In today’s show, I’m excited to be speaking with Bruce Parry, an award-winning documentarian, indigenous rights advocate, author, explorer, trek leader and former Royal Marines commando officer.
Our conversation explores everything from the kinds of narratives we currently inhabit and the use of sound in traditional healing rituals, to what the non-hierarchical social dynamics within a particular indigenous community can teach us about how we might redesign the societies in which we live.
Join in the conversation #hivepodcast
Best known for his time spent living with Indigenous Peoples as well as his investigations into globalisation and climate change, Bruce’s documentary series for the BBC entitled Tribe, Amazon, and Arctic have raised awareness about many of the important issues being faced on the environmental frontline.
Bruce’s latest film, Tawai, A voice from the forest, is about how humankind has shifted its connection to nature with devastating results.
NN: Okay. Great. Let’s start. First of all, thank you for jumping on to be interviewed by me. I really appreciate it.
BP: That’s okay. Where are you speaking from?
NN: Oh, I’m actually speaking from Barcelona. I live out here now.
BP: Is that right? How nice.
NN: Yeah, it’s nice. Where are you right now?
BP: I’m in Wales, West Wales.
NN: Oh, I love … not near Powys by any chance?
BP: Powys. I’m not far from Powys. It’s about a half an hour’s drive North of me.
NN: Peaceful. Yeah, I have friends that live there.
BP: But Powys is a big County. It’s a hug county. It stretches everyone. But yeah, no, it’s not so far. Yeah, it’s lovely around here. You grew up in the UK?
NN: Yeah. I was born in London, grew up in East Anglia, moved back to London and then moved back out … Well, moved to Spain for what was supposed to be three years and ended up staying.
BP: Why Spain? Because it’s amazing.
NN: Because it’s amazing and the food’s wonderful. Because they have a three year art course here, which I am about to complete. It’s realist art. It’s like an old atelier method for painting and drawing. Yeah, I followed the art.
BP: How nice. What’s the story behind the podcast?
NN: So the podcast, it looks at three intersecting themes and everything else that arises from that. It looks at the living world, so nature, ecology, etc. It looks at technology because that’s more my background. Then also, human potential. So, things like psychology, art, creativity, all the other things that come under that and the relationship…
BP: Wow, everything.
NN: Everything basically, but with those three kinds of threads weaving together. The reason I decided to do it was because … so I speak for a living. I do a lot of conferences about the psychology of online behaviour and I’ve written a couple of books on it and I used to do a podcast around that.
BP: Oh really? That’s interesting. Online behaviour. Okay, cool.
NN: That’s more my sort of domain in which I’m more experienced. But I really love interviewing people. When I was much younger, I spent quite a bit of time exploring well things like sustainability. I travelled to Ecuador by myself and did some volunteering out there. Then that informed a lot of my 20s and I stopped around 25 and then got sucked into the world of business.
Then, in the last few years, I’ve found myself getting drawn back that way and started looking at different ways to explore that, but also to make it much more accessible to people. I think my hope with the podcast now is to use the platform that I have so people … for a lot of people who haven’t necessarily have come across these topics, to share insights and tools and resources that people will probably find useful with the oncoming change. That’s my hope and it’s a way for me to get back …
BP: What change? What are you talking about? There’s no change coming.
NN: Everything’s purely predictable. We’re going to be fine.
BP: Yeah, absolutely.
NN: That’s where I’m at, and I don’t know where it’s going to go, but I felt very moved to pull on this thread. Let’s see, it’s a third series already. So, who knows?
BP: Great. Are you getting good response?
NN: Yeah, I’m getting very intimate responses from people. So, personal messages and people sharing journeys, which is actually really heart-warming because it’s a lot of work. I think it’s important somehow.
BP: Yeah, well done. Great.
NN: Thank you. Okay, so now it’s time for me to interview you.
BP: That’s okay. Well I hope that was included.
NN: Oh, we’re including that bit? Well, it’s all recorded anyway.
BP: Yeah. Great. Put it all in.
NN: All right. Well, now my first question to you, an easy one to kick us off is, where do you think we’re headed as a species?
