The fence-sitters’ manifesto

0 Preface

Are you uncertain about what the real state of the world is?  Or are you worried about it, but unsure whether there are any viable alternatives to our current system?  Or are you unsure about your ability to do anything about it, or where you might start to change it?

Then this manifesto is for you.

[Notes: (15 January 2018):  I believe the easiest way to use this website is to read through the full manifesto below, and THEN to use it to dig into the greater detail that is available in the linked webpages.

The website is, and will remain, a work in progress.  And, from now on, the current material is being supplemented by blogs linking current events to the issues and ideas raised in the Manifesto and the detailed material behind it.]

The manifesto in a nutshell

The beginning – the sixth mass extinction:  We are in the early stages of the sixth mass extinction, driven by rapid environmental change and degradation.

The recent rapid increase in consumption by the affluent nations (comprising only 1.5 billion of the world’s 7 billion people), enabled by neoliberal economic policies and corporate power, is the main cause of this.  Overall, humanity is now consuming one and a half times the Earth’s capacity to replenish itself every year – we are “eating into our capital” at an unsustainable, and increasing rate.  In the next thirty to fifty years, we will have “eaten” ourselves out of most of the available arable and habitable land, useable water, and temperate climate we have enjoyed for the last 12,000 years.

Our only options seem to be consuming less (and smarter), increasing the exploitation of the less affluent to sustain our own affluent lifestyles, or simply trying to get rid of large portions of humanity (which might just backfire on us).

The second of these options is what is happening now, and has happened for many years.  But only the first of the options, consuming less, should be palatable to anyone with any humanity.  And to do it, we need to change our systems, and our direction, quickly and radically.   Read more about “The beginning…”>>

The end?  Mass suicide, or a better world?   The good news is that we already have both the material technologies and also the social and governance structures we need to do this.  We also have an abundance of non-destructive energy and of human ingenuity available to help us build a more sustainable and, indeed, a regenerative society.

What’s stopping us is the scale and momentum of the current system of theft from Nature and from the less wealthy among us.  But a lot of people are already doing a lot about the issues we face.  There are many progressive groups doing what they can to push back against the many wrong-doings of the current system.

And this is where you and I, my fellow fence-sitters, come in.  What we need to do is sustain and build on the thousands of actions currently underway, through activism and helping build mass movements.  We need to link up, and show our mutual support.  There is nothing the wealthy and powerful fear more than mass action (this is why, for example, there has been such a major campaign to weaken or eliminate unions over the last 35 years).    Read more about “The end…?”>>

I even have a slogan for us:

Fellow fence-sitters of the affluent world, let’s jump!
      We have nothing to lose but our next HDTVs!                                                             

Where are we today?

This section is arranged in four spheres, the personal, governance, economic and environmental.  Read more about where we are today, and the four spheres>>

The state of the personal sphere:  Even in the affluent world, most people’s lives are marked by unnecessary stress and struggle, as work and reasonable pay have become a privilege rather than a right.  In the non-affluent world, moderate to extreme poverty, lack of dignity, and struggle are the norm.  Read more about “The personal sphere…”>>

The state of the governance sphere:  The fragile hold of democracy is under threat wherever it is.  In the older and larger democracies, disenchantment is increasing, and the tools of advertising have turned democracy into a beauty pageant instead of a forum for community debate and decision making.  In many of the younger democracies, sectarianism, power struggles, and the law of the gun are constant threats from inside and/or outside.  Read more about “The governance sphere…”>>

The state of the economic sphere:  We are now in a world where society is at the service of economics, rather than the other way round, and the economic theories in use are designed to enrich the already wealthy and impoverish most other people.  Read more about “The economic sphere…”>>

The state of the biosphere: Virtually all aspects of our environment are either under serious threat or seriously degraded already:

  • Water: Freshwater is increasingly polluted, and many regions are suffering water scarcity. The oceans are being polluted and overheated by industrial and agricultural runoff, the dumping of human waste, and absorption of carbon.  Read more about “The water…”>>
  • Interconnectedness: All of these aspects are connected in ways we are only just beginning to understand. We do know we are rapidly degrading most parts of our environment, but we don’t know how close we are to tipping points which might make overheating of the atmosphere, and/or desertification of the land and water, and/or extinction of most species, unpreventable.  Read more about “Interconnectedness…”>>

What all this means for humanity’s future:  Social disruption is increasing, as more and more young people are excluded from mainstream society and meaningful work.  Nationalism and populism are eroding our democratic heritage.  Environmental disruption (atmospheric heating, sea level rises etc) is increasing, sometimes at an exponential rate.

