How to change the future?

Collective action. Photo copyright Robert Golden

This artice came out of West Country Byline’s recent online event on the true cost of cheap food. You can listen to the session here:

A list for change

We are ordinary people facing the huge wealth of the 1 per cent and the power of the state in an assumed democracy which is in fact a neoliberal oligarchy. Those in power have destroyed the unions and are presently attempting to eradicate our right to demonstrate; they have taken control of the press and the news while slowly gerrymandering constituencies and they continually purchase our political representatives.

We are ordinary people fighting cruel anti-democratic giants. We need to gain the moral high ground and never let it go, creating business, employment, investments and education that belong to the community. We are many Davids and they are Goliath.

As a consequence, this list has been drawn up. It is not definitive. At best it is a nudge towards thinking about many possibilities, but it does insist that we think of solutions which embrace fairness and equality for all people at the same time as solving the climate crisis.

Every culture and every place on earth will have different possibilities depending on climate, topography, access to water, local customs, traditions, methods of social organizations and levels of scientific, technological and economic development.

Whilst I am addressing this list of changes for a country town, it can be thought of as an indication for city neighbourhoods. Local people need to discover ways to create a shared future.

Many of these ideas are not new, but people need to be reminded of them to recognise they are all linked to each other and that we must begin to bring change now. Care of the earth cannot be separated from care of all people everywhere. Care of young children and young mothers cannot be separated from care of the elderly. Concern over species extinction cannot be separated from eating mass produced beef.

The best way to proceed is to think that vital changes may take ten years but all journeys, of whatever duration, begin with one step followed by another. It is the careful understanding of problems, shared beliefs in community-based transitions, and the creation of caring programmes of and for each other that will make the otherwise arduous journey joyous.

We need to yearn for a better future. We need to be curious and ask questions. We do this in part by understanding our present situation sufficiently to stir unrest and disquiet in ourselves and others. We have nine years left to stop the earth’s temperature rising to a point of tragic consequences for all of us, but in particular for our children and grandchildren.

Twenty ideas to initiate change

Unemployed miner ‘stealing’ coal he mined.

1/ First we need to acknowledge that life on earth as we know it is at risk of ending, taking us and much of nature with it;  then we need to acknowledge that others also recognise that; and as a consequence we need to join together to discuss and in particular to express what we imagine the future should be. We need to dream together a new future.

2/ There are essential things that need to be accounted for:

  1. the areas of interest we can exert some control and choice over are transport, energy, waste, farming*, food, health, landscape creation, species extinction and consumption.
Species extinction. Photo copyright Robert Golden

(*The beginning of the food chain is about the destruction and death of soil, rivers and estuaries, insects, birds, microbiomes and invertebrates in the top 12 inches of the soil; the end of the food chain is about destruction and death of animals for slaughter, and humans suffering from food related diseases.)

  • we must confront the idea that consumption equals happiness, and we need to attempt to envision a new aesthetic for living – perhaps in doing less but better, consuming less but of a higher quality, expecting less of the material world while improving food, medicine, human to human care, and enjoyment and pleasure in the arts.
  • In a world of finite resources, we need to confront the idea that prosperity comes from an infinite economic expansion and therefore that the assumptions of contemporary capitalism about continuous growth are unfeasible.
  • we need to appreciate the neuro-scientific evidence that human beings are naturally sociable animals, while confronting the old, distorted Darwinian notions that we are naturally individualistic and competitive.
  • we need to accept that we all must do our part in our own private lives, but that we also need to join with others to affect the whole community and the earth itself, as we also think about how we bring effective pressure on the obdurate corporations and on the political class, and upon our county and national representatives in particular. (See number 20 below)

3/ We need to embrace our own creativity and that of others and involve artists, who are naturally creative, in the process. They are used to non-hierarchical thinking, and understand the nature of play, which will be indispensable in the processes of stirring our imaginations and envisioning a better world. The input of artists will provide alternatives to the present oppression of our imaginations.

We need to understand that the neoliberals combined with the tech wizards of Silicon Valley have contrived a world in which technology coupled with ideology equals a closed world limited in scope only to their ideas. Their ideas are a consequence of their desire to monetise our thoughts and feelings** as they get us to accept that their goals and beliefs are the only viable ones.

**Feelings are the originators of thinking.  For instance, Jean Paul Sartre spoke about the shoe as follows:

“For an artisan to make a shoe he must first imagine its need and function, a process which is as much about an emotional sense of longing as it is about imagining, and then he must imagine how it can be designed, and out of what appropriate materials, before he makes the shoe. The concept of its need and therefore its function must exist before the shoe exists or even before the idea of the shoe can exist”.

In other words, emotion precedes thought precedes the existence of the shoe.

4/ Once we begin to experience an emotional need for the world we wish to live in, we will have to build new cooperative community structures free and unburdened by corporate capital*** or by local and national government bureaucracies. Within this, we must bring pressure on the corporations listed on the stock markets by disinvesting from those who continue to stand in the way of change.

***Beware of funding, favours and charity from the supermarkets and others.

They will lead us back from where we came.

An unemployed building worker breaks down as he speaks about his family and situation. North London 1974 Photo copyright Robert Golden

5/ We need to question why people serve the masters of the economy, rather than the economy belonging to and serving the people. We need to learn from contemporary economists (like Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics and Michael Rowbotham’s Grip of Death – A Study of Modern Money, Wage Slavery and Destructive Economics) that there are sensible economic systems already imagined and celebrated by academics and other economists, which may lead us away from this current destructive form of economic organization. These are systems that put the needs of the earth and of people before the needs of a tiny minority of billionaires.

