Mini-manifestos: Part 7
The collective spectrum of Doomer Optimism
We are back with Part 7 of our mini-manifesto series. Skip the introduction if you’ve read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 or Part 6 already.
The umbrella of Doomer Optimism is not one vision for the future, it is an orientation that says: we see the world as it is, and we move forward with a practical, positive vision despite the challenges.
We defined Doomer Optimism as “a collective dedicated to discovering regenerative paths forward, highlighting the people working for a better world, and connecting seekers to doers.”
To demonstrate the variety and breadth of people engaging with such a perspective, I have asked for Doomer Optimists to write mini-manifestos clearly stating the vision for the future they are working toward.
I hope this exercise will make clear the very many thoughtful people working on practical initiatives to bring about a better future. I also want to make legible the specific philosophies and toolkits being used, so that others may find what resonates with them and thereby, find their community.
Doomer Optimists don’t all have to agree with one another. In fact, many virulently disagree. It is my goal to highlight the good work people are doing, and to lift them up. I also think of our collective as a place to interrogate each other’s perspectives. With public vetting and pushback, each of our individual visions can become stronger.
I will be releasing these mini-manifestos in parts.
Part 1: Aris Roussinos, Tara Ann Thieke and Empty America
Part 2: Joe Norman and Chris Ellis
Part 3: Shaun Chamberlin, Jeff McFadden and Adam James Pollock (AJP)
Part 4: Roxanne Ahern, Tucker Max, and Matthew Pirkowski
Part 5: Chris Dancy, Pentti Linkola Stan, and Julie Fredrickson
Part 6: Kathryn (@artsyhonker), Simone Cicero, and Solarchiect.
In this part we hear from Mary Harrington and Chris Smaje - both of whom I’ve given a longer word count as they are proper writers!
In future manifestos we will hear from Anarcho-contrarian, Willow Liana, Gregory Landua, Stone Age Herbalist, William Wheelwright, Helen Roy and Chelsey Norman among others.
Abolish Big Romance
Mary Harrington @moveincircles
We’ve been living under the sign of Big Romance for centuries. I argued here that the ‘angel by the hearth’ ideal of private womanhood emerged as a byproduct of industrialisation, and that women in fact lost agency in some respects in the transition from productive agrarian households to bourgeois industrial ones. I’ve also argued that the romantic ideal of marriage emerged alongside that model of ‘private womanhood’.
That is, women lost economic agency in family life and, in response, the aspiration emerged that we should be prized both as the higher moral part of the relationship, but also as individuals in an intimate relationship. These two things together form the core of Big Romance.
Where that worked, in the industrial era, it worked well enough. But over time, things changed again. Contraception eliminated the need for sexual continence outside marriage. Women’s entry into a high-tech workplace where physical strength is largely irrelevant eliminated the need for sharply divided sex roles that leave us economically dependent.
Against that backdrop it came to seem for a while that we might no longer even really need families full stop.
But while this seemed sort-of okay in a stable and prosperous world, what about the one we’re facing now? As we slide further into a 21st century that’s so far seen economic crashes, geopolitical instability, climate change, supply chain disruption and pandemic, it’s far from clear that this level of radical individualism will be at all workable for very much longer.
In that context we need to think about how to re-solidify liquid social relations. And at the smallest possible scale, this means reclaiming marriage as the central unit for solidarity between the sexes, and as a foundational unit of post-capitalist organising.
A marriage – and the family unit it creates – offers a route out of the logic of the market that pushes all of us to treat all relationships as transactions. And it’s only by resisting the logic of the market that we can start to re-solidify human relations for life in common.
On a more practical level, it’s also my contention that an ecologically sustainable future, and one that’s better geared toward balancing family and economic life, will incline toward households ordered more like the 1450s than the 1950s. The digital era has some downsides, but makes it feasible for many to aspire to productive mixed-economy households, in which both partners are partly or wholly home-based and work collaboratively on the common tasks of the household, whether money-earning, food production or childcare and housekeeping.
In practice all of this means thinking very differently about marriage. Centrally, it means we have to be less romantic about what marriages are for. I don’t mean by this that we should all acquire our spouses by mail order and expect cold and loveless lives together. It’s a shift in emphasis: romance and affection are great but – crucially – they’re a byproduct of a thriving marriage, not its chief objective.
If you work with or near your spouse every day, Big Romance makes much less sense. Loyalty and solidarity come first. It’s perfectly possible to have a thriving, stable, long-term prosocial marriage that’s a bit ‘meh’ in romance terms: every marriage has rough patches, but in a productive household there are still jobs to be done. Life is long, and rough patches can take years to work through but still find their way back out into affection, respect and intimacy. And meanwhile you can get a long way on stoicism and loyalty.
This is of course not to claim anyone should tolerate boundless cruelty, violence or emotional abuse for the sake of social stability. But it’s far from clear that, especially where there are children involved, exiting a marriage that was just ‘meh’ is self-evidently superior to sticking with it.
