Listen to Berkeley Talks episode #171: Climate grief: Embracing loss as a catalyst for regeneration.
[Music: "Silver Lanyard" by Blue Dot Sessions ]
Intro: This is Berkeley Talks, a podcast from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs that features lectures and conversations at UC Berkeley. You can follow Berkeley Talks wherever you listen to your podcasts. New episodes come out every other Friday. Also, we have another podcast, Berkeley Voices, that shares stories of people at UC Berkeley and the work that they do on and off campus.
[Music fades out]
Sara Grossman: Hi everyone. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, wherever you are in the world. My name is Sara Grossman, joining you all today from my home in Berlin, and I have the enormous honor of welcoming you all to what is assured to be a thought-provoking and profound conversation on climate grief and hope facilitated by our wonderful senior fellow Bayo Akomolafe.
Before I introduce our topic today, I want to quickly share more about the backdrop for this conversation, which is being hosted by the Democracy and Belonging Forum. The forum is a transatlantic community hosted by UC Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute, which aims to connect civic leaders in Europe and the U.S., who are committed to bridging across lines of difference to counter authoritarianism and democratic degradation, while centering the needs and concerns of marginalized groups. Our goal is to collectively complexify our understanding of concepts like justice, belonging, democracy and inclusion, and plan towards a future where all of us and the earth itself can belong.
Bayo has played an enormous role in helping us rethink our work towards justice as our global senior fellow. This conversation is just one in a series of conversations that Bayo has been having with leading thought leaders entitled The Edges in the Middle, where he explores belonging, identity justice and helps us move beyond binaries.
Today, he’s in conversation with two incredible women. The first is Naomi Klein, who is an award-winning journalist columnist, an international bestselling author of eight books including No Logo, The Shock Doctrine, This Changes Everything and On Fire, which have been translated into over 35 languages. She’s a columnist for the Guardian as well. In September 2021, she joined the University of British Columbia as UBC professor of climate justice, and is also the founding co-director of the UBC Center for Climate Justice.
The second thinker today is Yuria Celidwen, who, like Bayo, is a senior fellow at the Othering and Belonging Institute. She’s a native of Indigenous Nahua and Maya descent, born into a family of mystics, healers, poets and explorers from the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. She teaches Indigenous epistemologies and spirituality, and her work pioneered the Indigenous contemplative experience within contemplative studies.
In addition, she leads workshops on pro-social practices such as mindfulness, compassion, kindness and gratitude from an Indigenous perspective. She emphasizes cultivating a sense of reverence and ecological belonging, raising awareness of social and environmental justice and community-engaged practices, revitalizing Indigenous languages, traditional medicine, clean energy and conservation. We are so honored to have both Yuria and Naomi with us today.
Before I pass things off to Bayo, I want to thank our ASL interpreters, Kafi Lemons and Toi Bogan from Interpret, Educate and Serve, as well as to our captioners from LiveCap. I also want to give a shoutout to my amazing colleague Evan Yoshimoto, who is running the tech backstage.
A quick reminder to forum members, that you can reflect on this conversation with Bayo directly afterwards in a Zoom room. You should have received a link to that. If you haven’t, please reach out to me or Evan directly. And for the rest of you, if you’d like to follow our work, you can sign up for our e-news at democracyandbelongingforum.org and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @dandbforum. And with that, I pass things off to you Bayo.
Bayo Akomolafe: Thank you. Thank you Sara, and welcome to everyone joining us from wherever you are in the world. Thank you for being part of these conversations and these explorations in times of crises. This is perhaps the most difficult of the series that I will be taking part in. This one about climate grief and hope is very dear to me, and significantly, it’s the first that will breach the one-hour mark and stretch out into 90 minutes.
So, we’re going to have a substantial, [inaudible] and spontaneous conversation together with my other sisters today. It’s also difficult, because I’m at home with my kids alone. So, I would like everyone to know beforehand that if you see my son or my daughter bursting through that door, please acknowledge or celebrate the moment to the extraordinary ordinariness of that moment. But, let me start by saying a few things as I usually do about Umbari.
The context of our conversation is such that we are not after some convenient consensus, and Umbari is an evil cosmological tool, a way of thinking about the world, our bodies and our relationality with truth. If you want to know in depth or with some depth about this idea of conversation, then I would invite you to check out the webpages of the Democracy and Belonging Forum and OBI as well.
I think it might be necessary to say that we are not after some final proposal. We are here to gesture together. In fact, truth is not the final bus stop here. There is no finality that is not already penultimate. The world flows, and moves and dances, and it’s promiscuous so that the whole, I don’t want to say essence, the invitation here is to meet each other and be changed by the encounter. It’s not even to get it. It’s not even to grasp something final, it’s to just stay with the trouble of our moving bodies, it’s to postpone the myth of the individual long enough to sense other realities.
And I think that’s a beautiful way of segueing into the context of this conversation, "Climate Grief and Hope.” As you might know if you’re here, the IPCC report in March, released in March, the sixth iteration, was a story of loss and a story of demise. It seems to be the most powerful modern narrative gripping the heart of civilization. The idea that if we don’t get our act together, we might breach that global threshold of a change in degrees of 1.5 degrees Celsius, or Celsius degrees. And if we do that, then we would have entered unprecedented times, floods everywhere, ocean acidification, famine, hunger, pain, suffering. I come from those worlds, and our conversation here today is to stay with it in a different way.
One symptom of that prognosis, that story, one outcome has been grief, but there’s a sense in which our modern story is telling us to get around grief, that we cannot afford to grieve. Let’s just get beside it and get to the point, which is to provide solutions to this crisis.
The reason we’re having this conversation is, there is a simmering shared mycelial sense in which grief is not in the way. Perhaps, grief is the thing to be done now. As the Yorubas in West Africa would say, "When a god passes, the thing to do is to fall down, is to fall to one’s knees and not to challenge the weather.” What if grief is the invitation and not the impediment? What if we’re being called to do other things with our times, with our bodies, with our senses? This is what we want to do together. So, join us. Nothing here is pre-planned. This is going to be playful. I invite you to show up in any way that you want to show up. My sisters, can we bring them to the screen?
