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Creative Resilience in a World-in-Crisis: It’s more than Doomerism!  Part 2. 

July 9, 2024

Communicating a world-in-crisis, as discussed in the preceding article, Communicative Resilience in a World-in-Crisis: It Gets Personal!, is not without its emotional difficulties and communicative dilemmas, as well as means of building communicative resilience. This it seems is an integral part of seeking to communicate today’s planetary emergency or meta-crisis to others – it goes with the planetary territory of social injustice and eco-grief. This article follows up on these personal reflections by considering how resilience can also be built into the production and performance of creative endeavours when seeking to engage audiences with today’s unravelling planet and pathways of change.  But first it is necessary to challenge the unhelpful and condemnatory term ‘doomerism’ which fails to recognise both the necessity for and the progressive complexities of cultural and creative responses to the predicament of today’s world-in-crisis.

Guno Park, Nature of Things, reproduced with kind permission. Copyright@Guno Park

‘Doomerism’: A simplistic psychologism

At the time of writing, the latest buzz word circulating in the media and, regrettably, in some sections of academia is ‘doomerism.’  This threatens to acquiesce with current media practices of ‘existential aversion’ and contribute to the ongoing ‘great derangement’ of our times by suggesting that what people need is stories of hope, not doom and gloom. The latter it is said will psychologically turn people off from recognising the major challenges of our times and only dampen enthusiasm for behavioural change. Recent research from the Yale Programme on Climate Change Communication, however, finds the opposite and statistically documents how people who are distressed by climate change are more likely to take action than those who are not (Ballew et al., 2023).

Anti-doomerism is not only conceptually simplistic, overlooking very different emotional responses (such as Macy’s (2021) ‘active hope’, and Albrecht’s (2019) psychoterratic typology of Earth emotions), that can support a critically engaged and realist approach to today’s unravelling world, but is also inherently reformist rather than transformative. The charge of doomerism is typically based on an ontology of individualism, simplistic psychologism and implicit faith in piecemeal reforms, rather than a historical and socio-cultural analysis of forces of decline, political economy, complex systems and how civil societies and governments collectively become aware and variously resist, negotiate and prosecute change. It fits very well indeed, in other words, with dominant media practices and its existential aversion that fails to recognise the holistic nature and complexly interconnected and endemic trajectories of decline (Cottle 2023a,b,c).

This is no time for communicators and different cultural fields to acquiesce to a more complacent and seemingly less urgent engagement with the world’s planetary emergency and to do so before the gravitas of the situation is widely acknowledged and better understood. And yet, broadcasters and other journalists (especially when employed within entertainment industries) seemingly feel obligated to relieve the gloom of impending planetary collapse for their audiences by massaging some hope into their dispatches from the world’s collapsing hotspots, even when the bigger picture suggests current initiatives and remedial actions are dwarfed by the scale of the unfolding planetary crisis.

This form of massaged paternalism is both unwarranted and dangerous. As with adult responses to children suffering from eco-anxiety, so journalist and other cultural responses to readers/audiences concerned about the state of the world and its ecosystems, should be based on a truthful engagement with the hard reality of the world’s predicament. ‘It is imperative’ as the author of one study of young people states, ‘that adults understand that youth climate anxiety (also referred to as eco-anxiety, solastalgia, eco-guilt or ecological grief) is an emotionally and cognitively functional response to real existential threats’ (Whitlock, 2023). Active hope is required, rather than simplistically manufactured optimism, and for this audiences, that’s you and me, need to be acquainted not only with the hard realities of why human civilisation and its supporting biosphere is rapidly heading for systemic breakdown and collapse, but also how pathways of transition and transformation can yet be built and grounded on an expanded ecological awareness of symbiosis in the web of life and commitment to both sustainability and social justice. This, by its very nature, will be emotional and journalism and other communicative fields must deepen and develop its reporting in ways that emotionally resonate and help to propel, not block, pathways to a sustainable world (Cottle 2024b).

To seek to engage communicatively and creatively with the predicament of our planet is not, I would suggest, usefully described and denigrated as ‘doomerist’ or ‘catastrophist’, but a reasoned, evidence-based and essentially sane response to an otherwise delusional world fixated on business as usual and that thereby seemingly remains in collective denial about deepening trajectories of socio-ecological collapse. When communicatively recognising and creatively responding to our world-in-crisis this can take on richly differentiated cultural forms of expression. And so too, as we shall hear, can it variously help to build creative resilience.

