Apologies to my readers – Vivacom, the Bulgarian internet provider I have been using these past few weeks, has been unable to give me access since the weekend. They simply are not able to process my request for increased capacity after I hit their limit (in only 3 months real time). I use it for my blog and downloading the odd paper – no videos. Visits to their branches are pointless – the telephone calls I make to their helplines don’t achieve anything except promises and, ultimately, admissions that they just have to wait for the request to be “processed”. When I come back in October, I will cancel my sub - and go wireless….
This week I’ve been busy with preparations for the new website, drafting for example this (rather long) intro -
The site has been created by someone who has, since the mid-60s, been involved in various forms of “development” efforts – first “community” and “regional” development in Scotland then “institutional” and “capacity” development in Central Europe and Asia – but who, with many others, now questions the very concept of development….Indeed the title I gave my second (more autobiographical) little book in 1995 was …. PUZZLING DEVELOPMENT
It was some 15 years ago that I began to feel the deep unease about the direction societies with which I was familiar seemed to be taking – increasing privilege, systemic corruption, centralization, ecological destruction, “consumerism”, poverty, privatisation and a failure of European vision were the things I listed in a paper I circulated amongst friends in an effort to clarify where I should be putting the energies and resources left to me. I itemized the people and organisations whose work I admired; regretted the lack of impact they were having; and then explored what channels we seemed to have for making more of an impact. A decade later – after the bursting of the bubble – I returned to the subject and beefed up the paper – the results of which can be read at Draft Guide for the Perplexed
WHAT BROUGHT ME TO THIS POINT - 2008 was supposed to bring us to our senses – to give us the sort of focus we last saw in the immediate post-war years when social, political and commercial energies were building a better world; greed and flashiness kept then in check; and “government” was an institution for whose efforts we had some respect if not pride.
Six years on from the most recent global crisis, such hopes and expectations are in tatters… the façade of democracy has been ruthlessly exposed by the latest debt crisis in Europe… and governments seem hell-bent on creating a dystopia of privatized public facilities, repression and gross inequalities which put JK Galbraith’s indictment 60 years ago of “private affluence and public squalour” in the shade.
A world of gated communities exists cheek by jowl with those inhabited by crushed spirits of millions evicted from the formal economy or in fear of that fate; politicians, politics and the media are despised as lapdogs of what an American President in 1960 presciently labelled the “military-industrial complex”. Welcome to post-modernity!
This website aims to examine this condition, explore how it has developed and how it might be tamed….The website believes in the importance of what the academics have taken to calling “agency” – that is, of people coming together to try to improve socio-economic conditions. Such efforts used to be national but now tend to be a combination of local, continental and global. Some of the effort is driven by anger; some by more creative urges - but hundreds of thousands if not millions of people are involved in activities which have been charted by writers such as Paul Kingsnorth and Paul Hawkin. They include a lot of social enterprise and cooperatives of which the oldest and most inspiring is Mondragon whose various ventures now employ more than 25,000 people in a mountain area of Spain.
But all this does not seem able to inspire a common vision – let alone a coherent agenda and popular support - for a better world.The knowledge base drawn on in this site is European of an anglo-saxon variety – so we cannot (sadly) speak much about, for example, the Latin American experience of development which, patently, has a lot to teach us.
Some of the conclusions which have brought me to the point of setting up this website -
Political parties are a bust flush - All mainstream political parties in Europe have been affected by the neo-liberal virus and can no longer represent the concerns of ordinary people. And those “alternative parties” which survive the various hurdles placed in their way by the electoral process rarely survive.
The German Greens were an inspiration until they too eventually fell prey to the weaknesses of political parties identified a hundred years ago by Robert Michels.
More recently, “Pirate” parties in Scandinavia and Bepe Grillo’s Italian Five Star Movement have managed, briefly, to capture public attention, occupy parliamentary benches but then sink to oblivion or fringe if not freak interest.
What the media call “populist” parties of various sorts attract bursts of electoral support in most countries but are led by labile individuals preying on public fears and prejudices and incapable of the sort of cooperative effort which serious change requires.
NGOs are no match for corporate power - The annual World Social Forum has had more staying power than the various “Occupy movements” but its very diversity means that nothing coherent emerges to challenge the power elite whose “scriptures” are delivered from the pulpits of The World Bank and the OECD There doesn’t even seem a common word to describe our condition and a vision for a better future – “social change”? What’s that when it’s at home?
Academics are careerists - the groves of academia are still sanctuary for a few brave voices who speak out against the careless transfer by governments of hundreds of billions of dollars to corporate interests ……Noam Chomsky and David Harvey are prominent examples.
· Henry Mintzberg, one of the great management gurus, has in the last decade broken ranks and now writes about the need for a profound “rebalancing” of the power structure - Rebalancing Society – radical renewal beyond left, right and centre
· Economists who challenge the conventional wisdom of that discipline are now able to use the Real-World Economics blog.Think Tanks play safe – and….think
· Daniel Dorling is a geographer who focuses on inequalities eg his powerful Injustice – why social inequality persists.
Most Think-Tanks play it safe (for funding reasons) – although there are honourable exceptions. Such as -
· Susan George, a European activist and writer, who operates from the Trans National Institute and, amongst her many books, has produced two marvellous satires – Lugano I and Lugano II
· David Korton’s books and Yes Magazine keep up a steady critique.
· Joseph Stiglitz, once part of the World Bank elite, writes scathingly about economic conventional wisdom.
· The new Pope has the resources of the Vatican behind him; and is proving a great example in the struggle for dignity and against privilege.
How can a new website help? - It will identify the various efforts of the past decade to unite citizens under a common banner for the sort of civilization that rewards dignified work and effort. But it will also explore other, very different, visions – whether for political, community or individual effort – which challenge most of the conventional ideas about development and progress.