Paul Kingsnorth on being a dark ecologist

I just finished an essay called “Dark Ecology” in Orion Magazine. This guy Paul Kingsnorth thinks pretty much the way I think. And the essay is particularly worth mentioning since I’ve just been blogging about the Neolithic, which, as Kingsnorth reminds us, was something of a wrong turn:

Hunter-gatherers living during the Paleolithic period, between 30,000 and 9,000 BCE, were on average taller—and thus, by implication, healthier—than any people since, including people living in late twentieth-century America. Their median life span was higher than at any period for the next six thousand years, and their health, as estimated by measuring the pelvic inlet depth of their skeletons, appears to have been better, again, than at any period since—including the present day. This collapse in individual well-being was likely due to the fact that settled agricultural life is physically harder and more disease-ridden than the life of a shifting hunter-gatherer community.

So much for progress. But why in this case, [Spencer] Wells asks, would any community move from hunting and gathering to agriculture? The answer seems to be: not because they wanted to, but because they had to. They had spelled the end of their hunting and gathering lifestyle by getting too good at it. They had killed off most of their prey and expanded their numbers beyond the point at which they could all survive. They had fallen into a progress trap.

Do read the rest. I especially agree with his five suggestions for how one might cope, what one might do. He sets it up this way:

If you don’t like any of this, but you know you can’t stop it, where does it leave you? The answer is that it leaves you with an obligation to be honest about where you are in history’s great cycle, and what you have the power to do and what you don’t. If you think you can magic us out of the progress trap with new ideas or new technologies, you are wasting your time. If you think that the usual “campaigning” behavior is going to work today where it didn’t work yesterday, you will be wasting your time. If you think the machine can be reformed, tamed, or defanged, you will be wasting your time. If you draw up a great big plan for a better world based on science and rational argument, you will be wasting your time. If you try to live in the past, you will be wasting your time. If you romanticize hunting and gathering or send bombs to computer store owners, you will be wasting your time.

And so I ask myself: what, at this moment in history, would not be a waste of my time?


  1. This is quite a compelling piece of writing, Dave. I remember reading something else a few years ago by Paul Kingsnorth and being quite moved by it. It’s not often I read something that so eloquently describes the way I see the times in which we find ourselves. His five suggestions are pretty much how we have attempted to live since our retirement in 2004. Although, I have to admit I’ve never used a scythe.


    1. Yes, I may have read that same essay — I remember being impressed by something from a very similarly minded British deep ecologist in Orion a little while back. I guess for me, herbal brewing is the rough equivalent of his scything.


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