Alternative Editorial: Step Up Regeneration A
By Indra Adnan, Co-Initiator, AUK
How many times have you railed at the mess going on in our Parliaments, the unfairness embedded in our welfare state, the stupidity driving our criminal justice system? And how many times has your audience responded with the Buckminster Fuller quote: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
And did you nod your head, feel motivated for a brief moment, but then feel lost? Not knowing where to start?
The good news is that, over the past few decades, many of those that turned away from the spectacle of the failing mainstream did eventually start something. Call them entrepreneurs, freelancers, imagineers. The kind of people who could recognise that the way we have solved one problem or another in the past lacked insight. And that they could see a better way to start.
Not in a piecemeal way – one problem at a time: but systemically, from the beginning. This may not have meant major big picture transformation, seeing the macrocosm in the microcosm, the general in the specific – although some were doing that. Whether nature-based projects such as the Permaculture Association or Transition Towns. Or human centred, developmental projects like Emerge, or Perspectiva. Or socio-political projects like CounterCoin, and the P2P Foundation. We have featured many of these initiatives on The Daily Alternative. When they make their decisions, they have in mind the health of the individual, the society and the planet.
But their approach could also mean focusing down on a particular problem, identifying that problem as ‘wicked’ – meaning complex, not easy to predict. Staying small and paying more attention to what emerges through engagement with the elements. The Slow Food movement which tries to deliver well-being without doctors; the Nudge Community Builders trying to bring people together despite Brexit; the Steiner Schools and other alternative school groups, addressing our systemic failures through education. Or Hilary Cottam’s relational welfare project with Participle, which helps the vulnerable to move out of the care system rather than be trapped by it.
This work required them to look away from the light – where all the resources and media attention went. And cultivate the less glamorous world of voluntary work, minimal conditions and constant iterations of experiments (which felt like failures) with small audiences. It brought huge satisfaction to those involved, but until now, it has had difficulty in shaping mainstream society. We are still largely in the grip of the growth economy/ consumerist model that instrumentalises people and destroys the planet.
This is not least because most of the ground-up builders are operating in silos, disconnected from each other. They cannot build up a head of steam sufficiently to generate irresistible counter-narratives to the Establishment. Some of this is due to a kind of a survivalist tendency to guard one’s own terrain as a possible source of cultural capital in the future. Some of it is due to just not being able to see each other well enough to join up the dots between them.
Nevertheless, Bucky Fuller’s work of ‘building a new model’ is being pursued ardently by many. Some sense the pieces are lying in the shadow, slowly assembling, waiting to come into the light. What can be done to accelerate their emergence, in a form that can be recognised and compelling enough to get traction?
Bring on the new system builders
Since the UN publication of the IPCC report on climate change we have seen a number of possible catalysts arising – or rather, uprising. Extinction Rebellion – many years in the making if you consider its genesis in the Radical Think Tank of co-founder Roger Hallam – but now grabbing headlines in those (still few) news outlets that have grasped the message of the UN report. 16-year-old Greta Thunberg’s rise to international prominence through starting a global school strike to force governments to pay attention to IPCC.
But the question must be asked – in what ways is this more promising than the activities of Greenpeace, so heavily reported in the decade following its inception in 1969, but less so now? Yes, it gave rise to innumerable good activities and even institutions: but how did we get to this situation, 50 years on, where we only have 12 years left to stop our slide into the abyss? As a public protest in the face of catastrophic political failure, what can XR plus Greta do that Greenpeace have not been able to do?
The first response might be that in the age of the internet and social media, far more people are going to hear and see the message they are bringing. It’s only three months since XR stood together with Greta in front of our Parliament, but the movement has grown from 10 people in the UK to a global movement spanning 35 countries. All are participating in a non-violent strategy to occupy busy streets, disrupt traffic and be arrested.