Thank you so much for joining us today in this ongoing exploration of possibility and impossibility. I don’t know what expertise is in a time of loss. It seems we have to let go of those handles, those holds we have on the normal. So, I thought we could start by... And again, this is not going to be centered around my questions. I thought we could just do something different and just pass along with each other things that are emerging for us.
But, my first prompt to get things started is, if we can share stories of loss to open us to the energies of this space together. Are there accounts and narratives of loss that are there to you, that are significant to you in this time of metaphysical loss of civilizational demise? This is the invitation. Any of you could respond, and then we take it together. I’ll just pass the mic literally to my dear sister Yuria.
Yuria Celidwen: [Introduction and greeting in Maya Tzeltal language]. This is my Indigenous Maya Tzeltal language, and with it I am honoring my lineage of the Nahua Maya Tzeltal peoples of the highlands of Chiapas in Mexico where I was born and raised. My background is precisely that picture of that place of wonderlands of flowing waters, the land of [Maya Tzeltal language], which was how our lands were named before they were taken from us.
And I speak these languages also in honor of the Huichin Ohlone tribes, where I am standing today as I honor also those ancestors, and also to remind us that these ancestors that I speak about are not only our lineage, human lineage, but our ancestors as our Mother Earth, as our father sky, about oceans, our corals, our forests, all of these relatives that are guiding our right action today. And that will be also talking about how resilient we can be when the weaving, the web of that network of ancestors, both from the past into the present, and also those emerging ancestors that are coming from what will be are orienting our action today, our collective action today.
We are not these separated beings. We are weaved beings connected into our lands, into our breaths, into all of our relatives, four-legged, wind, myceliated, rooted, finned, all these relatives with whom we shared this planet, our Mother Earth. But, we see that there’s so much loss happening today. It’s not only the biodiversity loss that we are experiencing, the massive extinction, but the cultural loss that correlates with that biodiversity loss. The Indigenous languages is just one way we can see that this loss is happening, threatening our diverse possibilities for finding solutions together.
So, speaking my language is a way of bringing that diversity, that cultural array of possibilities together. And I will continue weaving into how loss also can bring meaning today into weaving stories of hope. And I give also our space to our sister Naomi that’s here as well.
Naomi Klein: Well, it’s really an honor to be with both of you. And I appreciate, Bayo, what you said about expertise, because I’m certainly not expert in these types of conversations. I’m trained as a journalist, I’m a very fact person, and I’ve reached the limits of that particular model of, well, if we can just prove it enough, you mentioned the IPCC report, and of course this is, and all of us have had relationships with the academy. And the whole premise of the thing is, well, if we can just prove it, and we stack up the facts and the proof.
[Inaudible] if it was ever there between this idea that if you have robust enough data sets, then the policy will change. So, the work that I’ve been doing at the university has been really trying to work with young scientists who are still in graduate school, and probably got into this work because they love the natural world. They’re connected. A lot of folks tend to be less socially comfortable and more in their bodies when they are in the natural world, and yet they find themselves acting as undertakers of collecting the data of laws, the evidence of extinction with no outlet, with no acceptable way to feel it. In fact, you’re supposed to turn it off. So, we’ve been working on different pedagogical models, which is just a fancy way of saying being in our feelings and reading powerful writing and letting it change us and trying our hand in it.
But, you asked about to speak to a feeling of loss and an experience of loss, and I want to acknowledge them. I’m speaking, I live in a place that is called, in Western European recent history, the Sunshine Coast, not very sunny, except for a couple of months of the year. It’s mostly rainy. It’s a temperate rainforest, but it’s been so dry in recent years that we’re tipping away from being a rainforest at all, and it’s salmon country, and it’s also a graveyard. It’s also a place of genocide.
And the lands where I am speaking from are the lands of the shíshálh people, and people tuning in today may remember this very shocking to non-Indigenous people, news that in the interior of British Columbia, it’s few hours from here, at the so-called Kamloops residential school, a couple of years ago, more than 200 unmarked graves of children were found, and other nations began a process of confirming their own stories.
They knew that the graves were there at the height of the former so-called residential schools. I say so-called, because their goal was not education. Their goal was extinguishing Indigenousness, as Yuria was speaking about, that tremendous cultural assassination really attempted. But, just 15 minutes from here a week ago, the shíshálh Nation confirmed the presence of 40 children as they said, these are not remains, these were children. So, the loss is very heavy in the lands here, and it’s also a time of rebirth. It’s spring, but it feels so precarious.
Every bird song, every animal sighting, we just don’t know what’s next, because we’re part of an ecosystem where the salmon a little bit south of us in California and Oregon are not coming back. And so, everybody is wondering what the future holds? My father went fishing two days ago and came back and said, "Not a bite.” And it isn’t just a bad fishing trip. It’s like, what does this mean? I haven’t seen a seal in months. I used to see them all the time. What does that mean? I don’t know. It could be nothing. They could be back later today. But, it’s that feeling of being on a knife’s edge. Feeling that a lot.
Yuria Celidwen: I’ll like to weave into that, the story that sister Naomi just brought, how the moments that we face loss, and we really embody the grieving process, is the total moment of surrendering. Realizing that arrogance that keeps humans in a hierarchical organization, feeling that they are somehow exceptional from and different from all others, that arrogance dissolves the moment that we realize we are powerless really to the process of life, to the process of spirit, the process of nature. That idea of bringing not only the possibilities of the mysterious, the possibilities of the stories, that not everything can be measured as Western sciences, but rather as how Indigenous sciences speaks about what we don’t know, what we can’t know, and how we can make meaning of precisely that unknowing, and resting in that unknowing by finding the right insight to the action that we need to do as a collective.
