Tag Archives: environment

Working for Way Deeper Democracy

patrick-screenshot-5

I am excited about a nascent democracy innovation project – called Way Deeper Democracy – for which I am seeking partners, supporters, funders and everyday political visionaries. I imagine partners coming maybe from among media organisations, academic researchers, grassroots democracy activists, progressive foundations and, maybe, even existing politicians or political organisations.

I will provide more details in the coming weeks, though feel free to contact me via my twitter account if you want to know more right away. For now, these are the main elements.

Project Vision

Public decision-making processes reflect citizens’ informed views by way of responsive, transparent, accountable and inclusive processes. Political systems at all levels of government are profoundly more trustworthy and fit for purpose, easing societal tensions, fears and frustration.

Project context

Fairer, more inclusive ways of public decision-making are springing up across different continents, offering people more say in the political decisions that shape their lives. The effect is to free people’s energies, imagination and creativity for themselves, their fellow citizens and communities.

Among the most promising are lottery-based systems – using randomly selected groups of people to reflect on political questions and recommend solutions, much like criminal juries. Another is participatory budgeting, an idea born of efforts to ease extreme poverty in Brazil, which gives citizens direct influence over how sizeable amounts of public money are spent where they live.

Findings from such systems showcase people’s inherent political wisdom and natural sense of social justice. They demonstrate the real possibility of radically better decisions to those delivered by existing political systems. The idea of their spread elsewhere raises enticing prospects of a politics that is way more inclusive, responsive, transparent and accountable for the people affected.

Practicalities

There are currently four categories of project activity – doing (ACT), learning (LEARN), teaching (KNOW) and advocating (ADVOCATE). The “doing” relates to the carrying out of experiments in democratic innovation while “learning” refers to the documentation and  dissemination of related findings. “Knowing” and “advocating” relate respectively to educating people about the fundamental meaning and history of democracy and the championing of better systems of government.

Before all that, there is still a precursor phase to get through, which is now. That involves gathering together trusted partners and allies to turn these basic ideas into concrete plans for action.

That could be you.

If you think it might be, don’t hesitate to get in touch, via twitter, by commenting below this post or by writing an email to me by joining together “patrickchalmers” with “orange.fr” using the “@” symbol.

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Transforming talk of politics

thichnhathahn

Zen Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh – originator of “Engaged Buddhism”

The last few months – be it via the UK’s Brexit vote, in US presidential campaigning or the Hungarian government’s demonising of refugees – have all made clear how badly our societies communicate their politics.

We don’t hear, let alone understand what other people are trying to say and they, in turn, are deaf to us and our ideas. The result is mutual incomprehension, mistrust and all the dangers of both. It’s hardly surprising so many people withdraw from political talk, or blank out politics completely.  This is a huge mistake, albeit an understandable one.

I am busy imagining a political project to campaign for radically better government systems supported by positive, or constructive, journalism. It is wildly ambitious but then it has to be with stakes so high – not least in terms of rampant social exclusion and the urgent need for radical climate-change action. The project whole will be an evolution of conclusions I drew in Fraudcast News – recast as calls to action. It will make the case for innovations requiring root-and-branch transformations to conventional politics. One would be to replace elected politicians as our main decision makers with juries of randomly selected groups of citizens. More of that in posts to come – today’s concern is communication.

To transform our politics – we need radically better ways of talking and listening to one another. Efforts to communicate better will be a guiding principle for both the project’s creation and its realisation.

That’s where the bald dude in the brown robes comes in – an extraordinary man called Thich Nhat Hanh. This Zen Buddhist Master has much to say about communication in his lifetime’s work in “Engaged Buddhism”. He coined the term in the 1950s, a time when his native Vietnamese stood confused and divided between Communism in the North and Capitalism in the South.

Nhat Hanh described Engaged Buddhism at length in 2008, during a rare return from exile to visit Hanoi and elsewhere. A major element concerns communication.

“When people cannot communicate they don’t understand each other or see the other’s suffering and there is no love, no happiness. War and terrorism are also born from wrong perceptions.

Terrorists think that the other side is trying to destroy them as a religion, as a way of life, as a nation. If we believe that the other person is trying to kill us then we will seek ways to kill the other person first in order not to be killed.

Fear, misunderstanding, and wrong perceptions are the foundation of all these violent acts. The war in Iraq, which is called anti-terrorist, has not helped to reduce the number of terrorists. In fact the number of terrorists is increasing all the time because of the war. In order to remove terrorism you have to remove wrong perceptions. We know very well that airplanes, guns, and bombs cannot remove wrong perceptions.

Only loving speech and compassionate listening can help people correct wrong perceptions.

