I have been at Yale since mid-March (except for a month of teaching in August back in Stellenbosch). My aim was to write a book called Just Transitions in a Complex World: Reflections of an Enraged Incrementalist. I have just completed Chapter 8 – two more chapters to go! As always happens when it comes to writing, what emerges is not what was intended at the start. But I am far happier with what is emerging. Last week Routledge let me know they are very keen to publish it – this was because the draft chapters got rave reviews from three reviewers. This was such a boost. One of them wrote: “The breadth of scholarship, the depth of thought, experience and insight is impressive, extraordinary and awe-inspiring. It is also an example of the way the activist and academic modes of learning may work together, a challenge of which the relevance of social and environmental research depends. Integrative studies such as this book that are capable of opening up different kinds of research questions are essential for future developments.” Chapter 8, just completed, is an overview of the renewable energy revolution underway, counterposing the top-down corporate model with the bottom-up cooperative model that drove the renewable transitions in the so-called ‘frontrunner’ countries – Denmark and Germany. By 2000 80% of all wind energy in Denmark was owned by cooperatives and nearly 50% of ALL renewable energy in Germany was owned by cooperatives by 2012. Amazing how cooperatives have driven the innovations that the world now depends on to decarbonize!
A little weird sitting here in a bubble called Yale University, on the East Coast of the USA, waiting to be interviewed by Karima Brown about the Zondo Commission. Last night I read the Preface of my book Shadow State to a friend here in the USA who knows nothing about SA politics. It was an uncanny experience, because Americans are experiencing the same bizarre surreal political reality we experienced under Zuma. Populist leaders who suffer from serious delusions of grandeur coupled to an extra-ordinary capacity to self-justify by completely discrediting hard facts seem to be flourishing the world over. We should be proud to have the Zondo Commission because all the evidence is in the public domain. Here they have Special Prosecutor Mueller who is mounting an investigation that clearly implicates the President, but nothing is the public domain. These are serious bizarre times, and they are not simply aberrations. At the core of the rise of populist authoritarianism is the defense of an outdated energy system, whether this is fossil fuel based or nuclear. As the power bases of business empires erode as the real costs of oil and coal rise, renewables are getting cheaper and increasingly easy to set up. Zuma was about defending the nuclear deal with the Russians; Trump is about defending the oil and coal industries. One of the first things Minister of Energy Jeff Radebe did after taking office was sign the outstanding contracts for more renewable energy plants. While Trump acts against renewable energy and the environment, many city and state level governments move in the opposite direction. Dozens of young people horrified by Trump are standing for election in the November mid-terms here in the USA, bringing a new radicalism into the Democratic Party. As the old cliche goes, we live in interesting times.
i’m back at Yale, preparing for more writing time, but cannot help reflecting on an extra-ordinary teaching experience last week. For the first time in two decades I am teaching undergraduates again. I was somewhat nervous, but it has been very very satisfying. I taught a module on our new Diploma in Sustainable Development. The class comprises about 25 young people, just completed high school. The large majority are women and nearly all are black. On the first day I decided to arrive without a course outline. I told them my life story and then asked what they would like to learn from me. I asked them to introduce themselves, and to include a question they bring to the course. I then clustered these questions into themes and these became the themes for the course. We then brainstormed how they would like to learn about all this. One of the themes was sexuality, femininism and masculinity. When the day arrived for this session on sexuality, I asked them to watch two talks overnight before the session – one by the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie on ‘why we should all be feminists’ and another by a black American male activist called Tony Porter who organises movements of young men to reinvent what masculinity means. I opened the morning session by asking them to discuss in small groups what struck them about these two talks. The question I asked them to consider was: Is it possible for men to be feminists? Before getting feedback, I then asked them all to get up and stand to one side of the classroom. I then posed a series of questions, asking them to vote with their feet. Although I cant recall exactly what I asked them, they were questions such as: ‘Those who think men can be feminists, move to one side of the classroom and those that don’t, stay where you are – and the undecided, can situate themselves anywhere in-between’. Then I asked: ‘Those who think men hate women, move to one side …. etc’. And so on….. . The ones I recall thinking of: ‘Those who think women are more oppressed and exploited than men…. .’ ‘Those who think it is harder for a women to succeed than men…..’ ‘Those who think that men can actually change so that they are less misogynistic and sexist…..’ ‘Those who think black women face more challenges than white women ….. ‘ ‘Those who think ….. etc’. This worked very well, because for younger people expressing themselves with their bodies and actions is so much more expressive and energising. We then sat down, and got feedback from their group discussions. Although most deviated from the question, there was a generally positive view that men could be feminists. However, underneath, as I pushed harder, it became clear that the men in particular (only 3 of them) did not fully understand what this meant. Nor were the women able to express very clearly what it is about men that they want to see change. There was a lot of talk about how boys are told growing up that they should not express their feelings and what that has done to them as men. As one women put it: ‘men are told they have to be men’, and she said it in a way that made it clear that she did not approve of the outcome. So my question to the class was: ‘Well, if you don’t want them to be brought up to be men, what should they be brought up to be – after all, they are men?’ This is where the talk by Tony Porter was so useful – he provided basic concepts for how to re-invent what it means to be men. With this discussion as background, I then read out from a text a summary of all the global statistics that reflect the extent of patriarchal oppression and how embedded we are in a misogynistic culture: not only the usual economic numbers about unpaid work, wage differentials, etc, but also how often rapists are known to the women who get raped, how widespread and under-reported domestic violence really is, the extent of human trafficking (predominantly women), the difference in sentences meted out to those who beat up boys versus those who beat up girls, etc. Deeply shocking stuff. This sunk deep, and I let the silence hang. I then expressed my overall conclusion: I argued that the most dangerous species ever to walk the earth in 4 billion years of evolution is the heterosexual male. Yes, like all humans of all sexual persuasions and all cultural backgrounds, heterosexual males possess amazing capabilities for imagining the worlds we want to live in and organising ourselves in large numbers – these being the two fundamental features of the species we call homo sapiens. With these capabilities extra-ordinary things have been achieved. However, as we contemplate the distinct possibility that in 50 years life as we know it will no longer be possible because of fundamental geophysical changes instigated by human actions over the past 250 years, and as we contemplate the past and present history of colonial and non-colonial oppression and exploitation of particular categories of humans by other humans, then the one species that stands out as being the most destructive of all is the heterosexual male. He is responsible for the industrial systems that are destroying the planet, and the socio-economic and patriarchal systems that destroy the lives of millions of people. So this raises questions about what do we really know about this heterosexual male. What makes him tick? To open up this discussion I took a risky decision to read them a piece of writing by someone who did an online course on Sacred Masculinity that I did some years ago. I have posted this before on my blog and it can be accessed here. Before reading this out, I prepared them – I said it may be upsetting, and I asked them to consciously shield themselves via a hand movement across their bodies symbolizing the donning of a shield – a gesture we use in the men’s movement when one man has what we call a “charge” with another. I then slowly read the writing entitled Awakening the Sleeping Giant in All Men. This triggered strong reactions, with many saying ‘we know all this, but we never say it’ – one young man who has experienced gang culture was deeply moved, saying this is what men (and I read this to mean heterosexual men) are. Of course, quite a few said these are not just what men feel – women also have these feelings. True, but men have power, women don’t – having power over women, the less powerful and nature, men express their destructiveness in ways others who have less power cannot. But as suggested by the reading, for the heterosexual male – and, indeed, all humans – there is a transformative healing power in the act of loving. We explored this further, but I also made it clear that the issue is not simply a psycho-sociological challenge. It is also a socio-structural challenge because patriarchal and misogynistic power has been institutionalized and now legitimized by a violent pornographic culture that is having a particularly pernicious impact on boys and men in the age of high-speed digital imagery. The culture versus biological debate is, of course, pertinent here – I argued it is not one or the other. When it comes to puberty, boys are hit by a tsunami of testosterone no-one warns them about – in this drug-induced state, they get inserted into a digitized pornographic culture that creates neural pathways in their brains that are often antithetical to what meaningful real-life sexual relations are all about. This is where biology and culture fuse into a deadly cocktail whose implications very few are currently contemplating. This took us into a rich discussion that captivated them. To finish on a hopeful note, though, I read out a poem by the founder of the Mankind Project called The New Macho.
He cleans up after himself.
He cleans up the planet.
He is a role model for young men.
He is rigorously honest and fiercely optimistic.
He holds himself accountable.
He knows what he feels.
He knows how to cry and he lets it go.
He knows how to rage without hurting others.
He knows how to fear and how to keep moving.
He seeks self-mastery.
He’s let go of childish shame.
He feels guilty when he’s done something wrong.
He is kind to men, kind to women, kind to children.
He teaches others how to be kind.
He says he’s sorry.
He stopped blaming women or his parents or men for his pain years ago.
He stopped letting his defenses ruin his relationships.
He stopped letting his penis run his life.
He has enough self respect to tell the truth.
He creates intimacy and trust with his actions.
He has men that he trusts and that he turns to for support.
He knows how to roll with it.
He knows how to make it happen.
He is disciplined when he needs to be.
He is flexible when he needs to be.
He knows how to listen from the core of his being.
He’s not afraid to get dirty.
He’s ready to confront his own limitations.
He has high expectations for himself and for those he connects with.
He looks for ways to serve others.
He knows he is an individual.
He knows that we are all one.
He knows he is an animal and a part of nature.
He knows his spirit and his connection to something greater.
He knows future generations are watching his actions.
He builds communities where people are respected and valued.
He takes responsibility for himself.
In times of need, he will be his brother’s keeper.
He knows his higher purpose.
He loves with fierceness.
He laughs with abandon, because he gets the joke.
Canadian visa not ready, so not going to ICLEI World Congress to present the Weight of Cities report
Travelled to New York this morning to collect my visa from the Canadian embassy. It was not ready, and so could’nt catch my flight this afternoon. Would have loved to attend the ICLEI World Congress to present the Weight of Cities report, and get some good feedback from people who run cities. So back in the Yale library now – happily writing away, and escaping the incredible heat outside!
