Fearful Sightings

February 7th, 20117:36 pm @


Right now, this is an unprecedented moment. More and more people can see the possibility of throwing off their ‘mind forg’d manacles’, to use William Blake’s phrase. This is the time of mass protests across North Africa and the Gulf, but I’m thinking more broadly about planetary problems and the range of demotic and legislative actions taking place to overcome them.

The impetus for these resistant actions is a great deal of very real and shared fear and suffering, combined with what I’m calling ‘sightings’, images which help people to see more clearly and systemically. In North Africa, the root cause of protest is rising food prices but it’s not just the visceral hunger but what they can see, beyond their borders and beyond this moment. Egypt’s people are not insulated from imagery which directly links their hunger to climate change, and which shows them that only a 0.25 meter sea level rise would devastate many of its cities.  In Australia, moves were announced today to revive climate action following extreme storms and floods exacerbated by climate change.

Seeing images like these and, for some, experiencing this violent reality, and looking ahead to more of this reality, must surely have had an impact on policy.

This thought train about the importance of ‘sightings’ for deep learning and change began when I read Andy Gibson’s piece ‘Nudge vs #big society?’ Andy expressed cognitive dissonance with the UK Government’s enthusiasm for ‘nudge’ techniques (or ‘choice architecture’) to achieve mass behaviour change, combined with their expectation of a mass rising up in capacity to deliver the Big Society. Nudge is essentially a behaviourist approach which to a certain extent makes use of Persuasion Without Awareness tactics. Capacity for the Big Society requires metacognitive learning, or Self-Persuasion Through Awareness. Andy asked the Coalition’s Behavioural Insight team, ‘Have we abandoned learning?’

Of course, their answer would be ‘no, we think education is vital’. But I think no recent UK Government has ever really embraced it, the principle of self-determined lifelong limitless learning, or enlightenment as an inclusive entitlement. They never wanted anyone to see quite so clearly. Conversely, they fail to see that a mix of deprivation and access to knowledge will inevitably clear people’s sight.

Jesse Norman, Conservative MP and author of The Big Society said (on Any Questions, BBC Radio 4, Feb 4th) that a positive outcome of the outcry against the privatisation of public forests would be increased learning and stewardship. That statement gave me some cognitive dissonance: I do believe in the effectiveness of learning through confusion and challenge but this veers towards learning through chaos and coercion. Moreover, I’m dubious about how much influence an enlightened public will be allowed to have and that an awareness of this will in turn constrain our learning. For example, if people tell the Government, having discussed and learned, that breaking up the Forestry Commission means an end to Forestry Stewardship Council membership, threatening efforts to curb global deforestation, will the Government acknowledge it? The Government has access to all the resources they need to give them clear sight but, in fear of losing status and status quo, they choose to obfuscate and deny the value of public wisdom.

Much has been said about whether or not the Revolution will be Twitterised as opposed to Televised. I see it as a social acceleration of tele-visualisation (the communication of images across distance) and increasingly microcosmic and macrocosmic visualisation.

The internet is full of powerful learning objects, of visual constructions and empirical images which show us an ever bigger and richer picture of our anthropogenic planet, and our planet amongst others. It’s said that the first astronauts who were privileged to travel into space to see Earth as a ‘blue marble’ returned as environmentalists. Maybe now that we can all see the blue marble we can all discover that we are environmentalists.

In recent months, we’ve seen extraordinary advances in technologies for visualisation. NASA shows us a wealth of images of a changing planet. For example, improvements to satellite imagery means that we can clearly see the effects of two years of drought on the Amazon, a situation that is alarming scientists as this could represent a tipping point where the Amazon rainforest stops being lungs and starts emitting CO2. Not only is NASA showing our world from a satellite view but looking outwards too: The Kepler Telescope has massively accelerated astronomy by its detection of over 1200 candidates for planets in just a tiny portion of the universe, around 50 of which could host life.

Everyone with access to a screen is able to see increasingly spectacular and accurate maps, models and witness photographs of systemic change affecting land, sky and oceans, and the animal and human societies which make our community. These ‘screen people’ are also more able to place their sightings of this planet in relation to the potential of other planets, and I believe that this must have an effect on shifting world views from short time and distance spans to longer ones.

Last week I organised an event about Museums, Learning and the Environment. Anne Finlayson, CEO of Sustainability and Environmental Education (SEEd) asked the whole room to choose where to stand on a line with two opposite world views at each pole: Arcadian (Mother Nature is the only force that can fix this planet) and Imperialist (we’re smart enough to fix this planet). I wanted to stand outside of this line, in that I don’t think we’re smart enough yet, because we won’t accept and work with the Force of Nature. To become smart enough, we have to evolve through a mass revision of our world view, and visioning technology will play a major part in that.

It may be that I rest faith too easily on visualisation, but my background in museum and gallery education has involved countless experiences of young people stepping up their understanding through exposure to images or objects from beyond their horizon.

This may seem an odd leap, but I want to shift focus from planetary sightings to sightings of exoplanetary beings. You might or might not be aware that UFO sightings have quadrupled (or more) in the past 3 years. ET chasers are galvanised by the witness statements of Stanley Fulham who has held sustained communication with the ‘regional galactic governance authority’, about its plans to save Earth from ecological collapse. The aliens gave Fulham some recent dates on which their spaceships would be disclosed over major cities. There were reported sightings on those dates but nothing quite like the scene in Independence Day.

Although my father has seen what he describes as a flying saucer, I remain extremely sceptical – but intrigued. I’m most interested in the stories ascribed to UFO sightings, and the effect these have on our ability to imagine an evaluation of the Earth from an alien perspective. Whether or not there are alien saviours, the imagining of them in this light is spreading the notion that if others value a biodiverse planet enough to want to keep it that way, we should value it likewise.

There may be many people who wish to be rescued by Mother Nature or angels from other planets, but the Imperialist world view dominates and will continue to do so.  God is made in the human image and we are driven by imagining ourselves as gods, as benign colonialists of other planets. The only way that we can transcend to such a capacity, is to take a radical position now, to see the prevention of ecological collapse as the only priority and as a global challenge.

Vinay Gupta wrote last week:

To act on what we know about climate and environment, to suggest a one planet lifestyle be made possible and socially acceptable brands one as a political radical of an entirely different stripe from any conventional political group, including the greens.

This really struck home. I am a Green Party member, but I’m missing their local day of action today, because I need to work on an international learning project. I care about UK issues, such as the forest sell-off, but my prime concern is how this might affect global deforestation. Am I afraid to be branded in this way, entirely different from any conventional political group, outside the line from Arcadian to Imperialist? I used to be but I see now that the situation is too serious for that kind of fear.