks to pretend otherwise as carrying the weight of the self-delusions begins to exceed the cost of waking up and squaring oneself with reality. Whether we are taking our cues from the ecological sphere, where the sixth great extinction is well underway or from the political spheres where such things are Brexit and Donald Trump speak to the growing unease of the masses or from the monetary sphere where central banks seem desperately afraid to find out where even a minor correction of financial asset prices might lead. Add it all up and you understand why we have been exploring topics and guests on this program that dare to confront the existential crises and dilemmas that we are actually facing.
From Steven Jenkinson recently we harvested much, including the powerful idea of I can’t go on; I will go on. I can’t go on. I will go on. How does one exactly go about squaring up one’s actions with the known realities of the day? These are truly extraordinary times and for those of us who are alert and awake, ordinary no longer cuts it. We can feel that something more is required of us. Perhaps we have even lost interest in the ordinary and become prickly, if not impossible holiday party guests as a result. I know I have. But here we are, together in these times and each of us must go on. But how? In which direction?
There is a fascinating book just released this past August 2016 that lays out a compelling vision of powerfully different new economics for a post growth world, which is drawn from the work of David Fleming. That book is Surviving the Future: Culture, Carnival, and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy. It was edited into being by today’s guest, Shaun Chamberlain and has a forward by Rob Hopkins of Transition Town fame, who has been on this show before.
Let me now introduce our guest, Shaun Chamberlin. Since 2005, when he self-ejected from a typical working world, Shaun has devoted himself full time to exploring the dominant cultural stories and myths that chart the course for our society and, in particular, how we might change direction before we end up where we are headed. His work has been featured on the BBC, been discussed across the U.K. press including in: the Guardian, the Sunday Times, Independent, Daily Express, as well as Time Magazine, Bluebird News, and the Financial Times. He is the managing director of the Fleming Policy Center and has been involved with Transition Network since its inception, leading to its cofounding Transition Town Kingston and authoring the movement’s second book, The Transition Timeline, which I know many of you who listen to this already have. He is also Chelsea Green Publishing’s commissioning editor for the U.K. and Europe, and has served as chair of the Ecological Land Cooperative, a director of the campaigning organization Global Justice Now, and an advisor to the U.K. Department of Energy and Climate Change, as well as co-authoring the All Party Parliamentary group on peak oils report into carbon rationing. His writing roams across social, political, and spiritual themes, as well as popular explanations of climate and energy issues, very wide ranging. Very happy to have him on the program today. Welcome, Shaun.
Shaun Chamberlain: Thanks, Chris, it’s great to be here.
Chris Martenson: So Shaun, please begin, if you would by filling us in a bit more about your origins story. How was it that you came to be doing all of those things I just listed?
Shaun Chamberlain: Okay, so I was working about ten, 12 years ago, I was working in a learning center for marginalized groups, so working with young asylum seekers, people with mental health programs, drug misuse issues, and I really loved that work. But I, in my spare time, was learning at that time, especially about climate change and energy depletion issues, and feeling like well hang on, I am helping people to reintegrate into society, but society itself seems to be running off a cliff. In that context, I started feeling like okay that’s really where I want to put myself. But I didn’t really know how. I didn’t really have a peer group around that. I didn’t really see any great organizations that were doing work that I wanted to get involved with.
So, I think it was in 2005, I left that job. I basically learned to live really cheaply. I absolutely minimized my expenditure so that I could live off the money I had saved while I was working for what turned out to be about a year going to conferences, reading books, harassing interesting people. Then in 2006, I went down to a place called Schumacher College in the U.K. in Devon. They were running a two week course there called “Life After Oil.” There, I first met Dave Fleming, who you mentioned, and Rob Hopkins who was, at that time, basically saying to us all, “I’ve just had this crazy idea of transition. Do you think it might go anywhere?” A few of us thought it really could go somewhere. So we hooked up then with a real peer group. That is probably the fortnight at Schumacher College that has very much shaped the decade that I spent since doing all of those things that you just listed.
Chris Martenson: So, it was really, it was just a two week adventure that really nudged the rudder of your destiny?
Shaun Chamberlain: Well, yeah, I mean I would say that, I would say that I would be reading about it in my spare time. It was after about a year of reading around that I felt like that Schumacher College is where I needed to be, but that was definitely where I found—it’s very easy to think that you can solve all of this stuff on your own, surfing the internet, but you really do need to hook up with some kind of community. That was where I found my community around it.
