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Out of the Wreckage -a book review

Book review: Out of the Wreckage, A new politics for an age of crisis, by George Monbiot

This amazing and quite complex book came into my hands via my friend Graham Wright. The book is so full of information, that I was not quite sure where to start any summary! Then I came to the end of the book and there was a chapter labelled Conclusion. I will use this as a starting point for this article.

‘This book has sought to tell a story of hope and restoration, a story that might help to light a path towards a better world. Its purpose is to reveal the defining aspects of our nature. It seeks to revive our humanity – in both senses of this word.’

Faces, Social, Play, Team, Teamwork

A new political story

Monbiot shows us the misconception that lies at the basis of our political and economic world view: The ideology that humanity is selfish and only out for their own gain.
When looking at the facts, it turns out that we are actually very social beings, supportive of those in need, far more so than any animals.
What is needed is to tell a new story -to create a new image of who we are and what kind of world we can strife for. This is the only way to make any real political (and subsequently social and economic) change possible, the only way to rally real support and engagement from the general population.

Forming new communities

We can start weaving this new story at our doorstep: By creating new communities and community projects, community living etc, ‘that transform the character of our neighbourhoods. New social and commercial enterprises strengthen our sense of attachment and ownership. A flourishing community stimulates our innate urge to cooperate. It helps immunise us against extremism …and it turns democracy into a daily habit. Community is the place from which a new politics begins to grow.’

Common Weal

The next step is to recreate a Common weal: A sharing of those assets that should belong to all and none, like land, air, water etc. ‘Were it is based on a living resource such as a forest or coral reef, this obliges the commoners to consider its long-term protection, rather than the immediate gain that could be made from its destruction…. A Commons makes sense of community. It provides resources that might help to secure the livelihoods of the community’s members, a focus for purposeful engagement and the basis- as the resource belongs to equally to those who use it- for egalitarian relationships…Sustaining the resource means cooperating with other people to develop rules, moral codes and the means to enforce them.’  

‘So how, in an ideal world, would we best determine how the use and value of resources should be distributed between state, market and commons? …Those forms of value that are generated through work, enterprise and ingenuity properly belong to the people who produce them (market principle). (This wealth can be taxed) Those resources that are not created by people, or that are created by society as a whole, should… be managed as Commons and the value arising from them shared by a community.
The role of the state is then to manage resources that are either too large or too diffuse to be responsibly stewarded by private concerns or commoners….’

Monbiot goes into a lot more detail of this and the challenges it poses, as well as how this system might work in practice, with taxes etc. I would really recommend reading the whole book, probably several times, to really get the full scope of what is proposed here.

Owning the system

By reclaiming democratic power, we build a politics that belongs to all of us. Areal democracy is one that allows the people to design the system.’

Monbiot describes how badly our current ‘democracies’ are failing in this: they have turned into plutocracies: a politics determined by wealth. He goes on to show that, however tempting it may be to just get rid of governments altogether, we do need them in some form, as ‘the state….is all that stands between us and the unmediated power of money and weapons.’
‘We need a common authority- a government- but we need to bring it within public control, to ensure it belongs to all citizens equally rather than belonging to a small circle.’

‘Perhaps every nation should run a constitutional convention once every twenty years, to take stock of its political system, consider means of enriching democracy and rectify systematic failings.’ A group of citizens would be selected by lot, making sure that social categories such as gender, class, ethnicity, age and religion would be represented in the proportion present in the population. This group would be aided by a group of politicians, who can champion the recommendations to parliament.

In general politics ‘there may be an argument for some sortition (electing representatives by lot)… The percentage of representatives in a parliament who are chosen by election should be the same as the percentage of people who vote, and the remainder should be selected randomly.’   

Single Transferable Vote (STV): the number of seats allocated to a party in parliament or congress should reflect the number of votes cast.’ This system also ‘sustains a sense of local attachment. Voters choose their representatives by name from geographical constituencies…each constituency returns several members to the parliament or congress.’ Voters can score the candidates in their order of preference.

‘No voting system, without constraints on campaign finance, can prevent the very rich from buying the policies and even the election results they want.’ A system is proposed were the amount of funding allowed to be used is directly dependent on the number of members of the party, or for independents the members of their support group. Every member makes a small contribution which is matched by the government.

More political power could be given to citizens by enabling referendums. When an important decision is being made citizens have the right to demand a referendum, for which they would need to show support by getting 50.000 signatures in a set amount of days. In the referendum there could be several options (not just yes/no) and the different options would be explained before the referendum. ‘There is also an argument…for oversight by a supreme court, to ensure that referendum decisions do not breach fundamental human rights…’

Global democracy:

‘…The UN security council should be scrapped, and its powers vested in a reformulated UN General Assembly. This would be democratised by means of weighted voting: nations’ votes would increase according to both the size of their populations and their positions on a global democracy index.

The World Trade Organisation should be replaced by a new body -a Fair Trade Organisation- which, instead of subjecting all nations… to the same set of global rules, allows poorer nations to protect their infant industries from foreign competition until they are strong enough to fend for themselves…

The World bank and the IMF… should be replaced by a body charged with preventing excessive trade surpluses and deficits from forming, and therefore international debt from accumulating.

Overseeing all these institutions and holding them to account, I (Monbiot) propose a directly elected world parliament.’

A New Order?

‘Let us imagine…the end of the large nation state. Perhaps we could envision a system whose primary political unit is the city and its hinterland, or the subnational region (the canton in the Swiss model). This authority would then devolve all possible powers to its districts, counties and villages. It would collaborate with other cantons to solve common problems, creating federal forums to resolve certain issues but remaining independent in other aspects. The federal forums would delegate still larger issues to a global body…’

Making it happen

The key in making change happen is to get everyone involved: show the problem we need to address, and give us a solution we can take action on Now. Make us enthusiastic and show us how we can make a real difference.
We, the people can play an active role in making change happen, all we need is a little direction: what is the plan: do we need to call people, talk to people, or consistently ask our representatives about important policies and what their stand point is?

When political parties actually manage to formulate a new story we can get behind, and allow us to help formulating the policies that will make this story reality, we will step up and spread the word, and together we can make it happen.

To make this happen, we, the people, can start at the ground by forming communities as described above, and lobby the parties that are most likely to listen to us, to start rewriting their and our story!

Noor Bunnik, writer for the Gardens Of Love

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