XR conference last week – a slightly dissident view

Many found it inspiring, and I understand why, but my worst fears were confirmed.

Why did the (extremely competent) facilitator of a group block all my contributions? After I withdrew from the group – in distress – someone came over to me and explained.

The facilitator was trying to focus the group on practical aspects which they could take forward. My contributions were not strictly relevant to that group and she was determined to not to allow distractions. I realized immediately I had probably alienated most participants.

So why did I behave badly?

I jumped into XR just as I had done with the Green Party 45 years ago: they had the same purpose, saving the planet’s life support systems, only now it was more urgent.

But my initial impression of XR was that it was falling into the same trap as the Green Party, which can be summed up as tackling trees without understanding why the wood persists, despite the steadily mounting warnings starting from the MIT Limits to Growth report in 1972.

By lunch time on the second say of the two-day event, it was clear that XR was already going down the same cul de sac.

The facilitator was correct in rejecting anything I said as not helpful to what she was trying to achieve. There wasn’t a group to which it would have been relevant. I had made contributions on the urgency of an unconditional basic (citizens’) income (UBI) to two groups on the first day, and with hindsight I should have left it at that.

I met no outright hostility, and everyone I spoke to personally thought the UBI was a great idea, though none had made any connection with XR’s aims. One person I spoke to felt it was ‘cart before the horse’.

Due to its focus on practical action, what is missing from XR is any appreciation of the two major obstacles which have prevented progress ever since 1972. These obstacles are more fully explained in earlier blog posts or pages, but they are the Tragedy of the Commons: the need for an answer to be unanimous, globally, and the hard-wired aversion to loss, even small amounts, in the here and now.

This is why I see the UBI as crucial.  Without something which will allow downsizing to be acceptable to whole populations, it is frightening to anyone with not much to start with, and as long as growth is assumed to be the norm, those who could downsize just don’t have the right mind set.

The group in question was about oppression and disadvantaged groups., and yes, positive suggestions were being made. But what loomed large for me was that due to austerity – bogus, but that is a separate issue – the tide is running against us. The natural reaction to perceptions of not enough is hostility to other groups. If others can be excluded, there might just be enough for us.

When what became the Green Party was formed in 1972, it was at least focused on the need to reduce economic activity to sustainable levels. But this means reducing the economy – aka ‘wealth creation’.

XR simply demands that we stop trashing the planet, regardless of what that means in practice – downsizing, possibly drastic now that we have left it so late. No one I spoke to had even heard of Kate Raworth, let alone her ‘Doughnut’ concept of a planned ’soft landing’ of the economy to avoid the otherwise inevitable crash a bit later.

I left the conference distressed that I seem to be alone in my insight (psychotic delusion?) about the need for something to make downsizing thinkable. However, I freely admit the rest of this post is based on correspondence with someone else who witnessed my bad behaviour. Thank you Liz.

The practical implications of the Tragedy and loss aversion are how to shift a population terrified of material loss out of denial, and how to persuade corporations, indeed anyone making ‘stuff’  to reduce production to sustainable levels. Tall orders, both.

Now that it has been explained to me I do see that XR needs to be focused now on waking up those who are brave enough to be part of the ‘advance party’ who step up without any assurances as to their future economic stability. Reading XR’s values reassures me on this vital first step.

I am impatient. I have been an activist for what XR stands for for 45 years. Without a catalyst for downsizing, I fear XR is making an already stupendous task unnecessarily difficult. Perhaps newcomers need time to assimilate what must seem to many as my irrelevant ideas.

I have a vision of a sustainable, attainable society, but if XR is not successful, the future does not bear thinking about.


2 responses to “XR conference last week – a slightly dissident view

  1. Thanks for writing this Clive. I also left the meeting around midday, feeling distressed after being shutdown and feeling that some of the language used was colonial and oppressive. I wholeheartedly agree with your points – universal basic income and a shorter working week are transformative adaptations to progressive social change.

    • Hey, don’t quit! I didn’t leave when I realized XR was making the same mistake as its predecessors. XR has to win, but its already monstrous task will be even harder without something to guarantee security in a recession

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