Episode #117 What’s an Economy for, anyway? Building an economy for people and planet with Yannick Beaudoin
What’s our economy for? Does it have to keep growing at the expense of all we hold dear, the things that make life worth living? Or can we re-imagine a new way of doing things that would value what matters most to us, and keep people and planet healthy?
Yannick Beaudoin is Director-General for Ontario and Northern Canada with the David Suzuki Foundation and Director for Innovation and forOntario with the Wellbeing Economies Alliance for Canada and the Sovereign Indigenous Nations. He brings a ‘new economics for transition’ lens to the organisation to enable the transformation of Canada towards social and ecological sustainability. He has a background in marine geology, was former Chief Scientist with GRID-Arendal, a United Nations Environment Programme collaborating centre – and has a Masters from Schumacher college in Economics for Transition.
We talk with him this week in his role in the Wellbeing Economies Alliance for Canada – and as part of the greater Alliance, which incorporates nations as far apart as Scotland and New Zealand, and organisations across the globe. David brings his sense of scope and place and humanity to the huge questions of today: What’s our economy for? And if it’s not fit for purpose, how can we shift the system to something which would bring people and planet into balance and harmony
Manda: My guest this week is Yannick Beaudoin. He’s director general for Ontario and northern Canada with the David Suzuki Foundation. And director for innovation and for Ontario with the Wellbeing Economies Alliance of Canada and the Sovereign Indigenous Nations. In his past, David’s been a marine geologist and spent 14 years working for the U.N. before he was head hunted back to Canada, to form his role at the David Suzuki Foundation. And he brings to our conversation, I think, a particularly incisive view of where we are with our economies and our politics, and of how we can shift. All of this podcast is aligned towards how we can shift and gathering as many different views of that as we can get, and Yannick’s is clear, concise and I think really fruitful.
Manda: On the way through, he mentions in passing the Three Horizons Model and Theory U; both of which are, I believe, immensely useful if we want to begin to explore different ways of being. So I will put links to those in the show notes. And this is also the place and time to remind you that I do think crafting a narrative, a roadmap, ways through to a flourishing future that we would be proud to leave to the generations that come after us is the single most important thing that many of us could be doing. So the Thrutopia masterclass, which aims to give us the tools to do that, will be open from the first of May and run through till the 16th of October. And if you want to know more or want to sign up, head to thrutopia.life. And in the meantime, people of the podcast please do welcome Yannick Beaudoin.
Manda: So, Yannick Beaudoin, welcome to the Accidental Gods podcast all the way from Canada. Thank you for joining us. We’re in the middle of a storm Gladys, I think. How are you?
Yannick: My absolute pleasure. I’m very good. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Manda: And you’re not having a storm. Usually, it’s North America gets all the wild weather, and we sit in Britain going, Oh, that looks bad. And currently, it’s the other way around. It’s great. So amongst other things, you co-lead the Wellbeing Economies Alliance for Canada and the sovereign indigenous nations, and I love that that’s a unit. I’m kind of guessing that there may be political entities in Canada that don’t consider that to be a unit yet. But am I projecting Trumpism onto Canada that doesn’t exist?
Yannick: No. I mean, obviously there’s been quite a history when it comes to relationships with indigenous nations, both politically and societally in Canada. Obviously, over the last decade, it’s been a lot of movement and discussion, debate all kinds of different pathways opening on something called reconciliation. And so there’s a long way to go. By no means are we near. But I think the fact that we’re on that path as a society, having deeper discussions and conversations is hopefully opening up to meaningful change. Not just recognition but really about allyship together, nation to nation.
Manda: So it’s not just hollow words. And it seems to me that the whole of the Wellbeing Economies Alliance, Canada and beyond in the other places where it’s taken hold is about creating real change on the ground with real people in ways that can then spread kind of centripetally through communities, so that it’s not just yet another talking shop. So can you tell us a little bit about what it is, what Canada’s involvement is and what your involvement is?
Yannick: Yeah, I think I mean, obviously, this is an interesting time in history, right? We’re living a moment that’s quite unique and disruptive with a global pandemic. But a lot of the wellbeing economies thinking and kind of formation started well before that, you know, maybe four or five years ago as a kind of a point in time to sort of say, it’s great to have all these initiatives around greening the economy, cleaning the economy. But at some point we have to start being able to sort of say, what is the purpose of an economy? And are we going to keep going with that purpose that came out of the Second World War? Or are we starting to think that in twenty first century, a different purpose is needed, not only needed, but is actually completely possible? So this is kind of the laying the groundwork that say that the foundational elements to sort of say if an economy isn’t designed or isn’t intentionally there to deliver for people and planet, you know, for health or quality of life, why bother? Why have one? So I think this is where maybe the initial kind of catalytic questions came to be. And then the idea now is to start expanding some of that thinking and imagination power.
Manda: Yeah, it reminds me a lot of listening to Kate Raworth back at Schumacher in the Masters for what they used to call economics for a transition. And now they call regenerative economics. So that we have, as we run at the moment, an economy that is designed to grow, whether or not people and planet thrive. And what we need is an economy that is designed, as you said, so that people and planet thrive, whether or not the economy grows. For people who are not familiar with the fault lines in the current economy and we could spend, obviously we could do an entire series of the fault lines in the current economy. But I was very struck, when we had our pre broadcast conversation, by your capacity to instead of confronting people and going, OK, this is broken. Instead asking the question, Is this working for you? And that seemed to me an extremely useful way in to a conversation that can often become tribalized quite quickly. So can you tell us a little bit about the evolution of that as a concept and way of talking to people?