Chris Martenson: So, I would like to turn to the book now, Surviving the Future and I have to confess, I had not been exposed to David Fleming before your edited version landed on my doorstep. So, before we go to the book, let’s back up a bit. This is based on the work of Mr. Fleming, who you were close with. What sort of person was he? Tell us about him.
Shaun Chamberlain: Yeah, well, I should make it clear, because I should mention that he passed away at the end of 2010. Yeah, David was a historian and an economist by training, but in the Seventies, he was involved with the founding of the Green Party in this country and a thing called the Other Economic Summit, which was founded at the time as a sort of counter summit to the G7 as it was at the time. Then out of that grew the New Economics Foundation and much later he was one of the key inspirations behind the Transition Town movement. His real passion, I would say, was community. He was fascinated by what community is, how it works, what seems to be going wrong with it at the moment, and his friend Jonathan Porritt, who I have come to know quite well, tells me that in the Seventies he remembers David urging other sort of ecologists and ecological politicians to learn the language of economics because, you know, they were constantly being told what you are saying is completely impractical for economic reasons. So he was urging his colleagues to do that. He was good to his word and he went off and got himself a Ph.D. in Economics in the end. But his economics was very much about confounding and challenging mainstream and some of the fundamental flaws about mainstream economics that were about risk.
Chris Martenson: Right, I can summarize. You are, anybody needs a Ph.D. in Economics. Here it is. Economics as it is currently practiced centers on just two words. Those words are must grow. That’s it. I have just shortened a whole lot of study. There is some detail under that, but that’s it.
Shaun Chamberlain: So if David had met you 40 years ago, it would have saved him so much time.
Chris Martenson: [Laughs] Well, so much springs from that once you really understand it. The imperative, the assumption set that underlies all of economics is fundamentally irrational because it is saying that we are going to grow infinitely on a finite planet. Any elementary school student can work that out on a napkin. It’s not hard, but it is hard because so much is invested in that not being a false assumption, but so here we are. Much of David’s work then must have been about just attempting to crack that nut and help the status quo defenders, as they are, to understand that they really are defending a very false construct.
Shaun Chamberlain: Yeah, absolutely, but also I think as you will be well aware, there is a real frustration in engaging the status quo. They have very often got so much skin in the game, that they are really not willing to face that. I think that, was it, Upton Sinclair said that it’s very hard to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it. So very often, it would be more a case of writing towards and engaging with that, but the people who are actually hearing the message weren’t necessarily the defenders of the status quo as much more the likes of strange people like me who come at it from whatever external perspective.
Chris Martenson: Right, now David Fleming was working on, I guess, a grand vision, a grand piece of work that was, I guess, as I understand the story, unfinished at the time of his unexpected death in 2010. Tell us about that work.
Shaun Chamberlain: Okay, so what you are talking about is called Lean Logic and it’s a dictionary for the future and how to survive it. It really is an utterly unique, impossible to characterize book. One of the reviewers put it rather well. They said, “I have never encountered a book that is so hard to characterize, yet so hard, despite its weight to put down.” John Michael Greer described it as an encyclopedic guide to the crisis industrial civilization. It really is as wide ranging as that would sound. It’s an incredible work. It is in a way, he sort of pre-invented Wikipedia in that it has got these sort of stars that link between the different entries. So you can follow the path of new interests through the book. It’s sort of a Choose Your Own Adventure book in a way. But as you say, he passed away just before completely finishing it.
I actually, although we had been working together very closely for five years at the time of his death, he never let me look at the manuscript for Lean Logic because he said we were too close and it was too close to his heart. If I was critical of it, we would fall out. He didn’t want us to fall out. [Laughs] So it was only after his death that I actually found this manuscript on his home computer and started reading it. I was absolutely blown away and started talking to publishers about it. Some of the feedback was that while it is incredible, it’s huge. It’s sort of 350,000 word hardback book and it’s in this very unconventional dictionary format. So we started talking about the possibility of some more accessible version, which is what you have got, which is Surviving the Future.
That is, as you know, a conventional read it front to back paperback book. I basically selected one of the potential pathways through Lean Logic, the dictionary, and edited it lightly to turn it into this little narrative format book.
Chris Martenson: Well, fantastic work for that. So how many, you have selected one possible narrative thread through the book, out of how many?