So, Indigenous sciences brings us back into the power of relationality. Brings us again as well the empowerment of the collective, also the intersubjective process is Indigenous sciences are not about an object that’s separated that’s being studied, but rather it’s an intersubjective process in which we dialogue with that other one that we know is sentient and has agency.
And thus, we enter into a process in which both will be transformed, and we find meaning by that webbing, by that weaving, and by letting go of that need of control that is actually just coming from a sense, perhaps, of ownership, or transactional, what I will get. And then, we returns us into what we can do for the other. So, it’s a reciprocal process. It’s a reciprocal relationship. So, rather than seeing then loss as the process of dispossession, then it’s actually a reempowering process of a new source of life.
Bayo Akomolafe: Thank you.
Naomi Klein: I just want...
Bayo Akomolafe: Oh, Naomi, please go ahead.
Naomi Klein: ... to build on that a little bit. I was really struck, Yuria, that you said that grief is surrender. Because, right before, I was making a couple of notes thinking about why so many people I know in the climate movement, in the climate justice movement, including, are afraid of grief. And I wrote down just now, it’s because they equate grief with surrender.
But, what I meant was political surrender. Was that, I think there’s a fear that if we really open the door, well, if we fall down, we’ll never get up. And that, if we let ourselves feel the depths of the loss, the depths of the fear, that we’ll just somehow never be able to be galvanized again, and it’s the opposite really. That grief is uncontainable, including that surrender. But, any kind of, I work with the students I mentioned, it’s not a course on climate anxiety or climate grief.
It’s a course on climate feelings. And that’s the first thing I say is, it can be rage, it can be just loss, it can be hope, it can be home sickness, there’s so many emotions, and why do we prescribe just this one? But, the main thing I want is just feel anything, feel it a lot, because I feel like what is the source of the hopelessness or despair, those are legitimate emotions, but it’s a deadeningness really, that is what I’m most afraid of in myself and in the people I work with. It’s just not feeling. Somehow turning off and losing access to sources of strength, and rebound, and propulsive force. So, it’s anything at all.
Yuria Celidwen: And absolutely, we know that emotions, especially strong emotions, and maybe we can start moving beyond the duality of positive and negative emotions. They’re just emotions, and emotions as we know from recent great research of emotional science, for how much these are ways we appraise our behavior and that orient our actions.
So, we use these emotions as compass, the moral compass to then create our pathways. But, then again, I return to the need of creating these pathways together, especially bringing those communities that have not had the platform for being participants in decision making, but whose lives are mostly impacted by the changes that we’re seeing right now, by the losses that we’re seeing right now. So, it’s a process of surrendering of the power, of the being in the power of control, that’s what I say, of coming together to finding solutions.
Bayo Akomolafe: I’ve just came back from Massachusetts, and I was with a couple of some persons that had been part of the writing of that report, and I had a conversation with a scientist, a climate scientist, who told me or who put to words, something I started to experience around that time. And it’s this mask, I don’t know how else to describe it except to say it’s a mask. It’s a mask of forced hope. Let me put it that way.
It’s like, there’s this, I was once writing a short story about someone who died and went to heaven, or some heavenly arrangement. And everyone in this social experiment had to be happy, needed to be optimistic. I’m not going to tell you the end of it. I hope to write it and release it one day. Not going to spoil the plot. But, the idea is these persons I was having conversations with, they seem to have this, I cannot let, Naomi, just like you were saying, I cannot fall. I cannot let this crack become wider. The breach will be too overwhelming.
So, I need to say to you all who are not part of that report writing process, that ritual, I need to say that everything will be fine, even though I don’t quite believe it myself. But, everything will be fine. There’s a sense in which hope was becoming a carceral thing. Incarcerating their bodies and blocking them from accessing certain other frameworks of responsivity, of responsibility.
But, I’m really thinking about this idea. I just wanted to stay a bit longer because we often, I don’t know if this is true for you, Naomi, I think of course in your context, there’ll be rich conversations about loss, but we often popularly just get the right chase. Because, loss is by the way, we want to get right down to it.
We want to get right to the solutions. Maybe the sixth iteration or the seventh IPCC report. Is there a sense for both of you that we are going around in circles, and maybe at this point in time, death ceases to be the threat, that now maybe it’s not even death that’s, our impending doom that is getting in the way. Maybe we are captured in a way of sensing the world. I often name it a sensorial monoculture that blocks out grieving. That says, no, that the only thing we can let into the room is a rapid eternal optimism that we can put to use anytime we want. We mustn’t give up. But, could you speak to that? I don’t know what this invites in any of you, but is there a sense we’re trapped? Do you have that feeling that we are trapped, we’re stuck?
Yuria Celidwen: Let me respond to the idea of the circles, and bring actually the symbol, the very common Indigenous symbol of the spiral, in which we keep coming back to a similar place, but somehow...
Bayo Akomolafe: Something shifted.
Yuria Celidwen: ... things have shifted, things has moved, and continues to be transformed depending on what our insights and our behaviors are. And another thing that is, I really want to mention, today in the Maya calendar is the day [Maya Tzeltal language]. And [Maya Tzeltal language] translates to seven death rebirth.
And so, the power of that is that, Cimi, which is the death rebirth, it’s the process of composting. There is a moment in which in order to change, we need to let go. We need to surrender. We’ve been building upon that idea. And what are the things that we need to surrender the most at this moment? Are the narratives of who we are. Who is it that our identity is, not only as individuals, but who are we as a collective as well? Either country collective, planetary collective. And even before that, beyond that, move or transcend the narrowness of just the human species and see ourselves as part of a planetary collective.
That’s the idea of ecological belonging that I developed. But, that allows us that all those stories that we have been imposed upon us by systems of political and economic divisiveness that we know started with colonial processes, that continue consequences to this day, that we can let go of all of those stories that keep us separated, alienated, not even realizing that we ourselves are nature.
