Time to talk
Activists are constantly wanting, waiting and hoping to affect some sort of change. It’s why they’re activists. They don’t always agree about the change they want, or how to achieve it – and that’s OK.
There are of course many pathways to change, not all of them grand, revolutionary or universal, but each contribute to a transformational space process.
If the change we’re after is a more equitable, peaceful and sustainable world then we need relevant, meaningful conversations that are grounded in the reality of our everyday lives.
These conversations are both urgent and necessary.
It may sound clichéd, but we do indeed face many intersecting crises, not least that of anthropogenic climate change.
This is a major existential threat for which the only answer is to replace the current rapacious economic system with something else – something more attuned to ecological survival, wellbeing and social/personal fulfilment.
How we achieve this remains open to question, but it’s clear we’re witnessing the fissures and ruptures of a system on the verge of collapse.
The most pressing imperative at this juncture is time: there’s not too much of it left before the full suite of catastrophes envelopes the globe.
Equally concerning is the hiatus created by public disillusionment in liberal democracies and the opportunity this affords to various nefarious figures and movements.
What’s imperative now, perhaps more than ever, is a global social movement united around a common set of principles.
We need more than the usual critique of neoliberal capitalism – vital though this is.
The task now, surely, is to urgently consider the values, principles, policies and practices required to guide us to a different future.
That’s the challenge.
There are plenty of people out there seeking to wrap their heads around a change agenda. It’s worth touching on some of their views and ideas.
In Part 2 of this article, I will draw on some of these ideas to suggest a list of things we can all do (within our spheres of influence) to make change happen.
Thinking about activism
In The Activist’s Handbook, Aidan Rickets argues that change hinges on the values we espouse, along with our preparedness to embrace the unexpected, chaotic and mysterious. Blueprints, programmes and rigid formulas are, he says, to be avoided as they can lead us down some very long rabbit holes. The same cautionary message applies to demagogues, zealots, ideological evangelists and other self-anointed purveyors of the truth. If someone is telling you what to think, avoid them like the plague. If they want to engage you in dialogue, that’s an entirely different matter.
US-based activist and social ecologist, Dr Charlie Brennan, insists that the change we’re seeking will involve a mix of trade-offs, compromises, and elements of both reform and outright rejection of the current order.
There’s no single prescription. Author of Post capitalism, Paul Mason, sees in the current order glimpses of future possibilities based on sharing, cooperation, collaboration and other forms of mutuality.
Director of the Change Agency, James Wheelan, argues that activists play a multiplicity of roles in seeking change.
They operate either independently or in concert with others as they pursue common goals.
Change thoughtsters, Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms in New power, assert that recent technological developments and social media in particular have given rise to new cultures of change, rendering us less reliant on organised politics, traditional hierarchies, and more embracing of uncertainty and diversity.
Social media holds enormous influence and promise, they say, especially in terms of diffusing existing power relations and creating new social networks and co-created spaces.
Press link for more: Ngara Institute
20 things you can do to roll back neoliberal capitalism and live a better life – Part 2
In my previous post, I alluded to some broad views about activism and change. Here I have highlighted 20 ways you can contribute to the change process within your sphere of influence.
What, a list?!
What could be more off-putting?
A numbered collection of connected items suggests something prescriptive, a lofty assertion of the proper way of doing things – like the ten commandments, for example; or an indispensable antidote to a malady.
What I’ve suggested could be read as self-righteousness, or a set of abstract ideas disconnected from the full realities of people’s lives.
I mean, while it might be nice to play with the idea of yoga or meditation, or adherence to the slow movement, if you’re doing two jobs and your penalty rates have just been cut and you’re worrying how to pay your electricity bill then, hey, this might not work for you. And if you’re in debt and/or you’re simply broke, then buying certified organic food might be seen as a bourgeois indulgence.
You could respond to my suggestions with ‘It’s alright for you to talk’, and you’d have a point.
After all, I’m a superannuated retiree who’s got the time, resources and inclination to write the stuff I do.
This is not self-flagellation but simply a recognition of differentiated experience.
We’re not all in the same boat.
We live in a deeply divided society where basic resources are not shared, where there is a spectrum of pain, hardship and suffering.
I invite you to come up with your own suggestions, one of which might be to avoid lists and people like me.
There’s nothing more irritating for someone in the midst of hardship than to be told how you might roll back neoliberal capitalism.
In short, please feel free to discard this list and lampoon its author.
