My progress to the positions advocated in this ebook has been long, sporadic and tentative. This is a work of synthesis and I use a lot of secondary sources. In developing the ideas to the point where they become a coherent argument I have used a number of tools and techniques.
It seems reasonable to start with why write this ebook. For me the key issue is not that the current system is broken (it might be, but it has also delivered a lot of good), the big problem is that the way we think, conceptualise and justify it, the stories we tell ourselves about it, are out of fit with what we actually know and our persistence in the telling the wrong stories is now a danger to us. Put simply we still think we can exploit the world, that we are separate from the rest of creation and that we are driven by competition - when we were only a few million we got away with it, in a crowded world or 7 billion and rising, this is a recipe for disaster.
After completing my MBA in 1998 one of the things that stayed with me was that there was a lot of management literature that spoke to the good or improvable side of human nature. This was particularly evident in some of the behavioural science underlying Training, Development and Change Management. I was more and more struck by no only by the fact that organisations require cooperation within even as they compete but by the (to me) glaring contradiction that the practice of politics disobeys the prescriptions used in business for getting the best out of people at almost every level. In the trade of politics it is widely accepted that briefing against people, lying, and bullying are legitimate tactics. In many cases, because these tactics do not involve actual physical violence, they are embraced as part of the necessary realpolitik. We often here that politics is a rough trade, not as a problem but as a statement of fact. Precisely by reinforcing division and argument theses normalised political tactics make it harder for us to do what is needed vast amounts of energy are expended just arguing. We see little of the supposed dialectical process - thesis, anthesis, synthesis, we don't seem to reach a conclusion
So the root problem I am tackling is this;
How do we expect politics to work, let alone deliver a better society, when it is based on institutions and processes that encourage and reinforce unhelpful behaviours? If we want good governance we should use what we know to bring out the best in people (we could learn from the business literature). The day to day behaviour employed in the trade of politics is reinforcing exactly the wrong sorts of behaviour to deliver good governance.
That started me down a number of tracks, as a result the scope of my study got wider and wider. What is politics for? Do we have to carry out politics the way we do? It is often defended on the least idealistic grounds that it is a way of resolving issues without violence. Is this enough? Is the political system so intrinsically different to the rest of life, that its a no go area for what we know about getting the best out of people?
I also had to decide if I was dealing with politics, economics or society as a whole? In the end I choose to say I am dealing with political economy. Macro-economics has values embedded within it and politicians are nominally in charge of many aspects of macro-economic policy even though (very recently) central banks have been granted independence.
Subsidiary related problems
Once I settled on political-economy I still had to address a range of related topics which went into some very fundamental areas.
To what extent is human nature violent and competitive? If it is inherently violent and competitive I’d be on a fools errand imagining a better politics or society. Pessimism would be justified and we should count ourselves lucky to have the politics we do.
Are we right to justify the economic competition in our culture by analogy to the competition we see in the natural world? Known as Social Darwinism when it first emerged, it is still a powerful, albeit often tacit, assumption. It does have a massive pull however as we can see in idea that “there is no alternative” (Note: Anthropomorphising Competition).
How do we deal with power, both the power needed to affect change and the incumbent power, which will be opposed to change? Without addressing the practicalities of power any appeal to, or call for, a new politics must be also risk being wishful thinking.
If current political economy is not working what would an alternative politics look like? Can it be described? Can we find examples so it’s not just abstract theory? How would its practitioners behave – what strategy and tactics would they adopt? If you cannot articulate the alternative and show how it would be better you might as well give up.