Episode #124 Waking Up: Power, possibility and politics in a Fractal Age with Indra Adnan
We all know the current system of politics and governance is utterly dysfunctional. But what will it look like – what will it feel like – to organise ourselves so that everyone has a voice, so that we come together as co-creators and build networks and movements based on our common visions and values?
Indra Adnan is a psychosocial therapist, founder of The Alternative Global and author of The Politics of Waking up: Power and possibility in the fractal age. She has been a journalist, a director of a political think tank and a community organiser. She is always an activist.
Her passion is the creation of methods of connection that allow everyone to be fully themselves, to find the place from which meaning and purpose arise and to act from there. She gave up her job at the think tank on the day the British MP Jo Cox was murdered in the run up to the 2016 Brexit Referendum, and has spent the time since then considering and creating ways to bring about the change we need to see if we’re going to address the climate, ecological and cultural chaos of our time.
In this conversation, we delve deep into the ways we might do things differently – how does a different kind of politics and governance work? How does it feel? What are the logistics and how might we bring it about? On the way, we consider the creation of an alternative media system – one that brings people together instead of splitting them apart – and the ways that local citizens action networks (CANs) can join together to create a movement of movements with unstoppable momentum.
The Alternative Global
Simon Anholt: The Good Country
David Wood: London Futurists
Marge Piercy: The Low Road
Manda: My guest today is an extraordinary individual with a fascinating history. These days, Indra Adnan is a psychosocial therapist, founder of The Alternative Global, which is a whole new way of doing politics, and author of the book The Politics of Waking Up; Power and Possibility in the Fractal Age. If you’re interested in how we can begin to structure things differently, how we can begin to think about things differently, then it’s definitely well worth a read. And on a similar basis, you will want to go ahead and at least sign up to The Alternatives daily and weekly newsletters and very likely become part of their co-creation. Because the building of networks of community is how the new politics will form. As you will discover in the podcast that follows. So people of the podcast, please do welcome Indra Adnan.
Manda: So Indra Adnan, author of The Politics of Waking Up, which is one of my favourite books and is much thumbed as you can see. Listeners, you can’t see that, but I promise you it’s much thumbed, it has many, many lines of yellow highlighter all over it. Welcome to the Accidental Gods podcast.
Indra: So good to be here. Thank you so much.
Manda: Thank you. On this beautiful spring sunny morning. So, usually I ask people, how did they get to be here? What do they do? But this morning, I really want to ask you, because so many things arrived in your life to bring you here. But what is most alive for you in this moment today?
Indra: Yeah, thank you for asking, because I am feeling something strongly at the moment and more strongly over this past few days. And it’s that I’m in a sea of conversations around the question What is new politics? Or if politics is broken, what’s the alternative? I mean, that’s how we started our own project. And as I say, many books, many references, many names, many official, unofficial conversations. But one of the aspects of what we’re doing is trying to develop a new media system and asking the question, what is the right kind of media that would bring people together, on the one hand, help them to communicate better, but also amplify something sufficiently to be attractive to people who aren’t already interested in that question. And the more I think about it, it could well be that words and books and treaties and agreements may in the end have very little to do with it. You know, the question might be more what is the feel of a new political era? What is the, to use an old word, you know, the ontology of waking up and finding your agency in a world where everyone else is doing that as well?
Indra: What does that feel like? You know, how do we create the media for that new feel? The one that, in fact, probably led to that question? You know, what is alive for you this moment? So what’s really alive for me at this moment is what does a different kind of life feel like? And what am I being attracted to and where would you be? What would you be attracted to as a feel? Yes. Rather than as a blog.
Manda: Yes or yet another video that we haven’t really got time to watch on on whatever medium is our favourite social media at the moment. Gosh, there is so much to unpick in that. So I’m going to go backwards from how I would normally go. At some point I want to talk about The Alternative Global, how you set it up, why you set it up. But it seems to me, partly because I’m at the stage of writing the book where I’m exactly trying to design exactly what you’re saying. So this feels very alive for me also. And where I’m feeling my way into is balancing between understanding this has to be co-created, that all the people who absorb this media have to be part of creating it. We’re past the stage where Lord Beaverbrook or the Barclay Brothers or somebody Murdoch with beyond stupid amounts of money, gets to print black words and white pages that people absorb and take as fact. That still happens. But we need to move beyond what in the book I’m calling the legacy media to something that’s much more alive. And balancing that, I spend a lot of time listening to Tristan Harris of the Centre for Humane Technology, and he’s just launched a new course which amazingly and wonderfully is free because he has really big sponsors, but looks really good. And I want to do it because it’s how do we create an actual humane social media technology? Because at the moment we’re stuck in a place where the race to the bottom of the brain stem is a thing. Where if one social media company, let’s say TikTok, which at the moment is growing very fast in the younger generation, were to choose not to use outrage as their most accessible means of gaining people’s attention.
