In this session we took a close look at the elements of a ”New Politics” proposed by Monbiot in his book “Out of the Wreckage”. The book was first published in 2017, and many of the ideas he outlines in the book may not represent his current thinking.
However, his call for a “new story” - “A New Politics For An Age of Crisis” is still very valid. He himself said that the book was meant to start a conversation, and that he was not trying to impose “monbiotism” on the world. We used this book to inspire our exploration of “A New Politics for BC”. But that does not mean that we agree with everything Monbiot says.
1. The Story:
Monbiot’s version of the story begins by explaining the mess we are in by saying that human beings are caring and kind, but that over recent years we have come to accept a vicious and divisive ideology of competition and individualism that encourages fear and mistrust and weakens the social bonds that make life worth living.
This has ushered in an epidemic of loneliness, unhappiness with resulting psychological and physical illness. Such that we have lost our sense of common purpose and our belief that we can work together to make things better. Democracy has been undermined and intolerance and violence has filled the vacuum.
He argues that the dominant story of neoliberalism, which emphasizes individualism and competition, has led to catastrophic social and environmental problems.
To create a better future, Monbiot suggests that we need to embrace a new narrative that:
- Emphasizes community, cooperation, and care for the environment;
- Is grounded in the idea of the commons, which promotes shared ownership and management of resources for the benefit of all;
- Celebrates cooperation and collaboration, rather than competition and individualism, and:
- Is rooted in our innate sense of empathy and desire to connect with others.
To use his words, the escape is to revive community life through togetherness and belonging; build a “thriving civic life”, develop a new economics that treats people and planet with respect; revive democracy and retrieve politics from those who have captured it. He calls this the “Politics of Belonging”
Ultimately, Monbiot argues that changing our stories is the key to creating a more sustainable, just, and equitable society that meets the needs of both people and the natural world.
2. Values and Principles
Values and principles are central to us as Greens, and so it is second nature to be basing our new politics on our values and principles. Our values are based on our personal beliefs, things like freedom and individualism or justice and fairness. We can also hold political values like law and order, equality, free enterprise, or traditional morality would be a right wing political value.
Principles are based on values, and according to Monbiot, political principles are the fundamental propositions at the heart of a political philosophy. He calls them “a description of the world as we would like it to be” They need to be overt and clear so that they can be explained and spread with pride and conviction.
The BC Greens have adopted a slightly modified version of the 6 core principles of the Global Greens and much more succinct! Monbiot, on the other hand, suggests 16 principles which spell out each “principle” in much more detail than the BC version. His “16 Principles” are not so much moral ones; they are a wish list for an ideal society in which justice and human welfare are maximised through compassion, connectedness and kindness. He espouses communitarian virtue ethics and human rights.
“If alienation is the point on which our crises converge, belonging is the means by which we can address them”. Monbiot sees belonging as the antidote to alienation and he stresses in particular, the importance of community.
For Monbiot, revived communities are also places of strength on which to build wider movements. He discusses at length the concept of ‘Thick Network’: the development of a participatory culture that is attractive and relevant to everyone, not just socially active people. Thick networks reach a tipping point when 10 to 15% of local residents are actively engaged – then participatory culture generates a benefit for everyone, not just those actively engaged.
Monbiot argues that participatory culture can revive political life. He argues “community is in effect, a place from which new politics can grow” But he also views communities as a form of political life - creating social solidarity while proposing and implementing a vision of a better world. Generating hope where hope seems absent.
“By confronting the politics of alienation with a politics of belonging, we rekindle our imagination and discover our power to act.”
4. The Economy
There are three major elements to his economic frame presented by Monbiot:
i. The underlying economic model or paradigm to replace the neoclassical frame:
Monbiot considers Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics - 7 Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist to present a compelling alternative economic model.
ii. The use of some form of Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) to drive policy:
He emphasizes the need for the use of a GPI, or an index of wellbeing, or even a happiness index to guide policy. Both New Zealand and Scotland are employing a wellbeing index to drive policy.
iii. The commons:
A commons consists of a resource over which a community has shared and equal rights, such as land, water, air, knowledge, culture, scientific research or software. Together with a community to manage and protect the resource.
According to Monbiot, commons make sense of community by providing resources that might help secure people’s livelihoods. He is not suggesting that we replace the current system of private ownership with everything being made into commons. He sees a hybrid system operating that consists of the market economy, the state, households and the commons.
Monbiot is going beyond these instruments and talking about building a land bank and establishing common wealth trusts to manage common property such as watersheds, transportation systems and even the global atmosphere.
The fifth part of Monbiot’s “New Politics” concerns the political system itself. He argues in the "Politics" chapter of his book "Out of the Wreckage" that our current political system is failing to address both local and global social and environmental problems. He suggests that a fundamental rethinking of politics is necessary to create a more just and sustainable future.