We are natural beings, part of this webbing of life. And so, how can we then compost of those stories, but then with intentional participation, participation that brings all these different voices, all these different origin stories, we can recreate a new collective stories of belonging, of kindness, of all and sacredness that we can then truly build a sense of reverence for the whole of Mother Earth. And that allows us to then die, now let death do the process, but knowing that, that composting is to give rise to new forms of life, forms of life that are emerging, that are transitioning for a story of belonging. So, that’s the rebirth, that’s the reemergence, and that’s the hope.
Bayo Akomolafe: So, that becomes [inaudible] in some sense, not a bus stop, not a terminal point, but a lively vocation. A multi...
Yuria Celidwen: Yes, it’s the continuation, exactly.
Bayo Akomolafe: Yes.
Yuria Celidwen: The continuation.
Bayo Akomolafe: Please go ahead, sister. I get it.
Yuria Celidwen: And so, we are not trapped. If anything, perhaps, trapped only in stories of impossibility. But, I love saying that dreaming is the crystals of hope, where time without time is unleashed when we set ourselves free. So, we are then able to let go and return, but return not just without intention, but really carefully crafting collectively what we want to bring to the world.
Bayo Akomolafe: Thank you, sister. I’m going to hold that in with some great tension with whatever Naomi is about to say.
Naomi Klein: Well, I guess, I was thinking about this. I love the phrase hope as a carceral thing, because I have often felt that there was almost a kind of, you’re ordered to have hope sometimes.
Bayo Akomolafe: You’re ordered to have hope.
Naomi Klein: If you’re a public person, there’s a sense of, you must perform hope for others. And in my own experience, I used to be somebody who did that a lot. I would go out there and perform hope, and I made myself a promise. I don’t know, probably about 15 years ago, I had a conversation, I’m not going to name the person, it was backstage at a literary festival, and I had just written The Shock Doctrine. And it was one of those speeches where it’s terrible for 40 minutes, and then five minutes at the end, but we can do it.
And this person came up to me and he said, I really don’t share your optimism. I really think we’re lost. The Wright owns all the, they own all the media, they own talk radio, they’ve got the churches, what do we have? And then, he went out and gave a real fire and brimstone, doom and gloom talk. And I thought, I absolutely understand how he got there, and I probably will get there sometime soon. I could already sense that. But, I made myself a promise that if I did, I’d stop going on tour. I wouldn’t just go talk to thousands of people telling them that they should also join me in this state of a total absence of, because we know that these emotions are we are, as Yuria has been reminding us, and as you said in your opening Bayo. We are a web, so when we put an energy into it, it changes it.
And so, I have been experimenting with shutting up a lot more, because I am in that state, and I don’t want to beat myself up about it.
But, I also feel a responsibility not to tell other people that they need to come with me there. I will say it feels I need to not be afraid of them, but that to me is different than being an evangelist, hopelessness. I will not do that. That’s where I draw the line. But, in terms of what the stuckness is, I think a lot of it is these narrative structures that are encoded from the Old Testament, the New Testament, Hollywood action movies that tell us, not necessarily that we’re doomed, but that we are going to get saved at the very last minute. Not all of us, the chosen ones, just the good ones.
Bayo Akomolafe: Probably you two. Definitely not me.
Yuria Celidwen: Yes, probably we’re not two.
Bayo Akomolafe: Definitely not me.
Naomi Klein: I think that is that prison, too, that story structure. Because, I think I’m so much more afraid of cruelty than I am of death, of how we treat one another. When we fall down, what do we do? Do we hold each other or do we fight each other? Do we kill each other? What do we do when we fall? Is there a way to fall with grace, and love, and to catch one another? That’s what scares me as we all know, because we’re seeing so much evidence of stabbing one another as we fall. And that’s such a mythological figure, it’s the image. I love the film, Don’t Look Up, by the way. I know it was controversial, but what I loved about it was that it played with the Hollywood trope of we’re going to get saved at the last minute. I was just like, no, we’re not. It’s going to hit. I just thought that was so bold.
Bayo Akomolafe: Well, I liked the film too, Don’t Look Up. But, to use that as a springboard to something else, there is a sense in which we are looking up. There’s a posture that comes with white stability, a white modernity that says, "Keep your back straight and look up.” That is, your value isn’t a transcendent. You come from outside of the world. Yuria constantly reminds us that we are part of this sweltering, sweaty cosmos. We’re part of this dense network of ecologies. We’re not apart from it, but there is a sense in which modernity invites us to look beyond the material. Whether phallic adventures into space with mask leading the charge, I don’t know. And that’s what I’m speaking about when I talk about stuckness. I constantly get this idea that our politics is reproducing this tautology of responses. We just keep going around in circles, this spiral.
And yes, things change, even spirals are not neat and tidy, but I think it’s a very, very apt metaphor or figure the death spiral of the ant, for instance, how we’re constantly going around the trail and how something else is needed, and I think we’re already speaking about this.
But, this idea that loss is the enemy to be vanquished, Naomi, with death being a villain in the Bible for instance, at the end of time, death, the villain will be deaded. This idea seems to be, this apocalyptic idea is stitched with our politics. And I wonder if loss is a politics in itself, if this invitation to other sensorial ways of being with the world, of noticing that the universe’s most prolific product is loss. But, loss is not pathological. Loss is how things transform.
Yuria is telling us that things change. They become different, they become other. But, you can’t just jump from here to there without going through the thresholds, without becoming black, without becoming death. Is there a sense in which there is a different assemblage of resources, a different framework, different stories we can tell the climate scientists in their shut up and calculate posture? What did you say? What did you call it, Naomi? You called it evangelist of hopelessness. I feel like, even hope as presented within modernity is this shiny thing. Its shown of its prickly edges. But, in my traditions, hope is a trickster. There isn’t a binary between hope and hopelessness. To hold hope well is to hold hopelessness, is to embrace it, is to know that things may not go out our way. And that is the beauty of this poetic saga that we call reality. But, I’m speaking too much.