BP: Easy. Where are we headed as a species? Well, I think, what I believe, what I feel, what I predict, I think we’ll make it through. I don’t think everyone will make it through. I definitely think we’re up for radical re-evaluation of the way we live our life. Clearly, the trajectory we’re on isn’t going to sustain everyone. Sadly, a lot of the strongest voices in the world seem to be continuing with this trajectory. One wonders what their motivations are, whether they think their money and their power is going to get them through, or whether they’re just completely crazy. I think probably they’re not. I think that making a strategy and it’s pretty dark. So, it depends how quickly we wake up to what’s going on. The trouble is I think is that, those of us living in first world nations who are, in many ways, doing very well, thanks very much. Obviously not in the important ways, but in certain ways, we consider ourselves to be …
We’re not likely to wake up until we get a bit of a slap, so it just depends when the slap comes. I’m hoping it will come soon so that we do have a wake up, even though the slap will have its own, obviously drop out and consequences, I think, better in the long run that we have some awakening. I don’t see it coming from people just listening to podcasts and slowly opening up. I think something dramatic has got to really hit us for us to really re-evaluate. Sadly, I wish it was different, but that’s my feeling. But having said that, I do still hold out for something incredibly beautiful, the other side of that. It’s going to be a difficult transition, but the potential for us as a species, if we haven’t destroyed all the other species alongside us, but the potential for us is extraordinary. That’s what I’m working towards is what’s on the other side. It’s hard to know. I’m holding an optimistic view let’s say.
NN: I like that you’re holding an optimistic view. It’s funny because the responses to that question vary so much according to who I’m asking. I think one of the things that I’m interested in hearing more about is what you might hope is on the other side of … The huge change that has to happen. Because clearly, a lot of the systems are upholding some of the worst aspects of currently, of human life, the massive drain on resources, the extinction of entire species, etc, that can’t continue. Either it’s going to end in us all getting wiped out because none of us can survive, or it’s going to have to, as you say, take a completely different path. What do you see as a possible future?
BP: Yeah. You say, can’t continue. It clearly can continue. It’s just let’s hope it doesn’t. At some stage there has to be a realisation. It’s just a question of whether or not that realisation comes in time or not. What’s on the other side? Well, it just depends on the info wars that we have going on at the moment. I do think it’s a fight of narratives and there are so many different competing narratives and we’ve been through areas of recent narratives that haven’t worked. We were at slap bang in the middle of a new one that is clearly still only favouring a few. My journey is to try and promulgate other information that offers different narratives with a much more sweet and harmonious future, but they do require work and they do require self-reflection and they do require healing.
There’s a lot to do, but if that work and healing is the transition and you’re asking me what’s the other side of that? Well, what’s the other side of that is the most extraordinary settling into our place in the universe and a realisation of how lucky it is that we’ve made it and that we’re able to now sit back and wonder the beauty and the majesty and the mystery of it all, and exist in harmonious communities with each other and with nature, and just revelling in all of the gifts that are there for us.
NN: That sounds peaceful.
BP: Yeah, without having to compete with each other and have all these extraordinary things that we feel we need just to fill the void of actually what can be offered to us so simply through community in nature in a different way of being.
NN: It strikes me actually that element of wanting to fill this void is something which is really hard sometimes to talk about because I think often people just don’t want to look at it or take the time and the space to feel into it because it’s terrifying. I was talking with a friend of mine over lunch today actually about a recent trip that she took to Georgia. She was saying that economically, it’s actually not doing that well, but people will just share everything they have with one another, and really real senses. So, she had two or three knocks on the door within the few days that she was there of people offering food.
I think, clearly, it’s easy for me to romanticise that and obviously it’s born out of people not having very much and sharing because the community is fuelled by that, but I wonder what it might look like for people to start, I guess, modelling those behaviours now before, and building this resilience now before we get hit by the massive slap. I wonder if you think there are examples of this happening already, of people chartering a different path forward to building towards what’s possible.
BP: I think that definitely are. There are so many people who are trying to do this with different levels of success, and also slightly different models, each of them. I’m also doing my own. I’m literally even just today writing my own manifesto for a future type of community that could spread and inject the system and become the new.
NN: I wanted to ask you about that.
