What an excellent piece of work by George Monbiot! This book adds a number of important layers to our understanding of what it will take to change our path.
Monbiot’s key message is that the story we tell needs to change. The two narratives of the 20th century still survive today – the social-democratic story and that of neo-liberalism.
Those stories have their flaws, failed at some points and so we can’t look backwards for a replacement story – we need something new. We need a new narrative, one of togetherness and belonging.
We need to insist on the values we hold as social creatures who have evolved to live in pro-social societies, because if the dominant narrative is one of rationality, individualism and selfishness then our values slowly but surely shift toward that.
We need a set of principles and Monbiot proposes a long aspirational list for us to consider.
The book looks at our forward path from the perspective of community. For this is Monbiot’s main prescription of what we need to build, he looks at the alienation within modern society and why we’ve lost the togetherness we once had.
And so he explores belonging – belonging with, belonging to and belonging in. He looks at initiatives springing up in societies around the world that bring back our sense of community and help form our identity – and indeed our politics. The Clarion clubs of the UK in the late 19th century were formed to help groups share time together and to create shared political values – who knew?
Monbiot talks about communities taking back control while warning against the withdrawal of resources that the Big Society initiative came to be associated with. He highlights the benefits of building a participatory culture, and quotes a Lambeth study that expects 10% participation within 3 years as a tipping point to building the types of thick networks that can make communities resilient and vibrant. Genuinely creating the belonging that we need and love.
And in communities the wealth is shared in public spaces and amenities – private sufficiency, public luxury. So the commons becomes a key part of the discussion, rather than one ignored by our modern economic paradigms.
The other key planks to the path of change are the dual tasks of reframing the economy and changing our politics. Monbiot takes his economic lead from Kate Raworth – and her new book is well worth the read.
He takes heart from the Bernie Sanders campaign in the US and believes that the radical trust model is desperately needed for organisers to unlock widespread movements. He has instructions for organisers about inviting participation and criticises the march and speeches model, precisely because it doesn’t give marchers easy instructions for getting involved and building something together.
This is all music to my ears. I’ve been reading widely about this, and I’ve been harbouring a secret desire for a universal basic income and all the time in the world to volunteer and do things we care about. I’m experimenting with online community building and I recommend this one as a book to read.
Have you read it? what did you think?