Shaun Chamberlain: Oh, I mean endless.
Chris Martenson: Endless.
Shaun Chamberlain: I mean there are I think—I mean there are hundreds. I think more than 400 entries in the dictionary. They are thoroughly interlinked in the same way that Wikipedia articles are. So, it’s like saying how many possible paths are there through Wikipedia? It’s just you could start anywhere and head in any direction. Yeah, this is just a path that I thought would be good. Someone described it well. They said it’s Lean Logic is a bit like being set loose in this vast natural reserve, endless areas to explore. Surviving the Future is a bit like having a guide take your hand and show you some of the highlights and give you a sense of the lay of the land. Then a lot of people read Surviving the Future then think “Oh, wow, I would really like to wander off on my own and explore a bit more.” So in a way it’s my guided tour of a region that one could explore in whatever way one desires.
Chris Martenson: Well, fantastic. So Shaun, take us down what path did you choose and what will people find there?
Shaun Chamberlain: Well, I mean in many ways in Surviving the Future, I focused on David’s economics because I think that is the kind of core, most sort of radical thing about his work. In a way, the framework of which everything else hangs. One of the things I found particularly enjoyable is at one point he takes the seven sort of core tenets of free market economics and goes through each of them one by one and explains in his very entertaining style how we need the exact opposite of every single one of them. Really, I think you might say that one of his core points is that while you and I and your listeners know very well that independence from the mainstream economy, absolutely makes sense. You know relying on the markets and there being stock in the shops for a long term security would be a very bad move, but we do have to be a little bit careful because our societies tend to fetishize independence.
That can lend us a sort of tendency to get carried away because one of the main stream talks about sort of financial independence as being the goal, whatever. I don’t rely on anyone. I have got my own money. I am a self-made man and all of that. That’s very much held up as a heroic thing. But of course, it’s a myth because if you are financially independent, someone else is still growing your food. Someone else is still producing everything. You still are dependent on people you don’t know.
Then I think the sort of green or prepper version of that is this idea of self-sufficiency. There were a lot of good things about self-sufficiency. Don’t get me wrong, but the danger there is that both the financial independence idea and the self-sufficiency idea can be very much influenced by this kind of Hollywood myth of me as the hero of my own narrative. What I think David encourages people to do is think about the question of identity. He makes the argument that identity is absolutely crucial to any rational decision. If you don’t know who you are, how could you know what you could, what you should do? If an antelope forgot it was an antelope and decided to go and be on the side of the lions, then its rationalizations would look very different. So, while there is nothing to disagree with in the statement “We need to take responsibility for our own wellbeing and prosperity” the critical question underlying that is who is we? Who is our own? While the Hollywood story can be really helpful, because sometimes we do need to step up as a hero, I think Fleming’s work really emphasizes that far more often. The route to successful long term prosperity is we as family and, most especially, we as community because, as the kind of formal market economy continues to crumble, we urgently need to rebuild the informal economy of social capital, the normal monetary economy that even today allows our society to exist. This is the economy of all of the things that we naturally do when we are not otherwise compelled to do something, so music, and play, and volunteering, and friendship, and home. And this has been massively weakened in this informal monetary economy by the sort of invasion of the market economy. So Fleming argues that this sort of key challenge today is repairing the actual social structures on which actually historically, most human cultures have been built in order to rediscover how to rely on each other again, rather than on money alone.
Chris Martenson: Now, this is a theme that I have got several podcasts under my belt on, which, let me see if this is in the right direction. It’s around the concept of tribalism, where all of culture now, and this is true of almost every place on the planet except very few exceptions, are all hierarchical in nature. And the kind of economics we practice, very much our support, the persistence of that hierarchy. Hierarchies enforce some things and punish other things and when you get right down to it, given where we have placed nature on that hierarchy, is somewhere well below any humans on this particular list. We are starting to run to the shortfalls of that as a concept. That’s something I think you talk to any ecological scientist who are deep in grief. They are like “Yeah, no, this is totally not working.”
Shaun Chamberlain: Yeah.
Chris Martenson: And I think increasingly average people who maybe spend less time focusing on that are beginning to be aware that something is amiss. Here is a way that I noticed this that seems to catch people. I was born in 1962 and during our summer trips, we would get in the family station wagon and we would drive from Connecticut to Upstate New York, where my family had a summer place. Every time we stopped for gasoline, you would have to get out and clean the windshield off because it was just smeared with bugs. Otherwise, you couldn’t see.
