I’ve just returned from the Breaking the Frame gathering – a long weekend at Unstone Grange in Derbyshire. My head is still spinning from the workshops, talks and panels featuring specialists on technology around GM, the military, nuclear power, surveillance, synthetic biology, health, energy, toxics annd climate, plus TTIP, emerging and alternative technologies. And of course, as with all gatherings, contacts were made, alliances built and some of the most interesting conversations were had outside of the scheduled sessions.
It was an incredible experience spending three days with really passionate, super-intelligent and slightly Aspergic people. It really did feel as though I’d found my tribe. How many of you have friends and family who think you’re slightly, erm, eccentric? I certainly do (including my partner).
There was no need at all to explain that we are living in a corporate empire – that was a given, and conversations began way beyond that. Nuclear power, artificial intelligence, robotics, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, weapons technology, the global financial system – these are all controlled by the corporate empire and they could all kill us. At the moment, decisions about these technologies are based on whether they can make money or not – and if they can, they happen, because there’s no way of applying the brake, even just to have a discussion as to whether they’re safe or whether they’re even required. We’ve got to get technology under democratic control – and quickly.
GM is a prime example. It’s supposed to be a solution to world food shortages, but there is a global food surplus. If people are hungry, it’s because they’re poor, not because the world doesn’t produce enough food. GM is an ostensible attempt to provide a technical solution to an economic and social problem, which is never going to work. I say ostensible, because the real reason that corporations are developing GM crops is to control more of the world’s food supply and make more money.
For me however, a slight downside of the gathering was that it felt as though we were fighting a rearguard action. We talked a lot about problems, but we didn’t talk much about taking back control, and when we did it was disjointed. We were talking about stopping the situation getting worse – and to be honest, we’re not having too much success. It’s too complicated for most people to understand, and it’s too much like hard work to climb that learning curve. And so it’s difficult to get the message across when people don’t understand the dangers.
Passion, super-intelligence and slight Aspergers don’t go down too well with other people sometimes. A group of loud people discussing political philosophy, feminism, economics and technology on a packed train is more likely to annoy people than to recruit them. It’s bad PR. The conversations on the train home were super-interesting, and I listened in, but I didn’t take part because I thought it was annoying other people. I could see people’s expressions – they were hearing loud opinions and I have a suspicion that they were persuading themselves that the opposite must be true.
Let’s talk as much about delivery of the message as about content. Let’s have sessions about how to reach people and communicate with them – ordinary people, not just Aspergic, passionate intellectuals (although of course, them too). That’s why I’m making this conversation public – to try to reach more people who would be interested in attending events like Breaking the Frame, and commenting on blogs like this. The more the merrier.
I think Breaking the Frame is incredible – my mind is fizzing this week. I’d like to suggest that we organise another gathering, but with a slightly different focus. Instead of tracking corporate activities and trying to push back against them, let’s meet up and talk about building positive components of a future, non-corporate system.
Between us we know enough good people to build something better. We know people who have built housing co-ops, worker co-ops, land co-ops, community energy schemes, open source software, community-supported agriculture schemes, credit unions, renewable energy systems, complicated websites and cryptocurrencies – extremely clever, committed people, in other words. We have the resources to build something better, and if we hire the right people (i.e. not us), we can introduce the mainstream to it as well.
So let’s have two gatherings – ‘Breaking the Frame’ and ‘Building the New Frame’. I volunteer to organise the latter if you can see the value in it. The workshops, panels and talks could be on the topics mentioned in the previous paragraph, and how they could complement each other, plus plenaries on building a new economic and a new political system – a flatter one, and maybe even a completely flat one, who knows? As a totally flat, non-hierarchical system is anarchism, and as that word scares most people (mainly because the media has skewed the true meaning of the word), it needs some rehabilitation. Plenaries on governance could focus on prising the corporate grip off the steering wheel, and at the very least delivering higher-quality leaders with no vested interests to make sensible decisions about our lurch into an increasingly technocratic future. Let’s talk about it.
But mostly, thank you to everyone – it feels reassuring that there are people out there doing such great things.
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1Dean of the portable village July 14th, 2015
I agree that selling an idea that most people dont want to hear is the hardest thing, perhaps selling a different improved version of the future could be easier ? well done for getting things going, I hope to get along to some future gatherings
2Alissa Pemberton July 15th, 2015
Building the new frame sounds like an excellent event – I’d support and help out. I’m currently gathering tools that help resist the corporatization of the ‘third sector’ – it’s becoming increasingly hard to fight when the alternatives are being co-opted too! But as you say there are many good examples of action and communicating clearly about them is key.
3Alissa Pemberton July 15th, 2015
I bet Common Cause would be interested if they aren’t already involved in Breaking the Frame http://valuesandframes.org/ as would the collective of people gathered around the work of the National Coalition for Independent Action, I’ll post this blog to their mailing list http://www.independentaction.net/
4Dave Darby July 15th, 2015
Thanks Dean, Alissa. I’ll let you know when something starts to happen.
5Soraya July 15th, 2015
Hi – I’m interested in this, please do keep us informed ?