Yuria Celidwen: There’s always not enough. But, I bring both of your ideas of loss, and grief, and the push for fleeting hyper around state of hope. And then, how that bridges into rituals of meaning, thinking of, it is precisely the not knowing what’s going to lead the way to our right action. Those stories of the paternalistic savior that comes in the end and saves the show. Those ideas keeps us not only disempowered, but keeps us also in ignorance. And sister Naomi was saying, well, what’s the fear that is causing these problems? And in my case, I fear ignorance, because that’s what keeps us perpetrating systems without knowing that we are part of those problems. So, without having a deep reflection, deep contemplation into which is our part that we continue these old narratives that need to be composted, then things will not change.
And Bayo, brother, you asked, are there other stories? There are so many stories, 7,000 different languages spoken in the world, each of which will have an origin story about who we are and how we got connected. Many of those stories we haven’t heard, and we are losing those stories every day.
So, how do we create now platforms of belonging of all those different stories in which then we can find meaning. Meaningful new ways of identifying ourselves, stop or letting go of those what keeps us stuck in narratives of isolation, or domination, or ownership, or control, and rather weaving into narratives of belonging to the earth, of reciprocity, of returning, and all of these many other ways that we haven’t yet heard. But, part of that is as we have been mentioned already now mentioning from the very beginning, the political platform that keeps only giving rise or giving voice to the same old stories that keep us trapped.
Bayo Akomolafe: That leads me, Naomi, I don’t know if you wanted to respond or if you wanted to respond to that, but that leads me to something of a difficult question, and we can hold this together. We’re in this together. So, it’s not a left or right thing, is it? And I’m speaking about the assemblages of institutional politics as we have it today. One is a denial of climate issues. One is a reinforcement of those narratives, and somewhere in between is, or rather transversely, is this unknown politics that is inviting us to do something different, I think. But, what would you say to this barely discernible idea that I think I’ve been able to parse from Yuria’s comments now, that it’s not a left or right thing. Is there something there?
Naomi Klein: Well, I think that you and Yuria are talking about a total paradigm shift. And so, left and right are within the paradigm that we’re talking about in this transformation. We know that capitalist nations and industrial socialist nations have both waged war on the earth. That if you look at the charts of emissions, emission reductions, the only time there have been dips is when there have been world economic crises within capitalism and when the Soviet Union collapsed.
So, no, it’s not within that classic sense, a left-right thing. But, I would push back a little on the idea that it transcends these categories, because I do think that it is an interrelational versus dominance hierarchical thing. And if you look at the social science around right, left political identification, you have much stronger identification with a dominance-based worldview on the right. And the further right you go, the more attachment there is to what the Christians call "the great chain of being.” God on top, angels underneath, white men, bottom rocks, inanimate objects.
And so, I think when I said earlier I’m more afraid of cruelty than I am of death, what terrifies me is, what the pyramid, and I’m not saying the left doesn’t believe in the pyramid. I’m just saying that, that tends to be less attached, tends to have less identity bound up in it in the research I’ve seen.
And so, the more attached you are to that hierarchy of life, when we fall down and we are falling down, the stories of dominance rationalize extermination, genocide. So, I’m not comfortable with just saying it’s trans, left, right, and there’s nothing to learn from these distinctions, because I do think that the right is, the far right is, if we think about what is underneath that ideology, it’s the hierarchy, it’s the dominant. "If I built myself, I deserve what I have. If you don’t have what I have, you must have done something to deserve that, and that idea can then allow me to rationalize your death.” And so, I don’t think we can throw it out all together.
Bayo Akomolafe: No, I wouldn’t say that either. I wouldn’t throw that out. But, I wasn’t saying transcendent, I was saying transversal. So, not above it all, not some atmospheric thing, but something that clears the boundaries a little bit. And that even within these paradigms, there’s a sloshy mechanism that brings them together in ways that leaves them intact in their differences, but disturbs their boundary-making processes. It’s almost like they’re co-making each other. I’m speaking about the ways that our politics only leads to the co-creation of the other side and reinforces the other in terms of, even in our, we entrenching of our identity, we actually make room for the other to be the other. So, not transcendent but transversal.
But, this seems to be exactly the issue for me here. I had a dream recently, and I don’t usually have, I don’t know about both of you, but I don’t usually have lucid dreams. I never wake up with anything from my dream. I cannot remember my dreams. Except, yesterday I woke up with a sentence, and this sentence was, within the geometry of the exquisite, "You need loss.” That in order for new things to blossom, this is my interpretation, because I did not intentionally coin these or phrase this. But, the idea that novelty and newness in transformation is somewhat premised on loss, on the cracks in our edges. I think we want to speak to that a little more. I would like us to shift the arrangement of our conversation, and I’m trying something new here, and I’m going to shift the button, so to speak, around, so we can ask each other questions.
But, for now, could we just, without tying a bow, just spiral out of this idea that grieving is not, and I think we need people to hear this: Grieving is not in the way, grieving together, falling apart together might very well be the most ecstatic, the most animated politics in response to these moments that we can master.
Because, yes, the world that is producing, and this is not to belittle that either, the world that is producing recycling as a response to climate chaos does not know how to notice that what is supposedly recycled, 93% of that comes to me, to my world, to Nigeria, to India, to Vietnam. And it fosters this pleasure principle, this idea that we are the good guys, we’re on the right side of history. Is there a trap there? But, is there also something to be said about through your experiences, and your scholarship, and your own dreaming, and your own experiences of loss that, let’s stay with this crack. There is life here?
Naomi Klein: Yuria.
Yuria Celidwen: I love of this. I love of seeing grief as ecstasy. I love of this power, the power of this image. Grief is the state of loss.
Bayo Akomolafe: Thank you.
Yuria Celidwen: And loss of some part of our identity that has been severed, either our worldviews or someone we love, or some sense of stability is lost and we grief. So, we find ourselves out of our usual state of self. So, it is ecstatic in that sense.
Bayo Akomolafe: Yes.
Yuria Celidwen: It pushes us outside of our current normal state of mind into an in-between state, in between [inaudible] a kind of dream-like state in which things can happen, possibilities can arise that we don’t know, because we surrender, because we can rest in that unknowing, and that’s the place of possibility, that’s the place of potentiality. In so many origin stories that we find in Indigenous traditions the beginning of the world is a state of potentiality, is a state of soup, cosmic soup in which everything is resting. And little by little some order starts arising.
