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← The new political story that could change everything

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Showing Revision 8 created 07/26/2019 by Oliver Friedman.

  1. Do you feel trapped
  2. in a broken economic model?
  3. A model that's trashing the living world
  4. and threatens the lives
    of our descendants?
  5. A model that excludes billions of people
  6. while making a handful unimaginably rich?
  7. That sorts us into winners and losers,
  8. and then blames the losers
    for their misfortune?
  9. Welcome to neoliberalism,
  10. the zombie doctrine
    that never seems to die,
  11. however comprehensively it is discredited.
  12. Now you might have imagined
    that the financial crisis of 2008
  13. would have led to the collapse
    of neoliberalism.
  14. After all, it exposed
    its central features,
  15. which were deregulating
    business and finance,
  16. tearing down public protections,
  17. throwing us into extreme
    competition with each other,
  18. as, well, just a little bit flawed.
  19. And intellectually, it did collapse.
  20. But still, it dominates our lives.
  21. Why?
  22. Well, I believe the answer
    is that we have not yet produced
  23. a new story with which to replace it.
  24. Stories are the means
    by which we navigate the world.

  25. They allow us to interpret
    its complex and contradictory signals.
  26. When we want to make sense of something,
  27. the sense we seek is not scientific sense
  28. but narrative fidelity.
  29. Does what we are hearing reflect the way
  30. that we expect humans
    and the world to behave?
  31. Does it hang together?
  32. Does it progress
  33. as a story should progress?
  34. Now, we are creatures of narrative,

  35. and a string of facts and figures,
    however important facts and figures are --
  36. and, you know, I'm an empiricist,
    I believe in facts and figures --
  37. but those facts and figures have no power
    to displace a persuasive story.
  38. The only thing that can replace a story
  39. is a story.
  40. You cannot take away someone's story
  41. without giving them a new one.
  42. And it's not just stories in general
    that we are attuned to,
  43. but particular narrative structures.
  44. There are a number of basic plots
    that we use again and again,
  45. and in politics there is one basic plot
  46. which turns out to be
    tremendously powerful,
  47. and I call this "the restoration story."
  48. It goes as follows.
  49. Disorder afflicts the land,

  50. caused by powerful and nefarious forces
  51. working against the interests of humanity.
  52. But the hero will revolt
    against this disorder,
  53. fight those powerful forces,
  54. against the odds overthrow them
  55. and restore harmony to the land.
  56. You've heard this story before.

  57. It's the Bible story.
  58. It's the "Harry Potter" story.
  59. It's the "Lord of the Rings" story.
  60. It's the "Narnia" story.
  61. But it's also the story
  62. that has accompanied almost every
    political and religious transformation
  63. going back millennia.
  64. In fact, we could go as far as to say
  65. that without a powerful
    new restoration story,
  66. a political and religious transformation
  67. might not be able to happen.
  68. It's that important.
  69. After laissez-faire economics
    triggered the Great Depression,

  70. John Maynard Keynes
    sat down to write a new economics,
  71. and what he did was to tell
    a restoration story,
  72. and it went something like this.
  73. Disorder afflicts the land!

  74. (Laughter)

  75. Caused by the powerful and nefarious
    forces of the economic elite,

  76. which have captured the world's wealth.
  77. But the hero of the story,
  78. the enabling state, supported
    by working class and middle class people,
  79. will contest that disorder,
  80. will fight those powerful forces
    by redistributing wealth,
  81. and through spending
    public money on public goods
  82. will generate income and jobs,
  83. restoring harmony to the land.
  84. Now like all good restoration stories,

  85. this one resonated
    across the political spectrum.
  86. Democrats and Republicans,
    labor and conservatives,
  87. left and right all became,
    broadly, Keynesian.
  88. Then, when Keynesianism ran into trouble
  89. in the 1970s,
  90. the neoliberals, people like
    Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman,
  91. came forward with
    their new restoration story,
  92. and it went something like this.
  93. You'll never guess what's coming.

  94. (Laughter)

  95. Disorder afflicts the land!

  96. Caused by the powerful
    and nefarious forces
  97. of the overmighty state,
  98. whose collectivizing tendencies
    crush freedom and individualism
  99. and opportunity.
  100. But the hero of the story,
    the entrepreneur,
  101. will fight those powerful forces,
  102. roll back the state,
  103. and through creating
    wealth and opportunity,
  104. restore harmony to the land.
  105. And that story also resonated
    across the political spectrum.
  106. Republicans and Democrats,
    conservatives and labor,
  107. they all became, broadly, neoliberal.
  108. Opposite stories
  109. with an identical narrative structure.
  110. Then, in 2008,

  111. the neoliberal story fell apart,
  112. and its opponents came forward with ...
  113. nothing.
  114. No new restoration story!
  115. The best they had to offer
    was a watered-down neoliberalism
  116. or a microwaved Keynesianism.
  117. And that is why we're stuck.
  118. Without that new story,
  119. we are stuck with the old failed story
  120. that keeps on failing.
  121. Despair is the state we fall into
  122. when our imagination fails.
  123. When we have no story
    that explains the present
  124. and describes the future,
  125. hope evaporates.
  126. Political failure is at heart
  127. a failure of imagination.
  128. Without a restoration story
  129. that can tell us where we need to go,
  130. nothing is going to change,
  131. but with such a restoration story,
  132. almost everything can change.
  133. The story we need to tell
  134. is a story which will appeal
    to as wide a range of people as possible,
  135. crossing political fault lines.
  136. It should resonate
    with deep needs and desires.
  137. It should be simple and intelligible,
  138. and it should be grounded in reality.
  139. Now, I admit that all of this sounds
    like a bit of a tall order.

