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The Great Humbling S4E4: 'Are we going to talk about Ukraine?'

The Great Humbling

Release Date: 03/21/2022

The Great Humbling S4E6: 'Nice to meet you' show art The Great Humbling S4E6: 'Nice to meet you'

The Great Humbling

After twenty-nine episodes recorded through screens and cameras, Ed and Dougald find themselves meeting for the first time and sit down for a conversation beside the mill pond in Loddon, in the garden of the Mill of Impermanence. We hear the unlikely tale of how Dougald found Ed’s fiftieth birthday present, a copy of Uriah Heep’s fifth album, , while en route to a holiday in Great Yarmouth. A chain of serendipitous events leads to the unavoidable conclusion that Yarmouth is the spiritual home of the Great ‘Umbling. This leads to a discussion of ‘serendipity’, the term , and...

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Dougald poses a big question for this episode: what do we believe in? Ed responds playfully and paradoxically with ‘self-delusion’, citing Robert Trivers work on self-deceit that includes gay pornography and erection-o-meters. And lasers. Here's .  Dougald talks about the formative influence of spending the first two-and-a-bit years of his life in the grounds of a theological college and what happened when he told his Sunday school teacher that he didn't find Hell 'a particularly helpful concept’.  Does it matter more what we believe, or what our beliefs make us do?...

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The Great Humbling S4E4: 'Are we going to talk about Ukraine?' show art The Great Humbling S4E4: 'Are we going to talk about Ukraine?'

The Great Humbling

We started this podcast in the early weeks of the pandemic, talking about the stories circling around it. A crisis had come out of the corner of almost everyone's field of vision and became, within weeks, the only thing in the news. Two years on, something similar has happened, so we arrived at this episode wondering whether or not to talk about Ukraine. Dougald remembers Ivan Illich's short text, 'The Right to Dignified Silence' (in ), written in support of West German campaigners  who refused to enter into a reasoned argument about nuclear weapons, choosing instead to express...

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The Great Humbling S4E3: The Great Humbling S4E3: "Remapping Lava"

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We’ve been listening back to , almost two years ago, in the early weeks of the time of Covid. Maybe it’s the influence of revisiting those early episodes, or maybe it has to do with Dougald turning up to our January recording with a glass of bubbly in hand, but we find ourselves ranging freely – and at some length – in this conversation we’re calling ‘Remapping Lava’. Before we get onto the main theme of the discussion, we bring back the tradition of asking each other what we’ve been reading or listening to lately that’s got us thinking. Ed talks about , the new novel...

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The Great Humbling S4E2: The Great Humbling S4E2: "The Commonplace"

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Dougald and Ed discuss the idea of 'the commonplace' - that which we hold 'in common'. What can a Scandinavian hotel breakfast 'smorgasbord' tell us about our understanding of the commons beyond resources? Can David Graeber shed light on the role of the commons in human cultural history? And where might we find a new commonplace to have and to hold the conversations, and nurture the ideas and practices that really matter?

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Dougald and Ed sink to their knees on the prayer mat, digging into the biological, behavioural, spiritual and political of 'taking the knee' and exploring the absence of blessings, prayer, libations and offerings. Is there a place for 'speaking to the friend' beyond the theology of organised religiion? This episode does not contain Madonna or Bon Jovi

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From Jamaican buses, via Antarctica to policing our own privileges and contributions, this is an adventure through the ways in which our perceptions and attitudes towards scale (and speed) can spin us into awkward and uncomfortable spaces and situations. How do we hold our heads and hearts in the multiple layers of expectation and experience?

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The Great Humbling S3E5: 'See Double!' show art The Great Humbling S3E5: 'See Double!'

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The one where Dougald and Ed explore 'double vision' via the usual unlikely mix of Thundercats, William Blake, Karl Polanyi, Jay Griffiths, Vanessa Andreotti and Robert Frost - how do we maintain our layered consciousness, how does one become an 'accidental futurist' and what might a 'double movement' for the future feel like?

