I have struggled to write this blog as I feel that I need to be critical of myself, my generation, and my children's generation. Despite hearing some promising words for change, I find we are so caught up in the current framing story with its origins in neoliberalism that we have difficulty seeing the real problems that face us and the continued existence of this world.
How long does humanity have left before our activity causes our own extinction? With increasing reports of damage done by humanity on the planet, it is becoming easier to believe the claims of claims of humanities extinction within my own lifetime (Attenborough, 2013; McPherson, 2016). But is climate change the only danger to this planet's existence?
Over the last year, I have been part of a group looking at some alternatives to the neoliberal principles. Although we now have a set of principles, I am concerned that in our discussions, we had difficulty freeing ourselves from some of the foundational concepts that underpin the neoliberal principles. There is so much that is ingrained in our culture that works against our survival. What shocks me is that the warning messages have been there for a long time.
As we have been reading some of the writings and speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. (West (ed), 2015), I have been increasingly challenged about the way that I have allowed myself to be pressured by society rather than standing up for my beliefs. There are subtle pressures every day to confirm to the way that society is organised and to the dominant framing story of our day. At times, I feel silenced by the dominant framing story and machinery by which UK society is organised. Martin Luther King Jr. (1967) words begin to make sense.
“As I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart . . . many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path” (West (ed) 2015, p vi).
On 19 November, I joint the “United for education” march in London. I was inspired by the courageous attitude of the speakers. If they can mobilise students to disrupt government policy such as the Teaching Evaluation Framework (TEF) by encouraging student to boycott the National Student Survey (NSS) then we may see some rethinking of the direction being taken in education. The students had the courage to acknowledge that they are not customers and that the market mentality shouldn't apply to education. To some extent, the power for change lies in their hands although the cost may be high for those students that participate.
But to some extent even more disappointing was the limited coverage of the march. This may have been the largest march (> 15,000) in London for some time but there was little coverage in the media. It really came across as a non-event. We had a very small contingent from Birmingham present and I suspect most of my colleagues didn't even know it was happening.
Despite these encouraging signs, I am still concerned that the key speakers still supported the dominant framing story. If we are to see real change then we need to have leaders who really understand the alternative framing stories and how they work.
If we are to challenge the dominant framing story, then we have to be able to motivate the masses but not to violent revolt but to non-violent resistance. This is where we can learn a lot from the civil rights movement and their non-violent resistance.
Today, as we again read a speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. (1967), I wrote in my personal journal this reflection. Although Kin is referring to the war in Vietnam, something which many people now alive will have little recollection of, I found much of the underlying issues still appropriate for today. The capitalist west and economically rich nations still seeking to protect their investments around the world and extract profits for themselves. The new backlash hasn't fully gained momentum but the nations in turmoil or exporting refugees or poverty stricken is huge. King sees that the role taken by America makes “peaceful revolution impossible” since America refuses “to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment” (p 214). Although it is possible to argue that this still holds true in the national psyche of some nations, this distinction is becoming the divide between the wealthy corporates, the wealthy few (the 1%), and the rest of the people around the world. The poor and middle class remain exploited by the wealth generation barons who seek to maintain their privileged status.
We have not changed focus in the last nearly forty years. King's call for us to “rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society” (p 214) remains true. The focus on “machines and computers, profit motives and property rights” are still “considered more important than people” (p 214). As a consequence, we haven't conquered racism, materialism, and militarism. Racism has possibly been replaced by other forms of discrimination but at the heart of many of our problems is the attitude of “I am better than you” or “I am worth more than you.” Unless this basic attitude is addressed, humanity has a very bleak future.
King talks of the need to be “the Good Samaritan on life's roadside.” However, he sees past that calling for “the whole Jericho Road to be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on Life's highway” (p 214). We must come to see the injustice of our systems and the need to transform them to bring a new society into being.
As I read King's words and write these reflections, I am aware of predictions for humanity's self-destruction. At the time when King delivered his message the fear was annihilation through nuclear war. That threat has not been removed although nations have moved away from some of the most destructive weapons although the UK has decided to renew its nuclear submarine arsenal. The threat of annihilation or extinction is from our exploitation of the planet's resources (Thompson, 2015). Humanity is killing the planet and in doing so is destroying the ecosystem upon which life depends for survival. A nuclear war or all out international war may simply speed up the inevitable demise of all life on this planet. We are still too dependent on limited natural resources that depletion will occur before we have removed our dependence on them. We live in ignorance of our own demise.
King's call for radical love as the framing story for building a “non-violent co-existence” (p 217). Although radical love is a key ingredient, I feel we need a radical rethinking of our framing story but I wonder whether we are already “too late” to save our planet and humanity.