Yannick: Yeah, I mean, it ties into a little bit what brought me back to Canada. I was living in Norway for about 15 years. Then I got this call with the U.N., got this call from the foundation that said, ‘Hey, wouldn’t you like to come back to Canada and set up this space and strategic area in economics’ and I said, OK. So then it opens up two choices. You either go down the technical pathway, you know, technical economics, we’re going to remodel, we’re going to use some ecological systems and put some numbers. Or you might go down a more narrative pathway which is trying to myth bust a lot of the old assumptions and that old thinking to then re-empower. And so what I chose to do is I go, OK, well, let’s just have some conversations. Let’s go out there, in the times before, when we were allowed to have big meetings, a lot of people. And did a lot of town halls across the southern Ontario, some in Quebec and elsewhere, just to sort of see what were Canadians thinking when it came to the idea of an economy, the economy, this thing, this concept. And so one of the questions I would ask right off the bat is can anybody tell me what the purpose of the Canadian economy is? To which I would get no answer. A lot of quizzical thinking, hard steam coming out of the ears. And then I would just… That shocked me a little bit.
Yannick: Hmm. And then I would ask a little bit more questions saying, ‘what would you like the purpose to be?’ And then I could fill a white wall full of designs and stuff. And they were all very, of course, qualitative based. And so, sorry if I lost myself here, they were all a bit qualitative based and based on the things that are really meaningful to people that have values around our, you know, our relationships and our futures and the futures of our children. So then suddenly, I think that’s what raised, at least in the Canadian context: there’s a big disconnect. There’s a big disconnect between what people think the current system does, which is apparently a blank, if you’re asking the average person just having a coffee somewhere. Versus what their aspirations would be. Like, what should this system be doing? And so that in a way kind of laid the groundwork for us at our foundation to decide, well, look, it’s very easy to tap into the technical, the models. There’s lots of all kinds of alternative quantitative models out there and do it this way, do that way. It’s a lot harder to get into the root side of things. Where where did these things come from? What sources of human imagination were used and what would happen if we used way more, you know, tapped into way more sources of human imagination than, let’s say, the last go round in the late forties?
Manda: Yeah, I kind of like to pick back to the 40s and look at the Bretton Woods and things, but I think that might be a bit of a sidetrack. We might get to that later. Because it seems to me, possibly because I live in the UK and possibly because I wrote a series of books about the Roman invasion of Britain, but that actually our value system is pretty Roman. That everything is dominated by the Pater Familius who is dominated by the emperor. So basically, there’s a hierarchy with white blokes at the top and they have a right to take anything that they want from anybody else, by virtue of force of power, because our army is bigger than your army. And once we’ve established that, then we can continue to just tax you till you bleed dry. And I’m not convinced that it started in the 40s. I think possibly the current system did. But the the value system, the Romans didn’t even invent it. It’s just that they exported it very effectively, and then the British Empire exported it even more effectively. So I’m interested in how you are finding establishing new narratives when everything has a price. We know the price of everything and the value of nothing and that the price is what matters. We all have to earn enough money to not be destitute because there is a hierarchy and we’ve all seen the people freezing on the streets. How does that play out? Or are you coming at it from a different angle?
Yannick: Well, I mean, I think you hit kind of the the nail on the head there with where do these assumptions come from? Where do these value systems come from? Where does the belief that it is normal to have a market full of food and a hungry person dying next to it, because you don’t have money? Money is just an invention. And so I think this is the hard part, but also maybe the rewarding part, right? If you really want to get into breakthrough thinking imagination, new spaces, that first step of questioning and allowing ourselves to question these deep seated underlying assumptions; that extraction is normal, that nature is a resource. That people are resources, right? On and on and on. And where did this come from? And like you just said, it comes from a very, very western way of thinking. But there’s no singular point in time to say, Aha, that’s exactly the day that all this became normalised. Of course not. It’s builds off each other, you know, over time. And then after a couple of thousand years of that thinking, you start to see the manifestations in the systems we have. The challenge then becomes, OK, let’s just change the system. So instead of GDP, we’re going to have green GDP and the system will be changed. And it’s like, but you haven’t yet question the underlying value or the value system. So some of my initial conversations when I join the foundations were with theologists. And the first theologist I had a coffee with from University of Toronto, just simply said, like, you’re an economist, why on earth would you want to meet with me? And I just kind of put it out to him a bit.
Yannick: Building on Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, constantly referring to, We’ve turned into a religion, right? Economics is a religion. And then I put that to the theologist and say, If you were going to change a belief system, where would you start? And that was a bit how you start to influence. It’s not going to be a bunch of numbers and data, right? It’s going to be something else. It’s going to be getting into the emotional and the intuitive. Things we’ve lost in our western cultures. Things that are taught or educated out of us, right. You have to become objective. You have to see the world in a very objective way. And it’s like, again, an invention, right? That was all of that is negotiable. Every single thing in the human world is negotiable. So when people say you can’t change it, it’s like, well, you can, because only a few brains were involved in inventing it in the first place. So I think I know I’ve kind of gone off in different paths and different directions there, but that’s a bit of where again, I feel that some of the maybe untapped imagination potential from all the change movements in the last few decades. One of the areas we haven’t looked into is again, those deeper, messier, more complex spaces of the human condition.