Shaun Chamberlain: Right.
Chris Martenson: I can make that drive now and not get a single bug in August on the windshield, right. Whether I am consciously aware of that or not, somebody of my age is aware of something really profound that is shifting that feels really primal. I might not be aware.
Shaun Chamberlain: Yeah, I think there is a book out at the moment called The Moth Snowstorm by Mike McCarthy, which is yeah, based on that exact thing, yeah.
Chris Martenson: Right, and so I am wondering in this reformation of economic principles that the economy has always sort of been cast as the primary thing. Everything else is sort of secondary or a subset of that. David’s work, how does the economy begin to go more into say the biophysical economics sphere which sort of says no, no, the economy is actually a subset of other intact functioning systems? If those are good, the economy can be good. If those fail, it will fail or where does he place the economy in human endeavors?
Shaun Chamberlain: Well, no, yeah, he is absolutely saying that what we first need to care about is the wellbeing of the system in which we exist, which is the ecology, which is dire, which is whatever name you want to call that. As you said, one of the absolute fundamental flaws in our current economic system is that it has no sense of being a subset of the ecological system whatsoever. Lean Logic in particular full work goes into great detail into the kind of ecological and systems thinking basis on which we can build an economy which has a future. One of the more surprising things, I think, in his books, is that he talks about this concept of intentional waste which seems to be sort of contrary to what everyone thinks of us as sensible economic management. But he points out there is an important difference between your foundation capital and your growth capital. The foundation capital, which is, for example, the wellbeing of the ecology, you absolutely need to conserve. But growth capital, if you keep accumulating it and preserving it and accumulating it and preserving it, then that is the kind of economic growth which ultimately destroys the system that it’s expanding from. So whether by instinct or understanding or accident, historically, former societies have devised all sorts of ways of getting rid of this excess whether that is these sort of competitive potlatch ceremonies of mutually assured destruction or the idea that the people who acquire the highest status in society are the ones how give away the most, rather than the ones who accumulate the most, and I think that is something that is really a challenging aspect of David Fleming’s economics for a lot of people is this idea that actually we need to rediscover the principles of intentional waste of growth capital.
Chris Martenson: Intentional waste of growth capital, interesting. Now, I was taken by a quote that Rob Hopkins had chosen to put into the forward. That quote from David is “Localization stands at best at the limits of practical possibility, but it has the decisive argument in its favor that there is no alternative.” So, what I take from that is he is like look, this localization thing, at best, it will sort of work, but the jury is still out on whether that’s a possibility or not, but there really is no alternative. So, I am getting a sense of a man who has peered into the future and said this just doesn’t work. There is no path to sustaining ourselves by other means, as we have organized ourselves. This direction we are headed really has no future. Is that fair?
Shaun Chamberlain: Absolutely. I mean the entry in this dictionary on globalization begins by defining it as a brief anomaly. He says, “This short lived model of connectedness and incoherence will not outlive the conditions of cheap and abundant energy on which it depends.” So yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think at this point, it might be worth doing a little reading from Surviving the Future, which I think might give a good sense of his overall vision in that way.
Chris Martenson: Fantastic. Please do.
Shaun Chamberlain: “The great transformation has already happened. It was the revolution in politics, economics, and society that came with the market economy and which hit its stride in Britain in the late Eighteenth century. Most of human history has been bred, fed, and watered by another sort of economy, but the market has replaced as far as possible the social capital of reciprocal obligation, loyalties, authority structures, culture, and traditions with exchange, price, and the impersonal principles of economics. The market’s achievements and answers sound authoritative and final, but what is truly most significant about them is how naïve they are. If the flow income fails, the powerfully bonding combination of money and self-interest will no longer be available in its present, all embracing scale, and perhaps not at all. It must inevitably fail as the markets talk competitive demands ever increasing productivity and thus relies on the impossibility of perpetual growth. In the meantime, the reduction of society and culture to depend on some mathematical abstraction has infantilized the grown up civilization and is well on the way to destroying it. Civilizations self-destruct anyway, but it is reasonable to ask whether they have done so before with such enthusiasm and obedience to such an acutely absurd superstition while claiming with such insistence that they were beyond being seduced by the irrational promises of religion. Every civilization has had its irrational, but reassuring myth. Previous civilizations have used their culture to sing about it and tell stories about it. Ours has used its mathematics to prove it. Yet, when that relatively short lived market society is gone, we will miss its essential simplicity, its price mechanisms, its stabilizing properties, its impersonal exchange, the comforts it delivers to many and the freedoms it underwrites. Its failure will be destructive. The end is in sight. During the early decades of the century, the market will lose its magic. It is the aim of Lean Logic to suggest some principles for repairing or replacing the atrophied social structures on which most human cultures were built as the basis for a cohesive society that might survive the turbulent times to come.”
