The 'common man' and a global power shift.

Inspired by poet Walt Whitman's celebration of the worth and dignity of the 'ordinary man' American composer Aaron Copeland composed his rousing 'Fanfare to the Common Man'. Similarly I am inspired by those 'non-politicians' who are willing to consider how an appropriate civil society formation might contribute to a better future. And I’m daunted that in my rather cavalier fashion I ventured to offer a strategy for doing so. So how does a civil society formation become a coherent whole capable of positively influencing social, political and economic evolution? Here are some early considerations.

In venturing to do so I'm mindful of the saying that ‘the road to hell is paved with good intention’. In this regard there might be something relevant in Winston Churchill’s comment in the British House of Commons in 1944 where he said; “…we shape our buildings and afterwards our building shape us”. 

Engaging the complex global context

In similar vein complexity theorist, Edward Snowden, reminds us that complex adaptive systems are systems where agents are partly constrained, but they modify the systems with which they interact. This is what society is all about. Such process leads to the phenomenon of co-evolution where patterns form from the interaction of systems and agents. Putting all that simply; the way we structure our institutions will influence our behaviours - and in turn our behaviours will influence that nature of those institutions.

Danger of highjacking

In South Africa the 'system' (as an official policy) of black economic empowerment was designed to 'level the economic playing field' for those previously disadvantaged in the apartheid system. The intention was one thing, the corrupt exploitation of that system by the 'agents', now termed 'tenderpreneurs' turned out to be another. A small 'elite' was essentially tremendously advantaged - at the cost of efficiency and, ultimately, the taxpayer.

In the United Kingdom government instituted measures to correct exploitation of the banking public has spurned whole new industries of agents exploiting that system - as many experiencing a stream of irritating phone calls will attest. I think by now the 'claims' industry is probably making a significant contribution to GDP. All I'm saying is that whatever the system, it is going to be exploited by agents with different agendas.

Danger of backlash

So, in thinking about the design of civil society formation, complexity theory will remind us of the phenomenon of 'path dependency'. This means we must be alert to stimulating unexpected trends that can gain momentum that eventually becomes self-perpetuating. This we have seen manifest in the Arab spring. “Sow the wind - reap the whirlwind.” On the other hand, of course, we might put in enormous amounts of effort that might still come to nought.

But given the day, and given the dramatic world in which we live, we will want to ensure that the way we construct any effective civil society formation will work constructively to influence positive change. At all cost we will want to avoid provoking a repressive backlash. These next few posting will describe how to address that challenge.

Politics, economics and 'meaning' in civil society

In recent postings evaluating our global leadership, I focused on the nature of the prevailing context from the three key perspectives of politics, society and economics. We will here be especially looking at identifying enduring principles that will serve to give direction to an active civil society formation, especially in respect of supporting the further development of democratic processes of governance. And of course any such initiatives should ultimately also include providing insights into the necessary legal frameworks that will help redirect economic activity towards greater equity and sustainability. Politics and economics are inextricably intertwined, and it's simply a fact that they are also global. In addressing these challenges such a complex endeavour is going to be either enabled, or compromised, by the 'meaning' the agents (participants in such a the formation) attribute to the principles of the formation, and what will happen in their engagement with it. This factor of 'meaning' is key to success.

Critical mass

When US presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson was assured by his campaigners that all thinking Americans would vote for him, he responded: “…yes, hopefully, but I need a majority.” So, it is some critical mass of informed and focused ‘people participation’ that will ultimately ensure that civil society activity might make a difference.

Principles of a strategy

In its founding principles, such a formation must at the outset clearly establish the framework for its organisational design. And clearly these will now need to embrace those living systems principles that characterise complex adaptive systems. And it will furthermore need to be able to adapt to, and engage with, the greater diverse global political order. So, clearly it will be essential to focus on the application of 'healthy process' rather than simply attempting to provide 'fixed and final solutions'. The value of those processes themselves will be determined by their ability to enable generative and collaborative human behaviours. And those processes will need to be capable of optimising opportunities sustainably in relation not only to our different societies, but especially in our relationship with 'mother earth'.

Brexit as a dynamic context of the 'blind leading the blind'

Writing from the United Kingdom it is immediately apparent that such an initiative will be happening against the complex context of Brexit, with the growing chorus of strident demands for the government to 'show its hand'. If truth be told, it probably does not have a hand worth showing - at this stage it's more a case of the 'blind leading the blind. Coupled to this there's the further peculiar, and apparently uncertain, turn of political dynamics in the United States - with the president-elect also stirring the Brexit pot.

Globalised context of civil society

Of course there are yet further contextual dimensions, especially of the global level, that will want to be considered. 

* There’s the way civil society might engage with the political and economic dynamics of the ‘rising’ East - largely dominated by the authoritarian and centralised approach of China.

* There’s the way civil society might engage with whatever the ‘Pandora’s box-like’ Trump administration is going to unleash in the United States. One hair-raising scenario is that he adopts a Machiavellian (Caesar-like) stance as Commander in Chief of the armed forces with the support of the co-called military/industrial nexus.

* There’s way civil society might engage with NATO in its attempts at managing the maverick ambitions of Russia’s Putin - who has already adopted that Caesar-like stance.

* There’s the way civil society in the UK might now even engage with a renewed opportunity to re-enliven the Commonwealth of Nations - conceptualising exciting scenarios of new multilateral collaboration - and at least engaging with the renewed and apparently progressive socio-political dynamism of Canada.

* Critically there’s the way civil society will re-engage with the European Union. The current Brexit narrative is surely counter-intuitive. This is especially so given that Europe is identified as still representing, at least from the perspective of the bio-psychosocial model of emergent human values, the most advanced degree of conscious evolution on the planet.

Role for UNO?

I'm imagining a civil society formation piloting a prototype way of organising a transformed political and economic global order, which a transformed United Nation Organisation might potentially yet attempt to help implement. Surely the value attributed to human dignity, social justice, and democracy by the EU must then remain a global key. Donald Trump's most recent conclusion that Angela Merkel's humanitarian policy on refugees must be seen a fatal error, must surely emphasise the point. 

I'm even musing on a civil society model that could potentially serve as a Rosetta stone of a form of global governance enabled by committed and principled, albeit free association. This should surely start with continued robust civil society engagement with formations in Europe. 

Engaging the people

A second key consideration must relate to how indeed well-meaning folks might be engaged constructively. In this 'post-truth' era, it is worth revisiting Aaron Antonovsky’s principles of ‘Salutogenesis’. This is defined as the ‘state’ of awareness that purportedly generates individual and social wellness. He identifies three critical qualities of experience:

Comprehensibility, which considers whether people are enabled through education and communication to make sufficient ’sense’ of what is going on - such as in a civil society movement?

Manageability, which considers whether people feel competent to act within the described context - such as a civil society movement?

Meaningfulness, which focuses on whether people can appreciate the value of what the envisaged context has to offer - such as a civil society movement?

It's really about helping folks 'get the picture', and thereby 'know what to do', so that they 'understand the importance' of the initiative.

Leadership with a global perspective

What this means is that the design for a civil society formation is one thing - and the education and elucidation of society to support and draw the potential benefits from that initiative will be another. And it will call for credible and coherent leadership. And, contrary to a rising tide of sectarianism, parochialism and nationalism, what will no doubt characterise that leadership will be a transformed and empowering global perspective - and indeed vision. Creating an enabling platform for this we be addressed in the forthcoming posting.