Paul Evans writes profoundly – even if too occasionally of late – over at Never Trust a Hippy, shares more than he should at www.memeserver.co.uk (his periodically emailed newsletter is always interesting and full of magnificent leaps of faith) – and the little of his company I have been privileged to share has led me to understand how very little I properly know about this world.
With his Political Innovation project, maybe a five-year mission at that, he has been bravely going where few politicians currently dare to go. If combative politics has always to a certain degree been characteristic of Westminster, and crossing the parliamentary line of trench warfare a real no-no, the truth of the matter is that as the rest of the world begins to embrace collaborative dynamics – from crowdsourcing in general to open source licences in particular – London-centric political activity of the high-level and stratospheric sort seems evermore anchored in a dated and highly lawyerly-laced interpretation of how far an outstretched hand should be shaken in good faith or – alternatively – surgically excised at source.
Paul’s strengths, therefore, lie not only in his ability to see this wider tendency, conclude that politics is missing the boat dangerously and care enough to want to do something about it but also in his capacity to cross those parliamentary lines in the interests of sharing his truth: we cannot make this complex and intertwined 21st century world function if we do not learn to engineer a very different kind of body politic.
Chris, over at Stumbling and Mumbling, has recently described how politicians are becoming irrelevant and whilst I don’t entirely agree I can see what he is getting at. But where Paul goes further than any of us in this matter is in his firm and evidenced conviction that something can be done about the process whereby traditional politicians (those I describe as visible in the news: the ones we vote for via the ballot box and expect to some degree to choose to represent us) are ceding ground to the highly undemocratic lot who are creating all the mini behind-the-scenes and self-contained dictatorships which revolve evermore powerfully around what we used to understand were our democratic institutions.
Paul may realise or not that this is where he is directing his efforts: I, however, can see it as clear as the light of a brightly clear winter’s morning. If our body politics cannot recapture for themselves the concept, act and implementation of the very essence we call democratic discourse, the instincts and impulses which have led so many freedom-loving people over long and sustained periods of history to participate in and engage with such ideas will simply shift their focus away from politics as we have known it to other areas of human endeavour. And whether this endeavour involves communicating across thousands of miles of virtual community in order to construct new worlds of information and emotional exchange at the margins of what we understand to be political activity or – instead – revolves around new ways of actively expressing a sense of sustained and total disengagement with everything and anything our elders and not so elders have cared to fashion on our supposedly democratic behalves, the loss will seriously belong to our existing power structures who will lose entire generations to future activity.
Democracy is as much a human need as food, shelter, education and health. And if traditional political structures can no longer supply the channels to allow it to develop as it must, then we will all begin to look elsewhere to satisfy this inherent human need – in companies, in local pubs and clubs, in social media, in virtual relationships of all kinds, in diary-writing, in amateur journalism and more generally in the psychological stroking that is liking, retweeting and hyperlinking.
Just because our democracies don’t work any more doesn’t mean we will give up on making democracy operate somewhere in our lives. As a by-the-by, it may in fact be working as well as it ever did in the past – but those of us who are moving on, the perhaps now excessively educated consumer-producers of the early 21st century, have simply outgrown what those power structures were formerly prepared to allow us.
And Paul and the Political Innovation motto – “For anyone who has ever asked themselves ‘why is politics still done like this?’” – realise this like no one else seems to care to at the moment.
If politics doesn’t get it soon, those of us who believed in impassioned, informed and intelligent public debate will either be unproductively spending our days despising the mini dictatorships I describe in my previous post and above – or will find ourselves sheering off from traditional politics into other worlds of entirely our own making.
Neither tendency would be good for a wider social cohesion – both would lead to greater inequality and trench warfare-like impulses across the political divides; not only those already on stage but also those surely waiting more than eagerly in the wings.
If, then, we are to save politics from itself, we need to explain this broader society – this inherent democratic instinct and need – to a sad, stumbling and mumbling political class which fails to see where the vast majority of society already finds itself.
And Paul has known this for far longer than he has cared to let on to.
You can always trust a hippy.
At least as far as profundity of thought and the requirement – one day – to intertwine it with deed is concerned.
So if you’re interested in beginning to save politics from itself, register for this event now – for the first in a series of translation layers which will serve not to distance ourselves from the matter to hand but bring us ever closer to a clearer understanding of how out-of-time and very near our sell-by dates we have allowed ourselves to become.
And one very important point to begin wrapping up today’s post: remember that in Paul you have not only a leader of the cleverest kind but, also, interestingly and surprisingly, a teacher who is prepared to allow you to believe the bright ideas were originally yours.
That not only shows a rare and generous intelligence, it also demonstrates the supreme – where not arrogant – confidence that comes out of being incredibly knowledgeable.
To be honest, I really don’t know where to start. But at least, via Paul’s gentle shepherding, over the past couple of years I’ve realised we need to start somewhere.
At least I now know a start is absolutely essential.
So my final question is: what about you? What do you now think we should do?