Category Archives: Abyss Staring

Local Climate Strategies

Element Descriptor

Local climate policy is usually full of nice sounding words with no real delivery mechanisms behind it. Being able to understand that, and explain the causes, consequences and remedies for this emptiness is essential. If you can’t do all of that, succinctly, why are you even bothering? Seriously?

Level descriptors

NovicePractitionerExpertNinja
You know the recent history of climate policy, the headline goals and the current performance of your local authority. The big sources of carbon locally, what is – and could – be done about them. You understand the basic structure of the policymaking apparatusYou have a reasonable grasp on the entire history of climate policy making and (lack of ) implementation in your town/city. You can explain both the trail of broken promises and memory-holed documents, and also the reasons for these failures, and what could still, at this late stage, be done to make the response less inadequateYou have a thorough and detailed grasp of the entire sorry history of climate policy shiny promises, from the year dot. You know why each hype cycle came undone, and can see the patterns, and the influence of local political and policy factors, but also the influence of national and international factors. You know where the bodies are buried, and can spot a silence at fifty paces. You can anticipate what nonsense will be floated in the coming months, and explain why it is nonsense. You can’t change anything though, because this is, after all, Groundhog Day all over again…Your face graces a dartboard in the Town Hall, because of your history of being willing and able to call bullshit on whatever smoke and mirrors is being perpetrated now by officials and come-and-go political actors. You never have to look up a Three Letter Acronym, and you can see the path dependencies and lock-in of today- and tomorrow’s policies. You even, on your good days, can explain how other local authorities have done it better elsewhere for the same/less money.

Element Overview Essay

This is a draft. If something doesn’t make sense, or you see typos, or if you have further ideas, please email us on contact@activecitizenshiptoolkit.net

The causes of this being done badly is that climate policy has done badly: circular there isn’it? So the documents are out of date. They baffled you in bullshit. They deliberately neglect to mention that this is the third or fourth go round on this rodeo, and that nothing got done the last time, nothing’s gonna get done this time and there’s just an overwhelming stench of failure.

So you have to battle through the feel-good propaganda and the marketing campaigns because that’s mostly what local climate policy seems to be. If you don’t do that, you will be endlessly surprised. It will be Groundhog Day every day. And you run around playing “whack-a-mole”. exhausting yourself other people not seeing the Bigger, Longer patterns. Most councils will probably have a 20 plus year history of environment policy. Many of them got exercised 10 years ago, at the latest in the run up to Copenhagen.

This history has been memory-holed, but it can be retrieved. We have the internet, we have newspaper archives, the ability to track down and interview older councillors, activists.

So if you want to understand local climate policy, you’re going to need a historical overview, you’re going to need a theoretical overview that will probably be around placemaking and the sustainability fix and all of that good stuff. But at the same time that you understand climate policy, you’re really I can’t emphasise this enough. You are going to need other elements in the toolkit. You are going to need bureaucrats and their tactics, morale maintenance at an individual and collective level, and you’re going to need abyss-staring at expert or ninja level.

Because this really is the bleakest element that you can imagine. We can’t even get this right at a local level.

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Morale Maintenance (collective)

Element Descriptor

We all want the world to be a Much Better Place sooner rather than later. We want to play our part. BUT… If your group goes up like a rocket and down like a stick you demoralise not just its members, but other groups and individuals who were hoping/needing it to stick around. You need to be able to spot any patterns (and underlying causes) of over-ambition/under-delivery, the likelihood of burnout, its symptoms, how to care for yourselves and sustain your collective active citizenship.

Level descriptors

NovicePractitionerExpertNinja
Able to keep a sense of where individual and group morale is, anticipating peaks and troughs in response to predictable challenges to morale over time, and making suggestions to others about how morale can be maintainedAble to intervene to prevent individual and group troughs in morale becoming self-fulfilling/death spirals, choosing appropriate tools for discussion/action around the group’s identity, expectations and morale.Able to help others identify likely and possible threats to morale, and take effective and efficient counter-measures to prevent de-motivation. Able to work with diverse members of multiple groups simultaneously to cope with existing and persistent demoralising factors (be they external or internal).Able to work with others – both the hopeful and the pessimistic – in a group to pull a group out of a long-standing or sharp trajectory (circling the plughole) or, if it is necessary/unavoidable, to pull the plug in ways that makes future participation by individuals in social movement organisations more rather than less likely.