6Dave Darby July 15th, 2015
Sure – best way is to drop your email into the newsletter box on the home page. It will all be in there. Cheers.
7Stevie July 15th, 2015
Hi Dave – Stevie from BtF here. I’d totally be into a Building the New Frame gathering! It sounds like exactly what we need, a clear idea not just what we’re against (and how it all fits together), but what we’re also for.
8Dave Darby July 15th, 2015
Hi Stevie – great stuff – let’s do it! I’ll talk to Dave K
9andy goldring July 17th, 2015
Great article Dave – thanks. Agree with how to build positive response – this is our mission in permaculture too. Also agree about how important it is to connect up the different aspects of governance etc etc. Our 2 day international conference in September – http://www.ipcuk.events – is an attempt to do that and I am keen to keep the discussion and planning and doing going for as long as I have energy because the alternative is bleak. Lots of people want to do this and lots of people already are. I think the key issue now is connecting it all up.
10Dean of the portable village July 17th, 2015
a connection point for all the different strands to cross paths ?
11Dave Darby July 17th, 2015
I think permaculture is a wonderful and complex system that can really contribute to change. The same can be said of community energy, community-supported agriculture, open source, cryptocurrencies, housing, worker and land co-ops, credit unions etc., plus the ‘stop’ groups (TTIP, GM etc.), and academia. The people I know working in those areas tend to have their heads down, because their fields are complex and demanding.
We have to keep doing that, because as you say, the alternative is bleak. Let’s get together – let’s invite people from the groups above, plus Transition, WWOOF etc., Let’s all take a little bit of time out to tell each other what’s happening in those sectors and how we can unite to remove barriers, recruit new members and build a new system. I think there’s a whole waiting to be discovered that’s bigger than the sum of its parts. Enough people get it now – consciousness is raised enough (although if it keeps getting raised, that’s a bonus). But I think people have got used to struggle and forgotten that we can actually win.
12Dave Darby July 17th, 2015
Well I’m certainly going to interview people in all those areas and blog about what they’re up to, why it’s good, how we can all help, and how they can combine with other players in the non-corporate sector. Then the missing piece is governance, which I’ll continue to blog about, and everybody is welcome to comment. Other people can blog too, and we can all comment on each other’s blogs, share articles on social media etc.
This proposed event could be a real catalyst for bigger things too.
13isitavideo July 20th, 2015
Great Stuff Dave, agree completely! Two things stand out from my notes, firstly, that any new system must be able to absorb the existing ‘toxic’ technologies and structures, and that sustainable technologies and decentralised forms of governance are cheaper, and faster than what we have today (and so have the potential to defeat them on their own terms.)
The easiest way I can sum up what a new form of society must do, is make the old one obsolete. It must to do parliamentary democracy what parliamentary democracy did to the monarchy (at the very least.)
A gathering on construction of a new system would be superb. I liked how BTF allowed some space for discussion of what an alternative system would look like, and I liked how it was arranged to give the most broad (and accurate) picture of technology and it’s relationship with man. The challenge of a ‘building the next frame’ meeting would be that of any design process, just as proper design involves the designing of the design process itself, BTNF would have to provide a framework that allowed a creative process to spontaneously manifest itself. We sort of have (what in the design industry would be called) a ‘specification’ – BTF provided us with a list of things that the new frame needs to do:
The next step (from an industrial perspective—that I am locking myself to for the sake of discussion) could be the initial design phase, where solutions are radically sketched out, research is performed, and the very problem itself is questioned – with no constraints being placed upon solutions to the design, other than holding it against the specification.
One possible framework to this might be that BTNF has a day of defining a specification (or problem to be solved) and another day of designing/making solutions to that problem. This might resemble a hack day actually. There would probably be quite a few different solutions to the problem (different forms of organisation/government policies of ‘assesment,’/targets for campaigns) and aside from these solutions being carried forward outside of the meet, there could be an opportunity for publishing some of them online.
14Dave Darby July 20th, 2015
Hi Callum, great thoughts – might have to try to rope you into the working group.
I think there are two parts to it – first, how to support the people actually doing things already to build a non-corporate alternative – i.e. ‘housing co-ops, worker co-ops, land co-ops, community energy schemes, open source software, community-supported agriculture schemes, credit unions, renewable energy systems, complicated websites and cryptocurrencies’ etc., and second, to talk about governance.
I agree that localised, small-scale, decentralised can perform better – we could produce more food that way for example. But the playing field needs to be levelled first. Local, small-scale businesses don’t get the economies of scale, the tax avoidance and the use of sweatshops that the big boys do. It’s whether they’ll let us defeat them on their own terms I suppose. Ownership of the media, financial institutions, political systems and the military is going to be difficult to overcome, and they’re not going to want to give it up, however legitimate and peaceful the means.
I think there’s scope for trying various solutions, to see what works and what doesn’t. We could launch several initiatives, and if one takes off we could get behind it en masse. But as I said, there are already people doing great things, and I think part of it should be discussing what they do and how to help them.