The 2023 NENA Conference, Canberra
Life After Capitalism
Organised by the New Economy Network Australia, led by Michelle Moloney of the Australian Earth Laws Alliance, this conference brought together a wide variety of organisations and ‘experts’ engaged in developing local and global solutions to the ‘meta crisis’ – the intersecting and cascading consequences of climate change, growing wealth inequality and loss of social cohesion and trust in governments and institutions, environmental degradation, and a rising mental health epidemic of anxiety and depression, even in affluent societies like Australia.
With a wonderfully rich Welcome to Country from Uncle Wally, inspirational presentations included: First Nations speakers, Dr Mary Graham and Professor Yin Paradies; global leaders such as Katherine Trebeck of WEALL (Wellbeing Alliance), Donnie McClurcan of the Post Growth Institute, and Rob Dietz of the Post Carbon Institute. The menu of offerings at the conference was rich and I only got the opportunity to draw inspiration from a few: such people as Scotty Foster of Canberra Radio 2XXX, Producer and Host of ‘Behind the Lines’, Andrew Skeoch’s work on deep listening to nature, Keith Sharma’s facilitation of ‘Wet Data’ and Catherine van Wilgenburg, from Gippsland-based Living Colour Studio, on ‘Putting Country First’.
I particularly loved Professor Paradies’ advice:
Make more-than-human communities on Country (land, water, air, plants, people, animals, stories, songs and feelings etc), as they exist in flowing mixing merging waves of resonating place-time.
A Slide from Professor Paradies Presentation
My own presentation on The Three Pillars of Regenesis, based on my book, The Regenesis Journey, was received by a packed audience of engaged listeners and I managed to sell quite a few of my books. Many thanks to Virginia Francken from our GBMCAN leadership team, who came with me to the conference.
Creating a Mycelium Network of Creative Praxis
The core idea I came away with from the conference was that any way forward in shaping life after capitalism will come from the organic growth of local like-minded initiatives that can be linked up into a mycelium-like network of learning, caring and activation that is both local and global. Just as fungi creates an interconnected world of biological thriving through its mycelium network in the soil beneath our feet, so our own creative work can weave a mycelium-like network of creative praxis, whereby theories and ideas are born and grow organically, some thriving and spreading, others small and some needing to find different directions.
The way forward for we creative practitioners is to find and capture other such incipient/emergent mycelium networks – local and global, by linking up with them. Then we need to brand it with an illustrative meme, eg ‘mycelium network of creative praxis’, and activate this development through connection, ideas sharing and projects on the ground that talk to local communities, feeding and nurturing our body, speech, minds and spirits as we witness, with awareness and compassion, the decay and unravelling of modernity around us. This is not going to be easy.
The Great Unravelling
The seemingly solid structures of urban industry, businesses and dwellings lifestyle, along with their footpaths and freeways, are yet beginning to be eaten away within by a ‘concrete cancer’ (climate change, wealth inequality, environmental degradation, militarisation, mental health crisis of anxiety and depression). This feeds a growing sense of unease, anxiety and uncertainty that is widespread, leading to fractious politics and communities.
I agree with Vanessa de Oliveira (Hospicing Modernity, 2021) that the whole scientific-materialist-rationalist-extractivist framework of modernity, which stretches from the Scientific and Industrial Revolution of the 18th century through to late global techno-capitalism in our current times, is in a state of collapse/unravelling. We ricochet between fantasies of the Tech-Bros of Platform Capitalism, colonising Mars and pioneering space tourism, the survivalist strategies of armed desperados, and the ‘tech-fix’ illusions of our so-called experts.
The Rage Response
A lot of contemporary politics/policy is raging against this (Far Right ethno-nationalism, manosphere misogyny etc, sexualised violence against women). Witness recent riots in Dublin against refugees and asylum seekers, or the stunning election win by far right Dutch politician, Gert Wilders, in a country famous for its tolerance. All agree that these developments are a direct result of the increasing growth of wealth inequality that has trapped working class ‘whites’ and and the young in declining standards of living, insecure housing and insecure work. For them, the old middle class promise of rising affluence is dead, neutered by greed.
Against this trend, hospitality to the ‘foreigner’ from abroad is wearing very thin, and resentment is turning to rage – not at the wealthy elite, but at the equally desperate asylum seekers and refugees. This is similar to the phenomenon of ‘lateral violence’ where the marginalised turn on one another, rather than confront the all powerful true ‘enemy’ and cause of their misery. Similar tensions inform the rise and persistence of rude and vulgar Trump as a performative champion of ‘true Americans’, despite his real advocacy for the elite uber-rich who are their true ‘enemies’.
The Fix it Response
Meanwhile reformist liberal democracies like ours are trying to plug the dyke/plaster the cracks with things like shifts to renewable energy, circular economy-style industrial production and better nature conservation etc, while still pursuing a growth-productivity strategy that continues high levels of consumerism that is the engine of capitalism and modernity. They are too strangled by the politics of special interests, populist anger, and media enabled political wedging and opportunism, to even begin to challenge this paradigm of conventional economic wisdom.
This whole modernity framework rests on the hegemonic globalised Western knowledge system that has shaped our education and research sectors, along with business and political institutions, and much of the commercialisation of the creative sector. This knowledge system is now being challenged by the post-colonial warrior scholars of relationist First Nations knowledge systems, which have retained an altogether different worldview; one in which humans are part of natural systems, not in charge over them. And where wisdom, not cleverness is celebrated.
