As we’ve been exploring in my post last week–a new paradigm is rising, a paradigm being enacted in backyards, home kitchens, community gardens, clubs, mushroom clubs, herbalism schools, ecovillages, pigment foragers, and thousands of other places. This is a new paradigm that will help us restore connection with humans and the land and approach the earth with care, reverence, and respect. This paradigm is emerging as a counter-response to the current paradigm that has threatened all life on earth and that is currently causing runaway climate change and mass extinction. While it is still emerging in millions of different ways all around the globe, it is still young, still nascent, and still not part of the general consciousness of most people. And yet, it is a breath of fresh air for all and offers hope for the future at a time when we desperately need it.
I’m really happy to see how much discussion–both on the blog and on various social media–that my post last week had. In that post, I went out on a limb and identified the paradigm and shared some of the features I was seeing, based on my own experience in learning and participating in a wide variety of communities. In some ways this was a risky post, I wasn’t sure if I was premature or wrong in my thinking and observations. I didn’t know if what I said would resonate. I’ve been collecting these observations for some years, and the time just finally felt right to share. That so many people responded positively and had stories to share is a testament to this paradigm and the emerging hope. But embedded in these responses raised a series of very challenging questions. I can group these questions into three broad categories:
1. How do we move things forward in the right direction and get more people on board? This is a great question. There are lots of related questions: How can we connect with like-minded others and build the new paradigm together? How can we help people who are searching find good communities that support the new paradigm?
2. What do we do about the old paradigm? The old paradigm is still very much with us and is still obviously driving most of the activity on this planet. What about those who are stuck in the old ways of thinking and being? How can we mitigate their harm? How can we actively work against this paradigm, especially when it is quickly destroying the stability and biosphere of the earth?
3. How do we address fear for the future and cultivate hope? What if the new paradigm doesn’t come fast enough, especially with the current climate projections? How much does humanity have to lose to make this shift on a larger level? What can we do to take care of ourselves in this very challenging time?
I’m going to start by saying that, as I described last week, the new paradigm is not held or espoused by a single group, community, or culture, but rather is emerging with many different perspectives, practices and beliefs. But as I also shared, there are pieces of this new paradigm that are widely shared and seem to be collectively developing further as time passes. There are also cultures and groups that have never moved away from this paradigm (such as many different indigenous groups and cultures) and thus, have a lot to teach the rest of us. But because of the wide-ranging nature of the paradigm and the different ways it is enacted, nobody can really answer these questions for everyone because there is no central spokesperson or figure driving the paradigm. It belongs to each person and community that cultivates these perspectives.
Thus, I’m going to respond to the above questions from my own perspective: as an animist, ecocentric, bioregionally-focused druid who is deeply embedded in nature spirituality, as a permaculture practitioner and rewilder who has committed to ongoing lifestyle changes, as a homesteader who works on resilient living, as someone who is involved in teaching nature connection in various ways, and as someone who lives on colonized land whose ancestors have historically and presently benefited from that colonialization. I can’t disentangle my own identity from my response. My responses may be different than yours, and different for your community and those who you are connected to–and so I suggest all of us consider these for ourselves. But I think it is useful for us to share the responses to these questions to try to build some knowledge with each other. With those caveats, said here are my thoughts.
How do we keep moving things forward and support the growth of the new paradigm?
This is the key question, isn’t it? If we know these ideas do exist and are being shared and repeated already in many places, how can we get them to spread further?
Living and personal shifts. My answer is first that we need to embrace the new paradigm and work to live it in our daily lives–through action, intention, and joy. We can’t spread a new paradigm if we aren’t ourselves working to be part of that paradigm, learning how to live it, and learning how to fight for it even in these difficult times. And this paradigm is not really easy–on many levels, it asks us to fundamentally change so many of our daily life habits, assumptions, and beliefs. It asks us to live in a way that is less easy, less convenient, and goes counter to almost everything in modern culture. This is a lot of what my book Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year in Earth-Centered Sustainable Practices is all about–focusing on learning lifestyle changes, one at a time, and making those meaningful and critical parts of your life that are tied to a growing spiritual awareness. Once we’ve learned and started to live it, then we can work to spread it and share it.
Accesss and distribution of information. Sharing brings me to one of the critical challenges of the new paradigm: unequal access and distribution. I was introduced to many of these ideas when I lived in southeast Michigan. The Detroit metro area was a hotbed of resiliency and change: there were so many people I could learn from: local people like Fireweed Universe-city who were living off-grid in an abandoned block in Detroit, locally-based herbalism from Jim McDonald, from Deanne Bednar’s Strawbale Studio, Ann Arbor’s Rewilding and Reskilling initiatives, a local organic farm down the road who always needed volunteers–the list goes on and on. In my metro area, there was so much opportunity to learn and everyone was speaking the language of this new paradigm. When I moved back to Western Pennsylvania into a rural area, I realized that these ideas hadn’t spread here at all. There were literally no opportunities to learn anything, and suddenly I knew more than anyone else. So I began to journey, to visit an ecovillage, take a permaculture design course, go to a druid gathering, and so on. In both cases: this is a matter of access: either local resources or having access to transportation, funds, and time to continue to learn through my travels to different parts of the US so I can continue my education in these areas.
