Category Archives: activism

Ehre heads. On the (f)utility of theory

Short post but hopefully not a shitpost.

Went to a thing recently.  There was a good ‘sweeping overview’ history of the twentieth century around Keynesianism/neoliberalism (though it undersold the importance of ICT and containerisation for my taste).

Halfway through I scrawled to a colleague “Five quid says he says nothing/has nothing to say about ‘what is to be done?’. ” I later added ‘hundred’ and then ‘thousand’ between the five and the quid.

Safe bets.

Yes, Paris is dead/worthless. Apparently small nations might be able to do something by appealing to local ‘patriotism’  and ‘honour’  (in German, that’s Ehre) around carbon emissions reductions.

(They haven’t, and, um, free-rider, but never mind).

My actual question would be – How can you give a forty five minute lecture about the future – and specifically ‘the breakdown of systems’ – without mentioning environmental degradation and pressures even once?  Why is that a good and productive thing to sit through.

Answers on a postcard to the usual place

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Minor rant: Know your audience, tailor accordingly… #climate #activism

Okay, no names, but for god’s sake, people who are giving talks on important subjects, often from a position of knowing a lot and/or having moral high ground:  THINK WHO YOU ARE TALKING TO.  Do NOT give your bog-standard intro-to-issue-x to a self-selected audience that has come out on a cold wet night/travelled to the ends of the earth and clearly knows all the basics already.

[breath]

Several times recently (and many more times a few years ago, when I went to more meetings, before I realised what a time/energy/emotional-reserves suck they were) I’ve had the hair-tearing experience of being ego-fodder in a speech where the person giving it has clearly just not thought about who they are trying to engage with.  There’s the basic speech ‘what is x [where x is climate change, climate justice, fracking, whatever] that you would have to give if you were invited to come and speak to a not-active-on-this-issue of, say, the Women’s Institute, the Rotary Club, whatever.  But if you’re speaking to an audience that has made a time and an effort to come from various places (e.g. you’re holding the meeting in mid-Wales and people have come from London), then you can safely assume that they know all that, and that what they’re expecting is your A-game: that you can skip all the intro stuff and get to your most advanced stuff.

I know, presenters are afraid of leaving anyone behind, or perhaps just too busy to do the extra work that making a second presentation would involve, but seriously, this is a waste of people’s time, energy and (in some cases – at least mine) morale.

Also, can we please have as standard at the beginning of talks by people who believe in the necessity of building a climate movement, a network of loosely and also tightly connected individuals and groups, a “please turn to someone you don’t know and introduce yourself” thing as STANDARD.  Also perhaps do it before the Q and A, to reduce the institutional sexism of meetings.

Here endeth today’s rant.

Is Capitalism unsustainable? The jury’s out-ish. Is ego-fodderfication unsustainable? Sadly not/hell yes.

I don’t know how much rethinking economics is actually going on (I have my suspicions, but no hard data). I do have a good idea of how much rethinking politics/academia/civilsocietying is going on, and it’s not much at all/zero. The latest piece of hard data came tonight, at the University of Manchester. The debate/discussion was on the hot topic of “is capitalism unsustainable?” (see here for a 1950s Edward Teller/Dr Strangelove throwback: physics Has All The Answers and Salvation We Need).

Around 110-120 (I counted) mostly white, mostly middle-aged/old people turned out on a Sunday night to…. well, I don’t know why they came: to hear from the great and the good, I suppose. Me, I mostly went for the anthropological lulz, and I got them.

Here are the predictions I made, and the scores I got. After that, I’ll do super brief capsule (bullet-points) of what I scribbled down (It wasn’t, as far as I can tell, filmed or audio recorded).

Prediction

How’d I do?

1

There will be no “turn to the person next to you and introduce yourself” at the outset

CORRECT

2

There will be no “turn to the person next to you to share thoughts” between speeches

CORRECT

3

There will be no time for “clarification” question after each speech

CORRECT

4

No one will actually try to define capitalism

CORRECT (they may have had a go in the last 20 minutes)

5

There will be no mention of “false needs” and the advertising industry

WRONG. Molly Scott-Cato had a portion of her speech on this (though she then drew I think too firm a line between Sigmund Freud and Edward Bernays)

6

Gramsci won’t get a mention

CORRECT

7

No distinction will be made between capitalism and industrialism

CORRECT

8

No one on panel will make distinction between capitalism and democracy

CORRECT

9

It will be at least an hour before anyone from the audience is able to ask a question

CORRECT (closer to 75 minutes, I think).

Kevin Anderson went first, with the latest update of his “Paris vs Growth? Two degrees, maths and equity” powerpoint.

  • If the top ten percent of global emitters reduced their level to the average European, that would lop 30% of human emissions
  • Human emissions 65ish% percent higher than they were in 1990 (went up 1.5% last year, will go up again this year).
  • The “Climate Glitterati” stick in his craw, and he named names – Mark Carney, Adair Tuner, John Gummer, Nick Stern, Christina Figueres, Mike Bloomberg, Al Gore, Leonard Di Caprio. He also served it out to grey-haired academics who he said were running cover for them.

