Slow news is the answer to a global bully

langleypondsmAs Donald Trump is inaugurated this week, we might do well to reflect on what sort of a person is being appointed to the US presidency. His behaviour is typical of the bully. He holds his audience in thrall by making brash and boastful statements about his power. He is going to make America great again. He will build a wall. He will sort it out. He will fix it. Anyone opposing him is belittled, not on the basis of their argument, but their power. Power is the only language a bully understands. They are failing or a failure. They are over-rated. Likewise, threats are made. Lock her up. And then threats are undone. I did not mean that. That is no longer my priority. It will be a fence. The important thing for the bully is not constancy, integrity or trust, but to keep people guessing, hanging on your every word.

And there is an antidote to this. It is to be more considered about life, not firing from the hip but becoming more reflective.

Nicholas Carr in this book The Shallows showed how the real danger of our internet age was that we would live life on the surface without adequate in depth consideration. The Trump phenomenon shows that his warnings appear to be absolutely on the button. So many of us are now news junkies, sampling news in one form or another, throughout each day. And such habits are fed by the shock/horror newsfeed dripping from Trump’s twitter finger.

Those who are familiar with this blog site will know that I am convinced of the need for a deeper reflection on society. It is only as we hold in our minds and our hearts the big challenges of humanity in terms of our unbridled economic system and our destruction of the earth that we will put in place effective strategies in response.

Ministers and the media are actively thinking how to counteract fake news. The BBC are going to beef up their fact check facilities and they BBC have noticed the need for ‘slow news’, working up more big picture coverage in historical context. (Guardian 12 BBC sets up team to debunk fake news – Jan Jasper Jackson)

One of the interesting products of such a development would be that slow news would, to some degree, limit the impact of the bully. No longer would we ‘hang’ on their words. Instead we would look for consistency and truth in their pronouncements. This would surely be a good thing.

Chris Sunderland
Author of Rise up with Wings like Eagles  published by Earth Books December 2016.

A new focus for strategic vision – The Sustainable City

It has all gone a bit blurry lately. We are no longer divided by left/right, up or down. And it leaves us feeling anxious. It feels like we are casting around for something to hope in. We used to hope in the nation.  Some recognised the significance of Europe, while others knew that the really important things could only be addressed globally. Yet each of these orders, Nation, Europe and World, are now in their own type of disarray, Nationalism is on the rise, but suffers from bigotry. Europe has become a spectator sport, while worldwide institutions like the United Nations are weak beyond credibility.

The causes are multiple. Technological advance has created a shifting, flexible work life for many, undermined neighbourhood and workplace organisations and threatens our own sense of identity and worth.  Guy Standing says that this new ‘precariat’  is an inevitable result of neoliberal economics and its associated competitive individualism. He foresaw in 2011 the ‘villainization of migrants’and the attractiveness of extremism as an inevitable result of these changes. In his eyes the mind of the precariat ‘feeds on fear and is motivated by fear’. Coupled with that we have the burgeoning rise in influence of the social media with the latest President elect of the United States now doing international diplomacy by Twitter and fake news  websites getting more hits than ‘true’ ones in a gossip-centred world where we all attract attention to ourselves by passing on the most shocking stories. Witness also the rise in searches based on the phrase ‘alt-right’, a term coined only in 2016, but attracting extraordinary interest around the time of the US election.  Whether these searches were out of support for the movement or fear of it, the statistics suggest fear is everywhere in some form or another. But then who should not be afraid?

It is easier to record this stuff today than to see a genuine antidote, but I would like to try to offer one. I think that we might helpfully focus on the sustainable city. More than 80% of the developed world now lives in an urban environment. Cities are exhilarating places to live and some, like my home town of Bristol, have a strong undercurrent of alternative-minded people who know that humans have to learn to live differently if we are to save ourselves from social and environmental catastrophe. We have literally hundreds of projects across the city that are radically new, exploring new types of association, like new currencies, food systems and ways of caring for people. How would it be if we combined in an alliance focused on building a sustainable city? I think it could be just what we need at this time. A city is big enough to be significant and small enough to relate to personally. If one city can learn to do it, then good practice could spread.

Is this the way forward? Is this an avenue for hope?

