Right Analysis, Wrong Conclusion?

This is a further follow-up to my Extinction Rebellion piece from yesterday, (which was itself a follow-up from a couple of days before) and to which I had already added many post notes live yesterday from social media. Things are moving very fast when it comes to climate change 😉

Loads of tweeters and media commentators jumping on the older generation men criticising a youthful autistic girl and missing the real point. Getting side-tracked on spurious ageist and sexist (and ableist) issues. Everyone seems to prefer to pick fights with “others” than to solve problems. Situation normal in our days of warlike polarisation. Even rhetorical warfare has rules, but most ignore them.

Except one:

William Peltzer did actually read and understand what I had written rather than knee-jerk into the media storm.

To which I replied:

“Thanks for reading and responding. Our difference is your non-specific “however we can”. Fire-fighting (the planet) and fixing (the system) ARE the priorities (we agree?) …. More later”

… and here we are.

So to paraphrase where we are?

We gotta do something.
What we’re already doing with the “existing system” isn’t working (fast enough).
What’s really wrong is the existing system.
Let’s smash (or fix?) the system (“however we can”).

I have no problem with “shouting loudest” and “civil disobedience” as the protest tactic – the call to action, the breaking of eggs to make an omelette – a little creative destruction as Marx and Schumpeter might have said. This is not remotely new just increasingly urgent. (And it’s not remotely confined to questions of climate change – a much wider populist failure of democracy across many “social justice” issues …. as I’ve said …. but let’s stick to the current point.)

The problem with creative destruction (smash the system) as the (sole) action plan is – as I’ve already said many times – careful what you wish for, and beware throwing valuable babies out with the bathwater. If you reduce “the system” to some monolithic enemy; smash it, all or nothing, then we are simply trusting the future to the plans of those who shout loudest.

Quite explicitly in fact, says Pelzer above.

Let’s cut to the chase. The problem is the system. There are many institutions and individuals in public and economic service who (a) are doing their moral damnedest, and (b) are more competent and enlightened in terms of governance practicalities than the loudest XR voices. It doesn’t help to lump all public servants (individual humans) as the problem. Sure there are bad eggs and institutional blockages – it’s these we need to be breaking. The polarising “with us or against us populism” is what has most recently led us into this mess.

We can’t simply replace all existing flawed democratic institutions with a leaderless (and institutionless) “occupy” style anarchy – on national and international scales – the scale of climate change.

What we can do however is introduce a standing constitutional convention – aka a people’s assembly – between the electorate and the existing lobby / committee / house institutions. It’s an old idea just become fashionable since, like so many things, it was tagged “people’s”.

Obviously it will be far from perfect first time out, and it will evolve in practice, but it needs to be constituted with the values we … value … collectively … democratically. Not just those who shout loudest.

Last time I recommended the standing constitutional assembly I was focussed on Brexit and Proper-PR as well as Eco-Sustainability – but it gives the briefest outline of what a CA might be (and do).

Democracy may be the worst form of governance except for all the others, but I’ll need a lot of convincing that they who shout loudest is the best form of governance even if it is the most effective for initiating change.

[End Part 1]


[Part 2]

In the above I cut to the chase – what one thing could we agree to do for the best – (say) a Constitutional (people’s) Assembly.

But Pelzer does make some other good points, worth unpicking:

“Our society is staggeringly ignorant of the (broken democracy) issues”

It certainly has been. Apart from headline national government elections, populations have been remarkably apathetic about governance – locally, regionally, internationally, supra-nationally and globally – until quite recently. Now however the public are very much wound-up by issues of governance. Global business vs national governments, International concern with a dick-head making it to the white-house, the misrepresentation of the EU under the Brexit fiasco, post-truth / fake-news and populist polarisation across so many social issues, science and health, religion and conspiracy theories – all amplified recently by the the ubiquity and (apparent) transparency of social media. People care, even if a sizeable proportion may be misinformed or ignorant of detailed issues.

“media, politicians and businesses have no inclination to changing the status quo”

Sorry, no. These are all manned by real humans – the same as you and I. They are we. It is absolutely unacceptable to tar everyone with the one brush. As I said in Part 1 – there are many virtuous and competent individuals amongst us. It’s the system level functioning that is at fault.

“short term (interests and profits) [are] the only timescale which matters to politicians and public companies”

Short-termism is indeed a major problem – institutionalised at so many levels – from basic psychological gratification, to accounting practices to electoral cycles. Frankly this is a major aspect of introducing a “standing” (ie open-ended) constitutional assembly that evolves on timescales well beyond electoral and accounting cycles. There are of course many detailed practical issues within systems of governance that could also be addressed, to de-incentivise short-termism. That said Pelzer again her tars us all – public servants and company officers – with only caring for the short-term. More us and them bogey-men. This is not helpful for enlightened progress. The problem is systematic.

“your argument would likely have worked as little as 4 years ago”

Yes, the passing of time is making all considerations more urgent and more critical. It is no coincidence that “4 years” is the time associated with the rise in public concern with the populist & post-truth ills I cited above. But plus ca change, some fundamentals never change – there is very little new under the sun – apart from lost time.

“the current penchant for sensationalism and complete disdain for rational argument and factual debate on all sides it comes down to, he who shouts the loudest”

A generalisation again – many of us are resisting that urge – but obviously in this post-truth social-media-amplified world that is increasingly the nature of how messages gain attention. In fact XR campaigning has used every attention-grabbing trick in the direct action playbook. And in terms of grabbing the agenda it works and has worked. But it’s a symptom of the problem we’re trying to fix, not something we should aspire to being how we’d like things to work in future?

“Get the existential problems fixed first, however we can. Government policy and a clear commitment to policies which incentivise businesses and people, should naturally be the first step.”

As I responded initially “however we can” is the $64,000 question. But yes the point of the ship of Theseus analogy is that whilst we firefight we must introduce institutions that incentivise the behaviour and values we aspire to. “However we can” is more than a binary choice between business-as-usual and just-shout-louder. I’ve posited many ideas – too many to repeat here beyond the Constitutional Assembly as a start.

“However with this government and in this country you have no chance of getting a commitment from this government unless you can influence public opinion and drum up media coverage. Back to shouting loudest and protest.”

It’s the normal frustrated position – blame the current government, current and previous generations, damn the lot of ’em to hell. It’s cathartic but is it progressive or even constructive to keep shouting louder once you(we)’ve gained attention. Attention-grabbing, fine. Enlightened future action, no. For two reasons. Shouting is not the way to conduct dialogue with people you need to work with. But even more importantly, the words being shouted suffer as much as any -if not more – from being infected by post-truth propaganda. We still need to find the best – or merely better – ideas, quickly.

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