Manda: Then the rest of the attention economy would look at them and go, Oh, well, you just failed, didn’t you? And they would continue to use outrage and garner the attention, and TikTok would just disappear. So now I’m in a conundrum that I would be really interested to explore with you, because this is absolutely, I think, the fertile field that you are in. Of if everyone else is using outrage and people respond with their attention, best to outrage. And we want to come from different values. We want to come from compassion and connection and coherence and clarity and grounding in the web of life. And none of these is dependent on outrage. How then, do we begin to create the conversations that make those happen? Because I believe once they’ve started, they become so generative that you don’t want the outrage anymore. But making that cross is the interesting bit. So over to you.
Indra: I’m already loving our conversation because it’s already taken on this kind of dialogue quality. I really want to hear what you’re saying and I’m going to ask myself and ask you as well, the question of whether or not our idea of what is currently happening isn’t the narrative that we’ve been fed by the very newspapers that we’re trying to get away from? So this idea, for example, that Twitter or Tik Tok is about outrage, I would question that. Because if you choose to go towards Tik Tok with your own demand for what it is that you want to see, and you’re generating your own algorithm, really. And I have a very good friend who’s a dancer, but she also works in prisons. So she has this huge, big life, right. But she says that she she came off Facebook and she came off Twitter and she only watches Tik Tok now because there she has been most successful at generating an algorithm for herself, which she only sees joyful stuff. And all she sees is joyful dancing and expression and so now she’s on social media as a joyful medium.
Manda: Ah, Interesting.
Indra: Right? She took responsibility for her own generating of it. And I would say the same thing about Twitter to some extent. I use Twitter for its hashtag mechanism, so I can find a tribe really fast by using a hashtag. You know #waking up. I suddenly, you know, move into this huge space where everybody’s interested in waking up, just simply by that small mechanism. The question of whether or not you end up getting invaded by a lot of extreme views, you know, does everybody? I mean, I think my own Twitter stream is pretty benign, to be honest.
Manda: Oh, you are so lucky! But you’ve curated it
Indra: Because I curated it. You know, and it’s the same for my Facebook. My Facebook has become a place where I find every day, I find new examples of stuff to write for our weekly newsletter. So it’s become a resource to me. And I think that, you know, to go back to what you were saying originally about the old kind of newspaper. What I understood through my studies of soft power and we can come back to that later on, is that wherever there was propaganda and propaganda is not a new thing in any way. You know, it didn’t come through the newspapers. It’s a form of relational governance.
Manda: Yes. Yes. As long as writing has existed, which is quite long time.
Indra: As long as or even as long as families have existed. You know, what I tell my son is what is correct and what is not correct is in a way, a form of trying to shape his mind. So the difference between now and then is that we’re much more aware of it. We know that we are in this relationship with power, and that’s the thing that changes everything. I’m not sure that the elites or the power will stop or agree to not behave that way, but I think they will end up behaving differently because people are seeing in what way they’re colluding with it. So I’m colluding with that kind of power. I’m colluding with this kind of polarisation, and I can choose otherwise. That’s to me the newness of this time.
Manda: Okay. So then that leads to a question of… I hear you and definitely we can curate. And I, exactly like you, have a Facebook stream now that I love, because mostly it’s about horses and dog training and regenerative farming and things. And it’s great and my friends are going Facebook that and I think well, I think Metta is probably a really, really dangerous thing, but I don’t have to take part in it. And I’ve deleted all my credit cards so they can’t steal any more money from me. However, so this is something that I cycle around quite a lot. I think we have the rest of this decade at most, to take what is essentially quite a big bus, driving very fast towards the edge of a cliff where the people who currently have the hands on the wheel are slamming their feet on the accelerator. And I want to borrow the wheel and turn it sideways and and I want to take them with us, but I definitely would like not to go over the edge of the cliff. And so. Perhaps I listen too much to Tristan Harris, but it seems that the numbers of, as in the statistics of the outrage algorithms, are pretty clear. And I absolutely hear that if you want to have an Instagram or a Facebook or Tik Tok or Twitter feed that is generative, you can do it. But that they make their money out of the fact that most people actually enjoy the righteous indignation and the outrage.
Manda: I remember reading a paper when I was at Schumacher, that you get the same hit if you get a situation where you have polarisation, my side, their side; if your side is under threat and then prevails, the dopamine release is the same as if you just had a nose full of cocaine. And that’s quite hard to wean oneself away from if you don’t have incentives so to do. You’re a psychosocial therapist. You have a lot of incentives and understanding and tools for self awareness and connectivity. How do we reach people who are currently in the attention economy and where the outrage does seem to work? I’m imagining that that’s where your original question comes from. How do we create a media that is sufficiently inspiring and engaging and feels like it’s speaking to them, not at them? I think we both share the view that Don’t Look Up was was kind of sad, because it may be the most watched Netflix film of all time, but it polarised everybody. It made the left or the progressives feel that they were absolutely right and it made everybody on the other side feel that they were being screamed at, again. And we we need to stop doing that. We need to bring everyone on the bus with us. So have you had ideas of how to do that?