But our leaders are not trained in that discipline and they rely on the armed forces to remove terrorism.”

I have been hugely lucky to come across Nhat Hanh’s teachings over the last few years at his French monastery and in broadcast talks online. He has profoundly influenced the ways I consider both politics and journalism – very much for the better, I think.

Combining talk of politics and religion may not seem the smartest thing to do right now, not least in France, where I live. Yet I do it deliberately. Furthermore, Nhat Hanh explains in a recent book The Mindfulness Survival Kit that jiao, the Chinese and Vietnamese word for religion, means a tradition of teachings. In Eastern cultures, religion does not imply belief in God.

So why take a monk’s advice on politics? Thich Nhat Hanh is no ordinary monk.

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Media failures on climate change

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‘Arctic sea ice covered a smaller area last winter than in any winter since records began.’ Photograph: Alamy

George Monbiot doesn’t always get things right – I disagreed with his arguments urging Britons to vote “no” in the Brexit referendum, for instance. Yet he hits the proverbial bullseye more often than most commentators.

This recent column on media failures to communicate climate change is a belter, the most relevant paragraphs being the last couple, which are reproduced here:

Why should we trust multinational corporations to tell us the truth about multinational corporations? And if they cannot properly inform us about the power in which they are embedded, how can they properly inform us about anything?

If humanity fails to prevent climate breakdown, the industry that bears the greatest responsibility is not transport, farming, gas, oil or even coal. All of them can behave as they do, shunting us towards systemic collapse, only with a social licence to operate.

The problem begins with the industry that, wittingly or otherwise, grants them this licence: the one for which I work.

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GDP vs something saner, more human

It so happens that two news reports out today neatly show the difference between dead-hand conventional economic measures and something that would do more to reflect people’s real lives and the performance of conventional politicians in trying to improve those lives.

This may seem like dry abstract stuff but it’s the raw material of most people’s assumptions about politicians and their performance in office or potential to perform – so pretty much critical to all things.

Exhibit A – the conventional stuff courtesy of The Guardian:

GDP measures

Exhibit B – the NEF think tank’s imagined alternatives, thanks to Common Weal

NEF neasures

The NEF’s ideas are a good start though only a precursor to the more radical, fundamental changes required in thinking and acting when it comes to our economies. That would mean debunking the myths of economic growth and replacing them with planet-healthy alternatives.

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What might Corbyn and his cohorts do on degrowth?

Jeremy Corbyn Photograph: Rex Shutterstock

Jeremy Corbyn Photograph: Rex Shutterstock

Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty wrote an insightful piece about Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership victory today, adding his usual depth to current events.

It prompted me to chip into the comments thread.

Great work – I invariably finish reading Aditya Chakrabortty’s pieces with a broader, deeper perspective than when I began – I’m grateful for that.

What interests me in addition to the above is the extent to which the debate about economic degrowth can get some much-needed traction.

It’s encouraging that Jeremy Corbyn has already included references to the terrible state of the global environment in his speeches, before and since winning the Labour leadership. His is also very good at joining the dots between issues that are usually treated in silos, bereft of any connection to their causes or consequences.

Will he and his entourage be open enough to make the link between our societies’ political obsession with economic growth and the state of our planet?

Degrowth has become a major preoccupation of mine, drawing together many different elements of our societal dysfunction. Part of my exploration has involved talking and exchanging emails with a social ecological economics professor – Professor Clive Spash – looking for a way to promote the issue of degrowth more effectlvely.

This is an area I intend to report more about, linking it together with Fraudcast News-style thoughts about retooling our failed democracies with the help of revitalised media.

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Communicating climate change – both tricky and urgent

Greenland river on ice, courtesy James Balog (https://chasingice.com/)

Greenland river on ice, courtesy James Balog (https://chasingice.com/)

I decided to jump into the comments stream on this Guardian-hosted event on the best ways to communicate climate solutions, as below. The format was somewhat of a shocker, requiring a read-through of multiple comments coming in at all angles, and yet produced various pointers to useful resources on the subject. It’s clear we are still stumbling along with global, real-time, communication events but that doesn’t mean they are worthless, quite the opposite.

So this was my contribution:

My experiences of communicating climate change – both as a journalist and as a university lecturer – is that it’s damn difficult. Just yesterday my students were saying – yeah, yeah, we know all that but what can we do?

I showed them the excellent TED talk by photographer James Balog – its time-lapse shots of melting glaciers are very arresting

I think it’s also important to bring things back to the personal, which in this case meant me, to help people map climate change onto their own lives. That is not for some personal glory trip but to try to make the abstract real.

