Joshua Malkin suggests that an evolutionary shift, towards a positive future of whole-systems politics and an economy of wellbeing, is within our grasp.
Before we can begin to put things right, we first need to understand what is wrong. Our failure to recognize that over time, a host of incremental changes have resulted in a wholly different world, which, without our noticing has overtaken us. Our institutions including our politics no longer match people’s lived experience and can no longer protect what we hold most dear.
In response to a widespread feeling that UK politics has become dysfunctional, many voices are calling for a kinder politics. This blog is about the new centrism, how it is different from the old centrism and a new way of navigating our broken political spectrum, away from left or right or centre to above.
A BROKEN COMPASS
Most people have only one way to navigate when it comes to politics and this is by the horizontal left – right spectrum. But increasingly more and more people are recognizing these distinctions are becoming less and less helpful in steering where we want politics to go.
In unknown territory, with unreliable means of orientation and without a map you have a problem. Carrying on pretending otherwise is not helpful. In effect, you are at the mercy of whatever conditions prevail. Today the times we are transiting through are posing us a greater challenge than we have ever faced before.
The world has changed beyond the capacity of traditional political philosophies to safely direct us. Technology has offered us greater and greater personal freedom in exchange for people becoming data, but it has also amplified the power of the market, the power of the corporation and the power of the state.
Today, when 21st century Caesars have the technological, scientific and financial power to unpick creation, we have to ask what is our duty? What is it we should render unto Caesar?
Having only recently entered the uncharted waters of the new technological era of the unfolding fourth industrial revolution, it seems not only that we are rudderless with a broken compass it is as though we are no longer able to locate the sun, the moon or the stars. We are coming to realize that this pleasure trip we set out on isn’t quite the one we imagined it would be. Having put our faith in science, we are waking up to what is a darker and more troubling vision that contrasts sharply with the optimistic, benign future that previous generations came to expect in the last half of the 20th century.
Entitled, unrestrained power has been unleashed in a completely new way. In previous generations religion, personal integrity, social convention and international institutions acted as some kind of restraint on personal, political, economic and military power but these restraints are becoming looser.
In a world where technology amplifies power for good and ill, and information and meaning are increasingly competing with labour and capital as the drivers of value creation, the philosophical foundations of conservatism, liberalism and socialism become less and less relevant.
A DIFFERENT RELATIONSHIP TO POWER
In a totally transformed world, how can we all be in it together?
The way we think about political ideas has traditionally been in relation to different versions of libertarianism or egalitarianism.
However, in response to the changed world, in which we find ourselves in, the New Centrism comprises a completely different way of looking at things – away from one that is guided principally by either Liberty or Equality to one guided principally by Fraternity.[i]
This is no minor adjustment but represents a huge mind shift and heart shift because it requires we all adopt a new relationship to power – in terms of how we use our own power and how others, organizations, institutions and corporations, use theirs. It requires that we ourselves be different, in terms of a new level of respect not only for our own being, but for all beings in that we use our goodwill to restrain and direct our free will. The entreaty to ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’ is about holding ourslevs to account by walking our talk.
Realizing that we are responsible for the way the world is, and accepting we have a daily contribution to make to its stability and maintenance, socially, economically and environmentally, constitutes a major step of cultural maturity.
This is in stark contrast to the lack of integrity, lack of mindfulness and sense of entitlement that has been brought out in public life and in the media by a combination of social liberalization, toxic egalitarianism in terms of individual entitlement and the amplification of power for good or ill by technology.
In turbulent times, in the face of completely new challenges that we have never faced before, people unsurprisingly return to and cling on to what they know – old answers based on logic that has long since past – such as economic protectionism, nationalism, free trade, making our nation great again, more independence, being more left-wing or right-wing. But none of these will solve the new challenges we now face – in fact they will only make them worse.
Transitioning from a world where right and left – as directions – don’t exist is a task that every toddler has to learn. But today as adults understanding and adjusting to a world where these no longer exist in a political sense is an equally challenging test.
The new centre of politics has no ideology but instead operates on the basis of principled pragmatism informed by deep human values, common sense, scientific evidence and contextual consequences.
Crucially, whatever field of endeavor we are engaged in, it places care-ability centrally within both capability and creativity. It demands a level of mindfulness and responsibility for how we relate in terms of the consequences of how we choose to be in the world. However, new centrism is fundamentally not righteous, zealous or puritan, but in fact quite the opposite because it actively fosters the integrative capacities of tolerance, inclusivity, generosity, creativity and being human. We can still play and walk our talk.
A NEW DEFINITION OF WEALTH
Significantly the New Centrism is also focused on a wider and deeper definition of wealth and prosperity that includes human, social and natural value. Its constant focus is upon sustainable value creation – how we can conserve, protect and expand what we hold most dear – which could be described as a personally defined version of the ‘sacred’.
Driven by a profound respect for all, unlike free-market conservatism, liberalism or statism, it is robustly self – retrained, in that it does not separate personal ethics and integrity from politics or economy. And, wherever practical, its modus operandi is that ‘ethical is optimal’ because real value is relational.
So, rather than the values of ‘freedom, equality and rights’, which have been the focus of the old failed 20th century politics – that have dominated politics in recent times – the values of 21st century centrism are ‘respect, responsibility and reciprocity’.
These values enable mutuality, trust, collaboration and most significantly, a whole new level of sustainable value creation, contribution and conservation. Not only are these the values of civil society but those of every functional family – possibly throughout history.