Manda: Ok, so this feels exactly what this podcast is about and and exactly what the book that I’m writing at the moment is about. So I’m really keen that we get down here. So let’s kick off with on the WEAll Canada site. There’s a beautiful green emblazoned bit that says WEAll Canada is working to bring together a critical mass of people and organisations to reimagine and design an economic system that is purpose built, to generate well-being for all people and the planet. And there’s a bunch of things in there that I want to look at. I want to look at critical mass, I want to look at the balance between people and organisations. But just at this moment, I’d really like to delve into re-imagining, designing and disseminating an economic system that is purpose built to generate well-being for all people on the planet. How? How do we do that? How are you going about doing that?
Yannick: And so this is probably the age old question in any change movement, right? How do you get to the desired change? And I think the tension point again, is a lot to do with Western thinking, right? We feel locked in a lot in environmentalism movements, social justice movements. We’re still come from a very western way of thinking, a very linear project management approach to change. And so if you can park that for a moment and then say, OK, well, if we repeat, repeat, repeat and we’re still not getting, using that process, the outcome we want. Maybe we have to start looking at the process. And so I think in our space, what we’re trying to let go of; and I’m saying, by no means am I completely there either. It’s a struggle to get over that programming, to then say, OK, so ‘A’ change is always happening. Great. It’s constant in the universe. Nothing is static. Yay! Done. Change is happening. Now, giving it some kind of a flow or a direction. Ok. That’s our role. Is that linear? Is that going to be well, if we do this much for a month, we’ll get to that. And then after that, we’ll get to that.
Yannick: That’s not how belief systems, value systems, societal and cultural systems evolve over time. There is no linear piece there. And so then when you try to look at the elements of creating imagination space. Inviting in for real generative conversation. And so I use the English terminology ‘it takes time’, not in the sense that everything has to be decades and decades, and we need Time. Just that it does take time. Gifting ourselves the ability to be in a space for more than five minutes. I mean, some of the conversations I’ve had with decision makers over the last decade, sometimes some very high level ministers, presidents, prime ministers when I was in the U.N. And you’d get them in for an hour or something. And I would always get the comment on the outside ‘I’ve never had an hour to think about one thing in like, who knows how long? Thank you so much for this one hour’.
Yannick: Isn’t that amazing? Because in that hour you start to not just see the top layers of the issue. You can start to get into some of the deeper layers and go there. So I think that’s sort of how we have to come at things if we’re really committing to profound systems reinvention, reimagination, these ways of thinking into the world that have to change. And that is delicate, that is not immediate, that is not predictable. At most you might do your work to raise the potential for potential. So that’s a bit sort of the foundational pieces we’re trying to work. And again, it is a struggle, right? I come from the same background that’s A to B project management. And then you’re trying to move into something that isn’t the knee jerk reaction of ‘problem? We will solve it with one meeting’.
Manda: Yeah, or even we’ll create a five year plan with a strategy, and we’ll be able to have… We have to have markers along the way to prove that we’re going in the right direction.
Yannick: If all the five year plans in existence today, actually, we’d probably be in the Garden of Eden
Manda: Or the occasional ones. You know, Stalin had a few that I’m not sure we would have wanted to see go all the way through. I think the current executive in the UK probably has several that we don’t want to see go through. But in the meantime, we’re looking at a complex system where we’re acknowledging that it’s complex. Nothing is linear in complex systems. And yet we are nonetheless watching the basic physics of a climate and ecological emergency happening around us. And so there is there is a degree of a incentive to keep moving. And I’m wondering if you know of some of the the examples on the ground of things that are happening to begin to move this along? Because one of the things that I saw on the general Wellbeing Alliance website was that it set itself, I think, 10 years to exist, in the belief that if it does its work, in 10 years it won’t need to exist anymore. So it’s created its own time capsule, so to speak. Are you familiar with any of the projects that are moving that are helping this?
Yannick: Well, I mean, let’s put it this way. Since the beginning of time, human time, there’s always been, you know, efforts and initiatives to change something, right? It’s a constant piece of the human condition to want to improve, to change. The challenge we have today is we don’t often see all these wonderful things happening, and they’re not necessarily impacting yet the mountain because oftentimes even in change movements, we don’t we don’t like to focus on the mountain. We like to fight the mountain. We’ll try to chisel at the mountain. We’ve got to fight the system. But the idea of OK, eventually, to be successful, that system can’t be in place anymore. There has to be something reimagined. And it is very easy to envision, right, if you ask one hundred people around the table, to envision the future. There’s a lot of universal responses to that question, and it’s pretty easy. We’ve had them for tens and tens of decades in the U.N., right? The SDGs beautiful utopia. That’s easy, imagining the future. We share at a human level, pretty much the same aspirations. And then oftentimes the second easiest thing is, OK, how do we get there? And we’ll come up with all kinds of wonderful plans and strategies. Beautiful. And we’re still not there, right, so there’s something else missing. And oftentimes, OK, what is that shadow space? What is the thing that we never want to talk about? And it is that transition space, how do you help sunset something that’s in the way, in a manner that’s not necessarily take it all down tomorrow so that we suddenly magically have this brand new whatever. So how do you sunset in order to sunrise? And of course, some of the theories – social process theories like the horizon theories – are a little bit in that space.
Yannick: How do you keep that, hold strong the vision of that future we all want, as we try to get into this transitional space where all these paradigms are mixing together. But the present, the first step, the day we start looking and talking is the present, right? It’s not something else yet. It is there. And so I think being in that space is of a whole, especially as change enablers, right? I don’t like when people call them, try to call me a change maker. I don’t want to make anybody change because the first thing we’re conditioned to do as humans is NEVER! And so, so enabling that change is where I think these different movements have to start looking into where it’s not, again, just fighting the current system, but also giving some of that energy, that commitment, that imagination to, all right, what can we reimagine together? You know, and not necessarily jump right away into the five year plans. What is holding us back? What is it that the resistance would say, this inertia of that mountain? Why is there inertia? What do they feel? What does that part of the system feels it will lose if it changes?