Chris Martenson: Brilliant. What a concise summary. The questions that spring up, I think at any point in time when you are saying, “Well, this system is, really isn’t working, I am wondering here, are the three questions that I challenge people with at seminars. Say look, you have finally come to this conclusion that all of this will kind of be changing, whether you agree to that or not. So your three questions boil down to this. What things are you going to stop doing right away? So, there might be some things in your own personal narrative in life that you say “Oh, this doesn’t make sense anymore.” Right, commuting two hours or something, or however you want to put that. So what do you stop doing? Right, that’s question one. Question two: what brand new things are you going to need to entertain doing? But then the center asks, at probably 80 percent of it is well, what things are we going to keep doing?
Shaun Chamberlain: Right.
Chris Martenson: Because humans are going to keep wanting to have children and enjoy themselves and make music and have fun and find deeper meaning and all of that. That’s still true. So, I am wondering in that context of what do you start, what do you stop, what do you keep doing, where does this work in Surviving the Future fall? Is it saying we have to really blow this up and start almost entirely over, or is this really getting at that sense of we have to jettison some things and bring on some new things?
Shaun Chamberlain: Well, I am putting in mind of actually of a line from the Rice Jeremy legate who read the book and said that it’s less about what we stand to lose and more about what we have lost already and stand to regain if we do things right. So, I think in many ways, as in that excerpt that I just read, that it was talking about a lot of the stuff that we have already stopped doing. The very transformation has already happened. We have already lost so much of our social capital, of our community integration, of our culture, of the joys of convivial living become much more atomized and much more separate. So in a way, I think we need to stop stopping doing those things. We need to restart and rediscover many of those things.
Of course, what’s quite notable is that the market economy has, as far as possible, replaced the informal economy. So loads of things that we would never dream of paying someone for, we now pay someone. So rather, maybe you are bereaved or rather than talking to your friends, you talk to a paid counselor, for example. The market economy has pushed and pushed in and yet still the core of our economy, the thing that keeps everything going, is still the informal economy. It’s still families that raise children, that teach language, that teach the basic skills of being a person. You know there is the story told about a father giving a bill to their child at the age of 18 of all that it has cost to raise them over that time. We would never dream of doing that.
So it’s still the informal economy that is the basis. That is what we are going to keep doing, I think, is being human actually in a way that the market has tried very hard to steal from us. I think it’s that sense of human cultural well being that we need to both keep doing and build and recover and rediscover.
I think what has been a real guiding principle for me over the last ten years is this idea of resilience. The thing about resilience is it’s not let’s predict the future the best we can and then adapt to that. It’s let’s adopt the course of action which makes sense across the widest possible range of possible futures. I, for quite a long time now haven’t been able to find motivation for courses of action unless they make sense in both a collapse and a non-collapse scenario, if you like. So trying to reduce the emissions of some industrial process, I have no interest in that because in a collapse scenario, that doesn’t really get us anywhere. But rebuilding community and culture, while that makes our lives better today and our current way of being, but it also provides in what I see as the more likely collapse scenarios, it provides an informal economy to catch us, when the formal economy stops holding us in the way that we have become used to in recent centuries, I suppose. What is really exciting about that, for me, is that it’s not me or David Fleming or anyone else having some brilliant new idea. It’s actually just based on what historically has supported humankind throughout the whole of history, up to a couple of hundred years ago, really. So basically, it’s just recovering what we lost during that brief anomaly of globalization.
Chris Martenson: Well, I completely agree. Everybody who gets into this business of wanting to share the troubles with the world and starts with data rapidly discovers that data has no bearing on the conversation whatsoever.
Shaun Chamberlain: Right.