Indra: It’s a fantastic, complex question. And I’m going to start by saying every attempt to serve people in a new, better way, bring out the best in them, help them find their potential, is a worthwhile one. Right. And so there will be many layers of this happening. And I think probably what Tristan’s doing is vital. I’m not going to say for a second that that’s not vital. In the same way as I would say that whatever good politics is happening, that’s vital. But I also think there’s another thing that one could be thinking about, which is really to shift one’s idea of a human being. So the danger for me is when we continue, and especially from this point of view of the ten year, this being the crucial ten years. History has proven that it’s not enough to any, you know, especially recent history to do unto people. Because whatever it is that, in a sense, people can’t do for themselves, then it leaves them vulnerable to being manipulated by someone else. So for me, the big game changer is to imagine that people do have the resources to change their own reality. They’re showing that to us in many, many ways, and it’s really their self organising that you want to tap into.
Indra: Now, when I describe myself as a psychosocial therapist, as opposed to simply a therapist, I’m saying that excuse me for using like extreme words. But, you know, it’s not simply a problem with the individual. It’s the context within, that they are able to behave. You know, we live a society that still enslaves us. We are the subject of big business and of advertising and of storytelling, which has somehow tricked us into believing that our essential emotional needs are going to get met by doing this. So by buying a handbag, I’ll get status. Now status is important for human survival, and it’s a given emotional need. But the idea that I would achieve this by buying something is the trick that has been played on us. So we are addicted to this growth economy in ways that we can’t even explain back to ourselves. Why can I not give up sugar? Why can I not give up flying? Why can I not give up meat? It’s because all my emotional needs are being met by these things that have ended up destroying the planet. Now, for me, the only real revolutionary shift that is possible is for people to wake up to themselves, you know, to get the sense that, oh, you know, it’s happening to me!
Indra: You know, I’m the one who has to take back control of my life. I have to take back control of my thinking. And the good news is that there’s a lot of that. You know, if you look at social media, it’s mostly around people watching themselves in the public space, behaving and performing in certain ways and slowly beginning to get that they are in control of their own life in some way. Or that if they’re not, they’re going to be totally a victim to everything else that’s going on around them. So this to me is like a necessary era that we’re all going through right now. If you were once completely private and you had your own inner life and your own inner logic to everything, but it just didn’t work in the public space, right. That’s what made you a divided individual. You had a true self, and then you had a public self. And it’s the public self that is constantly being harnessed. And then, you know, it makes the true self very powerless. Feeling that you’ve got to stay hidden from the public sphere, no longer the case. Right? And, you know, it used to be the difference between going out to work and coming back home. Two different kind of selves.
But now, you’re constantly in the public space. And even when you’re not thinking that you are, you’re trying to be. Every time you tweet something, every time you post something, every time you watch something, you’re being counted in some way. And this is the revolution that’s happening, in my view. So. The big question then, in response to your big question of how do we do this within the time frame? Well, I’m seeing such rapid acceleration of people self-organising in new ways. And part of me thinks, you know, it’s a bit like a wound that’s trying to heal. I kind of have to let it do it by giving it the best conditions. On the other hand, I might also help it along by creating or adding conditions that would make this accelerate more. And that’s kind of where I’m at with it myself. Is to not think of people as needing to be told or needing to be saved. But what kind of conditions can I help create, in which people could wake up and self-organize and find themselves and take control of their lives back? Because I’m a firm believer that that is coherent with a flourishing planet.
Manda: Yes. This is so exciting. And so, given that, what kind of things can you and perhaps people listening do that will help to create the best conditions for people to go through whatever process they need, to find their authentic selves? Because I think I hear that’s what you’re saying. Is it’s about each of us being authentic? And that’s everybody’s craving. Certainly everyone who comes on my dreaming courses, the when we get to the OK what is our authentic self? That is when it all begins to be coherent and wakes up. And that gap, between my authentic self that I sometimes haven’t even met and the self that I project in the world, can be huge and feels really vital. So what are you thinking that you can do to help people cross that gap and find that the authenticity they crave?
Indra: Yeah, I’m just going to add one more realm to this, what we’re describing, right? So when we say that, or when I said and you’re you’re also saying and you’re well ahead of me in so many of the practises Manda with your Shamanism and your dreaming courses. And I mean, all of this is just the stuff of this era, right? People are yearning for it. There is I would say that there are three realms that we have to acknowledge in the self. So there’s the inner self, the one the authentic self, maybe what you’re describing there. You know, the the individual that can know itself, right, but also does need boundaries. So I think quite often in the world that we’re in, people deride the individual and it’s like a social psychotherapist would say, you can’t do that right? If the individual doesn’t have a sense of itself with boundaries, that maintains privacy and that creates personal security, then it can’t be very active in the outside world. It’s just vulnerable and weak actually. So the sense of self is very important and the ability to hold that. But the sense of self as somebody in a community, like a community self, is also very important. Well, it’s vital. And that’s often missing from people’s sense of self. So you as Manda sitting in front of your microphone, I see you, but I also see the dense networks that you’re part of. You are a community person. You’ve built your community around you. When you describe that community, it describes you.
