Why Coffee and Doughnuts?
By Angie Greenham –
When the Coffee and Doughnuts invitation arrived at the end of October, the possibility of coming together to cut through the density of the COVID, Climate and Biodiversity emergencies was tangible. On the one hand the attention needed to shape new local and regional pathways for one planet living is a herculean task and on the other, the clarity of intention required to act – to understand which levers will transform stuck systems – can result in the kind of paralysis that stymies our best efforts.
As a tool, the Doughnut Economics framework can support people to collectively come together and figure out a route map for action. And in the age upon us, at a hyperlocal level, I’m motivated to better understand how the places we call home will be reshaped; I want to know what other functions our places can support beyond the past-their-sell-by-date “consumer” realities that have long been defining how we live. I want to understand what role communities might play in the stewardship of their places and what models of governance might shape place in new equitable ways and I want to know how, as a citizen, I might come together with others to step in to a more civic, and overall less passive, role. In large part that covers off my personal motivation for showing up for Coffee and Doughnuts. But I realised, in writing this, that there’s a deeper pull to this work for me.
This time last year I was reflecting on Jonathan Lear’s Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation, a book which studies the autobiographical testimonies of the last great Chief of the Crow Nation, Plenty Coups and explores the events that deprived the Crow people of their traditional way of life. At the turning of this year, I’m asking myself what this story offers as a means of setting my intentions for the coming year. This short extract speaks volumes about what I’m digging deep for and why participating in Coffee and Doughnuts is part of that deeper dig for the courage to continue when many days, many hours, many weeks of the past year I’ve felt like giving up and quietly retreating. Sometimes it’s just an act of deeper faith that is required. My faith is ignited as much by the invitation to imagine anew as by the work itself, and my heart is strengthened by the intention others are setting and the invitation they’re making – Kate Raworth’s intention in doing this Doughnut Economics work these past 10 years or more; Jane, Nick, Isobel and Joseph’s intention in the work of the Bioregional Learning Centre and in convening this group, and you – your intention in showing up and giving enough of a damn to spend your precious time on making a Doughnut for Devon. We are (planting) trees that cannot be felled. I’m holding on to that in 2021 for the future we don’t yet know.
“… The stakes could not have been higher for Plenty Coups and his people. Finally, it has been the aim of this entire chapter to argue that Plenty Coup’s radical hope was not mere wish fulfilling optimism, but was rather a radical form of hope that constituted courage and made it possible. After all, through a series of canny decisions and acts, the Crow were able to hold on to their land, and Plenty Coups helped to create space in which traditional Crow values can be preserved in memory, transmitted to a new generation and, one hopes, renewed in a new historical era.
This was possible because Plenty Coups was able to bring about an astonishing imaginative transformation. Through his dream – and his fidelity to it – Plenty Coups was able to transform the destruction of a telos1 into a teleological suspension of the ethical. A traditional way of life was being destroyed and along with it came the destruction of its conception of the good life. The nature of human happiness became essentially unclear and problematic. In such conditions, the temptation to despair is all but overwhelming. And it was in just such a moment that Plenty Coup’s dream predicted that destruction and offered an image of salvation – and a route to it. The traditional forms of living a good life were going to be destroyed, but there was spiritual backing for the thought that new good forms of living would arise for the Crow, if only they would adhere to the virtues of the Chickadee…
The fixed point in this enigmatic story is the interpretation the elders gave to young Plenty Coups’s dream: that if the man of many achievements follows the wisdom of the chickadee, the Crow will be able to retain their land. This interpretation adds symbolic poignancy to the image of Old Plenty Coups, sitting under the tree of the chickadee, recounting his story to Linderman. The planting of a coup-stick in battle was symbolic of a tree that cannot be felled. Yet there Plenty Coups is, at the end of his life, sitting under an actual tree that history has proved cannot be felled. In giving up the symbol of protecting Crow territory he actually succeeded in protecting it. He used the dream to reach down to the imaginative strategies that might save Crow land; and in so doing he substituted the symbol of the tree that cannot be felled for the tree that cannot be felled. An actual tree became its own symbol. It is still there, marking a real boundary of Crow territory.
Plenty Coup’s dream – and his fidelity to it – also enabled him to live what Aristotle would call a complete life. In spite of the devastation to traditional Crow life, Plenty Coup’s dream became a thread through which he could lead his people through radical discontinuity. In sticking to his dream, he unified his life across this discontinuity: and at the end of his biological life, he was able to see his life as having a unity and a purpose that was confirmed by the unfolding of events.
1 Telos is a term used by philosopher Aristotle to refer to the full potential or inherent purpose or objective of a person or thing, similar to the notion of an ‘end goal’ or ‘raison d’être’. Moreover, it can be understood as the “supreme end of man’s endeavour.” (from Wikipedia)