Re-Learned Powerfulness


Psychology has long been focused on diagnosing disorders. It took the development of “positive psychology” to change the perspective towards the study (and promotion) of the things that make for happiness and well-being.

The idea of ecohappy came out of the realization that ecology has been suffering from a similarly negative focus. It is excellent when it comes to analyzing all the various ways in which humanity is having a negative impact on the world and may be dooming itself. But what about a “positive ecology” to recognize and promote synergies between what is good for a person and good for ‘the planet’?

Part and parallel of this is how good psychology has become at describing the origins of learned helplessness, and how well ecological science has been ‘helping’ us to learn very well – only too well, in fact – that we are helpless.

The Industrial Revolution was quite a revolution... That doesn't say we have to stop there, though. (Source: Kheel Center)
Like a caged animal… but just be happy you have a job at all, right? Know your place, know you can’t really change anything. Except…
(image source: Kheel Center)

After all, things such as climate change are due to our collective impact, and therefore out of our hands as individuals. Species extinctions, pollution, humanity’s running up against various ecological boundaries – they are all somehow related to the ways we live and make a living, but also all much bigger than we are as individuals.

And so, we have learned helplessness. The futility of attempts at changing things and doing better.

And so, we find people like Paul Kingsnorth who are presented as having given up hope, given up trying to change things (in their former activist ways, anyway), and apparently just retreat while waiting for the end of civilization. One gets Guy McPherson as a caller in the desert who proclaims the soon-to-come extinction of humanity.

Nothing much you can do, then; it’s all so much bigger than you and going to hell in a handbasket.

Where there is an outright will to power, and a belief that humanity is more than powerful – as in the “new environmentalism” of a geo-engineered, genetically modified, and nuclear powered future – it is questionable (if not outright hubris). It may well be magical thinking, and it still leaves the individual (and even communities) quite powerless. It’s all out of our (individual) hands, yet again.

Nothing much you can do, then; it may all turn out well, but just you wait and let the engineers take care of it.

Even in the radical calls to arms of Deep Green Resistance, the program is reaction against others with power from those who suffer, helpless but to resist and try to make “them” change.

Nothing much you can do, then, actively. Just thrash and rail and feel you’re doing something.

One of the things that make happy, however, is self-efficacy.

Doing things, creating things, and thus contributing to a feeling of self-determination in one’s life. Having the feeling that there is some control, a certain power.

And if ecology (and evolution) teaches us one thing, it’s that we don’t need silver-bullet mega-projects riding roughshot over local conditions and alternative ideas, nor even global attitude shifts, anyways.. We don’t need *a* future.

We need a diversity of futures, (be)fitting local ecosystems of people and culture and the natural world, in the hands of people who are learning and resilient and making the ecosystems they live in and co-create resilient, as well. In that, we all have power. Some is just for small and inconsequential choices, but some may also change it all. It is up to us.

Dreams of the Good (Rural) Life, ca. 1900-1930
Dreams of the Good (Rural) Life, ca. 1900-1930… Quite a few things that can be done, and modernized.

Time, then, to re-learn powerfulness – which is to be gained by taking the power, recognizing it, learning and using it.

It’s time for that, all the more, because we can and cannot foresee the future.

We cannot know if and when a collapse will come, if there will be resource wars or a much ‘colder’ decline – or, for that matter, new technologies that (continue to) make things better (or, finally, our creation of something to really call civilization).

We can already see that everything that makes things better also makes for problems.
Food production that keeps up with human population growth may well be among the major factors leading to further population growth, leading to a greater human impact.
Digital technologies de-materialize quite a bit of our economy, but also hide away much of the continuing (and rising) energy and material use, improve living standards but thereby also increase impact. All our solutions will have to be adaptable and adapting, made to actually achieve their goals…

Then again, some things are a middle ground of life, things that have always mattered and will continue to matter as long as there is life, especially human life, on this planet or beyond it – and they aren’t things so much as skillful living.

What we can see and know for sure is that, whether you fear a collapse is coming or foresee a glorious future, you are alive now and probably wouldn’t mind having a good grip on your life.

So, learn, gain skills, make yourself at home in this world, become resilient and make the ecosystems you live in and with (and as) resilient, make ways of living and making a living better, ‘fitted‘ for the world, for yourself, for us.

There is a lot to do, and a lot of power in the doing.

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