The message is coming through loud and clear that imagination is crucial in creating a vision of what a better life could look like.
A chilling reminder of how crucial imagination is during these challenging times can be found in the Book of Proverbs:
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
The Global Green New Deal, which emerged in 2019, resulted from the huge amount of work being done by people from all areas of life worldwide who have begun to see that the writing is on the wall and that we really need to get serious about changing the way we live and the way we organise our societies.
But because writers and activists have come to see that frightening people with dire stories of what the world will be like if we carry on as we are – climate change, resource depletion, massive inequality and the rest (but, let’s not dwell on that!) – hasn’t brought the significant change we need, attention has turned to imagining and describing what life could be like if we take action to bring about change NOW.
And so, in terms of how imagination is crucial to change, let’s come up to date with insights from experts in their field:
“Change happens only when you replace one story with another. When we develop the right story, and learn how to tell it, it will infect the minds of people across the political spectrum.”
Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac:
“Imagination is essential” and “We must embrace a strong vision of a better future”
Tom Kibasi, Chair of the UK’s Institute for Public Policy Research Commission on Economic Justice:
“Successful change demands a destination to guide its direction and to bring the country together in common purpose”
“Bringing about the world we want to live in, the world we want to leave to our children, is, substantially, the work of the imagination, or what educational reformer John Dewey described as ‘the ability to look at things as if they could be otherwise.”
I reckon that imagining our world as completely different isn’t easy because (as I described in my posts about ‘Hegemony’ and ‘Socialisation’ Sept 26 and 28, 2018) we are from birth onwards fed images and messages which support a certain way of living within the culture into which we happen to have been born.
I remind myself that although powerful forces constantly reinforce these ideas in my head, this way of thinking isn’t God-given natural progress. It is all part of the society in which I happen to be living and it suits those who are in a position to profit most from it.
I also need to remind myself that Margaret Thatcher, UK Prime Minister from 1979 – 1990, put something of a restraint on our thinking that life could be different by saying that ‘There is no alternative’ as she pushed through the idea that the ‘good life’ – the ‘American Dream’ – will be delivered by free markets and minimal government regulation and spending (neoliberalism).
Neoliberalism means that we are encouraged to become ‘consumers’, that competition takes priority over co-operation and that private is seen as more important than public. (For more of this see my blog ‘Understanding Capitalism‘ on Oct 23, 2018).
For decades, particularly after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, unbridled free-market capitalism has spread, almost unchallenged, across the globe, spurred on by the idea that ‘There is no alternative’.
Naomi Klein made clear in her book ‘On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal’
“We need to break free from the taken for granted stories of neoliberalism and use our creative imagination to envisage what a better future could be like.”
Many writers see our modern-day problems stem largely not only from the free-market’s insatiable appetite for growth but also from its total disregard of the welfare of people generally, of the natural environment and of the other species with whom we share the planet.
But, Naomi Klein doesn’t see capitalism as the only villain of the piece. In ‘This Changes Everything’ she said:
“Although the rules of unfettered capitalism worshipping the sacred cow of material growth need to change, the roots of our problems go back much deeper, way back before the industrial revolution, and into the 17th Century.”
The ‘Enlightenment’ – the ‘Age of Reason’ – from which the Scientific Revolution sprang and on which Western civilisation has been built, threw over pagan ideas about the Earth as a ‘life-giving’ mother figure to whom we owe respect and reverence, and laid down the challenge to Mankind to master the Earth and the forces of nature.
Put simply, we are treating Mother Earth very badly and it seems that the chickens are coming home to roost and are now even threatening our very existence. Yes, human extinction is on the horizon!
But, fear not, because lots of creative thinkers have used their imaginations to write about what our ‘better’ world could be like:
First up is the inspiring and hopeful The Future we Choose’ which, as the title suggests, plants the idea that how the future turns out will be up to us – our choice! …
“If we halve carbon emissions every decade from now to ensure temperatures do not rise above 1.5° we can live in a world where in most places the air is moist and fresh; trees are everywhere; miles of motorway have been replaced by high low carbon high-speed trains; homes and buildings all over the world are self-sustaining by using sustainable energy and collecting and using rain water; and things which were once done individually are now done communally – growing vegetables, capturing rainwater and composting.”
And then there is the work of Transition Town founder Rob Hopkins whose book ‘From What Is to What If’ has the subtitle ‘Unleashing the Power of Imagination to Create the Future we Want’ which, much in keeping with Naomi Klein, see the future panning out according to what we choose to create.
He points out that there is plenty of evidence that things can change, rapidly, dramatically, and unexpectedly—for the better. But, we’re failing to bring about the change we so desperately need because we’ve largely allowed our most critical tool to languish: human imagination. And, if there was ever a time when we needed that ability, it is now.
In this passionate exploration, Hopkins asks why imagination is in decline, and what we must do to revive and reclaim it. Once we do, there is no end to what we might accomplish.
‘From What Is to What If’ is a goldmine of good news stories about individuals and communities around the world who, using their imaginations to see life differently, are changing the way they live in the here and now and are often bringing about rapid and dramatic change for the better.
In March this year, just as we were all beginning to feel the restriction of lockdown, along came ‘Imagine A Country’ edited by Val McDermid and Jo Sharp, which offers visions of a new future from a diverse array of Scottish voices, from comedians to economists, writers to musicians. The book is a collection of ideas, dreams and ambitions, aiming to inspire change, hope and imagination.
Then, just as I was beginning to feel overwhelmed by all the possibilities the future could hold, along came yet more ideas from the BBC Sounds podcasts ‘Rethinking’ which brought together leading thinkers from across the globe to give us their ideas on how the world could change after the coronavirus pandemic.
We have David Graeber ‘Rethinking Jobs’, Henry Dimbleby ‘Rethinking How we Eat’, Carol Cooper ‘Rethinking Racial Equality’ and no-less than the Dalai Lama ‘Rethinking Ancient Wisdom’ and lots, lots more …
Perhaps the good news of people beginning to think and live differently is a sign that human consciousness is evolving much as I discussed in my post of Jan 31 2019 ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’
Yet, the question still remains – Do we have any hope of turning people’s hope and vision of a better world into global reality? What I’ve found is that this is just where the Global Green New Deal comes in …
Note: I use ‘better’ to mean healthier for the natural environment, ourselves and other species with whom we share the planet, co-operative rather than competitive and sustainable.