BP: Yeah. Well, it’s a work in progress, but it’s definitely feels like it’s where I’ve got to in all of my … I’ve been wondering how to express everything that I’ve learned. Finally, it feels like the right method for me actually. It’s just actually scribbling it down to some manifesto as a constitution for united world. That’s what I’m playing around with, but you’re so right that actually, the reason I feel that I … it’s such a weird, arrogant, almost statement to go, “What? Bruce, you’re writing a bloody constitution? Who the hell do you think you are?” But the reason I feel compelled to do that, almost driven to do that is not because I think I’m anything special, but because I’ve had the extraordinary privilege of touching on communities who actually exist in this way.
That’s what it is. It’s like well, until actually are able to walk into the other paradigm and abide in that space and realise that it’s possible, it feels like just a completely romantic illusion, but when you have had the opportunity to do that, then you realise that it is possible. For me, where I’ve got to, with all my filmmaking and documentaries and traveling and all the rest of it, is actually, it doesn’t do anything. What really needs to happen is we need to start having these communities and groups of people living in such a way that’s tangible, lived examples of this new way so that others can touch that and have the same experience that I’ve had, which is a realisation that it’s not only possible, but infinitely preferable, and then we have a chance.
NN: I’m curious when you’re talking about … it sounds like intentional communities with explicit shared values at the centre, because I’m very curious in this area, but I also get worried about finding ways to not end up recreating a lot of the structures that seem to have a tendency of cropping up in communities. So for instance, things like hierarchy, conflict, etc. What are some of the experiences that you’ve had in your travels and in your contacts with other cultures who work in a different way that have shown you key things that, perhaps alternatives, to dealing with some of these difficult things without the use of hierarchy, without the use of destructive forms of conflict, let’s say?
BP: Well, interestingly, I went and visited tribes around the world and obviously learned so much about healing practices, connection to nature, the benefits of community life, the benefits of bringing up children in community. There are a thousand things that people are waking up to now as to why there’s so much benefit of living in a community. But as far as some of the deeper aspects of how people live together, I genuinely felt that actually they were pretty much the same as us. They were still dealing with the same issues of hierarchy and ownership and stress from different levels of value to each individual within the society, and all of these things that I thought, well comes at the end of the day, this is just part of our way of being, part of our species almost. Until that was, that I lived with the last group that I lived with and all of the tribes and all of these flamboyant groups of people around the world, all these people that I’d visited, who one could be forgiven for thinking were ancient groups living in a timeless way.
I’m not trying to divide any of them because, of course, there was so much beauty and wonder and wisdom in all of them. There really was. But having said that, I think it’s still fair to say that is only when I met the last group of all of the groups that I was traveling with, making the series tribe, that I came across the Penan people in Borneo, and for me it was like being slapped around the face. It was like walking into another paradigm. Absolutely it was that, and it was only then that I realised, oh my God, this is actually how it used to be. What I realised over a long period of time, and also having to get over my own sense of insecurity about romance and naivety, that I suddenly started meeting anthropologists and academics who were telling me, “Oh no, no, no, no, no, Bruce, what you’ve just experienced there is actually how it was before the Neolithic revolution for all humans.”
For the 95% of our time on the planet. All of these other groups that I thought I was visiting who were, as I say, wonderful in their own right, but actually they were all dealing with hierarchy, leadership, all the problems that we’re dealing with today. Only when I met the Penan, did I realise, in fact, this is what non-competitive, non-hierarchical societies can be like, and it is like walking into a different paradigm. That’s what spurned me so much. Interestingly, I think that if I had met that group first, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. For the average person going to meet them, they seem like a very sweet group of people, but I think it was only because I had lived with so many other tribal groups, and then came across the Penan that I was able to really discern this much deeper thing going on.
It was so clear to me there was something very, very different happening, but it was invisible. They were wearing t-shirts, they were smoking cigarettes, they were like the many of the other groups I visited, but what was really interesting and different about them was that they were existing in a world without competition, without leadership. They had no hierarchical issues at all, and they worked tirelessly to maintain that. It’s a very different form of society, a decentralised, individually empowered society where everyone has an equal voice and equal member. It was these things that I’d read about, I knew that they were like egalitarian tribes, but it only really hit me when I met them, and I’m like, “Wow, this is a completely different way of being.” Also, as I said earlier, just realised this is actually how we all were for the vast majority of our time on the planet.