Chris Martenson: Ultimately, people change because their belief systems get altered. Now, we have biology telling us that that’s an energy expensive proposition. So evolution has said do that sparingly, if ever, right. So there is sort of this inertia, this barrier to activation that we all have to sort of climb over. The energy of our times is that the narrative is, the mythology is starting to crumble. Boy, that is going to be an expensive proposition. I totally agree with David. We are going to lose a lot. We are going to look back wistfully at some point and say “Man, that was easy and tasty and wonderful. Why didn’t I use all of that free time I had more elegantly, because I wish I had that back. That’s amazing.”
Shaun Chamberlain: Yeah, I spoke to a chemist once. He said, “You have no idea how beautiful hydrocarbons are chemically, the things we can do with them chemically.” People are going to look back and go “What, we burned those?”
Chris Martenson: We burned them. [Laughs]
Shaun Chamberlain: [Laughs]
Chris Martenson: Right, great grandchildren unborn are going to say you liquefied natural gas. That’s what you chose to do with it? You chose to take 25 percent of its resident energy to turn it from a gas to a liquid. You didn’t build anything with it. So you could ship it for a few extra bucks. Really? Genius. Just genius, you guys.
Shaun Chamberlain: We have got an agricultural system that is based on basically turning oil into food. And now we are learning how to turn food into oil. It’s just madness.
Chris Martenson: And on and on. So my question then comes to this point of saying look there is the data, but if the data doesn’t really lead to change, how do we get to change? In my own career, I have had to really now wonder heavily over into the fields of psychology and marketing and behavioral psychology and particularly behavioral economies and other places that don’t start with any illogical presumption that humans are rational creatures, but say yeah, we kind of this amygdala with a little something wrapped around it that we like to call free will, but it really isn’t if you study it for the most part.
Shaun Chamberlain: Yeah.
Chris Martenson: So, given that we are these organisms and that we are behaving in many respects just like any other organism that found a big vat of sugar and decided to have at it, what really is in your experience so far, whether your own personal or through your connection with Mr. Fleming, that talks about how we begin to make this transition maybe not from a material standpoint. I have got a garden. I have got or even a social standpoint which I have got deeper relationships, but from that emotional standpoint of altering from mythology viewpoint A to what is sure to be someday proven to be mythology B, but knowing we have to transition from one way of thinking to another. How do we go about doing that?
Shaun Chamberlain: Yeah, I mean I guess there are two questions. One is how do we do it ourselves? The other is how do you help encourage others to do that?
Chris Martenson: Yeah.
Shaun Chamberlain: And in many ways, the one technique that I found that works for both of those is just gently highlighting, whether it’s to yourself or to someone else, the contradictions in our positions, because we all have them. We absolutely all have them. I mean, there is one full line in David’s work where he talks about hypocrisy. He says, “Hypocrisy is a good thing in a bad name in many ways because it would be troubling if someone’s ideals weren’t better than the way they lived, not just the contradiction. If you are talking someone else or writing someone else, gently pointing out there are contradictions and then leaving them alone and letting them mull them over. Because if you push someone and just say that’s a contradiction, then they are just going to get defensive and they are going to push back. Then you are not going to get anywhere.
What I have found personally is that when I start exploring those contradictions, it very often goes to a very dark place, because we are living in a situation where the whole society and culture that we grew up in is heading for the bunkers. So, all of the things that we have learned to rely on, all of the things that seemed like certainties in our childhood, are crumbling. That is just inherently deeply emotionally challenging to face. So I see it all the time. If you get to see environmentalists in a room, the conversation will always be the same. You will have one of them saying there is no point in acting unless we have radical change and revolution, because without that, we are just addressing symptoms and not real problems. The other person will be saying “Well, there is no time for that.” It’s like we are overwhelmingly urgent. We just have to act within the frameworks we have got now. I have heard this conversation hundreds of times in all sorts of different contexts. The reason there is a fairly ready result is because they are both right. We do need radical change and there probably isn’t time for it.
So, it’s really hard for them to acknowledge that or for any of us to acknowledge that, because if it is too late, where does that leave us? Just despair; giving up. What use is that? What’s really important to do in those situations, I think, is not immediately jump to an answer, but live with the questions that we have and let them settle in us, because we can often forget that sustainability is a temporary construct. As you said, we are all going to die ultimately. The sun is going to burn out ultimately, so life on earth isn’t. Sustainability is actually always going to be a temporary state of being. So if we make that our aim, we are always going to fail ultimately. So this kind of awful experience in adults that people talk about with sitting with something that you deeply care about and deeply value, and recognizing that maybe you can’t save it, but maybe I can’t make civilization sustainable. Maybe I can’t, I don’t know, save that species that is going extinct or save that person who is dying whom I love. That thought, there is no way anyone can do it for you. But what I can say is having absolutely being there myself, it doesn’t end you if you can sit with the pain and not distract yourself by working incredibly hard or by denial or by argument, but just sit with the thing that feels true, even though you don’t want it to, then there comes a day on the other side of that where you wake up and you go “wait. So I am still here. That kind of dark didn’t end me. Now I have to decide what to do in the context where that thing is true that I have been denying my whole life.”
