"We’ll be down to half the species of plants and animals by the end of the century if we keep at this rate" ~ E.O. WilsonI suspect that these two perspectives can indeed work together, and the reports from Transition communities around Europe seemed to bear this out. Those who want to hasten collapse by attacking existing infrastructures seem to me to be clearly outside the Transition ethos, but there are other ways to hasten collapse. One is to work together to build alternatives. The more people flock to new alternative economies, the faster the old way loses the credibility which increasingly seems to be the only thing holding it up. As Buckminster Fuller put it, "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete". In combination with means of propagating the new models, this can be a powerful principle. So for me, the most inspiring part of the day was meeting Filipa Pimentel of Portalegre em Transição (Portugal), who reported on just that process taking place there, with the gift economy expanding rapidly in response to many people's inability to access money. She outlined three principles developed in her local Transition initiative:
- They never turn anyone away due to lack of money (and facilitate schemes like ingredient swaps to help people support themselves in other ways).
- They never ask for (or accept) funding - they simply ask authorities and supporters to share access to their resources. They would never pay for a venue, on principle.
- Any financial resources they do come by will never be used to maintain existing models - if these can't survive without money, let them fall. Instead those resources are used to build capacity for the gift economy.
"The lesson from this is: if you want your economy to excel in the 21st century, for the IT, information-based high-tech sectors, a big banking sector, even a very successful banking system, is bad news for your economy"It is intriguing to reflect on a culture which, faced with the classic argument of the financial sector: "We are the wealth creators, and if you tax us heavily, we will simply go elsewhere", would respond, "Ok, bye then". When banks currently receive vastly far more in subsidies (without even considering bailouts) than they pay in tax, it surely shouldn't be such an outlandish suggestion. Hopefully the below 50 second video clip (and the comments on YouTube!) might be seen as an indicator that the tide of public opinion is turning that way..
"Europe is and should be more about democracy than about financial markets ... it was, in the end, clear that I had to choose democracy"we here in England surely face a greater battle if we want to follow in their footsteps, with London sitting as perhaps the heart of the great global financial parasite, which has grown fat and powerful. As Molly Scott Cato reminded us at last month's event, Britain was the origin of both the industrial revolution and the financial revolution, and the cultural stories these birthed thus probably run deeper here than anywhere else. This is likely to shape our culture's response as the worst begins to, quite literally, hit home (remember that in the UK, 94% of public service cuts and 88% of benefits cuts are reportedly yet to come). We can see the significance of this already. Filipa reported that in Portugal people are tending to see the collapse of the financial economy as a 'return to normal' - learning to depend on each other again. Yet Phoebe Bright relayed that in Ireland the majority are refusing to countenance that this is anything more than a blip before things get back to a much younger view of 'normality' - being able to rely on money to meet our needs. The responses adopted differ accordingly. To me, it was this clash of perspectives that was the take away message of the event. Transitioning Money must mean building both narratives and economic structures that empower people to step away from the crumbling mainstream and learn to trust in each other again, instead of in money. Portugal appears to be one place that is leading the way.
---Having been invited to be this week's Social Reporting guest editor and introduce the theme of economics, the burgeoning 'Occupy' movement seemed the obvious place to start. Over the last couple of months I have been fascinated as the occupations started with OccupyWallStreet on Sept 17th, followed by others joining in solidarity around the world, including OccupyLondon, which has been the London Stock Exchange's new neighbour since Oct 15th. I've not been well lately, so haven't been able to be there as much as I'd like, but I have been following events closely online and visiting when I can. It has been interesting to note that most of those I have met at OccupyLondon hadn't previously heard of Transition, and that got me thinking about the parallels and differences between the two movements... So what is 'Occupy' all about? A lot has been made in the mainstream media about the elusive "one demand" that Adbusters referred to in the original image that sparked the movement, and the ensuing lack of a single clear demand to fulfil that call. And yet the basic point comes through loud and clear. Our economic system is profoundly unfair, and we want profound change. We live under a system in which banks receive more in subsidies than they pay in taxes, where they use their power to actually create money out of thin air, where they receive hundreds of billions in bailouts, and where the graph of global income distribution looks, well, like this: It is easy to see why 'the 99%' might have something to say to 'the 1%' (the spike on the right should actually continue upwards over ten thousand times as far as shown here, or more than a kilometre above your computer!), and it also easy for us to let our brains boggle at numbers in the hundreds of billions of pounds. What can such numbers really mean? Yet Occupy has learned the hard way that they can become terribly real when we see some of the things that this virtually unlimited money is used for. For example, the New York Police Department, which has been increasingly violent in its treatment of OccupyWallSt, was given a $4.6m donation by bailed-out Wall Street megabank JP Morgan Chase, and the New York Stock Exchange and Wall Street corporations apparently now actually hire individual serving policemen for $37/hr. Such riches also permit the big financial institutions to appear generous by becoming the chief sponsors of organisations like St. Paul's Cathedral. Not to mention of course that more than 99% of us work for money, which is apparently being magicked out of thin air by others, who then use this free resource to pay the rest of us to do whatever they see fit. It suddenly becomes crystal clear why the Oakland public were chanting "who are you protecting?" as the Oakland police force closed in to attack them for being in the streets of Oakland, threatening the use of "chemical agents" via a megaphone and throwing a flash grenade at those trying to help a wounded man:
"There is always an easy solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong" ~ H. L. MenckenGiven the mess things are in, it seems absurd to expect a simple set of demands that could put it all right. Instead, OccupyLondon has as yet adopted what seems to me a far more mature approach - setting up teach-ins and a 'university' in which we can educate ourselves, and then giving the resultant discussions as long as they need. It says to the guardians of the status quo "Ok, no, we don't have all the answers, but it's abundantly clear that you don't either, so let's talk it over." And it's here where I fancy Transitioners might have a few things to say (as well as much to learn!) with our growing experience of building local economic networks that make a lot more sense than this globalised mess:
"The reality is that the growth we've lived with is going away whether we like it or not - I'm hoping that this new emergent consensus that we've been screwed comes with a collective response to the end of growth - or the solidarity won't last as the system pits people against one another"So on that note, I hand over to the social reporters to explore this week's topic of Transition economics. From local e-currencies to the gift economy - what can we bring to the discussion that is sweeping the world?