That bit of the narrative does something to you when you realise this isn’t just like a romantic pie in the sky dream about a possible future. You realised that actually 95% of our time on the planet as humans, we existed in a way that was resilient to change and was harmonious with each other and with nature. This isn’t utopia. They obviously have their ups and downs, but in the general grand scheme of things, they are a harmonious group of people, and then you realise, wow, this is what our real potential is.
NN: So, there is a blueprint of a living example that actually exists.
BP: Absolutely. Since meeting them, my whole life has changed. The film I made recently touches on all of this and all of my talks that I give at the moment, the manifesto I’m writing and all the rest of it is, it’s not just saying, “Hey, we used to be egalitarian, we can do it again.” It’s like trying to pick out the tools and methods that these groups used in order to maintain the type of society and seeing how they could be applied to a future type of community. That’s the work that I’m on, because it strikes me that actually a lot of it can be transposed, and maybe only now for the first time in history could it happen. That’s what’s really weird. It’s like the time that we need it most, this information has come back to us.
In all of the last thousands of years this has been lost. We haven’t really understood this. Every other philosopher that’s ever come up with his best idea on how humans should live together, they didn’t have this information at their fingertips. I wonder if they did, whether they might’ve come up with a different theory or idea because it seems so far away from where we’re at, and only through touching it, you’re able to understand, “Ah, this is what we can be like.”
NN: And to living in a context in which it’s the everyday where you’re literally immersed in it.
BP: Absolutely. But bizarrely, what’s really weird is, it doesn’t take that long to get your head around it. Yeah, it needs work, but once you start seeing the world through this other prism, you’re like, actually everything becomes clear in another way. But it is a belief system in a sense. They all exist in a belief system, which is very different to our belief system. Their belief system is we’re all better off if we stay equal. Our belief system is more like an alleged meritocracy or something, whatever. But we know that power gets out of hand. They know that if power becomes centralised, it cannot help but become corrupted. Yet, we still see … we look up towards power still and we choose the competitive winners and all these things where these groups just don’t do that. They see that as abhorrent, and it’s a massive shift in awareness. But once you can start putting on those glasses and seeing the world through those lenses, you’re like, “God, it may just make so more sense.”
NN: It strikes me that establishing such a community or creating tools and methods to enable people to live more coherently to that sort of way of living is actually a deeply political act. If you think about all the structures and institutions that that would go against in terms of what’s expected of us and like you say about our perception of indifference to authority, you’re creating a lot of resources around this, to make it more accessible, which I think is amazing and we need more of that. But have you had any sense of resistance from people on this?
BP: No, I haven’t done my launch yet, but the talks I’ve been giving at festivals and stuff last year, the heart, the term revolution, it has to be revolutionary, and in many ways, it is saying no to the existing power structures, but what was really interesting as well when I started understanding more about egalitarian tribes, of which there were still a few, not many, but still a few around, and especially the work of a number of anthropologists that I became close to, namely Jerome and Ingrid Lewis and Camilla Power and Chris Knight who’ve done a lot of work on this. I realised that actually not only is this a paradigm that can be lived in, but there is a methodology for getting to it too.
That came about when I had the great fortune of meeting the Mbendjele people in the Congo who Jerome and Ingrid Lewis had spent a number of decades with, and realising that this group of people here had, in their own narrative, the story of when they first became egalitarian coming about from the saying no to the alpha male and the harem of females.
NN: Wow. I want to hear that story.
BP: It’s off the charts. They still have ritual, song and dance that keeps the narrative alive of you don’t fight the power base. You can’t fight the power base in that instance, according to these theories which resonate with me very deeply. It was the women coming together in solidarity saying no to the alpha male was how they came about doing it, and then inviting the other men in to come and live in harmony with them, provided that they let go of their more aggressive competitive aspects and brought out their own softer side, and that was the beginning of it. Then being held accountable by this play between the masculine and the feminine energies within the society that continues to this day. All of these tools as it were, were the things that suddenly made me realise, wow, here is not only the tools for how to maintain it, but also maybe even the insight and how one can have a revolution that isn’t just trying to tackle the power base using the same type of power that’s there.
It’s a different type of revolution, and in some ways, that’s maybe creating in communities could be similar to that. It’s just not buying into the power base anymore. That’s going to have its teething problems, but there’s love at its heart. There’s going to be a change over a period. It’s not going to happen overnight. There has to be an understanding that we are also living with the gifts of the last 10,000 years of separation and all the technological advances. We’re not turning our backs on them. So, we also need to support that, the good aspects of what our society has brought about, but we can also do that perhaps in a way that doesn’t support the negative. It’ll be a journey.