But, that place of chaos, again, is a place of potential, is a place pregnant of possibilities and opportunities. But, then of course, no pathway is set. Everything can be. So, that’s the unknown. But, to be there is to let go of knowing, you have to let go of having the solution, is letting go of the identity, letting go of the narrative, the collective, the individual, and then transitioning into the place of communities, like in ritual processes. And I’m thinking right now of specific funeral rights, for example.
You start in a place of loss and grief, and you enter in the place of in between, the place of communities, in which the whole collective helps the griever, the bereaver, into finding meaning of this new identity that is rising, that is yet to be found, yet to be found meaning in, and then eventually able to return with a new sense of self, a new sense of responsibility, a new sense of place and belonging, not only to its own, but to the community when it stands, and then with the larger community of things. So then, that grief, as you said, is not in the way, grief is the way to transformation, is the way that we can let go and then be open to the mystery, be open to spirit to really flow through. And no matter what the animating principle of life, which is spirit will flow through.
Naomi Klein: I’m really struck by your description of grief as ecstasy.
Bayo Akomolafe: Ecstasy.
Naomi Klein: And it just made me think, there really is nothing more intimate than grieving with someone, and the trust and the surrender of someone really allowing themselves to fall apart, because they’re trusting you to catch them. They’re trusting you. They’re trusting that they won’t fall into an abyss. And it really made me think, also grief, my own experience of grief and collective grief is that, it is a space of regeneration.
And this feeling not, I’m sorry to use a fossil fuel metaphor, but that I feel like so many of our social movements are running on empty, because we are in this, just do it again and again and again and never stop, and never admit that we lost and never make space for uncertainty. And then, you’re like, why are there fewer people around me than when we started this?
Well, because most people don’t work like that. And so, it’s really only going to just be that small core that is able to just keep going and running on empty. And the thousands or hundreds of thousands that were with us a while back might not be with us anymore because they’re feeling isolated.
But, my question for both of you is something I’ve been struggling with around, I mentioned I live in a temperate rainforest. These forests are filled with mother trees, these trees that are composting into the earth and are the spaces of most intense life. So, it’s just very visual in my brain where I walk the dog. I’m surrounded by the power of death as a life force. And I take a lot of [inaudible] and metaphorical strength from that. But, like I said, we had a drought that lasted so long that the force stopped having that power.
And I just feel like it’s worth naming that we’ve, like when we’re thinking about the climate crisis and the extinction crisis, and I’m not using the word we, because we are not all responsible for it. It wasn’t all of our technologies that produced it. And there’s so much erasure in that idea, but we are all in it, and it has disrupted those cycles of regeneration. So, the solace and the stories that tell us that we regenerate, that life comes from death, that’s being interrupted, and that’s the grief that I find unconsolable.
I think there’s so much discourse around how young people are on the front lines of the climate crisis, and of course, they are because they are going to be living with this longer. But, to me, there’s nothing sadder than being an elder, being at the end of one’s life and knowing, and not having the comfort that, "Yes, I’m leaving, but the systems are bigger than me and they are regenerating.” So, how do you carry that? Because, these cycles seem to not, like this thing called the Anthropocene messed that up.
And so, when I look at some of, and I know this wonderful, the oceanographer who spent his life studying the Great Barrier Reef, and he’s at the end of his life, and I see in him this inability to just pass the baton and know that the cycle’s going to continue, because it’s not.
Yuria Celidwen: I would bring us back. Brother Bayo started our conversation today inviting us to a place of shared vulnerability. And I think that place of unknowing is where vulnerability dwells, not knowing really what will happen. There is a process called the nekea from Nicki’s Like A Corpse, and it is the journey through the underworld or the land of the dead. And that also is present in origin stories or traditions all over the world, in which there is that ritual process of losing the whole world, the whole identity, and finding oneself in a place of total vulnerability.
We are right now in a global nekea in which we don’t know, and not knowing is the moment where we really find ourselves in the possibility of coming together for solutions, because there will be no savior in the end. There will be no usually paternal figure. We don’t know. And unless we realize that deep vulnerability actions will not start happening, and the right action will not start happening. I cringe a little bit with the idea of the Anthropocene, because we need to name the whiteness of that term. It’s not a-
Bayo Akomolafe: I missed that. We need to name the, did you say whiteness of the term?
Yuria Celidwen: The whiteness, yeah, the whiteness of the Anthropocene. Because, it’s not about humanity being in Mother Earth. That has happened for millennia with quite good balance. It’s rather the colonial imposition of control, ownership, transaction that has created this abuse towards each others and Mother Earth. So, that part is what needs to be really deeply acknowledged, deeply reckoned with, and then moving to those reparations that need to happen.
So, the solutions then start happening. Before that, we will just continue with the same old. You said it sister Naomi, yes, not everybody has, we know very well that the whole global [inaudible] has not been responsible of the situation of the world, but we now know as well that the move towards mimicking Western lifestyles continues this solution.
So, we need to start shifting those stories. We need to start moving beyond that. And even also the realization, speaking now of the conservation movements, the green economies that are taking then again the personality of the Western individualists ideologies that is only banking systems that are being benefited by carbon offsetting, and that Indigenous peoples are being removed from their lands in the name of conservation now, in the name of protecting areas.
And now, we are not having access to our lifestyle systems in our lands. So, all of those issues need to be acknowledged and put really in the front, so that solutions that really benefit the whole Mother Earth start happening. Otherwise, we continue with being that stuck in those narratives, rationalizing that in the name of, then we can continue the abuse.
Bayo Akomolafe: Thank you, sister. I think the way I will respond to that question, dear sister Naomi, is I think of whiteness as this planet terraforming principle. It’s the flattening of the wilds. It’s the clearing that seeks to dismiss the urgency, the deep intelligence, the wild and promiscuous embodied grounding forces around us. And to reduce all of that to the individual, the myth of the individual, of the story of the separate self.
