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.

6 thoughts on “We20

  1. Ray Poynter

    Hi Johnnie

    I love the idea of We20 and conversations and look forward to taking part.

    However, I think (perhaps hope) that you are wrong about many of the world leaders. I have been amazed at how fast they have moved and amazed by how they have thrown their normal preferences to the winde. For example, we have seen New Labour and Republican George Bush, in effect, nationalise a range of banks and financial organisations. This was them putting the country before their beliefs, and in Bush’s case putting the country before the interests of his party.

    If we escape a depression on the scale of the 20s and 30s, the leaders will have done a good job in firefighting. If the financial systems are up and running in less than the 10 years it took Japan from their 90s debacle, it will show that the policy makers have learned something from history.

    For me the big questions are how did we get in this mess (and the leaders are well in the frame for that)? How did we ever believe that greed would lead to a sustainable society?

    The strength, IMHO, of what you are talknig about is not how to tackle the current crisis, but where we should go next. What we need (again IMHO) is a new renaissance, a respect for the arts and sciences, for dialectic. Will that come from the top? No. Will that come from the media? Clearly not. If it is to come from anywhere it will have to come from people like us, ordinary people talking together and finding solutions.

  2. Andy

    I’m excited about this initiative and the possibility it holds (for a whole bunch of reasons).

    I’ve been mulling this post over on and off throughout the day. It may be more accurate to say it’s been working on me.

    What it raises for me is this:

    The call to action I see in this is to adopt a stance of more authentic citizenship, one where I don’t delegate power to others and do choose to be accountable for the whole and for creating something different. This is something I fully engage with, along with the power of local conversations to enable it.

    But in accepting this accountability, I must also accept culpability for the mess we are in. I played a role… I colluded with the system. There is a level of complicity, it may be cultural complicity but it’s complicity no less. I may not like the horrible taste this leaves in my mouth (replete with guilt and shame) but without this acceptance I don’t think real ownership of what comes next can emerge. So I would add the question “what part have I/you played in contributing to the mess we are in?”

    I wholeheartedly agree that we need to be “placing less faith in supposedly exceptional leaders”. Let the “leaders” be – we got the leadership we created. Blaming and vilifying… these serve only to undermine our own sense of agency.

    It’s time for a new conversation. Thanks for issuing the invitation.

  3. Just one small thing

    We the people

    What to do in the face of the various global crises we’re all facing currently, from environmental to economic? Do you sit back and hope the powers that be will sort it? Not that they have managed so far. Or…


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