Creative practice as resilience

Each of us finds different ways to better attune to our world, from different philosophical and spiritual standpoints, and sometimes as discussed previously we must do so at the very moment that our attention to it can take us to a place of despondency, of heartache and grief (Albrecht 2019, Macy 2021). Like many I have often found meditative peace in remote places ‘in nature.’  For me, this sometimes also includes taking a guitar, finding sympathetic notes and playing gently in the moment, whether in the presence of seascapes, biodiverse forests, or outback deserts. It brings me closer to that sense of interconnectedness and interbeing that we are all capable of finding (Hanh 2013, Kimmerer 2013, Macy 2021, Macy and Johnstone 2022). Over recent years I’ve also been lucky enough to perform as guitarist in residence at a beautiful sculpture garden set in the ancient woodland of the Wye Valley that straddles the Wales – England border, playing over the summer months to visitors and accompanied by – and I romanticise not – bird song and the hum of dragon flies.

Wye Valley Sculpture Garden. @GemmaWoods.

With my singer friend, Louise Armstrong, we also perform our own eco-songs under the name of ‘Kahlo-After Frida’, playing at green festivals and small venues. We are neither rock stars nor widely known! This is simply part of our way of attending to the world and expressing feelings and commitments towards it, outside of academia. This too however is also about communicating a world-in-crisis and, in small imperfect ways, engaging in creative practices of active hope. Politically insignificant for the most part perhaps; but grounding from a creative and personal standpoint. It helps! Our songs set out to address the planetary predicament and some do so with robust lyrics, but this does not, I suggest, make  them ‘doomerist.’ Let me explain.

Cultural practice as creative resilience: a personal take

Whilst performing our songs is an emotional outlet for those more than troubling feelings including eco-grief already mentioned (Albrecht 2019, Macy 2021), it also provides an opportunity to share, commune and find a sense of solidarity with others; sometimes opening-up conversations after the performance and/or finding networks of similarly minded people. Sometimes, it must be said, our music can also fall on deaf ears! But this too is a communication of sorts and encourages us to find different musical registers and appeals that may yet resonate with others. As Simon Kerr puts it well in Communicating a World-in-Crisis, music’s superpower is more emotional than conceptual, and it has ‘a unique capacity to emotionally replenish and support people in crisis.’ (Kerr 2024)

As an illustration of how complexly interwoven, multi-dimensional and emotionally infused and energising communicating a world-in-crisis can be, here I share the lyrics of a few of our eco-songs. Each was written to address and resonate with audiences differently, and each demonstrates something of the polyvocal ways in which song can be crafted to engage with our world-in-crisis – and may encourage others to do the same. Hopefully, you may agree, that this cultural response is so much more than doomerism!

The first, Sweet Summers Past, is a song that attempts without cliché to recapture something of the innocent childhood experience of immersion in nature and the pleasures that many of us will have enjoyed and perhaps took for granted in our early years. Though the youthful experience of feeling immersed in nature will of course be individually unique as well as demographically distributed, many/most of us will have youthful memories of being enveloped within nature’s seasonal embrace. The song is written from the persona of a personal and nostalgic reminiscence and only at the end are we forced to recognise that the reassuring familiarity of seasons is now ‘unstitched.’ The song purposefully aims to locate nature in local place and personal experience where it often resonates the most and not, in this instance, in relation to the global political stage or even in explicit reference to the climate emergency.

Sweet Summers Past

(Sung over gentle, lyrical arpeggio guitar)

I remember sweet summers past,
Innocently held in nature’s embrace.
Gentle sea breezes, feet sand baked.
Long-grass frolics to cliff-edge dreams.

Yellow fields swaying, insects’ perpetual hum.
Crimson foxgloves standing tall down cow-parsley lanes.
I remember sweet summers past,
Yes, I remember summers past.

Bodies bathed in heat, shimmering in hope.
Morning honeysuckle dew then green dragonfly lakes.
I remember sweet summers past,
Yes, I remember summers past.

