Roundtable on 'The Problem of Action'
Thank you again for initiating this, and inspiring us to keep going in our hopes for a better world. This kind of faith and persistence is the essential prerequisite for anything constructive to happen, and it is encouraging to see so many hanging in there—even doubling down—despite the obvious challenges.
I would like to share a few reflections on this important theme.
I. First, I think it’s important to be willing to come to an agreement about the basic values and goals of the GCM, and not be shy about it being too “top-down.” There would still be plenty of scope for creative implementation around these goals as individuals and groups, who agree with the basic values, come together to flesh it out. We want to bring together diverse interests and forces, and yet we cannot do this except around a nucleus of clearly stated, common, vital goals. Without this statement of clear values and intentions, action is also impossible, and will not get beyond being simply the “problem of action.”
While it may look on the surface like the grievances of diverse groups are quite different, there are, in fact, certain root causes that are affecting us all—and, likewise, common solutions. I see it as a crucial part of this movement itself to help diverse groups recognize the deeper, common systemic root-causes behind their respective grievances—after all, we are all living in a common, now-globalized system of neoliberal capitalist, highly unsustainable, and inegalitarian patriarchy, geared to create a few big winners and many losers. The many losers, while they may be suffering in different ways, are suffering due to that same system and its life-destructive patterns. This system—based on separation and competition—itself fragments people, and prevents and distracts them from seeing their common cause. This is not a healthy or natural pluralism, but one that divides and conquers, defeating our private purposes as it obscures our collective ones.
We need both a systemic vision of what underlies our grievances and a systemic vision of what kind of system could serve our common interests—as well as the deeper understanding that only by coming together can we amass the power to change the patterns that are affecting us all. Only in that way can we succeed in realizing both our particular interests and our collective ones. This, I would say, is true pluralism, or unity-in-diversity, where the Whole serves the part, and the part serves the Whole, in the kind of creative synergy we find in healthy natural systems. If we cannot learn that by serving the greater cause, we also serve our own, then the only unity we will achieve is that of all going down together. Nature herself is driving this lesson home.
Diversity, or healthy pluralism, need not inhibit collective agreements, or collective action; in fact, it can bolster them. When we are in a “minority”—and all of us are in a minority, of some sort or other, because the human race is so diverse, with its race, gender, cultural, class, generational, etc., fault lines—we tend to scapegoat other minorities, pitting our interests against theirs. But instead, we could translate the pain we feel at the suffering of our own minority into empathy with the suffering other minorities also feel, and gather together with them in a larger meta-movement that transcends the opposition of interests to serve the interests of all.
In reality, we are all in this together, both the suffering of our apparent aloneness and the potential to join with others to overcome it, to see through the illusion of our separation. This is another kind of “identity politics”, where we come to identify with the Whole—not digging ourselves into a hole of our own isolation or oppression, but expanding our identity to include the entire, interconnected web of life, and the potential to realize that both in our own inner consciousness and in outer forms of action.
This is the kind of understanding we need to get out there, and which can also most powerfully serve as the basis of our own values, goals and action.
II. As I said, I think we need first to decide upon and to state clearly the common, irreducible values and goals of the GCM that can serve as a nucleus to attract already existing movements. All who agree to these values and goals, and can also see how these common goals further their own more specific goals, would probably be attracted to join in. (Each prospective group or member could be encouraged to identify whether and how in fact the stated goals do advance their own; this could strengthen their clarity and commitment, and willingness to reconcile with others later on over proximate differences, while strengthening the vision as a whole.)
Once we have clarified the basic goals of the movement, the next step would be to send along the proposal to major leaders already active in these directions, to invite them to participate in a guiding body. After that, we could send out the manifesto more generally, with these names behind them, to relevant groups and organizations by direct invitation, as well as the general public through social media, including Facebook, social activist petition sites, etc. If the manifesto is framed in an inspiring, clear, and attractive way, it could galvanize hope and vision not only among fragmented movements, but also among the many individuals around the world disaffected by the current dismal global direction, and ripe for a positive vision and structure to put their energy into.
Regarding the common, stated values/goals, I would say to keep it simple, especially to begin with. Consider, for example, the following five:
- Ecological sustainability: Moving towards maximum renewable energy globally in the minimum time possible. Instituting policies, on all scales, for the reclamation of the commons and the restoration of healthy natural ecosystems.
- Cooperative, equitable economics: Replacing the current neoliberal, deregulated capitalist global system with a cooperative, equitable system, serving people and planet rather than the bottom lines of the wealthy.