History tells us that the most effective way of achieving change – not the only one of course – is to work in concert with others. But these days, given the pernicious nature of neoliberal capitalism, simply forming a group and sharing our experiences, looking after ourselves, and slowing down and sharing are tantamount to political acts of resistance.
But, as Naomi Klein insists, simply saying no to a given system or practice is not enough. Eventually we need to tell ourselves and others a story of what a better world looks like. That’s the truly exciting, and vitally necessary, part of all this.
For reasons set out above, I know some might wince at what I have suggested below, but it’s what I really think, especially when it comes to building connections and relationships. The points reflect what I have learned over recent years, and they consciously move away from simple oppositional politics to an agenda of change grounded in peoples’ everyday lives. I haven’t mentioned many specific policies because they’re part of our evolving conversations. We each have our own policy preferences. The article is pitched toward cultural change at the relational/dialogistic level, because that’s where I think change processes begin. We should be thoughtful rather than simply reactive. I could well be wrong in all this, and I’m more than happy to listen to other views. What needs to accompany this, I believe, is a manifesto of the things we think a decent society should aspire to.
On a final note: do I practice any of the above? Yes, no, and occasionally; but: I do what I can, often clumsily, often with little benefit. Often times though I do hit the mark.
The thing is to test things out, feel what’s in your comfort zone, talk, reflect.
Along the way, you’ll connect with others trying to do the same, and that’s the whole point!
1. Talk to your family, friends and acquaintances and work colleagues about what ails them. Listen, don’t preach, or pester-lecture. Offer what Paul Bloom refers to as “rational compassion” rather than empathy but link lived experiences to elements of the bigger picture. Focus on issues of inequality, disconnection, stress. Rework George Monbiot’s story about what it means to be human – i.e. we’re altruistic and social creatures not rapacious competitors. The best of us is about cooperation and collaboration and sharing/caring. And compassion is the great glue of life.
2. If during the course of these conversations someone blames the Other for their predicament, listen, don’t hector-lecture or contradict. Try and find out the origins (projections and deflections) of their views– entrenched, intergenerational thought patterns, negative experiences, insecurity, envy etc. Gently talk about someone you know from the targeted group and explain their story. Humanize the issue. Point out that we might be blaming the wrong people for our problems. Relate this through one of your own personal experiences.
3. Try and get to know your neighbours, see if you can arrange a BBQ or social gathering in the local park. Steer the conversation gently to the above, but in the first instance the priority is connection.
4. If at work, always have a tea/lunch break, talk with your colleagues about common problems. Ease in some aspects of common interest and the need to organise rather than fight/struggle individually. Talk about what the union does, and why unions are important, indeed essential to a truly democratic society.
5. Work less, more slowly, have breaks, get off the grid, join a local energy democracy initiative, eat good food not that crappy fatty carcinogenic stuff (buy from a community garden if you can’t afford the shops), minimise waste, consume less, invest more time in other people, go to your local farmers market and, if you have the time and inclination, volunteer at the community garden. This will elevate your spirits, make you healthier, and you’ll live longer. Try and recreate what Canadian psychotherapist, Susan Pinker, refers to as a “village effect”. Reconnect with friends and family, preferably face-to-face. Be kind, not nice. Remember, our indent ties are formed largely by being in others faces not staring in a mirror.
6. With your friends and acquaintances, talk up the scourge of wage stagnation, minimum wage and the idea of the decade: Universal Basic Income. The latter will rattle some, but many will be intrigued by the possibilities this idea affords in a deeply unequal society. But watch out for conservative renditions of the UBI: they’re a backdoor to slashing welfare.
7. Arrange a discussion group in your local café or pub, or even organise a Politics in the Pub. Invite your family, friends etc. Make sure it’s a good night out – food, drink, music, comedy etc. Invite interesting, progressive speakers, advertise your work, invite other groups. Build networks.
8. If you’re at school or college or uni, always question the basic assumptions of the stuff that’s being dished up. The best approach is to unlearn, this invites critical inquiry at every turn. Don’t buy into the job ready agenda and if you considering a career think how your job can bereft others. Remember, you’ll get far more job satisfaction from helping others than receiving a wad of money. Please try and avoid business and commerce courses. Too many great minds have already been usurped. There are too many of these courses, and many of them are less than good. Another idea: start an informal, free university, or college. People love talking about ideas that mean something to them. That’s why Alain de Botton’s School of Life and Schumacher College in Totnes, UK have done so well. Unlike many ‘mainstream’ institutions, these places connect more readily with the exigencies of everyday life.