Waking to the birds’ excitable chatter,
Evenings lost in swallows gentle soaring.
I remember sweet summers past,
Yes, I remember summers past.

Shaded cooling woods, blanketed in moss.
Wild garlic’s pungency, stretching ferns unfurling.
I remember sweet summers past,
Yes, I remember summers past.

Chuckling brooks, chilled rivers toe dipped.
Kingfisher’s orange-blue dart, frogspawn life stirring.
I remember sweet summers past,
Yes, I remember summers past.

Outro

From the ancients to this day
Assured in nature’s way.
Life’s rhythms in season’s time.
Past and present in nature’s palm.
But now no longer.
Something’s amiss.
Seasons unstitched.
Summer’s innocence lost.
Fields scorch and crack.
Skies drench and howl.
Nature’s betrayed,
Who’s dismayed?
I miss sweet summers past,
I grieve for sweet summers past.

The second song, The Earth Weeps (Will you Sleep?) in contrast, adopts a historically longer, cross-cultural, and more obvious politically engaged stance. It builds on the prophetic words of Hollow Horn Bear (1850-1913) who witnessed the devastating effects of the imposition of American society and ‘progress’ on the Lakota indigenous peoples, landscapes and animals, and beyond. He is reputed to have said: “Someday the earth will weep, she will beg for her life, she will cry with tears of blood. You will make a choice, if you will help her or let her die, and when she dies, you too will die.”

The Earth Weeps, (Will you Sleep?)

(Sung over expressive arpeggio guitar)

Verse One

The Navajo “Sheltered by the trees”, Cheyenne “Warmed by the sun.”
Said Big Thunder “The Great Spirit the air we breathe; mother nature the plains and streams.”
Mary Brave Bird knew it too: “The land is sacred, rivers our blood.”
Standing Bear lamented: “Away from nature, hearts harden” – now clouds darken.
The Cree decreed, “When the last tree has gone, last river poisoned, then money we cannot eat.”

Chorus

And, on the plains of Dakota, Hollow Horn Bear had prophesised:
“The Earth will cry tears of blood – — and she will weep, she will weep.”

Verse Two

Goanna, possum, wallaby; the land is my mother; we are one.
Identity and Earth connected:  Baada …. Toogee ….  Pitjara.
From first sunrise to dried creek; dreamtime in the land we meet.
Walkabout through time and space; ancestors in our embrace.
Stories of mother earth woven with sun and moon; finger traced in stars and paint.

Chorus

Stolen from the land, a generation cries; The earth defiled so we will die.
Stolen from the land, a generation cries; The earth defiled so we will die.

Verse Three

Seas choke, smokestacks spew; it’s corporate greed for the few.
Forests cleared, mass extinction rears; politicians stoking fears.
Racism wrapped in national flags; refugees in body bags.
Elites parade as ordinary man; ecocide disguised as consumer jam.
Extinction Rebellion rises, our Joan of Arc, Greta, mesmerizes….

Chorus

And, on the plains of Dakota, Hollow Horn Bear had prophesised:
“The Earth will cry tears of blood – and she will weep, she will weep.”

Fast verse

Seas surge, Amazon burns.
Feel the heat; Take to the street.

Still mistaken, already forsaken?
Still mistaken, already forsaken?

The earth weeps, will you sleep?
The earth weeps, will you sleep?
The earth weeps, will you sleep?

Outro/Chorus

And, on the plains of Dakota, Hollow Horn Bear had prophesised:
“The Earth will cry tears of blood – and she will weep, she will weep.”
“The Earth will cry tears of blood – and she will weep, she will weep.”

A third song, Jagannath, is different again and this deliberately adopts a dramatic almost theatrical register filled with mythic allusions to different gods and spiritual traditions, as well as alluding to philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan and sociologist Anthony Gidden’s prescient description of late modernity as an unstoppable ‘Juggernaut’ and ‘runaway world.’ The choruses are delivered in tongue-in-cheek humour, and the song overall is underpinned by driving, fast-paced, flamenco-ish guitar (similar to a flamenco Bulerias). The singer’s persona playfully chides and goads the audience into reflecting on what they will do when the gods of destruction arrive. In this way, the song deals obliquely through a theatrical veil with our current world-in-crisis, whilst its high-octane delivery aims to register something of the impending urgency of our situation.

