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Bendell's Deep Adaptation

Sandra Lindberg

Moderator
Does anyone know of a worthwhile critique of Jem Bendell's "Deep Adaptation" paper from an ecosocialist perspective?
I know you're going to get much better replies than this one, but I'm wondering if you've seen this video produced by Nate Hagens. It's 1.5 hrs., but moves very quickly and it's pretty engaging. He provides no political frame for his opinions at all, but he goes straight at our current devastating situation and calmly argues that not only must we dial back the way we live, but if we look at the research around human happiness, we may actually find our lives more satisfying if we change how we live and fight like hell to limit/eliminate a host of environmental problems. "Blindspots and Superheroes"

To temper Hagens' video a bit, you might also want to look at: A Marxist approach appropriate for the climate crisis and the 21st Century

Thanks for posting.
 

Ted F

Admin
Does anyone know of a worthwhile critique of Jem Bendell's "Deep Adaptation" paper from an ecosocialist perspective?
@singbrokenchords I've been thinking of writing one although it would be up to the world to judge whether my critique would be "worthwhile." :cool: One thing I've noticed is that the superstars of doomtalk tend to be white men who do not participate in and identify with political activism. The only reason I would want to write a critique is to try to speak to the people who are drawn to Bendell's perspective and offer them a compelling vision of a better approach to the challenge we face. Not sure I have the time or ability to reach those souls. Please double back and share anything you find that speaks to your inquiry.
 

egalitarian

Member
I'm "one of those souls" who's participating in Jem Bendel's inspired Deep Adaptation Forum. Sandra, I would love to hear about your vision of a better approach to the challenge we face. I know we're all terribly busy, but I hope you (or perhaps others reading this thread) would critique Jem's work. I really wish somehow we could work together.
 

Sandra Lindberg

Moderator
I'm "one of those souls" who's participating in Jem Bendel's inspired Deep Adaptation Forum. Sandra, I would love to hear about your vision of a better approach to the challenge we face. I know we're all terribly busy, but I hope you (or perhaps others reading this thread) would critique Jem's work. I really wish somehow we could work together.
So, egalitarian, I've joined the Deep Adaptation forum in an attempt to increase my understanding of the work you and others are doing. As someone who does believe the difficult or dire effects of climate change are already hitting hard many populations in the US, I want to improve my awareness of what this perspective can and does bring to present work.

Today I also found this little article on Resilience.org in which the writer hopes to find common ground between Deep Adaptation folks and those who take positions contrary to that group. Perhaps you've already this: "Deep Solidarity".

To build new strategies from the ground up, and to build partnerships between groups that might not otherwise work together: these are two perspectives that inform what I do and how I try to do it. I also am greatly invested in lessening human suffering, however slowly or quickly climate change will affect us all.

Thank you so much for posting. I will think about a little article addressing the topic you propose, but I have some reading to do first...
 

Sandra Lindberg

Moderator
I've spent the afternoon reading Bendell's 2018 Deep Adaptation paper and his article on Resilience.org responding to criticisms of his ideas.

I like this from the Resilience.org article very much:
As society is increasingly disrupted by the impacts of rapid climate change, people will feel increasingly anxious and hear stories of who to blame and how we must suspend freedoms to save ourselves. When I see some climate activists argue we must do “whatever it takes” and have “realistic” discussions about how some people can’t be saved, I fear the rise of new forms of fascism. I will continue to argue against people who hold up the illusion that we can stop climate change as a justification for giving themselves unaccountable power.
The above is an excellent resolution.

I remain concerned by Bendell's seeming unwillingness to talk specifically about how current social inequalities are, in themselves, contributing to climate change. He uses the term "uneven" to describe the nonlinear way that climate change is already affecting people and the planet, but it seems to me that an overt recognition of capitalism's willingness to let low-income and people of color experience the effects of climate change first "nonlinear"-ily means I remain unsure the words "resilience, relinquishment and restoration" will be enough to guide everyone when some have little ability to participate in any of those strategies. If these words are to become the start of strategy making, then somewhere I hope Bendell and others who embrace his ideas will emphasize that white privileged populations, unfortunately, will need to embrace these strategies much harder than those populations already disadvantaged. The difficulty, of course, seems to be that those who remain in power are largely the ones who need these deep adaptation strategies the most. Including myself, I will add.

BTW, I have posted on this forum and on SCNCC discussion listserves the need to plan now for coastal resettlement. I read in Bendell's article that he is advocating the same. Another way we share perspectives.