But given the very small window through which we can pivot towards winning this battle, are their demands specific enough? Would the politicians not say they have been trying to do at least the first two - telling the truth about our situation and enacting policies to reverse the situation - to the best of their ability? A Citizens Assembly is, without doubt, a vital new piece of democratic agency that has to be instituted for the future. But we don’t have a year to deliberate our next actions.
Given the dysfunctional politics we currently have, we can’t gift the responsibility of this change to the very people and institutions who have shown unwilling and unable to fulfil their duties until now. As Greta keeps saying “once the scientists told us what was happening, why did we not act upon it?”
Of course, it’s a truism that nothing significant can happen without the national governments of each country deciding to take action. But our lack of progress on every single international crisis bespeaks an era of politics and governance inadequate to the task. These are not Bucky Fuller’s builders of a new model. They are, by and large, the Establishment and its official (meaning entrapped, entranced) Opposition. Eventually they will have to enact the policies that signify the changes we need: but it is unlikely that they will design those policies themselves.
The people that XR must find a very active relationship with are the new system builders described above. Very active means not only vocal agreement and assembly – though these are important parts of the mix – but also co-creating solution-orientated practice at city and regional level, possibly in defiance of the national level. Even as XR members are getting arrested, they should also be taking part in systemic change practice that is going to result in reducing greenhouse gases today.
That means much more than recycling plastic and flying less. If we were to borrow from the practices and toolboxes of these builders, it means cutting our meat and dairy consumption by 80% at least, signing up to local energy companies, sourcing 50% or more of our vegetables from community gardens, giving up our private cars. It might require us to stop buying new clothes other than from those companies who are actively recycling every garment not sold. Or agreeing to safety-only community lighting at night.
On another note, it might require some brave experimenting with technology that helps us cut to the chase with energy saving hacks. 3D printers, robot diagnostics, new digital currencies – innovations that serve to liberate our innate creativity.
In the process of such changes in habits, we might have to change our lifestyle too. Make more time for community activities that build relationship and trust. Without this element, those most vested in the status quo will have the power to block these developments, simply by offering financial incentives for people to keep going down the road of destruction. Ever cheaper flights or food flown in from the globe. Greater use of social media to trigger conflict between us. We know this stuff.
Bringing communities together doesn’t have to be uncomfortable: think how festivals, football clubs, pubs, dance evenings, comedy clubs do that job. Why shouldn’t community gathering of any kind – especially with a purpose – be any less fun, meaningful, friendly? And after the face-to-face, history-to-history meetings, we should use the appropriate social technology, that preserves and enhances the connections made.
If you’re worried that it’s not cool enough, open enough, subtle enough, 21st Century enough, why don’t you become a designer of these spaces yourself – both real-time and virtual?
From Gen Z to ReGen A
If all this sounds like the vision of those long in the tooth, who’ve seen spirals of change over decades and are looking for a new tangent – a decisive move out of the orbit of the old towards a whole new solar system - you might be right. Having said that, there are also ample signs that a new generation of young visionaries have entered into the world never knowing any different reality than the one we are experiencing now. They are much less attached to past habits and old ways of expressing common values. They look at a life of growing agency in this challenge much the same way as their parents looked at career paths.
Greta is one of those young people: with a clarity that shocks, because she knows she has nothing to lose but her right to have a future. As a vegan, a flight refuser, an educational transformer, and a tech-savvy soft power activist, she is already taking systemic action for change and triggering 35,000 people her own age to do the same. Her family – the mother an opera singer, the father an actor – have a history of community engagement and have taken her lead to become vegans too.
As I told myself on November 17th 2018: to stand with XR on Westminster Bridge, but then going home to continue my bad habits, is not going to cut it any more. These young people are the leaders now.
And because not every Gen X, Y or Z young person buys into this change, we’re electing to give them – and all of us at any age who support them – a new title: ReGeneration A.
ReGen A. The builders of the alternative model, the alternative future. Bucky Fuller would be proud.