Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Art of Exposing Emperors

Educators and community activists face a difficult challenge whenever they try to rouse their fellow citizens to oppose the misrule by a powerful elite.

How can they reach beyond the informed minority to get more people to see through oppressive policies that serve only the wealthy, and give their support to more inclusive political alternatives? If they in the name of ‘neutrality’ merely repeat what politicians on all sides claim, they leave their audience as detached as before. If they attempt to expose the vicious iniquities of specific political agendas, they risk being branded biased and may find their funding curtailed.

Long ago, Hans Christian Andersen gave us a hint of how a cautionary tale can prompt people to recognise that servile conformity would only allow the embarrassing folly of a naked emperor to go on.

Since his time, others have produced allegorical and dystopian stories with which political consciousness can be raised, and passion for change can be fuelled. Orwell, Huxley, Bradbury, Wyndham, Vonnegut, Atwood, are amongst those who have used fiction to engage the public imagination in visualising the horrors that lie behind the political stance of callous leaders.

To celebrate and continue this tradition of exposing oppressive rule, the ‘Novel Exploration of Inequality’ project has been developed to provide teachers, adult learning organisers, and community outreach workers with a political fable, Kuan’s Wonderland, and a learning resource, to help them engage more people, young and old, in thinking about the injustice spreading around us and what should be done about it.

In addition to collaboration with the Equality Trust, work is also underway with WEA (Workers Educational Association) to pioneer new approaches to use this resource to promote social purpose education in tackling inequality and exploitation. With the novel’s setting in a surreal world, it is free from any links to party politics. But its allegorical diagnosis is vivid enough to stir readers’ political indignation.

If you are interested in how these materials may help you or other colleagues in your political engagement work, find out more about Kuan’s Wonderland and download the learning resource for free from the Equality Trust.

To discuss how you can make use of this novel and its companion learning resource, contact the author at:
Kuan’s Wonderland is available as an e-book or in paperback.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Time for a Cooperative Government

There is increasing recognition that enabling organisations to meet people’s needs through cooperative working is key to solving the many socio-economic problems we face.

But the impetus to promote cooperative ventures can be seriously jeopardised if we allow ourselves to be misled by the notion that cooperation will thrive more if government simply retreats. Reciprocity and cooperation are greatly dependent on the rule of law. Without a democratic government guaranteeing that all participants are accorded equal respect and protection, and that deception and exploitation will be duly curtailed, non-cooperators will take unfair advantage of others, knowing there is no public redress.

If cooperative problem-solving is to become more widespread in every major sphere of life – educational, economic, environmental – then government support is vital. What cooperators need is politicians who pay more than lip service to cooperative values and community co-production. What is required is a genuinely cooperative government that will:

• Publicise and promote the core cooperative values (self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, solidarity); give recognition to groups that put these values into practice; and work with the cooperative sector to prevent any false use of the ‘cooperative’ term that is designed to mislead the public.

• Embody those values in its own policy development so that citizens are given tangible support to: help solve their communities’ problems; hold each other accountable for their actions; participate in collective decision making; be treated as equals in law and all electoral processes; secure social justice; and work together to define and pursue common goals.

• Practise subsidiarity openly and consistently so that problem-solving is carried out at the most feasible level closest to the people affected, which may be at the street or town level for some issues, but at the national or international level for others (such as dealing with transnational financial activities or global impact of climate change).

• Facilitate the development of cooperative practices and organisations by investing in the dissemination of know-how and provision of sector-led advice across all key areas, including education, food, energy, financial services, elderly care, and community land ownership and house building.

Any politician who pretends that more cooperative working will spring from a debilitatingly shrunken state is either ignorant or disingenuous. It is no help to keep loading a greater burden onto cooperators while non-cooperators are allowed to siphon off more resources under the cloak of deregulation.

A cooperative government is one that not only acknowledges that cooperative problem-solving is a more effective and sustainable way to improve people’s quality of life, but it is also one that is visibly committed to creating and maintaining the social and economic conditions that will enable cooperative groups in their diverse form to thrive. It is time political leaders set out how they will make this happen.