We can do a lot, the first thing is to summarise what we have learned so far from the analysis of the human activity system, current politics, and vision.
What can be done?
In The Human System we saw glimpses of an alternative. We have the knowledge to understand our natures and that tells us that a large part of our behaviour is the product of the environment. Since a large part of that is our Culture, which is created by us, it can also be changed by us. We have grounds for thinking that if we can change the culture we can change behaviour. Assuming a minimal set of humanistic values and appropriate framing we can re-start the advocacy of collaboration and co-operation as an adjunct to the competition and selfishness that is, undoubtedly, also part of our makeup. We can learn to compete with ourselves and enjoy the rivalry in sport but when it comes to politics and economics we can work to control competition and greed and replace it with cooperation and collaboration.
In the assessment of Current Politics, we saw that our current oppositional system reinforces exactly the wrong sort of behaviours compared to the characteristics we propose for a better society and suggested that this is one of the reasons for the continual difficulties faced by the left; you can’t persuade people to a cooperative alternative if you don’t articulate cooperation, much less live by it. Put simply there is no answer to the challenge “you don’t behave any better than the other lot why should I believe you?” This means that those who take the moral high ground must actually occupy it.
As soon as the the left conceded the argument that the economy had to be based on economic liberalism (competition and deregulation) it had not just lost the lost the battle of ideas it had been routed. At one stroke there was room for the the maximisation of shareholder returns (at the expense of investment and commonwealth creation) and no intellectual space for the idea of cooperation. It was not a return to Social Darwinism with a capital S and D but that was the underlying belief, why help the losers? It may be sad but they can't hack it. This was a disaster entirely caused by not having the courage of ones convictions, unless they never had them in the first place. It is made doubly bitter by the fact that, as we now know, a principle driver of evolution is cooperation, and as we now understand social primates we feel better working together and have a propensity towards altruism.
In the Vision it was suggested that politics should be redefined from “a competition between the powerful for control of the state” to “collaboration in order to achieve good governance”. Thinking about how this will alter political systems we see that the vision is as much about a political process (the journey) as it is about the destination. We will always be striving for better outcomes, but we can do a lot better and go a lot faster if we have a good process. Given some of the Political Challenges and Possible Futures we face we do need to do a lot better and do it faster.
To show that the vision is realistic Examples of What Good Looks Like were presented. We saw that many people get joined up thinking and that there are a host of working examples being run day in day out. These lack political clout, they are isolated, fragmentary and don’t add up to a counter culture or political movement. They exist in plain sight, but we fail to see them because our perceptions are distorted by faulty feedback (Part 3 - On Change - What Stops Change - Gaps and Why They Matter).
As part of the discussion about ways and means I argued for The Circumspect Use of Power. Anything other than persuasion will cause a reaction, since that is likely to provoke opposition nothing will be settled and the end will not be achieved. The way we habitually conceptualise power does not pass the test of utility. It is harder to use of power circumspectly balancing means with ends, but it is necessary if we want to succeed over the long term.
In considering What Good Change Looks Like we saw that there are approaches which build on our best human characteristics (learning, participating, team working and problem solving), this is well known in business but even when it is used it is not somehow never seems to challenge the notion of competition. If we start to take notice we bring it out into the open and put it to service in politics. There is a huge distortion in the feedback loops in our existing political system. Change is done to us not with us, so the best any politician can hope to get is compliance rather than commitment. This is simply not good enough.
Making the changes that will bring about a better society require a profoundly different approach to politics. What is needed from various participants is this:
- Individuals must develop critical thinking and healthy skepticism, just as importantly they constantly keep in mind our shared destiny and maintain solidarity their fellows
- Citizens must be engaged, demand their right to be involved and develop the confidence that will change the definition of what is possible
- Activists who set to bring about the holistic political economy need to make common cause with all the people out there who are just doing it
- Leaders must be the first among equals, and act as facilitators who are the servant of the team
- Business must acknowledge that returns have to come form adding value, that a fair return is not the same as maximising shareholder returns, and that as part of society they owe a contribution to that society which is not to be dodged or minimised
- Sympathetic politicians must be willing to act independently and across party lines, to prioritise changes that will disperse power; they must be willing to change the system from within so that the levers of power are put under the control of all of us
This is very different to they way our current political economy works. But, as we have seen, it is well within the bounds of what we can reasonably expect of human nature. If we can get change started it can become self reinforcing. Our behaviour (to the extent it is an emergent behaviour) will improve as the system does. The likes of Rosling and Pinker point out how things have improved, this is true but so far we got here by accident. Our numbers and success are such that they threaten to overwhelm us unless we start to do things better by design.
OK this needs considerably more humility in politics then we have grown accustomed to, but holistic politic economy is about about the quest for good governance and improving the commonwealth, not power seeking and personal greed.
In Part 4 Act I look at the nuts and bolts of bringing about change and practical politic action. Holistic political economy is not just about the destination, it is about a different way of getting there.