Well, this is all a bit weird isn't it? When we wrote 'systems change' and 'marketing for earthly survival' on this website a few months ago, we had zero idea how apt that might prove to be. And what's next? In these bonkers times, we'd all like to know what the future holds. The first in our lockdown series, we asked Composer and Creative Producer Jennifer Bell to give us her proposition for systemic change beyond the crisis, and tell us what new world might lie yonder...
Okay. The air is cleaner. The dawn chorus woke me this morning like a thunderous applause. The sky is decluttered of planes. There’s hardly any traffic noise, and in its place, the pulsing of nature is amplified. I have this sense in which we’re seeing the blood return to the world’s cheeks. It was wheezing, but now it’s in the process of taking a full, deep, relieved breath - and I’m deeply sad it is coming at the expense of death and suffering.
With this in mind, and whilst acknowledging my privileges, it also feels, on some levels, as though the world is within our reach for the first time, maybe in our lifetime. As if this is more how it should be.
So I would like to pose what I hope is a credible proposition:
Might now be our chance for a peaceful revolution?
In all seriousness. What do you think?
Ground-up change in behaviour, now that we’re seeing it’s possible.
Might this be THE best stab we get at it?
Can we NOT return to normal?
We are good people, and in our banal ways, we are all complicit in the degradations associated with capitalism. On reflecting on our current behaviour, what could follow from the lockdown conditions could be a powerful personal, and ultimately systemic, sea change…
We’ve had to drastically change how we live, and we are all, across the world, practising self-restraint. We have been forced into a global state of localism and of minimalism, and our sense of community and solidarity has increased. It is these mind-sets that I propose will infuse a behavioural movement away from the destructive features of the modern world. It is these mind-sets that will inform a new type of active citizenship, and renewed political engagement. It is this set of ingredients, brought into the mix NOW, globally, that will provide the basis for peaceful systemic change.
We know that it is not possible to continue in the manner of the lockdown en masse, because it is a condition that is being artificially sustained, in most countries, by governments propping up their economies. In order for this deep breath to continue, outside of the crisis, there would have to be some sort of major economic reshuffle, and draconian intervention to enforce it.
However, we can ride this global change in culture moving forward. In fact I would argue that we must. I hope that the following call to arms simply reflects what you already are thinking and feeling. It’s not an invention. More an articulation.
Permit me to illustrate?
Sketch 1: Addicts in Recovery
Here in the rich countries, in recent years, we have grown used to living with a near magical ability to fulfil our wishes and whims. The beep of the contactless transaction is the sound of our wands. We are well adjusted to our powers, and addicted to having. Our consumer choices are artful, as we conjure our identities, experiences, and transform our homes into galleries. Click, and it’s ours. AGAIN. Click, and it’s ours. AGAIN. Click, and it’s ours. AGAIN. It’s marvellous!
Our parents and grandparents did not have this power. You don’t have to go back many generations to see that many people were crushingly poor, and lived in a state of privation. The natural response was to create a society in which we did not have to suffer such hardships. They visualised a state of plenty, and they delivered us into it.
No one saw that the trade-off would be the clusterfuck that we’re experiencing now: the plunder of the natural world, the annihilation of species, and an eroded sense of well-being and satisfaction. The shadow side of plenty is emptiness. The real price of us having everything, is to have nothing.
I suggest that now is the moment to take the opportunity to support each other to quietly slip away from the monstrous anxiety party of the 20th century, of which we have ALL been enjoying the inessential luxuries of disposable goods and packaging, foreign holidays, synthetic fibres woven into sweatshop garments, the soil-bleached produce, the plastic tat and the misery meat. Now is the moment to learn how to find satisfaction from going WITHOUT, which means feeling how to be satisfied WITHIN.
H o w ?
We continue, to a certain extent, with how we are currently behaving during lockdown:
We do less and acquire less.
We exist more locally.
We practise deferred gratification, and practise peace of mind.
We de-condition ourselves from the addictive tendencies of buy = satisfy.
We continue with this spirit of community, and build on it.
No inessential travel
Outside of certain work, we only very rarely use the car
We only take a plane once in a blue moon
We make-do and mend or buy second hand
We practise peace of mind by disciplining our sense of dissatisfaction.
[INSERT IDEAS HERE.]