NN: That story of the women presumably in the harem turning against the alpha male and then creating an environment which they invited the other men to share with them, it fills me both with hope and with horror, especially because of the story of the Handmaid’s Tale and the other similar stories that are warning bells being sounded right now at this inflection point I feel in history, where we do have a huge drive towards these more hierarchical or authoritarian dogmatic fascist ideals on one end of the spectrum, because of course there’s a huge diversity but they get sounded up. But that’s on the one end, and this other much more decentralised cooperative connection-based ways of designing things together, so more ecosystems-based ways of thinking.
I think that my concern, my horror is at what point, how much buy-in do the more vulnerable in society require in order to upturn a system? Because it’s so easy for those who stand up and who are the ones most at risk or have the most to lose, to not be able to make that transition. The pacifists in history who’ve been wiped off the face of the earth or the countless generations of women. I don’t want to take it down a really bleak path, but that’s what my mind bends towards. How do we avoid this?
BP: Yeah, of course. The answer is there’s no knowing. Let me take all that back. I don’t know the answer. All I know is that my belief is that all sectors of society do better under this other way of being. What the perceived the winning side of our competitive realm, or at the bottom, that actually all of us do better. One hopes that the messages in these narratives will touch everyone’s hearts. But you’re right, one of the reasons that egalitarian societies aren’t existing that much anymore is because the more technologically advanced, powerful warmongering agricultural societies probably forced them out. So, that hasn’t gone, and yet, something still spurns me forward. I do think that there’s something in it when you hear it that touches you, whoever you are.
My hope is that something about the male female, that the masculine feminine aspect to this, that might also resonate, even though that’s a very difficult story to be telling in this day and age as well. I don’t know. I think that a lot of the power base is powerful because we buy into it. The whole methodology of these types of sort of revolutionary communities, if you will, is actually just by not trying to confront it, but by just stepping out and by doing that more and more and more people realising and waking up to, oh God, actually I don’t have to go and do this mindless job every day. I could be doing something else. Also, not buying into the sort of existing structure. That in its own right diffuses the power of those structures because they are only powerful because we buy into them.
I’m sure your cynical mind is kicking overtime with all of this of romantic waffle, but I think that there are going to be things … the other part of it is, even if this hasn’t taken, these manifestos or other people trying to do similar stuff hasn’t like succeeded in turning the boat around, once we hit the icebergs, the fact that the narratives are back in the world and the fact that there have been a few examples might be enough also for even those who thought they were doing well, thanks very much, to go, “Shit, you know what? We have to re-evaluate.” The power and the money isn’t going to isolate those people from what’s coming either. They’re already visiting their psychologists wondering what they’re going to do about the private armies.
Are they going to turn on us? It’s like, the future is not … It’s going to affect us all, and there’s no insulating yourself from it. Here are narratives that could offer a way out if people are willing to buy into it, but it does take some buying into. These are not easy shifts, and especially, I live in the UK, it’s an incredibly rich and prosperous nation, and people aren’t waking up to anything very much. But you just look at Greece and Italy when they … Sorry, Spain when they went through their economic downturns in recent years and suddenly, new ideas arise to the surface. It is a con. It is like a competition of narratives out there at the moment. I just happen to think that this is a powerful one because it’s for everyone.
NN: I wonder what you think is the role of, for instance, things like music and art and poetry in the recent world and media and films and theatre and I guess dance, all of the arts. I wonder what you feel the art’s role can be in creating spaces for these narratives and finding ways to unlock something different in people. We know something’s off. We have this hunger for connection. The number of people I speak to outside of the arts world I’m in who are still in business and doing, this was in ’95, I’m struck at how unhappy many, many, many of them are and how much happier I am now doing this with people who are much less affluent, but doing something that they value that communicates something else than just winning the bread and the rest of it, because one has to do that too. But I wonder what place you think the arts have in creating and opening people up to these narratives.