Yannick: And how might we affect those perceptions? Are they real losses or potentially is it actually a game? And how do you reframe? But all of those things is not built on the same social process of linear time. If I give enough effort today, tomorrow and enough data and enough numbers, everyone will change.
Manda: Yeah, because as you say, if were gonna happen, it would happen by now and the definition of insanity is doing the same thing time after time and expecting a different result. So I’m remembering Cory Doctorow, the amazing and wonderful Canadian novelist, Walkaway. And there’s a sentence in there, where he’s created this extraordinary world in the near future, where he has the Zotta rich who are, you know, they’re all Zuckerbergs. And everyone is wage slave to them except the people who walk away. I’m not giving anything away on this novel that’s on the back cover, and it’s well worth reading. And he has a statement from one of the Zotta rich which says to the guy who’s trying to take the system down. “It’s not about money. It’s all about power. Money is just a way of keeping score.” And so it seems to me that the people who are actively working to maintain the system that currently exists, broken as it is, are the ones who feel they have power and don’t want to lose it. And we could spend the rest of the time discussing the nature of empowerment and power and whether it really is power and whether it makes them happy or not. And let’s not, because we’ve been there before. Let’s instead have a look at the narratives that we could generate. Encompass everyone, and enable the people who think they currently are clinging on to power by their fingernails and they have to do everything possible, including limbic hijack of great swathes of the population. To relax a little bit and foresee ways forward that don’t leave them feeling disenfranchised. I guess in the way that a lot of people currently feel disenfranchised. Have you, in the conversations that you’ve had, which sound fascinating and I’m deeply envious; have you come across ways of crafting a narrative that work across the spectrum like that?
Yannick: Yeah, well, I think the word that struck me there was ‘ways’ of crafting. I think there’s a tendency in the change world to push a narrative rather than finding ‘ways’ of co-creating narratives. So I think that’s an element that I appreciate you saying, in the sense of, OK, like, yeah, Yannick Beaudoin does not have The Solution. Which is not always easy, right? Sometimes you get into your speciality space and you’re like, Just listen to me, folks, this is how you do it! And now you’re trying to again educate yourself from that and say, actually, together we might come with something. And that’s where it opens up then to sort of say, OK, are we pointing the finger all the time to the billionaires, the one percent, right? We’re creating this this unhealthy battle line. Oh, the one percent! So those there’s ways of doing that to present the observation that is real, right? There is a lot of material inequity in this world and this is evidence. The other part of calling these names, naming these names: ‘You are the one percent and you’re the..’ I think that’s the challenge space, right? To sort of say, how might you approach a group in society? For a lot of it is just kind of luck. A lot of it is also the fact that if you make your first million with hard work and innovation, you never have to do anything else.
Yannick: And then it becomes one hundred million and you haven’t done anything right. Self-replicating, you know, because of the system again.
Manda: The nature of capital.
Yannick: The nature of capital, Yeah. And so I think it’s, you know, and this is just my personal opinion; when I have conversations sometimes with, let’s say, influencers in that system, right? Wealthy people, whatever might be. There’s a lot of fear. Fear is hidden. It’s not, you know, ‘Oh of course, I’m not afraid of anything’. But the fact you would say something like that about change, or what if we moved away from…’Oh, you’re such an anti-capitalist Yannick’ And that is, to me, said from a source of fear. I’m afraid that if we change the rules, I will lose something. I will lose my power. This is usually the thing, they fear the most. My influence, my lavish lifestyle. I don’t know. But it’s a fear of loss. So then a lot of times you would have a natural kind of ally right, again. Even if you take them – I won’t name names – but say, the billionaires of the world to the round table and say, Hey, what’s your vision of the future? I don’t think you’d find…well, maybe the previous occupant of the White House… But everybody else would probably not say, Oh, I can’t wait to take advantage of everybody and destroy the planet even more.
Yannick: Right. They all have families and kids, and there’s a sense of universality there. So that fear is one space that we have to learn to be better at engaging with, at creating safe spaces with. And then you might start to see that what you thought was the other side, for the most part, does share the same vision of the future. Just a very different idea of how to get there. And then deconstructing some of those rules, like you said, those those algorithms, those places, those ways that capitalism itself replicates itself. And I should preface when I use the word capitalism: it’s just the definition of today’s system. It’s not necessarily pointing and saying we actually have free market capitalism, which of course we we all know we don’t. We have manipulated pieces. But in that sense, you know, this is the vernacular of the day. You know, it’s trying to find again, spaces where we can come together with the fear of change and say, what would it look like if we start to build the pathways? Not not to say Monday to Tuesday.
Manda: And so in the process of that with the Wellbeing Alliance, and I understand, I think the website went live about two weeks ago, so we’re in the early days. But are you having those conversations and are they proving fruitful and are you finding a value system? I’ll do that question again: Are you finding a common value system underlying, that people can begin to buy into? So I’ll preface this or I’ll add a coda, or it seems to me and perhaps I’m just listening to a bunch of collected podcasts, but that there’s a lot more people in business and in big big organisations and companies who ten years ago, climate was something on their horizon, but they didn’t really take any notice of it. And now they really want to be able to do something. They just don’t know what to do. Are you finding those people and holding these conversations with them? And are they fruitful?
