Dear Ethel, Or, What Is To Be Done? (Part Four)

(Part One, Part Two, Part Three.)

Part Four: What is the Situation?

The situation we are in seems to be one of imminent massive change. Its components include the technological – fabbing, nanotech, communication, spimes – the environmental – such as global warming, and peak oil – social tensions , and a seeming inevitable collapse of the economic system when America’s insanely debt-ridden devalued-dollar economy collapses. ( The current run on gold seems a good indication of this uncertainty). Thus it seems the present way of life we experience has a limited shelf life.

Facing up to this seems a big part of our missing coherent world-view.

We face an amount of change unprecedented in human history. The technological forces likely to be unleashed will remake our lives in more extreme fashion than cars, electricity and the internet combined. Most of what we know is going to change anyway. These changes will also affect our view of the world. So in terms of our social organisation, we should accept that this too will significantly change: even more so than the shift from pre- to post-Industrial revolution world. In the face of this change, the survival of the present system, which seems inadequate to deal with the present circumstance, seems highly doubtful. Thus considering solutions to present problems which do not include the present political or economic systems but which are suited to the coming circumstance seems relevant. Any attempt to solve problems within the terms of present economic and political systems imposes grave limits on itself, and risks becoming irrelevant.

In George Monbiot‘s book Age of Consent: A Manifesto For a New World Order, he puts forward a model of how things could be. (Incidentally, on his terms I earned my right to criticise his book by writing my own about what could be done. :P) In doing so, he criticises George Soros‘ ideas of what it is possible to achieve within the current system, claiming that if we can achieve even those limited goals, we can achieve anything. I would turn the same criticism on Monbiot’s goals. Specifically his major original idea of a world parliament, operating on moral authority – (most of the rest of the book, the debt defaulting as a weapon and international clearing union and a fair trade organisation and so forth, are not new ideas (AFAIK), and are quite solid, although also unlikely in practice) – however, if we can set up a truly global, non-corrupt democratic body where everyone votes and which possesses moral authority, we can achieve anything, so why stop there?

We may be falling prey to the network metaphor of our age, but top down power structures seem to be the way of the past. A consistently misused tool in human history, responsible for more death and misery than any other, because it is the power structure which orders the use of force, and insulates the decision makers from the consequences of their decisions.

Some sort of global organisation seems necessary since cooperative human action now exists on a global scale. Present communications technology allows distributed self-management within an overall cooperative system based on shared values and goals. These goals and values should not be dictated from above, or based upon the ideology of the power with the greatest military might. Solutions to the crises the world faces require cooperation, not competition or coercion.

However, while I am against replicating systemic flaws of the present system, I also accept that we need not throw the baby out with the bathwater or reinvent the wheel. I am however suggesting that, in the face of massive change, we should adopt the most open and flexible system possible, based on human values such as compassion, as being more desirable than the attempted continuance of a corrupt and inflexible system based on inhuman values such as profit.

So, we’re getting closer to formulating a better question: how do we change from a worldwide capitalist system which appears deeply entrenched, to a different way of life based on values better aligned to human need and better suited to a finite world and to coping with the crises (social, political, economic, ecological, environmental) we face today and the massive changes we will face tomorrow?


The key factor in this process we have not yet covered is humans. In particular, human psychology. How we cope with change and challenges to our world-view and beliefs. Which cues the next post.

Next: People and change

No Responses to “Dear Ethel, Or, What Is To Be Done? (Part Four)”

  1.   ian
    April 13th, 2006 | 9:20 pm

    So yes. Good new question…. I look forward to the sequel….

    It seems to me (I may have missed an earlier post) a key issue is the willingness to change. It certainly seems to me that when I look around (my own life and the world in general) I see the need for change, as well as this willingness. But am I just finding the willingness where I choose to look and in who I choose to associate with? I am still not 100% convinced that the ‘general populace’ (what ever the hell that means) wants this change. Or maybe they just don’t know that they want it yet…

    …so yes… I look forward to the sequel…

  2.   Administrator
    April 14th, 2006 | 1:09 pm

    Willingness gets mentioned but not followed through in Part One – I identify the question “what are you willing to do?” as being an important and overlooked limiting factor on the question “What can I do?” – and the notion of political will turns up in Part Two, where I argue that political will depends on a useful understanding of the situation such that what needs doing is clear; in Part Three I argue that one of the reasons that is lacking is we don’t have a coherent worldview. Hopefully, yeah, the next part(s?) will bring it all back together.