42: Sabbatical VI: Next Steps

30 January 2012

People are asking about my plans and what my next book would be about. 

Next Book

The next book would be the story of what happened directly after the first one: the experience of disappearing into a shed in an orchard for a year, the various events during that period with which I was tied up, and the rollercoaster that followed.

Those episodes, rather than the pilgrimage, turned out to constitute the defining experiences of my life. There’s masses of eyebrow-raising material to write about.

That true story would, in part, be a vehicle for a further reinterpretation of what’s happening on this planet, with all these evolved, imperfect hominids doing these completely unprecedented things. My objective in book two would be for that interpretation to be next-level-down from book one: contextualising the day-to-day events of the world in the framework of the big-picture word view set out on the last page of Part 9, and Part 10, of The Jolly Pilgrim.

However, I will not be disappearing into any more sheds. Once per lifetime was enough. In addition, while I’m confident in my book-construction skills, I’m acutely aware of the time and logistical commitments. So for the time being, all that stays on the drawing board.

Next Steps

The more immediate concern is to push the first book. With the initial marketing complete, that means:

a) getting in front of more people; and

b) putting detail on my proposed world view.

At Speaker's Corner, Hyde Park

A large part of the past few months has involved debating, acquiring further knowledge, making connections, and recording and collating ideas. It’s been an enormously gratifying part of this sabbatical. Given that the time remaining is limited, the most useful things I have to delve into are the live issues which, in my experience, cause people to dispute my optimism, including: environmental degradation, global population, the role of religion and our current economic problems.

One inestimable advantage I have in this is that my bosses at Reed Global are being incredibly supportive (one might say, enlightened) with respect to giving me the freedom to do all this. It does help that they’ve all been good enough to read my book.


Tom Mansfield kicks in with some H. G. Wells

Shoulder update: The ligaments connecting my right collarbone have torn. I’m now up to three X-rays. The doctors are waiting to see if they’ll heal without surgery. Next appointment in four weeks. I am a torrent of self pity. Tony the Tiger is now on washing-up duty.

Speaking update: Tom Mansfield and I hit Speaker’s Corner, in Hyde Park, on Sunday. We blasted the assembled 117 onlookers with our cosmic narrative, replete with statistics and hard numbers. A full online video will be forthcoming. The professional hecklers present (whom we met during our reconnaissance) held their tongues. We are seeking less forgiving audiences.


‘[Try to] look at the present in a way that the declinist narratives so common in environmental writing disbar;… see today as being in the middle of things, pulled in many directions, not passed down at the end of time.’ – Geoff Carr

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8 Responses to “42: Sabbatical VI: Next Steps”

  1. Mark Snare Says:

    unprecedented thing(s)
    held (their) tongues

    2/10 see me after skool

  2. Peter Baker Says:

    Corrected. Feedback appreciated, as always. No hitting me on the right shoulder. :-)

  3. Mark Snare Says:

    delete my post then and the crime perfect.

  4. Clare Johnson Says:

    Hi Pete,

    I’m confused.

    I read your Speaker’s Corner attachment. Your premise is that the world is in decline. Who thinks this? I don’t think many people think it, do they, in terms of health, life opportunities, and scientific and political evolution? The only thing many are quite reasonably upset about is the destruction of our natural spaces and the indigenous species within them.

    Many of us think species should be protected from the destructive ravages of Man. Even though, in an adjusted future, other species will move in to take their place (as they always have done), and the planet will find a new balance (as it always has done), it doesn’t follow that the loss of the rainforests, the rhino, the slow loris or the insanely beautiful, magical maccaw by our hands is something we should be ok with. This is equal to the fatalistic platitude I once received from a Jehovah’s Witness when I asked him what he thought of our responsibilities as stewards of God’s creatures and His environment: “God will sort it out.”

    I’m sure God will. But it’s equally possible that we can create a future in which other creatures are able to follow their fascinating evolutionary paths beyond simply responding to our over-presence. I accept that our evolutionary path is as valid as the next animal’s, but we have evolved the ability to think, and to care, and to change our path – some call this ‘God-given free will’ – and I believe we should be using our exceptional faculties with discernment and mutual-respect, not in a kind of heedless pursuit. All other creatures have evolved from the slurry and are just as magnificent as we are. I believe we should give them the space to continue being so.

    Apart from that, I’m hugely optimistic about our future. I even look forward to a cure for the big C in time for when it clobbers me! (<= black humour.)