Jagannath

(Arabesque guitar introduction followed by fast furious rhythm)

Verse I

Jagannath’s resurrected,
He’s coming out to play.
The Juggernaut’s on its way,
The World’s runaway.

Chorus

What you goin to do?
Where you goin to go?
Images in the news
God almighty, what a view.

Verse II

Thanatos is at the helm,
Underworld bookings now.
Hypnos, God of sleep,
A merciful release.

Chorus

Will you stay?
Or will you run?
Book a flight maybe?
Watch TV, sit tight?

Verse III

Leviathan’s brutish and mean,
English fields once sweet and green.
Kali and Shiva, Gods of destruction,
Yama’s now the King of Ghosts.

Chorus

Will you faint?
Or will you fuck?
Will you live?
Or will you die?

Verse IV

Jagannath’s resurrected,
He’s coming out to play.
The World’s runaway.
The World’s runaway.

Chorus

Will you pledge?
Or will you pine?
Will you philosophise,
Or will you cry?

Verse V

Jagannath’s resurrected,
He’s coming out to play.
The World’s runaway,
The World’s runaway.

Chorus

Will you pledge?
Or will you pine?
Will you philosophise,
Or will you rise?

Ubuntu, in contrast to Jaganneth, is written and performed as an upbeat, uplifting and danceable song, that draws on the cultural flourishing of ideas and practices now coalescing in today’s ecological awareness and sensibility as well as possible imagined futures. The term ‘ubuntu’ is an African communal term signalling that ‘I am, because you are’, or, in our interdependency, we can both be and thrive.

Ubuntu

(upbeat jazzy guitar)

You, me, nature, intwined:
A planetary community of fate.
Bio-diversity, cultural diversity
Nature/humanity one.
The ‘human circle’ still expanding,
History’s ‘moral arc’ bending green.

Ubuntu: “I am, because you are.
You are, because I am.” x4

Eco-anxiety, consciousness expanding;
Extinction Rebellion (XR) rising.
Biosphere the new public sphere;
Politicians’ forced to hear.
Global commons, imagined horizons;
Eco-battlefields of hope.

Ubuntu: “I am, because you are.
You are, because I am.” x4

Indigenous wisdom in nature’s embrace:
Nature’s broken, Gaia’s spoken.
Circular economies, deep ecology.
COP28, humanity’s apology?
Precious Life, nature’s delight.
Humanity and Nature one.

Ubuntu: “I am, because you are.
You are, because I am.” x4

You, me, nature intwined.
A planetary community of fate.
Global awakening, our common fate.
Green awakening, never too late.
Everything’s connected, nature’s way.
The universe our sustainable guide.

Ubuntu: “I am, because you are.
You are, because I am.” x 4

And finally, Kahlo-After Frida’s most direct and condemnatory song perhaps, is written and performed through a persona that aims to embody something of the anger and active resistance felt and enacted by groups such as Extinction Rebellion and others in both the radical and growing moderate flanks of the climate and ecological movement.

Earth’s Warming Blanket

(performed over pulsing/percussive Soleares, flamenco guitar)

Earth’s warming blanket, woven in industrial time.
ExxonMobil lied and befuddled the public mind.
Corporate tobacco, big pharma the same.
Now planet Earth, not just us, is dying – who’s to blame?

Still insatiable greed, corporate plunder.
Complacency and carbon chicanery taking us under.
Politician’s empty words and broken promises.
“Fairy tales of eternal growth.”

Mass extinction Celsius: one point five (and soaring!);
Civil disobedience maths: three point five (system stalling?).
Planetary emergency, it’s official, ‘humanity’s code red.’
Time to embrace inter-being …before we’re dead.

The earth heaves, Greta’s clarion cry:
‘How dare you – how dare you!’
The planet shudders, Gaia moans:
You’re killing me; I’ll have your bones.

