I was delighted to be invited to speak at the QuaysCulture event in Salford in 26th October, 2013, on my developing project/book Radical Animal: Play, Ecology and Human Nature (see the back-up site).
Salford is an extraordinary waterfront complex - the stunning Liebeskind Imperial War Museum across the way, the BBC's Media City on the event's side of the water, a square full of elements-powered musical installations, and Manchester United's ground shimmering in the distance... A great setting for a great discussion and exchange. The presentation is below, all comments welcome.
A friendly young tv crew came to our flat in London today, and filmed me delivering this provocation to Channel 4 - solicited by my comrade Mark Earls, who's helping them think about the purpose of television over the next few decades. The question asked was:
Which - in your opinion - is the change in the world around us to which Channel 4 needs to pay most attention? And why?
And what - if any - are the implications for Channel 4?
Here was my answer (I'll post the video version when they send me it).
Pat Kane's provocation to Channel 4
The biggest issue exercising me at the moment is the clash between our hyperconsumerist selves and objective environmental limits.
At the moment it seems like a car crash between opposites:
There's a top down establishment consensus of scientists, environmentalists and politicians which sets scary targets for carbon levels in the atmosphere that we cannot surpass, or disaster looms...
... And this message rains down on a populace which has had its every niche desire answered by flexible capitalism, powerful marketing and endless credit for the last few decades, and is understandably resistant, losing themselves in escapist media.
A very pessimistic argument about human nature could be drawn from this process - that we cannot truly transform our attitudes, we can only be "nudged" or guided into good behaviour. Homer Simpson needing to be taken in hand by The Wise Elites.
I'd prefer that we focus on that part of human nature that joyfully responds to adaptive challenges - our playful nature.
If we move beyond our consumerist identities, what are the opportunities for ingenuity, for learning new skills, for developing new lifestyles, for finding pleasure in other people in new ways?
To me, that's the territory that a national media entity like Channel 4 completely occupies - the shaping cultural space between exhortation and desire. You have an opportunity and responsibility to draw out the joyful adaptor in people - offering them semiotic resources (scripts, tools, scenarios, images and networks) which can make the low-carbon society seem creative, fulfilling, absorbing and meaningful.
My direct question to you is: can that be done while your business model depends on super-fantastic car ads and sofa promotions between the shows, stoking up exactly the same kinds of escapism-through-positional-goods that caused the problem in the first place? Or in concert with the industry, will you have to also start rethinking entirely the very function and purpose of advertising itself? What kind of information about products and services should people have in a post-consumerist society?
And the last point would be: is sit-back television-watching really the medium that will support this new active, green citizenry? Or do you need to redouble your online efforts, to make the best of the collective action and engagement techniques that the internet provides?
I presented at the Big Tent green festival in Falkland, Fife yesterday - the brainchild of Mike Small (a Murray Bookchin scholar, founder of both Bella Caledonia and The Fife Diet, and one of the most innovative social entrepreneurs in Scotland).
It was an opportunity to consciously begin a dialogue between environmentalism and the Play Ethic - something that was explicitly (and to a degree inexplicably) missing from the 2004 Play Ethic book, and something that I'm thinking about seriously as the basis for my next book. These are only some opening thoughts on these topics - happy to hear all feedback. Thanks very much to the generous and intelligent audience at my event. (Yes, it's a rather - as the kids say - random first slide, but it makes more sense later on...)
My utopian friend Micheal Bauwens points me to a piece which applies utopian thinking - the habitual mind-set of the authentic player - to our ecological crisis. But from a writer who's utopianism is about as hard-won as it can be.
I first read Mike Davis while spending some time in LA as a musician in the late eighties. I dimly wish I hadn't been reading his dissection of Los Angeles, City of Quartz (one of the best combinations of topic, style and intellectual rigour I've ever encountered) - I might have had a little more fun amid the pines in Laurel Canyon. I later met Mike in Sunnyvale, while doing a documentary for the BBC, and he spoke in paragraphs as lucid as his writing. I love embattled, yet deeply patriotic American socialists (Micheal Harrington, C. Wright Mills, Cornel West... don't start me) - as much for the impossibility of their aspiration as anything else. (And although I do have an Obama/Marx t-shirt, I ain't kidding myself).
This speech, delivered at the Brecht Forum, in New York, is called 'Who Will Build The Ark?" - and it's a summation of his recent writings warning us about megacities, avian flu and the ubiquity of violent terror. But with ineffable coolness - and this is enough to lead you into the rest of the piece - Mike has chosen to structure his essay according to a scene from Orson Welles' Lady From Shanghai, where a defence lawyer interrogates himself at the witness stand:
In the spirit of 'Lady from Shanghai,' I've
organized this talk as a debate with myself, a mental tournament
between analytic despair and utopian possibility that is personally,
and probably objectively, irresolvable.
In the first half of the presentation, 'Pessimism of the Intellect,'
I adduce arguments for believing that we've already lost the first,
epochal stage of the battle against global warming. The Kyoto Protocol,
in the smug but sadly accurate words of one of its chief opponents, has
done "nothing measurable about climate change. Global carbon dioxide
emissions arose by the same amount they were supposed to fall because
of it." It is unlikely, moreover, that a post-Kyoto process can
stabilize greenhouse gas accumulation this side of the famous 'red
line' of 450 ppm by 2020.
If this is the case, the most heroic efforts
of our children's generation will be unable to forestall a radical
reshaping of ecologies, water resources, and agricultural systems. In a
warmer world. Moreover, socio-economic inequality will have a
meteorological mandate, and there will be little incentive for the rich
Northern Hemisphere countries whose carbon emissions have destroyed the
climate equilibrium of the Holocene to share resources for adaptation
with those poor subtropical countries most vulnerable to droughts and
The second part of the talk is my self-rebuttal ('Optimism of the
Imagination'). I appeal to the paradox that the single most important
cause of global warming - the urbanization of humanity - is also
potentially the principal solution to the problem of human survival in
the later twenty-first century. Left to the dismal politics of the
present, of course, cities of poverty will almost certainly become the
coffins of hope; but all the more reason that we must start thinking
like Noah. Since most of history's giant trees have already been cut
down, a new Ark will have to be constructed out of the materials that a
desperate humanity finds at hand in insurgent communities, pirate
technologies, bootlegged media, rebel science, and forgotten utopias.