As things stand the whole culture valorises self-actualisation over duty. The message is that we can defer that commitment – perhaps indefinitely – or exit it when we hit a rough patch.
It also means treating it as the start of life, not a crowning achievement for your thirties. I meet many younger people pushing back hard against the advice they receive from parents about deferring marriage and kids to ‘find yourself’. In a world where absolutely everything is unstable, from geopolitics to money and even the climate, far-sighted younger millennials and Gen Z are turning toward interpersonal stability. It’s perhaps the smallest possible scale of Doomer Optimism: “even if the world goes mad, we’ll still have each other”.
The twentieth century grew used to thinking about marriage as a vector for self-fulfilment. The twenty-first needs to re-imagine marriage as the enabling condition for radical solidarity between the sexes. Doing so is an act of resistance to overwhelming economic, cultural and political pressure to be lone atoms in a market.
Households formed on this model can work together both economically and socially on the common business of living, whether that’s agricultural, artisanal, knowledge-based or a mix of all these. And this is an infinitely better setting in which to be a mother than the exploitative, medicated, disembodied, sexually libertine excesses of bio-libertarian hyper-modernity.
In other words: it’s an essential precondition for the sustainable survival of human societies. Our biggest obstacle is an obsolete mindset that deprecates all duties beyond than personal fulfilment, and views an intimate relationship as vector for self-development or ego gratification rather than an enabling condition for solidarity. It’s time to abolish Big Romance.
An excerpt from:
A Small Farm Future Mini Manifesto
We pretty much know in our hearts what kind of economies are going to weather humanity’s present predicaments. Local, low energy input, low environmental impact, low capital input, job-rich, small-scale, mostly garden-based food and fibre production, along with supportive local care work, crafts and workshop industries.
People are converging on this from various political starting points. Even the London police officer who arrested my wife at an eco-protest was dreaming of starting a smallholding. It’s an old, persistent dream. The endless ridicule it gets nowadays seems an increasingly shrill kind of denial that speaks more to the disquiet of the ridiculer than the foolishness of the ridiculed.
Looking at how people made a living in your bioregion before the fossil-fueled world of globalized trade remade it gives a first approximation to how people are going to make a living there after that world has passed. It’s important to stress that it’s only a first approximation, and it’s not because the past was a better place that invites our return. It’s because it was a place where people faced the same issues we’re now facing as the era of cheap energy and cheap money ends. And because they came up with answers that are worth considering.
The main thing is to get started locally, producing food and fibre, tapping water and energy, caring about people and wildlife, and doing it with humility. There are endless ways to do these things, and endless arguments to have about how best to do them. Out of these will emerge new local food cultures, some of which we can hope will be resilient in the long term. The key, I stress again, is to get started experimenting, with humility.
It’s easier to build relations with neighbors around these practicalities of livelihood making – borrowing and lending, helping in emergencies, a word of sought advice, a desire to get along – than it is by discussing abstract political principles.
But there’s no avoiding politics in the end. The politics that seem most promising to me is the kind that’s grown and nurtured locally from the ground up, just like a food crop, with a gardener’s mindset that if you want a healthy harvest you need to balance your own needs with the needs of all the other beings in your garden, which are just as self-willed as you are. We will need to figure out what we can agree, what we can’t agree, and how to build a common story out of that.
What might make this harder is the impending mass movement of people arising from the fact that the human geography of our present world is so different from that of the low-energy, low-capital, climate-challenged world to come. Ultimately, nobody will be able to stop this migratory movement, however tightly they strain their fences. So, again like a gardener, it will probably be best if we accept this wild energy into our gardens and make the best of it. Many of our present political abstractions won’t serve us well for this – nations, peoples, ethnic hierarchies, abstract financial instruments or conceptions of law. So even as we seek inspiration from older human ecologies in the garden, we’ll need to grow our politics in ways that are attentive to new times and possibilities.
Often when I’ve walked around my own small farm and gardens, especially in this mid-winter season when there’s no leafy mantle to soften them, I’ve found myself cursing the manufactured tracery that proliferates around the holding despite our best efforts to curb it – the machined wood and metal, above all the plastic. It’s not so different with more organic things either, the forgotten log piles, half dug pits, the soil reclaimed by weeds. But I’ve slowly come to a gentler view. All these markers in the landscape tell a story from the twenty years we’ve now lived here, and some from way further back – projects undertaken with the abilities and resources that were available at the time, some successful, others not. In the future, we’re going to need to write new songlines like this in our landscapes, deeper and better ones no doubt, making ourselves denizens of the places where we live anew. But the time to start is now, and our little individual stories, our successes, defeats and mistakes, matter less than the fact that we’re here.
Read more of Chris’ writing on his website: https://smallfarmfuture.org.uk/