It’s hard to know where to begin in talking about the state of the world economy, but one theme that constantly returns for me is this: there is a lot to be said for placing less faith in supposedly exceptional leaders. Many of those claiming authoritatively that they know what’s best for us have been exposed as implausible if not downright deluded.
Watching their recent performances tends to make me angry, probably because it stimulates a feeling of helplessness. I also wonder if that is the most damaging aspect of the recession: that it leaves many people feeling helpless.
I think that looking to our leaders to somehow rescue us is simply going to reinforce that helplessness.
I also think that what we are facing is not merely a cyclical downturn, or the need to recover from the greed and folly of just a few people. I think what we’re seeing is the systemic failure of a version of capitalism that has outlived whatever usefulness it once had.
We need something new, and I believe it needs to emerge in a new way, not from the powers-that-be, but from the rest of us. And we are all the-rest-of-us now.
In a few weeks, the great and good will meet for the G20 and let’s hope they make some progress; they’ll be doing their best in very difficult circumstances. But I don’t expect too much from a high-status gathering mired in protocol.
My own hope about what may emerge from this crisis will be something based on a less hierarchical, excessively individualistic world view. It will come from a more peer-to-peer worldview.
And that’s why I feel excited, perhaps foolishly optimistic, about the thinking behind We20, a group I’ve been involved with for a few weeks now. Various forms of web presence are in the works, but for now there’s a facebook group.
The central idea is that around the world, folks like us gather in our groups of around 20 to talk about the state of the economy and how we, are ordinary citizens, might respond and what we’d like to see happen. We very likely won’t agree, but at least we’ll come together looking to each other for help and solutions, rather than to the TV or mainstream politicians. Perhaps in some small way this will contribute to what I hope becomes a better, more humane and collaborative way of managing our economies, and our planet, than what we’ve settled for these past years.
For those who doubt the power of communities to make a difference, it might be worth taking a look at what Rob Paterson has helped to catalyse in St Louis, where the local PBS station has helped people to come together resourcefully to help each other get through the housing collapse there.
Whether We20 gets anywhere close to its stated goal of thousand of conversations, I have no idea. I do know that the conversations I’ve had so far under it’s emerging banner have been exciting and challenging. It’s been very good to find that many, many people share my concerns and are willing to think deeply about how we get out of this economic hole in a peaceful and resourceful way.
And if we can at least have a peaceful conversation in which our many diverse needs, fears and hopes can be acknowledged and better understood, then that will be progress. No grand communiques will come of this, but perhaps the fear of helplessness and isolation will be changed for the better.