If we’re entering an era that’s beginning to recognise that the end of neoliberalism, even capitalism as we've known it for a few decades, is in the air, the changes that go along with that shift are huge – certainly in terms of the way we live together
A lot can start with the imagination.
We’re lucky that our species has that precious gift of being able to imagine. We can mould and shape in our own minds how the world should be. Our own Utopia.
I’ve often started my own imaginings from a utopian viewpoint, as a game as much as anything and sometimes playing games can be very useful.
On my recent travels in Greece I reflected on that word Utopia, originating as it does from the Greek Ou (not) and Topos (place). It was first used in 1516 by Sir Thomas More in his book called (unsurprisingly) ‘Utopia’. More paints his utopia “Nobody owns anything but everyone is rich. For what greater wealth can there be than cheerfulness, peace of mind, and freedom from anxiety?”
Surely that works as a concept for utopia? It sounds a little like an idea for a John Lennon song..
So how do we get there?
Much of that process, I believe, is about changes through everyday choices. It’s also about questions. I’m going to pose a few questions here, without necessarily putting forward any constructive answers. I’m sure we’ll be talking about some of these questions and issues today and discussing how we can shape the narrative.
We need a new story that will capture the imagination.
Change isn’t necessarily about fighting the system, rebelling and protesting, though that can sometimes achieve results. It’s about making the old story redundant and replacing it with a compelling new story.
George Monbiot recently tweeted “Anyone who wants to change the system is called a fanatic. But the fanatics are those who want to keep it as it is”
Our idea behind the Convention is to challenge and push for new approaches. Change at all levels, from personal to community, from political to global.
We can start to make some of those changes by feeding into the ethos, values and principles of Campfire, based around cultivating hope and aspiring to be a hub for good. That hub should aim to offer people a sense of engagement and empowerment – both individually for each of our members - and collectively for our community
And a belief that we can make a difference and that the world can be a better place.That's aspiration based on a global consciousness.
Whilst many may say they are not interested in politics – there’s a strong argument that everything is about politics. What we consume, who we buy it from, what we spend our time doing, who we work for, what that business we work for does with its profits, how it treats its workers, how that impacts on our stress levels and health, where we live, whether we live within our means or borrow money in the form of mortgages or other loans… these are all choices which ultimately have impact personally and politically.
I’ve often said that politics is too important to be left to political parties. Political enlightenment begins at home and I’ve come to believe, more than ever this year, that a far more prominent female energy is needed to lead in the world - and Campfire should be doing its bit to help bring that about.
But Campfire, like all ecosystems, needs to be sustainable. It needs to develop Phase 3 of its website. But to do this we need funding. We need to pay for our servers and maintenance, costs which run into the high hundreds of pounds every month.
On a global level, many are putting the fundamental questions of sustainability on the down low. But more than ever we need to ask ourselves ‘what is sustainable?’ What impact do our actions have on the planet?
Is the predominant economic model good for the planet or is it obsessively dictated by pressures of constant growth?
So, what is our story for change?
Our patron, Brian Eno, admitted that a revolution has taken place, but it didn’t come from the people most of us expected. The others seized the narrative…
Now that it has happened and the course of history has been changed, the rules have been broken, we have a level playing field which means that social and political concepts considered off-piste as recently as two years ago can become acceptable, desirable even. This has both inspirational and sinister potential.
We need to come up with the inspirational ideas, the new stories - and get them out there. Conversely, Trump and Brexit have inspired us. But this is our time to get out there and have a dialogue.
My newly-acquired location-independent state and my travels by camper van around the country for Campfire Conversations this year not only taught me to live with just a small suitcase and very few possessions. They also plugged me into a sense of what the nation is feeling right now – and I concluded that most of the interesting ideas are happening outside the political mainstream.
If we’re entering an era that’s beginning to recognise that the end of neoliberalism, even capitalism as we've known it for a few decades, is in the air, the changes that go along with that shift are huge – certainly in terms of the way we live together, work together, interact and do business.
