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ET's 20 Big Ideas

by Frank Schnittger Fri Apr 11th, 2008 at 04:11:58 AM EST

I'd like to try to revive a debate started by  techno in Creating the new "conventional wisdom" which in turn was based on earlier comments.  

Techno argued that the role of ET should be to act as a forum or think tank where ideas contrary to received wisdom can be incubated and developed so as to provide better options for policy and decision makers.  He felt that this was a more positive role for ET than the frequently clichéd and sometimes embarrassing protests which are the standard fare of many progressive activists.  He cited Jerome's sustained critique of the "Anglo Disease" as a good example which is now beginning to gain traction in  mainstream received wisdom.  He further argued that if ET could come up with 20 key ideas or themes like that, ET could make a real difference in the world and went on to make some suggestions, some of which resonated with me, and some which did not.  Chris Cook suggested his "Peak Credit" idea as another possible theme, and I put together a list of 20 suggested big ideas - but the conversation died thereafter.

So I would like to present them again below the fold in the hope of provoking some discussion on whether we have, collectively, any other "big ideas" which might change the world if we pursue them as relentlessly as Jerome has done.  


My suggestion is that to qualify as a major theme - an idea has to fulfill a number of conditions:

  1. It must run counter to current conventional thinking in at least some major parts of the world
  2. It must have the potential to create significant change in the world
  3. ET members must have the capability to do considerable analysis, exposition, and campaigning on its behalf
  4. Some themes might just be a case of acting as a devils advocate and taking a more radical position on something which may already be a matter of conventional discourse - e.g. EU to be carbon neutral by 2050.

Here's my top of the head list based on what I have read here and elsewhere..

  1. Anglo Disease
  2. StopBlair - and the death of Atlanticism
  3. Peak Oil
  4. Peak Credit (Chris Cook)
  5. Peak Land - biofuels are not the answer
  6. Peak population - the current growth in the human footprint on planet earth is unsustainable
  7. Peak wind - what is the maximum contribution that can be expected from wind power to future energy demand?
  8. Peak health - which healthcare models maximise the common good
  9. Peak money - when billionaires starve
  10. Transformative political action - how to convert conflict into positive energy for change
  11. Cannibal capitalism - how "financial services" parasitise and destroy their host economies
  12. The EU as emerging superstate; Transcending nationalism
  13. Restorative Justice: when punishment is counter productive, and restitution heals
  14. Transformation not transport - reducing the carbon footprint of complexity
  15. Science and society: the promise of discovery
  16. Equality and freedom: human rights in an unequal world
  17. Empowerment and civil action: the role of virtual communities
  18. Disability and empowerment: Personal development in a virtualising world
  19. Art as action - changing reality by changing perceptions
  20. Democracy must defeat corporatism and gross inequality to survive

Obviously, the above is a very preliminary, personal, and top of the head list, and each topic would require a diary to even begin to explain why it might qualify as a defining theme for ET.  However I have tried to broaden it beyond largely economic themes to reflect a range of ET members' concerns.  Some are topics, rather than specific stances on an issue - but nevertheless may reflect our priorities and capabilities in making a positive contribution.

Anyone like to chip in with their own ideas for inclusion in a list of 20 key themes?  Feel free to challenge the above - so long as you propose your own! Perhaps individual ETers might like to take on the challenge of writing a Diary on a particular candidate "big idea", defining the issue, scoping the work that ET might do, and suggesting lines of research and action which might significantly influence conventional wisdom on the topic.

Display:
I think 3 would be more than enough

4, 9, 11, 16, 20 fit into Anglo Disease to a large extent

StopBlair/Atlanticism/Europe fit in "the idea of Europe" and encompass your points 2, 10, 12 - that could be a second big idea, and it fits with your criteria to some extent.

Peak oil is the other notion that would fit, it encompasses your points 3, 5, 6, 14.