Whiteness is not white people. Whiteness is not white-identified bodies. Whiteness captured white-identified bodies just as much as it has captured people that look like me. So, whiteness is this thing that is spreading around the planet. And in that sense, we are participating even the Global South in this climate weathering. We’ve become the weathering bodies, the resource base for this machine that is flattening everything.
So, of course, I think we already know that climate isn’t just the weather, it’s how we think. It’s how we name ourselves, it’s how we perform technology, it’s how we travel, it’s how we eat, it’s how we make love, it’s how we tell stories, it’s all of this. And I think the invitation, the wisdom of chaos, I’m using those story elements, Yuria, that you’ve invited in.
The invitation is to shapeshift, in the words of Gatari, is to stand up and leave the couch, the psychotherapist’s or the psychoanalyst’s couch behind that is preserving our individuality and coddling our minds into thinking that we are separate from the world we’re trying to fix. This feels like the loss of White stability for me. It seems like we’re storing this loss of stability. We just don’t have the way to ritualize this loss. But, there are lots of, from my vantage point, African elders, and Indigenous cosmological stories, and accounts that follow the slaves and told the stories of capture.
It seems like what you’re inviting us to talk about Naomi is capture. The ships, the slave ships are pulled close to Africa, are now pulling close to the world, to the shores of the entire world, and we’ve reached a point of no return. So, we need to listen to people like Earl Lovelace, or C. L. R. James, or Hortense Spillers, or Fred Moten who say, maybe speaking truth to power is not the issue here. Maybe even our struggle is part of the structure we’re trying to append. Maybe we need something beyond surveillance. Maybe we need, and it’s not even transcendent. Maybe we need fugitive ways of addressing this crisis. And maybe grief is that ecstatic fugitivity that we’re speaking about, grief as art, grief as aesthetics, grief as vocation.
That there has to be a way, a bacchanal aesthetics in Lovelace’s term, a way of convening around the crack, around the monster that have been monsterized or pathologized by modernity and offering it sanctuary. Maybe we’re not in a time where we offer ourselves sanctuary. It’s not a question of safety for ourselves as much as it is making sanctuary for this thing, this transformative agent that has come to us, namely grief.
I think I’ll stop there. But, how about we do this. There are questions coming in. Now, this isn’t exactly framed as a context for responding to questions. The aesthetic isn’t one of, I get it now, now I understand. Because, as Naomi said in the beginning, more data isn’t the problem. More and more and more information doesn’t seem to be working. So, this isn’t about getting it. This isn’t about amending your CV to say you attended this conversation between the three of us.
This is really about sensorial encounters. Even confusion can be a blessing here. But, let’s do this. Let’s experiment with this. To start things off, there are questions coming in. I will read it out. I think Sara is going to be feeding us some of them that are interesting to respond to. There are no guarantees of answers. Everyone listening, no answers here.
Just responses, just gestures. And if you feel called to respond to it, Naomi, Yuria, then please do. Let me take one is, how do we prepare for the chaos? I resonate with Naomi’s fear of cruelty. We must make community in our places to traverse and build the new, so kind of answering the question, but I’ll go back to the question. How do we prepare for the chaos? How do we prepare for the, big question, Naomi. No, sorry, Yuria, Naomi, any one of you. I kind of named you there. That’s why I named you again, please.
Yuria Celidwen: There is goodness that we cannot prepare for the chaos, otherwise there’s no chaos. So, precisely chaos is the surrendering. So, the reason why, the beauty of vulnerability, it is that brings us into the real embodied need of others. Like, oh, I don’t know. We don’t know. So, then we come together. In those moments of deep vulnerabilities, shared vulnerability, we realize we’re actually much closer than we imagined. So, let yourself be in the chaos, embrace the chaos, and embrace it as a place of possibility, as a place of unknowing where life can emerge.
Bayo Akomolafe: Yuria, come on, give us a little handle somewhere. So, you’re saying there’s no certainty, nothing to hold within the chaos, nothing?
Yuria Celidwen: We can hold into life herself, into spirit herself, which is what’s animating the right action. That’s why we need that moment of reflection and contemplation to really understand. We see life, the whole of cycles of nature that are talking about that process, that process of resting, that process of emerging, that process of blooming, and then calming and wilting and passing to then rest again to reemerge. So, we see those processes over and over. We live those processes too, even though we want to keep a state of summer and spring all the time. So, how can we allow ourselves also to enter into that place of unknowing, which is the place of resting, the place of gestation. And where does the seed rests?
Bayo Akomolafe: Where does the seed...
Yuria Celidwen: In the great peach blackness of possibility, that is Mother Earth. And we don’t see, but in those unseen worlds in the in between the huge network you were saying Bayo in the beginning, the mycelia network that connects all around the cosmic networks that connect us. So, holding onto that, but perhaps also we need to let go of the holding itself, needing to let go of hope itself, and allow us to really sense, really embody, let it feel through the body, the process of grief. Because, that’s where the transformation will happen. We let ourselves go off ourselves.
Bayo Akomolafe: Thank you so very much, sister. Thank you, Naomi.
Naomi Klein: I would just add that letting go of hope is not the same as letting go of love. And that in these moments of chaos, I heard you saying, "Prepare for the chaos.” There’s chaos everywhere, all over the place, and it’s unevenly distributed. And what we know from disasters, these staccato events, any ability to deny, ignore, is upended by a wildfire, a hurricane, a heat dump. From what I can tell from the research that I’ve seen and been part of, the killer is loneliness, the killer is isolation. It’s not the only killer, but it is the deadliest force, much more than high winds, or soaring heat or rising waters. Its people left alone in their homes, mostly elderly people, overwhelmingly disabled people, love, community connection, saves lives again and again and again.