As an eco-socialist who now is drawn to the ideas of Deep Adaptation, I agree completely with Bendell's identification of capitalism as the root of our current situation. I was very happy to read such a statement in his article.

So, given the above quick take on Deep Adaptation, I think eco-socialists and Deep Adaptation folks could find it very useful to work together.

Are you in the US, singbrokenchords and egalitarian? Anywhere near central Illinois?

Sandra
 

egalitarian

Member
Sandra, so glad you have learned about Deep Adaptation and see the value in eco-socialists and DA folks working together. What about the Extinction Rebellion folks? and the Sunrise Movement? We've too much fragmentation in our movements and/or we need to build coalitions. The ruling class loves our divisiveness and in fact fuels it.

I live in the USA on the west coast.
 

Sandra Lindberg

Moderator
You are fortunate to live on the west coast where both Extinction Rebellion and the Sunrise Movement are active. Nothing like that in central Illinois. Coalitions are hugely important, I agree. How about this for a coalition: the Greater Decatur Black Chamber of Commerce receiving a pretty good grant from Decatur Audubon to develop a community food garden that also includes native plants? That's what I've been working on this spring. Here, I work with the groups that exist and then hope to bring new perspectives to them.

Right now I'm reading The Systems View of Life by Capra and Luisi. According to a biologist the authors admire very much, Francisco Varela of the Santiago School, "each social system...is characterized by the need to sustain itself in a stable but dynamic mode, permitting new members, materials or ideas to enter the structure and become part of the system. These newly entered elements will generally be transformed by the internal organization (i.e. the rules) of the system." (137) The statement relates to challenges those of us face who must work with organizations or people who are only partially willing to entertain how intense and imminent the planet's current problems are.

In a community like mine where members of environmental organizations, for example, are only willing to hear a taste of the issues and actions I would hope we'd entertain, how does one build coalitions within such groups? When is it clearly time for separate, revolutionary organizations to set up their own identities? And how does an eco-socialist or deep adaptation person work within sleepy or resistant groups without losing a personal sense of fire and drive? I have chosen to step back from largely white local environmental groups, turning instead to new activist connections within the African American community. There, the need for food security already exists. And I am finding the community much more aware how extreme weather in this part of the country is already making lives hell. What I've tried to do is create a bridge between Decatur Audubon, which offers local environmental grants, and GDBCC and its urban food gardens project. The two groups are not exactly working together, but they now know more about each other than they did before, and the need to put the focus on local food is furthered with the project. All through this work, though, I experience times of frustration. I sense how every month the effects of climate change intensify even in our relatively sheltered part of the country. "We are moving too slowly!" I often feel, and yet to push too hard or for too much from this population means, as I experienced pretty intensely, that I will be shown to the door--in central Illinois' own politely cold manner. It's a challenging set of circumstances that may be hard for people in more politically or environmentally adventurous communities to understand.

As Varela argues, an existing social organization will entertain "new members" but its nature is to attempt to fold the new member into its customary way of doing things. That tendency means we have to communicate the intensity of climate change and social injustice as a way, perhaps, to shift the existing groups' tendencies to operate largely as they always have. I am looking forward to reading further in Capra/Luisi's book as the author's discuss in more detail the way social groups and surrounding environments affect each other. The ideas are already enriching how I think about eco-socialism and its relationship to contemporary capitalism.

A biologist colleague of mine at the university where I taught was convinced that the only way large numbers of people would entertain the idea of serious system change would happen when faced with a cataclysm. Essentially, he was also describing Varela's idea. Tragically, this colleague may live to see society change drastically--because of catastrophic events.

I also very much like Bendell's notion of relinquishment in relationship to this topic. In this case what I would argue for is the relinquishment of the need or desire to maintain existing socio-political systems. Where I live, especially, such relinquishment will likely occur only after the effects of climate change take down our systems for a long enough stretch that people here actually are forced to recognize how the current system simply will not address the problems we currently have and the terrible hardships we will continue to face--increasingly--until we toss out or transform the old into systems that will allow us and the planet to survive in some fashion. I just hope to keep the "emergency" people out of the mix. They will likely impose martial law and decide on a new system through a top-down approach that will not be an improvement upon the systems we currently have, I very much fear. The "emergency" people seem very invested in survival within the systems we currently have.