To some extent, all of these are linked under the umbrella of "we're all in the same (finite) boat"

Could that be our big idea?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Apr 11th, 2008 at 06:08:30 AM EST
I think you frame equality in a different way to me.  I can certainly see it's place within Anglo-Disease though and in some ways that kind of framing makes it more applicable and mainstream (eg promoting the business case rather than appealing to change hearts and minds).

But then, this doesn't sit so comfortably when discussing more complex issues around disability for example.  So I'd wrap those kind of issues up under a 'social justice' umbrella.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Fri Apr 11th, 2008 at 07:18:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Jerome a Paris:
To some extent, all of these are linked under the umbrella of "we're all in the same (finite) boat"

i love it...

plugging the leaks and catching the wind.

with a logo of a beautiful old wooden boat forging into the sunrise, at full sail...

wasn't there a kind of boat called a tribune?

apparently not, says the dictionary:


tribune 1 |ˈtribyoōn; triˈbyoōn|
noun (also tribune of the people)
an official in ancient Rome chosen by the plebeians to protect their interests.
  • (also military tribune) a Roman legionary officer.
  • figurative a popular leader; a champion of the people.
  • used in names of newspapers : the Chicago Tribune.
DERIVATIVES
tribunate |ˈtribyənit; trīˈbyoōnit; -ˌnāt| noun
tribuneship |-ˌ sh ip| noun
ORIGIN late Middle English : from Latin tribunus, literally `head of a tribe,' from tribus `tribe.'

tribuneship as metaphor for responsible navigation towards a better planetary society, yes...

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Apr 11th, 2008 at 07:41:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
is a great idea!

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Apr 11th, 2008 at 08:04:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe we should start calling you Your Tribuneship.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Apr 11th, 2008 at 08:10:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Jerome a Paris:
4, 9, 11, 16, 20 fit into Anglo Disease to a large extent

Regrettably, the anglos don't have a monopoly on any of these.

The notion that the human race has far exceeded a sustainable footprint on planet earth is certainly a key uniting underlying idea, but there are many quite different starnds to tackling it - e.g. population control, an increase in global governance, taxes on the use of non renewable resources, inequality, human rights, justice etc.  I would be loathe to reduce these diverse topics to one theme, even if it is important to be aware of the common factors between them.

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Apr 14th, 2008 at 08:55:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think it could be more useful to be the change, rather than agitating for it, opposing those in power, and so on.

By that I mean frame it as something obvious, rather than something new and confrontational.

Of course people want renewables. Of course people want a bubble-free economy. Of course people want reality-based economics.

What else would they want? Who would want anything different? What kind of crazy outsider would want to live in a world fueled by energy which is going to run out, funded by cash whose value depends on which way the wind is blowing?

It's common sense. It shouldn't even be up for debate.

(And so on.)

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Apr 11th, 2008 at 08:33:18 AM EST
Yep - so it is the framing which is important, and this derives from a long term global perspective, eschewing short term, self-interested, nationalist, chauvinist, or class based perspectives.  Thus we don't torture others:

  1. Because its wrong, but more importantly because
  2. One day they may use the same justification and techniques to torture us.

But framing has to be sustained, and sustainable in may fields of discourse, from restorative justice to to the analysis of debt.  How can we develop a number of different but mutually consistent and supportive discourses in a number of different areas.  StopBlair isn't much if it is just a once off stunt, but if it is part of a larger discourse on what is acceptable in international relations or what is appropriate for US/EU relations, then it becomes much more valuable to our discourse as a whole.

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Apr 14th, 2008 at 09:11:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Too many peaks! Anglo disease is the only one I'd take. Peak oil is something we also talk about, often very intelligently, but The Oil Drum more or less owns (figure of speech!) that concept.

The latter part of your list, from 10 on, is a bland. Sure, these are all important things, but they are general and are dealt with by many people.

What ET has done in an excellent way is criticising the fake measures used in reporting on economies and economics. Let's christen (figure of speech!) this the soundbite statistics idea (after afew).