The third aspect of that is the planetary self. So you can describe the world you live in, you are aware of the of the world you live in. You’re thinking about the globe and you’re thinking about, I mean, I sense it as three different ways of describing this thing beyond your immediate community. You can describe it as a world, you can describe it as a globe, you can describe it as a planet. And then there’s the beyond that. But that exists in your mind. How that appears in your mind is probably different how it appears in mineT And different people would describe it as a globe because they’re thinking geographically or geopolitically, and others will think of it as a planet because they’re thinking of it naturally. And then others still will think of it as a world, because they’re thinking ‘my world”, The World’, you know, and then they have a sense of what that is. But it’s mostly to do with the way they look at it. But everybody has this, these three realms of self, community and beyond. Yeah. And they’re all part of the self. So this idea that you’re either an individualist or you are a socialist is fake, in my view. It’s one of the things we have to reclaim, you know, that politics has divided us or judged us to be part of this tribe or that tribe. But that’s one of the things we have to undo and unlearn, because, in fact, all of us are all of these things.
Manda: Yes. Yes. Beautiful. Okay. And so understanding that, how can we create the conditions in helping people to live in those three parts in a state of internal and external balance?
Indra: Yes, I didn’t answer your question, actually, I realise.
Manda: But it’s beautiful and I love the three realms. I think that’s really useful for all of us. So I’m glad we went there, but I’m really interested now what we can do then.
Indra: So the first step is always, well, these are all coherent steps, but to know oneself is very important, but then to move out of oneself is also important. And from a solutions based perspective, to know others that you live with is very important. So to move into your community, for example, and to know others is a simple act of rebellion against the fact that you were judged to be of this tribe or that tribe. You have been you have been categorised left or right or in or out or yes or no. I mean, you know, this is what the mainstream media has done to you. And for you to move out of that pre categorisation and move into your community to know others is a core first step. You develop a new self when you do that and then to go further and this is really the subject of my book, to move deliberately into relationship with others that you don’t know and to find conversation opportunities and eventually link up with what I call ‘the usual suspects’ in the community. The people who are always trying to do the work of enriching your community. These are the, I feel these are the political actions of today. Eventually, you can be part of, anybody can be part of, what I call community agency networks. And now these communities could be virtual. But I think it’s very important that on the ground as well, because that is where people are being polarised in ways that have real outcomes. How you vote, for example. Well, I’m not going to say that’s more of an outcome than other kinds of action. But knowing where you are being polarised and working yourself against those things is your agency. And then there is, you know, when you think about the natural occurrence and there are hundreds of thousands of these community agency networks of all different kinds; when there is the potential through technology to really connect how these things are working to each other, you’re slowly beginning to get a sense of a new form of collective agency.
Manda: Yes. And we talked on the podcast with Down to Earth Derby recently, and that was such an extraordinary, moving, grounded example of people doing exactly what you said. And the amazing thing is, the city council in Derby is really connecting with them, because they’re seeing that they are enriching people’s lives and that this matters and it’s beautiful. So that has struck me as one of the core ways people can begin to take agency. And if I’ve understood your CANs…
Indra: Climate Action Networks. Funnily enough, it started out as something that… I’ll tell you how it started out. That we were beginning to think of how do we counteract this polarisation, and not forgetting that we started this initiative, having spent ten years in a political think tank. I jumped ship on the day that Jo Cox was murdered. Because it seemed to me that at that moment, it became so clear to me, the relationship between this deliberate polarisation and something much worse than that. How people could, as you rightly say, through the through the work of the amygdala, you know, be driven so crazy that they might actually murder somebody in the process. And that’s what happened. And it came right to the surface. And this was simply around the vote about whether to be in the European Union or not. You know, something that most people haven’t thought about at all until the moment came and they were polarised in this sense.
Indra: So that knowledge that we needed to come together on the ground became really obvious to us. But it’s really the action of understanding that you can do that. That human agency, that this desire for everybody to have more agency or, you know, millions of individuals being, in a way, woken up through the arrival of the Internet three decades ago. And this is the era that I call the revolution that we’ve been in, requires you know, some form of container. So it’s not enough really to just be waking up to your own new powers or your own new enlightenment or your own new ways of seeing things.
If indeed, we don’t have any containers for this kind of action. So that’s the thing that we started to prototype ourselves in the first couple of years of being part of this platform. And it’s when we started to prototype them and really try to design new ways of bringing people together in a community. And we thought about it a lot, how to how to bring it, going back to the original thing I was talking about, what kind of design would be really attractive to people, have the right energy in it, you know, using the arts, using food and drink and so on. We just call them friendlies, you know, how do we design friendlies for people to come together? And then invite them into looking at the future and then invite them to start prototyping new things like, you know, social enterprise, new gatherings, new forms of media. This is what happened in the process. So this prototyping that we did and the beginning to look at the community in a new way, and beginning to see what does it actually take to move into more diverse gatherings, made us see that what we were trying to build already existed. And this is very much been the, this has been the pattern all along of our intervention. Is to think we need something, start to design it and see it’s already there.
