Mind-forged manacles

The activist Daniel Pinchbeck reflects on the mind-forged manacles that stop humanity from addressing the planetary mega-crisis and achieving metamorphosis. We must take a leaf from the spiritual holistic approach.

Back in the Sixties, the visionary scientist Buckminster Fuller foresaw only two outcomes for humanity: utopia or oblivion. Either we continue our present social and political arrangements until we destroy ourselves, or we rapidly transition to a new social system, allocate resources rationally, and elevate the human community, as a whole, to an abundant state of being. I remain convinced that Fuller was right.

Our civilisation is a planetary suicide machine, rapidly annihilating the biosphere that sustains us. We are spewing more than a million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every hour. Our oceans have become 30 per cent more acidic in the past 40 years, as they absorb excess carbon. Climate change is proving to be an erratic and complex process, but the great danger remains that we will soon hit a tipping point where we unleash rapid, unstoppable warming.

We face other ecological problems that are equally severe – a quarter of mammalian species, perhaps all species, will disappear within the next 30 years. We can’t predict when our industrial monoculture’s radical assault on the biosphere will induce feedback loops that cause the ecosystem to shut down, like a planetary heart attack, but the prospect is neither distant nor implausible.

Our post-industrial infrastructure remains fragile, toxic and perilous, while instruments of mass destruction proliferate. Climate change has caused increasingly unpredictable weather, with “once in a century” super-storms, tsunamis, earthquakes and floods now happening every year. Will nuclear power plants in America or the UK do better than Fukushima in the wake of an earthquake and tsunami? When resources become scarce, will aggrieved nations trigger nuclear contact? Will enraged individuals turn to bioterrorism? As sea levels rise, what will become of the hundreds of millions of environmental refugees?

While our current system enhanced the quality of life for vast populations, increasing lifespans and improving access to goods, services and communication technologies, it also created incredible, horrific inequities between the haves and have-nots. Since the Second World War, the US and its European allies have mastered the use of debt as a weapon of domination and control.

The planetary mega-crisis cannot be solved in piecemeal fashion – the symptoms are aspects of a universal disorder, a systemic disease. The only conceivable response is the rapid construction and universal dissemination of a comprehensive alternative, a new “operating system” for human society. Revolution is an antiquated term that refers to older political and social arrangements. What we require now is more like a metamorphosis, where we consciously transform our existing infrastructure from within and without, utilising archaic techniques and postmodern technologies to bring about a polar reversal of values and behaviour.

Our social and cultural evolution appears to be an extension of natural or biological evolution, and follows the same principles. In nature, evolution leads from primitive competition to sophisticated symbiosis, coordinated co-operation. As an example, our bodies consist of hordes of micro-organisms that once fought for resources until they learned to work together.

We are in the process of realising that humanity, as a whole, is a planetary superorganism, a sentient swarm constantly altering and transforming the ecology that sustains us. Confronting the mega-crisis that threatens all life on earth, we will either die off or we will transition from domination and aggression to co-operation and sharing.

It has been noted that one cannot solve problems at the level of consciousness that created them – problems “dissolve” when we attain a more encompassing awareness. In our present dangerous circumstances, we can no longer maintain an oppositional world-view. We must, instead, adapt the mystical perspective that recognises the universe and the self as one indivisible whole.

The process of transformation has many dimensions, for the individual and the collective. Today, many people are discovering their beliefs and behaviour patterns to be rooted in subconscious programmes, imprints from early childhood. We must break free of these programmes that are running us – what the poet William Blake called “mindforged manacles”. As we awaken to the reality of our precious, perilous situation, we can take responsibility for changing it.

The flip-side of the negative potential for planetary apocalypse is the prospect that we can reconstruct human society rapidly, using the communications infrastructure and social tools that evolved in the past few decades. Sustainable technologies for permaculture, bioremediation, holistic health, rainwater harvesting, alternative energies, and so on can be mass-distributed. We can use mass media and social media to disseminate a new set of values and principles that supports a holistic and sustainable way of life. Facing rising seas, we can construct eco-cities that act as scaffoldings for living systems, supporting local communities, with food and energy produced on site. Through a co-ordinated movement of civil society, we can dismantle the military-industrial complex and institute a peaceful world.

If this seems impossible to conceive, we must take a moment to recall how many seemingly impossible things have come into being. The human imagination remains an unlimited resource. Perhaps we subconsciously created this planetary mega-crisis to force ourselves to unleash, as an immune system response, the full power of our creative ingenuity, to reach the next level of species consciousness.

The choice is ours, as the future remains to be written.

Daniel Pinchbeck is an author. Follow his work at: danielpinchbeck.net

Would the UK have coped better in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster? Photo: Getty

This article first appeared in the 23 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Russell Brand Guest Edit

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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.