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Fri Apr 11th, 2008 at 10:33:53 AM EST
I wanted to write 'a bit bland' and probably should not be writing. But to ramble on:

I do not fully understand what you want to do here. I welcome any showcase of the innovative thinking on eurotrib and the excellent ideas that have been developed here by the individual authors and the community.

On the other hand, I have noticed that there is a strong aversion among some against anything remotely resembling a manifesto for eurotrib.

I think that perhaps there is something to be said about that which has not yet been said, that being, that sets of principles can and should also be formulated generally. That is, as universals and not as something relating to the setting in which they are formulated. By talking about, say, "ideas that should be advocated and that should replace the flawed conventional wisdom", you can avoid the appearance that you want to instrumentalise the setting.

Let's talk about changing the world.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Fri Apr 11th, 2008 at 10:49:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
nanne:
On the other hand, I have noticed that there is a strong aversion among some against anything remotely resembling a manifesto for eurotrib.

Yep - the phrase "herding cats" comes to mind - and it's right that a vibrant community should resist self definition because part of that vibrancy is the ability to change without any authoritative self jsutification for doing so

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Apr 14th, 2008 at 09:00:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Perhaps I'm an uninteresting writer, but I've found that my postings on topics like those in the list don't attract much attention (and not only on this site).

What seems to be of interest in the (progressive) blogosphere are stories with a human element (political candidates and wrongdoers) and riffs on current events.

This is probably a characteristic of human nature, which is why American Idol gets many more viewers than the Sunday morning talking heads shows. Everyone has an opinion about other people, and none of them are wrong, you think what you think, but to discuss economic or social policy requires either a close study of the issues or the willingness to be shown up as an ignoramus.

You can put up a list, but I don't think it will lead to additional participation.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Fri Apr 11th, 2008 at 01:33:40 PM EST
Its always going to be much easier to write a sardonic commentary on current events and draw all the "right on" applause for demonstrating you're are on the right side of the progressive/reactionary moral divide.  Much more difficult to critique sometimes arcane and complex subjects which few fully comprehend and where some have entrenched positions which they do not like to see challenged in any way.

rdf:

You can put up a list, but I don't think it will lead to additional participation.

I think the fact that this thread has died so quickly (once again) confirms that you are probably right.  However Eurotrib doesn't have a monopoly on progressive discourse, and if you really believe in something, don't be discouraged.  There are alway other forums in which to pursue your key concerns.

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Apr 14th, 2008 at 08:49:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
uch more difficult to critique sometimes arcane and complex subjects which few fully comprehend and where some have entrenched positions which they do not like to see challenged in any way.

You haven't read the archives, have you?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Apr 14th, 2008 at 09:11:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I barely get time to read more than a small fraction of current diaries - never mind archives.  I'm sure there have been many hard fought controversies - it doesn't make it easy and I was just empathising with the difficulties rdf was expressing.

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Apr 14th, 2008 at 09:19:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Arcane and complex we can do. And have and will again.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Apr 14th, 2008 at 09:19:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We even do complex and arcane on purpose:


When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Apr 14th, 2008 at 09:39:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you may be misunderstanding rdf (although obviously he can speak for himself I wouldn't like to see him chased away).  He wasn't referring exclusively to ET, but to progressive blogosphere in general, and was relating his experience of finding that his attempts to discuss more serious topics met with little response or encouragement.  He even allowed that this might be because he might not be a very interesting writer - so he can't be accused of lacking the ability to criticise himself.  So laughing at him or implying he might be an ignoramus may not be the most helpful or positive response, particularly for an editorial team who are presumably attempting to encourage greater and wider participation on this site.

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Apr 14th, 2008 at 10:05:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank Schnittger:
Its always going to be much easier to write a sardonic commentary on current events and draw all the "right on" applause for demonstrating you're are on the right side of the progressive/reactionary moral divide.  Much more difficult to critique sometimes arcane and complex subjects which few fully comprehend and where some have entrenched positions which they do not like to see challenged in any way.
Because that's all that ET is about, right? Sardonic snark and preaching to the choir, and we don't critique arcane and complex subjects.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Apr 14th, 2008 at 09:11:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Migeru:
Because that's all that ET is about, right? Sardonic snark and preaching to the choir, and we don't critique arcane and complex subjects.

