Alternative Editorial: Fast But Slow


This is an editorial from our Alternative Weekly Newsletter (sign up here, and previous newsletters here) which begins to pull together the many strands of socio-political change reported in our Daily Alternative blogs and give some shape to the emerging politics of the future.

By Indra Adnan, co-initiator of The Alternative UK

Are we in a burning house? Is the deterioration of our public space (at least as described by our daily media) so fast that we should drop everything, and focus only on survival? 

A good proportion of environmentalists might say yes: we are already past the point of no return in the climate crisis. Our solutions must now focus on resilience, in a much-reduced understanding of what our beautiful planet once was. 

Others still see possibilities of escape. They believe the house to be more resistant than expected, and the inhabitants more ingenious at conserving and re-building than proven so far.

But that sense of events being out of control extends beyond the environmental discourse. Recent reports from Poland told of 60,000 people coming out for an orderly, even playful Independence Day march , but sporting banners that jerked us back to an anti-Semitic, homophobic and violent past - with no objections from the authorities  present. This might well cause panic amongst those who expected the idea of tolerant, liberal European societies after the Second World War to keep developing: is this intolerance a new norm? 

Progressives look at the organisation of the Right and are often mesmerised by their ability to fan the flames – never hesitating to harness emotions to get people engaged. This game - outlined in Sam Delaney's Mad Men and Bad Men - was most notably engaged by Margaret Thatcher. She employed advertising agencies not only to sell her policies but even to design them in ways that would appeal to people’s deepest fears but also needs. There’s a long history of those on the Left refusing to play that game - with mixed results.

And indeed, rather than methodically putting the fires out, too often we turn on each other looking for the weakest link, someone to blame as we feel ashamed at the state of things. There’s a certain power to be experienced in flaming others – even if it’s short-lived - and does little to halt the advance of the fire. Parties turning in on themselves, or political commentators rounding on postmodern political correctness distracts us from linking arms with all those who want to capitalise on the gains of the post-industrial age to achieve more flourishing across society. 

Buddhists believe that life itself is a burning house: each day presents us with the task of facing down the constrictions of time, health, reputation, power. Whether we are spiritual or not, we know that developing character and inner strength is vital: it turns running from emergencies into playing with them. But what good does that do us, in the face of our current realities?

Firstly, it helps us notice the context. When even our best media distributes its front pages between atrocities and exciting cooking recipes we have to be pro-active in noticing what else is starting up that matters. The Daily Alternative takes that as its primary job, giving attention to the plethora of socio-political initiatives that point at a future we can all look forward to.

Secondly, it keeps us focused on the steady task of joining up the dots – bringing these like-minded energies into sight of each other and developing their tools of collaboration. Therapists would say most of us are children looking for self-expression – we all want to be the hero. What will it take for us to link arms, like firemen in the face of forest fires, to be an effective force? As we develop our platform – under these initiatives, not over them – The Alternative UK is taking part every week in others’ projects, acting as a glue to bind us together.

Thirdly, it keeps us ambitious. Just because Trump and Farage were able to inflame those excluded by globalisation, this is not a time to abandon them to any lazy category of "populism". In the 21st C, any new politics has to address directly the disenfranchisement of the globe’s most under-potentialised resource: its people. We can continue to talk about their disempowerment, their oppression - but we must also talk more about their capacities and capabilities. Humanity is the best piece of tech we will ever have to work with; let’s not consign it to the state of voting fodder.

In this respect, the movements for localism, municipalism and regionalism are the best hopes for putting out the flames. It supports a slower politics – built on relationships between people who are building patiently together. And as this density of connections births and grows, a new house - a new community - comes into view. And just like with a happy house, these new communities will make their goal to provide for all its residents, knowing that the well-being of others impacts directly on their own. Of course, it remains a tentative goal – one whose cultures and practices become clearer as indviduals become more capable of citizenship.

Is this idea of a slower politics useless in the face of the burning house? Yes, if we are thinking of building it one community at a time. But in the age of perfecting prototypes and copying each other, the change that can happen is more fractal and emergent. Look at the local and municipal movements of today – from Fearless Cities, to Independents or the Mayors for Peace – all sharing practice and models that fly right in the face of our fears of returning global fascism.

And even as this global movement rises from the grassroots – both civil and indigenous  – upwards, those that can must begin to shape the institutions and cultures to house them. Not in the disconnected and instrumentalising way that the Mount Pelerin Society did when constructing neo-liberalism. But in a deeply connected way, mirroring both the nurturing and radical tendencies of people working together creatively on the ground.

When re-imagining this society of communities, any failure to include, for example, the homeless on the streets, will not result in success. Leaving out those who are at the bottom of the pile, leads to a whole system breakdown, in which even those at the top will struggle to hold onto their leadership. For the same reasons that fascism can be ignited by spectacles of anger and terrorism, so healthy global society can be fuelled by example after example of flourishing communities.

A couple of week ago, we took part in the launch of Campfire Convention – which is exactly as it sounds, a series of cosy, growing socio-political conversations around the UK, each around a well-tended, constantly flickering flame. The house warmed and emerged, rather than consumed. Made us smile.