Saturday, October 26, 2013

Russell Brand’s Revolution: A call for systemic thinking?

Russell Brand’s idiosyncratic but perceptive call for revolution is welcome.  I welcome it because it is one of the most public articulations of the need for us to think differently about our relationships to each other and with the planet.

Brand was invited to edit an issue of the New Statesman  and he outlined some of his ideas in a recent interview with Jeremy Paxman:

Not voting, from Brand’s perspective makes sense; voting to change the system maintains the system.  However, Brand’s revolution is not one of apathy, nor is it a revolution of bloodshed and uprising. It is a revolution in how we think.

This revolution has been slowly gaining momentum since Gregory Bateson outlined what he called a ‘cybernetic epistemology’; a way of thinking in terms of relationship, of recognising patterns, a way of thinking that also requires humility and an appreciation of the sacred.

 “What pattern connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all four of them to me? And me to you?” he asks us to consider at the outset in Mind and Nature (p. 8).

This focus on both the content and relationship aspects of all messages invites us to think about pattern also in human relationships and how we create patterns that we live and that define us. And it is becoming vital that we heed and respond to this need.

Bateson warned us in his essay Form, Substance and Difference (in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, 1972):

“If you put God outside and set him vis-a-vis his creation and if you have the idea that you are created in his image, you will logically and naturally see yourself as outside and against the things around you. And as you arrogate all mind to yourself, you will see the world around you as mindless and therefore not entitled to moral or ethical consideration. The environment will seem to be yours to exploit. Your survival unit will be you and your folks or co-specifics against the environment of other social units, other races and the brutes and vegetables.

If this is your estimate of your relation to nature and you have an advanced technology, your likelihood of survival will be that of a snowball in hell. You will die either of the toxic by-products of your own hate, or, simply, of over-population and overgrazing. The raw materials of the world are finite.

If I am right, the whole of our thinking about what we are and what other people are has got to be restructured. This is not funny, and I do not know how long we have to do it in. If we continue to operate on the premises that were fashionable in the pre-cybernetic era, and which were especially underlined and strengthened during the Industrial Revolution, which seemed to validate the Darwinian unit of survival, we may have twenty or thirty years before the logical reductio ad absurdum of our old positions destroy us.

Nobody knows how long we have, under the present system, before some disaster strikes us, more serious than the destruction of any group of nations. The most important task today is, perhaps,  to learn to think in the new way”.

Unfortunately, there are the few who will not want to hear Bateson’s warning and challenge, for they have a vested interest in this status quo that in reality is a slow decline into more inequality and destruction.

Brand’s revolution is to reject this status quo in which the very few profit, and the price for this profit is paid by people who are starving, killed in conflict and sick.

Yes, we can reject this system by not voting. We can reject it by becoming critically aware of the propaganda spewed out of the mainstream media that services the needs of the few.

But this revolution is not just about rejection of an old, unfair and destructive system. It is about accepting others, about sharing ideas, engaging in dialogue, and re-evaluating our relationships.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Blaming the vulnerable

A 'terrorist' with Asperger’s, an abused mother with alcoholism who kept the corpse of her child that died of starvation for 2 years in a squalid home, a murderer who was not being treated for his mental illness....all symptoms of a 'broken society'; a society broken by a lack of resources for mental health and social care, a society where the vulnerable are castigated and the people who work at the front end are blamed for what are systemic failures. The Conservative conference tagline ‘for hardworking people’ and Cameron’s closing remark "Together we'll build a land of opportunity for all” are just empty sound-bites to keep the faithful happy while all the while, the rich carry on getting richer and richer. I am beginning to despair. How many people are suffering right now? How more people and children have to die before we see some real change?