A/UK at Innocracy, Berlin: Emotional Literacy and the New Politics

The co-initiators of The Alternative UK (Indra Adnan and Pat Kane) were invited to give a presentation at Innocracy, Berlin on November 28, 2017. Our theme was ‘After populism: is emotional literacy the key to a new politics?” Below we tell you the story of the hour-long meet (slides embedded above). Firstly, our conference blurb (page 10):

In the UK, only 2% of people are members of political parties – despite the recent Corbyn surge and Scottish nationalism. In the rest of Europe, it’s not much better. From within the political bubble, the 98% are caricatured as apathetic and disempowered. Yet, when harnessed emo- tionally, they come out in numbers – causing both the Brexit and Trump upsets. Given the revo- lution of connectivity and information we have been in for over ten years, it’s no longer enough to offer ideology and mobilise the people.

There is a cry and capacity for autonomy, belonging, meaning and purpose in the public space. Yet politics is notoriously disconnected, even more so after twenty years of neoliberalism. Increasingly, people are organising on local, municipal and city levels. Unlike national politics, the possibility of relationship between the leaders and the citizens gives rise to greater engagement across the traditional political divides. Decision makers can know each other, negotiate and share vision. What’s more, they can respond to each other’s needs.

In this workshop, we will look at how this culture can scale up, develop a new political sensibility, and enliven the social space. 

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The session opened with a bit of discombobulation – a visceral/immersive tactic we like to try at the beginning of our political laboratory process (see for example, The Chair, at our Kings Cross opening in March 1 this year).

As people walked in, Indra directed them to sit in specific seats: women to the front, men to the back. Pat invited three young white men to join him on the stage – which appeared to annoy Indra, who openly questioned his wisdom in doing so. 

Corrected, Pat replaced one of the men at the front with a woman. As the room settled down, Pat called to the men at the back and asked them if they were OK being pushed to the back? Indra told him to be quiet – now is not the time to start stirring things. The men responded politely but there were a few shuffles and raised eyebrows. After a few excruciating moments, Indra asked our discomfited attendees: "Are you feeling uncomfortable yet?" 

What followed was a look at how easily our emotions are aroused when we feel manipulated. While we are all part of large organised democracies, media makers of all kinds can make us react to their agendas – to use an English phrase, like the tail wagging the dog (slide 2). In the UK, Carole Cadwallader is currently researching in detail the tactics used by the Leave Campaign and has found plenty of evidence of adverts (see the Vote Leave Facebook graphic in slide 3) that associated common public sentiment with downright lies followed by a straight voting directive.

This was a well worked out campaign driven by research from Cambridge Analytica (slide 4) which identified five key emotional responses that could be triggered by these combinations of slogans. While the Remain campaign did not use outright lies, they also used hypothetical economic outcomes to try and swing their voters in a tactic known as Project Fear, used once before in the Scottish independence referendum. 

Both these approaches depend upon a view of the voter as a reactionary, emotionally crude person – typified by the Homer Simpson character in global popular culture. But what about that other popular character, Homer’s daughter Lisa Simpson, who cares for her errant Dad, plays the saxophone, collaborates as much as competes (slide 5)? Why don’t we trigger voters with that meme more often? 

Human Givens (slide 6) is a school of psychotherapy founded by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell 20 years ago, accredited by the PSA. Based on evolutionary psychology and recent advances in neuroscience, HG unifies the major finding of previous schools to find a bio-psycho-social approach to mental health. 

It begins with an assessment of our innate, or “given”, human resources (slide 7). As long as they are free to develop from birth in the right conditions, they equip us to get our needs met. These include our imagination, our ability to create rapport, and the metaphorical mind that is capable of changing our sense of reality so we can meet our challenges. 

HG then describes the given emotional needs (slide 8) that need to get met, in order for us to thrive in society as complex psycho-social human beings. These include the giving and receiving of attention, security, privacy. Without these, we begin to lose our ability to stay mentally stable. 

In our first exercise the participants were invited to consider what the consequences might be (slide 9) for individuals and local and global society, if these emotional needs were not being met regularly as part of our personal and social life. Together we came up with a list of quite familar crises we are now experiencing in Western democracies: epidemics of depression and addiction, excessive consumerism, the loss of freedom and autonomy. Even radicalisation is increasingly attributed to a loss of meaning and purpose for young men in the modern age.

Our second exercise (slide 10) challenged participants to imagine what might be offered to help people get these needs met. Taking one or a group of emotional needs, what could be intiated to restore the health of our society? One example (slide 11) might be that to give people more privacy, security and belonging, we regulate systesm so we can own our own data. Could this provide the emotional consensus that could ground a Digital Magna Carta, where our digital rights and responsibilities were embraced?

Our third exercise took this a step further: what kind of politics (slide 12) and policies would serve a society of people with complex needs and capacities? Some examples might be (slide 13) a Politics of Autonomy - meaning less trickle down, command and control structures; and more grassroots, community based organisations with more power residing at the local and municipal level. Or a Politics of Time to answer our need for more privacy and time to reflect. Would a greater level of citizenship help us find more meaning and purpose?

While the media was overly focused on the anger and fear evoked by their campaigns, in a way we can be grateful for Brexit and Trump. They have highlighted the primacy of human emotional needs, in ways we have largely ignored in politics until now – even if only a few of those needs, as measured by the scale of Human Givens, have been remotely answered. 

IA and PK

If you would like us to make a presentation about The Alternative UK’s work, method and vision, please mail us at info@thealternative.org.uk