Yannick: Yeah. And I’ll just start by saying it’s the WEAll Can website. I don’t want to mix it up with the WEAll. WEAll have been around for for a few years. And yes, I mean, as we started to move into this design space for the WEAll Can, like, what would this be? Some of the conversations were, of course, with folks in the entrepreneurial side of things, the business, the corporate. And what’s been interesting there is you get a very different response if you manage, if you create a space that’s very much about inviting the company person into the space, you get a very company person response. If you’re able to invite the same person, but without the company role leading them into the space, you get a very different response.
Manda: Oh, right.
Yannick: And so that’s sort of where we’re doing… We plan to kind of do our best to nurture that space, where yes, of course, your identity includes your professional, your personal life. But a lot in these spaces we dominate with our professional. We come in and we’ll speak the line of the organisation. Ngos are no better, we do the same. So if you’re going to create spaces where you’re going to have frank, honest and breakthrough conversations, or at least raise the potential for breakthrough; how do you create the space where it’s not the company role that you bring in? It’s there. It’s your experience, but you bring in your human role. Because again, the one thing that ties us all is we’re all human. Now again, maybe the previous occupant of the White House….
Manda: Not the we’re othering anybody. But, so there I’m really curious. So let’s set up a situation hypothetically where you bring in someone in their personal role, but in their professional role they’re quite high, but not totally high in a big company that could influence a lot of people. And as a human, you get interaction and you can see generative threads of ways forward to a different way. They then go back to their company and the problem being that if you got them with you in their company role, you’d have got the company person. They go back to the company and they’re the company person. They go in there as a human being they’ll be minced in a lot of companies. How do they then help bring humanity into the company? Is that a threshold that you’re crossing yet?
Yannick: Well, and that again goes back to that tension of our… In the change movements we have this natural tendency…I call them 20th century change movement… To expect an immediate result. Whereas if you’re affecting forms and function and beliefs and values, you have to let go of the immediacy. And trust that the more of these conversations you have and the more people that go back, perhaps to their system will still have… It may be a small influence, but may have enacted a certain change. You’ll never know about it. You might never know. Sometimes you’re lucky and somebody comes back: ‘Hey, thank you. I had this chat with you the other day, at that workshop’. And usually, a lot of times it’s ‘I took on a new job in the non-profit sector!’, which is great, is beautiful. But I think you’re right. Society still has a lot of default settings, and you can come temporarily into these these spaces, these bubbles maybe and have really, really amazing rich conversations that do have breakthroughs. And then you will go back into the default setting of structures. Does that mean that defaults stay static? I personally believe it doesn’t.
Yannick: The more people go back into these spaces, they’re nudging the default and you’re starting to see attempts at manifestations, especially in the business world, to do better, to do good. Still tempered by the fact that the structures and the definitions and the defaults are strong and you might do some good, but not necessarily transformative at this place. I think eventually in the business world, I have a lot of conversations about the instructions of a business, right? How do you create sustainable business if the instruction manual that defines what a business is, corporate governance law, for example, has no idea what you’re talking about? Well, corporate governance law was invented and imagined by a few human brains so we can reinvent those. So eventually that’s where you might start to see and you see pressure on that. Now you’re starting to see conversations. You have some governments thinking, Yeah, maybe the purpose of business isn’t to make oodles and oodles of just money. Maybe there is a societal link. Oh, OK, how might we? To me, that’s a sign that you have had people go through conversations, spaces here and there. They go back to their default systems and nudged the default. Yeah.
Manda: So coming back to something you said earlier about the sunset of the old system. At Schumacher, we used to talk about landing the plane. That what we were trying to do, was take a 747 in full flight and turn it into a helicopter in the air. And that that’s probably quite hard. What you really want to do is get the plane to land first and then you can build a helicopter and get it to take off. And I noticed someone on Twitter as the pandemic was hitting in the days of 2020, when it still felt like an opportunity and not crisis, a bit. Saying ‘the plane is landing. This is it. The plane is landing. We can now do it’ and… We didn’t. But you’re talking about sunsetting. Landing the plane. Do you have a concept of how that process might unfold and how we could consider whatever evolves after, the process that would bring that into being?
Yannick: Yeah, and I guess any idea I put out there, will be only probably a tiny part of all the different processes and things that have to happen, right? The phenomenology of change. And so, you know, sunsetting. You know, we do that in some sectors of the economy, we do that in some sectors of politics, right? We’ll say, OK, well on this date, we will end this particular activity. And then so that gives us a five year. We’re already doing it. Let’s say with these pledges for net carbon zero, which let’s not get into that, from from my perspective as a geologist. But what it means is this idea that by 2050, we will have sunset a fair amount of our carbon addiction, and that gives us this window to put in the institutional reforms and change. So again, none of this is fundamentally new in how we might go from a present to this future that we want. I like to also point back to some of the, especially in economics, when we’re really coming, bringing it back down to ‘how are you going to change the economic system? Tell us!’ I like to move back to the historical points, right? And not always too far. You can go back to many, 2000 years of historical points if you want. But let’s just stick to the 20th century. And however, we judge the outcomes.
Yannick: We look back at Bretton Woods. This is a conference in New Hampshire, in the U.S., in a hotel not too far from where I am. And at that conference, 1944, July hot summer, the world is still at war. About seven hundred ish men get invited to come together for three weeks. And what are we going to do to not have another war? That was basically kind of the intention there. We don’t want another Great Depression, which we saw before the war, pretty bad and we don’t want another World War. And so I look at that moment as one of the most successful massive change moments in recent memory, like in modern human times. And so, yes, absolutely, we can argue the outcomes were they good, all that kind of stuff. I just mean the moment. Three weeks, no computers, no smartphones and then lots of cigars, probably lots of brandy and and kind of that elitism, a very, very exclusive group of people. And then you task them. Some very political economists, philosophers, politicians and economists. And you say, come up with a world order which will prevent war. And so cool. Great. Seven hundred brains came up with something and we implemented it. Well, not only did we come up with it, we implemented it! Which is also a challenge right. We come up with a lot of ideas, we just don’t implement them.
