the language of solidarity #keepitintheground

The Guardian has decided, in the last few weeks and months, to be the vigorously campaigning newspaper it’s always sneakily been.

The difference between being just a newspaper and what I would term that campaigning newspaper I mention above, in a world where politics is now peopled directly by those who would replace the public sphere with a private sphere of fascist impulses, lies only in whether you might sit on the fence and adduce objectivity, or not.

All stances are now political, even where we claim even-handedness: precisely because real politics, the truly representative kind, has had its heart and soul brutally hollowed out by the moneymen (oh, and they’re usually men).

The #keepitintheground environmental campaign, which the Guardian is running as a grand valedictory for its current editor Alan Rusbridger, has renewed my belief that those who set up and run newspapers must remember to do so for the right reasons: not just the “whats” of the matter; more importantly, the “whys” too.

And “whys” lead us way beyond the “objectivity” of an even-handed “he said, she said” parroting of opposing spiels – a parroting that only serves to blunderbuss our confusion; hardly ever serving to properly inform our thought.

In truth, the most positive thing about #keepitintheground is that it’s not being framed as an environmental story at all: it’s a matter, above all, of human solidarity.  It’s a question of survival; not of the planet, for that will outgrow us all.  No, much more specifically, of ourselves as a species.

Will we demonstrate we have matured enough to survive the stupidity of our makers and shakers – of those who occupy positions of privilege the rest of us may never have had the opportunity to grant them?  Will democratic action and participation overcome the inertia of this vested and lazy interest?  Can our society prioritise instincts to the common solidarity I allude to – or will it find it just too challenging a task?

Not so much a necessary task as a tiresome chore.

It may actually be that we are fighting a losing battle against our language and vocabulary.  They do after all say the Eskimos have thirty words or so to say snow – thus communicating its importance.

In English, meanwhile, how many words do we have to communicate the concept of “solidarity”?


There’s “solidarity” of course.

And then?


So how about this following comparison?

I speak Spanish a bit – castellano, I mean.  In castellano we have three words and an easy-to-use phrase to communicate the concept of solidarity: “solidaridad” (solidarity), “solidario/solidaria” (the adjective of solidarity, which we don’t have), “solidariamente” (the adverb, which we don’t have) plus the adverbial construction “de manera solidaria” (in a solidarity-like way, which in English – as you can see – is a pretty ugly construction).

At least three times as many ways of communicating the idea in castellano compared to English.  When I was living there, some years ago now I have to admit, both right and left would use the Spanish vocabulary for communicating the concept interchangeably.  How many on the right here in Britain would ever mouth such ideas?

You’re hobbled when you can’t use an adverb; a noun attached via a preposition is such a clumsy beast; and the lack of an adjective means no one can be that thing without first being couched in an awkward double-noun sort of phrase.

So.  If we are looking to bring right and left together, and in the case of #keepitintheground a common ground will be essential to achieve its objectives, we need to realise what we’re up against: left and right cannot talk about the glory of solidarity without this feeling clunky.  And there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, sexy about clunkiness.

Whilst solidarity is cool and manifest in Mediterranean countries, at least at citizen-level, it is not the case here in Anglo-Saxon Britain or the US: both countries rather at the mercy of the poverty of the language under discussion.

Do we need to invent new vocabulary?  No.  Of course not.  The hashtag #keepitintheground itself will do for the socially-networked moment.

But we must remember that when a language itself has turned its back on a basic human instinct, there will be a sense of confusion at first when we are asked to recover our right, as well as (perhaps) our duty, to manifest it.

The 180,000 signatories of the Guardian‘s petition have shown the confusion can be overcome.

Meanwhile, the letters published this weekend in online and paper versions of the newspaper, my own included, bear witness to a growing clarity amongst those who’ve already committed themselves: this isn’t about our environment; this isn’t about saving the planet; what this is really about is a mature, adult commitment to our species’ future.

An honest and straightforward instinct to survive.

Not at all costs.

Out of solidarity.

an open letter (honestly open) to those who would not divest from fossil fuels

I am not a lobbyist; I have no power except my ability to put words together – and in a world where even online visibility is lobbied to a certain (great) extent, my words, too, lose their power.

But I must for my children’s sake – and for the sake of their children, if children they ever choose and are able to have – say something today.

