Alternative Editorial: The Blue Peter Approach to Systems
By Indra Adnan, A/UK co-initiator
Moving around Europe these past couple of weeks, mostly in the networks of social innovation, has been a profound experience. Not only because, coming from the UK, it is poignant to feel the co-creative spirit with other Europeans – while we are obliged to live in the story of Brexit.
But also because we were witnessing a profound yearning for the tools and practices of collaboration that are not yet being used. Even if they are already present.
To some that may sound cryptic but let me describe what we saw repeatedly. And we won’t single any network or organisation out, as it seems to me to be a common trait at this point in our shared struggle to find adequate responses to the multiple emergencies we are in. No doubt we are guilty of it ourselves, so let’s try to stay objective.
Wherever we participated, we saw an analysis of our present situation that went something like this: the current system is faulty because it is predicated upon an idea of economic growth that is not sustainable. We need a new politics, a new media, a new way of organising. And, increasingly common, the call for a new narrative that, somehow, enables all this change to happen.
But after that, there seemed to be a capitulation to the idea that we are all powerless to do so. That we are in grave danger of ‘the Right’ mobilising the people who – in various forms – need educating. And that nothing serious happens unless the political parties – who own the power – are on board.
My Buddhist mentor taught me that ‘you can’t lift a table while you are standing on it’ (Einstein, similarly, said you can’t solve a problem with the same mindset that created it). So we might say you can’t change a narrative that you are participating in. If you insist that the people are powerless, it’s hard, within that, to elicit their power.
So then the question arises: how do you find the new story, the new practices, the new structures and culture? Well, maybe the clue lies in the use of the word ‘new’. Given the environmental time limits we have, is the search for something new already defeating us, thus causing us to rely on what is already there? Even though we don’t believe it can deliver?
As we moved through these different gatherings – 1) a network of individuals and entrepreneurs working with adult development 2) a network of think and do tanks hoping to reform business and the 3) the European Union network for a sustainable transformation through better governance – we heard a universal cry for progress. Some even called themselves progressives.
Yet there was a strong sense that all the progress depended upon their own actions in the future – and that no progress was already underway. For example, in each of these events there was an expectation that the problems that existed outside of the gathering – in the towns and cities where people lived, suffering inequality and the ravages of a failing environment – would be solved by the people within the gathering. That it is somehow in their capacity to come up with solutions they could gift upon the people. It’s an old, top-down paradigm that has already failed.
Why do they not meet in those towns and communities, see what resources are already there and share their insights with the local people in situ? It is not enough for answers to emerge in remote spaces amongst the self-styled cognoscenti; emergence must be in real time, in the places where the changes will be enacted. With the people and by the people: not just for the people.
We are wasting our time if we believe that everything must be designed at high level and then transferred to lower levels. Especially if the best answers are already in operation in places we do not habitually give our attention, or send our resources.
At the very same time, it is not necessary to start from scratch, requiring people with little experience of governance or organisation, to design a new system. It’s how we work together that will bring the emergence we now need.
At this moment in time, many of the new elements for a much more people oriented, planet friendly, power literate new system are already available. We write about them every day in the Daily Alternative, in ways that link them together and describe a transformative ecosystem that could save our planet with us on it.
Permaculture and Transition Towns for a greener economy; Flatpack Democracy and municipalism to enable ownership of outcomes; vertical farming, radical solar power, 3D printing to offer local autonomy in energy and resources; universal basic income and the power of the arts to rejuvenate human creativity; sortition and Citizens Assemblies, common tech platforms to take us to 21C democracy; place-based social enterprise, local bloc chain currencies, Countercoin to transform the local economy. And underpinning all of that, a feminine care network that has always continued to hold society together, however badly rewarded.
But like the elements of mayonnaise, they are not yet coming together to form something coherent and visibly good. Largely, we suspect, because they cannot see each other, or are still driven by the emotional need to be the whole answer themselves. We are so starved of meaningful status and achievement, that we find it hard to join with others to enact solutions: we have to have all the answers ourselves to have purpose.
If any of you ever saw the British TV series for kids education called Blue Peter – in its original or modern form – you’ll be familiar with this: describing a complicated procedure of making a new gizmo to the mesmerised audience. Then, in order to move onto the next step without struggling to actually show how to follow the instructions, they reach under the desk to reveal the finished product with the words “and here’s one we made earlier”.
This sense – that the thing we are struggling to make now may already have been made by someone else, ready to take its place in the new transformed system – is what we sense is missing in the social innovation narrative. We’d go as far as to say, much of what we need to avert planetary disaster is already present in a fractal way – new ways of working, answering solutions at multiple levels, distributed across regions and countries. But they’re not connecting up. It’s like watching the early stages of a romance, where two people are orbiting, but not yet noticing each other.
Standing on Westminster Bridge yesterday, taking part in the Extinction Rebellion, was one of those moments of mutual recognition. In groups, effortlessly organised by People’s Assembly activists such as Jamie Kelsey-Fry and Skeena Rathor, we exchanged practice between those active on the front line and those working at system level. The aim was to make the best use of this newly available citizenship. In earlier days, political platforms might have turned away from protests, seeing them as ultimately futile. Organised uprisings might have rejected The Alternative UK as too slow.
This seeing each other as vital pieces of the bigger ecosystem of change, suggests some sort of acceleration is possible – indeed, close to hand. Awakening, from this perspective, is not simply to the real problems and solutions that are possible. But to the people and initiatives around you, now, that are already available to step up and work with you.