Central to the argument I make is that there needs to be an integral relationship between what we know (our informed beliefs) and our actions – this is simply because what we do will cause a reaction by others and will be used to judge the veracity of what we profess (Note: Being Judged by Your Actions). Having a set of guiding principles make this clear and helps with the creation of strategy and tactics.
We, as a species and as individuals can be argumentative, destructive, deceptive, angry and selfish; on a crowded planet with finite resources this is a recipe for disaster. Alternatively, we can act cooperatively, we can certainly show that cooperation works, and by using reciprocity can avoid being taken advantage of. We can build alternative stories to develop a new paradigm which will shift the whole debate towards holistic political economy (Meadows, Kuhn, Lakoff op. cit.).
In Part 1 Review - Human Activity System we saw that the system within which we live is dynamic and changes our behaviour. There is a sense in which our behaviour is a by-product, an emergent property of the system. We also saw that we can keep developing and learning and that large parts of the system is actually of our construction. It follows then, that we can (if we choose) work collectively to build institutions and environments that help to bring out the best in people. We already know a lot about this. Business calls it participation, learning, facilitation and teamwork but only uses it with small groups internally whilst simultaneously accepting extremes of competition. There is evidence that we have been slowly and haltingly domesticating ourselves (e.g. 1.5 billion people out of poverty in 30 years) but we need to redouble our efforts in the light of the challenges we face which I rounded up in (Part 2 Assess, Timeline, Political challenges).
These are the foundations for holistic political economy. It is time to start building on them instead of leaving it to chance – culture and belief are something we create not something we just have. We build a house to protect us from the weather, we should build a culture that protects us from the worst of ourselves. We need to take control where it really matters – within our political economy.
Three Pillars; Values, Knowledge and Utility
The case for collaboration and cooperation is based on three pillars; values, knowledge and utility.
To my way of thinking it is what we know combined with utility that provide the clinching arguments. I think they are clinchers because not everyone will accept the values, or they may at the least be sceptical of them. They may be mindful of Machiavelli’s warning (which I quoted in On Power, what is power and where does it come from). But those who start off sceptical can be shown the knowledge, and with utility (because we will be building on the examples of what good looks like that already exist) they will come to see that the alternative works, they will gradually be persuaded.
I think of these three pillars as being built on the foundations of Human Activity, Our story and the Realistic Vision that can be developed
The values I have tried to derive from first principles are modest enough (Vison, A vision for realists, Mind thought, culture and values) that they should appeal across many groups; they are simply the lowest common denominator of enlightened self-interest. This approach to values is based on the observation that the world is finite and crowded, we have a shared destiny whether we like it or not is beside the point.
Just knowing that the world is finite and crowded does not take us very far, it may just spur us on to grab as much as we can for the short time we are here. There are some key pieces of knowledge which take us a lot further, I have attempted to round these up in the Parts 1 to 3, here are the key points:
- Systems thinking and integrative knowledge allows us to join the dots, multidisciplinary approaches to problem solving works
- The simple story of competition we use as a touch-stone in our political economy is just plain wrong, the amount of co-operation to be found within evolution is enormous
- Our natures as social primates which, whilst requiring some hierarchy and competition, show very high levels of altruism, collective and cooperative action, joint endeavour, fairness and equity
- Our culture is part of our environment, we make our culture. Our behaviour is partly and emergent property of the system we live in. If we want to see better behaviour we should look to change our culture (of course we so this now but we do it badly,
We must give these all aspects of our existence equal treatment in the stories we tell ourselves and encourage them to become integral to our culture, here is why:
We know some other things.
- Our behaviour is partly an emergent property of the system we live in
- Much of the system is fluid - our brains have plasticity, our knowledge is increasing
- Our culture is part of the system we live in
- When our culture changes our behaviour will change - look at the past and other at other cultures
- Our culture is dynamic - do we leave it to chance or to the powerful or try and change it for the better?
Of course we try to change things for the better. My argument is we do it in ways that lack utility.
When it comes to the utility of action, we need to take a longer timescale than is usual in politics at the same time we need to be able to act faster. Politics is renowned for taking a short term view, as Harold Wilson famously said a week is a long time in politics. Politics is also renowned for avoiding difficult and controversial problems, typically in the UK these are given to commissions of enquiry.
When we settle for top down imposition of change with a parliamentary majority based on a minority support the best we can hope to achieve is compliance from everyone else. The reform lacks utility fails because the time and effort that are needed, and eventually expended, to maintain compliance is much greater than it would have been if we had spent the time and effort up from to work out what the problem was, build a consensus round it, implement it in stages with reviews and changes as learning took place. When it comes to imposition (say when we intervene militarily) this problem is thrown into high relief as the years pass on and the cost in blood and treasure mounts up. It is not worth it, not least because it is hopelessly inefficient. In the short term we ram in a sub-optimal solution (doing tit to people not with them), later its either reversed or altered by the next government, most often it just fails to deliver over the longer term.
All this waste and futile expenditure of effort is at least as expensive as adopting learning, participation, facilitation and teamwork. The difference is that such an approach would have a much higher chance of working (it would have greater utility) and creating a lasting settlement. I am reminded of an old argument in favour of business spending on training, “if you think training is expensive, try ignorance” (Note: Civility Works)
To be very clear then, this is not just an argument against the use of force but also against using power without having gone through a vigorous, open and participatory process, like non-violence this is a strategic choice not a tactic. It must be insisted on and worked at and not be given up in the face of provocation or intransigence. The iron curtain did fall, apartheid did end.