I have signed the Guardian‘s #keepitintheground campaign: 180,000 people like me have done so as well.  All we want is for the fossil-fuel companies to go beyond petroleum; for them to use science for the benefit of us all – not to lock it away in corporate boxes that refuse to share knowledge which has been expensively but potentially productively gained:

Greenpeace said it was time that BP handed over all the research it had gained from its decades of work. “By keeping this wealth of research under lock and key BP is putting narrow corporate interests before humanity’s hopes to tackle one of its greatest challenges, said a spokesman.

It is difficult for me to understand how we have got here.  It is not only the fossil-fuels industry which is “putting narrow corporate interests before humanity’s hopes” of tackling big challenges which affect us all.  But the fossil-fuels industry is big enough and grand enough to give the kind of lead which others follow out of cowardice: a cowardice of thought; a cowardice of mind; a cowardice of will; a cowardice of the intellectually and morally blind:

I, as a normal and fairly powerless citizen, do not have the resources to get my voice regularly heard in the kind of unmediated, professionalised and structured way which those who own the lobbying networks of business & politics are accustomed to levering.

I, as a normal and – now – fairly sad father and husband, do not have the intelligence or the connections to be able to be more than a tiny unheard, ignored point on your “spectrum of views”:

When you, and organisations like yourself, headline your response with …

Director’s Update: Fossil fuel investments are a complex issue on which fair-minded people will disagree

… in truth you are really arguing …

Big Boss’s Instruction: Renewable energy investments are simply a daft issue which only the unreasonable agree with

Or will my quiet desperation for my children’s future allow you to believe I am as unreasonable as you believe focussed opposition to fossil fuels makes everyone who opposes?

Then let me tell you a little about myself:

  • I was born in Oxford, England, of British-Croatian parents.
  • My father has been a lifelong scientist: a physics, maths and IT teacher – who grew up in a world of scientific progress, advancement and belief in human beings’ power to do good.
  • My mother has been a lifelong anti-Communist Catholic – who grew up in a world of surveillance, political oppression and state violence.
  • Both have now made peace with their life experiences, as indeed to a great degree I have made with mine.
  • We all use technology with interest, engagement, curiosity, enthusiasm even on occasions – but also with a growing distrust.
  • We see evidence of truths being told that aren’t; of a marketing which from the beginning of communication process to its end serves to replace the honest spontaneity of truth-telling.
  • Whilst my mother taught me to tell the truth because of her faith and religion, my father taught me to tell the truth because of his science and his strong belief that the world was there to be rationally understood.
  • From two perspectives, then, we reach a common conclusion.
  • And in my life, then, holding more than one idea in my mind at the same time is not an alien concept.

Now about yourselves.

You argue (the bold is mine):

When we do choose to invest or stay invested (as we have done with 4 of the 200 companies on the campaign’s target list), we then engage actively as shareholders. We use our access to company boards to press for more transparent and sustainable policies that support transition towards a low-carbon economy. We apply this approach both to companies that produce and consume fossil fuels: demand is as important as supply.

We have been asked for evidence of how our engagement has made a difference. This is not as straightforward as it sounds because most of the discussions we have as investors are confidential: we could not expect frankness or access to commercially sensitive information were we to publish details.

It is also rare for discussions with a single shareholder to lead directly and immediately to a clear outcome: our influence works over time, and most powerfully when boards hear similar messages from many shareholders. Divestment would remove a strong voice that takes climate seriously from these coalitions of persuasion, with no likelihood that those to whom we sell our shares would engage the same way. It would not only end our own influence with these companies, but also undermine the influence of other investors who share our views.

It is, sadly, clear what all the above means.  I shall be frank; and perhaps my frankness, born of my quiet desperation for my children and their children, will allow you to reject my opinions.

Even so, it is no longer time to smile.

There is little to smile about on this matter any more.

We are talking about a world in the hands of shareholders, not voters.  We are talking about corporate boards who only care to listen to those prepared to buy access.  We are talking about a world where the grand of society have the right to determine the mode of discourse; where the big can measure time into parcels of action the rest of us must accept; where the perishable goods, which all of us humans are, must be allowed to perish whilst the powerful make up their minds.

Or not, as the case may be.

Or perhaps, as the case may be, give the impression they need time to make up their minds – even as their minds are already, long ago, quite made up.

You will reject me as a man who is unreasonable and simple.

I see you, meanwhile, as a man who speaks with the tongue of those who prefer to salve consciences, not wounds.

And all this time, I promise you that I’m just as desperately trying to keep my emotions in check, because I know as with the wife who finds herself at the end of a fist, she (or he) who raises their voice out of fear will have their message perfectly ignored – and, instead, be judged foolish for speaking not only too loud but also far too out-of-turn.

