Courage Before Hope: A Proposal to Weave Emotional and Economic Microsolidarity

Or: What To Do in the Last Decade of the Anthropocene

I’ve spent most of the past 2 years travelling with my partner Nati, trying to discover what is the most strategic & wise action to take in a world that seems to be accelerating towards collapse. After an enormous amount of consideration, I have a strategy that feels good enough to engage my will and commitment. This document is a statement of intention. All going well, it’s where I want to invest my productive energy for the next 7 years or so.

I’m developing this plan in three phases:

  • Phase 1 is a lot of conversation and contemplation.
  • Phase 2 is this writing and re-writing process. Writing in public forces me to fill in the gaps in the argument, and to make my assumptions explicit.
  • Phase 3 is where you come in as a reader and collaborator. If you feel struck by this proposal, I’d love for you to improve my thinking with your feedback. The best possible response will be for other people to run related experiments in parallel.

The proposal is very simple. But this is, I hope, the simplicity on the far side of complexity. The design elements come from 7 years of thinking & doing in the Loomio Cooperative and Enspiral Network.

I intend to start a new community as a sibling or cousin of Enspiral: about 30 to 200 people supporting each other to do more meaningful work. Our method will focus on getting people into “crews”, small groups of 3–8 people that start with emotional intimacy and get to economic intimacy. There’s a sequence from psychological safety to shared ownership of productive assets. The larger community functions mostly as a dating pool for people to find their crew-mates. The crews support the personal development of their members while doing useful things like providing housing, establishing circular-economy startups, growing food, making revolutionary art, or whatever activity seems meaningful to their members.

That’s the short version: form small groups, share feelings, then share money. In the following few thousand words I spell out the long version. I think modular and open source strategy is much more valuable than charismatic leadership, so I’m documenting my strategy as thoroughly and accessibly as I can. Because it is open source, you can copy it, modify it, and help me to spot bugs.

This article is long, so let’s start with a map:

  1. Part 1. I start by briefly setting context, giving a name to the metacrisis I believe is threatening society as we know it.
  2. Part 2. Then there’s a chunky piece of theory to explain how I think about groups, and groups of groups.
  3. Part 3. With that background established, I can spell out my “microsolidarity” proposal in more detail.
  4. Part 4. Then we get to the counter-intuitive part. I’m intentionally contradicting a lot of received wisdom from progressive and radical politics, so I want to do that explicitly, in the hopes that we can learn from each other.

Okay, let’s go!

Part 1. Collapse

I won’t spend a lot of time on this point because it is a downer, but it deserves a mention: we are well into a major collapse of our biological life support systems. Oops!

Just one data point: the population of wild animals on Earth has halved in my lifetime (source). This is not new information, but we are mostly in denial. Extinction Rebellion, a new climate action movement from the UK, remind us that we’ve known this at least since 2006 when the United Nations (UN) warned us that “humans have provoked the worst spate of extinctions since the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago”. Yet our response is still piecemeal, uncoordinated and counter-productive.

While the biological substrate for life is disintegrating, so is our social fabric. Democratic populations are electing dictators and buffoons. Fascism is resurgent. Our ability to make meaning is dissolving. Across the political spectrum, people respond to this existential dread by retreating into anxious certainties. Political conversations feel brittle and explosive, one wrong word can trigger an artillery of shaming tactics to shut down the heresy.

This is how I set the design criteria: assuming we are in a major collapse, what is an appropriate action to take? How do we repair our damaged biological and social ecosystems? How do we plan for a future with much less peace, much less food, much less stable governance? What kind of action plan is fit for purpose in the last decade of the Anthropocene?

See, I told you this section would be a downer. But I promise from this point on it’s all optimistic and constructive. 👍

Design criteria for action amid collapse

First criteria: we need enormous courage to persist without a guarantee of a positive outcome. Because I’m plugged into a renewable source of courage, I am a very hopeful optimistic confident person. So where does courage come from?

Second criteria: we need resilient methods for making meaning in the midst of chaos. The shortcomings of the old institutional media and the new networked media are collaborating to produce a freak wave of collective insanity. The popular votes for Brexit, Trump, Boaty McBoatface and Bolsonaro all illustrate the magnificent failures of our sense-making apparatus.

Third criteria: people with life-supporting values need to grow our power to influence the distribution of resources. Just 100 individual CEO’s are responsible for 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (source). The oligarchs are killing us. We need to get our hands on power of that magnitude, but it needs to be much more widely distributed and much more accountable.

So my humble proposal needs to produce limitless courage, make meaning from chaos, and grow enough power to counterbalance the suicidal oligarchs currently in charge. No big deal 😅

Finally, I believe that the core of this bio/socio/psycho/spiritual collapse is a metacrisis of relationship, it’s about how I relate to the different parts of myself, to other people, and to all the other creatures, life, spirit, etc on this planet. If that’s true, then my response must be relational first. This article is written in the first person singular: it’s all I, I, I. That’s a stylistic choice for creative freedom. However, that language obscures the reality that all of this action is conducted in the first person plural: there is always a “we” acting together, me and others.

So that brings us to my theory of groups, which you can read in Microsolidarity Part 2: a Theory of Groups and Groups of Groups.

This story is published with no rights reserved: do what you like with the text. You can find it in many file formats on my website.