  140. But I believe that in Western nations,
  141. there is actually a story like this
  142. waiting to be told.
  143. Over the past few years,
  144. there's been a fascinating
    convergence of findings
  145. in several different sciences,
  146. in psychology and anthropology
    and neuroscience and evolutionary biology,
  147. and they all tell us
    something pretty amazing:
  148. that human beings have got
    this massive capacity for altruism.
  149. Sure, we all have a bit of selfishness
    and greed inside us,
  150. but in most people,
    those are not our dominant values.
  151. And we also turn out to be
    the supreme cooperators.
  152. We survived the African savannas,
  153. despite being weaker and slower
    than our predators and most of our prey,
  154. by an amazing ability
    to engage in mutual aid,
  155. and that urge to cooperate
    has been hardwired into our minds
  156. through natural selection.
  157. These are the central,
    crucial facts about humankind:
  158. our amazing altruism and cooperation.
  159. But something has gone horribly wrong.

  160. Disorder afflicts the land.
  161. (Laughter)

  162. Our good nature has been thwarted
    by several forces,

  163. but I think the most powerful of them
    is the dominant political narrative
  164. of our times,
  165. which tells us that we should live
    in extreme individualism
  166. and competition with each other.
  167. It pushes us to fight each other,
    to fear and mistrust each other.
  168. It atomizes society.
  169. It weakens the social bonds
    that make our lives worth living.
  170. And into that vacuum
  171. grow these violent, intolerant forces.
  172. We are a society of altruists,
  173. but we are governed by psychopaths.
  174. (Applause)

  175. But it doesn't have to be like this.

  176. It really doesn't,
  177. because we have this incredible capacity
    for togetherness and belonging,
  178. and by invoking that capacity,
  179. we can recover those amazing
    components of our humanity:
  180. our altruism and cooperation.
  181. Where there is atomization,
    we can build a thriving civic life
  182. with a rich participatory culture.
  183. Where we find ourselves crushed
    between market and state,
  184. we can build an economics
    that respects both people and planet.
  185. And we can create this economics
    around that great neglected sphere,
  186. the commons.
  187. The commons is neither market nor state,
    capitalism nor communism,

  188. but it consists of three main elements:
  189. a particular resource;
  190. a particular community
    that manages that resource;
  191. and the rules and negotiations
    the community develops to manage it.
  192. Think of community broadband
    or community energy cooperatives
  193. or the shared land
    for growing fruit and vegetables
  194. that in Britain we call allotments.
  195. A common can't be sold,
    it can't be given away,
  196. and its benefits are shared equally
    among the members of the community.
  197. Where we have been ignored and exploited,
  198. we can revive our politics.
  199. We can recover democracy
    from the people who have captured it.
  200. We can use new rules
    and methods of elections
  201. to ensure that financial power
    never trumps democratic power again.
  202. (Applause)

  203. Representative democracy should
    be tempered by participatory democracy

  204. so that we can refine
    our political choices,
  205. and that choice should be exercised
    as much as possible at the local level.
  206. If something can be decided locally,
    it shouldn't be determined nationally.
  207. And I call all this
    the politics of belonging.
  208. Now, I think this has got
    the potential to appeal

  209. across quite a wide range of people,
  210. and the reason for this
    is that among the very few values
  211. that both left and right share
  212. are belonging and community.
  213. And we might mean
    slightly different things by them,
  214. but at least we start
    with some language in common.
  215. In fact, you can see a lot of politics
    as being a search for belonging.
  216. Even fascists seek community,
  217. albeit a frighteningly
    homogenous community
  218. where everyone looks the same
    and wears the same uniform
  219. and chants the same slogans.
  220. What we need to create
    is a community based on bridging networks,

  221. not bonding networks.
  222. Now a bonding network brings together
    people from a homogenous group,
  223. whereas a bridging network brings together
    people from different groups.
  224. And my belief is that if we create
  225. sufficiently rich and vibrant
    bridging communities,
  226. we can thwart the urge
    for people to burrow into the security
  227. of a homogenous bonding community
  228. defending themselves against the other.
  229. So in summary,
  230. our new story could go
    something like this.
  231. Disorder afflicts the land!

  232. (Laughter)

  233. Caused by the powerful
    and nefarious forces

  234. of people who say
    there's no such thing as society,
  235. who tell us that
    our highest purpose in life
  236. is to fight like stray dogs
    over a dustbin.
  237. But the heroes of the story, us,
  238. we'll revolt against this disorder.
  239. We will fight those nefarious forces
    by building rich, engaging,
  240. inclusive and generous communities,
  241. and, in doing so,
  242. we will restore harmony to the land.
  243. (Applause)

  244. Now whether or not
    you feel this is the right story,

  245. I hope you'll agree that we need one.
  246. We need a new restoration story,
  247. which is going to guide us
    out of the mess we're in,
  248. which tells us why we're in the mess
    and tells us how to get out of that mess.
  249. And that story, if we tell it right,
  250. will infect the minds of people
    across the political spectrum.
  251. Our task is to tell the story
    that lights the path to a better world.

  252. Thank you.

  253. (Applause)