I think a key question to ask whenever people start envisioning how to change human systems because of climate change and social inequality is the following: at a foundational level, is the goal of the people in charge to secure the survival of current systems, or is their goal to safeguard people's lives and the viability of the planet? I vote for the second option. There is nothing sacred about current systems. They were devised by humans for, unfortunately, the benefit of a few. They are best relinquished if they cannot meet the needs of the living.
 

egalitarian

Member
Some systems change in response to the introduction of new ideas and information, but not always. As a newcomer to any group, building trust is job #1. Once trust is established, one can then identify allies within the organization who embrace and then support the new ideas and information. Once enough support is built, together you confront the the leadership and layout your plan for change stating the reasons why it would improve matters. At that point, it may turn into a power struggle with leaders wanting to hold onto power and control. With any luck, the value of the plan is seen and adopted, albeit over time. It depends upon the emotional and psychological maturity of the leadership and the group. This is complicated stuff and each group is different.

The left (west) coast is not all its made out to be. I'm working with a group right now whose leadership consists of former Occupy anarchists where everything runs by committees. Its extremely inefficient, unaccountable, and entrenched. They must engage with institutions who are top down hierarchical and not as socio-politically savy, but who hold power and resources which we need if we are to move forward much less survive. I'm trying to find allies and build support for systemic change. Right now I give the needed change a 50/50 chance of success. I may end up just walking. We'll see!

I encourage you to explore general systems theory, particularly emerging properties and runaway systems. Those are what's happening now at an accelerated pace. We've never encountered anything like rapid climate change before, so the tried and true responses no longer apply. The permafrost melt is one such runaway system, and the atmospheric carbon question requires emergence of new ideas and responses. This applies to the emergency management and disaster planning community as well.

Every chance I get I educate people about how our present plight is the result of the industrial growth society and capitalism and homo sapiens exceptionalism as a planetary species. The bourgeoisie's attempts at 'doubling down' to maintain the status quo is already in play, and its going to get a lot messier. My hope is is in our youth who are questioning everything as they witness the systems fail left and right. A new day is dawning.
 

David J

Member
Sorry I have come to this forum post so late- our reading group has had a number of discussions around Deep Adaptation- it has sparked so much interest. I am personally of the opinion that talk of adaptation is detrimental to the movement for radical change, that it confuses the messaging around the severity of the crisis and the non-linear character of the crisis.
For instance: What can "near term societal collapse" actually mean? Is "collapse" good or bad? Are we "adapting" to 4 degree rise? To 6?

If I am trying to motivate people to radically change their thinking and understand runaway feedback loops, it seems counter-productive to suggest we can "adapt". It is like "adapting" to nuclear war. How many advanced species "adapted" to the last mass extinction event? I believe we should be stressing the fact that feedback loops must be avoided at all costs or it is game over. Messaging must focus on the notion that no amount of preparation or food resilience or community building will help- it will come down to who has the most ammunition stored.

This is my critique of Transition Town and Just Transition and all notions of slow, steady change which send an erroneous message to folks struggling to understand the nature of the predicament. The change is only steady to a point- then you reach a precipice. Bendell believes we are already over the edge- I'm not a scientist, but I believe there is time for revolutionary change.
 

egalitarian

Member
Welcome to the discussion David. I urge you to discover for yourself what Dr. Bendell has said about collapse.

In biology adaptation is "...any alteration in the structure or function of an organism or any of its parts..." It is not we ourselves who must adapt to existing structures and functions, but the structures and functions homo sapiens have created for themselves, such as capitalism, militarism, imperialism, etc. that can and must be altered.

Deep adaptation does not preclude revolutionary change. In my view it insists upon it, as nothing short of it will bring about the necessary change for the survival of life on Earth as we know it. Most importantly our relationship with the natural world must undergo revolutionary change. Our species exceptionalism, our cleverness, has now undermined natural systems which evolved over billions of years that sustain all life on Earth. We appear to be a failed species as we've brought ourselves to the precipice. Ninety percent of all species that have ever lived on earth have gone extinct.

As greater chaos cascades through our system, I am witnessing the resulting fear and uncertainty are causing people to question the status quo as never before. People are waking up and mass movements to change our civilization are underway and growing in strength. I ascribe to what Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” We must now position ourselves to replace the systems one by one as they collapse. Are we prepared to take power? We have work to do and there's not a moment to lose.
 

Ted F

Admin
Doubling back here, I'm glad to see this discussion. I'm more or less in David J's camp, but I think it is very healthy to share perspectives on how we adapt psychologically and politically to the difficulty of bringing about revolutionary change on the scale that is needed for our species to have prospects for a decent existence seven generations hence. I was moved by Emily Johnston's article, "Loving a Vanishing World".
 

