A report from the online course ‘Kinship – an exploration into being together’

“An ecosystem is the embodiment of reciprocity. It consists of a multitude of beings related in endless ways. Ecological life is always lived in relationships with others.” Andreas Weber

Earlier this year, I signed up for an Advaya online course as part of the research for my novel ‘The Fault in Reality’. Here are a few notes about what I learned during this illuminating experience.

‘Kinship – an exploration into being together’ was curated and hosted by Hannah Close assisted by Katrien Franken. It ran over seven weeks, with two or three presentations each week, and was supported by a huge list of reading/viewing materials. There was a great deal to work with! I would certainly recommend it as an intensive and mind-opening experience.

I came to the course with a certain amount of knowledge of the natural world, drawn from my own life experience and previous research for my books, but I knew that there was still a great deal I was missing and I hoped it would open my mind to new kinds of understanding. It certainly did. Here are just a few of the many takeaways I gleaned:

We are all one big body

Biologist, philosopher, and nature writer Andreas Weber explained the simple notion that when we breathe, we exchange air with others to our mutual benefit. It made me think that even in my home, I regularly inhale oxygen produced by my houseplants and then exhale carbon dioxide to be inhaled by them. We are inhaling and exhaling each other’s breath. Why didn’t I think of that obvious fact before? But of course, I hadn’t, and that was why I needed to learn. He said that ‘ecological life is always lived in relationships with others’, another obvious fact that I kind of know, but had not properly absorbed probably because, as Gavin Van Horn told us, we have been taught to see the world as scenery. And it’s true. Most often I look but I don’t touch. I really am a beginner at this.

Andreas Weber also discussed the ways in which diverse individuals share their bodies with each other via eating. We consume materials from another body to feed our own body. Every living being needs to eat and the only things we can eat are other bodies, other beings, both animals and plants. This activity, combined with the breathing described above, establishes all life as embodied subjectivity. Together, we are all, he says, ‘one big body’.

Seated at the precipice

There was a steady undertone throughout the presentations and discussions that we are poised on the edge of ecological disaster which may or may not result in the extinction of the planet, or perhaps just the extinction of certain species which could easily include humans. Charlotte Du Cann remarked that ‘we are living in an age of endings’. I wasn’t so sure about that, because every age has an ending so we must always be living in an age of endings. Also, a few months after completing this course, I encountered the theory of Deep Adaptation – also new to me – which would, I think, have a different interpretation. I’m still learning, and will write about this in another post.

Bayo Akomolafe told us ‘We are seated at this precipice, at the edge of things’ and ‘The things we do to save ourselves from trouble constitute the very trouble we are trying to escape.’ One possible solution, he indicated, was to focus on the cracks rather than the greater whole. Since encountering him for the first time on this course, I have seen Akomolafe appearing on lots of other platforms. He is an engaging and interesting speaker. Look out for him.

Everything is connected but…

Gavin Van Horn told us that everything is connected ‘but in non-linear ways’. I found this simple statement helpful because I must confess to having, rather lazily, understood connectedness as network diagrams with lots of straight lines criss-crossing everywhere. To think of it as a complex and messy interweb of being makes much more sense, and mirrors what we know about mycelium and other interconnected life-forms. It’s also a new perspective on the theory of transliteracy which I developed with colleagues at the Institute of Creative Technology at De Montfort University around 2007.

A little more about technology please?

I really enjoyed this course and learned a great deal about perspectives that were new to me, but there is one topic that was only just touched on, leaving me somewhat disappointed. There was only one brief talk on technology, which is a shame since the impact of the internet on kinship has been profound. It has connected people in ways which were never possible before, giving us new kinds of kinship online. Of course, technology is very much my area so I’m prejudiced, but I think a discussion of the relationship between kinship and technology would be very rewarding and even illuminating to those who may feel some discomfort about the ways we live together online. After all, this course and the new kinships we formed together could never have happened without the internet!

Recommended

I really enjoyed this course. It has pointed me in the direction of other interesting communities, so my journey continues, of which more later. I’ve only mentioned a few of the speakers we encountered, so do check out the course website where there is a wealth of information about the speakers, sessions, resources and much more.

It’s worth noting that this is just one of a number of courses run by Advaya, a global platform for transformative education, which offers an intriguing menu of content from thinkers around the world. Check out Advaya’s busy YouTube channel for a taste of what they cover.

Hannah Close is the visionary thinker who devised ‘Kinship – an exploration into being together’ and wrote much of the material. Follow her for more thoughtful new perspectives and insights.

I understand the course will run again in 2023. To find out more, email Hannah. It will definitely be worth your time.

Conversation with Douglas Rushkoff on ‘Team Human’

When he recorded this conversation, Doug Rushkoff was at home in a small town somewhere near New York, and I was in my echoey kitchen five minutes from the beach on the south coast of England. But that’s just the physical. More importantly, we were together in cyberspace, a place both he and I are very familiar with.

We chatted about the old days, when state-of-the-art meant a DOS computer with no pictures, music or video. I think of myself as an early adopter, but Doug got there long before me. His book Cyberia: Life in the Trenches of Cyberspace came out in 1993, just as I was starting to dip my toes into the internet, and he’s been an influential technology commentator ever since. So I was really pleased when he asked to interview me about my book Technobiophilia: Nature and Cyberspace.

Our conversation ranged far and wide, from the early years of cyberspace to the present day and then forward to the uncertain future of humanity itself. I really enjoyed our chat. Hope you do too.

https://www.teamhuman.fm/episodes/sue-thomas

PS I can also strongly recommend Doug’s January 2020 interview with James Lovelock, scientist extraordinaire, proposer of the Gaia Hypothesis, and an energetic 102 years old! The two of them really hit it off and to hear Lovelock’s delight in their conversation is really joyful.

https://www.teamhuman.fm/episodes/ep-146-james-lovelock-we-humans-are-a-good-thing