Monday, 17 January 2011

Criticising the status quo or creating your own reality

When you are not happy with the way that society works and you want it to change, there are several different approaches that you can take to try and bring about that change. I have always had a tendency to consider them as the positive and the negative approaches, although of course it is a continuum. Two examples at the extremes are criticising and lobbying against government policy as an example of the negative approach and creating your own eco-community, such as Findhorn, as a positive one.

The reason I characterise them in this way is that personally I find that most campaigning has a very negative focus - there is this problem, lets complain about it - where as transition tends to have a more positive focus on creating a lifestyle and community that we want. Kind of like focusing either on the problems or on the solutions.

Part of the reason that I have decided to write about this today is that I find just focussing on the problems and campaigning about them very difficult to stay enthusiastic about. Always complaining about something and writing letters expressing your opinions to government ministers (while being a very useful and worthy use of your time) uses an awful lot of energy without giving you much back. Alternatively creating a sustainable community also uses a lot of energy, but you do get so much back through friendships, experiences and the sense of achievement. So subsequently I find it much easier to find the enthusiasm to go to a transition event, than I do to keep contributing to the campaigns of all of the mailing lists I'm on! It's not that I don't want to save the NHS, stop the government selling off our forests and stop the horrendous problem of bycatch that the fishfight campaign has so shockingly highlighted, but as a very small piece of a very large machine it is hard to get satisfaction from your part in it.

Now my intention was not to make the case for one side or the other, they are both necessary to a certain extent, in that we need to identify the problems before we can come up with sensible solutions. However, I do feel that focussing on the problems alone will never get us anywhere, it is so important to actually change ourselves and our lives to address the problems. And I have a suspicion that we could come up with brilliant solutions and address the problems, without much focus on them, as long as we were aware of them. If enough people start to live their lives as they want them then government policy will surely follow and besides won't we have more fun this way?
Photos: Hugh Fearnley-whittingstall's campaign to try and stop hundreds of tonnes of dead fish being thrown back into the sea due to EU law,, image from the facebook group Hughs Fish Fight; Building a human pyramid as a metaphor for change, taken on my Otesha tour by Ruth Clark.


  1. I take your point Kerry, but we would not have to campaign in a negative way if more people took an interest in what is being done in their name. Only 26% of people bothered to vote last week to elect our local representative to Norfolk County Council - the organization responsible for the proposed incinerator. People who stand for election are usually doing so because they want to help the communities that they live in but generally they get very little feedback from those communities. If more people engaged with the democratic process at all levels then we would not have so many problems to complain about!

  2. I think you make a really important point, Kerry, and that is about changing ourselves. I am also on a vast array of mailing lists asking me to write to people about issues, and I do get some satisfaction from that. But, for example, there's no point anyone signing Hugh's petition or doing any of the other things he suggests if I'm going to carry on eating cod or haddock regardless. If I don't make a change in my own life, how can I ask others to do it for me? As you say, there's a great deal of value in doing both things simultaneously, and we're more likely to resolve the issues that way.

  3. Equally it's important I think to do everything within a wider political and social context and not minimize the actions and hard behind-the-scenes work of activists and dissidents (which are also ourselves). If anything is "negative" here it is the "business as usual" governments and corporations of the world.

    We are where we are because of the brave acts of millions of campaigners. The fact is we live in critical times and we all need to get our hands dirty. Just as we all need to start manifesting a culture that will work without oil and the illusions of civilisation (including the idea we can create our own reality without considering everyone else). Thinking in duality is part of the problem. Because while we’re being fluffy and fun, who is out/down there carrying the shadow for us?

    We need to make our moves within the context of everything that is going on, not separated from it. In Bungay Transitioners spent a year creating a community garden at the local Library. But now two-thirds of Suffolk libraries are threatened with closure . . .

    As Karen said on Saturday, we're not islands unto ourselves.