Robert Pollin, who has a recent article “De-growth vs a Green New Deal” in the NLR went next.

Sound quality was quite a problem, and there was no accompanying powerpoint (a visual prompt might have helped us decipher some of the random syllables?)

  • Mostly advocating a Green New Deal (because the 2008 one gained such traction?)
  • There’s a proposal on the Washington State ballot, which got there in the teeth of some trade union opposition.
  • Vested interests need to be fought and defeated (nowt in speech about the mechanics of how you do that, but I suspect this article and this article might have more on that).
  • Degrowth is a Bad Idea, won’t deliver the emissions reductions we need.

Giorgos Kallis (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Institute of Environmental Science & Technology)

Same sound/no powerpoint issues as before

  • At least tried to answer the question by asking two sub-questions is economic growth unsustainable? Does capitalism need growth? (if answer to both questions is yes, then, well, yes).
  • Took issue with Pollin’s tight focus on energy systems.
  • Thought that even if we could contract the economy it “would be a stupid idea”

Molly Scott Cato (Green MEP)

Talked about sustainable finance initiative

  • kind of (as you’d expect) talked around the question, quite “well, what do you mean by capitalism?
  • Actually talked about advertising and the creation of false needs, and vested interests in, for example the “Pheobus” (sic) cartel. (light bulb manufacturers who kept bulbs life short to keep punters having to buy them).
  • Talked about interest (but not ‘fractional reserve banking”) and the discount rate.
  • Also bigged up Extinction Rebellion – hmmmmm

Then the chair (Maeve Cohen of Rethinking Economics) had a whole set of questions and panellists responding to each other (something, surely, that the audience was present and equipped to do??) Fun only for the sniping.

Finally three questions from the aduience got asked – what about a truce in the green growth/degrowth wars and agreement on caps? – why haven’t we got through to the climate deniers and those who vote for them? And ‘how bad will the next recession be’.

Those (good) questions got relatively brief answers and then the panellists basically started talking to each other again. And I left. Life really is too short, what with pretty damn imminent societal breakdown. I’d rather be under one or both of the bloody cats….

Highlights

  • Professors Kevin Anderson and Professor Robert Pollin lobbing increasingly flashy and bangy skype-grenades at one another.
  • A couple of Polyp cartoons

Lowlights

  • The total lack of clarity in terms of defining what the hell “we” (i.e. they) are talking about.
  • Surely someone of them thinks that capitalism isn’t just a set of organisations but, you know, a social relation?
  • The lack of a sense that we have been having this debate, on ecological terms, for just on 50 years.
  • The chair abusing (in my opinion, maybe not others’) the chair’s position to ask multiple questions, which then bounced back and fourth among the panellists
  • The egofodderfication of it all

What the hell do I mean by egofodderfication? Read on if you wanna know.

Egofodder is what I call the audience at any public event (big or small) which has not been structured by the organisers to provoke the highest possible amount of participation, engagement and mingling.

Here’s an old video.

Is egofodderfication unsustainable? “Sadly No”

The social norm is that you turn up to a meeting and are talked at for at least 45 minutes (if you’re lucky). Then the sharp-elbowed might get to ask a question. Then you file out.

And people keep coming back for that. There’s a hardcore of the same old faces (I used to be one of them) who would go to the opening of an envelope, to keep the gnawing sense of despair and powerlessness at bay. And there is, flowing over these stones, a river of people seen once or twice, who never can see a way ‘in’ for themselves, their concerns, and realise that they’d be better off reading a book/watching at TED talk, for all of the actual human interaction they would get at one of these wretched events, where they are talked at by experts.  But there are always enough ‘new people’ scared shitless by the news and the obvious total incompetence of our “leaders” (not just international and national, I’m looking at YOU, GMCA and MCC) in even having the tiniest idea what to do.  So in that sense, organisers of activist meetings, public events, academic seminars etc will never lack for warm bodies to be their ego fodder, coming from the usual suspects and the not-yet-churned through.

Is egofodderfication unsustainable? Hell yes

We (most of us) think that a civil society upsurge, an unprecedented social movement of diverse groups is required. And yet we tolerate the same old broken tools, thinking they will work this time, because we are too scared to piss off “busy” event organisers.  But what it does is wastes the time and potential connection of usual suspects and ALSO offers a granite wall of alienation for ‘newbies’ to scale. Some do, mostly they don’t. Mostly they go away, and are ‘lost’ to ‘activism’ (of whatever stripe).

Since someone on the panel launched a thought experiment, I thought I’d have one here too.

