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Feb 3, 2023·edited Feb 3, 2023Liked by Paul Kingsnorth

'Being called names is supposed to scare you into silence, but it doesn’t work if you wear the names like a medal on your chest.'

This made me chuckle, perhaps we should all introduce ourselves differently, 'Hi, my name's Anna and I am a Woodburner owning Nazi with a tendency towards far right extremist homesteading and bigotry, I also keep chickens and tend to live a simple life'. I would interested to see what reactions I'd get. :-)

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I would be keen to witness that!

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I have been thinking the same thoughts. We may have a far lefty considering visiting our house and has before. The last time she confronted me about something I was going to do. We have never talked politics so she doesn't have a good idea about where I am coming from. I may tell her so she knows what kind of house she plans on visiting. I would be a far right extremist, pro life, white supremeist racist, transphobe, homephobe, climate denier, anti-vaxxer, and pro Trump (and some that I have forgotten). I think if we had any kind of conversation this is what she would think. Cheers

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ah yes...I have been disowned by just about everyone I ever knew at university. Catholicism was the last straw.

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I see the irony, very funny !

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A funny and sad thing happened a couple weeks ago that this reminded me of. As is commonplace nowadays, strangers will ask "what do you do?". Always implying for "work". I had two people ask me this within a couple days, and sometimes I poke fun of the question with a silly answer but often I respond with "small scale organic farmer", which I am. Both of these people literally curled their noses up and asked "so do you make any money?". I reflected a lot on this exchange, and how it is that we got to a place in society where being a "small scale organic" farmer is something to frown at because it is assumed that you don't "make a lot of money" as if that is simply now the only metric for valuable work. And that it is even socially acceptable to ask someone this! Haha but I live on an Island in Canada where the biggest industry is agriculture (of the "big" kind) so I'm an oddity and I like it that way.

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Are you going to write a book about The Machine, Paul? Perhaps 'Rage Against the Machine'? I would love to see all your thoughts on the Machine gathered together in one text. Loving your newsletter.

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I'm hoping to compile these essays into something, Tim. Watch this space!

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If you write an introduction to a print book, please post as a free post to read. Then I'm in line for that book.

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Great stuff, and yes, of course. I wonder what we can do to subvert the linearity of so many of our assumptions about the backwards and forwards look. But maybe the big sweep of the story of redemption in the Bible is that we look forward to what we once enjoyed ...

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That is a wonderful way of putting it "we look forward to what we once enjoyed". The bible is full of parent paradoxes: die to find life, God is sovereign yet pray, weak are strong. I suppose look forward to what we once had is another one.

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Perhaps we are on the threshold of a great change. I hope so. I see green shoots, like your writing and that of others, but they look terribly vulnerable before the caterpillar tracks of the juggernaut. We can just keep breathing and loving, being patient and faithful.

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An obvious, rather trivial comment while I sort out the big thing in my head.

The thing about nostalgia is that it depends on partial vision and partial memory. That our-England-is-a-garden sensibility can ignore (as I know you do not) the rapacity of the colonial system, the Mordor being simultaneously created from Coalbrookdale to the Black Country and their imitators across the globe, and the experience of people like my six-year-old grandfather: an orphaned Wiltshire peasant, kept as a farmworking semi-slave, sleeping in a hut, until he ran away to join the army at 13.

The Machine has more ancient roots than the National Trust recognises.

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Feb 3, 2023·edited Feb 3, 2023Author

Quite true, of course. And in my case, the ancestors I had around the time I am nostalgic for were doing working-class jobs in London, rather than wandering dreamily around the hawthorn lanes. And there was indeed a lot of poverty down those lanes. This is why nostalgia is a trap; or one reason.

On the other hand, we shouldn't succumb to the progressive delusion that nothing good has been lost. When I talk to my neighbours about what rural Ireland was like when they grew up there is a palpable sense of the unnameable things that have been taken away, for which Aldi and bigscreen TV does not compensate.

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We are in furious agreement. I live just outside a post-industrial city, where the Machine solution to problems like the one caused by my great-grandparents' deaths - a Department of Child Services - has been failing for years. The national publicity given to the deaths of several children only leads to a redoubling of procedures, bureaucracy and blame.