David J

Member
Egalitarian: I may be jumping to conclusions based on reading one essay and watching a short video so I signed up to forum to learn more. I do see how struggle can be equated with adapting, but again, messaging has to confront the problem of implicit vs explicit meanings. Ten there are the uncertainties inherent in any predictive modelling. Why models are always framed in percentages, right? I like to see explicit language on pathways and percentages. I also would like to see Deep Adapters start using the language of revolutionary change and power dynamics, as you do, unapologetically, and talk about system change in concrete terms.

Ted, our group has spent a little time with the Dark Mountain perspective, which is even gloomier than Bendell. I appreciate the willingness to talk about grief and anger, but at the moment I am working with youth on the climate strike and I need to utilize those emotions to mobilize. To inspire folks to take greater risks. Not retreat but grasp the utopian potential and run with it.
 

egalitarian

Member
The below message is from Jem Bendell who asked me to post it on his behalf to this forum. As you might imagine he is incredibly busy wading through endless email and demands for his time. Hence his request for me to pass this long.
---
Deep Adaptation is a framework for inviting conversation on what we do if we anticipate societal collapse, or are experiencing collapse around us.

I have written over 100 publications in my academic career, and this is only one of them. It was written for a management academic audience for the aims I explain in it.

So where is the critique of power and of capital? It is implied in the section on the denial in the environmental profession. But it wasnt the venue to further elaborate.

In my first speech on Deep Adaptation, to climate policy researchers and climate business executives, I said that capitalism is at fault, but that the cause is even deeper than that (as some people who are really into Marxist philosophy and have gone further into critical theory via Adorno, will understand).
Engaging the Climate Tragedy

I would really welcome leftist, and as importantly, critical theoretical analysis of what policies and actions could help enable adaptation of any kind, or deep adaptation in particular.

When I get around to discussing that then I will draw upon some of my past work on economic aspects of our unsustainability. Including:

Moving beyond the dangerous and oppressive ideology of managerialism:
Beyond unsustainable leadership: critical social theory for sustainable leadership | Emerald Insight

The need to transform our monetary system away from bank-issued debt as the basis for our money supply, in order to have any real go at either mitigation or adaptation
Currencies of Transition - P2P Foundation

The need for currency innovation to free us from the poverty-inducing banking control of our money supply
Re-imagining Money to Broaden the Future of Development Finance: What Kenyan Community Currencies Reveal is Possible for Financing Development | Publications | UNRISD

My analysis of the global justice movement for the UN, where I talked about the need to place new duties on shareholders, at a minimum:
http://www.unrisd.org/80256B3C005BCCF9/(httpPublications)/504AF359BB33967FC1256EA9003CE20AI

The need to avoid the same corporate power dominating the new currencies:
Thwarting an Uber Future for Complementary Currencies | Grassroots Economic Organizing

I wrote about economic transformation for XR here:
https://xrblog.org/2019/03/20/the-economics-of-extinction-a-reason-for-rebellion/

I am currently engaging XR leadership on the economic rebellion side of their plans.

I must admit I resent armchair intellectuals who pontificate in ways that disparage people or ideas by using one or two articles that suit their superficial stories of reality.

We face annihilation during the 6th mass extinction, and so that kind of disconnected work is narcissistic rubbish. If people arent stuck into activist movements or political campaigns yet writing about these issues, then they aren't serious.

An example of that is this piece in ISJ. It says Deep Adaptation and/or I aren't as radical as XR... But Im very involved in XR, and am working with them on their economic rebellion plans. i.e. its simply baseless. The Left needs better!
Betting on infinite loss – International Socialism

Thx, Jem
 

David J

Member
Thanks Egalitarian, I have no doubt Bendell's politics are radical and this invitation to the Left to engage is sincere. Having spent time on the forum I still see confusion resulting from the terms "adaptation" and "mitigation". To join, one must accept the proposition that "near-term (within our lifetimes) societal collapse due to climate change" is a certainty. I could not find a clear explanation of what "collapse" entails but then found Bendell stating :"we can no longer stop disruptive climate change".

It is already clearly "disruptive" and I could argue we have already experienced a degree of collapse as well. Much of what I found was a focus on spiritual preparation for this ill-defined collapse (which is fine) but is revolution collapse? Is revolution welcome? Is a focus on being prepared revolutionary?
 
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