This is all leading to widespread disillusionment, the rise of groups such as ISIS and the new Right movements in the affluent world, and the beginning of massive dislocation of populations.  There is a very high probability of deaths in the millions (or billions) over the next few decades, and even a real possibility of eventual human extinction, unless the affluent world changes direction radically, and fast.  Read more about “What this means for humanity’s future…”>>

How we got to where we are – the immediate causes of our predicament     

Read more about “How we got here…”>>

The Western “enlightenment”, and “extractivism”:  Since the Renaissance, the Western world has been dominated by the idea that humans are masters of nature, and can take whatever they want to their own ends, which has led to the rape and pillage described above.  Read more about “The enlightenment and extractivism…”>>

The rise of mercantilism and capitalism, and the four great thefts:  The affluent world has stolen massively from the rest of the world over the last 500 years, and continues to do so.  It does this by the theft of resources through plunder, of land through empire and “enclosure”, of people through slavery, and of a healthy future through earlier industrialisation and hyperconsumption.  Read more about “The four great thefts…”>>

The rise of the United States:  In the dominant nation on our planet, a founding virtue of individualism has turned to selfishness; wealth has become synonymous with virtue; and conservative lobbying and neoliberal economic policies have tilted income and wealth-creation towards the already wealthy.  Read more about “The United States…”>>

The success of bad theory – neoclassical economics:  The economic theory underpinning most modern policy making is superficially attractive, but rotten to the core.  It is based on bad assumptions, has false starting points, ignores most of what actually happens in the world, and uses unstable and plain bad techniques for measuring and predicting.  It inexorably influences policy-making in favour of economic inequality.  Read more about “The success of bad theory…”>>

Some key features of modern capitalism:  These are externalising costs (ie making others – mainly the poor, the planet, and future generations – pay); commodification (turning previously non-money or public activities into monetary/private activities); concentration of ownership and wealth in fewer groups and people; and social and economic instability as capital moves from country to country in search of cheaper and less regulated production.  Read more about “Some key features of modern capitalism…”>>

Capitalism’s “first strike” weapon – the psychopathic corporation:  Size, increasing power, and the unrelenting pursuit of private profit have led large corporations to manipulate their environments to their own advantage, rather than seeking net benefits for society.  Read more about “The large corporation…”>>

Capitalism’s weapon of mass destruction – the world casino:  The world financial system is now a giant Ponzi scheme based on interest-bearing debt created at will by private banks.  It is increasingly fragile, and will crash again soon.  Read more about “The financial system…”>>

What we can learn from our recent history:  We now live in a “market society”, where governments are at the service of corporations, most people and resources are at the service of the machinery of production and distribution, and profits are available only to the relatively few owners.  This system can only survive through continuous growth, punctuated by crashes which punish the poor more than the rich.  These two requirements are completely unsustainable, in terms of the planet’s ability to sustain humanity, and the sheer immorality of stealing from the poor to feed the rich, respectively.

To survive, we must abandon incompetent economic theories and models, change our financial and monetary system radically, rein in profit-seeking corporations, and redistribute income and wealth more equally.  To achieve all of this, governments must relearn their core function of working with people to optimise social as well as economic outcomes, rather than acting as tools of capitalism, capital, and consumption.  They need to get their democratic mojo back.  Read more about “What we can learn…”>>

How we got to where we are – the underlying causes of our predicament

Even if we can make the changes outlined above, there are underlying issues which would inexorably lead us down similar paths again if not addressed.  Some of these causes are pretty universal, some are shared by only some of us, and some are dependent on opportunity.  But they all need to be improved, or better managed, or better controlled.  Read more about “The underlying causes…”>>

Maximising versus satisficing our wants – the problem of greed:  The narrative of modern capitalism is that “greed is good”, and this has become a foundation of our individualistic, consumption-based system.  But the evidence is strong that, once core needs are satisfied, humans thrive on community and interaction rather than material wealth, so this narrative can be overturned.  Read more about “The problem of greed…”>>

Charm, wealth, and hierarchy – the problem of power:  Power is a good thing – it enables us to do things.  But, as long as people have power, they will misuse it, either because they are themselves corrupt, or because they have been corrupted by it.

And as long as we need to organise ourselves in complex social and economic structures to live our lives, power will have to be granted to people to manage those structures; as long as people have large stores of personal wealth, they will have access to resources that give them power over others.

So our future societies need to learn to deal more openly and more effectively with the problems of power.  Deweaponisation is one essential step, ensuring that the ultimate coercive instruments are not freely available.  And the design and maintenance of broader institutional arrangements to constrain the use of power will need great care, and will need to go well beyond the instruments we have now.  Read more about “The problem of power…”>>

Propaganda and bribery – the problem of consent:  Corporations and the wealthy have entrenched their positions, and bought our consent, through a mix of propaganda (“greed is good”, and “you really do need this type of toothpaste”) and bribery (what I call the “comfort trap” for the middle classes – enough material goods at cheap prices, and a proliferation of trivial choices and distractions).  We need to withdraw this consent.  Read more about “The problem of consent…”>>

Arrogance and hubris – the problem of misguided ingenuity:  Humans are very clever with material technologies, but rarely wise – we tend to do/create/modify things because we can rather than because we need to.  We need to learn to manage these behaviours better.  Read more about “The problem of misguided ingenuity…”>>

Binary thinking – the problem of “otherness”:  Humans have a deep-seated propensity to reject “others”, which can be managed by education and experience, but is used consistently by the powerful and the would-be-powerful to create division and conflict.  Read more about “The problem of otherness…”>>

What we can learn from our human foibles: Even if we can solve the “technical” problems of our recent history sketched out in the previous section, history will just repeat itself unless we also simultaneously address the deeper, underlying issues outlined above.  Read more about “What we can learn…”>>