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Feb 3, 2023Liked by Paul Kingsnorth

I'm looking forward to your next posts, Paul: I've been stumbling around in odd places online for so long now, reading and listening to the great unravelling of all things yet somehow never getting further than a kind of collective yell of horror at what's happening, and the petrifying rate of the collapse. Somehow your words today have struck a match in the gloom and for perhaps the first time I can see that it is possible to hold it all at once and still keep breathing. Beautiful and inspiring poetry too. Thank you, and again, much gratitude for the gifted subscription to read your work.

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Thank you Chloe!

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Agree.

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Thank you for this essay. It made me think of "But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it." We have to navigate between one need to live in the world to earn money to preserve our bodies and the other need to live outside the world to preserve our souls. We walk a tightrope between being fools for God and not foolishly wasting what God gives us. When I read your essays, I feel less alone on my tightrope - I see that there are other tightropes out there and other people walking those tightropes. Thank you for this.

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We walk a tightrope between being fools for God and not foolishly wasting what God gives us.

Beautiful and true.

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And might I add that Faith is the safety net below the tightrope.

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Yes - that is a great point! Thanks for that.

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Thanks Paul - great essay as usual and the territory you have staked for future essays looks promising. Another take on Nostalgia/Progress is explored by the historian Timothy Snyder in Roads to Unfreedom (particularly interesting given what is happening now) and On Tyranny. He frames his discussion around the politics of inevitability ('life becomes a sleepwalk to a premarked grave in a prepurchased slot) and the politics of eternity ('eternity arises from inevitability like a ghost from a corpse.....an oligarch spinning a tale of an innocent past offers fake protection to people with real pain'). Interesting and illuminating, Snyder gives us a historian's take on where we are today. Looking forward to future essays! Thanks.

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Feb 3, 2023·edited Feb 4, 2023

So the task now is what it has always been: get one’s house in order, dance with the way things are moving. True indeed.

Also true is the fact that the times now are no different from what they have always been. We’re obsessed with it now because, like AI dissolving high-status career choices, it’s happening to the people it was never meant to happen to: “us,” the whiny, comfortable, centrally-heated, pampered Western middle classes with their fantasies of the end of history.

But conditions have always been crumbling, dreams have always been failing, out of sight, far away, especially if you live close to nature, especially if you have no power, especially if you live too close to more powerful or greedy neighbours. Whether one is an Anglo-Saxon nobleman in 1067 or caught up in the Black Death or the Thirty Years’ War or trapped in a slave ship or caught up in a war or a blitz or a holocaust or, as we all will, suffering from chronic health problems or any of the 10,000 other perfectly normal eventualities that humanity has always known - someone’s world has always been collapsing, the task has always been to have one’s house in order and dance with the way things are moving.

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Slava!

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Feb 3, 2023·edited Feb 4, 2023Liked by Paul Kingsnorth

At 84 I remember vividly the real hawthorn hedges, the barn full of hay, the neighbouring farmers winnowing, the carthorse’s buxom thighs as he pulled the wagon delivering the milk churn to the stone platform at the end of the lane. I grew up in the wild, there, in a big stone house with no mains water, electricity, or gas in the English Lake District . And while it was hard work keeping it warm and livable, it was a Paradise, where I was free as a little child to wander, to be knee high to bracken and to herd the few goats with a long stick, as a teen to ride bareback in the mist all day, and yes I experience a surge of love and loss as I’m writing this. Some of this landscape still remains unspoiled and secret, and we spend time there too… where there is no "signal"!

Now, I’m touched deeply by your words. I’m grandmother to eight young adults, and I know that I can’t design a future for them, yet they respect and adopt some of my ways, contrary to what is now common practice, and I believe they will have and create a good life, assuming there is life after the collapse. And Cavafy's poem recorded by Sharon Robinson many years ago rings true NOW.

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That is a wonderful recollection, thank you for documenting it and sharing it. I fear for the time when those who can recount the stories of better times are no longer with us. We will have lost so much when this happens.

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Thank you so much for your appreciation

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Tamara,

At 66 , I also remember a lot of what u r stating here but in a different land, in the woods of Maine, United Snakes of America...... oh, pardon me, for that modification of USA!!