Indra: So that has become something that I’m so familiar with now, that I have my own eureka moments and think, Oh, we should do this and start to do it and find it’s being done already.
Manda: But you then can amplify it. So let’s take a step back before we talk about that, because you said we a lot and we haven’t actually discussed yet on the podcast, who ‘we’ is and how it arose. So do you want to tell us about The Alternative, what it is, how it arose? Give us the kind of edited bio of that.
Indra: Yeah, sure. So at the time, having been through a career of first the arts and then conflict transformation, this is just my journey in a nutshell. And then thinking and writing about soft power, which for those who are not familiar with that term, it’s an international relations term which talks about the difference between guns and money and the power of influence and attraction and storytelling. So I actually wrote about this for about six years for The Guardian, and I did a lot of consulting to governments. And I eventually ended up with this hard truth, that unless you go into politics and understand what politics is and change that, you’re not going to achieve any of your goals. So I joined a political think tank. I spent a lot of time. I even ran to be an MP at one point. And, you know, I thought I was just frustrated the entire time. You know, it was very obvious to me that the party political system is very dysfunctional. And I wrote several papers. One was about new times and another one was about, is the party over? And at the time that I wrote, Is the party over? I met somebody called Uffe Elbæk, who was running a very different kind of political party in Denmark, called The Alternative.
And he himself had been running another programme called Chaos Pilots for about 25 years, teaching young people how to be able to pilot the future, you know, how to be capable of the future. And he was like a serial entrepreneur. And he founded the party called The Alternative. And he started without a manifesto, without a political programme. And just ran political laboratories all over Denmark and crowdsourced his manifesto. And on the basis of that, he was elected into Parliament. I should say, he was already Culture Minister, because he’d been headhunted by the Liberal Party there. But he only, he only lasted for a year as culture minister before he thought I’ve got to get out of here, right. I’ve got to get out of here and start something completely new. And this is what he did, by crowdsourcing his political programme and on the basis of that became the most the fastest growing party in Denmark for a period of time. A lot of young people, you got about 10% of the vote, which is amazing.
Manda: It’s more than the Green Party’s ever had over here.
Indra: Yeah, but it is a proportional system. Yeah. We don’t have a chance here. That’s why we started The Party ourselves. So I just used to spend time with him. I used to go to Denmark. He really liked my ideas. I loved his ideas. We spent time together. And I was in Denmark on the day that Jo Cox was murdered. And it was on that day that I said, That’s it. I’ve had enough of the old system. I’m jumping ship. And we started The Alternative. So it was, I must say it was in a way, it was my emotional jump that sort of started this thing. But I was joined by my partner, Pat Kane, who is a writer and a singer, and wrote a book called The Play Ethic and has always been the editor of our Daily Alternative and the weekly newsletter. So yeah, I could talk for hours about Pat too, but…
Manda: Maybe we’ll invite him onto the podcast and he can talk for hours.
Indra: Yes, that’s right. And the third person in the triangle at that time was a young girl called Maria Dorothea Skov, who had been with the rise of The Alternative in Denmark, and then very smartly moved to London and offered herself as an intern. Which was an amazing thing to do, actually. And she’s been with us ever since. She’s a designer and she’s also a community manager, so to speak. But she also has her own animus, which is that she’s a great believer in the Leisure Society, and she believes that political agency will find its place in the Leisure Society, and that is the kind of future that her generation can see coming.
Manda: So this is when technology does most of the drudgery and people are working at things that they find have meaning and purpose. And that leisure and work then become indistinguishable.
Indra: Yes. In a way, workforce way. You know, in the old sense. And what we think of now, is maybe we might describe it as activism or civic action, you know, becomes enjoyable enough for it to be what we would do in our time that isn’t the essential work that we have to do.
Manda: OK, interesting
Indra: And so it’s a lovely vision and just part of it. And then we open the doors to co-creators. And co-creators are distinct from subscribers. Subscribers are people who receive our newsletter. But we invite people who want to give actual time to The Alternative. And we’ve got about 800 of co-creators. That in itself is difficult to manage, so it’s an unfolding powerhouse, if you like. But we’ve also got some key organisational partners, that we identified right from the beginning and they would include Perspectiva – I don’t know if your viewers are familiar?
Manda: We’ve spoken to Andrea Lawson, who also published through Perspectiva. So we know that it’s a press that publishes amazing books.
