27 February 2008

Hope: Preliminary Observations

It's been a while -- apologies for the delay in posting. In particular, apologies to all those who have posted comments which I've failed to answer. I'm finding it quite difficult at the moment to keep up with my own work as well as the pace and speed of current developments. I'm sure many of you are familiar with this feeling!

Many of you have expressed interest in my mentioning this "paradigm shift", which appears already to be taking place in some ways, and the potential hope it signals for our future. Over the next few weeks, I'll be taking up these theme in some more detail. I won't pretend to provide any fundamental answers -- I think there are others, some of whom I'll be mentioning, who are perhaps trying to do that with far more expertise than I'm able to lend to such an endeavour.

What I hope to do here is provoke a new way of thinking about these issues -- one that is interdisciplinary, holistic, non-materialist, and yet no less rigorous, scientific and logically-defined. I want to outline the interconnections that often go unnoticed, and in so doing hope to draw together ideas and info from disparate thinkers and activists, some very well-known, others less-so, to explore the implications of my critique of our global crises, and the prospects for radical social transformation.

My analysis of social and global systemic crises converging over the ensuing decades (see earlier posts) ultimately leads us to one major conclusion: the failure of the prevailing social, political and economic system. That we need an alternative is no longer disputable. It is a given. But for the first time, we’ve reached a point in human history where the alternative doesn’t lie in a separate well-thought out “system” of “ideology”. We seem to have exhausted them all. With socialism having died out since the demise of the USSR, neo-liberal capitalism daily demonstrating its inability to respect the environment and life in general, and orthodox religions exceedingly unattractive with the “clash of fundamentalisms” between Bush-led neoconservativism and Bin Laden-backed Islamist extremism (and mainstream religions ineffective and unconvincing in countering this extremism with their more moderate values), it is now clear that we don’t simply face a social crisis “out there”; we face a comprehensive internal crisis of ideology, of self-identity as a species, and indeed, of our place in the world and our relationship with ourselves, one another and nature at large. And we’ve got to a point where our conventional ideologies and systems aren’t providing meaningful answers.

Given that the UN International Panel on Climate Change is now warning that at current rates of emissions (which are still only increasing not decreasing), the planet will be utterly uninhabitable before the end of this century (that’s within a single life-time of 90 years), the urgency of our predicament cannot be overstated. We are talking about not only the end of civilization; but the end of our species; and the annihilation of all life on Earth. OTT? Indeed. But it’s not some lunatic conspiracy theory. It’s the UN’s gathering of the world’s leading scientific experts telling us this. The apparent shortage of packaged solutions, in this context, is particularly disconcerting.

It’s precisely in this context this apparent paucity of simple ready-made solutions which, itself, points us in the direction of what needs to be done. We need to draw as much as possible from the best of human knowledge and experience in trying to understand what has gone wrong, and how to deal with it. We need to draw from the richest resources of human understanding to rediscover ourselves, our relationship to one another, and to our world. We need to ask the people. We need to ditch all our ready-made top-down ideologies and start looking at some of the truly innovative, spontaneous, ground up, ideas and visions blossoming up from all over the world as communities and activists try to produce and practice their own solutions to what’s going on. And we need to check out what some of the best human minds have to say about our crisis, the human condition, our relationship to the world, and the way forward.

There is what might be called a “new humanism” spontaneously and loosely emerging from the disparate thinking and activism of different social movements and social scientists. It is a synthesis of multiple theoretical perspectives, fundamentally spiritual without being superstitious or dogmatic, fundamentally scientific without being constrained by orthodox empiricism. Further, it is not just about a new "value-system" that recognizes the need to revive compassion and justice in our lives and societies. Rather such values point to modes of interpersonal behaviour and social organization which are actually more in tune with life and nature than self-interest and reductive consumerism. These values, therefore, come part and parcel with new ways of doing things, new ways of organizing politically and economically, new ways of deriving energy, new ways of communicating and sharing culturally; ultimately new ways of living in relationship with one another and nature, based on a vision of reality that is centred not on the accumulation of money as the be-all and end-all, but on the protection and enhancement of life and nature.

The “new humanism” that is emerging from the ground up from so many different voices among communities and experts is a vision of a way of living that is in harmony with who we are, and the way the world is. These values are in some sense grounded in the deep-structure of Nature, which means that the modes of behaviour implied in such values – encapsulated in more just, ecologically-balanced and open societies – are actually far more in tune with human nature and the natural world, than the current system.