BP: I think they could have an incredibly powerful role to play, and I would love to see that happen more and more. I’m sort of love, hate relationship with Hollywood actually half the time. I see some of the stuff that’s coming. I know you’re not really referring directly to Hollywood, but let’s just use them as probably the most prolific media, a small little village folk group is well heartfelt probably. Even in the big spaces of places like Hollywood, there are some incredibly interesting storylines coming out and thoughtful narratives that appear occasionally in really nice, surprising place. There’s definitely full of people who are not full, but there’s a number of people in there who are really doing their bit and trying their hardest.
I struggled myself thinking, God, how am I going to get the stuff that I’m carrying out? I spent seven years trying to make a documentary and I didn’t really do it. Actually, I thought I need to write a script of a drama and just have all of these things being said by characters I just make up that I wouldn’t dare put in my own documentary, but it could just have some crazy characters saying shit, and I’m like, okay, well, you can play me and say, well, the crazy stuff. I just thought I need to own it. In that way, for some people, they’re incredibly powerful tools for receiving information. Obviously, things like music and poetry, what they do separate to film, music and poetry as well, is they offer us a way of experiencing information in a much more right hemisphere.
Let’s say, holistic, more embodied, more emotional way. In many ways, one of the things that we need to do on the healing journey is to try and feel that empathic connection once again that we’re losing, some places lost. I think that the arts definitely can tap into that. I was with some shaman in the Amazon a couple of years ago and who deal with a lot of Westerners coming through, and I said to them, “What’s the single biggest problem you see with us in the West coming over here for a healing?” They all just said in unison, “You’re all stuck in the head.” It’s so true. I think that a lot of the arts allow us to become more embodied in our feelings once again. For that reason too, I think there’s a lot of synergy that can come in this journey with the arts. I think it’s really vital.
NN: It makes me think of one of the things that really transformed an experience I had with plant medicine, and it was the use of sound. It wasn’t even sound that I could recognise as language, but it completely transformed the experience. I wonder about this, the ability of sound to unlock things in us, either in a in synaesthetic way or in an embodied way, but these various different levels are very deep transformation and I think can really take place.
BP: I’ve had the most bonkers experience with sound in plant medicine in journeys. For me, when I drink with different shaman, traveling shaman, or when I go to the Amazon or wherever I go, there’s quite a lot these days to get the guitar out and sing a few songs and they’re beautiful and they’re joyful ways of finishing a ceremony. The time that I get the greatest healing as an internal voyage of unlocking various traumas and whatever it is that’s going on is when someone will sing an Icaro, which is like genuinely a sound rather than words. And words I find go to my head and they become stories and then I’m listening to the words. Whereas the sounds are directly mouthed or created in order to bring about sort of inner resonance in a different way.
Some shamanic groups or indigenous groups like the Shipibo spring to mind, they use these Icaros in an extraordinary way, where they would literally see your body and sing to where they see the energetic blockage in your body using a different song or Icaro that they will have received through doing a theatre of dieting on a particular plant for a number of months, and that will have brought them about a certain energy, vibration, whatever you want to call it, that they might want to use for that particular blockage. This is an incredible craft. Its sounds bonkers from the material scientific paradigm, but when you have the experience of some of these people sitting in front of you and they’re just staring at you and singing these extraordinary sounds, it’s like … some funny noises, and then you feel this shit going on inside you like I don’t know what’s going on, but something’s happening.
NN: That something’s happening.
BP: Also, like when I remember in the Orinoco doing a substance called Yopo, which is a DMT based substance, which was pretty powerful and snorting it all day long. Only when I learned their song, they lent me one of their songs again, they have these Kula spirits that come into the body, and depending on how many spirits you have, swinging and hammocks between your rib cages, that’s how powerful you are as a shaman and how many different songs you have and all the rest of it and dah, dah, dah. But when I started singing one of their songs, it was only through that process that I literally just left this cosmos and entered into another realm. What it felt like, because the sounds were so interesting and they were almost designed to resonate different cavities within the body.
Some would be like … with very much about the forehead. Others would be, ah, the sort of back of the throat, of like mmh, which would be more the chest. All of these different types of sound were being evoked in these different styles and you could feel it all going on inside you. Again, I don’t know what’s going on, but I do believe that we have stuff that’s stuck inside our bodies. Of course, we’re all energy and vibration inside ourselves. These things seem to have some way of unlocking something. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve felt it and it’s super powerful, and yes, so I think sound is immense.