But I want to stress–many groups of people do not have access to or even knowledge about such things, and if we are going to spread the paradigm further, we need to learn how to make it accessible to everyone. How can you learn permaculture or ancestral skills if you don’t even know that’s a thing in your region? How do you learn how to tend nature and heal nature when all that exists around you are factory farms? This is really the question.
Finding ways to reach people. Thus, part of how we grow the paradigm is by making it more accessible to more people and find an “in” to the local community that is engaging, free/low cost, and meets some needs. When I was living in southeast Michigan among more like-minded people, creating a permaculture meetup and sustaining that to bring people together was a great idea. I tried doing so out here in PA and it flopped–it was too radical, the community wasn’t ready, and nobody knew what permaculture was. Thus, I shifted gears to something the community would accept and had demand for: learning about wild foods and wild mushrooms. My current work involves offering 5-8 plant walks and herbal talks a year for my community free of charge. This is a great way to reach many of the local people in my community, who are mostly blue-collar, conservative types. I root my teaching in the ethics of the new paradigm (foraging ethics shared here, and free for everyone to use and adapt) teach them how to forage for opportunistic (invasive) species to help control the spread. On my walks we talk about wild tending and reciprocation, I appeal to their love of hunting and fishing, and I teach them core values of the new paradigm while giving them what they are seeking–how to eat wild foods. I make sure I spend 25% of every walk on lawn plants, convincing them to start diversifying the species in their yards, planting milkweed and other delicious wild edibles, stop spraying–and that has a cumulative effect. I’ve partnered up with local conservation associations like our local Friends of the Parks–and often I get 25-50 people on these walks! That’s huge.
Living as an inspirational model to others. In addition, I also live as a model to others,
always being willing to share, learn, and teach. My partner and I have a five-acre homestead where we live in respect, reverence, and reciprocation with the land. What we do here is pretty radical by the standards of others in my community, and I think for a long time people saw us as very eccentric: we save our own seeds, preserve our own food, we don’t kill or hunt wildlife, we use permaculture techniques and ethics, we do everything without fossil fuels and by hand. And while that may have made no sense to most people in 2016, it makes a lot of sense now, as food costs continue to dramatically rise. Thus, we are also seeing a renewed interest in growing one’s own food and in sustainable living as a whole. People who used to disparage my homesteading lifestyle when produce was cheap and abundant are now asking me to come to their houses and help them start a garden. It is positive to see how things are changing.
Connecting to Younger Generations. A final thing I’ll say here is the critical importance of circulating these ideas to newer generations. Younger generations that have a larger stake in the game than our current geriatric domineering leadership (especially here in the US), and as people see more and more direct evidence of climate change, the new paradigm will continue to make more and more sense to more people. Young people have the most to lose, and thus, have the most reason to embrace these new paradigms. Teach a child how to plant a seed and tend a garden and talk to trees. I spend a lot of time doing this–offering kids courses, teaching herbalism and foraging for kids at the local UU, etc. That is time well invested, and you’ll gain so much from the experience too.
General principles. I share my own example to show that a lot of what you do to spread the word of the new paradigm and serve as a counter-balance to the current destructive one is rooted in where you live, what you have access to, and how open or sneaky you have to be. In southeast Michigan, running a permaculture group and being more open was easy and people would flock to it. Here in a more rural, conservative community, that kind of thing doesn’t fly, so I have to be much more surreptitious in spreading the new paradigm’s values through something that people in my area are interested in. This is to say:
- Don’t espouse or tell people what to do– just live by example
- Live as much of the new paradigm as you can and be a role model
- Meet people where they are and find out what they value, use that to create connections
- Join forces with like-minded others
- Seek your own support systems and refuge when you need it
What do we do about the old paradigm?
Wholesale rejection of the old paradigm. Obviously, the old paradigm is still with us, still causing damage and driving the world deeper into cataclysmic change, and still holding most of the power. It is obvious in that every report released shows that rather than making progress, the old paradigm is digging us in deeper (such as string of 2023 reports from the UN or the brand new Fifth Climate Change Assessment.) The first world climate conference took place in 1979 and the IPPC was chartered in 1989. Since then, there have been unprecedented carbon emissions as a whole–while individual countries have made many good changes, as a whole, we are still seeing the problem worsen.