My discussion of the new emerging humanism is, then, not simply about an overhaul of our values and our conceptions of life and nature. Fundamentally, such an overhaul must be indelibly linked to changes in:

1) The organization of the international economy and local economies, based not only on ideas like sustainable development, but also initiatives like the “participatory economics” of Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel. This is not simply about redistributing wealth, but re-configuring the inherently unstable manner in which wealth is manufactured and speculated. The world will need to think seriously about restructuring national economies, indeed the global economy, so that they serve peoples.

2) The organization of our energy dependence, involving immediate measures to transfer to sustainable and renewable energies along with corresponding clean technologies. I'm reminded of some innovative new thinking, like the “green economic growth model” being proposed by London’s Institute of Science and Society, which argues that renewable energies combined with a novel ethically and ecologically defined model of economic growth offer the path to post-industrial societies that can be truly free of CO2 emissions.

3) The localization of our social infrastructures along with the decentralization of political power, so that peoples are able to govern their lives in new ways that cannot be hijacked by centralized elites, whilst at the same time being subject to the basic regulations necessary for the good of all. This means new ways of thinking about ourselves, moving away from a simplistic human self-identity based purely on fragmented nation-states, toward a new humanism that recognizes the intrinsic unity of peoples and organizes not on the basis of national identity, but human identity. I'm reminded of exciting ideas about the people’s parliament (see George Monbiot's The Age of Consent) simple mechanisms to ensure local empowerment, harnessing the possibilities offered by technology like the internet, and other cutting-edge thinking on how citizens can re-capture popular control of their governments.

4) And finally, of course, linked to all these, the creation of a new culture that recognizes not only human interconnectedness, but the interconnectedness of human life with all life, and with the natural world, rather than seeing humankind as a kind of unconstrained overlord for whom the planet is nothing more than a source of endless self-gratification.

In summary, there is a commonwealth of new thinking from disparate actors in "the movement of movements", which seems to be pointing quite coherently towards a more accurate and scientifically grounded conception of the human condition as one fundamentally embedded in nature.

Will be back soon to follow up these observations with some concrete analysis. Once I feel I've covered some of these issues in sufficient detail, I want to return to a broad contextual analysis of terrorism and security issues. There is a very strong reason for doing so in the context of a full understanding of global crises. That will become obvious when I'm done.

More later!


  1. Wow Nafeez. I'm glad you are doing this. It is a tall order, but if anyone can lift my fog of hopelessness I believe you can do it. Also, please address whether you are talking about sustainability in a post-apocalyptic, post-mass-dieoff world, or one with 7 to 9 billion people.


  2. The apocalyptic rhetoric one increasingly sees today seems to play right into the hands of America and Britain, whose ruling classes who have historically advocated depopulation and Malthusianism in various forms--if not outright genocide.

    Indeed, there is one school of thought that the entire Global Warming campaign is being used for just such a (covert) purpose.

    How would you respond to the following article by William Engdahl?

    from "Global Warming gets the Cold Freeze"


    The recent Global Warming hysteria is in reality a geopolitical push by leading global elite circles to find a way to get the broader populations to willingly accept drastic cuts in their living standards, something that were it demanded without clear reason by politicians, would spark strikes and protest. The UN’s latest IPCC report on Global Warming calls for diverting a huge 12% of global GDP to “prevent the harmful effects of climate change.” The UN report, for example, estimated that its recommendations to reduce certain manmade emissions would cost about $2,750 per family per year in the price of energy....

    Today there are two major factions within the Western political power establishment internationally. They cooperate and share broad elitist goals, but differ fundamentally on how to reach these goals. Foremost is their goal of sharply controlling global economic growth and population growth. The first faction is best described as the Rockefeller Faction. It has a global power base and is today best represented by the Bush family faction which got their start, as I document in my book, as hired hands for the powerful Rockefeller machine. The Rockefeller faction has for more than a century based its power and influence on control of oil and on use of the military to secure that control. It is personified in the man who is since 2001 de facto President in terms of decision-making—Dick Cheney. Cheney was former CEO of Halliburton Corp., which is both the world’s largest oilfield services company (now based in Dubai for tax reasons), and the world’s largest military base constructor.

    The second faction might be called the Soft Power Faction. Their philosophy might be summed up that they think its “possible to kill more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Their preferred path to global population control and lowering of the growth rates in China and elsewhere is through promoting the fraud of global warming and imminent climate catastrophe. Al Gore is linked to this faction. So is British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. They see globalist institutions, especially the United Nations, as the best vehicle to advance their agenda of global austerity.