Indra: Yes, that’s that’s partly it. But it’s an enquiry described as system souls in society. And I would describe it as a place of where the where the meta-verse, if you like, or the meta-thinking hits the ground, you know. So it operates at all of those levels. And it’s founded by Jonathan Rowson, who himself was a grand chess master, a very fascinating person. (Hello, Jonathan!). But we also had as one of our founding partners, Peter Macfadyen, who was the author of Flatpack Democracy, because he did something very original and vital and essential to democracy, by showing how a community that if it becomes coherent, can take over a council so that it becomes in a way a community council. And it’s modelling and has been modelling for quite some time now; six years? How to do that, how to be, how to get right into the system with people power. So yeah, also Simon Anholt, who was the founder of The Good Country, something I think other people could explore. We had a number of beautiful artists. It was along the I, We, World axis. Oh and David Wood, who’s the founder of London Futurists. We’ve always had a techer.
Manda: I need to talk to all these people.
Indra: Yeah. I mean, he’s a totally fascinating person. He wrote a book called The Abolition of Ageing, but he is just a very good hearted man in tech. You know, who’s had an incredible history himself, of invention and design, and now is very engaged in being able to move into the future with technology as a form of, you know, all of that support, I think that we described, that we need as we let go of our old ways of being and move into our new ways of being.
Manda: Yes. So there’s so much to unpick in there. I want to go back to the CANs, the community action networks, whatever we’re calling them. Can you describe a little bit about, someone listening, how they could engage with this. Either with you, or what it would feel like and what the logistics would be, of doing that in a local area to create something that works.
Indra: So the prototypes that we are starting are, you know, they’re small and they’re hard working in terms of we’re trying to map every step of the way. So if you were to join us, we’re currently prototyping in several places around the world actually, but also in the UK. And we’re using the U-lab process. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that? Otto Scharmer’s U-Lab process. Just to help us not only be able to articulate the steps in the programme, how you move from gathering together the people who are already doing the work, moving out into a much more diverse community, how to then go from there to looking at the future and building these prototypes that I described to you. We’re always in that process; designing and modelling. So if you were to join us even tomorrow, you’d become part of that journey. And if you were right now in Wandsworth or in Knaresborough or in Birmingham or in the other places going on… In Hackney. You’d have somewhere easy to join in the process. On the other hand, also in Mexico, we’re doing that now. And in South Africa there’s different parts of the world as well involved at this moment, through the U-Lab process. It’s 90 different countries. And if I listen to what they’re doing there, it’s more or less what we’re doing as well.
Indra: So in 90 different countries, there are places where people are beginning to build community agency networks. If you want to join something that’s been going for a while that’s already quite established, I would find either an eco village or a transition town that’s established near you, because at the heart of that is the same principle, you know, being able to connect the flourishing of a human being to the flourishing of the community, to the flourishing of the planet. And there’s so much good practise already there. And the tools and the methods are available and the community is already there. So that’s definitely… We’re connected to transition. If we were close to an eco village. These all have, you know, they have their presence online. You can find out if there’s one near you. But what I’m trying to emphasise is that it’s about you moving into relationship with others at a community level. And this is what I describe as the cosmo-local mentality, right?
Indra: Some of you listening will be thinking, now, I’m not so into this, you know, small, flat, you know, very slow action. But when you think about it as a cosmo-local entity, which they all are; What we’re describing is how when you are engaging in these practises and you’re engaging in the reporting of what you’re doing, in the way that we were talking about right at the beginning. Whether you’re tweeting about it or you’re Facebooking about it or you’re Instagramming about it or Tik Toking, you will feel that everything you’re doing is is relevant and others are doing it as well. So it’s part of a global movement of people doing this kind of work. It’s just that we’ve named it in a certain way and we’ve named the containers and the importance of containers. Because all of this is important for self organising. If we’re just alone out in the universe of Twitter, or out in the Internet world, whichever way you want to partake, it’s overwhelming. You know, you can’t get traction at all. You’ll just be lost. But if you’re beginning to create containers for that energy in a place where you live and you’re partaking, it’s the same thing but it’s organised and it’s beginning to have results. And you can move it towards and be part of a worldwide movement that’s moving towards, climate transformation.
Manda: Brilliant. So in the end, we could create a movement of movements, if if each of these individual entities understood themselves to be part of a greater movement, then we could knit them together. We have a listener (Hello, Claire!), who listened to our podcast with Trust The People and then went on their course, and now is doing extraordinary work, gathering together the people who care that our local river’s having raw sewage dumped into it. Which is a single focal point, but it’s creating community and it’s creating really powerful community. And it’s now linking up with other rivers that have communities that care what is being dumped into them. And now we’re organising in our local river, training for all of us to be able to go and do river testing, to see what little microorganisms are in there, so that we can feedback so that people have data. And it creates a network of people who otherwise probably don’t have a huge amount in common. And I’m also finding that creating networks around food; everybody has to eat.