The struggle for justice and change has many difficulties. One of these is whether the privileged will resist giving up their privilege (King, 1963). He says “Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily” (p 131). He contends that the oppressed must demand justice. He also discusses how to determine whether a law is just or unjust, saying “An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal” (p 133).
As I write this, I think of the treatment of teaching fellows who I refer to as teaching slaves. The academic elite, the research oriented lecturers, have no problem with teaching fellows being overloaded with teaching and having no path for promotion. It is the academic elites privilege to take the spoils of what is achieved by teaching fellows. If I understood the position of administrators, I think there position would be worse than the position of teaching fellows. What we have is a class stratified society based on job role. Academic institutes should be role models on what equality means but instead are places where inequality is implemented and enforced. We shouldn't be surprised that wealthy elites in government will willingly legislate against the most vulnerable while extending their own privilege. The wealthy powerful elite is a minority. The poor are a growing minority although possibly rapidly becoming a majority. The majority is a middle class that ignores the inequality by believing that they could also achieve the heights of the wealthy elite but never really making progress.
If we are to oppose the injustice in society, we need to motivate the oppressed to resist and for the middle class to actually see the injustice of the system. We need a new “civil rights” movement that shakes the foundations of complacency and shows up the hypocrisy within societal organisations and work places. We have a lot to do.
We can be negative about our future or we can begin to explore what would be a better base for structuring our world. The group that I have been part of has agreed on five principles. These are:
- Enabling Potential: Every one has an equal opportunity to develop their full potential.
- Equal Society: Everyone is included and our basic human needs are provided for.
- Participatory Democracy: Everyone's voice is heard and every vote counts equally.
- Environmental Sustainability: Everyone feels our local environment is our home, and the planet is preserved for our children and grandchildren.
- An Economy for the Common Good: Everyone's needs are supported through regulated and responsible markets with mixed ownership models and by fostering local economies.
These principles are challenging in their own right and I can see many that I interact with agreeing to the principles even if we have different practical ways of bringing these into place. However, I want to go further.
King called for radical love and I agree but the core of that radical love has to be a process of peace-building. Peace-building is about rebuilding relationships by facing up to what we have done to others and looking for ways to correct our mistreatment of others. When we move from an attitude of exploiting for our own benefit to an attitude of building relationships that address the inequalities and issues that separate us. It is not about agreeing on our beliefs but it is about reconciling conflict and differences in a positive manner and not by the destructive means of enforcing our views on others.
I see the above principles as a starting point but I see that unless we are willing to face up to how we impact the lives of others by our attitudes and practices, and are willing to give up some of our privileges then we are doomed to the self destruction of humanity as we fight of an ever decreasing set of natural resources. To me, Brexit is the result of many in the UK seeking to preserve their way of life. It is a failure to see the consequences of our actions and the damage that we have caused and are causing to our planet. It is not until we face the damage that we are doing to others and our planet and to repent of the damage that we have done and seek to restore positive and sustainable relationships.
As I write, this, I am listening to a lecture where the speaker (McPherson, 2016) is saying that we are past the point where sustainability is a possibility. We might be able to slow down our rush to annihilation a little but it is too late to stop extinction of life on earth.
We can simply accept his message and continue the exploitation of the natural resources and our fellow humans or we can take seriously the need for a new lifestyle and a new way of interacting with each other. For me, part of motivating this change is rethinking education and our goals in life. As long as we are constantly seeking more resources and status for self, I believe we are doomed for self-destruction. Yet, the principles by which our society current lives is driving us to destroy all that we need to live.
Will you take the call for change seriously?
Attenborough, D (2013, 7 December) David Attenborough: 'Climate change – Britain under threat'. YouTube. From: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cq1oFhTINXE (Accessed: 11 December 2016).
King Jr. M.L. (1963) Letter from Birmingham jail. In West, C. (Ed.) (2015). The radical king: Martin Luther King, Jr. Boston: Beacon Press. Chapter 12, pp 127-145).
King Jr. M.L. (1967) Beyond Vietnam: A time to break silence. In West, C. (Ed.) (2015). The radical king: Martin Luther King, Jr. Boston: Beacon Press. Chapter 18, pp 201-217.
McPherson, G. (2016, 2 December) Global threat: Climate change – Guy McPherson – Episode 2. YouTube. From: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1Kc-87Vyus&t=32s. (Accessed 11 December 2016).
Thompson, E. (2015) Economic growth implications. From: http://kiwi-et.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/economic-growth-implications.html. (Accessed 11 December 2016).
West, C. (Ed.) (2015). The radical king: Martin Luther King, Jr. Boston: Beacon Press.