Peace of mind translates into a practical outcome: we end up making only meaningful acquisitions. We take just what we need. If we acquire less, then, from having less, we value more. When we value things more, the easier it is to have peace of mind. An upward spiral. None of this is new, it’s just appropriate to this moment in history.
I realise all of this is very cursory, but I’d like to develop this idea of increasing our ability to perceive value, through thinking about how we might engage in alternative types of economies.
Sketch 2: Alternative Economies
We can seek out alternative economies that increase our sense of value, and add value to each other locally or personally:
We support local or small enterprises, so that we are invested in the impact of our purchases
We engage in swapping skills?
(N.B. Research Social Muscle Club - a live event based on training our ability to give and receive what we need.)
We invest in industries that have relationships with local, social and environmental ecologies.
[INSERT IDEAS HERE.]
Let’s pause. Before this starts seeming wafty, let’s stop to ask, what might a systemic economic and social shift of this kind actually mean for all of us? All of us?
Well, it’s looking likely that mass unemployment and a deep economic depression is on the horizon as a result of the pandemic. If we do not financially participate, we will be complicit in yet more poverty, not just in our own country, but in other countries. We may lose our current jobs. We will have to balance our ethical obligations to ourselves, our kin and our fellow citizens, with the obligation to prevent ecocide, and the poverty caused by the effects of the climate changing.
Any suggestion of revolution is unsavoury.
Therefore, I would suggest that this cannot just be about rejecting everything, but more about including everything we can do.
We need to be as economically active as possible, whilst shifting our consciousness into that of being citizens, rather than purely consumers. We must supply the gap in the high street - which is coming anyway - with local, community-driven industry and actions. We must reinvent our working lives with this in mind. Anyone with any budgetary power should reorder pay scales to properly reward those in caring, difficult or manual roles to reflect their indispensible value. We know exactly who those people are: we just have to look around during the lockdown.
Localism and nationalism, when conducted without exceptionalism, xenophobia or hatred, are very powerful motivations for cohesive social structures. We keep these structures a modest size so that they serve our needs, whilst staying generous, open trading partners in a global context. We share, share, share; spend, spend, spend.
We all have ideas about the ways to do this. Whatever it is that each of us decides is good, WE have to LIVE the change now.
Sketch 3: Call to Arms
It is time to seize the handles of power. Yet we have to take the system into our own hands in a way that doesn’t actually involve ripping it away violently from those who do not perceive they have a choice but to stay in it the way they are. We take it peacefully into us. It happens here, inside you. Now. Me, you, now. Now and now and now. Never too late now.
We can’t be the change for anyone else (unless we are in a caring role).
We can be it in a way that is achievable for us.
This is an important shift in how we frame our thoughts around ourselves and the behaviours of others with regards to revolution. To clarify:
A revolutionary movement is truly compelling when the people in it are inspirational, rather than sanctimonious - particularly when people may suffer as a result of our actions.
This will go wrong if it becomes YETANOTHERCAMPAIGN.
It has to be about articulating the meaning of the practice to ourselves, so that people see it translate into our behaviour, and can recognise its integrity.
If we practise deferred gratification, and practise peace of mind, it will feel good. I suggest that it will naturally catch on, because it will feel good doing it together.
All it will take is conversations. LOTS of conversations.
We many of us already do this bit; and I would urge you to draw to mind, now, all the inspiring citizens that you know, and think about the conversations you’ve had, and how powerfully they influenced you. I bet they weren’t shouting at you. Through conversation we will see a collective, concerted demonstration that we are all volunteering to do it, and this demonstration is not a way of persuading or shaming others, or virtue signalling.
With performative, vulnerable declarations in conversation, we demonstrate our convictions to ourselves, and elicit support from others.
Can you support us? We are opening a farm shop.
I am feeling helpless and tired. How can I change the system?
Can you help me? I really want to completely stop eating misery meat!
Sketch 4: A Portrait of Rage
But what of the scale of the emergency? What of activism? What of righteous rage?
Of course activism in the form of disruption is appropriate, and can indeed be noble - a cultural imperative, even - but it's counterproductive if it's the main or repeated course of action: it seems only to validate the institutions of power it's trying to disrupt, piss people off, and invite the criticism of hypocrisy. We should not be so cavalier to think that people NEED to be pissed off and disrupted, unless we are willing to be pissed off and disrupted in our own cultural and societal attachments.
