Alternative Editorial: Where are we now?

By Indra Adnan, co-initiator of The Alternative UK

What is it about the end of the year that feels a bit dark? Like the light going down on 12 months of efforts – whether personal, social or civil - and the reckoning coming. What exactly have you done? Did you spend your time well – was it worth it?

Christmas is particularly challenging for change agents who are actively engaged in long term projects. As we go into another cycle of gathering with loved ones, we know more and more each year that there are too many isolated people – within and without homes – who cannot experience that relief from the pressures of life.

Add to that the uncomfortable feeling of critiquing consumerism for 50 weeks of the year, then diving into it for the remaining two. How do we accommodate that? Are we hypocrites - or are we just putting the social values of conviviality first, for a moment?

If you think this is heading to some clear answers, apologies: we don’t have them. In our social circles, we’ve seen actors we admire responding very differently. There are people with resources ‘putting their families first’ because they know they don’t give them enough time most of the year.

They will spend whatever it takes to remake the family bond because they believe it’s the bedrock of their – and society’s - sanity. When that happens, the terms on which that attention is given generally has to be set by the recipients, or nothing is felt or built.

But then there are the newly committed vegans in your family, who are foregoing the traditional Christmas dinner for the first time, risking unpopularity because they’ve understood the planetary and health impact of eating meat. Others take their kids to soup kitchens to help make a decent day for the homeless – and to learn something themselves.

We all have different perspectives and conditions within which we make (what look like) simple decisions. And once we’ve made that decision, we are invested in it: we can hardly afford to waver or there is a loss of trust, of integrity. But there is something about our conviction that tempts us to make others wrong for the different choices they made.

As we come to the end of 2017 we look back at a huge diversity of ways in which people choose to make change happen. Some are tackling personal development, others civil society, or planetary health. Each believe their chosen focus to be the most important one. Otherwise why would they give their energies the way they do?

Some say until we change capitalism, people will never be able to flourish. Others say until we establish gross national well-being as a measure of society’s growth, we won’t be able to face down the effects of consumerism. Some say individualism is a poison that stops community growing. Still others say that unless we can experience mastery of ourselves, we cannot be useful members of society.

To some extent this rivalry between camps, within a disparate field of change makers, is just zero-sum thinking: the belief that there are only finite numbers of advances available, only limited moves to be made. For one to advance, others must retreat. Moving together with those who share your specific perspective is easy. But actively working alongside those who see reality differently from you – even when their long-term goals are easily aligned with yours – seems much harder to do.

For those different elements to come together is more than just an act of mutual tolerance. There needs to be some new understanding of how the disparate parts fit together to make a whole: and for each of those parts to let go of their feeling of dominance. The tricky part is not to put everyone on a ladder – agreeing which is at the top – OR to put them all on a flat plane, where nothing is more important than anything. We need an ecology that we can all buy into.

It’s not such a new idea. Wingers, strikers and defenders come together in a football team, each dependent on the others to play their own part well. Though whether having a good captain on the field is more important than a good manager depends on what level you are playing. In a human body, liver cells can’t mimic heart cells; the feet depend upon the head to move – though the head can’t do the walking.

Hanging together and moving forward because they have core structures and values in common - more like fractals of an emergent form than hierarchic organisations - is what makes success across diverse initiatives possible. The idea that autonomy and solidarity are at odds with each other holds us back: but for this to work politically, we need a very different idea of how a political party operates (more on that in the coming year).

Perhaps the most difficult  aspect of our coming together is to be able to see what counts as effective for the present moment, compared to what has been effective in the past. Ways of talking about our collective challenge has shifted dramatically over the past ten years - directly as a result of the number of people now active and engaged in the public space.

Political discourse is no longer defined by what the political pundits like to call “PPE” (meaning "Politics, Philosophy and Economics", taught at Oxbridge). It has instead become a living, vibrant, daily activism. When new actors come into the field – particularly more women - do the old ideologies suffice as a starting point for our theory of change? Or should we be prepared to transform those too? 

In our panoply of socio-political initiatives, promoted without ranking (but usefully categorised) in our Daily Alternative, the urgent task is to map them. We invite our users to discover the relationships between them all, revealing a future we all look forward to. This has to be done in a way that makes sense to as many people as possible: working together on a much broader front is both the need and the opportunity we see. 

When doing this in the year ahead we will be working with this rationale:

·      Post Trump and Brexit, any Alternative must make sense to people who are not members of political parties

·      No political solution is worthy of the name if it does not address the mental health crisis of our modern civilisation, the homeless person on the street and the burning of our planet

·      No one will join our R-evolution if they’ve got something better to do: it has to be compelling, and at the very least friendly. 

And right at the heart of our challenge is the idea – held by many at this time of year – that we, selfish and stupid human beings are just not up to it. If it could be done, it would have been done by now.

To which we say: there is ALWAYS an Alternative. Cometh the hour, cometh the human civilisation of the 21st Century. Watch out next week for our programme of action.

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.