    Is this what your next book is about?


  5. Clare Johnson Says:

    *these species (first line, second paragraph)

  6. Mark Snare Says:

    I want to know if the next book is going to retract the comment about “money being all in our heads” instead of it being a component part of mathematical laws that govern the Universe, including Greece.


  7. Peter Baker Says:


    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’ll address your points in reverse order.

    The environmental-sustainability question is the stand-out absence from the flyer. We made a conscious decision not to include it because we couldn’t meaningfully summarise our thoughts in a bullet.

    I believe (and clearly so do you) that species and ecosystem loss is the central problem with contemporary civilisation. I deal with this in The Jolly Pilgrim in the section starting on page 276, which was extracted by The Ecologist magazine (here), and subsequently shared around the world by organisations including the Gaian Foundation, the Post Carbon Institute and the Environmental News Network.

    In addition, the subchapter starting on page 213 offers case study of how I believe humans will ultimately be able to mitigate their detrimental effects on other species and ecosystems.

    I’m startled that you haven’t come across the pessimistic narrative regarding the trajectory of human affairs we refer to. I’ve come across it (and come across it) all around the world, along with idea that the past was somehow better than the present (particularly from people looking back to the heroic period of whatever culture they identify with).

    I have to admit, you catch me off guard disputing that there are lots of people who hold that view (I’m sure you noted our qualifier “oft-accepted” on the flyer). However, if you’re genuinely unfamiliar with that world view, here a few examples.

    There’s the declinist economic narrative around the Credit Crisis, personified by the Occupy movement and captured in slogans such as ‘The system is bust’ (Oxfam) and placards such as ‘The private bankers, politicians, global elite and mass media, are lying to, laughing at, stealing from, brainwashing and destroying you and your family.’ (Occupy). This exaggerated negativity finds more rational articulation in commentators such as George Monbiot, who writes regularly for the The Guardian. I recently found it very difficult to persuade a 20-something that the world was basically better now than in the 70s – they couldn’t see past student fees to the wider fact of a nicer, more enlightened society.

    Regarding the wider view (to my mind mistaken) that economic growth is somehow limited, and that the whole project of economic progress is flawed, it’s summarised in widely shared video “The Most Important Video You’ll Ever See” and more articulately set out by commentators including the Physicist Tom Murphy.

    Regarding violence generally, I often come across the idea that ‘a proliferation of violence spread around the world in the twentieth century’ (to quote a speaker at the Secret Garden Party Festival). In addition, in my experience that there is a widely held (and mistaken) belief that the Hemoclysm of the early 20st-century represented an upward pattern in human-on-human violence. A few specific examples include the New York Times editorial claiming “It did not take long [after 1989] for the gyre to wobble back into its dependably blood soaked course, pushed along by fresh gusts of ideological violence and absolutism” (2007), the political scientist Stanley Hoffman who claimed that since the Cold War one hears “about nothing but terrorism, suicide bombings, displaced people, and genocides”. Or the columnist Frank Rich who (apparently) wrote that the world was “a more dangerous place than ever” in 2007. When I started sharing data violence decline on Facebook about this there was plenty of kick back. It was scientifically fairly respectable until the 1990s

    Regarding food scarcity, you may recall the media reaction to the spike in food commodities last year – lots of alarmist media regarding short-term price changes, little comment on the long-term improvements in calorie intake in the developing world. Examples I feel personify that view include Hazel Healy’s recent editorial in the New Internationalist and Dan Hodges recent article in the New Statesman.

    The point we were trying to make on the flyer is how strikingly comprehensive and across-the-board progress in human welfare has been. However, from what you say, I’m preaching to the converted.

    Thank you for keeping me on my toes.

    And thanks for the typo spot. Always handy to have an editor around.



  8. Peter Baker Says:

    Now you’ve challenged me on it I’m finding negativity everywhere. This is a quote from a (poorly edited) section under Karl Marx on Wikipedia:

    ‘Worldwide poverty has increased since the end of the 19th century especially considering that the richest are richer than ever but the poor have remained at the same level and the percentage has risen in the last 30 years.’

    It cites four sources. I checked one of them (a World Bank research paper) and can confirm that whoever wrote appears to have been either writing hearsay and passing it off as research, or not checking, or understanding their numbers in some way (because said World Bank paper does not say what it is purported to say) …

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