  • What if there was a social norm that every meeting (whether it was activist, local authority, academic, whatevs) started with a call for people to introduce themselves, very briefly, to someone they don’t know (but always have a system where people can hold up their hand or whatever to opt out!)
  • What if there was a social norm that wherever it was possible (i.e. multiple speakers) there would be a chance for people to compare notes between speakers, and ask questions of CLARIFICATION.
  • What if there was a social norm that before the Q and A (which was never more than 45 minutes from the beginning of the event) people had a chance to turn to a friend/stranger and get help making a long question into a short one, or a half question into a whole one, and then the chair could choose from more hands than the stale male hands that inevitably go up.
  • What if speakers were expected to spend a quarter of their time explaining concrete things that could be done, and how people in the room could take concrete steps towards that?
  • What if speakers were expected also to address the question “what have ‘we’ (academics/activists/politicians) been doing wrong/badly in the past?” and explain how they were doing better in the future (i.e. from right fricking now.).
  • What if speakers via skye were asked to record their initial talks, and have a powerpoint alongside, sent to the organisers in advance; and then come in “live” purely for the Q and A (though obvs have been “lurking” to hear the other speakers’ comments).
  • What if there was a social norm that events would be filmed and blogged so people who couldn’t make it could still feel a part of it, rather than apart from it?

Maybe then, the networks of people who care (and if you came out on a dark Sunday night, you care) would grow thicker, people would randomly encounter people and we’d all be better connected, less atomised, less isolated. Who knows, you might even be able to grow some movements with the help of those networks. I know, I know, crazy talk.

Event: “The Resilience of Unsustainability: Cultural Backlash, Authoritarian Reflex and the Great Regression” #TransitionImpossible

After last night’s keynote, tonight it was the turn of Professor Ingolfur Blühdorn, Institute for Social Change and Sustainability, WU Vienna to deliver a talk. His title was “The Resilience of Unsustainability: Cultural Backlash, Authoritarian Reflex and the Great Regression,” which is academic-speak for “Dudes, lemme say, we’re, like, totes fubarred”

This blog post gives an account of what he said, what the panel, made up of

said, and then a precis of the questions and answers that followed. There’s even a bonus snarky summation from me. I aim to make the whole blog post somewhat shorter than last one (#oldpeople #decreasingstamina), but again, [my snark is in square brackets and red…]

Speech, speech!

Bluhdorn was introduced by the chair Margaret Haderer, Institute for Social Change and Sustainability, WU Vienna, who pointed to his prolific output (the word ‘frantic’ was in there…)

If you really want the low-down, defo watch this totally amazing, professionally made video – post-ecological thinking

[So, I’m going to bullet point lots of the speech]

The talk is part of an international research workshop – key question is whether societal transition – at which a declatory level is accepted – might be impossible to achieve, and if so why? What kinds of transformations are going on instead?

Three issues for tonight

  1. Change in social value preferences, shift in political culture we are witnessing in contemporary consumer societies
  2.  Rise of right wing movements and parties, which are conducting a head on attack on eco-agendas
  3. Thirdly, talk about Robert Inglehart, the founding father of academic study of values. His 1977 book The Silent Revolution says our societies should be becoming evermore eco and socially progressive. Has a new book saying this (Cultural Evolution).

So, the speech is a response to Backstrand’s speech which was on the supply-side, of what (Swedish) state can provide, while this is looking at demand side- what citizens want..

Argument

  • modernisation/emancipation-induced change in social value preferences helps to explain the resilience of unsustainability
  • Rise of right-wing populism is NOT a “reversal” of the emancipatory agency, but its dialectically transformed and politically outsourced continuation.
  • The change in political culture in the wake of the populist revolution is part of modern consumer societies’ adaptation to sustained unsustainability.

Resilience has become popular in parts of the eco-political literature. Normally has positive connotations. Not often used alongside unsustainability… Donna Nelson et al 2007 –‘the amount of change a system can undergo and still retain the same function and structure while maintaining options to develop.’

still retain the same function and structure’ is an interesting phrase, which shows a shift in perspective. Modern socieities adamantly defending their unsustainability [Bush Snr declaring at Rio that the American way of life was non-negotiable]

Social Values and Political |Culture

Shift in values and culture in liberal consumer democracies are centrally important to this resilience. (Of course, there are drawbacks to this way of looking at things). But, useful. Prevailing norm specification and legitimation are crucially importance for the resilience, inertia…. [Did I mention my PhD thesis is called Enacted Inertia?]