But as I was saying , I grew up in a small town in MA. and spent summers since 9 in Maine running wild child thru 60 acres of woods and streams and ponds with leeches, long walks to the small country store for a sweet with the gang of kids we hung out with. Horses ridden bareback, picking blueberries in a northern county, making cider , collecting with old buckets maple sap to cook down for maple syrup, making hay, baling and hauling up to the second story of the barn, doing chores in the garden.......... it was pure paradise as a child and into my adulthood. I still live very simply now in a small , small home here on the coast of Maine in a small town of 800, larger in summer of course with the people 'from away' , using wood stove, no stupid phone but i do have a laptop, with walks, hikes, music , books, helping out neighbors, bonding with my sheltie, doing art projects, growing as much food as i can, creating beautiful gardens for bees and butterflies, preparing for chickens again after having a larger 1830's home and farm with a lot of animals previously..... downsizing and 'living simply so other's may simply live'. '

I awake with a prayer of Gratitude every morning, do my morning ritual of excersize, calming music, meditating with doggie in my lap, preparing a good, organic healthy breakfast, a cuppa , and taking a walk outside my back yard into many acres of woods , streams and fields.....

I am not wealthy in money but wealthy in creating a life of peace, beauty, kindness and love. Of course I fail miserably at times but spring back quickly to my balance and higher vibrations. I feel truly blessed to have gotten here in my life!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My heart goes out to the children now who never experienced 'freedom'. The freedom to roam about and experience life without a helicopter parent , without constant worry of participation in everything that people think a child needs to do. A child needs to use their imagination, to hone in the creative mind , to create and feel joy and pain and discipline too.......

And so I too have nostalgia, of the 'old ways'....... but now I still have my interior soul and essence and connection to God and I feel I will always , no matter what the future holds, will be able to say NO, NO, NO..... and live and or die with my dignity and integrity intact............

I hope!!!

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Lovely share June, and to realise that way of life now…pass it on..

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Tamara,

Thank you. I will try to pass it on and i pretty much walk my talk but most are blindsided by the technology and the fast paced life now...... but around here we do have lots of local farms and young farmer want to be types so the resurgence of a more simple way can be envisioned. It won't be like we had in the sixties and seventies but the new gens will create a new way. How many will walk that path is questionable. It is a hard life, with lots of physical labor...... most like the easy way out hate to say.

Anyway I still believe in miracles and anything is possible!!!!!!

Best to u

June

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Reading this makes me happy, June. You had a privileged childhood, much wilder than mine, but at least I ran wild, even in my backyard in the city. No parents accompanying me everywhere to fill up all my time.

Just this last week, I was at a knitting group with another woman when the two young girls from next door that participate came in (10 and 7). I had a hard time not feeling animosity watching the way the children sit with their hands in their laps waiting for you to show them what to do, and often, for you to do it for them. How they flit from one activity to another without the effort, the discipline to follow through on something. It is psychologically disastrous.

I was pretty much raised this way, and it was a tremendous handicap for me, one that has pursued me much of my life, and made me very unhappy : waiting for people to show me how to occupy my time, and get through the days.

Unfortunately, the generalized school system has been very responsible for training ? the children to behave this way, I believe. That, and the television, June. A tremendous evil. It makes me very sad. And angry.

But with time, I have been going... backwards, and it makes me feel happier and more fulfilled.

Thank you for telling about your current life. An inspiration... and in Maine. It must be beautiful. I live right in the center of the Machine, June. You are truly blessed.

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Thank you Debra.

You are truly blessed also.

June

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Totally agree! For me it’s long lost northern NJ

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Thank you for this beautiful recollection Tamara!

While in this late age it's more of a 'recovery project', my wife and I are laboring mightily to create the world on our farm and in our neighborhood where our young daughter and son will have some similar kind of recollection when they are in their 80s.

Your words help remind me of why we're doing this, and what a gift it can be to grow up in a connected, vital landscape. Thank you.

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I’m happy to hear that you’re creating such an environment for your young family, Mark. I hear of many people who aspire to do something similar, but have no idea what hard work it can be. I am eternally and deeply grateful to my parents, specially my mum, for raising me vegetarian, nature-cure style, and seeing that I got all the necessary nutrition.

NOTE. I'm delighted to have evoked such positive responses with my contribution, AND have to say I was simply inspired by Paul's wonderful piece. I have to write the book, before it’s gone!

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Good stuff, Paul.

I do have doubts about the Mark Anthony option. It sounds too much like the noble renunciation of those who engage in the Machine's games, are defeated, and seek to leave a name behind them. Shakespeare did give him the line, "This was the noblest Roman of them all." That is surely hubris, which the gods usually punish.

