A radical futurePublished Wednesday, 10th June, 2020
This post was written before the reigniting of the Black Lives Matter movement, but the ideas in this essay – which boil down to one central principle: the redistribution of power – are just as applicable to our struggle for racial equality as they are the spirit in which this post was originally written.
I've been doing lots of thinking in lockdown about the world I want to see when the current crisis is over.
Remembering that business as usual has led to our current condition and that business as usual was failing us on so many other accounts, I wonder what the new normal should look like when 'normal' returns.
The kind of radical decentralisation that coronavirus has forced upon us is the way the parliamentary system has been run since 1341; of individuals from areas across the country representing those areas in a central location. In our new world, I envisage this going a step further. I imagine a government comprised entirely of citizens' assemblies; groups of people randomly selected to learn about, deliberate upon, and make binding decisions in relation to issues. We trust this method, which has roots in ancient Athenian democracy, to form juries in our justice system and sortition was even proposed in 1999 as a way to replace the wholly unelected House of Lords.
Changes in the way we...
- Generate energy, from the coal mine to the solar panel
- Manufacture goods, from foreign factories to 3D printers
- Communicate, from switchboards to distributed networks
- Pay for things, from fiat money, to local currencies, to cryptocurrencies
- Share knowledge, from patents to open-source solutions
- Create culture, from copyright to Creative Commons
...are already moving in the direction of giving individuals more autonomy. I hope this continues in a post-COVID society so that collectives of like-minded individuals can form co-operatives and create positive-change in their communities. I am a believer in the free market when the companies in question are for the common-good.
It's a known trait of governments to use crises like the coronavirus to rush in new legislation while citizens are too emotionally or physically distracted to resist it. That's the premise of Naomi Klein's 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine. Respected whistleblowers like Edward Snowden have warned of governments using coronavirus to erode privacy laws. In the UK we've seen the creation of tools like the NHS 'Track and Trace' app which haven't undergone proper scrutiny. As Stephanie Hare reports in the Guardian:
the Government has so far denied parliament the opportunity to pass primary legislation to protect and limit the use of our data relating to using the app
Scrutiny of government is essential for an effective democracy. We must protect journalists who shine a light on injustice and highlight abuses of power wherever and however possible.
In this new world, we must also protect the privacy rights of individuals. We mustn't assume that the people or platforms that connect us have best intentions at heart. We should encourage the use of cryptographic tools to protect communications, digital files and other assets across the board.
This new world would make organisations like Extinction Rebellion, Wikileaks, and Creative Commons the de-facto norm. It would revel in concepts like Bitcoin and the blockchain, in freedom of the press and freedom of speech, in truth, and in radical transparency.
A lot of these ideas look radical on paper (or at least on your computer screen, or in your ears, if you're listening to the podcast version of this blog post) but all of them are things that I've personally witnessed in the last few months...
They're all ways in which people have organised or prepared themselves when faced with the lack of ongoing professional guidance of any kind. We've seen grassroots communities blossom in our local areas, the public consciousness has a newfound appreciation for jobs that keep humankind ticking over, and we've collectively woken up to the realisation that business as usual was taking us down a path to an even bleaker future.
The roof of the Reichstag is a 360º dome constructed entirely of glass. The debating chamber of the Bundestag, the German parliament, sits directly below it. It's a lovely metaphor, symbolising Germany's move away from a past of Nazism and toward a future of transparency where the people control the Government. That is the same spirit in which we must build our new foundation.
How normal was normal anyway?