Manda: It’s one of our universal principles. And if I go to people who are otherwise, we know we’re at opposite ends of the spectrum. We watch each other buy the different newspapers in the village shop. But if I drop the climate change narrative and say ‘I want to eat food that grows on fields that I can walk across, and where my buying of that food helps the young children of the people that we know both know well, to have employment that they find meaningful and enjoy’. On that level, we can have total coherence and we can let go of the ‘you don’t believe in climate change. And I think it’s going to roast us all in a decade’ and just grow food together. And what’s the best way to grow food together? And fertiliser just went from £200 a ton to £1,200 a ton. And they’re all looking at we can’t afford to fertilise anymore. And fortunately, the regenerative farming community is going, ‘we can help you! We’re there’.
Manda: So I think you’re right. There’s this movement of movement arising. So given that, I want to read a little bit from your amazing and wonderful book, and then I have questions. Because I think you’re the only person I’ve interviewed who might be able to answer them. So what you wrote is:.
What is needed today is a completely new political idea that puts the need for human agency, rather than abstract ideology, at the heart of the project. This would be a political framework that meets the desire for coming together and healing, in the process of taking back control of our lives. It would connect people to a more sustainable, as well as a technologically enhanced economy’
If I’d read that out at the beginning, we’d have been unpicking that line by line all the way through. But we’re nearly towards the end. But I’m really interested in the mechanics of how we create a new political system in the timescale that works, which can supplant the old one. Because I think you and I both agree that the current political system is utterly dysfunctional. I have slowly, over the course of doing this podcast, come to realise that it’s too late to try and fix it. And therefore, we need a whole new political system. And I read somewhere in your book that in Somaliland, they’re using iris recognition as a way of identifying people. I think that’s technologically possible. But we still have to find a way of bringing together the demos, the greater mass of people, in ways that gives everybody a voice and doesn’t just give voice to the people who shout loudest or longest or hardest or most derisively. And then generates in the way the gentleman whose name I can never pronounce in Denmark, crowdsourcing the manifesto. Crowdsourcing what it is that we all care about deeply enough that we can agree on this. And then finding the structures to make that happen. This might be a whole other podcast, but you seem to be one of those people who is thinking about this daily. And you’re way ahead of me on this because I have only just recently started thinking about it daily. So how do we do it? What does it look like?
Indra: Yeah, I mean, you forgive me. I’m going to just answer your question directly. Because if you can hold the undeniable truth that none of us know anything, right. But on the other hand, we can sense a possibility. And so all I’m going to share with you now is what I sense as possible. And I can also sort of see it in my mind’s eye. And the reason I can put my faith in it, is because it’s very natural. It looks like nature and I can see so much evidence that it’s already happening. So what I’m looking at is this movement from the chaos of the era of human agency beginning to self-organize. And through that self-organisation, just imagine that as hundreds of thousands in this country, millions of CANs everywhere. People simply moving into relationship with each other, beginning to hear their own voices and making decisions together about things, right. Right in the midst of that is also arising what I call a new economy. So people spending their money differently. People learning about things like community wealth building; how to how to pull back the money from the wider economy into their own place so that the people can thrive there. These are all things that have been going on for ten, 15 years and are now coming into the limelight. Those communities, those CANs everywhere, becoming connected to each other. We’re in the process now of understanding how the CANs can move into relationship with each other and begin to share the knowledge, the methods, the tools.
This will accelerate the more people can understand the reality of climate change. In a way, we wouldn’t wish for it, but we know that this is going to happe. That the more people feel the reality of it, the more they’ll start to do something that makes them feel better about it. Right now, we’re still on the brink of that. We don’t see the need so much, but we will do. It’s going to accelerate. And the technology has to be ready and waiting for that. And that’s the thankless task of a lot of people who are building that system now. Right? The difference between simply the popular voice and an organised popular voice is massive, right? And the missing link that I found for myself, I needed to articulate, was this notion of a parallel polis, right. So if we keep trying to organise under the current system, we’ll only ever have this power of our voice and our protest and our influence. We’re demanding something and it’s not going fast enough. In a parallel polis, we have the power of changing the way we act, changing the things we invest in, changing our reality in the place we live, and seeing how others are doing that everywhere else around the world, this becomes a new source of power. It’s already happening. You know what happened over Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg was clever enough to capitalise on what was already happening.
And so he’s sort of in that old way, siphoned off all of the capital that was being generated there by the people joining Facebook. So one of the key things is how does this new technology own its own data? You know, be co-owned by everybody that’s in it? That’s a game changer. So we’re not anymore in hock to the mega technology inventors of the current day. We don’t have to be owned by. We start to own it ourselves. And that also is a part of the parallel polis. So it’s the sense of something is genuinely taking shape and the parallel nature of it means not that it wants to overthrow the government. It doesn’t have that kind of character. It’s more that it wants to be in a much better partnership with the old system or with the current government than we have right now. We can’t be in partnership because we’re not constituted. We can only have a voice and then we’re being manipulated all the time for our voice. But if we had a space in which we were constituting our own power in ways that actually started to make new decisions, you know, and create a new economy, all the while fuelled by everything that we’ve been describing in this podcast, Manda. You know, by people moving into themselves, a new understanding, a new narrative, a new idea of what it means to be alive, a new idea flourishing.
