Alternative Editorial: This Is Not A New Movement. It's A New Politics
By Indra Adnan, Co-initiator AUK
Where are you with the chicken and the egg? (this question will not offend vegans). Which is the cause and which is the effect?
It’s a question that challenges all of us at some point as we develop our understanding of power and agency. Are we determined by circumstances out of our control or do our actions shape the future. If we’ve grappled with it for long enough, we tend to settle for a fudge: it’s both, to some extent.
However, our current democratic culture seems to offer something simpler. The chicken comes first, it lays the egg. The politicians decide on the agenda, the people vote on it. It’s particularly noticeable on the increasing demand for more participation in decision making. Of course some – noticeably many self-styled populist – politicians, ignore the call. They prefer clear top-down leadership, from the front.
But even the most liberal politicians think about people’s readiness for taking more responsibility, as ‘devolving power downwards’. At its most ambitious, that means more power for local councils. Leaving the political culture absolutely intact. Political divisions are perpetuated. Whoever had control of the council, follows the manifesto set at national level. What’s left to decide is minimal. While the idea of subsidiarity (decisions occurring closest to the point of impact) is always on the agenda, it’s entirely in the gift of the national party to set the level.
However, as we are blogging every week, not everyone feels bound by the traditional political contract any more. We live in an age of massive disillusion with power – with only ten years left to save the future, how could it be worse than it is? Spurred on by Extinction Rebellion, more and more people are taking back control of their own resilience – their conditions for survival and then flourishing - in whatever way they can.
This week – like every week – we spent time with groups of people who feel that they are part of a bigger picture of deep change that is slowly becoming visible as coherent. The new system that will make the old one obsolete. We’re not quite there yet. It’s still more common to hear that each group can only see through their own lens of possibility for more integration. For example a new coherence of the progressive Left. But for change to happen we need coherence beyond that, at a deeper human and social level.
Our I-We-World axis offers a very broad taxonomy – the personal, social and the global perspectives for change which we see as interdependent. But within each realm, there are also innumerable refinements.
Early in the week we met with Alex Evans, author of The Myth Gap and more recently, a report called Collective Psychology which we blogged here. His insights into the power of stories, combined with his understanding of why and how we believe what we believe, are going to be very useful for a new political era. It’s very much an argument for individuals and communities of all kinds to take back ownership of their own internal narratives: to resist the manipulation of the self-interested media. At the same time as generating the cultural conditions for that to happen.
Later in the week, we took part in a gathering of ‘platform (digitally enabled) cooperatives at Open 2019. Billed as an ‘open space event designed to strengthen the network of communities and organisations that are working on building a collaborative, regenerative economy’. Facilitated by Enspiral, the emphasis is on the delivering the means- tools, practices - of bridging social and technological protocols. Fuller reports to come.
That same week we joined the Virtual Futures crowd for the launch of Arron Bastani’s Fully Automated Luxury Communism (often abbreviated to FALC). The book launches a Utopia of full human potential, via the (as yet) largely unimagined benefits of technology. Bastani describes a transformational shift “beyond capitalism and scarcity” that will liberate people from mechanical work, poverty and disease. The room – almost entirely male – fizzed with the energy of global futurists arguing the details of tech innovation and theory.
While all of these realms of change talked about a new politics, none of them focused on how that might look or operate. In fact, both Open 2019 and Bastani evoked a Left, progressive narrative. Labour champion Paul Mason took the only speaker spot in the first. And Corbyn, Macdonnell and Momentum were offered as the vehicle for FALC by the second.
But how will any party trapped in the current political system be able to achieve something that none of them have done until now? Particularly in a moment where the traditional duopoly looks more threatened than ever before.
At one point in 2019, initiator Oli Sylvester Bradley moved towards articulating the movement for change that all those present – and the networks they represented – are part of: an eco-system of actors also implied by CtrlShift. But chairing a discussion to agree a common purpose proved inconclusive. Not because anyone could argue with Oli’s proposal but maybe because they were already on board with a clear enough agenda.
In many ways, we don’t need a new movement. It’s been steadily growing over two decades although it is yet to become a clear alternative within the mainstream. Some people know it from Transition Towns, the Permaculture movement, social enterprise, recent traditions of the cooperative movement – all holding similar values and similar mechanisms of organisation.
Yet there has been a limit to what that has been able to achieve – most particularly in the light of Brexit and climate breakdown. What is now clear is that this movement has to expand beyond those that share their values and life-styles to those that might not. It has to shift its attention to a much deeper understanding of what we have in common with everyone. It has to be intentionally democratic.
But that will depend upon all of us grasping the new conditions in which people now find themselves as we enter into the third decade of the 21st C – which are profoundly different from the conditions of the early 20th C that shaped our politics today.
There is nothing more significant than the co-incidence of the climate crisis, Brexit and our 21st century psychosocial health crisis of depression, addiction and crime. Not simply because that makes the problems more difficult to handle, but because they are interdependent. None can be solved without solving the others. Only if we align the full health of the individual with the health of the community will the health of the planet be achieved.
For that, as Alex Evans’ project for Collective Psychology suggests, we must dig deeper to understand the human at the heart of the transformation possible. We must make spaces for being together in new ways that help us understand ourselves and each other. We must have a new culture of self-development that allows us to get up to speed with the demands and possibilities of the fast approaching future.
This new politics focuses less on (without losing sight of) the legislative powers of bureaucracy and the capitalist economy. More on the tools and practices of the human economy. Bringing a new emphasis to the agency of the people. Harvesting and growing the energies arising from what motivates us. What makes full use of our innate capacities – what Bastani refers to as our human genius, the ingenuity inherent in our “species being”.
Bastani’s or Mason’s vision is that the Labour Party represents the chicken that gives birth to the egg – handing down great visions and plans from above (influenced, it’s hoped, by their books). But perhaps a genuine alternative would see the newly realised human potential at community level as the new politics itself.
The new connectivity between people and their growing confidence in participation, as the new ways of working. The new relational culture – led by the very women that never appear in the old political spaces – as the new guarantors of security, belonging, autonomy. The new role of local politicians serving their more activated citizens as the model for leadership everywhere. An evolution of democracy.
Like chicken and egg. Between what’s emerging and the new politics, it’s difficult to know what comes first. Because they are arriving together.