Without dialogue, revolution will be as tyrannical as democracy


Our political system is broken, but convincing others before the whole shithouse goes up in flames, seems to be a monumental task. It has been corrupted from outside and within. It is being falsely propped up by a compliant media, itself distorted beyond recognition by the influence of corporations, all underpinned by a debt-based banking system that is driving humanity to destroy the very habitat we all depend on for life. We are faced with an election to vote in MPs who so are limited in the scope of what they can achieve that they are reduced to tinkering around the edges, when what we need is a radical overhaul. But that radical overhaul has its own dangers. The fact remains that parliamentary politics for now remains the dominant ideology and dominant structure administering the lives of millions of people. What happens to it will directly affect the lives of millions of people. To ignore this is to bury one’s head in the sand and to wish reality were different.

What has developed as an alternative to the dominant ideology over the past 20 years is a counterculture that knows the problems we collectively face, itself originating in pioneering ecological and political structures developed in the 1960s in the US, UK and Europe. It has often called loudly and clearly for humanity to wake up and build alternatives outside the mainstream culture. These groups have been vibrant, revolutionary, often self-sustaining, and willing to risk life and limb to stop the use of fossil fuels, nuclear, GM and other damaging or reckless practices. Often they have achieved marginal success, but they have also brought with them their own problems of how to administer such pioneering ideas to the millions of people used to the present, corporate-based system we have.

The Occupy movements that sprang up in 2011 were merely the latest example of this problem of extending, often beautiful ideas from the local, to the global. Groups such as these have found it difficult to convince the majority of people that they are anything more than extreme ideologies. People have naturally decided to stick with what they know, however unsatisfactory and often damaging. And those who suffer most simply do not have the ability to effect change in their own lives while oppressed by this system, and often are passive recipients of the compassion and generosity of such revolutionaries and on a wider scale the public who remain within the system.

This has been a major stumbling block to reaching a wider audience, who are still in thrall to mainstream corporate culture, which seems to offer so much superficially. There is a duality, an “us and them”, which ironically ends up handing power back to the very people controlling the systems that are controlling society and maintaining the conditions that are destroying the biosphere to the point of collapse. The kind of idea that is so attractive, that says we don’t need “them”, “we” can build our own systems is built on the very duality it seeks to reach beyond. This has brought further divisions, which has led to internecine struggles, often vicious ideological disputes that have become personal, and it has weakened the movement’s ability to reach a wider audience. Without engagement with those we most find disagreement with, there can be no real progress. This is a psychological and spiritual truism that is often ignored.

So, in order to effect meaningful and constructive change throughout society, we are left with the having to interact and deal with the guardians of power, however abusive the administration of that power has become, with a parliamentary democracy that our ancestors fought and died for the right to engage with and to vote in, a right to vote that has become sacrosanct, even as it has increasingly lost its legitimacy, as politicians increasingly become bureaucrats unable to hold corporations to account, often acting on their behalf, while so many abstain from the political process entirely and insist that change has to come from people working together to make radical progress.

But how would that change look outside the system? If the banking system were to collapse, if the UK was to suffer a major calamity in the form of a terrorist attack or environmental catastrophe, if food or fuel suddenly became scarce, the idea that there would be some kind of velvet revolution may be appealing, but unlikely to happen so smoothly. In fact, it is likely to be calamitous. Many people will get hurt, many will suffer, good people who have not harmed anyone. That may be what some hope for, insisting that the poison has to be expunged and that, like chemotherapy, some good cells have to be destroyed in order to rid the body politic of the disease with which it is afflicted.

But this belief can be seen as glib and irresponsible, often mouthed by those who either live comfortable lives, or who have placed themselves out of the system entirely, a process which realistically only a few could do without causing greater harm. I have often found myself believing the very things I am questioning in this piece. But I can see also that unless we deal directly with the structure that presently holds power, we cannot hope to make the radical changes necessary to our political system and to the way we live. If the structure of society collapses it will be disastrous, many people will die, this is not hyperbole, it is the plain fact. It is not accidental that police are being increasingly militarised. They are indeed preparing for full-scale war against their own people.

But if we remain as we are, we are equally looking at societal and ecological disaster. So what can we do to avoid either fate? The only way around this ominous future must be an engagement in the political process, engagement with those who do hold power, even if that does not necessarily mean that we choose to vote, if we believe, as I do, that the democratic process is, in effect, rigged to maintain the status quo. How do we deal with abuse of power on an individual level? Communication before violence is the preferred method. So how can we engage with those who will enter that anachronistic chamber called the Houses of Parliament on May 8? It is only through communication with those who actually hold this power, however corrupted it is, that we can hope to implement the many evolutionary and pioneering ideas that the counterculture has developed, to re-order society in a way that benefits humanity and planet.

This is not a time for us to succumb to rose-tinted fantasies about a magical transformation of the people. This is not a time for us to look at the democratic process as irrelevant as the corrupt politicians, banks and corporations wish us to do (However boring politics seems, it has often been built that way to dissuade the ordinary person from engaging). Now is the time to engage directly with those who profess to represent us, even as we recognise that representative democracy is limited and that in an age of internet technology, participatory and representative forms of democracy can and must be implemented. We can do this by engaging with those who presently hold power, in doing so, we can wrest that power back into the hands of the people, where it belongs. This can and must happen in a civilised way. If we give up and refuse to engage, we are opening up to the possibility of chaos and calamity. So, whether you choose to vote or not, at the very least explain why to those who do choose to vote, those who do believe that an X on a piece of paper every five years is enough. We cannot pretend the world that presently exists is irrelevant. In order to truly change, we must fully engage with what exists. Ecological wisdom states that when something is broken, you do not throw it away. You fix it. Let us begin the long and arduous process of fixing the political system.

• To be part of the dialogue, come to the Permaculture Picturehouse politics special @Passing Clouds on May 5th

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