Newsletter Archive

Newsletter 2017/07

If you live in the Northern hemisphere and are right now lucky enough to take a summer break on the beach or on the sofa, maybe you will find a moment to enjoy reading our short selection of articles. And if this isn’t the case, we hope you can enjoy the selection anyway. Here we go:

Our Guardian article on the circular economy

We are very happy that The Guardian has published our critique on the circular economy. This is part of the work we’re doing in the Pathways to the Great Transition project. We are looking into the potential of current approaches to change the economic system for good.

Our verdict on the circular economy is that “to truly flourish, [it] needs to be part of a bigger effort to tackle economic growth, wasteful consumerism and undemocratic power structures in the global economy. It needs to be geared to the real needs of all people rather than the excessive consumption of a few, and to be underpinned by more cooperative mechanisms rather than controlled by a small number of powerful companies.”

Click here to read the full article co-authored by Joséphine von Mitschke-Collande and Micha Narberhaus.

When the fight against oppression becomes dogmatic

The fight for social justice and against oppressions has made and still continues to make the world a better place. But too much of a good thing can sometimes do harm. This is the case when social justice becomes dogmatic — like a religion.

Dogmatic activism can create an environment of fear of appearing impure, where people self-police what they say and are always ready to apologise for anything they do that a community member deems wrong, oppressive, or inappropriate.

Activist Frances Lee writes: “We all have made serious mistakes and hurt other people, intentionally or not. We get a chance to learn from them when those around us respond with kindness and patience. Where is our humility when examining the mistakes of others? Why do we position ourselves as morally superior to the un-woke? Who of us came into the world fully awake?”

Often social justice activists complain about the famous TINA (There Is No Alternative) dogma put forward by advocates of neoliberalism, but ironically they can suffer from the same narrow-mindedness when they believe that there is “only one way to think about and do activism.”

Click here for Frances’ full article.

The need for systemic activists to open up to different views

How do we foster constructive dialogue on the biggest issues facing our societies today? We need to create spaces of meaningful deliberation where all voices are heard. Our culture of activism, however, is often not the most supportive of engaging with a broader set of views than those that confirm what we already believe.

While reinforcing our beliefs is an important tool to create cohesion within a movement, we must recognise its limitations in analysing complex issues. But “most of us, it turns out, are creatures with some rather embarrassing intellectual habits. Instead of confronting problems with fine awareness, moral sensitivity and rich responsibility, many people end up with a stark ‘you’re either with us or against us’ mentality.” Systemic activists have to overcome this instinct to revert to simplistic, morally fundamentalist explanations, and instead actually listen to a multiplicity of ideas. “Such a culture does not diminish the bold resolve to confront oppression. Nor does it imply any suppression of protest. Rather, the withering of moral fundamentalism may refocus us on the complex and nuanced predicaments we face, and it may help to make wiser decisions — individually and as change agents for a better society.” More on this in a recent article.

Modern life does not help. Today, we are faced with ‘a toxic mix of technology, psychology and ideology’ that makes it difficult to find — let alone listen to — viewpoints that disagree with our own, leaving us polarised in our echo chambers. On top of this, we live in a culture that “rewards dogmatic certainty and punishes those who acknowledge the possible limitations of their own point of view.” But this is exactly the opposite of what is needed to encourage inclusive, respectful dialogue. “If we want to live in a tolerant society where we are not only open-minded but willing to learn from others, we need to balance humility and conviction”. This article provides a few suggestions to do exactly that.

One intuitively attractive idea for developing a forum to include a wider range of voices has been to create ‘safe spaces’ that make participation easier for groups that have traditionally been oppressed. By allowing for a greater variety of perspectives to be aired, this should lead to better representation of previously underrepresented groups. When this concept is applied to trauma survivors, however, the approach may backfire: “By the constant focus on identities as the prime way in which people have a ‘right’ to speak on a topic, our communities in effect force people to bind themselves to traumatic parts of their identities… When you make something so negative a crucial aspect of your identity it becomes harder to heal from it.” Instead of having a positive effect on the quality of dialogue, this may in fact work to “make our world progressively less safe for some of our most vulnerable community members.” See here for more on this.


Best wishes,
Laura and Micha