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We started this podcast in the early weeks of the pandemic, talking about the stories circling around it. A crisis had come out of the corner of almost everyone's field of vision and became, within weeks, the only thing in the news. Two years on, something similar has happened, so we arrived at this episode wondering whether or not to talk about Ukraine.

Dougald remembers Ivan Illich's short text, 'The Right to Dignified Silence' (in In the Mirror of the Past), written in support of West German campaigners  who refused to enter into a reasoned argument about nuclear weapons, choosing instead to express themselves through public silence.

This reminds Ed of the Silent Parade in Manhattan in 1917 to protest violence against African Americans, and also of the wordless presence of XR's Red Rebel Brigade.

Ed quotes from Douglas Rushkoff's 'Doing Less to Help Ukraine':

Instead of filling our channels and brains with uninformed opinions, we should stop and breathe. We are not there, we not informed, and we should shut up — except, maybe, to stand in solidarity with our fellow human beings. We can bear witness to what is happening. Instead of adding more conflict and confusion to the crisis, we can help metabolize the trauma of our fellow beings. We are all connected, after all.

Dougald reflects on L.M. Sacasas's comment about the impossibility of being silent in online spaces. We either contribute to the noise, or we disappear altogether from view.

We wonder about the role played at a moment like this by the kind of quieter online spaces – the 'dark forests' of the internet we discussed at the end of last series – in contrast to the escalatory patterns of social media.

Dougald quotes Justin E.H. Smith on how social media turns protest into 'upvoting' and 'downvoting' options like creating a no-fly zone, with terrifying implications.

Ed speaks about the 'onion layers' of history that leave us all weeping, and we discuss Branko Marcetic's article on the historical context of Ukraine

Ed brings in the heartening story of the two Scottish gardeners who drove to Ukraine to rescue three students trapped in the city of Sumy.

This reminds Dougald of the story of Illich being asked by a friend, "Don't you care about the starving children in the Sahel?" No, he replies, because to care would mean selling my belongings and going there and doing something, and I am not going to pretend that this is my intention. Illich's point is that we use the language of care too lightly. The example of those Scottish gardeners is what care, in Illich's sense, actually looks like.

We ask why this war is dominating the headlines, a question brought into focus by Ahmed Abdulkareem's article, 'Tears for Ukraine, Sanctions for Russia, Yawns for Yemen, Arms for Saudis'.

One layer within this is racism: the victims in Ukraine 'look like us', as more than one journalist has let slip. Dougald quotes from a fierce article by the Kenyan cartoonist Patrick Gathara that turns the foreign correspondent's lens on Europe and its 'tribal conflicts'.

Another layer is the fear we rightfully feel at the thought of nuclear esculation. Ed brings in Vladimir Pozner's talk at Yale and our blithe indifference (until this war) to the threat of nuclear weapons.

A further layer involves the way that this war reveals the rickety foundations of the 'mansion of modern freedoms' (a phrase that comes from Dipesh Chakrabarty's The Climate of History, with echoes of Vanessa Andreotti's 'The House Modernity Built'.) Dougald quotes from Rhyd Wildermuth's Substack essay, 'The Haunted Mansion of Modern Freedom', which wonders about what this war has done to 'the fantasy of historical progress, urban civic religion, and the Pax Capitalis', and how far this is colouring the Western response. There's an invitation to sit with current events as part of a larger process of the collapse of the house modernity built.

To sit with that kind of awareness is overwhelming, and as we turn to the question of 'what we can do', the first step is to find our way back to our bodies and the humility of our limited ability to 'do' anything.

But we mention the organisations worthy of support that Justin E.H. Smith lists at the end of another recent essay, 'Silence, Insouciance, Takemanship'.

Dougald remembers the beginnings of the City of Sanctuary movement in Sheffield and expresses a hope that we might broaden the current moment of generosity towards Ukrainean refugees towards the kind of culture of grassroots hospitality towards refugees and asylum seekers which that movement works to build.

We talk about the difference between 'praying for peace' and 'praying peace', coming into alignment with the field of peace rather than war. (The distinction comes from Gordon White.)

And we remember Wendell Berry's words about 'the peace of wild things'.