FOUR YEARS. GO. is a new campaign for social change that has been generating some buzz among my friends and acquaintances. As so often in the past, I have to be the hold-out, the cynic in the group.
On the surface, FOUR YEARS. GO. seems commendable. They see the current moment as one of crisis, in which we have to wake up to the danger that our current ways of living represent and chart a new course for the future. They want to rally people to “create a future to match our deepest longing and greatest dreams.” Right on. But who exactly is behind this commendable rallying cry, what do they see as the source of the crisis, and how exactly do they see us creating this future? My concerns with FOUR YEARS. GO. can be broken down into two main areas: their notion of what sort of change is needed and how it should be achieved, and by whom; and the underlying interests which they represent, or which are backing their efforts.
FOUR YEARS. GO. (4YG) is fairly comprehensive in listing the crises which confront us – “profound climate disruption, wide and deep poverty, global water shortages, loss of topsoil, depletion of fisheries, erosion of democracy, unsustainable population growth, mass extinction of plant and animal species, economic breakdown” – and their unequivocal statement of the inter-relatedness of these crises, given their inclusion of the “erosion of democracy” and poverty among them, is refreshing (What is FOUR YEARS. GO.?)
It is in their discussion of the mechanisms of change that I begin to have problems with the approach of 4YG. They talk about people having to “muster the vision and commitment needed to cause a change in course” and describe the current moment as not only one of “great peril” but also as “a time of unprecedented opportunity.” This opportunity is a consequence of the “powerful transformative trends” that are emerging and “shaping a world ripe with new possibilities”:
* Global communication technology is connecting people together around the globe, creating the beginnings of a global consciousness
* The paradigm of a living universe is challenging our mindset of separation and re-establishing humanity’s deep inter-connection with all of nature
* The concept and image of Spaceship Earth is restructuring our sense of self interest and has elevated sustainability to an everyday concern
These “transformative” trends amount to a trio of cliches – one a celebration of the globalizing impact of information and communications technologies (ICT), presumably particularly the internet given 4YG’s activities, a trend which is by no means entirely unproblematic; and the other two rather spacey, feel-good notions – notions which in fact I happen to share and agree with, but which are vague and unlikely to move the majority of those who remain unconvinced.
And according to 4YG what needs to be done? Well, their goal is “to cause a positive tipping point in unleashing humanity’s collective will.” This mention of a “tipping point” inevitably calls to mind the book by business guru Malcolm Gladwell of that title (cf., here and here), a smash hit that remained on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 3 years (here). It also recalls the myth of the 100th monkey, which was popularized in a 1984 book by Ken Keyes on the dangers of nuclear weapons and power, a myth that has frequently been associated with the notion of a “tipping point” in human affairs. The notion is that when enough people begin thinking and acting in a particular new way, independent of each other, this will constitute or creat a tipping point, and all of society will suddenly transform along the lines of this new way of thinking or acting.
This tipping point, this unleashing of “humanity’s collective will” will be achieved by “millions of individuals and thousands of organizations around the world becoming partners in, and creators of, the FOUR YEARS. GO. campaign”:
Individuals will declare themselves, for this period, as “change agents” for a new future. And they will begin a personal hero’s, or she-ro’s, journey that will start by taking the simple steps right in front of them … and then a next… and a next…
Organizations will be encouraged to explore and commit to the most exciting and impactful social/environmental improvement projects that they can imagine and fulfill within the next four years—trimtab projects that will, collectively, cause a positive tipping point in humanity’s trajectory.
via What is FOUR YEARS. GO.? | FOUR YEARS. GO..
4yG will act as a “clearinghouse” for these “hero’s, or she-ro’s” journeys and the initiatives of the organizations that get involved. At the end of the day, given 4YG’s emphasis on their “social media campaign,” it all sounds a bit like a sort of FaceBook for individual efforts to effect change.
And that stress on individual efforts is perhaps the biggest problem with 4yG’s vision. While at various points they invoke notions of the collective, collaborative and systemic, there is no sense that they see the problems confronting us as systemic, structural problems, as problems resulting from the systems that structure our lives – most especially, the system of globalized corporate capitalism which has become the true superpower on the world stage. Individual efforts are important – every person who switches from a car to a bicycle makes a small, but measurable reduction in the wastage of dwindling oil supplies and in global carbon emissions.
But it seems vanishingly unlikely that the acute crisis in which we find ourselves will be solved by appeals to individual effort. Such appeals are rightly met with skepticism – people think the problems are too big, their contributions too small. And in very important ways this is true. But acting together, collectively, it is possible to achieve structural changes in the system of disaster capitalism, of hyper-consumption and Götterdämmerung capitalism, that is largely responsible for the crises 4YG cites – the “profound climate disruption, wide and deep poverty, global water shortages, loss of topsoil, depletion of fisheries, erosion of democracy, unsustainable population growth, mass extinction of plant and animal species, economic breakdown.” What is needed is not motivation for people to post on social media platforms about their efforts to achieve change in their own lives; it is organizations that can can involve people in collective struggles to effect fundamental change in the structures that rule our lives, and our increasingly restricting our lives and our potential, and endangering those lives, as well as the lives of myriad other species of plants and animals with which we share this planet, our home.
In subsequent posts, I will look in detail at some of the backers of FOUR YEARS. GO. and the interests and perspectives they bring to the project.