Robert Inglehart work is well known and much debated, The Silent Revolution introduced “material to post-material values, and  “security to self-expression”. In most recent work, though, the “post-material values”  argument does not play major role, but democratic values and self-expression are still there (see pages 114 and 124)

  • Self expression values emerge when a large share of the population grows up taking survival for granted (124)
  • Since democratic institutions provide greater free choice than authoritarian institutions, people with self-expression values generally want democracy (121)
  • Cognitive self-mobilisation makes [middle class people]more skilled at organising in order to get them (119)

Inglehart reassures us democracy has not reached its high-water mark, there is  no long-term retreat, ad no need to panic. A curious story. Post-materialist/eco-values no longer prominent We might be tempted to dismiss Inglehart’s argument wholesale and call it academic path dependency. But that would be throwing out baby with bathwater…. There are strengths in Inglehart’s analysis

  • significant parts of society are rebelling against the iron cage of consumerism
  • emphasis on the individual, its subjectivity, its identity and its value preferences
  • particular focus on well-educated middle class as pioneer of change (the cultural creators).
  • Theory of modernisation—induced value and culture change and rise of self-determination and self-expression values are being articulated ever more vociferously
  • ever increasing demand for choice IS a driver of societal change.

And also ‘end of democracy thesis’ is indeed mistaken: Inglehart can give us good guidance there. However, there are also weaknesses.

  • Firstly, he does not explore what kind of self, and how prevalent understandings of this Self may change. These are changing/have changed
  • Secondly no attempt to spell out what the notions of freedom and autonomy may imply and how prevalent notions of freedom and autonomy may change, or may have changed.
  • Thirdly, no differentiation between different forms of democracy. Occasionally very simplistic.

If we iron out the weaknesses in his views, we will get closer to understanding/explaining resilience of unsustainability.

As regards the understanding of ‘the self’ there is a rich body of literature. In the well-educated middle classes where Inglehart identifies the Silent Revolution) they are ever less predetermined, and ever more a project the individual can/must pursue. This self, this identity is ever less unitary, homogeneous. In reality, it’s more dynamic, fractured…

[See also Gergen, 1991 The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life . And for that matter Erich fricking Fromm]

Ever more this self-actualisation project is done via the consumer market.

If all this is the case, the rise of expression values can be seen as the rise of ‘the unsustainable self’ [need to consume at a frantic rate]  With ever-increasing pressure to mobilise all resources for realisation of the Self Project, and choices in the consumer market ever more important, and the expansion of lifeworlds, lifestyles, arenas of self-experience, ever more planned obsolescence in self-experience, unsustainabilty is no longer an unintended and potentially amendable side effect, but a constitutive principle of modern identity, lifestyles and society. [as the young people used to say, ‘it’s not a bug, it’s a feature]
The subjective is and patterns of self-realisation of the most innovative and progressive parts of society, in particular are unsustainable by intention and design.

[Michel Houellebecq nails this.]

The analysis of this value and culture shift goes along way in explaining the resilience of unsustainbility.

Second major Inglehart deficit – failure to spell out what exactly ideals of freedom and autonomy are supposed to look like.

Inglehart is right to say in era of neoliberalism, freedom and autonomy seen as about ‘free choice’, but this ISN’T how we used to think, and isn’t compatible with eco-politics sense of 1970s. There was an different understanding of autonomy then.
Wasn’t about free choice, but accepted limitations and boundaries that had to be kept.  [see also the concept of eudaimonia?]

In line with Kantian tradition, post-Marxist,these saw freedom and autonomy primarily as inner, moral and intellectual freedom. Around dignity and integrity, rather than fulfillment in/through the market. Freedom and autonomy implied the ability and duty to recognize, follow and appreciate the guidance and imperatives of reason versus animalistic impulses).

Freedom and autonomy understood in collective sens, limited by the principles of inclusion, equality and reciprocity. They were conceptualised as ecologically inclusive. (dignity for other species etc). Within these boundaries, precisely, freedom and self-determination were the normative base of eco—democratic, eco-political project. Only within these boundaries are rise of individualism conducive (to human flourishing).

But the logic of emancipation is not known for respecting boundaries. Quite the contrary, transgression of boundaries is its thing. [Erich Fromm knew this.]

The dynamics hollowed out the norms of the eco-democratic project and also incrementally depleted normative resources of the project Emancipatory movements metamorphosed from agents of project into its grave-digger.  [“From emancipation to emaciation”?]

The dialectic of emancipation explains how and why the most emancipated and progressive parts of contemporary consumer societies are a key parameter for the explaining the resilience of unsustainability.

These parts of society have embraced and are defending patterns of self-realisation which have moved beyond Kantian boundaries and emancipated themselves from restrictions from which Inglehart thought would mean eco-improvement.

The most of us in the room belong to this well-educated section of society, with the uncompromising defense of their lifestyles

[Prof Kevin Anderson- if you want to see a high emitter, look in the mirror]

This may well be why in Inglehart’s new work post-materialism no longer prevalent.

So, it is mistaken to see what is happening as reverse, backlash or regression. Rather, it’s the playing out of the internal logic

Such conceptualisations (if Inglehart et al)  are the socially and politically sedative performance, the simulative maintenance of norms and values which have factually long been abandoned because they are incompatible with contemporary understandings of freedom, self—realisation and a good life. Current developments are not a deviation from the trajectory of modernisation and emancipation but its continuation.
Any return to a supposedly normal course or status quo ante is not to be expected.