The reason these reports continue to produce bad news is that the current paradigm that created the problems cannot solve those problems due to its very nature. I truely believe this is why we need a new paradigm. The problems we face on a global scale are rooted in the very behaviors that sustain the old paradigm and as long as things are measured in current terms such as growth, economics, and profit the problems will continue to worsen (here’s a great example of this exact thinking – reading this just blows my mind). As long as growth at all cost, the myth of progress, colonialist behaviors, and neoliberalism continue to dominate our planet, we will continue to see these problems worsen. As much as I wish I could have hope in the present paradigm, I cannot.
Thus, we have to wholeheartedly reject the paradigm, even if we have to straddle the edge to still do things like pay our bills and keep a roof over our heads. And we have to work to distance ourselves from it as much as possible. And by doing the things I outlined in my first question above, we can work to bring it down.
I think the best thing we can do to deal with the old paradigm is as follows:
Mitigating the harm of the current paradigm. The first direction is obviously to do what we can now, under the current paradigm, with a variety of political, social, and personal actions (voting, activism, lifestyle changes, activism, subversion). As long as the old paradigm exists, we can do everything in our power to sway that paradigm and make as much positive change as we can. Mitigating even some of the consequences at present both in terms of atmospheric carbon and ecosystem degradation creates better future conditions for all life.
Actively reject the current paradigm. But the other critical thing to do from my perspective, is to do as little as we can to support the current paradigm and work to actively abandon it. Rather than focus on fixing the old paradigm that is the source of the problems, let’s work to bypass it entirely by creating alternative systems that care for the earth and all life and people on earth. I see young people as critical to this work–work to teach young people to care for the earth, care for her people, and engage in fair share practices. To model our behaviors for others. Teaching others. Hence everything I said above. This means, in part, creating systems that require less dependency on the current paradigm.
Persuasion and talking. Another part of this is that people were asking about persuading others and many of us think that that will work. I don’t really have a lot of hope in trying to convince people to change their minds. My professional discipline is Rhetoric and Composition, which includes studying and teaching effective communication and persuasion. With my background, I’ve given this question a great deal of thought and have also done extensive reading of existing studies on this topic. Aristotle’s definition of effective persuasion includes “finding the available means” of persuasion, and that applies here–for many people at present, there are very few or no available means. I think that screaming at people, getting into arguments, and trying to convince many people is futile and a waste of energy I’d rather be spending doing the stuff I outlined in my first qusetion. Thus, I don’t argue with people as it just frustrates me and makes me angry. People who have their minds made up are not going to change unless they need to and it makes sense to. I just do as I described above–models, free education, and then see who comes. Again, you may have a different response.
How do we address fear for the future and cultivate hope?
As my series of posts on straddling the edge explored a few weeks ago, people are really broken down, tired, exhausted, and having a very difficult time right now. Growing extreme weather events, social inequities, unreset, injustice, rising costs, inflation, increasing work demands, and uncertainty in the future are all creating a situation where we are all getting so worn down and exhausted. While most people are feeling this, people who see so much power and promise in the new paradigm are at even higher risk of burnout–because we literally can see what things could be and are in need of becoming. Because you can fight so much for change and it never feels like you are making a difference. Yes. I hear you, I feel you, and I am with you in all of this.
So what to do? Remember first and foremost that the only person you can control is you. You can do the good work, but in the end, other people make their own choices. The whole world is not your responsibility. You are.
- Find friends and communities where you can share these experiences and work to support each other and the work you are doing. There is nothing worse than feeling you are going it alone. For many of us, we may not have local in-person communities, but we do have wonderful people we can meet online in like-minded groups. Take advantage of those and find your allies and friends.
- Take up a spiritual practice that can offer you tools for support, reflection, growth, and retreat. Find a path that really sings to you, that soothes you, and that helps you find meaning in your life.
- Take up a healing journaling practice, where you can write or reflect and process some of what you are experiencing.
- Take up some practice of self-care and make it a priority. Really, I mean it.
- Take up a creative practice that you do simply to express yourself (don’t attach anything to it, like selling or money, and resist capitalist narratives). Practice it regularly as a way for you to spend quality time with yourself.
- Take your own healing into your own hands, and learn how to heal yourself through herbs, diet, and lifestyle
- Work to cultivate joy and hope in your life, and bring these in every day.
- Practice gratitude and spread gratitude into the world around you. (This is an amazing pancea!)
People who are embracing the new paradigm are the dreamers, visionaries, healers, path-foragers, and leaders of tomorrow. Leadership in this way is a path that is very difficult–think of it like making your way through a very dense forest. Someone has to push through and lead the way. That’s tiring work. Take care of yourself. remember that there are so many of us out there, doing our own good work as we can. Be kind to yourself. Kindle the flame of a brighter future for all.
I hope this has expanded upon some of what I shared last week. I would love to hear your thoughts–how might you answer these questions? How do you spread the new paradigm? How do you deal with having to live in the current one and avoid its problems and destructiveness? How do you take care of yourself? Thanks so much for these conversations–they are sustaining and help keep me going!