Monbiot critiques representative democracy, which he sees as dominated by corporate interests, and failing to represent ordinary people. . He proposes a shift towards participatory democracy, where citizens are directly involved in decision-making and have a greater say in how their communities are run.
We focused on his ideas regarding direct democracy and civic participation. We tend to think of proportional representation when we think of participatory democracy. Monbiot highlights ideas for various forms of parallel direct democracy that empower people by giving them ownership on various issues and could be complementary to the current system or one with proportional representation. For example:
- Citizens assemblies and holds up the example of the BC Citizens Assembly on electoral reform that reported in 2004.
- Referendums in Switzerland where people vote on 10 or more resolutions a year.
- The wisdom of crowds through online consultation tools as have been used in Taiwan or Brazil
- Constitutional conventions where the people determine the principles that govern politics; and,
- Selection of delegates, who are ordinary people with no political interests, by “sortition”. In other words they are chosen by lot, something like our jury service selection works.
6. Making it Happen
Monbiot discusses the importance of bringing these concepts together in a narrative that people find compelling/inspiring and then goes on to describe techniques for getting the public involved.
He is a great fan of Bernie Sanders and introduces a term that was popularized after Saunders’ campaign, but has roots going back decades of organizing, political campaigns and movement: Big Organizing vs. Small Organizing.
- Small Organizing - all movement/campaign activity is directed by a small group of paid campaign staff. This tends to be targeted at a specific set of voters, and focussed on issues that have been triangulated to be the most popular
Big Organizing (Sanders’ team called it distributed organizing)
- Talk to everybody
- Empower volunteers to focus on relationships
Emphasize relationship over sign waves, advertising, direct mail, sign waves, robo calls, sign waves, etc
The process distills down to:
- Invite all the contacts in an area to an organizing event (Sanders’ Big Organizing team called these barnstorming)
Have the lead make a specific ask, and a big one
- Have the ask be focussed on having people start conversations with voters (he emphasizes phone calls)
- When hosting or participating in events - sign up as many people as possible, to repeat step one with.
- With an emphasis on focussing on outcomes and participant experience at events that we run.
Robert Routledge provided some comments on the Sanders’ model:
- The only model the BC Greens can apply is a variation of distributed organizing, the NDP and Liberals have way more experience with other models of organizing that require way more resources than we have (a large version of small organizing).
- The BC Greens have been using the snowflake model of team building, which is essentially a variation of distributed organizing - and how we encourage RAs/Local Teams to build.
- Are “Bernie Bros” (a term coined in 2016 to describe privileged white male Sanders supporters) an example of toxic elements that can grow and come to define a movement/campaign if left unchecked?
- Sanders team implemented Big Organizing in 2016 but didn’t base his campaign on that model in 2020
The “Take-Aways” - a summary of key points from breakout groups
- We need to double down on our story. Don’t back off when challenged
- We need to talk about what resonates with people such as old growth, and be seen as the protectors of trees, whales, salmon, and natural beauty.
- Need to make the story appealing, e.g. participatory democracy combats loneliness?
Values and Principles
- Everything should be centred around our values and principles, but we still need to speak to the ecological crisis.
- Six principles are very important - everything must come back to ecology, sustainability, but phrased in terms of jobs for all.
- Social Justice, ecological wisdom, it doesn’t connect for all.
- We lost the ability to engage during COVID. Pandemic has atomized everyone
- Car based infrastructure means that people aren’t walking, no chance encounters
- We need in person events. It is almost a palpable excitement when people get together to discuss, argue, debate
- Need to find ways to generate civic celebration / engagement
- We cannot forget about jobs, people are worried about their jobs and many people see the economics of the Greens is not conducive to jobs.
- But other things such as AI and automation also threaten jobs.
- We need to have programs that make people feel more secure such as guaranteed income, reduced work week, education, etc., free university education, free online education, belonging in universities. We should also encourage workers co-operatives.
- Conservative elites are running the world
- Need to take back democracy for ordinary people
Making it Happen
- Deep canvassing needs to be done between elections. During the writ period there is little return if you haven’t done months, years of leg work.
- Anyone running for office should be making themselves available.
- That is what Adam has done very well, he will go anywhere. If there is a group meeting, he’ll come by.
- Can’t solve everything in a single campaign
- What is compelling is often going to be what is in the news.
- Finding those items which are not general, but quite focused. One of the things we aren’t always best at doing.
- Smart growth principles, cycling, etc., Comox valley. Intimate village centers
- Ways to develop more community e.g. policy to limit the spread of suburbia
- Jobs for all - Sustainable jobs