Actually, that is kind of a good feeling, because it’s incredibly draining denying that all the time. They are living a life which you know is based on contradictions, but you can’t bear to look at them. It’s an incredibly exhausting thing, actually. So the experience of waking up one day and going okay, that’s awful, but it’s true and I have admitted that it’s true and now I can decide what I am going to do in that context, that I think is the only hope that we really have is that more and more people go through that process and kind of crack it open and deciding who they want to be in that horrible story they want to tell with their lives in that context. As I said, the only technique I have found that helps people to get there and helps me to get there is just gently pointing out, well, hang on, we believe that, but you also value this. How do those fit together? Then leading them to have that experience.
Chris Martenson: I completely agree and resonate with a lot of that. My own dark nights of the soul are things that I don’t think I would have ever willingly chosen to go into, but now I count them among the greatest blessings of my life. I live in a culture that doesn’t really have a good support system for this. It says that grieving is something to be done briefly, if at all, and we have got pills for it if it takes too long.
Shaun Chamberlain: Yeah, right.
Chris Martenson: In this podcast with Steven Jenkins that I have already referenced before, he talked about grieving as a skill. It’s not something you do. It’s not an event. It’s a skill. Grieving itself is just another reflection of this idea of being able to sit with these troubled times. A really great podcast I will now direct people to is with Charles Eisenstein and I think the title pretty much captures the whole thing perfectly. He calls it the Fertile Ground of Bewilderment. That we are in this time where you say I can’t go on, meaning there is no solution. There is no solution because we are not facing a problem. We are in predicament time. So what do you do as an adult when you are faced with a predicament? Well, you do as best you can. You are with it. So first time I ever I said this. I was talking with—I speak at a lot of wealth conferences. I was speaking with a guy who resonated with my message. He is very on board and clearly is in a position to help. He asked me flat out, “Chris, how can I help you?” For the first time in my life, I said, “I don’t know.” You know, I should know, right. I am the guy working on this stuff. I should have this here you go. Slot right in. Here is a role.” I just don’t know because I am in the I don’t know stage of this story. I knew more three years ago. I don’t know as much anymore. So that’s a really—because you raised this. This is a really powerful place to be, because it means somewhat surrendering to the creativity of the moment. It’s a very different thing from the not knowing is more powerful than the knowing at certain times. That’s really what is coming up. I am fascinated to see the degree to which people are beginning to inhabit that territory.
Shaun Chamberlain: Absolutely, I think we need to honor those times. I was talking before about Hollywood stories. We don’t really see that. Like at best, you get a montage of not knowing which lasts about five seconds. Then something we don’t know and then off we go.
Chris Martenson: Yeah.
Shaun Chamberlain: That I love the phrase the fertile void. That’s something that I really value. I don’t know where to go. I don’t know what to do. So what I need to do is slow down, create some space, and let things come into that. It is funny that you mentioned breathing, because David Fleming is one of the closest friends I ever had. He died very suddenly at the end of 2010. He was in perfectly good health. Then he went to visit some friends in Amsterdam and he went to sleep one night and he didn’t wake up. It was a complete shock. In fact, we had just coauthored that parliamentary report you mentioned, and it was due out a month later. That was a hugely difficult thing to then decide; okay I need to get this report out. That’s what he would have wanted. So I am going to put my grief on hold for a bit and then get this done. Then three weeks after David died, my fiancé died, equally suddenly.
Chris Martenson: Oh, I am so sorry.
