It’s a precious gift to be alive as a sentient human being whatever the circumstances, my Buddhist friends remind me. Yes, of course, I say. And the global pandemic is awful, causing premature deaths, suffering and loss for survivors, financial disaster for households and business owners. My Buddhist friends also remind me that there has always been suffering. Perhaps, making clear these fundamental truths of the human condition are the first two gifts of this pandemic.
For the longer-term praxis of living together and all that entails – politics, economics, sociologics, ecologics – this pandemic brings additional practical blessings. First, let’s acknowledge the critiques of globalised ‘capitalism’ and political duplicity, the warnings of impending authoritarianism and austerity, and the near certainty of massively disruptive and sustained economic contraction. These are foreboding stories told by very serious people coming through louder and clearer than before in a now more amenable mediasphere. (If you haven’t yet seen them, then please search for them.) We must give them thoughtful attention and act accordingly. But they’re not the only possible stories about an as yet unconstructed future – in fact, they’re incomplete.
To state the obvious, political and economic change happens in all kinds of ways including through crisis and calamity. For those of us working for change at local, municipal and regional scales, this is the moment when many of the solutions we’ve been promoting are needed and the conditions for building the foundations for longer term change are favourable. There’s much to explore on this topic, obviously, but let’s just focus on a few points which might inspire immediate action and kick off a continuing conversation in our wider community of changemakers, and especially here in the South West, UK.
Who hasn’t noticed the growing vacancies on the Totnes High Street? Totnes has been more the exception than the rule, resisting the retail malaise that has struck High Streets all over Britain. It has, so far, resisted the encroachment of chain stores, while being held up as an example of a local economy thriving on tourism, community spirit and independent shops. For decades, local traders have opposed pedestrianisation, which is, ironically, a suggestion that many visitors make upon struggling their way up the High Street and The Narrows. A few years ago, a temporary traffic reversal was blamed for a few shops closing which sparked an energetic campaign to reverse the reversal.
But there are larger forces at work behind the current trend of closures. One obvious explanation is that shops are failing because people don’t want to buy what they’re selling. This is undoubtedly true for some, probably most, while a few are closing for strategic reasons of their own. A couple of multinational retail chains are opening new units, a SpecSavers and a Coffee One, a subsidiary of Cafe Nero. Both will put further pressure on locally-owned opticians, as well as local cafes and their local suppliers.
“For everything that rises must converge.” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
These words from Teilhard de Chardin carry wisdom that many who have tread whichever path toward spiritual liberation will appreciate. There are many paths to the mountaintop of enlightenment. Might this also hold some truth for the pursuit of collective or social enlightenment? Who knows? But in the context of movement building, I’d like to propose something like the inverse, that everything that converges must rise.
I’ve recently returned from the planning conference for the next World Social Forum (May, 2020 in Barcelona), which will be focused on Transformative Economies (www.transformadora.org). It aims to be a global convergence event for the many streams of the broader but still disconnected range of work on implementing, explicitly or implicitly, economies that are just, inclusive, ecologically wise, socially regenerative and resilient – solidarity economy, relocalisation, social enterprise, etc.
It’s a new year so some resolutions might be in order, yes? This is part of the usual business of celebrating the completion of one solar cycle by promising ourselves to be better somehow in the next. But the dawning of this new year should feel different to all of us. We in the ‘rich countries’ need to rapidly and dramatically transform our societies, reducing our emissions and ecological footprint, while providing livelihoods and wellbeing for all – and defeat fascism in all its permutations, too. Usually, resolutions are personal, but recognising the immensity of the collective challenges we face, I’d like to respectfully suggest a few collective, achievable and, hopefully, useful resolutions for our movement. Continue reading “Five New Year’s Resolutions for Our Movement”→
Perhaps we all agree the current economic system is the problem. This is, of course, a generalisation which could be endlessly unpicked and elaborated. But if we’re concerned about global warming, biospheric damage, inequality, etc, the globe-sized elephant in the room, so to speak, is the dominant economic system powered by fossil fuels and predicated on endless consumption and growth. It’s efficiency-oriented and centralising, concentrating ever greater economic and political power in the hands of oligarchs and autocrats, which means change will not come easy.
Perhaps by now we also know that change is coming one way or the other. Experts warn we must rapidly reduce the energetic and material throughput of the global economic system by orders of magnitude in the coming years or face severe consequences, including a variety of collapse scenarios. These consequences will hit real people in real communities in our towns, cities, and surrounding regions. This suggests what’s needed is not just a radical rethink, but a radical reconfiguration of how we meet our needs.
Like everyone else, I’ve been trying to make sense of the ‘brexit’ vote and it’s implications for me and my family, as well as the grass roots movement in which I have been an enthusiastic participant. And like everyone else, I’m reading interesting opinion pieces and analyses across the spectrum, talking to friends and colleagues, and pulling at every thread trying to weave together some fabric of understanding of this moment in history. Nobody knows what’s next or where we’re heading. It’s terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time.
Regardless of your vote, your analysis, your personal circumstances, we’ve all got to step back from the anger, demonizing, and fear. Generating this kind of negative energy perpetuates division and is ultimately self harming. What we need are cool heads and compassionate hearts. Above all, we need practical action. Re-read your Macy or Camus, if necessary, but we must summon the courage to face the reality of our situation in this society and our role in it. All you systems thinkers, students of complexity, advocates of holistic solutions — isn’t this the moment we’ve been training for?
I’m old enough to remember when word processing and spreadsheets were the ‘killer apps’ that not only enabled wide-spread adoption of desktop computers across the business world, but unleashed an industry. That was over 30 years ago. Today, it’s – what? Dodocase cardboard virtually reality glasses? I’m a bit out of touch.
What’s a ‘killer app’? Originally, it referred to the software application, or method of use, that enables a hardware platform to become indispensable and ubiquitous. It’s the thing that unlocks market potential, unleashes successive waves of tech booms and boomlets, and creates kid coder billionaires. Today, the term is a bit cliché and oxymoronic – it is the thing that delivers the breath of life.
“El viajero reconoce lo poco que es suyo al descubrir lo mucho que no ha tenido y no tendrá.”
― Italo Calvino, Las Ciudades Invisibles
“The traveler recognizes the little that is his, discovering the much he has not had and will never have.”
― Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
For many people longing for real alternatives to fake democracy and corporate oligarchy, the new politics arising in Spain over the last few years has been a wellspring of inspiration. In 2011, when the Indignados, the ‘outraged’, occupied the Puerta del Sol, Madrid, and other plazas across Spain, we watched and cheered, mostly because we wanted to see ourselves in them—regular people of every age, every gender, standing up, being heard, practising democracy, perhaps for the first time and clumsily, but they were participating in their own destiny in a new way.
Growth is a good thing, at least for economic re-localisation. Interest in re-localisation, as well as related notions of de-centralisation and community resilience, has gone viral with new initiatives popping up seemingly every day. With all this new enthusiasm, it’s easy to forget that the roots of these ideas go back several decades, and that this ‘movement’ is just one current of a much broader global movement seeking to manifest economic, environmental, and social justice at every scale of society. No matter, these ideas are beginning to infiltrate the mainstream, even finding their way into EU policy.
There are inspiring success stories unfolding, such as in Totnes, Devon where I live. But many community-led initiatives trying to spark this kind of local economic change fail to reach their full potential, or simply fail, and for many reasons. Some because they jump straight to prescriptions without adequate diagnoses. Others simply fail on project design. Still others cannot reach beyond their core base of ‘usual suspects’ and stand accused of being non-inclusive. Some can’t rally adequate community support to sustain their work beyond a project or two.