NN: Oh it’s so intriguing hearing you talk about the use of sound to unlock. I literally today was having a conversation about two ways of this happening like either through symbolism in art, which is something more the visual side, but also about the ability of songs that have been conceived in a very particular emotional state to evoke that state in others and to open something up in them. Here of course, I’m talking about more narrative stories that one tells through songs as well as that melody. So it’s a very different thing to what you’re describing, but there is something about that about the transmission of something which is so much richer and more immersive than just the use of language alone.
NN: Yeah, and especially when people come together to sing or be sung to, I think there’s a really particular kind of magic that can happen there.
BP: Absolutely. Some of these tribes in the Congo, they do polyphonic singing, and when you are doing that together in the group, something extraordinary happens to you. Again, it’s like they … there’s a mantra that you might sing, and then so going through the process of doing that, and then doing that in your group and then listening to the others around you so that you’re not too loud nor too quiet so that you’re harmonising together. Once you get it in your own self, that’s one thing, but then when you start opening out and listening to the others to make sure that you’re getting it right, you just leave your body and you become the forest around you, and everyone’s enjoying that space together. They’re like, “No, we do this because this allows us to connect with the forest.”
That’s just me on a very basic level, where they’re doing it in a much more fine level where they’re free flowing with their songs. They’re not following mantras. They’re just vibing with …
NN: Cosmic jamming.
BP: Cosmic jamming, but like literally all … that is their communion together. They are in communion with each other and with the environment that holds them.
NN: I would love to experience something like that. It sounds extraordinary.
BP: Yeah, I mean, off the charts. There’s so many examples of that. I’ve come across where sound’s being used for healing, where literally people sit around and just sing at people to get them better. It’s like sound is vital, and I think probably our first tool for healing.
NN: So I want to ask you actually, one of the things I was reading about that you’re working on now is your project to live and work with a community of friends for an experiment in conflict resolution and egalitarian living. Is that underway? I’m really curious to ask how is it going?
BP: That’s sweet of you. Well, I don’t know where you read that.
NN: On your website!
BP: Did I? Oh my God, did I?
NN: Better revise it, Bruce.
BP: I better revise my website. Yeah, I’m in very embryonic stage. I’m in very embryonic stage. I’m writing them and basically, without getting into too much detail, I had a group of people I was going to live with and that is taking its time to come together. I’m just scribbling out the whole manifesto thing to make sure that we’re all on the same page before we come through. Obviously, it’s not just me that’s writing it because it’s about decentralisation. The whole thing is about looking at power and where power can get centralised and corrupted. So the whole thing is about letting go of that. I could be kicked out if I don’t behave or whatever. It’s not about me at all, which is where most of my friends take the perks clearly.
I’m just getting that together, and then also it just takes time. I’m slowly still communicating with these wonderful people who have extraordinary skills and I’m really excited to hopefully live together. We’re taking our time. It’s a work in progress. I kind of thought I could rush it, and I realised that was not wise.
NN: On that note actually, of it’s not all about me, because I know that in many Western cultures we, even with the best of intentions, maybe, especially with the best of intentions, we do nonetheless come from very individualistic cultures, which prize ego and sort of a more atomised way of living. How do you find ways of expressing one’s individuality and desire for, I suppose, drive to accomplish things in a society or a community that seeks to be more egalitarian?
BP: Well, for me, I think one of the things is by readdressing things like ownership. It seems slightly tangential, but I can explain it. If everyone’s literally on the same playing field and everyone is equally invested and everyone has the same amount to lose and we were working together, then all of the sort of the subtle hidden power plays that are in our society, because I have a little bit more than you, or because I’m a little bit more famous than you, or because I have more notoriety, whatever it is, those things play up, but when that’s removed, then actually, once I’ve signed over the property, we’re all in it together.
Then, the guy next door can just give me shit because I’m being a dick. In many and in many ways, I think that’s what I realised on my own journey of getting into a space where I’ve accumulated a lot more money, or not at the moment, but previously, or accumulated notoriety or whatever it is, that these things allow us to hide from our stuff. The more money you get, the more you realise you just don’t need to be answerable. It’s all about, and so if I can write this in a way that literally we’re looking at that every step of the way, it’s like accountability under the value system that we’ve created and all the practices that go around that, and having to turn up for the healing if required or whatever, it’s like I’m accountable and my friends, because they have nothing to lose or gain because they’re not looking up to anyone having more power than them.