No but this comment sure feels like one!

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Apr 14th, 2008 at 09:20:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That could be because you keep trying to control the discussion in your diaries, which really isn't conducive to people bothering to comment.

but to discuss economic or social policy requires either a close study of the issues or the willingness to be shown up as an ignoramus.

Yes, yes it does.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Apr 14th, 2008 at 09:04:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Colman:
That could be because you keep trying to control the discussion in your diaries, which really isn't conducive to people bothering to comment.

I'm not sure if this comment is directed at me or rdf, but I find that unless I participate in a discussion  of my diaries, the discussion often soon dies, which is why I apologised for not participating more here earlier.  

Sometimes discussion of a diary takes off in a new direction, which is fine, and I don't try to control that.  But if people take the trouble to read, comment on, and sometimes recommend one of my diaries, I consider it only a common courtesy to acknowledge their contribution and perhaps engage in a discussion of same.  

One of the reasons I don't have a personal blog is that I consider the discussion to be as valuable as the initial diary, and my only reason for publishing here is to encourage and participate in that debate.  I sometimes publish elsewhere, and whilst the reception can be more positive, the debate is rarely as good.

So yes, hats off to ET most of the time.  It doesn't stop me from being uncomfortable with some aspects of ET editorial policy and practice, and also looking elsewhere to publish some of the things I am working on. I'm sure many other ET members sometimes have similar feelings and perhaps that was what rdf was referring to.

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Apr 14th, 2008 at 09:54:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It was directed at rdf. It's a disagreement we've had before.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Apr 14th, 2008 at 10:09:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As for this:
This is probably a characteristic of human nature, which is why American Idol gets many more viewers than the Sunday morning talking heads shows. Everyone has an opinion about other people, and none of them are wrong, you think what you think, but to discuss economic or social policy requires either a close study of the issues or the willingness to be shown up as an ignoramus.

Now we're too soft and fluffy and too focused on human interest stories? I laugh in your general direction.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Apr 14th, 2008 at 09:07:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Poor countries: sanitation, sanitation, sanitation.

Anyone?

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Apr 11th, 2008 at 07:17:51 PM EST
Many thanks for all the excellent comments here, to which I want to respond in a more substantial way as soon as possible.  Unfortunately I unexpectedly got caught up in another project which leaves me with very little time at the moment.  My general observation on the comments so far would be that while I agree 20 big ideas is way to many themes to adopt, and was intended only as a list to provoke debate and perhaps ascertain priorities, I am uncomfortable with the idea of reducing everything to "the Anglo disease" or "finite resource issues" because even though these are obviously multi-dimensional in nature, they do not to me seem to capture the specificity and full range of issues which the more granular list of 20 was trying to express.  

It was also not my intention to suggest their could be a manifesto that all ET members could/should subscribe to, because this would either be so bland to avoid being exclusionary, or potentially divisive.  I'm sure many visit ET more from a social/cultural perspective and may not wish to be part of a campaigning organisation at all.  

So its more in the way of developing a working list of projects/themes/discourses that many in ET are engaged in, some of which may come to be emblematic - like the first two on the list - and  become part of what outsiders associate with ET - and may also provide ET would greater traction and profile in the MSM when those issues come up for the debate.  A bit like - when an MSM editorial board comes up with an issue like the "Anglo-Disease" or Blair - who do they ring for a  reaction, quote, op ed piece - as an obvious alternative blogosphere/popular based view on things.

I.e. how do we get on the list of the "usual suspects" for an increasingly wide range of topics when a lazy journalist/editor is looking for some sources/reactions/quotes or to commission an alternate view.  How do we develop the ET brand in the MSM and public policy making space?

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Apr 12th, 2008 at 08:55:40 AM EST


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