Transition or revolution?

Consensus can be tougher than conflict. Our new Constructive Conversation section presents a complicated issue to two thought leaders and ask them to respond to each other’s views. One question, two answers; can there be agreement?

Consensus can be tougher than conflict. Our new Constructive Conversation section presents a complicated issue to two thought leaders and ask them to respond to each other’s views. One question, two answers; can there be agreement?

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete,” said the systems theorist Buckminster Fuller. From inequality to climate change, humanity’s material progress has come at a cost. Can we evolve the economic, political and other systems that underpin our societies, to work better in the interest of all people and life on the planet? Or should our systems be replaced?


Mark Boyle
Author of Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi, and The Moneyless Man; ex-businessman who lived without money for almost three years


Whether our current politico-economic system can be reformed, or must be resisted and revolted against, depends on the type of future we want. If we decide to continue reinforcing an industrial civilisation dependent upon complex technologies – accepting the ecocide, resource wars, communicide and illnesses that accompany these – then constantly tweaking it to address the worst of its ecological, social and personal consequences makes a sordid sort of sense.

If, on the other hand, we long for a more intimate world where human cultures live with respect for the great web of life – a world which values otters over smartphones, and a sense of belonging over belongings – then our current system is entirely unreformable. In the realm of technological invention that Fuller inhabited, his quote is spot on. Applied to the world of politics, his words are historically groundless, utterly simplistic and absurd.

If we long for a world which values a sense of belonging over belongings, then our current system is entirely unreformable

Industrial civilisation has convinced itself that it’s morally justifiable to devastate ecological landscapes, and annihilate indigenous cultures, under the misnomer of progress. To produce laptops, internet servers and solar panels you need copper from Zambia, rubber from Indonesia, oil from Saudi Arabia; a factory system that links quarries, mines, oil rigs and transport networks; and armies, prisons and courtrooms to govern such global trading. If inflicting this brutal, everyday violence on to life was making humanity happier and healthier, there could be some argument for it. Yet we are awash with evidence that suggests nothing could be further from the truth.

The establishment – that entrenched structure of political, corporate and media elites – will never voluntarily transition to a genuinely sustainable world. It simply can’t, as the exploitation of life on Earth is fundamental to the industrial economy it profits tremendously from. Deep down, in our honest moments, most of us know this.

Which is why I believe that the three Rs of the climate change generation – reduce, reuse, recycle – need an urgent upgrade to something much more appropriate for our time: resist, revolt, rewild.


Aral Balkan
Disruptive designer and social entrepreneur, creating independent technologies that protect fundamental freedoms and democracy


Climate change, resource depletion, war and the possible errant comet are all existential threats for our species. We can tie the threat of each one – perhaps even the comet – to the spectacular success (and abject failure) of one thing: capitalism.

Capitalism has given us a world where 80 of the richest people in the world have as much wealth as 3.5 billion of the poorest combined. It has bred systemic inequality and created an increasingly autocratic world where the one per cent battle to maintain their privilege by any means possible, including mass surveillance, secretive trade deals and institutional corruption. Capitalism, far from nurturing democracy, has enabled a new feudalism: corporatocracy.

How did this happen? Let me try and illustrate it as simply as I can: we planted a bullshit seed and got a bullshit tree. We’ve climbed up into the branches and now we’re wondering why the fruit tastes like bullshit. It does because bullshit fruit is the only kind of fruit you get from a bullshit tree.

We planted a bullshit seed and got a bullshit tree. We’ve climbed up into the branches and now we’re wondering why the fruit tastes like bullshit

Some of us benefit from the bullshit tree and try to decorate it, thinking it will mask the taste of the fruit (it doesn’t). Others see the problem and try pruning its branches, hoping that will change the nature of the tree (it doesn’t).

Here’s what I think we should do: some of us should climb down from the bullshit tree, take a few steps to one side, and plant a new seed. A seed based on reason, equality, sustainability and democracy. Then, we will get a very different type of tree: the tree of the commons. And we will create a very different type of world: a sustainable one.

We won’t have to decorate our tree because, based on these principles, it will naturally be beautiful and its fruits diverse. Finally, we must build an accessible bridge between the bullshit tree and the tree of the commons. We must make it convenient for those who want to join us on our tree to do so. For this is the bridge between the centralised world of old and the decentralised, post-capitalist world of the commons.


Aral’s response to Mark

I agree with Mark that we must resist the current system and find ways to curb its unbounded trespass on human rights and democracy. We must revolt, too. I think our greatest challenge is to do so while affording people the conveniences of modern life.

The new world we build will need new laws. We are already passing them. Pirate and green parties represent, articulate and legislate its interests in parliaments around the world. They need our vote.

It needs new organisations to nurture a healthy commons: co-operatives and social enterprises that practice ethical design. We are already forming them. They need our labour and patronship.

And it needs ethically designed technologies that are free and open, decentralised and independent. We are already building them. They need our adoption.


Mark’s response to Aral

Aral’s analogy – planting a new seed that will reap tastier, healthier fruit than that of the bullshit tree – describes beautifully what I feel is at least half of the work that needs doing. Thankfully, change agents such as Aral are planting such seeds every day, and openminded conversation is a fine way to ensure that those we plant aren’t merely of the same old anthropocentric variety.

Perhaps the only perspective I may add to his potent analogy is this: in order to create enough light for seedlings to flourish within a monocultural, commercial tree farm, some of the well-established trees have to be cut down.

Every forester understands this. Which is why I am calling for ‘seed planters’ and ‘tree surgeons’ to unite and respect each other’s calling in the creation of a diverse, awe-inspiring woodland. For as Aldo Leopold knew sooner than most, thriving landscapes need the beaver, salmon, heron, doe and – just as importantly – the wolf.

Main image: Flickr member Prayitno