So, I guess, coming back to what I was saying earlier, how do we fall, if we’re holding each other, or stabbing each other? How do we use the falling as an opportunity to, as you said in the question, how do we build community? That’s absolutely [inaudible]. And to be a boring leftist, I also think we need to invest in non-market housing and public healthcare and food for all, because these things make us or make it less likely that we turn on each other because we have less of a feeling of scarcity.
Yuria Celidwen: I really love how then love is entering into our conversation, kind of embracing the whole of the conversation. And I love thinking of how love and in all its myriad forms brings grief into meaning, rage into action, and despair to transformation. So, from that grief as ecstasy, then love as the webbing of life.
Bayo Akomolafe: Thank you so much, Naomi. And adding the leftist part, too, was the chef’s kiss. There’s a question, and I think it’s a beautiful way to come to a plateau. And just drawn from that strand of love. I think of love as the generative incompleteness of everything, of all things, that is love refuses to leave us isolated, speaking of isolation. The modernity’s myth, modernity’s story is that we are alone and we need to be alone because we’re essences, and fleshed, essences and fleshed. I think that’s one way to put it. And this myth of the neoliberal, the one who is only garlanded by market forces, and maybe nothing more is modern civilization’s greatest. I don’t want to say illusion, because it brings in a notion of reality that I’m not quite comfortable with, but it’s performance. Modernity’s performance is isolation. Isolation for me is not a matter of what I’m feeling inside.
Rather, it is an ecological, I’m going to use the term affect. It’s an affective trance. It’s not just inside. The private is public simultaneously. It’s how billboards, standards of beauty, notions of expertise, how the schooling system and how the architecture of the city creates us. Emotions have never been human issues. They’ve always been more than human animist configurations.
So, to ask this question, and this is the question and I’ll put it in our midst, is how do we deal with feelings of isolation that arise from living in a world/society? I live in the UK, says this person, that can feel majo ritively in the dark about where we are with the climate emergency. And my partial response to that is that, and the philosophies, the feminisms, the Indigenous ideas that nourish my work, there are always openings and cracks. Yuria said something about the spiral that produces molecular differences.
There are always little glimpses of novelty that might be pathological to modernity. My instigation is, follow those feelings, follow those desires to where they might lead and experiment around. It sounds delusion and it probably is, but the idea that where the crack is, is where, don’t let me say where the light comes in, because I’m kind of tired with light metaphors. Light comes into the crack. And endarkenment is what we’re doing now, not enlightenment. It’s where the lomi soil comes in. So, where that leads, the crack is the invitation to lose our way. That’s my partial response there. There’s other things I could say, but I wanted you both to speak to that. And maybe this is how we wrap things up. If there’s no space for one more question.
Naomi Klein: Well, I’ll go to that, Yuria, can close us out, because I have faith in you.
Bayo Akomolafe: We all do, Yuria.
Naomi Klein: I was struck by the part of the question that talked about being in the UK and feeling that people are in the dark about the climate crisis. I often hear this sort of, what do we do about the people who don’t care? What do we do about the people who are indifferent? And I think I would just say, don’t buy it. I don’t believe it its possible to not know, to not care about the scale of loss that we’re talking about. Part of the job, whether we like it or not, whether we know, whether we consciously know it or ever been taught it, it’s just true.
So, I think it helps to not come at it from a space of I need to make you care about something, and think about it more in the sense of, how do we open up space to know what we already know, to feel what we know, and to come at it with the humility that probably we haven’t figured that out either. So, I think that part of being able to hold, even if fleeting me, the weight of the moment.
Is these different affective states and different stories that are not the savior narrative, that are not the apocalypse narrative. Because, we are in this time of just getting hit with events that very few people are prepared for, the pandemic was one, and many, many more.
And those moments are super dangerous, because if you’re attached to a certain story and suddenly there’s an event without a story for it, you’re putty in the hands of tyrants who want to stick a really dangerous story in your head. And I think we can all think of examples like that.
So, this process of weaving different kinds of stories, resurfacing stories that colonialism, and capitalism, and whiteness attempted to exterminate, that’s disaster preparation. That’s more important than stockpiling toilet paper. That’s really important for the shocks to come. I just want to say thank you for the conversation with you again.
Bayo Akomolafe: Sister Yuria.
Yuria Celidwen: I will also converse to what sister Naomi said about the recurring to stories that may also be perpetrating these systems, and how within a world that is shifting rapidly, that technological advances are creating an alternate sense of identities. The crack that you were talking about. Yes, let’s now invite the possibilities of darkness, that chaos, that unknowing. Thinking of crack that enters into the depths of Mother Earth to find that well of medicine, that well of life.
And also, the crack that also symbolizes the beginning of rupture of what we know, of the systems that we know. So, rather than recurring to fundamentals, ideas, or stories, then we refer to participatory, intentional stories and collective stories, which is why it’s so important to be acknowledging, reckoning and repairing the current identities, so that we don’t keep perpetrating them.
So, we just not allow anything to happen, no. Rather, we feel empowered to intentionally create the stories of belonging that we’re looking for, using that crack as the entering or the coming out of what possibilities are. And I also feel profoundly grateful for this time together, so generative and that allow us to really welcome what we don’t know and not having the solutions yet, allowing the questions without the answers.
Bayo Akomolafe: Thank you so much. It’s just appropriate that grief, we started with grief and somewhere along the line it became gratitude. And that’s really holding grief well, I think. Thank you both, Naomi, Yuria, for holding this space with us. And for everyone who has been listening, clock time says it’s about time to stop, but African time says, nah. No, that’s not how to think about time. Time is always beginning. Just because clock time says it ends here, it doesn’t mean the inquiry doesn’t continue.
And this is just to let you know that you’re not alone, that we are in this planetary conversation together. Let it spill. Take it to a party, take it to your community, to your neighborhood. Let’s have these conversations and let them change us, so that we might become different. All right, we’ll see you in your dreams. Naomi will show up first and then Yuria, but probably not me. We’ll see you soon. Thank you so very much for being with us. Thank you.
[Music: "Silver Lanyard" by Blue Dot Sessions ]
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