New Shoots in the Cracks and Crevices
Meanwhile in the cracks and crevices of the unravelling structures of modernity, new green shoots are growing. We can take inspiration from the words of Bayo Akomolafe:
What I feel called to do to along with others is to trace out theoretical breaks or “cracks” that allow us to extricate ourselves from the stranglehold of the familiar. . . The practice of creating the nurturing conditions for the imperceptible to blossom.
The ruins of the familiar are all around us, rising in the dust of chaos. But lively worlds, unheard sounds, illegible futures, and new practices thrive liminally in the ruins, zigzagging with the breaks, crackling with potential, threatening to be actual…
Some new shoots offer nurturing promise. Some are noxious weeds (dark web/scams, trolling, terrorism, tech fantasies).
Here in Australia, as yet, we are avoiding the worst of the noxious weeds, and meanwhile there are lots of local initiatives connected to cooperatives, de-growth, post growth, community focused agriculture, eco-villages etc, and community arts groups such as climarte, cultural gardeners etc, plus the whole re-wilding movement about reconnecting with the natural world.
In particular, we can draw on the millennia old First Nations knowledge system and its unabashed eco-spirituality encoded as Caring for Country. In my own local area of the Blue Mountains, our local council has adopted the Planetary Health Initiative, along with its Statement of Recognition and Commitment of Indigenous Knowledges, as a guiding framework, recognising that First Nations people, through their resilience, wisdom and tenacity, have endured and survived the traumatic process of being colonised for over two centuries through heroic resistance, survival, reawakening and reclamation of their rich inheritance of an unbroken and timeless connection to Country (Ngurra).
Regenesis through the Arts
Where do the arts fit into this growing ecology of creative praxis – particularly for non-Indigenous folk, the 75% of Australia’s population who are of Anglo-European cultural background, and the 21% from non-Western cultural backgrounds? I see GBMCAN as part of this — growing a ‘mycelium of creative praxis’ that is helping creative artists of all genres respond to the meta crisis in meaningful ways.
For me the model is the role of the arts in the Songlines that kept First Nations knowledge systems alive across millennia, integrating practical life knowledge (food, shelter, health, family) with ecological systems awareness and the deep spiritual wisdom of Ancestral Law. As Uncle Wally explained in his Welcome to Country, the earth beneath our feet is not just nurtured by the humus of biological decay, but by the body-spirits of our ancestral elders who have gone before us. We all must die, and in so doing, we return to the earth.
What we non-Indigenous folk are being called to do, is to re-imagine living in a world that is thoroughly animated and governed by this ancient cyclic Law of ecological systems thinking on multiple levels. So, we must now create the possibilities for a world governed by these Earth Laws, singing it, dancing it, painting and sculpting it, storying it etc, as we go on this journey. It’s a journey that I call ‘regenesis’.
Meeting the Bowerbird Collective
This learning was further enriched for me on 23 November by attending the opening night performance of ‘Life on Land’s Edge’, which formed part of the Lyrebird Festival in Megalong Valley, organised and directed by the Bowerbird Collective (Anthony Albrecht and Simone Slattery). I was completely mesmerised by their combination of sublime cello with violin, moving video images of shore birds and lyrical text about the life and plight of these extraordinary migratory birds that bind the world in an invisible (to human sight) network of huge migratory high-altitude journeys. The musical works included two original compositions by Simone Slattery, ‘Invisible Connections’ and ‘The Godwit and Curlew’ (2020).
Bower Bird Collective’s mission is to link the arts with the natural world, and they did this at this performance by helping us tap into a new sensibility that perfectly encapsulates our re-imagining ourselves as one with the natural world. It is so wonderful to find out they have recently moved to live in Blackheath.
From the Album: Life on Land’s Edge
by Simone Slattery and Anthony Albrecht
Life on Land’s Edge is our ode to migratory shorebirds, one of the world’s most extraordinary, and most threatened, species groups. Every year, millions of these birds travel on vast migratory corridors, Flyways, between their breeding and feeding grounds. Our Flyway, the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, stretches from the tundra of Alaska and Siberia in the north, to the coastlines of Australia and New Zealand in the south. For shorebirds, who dwell beyond society’s awareness on overlooked tidal mudflats, at the edge of the land and the sea, migration is in their DNA. Some of these birds have broken records that defy the imagination, flying uninterrupted for more than 13,000km.
The music for Life on Land’s Edge comes from our live production, which tells the story of these awe-inspiring birds through scientific and traditional knowledge, poetry, soundscapes, music and imagery from across the Flyway. In partnership with Birdlife Australia, eight new Australian compositions were commissioned and then juxtaposed with works by Phillip glass, Dai Fujkura and Vivaldi. Life on Land’s Edge takes audiences on an epic journey, alongside migratory shorebirds as they connect continents and cultures: a musical and visual odyssey, and an uplifting call to action.
Circulation by Maggie Slattery
When I take to the sky and rise like music
the wind and my will
are almost each other, flowing through my wings
through light and dark
lifting me over the milky depths of oceans
the great valleys and rivers
where gravity and flight become one.
I am like the rain falling on the sea
turning back to itself, re-forming, continuing
Singer, what is this nervous joy
that connects us —
you, shore-bound, waiting for my return
to the edge of wetness?
Is it the sheer wonder of overwintering
when bird and flock rise as one
when the sky whirs with unwrapped wings?
You sing of my journey
season by season, from birth, dispersing
to nourishment, rejoining.
Together, we share an ageless pattern of return.
Without your songs
I will fall into salt, into the silence of forgetting.