Yannick: And so when I’ve had conversations with people from across different backgrounds and society, roles, influence cultures and just point them to that moment. Because of course, we don’t get educated about this in school. And even if you take an economics degree in a conventional university, you might get a little tiny bowl of Bretton Woods system, right, and it’s evolution, but not really about the process. But when you delve into that box and you show people, that’s all it took. And then usually the questions I get is, wait a minute, why do they all look like you? It’s like, Oh, oh, all right, now we’re getting somewhere right. So if you decide to take a teeny tiny fraction; one half of one cultures worldview, right? The male, the white male worldview, which is nothing wrong with white males. I’m white male. But you take only that worldview and you give it a canvas and you say paint on the canvas, you’ll get something, you know, maybe it’s a beautiful picture. Who knows, right? But what would happen if you get another worldview and another and another and another and not just worldviews, lived experiences and more? And your lived experience and your lived experience. That canvas can only get more beautiful. Obviously, not just throwing paint at it. Structure is important for something.
Yannick: You have to be able to give it a good foundation. But man, there’s no way we would come up with anything worse than what we’re living with today. So to me, it’s that moment of change, right? That idea that with one voice, you can have this imagination and this model. Toronto has one hundred and eighty languages spoken in the city of Toronto. One hundred and eighty voices. What would that come up with? What would three hundred voices come up with? On and on and on. So by embracing plurality and putting that at the core of the process. Gosh, I think it would be limitless what we would come up with and all with the universality that I mentioned earlier. We all share universal truths about what the future should be like for ourselves, for a healthy society, for a healthy planet. It’s very rare again, that you wake up and you meet somebody ‘I would love a future where there’s way more pollution’. No, right there isn’t that. So you have that weave, and the only thing that we struggle with is that process. But if you could point to some of the most successful ones, you can say the process was amazing. The outcome? Not so good. But the process…doesn’t take a lot of time to change the world. Doesn’t need a lot of people.
Manda: Yeah, a hundred and eighty different languages in Toronto. So have you have you gathered representatives of all of those languages and brought them into one place and created a space where they can build something?
Yannick: Well, I mean, I don’t know if we’ll ever get one hundred and eighty languages in the same space, but I think that is some of our process pieces in this kind of work that we’re doing and developing is exactly that. How do you create imagination spaces? How do you bring people together to start tackling the myths of the current model, the myths of where it comes from. Looking back into these moments in history and sort of saying, well, if they were able to do that, we could probably do something different. And then just sort of showing again the bridge between past into the future. So yes, I mean, that is the core kind of essence of how we’re trying to design these spaces and letting go of what those spaces might deliver. I might have my hope as Yannick of what the space will deliver, you know? Yeah, Canada will go beyond GDP in twenty twenty five. That’d be great. But that’s just me. So that’s just my part. My ingredient added to the dish. What are we going to come up with together in these spaces is really unpredictable. But I already know, cannot be worse than what we have today.
Manda: I so don’t want to test that thesis. But yeah, I think you’re right. Yeah, I can. Yeah, it’s not hard to imagine… Quite a lot of our writing up until now. You know, people create dystopias without effort and they’re they’re actually quite a lot worse than what we’re living in today. What I really would like to do is create the space in which people can create the ideas and the fiction and the narratives that would carry us forward. Which would mean, I would need to sit in on a number of these 600 people conventions and listen to what people were saying and see what arose, which would be a very interesting concept. So. Speaking completely personally, one of the things that I think we hit is human exceptionalism, that tells us we’re at the top of the pyramid and we’ve created all the mess and we have to fix it. Which is a huge kind of weight on our shoulders. And also it’s a complex system and we’re not really designed to function and think in complex ways. So what are we going to do? And in my connecting to the Gods of the Land, whatever we choose to call it. I’m developing problems with the word Shamanic, but mostly because I’ve heard a lot of people with problems with that word. Whatever we call it, it has come to seem to me that what I have to do is listen to the Gods of the Land and ask, What do you want of me and then do it? And that’s my job. Which takes a lot of the pressure off the ‘I helped to make this mess, I have to fix it.’ I just have to be the best that I can be and respond in real time to whatever is asked. And I’m wondering whether, within the work of WEAll can, WEAll anything, there is any instinct towards a spiritual foundation or whether that’s just too complex and possibly too toxic, because there’s too many belief systems involved and it would just bat up against people.