Cavafy places him, and by extension us, in the role of incorruptible hero standing firm against overwhelming evil. You just know that the casting director would choose some impossibly handsome hero to go down to a glorious principles defeat: inspiring, yes, but isn't that trope one of the Machine's deceptive distractions? (You've gotta ask why superheros with quasi-magical powers are grossing so much money for the film studios and Wall Street right now.)

You are bang on with faith, though, for at least two reasons. One, recognising the ultimate does give us a reference which will endure even through the Fall. Two, it offers us a path of making that same Fall just that little bit easier for those of us who live through it, and of shaping what comes after.

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Augustine is also a companion for a time such as this. Also - I was today years old when I discovered that Leonard Cohen's song was inspired by Cavafy ('Alexandra leaving'), so I'm off to listen and read it afresh. Thank you, as ever.

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Feb 3, 2023·edited Feb 3, 2023Liked by Paul Kingsnorth

Well, the timing of this essay couldn't be better. I've been lying sick in my bed these last couple of days in the sweet company of nostalgia. A pretty good quality nostalgia though. About a week ago I got hold on the handwritten memoires of my late grandmothers early years, which I've been devouring tucked away in bed. And only yesterday I discovered a video being shot in the early 60's in the frisian village my mother grew up in. In it I discovered with great joy my grandfather on his bakery-bike delivering his bread around the village, and my own 3-year old mother and her twinsister walking shy yet curious towards the camera.

(By the way: everyone in this video smiles when they discover they're being filmed. Nowadays, nobody smiles when being filmed, boredom seems to be the apropriate posture when on camera. If anyone wants to see the smiling people of the village of Twijzel, and my grandfather (2:18) and mother (31:16) - the silent movie is on youtube: https://youtu.be/fUMyirrckfs)

After reading the memoires of my grandmother and watching the village-life of my mothers early years, I was pretty envious at both of them. I know their lives were far from trouble-free. But they belonged somewhere. They lived without the internet. They were part of a community. People cared about their homes and local cultures, maintained them, cherished them. Such a different world from the one today. Just like you wrote: there is no doubt at all that given a splinter of a chance you would prefer to live in them.

Feeling forced back into the world of today, I felt also envious of the birds I heard outside my bedroom window. They know nothing about wat has been before of what might come tomorrow. What a life that would be!

Today I went downstairs again. The neighbour on the one side slid a handwritten card through the letterbox by which she wished us all to get better soon. The neighbour on the other side brought me fruit and took my son with him to play games, so I could sleep. This made me feel welcome and at home again in today's world.

We all have to go downstairs again at some moment. I wish we all meet our neighbours there.

'What to do? Stay green.' And I might add to that: stay together.

Thanks Paul!

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What gives me hope is this:

"The story of Progress is a danger because it is based on a delusion, and it gives humanity permission to attempt to deify itself. At its heart is a refusal to accept limits, to live with our given nature, and to respect the nature of the rest of life."

- if those limits are natural, good and God-given (which I believe they are) then "progress" is destined and certain to fall. Each instance of growth beyond the 'limit' weakens progress. Like a plant which grows too tall makes itself more susceptible to being blown over - the growth of the machine and its institutions, "culture", and its systems well beyond the good limits makes it susceptible to collapse (from many of the self-destructive forces you have highlighted in previous essays).

A collapse is therefore inevitable, and in great part I think it will be from economic growth displacing and destroying too much of the biosphere(the biosphere being perhaps the ultimate limit). In an environment of collapse, those technologies, institutions, cultures and ways of being that are/were conducive to stability, limits, joy, naturalness, and sustainability may become precious means of navigating the chaos as they are more attuned to the now obviously limited collapsed environment/society. Nostalgia (or more actually what we are nostalgic about) therefore may be means of survival, rebuilding and transformation - and perhaps most importantly, a reorientation of values and virtues.

Much to think and ponder on from this piece, thank you Paul.

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Progress is a trap, nostalgia is a trap, and despair an even worse trap - one that I am most prone to! There is little sense looking for paradise on earth, either in the past or the (human) future, but there is even less sense in hopelessness, and I find stoicism walks a narrow line on the edge of hopelessness too. Recently I scribbled this in my journal after a gray and depressing day:

Since God created you, He did so for some definite, good purpose, at this point in time and not another, in this place and this body and not another. You are neither random or accidental, nor a candidate or applicant for the receipt of God's grace. So there is no use fretting about why you were born today, when it seems that a previous time might have been better, or rich when poor might seem better. These things are neither accidents nor curses nor tests to pass, though they may be trials. And all fallen creatures need trying: perhaps these are the conditions perfect for your perfection in faith, whether you know it or not. And they are also gifts, the conditions and settings in which you are invited to help God fulfill his good purposes, for which you and you alone were created.

