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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How the row over Jackie Walker triggered a full-blown war in Momentum

Jon Lansman, the organisation's founder, is coming under attack. 

The battle for control within Momentum, which has been brewing for some time, has begun in earnest.

In a sign of the growing unrest within the organisation – established as the continuation of Jeremy Corbyn’s first successful leadership bid, and instrumental in delivering in his re-election -  a critical pamphlet by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL), a Trotskyite grouping, has made its way into the pages of the Times, with the “unelected” chiefs of Momentum slated for turning the organisation into a “bland blur”.

The issue of contention: between those who see Momentum as an organisation to engage new members of the Labour party, who have been motivated by Jeremy Corbyn but are not yet Corbynites.

One trade unionist from that tendency described what they see the problem as like this: “you have people who have joined to vote for Jeremy, they’re going to meetings, but they’re voting for the Progress candidates in selections, they’re voting for Eddie Izzard [who stood as an independent but Corbynsceptic candidate] in the NEC”.  

On the other are those who see a fightback by Labour’s right and centre as inevitable, and who are trying to actively create a party within a party for what they see as an inevitable purge. One activist of that opinion wryly described Momentum as “Noah’s Ark”.

For both sides, Momentum, now financially stable thanks to its membership, which now stands at over 20,000, is a great prize. And in the firing line for those who want to turn Momentum into a parallel line is Jon Lansman, the organisation’s founder.

Lansman, who came into politics as an aide to Tony Benn, is a figure of suspicion on parts of the broad left due to his decades-long commitment to the Labour party. His major opposition within Momentum and on its ruling executive comes from the AWL.

The removal of Jackie Walker as a vice-chair of Momentum after she said that Holocaust Memorial Day belittled victims of other genocides has boosted the AWL, although the AWL's Jill Mountford, who sits on Momentum's ruling executive, voted to remove Walker as vice-chair. (Walker remains on the NEC, as she has been elected by members). But despite that, the AWL, who have been critical of the process whereby Walker lost her post, have felt the benefit across the country.

Why? Because that battle has triggered a series of serious splits, not only in Momentum’s executive but its grassroots. A raft of local groups have thrown out the local leadership, mostly veterans of Corbyn’s campaign for the leadership, for what the friend of one defeated representative described as “people who believe the Canary [a pro-Corbyn politics website that is regularly accused of indulging and promoting conspiracy theories]”.

In a further series of reverses for the Lansmanite caucus, the North West, a Momentum stronghold since the organisation was founded just under a year ago, is slipping away from old allies of Lansman and towards the “new” left. As one insider put it, the transition is from longstanding members towards people who had been kicked out in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Neil Kinnock. The constituency party of Wallasey in particular is giving senior figures in Momentum headaches just as it is their opponents on the right of the party, with one lamenting that they have “lost control” of the group.

It now means that planned changes to Momentum’s structure, which the leadership had hoped to be rubberstamped by members, now face a fraught path to passage.

Adding to the organisation’s difficulties is the expected capture of James Schneider by the leader’s office. Schneider, who appears widely on television and radio as the public face of Momentum and is well-liked by journalists, has an offer on the table to join Jeremy Corbyn’s team at Westminster as a junior to Seumas Milne.

The move, while a coup for Corbyn, is one that Momentum – and some of Corbyn’s allies in the trade union movement – are keen to resist. Taking a job in the leader’s office would reduce still further the numbers of TV-friendly loyalists who can go on the airwaves and defend the leadership. There is frustration among the leader’s office that as well as Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, who are both considered to be both polished media performers and loyalists, TV bookers turn to Ken Livingstone, who is retired and unreliable, and Paul Mason, about whom opinions are divided within Momentum. Some regard Mason as a box office performer who needs a bigger role, others as a liability.

But all are agreed that Schneider’s expected departure will weaken the media presence of Corbyn loyalists and also damage Momentum. Schneider has spent much of his time not wrangling journalists but mediating in local branches and is regarded as instrumental in the places “where Momentum is working well” in the words of one trade unionist. (Cornwall is regarded as a particular example of what the organisation should be aiming towards)

It comes at a time when Momentum’s leadership is keen to focus both on its external campaigns but the struggle for control in the Labour party. Although Corbyn has never been stronger within the party, no Corbynite candidate has yet prevailed in a by-election, with the lack of available candidates at a council level regarded as part of the problem. Councilors face mandatory reselection as a matter of course, and the hope is that a bumper crop of pro-Corbyn local politicians will go on to form the bulk of the talent pool for vacant seats in future by-elections and in marginal seats at the general election.

But at present, a draining internal battle is sapping Momentum of much of its vitality. But Lansman retains two trump cards. The first is that as well as being the founder of the organisation, he is its de facto owner: the data from Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaigns, without which much of the organisation could not properly run, is owned by a limited company of which he is sole director. But “rolling it up and starting again” is very much the nuclear option, that would further delay the left’s hopes of consolidating its power base in the party.

The second trump card, however, is the tribalism of many of the key players at a local level, who will resist infiltration by groups to Labour’s left just as fiercely as many on the right. As one veteran of both Corbyn’s campaigns reflected: “If those who have spent 20 years attacking our party think they have waiting allies in the left of Labour, they are woefully mistaken”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.