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Creating a Systemic Left
What we can learn from The Meaning Crisis
On this week’s episode of Planet: Critical I spoke with author Jeremy Lent about The Meaning Crisis: how the interaction of culture and history and science and spirituality have led us to the polycrisis we see today. Jeremy says the best way to combat the climate crisis and to combat the great injustices in the world is to create a new world view that prioritises interconnectedness.
Jeremy says that we live in a disconnected world, and that it is that disconnection, that separation, that alienation which has engendered the metacrisis that we see today. Thus, to combat it, we need to promote interconnectedness.
What does that mean? Well, it's a pretty abstract concept. Essentially, it is understanding that we are all part of an ecosystem. Every single thing on this planet is part of an ecosystem, and then how also systems are part of larger ecosystems—how our economics affects our ecology or how our energy affects our economics.
Initially, I was concerned by the prospect of simplifying the crisis to a problem of meaning, which ignores the institutionalised problems we face, the entrenched systems of power that keep the world as it is—oligarchy.
But then towards the end of our interview Jeremy talked about moral and emotional interconnectedness, mapping morals and emotions onto other systems. Interconnecting what our cultural ethics can be on to things like our economic system, infusing these things with better values in order to then change them. Dan Fiscus touches on this in his episode, Carl Safina too. Generally, on Planet: Critical, my guests end on the note that our value system needs to be upgraded and we need to infuse how we engage with the world with values. I found Jeremy’s term—interconnectedness—a fantastic way to universalise that necessity.
We live in an increasingly disastrous world with an exploitative economic system which undoubtedly has a negative feedback loop on our moral system, degrading the values of our communities who are forced to engage in such an economic system to survive, one which prioritises individualism and weaponises precarity. Thus, the solution must be a symbiotic dynamism of how we’re tackling the crisis from an ethics and values perspective, and how we then use that to address the necessary systemic changes.
Interconnectedness is inherently systemic and complex. We must not fall into the trap of reducing a hyper-complex problem into a problem purely of meaning; it’s an anthropomorphic take on the nature of the crisis, and certainly a privileged take. It is those of us who do not sit on the frontline of the climate crisis, those of us whose homes aren’t disappearing in flash floods and fires, those of us whose lands aren’t being stolen by capitalists, those of us who aren’t battling 50 degree heat, who can sit and have these conversations about meaning. Nonetheless, given the systemic nature of the problem, which would require a solution that is also systemic in nature, meaning, morals, ethics, values must certainly be addressed.
One major problem when confronting these abstract humanist concepts is time. We're running out of time. We don't have generations to educate children differently. Jeremy believes the powers and authorities around the world are crumbling in the sense that young people are waking up to the fact that the powerful do not make decisions for them, and therefore that authorities need to be replaced. And yet the very complexity of the world we live in means that it will be extremely difficult to replace those authority figures, perhaps more difficult than previously. They’re just not playing by the same rules anymore. We're not even in the same game. This is why Joseph Merz and the Merz Institute are trying to create an ad campaign that bypasses the moral question because they really firmly believe we just do not have time to educate people properly.
I think we've got to do it all. We can't bypass education, but we also mustn’t undermine the urgency. And, as ever, each action will be more effective when taken in tandem with one another and thus creating an ecosystem of solutions.
Interestingly, this may be a way for the Left to out-dance the Right—to not go all-in on one solution or one ideology, and to keep moving the goalposts and making different attempts. All these discussions are inherently Lefist—collectivism, community values, degrowth, protecting the planet, international solidarity—but the Left has a tendency to disengage from the factions which don’t conform to the dominant mantra. Perhaps this philosophy of interconnection could provide a pathway for the Left to evolve into increasing relevance and even out-manoeuvre the right wing.
The right wing is such an impenetrable force. Attacking them with ideological battering rams simply doesn’t work because holding rank is easier for the faction less engaged in ideological purity. If the Left were to actually allow itself to fragment into a system, rather than a party, say, and attack and coalesce and evolve on all sides, and offer a myriad of solutions and thus start to pull multiple leavers simultaneously, that could be so politically exciting.
Interconnected parties. Interconnected Politics. Interconnected factions. A global movement which understands that they have different functions to play in part of a wider strategy, and will use different goals to do so.
The language in these kinds of conversations can be quite alienating for people. It can come off as a white appropriation of traditional knowledge, or certain spiritual cultures. spirituality. I would urge anybody who has that initial response to push beyond it and consider the etymology of connectedness and how we can use that to map different systems and increase their complexity—their resilience—and increase our own capacity to respond to the crisis.
Complex systems are more resilient than simple systems. That's why deconstructing the modern world is such a seemingly impossible task. However, we must lean into the complexity, into the connectedness of the ecosystem of solutions that we're going to have to build, not pull away from it. Simplifying solutions should be signalled as territory of the right wing. It’s certainly business-as-usual types who attempt to dominate the climate discourse with one-stop-shop solutions like Net Zero. Systemic change will demand complexity, and perhaps we can transform what we perceive as the fracturing of the Left into a system of Leftist principles and policies which can finally respond to the crisis with urgency and resilience.
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