Alternative Editorial: The Future Is Self-Organised

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By Indra Adnan, Co-initiator of The Alternative UK

The two most visible things A/UK does is firstly to produce The Daily Alternative and our

Weekly newsletter; and secondly, to instigate the community collaboratories now springing up around the country.

However, the third spoke in the wheel - and one that we spend a good part of our time pursuing - is joining up the dots. Connecting with others on projects we feel could help constitute a new politics. Adopting their stance for a moment and bringing what we’ve learnt from the others into that space.

Occasionally that leads to straight-forward collaboration between us. Other times it’s more like taking part in the network of networks. But it’s always good to see each other, to share feelings, tools, strategies - and respect. Trying to work together, even if funding turns us into competitors.

In the last couple of weeks – to give you a sense of how much fertile stuff is going on – we’ve appeared in Innocracy (Berlin), The LIFT Symposium in Vienna, Future Fest in London and just now the annual Noisily Festival which takes place in the woods in Leicester! If you click through to each of these you will see they range from

  •  political entrepreneurs working out from the German Social Democratic network
  • integral facilitators designing collaboratories – new spaces developing our capacities to work effectively together
  • globally influential futurists that bridge science, technology and the arts
  • mind, body and soul experimenters who use music and all kinds of technology of the self to reach new visions of what’s possible for society

While we often talk about the values we all have in common – some of that below – we also want to talk about the importance of this diversity. In that list above you see huge differences in levels of resources, agency, styles of working and behaving, age and colour. Visually it ranges from suits to shorts to painted bodies. Aurally, from the permanent hum of the chattering classes, to thundering techno music that drowns out thinking.

Each of them will see themselves as the starting point of a better world – otherwise why do what they do? No-one wants to replicate what the other is doing: they all aim to have a unique purpose – the one that gives them a clear identity. But what is becoming increasingly clear to us, is that none of them can deliver that world they are thinking about - without the similarly committed and driven work of the others. We are all playing a part: not like pieces in a 2D jigsaw, but more like the many the millions of different faces and functions of a working body.

The day of pyramidal structures and trickle-down ideas is over. There are as many quantitative and qualitative ideas, as much practice and strategy, coming from the bottom upwards as there used to be from the top downwards.

And no one, coming from any direction, is guaranteed their quotient of attention. Instead of measuring each other up and placing ourselves on a hierarchy of importance, we have to develop effective relationships in constellations and assemblages, one to one and in groups and clusters us. In that way, we can co-exist in a rich ecology of action, without losing any of our particular momentums. It’s like families or communities that don’t see a conflict between the happiness of one of their members and the happiness of the whole. It’s not a zero-sum game, where one winner takes all.

What might such an ecology of action look like? For us it makes sense to perceive it through the lens of connecting individual human motivation (what makes us want to act) with the needs of the planet (what will enable us to thrive). Not being able to connect those two – to show their relationship to each other and how they can work in each other’s interest – is the reason we fail to protect our environment. Or ensure the flourishing of the human species. In fact, because of the disconnect, both are currently on a path of mutually assured destruction.

Hence we curate The Alternative UK platform by identifying people working at any or all of these levels, which we call “I – We – World”:  

  • I (developing individual human capacities, agency, joy). What can I do?
  • We (developing community capacities, agency, joy) What can we do together?
  • World (developing international / transnational capacities, agency, joy) spaces. What’s possible at the global level?

Each one of these is mutually inclusive. This means that, despite their specific vocabularies, they are not in reality separate operational areas, competing with each other, but mirror each other in their relationship of micro to macro:

  • Individuals have personal, social and global selves. When you are thinking about your diet (a person-centric concern), your friends (a social-centric concern) and your recycling (a world-centric concern) – you are using different parts of yourself. But you are essentially the same person. It’s not a contradiction.
  • Communities have to be just as interested in the health of individual members as in the health of the planet, to be a thriving community.
  • Global operators cannot ignore the needs of individuals when creating strategy for the whole – that’s what’s happened in the past, which is why the people are rising in objection. Global operators should also understand better the power of civil society and the rising power of localism and municipalism to get their goals met. That’s begun with the United Nation’s Social Development Goals but lacks tools and practices that allow us all to participate.

What will it take for more of us to see the huge diversity of activity not as chaos, but as a beautiful combination of different instruments that could - through more practice - begin to play in tune? It’s not likely - or even desirable - that one charismatic leader will be able to ever call the tune or conduct all the players, like a classical orchestra in a hall.

It’ll be more like a huge, percussive samba street band, leading the head of a carnival. In which more and more individuals – able to develop their own skills, practicing with other small groups - will become capable of participating in a bigger field of sound and rhythm. Without losing their sense of self. 

What we see on our travels is exactly that great big samba. That is, more groups of people choosing to name their goals for community and globe. But rather than wait to be instructed by some central power, they choose to self-organize inside some big and inspiring framework – and find they’re integrating and harmonising with others doing the same. Noisily, but beautifully. Now there’s a politics for you.