Living is easy with eyes closed – references

The exhibition at the Old Fire Station in Carlisle came down on Monday 30 September. People’s responses were encouraging, so I am planning to look for other venues where it might be shown. Suggestions welcome.

Absent Gardener

Here is some of the associated reading matter, with minor additions.

Titles of mirror boxes:

‘Hope’s Eggs’ or
‘Pandora was here’

‘Flotilla’ or
‘Alice’s Tears’

‘Silos’ or
‘Ivory Towers’

‘The Absent Gardener’ or
‘The Legacy’

‘Rat Race’ or
‘The Delusion of Infinity’

‘Museum’ or
‘The Obsolescence of Posterity’


Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out
It doesn’t matter much to me

‘Strawberry Fields’, John Lennon

But also:

She needed to contemplate with eyes closed the full richness of what she had lost, what she had given away, and to anticipate the new regime.

Atonement, Ian McEwan

‘Pandora’s box’

According to Hesiod, when Prometheus stole fire from heaven, Zeus, the king of the gods, took vengeance by presenting Pandora to Prometheus’ brother Epimetheus. Pandora opened a jar left in his care, containing sickness, death and many other unspecified evils which were then released into the world. Though she hastened to close the container, only one thing was left behind – usually translated as Hope, though it could also have the pessimistic meaning of ‘deceptive expectation’.


‘Alice’s tears’

‘I wish I hadn’t cried so much!’ said Alice, as she swam about, trying to find her way out. ‘I shall be punished for it now, I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears! That will be a queer thing, to be sure! However, everything is queer to-day.’

Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

‘Flotilla/ivory towers’ – belatedly I noticed the links to childhood memories of the Moomins (and even more belatedly to the Hattifatteners in their little boats):

Comet in Moominland p. 141
The moomins travelling on stilts across a dried up seabed to warn Moominvalley that the comet is coming.

Comet in Moominland p. 150


Comet in Moominland, Tove Jansson

Museum (sand)

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

‘Ozymandias’, PB Shelley

Hope’s egg

‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

Emily Dickinson

Living is easy with eyes closed – update

The exhibition is now up at the Old Fire Station in Carlisle. Here are a few pictures, without people (I was chatting too much to remember to take photos during the preview).

Hope’s eggs, or Pandora was here
Museum, or the Obsolescence of Posterity (detail)
During set up on Saturday

School strikes for the climate

The children are going on strike to protect their futures. It’s long past time we so-called grown-

ups got our heads out of the sand and took responsibility for the broken world we have given them. We should be demanding that governments stop supporting fossil fuels, road building and airport expansion, and instead take the resources we western nations pour into ‘defence’ and consumerism and spend them on greening our economy and society.


In lieu of attending either the People’s Vote March in London taking place tomorrow or the Anti-fracking Rally at Preston New Road, also tomorrow, hopefully this cartoon speaks for itself:



Finally getting the point

I am currently reading Naomi Klein’s No is not enough, and, thanks to her brilliant exposition, I’ve finally understood why some apparently intelligent, powerful people persist, at least in public, in denying what we/they are doing to the planet and carry on acting in ways that exacerbate the crisis. I now realise that it isn’t that they are too blinkered or isolated to see what is happening or that they believe their wealth will protect them from the unfortunate (but unavoidable because the neoliberal show must go on) effects of disrupting ecosystems and society. It’s that they welcome the coming crises because they are set to profit from them. Wars and catastrophes are just business opportunities if you are in the right line of work. And social disruption just frees up the 1% from the irritating hindrances of democracy, regulation and all that.

I’m hoping the last part of the book will give me more reason for optimism.

Here’s a snippet.

Earth Hour 2018

Yesterday evening some of us turned off the lights to mark Earth Hour. To briefly, symbolically, pay attention to the harm we are doing every day by the way we live on the planet. A feeble gesture no doubt. Can a drip, drip of small individual acts eventually add up to a system change? Probably not. But system change is what is needed and sooner than eventually…

Drawn during Earth Hour by candlelight.

Pascal’s wager

The apocalyptic science fiction I read in the ‘seventies and ‘eighties seems to be coming true: ecological collapse (The Death of Grass, John Christopher), extreme inequality, AIs you can talk to, cyberspace (William Gibson), self-driving cars, gated communities, countries throwing nuclear threats about, people (serious people!) suggesting we are going to need to find another planet.

But on the other hand, so far, we have not been visited by aliens, friendly or otherwise. I watched a (devastating) lecture the other day (thanks to HoneythatsOK), arguing that we are past the point of no return on climate change and that civilisation and its collapse are  both heat engines. So, whether we act or not, the game is up – the game in question being the human race and much else, the endgame not just the collapse of civilisation but human extinction in the not too distant future. (That got dark quickly.)

