Alternative Editorial 100: More Radical Than Expected

This is the 100th AUK editorial. Not a huge anniversary, spanning less than three years. But significant for all of us who have been genuinely seeking an alternative politics since – well, forever. Perhaps more specifically since the death of Jo Cox, one week before Brexit, when the brokenness of politics hit a new low in the UK.

100 prompts the launch of a new phase just as we are about to move into the final third of 2019. Only four months now until we hit the 2020s – a decade for collective action unlike any other in history.

Forgive us for dramatising – but however we look at this moment, we can’t see it any other way. With a clear consensus from the scientific community - in whom the global public sphere trusts – we only have ten years to change the course of the Anthropocene or we are on the road to human extinction. No small challenge.

From another perspective, we are in the midst of a global revolution of power – which can be seen as good or bad. On the one hand, we suffer unprecedented control by 1% of the population of the 7.7 billion inhabitants of planet earth. And within that, we have 2.4 billion (members of Facebook) subjected to the most direct, invasive mental manipulation attempted since 1939, the start of WW2. 

It’s not clear whether or not the 1% are as interested in saving the human species as we are. But if they are, we should be seeing more signs of change by now. Current evidence suggests they are preparing themselves to be amongst the small number of survivors. Or the first passengers on the space-ships out of here. 

On the other hand, we are also in the midst of a revolution of individual and group-level human agency. If we were to compare ourselves to our counterparts in 1939, we are far more powerful. In all the ways we have been writing about over the 100 editorials. 

Let’s think about our own awareness and capacity to take action. Citizens were ignorant to the point of helpless in the face of 1930s propaganda– whether state or otherwise owned. Today we are increasingly, if still falteringly, aware of the machinery used to harness our internal decision-making powers. It’s an Age of Soft Power

Fake news is nothing new – it’s the oldest tool in the box for making preferred outcomes likely. But discussionsfact checking services and protective mechanisms are all helping us to step back from being the puppets we once were. 

Of course, those reading on-line columns like this are not typical: far more are not actively seeking awareness. Even so, the algorithms of social media are just as likely to push you into questioning everything, as they are to you buying stuff. 

The pace of human self-development, once a marginalised (and ostracised) sector, is now all pervasive. Don’t be fooled by the language that serves as a cover. 

I sat yesterday next to two young people catching up over four hours of a train journey. Every third word was ‘like’ but the deep undercurrents of analysis around character and social dynamics were scarily incisive.

The superficial vehicles of Love Island (as Big Brother in the past) and Geordie Shore (or Made in Chelsea for Londoners), within the bigger context of #metoo and #blacklivesmatter have turned observing (and therapising) human behaviour into a favourite pastime for all.

At the more deliberate end of this spectrum we have conscious evolution – the determined transformation of the self. We find this in spiritual groups and in all forms of social play – from festivals to socio-political movements. But it’s also in the fast-growing space of socio-political engagement within the arts – check here for the apotheosis. It’s even in football clubs, using their reach to address anti-social behaviour.

Secondly, let’s consider the question of improved collective action. Civil (citizen led) society was once associated largely with charitable action and volunteering, stepping in where the state had stopped, often aimed at those not working. 

Both actions are still growing strongly. But they have blossomed into the most diverse and creative forms of activity imaginable – in real life and virtual communities . Take the variety of organisations gathering at the CtrlShift events for example, or visible amongst the ‘usual suspects’ hosting our collaboratories

In the midst of that has come the appearance of Extinction Rebellion – a clear and urgent platform responding to climate breakdown. XR is designed so that any one person or organisation can enter into the movement and own their own part of it, while being connected at a global level. 

Compare that to its illustrious predecessors – Greenpeace for example – where the role of an ordinary citizen was largely to donate. 

Such cosmo-local possibilities are increasingly common. Instead of a good idea floundering due to lack of resources to scale, the more starfish likeabilities (able to reproduce itself without giving birth) of today’s initiatives mean that any good prototype can be quickly copied by others across the globe. You don’t need a strong centralised body. 

One of the best examples must be how Transition Towns, a determinedly localist model for reconnection to the land’s natural resources, has become a flourishing global network. But there are so many others – it means we never run out of things to report on the Daily Alternative. The majority of which have this fractal – pattern matching and recursive – possibility. 

There’s one more important development: the rise of the overtly feminine in our ways of working. From the relational welfare developments led by people like Hilary Cottam in Radical Help, to the feminisation of politics from Ada Colau and the new municipalism. This is not so much about female equality – though that remains vital – as about new ways of being in the public space. Men too can pick them up and run with them: Loomio is a good example. 

So are we optimistic on our 100th editorial? Yes and no. We can see genuine emergence of the kinds of developments we imagine could lead to a new idea of democracy, all along the I, We, World axis. The full realisation of these potentials would, in our sense of things, enable us to achieve our local and global targets for climate and ecological emergency. 

But the window for decisive action is small. At this moment it’s very touch and go whether or not enough people can not only see what’s possible, but are ready to propel themselves into action. Because only personal commitment on a massive scale, is going to light the touch paper of meaningful collective action. Which means, not waiting for everyone else, reader. It’s you - yes, you – that has to inwardly step up.

There are still too many ideas and initiatives that flounder on the rock of giving power away, at the crucial moment. They build up a great head of steam through the energies of people in the grip of a new practice. Then they expect the council, or one of the national political parties, to take it to its conclusion. Not understanding that the old system does not have the capacity to deliver. 

George Monbiot and Douglas Rushkoff, for example, are doing immense work in developing the new narratives of human character and the need for belonging. Yet they both hope, fingers crossed, that a Labour government wins so that their visions can be realised. Should we not consider that if the Labour Party had been able to do so, after several chances to do so since the onset of these multiple crises, we would not now be in this extinction possibility?

In the weeks leading up to this 100th editorial, it’s become clear to us that what we initially thought of as a simple ask – a democracy that properly reflects human needs and capacities – is in fact a truly radical demand. Citizen Action Networks are closer to a benign or friendly anarchism than simply municipalism. Even the new municipalism – which we have often profiled here- tends to be trapped in the existing and dysfunctional party-political framework. 

When citizens move into more meaningful and productive action together – often in search of more purpose and well-being for themselves – it’s a new world of possibility. When those citizens are connected to the whole new system of solutions to the crises that have been building for decades - including the new democratic mechanisms now appearing - they will surely be unstoppable. 

But will they? Will you?