The attempt to portray the projected socio-ecological transformation in terms of than emancipatory promise and gain has lost its sociological foundation.

[Lyrics: “Whatever happened to the people who gave a damn”… Gil Scott Heron, song ‘South Carolina’ 1980.

Whatever happened to the revolution (Skyhooks, 1974).]

Middle class not ANTI democratic, ANTI environmental, but reconfigures what these terms mean.

Third major Inglehart deficit is his failure to explore different styles of democracy.
Authoritarian reflex/populist reflex.  e.g. the following quotes

Decades of declining real income and rising inequality, together with unprecedented massive immigration, have produced a long-term period effect supporting the populist vote (186)

still, income factors such as income and unemployment rates are surprisingly weak predictors of the populist authoritarian vote. (181)

He concedes however that age-linked cultural voters are STILL the best predictors for who votes right/against social change

[Karl Mannheim and cohort effect!]

Older people freaked out by large scale immigration. But these effects are temporary (old people die).

So Inglehart thinks Right-wing populism therefore a passing tide, says democratic values will recover… Thus ‘no need to panic’.

Bluhdorn – Whole range of respects you’d want to take issue. Academically and politically irresponsible. But, on focus on the resilience of unsustainabilty… see it as a continuation rather than reversal of middle-class emancipatory project.
With simplistic notion of modernisation and equally simplistic “democracy versus authoritarians”, Inglehart fails to see at the possibility is a reconfiguration of democracy.

He’s right it hasn’t reached its end, but fails to recognise possibility of transformation, but he fails to see the following

  • There’s a multiple dysfunction of democracy, a legitimation crisis.
  • Economic growth is actually unlikely to recover, and the most progressive parts of society are seeing de-limited views of freedom are seen as non-negotiable.
  • The emancipatory agenda pushes the necessity to reconfigure democracy to accommodate contemporary understandings of self-realisation and self-expression.
  • Rather than being a short term antidemocratic tide, the populist revolution lastingly reconfigures democracy so as to enable it to manage ever higher levels of social inequality, indeed ot politically organise and legitimate a politics of ever-increasing exclusion.
  • By remodeling democracy into a tool for a majoritiarian politics of exclusion, the populist revolution substantially increases modern societies’ resilience to social and ecological unsustainbility.

Bluhdon says he is NOT doing this analysis with any kind of moralising intentions, but from the perspective of a reflexive, critical sociology. Aware of the problems – one methodological problem is that BOTH sides are at pains to express their incompatibility with each other. Everyone claims that ‘they are the people, drain the swamp etc.
Meanwhile, civilised civil society is saying we’re not the mob, we’re reasonable.

From a sociological perspective, looking beyond the self-description of the actors, it is possible, even constructive, to bridge the abyss to think about symbiosis (not conscious!) between the non—negotiable freedoms whose self-descriptions do not allow them to self-organise this exclusion, and those to whom they outsource this class.

This has always been the case. Comparable to outsourcing of sourcing of consumer goods, and outsourcing waste disposal of problematic stuff to the Global South.

Panel Discussion

Karin Bäckstrand: Three critiques

  1. Too deterministic about this value shift
  2. Too speculative, no empirical foundation around a) rise of populism and b) resilience of unsustainability
  3. Underestimate resilience of political institutions to the changes

re 1. YES, we’re in a dark place right now, but if longer perspective, and look at same-sex marriage, gender equality, there IS change.. RW populist parties won’t be able to reverse this. 82 percent of Swedes do NOT support Swedish Democrats.

2. I know this paper doesn’t have empirics, but as political scientist, there is a lot of research, we need numbers. Could draw on public opinion work. e.g. Dennis Everberg this morning, (who looked at “Resisting Transition: An Empirical Investigation into the Social Forces of Business as usual”)  in Germany. We need more than anecdota, look across levels, countries…

Also, if unsustainabiility is constitutive, why have these conferences?!

3. Political institutions actually stick. E.g. in US, Trump is not able to dismantle the lot. Some standing up for the rule of law etc.

Arias-Ladonaldo

Stimulating lecture. The right questions, but have disagreements about your seductive almost apocalyptic arguments.. You approve of Inglehart emphasis on autonomy. Are all these subjectivities alike? Aren’t populists appealing to notion of community that has been eroded by the market etc.

  • Are we not talking about two kinds of unsustainable selves?
  • Children of the 60s looking for shelter in identity politics.
  • Compelling aspect of lecture in ‘unsustainable self.
  • Was the bounded self an illusion? Mostly embraced by a very few. Mostly captured by capitalists
  • Maybe the 60s moment was always just going to be a moment? And 60s were rebellion against boring conformist 50s etc.
  • Eco-democratic project was individualistic
  • Fourth – rise of unsustainable self thesis – but ecomodernism is a narrative on offer. Can it seduce the unsustainable selves?
  • Fifth- interpretation of populist wave. Not the whole story. Populism is also protest against globalisation and psychological impact of GFC.