So with me, I reported for Reuters at Kyoto in 1997, reported as an independent journalist on the personal experience of joining direct-action protests in Copenhagen in 2009 and wrote a book on the failures of journalism to tackle complex global issues such as climate change in Fraudcast News – How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies. The work represents a trajectory covering 30 years of thinking about climate change and how to tackle it. I also recently turned vegetarian, in part for the sorts of arguments presented in the documentary Cowspiracy. They loved that part, a classroom full of French 100% meat-eaters.

Some of them seemed to get it, many probably thought me plain barking mad, but what the hell, these things take time.

Other people’s responses, which include ridicule, disbelief and also aggressive counter argument and worse, are part of what we all have to deal with as communicators of climate change.

We must factor our capacities to deal with those reactions into our work.

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Not voting is neither stupid nor disrespectful – it’s a tactic

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Below is my answer Jon Danzig’s challenge to respond to his post suggesting Russell Brand’s electoral advice to not bother voting was dumb and disrespectful to those who fought for our right to the ballot. I’d have posted it in the comments thread of his piece but got chucked off for reasons I couldn’t fathom.

Hi Joe – so here’s an answer that’s slightly longer than Twitter’s 140 characters. I said that I get but reject your logic about voting or abstaining, suggesting that you’d missed Russell Brand’s points in the Paxman interview.

How do I get your logic?

– People all over the world have fought over the centuries for universal suffrage – the right of almost all qualifying adults to choose their leaders from a restricted list of candidates in periodic elections.

– Because those people fought, some died, for our right to vote, a person’s decision to vote disrespects their memory and sacrifice.

I don’t in any way disrespect these people’s efforts – in fact, I both venerate them and am hugely grateful for what they did and some still do. I don’t think that’s an argument for me voting or not voting in UK elections.

So how is it that I reject your logic suggesting that I should exercise my right to vote?

For the record, I happen to be resident in France so am ineligible to vote in UK general elections. I do get to vote in communal, regional and EU elections here but not national ones. That’s not my point though.

If I were a British resident – as I have been in the past – I would almost certainly not exercise my right to vote in UK national elections. For the vast majority of UK constituencies where one of the main parties is the likely winner – Conservative, Labour, LibDem – I don’t think there’s any point in voting. There are marginal differences between the three but when it comes for example to economic policy – the bedrock of all policies – they are all variously but solidly pro-austerity. Throw in the UKIP EU dissidents and there’s still no change on that question. So for the vast majority of UK voters, what’s on offer involves choosing between parties who collectively subscribe to pro-austerity thinking – regardless of the fact that these policies aren’t working, that they heap the costs of the financial crisis on ordinary, poorer people when it was speculative capital and over-extended banks that got us into that crisis (NB we bailed out the banks – the real benefits scroungers/cheats in this debate) and because the reality is that “austerity” is in any case a cover for dismantling the public sphere and the welfare state in favour of private interests. That’s to say nothing of these parties’ failure to question the notion of economic growth as a sensible way to run the planet – it’s a recipe for ruining it more like.

I might be persuaded to vote in constituencies where there was a chance for an upset to pro-austerity thinking – perhaps where there were strong Green candidates and chances of their election or SNP candidates in Scotland (though for the latter, it is highly questionable whether the SNP would veer much from the pro-austerity model).

Choosing not to vote for any of these candidates is a political choice or tactic. It is not at all a suggestion that people disengage politically but rather that they ignore or minimise their engagement with the hulabaloo of elections and concentrate their energies elsewhere. Occasionally it might be tactically astute to vote – I wouldn’t hold my breath though.

We need radical political reform in the UK, at the EU level and globally. Nation-state representative democracy has had its time – a few decades of glory for citizens in Western countries in the aftermath of WW2, I’d suggest, but not any more. Real power has long left national parliaments – witness Syriza’s mauling by the German finance minister in the latest round of debt restructuring talks.

This interview with the Spain’s podemos leader Pablo Iglesias is highly instructive on what the future might possibly look like – though no one can say for sure.
For a UK perspective – the 2004 Power Inquiry was an intelligent stab at the question of why people didn’t vote. Though the inquiry failed to get much traction, it left us with a useful account of the then state of alternative democratic experiments around the world.
The work-in-progress bringing up to date of that report is here.
If you speak French – I interviewed a man called Charlie Bauer a few years back. He makes the case for radical democratic reform very powerfully, as you can see at the bottom of this post.
As a fellow journalist – a huge barrier to radical reform are the conventional expressions of our chosen profession. I tackle this in detail in Fraudcast News, which you more about here.

That’s way more than 140 characters.

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