Thus Job says to God: "I do not understand!" And God says to Job: "You do not understand."

Suffering can be redemptive, if we take it in faith; at all times in all places we humans have our crosses to carry!

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Feb 3, 2023·edited Feb 3, 2023

I have been poor and now I am a cat of means and territory. I never saw anything redemptive in suffering, in being a desperate starving kitten who doesn't know where mama is and she's never been gone for this long and realizing that she'll probably never come back, that the world is full of dogs and tomcats who will kill you and mice that don't want to be ate. Did my brother and sisters survive? I don't know.

At the same time, I don't want to be a housecat, to not be able to come and go as I please. Even if meals do come on the regular.

I am not sentimental. The world is radically indifferent to me and my survival, and life is a series of tradeoffs, of choices that turn out for better or worse. Often for reasons that cannot be predicted, explained, or controlled, not even by cats.

All against the backdrop of a race against time.

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i've noticed a strange (and potentially hopeful) thing recently: many of my favorite thinkers seem to be discussing the same process of letting go, turning away from the collapse of modernity toward something necessarily different—and all seem to be writing almost habitually in a tone of lonely resignation, even though they are evidently far from alone. i think there's some genuine momentum building behind this project. (i wrote a version of this comment over at Stillness in the West just yesterday.)

this might be an impertinent practical question, but the answer seems vitally important: where do people gather, when we're done writing our elegies? where do the people who are ready to begin the work start sharpening their tools? what takes the place of this galaxy of individual (brilliant) SubStacks and personal brands, when their usefulness runs out?

i'm interested in writing fiction as a way to chart that narrow path between nostalgia for the past and a romanticized (unattainable) future. should i head over to Dark Mountain? is that where the party is?

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Yes, I have been thinking this too - about gathering. There are lots of people (myself included) who are writing on similar themes, but there seems to be little connection between us (apart from most of us write on substack). Perhaps one day a joint contribution Substack is in order (each week a different writer)? Or something hard copy?

But perhaps that is a feature of resistance to the machine - many lone voices crying out in the wilderness - and that we should embrace this? (As Paul has said, he is glad he is not part of a "movement")

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And there's also this problem: some of us can afford to subscribe to only one Substack!

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Indeed, I kept my essays on mine free for that reason - but I fully appreciate that for writers for whom writing is a full-time vocation, this is not possible.

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(just discovered the character limit on comments. oops.)

as i was writing in a longer comment—if we're past the point of organizing groups at scale, if the centrifugal forces of social media are too strong to overcome—maybe we should approach the work as creating virtual landmarks for people to use as common reference points for navigating between cooperative and solitary work as circumstances change.

what if the Dark Mountain was a "real" place? could it grow and develop without needing to be curated or managed?

an interesting analogue is Loab—the entity that self-generated through AI prompts and now has its own (terrifying) virtual existence, independent of any single creator. what if we did that for a place—a virtual site for gathering and building?

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Better to be seeds in the wind scattered than lined up neatly in a row. We have more power when scattered even if in that we feel very alone.

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It is a good question. Dark Mountain used to be the place in its early days, but I'm not sure it is now - though if they're holding a physical gathering anywhere you would doubtless meet some good like-minded people. As for online meeting places: I don't know. But maybe somebody here needs to start up an Abbey spin-off where it can happen ...

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Feb 3, 2023Liked by Paul Kingsnorth

Surely the best place to gather is the local pub! Or church. In our communities where we can look people in the eye and maybe touch!

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I second that! I love the good intellectual support here, but there's nothing better than leaning into your neighbors, and whoever you can find who is remotely like minded that you can develop a face-to-face relationship with.

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Here in the USA there are two iconic organizations from an earlier age that are candidates for revival and repurposing: the Grange movement (Patrons of the Harvest) and the Chautauqua association. The first is barely alive and the second is only a memory but they are landmarks of a time when it was accepted that social needs and a venue for the sharing of practical means and methods were considered adequate reasons for a self-appointed meeting place. They might live again.

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