This is no longer where we find ourselves though.

This is not the time for polite English teatime conversations: the ones where Father speaks and whilst he does, everyone else is duly – fair-mindedly – silent.

We do live in the multi-polar, multi-velocity world described accurately enough in the Wellcome Trust’s response.  But an element which Wellcome, Bill & Melinda Gates and so many others forget – in their undoubtedly grand philanthropy – is that the connected environment a 21st century brings, a 21st century I am sure both organisations aim to bring about, also includes, implies and requires a set of democratic structures which secret and sensitive access by wealthy shareholders to boards of privilege – as levers of action for a future societal benefit it is true, but in their own privileged time all the same – just as simply and unreasonably doesn’t deliver the world we’re striving after.

It’s time that this extra-parliamentary action which you believe is only one tiny point on a “spectrum of fair-minded views” became the tool that the quietly desperate deserve to employ in order that the future of our planet be democratised.

The quietly desperate who don’t have the millions and billions of resources the professionalised lobbyists use to market their undoubted interests; the quietly desperate who see just as much value in 180,000 people as they do in $180,000.

You may find it harder, now, as I gently attack your democratic integrity, to agree with my point of view on fossil fuels – but equally, as I hope you can also juggle this second idea simultaneously in your fair-minded complexities, less democracy in a society we trust to be liberal can hardly be the solution to more conflict.

(in a way) total surveillance could equal liberty – here’s how (don’t hold your breath tho’)

There’s a fairly dumb contradiction being promoted at the moment.

On the one hand, we’re told – by those who do the surveilling – that surveillance was never more total nor complete in human history than now.

On the other hand, we’re told – by those who do the surveilling – that surveillance strategies, tools and orgs were never in need of more resources than today, and in the future.


Because the baddies are getting even worse.

The logical conclusion, as the baddies get so bad, and even total surveillance isn’t infinite enough, will be that no human rights will remain for us to enjoy.

As I suggested yesterday:

We don’t need this. We really don’t. We don’t need a state which perceives the condition-at-birth of every future citizen as being a potential criminal within the people.

Something else, however, in yesterday’s thoughts, continues to gnaw away at me.  In particular, this section from the Huffington Post piece I quoted, which in turn quotes from government documents:

The report also notes that “online networks and communities” could provide a “pathway into serious and organised crime”.

The underlying assumption – I presume, anyway – is that if you go with corporate-based social-networking, you’re OK as far as the government is concerned.  Corporate for them is good: you only need one meeting with one CEO to command the attention of 100,000 cascaded workers – and, also presumably, billions of end-users.  (It’s manifestly not true, as the various banking scandals demonstrate – but, hey-ho, when did the truth need to get in the way?)

Meanwhile, little micro-biz needs to be battered into submission, as the attention you’d need to give it would far outweigh the time centralised governance cares to fork out and spend on those millions of little people.

No.  I’m not trying to get you to shed tears for small people.  In a sense, I can understand government’s thinking here.  Unfortunately for them, and for us too, top-down communication of the minister-to-CEO sort we’re discussing is very 19th century; very kings and queens; very demonstrably inefficient as far as the goals in question are concerned.

So we do need another way.

Back to total surveillance.

If it could be made to work as they claim it already does (something I’m not absolutely sure events are proving to be currently true), we could all have the freedom to set up in perfect transparency any number of local community websites, wikis and communication tools that we’d like.


Total surveillance, once the original shock of the new was overcome, could quite logically lead to a set of greater liberties – different from those previously enjoyed, but just as real all the same.

The liberties would be, at the very least, twofold:

  1. Freedom not to have to communicate via exclusively corporate means.
  2. The right to choose any size or structure of local communication networks.

Coupled with the manifest aim of democratic constitutions for such local organisations and infrastructures, we could actually use the concept of total surveillance to our benefit.

One problem.

I don’t believe those who run total surveillance believe in making it easy for micro-biz to do its thing, nor difficult for large corporate orgs to be in more or less complete control.  Those who run total surveillance are, themselves, working in corporate orgs.  It’s natural, then, that they should find it easy to discard corporate corruption and crime as occasional exceptions to the rule of broad corporate probity and see micro-orgs as generally threatening.

Is this problem insoluble – or does it require a process of education?

Education, after all, has allowed much of the good in the world to continue its steady march.

We’ll see.

I, myself, have to be hopeful.

Without hope, where would we be?