Powerful Times S1. E34. Dougald Hine

Dougald Hine is author and co-founder of Dark Mountain, a cultural movement of people who have “stopped believing the stories our civilisation tells itself” and a School Called HOME, a “a gathering place and a learning community for those who are drawn to the work of regrowing a living culture” (personal website, Substack, wikipedia).

His latest book is “At Work in the Ruins”, which we discuss at length in the conversation. At the beginning Dougald describes himself as “using words, and sometimes silences, to shift the space of possibility”, which I think underplays his role as curator and community builder.

One way of understanding Dougald’s response to these powerful times is that he sees them as showing that our world, the world of mordernity, is ending. Rather than moving into denial or a desperate fixing, Dougald is making ‘good ruins’ for whatever might be next, through creating pockets of living culture.

He is trying to contribute to the possibility of presently-unimaginable futures, which starts with clearing away the stuff that has colonised the currently-imagined future.

I have read the book and heartily recommend it. To buy the book, and find the latest on Dougald’s tour in Feb 2023, follow this link.



Hospicing Modernity: Facing Humanity’s Wrongs and the Implications for Social Activism‘ by Vanessa Machado de Oliveira (aka Vanessa Andreotti).

Paul Kingsnorth

Forum for the Future

Climate Optimist (the website behind the #climateoptimist campaign).

More on Dougald’s partner, Anna Björkman, here.

A Small Farm Future: Making the Case for a Society Built Around Local Economies, Self-Provisioning, Agricultural Diversity, and a Shared Earth by Chris Smaje

Ivan Illich

School of Everything


0:50 – Q1. What are you doing now? And how did you get there?
7:53 – BONUS QUESTION: Tell us something of the genesis of Dark Mountain?
12:00 – BONUS QUESTION: Tell us something about the start of a School Called Home?
18:11 – BONUS QUESTION: Give us a pen portrait of the book, At Work in the Ruins.
32: 54 – BONUS QUESTION: What are the strongest good faith arguments against what you are saying?
37:00 – Q2. What is the future you are trying to create, and why?
42:20 – Q3. What are your priorities for the next few years, and why?
46:42 – Q4. If someone was inspired to follow those priorities, what should they do next?
49:55 – Q5. If your younger self was starting their career now, what advice would you give them?
52:30 – Q6. Who would you nominate to answer these questions, because you admire their approach?
52:46 – Q7. Is there anything else important you feel you have to say?


-“at the heart of it is just this, this sense that there’s always a space of possibility, you know, think about how with different groups of friends, different conversations happen, or different things happen as a result of hanging around in different circles, different combinations of people in a room. That’s like the most everyday thing that everyone has kind of experienced that there is this thing that we could call the space of possibility. And so I feel like one way or another what I’ve been trying to do on small and larger scales over the years, is work out how you can contribute to what shaped that space has, what things are likely to happen within a space, what things become less likely to happen and how you can how you can move that which is a way of trying to, to change things without trying to take control or manage things or tell people what to do. But just by shifting the atmosphere, shifting the mood, and therefore the things that are likely to happen, and therefore some of the things that do happen.”

-“[According to Vanessa Andreotti] there are two ways you can be using language, you can use words, to word the world. And you can use words to world the world.”

“To word the world is to try and create this sort of descriptive layer on top of the world to tell people how things are and define reality. Whereas using words to world The world is recognising the whatever you’re saying whatever story you’re telling whatever language you’re using, is not somehow above and on top of reality, but it’s tangled up in the middle of it. And so you’re not trying to give the true definitive version of something, you’re trying to make a contribution because the way in which your words work in the world will have consequences and will affect the people who they encounter. And for me, that’s, that’s the kind of writing that I’m, I’m interested in and find myself doing.”

-[On the genesis of Dark Mountain] “we had this sense that the environmental movement was in danger of becoming a church where the priests had lost their faith, but didn’t think that the people who turned up on a Sunday were ready to hear the bad news. There was this gap between the kind of the encouraging stories that were being told in public and the things that the same people would say to you if you call them quietly over a whiskey at the end of the night, and we thought that that gap was dangerous and that we needed a space in which it was possible to speak honestly from despair or uncertainty or disillusionment or doubt or wherever you were at.”

-“If you forgotten what makes life worth living, then your attempts to create the conditions of possibility for lives worth living in the future is going to be hamstrung by that.”

-“And so when we say, the work of regrowing and living culture, clearly implicit in that is a, a critique of whatever it is the passes for a culture around here, just now, say that, you know, whatever the elements of what we’ve inherited from modernity, that we would not willingly give up. And clearly they are there, there has nonetheless been some great forgetting, of a lot of what makes life work, not least what makes life work in hard times.”

-“a story about the past and the story about other cultures, which is actually, you know, implicitly both ignorant and patronising and kind of racist, which says that everyone was living in these terrible conditions everywhere apart from around here during the last handful of generations. And we need to bet everything, we need to bet the planet, on managing to somehow make sustainable the way of life, the Western middle classes, and this promise that this is somehow going to be extended to everyone else.”

-“But it’s also the case or at least, this is what I have gone around saying, and that’s been often received quite warmly, including by the climate scientists I’ve worked with, that climate change asks us questions that climate science cannot answer.

-“Giving up is always giving up on something, even if at the time it feels like everything. And often you have to have made that kind of leap in the dark. of giving up on the story, you thought that you believed in giving up on saying things that used to make sense to you, but privately, you’ve realised that they no longer making sense, in order to come in to the in between space. Like, it’s only it’s only when you’ve removed position, that you are able to see the things you couldn’t see from the position you were in before.”

-“I’m trying to contribute to the possibility of what again, Vanessa would, call presently unimaginable futures.”

-“one of the things he talks about there is he says, sometimes you realise sometimes it dawns on you that you are living at the end of a world. Well, then this has happened before in other times and places Yes, there are particularly The terrifying aspects to the ending of a world that we have been born into, but not the first time around. So what do you do if you find that you’re living at the end of a world? Firstly, the way you notice it is because the future doesn’t work anymore. There’s no future left in the narrative of that world. And it sounds fake when people try and make that narrative work. So then what you do, what modes of action would be wise says, Well, you can stop trying to make sense according to the logic of that world, according to its narratives. And you can start trying to create good ruins, trying to leave things behind that might turn out to be helpful to those who come after. And so the future I’m trying to create, or the way in which I’m trying to contribute to possibilities for the future is, firstly, by inviting people to this puzzle of how do we work for the possibility of presently unimaginable futures? And then secondly, how do we go about making good ruins leaving things behind? That may turn out to be helpful?”

Q: If your younger self was starting their career now What advice would you give them?

-“Don’t worry too much about making mistakes. Don’t worry too much about what other people think of you, or about things needing to make sense. There are going to be patches of your life that make no sense at the time. And that turned out in hindsight to have been indispensable. For such a large part of my young life, I had no story that I could tell that would convince anyone that I was on any kind of track that was worth pursuing. And then turns out that that was sort of the fallow ground in which seeds were growing, that allowed me to do things later.”

-“learn to follow your inner compass, I learned to notice those moments where how the things where you feel yourself coming alive, move towards those and the things where you feel yourself quietly, dying, move away from those quickly, and learn to steer in that way, which doesn’t require you to be able to explain to yourself or anyone else. Why, like those explanations, that analysis can come later, you can learn to trust the vital compass first.”


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