Isabelle Drury – SUBSTACK

When everything that is wrong in the world, is because of everything wrong in the world.

When I feel particularly doomy about the current state of the world, I find myself looking backwards to try to figure out the ‘root’ of the issues we find ourselves in today. 

The climate crisis, consumerism, individualism, capitalism, the enclosures, on and on I follow the thread until I discover that X happens because of Y, and Y happens because of Z, until we’re back to the original sin, the beginnings of agricultural society, or when we made the great decision to grow legs and crawl out of the ocean. When I realise everything that is wrong in the world, is because of everything wrong in the world. 

Humans, are we the problem? 

I’ve never been one for nihilism or the belief that we’re inherently bad, but it’s easy to emerge yourself in this view, to believe we’re the problem, when we teeter on 1.5° warming, face intense natural disasters, and experience extreme heat, all caused by, you guessed it, humans.

When everything and everyone around us seems to be perpetuating the problem, it’s easy to begin to look to ancient ways of living to try to find some balance. This brings people to lots of different avenues, though a recent one I’ve been seeing discussed is primitivism. 

Primitivists believe the default state for humans is hunting and gathering in a wild world, and that almost everything that has happened since the development of agriculture has been our downfall, though I am simplifying here. People often look for an existing way of living to cling onto, to solve the problems we face and to put everything back into order.

And it’s easy to romanticise this–I definitely do–but I’m pulled back to reality when I look around my friends and acquaintances and realise that none of them could butcher a deer (not that would my vegan heart want them to) or live in constantly migrating packs. And I think I would really miss iced lattes. 

I know, in the grand scheme of things, of the pending climate doom, it’s crass to be thinking about iced lattes, but after years of modern living, it’s undeniable that most of us, in the nicest possible way, have gone soft.

This is where the problem lies–we can’t go back. Once we realised the promise of air conditioning and regular meals, we dug in. You’re going to have to pry these comforts out of our regularly fed and comfortably temperatured hands.

I was born a little before the turn of the century, and from a Global North viewpoint, I have lived a lower-footprint lifestyle, but from a Global South perspective, my footprint is pretty big. It is easy to believe that I am the problem, that we are the problem. We are causing all the issues that are potentially killing us. 

And because of some mystical reason–or randomised genetic code–you and I are both alive at the (potential) end of the world. (Well, it had to be somebody, eh?)

Saying “WTF am I meant to do?” when it comes to all our issues feels a bit cheap because I could technically go live in the woods. We could all join a hunter-gatherer community and abandon society as we know it altogether. 

I would love to live in a lovely little commune myself but, unfortunately, most of the people I love don’t want to leave this way of life–and I don’t want to leave my iced lattes. Joking. 

When we are faced with the task of convincing everyone that in our new way of living–however much better for the planet it may be–we will have to fight for our food, fight to stay warm, fight to survive, we’re gonna struggle to make them do the work. 

Because we will have to work hard, we will all have to get involved, get our hands dirty, and do the work if we are to get ourselves out of the crisis we find ourselves in. But, I feel like primitivists and the like are guilty of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, it’s about taking the good parts of the world we have created and using these to help form our new future.

As a society, it’s clear we need to learn from our past mistakes to understand the route we take into the future, though there are only so many times you can be told you–humans–are the problem before we drown in hopelessness. We are entrusted with the almost impossible task of learning from the previous horrors of humanity to understand how we might create a more balanced future.

Almost impossible, because the molecule of belief we have to hold to do this task is that humans do exist for a reason. The belief that humans are in a symbiotic relationship with the Earth, that we live a mutualistic existence with those around us, that we are not a blight, we are just out of balance. 

No matter how soothing or uncomfortable you find primitivist concepts, it’s undeniable that it’s pretty much impossible to go backwards, so the question instead must be: what’s worth carrying on

What do we want to carry into the new world, and what will we leave behind? We will KonMari every aspect of our society, to truly examine our preconceived notions and consider whether they’re worth carrying on. 

Some concepts will be easy–discrimination and inequality will be thrown into the discard pile, I quite like modern dentistry–but others will have to be carefully examined for us to understand whether they will truly serve us as we move forward into our new world. 

This concept is difficult to face sometimes. Staring into the unknown is scary. There is not a clear path ahead and we are not taking a previously existing concept and modifying it for our new way of living. It’s about creating a completely new way forward, using all of the things that have gotten us to the place we find ourselves today.

I believe this is where a bit of utopian imagining can be helpful. What world do we really want to live in? What could it look like? 

P.S. If you enjoy my writing, you can buy me a coffee to fuel my work.

Know anyone feeling particularly nihilist? Share this with them to perk ‘em up a bit.


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