Chris Sunderland

PS I am pleased to report this week sees the publication of my book ‘Rise up with wings like eagles’ by Earth Books. The third section of the book centres on strategies we can employ in working for a sustainable city. Here is an extract

…Yet this global demographic change towards living in cities presents us with a new possibility. We could see the city, or the ‘city region’ to be more precise, as the focus for global sustainability. In other words, if we could work out what a genuinely sustainable city looks like then we might have cracked the global problem. Cities could embark on a learning exercise, each exploring their own geographical and economic context, how sustainability might arise there and what they need to do by way of adaptation. The cities could learn from one another, taking examples of good practice from others, and so we could leverage our way across the world towards a sustainable way of life.

I would like to propose that the high-level strategic key to this process is a form of localization. This means that a city region looks to do for itself everything that it can do for itself. There are, of course, some aspects of life that are, in their very nature, so specialized that it would be daft for every city to do its own. This might include transport-vehicle manufacture, information technologies and the like. But there are many other systems that can and should be localized. In these cases localization does two things. It produces a dramatic decrease in carbon emissions and it strengthens human community life. The way that this might be achieved is through the employment of ‘change drivers’. Interventions in these particular areas have the potential to act throughout many systems of the city, connecting people and communities in new ways and changing our deepest perceptions about life. I recognize four key change drivers…

 

The new political landscape demands that we learn to manage our feelings

I was in Mainz recently and went to the Gutenberg museum to learn about the first printing press. It is an astonishingly simple machine and yet it changed the way that we think and the way we act in the world. The mass production of printed literature tapped into the restlessness of the 15th and 16th centuries and gave strength to the political and religious undercurrents that were to fatally undermine the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church. The printing press also worked more subtly, by focussing our attention on the printed word as a means to express and share our thoughts clearly and carefully in the public realm and shifted our culture towards a more scientific and rational approach to the world.

Internet communications are now having a similarly radical effect on society. We are experiencing profound political unrest associated, this time, with a shake-up in the world of our feelings. The election of Donald Trump and the Brexit referendum have taken place in a world where feelings are being demonstrated and manipulated like never before. Adam Curtis’s new documentary ‘HyperNormalisation’ propounds the view that our public world is now a place of theatre. Absurd means of communication like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have become a stage where we can all strut our stuff. These new media are disciplined by algorithms that mean we associate only with people who share our views, creating unbalanced and unchallenged perspectives, as the rewards of the stage encourage more and more extreme pronouncements in order to attract attention. Shock, horror, omg are the lifeblood of these media. It cannot therefore be surprising that we become obsessed with our own public image, and lost in a make believe world of politicians who naively say they can make it all right. It may also play a part in why we are failing to act on essential truths like climate science. Truth is a devalued currency on the stage. Presentation is all important. Witness the popularity of Boris, Nigel and Donald.

It is clear that we will not wind the clock back, or the printing press or the internet. We must learn to live with the realities of our power to communicate. And part of this must be becoming aware of the importance of the world of our feelings. Many of us are aware that dark forces have been released through recent political campaigning. We have taken the lid off things that have previously been suppressed, like the fear of the outsider. Some people are saying that we should have talked about our feelings about immigration more openly and been less quick to take sides. The liberal consensus can be something of a straitjacket. Likewise we were clearly not aware of the deep alienation that was setting in through economic inequality. The liberal elite blithely assumed we would ‘muddle through’ or ‘trickle down’ or some other vacuous metaphor. These processes have given rise to a culture that is now deeply fearful and the essential trust that binds our political community together is under threat. Moreover, and of no less importance, it seems that very few indeed seem to have heard the cries of the non-human world, which is proceeding hell-bent towards destruction as the earth warms and humans increase their territory by the day.

It is time for us to become mature in the realm of our feelings. Human beings are not as rational as we have claimed. The true measure of progress for human society may be, not Gross Domestic Product, but the development of shared empathy. Unless we can come to terms with our feelings and how to manage them well, then we do not deserve to flourish on earth.

Chris Sunderland is the author of ‘Rise Up with Wings like Eagles’ to be published on December 9th by Earth Books. This book argues that the earth is at a crucial moment in its life and that humans need to ‘feel our way’ towards the future if we are to find justice, well-being and harmony with the earth.

An extract from the introduction to Chapter Two:

In this chapter I am going to suggest that we no longer recognize the importance of feelings in our public life. This is not to say that we have become stoics or something, whereby we suppress feelings, but it is rather that we no longer acknowledge the importance of feelings in shaping our societies. The attempt to found society on science and reason alone has been doggedly pursued by academics and policymakers now for several hundred years, but it has led us down a very strange path whereby feelings and other associated deep-level motivations are seen as trivial compared to ideas. I will argue in this chapter that our emotions are still the most important factor in shaping human community life and need to be recognized as such.

 

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