Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Turning the Herd

"Salvaging hope has to do with finding some wayward lead animals who are running oblique to the cliff’s edge and trying to persuade other members of the herd to follow them, in hopes that collectively it may actually slow momentum or even reverse direction of the herd, or at worst, save a few animals from being swept over."


We are sitting in a bay window of a stone cabin staring at the sunny, windswept west coast of Ireland, Rossbeigh Beach on the Iveragh Peninsula, overlooking Dingle Bay near Killorglin. We began this trip with an utterly absorbing International Communal Societies meeting in Scotland, moved on to a climate farming design charrette at a Permaculture center in Norway, then a repeat performance on a biodynamic farm in Sweden, and now the annual Feasta (Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability) retreat week in the west of County Kerry where we are brewing cool coffee with our Biolite stove and charging this iPad.

We travelled by train from Dublin with Nicole Foss (Stoneleigh of The Automatic Earth) after spending the night at the home of David Korowicz, to a quaint summer retreat cottage on the beach purchased by London barrister John Jopling in 1960 as a stone ruin and still being very gradually restored. It will house the dozen or so international participants of our conversation the coming week.

Arriving in late afternoon, we sat here in this window and curled up with a book we picked off the shelf, Sharing for Survival: Restoring the Climate, the Commons and Society, a Feasta anthology edited by Brian Davey and published in 2012. Now completely entranced by Davey’s opening chapter, in this post we will try to describe what we liked about it.

The chapter is called What can be done if mainstream politics loses interest in climate change, which seems at first glance a dumb question, being a fait accompli, but it turns out to be a compendium of the world’s best thinking on how to turn sour lemons into mojitos.

The first thing Davey observes is that great changes seldom come from confrontation. Rather, they are approached obliquely, indirectly, because from the standpoint of the historical participant, what needs to happen is unclear. Actually, as to our present dilemma, Davey’s essay points clearly to what needs to happen and catalogs the challenges.

Policymakers and business leaders are a tight-knit class locked into a commitment to growth. Growth underpins our global economic system, if for no other reason than money is merely the issuance of debt obligations and when you add the requirement of (unlent) interest, as Margrit Kennedy observed 30 years ago, it sets up a Ponzi scheme that is utterly dependent on growth, and endlessly seeking new patsies. This system requires both the unscrupulous lender and the gullible victim, and the globalized education system is geared to produce both in large numbers.

Money, drug and energy addicts share a brain chemistry that gets reinforced by both Western diet and social networks of fellow addicts. Policy is largely formulated by officials dialoging with the predator class and their skilled lobbyists and public relations hires, creating a mainstream narrative drummed by media that drowns out all alternative narratives, even the ones being trumpeted by Mother Nature in the form of superstorms, net fossil energy decline and global weirding.

No-one likes to maintain stressful confrontational relationships over long times, so regulatory capture is followed by the capture of non-profit opposition groups, popular media, and large open public fora, such as we described in past narratives of Rio+20 and UN climate conferences. Davey says, given this context, the situation appears pretty hopeless. We are a herd species and our herd is galloping towards a cliff.

Salvaging hope has to do with finding some wayward lead animals who are running oblique to the cliff’s edge and trying to persuade other members of the herd to follow them, in hopes that collectively it may actually slow momentum or even reverse direction of the herd, or at worst, save a few animals from being swept over.

We might think of these as “seed” experiments — complimentary currencies, ecovillages, “cool” stoves, and non-violent methods of conflict transformation — as the fringe of society but they are actually the leading edge of our inevitable future, if we are to have one.