Element Overview Essay

This is a draft. If something doesn’t make sense, or you see typos, or if you have further ideas, please email us on contact@activecitizenshiptoolkit.net

The reason this is often done so badly is that people seem to think that their own morale is their own business. And other people need to square that shit away. And so they’re shut out for the greater good of the group. And there’s no real language and social norms around this. Groups will often or have started doing these, frankly idiotic and at best useless at worst counterproductive “check ins” but they’re not the same thing.

And it’s a individualistic response to a sociological problem. Obviously also the problem with collective morale maintenance is that you might all know that the problem for the morale at the moment is, you know, one individual who’s not pulling their weight, or is being hypercritical or sensibly critical but in the wrong ways at the wrong time, or that they’re demanding too much of themselves demanding too much of other people. Or it might just be that your group is on a hiding to nothing because you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. You’ve underestimated the strength and determination of your opponents. And you’ve overestimated the willingness to support you have other groups that you thought were your allies within the broader ecosystem. 

So this is a real can of worms. So no wonder people stay away from it. 

The consequences, of course, are that you don’t have the language and the structures to talk about maintaining collective morale, your collective morale is probably not going to be maintained. And low morale can be contagious. And this can lead to a very steep death spiral in a group.

 So, what is to be done? I think if you’re going to talk about the emotions in the group and the group’s sense of its own future, you need to do it regularly. You need to do it non-tokenistically, so there is time to discuss the emotions, their implications, and to come up with possible solutions. 

You need a couple of people within the group who are sensitive to this and are willing to stick their heads above the parapet occasionally and say, “Yeah, I know that we were going to talk about x today but I really feel from my sense of emails and conversations, that there are morale issues in this group that shouldn’t any longer be left, ignored or suppressed” and go from there.

See also abyss staring

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Morale Maintenance (individual)

Element Descriptor

We all want the world to be a Much Better Place sooner rather than later. We want to play our part. BUT… You are doing nobody any favours if you go up like a rocket and down like a stick in your involvement. You need to be able to spot any patterns (and underlying causes) of over-commitment/under-delivery, the likelihood of burnout, its symptoms, how to care for yourself and come out the other side.

Level descriptors

NovicePractitionerExpertNinja
Able to maintain own equanimity when dealing with a small number of stressful situations, but aware of your own triggers, and have only limited (e.g.) withdrawal ways of dealing with themAware of most/all of your own triggers and are able to use a variety of technique to deal with them, maintaining desired level of productivity and functionality, while tackling distressing situations and topics.Able to consistently model morale maintenance in most situations, keeping perspective and investigating new methods of helping yourself and others. Nothing much can get you down, ever, but that doesn’t mean you don’t care passionately.The abyss refuses to look into you, because it gets depressed. You are able to maintain morale in the face of multiple interlocking and escalating environmental crises (i.e. the 21st century) and personal car-crashes around broken relationships, friendships, money worries. The Dalai Lama texts you for chillax tips.

Element Overview Essay

This is a draft. If something doesn’t make sense, or you see typos, or if you have further ideas, please email us on contact@activecitizenshiptoolkit.net

There are many causes of people not maintaining their own morale. They may be coming with expectations that were too high, or they’re trying to stay in the “honeymoon phase” of it all being exciting and exhilarating and feeling like liberation. Well, you can’t stay in that honeymoon phase. Life doesn’t work like that.

People also maybe feel that they have no right to feel upset or depressed because most people in the world have it far harder than them don’t have clean water coming out of tap, don’t have functioning public infrastructure, don’t have formal freedoms around, you know, freedom of speech information assembly, live under a particularly repressive or stupid regime. Unfortunately, that’s most of the countries of the world at the minute, clearly. And therefore, they bite down on those feelings and think to themselves “got to just toughen up.” 

Consequences? If we don’t have individual morale, maintenance skills, and if we don’t have the language to talk about it, then again, we’re probably not going to maintain our individual morale and the consequences are the person will be less useful within a group

And low morale can easily be very contagious with other people who then think well, “if person x is giving up or is in a funk, then what’s chance has therefore, the broader group? I’m going to start to withdraw myself” and of course, they don’t necessarily articulate it as plainly as that, even to themselves

So, the solutions to the problem of ignoring individual morale maintenance, obviously, to bring it out into the light, to have a buddy who you can talk things through with either within your group or beyond your group to be conscious of the triggers that are currently setting you off. 