This led me to thinking a few things (!), among which:

Maybe the reason we haven’t been visited by aliens is that any civilisation sophisticated enough to get out into space would be very likely to disrupt its home ecosystem so much that it would destroy itself before it could do so.

What is a reasonable response to this prophecy of doom? A form of Pascal’s wager perhaps. We cannot be absolutely sure what is to come. Our models and our understanding are limited. Some climate scientists seem more optimistic than the speaker in the video (and we hope that is not because of a conspiracy of silence to prevent mass panic). So we have a choice: to accept the prophecy of doom and give up on trying to mitigate climate change, or to act as if it is not too late and try to do something about it. If the prophecy of doom is true, it makes no difference what we do, but if it isn’t and we act as if it is by giving up, we may be making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. So rather than giving up in despair, we should work on the assumption that something can be done to prevent the worst-case scenario, and do so with even more urgency.

Geology – or ‘a throw of the dice’


Alternative Reality


In a luxurious and secluded venue, a group of rich and powerful people sit, sipping brandy and discussing the great problems of the world, climate change and how to respond to it without losing their position of privilege. One says, ‘Maybe we have to face it – fossil fuels, consumerism and endless growth are failing – the crazy, green socialists are right – we can’t go on using resources and destroying the planet just to keep siphoning wealth from the poor. Things have got to change.’

But another smiles and says, ‘Don’t forget the other solution.’

‘What’s that?’



‘Fewer people means less destruction of ecosystems and fewer poor people means less inequality. Just what those crazy greens want. If we didn’t have to support so many poor people the world would be much better off.’

‘But what about the gruntwork they do? I don’t want to slave in a care home or pick fruit!’

‘Most of that can be automated – and much of it is unnecessary anyway. We’re only farming them for the interest on the loans that keep them locked in to the system.’

‘Ok. How do you propose to downsize?’

‘Simple. Make sure universal healthcare fails and have a few wars … more brandy anyone?’

Red, blue and green (a storyboard)

If politics =

red versus blue

left versus right

mutual interdependence versus individual freedom to choose

public goods versus private property rights,

is green more red than blue?


(rotating the left-right axis to draw expanding circles of concern)

politicalspectrum 001

(panning down across the circles and out again)

politicalspectrum2 001

(zooming in)

polspec3 001


Gloom and doom (trigger warning)


I haven’t had much to say of late because everything that needs saying is being said by others more informed, articulate and public than this blog – Naomi Klein, George Monbiot, Owen Jones, Caroline Lucas, and even (whisper it) Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders…

But anyway, the stream of bad news and the ‘sign this petition’ requests keep on coming – the powers that be merrily continue to ignore or actively make worse the state of our world. Climate change? Issue some more fracking licenses. Declining bee populations? Spread those neonics (I wonder which arms company is planning to produce the nanobot microdrones to pollinate our food crops when all the bees are gone). Education? Health care? Gotta be better when you have to make a profit as well as cover the costs, doesn’t it? Who cares, as long as the 1% can make even more money out of it?

So Facebookers drown our sorrows (or bury our heads in the sand) with charming videos of cute animals and children laughing.

And even the climate change believers can’t mention the dirty word, ‘population’. Sustainable growth is what we must aim for. All we can do, it seems, is mitigate (energy efficiency and renewables and nuclear (don’t worry about the waste disposal issue – future us will sort that out, I’m sure)) and adapt (be prepared to move when sea levels rise – and maybe build some walls to keep out the people displaced by water shortages or flooding or wars?).

I watched a programme the other day about prehistoric Britain, and the Edenic image of a world when humans were few enough to be just part of the ecosystem seemed profoundly attractive. Back then it was a pretty hard existence, I expect, and agriculture and population growth probably did make for a more secure life (though not necessarily a healthier one, as diet was poorer than for hunter gatherers and the repetitive labour of production – an hour a day grinding corn, for instance – caused diseases like arthritis), but today, why can’t humans live better with fewer?

Here’s a mad, science fiction idea: women of the world unite and pledge not to have more than two children each. Population growth stops at a stroke and we can use our vaunted technologies to make a good life possible without devastating the environment with massive factory farms and without armies of underpaid workers to do the crap jobs (while generating the excess that makes the rich richer). If we can give up this addiction to consumption for the sake of consumption (or rather for the sake of ‘growth’ – that neoliberal, trickle-up Ponzi scheme), there would surely be more than enough carrying capacity for everyone and for the larger ecosystem we depend on and are part of.

However, that mad idea requires humans to act rationally and collectively, with thought for the future and the planet, instead of focusing on fearing and hating the ‘enemy’ next door. So maybe it will be down to other forces to redress the balance. Maybe the engines of population control will be antibiotic-resistant bacteria, obesity, the spread of tropical diseases in a warming world, water wars, and other unintended consequences we aren’t even aware of yet.

I’ll shut up again now. Let’s watch some lambs gambolling