My immediate focus has been about online platforms that work for the good of all. And our own platform in particular. Our Campfire Kudos scheme can revolve around rewarding engagement and encouraging a culture of volunteering to get things off the ground. This works hand-in-hand with an idea that’s catching on :
That by helping each other we also help ourselves.
No longer is the primary objective ‘what can I get from this?’ A move from ‘extrinsic’ values – those based around fame, power, wealth and competition, is being superseded by a realisation that ‘intrinsic’ values - universal rights and equality, the natural world and independent thinking – are more important in many ways. The fundamental shift that still needs to happen is not putting ourselves first. A move from ‘I’m alright Jack, what can I get out of this?’ to ‘How does this affect those around me and the wellbeing of the planet? Can I play a part in this?'
Anomie and alienation have predominated in recent times, but now it’s time to move towards community engagement - and social cohesion is likely to be the result.
Campfire is a new community, just getting started. Members can run with it and take it in new directions. Campfire can play its part galvanising at local level via what we’re calling our new ‘Beacons’ initiative.
It can be many things:
- an alternative journalistic voice,
- a means to portfolio our key interests and enthusiasms,
- a platform for connection and collaboration,
- an ad-free forum for chat and the shaping of new agendas.
I believe that together we can craft something of great value, a resource built on collective wisdom and templates of experience. Members might start a new Project on the future of work and what it looks like, on sustainability, on new approaches to learning, on the politics of food production. Or start a Beacon. Or join one and go to our events in Malvern Hills, Bournemouth or Edinburgh.
My username on the site is Firestarter. I see my role as a catalyst. Once the flame is burning, this isn’t about me, the idea is that I step back and watch the sparks fly. Any of us can carry the torch. Where that torch can be taken to comes back to how fertile the imagination is – and how much energy flows to push those ideas, firstly at local level.
Social networking need not be about marketing spend to boost pages, algorithmic targeted ads, posting what you had for breakfast or swinging a general election. It can have a heart and a soul, a purpose and a real-life element. It can make a difference.
The Campfire circle is a great leveller and I’ve hugely enjoyed being invited to sit around a variety of Campfire circles this summer. We talked about compassion, we talked about relationships, we talked about fear and hope, disability and strength, we talked about ourselves, our communities, what was on our minds - catharsis or group therapy for some, inspiration for many. We also listened to those around us in the circle. We listened hard.
Now those circles can become Beacons and light a path.
It’s not hard to sense that a change is already occurring for many at a personal level - health, exercise, nourishment, food choices, mobile and flexible working, jettisoning the stuff that makes us feel stressed and disconnected, downsizing, less lavish excess, less credit and fewer mortgages for those who able to throw off debt, freer living, co-ops, joining local community initiatives, exchanging life experience and knowledge.
That sense of community belonging can give us an anchor but it can also energise, heal, inform and educate. I hope to inspire as I’ve been inspired. To challenge my own comfort zone, step up and maybe encourage others to do the same.
Our choice of language shaped by our visions is important – we can build the stories, everyone loves stories. As just one example, has anyone noticed the way that words such as ‘love’ and ‘empathy’ have recently appeared in political rhetoric more often lately? Let’s legitimise ‘love’ and ‘empathy’ as political forces in themselves. Let’s turn things upside down. There’s a strong sense that our new kind of politics is about people first - a holistic politics, starting from a sense of self and how we behave, how we relate to others, about sharing a sense of connection to our chosen communities and a vision for a better world where everyone can have a say and we can all make a difference.
Campfire can connect globally, whilst joining the dots and respecting the differences, welcoming diversity and expanding horizons through initiatives online and offline. We need to talk and listen, we need to write and express, to formulate ideas grounded in local communities, to convene in unconventional ways. That’s how we will make a difference. That’s how we already are making a difference. Sparks are igniting, beacons are being lit. We have to believe in ourselves as a force for change. We have to believe in a movement that has the potential to reach out beyond party lines, a message that appeals to as many as possible.
So today, let’s ask – individually and collectively - what our new story is and what it replaces. And how that story might unfold…