Just because we have chosen to tell ourselves a story that emphasises competition over co-operation, and personal gain over public benefit does not make it right.(Note: and Never Did)
We like to think of ourselves as pragmatic but essentially we are not pragmatic enough, we are not applying what we know works.
It is on these pillars that the principle of action can be developed.
The principles of action
The principles of action that are needed to bring about this change are both simple to articulate and easy to understand. They will be challenging to put in to practice because we have to start over when it comes to telling the story of cooperation and collaboration. I hope I have demonstrated this is far from impossible and is our best chance of success, they rest on a minimal set of values, what we know about ourselves and long term utility.
So, having looked at the foundation and pillars on which action is to be taken, the essential principles that guide our choice of action come to this;
- Freedom is limited
- Citizenship is a birth-right
- Means must be matched to ends
- All people deserve respect
1 Freedom is limited - by its impact on the planet and others
This is not anti-freedom, it is merely an empirical observation. Freedom both personal and collective just is limited. Freedom is limited by our makeup, how much free will we have (if any), the mere existence of other people and how our actions impact on others.
Any way we look to the future, the fact is that we live on a crowded planet with finite resources, either we negotiate our way through the challenges we face or leave it to chance. We risk war, famine, pestilence and fire against the chance that it will all turn out OK. Whatever we do has the potential to impact others now and in future generations, therefore we will act in ways that allow our impacts to be moderated by open negotiation.
2 Citizenship is a birth-right – there must be equality of citizenship regardless of wealth
This is not an argument for total equality, which for a hierarchical social primate is likely a step too far, but is an observation of the human condition in which we all exist.
None of us asked to be here, and none of us is entirely responsible for our good or poor fortune, none of us can take anything with us. The majority of mankind lived off the land until as recently as 1600. We are social primates with different inheritances and although we will never be intellectually or materially equal, we are all citizens. As citizens we have shared civic duties and responsibilities which we expect to be observed and honoured by all.
3 Means must be matched to ends – if not the means reveal hypocrisy about the end
That the end justifies the means is perhaps one of the most damaging of our stories, more damaging than, say, thinking public good can come from private bad. It is clung to as dearly as some people cling to freedom or free will. It was, ultimately, the reason why the Bolsheviks thought that they could usher in communism using the vanguard party on behalf of a proletariat that had yet to be brought into existence. It is, ultimately the reason why The Inquisition could kill you to save your soul. It plays (with often disastrous consequences) to our natural altruism and empathy because when we see a wrong we want to do something about it and can justify all sort of lesser wrongs in the process. I did not come to this position easily myself.
If, as Freedman suggests (Freedman op.cit), there are truly only three generic strategies (violence, deception or co-operation) then despite our history of deception and violence we must learn to cooperate. Deception and violence cause reactions that bring about war (at worst) or an impasse (at best). One might argue that running away is a fourth generic strategy, so giving - violence, deception, coercion and avoidance. However we have run out of space, the frontiers have long been occupied and refugees have limited options. Running away is no longer on offer (Scott op.cit.) you and the people you flee to end up having to use one of the other strategies.
On pragmatic grounds, only cooperation has sufficient utility to be the basis for a political settlement on a crowded planet. Remembering Machiavelli, however I will add that the use of force cannot be ruled out, but it can only be as a retaliation to establish reciprocity (that we are not a push over), with the intention of starting (or returning to) a willingness to cooperate.
4 All people deserve respect - upholding the golden rule
Another difficult call, I don’t advocate this because it is easy, it is actually very difficult.
It is impossible to sympathise with the cruel, the barbaric or the murderous, nor should we. But away from the extremes it is much too easy (and turbo-boosted by social media) to dismiss someone as a sleaze, cheat, or embodiment of evil. In politics our combative system encourages point scoring. It is easier than having to engage our reason (our power to do abstract rational thought). This, it seems to me, is the dealing with people, equivalent of what Daniel Kahneman described with the metaphor of System 1 and System 2 in the brain when it comes to decision making. System 1 allows us to make quick heuristic judgements. System 2 requires hard work. (Kahneman p19-97).
Non of use asked to be here and because all our actions cause reactions it is necessary that we act in an open, inclusive way seeking to persuade. In short we have to behave to others just the way we would wish to be treated ourselves. This requires us to engage our brains and do some hard thinking work and not just give in to emotional knee jerk reactions. For the hard work we have to use a due process. For understanding we have psychology and neuroscience; we should attempt to understand others because it is only through knowledge that we can hope to create societies and cultures that minimise bad behaviour (of all sorts). Yes we have come a long way by trial and error, but now we need to start making deliberate progress.
We have no other rational choice but to reject coercion and stop our reliance on (grudging) compliance because it lacks long-term utility. What we have to do is understand how we, emotional social primates, can construct a decent culture using our collective knowledge, by the application of a collective exercise of self-conscious thought.
If the votes for Brexit and Trump were indeed protests against the political elites that promised but never delivered trickle down, then the days of relying on grudging compliance may be over – what takes their place matters, existentially.