Hello my name is Gijs and I am a systemoholic. I am addicted to seeing patterns and connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, so to me something as mundane as garment production has everything to do with fractals, collective intelligence, self-realisation and the emergence of a new consciousness on this planet. But I can get equally excited about the nitty gritty of carbon sequestration by different fibre crops, or data analytics for supply chain management. I guess the common thread (pun intended!) is the observation of unfolding patterns.
We talk about ethical fashion and sustainable textile supply chains as if we know for certain such a thing exists. However, after decades of “people, planet, profit” powerpoints we still don’t have a full picture of the consequences of our decisions – whether in design, sourcing, marketing, trade or manufacturing. Some of us try hard to quantify externalized social and ecological costs by calculating the life cycle of a product, but most get lost in an ocean of assumptions because the hard truth is that the model we have collectively opted for is beyond our comprehension.
I truly believe that a Beast came into being once we surrendered to a simplified model of our human economy (literally “household management”). In systems thinking jargon it is called an emergent property: a quality that does not exist amongst the sum of its parts, but is born from their interaction. So this Beast wakes up every time a constellation of living actors (companies, consumers, farmers, policymakers, media, fibre crops, water, air) engage with each other, and it has its own personality. Right now it seems to be on a rampage – guzzling up resources with a ferocious appetite, discarding people and scattering waste around. Maybe it could behave differently, maybe not.
In these times of multiple interlinked crises and unprecedented rates of change we (you, me, and everyone dear to us) are confronted with crazy levels of complexity, and most of us have no clue how to relate to this situation. We are completely helpless and unprepared, and that hurts. As a father, a teacher, a senior colleague, as someone who has “studied this kind of stuff” I feel embarrassed to admit that I have no reassuring wisdom to offer, nothing to ease the tension. I have not made peace with this discomfort, and maybe I never will. Maybe the simplicity on the other side of complexity does not come with relief?
Environmental activist and fellow-systemoholic Joanna Macy (someone who does seem to have wisdom to offer though her Work that Reconnects) speaks not only about the importance of allowing space for grief but also about the legend of the Shambhala warrior, who ventures into the heart of the Beast with two secret weapons: knowledge and compassion. I wish for this series of Threads to uncover more knowledge and trigger more compassion so that more of us can step into our role of gentle radicals and sacred activists. And of course I look forward to make fun of ourselves and our predicament along the way 😊