In Denmark we can point to Ross Jackson’s “breakaway” strategy — a reform of global governance led by democratically or economically advanced countries like Iceland and Bhutan. In Germany there is the “solidarity economy” that hopes to congeal cooperative networks of CSA’s, community energy companies, community gardens and similar grass roots enterprises into a political force. From Ireland and the UK we have the Transition movement that combines town-scale remodeling projects with personal reskilling to cope with energy descent and climate change. From Italy we have Slow Food evolving through slow money and slow living to slow everything, very useful to the herd-and-cliff metaphor. From France we get Decroissance, which personally we prefer over its English version (Degrowth), because the French sounds more like a flaky pastry than losing your job. Something similar is emerging in Bolivia and Ecuador with Buen Vivir.

From these seeds, with some sunlight, water and the luck of a green thumb, who knows? What we may see will not be a centralized, pre-conceived new system replacing the old like Bolshevism or the Campuchean Revolution, but a bottom-up, decentralized Sacred Unrest, to borrow Paul Hawken’s words.

As Davey says, though, “What is still not clear is how far governments are capable of contributing to the new future.” It is argued by Naomi Klein, among others, that nations are now functioning as brands, running sophisticated PR campaigns designed by their financial sectors for the purpose of gaining expanded markets, access to raw materials, and new populations of debt slaves. Alternative futures will have to compete with this for minds and hearts.

It is helpful that governments and their economic schemes are increasingly seen as corrupt and bankrupt. It is less helpful that they are erecting a neo-liberal security state to impose power and undercut their opposition by violent means. Nonetheless, truth will out. As Napolean said, “Never harass your enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself.” The herd is not slowing yet, but the outliers are gaining adherents.
 

3 comments:

Jan Lundberg said...

Excellent analysis, Albert, and with you as one of the lead outlier animals we're all in better shape.
I see the herd analogy for today's behavior, but our evolution was not as a herd animal when we picture people working together in bands and tribes (without the modern equivalent of work). Regional gatherings like migrations were for enriching gene pools and spiritual recharging.
Since the mistake of Western Civilization (for sustaining life), there have been many creative approaches for trying to change society's course in the last century or so. Such as appealing to fun, mischief and chic rebellion: the Yippies. The back to the land trend for wholesomeness and healthier living is still going.
But things keep getting worse, apparently unaffected by no end of great projects, studies and art. So, given that revolutions and such don't come without hunger in the belly, perhaps the herd now rushing over the cliff might feel hunger for real food: pristine nature, no GMOs, freedom from invasions of privacy, etc. It needs to be felt from within rather than dependent upon outlier attractions.

Anna said...

67There are signs, if you look for them, that government can respond positively to these challenges. 'In the twenty-first century many people will be generating their own green energy in their homes, offices and factories and sharing it with one another across intelligent distributed electricity networks, - intergrids - just like people now create their own information and share it on the internet'.
Jeremy Rifkin sees in the merging of renewable energy production with the internet, a democratising and transformational influence on social relationships in education, health, the economy, paving the way for a partnership with nature and the biosphere. His book The Third Industrial Revolution, how lateral power is transforming energy, the economy, and the world, a beacon of hope in desperate times, is an insider's account of what is going on behind the scenes. The Third Industrial Revolution (TIR) and its 5 pillars has been endorsed by the EU in 2007, and several European cities are already developing carbon neutral development plans , eg Rome, Utrecht.

k-dog said...

Your wrote:
"It is argued by Naomi Klein, among others, that nations are now functioning as brands, running sophisticated PR campaigns designed by their financial sectors for the purpose of gaining expanded markets, access to raw materials, and new populations of debt slaves."

Leaving the analysis of why the sophisticated PR campaigns are being run, the fact that they are dominating media channels is obvious.

"From these seeds, with some sunlight, water and the luck of a green thumb, who knows?"

Yes, but that sunlight water and luck of the green isn't there if the neo-liberal security state is not being erected but is already in place and actively shaping public opinion away from seeds so in need of nourishment.

The herd is not slowing and the outliers are not gaining adherents fast enough. The government does not have the agenda to nourish the seeds. I'm advocating new ways be found to alert the herd. Those in the lead need to have a chance to follow the outliers without being pushed over by the ignorant, controlled wave behind them. - K-Dog

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