Alternative Editorial: Sacred Cows and New Distinctions


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

Politics is generally polemical. To be for something you have to be against something else – that makes it clear for your audience.

But in times of crises, when a genuine shift in thinking is needed because it has become clear that the old distinctions (this is right, that is wrong) have not delivered the goods, it gets complicated. 

For example, when you have spent a lifetime in one Party, yet can now see the limitations not only of that party but of the structural analysis within which their argument works, what to do? No-one wants to turn on their life-long comrades.

Maybe it’s a moment for going back to what brought you together in the first place – the vision – and then holding your nerve while you re-define, with everyone, what might enable that to become a reality. Particularly within the very modern context you now inhabit.

In terms of UK politics, the desire for a flourishing society was a clear starting point for those on the Left. powered by people free to reach their full potential with dignity and security. In fact, put that simply, it would appeal to many who vote for other political parties too. But ideas on how that could be accomplished have divided us.

At a conference for democratic innovation this week in Berlin, called Innocracy, co-convener Hanno Burmester challenged us to call out the sacred cows that no longer served our vision. What old ways of thinking and behaving were now getting in the way of solutions that might crystallise? 

But it was clear that in the room, there was a wide continuum of perspectives on what must be held tight and what should be let go. 

For example, many are still focused on getting Left parties into power, believing that this will change everything. Others feel this will only make a small difference if the political culture, leadership style, and locus of control – the Westminster parliament in the UK – stays the same.

Politicians choose to disempower themselves as often as turkeys vote for Christmas. Yet isn’t people-power the point of democracy? How can we hope to achieve our common dream without the active participation of the people who know best? And not only what invigorates them but also what might work in their community, enabling their neighbourhood to thrive? 

Isn’t flourishing dependent on people getting not just their material but also their emotional needs met: the need for autonomy, meaning and purpose, for belonging and achievement? 

Human beings are the best piece of tech we have available. As Nadia El Imam of EdgeRyders suggested in Berlin, “before we hand ourselves over to Artificial Intelligence, let’s establish what we mean by Human Intelligence.” (We’ll have to hurry up on that one). 

An event like CtrlShift: An Emergency Summit for Change taking place in Wigan, 27-29 March 2018, identifies what’s needed at this time. It will explore the relocation of power and agency from remote bureaucracies and governance, towards much more local and even personal starting points where people feel they can get hold of things. 

Co-hosted by a number of partners including The Alternative UK, this is a gathering of new but also long-established actors, all innovating at multiple levels.

While each of them could be stand-alone projects, the starting point for the transformation they wish to see, together, their work covers an I, We, World framework, looking into the future as we do in The Daily Alternative. What they have in common, is values and dynamics - a new way of looking at power which is coherent from microcosm to macrocosm modes of operating. As it stands, CtrlShift implies (at the very least!) the role of the complex citizen (Unltd, Low Impact), specifically through young people (Countercoin), how that might organise power (Shared Future, A People’s Food Policy) within the context of the land (The Permaculture Association) and crucially, how all these connect (Transition Towns). 

Add to that a number of New Economy projects (Shared Assets, Solidarity Economy) and the means of global connection (Quantum Communications) and we have a beginning of a network of networks that serve that original vision in a more people-and-planet-centred way. 

They are hoping to attract another 200 organisations with the same vision and readiness to act coherently. To use a lively term in current political theory, the event will “prefigure” a healthy 21stC society. It’s a political act that begins to shape a new politics. 

Some of the big, obvious questions will be explored: how does a more local, probably municipal locus of power add up to national level agency – federalism, confederalism? What tools of democracy might be brought in to actively engage citizens – citizens assemblies, sortition, liquid democracy? What might a national political party able to sustain its connection with the people look and behave like? 

But coming together, sharing practice and developing conviction about the future, is equally important. Heads, hands and heart: a sense of being together, plotting concretely and feeling hopeful. Who could argue against the need for that right now?