Christoph Gorg

Not easy to comment on paper/speech.

Share some of the pessimism, but not the conceptual foundations. Also missed the empirics.

  • Good to emphasise current industrial societies are unsustainable.
  • Not possible to use Inglehart ot explain all this.
  • Read Silent Revolution when it came out and then decided to read better books….
  • Preferences are not fixed, they develop!
  • Second, the term resilience. Even in ecology it’s highly contested. Resilience Alliance did a power grab on this!
  • Last point – yes, need to act as scientists not activists. But can we do that from ‘neutral’ perspective?! If you speak of unsustainablity, this includes a normative judgement.
  • Need to think ‘how to change it’?

Bluhdorn Answers brief because I don’t disagree with much of the panellists

  • We as interpreters of ongoing or not-ongoing changes, are caught up in narratives, conceptualisations which we have re-iterated for decades. My agenda not to be optimistic or pessimistic, but how can we – if at all – break out of these self-description narratives.
  • How can we get out of the repeat cycle?!
  • Inglehart’s book is indeed terrible. Am not defending it. Am trying to tease out whether anything useful in his approach that can take us somewhere.
  • Not defending the term resilience – just saying is there any mileage in it, around reading against the grain.
  • And yes, need to check if Dennis’s data can be read through my perspective…
  • Not trying to offer theory of populism. Looking at phenomenon and seeing how it might be connected to the resilience of unsustainability.
  • Yes eco-democratic project was an illusion! But a significant enough illusion that Inglehart wrote a book.

Thanks to everyone! Clarifications will go into paper

Questions from floor

Meadowcroft – certainly stirred things. Could you explain what IS the curious resilience of unsustainability. I don’t see why there is anything to explain. Why SHOULD society evolve towards sustainability. All sorts of forces that reproduce current set ups?!

Bluhdorn – one could say ‘nothing’ if don’t expect societal transformation and assumes a certain trajectory. We need an explanation for universal commitment but no action, and also why you’re now allowed to say ‘I don’t care’ (Drill Baby Drill)

Luigi- Following Gorg point – concept of resilience. Foucault said ‘look, often/always in history we are stuck into problematisations. Frameworks of thinking that can be totally opposite but share conceptual foundations and be in hidden agreement.

Dorothea – DO we need new questions? Are we asking wrong questions? Might it simply be that other social forces stronger than our analysis?

Eric – remark on middle-class. To what point in Europe does this work? In USA ‘crisis of middle-class’. In US self-identification of working class has gone up…

Ingolfur – same old stories. Post-growth folks – nothing new. I read these stories 30 years ago….

Andrea – evolving self of middle-class and rise of right-wing populism. Two remarks. 1. outsourcing – its not the progressives outsourced, they lost it, if they ever had it in the first place

2 sectors of middleclass not progressive!

James – your feeling that nothing is changing. I sympathise, especially over some of the debates (e.g. post-growth etc). While doing my PhD  on the topic of British State conceptualisations battles in the 1880s, I saw same debates, decided same underlying structures

Margarete – once pushed it, got to go normative or empirical, you have to go somewhere/can’t stay where you are.. Risk of sweeping generalisations

My take

Ingolfur’s work is always invigorating. I remember reading his take on non-violent direct action subcultures as a Theme Park and punching the air – “finally, an academic looks at social movements and refused to suspend his critical faculties in exchange for access to these people”  And I totally buy post-ecological thinking (see amazing video above).  And I never liked Inglehart, so this is catnip to me.  It’s good to call bullshit on the soft-green middle classes who think that they’re doing their bit by buying organic yoghurt while cranking out the airmiles.  And it’s good to see what is happening now as part of  an unfolding logic.

I think the word resilience was a hostage to fortune. We’d possibly have had a different, more fruitful discussion if the terms persistence or tenacity had been used.

And, as with the entire conference, the ‘what is to be done’ question has gone largely unasked, and even more largely unanswered.  Truly, we are living it large….

 

Video Vox Pop – how I would do it, fwiw.

Recently I proposed that an organisation (I am a FIFO activist on this) organise some video vox pops around an event that they’re organising for about five weeks’ time.  This post is how I would do it.  (Or rather, how I like to believe that I would be able to do it.  By now, pushing 50, I should have realised that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, and that my self-regard outstrips my ability, almost always…)

It’s divided into before, during and after.

Comments, criticisms and suggestions on all three are very welcome

With all these events, there are usually three acknowledged goals

  • Get media attention on The Issue
  • Build the media profile of the organisation(s)
  • Get the mythical New People involved

To this I would almost always add a fourth goal –

  • Build the knowledge, skills and relationships of those who are organising the event, whether they are centrally involved or more peripherally in putting the event on.