I will be attending a 3 day workshop on The Space Between Stories run by Charles Eisenstein at the Garrison Institute, outside New York, from Friday. So looking forward. Herewith the link if you are interested – there are still some spaces left! For the link click HERE
The Sustainability Institute has issued an annual report for 2017 (see link below) that gives an account of the amazing work that it does, and has done for nearly 20 years now. This is such an achievement in a world that regards innovation as the primary goal of change. Maybe there is a place for some things to just be repeated and repeated because what is achieved is so utterly remarkable and transformational.
Just back today at Yale, after about 10 days away in China. I started off at an International Resource Panel meeting in Shenzhen, and ended off spending a few days with my friend Maarten Hajer in Hong Kong just walking the city and visiting a ‘new town’ of 2 million people. Also spend a day at workshop on China’s Belt and Road Initiative. This is a special project of the Chinese President, who recently got voted President for life. He said he needed more time to realize his plans. One of which is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This is a $4-8 trillion investment that aims to integrate China into Europe via a new road infrastructure linking China through Europe, into London. Plus a maritime infrastructure that links in South East Asia, India and East Africa into a new constellation of high-end ports, cities and maritime capacity. Maarten and I visited Mong Kok, the most densely populated suburb in the USA. The Resource Panel went well – I was the reviewer of a great report on the Governance of Mineral Resource Extraction in light of the SDGs, including the proposal to market a Sustainable Development License to Operate rather than just a Social Licence to Operate.
Had an amazing few days in Costa Rica last week, and back now at Yale, New Haven. The blossoms have gone and the tree-line streets are lush and green. The bicycle path I ride each day stretches for a hundred miles, through extra-ordinary countryside, and many different kinds of suburbs. Costa Rica was beautiful – I could see myself living there, for sure. The highlight was visiting the Earth Charter Institute at the University of Peace – so similar to the Sustainability Institute. Moves already afoot to work closer with them. Also nice discussions with United Nations Environment rep about getting our time involved in a new national planning initiative for the Caribbean island of Guyana.
This morning I received this extra-ordinary email from my colleague Prof Lorenzo Fioramonti who has up until now headed up the Centre for Governance Innovation at Pretoria University:
as many of you will have seen through social networks and mainstream media, I have just been elected to parliament in Italy, where I’ve just relocated (my family will follow in July). I’m now also running for the post of Minister of Economic Development on a post-GDP ‘wellbeing’ political agenda, which is becoming massively mainstream. It is incredible how fast our ideas are gaining ground and the party I have been running with, the 5 Star Movement, has fully endorsed my vision of a wellbeing economy as opposed to the conventional growth-centric model. With such a policy programme, we have won 33% of the votes and have become Europe’s largest party, on par with Angela Merkel’s.
I will be on leave from UP until 2020 and then we’ll see what happens. I think that the success of our ideas is evidence that we need to keep pushing for a radical shift all over the world, especially in Africa.
A big hug,
I started a 6 month sabbatical at Yale today! Wow, I have dreamed of something like this for years and years, and somehow never taken a proper sabbatical. I will return to Stellenbosch for a few weeks of teaching in August, but should be here almost continuously until mid-October. I am hosted by the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies (YIBS) and they do not expect me to do anything other than deliver the annual Bass Lecture in April. My aim is to write a book provisionally entitled Just Transitions in a Complex World: Reflections of an Enraged Incrementalist. I want to build a theory of change that is commensurate with a widely held view that we need radical structural transformation to address the polycrises we now face. However, when you look at what people actually do to bring this about, it is primarily about facilitating multiple dialogues between stakeholders. There is something incommensurate about the depth of radical change we think is needed and the somewhat anemic practice of facilitating dialogues. We no longer believe in revolution, and yet we have not fully conceptualised what radical incrementalism really means. While revolution creates the delusion that on the morrow of ‘seizing power’ it becomes possible to impose structural change, facilitating dialogues creates the delusion that talking is good enough to engender structural change. What seems to be missing is an appreciation of what Roberto Unger has called radical incrementalism – the increasingly large number of experimental practices that seem to be coalescing into a transformative force that lacks a coherent sense of directionality and identity. Granted, some of these are more radical than others, but often it is difficult to tell what the outcome of any given experiment is likely to be. This is what I would like to address via a wide range of discussions that will characterise each chapter. A key part of this exploration is going to be a thematic discussion of rage. While writers like Mishar in his book Age of Anger follow a long mainly Western tradition of fearing the power of rage (by psychologising, pathologising and spiritualising it), from Fanon, to Sloterdyk, to the Nigerian feminist novelist Adichie, rage can be a positive force. However, rage is usually associated with the revolutionary, and the incrementalist is regarded as tame and marginal when it comes to radical change. But can we conceive of an enraged incrementalist? Maybe the most radical person in the room is not the revolutionary who calls for the seizure of power (whatever that may mean in practice), but rather the person who asks ‘What is the next step?’ …. I’m so looking forward to exploring this core set of ideas – certainly hope I don’t get lost as I wind my way through them.