And those triggers change over time. disengaging from the news is a very popular way of sustaining personal morale – getting swept up in this daily shit show of incompetence and corruption and malice that is the official news. (Sometimes you wonder if it’s a psyop devised to keep you distracted and depressed.) 

And then to find out the things that actually reinvigorate you rejuvenate, you sustain you. And again, for many people, oddly, given the fact that we are animals, it’s being in, quote, nature, unquote. Yeah. And there’s a whole separate debate about social constructions of nature and nature, red in tooth and claw and what we mean by nature is actually controlled parks, and so forth for another time guys for another time. 

And then when you are feeling particularly down, and you do need to step back from High tempos of activity, being able to say that to the other people in your group and for them not to be judgmental or tasking or rolling their eyes, but just accepting of it and letting you take the time you need. 

Now, this is all great in theory I have never really I think, seen it in practice

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Dealing with despair/staring into the abyss

Element Descriptor

Worst case scenarios for climate change and ecological breakdown are truly dire, and thus far, humanity is making little headway in avoiding them. Facing up to these facts extracts a considerable mental toll; as Nietzsche said “if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” Recognising this in others and dealing with the consequences, whilst helping them to remain a functioning human / friend / parent / partner etc is not easy, but not impossible

Level descriptors

NovicePractitionerExpertNinja
Able to recognise symptoms of too much abyss staring and offer help or take simple actions to protect those around youYou are aware of which particular “parts of the abyss” are particularly hard for others, you have basic strategies to help them avoid theseYou have helped them to develop coping strategies for most parts of “the abyss” that your family / friends / colleagues encounter on a regular basis, and do not allow these to become reasons to avoid active citizenship or any other aspect of lifeYour advanced mental techniques mean no part of the abyss holds any long lasting fear for the people you support, yet they remain grounded as regards the seriousness of our predicament and the moral imperative to act

Element Overview Essay

This is a draft. If something doesn’t make sense, or you see typos, or if you have further ideas, please email us on contact@activecitizenshiptoolkit.net

The reason this is done badly, is that people step up to the Abyss they look in and instantly find ways to not look in. Whether that’s by turning their back or finding busy work that they can do right away, as per Rosemary Randall’s last video in her series of six. The other reasons are that, well, this is the abyss!. And this is despair. And we as individuals, often don’t have the tools for that. Or if we didn’t have the tools, we’ve forgotten how to use them. And there’s not a language that we can share with other people. Because we seem mad if we talk about these feelings.

The other reasons are that, well, this is the abyss!. And this is despair. And we as individuals, often don’t have the tools for that. Or if we didn’t have the tools, we’ve forgotten how to use them. And there’s not a language that we can share with other people. Because we seem mad if we talk about these feelings.

So, despair and abyss-staring at a personal level is never about you as a person. It is always about you finding other people, ideally ones who are further along on the journey because otherwise you’re just going to spiral each other into an even worse place. And it’s about understanding the seduction of urgent high-pitch action, even though Yes, this is an emergency and it’s understanding the psycho dynamics going on within yourself and the psycho-social dynamics going on around you. This sounds more difficult and complex than it actually is.

The reason groups are often bad at this is they don’t have the emotional literacy and or hinterland and or mix of experience in that group to cope with really quite overwhelming feelings. The Abyss is not a happy place, with unicorns and rainbows. It’s the abyss –  the clue is in the name.

The consequences are that a group can egg each of its members on, you get groupthink, where the most outlandish and outrageous views prevail because that’s the general direction with no one willing to say, “hang on, either a it’s not that bad yet or be even if it is. We’re not helping ourselves.”

The fixes are difficult. You need people in your group who can act like the control rods in a nuclear reactor, where they absorb some of the free particles that otherwise might bounce about, and cause a chain reaction. And of course, that is skilled work, emotionally exhausting, and can’t be done indefinitely by one person or two people.

At the level of collective abyss-staring, well, as with personal abyss-staring, you also need to be aware of the psycho-dynamics of what’s going on, within individuals, within a group and between groups and between the ecosystem of activism and green concern and the broader world. So you can’t look at climate despair and anxiety outside the context of coronavirus and in the UK austerity and Trump and so on. If you do, you’ll miss half of what is going on

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