In their very different ways, each of these songs has sought to address today’s world-in-crisis and do so in and through diverse music genres, different authorial/singer personas and various expressive registers and emotional appeals. Each is a written act of compression as well as register of semiotic symbolism. They are closer to poetry than academic pedantry.  Curiously when writing them, the restrictions of form felt liberating. In their performance and reception, I like to think they have sometimes contributed to building a sense of communality with others, especially when performed at Green festivals – which have long-served as cultural incubators of pre-figurative ecological politics and sustainable practices (Muggeridge 2024). Audience responses sometimes suggest that we have co-created a space of mutuality and shared concern and cultural enthusiasm. Though possibly this may also sometimes be helped along by an adjacent festival bar! And yes, sometimes as I say, they may fall on deaf ears too. But they have also played their part in rechannelling those daily feelings of despondency borne from the cognitive dissonance of living in a world that seems hell bent on exponential growth and ecological exhaustion at the expense of human and planetary wellbeing. They have personally helped me in ‘responding to the situation’ and have done so through musical ‘experimenting’, ‘inter-relating’ with others, ‘embodying’ different emotional states and ‘self-recognising’ (Parlett 2024).

In their performance they have reminded me that amidst the cacophony of communicative voices, one’s own internal voice also needs to be listened to and occasionally let loose. If nothing else, I hope these few indulgent personal reflections on communicative resilience and creative resilience will have encouraged you to find and/or express your own voice in this world-in-crisis, and in whatever way(s) you feel most compelled and/or comfortable to do so. It is through the widening cracks of a world-in-crisis that our part in the web-of-life, paradoxically, is thrown into sharper relief – as well as the necessity for regenerative planetary responses. This is not only a struggle over perception and imagination, but fundamentally communication.

References

Albrecht, G. (2019). Earth Emotions. Cornell University Press.

Ballew, M., Myers, T., Uppalapati, S., et al. (2023). ‘Is distress about climate change associated with climate action? Climate note. Yale Programme on Climate Change Communication. https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/distress-about-climate-change-and-climate-action/

Cottle, S. (2013). ‘Journalists Witnessing Disasters: From the Calculus of Death to the Injunction to Care’, Journalism Studies, 14(2), 1–17.

Cottle, S. (2023a). ‘Reporting Civilisational Collapse: Research Notes from a World-in-Crisis’, Global Media and Communication, 19(2), 269-288.

Cottle, S. (2023b) ‘Living in a World-in-Crisis: Thinking Beyond Catastrophism. Part 1’. Resilience October 16, 2023. https://www.resilience.org/resilience-author/simon-cottle/

Cottle, S. (2023c) ‘Reporting a World-in-Crisis: The Axial Crisis of Perception and Beyond. Part 2.’ October 18, 2023. https://www.resilience.org/resilience-author/simon-cottle/

Ghosh, A. (2016). The Great Derangement. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Hanh, T.N. (2013) Love Letter to the Earth. Berkely: Parallax Press.

Kerr, S. (2024) ‘Music in an Era of Discontinuity: What Music Can and Can’t Do in this Crisis,’ in S. Cottle (ed) Communicating a World in Crisis. New York: Peter Lang (in press).

Kimmerer, R. (2013). Braiding Sweetgrass. London: Penguin.

Macy, J. (2021). World as Lover, World as Self. California: Parallax Press.

Macy, J. and Johnstone, C. (2022). Active Hope. California: New World Library.

Muggeridge, S. (2024) ‘Green Festivals and Re-figurative Politics: Communicating Resilience and Hope’ in S. Cottle (ed) Communicating a World in Crisis. New York: Peter Lang. (in press)

Parlett, M. (2024) ‘Communicating Whole Intelligence to Regenerate the Living Human World’, in S. Cottle (ed) Communicating a World in Crisis. New York: Peter Lang. (in press)

Whitlock, J. (2023). Climate anxiety in young people. Nature Mental Health, 1: 297-298.

Simon Cottle

Simon Cottle is Professor Emeritus at the School of Journalism, Media and Culture at Cardiff University. He is the author and editor of numerous books and articles/chapters, many on journalism, conflict and global crisis reporting. He is also General Editor of the Global Crises and the Media series for Peter Lang and is currently writing Reporting Civilizational Collapse: A Wake-Up Call (Routledge, forthcoming). His edited collection, Communicating a World-in-Crisis (New York: Peter Lang) will be published later this year. Simon now writes exclusively on communication, ecology and the planetary emergency and offers lectures on this around the world. Email: CottleS@cardiff.ac.uk https://profiles.cardiff.ac.uk/emeritus/simon-cottle