Before

So, I’d try to get agreement from ‘the organisers’ about what the headlines of the event are, especially if you’re also doing a video advert for the event (another blog post that).

And I’d try to get organisational buy-in by framing the video vox pops as a way of not only building profile and maybe attract new folks, but as something that  can help sustain morale in the weeks/months after the event (when there is inevitably a post-event  dip in energy and enthusiasm – see my famous and much-liked post on emotathons).

Part of that buy-in is agreement from organisations and individuals that when the vox pops are published online, they will be included in news digests, e-newsletters, reposted on websites and social media.

I’d go so far as to clear the questions  we’d be posing to the people who took part, to head off any complaints and grumble (and, given that you are doing something new, and ‘stealing limelight’ from others, there will be grumbles…)

I’d come up with a bunch of different questions that were checked for wording and politics (see above)

The first one would always be someone’s name and where they are from.

The other questions would include

  • Why did you come to this event?
  • What personal changes have you made in your life because of [the issue]
  • What do you think the government should do about [the issue].
  • What do you think activists and organisations should do about [the issue]
  • Why and how should other ordinary people get involved in campaigning about [the issue]
  • How do you keep your hope alive, given the trajectory of [the issue]
  • Anything else you’d like to say?

I’d get all of these numbered, printed in the biggest possible size in landscape A4, and laminated

I’d also have a simple ‘disclaimer’ form ready – something like

‘Hi, we’re making a series of short films about the people who come to this event.  You choose three questions, think about your answers. We point a camera at you.  After the event, we will edit a short film of you.  We will stick it up on the internet in a private site. We will then contact you to find out if you are happy with the film. If you are, we will make it public. If not, we don’t.  If we don’t hear back from you, we assume you’re so unhappy you can’t actually type, and the video doesn’t go up.

We need your name

Your email and your phone number.

We will ONLY keep these for as long as we need,on paper,  and we will not share them with anyone else at all.  Once the video is up (or not) you will not hear from us again.’

[I don’t know what the laws are for consent of kids around this, and I’d be anxious anyway about asking people younger than about 15.  I’d try to get legal advice about all that).

I’d find someone (or even ideally two people) willing to work with me especially before and during the event on the day.  Find out from them what their skills and experiences are, and what knowledge skills and relationships they want to build.  This has to be someone who is reliable. Don’t bother with flaky people.

I would take the promises of help from people who on the day will be busy ensuring that their organisations logos/stalls/propaganda are prominently displayed with a large pinch of salt.

I’d then do a practice run with my sidekick(s), and address any difficulties.
On the Day
I’d turn up with

  • Video camera/recording device fully charged
  • Tripod
  • Back-up camera and/or battery.
  • Storage device to transfer files (because I am uber paranoid about losing stuff).
  • Clipboards and pens
  • Participation/consent forms
  • Two complete laminated sets of the agreed questions.

 

I’d have a ‘vox pop’ booth away from any point sources of noise. I’d have a neutral background for it, and the whole thing positioned as best as could be for light etc.

I’d have one person in charge of the camera (and the tripod)

The other person(people) are making sure we get copies of people’s signed consent forms

They talk them through which of the various questions they want to answer.

They mike them up if we’re going down that route (me, I am a sound clutz. That’s not good).

I’d start the filming with the person holding up their name and email on a piece of paper, which can then be edited out (obvs) which just helps make sure the right person gets the right ‘are you happy with this video’ email later.

I’d keep filming for a few seconds after they finish their answer, in case they think of something else they want to say.

At the end of the day I’d do a debrief with my sidekicks while memories were fresh.

  • What went well?
  • What went badly and what can we do better next time?
  • Other ideas?

After

I’d want to start getting the vox pops up as soon as possible after the event.  I’d choose therefore one of the most straightforward ones done straight away. The closing credits would include the logo of the event, but not of individual organisations that were sponsoring it (so it doesn’t look like those being interviewed for the vox pops are endorsing any/all of the organisations)

I’d stick it up on a private site, contact the subject immediately.

That first one could then be press released (with the person’s permission! – but that is probably best if it is an already engaged ‘activisty’ type person who can fake being normal.)

‘xxxx of xxxx  today said xxxxx. Speaking at [name of event] she said ……..
Once the first one(s) were up, I’d just try to plough through all the other editing (until I got tired/more sloppy than usual) , stick them up privately, send out the ‘are you okay with this?’ emails.

I’d then want the videos going up once or twice a week on the same day(s) until all the ones that had been okayed were ‘up’.

I’d then do a celebration/post-mortem event with the sidekicks and ask what more would be needed for them to lead the next time a video vox pop was proposed.

I’d not stress too much about viewer stats. That shit is only partly under your control.

If anyone wanted the names/emails/phone numbers for their organisations contact list, I’d tell them to… [redacted for reasons of taste].

 

What did I miss? How will it all go horribly wrong?

Must the tail always wag the dog? Of activism and strategy.

