A couple of months ago, in a post headed No Excuse for Apathy I reminded readers (and myself!) that one of my unfinished projects has been a mapping of the different paths which various authors have suggested in recent years we need to take in order to improve (if not replace) the mad economic system which has had the globe in thrall (and peril) for at least the last thirty years.
The project started with a short essay in 2001 (updated in Notes for the Perplexed) and moved into higher gear with the opening last autumn of a website Mapping the Common Ground which acts as a library of useful material for those keen to effect social change.
The Global Crisis – Telling it as it is is an edited version of the posts which record the reading I have been doing in recent years – with my common complaint being the failure of writers to give credit to others and indeed to make any attempt to do what Google Scholar exhorts us to do – “stand on the shoulders of giants”.
Most books about the “global crisis” focus on the easy part of the story – “diagnosis” and “blame” – and skate over the really challenging (later) stages of the process of social change – such as prescription (“what is to be done?”); and, most of all, “coalition-building” (with what sources of power?).
Indeed I now have three tests for any book about the global crisis I look at –
- What proportion of space they devote to the later, prescriptive, stage
- What awareness they show of the “problems of agency” ie of the tenuous nature of the “toolkit of change” which the change management literature introduced us to in the 1980s
- How generous their references to other literature are
Most writing demonstrates a naïve belief in the power of persuasion – the belief that argument can mobilise change. Many people can indeed be persuaded of the “need” for change – but fewer about its precise “direction” and shape….. Robert Quinn is one of the few people who has powerfully pointed out how mechanistic is the discourse of reformist “persuasion” – with its assumption that an intellectual elite has the capacity to “mobilise” people to its way of thinking……His books talk rather of the power of example…..and the growing literature on systems theory of the “emergence” of new methods and models…
The post I referred to in the opening paragraph linked to a fascinating American project – The Next System whose short, initial publication promised to
launch a national debate on the nature of “the next system” using the best research, understanding, and strategic thinking, on the one hand, and on-the-ground organizing and development experience, on the other, to refine and publicize comprehensive alternative political-economic system models that are different in fundamental ways from the failed systems of the past and capable of delivering superior social, economic, and ecological outcomes.
By defining issues systemically, we believe we can begin to move the political conversation beyond current limits with the aim of catalyzing a substantive debate about the need for a radically different system and how we might go about its construction. Despite the scale of the difficulties, a cautious and paradoxical optimism is warranted. There are real alternatives. Arising from the unforgiving logic of dead ends, the steadily building array of promising new proposals and alternative institutions and experiments, together with an explosion of ideas and new activism, offer a powerful basis for hope.
And the last week has seen several more straws in the wind –
Democratic Wealth – being a little E-book of Cambridge and Oxford University bloggers’ takes on the crisis
Civic Capitalism – ditto from some Sheffield University academics
Laudato-Si – the latest Papal Encyclical. A summary is available here. Its entire 184 pages can be read hereWe All Want the Change the World is a book which represents the mature thoughts of one (American) lefty and, for me, is a superb illustration of why the left is in such deeptrouble. The book starts brilliantly but quickly degenerates into cultural tripe