They’re like, “You’re being a fucking dick, Bruce.” Then, and thank you, yeah, because my belief is that we are all better off when we go through the healing journey. Even though it’s tough to look at one’s stuff, the end of the journey is something much more harmonious for everyone. Only by holding onto the belief that actually beneath the layers of conditioning is something really beautiful, which I do believe is one willing to put oneself into this sort of like the dog pack to be yapped at until you’re part of the gang. I think that’s what I’m holding on to, is like just by giving everyone equal place in it.
I said to my friends who I’m potentially going to be living with, it’s like, “You know, this is just like my own therapy. You guys are all cool,” because they will be living in community for very many years. They’re in a really good space for each other. I was like, it’s me that’s had this extraordinary life of complete individuality where I can go anywhere. I can do anything. I’ve had loads of cash. Any decision, anything. What we see, perceive as freedom. So I’ve had the freedom to go and do anything I want, but it’s actually killing me. Ultimately, the sort of unlimited choice is not healthy.
Well, I’m not there yet as you can see in my community of one, but my deep belief is that I will be actually better off in the long run because I spent … I see, and you mentioned earlier, the separation and filling the void. Well, that’s where the addictions come in. That’s where the online stuff comes in, and all those other things. It’s actually, I don’t need any of that when I’m with those friends and we’re just crafting together or walking. It just dissipates. So many of those things come from my excessive freedoms actually.
NN: One of the things that I can imagine critics lobbying back in our direction…
BP: Don’t send any of their information to me.
NN: But also living in Spain, it’s interesting to see how people view political narratives when you’re actually in the country versus out and also having distance now from UK. The C word that comes to mind is communism, and that being something that I’m sure people will fall you about in response to having, for instance, some examples that I’ve heard talk about more of a bartering economy where people aren’t exchanging money, they’re creating and growing things together. I know people who do this, and as far as I can tell, they’re not recognisably communist if you’re looking at the political blueprint for what we’d experience to be communism. Yeah, what are your thoughts about that?
BP: It’s so simple for me. I’ve often had it when I’ve been on things like your podcast and others. I’ll see in the notes after, it’s like, “Bloody hell, I’ve just got out of a communist state and I’m glad that we all went down, and never want to go to it again, I’m enjoying our freedom.” And like, “That’s terrible. How dare you suggest such a ridiculous idea?” And I’m like, “No, no, no, no, no. You’re completely missing the point. Communism is another extreme form.” Like socialism actually, and the reason that we’ve got this such weird politics left and right, and they both have a seed of wisdom in both sides. And yet, we’re at such loggerheads and such polarised. It’s like both of them are competing for central power in some ways. Communism is an extraordinary form of central power. We all believe in the state and sharing, but we have to give it through someone else who’s then going to share on our behalf.
That’s just not what we’re talking about at all. We’re talking about fully empowered individuals and direct democracy without any need for central power at all. It’s a completely different paradigm. This has nothing to do with communism. Communism is abhorrent in that way. It has at its heart, on paper, great values we’re going to share. But as ever, it’s corrupted. It’s corrupted because the people that fought to get it, use the same type of power to achieve it as the power that they were trying to overcome. So of course, ended up replacing like with like as has always happened.
NN: So back to that, bringing about new models.
BP: Thank you.
NN: Yeah. Fascinating.
BP: Being on sex strikes, that’s what we need.
NN: I don’t think I’m up for a sex strike.
NN: If anyone listening who is interested, before we sort of dive down a really weird path, I have one more question. One more question for you. For people who are listening, what one insight or advice from the many extraordinary experiences and encounters you’ve had do you think would be most helpful to offer people who are listening? It could be about anything, but something that you find valuable.
BP: Oh my God, I’m terrible at these types of questions. We’ve had such a nice chat and now you’ve gone and asked me for a favour.
NN: I know. I’m sorry.
BP: I don’t know how to end. My biggest insight is that humankind is amazing and we can live in harmony with each other and beneath the layers of conditioning where we look … sometimes we’re fearful to look inside because we think we’re just bad. Actually, it’s something really beautiful and we can create something extraordinary. I know it because I’ve touched it and I think it can be done again. That’s my insight to share. It’s like, believe in us and we can make it through, but we’ve got to heal.