No functional family operates on the basis of FPTP democracy, maximizing monetary turnover or bullying according to who is bigger or stronger as exemplified on a daily basis in the dysfunctional aspects of the free market.
A NEW SYNTHESIS FOR THE 21st CENTURY
Tony Blair used ‘The Third Way’, as a philosophical foundation to develop a new political direction as an antithesis to Margaret Thatcher’s monetarist small government, free trade agenda. Whilst it was eloquently conceived and named, Blair’s third way was premature in trying to integrate liberty and equality. This is not surprising, coming when it did – prior to the huge social impact which technology has had since New Labour was in power from 1997 to 2003. This was before the impact of technology and globalisation with social media, drone warfare, the financial crash, constant 24/7 robotic algorithm-based trading (etc.) and so much more. All of which could potentially constitute an existential threat to human agency and the integrity of Earth’s self-replenishing systems within the foreseeable future.
New Labour inevitably underemphasized and indeed misunderstood the nature of power. In fact the synthesis they were searching for was staring them in the face all along but political correctness and fundamentalist, liberalist secularism did not allow its recognition. [Alastair Campbell famously said of New Labour, we don’t do God]. What they had overlooked was already here in our British traditions of Civil Society and Christian heritage and indeed in most ancient faith traditions. The definitive and genuine third way is in fact Fraternity.
Without any internal mechanism for self-restraint on our power, which neither liberty nor equality intrinsically contain, we are individually and collectively hitching a ride in a cab that has no steering, no brakes and no insurance but which is driven by an exponentially more efficient, technologically enhanced, powerful engine. In other words we are stuck in a paradigm in which our thinking is thinking us whilst we go over a cliff.[iii]
“Unless we put goodwill before ill-will and extractive self- interest, Liberty is always seductively over-rated. Unless we put diversity before sameness and conformity, Equality is always righteously over-rated. But Fraternity is always under-rated because it requires us all to take responsibility for our own power and for what we create in the world.” [iv]
TOXIC MARKETS OR FAIR MARKETS
Free competition is a characteristic of fair markets rather than free markets.
In order to offer choice and access to both potential consumers and potential producers, markets cannot be a ‘free-for-all’ where big money and big power rig the market in their favour, to reduce choice for both consumers and other potential producers.
Small business is a vital part of our economy and barriers to market entry and innovation need to be minimized to ensure competition is optimal. Just as in natural eco-systems where self-regulating mechanisms like trophic cascades – provide a natural, regulatory mechanism for the system as whole to ensure that no species grows big enough to unbalance an ecology, we need markets with similar self-regulating mechanisms.
Radical centrism therefore, stands for conscious business, social enterprise and for social markets. The new politics takes a different interpretation of the third way in relation to power – through fair markets and a fair state it aims to create a balance that optimizes the benefits of both.
WE ARE LIVING IN A NEW WORLD
We have made science and technology into a god and it is becoming increasingly clear that the rationale at its heart is an insufficient and sub-optimal response to complex problems. We are living in a new world that our existing political philosophies of left and right and centre could never have envisaged when they were conceived.
Just as New Labour had to distinguish itself from old Labour, the New Centrism has to find a way to distinguish itself from the old centre.
One way to do so is to embrace a whole-systems approach to sustaining value in order to build civil society and wellbeing for all. A whole systems approach allows for optimal outcomes, which define prosperity in a deeper way in relation to the good life and what it means to be human. Consequently it makes politics less about an opposition between the market and the state and more about facilitating self-organizing networks [civil society], through regenerative localism and facilitative government. In this sense, centrist politics are different in that they are above the old centre and in that they are an integrative inclusive philosophical evolution beyond liberalism based on coherence, sustainable value creation and whole systems practice.
A BROAD CHURCH THROUGH SHARED PURPOSE
New Centrism offers a wide expansive tent within which there is a broad range of diverse identities and ‘tribes’. However, this tent has only one rather narrow entrance because the values of new centrism are quintessentially life-enhancing and it is not possible to join this new political space with values that are consciously or unconsciously otherwise. Thus the new politics is more traditional, more compassionate and more radical than any of the existing political parties can embrace because they are all coalitions of conflicting values. If you think you are voting for something within the old left/right spectrum you can be sure you will get something quite different from what you were expecting because all the main parties, including the Greens, are incoherent coalitions of conflicting values. New Centrism represents a new integration that is therefore economically inclusive as well as socially conservative in a way that values diversity.
By being clear about the values by which we calibrate our new compass, we can both repair our broken politics and know where we are heading. The good news is that the one thing that most people can probably agree on is that life-enhancing values are more desirable than their opposite. Whilst within that there may be many interpretations, as a direction it is a no brainer. Whether you are driving down the left or right side of the road it makes sense to choose a road that takes you where you want to go.
Both Blair & Thatcher won the centre-ground on their own terms. We have to do the same with a perspective of mutuality, fraternity and goodwill, which ultimately must prevail if humanity is to have a future worthy of who we are as a species and our purpose in the Cosmos.
[i] Of course it is not that aspirations for equality or liberty are not important, but within the new circumstances we find ourselves in and within the way we currently conceive of politics they are simply not meaningful, consistent, coherent or fully achievable for the majority of people.
[ii] Based upon the book of the same name by Anthony Giddens
[iii] Gregory Bateson suggested that we may think we are doing our thinking but in fact our thinking is doing us
[iii] From Why Progressives Can’t Progress & Conservatives Can’t Conserve www.civilsocietyalliance.org.uk/blog