The final piece of the puzzle is that we need this alternative media system because if people can’t see the work they’re doing reflected in the public space properly, they’ll keep thinking that they are powerless and that they’re not making a difference. One of the early roles of the Alternative Weekly is that people are saying to us, You know, I never I didn’t realise this was going on. I didn’t know all of this was happening. You know, I’m also doing this. I feel myself reflected in this. There isn’t anywhere really for people to feel that coherently. And I’m not simply talking about what we would do, but what we would do in partnership with all the other people also trying to do that. And that being a co-owned system. Whereby all the people doing the action can upload into the system, before it’s transmitted as news coming from that system. So it’s not simply a new newspaper, it needs to be a new media system. But once these things are in place, then you have a genuinely new source of power. And that can be in itself, have systems of governance that start to make decisions across the whole space. Now, when that is in place, it’s a little bit to me, like, if I imagine it in the future, it could be like in the U.K., for example, instead of having a House of Lords, we’d have this permanent parallel polis. Where you can always have access to what the people are doing and thinking; how they’re spending their money, what is being generated and really what the government will be somewhat reduced to doing, is serving that space better and spending our taxes in a way that suits this other half.
It’s not a half. I mean, it’s the 98%, right? Only 2% of people are members of political parties. But this 98% is really showing what is going on in the wider society. So this is my vision of a parallel polis now. You know, that is a new political system. Now, the question is, could that ever happen in this amount of time? I think the key to that is looking back at what has already happened and realising that the real problem is that we can’t see it. It’s not visible to us. This is already happening, but we can’t see that it’s happening. And so therefore it’s too slow for us. But if we did all of this work I’m describing, where we ourselves commit to being part of that system as opposed to the other one. That shift in yourself IS the shift. So I’m going to invest in this now, rather than invest in that. And I believe this is possible, rather than this is inevitable. That inner shift is the biggest one. And I can imagine that happening because I’ve been part of that kind of shift before.
Manda: Yes. And the more people who join. We get exponential growth. I am really put in mind of an amazing Marge Piercy poem and I cannot remember the name of it, but the last few lines are: ‘it starts when you say ‘we’ and know who you mean. And each day you mean one more’. And I think this is exactly what you’re saying. It starts when we say, when everybody joins and goes, okay, I just don’t want to be part of the old broken system. I want to create a new world and I’m going to start doing it here and now, in spite of the framework that we’re leaving behind. That’s so exciting.
Indra: It’s an incredible time we’re living in. Honestly, I feel that really strongly.
Manda: Yeah. Yes. Joanna Macey says there are souls queuing up to be born now because it’s so exciting.
Manda: I hope so. I really hope so. We’ve run out of time, which is sad because actually I’d really quite like to follow that particular road further down, of what it looks like. But I think we’ll come back again. And definitely for those of you listening who are coming into Utopia, Indra is going to come and talk explicitly about creating new democratic and political systems within Thrutopia. And so we will unpick that a lot more. And then you will see it written in so many different ways, that it will become the dominant new frame of our culture, and then everybody will know about it and then it’ll happen. Yay!
Manda: Indra, I think what you just said is fantastic closing words. But if there was anything else you wanted to say to people listening, now’s your chance.
Indra: No. I mean, you know, I want to thank you because the way that you are doing this is exactly what is needed. And to be part of your podcast is really being in this system and doing this work. And so I invite anybody who’s listening to ask yourself, you know, what is your medium? If you’re feeling any of this, how do you want to feel it communicated? And what is the way you would communicate what you’re now feeling? Because when you find that, that’s it. You’re giving rise to the thing that we’re all trying to give rise to.
Manda: Yeah,find what makes your heart sing and then sing it. Beautiful. Thank you so much, Indra. It’s been such an inspiring hour together. And I look forward to talking to you later on Thrutopia. Thank you.
Indra: Yeah, thank you.
Manda: And that’s it for another week. Enormous thanks to Indra for the depth and perspicacity of her thinking. She is genuinely one of the few people I know who has spent decades trying to work out all of the ways that we could do things differently in our political and governance system. It, I think, is clear to all of us by now, that the existing system is utterly dysfunctional. And yet, how to supplant it and displace it and replace it in a way that is completely peaceful and that draws people with us, is the challenge of our time. And Indra is one of those who is addressing it on a daily basis. So if this has touched you at all, head over to The Alternative and connect and see how you can begin to be part of the movement of movements in your world.
Manda: Filling in some of the other gaps. The poem that I couldn’t remember is called The Low Road by Marge Piercey, and I will put a link to that in the show notes, along with links to Indra’s book and her website and the various other people and entities that she mentioned. And if you’re interested in being part of what I’m hoping will turn out to be a think tank, creating the stories that will take us forward to inspire people who don’t have time to go and check out websites, but who still want ideas of how we can frame the world differently. Then come along to Thrutopia at thrutopia.life, and be part of the new visioning of how we can do things differently on all levels, in all ways.
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