Hungry to participate. Photo copyright Robert Golden

6/ As a priority, during the period of transformation above, we need to create a safe space in every village, town and neighbourhood dedicated to teaching children how to think rather than what to think. We need to augment their schooling with afterschool Creative Rooms where the most advanced ideas about encouraging children’s imaginations via the arts are created for all children. See Ken Robinson’s TED Talks on creativity and education; they are both realistic and wonderful in their scope.

Each town should support cultural events as a priority – theatre, music, visual arts, poetry, lectures and films should be on regular offer. Children would be introduced to the ideas of high culture, to adventures of the soul and imagination and would be told of the individuality and character of their own surroundings.  They would know their patch of the earth and be able to name local flora and fauna as well as coming to know their own bodies. Real art, not decoration or propaganda, becomes a commentator on our humanity.

7/ The traditional news media are owned and operated by very wealthy people who are on the side of the one per cent, those who control the levers of the economy and the politicians they purchase via financing their election campaigns. The media reduces every election cycle to a slanging match about trivia or to simplistic dualities: Labour = socialism, Arab = terrorist, immigrants are lice, but never does it examine in depth and truthfully the meanings behind the hype. It creates a false dialectic between politicians who are slightly to the left with those who are slightly to the right, not really caring which gains power as those admitted to the media spotlight are not fundamentally questioning the status quo. Those who do are denied access, scorned and condemned by the media as being crazed communists and egghead fantasists. Think of the treatment of Bernie Sanders in the US or Jeremy Corbyn in the UK.

Photo copyrigt Robert Golden

The online world of cranks and truly fabricated news is even worse, conjuring freakish plot theories. Locally we need to circulate relevant local news (as West Country Bylines exists to do regionally), along with local success stories and international examples of rebellion and progressive change.

8/ Advertising was originally invented to inform the potential customer about what was available and where. Wall Street and psychology, both in the service of corporate greed, changed all of that. None the less, local campaigns run by local people, composed of beautiful images and direct texts, encouraging people to encounter, remember, participate in relevant cultural and political events, purchasing and preparing good food, recognizing their rights and so on, would help to alert people and perhaps change their attitudes to modes of life and habits.

9/ Within our local ability and reach we need to expand public transport, support safe bike passage and, in the long term, redesign our towns and cities to become less polluted and more people-friendly. Experiments at the moment in town planning, notably in Paris, are concentrating on providing all services within a 15-minute walk of everyone in their district.

Photo copyright Robert Golden

10/ Every district, town and city (neighbourhood by neighbourhood) could form youth clubs in which they support and encourage sports, discussion and learning and also music, the arts and Caring Groups**** who help clean the surrounding areas, plant fruit trees and bushes, and also care for younger children and needy elders in the community, making sure no one is left alone. Mentors would help members of the Caring Groups to understand the realities of life and how they positively contribute to the wellbeing of others.

**** This is imagining a new Peace Corp which would be local, ununiformed, with equal relevance to boys and girls. It would create a sense of responsibility, personal reward without badges, prayers or sworn allegiance, and it would help young people to understand that they are a vital part of a larger community. Their rewards would be threefold: attaining solidarity with their fellows, feeling good about their caring of their area and of the people they help, and attendance in the Creative Rooms.

11/ Help those who wish to start new farms or other businesses to create green jobs while changing the carbon-based systems that create power. Start-ups should be scrutinized to see if what they wish to produce or service will fit the eco-profile and human needs of the community. Their ownership, employment practices and methods of production must be consistent with the needs of the new community-based, doughnut-profiled economy.

12/ There could be cooperatives established with a local marque, that preserve fruits and vegetables for local farmers. Distribution to restaurants, schools, retirement homes and hospitals should be a part of the co-op’s functions.  

13/ Create and police a 100 per cent fair trade system including receiving guarantees for the foods’ or other products’ purity and organic origins, and that no slavery is involved at any point of production and provision.

14/ Create local restaurant trucks offering prepared local organic balanced sugar-free main meals vegetables and puddings selling very inexpensively and lower than local fast-food joints. Once established, offer musical entertainment for all and storytelling for the children inside easily set up tents where the whole family could enjoy themselves.

Eventually these tents could transform into local community halls which could become hubs for the recreation of a local culture.

15/ Shorten the working week for all. In people’s free time, they should be encouraged to volunteer in any of these other endeavours, including in the arts and learning.

16/ Create a universal income for all. It seems that most experiments in universal income have been successful, helping people into productive employment, increased learning and in general bettering their lives as they develop self-esteem.

17/ Reverse the selloff of public green spaces/common land/school playing fields and take the land back into the hands of the people, to be used for pleasure, walking, camping and a general enjoyment of nature and in part to provide young farmers with land to cultivate.

18/ Redesign our local health system along integrated alternative methods, moving away from pharmaceutical drugs and allopathic based medicine towards functional medicine.

19/ refer to Philip Colfox’s list of needed changes for farming.

20/ Embrace Saul Alinsky’s 12 Rules for Radicals

(Saul Alinsky was a successful American radical who helped to establish the rules of engagement below. He was so central to ideas of political change that both Obama and Hilary Clinton made Alinsky central to their PHD theses.)

The Rules

  1. “Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.”
  2. “Never go outside the expertise of your people.”
  3. “Whenever possible go outside the expertise of the enemy.”
  4. “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”
  5. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. There is no defense. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage.”
  6. “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”
  7. “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”
  8. “Keep the pressure on.”
  9. “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself. “
  10. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.”
  11. “If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counterside; this is based on the principle that every positive has its negative.”
  12. “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.”
  13. “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. “

These are ways we not only bring change locally by ignoring those who would get in our way, but also how we get in the politicians’ way, until they realize we want them to serve us and not the wealthy who pay for their election campaigns, and not the party who demand they conform to the party line. Let them know they we understand that if they continue to serve powerful vested interests, we replace them.

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