      A new place to stand – beyond profit and power

Read more about “A new place to stand…”>>

The civilised society:  Human solidarity, not individualism, is the necessary foundation for a society which will function properly in the long term.  This includes getting and maintaining better balance between individuals’ rights and responsibilities, and fairer ways of sharing the bounty of our world.  The institutions of a civilised society also need to address the underlying problems identified in the previous section.  Read more about “The civilised society…”>>

Working with nature:  Our immediate challenge is survival as a species, and we need to reduce the affluent world’s footprint on the planet now.  The first step toward this is relearning to work with Nature, rather than against it.  Read more about “Working with nature…”>>

A new economics of thrift:  The second step is to replace our consumption-based economy with a thrift-based one, where sharing, saving, sustainability, restoration and regeneration are practised and rewarded, rather than ownership, spending, extraction, consumption, and waste.  Read more about “A new economics of thrift…”>>

Better ways of thinking:  We need to educate ourselves in “systems thinking”, and practise the “precautionary principle”, to avoid the worst excesses of our tendency to do what we can, rather than what we should.  The first helps us understand the world as it really is, rather than as a simple, linear set of causes and effects; the second gives us better guidance on when and how to develop new things or processes.  Read more about “Better ways of thinking”…”>>

Real democracy (to redistribute political power):  The current façade of democracy practised in the Western world needs to be replaced by real democracy, which is based on informed consent, safeguarding of minority rights, and putting power as close to the community it affects as possible.  Read more about “Real democracy…”>>

Restitution and redistribution (to redistribute financial power):  The four great thefts need to be reversed, and financial power needs to be redistributed through (for example) more effective tax regimes.  Read more about “Restitution and redistribution…”>>

Deweaponisation (to redistribute coercive power):  The availability of lethal weapons needs to be minimised, and arms manufacturers put out of business.  Read more about “Deweaponisation…”>>

Celebrating diversity and heterodoxy:  We need to learn to make a habit out of celebrating diversity, because it is a key foundation for flourishing societies.  Read more about “Celebrating diversity and heterodoxy…”>>

Summing it up – a learning and regenerative society:  This all adds up to a society based on the principles of learning and regeneration.  Such a society is able to change to meet new circumstances, and aims to leave the world a better and richer place than it was before.  Read more about “The learning society…”>>

How we might get there 

 Read more about “How we might get there…”>>

Key elements of a transition path:  The three linked fronts for immediate action are finishing the job of pulling the rug out from under fossil fuels, increasing the transfer of resources to poorer countries, and reversing the tax and banking changes of the last thirty years.

Four necessary fronts for longer term action are maintaining or developing institutions which support the transition to a better society, replacing the large for-profit corporation, designing and implementing post-industrial agriculture, and redesigning elements of our education systems and curricula.  Read more about “Key elements of a transition path…”>>

How do we confront power successfully?  The current system is strongly entrenched, and will fight hard to maintain itself.  But it is maintained by a very small minority of people, and will not be able to withstand the voice and force of multiple and mass actions.

Individually, we have limited power, but we DO have power – we are not helpless, and, combined with others, can move mountains – as we humans have proved many times in the past!

Pressure has to be applied at many places simultaneously, community and mass action needs to increase, and all these actions have to be made more visible in the mainstream.  Read more about “How do we confront power successfully…”>>

What resources are available to us?  We have all the technologies we need, unlimited energy and human ingenuity, a lot of people already doing a lot to change things, and probably a vast majority of support, or potential support, for the necessary changes.  [A number of the key change agents are listed on the detailed webpage].

What we fence-sitters need is the courage become part of the changes, by adding our voices and our presence to the call for a better world.  And we need it now.  Read more about “What resources are available to us…”>>

What techniques might we use?  Activists have far better answers to this than I have, but a range of suggestions is made on the detailed webpage from reading done, including for example an excellent practical application of systems thinking from Donella Meadows. Read more about “What techniques might we use…”>>

So how might I start?  Six initial steps are suggested that you might take, if you haven’t taken them already:  acting in a greener way; finding safe places to discuss the issues and your concerns; understanding that you’re not powerless or helpless; dealing with the issue of who to trust; trusting yourself, and building on your own strengths; and finding the type and level of activism that suits you best.  Read more about “How might I start…?”>>

Books and other resources: A brief section follows in the detailed webpages on books and other resources I have found particularly useful in developing this material.  Read more about “Books and other resources…”>>

The answer?  This manifesto (and its associated, more detailed text) does not pretend to provide an answer to our human problems, or a single blueprint for a better society.  This is because there are no “ultimate” answers, only better paths to follow.  And if we follow them, better solutions, and better societies, will emerge.

It provides “my answer so far”, a perpetual work in progress about how we can escape our huge current dilemmas.  And my answer so far is that we must work together more, now, towards a new and better place to stand which, unlike the current system, asks the best of us, not the worst.  Otherwise humanity – or at least a large proportion of it – may well be doomed.

It’s time to jump off the fence.

Ch 40

Read more about “The answer?…”>>