- Social justice globally: Providing equal social status, dignity, and opportunity for all to have their necessities met and to reach their highest potentials—from each according to their ability, and to each according to need—regardless of race, gender, nationality, religion, class, ethnicity, age, or disability.
- Nonviolence: In our own action and strategies. On the global scale, moving towards nuclear disarmament, the dismantling of the war machine and the weapons industry. Responding to violence with forms of restorative justice and reconciliation rather than retaliation.
- Transforming Cultural Consciousness and Education (interconnection, unity-in-diversity, co-creative synergy): The diffusion of certain universal spiritual principles, which can be framed in scientific rather than religious language, through our educational systems, as well as the general cultural consciousness via the media. These would include our interconnection through subtle fields of energy and consciousness; our ecological interdependence with other life forms and natural systems; the need for cooperative, sustainable, equitable social and economic systems which reflect that; and an appreciation of unity-in-diversity, along with the skills of collective intelligence and co-creative synergy.
(Note that by “spiritual” here, I don’t mean any particular religious faith or doctrine, but giving cognizance to the subtle but pivotal domains of consciousness and energy underlying the physical world—their nature, effects, and power to shape our culture and systems. I also mean the wider context of ethics and telos that gives life greater meaning and direction than materialism and self-profit alone.)
Goals such as these, once agreed upon, could stand as the guiding credo, with, of course, room to evolve. As I suggested earlier, a facilitating body, composed of leaders with a proven track record of integrity and commitment to these values and goals, would be gathered to facilitate the movement, with appropriate checks and balances to assure that no one individual or faction takes over. The movement would then build, reaching out by direct invitation and through the social media, bringing together a wide range of groups and interests. Its aim would be to work towards a global people’s democratic government, including a worldwide voting system using a digital, co-creative platform on the Internet. This would not supplant local or regional democratic structures, but complement and coordinate them on globally relevant issues.
III. There seems to be an ongoing debate here about whether it is even necessary, desirable or possible, to create structures for an ongoing global movement. I personally believe that such structures are critical, and also a natural part of our evolution. I have even been wondering if the movement, to give it a more substantial form, could be framed as a “global people’s party,” e.g., the Global People’s Democratic Party, working towards a Global People’s Democratic Government? This would be more eye-catching than an amorphous movement, and likely to get more attention. The platform of the party would be similar to the values and goals I listed earlier. Like national parties, it would gather many diverse interests under one banner, with a clear, compelling, unifying platform.
Why a global party, or a global governing body? Our crises won’t go away on their own, or even through a random emergence of local movements. Unless we are looking to global interests, one nation’s (or region’s) interests will always be pitted against another’s, even assuming the best of intentions of or for their own people. As we have seen, this does not work—divisiveness breeds divisiveness, as violence breeds more violence. We need to really grasp that only the good of the Whole (both people and planet) can serve the good of us all—and help put that into action. The reasons for this would be clearly expressed in the manifesto or platform.
In evolution, smaller, simpler units conglomerate into larger, more complex ones. We need to look at how this happens and, in the context of social systems particularly, how the new, larger conglomeration gains traction and legitimacy. We need to look back to past examples where the traction succeeded and the new potentials inherent in our present digitally interconnected context. Our high-tech capabilities exponentially heighten not only the dangers but also the positive possibilities of global interconnectedness.
Another related point. I hear the fear expressed again and again that a movement which starts off for the people will become rigid or dictatorial. This fear, like a bogeyman in the background, has effectively paralyzed any further large-scale experiments in cooperative systems since the Communist downfall. People fear the power of structures, so fragmentation feels safer, even at the cost of their own powerlessness. (Ironically, this over-fastidious fear of benevolent visions turning self-serving and tyrannical has given free rein to the unabashedly power-hungry and self-serving to come into absolute power!)
In healthy social evolution, however, there is always a convergence of creative emergence and new structures, of spontaneity and planning. There is nothing wrong with either of those; in fact, the trick to healthy systems is to find the balance, the sweet spot between rigidity and too much randomness, chaos. To the extent that this balance is there, diverse forces can come together into new configurations of coherence, movements that materialize and take form. Structures for emergence, and the emergence of new structures, go together.
All of this is to say that we should not fear power, or structures, or coming together around large-scale visions; we need to step up to the plate, and learn to navigate them in new, evolving, self-aware, creative, and flexible ways. We need not repeat the mistakes of the past, if we learn its lessons well. And the present is always offering up new, unprecedented possibilities, new turns of evolution. It’s up to us to take them.