Bringing the Ideal into Practice or how the IPPS could get things moving.
This article is in response to Mark Evans’ article "Social Transformation in Six Stages."
I’ve been following the Re-imagining Society project here on znet since the beginning, and thought that maybe I should add my ¥2 worth in the hope that where I’m wrong I’ll be educated and where I’m right it’ll be useful.
In his writings, Michael Albert’s has been describing what he has come to call a ‘Participatory’ society for over 30 years now. Along the way, not least in the current "Re-imagining Society" project, many serious minds have argued for and contributed to the development of those ideas. At the same time, and possibly more importantly, no few ordinary people have been influenced by these ideas and gone on to incorporate them to a greater or lesser degree into their own lives, communities and work places. However, while those that have consciously striven to implement the ideas as laid out in Albert’s writings do exist, far more numerous are the examples of groups and individuals who have come to similar conclusions of the reality they wish to inhabit without necessarily having associated the term ‘Participatory’ to it, nor in-fact are many of them aware of the existence of others formally (or informally) working here to develop these ideals into a unified, workable and real practice.
Mark Evans laid out a ‘plan’ for what I take to mean the International Project for a Participatory Society, though possibly some other structure that he has in mind, titled "Social Transformation in Six Stages", as I mentioned above. I think his plan assumes too much. Without wanting to adopt a negative role and waste time contradicting the points on which I disagree one by one, I’d rather suggest an alternative ‘plan’. A plan that tries not to ‘jump the gun’, one that focuses on the promotion of awareness of a body of belief to which people and orgs may well feel inclined to align. On reflection, maybe my article is less a rebuttal of Mark’s, than a development on his step ‘2.2’ without the assumption of anything that he writes after that being necessarily the way to go. The idea as I see it is fairly simple.
The IPPS defines itself as "a group of people concerned with inspiring, facilitating, and supporting efforts to develop, share, and promote vision and strategy for attaining a new participatory society." The Reimagining Society Project seems to me to be a forum for the ‘development of vision and strategy’ part of the IPPS’ mission. I think the project is approaching it’s goal in a workmanlike and steady fashion, and I have great hopes that some meaningful consensus will be reached. What I’m about to propose is a ‘plan’ for the next stage assuming, of course, a successful conclusion to the former.
I’d like to suggest that the basic values promoted in Albert’s work, are actually shared and practised by many. What doesn’t exist is an actual sense of solidarity towards the clear and shared goal of a participatory society. Many of the larger orgs and movements are used to working with or alongside others on a tactical basis while seeing their own goals as their ultimate purpose. Some see themselves as working towards a societal vision formulated for the 19th and 20th centuries often, I assume, because they have yet to hear about anything more contemporary and appropriate for this 21st century, or possibly because they are run by people so heavily invested in those early doctrines that they should really retire and leave things to a new generation (something about old dogs and new tricks…). Please note that I say some, not all by any means. Anyway, as I was saying, at the same time as many of the big orgs act tactically in terms of solidarity, there are smaller groups of people actually living a life of solidarity whether in intentional communities, community projects, co-ops, or any number of affinity groups. All these, large and small, are fair game to be approached with a proposal of association.
What do I mean by a ‘proposal of association’?
A proposal of association would aim to define what it means to believe in a Participatory Society. It would explain the role of the IPPS. It would attempt to show whether the aims that the potential associate is pursuing are compatible with and complementary to a Participatory Society, and visa versa.
A proposal would have to offer something to the associates too. It could offer assistance with joining or founding a council relating to the group’s geographic location or sphere of interest. It could provide a ‘knowledgebase’ in which associates could find examples of successful integration of PS principals into bodies with similar problems/questions as their own. Associates could be offered arbitration services by an arm of the IPPS (if such a thing were seen fit to be created).
A proposal of association could follow a simple invitation to a talk on the four main points of a Participatory Society (polity, culture, kinship and economy), it could follow a visit to a group on their own turf, it could be included as a postscript in the back of books on the subject, it could take the form of a pamphlet, it could be proposed over a pint in the pub. The importance being that a concerted effort be made to bring us together.
As you may have gathered from my other related posts (1, 2, 3), I’m not in favour of the IPPS assuming the role of anything more than that of being the developers and distributors of a preliminary (though hopefully as complete as possible) draft of a Vision for Participatory Society. I feel that their role should be advisory and theoretical rather than attempt to implement said vision. Implementation I would leave to the associates who, incidentally, would no doubt be constantly bringing issues to the IPPS for consideration. The IPPS could ‘sponsor’ an annual congress of associates for a sharing of experiences and at which associates could propose strategic direction and/or theoretical modifications to their peers, the IPPS would then be instructed to codify… I’m getting into the realm of speculation here, so don’t take that last point as a serious proposal.
Once this body of associates reaches a critical mass, then, and only then, will a plan for social transformation begin to take form.
If I’ve made an absolute fool of myself in this proposal, be forgiving. I profess no practical experience in the development of any strategy other than that which I apply to my own life. I have next to no experience of committees, dialectics or formal socio-political structures. I have an extreme distrust in and dislike of formalised organisations in general, but having said that find myself inexplicably drawn to the idea of a truly participatory society. I hope that this is of some use.