Yannick: Well, I mean, it depends again on how you define spiritual, right? So if you’re moving into qualitative spaces of working together and finding change, that involves trust and relationship. And many people will say that as you start to trust each other, as you start to build deep nurturing relationships, you are touching a spiritual element of the human essence. Great. Fantastic. I think that’s beautiful. So I think it depends on again, sometimes our knee jerk reaction to spirituality is some kind of religious peace or a belief system or doesn’t have to be. For some, that’s great. And as long as it’s moving into that collective nurturing, self nurturing, all of it is nurturing and generative; then you don’t have to stop and pause all the time for the definition of how do we define this? That’s again, a very western way of doing things, where we were educated to define ourselves, to define everything. So, yeah, I mean to me the act of imagining something new is a spiritual act. It’s impossible for me to do it alone. If I do it alone as a dictator, you probably eventually…
Manda: Yeah, but as a writer, I do it alone all the time. But then I’m just offering it out into the world for people to take in and weave in with what they already know. And it’s not a prescriptive thing, and it’s not that it carries any weight behind it. And I’m still, yes, I would totally agree that connecting with other people if it is genuine, heartfelt connexion, heartfelt connexion is part of what spirituality is about. I’m wondering because this is the wellbeing alliance of Canada and the sovereign indigenous nations, whether the sovereign indigenous nations and the representatives thereof bring in connecting to the Earth, not just connecting to other people as an integral part of what they do in a way that… Without telling other people they have to do it who haven’t been brought up in in that way, whether that has a ripple effect?
Yannick: Yeah, in a way what it offers is is a timeless perspective and a contrast, right? It’s not trying to, you don’t want to romanticise somebody else’s worldview or culture or lived experience. It’s not the point of doing that. You don’t want to co-opt it for sure. So how do you learn with it? And so if we’re coming at from different, it’s not just indigenous, there’s eastern ways of thinking right, the harmonious web of life and all those philosophies that underpin value systems that have pretty much been erased at the economics and our political systems. Even our education. So, noticing where these still exist and operate in the world and function and deliver, then offers you an ability to sort of say, ‘Oh, OK, so wait a minute. So what you’re saying is if we start, if I take a pause, reflect on this a bit and sort of notice that there’s other ways of knowing the world of being in the world that can open up new possibilities for me. Oh, OK, wait a minute, I’m willing to take some time’. So I think, you know, a lot of our the indigenous elders we work with, what they’re offering is a deep, deep, deep insight into relationship. Which in the Western worldview is transactional in most of the time, right? And again, in some cases, again, I’m not throwing the baby out with the bathwater here.
Yannick: There’s a lot in every worldview. There’s some good, there’s goodness and there’s some bad. It’s just a duality there. But I think if we’re able to start to notice how we missed, how we’ve erased relationship from so much of the western way of being in the world; so the relationship to the world, the relationship with each other, the relationship with… We still call it ‘nature’ as if it’s something outside. Whereas in indigenous languages, you don’t have this externality of nature. But even with our own inner spirit, we have a bad relationship, right? We stress about these strange things and we beat ourselves. We judge ourselves harshly. And so relationship, I think, is what other how different worldviews look into that space and how then you can turn that into a new pathway for working together towards something. And so again, a lot of it is deconstructing two, three thousand years of developed programming, right? Whatever you call it. And then sort of say, how do you pause that enough to give yourself time to experience a slightly different and maybe eventually a really profoundly different way? Indigenous elders will tell us that it’s not about going back to something. It’s going towards something through – again, circular time, right; You’re not looking at it in the linear way. The seven generation intergenerational approaches to thinking, in some of my geology work, I used to call that ‘four dimensional planning’.
Manda: Oh, cool, where time is the fourth dimension? Yes.
Yannick: Well, because you were always trying to reconstruct planetary moments over billions of years, so you had to do four dimensional planning. And at one point I brought that into the U.N. it’s like, ‘Hey, let’s do some four dimensional planning’. But then later on, in hindsight in a way, you can use that language – if somebody responds better to four dimensional planning rather than seven generations – looking ahead. Fine. Let’s use the words that appeal to you so that we can help move ourselves together on a different path and a different journey. So, yeah, so I don’t know if that answers anything specific, but I think it’s sort of a landscape to try to tie in and weave all the different aspects of ourselves as beings. Also understanding we have a lot of embedded hubris, right? This idea that the youngest species on the planet somehow understands life to its fullest is probably a lot of hubris. So I like to compare the human species as two year olds in the sandbox. It’s about our evolutionary age. So we have to be careful to expect too much. We’re learning, we’re still learning along the way. We’re still trying to kind of experience different aspects of life and sort of weave it together. But we have very young systems, young ways of thinking about living in life. And so how do you help it along without having too much of this idea that we’re perfect?
Manda: Yeah, it seems to me and I stand to be corrected, that the kind of weird cultures the western educated industrial rich democratic 2 year olds in the sandbox, particularly our elected leaders. But that if I think of some of the Aboriginal elders, native Australian aboriginals that I’ve worked with, they seem to me very wise, very mature. Actually all of the native peoples that I’ve worked with in a spiritual sense, have all seemed to me very grown up compared to… Its as if somehow Western culture got stuck at the five year old toddler stage or whatever. Whatever, I don’t know kids very well. I’m sure two is probably right. But therefore at least we have. A blueprint of what adult human could look like, and yes, absolutely, we can’t go back. There’s no point in even trying. But we can definitely move forward with a sense of what we could be moving into. And doubtless when we get there, it’ll be different because even in our two year oldness, we’ve done amazing stuff. Human creativity is just astonishing. It’s just learning to use it in a way that feels… Has a different value system, I guess.
Yannick: Well, I’d imagine that’s the human, that’s some human creativity. Let’s just stick it to the last thousand years, the sum human creativity of a tiny, tiny, tiny amount of people. Even in today’s economy, most people are not asked to be creative, and if they are asked to be creative, it’s to sell more stuff. And so that creativity is, even the biggest breakthroughs we’ve done technologically; imagine if everybody was tasked with artistic creativity, engineering, creativity, scientific creativity. Wow.
Manda: Yes. And given the resources to not be stressed in their lives, to be peaceful enough to actually create instead of just having to pay the rent. We just made an argument for a universal basic income.
