An edited version of the following article was published by Depot Press in “The Vernacularist: The Environmental Issue”. You can check out the whole publication online here – really inspiring to see such a diverse group of people engaged and working on our new story. Thanks is also due to Harry Were for contributing her beautiful photos (which hopefully reflect what I’m talking about).
October 16th is Blog Action Day, an annual event designed to stimulate dialogue around a set issue. This year’s topic is inequality – which is now as high as it was in the Gilded Age. Food for thought? Here’s my go:
Imagine you are buying a fridge. It’s a tough decision: you don’t have much money, and there are lots of other things you’d like to spend it on… buut you do need a fridge. Food is important, right, and no-one wants to schlep to the shop every time they want cereal. So – which one to get?
It is a rare thing to be prescient of history as it happens: confronting, frightening even. No longer distinct from time or the decisions that shape our reality, we are forced to concede our agency. History, like all other culture, is a product of us. It doesn’t happen to people; it is something people make happen – and in this is incredible power. Our power.
The worm is turning. The revelations over the last few days feel like a crescendo, the crystallisation of what many of us have felt, but been unable to articulate. The centre cannot hold. We have grown too removed, our existence too precarious for the house of cards to maintain its shape. There is disturbance; collapse beckons. Not a Hollywood implosion, but a slower, more insidious decay… social unrest, unravelling lies; climate change, energy scarcity and a weakening centralised infrastructure. How tight the fingers that grip onto the last vestiges of power.
International sensation Humans of New York has spawned a number of imitators, including Humans of K Road here in Auckland. Chris, who runs the blog in NZ, has recently started a similar project called Humans for the Future, trying to capture some of the positivity around change on the ground. He asked a number of people: what’s your vision for the future?
Here’s my answer.
“Our world is changing rapidly. I think we’ve collectively hit the point where we feel like something with the existing system isn’t working, and people are now actively looking for solutions. There is a push away from the homogenisation of centralised society: people want to be empowered to have a say in their future, and want to do so in a way that expresses them and their values, their culture. You can’t be sure exactly what the future will look like, but you get a sense of its flavour: more collaborative, more equal, and more local – with the reduced impact and increased time for leisure and relationship building that this provides. It’s an exciting time.”
“The reigning economic system is a vicious cycle of isolation. Its technologies are based on isolation, and they contribute to that same isolation. From automobiles to television, the goods that the spectacular system chooses to produce also serve it as weapons for constantly reinforcing the conditions that engender “lonely crowds.” With ever-increasing concreteness the spectacle recreates its own presuppositions.”
- Guy Debord (1967), The Society of the Spectacle
Last Wednesday I attended the second in a series of three lectures by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, the authors of The Spirit Level, hosted at the University of Auckland as part of the annual Sir Robert Douglas lecture series.
For those that haven’t read The Spirit Level, its central thesis is very simple. As income disparity increases, so do a wide range of health and social problems: violence, suicide, child abuse, obesity, depression – the list of negative outcomes associated with the degree of economic inequality is staggering, and as the lecture on Wednesday established, far more than just conjecture. Continue reading
This is the final in a series of four posts summarising the New Zealand Centre for Public Law and Victoria University’s ‘New Thinking on Sustainability’ conference, and focuses on some ways in which we might achieve change.
The call for new models of governance (resulting from the demonstrable environmental and social failures of centralisation) was taken up by Ben Gussen and his call for a shift towards local decision-making, reflecting the principle of subsidiarity (that local communities should have a say in their own governance – discussed more in part two).
Gussen’s contention is that our issue is one of scale, not only in the impact our population has, but in the cumbersome political models that now fail to act on our behalf. Gussen emphasised that humans are inherently political – our interdependence demands it – and suggested that current voter apathy is merely a problem of institutional design. Our adherence to the concept of a unitary state blocks the very diversity and plurality that might help better align us with the biosphere.
Neoclassical economics continues to model the world as a machine; under this paradigm it needs design, and can only function from the top-down. However new thinking focuses on the power of spontenaiety and self organisation: the emerge of governance from the bottom-up. This is captured in the metaphor of flocking starlings, where each individual follows local rules (turn left if the bird next to you turns left, right if it turns right and so on) to produce a global effect (the mesmerising dance of the flock) – what form might our dance take, if we were given the chance to self-organise? Continue reading