9. Reframe the language you use. US academic activist, George Layoff, makes clear that this practice can prove invaluable in terms of altering the direction of debates and conversations. It may, for example, be worth referring to current policy making in Australia in terms of policy-making-as-violence/cruelty. Think here about our refugee policies, our nation’s involvement in what Henry Reynolds refers to as “unnecessary wars”, or growing economic inequality, the hardships experienced by Indigenous people etc. Government policies have demonstrable harmful effects, they are neither kind or benign. Some are downright nasty, vindictive, inhumane and cruel. On the other hand, think about how we can measure ‘progress’ (that word!) in this country. Economic growth, productivity, GDP etc are frequently used as markers of so-called development. Once you introduce a different set of measures, as have been employed in various wellbeing indexes, the picture is radically transformed. The trashing of our environment, diminished quality of everyday life, economic hardship, lack of access, inclusion and participation tell a different story to any gormless ‘growth’ agenda (which was discredited long ago).
10. Share food at home, enjoy rituals, learn an instrument, dance, play the ukulelelike, learn to paint or basket weave. Ohyes, watch less telly, especially the commercial stations, get a pet, start a veggie garden, and build a very large statue of Buddha. Mediation, yoga, It Chi and other forms of mindfulness practice are a must if you’re going to counter the destructive lifestyle associated with turbo capitalism.
11. Spend heaps of time in nature, go for long walks, sit in parks, listen to birds and feel the wind on your face. Some of the very best things in life really are free. Minimise your time in cyberspace. It’s not always a great place to be and creates the illusion of connection. Face-to-face communication and getting out there is best for your spiritual health.
12. If you’re not Indigenous to this land, Indigenise your outlook. Learn about the ravages of colonial rule (and its continued manifestations) and the wisdom-wonders of Indigenous culture in your local area and more broadly. Integrate what Mary Graham refers to as the “custodial ethic” into your life: the deep respect and practical reverence for the land.
13. Disinvest your funds from corporations, and make sure you know where your money is going. Above all, avoid putting your money into the fossil fuel industry. This industry is helping to kill the planet, which includes you, me and everything around us. It’s important to get literate about how money works (it’s complicated). The mystique manufactured by the financial elites is calculated to be just that. The less we know the more power is accorded to the powerful. Start thinking about what it takes to open a public bank.
14. Join an activist organisation – one that expresses your passions. Contribute in any way you can. There are always big and small ways we can have an impact, including supporting the activists within the organisation who may be doing too much.
15. Join a progressive political party. Don’t buy the line that all politicians are the same and that governments are a waste of time, because they still do have an enormous influence on how society is organised. Even minimal change is better than no change and, you just might stop things getting worse. Being excessively cynical, although tempting, does have its problems.
16. Unlike most other Western countries, Australia hasn’t got a bill of rights, which is silly and dangerous. Be part of a growing movement by getting together with like-minded folk to create your own localised Charter of rights aimed at getting this adopted by your local Council. Once that is done, work with other groups in other councils to do the same. Precedents have been set for such.
17. Generally, whatever you do, the more you can help expose the innards of political and corporate maleficence, the better. Encourage young people in your life to take an interest. Talk with them about how each vote can make all the difference. Remember that one of the reasons Trump got in into office was because of those who chose to vote and those who didn’t, all ninety million of them!
18. Join protests, sign petitions, write to your local MP, agitate and disrupt and discomfort when the need arises. Protest remains important, despite what the cynics say. It’s not the be all and end al, but it helps bring people together, and raises public awareness. Governments hate protests and that’s why they’re intent on banning them.
19. In this ‘post truth’ era of vapid news reportage, make sure you only access outlets like The Australian to glean the inner workings of the neoliberal state of which that paper is a part. Otherwise, read other independent sources, but be cautious, there are lots of crazies in cyberspace and silly and unhelpful conspiracy theoristsabound. Intellectual self-defence, as Noam Chomsky asserts, requires us to exercise all our critical faculties at this time. So, access independent journalists who have some street cred, who aren’t aligned with any suspect organisation or political party. It’s getting harder to penetrate the haze, so be cautious. Stand up for journalists who are going out on a limb to tell us the truth. Support them against attacks.
20. Perhaps more than ever, we need a sense of humour. Although it’s not possible or desirable to laugh things off, it’s a useful mechanism for coping. Additionally, ridicule, as Saul Alinsky, Srdja Popovic and Russell Brandt have observed, it has its uses, although should be deployed judiciously as part of a broader range of tactics and theatrics.
Press link for more: Ngara Institute