On Dec 14th George Monbiot wrote a cutting but insightful piece on the new politics. While he has titled the post “It’s About All of Us”, the content ends up focusing on "them" and "us". It was reproduced in the Guardian under a more militaristic heading: This is bigger than climate change. It is a battle to redefine humanity.
He argues that the new dividing line in politics is not between right or left but between expanders and restrainers: those who believe that there should be no impediments, and those who believe that we must live within limits. He goes onto to say:
The vicious battles we have seen so far between greens and climate change deniers, road safety campaigners and speed freaks, real grassroots groups and corporate-sponsored astroturfers are just the beginning. This war will become much uglier as people kick against the limits that decency demands.
While I dislike the language of wars and battles, I do agree with the fact the the divide exists, is growing and will widen before it shrinks.
Fear is the force that is driving a wedge between these two groups. The expanders fear loss of control, position, power, wealth, comfort, familiar stuff (the list goes on). Restrainers miss loss of access to cultural diversity, to well-being, biodiversity, health, community, security and happiness.
It seems always to be about fear. Fear will trump ambition every time. But even fear runs out of steam when people have lost all – as Victor Frankl showed in Auschwitz. The human search for meaning stays alight among some amidst the darkest darkness. It’s that sputtering flame we must each kindle…
I wish I could write as eloquently as Monbiot – he can be convincing, except that there’s flaw in his thinking that comes from a flaw of perception. There are colours in our world. He has identified two modes of thought but not seen the connections that link and unify.
I don't know about you, but there are also colours in my personality – at various times I am an expander and a restrainer. Some degree of expansion is necessary, or entropy would take over and we’d all end up in a useless heap under our duvets. Some form of restraint is necessary or we’d all burst from satiation. George rightly alludes to the fact that each of us harbours a capacity for great acts of selflessness and goodness and horrific acts of selfishness and evil. I am “all of us” but so are "you" too – and from where you’re standing, the view is different. Before WW2, Carl Jung warned of the shadow that exists within each and the dangers of denying it.
If humanity needs anything right now it’s to develop a universal capacity to grasp and feel comfortable with complexity, ambiguity even paradox. It’s the ability to say “yes and” not just “yes but”. But in the same way our psychology has difficulty handling gradual threats and responds best to immediate danger, the media we have created (and especially the new, digital social media) values the brief, the new, the instant, the “real-time”. Our thought processes are constantly interrupted, distracted and divided and our capacity to mull over an idea or article is reduced. Never was there such a need for our leaders to take time out to think (God forbid) but, when they do, we describe them as indecisive.
Another new and promising writer, Jane Young of The Resonance Blog, has tried to capture this need to handle complexity in a slide deck that should enjoy wide distribution. Her blog is well worth a read too.
I include it here not just because I enjoyed it but because it supports my last point – the dividing line (if there is such a thing) is not between people but modes of perception. People can shift back and forth between different modes of perception relatively easily. (In the illustration to the right, most of you can see an image of both a young lady in a fine hat, and an old crone clad in scarf).
One mode of perception views the planet as a living organism, a complex system continuously self-regulating and all forms of matter and energy as agents within that system, connected to and influencing all other agents. This paradigm necessitates a healthy respect for all other agents and an intrinsic, pervasive humility - the complexity of the interconnections means that we never know how they might impact each other.
The other model sees the planet as a storehouse of resources that any set of agents (any tribe) can exploit ad infinitum for its own personal benefit. This mode of perception has developed its knowledge based on a paradigm that divides subject from object; that underplays the deep connections that constantly link the two; and that assumes that agents can be neatly labeled, grouped, un-grouped and manipulated like the pixels on your screen. For as long as this paradigm “worked” (and it has for over 350 years) practicing humility was disadvantageous. What was needed was daring, courage, and boldness to break through barriers of ignorance and build new edifices that proved my tribe's superior intelligence and strength.
After 350 years or so, it’s not just the physical resources that have been plundered and are running low, but a healthy sense of wonder; a willingness to realize that there is far more we don’t know about our amazing universe than what we could ever know. As students of nature we are all in kindergarten where a bit more hand holding would serve us well. The old expansionist paradigm is losing its ability to describe our world accurately and predict the future - everywhere we read of systemic flaws, meltdowns and crises.
So, methinks a real paradigm shift is finally afoot.
If that's the case, then George, while I respect your passion, eloquence, intelligence, and wit, I reject your analysis of a new form of class struggle - even though I will fess up and state that I'm a moderate restrainer. If as you suggest, there are two mountains of thought separated by a chasm of misunderstanding, we need bridge builders and integrators not polarizers. Without such, it's gonna get a lot uglier….Let's not be responsible for that...It's not time for barricades but bridges......
My tourism readers might be thinking - what has this to do with tourism? Well everything. For starters, I believe the tourism community can and should act as bridge builders. But I also see evidence for the perception division growing within our ranks as evidenced by recent press releases issued by the WTTC, the Ecumenical Council on Tourism and the UNWTO. More in next post!!