Thursday, 23 July 2009

Rebuilding the collective

On the 13th July I was at the Ways With Words festival at Dartington Hall. I went to see Rob Hopkins, Shaun Chamberlin and Tamzin Pinkerton speak at the Transition Morning event. I enjoyed the talks even though there was little that I hadn't heard before, but there were some good arguments as to why nuclear power won't solve our energy needs. The audience, as it usually is, was distinctly middle aged and middle class - so Rob et al. were largely preaching to the converted. There are now many Transition towns across the world and more are being set up every day. As someone who is trying to set up a local climate change group and has been involved in such groups I was hoping to hear some more from them about how to reach out to the 'difficult' parts of the community - the ones who 'don't want to know'.

At the last Green Party conference there was a talk by a woman from Totnes who is active in the GP and Transition. She said, as I had guessed, that they had reached all those in Totnes who were 'interested' but they were still in a minority. The real challenge for such groups is reaching those who are 'indifferent' - and I'm not talking about climate change deniers here. When I asked Rob and Tamzin about this their answer was (and I'm paraphrasing) - to keep plugging away, show the benefits of local food, community action etc and more people will come on board. I'm not so sure it is going to be that easy.

The whole point about Transition is its inclusive, it has to embrace all the community, hence you won't find any mention of politics or (divisive) economics in the Transition Handbook. This is fair enough but Transition is about building a collective in a world of selfish individualism. By that I don't mean that we are all selfish but that we have been 'taught' to think of ourselves as 'selfish individuals' - to put our own wants first . If you want to know more I suggest you watch Adam Curtis's excellent documentary - The Century of the Self - which charts the development of public relations, advertising and the growth of consumer capitalism in the 20th century, based on the ideas of Sigmund Freud and his nephew Edward Bernays - it is essential viewing if you want to know how we got here. Selfish individualism is now deeply ingrained in our society, that is why we find it so difficult to build communities and that is what Transition is all about - collective action.

There is another word for collective action - socialism. Putting the interests of the collective above the interests of the selfish individual is what socialism is all about. It does not mean, as is popularly supposed, oppression of the individual - that is what the capitalist media want you to think. Individual rights must be protected. But the interests of a community (collective) have to come first. At one time no one would have disputed this idea. If we go back a relatively short way in history no one even thought of themselves as an selfish individual in the way we do now. People were part of a community. In order for Transition to become a reality we have to rebuild the collective - that is the task in hand. Just don't mention the 'S' word though!

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