Shaun Chamberlain: So, this is ten years ago now. It was a hell of a time. A lot of people say a lot of things to you when you are grieving that don’t seem to mean much. I mean, I always thought condolences were one of these words that it exists just because we don’t know what to say. So we created a word to put in places of our not knowing what to say. One person said something to me that really helped. They said the best thing you can do for someone you love who dies is to keep alive what was best in them in the world. That really just yeah, I thought, now that sounds like a way of honoring these people. At that time, I couldn’t really motivate myself to do anything that except honoring them. In the case of David, it was really clear that the best way that I could honor and keep alive what was best in him in the world was to get his life’s work published. So in many ways now, I am at the point of kind of closing that. That circle of feeling like my—I don’t think grieving ever ends. I don’t think relationships ever end even after death, to be honest. But it feels like my relationship with David, I have found a good place to sit in, but I am very much in that kind of fertile void place now with so okay, what. Now that I have closed that circle, what’s my next chapter going to look like? But actually, one of the things that was really helpful is that David himself writes about this very question in Lean Logic. So, it was very interesting to read him almost speaking to me about how to deal with his own death or maybe I will read that perhaps as a closing for our conversation.
Chris Martenson: Please do.
Shaun Chamberlain: So, this is the entry from the dictionary of the future on success. “Do you really think that we will get through the climacteric and come in due course to a time of resilience, manners, and harmonic order? Don’t answer that question, for you may discover to your cost that your answer is either a self-fulfilling or a self-denying truth and they both count against us. If we deny that there is a livable future, than we will do little to secure one. If we affirm it, we come into other trouble, such as complacency, optimistic view that what we are doing now is all that is needed, an iconic focus on a simple solution or the constant anxiety of life on the edge between hope and doubt. Positive thinking seems to be the right thing in the circumstances, until you notice the wreckage. Instead, think of what happened to Orpheus and Eurydice. Eurydice, you may remember, died after having been bitten by a snake and Orpheus went down into the Underworld to recover her. The Goddess Persephone agreed to let her go on the condition that Orpheus did not look back at her while she followed him. Unfortunately, he forgot about this condition. He did look back with the result that Eurydice vanished forever and Orpheus was torn to pieces by angry women who threw his head into the river Hebron where it floated downstream, still singing. That is making the intense commitment at walking pace, plug on, and climb steeply uphill out of the Underworld. Keep your eyes fixed ahead. You never know. You might get there. You might even find out where there is. You might inspire others to come with you. Just don’t look back. We do not need to choose between hope and expectation. What matters is to keep hope alive, which we won’t succeed in doing if we are constantly checking up on it. It is not certainty that sustains our focus, but the ambiguity that comes to us, for instance, in the prayer from another ancient moment of commitment against the odds. Lord, I believe. Help thou, mine unbelief.”
Which I guess, yeah, ties in with the different tenses in which people mean and use the word hope.
Chris Martenson: Absolutely. A beautiful passage. Thank you for reading that. It really ties in with everything we have been talking about. So I am going to, again, recommend that people get a copy of Surviving the Future: Culture, Carnival, and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy because we are dealing with the synthesized work of a man who clearly spent a lot of time reading, synthesizing, understanding, tying it all together, and really, I think speaking to the deeper mystery of what it means to be alive today, which I think at first pass has a sort of a dark element for people, which is like oh shoot. But the invitation on the back side of that is this is also one of the most exhilarating times to be alive, because everything is going to be rewritten. So you can be part of that writing and so that’s an invitation to actually step into your gifts as a human during your brief mayfly existence here. So, that’s how I receive it.
Shaun Chamberlain: I will mention as well, we are running a course at Schumacher College for those listeners in the U.K., in early February the 6th through the 10th, on David Fleming’s work, which is called Community, Place, and Play: a Post Market Economics. So, there will be absolutely trying to write some of those pages that need to be rewritten.
Chris Martenson: Well, fantastic. So if people wanted to find that and also follow your work more closely, where would they do that?
Shaun Chamberlain: So my work is on DarkOptimism.org, shumauchercollege.org.uk, and you click through there to their short courses. Also, I am on flickr and Facebook under darkoptimism, and you can find me there. David Fleming's work is the FlemingPolicyCentre.uk.
Chris Martenson: Well, thank you for those links. We’ll have them, as well, at the bottom of this podcast at our web site. If you are listening to this through this web site, just scroll down. If you are listening to this elsewhere, say on YouTube or another web site, then wander on over to Peak Prosperity. Look under featured voices. You will see this interview with Shaun Chamberlain.
Shaun, thank you so much for your time today.
Shaun Chamberlain: Thank you, Chris. It’s been, yeah, it’s been worthwhile.