Perhaps we should start by disrupting ourselves, en masse, and then others will see THAT. Our activism is practised on ourselves. That has integrity. THAT people will respect.
Hey, so here’s a scenario…
Once demonstrations have galvanised us, and raised awareness, grass-roots activists now use organisations to, say, create logistics road freight businesses that are run on solar power? Once united, instead of continuing with a plan of disruption, we use constructive power to support green industrial transitions?
The model could be: organise, demonstrate, affect a practical outcome.
But we’ve been campaigning for this kind of revolution for ages!!! How’s this different?
THIS IS NOT A CAMPAIGN; IT IS ACTIVISM PRACTISED ON OURSELVES, RATHER THAN ON OTHERS.
Turn rage into passion, and turn that passion into cultural treasure. One issue that we’re encountering with ‘progressive’ politics is a myopic tendency to prioritise our agenda over other people’s cultural treasure.
Think: motorsports; fashion/make-up/drag; fox hunting; having pets; having children; flying; partying; going to music festivals; travelling; going to Mcdonalds. You can pick holes in all of these activities, yet people knit the fabric of their entire lives around them. We should look to our own lives, before ripping the seams of the intricate and beautiful cultural lives of others.
Whole industries and lifestyles will likely die out as a result of a green revolution. Let’s stop being aggressors, and grieve for the loss of our own lifestyles; our own sanctuaries; our own cultures, as we willingly renunciate them.
Whilst I have asserted that the practice of deferred gratification will feel good, the loss of culture as we know it may also cause us extreme pain and anxiety. We will have to let go of good things for good. We will give up certain freedoms and treats. Boo! We will have to give them up, whilst trusting that through conversations in which we demonstrate our convictions to ourselves, others will be giving them up too. We will have to learn new magic.
This revolution has to be an exercise in trust: with a genuine change in ourselves, we trust the revolution will happen, as sure as a change in the season.
Sketch 5: Political Landscape
It is of utmost importance to acknowledge, and believe, that good old fashioned democratic politics and judicial changes remain perhaps the most powerful instruments we have to dismantle corporate hegemony and the prevention of ecocide. Let’s get more political with our peace practice, not less. We cannot squander our enfranchisement; especially in post-Brexit UK, now that we can exercise our democratic power even more directly.
Many elements of the machine are finely tuned, and there are many good actors within it - I’ve met some of them! - and to cry FUCK THE SYSTEM! betrays a lack of recognition of the hard-won freedoms we have as citizens, and the privileges it affords us. The music of parliament is discordant and cacophonous; but it is music, nonetheless. We might see ourselves as composers, rather than as an audience; we set the tone, we must hold each player to account. We may have the power, at this juncture, to call forth, for example, Universal Basic Income, if that’s what ought underpin the transition out of lockdown into a peaceful revolution.
What we need to avoid, at all costs, is a situation in which the economy needs to be stimulated at the expense of environmental protections. We need to be on our political game; ‘love’ is not the answer to this. ‘Love’ will let the world go back to business as usual, on steroids. Love is what you should hold in your heart, when you tell someone you disagree.
What we’ve most certainly seen over this time is increased community spirit, in concert with the roll out of more state support than we’ve ever seen. I’m hoping, from my own political perspective, that the left can harness this time to start to unite the classes and regions, not by becoming more centrist in neoliberal terms, but to see that the sweet spot will be to synthesise some of the golden values held within socialism with the golden values that ‘small-c conservatism’ offer us - the ones perhaps aligned with anarchy and spirituality - in which we protect and empower smaller units of community; we encourage individual and interpersonal resilience; we protect local expertise; and we realise that poverty is not just measured by the dearth of material wealth, but also a dearth of spiritual wealth.
Aside: ‘Spiritual’ is the most accurate word I can think of to describe the practice of peace of mind, and the ability to feel gratitude, humility and wonder for the miracle of existence.
It’s time for our green industrial revolution - and this WILL happen if we can have a green cultural AND spiritual revolution, which will give us the sense of richness and power that we can carry through into our political actions.
We practise peace of mind, we practise deferred gratification.
However we do it, we support each other to do it together.
If we manage it, the applause will be loud, and it will come at dawn.