Yannick: Yes, we have
Manda: But we can address that another time. So we’re very nearly at the end. And I’m wondering, Wellbeing Alliance Canada is relatively young, but is hitched onto the rest of the Wellbeing Alliance, which seems as far as I can tell to be Scotland and California and New Zealand and maybe Wales and Iceland and a few cities around the world. So it’s beginning to be more Wellbeing Alliance things. Either with Canada or the General Wellbeing Alliance have you a sense of where the next steps might be?
Yannick: Well, I think at least for for the context that I’m working in specifically. So in the WEAll Can context, our next steps are starting to start to create those fundamental imagination spaces. To design them, to invite into them. One of them being at the very kind of pan-Canadian nation to nation piece. And then one experiment, a couple of experiments at the more kind of places where people live; the cities, the town level. And just again, to sort of see with that kind of overarching aim of reimagining the purpose of an economy, how do different people with backgrounds, all kinds of backgrounds, positions in the system, whatever it is, what is their take on ways forward? What is their take on a deeper reimagination? So for us, those are the two kind of concrete spaces, and also a little bit of myth busting. I mean, we do like to tongue in cheek point out the absurdity sometimes of the current model, the obsessions that the model has and then try to bring it back to the human equation that didn’t go ‘oh that makes sense!’ And then see people’s eyebrows, right, ‘no that it doesn’t make sense. You’re right’. And so I think there’ll be a bit of a constant tongue in cheek, a bit of humour. Myth busting strategies as well just to kind of like poke a little bit of fun of the absurdities.
Manda: And what do you also bring together people from opposing political sides? Because it seems to me that Canada’s probably not as polarised as the U.S., but it might be heading that way, particularly after the trucker thing. And it would be really interesting to do the Braver Angels thing of bringing opposite sides together and then using the social technologies used in marital breakdown to help them connect to each other. As they always seemed to me very brave and potentially very fruitful. If people wanted to engage, and the problem is always, once the polarities happen, it’s hard to persuade people even to begin the process. But so, that raises a final question. Have you got a sense of what we might loosely call social technologies as ways of structuring the bringing togetherness: citizens assemblies or open source or whatever to help people just to talk to each other in ways that isn’t just randomly walking around a room with a glass of something and talking to the first person you bump into?
Yannick: Well, I mean, I think the the first part to the question around bringing opposing sides is always that… I can’t remember which sociologists talked about the twenty twenty and sixty in society. There’s a 60 percent that’s the movable middle and then the twenty twenty, which are the entrenched ideology side. So I think our energy is really focussed on that movable middle. So how do you bring people who might who always are respectful in debate, even if they’re debating very different ideas, are movable, right, through good conversation and trust building and relationship building over time? And I think that is where we see certainly the highest potential for potential to come through. And again it won’t be this one or, it’s not a zero sum game, it is really something that doesn’t yet exist. But that when you’re able to bring a varied plurality of voices together, that essence will be kind of co-created and whatever that looks like. And part of then those processes, like you said, how do we organise that? How do we apply methods and methodologies? There’s all kinds of toolkits, but I think a lot of it is number one being attuned to the audience you’re bringing together. So rather than force a particular process or technology, you’re also involving that group into the creation of the space, initially. Quite actively. You know, I do come from a bit of a background in Theory U, art of hosting, M. G Taylor. So those are things that I’ve educated myself in, but I also don’t try to impose them necessarily on a specific group, but rather see how do we take the different ingredients that the group seems to be wanting and translating the language. We’re also not there to teach process. We’re just there to hold space. And then the biggest, the last part of that is then you’ve got to let go. I mean, the foundation may be the host and the convenor, but you have to be prepared to let go the direction it may take and trust that a group of people who over time will have built up relationships, especially when we move back, perhaps into the the physical spaces, but also online. Over time, they’ll get vulnerable with each other. They’ll trust each other not to go and tweet about it. They’ll get into those social kind of dynamics that eventually are conducive to ‘All right, let’s really talk about this. This really sense into this. Let’s really see what we can do.’ And that might be we’re going to take down to the bank. No! Ok. Have you got an idea on how to take down the bank? But I think I think the point is, once you’ve created the space, once you’ve done your best to invite in, you got to let go as an organisation in a way. And be part of it, not ignore, not go away. You’re just part of it.
Manda: Take the risks. The same risk everyone else is taking. Yay. That feels fantastic. So what I’d really like to do is invite you back a year from now and find out how that process is going, because that would be completely fascinating. But in the meantime, Yannick Beaudoin, thank you so much for coming on to the Accidental Gods podcast. It’s been so exciting talking to you.
Yannick: It’s been such a pleasure, and you’ve also got me thinking about a lot of new things. So this conversation was fantastic.
Manda: And that’s it for another week. Enormous thanks to Yannick for the clarity and depth and breadth and sheer exuberance of his ideas, it was such a pleasure and an inspiration speaking with him. And I genuinely do want to catch up again in a year and find out how those mast conversations in Canada have gone. And long before we get there, we will be back next week with another conversation.
Manda: Thanks. In the meantime, as ever, to Caro C for the music at the head and foot and for the sound production. Thanks to Faith Tilleray for the website and the conversations that make this possible. Thanks to Anne Thomas for the transcripts. And enormous thanks to you for listening. If you like what you hear. Five stars in a review at the podcast provider of your choice does help us reach other ears. But so does sharing the link far more than anything else. If you know other people who really want to be part of the change and you send them the link, that is what’s going to help us grow. So please do. And that’s it for now. See you next week. Thank you and goodbye.
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