Thinking strategically is very very hard.   The normal activist mode is to move (or, uncharitably, lurch) from one ‘crucial’/urgent; upcoming event to the next. It might be a camp, or a march, or a submission to some government ‘consultation’. It might be a public meeting, the launch of a document, whatevs.

You can spend literally years (decades) sitting in planning meetings where various people have sent their apologies, where the agenda is filled with seemingly crucial decisions, in meetings that are either well facilitated or poorly facilitated.

But the quality of the facilitation (turn-taking, time-keeping) is often irrelevant, because the decisions being made are purely tactical, and based on unspoken assumptions (about what the group is trying to achieve, how it is trying to achieve, what the model of social change is) that never get brought out into the light for consideration.

And so the wheel – what I’ve called the emotathon, or emotacycle – keeps turning, with new people churning in and dropping out after two or three such ‘big events’  (over a year or two).

emotathons

The hard core activists, who have a model of social change based on vanguard parties, or who get their emotional/social needs met through Activism (capital A) either don’t notice or don’t care, or do notice and care, but feel that there is no alternative.

So the same stuff keeps happening, based on unspoken assumptions that we have to ‘tell the policymakers The Truth (information deficit). That we  just need to get in the media, that we need to make ourselves welcoming to the mythical ‘newbies’.

And even if you COULD get everyone to see this pattern, then you’d still struggle to escape the routine ways of doing things.

Because these are deeply entrenched (and unspoken) assumptions and habits.

And beyond that (because of that?) the skills of strategic thinking (even on a time scale of a year) either distrusted (‘you’re a control freak’) or derided (‘there you go, building castles in the air’ or ‘more masturbation, not practical ACTIONS, comrade’). Or both at the same time.  And alongside this there is the elision – conscious or otherwise – of mobilising and movement-building….

So, the skills are not perceived as necessary, not respected, not rewarded. No wonder they are not developed.

And while  some of us know we should do it, but it’s hard to do it on your own, and when the imperative of a 90 minute meeting is to make decisiosn about the coming weeks.  There’s simply no time for discussion of where we’re trying to be in a year’s time.

 

So, what is to be done?

Well, if you try to do a separate ‘visioning’ session, you will have some people not be able to come, some people deliberately NOT come (because they don’t have those skills, or because they don’t want to be ego-fodder). Alongside that, you’ll attract people with limited past and less future in the group who just want to grandstand and spout but who won’t be available to do any of the work involved in turning the strategy into deeds.

So, what I think needs to happen is that elements and habits of strategic thinking have to be folded into ‘ordinary meetings’ – just a few minutes (i.e. about 20) at a time.

And based on recent experience, I’d say that the best way forward would be to have people work in pairs or threes, and do back casting from a year, “on the other side”

(More than that in a group is intimidating for some, and means a confident people can easily dominate, and is more keen to do so.)

A facilitator has to have sorted out good simple prompting questions.  I’d go for one of the following

  •  “what knowledge, skills and relationships do YOU want to have a year from now, in the context of this campaigning groups aims and goals?”
  • “what knowledge, skills and relationships do you think the group should have a year from now, in the context of this campaigning groups aims and goals?”
  • “what are the points of failure (where knowledge, skills and relationships are absent or held only in one or two individuals) in the group that we need to lessen in the coming year?”

Work in pairs or threes for say 10 minutes on one of them, and then have a plenary, that is typed up and circulated, so that people who were not present feel up to speed.

Would this work? Probably not in the sense of getting a group to have a Big Hairy Audacious Goal that looks forward a year and guides its decisions, but it would at least foreground the knowledge, skills and relationships questions, and sensitise individuals to some thinking beyond the next few weeks/couple of months.

But it won’t happen, and that’s one of the many reasons I ain’t doing any more activism.  Gonna follow the Cocker protocol in the declining years of the species.

What we knew on #climate in 1971… #auspol

A couple of years ago the folks at the Conversation asked me to bash out a piece on what Australians knew about climate change in the late 60s, early 70s. I did an okay-ish job, but have since radically expanded my knowledge of that period.  What we have below is not the first mention of climate change in books (you could see A Dirty Story and The Effluent Society both published 1970), but this is one of the more detailed ones, and was written by a couple of well-respected scientists.

I plan, #afterthethesis (which is imminent), to do something more systematic about who said what when (and it went all the way to the top – Deputy Prime Minister Doug Anthony, in 1971, f. ex).  For now, this – climate change was being spoken of in terms of foreboding back in 1968-9 by Australian scientists…

1971 conservation cover

but don’t judge a book just by its FRONT cover…

1971 conservation back cover

and then there is a mention in the first chapter…

1971 conservation page 27

1971 conservation page 28

Costin, A and Marples, T. 1971. The Nature and Quality of Resources in Costin, A and Frith, H. (eds) Conservation. Ringwood, Victoria: Pelican pp.  11-42.

We’re so toast.