June 2018: Social Networks

by Fr Chris Chatteris SJ

Pope’s Intention, June 2018.

Social Networks. That social networks may work towards that inclusiveness which respects others for their differences.

No is not Enough, is the arresting title of Naomi Klein’s latest book. She is often considered to be a hopelessly impractical, radical left-wing social commentator and feminist, eco-warrior. Her book is a response to the election of Donald Trump and it is a sustained attack on pretty well all he stands for.

So why is ‘no’ not enough? Well, Klein argues that the fact that a political party is criticised or even voted out of office is not good enough unless the opposition have a viable alternative political and social programme ready with which to replace the incumbent’s. A ‘no’ requires that a ‘yes’ is ready and waiting in the wings.

Common sense of course, but she gives some good examples of where a political change was not in fact capitalised on, precisely because the naysayers hadn’t thought of one and were divided. So, for example, when President Obama came to power in the wake of the 2008 financial crash, she argues that those who voted him in ought to have followed up with their collective influence to insist that he make some really fundamental changes in the banking system that had so badly let the world down.

In the event he basically just bailed the investment banks out, slapped them on the wrist and tightened up a few regulations. She also thinks he should have insisted that the American auto industry, which was broke at the time and came to Obama with a begging bowl, should have been made to move rapidly away from petro-cars to electric vehicles and light railway transport for the sake of the environment and in order to shepherd the United States into the new green economy. That too, didn’t happen.

The problem was that the political and social movements that had removed the Republicans and put in the Obama-led democrats knew what they didn’t want but were fuzzy about what they did want. They had failed to come up with a coherent vision for the future of their country.

So, Klein’s book is an attempt to show how important it is to be inclusive and comprehensive when trying to get a movement going to change society for the better. (South Africa 2018, take note; the end of Zuma does not necessarily mean Utopia is around the corner so we had better have a broad, inclusive movement keeping pressure on Cyril Ramaphosa to deliver the goods for the common good of the country).

The final section of Klein’s book is what has been come to be known as the Leap Manifesto. It’s a remarkable document, put together by a vast array of Canadian social and political movements outlining their vision of a new economy and society. It is a return to Utopian thinking, which, far from being unrealistic in Klein’s view, is refreshing after decades during which people had bought into the fatalistic Thatcherite dictum that ‘There is no alternative’. According to the manifesto, there is indeed an alternative and that alternative is a more caring, inclusive and equal society in which the economy is not based on grabbing, extracting and trashing but rather on generously giving, putting back, and caring. It is a society in which the most vulnerable come first – immigrants and indigenous people for example. It is a society in which there will be a basic income grant to make sure that everyone’s basic needs are catered for. Such a grant is the epitome of inclusive social thinking – the idea that every individual needs to be considered; no one excluded. It is a society in which we strive for a harmony between the earth and humanity.

The word ‘leap’ is used very deliberately because the writers believe that time is running out. The individualistic economic philosophy of the last few decades has not only seriously fragmented our society, creating a super-rich elite who hide away their wealth in tax-havens while the poor go hungry, but it has also brought the earth to the brink of unstoppable and catastrophic climate change.

Hence, a cautious, incremental, ‘realistic’ approach to political and economic change is not going to cut it. What is needed is a quantum leap, a global bound to a new level of consciousness about the relationship between ourselves and the environment leading to a radically new way of ordering that relationship. Anything less will be too little too late. We must leap, but leap together.

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